In this week’s issue of Banter M:
Breaking the “Kidz Bop” Cycle – Chez Pazienza discusses the tactics he is employing to get his young daughter to stop listening to sanitized Disney-esque music ruining the real thing.
Is the Internet F*cked? Tales From an Independent Media Outlet – Ben Cohen spills the beans on what is like running an independent website in the Buzzfeed era
A Few Questions for the Guy Who Followed Me Outside McCarren Park – Jamie Frevele has some questions for a one time stalker who had clearly never heard of ‘rape culture’.
Breaking the “Kidz Bop” Cycle
by Chez Pazienza
My kid loves Taylor Swift. This isn’t a huge deal given that she’s a seven-years-old and Taylor Swift’s most recent album, 1989, was catchier than syphilis. I’ll fully admit that more than once she and I have been caught driving along in my car, singing Bad Bloodor Shake It Off out loud. I’m well past the point in my life where I’m embarrassed by what I like and specifically what I listen to, so there are no “guilty pleasures” anymore and no amount of “cred” to uphold — there’s just “pleasures” and the cred accumulated by spending something like 45 years immersed in music. Almost from the very beginning there was my mom playing the Fifth Dimension and Sergio Mendes with Brasil ’66 and my dad playing Count Basie, Oscar Peterson and Dave Brubeck. I bought my first album, Fleetwood Mac’s masterpiece, Rumors, when I was my daughter’s age and in elementary school there was this awesome chukka boot-wearing outsider kid named Robert Rivero who got me almost exclusively into AC/DC and Zeppelin. Punk, hardcore and alternative kicked in after that, followed by hip-hop. I’d say that I’ll listen to anything but that’s not true. Although I enjoy samples of music from almost every genre, the stuff I hate — I fucking hate.
Inara, on the other hand, is a little kid growing up largely in wealthy, laid-back Laguna Beach and her tastes at this age are exactly what you’d expect. She loves Taylor, Katie Perry, Selena Gomez, One Direction — basically the entire SiriusXM Radio Disney playlist. From her first moments I’ve tried to imbue in her the same love for good music that my parents did with me, even if only by listening to my favorite jazz, classic and alt rock and hip-hop around her. Her mom is into show tunes and that kind of thing has already sunk in deep given that Inara’s enrolled in dance and acting classes and performs publicly at pretty steady intervals. Her mother’s taste in music isn’t regrettable or anything, but I sincerely doubt she still listens to a lot of what she did when we were together given that I’ll be the first to admit that for the most part I controlled the stereo in the car and at home during those years. I tend to have both a direct and indirect influence on the musical proclivities of the person I’m with. My ex, however, now controls the music in Inara’s life far more than I do — whether she’s playing songs and artists my daughter wants to hear or ones she wants to hear — which means that, at this age at least, my impact on my child musically feels like it’s negligible. She says she doesn’t like rock. That, of course, crushes me, given that to her rock is anything with a guitar.
Earlier this week, Slate did an interesting piece on “Kidz Bop,” otherwise known as the most destructive musical phenomenon in the world. For the uninitiated, Kidz Bop takes pop hits of every stripe and basically just redoes them, karaoke style, with a bunch of obnoxious Central Casting tweens singing the lyrics (often with several kids singing at the same time). Whether you like mindless Billboard pop or not, somebody — usually several people — took the time to write those songs. And while I’m sure they don’t much care as long as they’re getting paid since creating Billboard pop these days isn’t so much a highly artistic endeavor as it is an assembly line, it’s tough to imagine anyone thinking to him or herself during the writing and recording process, “What I really want is for this song to be co-opted and completely neutered by a bunch of Disney Channel wash-outs.” Kidz Bop is pure fucking evil, especially when you consider that the “kidz” in question have in the recent past re-recorded tracks like Paramore’s “Ain’t It Fun,” which is an awesome song that was already completely inoffensive and kid-friendly to begin with — and it has the benefit of Hayley Williams’s stellar, expressive voice and Ilan Rubin’s powerhouse drums to boot.
