I used to love Netflix. The scope and range of their offerings far surpassed the site's shortcomings, which included an inability to filter out stuff I wasn't interested in. But that was back when one rented discs. I still do rent discs, and consider that the only good part of Netflix in 2015. But the streaming is the focus of the business, so one has to deal with it.
Here we are in late 2015, and Netflix continues to race towards whatever it is it believes it needs to be racing towards. All I know, is it is racing away from me. How about you? Are the streamable offerings on Netflix relevant to you? The majority? I bet not.
The level of desperation at Netflix can be seen in their wave of site redesigns over the past year or two that continue to attempt to conceal the lack of content available for streaming. There's such a dearth of material available, it would be screamingly obvious to customers, so they attempt to conceal that by a lot of cheap content lacking much merit, and by creating their own content like House of Cards. Some of Netflix's content is okay. Most is about as memorable as the movie that just finished five minutes ago on Syfy but you already can't recall what it was about.
It's Time for NOTFLIX.
What I have wanted for 13 years, ever since joining Netflix, is the ability to simply tell Netflix what I do NOT want to see. Ever. As in, don't even suggest it to me. But they are afraid to do that, is my guess. Because if they did, in 2015, the result would be nearly-empty or entirely-empty web pages on Netflix's site.
A company like Netflix is too afraid to go down that path. Which is a shame. Because I would LOVE it. If Netflix went down this path, it would indeed mean, over time, that more things would be saved as "I don't want to see that" than Netflix is able to add to their streaming collection, with the result being very little to nothing available to stream.
But would that really be so bad? Seriously. People celebrate and even brag on Twitter about achieving "zero inbox." Why not "zero Netflix"?
Take another look at that Recently Added screenshot above. There is no ability for the user to tell Netflix the following: "I don't ever want to see 'This isn't Funny' nor do I ever want to see 'China's Forbidden City', nor do I ever want to see 'Yukia Yuna is a Hero', nor do I want to see . . . " well, you get the idea. I would go through every one of these utterly crap TV shows or made-for-Netflix movies and say NO to Netflix. Then the next time I visited this page, the ONLY things I should see are new things, and things I did not indicate "I don't ever want to see this" on.
I call this extremely-filtered version of Netflix "Notflix." Because it knows what I do NOT want to see. Which is the vast majority of swill that passes for content these days on the service. But the great thing about Notflix is how easy it would be to keep an eye on. When new stuff appears, as in really new, stuff I don't know about yet, I can easily see that, and not have to slog through all the crap -- face it, it's filler -- that Netflix stuffs their meagre offerings with so that they at least look like more than you can count at first glance.
Funny how Netflix keeps content in the "Recently Added" bin for months, possibly years on end. Seriously: there's junk there that I have seen for months on end, still being passed of as "Recently Added". It's a pain to have to shovel through that stuff either on the Netflix website, one of the Netflix apps, or the Netflix thing on AppleTV. It's all the same: stuffed to the gills with filler.
A Notflix service would let me quickly indicate "I don't ever want to see this, stop showing it to me, period" to any content. The list of such content would grow large quickly. THAT IS OKAY. What would be left would be a very small set of offerings. THAT TOO IS OKAY. Really, Netflix, that would be perfectly fine. Achieving "Zero Netflix" would be a good thing.
Years ago I asked Netflix to add the ability to tell the service to simply HIDE forever certain genres I never want to see, never will see, period: kids content, sports, anime, faith and spirituality, zombie crap, Marvel comic book crap, all kinds of genres. It is still not possible to do that. A Notflix service would of course offer this ability, so that entire swaths of new incoming content would be auto-hidden from customers who already indicated to hide it.
I can see the day I give up on Netflix. If you look at that ever-growing array of streamable offerings on AppleTV, Netflix is just another box. There's really nothing great there, nor is the brand any different than the other array of brands on the long scrolling AppleTV menu. Once again, Hollywood likes to imagine itself as a set of branded silos, believing consumers like silos. We don't. We never bought record albums based on the label. We don't buy books based on the publisher. We don't go to movies distributed only by Sony or Universal. These are Hollywood fictions. And it's no different with streamable content.
