Mutation Vectors is a weekly rundown of my media diet, and occasionally other other random thoughts.
This week’s must read: There is nothing you must read this week. Feel free to take the weekend off. But if you must read something, I liked Matter’s profile of journalist Jason Leopold. I also like Rusty Foster’s thoughts on the New York Times, the Washington Post and Mozilla trying to to fix online comments in this Daily Dot story:
What they want is “community ownership”—a large group of people with a sense of investment in the community, around the NYT or the Post or whatever. But the only way to do that is to give up a lot of control to the community, and I don’t think what has to be done to really build community ownership is compatible with the mission of a news organization. Essentially the NYT should not be Reddit. The NYT, just by being what it is, already is a million times more valuable to humanity than Reddit—becoming Reddit is not the way forward. […]
Social media ate all of that up, which in my opinion is a good thing. Social media tools turn out to be far better at conversation around media than anything any web site ever built. Social media works because people organize their conversations around people, not media properties. I have my group of friends, and we talk about NYT articles, and Vox articles, and whatever. I don’t want to have separate communities at each of those places.
Of my own stuff this week, I have to say I had fun profiling Metasploit.
I recently finished two books I’m ashamed to admit I hadn’t read before: The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin and The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester. I’m reading Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim right now.
Laurie Penny is at it again with another must-read this week the European Parliment and creeping fascism. Key line: “Perhaps the greatest trick the Devil ever played was to convince the world that he was really boring.”
Penny wrote that for Vice, which Gawker says is a really shit place to work. In response to the accusations, Vice says “fuck you,” but doesn’t exactly say the article wrong about how much the company pays, only that the salaries are “competitive.” Which doesn’t really mean much in a market where Gawker itself only pays new writers $1,500 a month and is being sued by unpaid interns.
But really, pretty much every media company these days is using tabloid clickbait garbage to subsidize its “real journalism.” But that’s a cold comfort to the people forced to survive by grinding out listicles for subsistence wages, as Paul Ford reminds us in a piece on Medium about the absurdity of viral content farms. You know, like Medium.
And over at renowned content farm The Atlantic Choire Sicha — who founded The Awl, where you can watch bear videos and read about the life and times of ¯\_(?)_/¯ — says the internet basically sucks now but is also amazing.
Aaaaannnnyyyyway, my favorite thing I read this week was David Forbes’ piece on the history of Grinding. My favorite thing of my own was my story on Transgress, a tool for routing around the online censorship of information about transgender issues.
I watched Thelma and Louise for the first time this week. I can’t imagine this movie being made today. Which reminds me, you should also read Jacqueline Valencia’s essay on on the need for more lonely women in film. Not that Thelma and Louise is exactly the type of movie she’s talking about, but it reminded me of Falling Down which reminded me of her article.
Hansel at Interpet This writes:
But this prevalence of torture that you see in otherwise very comparable shows is not limited to Fringe. It is everywhere in American entertainment now.
Everywhere you see it it promotes the lie that torture works. It does this very effectively. Because usually we, the audience, already know that the person being tortured has the information. They just will not give it up. In real life of course torture is not like that. In the hundreds of torture scenes that have been acted out in popular media only a handful show the victim making things up, and saying whatever they think the torturer wants to hear in order that they stop torturing them. Which is the reason why torture is not a useful tool. The process would be: Torture someone, they tell you something, you double check that story, maybe torture the people they implicate, then you find it out that there story was incorrect, go back to torturing them. Just one round of that might take days or a weeks. Which would make for boring TV.
The Columbia Journalism Review has a good profile of Evgeny Morozov. I had no idea that he was so young, or that he’d undergone a conversion a few years back:
He began writing about the political situation in Belarus for Transitions, a Prague-based NGO that encouraged the adoption of new media by independent journalists in the former Soviet bloc. In 2006, Transitions hired Morozov as its first director of new media, a job that had him traveling widely—at age 22—to train journalists and bloggers throughout Eastern Europe.
