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Six Degrees of MySpace

tjm Holden

I was trolling for my next idea, letting seconds pass in the LA Times California Politics Blog (which doesn't make much sense since, as you know from my last post, I have all the politics one might wish to feast on closer to home), when I came across this off-site link.

Now, anyone, familiar with the Six Degrees concept would appreciate that this YouTube offering is a misnomer. After all, the idea is supposed to be that there are only six degrees of separation between one person and anyone else. The most widely cited (and demonstrable example) being the famous parlor game in which six steps (or less) can be found to separate Kevin Bacon from any other actor who has ever worked in Hollywood.

The "six degrees" concept had been rattling around in my head for some weeks, most proximately the result of this piece on former California Jerry Brown, again from the Times California Politics blog. Somewhere embedded in there was a link to Brown's "MySpace" space and out of curiosity I diverted some more of those all-precious seconds over there. What I encountered -- aside from Booker T. and the M.G.s performing "Green Tomatoes" -- was an inset with a listing of Jerry's friends. Among them was Bill Clinton, who -- as one of the world's most-traveled, gregarious characters God (should she truly exist) ever invented -- just about everyone seems to know.

And, clicking into the former President's MySpace page, that got me thinking. Swaying to Bill's selection of U2's "Vertigo" as his official theme track, I wondered how far the six degrees concept would play out in cyberspace. Because, actually, knowing what I know (or at least think I know) about the web, I had a hunch that it wouldn't. Not to say that it couldn't, but that, in the main, it is more the case that there is a nearly infinite number of iterations of separation between you and I; which is to say, folks who are generally non-contiguous strangers. So, just to scratch my intellectual itch, I decided to track from Jerry to Bill to . . . wherever else in five more moves, and see where it might lead me.

Complicating (or perhaps proving) the point, Bill had a wide assortment of "friends" to choose from. Actually, over 8,824 at last count. And that is when I got the first empirical inkling that the Kevin Bacon thing and the web-link thing were almost certainly of different ilk. It was highly unlikely that I would arrive anywhere in the remote vicinity of my life in only 5 moves. More like five hundred.

Still, there is hypothesis in science and then there is verification -- or falsification -- depending upon your outlook. And the former exists to advance the latter (or vice-versa), which is why I embarked on the next thing. Scrolled down Bill's page, I searched for an exit point that would fashion an entry into my own webbed world. You think?

The first person who caught my eye was Candy4Christ, a 36 year-old Californian with a fluttering Tinkerbell on her page. Me being a Californian offered some hope for network connectivity. Despite the religious overtones of her handle, her sense of humor suggested that we might share common spaces of association. She had left Bill the comment "Your wife is the BOMB! :O) Will she have male interns in the White House? LOL Sorry couldn't resist!"

Prez-Willie, to his credit, had still given her an add.

Since the web is, in theory, a space-transcending mechanism, for the heck of it, I decided that we ought to impose some kind of residency restriction. Say, no consecutive plays from the same country code. (I know, I know, Clinton. But he doesn't count -- he being a world citizen now). Anyway, where I settled was in France -- Versailles, it seems -- on Cathy's page. Cathy is a 49 year-old, Catholic, self-professed "proud parent" who was born in the 8th arrondissement in Paris and informs that she is "Here for: Networking, Dating, Serious Relationships, Friends". She said all of that in English, though most of her page was in French. I had once lived in the 14th arrondissement for a year, so there was some possibility that Cathy and I might be linked, but given the atrophied state of my French, I would probably be better served making a quick break for understanding through the English channel. Still, I was drawn to some of the heavy hitters in Cathy's network; among them, Jacques Brel, Charles Aznavour, and Serge Gainsbourg.

Unfortunately, Cathy's entire list of 141 friends elicited an error message, so staying or breaking away was suddenly a moot prospect; if I was going to continue swimming in this exercise, I was going to have to do a quick spot of backstroking. Since the rules were still in a state of free-formation, I wasn't exactly sure if this false move would cost me a degree of separation -- such missteps and broken threads and dead links being an endemic part of webbed life. And, for the sake of seeing as far as I could go before my play officially ran out of gas, I decided I was still back at Bill (and, thus, the second degree).

