If you have ever used Twitter, you may have come across the infamous ‘fail whale.’ While you may wonder what the fail whale actually is, it is quite self-explanatory. When their is an error or an overload of users on Twitter, users will find themselves staring a whale being carried over water by tiny birds. With so many errors on Twitter and users finding themselves staring at a fail whale so often, one would expect angry and annoyed tweeples. Instead, it is quite the opposite.
The fail whale has become something of a phenomenon in that what was just supposed to be an error page for Twitter, has now become an iconic logo. Originally created by Twitter user yiyinglu, the fail whale has made ‘failure’ profitable and also amusing.
Enjoying Others Fail
So what is about the fail whale that makes failure acceptable? Most would agree that failure is a disappointing and it would be shocking to hear someone say that they take pleasure out of seeing someone ‘fail.’ Still, it is a growing trend that is making failure become laughable and amusing.
The biggest reason for this growing trend stems from the direction that television shows and most recently the internet have begun to dip toward. For the last 19 years, America’s Funniest Home Videos has been bringing laughter to families across the nation. While shows consist of dogs doing tricks and kids saying funny things, it does include segments where someone ultimately ‘fails’ and gets hurt. This has been AFHV’s bread and butter. Without it, they wouldn’t be the same. Audiences watch because they want to see failure. Not only do they want it, but they almost demand it.
Fast forward to the present and we can see even more extreme cases where ‘failure’ is a joke.
Would you believe it if I told you that one of the fastest growing websites on the web revolves around people sharing their stories of failure and bad luck? I introduce you to FMyLife. With nearly 2 million unique visitors just last month, FMyLife has a growth rate of more than 75% in the last 2 months.
Here is an example of something a user wrote on FMyLife:
Today, I was meeting my girlfriend at the airport after studying abroad for a year. She ran to hug me, and I wanted to pick her up and spin her around, like they do in those romantic movies.I tried to do that, but instead I dropped her.FML
While it may be bad enough for people to laugh at one’s failure, FMyLife makes sure to have one key element to a successful website: Building Community. FMyLife allows users to rate these events by voting:I agree, your life is f***ed or you deserved that one. For the example given above, the FMyLife community voted you deserved that one 21,877 times.
Another site similar to FMyLife which has been gaining popularity is Fail Blog. As the name suggest, Fail Blog advertises themselves by the following:
Fail, Owned and Pwn moments in pictures and videos. Share fails, pwns, and owns with the world on FAIL Blog.
Fail Blog also builds their community presence by allowing users to comment on photos and videos as well as share content to other platforms like Facebook and Twitter. At nearly 11% growth rate, Fail Blog is close to reaching the 1 million unique visitors mark.
So what does this tell us?
Twitter has brought us the Fail Whale, FMyLife has brought us the now popular term “FML”, and Fail Blog has created an epicenter for ‘fail’ moments. People don’t just like hearing and seeing people ‘fail’, they love it. Love may be a strong word to use, but numbers don’t lie. People don’t mind reading and hearing about it, as long as it doesn’t happen to them. That is the key to it all. It is perverse to think that one can take pleasure out of someones bad luck, but as long as they themselves aren’t the ‘victim’ it seems like one could care less. One way to look at the situation is that when users see and read these stories about others unfortunate events, if they have no sense of connection with the ‘victim’ then they have no shame in laughing about it. The result of sites like FMyLife and Fail Blog is that they have created a new sense of what I call ‘fail humor.’ In a society where failures are becoming the punch lines of jokes, who is to say that when someone tells of how they failed at some pivotal point in their life, we as a society won’t laugh at them?
In an ideal and entirely optimistic world, failure would be seen as a way to learn from one’s mistakes. Some of the most powerful quotes we have today have been about failure and overcoming. One of my favorite quotes comes from Michael Jordan where he talks about his failure and the role it played in his life:
I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.
If failure is a joke, would you laugh if your best friend failed college? Would you be amused if your mom failed at being a parent? Failure is a term we use to describe times when the outcome was unsuccesful or unfortunate events, it is important that we never forget that.
Photo by Shes Jack