The DDIY Spirit
by Jack Boulware
Italy has found its newest star. Not Marcello
Mastroianni, not Ciccolina, not even Madonna's badmouthing of
the Vatican can measure up to the mighty Joan Ellis. Oh, you
haven't heard of her? You are out of the loop, my friends, because
Joan Ellis is it. Internet lines are cooking in Rome over
this babe. She's captured the imagination of an entire country,
birthplace of strong coffee and sunglasses with attitude. Not
bad for a 64-year-old mother of three from Redbank, New Jersey.
You see, Joan's
got herself a home page. That's right, a little DIY coming at
you. Joan's weekly film reviews have earned her the sobriquet
"The Pauline Kael of the Internet," according to Virtual
City magazine. They even call her cinematic criticism "surprisingly
witty and literate." Hungry for a sample? Jesus, so am I.
Here's a tidbit from a recent assessment of "The Bridges
of Madison County": "That bad book has come a long
Can we say it?
Yes we can. DIY is tits up.
Oh, it was a fashionable
enough buzzword a few years ago. Man, those were the days. Zines!
Punk! Grunge! Pirate radio! Public-access television! Yeah! Throw
it back in the face of the man! We're not sucking corporate cock,
nossir, we got our own thing going! We don't need anybody to
get the message out there, and if you don't like it, well, then
you're a dick! Whaddya think of that?
Now it's come to
a New Jersey housewife writing movie reviews for salivating Italians.
Please don't misunderstand.
The DIY impulse is a great one, and has produced many worthy
offspring. We also have the Rhino "DIY" punk anthology,
booming camcorder sales, how-to books on suicide and selling
one's body partseven Sunset magazine keeps telling us how
to build attractive household additions out of redwood. But let's
not kid ourselves: DIY is now a shorthand keystroke for editors
of technology hasn't stopped the heartbeat of America, however.
The postal system circulates roughly between 20,000 and 50,000
zines to all corners of the globe. Conservative estimates place
the number of e-zines at several thousand, and any chucklebum
with a modem has the potential to slap together their own home
page ("Hi, I'm Kevin, and this is a picture of myself as
a seven-year-oldhere's a list of my favorite bands!")
If you've surfed the Web, you've witnessed the damage. And how
about that cut-out section at the CD store? Isn't it a treasure
"We are becoming
boisterous and arrogant in the pride of a too speedily assumed
literary freedom," wrote Edgar Allen Poe back in 1836, who
might as well have been discussing the DIY media. "So far
from being ashamed of the many disgraceful literary failures
to which our own inordinate vanities and misapplied patriotism
have lately given birth, and so far from deeply lamenting that
these daily puerilities are of home manufacture, we adhere pertinaciously
to our original blindly conceived idea, and thus often find ourselves
involved in the gross paradox of liking a stupid book the better,
because, sure enough, its stupidity is American."
Of course, Edgar
never experienced the sheer ecstasy of his own home page. Plus,
he died in a gutter in Baltimore.
Our current tsunami
of homemade information can be blamed on Dr. Spockor should
we say Dr. Frankenstein. Unjustified positive reinforcement of
children has produced legions of deluded youth teeming with the
confidence, the responsibility of creativity to carry us into
the next Millennium. Getting patted on the head as a child does
not a genius make, especially in our SAT-saddened Golden State
of California. And the finger of blame must also be pointed at
our nation's art schools, jettisoning scads of young bohos eager
for a medium to express themselves, because, you see, their ideas
are new. Turning society on its ear. They've studied it.
No, sometimes a
kid has to be told, "You don't count. Not yet."
Clearly we've succumbed
to the banality of bandwidth. The public can't endure many more
zines of shitty poetry, lousy bands that have no chance in hell,
boring camcorder video "projects," or lame Web sites
that take forever to download a photo of somebody's beer bottle
collection. Hooray, you did it! You actually put together a collection
of information important to you personally! Congratulations!
You're a brilliant, sovereign individual, and your pinhead world
view is now available!
Yes, the DIY impulse
has been influential in our popular culture, but the essential
truth is obvious. Some of us are inferior. We can't help it.
We're pretty crappy at what we do. Some of us are terrible editors,
publishers, musicians, filmmakers, artists and "multi-media"
artisans. Most of us don't belong in the business of presenting
information. We should all shut the fuck up and go work at a
But you wouldn't
know it from the DIY peer industry. Magazine after magazine runs
glowing reviews of sloppy bands, blurry slapdash videos, Junior's
kooky Web site, and zine after zine of putrid nonsense barely
legible even to its creator. These zines then offer reciprocal
blowjobs to other zines, and Web sites link to other sites without
thought or logic. And Joan Ellis sits at her New Jersey kitchen
table, bravely pounding out another concise appraisal of Hollywood's
No, the time has
come for a new trend: DDIY. Don't Do It Yourself, America. GAJ
is our newest zeitgeist: Get a Job! Relax, sit back in your ratty
sofa and enjoy the show. Just because there's bad stuff out there
doesn't mean you have to participate. That's what surfing is
all about. And if you're an art student, what could be more transgressive,
more punk, more anti-anti than saying fuck you to DIY? Can you
see the slogans? "DIY sucks!" "DIY is for people
who can't handle being spoon-fed!" "DIY? I don't know,
Copyright 1996 Jack Boulware. This column originally appeared
in SF Weekly.
Posted with permission.
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