Ted Cruz

Vid: The Joe Biden Joke That Got Ted Cruz in Trouble

This is the latest example of how social media empowers the audience, not the "star."

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Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is running for president—and from his reputation for telling bad, poorly timed jokes.

Watch above as just yesterday he makes fun of Vice President Joe Biden (who is flirting with a White House bid of his own). The joke is considered tasteless because Biden's 48-year-old son Beau just died of brain cancer and will be buried on Saturday, June 6.

At the end of the clip, Cruz refuses to engage a question about the propriety of the gag.

Cruz quickly apologized yesterday on his Facebook page, writing

Ted Cruz Facebook

While the joke's timing was certainly in indefensibly bad taste, this is hardly the sort of thing over which presidential runs fall apart over (on that score, Cruz has many bigger issues to deal with).

To my mind, the most interesting thing about this incident actually has nothing to do with Ted Cruz per se. Rather, it's just the latest example of where new forms of media that allow influential and powerful figures to reach larger audiences actually empower the audience far more than the folks on the public stage.

Recall, for instance, not just the Sony hack but especially Bill Cosby's ill-fated attempt to generate memes via Twitter. That turned into a clusterfuck of enormous proportions since rape allegations against the comedian had just gone public in a huge way. 

If you read the comments on Cruz's Facebook page, you'll see the senator immediately took a huge amount of abuse, right there in the very forum he controls and administers. Among the replies:

Sadly your character has shined through and there is no taking that back…

"Ted Cruz." You know the nice thing? He'll never be President or even Vice-President. Unlike Joe Biden….

You're a lowlife. How dare you make fun of that man when he's at a low point in his life? I pray that you'll never have to bury a child. I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy….

You are garbage and not fit to mention Joe Biden's name ever…

Too little, too late. You are beyond vile….

Scumbag. Go back to Canada, you classless POS.

Of course, people have always castigated politicians and powerful people in similar terms. But they did it in private, or among small groups, or in publications with varying degrees of influence on the culture. It's really kind of bracing to realize that the above comments are not just out there for billions of Facebook members to read but are actually on Ted Cruz's official Facebook page.

This is emblematic of the brutal new reality that politicians, entertainers, corporations, and others face. New forms of media demand a radically different relationship with the voting public, the buying public, fans, critics, you name it. From Wikileaks to Twitter (where anyone can basically call out anyone else publicly) to Facebook to YouTube to Periscope and beyond, the hierarchy between the performer and the public has been levelled in serious ways. It's not completely level, of course, nor will it be. But the politicians and the corporations and the stars who don't recognize that the terms of exchange have changed will be stepping in it every bit as much as Bill Cosby.