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Posts Tagged ‘Media’

phillipeTwo interesting cases in honourable press mendacity.

1. The Daily Beast’s tempestuously appealing nympho-con Meghan McCain (yes, that one) argues that the Sanford sex scandal shouldn’t be enough to ruin a promising politician’s career

2. The revelation that the NYT and the Wikipedia executive purposefully suppressed news of reporter David Rohde’s kidnapping by the Taliban for seven months. Both cast interesting light on all my previous talk of news fragmentation, and the end of message control, especially in relation to Prince Harry’s secret military service in Afghanistan.

[Let me say now that what’s missing from the previous times I’ve written about Harry’s service is the acknowledgment that press silence could have saved the scion’s life, and almost certainly didsave the lives of soldiers around him.]

Meghan McCain first: a man who could have been president has been destroyed. Newsweek’s Ick Watch [and thousands of others] have copies of the emails sent to a mistress in Argentina by Sanford. I cite Ick Watch (and I’m not linking to it) because reading them does make your stomach turn a little: not in the grimy vein of Joyce’s letters to Nora Barnacle; because they are extremely intimate, thoughtful and slightly defeated love letters. Search if you must but frankly it’s none of our business precisely what he wrote, even if you believe that what he does in his spare time is our business.

Alternatively, read them and take a minute to consider what kind of a modern president would have written such cliche-defying personal confessions.

cake sniper diesel sweeties

Image from dieselsweeties.

Grasshoppers and bees

Meghan McCain, then. [Beast gave her the headline “Forgive Mark Sanford”, which doesn’t make much sense given her argument.] She argues in a balanced way something which I’ve always put in cruder terms:

“I don’t know if it’s the fact that I am younger, or that just have a more open-minded view of politicians and sex, but it’s of very little concern to me who elected officials sleep with.” via Daily Beast

The counterargument hinged, and always will, upon some connexion between personal morals and the capacity to rule a state. The way I’ve stated a similar opinion to Ms. McCain’s in the past, in case you’re interested, is “I honestly don’t care if they have a [willing] harem out back of the White House, so long as they’re a competent statesman”.

But then in the past I’ve spouted other such gems as “politicians almost always have more in common with other politicians of any party or philosophy than they do with you and me”. Hunter S. Thomspon would tell us that these are people for whom power is already better than sex, and that this is what has driven them to the top. Frankly, what goes on in the secret swimming pool concerns me much less than pretty much any other aspect of any politician’s personal life.

The other argument, of course, is that infidelity compromises a politician, whether through a) the machinations of robo-soviet Deceptasluts [see yesterday’s post on Transformers 2] or b) through simple tabloid vulnerability.

The former may seem obsolete but may actually be more difficult to deal with: never mind the buzzsheets, maybe what Americans should worry about regarding the Sanford affair is not that the Senator had a sordid affair with a foreign national, but that he had an apparently very committed, devoted affair with a foreign national.

As for the latter argument against political droit de seigneur, Ms. McCain along with many others points out that the logic of the argument is is circular as well as hypocritical. If nobody cared then nobody would care, and so on. The press stimulates outrage, then announces a duty to inform outrage, then stimulates outrage, etcetera.

“WHY,” politicians the world over must scream into their pillows, “why can Berlusconi get away with it and we can’t? Even Sarko gets to have a little bitta-bitta on his funky somethin’, and his constituents greet it with frank congratulations at his short-guy chutzpah. Journalists don’t wonder aloud whether Carla Bruni might be a Bulgarian spy, and even if she was they’d still come flocking to her, pantalons akimbo!”

Of course, it’s not particularly tempting to suggest suppressing this kind of news, even in order to give the public a bit of self-respect and probably grant politicians a little more time in their day. After all, the attempt to suppress these stories is what gives these storiesthem prurient fury in the first place. Newspapers certainly aren’t going to let go of their more-or-less even chance to ruin any politician they really want to, in some sort of crusade for more meta morals.

American politicians will have to wait till the American public stops taking things so seriously, which will be a while. Of course, in Britain we take fewer things less seriously than our politicians, which comes with a different set of problems. Sordid revelations of a sex scandal are more likely to have a disarmingly humanising effect on the public’s perception of a politician, especialy if they turn out to make a habit of sex while wearing a Chelsea FC shirt.

yeah

Incendiary or bigot

David Rohde next: chatter on Tweetmeme ran the gamut from wholehearted endorsement to tentative endorsement of the NYT and especially Wikipedia’s decision to suppress news of the reporter’s capture in order to downplay his value as part of a negotiation strategy.This involved Wikipedia in a long campaign of sustained deletes against a anonymous contributor in Florida, who was determined t make the news public and who may or may not now wear a tinfoil hat.

