Enter your keyword

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The End of the Alternative Media

The death of the Village Voice has drawn out a coterie of mourners bowing their heads over the venerable radical rag, but their orations at its funeral are completely wasted. The death of the Voice is not due to mismanagement, the right wing or its complicity in human trafficking. After all, its former competitor, the New York Press, which forced it to go free instead of charging a buck fifty, died fairly recently. The end of the Village Voice has to be seen in the context of the death of alternative media.

The passing of the Village Voice, its thick greasy pages smudged with desperate cries for attention in between glossy cigarette ads and phone sex ads, also coincides with the passing of the bohemian nature of the East Village, now little more than tall glowering condos and coffee shops. To those residents who showed up there in the 70's and 80's bearing art school portfolios and a burning desire to be part of the "Scene", it's one more triumph of the capitalist running dogs over the "People".

But the real reason that the Village Voice is dead is because the alternative media is dead and the alternative media is dead because there is nothing for it to be an alternative to. New Yorkers can just as easily read shrill rants about the NYPD in the Daily News, pretentious movie reviews for artsy films at The Onion and leftist denunciations of the War on Terror in the New York Times.

The way that the Village Voice used to cover Republicans is now the way that every media outlet, but the handful that aren't part of the liberal collective, covers Republicans. Every mainstream media outlet is opposed to fighting terrorism, opposed to the police and opposed to any notion of balance in reporting. And every outlet is churning out the same tired 24/7 coverage of something provocative a Republican allegedly said because every outlet wants to be the Village Voice, the ink-stained pamphleteer on the corner screaming about capitalist pigs before heading off to a concert at CBGB's, also as dead as the Village Voice and the rest of the East Village.

Newsweek, once the paragon of middlebrow inoffensiveness, now does the kind of covers that the Village Voice used to do. It still hasn't run a picture of Bush drinking the blood out of the green neck of the Statue of Liberty, but, if Romney wins, you can expect that as the March cover. And by then even that might be considered tame.

If anyone deserves credit for killing the Village Voice, it's George W. Bush, who was its unwitting cover boy more often than Obama has appeared on the cover of Essence. Under Bush the entire media became alternative and the alternative media became supplementary to requirements. When mainstream newspapers give positive reviews to books and movies that envision Bush's assassination, cheerlead anti-war rallies run by militant Trotskyites and demand unilateral surrender in the War on Terror; what possible territory is left for the alternative media to explore?

All that was left for the alternative media was to run yet another profile of a new bar where people drink the tears of Ecuadoran children purchased through fair trade while looking at themselves doing it in video monitors as an artistic commentary on capitalism. And these days that's what the internet is for. A culture eager to document itself doing everything, take photos of the food on its plate, review the movie on Twitter while watching it and run a blog about its streetcorner is in no need of an alternative paper to kludgily do these things for it at a snail's pace.

The same forces that swamped the Village with Obama-supporting hedge fund managers who wanted a place with trendy bars that made them feel like artists also killed the Village Voice. The death of the mainstream meant the embrace of the alternative. With no standards left in any paper, every paper and magazine became the Village Voice, but with a subscription price and better quality control. The Village Voice became a classifieds section for people looking to rent a room, find a concert or rape a Ukrainian teenager-- and Craigslist was busy destroying that business model.

Alternative represented the hipster ethos of being different for difference's sake. It's why every indie quarter boasts signs like, "Keep Portland Weird" and "Keep Austin Weird", not to mention "Keep Berkeley Weird". But how do you stay weird when everyone is trying to be weird at the same time? What does weirdness even mean when everyone is weird and doing their best to get a condo in weirdsville, only to move out in protest because weirdsville isn't weird enough anymore?

In a rebellious culture, rebellion is meaningless. It has no form and shape, no substance and no direction. All that's left is the trendy steeplechase of fashion, doing things until other people begin doing them and then quickly moving on to doing something else.And that search for alternative purity becomes eminently mockable for its transparent shallowness. 

The very effort to preserve edifices of radical history like the Village Voice runs counter to the alternative instinct to escape the past, denounce it in a Tumblr post that will be reblogged by all the right people, and then move on to doing something that hasn't been ruined yet by the unspeakable appetites of the bourgeoisie. The death of the Village Voice serves only as an occasion for denouncing the soulless mercenary capitalists who bought up the alternative media, even if the soulless mercenary capitalists are actually their own more successful comrades who wanted to make the Village Voice into a viable concern.

The death of the Village Voice only matters to those for whom exclusive radicalism was an identity and for those who are concerned by the sight of the entire press turning into the Village Voice and the entire country turning into the East Village, concerned only with staying weird. A decade ago, Lady Gaga would have been a warm-up act in the Village before a transvestite beauty pageant to raise money for a documentary about Nestle's depredations in the rainforest. Now that forced preening weirdness-for-the-sake-of-weirdness is being marketed to everyone.

