Archive for August, 2006

The YouTube Election meets “The Campaignster”

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006

Sunday’s piece in the New York Times, The YouTube Election, takes a bird’s-eye view at how our cameras-rolling, watch-what-you-say-on-Colbert political culture is changing the nature of campaigning.

“If campaigns resemble reality television, where any moment of a candidate’s life can be captured on film and posted on the Web, will the last shreds of authenticity be stripped from our public officials? Will candidates be pushed further into a scripted bubble? In short, will YouTube democratize politics, or destroy it?”

These are some of the questions Tate Hausman will ask and maybe even answer in SMITH’s newest column, The Campaignster: Political campaign tactics in the age of MySpace. Hausman offers what we call the “chicken’s eye” or groundfloor view of the campaign process. How do you employ the promise of YouTube, MySpace, text messaging and other once nonexistent and now ubiquitous entities for your candidate? How do you avoid their possible peril? That’s Hausman’s gig from now until November as he works on two democratic congressional candidates’ campaigns. He writes:


Update on Jailed Videoblogger Josh Wolf - When Conservatives Attack!

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006

We’ve given you a couple updates on Josh Wolf, a videoblogger currently in jail for refusing to give federal prosecutors a videotape he made at a protest.

I noticed today that Hot Air, a videoblogging site run by prominent conservative blogger Michelle Malkin (who, as I’ve noted elsewhere, has ties to white-supremacist groups), has a videoblog today attacking Wolf for his stand. It follows the standard tactic practiced by Hot Air (not to mention Ann Coulter) - use a pretty face to hide the lies and the hate. This one’s pretty egregious, but it gets their viewer’s blood boiling - the first comment on the video is “Typical Godless liberal fool. Homegrown right here in the United States due to liberalistic ignorance and stupidity.” Nice.

Watch the video if you like; either way, make sure to visit Josh’s blog, and, if you can, donate to his legal fund to help ensure these people don’t take away our right to keep telling our stories.

Tom Jones

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006

By Scout Addis

We were bamboozled into taking the job by a smooth talking technical director with a pencil thin mustache and a penchant for weirdness. How else do I explain my summer at the Cape Cod Melody Tent? Julio and I needed some legitimate theater work to put on our resumes, and the $50 a week they paid us was barely enough money to drink. That is once we figured out we could drive my dad’s pint-sized trailer to Hyannis, MA from Chicago … and live in it under the guise of the “security” shack for the theater.

The summer started slowly as we hung the lights and sound and got the ancient turntable stage running again. But come the 4th of July, it was a new act almost every day—and that’s when my brushes with fame came fast and furious.

Charlie Daniels made it impossible to light his face by pulling his hat brim down practically to his ankles.

George Carlin
locked himself in the bathroom during the afternoon before the show playing recordings of his monologues over and over.

Gordon Lightfoot
seemed sadder than any Canadian I had ever met.

Robert Guillaume sent me out for a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, which we ate, and then he autographed while waiting for his show to be cancelled due to a terrific thunderstorm that caused the tent to bulge and then leak ferociously.

But the highlight of the summer came in the form of a singer that at the time I really knew nothing about: Tom Jones.

I was handling hospitality for that show, which meant I was responsible for making the star trailer look less like a dumpy trailer, and filling it with all the food and drink that Tom requested in the rider of his contract. Tom’s requests were not modest, and I had a hell of a time finding a specific kind of Welsh beer, as well as some Welsh whiskey I’d never heard of. But a contract is a contract, so when Tom arrived he got what he wanted. He was doing two nights, and we had been warned about a few key items.

1) Water. He is very energetic and he needs several pint glasses of water for each act in the show.

2) Electricity. We needed to make sure that we carefully sealed the center electrical outlets because Tom sweats, a lot, and we didn’t want him to get electrocuted.

I took care of the water in the glasses. Julio fixed the stage.

After the first night, as the audience was leaving I wandered onto the stage to clear the glasses, and yes indeed, the center of the stage was a little damp with eau de Jones.

As I was hauling the empty pint glasses off-stage a woman approached me.

“Can I have that?” she asked motioning to one of the glasses in my hand.

I paused.

“I’ll give you $5.”

I had seen how some of the ladies behaved during the show, so I wasn’t surprised at this level of idolatry.

“$20.” I replied without a blink. Come on, we were poor stage hands and $20 would buy a lot of beer or vodka.

She didn’t even hesitate and she handed me the cash. I considered trying to hawk the rest of the glassware before thinking better of it.

We shut the theater down in record time that night, and I turned the lights off in the star trailer. I heard the air conditioner still on in the back room and headed back to unplug it in the dark. As I rounded the corner in the changing room, my face became enveloped in something icy cold and damp. I aged a year at least as I scrambled to hit the light switch and see what had assaulted me.

