june 8 1996:
just one person

s long as we're on the subject of movies, Pump Up The Volume is one of the formative films of my youth. It came out in the late summer, between my freshman and sophomore years in high school. That puts it right around the conclusion of my final MTV phase. (I think. The topography of my MTV habits has not yet been fully digested, and the topic will have to wait for another day.) It helped inspire me to start an independent school paper, which was my first real, wide-ranging project in self-publishing, an obsession which continues today.

PUTV is, of course, a totally unrealistic adolescent fantasy. I even had some idea of this at the time that I first saw it. First off, that principal-lady character was straight-up Wicked Witch of the West. Played it broader than a city block. It was just insane. In general, 20/20 hindsight puts the whole movie pretty squarely in the tradition of sensationalized, melodramatic '50s teen movies similar to the ones I wrote about last week (which is odd because so many of PUTV's details also ring true in a way that '90s teen movies hadn't up until then). There are all kinds of discrediting angles you can take on its premise and politics; one newspaper review I read at the time said that "odds are, if some kid started playing hardcore hip-hop on pirate radio at a high school in Arizona, nobody would give a shit." (I'm not sure I agree with that, but I remembered it. I read it while sitting in the Berkeley BART station.)

back to the present...

chuck in arcade
(there is Just One Person in this photo, which was taken by my brother.)

But PUTV's way of portraying pirate radio as a medium is interesting. Pirate radio - oops, sorry, "micro-power broadcasting" - is more often portrayed these days as a political movement, on the part of a small, close-knit group of people (or a small, more abstract organization) led by a somewhat techie radical. Ninety percent of this perception comes straight from Steven Dunifer of Free Radio Berkeley, and from the newspaper articles and interviews that keep popping up about his incredible successes in standing up to the FCC.

PUTV's vision of pirate radio is less romantic in some ways, and more romantic in others. PUTV presents a vision of a lonely, tortured (if attractive and often shirtless) soul hunched over a microphone, who puts on his show every night, describing how in the beginning, he kept going by imagining that maybe there was just one person out there, listening.

By the time the story actually begins, there are many more than just one person listening to the nightly Happy Harry Hard-on program. Indeed, the shit is about to blow in a way that any basement Web-page author would kill for. Which leads me to my point.

I try not to write about the Web very often, but I keep an eye out for new metaphors and such. Of course, the Web-as-pirate-radio metaphor has already had its short life. The Web just isn't that way anymore. It's big publishing, and everybody's got their eye on the hit counter. So what we need, and what we can get from PUTV, is not a metaphor for a thing, really, but a sort of mnemonic that can help us look at our work a certain way. Like "It's the content, stupid" or its moronic successor, "Context, not content." (I'll have to write about that one another time.) Those two have been of use largely to big companies; individuals need more ammunition.

The mnemonic little catchphrase is: Just one person. When you're writing your web site (or designing it, whatever), banish thoughts of big hit counts from your mind. Think of your page as being seen by just one total stranger every day. Don't talk to them directly; if you do, they'll just get self-conscious. Continue to speak to many people, as though you are media, which you are. But you should hold in your mind the idea that your web pages will grow slowly and quietly, as people link to you through the random graces and find something that compels them to stay a while.

Imagine your pages as a small hand-painted object that commuters on a train discover under their seat. They admire its clean joints and red knobby yo-yo-like surfaces for a while, then they set it down when they come to their stop, and someone else picks it up and admires it. Everyone on the train can eventually see it, that way.

Now, I've got a few issues to work through: there's a stupid little twelve-year-old in my head who thinks that if I keep going on the just-one-person philosophy, I'll grow slowly and quietly and the stuff that I grow will be so good that eventually I'll have enough of it to be Cool Site of the Day. This mindset is a limitation. I'm not quite capable of embracing the just-one-person philosophy completely enough to do right by it. But don't let my disappointing example put you off. You're more than welcome to make this idea as useful as you can for yourself, and if you like, spread the catchphrase.

in other news...

Three times now I've tried to get Yahoo to list my home page under their "Entertainment:People" home page listing. Three times my request has been mechanically ignored. Does anyone know anything about how or why they make these decisions? I know for a fact that when it comes to people's home pages, they aren't selecting for quality. So what's up?

Saw the Brothers Quay's Institute Benjamenta yesterday. It's definitely an art film, meaning that making sense is not the number-one item on the agenda. (But we're adults; we can handle that.) Actually for the first two thirds of the movie it's unmistakably a Brothers Quay film, and the pretentiousness usually comes off as quite intentionally funny. Then after the two-thirds mark, it succumbs to a few art-film cliches which are less distinctive to the particular artists, and the pretentiousness wears on you more. It pulls back together somewhat by the end, but the missteps make you start to want it to be over before you really should. At least it is visually beautiful, emotional and involving, so even as the cliches come in, you want to let yourself ride with them.

I wish I could say I'm doing as much of my summer reading as I had set out to. But the problem is the same problem I had with working on my computer during the last part of the school year: it's fundamentally an activity that you do by yourself, and these days I am lonely and want to be around people.

the amazing
(free bonus sketch of my friend Mimi, made at Columbia! that thing in her lap is a pillow rendition of the head of Pebbles.)

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Tales From The Dork Side are copyright Mike Sugarbaker, email for permission to redistribute.
Updated June 8 1996