I'll continue to rent blu-rays from Netflix as long as it makes financial sense. Even that is questionable. But for streaming? Netflix is increasingly just not worth the trouble.
And the most awesome fire-hose of scientific jargon you've ever heard from the narrator. I dare you to try to keep up with what he's saying....
Yesterday, Jeff Jarvis wrote a piece on Medium entitled "REFORM ADVERTISING... before it is too late." I read it and shook my head muttering, "Jeff, Jeff, Jeff... I love ya, but I can't believe this is really what you think.... I think you know better than this."
I thought about his article a lot yesterday and last night. This is my attempt at a reply. It is not brief.
Jeff, if you see this, welcome. I challenge you to read all of this. I always read your stuff, with great respect, always. You're an important voice and thought leader on media and online issues, always have been, and I have the greatest respect for you. When you have something to say, I pay attention. But sometimes I think you tend to tune out to voices who rather strenuously disagree with you on the specific issue of media and advertising. I am one of those in disagreement.
The Problem Is, It's No Longer Advertising.
Jeff, you say that advertising needs to be reformed, "before it is too late." On the contrary, seems to me it is too late. It has been too late for a long time. We are way past the point where publishers should consider a "if we simply steer advertising away from its bad ways, all will be well again, and the media ecosystem can continue on its merry way" approach. No. The media ecosystem has been contaminated and is no longer a healthy ecosystem. It has been poisoned and corrupted beyond anything we've ever seen before. It's like when you have a plumbing leak and the water goes into the drywall and into the wood and doors and under the carpet. Sure, you can re-seal the pipes and tighten the joints and make sure everything is tight and the leak stops. But once the dampness invades those places that should always be dry, it begins to rot and nature takes over and the result is, well, trés biologîque. This is where we are with media online now. It is overgrowing with nasty stuff that people do not want and no longer tolerate. It all has to be torn out. Gutted. It's time to start over from scratch. First, fire all the ad salespeople. If things go the way I think they should, there are no longer jobs for ad sales people.
I speak as someone who has been blocking ads for well over ten years. Now, Jeff, you will no doubt desire to dismiss me as an "edge case," as an extremist, perhaps even as a hater, because anybody who is so mean and cruel as to have been blocking web ads for over ten years can't be a nice person, can they? Well, I am a nice person. Guess what, advertising isn't nice. And you should know better than to defend it. We are way past the point where it is defensible. It is evil.
They have finally had it with irritating, irrelevant, invasive, repetitive, ugly, stupid, creepy, slow advertising and its threat to privacy.
Some of us were, even when it came to routing around advertising, "early adopters," in the sense that we began blocking years and years ago. Ad blocking has now crossed the chasm, and is becoming mainstream. (Ironically, thanks to media attention!) This is a welcome event, and should be celebrated. I don't have data, but I have suspicions what's causing it. One, the shift to mobile. Mobile platforms have for the past few years become the new emphasis for not only advertisers, but the makers of the platforms themselves. This is where the growth is, this is what Wall Street looks at. Mobile users often have to put up with even more irritating, irrelevant, invasive, repetitive, ugly, stupid, creepy, slow, and privacy-invading ads on their devices than they ever had to on the desktop. People are tired of it, you're right. But they've also been educated by Edward Snowden and his whistleblowing efforts. And we know that this is no longer advertising. It is something much worse.
They now have the tools to fight back. Their allies are Apple, which wants to ruin the ad business for everyone else, and racketeering adblocking companies.
Jeff, you remind me of book publishers, the Authors Guild, and Authors United (which are all basically the same thing), when speaking of Amazon, and auto dealer associations when speaking of Tesla, and the MPAA and National Association of Theatre Owners when talking about videotapes and DVDs and DVRs. All these big bad evil forces now at work that want to destroy the way business has been run for a very long time in some very old industries. In this case, the media industry.
I have to chuckle. Apple is no ally. Apple is one of the bad guys. In fact I see them as no friend to the user: their support for ad blocking is a ruse, it's really Google blocking, as you suggest. But run any game app on iOS9, and be confronted with Apple's own ads -- it's what they are -- for GameCenter. Relentless popups for GameCenter. Just one example of Apple's intent: they don't want to free the user from ads, they want to make sure that Apple controls the ads users see on their platforms.
