The ads along the sides or in a line at the top on gmail are triggered by whttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifhatever is said in the message. I get that. Sometimes they are so out of sync with the sense that they are funny and I add them as a post script. Then my correspondents and I began to understand that we weren’t getting the same ads, presumably because of different demographics, so it was clear the computer algorithm was including several factors. Region, maybe, or previous purchases.
Today on “,” (www.here-now.org), a favorite lunchtime talk show, Robin Young interviewed a couple of wild characters who were editing a magazine called “The Exile” in Moscow. The 3/22/10 program is called “Tales From The Dark Side Of Post-Soviet Russia.”
The tale goes as follows:
“In 1997, Mark Ames founded The Exile, an English language newspaper that took on the establishment of post-Soviet Russia in ways no other journalism dared. After the fall of communism, a series of political and economic reforms sent Russian society into a tailspin, but nobody was writing about it… except The Exile. Mark Ames and partner Matt Taibbi went native, immersing themselves into the culture and sub-culture to get the truth — a truth that they say was ignored by the mainstream press. We speak with Mark Ames, as well as James Verini, who writes about the rise and fall of The Exile in the current issue of Vanity Fair.”
It was pure wild-man expose, making Cinematheque look like rubber duckies in the wake of these guys rocketing through on Zodiacs. The story, which is archived online as a sound file, told about joining the corrupt and decadent (to say nothing of lethal) Moscow culture to find out about it. Stunts like “loading up on Viagra” in order to “test drive” nine prostitutes in nine hours. Since Viagra was originally developed as a heart drug that expands capillaries and congests both heart and brain, the guy was lucky to live through the experience. It is counter-indicated for people who have heart problems and this guy is a former athlete, almost all of whom have such overdeveloped bodies that their hearts struggle. He would have had a helluva headache if he’d been drug-free enough to feel it, but he added cocaine to the mix. There comes a point when this stuff is just suicide by adventure. Is that more than you want to know?
That’s not the point I want to make. The article itself was supposed to be in Vanity Fair this month. So I got my copy and looked for the article. It’s not there. It was online, but not in my copy of the magazine. Evidently it’s like Google: what you actually get -- even though you assume it’s standard -- has been edited to suit your demographic. I knew they were playing with several different covers for the same issue, depending on what they thought would sell. I also knew that with digital publishing it’s very possible -- and common practice -- to publish different versions of a newspaper for different parts of town. (Those who are in towns big enough to have different parts.) But I hadn’t put it together. This story was evidently considered too intense for Montana. Huh? Well, for the people in Montana who buy magazines.
When printing can only be economically done by setting up once and running huge numbers of the same thing, Texas and California by so many copies that they can control the contents of textbooks by insisting that they be tailored to their culture, meaning creationism is in, abortion is out; conservative religion is in, abstract art is out. But now that domination is potentially over. It’s not that hard to tailor texts regionally, state by state, even district by district. If they can do it for Vanity Fair, they can do it for science textbooks.
But what does that mean in terms of access to the truth? We had thought that Google was giving us fair lists of everything online. But it’s doing exactly the same thing that China is: telling us what they want us to know. Like Wikipedia, telling us what THEY want us to know. The difference between Chinese bureaucrat autocrats and over-educated, under-experienced white men of a certain class and education is no difference at all when it comes to the principle of controlling information in order to control the people. Both giving us what WE want and giving us what THEY want is still control.
So this is the next logical step in the Adam Curtis sequence leading from the group hypnotism of Hitler, to the psychoanalytic force for conformity of Freud, to the advertising and political strategies of Bernays (who relied on his own grasp of human nature), and the current questionnaire-controlled spin that manipulates us in so many ways. Why fuss around with a questionnaire asking us what we think when they can simply edit the facts -- alter the evidence -- in a way that causes us to think what they want us to.
When I realized the article about THE EXILE was missing from my copy of Vanity Fair, I resorted to the online website. THE EXILE was there and I read it. I also read the comments, which split half-and-half between the opinion that these guys were brilliant and daring and the opposite: that they were minority nut cases. They should be censored. Children might read the article.
Yesterday I had a long talk with a fairly sophisticated Blackfeet educator. He remarked that the kids now (and by kids we meant people under forty) seem frozen, unexcited about anything at all, floating like zombies, except that if anyone tried to force them or coerce them, they blew up -- violently. I can testify that it’s not just a rez phenom. I think it is a denial based on fear. To borrow an image from my recent movie, they are in a mine field, afraid to move for fear of setting off explosions-- either from inside themselves or from others -- so they freeze. They cannot stand the fog of ambiguity and not-really-knowing that is the modern world. They cannot reflect on possibility. They cannot reach out. They refuse to risk.
