Category Archives: culture

Yahoo! Yahoo! 360!

So, through the invitation of a friend who is also a heavy social networking service user (or at least member of many), I am now on Yahoo! 360 (Beta) in addition to many other social networking sites. I think my main motivation in joining these sites is that basically, in a nerdy way, I like filling out forms (it feels like completing a test really fast and knowing all the answers) and I just get sucked in by others joining these sites. Part of me also likes the idea that maybe somebody from elementary school will find me on one of these things if I list every single place I’ve lived and every single school I’ve attended (including kindergarten in the “round building”). Of course, part of me is also slightly concerned that as cosmic punishment for offering up my data to all these sites without thoroughly researching their security and what they do with my data, I am going to be the victim of identity theft or stalking (cyber and/or real).

All that aside, after fiddling with Yahoo! 360 for all of ten minutes, it looks pretty feature rich to me (although they also don’t let you just point to your own RSS feed instead of using their blogging tool– they say it’s “coming soon”) and offers some nice privacy settings support that provides some comfort and peace of mind. Also, it’s got way better/cleaner/more professional design and since it’s not even one month old, it doesn’t seem to have the sketchiness that has become MySpace. Although I’m not sure that’s a good or bad thing. I would almost want to suggest that my friends get onto 360 as a less sketchy and more professional looking alternative to MySpace, but I don’t think that either of those things would appeal to most of my friends. They, like most people, like MySpace (and the net in general) to be where they can be a little dirty, a little less professional, and free to create some of the most difficult to read, annoying to load, multmedia rich content-filled Web pages to serve as their presence on the World Wide Web. And that, my friends, is called serendipity.

When did MySpace become so dirty?

Take a trip back and remember the clubland that was on the rise in NYC during the eighties and early nineties. Remember? They made a book, a documentary and then a movie about it with Seth Green and MacAulay Culkin and everything (Party Monster). All three pieces of media focused on the life of Michael Alig and his club kids and specifically, the murder of Angel Melendez that seemed to end it all. Now, while Angel’s death is certainly tragic and the effort to cover up the grotesque act is disturbing, I find the whole Clubland culture much more fascinating in general when it comes time to look back in history. Those crazy days of Clubland started off with some “innocent” fun– a bunch of kids dressing up in outrageous costumes and going to the clubs to become famous for being famous. There were substances, of course: alcohol, pot, ecstasy and even Special K, but soon Clubland was filled to the brim with every hard drug out there, young people were addicted and out of control and in the end, Clubland had become this weird, sleazy place with kids– some actually kids, some older trying to act like kids– reveling in some sick sex clown esthetic.

This is what it feels like sometimes on MySpace.

I signed up for a MySpace account a while ago because a friend of mine from high school said I should sign up. Now, I was already on Friendster, Orkut, and inCircle (the Stanford Alumni networking site that was the predecessor to Orkut). And since joining MySpace, I’ve also joined LinkedIn. It never stops and it’s sad really because I never do anything with those accounts after setting them up. Maybe I’ll put a new picture up once in a while when I get a good one, but that’s about it. Most of the time I usually end up using the system to reconnect with old friends. By putting myself out there on as many social networking sites I can, I hope that those I might have lost in touch with for whatever reason might be able to find me (and those I purposely lost touch with can see that I’m doing pretty well for myself). And this has been the case on most of these sites.

But who knew that MySpace would be the place I would reconnect with the most friends from high school and the like? And who knew MySpace with its janky site design (do you hear the circus music?) would beat out its more professional predecessors? Maybe it’s because MySpace, with its Tapioca Express color scheme and breadth of services (even though quantity not quality seems to be the rule here) hit it big when attracting young people to a place where they can easily put together an online profile, develop their own Web presence and use it to do a whole variety of things, from making new friends, reconnecting with old friends, tell each other about what’s going on in their lives, etc. Of course, the biggest thing that has happened is the downright naughtiness that has sprung up and taken over. Browse through the profiles and you’ll see a lot of photos of underage girls willing to show just about anything and equally clad guys just as eager to say anything.

Case in point: when I’m on these networking sites, I usually limit my interactions to those I know in real life and use the service as a way to come together in one virtual space to send notes to each other, let us know what’s going on in each others lives, maybe even introduce mutual friends, etc. It serves as a compliment to my social life in the real world. But now, on MySpace, aside from getting in touch with some old friends I haven’t talked to in almost 10 years, I also get the random messages asking for friendship/answer to a question or just plain out fucking. See, you take away most of the barriers to visibility, access and opportunity and we all just break down to the lowest common demonominator: sex.

Some examples of messages I have received:

Hello there. I ran across your profile on myspace and I think that you are very attractive. Check out my profile to see what you think of me and if you like what you see, you can email me at […] or message me on Yahoo ([…] is my screen name). I hope to hear from you soon.

Which is not that bad. It’s actually very nice. But here’s another one:

i’m checking my heart beats. think i’m missing one—omg…since i’m writing you personally i dont mind saying… you look fucking hot!! i would love to do you some “bad” things;)
anyway i’m not much of a writer but can talk (with an accent though;))
so if you feel comfortable gimme a call sometime. you are invited for milk and cookies;)

Does this work? Do these lines make women drop their panties and just want to fuck? I don’t know. It just seems like to me that no matter how attractive he might think I am, how could he really tell with the picture I have up there? It’s just a head shot and probably one of the more tame pictures out there compared to the naughty naughty stuff 15 and 16 year olds will put up there. Maybe I just have a look about me that invites trouble.

