Friday, March 07, 2003

THE TRUTH ABOUT CATS AND DOGS Not sure what I was expecting from the "Factor This" segment on last night's "The Pulse," touted by the Fox Channel as a "slugfest" between Bill O'Reilly and Janeane Garofalo. A full ten rounds, maybe? As it was, the piece was a barely 5 minute clip job whose highlights included O'Reilly pressing Garofalo on whether or not she'd date a Frenchman.

This kind of weighty inquiry represents the real problem with the celebrity spokesactivist phenomenon. It's not that celebrities don't know their issues, it's that people want to know more about the celebrities than they do the issues. O'Reilly hardly gave Garofalo a chance to show off her research, instead he seemed intent on catching her in some personal hypocrisy--like, Would she date a Frenchman? Huh? What's your answer to that, Ms. United Nations?

For what it's worth, she said she would.

Also typical of this kind of interrogation was O'Reilly asking Garofalo whether "you'd be willing to apologize" if we went to war and, among other things, there were few civilian casualties, it turned out that Saddam was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction, and there was no international backlash against the U.S. This question and "If we invade, will you support our troops and wish them victory?" seem to hold some strange juju for conservative squawk show hosts, as if their incantation will magically reveal anti-invastion activists to be ferrets or Michael Jackson or worse.

Janeane, for her part, took the high if difficult (and yet still obvious) road out of the question's moral thicket: She said that she'd crawl on her knees over broken glass and kiss the floor of the White House if it turned out she was wrong.

Never has abject humiliation seemed so classy.

Thursday, March 06, 2003

WHATEVER'S BEHIND CURTAIN NUMBER THREE AP is reporting that an "as-yet-unnamed Democrat" leads Bush in a recent presidential election poll. I hesitate to consider this good news, exactly. According to the same story, Bush is leading every named Democrat candidate by at least ten points, which just suggests that idea of voting for a Dem appeals to people a lot more than any individual candidate does.

(This is pretty much exactly the way I feel.)

Even worse news: The top Bush contender, with 37 percent voting in favor, is Hilary. She rakes in more support in a head to head battle with Dubya than the next three candidates--Gephardt, Lieberman and Kerry--combined.

You see this twaddle?

A classic example of having it both ways reasoning: Conservative outlets are persecuted by the "center-left" mainstream, while cable crap shows like Savage and O'Reilly are "giving the people what they want." I mean if this were what "the people" want wouldn't Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN be commanding the 33 million viewership?

TV, at any rate, is all about giving the advertisers what they want. Which is why Sunday chat shows are virtual war advertorials for the Bush administration.

He also notes that 48 percent of the Fox viewership and 40 percent of CNN's describe themselves as conservative, while roughly half that much calls themselves liberal--and then marvels that this is the market at work. (Liberals are doubtless blissing out to the "center left" pieties of, let's see, Tim Russert on NBC, George Will on ABC, and Bob Schieffer on CBS.) But its empirical dubiety aside, try applying the same logic to other information command economies. Maybe Chinese peasants all just really like gray flannel outfits. And gay Cubans like to spend the night in jail.

Grrrr. . .

He's cute when he's angry.

And there's more where that came from.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

IT'S ONLY PARTLY MY FAULT Is it irony or justice that an article about "The Defining Moments of Digitial Culture" appears in the last issue of Shift? Is "digital culture" an oxymoron? Should you care?

If you're reading this, you probably already do. As such, these "defining moments" will come as no surprise: Jennicam, Blodget, Slashdot, and MP3 players all rank.

Of course, you can carp about some lacunae: What about Wired, for instance? Perhaps it was too obvious. Then again, the No. 1 spot on the list goes to September 11, which is obvious as well, though it could hardly be relegated to "digital culture." Yes, it was important. Life-changing. But to call it an important event in digital culture because "millions of people flocked to and other news sites to find out what was happening" is like saying the Kennedy assination was an important event in school book depository culture because a museum is there now.

Of course, the real reason I've called you here today is draw your attention to what popped up at No. 5: Suck.

