besmette media (205)

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The New York Times, today

Digerati Vogues, Caught Midcraze
By SARAH BOXER

Two sickly words, “contagious” and “viral,” are supreme compliments on the Internet. Now there’s a museum exhibition that honors the contagion, all those videos, e-mail messages and hoaxes that spread like wildfire on the Web.

“Contagious Media,” the exhibition, occupies a room in the temporary quarters of the New Museum of Contemporary Art in Chelsea.
A quick visit reveals more than a half-dozen media: a telephone, a few computer screens, a bunch of framed photographs, printed e-mail messages, various kinds of paper covered with Magic Marker messages, red paper hearts, a television screen and a yellow sweater on a hook.

Nothing looks contagious, except perhaps the sweater. It all seems sad and shabby.
Then again, maybe it is supposed to. (In Web design, this sort of carefully engineered basement look has a name, “dirt style.”)

The exhibition offers seven viral artifacts:
Black People Love Us! (a Web site), “Nike Sweatshop” (an e-mail exchange), “All your base are belong to us,” (a badly translated phrase from a Japanese video game), Hot or Not (a Web site), Fundrace (a Web site), Dancing Baby (a piece of animation) and the Rejection Line (a phone number).

Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of these.
It just means that you’re not cool.
And now that you’ve learned about them in the mainstream media (known as MSM on the Web), they’re not all that cool, either.

Dancing Baby, a bit of brilliant animation created in 1996 by Michael Girard, Robert Lurye and Ron Lussier, is easily the most famous, for a simple reason.
The computer folks caught the craze, and then the tube folks did: the dancing baby, spinning round and round, waving and bending, was a recurring hallucination on “Ally McBeal.”

Displayed on one of the museum’s computers, Dancing Baby is an object lesson in Internet culture.
No matter how fast something spreads online, the gold ring is television. New media, no matter how hip, want old-media affirmation.Another case: The largest display in the exhibition, a whole wall, is given over to Black People Love Us!, a Web site created by the brother-and-sister team of Jonah and Chelsea Peretti.
Four of the seven contagious objects in the exhibition are by one of the Perettis or both.

The site itself is designed to look as if it’s the work of a clueless white couple, Sally and Johnny.
The home page says: “We are well-liked by Black people so we’re psyched (since lots of Black people don’t like lots of White people)!!” The site includes captioned snapshots of Sally (in a yellow sweater) and Johnny having fun with black people.
There are testimonials from “real” black people, little red thumping hearts and comments from visitors to the site.
You get the idea.

In the museum, the display looks as if Sally and Johnny have put it together themselves.
The snapshots are framed and hung.
The readers’ e-mail messages are written in low-tech Magic Marker on various kinds of paper and stuck to the walls alongside red paper hearts.

But what about that huge television screen at the center of the wall continually playing a “Good Morning America” segment in which Diane Sawyer interviews the Perettis about their Web site? Suddenly the homemade mask is dropped. The Perettis seem almost as uncool as Sally and Johnny. Oops.

Of course, if your site is good enough, you can get away with bragging about your own virality.
The wall devoted to “Nike Sweatshop,” another Peretti project, emerges from its self-satisfaction intact.

Four years ago, Mr. Peretti, on learning that Nike customizes shoes, ordered his emblazoned with “Sweatshop.”
Nike kept giving reasons for canceling the order.
He kept swatting them away. In good Michael Moore fashion, he had the last word:
“I have decided to order the shoes with a different ID, but I would like to make one small request: Could you please send me a color snapshot of the 10-year-old Vietnamese girl who makes my shoes? Thanks.”
Nike had no response.

The show highlights not the original exchange but the reaction.
Running from floor to ceiling are the e-mail messages Mr. Peretti received after forwarding the original exchange to 10 friends.
He got 3,655 responses, the show says, from Jan. 15 to April 5, 2001.
It was a fabulous contagion. And the proof of it makes nice wallpaper.

The rest of the show is on a single countertop, where you’ll find one telephone and a lineup of computers.
And what’s this?
Someone left a napkin with a lipstick kiss on it.

“Call me!” the napkin demands.
There’s a number. Dial it. You won’t get a date. It is the Rejection Line, yet another Peretti production.
“Unfortunately, the person who gave you this number does not want to talk to you or see you again. We would like to take this opportunity to officially reject you.”
It’s grand and deserves to be viral forever.

But nothing is. On the counter, four computers each display a Web site that was once contagious. The sites now seem like pickled relics sitting in a science museum. They include Fundrace, where you can spy on your neighbors’ political contributions, and Hot or Not, where you can rate photos of men and women on a scale of 1 to 10 and see how often they check their ratings.

Finally, there is the cult classic “All your base are belong to us,” an animated slideshow that commemorates the time four years ago when some bad English from a 1989 Japanese video game began zipping around the Internet.

Does this culture sound adolescent? You bet. And male.

You needn’t set foot in the museum to enjoy all of this.
Just use your computer from home.
Why the exhibition, then?
Well, having a show at an offbeat museum may not be as good as getting on television or in print, but it’s something.

Spreading Online or by Phone

The Web sites and phone number discussed in this article:

DANCING BABY burningpixel.com/Baby/Babygif.htm

BLACK PEOPLE LOVE US! http://www.blackpeopleloveus.com/

‘NIKE SWEATSHOP’ http://www.shey.net/niked.html

FUNDRACE http://www.fundrace.org/

HOT OR NOT http://www.hotornot.com

‘ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US’ http://www.planettribes.com/allyourbase/AYB2.swf

THE REJECT LINE: (212) 479-7990


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