Groundling
The Bar

I work in a bar but I don’t really follow sports so I come in early to watch I Love Lucy marathons while I mop. Sometimes people see me through the glass and shake the door, looking to see if we’re open. I hold still until they move on. There’s probably a half dozen a day.

It’s not like I’m lazy because I think the whole time I’m mopping about super complicated stuff like how to enjoy my time on Earth. People say things like, “just do what you love and the rest will work out.” But they also say things like, “you have a twisted concept of love,” so my life is complicated. Even for really simple people the whole thing is a huge maze I bet. At least sometimes.

A guy named Jimmy comes in everyday at four. When my boss or the bouncer is around they chase him out because he’s weird, but he reminds me of my dad, so he’s welcome on my watch. I keep guessing what Jimmy does for a living, but every time I think I’m close, he throws a wrench in my guess. He knows a lot about circuitry, and then sometimes we’ll be watching football and he’ll say, “That quarterback was in my office the other week. Nice guy.”

Yesterday Jimmy came in a couple hours earlier than usual and told me that the market had crashed. He whispered it to me even though the bar was empty, he said, “I think this thing was pretty big” with his hands cupped around his mouth. He said that, early in the morning, a marine layer of thick Pacific fog came in and covered the city, and as soon as it hit downtown, the capital of the nation vanished. I told him I hadn’t read the news in a while, and I didn’t see a difference. He smiled. I get the feeling Jimmy lost a lot of money that morning.

Sometimes I wonder if Jimmy is a genius. Or if any of my regulars are geniuses, and they just hide out among the people that whittle park benches until they’re stopped. And if those geniuses are there, maybe they’re trying to talk to me, and I’m not sending out the signals that say I’m ready, I’m open for input.  Maybe I need to stop locking the door when I sit there and wonder what crazy adventure Lucy and Ricky have gone on this time.

Or maybe I’d be better off opening at dawn and letting the fog roll straight into the bar, like a drunk rolls out, until I feel so cool and comfortable that everything becomes easy, and I stop thinking about getting on a plane to Shanghai long enough to lay down in the glue of spilled beer on the floor, deeply relaxed in the knowledge that no one will shake the door for hours and hours and hours to come, and so I won’t have to hide, and hold so still, pretending I’m furniture until they move on.

Move/Restart

I moved to L.A. thirty-five days ago, and within three days, I was helping to look after my four-year-old cousin and became a full-time bartender. If I can say anything about these 35 days, it’s that I haven’t counted them until now. This is an adventure.

I have had not yet had an uneventful day. The whole thing is a trip, whether it’s a near death experience or eating a meal I’ve never seen, I get at least one thing in every 24 hours that keeps me on my feet.

When I am not working (and I work six days a week) I help my cousin build an electric Karmann Ghia (which you can read about here), and I watch a fair amount of insane children’s television with young Emma, who is technically my cousin-once-removed (cousin’s daughter), but she calls me Uncle, which is way easier on all of us.

I have aspirations to write and do improv and standup, so when I can, I pursue those things. Though at present, to do any of them effectively, I need a car. So right now my main prerogative is to generate revenue and read craigslist.

My info is on the right.  Welcome to the new Groundling.

And then for good measure.

Particular props to the editing on Alice for La Chat’s first verse (Starting at 0:40.)

Just makes my day.

I take it all back. By far this is the greatest fan vid.

In the running for greatest thing on the Internet.

Close second.

Favorite Number One

Critical failure?  Seems a little harsh.  But from the look of the online criticism, it doesn’t seem like the bloggers out there are willing to hold back their more biting comments.  Ross warned about “buzz” like this - early comments that snowball and malign a show perhaps before it can find its proper footing.
I for one saw a lot of potential in FlashForward, and consider it more of a near miss than an absolute disaster, but, admittedly, the closeness makes something look far worse.  It’s not like someone didn’t white balance or left stray frames between cuts.  Network just produced a show that was well-shot, well-paced, interesting, reasonably acted, and missed by a hair that felt like a mile.
And a lot of the reason lies in what I brought up in my reading response here, which is that online communities weren’t ready to embrace something so intentionally piggy-backing Lost.  The singular focus on the mystery of plot, rather than plot and characters together, and the overt solicitation of online fans didn’t help, as it paled in comparison to the much more organically grown online community Lost drew almost by accident.  It’s the rule all the popular kids know already - if you wanna look cool, you just can’t look like you care.
So complete failure?  I don’t know.  Looks more like a casualty of timing and a highly competitive industry increasingly sensitive to online backlash.  Merits or flaws of this particular show set aside, if it ever seems like it’d be easy to write TV in that kind of crapshoot environment, just look at how far you can fall with a few missteps.

