Die, Social Misfit!!! A Merry Christmas Xmix Playlist

Listen to Die, Social Misfit!!! A Merry Christmas Xmix playlist on Apple Music

Twenty years ago, literally the lifetime of a current college sophomore, I began hosting a college radio music show called Die, Social Misfit!!! on KCSB-FM, 91.9, in Santa Barbara. I used to play a lot of garage rock, surf, and the occasional exotica, all of which were popular genres among the hipsters of the time because of multiple revival movements concentrated on the US west coast. A friend from the east coast refers to that music today it as “budget rock.”

Die, Social Misfit!!! was my third attempt at doing a radio show, and it sort of mirrored my experience as a college student. The first two radio programs were, quite frankly, pretty bad, and I don’t want to describe them in detail out of pure shame. Suffice to say that those programs were series of ugly messes, not unlike the many essays I wrote for my freshman (and sophomore!) composition courses. In the case of essay writing, it really wasn’t until my junior year of college where I felt that finally “got it.” I learned how to research and use sources, how to structure an essay, how to write a compelling thesis, and how to develop a voice that would need only further refining in graduate school. (Who knew topic sentences were still a thing?!?) The same was true for the radio show, and it was around 1997 that I developed Die Social Misfit!!!. The entire program, while not necessarily a themed show, had one central idea behind it: what my friends and I would describe as “rawk!” The show aired on Friday afternoons, between 3:00 to 5:00 PM. I used to imagine countless workers listening to KCSB throughout the week, breathlessly anticipating my program as it signaled the last two hours of their workweek. I wanted to rawk them out of their chair come quitting time.

Late December is an exciting time because it signals the Christmas season, the end of the year, and also the end of the semester. As I grade scores of undergradaute student essays, I think of my poor students and how many of them still haven’t “gotten it.” Many essays aren’t worth the paper they didn’t bother using to print them. (I accept only electronic submissions.) But I also think of my old radio show. I never did a proper Christmas themed show, but over the years, I’ve maintained an iTunes playlist of Christmas songs that I would have played on Die, Social Misfit!!! had I not been a cynical twenty year-old at the time thinking that Christmas was lame. Christmas isn’t lame! Being a cynical twenty year-old, however, is lame.

Twenty years too late, I present you the Die, Social Misfit!!! A Merry Christmas Xmix playlist on Apple Music.

A lot of the songs are rocked out versions of old favorites, such as The Humpers doing “Run Run Rudolph.” The Mexican-American Elvis impersonator, El Vez, adds a little color to old favorite with “Brown Christmas.” There are also some Christmas-themed songs that are, as far as I know, not at all versions of traditional favorites, such as Lillian Briggs’s “Rock ‘N’ Roll Polly Santa Claus.” But there are some songs that I’m sure you’ll recognize but likely never heard like this. For example, the New Bomb Turks does a cover of U2’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” at a such a breakneck pace that, according to legend, it blew The Edge’s hat off his head when he first heard it. And speaking of meta covers, you can hear The Ventures playing a version of “Sleigh Ride,” and Los Straitjackets doing an almost note-for-note cover of that Ventures cover. And, of course, I even included the Phil Spector Christmas album because even though he pulled a gun out on the Ramones and shot a woman dead, I really like that album.

Forgive for the songs that appear more than once.

I know that all college sophomores today prefer to share their music mixes on Spotify or YouTube, but since I have had this playlist in iTunes for over a decade, it was really easy to make it public with a couple of clicks. Also, because I’ve been adding to it for myself over the years, I never bothered to curate a proper order. Instead, I just shuffle play it whenever the mood strikes for rawkin’ Christmas music. You should shuffle play it too.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

The L-Train Shutdown, or How I Will Stop Worrying and Love the Bus, the Bike, the Boat, and the G Train

Almost invariably, every time I meet someone new and tell them that I live in Williamsburg, I get asked this question: what ever will I do during the L Train Shutdown.

The “L Train Shutdown,” officially known as the Canarsie Tunnel Reconstruction project, will result in the closing of the Canarsie Tunnel between Manhattan and Brooklyn to repair the damage the tunnel sustained during Sandy in 2012. The closure will cease L train service in all of Manhattan and in Brooklyn west of Bedford Ave. The closure and repairs, announced at least a year ago, will start in April 2019 and are expected to last into summer 2020.