August 1995 - "Everything on the internet is crap." Such was the typical luddite complaint back in 1994. But Carl Steadman and Joey Anuff turned this on its head by launching, excoriating the lameosity of sites far and wide -- thus proving that crap was the best thing about the internet.

While my ego is retroactively stroked by the article's contention that "Within a few years"--I guess that includes me--" had become the rosetta stone for online culture," I am troubled by its conclusion:

By helping online browsers sardonically sort through the mess of the online content, the now-defunct Suck prefigured today's cultural juggernaut: The blog, with millions of users chronicling their online travels.

First, a factual objection, which is that Jon Katz and Justin Hall were "chronicling their online travels" when Suck was just a twinkle in Joey's and Carl's pants. Eyes. Whatever.

A more important objection: We at Suck to a very strong stand contra user interaction and web publishing. We were supposed to be the bad example, you know?

And, of course, I still am.

Tuesday, March 04, 2003


Feb 28, 7:21 AM ET
Mimi Hall, Kevin Johnson and Toni Locy
WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration lowered the nation's terrorism threat level Thursday, indicating that officials no longer believe there is an imminent threat of attack. But at the same time, the FBI said it remains very concerned about possible terrorist suicide bombings in the USA.

Ahem. [Throat-clearing noise.]

Army Surplus

Ridge said, "Set the orange flag flying!"
The public responded with duct tape buying.

Yellow reflects our new calm
What will we do with our duct tape balm?

Our needs have changed since last week
There are only so many ducts that leak.

Forget the threat, forget the war
What are we going to use this duct tape for?

Graft a stem! Take up a hem!
Kids too loud? Duct tape them!

Love life bland? Try body paints,
blindfolds, feathers, duct tape restraints.

Duct tape fashions are the coming rage
Pants in silver look so space age.

All our chores have been completed
And look at that, the duct tape's depleted.

Wait a minute, did you save the receipts?
'Cause we still have all these plastic sheets.

Monday, March 03, 2003

THE RATINGS WAR Clear Channel--the folks who bring you Rush, remember?--has been out organizing pro-invasion, uh, sorry "support our troops" rallies. In San Antonio, where Clear Channel is based, they even had the event at an arena owned by Clear Channel. Now that's vertical integration.

I have nothing to add to this except that I had been clinging to some hope that the lefty types who accused Fox News of promoting war to increase ratings were, you know, paranoid.

But sometimes they all are really after you.

NOT FOR ATTRIBUTION The right loves to beat up on the Times' awkward, pedantic tic of over-attribution. Their main complaint being, of course, that the paper labels conservative groups and individuals as such, but leaves off the ideological tag when discussing liberal groups and individuals. Media philosphers like Bernie Goldberg say this means that "they see conservatives as out of the mainstream and see liberals not as liberals, but as the mainstream."

Let's put aside the factual basis for this assertion for the moment (most everyone who makes this point does). The Times' liberal labeling policy probably has as much to do with their long tradition of outer borough condescension as it does with Howell Raines's dexterous media manipulation. To call something "Timesian" today is to associate it with anti-welfare reform hysteria or Augusta National activism. But the adjective used to have a more apolitical, though equally pejorative, connotation: It described the Times' peculiar appositive habit and its tendency to assume its readers knew nothing about anything except what the Times told them. This became personally relevant to me in 1996, when I got a job working a webzine and the Times couldn't write about anything web-related without explaining that "the World Wide Web is the graphical interface to the global network of computers known as the Internet."

What with the "Circuits" section and their fairly new pose of resigned hipster angst, you don't see that kind of Times-speak so much anymore. Still, this is a publication that took years to acknowledge URLs (a constant source of frustration when I was at Feed, since typing in "Feed" to a browser window wouldn't get you close to the actual magazine, You'd think that, at the very least, they'd still explain what a "blogger" was. Or give the URL that would provide readers access to any blogger they mentioned.

Especially if that blogger was, you know, me.

You can get away with "Insta this" and "Corner that," maybe, but "the blogger Antic Muse"? Am I that famous already? (Only you, dear readers, know for sure.)

At least it wasn't "the conservative blogger Antic Muse." Now that would be worrisome. . . and, of course, wrong.