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December 13, 2012 6:06 PM   Subscribe

Dan Harmon on why you shouldn't take the internet seriously. [slyt]
posted by cthuljew (32 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Also, previously, but not quite a double, I don't think?
posted by cthuljew at 6:14 PM on December 13, 2012


I think Plato said the same thing about writing, but without being funny.
posted by hank_14 at 6:36 PM on December 13, 2012


Funny, but at least by the FPP text this seems to be how NBC feels about the internet [viewership] as well.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 6:43 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Heat Vision and Jack being canceled signaled the death knell of television? Wow.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:59 PM on December 13, 2012


Dan Harmon? I thought Chevy Chase fired him for drinking vodka with Doctor Who.
posted by Smedleyman at 7:02 PM on December 13, 2012


Dan Harmon? I thought Chevy Chase fired him for drinking vodka with Doctor Who.

Everyone knows you drink banana daiquiri's with Doctor Who.
posted by Garm at 7:20 PM on December 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Good points buried under a lot of bitterness. He's right. He's got way too much skin in the game to be taken seriously.
posted by Ephelump Jockey at 7:27 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dan Harmon is a fascinating man. He was given an opportunity to work in one of the most economically-driven creative environments, the one that until recently was only big-budget, with no alternative even for smaller-budget projects, despite the fact that he is at once ambitious and unpolished – a risky combination for any creative sort, which is why they're rarely given budgets.

Yet with Community he proved both that he could make a damn good sitcom and that he could do interesting things with the medium that had never been done before, at least not to the extent Community's second and third seasons took them too. Community never did both at once, unfortunately – as a cohesive narrative goes, it falls completely apart halfway through season 2 and its "cohesion" bordered on fucking terrible in season 3. That disappointed me, because I thought the characters were compelling and well-written early on, but I know plenty of watchers who think season 1 is boring for that reason, and 2 and 3 are the only ones worth watching.

Here I felt he hit upon two very interesting points – namely, that creative mediums only matter inasmuch as they connect people to each other, and that financial obligation is almost completely divorced from that need for connectivity. And he's right in that the Internet is in the sweet spot right now – but unlike him, I suspect the Internet is going to stay there for a long time to come, because he missed something very important, and it's that the Internet lets anybody connect to anybody without dictating many rules for how that connection happens.

TV, which Dan practically worships and which I feel somewhat wary of, is a one-to-many medium. Maybe once upon a time the only people who got to make TV were the wise men, the sages... pshh ahahaha bullshit! That never happened! TV was a few good ideas encrusted in layers and layers of unnecessary bullshit from the start, and it took decades and decades for it to get better. The bullshit got more bullshitty, perhaps, to combat people's rising awareness of how crappy TV was, but the bullshit's always been there, and though the artistes get short shrift nowadays, there're better and more diverse shows on today than ever were shown before, even on the mainstream crappy networks.

The Internet, on the other hand, lets anybody make their own TV channel, display their own programming (metaphorically speaking), or come up with even niftier ways to aggregate content (like MetaFilter!). You can make money online by selling tools that let them do things they couldn't otherwise – an option TV didn't offer the consumer, though a market did cater to the television makers. You can do advertising, but advertising is tricky: you have to fit it into your medium somehow, which means that advertisers can't benefit from playing to the lowest common denominator and coming up with the most universally stupid bullshit. On the contrary, advertisers have to learn how to work within whatever unique medium a site comes up with – and if they ruin the medium with their attempt, people will just find a better one to use.

That's not saying the Internet is perfect. I use Facebook and Reddit more than I'd like to, because their models reward me for using them more frequently and give me very little in return. But if Facebook gets shittier, more lowest-common-denominator (it's getting very close now), I can leave it for Twitter or Instagram or Tumblr or whatever combination of boutique social networks let me do the things I feel like doing online. In fact, general online wisdom is that developers benefit from letting me connect more effectively with people, because it means I'll use their product more and be more inclined to pay money/look at ads/whatever. In TV the only meaningful connection is with the programming, so the programming doesn't have to be good – just addictive. Web sites facilitate other connections – they aren't ends unto themselves. If YouTube didn't have people offering me content there, it would be an empty shell.

