issue 032 • 2020-09-13
Doing My Part to Support the Independent Web
One of those things that I find so enjoyable about this newsletter, even compared to a blog, is that I get to be a bit more descriptive about the things I enjoy, why I enjoy them, and the quirks of my personality.
If you’ve been a reader of my blog, my Twitter, or this newsletter over the ages, you’ve probably discerned that I’m a big proponent of the earlier incarnations of the internet, before we had everything funneled to us through social media, we needed adblockers to get through the websites we wanted to read, and “content” was a state-of-mind, versus the end result of things like “pivoting to video”. Not to go all “35-Year-Old-Man Yells At Cloud” here, but it was a more exciting and more pure time for the web. Dialing on was an adventure, and you never knew the unique insights and voices you’d come across…versus now, when everything is everywhere, and you’re acutely aware of just how racist your old high school friends have become.
In turn, I was very excited when Defector launched this week.
Last October, after years of mistreatment, the entire staff of Deadspin — a website which is technically about sports, but really uses sports as the conduit to view into so many aspects of life, such as politics, modern society, and fandom — collectively left G/O Media (nee Gizmodo Media, nee Gawker Media) after the ousting of their Editor-in-Chief.
Nearly a year later, the whole band is back together, not only to establish a website which returns their voice to an Internet which sorely needs it, but also to prove that a modern media site can survive — if not thrive — independently without the funding of anyone but their own fanbase.
They laid it all out much more eloquently in their opening post, “How We Got Here”:
Everything’s fucked now. Newspapers have been destroyed by raiding private equity firms, alt-weeklies and blogs are financially unsustainable relics, and Google and Facebook have spent the last decade or so hollowing out the digital ad market. What survives among all this wreckage are websites and publications that are mostly bad. There’s plenty to read, the trouble is that so much of it is undergirded by a growing disregard (and in some cases even disdain) for the people doing the actual reading.
What readers are being served when a sports blog leverages its technological innovations in order to create a legion of untrained and unpaid writers? Who benefits when a media company cripples its own user experience and launches a campaign to drive away some of its best writers and editors? Whose interests are being served when a magazine masthead is gutted and replaced by a loose collection of amateurish contractors? Who ultimately wins when publications start acting less like purpose-driven institutions and more like profit drivers, primarily tasked with achieving exponential scale at any cost? What material good is produced when private equity goons go on cashing their checks while simultaneously slashing payroll throughout their newsrooms? Things have gotten so bad that even publications that get away with defining themselves as anti-establishment are in fact servile to authority in all forms, and exist for the sole purpose of turning their readers into a captive source of profit extraction.
The truth is that nobody who matters—the readers—ever asked for any of this shit. Every bad decision that has diminished media—every pivot to video, every injection of venture capital funds, every round of layoffs, every outright destruction of a publication—was only deemed necessary by the constraints of capitalism and dull minds. This is an industry being run by people who, having been betrayed by the promise of exponential scale and IPOs, now see cheapening and eventually destroying their own products as the only way to escape with whatever money there is left to grab.
The ability of Defector to escape these constraints will depend not only on the quality of our work, but on our ability to avoid feebly chasing dollars through a collapsing digital ad economy. We want the freedom to provide you with a site, custom-built by our partners at Alley Interactive, that isn’t clogged with pop-up ads, banner ads, video ads, and chum boxes full of spammy headlines explaining how That One Girl From Full House Looks Like A Damn Snack Now.
That sort of freedom requires money, and that is why this site’s ability to sustain itself will depend on the money we get from our subscribers. Our goal is to create a financially stable and independent publication that exists for reasons beyond squeezing out profits for some people in a boardroom, or fattening itself up for an acquisition.
This is the best way we can go about creating a site that works for you and not some replacement-level executive whose sole ambitions are to make money and look down on people. It’s how we prevent the downward pressure that comes from the frantic and endless search for new revenue streams from worsening the product we ultimately deliver to you.
What can I say, this was a siren song which felt as if it was being sung directly to me.
So, I’ve subscribed.
Surprising, right? I’m not really a “sports guy”…so why give them my money? That’s true, I’m not a sports guy. At least for sports which aren’t at least discernibly scripted.
But I am a guy who is incredibly fascinated with sports culture, its effect on the world around us, and I love the voices of the writers who have boarded this pirate ship of their own making. From annual round-ups of why every NFL franchise sucks, to serious discussions about how this year has proved (despite every effort otherwise) that sports don’t truly matter, and bizarre discussions about houses found on Zillow, this is content which deserves to exist. And maybe you feel that way too.
Now, onto the things…
Thing #1: 5000 Voices Without A Sound
I guess this is the unofficial sports issue of the newsletter.
As an event promoter myself, and someone who is watching these COVID-be-damned-sports-seasons with ghoulish attention, I’m fascinated by how each league, each country has embraced the new unusual usual.
