It is time for another history lesson (yes, you can all groan now). In the mid to late 1990s, when I first took steps into the fun and freaky world of the Internet, the World Wide Wait, as it was then mockingly called, was a very different place. One of the promises it implied was that it would, to an extent, level out the playing field between independent vendors and the big corporate media conglomerate that in 1999 controlled more than 80 percent of what we saw and heard on other media. It was just as easy to search for independent artists with superior quality product as it was to search for whatever the RIAA’s mediocre, overprocessed flavour of the month was. Easier, in fact, because multinational corporations like those which the RIAA represented were doing a fine job of putting their fingers in their ears and pretending that this whole Internet thing was going to go away soon. But there also emerged questions concerning how to use this new medium to advertise or even sell product. Selling things by mail order proved to be relatively easy, just using the World Wide Web as a storefront to arrange payment by credit card and delivery by whatever means the customer was willing to pay the money for.
But then the big corporations realised that not only was the Internet not going away, it posed a very real and viable threat to the monopoly they held over traditional media. A good example of how threatened they felt was the whole Metallica lawsuit against one file-sharing service I am not going to mention by name. Partly because there are people I met during my joke of an attempt to study who will not recognise the name at all, but mostly because the name is fukking stupid and sets off that whole allergic reaction my mind has to baby-ish sounds. But the important point here is that, contrary to how they like to portray themselves or let the youngsters of the present day think, the big corporations in traditional media were (and to some extent still are) shit-scared of the Internet. A medium where American teenagers can read articles that have a positive attitude towards sexuality and related health? A medium where the mentally ill, autistic, or otherwise hard-wired to be different can confer and learn from one another? All of these things absolutely horrified the traditionals, and for all of the expected reasons.
The approach that the traditionals took to attempt to neutralise this new media was confused and, it has to be said, strategically retarded at first. At first, they attempted to draw people away by trying to play up the severe disparity in quality that online media had compared to traditional formats (and to an extent still does). This was successful to some extent, but the people who were truly cognisant of this difference dealt with it by straddling both media. After all, if one could learn of new material to investigate in the real world by finding it online, it was pretty much the best of both worlds. And the thing about traditional media consumption is that even when one only buys or discovers new media product in the real world, the sad truth is that once you have lost a customer or consumer for your traditional media product, your chances of getting them back are very slim indeed.
I mentioned the pack of idiots known as Metallica earlier. Since I need to concrete my last statement with an example, and as one review stated, the Great Wall Of China could not stop their stupid from flooding over what little clever they have, I cannot think of one better. In any medium or artform, there are a few ways one can retain an audience. One can be the absolute best possible in the form, a difficult task when there are always competitors looking for any edge they can find in order to make themselves better. And in a world where people are always competing, being the best of the best for any length of time is a difficult ask. I can only think of a small handful of artists who have any claim on having achieved this feat, and the only specific name that comes to mind is Jimi Hendrix. So that leaves the possibility of being so unique and different from the rest of the pack that people buy your work because they cannot find any other examples of people who do it at all, leave alone ones who do it as well or better. Again, finding actual examples of this is very, very difficult. I could name Tiny Tim or “Weird Al” Yankovic as examples, but there are probably similar artists whom I have only failed to hear of due to not making it quite so far towards a wider audience. Which leaves me with the third option that the traditionals and big conglomerates tend to prefer: to keep your audience thinking that your product is the best or only example of its kind, irrespective of whether this is true or not. Using Metallica as an example again, the RIAA knew that they had missed the boat and then some in terms of convincing the world that Metallica was the sole example of what they did. Even if you limit the scope to bands that play at an accelerated tempo, the existence of artists like Megadeth made it pretty impossible to convince an audience that this was the sole example. And the ilk of Exodus made convincing audiences that either Metallica or Megadeth were there first a fool’s gambit at best.
So from about the mid-1980s onward, the RIAA tried to convince those of us out in the audience that this foursome of idiots were the best, the absolute peak example. And to be fair to the marketeers, this tactic was well-chosen for a time. But when the Internet and the channeling of information that it provided gave artists like My DyING BRIDE, Therion, Immortal, or Bolt-Thrower a medium where they had an equal or even better chance of finding an audience, it all came crashing down. Traditional media articles even tried to describe Metallica as (and I quote) “the masters” of the genre/sub-genre, the audience that had begun outgrowing what I will now refer to as baby toy bands like Metallica laughed uproariously. Although they were slow to notice this, the fact that the sales of safetied, neutered “artists” like Metallica were declining whilst what I will refer to as the genuine article were experiencing tenfold increases in their sales cannot have completely escaped the RIAA’s attention. So, like all entities that want to control public thought, they decided that if they were not going to be allowed to monopolise this new medium, they were going to make it a zero-sum game.