(On a side note, I have to chuckle at some who admire Google and Apple for getting into the car business, if the rumors are accurate. I don't believe for a second they view it as the car business. They view it as a new mobile platform. They, I am sure, look with admiration at Tesla not for their electric drivetrain and innovation, but rather they look at Tesla for their always-on, always-connected vehicles, pouring data back to the mothership while the car is moving, while the car is stopped, while the car is parked. Imagine five, ten years from now: you drive down the street and your car points out the deals you could get right now at this shoe store, that eyeglasses store, this auto parts store, that movie theatre, this restaurant, that furniture store. Cars are a new ad platform, a dream platform, the culmination of everything up to this point. It's going to be a fucking nightmare.)
But back to your quote. First, we, the consumers of the content, have always had the tools. Worst case, we turn the thing off. TV, radio, whatever medium the ad noise is coming from. With print, we stop reading, or we unsubscribe. With the internet, we stop visiting a site, or stop using an app. The tools are our arms and hands and fingers. Worst case, our feet. No blocking software needed.
This is not about evil racketeering ad blocking companies (this sounds so much like the book publishing industry it's uncanny... next we're going to hear about news publishers wanting the Department of Justice to begin an investigation of ad-blockers, no doubt). This is about, like you yourself said, people being fed up. They have finally had it. And they're doing things about it. They're cutting the cord. No more TV (try it, it is the best thing one could EVER do, and for me the wisest move I've ever made).
I see a pattern: an old, established industry, which has for generations, centuries sometimes, been doing the same old thing, and making boatloads of money doing that same old thing, never having to change the business model, other than a few tweaks here or there, attempting to look "innovative" but, when all is said and done, doing very little innovation. In fact that is what makes the industry so attractive: not much innovation necessary. The market demands something, the industry forms, and builds the products or services or content and offers a supply of it, to meet that demand. Repeat. Nice, cozy setup, especially when it lasts for decades or centuries. But when push comes to shove, when changes start appearing, when outside forces start cutting in and taking a piece of the action, or simply start educating the market that, you know what, maybe you shouldn't be demanding this stuff after all, and here are some tools to block some of the unwanted detritus that the industry is loading on top of that which you've demanded . . . when that starts happening, these old industries tend to get mean. They look for people to blame. They direct attention to these outside forces that are ruining the nice, cozy setup that's worked for so long. In some cases (auto dealers for instance) they've been at it so long and have paid off so many generations of legislators, they've managed to pass reams of laws to protect the nice, cozy setup and make sure it continues to be a nice, cozy setup for years to come. An example of them getting mean: they start making insinuations that these outside forces are breaking the law and must be stopped. You know, maybe they're racketeers. And hey, maybe some of them are breaking the law and if so they should be stopped. But for this particular reader and consumer of content, I don't see this kind of behavior on the part of ad blockers. News to me, actually. I don't see much of anything. That's the whole point: the good ad blocking tools, the plugins, work in the background, like a tap water filter: they filter the bad stuff out and you don't need to even be aware of it other than to maybe change out the filter every six months.
The point is, these dying industries rarely look inwards, rarely look in the mirror. And the media needs to be doing that right now. They need it bad. The model of ads in exchange for content is done. Cooked. Burnt. Toast. Over.
The Problem Is, It's Surveillance Run Amok.
In fact, face it, it is not advertising anymore. You speak of "advertising" but that is now a quaint, 20th century term that has no place today or going forward. There is only one word for what this shit is. It is surveillance. The gigantic ad industry, mostly known as Google, but to a lesser extent Facebook and Apple and others, is not an ad industry at all. It is a surveillance industry. To describe it as anything else is to be in denial. This is not paranoia speaking. This is the cold, hard truth. Jeff, you are trying to convince us that advertising if reformed would be good and wonderful and benign if not beneficial. It is not advertising. It is surveillance and it is about recording every behavior, every action, every communication, who I communicate with, who communicates with me, everything consumed, everything produced, everything shared with someone else, everything shared with me, and noting the time, location, device type, duration, and anything else that can be recorded at the moment that behavior, or action, or communication, or sharing, or consumption, or production took place. That is not market research anymore. That is not market insight or analytics. That is signals intelligence. It is behavioral tracking. It is studying the metadata, that "harmless" metadata. Theoretically, if one reads the hilarious "privacy agreements" these media companies put on their sites, all of this surveillance is for our own good, see, it's to help "improve the service," don't you know, to make the service better and more relevant for each and every user. It's to "individualize" and "personalize" the service, the content, and offerings. How nice.
