Neither does the March issue of Wired Magazine which featured Snack Attack!, an article profiling the "snack-o-tainment" lifestyle characterized by today's fast-paced, up-to-the-minute culture. Tracing the trend of "distilling things to their essence" back to Moses' "first top 10 list," Minifesto for a New Age summarizes:
Music, television, games, movies, fashion: We now devour our pop culture the same way we enjoy candy and chips - in conveniently packaged bite-size nuggets made to be munched easily with increased frequency and maximum speed. This is snack culture - and boy, is it tasty (not to mention addictive) (via Wired).I couldn't agree more. What would Susan Douglas have to say about this trend? Well, in the intro of her excellent book Listening In: Radio and the American Imagination, she writes:
People who grew up with radio still pine for the old radio days, for their intimate relationship with the box in their living room or bedroom, for a culture without television. They miss what now seems like the simplicity of those times, the innocent optimism (even during the Depression and the War), the directness of the medium itself. But what they yearn for most is the way that radio invited them to participate actively in the production of the show at hand...They miss their role in completing the picture, in giving individual meaning to something that went outto a mass audience. They miss the mental activity, the engagement, the do-it-yourself nature of radio listening. They miss radio's invisibility (4).Douglas covers a number of important issues here.
- The "Intimate" Relationship: that seems to have largely shifted to iPods, Blackberries, Cell Phones, and Computers. People view these new technological devices as an extension of themselves: they feel lost without them.
- The "Simplicity" of olden days: Yep, that's certainly gone. With information coming at you a mile a minute, there is no escaping the constant influx, confusion and noise today.
- The "directness" of radio: You could argue that iPods, Podcasts, Internet Radio, and blogs are more direct than old radio because they cater to exactly what you want to hear. But these new forms are certainly not direct in the sense that you have to seek all of this out in the first place. You have to have access to a computer or an expensive player. You have to know what you're looking for and go find it. New radio today is still working on its "filter" system. Old radio would just shoot stuff at you and you didn't really have a choice--but people liked what they were hearing, so it was OK. Now with so many choices, nobody is willing to settle and they go the indirect route of searching out their best option, instead of the most direct.
- Audience "participation:" this is another aspect you could view in two ways. What Douglas refers to is the individual participation of listeners and their imagination. This may be decreasing with podcasts, blogs, internet radio, etc. because there is increasing amounts of visual accompaniment to everything--because it's possible. A multi-media clip is certainly privileged today over a sole audio byte--but not necessarily because it is better. It is just more stuff. The other way to see this is that audiences participate much more actively today because they are choosing what they are listening to, they are producing it, and they are completing the picture in new ways. They hear a song and imagine a video for it...then they create it and put it up on YouTube and then it is on the band's website! A number of artists have fielded fan-participation to the extent that it's getting a little much--like come on artists, do your job yourself (see Incubus, The Decemberists) But that's what the scene is like today--it's all about audience interaction and direct participation.
Case in point, one of the features in the Wired Article Tiny Tunes was about the first ever patented radio format: Radio SASS. The founder of Radio SASS (Short Attention Span System), George Gimarc--a veteran programmer and former DJ from Dallas who started Radio Sass--said, "People's patience for music - even the stuff they like - is thin. Twelve songs per hour won't cut it." To remedy that, Radio SASS employs editor-musicians to use their "intuitive editing" skills to trim unnecessary, non-catchy parts of old hits to get them down to "their essence."
Radio SASS describes their mission, stating:
Radio SASS (Short Attention Span System) takes the playlist and musically condenses songs to their essence. Through time compression, you get the memorable heart of each song, with an average length of aproximately two minutes with NO self indulgent guitar solos, NO long intros, NO repetition of choruses again and again. Radio returns to the snappy song length of the 1960s. (italics mine)HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH. Apparently, the reason radio is falling behind in this "Bite Sized" environment of fast paced TV, news, movies, etc. is because musicians are sooooo self indulgent! That makes perfect sense! Ugh. This idea is so laughable to me and so offensive to anyone with a creative artistic sense, I can't imagine how it will fly--but I bet it will. Why? Well, here is the "hard sell" from SASS itself:
It's all about SPEED
Today's culture moves at a breakneck, multi-tasking, fast-forward pace. The time is right for a new dynamic way to experience radio. Enter, Radio SASS. This new protocol changes radio history in several postive ways. Listeners get more music, and more variety. Recording artists get 3x the airplay and exposure. Records labels get increased spins, increased sales. Radio gets a new sound.
So, this new fast-paced culture requires even more corruption of artistic integrity? This radio sounds like it will be homogeneous, poppy, crap on crack. Music wasn't meant to be all catchy hooks and the "good parts." As Susan Douglas points out, the anticipation and repetition and gratification in songs and playlists is all part of a really important combination that the best musicians AND DJs employ to get, hook, and keep listeners. I don't think this will be the answer to the new "snack-o-tainment" culture, but it certainly is an interesting attempt.