We wrote the manifesto for Influenced.It over seven years ago. Looking back on it now, the references are a little out of date, and I need an editor, but the premise still holds. When we wrote this, society was six years into adapting itself to the iPhone. Now seven years later, the convergence of consumption patterns on phones – music, TV, movies, books, and culture writ large – has further coalesced. The amount of content options an individual has to navigate has multiplied by orders of magnitude. And the flow of cultural currents across mediums, cultures, time and geography has only accelerated. Influence remains absent as a signal with which to discover new works and find the next thing you’ll love. We’re excited to reboot this effort, and appreciate you spending your time with us on this journey.
influenced.it is mapping the currents of culture. We’ve always wanted to know more about what goes into creating the things we watch, read, listen to, and love. There are a lot of sites that talk about influence, but we feel like we couldn’t find the connections, commonalities, or context we were looking for. To put it succinctly, we’re obsessed with this chalkboard from The School of Rock, and wish it was a website, and that it mapped EVERYTHING THAT WAS EVER CREATED.
So we’re reaching out to artists, critics, scholars and fans and asking the simple-but-complex question: What Influenced It? We don’t quite know what we’re going to get, but we hope to start building a map of the all the connections we gather between art and artists across mediums. It’s all pretty experimental right now, but we have a few founding premises:
1.) When someone can understand the influences that went into a work of art that they love, it deepens their appreciation of that art. It illuminates the depth and uniqueness of an artist’s vision.
Episodes of The Simpsons get funnier when you get all the references. Radiohead’s sonic progression makes more sense when you see the well of inspiration they’ve drawn from over time. Raiders of the Lost Ark gets that much more amazing when you see the vast expanse of film and comic book history that the filmmakers sliced and diced into something deeply nostalgic and yet entirely new.
2.) Influences also provide a pathway of discovery to new art and artists.
Let’s take the easy ones: If you like Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan, you will likely enjoy the work of Woody Guthrie. If you love Vampire Weekend but have never listened to Paul Simon‘s Graceland, it will likely blow your mind. And the latest season of Arrested Development is only the most recent work to heavily borrow from the structure of Kurosawa’s Rashomon.
Amazon, Apple, Google, Netflix, AllMusic, Pandora and others try to pave the pathway to discovery by telling you what You Might Also Like, but we keep finding ourselves wanting to know what The Artists Also Like. And it would be extra-awesome if those likes were structured in a browseable way that is not present on sites like Wikipedia or in the vast archive of Rolling Stone interviews and Criterion Collection extras.
3.) Context is king. The link alone is insufficient. Why is this thing an influence?
This perhaps is the greatest failing of the aforementioned companies. They have spent countless hours developing recommendation algorithms, breaking down music or film into component parts, or tracking broader audience patterns. But the output is opaque by design. There’s a page about Eminem on AllMusic that says Randy Newman is an influence but it gives no explanation as to why. Really? This drives us batty. At least Wikipedia has citations, but it’s a pain in the ass to do all that footer bouncing.
Every reference on influenced.it must have a citation, or if it is a critical or fan opinion, then that opinion must have some justification. We will do our best to keep those citations explicit and easy to browse.
4.) Limiting influence within a medium (film to film or musician to musician) is an artificial contraint.
The other failing of most recommendation engines is they tend to stay fixed in a medium, but culture is of course far more complex than this.
We asked the screenwriter John Brancato (disclosure: he’s a friend of the site) about what influenced his original spec script for The Game (an awesome movie that you should buy seventeen copies of if you haven’t seen it) and the answer (reserved for a later post) spanned film, literature, music, and fine art. But if you watch the film on Netflix, we can assure you they will never recommend you see Mark Rothko’s blue color fields afterwards. Part of the influenced.it experiment is to see if we can build a bridge across mediums that seems under-represented today.
5.) We are mapping only influences that a viewer can easily experience (via purchase or stream) themselves.
When you read about the recording of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, you might conclude that sex, drugs, and divorce influenced the work far more than, say, Cat Stevens. And, sure, you can totally go experience sex, drugs, and divorce for yourself. However, that can get very expensive, so representing them is out of scope for us, for now. Movies, tv shows, music, books, paintings, and comics, on the other hand – anything you can readily purchase or stream while you are browsing the site – are all fair game. And we will link to the easiest legally-sanctioned clips/excerpts/ways to buy the relevant pieces of art. We want to empower you, the reader, to come to your own conclusions too. Disagree with us. Call us crazy. It’s all part of the fun.
Right. Fun. Okay, so maybe there’s a sixth premise:
6.) This should be fun, but we’re kinda serious too.
When this stops being fun and starts feeling like work, tell us. But know, also, that we take our pop culture seriously, and we fully appreciate that the effort to map the currents of cultural influence has been carried forth by laymen and scholars for centuries (more on that in a later post). The output here might read like trivia at times, but that does not mean it is a trivial endeavor.
Okay, that’s it for now.