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jmac on: Online Video, Double Murderer


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The Reeler Blog

Online Video, Double Murderer

I spotted a couple of pieces Tuesday addressing a major media issue of our time, which appears to be especially dangerous now as well. To wit, this headline from the Voice:

Internet Killed the Video Star
Is YouTube bad for experimental video art?

And this from The Daily Reel:

Keen: UGC Killing Our Culture

By "UGC," reporter David Hirschman means "user-generated content," and by that Hirschman's subject Andrew Keen means every single thing wrong with online media today. The Aftertv podcaster and Audiocafe founder is the author of the new book The Cult of the Amateur, in which he rails against the seeming inverse relationship between the amount of content stuffing the Web and that content's diminishing quality. Moreover, Keen tells Hirschman, mainstream gatekeepers have "done a pretty good job at finding talent" over the years, while contemporary Web phenoms are more invested in self-promotion than aesthetic advancement:

"We're creating a culture of resentment in which everyone thinks they have a right to some sort of cultural visibility," [Keen] says. "People don't have that right. Sure, you have a right to be seen, but you don't have any natural right to a mass international audience. You earn that right. … There's a scarcity of talent and there's a scarcity of who can be successful. The reality is that we only have a certain amount of time in the day to watch and to read to listen."

Exactly, which is why I am today thanking The Daily Reel for saving me the trouble of buying and reading Keen's book. The Internet is the best! Except that back at the Voice, where he previews this weekend's Scanners festival, Aaron Hillis posits that UGC is responsible for an even worse transgression:

While Scanners (a/k/a the New York Video Festival) once served as a practical conspectus for the handful of video pioneers whose work stood out from the pack, the fest will soon become a bimonthly affair just to keep up, a valiant yet uphill battle to cut through the explosion of online video -- two-inch QuickTime windows are not exactly the ultimate format for experimental work, by the way -- and catch the attention of the hypnotized masses who are growing more and more accustomed to getting their "art" between checking e-mail and the RSS feed.

God, such guilt. On a ReelerTV day and everything. At any rate, all this death and critical condition has me wondering: What was the prognosis for experimental film when Scanners began 16 years ago? The New York Underground Film Festival will be 15 next year; MIX NYC is pushing 20. These are very realistically the establishment now, even while introducing new technologies, techniques and facing a medium historically shown in its first decade to be accelerated, impermanent and selective. And, sure, kind of stupid, but in a good way (is anybody really threatened by Howl [for Linsday Lohan])? Roget's Thesaurus is the only place you'll find "cycle" interchangeable with "revolution," and everyone from Keen to whackjob Scanners regular Armond White ("The Internet is not the ideal format for videos," he tells Hillis. "They take on extra dimension and bloom on the big screen") should know that online video is hardly an all-or-nothing proposition.

But the more immediate issue has nothing to do with art anyway -- it's about marketing. Making and sharing art is easier than ever; surviving long enough to make more is... well, good luck. To this end, as Keen alludes using the case of Lonelygirl15, online video operates at a deficit of more than just operating budgets. Intellectual honesty is at a premium. Which is why, conceptually anyway, the Internet is the perfect place for experimental video. Artists and marketers are of similar minds here, adapting or wholly inventing new standards of performance and recognition that dilute share of voice for the chance at purely democratic triumph. Bryant Urstadt put it well a few weeks ago in New York Magazine:

The Internet currently represents a little more than 6 percent of a $149.6 billion ad market, and it’s the only fast-growing sector of an otherwise shrinking business, going up 20 to 30 percent annually in the U.S. and faster abroad. Moreover, the field is wide open. ... The Internet audience is far more fragmented, picking content in nearly random ways, and the barriers to creation have dropped as well. You could be a kid with a guitar or a team at a 12,000-person agency, and you have about the same chances of mass success on YouTube. The odds might even be slightly in favor of the kid with the guitar, especially if he could play like funtwo, who has racked up 23 million views for his version of Pachelbel’s Canon.

Hillis points out that time spent marketing is time not spent filmmaking, but while every little push helps online (ask ReelerTV's producers), the upshot of full access is essential equality. New media are the opportunities everyone's been striving for, and now that they're here -- and are as staggeringly vast as promised -- those free-market loyalists who should appreciate it the most don't trust it. Everything on the Web is experimental, if only because it's never been done before. So if we're deducing murder suspects and life spans, maybe we should ask when the establishment will kill online video, and how both the mainstream and fringe will file claims for its corpse. Because it'll be here before you know it. Or maybe this is it, the dawn of a medium so untameable it compels total destruction, America's ultimate fine art. I can hardly wait; I've been considering a career change anyway.

Posted at July 25, 2007 2:39 PM

Comments (1)

Hey S.T.,

Your ReelerTV is awesome!:)

I just would like to point out casually that statements such as the following do not seem to be supported by any in-depth, research-inspired, population-sampling, data-gathering information:

"We're creating a culture of resentment in which everyone thinks they have a right to some sort of cultural visibility," [Keen] says. "People don't have that right. Sure, you have a right to be seen, but you don't have any natural right to a mass international audience..."

Oh really? So people that "deserve" that "right to a mass international audience" - oh please) are people such as . . . Andrew Keen???

Why are people so afraid of the amateurs?


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