This was good! One of the first mainstream things I’ve seen get web culture right. Isn’t quite as much about certain things - celebrity culture, fandom, queerness, the interaction between the three - as I would like it to be, but I guess that’s not really the idea. At the very least, though, I think it gives good pointers for how to talk about those things productively, recognizing the value they hold to people instead of dismissing them as frivolous and cheap. As someone who’s spent some time surveying the regrettable creative output of ex-celebrities, I think Crocker reacts to his moment in the spotlight admirably, incorporating the scorn into his persona rather than being shocked that anyone would criticize him, while (mostly) refusing to grant the mockers more attention than they deserve. (There’s a brief moment around his trip to LA where he seems to endorse an “everyone was conspiring against me” perspective, but otherwise avoids it.) Aside from the great portrayal of the amateurish, intensely anti-serious, collaborative, and acommercial nature of web production, I thought the way it subtly but accurately explored how his fandom of Britney was related (in a half-ironic, half-serious way) to his life story was fantastic, and much needed. There’s a Sorkinish impulse to criticize Crocker’s corner of the web as being a danger to society, by killing respectable culture, and/or individuals, by allowing anonymity at the same time it kills privacy - but the movie shows how it’s more complicated than that.
I also think there’s a connection to Farhad Manjoo’s (great) article on Buzzfeed from the other day, and to the recent debate about stealing music, but I can’t quite tie it all together. On the one hand, we’re bothered by the web’s destructive impact on all sorts of cultural creation (music, journalism, fiction, photography), and certainly people made more money off Crocker than he did himself. But on the other hand, and as much as we might like to come up with a big-digital conspiracy, the culture of creation that’s emerged on the web is one that came about mostly organically through certain people’s choices; it’s not for everyone, but for its participants, the form seems relatively democratic. So fuck it, if everyone’s OK with their work not being attributed or paid for, then who cares? Memes are better when they’re unowned, after all.
But I also can’t shake a comparison here to another cultural industry when it was in its infancy. When recorded music became a business, there are all sorts of stories of people signing recording contracts and not caring about the royalties or attribution, but then decades later bringing lawsuits for not getting their proper due - or, worse, dying in poverty before such a suit could be brought. I don’t know if we’re in that same situation here, because like all of you, I have a hard time feeling that “hello this is dog” is equivalent to, say, everything Bessie Smith ever recorded. Though of course jazz and blues were considered somewhat disposable forms at the time - though also also many of the early recorded blues artists were ripping off their stuff from existing folk compositions, which is another way of saying they aggregated a bunch of collaborative and anonymous creations just at the moment where there was some commercial potential to doing so. So hey, it’s complicated! But I liked Me @ the Zoo, is I guess the ultimate point here.