What We Talk About When We Talk About Content

"Content." A catch-all. An abomination. A word people use to mean anything that is uploaded to the web. It used to be bandied about by advertisers but now it's everywhere and everybody's talking about "content". 

Every time I hear it, I die a little. (I also die a little every time I hear "disruptor" but my brain mangles it to disraptor and I imagine a giant hawk taking chunks of out people who "disrupt". And let's not even get started on "creatives". The "creatives" are going to take over the world but in a Dawn of the Dead way. "Watch out, the creatives are coming to eat your brain!")

Content is everything, and it’s nothing. It’s an artificial word thrown around by people who know nothing, describing nothing.
— The Ad Contrarian

So, here's the thing: why don't we, instead of talking about "content", call it what it is? Because "content" demeans everything. It shoves your selfie in a box with Al Vandenberg's photography. It's another cat video resting alongside Frida Kahlo's self-portraits. It puts your Facebook post right up there with Frank O'Hara's A Step Away from Them. Because it's online, it's all "content". 

You need words? You need photographs? You need illustrations? You need a film? CALL IT WHAT IT IS. And the people? My god, please think of the people who have been reduced to "content creators" toiling away on content farms where their only respite is a cracked window and a slug of content juice to help them make the content faster. Nope. These people aren't "content creators", they're writers, film makers, photographers, artists and designers. For the love of all that is good and holy, give them their due. 

And let's stop using words that don't mean anything and start saying the things we mean. 

We were so into the net around the time of Kid A. Really thought it might be an amazing way of connecting and communicating. And then very quickly we started having meetings where people started talking about what we did as ‘content’. They would show us letters from big media companies offering us millions in some mobile phone deal or whatever it was, and they would say all they need is some content. I was like, what is this ‘content’ which you describe? Just a filling of time and space with stuff, emotion, so you can sell it?
— Thom Yorke, The Guardian

Film, Words

Throw the fucking ball

Everyone's seen The Big Lebowski, right? Right? If you haven't seen The Big Lebowski you need to watch it. And if anyone tells you it's overrated you need to slap that person in the face.

A lot of the time I find it hard to get started with work and writing. All I do is think about how bad it's going to be. That I'm a fraud. That I can't do it. It's the thinking that kills it all. So, in the front of my notebook is a quote from a Jeff Bridges' interview about bowling lessons he took while preparing for The Big Lebowski. I have a million little quotes stuck in a million different places but this one always rises to the top. It reminds me to get on with it, to stop thinking and "...throw the fucking ball."

The Big Lebowski: the film that never stops giving. 

They got you a bowling instructor on set, correct?

Barry Asher. I can remember John [Turturro] and I and Buscemi, we took bowling lessons from this guy. He was a champion, one of the best bowlers in the world. We bowled a few frames and then I asked this guy, ‘I’m wondering what the Dude’s preparation would be?’ So Barry tells this story about his own preparation when he bowls. And how there’s kind of a Zen thing to bowling: the pins are down before you even bring your ball back. So Barry would get up there to bowl and he would prep, he’s gotta shake it off, waiting for that moment to cock it back, and it would go on for five, 10 minutes. And his bowling partners on the team would say, ‘Throw the fucking ball!’ He actually had to go into therapy about it. So I said, ‘So how do you do it now?’ He says, ‘I just get up and throw the fucking ball. I don’t think.’
— Jeff Bridges in Rolling Stone

Film, Words

Fish and Sharks (AKA Ideas and Moving Forward)

Ideas are like fish.

If you want to catch the little fish, you can stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch the big fish, you’ve got to go deeper.

Down deep the fish are more powerful and more pure. They’re huge and abstract. And they’re very beautiful.
— David Lynch, Catching the Big Fish

I recently read David Lynch's Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness and Creativity. The book is short and sweet and focuses on ideas, transcendental meditation and filmmaking. It's also full of solid gold that can be applied to pretty much any creative endeavour and to life. 

For me, the best bits are when he talks about finding ideas and following them wherever they may take you. I always thought I had to have an idea before I could start - the big idea that would drive me forward and from which everything else would flow, but that's just not the way things work. It's all about the little ideas. Little glimpses. Tiny pieces that will eventually fall into place. Words, images and sounds that just seem to come around, tapping you on the shoulder asking to be remembered, to be kept in a drawer for later. Following that one little idea will lead you on to other ideas. Ideas about what to write, to read, to research, to aim for, to believe in and what to do next. But we have to have desire. Desire to create, to understand, to change and grow, and a desire to move forward. Without it nothing will happen and we'll be here forever, turning in circles, breathing in and out. 

