I just returned from our industry’s biggest conference. It is mostly a business-to-business affair, a place where businesses seek to connect with and impress potential clients. Almost everyone is selling something and the few who are not selling anything are the targets of those who are.
Over the years, the vendor booths have become increasingly elaborate, representing, most of them, tens of thousands of dollars in construction, shipping, and assembling, and thousands more in brand marketing consultations.
Everyone wants to stand out. That is difficult. Actually, by definition, it is impossible. If everyone stands out then no one does, because standing out becomes average and average is not standing out. Everyone standing out means no one stood out.
Follow me? Excellence is exceptional by definition.
While there, I participated in and overheard dozens of conversations. I was struck by the way we communicate with one another based on the environment. I heard the forced enthusiasm, the manufactured energy, the shop speak, the way someone treats a potential client versus the way they communicate with a coworker or competitor. It is all so distilled, refined, practiced, guarded…in other words, unauthentic. Fake laughter at corny jokes. Shop talk. Buzzwords.
Even after business hours, over drinks, many do not let down their guard or their hair. Everyone is playing an angle. I just want to scream, “Hey! You be you so I at least know who I am talking to!”
Then I remembered UBU was some sort of clothing line in the 90’s. They had t-shirts and stuff. I tried to hunt them down but the UBU clothing I found does not seem to be the same thing. I guess they predated the emergence of Internet commerce.
In my very-swift-and-hardly-comprehensive research, I found that ubu.com belongs to a website named Ubuweb. Boy, did I accidentally stumble onto something there!
Founded in 1996, UbuWeb is a pirate shadow library consisting of hundreds of thousands of freely downloadable avant-garde artifacts. By the letter of the law, the site is questionable; we openly violate copyright norms and almost never ask for permission. Most everything on the site is pilfered, ripped, and swiped from other places, then reposted. We’ve never been sued—never even come close. UbuWeb functions on no money—we don’t take it, we don’t pay it, we don’t touch it; you’ll never find an advertisement, a logo, or a donation box. We’ve never applied for a grant or accepted a sponsorship; we remain happily unaffiliated, keeping us free and clean, allowing us to do what we want to do, the way we want to do it. Most important, UbuWeb has always been and will always be free and open to all: there are no memberships or passwords required. All labor is volunteered; our server space and bandwidth are donated by a likeminded group of intellectual custodians who believe in free access to knowledge. A gift economy of plentitude with a strong emphasis on global education, UbuWeb is visited daily by tens of thousands of people from every continent. We’re on numerous syllabuses, ranging from those for kindergarteners studying pattern poetry to those for postgraduates listening to hours of Jacques Lacan’s Séminaires. When the site goes down from time to time, as most sites do, we’re inundated by emails from panicked faculty wondering how they are going to teach their courses that week.
That is the first astounding paragraph on the About page. These are clearly Internet outlaws with a cause. They are nonchalant, Devil-may-care, cavalier.
“Yeah, we live on the edge. Yeah, we ignore copyrights. Yeah, lots of people use us, reference our content, but…”
The last paragraph goes like this…
By the time you read this, UbuWeb may be gone. Never meant to be a permanent archive, Ubu could vanish for any number of reasons: our internet service provider (ISP) pulls the plug, we get sued, or we simply grow tired of it. Beggars can’t be choosers, and we gladly take whatever is offered to us. We don’t run on the most stable of servers or on the swiftest of machines; crashes eat into the archive on a periodic basis; sometimes the site as a whole goes down for days; more often than not, the already small group of volunteers dwindles to a team of one. But that’s the beauty of it: UbuWeb is vociferously anti-institutional, eminently fluid, refusing to bow to demands other than what we happen to be moved by at a specific moment, allowing us flexibility and the ability to continually surprise even ourselves.
After spending a week listening to salesmen promise potential clients the moon, the unexpected honesty of this weird site that may be as close to the underground Web as I will ever come, seems oddly refreshing.
Bring back the UBU t-shirts and ballcaps! Let’s stop the Charades, the happy talk, the distilled conversations, the industry dribble, the cliches. Let’s be honest about who we are, what we do, and why. Let’s own our failures so that we can be authentic when we celebrate our victories. Let’s tear down those walls we think insulate us because what they really do is isolate us. Let’s do something that will turn whatever industry we find ourselves in upside down.
Let’s tell the damn truth.
You be you. Everyone else is taken. You be the flawed, often disappointed or disappointing human, struggling every day to be an improved model, a better version of you. You be you and do it with all the might, the energy, the focus you have.
This is the only way you will have truly lived…and mattered…and made a difference.