Posts about Culture

Happy butt

I’m watching the oddest ad campaign for the kiddie movie Happy Feet: A mom is grateful that she gets to sit for an hour and snarf popcorn. Now I’ll admit that that’s the reason I like going to most of the movies I see today. But I’m surprised that is their marketing message.

Who needs Borat?

Who needs a British comic to make fun of America when The Telegraph can find plenty of material on its own. See these two frightening slideshows there about religious nuts and nutty stage mothers screwing up little kids’ lives.

: And while we’re on Borat, I agree with David Brooks when he says that Borat took the safe route by not ridiculing Volvo drivers:

Cohen understands that when you are telling socially insecure audiences they are superior to their fellow citizens there is no need to be subtle. He also understands that any hint of actually questioning the cultural suppositions of his ticket-buyers — say by ridiculing the pretensions of somebody at a Starbucks or a Whole Foods Market — would fatally mar the self-congratulatory aura of the enterprise.

But I disagree with his argument that snobbery and mockery are in any way new forms of entertainment. Game shows are built on making fun of our fellow man from the comfort and safety of our own couches.

Criticism is free

The Guardian has taken the Comment is Free model and extended it to arts and entertainment.

That model: They take their columnists and throw them into the conversation (whether they like it or not). They add in new voices and opinion leaders from many different perspectives to broaden the conversation more than the bounds of paper could ever allowed. Then they open the gates to anyone to comment and converse, discovering more interesting voices. It’s a wonderfully rich and spicy stew. In a short time, CiF has become a platform for opinions and, like its foremother, HuffingtonPost, has been used as a place to announce positions (e.g., Jimmy Carter and the Euston Manifesto on CiF, John Kerry on HuffPost).

So now the Guardian brings this to arts and entertainment, which makes perfect sense. Now critics find themselves in the conversation . . . with other critics (formerly known as the audience). What’s so right about this is that the conversation is going on anyway; by helping it to come together, the Guardian puts itself in just the right position, in the middle of the talk. It becomes the water cooler. If I started Entertainment Weekly today, it would look like this, with links to stories, clips, sites, and more.

I can see this working beautifully in sports because, again, it only facilitates the conversation that is going on already among fans — and any opinion there is about as good as the next. [UPDATE: Proving once again that I am not a real man, I never look at sports sections and thus didn’t see that the Guardian had already put up its sports columns CiF style; thanks to the real man in the comments who informed me.] The paper becomes the pub. I wonder whether it might work in business or at least in market coverage — why not provide a place for the crowd to dissect, for example, the Google/YouTube deal because we are doing this already. And I think a variation of this can work in local, only instead of trafficking mostly in opinion, this becomes a means for people to share reporting as well. More on that in a minute.

Many months ago, I sat in the office of Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger as we talked about the extension of the CiF model and he drew a diagram showing the new relationship of the journalist — columnist and critic but also, I believe, reporter and editor — to his or her public. He drew a funnel with talk flowing in and out and I can’t recreate that now. So I’ll give you a very mixed metaphor: Journalists should no longer act as choke-points in that funnel but instead as pumps and filters, keeping the flow of opinions and information going in, around, and through — and contributing to and improving that flow along the way.

And that is the important thing to watch here: What is the role of the journalist in this new, networked world? Moderator. Enabler. Even educator. I think the Comment is Free model works beyond merely opinion and conversation as journalists’ roles change.

First, there is the informational role. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the journalists saw questions, curiosities, or misinformation swirling around the conversation and then went and fixed that with reporting: ‘Since you asked . . .’ ‘Here are the facts. . . .’ That is their first contribution. Of course, this is what jounalists do already: They report. I’d like to see the reporting and the conversation around it come closer together in the CiF model. And then, of course, the reporters aren’t the only ones reporting. This becomes an example for anyone; it empowers us all to go get facts, to improve the conversation, to make the crowd wiser.

Second, I think the journalist-as-moderator needs to be more of a magnet, to both attract and actively go out and find the really interesting voices and the knowledgeable experts and bring them into the conversation. Again, this is what reporters do already when they find the right people to quote. But now they can do more than quote those people; they can invite them to the party. And the party only gets better.

Third, editors should see themselves more broadly. I hesitate to say that they should edit and educate the crowd, for I can hear the crowd shouting back at me, ‘We don’t need no stinkin’ editing!’ But at CiF, when comments started to go wild, I suggested that instead of concentrating on the bad guys, they concentrate on the good guys and they found and highlighted some great new voices. That is one role of an editor: finding and cultivating talent. I also think an editor’s contribution to a conversation — as to an article — can and should be to push to make it better, to ask the right questions, to focus the narrative, to push for more reporting. That is how editors will operate in NewAssignment.net. Yes, in this sense, we are all editors. Except I think what’s missing is for the paid editors to bring those skills to the conversation. And the conversation will be better for it.

I think that the CiF model is an important step on the way to networked journalism, for it brings together the pros and the ams to do new things together.

Who says YouTube is tacky?

Not Terry Teachout. The drama critic for the Wall Street Journal and all-around cultural guy writes this weekend about the on-demand fine-arts channel he put together out of YouTube, finding an amazing list of often-rare fine-arts performances there (all of which he posted on the sidebar of his blog):

But YouTube, like the other new Web-based media, is a common carrier, a means to whatever ends its millions of users choose, be they good, bad, dumb or ugly. You can use it to watch mindless junk — or some of the greatest classical and jazz musicians of the 20th century. . . .

By posting this list of links, I have, in effect, created a Web-based fine-arts video-on-demand site. The irony is that I did so just as network TV was getting out of the culture business. Not only have PBS and its affiliates cut back sharply on classical music, jazz and dance, but cable channels like A&E and Bravo that used to specialize in the fine arts are now opting instead to show “Dog the Bounty Hunter” and “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” This abdication of cultural responsibility has created an opening for entrepreneurs who grasp the new media’s unrivaled capacity for niche marketing.

Everybody’s a network.

The sun sets on Hollywood

Peter Preston writes in the Observer:

. . . Professor Jeremy Tunstall has just written a successor to his magisterial 1977 study, The Media Are American. It is called The Media Were American.

Tunstall’s thesis is simple, but jolting. Of course America still floods the world with movies, music and TV shows. And, of course, their combined value climbs higher and higher. But if we’re talking something different – market share – then the US is in headlong decline, and has been for nearly 50 years. Discount around 100 annual hours of bigbudget movies and the residue is a pitiful, shrivelled thing.

India, China, Brazil and Japan (to name but four) have media exports of their own that equal or outstrip any imports. China, with 1.3 billion people, relies overwhelmingly on home production in local languages. So, with a bow to Bollywood, does India. Egypt looks after the Middle East.

The bigger Latin American countries make most of their own popular media now – and export lurid soaps to Spanish-speaking channels everywhere, including the US.

So at last we can stop being accused of ruining the world with our tawdry entertainment.