Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Terry Gross has excellent interview with Prof. Lawrence Lessig on Fresh Air today. Lessig's the founder of the Creative Commons and the author of Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. Lessig's concerns/obsessions/night terrors are very much my own.

Gross mentioned a quote in Lessig's book from oompa composer John Phillip Souza. Back at the turn of the previous century, Sousa testified before Congress in an effort to ban player pianos and phonographs -- which were cutting into his profits as a seller of sheet music. The quote:

"These talking machines are going to ruin the artistic development of music in this country. When I was a boy...in front of every house in the summer evenings, you would find young people together singing the songs of the day or old songs. Today you hear these infernal machines going night and day. We will not have a vocal chord left. The vocal chord will be eliminated by a process of evolution, as was the tail of man when he came from the ape."

This echoes cartoonist R. Crumb's rant (see Terry Zwigoff's Crumb) that people used to make their own folk music on porch stoops, but today everyone buys their culture canned at the mall, and as a result everything is turning into "a unified field theory of bullshit."

Lessig's point. 21st century media tech favors the spontaneous, street level, creation of culture, as opposed to the top-down 20th century model of culture distributed on plastic discs by media monopolies. Souza couldn't turn back the clock at the turn of the last century. The big media companies can't turn the clock back now.

That's jolly wonderful. But I still want to get paid.

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