In writing my upcoming column on Bandcamp (which I hope to publish in the next day or two,) I decided to see how many interviews I’d have to search for any mention of the term “Bandcamp” and the result was… all of them, essentially. At least it led to this handy list! I’m excited to read them all soon.
Thanks to an episode of Peter Kafka’s Recode Media, I’ve just now discovered that former New York Times Magazine Ethicist, author of Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, and longtime men’s interest media-affiliated sports and music columnist Chuck Klosterman pronounces his surname kloa-ster-men instead of klaw-ster-men as I have been, shamefully – even within earshot of other human beings on a handful of occasions. I am willing to submit myself for punishment for these transgressions under the single condition that I be allowed to call him Cuck Klusterfuck the next time he ends a spoken sentence with “or whatever” in an interview – an unfortunate habit he’s maintained for years. If my own byline had any pedigree in the world of literary criticism, I would now collect his penance simply by including those hateful, 90s stoner-kid buzzwords in every quote, unedited, but it most certainly does not. I’ve searched moderately hard for any reason to bother contributing any criticism of books or their authors and returned with very little. I’ve read The Broom of the System and White Girls this year, yes, but I’d have to be a Fuck Boy to write anything about David Foster Wallace, and Hilton Als’ elegant, genre-busting masterpiece is so far beyond both my societal rights and perceptive capacity that I wouldn’t dare utter a single editorialized peep about it – aside from a log line-length recommendation – even under immediate threat of certain death.
Given my recent voluntary relocation to Portland, Oregon and the word-y pursuits on which I choose to spend all of my money and energy, I should adore everything about Chuck Klosterman and in turn he should be completely invisible across the under-30 demographic, yet I’ve found a special originality in his voice since first exploring it and I think it might be worth requalification. A good friend of mine once dug his first novelDowntown Owl out of a bulk box of bargain books she’d bought as a preteen, long ago and became an enthusiastic fan of his perspective and a harsh, but fond critic of his persona. It was her copy of his second that I read first: The Visible Man – ultimately a surprisingly-original take on the psychologist of a gifted outcast tale that classically exemplifies the easy-to-digest yet thoughtfully-exploratory reputation of his craft. Thanks to her library card, I was able to follow it up immediately with Chuck’s latest, most topical work – an anthology of past essays written for publications like The Guardian, Grantland, and GQ entitled X: A Highly Specific, Defiantly Incomplete History of the Early 21st Century, which proved an impossibly entertaining, even more polished execution of The Quaint Chuck’s Explanations in non-fiction form, beginning at onset with refreshing brevity in its introduction.
“I’m not fully accredited by either side of the professional equation (sportswriters think I’m too pretentious and music writers don’t think I’m pretentious enough,) but I’m able to write about whatever I want, as long as it actually happened.”
Using “pretentious” even when just vaguely and loosely expressing other readers’ thoughts about your work is the first of many minuscule technical infractions against convention laid down in X’s arrangement which proves to act toward the benefit of its experience. If you substitute car nerds for sportswriters, I’d personally identify with this picoautobiography in a big way, but more importantly as a reader I had never encountered anything written about sports which I would describe as pretentious, per se, and that realization could very well have birthed enough curiosity to land the sale, had I been skimming in a bookshop, which I would’ve eventually been pleased with.
Now, during what we should hope to be the first dawn of a new microera of sincerity, we must recognize how valuable it is for Klosterman as an observer to be comfortably engaged with his subjects, emotionally, and confident in the value of his commentary in middleage without the need to insist upon his eccentricity, as so many cringey, culturally-daft Dads do, these days. He uses keywords in his writing and spoken publicity that should dismiss him immediately as one of these – a nostalgic, out-of-time dork – but are instead somehow magically manipulated to serve him in articulating reasonable, even profoundly-innovative insight. As I have explored his bibliography and his publicly-expressed thoughts, I have been caught up and hinged on a single supposition: Chuck Klosterman is the only white, 46-year-old bearded Portland Dad you should be reading. Do mind that I am in no way exempt from this lens, but it’s still my job to determine his viability as an intellectual – a “thought leader,” even – for those of us who were conceived around the same time he was wrapping up his collegiate sentence at the University of North Dakota.