Jeff goes on:
Jeff proposes three ways to improve advertising by improving the quality of ads: make them more relevant, make them more useful, make them more engaging.
I'm sorry Jeff, but I have to disagree. What I and I suspect a growing millions of others object to is the simple existence of ads, their very existence is pernicious and no longer welcome. Ads and the surveillance behind the ads have no place in this world. They should be eliminated. It is a pestilence that needs eradication. No amount of improvement (consider it lipstick on a pig) would make any difference. Indeed, the notion of increased relevance means only one thing: increased surveillance. Fuck that. As for engagement, the last thing I want to do is engage with any advertising! Quite the opposite: if I see it, I disengage as swiftly and immediately as possible. Indeed, that is what we seek: better tools to disengage so effectively and completely we never had to engage in the first place and we weren't even aware that something was trying to engage with us and us with them. We do not want our attention interrupted by advertising. And we don't want our lives, and every aspect of our lives, sold behind our backs.
Another thing about relevance, usefulness, and engagement. How can any intelligent person have any respect for any media organization that uses fake content and passes it off as real? I speak of the vast list of very well known online publications that use services like Taboola and Outbrain to trick readers into clicking on sensational stories that appear to be part of the publication, but, upon close inspection, are not at all. Sponsored content, whatever you want to call it, it's all part of this pestilence of cheating, trickery, and surveillance. We all know what I am talking about: it's almost always pictures of women or celebrities with headlines about the top ten celebrities whose plastic surgery went too far, or you'll never believe what these child stars look like now, et cetera. Any website I stumble upon that features a damp, fetid cesspool of Taboola or Outbrain links at the bottom of a news article is a website for which I make a mental note to never visit again. And I don't care how good the site is. I actively boycott stuff and I do not forget and I do not forgive. If a publisher thinks so poorly of its readers, has such contempt for its very lifeblood, the readers, that it shows that kind of shit to them, then fuck that publisher. Period. If a publisher is tracking me, and loading up a web page by stuffing it full of tracking cookies and deep cookies and all sorts of surveillance nastiness, then fuck that publisher. Period.
Seth and his purple cows are wrong. Permission is bullshit. For the longest time I would have said otherwise. When I was doing startups I would have been the loudest booster of Seth's ideas. But times, they are a-changin'. We are so far along now, into the valley of the shadow of surveillance, so deep into a world of relentless, ruthless, persistent, ubiquitous, pernicious corporate surveillance masked as advertising, that we are long past such quaint notions as "permission." I don't want a media outlet's permission. Media outlets cannot be trusted. Consumer web services cannot be trusted. They may start out trustworthy, but as soon as the venture money has gotten in there, like a virus, and started circulating, and as soon as the ethically challenged MBAs have arrived, watch out. All bets are off. Simple tracking and analytics soon becomes not so simple tracking and much more fancy analytics. Advertising becomes surveillance, and the better you surveil, the more advertisers (and VCs) will like you. Look: if a publisher wants to record my behavior, my actions, my communications, my impressions, what I consume, what I produce, who I communicate with, who communicates with me, who I share with, who shares with me, what I say, what I think, what I do. . . if a publisher wants any of that, then you need to pay me. The hell with permission. I want payment. And if you don't pay me, or are not willing to pay me, then I won't give it to you. And if I see you tracking me without paying me, then I block you or just boycott you. Forever. And I urge others to as well. And I look forward to your going out of business because this shit has gone on too long and has gotten so incredibly far out of hand and out of control that the only way to stop it is to make it die. Sorry. I can't be more blunt.
If brands ever succeeded at building their own true relationships with customers, I fear that media could be left out of the equation. But happily for media — if sadly for customers — we’re a long way from ever reaching a world without advertising. To paraphrase the old Woody Allen joke, they need the eggs; so do media. But advertising will not become effective by becoming ever worse: ever-more intrusive and awful. So can we in media say goodbye to the old ways and help raise advertising to new and better ways?
