Show Me the Whimsy!

norway flag and curling team pantsAs a platform for user-generated content (where'd that catchphrase ever go?) one of the main attractions of social media, in my opinion, is that it serves as a forum for whimsy -- the errata and marginal enthusiasms that are uncovered when people become their own media sources, or create ad hoc organizations devoted to the absurd. But the human capacity for whimsy, being unlimited, also threatens to dilute social media's basic value to users by cluttering it with a bunch of weird crap. So where should the line be drawn?

All this occurred to me when reading about Facebook's decision (subsequently revoked) to take down a fan page devoted to the Norwegian Olympic Curling Team's pants, on the grounds that it technically violated Facebook's terms of use. This is a whimsy double-whammy, combining curling -- surely one of the most absurd sports ever televised -- and the bizarre, possibly tongue-in-cheek fashion statement of a small Scandinavian country (full disclosure: my ethnic extraction is half-Norwegian). The pants really have to be seen to be appreciated, but you might describe them as a cross between medieval jester's trousers and golf pants on acid.

The pants are clearly intended to get people's attention, and have succeeded, inspiring TV news reports in various languages and as of February 16 a Facebook page, which by Friday 2/26 had attracted about 490,000 fans. But the Norwegian Curling Team's pants fan page didn't conform to Facebook's standards, at least at first, in that it didn't "promote a business or other commercial, political, or charitable organization or endeavor," and the page's creator -- Tony D'Orazio, a curler from New York -- wasn't an "authorized representative" of the Norwegian Curling Team, or more specifically, their pants.

So Facebook took the page down, provoking an avalanche of angry comments. Clearly the pants page wasn't just an irrelevant inside joke -- it was an expression of a broad-based cultural movement, doubtless short-lived but with remarkable reach during its brief period of fame. Facebook quickly restored the page, and it seems to have taken steps to satisfy the commercial endeavor requirement by including a link to a Web site which sells the pants (Loud Mouth Golf).

But the whole thing encapsulates, in miniature, the dilemma of whimsical content for social media. The primary function of social networks is to allow real human beings to create profiles representing themselves to more-or-less-genuinely; this basic imperative is reflected in rules which prohibit people from, say, stealing someone else's photos or using copyrighted brand imagery to "portray" themselves. But human interests aren't limited to this kind of direct, straightforward self-expression -- sometimes, we want to express our admiration or veneration of things like parti-colored pants, and as social media is more broadly about self expression, this seems entirely appropriate. But does whimsy threaten to drown out the real human element in social networks, making them less interesting in the long run?

 Norwegian Curling Team Pants T Shirt

4 comments about "Show Me the Whimsy!".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Steve Sarner from if(we), February 26, 2010 at 4:57 p.m.

    Great question and point. I think that it will be self policed for most (not all) in the majority (again not all) cases. The other whimsical element that seems to be growing is the weekly themes on Facebook - Bra Color Week, Celebrity Look a like week etc. Similar to the early days of email threads (cut and paste this and forward it to 10 friends) I think and will likely fade away as the novelty wears off....but who knows. Enjoyed the article.

  2. JD. Hunt from Hunt 5 Productions, February 26, 2010 at 11:18 p.m.

    An incredibly timely article for us. As we successfully pitched our global social media campaign to the world's largest gaming resort company last week, the campaign was applauded due to its "whimsical" theme. Praise God for whimsy.

  3. Lisa Foote from MixMobi, February 27, 2010 at 10:27 a.m.

    Erik - Thought-provoking post. While social networks' primary mission may be "to allow real human beings to create profiles representing themselves to more-or-less-genuinely, " I don't think that is social media's only role.

    Some of the most entertaining, whimsical and sometimes biting online personalities include historical individuals, fictional characters (like Darth Vader), "fake" real people or organizations ("Steve Jobs", "AP Stylebook"), and even animals.

    Characters like these have been a staple of satire for hundreds of years, and they will continue to entertain (and annoy) wherever and how ever humans communicate. Satire has a legitimate place in social media. (What would Jonathan Swift could have done with Facebook?)

  4. Haralee Weintraub from, March 1, 2010 at 8:20 p.m.

    Whimsy can be entertaining. Don't read it if you don't like the whimsical.

Next story loading loading..