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Friday, Jan 19, 2007

Julian Sanchez links to this series of posts about post-scarcity economics, the gist of which is this: ideas (and dignital copies of intellectual property) do not become scarce once they are thought of, which means they are not subject to the law of diminishing returns. The marginal cost (what it costs to make one more unit of something) for duplicating an idea is nil, implying an infinte supply of the fruits of knowledge once it exists. (See David Warsh’s Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations for a thorough explanation of this—and the history of theorizing about increasing returns to scale—and the paper by Paul Romer that brought it to contemporary economics.) The upshot of these posts is that an “infinite” supply of a good should cause its price to approach zero in the absence of state-granted monopolies and other “artificial barriers” (copyrights) that are becoming unenforceable (but don’t tell these people). Whether there really is an infinite supply of anything is questionable (human attention, if nothing else, is not infinite; neither is server space or the energy to maintain them). According to the management consultant writing these posts, this can be a good thing for producers if they focus on selling the medium rather than the information: “You don’t sell ‘ideas’ you sell books, or consulting services, or reports or conferences (or a bunch of other things). You don’t sell music, you sell CDs or concerts or T-shirts or access (or a bunch of other things). Basically, you look at the content itself (which is infinite in supply) to sell something that isn’t infinite in supply.” This, as is pointed out in the comments, is a matter of using captivating content to distract the customer from the fact that he is paying not for that content but an essentially empty package. (The content, infinite in supply, is zeroed out of the exchange.)


Several different commenters made the point that when post-scarcity economics kick in, so does the attention economy


What was missed however, is the premium on end users time - individuals have to deal with the scarcity of time, which forces them to make decisions on which content to spend their time with, or which freeware applications to invest one’s time to learn and train on. What is interesting is as scarcity economics starts to fade, network economics starts to take hold. The very best free products will take the lion’s share of users attention, which has tremendous value for different economic models. The irony of all of this is it isn’t new. Traditional broadcast television lived off of a free to user model for decades, and end users were traditionally faced with the limits of their own time as to which show to watch.



When too much is available at no expense but your time and effort, you can make money by being the filter on the unlimited supply. If you have figured out how to monetize your filter, its to your benefit to have the spigot of free content opened ever wider. (Which explains why Google wants to digitize everything possible.)


But filterers would still need something to filter. Assume that there’s not already too much stuff out there and that we need new “innovative” stuff. (I’m thinking of entertainment industry here, not an industry where “innovation” actually is innovation, like the pharamceutical industry.) If marginal costs for intellectual property is zero, the fixed costs (what it costs to make the original version, the R&D to come up with the idea) remain, and someone has to pay them. (You don’t get a new Metallica record unless someone pays Metallica.) One rather utopian argument is that in the future artists will pay themselves in the sheer joy of creation—kind of like most bloggers do now. The underlying implication is that anything worth doing in the field of intellectual creation is its own reward.


Another way to recoup fixed costs is via subscription services—after enough people pay in advance, the musician delivers the new album. (This presents an obvious free-rider problem. Why pay if you are willing to wait for others to pay, and then you’ll just copy the product once it’s made.) Perhaps artists can go back to finding patrons, as they did in pre-Capitalist times. The Medicis didn’t seem to mind everyone reaping the aesthetic benefits from the artworks they sponsored.


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Thursday, Jan 18, 2007


Finally, SE&L has a new Friday format in place. Instead of focusing exclusively on the premium channels and the Saturday evening ‘event titles’ they feature, we will scan the weekly offerings to highlight a few independent and outsider efforts as well. This way, you don’t have to stick with the frequently mediocre mainstream selections. Instead, you can venture out into the realm of documentaries, classics, horror and foreign films to discover a preferred tele-visual repast. For the week beginning 19 January, here are the small screen possibilities:


Premiere Pick


Walk the Line


Boy oh boy does Tinsel Town love actors who can sing and dance. Indeed, critics went crazy for this Johnny Cash biopic, with most noting how honorable it was to see leads Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon singing the songs in their own voices. Similar to Sissy Spacek in Coal Miner’s Daughter (but unlike Jessica Lange in the Patsy Cline drama Sweet Dreams) the result was an Oscar for Witherspoon, serious consideration for Phoenix, and a decent box office run. Frankly, there is much more to this movie than a couple of younger generation Hollywood superstars warbling a collection of country and rockabilly classics. Both leads do something that’s rare in a cinematic biography—they get to the true heart of their celebrated counterparts. (20 January, Cinemax, 10PM EST)

Additional Choices


Big Momma’s House 2


Following Eddie Murphy’s formula for failing career rehabilitation, former blue comedian Martin Lawrence dons drag once again to portray that infamous obese black woman. Nothing more than a poorly concealed cash grab. (20 January, HBO, 8PM EST)

The Libertine


Johnny Depp puts on the period garb (yes—AGAIN! ) to play the 17th Century poet The Earl of Rochester. Overloaded with debauchery and attempted era authenticity, many found this to be a repugnant trip into the past. (20 January, Starz, 9PM EST)

The Longest Yard


Adam Sandler steps into Burt Reynolds shoes, and shows why, as an action hero, he should stick to comedy. Featuring Chris Rock and support from the former ‘70s box office king, it’s a genial if generic effort. (20 January, Showtime, 9PM EST)


Indie Pick


New York Doll


One of the best experiences a viewer can have is going into a movie cold, not knowing anything substantive about a story, and coming away mesmerized and moved. This is the experience most film and music fans will have when visiting this heroic and heartbreaking documentary. After moving to LA, director Greg Whiteley discovered that Arthur “Killer” Kane, bassist for the infamous New York Dolls, had survived decades of drugs and self-indulgence to become a fellow Mormon. Determined to tell the story of his rise and fall from star to street person, Whiteley learned that the Dolls were planning a reunion—and wanted Kane onboard. It resulted in a journey back to his rock roots, and for the director, a devastating portrait of a fragile human being rebuilt. (22 January, Sundance, 9:30PM EST)

Additional Choices


The Devil’s Backbone


In the first installment of what may end up being a fantasy meets Fascism trilogy, Guillermo Del Toro looks at an orphanage where both the ravages of war, and a solemn boy ghost, haunt the very walls. (20 January, IFC, 5:25PM EST)

George Washington


When their actions turn fatal, a group of children in an impoverished small town band together to cover up the incident. While it sounds simple, writer/director David Gordon Green’s morality tale is a complex, spellbinding wonder. (21 January, IFC, 3:10PM EST)

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg


Featuring an original score by Michel Legrand, this charming French musical (almost every conversation is set to song) reminds us that romance can be as weird and whimsical as an all singing spectacle. (25 January, Sundance, 7:15PM EST)

Outsider Option


Bubba Ho-Tep


Bruce Campbell deserved an Oscar nomination for his turn in this brilliant genre deconstruction. Playing a nursing home patient who may or may not be the real Elvis Presley (an impersonator plays an important part in the backstory), he brings a real emotional depth to what could have been a wholly craven caricature. After meeting up with Ozzie Davis’ JFK (don’t ask…) the duo battle a soul sucking mummy who has decided to target the elderly and infirmed. While horror fans will lap up the numerous scare sequences, what’s striking here is the acting ambitions of Campbell and Davis. These two bring a kind of humbling humanity to their otherwise over the top persona, and make this one of the best independent films ever. (21 January, IFC, 3:45PM EST)

Additional Choices


Curse of the Demon


Dana Andrews, and one incredibly creepy evil spirit, dominate this story of an ancient curse and the paranormal scientists who must defeat its unearthly effects. Featured as part of Rob Zombie’s TCM Underground presentations. (21 January, TCM, 2AM EST)

Night of the Comet


One the ‘80s best, this combination of teen potboiler and end of the world zombie-thon has some interesting things to say about the end of the world—and how adolescents deal with it. Great effects and post-apocalyptic atmosphere. (21 January, Flix, 10PM EST)