Few brands truly succeed building standalone relationships with customers. Even Apple, the king of brands, sucks at real genuine relationships with their customers. They're just too big. Go visit Apple's support discussion forums some time. Google's worse. Have a problem with Gmail? Try getting help from Google. The giant technology/media hybrid companies (for that is what they have become) don't care about individuals other than that their activity and presence leaves profitable trails of behavior, action, communication, sharing, friend networks, producing, and consuming. Users are eyeballs and mouse-clicks and tablet taps, with a trackable identity and a credit card. Nothing more.
Now, I agree with Jeff that advertising will not become effective by becoming ever worse. But I, and I suspect many, many others, don't want advertising to be effective. We want it to be eliminated. Again, Jeff's going to say, oh, you're extremist. You don't represent the norm. You're way way out on the edge, the fringe of the curve. No, I'm just an early adopter, I caught the wave early, but there are millions behind me. I'm one of many canaries in this coal mine. We are legion.
A Modest Proposal
Jeff, I come from five generations of newspaper publishers and editors. I grew up with ten daily newspapers on the coffee table in the family room, and hands black with ink from reading them every day and loving every minute of reading every page. I absolutely love journalism, I absolutely love journalists, they are a vital and necessary part of the ecosystem and society and, when they do their job well, and their employers don't ruin things too much, they keep the public informed and in so doing protect democracy. I love great investigative journalism. I love stories that expose corruption, that comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, or announce new scientific breakthroughs, or simply help explain tough concepts or walk through complexity so, again, I can be a more informed member of the public. It's all good.
Here's the thing: I hate paywalls as much as you do. And I don't want to subscribe to a zillion sites. BUT: I am willing to pay. I just don't want any tracking or targeting or anything that even has the slightest whiff of advertising, upsells, or promotion. I catch any of that, I am gone.But, as I said, I am willing to pay. I am wanting to pay. I'm waiting to pay. But I don't want to do it consciously while reading. I want it done automatically, with my blessing and under my control.
Allow me to describe.
This is just an idea. And it's nothing new, it's been bandied about, kicked around, knocked down, shot down, many times already. It's a riff on micropayments that I would propose as a possible solution to the whole problem of ad blocking and advertising and keeping media healthy.
My proposal is simply this: if you want to get rid of ad blockers, you start by getting rid of advertising. Completely. Totally. Ruthlessly. And never look back.
If it's really about journalism, and great content, if that is why publishers exist, then the focus should always be on the journalism and the great content. But it isn't. It's about the ads. The tracking. The ever-growing surveillance and the buying and selling of surveilled user data. So if we got rid of all of that, but kept the journalism and the great content thriving, that would be good, right? Since that is why publishers got into business, right?
Just for argument's sake, imagine, for a moment, an online world without advertising. You might immediately say, gone are all those great journalists and investigative pieces that you so cherish and benefit from. And I would say, no, whoa there, not so fast.
What I want is a tool, embedded in the browser, perhaps even embedded further down, in the operating system, that allows me to manage a media consumption budget. I put some money in, either real currency or bitcoin or its equivalent, and then I either go on to the web and surf around and use the default rules built in to this tool, or, more likely for me at least, I first go into preferences and designate which sites I particularly value, perhaps even which bylines I most seek and value, and what rate, perhaps in pennies per story, or per click, whatever, details aren't important right now. I set things up and then go read the New York Times, or Slate, or whatever publications I prefer to read. No paywalls. No ads. Just good old fashioned journalism. And my browser or the operating system interacts with agreed-upon standard protocols to exchange some of my media consumption budget as I surf these websites. Automatically, money is doled out in dribs and drabs, to these sites that offer the kind of content I appreciate, seek, admire, and want more of. The act of visiting and reading becomes the act of paying and rewarding. The more I visit and read, the more that site and the creators of that content are rewarded. If I suspect I am being tricked, with clickbait or other deceptions, I rescind my rules, withdraw my budget, and move on to other sites more deserving of my time and trust.
