For anything that goes viral, there is always a point of origin. At least, when we are discussing “viral” and “virus” in the biological sense, and not just social virility. In the case of a viral epidemic, there is even sometimes a “Patient Zero” — the individual who inadvertently initiates the apocalypse.
If the viral incident in question is the recent “10 Concerts I’ve Seen, But One is a Lie” meme, Philadelphia artist/musician George Alley might be that Patient Zero. If not, he at least knows he had a significant role in the genesis of this “outbreak.”
“I saw a basic structure of this ‘10 bands’ from [Siouxsie and the Banshees bass player] Steve Sevrin” Alley says. “I decided to post my version but I would make it a little bit funnier. I had for the past few years been playing around the concept of making a list of favorite things in music and having a purposeful error in the list for people to comment on because it invites engagement.”
A musician, multimedia artist, and arts scholar, Alley is a comfortable candidate for Internet celebrity. Witty, unapologetically honest, artistic and opinionated, he has a dark taste for Gen X subculture of all forms. Check out his digital trail and you won’t disagree.
This is important, since without a good social platform and a loyal and interested audience, it’s really tough to create a viral message. Really tough.
On April 25, he posted to Facebook:
Within a few hours, chitchat on his Facebook wall skyrocketed. And it was a lot of cross talk between his individual national affinity groups.
“What I realized immediately was that the concept asked users to look at you, and to think about you, and to start conversations about you. It was a narcissist’s dream, and everyone could play along with you. People saw this, realized they could easily participate and that made it addictive.”
Alley quickly watched his feed fill up with clones, imposters and more.
“New York gays, social workers in Philadelphia, friends in Australia, music people in Los Angeles[…] It started morphing, it started changing. It gained a life of its own.”
This popularity wasn’t what Alley wanted. Like any trendsetter, he wasn’t looking to start a trend. He was just being himself. So the reproduction of his work became, well, slightly boring to him. “[The meme] changed for me because it became very random, or it became lost from music or music-oriented people sharing their experiences.”
As this virus grew, it certainly began to exhibit a life of its own. Mutations began to form.
In the monkey-see-monkey-do world of social media, is anyone shocked that the populace all wanted to participate? Social media is inherently a breeding ground for virality and memes; it loves a game in which we can all play along. Just like the Ice Bucket Challenge, ‘10 Bands’ is a documenting point for everyone – an attention-seeking moment of true democracy.
Alley found how his social circle, and others, shared the meme was a fascinating study in art and creation. The meme became more than just a list.
“It’s a litmus test. How people shared or interacted with the meme was indicative of your deeper motives. Are you sharing this to entertain? Are you sharing this for self-serving, more narcissistic reasons? I hope people asked themselves why they were sharing this information.”
Still, Alley ready to take full credit for the repercussions of this social hit. He isn’t ready to be our Patient Zero.
“It’s not about coming up with an idea, it’s about taking the idea and making it interactive and making it different. I popularized an idea, a notion,” he says.
Not everyone in Alley’s world finds this creation funny. He’s received criticism and gripes from friends and colleagues, and heard others complain. Now the media is suggesting this type of social engagement can be a security risk. But as an artist, Alley is fine with that.
“I enjoy disrupting. I like making people look and think. I enjoy that people are angry about it. People need to ask themselves, ‘Why am I angry about a list? Why am I feeling upset about this?’ Is this disruptive to your life, or you don’t like the forums we are creating about our experiences, or are you threatened by the information?”
As an artist, Alley understands that social media is a vehicle to market his work. His recent music video single, “Just Leave Me Dreaming,” has been promoted solely through social media. That doesn’t’ necessarily inform his content-creation decisions. This viral hit isn’t going to mean he begins to manufacture similar follow-ups.
“I think people are getting to know me through social media platforms,” hey says, but, in parting words, cautions against catering one’s message to fit the needs (or wants) of those on the other side.
“But I think if you become too aware of your audience as an artist, and try to give them what they want, you start to lose your original voice.”