From CG fans on Fox Sports to bubbles to literally no one in attendance, it’s resulted in surreal scenes, meanwhile, in Japan where COVID is slowly being eradicated, Mokoto Rich at the New York Times takes us to a venue of 5,000 fans…where not a sound is to be made.
As the players drove the ball down the field, I suddenly heard the distinct crinkle of a plastic bag a full four rows in front of me, where a man was pulling out a chicken drumstick to eat.
This was the sound of Japanese professional soccer in the era of the coronavirus.
While the major sports leagues in the United States and Europe are playing mostly before empty stands or cardboard cutouts, fans in Japan have been attending games since early July, after a four-month hiatus.
But there are trade-offs.
In normal times, Japanese fans are not only loud, they are also extremely orchestrated and utterly disciplined. Nonstop through a match, they sing, cheer, chant, bang drums and wave enormous team flags — a boisterous spectacle that often rivals the actual play on the field for entertainment value.
Now, most of those activities are banned for fear that people might be roused into a frenzy of shouting, with any spray becoming a vector for spreading the virus.
Check it out here.
Thing 2: The Ringer Celebrates 35 Years of Super Mario
In yet another scenario determined to allow the universe to remind me of my fastidiously decomposing flesh husk, Nintendo is celebrating thirty-five-goddamned-*years of Super Mario Bros.*.
The fun kicks off for gamers on Friday, September 18th, as Super Mario Bros. 3D All Stars hits the Nintendo Switch, with ports of beloved Mario games Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy, but the team at The Ringer decided to give the world’s favorite plumber an early piece of birthday cake with a series of articles about the character.
They look back at The Wizard, discuss the many roles Mario has played over the years, and even revisit the live-action 90’s TV series, but most importantly, deserve a Pulitzer for the greatest headline ever committed to print: “But Seriously, Fuck the ‘Duck Hunt’ Dog”.
Check it out here.
Thing #3: 20 Years of At the Drive-In’s ‘Relationship of Command’
A memory which remains incredibly vibrant in my head is from my sophomore year of high school.
My parents were out of town, working a trade show. Though I had a family friend to check-in with every day, I had the house to myself. And, like any latch-key kid of the late-90’s/early-00’s, I was spending it watching a lot of TV.
It was a weekday morning, like any other, and I, for whatever reason, woke up at 4am. I turned on the TV in my room (which had cable, because of course it did, #OnlyChild), and put on MTV, as this was one of the few times of day when the network aired pure music videos. A new video aired, with a look, feel and sound unlike anything else I had seen before.
The song? “One-Armed Scissor.” The band? At the Drive-In.
This song, this video, this moment is one of those highs I continue to look for even now as an adult every time I throw a new song or a new album on. A sound, a perspective, a voice which is unlike anything else I’ve heard before, but resonates so deeply with my tastes.
The album it was from, Relationship of Command, came out just a few weeks later, and I wore that sucker out. And of course, the band, infamously, broke up just weeks later.
Turns out that was 20(!) years ago this week, and in turn, Tom Breihan at Stereogum looks back at the album it was, its impact, and even touches on the mostly-OK reunion(s) the band has had since.
Relationship Of Command should frankly not exist. It’s a product of contradictions and paradoxes, piled up on top of each other into a teetering tower. At The Drive-In may have been America’s finest basement punk band, and yet they had ambitions that stand starkly at odds with the entire culture of basement punk, especially in the ’90s. They were a predominantly Mexican-American group from a border town, coming out of Texas at the same time as their fellow Texan George W. Bush was getting ready to steal a presidential election. They signed to Grand Royal, a label dedicated to Beastie buddies who were largely content to play around in the Beasties’ kitsch-culture sandbox, but they came out ripping with a sense of force and passion that even the Beasties hadn’t shown in years. And they went to work with Ross Robinson, the producer whose work with Korn and Limp Bizkit was most responsible for turning late-’90s alterna-rock radio into an anti-human hellscape. That is a flammable combination of elements.
The best thing about Relationship Of Command is that you can hear that instability, that readiness to explode. Relationship Of Command is an album full of crazy, seesawing dynamics. There’s no tension and release. Instead, the tension is the release. At The Drive-In were dealing with the same turn-of-the-millennium anxieties that Radiohead were putting into Kid A around the same time. But At The Drive-In weren’t turning those anxieties into experimental architecture. Instead, they were screaming them out them with rabid intensity and muscular John Woo bullet-time grace.
Check it out here.
Until next time…
A quick request/plug/shameless bit of promotion, dear friends!
This Thursday Night, September 17th, myself and my dear friends at Super Art Fight have a show as a part of the completely virtual edition of massive gaming convention PAX, PAX Online. Our show is from 11pm-12am Eastern/8pm-9pm Pacific.
It’d mean the world to me if you could give it a spin, or at least tell two friends.
The action can be seen first hand at Twitch.tv/PAX. You’ll have fun. Promise.
Don’t be a jerk. Wear a mask. Register to vote. See you next week.