An Invisible Intellectual Speakeasy

Chase Griffin recently did an interview with me for Metapsychosisa journal of consciousness, literature, and art. Chase is the author of What’s on the Menu? (Long Day Press, 2020), the forthcoming Peter Zoidoid & the Commonplace (Corona\Samizdat), as well as co-author (with Christina Quay) of How to Play a Necromancer’s Theremin (Maudlin House, 2023), about the latter of which I wrote,

“How do you like your metaphors mixed? This work of psy-fi docutainment, best ingested by first grinding it into Bookpowder, follows Rocco Atleby’s kudzu plots in the pursuit of fluctuation on the horizon of the Patasphere. Flitting and flirting with spacetimeconsciousness dimensionzzzzz, deep down, heinleined under there somewhere, Chase Griffin and Christina Quay have committed some really serious satire. So pack your pestle and mortar and get ripping!”

Thanks to Chase’s insightful questions, he and I cover quite a lot in this short but wide-ranging discussion.

Redfishingboat (Mick O), sk8 or fly [CC BY-NC 2.0]

Chase Griffin: Is there a circuit for you between BMXing/skateboarding and media theory? If so, what’s that sparking thing?

Roy Christopher: Well, in the broadest sense, one of my main research interests is the influence of technology on culture. The study of media—and even that in my mind is quite broad—somewhat narrows the research to where the results of this collision play out. I’m focused on the domains of various youth cultures, so BMX and skateboarding media is where bikes, boards, digital cameras, video cameras, writing, riding, music, and the like converge and capture it all. When you watch a video or see a magazine from a certain era, you’re seeing a snapshot of a culture at that time.

So, yes. I started making zines in the summer of 1986. Ten years later, I started messing around with HTML, and I saw the web as another level in zine-making. Though I was still doing print zines, I learned some basic code, bought some domain names, and starting building websites. The blogs (a term I am still hesitant to own) of the 2000s might’ve been the last era during which I felt like my approach to indie discourse thrived. The social-media silos killed all of that.

CG:Is the feedback loop the only way to go? Is this what makes today’s media such an anxiety inducing place? It feels like it’s not just the geopolitics and climate change? The loops, content aside, can be wholly crippling for many. It feels conspiratorial at times, in a divide and conquer kind of way, to get us all to stop acting in meatspace and live in this anxiety box so that the robber-barons can go on robbing the poor and raping the earth. Is there an alternative to this? Is there a way to create a more positive media?

RC: Last year, I went back to a bar I used to frequent in Chicago, and the same few people were there, sitting in the same places, having the same conversations. That’s what social media looks like after you take a break. It’s always baffling to see the same people posting the same stuff months later.

So, my first inclination is retreat. I’ve left every major social media platform and flirted with a few new ones, but I get fed up and deactivate them every few weeks. It makes for an inconsistent online presence, but I can’t be more consistent with it and still feel human.

Anxiety is lucrative. Once the social media platforms saw the goldmine of outrage, their steering users toward anxiety of one sort or another was inevitable. This has spread to every other kind of media. The goals are not information or entertainment as much as they are to elicit a reaction—any reaction. It’s turned journalists into trolls and the rest of us into dupes. There’s just more money in making people feel shitty than there is in making them feel good.

CG:What is the best way to help others?

RC: Fund their creative pursuits. Every problem I see my artist and writer friends and colleagues having is because there’s no money to do the cool things they want to do. I have the same problems, but I’ve sacrificed things and adjusted my lifestyle to facilitate the creative work I want to do, and subsequently I get to do some of it. The internet democratized and simultaneously demonetized everything.

To put it simply in a slogan: pay for art.

CG:I feel like we should all get together and create a better media. I miss the promise of the user-generated utopia. Do you think coding and computer engineering should be taught in public school widespread and starting at an early age? Do you think that if everyone speaks the new Latin, we can jumpstart society and get along without the new greedy and incompetent priest class?

RC: I can’t help but be cynical about the state of media at this point. The promise of the user-generated world has been fulfilled, but it’s no utopia. Computers, the internet, and ubiquitous cameras and screens have democratized every form of creativity. If one can be a “content creator” simply by aiming a lens, we’re not exactly honoring human creativity. DJ Scratch once said that the reason we respect something as an art is because “it’s hard as fuck to do.” Is the bar getting higher or lower?

A lot of my current students have majors that you would think would help (e.g., computer science, data science, information science, etc.), but the truth is that not everyone should be doing this stuff. The barriers to entry that existed before the internet were not tuned properly, but take a quick look at your feed, and you’ll see that we need some of them.

I think it’s all going to get a lot worse before there’s even a chance of it getting better.

CG:What does your ideal virtual community look like?

RC: A real-life secret salon. An invisible, intellectual speakeasy. I know a lot of smart, creative people. If I had a place to meet all of them on a regular basis and exchange ideas and collaborate on projects, that would be the ideal virtual community. If you went looking, you’d never find us.

Many thanks to Chase Griffin for doing this interview, Metapsychosis  for publishing it, and you for reading and sharing it.