Internet Histories | 24 June
Methods of Characterisation | Yelp: The Sound of Secret Map-Makers
Rejecting a Modern-Day Culture of Theatre Making
Screening Premier League Football (and what it means)
Alan Moore on Moore's Law (NB: not his; tries to make it so)
Fedoratheism and the Crushing Internet Superiority Bubble
Dumb Ways to Die: The App | The Last Telegram in the World
[caption id="attachment_7166" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Hate mail by Mr Bingo[/caption]
Robert Boswell has deconstructed twelve methods of characterisation in the latest issue of Tin House, using the story of how he met his wife to illustrate. It's funny and fantastically written and serves as a useful framework, laying bare the threads of what is only ever visible when done badly. I like thinking of lists like these as a way of troubleshooting fiction, a kind of diagnostic manual for sick stories.
I dodged the chatter and danced. I had a good windmill style, mixed with some elaborate hopping, soulful grimacing, and the occasional shoulder rolling. None of my moves was especially good, but the combo had a kind of electroshock grace. My current ex-girlfriend and I danced, and she used the occasion to complain that I had been dancing with a number of other women. She then took me aside to tell me that if I left her, she would kill herself.
Given that I thought I’d already left her, it was a double bummer.
Method number six: point-of-view intimacy. Having an intimate point of view means that the sentences describing the thoughts and actions of the main character reveal something about the character’s sensibility.
[caption id="attachment_7164" align="aligncenter" width="500"] The Wave, Coyote Buttes North, Arizona - Photo by Gary Koutsoubis[/caption]
Yelp - a site that allows users to review local businesses - launched last month in New Zealand to muted fanfare. I'm not interested in the site as a source of recommendation - I'm far more likely to rely on friends and experts - but I am interested and amused by the way it's mapped the collective memory of a select few. Unlike other review sites, Yelp is big. They now serve 21 countries. They have money, and in preparation for their launch, they hired around sixty "Yelp Scouts" to populate the site with reviews. That's sixty people, most of whom appear to be in their twenties and are happy to be paid a pittance to pass commentary on their local haunts, many of them not even retailers.
I never actually went to Maungawhau, but I had friends who did. They turned out alright.
Because they're paid little and expected to produce a lot, shortcuts are - quite understandably - taken. Rather than evaluating a recent experience, many recall past encounters of a place:
I used to flat just up the road with a particularly memorable ex-girlfriend. Every hungover morning I would make my dutiful way down to the Bread Winner and bring back something that was never good enough. Eventually I started eating my food there just for a bit of peace and quiet.
Or they review the idea of a place:
It genuinely alarms me that people think that shopping is a "leisure" experience. Shopping is not leisure; shopping is what you do when you need something, and you can't make it, or borrow it, or hire it... going shopping at St. Lukes is possibly the most soul destroying thing in the world, and this is what alarms me: what will the world look like when there are generations of people who think of leisure purely as shopping at this place of no natural light, constant aural assaults, and shops full of items of dubious necessity made by underpaid and overworked people in a factory far away?
I love malls. I really do. I don't even care. I know they are not "cool" and "cool" people wouldn't be caught dead going to Glassons or getting some sweet skull earrings from Diva or Equip. But I love malls. I love Kmart, too, and St Lukes Mall has Kmart inside the mall, how fricken convenient (and it's right next to Glassons).
Do you like shopping? Yeah? How about M.C. Escher's 'Crazy Stairs' picture? Or the white noise they used to torture prisoners at Guantanamo Bay?
If all these things sound like you, then come on down to St Lukes shopping mall, where you get all of that plus other people's children.
Really, I hate the place. Anyone who hates malls will hate it, because this one is the worst. But even people who quite like malls will hate it, because this is a crappy, crappy mall. The place is set up like a casino, all designed to keep you disoriented, weakened, and spending. No natural light, no visible exits, a Möbius strip layout where one floor sort of sluggishly merges with another - St Lukes is the sort of fun house the Joker would trap Batman in, only with more chain stores. Avoid it like the plague.
