On “One-Star Reviews” and on #elit

When I first heard about the One-Star Reviews movement, I immediately began to think of bad things that I found merit in. This wasn’t a hard task — my favorite “getting to know someone” question is “what do your friends with ‘good taste’ hate that you like?” My answer is frozen vegetables straight from the bag.

So I began to make a list. I thought of chip crumbs and the kind of signature you get when your pen runs out of ink. The “buffering” symbol and mint flavored toothpicks. Finally I settled on something: these gloves that they sell in bins at Target. I began to write my post, constructing a persona that was a little bit like me but more so not. She was … more gregarious I’d say? I guess she’s still being built. But then I stopped — the words were flowing and I was having a blast, but I couldn’t finish; I still haven’t posted my response in the subreddit. Every day I think maybe I’ll do it, and then find an excuse to put it off a little longer as I read through new posts. I think maybe I’m saving it for a really rainy day because it’ll give me an excuse to do something creative. Since I began to understand the implications that starting on social media and the internet so early will have on the rest of my life (helllooooo Instagram addiction), I’ve been worried I’ve been losing creative parts of myself that are now taken up with scrolling through feeds and reading celebrity gossip as it happens. E-Lit has — and is — showing me a way to still hone my creativity while not sacrificing involvement in these platforms. I really cherish it. There’s also the possibility that I’m nervous to publish on a platform that I’m new to. I respect the authors and their creativity and am not quite sure how to jump in.52216908.jpg

When I first read through the posts already uploaded on the One-Star Reviews subreddit I laughed, and I became a little more convinced of value in the often un-loveable. When someone next to me in class also started to laugh while reading the reviews and we began to chat about them I was even more convinced. Basically, we’re using the internet to find possibly-fake value in real life things. And that’s so neat.

We often utilize e-lit to tackle tough subjects traditional literature wouldn’t allow an ideal platform for (i.e. the problem with celebrity, filter bubbles, growing up on a computer), here I see it working in a new light for the first time, bringing people together in real time and making them (literally) laugh out loud.

I love #e-lit, catch me on the next Netprov.

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On, well … “me”

I’ve fallen into a rabbit hole of Instagram-related self analysis. I don’t know who I am anymore.

As I’ve written before, my project is a sort of net-prov that examines our relationship to Instagram and how the platform molds our sense of self in this day and age. Would we like beets as much if their pink hue showed up less nicely on a screen?

Basically, I hired an “Instagram curator” (you don’t know about them for personal use because no one wants you to know there’s someone else behind their feed), to expertly curate my profile during my time abroad. I hired the curator because, as this is quite possibly a one time thing, I need my Instagram to show off a lifestyle that can only be achieved abroad — specifically in Norway. Someday my grid will be the perfect souvenir, inspiring jealousy now and for years to come when someone falls into the slippery world of scrolling.

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Accidental post of the behind the scenes instead of the for-publication caption. Is something going on?
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Feed as of November 12, 2017
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Work on first post of travels. From Tumblr site (still figuring out format).
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Behind every selfie post

And while it’s entertaining to write blueprints and joke about all that goes into the creation of a post  … so much of this stuff actually goes through my head. When the platform first arrived I would post nonchalantly, now everything involves some deep thinking. I need to figure out a way to separate myself from the creation of the project, because getting too wrapped up in might make me crazy.

While Instagram is my main tool, I’ve also created a Tumblr page that looks like an Instagram feed in order to provide more information and links in a cohesive space that Instagram is unable to give me. The hardest part so far has been establishing an interesting curator persona, and looking at other feeds to find examples of stuff she may have worked on. The interesting (and kinda cool) thing about it is that no one’s feed matches mine; we’re doing our job right.

 

On “Taroko Gorge”

Taroko Gorge is a national park in Taiwan.

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“Taroko Gorge” is a piece of generative poetry written and programmed by Nick Montfort in 2009. It’s supposed to invoke the feeling of walking through a forest, offering it’s own strict movement and rhythm by which we must take it in. I get the gist, but I’d rather walk through a real forest where I can move at my own pace.