Critical failure?  Seems a little harsh.  But from the look of the online criticism, it doesn’t seem like the bloggers out there are willing to hold back their more biting comments.  Ross warned about “buzz” like this - early comments that snowball and malign a show perhaps before it can find its proper footing.

I for one saw a lot of potential in FlashForward, and consider it more of a near miss than an absolute disaster, but, admittedly, the closeness makes something look far worse.  It’s not like someone didn’t white balance or left stray frames between cuts.  Network just produced a show that was well-shot, well-paced, interesting, reasonably acted, and missed by a hair that felt like a mile.

And a lot of the reason lies in what I brought up in my reading response here, which is that online communities weren’t ready to embrace something so intentionally piggy-backing Lost.  The singular focus on the mystery of plot, rather than plot and characters together, and the overt solicitation of online fans didn’t help, as it paled in comparison to the much more organically grown online community Lost drew almost by accident.  It’s the rule all the popular kids know already - if you wanna look cool, you just can’t look like you care.

So complete failure?  I don’t know.  Looks more like a casualty of timing and a highly competitive industry increasingly sensitive to online backlash.  Merits or flaws of this particular show set aside, if it ever seems like it’d be easy to write TV in that kind of crapshoot environment, just look at how far you can fall with a few missteps.

Linking Rettberg and Ross

I’ll start by stating the facts: I’m blogging about a book written about blogging, and searching Hulu for clips mentioned in a book about Internet TV.  To say that this kind of engagement is muddled would be an understatement, but it also gets to the heart of what Jill Rettberg and Sharon Ross laid out by writing the books they did.

Namely these two books represent a major transition point in media, where the content and ideas assess, synthesize, and predict millennial technology, but print all these things inside books.  Ross discusses this briefly in her introduction, saying that a book allows for “slower and more sustained discussion” impossible in the faster fragmented environment of a blog, and yet “slow and sustained” seems counterintuitive for a medium so constantly changing shape, and it seems laughable to refer to a book as a “discussion” next to the possibilities of an open forum blog.

And yet I can’t criticize the decision because, really, it seems there’s no logic to millennial media one way or another.  The modern age of communication has taken the form of a mosaic, drawing from radio, print, and the web to make a mass of information seemingly devoid of order.  In fact, rather than doing anything counter-intuitive or misjudged, both these authors have simply published works indicative of their era.

Because 21st century media in a word is “saturation,” and this saturation moves across time and medium to create the unique conglomeration we see today.  However, as both Ross and Rettberg point out, this conglomeration is not a modern phenomenon, but a continuation of long-standing human trends of society.  Ross cites Plato’s objection to written language just as countless others after him would fight the printing press, the telephone, the TV, and the Internet.  For all of recorded history, we have fought with the implications of shifting away from words as carefully planted seeds and towards words as scattershot and saturating.  In other words, the Internet is not responsible for the new methods of communication, it is simply responsible for making these methods available to an audience of billions.

Of course, under any circumstance, the state of the new world has the Internet at its center, and both these books aim to consolidate in some way the implications of the resulting information flood.  ”Buzz” is brought up as a major deciding factor for Ross, who argues Internet engagement is starting to become a litmus test for media producers and a promotional tool waiting to be harnessed.  However, whether or not buzz is being effectively or correctly read is a difficult thing to determine.  It connects directly with Rettberg’s musings on Plato’s carefully planted words, where one must consider equally the care and selection of the speaker and the discerning intelligence of the listener.  For producers reading online buzz - are those making the buzz really representative of the majority?  And can we trust those reading to process a volume of voices unheard of in the whole of human history?

