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Avatars, Semiotics, food and wine
Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I have been busy.

A recent spurt of frenzied, creative activity has energized me. So much so that, the other day, I went outside and took a short walk.

Yep, I overcame my apprehension about leaving shelter and strolled around the cul de sac, fully lit and in the company of bugs and other creatures of the wild.

What, Karl, you might ask, could cause you — a dedicated indoor guy for whom outdoor adventure is an afternoon in a Vegas bar with a tropical rain forest theme — to wander around on alien turf?

Simple: I am part of a new Internet adventure.

I am now a member of a team, along with two recently-arrived friends: B.F. DeKofe and his formidable sidekick, G.B.

The details of the start of our friendship are uninteresting; it involved a minor traffic accident in the supermarket parking lot (I was distracted by a very large woman wearing a very small tube top). Therefore, I’ll jump to the crucial details — critical because our venture is likely to affect lives everywhere. How could it not? It involves the Internet, the great leveler.

In a nutshell, B.F DeKofe is preparing to launch a spectacular Web site. BFD, as we know him, is one of the sharpest tacks in the box and he realizes one thing quite clearly: On the Internet, you can claim just about anything and get away with it. Expertise is rarely tested, facts seldom checked, and pedigree and experience matter so little that one can custom design a life history and career, weaving it with wholly fictional thread. And folks will buy it!

There a lot of extraordinarily gullible people out there who will believe what they read without question and flock to a site, giving it incredible power.

Wow! And to think, skeptics assert the Internet cheapens discourse, fertilizes ADD and reduces everyone and everything to common sludge. Hah!

BFD is in the process, with the assistance of G.B. (a relentless workhorse), of building the new site. BFD is going to be the “Publisher” and “Editor,” while GB will be “CEO.”

The magic here? BFD had no career as a writer, other than producing a few cheesy movie reviews for a newspaper in Athens, Ohio (written to raise pocket change while he completed his degree in Semiotics), much less any experience whatsoever as an editor.

“All I have to do is call myself an editor,” said BFD. “That’s good enough in this day and age. Who needs years of experience?”

As for “CEO,” that title used to come only after decades of advancement up a difficult corporate ladder. Not anymore.

Thank goodness for the Internet, a digital universe in which credentials and substance are unimportant and veneer is everything.

BFD, in fact, is fishing for other attention-grabbing titles — “Chancellor,” or “Supreme Leader” for example — and has recently received several advanced degrees so he can add letters after his name. On the Internet, the only roadblock to a Ph.D. is a lack of cash.

I answer a phone call at my office a couple weeks ago and BFD quickly gets to the point.

“My colleague and I are anxious to embark on a new and exciting adventure now that we have found a home here in Pagosa.”

“I prefer to call it ‘Siberia With a View,’” I replied. “Why are you calling me? I have to pretend to work.”

“I looked around when I got here,” said BFD, “and quickly discovered you are the local expert on pretending to be an expert.”

“Well, thank you for noticing. Yes, if I don’t say so myself, I am as capable as any, and more capable than most, of appearing to know something when, in fact, I am totally in the dark. It is a skill that takes a lot of time to develop. I did an unusual number of years as a liberal arts undergrad acquiring my skills. Well, that, and getting loaded.”

“Precisely, and that’s why I want to utilize your services. I don’t have the time to become a pseudo-expert of note and, since I am going to create and promote an Internet site, I can simply steal your reputation and be on my way.”

“Glad to help.”

We set a meeting date and time. BFD, G.B. and I huddled and, kablam!, a site was born, with an Editor and a CEO.

Easy as that.

“What is the site about?,” I asked.

“Arts and culture.”

“Arts and culture?”

“Yes, the one thing impossible to define clearly, and the one field in which utter subjectivity rules the day. Arts and culture — everyone knows everything, and no one knows anything. Thus, it’s the easiest area in which to pretend to expertise. It’s a realm made by and for self-aggrandizing cons and delusional pinheads. Content should be a snap; after all, to write about arts and culture, all you have to do is string together a train of neato-sounding terms and, surely, there are people out there who will be convinced the train is going somewhere. I know this; I have a degree in Semiotics.”

“What’s Semiotics?”

“I’m not quite sure. I spent time in grad school studying it, doing a whole lot of deconstructing and indulging in all manner of post-modern skull crushing and hermeneutics, and I never really figured it out. But, I did get a degree in a tantalizing study area and, as we all know, in the universities and on the Internet, that’s what counts. When I use the word ‘semiotics’ folks gather like moths around a overly-bright porch light.”

