I was going to write about something else today. Actually, I had several topics to choose from. Then I had a conversation with Glenn Hauman, the invisible hand of ComicMix, and then this screed shot out of my fingers.
As this new medium flourished, I was excited about the opportunity for anybody to communicate in virtually all ways (print, audio, video; instantly, eventually, historically) and to do so directly without outside interference. As I’ve said before, I am a first amendment absolutist: people should be able to express themselves the way they want, in the form they want, using the language they feel most appropriate. The Internet, I felt, allowed all of us to communicate without these ridiculous and unwarranted barriers.
Sure, there’s a price to pay. There’s a lot of bullshit out there, options and outright lies presented as fact. And the rush to judgment that we see on cable’s 24 hour “news” channels (which, oddly, don’t offer very much in the way of news) is exceptionally prevalent. I literally come from the “If your mother says she loves you, check it out” school of journalism. But those are growing pains, and the outrageous lies and distortions generally are limited to sites where they wear their prejudices on their sleeves. I don’t except a eulogy about the three teenagers Hamas slaughtered in Israel to appear on an American Nazi Party website. Or vice versa.
I don’t want or need big business or the government – any government – to tell me what I cannot say… to the extent that there’s a difference between the two. But it didn’t take very long before big business did exactly that by banishing that which they find objectionable from their services.
Ironically, for me this started with Apple. They do not distribute magazines or books that they find violates their standards. Do they have the basic right to do this? Of course. It’s their tubes and wires. But they enforce these standards in a hypocritical manner. There is a ton of music, television and movies for sale on iTunes that Apple would not sell in electronic print form on iBooks, had that content been presented in that medium. And if the object in question is from a big name author or has an enormous amount of buzz about it, well, often it manages to be listed on their service anyway.
Does this differ from, say, Wal*Mart? No… except that Wal*Mart (et al) is consistent. If it doesn’t meet Wal*Mart’s standards, popularity or mass-salability doesn’t enter into it. Playboy could have an interview with Jesus Christ and Wal*Mart wouldn’t stock it.
And then we have Google.
Google may very well be the Doctor Doom of the Internet. They have so much information on each and every one of us that the National Security Agency actually tapped (taps? who’s to know?) Google’s files in their spying-on-the-citizenry jag. That’s bad and ugly and evil, but for the purpose of this particular column it illustrates their corporate culture.
If Google divines what you’re posting is objectionable, they de-list you. In fact, this almost happened to ComicMix. If you’re de-listed by Google, you are screwed. You are left alone in outer space, where nobody can hear you scream.
There’s a good graphic novel in that. But I doubt Apple and Google and their fellow travelers would allow you to use their tubes and wires to sell it.
“Meet your new boss,” Pete Townshend famously wrote. “Same as your old boss.”
And I won’t get fooled again.