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Failure Porn: Why Mariah Carey’s New Year’s Eve Blunder Was Part of a Longstanding Tradition

No way she's ever gonna shake this one.

Mariah Carey

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As painful as it is to watch Mariah Carey try to play off what is being called her “epic lip sync fail” from ABC’s “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve With Ryan Seacrest,” laughing at celebrity snafus is a time-honored internet tradition as old as schadenfreude itself.

In one clip, Carey traverses the stage aimlessly, sending misfired jokes about her song’s chart-topping status. Pointing the microphone to the blissfully ignorant crowd, Carey announces something no diva ever dreams of saying: “Let the audience sing, okay?”

And sing they did. The internet’s appetite for “failure porn” is as voracious as ever. Twitter’s punishment was swift and severe. One user even took the opportunity to make a Helen Keller joke. Jimmy Kimmel roasted the singer on his show Monday night, quipping: “She lipped, she just forgot to sync.”

In the aftermath, Carey accused Dick Clark Productions of intentionally sabotaging her (which they emphatically deny), and has reportedly fired her longtime creative director, Anthony Burrell. Unless you were a super fan of the singer’s, the whole debacle was a welcome diversion to start 2017 off with a bang.

Watching celebrities fall off their pedestals continues to be one of America’s favorite pastimes. Time will tell if Carey’s ordeal will kill her comeback the way Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction did during the 2004 Super Bowl, or send the amount of vitriol her way that went to Ashlee Simpson, when she dropped the mic and just danced on “Saturday Night Live” that same year. That was 12 years ago, and as the President-elect can attest, scandals don’t pack quite the same punch anymore.

Beyonce weathered the storm when it was revealed that she lip-synced the National Anthem at President Obama’s second inauguration. The unfettered access afforded by social media and the internet may be a blessing and a curse. Mistakes are broadcast immediately, rippling into the online abyss so the public can wring out all the comedy and sympathy possible. Scandals dissipate as quickly as they explode, they are not hidden and left to fester. The court of public opinion may reach its verdict quickly, but at least it’s well-informed.

READ MORE: New Year’s Eve 2017: Where to Watch All the Fun and Festivities Live

Ever since Bob Saget first brought “America’s Funniest Home Videos” into our homes in 1989, Americans have harbored a perverse love of witnessing others’ failures. That joy of watching someone fall through a staircase or walk into a glass door can be had on YouTube at the drop of a hat, where “Epic Fail Compilations” are some of the most popular videos. The mere fact of the popularity of the slang “epic fail” indicates the culture’s obsession with failure.

The epic fail can take many forms, but it almost always involves public figures. Margaret Cho called out Tilda Swinton for an awkward conversation the two performers shared over the “Doctor Strange” whitewashing controversy. On Bobby Lee’s Tigerbelly podcast, Cho recounted the conversation with Swinton as “so weird.” In response to an article reporting Cho’s comments, Swinton’s team sent the entire email exchange to Jezebel, assuming that would clear her name. Instead, it led to further embarrassment.

READ MORE: ‘Empire’ Season 3 Trailer: Get Ready For Mariah Carey

With this private correspondence at their fingertips, the public can judge for themselves who is in the right. Swinton weathered the mini-scandal well, but the emails don’t exactly refute Cho’s assessment, either. The way the flare-up unfolded, as the tail end of the larger “Doctor Strange” scandal and only because of an off-handed podcast remark, is a perfect example of how scandals can be both exacerbated and resolved through the scrutiny of digital culture.

Carey certainly has fans as rabid, if not more so, than Swinton’s, and lip-syncing — unlike whitewashing — has become a grudgingly accepted fact of live music. As the viral news cycle churns on, Carey’s fall from grace will follow her, but not drag her down. You don’t need an in-ear monitor to know what she says in “You’ll Always Be My Baby”“No way you’re never gonna shake me.”

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