First, unrestrained applause must go to Rhodes and his translator Tahir Ludin for their bravery and sacrifice. Reading about this amazing business has made me reconsider my phrasing, if not necessarily my argument, on the numerous times I’ve talked about Prince Harry in Afghanistan. Whatever you think about Harry having a “right to serve” in a combat area, the British Army decided to send him. And having been told that, you, a major press editor, understand that you would put him and others in danger if you publish the story.

It can be argued that publishing all kinds of news puts people in danger, especially these days in Iran. It can be argued that Harry’s presence itself put the men around him in danger. But those decisions are already made and you, the news publisher, only have the option of publishing the Harry story or sliding it down a crack in the sofa cushions.

I certainly won’t dispute the rightness of the NYT’s decision. No doubt it was easier to convince other news outlets because a fellow journalist was in trouble, and because the Gray Lady would be able to make any other outlet which broke the story look boorish.

The Wikipedia argument is a bit more interesting: who are Wikipedia execs to say whether a Wikipedia article may cost a man his life? TechCruch are fully behind the decision, distancing themself from prim-hysterical “information wants to be free” arguments, while Mashable raise the issue of suppression being anti-wiki and then more or less dismiss it, given that lives were at stake.

I suppose what I want to say is that I have oversimplified. In the past I talked about the Harry thing in terms of media, not people’s lives. Of course, plenty of other people were going to talk about bravery and suchlike. But I also took the Harry thing as the straw which was going to break the back of institutional media. Today we’ve seen yet another straw, one which will contribute to the slow fragmentation of the camel’s back, if you’ll forgive the unfortunately straitened metaphor.

What I should have said is that sooner or later it would be impossible to keep stories like these under wraps, for however good a reason. In the meantime I want to see the inevitable movie adaptation include the character of the Florida-based anonymous Wikipedia editor, posting and posting against a Wikioppressor, convinced that he is right and that being right is all you need.

Man is in love and loves what vanishes,

What more is there to say? The country round

None dared admit, if such thought were his,

Incendiary or bigot could be found

To burn that stump on the Acropolis

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Supplementary to yesterday’s rather dour post on the media implications of US foreign policy jostling: Reza Aslan’s How to Win a Cosmic War.

Globalization and especially the power of the Internet, Aslan explains, have enabled alienated Muslim youth in the Middle East and Europe to find a collective identity through religious symbols. Rather than go through the years of study necessary to join established religious institutions, jihadism is a kind of short cut. But having joined this movement, what makes some decide to join the ranks of mass murderers while others just cheer from the sidelines? Aslan doesn’t offer a convincing answer. –via Jamie Rubin

Yesterday I thought about raising the question of whether actual, suicidal violence isn’t the most extreme form of a turning inwards: an intolerance, growing into an inability, to listen to or even encounter alternative points of view. Put another way, take ‘extroverted’ haters, who troll ideologically-opposing discussion sites and who attempt, at some level at least, to engage with the ‘wrong-headed’. Even if only in terms of designing abuse to provoke a reaction. Are these, who encounter opposition at the ‘battle line’, less likely to commit acts of violence than people who get their ‘news’ strictly from the World’s End presses, the ideologue or the online pulpit, who burrow themselves into recursions of confirmation and vindication?

I think maybe. I think that debate, however broad you stretch the term, is always better than staying within a system which sees enemies as totally ‘other’, and which tries to construct all ‘others’ as uniformly ‘enemy’. I think that might be part of a wider definition of ‘asymmetric warfare’.

But who knows? Probably the middle-class 18-25 year olds in Wahabism’s key demo are well informed and sincerely disgusted by the depredations of the world around them. Certainly American Christian exretmism couldn’t be characterised as ignorant of the world, though one might argue they are either attuned or taught to see everything through certain specific blinders.

Put it in the terms of a con: is the clincher in the pitch, or is it in the mark himself?

[straying dangerously close to Darrow Defense territory here]

Maybe the difference is where ideological recruits aren’t taught to debate or challenge, since the evil is portrayed as being in blood so far stepped that argument becomes pointless.

