I had been ignoring this topic for the last 2 weeks since it involves a neighborhood acquaintance and because I thought it would go away, but as the Stephen Fowler saga grows, it's hard to avoid. What's more fascinating than rehashing the train wreck that took place two weeks ago on the ABC Show Wife Swap, is to see the national reaction to it, now magnified 1,000 times through the Internet vs where it used to be localized through talk radio or letters to the editor.
The short story is that, as is typical for this reality show, two different families "swapped wives" for two weeks - one family is a stereotype flag-waving, fast food-eating, mid western family and the Fowler family is the stereotype liberal, well educated, San Francisco family. Renee Fowler has her own drama down there about eating better, taking walks vs riding ATV's, etc., with some tears involved, but it all works out well in the end. Stephen Fowler, on the other hand, loses his mind and acts like a complete ass, repeatedly and deeply insulting the transplanted wife in various ways in front of his children, all on national TV - the overall summary and central venting point can be seen here at Stephen Fowler Sucks.com.
The details aren't that important, but the reaction was fascinating, extreme, and now instantly national through the power of the Internet. For whatever reason, this episode simply struck a very negative chord with a wide number of people. It's not as if this is a murderer, or as if he's a Bernie Madoff style swindler, but wow have people gone nuts about it, now a full two weeks since the episode showed - the ABC guys must be thrilled since it's a reality show dream. A friend of mine even called Fowler the "first anti-hero" of the Internet.
- Stephen Fowler as #1 term on Google Trends for a couple of days
- Wife Swap as top rising term on Google Trends
- 200K+ You Tube views, even though the copyrighted videos keep being pulled down
- Big Yahoo article - 266 pages of comments
- 2 articles on Valley Wag
- Literally tens of thousands of comments across the Web
- Not one, but 2 apologies from Renee posted to Internet when the first one was rejected
- Stephen resigned from all of his 3 board of directors
- A 640 member group on Facebook is created called I can not stand Stephen Fowler
- Police Car needed outside Fowler house due to threats, especially since the Fowler address and personal info has been posted all over the web
- House is egged, as is neighboring house by accident
- Fowlers having to pull down all work and personal Internet sites, change phones, etc.
- In general - a total destruction of one's life, all due to a reality show
Was it a horrific idea to go on a reality show and act like a massive jerk? Of course, and the behavior simply isn't defensible, although we see far worse behavior on other reality shows. Do we all have better things to do with our life, like worry about increasing unemployment, the rise of China/Russia/India, massacres in the Darfur, etc.? Apparently not, especially since this is such a great release.
The Internet has magnified the ability of crowds to communicate, both with each other, and about each other when pissed off. In some cases it does amazing things, like keep obscure languages alive, or allow users to communicate for free across the globe. In other cases, it has now become a virtual lynch mob, and I think the Stephen Fowler saga will eventually be a great case study for one of the early ways that large numbers of people vented their unhappiness around the country about a bizarrely popular topic. On the other hand, the demise of Juicy Campus may show that some of this activity is short-lived, primarily because you can't build a business around it.