Dress debacle: what color is it really?


Fiasco shows social media proliferation, price of viral content


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Andy Warhol once said, “In the future, everyone will have their fifteen minutes of fame,” and “The Dress” just got its chance.

But what color is it? Whether you saw black and blue or white and gold, you saw “The Dress.” In a matter of 24 hours, the nation was engrossed in determining the color of a dress distributed by British retailers. The discussion automatically veered toward the science behind the photo: If you saw blue and black, it was because you were stressed out, but if you saw white and gold, it was because you were viewing the picture from an android device. The debate was never intended to be about an eye or mind trick, as it ultimately seemed — it was an honest question of hue.

The controversy began last Thursday when a Tumblr user, Grace MacPhee of Scotland, posted a photo of the dress, asking her followers what color it was. She initially got into a disagreement over the dress’ color with her mother, who thought the dress was white and gold, whereas MacPhee saw the dress as black and blue. Once the photo was posted on Tumblr, the wireless wand of the Internet began to work its magic. By the time everyone heard about it, you couldn’t tell if the discussion started on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or the nightly news, because it was simply everywhere.

“The Dress” demonstrated the bandwagon effect of the media. Numerous articles and news reports came out trying to capitalize on the debate in any way conceivable. Within 48 hours, Buzzfeed put out five articles about “The Dress,” talking about the different factors that played into it like age, gender and the device used. CNN and MSNBC had segments on the issue and social media was fixated on the topic and in some ways still it. “The Dress” phenomenon highlighted two important factors about living in the digital age and the reign of Web 3.0: the proliferation of social media is uncontrollable and viral content, regardless of what it is, is valuable.

Social media gives power to the people, and that’s a good thing. We’ve recently seen responses to the Chapel Hill shooting and the #BlackLivesMatter movement take off and permanently weave their way into the patchwork quilt that is social media. Similarly, the Arab Spring of 2011 proved that a revolution could be tweeted. Average citizens and protestors were given the chance to explain their day-to-day experiences, letting them feel important and included, which is what everyone wants at the end of the day. Social media and the Internet can give stories five or fifteen minutes of fame, no matter how trivial they may be. The fact that everyone is able to have a voice makes it so no one can forget that their voice isn’t the only one. “The Dress” phenomenon exposed the inner workings of journalism as a modern industry. Internet journalism is driven by click-bait headlines and viral content. The more clicks a news organization gets, the more money they can make from ads, and the more money they have as an organization. The bottom line is, viral content caters to short attention spans and pushes real news out of the way. It doesn’t have to bleed to lead, it just has to pay the bills.

Alongside “The Dress,” MacPhee also got her 15 minutes of fame and ended up on The Ellen Degeneres Show. We now know that “The Dress” is in fact blue and black, but does that even matter? None of the media outlets that covered the controversy seemed to have been concerned with what color the dress actually was. The stories were all about the science behind “The Dress” and the photo, making something out of nothing. So what other news did we miss while our attention was fixated on the dress? At this point, we may never know what important stories were disregarded because of the petty controversy. Rumor has it Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in town … I wonder what colors he saw.


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