Rollercoaster


Back when Sensurround was an over-hyped gimmick (basically, a set of humungous woofers stacked inside a wooden box), this was its biggest hit. In truth, it’s nothing more than a cat and mouse thriller with the title amusement at the center. (24 January, Encore Drama, 2AM EST)

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Thursday, Jan 18, 2007
by PopMatters Staff

The View - Wasted Little DJs


“Musically, the history of Dundee, Scotland isn’t exactly littered with success stories. Indeed, the city has only two notable additions to the pop canon: The Associates and The Average White Band. But all that is about to change with the advent of The View, the city’s newest and greatest white hopes. Four alarmingly young (average age: 18) friends from the same housing estate, The View are comprised of Kyle, Keiren, Peter and Steve and formed from the ashes of an old covers band they formed at school, playing everything from Squeeze to The Sex Pistols. After deciding just over a year ago that their ambitions stretched considerably further than hawking “Up The Junction” around the pubs and clubs of Dundee, they began writing and rehearsing their own songs in the backroom of their local, The Bayview Bar (hence the band’s name). They soon settled into a “Monkees-like existence” of playing and writing together to the exclusion of much else. The last gang in town spirit comes across in their brilliantly bombastic debut album Hats Off to the Buskers—14 songs bursting with scrappy, swaggering teen spirit—to be released on 1965/Columbia Records on March 13th. Produced by Owen Morris (producer of the Verve’s Northern Soul and Oasis’ Definitely Maybe) it was recorded in rural Yorkshire in two weeks in May of 2006.”—Columbia Records

Pharoahe Monch - Gun Draws


“Pharoahe Monch debuts an internet-only video for his new single “Gun Draws,” which addresses the topic of gun violence. In this song, Pharoahe expresses his views from the standpoint of a bullet. In his refusal to edit the video’s “too graphic” content for television video outlets, the decision was to put this video on the internet.”—SRC Records

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Thursday, Jan 18, 2007

Hopefully you remember the 60’s garage classic “96 Tears” by Question Mark and the Mysterians.  Well, it seems that Question Mark (yes, that’s his legal name now) had a fire which burned down his house and took his belongs (including a lot of history with it).  More details about it in this article.  Also, if you want to help or just pass along well wishes, you can reach QM at P.O. Box 96, Clio, MI 48420 USA or through his MySpace page.


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Thursday, Jan 18, 2007

It’s strange to think of the intensely private musician Jandek as an icon of what the Internet has done to music, but I think he exemplifies the phenomenon of how the Web aggregates people around obscure interests and solidifies them, intensifies them, perfects them into a form fit for proselytizing. Thanks to the Internet, Jandek went from impossibly obscure, noted only in a few small impossible-to-find ‘zines and in a very, very few passing mentions in the national press, to being intensely and minutely documented, accessible to anyone who somehow became curious about him. For a long time Jandek preserved an almost total anonymity, which amplified the significance of what little information he revealed (through enigmatic album covers, cryptic lyrics and messages scrawled on the catalog sent out by his record label, Corwood Industries). That would seem an awkward, almost contradictory juxtaposition with the way in which the Internet makes massive amounts of information available on just about any subject. But in fact, Jandek records mimic certain notable features of online life—they often seem spontaneous and feature anonymous collaboration, and they hold out the promise that one can maintain an identity in art than is entirely separate from who you are in real life, that you can use technology to sustain a pseudonym that was nonetheless deeply, harrowingly personal and intimate.


Also, the self-published nature of Jandek’s work was a kind of harbinger for what we all take for granted now, that you can pour your deepest inner secrets out into cyberspace and fantasize if you want about a potential audience of millions. Or you can just rest with the notion that you got it out there, whatever you needed to express, and someone might stumble onto it somehow. Almost all of Jandek’s work resonates with that feeling of relief at having found an outlet, of having managed to externalize something fraught and nebulous. Just as now one can create avatars that only exist online, Jandek only existed as the sounds captured on tape (until recently, when he began performing live); like Warhol with film, Jandek seemed to be recording the process of his own discovery of what his medium could be made to conjure, what kind of identity it could mediate and emotions could it express when you began with the absolute minimum of skill or polish, when you have no shortcuts, no traditional methods, and no professional expertise to fall back on. (A good example of this is a 15-minute track called “The Beginning,”  his first using a piano, on which he tries out many different ways to conjure moods and feelings with the instrument without having appearing to have any particular melodies in mind. In fact, most of Jandek’s work rejects melody completely, looking for other ways to summon feeling.)