HG Wells believed that education would sooner or later raise everyone to the same moral level. I’m not ready to rule that out just yet, at least for most of the people, most of the time. But I am certain that information is not education. The way you receive your information can force or encourage you to see it in a certain way, but the medium is not inherently good or bad. Much as I hate to admit it, growing up accustomed to free online information distribution isn’t the same as education; it’s a form of conditioning, one that’s likely to provoke resistance as well as enlightenment.

Back to the thesis again: the web isn’t an inherently radicalising medium, nor even an inherently polarising medium. It is, however, an effective fetishizing medium.

Enough of the moral stuff. Tomorrow: back to killer apps.

if you like something you shouldn’t put a wig on it

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nedroid-dk14

Apologies for the hiatus, a twitter obsession and a couple of weeks back in the UK got in the way. Mea Culpa.

Twitter: Beating that horse till it shines.

Twitter: Beating that horse like it’s going out of style.

I was thinking today about the informal lunches at the reuters Institute for Journalism which I went to in my last Uni year. I was invariably the youngest there by ten years and never understood why no other undergrads went and spent forty minutes eating free sandwiches and thinking up one half-intelligent question like I did.

During one discussion an American wire journalist, after being eagerly pressed on the subject, admitted that she knew of a story about one of the ’08 Democratic candidates that was being sat on by agencies, and that would probably come out after the nomination. At another one the speaker, a regrettably unedited Mail on Sunday columnist, mentioned with the air of a soused conjuror that he knew a big story involving one of the Royals, which would come out in the next four to six months.

It seems likely (so far) that the American story was Edwards’ affair, which barely lasted two tittilated news cycles after being masterfully massaged in between two bigger stories. The Royal one, it’s obvious in hindsight, was Prince Harry’s service in Afghanistan which I’ve written about repeatedly and with which I began my bloody thesis (which I am going to take out and bury when I get back to the UK).

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The first time I realised what the stories had been it felt weird, that I’d been sat so close to someone who had such a secret, like I’d walked by someone with a curse or a gleam upon them. It wasn’t just the secret, but the fact that they had taken the soldierly decision to respect their bosses’ decisions to hold the story, and trusted in their fellow professionals worldwide to make the same decision and not to seek to profit individually. Until Drudge kicked that in the paint; then all bets were off.

I’ve been interested in this notion of political secret-keeping since: it has arguments either way in terms of profitability and especially in terms of where journalists’ Duty lies.

But a while ago I said, with a confidence I don’t think is totally unreasonable, that those arguments are moot. Nothing the size of the Harry story could ever be sat on again, and governments would know it. Put simply, journalists simply wouldn’t trust each other, or at least not their lusty, Self-Promotion Generation citizen journo colleagues, one of whom, sooner or later, is going to get invited into the Clubroom.

In a sense, secrets being so difficult to keep nowadays might make things simpler all round, and a story today may reflect that: I twittered this Beast article on US General Anthony Zinni’s remarks on “The end of war as we know it”.

The General focused on preparing the armed forces for a future of largely non-military activities as part of long-term occupations of failed states. Intervention in failed states has been the norm of NATO warfare since the early nineties, but the American armed forces are probably least optimized for it:

“When we touch something, we own it,” Zinni said, taking Colin Powell’s quote, ‘When we break something, we own it,’ one step further. “And when we own it, we can’t help rebuilding it in our own image. That’s the American way. But we’re not good at it and we can’t afford it.” –via Phillip Knightley

What has this to do with Prince Harry, media, or eating townspeople for that matter? Nothing much. But the subtext of Zinni’s comments was to begin the process of preparing Americans for wars with no victory scenario, for Forever Wars, an effort I find strangely heartening.

I’ve been reading William Safire’s superb book on the Nixon Administration, Before the Fall, and Safire’s disappointed, relentlessly even-handed admiration will carry you along with it, especially in his description of Nixon’s attempts to extricate the country from Vietnam “with Honor” and without the expected victory.

The Kissinger negotiations to end the war with the VC leadership were conducted under neurotic secrecy, an atmosphere which Safire sees as an early stage of the Watergate mentality. That need for secrecy involves a paradox: when negotiating with totalitarian regimes it’s best to assume they are reading the major newspapers your citizens publish. But you believe the regime to be ideologically too torpid to see the free policy discussion in your press as anything but a sign of weakness in the executive.

