Archive for the 'Culture' Category

You call him sissy and I’ll call him stronger than you

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

The language we use to process our thoughts is a silent determinant in how we frame the world.* So when english-thinking people try to understand gender-related personality traits, we come upon a wall of strong masculine-feminine duality with a haphazard set of words for everything in between. Queer, transgendered, bisexual, pansy, femme, butch, gay – there is no clean spectrum to frame our identity.

And it wasn’t even until quite recently that we broke free from a very strict dualistic dichotomy. Gay boys and girls struggling with their identity had no framework to find their niche. Many felt forced to pick the set of cultural norms for the opposite of their own gender, and those who resisted often struggled with hiding their sexual orientation even if they wanted to be open and out in the greater society.

Since the late-60s we’ve been slowly moving towards an acceptance and understanding of the greater gender spectrum. Just as we have unbridled ourselves to take on whatever kind of profession or interest we desire, just as women have fought to eliminate the male-heavy roles in society, we have become more comfortable with where we lay between completely heterosexual and completely homosexual, and completely masculine and completely feminine. But we still still struggle with it because it requires a great deal of effort to put into words how we think and feel about where we are along the spectrum. The vocabulary available to us is unevenly spread across the shades of identity.

What got me thinking about this problem is what seems like an increasing number of videos, posts, and comments online by effeminate gays defending their right to be who they are. Among gay men, there is a bias against the more feminine men and a greater demand for ‘straight-acting’ gays who have little or none of the affectations of a ‘sissy’ – lispy voice, hyper-attention to outward appearance and use of body stylings more popular with females, etc.

Note that all of the terms I used in that last paragraph are relative – ‘straight-acting’ has no permanent definition, and neither does ‘sissy’ – and the latter is being pulled into words deemed totally unutterable, such as where ‘faggot’ will probably be in a decade or two.

As I began trying to understand the issues revolving the role of effeminate men in gay culture, the reality, as usual, is vastly varied and subtle. Most obviously is the wide range of identity among gay men. There is no common trait with any of them except their attraction to their attraction to other men (providing they are not bisexual to any degree).

But the biggest issue is where a gay man is on their quest to be fully accepting of their own identity. Having a sexual identity different than most other boys just when everyone is having to deal with new and confusing feelings and thoughts is only a catalyst for merely feeling different – an unsettling problem that can persist for a long time after fully coming out to family, friends, coworkers, and everyone else who matters in life. In other words, you may be honest with yourself and others about your sexuality, but you must also accept yourself as a whole because you may not have gotten over the feeling of being different.

(If you even vaguely feel this way, I suggest reading The Velvet Rage by Alan Downs – and you may want to think about talking with a gay-friendly therapist.)

So what is happening is that gays in varying states of accepting themselves for who they really are, thrown in to the same socializing and dating pool as gays fully comfortable in their own skin, all dealing with gays still coming to terms with their sexuality, plus heterosexuals in their own wide range of acceptance and persecution. And within the gay community the ones getting the short end of the stick are effeminate men who are fully accepting of themselves but who have a hard time trying to find peace and companionship. This is the group who put up with the brunt of the bullying as a teenager, the ones who are often survivors of much pain and suffering, who have fought hard for any scrap of happiness. They are often strong and outspoken – and still have trouble finding acceptance in the community they and their forebears built. It should always be remembered that among those who fought the hardest for gay rights were often the swishing, lisping ‘screaming queens’ that defined the stereotype. It was the drag queens who fought back during the Stonewall Riots, and never forget that.

That should be enough to give one pause and to think about one’s own gender biases. Our culture still holds onto the idea that it’s the manly men who are the strongest and put up with the grunt work of life – but that’s as much of a myth as the idea that we are the gender we appear on the outside. One of the greatest discoveries of the feminist movement is the role of women in history. The half of the population who stayed home while the man worked, who didn’t strap on a gun and fight in wars – they were often the ones who pushed the men and who fought for what really mattered. As recent as the Iranian election protests of 2009 it was the women who were the bravest in fighting back against the oppressive regime.

Because the primary function of language is to communicate between humans, changing our ways of expressing gender will take time. Sure, a panel of experts could come up with a whole new way of discussing identity, but if no one adopt their decisions the change will fail. Realistically all we can do is lay groundwork for future generations to better comprehend the range of who we are by doing the best we can with the words we have and let the usual mutation of slang, idioms, and clichés push into a more accepting way of thought.


* For more information, see the Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis…or for something less dry, try “How does our language shape the way we think?” by Lera Boroditsky, or “Does Your Language Shape How You Think?” from The New York Times.

Roommate hunting, online relationships, and information asymmetry

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

A little over a month ago I needed a roommate.

I live in a three-bedroom apartment and I signed a lease with a second roommate stating that we would split the full rent between us, so there was a strong incentive to find someone to live in the third bedroom.

And, just like most every other important decision, I (we) procrastinated.

Two weeks before the new lease was to go into effect I took some pictures of the place and wrote up a nice post for Craigslist. I talked about the roomy kitchen and the dishwasher, and casually not mentioning the downsides (like the lack of a washer and dryer). At the end I deliberately tacked on a very short description of us:

We’re a man and a woman who are both fairly quiet, laid back, and keep to ourselves. Occasionally we’ll have friends over but usually only for dinner or movie watching. We’re looking for someone who’s the same.

We didn’t want someone who expected to become BFFs with us – even though we were totally okay if they turned out to be friendly.

Of the responses, about one in ten responded back to my initial contact. And even fewer of those actually showed up. The first one who came to see the place was a lovely French-Canadian architect we both loved but several days later decided against it because of the lack of the washer/dryer situation. Thus began a series of rejections by nice people of the place for little things: they found a place closer to their work, decided to move in with their girlfriend after all, and so on.

One early response intrigued me. It was from a college student who was moving to Boston from Nebraska. He wouldn’t be able to see the place but it seemed good enough for him and he assumed we weren’t too concerned with meeting him. Now, despite being vague in the posting we definitely wanted to meet the roommate in person so we could size up their potential to be crazy. So I searched for him online, found his Twitter and Facebook pages, discovered his Tumblr sites, and figured he was a good enough guy but it was early in the search so I told him that if he’d wait until we’d get a decision from the other good prospects who actually visited, he’d have the room. I then proceeded to fill in more information about ourselves and asked him to do the same.

No answer.

I found that interesting. He really just wanted a place to crash, even if it seemed like he’d still be home for homework and maybe a party or two. Or did the description of the two of us scare him off? Did I give off the vibe that we were looking for a BFF? Probably.

That was what made me realize that as efficient as internet tools can be to find people for nearly any kind of transaction or relationship, there was still a lot of information that depended on interpretation. The ambiguities, I realized, were inherent in the writing. It’s when two people meet in person that they can better size the other up in both conscious and unconscious ways. When writing an email or a text or even a video chat, there are limitations to what can be presented and opportunities to mask flaws. I didn’t want to say yes to this guy because I still wasn’t totally sure if he was going to be a good fit for me and the other roommate – and he may have perceived my response as different that what he’d expect from someone who merely wanted someone to pay the rent (which, despite the hesitation, was us…but with reservations).

To give this a name, I call it information asymmetry.

Information asymmetry actually can be beneficial. A company can use the limited knowledge of their customers to charge different people different prices; a trader can gain an advantage by knowing more about the product they are receiving than the other person has of theirs and thus make a profit; a politician can count on everyone else not reading all of a law and then tack on a piece that only benefits their constituents or who bribed them the most.