(You know, it's nice to invent your own game -- if for no other reason that you get to make the rules up as you go along! And . . . if you don't like the way I'm playing . . . well, go make up your own game!)

My new third was Anne Marie, a 55 year-old lesbian from Buffalo. I'd passed through Buffalo once or twice many years ago, and have had plenty of lesbian friends in my lifetime, but I'd never met Anne Marie. I would have remembered -- she seems like a person worth knowing. Her MySpace page has an iPod icon with five selections on it, including "If Everyone Cared" by Nickelback, who I hadn't known until Anne Marie introduced them to me. Now I can't get enough of that song, along with their "Animals" which I later stumbled across on-line. As I've continued to research about them I get the sense they aren't particularly favored by one and all -- particularly around the suites of PopMatters. I hope we can simply chalk this up to "creative differences" and trust that this blog will continue to magically appear.

In any case, Anne Marie has inspirational messages from two Franks: Outlaw and Lloyd Wright, along with something called "The Code -- Ten Intentions for a Better World". The ten intents include: support life, seek truth, set your course, simplify, stay positive, synchronize, serve others, shine your light, share your vision, synergize. Mostly "s"s. I think we could have gotten a good 10 out of "t" (try, talk, think, teach, trust, team, truth, traverse, temper, total) or else "p" (principle, practice, preach, purpose, persist, protect, praise, plan, play, polite). But, this is Anne Marie's show. She also has pics posted of singers like Bette Midler, George Michael, and K.D. Lang (do I detect a common theme here?), and shots of Santorini in the Greek Islands. I'd been to Bette's Broadway show once, listen to K.D. all the time ("Black Coffee", "Constant Craving", "Miss Chatelaine", "Still Thrives this Love") and had traversed (there's that word again!) the steep paths of Santorini, but never had I bumped into Anne Marie. At least not to my knowledge. Now, through her page, I had (and was the better for it).

Anne Marie's friends gallery was populated with scads of famous folk, like Hillary Clinton, Hugh Hefner, Beyonce, Joan Jett and Johnny Carson. And, when I noted that Johnny's page had listed a yesterday log-in, it set me to wondering: "how do dead people continue to access their MySpace pages?" Proving, again, that with the web, metaphysical riddles abound.

Among the less luminary I started to notice the emergence of a possible pattern which (if it were actually a phenomenon) I would label "human tide-pooling" or else the formation of "MySpace cul-de-sacs". What I mean is that there seem to be hermetic worlds where intimates or else folk of the same ilk tend to congregate. Thus, as I worked my way through Anne Marie's friends, I found myself plopped in the center of a heavily sexualized, mini-world of lesbian dominatrixes, sexists and hook-up seekers. Clicking into one led me deeper and deeper, through the friend-net, down the dark, wending tributaries into those hidden, furtive, still spaces, generally cordoned off from everyday view.

I didn't count it against my six-step tally, but I did follow this path to see where it might end. From "final femme" I found "Rebecca" and from Rebecca then "Zeta Gurl". And what was most interesting is that although this is the web we are talking about, all the folks just listed seemed to be pals, hailing from the same town -- West Palm Beach, Florida -- suggesting that these tide pools may also have a geographic basis, as well.

Well, I don't think I know anyone in West Palm Beach, and the sense was beginning to gather that this six degrees idea was in imminent danger of refutation. This concern was only magnified by the next step -- a click on the page of Peter Yttergren, a drummer-cum-singer/songwriter from Örebro, Sweden. Peter's site seems geared to self-promotion. He has been successful as a session guy, and has experienced some happiness selling songs as background music for video games, but what he really seems to hinge his hopes on is gaining recognition as a professional songster. And listening to the sample cut he has placed on his MySpace page you get the idea that he is slick and commercial, but . . . amidst all the gloss, there is something missing. It could be heart or soul or that serendipitous confluence that exists on all the greatest songs -- from Mozart's "Requiem" to "I Love Paris" to "Sweet Georgia Brown" to "White Rabbit" to "Like a Rolling Stone" to "I am the Walrus". We won't hold it against Peter (since by that standard, few of us would ever succeed in our respective endeavors). Still, it wouldn't be unfair to reckon that with his songs, the "it" was absc(i)n(t).