The best users on New Zealand Yelp: Eddie D (shout-out to Hayden and Rachel Donnell for alerting the world to this user), Jon T, Bronwyn B (yes, our very own) and Joseph H.
The best user on American Yelp: Ganush. Ganush would trundle around town on her segway getting inconceivably upset over details like a fan moving in the wrong direction. She would break into capital letters for no REASON. These would APPEAR TO mirror the way she spoke. Her reviews, if you read enough of them, offered a window into a much grimier narrative: Ganush was angry and incomprehensible, but this was because she believed she suffered from an unknown 'condition' (the symptoms were vague and nonsensical) and was having an affair with a man in another town. Her account has since been deleted and was most likely fiction, but it was entertaining all the same.
One time I went to the Hollywood Dairy to buy some staples. I assumed the between the dairy bit and the post shop bit, they'd be sure to have some. I searched at length, but couldn't see them anywhere. The guy behind the post counter asked what I was looking for, and when I told him he said they'd totally sold out of staples and wouldn't have any until tomorrow.
"But here," he said, "these should keep you going in the meantime." And he took a handful of staples out of his own stapler and gave them to me. This is why Hollywood Dairy is lovely, and why I like to buy things there whenever possible (although I'm still going with the staples he gave me, so I haven't had to buy any of them yet. But I will, when the time comes).
What is Conch. Conch is this weird enigma to me, because I walk past every day and it just eludes me in this kind of indescribable way. I mean, I get the nuts and bolts of the place. It's a very hip record store that caters to a pretty niche audience and sells super expensive headphones and other cool pieces of music consumption paraphernalia. They also sell coffee and little treats. They're pretty on trend at all times, partly because they sort of buck whatever trendinesss is and just operate on their own level. It's cool. It get it.
Something about the place really piques my interest though. I can't quite nail what Conch is. What it stands for. Who is the 'Conch market'? Is it the guys who are always sitting outside drinking coffee? Every day they drink their coffee there. Don't they have a job? Are the djs? Is this what a dj is? Is Conch for djs?
One time we went here to set off fireworks and a crazy lady yelled at us. Not because we were setting off fireworks, which you could argue would have been justified, but because she thought we were her old neighbours who had taken her things when they moved. Or something about her dog? I don't know, but she was unpleasant.
I used to work with this guy named Jordan who pretty much exclusively wore t shirts and sweaters and hoodies and stuff that he'd got from AS Colour. He'd always go on about some kind of special they had where you get some hoodies and t shirts for $100 or something. I mean, yeah, he always looked a lot better than I did and he was a lot more handsome than me. So I guess that is a pretty good endorsement. But then, I bought a t shirt from there one time and the friggen t shirt just didn't fit my body right. I look fucking awful in that t shirt. I blame the cut.
Pros: My ex boyfriend is banned from the place, so I know that's once place I can go without seeing him and that new girl he's dating.
Mt Albert Aquatic Centre:
I have a confession to make - I once broke the sauna here.
Ley's Institute Library:
Once when I was here at the ever-comfortable Ley's Institute, there was a big table in the middle of the room with a big model (really, it was about 1 metre long) of the White House on it. This model had clearly been made out of recycled cardboard boxes painted white and taped together, and apparently there was some sort of wild pool party going on at the time of the model being made, as there were a lot of pictures, cut from magazines, of celebrities looking out windows, hanging out on the lawns etc. It was really something; quite clearly the product of some sort of single minded artistic genius.
When I asked a librarian about it, they said it belonged to a regular library user who'd asked them if he could display it there, and they had agreed.
The last time I went to Whammy , a guy broke his knee - then came up and down the stairs twice in the hope of seeing the DHDFDS play an encore - well worth it considering they set up two drummers on the ground in front of the stage.
The last time I was at Whammy Bar they appeared to have resurfaced the floor with some sort of crunchy, textured covering, but no, it was just that there had been so many glasses thrown to the floor in either delight or a nihilistic expression of rebellion.
I know, the name annoys me too.
Elsewhere, Emily Badger has written on how maps illustrate inequality, citing research examining the vastly different search results one gets when searching for restaurants in Tel Aviv in English, Hebrew and Arabic.