Traditionally, one who reads poetry has had to take it upon him or herself to slow down and read at a tempo that allows for true enjoyment and appreciation. As someone who like to read fast fast fast “Taroko Gorge” felt a little glacial. Then came Snowball, with a pace that stressed me out — I think I just like choosing when the next words appear to me no matter the situation.

In all honesty, I enjoyed the idea of the pieces more than the pieces themselves. It was fun to click through and see how far a re-creation could go and the titles/ideas behind them (Fred and George!!!). I even tried to think of some that hadn’t been done (I won’t share them — they haven’t been done for a reason and that reason is that they’re bad).

In class we talked about the idea of “remix” and if a remix is a form of creativity. This is something I’ve gone on about before, and will tackle again now: OF COURSE IT IS! I’m a strong believer that no story is truly “original.” As Nora Ephron famously said: “Everything is copy.” Copy as in imitation and copy as in a piece of writing; this works two ways.

Why is it we have the same general fairy tale plot in a bunch of different countries under a bunch of different names? “Clueless” and “Bridget Jones’ Diary” are both re-workings of Jane Austen. “10 Things I Hate About You” is Shakespeare and who knows where these writers got their ideas from in the first place. We could argue the ideas of remixing vs paying tribute vs stealing vs copying vs being inspired by forever, but I see absolutely nothing wrong with taking a set idea and expanding on it.

So often I’ll see something and enjoy it only to later realize it’s based off of something else. I probably would’ve enjoyed “Fred and George’ if I saw it first, but seeing it’s roots makes it even more fun and smart to me.

So yes, I think remix is a form of creativity. And I liked the remixes (or the idea behind them) better than the original.


The “discovery and invention stage” should be constant in all of our lives, right? I want it to be for me at least. In terms of my final project I’m set on my “Instagram Curator” idea and I’ve already started writing the text that will accompany it. Tools that I’ll use will include Instagram as main platform, a webpage that showcases my photos and the text in a way that appears like a normal instagram feed (I need to figure out the logistics behind this), and Google Calendar/email/photo editing apps. I’m having so much fun already, and can not wait to see how it all turns out!

Finally: I don’t think we dived into the idea of memes as e-lit enough last week. Let’s talk more about this everyone. Please?

On “Reality” or “Being @spencerpratt,” netprov and ourselves.

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Well — as was evident in my presentation on Wednesday — netprov has captured my heart. To be honest, I discovered “Being Spencer Pratt” first and foremost because Pratt’s name popped out to me in the e-lit collection. I’m happy to report my media interests have once again led me somewhere fabulous.

Netprov stands for networked improv narrative, and select elements of a netprov include the use of multiple media, real-time exposure and the incorporation of breaking news. Netprovs are often parodic and satirical and are designed to be incomplete. Taking cues from traditional improv acting, the form is big on “yes and.” Another motto? As improv hero Del Close once said: “Play and go deep.”

The history of netprov is long and fantastic (look up “Invisible Seattle,” “I Work For The Web”, “One Week, No Phone,” “Grace, Wit and Charm” and “Workstudy Seth” for a taste). In very early 2013, Netprov pioneers Mark Marino and Rob Wittig set upon their newest venture. Originally dubbed “Reality,” the project would come to be known as “Tempspence” or “Being @spencerpratt.” On January 1st, 2013, Heidi Montag, Pratt’s wife, tweeted about how Pratt had lost his brand new phone somewhere in the UK as the result of a crazy New Year’s Eve. People responded as they do to any tweet by a star, but updates ceased as the couple set forth into a month of filming a season in the phone-less Big Brother UK house. And then a tweet came from Pratt himself. A bunch of tweets, that is.

“Testing … testing… ”
“OMG!”
“Woh.”
“Yes, cheers, everyone, this is actually Spencer Pratt.”
“And I am married to Heidi Montag. Wow.”

Over the course of a week, it was discovered that an imposter had found Pratt’s phone and taken over his Twitter (though die hard fans could see this right away). The imposter soon revealed himself to be an unknown British poet (“Tempspence”) who was happy to use the accounts one million followers to gain a bit of exposure. He continued to tweet from Pratt’s account, playing games with followers who loyally returned to engage day after day.

Soon enough (upon leaving the Big Brother house) Pratt confronted Tempspence.

