“A Film About Hope, Fear, and Digital Culture”
Of all of the films that I have reviewed for this column, PressPausePlay might be the only one that demands viewing. I say this because the majority of those who read my monthly Queue column are likely music producers, writers, filmmakers, graphic designers, or some other form of creative type. And I feel that I can safety assume that each of you use the awesome power of our current technological wave to share and appreciate your preferred artistic medium. I know that all of us here at Seclusiasis have our own Soundcloud, or Mixcloud; Facebook pages and Twitter accounts – all of which we use to share our creations with the rest of the global community. I think I am safe in assuming that the same is true for most (if not all) of our readers. So with this being said, PressPausePlay might be the most valuable film I could suggest for all of us, as it is a documentary about, well, us.
The digital revolution of the last decade has unleashed creativity and talent in an unprecedented way, with unlimited opportunities. The question posed by the directors of PressPausePlay is whether democratized culture mean better art or is true talent instead drowned out? Through a series of interviews with authors, musicians, filmmakers, and countless others involved with the creation and distribution of art, PressPausePlay documents the multiple opinions of the digital debate.
Interestingly, PressPausePlay begins the debate from the perspective of author Andrew Keen, who opines that if a young Hitchcock or a young Scorsese put their work on YouTube today, they would be ignored, and their work would be “lost in the ocean of garbage.” Keen calls our current culture of universal creativity being shared effortlessly through the Internet a “global masturbation”. To quote: “We are on the verge of new Dark Age. The Creative World is destroyed. All we have is cacophony and self opinion.”
Now, not everyone in the film takes such a harsh, cynical view of the state of artistic endeavor, but by beginning the documentary with Keen’s point of view, one does immediately understand the volatile tension between the positive and negative aspects of democratized creation and distribution. Today, everyone has the tools to be a filmmaker or a musician, and that’s simply wonderful. And yes, the truly brilliant work of genuinely talented artists is getting lost in a sea of clumsy noise, and that’s utterly awful. And it is this schism which PressPausePlay examines.
During his interview, Moby states that in his experience, artists today are “equally excited and afraid” about this technological renaissance. They’re being forced to accept a world in which it’s nearly impossible to make a living at their trade; which, coincidentally, is not too disimilar than the artists of centuries ago BEFORE the commercialization of art and the rise of the cult of celebrity.
Over the last hundred years or so, we’ve been experiencing temporary bubbles of artistic rarefaction in which the “recording industry” or the “film industry” have taken a few select artists and elevated them above all others by ensuring that their work is seen and heard around the world. Now, with the Internet, those industries are crumbling – or perhaps mutating – and those select few artists have ballooned exponentially. On one hand, the democratized distribution is smashing the edifice of elitism and allowing the general public to make up their own minds about “what’s good”. Conversely, without an artistic elite to educate the masses, are our standards of quality going to drastically plummet?
One odd consequence of online distribution that PressPausePlay addresses is that artists no longer go through those extended periods of development before releasing their work to the public. In the case of musicians, someone can write, record, mix, and release a song all on the same day. Musicians rise to worldwide fame in a matter of weeks. For example, look at the Arctic Monkeys, who started selling out 1000 seat venues only a couple months after releasing their first single – and that was way back in 2005. A more current example is someone like Lana Del Rey, who went from being an overnight success to an overnight failure in 2011 based solely on the opinions of amateur music bloggers. Whatever you may think of her music, integrity, or image, you can’t deny that her rise and fall was with unparalleled speed.
One of the main issues that PressPausePlay explores is the idea of artists giving away their work for free. It’s easy to complain that musicians, filmmakers, authors, etc. are being financially crippled by online piracy, but the truth is much more complicated. New York Times Bestselling Author, Seth Godin, wrote a book called Unleashing the Ideavirus and began giving it away as a free ebook back in 2000. Millions of people downloaded it, but not all of them wanted to read it on a screen; because he was able to demonstrate a large and immediate demand, Godin quickly found a publisher for a print version. He ended up making more money on the free ebook book than on either of his previous efforts. Musicians are now using this same strategy to demonstrate value to record labels.
Bill Drummond of The KLF – a man who once literally burned £1,000,000 – makes perhaps the most salient point: the democratization of artistic creation puts everyone on the same footing. If everyone can use technology to create highly-polished products, then there’s no longer anything special about highly-polished products. Real talent will still rise to the top.
“It’s moved things on,” Drummond says, “and I like things moving along.”
Me too, Bill. And in that vein, this is the first Gleaming the Queue where I will actually provide the film reviewed with the column. It’s completely legal and legit as the directors of PressPausePlay, in keeping with the the theme of the documentary itself, have released the entire film on Vimeo. Watch it below, and share and discuss.