Last week the article “The uncomfortable truth about a capella” was published in the Op/Ed section of The Muhlenberg Weekly and set off a chain reaction across social media. One week after its publication, there are 5,000 views on the article, making it The Weekly’s fourth-most read article ever. It is topped only by an article about Muhlenberg’s ice hockey program being disbanded, the passing of legendary Muhlenberg football coach Mike ‘Duke’ Donnelly and an article on an armed robbery on campus two years ago. “The uncomfortable truth with a capella” is an article on why The Weekly’s Opinions and Editorials Editor and comedian Will Wamser dislikes a capella performances. His main argument: it’s repetitive.
Almost immediately after publication online, it was shared on a private Facebook by a Muhlenberg student and from there shared by others to at least two a capella facebook groups.
Most of the comments encountered by our staff appear to be a mixture of articulating love for a capella, saying the argument is true, commenting on the writing, poking fun at Wamser, offering different perspectives, recommending different a capella groups to listen to, talking about the joy of singing your favorite songs as a group on stage, etc. Some responded with gifs and memes, one being a photo of a Simpsons newspaper clipping reading “Old man yells at cloud.” To be clear: this engagement is encouraged, and as Wamser says in his article below, is what he was looking for. Namely, why do people enjoy this?
What was not okay, however, were the uncomfortably personal and/or violent responses such as “[Will Wamser] does, however win the JDA (Journalism Dipshit Award),” and “Rip his arm off and beat him with it…loser.”
As an adult or student, is this really what you want to be known for, even in your closed and private Facebook friend group? Is this the kind of campus we are? Threaten a writer for his opinion? Really?
But the big question: Why this article? Why this response?
The Weekly has published more upsetting articles this semester alone. Look to the Feb. 7 editorial, “Systematic racism in medicine and more,” an article on the high mortality rates of black women due to systematic racism within the medical industry. The article called for us to consider how to fight something ingrained within our society that has killed disenfranchised people. Or think about the editorial from Feb. 14, “The arrest of 21 Savage,” on ICE unjustly arresting the rapper 21 Savage and their numerous human rights violations. Or even “Why I wanted to stay silent and you said ‘no,’” a letter from an anonymous student about how they were sexually assaulted and then forcibly implicated in another sexual assault case with the same assaulter by Muhlenberg’s Title IX. Why did an article about a capella bring about a greater response than articles calling out the dangers and abuses of power ingrained into our society?
An analysis of 70,000 news articles from the four top news sources found that the more sentiment a headline expressed (positive or negative) the more likely it was to be “engaged with” on Facebook, meaning liked, shared, disliked, etc. “The uncomfortable truth of a capella” very much fits that description.
In other words, Wamser’s article was destined for engagement before it left the page-a title like that will incite the response it did. But what’s an even more upsetting is the kind of articles that didn’t get this attention.
Additionally, the majority of the posts about the article were mostly engaging with the writer and not the topic. All of the articles previously mentioned might incite anger towards institutions, but not the writers. An author at the New York Times wrote an equally humorous-but-serious article on how to stop global warming: by pretending it’s aliens doing it. His point is humorous and simple: give us an enemy and we will fight against it, an enemy we can see. An “other” who is not us; we don’t want to admit that we are doing anything wrong.
So what did we learn from this? Public outrage is a powerful tool. Emotions that run high get eyes.
On the other hand, look what happened. A set of 700 words spread to 5,000 eyes in less than a week through sharing, engagement, a dialogue. Can you imagine what good it can do? For anything from a GoFundMe
to a petition? Why not use this power to spread relief, funds, acceptance, rather than to spread hate. That same study mentioned earlier found that people tend to share more positive news for fear of being viewed as negative. So the next time you
hit that share button, you might want to ask: am I doing good? Is this worth it? Is it helping?