The shutdown will have a profound effect on the lives of thousands of people, and like an old boss of mine used to say, “shit rolls downhill.“ I expect the L Train Shutdown will disproportionally affecting New Yorkers depending on their class, similar to what happens after a blizzard or major snow storm. The poor will have to endure the trains and busses to schlep to work because they have inflexible work arrangements, while affluent professionals will be able to stay home and “remote” into work.

But for all its disruption, the L Train Shutdown could also be an opportunity to remake transportation in North Brooklyn and in downtown Manhattan. Earlier this week, we learned how the MTA and New York City Department of Transportation plan to implement numerous mitigations for those traveling between Brooklyn and Manhattan during the fifteen months that the Canarsie Tunnel repairs will be underway. Many of the changes are additions that could very well make commuting between Brooklyn and Manhattan easier, even after the Canarsie Tunnel repairs are done.

In short, the two agencies plan to…

  • restrict automobile traffic on the Williamsburg Bridge to vehicles carrying three or more people, known as HOV-3, during weekday rush hours,
  • launch a ferry route between the North Williamsburg ferry terminal and Stuyvesant Cove in Manhattan,
  • add extra capacity on the J,M,Z C and G trains, including adding cars to trains and extending station platforms,
  • add a dedicated bus lane and Select Bus Service on 14th Street in Manhattan,
  • add protected bicycle lanes on Grand Street in Brooklyn and Delancey Street in Manhattan to accommodate twice as many bicycle riders as there are now,
  • build a two-way protected bicycle lane on 13th Street in Manhattan,
  • add bus shuttle routes from Bedford Avenue and Grand Street stations in Brooklyn to “key connection points” in Manhattan.

These are some pretty aggressive measures to transport people between Manhattan and Brooklyn, and I hope that many of them stick around beyond 2020. For example, it would be great to have a dedicated right-of-way for busses on 14th Street even after the L train starts running again in Manhattan. There has been a need for a Select Bus Service route on 14th Street for as long as the MTA started SBS in 2004, and I’m glad to see it is coming to 14th Street. Also, the new protected bicycle lanes will likely remain in place after 2020 because everyone will just get used to them.

Imagine how many more people can travel between Manhattan and Brooklyn with these additional transportation options after the L train service resumes in 2020. Between this and being able to vote President Pence out of office, I finally have reason to look forward to the future. I’m giddy just thinking about it.

One can already see some of the changes taking shape. Many station platforms on the G line are being extended to accommodate more passengers and longer trains. The M line viaduct reconstruction is also happening in preparation to receive future displaced L-train passengers. And as I wrote earlier this year, there are new east-west bike lanes running on Meserole and Scholes Streets to handle the additional bicycle traffic the DOT anticipates during the L Train Shutdown.

Finally, if you are wondering what ever will I do during the L Train Shutdown, you won’t be surprised to hear that I plan to primarily use my bike. I only regularly travel to Manhattan on a couple of days per week and on most of those days, I ride my bike. Because the L Train Shutdown is starting in April, it only leaves about three winter months when there are days that are too cold to ride. Case in point: I rode yesterday and today because temperatures were in the 20s and 30s, but if this were December 2019 with no warm L train to zip me to and from Manhattan, I likely would have bundled up and gotten on my bike.

But 2019 is still 15 months away—as far away as the L Train Shutdown is expected to last. A lot of life changes can happen between now and then, and who knows if there even a need for me to worry about all this.

And Then They Repealed Net Neutrality

Today, as expected, the Federal Communications Commission has voted to repeal its own net neutrality rules along partisan lines, by a vote of 3-2. And that wasn’t even the biggest news story in US media industries. Earlier today, Disney agreed to buy the movie and television assets of 21st Century Fox for over $66 billion in cash and stock. This deal has now pared down Rupert Murdoch’s one labyrinthine News Corp. media empire to a bunch of broadcast TV stations, the broadcast television network, and several cable TV networks. These moves have emerged in a climate of technological change but also of deregulatory moves ushered by Donald Trump’s FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

Net Neutrality Rules Repealed

As I’ve mentioned before in a series of posts on this site, this is one of several deregulatory measures that this FCC, led by Chairman Pai, to give broadcasters and Internet service providers more power at the expense of consumer protections and the interest of the public.

