“I’m going to record this,” I say and count down, “Three, two, one. What do you want to talk about,” I ask her and the silence hangs between us.
She takes a long drag on her cigarette, shifts positions in her chair and winces. She had an accident on the Fourth of July. Her arm’s in a sling, knee braced, and she’s not adjusting well to forced righthandedness. She exhales and tilts her head as if she’s examining me. “You can interview anyone. Why me?” Her voice is flat, face placcid.
It’s a fair question but I didn’t expect it to be part of the interview. Gen has a way of doing that to you, throwing you off your game with a simple question, but it’s different when it’s pointed at you. She stubs out her cigarette and sips tea. “I have to be honest with you,” she begins slowly, “I think this is a waste of time. Yours and mine,” her tone lowers.
“You turn down everyone who asks for statements, bites or interviews. This may be the only interview with you that ever gets posted,” I laugh.
“Fair enough,” she waits.
“Why do you hate interviews,” I ask and, for the briefest of moments, I think I see a smirk. She pulls her long hair over her shoulder with her right hand and makes a slight expression.
“Internet, Land of the Ego,” she nods. “Everyone wants to be a celebrity, don’t they? Because the world needs one more staged selfie. Facebook depends on you to tell everyone where you had lunch and what book you just bought for your Kindle. We must Tweet every thought and deed. Blog more, think less.” She exhales, annoyed.
I’m losing her, I know it, and I’m not sure how to proceed.
“Does it help that we’re acquainted,” she asks, “or is it a detriment?”
“I thought it would help.” I answer honestly, “It doesn’t.”
I watch her nod. She tucks her hair behind her ears. The gesture reminds me of Deb on Dexter. ” I get it. You’re not a celebrity.”
“Contrary to popular belief, that’s not what the internet’s about,” she adds solemnly.
I can’t resist. “What’s it about then?”
“Oh,” she sighs and shifts position, “mostly people fighting for control. Power over the hearts and minds of the masses.” She looks amused. “Often it’s one big marketing ploy, isn’t it?” She smiles at me, slyly, and shakes her head. “Shame really,” she taps her fingers again, “because it’s so much more than that. We’re capable of so much better.”
The silence hangs. It makes me nervous. I resort to tried and true ice-breakers. “Favorite color?”
“Grey,” she answers without hesitation.
“Epicurus,” she fires back.
“Rick Prelinger,” she laughs.
“Why,” I ask her. I lean forward.
“Grey’s a state of mind in a world that’s resolved to make it black and white,” she pauses. “I like the idea of living and working with friends, seeing them every day, and a wall that warns against the ill-effects of advertising.” She sips her tea and delicately replaces the cup to saucer. “Have you seen The Century of Self? You should,” she nods without waiting for me to answer her. “Scared the hell out of me.”
She continues. “The Prelingers have donated thousands of culturally relevant films to the [Internet] Archive, and they donated them completely under the public domain license. That means no limitations. Rick Prelinger is a lovely, generous man and he and his family are inspirational to me,” she adds, admiration apparent in her voice. “There’s a movie about their projects. You should link to it.”
She clears her throat. “My Man Godfrey is a social statement that says a lot about who we were, who we are and who we might become. It’s public domain. On the channel as well,” she nods.
I squint, “Are you uncomfortable?”
And we sit there, looking at each other again. I ask, “How did GXM start?”
“I uploaded [materials] to friends accounts at the [Internet] Archive,” she says. “Eventually I got my own account,” she laughs. “It was just easier to keep track of everything that way.”
“Where’d you get the materials?”
“My brother and I collected them. We grew up watching them,” she smiles. “I felt compelled to share.”
She’s under-emphasizing the role she’s played. The Internet Archive has many of the clips regarding the birth of cinema simply because of her contributions. What Prelinger is to Ephemeral films, Gen Xavier is to the birth of cinema for the underground. She is literally legend for this, as well as her encouragements of independent artists to use those materials. She’s been involved with several channels, venues and social media to bring the public domain to the masses for free without profit. A lot of the older and silent videos you see on the web are there because she donated them without limitations, and the masses copied them to their accounts, mirroring them all over the internet.
