Monday, September 5, 2016

Entertainment from a Distant Universe

Buckethead-Soothsayer/Meta-Matic(A+ audio! 4K VideoFront Row) 2016-Lincoln Theater 5/13/2016

Some videos, like this one of Buckethead for instance, come off as uploads from a distant galaxy. Yes, we can make out humanoid forms and humanmade-like objects and music, but…

Somehow, too, the creators of these pieces manage to sneak English language, or some approximation or translations of it, into there, too. But still, videos like this, come off as SO strange and alien.
And, perhaps, too, that a good part of the intention of the producers of these pieces. There’s an attempt to create something weird, seeing weird as a legitimate and desirable aesthetic. Take Buckethead, for instance. Yes, that’s a guy with a cardboard Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket on top of his head, like some sort of hat for a playful retard…

Other examples of this category may not be so intentional, though. They may come off as wayward items from Bizzaro World, although the folks who created or posted them thought they were flat out normal.
And then there’s that third possibility, that the genuine article, videos truly from another dimension,  has shown and is posted somewhere in the vast expanse of the YouTube mindscape.
A famous, in its day, but just about totally forgotten now, ‘flying saucer movie’ of the ‘50s ends with the narrator’s voice over imploring the audience, “Every one of you listening to my voice, tell the world, tell this to everybody wherever they are. Watch the skies. Everywhere. Keep looking. Keep watching the skies.”

I’d like to offer a corollary so that we can prepare ourselves for any onslaught of cultural impact brought about by alien videos from other dimensions that may find their way to our screens… Pass the word, keep browsing those playlists! Monitor YouTube for suspicious posts! Keep viewing! Keep clicking that mouse!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016



I’d like to talk about clickbait for a few hundred words. But first, let’s start by defining the term:

OK, that was easy! “Content”, and that certainly includes YouTube videos. But it goes beyond that, clickbait is content whose purpose, and pretty much its prime and only purpose, is to encourage visitors to click on it. That’s the clickbait I’m talking about.  I mean, think about the poetic beauty of the word ‘bait’ to catch clicks from fellow humans who are hungry for something stimulating as they habitually peruse the offerings of YouTube; who browse, as unwary catfish sample items from the soup and muck they live in and bite on bits of worm, little suspecting that there’s a hook and line involved.  And that the tidbit they are sampling will most likely not be satisfying. Most likely will leave them feeling like they’ve been tricked and the poorer for having invested a little of their consciousness in it.

And why would people post such content? Well, for 2 principle reasons:  1, to make money. .. after all, a good deal of what’s up on YouTube is there to make the poster money. How that works is a long discussion, but in essence one prime approach is to be paid by YouTube for the traffic one’s posted content  generates, the number of visitors it draws, and that, because there is advertising present alongside the content, at least for part of the visitor’s visit. And Reason #2, for ego gratification. In many ways, Youtube, and similar social media, are like Middle School, a highly populated place in which people feel good about themselves if their presence (or the presence of their posted content) gets the attention of others. And those who draw a great deal of attention often feel that the mountains of agreement they draw from a world of strangers is confirmation of their own worth. And that, too, is a very lengthy discussion that we really can’t get into fully here.

The point in all of this is that YouTube is largely agnostic to the quality of, and especially of the motivation for posting, content. And so, one finds sitting alongside such things as serious discussions about world economics (posted by economists and economic journalists), alongside announcements of health breakthroughs (posted by doctors and public health workers), alongside cultural, educational, and political news and commentary (posted by experts in those fields)… one finds social media junk food (or its equivalent), trash talk, dishonest attempts to garner public attention, media static, and the like.  And this ‘stuff’ is posted by hucksters, con artists, egotists, selfish blowhards, and retards… as well as every sort of digital loudmouth and annoying pain in the ass known to that part of mankind that spends its life online. 
The sheer volume of junk content generated and posted by these yahoos is overwhelming. It’s also fascinating. And further, I think the fact that so many of us simply seem to accept that it constitutes an unavoidable facet of the online landscape and navigate our online lives around it, is more fascinating yet. The minefield of clickbait is something akin to the accumulation of ruts in a poorly maintained highway, one that we all must travel, and for good purposes that contribute to our benefit. And more interestingly still, like kids who enjoy the bumpiness of a ride on some rutted roads, delighting in the occasional up and down, rollercoaster ride, bump as we travel, some probably enjoy a visit or 2 to view some clickbait videos. Not me, of course, but I have it on good authority that some YouTube travelers who aren’t as serious in their social investigations as I, do such things.

Above is a particularly interesting example of clickbait. Not only is it clickbait, but its clickbait that is wrapped up in the mantle of a confession by one of the web’s more prolific and successful purveyors of clickbait. Further, as part of his confession (or is it braggadocio? Or both?) He explains much about clickbait and how it is conceived and its magic worked. Quite a video! Quite a guy!

This video was created and posted by PewDiePie who, as of this writing, has drawn  46,249,937 subscribers  and  12,711,044,070 views (yes, that’s BILLION). And in it he reveals how he and his clickbaiting peers and competitors do it, manage to get so many folks to launch and view their videos.

PewDiePie opens this video with the following statements all of which are delivered in a mock serious, mock purposeful voice.  And yes, this is mildly entertaining, but more importantly, yes, he does reveal all of the little tricks that these YouTube ‘Made Ya Lookers’ have developed and use every day.  Hard to imagine that there are folks who have devoted their entire working lives to quantity without quality.