Repealing the FCC’s net neutrality rules will make it possible for Internet service providers—your “beloved” cable and telephone company—to turn the Internet to something that could look like what we had with AOL in the 1990s: a closed network with curated content with limited access to the open Internet. The latter is what doomed AOL and its 2000 merger with Time Warner.

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that AT&T is attempting to acquire Time Warner and its vast library of media properties and content. With net neutrality rules out of the way, a provider like AT&T can realize its vision to dominate the Internet. Tim Wu, who coined the term “net neutrality” predicted as much in his 2010 book The Master Switch. Wu writes:

it doesn’t take a genius to realize that if AT&T and the cable companies exercised broad discretion to speed up the business of some firms and slow down that of others, they would gain the power of life and death over the Internet.

The telecommunications companies can do this because repealing net neutrality rules reclassifies broadband Internet service providers from common carriers to information services. The days of Internet-as-we-know-it might be numbered. At worst, it will be something like AOL in the 1990s. Or it will be something like cable TV and its curated 500-channel universe. Both were information services.

Centralize All Broadcast Activities

But it’s not just the Internet that Chairman Pai’s FCC has given over to the major corporate interests; he’s also cleared the way for broadcast station owners to expand their reach through out the United States.

Back in April, Chairman Pai led the FCC to restore the UHF discount rule, allowing owners of all-UHF stations to reach as much as 78% of all US households. As I wrote earlier, the UHF discount rule was developed in an era when US TV households mostly watched VHF channels 2-13 over UHF channels 14-69. The Obama-era FCC eliminated that discount on the grounds that the rule was deprecated. There is no difference in terms of VHF and UHF stations in today’s multichannel TV environment.

Also today, at the same Commissioners meeting to vote down the net neutrality rules, the FCC voted to review eliminating the 39% TV station ownership cap rule. This rule, designed to keep one station owner from reaching too many people through broadcasting, was already a relaxed version of the FCC’s original seven-station rule. But Chairman Pai apparently wants to allow broadcast station owners to reach even more American households and further reduce the diversity of voices using the public airwaves.

Both the UHF discount and the give Sinclair Broadcasting and the “New Fox” the opportunity to grow the number of broadcast TV stations they can own and expand their reach to US households. Not only could this have some competitive implications, it also forebodes some chilling ideological consequences. It’s not unlike what the Nazi’s chief propagandist Joseph Goebbels wrote in 1933:

Above all, it is necessary to centralize all radio activities to place spiritual tasks ahead of technical ones, to introduce the leadership principle, to provide a clear worldview, and to present this worldview in flexible ways.

Both Sinclair’s and Fox’s owners are both staunch conservatives and supporters of Chairman Pat’s boss Donald Trump and their news coverage has consistently supported Trump’s policies.

Take Action on Net Neutrality

Although I realize that the tone of this post is downright dreary, we the public can still take action to restore net neutrality rules. Basically, it comes down to fighting Chairman Pai on two fronts:

  1. We can lobby Congress to pass “net neutrality” legislation. Any action the FCC takes on classifying Internet service providers—as common carriers or information services—can be rendered moot through legislation. It might take until after the 2018 midterm elections to get this done, but legislation is the only way to guarantee an open Internet for the long term.
  2. Take the FCC to court. This is less than ideal because it must protect net neutrality rules within the current legal framework, which is not very specific about net neutrality. Nonetheless, Free Press plans to file a lawsuit against the FCC. I don’t know their legal strategy, but it might be on the grounds that the FCC has unlawfully abdicated its authority over the Internet. A lawsuit would likely lead to an injunction to keep the current net-neutrality rules in place. After that, prevailing in court could keep the Internet open, but as I wrote above, legislation is the best way to do it.

Now get going! It is only our freedom of speech and a robust marketplace of ideas that is at stake. Otherwise, we might as well be China.

When Google Calendar’s Appointment Slots Displays the Wrong Timezone

I’ve been a reluctant user of G Suite for Education—or Google Apps for Education, as it used to be known—for a few years. There have been a few headaches teaching classes with Google over the years, but because I so despise full-service learning management systems, such as Moodle and Blackboard, I’ve integrated G Suite and Google Classroom with my own vanilla HTML website to manage my courses.