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The game was up.

And yet …

There’s a kicker: none of this was real. While Temspence wasn’t Spencer, Tempspence wasn’t Tempspence either. Tempspence was Rob Wittig and Mark Marino. Spencer Pratt, a master of contrived character who had been a student in one of Marino’s classes at USC (where he learned the wonder of netprov) had offered the pair use of his Twitter account while he worked on Big Brother. What resulted was a piece of e-lit that questions what it means to be “real” and how we relate to our social media personalities. And a 33 page PDF of tweets.

The editor’s comment from the E-Lit Collection Volume 3 says it well: “Marino and Wittig’s repurposing of a celebrity identity offers a compelling example of the unreliable narrator in an age of social media and the unexpected reactions that this mode of digital storytelling can inspire when a tiny bubble of fiction is dropped into everyday life.”

Uff-da. That’s a lot to chew on.

Because I’m not sure how to succinctly express my thoughts on the matter (soon enough, my friends!) what follows is a copy of questions I sent one of the piece’s authors (players? writers?), the brilliant “coach” Mark Marino. Some things that came up and thoughts I had while we were chatting are italicized. Some questions are without additional comments because there’s so much I have yet to ponder. Of course I want to continue the conversation around these questions, so if anyone has any input the comments are open on the post and my inbox is waiting.

Let’s dive in:

“I understand that netprov can come in many forms (from fake twitters to fantasy football teams). The whole reason this piece stuck out to me in the first place was because when I was browsing the e-lit collection I saw Spencer’s name. How does having an already established character make the development of a netprov easier or harder? I know the audience can easily come up with a narrative about how they see Spencer reacting to the piece (not knowing he’s in on it), because they think they know him from TV — does this complicate things?”

I don’t think the idea of an established character is that important overall, except maybe if we’re talking about audience interest; incorporating an already known player is a good way to get new people into netprov. In the case of one of my favorite forms of netprov: the celebrity baby Instagram …it just makes things a little more fun.

“I love this quote of Rob [Wittig]’s from the interview with Kate Durbin: “The truth of it is that it’s not just Spencer and our poet who perform their identity self-consciously in Twitter . . . pretty much everyone is doing it, all the time. Who is the real Twitter you? The grumpy one from this morning, or the drunk one from last night? The bitter-breakup you or the new-love-affair you? The job hunter or the job hater? Language is performed and written language in social media is very much performed — because of timing, how you reply and retweet others, how you spell and misspell. And our recent netprov (networked improv narrative) projects had played with all that. And Spencer himself enjoyed playing netprov and figured out it would be a great form to use to explore these issues of “reality.”
When it comes down to it, is there anything we can’t label a netprov? How come only some of them are perceived as art?”
It’s official: I think anyone involved in social media really is netprov-ing all the time. The idea behind only some of these netprovs being pieces of merit is similar to how every piece of writing isn’t labeled literature. Definitions are hazy and you can, of course, argue any which way for something or other to be labeled as you see fit. We may never agree on a set definition (thanks Marcel Duchamp) but people are really enjoying those Taco Bell tweets.
I know netprov is best enjoyed in “real time.” Do you think the luster is lost when we look at these projects after the fact?
Mark brought up a really interesting point here that brought us into a discussion of time, the then, the now and the sublime. We can attach an emotion to something in the past, but its impossible to know now how anything really was; memories can change and one person’s past may be radically different from another’s. The question, instead should maybe be, “Was there ever luster?” They need to teach netprov in philosophy courses.
You went into the project with Spencer’s account already having almost a million followers. These followers definitely weren’t following because they wanted an art piece — how does this play into the engagement and experience? Did anyone unfollow/react adversely?
How much of this was planned out in advance? How long did it take to plan the project? Were the producers in on it?
Here we chatted about the making of a netprov which is fascinating but not necessary for this post. Our #elit class will have the opportunity to see this first hand in a few weeks!
A quote from your website: “We ask: how good — how funny, how deep, how moving, how memorable — can netprovs get?” Do we have an answer? Do we need a connection (ie. Spencer being a real person and the tie to you with Workstudy Seth) to reality to make them moving?

Does it depend on the reader?

