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Ross Jones-Morris

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Life on the Content Farm - It's a Blog Eat Blog World Out There

Posted: 12/03/2012 16:51

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It's hard living in co-dependent hell with The Human Centipede. As a film blogger for too long now have I wittered on day after day, never sure of where my next Centipede shaped nugget of information would come from. What titbit Tom Six would throw our way so that I could write about it, and rage at it and inadvertently promote it all in the name of hits, re-tweets and comment related pats on the back. For too long has Tom Six tempted the internet with his claims at depravity. For too long have we been masochistically underwhelmed. For far too long have I shared his message with the masses, flogging it to within an inch of its life, publicising it to within an inch of journalistic integrity, inch by inch sowing the seeds of its success. Life on the content farm can be hard sometimes. Pity me.

You see I'm trapped between morbid curiosity and a hard place. A hard, barren place where the meretricious blogger heroically promotes the underdog, trying to bring lesser known gems to the masses, promoting the medium they love in the form that they love. My stable is far from there. I want a job as a writer and as any embittered cynic knows if you want to get somewhere you've got to get your hands dirty. As a film writer I must work on the farm churning the freshly dug earth of The Human Centipede and its ilk with relish, leering at their shortcomings, shocked at their shameless self-promotion, the way they chase viewers by exploiting their own voice. But as Nietzsche didn't say, "when you stare into the abyss, you can't help but write about it". And it's my job to stare into the abyss. And as an aspiring writer, I write about it.

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The most viewed, liked, shared and objectively successful pieces I have ever written have been about The Human Centipede. I clamoured to review the first two in order to wrest the morbid voyeurism of the internet toward my writing, my byline bold and underlined hoping for a brief glimmer of attention, a moment of self-aggrandisement that would feed my ego enough to keep my tenuously pro-bono engine running. I spent minute after minute of my ever decreasing life looking for any cursory nod of recognition that my holier-than-thou critique had damned Tom Six perfectly, mocking his contemptuous attitude to his audience, his attention grabbing vulgarity and his unapologetic narcissism. All in all I tore apart his manipulative pandering to the easily influenced in the name of fame and money. But as he subsists and even flourishes by that sword it is I who survive and will someday maybe even die by it.

If you equip your rose-tinted horn-rims journalism used to be great. Film journalism used to be about breaking the next big thing, unearthing a rough diamond and attempting to cut it so that it fitted into a nice mainstream shaped hole so that we could trick the unwashed masses into watching it and 'enlightening' themselves. #theidiots. But now we give #theidiots what they want. We give them smut and trash and exploitation and rail against it with all of the venom we can muster to get views. I find myself tweeting about trash to get re-tweets about trash by other movie bloggers who in turn re-tweet about the trash and write about the trash so that #theidiots can read about the trash. We are consumed by trash. I guarantee you'll find more negative opinion pieces out there than positive ones. But even so it's unlikely you'll find the positive ones, being as they are aspirational, lovely, film-centric and a celebration of a medium that we movie bloggers purportedly love. However admirable they are the fact is unavoidable. They aren't memes and never will meme. Praise is not meme worthy. The point is ladies and gentlemen, that meme, for lack of a better word, is good. Meme works.

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Memes are what drive the blogosphere, the bastardised word blogosphere itself a horrible by-product of the clarity and immediacy of communication required by today's culturally progressive bloggers. Memes are founded primarily in parody and proliferate on the edges of the mainstream. The blogosphere is built on these negative building blocks and so often it is our job as writers to scramble to put ourselves on the top side of that sphere. A perfectly pitched headline, a perfectly timed blog post, a perfectly linked trailer just as it's released in the hope of stealing the attention of #theidiots and their easily turned heads. This is our bread and butter.

Feel free to occasionally go out on a limb, maybe go a bit crazy and get a bit creative with your writing, but no one will be looking unless you're ticking boxes. So you tick boxes and you sell your soul and your reward? The fervoured enthusiasm of #theidiots, manipulated in your favour and channelled towards your perfectly pitched opinion, to the opinions you have to deadlines and if you are lucky enough, for money. Online journalism is not about writing or wit. It's about buzzwords and Google Analytics and mainstream cynicism and Memes. And Google Analytics.

Memes are cynical. It's fun to be cynical, it's funny to be cynical, it's fashionable to be cynical and I for one am not averse to opining all day long on the shortcomings of my artistic medium of choice in order to satisfy my craving for success, recognition and Lars Von Trier's head on a stick. But you can't just start parading round a freshly satirised cultural victim and expect the baying mobs to just cheer. You've got to finesse it.

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In the beginning was the word, and the word was Brooker. Surely the master of the cynical send up, Charlie Brooker - a man whose entire career is based on a world weary obnoxiousness that pervades almost everything he writes - is funny, he's witty, he's inventive, but above all he is intelligent. He knows that hate is everything but also that it's not nearly enough. You need some credibility if you're getting paid. So he'll stick an allusion to Graham Greene here, heap praise on Doctor Who there and deliver one of the most moving obituaries I have ever seen with his Screenwipe tribute to Oliver Postgate, all in order to string the intellectuals along, dragging #theidiots in their wake. Many of us stand trapped in a pen on Brooker's content farm eagerly consuming his brilliant hate, watching him "not so much go for the jugular as decapitate his targets altogether" - Jim Shelley, Daily Mirror. We sit there docile, watching the docile public of a dystopian future in his excellent 50 Million Merits with its X Factor hook for #theidiots and its satire for the cultural gentry. We sit and lap it up because it's perfect. It hits all of the bases; intellect, #theidiots and most important of all; cynical hate.

Charlie Chaplin once beautifully put it that we "should like to help everyone if possible; Jew, Gentile, black man, white. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other's happiness, not by each other's misery. We don't want to hate and despise one another." Well that's all well and good but once we get online (and even worse become anonymous) all of that goes out of the window. The content farm is a cruel place. It's blog eat blog out there.

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Much like in 50 Million Merits our culture is cannibalising itself. We chew up and spit out the latest memes and run with the best. It's evolution and it's intellectually indiscriminate. There's no finesse, no deserving or undeserving, it's survival and when the fittest come in the form of Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber it's clear that something has gone horribly wrong. Sometimes Vanilla Ice and in film people like Cuba Gooding Jr. pop up from time to time, vestigial reminders of memes past but now it's the time of the Transformer, the Jack Sparrow and the Centipede. You get hate and you survive, you get nothing and you don't. Me and the mouth-to-anus franchise have had a long, horrible journey together and eventually we will go down in flames, consumed by self-reference, infantile mouth-to-anus references and the boredom of an increasingly desensitised public.

Until then we're living hit to mouth. Someday the film industry and our poor mouths will be all the worse for it. Maybe it's time everyone stopped being negative and tried a little tenderness toward the things they love in this life. Maybe it's time every journalist out there rose up against negativity driven meme culture and as Howard Beale would have once shouted if he was part of the /b/ generation; "God damn it! Culture has value! So I want you to sit down now. I want all of you to get into your chairs. I want you to sit down right now and go to WordPress. Open it, and write, 'I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!" Maybe it's time bloggers promoted the deserving, the transcendent, films like The Artist.

If only because then I can steal their audience and get another 100 followers on Twitter by writing about #theidiots who walked out of it a few months back.