The Age of the Sycophant

Dodger Faithful

Sycophant – A self-seeking, servile flatterer; fawning parasite.

No one likes the idea of being classified as a sycophant. Yet without question there are legions of followers who sing the praises of their favorite online voices without fail, all in hopes of garnering favor and being a part of the in-crowd. Entire businesses and social networks have been built on the back of the die-hard loyalist. This lack of intellectualism provides one of the reasons for an increasing backlash against social networking in the United States.

Who are these people that trust online voices so blindly that they accept anything said as gospel? How did we get to a point where a group of media that was supposed to inspire conversations and thought turned into a mechanism to harness fans? Instead of dialogue, we have “social propaganda” designed to convince the sycophant to buy products, subscribe to questionable services, market their heroes trying to build businesses, and in the worst cases, defend offended parties via the flash mob.

One thing is clear. While democratizing in some ways, social media has also created a means to create blood loyal fans who opt for passion instead of mindful choice. We live in the age of the sycophant.

Perhaps the term is too harsh, and it’s necessary to seek something more palatable. There is another place in life where people blindly support people and things — sports! Nothing typifies this kind of behavior more than the crazed fan who will go to absurd lengths to show team loyalty.

And perhaps the best example of the crazed sports fans are the Philadelphia Eagles Fans, Red Sox Nation, Chicago White Sox fans, Montreal Canadian faithful, English football clubs, and even the rare Dodger fan (as depicted above). Look at Philadelphia, for example. From target practice at Santa’s expense to regular trips to a four cell jail built under Lincoln Financial Field, Eagles fans regularly cross the line and find themselves in questionable acts.

Somewhere there is an off switch that neutralizes rationality, and fuels endorphine driven crazed behavior in support of one’s favorite sports team. It simply defies logic! Yet it’s something that we can all identify with, and perhaps even admire.

What’s different from being a crazed sports fan and a blind follower of your favorite voice online? Not much. In fact, the behavior patterns are very similar in nature. Sycophants are beyond fanatic sports fans. They do unmindful things such as propagating bad ideas, mimicking style rather than developing their own, and flash mobbing others, all to curry favor and feel a part of that favorite voice’s community.

Don’t Be Eddie Van Halen

Eddie Van Halen Image from More Things.

It takes two parties to dance, and fans need a personality to admire. Of course, this is not always a bad relationship where a party abuses his/her fans. Some people treat their fans like gold and view their position as a public trust. They honor their fans, serving them with great content, ideas and other services in exchange for their loyalty. They try to grow with their community.

Then there are the ones who try to capitalize on every single aspect of their blood loyal, crazy fans. From emotional support to financial milking, these “influencers” take everything they can get. Yes, they have a right to try to earn a buck, and yes, it’s fair as a third party to observe this and question the overall value to both parties.

Recently a top Internet voice decided to offer free blog ideas to his followers at $9.97 a month. This is in spite of several free services that do the exact same thing from organizations like WordPress, For Bloggers, by Bloggers and the Daily Meme, as well as free blog topic tips from leading voices like Copyblogger, Sunday nights’ #blogchat and Problogger. These subs support the influencer’s thought leadership with posts that provide links and mentions, as well as providing a little extra pocket change. And what do they get in return? $119.64 less a year to blog about ideas that indirectly support someone else’s market stature, and have no clear path to develop their own blog topics and thinking.

Examples like this content marketing pyramid can be found throughout the social web. Please forgive the second, testosterone-driven meathead analogy of the post, but since these internet voices like to think of themselves in such light, perhaps it’s time to use the dreaded rock star metaphor.

Eddie Van Halen is one of the most commercially successful guitarists ever. His brown style — marked by tapping, intense solos and high frequency feedback — distinguished his sound in an era of blues based rock dominated by Led Zeppelin and later hair metal bands. At the same time, he unleashed a wave of imitation that primarily featured thousands of teenage boys across America playing really bad guitar. His most notable successors are heavy metal guitarists Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and C.C. Deville.

In comparison, Jimi Hendrix yielded Stevie Ray Vaughn. Neil Young yielded the grunge movement. Jimmy Page yielded everything from the Edge, Jack White, Soundgarden, Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine), to at least half of the heavy metal movement. Eric Clapton influenced Van Halen (agggh!), Peter Frampton, Robert Cray, Eric Johnson, Joe Walsh and countless others.

Great guitarists make money, great artists influence other great artists. If you are so fortunate as to have a blood loyal community, don’t be Eddie Van Halen. Encourage the development of others’ thinking and careers.

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