Call Mark Ames and Matt Taibbi, Ask them whether that sounds like Moscow as they came to know it. Fear-based politics. Hang on tight. It’s not over. Is that more than you want to know?
Siren was right: her email was too long to put on comments, so I'll just add it as an edit. I have her permission.
Dear Mary Scriver,
I originally meant to post this as a comment on your blog, but alas, I'm too long-winded, and too attached to my own words to shorten what I want to say. This morning when I told Sharon (sbpoet) I'd just stumbled onto your blog, she made a delighted sound, encouraged me to comment or send an email to you, and told me if I did to tell you hello for her. So: Sharon says hello. And if you object to this email, it's totally her fault, as I probably wouldn't've written to you if she hadn't told me you were okay and that you like cats. So if you feel the need to express any complaints about some opinionated upstart contacting you out of the blue like this, you should most definitely take it up with her.
Anyhow I'm writing this in response to the last part of your blog entry (the one from earlier this week titled "What Do You Want to Know?" [March 23, 2010]), and to save you some clicking, the paragraph I'm responding to is this one:
"Yesterday I had a long talk with a fairly sophisticated Blackfeet educator. He remarked that the kids now (and by kids we meant people under forty) seem frozen, unexcited about anything at all, floating like zombies, except that if anyone tried to force them or coerce them, they blew up -- violently. I can testify that it’s not just a rez phenom. I think it is a denial based on fear. To borrow an image from my recent movie, they are in a mine field, afraid to move for fear of setting off explosions-- either from inside themselves or from others -- so they freeze. They cannot stand the fog of ambiguity and not-really-knowing that is the modern world. They cannot reflect on possibility. They cannot reach out. They refuse to risk."
Now I'm not a rez kid, but technically I'm still a kid, and since you argue this is not just a reservation-specific thing, I take that to mean you think it's a more general truth about young people everywhere. So as a young person, I feel compelled to tell you we aren't all volatile fear-frozen zombies caught in a denial-based apathy that grows from being incapable of tolerating the unknown and the inability to know.
I can't speak for other young people, of course, and I don't mean to make it sound like I think I'm a sophisticated anything, but I can tell you I'm probably more like you than I am like the kids you describe here.
Yes the unknown scares me, and I don't like it when I find out some ambiguities will always be mysterious to me, especially when those ambiguities live here inside my skin, and even more especially when they have anything to do with morality and integrity and accountability and such.
But I'm not paralyzed. I reflect on possibilities to the point of being totally insufferable about it. I look inside and try not to blink, even when I feel unsure of what I see, even when I touch something and it explodes. And I do reach out and take risks, like right now for instance, even though it makes me totally nervous, and even though pretty much everything in my life has taught me the safest thing would be to tuck deep inwards and make a hard shell. I have this thing, see, of wanting to make connections, and wanting to understand other people, and wanting to learn what I can about this place and time, this new world I'll be spending the rest of my life in, and might even have a hand in shaping someday.
So take heart. The things that matter to you matter to some of us youngsters, too. I know I'm different from a lot of people my age, so Sharon relentlessly claims anyhow, but I'm sure I'm not the only one who can feel fear and yet still dare to move. I'm sending this email, after all, ha, even though it's likely more than you wanted to know, even though you're scary-smart, even though you're a real grownup and I'm not, and even though there's no reason why I should assume someone like you would want to hear the reactions of someone like me.
I want you to know people like me exist. There are still young people who are bravely in motion, and who are not afraid of approaching this wild, amazing, confusing, foggy, frightening, mine-filled world with excitement, with wonder, and, however sappy it sounds to say it, from a principle of love.
Respectfully, if a tiny bit indignantly,
P.S. Today I've been browsing some of your entries tagged "morality" and "ethics," and I thought you might be pleased to hear you are the first person I've come across who speaks of these things in terms I might be willing to use myself. (Well, okay, I'm pleased about it, anyhow, ha.) Of course, I haven't been on the web for very long, and it seems I've been looking in all the wrong places, so maybe I've only just now hit this pocket of thinkers, and for all I know you're just one among many, but still. From what I can tell, you seem pretty cool, even including the ageism thing, and I like the way you talk about stuff.