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Monday, Nov 24, 2008

Tyler Cowen linked to Peter Suderman’s post at Culture 11, “In Praise of Negative Reviews,” a response to Joe Queenan’s funny essay about useless, gushy book reviews and awkward amounts of unearned praise. Suderman observes that when it comes to incoherent praise,


the critical medium that suffers most is pop music criticism, which skews toward generally positive reviews of most everything, no matter how bland or terrible. Scan the sidebar of Metacritic’s music page. Nearly all of the review averages are positive or very positive, and almost none of them are straightforward pans. In fact, right now I don’t see a single album with a review average that gets a score categorized “generally negative reviews.” Contrast this with the movies page, which contains more than a dozen films with low averages. Even the limited release indies — the “artsy” films — are often given low marks.
Is contemporary pop music really that much better than contemporary mainstream filmmaking? I think not. Instead, it’s just that the music reviewing culture has developed in such a way that most everything scores a “pretty good” or a “not bad.” (Witness Idolator’s ongoing mocking of Rolling Stone for the rock mag’s tendency to give pretty much anything a three-star review on its five-star scale.) There are a handful outlets like Pitchfork and The Village Voice which regularly publish tough music criticism, but these are the exceptions.


Suderman has no real explanations for the surfeit of positive reviews. I had some theories back when I was writing more music reviews and was trying figure out why anyone bothered. Unlike films, many many records get released, and just noticing one and running a review of it already marks it as significant. The substance of the review itself is almost beside the point. Acknowledging its existence is already an admission that it’s “pretty good,” so it would be strange for the review to suggest otherwise.


In general, it’s hard coming up with compelling descriptions of music, and with readily accessible sound files, reviewers are competing with the songs themselves, which are easier to sample for oneself than ever. Many review editors try to compensate for this by urging writers to craft tightly wound prose explosions with lots of active verbs and implausible metaphors. The poetic quality of the review has to make up for its inability to beat the music, which basically speaks for itself. Generally, explaining whether the record is good or not is secondary to the writer’s making the reader laugh or think, Wow, that was cleverly phrased. And if all else fails, reviewers can work a variation on the formula of “sounds like artist A plus artist B doing some crazy thing”: e.g., “sounds like Bob Dylan making a pass at Joan Armatrading while landing a helicopter in a minefield.” (Here’s a good example from Klosterman’s review of Chinese Democracy: “It’s like if Jeff Lynne tried to make Out Of The Blue sound more like Fun House, except with jazz drumming and a girl singer from Motown.”) These descriptive conglomerates typically come across as positive but don’t really help readers, unless they have a clairvoyant capacity to get on the reviewer’s wavelength.


When I first started reviewing music, I used to receive boxes of discs from a fledgling website and had to write 150 words reviews of everything in the box. On top of that, I had to single out at least one out of every 10, if I remember correctly, for 300-word recommendations that would receive more prominent play on the site. I used to think this was a terrible way to go about things, because often there weren’t any CDs that warranted recommendation, and I didn’t think reviewers should be rewarded with prominent placement for shilling for bands. But it wasn’t hard to figure out the logic for this way of doing things. When people read CD reviews, they want to find out about something they should go listen to. They don’t want this: “Hey, here’s something you never heard of. Take a few minutes to read about why you were far better off that way.”


It might amuse some readers to see well-established artists attacked, but who wants to read negative reviews of stuff they haven’t heard of? There’s no point, and the reviewer just comes across as mean. I certainly felt this way about myself when I was writing the negative reviews. It seemed dumb for me to be discouraging these performers, who had no chance of making it, really, no matter what I wrote about them. It’s no fun pissing on people’s dreams. In fact, it made more sense to try to champion all bands, so I could potentially claim some of the glory for helping one of them make it. (I was too cynical to think that actual musical talent had anything to do with future success; success in popular culture has mostly to do with promotion and relentless networking.)


Readers often want hype, not evaluation, because it gives pop culture a sure-fire context, whereas a review that traces musical influences and parses lyrics only helps a select few readers. Besides, there are no established criteria for what’s good beyond popularity or fidelity to genre expectations. Maybe Suderman thinks it’s possible that music reviews could be objective evaluations of quality, as defined by some unimpeachable universal standards, but I don’t believe these exist for pop music (or for much of anything in culture—aesthetic criteria are political creations). The pop music people consume is typically a tribal thing or a means to participate in the zeitgeist, and it’s hard as a reviewer to shape the zeitgeist from the margins. But that doesn’t stop many of them from trying.


