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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

"... And The Geek Shall Inherit the Earth"

TJ Walker, in Forbes, takes a look at my old friend and boss Jason Calacanis and what he's doing at his successful internet talk show "This Week in StartUps." It is a sharp and perceptive piece that uses Jason's show as a launching pad -- no pun intended -- to predict the future trajectory of talk shows in general. You should check it out.

Jason has always been a bit ahead of the curve, acutely aware of how the digital component of the media business will play itself out. With that in mind, it is not too far-fetched to draw conclusions about the future of, say, business talk shows, from Jason's practices. Among Walker's more interesting predictions are that talk show hosts will have to read their own ads ("Shows won’t be able to sell interruption based TV ads; shows will need hosts who have an intimate relationship with the advertisers and the audience/community") and also that hosts hereafter will be avids with actual street cred in their area of purported expertise. "Host will have to have a demonstrable passion and a commitment to a community, i.e. Mortgage Broker TV (if there is such a thing) is not going to be successful hiring a good-looking out of work actor to host its programs," Walker writes. "Instead, the show will be successful if it is created by a grizzled 20 year veteran of the Mortgage Broker scene who already blogs, already attends all the mortgage broker conferences and already knows all of the players in the industry."

I completely agree with both predictions. The latter -- that avids will be the new talk show hosts -- has grand implications, particularly for the cable and radio industries. It also gets to one of the fundamental facts of the new digital democratic era: and the geek shall inherit the world.

This is, of course, not a new thesis. Ever since Bill Gates burst onto the scene as the richest and most relevant person in the world, commentators have noticed that geeks -- or, as I like to call them "avids" for their passion and commitment -- are the new Establishment. One of the most interesting things about this phenomenon is how much authenticity -- or the lack of it -- drives the process of establishing new stars and debunking the old. One cannot come up with a better example of someone who lacked authenticity, lacked contemporary geekish authority than Dan Rather -- a haistyle in search of a clue. One could argue convincingly that he was ousted by the right and by a wimpy network looking for a scapegoat, but it was Dan Rather's so obviously undeserved position as a so-called Wise Man of a dying media format that made him such a ripe target to be one of the first tragic examples of what we collectively now do to frauds.

But the evening news is a dying mouse. Rather successor, Katie Couric, is on her way out and Scott Pelley, furthermore, does not inspire confidence. Brian Williams, acutely aware that he now has to sing for his supper to be relevant in an increasingly multi-platformed media environment, is running himself ragged. Briguy is like a West Indian with his work schedule.

Cable is on the rise.

Before I get to the arguments for avid world domination, I'd like to say a few words about radio. The digital revolution ate its lunch. Terrestrial radio is almost entirely irrelevant in the lives of anyone over 14 and under the age of 75, except perhaps for NPR, for Howard Stern on satellite (which isn't really "radio" at all), for wacky right-talk -- Limbaugh, Hannity, etc -- and, finally, to a tiny group of Beltway insiders, Don Imus. Terrestrial radio has tried many experiments with format over the last decade, none of them making radio remotely competetive with all the other digital audio distractions vying for eardrums. Radio, I would argue needs avids. Virtually everything TJ Walker said about the future of talk shows could be applied to radio talk shows. Imagine if a radio broadcasting company put in the investment to bring on board bloggers avid in talk radio friendly format subjects and strong social media followings. Just saying.

Forthwith, three instances of avid world domination:


Nothing says "the digital age" more than the fact that Apple is the most valuable brand on the planet. Steve Jobs -- the proto-Boomer geek -- is the geek Jesus and Buddha and the Dao combined. Vanity Fair's "New Establishment" -- at least for as long as a glossy like Vanity Fair is still relevant -- is dominated by techies and geeks.

Technology companies -- knowledge based technology companies -- dominate the list of the most valuable and fastest growing companies in the world.


Everywhere across the political landscape are avids. Ron Paul is so geeky his tush is probably still sore from all the wedgies he endured in high school. And yet his avid interest in monetary policy and his staunch fidelity to the gold standard allows his to raise surprising campaign cash in the form of "money bombs." And in that name is enough healthy irony to make even the most robust goldbug softly chuckle.

Globally, Nicholas Sarkozy is almost certainly the geek who got the girl and is influenced by philosophers, besides. Angela Merkel? Geekishly uncharismatic. Ban ki-Moon? Don't even get me started.

Barack Obama, our avid-in-Chief, is a Trekkie. The coolness of "No Drama Obama" notwithstanding, he is a geek. And a improbable as it sounds, Newt Gingrich, too, is a conch. Trump is not a geek. In fact, Trump is the sort of guy who probably stuffed geeks in their lockers, slept with cheap and fast women and told about it all to his jock pals in turgid purple language. Trump is not a geek, and therefore he will not be President. His era has passed.


This summer will be the summer of the superhero film genre -- X-Men, Green Lantern, Captain America and Thor -- and thus it will be the final triumph of the geek over Hollywood. Hollywood used to be the place of war heroes and jocks and starlets and beautiful high school dropouts of both sexes and broody directors and their oily, amoral moneymen. It is now the province of the geek, the children of Stan Lee.

Geeks dominate Hollywood's A-List. Director Chris Nolan is a geek and the subject of conversation among geeks -- and so is science geek Natalie Portman. Tim Burton, James Cameron, Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, Ben Stiller, Tina Fey, Steve Carrell, Martin Scorcese, Nic Cage (owner of Superman #1) and Shia LeBoef are all card carrying squids.

"... And the geek shall inherit the earth"

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