For a solid hunk of the American reading audience, a quick, elemental vector of quality and mastery we look for in an essayist is the ability to “transcend” their subject matter for even the most presumptuous and conceited among us, usually to deliver a more abstract sentiment to leave with. Here, Klosterman’s significant career experience is irrefutably evident – in X, he achieves this transcendence organically with a fluidity unlike anything I’ve read before. We can already check a single box: convincing even a young professional twenty-something to shell out for a physical hardback of contemporary non-fiction requiring any sort of academic effort to consume is going to be nigh-impossible, even though X actually happens to be the best-looking specimen of print product design I have ever handled across cover, type, and layout. It’s been difficult having to convince myself to give this copy back.
In the interest of full disclosure, I must take special care to emphasize just how highly I regard Peter Kafka as editor and interviewer extraordinaire within the Media beat – well-proven to be capable of hitting consistently hard on both novel and old guard industry personalities with refined, seemingly unimpeachable stone-faced skepticism. However, this Chuck Klosterman interview for Recode Media is an uncharacteristically disarmed display of serious admiration: he introduces X with an outright confession: “It’s great. I bought it. I bought a signed copy,” which is an unexpected oddity (though not an unwelcome one – I’m glad Peter enjoys his life.) Their conversation dips briefly in personal history (Chuck and his wife moved to Portland from Brooklyn for its proximity to family) before plopping down upon the substance of his clearly superb and matter-of-fact interview technique. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a conversation between Kafka and any previous guests with whom he was quite so obviously alike in general disposition.
“The only reason I’m able to ask you these questions is because I’m a reporter and I can ask you questions now that I probably wouldn’t feel comfortable asking you if we were friends, so I’m not going to pretend that we are and I’m not going to create some fake thing where we’re going to have a relationship beyond this conversation. I’m just going to ask you the things I want to know about and I hope that you respect the fact that I’m just being straight with you. I find that that works much better.”
From the broadest possible pop cultural lens, Chuck’s most spectacular and widely-circulated work, demographically (I assume) is his 2015 interview and cover story for GQ with Taylor Swift – then “the most popular human alive.” Yes, it really is worth dwelling on the image: this guy… this very Dorky Dad, just hanging out with the most highly-demanded teen idol who’s ever lived, sitting awkwardly next to her in the backseat of her car as she maniacally panics to accept a call from Justin Timberlake. When one Chucks such a distinguished contrast upon such a high-profile contemporary medium, the weight of the potential scrutiny becomes palpable, but Klosterman anticipates and braces for this (very risky) business in the only manner he can: acknowledging it over and over and over again in the second paragraph of his every interview appearance.
“It doesn’t matter if it was complimentary or insulting necessarily. It would seem as though I wasn’t taking her seriously as a musical artist, and the idea is that I do. That’s why I’m writing about her is because I do think she’s a meaningful, significant artist. It’s not worth the risk of having the story then get shifted by other people who perhaps just perceive themselves as somebody who’s a watchdog for certain signifiers or certain elements of the culture and that their job is to be on the watch for this. If your story then gets moved into that silo, that’s all it’s going to be remembered for… It’s a touchier thing now. It’s a more dangerous thing.”
In the print itself, the cover story is prefaced by a very short but uncomfortably-telling complaint about changing expectations for culture writers. One might reasonably suggest that Klosterman regards the practice of calling out or remarking on “creepy misogyny” as “dumb” – nothing but the byproduct of changing “times.”
“Something you may notice in the following 2015 feature on Taylor Swift is that I never describe what she looks like or how she was dressed, even though I almost always do that with any celebrity I cover… If I did, it would be reframed as creepy misogyny and proof that I didn’t take the woman seriously as an artist. It would derail everything else about the story. It would become the story.”
But… is it? Note how desperately close his language comes to the common white guy whining about feminism classification without actually fitting the bill. Right…? It doesn’t? Surely, it must be certified Awake through some combination of keywords or format I’m unfamiliar with or unable to visually register because Klosterman’s ass would have long been grass, otherwise. These 224 words are X’s most contentious, which you could call impressive, all things considered – he appears to care enough about his public image to curate it somewhat diligently. When a motherhood blogger published an open letter in 2013 citing three very ableist uses of the R-word in his work, it only took him two days to respond: “I was wrong. You are right.”