"In a very real way this information is encouraging or perhaps even making people experience fundamentally different cities," Graham says. And language is just one of the most obvious filters through which your experience of a city of neighborhood might be influenced on the web (if you use "social search" that draws on the feedback of your friends, the resulting information the Internet serves up would also look different).
It seems unlikely that Yelp will soar in a country as small as ours, but it's most valuable contribution will surely be this. Yelp becomes the sound of a small expedition of map-makers, transposing human memory upon the physical structure of our city.
[caption id="attachment_7168" align="aligncenter" width="500"] This picture was taken from the top of the John Hancock building - 97 stories up - in Chicago, Illinois as fog rolled in from Lake Michigan - Photo by Bob Gaudet[/caption]
The official website's a drag to look through, but The Atlantic have compiled some of the entries for the 25th annual National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest. I'm a sucker for a shivery, rolling fog. This is spectacular too:
[caption id="attachment_7171" align="aligncenter" width="500"] At the foot of the active Bromo Volcano, on the Island of Java lies the Hindu Temple Pura Luhur Poten which is often immersed in a soft mist at dusk. On this day Mount Bromo showed unusually strong activity, which lead to a exceptionally high and dense dust cloud - Photo by Tim Jenka[/caption]
Finally, I was pleasantly reminded last week of Mike Sacks' brief project, Photos of TV. If I'm ever on the news I hope my title is this grand:
London's Lyric Hammersmith theatre has just launched an experiment of going back to the glorious olden days of the repertory theatre company. The Lyric is by no means the first company to kick against the prevailing theatre-making culture - the Royal Court and the National Theatre of Scotland also being notable examples of "establishment" organisations doing the same - but last week's launch speech from the Lyric's artistic director Sean Holmes was a rare public statement about the "corrupting structures" found across the theatre industry. The usual making process - one that demands a four week rehearsal, ideally one "name" in the cast or as a director, a long marketing period and a stage design delivered and signed off before the rehearsals even start - doesn't have to result in a dull production but so, so often does. As Holmes noted, this process:
directly influences aesthetics. All you can do in that time is stage the play literally. You don't have the time to imagine anything other than what the playwright has written down. So we have a theatre culture that, when it approaches text, especially new writing, is rooted in literalism.
It's this sentiment that I think is at the heart of what is so deadly about so much theatre today, the ongoing attempts to present works that balance uneasily between literalism and imagination, and often tending towards the former, which of course is done so much more competently (and has been for about a hundred years now) by cinema.
Speaking of lessons learnt by working with new companies, Holmes goes on to say that the Lyric's new regime was inspired by wanting to break:
things we thought of as rules were merely assumptions, and assumptions that had become so ingrained we didn't even notice them anymore.
Holmes identifies this desire to honour the text - to transfer the page to the stage - as a cause of some of the inequality rampant in theatre.
I've hidden behind the literal demands of the text and avoided the really difficult questions about representations of gender and race and disability.
I've pursued star casting at the expense of the right casting.
And given exaggerated respect to the five star review.
And I wonder if many of us feel the claustrophobia of that potential corruption more than we like to admit?
It's easy to be cynical about moves like the one the Lyric has made with implementing this programme - there's the usual snark of it being just a marketing ploy - but they've committed to this for a year, and that's a long time in the financially perilous world of marginal box offices and shrinking government funding; it's a bold move and one that I will cross many fingers towards being a success.
Meanwhile, in Syria, a group of artists are testing out the centuries old use of street theatre as a protest movement; a pertinent reminder that even the most go-ahead theatres are of precisely no use if there's no audience to come and sit in their seats.
When it was revealed earlier this week that Sky TV had been outbid for the rights to screen the English Premier League in New Zealand, attention initially turned to Sommet Sports, a little-known free-to-air sports station with a terrible website, currently testing on Freeview channel 114 and soon to launch on channel 14. After Sommet announced they had come second in the bidding, the winning bidders, Coliseum Sports Media, were eventually forced into an early launch of their offering - premierleaguepass.com - a niche multi-platform subscription for all 380 matches of the EPL, alongside a replay of one game every Sunday on TV1 (which itself may cause some friction between TVNZ and Sky). Sportsfreak has a good rundown of the service.