Therefore you have to stonewall or kill stories about the negotiations to make it look like you can run a tight ship, in order to deal with people who wouldn’t respect the captain of a pleasure cruise. Meanwhile of course you feel they, the enemy, reading your morning papers over your shoulder, in which thousands of column inches decry you as a warmonger who is making no effort to arrest the war and is pursuing an illusory victory.

Safire fairly points out that even if the negotiations with the VC had been made public it probably wouldn’t have stopped counterculture’s growth and self-determination as a besieging force around the White House.

But it may have stalled the cycle whereby the Nixon administration believed it needed to conceal the fact of negotiations from its own people in order to retain bargaining credibility with practiced propagandists, when at the same time it regularly publicly characterised its own outspoken press not by their obvious, easily-understood animosity to the President but with the far more serious, inaccurate and patently impotent charge of unpatriotism.

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So what business do I have talking about all this? The North Vietnamese leadership in the early ’70s probably had plenty of reasons to wish the negotiations kept secret on their end, which the American delegation had an obligation to respect.  But it’s where the Administration routinely mistook the need for confidentiality for disloyalty and pro-Communism among the press that their logic failed them, coloured by an outrage at being Shown Up in front of the Enemy. Branding their outspoken opponents as ‘unpatriotic’ undermined the ideal the government were supposed to be fighting for, and undermined their own propaganda in Vietnam by forgetting to respect America’s own freedom. The Nixon administration looked like a bitter, impotent Totalitarian regime instead of a capable, negotiated Democratic regime.

vietnam iraq propaganda poster

And that, tortuously, gets us back to Gen. Zinni and UK media, my actual, albeit self-appointed, expertise. As a preamble to his discussion of future war Zinni confidently asserted

“that there had already been backroom talks between the U.S. and the Taliban—“like Kissinger’s with the North Vietnamese”—and predicted that these would lead to formal negotiations by the end of the year.”

I had mixed reactions on first reading: if they are ‘backroom talks’, then surely mentioning them is bad, right? With his easy confidence of a settlement “with Honour”, is the General going off the reservation to reassure Americans while jeopardising American attempts to build a bargaining position with the Taliban?

I thought about fugitive terrorists in caves in North West Pakistan unfolding their New York Times and gaining- in Nixon’s acrid phrase- “aid and comfort” from the speculation of a General and the press responding to an obvious public need for any hope of a settlement.

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But then I remembered that terrorist cells are hardly likely to get their news from print. They will get it online, where it would be difficult to miss the hopes of thousands for unilateral withdrawal, the hopes of different thousands for more destruction. The hopes of millions for peace. Online, where it would be difficult for any government or military to suppress months of press rumours about backroom negotiations with the Taliban.

Maybe, just maybe, what Gen. Zinni’s comments show, if not a moment of dementia, is the beginnings of an easing of message control at all levels of American government. An institutional understanding that the modern newsreader is better equipped than she has ever been to doubt what she reads, to research elsewhere, to follow up with in depth reading, and theoretically, to make her own decision and communicate it to others.

Of course, when we’re talking about terrorists’ reading habits, it would be foolish to ignore the opposite argument: that some, if not all readers, presented with the wealth of varying testimony and speculation online, will self-polarise by only consuming news which confirms their opinions. cf. the growth of the Huffington Post.

Ah yes, the Sunstein Argument once again (who I will also one day bury).

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And after all, maybe the story about the Democratic candidate hasn’t even come out yet, and it’s huge and is going to destroy the government when it does. Maybe I entirely mistake the capacity of the government and press institutions to keep secrets.

But at least now we know, and governments should also know, that having one of your citizens call your Chief Executive a monkey or a nigger or a fascist on the internet is nothing to be ashamed of. That the enemies you’re trying to impress will every day read the two “sides” of your press call each other butchers and traitors, and present the same story in exactly opposite ways, and still nobody gets strung up for any of it. And the government still doesn’t fall. And sooner or later, that will come to see your country’s greatest asset as a strength, not a weakness.

And finally, those enemies will be finding it harder and harder to keep secrets from their people and to suppress even simple discussion online. Not only will they sympathise with your inability to keep secrets from your own people, they will hopefully come to admire it.

