When an adult puts his ear to the door of youth culture, he inevitably mistakes the noise for the signal – and usually misses the signal altogether. So we have media blogger Scott Karp reeling back in horror from his visit to MySpace. It is, he tells us, “a DEEPLY DISTURBING place,” rife with “sexually suggestive or explicit content.” There’s even a hint of “murder” in the air. It is “humanity in the raw.”
Excuse me while I go sign up for an account.
What’s most fascinating about Karp’s post, though, is not his reaction to MySpace but his reaction to his reaction to MySpace. Having offered a moral critique – a visceral one – he suddenly goes all wobbly. “I’m not going to do a moral critique of MySpace or Web 2.0 or anything else — that’s not my gig,” he says. Then he says it again, with caps: “let me be repeat — this is NOT a moral critique. It’s a practical, business critique.” A wise retreat, I suppose. Moral critiques are so uncool. They’re the surest way to lose your web cred.
Still, I liked the outburst, the act of recoiling. It was real. The “practical, business critique” seems forced in comparison: “‘Social media’ may be all the rage, but ‘society’ functions best somewhere in between anarchy and fascism. Let it drift too far to one extreme, and things can get ugly. And when things get ugly, it’s hard to sell advertising.” That’s automatic writing, and when it’s not platitudinous it’s wrong. Ugly’s edgy, and edgy’s where advertisers want to be. Did Paris Hilton lose her endorsement deals when her naughty video leaked onto the web? Hell no. She got bigger and better ones.
A lot of bloggers hammered Karp for being an alarmist, for questioning the social-media orthodoxy. One went so far as to compare MySpace to a bicycle: Kids can get hurt on both, right? So what’s the big deal? Maybe I’m misremembering, but I think my old banana bike was a pretty wholesome toy, even with the mile-high wheelie bar. Riding it around the neighborhood with my friends was a way to get some exercise and fresh air, to see things in three dimensions, to escape “my space.” MySpace seems a little different.
Fred Wilson, a blogging venture capitalist, sees in MySpace the signs of a great emancipation:
We are at the dawn of the age of personalized media. The web has given the world a place where the audience is the publisher and what we are witnessing (and hopefully participating in) is the personalization of media. It will manifest itself in many strange and wonderful ways. And I am embracing it; for me, for my kids, and for the rest of my life.
I guess you see what you want to see. When I look around MySpace I don’t see much that’s “strange and wonderful” – or “deeply disturbing,” either. I wish I did. What I see is a dreary sameness, a vast assembly of interchangeable parts. Everything feels secondhand: the pimps-and-hos poses before the cameraphone, the ham-fisted, cliche-choked blog-prose. It’s sad to see so much effort put into self-expression with so little to express. Humanity in the raw? No, this is humanity boiled to blandness in the tin pot of personalization.
There was another blogger who responded to Scott Karp’s post by comparing the effect of MySpace to that of Elvis’s gyrating hips back in the fifties: The old folks didn’t get it then, and they don’t get it now. But MySpace isn’t anything like Elvis. It’s more like Jim Morrison limply exposing himself on stage in Miami in 1969: an enervated pantomime, force turned to farce.
I’ll tell you what scares me about MySpace. It’s not how dangerous it is, but how safe.