In a January 6th blog posting, actress, writer, and all-around nerd-genre-genius Felicia Day takes to task an article published in a recent issue of Vanity Fair magazine. The article, written by Vanessa Grigoriadis, is about women who have used Twitter successfully to raise their professional profile – to gain “Twilebrity” status, as the article puts it. Day herself, whose feed has more than 1.7 million subscribers, was one of those women profiled.
As Day notes, on one level the fact that this article was written at all is fairly exciting for people interested in social media, since it means that a major mainstream news outlet is taking an interest in a still fringe-y media source, providing a certain degree of validation for those whose claims that social media is the future have long been met with skepticism and ostentatious eye-rolling. Furthermore, the article focuses on women who are helping to lead the evolution of the media landscape, an area not always known for being equally accessible to both sexes. Good stuff all around.
Or at least it would be good stuff if not for the numerous examples that Day points out indicating that the writer either doesn’t know a thing about social media or doesn’t take it or its practitioners particularly seriously (or, more likely, both). Take these little gems for example:
“For tweeple, e-mail messages are sonnets, Facebook is practically Tolstoy. ‘Facebook is just way too slow,’ says Stefanie Michaels. ‘I can’t deal with that kind of deep engagement.'”
“‘Sometimes,’ says Julia Roy, a 26-year-old New York social strategist turned twilebrity, scrunching her face, ‘when you’re Twittering all the time, you even start to think in 140 characters.'”
(I particularly like Day’s response to the second quotation: “‘Scrunching her face?!’ Oh gosh, thinking is hard!”)
I’ll dispense with any further analysis, since Day’s blog does a much better job of that than I could, so you’re probably best off just to read her posting on the subject. Go ahead, read it now – I’ll wait.
But there is one thing I would like to point out, and that’s the likely motivation for the tone of this stupid article: fear.
The traditional publishing industry is in serious trouble. More and more consumers are getting their news, entertainment gossip, and whatever else was formerly available strictly on the newsstand from online media sources. Now that hand-held web-browsers are in such wide circulation, the rate at which people abandon their daily newspapers and monthly celebrity magazines in favour of their iPhones and BlackBerries is only going to increase.
Not only that, the rise of social media has made it possible for anyone to be a publisher (this is not news). And as more and more talented writers choose to publish online rather than through traditional channels, those online sources are rapidly gaining credibility (this is sort of news), taking away one of the few major advantages the traditional media had left and flooding the media pool with competition – competition that, unlike say Vanity Fair, has low overhead and has learned that you write for business development, not for business. These people are therefore much less worried about the revenue from their media outlet and can give their content away for free, which gives them a significant competitive advantage over the old-guard (this is big news).
The scariest part for peddlers of traditional media is that these low-cost outlets are proving just as desirable for readers as their high-cost competitors. Felica Day’s Twitter feed (@feliciaday), for example, has more than 1.7 million subscribers; Vanity Fair‘s monthly subscribers only number about 1.1 million. Those are scary numbers for an organization with a vested interest in making sure that their (much more expensive) medium is the one attracting the most readers.
So it’s no wonder that they’d take such a snarky tone towards social media – if their capital can’t help them, what weapon do they have left to protect their market share, aside from barely-veiled attacks on their competition’s credibility? To be fair, it may just be that the writer isn’t into social media and – mistakenly – adopted a tone appropriate for a fluff piece about a faddish, passing trend, rather than a proper examination of a media game-changer.
Either way, you can’t ignore the fact that there is blood in the water – and from reading between the lines in this article, Vanity Fair knows it.
Filed under: Media | Tags: Balloon-kid, Falcon Heene, Media, Reality TV, Stupid things in the news
So here’s an interesting thought coming out of yesterday’s whole balloon-kid fiasco. And I’m going to keep this short because this story is getting really old really fast.
But I’m interested in the speculation over whether or not this whole thing was a hoax, fomented by the balloon-kid’s statement on Larry King that he didn’t come out of hiding when he heard his parents calling him because they “had said that we did this for a show”. At first I thought that this was just a case of a bad publicity stunt, perpetuated by attention whores of the worst ilk, being accidentally (and hilariously) debunked by a kid saying the darndest thing.
But now I’m starting to wonder about the kid’s grasp of reality. After all, this was not his first time on television, the family having made two appearances on ABC’s reality show Wife Swap. And it poses the question – does a six-year-old child have a firm enough grasp on the difference between TV and reality to know where one stops and the other starts? Especially when, during his formative years, he was at the centre of a spectacle that purposely blurs the lines between the two?