David Lynch and   Annie Hall 

David Lynch and Annie Hall 

When I was 17 and couldn't sleep, I turned on my old portable TV and watched Annie Hall while blowing cigarette smoke out the cracked window. There's one scene, where Alvy and Annie talk about their relationship, that I can never shake. Alvy says: "A relationship, I think, is like a shark. You know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies."

"Keep moving forward" are words I’ve etched onto my bones. They're words I tell my friends when they are at the bottom. The words I tell myself when I feel like all the light has gone. If we don't have the desire to move forward, to be better, to change, to love, to live, to fuck up and try again then we've got a dead shark on our hands.

We've got to keep moving forward, trying to catch the big fish. 

Desire for an idea is like bait. When you start fishing you have to have patience. You bait your hook, and then you wait. The desire is that bait that pulls those fish in - those ideas.

The beautiful thing is that when you catch one fish that you love, even if it’s a little fish - a fragment of an idea - that fish will draw in other fish, and they’ll hook onto it. Then you’re on your way. Soon there are more and more and more fragments, and the whole thing emerges. But it starts with desire.
— David Lynch, Catching the Big Fish

Music, Words


Say what?

‘Mondegreen’ means a misheard word or phrase that makes sense in your head, but is, in fact, entirely incorrect. The term mondegreen is itself a mondegreen. In November, 1954, Sylvia Wright, an American writer, published a piece in Harper’s where she admitted to a gross childhood mishearing. When she was young, her mother would read to her from the Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, a 1765 book of popular poems and ballads. Her favorite verse began with the lines, ‘Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands / Oh, where hae ye been? / They hae slain the Earl Amurray, / And Lady Mondegreen.’ Except they hadn’t. They left the poor Earl and ‘laid him on the green.’
— The New Yorker

Misheard words bring such joy but it's misheard lyrics that really gets the LOLZ lolling. These are some of my favourites:

"Blinded by the Light", Manfred Mann
What it actually is: “Revved up like a Deuce, another runner in the night.”
What it sounds like: “Wrapped up like a douche, another rumour in the night.”

"Drunk in Love", Beyoncé 
What it actually is: “I’ve been drinking, I’ve been drinking…”
What it sounds like: “I’m a dragon, I’m a dragon…”

"Walk of Life", Dire Straits
What it actually is: "Do the song about the sweet loving woman."
What it sounds like:"Do the song about the senile old woman. "

"Ms Jackson", Outkast
What it actually is: "I'm sorry Ms. Jackson, I am for real. Never meant to make your daughter cry."
What it sounds like: "I'm sorry Ms. Jackson, I’m not your meal. Never meant to make your money die."

"We Built This City", Starship
What it actually is: “We built this city on rock and roll.”
What it sounds like: “We built this city on logs and coal.”

"Dancing Queen", Abba
What it actually is: “See that girl, watch that scene, diggin' the dancing queen.”
What it sounds like: “See that girl, watch her scream, kicking the dancing queen.”

And this one from my mum:

"Watching You", The Police
What it actually is: "How my poor heart aches..."
What she thinks it sounds like: "I'm a pool hall ace..."


Film, Words

‘I did it for the money. I did it for the woman.’

‘I didn’t get the money. I didn’t get the woman.’

I've loved film noir ever since I chose the wonderful 'Cowboys and Detectives' module as part of my Masters. I mean, who doesn't want to read about the Wild West and watch Chinatown

Double Indemnity is a film I watch at least once a year. It's great film noir but it’s also just a straight-up incredible film, regardless of genre. When I watch it I get lost in the words and shadows. I go away and I can’t stop thinking about it. Lines and images get stuck in my head and I have to hold the thoughts in and not bring it up randomly in conversation. I make endless connections and relate it to unrelated things because I want it to be part of everything. C’mon, it’s Wilder x Chandler… It’s a masterpiece.

And Barbara Stanwyck, what a badass.

This little (sort of cheesy) documentary covers most of why it’s one of the greatest films you’ll ever be lucky enough to see. 



Putting this here so I never forget:

‘Playfulness is what makes us human. Doing pointless, purposeless things, just for fun. Doing things for the sheer devilment of it. Being silly for the sake of being silly. Larking around. Taking pleasure in activities that do not advantage us and have nothing to do with our survival. These are the highest signs of intelligence. It is when a creature, having met and surmounted all the practical needs that face him, decides to dance that we know we are in the presence of a human. It is when a creature, having successfully performed all necessary functions, starts to play the fool, just for the hell of it, that we know he is not a robot.’ Matthew Parris article in New Statesman

Also reminds me of Kathleen Hanna in Frankie magazine – do more weird shit. (The bit about toxic people is also spot on.)