There blowing in the breeze of the air conditioner was Tom Jones’ white shirt on a hanger dangling from the ceiling. To this day I can still remember its ghoulish touch.

On the way out the trailer door I was so rattled I nearly forgot to take a big hit off the bottle of whiskey and steal a six of Tom’s beer from the fridge.

The price of fame

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006

Face it. Most of us, no, probably all of us, have contemplated fame — or, at the very least, having someone acknowledge and praise our work, whatever it may be.

Oh come on, admit it. We’re all guilty of it. Even yours truly, has had a few Brushes with Fame and I gotta tell you, it was thrill — from the lips to the fat man in the tracksuit.

So where am I going with this — other than trying to get you to read my work and hopefully offer me some praise in the comment box — well this very issue is exactly what writer Benedict Carey addressed in his piece, “The Fame Motive,” in yesterday’s New York Times.

Carey says that it isn’t merely the gobs and gobs of cash that inspires a person’s desire for fame, it’s all about acceptance (think high school on a much grander scale) — and what’s even more fascinating, is that this need to be “special” is pretty universal, even in the some of the most remote parts of the planet.

(Frankly, if I had to choose, I’d take the buckets of cash and run.)

The urge to achieve social distinction is evident worldwide, even among people for whom prominence is neither accessible nor desirable. In rural Hindu villages in India, for instance, widows are expected to be perpetual mourners, austere in their habits, appetites and dress; even so, they often jockey for position, said Richard A. Shweder, an anthropologist in the department of comparative human development at the University of Chicago.

“Many compete for who is most pure,” Dr. Shweder said. “They say, ‘I don’t eat fish, I don’t eat eggs, I don’t even walk into someone’s house who has eaten meat.’ It’s a natural kind of social comparison.”

In media-rich urban centers, the drive to stand out tends to be more oriented toward celebrity, and its hold on people appears similar across diverse cultures.

Surveys in Chinese and German cities have found that about 30 percent of adults report regularly daydreaming about being famous, and more than 40 percent expect to enjoy some passing dose of fame — their “15 minutes,” in Andy Warhol’s famous phrase — at some point in life, according to data analyzed by Dr. Brim. The rates are roughly equivalent to those found in American adults. For teenagers, the rates are higher.

And what if fame and fortune isn’t in the cards? Well, according to the author of the soon-to-be-completed book, “The Fame Motive,” Dr. Orville Gilbert Brim, those folks will simply move on and find another source of approval like God or true love.

Pretty ambitious if you ask me.

9/11 Conspiracy Movie Gone Wild

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2006

Do you know Korey Rowe? Rowe’s a 23-year-old soldier from Oneonta, New York who returned from Afghanistan and Iraq and turned his attention to the event that sent him into battle: September 11. Now Rowe’s part of a team that’s made the 80-minute, Web-based documentary Loose Change—an online sensation that posits the notion that the federal government was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. SMITH’s Michael Slenske did a long interview with Rowe which was recently picked up by the Web site AlterNet (where I once worked and whose board I serve on). It’s quickly become one of the most-read pieces on AlterNet (we’re hoping it moves into the top slot—and brings a lot of AlterNet readers to SMITH; new AlterNet readers, click here for what SMITH is all about). As of this post, nearly 300 people have commented on the story on AlterNet, with SMITH’s own more modest discussion gathering moss as well. One AlterNet reader says:

I repeat: “Loose Change” is great work, if just for asking the questions.

There’s so obviously more to 9-11 than meets the eye, that just stirring the official take is in itself useful. Whatever the truth is, demanding more reason and sanity of the US gov’t, and as a side-effect exposing the blatant way 9-11 has been exploited for other gains, cannot be anything but healthy.

No surprise that a contrarian 9/11 story stirs the pot, especially as the fifth anniversary approaches. Rowe stands by the film’s premise, but admits some of the research methods are less than rock solid. So is it sketchy for SMITH to promote his views or are we merely offering up an outlet for an unpopular opinion?

The editors at the Times Union, a daily in Albany, have been caught up in a Rowe row themselves. The Times Union ran a Rowe/Loose Change on smack on page 1 of a recent Sunday paper—and unleashed a beast.

Read the piece and let us know what you think here.

Bourdain in Beirut

Monday, August 21st, 2006

I blogged a little while back about chef, author and television personality Anthony Bourdain’s moving article in Salon about his experience in Beirut as the bombs began falling there earlier this year.

Tonight at 10 p.m., Travel Channel airs the episode of Bourdain’s show, “No Reservations,” about Beirut. If it’s anything like the Salon piece, it’s a must-watch. (Along with, of course, Spike Lee’s documentary about Katrina, the first part of which airs tonight at 9 on H.B.O. Decisions, decisions.)

(Hat-tip Crooks and Liars.)