Maybe he just thinks that whenever your personal life receives attention from the outside, it’s for TV? (Which, now that I think about it, is not that far fetched.)
Or is it possible that, having grown up in an environment where the most important part of “reality” is creating a spectacle for the camera, that he behaved in the way that would prolong the spectacle because he thinks that’s just what people do? Maybe his parents didn’t put him up to it at all – maybe he did it “for the show” all by himself.
I sometimes wonder what effects reality shows featuring young kids – Supernanny, Wife Swap, or John and Kate Plus 8, for example – have on those kids and their perception of how the world works. I wonder if the balloon-kid fiasco is going to shed some light on this question. I always figured that reality TV would spell the end of humanity – but this is a wrinkle even I didn’t anticipate.
Filed under: Media | Tags: Advice, Career, Comics, Dating, Life, Media, Spider-Man, Wolverine
Really good advice is rare, especially when it comes to figuring out who you are and what you want to do with your life. I can literally count on one hand the number of times I’ve received really good advice on either of these topics.
One of those times, the advice came from the father of a friend of mine, who told me that no matter what you do for a living, there will always be moments of boredom and tedium.
Even the most exciting job in the world has days where you’d rather be doing something else. This is a phenomenally and necessarily sobering idea that has kept me from getting discouraged when I hit those “dip” moments, when the excitement of some pursuit starts to (temporarily) give way to those phases when it just feels like work.
Another time was a bit of insight on rejection from Stephen King’s On Writing, which I’ve mentioned before.
Most recently, I found some great advice in, of all places, an issue of Amazing Spider-Man: Extra!, released this past winter. The advice comes in the form of a story that the character Wolverine tells Spider-Man after the two of them get into a bar fight together.
The story is about dating and the advice is about fighting (I’ll let you make your own pithy observations about that little juxtaposition), but it could just as easily apply to starting a writing career or, indeed, just getting your life together.
The bar fight was a fairly pointless one: Spider-Man and Wolverine weren’t really foiling super-villainy, they were just – as Wolverine puts it – “blowing off steam.” Spider-man, being an eternal worrywart, asks Wolverine why he would take the risk of getting in a fight when there was so little to gain.
Wolverine responds with this story, which an old army officer once told to him:
“It’s about a good guy, like you (Spider-Man). He grew up poor, though around people like him. People who dressed a little shabby but good people nonetheless.
But he decided he was meant for somethin’ better. He wasn’t gonna settle for any plain woman like his pops had. He was gonna marry a beauty… nothin’ short of a knockout.
So he stayed away from the neighborhood girls, even though some of ‘em woulda been happy to show ‘im a thing or two. But he waited.
Months of waitin’ turned into years and people started to talk. But he didn’t care. He was waitin’ for his perfect girl. A stunner.
And one day, what do you know, he found her. Everything he’d hoped for. Smooth skin, big eyes…a knockout.
He chased her like his life depended on it, and she must’ve seen something in his enthusiasm, because eventually she relented.
This was it. His big moment. And you know what? He had no idea what to do. He kissed her with a dry mouth, fumbled with things he shouldn’t have, and before he knew it, the whole thing was over.
The beauty, unsatisfied, left him stunned and alone, wishin’ he’d let a few of those plain janes teach him a thing or two.”
What a great little analogy. The point – as I see it – is that nobody ever got anywhere by sitting around waiting for conditions to be perfect. Because even if – by some unlikely cosmic convergence – the perfect conditions DO present themselves, if all you’ve done is sit around waiting, you’ll be completely unprepared to capitalize on them when they do.
Progress comes from movement. Whether you’re trying out a new career or trying to get your work in the public eye or even trying to make sense of your dating life, taking risks by starting down a road you can’t necessarily see the end of is a good in itself – because chances are, the experience you gain will far outweigh anything you might have lost by taking it and finding out it was the wrong one.
The only wrong direction is no direction – as long as you’re moving, you’re on the right track.
Thanks for the good advice, Wolverine.
Wells, Zeb. “Birthday Boy”. Amazing Spider-Man: Extra! No. 2, March 2009. Published by Marvel Publishing Inc.
This past weekend, while watching a rerun of Boston Legal of all things (judge if you must, but William Shatner just keeps getting more entertaining the older he gets), I had a thought about the difference between art and entertainment.
