Thursday, August 14, 2003

Friendster Power Games

As luck would have it, yesterday Salon and SF Weekly both ran lengthy features on Fakesters, fake personae on Friendster that's driving F-founder Jonathan Abrams insane. Both articles pit Abrams' dream of a controlled, clean, rather mainstream site with the rambunctious Wild West free-for-all that Friendster was in its so-called Golden Age, er, 2 months ago. (Yes, the site has lost some of its charm, though it may just be burn-out on my part.)

Of more interest to me were links to a couple of blogs. A Berkeley [Go Bears!] grad student studying digital social networks and urban tribes puts out this obsessive blog devoted to analyzing Friendster and Friendster-like models. And super-blogger The Gothamist proposed some half-serious (yet insightful) tips on how to write an effective Friendster message (NB: after further investigation, it turns out I once forwarded this blogger's profile to another friendster -- small world). Which led me to this unmissable entry about Friendster power games -- or the childish maneuvers many of us engage in when we see an acquaintance on Friendster.

That post, though, didn't cover the bizarre Friendster power games that spill over to real life. Some examples I've seen first hand (Note: the author does not endorse the petty, puerile sentiments expressed herein):

The Guilt Trip

"Hey, I know you're on Friendster. Why haven't you added me yet?"
What it means: I don't want to lower myself to make a request for the likes of you. But I need to pad the numbers, so I'm gonna guilt-trip you into adding me.
What you want to say: "Because your nasty mug soils my profile, you lame fuck."
What you actually say: "Oh, I've been lazy about that. I'll add you the next chance I get."

The Switcheroo

"Hey, thanks for adding me. You did request to add me, right?" [Wrong, she actually made the request.]
What it means: You're an insignificant gnat, so it must've been you who added me. Because if it were me who added you, it would mean that I'm even lower than an insignificant gnat, and that just can't be!
What you want to say: "No, actually you requested to add me, you stinkin' loser. You're lucky I didn't make you sweat it out for ten days before approving you."
What you actually say: "No, actually you requested to add me."

Feigned Ignorance

"Oh, are you on Friendster? Okay. I'll come look for you."
What it means: Take a hint, bud. We have ten mutual friends. I wrote a testimonial for Tammy that sits right atop of yours. Don't you think I know you're on?
What you want to say: "Sure you will, bitch."
What you actually say: "Oh, cool, man. I'll go check out your profile, too."

In the Vicinity of Non-Friendsters

"So, did you see that flirty testimonial Joe tossed to Elyse?" Non-Friendster who overhears: "What are you guys talking about?"
What it means: Uh oh.
What you want to say: "Uh, it's a stupid web site we're all obsessed with, but we didn't want to invite you cuz you won't look good on my profile."
What you actually say: "Um, it's just a dumbass web site. I don't check it much anymore. A total waste of time."

At the heart of all this social politicking and facetiousness is just a dumb dating website. The apocalypse is near, I tell you.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Ninotchka (Lubitsch, 1939) A- [2nd viewing; 1st viewing grade: B-]

Didn't care for the cheesy transformation of dour plutocrat Ninotchka the first time around, back when I was 17 and dumb. As James Harvey points out, Ninotchka actually never transforms into a born-again capitalist, and in fact almost gets thrown out for trying to incite the powder room workers to unionize. But she's less closed-minded to the charms and wonders of the market, which is a start. Likewise glib Count Leon at least attempts to understand socialism -- it's really a romantic comedy about cross-cultural (or cross-political) understanding. But I still much prefer the first half, when Garbo does a hilarious caricature of the ultra-rational New Soviet Woman; I love when Garbo's eyebrows would perk up ever so slightly as she delivers those ridiculous Brackett/Wilder-penned one-liners ("The last mass trials were a great success; there are going to be fewer but better Russians.").

Behind enemy lines

So that's what happened...

This terrific tragicomic peek into Rufus T. Hussein's hapless war command is valuable both in explaining how the regime can collapse so quickly and in giving some voice to those helpless, faceless "elite" Republic Guard that were so quickly steamrolled over. Pull quote:

"Professional soldiers can't fight without orders and inspiration from their leaders," [one Iraqi officer] said. "But we had clowns for leaders. This is our tragedy."