Alternativism used to be for the people who felt ill at ease, who weren't comfortable anywhere and made a fetish of their discomfort, transforming that awkward disconnection from the larger world into art and poetry. And now everyone feels disconnected or wants to feel disconnected. Weirdness is fashion in a time when no one fits anymore because there is nothing to fit into anymore.

The molds have been broken, the expectations are gone and there is nothing to adjust to except the weird culture of trying to be weirder than everyone else for weirdness' sake. Everyone is searching for meaning outside traditional religion. Everyone doesn't feel like the country is headed down the right road. Everyone lacks confidence in the future. Everyone hates corporations, including corporations. Everyone dives into the gutter, defies whatever norms are left and cultivates the ironic detachment that allows them to distance themselves from their own words. Everyone is weird and everyone is alone.

 The alternative media which once chronicled weirdness, has nothing left to chronicle. There are no longer any extremes to escape to, no refuges on the far coast of transcendence, only the grim reality that everyone is desperately unhappily different at the same time. In these United States, where a radical community organizer sits in the White House, Fifty Shades of Grey sits on top of the bestseller list and plastic bags are being banned around the country-- we all live in the Village.

If mainstream has gone alternative, then the new alternative is the mainstream. The new wild ones, the rebels, the ones who don't fit into Weird America are the squares, the Romneys and Ryans, the Palins and Santorums, the ones who smile patiently and explain that they believe in family values and norms. In the kingdom of the weird, the weirdest of them all are the ones who aren't weird and aren't trying to be. The unselfconsciously normal people strike a culture that has torn open its own head to see the technicolor stars as stranger than anything in their visions could be.

As weirdness has become the norm, the norm is the alternative to weirdness. But it is also what gives weirdness substance and rebellion meaning. Only by restoring a meaningful norm will there be anything requiring an alternative, and the defeat of weird culture is also the only hope for weird culture to thrive outside the weird-eat-weird steeplechase of hipster fashion.

Today, we are the alternative media because we are the alternative to the alternative that has become the new norm. Their norm is the alternative, while our alternative is the norm. There is no longer any place for a leftist alternative media because it is no longer an alternative to anything. Only we are the alternative.

We are the ones standing aside while the herd rushes over the cliff. We are the ones who see what they cannot see, because we are outside their culture and their world. We lack their fears, their anxieties, their guilts and their insecurities. We are not afraid that the world is about to end, the poles about to melt, we are not terrified that we are secretly racist, that we lack racial consciousness, that we are not afraid enough, that we have still not learned the meaning of life in the back of the self-help section or gotten real enough. We are not worried about being cliches or losing our souls to corporate America, and we do not wake up in the middle of the night wondering who we are.

We are the alternative that they have left behind but cannot escape. We are the alternative to the endless alternative, the alternative to national guilt, national suicide and national armageddon. We are the rebels who rebel against the rebels, the counterrevolution to the revolution, the people, who, when the noise has grown loud enough and there are fires in the streets, step out and show a better way.


  1. Excellent! We've always been the saner alternative, the oasis in a desert devoid of true intellectualism--that moderated by basic common sense and logic. I shudder to think, though, how bad things would have to get for the country to finally see that (again). But hey, maybe the nation's youth will rebel against authority and dominant social norms. Maybe we'll start hearing teens say, "No! I believe in God and you can't stop me!", "I will not have premarital sex, I'm a rebel!", and "Stop being so unethical and dishonest; that's so conformist it's annoying."

    We can dream ...

  2. Anonymous22/8/12

    " a new bar where people drink the tears of Ecuadoran children purchased through fair trade while looking at themselves doing it in video monitors as an artistic commentary on capitalism."

    You know, for about a second, you had me with that one. I would not be in the least bit surprised. If you proposed that in a 'space' in Shoreditch in London, they would think you were being serious.

    When I was a kid in London, the only people who had tattoos were obviously dangerous psychopaths. Now, they're ten a penny, especially among women. They say it's fashion, but how can something permanent be fashionable? They think they're being rebellious, but they are simply shackling themselves to a different conformity...

  3. Anonymous22/8/12

    Damn. You write like Hunter S Thompson. Beautiful, resonant prose,man. Thank you for that.

  4. Anonymous22/8/12

    Sir, you are writing some of the most insightful and articulate commentary of our time. Blog on.

