Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The Dog Faced Boy

Somebody kindly noticed that I haven't blogged in a while and it's hard in less than 1000 words to explain why. For weeks now I've been feeling a sense of spiritual exhaustion with the internet. I still use it daily, reading about the things that interest me, but even when I'm being selective about the places I visit, there's something about the web that still makes me despair.

It would be difficult to give one example but to give one example: I hate the ubiquity of Outbrain's promotions on nearly every website I visit. I get tired of seeing those tempting headlines at the bottom of articles which you know will take you straight to a website overburdened with advertising wrapped around content nothing like originally advertised. The web is like being trapped in a carnival freaktent with every exit sealed and some guy constantly barking the same instructions in your ear to come look at the dog-faced boy. Come look at the dog faced boy. This way for the dog faced boy. Come and see him. Dog faced boy...

Things get even worse in social media, which I now avoid like it's some kind of West African blood plague. Yesterday I noticed that Colin Brazier, from Sky News, was being attacked on Twitter because he'd examined some luggage found amid the debris of flight MH17. He was wrong to do what he did but the level of hatred is depressingly familiar. People want his job, want to bring Sky News down, when the reality is that a good journalist made a bad mistake in a context that few of us can barely imagine and for which he immediately apologised.

And I think that's what this comes down to. There is a notable lack of generosity in the world. Not just financial generosity (though there is that too) but a generosity of spirit that in better times gives rise to acts of kindness, forgiveness, and solidarity against our true oppressors.

My mood hasn't been helped by recently discovering the amazing but depressing story of the great Vivian Maier, whose photography has been obsessing me a little. For background, I'd recommend last year's excellent Alen Yentob documentary about her work but the gist of the story is this: an American nanny spends her entire life photographing life on the streets of New York and Chicago and keeps this vast achieve in storage, never sharing it with anybody. In her old age, she falls, goes into hospital, can't afford to pay for her storage lockers, so their contents go up for sale. They are sold for next to nothing. She dies from her injuries leaving others to profit from the work of a woman who if now being recognised as one of truly great photographers.

I'm no Vivian Maier and I'm not mentioning her story because my own work gets 'overlooked'.* What I am, however, is somebody who tries to produce 'things' in a world where the 'producers of things' are at the mercy of a new class of news aggregators and ebook merchants who would destroy centuries of culture for the sake of a quick dollar. Amazon sent me an email the other day announcing a new offer where I can make ebooks available for free to Amazon subscribers. If any of my books reach a certain threshold, I'd be eligible for a fraction of a few hundred thousand dollars. Sounds a great idea until you realise that it's the 'long tail' scam in new clothes. It's the death of quality publishing when a million authors make a ten dollars each, rather than earn just enough to carry on writing. I fear that we live in the age of Arianna Huffington and that the  age of Hunter S Thompson is long since past.

* A cynic might suggest I feel like this because of people's reaction to my game but, on reflection, I realise that more people actually seemed to like it than didn't reply. However, that minor victory is fairly meaningless given that the game was a poorly-timed attempt to satirise Michael Gove. Now he's no longer Education Secretary, I'd need to de-Gove the game and I really haven't the time nor the energy. I've been working on a second project, which I'm aiming directly towards the mainstream. However, I don't intend to talk about. I'm becoming a master of blowing smoke, of taking about projects that never get released. My new project will probably go the same way as the last but I'm constantly learning to do new tricks.


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