The answer we all hope for is yes, because in terms of sheer numbers, groupthink and audience intelligence should naturally push worthwhile things to the top of the pile, and democratically determine how certain things stand out from the noise.  However, judging worth is, again, an inexact science at best and a crapshoot at worst.  Especially when one considers the possibility that something we see as innately democratic as the Internet could become entirely driven, harnessed, and engineered by corporate power.

It’s something we don’t like to think about, because the Internet has become a key point in the evolution of human engagement.  As Ross and Rettberg discuss, blogs and audience communities alike tap into the innate human pleasure of discussion, social involvement, and connection (even if it is, in the case of the web, a largely solitary connection, nonetheless fulfilling to participants, known to media scholars as being “alone together.”)  These pleasures have existed as part of the human experience for millennia (though again, not with today’s numbers), and the topics discussed likewise pre-date the medium.  Ross points out that gender discussions surrounding Xena: Warrior Princess and Buffy the Vampire Slayer were not unique to the online fan community, the Internet simply lent a new platform to draw on a largely unheard and disenfranchised female audience previously unable to gather in any effective way.

So what is essential is change.  Increased numbers and “many to many” media calls for a better sense of discernment.  Citizen journalists and 24 news channels that run tandem websites, twitters, and blogs (which are in fact, largely run by citizen journalists in the case of CNN) have created an unnecessary level of information that has become the indicator for a world defined by its uncertainty.  The positives and negatives of audience participation, the magnification of old habits and the creation of new ones, and the re-development of the global written word presents such a myriad of possibilites that they can be called nothing definitive besides incredibly and indescribably different.

Or so say Ross and Rettberg, who both make the point that the shift is still in process, and that the Internet has a future only as noble as the people that direct it.  Ross compares blogs to knives in her conclusion, saying each is equally suited for great utility and horrible destruction.  Rettberg, meanwhile, shows both sides of the TV audience in her chapters on online participation, and it is clear through her examples that buzz can be good or terribly detrimental.  Everything is pressured to be released, processed, and decided at incredible speeds in order to filter through all of the available material, and the result often looks like a base-level white noise of chaos. However, if we approach it not as a mass of work to be read, but as a resource to be sifted, there may be hope for us yet.  Above it all, we can either find a rarified air of online engagement, or a mess.  It all depends on our level of literacy in this newly defined realm.

In response to NYMAG’s article, I have one thing to say:
So I like Gossip Girl.  I’ll just come right out and say it.
And I’ve made the argument multiple times to friends that I like it because it’s well-written, and though I do believe that to be true, after a while I just sound like the guy that buys Playboy “for the articles.”
The truth is, while I was abroad in France last semester, it was my homesick tonic, my comfort food, the equivalent of wrapping myself in the stars and stripes and falling asleep every night.  And, without a doubt, the tabloids surrounding the show only added to my comfort by making it all a little less fictitious.
But this is perverse, and I knew it. I was reveling, after all, in a show about consumer culture, capitalist glorification, and the benefits of ruthless acts in a framework of social darwinism, and then getting up to take the city-sponsored tram to my nationally-sponsored school with a subsidized lunch in my backpack. It didn’t make sense that I was nostalgic for the ruthlessness when life as a citizen was objectively so much easier in Europe.
But then I realized that it makes total sense, because my love of Gossip Girl is aspirational, and “aspirational” is, in a nutshell, the adjective that captures the heart of the American psyche.  As an American kid, it wasn’t that I was watching GG to think back to the good old familiar days of my childhood (for that, I probably should have been watching the X-Games or Twin Peaks). Instead I was vicariously living as the archetypical American I’ve never been, where life is full of money and sex and trepidation.
So I was watching the show for nostalgic reasons, and for aspirational reasons, but not because I fondly remembered or aspired to the characters in the show.  It was because the simple act of aspiring to something grossly unattainable brought me back to my national roots.  Kind of disgusting, yes, but absolutely true.  And I tell people it kept me sane while out of the country…

In response to NYMAG’s article, I have one thing to say:

So I like Gossip Girl.  I’ll just come right out and say it.