In the scene that inspired the thought, Denny Crane (Shatner) and Alan Shore (James Spader) discuss the difference between the promise of the future and the joy of the moment. Denny and Alan were talking about love, but I think you can apply the same principle to art/entertainment.
“Art” – as in, “serious” Art – is all about the promise of the future. Someone participates in Art in order to improve themselves by gaining valuable insight or wisdom about themselves, the world, whatever.
In a sense, participating in Art is about sacrificing the present. You’ll never get back the two hours you spend watching Citizen Kane, but ideally, you’ll have learned something about life or about film or about something that makes you just a slightly better person. Those two hours are gone, but they were an investment in your future self.
Watching Transformers, on the other hand, is a whole different experience – it’s fun and it’s loud and there are cool transforming robots and explosions and uplifting lines like (Megatron) “Humans don’t deserve to live!” (Optimus) “They deserve to choose for themselves!”
Now, you likely didn’t learn too much from watching Transformers – chances are, you’re precisely the same person you were at the beginning of the movie as you are at the end. You haven’t gotten any farther ahead in terms of your personal development as a result of watching this movie. But there’s a good chance you had a lot of fun watching it. Your future self is none the richer for your Transformers experience, but your present self sure enjoyed the heck out of it.
With that in mind, it’s not really hard to see why Art gets privileged over Entertainment in intellectual circles – intellectualism, of course, is all about self-improvement, all about sacrificing your present self for a better, future one. But it’s something of a shame when someone can’t put that aside and live in the present for a little while – I think you could even argue that one would be better for it.
Either way, the best examples of Art/Entertainment, I think, are the ones that manage to have one foot in both camps, that manage – as Phillip Sidney would put it – to delight, as well as instruct.
My personal favourite example of late is the movie The Dark Knight. The film is emminently watchable as an action flick, with excitement, suspense and the coolest super-villain since Star Wars. And who can get enough of those adolescent power fantasies? Not I.
At the same time, the film deftly poses questions about the nature of the hero, of violence and its justifications, and, of course, the social roles of chaos and order (one of the most brilliant parts of the film is during Batman’s interrogation of Joker at Gotham PD when Joker starts to talk about the insanity of a system of rules – and actually starts to sound like he’s the only one who’s got things at all figured out).
Because it blends the promise of the future (i.e, an investment in the future self) with the joy of the moment, The Dark Knight can be enjoyed on many levels, allowing it to have a deeper and more lasting impact than a film that focuses on just one or the other.
Perhaps Art vs. Entertainment isn’t so much a dichotomy as a spectrum, but either way I think that the most successful examples of culture and media are the ones that manage to land somewhere in the middle of that spectrum.
What about you – what’s your favourite example of art or media that delights as well as enlightens?
Filed under: Life in Toronto, Media | Tags: Life in Toronto, Music, North by Northeast, NxNE pro-tips
It’s hard to distill the experience of North by Northeast, Day Three into words. It was fun, it was loud and it was a little bit blurry. It included spilled beer, a fair bit of embarassment and a friendly Englishwoman name Cat. I learned never to stand on the seats at Black Bull and Iain learned not to trust me with event calendars – though we all learned that the best way to make friends at an indie music festival is to take your copy of said calendar and discuss it loudly enough that people around you can hear what you are saying (pro-tip #3).
Musically, it seemed to be the night of cover tunes – though covers are somewhat rare at NxNE, at various points, we heard fully legitimate renditions of a Johnny Cash tune, the Stooges’ “Search and Destroy” and the Beastie Boys’ “Fight for Your Right”, which – astonishingly – the band managed to PULL OFF.
Other highlights included:
- catching a great string of sets at the Black Bull (one of NxNE’s more underrated venues – there usually aren’t crowds here, but the music has been quirky and catchy and exciting for two years running)
- making it in time for an after-hours set at Horseshoe (not at all underrated, but just as consistently good during NxNE)
- and getting a free copy of Three Day Threshold’s newest CD, then getting the whole band to sign it. Every single one of them made a penis joke.
If I can offer any conclusions from Day Three, it would be these: take any chance you get to go see either Three Day Threshold or You Handsome Devil. And if you have the chance to be the only person in front of a stage screaming your head off to the lyrics of “Search and Destroy” while the band screams them back at you, take that too (pro-tip #s 4 and 5, respectively).
But of course, the most important pro-tip of all for NxNE is just go. Get out there. Get into it. You’ll never be sorry. It’s the best weekend of the year.