It’s that time again, where I stop telling other awards shows how to do their jobs, and instead do their jobs for them, by awarding things that feel like they need awarding. Like many of your finer awards situations, I do not publish my nominees, because of course the process is highly secret and highly scientific.
Please to enjoy.
Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Answering Questions My Audience Probably Didn’t Know That I Had
So, for many years I’ve idly wondered where all the guitars came from.
To wit: there are blues singers as early as the twenties from the deep south. People writing songs about how they’re so poor they can’t afford a second boot, and that they have no legs up or advantages, and they are playing those songs on guitars. They were common enough that Zora Neal Hurston even writes of ensembles created entirely out of guitars, with one strumming out chords, one playing melodies, and a third playing a sort of “prepared guitar”, making a rhythm by strumming a guitar with strips of paper threaded through the strings to deaden them. This seems to imply that there were a bunch of guitars around, enough that they were more available than any other rhythm-instrument alternative.
Where did the guitars come from, and how were there enough of them for them to exist in a form that was cheap enough for someone with minimal resources to acquire? The answer, it turns out, is very simple: the Sears catalog.
In the Jim Crow era South, the Sears catalog (which launched in 1888 1) presented a readily-available, relatively-cheap way to acquire all sorts of things to people that didn’t have any other way to acquire them, or even find them, and once a guitar was included among the possible merchandise, then people started buying them in large numbers.
Eventually, as today, people sold them when they needed money for even less than they payed, a used market built up, and ever Blind Tom, Thumbless Dick and Flat-Footed Harry could get one for a song, and use it to lament their position in the world.
I don’t know if it’s come up in this space before, but I’ve long wondered, and now have my answer. Salut, historians! Salut, Sears!
Outstanding Achievement in Me Being a Goddamn Fortune Teller
All I’m saying here is that in July of 2017 I decided it would be funny to declare the General Mills Expanded Universe ripe for the cinematic exploration in one of my extremely-periodic “Somebody Make My Movie” posts.
In November of 2018, General Mills put out a call for all creatives to give them ideas about ways they can tell stories using their horror cereal characters. That link, incidentally, goes to an AVClub article about the phenomenon, because the original site has been pulled 2 from the internet.
Obviously the folks at Big Cereal are running scared of my powerful fortune-telling abilities and wild creative Hollywood spirit, and decided to change their mind lest I wield my considerable power and influence against these purveyors of corn garbage! It’s only been a couple of years since people realized that millennials were destroying cereal, and perhaps they’re afraid that that’s going to start being taken literally.
But I’m not a vindictive sort, I’m perfectly happy to share my ideas. All I ask in return is a crate of Boo Berry whenever I want one, and no further questions asked.
Outstanding Achievement in Using the Internet to Create Joy, and Also Confusion, and Also Chaos, But Probably Mostly Joy
But mainly chaos. You all probably know the story. A guy who willingly answers to Matty Roberts (I’m shocked at the Matty, not the Roberts, lots of people are named Roberts) made a Facebook event to storm Area 51, stating that if they all just Naruto-run 3 they can “outrun the bullets,” and thus “see them aliens.”
It took off and morphed from a funny joke on Facebook to a funny joke on the whole entire internet, and everyone had a moment’s joy considering the idea of a bunch of famous people running at the gates of a government installation, and then….it kept happening.
It grew into Alienstock in Rachel, Nevada, a city with a few dozen people, no gas station, and one bed and breakfast that they partnered up with to get permits and stuff to camp and basically be around. Then the people that put that together had some shadowy, mysterious falling out with the person that runs the hotel, leaving the original proceedings and taking the name with them.
And so there came to be two gatherings meant to celebrate someone’s dumb facebook joke. The first was a massive, disappointing sellout, relocating to Vegas and getting sponsored by Bud Light, converting from a fun gathering of weirdos into yet another neon-lighted nightmare EDM festival, and causing Roberts to abandon his previous life trajectory to be a sort of travelling Alienstock arranger.
Out in Rachel, meanwhile, a smaller event with fewer DJs and (presumably) less Bud Light was more about the original intent, even without the guy who actually had the intent, and it was certainly considerably less sponsored. People milled around, camping in the desert and, ultimately, were given the photo opportunity to approach the gates and take pictures of them “storming” Area 51.
Its ability to launch two fairly well-attended events brings to mind this year’s complete failure (and subject of multiple posts right here) of a Woodstock event. It had a similar set of parameters – nothing but the willpower of a person being involved at the beginning, and a very short time frame, followed by a dispute with some people who wanted to put it on and a relocation.
