COLUMN: Goin’ viral (a good thing, I think)

This is my column for the Sunday, May 23, 2010 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

Goin’ viral (a good thing, I think)
By Aaron J. Brown

By now, if you are at all inclined to care, you’ve seen the “Come Home Bob” campaign sponsored by the Iron Range Convention and Tourism Board. The gist is that the Iron Range is personally inviting Hibbing High School alumnus Bob Dylan to come home to the Iron Range to be honored for his contributions to arts and culture. You might have noticed that I, your friendly local whatever-I am, was the lead pitchman in the series of videos that accompany the plea. Anyway, you can go check that out if you want but that’s not why I’m here today.

Isn’t it strange, really, how life can direct you into strange corners of the internet? (No, not those corners. The ones suitable for a family newspaper). Just over a decade ago I was a skeptical student of the Internet and a casual fan of Bob Dylan, mostly on account of him being from Hibbing. Now I’m some guy whose giant head is floating around in something called a “viral video” extolling the global impact of Bob Dylan. Believe me, I didn’t plan this when the whole thing started.

I had a similar thought when I was watching the You Tube videos for Duluth’s campaign to attract Google Fiber, an experimental high speed internet service being tested by the internet’s most influential company. Duluth Mayor Don Ness, someone I’ve known for a while, was shown jumping into the icy winter waters of Lake Superior to demonstrate his dedication to wooing Google Fiber for Duluth. Now, did the mayor start that process saying, “I want Google Fiber, so I’m going to jump in a lake and put it on the internet?” No, I am betting he did not. A series of events occurred, one after the other, until the frigid lake of pain was the only logical conclusion.

I got the good end of this deal. I just did a few videos and asked Bob Dylan to come back to Hibbing for a visit. Thirty-three percent of these videos took place at a bar. No harm there. And maybe Bob Dylan shows up to accept a key to the city, and maybe he doesn’t. Maybe Google Fiber comes to Duluth and maybe it doesn’t. Maybe people buy a whole mess of Diet Coke tomorrow, and maybe they don’t. That’s the new world of marketing and public relations. Traditional media – TV, radio, newspapers, etc. – is not dead, but it is changing. More than ever, the use of “viral” media blasts will become normal until the market orients itself and moves to what’s next.

One of the cool things about Bob Dylan is how he’s spent his whole life borrowing from the classics of folk, rock and literature and yet has remained steadfast in preventing his categorization. Human nature, after all, seems to almost demand a category for all types. People want to know who’s the loser, the creep, the jock, the ace, the cheerleader and the dinosaur. They need people to fill those roles, because that’s the easiest way to figure out this world. The hard truth is that everyone’s label is potentially inaccurate, for one, and secondly probably due to a series of events that were not initially planned. Is this like catching a virus? A viral video? Perhaps.

At any rate, one thing is for certain. Dylan Days is coming up this week in Hibbing and regardless of the fervor in your opinion of Bob there’s probably something you’ll find to enjoy. This year the focus has been to highlight Minnesota and particularly northern Minnesota talent and topics. A new local band made up of experienced jazz musicians “The Big Dipper Jazz Band” and several Minnesota writers and artists will be part of the event, along with traditional events like the singer/songwriter contest and bus tour, not to mention the dozens of out-of-town visitors touring the streets. Did I tell you this because of who I am, the Dylan Days guy, or because I thought you’d like to know? Uh-oh, what if the answer is both?

Aaron J. Brown is a columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune. Read more at or in his book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range.”

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