Posts about Culture

Pour me a pint o’ espresso, barkeep

The Evening Standard returns to Fleet Street in a photo feature that’s in the paper today — but, sadly, not online — showing that the turf once dominated by pubs for sodden hacks has now been taken over by coffee bars. It’s not just Fleet Street. All over London, coffee (Starbucks and others) and quick-lunch joints (Pret, Eat, et al) have taken over the street and the lifestyle. Instead of a pint and bangers and a conversation, Londoners are seen dashing through the streets with a Starbucks cup and a Pret cucumber sandwich. What has the world come to?

McMansions McReview

Everybody’s favorite hyperlocal blogger, Debbie Galant, wrote a novel about McMansions in the hyperlocal ‘burbs and she got a review I’d take in today’s Times.

Wireless phone sex

Trendspotter spots trendy Japanese man kissing his phone.

It wasn’t hard to piece together an explanation — the man was making a video call to his lover. His lover had asked for a screen kiss, or perhaps they’d synchronized one. It was my first glimpse of this behavior, and it happened in Tokyo, but I knew it wouldn’t be my last.

Call me a populist and a utopian and I’ll say thanks.

There has been much linking and buzzing about Andrew Keen’s militantly snobbish piece in The Weekly Standard in which he bemoans the internet and web 2.0 as a geeky rendition of communism. He reveals a sort of neoneoconservatism that wraps back around to the days before liberals became cultural snots and conservatives tried to act populist and class-blind, the days when conservatives where elistist power hoarders in small, closed societies of privilege.

This is just the sort of ridiculous piece that gets links and I don’t know why I’m falling into the trap except that it’s just so laughably insulting to the entire human race that it makes me feel as if I am Mr. Matter meeting Mr. Antimatter here.

My view of cultural weltanschauung was transformed in the mid-80s, when the remote control took over half of American couches and the cable box and VCR gave us choice — and, lo and behold, when given the chance to watch good shows, we did. It turns out that we do, indeed, have taste and TV, of all things, proved it. I came to see that if you are not a populist, then you cannot believe in democracy or free markets or education or reform religion or education: Why bother with the people if the people are fools? Those technologies gave us control over the consumption of media and the internet gives us the means to create media and that’s what Keen dreads but I celebrate.

In web 2.0, Keen sees the means of flattening culture. I see the means of the people speaking. That’s not communism. That’s democracy. That’s freedom.

Rather than Paris, Moscow, or Berkeley, the grand utopian movement of our contemporary age is headquartered in Silicon Valley, whose great seduction is actually a fusion of two historical movements: the counter-cultural utopianism of the ’60s and the techno-economic utopianism of the ’90s. Here in Silicon Valley, this seduction has announced itself to the world as the “Web 2.0” movement…. This Web 2.0 dream is Socrates’s nightmare: technology that arms every citizen with the means to be an opinionated artist or writer.

The means to speak.

So what, exactly, is the Web 2.0 movement? As an ideology, it is based upon a series of ethical assumptions about media, culture, and technology. It worships the creative amateur: the self-taught filmmaker, the dorm-room musician, the unpublished writer. It suggests that everyone — even the most poorly educated and inarticulate amongst us — can and should use digital media to express and realize themselves. Web 2.0 “empowers” our creativity, it “democratizes” media, it “levels the playing field” between experts and amateurs. The enemy of Web 2.0 is “elitist” traditional media.

Amen. But, again, do not assume that everyone who uses these tools wants to be published in The Weekly Standard. What you see is not a mass of minimedia. What you hear is the people, talking. And if you refuse to listen, you will make a rotten capitalist, journalist, politician, statesman, cleric, teacher, or neighbor. Keen hears the voice of Marx in Kevin Kelly fretting about “Mozart before the technology of the piano… Hitchcock before the technology of film. We have a moral obligation to develop technology.” Keen says:

But where Kelly sees a moral obligation to develop technology, we should actually have — if we really care about Mozart, Van Gogh and Hitchcock — a moral obligation to question the development of technology.

The consequences of Web 2.0 are inherently dangerous for the vitality of culture and the arts.

No, it is inherently dangerous for the business of those who used to control the means of creation and distribution. And that is Keen’s real fear:

Traditional “elitist” media is being destroyed by digital technologies. Newspapers are in freefall. Network television, the modern equivalent of the dinosaur, is being shaken by TiVo’s overnight annihilation of the 30-second commercial. The iPod is undermining the multibillion dollar music industry. Meanwhile, digital piracy, enabled by Silicon Valley hardware and justified by Silicon Valley intellectual property communists such as Larry Lessig, is draining revenue from established artists, movie studios, newspapers, record labels, and song writers.

Is this a bad thing? The purpose of our media and culture industries — beyond the obvious need to make money and entertain people — is to discover, nurture, and reward elite talent. Our traditional mainstream media has done this with great success over the last century.

Traditional, controlled, centralized, elitist media that gave us The Beverly Hillbillies and Oliver Stone movies and Oprah and monopoly newspapers and Mary Higgins Clark books on the successful end… and unread literature on the unsuccessful end.

