The not-so-new media ~ theatre notes

Monday, July 02, 2007

The not-so-new media

My blogroll is shockingly out of date, causing me a minor cris de conscience. (If that's not good French, well, it's because I can't speak French). Now that time stretches before me shimmering with promise, sort of, I'll try to bring it up to speed sometime this week. The fact is, what with the blogosphere mutating like bird flu, it's quite hard to keep up.

Up in Sydney, Nicholas Pickard has an interesting meditation on the implications of the burgeoning arts blogosphere on the future of arts journalism and criticism. Unlike Nicholas, I'm not so certain that the mainstream media are whirling around the toilet bowl preparing for a final flush: one look at the Guardian website suggests that rumours of its death are premature.

All the same, here in Australia, where we have the most concentrated media ownership in the Western world, there's no doubt that anyone looking for serious discussion of the arts faces particular challenges. Only I think that's been the case for longer than anyone cares to admit: it was a problem that began in the 50s, when our best populist critics - Robert Hughes, Germaine Greer, Clive James - all moved off-shore. It's not a matter of restoring a conversation that's become dull and moribund: it's a matter of beginning it in the first place.

I'm not an internet utopian: I've never believed that the web is the answer to all ills. Like any tool, its virtue is in its usage. While it opens an alternative space for discussion shouldered out of the mainstream media, there's no denying that it's been a godsend to Belarussian pornographers, neo-Fascists, Flat Earthers and the loopier conspiracy theorists. Worse, it can create splintered communities of interest whose nutty world-views are hermetically sealed off from any contagion with fact. Internet literacy has always been as much about being able to sort out what is useful as it is about being able to navigate around a keyboard.

And as far as I'm concerned, the jury is still out on what it means for the arts: we're still too much in the middle of flux to discern anything clearly. The only thing that's certain is that things are changing, and they're changing fast.

For a start, traditional wisdoms don't apply to the internet: it's a world, for example, where people become commercially successful by giving stuff away. That became clear when the makers of Netscape (remember Netscape?), in what was then a revolutionary and deeply counter-intuitive move, offered its browser to users for free. As a result, Netscape was - until Bill Gates came along with Internet Explorer - the leading browser of choice. The Guardian followed a similar logic by offering all its content - including the whole of its archives - online for free, unlike the Age or the New York Times, and devoting a considerable investment in its online pages. Its decision to see its web presence as more than merely an offshoot of its print edition made it the most visited online newspaper in the world.

As far as the arts are concerned, poetry is the canary in the mine. About a decade ago, the increasing corporatism of the publishing industry began to bite hard on the cottage industry that is poetry. Mainstream publishers such as Oxford University Press and Penguin dropped their poetry lists; the decline of the independent bookshop meant that franchise shops like Borders stopped stocking small press books; mainstream literary publications like the Times Literary Supplement squeezed its coverage of all but the most mainstream of poets.

As a result, contemporary poets and publishers moved wholesale to the internet for publication and network marketing. Now internet publication is as legitimate as print, and no publisher, mainstream or alternative, is without its online arm. What that means is that poetry as an artform is thriving. The downside is that nobody outside these specialised networks knows it.

Something similar is happening in theatre, which makes it an exciting time to be a blogger. The obvious caveat is that theatre is, by its nature, a local art. You can't put the act of theatre online, only its secondary spin-offs (critique, meditations, gossip). I think this is healthy: the artform itself is grounded in the "real world", and it's more difficult for the discourse to disappear up its own virtual fundament. Which doesn't mean, of course, that such a vanishing act is impossible.

But now the theatrosphere has been around for a few years, some people are - quite rightly - asking what kind of difference it can really make. Is it just a flash in the pan that will settle down into the same corporatised triviality once the dust settles? Will it turn into a pale shadow of more powerful media, reflecting the same values and the same concerns, or is there another, more interesting, possibility?

I think it's all up for grabs. But, for once, it's entirely up to us. And that, like everything else about the internet, can work for both good and ill.

5 comments:

Travis Bedard said...

Allison,

"But now the theatrosphere has been around for a few years, some people are - quite rightly - asking what kind of difference it can really make. Is it just a flash in the pan that will settle down into the same corporatised triviality once the dust settles? Will it turn into a pale shadow of more powerful media, reflecting the same values and the same concerns, or is there another, more interesting, possibility?"

The most fascinating thing for me in the theatrosphere is the amount of information that is available in an easily accessible way. It's something that Scott Walters just commented on tonight, and something that I'm struggling with as I figure out my next steps in theatre.

Why do I have to rediscover everything about small theatre production here in Austin Texas?

Because the information about the way forward isn't available to me. If the Theatrospere never becomes anything more than a global bar where every sits around telling war stories about doing theatre, and talking about what theatre means to them, we still all win big. Because there's a record. It's not as ephemeral as that one night where The Meaning of It All became clear to you. It's right here.


http://frawst.blogspot.com/2007/06/institutional-memory.html

Nicholas Pickard said...

Hi Alison,
"One look at the Guardian website suggests that rumours of its death are premature".

Yes, they are forging ahead with a great site... but they are about the only ones... By the look of this website (www.smh.com.au) they are about to have a massive coronary from eating to much fatty and oily news.

Chris said...

After today's announcement that Fairfax was planning to buy out Southern Cross (3AW, 2UE) one media commenator blithely told us all not to worry about the increasing concentration of media ownershit... there's always the internet where one can find out what's really happening! How fucking ingenuous! (I think!!) It would be akin to saying: don't worry that the Department of Social Security is rooted, there's always the Salvos.

Chris said...

Sorry, 'ownershit' was a typo. (Stupid, pottty-mouthed, excitable fingers.)

Nicholas Pickard said...

I don't believe it was a typo at all, and was impressed at such word play!