Monday, June 04, 2007

Cult of the Blowhard

Absolute HorseshitSince I’m responsible for copious posts ridiculing certain new media evangelists, let me now mock the findings of one old school tight-ass. His name is Andrew Keen and according to this article, he’s written a book entitled The Cult of the Amateur. In it, the lecturer/internet entrepreneur decries the demise of vetted media, laying the blame squarely on the pajama-top of the citizen communicator. Trotting out the hackneyed adage of monkeys, typewriters and masterpieces, (he must have been out of farmer’s daughter jokes), Keen concludes that a media landscape without borders will cast professional journalists to the four corners of the new age terrain, scrambling their native tongues so that they may never unite again. Think I’m kidding? Read for yourself:
In a world without newspapers, publishing houses, film studios, radio and TV stations there’ll be nobody to discover and – no less important – to nurture talent. The result could be no less catastrophic than Pol Pot’s decision to eliminate talent and expertise in Cambodia by mass execution. “Once dismantled, I fear that this professional media – with its rich ecosystem of writers, editors, agents, talent scouts, journalists, publishers, musicians, reporters and actors – can never again be put back together. We destroy it at our peril,” says Keen.
What’s at peril is the credibility of any media critic who interjects Pol Pot into a discussion about podcasts and websites - but that’s hardly the point right now. No - what’s at issue is Keen’s contention that without the loving guidance of corporate gatekeepers, all those insatiable communicators will cease to ensue the voodoo that they do. Hardly. With new distribution platforms emerging every fortnight, lensmiths, scribes and fiddlers will produce more noise that ever - some of which will actually contain a discernible signal. Will it all suck? Depends on your perspective. If you’re an esteemed member of the Fourth Estate, the rabble of the masses will no doubt fill you with dread. If you’re a twenty-something with a pierced eyelid and a laptop, you’re probably too busy surfing YouTube to care what some old fossil thinks.

As for this quickly calcifying relic, I find myself wedged between the grinding plates of the tectonic schism. With once sacred and scarce tools now down-sized and dumb-downed for the masses, any old ape can consider themselves a self-publishing primate. That evolution is already underway - as evidenced by the plummeting TV ratings scribbled on the nearest cave wall. Now we can sit by the fire all night and worry about where that leaves a camera-slinging tree-swinger like myself, but it won’t stop this survival of the fittest. That will be decided out there - where a new breed of media-maker is petrifying my kind even as we speak. Will it forever change the way we process the world? You betcha. Will it force the current species to walk the Earth - forever searching for the guidance of a benevolent master? Hell no. Content - good and bad - will flourish and they’ll be a thousand new ways to access the best and the worst of it. Podcasts will lay down with broadcasts, on-line video will couple with the Datelines of the world and a new generation of news consumers will be more, informed, overwhelmed and fractured than before. To paraphrase our new American Idol, this is our Now.

(Oh yeah, as for TV stations being ’nurturing’, come walk a mile with my tripod. We'll nurture you up a good hernia...)


Nathan Tabor said...

Sounds like Keen's threatened by the rise of a medium of news and opinion that's more horizontal in nature than he's comfortable with.

Fec said...

I agree, but as an amateur, I would.

Cone linked to Lessig's rejoinder. Keen picked the wrong chain to pull.

I'm quite addicted to the news and need all the input I can get.

Megan said...

Aren't all of these hallowed gatekeepers Keen's talking about essentially talented proxies for public taste? They exist to make the best guess about what the most people will find good and valuable... no sensible editor nurtures talent that's too esoteric to ever find an audience. I mean, ten million people may decide to watch a clumsy kid with a fake lightsaber on YouTube... but is that any worse than the editor who brought us 'Extreme Make-Over.'

(also, 'can never be put back together'? Puh-lease, what's the first thing that flourishes anywhere in the world when dictatorships fall? The media. We're like cockroaches.)

Nathan Tabor said...

That's a good point, Megan. "Amateur media" allows people to cut out the middle man, as it were--proxies aren't needed. Guess that's why Keen's so cranky. Of course, this wave of change won't be nearly as disruptive as the pessimists think, and the old guard will learn to adapt (which is why even the NY Times with its annoying TimesSelect, is getting into blogging). Any way you slice it, choices are a good thing.