The internet makes a lot of things moot, and in doing so it can make things a lot simpler. By sheer weight of greed and numbers the keeping of ‘public secrets’ is moot. And the issue of whether you appear to be in command of discourse in your country is moot, in the sense that it only matters to totalitarians and the obsolete.

Here’s hoping.

the added advantage of being true

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Ad Hock

Had an interview with a London Social Media firm, think it went okay. I decided to come clean about not using RSS much, in part because of habit/usability, in part because my current machine is an increasingly fragile, benzine-smelling, juice-stained paving slab-in-waiting. I probably should have talked a little less, and probably should have been a little less concerned with IP rights. Ah well.

Reading around for it took me to some interesting places; returning to Rageboy for the first time in months led me to Twitter critiquer the certifiable Marcus Brown:

(Blacked out in deference to Stephen Fry: the normal format is Brown talking to camera while sitting on the toilet in his tiny Munich bathroom.)

One of the most interesting things about the process of making a Twitter feed for the publication I work for is that I have to document and codify the grammar, conventions, courtesies and allusions of Twitter. Brown may sound mad as a stoat but his manic-laconic approach is enlightening and wonderfully well read. “I beg you. I plead. Follow him.”

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I’ve had the recent Kanye West singles on YouTube loop, thinking about how his singles and Flight of the Conchords got me through my final exams. It got me to thinking about the sort of role model Kanye so well represents: Sensitive and unabashedly talented; relishing his position in an economy where women benefit briefly and peripherally from his attention; yet like Jay-Z overridingly obsessed with his fulfilment of the Provider role. Tribal; caught schizotically between bandit chief and aging chieftan.

I don’t see why I need a stylist

When I shop so much I can speak Italian

What kind of person does he sell to?

Me, apparently. Sometimes his schtick is too much, sometimes his indulgences are truly charming, like the glossy but hardly focus-grouped video for Champion.

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Also, started writing notes for a project, currently called Hock, for a simple lock-screensaver which allows limited access for self-naming users to cue up elements like songs, videos or photo albums selected with a limited browser; an integrated MC program essentially, designed for passive-display participatory entertainment at parties/events of all size. Skin your party, and allow users to show off their stuff and post publicly. Needs to be written as a pitch.

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Also, this:

Now there’s a sex symbol for you. Compare Blogosphere and Radio 4 sex symbol Gail Trimble, the one-woman “intellectual blitzkrieg” who brought in more than two thirds of the total points for Corpus Christi, Oxford’s victorious University Challenge team in the final last night:

gail-trimble-with-two-of-001

Trimble, who has already turned down an offer to appear in a “tasteful shoot for NUTS magazine“, rightly observes that people wouldn’t make so much fuss about her appearance if she was male. All the same, my Starter for Ten.

Concomitant to my post about Professionals having to step carefully when engaging with non-pros using Social Networking (Or in fact any brand for whom ‘we’re creepy so you don’t have to be’ isn’t a core motive).

“Would you believe it, my brother received a Facebook message from Nuts yesterday morning saying ‘can we have your sister’s email address, we want her to do a tasteful shoot’,” the 26-year-old told BBC Breakfast.

“So of course he sent them an answer saying: ‘Seriously mate, would you give your sister’s contact details to Nuts?'”          -Guardian

how could you be so Doctor Evil

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Image post up at If it Has a Name, from the Nagasaki Lantern Festival.

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nagasaki manga-ka portrait sketch

There I was, peacefully pondering the remarkable level of Oedipal tension subcontext in Back to the Future 2, when we found a manga-ka doing portraits for a measly grand. Mine, as I mention on If it Has a Name, is similar to a picture of me done by some Chinese students of mine a few years ago: it seems to deeply begrudge the beard attached as an afterthought to an otherwise blank expanse of emasculate bishi features.

manga mangaka sketch bishi bishonen

manga mangaka sketch bishi bishonen

manga mangaka sketch bishi bishonen

Cho-chan (male, 22) posing for a sketch.

I’d love to write about the cultural significance of Japan’s love affair with the bishonen, the gender-ambiguous razor-jawed boy-woman. Bishi protagonists are generally the sign of weak or indulgent plotting, while as a sidekick/secondary character they generally serve to highlight the relative normalcy of the protagonist with extreme martial ability, sports, queerness or flamboyant humour, similar to the figure of the “perverted best friend”.

