Friday, August 20, 2010

The Internetty

There are two kinds of demand in our media world today: the kind of demand that’s created by supply and the kind of demand that creates its own supply. Of the former variety—did anyone think to themselves, “You know what kind of movie I’d like to see? One with Sly Stallone, Jet Li, Jason Statham, etc. etc.” before The Expendables came out? I daresay not. But it was decided by our Media Overlords that we would enjoy it, and lo, it was created, and lo, we have enjoyed it (judging by the box office). The latter kind of demand you could either call pleasing the audience or pandering, depending on how you feel about the matter.

I tend to think of the internet as particularly indulging the latter kind of demand, and the first moment that realization came to pass was the classic-before-it-was-even-released Snakes on a Plane. What’s important to realize about Snakes on a Plane was that it was never meant to be titled Snakes on a Plane at all: it was meant to be called Flight 217 or something boring like that. What happened was some blogger saw the title and decided—naturally and correctly—that whatever movie it was would have to be completely and totally awesome, leading the studio belatedly to keep Snakes on a Plane as the title and then to remake the movie as the glorious B movie it was always meant to be. It was basically an internet movie: the internet created the big-budget studio movie it always wanted, and if it’s not really remembered nowadays, that’s because internet memes rarely are (remember the “I see what you did there” one that started popping up in comment threats everywhere? I do, because that was an excellent meme that I was hoping would make the jump into common usage), and Snakes on a Plane was ultimately the most expensive meme ever. The same thing will obviously happen to the double rainbow guy (and assorted remixes: here’s my favorite.)

Understanding that people are basically trying to do stuff that seems particularly Internetty, or likely to please the Internet, is basically the only way to understand the seemingly-weirdest music news of a very long while: the Kanye West/Justin Bieber/Raekwon song that apparently has been recorded and will drop into the arms of a grateful internet any day now. At first this is merely a WTF? moment, but upon reflection—particularly when you notice the Raekwon inclusion, it becomes more of a “I see what you did there” moment. It is, of course, something of an inspired gag—earnest, knowing irony. And Raekwon is the tip-off: hipsters, you know this is a joke that is also serious, so you’re allowed to like it ironically/non-ironically and let’s not dwell too much over the gray area here except to note that it’s a weird attitude to make such a distinction between the stuff we like ironically and the stuff we like non-ironically. None of the three fanbases of the respective artists is going to be particularly thrilled by this news alone—Justin Bieber fans, in particular, will be particularly confused about why the old black man is rapping about Staten Island and ninjas (or whatever it is that Raekwon’s verse will touch upon). No, the fanbase to be appeased is the internet.

There’s the big news, but I’d argue much of the content—not the majority, but a pretty healthy percentage—produced on the internet can be understand in this sort of way: of producing stuff specifically because you know it’s sort of Internetty, i.e. the Internet will love it. I’d say a pretty decent chunk of slideshows and/or picture-related stuff can be understood in this way; so, too, can obvious commenting-bait and/or “the Tea Party” (or) “Obama: socialist.”

How do you feel about all this? I’d be lying if I didn’t say I enjoyed the Internet, and given that you can’t enjoy the Internet without enjoying that which is Internetty, I therefore enjoy Internetty. But I do think it causes a certain creative stagnation: if you always get what you want, you’ll never learn to want the stuff you never knew about. Not good, not bad—but you are missing out.

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