June 19, 2006

One note

(Henceforth, I will only blog about the following three things: Ze Frank, Vegas/Poker and why the New York Times sucks. With the previous two posts, this one completes the combo trifecta.)

Ze Frank made the NYT yesterday with a piece by Warren St. John in the Sunday Styles (?) section. The article is about the Fabuloso Friday episode of Ze Frank's The Show in which viewers of the video blog collaborated using a wiki to write the script for June 9th's episode.

Ze Frank then faithfully executed the script (mostly gags making him do/say stupid things) about which he observed in the NYT, "The meta joke here is, 'See how hard you can shake the marionette.'"

While St. John's article contains background on both The Show and Ze Frank himself, the central question is "How well does audience generated content work?" The borscht-y headline reads "And You're So Funny? Write My Script" and the conclusion about the quality of the episode is "Mr. Frank's performance was true to the script, and if that is any guide, it is doubtful that any 'Saturday Night Live' writers will soon lose their jobs to the vast networks of volunteer comedy writers on the Web."

The last sentence truly irks. First off, while it's natural to ask "Was it funny?" (my answer: not as funny as a regular show) St. John's conclusion illustrates the flaw at the heart of so much of the NYT's reporting about online media. The NYT cannot help but see online content as a possible wholesale replacement of traditional media. Around every corner is a group of young cannibals agitating to eat the collective lunch and staff of the Fourth Estate.

This leads to reporting where folks who are doing stuff online have to be patronized in order to be discussed. For example, Warren St. John's piece has this line in the 3rd paragraph "Like a lot of young adults, Mr. Frank, 34, has a Web site." Doesn't 'young adult' usually refer to a literature targeted at teens? Perhaps this sentence just got recycled from one of the MySpace articles but isn't 34 solidly adult adult?

(The original sin in this category is Rebecca Mead's New Yorker piece from November 2000 which is frequently cited as the first big article on blogs but is really just a story about the relationship between Meg Hourihan and Jason Kottke. She's recently written a followup on how blogs have evolved ... the thesis: after some time apart, Jason and Meg got married!!)

I've never read McLuhan ... or rather I tried reading McLuhan but couldn't follow the meter of his prose-poetry. But I'm pretty sure he makes a point about how new media doesn't replace old. In any case, I wish the professionals in traditional one-to-many media would just understand this single idea: No one is coming for your lunch. The reason your business models are failing is not because there's no role for traditional journalism in contemporary life ... it's because, as of late, your product has sucked beyond the telling of it. And I'm looking at you broadcast TV/White House correspondents.

Getting back to Ze Frank, it's worth noting that Fabuloso Friday is only one of a number of things that Ze Frank has done to get his audience involved in the act of content creation. In fact, one of the central premises of the show is that folks can try to gain admission to the League of Awesomeness by submitting video of themselves performing a Power Move.

The fact that this is absurd is less interesting than the fact that it is generative. Online content allows a creator to directly inspire content creation from others. By comparison, despite the fact that the Daily Show is the most important social commentary of our time, it's ability to inspire new content creation is limited. Television doesn't do dialog well. Ze Frank, on the other hand, is doing more interesting, new stuff to get his audience participating than pretty much anyone else online today.

And that, I feel, should have been the thesis of St. John's piece about Fabuloso Friday, not how high it scored on the laugh-o-meter.


Matt said...

You hear this refrain from old media a lot when it comes to television on the web. Years ago, people wondered if web video content would replace tv. Now that YouTube, etc, are growing in popularity, you can see that while in some respects it's replacing tv (to the extent that full tv shows end up on it), in a more important way, it's really not replacing tv (people video'ing themselves dancing to their favorite songs).

Which is to say that I think you're very right - this tech is a new medium, and it's not really a replacement for the old.

goldman said...

Yup - and Ev's got a post in a similar vein about TV.

Unknown said...

very valid point, there must be some good McLuhan dig somewhere i can't recall at the moment. but that is very true. the only reason why traditional media is failing is exactly because they failed to adapt to a new culture and new society. the demand is still there, but combine quality and a faster pace of change and they're basically fucked. afterall, this isn't the first time that society change.

it's amazing how the media - cheerleaders of societal change - always the last to adapt. as with most things, they're only good as sideline observer, and when they're not even good being that, well, then there's no point really.

dutchashell said...

Did you see the Craigslist challange laid down by our hero Ze?
the show with zefrank: 06-30-06