While I have very little care for Premier League football (in fact I've always found football in general to be painfully dull, which you may find surprising coming from a cricket nut) I'm pretty excited by what the news means for TV in New Zealand, particularly the major blow it dealt to Sky's dominance. Sky subscribers may be lamenting the loss of EPL, but hopefully for them, and especially in light of the sort of service the rights have ended up with, it'll spur the company to be move sooner into more innovative IP offerings. MySky boxes have an as yet unused ethernet port, and the company's iSky streaming and on-demand service is limited and lacks the sorts of features that made me tunnel around geoblocks to use the BBC's iPlayer during the 2012 Olympics.
Speaking of geoblocks, hot on the heels of the EPL news, ISP Slingshot announced its new Global Mode, which effectively removes geoblocks for those in New Zealand wanting to access restricted overseas sites like Netflix or Hulu. It's an exact copy of a feature that small ISP Fyx announced then promptly pulled at the insistence of its owner back in 2012. Tools to get around geoblocks are nothing new, but the invisibility and ease of Global Mode will open up the swathe of hard to come by content that Netflix et al hold to a much broader and less tech savvy audience. In an apparently half-hearted attempt to keep onside with the New Zealand rights holders, Slingshot's disingenuous pitch is that the service will let "your overseas visitors" access the content they're used to back home. The timing of the announcement is interesting, given Sky is ending its arrangement with ISPs (including Slingshot) to zero-rate iSky streaming data for customers. Free of that relationship, and with legal opinions apparently on their side, perhaps Slingshot feels like the time is right to rock the boat a little and maybe even capitalise on New Zealanders' appetite for more than they're currently getting.
For most of 2005’s The Mindscape of Alan Moore, its subject delivers his thoughts and pointed commentary backed by appropriately nebulous music and images. At one point the world’s most lauded comic book writer appears to deliver his soliloquy while perched on the side of his bed; perhaps it’s simply because the filmmakers got him on a good day and managed to record all they needed before Moore’s morning ablutions.
He has some good lines in him, does Moore: “Comics… they were almost a staple… of working class existence. They were something like rickets; they were just something that you had.” There’s a particular observance Moore makes in Mindscape that has always stood out for me. In the film he riffs on the theory that the amount of information humankind is creating is doubling all the time, in fact it’s doing so faster and faster. He says humans are currently making twice the amount of information ever created every eighteen months. Moore claims by 2015 human information should be doubling every one thousandth of a second.
At this point I believe all bets are off. I can not imagine the kind of culture that might exist after such a flashpoint of knowledge. I believe that our culture would probably move into a completely different state, would move past the boiling point from a fluid culture to a culture of steam.
It’s a lovely way of describing how human culture has become something solely built from information: a hologram created by the intersection of ones and zeroes. It’s so poetic I want Moore to be right, but who knows? This article claims 90% of all the data in the world was created in the last two years, but there’s no attribution for that claim. But still, it feels right, doesn’t it? We’re dumping data into the churn of the ether and doing faster than ever before: how could that not have a transformative effect on us?
Yeah, maybe. Although perhaps we’ve walked into the same trap every generation does. This span of decades is the important one; this is the one that is either going to elevate or destroy the human species!
Maybe information has always been there and it’s the always been the same stuff. But according to the writer James Gleick it was transformed:
But maybe the more pressing question is: where are we going to put all our vines and google docs? On DVDs that can hold one thousand terabytes of data, perhaps? Maybe we’ll just write everything on our DNA? Or perhaps it’s just better to shoot it off into space.
Alec Hutchinson conjured up the spectre of The Catcher In The Rye and the doomed adolescent melodrama of trying to save kids from the fate that awaits at the end of his remarkable essay two weeks ago. He’s not the first by any, any means to come back to Salinger’s cliff and carousel – but obvious can also be resonant, and it’s a vision that always lingered with me too.
