Hipsters: Chapter 9

Spring 2010: White Papers and TED Talks

Eight Minutes in Hell

[Alice Shimada, White Paper]

Angst is an emotion distinguished by self-reflection. If you meet the man of your dreams at a bar, that’s love. If that’s a lesbian bar and you’re a card-carrying dyke, that’s angst. Though… who knows? Perhaps that’s not angst. It is still the case that at least I would feel angst. And that angst lies in the fact that I am aggressively monogamous. When I fall in love, it is already angst.

Nothing causes more angst than the Internet.

That thing where you can’t believe someone with the IQ of a pencil was invited to this TED talk thing, to talk about drinking beer in Mexico and now it hurts you to see the video linked in all your friends’ Facebook feeds? That’s jealousy. Believing all the while that the TED talks and Facebook are hot trash? That’s angst. What the heck is TED anyway?

The TED Talks were orchestrated to create angst, but “Ideas worth sharing(TM)” refer to hot topics like urban farming and the plight of Tuna, making absolutely no mention of your long desire to establish platonic intimacy with the clerk at the local bodega where you buy spicy tuna rolls sometimes for lunch, or the joy of a $1.99 bag of salad marked down at the end of the month.

Solutions to world problems can be viralized in TED’s tidy eight minute performances. TED broadcasts these videos without the mumbo jumbo of 4 year education or academic bureaucracy, and yet, a TED speaker is henceforth referred to as a Fellow—the apex of adjudicary rank. And who better to inhabit a world without makeup, commercial tampons or rules of grammar than a “fellow.”

A friend of mine actually paid the full admission to see the big show in Long Beach, and told me how hard the administrators worked to make the presentations seamless and camera-ready, how worthwhile it was once he saw the final video. He has season tickets to The Met Opera, though, so I think he’s used to exorbitantly priced performances by divas who have to pretend they’re not mic-ed (We see the lavalier, boo. You’re fooling no one.) Mind you, it’s music that can otherwise be appreciated on CD for free.

Only for patrons of classical music would a CD be the preferred music delivery system, by the way. Hip-hop nerds have their cassette tapes, rock enthusiasts obviously lie about the size of their vinyl collection to get laid (“I keep them at my mom’s house”), and real jazz fans don’t have any recorded music, much less any belongings, because they’re dirt poor from playing jazz.  Sure, you have people with their hip hop vinyl and a couple owners of “Bernstein at Carnegie” on Laserdisc who live in a five acre manse outside of Ottowa. You have the guy who still has his CaseLogic binders full of bootleg punk albums, and the gal with every album recorded by Morrissey,  Ian Curtis and Carlie Rae Jepson, but I stand by my musical racism. We each have our phonologically predetermined delivery mechanisms, and until you show me a Compact Vinyl Cassette, I have the right to my goddamned opinion (I own the First Amendment on an imported Japanese minidisc).

Today, most of us depend on the Internet for all their media, which in turn defines both the kind of music you hear and listen to. Your tastes can be defined by the flat compression of a so-called epoch-making single like “Chandelier” but the fact is Sia sounds just like Nickelback because it’s all been equalized to the same two tracks by the same ten producers, and the earbud/headphone/Bose system we all got with that first paycheck after Beyonce dropped “Single Ladies” don’t hurt more than the tinny speakers on your laptop, which don’t harm the purity of music enough to beckon that other relic of pre-Internet auditory pleasure: the boombox.

Eight minutes in Hell. That’s what I call the Internet. After eight minutes of anything on the Internet, we all involuntarily stop whatever we’re doing and move on to the next song. It’s why none of us has enjoyed a full album since 2006, unless we’re willing to admit to age and commit the cardinal sin of being stuck in the past. Angst.

e-Sig versus e-Cig

I got a G-Cal notification from Jen’s assistant, Gungsadawn, who “goes by Gung,” whose email signature was a Nikita Khrushchev quote — The more bombs, the less room for doves.

