No Consumed today, but I have a feature on ROFLCulture, here.
[Big] thinkers [are] engaged in the popular debate over whether the Internet makes us smarter or dumber. And that question is interesting, but let’s face it: it’s not awesome. What Tim Hwang and his cohorts basically hit upon was the conclusion that, while that debate drags on, funny cat pictures and so on are really, really popular. And maybe another question to consider is what that means — to consider the Web not in terms of how it might affect who we become but rather in terms of how it reflects who we are. ROFL, after all, is not a seductive theory about what enlightened things democratized culture may one day produce; it is a pervasive fact on the ground. This is how sizable chunks of our cognitive resources are actually being deployed, so it’s worth trying to figure out why that is, what functions this stuff serves and how it differs from or falls in line with more familiar forms of entertainment. Perhaps, in other words, it’s worth taking ROFL seriously. Or at least sort of seriously.
Over at Hilobrow, Matthew Battles makes an interesting point about ROFLCon. (Well, he makes several, but I’m only going to address one of them here. Read his whole writeup here.) In the panels he attended, he notes: “Too often the tone was, ‘turn your snarky web site into a book — or even a TV show!'”
There’s a lot of truth in that — many of the meme-makers and Internet celebs and other proprietors of what was being celebrated as outsider weirdness got a hearty round of applause upon noting their recent book deal or other cash infusion from the trad media. This is interesting in part because it suggests that if there’s a ROFL subculture, it’s not exactly standing in opposition to the fabled MSM, despite rhetoric to the contrary. (Surely this relates to my uncertainty about what that ROFLCon attendee was getting at with her accusatory “Seriously? The New York Times?” blurtage.)
To be fair, there were also stories of turning away MSM overtures that were particularly insipid, and more than one ROFLmaker seemed to take the attitude that they were better off going with a more autonomous monetization strategy (selling ads, selling merch direct to fans, etc.). The point is that I’m not sure if MSM represents a sanctifying force in ROFLCulture — or simply a source of ready money. (Money that ROFLmakers may see as a no more than a dumb windfall.) Or some of each.
This site was quiet the last couple of days because I was out of town, attending ROFLCon. If you’re not familiar with this event, it’s devoted to Internet memes, Internet celebrity, weird online culture & phenomena, etc. The guest list here.
I’m not big on conferences, but obviously this one is … unusual. And I had a great time. Among other things I got to meet a couple of people I’ve written about in the past. One was imaginary brand impresario Pete Hottelet, who has the coolest business card I’ve ever seen, and who in general turned out to be a really nice, smart, and fascinating guy. I interviewed him via phone a while back in a column about Brawndo; he’s now also putting out the real-world version of Tru Blood, and will soon release another defictionalized product that I’ll write up here later. The other was Jef Sewell, one of the founders of Despair.com (I wrote about that here), who had some really great stuff to show off, including the company’s lavish new edition of Charles Ponzi’s memoir.It looks rather impressive; I think Sewell and his brother Justin have one of the most interesting businesses around.
I also got to meet a bunch of people I’ve interviewed for stuff that’s forthcoming, plus see some old friends, meet some new friends, and so on. There were several really good panels, and I have one or two thoughts from those that I’ll try to articulate here soon.
Anyway I also had one really weird moment, which I guess isn’t too surprising at this sort of event. Everybody had lanyard name tags on and of course mine said “New York Times” on it, because, you know, even though I’m not on staff, that’s my main client or venue or whatever you want to call it. I usually don’t think about this very much, but as I was leaving one panel, a young woman walking past me as she exited looked at my name tag and blurted out an incredulous: “Seriously?? You write for The New York Times?”
She sounded sort of appalled, or maybe alarmed, and possibly just a little bit hostile.
I had no idea what to say. Partly because I wasn’t sure what she meant. Was there something really unlikely about me, as a physical human being, writing for the Times? Or did her incredulity have to do with the idea that someone from The Times might be attending this event? If the latter, was she appalled that The Times would devote attention to stuff that’s so silly/weird/obscure? Or was it more like, “Oh what a bummer that the Times is here to ruin our cool subculture”? Again: I didn’t know what to say. Of course I’ve already written about several of the guests here, and I’ve interviewed many others. I’m sure the Times in general has covered many others. Basically I was so startled, but her tone more than anything, that I just stood there, mute.
And she kept walking. So that was that.