"What childish, infantile, immature and entirely uncreative mind could have come up with Buttlord GT is entirely out of my comprehension"

"What childish, infantile, immature and entirely uncreative mind could have come up with Buttlord GT is entirely out of my comprehension"

Compare the non-protagonist at the centre of The 10k Commotion, whose mystic bishi-abilities (especially at Dance Dance Revolution) drive the story while never allowing him much of a personality.

dynamite 10k tenkay commotion

Also compare the absent Mary-Sue poetess protagonist at the centre of Priya Sarukkai Chabria’s generation 14. The actual protagonist is both a clone and a reincarnation of her ‘Original’, whose work was so revolutionary that it threatened her post-dystopian world, causing her to be killed midsentence.

generation 14 priya sarukkai chabria

Can’t find a single better cover image, and it’s nowhere on Amazon. Best get it from Penguin India here. Extracts here.

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The clone narrator has a mutation which enables her to remember her Original and her other past lives, and her cognitive development is a combination of fan-fiction and a Bloom-style Oedipal urge towards her ineffable, genetically perfect poète fatale ancestral donor. She is urged to to become her, to recall her work perfectly, but she also wishes to slay her with her own Work, establish her own identity. It has its problems but it’s excellent psy-fi. Recommended.

manga mangaka sketch bishi bishonen

Nat with her alternate-universe femme fatale persona.

Finally, the best thing about Generation 14 so far, appropriately enough, is the epigraph. Like The God of Small Things, which Emiko kindly lent me, it’s obsessed with the multiplicity of life and hence of Work: Roy’s epigraph is John Berger, “Never again will a single story be told/ as though it’s the only one”. Chabria’s, which I will re-rob without shame for Iland, is a Leonard Cohen extract which I somehow hadn’t come across before.

Ring all the bells that still can ring.

Forget your perfect offering.

There’s a crack in everything.

That’s how the light gets in.

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Is plagiarism a problem on the internet? Well, yes. The waka I wrote at If it Has a Name is, I said, a simple sentiment in a consciously finite format, and so I find it hard to believe it has not been written before, even if it is formally incorrect: I line-break a subject particle, for instance. I don’t have the heart to google it.

Is plagiarism inevitable on the internet? Well, logically it is becoming exponentially more difficult to identify except in oneself, and so it may be approaching a stage where it exists suspended between being inevitable and being indeterminable.

As a concept, is plagiarism being subjectivised out of existence? Well, that depends on what you believe about reading the internet. Whether you believe that online people are automatically exposed to a proportionally, ideologically and stylistically broader field of reading material. Or whether you believe that online reading allows people to constrict their reading, to micro-manage their language and its signifiers. Which is the old argument about the Daily Me all over again.

Extract from a covering letter, sent with CV to a very interesting company who wanted to know applicants’ opinion about the success of one internet institution. I haven’t heard back. Oh well.

Feel free to skip.

I took every opportunity for personal research during my course to study online communications, including a course essay on the language of bias in supposedly non-ideological “News Watchdog” sites, and my thesis, entitled “The Information Sphere: Ideology and Langauge in News on the Internet”.

Inevitably, some of the ideas I formed in this thesis have been modified by the online news revolution in the late stages of the American election, and the current status of The Huffington Post is an interesting study.

In the thesis I argued that the internet does not have an inherently ‘radicalising’ influence on newsreading, as in Sunstein’s ‘Daily Me’ argument, nor does the proliferation of ‘citizen journalism’ necessarily herald the deprofessionalisation of journalism as many have argued, notably CNN’s Christiane Amanour.

This said, I did argue that because of the experience of choice in newsreading, and the increasing experience of participation, users would tend to develop ‘personal news cycles’: first referring to a small group of professional newsroom services, which are increasingly pressured to present “unbiased” newswire copy, the users then research and participate in news communities grouped by affiliation.

At the time of writing I cited Drudge, but his power as a maven ended with the election and his embarrassing himself (in my opinion) in the final weeks. The current era belongs to the more openly slanted magazine/conversation-styled Huff, and its web and talk-radio counterparts on the right wing, of which a web leader has yet to emerge.

I think Huff’s popularity is partly a result of its nurturing a returned sense of community in politics, which Drudge’s ‘insider’ aggregation approach rejects, and partly a result of its responding to a demand for personality in news content.