In fact, there's a connection between his two points that I wished he'd make, but which I don't think he has, and it's that the "tribe" number he thinks is so useful can only be simulated when you're talking about a hundred or even a thousand TV channels for an entire nation. I wish there was so much TV that only 200 people watched each show. But that's impossible. And because it's impossible, the lowest common denominator takes over, since each of these channels must serve hundreds of thousands or millions of people. The nature of the medium makes tribes impossible.

On the Internet, however, the number of possible connection hubs is unlimited, which means the 200-person tribe is entirely possible. I have about that many friends on Facebook, and I don't even pay attention to most of them; I probably only interact with two dozen people there. I can see content created by any random-ass tribe online, but my connection with them is relatively brief; this means I connect with a lot of different groups a day and get a lot out of each connection (compared to if I used the same time sitting and watching FOX programming, at least). It's decentralized, it's cheap, and unless something happens to drastically affect how much it costs to run a web site, it's probably going to stay that way.

I feel that Dan's perspective, while interesting, is heavily biased from his decision to work in a terrible creative environment that's not suited for the kind of work he does, and from his insistence on thinking that that environment is somehow normative. I've heard him talk about his time at Community, and it's frustrating much the same way this lecture is: half really interesting insight that springs from his ambition to reach people in better ways than TV does right now, half completely wrongheaded attitude that doesn't quite understand the reasons TV works the way it does, or at least a total unwillingness to accept that the reasons it works that way are sound. I think his direction helped sabotage Community in its later seasons, just as it was responsible for Community's brilliance early on, and while I find him both interesting, funny, and friendly, I kind of hope he gets out of that headset soon, because it definitely ended up hurting his work and preventing it from becoming the masterpiece it could have been.
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:36 PM on December 13, 2012 [24 favorites]


Don't get me wrong I like Heat Vision and Jack. I think it's niche was the festival circuit and people sitting aroun watching it getting high. It is a parody, a show about TV and the thousands of tropes it has created. Does that work for more than one episode? Dunno. Maybe he is right that it exposed a weakness in the TV model. 13 episodes or nothing, no room for one epidode comedies like HV&J.

Community is remarkably similar, fundamentally a show about TV, but unlike HV&T he has that paint by numbers story thing going on.

I've been watching nothing but youtube for a while, I wrote an entire screed about how Let's Plays are the most vital new form of self expresssion. About how in the future we won't watch scripted passive entertainment, we will watch people interacting with complex simulated environments. But really, just go watch a few and you may be convinced, as I am, that TV is a thing of the past.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:39 PM on December 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


In fact, there's a connection between his two points that I wished he'd make, but which I don't think he has, and it's that the "tribe" number he thinks is so useful can only be simulated when you're talking about a hundred or even a thousand TV channels for an entire nation. I wish there was so much TV that only 200 people watched each show. But that's impossible. And because it's impossible, the lowest common denominator takes over, since each of these channels must serve hundreds of thousands or millions of people. The nature of the medium makes tribes impossible.

The '200 person tribe' he was talking about is the live studio audience of 3-camera sitcoms, whose laughter is "useful" to cynically manipulate TV viewers into thinking things are funny. He wasn't saying it was ideal. He was saying it was gross.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:56 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow, I haven't thought about Sledge Hammer! in ages. My brother used to love that show.
posted by smcameron at 7:59 PM on December 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


He wasn't saying it was ideal. He was saying it was gross.

The 200-person tribe is an ideal number for interconnectivity. The whole thesis of his talk is that what connects us to people is good. He cites the 200 number as an instance that warms the human soul and suchlike.

The pretense of a 200-person laugh track is what he calls gross. It is. A laugh track wants us to feel like a product designed for 20 million people is only reaching out to us and our friends. But just because connection can be simulated doesn't mean real, genuine, actual connection is suddenly meaningless.
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:15 PM on December 13, 2012


It isn't like someone sat down and figured out they needed a 200 person laugh track. Early television drew on a people connector that came before it, not newspapers, but live performance. Live performance was a fundamental part of society, we are after all pack animals. I think he is the one being cynical there.All artistry is emotional manipulation. What makes a laugh track any more gross than sound effects or soundtracks, both of which some people object to as manipulative.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:49 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Everyone knows you drink banana daiquiri's with Doctor Who.