So, arts and culture it is — the most meaningless of pursuits and, as a result, the absolute best subject for a Web site. If BFD can’t generate enough crap on his own, there is plenty of worthless commentary out there that can be stolen and appropriated without credit to the original author. It’s the Web, after all.

BFD envisions a spiffy looking attraction, with plenty of snappy photos and graphics — items to attract the eyes of visitors who, on the average, will spend 17 seconds per item on the site. Typical Internet users, after all, have the attention span of fruit flies.

The text has to be simple and, ideally, empty of any formidable content. Again, seemingly heavy-duty terms strung together work best — heavy on adjectives, please — and give the appearance of substance without actually requiring the “reader” to think. Arts and culture are perfect for this kind of drivel. Politics comes in a close second, but BFD didn’t learn any political terms in Semiotics 10l.

Me, I have been given the title “Editor Emeritus” (even though I have never worked as an editor for the site), and, at my request “Senior Proconsul.”

My contribution consists in attending a weekly board meeting.

The board meetings involve one or two minutes of discussion about what the “Editor” wants to put on the site and speculation about when the site will be up and available to the legions of avid viewers interested in arts and culture. We know how important art is to the American public, so the start-up date is less than pressing. We should have a date in mind soon.

Once the action item section of the agenda is complete, we move on to wine and food, otherwise known as the “Creative Brainstorming Session,” or “Modulated Prelogical Predictive Integration.”

We’ve had quite a few meetings and the most important topic thus far has been our plan for moving beyond cheese and cracker snacks to accompany the wine, to a more extensive effort, foodwise. (“Paced Culinary Escalation Strategy”).

The first several meetings, a wedge of Brie or Camembert, some goat cheese, olives, a few hunks of cured meat and slices of baguette did the trick. The wine, after all, is the key element in the delicate intellectual interplay at the board meetings. The wines: primarily southern Rhone blends, an occasional pinot noir.

It became apparent, though, that we required extra fuel to propel us to the intellectual heights from which we could create Internet-friendly ideas about arts and culture. After all, we need to to apply for grants and seek federal government money to support our culture-cuddling efforts; without this kind of help, we would have to rely on a genuine product to see us through and, after all, this is the Internet.

BFD announced he intended to purchase a small grill. Actually, he said he was “pondering acquisition of a culinary object, the nearly egg-like shape of which refers simultaneously to a mid-20th century architectural template originating in the Knapps-Shellenbarger School of Design in Hamburg — fundamental in the creation of five odd-shaped structures used for public housing and eventually burned to the ground by disgruntled Turkish immigrants — and Bosch’s depiction of residential units in Hell.”

He set up a small, domed charcoal grill outside the meeting room and we agreed to alternately provide top-grade nibbles for future meetings.

First time out, BFD served up a lovely grilled salmon, with an Asian slaw. Excellent start.

I responded with a take on kofta. I mixed ground lamb three-to-one with ground pork (pardon me, my Muslim friends, but I needed the fat and flavor) and spiced the mix with minced white onion, pulverized garlic, cumin, Espanola red chile powder, oregano, chopped cilantro, salt and pepper. I added panko bread crumbs, mixed and chilled the meat, then formed it in long tubes around metal skewers. The kofta was grilled and served with pita warmed over the coals, and a raita consisting of Greek yogurt, chopped cilantro, pulverized garlic, lemon juice, chopped English cucumber, a smidge of ground cumin, a dash of Espanola red, salt and pepper. I offered a wad of spring mix and chopped grape tomatoes for good measure.

BFD responded and upped the ante with grilled polenta, an eggplant ratatouille-like mix, goat cheese and grilled chicken — stacked and slathered with a balsamic-based sauce.

My back is against the wall. I am up next.

To remain Senior Proconsul and to see my name emblazoned on the new site’s home page, I am going to have to come up with a doozy for the next board meeting. The only rule: it must be prepared on the hot Boschian monument set outside the meeting room.

I am going to marinate chicken strips in olive oil, oregano, cumin, Espanola red, salt, pepper, and lime juice, then grill them. They will be piled atop a masa and corn kernel cake that, like the strips, will be grilled. I’ll top the mess with crumbled cojito and chopped cilantro, and serve it with guacamole and salsa fresca.

The effect on my fellow board members will be overwhelming, and this sets me to thinking.

Senior Proconsul might not be enough.

Since you can claim to be anything on the Internet, and no one will challenge you, I am thinking of something in the line of “Avatar.”