My history with Jandek’s music is probably typical: I’ve been interested in Jandek since I first read about him in Spin magazine in the 1980s while I was still in high school. It’s hard to remember how scarce information on music was then and scarcer still were weird records like Jandek’s, so I had nothing to go on but a few evocative paragraphs from the “Underground” column describing each of his seven or eight albums at the time, which was enough to implant the name Jandek in my memory permanently. At first it was enough to just know the name. The very idea of a desperate-sounding and reclusive loner self-distributing purportedly unlistenable albums was entertainment enough when I was a teenager, when the despair of others still seemed like a joke to me. It wasn’t until I was in college that I first heard Jandek. Most of the record-store aesthetes I began to associate with tended to dismiss Jandek with an attitude reflected in Kurt Cobain’s remark about him in 1993: “Jandek’s not pretentious, but only pretentious people like his music.” You would have to pretend to like his music to get other people to think you were extreme or eccentric yourself. It was considered party-clearing music, again something you would play only for laughs, not something you would actually put on to listen to seriously.


I got a copy of Jandek’s 1987 album Blue Corpse either from a thrift store or a cut-out bin, and I probably listened to it a few times, but I didn’t feel authorized to actually like it. I found it hard to listen to, almost embarassing, like watching someone cry in a hospital. And I had no context for what I was hearing either; I hadn’t heard any folk-blues then, or any avant-garde noise music, or even the Shaggs—all essential reference points. Plus it was impossible to to tap into any opinions about it from anywhere or even access basic information about its place in the Jandek canon. There was no accessible commmunity of fans or critics to make listening to that difficult music seem to pay off. So the main use I made of the record was to fill out mix tapes with its short songs and try to impress people with my extensive breadth of musical knowledge—that was a lot easier to do back then too. Now it almost wouldn’t even make sense to attempt that ploy; all the obscurities in the world are at the fingertips of anyone with an Internet connection.


I sort of forgot about Jandek then through the 1990s; I never would have thought he had kept making albums. But after going to see a few outsider art exhibits, I thought of him again, how perhaps his project could be likened to Henry Darger’s epic painting cycles or James Hampton’s Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly. And it occurred to me to try something I had just begun to get in the habit of doing: I looked Jandek up on the Internet and found this, Seth Tisue’s guide to Jandek, which remains the most comprehensive Jandek resource around. Well-designed and organized, the site made Jandek into a coherent field of study, a discipline, something clearly legitimate. The vast repository of lyrics and album covers not only made it clear that a singular artistic vision was at work but offered a challenge, an invitation to attempt to develop a scholarly mastery of it all. He seems less an anamolous curiosity, clearly no joke. And his recent string of public performances have freed him from his own Salingeresque myth, allowing his work to stand a bit more on its own. It’s no longer needs to be understood in terms of that specific mystery, which does nothing to dispell the mysteriousness he never fails to evoke. If you respond to album titles like Staring at the Cellophane or Living in a Moon So Blue, or to covers like these:



... you should probably be listening. They are pretty evocative of the general aesthetic at work, with the possible exception of the mid 1980s noise-rock albums (Modern Dances especially). Whereas before, the information on his catalog was scattered, piecemeal, suceptible to being overwhelmed by isolated moments of uncomfortable strangeness that would prompt me to want to dismiss it, now it’s collected together, makes the catalog approachable, legible. We take the context of “normal” music so much for granted—it ties into famliliar pop traditions and the musicians promote themselves in customary ways that have become second nature to us. But Jandek + the Internet = a new way to build essential context for our listening that is free from mainstream distribution channels are dependent instead on the network of individual listeners sharing their enthusiasm and collective passions.


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