In the Web 2.0 world, however, the nightmare is not the scarcity, but the over-abundance of authors. Since everyone will use digital media to express themselves, the only decisive act will be to not mark the paper. Not writing as rebellion sounds bizarre — like a piece of fiction authored by Franz Kafka. But one of the unintended consequences of the Web 2.0 future may well be that everyone is an author, while there is no longer any audience.

Aha. And there is Keen’s other essential fear: that is voice will not rise above that of the masses. But he does not have the courage not to speak. He blogs and podcasts. Heh.

: It’s no surprise that fellow digital snot Nicholas Carr agrees with Keen but Matthew Ingram does not.

: And a sort of moral opposite to Keen’s argument is the wail we hear from some quarters that now the people, empowered, are turning into gatekeepers, to which Doc applies proper perspective.

The internet is just people speaking.

Don’t read and drive

Treonauts reports that BMW’s latest clever marketing move — after making movies — is releasing free audiobooks. It’s a very good and creative ad idea. However, since I consider BMW drivers probably the most obnoxious on the road, I hope the stories aren’t too distracting.


Well, I’m glad that Oprah has been brought down a few notches… by Oprah. I don’t know who annointed Oprah the arbiter of culture, ethics, and behavior in America. Well, actually, I do know who did that: Oprah. So now she had to confess her mistake annointing James Frey. But in typical Oprah fashion, she didn’t really take the fall herself. She pilloried Frey in the process. We already knew he was a liar of Glassian/Blairian proportion. But what this was about was really whether we can trust Oprah. That’s what her empire is built upon.

But we forget it was Oprah who trashed up daytime TV. She took the Donahue format and threw in shouting, screaming lowlifes, which made her a ratings hit and which everyone else — including Donahue — then copied. Then, and only then, did she get religion. She did a show about how wonderful she was to recant and become, overnight, the queen of quality TV. Her bookers tried to get me on that show — as a TV critic at the time — to praise her. To the consternation of my company’s flacks, I refused.

So Oprah is taken down a notch because one of her creations turned out to be a fake. I can only hope that the next one to fall is Dr. Phil.

: By the way, I’m scheduled to be on Howie Kurtz’ Reliable Sources Sun day to talk about this and other stuff.

Munich and New York

It put me on edge. As I sat in the theater to watch Munich the other night, a preview of Flight 93, a movie about September 11th, came on: “EWR-SFO” gliding across a radar screen, with the voices of actors as passenger-heroes. The event is still too real to be faked and fictionalized already. I dread the dramatization and manipulation and having to ferret out exploitation from agenda.

But then I had to face all that in Munich, Steven Spielberg’s movie about what he wanted the story of the Palestinian murders of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics to be about.

Munich has all the subtlety of a terrorist attack.

Oh, the movie is impressively made. It’s Spielberg. But in the end, it can be reduced to the four key scenes in which Spielberg abandons drama and story-telling to hammer home his points like nails into the skull: There is the scene in which the oh, so likable Palestinian terrorist delivers his soliquey about not having a home. And then there is the scene in which the gentle Jewish toymaker and bombmaker wails and wonders about what it means to be decent when you have to fight to survive. And then there is the boggling juxtaposition between the story’s tortured hero shtupping his wife and the murder of the Israeli athletes; he explodes just as they do and, yes, violence is sex.

But the worst is the final frame, when Spielberg adds back to the New York skyline the twin towers of the World Trade Center. And just what is he trying to say: That killing the terrorists was futile, for they kept killing? Or worse, perhaps, that 9/11 was a counterattack brought on by the counterattacks from our side? I wish he were trying to say that we must continue to hunt down the vermin who perpetrated 9/11 as Israel hunted down those who murdered in Munich. But he leaves little doubt that he is not.

And I wonder what demons Spielberg is using his considerable filmmaking talents to pacify. After his quite laudable recording and dramatization of the Shoah, is he now trying to be fair and balanced to Israel’s enemies? But I can’t imagine him saying that the architects of the Holocaust should not have been brought to justice. Did he instead — to paraphrase the old Air America bit — get the fax with the Hollywood agenda? Well, I don’t believe in conspiracies and cabals, even from Hollywood. Is he paying some penance for Hollywood’s years of glorifying violence? No, he has always been the sweet antidote to movies’ mayhem. In the end, I don’t much care what made him make Munich. But I did not like it. I left angry.

And now I feel even more on edge anticipating the 9/11 movies to come — Flight 93 and Oliver Stone’s and God knows what else that is headed into production.

My 2006 predictions and 2005 wrapups

My 2006 prediction: You won’t catch me writing another damned post filled with bullshit predictions for 2006.

My 2005 wrapup: I already had enough bullshit in 2005, who needs more?

Gawd, I hate the end of the year. I’d list the top 10 reasons why I hate the end of the year. But I have only one reason: End-of-the-year lists. I hate ’em.