More than any other writer of his demographic, Chuck Klosterman has a close, wary relationship with the everchanging contextual boundaries of public expression. He knows when to be transparent with his feelings on progression, and he’s careful to avoid what could be “problematic” for the sake of functioning better as a writer (I assume.) For Slate’s I Have to Ask podcast, he managed to speak extensively about these mechanisms for nearly an hour without bellowing anything definitively cringey.
“I can’t say it’s better or worse. It’s just different, and because it’s different, it makes me feel uncomfortable, but there’s actually like an adversarial relationship with the history of anything, and that somehow that history is seen as oppressive. And you shouldn’t even know about it. It’s better to live in now.”
A quick jaunt from pretty horrendous to almost-ideal, then. If we are to place our faith in Chuck as our last bearded champion, we must hope that last sentence is sincerely intended to be his lens to the changing world. Granted – even if it is the truth – it’s not as if persistent acknowledgement of one’s position can miraculously wash away any systematic patriarchal dynamics involved in authoring (or reading, for that matter) a high-profile feature of a young woman on cover of a magazine which explicitly seeks most to speak to “all sides of the male equation,” (are you sure aboutthat, Condé Nast?) especially considering how unlikely it would’ve been for me to read anything about Taylor Swift outside of this very white man’s anthology. Fundamental themes of power and control are threaded throughout both his fiction and non-fiction, which is especially prevalent in the Macho Big Boy cultures of the athletics and music industries. In profiling Taylor Swift – the undisputed apex of the latter in 2015 – Klosterman provided a firsthand account of the grueling maintenance of a public and private personality under tremendous strain from said factors as they were magnified to the max by the most extreme celebrity.
“Here we see Swift’s circuitous dilemma: Any attempt to appear less calculating scans as even more calculated. Because Swift’s professional career has unspooled with such precision, it’s assumed that her social life is no less premeditated.”
I’m right there with Chuck: I’ve even found a fundamental pillar in Power and Control relationships supporting my own fiction experiments: how we attain them, how we lose them, and how best to make use of them – all of which had apparently been quite problematic for Taylor Swift for most of her adult life, though we wouldn’t be allowed to really comprehend how deep her inner turmoil had drilled until it overwhelmed even her expertly-designed self-control four years later, boiling over entirely with such unexpected violence that all of America’s pseudorural glam-pop-country-glossy-chode-hipsters let out a simultaneous, dangerously-alarmed holler of OHFORPETE’S SAKE that was actually heard and recorded from the overflying orbit of the International Space Station.
“It’s somehow different when the hub of the wheel is Swift. People get skeptical. Her famous friends are marginalized as acquisitions, selected to occupy specific roles, almost like members of the Justice League (‘the ectomorph model,’ ‘the inventive indie artist,’ ‘the informed third-wave feminist,’ etc.). Such perceptions perplex Swift, who is genuinely obsessed with these attachments.”
No, it’s not only worthwhile as an exercise in superbly athletic self-awareness – the Taylor profile is profound. I’d recommend reading and treasuring it with or without the rest of the anthology because bizarre intersections like these are rare to come by from anybody else. Short, sharp, and occasionally somewhat petty notions are what Chuck Klosterman does best and most originally. Thanks to a digression of Kafka’s beginning with “you and I are about the same age…,” he arrives (by way of REM, believe it or not) at a significant statement about youth and identity.
“It seems strange to me to be into music for its coolness outside of high school. That seems like that’s the only time when you’re a young person and you’re using art basically to create a personality because you don’t have a real personality yet.”
Klosterman is debatably exempt from the traditional academic abstract of “objectivity” for the vast majority of his notable work because of its stated primary subject: his “interior life.” Perhaps the success of his voice could be at least partially attributed to his development of an existential muscle – a perspective unique enough to entertain, yet no less recognizably Midwestern with which he’s been able to reflect particularly clearly on the profession in tandem with the experience he’s accumulated over the course of his career.
