The danger of a hashtag
by Rob Kempson
This project, as with many of my projects, went without a name for a long time. I knew that we were going to explore the nature of legacy—the nature of leaving things behind. But I also knew that we were going to explore how the legacy of the internet (and Twitter in particular) is connected to that overall understanding of legacy. Or even if it is. I knew that these incredible women would be tweeting. But I hadn’t yet picked a title, and I’m still not sure that #legacy is the right one. However, given the universal nature of the “hashtag” as a symbol of the Twitter age, I figured #legacy wasn’t too far off.
Unfortunately/fortunately, but not surprisingly, many people on Twitter have used that very hashtag for a multiplicity of reasons. And as always, the internet both surprises and scares me. Once we settled on that name, I decided to spend time searching that hashtag to see what the world was projecting as a legacy versus what we were talking about. And inspired by Melissa’s post about the joys of the urban dictionary, I’ve decided to categorize those findings here.
— Chelsea Carlisle (@c_carlisle15) March 7, 2014
Apparently the whole of the internet is convinced that every sports achievement (or failure) is a legacy left. I mean, I can understand that people like sports (I may not be one of those people, but I get it in theory). I can also understand the bonds made in a team, the shared experience of struggle and work that can define a time in a person’s life. I can especially understand the concept of sports as a legacy when related to pride in a favourite team, or an athlete who has passed away, or a national event (like the Olympics), or the awards that go along with sporting events at every level of play. In fact, I have no problem with sports being a #legacy all over the internet. I just wonder why the arts aren’t more often hashtagged in the same way. Surely there are people who like to attend the arts (not as many as sports, but still some). Surely a shared experience of a team is reflected in all of the performing arts (even a solo show requires others to make it happen). We have pride for the work of certain artists or companies, artists who have passed away, national scale arts events, and even awards. But we’re not hashtagging those as a legacy. It makes me wonder how that public opinion might change.
— sarah richey (@sarrichey) February 24, 2014
People REALLY love to tag sports-related posts with #legacy. Like so much.
— CCTV America (@CCTV_America) March 6, 2014
The next most common posts tagged this way are related to war or Nationalism in some way. I think that’s more what I expected to find. Legacy is a big term, one that makes people think on a grand scale. And that usually means that they’re thinking about something that has happened over a long time period or a large area. So these ones make sense to me (not that sports didn’t… it just surprised me). The sadder part is the ones that come close to promoting war, or promoting violence in some way. It’s always a tricky line between supporting a country’s troops while not necessarily supporting the violent action that goes with them. Elegies
— Mark Foster (@wmarkfoster) February 7, 2014
The hashtag search also yields a number of posts about the deceased. This is where I see the closest connections to the piece that we’re developing. The co-creators (Joan, Judith, and Donna) have returned to memories of those passed again and again in our discussions. We’ve talked about when we feel most connected to our parents, our grandparents, their precious heirlooms, etc. The people in our lives who have passed away leave a legacy, regardless of their actions or words. They leave a legacy simply in their absence. I can’t think of a smaller, more private thing to post in the public sphere. So I guess there are times when legacy isn’t all that grand or large.
— Soulseeds (@soulseedz) February 19, 2014
Then there are the posts from hippies and hippy organizations about finding your inner light and leaving your proudest legacy. These provide endless entertainment, and web spirals where you end up watching a great number of videos about family that will make you cry. I don’t recommend the spiral. But I do recommend checking out the services offered by some of these organizations. The fact that they have workable financial models and the arts struggle daily to survive would be comical if it weren’t also a little depressing.
And there are the occasional posts about the arts. Mostly from me or my collaborators or someone connected to this project. So maybe the arts community should begin hashtagging themselves with #legacy, if only to begin to build a public consciousness around the impact that art can have on a community. It might begin to change the way that people value the arts more broadly, because it might make us look less like the nerd in the corner and more like the jock with the most yearbook signatures. Or it might just change the way my tweet deck feed looks. Because it is only Twitter.
Maybe I just need to be more careful about choosing my show titles.