Jeff, you say,
First off, you cannot defeat the ad-blocker. You will never defeat the ad-blocker. No matter what you do, an ad-blocking reader will continue to block. If you ban ad-blockers, and I fully suspect the media will try to pull off such a stunt, either through legislation, litigation, or sneaky moves via TPP and other secret international trade "agreements," then ad-blocking readers will simply stop reading. (Personally speaking, I have plenty of books and records and videos. Happy to go all Desert Island on the web publishers if it comes to that.) There is no way to stop the ad-blocking reader. If you try, you'll just piss them off. All that will do is make them ignore a publisher altogether. No tools required. No plugins. No apps. No mods to their computing environments. No technology whatsoever. They just up and walk away and never look back. And believe me, there are many websites and apps away from which I've already so walked for good.
What disappoints me about this mess --- and again it is the same mess whether it's the Hollywood movie/TV industry, the auto dealers against Tesla, the book publishers and one-percenter authors against evil Amazon, or the publishers against the ad blockers --- is that I see so little in the way of innovation on the part of these special interests. They aren't very bright when it comes to technology. Their expertise lies elsewhere. That's fine, I suppose. Not everybody is a technical wizard, and very old industries tend to not appreciate enlightened innovators in leadership positions. I've seen it time and time again: "Oh, you're an engineer. What would you know." Bookstores complain that Amazon is killing them. And yet, what exactly has a bookstore done in one hundred years to change and improve their chances at sustainability? They still operate as consignment shops. It's pathetic. I love love love love bookstores but I cringe every time I step inside one. It's like 1850 all over again. Oh, they tried the superstore/grocery-shelf model, they tried to become The Third Place, but that didn't last. We cherish indie bookstores now, but hell, why would anyone pay list price for a hardcover when it's available cheaper online? With auto dealers: they spend decades paying off state legislatures to set up laws to protect their businesses from any form of outside change, including innovative companies like Tesla that don't need franchises or dealerships (nor do they need ripoff service departments which are, face it, the bedrock of the profits dealers depend on). When a threat is seen or perceived, they circle the wagons and try to keep the threat away. Instead of innovating. With newspapers, they've done very little. Very few fresh ideas. I agree that paywalls are dumb. For instance, I don't pay a subscription to the New York Times. I read as much as it will let me before it blocks me each month. At which point I just go search for the headlines on Twitter, find the shared social media link, and enter the Times that way (always works... the paywall is an illusion). Once again, publishers have failed to innovate. They think there is either advertising, or there are paywalls and subscriptions. There cannot be anything else.
This is where I think they're wrong. I think there is something else. I want to support the editors and reporters whose work I enjoy and benefit from reading. And I think there is a way to do it. It's nothing new. The method is one we've talked about for years.
Micropayments. Credits. Some form of "bank account" that is private and local to each user. The user is in control as to how the payments trickle out and to whom.
Heck, maybe the media companies offer incentives, either at the time of purchase of the device, say, an iPhone. Imagine you buy a phone and it comes with a budget of, to stay abstract and not use dollars, 5000 quatloos. The user decides how those quatloos are going to be divvied up. (And hell no, Apple doesn't collect 30%. Apple and Google have no involvement here. If they tried I would quit that just as swiftly as I'd walk away from a Taboola-shoveling media site.) Maybe if I do something, read an article or something, a site rewards me with some more quatloos. Maybe a friend can "gift" me with some quatloos when they share some link to some content they think I'll like.
The bottom line, I am all for supporting good journalism and creative content on the web. I want to see more of it. I want it to be of the highest quality. As an author myself, I want readers, lots of readers --- there's nothing like getting readers. And if I can get financially rewarded for putting in the research and time to write an article or a book, then great. The more the better. I get it.
It's just that the old ways are now really achingly embarrassingly old, and worse, they've become incredibly pernicious to society and to the future of the internet. They need not reform, but abolishment. It's time to start with a clean slate. (And a clean Slate.)