Fear of Snakes (on a Plane)

Monday, August 21st, 2006

All that hype! And now they’re saying Snakes on a Plane bombed at the box office. It’s possible that a basic fear of snakes kept people away. They just didn’t want to watch an entire movie with snakes slithering around (on an airplane no less) — like watching a 90-minute version of that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Well, my theme here at SMITH has been the stories we do not tell, and of course fear is probably the main reason why we hold back — fear of telling too much, fear of what people might say or think of you, fear of getting it wrong, fear of having to just say it out loud or truly commit to writing it down on paper. But let’s keep this light! Snakes on a Plane light! I’ve got 10 copies of the Snakes on a Plane Quote Book, so the first 10 people who leave a comment about 1) how they felt about the Snakes on a Plane hype, 2) their fear of snakes, 3) why they didn’t go see the movie OR 4) What they thought of the movie because hell yeah they saw it, will get a free copy of the quote book. I do wonder if we’ll even get 10 comments. We may already be at the “I don’t ever want to hear about Snakes on a Plane again!” point.

1000 Days in 150 Seconds

Monday, August 21st, 2006

Last week on YouTube I stumbled across this remarkable three-minute video piece. The filmmaker, Ahree Lee, took a picture of herself in the same pose, before the same white wall, with the same neutral facial expression, every day for three years. In 2004, she strung the images together and compressed each one into a fraction of a second to make the video. It’s a remarkable piece, a simple idea that took a lot of follow-through and discipline to make real.

Watching it, we see hairstyles and glasses come and go, while the artist’s face remains fundamentally the same. The film got me thinking about personal media, and how it can be visual as well as text-based. I’m a writer, and when I think ‘autobiography,’ I
immediately think of something that’s written. But visual self-portraiture has existed as a genre for hundreds if not thousands of years. Ahree Lee’s work is unique because it exemplifies the possibilities that new technologies have opened up for the artistic expression and presentation of the self. And it’s interesting because it’s spread out over time, as opposed to the static, snapshot-like representation that ’self-portrait’ first brings to mind.

In a way, Ahree Lee’s video reminds me of Chuck Close’s oeuvre. And it got me wondering: does anyone know of other examples of self-portraiture that deal with the passage of time?

The All-Digital Diet

Monday, August 21st, 2006

Amy Webb, editor-in-chief at Dragonfire, the online magazine where I’m media critic, conducted an interesting experiment recently. She went 30 days without using any traditional media, and wrote about it for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Her thoughts at the end of the experiment:

Day 30: Saturday, July 1

Made it. Conclusions:

I’ve realized that I don’t need traditional, mainstream media. I’m getting the same information available to everyone else - getting more of it faster and more comprehensively.

Better, I’ve created a virtual salon in which I can meet people, chat about the news and current events, share ideas on what else to read, and find meetings to chat with people in person. The last time I went to a bar in Philly and tried to have a conversation about the news, the woman next to me smiled, got up and walked away.

I’ve concluded that the medium doesn’t matter after all. After a month without any print or broadcast media, I can say with confidence that I could easily live without ever picking up a physical newspaper again. As a journalist, I realize that the future of news will depend on our ability to become “information brokers,” using multimedia platforms to tell our stories.

But after a month, I put a foot back into the analog world and find myself - happy. I’ve missed holding a magazine and reading in the bathtub. I like the way newsprint feels between my fingers. Techie that I am - multitasking just about everything - a part of me still likes to focus on a single story, without distraction.

Is print dead? Not yet - not when local media organizations, in Philadelphia as well as in other cities, are so far behind in technology. Even technophiles like me still crave newspapers and magazines. Assuming the cost of production doesn’t spike, there will always be a place for both digital and traditional content.

But the way we gather and distribute information will increasingly rely on digital technologies. Teenagers don’t know a world without computers, so they’ve been socialized to accept rapid human-machine interactions. For the rest of us, the transition won’t be easy. But it is inevitable.

Amy will also be on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” today.

(Hat-tip to my dad, the NPR listener in the family, for letting me know about all this.)

Burning Out His Fuse - Out Here! Alone!

Monday, August 21st, 2006

It’s a nice day out. I’ve just had a really good cup of coffee. I’ve got a bagel with lox and cream cheese. My week’s starting well.

I figured everyone’s should begin so nicely. To that end, I figured I’d dig into the archives for the video YouTube was, in my mind, born to screen.

William Shatner, everybody.

In all seriousness, though, I think this is part of the fun of what we talk about here at SMITH. William Shatner can get up on stage and do this sort of thing and have it be a cultural icon, have millions of people watch it, have a cult television show give it immortality - and yet there are probably thousands of people out there who deserve all that just as much. Some of them may not be as good as Shatner. Some may be better. Some may just be different, have their own totally unique, totally characteristic voice, and for years we’ve been missing something by being shut off from those voices. Today, we can hear them.