Where new writing finds its voice

Mice Base

Olivia Salazar-Winspear

An online community for rodents and small mammals in the early stages of development.

Once upon a time, before Lily Allen was appointed the spokesperson for Generation iPod, there were friendship/networking websites that helped you keep abreast of your mates’ birthdays, locations and names. There was facebook, bebo and friendster – there was even the terminally tacky friendsreunited.com. Practical and innocent interactive messageboards that let everyone know that you were now happily settled with Mike in Cardiff and that, despite missing ‘the big smoke’, it was nice to be on the property ladder at last. The most you could hope for in the way of illustration on these sites was a blurry mugshot – there were no insightful, autobiographical jottings, and certainly no (oh! the horror) background music.

And then there was MySpace. Marketed in much the same way as other networking websites, MySpace peddled its uniquely artistic credentials from the outset: this was a liberal forum for musical self-promotion, enabling fledgling bands to post concert dates and MP3s. Make no mistake, this was not self-promotion per se, but simply a facilitator for all those young creative types who needed to ‘get themselves out there’ in a democratic space, free to manipulate this, their mini-site, to suit their sound. Teenagers logged on in their thousands, lured by the potent cocktail of voyeurism, Zeitgeist and of course sheer convenience (hob-nobbing with classmates online allowed one to witticise from the comfort of pyjama bottoms and entirely dispensed with the tiresome need to apply a pound of make-up and shiver for hours outside the local McDonalds. In this respect, MySpace was an unparalleled social lubricant for underage women, in particular.)

Never one to miss a trick, Murdoch and his merry men moved in on MySpace, snapping it up like a cut-price package to Kefalonia; hot on the trail of an important demographic (originally 14–18 year olds but now, well, everyone apparently) the possibilities for advertising on MySpace rivalled television – it seemed that this site (and the rest of its networking ilk) had practically usurped the quaintly flickering box in the leisure time pursuits of Britain’s youth. Google jumped aboard (to the tune of $900 million) and rumour has it that Murdoch’s wife, Wendi Deng, is to oversee the expansion of MySpace in China now that it has made inroads into much of Europe. So we can safely say that all the cool kids are doing it (Rupert n’Wendy, man! they’re the Posh n’Becks of world-conquering media plutocracy!) and, consequently, you want in. For the uninitiated, it’s relatively simple – even Sir Cliff has a page for Christ’s (sorry Cliff) sake. Let me take you through it:


The birth of a rodent

1. Construct your MySpace identity

This should be almost identical to your very own persona, save for a few nips and tucks here and there for extra ‘human interest’ value. Pseudo-embarrassing personality traits should be highlighted – ‘I am totally OBSESSED with drinking my tea through Cadbury’s fingers! LOL!’ –  and a propensity for clinical depression should be mentioned in passing, though talked down and breezily referred to as ‘a tendency for introspection’ (deep). These adorable idiosyncrasies can be illustrated with a photo of yourself (wearing ski-goggles indoors; coquettishly peeking out from brushed-forward hair; any equally ‘mental’ pose) to demonstrate how relaxed you are about looking a bit silly in public, albeit in a strictly defined social structure within which you remain wholly protected from any uncalculated incident that might actually provoke ridicule.


2. Compile your Lists

These are of utmost importance: striking the correct balance is crucial when it comes to attracting potential MySpace ‘friends’. For music, films and books the rules are the same: a variety of genres must be straddled, with particular concentration on one obscure branch of (take your pick here) turbofolk/experimental Korean cinema/Haiku poems in Braille.

Tom Waits, Bob Dylan and The Velvet Underground are prerequisites in the music field (as well as current MySpace bands that you are supporting as they tirelessly blog their way to becoming the next Lily or Arctic Monkeys – Kate Nash, known as ‘Lily mark 2.0’, is a hot tip for this). 

Aspiring Literary Types should demonstrate A-level English credentials (choose from Chaucer, Eliot or Wilde) while Houellebecq, Nabokov and Angela Carter are modish for urbane sorts keen to make it clear that they are sexually active.

Cinema, conversely, can be an opportunity to show that you have a sense of humour (The Breakfast Club/Clueless for the girls; Top Gun/Ferris Bueller’s Day Off for the boys) or alternatively that you are way clever enough for subtitles (De Battre Mon Coeur S’est Arreté; early Almodovar; anything by Pasolini proves not only your talent for languages but also your perseverance in the name of Art). Strike too highbrow and you’ll have PhD students plaguing your inbox; too low and you’ll just look, well, common.


3. Photography 

We touched upon this in clause 1, but it is so important that it bears revisiting, just to ensure you have the right idea. The MySpace classic snap has become nothing short of an institution. The pose is taken from above, eyes forlornly gazing upwards through tousled hair, pupils dilated, lips slightly parted. The foreshortened image is paramount: never must it be revealed what lurks beneath the chin of the MySpace nymphette (premature jowls, probably), although cleavage may feature. Locations can vary but should be indicative of hobbies, interests or air-miles accrued: nightclub lavatories, European sites of architectural interest and deserted beaches are failsafe options. For those that were fat/Christian at school, soft porn is acceptable here – nay, to be expected and encouraged.