If I could from time to time manage my little Media Budget on my device, or maybe across all my media-consuming devices, and designate either a modest default amount, or a higher amount for my favorite authors, reporters, musicians, filmmakers, etc., and then when I read/listen to/watch their content, the designated amount trickles out of my little Media Budget and into their bank accounts, would that be so bad? I think it would be kind of cool. A web devoid of tracking, surveillance, and invasive, obnoxious ads. Instead a web of well-paid content creators, researchers, reporters, editors, authors, artists, creators, all pumping out great stuff, all with great followings, in an ecosystem that finally recognized the out-of-control surveillance model for what it was, abandoned it, and replaced it with something far more beneficial, fair, and equitable.
Sounds good to me.
Twitter's new user registration page with a little added twist.
On the bright side, it'd provide huge job security to resume screeners and background checkers in HR.
For years I have been uncomfortable about The Daily Show. It mocks politicians and media and we all laugh. And nobody does mockery of politicians and media better than Jon Stewart and the Daily Show.
But it's been over 15 years and nothing has changed. Indeed, everything has gotten worse. Each night, Jon Stewart points out the latest lies, misdirection, and idiocy spewing from, say, Fox News. And we laugh and shake our heads and wonder how anyone could listen to that nonsense. Each month, each year, more lies and the rest are presented as evidence for how pernicious Fox News is to the nation. And nothing changes.
Jon Stewart accomplished his mission. (So did Colbert, and he's smartly also quit already.) He made it blatantly, glaringly, painfully, side-splittingly obvious how nasty a piece of work are Fox News, Roger Ailes, the Koch Brothers, the Republican Party, and so on.
What use would it be for Jon Stewart to continue? I think he is smart enough to realize the answer is, "no use." I wonder if Stewart has come to the realization that he too is "hurting America," just like he told CNN's Crossfire host all those years ago.
We have become Skinner's pigeons pecking for morsels of food. We get rewarded for the same behaviors night after night. We laugh, we roll on the floor, we have tears flowing from the brilliance of how Jon Stewart and his team have identified the madness that is American politics and media. And we do nothing about it. No action gets taken. Nothing changes. Fox News continues its blatant lying. Greedy politicians continue taking bribes (stop calling it campaign contributions) from corporate interests. All the folly persists. And the laughs continue. The comfortable continue afflicting, and the afflicted never get comfortable.
This has become a very cozy media ecosystem for liberals and conservatives. The conservatives know that the Daily Show is, in the end, and always has been, harmless. No need to change one's ways, however unethical, immoral, or illegal, simply because Jon Stewart has pointed out those ways. Nobody will remember by the next evening, when a new parade of folly is presented for the Daily Show's audience.
A lot of people, including a lot of media types and pundits, are bemoaning Stewart's departure. "We need you," they say. Especially for the 2016 presidential race. How will we possibly digest the goings on in 2016 without Stewart's commentary?
And there lies the rub. It's high time we LEARN to. Fun and scathingly satirical the Daily Show may be, its mission has been accomplished for years. It's time to stop treating the nation's problems as entertainment. It's time to start treating them as problems actually needing solving, instead of fodder for momentary satire. I have for years felt that the very scrutiny that the Daily Show has provided on outrageous corporate, media, and political misdeeds was in fact making it easier for such misdeeds to squeak out of actual scrutiny that might actually stop the misdeeds in the first place. Instead of an Inspector General documenting the failures of government in a way that might force change, we have a talented comedian amusing the nation and now for a commercial break.
The Comedy Central channel has succeeded in creating an entity that could thrive right in the thick of the political/media/corporate ecosystem. Over its 15+ years CC's Daily Show has taken on a key role in that ecosystem. It's a player. It's a platform. It can be used by all parties, good and evil, liberal and conservative. It found an audience, and got them hooked. But nothing's changed. Stewart is a one-percenter just like the one-percenters he mocks every night on TV. He lives in a completely different world than most people. I suspect he knows this, dislikes the irony of it, and perhaps this is another reason he chose to get out.
I am glad he's getting out before the real insanity of the 2016 presidential race begins. We, the audience members of The Daily Show, don't need it anymore to know what is bullshit and what is not. Stewart spent a huge chunk of his life educating us, honing (if we were paying attention) our bullshit detectors to spot from a million miles away the slightest nonsense spoken as fact anywhere in the news.
Of all the Daily Show people, I think John Oliver is being the most effective right now. His new show goes deep on issues, and he makes valid points. The question is, will anything change, or will we once again just turn to Oliver's show for mild amusement, perhaps a momentary dose of outrage, and then switch back to selfies and cat photos on Instagram, what outrage, what issue? Who? La de da.
