Who will walk in Carlin’s shoes?

George Carlin: American Radical:

“I don’t consider myself a cynic. I think of myself as a skeptic and a realist. But I understand the word ‘cynic’ has more than one meaning, and I see how I could be seen as cynical. ‘George, you’re cynical.’ Well, you know, they say if you scratch a cynic you find a disappointed idealist. And perhaps the flame still flickers a little, you know?”

We will all miss George Carlin. There’s no one to take his place. Most comedy today dances on the edge of vulgar racism, sexism, xenophobia and the catalog of mean thoughts, thinking that it makes fun of racism or sexism or hatred of others while heartily engaging in it.

Cozy movie promotions

Times screen grabWant to see the impact of the too-close relationship between media and the media it covers? Look at the promo for Mike Myers’ apparently awful new movie on the front page of The New York Times.

While the deck on the front page says “Mike Myers floats through ‘The Love Guru’ with serene confidence,” the actual review is a complete pan of the flick that says “’The Love Guru’ is downright antifunny, an experience that makes you wonder if you will ever laugh again.”

Now, why write a deck that conveys the opposite message than the review? Because The Times needs movie ads. Someone breezing through the front page would get a favorable impression, despite how bad the story judges the movie to be. It softens the blow to the film studios, who would surely recognize the reason for the powder-puff promo. Maybe the managing editor thought this was a clever play on words, but the message is clear: “We need to cover up how bad this movie is.”

Sure, it’s just a movie review. We should expect more from the Grey Lady. If the film is terrible, promo the review with that message and set readers expectations for a bad review. Either way, they’ll read the review because a strong message gets read every time.

How about “Impotent ‘Love Guru’ suffers from Mike Myers’ insincere confidence”? People will read that, and they’ll come to the article with a clear idea about what they are about to read.

You Kant be social and barbaric?

“All industries, arts, and crafts have gained by the division of labour—that is to say, one man no longer does everything, but but each confines himself to a particular task, differing markedly from the highest perfection and with greater ease. Where tasks are not so distinguished and divided, where every man is a jack of all trades, there industry is still sunk in utter barbarity.”—Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals

It’s interesting to note that in the evolving economy, we are both more specialized and necessarily more generalist. We must specialize deeply in the tasks we want to accomplish for remuneration and generalists in those we share freely as part of the exchange of information that allows new value to spring from social software. We’re just not clear about where the dividing line is or where it will be in the future.

Evolving into an unnatural state or the same old state?

My friend Sanford talked to my friend Joi, when Joi said:

“Maybe most people don’t know (or don’t think is real) is that I am really very shy. It takes a lot of energy to not be shy – but it is not a natural act for me. With all of my exposure, I have had to grow into this visible state. As a function of doing what I want to do, I end up meeting people and networking. But this is not my natural state.”

What’s interesting about this is that Joi describes his work as a form of alienation from his true self, despite all the companies he started having begun as hobbies. It is striking, because it suggests little has changed about the nature of work, even as the speed of innovation and finance has transformed the outward environment.

Another knick in cycling’s heavily damaged body

BBC SPORT | Boonen banned from Tour de France:

Former world champion Tom Boonen will not be allowed to compete at next month’s Tour de France after testing positive for cocaine.

With last year’s Tour winner, Alberto Contador, out of this year’s Tour because he rides for Team Astana, which was banned for doping after last year’s race, this year’s Tour de France is looking pretty frayed even before it begins. Contador won a classic Giro d’Italia last week and looks like the odd’s-on favorite to win in Paris in July, if only he were riding.

The times, they keep a-spendin’

Stimulus payments result in record May deficit – washingtonpost.com:

A flood of economic aid payments pushed the federal budget deficit to $165.9 billion, the highest imbalance ever for May.

The Treasury Department reported Wednesday that the May deficit was more than double what it was in May 2007. Some $48 billion in payments went out as part of the $168 billion economic relief effort to revive the economy and keep the country from a deep recession.

Just another biggest, first-ever accomplishment to note in the long history of the Reagan Legacy, Bush administration and what John McCain would call “progress.”

Scribes and professionals

Clay Shirky, in his Here Comes Everybody, devotes a chapter, “Everyone is a media outlet”, to a comparison of the decline of scribal production to the decline of “professional” journalism. He sets up this analogy on faulty legs that leave the argument that “what was once a chasm is now a mere slope [between “professional” journalism and committing acts of journalism or journalistic-like writing or photopublication]” completely unsupported.

The problem is that the scribe’s production of books, which was, for the most part, merely rote copying (with mistakes sometimes adding very interesting flavor to the resulting books), is not analogous to the acts of research and authorship that a journalist does. And I don’t mean a “professional” journalist, just the act of researching and writing a thorough report of an event or events.

Clay mixes in photojournalism and stock photography, two very different functions in the scheme of things, as one is concerned with immediacy and the other with illustration of events with handy and cheap symbolic images, to make his point that it is in organizing data that most value is created:

“Who is a professional photographer? Like ‘journalist,’ that category seems at first to be coherent and internally cohesive, but it turns out to be tied to scarcity as well….. Much of the price for professional stock photos came from the difficulty of finding the right photo rather than from the difference in quality between photos….”