About a year ago, I learned that Google Calendar supports self-scheduling appointment slots. It basically works like this:

  1. I create blocks of time in my Google Calendar where I’m available to meet with my students, either in person or through Google Hangouts. For regularly scheduled office hours, I make those slots a repeating event.
  2. I share the appointment slots event page link with my students, both on the course syllabus and on my own website.
  3. Students book an appointment through the link, after signing in with a valid Google account.
  4. I get notified of the appointment date and time, and I see who booked the appointment. Because I configured the appointment slots to alert me in advance of the appointment, I get an alarm at five and ten minutes before the appointment starts.

Yesterday, I learned about a bug in the system. Some students see the wrong appointment time. In one instance, Google Calendar showed a student the available appointment slots in UTC, not New York time. She booked an appointment for 3:00 PM on the appointment slots event page, but inadvertently scheduled it for UTC time. When she showed up for our appointment at 3:00 PM New York time, she had missed it. My calendar app saw that the appointment was made for 3:00 PM UTC and correctly displayed and notified me that it was at 10:00 AM Eastern Time.

Reading through the Google Calendar support forums, it seems to happen to a lot of other users. The conventional wisdom about this problem is that I have my Google Calendar set to GMT-5 (America/New York) while my student may have her Google Calendar set to UTC. However, many people insist that the college, university, or organization sets everyone’s calendar to their local time ( GMT-5 in my case). However, my students will often use their personal Gmail accounts instead of their university issued G Suite for Education account. There’s no guarantee that their calendar is set to their own local time. It might be set to UTC. My intuition says this is what likely causes the timezone display bug and why it’s not consistent.

Good news, though! I did find a workaround that worked for me. I had to override the timezone Google Calendar displays by appending my own timezone to the appointment slot URL. Here’s how I did that:

  1. I created appointment slots in Google Calendar as I normally would.
  2. I copied the appointment page URL that Google Calendar provides to share with my constituents. It should look something like this:
    https://calendar.google.com/calendar/selfsched?sstoken=2AHtwhQ0cknZcpXB1vwH (except perhaps a bit longer).
  3. I pasted that URL to where I could share it with my students.
  4. I added the following text: &ctz= and my timezone. In my case, it’s America/New_York. You can find out your own timezone, organized by country, by browsing this list. Be sure you include the underscore if your location includes a compound name.

This will force the appointment slots event page to display in the timezone you indicated. If you and your students are in the same time zone, then both of you should be scheduling appointment as you would without anyone seeing a timezone in UTC time.

I do however foresee one potential limitation for my workaround: online classes where teachers and students might be scattered across different time zones. In those cases, I might want to indicate that the appointment will be in the timezone of our home institution, regardless of whether the student or I is actually in that particular timezone.

You Have a Choice, But It’s Basically AOL or Nothing

Right after I published my previous post about Chairman Pai’s FCC’s plan to kill net neutrality rules governing internet service providers, the FCC released details about the proposal the Commission plans to bring to a vote in December.

It’s even worse that I had thought. It looks like Chairman Pai’s FCC is setting up to allow Internet Service Providers to decide what content and websites its customers can visit and which ones it cannot. For anyone following the fortunes of Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T over the last few years will note that these companies have each acquired or are in the process of acquiring content companies. Most recently, AT&T plans to absorb Time Warner, ostensibly for the content it can provide the broadband and wireless service provider. Verizon did something similar when it acquired AOL and Yahoo and rebranded them Oath.

We’ve been expecting the single, unlimited broadband package to go away someday—either through throttling your connection speed or by capping the amount of data you send and receive each month. What might happen now is there could be at least two tiers of broadband service:

  1. a discounted AOL-type service where you get unlimited access to the content on that service
  2. a prohibitively expensive rate for a somewhat open service, like what we have now

At any rate, Chairman Pai is basically giving the monopolistic Internet service providers the opportunity to become all-in-one information services. Remember most of America has no choice in Internet service providers and unlike in the past, when there was a national telephone monopoly and local cable TV monopoly, the government provided some level of protections against monopolistic behavior. Not anymore.

It really seems like the Internet will again be like AOL. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The Lapdogs and the Carcass of Net Neutrality

The corporate lapdogs at the Federal Communications Commission are to announce this week—the week of the Thanksgiving holiday the United States—their scheduled vote on December 15 to eliminate the “net neutrality” rules that govern wired broadband Internet providers.