For the future: successful attempts to create a single ‘news homepage’ have rarely worked and will probably get rarer, and so I think Huff’s investment in for example sports and even entertainment reporting is probably wide of their core business, when specialised alternatives like Gawker are proliferating.

teenaged in the pace age

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Update: Instead of “are proliferating” I should have said “are proliferate”, though CVs in general make poor canvases for experimental adjectivism. I need to find myself a word that’s between proliferate and profligate, to describe the status of sites with a high, cultivated visibility but an uncertain readership, like Gawker or American Apparel ads.

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Blogart!

Images from a badly lagging video chat with my brother, in a dressing gown. He may or may not be giving me the finger in the last one.

Personal update post up on If it has a name know it: Calligraphy this morning, then paper-mache in the afternoon teaching art, so I got covered in black and white….

Later will post an image of my progress from zero to competent in Kanji calligraphy.

charms for alms

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Flogger

Two adverts:

Bear in mind I haven’t watched British television in five months.

John Lydon, flogging butter. MediaGuardian featured this with their go-to air of rueful shock: it doesn’t surprise them, of course, since they saw this sort of thing coming. And it says a great deal about the nation. What exactly? Well, you’ll just have to watch the 4th-party embed. And then decide.

Now, there’s a lot to be said about Lydon going from verbal nailbombing to salesman, albeit one who doesn’t appear to be fluent in human langauges. What’s interesting to me is not that he’s using the Johnny Rotten persona to sell, but that he has been so easily used as a persona to formulate the ad’s punchline.

The signs are all there that he serves as a symbol, not a celebrity: his bizarre cadences are left in, but the slogan voiceover for the titlecard at the end is by a different actor. It’s mercilessly edited throughout, but most obviously cut on his punchline line about how he “thinks it tastes” / “the best”: his endorsement is immaterial to the ad and its audience, pretty much forgotten, his final scene of intimacy, supposed “home life” and personal preference as much a pastiche as his tweeds. [Don’t get me wrong, the man might well have a converted farmhouse and an Aga. The point is that that’s the joke.]

The whole script serves the central gag that it’s not about slogans, specifically “Best of British” ones: and for that purpose Lydon is a marker for a pantomime antibritishness and an iconoclasm that supposedly treasures its own opinion. He could have been replaced with another defaced national symbol, like the Churchill dog nursing a vivisected pubis, or with a mohican of turf on his head.

It’s another anti-ad ad, just like the naked/anonymous “Obama” KIA SUV ad.

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The Bourneville “Myth” ad. Appearing in, among other things, ads during Cricket on Indian networks, and the Comedy Central ads for legal online Colbert Report episodes and South Park. The gag here is how [some] Americans love how the British hate the Americans. What’s weird here isn’t the well-performed but blandly scripted tourist buffoonery of the protagonist, but how the script is at pains to be reasonably accurate about what “the old chaps” might have had to do: “defeat the French at sea or the Aussies in Cricket”, instead of going the fantastical Disney Brit route: “clean a hundred chimneys that morning, or refrain from crumpets”.

Thus we know it’s an ad designed to be viewed in Britain, and I suppose, by unjust cultural extension, in India. So why does it show on untargeted American distribution as well? Because the whole design is to foster a sense of self-selection in the audience. The viewer who recognises culturally inappropriate or unsympathetic behaviour automatically qualifies themselves for the ad’s very literally conveyed ‘elite’ appeal. It’s in marked contrast to the spate of ads a couple of years ago about chocolates or ice creams which were indulgent, unearned, naughty, sexy. Among other things, the Maltesers “light on your conscience” series was a response to those ads, and the Bourneville ads are evidence of the mainstream culture of indulgence having come full circle.

Indulgence must be earned, the foolish protagonist concedes that he has learned, as we have learned from those anonymous British extras. And that learning, in itself, is worth a treat. The myth of “asking yourself if you’ve earned it” attached to a specific commodity offers the same reward/conscience/reward system as does driving a hybrid or eating voting donuts or a reduced-fat sandwich, or learning from the British, of all people.

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Stuff on Japan will come tomorrow.

In the meantime, I’ve been reading Daisy Owl, which has been staving off the pangs and insomnia while Achewood hasn’t been updating. It’s not a perfect substitute, of course: its early stages are better than the first Achewood strips, but to my mind that means it’ll never have the eye for cruelty or sadness that Onstad’s work has.

97

clock and dagger

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