Photojournalism was and still is expensive, because someone has to take the bet that they can be in the right place at the right time. As a result, one photo can be worth months’ or, even, a year’s pay, because it took a year to be in the right place. Likewise, the reason stock photos exist is that they have been composed in the past from false realities (models posed in “natural” settings) or captured during the long effort to make a valuable image, and were ready for the future need as a result. In both cases, production rather than distribution is the essential cost. Widespread amateurization doesn’t make it cheaper to produce a staged photo, it simply increases the likelihood that you can find a “real” image of something at a lower cost than the composed image of the photojournalist or stock photographer.

He cites the music and film industry, which engages in “distributing music and moving images” that is being undermined because “laypeople can now move move music an d vido easily.” Without getting into the distinctions between artists who can produce themselves and those that need packaging by a marketer before their music doesn’t suck too much for human consumption, the real value in these industries is production, not just distribution. Try to make The Lord of the Rings trilogy on less than $500,000 and you will see what I mean. Production includes the financing of risk, too.

Additionally, Clay dwells on “professionalism” as the essence of journalism. I’d like to see his take on the evolution of journalism, which is characterized by amateur writers becoming paid writers as they try to fill their own or a friend’s press with content. Over the long run, most great journalists never had a journalism degree. Professionalism actually rose with the proliferation of media outlets as a way of credentialing people, mostly to the detriment of the dedication to reporting the perceived truth that drove the rise of mass journalism.

In many ways, Shirky treats anything flowing over a network as an undifferentiated mass of content on which his economic and social rules operate.

“The entire basis on which scribes earned their keep vanished not when reading and writing vanished but when reading and writing became ubiquitous,” Clay writes. Indeed, it is so, but that is also when those scribes began to write their own works, as he points out with regard the Abbot of Sponheim’s 1492 defense of the scribal life, which he chose to print and distribute through movable type. Rather than a chaos during that 100 to 150 year period when scribes and printing presses competed with one another, there was a long process of change that was largely comprehensible to everyone involved. For an excellent history of this period, see Elizabeth Eisenstein’s The Printing Press as an Agent of Social Change.

What changed for the scribes was that the church would no longer pay for their work, because it no longer had a monopoly on readers, so they had to evolve different skills or, rather, focus on improving existing skills for the new channels of distribution. In other words, they had to become authors.

Scribes were copyists whose errors did introduce some of the most interesting elements of the books they reproduced (and, so, were failing as “copyists”). At best, they were masterful annotators and commentators on those works that passed beneath their quills, but not authors in the modern sense. Both authoring and annotation/commentary survived and thrived because of the enlarged markets for printed work. The scribes didn’t die off, they evolved into, among other things, academics, scientists and historians.

Interpassivity: Your pleasant alternative to believing in political participation

Slavoj Žižek, How to Read Lacan:

“…one should supplement the fashionable notion of interactivity with its uncanny double, interpassivity. It is commonplace to emphasize how, with new electronic media, the passive consumption of a text or a work of art is over…. Those who praise the democratic potential of the new media generally focus on precisely these features: on how cyberspace opens up the chance for a large majority of people to break out of the role of the passive observer following a spectacle staged by others, and to participate actively not only in the spectacle but more and more in establishing the rules of the spectacle.”

Here’s the dream we talk about, and Žižek drills in on an idea I’ve been wrestling with for years:

“The other side of interactivity is interpassivity. The obverse of interacting with the object (instead of just passively following the show) is the situation in which the object itself takes from me, deprives me of, my own passivity, so that its object itself that enjoys the show instead of me, relieving me of the duty to enjoy myself…. This brings us to the notion of false activity: people do not only act in order to change something, they can also act in order to prevent something from happening, so that nothing will change.”

Populism, as it shows itself on the Web, is a kind of false activity that relieves people from really participating in politics. Donating to a campaign, the primary form of interaction with political campaigns, is vastly accelerated, but engagement with issues is not. We donate thinking it will change things, but we go back to letting someone else run things—the same old order with a new mask. We find an inspiring leader and trust them, same as always. It is like joining a church and thinking that saves you. And we react defensively against criticisms of the candidates and the systems we use to “govern” interpassively.

“Is not this need to find another who ‘really believes’ also that which propels us in our need to stigmatize the other as a religious or ethnic fundamentalist…. Perhaps this is why ‘culture’ is emerging as the central life—world category. With regard to religion, we no longer ‘really believe’, we just follow (various) religious rituals and behaviours as part of a respect for the ‘lifestyle’ of the community we belong to…. ‘Culture’ is the name for all those things we practise without really believing in them, without taking them quite as seriously.”

We don’t really believe in politics, but we play at the rituals and even invent new ones, that reassure us we are in control of our society. What we really need is to do is become political, regardless of the tools we use, and take on the role of participant with all that effort means.