Category: culture

Shut all the blinds
You mighta been seen
Sittin’ alone
With your internet dream

Winning the race
For your digital fix
Living your life
With a clickity-click
(Repeat)

“So every day I swear
I’m gonna go to bed at like eleven.
And all of a sudden its 4AM . . .
And I was just watching Youtube and
reading Wikipedia for five hours.
It’s like MAN . . . you ask me the
next day. I can’t even remember
what I was doin. Crazy.”

Tay Zonday “Internet Dream”
(writer of Chocolate Rain)

*author deftly opens his umbrella to protect himself against the thundering Chocolate Rain*

I have had the good fortune to attend a wide variety of so-called new media conferences, hear people who drive the “content market” speak about the present and future of the various “media distribution platforms”, how to “drive traffic” to your site, using Web 2.0 social networking sites to make friends where you would have previously just been tossing spam into the anonymous gray mass of stats , the importance of making your site interactive and sticky, how long visitors will wait for a page to load (3.2 seconds) and the importance of viral marketing.

They usually call out YouTube as the de facto turning point and how “anyone in America, and the world for that matter” can now “make movies with their cell phones” with the hopes that they will become the next “Chocolate Rain,” “Star Wars Kid,” “Lolcats,” “Tron Guy,” or that weird snaggle-toothed Japanese girl who just stares into her webcam and draws millions of views for doing seemingly nothing (it helps that she has a big rack).  Now a site like TubeMogul allows you to instantly upload your homemade insertion into the pantheon of filmmaking to virtually all the major “video aggregation and distribution sites” our there including Vimeo, MetaCafe, DailyMotion, How-To Cast, MySpace, Revver, and of course YouTube.

Jay Maynard is Tron Guy

Jay Maynard is Tron Guy

Have you caught on yet?  This blog entry is one big fat collection of keywords, something used in “SEO” (search engine optimization” and to promote higher “CTR” (click-through ratios) for my “affiliate ads” (but, you know this already) – another thing that they talk about behind the velvet curtain which now seems to enfold pretty much anyone else sitting at home bored and lonely and wondering how to get everyone’s attention.

 


And when they do, they realize they have not yet figured out how to “monetize” all this traffic.  ROFLcon, which took place at MIT this year was a conference for all the people who somehow managed to garner said attention for one reason or another and came together to figure out what to do when the general public shows up and says “Here we are now, entertain us.”  That’s all well and good but unfortunately the creators of these phenomena forgot to hire a door person with a cash box.

This is not leading to a discussion on “how to monetize you content” so much as it is underlining William Gibson‘s astute assertion that the very idea of Fame is becoming extinct due to it massive over inflation; if everyone is famous, then really, no one can truly be famous.   Everyone is broadcasting and those same people might be watching.  But are they watching, or are they trying to figure out how the hell these heat-seekers pulled it off?  Well that was then. So I get to my point: we now have this glut of Web 2.0 “guerilla marketing” -savvy ingenues who will stoop to progressively lower depths to grab a piece of the “eyeballs” / “asses in seats” pie.  It makes me feel like I ate way too much cotton candy with my mustard-covered hot dog.

It isn’t even the “content” that bothers me.  It’s that fact that everyone thinks that they can somehow pull the wool over everyone else’s eyes using the above mechanics.  It’s not just preaching to the choir, it is an infection in the culture.  It is indeed a virus in the system, that thrives at the expense of its host, adapts rapidly to any form of inoculation and then proliferates to any other candidate that comes within range.

Snap out of it folks, you’re having a bad fever dream.  You have tools at your disposal that defy the imagination of your former self ten years ago.  You are Marshall McLuhan‘s cautionary observation that the medium becomes the message – your very source has become your pitch, you are making trailers for things that don’t exist, like specters that haunt the territory where they died –  but lest you click-away at my posting yet one more iteration of that now tired cliche – recognize that I am appealing to you to bring something to the table. 

Forget viral marketing.  Forget spending your days and nights checking your visitor stats; these activities have supplanted the very act of creating itself!  Make things.  Make things that come from you.  If you still have something within that you can remember being distinctly your own, then call on it.  Viral videos are so DRM ago.

Have you had enough of viral videos,  or do you think we are just getting started? 

“Culture is not a commodity, it is a necessity.”

Unless someone can correct me on the source of this quote, I am going to attribute it to the last person I know who uttered it – Midi Onodera the lesbian Japanese-Canadian director of the film “Skin Deep” in which I played a transsexual woman over a decade ago. The film explored sexual, ethnic and social archetypes.

It has always stuck with me, because it highlighted something we at some point took for granted yet had already become so prevalent in our collective, dare I say, North American mindset: “culture festivals,” “a shot of culture” – the idea that it was something you went out and got a dose of, like a soul drip mainlining into your consciousness.

“Freedom fries” is perhaps the most chilling prominent example in recent memory of whitewashing the diversity that exists in life.

