There is this story that Herodotus tells in The Histories about a war between Sparta and Tegea. In it, the Spartans were “so confident of reducing the men of Tegea to slavery” that they literally brought chains with them. But they lost, and ironically the prisoners were “forced to wear on their own legs the chains they had brought.”
Broadly, I think this applies to where we are now, as self-recruited members in the “Army of Davids” that Glenn Reynolds coined. We, like Alexander the Great, can “smell the end of an empire.” The blood is in the water, and the blogs are sharks circling. We talk about the ‘new media’ and how it’s going to change the world. We talk about wresting control from the titans and putting in the hands of the common man. Every news story is another ring of the death knell, and we all ‘know’ it’s only a matter of time before the balance tips–and the bower balance is permanently altered.
I’m not sure if history bears us out on this one. Tucker and I used WWII as an analogy to put this revolution in perspective. Napster, torrents, filesharing–Blitzkrieg. The music industry was Poland. It fell in days. The lawsuits–Polish Lancers charging tanks on horseback. A battle over before it even started. And so now the troops are looking towards video, towards France and ultimately Britain. This brings us to our current grandiose dreams of world domination and big money, where the user supposedly controls content.
But I think we think we need to heed the failures of the Spartans–even our own past failures. Look at the music industry now. We like to act like we accomplished something, telling ourselves that we crashed the gates and won our freedom, but did we really?
We rebelled against overpriced but tangible CDs only to replace them with restrictive, unrecoverable digital files. We walked in like the Spartans, with the chains over our shoulders, only to walk out with iTunes DRM clasped around our ankles. We told them that we were tired of records with just a few good songs only to turn around and make “Hollaback Girl” the first platinum download in history. We were angry that the industry was controlled by so few, and yet we allowed Apple to ride the trend wave all the way to a monopoly.
Cuban found these similarities on what I call the next front of the internet revolution. Youtube–the place where the user creates the content–has been invaded by movie trailers, TV show rips, and compilations. Again, what was supposed to be us enslaving ‘them’ turned out to be the reverse. We were supposed to revolutionize yet another medium, this time TV, and yet we’re falling into the same traps as last time.
There are two explanations: 1) Amateur Content is not the answer. 2) We’re essentially fighting to replace one tyrant with another.
Either the internet users radically improve the content they ‘submit’ or the establishment will simply make the proverbial switch from trains to airplanes. How many remakes of music videos do we really need? What does that even imply other than the idea that Youtube is nothing without professional quality work as a backbone?
It seems like we’ve committed ourselves to this course of action without much forethought other than a pipedream of a goal. The internet took on video like the Spartans hoped to capture slaves–and thought that was enough. It’s not, nor will it ever be. When a power falls it creates a vacuum and unless a newcomer immediately ascends to the throne, everyone in the establishment just moves up one place in line.
And I think ultimately, the poor state of say television or movies, ought to stand as a challenge to all the artists out there, toiling in obscurity. You really couldn’t conceive of a sketch better than SNL for half the budget? SNL videos have been blowing up the internet lately not because of any inherent hilarity, but more because a lack of quality competition.
So I see two possible solutions, both of which go hand in hand. We need to improve what we create and what we watch. And we need to realize that this revolution isn’t going to happen on its own. It has to be a coordinated effort. There needs to be a cohesive strategy. The Long Tail theory implies an overall improvement in taste–but we’re not seeing that. I would argue–and I don’t think that many would disagree–that the quality of internet video is vastly inferior than anything the mainstream media is putting out. And resources while important, cannot explain how consistently awful the majority of YouTube content is. Videos go viral precisely because they’re exceptions–exceptions in this case, that prove the Sturgeon’s Rule.
I’ll wrap this up before I get dreadfully lost in endless tangents. We’ve made a lot of progress on the tech side, and almost none on the content side. We think we’re about to enslave Hollywood just as we did the music industry, but that won’t happen unless we first make the conscious decision to raise our consciousness. Quality has to be the number one concern, not traffic, not Diggs, not comments. And if you’re not a content creator, you still have an important job: STOP PATRONIZING CRAPPY VIDOES. Both the artists and the consumers will be crucial in this change–a change that we desperately need.