A star is born

Some people — percentage-wise not very many, but some — make money off of their YouTube channels. A very few become rich. According to Forbes magazine the highest earner is 7-year-old Ryan, the star or “host” of Ryan ToysReview. In the past year he generated over $20 million in income, which was up 100% from last year (the site has only been existence since 2015).

This is yet another of those things that make me feel horribly out of touch. I get that if, by whatever strange alchemy, you become a YouTube star or celebrity you can make a lot of money through ad revenue and selling merchandise. I understand that this mainly happens through the channels of people who play video games. I don’t play video games, but I know that many people do. I also accept that some people — if I can say it without sounding judgmental, mainly lonely people — will sit and watch someone else play a video game and just talk for hours.

I get all that. I don’t get the success of Ryan’s channel. I watched as much as I could of one episode and saw that it was mainly being presented by Ryan’s parents, with Ryan appearing to be little more than a prop being played with like one of the toys (upon reading about this phenomenon some more I discovered that Ryan has, in fact, been turned into an action figure being sold at Walmart for $9 each). His mother does most of the talking on the videos and her voice is excruciating. The production and presentation are crude. They really are awful in every way. But even if it had been well done, or if I was missing something, I still don’t understand how something like this can appeal to so many people or influence sales so much. Who watches it? Kids? Parents? Just people who want to enjoy the thrill of rampant consumerism (“unboxing”) daily? Apparently the “reviews” eschew any kind of evaluation or analysis of the toys in question but just offer up moments of sheer enjoyment.

Is this the end of the world as know it? Probably not. It’s not really that different from the story of any child star in years gone by. And I guess there is a universal appeal to voyeuristically and vicariously experiencing a child’s joy, however artificially stage managed it may be. Not to mention the fact that with daily updates, even given the simplicity of the videos the family is obviously putting a lot of time and effort into this project. There’s something about this story though, and more broadly about the Internet economy, that strikes me as both profoundly weird and probably unhealthy. If nothing else, such success stories guarantee an endless stream of imitators, just as Ryan’s channel was cloned from other unboxing sites. I wonder how much of this is just a fad, like viral fame itself, and how much of it is a real glimpse of things to come.

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Who ya gonna call?

I always wondered how she’d manage with a flat screen.

Over at Alex on Film I’ve been watching a bunch of horror movies that fit into what I call the Ghostbusters paradigm, where a team of specialists equipped with all the latest toys investigate weird goings-on. I believe the genre started with the BBC film The Stone Tape, and it’s had a long and varied history. Of course, this being the movie business science is always shown to be inadequate when it comes to combating the forces of evil. Just as religion also usually fails. Anyway, here’s the line-up of movies I looked at.

The Stone Tape (1972)
The Entity (1982)
Poltergeist (1982)
Ghostbusters (1984)
Prince of Darkness (1987)
1408 (2007)
The Conjuring (2013)
Ghostbusters (2016)
The Conjuring 2 (2016)
Rings (2017)

Thinning out the stacks

I was recently asked to write an essay that would look at some current trends in literary criticism. In order to provide some background I wanted to talk a bit about earlier books like Ezra Pound’s ABC of Reading and Cleanth Brooks’s The Well Wrought Urn. I have copies of both but since they’re buried away in boxes in my basement (I’m a slow mover), I thought I’d just walk over to the university library and check them out.

No luck. Neither book was available in the holdings of the university library, or any of the other university libraries that are part of the same library system. ABC of Reading was listed as being there but it wasn’t, while The Well Wrought Urn (available only in a single copy) was reported as missing.

What gives? These are two very well known, seminal books of literary criticism: the first a keynote of modernism and the other the signature work of the New Criticism. I was so sure the catalogue listings were wrong that I even went into the stacks to double check, but neither was there. Nor were they available in the city library system.

This would be weird enough, but just a month ago I’d had a similiar experience when looking for a copy of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Again, this is a landmark work and very well known. It was just recently republished as part of the Library of America series. And yet trying to find a copy in the university and city library systems I came up empty. They didn’t have a single copy available. And again the stacks were bare.

I don’t offer this experience as evidence that it’s the end of the world as we know it, but I do think it suggests how much is changing. Obviously libraries are being transformed into something more than just warehouses for books, but they do still have stacks and holdings. With gaps this wide starting to show up though I’m not sure how valuable a resource they’re going to be for much longer.

Gremlins again

Over at Alex on Film I just finished re-watching Gremlins and Gremlins 2: The New Batch. I was curious to see how well these movies held up thirty years later. Answer: pretty well, but they were never great movies in the first place. It’s interesting they haven’t been remade given how well-known the gremlin mythology still is (don’t get them wet, don’t feed them after midnight) and seeing as they came out just before CGI changed everything.

Reading Event: Ondjaki

Ondjaki, Transparent City

BookShelf Cafe eBar, October 23 2018:

As with the last “reading” I went to at the eBar (with Michael Adams), this wasn’t really a reading but more an interview, with Ondjaki’s English translator (Stephen Henighan) asking the questions. As with the Adams event, I think this was a better format. In part because it would have been weird hearing an author reading a translation of his own work, but also because interviews are more interesting than readings anyway. I’ve said it before but every time I go to one of these things I’m reminded of how poor most readings are. They only work in the very few cases where the author is a truly talented stage performer as well.

I don’t know how good a reader Ondjaki is, but he was great in conversation. He had some good anecdotes to tell and charm to burn. I even found out a bit about Angola, which admittedly wasn’t hard since I knew absolutely nothing about Angola before this aside from where it is on a map. I didn’t even know Luanda (the setting of Transparent City) was the capital.

There was a question from the floor about the title that I wish there had been follow-up with. I was wondering if Ondjaki meant something like “invisible” when he uses the word “transparent.” The point (or one of the points) he makes in the book is that people are transparent because they’re poor, so are they like the invisible underclass Paul Fussell wrote about, or the invisibility of Ellison’s Invisible Man? That’s the impression I get, but at the same time the main character’s transparency also makes him highly noticeable, someone to gawk at. So maybe something different was meant.

A good show, and well-attended for this neck of the woods. I wish we could have more like it.