Jen was requesting to conference with me and Johnny. Her communications methodologies were all over the place, but I assumed she asked Gung to schedule the call rather than email or text us directly as she had in the past, because she needed to give her assistant (who looked perpetually bored and annoyed) something to do. I accepted the invitation, only to see minutes later Johnny decline, and suggest a different time more accommodating to him. As immediately, Gung cancelled the first “event” and created a new one per Johnny’s schedule, and as tempted as I was to decline it with the same audacity, I knew it wouldn’t be tolerated, and I didn’t actually want to think about Gung getting even more annoyed than she already was.

As the time approached for us to conference, I pinged Johnny asking what he thought this was about. He said he had no idea, but by the way, he loved my takedown of the TED talk. He especially loved the bit about the CDs. Speaking of outdated content delivery systems, I said to him, I admitted I had to google what a “white paper” was and decided that I wasn’t hired to write antiseptic reports, so this was more like a call to arms. He “LOL”ed and compared it to the first Act of Jerry McGuire and I wasn’t mad about it. An “LOL” was a clear upgrade from “ha.”

He then said I should try getting the paper published in VICE because it had that kind of disgruntled tone.

I grimaced. I was about to respond when Jen appeared online, and we reflexively stopped chatting, as if she could hear us. Moments later we were both pinged by Gung in a group chat window, asking if we were ready for the call. I sent a thumbs up emoticon and Johnny replied “yes.”

Jen started the call by letting us now she was on speaker with Gung and her VP of Strategy, Jane, though the fuzzy caliber of her voice had already made it clear. I hated speaker phone for all the work I’d have to do to discern and articulate words.

“So listen, guys. I was talking to Jane about the speaker conference you guys are working on but before that, let’s talk about your white paper, Alice.

“Johnny was just saying I should send it to VICE. Ha!” I said.

You should have. I heard someone in the background. And we all paused.

“Pardon my French, but what the fuck were you thinking writing this to an open company-wide line? Imagine if someone sent this to Chris Andersen? You realize he’s within one click of our message board?” Julia couldn’t hide her anger.

My heart stopped. I hadn’t been scolded in ages, but this was not just a scolding. It was the job of my dreams ending.

“Does anyone know Chris Andersen at the office?” I asked, idiotically.

“That’s obviously not the point. Someone with the IQ of a pencil talking about Mexican beer…you must think I’m a real fucking idiot. We all know who you’re talking about.”

“First, I want to apologize. I realize now, and was just telling Johnny, actually, that this was less a white paper and more like a call to arms. And second, I honestly made up this pencil selling Mexican beer guy. But honestly, I’m sorry this paper went so sideways. I don’t know what I was doing.”

“Suffice it to say I’ve taken it down. But I am starting to seriously question what I have you two working on, if you think you can just waste your time taking cheap stabs at a potential client and an esteemed professional peer. Can you imagine what they’d think if they saw this?” Jen said.

“You’re absolutely right, Jen, and I’m glad you caught this before it went too far,” said Johnny. Adding:

“I didn’t think to check if this was published company-wide and assumed it was a private draft to just us, for entertainment, but it could absolutely have gotten out of hand, and I want to take responsibility for this because Alice published it on my watch. And to be fair, she really didn’t know what a white paper was until I tasked her to write this one.”

My palms were clenched around pools of acid rain.  I couldn’t believe the conversation taking place between Johnny and Jen. I kept listening for a cue to speak up for myself but intuition and survival instinct told me to keep quiet. I heard my father’s voice—I don’t want to hear excuses. I would apologize without rationalizing any further. I knew I’d fucked up, and I knew excuses would suffice only to further sink me. What struck me now was a frustration with Johnny that was now catalyzed into infuriation. Not because he was throwing me under the bus. I was enraged because he claimed to have responsibility over me—this happened on my watch—when I had convinced myself this whole time that despite whatever else I may have had to do to maintain intellectual dignity working in an ass hat environment of marketing syllogisms and abbreviations of craft, at the very least, The Cool Guy and The Smart Gal had professional parity. I worked independently, and not under anyone’s real supervision. Definitely not his. Johnny’s words patronized me in a way I did not want to admit, and the force of this imbalance would drive me to use even bigger words and push him back into ever more irrelevant corners of his cyclopedia.

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