Issue 26 Volume Two, As Of May 30, 2011, “It Beats Old Age, Disease or Falling Down the Cellar Stairs …”


In 1913 when he was seventy-one years of age, Ambrose Bierce abandoned the United States to accompany Pancho Villa on Villa’s mission to inflame revolution in Mexico. Bierce did not intend to return.

Bierce, writer and journalist, was also a soldier who barely survived the most savage combat of the American Civil War as a Union infantryman. He fought boldly at Shiloh and in other horrific battles, so he had no illusions about war. His account of Shiloh is a classic:

Once Bierce left El Paso, Texas, for Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, (alas, still a fierce war zone of rivers of fresh blood and death) and Villa’s troops, he vanished forever.

Bierce is revered as a writer. “…I consider anybody a twerp who hasn’t read the greatest American short story, which is ‘Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,’ by Ambrose Bierce. It isn’t remotely political. It is a flawless example of American genius, like ‘Sophisticated Lady’ by Duke Ellington or the Franklin stove.” (Kurt Vonnegut — 2005) ”

I believe that Bierce’s disappearance was, in large part, his recognition that we all have a time to come to an end, and he understood that his time was imminent. Shortly before he went South, he wrote to his niece Lora:

“Good-by — if you hear of my being stood up against a Mexican stone wall and shot to rags please know that I think that a pretty good way to depart [t?]his life. It beats old age, disease, or falling down the cellar stairs.”

I have wondered over the years what Bierce understood about the timing of his end, and I continue to do so. However, I have a clue because it is time to bring Burning Shorts to its end. Like Bierce, Burning Shorts has had an exciting life for its era: born May 30, 2006, and vanishing May 30, 2011 at the age of five years.

In cyberspace, five years is a very long time. On May 30, 2006, a glorious flood of original online video art and entertainment spontaneously appeared, and the hungry audience rewarded talent by making a video “go viral”: a million views in a week … that sort of phenomenon.

May 30, 2006, YouTube was merely another of the many “raw and unfiltered” sites and not yet absorbed by Google, thereby making YouTube the supreme aggregator of video as Google is of search. The creative discoveries were wild and thrilling, and the mission of Burning Shorts was to find the founding geniuses of original online content and to help them connect to horizontal media forms, like motion pictures and television. So, Burning Shorts launched with a core subscribership of Hollywood creative professionals.

The history of Burning Shorts speaks for itself: it is here before you in its entirety and, now, in its completeness. Though the visitorship of Burning Shorts has doubled and doubled briskly a number of times in its five years (making a lovely, steeply upward curve of visitorship), what tells me it is time for Ciudad Juarez is that the giant aggregators, like GooTube, are now announcing They will be “curating” the best of original online content.

I have many thoughts about this “new” effort by the giants: mainly predictions of cycles of failure before They get it right, if ever.

However and like Bierce, though, I prefer simply to vanish, declaring Burning Shorts a dedicated effort to capture the finest original online work, to feature it, and to celebrate the innovation and art that appeared for the World in the First Five Years.

Here then is the First Five Years–as we discovered, critiqued, and rejoiced in them, of such creative work–and here they will remain as an emblem and a history of what creativity erupted and how it felt before the giant aggregators expanded their empires to control this territory. I evacuate, vanish, perhaps like Bierce. He preferred to finish his life, riding into a Mexican Revolution with Pancho Villa. “It beats old age, disease, or falling down the cellar stairs.”

No “old age, disease or falling down the cellar stairs …” for Burning Shorts!

Yet, Bierce inspired Vonnegut. Perhaps Burning Shorts will provide an historical/creative foundation for intrepid souls who dare continue the mission and motivation of Burning Shorts in their way. If so, you have my support and aid always.

Five years feels right, complete. Five years in Web2.0 is surely at least seventy-one in Bierce’s world. Also, the first Five years may prove useful in the future, as our media and hence our literacy moves, in my view, from narrative to spectacle … and into the control of fewer and fewer creative minds. Seen any good movies lately?

The dedication of Burning Shorts was deeply heartfelt on May 30, 2006, just as it is this May 30, 2011. So long as this work and I endure, the dedication remains always deeply heartfelt and a humble gesture of my gratitude to those to whom it is dedicated.

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