August 1, 2010
"This film is absolutely magnificent at first I thought it was going to be lame and boring. I attended a midnight showing with my friends (actually I was dragged). And I have to say I was glad I saw this film. The acting was great (especially Rorschach) and the visuals were stunning. My only problems with the film is that it was a little too long and also the blood and gore was terrible in some scenes (the scene where Rorschach kills the child murder with a cleaver) and also the scene where the man has his arms cut off."Quoted from a review for the movie "Watchmen" posted at movieweb.com
Some bright fellow had the idea of following the model of democratization to its obvious conclusion. Let the people --- the common, stinking, uneducated rabble of modern society --- do the writing.
I know what you're thinking. This must be some kind of joke, right? No website with an ounce of integrity would knowingly publish the grammatical and semantical train wreck quoted above. To allow such feebleminded blathering to be seen by human (or animal, or insect) eyes would be not only a blatant condemnation of the American education system, but an indicator that this entire experiment we call the Internet has been a crashing failure. Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the advent of this sort of drivel is the, perhaps predictable, realization of the Internet's promise to democratize content.
When the Internet first appeared, there was much excitement about the fact that it was a flat, egalitarian publishing system. It removed the cultural and corporate gatekeepers and granted everyone a voice. Every Tom, Dick and Hiroshi was now free to voice their opinion on politics, movies and other weighty affairs of man.
In those bygone early years of the Internet (the 1990s) things weren't so bad. People talked about the democratizing model, but few people really followed it. The early webzines were based on print magazines. They operated as hierarchies where authors had to submit material to an editor who would determine whether or not it was publishable. Unfortunately, this model struggled to work online. At first, the content was offered freely to the public in the hopes that the venture would be supported by advertising revenue. This failed, so there were some experimenting to see if readers would pay for content. The answer was a resounding no. (The politics and culture zine "Salon" may be the one exception, though it operates with a kind of hybrid model.) For a few tense minutes of Internet time, it looked like the entire medium and its promise of free information, analysis and entertainment was going to go down the loo. Web publishers may have had no printing or paper costs, but they still had to pay for content, right?
Wrong, it turned out. Some bright fellow had the idea of following the model of democratization to its obvious conclusion. Let the people --- the common, stinking, uneducated rabble of modern society --- do the writing. They could be both consumers of content, and its providers. Website publishers would not make money creating and selling content, but by providing access to it (and placing advertisements next to it.)
Nowhere was this model more obvious than in social networks like myspace.com, facebook.com and their innumerable imitators. People uploaded content --- photographs of their drunken debauchery in Cancun or blog posts describing their theoretically interesting thoughts -- and encouraged others to view them. Bands uploaded their music and videos in the hopes of being discovered. Like a virus, this behavior spread exponentially. All the website owners had to do was sit back and count the cash. While the Western world had failed to bring democracy to the Middle East, such was not the case with the Internet.
The problem with all this soon became apparent. The writing skills of most people fluctuate between that of the author quoted at the beginning of this piece and a retarded gibbon. The same can be said about the musical and video skills of most of the dilettantes and amateurs who posted their masterpieces online. The web was soon awash in mediocrity.
There's the additional issue of subject matter. Writing discussing Britney Spears is --- no matter what its internal merits maybe --- still writing about one of the most overrated pop stars the music business has ever created. But, she was, at one point, the number one search term on Google. (I'm guessing these days that it's Lady Gaga.) The message this delivers to writers is clear: if you want to be read (and, by proxy, have a chance at earning a paycheck) write about the moronic topics the troglodyte mental pygmies that populate most of humanity are interested in. Save your ruminations on the nature of self, or contemplations about the spiritual essence of waterfalls for your highfalutin literary journals with a readership in the low dozens.
Now might be a good time to reflect on Winston Churchill's famous quote, "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried." Is it possible that the democratization of content --- while leading to egregious writing, poorly recorded music, and badly edited videos --- is still better than all other systems?
It may not be worth attempting an answer; whether it's "best" or not, it's the system that's going to be in place for some time. The decentralized nature of the Internet almost guarantees that it will ably avoid any authoritarian attempts to apply standards. No one region or government, and certainly no one publishing organization, "owns" the Web. It belongs to everybody, unfortunately. Horrible writing that sells ad space will flourish, whereas quality writing (such as that featured on this website) that does not capture eyeballs will drown.
Pardon me while I go kill myself.