Monday, January 23, 2017

The Spiciest Seat in Cooking

AS MARIE PUSHED her way through the revolving glass door, she looked around in amazement. It was her first time in the EXO headquarters, and she looked up what seemed to be a mile to the skylight above. The warmth and natural light meant she no longer needed the jacket that protected her from the chill January air of Manhattan. She could see windowed offices with people busily working running the whole height of the tower. She was simply amazed.

EXO, as everyone knew, was one of the largest media conglomerates still in existence. It started as a television channel in the late twentieth century but had evolved--as most things do--into a multi-platform experience. Now, the television channel was dwarfed by the sheer amount of material in its name. More channels were added, divisions purchased, and content made. Soon, EXO had its hands in everything, from news to sports to original programming, and so on. Of course, a paranoia of Big Business surrounded EXO, but honestly, what sizable company could hope to escape such an inevitability in those times? Most of it was well made, after all. But today, Marie was here for one reason: the cooking department.

She walked her way up to a secretary whose face was illuminated by the blue of her computer screen. “Can I help you?” The secretary asked dourly.

“Yes, I’m here for Cooking?” Marie replied.

“37,” came the response, as the secretary barely took her eyes off the continual data she was entering to gesture towards an elevator growing ever crowded. Marie was unphased by her attitude.

She excused herself and headed towards the elevator, still mesmerized by the amount of people in the lobby. When she was finally wedged into the back of the vehicle, she contemplated the steps that led to this point as she ascended.

Marie was a vlogger. She made videos and posted them on YouTube. She shared them with friends and--while she hoped they enjoyed them--had no expectation that they would become popular, which they didn’t. She had no way of tracking how many people were actually viewing her videos (view counters can’t be trusted, you know), and she really couldn’t care less. She made videos for her own personal pleasure. Sometimes she reviewed a movie she saw, other times an album. She even dabbled a bit in sports. But her true passion was with cooking. She would share basic instructional videos of her tastiest concoctions on the sole hope that someone watching would get a kick out of the video and maybe try their hand at making.

After several years of consistent posting, she volunteered to post on a shared video channel specifically for cooking on YouTube. She wasn’t doing it for views or fame or anything of that nature. She just saw it as an opportunity to continue doing what she was doing, and more people with a shared interest could interact. It meant a little more work than she was used to, and her supervisor was a bit of a dope, but that didn’t matter to Marie. She had finished school, so she had the time to make an extra video here and there, and she got over her inane supervisor with some slight complaining. Now, she could certain cooking videos to this larger network, while keeping her personal video channel alive with other creations.

One afternoon, Marie was preparing to make another video. She knew she had included some information in a previous video that would be helpful to her and her viewers in this new one. So, needing to refer back, Marie did what any young adult would do to quickly retrieve information: she turned to Google. A quick query turned up not one of her videos, but several. There was hers, of course, but it was about halfway down the page. The first result was video with the same title posted by EXO Cooking, one of the many subdivisions of the enterprise. The second, third, fourth, and many others were repostings of the link from EXO. ‘Hmm,’ she pondered to herself. ‘What are the odds of my video sharing a title with this one?’

She opened the video and was shocked by the similarities. ‘This feels like something I made,’ she thought. ‘In fact, it is exactly what I made.’ Excitedly, she looked around for her name somewhere on the page, then tried a different link and then another. All of the videos had attribution to someone; yet none of them were Marie. It was difficult to categorize her thoughts at that moment. Sure, she was flattered that a huge corporation like EXO would showcase her ideas, but a little miffed that they didn’t give her any credit. She shared it with her friends, who reacted with the predictable combination of annoyance and amusement. Finally, she arrived at the decision. It couldn’t hurt to contact EXO.

After some digging on the nigh impenetrable website, she finally found a lone contact email address. With a carefully worded message, Marie explained that she was flattered to find her video on the EXO Cooking webpage but a little surprised not to find her information anywhere on the page. Doing her due diligence, Marie enclosed a link to her original post as well as the link to the EXO page. Satisfied with the missive, she clicked Send.

Three days passed and still she did not hear back from EXO. Not that she was shocked, it was a multi-million dollar entity after all. She continued to joke with her friends, and it ceased to bother her. Then one day, her phone gave an insignificant vibrate. Illuminating the screen she read the one-line message.

“Miss Swift- you are welcome to come on Boiling Point to dispute your claim.”

Boiling point was quickly becoming one of EXO’s flagship web-series. Marketed as the “Spiciest Seat in Cooking,” the premise was thus: two celebrity chefs, Debbie Falstaff and Katherine Jacobs, sit opposite each other and loudly yell about topics in the culinary world, making such extravagant claims as, “I’m telling you, if you ever use a spatula with an cast-iron pan, you’re doing it wrong!” and “It is simply impossible to cook anything with fewer than three whisks!” A diminutive man--Matthew or Marcus or something--sits between the two powerhouse women, futilely trying to keep them on topic. To tell the truth, Marie had never watched one of the shows; she always collapsed with laughter, pointing at the screen whenever she forgot to turn off autoplay and the program began.

Boiling Point seemed like such a sham, Marie had no problems agreeing to go on the show.

When she got off the elevator on the thirty-seventh floor, Marie was recognized immediately (from her video, she assumed) and hurried down the hallway to the dressing room. As her makeup was hastily applied, a haughty woman explained the rules to her: “We’ve received your complaint about… ah… the proper credit, and it will be disputed on this show. If you successfully pass the ten minute mark, you can have your credit.”

“That’s it?” questioned Marie.

“Don’t be so sure of yourself; these women are sharks.”

Marie stepped over to the studio, brightly lit and surrounded by gawking people. As it were, Marie only had to go up against Katherine Jacobs. Debbie Falstaff was out sick, or so an intern claimed. And the whole charade was, remarkably, very easy. The moderator, Marco (or whatever his name was) started off with a softball, “Marie, why are you here?”

Marie began, “Well, to get credit for --”

“The real problem with split pea soup, is that the peas are already split!” launched Katherine Jacobs. “If I’m making split pea soup, you’d better believe I’m splitting the peas myself!”

The woman was insatiable, jumping from point to point with no rhyme or reason. The boy--for he really was just a pawn in this game--ceased trying to steer the conversation and pulled out his iPhone. Clearly, he’d done this before. Marie sat back, halfheartedly trying to offer agreements or counter arguments. Jacobs went blithering on, growing more shrill and belligerent by the second.

“You got lucky,” the haughty woman barked after the show. “If Falstaff was here, you would have been crying.” Marie doubted this, as the intern inside had told her all of them turn out like this. If nothing else, the plagiarism, Boiling Point, and the whole experience made for a really dumb story for her friends.

Marie arrived home, opened her ancient laptop where she did most of her work, and navigated to the EXO YouTube channel. Finding her video, she opened it up and expanded the additional information below the window. There, in tiny print, was her Twitter handle, “@MarieSwift1991.” She closed the laptop lid and smiled. This was all she wanted.