Lately, I’ve been experiencing it again – I’m Holden, I’m in the rye, there’s a little hubris but a lot of heart – but my kids are gangly 18-year olds, high school leavers and first years, all boys. Greasy hair. Always, t-shirts with writing on them. Video game memes, sexist jokes, atheist statements of intent, some Act Party shirts. Ill-fitting pants or shorts, unerringly at the wrong length. A sea of fedoras.
I went to an Auckland screening of Backbenchers last year at Britomart Country Club. There’s probably a good argument that wanting to watch politics live already banishes you forever from median public discourse, but the people watching is great. The Stepford Young Nats, the wide-eyed, earnest trepidation of the Labour and Greens kids – the messy and beautiful projection of teen hormones onto a rosette horse-race. It was the young men of Act On Campus who really broke my heart, though. Loud, crass, boorish and toxic without realizing it. I wanted to save one, just one – sit him down and buy him a drink and maybe take him shopping for a couple of items of clothing that were serviceably non-descript and play him a good film and even give him a Caitlin Moran article or two and then maybe he could have a good night at a gig and not talk politics and meet a boy or a girl and hit it off, and still not talk about politics, and give or receive a furtive, giggling handjob in the carpark underneath Shadows at the end of the night. That’d be it. Really though, I didn’t save anyone.
I know they’re not all necessarily party political libertarians, or misogynists, or whatever – but a peer into the Reddit echo chambers, the most vociferous of which is about atheism, makes me wonder what we’re doing to our young men.
This isn’t atheism as any absence of belief – or as, I’d argue, 90% of the atheist population experience it – but as a didactic and doctrinarian set of precepts worn as an article of faith. Faith in intellectual or moral superiority. Faith in being right for being who you are.
Like any form of fundamentalism, this is terrifying in the abstract. Sikivu Hutchinson is doing some wonderful work in this area articulating an alternative to the Dawkins-Krauss-Hitchens deadish white men reach-around of non-belief, and sets out the problems with what we’ve got in this Religion Dispatches interview. But at the more mundane level of kids on the Internet, it’s just fucking grim, and all too easy to map out.
High school – indeed, the state of teenhood – is a fucking dire place for a lot of people, and for a long time they had to plan an eventual geographical escape and bet on it as their bid for survival and metamorphosis. Now, they can make a virtual one with none of the difficult gear-changes of first year uni or just getting out of town – instead, they’re being told they’re exceptional because of their individual intellect and enlightenment by thousands of versions of themselves, every day, every hour. A lot of the personal growth they might’ve experienced otherwise – about the nature of belief, or privilege, or fashion (maybe a hat should not be seen as a symbol of virility and wisdom, and maybe a shirt telling a woman to make a sandwich shouldn’t be either) is stamped out by a comforting form of peer-reinforcement they can now always, always retreat to.
Maybe I’m worrying about this too much, but I also know that some the social battering I took between ages 16 and 19 or so for things I said that were sexist, pretentious, classist and everything in between was actually pretty worthwhile. And when I felt thwarted and humiliated, I didn’t have a whole wide Internet this sophisticated to tell me I was still right and everyone else was wrong. It’s ironic, but when I peer into the world of these guys and wonder how they‘ll turn out, I just think ‘there but for the grace of God go I’.
Plenty of people will have seen “Dumb Ways To Die” already, but it’s now been turned into a reasonably engaging if RSI-inducing app for iPhone, iPad and Android that I played for most of Sunday afternoon. At the same time, the campaign’s cleaned up at Cannes: The Advertising Edition, strolling away with five Grand Prix Awards.
Designed by McCann Melbourne for Metro Trains Melbourne, it’s a total hoodwink of a PSA. Rightly assuming that a modern audience can smell a trite safety lecture (even an expensive one) a mile off, it doesn’t even lay on its point (don’t fuck around by the rail lines) until three-quarters of the way through its runtime. And it doesn’t have to lay it on thick. Meanwhile, the cutesy/horrific combination is nothing new - it’s basically Happy Tree Friends - but again, dismemberment, disembowelment and immolation is a braver bet for a municipal safety campaign than it is for post-watershed cable TV. Finally, there’s plenty of shitty Flash animations that look a bit like this all over the Internet, but the inventiveness of the direction (The guy in the moose helmet! The shot of the beehive!) and the care to detail (The dancing, superglued egg!) make it the kind of thing you want to show to everyone.
