Culture 3.0

Culture isn’t what it used to be. Thank goodness. But it isn’t like the old archaic forms of expression aren’t putting up a battle. But they are soon to be history and are only able to maintain the illusion that they are still relevant by the loyalty of old money and old bodies. Without the tiresome habits of network TV watchers, MFA program promises, broadcast radio, producers of tedious monstrosities called “the full length play”, record company contract serfs, art gallery wine and cheese parties,  chapbook poetry writers, and formula special effects vehicles we call movies.

They all pretend not to notice the future digging the graves for past genres, even as they jump into the hole to help them. These are the people who cannot change, so of course, pretend nothing has changed. As long as there are enough gurgling incontinent season ticket buyers and nostalgic sponsors, it pays to milk the game to the end while emerging culture can be snubbed as a side show staged by impudent upstarts.

But its not like cultural investors haven’t hedged their bets by buying into the new technology. They’re just not conveying the mantle of culture to the unworthy till an institution can dominate it. That doesn’t mean the originators and developers will not have made their mark over a 30 year period. It just means they will be coopted by the same opportunists who threw up roadblocks to progress until they could dominate the new forms.

Its hard work pretending not to notice what is staring you in the face. No one goes out anymore to listen to poets read out of notebooks except their friends and other poets waiting their turn. Its boring listening to talking podiums read what you can read for yourself at home off the internet, while smoking or drinking whatever you want in the comfort of easy chairs and consumer electronics. The loyalists sneered at the performance movement called slam poetry while that movement itself is being pressured for even more cultural change to stay relevant on the edge.

This change is not a distant glow and low rumbling, open to interpretation about what it is and when it will arrive. No, change has been screaming and yelling on the front porch, pounding its fists on the door to be let in for quite some time. The ruse of being unaware of this unwanted visitor is belied by the barring of the door and directing the old school to enter thru the back door, as if it were the new front door. As if the reaper wasn’t forcing a game change fast enough by himself, the price of this exercise in futility keeps skyrocketing. Its like, demand falls off so you double the price for customers who are getting poorer and poorer.

Alright, I have a personal agenda and contempt for tribal snobs. In addition to kicking slam poetry up a notch and replacing both studio movies and network TV with an expanding (and cheap) internet scene and satellite TV, I have a long standing grudge against full length play based theater and all the class pretense that goes along with it. Yes, I know there used to be a counter theater. But that was then. This is now. Sitting through a full length isolated-from-current-issues-play is cultural waterboarding plus tasers.

Live theater as we know it is dead. As soon as life support becomes too expensive for the survivors to maintain this pointless illusion, the plug will be pulled. Make no mistake about it. Video and internet productions increasingly outstrip the four-wall rituals we call theater. So is there no hope for live theater? Yes there is. But first, we must assume the American Theater phantasm is only perpetuated by brain eating pundit zombies, academic whores producing MFA programs, sponsor sell-outs, and class traitors. Having eliminated this part of the problem the solution is obvious.

Remember, the average person, and many above average people, are perfectly happy with sitting at home in their 1500 dollar easy chairs, in their underwear, drinking their favorite cold beer at store prices, watching their gas plasmas with killer sound systems on broad band cable and satellite TV, as the internet belches forth millions of classic, free, or low cost offerings that they can talk about, or not, on hundreds of culturally related sites. The soon to be extinct cultural gatekeepers think this is irrelevant. This comment is based on long and painful personal experience.

I propose a new model for live performance that will not be based on a dying past. The model is split between salons and venues. The salons are close knit associations of compatible artists and writers who perform and interact with their peers. Participation is by invitation only. The purpose of a salon is not primarily entertainment. It is cultural interaction between peers. This should be the first exposure of new work, not institutional endorsement after admission by gatekeepers.

The model for public theatre venues is more aggressive. It assumes that plays should be fringe festival length – not over one hour. Other cultural forms will have to fill the evening out – music, stand up, skits, or group raps or slams. If serious food is not next door, an appealing menu must be part of the venue. The nite out will be one stop or not at all. Real time streaming to the web and chat will be a must for the under 50 crowd.

Ideally, the food/alcohol component of the venue will also serve as an after event discussion forum. Think: absurdism, surrealism, true performance slam forms, That is, if we are serious about getting people out for live cultural events. These after hours soirees will be the democratic replacement for self serving theatre boards and grant fed institutions.

This is what is necessary to hold on to the live community part of cultural expression. Most forms of expression, globally and locally, will be on the internet or satellite. That is a given. The big question that few people are asking is “are we going to do what is necessary to keep the face to face part of cultural alive and relevant.”