But there’s another problem with Kidz Bop — and to an only slightly lesser extent Radio Disney — that the Slate piece gets into. The article explains how, in the past couple of years, the Kidz Bop covers of popular songs have, more and more, changed the lyrics of the source material to make them “less offensive.” In other words, the language and even ideas within the songs have become more toothless and conservative. The piece cites relatively innocuous examples like the adjustments made to Taylor Swift’s Bad Blood, which include changing the lyric “Band-Aids don’t fix bullet holes” to “Band-Aids don’t fix, don’t you know,” whatever the fuck that means. But it also reveals how supposedly mature “themes” that provide the very backbone of certain songs are often thrown out — as Slate puts it, the “cultural meaning that disrupts the identity-free world the company’s promising to concerned parents.” This includes any mention of race, ethnicity or identity in Lady Gaga’s Born this Way, a song that’s entirely about race, ethnicity and identity — its sole reason for existing is to comment on those issues. Editing a track like that so that skittish parents can protect their fragile rugrats from hearing anything that might be too “adult” for them is a kind of blasphemy.
What Kidz Bop is doing is nothing new: record companies themselves often release different versions of the same song for different radio formats to increase the chance of airplay, with “kids radio” being one of those formats. As I mentioned before, Radio Disney takes songs like Selena Gomez’s Good for You, a surprisingly potent piece of electronic musical seduction, and removes every hint of sexuality from them. Good for You is essentially all about sex and surrender and yet Disney still figured out a way to neuter it just by cutting out a line or two and slapping in a couple of rerecorded words here and there. There’s nothing wrong with the market for this kind of thing — even though I’d rather my own child simply not listen to a song that’s too adult for her than hear one that’s been gutted to the point where all its original meaning is lost — butSlate has a point that the makers of Kidz Bop themselves are either becoming more ridiculously conservative or their audience is. Either is a depressing thought. The argument can always be made that today’s music is more suggestive or outright lewd than it was even a few years ago — and certainly there are a lot of “child stars” who are now making the transition to adult music by turning themselves into sex kittens — however, again, why not just cut a child off from that entirely if it offends you rather than letting he or she listen to a bastardized version of the song.
I guess it comes down to how sacrosanct the artist’s vision is your mind. To me, it’s very close to inviolable. Cutting out a word here or there by simply dropping out the sound I can tolerate — anything else feels sacrilegious. I’ve hated the adjustment of supposedly offensive lyrics for mainstream radio since I was a kid and I still hate it today. It’s not the real song as the artist or band intended. I allow Inara to listen to music that I think is appropriate and whatever I think isn’t, she simply doesn’t get anywhere near.
With so much music being as vital to my life as it is, I’ve spent the past seven years trying to give to my daughter the gift my parents gave to me, whether intentionally or just as a matter of environment. She does like a lot of what I like and I gave her a new iPod for her birthday last year, loaded with music I knew she loved and stuff I hoped she would, but she’s already at that point where she’s developing her own tastes and I’m thrilled by that. It would be awesome if she bought whatever today’s equivalent of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors, the Stones’ Exile on Main Street, Radiohead’s OK Computeror Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, but I’ve got to let her be her. Who knows, maybe someday the music I listened to in her presence — that I loved in the hope that she would love it in — will become as beloved to her as my mom and dad’s music is to me now. Their music became mind. Maybe someday she’ll be able to say the same thing about me and my music.
Is the Internet F*cked? Tales From an Independent Media Outlet
by Ben Cohen
When I started The Daily Banter way back in 2007 (yes, we’ve been around for over 8 years), I had a very clear mission in mind. I wanted to start my own publication dedicated to quality content, calling out bullshit and fostering intelligent and interesting debate.
I had used the word “banter” extensively with friends I had made during my time at the university of Sussex in England, in reference to the casual but informed debate we would have amongst ourselves outside of class. Our group was not hugely academic, most of us being at the radical leftie university because we couldn’t face the more traditional institutions in England, but still deeply interested in human knowledge and its application to our increasingly complex world. To us, the physical was as important as the intellectual, ancient knowledge on par with the latest developments in quantum physics, and street smarts as no less vital to survival than the ability to write a 4,000 word dissertation.
The word “banter,” we felt, encapsulated the conversational style intellectualism we sought to promote and share with our peers.
A couple of years later after moving to Los Angeles, an old college friend and I decided that we owed it to the spirit of Banter to put our money where our mouths were, and share our concept with the world at large (or at least our mates on Facebook). We bought the domain name, found a cheap developer and started the site a few weeks later.