In his corner Peter does have David Foster and Michael McDonald listed as friends (which may make the point I was just making, only better!) It certainly gives you an idea of the kind of songs Peter pens. To his credit, Peter Gabriel is there, but then again . . . so is ABBA!

Peter is a networked guy, though. He has 22 pages of friends, numbering 852. Most of these pages are filled with what one might term "babes" -- derogatory or not -- lots of woman in skimpy clothing unselfconsciously selling themselves as singers, models, dancers, actresses, and possessors of body parts and protoplasmic packages that can get commodified and plugged. Hmm . . .

Not people who I would likely be connected to -- metaphysically or any other way one might imagine.

But then, on Peter's very last page -- the very last friend listed, in fact -- was a middle-aged gent named Takashi Masuzaki, a jazz guitarist from Nagasaki; so, someone a bit closer to my neck of the woods. Takashi's page has only had a little over seventeen hundred views, but it is worth a look. He is part of a combo called Dimension which has cut 18 CDs (wow! that's keeping oneself out of trouble!), which performs "only in Japan and South Korea" -- something Takashi writes as if they have intentionally ruled out the rest of the world. The sax player's name is Kazuki Katsuta and the keyboardist is Akira Onozuka. No bass or drummer listed, so that is different.

Well, where did that leave me? In Japan, which was close -- but not really much closer to finding a solid connection from there to here, from he to me, in six plays. From Jerry to Bill to Anne Marie to Peter to Takashi and I was down to my final play. If I was doing this right, I was supposed to find my link to Jerry Brown in the next hit. Of course, since I don't have a MySpace page, myself, I suppose it is no surprise that I couldn't complete the chain. Some minor detail, uh?

But, in all truth I don't really believe I was ever really playing the Six Degrees of Separation. At least not the way some people play -- which is to say, to win. Because if I had, I certainly could have gotten from just about anyone who would click onto my as-yet uncreated page, to Bill Clinton (who just about everyone clicks on) to Jerry Brown. It might have taken one or two clicks to get to Bill, but after that the result would have been rigged. Bill probably being the MySpace equivalent of Hollywood's Kevin Bacon. And because this is so, I have to admit, this exercise really wasn't about transcending space and finding the lowest common denominator attachment between people. In fact, as I've already indicated, the game was really a different kind of play entirely. It was about achieving a different sort of result. These Six Degrees of MySpace was actually about showing our extensiveness; our diversity; our virtually infinite connectivity; our unremittant, incessant unfoldingness.

The real game that we play when we do MySpace tag is prove that, even with the rivulets and the cul de sacs, even with all the human tidepools, there are also a nearly limitless set of permutations, a nearly unstoppable number of extensions that can be effected . . . As my last click demonstrated to me. From Takashi, it was another singer. A folk/indie songstress residing in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA, named "hollybee". Another fascinating person outside my loop. Another character I had never had contact with. Until now.

I could have ended right there or else spent the rest of the night trying to close the circle. But I doubted that an all-nighter would bring me to the doorstep of people I was intimate with in Pasadena, California, or Sendai, Japan; not in Tokyo, Seattle, Brisbane, Ann Arbor, Kyoto, New York City, Seoul, Dresden, Osaka, London, Istanbul, Hong Kong, or Paris, for that matter. It would just be more and more iterations and deeper and farther forays into worlds composed of three bits of music, two of photographs, one each of aphorisms, peccadillos, sales talk, self-promotion, and attempts to reach out.

Not a bad way to spend some idle hours, perhaps, but no certain way of ever finding the pathway to (or from) one's self.

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