Point: ‘Dumb Ways To Die’ has allegedly reduced ‘near-miss’ accidents in Melbourne by more than 30 percent. Counterpoint: other public organisations disagree, especially Russian Internet watchdog Roskomnadzor, who warned:
The song's lyrics contains a description of different ways of committing suicide, such as: using drugs beyond their expiration date, standing on an edge of a platform, running across the rails, eating superglue and other. The animated personages demonstrate dangerous ways of suicide in attractive for children and teenagers comic format. The lines such as "hide in a dryer" and "what's this red button do?" contain an incitement to commit those acts.
Which is very funny and like “haha, talk about Soviet Russia!” for a wee while – but on the other hand, this is how a lot of our journalists feel they have to write about suicide. So make of the cultural relativism what you will.
The last telegram in the world will be sent in India on July 14.
It's one of about 5,000 such missives still being sent every day by telegram – a format favored for its "sense of urgency and authenticity," explains a BSNL official.
I can trace my own fondness for telegrams to a single formative event: that year I read all of Willard Price’s ‘Adventure’ stories. Starring young brothers Hal and Roger, the series took place in a series of remarkable wilderness locations around the world. Their enigmatic absentee father was some sort of animal collector, and would send his sons to remote and dangerous locations in order to accrue captive animals for display. At the start and end of each book, the boys would get their instructions VIA TELEGRAM STOP, often listing preferred numbers and types of beasts to obtain. Although having teenage children constantly risk death and dismemberment to collect endangered creatures was always somewhat far-fetched, so long as telegrams existed in the world there remained the possibility that some monstrous asshole was having his kids do just that. Suspension snipped, now my disbelief has to come crashing down – and I don’t remember that he ever told them he loved them.
There’s something weirdly eschatological about the coming end of a mode of communication, and it’s not a modern thing. Socrates complained about the arrival of writing, bitterly arguing the ‘dead discourse’ of the written word would supplant the ‘living speech’ of the oral culture within which the Socratic method thrived, saying it would catastrophically reduce the function of human memory and the internalisation of knowledge.
It kind of exposes two interrelated anxieties: sudden nostalgia for what’s about to become lost, and trepidation that what’s going to replace it will lack the broad utility of what it’s replacing. Sometimes we do lose something in the transition – the astonishing mnemonic memory feats common in primary oral cultures are unreplicatable by anyone whose mind has been tarnished by literacy – but more often we gain a vivid new way of engaging with the world. Would you sentence anyone to illiteracy because you wanted a richer culture?
Closer to home we’ve got video killed the radio star and a fixation with retrocultural communication — vinyls, VHS, vocoders. Like many teenagers in the double-ohs, I spent countless hours on MSN Messenger… until it became so passé that a friend and I briefly fixated on sending comparatively ancient emails to one another rather than trading trendy new instant messages. If you try to tell me there’s anything insignificant about receiving a letter instead of a Facebook wall post on your birthday, then, gentleman or lady, I will call you a liar.
Thanks to dictionary.com’s word of the day, I recently discovered there’s a word for the outmoded forms we heap questionable cultural capital on: they’re skeuomorphs. There are about fourteen million theories as to why we imbue Instagram’s aged patinas with the significance we do, from the aesthetic to the aforementioned cognitive, but when you get down to it — who cares? There’s something mysterious and warmly comforting about paper rather HTML pages, iPhones cloaked in cassette-tape cases, even occasional ghostly after-images on poorly tuned analogue broadcast TV. It’s a human thing, and nowadays our memories are short.
I was gonna post that latest xkcd comic right here, but Jose beat me to the Punch. That's mildly ironic given its content, but maybe only in the Alanis Morissette sense of the word.