Arts, On Campus, Column

Some Interruption: Yik Yak, UGBC, And The Modstock 2014 Publicity Debacle

There is literally a host of deadly tornados headed to Boston College, the storm arriving just in time for Modstock 2014. Granted, the winds will have dissipated significantly by the time the storm get to New England, but given some other circumstances of Thursday’s concert, the imagery of the host of tornados still seems quite appropriate. Event publicists were off to a bad start in late March when Hoodie Allen, headliner of the concert, confirmed his upcoming appearance at BC via Twitter-two weeks before the formal announcement. If it were solely the 25-year-old rapper’s gaffe, perhaps future crises could have been averted. Allen, however, was only responding to tweets about the concert. The news had leaked internally from the Undergraduate Government of Boston College (UGBC), and, responding to a series of tweets about Modstock, he had assumed his appearance was confirmed.

The unconfirmed news was left to precipitate the next two weeks on social media-withholding the big news until mid-April, the officers of UGBC seemed to be the only ones who didn’t know who they’d signed for Modstock. When it finally arrived, the official announcement appeared to be everything UGBC needed to subvert early tensions. The Facebook event for Modstock 2014 was supplemented with the sort of A-list graphics undergraduates have come to expect from their government. Also paired with the announcement was a video produced by student media group Exposure Productions, compiling clips of Allen’s work with original footage of the Mods. This official release had a clear message: UGBC was still in control.

And then, the “herd” moved in.

Anonymous bulletin app Yik Yak opened the floodgates for a host of unnamed critics to begin attacking the concert choice via smartphone. A viral campaign had been brewing for weeks to discredit UGBC’s choice. This series of “Yaks” ranged in intensity, some sarcastically blaming UGBC for everyday inconveniences, others proposing alternative acts for the show. UGBC was once again placed in a position of powerlessness.

It’s still unclear if this dissent was in any way representative of the opinions of most students, but to be fair to the Yak herd, neither was UGBC’s artist selection process. The animosity toward Allen could easily be astroturf, an initiative started by a few questionably motivated individuals, and made to appear as a grassroots effort. With over 6,000 BC undergraduates on the app, however, the backlash on Yik Yak is perhaps the closest thing to a student referendum on UGBC’s decision.

Once as simple as a well-designed poster, controlling the announcement of large-scale events like Modstock has grown into a Sisyphean task for UGBC. Even the concept of a student government itself is called into question in the era of social media. Last November, two joke candidates won Harvard’s Undergraduate Council elections, promising students the cafeterias would start serving tomato-based ravioli soup everyday and the university would stock thicker toilet paper if they were elected. The two victors resigned immediately, leaving the Cambridge university uncertain as to the role their student government would play going forward.

Only numbers will tell just what effect the social media firestorm had on Modstock 2014 and more broadly, what UGBC will accomplish going forward. Anecdotally, however, it speaks to the problematic nature of calling an organization that plans concerts a “government.” With the exception of an artist like Macklemore, no Modstock act would be representative of the tastes of the majority of undergraduates. While the Harvard campaign was a joke, the fact that “outsiders” who promise things like cafeteria choices and toilet paper appeal to most students speaks to how fickle the functions of a purely “representative” student government would be. Even if it does carry over most of UGBC’s programming branch’s bureaucratic structure, at least the new programming board-slated to take over most of UGBC’s event planning activities next semester-will be unbound to maintaining the illusion.
What’s ironic is that Chorduroy, a small music organization on campus, hosted a lecture with rapper-producer Ryan Leslie the night before Modstock 2014. While the Hoodie Allen concert will almost certainly be better attended, Chorduroy seemed to encounter none of the red tape and public outcry UGBC did. Arguably, a greater “programming” function is served when the University hosts an artist on campus that will mean a lot to a little, rather than choose an artist that’s supposed to mean a little to a lot.

Because at the end of the day, all most students want is thicker toilet paper.

May 1, 2014