Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Moonwalking To Oblivion Without A Billionaire Sponsor: What's A Blogger To Do?

The early death of Michael Jackson has triggered some powerful memories, very few of which have anything to do with Jackson or his sudden demise. Nonetheless, let me take you back 25 years...

In the summer of 1984, Michael Jackson was on his "Victory Tour", moonwalking his way through cuts from "Thriller" in his first public performances after he "set his hair on fire for Pepsi" in late January of that year.

I had spent the early months of '84 trying to piece together the remnants of a jazzy-punky rock band which had finally gelled after months of preparation, played a fantastic set on New Year's Eve, and then imploded -- in my own living room, on the same weekend when Michael's hair was burning.

In our case, the fragments which were not mortally wounded in the implosion eventually reunited, wrote some new material, and played in public together again just a few times before a second implosion. And one of those performances fell on a hot and humid Saturday night almost exactly 25 years ago, a night when Michael Jackson was in town.

Were we crazy to play opposite such a huge concert? Not at all. None of the people who went to see Michael Jackson could be bothered with us, and none of the people who came to see us could be bothered with moonwalking or "Thriller" or any of the other very popular, totally inane artefacts of the little dude who somehow became "The King of Pop".

Forgive me if a bit of disrespect is showing. I will not for a moment deny that Michael Jackson was a fantastic singer, especially as a youngster, or that we would have been very lucky to have such a talented vocalist in our band.

On the other hand, I remain convinced that we made a good move by scheduling a gig when his fans were elsewhere. Our music was direct and honest, often too raw but never too polished, not commercially marketed or even amenable to such treatment. Michael could not have said this of his material, in 1984 or at any stage of his long and very successful career.

We once wrote a song that (among other things) made fun of him. But he never mentioned us. So there's another point of asymmetry.

On the Monday morning after our simultaneous concerts, while I was returning the PA gear we'd rented from a local music store, I heard this on the radio: Scalpers had been getting more for a pair of tickets to see Michael Jackson than it cost us to stage our entire show.

He drew about a hundred thousand fans. We might have drawn a hundred. And we didn't even play well that night. I remember being disappointed about that.

But on the other hand, the people who came to see us that night, the people who came to hear us, the people who came with their eyes and ears open ... they got something they couldn't have found on the Victory Tour, or anywhere else, for that matter. Some of them still talk about that show -- in complimentary terms! It wouldn't have mattered whether we played well or not. What we were doing -- what we were trying to do -- appealed to a few people, maybe one in a thousand, maybe less. But it touched them in a much deeper way than the "King of Pop" -- or anything "pop" -- could have done.

There's a lesson in all this, or a moral to the story, and I'm still not sure what it is, but I wouldn't be surprised if it helps to explain why my blog readership never seems to grow, no matter how much or how well I write; neither does it seem to shrink, no matter how rarely I post and no matter what I choose to write about.

What you get here is direct and honest, often too raw but never too polished, not commercially marketed or even amenable to such treatment. It's no wonder so few people are interested. But you can't get it -- or anything similar -- anywhere else.

Maybe it's no big deal, but I got thinking of all this when I heard of Jackson's death, and it all came back to me again when I read this piece from Scholars and Rogues, and even more especially when I considered an earlier, related piece there which deals with a pointed political question: Why don't progressive billionaires fund progressive bloggers (in much the same way that conservative billionaires fund conservative bloggers)?

I would argue that such funding is neither to be expected nor to be welcomed. I would argue that there's no such thing as a progressive billionaire, although there are a few billionaires who might pretend to be leaders and/or funders of a "progressive" opposition.

The earlier S&R post -- "Devil, meet Deep Blue Sea: how much should progressives spend reaching out to progressives?" -- quotes Jane Hamsher of FiredogLake, Markos Moulitsas of DailyKos, and John Aravosis of AmericaBlog, all of whom are upset that major Democratic organizations are asking for (and receiving) their support, but aren't supporting them in any tangible way, not even by advertising on their sites.

It may be pointed out that those who obtain support for free have no incentive to pay for it.

Much more importantly, in my view, the sites in question share a common approach to all the most important issues: they bury them if they can't ignore them altogether. This tendency is unfortunately prevalent at all high-traffic "progressive" websites, including the one where I used to volunteer my services.

Markos Moulitsas, the founder and chief director of censorship at DailyKos, was trained by the CIA and makes no bones about the fact that posters who entertain conspiracy theories regarding 9/11 are not welcome at his site.

The other sites mentioned above are a bit less pointed and a touch more subtle but they are nevertheless written by and for people who are not much interested in certain very inconvenient facts: facts about 9/11 in particular; facts about bogus terrorism in general; facts about how the entire "global war on terror" (or whatever Obama wants us to call it this week) is based on a fictional view of history and our role in it; facts about how the Democrats have been complicit in selling both the fictional history and the endless, limitless war it entails.

Would I want to see these sites better funded? Would I want to see them drawing even larger audiences? Would I want their reporting even more constrained by vague doubts about what the billionaire sponsor might think? Dare I even hint of the possibility of explicit instructions from such a sponsor? Or, conversely, can anyone imagine a billionaire-sponsored website without an explicit list of instructions?

An alliance between faux-progressive billionaires and faux-progressive bloggers would be a powerful way to destroy any hope of a meaningful political opposition arising in 21st-century America. But then again, there's no need to destroy things that don't exist.

And that's why it won't happen. There's no need for it. And it wouldn't matter anyway, because 99% of all Americans surveyed have already said ... that given the choice ... they'd prefer moonwalking!

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