The difference, of course, is the presence of an audience who wanted it. Ul;timately, Woodstock could have had something happen if anyone but Michale Lang had actually wanted it. This was something that people came out for, even when it split into being a brain-dead, UFO-festooned excuse for a Vegas party and a smaller, weirder still-not-actually-storming-anything event in the middle of nowhere.
Basically I’m saying this is the power for a bunch of weirdos that take something seriously and make something happen for their effort, and I’m all in favor of it, even if this was basically the weirdest possibly manifestation of all that, and even if half of it ended up sponsored by Bud Light. 4
Outstanding Achievement in the Currently-Ongoing Trend of Multiple Documentaries Covering the Same Subject
I had not thought about the Amazing Jonathan in years. It is entirely possible that I had not thought about him in decades 5, and then, all of a sudden, there are documentaries plural about the dude. Now, admittedly, the reason we know all of this is because it’s included in the first of the documentary’s footage, and the whole point of that documentary is that there are a lot of questions about whether or not The Amazing Jonathan is dying, and zero questions about whether or not he smokes meth (he does! on camera!).
It seems, to the person writing this, to be an attempt to manufacture a sort of genre out of the whole thing, after the business with the Fyre Festival last year – which also had two competing documentaries, one paid for by the company that failed to put on the festival in question, the other by some spirited interested parties, with the two providing their own spin on a highly controversial, and also celebrity-adjacent, situation.
Since The Amazing Jonathan is his own highly-controversial (now), celebrity-adjacent situation, it stands to reason that this is an attempt to manufacture something, and capture lightning in this bottle. The problem is that you can’t really do that, and also that the Amazing Jonathan is boring, but it stands as an interesting attempt, and since I like to honor attempts at trying to build a marketing case out of something that very much cannot support one, I’m here for it.
It’s only a shame the folks that tried to make The Amazing Jonathan an icon of “what is truth”-style overmarket storytelling didn’t get ahold of Jared Eams.
Outstanding Achievement in Calling In to Question Literally Everything, and Also in Trying to Fake Everybody Out on a Grassroots Level and also…Aw jeez, here’s the writeup I guess
On the one hand, the story of Threatin is basically the sort of thing that I live to find out about. If it had happened thirty years ago and I read it in a book, I would never stop talking about. Instead, I had the good fortune to live through it, because it only happened nine months ago.
I’m going to try my hardest to keep this brief. Anyone who had conversations with me in early December may just want to skip ahead.
So this dude, Jared Eames, dba Jared Threatin, “starts” a “band” called Threatin, and makes up a bunch of business entities – a booking company, a record label, a press agent, all kinds of stuff – as well as a web presence in the form of YouTube videos of “performances” that feature either the crowd or the band, but never both, and a deeply hilarious set of “interviews” that were clearly just the dude “interviewing” themselves, as well as some sort of ginned-up/aid-for fake following.
This enabled him to book a tour of the UK, which is when people started to notice that nobody was coming to these shows, even though he (acting as a fake promoter, remember) said that he had sold a bunch of tickets 6, the reaction to which meant that he ended up cancelling a bunch of the tour (forcing his band to figure out how to deal with the fallout on their own, some of which reactions were also uh….interesting) and retreating from social media.
He then un-retreated in spectacular fashion 7, coming out and saying that we all played ourselves, and we’re in the glass onion and he’s not in here with us we’re in here with him, and made up lies about being the person to have leaked the fact that the band was faked anyway. He then acquiesced to interviews with Rolling Stone and with The BBC, in which he told even more lies about how everything went according to plan and actually now he has fans and all that.
Along the way there’s an estranged family (probably true), a possible deeply-disturbing medical condition (probably not true), claims of living like a hermit (almost certainly true) and repeated insistence on a lack of drug use (possibly true, but mind-boggling).
The reason this is nothing less than the greatest story of the last twelve months is the sheer amount of effort and willpower that went into doing this. He took the time and effort to set up web presences for fake companies, he invented human beings to both act in his business interests and to be his online followers (at one point a reporter sees a stack of burner phones that he claims he used to make fake Facebook profiles, which, seriously, so much effort).
Much of the reporting focuses on the money involved, but that’s less interesting to me. The money is likely to be significantly less than we think – certainly the outlay is a lot, but bands do tour all the time, albeit not made-up bands with zero followings, so the few grand to rent the venues could have come from anywhere, especially if you’re a single-minded maniac with a grandiose delusion.
Similarly, it’s not actually that hard to see what he was going for. Record labels/marketing companies “help” bands become something more than they are all the time. It gets harder every year, but it happens. Wu Lyf in 2011, System of a Down in 1998, Guns n Roses in 1987, these are the three that come to mind most immediately, but it’s not like it would be hard to find, oh, a hundred or so more that were brought up through this “they started from the bottom” notion – by being marketed through the same channels as the bands that legitimately built their audiences that way and played those shows for their genuine actual earned audiences.