The idea that I would simply write up a fair evaluation of a record was of course out of the question. My taste is pretty eclectic and idiosyncratic. That was by design. I took pride in the idiosyncrasy because I used to think it made me special, unclassifiable. So my opinion was of no use as a guide for people with more “average” tastes, and I sometimes went out of my way to be contrarian. Most reviewers are similarly in it for the self-definition, seeking to prove to themselves that their tastes are unique or trying to secure tangible proof of their influence on the world. The parasitic positive review is as much a will to power as the nihilistic negative one. And I think pop-music reviewers generally have a disproportionate amount of respect for musicians and want to mystify what musicians do, turn it into magic. This justifies the amount of time they spend under the musicians’ thrall, thinking about the musician’s efforts instead of making efforts of their own.


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Sunday, Nov 23, 2008
This week really marks the 20th Anniversary of Joel Hodgson's seminal show Mystery Science Theater 3000. In that regard, let's go back to a commentary piece from January 2008 outlining SE&L's favorite in-between bits.

The bad movies. That’s all anyone ever wants to talk about. Manos. Mitchell. The audacity of taking on a pseudo classic like This Island Earth. The creative constitution it must have required to endure the aesthetic horrors of Time of the Apes, The Castle of Fu Mancho, or Attack of the The Eye Creatures. But there remains so much more to Mystery Science Theater 3000 than Arch Hall Jr., Coleman Francis, and Merritt Stone. As a matter of fact, one of the first things critics latched onto where the sensational skits, in between bits that often commented directly on the film being shown. Yet there were also times when the material was merely “inspired” by the work being presented, said muse mutated into wit that transpired the sloppy celluloid circumstances. It’s these boffo blackouts that deserve reconsideration and concentration. SE&L, confirmed MiSTies, will highlight 10 of the best forays into funny stuff the Satellite of Love and its occupants ever attempted. 


There are a couple of caveats when diving into this list. First, we purposely avoided anything where music was involved. Mystery Science Theater 3000 was famous for its satiric songs, and trying to pick 20, let alone 10 would have been impossible. Therefore, only atonal humor will be discussed. Also, we’ve also stopped the reflection at Season 7, the non Sci-Fi Channel version of the series. There’s no real reason for such a barrier, except that more people are familiar with the updated concept of the show, and some of the older material needs its day in the sun. Finally, supporting characters like Dr. Clayton Forrester, Dr. Lawrence Erhardt, TV’s Frank and the Mole Men have also been excluded. They’ll get their moment sometime in the near future. With all the stipulations in place, let’s begin in chronological order:





Crow’s Thanksgiving




from K03: Starforce: Fugitive Alien II





Back when the series was still being broadcast across actual antenna airwaves by local Minneapolis station KTMA, a special holiday edition of the show featured this fabulous history lesson from everyone’s favorite “bird dog thing”. From the pilgrims arriving in a van and taking turns “starving”, to the Indian’s spraying their guests with mace (don’t ask), the robots get the spirit of the occasion, if not the factual certainties. An important discussion, if only for finally explaining the connection between Turkey day and the reason people start Christmas shopping the day after.





Sidehackiing Terminology from 202: Sidehackin’


As with any new sport, descriptive phrases and jargon are mandatory. They help reporters explain the action and bolster color commentators ability to earn ESPN highlight reel airtime. For this Ross Hagen rehash of every competition oriented cliché ever conceived, Joel and his automated pals provide such expressive lingo as the ‘Hickory Dickory Die’, ‘Fruitful Snootful’, and the ‘Tension Envelope’ routine (popularized by Nutsy the Clown). It’s enough to knock competitive darts, Ninja Warrior, and all other non-mainstream athletics off the pop culture radar.





Klack Foods Commercial from 211: First Spaceship on Venue


Anyone old enough to remember single company sponsorship in television will smile at this remarkable riff on Kraft and its long-form infomercial breaks that championed their various faux foods and cheese spreads. Here, a spot-on Tom Servo (channeling Ed Herlihy) describes how Klack Industrial Saladoos-based snack and snippets can be used to make mouth watering family favorites like Skin Mittens, Cooter Cakes, and the traditional Gut Whistle Pie. Just don’t forget the Flesh Button dressing, or a heaping platter of Creamy Crust Puppies. Now that’s fine eatin’.