That, friends and neighbours, is the real reason why things like the iTunes store et al exist. Look at their online stores and note how little effort there is to serve the desires or needs of the customer. Want your music in a losslessly-compressed format? Or in a format that is of a superior quality to the ageing Compact Disc specification? Do not bother trying to find it on iTunes. And the less we say about finding music there that is made by independent vendors of any kind, the better. In fact, this now two year old article on TNL.net details what a major threat to independent creativity and media Apple really has become. That dream MP3’s proponents had about artists being able to sell their music directly to users, without traditional labels or vendors bloating out the cost? Well, it is dead, and Apple killed it. (While we are on the subject, people often take the fact that I use computers running OS X as an endorsement of all of Apple’s business practises. Nothing could possibly be further from the truth. Whilst OS X is a beautifully-designed operating system that shits on Windoze from a height comparable to the distance between here and Proxima Centaurii, the fact remains that Apple’s business practises, including in terms of how they sell OS X, are fukking appalling.) And that is the whole point. Companies like Apple realised that rather than fighting the Internet, the best way to neutralise the threat that it posed was to absorb it and imitate it in a similar manner to what we see in John Carpenter‘s production of The Thing. The idea that a musician might be able to offer his work to consumers at a cost that reflects the fact that neither’s income has increased over the past thirty years, in a form that does not necessitate the user paying for each and every copy, terrifies the RIAA.
The idea that the Internet is not just a two-way medium, but rather an every-which-way medium in which one person can put out a message and be heard by anyone who stumbles across them, also terrifies certain purveyors of messages. The Central Intelligence Agency, for example, just about shits itself with the idea that stories concerning its more unsavoury behaviour can be written up as text and distributed to every part of the world. The American government, if one treats it as a separate entity to the C.I.A., is likely presently quite frightened of the fact that any idiot with a computer can look and see that by a number of different measures, America’s performance in terms of resource expenditure and standard of living is actually quite poor. Authors like Stephenie Meyer are probably very upset that people who mistake their work for being good can see informed critical anylses of their content, including Meyer‘s frankly abusive models of domestic relationships. I, for one, do not want my nieces encountering Meyer‘s novels in ten to fifteen years’ time and mistaking the relationship(s) between its central characters for being romantic, or even normal. And thanks to the Internet, my sister can load up pages that explain why these relationships should be seen as abusive, and show them to her daughters, and explain to them what it all means.
Which brings me to what the biggest problem facing the Internet today is. One might despair of all the attempts to legally censor the Internet that have sprung up in countries all around the world, and that is also a valid concern. But nobody seems to be paying much mind to the ongoing corporatisation of the Internet. And that is a problem. In over thirty years of increasing deregulation, no medium of information exchange has improved in terms of diversity in viewpoint. The Internet will not be any different. After corporations like General Electric buy services like WordPress or one of its competitors, how long do you think it will be before its main owners decide that people who are autistic and openly identify themselves as such should not be allowed to publish on that site? Do not kid yourself that it will not happen. Bob and Suzanne Wright do not tend to look favourably upon dissenting points of view.
This is why strict regulation in order to prevent concentration of ownership not only in the media but also the Internet is needed. The concentration of Internet access control into the hands of large corporations has already taken a toll upon the working people. Even in urban or suburban locations are paying too much in return for too little, and the quality of service in what we will call rural locations is beyond appalling. If electricity and telephone services in such locations were as pathetic as their Internet services, people would be marching through the streets in protest. And regulating advertising services on the Internet in order to prevent terrible mismatchings of user, author, and adverts is especially important. You might not think it is a bad thing to find advertisements for Autism Speaks on the Fudgebook site of an autistic teenager. But you would be outraged if I took your argument to its logical extreme and told you that neo-Nazis should be allowed to advertise their sites on Holocaust remembrance sites. But the difference between that and allowing Autism Speaks to flash their propaganda in the faces of or on the sites of people on the autistic spectrum is zero. None. Zilch. Nada. Zip. If you think differently, then you are part of the problem on that score.