Jack White is Right, Just Creating More Clickbait
Jack White can’t win.
To be clear: Jack White already has won – at life, at least. Not only is he among the most revered musicians on the planet, he’s also the wizard behind the curtain of the ever-expanding Third Man Records empire, perhaps the single most important figure in the resurgence of vinyl records in the 21st century and he has the means to purchase Elvis Presley’s first-ever recording for a mere $300,00 then digitally transfer it for release.
But Jack White can’t win at the internet.
Last summer, all he wanted to do was take in a Chicago Cubs game in peace wearing an ill-fitting jersey and an Edward Scissorhands haircut. But screenshots of White looking beyond miserable quickly made their way online, turning him into the meme of the month. (To be fair, it was a face many Cubs fans have displayed at some point during the century since their last championship.) The backlash was so severe that White had to make a reactionary, all-smiles appearance at a Detroit Tigers game the following week just so he didn’t seem like a communist. Topps even put him on an official baseball card.
Then, back in February, all White wanted to do was make sure absolutely no bananas were “seen anywhere in the building” before a show at the University of Oklahoma. Then some 20-something Woodward and/or Bernstein-wannabe went and published White’s entire tour rider in the school paper. Outrage ensued regarding his very specific guacamole recipe.
White and Third Man do have a point: This clickbait culture has become a full-fledged epidemic.
Recently, White has also been the subject of derision and ridicule for his role as one of the high-profile musician owners of the streaming service TIDAL. First, he posted a semi-suspicious Q&A with fans on the Third Man site in which he defended the embattled company. Since there was no direct attribution as to who actually asked the questions (and the site linked to TIDAL at every mention), it appeared to the everyday internet skeptic that it could’ve been a staged publicity stunt. Then White shared a poem called “Music is Sacred” in which he defends the “sanctity of music” in a way that seemed a little like another thinly veiled TIDAL advertisement (though Third Man assured fans it wasn't).
And earlier this week, White hosted a Q&A session with subscribers of Third Man’s Vault that led to tidbits that made their way out of context and into headlines like: "Jack White Doesn’t Like Meg White,” “Jack White Hates New York” and “Jack White Doesn’t Belong on Earth.”
That was the straw that broke the camel's back at Third Man. (It's unknown if there's actually a camel at Third Man, but it wouldn't be all that shocking if there is.) The label (which, of course, was founded by White back in Detroit in 2001 and is essentially Jack White, Inc.) released a statement just the other day titled “Jack White Click Bait Bingo Exhaustion” in which “the label” under the playful guise of “the Third Man Council for Internet Regulation and Journalistic Integrity” comes to the defense of its benefactor in these times of “instantaneous negative internet gratification.”
In the statement, Third Man says, “No offense to any journalists that are ‘just doing their job’ in this current one-hour news cycle environment, pull quote, tabloid atmosphere, but this is what happens when you isolate aspects of a conversation between a musician and his fans in a private forum and put it out into the blogosphere in a sensational way.” You can read the entire thing here.
And “Third Man” is absolutely right. The label name is in quotes there because it’s difficult to believe White (the Steve Jobs of Third Man) wasn’t directly behind the release. He’s savvy enough to know it would come off as whining if he were to respond to all of this on his own under his own name. But the grammatical mistakes and misspellings throughout the release are pretty consistent with those White routinely makes in all his correspondence including all those fan Q&A sessions in question.
Regardless, the rumor mill surrounding him has reached a surreal level and it would be hypocritical of us here at Diffuser if we didn’t admit that we play a part. Although we typically refrain from the seedier, more spectacular gossip, White (as our writer Chris Ford said in the original post about Third Man’s statement) “is consistently newsworthy – [and] that’s not a bad thing.”
Maybe it has to do with his perceived eccentricities – he’s something of a Willy Wonka figure down there in Nashville constantly tinkering with new or old ways to reinvent the concept and physical form of music. Or maybe it has to do with how universally famous he’s become: In the post-MTV era, you might not recognize Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys or Caleb Followill of Kings of Leon if they passed you on the street, but White – who transitioned from a Tim Burton aesthetic into a new-school Elvis – is possibly the most recognizable musician this side of Bono. He’s ascended to a level in pop culture that he’ll never escape – not even in death. (Imagine how many Kurt Cobain rumors would’ve circulated online had we all been glued to Facebook in 1992.)
But White (or Third Man) does have a point: This clickbait culture has become a full-fledged epidemic. Even a decade ago, most music news still had to be filtered and verified through an artist’s management and then publicist before it made its way to the public. Now the publicists, management and artists (usually in that order) are the last to know what’s being said about them. Fact-checking and sourcing only go as far as the first story posted, and once something becomes news (whether it’s deemed newsworthy or not), more reputable sites are basically obligated to report on it regardless of its veracity. The simple fact that something has become news becomes news itself.
White’s in a no-win situation with the media: The more he says – even in defense of himself – the deeper of a hole he digs.
White, however, can’t change this. Nobody can. While his statement did clarify several rumors taken out of their proper context (when White said he didn’t “belong here,” it wasn’t an existential cry for help – he jokingly meant he didn’t belong in a chat room), it all had an ironic backfire. By complaining about constantly providing fodder for clickbait, all White did was create more clickbait. Every site (including this one) had to report yet again on White’s latest missive – and even this very story wouldn’t exist had Third Man not released it. White’s in a no-win situation with the media: The more he says – even in defense of himself – the deeper of a hole he digs. It’s a little bit like a bullying relationship: Any response to provocation is only going to breed further provocation.
So what’s the answer? It’s probably not all that dissimilar to how one should deal with a Tyrannosaurus Rex: Just don’t move. Don’t scream. Don’t shine a light in its eye. And certainly don’t throw a flare at it. If you don't do anything, it’ll eventually get bored and go after Kanye West or Miley Cyrus. If White wants everyone to leave him alone and concentrate on his music, he needs to stop with the press releases and concentrate on making music – regardless of what people are saying about him.
In all honesty, a little mystique never hurt anyone in his position. If he’s positioning himself as this era’s Johnny Cash or Elvis Presley or even Bob Dylan, he should probably ask himself how active those guys would’ve actually been on Twitter. Rumors that he’s retiring will only make fans more rabid for new material. And rumors that he demands his guacamole to have exactly four de-veined and chopped Serranno peppers only make him seem like a legitimate rock star – which he undoubtedly is. This is just celebrity in the digital age. Everyone is presumed guilty until everyone else inevitably loses interest.
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