Crow vs. Kenny from 302: Gamera


After an onslaught of giant monster madness, Crow can no longer stand the whiny goody two shoe-ing of everyone’s favorite short-panted pint size. So he lets his aggressions out in the most fruitless display of childish chiding possible. Taking the opportunity to do the same, Servo joins in. Joel tries to help his pals have a more positive perspective on the friend to all oversized beasties. It only lasts for a little while before the bile begins rising all over again.





Winter Sports Cavalcade from 311: It Conquered the World


It’s icy chills and snowbound thrills as Joel and the ‘Bots describe the frostbitten pleasures of training, Alpine style. We experience the gory goodness of the latest craze - speedskating combined with kickboxing. Then there’s cat snapping, where kittens are taken to absolute zero and cracked like Turkish taffy. And let’s not forget “shi-ing” which is also referred to as playing ping-pong or badminton with a Barbie doll frozen in a bucket of ice. And you thought snowmobiling and hokey were the best things about the months of November to February (or August to May, if in Minnesota).

 



Catching Ross from 315: Teenage Caveman


Ross Allen was a well known animal trapper who violated several ethical, moral, and PETA inspired values with his raping of the Florida Everglades. As protest, Tom turns the tables on the great blight hunter, subjecting him to many of the same humiliating outdoor tortures that Allen himself employed to make his living. With Joel along for visual illustration (he uses a small action figure to simulate the pain being inflicted), we get the kind of pointed payback that only a fire hydrant like puppet and a stand-up comedian trapped in space can dish out.





Art Therapy from 507: I Accuse My Parents


Hoping to gain some insight into how his robot pals think, Joel asks them to visualize their own fantasy families. For Tom, it’s a portrait of his father, Gigantor, and his two moms - Haley Mills and Peggy Cass. For Crow, it’s an oversized deadly dynamo of a dad, who combines homespun wisdom with lasers that fire out of his chest (“pyeww, pyeww”). Of course, Gypsy only envisions a world filled with nothing but Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea‘s Richard Basehart. Why? To quote the cast: “I dunno.”

 



Chick Flick Fight (Really Femmie Movies) from 517: Alien From LA


A post-apocalyptic Kathy Ireland inspires this brilliant breakdown of Mike and the gang’s feminine side. Over the closing credits of this crappy film, Tom chides Crow over his copy of Places in the Heart and his complete Sally Fields collection, while the little gold guy gives his human buddy a Six Weeks, Dying Young, and Irreconcilable Differences combo. Between a Herbert Ross festival, Savannah Smiles, and the mere mention of Madame Sousatzka, there’s not a male chromosome left in the Satellite of Love. Just remember to quote freely from Rich and Famous and everything will be okay.





Ingmar Bergman Tells a Joke from 617: The Sword and the Dragon


The late, great Swedish filmmaker is lovingly spoofed when Mike and the ‘bots take a break from this horrible foreign fantasy film to offer up a moody monochrome gag. Though there is probably no more than a page of actual dialogue, the entire skit is filmed at a pace that makes snail’s nervous over how slow it proceeds. The payoff is well worth it, however.





The Edge of the Universe (2001 Spoof) from 706: Laserblast


This was it - the supposed end of the series. Comedy Central had failed to renew the contract, and even worse, a typical season of episodes (12 to 24) was reduced to seven. So how do you send off the greatest TV show ever? Easy, you mimic the greatest film ever. This classic 2001 lampoon, complete with pointed visual cues and recreations of classic moments, left fans free associating for days. It’s all here - including a final image that summed up how special Mystery Science Theater 3000 was to fans and cinephile’s worldwide.

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Sunday, Nov 23, 2008

Today’s the day that no one thought would come- Chinese Democracy is finally out now.  You can go to the GNR MySpace page to decide if the wait was worth it. 


IHMO, it wasn’t unless you like over-flashy guitar that makes you miss Slash and enjoy Axl’s voice being submerged instead of being utilized as the great scream machine it is (at least until the middle of the thing).  And for the handful of good melodies around, they’re more than balanced out by the soggy ballads.  I’d take anything else in their back catalog over it.


Their label will soon find out if it was worth the millions of dollars that they invested in it but don’t be too surprised if they can’t recoup the dough from the album sales.  Granted, it was a canny move to get it sold through Best Buy but there’s no way that they’re gonna sell as many copies as Appetite For Destruction and I doubt that they’re gonna outsell Lil Wayne or the Eagles for this year either.  Mostly likely, Axl is gonna have to haul whoever is in GNR now around for a tour and try to sell enough merchandise to make up for it.  They don’t have any dates scheduled yet but rest assured that his label’s breathing down his neck to take his act on the road.