But in most human interactions, it’s better to give as much information as possible – except when one party is trying to deceive the other. And honestly, everyone deceives others even if just a little to give a positive presentation. Finding a roommate, however, needs both honesty and a little deception. If we are going to agree to give someone equal access to the same place we sleep, eat, and store our stuff, we want to know they aren’t insane or won’t cook awful smelling food or allow dangerous people into the apartment. And yet we want to make the place as attractive as possible to get the kind of person we’d get along with on a daily basis, so we have to be coy about a few details in the hope that the person, upon meeting us, is okay with the downsides.

This dance continued for the next week. Good people eventually passed, others turned out to be a mess in person. There were occasionally long exchanges of emails as we traded bits of ourselves to determine if the things we didn’t know where acceptable. One response said that he had just graduated from Catholic seminary. So I responded by asking if he was okay with having a gay roommate. He then emailed me with a long explanation of his stance: he was okay with having a gay roommate, but he still considered homosexuality a sin and immoral (but, he said it was immoral objectively and not subjectively, whatever that means). I decided he thought of being gay as a sin, but there are lots of sins, and we all sin. A cogent Catholic response. But I wasn’t too certain so I never emailed him back.

Eventually (as in two days before the start of the new lease) we found someone. He was coy about his work situation in email but was completely upfront upon meeting us. Plus he seemed like a good guy and was willing to meet all of our and our landlord’s terms. So we went with him. A month later I can say we chose the right guy. Our third roommate is wonderful and turns out to be very friendly too. It all worked out.

For a large segment of the population of the developed world (and a big share of the developing world too) we depend on the internet to handle our personal affairs (like banking, finding a roommate, etc.), to keep in touch with old and existing friends, and make new ones. Often these new friends come by accident, other times we find them through dating websites or simply actively looking for like-minded people to find. I have personal experience that the social tools available right now make it easy to find great people who match your interests, disposition, even sense of humor in ways not bound by geography and distance.

But that pesky information asymmetry pops up again and again. Misunderstandings, arguments, even feuds develop because of the murkiness of expressing ourselves through text, imagery, and videos. You might think if only we all were honest and clear in our intentions and the things we do, but not even the most upstanding can do that all the time. Like a blindspot, little discrepancies develop between a person’s online persona and who they really are. This is done both consciously and because online communication cannot match, say, spending the day with someone in person. You can say more in an hour than a year of texts. And because we may only have access to online content, we can only assemble an incomplete picture of someone.

I was involved in an online friendship that I’m pretty sure disintegrated because of information asymmetry (being an optimist I hope it really isn’t over). Both of us had incomplete information about the other and were unwilling or too coy to fill in the blanks. One dumb comment, two dumb comments, a couple of bad choices, and suddenly one isn’t talking to the other. Or are they? It’s hard to tell with most online communication: are they deliberately ignoring messages or are they desperately trying to come up with an honest response and failing and thus not saying anything at all? Maybe out of some sort of cowardice they are hoping the problem will just go away. There are no checks and balances of a physically close relationship – no third parties to stop on the street to get some answers, no chance of getting the truth on the more public forums without making it obvious to everyone else that something is going on. Whereas a meeting at a coffeehouse, for example, while public, is masked by distinctly separate conversations. Posting in the same forum as they and lots of mutual contacts, has the same weight as saying what’s on your mind to every person in the coffeehouse.

It’s situations like this that make it clear that online relationships still require traditional connections. When all you can do to talk to someone is to write a letter and wait days or weeks for a response, the physical distance is obvious and tactile; when you can text someone anywhere in the world and get an immediate response, the mind is tricked into assuming a close proximity. People still need to meet in person – in fact, often when I meet someone in person after knowing them online for a time, the relationship becomes more real, even if we only met for a few hours and never again. But to really feel close there needs more contact and continuous conscious acknowledgement that the person you are communicating with is still far away.

We keep making more powerful tools, but we’re still social animals who have spent most of our time evolving on the African savannah.

Working to end gay suicides

Friday, October 1st, 2010

I don’t place much value on protests, nor do I consider token donations to charitable causes as little more than an attempt to feel better about oneself. I do believe in action and, barring that, vocal support and standing by one’s convictions.

So.

Despite all the advances in gay rights and acceptance in the last fifty years, gay teens are still being pushed to suicide. And for every one that kills themselves, there are many more contemplating it. People of all kinds driven to suicide is a serious issue, but those who do it because of social stigma for an attribute for which they have no control over, it is all the worse because everyone in our society is to blame.

Being gay is not a choice. It is not immoral. It is not something that can be condemned by anyone professing to be a member of any faith or religion founded on love and kindness. What matters is your happiness and whether you are harming someone or they are harming you. If you are gay, lesbian, transgendered, or questioning and are being told otherwise by people you trust, you need to find other people to trust immediately. Easier said than done, I know.

“Be patient and tough; some day this pain will be useful to you.”
- Ovid

Life is hard. Very hard. We are given inadequate tools and too quickly forced to fend for ourselves. And those who are charged with raising us and teaching us were also given inadequate tools and may not give you the best in return. One must be forgiving but also must seek the truth.

Sexuality of any kind is fraught with issues. There’s awkwardness and confusion and exploration and some people are telling you it’s bad and others are telling you it’s good and sometimes you’re told it’s an important and a fun part of life but don’t worry about it too much.

One could look at coming to terms with one’s sexuality as a trial. It will be hard, and it may make you unhappy, but you’ll get over it. And if you can’t there are helpful people who can guide you to accepting who you are.

I know this because I am gay and I spent years untangling the subtle and not-so-subtle things said and done against me to make me feel like my sexuality was wrong, immoral, and woefully condemned. As far as I can remember I never considered taking my life as an option, partly out of egotism and partly because of an quiet but persistent voice saying something not unlike Ovid’s line. “You’ll get through this,” it seemed to whisper, “Life goes on and you’ll want to be around for the better days.

More importantly, we need gays who survived adolescence to help others along the way, because as more accepting as society may become, we all experience life afresh and need all the support we can get.

We also need people of all kinds to be angry. Angry that our young are taking their lives because of hatred and misunderstanding. Angry that persons of power and influence continue to be hypocritical over who can be loved and who is equal. Angry that the gay community is largely uninterested in helping, nay, fighting for our young members to survive. Be angry and use that anger to protect those who need protection and fight back against those who harm the weak.

I know it sounds hypocritical to espouse actions in a blog post, but I am doing my part to help those in need. I don’t want anyone to experience the mental prison I was pushed into, or worse. I am angry. I will fight.

There are resources like The Trevor Project that help those who are gay and contemplating suicide.

And if you need someone to talk to, you can email me (correspondence at budaeli dot com), contact me on Twitter, or leave a comment on this site.

Looking forward to the decade which may or may not be called the Teens

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

Fireweed plant near Mt. St. Helens four years after the volcano's eruption. (Photo via USGS/Lyn Topinka)

This is part of a series on ideas for today. I’ve already published an introduction.

The last decade, the one we are just emerging from, was the least culturally productive in America since the Fifties. In fact, I’d say the last decade was worse than the Fifties, which at least introduced new ideas that would come to fruition in the Sixties. Unlike that period, instead of being stiflingly conformist and Puritan most of the time (or I should say in public), we shared too much of ourselves. We became shameless for attention, and whithered as the Internet gave us too much exposure to every gross, banal thing on the planet. I’m not saying that we were too permissive; rather the permissiveness diluted our ability to limit our options and excel in narrowly-defined ways.

We have a new decade ahead of us and a new chance to forge ahead. We don’t necessarily need to invent anything new, but we should pursue the best of everything. More people are alive right now than any other point in human history. That is a massive opportunity, one we’ve only just begun to exploit – there are more smart and creative people alive now than ever.

But what do the makers of culture have to show for the last ten years? How much music made recently will still be listened to, played, and admired twenty or thirty years from now? I think little to none. Same goes for literature. We did make some great movies and television shows, but we can do so much better.

