Notes on the End Times
Who's Fiddling Whom While Rome Burns?
NewsForChange.com, May 13, 2000
Last night, as usual, it was hard to figure out just who was fiddling hardest while Rome burned below.
On the one hand was the 4th annual Webby Awards ceremony in San Francisco's Nob Hill neighborhood, where 3,000 of the world's most annoyingly (and temporarily) successful young humans gathered to congratulate each other on their wackiness, eat oysters and ogle the rented dot-babes in feathered boas. Nine years at ground zero of the world's most coveted micro-economy has not done much for the dot-commies' sense of humility, or basic perspective.
"It's a liberation of people's creativity," gushed former HotWired editor Howard Rheingold, wearing a suit made of "tiger-skin prints, moons and roses," according to the San Jose Mercury News. "It's all about art and fun and blowing people's minds and inspiration and culture."
Right on, Howie. By the way, have you ever seen the Silicon Valley that Rheingold helped create? It's "all about" strip malls and tedium and housing prices that force service employees (like, oh, cops and teachers) to either commute from far-off Oakland or go homeless.
Meanwhile, proving that Internet pioneers aren't the only dumb hippies in San Francisco, a group of joyless protestors stood outside the awards ceremony under a "Dot-com developers displace" sign, telling people to "Get the realstory.com!" Sounds like the self-described "anarcho-communists" behind the Mission Yuppie Eradication Project, a cheerful little troupe that likes to refer to New Media people as "pigs with money," and openly advocates some "urban riots" to destroy sushi bars that "offer nothing to working and poor people here."
It was easy to feel superior to all the Frisco nonsense, down here in more pragmatic Los Angeles. But then I thought about it: my evening began with watching a friend compete (and lose, barely) on "Win Ben Stein's Money," and then ended at a Hollywood club watching my favorite rock band play a show that was booked for the sole person of letting their big boss (cat named Michael Eisner) and the country's most influential radio programmer (KROQ's Kevin Weatherly) check out the band. There were girls in panties and Ace Frehley boots, guys in leopard-skin cowboy hats, and literally hundreds of lower-rung record-industry people (who, ironically, bear a direct Gen X resemblance to the Internet crowd).
I spend my days as a media critic, mostly taking potshots at newspapers like the L.A. Times, and talented jerks like Kurt Andersen, for consciously pandering to the rich while ignoring the bad-off lower third of America (to which I belong, at least statistically).ically). Then at night I party with the cultural elite and read the New Yorker.
In the smoking lounge after the show (which was fantastic, incidentally), I ran into an old friend who works at an Internet company and plays in a rock band. He and his wife, who were never what you would describe as rich, have been thinking about buying a house with their various dot-com stock options.
"How's your IPOs?" I asked.
"They were both postponed," he said, shaking his said. "It looks like we might actually have to work for a living."