“You know, when you’re young, you’re a real emotional writer if you’re a writer… If I was a young person now, I would be incredibly attracted to the idea that when you’re 22 you can be a national writer, which was impossible when I was 22.”
In a way, Klosterman does surmise that it was indeed its objectivity that media lost, and that writing is no longer a “one-way relationship,” but a sort of ridiculous dance in which “many people feel the reason they’re consuming media is to respond to it… that it’s not for the content.” I would remind old Chuck that there are very few functioning adults outside of academia or retirement in the United States who spend much of their time reading anything solely for the sake of absorption, and the disparity between those who were and weren’t was exponentially greater in the past. The story of American media is defined by its cycles of waning and waxing democratization, but many of the more traditional avenues in the business have bet on the “two-way relationship” to keep them relevant.
My own favorite chapter of the collection is a 2500-word personal essay constructed for Grantland to answer a single incongruity: “Why is watching a prerecorded sporting event less pleasurable than watching the same game live?” Some form of this question has at least mildly troubled every American since the 1960s, including myself, and Klosterman manages to provide an entertaining and concise analysis of this plight through his own wisdom. In its short preface in the volume – which was written “in 2008, in Europe, when [Chuck] was pretend depressed” is the story of his encounter with a house-painting stranger, to whom he explains the meter for success in his opinion-manufacturing profession, as he sees it: “If a large number of strangers seem to think one of my opinions is especially true or wildly wrong, there is somehow a perception that I am succeeding at this vocation.”
Last weekend I was in a hashish bar in Amsterdam. It was post-dusk, pre-night. The music was terrible (fake reggae, late-period Eric Clapton, Sublime deep cuts.) I was sitting next to a British stranger with a shaved head and a speech impediment. Our conversation required subtitles, so I imagined them in my mind. He told me he had lost three family members within the past year: his mother, who was sixty-six; his uncle, who was fifty-six; and his sister, who was forty-six. He said he’d just turned thirty-six. He asked if I saw a pattern developing. “Yes,” I said. “But only numerically.“
I asked what he did for a living. He said he was a housepainter. He asked me the same question about myself. “I manufacture opinions,” I said.
“Really?” he asked. “How do you know if you’re any good at that?”
“By the number of people who agree or disagree,” I said in response. “If a large number of strangers seem to think one of my opinions is especially true or wildly wrong, there is somehow a perception that I am succeeding at this vocation.”
“That’s interesting,” said the bald British man who could barely speak. “I guess house painting is a totally different thing.”
Rarely are situations or discussions that begin with back in my day actually constructive in any sense, but Chuck Klosterman appears to be the exception. If you’re willing to indulge him, you may find yourself reassured. He now writes from a remote cabin (with WiFi,) was tortured – like all of us – in sifting through and compiling his old work for X, and finds its index to be his favorite part.
“Exploring the index from a book you created is like having someone split your head open with an axe so that you can peruse the contents of your brain.”
“I haven’t watched A Charlie Brown Christmas in at least twenty-five years, solely because I can’t emotionally reconcile the final scene.”
You’ll notice that his entire answer to the live television debacle is – again – entirely about control (or the lack thereof.) In fact, his relationship with and desire for control also contributed to his choice of profession.
“Part of the reason I became a writer is because it was this completely controlled reality where I could do this thing by myself where you’d go out and you’d do the interviews and stuff, but then you’re back by yourself, transcribing and then writing. Then, when the story is done and you send it off, that’s the end. Now that’s the middle. Now it’s like, when the story is published, it’s the middle of the process very often because the consumer feels differently now.”