Over the years, we have grown considerably – from a couple hundred visits a month to over 5 million at our peak last year. This was partly due to investment in the site (from friends, family and myself), but largely due to the monumental efforts of the team. The trials and tribulations have been extreme — from tech disasters to ugly bust ups with other outlets and journalists, we have been through hell and back. Running an independent website is, I imagine, much like growing a small crop in a disaster prone climate. We have survived a radically shifting tech landscape with massively fluctuating ad prices that depend on complex automation platforms — much of which is completely out of our control — through force of will and a good deal of luck. We launched a subscription part of the site last year in an effort to stabilize a least a portion of our revenue, a move that proved wise as Facebook algorithm changes and plummeting advertising rates threatened to decimate our traffic and collapse our revenue model.
Through this seemingly never ending vortex of instability and uncertainty, we have done our best to maintain a high level of quality and consistency in our voice and output. This has probably been the hardest thing to do of all — and it keeps me up at night worrying about how we can keep our authenticity while generating enough revenue to keep going. We are aware of how much traffic the site generates on a second to second basis. We know how many people are on the site at any point in time, what they are reading, and whether they are sticking around. When we score big with an article, we can see its affect in real time — a feedback mechanism that is as useful as it is dangerous. Because articles that do well traffic wise are often light on substance, while thoughtful, well researched pieces can flop if they aren’t quick to read and easy to share. “Look at This Cat Doing Something Silly” shares a lot better than “An In-Depth Look at Why Environmentalism is the 21st Century’s Greatest Challenge.” This is a fact of the internet, and a seductive solution to all of our problems. By churning out easy clickbait, we could be up there with the big fish of the internet, and probably quite quickly if we all put our minds to it.
But this, I believe, would spell long term disaster for not only the site, but the writers at the Banter who are attracted to the site precisely because they get to write serious stuff in their own unique voice. Sites like Buzzfeed and the Huffington Post make millions of dollars because of their insane amount of traffic — traffic they acquire largely through gaming the system with trashy headlines and photographs of celebrities designed specifically to make you click. Of course they do produce some very high quality content, but it is paid for by the garbage churned out en masse and pumped through their extensive social media reach. This strategy has been copied by literally thousands of outlets looking to cash in on the viral content scam without doing the heavy lifting of creating content that is worth reading.
Early last year, I attempted to secure investment from venture capitalists in order to grow the site and prevent us from being so vulnerable — a compromise I was willing to make if it meant we could continue our work and expand. I sat in front of businessmen with no experience in creating content and showed them slides about our rapidly growing readership, explaining why our audience would be valuable to advertisers and the long term strategic interests of an investor’s media portfolio. The experience was thoroughly degrading and an insight into the nuts and bolts of morality-free capitalism. Investors were interested in our ‘authenticity’ so far as it translated into a lucrative exit years down the line. In one meeting, an investor explained that they had invested in the viral video site UpWorthy because it was focused on “platform” and “shareability”.
“What is so unique about your site?” He asked.
“Well, we are focused on the content,” I answered. “Platforms become obsolete every 18 months and are interchangeable anyway. Good content is relevant forever.”
“You see, I think we’re looking at this from a different perspective,” he told me. “We want a game changing platform to deliver the content. Your site is great, but it’s hard to see why it is different from a technological point of view.”
“You can’t compare us to UpWorthy,” I said. “They redistribute videos of puppies stuck in washing machines. We do serious content.”
Needless to say, they didn’t invest.
The experience taught me one thing though — we were trying to compete in a system totally hostile to what the site was supposed to be about. We are completely independent and able to write about whatever the hell we want. We don’t have to answer to investors and we don’t have to think about “exit strategies” or whatever the fuck it is vulture capitalists do with companies they’ve fattened up to sell to giant corporate conglomerates.
I now know that I would stop doing this if it got to a point where we had to switch models and turn 80% of our content into mindless garbage. No matter the hardships we face, I am only interested in continuing our work here if we get to do it in our own way, largely independent of the pressures of advertising, Facebook and other clickbait generators swallowing up much of the internet. Of course it is impossible to extricate ourselves completely from the dysfunctional eco-system fueling our bizarre industry, but thus far, we continue to attract a large number of readers who come to us because we write good content and won’t embarrass ourselves with clickbait that threatens to reduce the collective IQ of humanity, one shitty headline at a time.
Also, by providing a living example that sites can resist the pressures of turning into ViralNova Lite, we can potentially encourage others that the future isn’t cat videos, but thoughtful content created by writers who believe in what they are doing. This is an internet I’d like to be a part of, and I’m more and more convinced that it can only exist if we, and sites like us, continue make it so.
