Another Week: Number 29
On Saturday, our brother-in-law celebrated his 65th birthday with a party at his house on Camp Lake, so we drove out there and mingled with people the best we could for a few hours. It was a little jarring to be uncaged in a swirl of humans, but mostly a pleasant connection with the world beyond our medical Habitrail.
The crumbling barn above was along the road on the drive out there.
Traffic: Genius, Rivalry, and Delusion in the Billion-Dollar Race to Go Viral, by Ben Smith
Some publicity appearance somewhere (Morning Joe?) made me think I wanted to read this insider’s account of the rise and fall of Gawker, The Huffington Post, and BuzzFeed.
In retrospect, it was not time well spent.
Traffic: Genius, Rivalry, and Delusion in the Billion-Dollar Race to Go Viral is centered mostly on Jonah Peretti, who, at age 27, engaged in a sarcastic email exchange with corporate types at Nike which went viral. Peretti then spent decades trying to repeat that thrill via The Huffington Post and BuzzFeed.
Ben Smith, editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed News from 2011 to 2020, was part of that story — one that you might expect would be fascinating and perhaps thrilling, what with revolutionary technology catapulting a circle of nerds into the upper levels of corporate media.
Instead, the book is a parade of names and milestones without enough character and drama. The assorted notables all execute various schemes aimed at attracting attention online with varying success. Bubbles inflate, then eventually burst. You can sometimes sense Smith rewatching old videos as he describes what people were wearing at a particular event.
One example of Smith’s lack of attentiveness jumps out in Chapter 9, which is actually titled “$5 a View.” As someone who earns money from blog posts now and then, that figure certainly grabbed my attention.
It refers to an incentive that Gawker founder Nick Denton offered his content creators:
He assigned each of his sites a page view rate, starting around $5. That meant that a writer making $2,000 a month would need to get more than four hundred thousand page views to start earning a bonus. A total of five hundred thousand views would get them a $500 bonus—but a huge hit could bring in thousands of extra dollars a month.
Okay, so: a $500 bonus for 100,000 extra views. That’s .5 cents a view, not five dollars.
The whole book feels like something dashed off — like content created to trigger a transaction rather than share hearty stories or penetrating insights.
Right from its opening titles, complete with Roman-numeral copyright date, Peacock’s Poker Face tells you that it’s a throwback to crime dramas of the early 1970s — especially Columbo, That show pioneered the “inverted” detective story, revealing the murderer right away, then proceeding to catch ‘em. This series goes a step further, adding a flashback gimmick that relives the crime from the sleuth’s perspective.
It stars Natasha Lyonne, who we know from Russian Doll on Netflix, and love from various talk show appearances. She plays Charlie Cale, a cocktail waitress and former poker player who can unfailingly sense when someone is lying. She’s on the run, and — as in those 70s shows — encounters different guest stars and murders in each episode before moving on.
Poker Face is a tribute to those old detective shows, not a parody. It’s aware of a certain hokiness and even winks at the viewer now and then, but it nevertheless works very well as a mediocre, modern-day detective drama. It’s the kind of TV comfort food that would go well with a frozen chicken pot pie and a side of Tater Tots.
Painting with John
Sometimes I think that just about anything could be the basis for a TV show — and that it would be great to turn the things I’m experiencing anyway into content that produces an income.
John Lurie has accomplished this. Previously, he has been an avant-garde jazz musician and composer. He has also acted in a number of Jim Jarmusch films, as well as Paris, Texas, and The Last Temptation of Christ. However, since suffering the effects of cancer and Lyme disease, he has mostly concentrated on painting with watercolors.
Painting with John, on Max, is three seasons of six episodes each. In the three we’ve watched thus far, Lurie is at his home on some unnamed Caribbean island, carefully creating his quirky paintings and goofing around on the property while reflecting on random life observations. This goes on for twenty-some minutes and concludes with a short slideshow of his completed works.
That’s it — a just-right serving of introspection seasoned with humor, some striking art, and you’re out.