Video Memories of Den.Net: The Darkest Moment in the History of Web 1.0
An "anything goes attitude" clearly prevailed at Web 1.0 video sites back in the late 1990s. Web Video was the next big thing, and so the young and smooth-skinned gathered there in droves to taste of the new computer-enabled Narcissism which today is enshrined in the form of multi billion dollar properties such as YouTube and MySpace.
In New York, the hot video streaming employment action was at Pseudo.com, where Josh Harris presided over hedonistic parties which recalled, if not recreated the spirit of New York's lost Plato's Retreat sex club. But in LA, hedonism wasn't merely recalled: it was practiced, flesh-on-flesh, right out in the open, where the cameras could see it and the servers could stream it, and the place therefore to work was Den.Net. Here, a large staff of teenagers worked in a state of anarchy to produce original TV shows for the Internet. And Marc Collins Rector was their King, their Bacchus, their Colonel Kurtz.
Collins Rector, who raised 72 million dollars to fund Den.net, spent amply, enjoying himself along the way while Den.net blew through its money on the way to an IPO that never happened. After resigning as CEO amid rumors of sexual abuse of his staff, he fled the country in 2000 but was picked up in Spain in 2002 and returned to New Jersey, where he subsequently plead guilty to transporting five minors across state lines to have sex with him.
Den.Net was the most egregiously-managed Web 1.0 company imaginable. One of the best accounts of what life was like there was written by Matt Welch, who worked there briefly in its final days. Welch writes:
I'm guessing we will look back at DEN 10 years from now as a symbol of an era that will then seem unreal -- when any old teevee idiot could spout New Media cliches at least five years out of date, put together a staff of sycophants and plotters, and be rewarded by investors with $65 million to waste on 12 months of Webcasting, all because people back then placed monster bets on business buzzwords rather than on the people or products pretending to operate by them.
I could not agree more.
Which brings us to the video embedded below: a 7-minute promo for Den.Net's programs made in 1999. Den.Net's lineup included "Aggro Nation," "Confidential," "Dented," "Direct Drive," "Frat Ratz," "Hip Hop Massive," "Fear of a Punk Planet," "Redemption High," and "Tales from East LA." These crude, ugly shows tell us a lot about the kind of message that Collins Rectors and his fellow executives were sending to Den.Net's young staff: make whatever you want, cater to the lowest common denominator, the grosser it is the better it is, etc. Take a look for yourself and tell me if you have ever seen content more unconsciously reflective of the collective descent into animality which we now know was happening to the entire group. In a Spenglerian sense, Den.net's staff, many of whom appear in this video have already "become what they beheld."
Pay special attention to "Redemption High," a nightmarish series involving an evil "Instructor" at a high school who promises to "have his way with the boys." One must conclude that the "Instructor" was a dramatized proxy for Collins-Rector himself, who as CEO wielded similar power over Den.net's young staff. This is chilling stuff: a real-life horror movie.
None of Den.net's content is pretty to watch, and this video is not for the faint of heart. But it provides essential documentation of one of the darkest moments in the history of the New Economy. Without seeing it, you will never understand what really happened at Den.net.
As far as Matt Welch's bewailing of the fact that "people back then placed monster bets on business buzzwords" back in 1999, we haven't really advanced. The buzzwords may have changed, but the scam is the same. And it's amazing how many corporations, including the big brands that booked ad space on Den.Net, including Ford (which became one of Den.net's "Charter Sponsors"), Pepsi, Microsoft, Dell, and Pennzoil, continue to underwrite this kind of crap content without even considering how much it necessarily debases those who create it.
The spirit of Den.Net isn't dead, my friends. It lives on in the cancerous cloud of UGC, where puerile, sexist, juvenile sensibilities dominate. That which brought about Den.Net can never be defeated, nor even contained for long. It is an ancient disease springing from the most unreachable recesses of humanity's dark heart.
The Horror... The Horror...