Who can ya trust nowadays?

It used to be that “lo-fi” was something you just had to put up  with for necessity’s sake, like listening to a crummy transistor  radio at summer camp. Lo-fi was slightly shady enterprises such  as bootleg recordings of popular bands and poor quality  pornographic films and books; lo-fi was handwritten signs for  garage sales and other neighbourhood events; lo-fi was  underground comics like Zippy The Pinhead. These things had  an aesthetic all their own based on a limitation of resources,  and were accepted more on the basis of content rather than  presentation. Your favourite recording of your favourite band  might have sounded like it was recorded through someone’s  dental work, but that was part of the sense of owning something  rare and hard to get.  Today, lo-fi culture has permeated all forms of media. Self- published zines have spawned widely-read catalogues like  Factsheet 5 in the U.S. and Broken Pencil in Canada. A flood of  impressive CDs, tapes, movies and comix done on the cheap  have gained increasing prominence in the public consciousness.  The seventies punk ‘do-it-yourself’ mentality is what has  encouraged so many writers, publishers, artists, musicians and  film-makers to produce their work at a lower economical level  than was previously considered legitimate’. This has come  about from a combination of an increased availablity of ‘DIY’  technologies (photocopying, desktop publishing, high 8 video  and home recording studios) and the desire to get stuff ‘out  there’ regardless of what the prevailing mainstream tastes are.  One of the appeals of this lo-fi media culture is its sense of  immediacy and authenticity. Somewhat like documentary film,  it feels more real. These works aren’t addressing large audiences,  and therefore seem more intimate. Lo-fi media often gives the  impression of peeking into someone’s private life.

For instance,  the reader explores cartoon artist Chantale Doyle’s fantasy  world of comix, knowing they were drawn while Ms. Doyle was  listening in on the fantasy world of Sebadoh’s lo-fi  recordings.World after world of obscurity opens up to the lo-fi  afficionado.  In its typical co-opting and appropriating fashion, multi- national, global and corporate industry has lately decided  to employ the lo-fi aesthetic to sell its usual stuff. Suddenly,  lo-fi is the preferred aesthetic of just about any and all  products; Hollywood feature films, television dramas, and  commercials have adopted documentary style. A few  examples of big money’s entry into the lo-fi arena include:  the very annoying Bank of Montreal ad staging a ‘grass- roots revolution’ with ‘average looking people’ holding  handwritten signs framed by jittery camera work in black  and white grainy stock; slick magazines employing elaborate  computer design software to mimic cruddy typeface and  sloppy cut and past collage (see any Spin magazine); and the  very slickly-produced disco diva Alanis becoming a smashing  success after her grunge makeover (compare her first  relaeases with the new album).  Why are corporate megaforces doing this? Because the  proliferation of accessible lo-fi media has set up a dichotomy  between the ‘real’, gritty, hands on STUFF, and the slick, fake,  glossy, mainstream that can’t be trusted to do anything but SELL.  As with the appropriation, repackaging and selling of sixites  and seventies culture gutted of any content, big business is using  the surface aesthetic of lo-fi culture because people trust it, but  it’s using it as a marketing tool, as usual.

In a truly twisted  fashion, multinational companies are pretending not to be hiding  behind production values, while in fact that is exactly what  they are doing — hiding behind lo-fi, back-to basics, ‘small is  beautiful’ production values!  Like the sixites revolution, and transformation of traditional  sexual role in the seventies, the real meaning of lo-fi culture is  lost on the mass market consciousness. Lo-fi is a reaction away  from the blandifying, homogenizing forces of corporate  monoculture through micro-activities at the local and  community level. Ideally, with its freedom from commercial  market ties, lo-fi offers people an alternative to the prescribed  tastes, desires and styles of the mainstream culture.

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