The Closing of Generation X
Digital and local culture,
with the beat of Hiawatha.
On December twenty-eighth I
heard that Generation X will
close its doors and that, beginning
New Year's Day they would be selling
off their films. The old and mainstream,
horror and alternative and
more will go until the doors are
shut for good on Valen-tine's Day.
Rental shops are on the way out,
but this exit has been met with
disappointment and dismay that
is surprising for a small and
local video store. Which
makes me think I do not get the
way that culture works. So maybe
you can help me out perhaps?
+ + +
When I read of culture and its
changes, mostly I am reading
algo-rithmic-ally based thoughts
written by the digerati,
based on abstract concepts such as
filters, networks, and gate-keepers.
Coasian transaction costs and
read/write culture fill the pages.
Yet these concepts miss the very
things that Generation X brought
to the town of Waterloo for
sixteen years of offbeat culture.
If you read the digerati
you will read of publishers and
outlets (video and book and
music too) as "gatekeepers" whose
job it is to filter out the
works that do not make the grade to
be considered part of "culture".
Internet-based artists have no
need for such an institution;
middle-men will fade away as
now the artists reach directly
to their global audiences.
Well, good luck with that if you have
neither name nor luck to help you.
Yes it's true that clouds can store all
yours and mine and everyone's art,
yet with no one who curates it
it will sit upon its disk drive,
left unnoticed by the public.
Democratized? I do not think so.
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"Gatekeeper" just does not capture
what it is that independent
stores can bring to local landscapes.
Certainly it does no justice
to the complex role that Gen-X
played in Waterloo for years now.
Movies are the formal product,
but community is there too.
When will Netflix organize a
zombie walk on uptown streets or
sponsor The TriCity Roller
Girls (a flat-track roller derby team)?
When will iTunes hand out dog treats,
welcome pets into the store, or
join with next-door coffee shop to
raise some money for a goat?
Amazon will never help to
run a standup festival, or
carve a space for LGBT
films (and also TV series).
Nor will Googlers ever be as
cool as staff who know their subject,
finding just the film you mean when
hazy recollections are the most you
can recount about some movie.
Concerts, lectures, workshops, protests
posted on the notice board, and
funky buttons at the counter, next to
"Theme of Week" films (where else would you
find "The Missing Limb" for that one?)
And I'm sure there's more I'm missing.
Film enthusiasts, I know, would
see it as a place to gather:
now where will they meet each other?
+ + +
"Gatekeeper" suggests a barrier
keeping out what wants to come in.
But the truth is much more friendly;
"Gard'ner" is a better title
for the independent stores who
foster culture in their cities.
Tending a community of
artists, readers, watchers, fans is
more involved than HTML.
I was speaking to a drummer
in a local indie band, who told
me that the music scene still
has the big stars (they will
always be here) and that there are
many smaller acts who find their
way to play at bars and clubs; but
what is missing is the middle -
bands go viral or they wither.
In the book world it's the same: the
midlist author is the one who
finds they can no longer reach a
public focused on the moment.
Large fixed costs and network effects
lend themselves to tournaments where
winners take all, most take little.
Better hope you win the sweepstakes!
It's those modest institutions
which it's easy to forget, who
bridge the gap from hobbyist to
artist, author, movie maker.
Here's one fact that makes a difference:
Gen X had a point of view, and
so do most small institutions.
Why? Because their owners give a
damn and that's the thing that matters.
Algorithms do not capture
how a healthy culture functions.
Filters cannot yield the richness
of the unexpected finding.
At its heart, community is
what gives art and culture strength to
find its feet and make itself heard.
Platforms for participation
do not make much diff'rence to that.
+ + +
Many here like me will miss our
Generation X, but still I
understand why owner Mike has
said it's time for him to move on.
Nothing lasts for ever, does it?
Let us hope that there are others
who can take another step and
start up something new and diff'rent.
(And at least I'll get more work done!)