Before you rattle off a list of your favorite musicians, underrated authors, and other artists – or you invoke the “Great art isn’t usually discovered until long after it’s made”, I want you to understand that oftentimes long before that ‘great art’ is appreciated, there are a few other artists who see its value and are inspired to make derivative works. Enough of those can create a movement. And anyone who watches cultural currents closely should be able to notice a trend in the same way one can see fashion trends (actually art and fashion trends usually move in the same direction). If anything, I’ve seen more of a clearing of the board in the last several years, as if every creative person is unconsciously preparing for a series of new styles and trends. Take popular music – that area is ripe for experimentation and new sounds.

That clearing of the board doesn’t need to go on any further. Now is the time to plant new ideas. It is time to fuck shit up, throw out the rule book, drop out, and other overused clichés. Even if it seems like everyone is making up their own rules and doing their own thing, we’re all slaves to our environment, upbringing, and language in such a way that the way we ‘break the rules’ is the same way as everyone else. Instead, look to the real innovators, that tiny fraction of society that honestly doesn’t give a whit what anyone else thinks and does their own thing, but with integrity. I’m talking about the Jimi Hendrixes, the Allen Ginsbergs, the Philip K. Dicks – the ones who initially appear to come from another planet, but whose works later turn out to be exactly what we needed and love.

So what can we do?

Let’s make a style of popular music to replace rock, R&B, and hip-hop.

Let’s revive the written narrative and make it relevant to our lives today. That may mean a concentration on short stories, or some brand new form.

Let’s forge a new path in philosophy, even if it may be an admission that the teachings of The Buddha are precisely what we need.

Let’s take over the cheap rent of abandoned neighborhoods in cities across the country and start some old fashioned culture engines. If you care enough about art you’ll move.

Let’s make an subculture that has its own norms for personal relationships, fashion, even slang. Preferably one that everyone ridicules at first.

We can even join several of these enclaves together online.

Let’s sto praising mediocrity. Let’s ignore memes and start movements, people copying and modifying rules for creating art instead of copying punchlines. Let’s not use our stars and hearts and likes to give credit to unimportant things and save our praise for the truly great.

Let’s patronize people who have a good chance of creating great art. We all need to eat.

Let’s get some new clichés.

Let’s spread the word about the things we like, and keep our promotion limited to creativity and greatness and not the effort.

Let’s do all of these things and more but with integrity. It’s easy to be a dilettante when consciously changing the world.

We have a collective memory of past trends and movements that may make it hard to try something new. So let’s forget the past: raid the things past creatives succeeded with and make something new. If the pioneers of rock copied and then exceeded the blues performers of the past then we can do the same. See the paradox? We cannot for a moment forget what our ancestors have done, but we shouldn’t let the paths they followed guide us.

Okay. Go forth and make something exciting and new.

Or you can argue with me first in the comments.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

Black History Month is a fucking joke.

I’m writing this four days after February, the month designated in America for recognition of the history of blacks. And it is not enough. Good lord is it not enough.

The history of blacks in America, their enslavement, freedom, oppression, freedom again, and the final hurdle of unconscious discrimination is the single most important part of the history of the United States and American culture, and what makes it unique and broadly misunderstood by people raised in other cultures.

It’s so important that we don’t need a single month remember this complex and sorrowful part of our collective past: it should be deeply investigated by grade level students. I’m not talking about merely watching Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech and recounting the tale of Rosa Parks and making face masks of famous blacks. I’m talking about reading the speeches of Frederick Douglass (especially his Independence Day speech, which today sounds like something that one would hear on The Daily Show); I’m talking about seeing a living history example of real life as a slave, and getting, if only a glimpse, of the deep, lifelong horror of being treated as property, oftentimes lower than that of a horse; I’m talking about lessons in discrimination, close to what Jane Elliott did with her class; I’m talking about music appreciation classes with an emphasis on the the black subculture’s* influence on American music; etc. The biggest hurdle is getting people to understand slavery and how it shaped everything that came afterward; I suspect modeling education on that used to teach about the Jewish Holocaust.

Why is this so important?

Take a look at your musical preferences – even if you aren’t directly persuaded by American culture. Chances are good that you can trace the influences of your favorite artists to the experiments of several black musicians from the early Twentieth Century. But this is superficial.

The history of blacks in America is deeply intertwined in what makes an American, and why people from other cultures look upon us with perplexion. Our ancestors talked of freedom and liberty – which kind of sounded like they were meant for everybody but really only meant white, landowning males. These same men who orated at length about the ‘American spirit’ themselves (or let their brethren) to treat other fellow humans as property. For two hundred years these downtrodden – ultimately only considered inferior because of the pigmentation of their skin – survived under brutal, soul-crushing conditions. A few paragraphs back I mentioned the Jewish Holocaust, another blight point in human history – but comparisons are deceitful: the Jews sent to their deaths once knew something like freedom in their lifetimes; blacks often (and especially after 1800, when importation of slaves was made illegal) were several generations into enslavement and torture. Imagine if the Holocaust were still running today, and you might be able to imagine the extensive suffering.

And yet! And yet, through brutal torture beyond justification, humanity endured. Slaves fought to keep their families together and kept alive through songs and even jokes. Here’s a firsthand account† about that peculiar attempt at joy:

They say that slaves are happy, because they laugh, and are merry. I myself and three or four others, have received two hundred lashes in the day, and had our feet in fetters; yet, at night, we would sing and dance, and make others laugh at the rattling of our chains. Happy men we must have been! We did it to keep down trouble, and to keep our hearts from being completely broken: that is as true as the gospel! Just look at it, – must not we have been very happy? Yet I have done it myself – I have cut capers in chains.‡

There are very few alive today – and especially in the United States – who has experience of being so consistently crushed in spirit from birth that they entertain themselves to keep from being overtaken by the hopelessness of their situation. But the experience of both sides, slave and master, remain a key to understanding the mindset of an American today.

We americans struggle with subtle racism even when when aren’t consciously aware of judging others by superficial traits. Here’s the rub about those superficial traits: sometimes they have more to do with the superficial traits of our ancestors. By being an oppressed minority they were afforded fewer opportunities which trickled down to current generations.

For those of you who haven’t spent much time in America, the racism espoused by blacks may be perplexing. For other Americans, you may have only unconsciously noticed the racism of minorities. It’s a strange concept to grasp. There has been a separation between white and black social groups for so long that they have progressed along parallel lines yet are intimately connected. This has fostered a subtle hostility between the two groups – note that this has to do with culture and upbringing and not race††.

This is our heritage. We can’t escape the racism of our ancestors because it has tinged the little things that contribute to our identities. Just as language can change how we think, the popular entertainments we enjoy carry on the prejudices of past. It sounds ludicrous today, but the direct ancestor of most of popular American entertainment comes from blackface minstrelsy, where a white actor puts on makeup and mimics the stereotype of the lazy, ignorant black of the nineteenth century. Minstrels were lowbrow variety shows which contributed to modern concepts of celebrity, shameless promotion, and American humor. As the shows became more popular, even black performers would put on “blackface” – dark makeup with exaggerated lip color and size – and perform.

Take Bert Williams. Bert was a successful, wealthy Broadway performer. He put on blackface and performed for white audiences. He was also black…think about that: to fit in as an entertainer he had to look like white performers trying to look like him. He would use the pidgin english of the black stereotype (think of how black actors in movies from the thirties sound), bumble around stage – and sing songs with lyrics like this:

When life seems full of clouds and rain,
And I am filled with naught but pain,
Who soothes my thumping, bumping brain?

Nobody.§§

The pathos a black performer must have felt to be both popular in blackface and daily treated as second-class is the heart of why it is important to study black history.

