"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 14 October 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Biting the Hand at Feed



If you've gotten this far, you

must have realized that the real

achievement of the web is to

have given people with

microscopic CV's a crack at

hasty fame. And, though the

mediasphere according to Wired

looks more like Skull and Bones

pre-1990, HTML has catapulted

quite a few women through the

silicon ceiling to precipitous

heights on mastheads and into

board rooms (ok, drafty lofts),

even when our publications do

not take as their subjects the

trappings of gurl-dom.

(Rasterized with do-me feminism,

these mags emit a blurry signal

of both calculated fury and



[Joe Bra]

Most media outlets, confused by

this relatively new combination

of female genitalia and

technical savvy, solve the

problem by creating a paradox

where there isn't one: She's

sexy and she's smart (n.b.:

Esquire). Others see a branding

opportunity - a little

snakeskin, a little velvet, some

sassy copy. It's so simple it's

surprising Apple didn't do it

first. What better way to sell

laptops to the suspiciously chic (or

the chicly suspicious): Take some

obscure under-30 type, make her

look just this side of Jennifer

Aniston, place the product at

the edge of the frame, bathe the

scene in languor that belies

work of any sort. The illusion

(that it's a model who just

looks brainy instead of someone

brainy doing some modeling)

works better than a vaselined

lens, unless, of course, you

read the copy.



Sure, I've whored.

Who wouldn't in an industry

where people substitute press

clips for profits and ward off

angry investors with

12-column-inch profiles and TV

appearances? These exercises in

glamour aren't necessary,

strictly speaking, but they do

efficiently test the axiom that

sex sells, at least as it

relates to a cerebral zine. I'd

be happy to share the

underwhelming log files that

followed each trick.


[Magic Bra]

What's surprising is how few

opportunities any of us have had

to double as sexpot. Real, if

intangible, assets (as opposed

to the more fleshy sort) will

always be already overlooked by

journalists in need of some

narrative spike and who, since

the appearance of Jaron Lanier's

dreadlocks, have been screwing

the heads (and bodies) back onto

what was once faceless and

rather dull technology. Equally

astonishing is that mainstream

media has proven slightly more

agile than the heralds of the

digital revolution at getting it -

that is, the product. They

trumpet the ability of tech to

expand everyone's options, but

they rely on archetypes (Barbie

or Margaret Thatcher) as

second-wave as paper to explain

women's presence at the front of

the curve. And the would-be

Esquire of the next century goes

even further in its retrograde

spin, ignoring nearly all those

who sport only virtual balls.



In the infinite regression of

images that result from media

exposure, it's dangerous to take

one article or review too

seriously; though each strives

at truth, none will capture

exactly what we do or how we do

it. Still, such ephemera can

interfere with the delicate

configuration of personality and

ideas that is the sum total of a

webzine. Working in just such a

proto-institution, my partner

and I (no, we're not, if you

must ask) have disabled

conflicting ego extensions,

ministered the salve of

admiration when one part of the

team gets the invite to the

ritzy conference, and resisted

neat organizational charts that

ascribe technical skills or

vision or wordsmithery to one of

us and not the other. It's only

when the self-appointed denizens

of the future forget that half

of us are, um, vital components

of their future (if only to buy

their ever-multiplying gadgets,

download yet another iteration

of shoddy software rushed

through beta and read their

carbon-based ballads to tech)

that our armor fails us. And

when the occasional female

columnist casts one of us as

Agent 99 to his Max Smart, don't

be surprised if our disgusted

boredom turns into agitation.



You might counter by invoking

Brooke Shields, Mariel Hemingway

(if she survives the bloody

partial-birth abortion that was

administered to Central Park

West), and certainly others

(though few immediately come to

mind) as examples of IQ in

conjunction with something like

beauty or grace simultaneously

embodied and mediated. Still,

the ratio of hairspray to wit

taxes the imagination.

Meanwhile, someone like Pattie

Maes hardly registers on the

cultural radar.



The next millennium is upon us,

but our cultural references for

talented women are way past the

age of consent. Karen Carpenter

and Madonna still form the false

poles of our universe, and given

those choices, "cybergrrl"

has its appeal. After

all, what would be easier than

cashing in on my quasi-minority

status and making it the

centerpiece of my craft? And

then I remember the cost of

collapsing pitch into product.

It makes for only one good book,

and it's too early in my media

cycle - now on its upward arc -

to shoot my wad.

courtesy of Veronica Link