lovehate: Consumers Ring The Death Knell For Old Media

Don't get me wrong. I'm a big content guy. 

What I mean is that I believe content is king, but I'm starting to parse out a fine line that exists between content and concept in consuming information.

I've always been a firm believer in the idea of style over substance IF one can start to see the style as substance in itself. I'm also a firm believer that both are borne on a dual-purposed concept of creator and consumer.

I know. I'm talking in circles. Give me an paragraph or two to explain myself.

There are relatively few basic themes in literature as compared to the plots, characters, and settings that inhabit them. I always taught my English students that at the very root, a literary theme had to have two things: subject and slant.

It's not enough to say that "love" is a theme. By combining that subject with the creator's bias on it, however, a simple theme can be derived. For the J. Geils Band Love Stinks. And based on this simple syntax we can develop themes from the obvious to the arcane in arts and media. There have been countless writers, artists, musicians and thinkers who have all ruminated on the simple idea that love stinks. No matter how high the numbers creep, we still keep coming back for more.

Many Shakespearean characters have inhabited the love stinks theme, and without fail I find their stories more interesting than the one told by the J. Geils Band, although admittedly not as rockin'. And here's where the worm starts to turn. We often think of style v. substance and form v. function, but both of those equations miss the mark in terms of the importance of pre-existing concept.

You may watch Ophelia ass up in an Elsinore pond and ruminate "well, it sucks to be her", or you may find it to be a tragedy of frailty undone by all-consuming spurned devotion. Your choice will NOT depend on the words of Hamlet, as most folio versions are relatively the same, but instead on the direction, acting, execution of those performing, and the mindset you bring to the scene.

Regardless of which feeling you choose to embody after viewing the unfortunate non-swim, a curious venn has erupted from your sensibilities that you are probably unaware of: 1) Shakespeare understood how love can stink, 2) he also had to pen the words to fuel the character on how love could stink, 3) the actor must embody the belief that love stinks, 4) the director must set the scene to persuade you that love stinks, and 5) if you had a slice of luncheon meat on the verge of turning for lunch, steps 1-4 won't mean shit to you as much as how to find the nearest restroom.

Concept, content, and consumption bleed into each other with compunction. There is no real separation of the three. So when I say I don't care what you say, but I love the way you say it, I'm really not trying to be two dimensional or glib. There are simply very few times I'm looking for raw data in everyday life. I want the story, the interpretation, and the presentation.

Why do people care which newscaster they listen to when 90% of the stories are the same after being pumped out by a wire service? Why do people care which podcasts they listen to for daily tech or entertainment news when 90% of the stories will be the same. Why do people read 1000 poems about the trials of love or 1000 novels about horrors of war or listen to 1000 songs about the righteousness of the oppressed? It's all about the presentation.

If one stands up in a drunken bellow on Speaker's Corner and decries oppression through burps, belches, and bromides, any concept and content will be lost. But if I sit back after 40 years and watch Richie Havens repetitively sing "Freedom" over an acoustic guitar and congas on YouTube, my heart reaches for the sky.

When I hear people actively engaged in conversation, when I see musicians smiling at each other and having fun on stage through the miscues and wrong notes, when I listen to or read someone who can use words to make content triumphant over concept and careless of consumption, I concede. I want connection over perfection and my substance will be redefined by a meshing of style and interpretation.

I would rather read T.S. Eliot waxing poetic about a used Kleenex or listen to Tom Waits reminisce about the "piss yellow gypsy cab" that went by than read 99% of journalists blather about world affairs. In this distinction, old media will continue its death spiral. 

The concepts at the root of both sides are always universal. Old media used to have authority over content, but the venn has bled. Consumers beckon for style, originality and voice... not simply bias, but voice. Such is the domain of a thinker, an entertainer, an artist, but rarely, and decreasingly so, a reporter. And while old media has tens of thousands of reporters worldwide, the web has hundreds of millions of thinkers, entertainers, and artists.

Move over J. Geils; you've lost your byline.

4 responses
I like your point about style being as important as substance, but I'm not sure what makes you say that "new media" has a greater merit in this regard than "old media", especially as your examples include Richie Havens, Tom Waits or T.S. Eliot...
Interesting discussion though.
Peter... I probably missed making several connections in the rambling, late night method of writing I use, but I'll try to clarify. I think the real difference lies between the ability (and allowance) for the consumer to bring interpretation to the equation and have the interpretation be considered as valid (if not in a vein) as the original work.

That, in the past, I could evolve a reader response to literature and art and have it be taken as valid is, what I think, people are looking for with all their media now. We'd like to think that our opinion adds value to the content. In many ways, artists for centuries have encouraged diverse participation in interpretation. It's been rare over the past 20 years or so for me to see anything "artistic" in message-based media (not talking scripted television or movies here). It's been all about snippets, tickers and going from commercial to commercial.

My mind, last night, was trying to equate the Old Media with the obviousness of simply stating "Love Stinks", and New Media allowing for abstraction through questions, interpretation, and interchange. Maybe I didn't get there... which, oddly enough, probably supports my concept :)

Thanks for reading and commenting!

New media is of course often based around interaction. Still, I think there are lots of examples in old media that often get overlooked as well. Talk back radio, for example, is as dynamic and instantaneous as say Twitter or Facebook. To a lesser extent there are letters to the editor in print publications and (usually very bad) home video programs on tv.
Things have sped up as a rule though...
Still not sure what the connection between user created content and style over substance is though really...
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