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Society’s Mr. Beast Dilemma
Mr. Beast isn’t the problem, but he exemplifies the problem
Just to be clear, this is not a column beating up on Mr. Beast. You do see those occasionally and of course, there are things to criticize about Mr. Beast, just like there are about everyone. However, he generally seems to be a positive force.
He is obviously a capitalist and a marketing wunderkind. Furthermore, you almost can’t help but admire someone who has found a way to monetize helping people. Granted, this comes off tacky when some people do it. You know, “Oh, here’s me filming myself buying a sandwich for a homeless guy,” but when you drill 100 wells for African villages (104 million views and counting) or help 1,000 deaf people hear (129 million views), it hits differently:
It would almost be interesting to tear up all the rules governing the welfare budget of the United States, give it all to Mr. Beast, and see what he could do with it. At worst, we’d get some entertaining videos, right?
Still, two things come to mind here.
To illustrate the initial one, I need to start by showing you Mr. Beast’s first video. I have to warn you, it’s not as attention-grabbing as what he puts out these days:
Yes, it’s Mr. Beast playing Minecraft 11 years ago. After another 5 years of development, it FINALLY happened. Here, Mr. Beast notes he took all the money he got from a sponsor, $10,000, and is giving it away to a homeless guy. This is what could fairly be called the first REAL Mr. Beast Video:
Note that from those humble beginnings, Mr. Beast has now moved on to things like million-dollar hide-and-seek and “Last To Leave $800,000 Island Keeps It”:
So, what can Mr. Beast do for an encore at this point? Is he going to rebuild the Gaza Strip after Israel finishes bombing Hamas? Play a game of Red Rover with 50 world leaders in the United Nations? Buy 1,000 homeless people homes in Detroit (note to Mr. Beast if he reads this – this one might be doable)?
It’s hard to say, but he’s a smart, capable guy who is good at what he does. He also has a large amount of resources and smart people around him. He’ll figure it out, at least for a while, then he will probably eventually start to fade into the sunset with more money than he can ever spend like PewDiePie.
However, in our social media-obsessed world where it seems like everyone with a Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, or Facebook account thinks they’re some kind of “influencer,” very, very few people have the talent, creativity, or resources of Mr. Beast. So instead, some of them have started doing things like this to stand out:
Why would people do things like this? Because they’re not that smart or talented, but even they can see that the bar keeps going up. Like, what are they going to do? Give $10,000 to a homeless guy? YAWN, Mr. Beast did that SIX YEARS AGO. Of course, not everyone is doing video “pranks,” a lot of people get attention by saying outrageous things. However, the bar keeps going up for them, too.
For example, here’s the latest stupid TikTok controversy:
Do they believe this stupid nonsense or is it just a way to get attention? Who knows? There was an “alt-right” phase several years ago where a number of up-and-coming conservative “influencers” were spouting off anti-Jewish and deliberately racist comments, seemingly just because it seemed “outrageous.”
Back in the day, even one of my employees at Right Wing News (and I had more than 30 at the peak, so I don’t feel like saying they worked for me gives it away) put up what was clearly meant to be a “funny” anti-Semitic meme on a social media account. I saw it, reached out to them on the phone, and essentially said, “I saw that post and I have no idea if this is something you really believe or you’re just trying to be ‘edgy,’ but if it is something you really believe, it’s probably not compatible with continuing to work for me.” They assured me it absolutely wasn’t something they believed, took it down, and as far as I know, even after they stopped working for me, they never posted something like that again.
Have you ever wondered why people, some of whom probably barely knew who the Palestinians were two months ago, are suddenly tearing down Israeli hostage posters? Why soft, white liberal teens were flipping off cops and generally behaving like thugs during the Black Lives Matter riots while making sure to get pictures of themselves doing it?
It’s the same thing. There are an infinite number of people trying to get attention, they don’t really have anything interesting to say, so what can they do that’s insulting, outrageous, that will get a reaction?
This is a big problem, but there is also a second problem.
What do I mean by that? I mean that the real name of the guy who runs the Mr. Beast channel is Jimmy Donaldson. Jimmy Donaldson is a real person with hopes, dreams, and all sorts of opinions. We don’t know him. We don’t really know what he believes. He might be a terrible person. He might be a great person. We have no way of knowing because we only know Mr. Beast.
However, Mr. Beast is not a person, Mr. Beast is a brand like McDonald’s or Rolls Royce. You can like a brand (The Boy’s Club of America) or you can detest a brand (Facebook), but either way, a brand does not operate the same way as a person does.
If the people who run McDonald’s decide their food is unhealthy, guess what? They still need to keep selling it because it’s what their customers want. If Rolls Royce concludes that the best thing they could do for the public is make cheap, affordable cars, guess what? They’re not going to do that because the sort of person who wants a Rolls Royce isn’t looking for that. A brand can’t just “tell the truth,” or “do what they think is best” because they are reliant on an audience that is only interested in them as long as they say and do certain things.
There used to be a lot of people in politics and even entertainment who transcended this. They just were who they were and people liked it or they didn’t, but as the amount of money and competition involved grew to astronomical heights because of social media, that has changed an awful lot.
Today, many newly prominent people in politics and entertainment are much closer to a WWE entertainer than being who they authentically happen to be. The Undertaker, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, and “Hulk” Hogan are characters. Maybe there’s an element of who they really are in there, but those are still characters that they play, not them. The problem with this, particularly in politics, is that the line between what people really believe and what they say to cater to their audience is no longer very clear.
Just as an example, I like Tucker Carlson’s schtick, enjoyed his last book, and agree with most of what he says. However, when you look at some of his private texts that came out during the Fox News trial, it’s very clear that Tucker Carlson says things to his audience that he doesn’t believe are true because it’s what they want to hear. For example, Tucker Carlson promoted and still promotes Trump a great deal, but in private, he also says this:
“We are very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights. I truly can’t wait. ... I hate him passionately... I can’t handle much more of this. We’re all pretending we’ve got a lot to show for it, because admitting what a disaster it’s been is too tough to digest. But come on. There isn’t really an upside to Trump.”
Incidentally, I suspect this is EXTREMELY common. There are probably lots of big-name conservatives who privately hate Trump, but have an audience full of diehard Trump fans, so they won’t say what they think about him truthfully.
However, this sort of fake persona creates a weird dynamic. How popular is Trump? “Oh, he must be super popular! Look at all the big-name people supporting him.” But why are they supporting him? Well, what if it’s not because they have a high opinion of him? What if they’re just doing what their audience demands of them? Is it that old quote in action?
People have always known politicians do this, but that’s also one of the reasons no one trusts politicians.
What happens when the media, entertainers, influencers, and tens of millions of social media-obsessed Americans are playing the same game? How many stupid or horrible trends in America today are a result of what people really believe and how many are just people who publicly support drag queen story hours, transitions for kids and not prosecuting criminals because they believe it’s the right move for the “brand” they have created?
This happens everywhere now, and it helps create an environment where people don’t know what’s real or who to trust because you may be able to trust certain people and you can even trust well-run organizations, but you can’t trust a brand. How much does it mean to you when Charmin says they’re the best toilet paper, Joe Biden says he would never lie to you or Brawndo says, “It’s got what plants crave. It’s got electrolytes!”
It means nothing.
How we ultimately get past this as a society is hard to say, but you’ll start to know it’s happening when most kids don’t aspire to be influencers anymore, people start to care more about wisdom than being entertained again and the first priority most people have is being told the truth, not being told what they want to hear. We’re not there right now, but our society will have to figure it out if we ever want to get back on track.