And I’ve made the argument multiple times to friends that I like it because it’s well-written, and though I do believe that to be true, after a while I just sound like the guy that buys Playboy “for the articles.”

The truth is, while I was abroad in France last semester, it was my homesick tonic, my comfort food, the equivalent of wrapping myself in the stars and stripes and falling asleep every night.  And, without a doubt, the tabloids surrounding the show only added to my comfort by making it all a little less fictitious.

But this is perverse, and I knew it. I was reveling, after all, in a show about consumer culture, capitalist glorification, and the benefits of ruthless acts in a framework of social darwinism, and then getting up to take the city-sponsored tram to my nationally-sponsored school with a subsidized lunch in my backpack. It didn’t make sense that I was nostalgic for the ruthlessness when life as a citizen was objectively so much easier in Europe.

But then I realized that it makes total sense, because my love of Gossip Girl is aspirational, and “aspirational” is, in a nutshell, the adjective that captures the heart of the American psyche.  As an American kid, it wasn’t that I was watching GG to think back to the good old familiar days of my childhood (for that, I probably should have been watching the X-Games or Twin Peaks). Instead I was vicariously living as the archetypical American I’ve never been, where life is full of money and sex and trepidation.

So I was watching the show for nostalgic reasons, and for aspirational reasons, but not because I fondly remembered or aspired to the characters in the show.  It was because the simple act of aspiring to something grossly unattainable brought me back to my national roots.  Kind of disgusting, yes, but absolutely true.  And I tell people it kept me sane while out of the country…

Well, maybe not intentionally, but I have to wonder.
Because earlier today, an error in one of Google Maps’ Central American borders was cited as standing license for a former Sandinista guerrilla commander and a boatload of Nicaraguans to invade the nation of Costa Rica. You are not misreading this. An invasion happened. They even planted a flag.
The online response to the “attack” (which was, for the record, without casualties) is largely one of bemusement, fueled in part by the totally dry and extremely funny requisite corporate statement Google released, which said that though it tries to make its maps correct and reliable, they should “by no means be used as a reference to decide military actions between two countries.” My God. We have reached the point where someone had to say this.
The lesson here isn’t one of technological failure, or even of Nicaragua’s stupidity. It’s that, as much as Google states that its intentions are “not evil,” the people running Google can only give over so much morality before the site starts running things by itself.
This is the reality of the situation: a search engine has started a war. Tomorrow a Kenmore fridge will mysteriously tip over onto a high-standing Jordinian diplomat, and in the aftermath, the U.N. will be powerless to react when a Hoover Windtunnel Upright suddenly sucks a knife off a kitchen floor and sends it careening into General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon.  We all think it’s impossible, and then they strike.
The war with the machines has begun.

Well, maybe not intentionally, but I have to wonder.

Because earlier today, an error in one of Google Maps’ Central American borders was cited as standing license for a former Sandinista guerrilla commander and a boatload of Nicaraguans to invade the nation of Costa Rica. You are not misreading this. An invasion happened. They even planted a flag.

The online response to the “attack” (which was, for the record, without casualties) is largely one of bemusement, fueled in part by the totally dry and extremely funny requisite corporate statement Google released, which said that though it tries to make its maps correct and reliable, they should “by no means be used as a reference to decide military actions between two countries.” My God. We have reached the point where someone had to say this.

The lesson here isn’t one of technological failure, or even of Nicaragua’s stupidity. It’s that, as much as Google states that its intentions are “not evil,” the people running Google can only give over so much morality before the site starts running things by itself.

This is the reality of the situation: a search engine has started a war. Tomorrow a Kenmore fridge will mysteriously tip over onto a high-standing Jordinian diplomat, and in the aftermath, the U.N. will be powerless to react when a Hoover Windtunnel Upright suddenly sucks a knife off a kitchen floor and sends it careening into General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon.  We all think it’s impossible, and then they strike.

The war with the machines has begun.