The Web Hostess: Online manners, memes and must-see video

Mar 02, 2011

A weekly chat about the best ways to kill time online. Our Web Hostess, Monica Hesse, sifts the Internet so you don't have to, searching for meaning, manners and the next great meme.

Afternoon, everyone, and thanks for stopping by.

Today I am loving this series of photographs from artist Michael Wolf, in which he curates a series of images that Google Street View has automatically collected. For his efforts, he won an Honorable Mention at the World Press Photo Awards.

MSNBC's photo blog asks interesting questions that I think are worth exploring: Should this be considered art? Should Wolf's curating be considered artistry? Or just privacy invasion?


Also: Designer John Galliano is the latest celebrity to undergo immolation-by-Internet when a video of him spewing anti-Semitic bile landed online.

The larger question (or one of them): Do you believe that people's online behavior is a trustworthy marker of their real personalities? Galliano's behavior is obviously atrocious. But in general, would you consider your Facebook profile an accurate representation of yourself?

Also: Charlie Sheen, coming off of a week of splendiferous crashes, has recently opened a Twitter account.

If there is a Twitter account in existence that is more trainwreck-eriffic than this idea, I would like to see it.

So, what is the # called on Twitter, and why? People call it a hash mark (correct?) put it's a pound sign (correct?). I'm confused as to why all of a sudden it has a new name - or am I just old and this is beyond my grasp?

You can grasp it! On Twitter, it's known as a hashtag, and it's how people categorize that they're talking about a specific topic.

In the United States its called a pound sign, but in other English speaking countries (Great Britain, Australia, etc) it's known as a "hash"  -- so Twitter is not pulling it out of nowhere.

This is fantastic anyway you spell it.

Oh indeed. When I saw that game a few days ago, it was just Sheen and Gaddafi. I'm not sure whether throwing Beck into the mix helps or not. The dichotomy of Gaddafi and Sheen was nice.

Two things for you today: The Guardian has a quiz listing statements by Gaddafi and Sheen, and you have to identify who said which statement.  New York Magazine does something similar, but includes Glenn Beck in the mix: h

Got it -- two different quizzes.

I would also like to see something whipped up involving Melissa Leo.

Have you seen the trailer for this Swedish short film yet? Sorry I don't have a link, but it is the funniest thing I have seen in quite a long time.

You mean, this video here?

I find it kind of soothing. I keep waiting for a Jeff Bridges cameo.

It's even more boring than I am in real life. I have a business and a reputation, and the last thing I need is for Facebookers to see me drunk or otherwise unimpressive. Of course, I'm old.

So, are you just leaving out the interesting stuff? Or inserting more boring?

I wish Charlie would tell us what this means. I guess I'm just one of the turds who can't comprehend how his awesome brain works.

I think it means that, um, if you do everything passionately (or violently?) then no one will question your authenticity?

But then again, I am still trying to find meaning in his comparison of smoothies and chocolate milk.

Speak to us, Charlie.

Right below that on my computer at least is a photo of a child with a cleft palate.

I think this is just on your computer.

I don't find these compelling at all. What interests you about them?

Really? I think they're fascinating. I think they're an online version of the old, "If a tree falls in the woods" question. Life is happening, even when other people aren't there to observe it. The Google cam is quietly scanning the landscape, capturing moments of mundanity and horror, and is unable to discern between the two because it is just a machine. It snaps a photo of an old woman splayed in the street with the same dispassion that it photographs a house.

Totally possible that I'm in the minority -- would love to hear from others.

I'm just laughing that Qaddafi said "Nescafe."

I should like to see all of his speeches edited down to a pleasing coffee commercial.

But it wasn't Galliano's online behavior that has caused an uproar. It was something he did in bar that was taped and then displayed on the web. And I believe its a trustworthy marker of who he is. As for my own FB profile being an indicator of who I am. Yes, I'm a whiner who mostly complains about either being sick or having too much stuff to do. Going back over my posts was a real eye opener.

1) Your first point is totally correct.

2) Your second point is really interesting. Facebook as self-therapy? Once you realized your own patterns, did you make a conscious effort to complain less? Or take more Vitamin C?

I mean, the concept is kind of interesting, but these pictures are pretty lame. I'm surprised anyone even noticed them, never mind granted an award.

Agreed, you definitely need the backstory in order to find the photos interesting -- which could create its own set of questions. Is it fair to judge art based on context, or should it stand for itself.

