Old Media Dips Into New Media Waters

November 10, 2008

In Ars Technica today: film studio MGM has partnered with video-sharing site YouTube to deliver full-length movies online. In the NYTimes: book publishers have signed a deal with e-giant Google (which also owns YouTube) to sell electronic versions of out-of-print, copyrighted works.

Both are obviously landmark deals that test possible unions between old and new media — parties that have been wary of each other, but whose business futures are hugely co-dependent.

Both also highlight a persistent (historically-pressing) need to redefine/rethink the role of the media creator (authors, musicians, visual artists, etc.). And her rights to her own produced, reproduced, and distributed works.

The 2007-8 Writers’ Strike is just one vivid illustration that the increasingly digital and transnational mediascape has far outgrown already-deficient intellectual property protections.

As more and more of old media creeps into the internet, the challenge will be to keep new media from morphing into the closed institutions and lopsided relationships it sought to tear down. The more things change the more they stay the same?

Let’s hope greater reach translates into greater financial support for media creators, not just middlemen. Information wants to be free! Yes, indeed. But artists need to be protected and compensated as well.

Note: Larry Lessig (Stanford University/Creative Commons) talked about copyrights and creative freedoms at this enlightening TedTalk back in March 2007.

70 Years Ago: Orson Welles Broadcasts “The War of the Worlds”

October 30, 2008

On October 30, 1938, Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater on the Air broadcast a radio play based on H. G. Wells’ science-fictional work, “The War of the Worlds“. The hyperrealistic play about an invasion of Earth by Martians created mass hysteria among thousands of radio listeners who had tuned into WABC and CBS’ radio network from 8 to 9 that evening.

The next day, the New York Times reported on the historic event:

Despite prior announcements and an introduction about the play’s imaginary content, thousands of listeners believed an alien invasion had indeed begun. Police stations and newspapers nationwide, but particularly in New York and New Jersey (non-fictional site of the fictional alien attacks), were swamped with frantic calls for help and rescue.

After the event, CBS, Mercury Theater, and Welles expressed their profound regrets at having stirred up so much fear, anger, and panic. Ironically, Welles disclosed that he had hesitated about presenting the play because he thought that “perhaps people might be bored or annoyed at hearing a tale so improbable”.

70 years ago today, the great Orson Welles tapped into the power of mass media and the lure of dramatic narrative — and unexpectedly, revealed how much we want to believe.


Kings and Kingmakers at Alfred E. Smith Memorial Dinner

October 19, 2008

NYT’s top cultural chronicler Bill Cunningham ran the lead photo above for his “Evening Hours” page this Sunday. From left: Cardinal Edward M. Egan, Alfred E. Smith IV (great grandson of Smith), Nan Smith, and Senator Barack Obama at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation dinner held on October 16th at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City.

The dinner reportedly raised $4 million for underprivileged children. Which is (undeniably) well and good. It also brought together — in royal white tie — the city’s (arguably, the nation’s) political, cultural, and media elite: both presidential hopefuls, both state senators, the city’s 3rd-term-seeking mayor, a Catholic archbishop, news anchors, and so on and so forth.

Power. With a capital-P. I can’t help but think how much of our futures were shaped that night.

No surprise to anyone that politicians must pal around with the ruling dynasties of wealth and religion in order to get work done. But I am curious about whether and how Obama’s promise of change will weather these dominant regimes with which he is ostensibly at odds.

Certainly, there is no choice. Obama MUST/WILL become the next American president. There is much at stake. One hopes his presidency radically alters photographs such as this.


Life For Sale On eBay Posts New Sequel: Do We Care?

July 3, 2008

The eBay auction for Ian Usher’s entire life is officially over. The winning bid: AU$399,300 (US$380,286). Unfortunately for Usher, it’s about $100,000 less than what he’d expected. (I suppose everyone’s got recession worries.)

The question is, What’s Next? For starters: a sequel-website. Usher’s original website, http://www.alife4sale.com, now has a link to Part 2: http://www.100goals100weeks.com.

AAARRRGGGGHuhhh.

This move, of course, is part of a not-so-new trend of living one’s life in a collective time and space. We’re way beyond tv culture, and now wading deep into YouTube waters. Life no longer mimics tv content. It IS content — and it’s being documented and broadcasted (or slivercasted) in realtime.

I can’t help thinking about Jim Carrey in “The Truman Show“, a movie released in 1999. From the moment of birth, Truman Burbank’s life is broadcast 24/7 on live tv — without his knowledge or consent. Less than a decade later, we hear of thousands willingly auditioning for the chance to get on reality tv. A chance to live and tell all in public.

As technology allows us to record and archive ever-increasing hordes of data with minimal material costs, we’re seeing more and more of these representations. The itch to document one’s self, one’s loves, one’s property — every moment from every angle — is now getting scratched all the time.

The question becomes: what’s the point of so much information? Really, who cares?

There’s a difference between a photograph, a film, and a video. A photo captures a single frame. Film captures 24 frames per second. HD is at 60 frames per second. Not everything has to be recorded on HD! My point on this tangent being: Edit! Much ado about nothing is, well, boring.