While Klosterman’s voice is pleasant to someone like me, neither it nor himself necessarily belong to The People. In his Xreview forPaste Magazine, B. David Zarley proclaims essays to be “a love letter to a moment,” concluding that Chuck is “’effectively narcissistic,’ proving that culture essays can teach us something about ourselves and the people around us.” ForThe Washington Post, Justin Wm. Moyer notes “it’s hard to think of another writer who could make a 30-page, deeply reported essay about a North Dakota junior-college basketball game interesting,” suggesting that this new collection marks Klosterman’s ascendance from critic to philosopher. From what I’ve read to date, I would counter that he has always fulfilled the term to the extent of its usefulness in the 21st century and is even now beginning to redefine it. Last January, he braved the “dystopic” Google Gates to speak critically for a crowd of Googlers, describing them as “an umbrella over the entire culture,” and urging caution and reflection in the coming future to keep them from doing “something bad.” His engagement with them – especially during the Q&A – is a fascinating insight into the Greater Google Mind, and I would encourage any invested parties in Chuck Klosterman’s role as a philosopher to watch the talk in full. I was unfamiliar with “the boat-sails-wind analogy” before I read James Murphy’s interview for LCD Soundsystem’s “last album.”
“Your life is a boat, the sails are your emotions, and drugs are the wind. When you’re a kid, your boat is small and your sail is huge, and drugs are like a hurricane.”
Control x Time = the Klosterman beat. I suppose this must be what other entertainment writers are referring to when they accuse Chuck of nostalgia trafficking, but I can’t be so sure. Though I’d like to think my own snout for the stuff is especially well-tuned, I am undeniably from a different planet – even auditorily. All but one or two of the musicians interviewed throughout X were entirely unknown to me by name, which Klosterman’s voice managed to make even more compelling – not to mention the included stories of athletes and the sports industry, which include stories of the human ego, paranoia, and complex drama that always manage to transcend their setting when articulated with such dexterity.
I’ve never before written a book review of any sort – nor am I defensibly qualified to compare culture writers – but with good ole’ Chuck, I dove much further in order to tackle one very important question: should Klosterman be recommended reading for anyone under 30 above or alongside bestsellers like George Saunders or groundbreaking essayists of color like Hilton Als? In many a case, I must conclude by saying, simply, that something of value would be forgone if we shunned Chuck, even if his insight is old news to all but the most rudimentary yokels. I have little to offer women or people of color, but I’d bet X would prove itself worth a library trip for any idiot white guys in their lives who may be falling far behind. I don’t know of any other voices who are in a better position to introduce these issues, nor any who are quite so practiced at handling them delicately. While Jenna Wortham-level readers will gain little to nothing from this examination or the ecology of its subject (and will likely find themselves pausing momentarily for a deserved jest before moving on and returning to their high-level plane of complex neoliberal commentary,) but most of their less-aWoken fathers should find in Chuck a man they can truly trust, who manages to consistently distill and articulate the need-to-knows of the most complex pop culture and pop science conversations without using any of the academic language found in most institutional discourse which daddy finds too condescending and superfluous to bear. Those readers who’ve absolutely fucking despised my voice so far in this essay should give Klosterman a go – I take as much time as I can muster to fiddle with and season the words in context like this work because I basically enjoy the bullshit, yet I’ve found both X and But What If We’re Wrong? remarkably refreshing and impressive exercises.
“[These are] the cultural conditions in which I was raised under and which I pursued journalism under. That was part of the thing that drew me to the idea of being a reporter was I was like, this is something I can do, I think. My ability to detach my personal emotions from what I am investigating, while not perfect, I can do this. And now it turns out that the opposite is what’s desirable. I think it’s really going to change the kind of person who goes into media going forward.”
Reading Chuck Klosterman is going to be perturbing, but true sincerity is almost always uncomfortable. Comprehensively, his nonfiction represents perhaps the most important possible behavior to encourage from both the critic and his readership because it incubates and exudes sincere curiosity and a genuine interest in learning to listen. From the perspective of quantified societal contribution, I’d argue that Klosterman’s craft is a significantly more honorable and worthwhile pursuit than greater academic literature in its unique and entertaining treatment of subjects the establishment tends to pulverize into minutia. Unless he’s broke and/or bookish, buy X as a gift for your Dad and have a go when he’s done. If nothing else, at leastread the Taylor Swift interview, okay? If he doesn’t enjoy the book, I’m always available if one or both of you need to blow off some steam: give me a call at (573) 823‑4380. (Normal text messaging / talktime rates will apply.)