We do not need Stewart or Colbert anymore. I believe they know this. They're smart guys. I think they realized the time had come to kick themselves, and us, out of the nest. It is time for us all to fly and fend for ourselves.
Monday, July 21, 1969, 46 years ago tomorrow, the front page of The New York Times looked like this:
What an amazing time. I mean, just look at that front page. Back on July 20, 1969, the paper only cost---it's right there, up at the top right---"10 CENTS." Can you imagine that? What a time to be alive. Big, thick newspapers full of news. Might take hours to read. Only set you back a dime. How did they do it? What amazing technology did they use to accomplish such a feat? At that price, why, everybody could afford to read the paper.
You know how some bloggers and news sites have occasional posts called "I get email..." which then print some crazy email that was sent, followed by pithy commentary?
Well, this is sort of like that. Only weirder.
See, I get LinkedIn invites....
I get a steady stream of them. I'm sure many of you do. Today I got one from this woman, let's call her Zoe G. (not her real name), from NBC Universal. Wants to connect via LinkedIn. So I am thinking to myself, who the heck is Zoe G.? How do I know her? How does she know me? Usually the invites I get are from exotic unpronouncable names of people in India or Thailand or Russia or somewhere, and it's clearly spam. Occasionally some sales rep or someone I shook hands with at some event or exchanged 10 words in a single email with 5 years ago or something...
Zoe G... how would I know this person? I view her LinkedIn page. Recent college grad. Huge red flag, that. Usually means I don't know the person. Current job: Account Executive at NBC Universal. Meaning: sales rep. Right.
When in doubt, go search old emails. So I go search old emails. Boom, a bunch of back-and-forth emails from September/October 2014. In August 2014 I'd gone to an NBCUniversal website that media people use to get access to clips from NBC's giant archive going back many decades. I'd found this NBC News special program that aired during the summer of 1967 about computers in education, featuring a segment on the PLATO system. Naturally I had to see it. There is so little footage of PLATO and the PLATO folks from the 60s that any such finding is a major eureka moment. So, I filled out an account on NBCUniversal and submitted my request. And waited.Then, I get an email from this Zoe G.:
I replied with details on my project, and reiterated everything I had already submitted to NBC Universal when I originally filled out the form. (I was thinking, why is some seeming sales rep contacting me asking for info on my project when I already submitted all that info, through their own web form? Can't she just go look that up?)
A month goes by. Silence.
Then, on October 14, I sent a follow-up email asking, well, what's up? You wrote to me, I replied, then silence... On October 15 I get the reply:
I sat there shaking my head. What about her offer to help? What about her willingness to make sure I found everything that I needed? What about her willingness to put me in touch with the appropriate person on her end to help me "get some research together [sic]"?
What is it about the TV industry anyway. You try to abide by their rights process, and they're too stupid and lazy to even follow their own protocol. So I replied and reminded Zoe that I had already filled out a personal request form on day one of signing up on NBCUniversal.
That triggered this breezy reply:
Shaking my head in disgust again. I tell you, what one has to go through to get documents, videos, and other research materials from archives, when it is the very archives that hold on to them make it nigh impossible to get said access. I've had this situation dozens of times over the years. The banality of a disinterested bureaucracy supposedly set up to help researchers obtain material out of their archive...
That Was Then, This is Now.
Which brings us to today. I get a LinkedIn Invite from . . . Zoe G. The same person who blew me off last October when I was trying to get access to the 1967 NBC News video. Now she wants to connect via LinkedIn. Can you believe it? I mean, think about it.
I wrote back to her and told her how mind-bogglingly weird it was to receive a request from her on LinkedIn considering the only interactions we ever had were back last year when she blew me off at the virtual counter waiting in virtual line to get access to stuff in their vast archive. I told her, look, you want to be best buddies over LinkedIn, here's what you do: get me the video. I don't care how you do it. Just get me the video so I can review it for my book. You do that, and not only will we connect via LinkedIn, but I'll profusely publicly thank you in the Acknowledgements section of my book once it comes out.
Ball is now in her court.
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