But you also realize this occasion means that Dr. Pepper now has to make good on its promise that it surely regrets making earlier this year: one of their sodas for everyone in the States, barring Slash and Buckethead (though Axl promised to give his soda to the later) if GNR finally put out their album this year.  Needless to say, they made the offer when they were fairly confident that Axl wouldn’t come through but he finally did (maybe he was goaded on by them), so now they’re stuck.


If you go to their website today, you can download a coupon for a free soda that you can redeem at any store that accepts it until next February.  First, you have to get to the site though and it’s clear that they weren’t ready for the traffic they got.  Here’s some of the error messages that their site spit out earlier today:


“The paging file is too small for this operation to complete.”


“The specified CGI application misbehaved by not returning a complete set of HTTP headers.”


“Service Unavailable.”


“Insufficient system resources exist to complete the requested service.”


“The network link was interrupted while negotiating a connection. Please try again.”


“Not enough storage is available to process this command.”


What you have here is kind of a greatest hits of server breakdown messages.  And even after you get into the site, you still have to sign up for the soda coupon and rest assured, their server isn’t ready for that either—I’ve tried a number of times and my browser just keeps timing out.


Makes them look kind of bad now but rest assured that they’ll have a notice up tomorrow saying “We’re thrilled with the response we got!” instead of “We weren’t prepared to have that damn album come out and have to make good on our promise!” 


Of course, people love to gooble up free stuff and this stunt was good publicity for them but it’s hardly gonna turn America into a nation of Pepper drinkers.  Most people will just go back to the other crappy drinks that they guzzle down after this.


As for me, if I do get my coupon, I’m gonna cash it and send my soda to Slash.  He deserves it and I’d wager that he’s not bummed that he isn’t on the new GNR album either.


Tagged as: guns n' roses
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Sunday, Nov 23, 2008

For fright fans, Dario Argento’s career as a movie macabre master started going downhill right after the release of his spectacle splattefest Opera. With the advent of videotape, and the steady release of his past efforts onto the format, a whole new audience was appreciating his work, and Hollywood was starting to take notice. Invited to America to continue his career, he made the interesting anthology entry based on the work of Edgar Allan Poe, Two Evil Eyes, and helmed a US based thriller entitled Trauma. Neither film was a hit, and Argento was angered by issues of studio interference and MPAA censorship. He had been burned back in the ‘70s when companies such as Paramount and Fox decided to distribute truncated versions of classics like Suspiria. Now, he needed a project to propel him back into the good graces of his always agreeable European constituency – and a book by psychiatrist Graziella Magherini seemed to hold the answer.


Dealing with a subject described as “art enchantment” - a surreal fugue state where individuals feels emotionally overwhelmed and personally connected to paintings, sculptures, and other aesthetic works – this ‘Stendhal Syndrome’ seemed to be the perfect idea for a film. Of course, it would take some tricky special effects to realize his goal, and Argento needed an actress he could trust to take on the grueling, slightly gratuitous lead. He envisioned a woman who was young enough to play the ingénue, sturdy enough to pass for a cop, and complex enough to handle the several personality changes that occurred throughout. Even worse, this performer would have to lay herself bare during a trio of tawdry rape scenes. With an air of oddness that only Freud could successfully decipher, Argento flummoxed convention and hired his 21 year old daughter Asia. Long a fixture in the film world, this would be her most demanding role to date.


And thus cameras rolled on the icon’s big creepshow comeback, a psychological thriller that took both parts of that label all too seriously. A strange combination of police procedural (Asia is Anna Manni, a policewoman on the trail of a serial rapist), character study (after suffering at the hands of her subject, Anna starts to slowly unravel), and exercise in exploitation (women are brutalized and butchered by this maniacal blond sadist), the results divided even the most ardent aficionados. Some saw it as a return to past glories. Others argued that, while decent, it forewarned of worse things to come. Indeed, in the next decade, Argento would release four more career confusing efforts – his overdone and sexualized Phantom of the Opera take, a good giallo called I Can’t Sleep, the static CSI statement The Card Player, and a weird homage to a long time idol entitled Do You Like Hitchcock? So oddly enough, The Stendhal Syndrome appears as his last legitimate offering, a movie mythologized all the more by its odd home video treatment.