Lies.
posted by NoraReed at 10:02 PM on December 13, 2012


What the hell is the Internet?
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:35 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Everyone knows you drink banana daiquiri's with Doctor Who.

Lies.


The drink changes with the Doctor, it would appear.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:02 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


They misnamed "The Companion". It's properly called "The Rose".
posted by cthuljew at 11:07 PM on December 13, 2012


Charming fellow and kind of moving towards the end but I didn't care much for the "people connector" joke/image. It misses the sense in which media connect people, true, but only by placing themselves in between them. Further he says that money is the problem and that it's all about people, but in his examples people are both the motivation and the problem. There's a reason he talks at a conference like XOXO where a small group of like-minded people comes to huddle and why we then view it here on Metafilter. When the audience grows too undistinguished, things inevitably turn into a kind of shit. Funny, necessary, satisfying shit, sometimes, but still shit. Quality, any kind of quality at all, is as much about connecting with people as it is about keeping people out. When Dan says you can't take the internet seriously, he shows some examples of things on the internet that don't interest him. But if we take a page from his own book that the only thing that matters is people, then he really means that the people behind those interests don't interest him. Whenever people say the internet, or television, or music, or even alcohol or the planet Earth, need saving, what they always need saving from, is other people.
posted by deo rei at 11:20 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I loved Community btw and I hope he gets to do lots of other great stuff.
posted by deo rei at 11:22 PM on December 13, 2012


Man, that audience laughs easily.
posted by Decani at 2:05 AM on December 14, 2012


Counter-argument: But there are still people being WRONG on the internet.
posted by Conspire at 2:25 AM on December 14, 2012


he's right in that the Internet is in the sweet spot right now – but unlike him, I suspect the Internet is going to stay there for a long time to come, because he missed something very important, and it's that the Internet lets anybody connect to anybody without dictating many rules for how that connection happens.

Yeah, but nobody makes any money, and so the internet lies and cheats and follows you around like a goddamn stalker just to try and figure out how to get you to give it money. And ten years in and it hasn't figured it out yet and it's getting more and more desperate. We accidentally created Big Brother just because nobody clicks on goddamn banner ads, and still nobody clicks on banner ads and all the new stuff they're starting to try just gets creepier and creepier.

There will probably always be lots of interesting free stuff on the Internet. In the process, however, the Internet may destroy everything we once thought worth paying for.
posted by Diablevert at 4:20 AM on December 14, 2012 [27 favorites]


wow, diablevert's comment is so spot on that I regret I have but one favorite to give.
posted by leotrotsky at 5:50 AM on December 14, 2012


Yeah, but nobody makes any money, and so the internet lies and cheats and follows you around like a goddamn stalker just to try and figure out how to get you to give it money.

That's completely untrue unless you think "the Internet" is only composed of web sites with millions of users each who all launched without any kind of plan for monetization. That's a popular fad right now but it's hardly a healthy strategy, and they totally deserve their current state of desperation (Twitter, Facebook, I'm looking at you).

The Internet offers a lot of possibility for more independent artists to succeed. If your model depends on selling two million units of whatever it is you're selling, then you're screwed, but if you only need to sell a few thousand, that's easier now than it's ever been in the past. Facebook might be desperately trying to earn cash, but Bandcamp is doing terrifically well, and thanks to it I've bought more music this year and last than I probably ever have in the past.

The question that interests me is whether the Internet will find a good way of funding multi-million dollar projects like movies or even pseudo-"TV" shows. We've seen some million-dollar successes on Kickstarter, but nothing yet that even pretends to compete with what Hollywood could afford. The whole crowdsourced funding technique is super new, though. Give it half a decade and I hope it'll have ended up places we couldn't possibly expect.
posted by Rory Marinich at 6:51 AM on December 14, 2012


Counter-argument: But there are still people being WRONG on the internet.

No, there aren'....
I mean, yes, there a....


I see what you did there
posted by Smedleyman at 8:14 AM on December 14, 2012


That's completely untrue unless you think "the Internet" is only composed of web sites with millions of users each who all launched without any kind of plan for monetization. That's a popular fad right now but it's hardly a healthy strategy, and they totally deserve their current state of desperation (Twitter, Facebook, I'm looking at you).

Perhaps. I mean, I'm sure that Bandcamp largely consists of tens of thousands of bands who launched with very shakey plans for monetization and that bandcamp itself, like google, will do just fine scraping its pennies off the long tail.