It reminds me of a video that Gene Weingarten posted in his chat a year or two ago -- it was footage of Anne Frank waving from a window. There was a fierce debate over whether this video was moving. When Gene declared that it was, because of everything we knew about Anne Frank, some people called foul.

I think it's the lack of interpretation that bothers me (what you call "dispassion"). There's no story given, the images simply exist as images. And they're not visually interesting, at least to me.

Wow, I think it's the fact that they only exist as images that make them interesting. Fascinating!

Yes, that was the clip I was referring to, thank you. I've seen a lot of drunk people and a lot of babies (not usually together, thankfully), but I was never able to draw such a line connecting their behaviors (unsteady gait, messy, potential for vomit) quite like this video does.

What makes this video great is that it does not depict a baby doing anything that babies do not do naturally. It just gives the baby some juice in a martini glass and lets the camera roll.

Somebody had to shift through the Google photos and select them. But I also like Weegee and Diane Arbus.

You and me, kid.

For the wedding? For the ploughman's lunch? What is your "assignment" there?

Why do you put "assignment" in quotes? Have ye so little faith in Cupcake?

Yes to both. It's hard to complain less when you're used to it, but I'm working on it. The reaons I reread my posts was that I was trying to find an older post and ended up being astounded at what a whiner I am. Then I paid attention during real, non-FB life and I was the same! So now I'm making a strong effort to stop being such a complainer and appreciate things more and be more accepting of how things are. It's really hard to change it overnight (I don't have Sheen's mind control powers).

This could be a really useful exercise for anyone engaged in behavioral therapy. Or, just, anyone.

I agree but I also think it's why they are upsetting. Seeing a photo of a kid hit another kid in the head with a baseball bat, without any story to tell me what's going on it's now stuck in my head. How hard was the hit? Is the kid okay? Were they just fooling around? Was he really getting beat up? I'm left with the same feeling I get when I read a news story about something bad happening to a child. I wish I could unread it and not have the knowledge that it happened.

I would argue that those questions you're left with are further argument that they be considered as art.

Then again, I know nothing about art. Just Internets.

Just leaving out the good stuff. If I inserted any more boring, I'd be on Comabook. Facebook is mostly good for keeping up with the far-flung young 'uns. LinkedIn is for work, and Twitter is for somebody else.


@charliesheen is the white version of @realtracymorgan.

And we should all clearly follow both.

Did you know the French say "ouistiti" (marmoset) instead of "cheese" when they take a photo?

I didn't know what a marmoset was until I Googled it just now. And now I feel insecure, like this means that even French babies are more knowledgeable than I am.

Your colleague Dan Zak didn't know what it was, but I love humblebrag on twitter.!/humblebrag Dan was even RT on it after the Oscars.

Dan Zak belongs nowhere on Humble Brag. Dan belongs on Humble Humbler.

Except that I think he then Tweeted that he was on Humbe Brag, which turns the whole thing into a meta question, because if you -know- you're humble bragging, then...

I found the concept interesting, but I have to wonder how many of the scenes are only noteworthy because the Google camera van was present. They could be cases of people being distracted, "Hmm, what's that weird thing on the roof of that- oops, I just tripped over a curb/crashed my bike! I hope nobody saw!" Obvious exception for the burning van, though.

"I see a car with a strange camera on top of it. Therefore I must...I must punch someone in the face!"

Have you seen the Sheen vs. Ron Burgundy ("Anchorman") one? That's pretty good too.

Oh I'm not saying it's not art. Just that I find it to be a little disturbing. I want to look at the photos, and then I want to go back in time and make the decision NOT to look at them.

Would it be much like Anne Hathaway's and James Franco's "Inception"-inspried Oscar opener?

I think the ones selected for the story in the link you gave are not compelling. The ones on his website, however, are better. For example, I find the F*ck You series interesting in that these people chose to flip someone or something off, and it was captured. Because there is no story, I wonder what that story is.

I haven't looked at those, but I'm going to after the chat.

"But in general, would you consider your Facebook profile an accurate representation of yourself?" I think it's a slightly idealized representation, where I'm a bit funnier and more interesting (or at least more consistently so) than in real life. So I'll post about a trip, or a great hike, or a breezy afternoon spent in the hammock, but I probably won't post about the day I spent in sweats, eating Pop-Tarts, clearing my DVR, and doing laundry. I'm also less political on Facebook, since I have friends across the spectrum and prefer to choose when I feel like getting into debates.