Letter to Mendocino’s Ad Hoc Committee on Public Access

I am the Secretary for Cache Creek Performance, a non-profit created by some former TV8 volunteers.  The purpose of Cache Creek Performance is to create a structure to contract for non-traditional public and private venues. Our focus area is Lake County and Ukiah Valley. I believe the Board of Supervisors may be interested in our idea for a relevant internet platform for all Mendo-Lake community media.

 Twenty years ago, cable TV was still in it’s prime. For rural California, it seemed that almost every home was hooked into cable TV. 

Behind the scenes, many government and volunteer hours were spent obtaining contracts for public access funding, putting broadcast studios in place, and keeping the channels operational.  Having a public access channel was the only community controlled media.  It was a boon for local businesses and community groups, while allowing local governments to educate and engage their citizens. It was the only public platform for local performers, producers and videographers. 

 But now, many customers are switching from cable to satellite for their television viewing.  Other customers are giving up their television sets altogether, using the internet to provide them with both information and entertainment. The internet doesn’t require people to schedule their lives around someone else’s schedule. We enjoy an explosion of choices that we can use at our convenience.

Local businesses, organizations and governments are less dependent on Public Access, preferring to rely on their websites to get their information out.   Budgets are tightening, and the cost of running brick and mortar operations keeps rising.   And with the loss of cable customers, Public Access viewership is dropping.   Now would seem like a good time to say ‘good-bye’ to Public Access. 

 But the internet has not been able to fully replace public access. There is no one place on the internet where someone can learn about the full range of local culture, local issues, and local activities.  Without some kind of filter, the community gets lost in the cyberspace noise.  And it is that very cyber roar that puts our community identities at risk. 

  Perhaps as important as our community identity, is our right to a public forum.  Unlike satellite TV and internet, Public Access holds a special place as a legal “designated public forum.”  It cannot be overridden by commercial or political considerations.  And, since the enactment of DIVCA, we can be pretty sure that if we allow these unique Public Access forums to fall off of our radar, we can never get them back.

 How do we keep these assets alive in this changing climate?  First, we need to rethink the type of local government contributions that would best support the transition of our public access channels to the internet.  Second, we need to work with the new technology. 

 Viable public access requires: a place for the live cable jack (ensuring a legal free speech entity for all the public); protected storage for valuable equipment; and an inclusion under the County insurance umbrella.  This way, the County could support the transformation of a vital resource by replacing PEG line items with in-kind support.  Other examples are increased municipal wi-fi locations (remember, the shift to more internet incorporation) and better access to public spaces for “on-the-fly” shooting spaces as well.  But no scary budget item for a declining technology.

 Technically, the cable links need to be nodes on an internet platform, which is essentially a beefed up blog site. WordPress Premium at $8.25 per month should be adequate. The $5 per month Vimeo option seems to be working well as the preferred video upload site for Willits. Notice I said links, plural. Each access channel and community radio in the region would need to have their own pages on the platform for basic info and links which they would administer themselves. Live streaming and podcasts should be platform centered. There are plans available for under $20 per month.

Cache Creek Performance would like to help create a relevant internet platform, including cable public access, for all Mendo-Lake community media.

 

Lake County Identity Crisis

Many years ago Lake County used to be part of Napa County, giving it the status of a San Francisco Bay Area county. It was hard to get to in those pre CalTrans days. Around the time that Lake County broke off, another nearby county was breaking up. This was the county of Klamath on the Coast. It was too small and poor to pay its bills, which were a lot fewer back then. The disappearing county became parts of Humboldt, Trinity, Siskyiou, and the new county of Del Norte. Counties can die when there is a good reason.

A case could be made that Lake County should be divided up between its functional neighbors for the good of the residents. After the grinding poverty the best reason for Lake to split at the Putah Creek and Cache Creek Watersheds is the fact that it doesn’t know who it is and is constantly at war with change. The exception is the chamber marketing people who throw all their cash at convincing a skeptical world that we really are part of the Napa-Sonoma-Mendocino “Wine Country.” Sure, out of county wineries are all too happy to take advantage of Lake’s lax environmental regulations for their satellite vineyards but their wineries and tasting rooms stay at home along with the jobs.

Mendocino has a second identity along with Humboldt as the “North Coast”, sometimes referred to as the “Emerald Triangle.” Mendocino generally works well and its county seat Ukiah is convenient to the North half of Lake County. Mendocino has a rim of surrounding communities that boast a strong cultural and community identity. Lake County has little of this. Lake County has a small group of mean spirited, small minded opportunists that love being big fish in a small pond. This leadership class does not see itself as public servants. Their motto is “To the victor goes the spoils.” In this oppressive climate the best and the brightest go elsewhere, if they can afford it.