What's coming out about the Saddam regime, besides its ruthlessness, only confirms what we learned during the first Gulf War: the man lives in a cocoon of wishful thinking and self-delusion, and, like a bad movie dictator, will kill off any bearer of bad news (so naturally, no one tells him anything real). Inept decisions are consistently made because the guy has no clue what's really going on. And perhaps congressional medals of honor are due for Ridley Scott and Mark Bowden for creating such effective "defeatist" propoganda?

The other lesson of this story? The virtues of decentralized command. Imagine what would've happened if our own self-deluded cocoon men Rummy and Wolfy were commanding the troops instead of Franks and the generals on the ground...

Monday, August 11, 2003

A brief interruption as we ponder the meaning of the word "tool"...

A debate erupted over e-mail concerning a question of great import to all snarky snipers out there. The question is this: what's the difference between a tool and your run-of-the-mill dork or geek?

From SlangSite:
Tool: One who is useless AND idiotic in all aspects at any given time.

By that definition, the tool is demonstrably a lower form in any taxonomy of losers. The dork may be socially inept, but s/he can be endearingly so and not necessarily useless in other respects. The geek is simply obsessive about uncool things. Not especially offensive in and of itself, it's actually kinda chic to be a geek these days. Or at least it's chic to wear your geekiness on your sleeve, especially if you aren't actually a total dork.

The tool is much more pernicious. Nobody will cop to being a tool. Nobody wants to associate with a tool. But as commonly used (or as used by me), the word tool isn't applied to just any harmless dumbass. For one thing, only guys can be called tools. And there's something actually malevolently off-putting about the tool; he just tries too hard. The tool wears too much gel. He's waving around way too many glowsticks. He smirks in an especially creepy way right after he tells some gauche off-color joke. In short, the tool isn't just useless, he's useless *and* unctious. (Alternatively, the tool is useless and too earnest, like Luke the farmboy at the beginning of Star Wars.)

Peter Gallagher's Real Estate King in American Beauty is a classic tool. Larry from Three's Company is something of a tool. The "devastating" Wallace Shawn from Woody Allen's Manhattan is probably the funniest example. The ultimate tool, though, is Ben Asslick, I mean, Affleck. Pretty much charisma-free and talentless, Asslick's stardom and way with the ladies have flummoxed all right-thinking men and women out there. One can't help but conclude, while watching Boring Ben summon that constipated brow-furrow look on screen, that this stiff frat-boy, this tool, just lucked into it.

That element of incomprehensible success, especially with women, is what makes a tool a tool. He's the witless boyfriend of the co-worker who's always "accidently" brushing her bosom against your arms. He's the neanderthal mate of your best female friend, the asshole about whom she whines for hours on end yet somehow maintains a magnetic hold on her. He's the super-earnest bumbler who your last girlfriend is now dating [ed. no, I'm really not alluding to anyone, J]. In short, he's the other guy. Not the other guy when he's Cary Grant, but the other guy when he's Ralph Bellamy. Sometimes, when confronted with a tool, all you can do is throw your hands up in the air and just declare, "man, that guy is such a tool."

Trust me, it's good therapy.

Sunday, August 10, 2003

Spellbound (Blitz, 2002) B+/B

Funny, suspenseful, charming, and emphatically empathetic, Spellbound is deservedly a huge arthouse hit. Who can forget Harry spazzing out as he struggles to spell the word "banns" (and then, in post-game, beats up both himself for making the "worst choice" and the announcer for pronouncing the word "bandz"). Wish Blitz dug deeper, though; he obviously wanted to say something substantial about the American dream through his tapestry of kids from all over America, but the film was too schematic and overdetermined to address it. It's easy to contrast Angela, the spiritual black girl from downtrodden D.C. with polo-playing, self-analytical Emily, who grew up in posh surroundings in New Haven with intellectual parents. Angela, April, the daughter of Mexican ranchhands, and Ted, the laconic heartland kid, aren't afforded the same opportunities as Emily or Neil, he of the psychotically hyper-driven parents. But Blitz doesn't do much with these connections, choosing instead to indulge in easy metaphors. If the spelling bee is some kind of metaphor for equal opportunity, I'm afraid it's only a partial fit. What larger meaning can really be gleaned from a competition where the winner is determined in no small part by the luck of the draw? But you know, on second thought, maybe there is nothing more "American" than coming out on top as a result of a combination of luck, preparation, smarts, and family advantages.