Or consider Birth Of A Nation. The racism in this silent epic movie is deeply offensive: the Klu Klux Klan comes off as knights of decency. But just about every element of modern film storytelling was invented for this movie. Roger Ebert needed two articles‡‡ to address this dissonance for his Great Films series.

Finally, you must listen to the song “Strange Fruit,” sung by Billie Holiday:

The intersection of suffering and beauty is where high art meets the human experience.

My point

Nearly four hundred years ago Europeans began settling along the coast of an undiscovered continent. In addition to destroying the lives and cultures of peoples who already lived there§, they also imported slaves by the thousands for a cheap source of energy. The generations of suffering, degradation, and shameful acts that went into making a country that’s so rich today that the poor can afford to pay a monthly fee for hundreds of television channels. It is by the miracle of the will of the enslaved that their ancestors are alive today. And though the law now protects the rights of all races equally, every little thing that makes someone an American carries the baggage of slavery. And when that brutal form of submission was made illegal our ancestors still treated the newly-free as inferiors – simultaneously exploiting them for entertainment and still-cheap-but-less-so labor. And very few thought this was entirely wrong.

We can say we’re better then they were, and we are. We have finally relegated our racism to shame. Deep down every human has an unconscious aversion to strangers and people not like us, a holdover from the days of constantly fighting for survival on the African savannah. It’s easy to judge someone as different by their skin color or other physical attributes – but we can consciously change this urge and that is how one deals with racism.

However we may try we cannot escape our past. There are remnants of our horrible past everywhere we look and hear. The things we do to entertain ourselves have traces of past amusements that owe to the prolonged enslavement of Africans and their ancestors. Our laws have been modified and changed from blatant discrimination to inclusiveness of all with American citizenship. Our slang, our dialectal quirks, and the names we give ourselves have origins in the arbitrary division of whites and blacks.

I don’t see blacks as a minority, I don’t see them as a specific group of people. There are subcultures in America that more or less fall along a person’s race, but that is a holdover of our past. Their – our – black ancestors have stories that aren’t being told, stories that can help us know who we are and where we are going. Black history is a pattern language that is unique to American culture, and it is the duty of everyone who considers themselves a part of that collection of customs and ideas to be well-versed in the whole story of our people, not just that of the oppressive white males of the past.


* Hard to call this a subculture, because of its unique position: it exerts a powerful influence on mainstream culture shared by all races and creeds.
† This comes from A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn, a survey of American history through the eyes of the downtrodden and persecuted.
‡ From John Little, a former slave.
†† The post-slavery cultural clashes between whites and blacks in America have nothing to do with biology – the truth is members of each group have been raised differently only because their ancestors where treated differently because of race. It is now almost entirely because humans are more perceptive to social differences. For example, I consider you inferior because you don’t think like an American, and vice versa.
**  I was a pushover and could not hold my ground when bullied. Luckily my coworkers were all good people and once they saw me standing up for myself regardless of the confrontation, they accepted me, weird white guy from the midwest that I was. They pushed me through taunts and insults.
‡‡ Well, at one time he had two articles about the movie. I can only find one now. I will update this if I receive a clarification.
§§ From the song “Nobody“.
§ The story of Native Americans is another neglected history, but not in the scope of this article.

Behind every account is a human being

Friday, December 4th, 2009

vitruvian-man-1When I wrote about culture engines, the Favrd Crowd was a different group. It was smaller, sure, but more importantly it was transitioning from one way of thinking about the group to something different. Mere days after posting, two large meetings of people within the group occurred which caused such a significant change in how people interacted with each other that a month later the Favrd Crowd was a different group.

This article is my attempt to make sense of the community that developed around Favrd, Twitter, and Tumblr four months after I first took a deeper look.

An informal structure of the community

Internet-based communities are inherently different than physical communities in ways that are still poorly understood. We know the tools and we can see the consequences of how members interact, but the structure and dynamic of what is still a biological desire to be social but through technology originally built for tabulation and content creation is a mystery.

The Favrd Crowd exists in three spheres of interaction: public, private, and in person. With few exceptions[1] everyone joins the community through the public sphere. This consists of Twitter and Tumblr. Members sign up with either one or both and learn the rules of competition for Favrd, Favstar, and Tumblr’s Tumblarity. How one comes to terms with the group depends on their disposition. Some get stuck on the competition of getting a high number of stars for their tweets or a high Tumblarity, others ignore as best they can and concentrate on developing relationships with other members. Most end up with a mixture of both.

Recently there has been open discussion regarding members who are obsessed with the competition. What’s interesting is that those who are most successful with getting high rankings are well versed in the tricks that can be employed to getting a high score, but they concentrate on the original intention of the ‘game’ – to create something witty enough, clever enough, funny enough, or original enough that many will see its true value. This is the safeguard against an encroachment of marketers and consultants that suck out any originality of a new tool for the sake of being more effective and thus creating a hollow core, not unlike a parasite. What the discussion of the competition misses is that the people gaming the system for high scores are people just like their critics – they may reform and turn out to be as funny or clever as the best. But because this game requires more wit and intelligence than other games (like first-person shooters, Facebook games like Farmville, etc.), members will either have to reform or leave.

But the game isn’t everything. Long-term members, used to the rules and competition and more aware of their strengths and weaknesses, typically begin to realize that there are real people in the group who have similar interests, senses of humor, and life experiences. This can result in creative outputs that make up the culture engine; but I’ve realized that this happens infrequently, when two or more creative people with similar dispositions serendipitously work together on something new. Most of the time what happens is a friendship – one that wouldn’t have occurred because both are physically in different locations.

The friendships are fascinating. The Favrd Crowd is very far-flung, with strong presences in every English-speaking country, and a smattering of other places by people who have a firm enough grasp of English as well as Anglo, American, and Australian cultures to understand the jokes and to make their own. Throw in the difference in tastes and social norms of the cultures of each country (and each region of the United States), and there’s a lot that group members must know and understand to successfully fit in. This creates a situation of self-selection where the members are a homogenous group of a sort – there are many interests, tastes, and so on – but there’s an undercurrent of similarly-ordered mental lives that brings everyone together. We accept members because they think like us, not because they like the exact same things we do (though we like a lot of the same things). That means that by joining the community one is getting access to people who are compatible with their interests and tastes, now no longer limited by geography. Some people are gaining friends where, without the Favrd Crowd, they’d be without.

But friendships only start in the public sphere. They flourish on the private sphere. This level started with Twitter’s direct messages, which can only be seen by the the sender and the recipient – essentially a text messaging system. From there dialogues expand to instant messages, then text messages, phone calls, video chat, and eventually the ‘in person’ sphere (more on that later). This is where most of the communication for the culture engine occurs, and where members of the Favrd Crowd learn just how similar they are to others.

There’s an impressive amount of highly personal, potentially offensive, and deeply-felt content published to the public sphere, but not everyone is comfortable sharing those things to everyone, and there are many things best left to private messages anyway (that’s why there’s a taboo against making public anything discussed in private messages without both parties consent).

I admit I love thinking about all the things said in private messages that one never sees influence public posts. All the hidden friendships, petty fighting, relationships, projects born in private, and connections made. There are jokes and comments that show up on Twitter and Tumblr that while amusing on their own, have a whole other context for the two or more that know the source.

Being humans, eventually good online friends will want to meet in person. Even if they may be different in the flesh, physical interaction is a desire for even those in the group who struggle with social anxiety (and there are many). Tweetups have existed for as long as people have used Twitter to find new people, but with one exception[2], get-togethers of only Favrd Crowd people are a recent phenomenon. In fact the first big meetups of the Favrd Crowd were days after I published my article on culture engines, one in New York City and the other in Boston. Both were unprecedented and both changed the dynamic of the group.