My former colleague Libby Copeland had an interesting piece in Slate recently exploring whether people's subtle self-improvements on Facebook (more hiking, less Pop Tarts) were actually making people feel bad about themselves because they assumed everyone's life was better than theirs.

I don't actually agree with that interpretation, but I think it raises interesting questions.


They can't really say "fromage" because then all their photos would be of people with their mouths hanging open.

So instead they found a new word? Why couldn't they just  patent a new style of smile?

I scored 70% on one of those Sheen/Gaddafi quizzes by chosing randomly.

Humble brag!

The sign language interpreters should also do some literal video versions of the songs. The deaf deserve to laugh about the booby shake / tae bo part of "Love is a Battlefield." Of course, I don't know if there are signs for booby shake or tae bo!

This is in reference an article that I had in the paper today, about sign lanugage interpeters who specialize in rock concerts.

I wish you would post that, though, because then I'd feel better about how I spent last weekend eating entire boxes of Girl Scout cookies while surfing youtube for something funny to watch.

If y'all want to send me your contact information, I could introduce you. Best first date evarr!

Should I be filming escalator fails, bad behavior in restaurants, disgruntled service staff or racist designers out on the town?

Probably. Especially because you never know when it's going to turn out that the bad restaurant behavior is being performed by a racist designer out on the town.

Wow. It never occurred to me that I am metaphorically airbrushing my metaphorical thighs. (Great article.) Still not going to 'fess up about the Pop-Tarts and sweats, though.

I think the key is tone. If you come across as really excited about your Pop Tarts and sweats, I will totally think that you are a cool person for pursuing your passion. Of Pop Tarts. And sweat pants.

Because I surmise you are more than what is represented by your WP employers or your Facebook identity. I have assumed you have a "00" something number and you hang around with people named "M" and Julian Assange's number is in your speed-dial. You appear here, week after week, as mild-mannered journalist and meme savvy wit, but, but, but.... (But I should get a life?)

By the way: I saw Julian Assange at a bar when I was in London. He was very slender and pale. Continue on.

There are people I block from my feed because I get depressed when I see how sparkling rainbows and unicorns their lives seem to be.

"Pop Tarts 'n' Sweats" shall heretofore be a reminder code to you that whatever shiny things people are posting have been carefully selected, and they probably spend the rest of their time watching 30 Rock reruns and cleaning out the pantry.

Ahem: more hiking, FEWER Pop Tarts. Sorry--editor here with an editorial pet peeve.

I used "less" because I assumed that the number of Pop-Tarts in question could not be quantified, being an astronomical and a somewhat metaphorical figure.

Several months ago, I started a Wikipedia article on a somewhat noteworthy ongoing project in the real world. It was just a basic intro paragraph and an infobox on the right. Then I lost interest (as I typically do with things I start). The number of page views spiked last week when the topic was in the news. I posted something on the discussion page asking for comments on future sections, but alas... nobody replied, so I guess nobody else is following the article. That's kind of the end of the story. What would you recommend as my next course of action?

I'm a little confused -- you want someone to help build out the article? You want comments on what's already there? You want comments on what might one day be there, but is currently not? I'm not sure I have good answers for any of these options, but want to first make sure I know wht you're asking.

Check out the ASL interpretations of popular songs on YouTube... the girl that did CeeLo's "F--- You" for her ASL final, a guy who does a lot of Miley Cyrus, pretty funny...

The Cee Lo version is required viewing, people.

U must be an aries, huh?

Good heavens, did I type that? I heart copy editors.

Next time I travel I am going to be totally paranoid that a recently launched shuttle will run into my airplane.

There's an article I read about why Facebook is making us miserable. Mostly because people make themselves look happy on FB. can't find it now. Google it, it'll make you feel better.

Wait, different than the Slate article I already posted on how Facebook is making us miserable?

For what it's worth, the # symbol's technical name is the octothorpe

Which should clearly be the villain's name in some Spiderman movie.

I did post this on FB, though. And other people were like, oh me too, I had a box for dinner.

This is entirely appropriate.

That's all for now -- talk to you next week, and until then, GSTQ, who might be the only person in the entire world not to eat Pop Tarts while doing the laundry.

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Monica Hesse
Monica Hesse is a staff writer for the Post Style section. She frequently writes about culture, the Web and the intersection of the two.

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