But even myopic victors need an identity. And the Lake County goobertocracy has chosen the Neanderthal State of Jefferson movement as their inspiration. Its Board of Supervisors were unanimous in spite of this endorsement being in opposition to most of their constituency. After a series of devastating fires caused a billion dollars in aid to pour into beleaguered Lake, the ranting about California and support for Jefferson quietly died. No doubt the fires of secession are still burning in the goobers’ black hearts. So I’ve created a litmus test for NorCal gooberness.

In 1996 there were two interesting California State Propositions – Pot Proposition 215 and the 2/3 Tax Approval Prop 218. These were hot topics and tended to split along liberal and conservative lines. But not always. What if a county tended towards local control and personal freedom. Then they would favor both. In Northern California no county who complains about over regulation has any business voting against 215. This means no “State of Gooberstan.” People who have the can-do spirit will vote against easy taxation also. I don’t begrudge true goober supervisors voting their class war values but their votes should mirror the values of their bosses – the people.

The boundaries of this fantasized goobertopia are constantly shifting, depending on political realities. In the most optimistic version of Jefferson we get a rim of Oregon counties to the North, which has nothing to do with what our California Legislature does, to a Southern frontier of Mendocino, Lake, Yolo, El Dorado and Alpine Counties. A more realistic boundary target consists of about 13 counties, bypassing the hard sell middle Sierra region and Delta Counties. For some unfathomable reason the hard core redneck enclave still includes Mendocino and Humboldt Counties which has far more in common with those sinners in the Bay Area than with Donald Trump voters.

Looking at the 1996 results, a “no” on 215 and a “yes” on 218 says “break out the banjos, load up the squirrel shooters, and stomp the flag burners, yeah ha!” These counties include, coming down from the Oregon border, most of the central and Northeastern counties down to Sierra but not Nevada Counties.They do not include Lake or Trinity, obviously corrupted by Mendocino and Humboldt next door. News is slow getting back to Goober Headquarters. Maybe they think Goobers are the chosen people and they can ignore everyone else. But hey, Lake County Supervisors have a disconnect with the people who pay their salaries also.

Lake County was a 53 percent yes vote on 215 and a 65 yes on 218, along with six other double yes counties in the expansion zone of Greater Gooberstan. This is the hard core goober resistance movement, plus the single liberal “yes on 215, no on 218” county of Yolo. Other sympathetic counties have backed off on a Jefferson endorsement due to the embarrassing hypocrisy of biting the hand that is feeding them. Five of the seven double yes counties I would call the “non goober, local control” federation. But the other two, Humboldt and tiny Alpine, had “super” double yes majorities. I would call those two the libertarian counties.

Bottom line is Lake County is not State of Jefferson country in spite of what our grumpy, head-in-the -sand leaders want to believe. Since we are the “local control group” we should be part of the North Coast/Emerald Triangle network. I really want to join and I’ll always have regular connections in the Ukiah Valley within Mendocino. But in spite of my rustic rural sensibilities, minimal cultural and political functioning demands that my serious focus has to be on the Bay Area. I have a limited “push out” identity that I described as “The Wedge” in a blog but I am committed to identify Lake as Bay Area, in opposition to the deep denial of the Jefferson tribe and the wine country clique.

In order to intellectually identify with an area you have to have a good physical connection with your chosen homeland. Most of Lake County is poor. Buses to the North, East, or the Coast are minimal or non existent. But thanks to an amazing bus system gradually built up since 1995 we not only have four buses a day to the nearest functional city of Ukiah but Lake Transit also sends four express buses a day, six days a week to the South and the big, exciting world beyond. Here’s how it works.

Bus 3 leaves Walmart in Clearlake going to the Northernmost Napa County city of Calistoga. From here you have two choices. Our transit drivers will give you a free transfer to the Napa Vine Route 10 as far as the city of Napa. Your second option, and this is where “the world” comes in, is to pay a few bucks and get on the 29 Express (Monday thru Friday) and blow thru South of Napa. For pure fun, jump off at the Vallejo dock and take the ferry all the way to San Francisco, or stay on the 29 Express and go all the way to the North El Cerrito Bart Station. Now you are a light rail ride away from all East Bay cities, San Francisco, two international airports, the Central Valley, and Amtrack.

This month I’m going to the Napa Film Festival, a law conference in Oakland, and catching the slam poetry venue in Berkeley, all made possible by Lake Transit’s Route 3 to the Bay Area and civilization. Lake County is isolated only if someone wants to be isolated.