One reason was that one meetup was a private party of friends, and the other was open to anyone who wanted to come. The former party generated friction because it just so happened to include several of the most popular and envied members of the Favrd Crowd. The debate the erupted (and quickly subsided) almost tore the online community apart – but a curious thing happened: instead of splitting up into factions the group developed a deeper interconnectedness. The biggest change was the people felt compelled to share their feelings, express their love for members of the group, and open up in ways that was previously more guarded. This was brought on equally by the peacemakers in the group, but also because members realized they could get lots of stars and raise their Tumblarity by doing so – that’s why people who routinely post pictures of themselves and write about their daily lives on Tumblr have a higher Tumblarity score.

Before I continue, I want to point out that I think this development has severely retarded the Favrd Crowd’s ability to create new and interesting things and to develop further as a culture engine. So many people are wasting their public sphere efforts on trying to appear more human and emotive instead of creating the podcasts, comics, videos, music, literature, and other forms of expression that the group has great potential to generate. Some of the content related to this outpouring is genuine and heartfelt – and is a healthy part of the group dynamic – it’s the oversharing-for-the-sake-of-more-points content that is the real problem. Everyone struggles in life, and getting to share it with like-minded people who honestly care is one of the Favrd Crowd’s most amazing attributes (among these: marriages and relationships, new babies, health scares, cancer, caring for children who are sick and suffering, dealing with abusive or unhealthy relationships, and so on). But some people feed on the group sentiment only to play the game.

In about a month and a half another primarily-Favrd Crowd meetup will happen in San Francisco. By all accounts this will be the biggest one yet, combining people who went to either parties in August with new group members and on the further reaches of the social web of the group. So many online friends will get to meet for the first time, others will get another chance at face-to-face time, and in general the Favrd Crowd will get a glimpse of what might happen if everyone moved from all over the world to one place. That’s an implausible outcome – but an outcome which would be glorious and extremely beneficial to everyone in the group.[3]

In addition, people are meeting up all the time. Some are visiting online friends in the same region, others make a point of spending time with Favrd Crowd people in whatever city they’re visiting. Still others are even changing their vacation and travel plans to go out of their way to visit people only roughly nearby. These are people who come from vastly different backgrounds and with unique personal histories, but who have found a connection strong enough to compel them to spend time together. Meeting people online has a reputation for being a letdown, because the variables and unknowns of who a person is offline is so vast that sometimes people are nothing like their online personas. But the challenges of succeeding socially in the Favrd Crowd, and the similarities needed to fit in, mean that most people are pleasantly surprised upon first meeting another member (this is based on anecdotal evidence, but I’m guessing the number of times that a physical meeting of Favrd Crowd members was negative is so small to be inconsequential. People naturally chose those they feel comfortable with online, and that translates almost perfectly offline). Making offline connections is the most important next step after finding new interesting people in the Favrd Crowd.

The group dynamic

What drives the Favrd Crowd is friction. By friction, I mean the agitation of people with different ideas and different ways of expressing them. But then, every community is driven by friction – especially creative communities. There is a quote from The Third Man that sums this up in a way that Favrd Crowd members would appreciate:

…In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.

It should be no surprise that the creator of Favrd, Dean Cameron Allen alludes to this on his personal site.

The frictions come from the core reason of the group’s existence: to make something that others appreciate. Here are a few of the sources:

  • Those more concerned with crafting great things vs. those who want a high score
  • Those more concerned with making things vs. those who are in it for the people
  • Highbrow vs. lowbrow vs. hilobrow[4]
  • Those who feel left out vs. those who don’t

These frictions are in reality imaginary. People perceive these as boundaries and try to play along because it’s simpler to adhere to a black-and-white understanding of things. But just as in the rest of existence, it’s mostly a gray area. For example, people work hard to make great things partly because they enjoy it but also because they want to make things that others enjoy.

It’s not hard to appreciate both a studied critique of a modern absurdity, and a well-crafted poop joke.

The us-versus-them mentality is common everywhere (it’s a source of wars, bigotry, racism, prejudice, etc.), and it works to drive the Favrd Crowd apart while simultaneously inspiring members to create great things.

However, the people involved in these frictions take on certain roles. The most egregious instigators are forced out of the group, shunned by being blocked or ignored or belittled. But there are active and accepted members of the group who regularly play up the frictions – they play a special role because they force others who are more timid to confront the realities of all of our bad traits. While this role usually makes the group (or any social group) stronger, in the case of the Favrd Crowd it also created a plague of feel-good posts that inhibits some members from realizing their full creative potential.

The human element

Sure, most content on the internet was made by real people. And most of what isn’t made by real people isn’t worth consuming anyway. Yet there is a distance between the creator and the consumer for most instances. An author will write an article – people will read it, but most of the time the author gets no feedback, response, or even knows how much of their work was read and how much was skimmed or skipped.

That dynamic is different within the Favrd Crowd. If a person likes what someone created, they can star or ‘like it’. If they really like it, a person could retweet, reblog, or (my personal favorite) contact the creator privately to commend the person. That feedback is invaluable to an author’s development and well-being. As much as we may try to downplay the importance of stars and hearts (likes on Tumblr look like hearts), it feels good to know that one’s peers appreciated their work. At the same time, finding that no one could be bothered to acknowledge a tweet or recording or anything else with something as easy to do as click an icon, that can hurt. We can feel bad, work harder on the next thing, or rationalize the disappointment to minimize the hurt – but it affects people in real ways. At the same time, one can feel slighted for petty things that may in reality have no meaning. For example, I once was convinced that a person in the group hated me simply because they never responded to my Twitter @ replies in any way. It turned out they simply didn’t read replies from people they didn’t follow (the only way to see @ replies from people a user doesn’t follow is to go to a separate page on the Twitter site).

The ease of finding like people online helps many people who are lonely and have the time and energy to convince themselves that every interaction in an online community has an equivalent to in-person interactions. Frictions often start because of this, and there is a steep learning curve involved to understanding that another person’s online life is only part of their existence. There are offline friends, family, work, play, and we are all doing other things in addition to being online, even if being online happens most of the time nowadays.

With the Favrd Crowd’s increasing use of the ‘in person’ sphere, this distinction blurs and it becomes harder to come to terms with the limitations of online interaction.

At the same time, this sphere is bringing people closer together. Despite being a generally cohesive group, there are sub-groups that exist. These are people brought even closer because of similarities: a love of comic books; a shared sense of humor; being gay, lesbian, or transgendered; a love of the same music, and so on. The old ways of finding these connections offline are very inefficient. Meeting though organizations like school (especially college), work, bar, clubs, etc. can help but all are limited by geography. Even other online communities are limited because they typically concentrate on a particular interest. The Favrd Crowd gelled because of humor, and humor doesn’t require direct experience by everyone for something to be funny. But a group that bonds by humor need to find the same things funny. As I discussed in my article about culture engines, this brings together people of similar mentality regardless of experience or interests, and creates workable melting pot. But the metaphor of a melting pot is a paradox: people who are really different don’t really get along (there’s evidence that neighborhoods with people of different ethnicities and beliefs are fractured and people stick to their own group).

The Favrd Crowd is becoming less a group of people trying to be funny, and more a group trying to live together. Despite my earlier mention of the implausibility of everyone moving to one place, there are already large clumps of people, and some are even moving to those areas partly because other members of the group already live there. The main locations are San Francisco, Chicago, and New York; smaller clumps exist in Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, Boston, and Pittsburgh (and many more I can’t think of). The willingness to move is hindered greatly by issues of family, making a living, and liking the location. For example, not everyone wants to live in the San Francisco Bay area, and some people think Chicago is full of very angry people and has awful weather. The problem is that once people meet in person, they realize how much more fun spending time in person is and would rather have it that way, but have too much else invested in where they live now. I’m not sure what will happen with the issue of geographical distance. There will always be people in an online community that are far flung. There is one instance of a couple meeting through the group and one is trying to emigrate to the US, but that kind of situation will likely remain a rarity.