A Few Questions for the Guy Who Followed Me Outside McCarren Park
by Jamie Frevele
The subject of rape culture is not a light one, nor is it an easy one to talk about. But since I went ahead and made “rape” the fourth word of this piece, I’m going to jump right in and talk about what it really means to be a woman in a world in which this whole thing exists because yes, it does exist and it sucks.
For the uninitiated, rape culture is the idea that women are, by default, responsible for preventing sexual assaults against them. We are the ones who have to not get raped. We are the ones who are “asking for it” because of the way we talk, dress, or act (“You were leading him on”) and none of this responsibility falls on the men who are doing the assaulting or harassing. And here I was thinking I was a person this whole time! But no — I walk outside and I am an instant target for someone’s out-of-control desires, hormones, psychosis, whatever. It’s on me to protect myself from the blameless douchebags who want to put their penis in me because boys will be boys! Men have needs! They can’t help themselves! This is rape culture.
Though calling it “rape culture” is a bit extreme. Being catcalled is not tantamount to being raped. Teenage girls being sent home from school because their collarbone is showing is also not the same as being raped. These things are annoying, and I kinda think that being raped is much worse than being annoyed. But it’s all the same message: women should automatically assume that we are not safe from men. If a man does go as far as assaulting us, we should have known better and protected ourselves or worse, “kept our legs closed.” It’s a lose-lose situation for us because not only is a victim being blamed for becoming a victim of a crime, but that victim should have known she was a victim as soon as she walked out the door.
I don’t want to brag, but I get catcalled and propositioned on a regular basis. Men will talk to any woman with a pulse because in the environment that I just described, women are there for the taking. It’s annoying as hell and it’s why I need to walk with headphones jammed in my ears, standing up very straight as if I can take someone’s nuts out with a small pocket knife. I hate getting on the phone in the privacy of my home — now I have to engage with these strange dolts? And fend off unsolicited sexual advances? No thanks. No. Thanks.
So you can imagine, given everything I’ve just discussed, how awesome it felt to be followed down the street by some rando one night in Brooklyn.
Not long ago, I was walking through Williamsburg, heading to a subway after conducting an interview for work, and I decided to take a walk past McCarren Park. I was minding my own business, but it wasn’t my usual route so I was keeping my eyes peeled while listening to Queen. (Freddie Mercury keeps me spry.) The sidewalk by McCarren Park is pretty narrow, so there was a bit of choreography involved to avoid running into people. Now, I don’t usually go out of my way to make eye contact with strangers, I sometimes do that if I get really close to running into them, and that’s what happened with this one guy who was heading toward me.
But rather than continue on his way, he turned around and started talking to me. And then he started following me. I had to remove my headphones to blow him off politely and I also thought that the faster I walked, the faster he’d get the idea that what he was doing was seriously creepy.
I was wrong. He kept following me. And he kept talking. I made up answers that were lies when he asked about me. He opened with the classic, “You look familiar. Are you on TV?” Um, no. “Are you an actress or a model or something?” (HAHAHAHAHAHA.) “Yeah, I’m an actress.” (Ok, we’re done.) “What have I seen you in?” “I do theater.” “Oh really? What kind of theater?” “All kinds.” “What’s your name?” “Angela.”
So, yeah. That was my night. I eventually started speedwalking and he said “I guess you’re in a hurry.” “Yes, I have to be somewhere.” “Okay, well I hope I see you again!”
That’s great, because I never, ever want to see you again. Ever. But I do have a few questions for you, Johnny Question Machine:
1. Is this your usual play when you talk to women? Because seriously, you’re coming on really strong when you actually change your route and follow them down multiple blocks outside of a large public park. It’s obvious. I’m just saying, subtlety has its merits.
2. Are you on the spectrum? I was pretty sure that by not looking you in the eye after our first accidental contact as well as the very fast walking and giving you one-word answers that I was sending some pretty reliable social cues. Perhaps you didn’t understand them.
3. Does this ever work for you? Have you ever gotten further than a conversation like this? Has stalking a woman you’ve never met ever resulted in an actual date? If it has, I can kind of understand why you’d try it again, but maybe…
4. Are you one of those people who thinks that romantic comedies are reality-based? Because they’re really not. They’re based on the fantastical notion that absurd, reckless, and borderline criminal behavior and the persistence of such can magically transform into a flawless, drama-free relationship. None of that is true because when you engage in that kind of behavior in real life, you will get a kick in your dreamy little nuts (or have them taken out with a pocket knife).
5. Have you ever heard of rape culture? … Hey, where are you going? I asked you a question! Come back here! I thought you wanted to have a conversation!