“Thinking that you are living through a revolution and hold the key to how it will unfold is, I confess, rather intoxicating,” Morozov would later write. Much of his work from this period is preserved, and it’s fascinating to watch a YouTube video from 2007 that shows a chubby kid holding forth in a thick accent about how digital media might transform the sclerotic and indecent politics of his region. Asked by a peppy interviewer what he sees as the “most innovative” development of recent years, the young Evgeny rattles off a list of possibilities that makes him sound a lot like the “cyber-utopians” he would soon make a career out of skewering. “Definitely crowdsourcing,” he says. “Definitely applying the logic of the open-source software movement to broader ideas, to broader processes.” Another video from the same conference shows him giving a buzzword-filled presentation called “Putting Community at the Core of Innovation in New Media.”
Here’s Morozov today, talking about the guy in that video: “I was 23 and in a room with people in their 40s and 50s, all of them editors and journalists, and I was talking some nonsense and they were all buying it. The degree to which both sides were unaware of just how stupid the entire setup was just makes you very scared.”
I find Morozov really difficult for reasons I can’t quite explain. I think the big issue is that he’s so hyperbolic. It’s not enough to pick apart someone’s ideas, they need to be potrayed as not just wrong but as a dangerously stupid and/or fraudelent. But I think Morozov does this because, generally, the people and ideas he criticizes receive hyperbolic praise. He’s trying to counteract some of that. Still, the fire and brimstone routine doesn’t come off well in my opinion — especially given how moderate his opinions actually are as he reveals in his more sober moments.
Unfortunately this will go behind a paywall in about 15 hours, read it while you can:
The world knows very little about the political motivations of Pierre Omidyar, the eBay billionaire who is founding (and funding) a quarter-billion-dollar journalism venture with Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Jeremy Scahill. What we do know is this: Pierre Omidyar is a very special kind of technology billionaire.
We know this because America’s sharpest journalism critics have told us.
In a piece headlined “The Extraordinary Promise of the New Greenwald-Omidyar Venture”, The Columbia Journalism Review gushed over the announcement of Omidyar’s project. And just in case their point wasn’t clear, they added the amazing subhead, “Adversarial muckrakers + civic-minded billionaire = a whole new world.
The authors then launch into an examination of what hte Omidyar Network has funded, which includes:
-SKS Microfinance, the microlending company that terrorized its debtors into committing suicide in India
-DonorsChoose, a fundraising site for public schools that was aligned with the makers of the anti-teacher union propaganda film Waiting for Superman
-Hernando de Soto, the “Hayek of Latin America” who was once drug czar for Alberto Fujimori, the former president of Peru now in prison for crimes against humanity.
Not mentioned is Change.org, the fake non-profit accused of exploiting people’s anger under the guise of being a non-profit.
And the reason that matters, of course, is because Pierre Omidyar’s dystopian vision is merging with Glenn Greenwald’s and Laura Poitras’ monopoly on the crown jewels of the National Security Agency — the world’s secrets, our secrets — and using the value of those secrets as the capital for what’s being billed as an entirely new, idealistic media project, an idealism that the CJR and others promise will not shy away from taking on power.
The question, however, is what defines power to a neoliberal mind? We’re going to take a wild guess here and say: The State.
So brace yourself, you’re about to get something you’ve never seen before: billionaire-backed journalism taking on the power of the state. How radical is that?
Full Story: NSFW: (Don’t worry, this site actually is safe for work)
It reminds me of this bit from Mark Fisher:
The autonomist critique of authoritarianism and Stalinist bureaucracy is something that we shouldn’t forget. Any credible leftist politics now has to take the problem of anti-authoritarianism very seriously. At the same time, however, we have to recognise that the situation is very different from the context in which autonomist ideas first emerged in the 1960s and 1970s. Then, the Communist Party and the trade unions were very powerful; Stalinism was still an oppressive presence.
None of these things are true today. Whatever the merits of autonomist anti-statism, it has to be acknowledged that anti-statism is now hegemonic. There’s a congruence between the language of neo-anarchism and David Cameron’s Big Society, which is not to say that the discourses are identical. But one problem with anti-statism — particularly when coupled with localism, as it often is — is that it makes any defence of institutions like the NHS very difficult. The drive of the original autonomists was to escape existing institutions, whereas I think our aim today should be to produce new institutions.