Additional thoughts

The Favrd Crowd is an exciting community. That several very different technologies could bring like-minded people together and make something new that has no offline equivalent points to an exciting future in human social organization. Its unique blend of creativity, competition, and togetherness makes for a warm environment for a certain type of person who normally has to work hard to find others like them. I don’t think the group is for everyone. Some members may be no more than outsiders appreciating the groups artistic output. Others may try to fit in when they would be better suited for other online communities. I have a partiality to the Favrd Crowd because these are the kinds of people I actively seek out in offline life. They are technologically savvy, find similar things amusing, are well-read enough to get obscure references (and curious enough to search for what they don’t get), honest enough to point out faults and wrongdoings but compassionate enough to accept others for who they are, liberal where it counts and conservative where it counts – I could go on and on. But in addition to being the people that I like, they are also the class of people who propel culture and society forward. The intelligent outcasts who both enjoy and suffer through life, who know what’s worth keeping and what’s worth challenging. It’s those people who are worth studying.

As much as I want to study every aspect of the group, I have my limitations. I am not an archivist and have no interest in cataloguing all the output of the group – oftentimes what I see is deleted or changed. Also being a member of the group I have a greater interest in participating than analyzing and will limit my exposure so that I can still enjoy the fruits of my friends and favorite producers. I can’t possibly follow everyone in the group – or even everyone who has a large influence – and I will ignore people I find offensive or not funny or those who just rub me the wrong way. And I am partial to those who I feel a real connection with, and will give them a much larger piece of my attention. Which means this article has real biases and that my view isn’t the whole view, just as no journalist or historian is ever completely objective. By disposition I like many different kinds of people and I hope that allows me to make a more nuanced and general set of observations.

There is little physical evidence of the existence of the Favrd Crowd, save for some postcards, some drawings, and the occasional household or apartment where everyone is involved. Yet the group plays a large role in the lives of hundreds of people, oftentimes expanding into real friendships, even jobs. The Favrd Crowd has a bright future, and its past, though short, is fascinating.


[1] Some people enter through a connection, most often because of a spouse or partner. Friends who join may have an advantage in knowing a member of the group offline, but they still have to work from the public sphere back for most connections.
[2] There may be others, but the only one I know of is quarterly meetup of Chicago Twitter users that is dominated by people in the Favrd Crowd.
[3] If only a third of my favorite people in the group were to move to one place, I’d drop everything and move without question.
[4] This is a modified explanation taken from my attempt to explain to a few people the reasoning behind my Twitter lists:

Highbrow and lowbrow should be easy to figure out. It doesn’t mean that high = good and low = bad. They’re both good – it’s just that some people write tweets that are based on high-level thinking (art, technology, high standards) and some are based on everyday functioning (the things we all do – e.g. bodily functions, sex, daily struggles).

Hilobrow is different.

If middlebrow even exists, I don’t even want to associate with it. It’s not like the Middle Way – it’s the schmaltzy appeal-to-everyone crap like Twilight books or fucking American Idol. Think of the stereotypical music that parents in the fifties and sixties listened to and you get the idea.

Back to hilobrow. Hilobrow embraces both the intellectual thinking and the daily reality that we all must struggle through constantly. Take Charles Bukowski – his writing is very specific and in the vein of Chaucer and Bocaccio but is mostly about drinking and fucking and going to the racetracks.

I learned about the hilobrow concept from hilobrow.com, which celebrates hilobrow artists. I found them when they came up with a much more accurate breakdown of the generations of the twentieth century (for example, that the generation that had the biggest influence on my taste are the Anti-Anti-Utopians).

Hilobrow isn’t better than highbrow or lowbrow, all have their place. Everyone has a preference. I just happen to like the whole spectrum.

I mean, everyone poops but we also struggle with our identity and place in the universe.

The commonly accepted rules of english, for better or worse

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

There is a certain breed of person, virulent online, that feels an uncontrollable urge to correct the grammar, pronunciation, mechanics, spelling, and general use of their language. They must think everyone should adhere to one set of rules for communicating. Usage of ‘whom’ is tantamount and all that.

However, rules of language change all the time. It’s not that they’re meant to be broken* but that subtle changes to how words are pronounced, spelled, even located in a sentence slowly move through a group of speakers. Sometimes it’s limited to a small subset, like a region or a subculture (like the Favrd Crowd). This is where I think a cognitive dissonance emerges within some people that compel them to get irate over perceived improper language usage. On the one hand, we need a set of rules to govern our methods of communication to decrease statement ambiguity and improve understanding; and yet sometimes the rules are accidentally broken, improperly learned, or otherwise distorted and somehow spread like a meme** so that to the users of the new rules they sound correct. I suspect that I regularly misuse ‘am’ and ‘are’ but I stick with whatever sounds best to me (so far no one’s called me on it).

I’m not suggesting there is a relativism to language. Language needs a commonly accepted set of guidelines for written and spoken communication lest society and even thoughts become meaningless. But the guidelines can’t possibly be set by any authoritative source; rather they are set by a specific group of speakers and accepted as soon as a new rule is understood. Most people understand ‘lol’ when spoken out loud – but that took years of communicating online with an ever-widening group of users.

Look at it this way: 200 years ago, no single person or organization decided that english speakers living in North America should have a unique pronunciation and subtly different set of rules for spelling and grammar than english speakers living in the British Isles. The natural change of guidelines that I described in the previous paragraph moved along separate paths. Granted, the rules for American english were standardized for many speakers with the arrival of Webster’s Dictionary – but the change had already happened***.

So, here’s what I’m trying to say: the next time you feel the need to correct someone’s use of language, consider your audience. They may be using a different dialect; those aren’t limited by geography anymore. If you can understand what they’re saying and they understand you, than you’re still using the same language. That’s the beauty of humanity’s greatest invention.

*I hope that sometime soon people will stop thinking that every rule in life is ‘meant to be broken.’ That kind of thinking is causing a breakdown of society in ways that remind me more of the period after the fall of Rome rather than the Free Love era of the sixties (and that didn’t turn out well either). I suspect that this is one of those situations where the language is affecting how we think.

**Maybe the spread of language rules are memes. The definition of a meme is still quite broad.

***How verbal American english diverged from standard english is still quite unknown. We’re not even sure how Americans sounded when Noah Webster published the first edition of his dictionary. Perhaps changes in speech will happen more slowly now that we have methods of recording how we sound? It’s certainly not slowing the change in written english.

Culture engines

Monday, July 27th, 2009

rooster-costume

Culture engines are measurable groups of people who share a common set of values, tastes, and slang that become nebulous in creation of art, entertainment, and other culture artifacts. There is no way to predict when a culture engine will pop up, but their biggest cause is a period of ‘cultural drought’ where little to no lasting creative artifacts are made. For example, the stifling conformity of 1950s America not only caused the creation of the Beat Poets and their followers, but paved the way for the inevitable outpouring of originality of the 1960s.

The myth that geniuses are made in a vacuum, that their talents and abilities formed on their own is quickly going out of fashion (See Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers article and book). The truth is that many, many people are needed to create a genius – the most important is the late-stage group of competitive peers who encourage and foster even greater skill. This often happens in college, but can come from any group. Most of the members of Monty Python’s Flying Circus met at Cambridge or Oxford (though not all at the same college or the same time) and their collective growth in those schools created a common sense of humor and style; whereas the Beatles formed by the stunning chance of growing up in the same city (Liverpool) and with the same music scene (Mersey Beat).

