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The Bad Web: Bringing People Together

The 1998 Bad Subjects website looks very different than the old one. It doesn't look exactly like the magazine, either. It's an attempt to make something new.

Geoffrey Sauer

Sunday, August 09 1998, 8:21 PM

On Labor Day (Sept. 7) Bad Subjects presents our new, improved website. Attempts to build something new generally leave me skeptical — Karl Marx once argued that people do not make new things as we please, but instead from circumstances transmitted from the past. Precisely in those moments when we seem to be revolutionary, we always seem to conjure the spirits of the past to validate our new creation. In order to gain popularity and power, any significant innovation explains and justifies itself in conservative terms that will be recognizable to everyone — and this limits the possibility of radical change.

This always seemed a wise recognition to me.

In 1948, building upon Marx's social theory, two refugees from Nazi Germany published "The Culture Industry," which proposed that the forthcoming new television medium was a similar kind of artifact from the past — in this case, from German 19th-century theater: Gesamtkunstwerk — "the fusion of all arts in one work." Television, they suggested, was an attempt to combine film and radio into something more consumerist than movies or radio.

In recent years the popularity of the Internet has transformed the Web into a 1990's sort of super-Gesamtkunstwerk. Becoming popular after 1993 when the Mosaic browser combined gopher, ftp and http into a single application, the Web has grown to assimilate many document types: text, audio, images, video, databases, hypertext--you name it, and the Web either has or is trying to combine it into the "medium of the future."

But along the way the corporate culture of television models has appeared online, too. Internet World writes that the average salary for a corporate webmaster in 1998 is $120,000. And this is not for facilitating employees in publishing ideas and personal home pages to other individuals, but rather for integrating new technology into sophisticated public relations institutions and/or revenue-generating shops with "interactive" capabilities. The corporate webmaster is today in many ways like a TV ad executive.

"The Spot," a website which debuted in 1996, was one example of this. Purportedly publishing the diaries of six people who share a California beach house, the site daily published new entries which developed the characters by showing the musings (as well as occasional snapshots) of the young, beautiful people who live in California — hmm. Then in 1997 an Internet hacker found a way into the website which showed detailed scripts for future episodes, which the hacker argued on USENET proved the entire site to be a fabricated media event.

"Our First Time" is another such new media event: the supposedly spontaneous public loss of virginity by "Diane" and "Mike", two 18-year-old "Honor" students [sic] who planned to show their loss of virginity via live streaming video. The project was abandoned when's ISP went public with the script of the event, which an executive at the ISP claimed would have charged viewers $5 to enter — and at the last minute the two teenagers would decide that they "weren't ready" yet. High drama. Of course after a few weeks it gave up this premise, and today is just another commercial porn site.

Our site attempts to be a little different.

This new Bad Subjects website looks very different than the old one. It doesn't look exactly like the magazine Bad Subjects: Political Education for Everyday Life, either. It's an attempt to make something new.

This new site is designed to aid public discussion of progresive social thought. Bad Subjects has over two dozen regular writers around the planet and over four hundred people on our mailing list. This new design allows us to collaborate in publishing the writings of our community, to help progressive communities think through how to understand and improve "everyday life."

We hope that this new design will allow us to communicate more regularly with the larger community. Join us.

Copyright © 1998 by Geoffrey Sauer. All rights reserved.