Now, facilitation of more risque (or at least “taboo”) and random sexual experiences has been a tried and true use of the Internet. However, for the most part, when people go on the net looking for “anonymous” sex, they usually try to stay just that: anonymous. They use pseudonyms and screennames, lie about their personal lives (spouses and the like), put up fake photos of themselves. And while people have certainly become more open about using the Internet for these kinds of interactions (just check out the casual encounters section on craigslist), I don’t know if they’re necessarily willing to divulge their identities so openly. But on MySpace, with the exception of the occasional fake celebrity profile, people seem surprisingly willing to a) divulge real and true information about themselves and b) be frank and open about their search for sex. Maybe it’s the simplicity of MySpace that invites a group of people that may be considered less “net savvy” (just take a look at some of the crap people put on their profile pages), but who they are, branch out to reconnect with old friends, and yet still reinvent themselves into something bigger and better and look for a way to meet new people and have new experiences…

Social networks

I am on way too many social networking sites for my own good:

And to be honest, I always feel like an asshole whenever I fill out the profiles on these sites– I usually just cut and paste from another site. I’m basically just making up whatever is on my mind at the moment, including descriptions of my work experience. If you had my job, you’d know that the focus of my job changes about every three months whether I like it or not and more often than not, I’m a jack of all trades.

The only real benefit I think I’ve gotten from these social networking sites is reconnecting with old friends, which is valuable in and of itself, but I don’t know if it’s worth the subconscious inferiority I feel when I don’t have a lot of friends/connections.

Fan fiction hits the stands?

I was at the Palo Alto Borders yesterday and saw that it had a “Gay Book Club.” Well, being the fag hag that I am, I took a look at the book list and a particular title caught my attention: Never Tear Us Apart. From what I can tell, this book along with the others in the series contain original storylines based on the characters from the television show, Queer as Folk. Um, isn’t that fan fiction? And if it weren’t for the fact that the show is already about gay men, it would certainly be slash fan fiction.

From my experience, fan fiction writers (along with their other fan culture counterparts) have always existed in this underground realm, exchanging stories via homemade zines and now, thanks to the Internet, via chat rooms and the Web. And thankfully, most of the time, The Powers That Be in the entertainment industry usually just look the other way. While most of these works are considered “derivative” and ride the fine lines between fair use, parody, satire, and flat out copyright infringement, they are usually expressions of deep love for the originating works (not to mention the original producers responsible for those works) and drive the growth of a deeply committed fan base that, in the end, only strengthen the success of the original television series, movie, etc. The first recognized fan fiction grew out of fan love for “Star Trek” and despite what some may consider prurient use of Star Trek characters and storylines as slash fan fiction embraced the homoerotic subtext between Kirk and Spock, I would certainly argue that the Star Trek franchise has only had greater success and sustained the test of time better than any other franchise thanks to the “derivative” work of its dedicated fans.

But how strange to see a formally, officially published version of what could only be called fan fiction! Of course, this isn’t the first time this has happened– lots of entertainment franchises publish “supplementary” books, like reader guides for the Harry Potter series or the young adult novels for “Smallville.” But these, along with Quinn Brockton’s Queer as Folk books, are somehow christened and blessed by The Powers That Be and allowing them to, get this, make money off of the derivate work that thousands, millions of devoted fans have been doing underground and for free for decades! Now that’s capitalism. Too bad we can’t lift the stigma, not to mention occasional litigation, placed on the other “rogue” fiction writers who were not so lucky to have made a quick buck on their love and dedication to the actors, artists, and characters that visit our homes and grace our television screens every week.

The shell toe and the throwback craze

I’m very excited about my new sneakers: old school adidas Superstar basketball shoes, introduced in 1969 as the first basketball shoe with an all-leather upper and rubber shell toe (not to mention the trademark adidas stripes). All Day I Dream About Sindy. Or Sex. Or Shoes, as the case may be.

All this throwback stuff is coming back into fashion and I can’t help resenting the appropriation of my childhood pop culture. I know, I’m starting to sound like a bitter old person who starts every phrase with “back in my day…”, but it’s strange to think how we spent so much time making fun of the 80’s and early 90’s and how embarassed most of us Generation X kids (hey, I still fall into the 1961-1981 bracket) became of cheesy 80’s fashion, music, and culture filled with consumerism and conspicuous consumption. And now, we embrace it in a throwback craze (like in the VH1 show “We Love the 80’s”) and Generation Y is buying old adidas shell-toe shoes and off-the-shoulder Flashdance t-shirts and sweatshirts. And look at celebrities like Will Smith— he owes his celebrity to the cheesy flourescent-colored fashions and pop rap of the Fresh Prince of Belair and now he’s promoting the old Converse basketball shoes in I, Robot.

Of course, when we embraced the old school basketball shoes, we were in a throwback crazy to 60’s style. Every generation steals from the previous one– in my mind, Baby Boomers were the last ones to really come up with something new. Since then, we’ve merely been recycling cultural artifacts and repackaging them for consumption. The commoditization of culture!