I don't think it's really true that the Internet is a place where anyone can be a thousand-aire. The Internet is a network, and it is ruled by network effects, which create lock-in and power-law distributions. I can't say I've dig up the stats, but I'd bet you a hundred bucks there's some small cluster of bands making considerable money off band camp and some group that's twice or four times as big but which is only making half the money and fairy large group which has made between 100-1000 bucks off less than 500 fans and by far the biggest group which has made practically nothing but which bandcamp may very well be making the most money on. Power laws. You see them everywhere on the net.

Of course, power laws are creeping into everything else too --- in books it's the death of the mid-list in favor of pimping best-sellers, in movies it's the hunt for blockbusters to the exclusion of other films. It's possible that the Internet has merely revealed what was always the case. But either way it certainly seems to have accelerated and concentrated that trend.
posted by Diablevert at 8:25 AM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


They misnamed "The Companion". It's properly called "The Rose".

Some say love, it is a Dalek,
Who's doing what he screams;
Some say love, it's Psychic Pollen*,
That lords you in your dreams;
Some say love, it is a chamber*,
That scalds you as it steams;
I say love, it is a TARDIS,
That's bigger than it seems.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:47 AM on December 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


shout out to Eddie Codel, rocking the shorts in the front roow.

The Internet is people. I know b/c they are all emailing me.

My brother used to love that show.

Is that you, Jen?

around 5:50, i wandered off to learn about Anomalisa and watch Sledge Hammer. Burn Without Reading is one of my favorite movies not only but mostly for the inclusion of David Rasche (spoiler alert).
posted by mrgrimm at 9:35 AM on December 14, 2012


I can't say I've dig up the stats, but I'd bet you a hundred bucks there's some small cluster of bands making considerable money off band camp and some group that's twice or four times as big but which is only making half the money and fairy large group which has made between 100-1000 bucks off less than 500 fans and by far the biggest group which has made practically nothing but which bandcamp may very well be making the most money on. Power laws. You see them everywhere on the net.

Was the distribution any more egalitarian pre-Internet? It seems like music has always been an industry where the overwhelming majority of bands are dismal failures from an economic perspective, with a tiny majority getting filthy rich, and very little in the middle.
posted by enn at 10:03 AM on December 14, 2012


shout out to Eddie Codel, rocking the shorts in the front row.

I had just emailed eddie asking if that was him in the front row and he replied that yes he was that dork.

Who checks their phone when they have front seats to Dan Harmon lecturing on why its important to connect to people and not technology?

Yes, Eddie you are that dork.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 4:28 PM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I kept thinking about the new YT video ads that you have to sit through before watching 'Gangnam Style' for the 13th time.

I think it's a very good example of really, really bad money driven thinking. Someone clicking on youtube links has an attention span of a few seconds for that video. If something doesn't catch your attention *right away*, you're just a click away from another video, another website. How someone would sit through, or pay any attention to, unrelated random video ads given this timeframe, or how someone could think that this could work, is beyond me.

A few years ago, this would have translated into a progressive death of youtube; it would have been replaced by google videos, or something. In today's internet - I hope so, but I'm not sure. (we need more SLVimeo on the blue)

This is how the internet will ruin itself: by creating household names; the googles, you tubes, and Facebooks, which will slowly find ways to become shittier and shittier.

That said, it absolutely doesn't mean that the rest of the internet will be contaminated at all - simply because as long as you're not big enough, you can't become crap on the internet without instantly being replaced. Winamp anyone?
posted by Riton at 8:35 AM on December 16, 2012


I kept thinking about the new YT video ads that you have to sit through before watching 'Gangnam Style' for the 13th time.

Was that comment meant for this thread... ?

... or is it the perfect time to announce that I have never seen the video and will now watch it for the first time. ... ah, amusement!

Oh, those ads aren't new. At least I didn't get any new ad. I got the same old 30-second "Skip ad in 5 seconds" ads they've been running for at least a few years now.

A few years ago, this would have translated into a progressive death of youtube

You're forgetting about ad blockers. The people who really don't want ads will block them; the people who don't care will watch them. I personally don't care too much if I have to watch 5 seconds of an ad before a video.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:10 PM on December 17, 2012


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