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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 way."
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 parts—even 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 Newsweek.
This trivialization 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-old—here'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 trove?
"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. Spock—or 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 hardware store.
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 newest.
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, do you?"

Copyright 1996 Jack Boulware. This column originally appeared in SF Weekly. Posted with permission.

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