The timing of the announcement and of the scheduled vote is not accidental. The FCC is trying to sneak the announcement during a holiday week when the country is distracted and will take the vote on a Friday before the FCC commissioners presumably adjourn for 2017. As we know, because of Donald Trump, the FCC has three business-friendly Republican commissioners that will out vote the two Democratic commissioners. There’s every reason to expect the vote to be a mere formality.

Karl Bode posted a great essay on Techdirt about the vote predicting a strong public backlash against the FCC’s vote to kill net neutrality rules. I won’t reproduce his argument here, but I want to draw attention to the two reasons he foresees a revolt. First, the public overwhelming supports these rules because, as with the broadband consumer privacy protections the Senate killed earlier this year, this is not a partisan issue. Hardcore lefties and righties want these protective rules. Second, these rules will largely benefit broadband Internet providers: i.e., the deep-pocketed cable and telephone companies that rank among the most hated companies in America. Much like the Republican tax plans currently debated in both chambers of Congress, the benefits will go to the wealthiest and most powerful segments in our country. The rest of us will get screwed.

However, unlike Bode, I am less optimistic about a coming public revolt against this FCC and the broadband companies they are supposed to protect the public against. A lot of people don’t understand what net neutrality even is, much less other related concepts such as common carriage that are arguably more meaningful and noticeable to people on a day-to-day basis. The most immediate effect of ending net neutrality will be preferential treatment of partner services. As we’ve already seen, Netflix is fine with partnering with ISPs to ensure a clear path for its streaming video service. As long as people can still stream video on Netflix and Amazon, no one will really notice that their Internet will no longer be an open-platform.

Of course, the long-term effect will be much greater, even if its harder to identify. That’s because the next generation of Internet companies will have a harder time emerging. Someone might develop something we can’t even imagine yet that could threaten Netflix and Amazon’s dominance the same way each company all but eliminated the Blockbuster Video stores that profited with usurious late fees and the major chain bookstores that forced many independents out of business decades. But we won’t probably will never see those competitors emerge and, even worse, we may never even know they existed in the first place.

The votes that Chairman Pai has brought to the FCC over his first year as the Commission’s chairman benefit incumbents over future innovative upstarts. While this may have a short-term benefit for the large companies that employ thousands of workers and trade on the Dow Jones stock exchange, as Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T do, these actions will cost us in the long-term in lost innovation. The Internet communications revolution in the United States didn’t come from incumbent telecommunications companies. It originated from military, government, and university researchers working together—often in their spare time. Had we left it up to AT&T or RCA, our Internet would basically be AOL and what Sprint called the “wireless web.” As someone who remembers both these versions of the “Internet,” I wish I had never known they existed in the first place.

The Lapdogs Have Centralized All Broadcasting Activities

As expected, Chairman Pai’s FCC overturned the ownership regulations for broadcast stations that were instituted to curb a single voice from dominating the information landscape in radio, in broadcast television, and in print.

I wrote about these ownership regulations last month. The two regulations in question were:

  • the newspaper-broadcasting cross ownership rule that prevented a single company from owning a leading newspaper and a broadcast station in the same market
  • the duopoly rule that prohibited a single company from owning two TV stations in the same market, outside of the four largest markets where there are at least eight separate entities in that market.

These rules—if confusing—were once even simpler: no single entity could own more than seven stations each on AM radio, FM radio, and television. The intent of these rules was to prevent a single voice from dominating mass-media information flows in a given market and across the entire world. Without considering any public input, Chairman Pai’s broadcast-friendly FCC has eliminated these rules to allow a single company a larger and more widespread audience.

The obvious beneficiary of eliminating these rules is Sinclair Broadcasting. The right-wing owned broadcasting company is trying to acquire Tribune Broadcasting, and because Tribune owns so many broadcasting stations in the United States, the newly merged company would have been forced to sell some of those stations in order to comply with these rules.

Not anymore.

If you live somewhere where Sinclair does not have a presence, that is partly because of the FCC rules. The rules have worked to keep Sinclair from reaching the entire nation, thus (kind of) ensuring some kind of diversity in voices.

Not anymore.

It won’t be long until you start seeing those right-wing editorials—that are centrally produced by Sinclair—and inserted into every local newscast across the entire Sinclair chain as “must runs.”