I just stopped by Mashti Malone’s, the Persian ice cream store on La Brea and Sunset, that serves “homemade” flavors that include lavender, ginger rosewater saffron, pomegranate, Turkish coffee, so that I could pick up some black currant juice. This is the only place in Los Angeles I have found where black currant juice can be found. There is a reason for this.

“Blackcurrants were once popular in the United States as well, but they became extremely rare in the 20th century after currant farming was banned in the early 1900s. The ban was enacted when it was discovered that blackcurrants helped to spread the tree disease White Pine Blister Rust, which was thought to threaten the then-booming U.S. lumber industry [1].

The federal ban on growing currants was shifted to individual States’ jurisdiction in 1966. The ban was lifted in New York State in 2003 as a result of the efforts of Greg Quinn and The Currant Company and currant growing is making a comeback in several states including Vermont, New York, Connecticut and Oregon.[2] However, several statewide bans still exist including Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.[3]. Since the federal ban ceased currant production anywhere in the U.S., the fruit is not well-known and has yet to reach the popularity that it had in the U.S. in the 19th century or that it currently has in Europe and the UK. The first nationally available black currant beverage in the U.S. since the ban was lifted in many states is a powerful health-food nectar under the brand name CurrantC. Since black currants are a strong source of antioxidants and vitamins (much like pomegranate juice), awareness and popularity are once again growing in the U.S.”

– Wikipedia

 

The beautiful and unfairly mblack currant

The beautiful and unfairly maligned black currant

 

In article by Ann Baldelli about the return of the Blackcurrant, farmer Allyn Brown III points out the irony “that the federal government banned commercial cultivation of the Ribes species, which is native to America, to protect the white pine, which was imported from Europe. While commercial crops were eradicated, the currants and gooseberries thrived in the wild.”

When I was a kid, my grandmother used to serve us blackcurrant juice daily. Rife with antioxidants and more vitamin C than any other juice (except perhaps Kale juice which would be really unpleasant). It was as common to me as Kool Ade or Tang may have been to others. We were in Canada so the laws around its production were different.

As I left Mashti’s, I noticed a little Middle Eastern restaurant. Hungry, I walked in a found an incredible, albeit brief menu of cornish hen kabab with sour cherry rice, saffron chicken and so on. I exclaimed, to no one in particular that it was a lovely menu, and the gentlemen standing in line before me asked if I had not ever been there before. I replied I hadn’t. He confided that it was one of the oldest Persian restaurants in Los Angeles and that the food was delicious. What was interesting was that he started to say “Iraqi,” but stopped himself and opted for the politically cooler “Persian” qualifier instead.

As he was leaving, he gave the proprietor, a large burly man, a kiss on each cheek, said some words to him in Arabic, then turned to the cooks at the take out counter and wished them well in perfect Spanish. Why this filled me up so much is, I suppose, the motivation for this piece.

I left a message for my friend in French the other day, in response to her French accented outgoing voicemail message. She called back to say how much it turned her on. This made me wonder – why is it so exciting to hear someone speak a non-English romance language? Because it is rare here in the US? Because it belies culture?

I was fortunate enough to be raised in an Ecuadorian/Polish household and was thus exposed to an already fecund environment for diversity in tradition, sentiment, nuance, music, literature, history and there’s that word again, culture. I learned French in school (being that I lived in Canada, French was always an option in school). All of this gave me a much richer understanding of the world, of food, of poetry, and most interesting to me, a way to think and say things that could not be similarly conveyed in English.

English is an incredible language. It is vital, complex, malleable to a fault and extremely effective for communication. But it easily lacks in certain departments. Note the almost inherent surrealist and analogical perspective of Spanish speakers, or the wry, didactic attitude of the French speaker, the sensual, familial sensibility of Italian, or the efficient, inclusive grammar of Japanese. Though the observation may threaten to engender stereotype, it only appears that way because it has to be parsed through the observational calculation of English.

This all to underline a disturbing phenomenon starting to spread like so much White Pine Blister Rust on the internet – localization of content. Is it ironic that a discussion on heterogeneity should be wary of the threat of localization online? Does the original world wide web not resemble more of a WTO than a UN? Perhaps from askance, but really it was just an lifting of borders. At the dawn of the browser, suddenly the curtain was lifted on the world, and without the barriers of money, Customs officials and mainstream media, we were afforded access to the thoughts, feelings and approaches of our contemporaries around the world.

With the advent of localized content (something already implemented at YouTube and MySpace) we restore the idea that what is immediately around us is of most interest, thus renewing an insular, incestuous perspective.

POM is all the rage now, but pomegranate juice was a staple in Arab countries for eons before it became a major industry in California. Like the Amazonian rainforest, we have no idea what other virtues and gifts exist within it mysterious borders, until it is perhaps too late. Every day another language goes extinct and with it all the nuance, perspective and wisdom of that culture.

It is imperative that we remain open to all of this and understand that all of it is required for the full experience of life, rather than treat “foreign” custom as a sideshow attraction.