Posted by : Amitha Amarasinghe Sunday, July 28, 2013


The Broken Windows Theory was introduced by social scientists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling in 1982, as a theory in criminology which explains how maintaining and monitoring urban environments in a well-ordered condition may stop further vandalism and escalation into more serious crime.
Ok, let me explain this with a classic example they always take when explaining this theory.

Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it's unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside. Or consider a sidewalk. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of trash from take-out restaurants there or even break into cars. (From Wikipedia) 
 Now think about how most streets in Colombo & suburbs looked like four years ago. It was untidy, filthy, not well maintained. As a result what happened was, people fearlessly went ahead and dropped more garbage out of their vehicles. They spit on sidewalks, dropped their food wrappers on the streets, and in some streets in Colombo it was a common thing to see even people urinating on the sidewalks. Fast forward to 2013; thanks to massive urban development projects happening in and around Colombo, most of the streets are now well maintained, clean and disciplined. You will probably think more than twice before even dropping a toffee wrapper outside your vehicle, because nobody wants to be the ‘first culprit’ who spoils it all. Now, you might be asking me ‘how this broken window theory relates to Ex-Alien video?’ The relationship occurred to me when I noticed this Tweet on my timeline this morning.

I immediately replied him, the tweet is much more relevant with the #ExAlien and #KoleveriDi hashtags. In my opinion, both Koleveri Di and Ex-Alien are songs with common characteristics. Bad English lyrics, unconventional tune, (poorly) sung with an untrained voice. In other words both songs are terribly bad music by conventional standards.
But one of these two videos went viral all over the world with over 70 million views, 273,000 likes and 132,000 comments which are mostly positive while the other one made history as Sri Lanka’s most hated YouTube video with over 2,500 dislikes (against 400 likes) and over 6,700 comments which are mostly negative. How come two videos which are ‘technically’ sounding and looking very similar, go in different directions of popularity? The Broken Window Theory can explain this.
When Sony Music India seeded the Koleveri Di song on YouTube, they would have probably had a plan of “managing” the video online, whereas the 15 year old school girl from Kandy Sri Lanka went out there on YouTube on her own, without a ‘clean-up plan’ in her mind. Soon as the Koleveri video was seeded on youTube, Sony would have made sure the video will get over 60% “Like Ratio” and few positive comments for the video. Moment you do that, you set prejudices to the others who follow it with a message “this video is cool”. Even if your inner thoughts suggest you the song is bad, you will not openly criticize for the fear of being rejected by others who liked it. Now that exact psychology worked completely the other way for poor Medhani. She did an average song and a bad video and uploaded it to the worldwide web without having a clue of what she’s going to face in next six months. For nearly 7 months, the video was watched by less than 2,000 people (according to the public stats graph of that video). Suddenly in late July, the video picked up in view count as the video was featured in two popular Sri Lankan social community sites (seeding of the video). Unlike for the Koleveri Di seeding, which was cleverly managed by Sony, the guys who surfaced this video planted the prejudices to others as “this video is bad”. The followers of those two communities picked up from this preemption, and they went and left negative comments and pressed the ‘dislike button’.
This was the point at which, the video started going viral. When more and more people saw the video for the first time, it was introduced to them as “most disliked video on YouTube” etc. This triggers the ‘broken window theory’ on Medhani. Everyone who thought the video was ‘average’ went ahead and added to the dislike count and volume of hate comments. Medhani didn’t have a plan like Sony did, so it went out of control in no time.
To elaborate my point, let me ask you the question ‘why don’t all the other bad Sri Lankan songs which we hear day and night on radio and TV, never get this much of hate? Because, the media has cleverly programmed our mind to believe, those are the type of music people “generally love”. When we hear a bad song on mass media, we say to ourselves “ok, I don’t like it, but there might be lots of people who likes it. That’s why this song is played/viewed this many times”. We never go find the YouTube link of that song, and leave hate comments, do we?
So, in my opinion Ex-Alien wasn’t just a bad song. It was a victim of ‘broken window theory’. There are equally bad songs with much worst Sinhala lyrics get praised as “cool songs” and sometimes get awarded in People’s Choice awards, simply because the reputation of those singers and lyricists are well managed by the mass media. Nobody wants to challenge singer/lyricists who topped the charts of leading FM stations in Colombo (through rather mysterious mechanics) but when you see a 15 year old girl make an attempt to do something different you can always hate her because it doesn’t challenge the social norm established by the mass media stations.

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