30 December 2017

The Sneakernet of Everyday Life

A couple of years after college I commenced sporadic production of a half-humorous zine as an outlet for various petty frustrations with the world of music and musicians. The focus was more personal and quotidian than on this blog, which I started around the same time. Blogging being public and more or less permanent, I have always maintained that the more personal the content the more interesting and unique it ought to be. Ditto regarding any imperative towards expression as that word is broadly and colloquially construed across The Arts. Seems to me that any such imperative is necessarily colored by several more general features of the society or social group in question, e.g. the degree of shared experience, conformity to norms, obedience to authority, and so on. In other words, most of us are not quite different enough from each other for the public airing of even the most intimate details to be the least bit interesting to our various constituencies. (And if a public airing is to be deemed necessary on purely therapeutic grounds, then the offending malaise must be a particularly virulent and contagious one indeed; on which point I must thereby beg your indulgence in suspending judgment of this meta-airing until its purpose has become clear.)

In any case, as the blog has skewed speculative, the zine has become an archive of the personal, and this dovetailed with the fact of the latter's strictly private and offline circulation. I have recently resumed production after a long hiatus and am finding it quite useful in exactly this way. The reason, however, for writing at length on all of this now is to relate a very practical use, perhaps even a necessary one, which has recently emerged and which never would have occurred to me the day I brought out the first installment.

Employers are demanding to moderate what their employees say about them online, and not even a jazz tuba player can avoid falling under surveillance. This was ostensibly the case with a certain car opera recently staged in and around LA by a company you probably haven't heard of, and it is ostensibly the case regarding my current employment with an entertainment franchise you’ve most certainly heard of. Neither of the organizations in question will ever be mentioned by name here, not by me at least, and not by you either if you happen to know me well enough to put all of this together and would like me to be able to address any new developments to the already limited extent possible under the circumstances. They will not be mentioned because as a condition of employment both demand authority to moderate online content pertaining to them, and because one is known to devote significant resources to this. (And really, what quantity of resources is not "significant" when you consider the implications of such policies and the time-is-money realities of running a business?)

For what it’s worth, I don’t have to start a limited-run, privately-circulated, dead-tree social commentary franchise with which to digest, explore, archive and (usually) exorcise the vicissitudes of such personal experience: I already have one as an existential matter if not much of a material one. What I didn’t have before was real necessity for such an outlet ("real" in this case meaning "beyond the personal")1. Thanks to the new thought police, which, like so many other rhetorical constructions of modernist dystopian thought, has coalesced fragmentarily and incrementally rather than all at once, now I do.

For anyone just devoted enough to my personal concerns to be an earnest and comprehensive reader of both publications, it might be useful to think of the zine as a sort of annotated bibliography in support of the more sweeping generalizations I make here about the professional circles I inhabit, and perhaps also as a way of “blogging” on topics and experiences which would be socially ungraceful and/or professionally damaging to address publicly online. I suppose this betrays my rather cynical view of prevailing norms of social and professional comportment, but unfortunately there is almost always something arising from artists' relationships with employers and/or with each other which really ought to be addressed and brought to wider attention, i.e. for the specific purpose of giving the community a chance to look itself in the mirror. Social grace and professional viability are quite flimsy excuses for forgoing such opportunities: first, because together they amount to very little when compared to the potential chilling effect of the new reality; and second, because, as I am attempting to outline here, it is not impossible to have it both ways given the variety of media and social settings presently at our collective disposal. In any case, there won't be much worldly grace or prestige left to preserve if transparency is ritually sacrificed to branding in this arena as it already has been in so many others. Unfortunately the seemingly ideal online platforms which emerged in the 1990s are in the 2010s now equally ideal for surveillance. Hence the ongoing need for a Sneakernet of Everyday Life.

1. Again, is “personal” necessity ever better than oxymoronic vis-a-vis the act of telling others about yourself? And does the therapeutic value of artistic "expression" really hinge on the act of public presentation over and beyond private creation? Even if the answer is simply, "It depends," these two questions are always worth pondering before hitting the Send button. Ask me how I know.

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