The internet takes away a culture engine’s necessity of geographical proximity and increases the chances of bright people finding each other to such a degree that our collective creative output is exploding so there is no way for one person to survey the entire cultural landscape of Western Civilization. Sites like YouTube, Flickr, 4chan, DeviantArt, and Tumblr make it easy for people to share their creations with other like-minded people no matter where they live, and spread other ideas as well. But these sites are limited by the type of creative media, whether it’s photography, video, or memes make it easy to spread and share, but a culture engine needs something more to facilitate a cohesive group.

One major component is community. Websites can only go so far in bringing people together. Nothing has yet fully replaced the usefulness of face-to-face meetings, and conversations need space to grow in private, with sub-groups, factions, and distinct cooperative groups to help develop more complex creations.

I believe I’m witnessing the formation of a very powerful and potentially influential culture engine that combines Twitter and Tumblr with good old fashioned face-to-face community.

A little over a year ago a website launched that kept track of users’ starred or favorited tweets on Twitter. The site, Favrd, ranked tweets by how many stars they received and introduced competition to Twitter, when most people only used the site for boring updates on what they were doing. It wasn’t the first, and because it was limited only to users who registered on the site, it was far from the biggest. But a funny thing happened: users of Favrd, created a community of funny, smart people who used the site’s competition to foster even more creativity.

In late December and early January of this year, large numbers of Favrd users started using Tumblr, which created interconnected blogs geared towards short updates and sharing of found images, audio, video, etc. Usage within this group picked up even more when a ranking system was added, thus adding a similar competitiveness to Twitter. Tumblr also made it easier to share the non-tweet creativity within the group and there are a few people more popular on Tumblr as a result.

This perfect storm of technology only needed people motivated enough to exploit the idea fermentation that’s possible with this set up. Turns out, the smarts needed to get noticed on Favrd accurately picked out people who aren’t afraid of ‘wasting’ time making funny or entertaining things for their friends*. What’s making this group succeed as a culture engine is the numerous ways people are finding to meet and create projects together. There are teams making things like podcasts and comics. Many have taken their public conversations on Twitter and Tumblr private, through Twitter’s direct messages, instant messages, and even phone calls. More importantly, those that can are meeting other people from the Favrd site in person, at what are called ‘tweetups’ but are really just friendly get togethers, as most of these people share a great deal of their life online (I know more about some of my Twitter friends than some of my real-life friends…which means they’re no different from friends normally met). These in-person meetings help  forge deeper friendships which only help in allowing a faster spread of ideas and greater cooperation.

This group, which I’ll call the Favrd Crowd, at its current state is an example of a developing culture engine. It’s sucking in talent and spewing out art and entertainment, but its impact on the outside culture is minimal. What I predict will happen is that a few people within the group, blessed with extraordinary talents, will break out and become popular to the outside world. Their style will be clearly imprinted with influence from the Favrd Crowd and will in turn influence the  larger society.

Predicting who in the Favrd Crowd will be the breakout talent is tough. It will very likely begin in two waves: the first, where someone already highly popular within the group will get the attention of outsiders and launch their career, with moderate success; a little later, one or more people in the group who are more on the fringes and not highly known will break out on their own and prove to have much greater talent and originality and bring more attention to the group, which will launch careers of others. This has happened many times before* in other culture engines, so it’s only likely that the Favrd Crowd will grow in the same way. I have a few theories on who will break out, but I have a personal policy of not publicly announcing my predictions**.

There is a chance that the Favrd Crowd won’t have the influence of other culture engines. There have been many groups of talented people in history who have failed to make an impression on the greater population. But I’ve seen what some of these people are capable of accomplishing, and in a few years I expect alumni of the Favrd Crowd  to become visible and influential members of the cultural elite. And they will take the poop jokes, nonsense phrases, mild offensiveness, and a certain practical philosophy to the larger population and make a lasting cultural impression.

A guide to the Favrd Crowd

The first place to start is Favrd. The main page shows the latest tweets with three or more stars from other Twitter users. The Leaderboard shows the most starred tweets of the day. Those who consistently rank at the top of the leaderboard can be considered the epicenter of the Favrd Crowd, and if you want to join in on the fun, I suggest starting by following those people, then look for friends of theirs or others on Favrd with similar tastes in humor or tweets as yours.

Tumblr‘s directory and ranking of their blogs includes far more people than are actually in the Favrd Crowd, so here are what I consider a few of the most important Tumblr blogs of the Favrd Crowd:

http://adamisacson.tumblr.com/

http://atsween.tumblr.com/

http://averyedison.com/

http://baileygenine.tumblr.com/

http://bliccy.tumblr.com/

http://blog.simoncrowley.net/

http://essdogg.tumblr.com/

http://everythinginthesky.com/

http://frageelaytwit.tumblr.com/

http://funsizebytes.com/

http://insooutso.tumblr.com/

http://inthefade.tumblr.com/

http://luckyshirt.tumblr.com/

http://milkglassmao.tumblr.com/

http://monkeyfrog.tumblr.com/

http://poeks.tumblr.com/

http://pomophobic.com/

http://sloganeerist.tumblr.com/

http://sniffyjenkins.tumblr.com/

http://tehawesome.tumblr.com/

http://texburgher.tumblr.com/

http://thememegeneration.tumblr.com/

http://toldorknown.com/

http://venomousporridge.com/

http://weselec.tumblr.com/

http://yowhatsthehaps.tumblr.com/

Some of these sites also show what Tumblr blogs they are following, so I suggest you explore those to find more people in the group that may be to your liking.

Keep in mind that the group is larger than the number of relationships a normal person can conceivably keep track of***, so don’t feel obligated to follow everyone in the Favrd Crowd.

A special note to Favrd Crowd members:

I love all of you! If I didn’t mention your Tumblr, don’t take it personally: the right people will find your site regardless of who links to it.

*An often-heard comment about Twitter and Tumblr use by people who don’t spend much time with either tools is that those who are active on these sites are wasting their time making frivolous things. That’s unfortunate, because nearly all forms of entertainment and art are ‘frivolous’ and done in place of spending time on other ‘more important’ tasks.

**Contact me privately if you want to know my predictions.

***The number of relationships that a single person can keep track of is around 150. This is called Dunbar’s Number. You can keep track of more people – and technology can help extend that even further, but most people will be able to have meaningful relationships with about 150 people at a time.

(Edited to add http://poeks.tumblr.com/ to list of Tumblr blogs because it’s an excellent example of someone in the Favrd Crowd making great things and I wanted to include it in the original. Also removed second instance of http://averyedison.com/.)

