"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 22 April 1997. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Repeat the Ending


[Grunge Stuff]

Like snuff films and free

parking, "generation X" has

become a myth whose sheer

persistence has turned it into

cultural fact. How else to

explain Pathfinder's acquisition

of social annotaters

alt.culture, or the appearance

of Baffler editor and millennial

prophet Tom Frank in Tripod's

Politics and Community section.

The early '90s are back with a

vengeance; or maybe they never



Critiquing the trend is tempting,

if only because we've done it

before. Indeed, this scrabbling

after twenty-somethings could be

an elaborate extension of the

Great Grunge Hoax but for the

fact that all them are pushing




Actually, to give credit where

credit (or would that be

"cred"?) is due, no one's

calling them "twenty-somethings"

anymore - too literal a reminder

of time's transience; most

mentions these days define the

group not as an age bracket but

as a collection of buying

habits. As Tripod put it: They

are "Career-building,

mountain-biking, mutual-fund

buying, Internet-searching,

micro-brew drinking,

alternative-listening spenders."

Ew. Sounds kinda tacky - and

tiring. (No wonder the new

Miller Genuine Draft campaign,

with its laid-back call for

"good old-fashioned macro brew,"

is so appealing.)


Far from proving the existence of

a cohesive age cohort, the

persistence of the gen-X pitch

only points to marketers' need

for it. And the blatancy of the

manipulation, the ease with

which we can conjure (and mock)

the image of this would-be

typical (and busy) individual -

well, that just proves that

cultural criticism is even

easier than we thought.



It must be. While alt.culture

debuted on Pathfinder after

hyping a "radical redesign,"

Tripod's new radical hasn't

changed a bit since we last saw

him. Frank's charmingly

anachronistic approach to both

analysis and personal appearance

(Does he know that Dos Passos

turned right in his old age?)

has finally found a home in new

media, but his arguments are

still very 1991.


The main thrust of his inaugural

column doesn't get very far once

you buy his argument that

corporations will, we'll give

him this one, co-opt

anti-establishment rhetoric in

order to make money. You heard

it from him first - about five

years ago. Only references to

Jerry Maguire and a new book by

"French ad exec and rainy-day

cultural theorist" Jean-Marie

Dru hint that Frank has left his

garret since Steve Albini

started recording Bush and

Veruca Salt records. "The

revolution will be sponsored"?

Alert the masses!


[Banner for N]

We could also bust on Frank for

the ease with which he tosses

off a reference to "newspaper

workers in Detroit" - signifying

he's down with the (little "m")

man - and then discards it. But

no one wants to read about real

labor issues anyways, and there

are precious few that want to

write about them. That what

passes for "hip" political

commentary at a national,

advertiser-funded level is often

little more than an excuse for a

writer to expense bookstore

bills and watch videos as

"research" shouldn't surprise

anyone. Analysis of a "cultural

moment" doesn't have to include

the real politics or economics

of a situation, and if you're

writing for pay, it shouldn't:

Writing about media is sexy,

math is hard.


And so what if Frank is knocking

down a straw man? That's just

because someone keeps setting

the fucker back up. Take Wired's

upcoming May feature on

"corporate rebels" who "break

the shackles of business as

usual ... iconoclasts who

question the status quo, cut

through red tape, and challenge

their bosses to greatness." The

prose is breathless, but we fear

that's only because they're all

so out of shape. The median age

of these "independent thinkers

who see old problems with new

eyes" is forty-something

(perhaps they just need

bifocals), and their major

insights and "struggles" all

revolve around finding more

efficient ways to make money for

such cutting-edge companies as

IBM and AT&T. That this

might be considered "rebellious"

says much more about the

moribund state of upper

management than it does about

these guys. Just like the

business-lifestyle pieces of

yesteryear, there's an attempt

at framing our heros in terms of

style as well as substance:

There's much talk of what these

"young" Turks wear to work and

quirky personal habits like, you

know, "gesticulating." The sad

thing is that these details just

make them seem more boring

(Cybergold CEO Nat Goldhaber

wears running shoes to work! The

nerve!). The Soviet

constructivist iconography which

surrounds the piece may be an

attempt to call attention to the

statist mindset of the rebels'

bosses, but the delivery here is

all-too-earnest. Irony may be

the one element of the gen-X

revival which has yet to be




All of which makes Tom Frank's

tired media crit seem a little

more perky. Sure, the

toothlessness of his

revelations, combined with the

fact that his column appears on

a site whose press kit promises

that "Tripod Delivers Over 1.5

Million Unique Gen-Xers Every

Month ... 18-34 year olds hungry

for information on what to do -

and buy," would make it easy to

dismiss the partnership as

either hypocritical or just as

crass and opportunistic (though

surely not as lucrative) as

Tripod's other deals with Viacom

and CNN. Still, as we should

know, being a hypocrite doesn't

necessarily make you wrong. And

if you repeat yourself, maybe

it's just because no one was

paying attention the first time.

courtesy of Ann O'Tate

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The Fish

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The Barrel
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The Gun

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Other Work By
Ann O'Tate
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