Because the ownership rules are from a federal agency—not actual laws ratified by Congress and the President—they can instituted and rescinded with the will of the FCC Chairman and the president who appointed him. In this case, this is a gift that Donald Trump and his lapdog Ajit Pai have given to big business. As I noted earlier, Sinclair is a friend of Trump and his policies.

If you’re not concerned that a single voice will reach nearly every household in the US, you should be. Recall that the one of the first actions that the Nazi’s took when they came to power in Germany was to centralize broadcasting. As Joseph Goebbels wrote in 1933, “Above all, it is necessary to centralize all radio activities to place spiritual tasks ahead of technical ones, to introduce the leadership principle, to provide a clear worldview, and to present this worldview in flexible ways.”

If you want to take action to prevent this situation, I encourage you to contribute to Free Press’s Action Fund. Ten bucks should do. They plan to sue the FCC in court to stop these rules from being rescinded, likely on the grounds that they unfairly grant one company a presence in almost every US media market. The rules were implemented for this very reason, and they were in fact working.

Contribute to Free Press’s lawsuit against the FCC

OK Soda and the “Edge” of the Mass Market

Last week in my Media Criticism class, we studied Michael Curtin’s twenty-year old essay on “neo-networks.” The essay, “On Edge: Culture Industries in the Neo-Network Era,” argues that the US media industries in the 1990s had largely abandoned their mass-market approach to reaching audiences. Instead of producing and releasing something—a film, a musical recording, a television series—and hoping for a big hit, US media industries had largely turned to aggregating a varied collection of niche markets to retain or even expand their marketshare. He terms this “edge.”

By the 1990s, media industries were able to accomplish this through a nearly two-decade wave of media consolidation. A media company would acquire its competitors to release a variety of niche-market material, in addition to the mass-market hits that these same media companies for decades.1

  • A diversified film studio could distribute an independent film, in addition to a blockbuster or two. Fox did with its Fox Searchlight company.
  • A major record label that released a Top-40 record one day could, on another day, sign an underexposed musical act that likely released records through an independent label. DGC and Interscope Records released a fair amount of such music in the 1990s, under the umbrella of the Warner Music Group and Time-Warner. And a lot of the major labels had acquired boutique record labels to diversify their stable of artists.
  • In television, the cable TV networks that once threatened to undermine the entire commercial broadcast system were subsumed under many the companies that also owned broadcast TV networks.

If you can’t beat ‘em, acquire ‘em.

But despite the consolidation of ownership, the variety of media content that the media industries distributed had significantly expanded, particularly with niche genres2. The variety of records, films, and television programs was probably greater than ever before. You and I may have been watching or listening to something, but it’s likely not the same thing because there was so much out there to choose. This was a departure from the formula that media industries had used for decades. In fact, during the studio era of Hollywood, it was common for a movie studio to rely on an annual hit to sustain its financial health for the entire year. Hollywood studios had so effectively utilized this “block booking” system, forcing theater owners to take all of its films if it wanted to get the studio’s one big hit, that it was eventually declared illegal in the 1940s.

But by the 1990s, media industries had stopped doing that. Instead of going for one big hit, they were interested in getting a bunch of little hits. This approach, while seemingly inefficient, made a lot of sense and was copied in other industries. One example from a non-media industry is the Coca-Cola’s development of OK Soda in the early 1990s.

I had actually forgotten about OK Soda until I came across a reference to it in a Tedium essay about another failed-and-forgotten soft drink, Virgin Cola. OK Soda was an attempt to appeal to young people who were disillusioned with mass-market products and their attendant advertising. I was in high school in the early 1990s, and I can attest that it was downright unhip to drink plain Coke. Many of us who drank soda—which seemed like everyone at the time—drank something else: Mountain Dew, Mr. Pibb, Dr. Pepper, or Diet Pepsi.

From Coca-Cola’s perspective, this is a big problem. Consumers between 18 and 24 years of age are their most desirable segment of the soda-drinking market because, if for no other reason, if they drink Coca-Cola at that age, they’ll likely drink it until they die. Coca-Cola, and other large mass-market companies, likely saw the marketplace as consisting of two different groups:

  1. Those who drink Coca-Cola.
  2. Those who don’t.

Coca-Cola needed to capture this second group. In the 1980s, it had famously tried to shift its product to capture both of these groups. The result was New Coke (1985), and we all know what a catastrophe that was for Coca-Cola. But in the 1990s, the strategy to reach this second group had changed. Instead of changing its flagship project, Coca Cola would diversify its product line. It worked with the introduction Diet Coke (1982) and with the revival of Cherry Coke (1985), which was a drink that soda fountain “modders” had been selling since the 1950s. These products were sold alongside Coca-Cola Classic, not instead of it.