Today, how should the project be read for maximum effect? It would definitely be more memorable to have it popping up in real time on your phone. Is it like a performance art piece in that when it’s over it’s over?

Back to then versus now. This conversation could go on eternally.

We get to a point in the piece when the character is revealed to not be Spencer, yet the followers are still interested. How might this change if they knew it was all a hoax?

It’s rare that people are pleased when the curtain is pulled back. Blurring reality is part of what makes it what it is, so it’s good we don’t know. They’d probably be mad, maybe lose interest? I would just want to know the details.

Lastly, Spencer just made his newborn an Instagram account (much like DJ Khaled is posting on his baby Asahd’s behalf). Has the form run astray, or are people just not sure they’re netprov-ing? We see stuff like fake celebrity twitters all the time; people just retweet stuff that looks legitimate. Is this a form of (albeit not purposeful) netprov? Is it art if people are using it for retweets? Will any art form ever be sacred anymore … if any ever were?
My conclusion: Probably not. But again — were they ever? In any case I’m happy Gunner Pratt’s IG is verified.

As Marino said, we’re “taking part in the performativity that is existence.” “With netprov, you can play in a safe space that’s supposed to be artistic. You can play with the idea of producing yourself. Anytime someone tweets “I hate Spencer Pratt” they’re playing a game and hating the persona — and creating it.”

With netprov, you’re able to enter a realm of people’s minds and intervene in popular culture while still having the ability to be creative. You encourage others to be creative as well. It makes you wonder about yourself; it makes you wonder about the whole freakin’ world. There are still many questions, but — like with a netprov  —incompleteness is part of the fun.

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Now onto the next order of business …

Every time I sit down to figure out what I want my final project to be a million ideas rush through my head and I get excited about something new. I know I want to do something that has to do with netprov (surprise surprise), and I want to use my own social media accounts as base. One idea I have that I want to workshop a bit is taking my own Instagram account and writing a sort of “behind the scenes” conversation behind the curation of it as a conversation between myself and an “Instagram curator” I hired to make my feed spectacular for my time abroad. The idea is that someone else is behind everything I post, telling me what would be the most “me” and helping to create this perceived image of my self and my time in Norway. I can incorporate elements of my own trip planning such as a linked google calendar made “public,” my personal twitter, email and call logs, and can either use my already posted Instagrams and work backwards changing captions and “commenting” as curator or create a new account. I know I need to figure out logistics (and maybe tomorrow I’ll have a completely new idea!) but I’m liking the sound of this for now. We’re all really playing curator to our own lives online, so let’s bring it back around.

Thoughts on High Muck a Muck (from Dublin!)

Well, going off only the title “High Muck a Muck” I was not sure what to expect. For some odd reason I imagined a story involving a duck (I see the connection but I’m not happy that my brain worked that way), and I know that people sometimes refer to bossy folk as “high muck a muck.” The piece really had nothing to do with either of these things … so why the title?

First impression: the badges on the bottom of the title page struck me. The piece has won some prestigious-looking awards, and much like a book with a positive NYT review on the cover my feelings were swayed before I even dove in. I expected it to be good.

Aesthetically speaking, I was pleased. (No neons! Finally!) The worn paper background and the watercolor details were lovely. I love the look of mixing digital and hand-drawn (or appearing hand drawn) elements in an online setting and hope to explore this for my own piece during the semester. Also, I would probably buy a poster of any of the illustrations. That map on the bare chest? Swoon.

So I clicked around and I read the pretty poems and listened to the music. There was “Everywhere and nowhere,” an almost four minute video where the camera zoomed in on a still of an old man and zoomed out to show a baby. While there were a lot of easy allusions that anyone could grasp, I couldn’t help but feel I was missing out on some deeper meanings — or maybe hoping there was something more. Why are the map points located on specific areas of the chest? It’s not like “everywhere and nowhere” had to be the neck. Again, I like to think there’s something more.

I guess what I need to say — though I hate to say it — as that while the piece was lovely I don’t think I felt as much as I was supposed to. There’s something with a lot of e-lit pieces where I can’t quite reach a level of full investment; when I know there are easter eggs I rush to get through everything. This However, the oral histories hooked me. I could just close my eyes and listen and I loved them.