The difference here is that Eames did it all himself. Well, he did it mostly himself and with the aid and support of his wife (who is also gainfully employed, which probably answers several of the questions about where the money comes from). So rather than spend the time and effort to produce an audience of the size he was comfortable with, or learning how to be satisfied with the audience he was able to collect organically, or even amiably selling out to some larger coroporo-entertainment interest, this dude went through all the business of selling out, just like tonnes of bands before him, but, like, on his own dime.
This is completely insane. I mean, it’s probably tragically, pathologically insane in the literal sense. Like I am pretty sure that this guy’s lifestyle and chosen path are not things that healthy, well-adjusted people with reasonable expectations and a full set of fully-functioning neurochemical receptors are things that happen, but I’m pretending that the real-world harm done here is at its minimal potential level in order to say that this particular lunacy is the kind of craziness that I couldn’t imagine actually happening.
It’s like climbing a mountain just so that you can eat a big ol’ turd in front of as many people as possible – there is no possible way it was going to go well, and even at the end, even if you do it, you’re still the dude that ate a big ol’ turd on a mountain. And then following it up by saying that actually, there aren’t enough people eating turds these days, and you wanted to bring back turd-eating.
Outstanding Achievement in Positivity #1
Jeanette Ng, armed with nothing more than an acceptance speech and a lovely hat, started the ball rolling on getting the John Campbell Award’s name changed to honor Astounding, the magazine that Campbell founded and that publishes the new authors that are so honored with the award.
That’s pretty much it, although I will say that, given that every historically-important figure in the world is a human being, and therefore possessed of foibles that may or may not ever come to light in a way that would make an award seem less award-like to, say, a writer that the person the award is named after would have loathed, why don’t we just stop naming awards after people? Especially not early sff people. Most of those folks are real hard to stand behind.
Anyway, naming it after the magazine is a nice way of continuing to acknowledge that magazine’s editor’s contributions to the genre (which are enormous) by relocating the focus on his work (the magazine he edited) rather than on his name, which brings into it the totality of his actions and whatnot as a person, rather than just a professional editor.
Naturally, there is much hue and cry from the usual quarters about “erasure” and, somehow, still in 2019, SJWs. This also makes me happy, because I’d rather see anyone that feels that way upset than happy. Double positivity all around!
Outstanding Achievement in Positivity
Every year I like to write my last bit of these about something inarguably positive, and this year gave me one of the best and most positive things I could ask for in the form of the lovely Sarah’s Channel YouTube series.
It is true that it’s a long-standing position of this blog that I’m not into spoilers, but I will say this: if it matters to you to not know how things turn out, you can pretend this is the last sentence I’ve written in this post and go about your business, just go watch it, it takes twenty or so minutes and it’s worth every single second.
For the rest of the folks that already know, or that need to know why, the deal is that Sarah (played by the incredible Claudia O’Doherty) is a beauty YouTuber who gets brought to the post-apocalyptic future (resurrected? Cloned? Dragged through time? We never find out) to be the “Savior” of what remains of humanity, and she….does what she can. She blogs about her homemade beauty products and her workout routines, she is oblivious to what’s going on around her, until she isn’t. It starts out a wildly funny thing that turns into something considerably more poignant, and manages the neat trick of laughing at the current samey, jargon-filled YouTube Default Personality while also allowing that Sarah is a human being with a set of feelings and skills, even though we’re only seeing the worst aspects of them.
It’s beautiful, and it’s hysterically funny, and it really is very short, and it has the best ending it could possibly have. Maybe there’ll be another season, but even if there isn’t, it’s an absolutely perfect jewel of a series, and I wouldn’t change anything about it.
- although it would expand for its first few years into the “selling everything under the sun” form that it took for the subsequent century ↩
- there’s a link in the AVClub story, or here’s another one, but please be advised that it literally does not go anywhere, because the website no longer exists ↩
- which is actually Tina Belcher running, if you’re actually a civilized person ↩
- if you’d like to read something more serious about this, written by an actual journalist, here’s Jennings Brown’s account, and he was actually there. It’s entertaining. ↩
- I’d have to look up when that special he did sometime in the early nineties stopped airing every three hours on Comedy Central, because it would have been shortly after that. ↩
- I will say, this is the most obvious weak point in the system – the show promoters/club owners/whatever never checked this against presale receipts? ↩
- the story in that link also contains another story in the comments about Eams paying off a battle of the bands many years ago in order to win, which is just sort of par for the course. ↩