Somehow, Troma got a hold of this film, and released it way back near the beginning of DVD. The 1996 package was pretty good, containing a commentary by the director, an interview with the filmmaker, and lots of company come-ons. Fans frothed however, citing the fair to middling transfer and the overall lack of respect offered by the infamous B-movie factory. Over the last 11 years, they’ve hoped that a company like Blue Underground would salvage this forgotten film and bring it back to the state of semi-respectability it so richly (?) deserves. Those prayers were answered back in September of this year. The Big Blue U indeed stepped up and delivered a two disc digital package that illustrates the best that the medium has to offer, while questioning the extent to which businesses will invest in context for the fans. Now, a Blu-ray version of this title is available, and it too begs the question of product vs. pitch. 


If the film had been more endemic of Argento’s lush, luminous style, the lack of all format support would be unconscionable. But Stendhal stands as a decidedly different effort for the director, a movie made up of particular movements, each one attempting to address a different aspect of a woman’s destructive descent into madness. Viewed in parts, we see the suggestion that rape reduces a female to a series of onerous questions. There is doubt of self, doubt of sexuality, and doubt of safety. All three of these misgiving are illustrated here, as daughter Asia goes from confident cop to psychological mess in the span of two event filled hours. The transformation is both physical and mental. At first, Anna Manni is a long haired brunette, a capable officer working a high profile case. Post attack, she cuts off her overflowing locks and takes on a more tom boyish persona. Finally, after a terrifying confrontation in a water main, our heroine becomes a femme fatale, long blond wig providing a post-modern noir nod.


Within each section, Argento hints at the horrors going on in Anna’s head. Initially, everything revolves around the title issue. The use of then new CGI to realize the symptoms of the syndrome is unique and, though dated, gives the visuals an excellent otherworldly quality. Asia also does a good job of expressing the emotional distress that surrounds the problem. When she swoons over a classical canvas, we believe the delirium. She is also a brave actress, allowing herself to be very vulnerable and physically ‘open’ during the rape scenes. Actor Thomas Kretschmann (who would later rise to notoriety in big budget films like Blade II and Peter Jackson’s King Kong) is an amazing villain – the kind of debonair demon that you can easily see as a smooth talking psychopath. The interaction with his victims is noxious, and he really helps establish the lasting effects of his horrific crimes.


The second phase takes us through a denial of femininity, as Asia goes guy to try and hide her pain. This is a very interesting segment, one where Argento pulls back on the dread to deliver some drama and dark humor. When a previous paramour makes a pass at Anna, she responds with belligerence and foul-mouthed dominance. Equally, when boxing with an old male friend as part of a workout, her love of physical brutality is obvious. All throughout the first two acts, we sense a rematch with out rapist, and long for the moment of mandatory cinematic comeuppance. As a director, Argento toys with us, leaving us guessing right until the very end as to how this confrontation will play out. Even after it’s over, we still wonder if there’s not more to the story. As with most works by the Italian maestro, a climatic moment usually triggers another tangential terror.


Which brings us to the third phase in Anna’s story. Feeling slightly more empowered, and working through the leftover trauma with her specious therapist (a real red herring if ever there was one), we see an attempted reclamation of her beauty and allure. The long headdress is initially shocking, since it tends to hide most of Anna (and Asia’s) inviting ethnicity. This is crucial in understanding where the character is headed. The color of the wig, the newfound lust and desire, the overwhelming possessiveness – all of these facets are supposed to provide subtle insight into the shifts our lead is experiencing. Since he’s a master of pacing and paradigm, Argento lets issues lie, creating tension by building on both expectation and the unanticipated. Even after the denouement, when we learn just what’s been going on in Anna’s head, our director is not done. We watch as our fractured female is swept up in a sea of men, the patriarchy once again arguing for its role as protector and provider of the species.


As a result, it’s hard to call The Stendhal Syndrome “horror”, though it definitely deals in dreadful things. This is more like a literal psychological thriller, a film that rises and falls by the sinister and sick psyche of its characters. As it moves from element to element, as it references Argento heroes (there’s a lot of Hitchcock here) and establishes its own inherent greatness, we sense the struggle inside the director. For over three decades, he was viewed as a fantasist and fabulist, someone placing the surreal inside the scary to create a kind of dream theater of nightmare novelty. But Argento got his start making standard crime films, giallos that mimicked the mean-spirited narratives of the yellow covered pulp novels the genre took its name – and inspiration - from. To be pigeonholed because of his rare artistic flourishes was unfair, and yet all throughout this film, such flashes also appear. The contradiction would soon cause his canon to crash.