The Week reports, back in October 2012:
An ambitious new e-book pushes the boundaries of interactive fiction by requiring readers to visit specific locations to unlock new parts of its story
If you want the full experience of The Silent History — a new e-book available on the iPhone and iPad — you’d better get ready to do some traveling. The Silent History is “part medical case study, part mystery novel, and part-real-life scavenger hunt,” says Sarah Hotchkiss at KQED, and the e-book aims to personalize its narrative for each reader. (Watch a trailer for The Silent History below.) The Silent History is divided into two parts: Testimonials and field reports. The testimonials, which are divided into six volumes of 20 chapters each, are automatically unlocked as the story unfolds each day. But the field reports require an unprecedented level of interaction: They can only be read by traveling to specific locations, and readers are encouraged to write and contribute their own localized installments.
The supposed panic was so tiny as to be practically immeasurable on the night of the broadcast. Despite repeated assertions to the contrary in the PBS and NPR programs, almost nobody was fooled by Welles’ broadcast.
How did the story of panicked listeners begin? Blame America’s newspapers. Radio had siphoned off advertising revenue from print during the Depression, badly damaging the newspaper industry. So the papers seized the opportunity presented by Welles’ program to discredit radio as a source of news. The newspaper industry sensationalized the panic to prove to advertisers, and regulators, that radio management was irresponsible and not to be trusted. In an editorial titled “Terror by Radio,” the New York Times reproached “radio officials” for approving the interweaving of “blood-curdling fiction” with news flashes “offered in exactly the manner that real news would have been given.” Warned Editor and Publisher, the newspaper industry’s trade journal, “The nation as a whole continues to face the danger of incomplete, misunderstood news over a medium which has yet to prove … that it is competent to perform the news job.”
Full Story: Slate: The Myth of the War of the Worlds Panic
Scott R. DiMarco of the Mansfield University of Pennsylvania campus library writes:
The story begins with two staff members and one librarian who enthusiastically created and ran a week of interactive programs for banned book week. The turnout was tepid. A panel discussion on the subject drew six people. Five were librarians and staff members. The sixth was Dennis Miller, our public relations director, who recently published his second novel, One Woman’s Vengeance. As we talked about various books that are still being banned at different locations around the country, Miller said, “You should ban mine. It has sex, violence and adult language.”
He was joking, but his statement emphasized that as long as one book can be banned, any book is a target.
Two of my staff members and one librarian thought it over and came to me a couple days later, suggesting that we should, indeed, ban it during Banned Books Week. We talked over the ramifications and I agreed. We contacted Miller, an ardent opponent of censorship.
He agreed to participate.
It’s an interesting situation given that no one knows who actually owns OMNI at this point.
What do you see as the main strengths and weaknesses of the medium you work in?
The allure of wordplay, yum yum. There’s that delicious brainmeat frission that happens when you read or craft just the right turn of phrase. But the medium has its weaknesses, too, in that words… well, they fail. A lot. Words fail me every day. All the time. Because they put me at a remove from more atavistic sensations, connections, communications. Which is why I love music so much– the ribcage-expanding, gut-and-capillary level reaction it can trigger. Music is my magick. Also, the visual resonance of art and design: when I lean both my body and my brain into a piece of music… I see landscapes and I feel textures. And then that’s when the most unfailing words come– stories that have steeped in sounds and images.
How has technology impacted upon the work you do?
Immensely. In too many ways to count. Coilhouse Magazine couldn’t have existed without the global network we all built together online, and the kinship that sprang up from it. More generally, I’d say that many of the most wonderful collaborators I’ve worked with, across multiple mediums, are thanks to BBSs and chat rooms, and later on, social networking sites like Livejournal, Twitter, Tumblr. Every day, no matter where I am in the world, I can interface with authors, fashion photographers, editors, musicians, and filmmakers… all thousands of miles away. With a good pair of headphones and an Apogee One, I can (and have) recorded full-length film scores on my laptop in the midst of traveling internationally. I’m about to email this interview to you while I’m at ten-thousand feet in an airplane. I have cherished loved ones that I’ve never met face to face, and it’s a non-issue, because we’ve found ways to share our art. This world, and my subsequent work, is largely post-geographical, and I find that miraculous.
Full Story: In To Views: Meredith Yayanos
I hadn’t realized it, but the new Parlour Trick album is available on Bandcamp.