In all likelihood, you have heard of Electronic Mail, but I’ve noticed that much of our audience (and 18–25 year olds in general) have been consistently estranged from it, despite its prevalence in news media. Perhaps it’s not immediately evident as the coolest thing, but if “staying informed” and grass roots-ing brands are still as hip as they appear to be, email newsletters should soon become so groovy that you’ll begin leaving the house for a down-the-street coffee shop just to be seen reading them.
Welcome to the wonderful world of aggregation.
In many ways, email newsletters are the antithesis of (and medication for) Facebook’s school of ruminate aggregation. You know — the doctrine that will forever be remembered as the original intellectual catalyst for the downfall of human civilization. The skimming and the jumping… how many Facebook users could I fool by simply sending featured images, headlines, and abstracts for social cards without any hyperlinked destination? Could I manage to get Donald Tump elected President of the United States by way of Scrolling Hypnosis, alone?
Staying informed is a habit of time-honored traditions. Gramps has stopped by Bill’s General Goods every weekday morning for twenty years with a handful of change because The Sleepyville Monitor is a part of his identity — dependent upon- and accountable to his trust. We’ve continued into 21st century news media as if a digital equivalent of his readership would be so difficult to fathom that legacy publications are best-off forcing the standards of print onto the web instead of investing in research/experimentation, which is why the fucking New York Times still sends your handset away to a separate mobile version of their site — a horrible remnant of browsing from the oughts that’s rarely seen on blogs, these days, much less on properties of titanic news powerhouses.
For whatever reason, most of the industry has behaved as if Grandpa’s sort of routines no longer exist in day-to-day life, but — if anything — our Automated Hell is vastly more saturated with them, no? Unless you’re sequestered away in a diligently self-made Email-Free Zone, you’re receiving shit daily. I, myself, am considerably proud of my ~60,000 unread emails, and I’ve conceded to the vast majority of the popup opt-ins I’ve encountered since shortly after our launch because I rarely found myself visiting/reading undesirable web.
“I don’t email” is a sentiment I hear from young people often, which is perfectly fine. I don’t vote!
If it’s true that “nobody wants that,” nobody should be participating in the democratic process. Yes, I’ve experienced the no patience for more than 300 words phase of life, and I understand wholeheartedly the desire to retreat forever from it all. I would much rather exist in an old, open farmhouse with a wife, a garden, no internet, dusty old literature, and two ancient Bentleys than spend all my time crafting mirages in a black mirror, but neither cowardice nor negligence are options for us, right now. This country doesn’t have room for any more.
That’s not to say that you should be expected to read 6 hours of news a day — it’s the media’s (our) job to maintain our own accessibility, and for this, daily/weekly newsletters are an unbelievably effective method. The meta-aggregators in today’s industry are often paid exclusively to ease your digestion, both independently and by mastheads.
Dave Pell is a superb gateway from the former — an aggregation legend. His daily correspondence — called NextDraft — is more often than not the ideal front page of the day.
I’m asking those of you youths yet without your own reading habits to trust my taste — if not my authority — and explore some options from my own inbox.
Ultimately, you just can’t replace a legacy die-hard-news shop for a good political briefing. The POLITICO Playbook is the most time-efficient way to keep up with U.S. and World politics as you walk about your life, and many of The New Yorker’s newsletters are a great longform, much more visual compliment. For a slightly less-chaotic, but still relatively unproven alternative to the former, try Axios AM.
It’s no secret that Medium has been on the decline, lately — and it’s always required a particular sort of tolerance — but The Daily Digest still delivers a few important essays, occasionally. And of course — there are options by regularity and topic, which you can fiddle with here when logged in. On the more innovative end of the industry, there’s The Outline’s newsletter, which — being the property of a more deliberate, gorgeous, open-web publication — is a bit underwhelming, but then again… why aren’t you just looking at the site, anyway? The Pudding’s output may be sparse, but — again — just… look at it. I can’t claim to have made much use of the information presented in their gorgeous visual essays, but it sure is fascinating.
The Verge’s Command Line is often so clever, it can almost make tech news engaging. (Our very own The Toneis directly modeled after it, visually.) WIRED’s newsletter isn’t bad either– it’d be excellent if its parent website wasn’t so fucking broken.