The Stonewall Riots, and making history

Sunday, June 28th, 2009
Let’s say you’re at a bar having a drink with your friends, and the cops arrive. They want to arrest everyone and haul you in to the police station. Your name will be in the paper, even though none of the charges filed against you will stick. But most importantly, you can’t finish your drink with your friends. This has been going on for some time, years in fact, and you and your friends realize that it will go on for many more years unless you do something.
Whatever you decide to do may have no impact on the future at all.
Or it may eventually lead to some of your fellow citizens just like you getting the right to marry the person they love and having a happier life.
It was July 28th, 1969 at a dive bar in lower Manhattan.
You and your friends decide to show force against the police after they arrive. Others join in. Even people not in the bar hear what’s happening and go against the police. But you all are not fighting against the police, you’re fighting against an idea that you’re somehow inferior to everyone else, that your humanity is worth less.
A small group of people at the Stonewall Inn in 1969 did what they thought was the right choice for that particular moment. As a result people celebrate the event every year with a parade full of happiness, followed by another year of being left alone to drink with one’s friends unmolested.
The stonewall riots mean something special to me because I’m gay. But they mean much more to me as an American, because those people were protesting a right that, like it or not, was given to them as members of their country. And they mean the most to me because, like it or not, we’re all the same species of animals given a special gift of being alive at this very moment on this special planet, and we need every advantage we can get to allow our time here to be happy and fruitful.
Here’s a tweet I wrote yesterday while thinking about the riots:
[INSERT IMAGE OF TWEET - http://twitter.com/swamibooba/status/2381052281]
It’s true, I love those kinds of historical events, especially when they change everything. This one did. Most important events in history happen the same way. A small group of pissed off colonists decided the best thing to do for the livelihood of their neighbors was to separate from their mother country and start off on their own.
Or when about a dozen people made a fateful decision to not only support and follow a strange wandering preacher, but to stay with him until everyone else wanted him dead – and then did the riskiest thing possible by telling others about what the preacher said about life and love.
Or when a small country looked down upon by everyone else because they descended from what were considered barbarians produces a ruler who figures he has a slim chance of asserting his right to the throne of a huge nearby island. So he  and his small army act on it and wind up establishing a stable country that at one point has the largest and wealthiest empire in the world. And the country is still around, a thousand years later.
These are big events, sure, but at one point a small group of people decided hey, maybe we can do this! and they pulled it off knowing that it was the best decision given the circumstances.
Events like the Stonewall Riots happen all the time. It may not be a six-day riot involving drag queens beating up cops (I would love to be able to have seen that!). But because those gays, lesbians, and even heterosexuals fought back years of oppression and cruel treatment – it inspired others to take that anger and frustration and change people’s minds and bring a little more peace into the world.
If anything can be learned from this event, and the celebrations that have happened after – is that it could happen to you. At some point you may be with a small group of people just like you, for whatever reason, and forced to make a choice. And within a few minutes – just like that, because time isn’t on your side, time is never on your side – you all agree to do something that may be dangerous, but at least you all know that it’s the best you can do. There’s no time to think of the act’s effect on the future, but you know it may do something.

Stonewall_riots

Let’s say you’re at a bar having a drink with your friends, and the cops arrive. They want to arrest everyone and haul you in to the police station. Your name will be in the paper, even though none of the charges filed against you will stick. But most importantly, you can’t finish your drink with your friends. This has been going on for some time, years in fact, and you and your friends realize that it will go on for many more years unless you do something.

Whatever you decide to do may have no impact on the future at all.

Or it may eventually lead to some of your fellow citizens just like you getting the right to marry the person they love and having a happier life.

It was July 28th, 1969 at a dive bar in lower Manhattan.

You and your friends decide to show force against the police after they arrive. Others join in. Even people not in the bar hear what’s happening and go against the police. But you all are not fighting against the police, you’re fighting against an idea that you’re somehow inferior to everyone else, that your humanity is worth less.

A small group of people at the Stonewall Inn in 1969 did what they thought was the right choice for that particular moment. As a result people celebrate the event every year with a parade full of happiness, followed by another year of being left alone to drink with one’s friends unmolested.

The stonewall riots mean something special to me because I’m gay. But they mean much more to me as an American, because those people were protesting a right that, like it or not, was given to them as members of their country. Those rights are part of a rule of law that strives for peace and stability to make life easier to live. And they mean the most to me because, like it or not, we’re all the same species of animals given a special gift of being alive at this very moment on this special planet, and we need every advantage we can get to allow our time here to be happy and fruitful.

Here’s a tweet I wrote tonight while thinking about the riots:

My favorite historical events are the ones improvised by a small group of people using their wits to do the right thing for that moment.

My favorite historical events are the ones improvised by a small group of people using their wits to do the right thing for that moment.

It’s true, I love those kinds of historical events, especially when they change everything. This one did. Most important events in history happen the same way. A small group of pissed off colonists decided the best thing to do for the livelihood of their neighbors was to separate from their mother country and start off on their own.

Or when about a dozen people made a fateful decision to not only support and follow a strange wandering preacher, but to stay with him until everyone else wanted him dead – and then did the riskiest thing possible by telling others about what the preacher said about life and love.

Or when a small country looked down upon by everyone else because they descended from what were considered barbarians produces a ruler who figures he has a slim chance of asserting his right to the throne of a huge nearby island. So he  and his small army act on it and wind up establishing a stable country that at one point has the largest and wealthiest empire in the world. And the country is still around, a thousand years later.

These are big events, sure, but at one point a small group of people decided hey, maybe we can do this! and they pulled it off knowing that it was the best decision given the circumstances.

Events like the Stonewall Riots happen all the time. It may not be a six-day riot involving drag queens beating up cops (I would love to be able to have seen that!). But because those gays, lesbians, and even heterosexuals fought back years of oppression and cruel treatment – it inspired others to take that anger and frustration and change people’s minds and bring a little more peace into the world.

If anything can be learned from this event, and the celebrations that have happened after – is that it could happen to you. At some point you may be with a small group of people just like you, for whatever reason, and forced to make a choice. And within a few minutes – just like that, because time isn’t on your side, time is never on your side – you all agree to do something that may be dangerous, but at least you all know that it’s the best you can do. There’s no time to think of the act’s effect on the future, but you know it may do something.

Further thinking about the gay subculture

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

Last week I wrote about how I see the gay subculture dying, and how it reflects a certain progress in our culture towards a lessening of the need for a distinct group for people of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered orientations.

Josh emailed me this response that I want to share. Josh coauthors Jess and Josh Talk About Stuff and has written several times about gay culture and queer theory. Here he points out a few more things to think about:

You said: “A distinct gay culture is an anachronism today.” To some extent, I think that’s true; just like the so-called hipster subculture, the gay subculture has largely been absorbed into the mainstream and lost its primary function: to provide a network and cultural identity for a marginalized, unaccepted minority. As the straights continue to embrace the gays, I think we’ll see the gay subculture decline even more.

That said, I think that it’s important to note the ways that straight (or even just mainstream) media have incorporated, manipulated, and coded “gay culture” to market to this now-accepted group of people. Bravo’s programming most certainly caters to the gays; for instance, while walking to work today I saw an ad for their supermodel contest, and two of the three figures depicted were men in various states of undress. A supermodel show advertising shirtless guys definitely isn’t marketing to straight men, and its appeal to women is questionable. There’s a book I want to read called Gay TV and Straight America (by a Becker to whom I’m not related, heh) that talks more about the ways gay culture entered the mainstream lexicon, especially through the medium of television. An excerpt of a review:

Becker demonstrates that narrowcasting — frequently cast as something unique to the era of media convergence — has actually been a common practice in consumer culture, generally, and the television industry, specifically. And that happened well before the television audience erosion that characterized the late 1980s and early 1990s. Using trade press and economic scholarship, Becker details how the peculiarities of the post-Fordist U.S. economy, particularly the aims of the advertising industry, made targeted marketing an increasingly central part of the U.S. economic landscape from the 1970s on. And not just any kind of targeted marking, but particularly methods that focused on psychographic appeals to consumers. Becker meticulously examines the impact that these kinds of marketing strategies had on television via accounts in the medium’s trade press, scholarship on advertising, and various interviews with people working in those industries.

And the continued economic stability (and, in some cases, success) of the gay nightlife industry in the midst of the current recession points to at least a inkling of a “gay bubble,” by which gay consumers–the “pink dollar” or whatever it’s called–are able to maintain their lifestyles in spite of, and perhaps in response to, larger socioeconomic trends.

My point is that I don’t think the gay subculture has ceased to exist; rather, it’s been continuously used, incorporated into, and (as a cynic might argue) perhaps exploited by straight media channels. It’s easy to assume total media assimilation, but as the recent Miss California scandal and broader gay marriage debate have shown, there is still a big leap between what mainstream America is comfortable with, in terms of gay culture, and what we’d like to see mainstream America be comfortable with, and as long as that divide exists, a gay subculture will have its place in society.