Oddly enough, the new Blu-ray DVD doesn’t go into a lot of perspective or overview. Instead, Argento appears and discusses the production – including how uncomfortable he was directing daughter Asia. The author of the book which inspired the director – psychological consultant Graziella Magherini - explains the Stendhal Syndrome while F/X guru Sergio Stivaletti talks about the confusing world of computers. We also hear from AD Luigi Cozzi and production designer Massimo Antonello Geleng. Their anecdotal insights help us understand how hard it is for Argento to complete a project. Apparently, forces both normal and unexplainable are against him. As for the long debated technical aspects of this release, this latest Blu-ray release is outstanding. Grain is minor, with an enormous clarity of detail. It too carries over the filmmaker’s original vision, and is presented ‘uncut and uncensored’.


Some may complain about the sound situation, however. The original DVD’s Dolby Digital 5.1 track is available in both English and Italian, but neither the 7.1 DTS-HD and 7.1 True HD has an alternate option. Fans of foreign films hate when studios forgo the native language of the filmmaker in order to cater to a less informed fanbase, but in this case, the decision is mostly understandable. Argento typically hires a multinational cast, so while his movies are made in Italy, his actors are versed in several tongues. Picking just one does a disservice to all. Even then, he usually films in English, even if performances begin in various ethnic takes. Whatever the case (research indicates an original Italian track), the expanded sound is amazing. There is a spatial clarity and attention to aural detail that can’t be ignored. And of course, Ennio Morricone’s amazing score is accented perfectly.


Still, it’s hard to fully fathom where The Stendhal Syndrome resides inside Dario Argento’s reputation. Many will marvel at the avant-garde aspects of this feature and wonder why the director ditched them for a hoary old period piece (Phantom) the next time out. Some will see it as a misogynistic mess, a film that forces females into the role of subservient sickos who can’t suppress their inner whore long enough to avoid the suffering. Gore fiends will enjoy the novel kills, including the slo-mo bullet time, and Argento’s directorial flourishes still mandate attention, even within this far more realistic setting. Either as signature or stumble, art or atrocity, there is no denying that as a filmmaker, the man responsible for brining Italian terror to the mainstream remains an important cinematic fixture. Thanks to the efforts of Blue Underground, his legacy will remain intact, if not necessarily indestructible.


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Sunday, Nov 23, 2008

More of my friends are finding the time to get on Facebook, prompting various nostalgia trips as people from the past reconnect. This seems benign enough, but it’s a little strange that the technological means makes possible a relationship that everyone involved in was happy enough to abandon to the mists of time. It’s like Facebook has more at stake in that revived connection than the individuals reconnecting do—and maybe that’s true.


Actually, this seems like the essential bargain Facebook presents us with. It will facilitate our illusions of friendship and connection by making such social contact nearly effortless and highly insulated. We can broadcast gossip about ourselves and present ourselves in a flattering light and make contact with people we had forgotten about just by going to the site. It maintains our friendships for us by storing a configuration of the network of all the people who have ever mattered to us while exempting us from that particular effort that we had already, in fact, stopped bothering to make.


So we get friendship without the trouble of having to put effort into the relationships. It’s friendship rendered convenient through technology, and the convenience to a degree denatures the original significance—isn’t the substance of relationships ultimately anchored in the effort we feel ourselves putting in? (Or am I simply mystifying the ideal of working at things?)


In exchange for making our social lives more convenient, Facebook seizes the right to transform our sociality into commercially useful information, turn our relationships into market research and use that data to anticipate and shape our future selves with the ads it calculates that we should be presented with. It manages our friendships and then processes the data interrelationships to guide the process of how we subsequently develop our identities through its site. Since it is mediating our friendships, and in effect making the effort for us, it is also directing what the fruits of that effort will be, supplying the framework through which friendships develop and making itself the very medium of friendship.


At that point, Facebook succeeds into making friendship a consumption product, and itself as the service provider. The other friends we have through it, on the other side the screen, are the product it marshals for us. And our consumption of Facebook, rather than the actual experience of friendship with all the effort that would otherwise require, now shapes our personalities—in accordance with the commercial goals it has set out for ourselves. In that way, it isolates us more by promising to mediate our connections with the rest of the world. It deprives us of the option to make more effort, and make our social efforts more meaningful. Is this too pessimistic?


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