“Do you ever feel ripped off?”
“Because I want it to explode. I want those videos everywhere. It raises awareness and increases popularity. I comment on their reposts. I thumb them up. I make friends and subscribe to their channels,” she smiles. “I particularly love it when people take the materials and create something of their own from them. I promote this,” she explains. “How could I not?”
“Illegally,” she corrects me. “Those companies attempt to make illegal profit from the public domain.”
“How many channels do you help? What do you do,” I ask, excited, but one look stops me dead. She lights up a cigarette. She looks back at me, clearly irritated.
“Don’t make this about me,” she says flatly.
“I’m not, I-“
“Yes, you are.” her fingers tap on the desk. “Don’t make this about me or any member of GenXMedia.” Her eyes narrow slightly, “This is about the public domain.”
“Companies small and large are literally preying on the public domain, desperate to make a quick buck and places like YouTube let it happen. They’re wiping videos off the web and killing entire channels, established channels, with their lack of ethics and greed. These companies are trying to erase and/or monopolize what is rightly ours, our culture and our history… and they get away with it, mostly unopposed, because the public is ignorant of their rights and there’s no money in defending the public domain or every lawyer on the planet would be hip-deep in this fight.”
She’s a slow burn and, for the first time, I see why she has a reputation for being formidable.
“You’ll miss it when it’s gone,” her irritation increases, “this wealth of information that allows you to report, study, be educated and entertained. You’ll miss it when it’s gone, won’t you? Maybe then you’ll give a damn.”
“I give a damn,” I reflex.
“Great,” she sits back. “What are you doing about it?”
We stare at each other. “Who’s interviewing who,” I ask and she slightly smiles. I give in. Entirely. “What can I do about it?”
She slowly leans forward, her hair falling into her face. “Get involved.”
“Promote the public domain,” she answers plainly.
“Use, promote and donate to the Internet Archive and Librivox,” she continues. “Fight false claims on YouTube. DMCA them. Be public about it. Name names,” she laughs. “Lobby and petition the laws that would rip away our rights to the public domain. By its very nature, it belongs to us. Fight the new laws they’re trying to make that eat away our treasures. Educate yourself. Protest. But most importantly,” she pauses and a smile spreads across her face, “I dare you to fall in love with the public domain.”
She sits back with a wince and adjusts her sling. “I warn you: it will change your life.”
We sit quietly for a few minutes. She looks at me, open and waiting, and I examine her. Truthfully, she’s stunning. Her voice interrupts my thoughts. “If you wanted a better salesman, you should have interviewed Edward [Blake, another GXM member],” she says simply. “He can charm the leaves off trees.”
“You’re an anti-hero to a lot of people,” I say without thinking.
“Am I?” She tucks her hair behind her ears with one awkward hand.
“Oddly enough, I think you dislike it.”
“Do I now?”
I am curious and now I really want to know. “Seriously, why do you hate interviews?”
She laughs and mumbles something I can’t make out, even when I listen to the recording several times. She rubs her eyes. “I hate interviews,” she says slowly, “because they focus on who rather than what’s important.”
“Then why are you doing this?”
Her face softens. “If one person reads this and falls in love with the public domain, their lives will change forever. Do you understand what that means?”
She waits and watches me.
“They will read, listen to and watch things they never knew existed,” her voice becomes almost melodic. “They will explore their culture. They become connected to history. They will think about their way of life. It becomes a part of you.” She twirls her hair on a finger and lets the strand slip. “Once you are aware, you can’t not do something about it.”
Saint Gen of the Archives. Miss Hates Media. Advocate for the Public Domain. In her decade of activism and advocacy, she’s never given an interview and, perhaps in hubris, I wanted to be the first. I wanted something to reveal her, even if I had to use my acquaintance to get it. But this isn’t an interview at all — it’s a platform to raise awareness for the public domain and inspire others to the cause. The player’s been been played, and I put my face in my hands, laughing. I look up. She’s smiling and calm, as if she’s patiently waiting for me to catch up with her.
“Make sure you get the links right.” she says warmly.