When John Flansburgh of They Might Be Giants worked in publishing (the basement of Condé Nast), he would often encounter strange images that then got incorporated into the band’s album artwork and flyers. To a Flansburgh, curation and metadata have no relevance – he would just go through everything as a matter of work, and then come in with “this is weird” and set it aside. Life provides a lot of opportunity for stumbling, endlessly. Nobody should be worried about the Flansburghs.
But if there’s someone who looks at a massive stack of magazines, online or off, and the question is “When did Synapse Software begin advertising in these issues and when did they stop, and what products did they advertise from their catalog?” then metadata becomes critical. Especially if the questions keep coming; a one-off crazy search is one thing (Pixar will do things like find every jailbreak scene, or every bank robbery scene, for reference material, from the corpus of known films), but if this is all you’re doing, all the time, then metadata is the difference between getting things done and focusing all your energy on convincing people with requests [that] they don’t actually want to make that request, i.e. Asshole Librarian Approach.
Curation, the flip side, is presenting a smaller portion of an archive or container in such a way to focus on a subject and bring clarity to an audience or yourself – images of consumer-based robots, perhaps, or video games in which someone has been taken hostage. A curator wants metadata badly, but depending on the quality of the curation or its needs, they can get by with a minimal amount. The quality of the curator, by the way, leads to low-hanging fruit getting put out there (oh boy, another image of “Pac Man” to illustrate any sort of video game) while also bringing in a breathtaking amount of amazing work when done right, like Jambe Davdar’s beyond belief series on Star Wars, which is one of the most masterful commentary/annotations of a film series you will ever see. But the amount of work involved… well, that’s the secret pain of the curator.” —Jason Scott, getting some things right. The post’s also about the slow, piecemeal, random process of stuff becoming available. (via katherinestasaph)
Another thing about Nitsuh’s article: the main argument he makes in it is that entertainment-producing corporations such as Viacom/MTV are increasingly and knowingly producing very dumb, and/or at the very least very shallow programming as social media fodder. Particularly, fodder that allows audiences to not only complete the joke/narrative as much as create their own parallel ones. If for the sake of argument he’s right—as much as “right” is an applicable judgment here—it makes for a very interesting (perhaps) twist to the decades-long debates surrounding media consumption.
To wit: the mass-mediated TV era of the late 1940s/1950s to, let’s say, whenever Web 2.0 started was one that practiced a take-what-you’re-fed passive consumption model, in which democratic participation was limited to being represented as part of a “share” or ratings point, or buying Rice Krispies as a representation of one’s active consumer subjectivity. (Of course this is a purposefully simplified idea of what corporations wanted from viewer/consumers, not necessarily their experiences. [Early listservs and BBSes were practically founded by people bitching about TV and fleshing out its narratives, for instance.])
If Nitsuh’s argument is correct, though, MTV’s current model (which it seems to have grotesquely niched from American Idol’s) is one in which active, unfettered, public audience participation (such as hate-tweeting/”critiquing” Jersey Shore and the VMAs) is required to keep shows/specials/networks/corporations afloat, period. Tweets and “likes” are the new Nielsens or focus-group perception analyzers. I found it amazing how completely full my Twitter feed was Sunday night with live VMA analysis, most of which comprised snark and/or amazement at whatever bizarre shit they were watching. Granted, I run with a certain crowd. And I like following along and contributing to streams of commentary with my friends, like we’re in the same living room (I did not do so on Sunday, however). And yet!
1. I wonder how soon it’ll be before, in the minds of executives at least, hashtags become the new living rooms as the units of viewership?*
2. Is MTV’s ridiculous-lowbrow-insanity-as-social-media-fodder merely a test? An initial, training-wheels way to get people riled up and/or confused enough that they simply must express their disbelief on Twitter, thereby working that into their television rituals, and learning to do it during other, more normal fare? (The most live-Tweeted sitcom that I see, 30 Rock, is also the most patently absurd and in-jokey, after all.)
*hence the title of this post
More food for thought (and click through for follow-ups). One thing I love about Nitsuh’s pieces is the way in which (at least in my neck of the Internet) they start conversations at least as often as they end them.
Nitsuh’s post is good, of course - it nails something uncomfortable about pop and correctly hints that it’s uncomfortable because it’s not just about pop. It reminds me of an idea I was hand-wavingly positing to my brother on holiday last week, something I’m planning to maybe develop in a Poptimist column later this year, that we’ve become used to experiencing pop culture’s energy through its artefacts, and also that these artefacts tend to stick around. But what if the artefacts - records, movies, comics, etc - were a by-product of the energy rather than its necessary focus or endpoint? Can you have a healthy pop culture when the stuff it produces is transitory? (Secondary qn: can criticism possibly operate in such a thing, other than as something oppositional?)
(My provisional answers to the last two qns are “Yes” and “Probably not”, btw.)
Food for thought.