The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A conversation with a teenager who ‘doesn’t know’ who Paul McCartney is

Maybe if McCartney took more selfies, the “kids” would know him better. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images)

Increasingly, it seems, no awards ceremony, televised concert or other communal pop culture event is complete without some sort of consequent ignorance-shaming. Predictably, then, when Kanye West and Paul McCartney released a surprise collaboration last week — during the hungover, news-free lull of the post-holiday season, no less — the online media worked itself into a froth naming every poor soul with the naivete to ask who McCartney was on Twitter.

Many smart things have been written about this shaming phenomenon already, and whether it’s okay, and What It All Means. So we will only say this about the ethics of the thing: Let he without cultural blind spots be the first to throw stones.

Instead, we’d like to direct your attention to a more concrete wrinkle in the Paul McCartney story: namely that many of the people harassed and ridiculed so mercilessly on Buzzfeed and morning television and other places too numerous to name, were … making jokes. Obvious jokes. Funny jokes, even!

That last nugget comes from an 18-year-old named David Lofgren — a British 18-year-old, born and raised in London, which means there’s no conceivable way he doesn’t know who the Beatles are. In fact, Lofgren is a fan of both the Beatles and Kanye, he told The Washinton Post by e-mail Wednesday. He especially appreciates how Kanye has kickstarted the careers of smaller artists, like Big Sean, which is where his whole imploding joke came from.

Alas, without the context, Lofgren’s tweet somehow became the face of the McCartney backlash: Buzzfeed put it atop a post on the phenomenon, which was viewed almost a million times. From there, the one-off joke was retweeted more than 3,000 times and held up as evidence of society’s impending downfall by everyone from E! Online to USA Today.

“A LOT of people just didn’t get it,” Lofgren said. “The most surprising thing was how far it reached and how many countries, and also how angry people got about it. Some of the comments did sadden me.”

A sampling of those saddening comments, for the record: “ur stupidity amazes me,” “die now,” “off yourself plz.”

… Really?

We could pause here to examine some of the broader issues that such hostilities raise: why people feel personally compelled to “educate” total strangers; whether or not a single cultural blind spot constitutes a reason to kill oneself; whether using the slang “ur” is relatively more or less stupid than not knowing who Paul McCartney is; why media outlets even involve themselves in this “cheap cycle of traffic,” to quote a scathing essay by the writer Luke O’Neil.

But here’s a more immediate query: How did everyone miss the damn joke?

A scroll through @baeashell or @desusnice or Lofgren’s Twitter feed makes it obvious that all three are mischief-makers of one kind or another; the troll behind @baeashell even pretended to get hospitalized over the drama. Perhaps — because the Internet news cycle is fast, and its onward churn relentless — everyone slamming these ignorant kids just didn’t have time to read back through their tweets.

Alternately, maybe it’s true that sarcasm is imperceptible on the Internet, that we really do need software to flag the irony in our tweets. Maybe these jokesters skew a little too “Weird Twitter” for the fresh-faced producers of GMA to accurately gauge.

Or maybe, as O’Neil suggests, the explanation’s a little darker — maybe everyone knew that some of the Paul McCartney tweets were jokes, but they pulled the tweets anyway. Just to fill the news vacuum that is the weekend after New Year’s. Maybe we’re all just being milked for clicks or outrage or attention, by any and every party involved. (Welp!)

Whatever the exact reason, Lofgren has some advice for would-be ignorance-shamers: Learn to take a joke. Please.

“The writers at Buzzfeed should check for sarcasm before they write their articles!” He wrote, appending that classic indicator of irony: the winky.