Popular culture is a peculiar thing. It’s supposed to be a reflection of the current reality — especially the latest fads and trends — and yet it sometimes lags far behind. Logistics play a role — it takes a year to publish a book, longer to make a movie. But we’ve all seen the ads for TV mini-series based on real-life scandals and tragedies that seem ready to air before the ink is dry on the newspaper reports.
Timing is part of it, but figuring out what fascinates the public — often before the public does — is what the popular culture industry is really about. A spate of new TV shows and movies are about to turn the world of Internet startups, e-commerce, online stock trading and the entire Zeitgeist of the digital age into entertainment. If you have a job in e-commerce or anywhere on the Web, you will soon become a more hip, happening person.
Don’t take my word for it. Ask Hollywood.
Smile, You’re on TV
With at least three new network shows focusing on the world of money and technology, Hollywood obviously thinks this is enticing stuff. Two — “Bull,” on TNT and “The Street,” a decidedly Fox show — focus squarely on the money side of things, promising glimpses of the netherworld where stocks are traded and venture deals made.
The third, “Level 9,” turns its attention to cybercrime, playing off the notion that hackers who turn good can save the world from the other hackers, who of course are still bad.
There is word that within a year, NBC will produce a mini-series based on the book, “The New New Thing,” about the world of startups. Also, two feature-length documentaries in the works will focus on how technology companies are born, and undoubtedly, how some of them die.
The Real World
Now, don’t expect to see the life of your typical e-commerce workhorse up on the screen. Not even the high-flying bigwigs who make all the money. Even the documentaries will no doubt heighten the drama of everyday life in much the same way that “reality-based” shows like “Survivor” do, omitting everything but the core friction and conflicts.
Don’t expect to see anyone spending hours writing code while subsisting solely on Mountain Dew, and don’t expect to see real-time footage of interminable meetings during which consultants drone on in business jargon while executives nod off.
Still, there is something to be said for having even a distorted reflection of the high-tech world so prevalent in the popular media. For one, it means that the entire culture of startups, venture capital and the Internet have enough appeal to capture mass audiences — or so the Hollywood suits think. And why not? Millions of lives have been touched in some way by the tech-dominated world fictionalized in the new offerings.
All about ‘Tude
Internet culture is enticing to producers because it relates to a separate, distinct and still slightly mysterious zone — the high-tech wilderness. Web-focused magazines like “Fast Company” and “Wired” have done much to shore up that notion.
Those publications adopt the culture rather than trying to demystify it; it’s in their interest to do so. That’s why their copy reads like programmers talking, and why the photos are often blurred — as if the photographer were on a caffeine buzz.
Of course, the Internet really is different. Thousands of dot-com workers have been laid off in recent months, but I’ve not heard a single one wailing in grief or even waxing a little desperate about the situation. In fact, when Foodline.com abruptly discontinued its content-production efforts last week — laying off a couple dozen editors and design people in the process — one suddenly jobless individual described the bloodletting to a local reporter as “just an Internet thing.”
The reporter didn’t record it, but those words almost certainly came with a shrug, not of resignation, but of indifference. That is how the dot-com world differs from the rest of the planet — in attitude. The people on the new TV shows will undoubtedly ooze it, and make no mistake, that’s because the real people in the Internet world seem to have an unlimited supply.
What — Me Worry?
How can they not? If one startup fails, they find an angel to back their next idea. If X.com lays them off to cut costs, they hook up with Y.com, which still hasn’t exhausted its supply of venture capital and isn’t yet accountable to shareholders. Meanwhile, everyone from A to Z.com is trying to recruit them, too.
The Internet world churns and hums like nobody’s business. Remember, there hasn’t been a significant global recession during the great e-commerce age, so why would the people leading the charge have any cause to worry?
The 1980s are forever engraved in popular culture as a time not only of great affluence, but of terrible greed. Greed is good, “Wall Street” (the movie) taught us, establishing a mantra for the decade. There’s even more money being made now as back then, but in the new millennium, the focus isn’t just on the cash.
The Internet age is about pushing the technological envelope. It’s about dreaming the impossible, and then creating it. If this first wave of cultural reflections is any indication, people working in the online world are not just having fun and making money, they’re doing it by coming up with new ways of looking at the world.
Whatever the era, that’s a pretty cool way to make a living.