4. Click on the ‘my blog’ link

Anyone who isn’t my dad knows about blogs. Their ubiquity has effectively erased the debate surrounding their function and value and any questions pertaining to their generic classification. But what exactly is a personal blog – is it simply the twenty-first century incarnation of our dear diary? A convenient and current method of logging hopes, fears and desires? My sweet journal intîme, that trusted keeper of ink-smudged secrets! Confidante during the bad times, silent witness of many a teenage crush! A blog’s a diary with pixels, right?

NO. A blog is not any of the above and you are only offending the memory of poor, dead diarist par excellence Anne Frank by saying so. So don’t. Anne’s diary is powerful precisely because it was never meant to be read. The authenticity of the most intimate articulations of a young woman grips us viscerally as a reader – we are aghast at our compulsion to read such a profoundly private document, as well as being astonished that we are privy to it in the first place. 

Blogs, conversely, are for public consumption: they are spread out on the trestle table that is the internet, with its motley buffet of legible goods. Sentiments that were at least honest in ink are adjusted, modified and self-censored for the screen. This is not to say that blog entries make for pedestrian, diluted reading (far from it) since posts are routinely elaborated accounts of para-fiction, sensationalising domestic dramas and amplifying mundane events. Exceptions exist: there are those bloggers who are either a) laudably honest or b) mocking their readers with detailed meta-blogatory accounts of eye-wateringly boring daily activity (‘thursday: got up, checked MySpace, replied to recent posts. posted some dumb jokes on tommy’s space about his mom. updated blog.’) And in the hands of the serious blogger, a dull trip to the GP for some prescription Benylin can alarmingly morph into an extended prose commentary on the state of the National Health System via the necessity of a market economy, stopping off briefly at the pros and cons of Communist structures and taking a short detour through the short-sighted Western attitude to Chinese Herbal medicine. 

The blog post-cum-essay is a cornerstone of the democratic space of expression provided by the internet; a terrifying void of punctuation and a cosmos of bus-stop musings writ large. Essays are, of course, intrinsically subjective; Montaigne, who was largely responsible for the development of the literary form in the sixteenth century, himself admitted that these essais or ‘attempts’ revealed as much about himself as their subject matter and were irrevocably subjective undertakings. At its core, an essay is often defined as a vehicle: a prism through which an idea is refracted and expressed, exiting this structure with a new clarity, revealing different shades or emerging significantly altered and evolved by the process. Refraction is not reflection. Reflections are for mirrors, the agents of verisimilitude; the ever-obliging looking-glass presents the existing image with its twin, a two-dimensional reproduction that is mostly faithful, but, essentially, not very enlightening. Facile reflections are the bloggers’ staple: comments and musings on ‘the world and shit’ with cod-philosophical undertones that simply serve to reflect the image of their executor, presenting the self-penned persona of the author to his audience, establishing his indentity as cyber-pundit and post-modern penseur. Narcissus with a mouse-pad.


Nibbling away at our mother tongue like a hunk of Cheddar cheese 

Content aside (thank God for that), MySpace forms part of the unholy triumvirate (text messaging, email and social networking sites) currently trampling on our language like so many fag butts. I anticipate an imminent campaign, no doubt spear-headed by the Daily Mail in conjuction with Lynne Truss, to save the good old English word ‘friend’ from the malign influence of this virtual devil, which has undone the work of hundreds of years of linguistic evolution in a matter of months: ‘friend: n., abundantly complimentary, orthographically-challenged stranger with highly developed technological interface skills’. Further examples of filthy stinking linguistic corruption can be found in the ‘groups’ section of MySpace, but frankly I can’t bear to look. Well, OK, maybe just one little peek: ‘u fight for the will to survive, never forgeting that human instinct too thrive…. but over time all these things starts 2 get 2 ur mind, the twist and the turns puts ur soul in a bind.’ Oh God, my eyes.


Gnawing through the wires of real human interaction – and loving it

As MySpace friendships multiply at the rate of so many quick-fire clicks of the mouse, creating interconnected webs of individuals who may never make eye contact in the ‘real’ world, the phenomenon asks the question: is this an ultra-modern form of hyper-communication, or, in fact, a total communication breakdown, void of authentic human interaction? Have internet users become so absorbed by these remote and contrived personal exchanges that they are entirely alienated from ‘organic’ social 

scenarios (bumping into acquaintances at a local pub, for example) and, ergo, inept or inhibited in such situations? Keeping tabs on the personal narratives of MySpace friends is a compulsive and, potentially, highly addictive business – posted comments and conversations constitute the ultimate in soap opera, deployed by a cast of credible and familiar characters. Yet consider this: is not the true articulation of yourself, your space and your stuff in fact here, in the very real OurSpace otherwise known as the world?