Poor Michael Fish. His name will forever be associated with ineptitude. When it is time to write his obituary, hopefully a long time from now, it will be published across several media outlets, but most of them will highlight one mistake in a long a successful career. In 1987, the well-known British weather presenter incorrectly predicted that one of the worst storms to hit the UK in recorded history wouldn’t take place.
Twenty-five years later, a clip of the mistake was used in the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games, and people today still refer to politicians, economists and pundits as having a Michael Fish moment if they fail to predict something they shouldn’t have missed.
Moments like this became iconic at a time when the UK only boasted four television channels. You had no choice but to be aware of it. But in the last 30 years, this type of moment doesn’t exist anymore. As globalisation in the 1980s and 90s was something every potential pop culture product wanted to achieve, that process is all too easy today, and, as such, the true impact of a pop cultural reference point has been degraded. Instead of pop culture, today’s world is broken up into niche categories of varying popularity.
If you like football, you can follow FIFA on Twitter, FourFourTwo magazine on Facebook and Cristiano Ronaldo on Instagram. Should you be into politics, there’s the New Statesman podcast, the Guardian app, and Daily Politics every lunchtime on the BBC. And if music is your thing, why not sign up to Spotify, or Tidal, or just follow your favourite artists on YouTube to listen to their new songs and videos. There is no such thing as mass media anymore, just a mass of media.Of course, there are exceptions that apparently prove the rule.
Take Michael Jordan’s crying face, for example: In 2009, a man who is almost universally considered the greatest player ever was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall Of Fame. The honour is a rare one that is only awarded to a select number of people, so MJ was understandably emotional about the enshrinement. He cried, tears of joy. There is no shame in such an act but as one of the greatest to ever walk the planet, for some reason, whether it is because he was considered the ultimate alpha dog or that it was on a big stage, the opportunity to ridicule was unmissable. The most bizarre thing is that it wasn’t really until 2012 that the picture resurfaced properly, when MJ became the first former NBA player to become a majority owner in a team. And even then, it was only used infrequently on message boards until it spilled over into mainstream social media in 2015 and 2016.
Since then it has been used on the front of drums, as footballs, and even on Jordan’s own phone. The crying Jordan has now settled again and in all likelihood won’t get brought up much in future unless an unfortunate situation happens to him or his businesses, or a team he owns or supports. This is because we don’t have pop culture today, we have meme culture.Sure, there will be things that deserve popular recognition in the future, but as we are becoming more connected, the world is becoming increasingly divided. You are no longer friends with your neighbour simply because you share a local geographical boundary or fit into the same school catchment zone. Instead, you go online, type in an interest and become friends with an avatar that shares a specific common interest.Yet people continue to refer to these Michael Fish moments.
His legacy is one that has transcended the digital age. It happened at a time when digital media, companies like Sky TV, and the internet were just kicking off. His failed prediction was aired before choice arrived on a grand scale, but it might be the last, defining, moment before pop culture’s heart gave way and the life support machine was turned on. The brain of pop culture still exists today but it is mushed and changed so much that it is almost unrecognisable, which, when you think about it, is exactly the lifeblood and soul of meme theory.