If you want a primer on what OK Soda was, Thomas Flight does a good job at effectively describing the product and its advertising campaigns.

My only quibble with the video is that Flight describes the marketing as “postmodern,” which literally made me shudder. No serious scholar has uttered that term in almost twenty years and those that did have since disavowed ever, ever calling something “postmodern.” A more precise way to describe the product and the marketing would be to call it “self-referential.” The ads draw attention to the fact that they are ads trying to make you buy OK Soda, and OK Soda draws attention that it is just a soda—one that is just “OK.”

OK Soda seemed to have based its entire existence on being self-referential.

The cans were decidedly unconventional in their design. They looked like cylindrical comics in a variety of different designs. They didn’t sport a uniform design, although they still have some references to Coca Cola in their red-and-white colors and all featured “OK.” The taste is decidedly different than Coca Cola.



OK Soda reportedly tasted like “suicide mix.” That jibes with my memory of the product at the time. Coca-Cola was doing with OK Soda in the 1990s what it did with Cherry Coke in the 1980s: acknowledged an inside joke and an open secret. With OK Soda’s formulation, OK Soda had officially endorsed the unofficial practice of mixing fountain sodas. Almost everyone I knew was “making” suicide mix at the time, but none of the soft drink companies—or even our own parents—knew that we were doing so. Or so we thought.

And yes, of course, there’s those ads. They were certainly different. I’d even go so far as to say that they were funny because they were so absurd, and they appeared smart because they were self-referential. But they weren’t “postmodern.”

In retrospect, the 1990s was a glorious decade. It was the first decade that we stopped worrying about nuclear war and the last decade where the music was good. The 1990s was also when the media industries got really good at targeting us with a variety of things to watch and listen—and drink. But as Michael Curtin argues in the beginning of his essay, this niche marketing created a situation where “the fire on [the] common hearth appears to be burning low.” The Internet was on the horizon and, as he concludes, “the changing technologies of communication…promise to subdivide the national audience and splinter the body politic.”3 We all know how that has turned out.

We haven’t agreed on anything since.


  1. Schiller, Herbert I. Culture, Inc.: The Corporate Takeover of Public Expression. Oxford University Press, 1989. 
  2. Curtin, Michael. “On Edge: Culture Industries in the Neo-Network Era.” Making & Selling Culture, edited by Richard Malin Ohmann et al., Wesleyan University Press, 1996. 189-193. 
  3. Curtin 181 

UnionDocs is Looking for Winter-Spring Interns, Apply by November 17

UnionDocs, the Williamsburg, Brooklyn–based center for documentary video production, is looking for interns who work in “some aspect” of film and video: curation, production, or film theory. Interns help with realizing UnionDoc’s mission to foster nonfiction media, programming, events, production, and storytelling.

Interns would have responsibilities that including:

  • event documentation
  • event planning
  • social media marketing
  • programming support

Interested students can read more about it on the UnionDocs website and complete an application. The Winter/Spring internships run from mid-January through mid-May. The deadline to apply is Friday, November 17.

Apply by November 17

Reformation Day, 500 Years After

Happy (belated) Reformation Day!

Yesterday was October 31, 2017, which not only was All Hallows Eve (“Halloween”), but it was also the 500th anniversary of the day when Martin Luther published his Disputation on the Power of Indulgences, better known as the Ninety-Five Theses.

Most people think that Luther posted his manuscript outside of a church in Wittenberg, Germany, and that this act led to the Protestant Reformation. While this is not untrue, this widely held myth is a version of the historical account that neglects the power of a new media technology: the Gutenberg printing press was developed in Germany about seventy years earlier.

Martin Luther and his Ninety-Five Theses had a great impact, but it wasn’t the act of posting outside a few churches that made the difference. It was that he sent his manuscript to the Archbishop of Mainz on October 31, 1517, and then copies were translated, printed, and distributed throughout Germany, as pamphlets and placards. The wide ranging impact was largely because of the printing press.