  5. Anonymous22/8/12

    The thing is that Left Wing radicalism is already deeply embeded in Governments, the Mainstream Media, the Educational System. How can you call yourself a rebel, a radical, a "champion" for gay marriage, an open borders activist, or a proud antifascist, since governments support those same things as well? You are not doing anything great or alternative. In Europe, for example, there is already a tendency to see left wing "radicals" as Government/Establisment/EU stooges. Often, there is no difference between the words of high ranking EU officials, and Left wing "radicals", both ephasizing the need to break the nation state, to accept more immigration, to demand more hate speech laws, to call Islamization a "conspiracy theory" etc.
    Try to find difference between the words of a UN Chief and a Left Wing "radical".

    "The EU should "do its best to undermine" the "homogeneity" of its member states, the UN's special representative for migration has said.
    Peter Sutherland told peers the future prosperity of many EU states depended on them becoming multicultural.
    He also suggested the UK government's immigration policy had no basis in international law."

  6. Mr ED22/8/12

    I love this site because it contains actual ideas that are posited and explored, not the now ubiquitous Modern deconstruction-for-the-sake-of-deconstruction nonsense that creates easily skewered strawmen and windmills for the self-styled heroic Moderns to do *heroic* battle with.

    Above all the Moderns desire to satiate the same old human desires (money, power, sex, ad nauseum) without having to ever admit that their own desires are just that - common, garden variety human foibles and lust that are both pedestrian and pretty much universal. They desperately desire for their lust and desires to be "special", and they set about creating new language and conceptual lies that supposedly prove that such is the case, and efforts like the Village Voice are formed to give voice to their imaginative lies and self-serving pap. That is especially true about their lust for power, which they try mightily to mask with a veneer of faux concern for others.

    The world of ideas will always win in the long term over the world of in-vogue self-deceiving pap, oh Sultan. I look forward to your next post.

  7. jtcorey22/8/12

    There's no mention of a shift in preference by a large percent of the population for conservative journalism, like Fox News. That's not either meant to be gloating or complaining, I just say it to point out that Fox News and Drudge may be enjoying their large popularity because THEY are spearheading different voices...when so many voices like the ones listed above are all attacking the establishment, (President Obama included...he's been attacking the establshment for three years without anyone commenting on the irony at all), there will be a demand for something different that grows louder.

  8. This is one of Daniel Greenfield's funniest posts, hilarious in it penetrating insight, out loud funny in how its truth mocks those who live to mock.

    Between this and your amazingly insightful piece on Biden, kol hakavod!

  9. Anonymous22/8/12

    Dear Friends, What is truly radical is telling truth -- as the Lefties like to say -- to power. Given the 20th century's Leftist powers which raged against such basic truths as liberty speeaks, there is nothing revolutionary nor radical about the Left. They are become the anti-revolutionaries. As proof, one only need look at Cuba whose revolution "revolved" only once to the power of the Castros, and then stopped revolution in favor of a power status quo. North Korea evidences the same. What we are seeing in Europe and the US is a new revolution of capital, the non-human John Galt. Capital is hunkering down to protect itself as the old-fashioned Leftists grab for it by stealth, by force and by confiscation. Capital is the new revolution, and it is revolutionary because it means individuals may acquire and become independent from government. Thank you for speaking your radical truth to power, a statist power which lusts only after itself by coming after the individual. We many with our capital are now all John Galt, and we are the true radicals. The Left? They are imitation, they care only that power devolve to them and then their revolution is over. Ours is about individuals, live and let live and true diversity. That scares the heck out of them. Keep up the good work, hunker down and watch the fools eat their own in their frenzy.

  10. Fuzzy, that's happening in some quarters already.

    Anonymous, every city now must have its trendy spaces where fashion is the new slavery and cool is the only reason to like something.

    Anon 2 and 3, thank you. Never been compared to HST before.

    Anon 4, They went into the system to become the system and radicalize the system... and became the radical system we live under now.

    Mr. Ed, those are excellent points.

    jtcorey, it's certainly a reality, but I'm not sure how much of a shift it is. FOX has the viewership it does because it's the one single alternative to the many channels and outlets of the libmedia out there.

    Martin, thank you. I enjoy doing these

  11. May I borrow this for my little blog? Yes? Thank you.

    But what happened to the lay out of your blog? I know this will out me as a disliker of change, but I loved the old one :(

  12. Well the old one required a template that Blogger no longer supports and I had to accommodate new tech and visual standards.

    Is there something specific that you dislike about it?

  13. Back in the 50s Ray Bradbury wrote a short story - "The Watchful Poker Chip of H. Matisse" - that takes a lighter look at being alternative for alternativism'a sake. Then it was called avant-garde, but the principle is the same.

  14. Rob De Witt22/8/12

    GotDAMN this is righteous shit. At LEAST worthy of Hunter Thompson, and howlingly funny. And add another vote for the deep satisfaction of seeing this right on top of your (you should podden the woid) de-construction of that idiot Biden.

