Last weekend, filmmaker and digital DIY evangelist Arin Crumley went to a party in Brooklyn, where his coat, wallet, passport, bike and video recorder were stolen. Arin has built a brand around finding innovative ways to broadcast his personal issues and private frustrations directly to his audience, so it’s no surprise that, as a step towards recovering burgled items, he made a video.
But it was something of a surprise that the video –– a monologue entitled Social Checks & Balance in the Digital Karma Information Age, in which Crumley manages to talk about party etiquette, metaphysics, Colonialism and communism before essentially warning the perpetrator that s/he can either come forward, no questions asked, or else be tracked down via digital manhunt –– spawned both a spoof video and an exceedingly creepy confession, and became grist for Gawker and YouTube’s hungry commenters.
This is where I should probably note a bit of potential bias: I’ve been interested in Crumley’s work for a while; I was one of the first people to write about his feature Four Eyed Monsters, and the company for which I write a film blog, Spout.com, sponsored FEM‘s premiere on YouTube, in a deal that netted Crumley and his co-director, Susan Buice, a payout of nearly $50,000.
Because of my familiarity with Crumley and his body of work, I probably watched Social Checks through a different lens than the uninitiated Gawker or YouTube commenter. Who knows –– if I didn’t know him, maybe I would have reacted similarly to the YouTube commenter who declared, “This douchebag is the perfect example of why hipsters need to be removed from New York immediately.”
But when this clip made the rounds in the film blog world, where virtually everyone does know Crumley and his work, there was a bit of bemusement at his partially affected self-seriousness, but certainly no derision; I think everyone just hoped he’d get his passport back so he could go to Berlin, because we understood that he’s not some whiny hipster whose vacation plans were just ruined by a craftier whiny hipster, but someone who has business at the film festival that’s going on there this week, and who will be at a professional disadvantage if he can’t get on that plane.
By the end of the week, Crumley had yet to recover his stuff, but he had recovered his sense of humor. In this clever response video, released on Friday, he performs a song comprised of lyrics culled from the nasty comment threads. At the start of the clip, Crumley admits that “in the 84 videos I’d posted online before,” he’d never been the target of such a feeding frenzy. In this climate, that’s quite an accomplishment, and you could say that he was probably overdue. But I think this chain of events is more valuable in its revelation of how arbitrary online hate can be.
Everyone knows by now that the signal-to-inanity ratio on YouTube comments is ridiculous, but it’s the hate directed at Crumley from Gawker that I think is the most interesting and revealing. Those commenters have been trained to blindly tear apart any scrap of meat that the Gawker editors find fit to throw to the wolves. The Crumley incident seems to put into practice the theories put forth by Vanessa Grigoriadis in her NY Mag story, Gawker and the Rage and the Creative Underclass, which postulates that the blog’s editors and their commenters have taken their inferiority complexes, sprung from a common inability to break through the glass ceiling of the traditional media world, and funneled their frustration into a discourse of almost indiscriminate volley of hate.
The progressive seepage of snark into print media aside, that discourse hasn’t done anything substantial to smash that power structure –– Anna Wintour and Graydon Carter have somehow survived –– and as a result Gawker has taken to picking easier targets, on whom they can inflict noticeable damage.
Ironically, Arin Crumley is one of the few people on the Internet who is doing more than just snarking about the impenetrability of the media power structure — he’s actually trying to change it. With projects like From Here to Awesome, he’s trying to set up processes that would allow that frustrated creative underclass to go around the traditional barriers to success. But the Gawker hate machine doesn’t make distinctions, it can’t or won’t distinguish the problem from its potential solution. All it sees is fresh meat.