Hot on the Web
Lost in Cyberspace
Online San Diego
Feature Articles
Book Reviews and Reading Diary
Music Reviews
Favorite quotates
Contact Me

Lost in Cyberspace

Lack of taste no impediment to online success

This article was originally published on December 7, 1999 by SignOn San Diego and Copley News Service.

The Internet is the great democratizer, a medium that gives a Matt Drudge the same reach and influence as the New York Times.

Which brings both good and bad. While an can quickly grow from garage start-up to major player in the music biz because of the open nature of the World Wide Web, so can the online equivalent of a Jerry Springer. (Actually, given some of the sophomoric drivel on the Web, the comparison is probably unfair to Springer.)

And there are a lot of would-be Springers out there, many of them now with Web sites. In fact, what seems to be permeating the Web of late are entire sites built around the kind of low-brow entertainment that we see on animated TV shows like "South Park" or the king of trash radio, Howard Stern.

Given the fact that Springer and Oprah are continually among the highest-rated TV shows, this shouldn't really be much of a surprise. It was earlier this century that Baltimore reporter H.L. Mencken (famed for his acerbic coverage of the Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, Tenn.) wrote that "No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public." And that was before television had even been invented, before the first issue of the National Enquirer – heck, before Liz Taylor's first wedding.

Just as Fox and the Comedy Channel have coarsened network TV programming and Stern the radio waves, so are Web sites like UnderGroundOnline lowering the standards on the mainstream Internet. While the 'Net has always been more wide-open than TV, and while there have long been large areas of the 'Net dedicated to things like hardcore pornography, white supremacy and anti-Semitism, the majority of commercial enterprises had been fairly tame in the early years of the Web.

But UGO is claiming to get millions of viewers per month – and they have the advertising to make the claim credible. In addition, the site is polished, with catchy graphics and well-written copy. It's no amateur effort, but a professional outlet ... catering to the most juvenile tastes. A recent two-week promotion included auctioning off personal effects of and a night on the town with former child actor Gary Coleman.

While there is undoubtedly useful information on UGO – reviews of new video games, for instance – the overall tone is that of an infantile fixation on bodily functions.

PC Acclerator, which is one of the best-written magazines about computer gaming, is also one of the most low-brow. At times outrageously funny, and always brutally honest, the magazine's impact is lessened by its obsession with women's breasts – which gets tiresome after awhile, but apparently keeps the traffic flowing and advertisers happy.

One can be irreverent, fun and hip without being crude, of course. And when the irony is particularly well-done, a certain amount of crudeness can be overlooked (the comedy troupe Monty Python comes to mind as an example). But more and more, what we're seeing on the Web is the kind of crudity that's most often used as a substitute for imagination.

Even if it's to be expected, it's still too bad to see the Web going the way of television.