    I'm sure you're hip to the fact that you're in a hot spot right now, with the words and ideas burning their way out of your fingertips. For God's sake (and all of ours) ride that sumbitch, and keep bringing it. This is just brilliant, brilliant stuff.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  15. Anonymous22/8/12

    The Village Voice really was a Trotskyite rag of the worst kind, very anti-Israel and the type of "newspaper" which would have supported Adolf Hitler from August 1939 right up until June 22, 1941. As for the East Village, you are correct - it is a trendy overly expensive place with a Starbucks on virtually every corner. I always suspected that most of the readers of The Village Voice actually were trust fund babies who romanticized poverty by living like pigs in bug infested apartments and liked pretending that it was St. Petersburg, Russia in 1918.

  16. "Is there something specific that you dislike about it?...

    I find the heading a bit "stark"...and I miss your georgeous picture that was not you, with the turban, and the old one seemed to be more colour full - but mainly: most change makes me nostalgic for what came before:)

  17. Anonymous22/8/12

    This is an awesome piece. I added your blog to my Internet favorites. I look forward to reading more of your work.

  18. Anonymous22/8/12

    You are a brilliant writer. Insightful and accurate.Thank you for this.

  19. Our radicals have become unashamed group thinkers, tireless defenders of all things multicultural. They're conformists. PC and proud. Makes for boring, predictable writers, which is one reason the Voice died.

  20. Pat Baker22/8/12

    As a mere mortal I often wonder in vain at G-d's mysterious working ways.
    Is it possible that this may be His way to make the left disappear? To wit - when the underground is gone and the left falls out of favor politically, they'll have nowhere to go. The defeated monarchists went to Canada, the slave owners went to the poor house. I just hope the hipsters don't come over to my place.

  21. I never thought I'd be living in a world where Anthony Burgess is considered documentary not satire.

  22. "We are the ones standing aside while the herd rushes over the cliff. We are the ones who see what they cannot see, because we are outside their culture and their world. We lack their fears, their anxieties, their guilts and their insecurities. We are not afraid that the world is about to end, the poles about to melt, we are not terrified that we are secretly racist, that we lack racial consciousness, that we are not afraid enough, that we have still not learned the meaning of life in the back of the self-help section or gotten real enough. We are not worried about being cliches or losing our souls to corporate America, and we do not wake up in the middle of the night wondering who we are."


    And thank you:)

  23. When they use rap to sell cars and hamburgers and kids clothing for back to school, it's pretty much over for rap, isn't it?

  24. It's been over for rap since 1993.

  25. The Village Voice announced today that they were moving out of their Manhattan headquarters after being bought out of their lease by Grace Church High School, which is expanding into the site from next door. But the Voice has certainly not indicated that they are closing down. Where are you getting that?

  26. Anonymous23/8/12

    So glad I found your blog. You have articulated so well what I have thought of the media for some time. Excellent piece.

  27. Anonymous23/8/12

    The Village Voice isn't closing down, they are just moving

  28. they're effectively done

  29. Anonymous23/8/12

    The only problem with this supposedly scintillating piece of gonzo prose is that it's based on a fantasy. A lie. A nonsense. The Village Voice is not dead or gone. They just moved house for a while. The right-wing where would they be without their wishful thinking?

  30. They also fired most of their staff. Plenty of outlets are reporting that the Voice is effectively dead.

    I'm sure there will always be a website called the Village Voice and it may retain a print edition for a while and it will have physical offices, but it's being declared dead... and not by the right wing.

  31. Anonymous28/8/12

    The VV is dead media but it lives on in the minds of the Village People! Goodbye and good riddance...nice slapstick Sultan!

  32. Umm...Not to put a finer point on it, but you DO know that the Village Voice you speak of actually ceased to exist 6 years ago. Sure the paper is still found on the street corner, and the website is alive and well. But the Liberal leaning bastion of NYC ended when some guys (yeah, I worked for them) from Arizona bought it lock, stock and barrel and turned it into more of an apolitical local "go after the man, no matter what side their on" kind of affair. You know kind of Libertarian leaning actually. Yes, they ruffled feathers, fired people, completely got rid of the foreign affairs bureau and basically went scorched earth on anyone who didn't sign on the new order of the day. THAT was 6 years ago. Where have you been? Enough of the snark... you actually make a good point and you're right. What exactly is "Alternative"? When EVERYTHING is out there and the new cool is weird and bizarre one gets the feeling that well.... we've been here before. So... the new "Alternative" would be.... Little House on the Prairie? Hey, don't laugh there's a burgeoning subculture doing just that. Oh and as someone pointed out they're not closing down, they're just moving. That's just one of those pesky little details that got overlooked.



Blog Archive