Monday, May 18, 2009

House of M: Reinventing the Media

I bought Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics and Reinventing Comics several years ago.

Among the first few books I bought with my early paycheques.

I just finished reading them again this week. I read it within hours of buying them, but I didn't fully understand what McCloud was talking about until I was a witness to the changes in the Malaysian media in the past few years.

I reccommend McCloud as required reading for everyone.

It was very uncool for older folks several years ago to make predictions and observations about how the impact of the new media will change everything for everyone. As much as gasoline-powered cars with rubber wheels were supposed to change the world many, many years ago.

I laughed at them. Thought they were funny. "Nothing's gonna change," I said. We didn't throw away books when we got the radio. We didn't throw away the radio when JL Baird or whoever invented the television. And we sure as hell are not going to throw away anything for bullshit Internet, right?

And so I laughed at these old codgers. Made fun of them, for I honestly thought they were funny. The Internet, to me, was a plaything. A toy. It is as powerful as my toy yellow ambulance was powerful, when I was small.

Until, those old codgers turned out to be right.

I've had to eat humble pie again and again as I see the world picked up the Internet like a long-lost bastard love-child and began forcing it to turn tricks.

You see, people of my generation, we were too young to understand what was going on. We did what was fun. It takes people familiar with dollars and cents, people familiar with the power of public perception and real-world sensibilities to shape the tool and wield it to turn it into something useful.

Older people have money. They can buy the latest of gadgets and toys and pay for the subscriptions and lines and access and ultimately, they are the ones who will buy stuff via the Internet.

In one of the penultimate episodes of Boston Legal's final season, the lawyer Carl Sachs made a case for the voice of old people. The aging Generation X (I, myself, was born at the tail-end of Gen X) will turn America into a Medicaid country, with a significant amount of the money turned to health care. It is inevitable.

When the billions, perhaps trillions of dollars held by aging pensioners start pouring on the Net, it would be a financial vote that few could ignore.

Old people are becoming more and more Net savvy. And they have money to back themselves up.

We younger ones can invent the tools, but it is ultimately the older generation who will use them. They will go to our sites and do stuff.

And yet, in that Boston Legal episode, the TV networks keep on harping the supposedly stylish, 20-40 year old demographics.

We can see in Malaysia, one of the highest-rated TV shows was Gerak Khas. Do a check at the age and see who wants to watch police procedural shows helmed by Yusof Haslam?

Old people.

Why is the 8 o'clock and 9 o'clock news STILL the most watched shows on TV?

Because people like my 68 year old father still demands to watch it. Every day. Religiously.

And everyone has to shut up.

We kids know very little about brand loyalty. We are creatures of the moment. My father has used the same products for over 30, some, 50 years!

Agnesia powder. Hazeline Snow. Clark's shoes.

Old people care enough to vote. Kids hate politics because it is cool. Only until it has affected us directly, for example when the Pak Lah administration changed my workplace, that some of us will slowly begin to understand the effect politics has on our lives. Directly.

And that, in this country, we either have to fight or get steamrolled by people with vested interests.

Old people have known this for a long time, and they have had time to prepare.

Any venture into new territories of media has to take into account multiple demographics. Anyone who feels left out will revolt, because they don't get the attention they need. It is human nature.

So anyway, Scott McCloud.

McCloud postulates, more than a decade ago, that the digital revolution - back then only a catch-phrase used by stupid marketeers - will one day revolutionise comics.

Make it possible for creators from multiple genders, with equal representation from various ethnic groups, to be sent to consumers as pure creation (pure zeroes and ones) and eliminating much of the middle men as possible.

This will result, he prophesized, in smaller but more personalised, interactive markets.

Comics people must brace for a smaller piece of the pie, in place of an almost non-existent piece of the piece, or a piece of the pie mostly eaten by giant conglomerates.

He was essentially predicting the death of a lot of big businesses as the market undergoes a major swing cycle when smaller entities will rule the roost.

And what can be smaller than a small, frail old man, alone in his house, writing a blog? Twittering and poking people about it on Facebook?

I doubt McCloud dared to envision that his specialised comics speculations could also be applied to the whole business model of the entire world. Or at least, the media.

I lived under the shadow of the first techno-bubble.

I read up about which businesses survived the burst. WHile other, more well-funded websites lost BILLIONS - even Dreamworks SKG's endeavours - a few flourished.

There was a website in the UK which sold vinyl LPs. Another that specialised in London property.

Both did very well.

Bill Rancic, the first Apprentice, made his first million with Cigars Around the World - a website for international cigar afficionados.

What is the common trait of these Internet businesses?

They dealt with very specialised things. A one-stop center for vinyl LP enthusiasts. The definitive North London property market website. The only place to get and share stories about cigars from around the world.

Smaller businesses, at a smaller scale, that doesn't try to do EVERYTHING and be EVERYTHING at the same time.


That, my friends, was 10 years ago.

The world, since those days, have changed. The computers at Silicon Valley have been sold at knock-off prices. The Internet millionaires found jobs teaching computer to kids.

And yet new techno-geeks moved in. Bought the office space, the computers, and launched Facebook and Googleplex

Nobody knows what the next step would be. I believe it has everything to do people.

Going back to basics, the media itself is merely a place for people to trade and share information. Media. Plural to medium. Using said information, they will do things they want or utilise it to make their own decisions.

The depression and Depression of the 20s and 30s making way for 40s can-do spirit. Female workforce in World War II due to a shortage of manpower replaced by 'going back to the kitchen' in the 50s to the 60s sexual revolution and women's suffrage up till the 80s.

And then gender-bending Ziggy Stardust. Flock of Seagulls. The almost identity-less 90s and slacker culture.

If you view it in a certain way, certain patterns may be visible.

Of course, it can just be a construct of your - or my - megalomaniacal mind.

I see things as a cycle of control and freedom. And after enduring several corporate-driven decades, I believe the media and the world will go on a cycle of independents and more freedom, more power to be held by the individual.

BN, arguably one of the strongest institutions in the world, did not pay heed to the little people from 2004-2008. And perhaps for decades before that. So the little people made damn sure they knew how big they were.

Everyone - political parties and media companies - will have to accomodate the voice of the individuals, or face extinction.

And they do this by, again, going back to that old adage. The customer is always right. No matter how wrong they are.

Know your audience, and know the language. And then, speak to them through, well, the media.

I am so fucking cool for an armchair pundek.