Then there’s War Is Boring-a tactical/tech news site? I recently discovered. “From drones to AKs, high technology to low politics.” I wouldn’t describe it as a primary read for me, but it’s still nice to see what the Big Boys are up to, once in a while. (I am mostly just waiting attentively for the U.S.S. Iowa to be put up for auction.)
If you’re a filthy word nerd like myself, it’s likely you’ve seen a Tweet or two from the Haggard Hawks account — Paul Anthony Jones’ highly-educated musings on “obscure words, language &etymology facts.” After an excellent few years of playful indulgences, the project now has a whole DweebNet with a newsletter that always fascinates, if a bit dryly. What did you expect?
The Poetry Foundation can also be easily convinced to send you their Poem of the Day, and biweekly newsletter.
Landing on the “homepage” of even the most familiar online publications can feel daunting and impersonal, but having an authority on the industry (hopefully, with some sense of humor) parse the torrent and deliver it unto your personal inbox can ease the reading process into a much more intimate, sensical, enjoyable, and productive expenditure of your valuable time.
For a publication of our scale, the routine of a newsletter can act first as a simple reminder of our existence, and mature into a way to reach out directly to our audience in a distinctly magazine methodology — one which pervades a real, consequential relationship with consumers.
My favorite short story of all time was published by the Southern Literary Messenger in the summer of 1835. It compiles all of my favorite story elements into one painfully tedious body: absurd proper nouns, completely unbelievable premises, lighter-than-air craft, exploratory context, and an utterly unsatisfactory aftertaste. Technically, it’s a hoax, and could only have been spawned by the most frustrating comic of them all — Edgar Allan Poe. If you find yourself one day reading his collected works cover-to-cover, The Unparalleled Adventures of One Hans Pfaall is how you’ll be introduced. I’m sure the ‘ole sadist would be pleased at the thought of you crawling your way through his exhausting thirty-page-long description of the bellow-mender’s space balloon and its bizarre journey.
Originally, I’d remembered incorrectly — a bit of light research says Pfall was a bit too absurd to be overwhelmingly believed, but it was believed — that an indebted laborer obsessively constructed a DIY dirigible which he flew to the moon before managing to convince a lunarian to use it to deliver his surgically-detailed chronicle of the journey to be read publicly in front of his township’s civic leaders, only to have the scoop exclusively broken by a small arts periodical. In fact, it caused enough hubbub to inspire an entire subera of similarly-styled hoaxes, many from the originator, himself.
It’s no secret that Poe was as bitter as he was brilliant, so I’ve found myself again and again wondering, lately, what/if he would have spoken amidst his country’s 2016 election for President. As I’ve known him — much more intimately than most; much less than a few — I would posit that his brilliant, suffering mind would’ve been locked in the most productive year-long mania of his career. He was the sort of extraordinary man who was disgusted by the existence of anything less. I think he would’ve played the tricks of Search Engine Optimization, engagement, and news aggregation with a veracity that could’ve swung an election, if we accept the recent verdict against some good-humored Macedonian adolescents.
His laughter would be abruptly stayed, though, if you told him that ten percent of the adult population is illiterate, two centuries later and twenty years into the single most profound renaissance in the history of human communication. Though a nearly-equivalent upset could probably be had by informing him that his best-known work by a vast margin has since been The Raven, but I’ll spare you that subject for a less-topical dissertation.
How do I begin an argument about intellectual disparity in America? You got the President you deserve…
“Deserve” is no less ignorant of a concept as “truth,” so that’d be awfully hypocritical. Not that hypocrisy gives me any sort of pause, whatsoever, as a purveyor of fake news. Perhaps I should begin with an overview of Extratone’s bias on advertising.
Total advertising revenue we have received to date: $0.
Total number of advertisements that have appeared on extratone dot com to date: 3.
Total number of advertisements for non-defunct companies that have appeared on extratone dot com to date: 0.