“Clickbait Video!-   It’s plagued YouTube for years, but you still click on them! - You won’t stop clicking on them!  - I have to Clickbait just to stay relevant!  - It’s gone out of control and I’m here to fix things! - I’m gonna spoil clickbait videos so you won’t have to click on them!  - You’re welcome!  - Yes it was painful! Yes I wanted to kill myself. “
And then we get what is a very thorough behind the curtains view of Clickbait and Clickbaiters. And, yes, this could be seen as something of a bit of contemporary social media education. But it, too, is Clickbait!

Saturday, July 9, 2016

History, Nose Hairs and All

Buckley, Kerouac, Sanders and Yablonsky discuss Hippies

Allen Ginsberg, the famous poet, was in the audience. But up there on the set in front of the TV cameras was William F. Buckley, host and provoker of statements from guests that would titillate his audience. His guests on this occasion were the hyper-famous novelist, Jack Kerouac; Ed Sanders, publisher of  the infamous Fuck You: A Magazine of the Arts and leader of The Fugs, a well known rock band; and Louis Yablonsky, an accomplished and well known (now largely forgotten) social scientist/professor who wrote and published very popular books about social phenomena, like the Hippie Movement.

Bill kicks off the party saying to Kerouac “Now, Jack, what I want to ask is ‘To what extent do you believe that the Beat Generation is related to The Hippies?” And Kerouac, sitting there in a conservative jacket and tie, puffing on a cigar, explains to Buckley that the difference is largely one of age, that he is 46 years old and of the elder Beat Generation, but that the 2 groups are largely the same: they're Dionysian movements.  

And as I recall it… in fact, I actually do recall seeing this show when it aired live a million years ago (well, actually 48 years ago), such statements were far too intellectual, too erudite to be comprehended by the audience sitting in front of their crude, black and white, cathode ray tube driven TV sets at home. What they actually tuned in for was to see iconic figures, like Kerouac. And to see them being who and what it was that they were famous for being;  a beatnik in the case of Kerouac – a hippie leader in the case of Sanders – Yablonsky? A college professor/author who eschewed a life of dignity and high status to consort with cultural revolutionaries… Juicy! All of them!

Buckley, with his ‘Ivy League professor manner and grooming, his Yale education and vocabulary, was the perfect host for this circus, staged weekly in which the famous and the infamous were subjected to TV camera scrutiny for the entertainment of the masses. It was a way for average folks to dabble a bit in something that went just a bit beyond the so very normal and ordinary lives they led. And as a popular entertainment it worked well because this ritual gathering was well wrapped by Buckley in layers of beyond reproach, dignified, conservative trappings.

This was a popular show and this particular episode,  a powerful, important historic artifact. To tell the truth, though, it comes off as BOR-ing, I mean, compared to anything that would be considered interesting by today’s standards; But I enjoyed watching it… even enjoyed being bored by it. True, what was considered daring and outrageous back in 1968 comes off as pretty much nothing to notice now. But THAT's interesting, I think, yesterday's revolutionaries seeming so hum drum today.

History? The literary achievements of all of those on camera in this video are well known and well accepted as important: the poetry of Ginsburg and Sanders, the novels of Kerouac, the social commentary of  Buckley and Yablonsky. But what we see here is more than their works; we see them clearing their throats, scratching their heads, … we see their facial expressions and reactions to one another’s statements… we see what gets their attention, and on and on. We witness a much subtler, more nuanced view of history as only the TV camera can reveal it, nose hairs and all... essentially unedited. This was live TV... now available on YouTube as a captured moment in time frozen.

By the way, Ginsburg, Kerouac, Yablonsky, and Buckley are all dead and gone. Sanders, an old man by now, is the sole survivor of this video.

Interestingly, a former graduate student of mine (Fordham University) not too long ago posted something about Ed Sanders on Facebook. Sanders’ work has always interested me and happily when I responded to the post  my student volunteered to mail me a copy of  Sander's book, “Fug You”, something I didn’t even know had been written. I found it to be a great read; a rollicking trip back to the tumultuous landscape of the cultural upheaval of the 1960s, a time when I was in high school in New York City. I remember that one weekend my little posse of snot-nosed buddies and I went to see a show at the Astor Place Playhouse in Lower Manhattan, a stage performance by the rock group that Mr. Sanders led, The Fugs. We loved it! It was precisely the bit of subversion that we needed to carry us through the remainder of our senior year and on to college where we would attempt to discover the meaning of life and what we were meant to do in it. Not too much to tackle in 4 years, we didn’t think.

I was so taken with this book that on finishing it I immediately did a Google search for a review, finding an impressive, comprehensive discussion of it and Sanders in the New York Times titled Present at the Counterculture’s Creation. The article included a direct link to the video above.

Having watched its full 22 minutes now, I’m feeling unexpectedly vindicated. Yes, touching base again with these figures from the past, cultural icons who were caught at an off moment by TV cameras of yore, I find myself feeling like it is I who knew and understood and could see things back then; not those who ran the world as it was presented to me and my contemporaries, and not my teachers, either, especially not my teachers.  And as I'm feeling in such a vindicated, invigorated, inspired mood, I think I’d like to deliver a message to those high school teachers who disparaged my long hair and shabby jeans and who attempted to abort my incipient love for books by ramming Shakespeare down my adolescent throat – yes I’d like to recommend a book for them to read: Fug You!