Tomorrow will be spent traveling home to Bergen from a trip I planned before I joined our lovely e-literature class, so while I’m sad to miss discussion on the piece I’ll hopefully catch a recap on Wednesday.

And my favorite line? “I’m just a little chihuahua against a german shepard. That’s okay. We’re all dogs. Just different size.”

Oh, Gay Planet

I hated “The Hunt for the Gay Planet,” but before people started talking I was scared to say this in class. It’s nice to know that we’re allowed to hate stuff — this is important in any field of study, ESPECIALLY literature.

“The Hunt for the Gay Planet” was, to me, boring and tedious. It reminded me of one of those poorly written “choose your own adventure” books from my youth where I’d turn to both page options to see which was more exciting only to find out neither was.

I don’t want this blog post to go on like a negative literature review, but what can I say? There are many things I can think of that would really (maybe only in my opinion!) improve the piece (having the links/branches disappear after clicking them, different colors and fonts, less adjectives). Sometimes it sounded like a mad-lib, and “chubby girl with an eyepatch over one nipple” is a terribly clunky sentence.

Something that I dislike about the twine pieces is that they’re often written in second person. I can’t remember the last time I read an enjoyable piece of literature (in any form) written in second person. Again, I recall those “choose your own adventure books.” Its silly to use “you/your” adjectives because nothing that is done is something I would do; I’m lost right away. Maybe if the main character had a name and a deeper sense of identity I’d be eager to get to know them?

In class we talked about criteria for getting your piece in the electronic literature collection, and how oftentimes particularly good pieces are left out because they’re not fresh. Doesn’t putting a piece in a collection just because it adds some novelty hurt both author and reader? If I was given easy entrance because my piece was “different” I don’t think I’d really stretch myself to create at the height of my ability. I’m always always always excited about seeing new voices and fresh perspectives exhibited in the art world, but I don’t think we should sacrifice quality for it.

And the final quote: “I am the love that dare not squeak its name.” I like the allusion, but there’s nothing more here that really holds me. Why squeak instead of speak? I don’t care enough to figure it out, and that’s the problem.

 

Night / plebiscite (or on “Pentametron”)

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from “Pentametron”

Though I’ve enjoyed reading numerous e-lit pieces so far this semester, “Pentametron” was the first piece to really spur some excitement. It makes me giddy.

One thing that I’ve thought about a lot in regard to electronic literature is why exactly the electronic piece of it is so important. Although they’re formatted for the web, some of the stories feel as though they would read just fine in a more traditional format. One thing that I’ve found truly special about electronic literature, however, is that a piece can be ever-evolving. Yes, an author can add a forward to their book when they release a new edition and JK Rowling can publish a piece on what Harry Potter is up to long after the release of her original series, but the “first” pieces still exist in their original form on someone’s bookshelf. An author has to call the creative process quits and publish something eventually, and though they can always write another book or publish a New Yorker short story the thing that they originally published forever exists just as it did it was sent to print. Two years ago, the music world went wild when Kanye West began the long release process of his “The Life of Pablo” record. This hype was untraditional in the sense that the public wasn’t waiting for a set release date. They had many release dates, and they were waiting for the official one. Apparently Kanye couldn’t get it perfect, because he kept releasing the record and then deciding to change things — sometimes in the middle of a live performance. The record that was put out on listening platforms wasn’t the “official” record, and quite frankly I wouldn’t be surprised if he was still working on it. While this connects strongly to our class discussion involving the “Hobo Lobo of Hamelin” and if we’ll ever see an update, another part of the Kanye record release situation really fits with “Pentametron.” Part of the reason “TLOP” was so successful was that people were excited to be in on the process; they kept waiting to see what might come next. Pentametron is updated almost daily, so the fun never has to end. As times change new topics come up in the retweeted tweets, so the poem is always fresh — there’s no “sell by” date because it’s always evolving.

Part of the fun of pentametron is that it takes something traditional like iambic pentameter and juxtaposes it with tweets about Justin Timberlake and Frank Ocean. Shakespeare’s sonnets are a little outdated today, but as long as the bot is running “Pentametron” will never be.