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Pussy Riot, the Russian dissidents who inspired the creation of balaclavas in "slimming black", is a recent case in point. Having trended, they become trends, divorced from the conditions that produced them, isolated from the anonymous activists fighting the same fight.
Justin Bieber is of course the exception to the rule - but because those who make up "the rule" are anonymous failures, his ascendancy is mistaken as representative.
Since the arrest of Kony2012 video creator Jason Russell, interest in the arrest of Kony himself has plummeted.
But when one cause célèbre becomes passé, another arrives to take its place, as the jam-packed Pussy Riot bandwagon recently demonstrated.
Ethan Zuckerman, a scholar at MIT, measures attention to causes in units he dubs "Kardashians", named for "amount of global attention Kim Kardashian commands across all media over the space of a day".
He notes that "at the peak of his infamy, Kony registers only 0.4 peak Kardashians, a level she achieved by filing for divorce after a 72 day marriage".
"It is time to make him known," Justin Bieber proclaimed. In May, rapper Chris Bown discovered that over one hundred people were massacred in Houla, Syria. His followers asked Jennifer Lopez and Britney Spears to help oust Assad.