As of this moment, advertising is Google, more or less, which means they are one of the few companies on Earth with the sort of cash flow to even consider attempting to craft a standard of maliciousness (the only useful spectrum I could come up with that could accomplish the goal of “eliminating financial incentives that appear to have driven the production of much fake news.”) I suppose the first authority on intent would be the Church, but I — a fake news writer — have been unable to arrive upon the method Jesus Christ would choose to go about eliminating communion.
But The Lord has forsaken this place — we have only Google, now, and — as the resident omnipotence, it is They alone who can stay what They have made. So perhaps that smelly gentlemen wondering aloud about the “second coming” on the bus stop bench is actually smarter than you, but unable to foresee the digital setting of his apocalypse. If Google is our neo-God, surely Walt Mossberg is now the pope. Yesterday morning, he addressed Facebook (neo-Hell,) commanding them to behave like the “media company” he believes they are. I would like to imagine that Mark Zuckerberg is hissing, currently.
He cites a Pew Research Center study that was conducted this past Spring, which found that “44 percent of the U.S. adult population got at least some of its news from Facebook.” I’d like to point all 2000 of my greasy, thumping, slanderous fingers at the beginning sentence of the next paragraph, though: “but that puts a heavy responsibility on Facebook…”
Who exactly is placing this burden on Facebook? Have we actually reached the point of social media as a public service? Perhaps their influence on the country’s psychology is enormous enough to exempt from all of the cheques that guarantee freedom of information exchange.
Thank God… perhaps FarmVille shall finally face its Day of Judgement. All the requests from one acquaintance of mine are stressing me out, and federal employees have not forcibly changed their foul-ass color scheme yet, so I cannot navigate deep enough to block her without becoming physically ill. Don’t get me wrong — hanging Mark Zuckerberg by the Neck Until Dead for treason would make for quite a spectacle, but I cannot help but wonder if you have forgotten one of your most irritating expressions: don’t blame the messenger. I hate to be rude, but POTUS Tumper is the definite sign: you are responsible for your choices and your ignorance. Volition in informed media consumption is the only effective weapon with which one should combat deception.
For some perspective, know that I came shamefully close to falling for a fucking phone scam a few days ago. I didn’t end up costing my company, but I came within inches of doing so. I hadn’t experienced such all-consuming embarrassment in a decade. But — as life experiences tend to be — it was humbling, and preparatory — I’m sure — for the next time I must identify dishonesty.
I appreciate the sentiment of personalities like Mossberg and the effort they expend in the name of my protection as a user, but I must be allowed to discern the nature of content for myself, especially when using a service who’s CEO is publicly crying “we do not want to be arbiters of truth ourselves.” Whether or not Facebook has the cash to deliberate on, design, or redesign algorithms and/or other software to combat inauthentic content sources is irrelevant. Max Read’s account of the process as it relates to the election is the sharpest one-take I’ve seen thus far. In it, he suggests that the sheer size of Facebook’s audience “would seem to demand some kind of civic responsibility.” And — while it is now undeniable that it is “the most efficient distributor of misinformation in human history,” I must speak for the general readership and note that when we are “misled,” it is out of our own failing diligence, intellect, and/or education as ballot-eligible adults.
As far as myself and my editorial course are concerned, it is tremendously disrespectful to remove a reader’s volition in their consumption. If there is “blame” for the votes in this election, the single polite course of action is to leave it on the voters, indefinitely. Any alternative is what we’d brand an acute theft of will. Volition in informed media consumption is the only effective weapon with which one should combat deception. It’s not a contentious sentiment — assuming competence from all participants when legislation or demand are concerned. If it were, the safteynet wouldn’t be focused on such a small portion of digital disinformation as misaggregated news represents, but instead on the highly-potent culture of Google AdWords cons, or the longstanding institution of email phishing. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not the biggest fan of Zuckerberg’s Culturesuck. I founded our flagship podcast around reprehending it, and see plenty of evidence that it’s profoundly effected Western psychology in a startling way, but attacking the issue in an ethical context is tremendously inefficient, if nothing else.
Yes, it would make for an entertaining story, watching Google and Facebook hurl their masses of cash at the 9th commandment, but it’d be much better spent remaking the critical readership in American society. A federal program to confront the ~10% adult illiteracy rate might be a better place to start.