The Ken Bone Phenomenon as Metamodern AWEsome!

Metamodernism showed its face in the political sphere again, when Ken Bone, one of the “undecided voters” who sat on stage with the candidates at the second presidential debate, became an overnight celebrity. Following the debate, he gained 47K followers on Twitter in a 24 hour period. His account now shows 250K. Ken himself expressed astonishment: “I don’t know why they would care what I have to say.” (Dear Ken – it’s kinda because we don’t actually care that we care. Let us explain…)

The initial, wild fanfare over this quintessential “average Joe” and coining of “The Bone Zone” can be understood when we look at exactly what people found was “awesome” about him. To be clear, our reading here is of the peculiarly metamodern sense of the word. (Read here for our take on how metamodernism has normativized a specific sort of “awesome” in the wider culture.)

Please note: we are casting the public REACTION to Ken Bone as a reflection of metamodernism, not trying to label the man, himself.

When millions of viewers got a kick out of Ken Bone and simultaneously expressed their appreciations all over social media, we had a collective metamodern moment. Viewers were appreciating him for his unselfconscious quirkiness. For being a bit of a nerd and not knowing and/or not caring at all that he is one. And for the awesomeness of his dapper combo of red sweater, white tie and khakis, which we would pin on the normcore appeal. There may have been a winking irony as part of the reaction (at least for some people), but there seemed to be more of a desire to lift Ken Bone up for his Ken Bone-ness (metamodern), than to tear him down (postmodern).

Now, of course, it’s true that some people’s responses to Ken Bone changed when some of his unsavory Reddit comments were discovered. But the thing is, the people who cancelled their Ken Bone fan club memberships because of his opinions about the Treyvon Martin murder, his comment about Jennifer Lawrence’s hacked nude photo, etc. (and we are not making light of any of these issues) – those folks probably weren’t truly in on the moment in a metamodern-awesome way in the first place. Still, the prevalence of the use of the word “awesome” to describe him, both on social media and in news commentaries, shows us that they were unknowingly riding that bandwagon.

Some folks tried to sell him as a hero for the brilliant question he raised at the debate… But let’s be real – there’s nothing particularly brilliant or heroic about asking a question about energy policy (and if there is, it’s a very sad reflection on the current political scene, indeed). And consider – if the same question had been asked by any of the other participants in that debate, would it have roused any extra attention whatsoever? Doubtful.

We feel that what people initially went crazy for was what we imagined/decided he stood for, and this was based on his outward appearance, and especially, his very un-ironic, not at all snarky, seemingly guileless manner. And in a way, there is even something guileless about the opinions he expressed on Reddit. While we don’t condone those views, on some level, it didn’t matter what his views are:  He’s just so much “some guy.” People lined up to love him for that, and we’d say that sort of love is metamodern.

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