Move on, Usher. Move on.


eBay Fined 38.6 Million Euros for Allowing Fake Vuitton Sales

July 1, 2008

In The Guardian: A French court has ordered online auction site eBay to pay luxury goods giant LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy) a whopping €38.6 million euros in damages for negligence. eBay is charged with allowing independent retailers to use its site to sell fake products.

eBay is to pay €19.28 million to Louis Vuitton Malletier and €17.3 million to Christian Dior Couture for “damage to their brand images and causing moral harm.” Another €3.25 million goes to four LVMH perfume brands for “sales in violation of its authorized network.”

Can someone explain how sales of fake goods cause “moral harm”? Another bout of corporate ridiculousness.

eBay has appealed the ruling, arguing that LVMH is using the specific issue of counterfeits to attack the general trend towards e-commerce and to maintain (declining) control over the brands’ primary sales channels.

Other brands are hovering like vultures: Hermes, Tiffany & Co., and L’Oreal are all suing eBay for similar damages.

Luxury brands that cater to privileged elites (or the wanna-be-privileged elites) don’t mix very well with e-commerce or web platforms, which are largely driven by the mass populace. While the former relies on exclusivity, uniqueness, and tradition, the latter thrives on access, ubiquity, and change. The former would like to keep the latter out — unless of course the commoners are buying directly.

This seems to be what eBay is being punished for: providing an open marketplace for the populace to transact their own goods and services, on their own terms. I’d say it’s the best real-time representation yet of market supply/demand, property valuation, as well as socio-cultural trends.

Policing eBay in favor of corporate property is unfair. Fining eBay for what individuals own and are willing to buy and sell on the site is ludicrous (particularly since we are talking about handbags — not handguns or drugs or porno). How about policing corporate activities to protect individual rights for a change?

Keep our common markets free. Will we ever evolve from the Dark Ages of Extreme Luxury and Corporate Greed?


A Few Firsts: Gay Prides in India, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, and Havana

June 29, 2008

While NYC kicked off its 38th annual gay pride march yesterday, other cities were celebrating — or fighting for — their first. Another striking illustration of how uneven sociopolitical landscapes get across borders.

In India, gay rights supporters came out in the streets of Calcutta, Bangalore and New Delhi. Some wore masks, fearing persecution and violence yet wanting to participate. Activists called for an end to discrimination, seeking the “right to love”.

According to IHT, the marches are happening just 3 days before the Delhi High Court is expected to hear arguments on overturning a law against homosexual sex that dates to the British colonial era.

While India does not explicitly outlaw homosexuality, the 1861 penal code enacted by the British colonial government rules that “carnal intercourse against the order of nature between any man, woman or animal” is punishable by imprisonment of 10 years to life.

The Guardian reports on these other firsts:

Czech Republic
A gay parade in the country’s second largest city, Brno, was delayed on Saturday when the marchers were attacked by a group of rightwing extremists, who were shouting abusive slogans and throwing eggs.

The march was delayed by about an hour and took an alternative, shorter route than had been planned, under police protection.

Bulgaria
Extremists throwing rocks, bottles and petrol bombs attacked Sofia’s first gay pride parade on Saturday. Police say that they blocked the extremists from harming the 150 or so people in the procession through the city. About 60 people were detained for harassing the participants. Bulgaria’s Orthodox church says the march should be banned as it undermines the country’s Christian traditions.

Havana
Cuba’s first gay pride parade was abruptly cancelled last Wednesday.

The unofficial march, organised with Florida’s Unity Coalition, was not sanctioned by Cuba’s National Centre for Sex Education, which is headed by Mariela Castro, daughter of President Raúl Castro.

Imagine that.

So, we continue to fight until everyone’s rights are equal. This is not a gay issue. It’s a human rights issue.


Supreme Court Justice Blames Al Gore for 2000 Election Mess

June 27, 2008

Yesterday, Justice Antonin Scalia led a 5 – 4 vote to lift a ban on handguns in D.C. — a decision welcomed by many Republicans but criticized by many law enforcement officials around the country. Today, the conservative, originalist judge is spouting nonsense again.

The UK’s Telegraph reports that Scalia blames Al Gore for the outcome of the 2000 presidential elections. Apparently, Gore should have conceded without resorting to the courts, without pushing it up to the Supreme Court. Just like the honorable Republican president Richard Nixon.

In an interview about his book “Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges”, Scalia told the Telegraph:

Richard Nixon, when he lost to [John F.] Kennedy thought that the election had been stolen in Chicago, which was very likely true with the system at the time…

But he did not even think about bringing a court challenge. That was his prerogative. So you know if you don’t like it, don’t blame it on me.

I didn’t bring it into the courts. Mr Gore brought it into the courts.

So if you don’t like the courts getting involved talk to Mr Gore.

Nominated by President Ronald Reagan in 1986, Scalia is one of the leading conservative justices on the Supreme Court. He insists that the controversial 5 – 4 decision to stop the Florida recount was “absolutely right”. Because of these 5 justices, Bush prevailed in Florida by just 537 votes.

I can’t help thinking where we might be today had just one justice changed his or her mind. I guess Scalia’s new book on how to speak and write persuasive arguments will come in handy next time.

(Here’s an interesting video interview with Scalia on CBS News back in April 2008.)


Disney/Pixar’s “WALL-E” Animates the Future and Mirrors the Present

June 24, 2008

Saw Pixar’s newest animated movie “WALL-E” at a MoMA preview on Sunday. Directed by Andrew Stanton (who won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature, for “Finding Nemo” in 2003) and released by Disney, the animated narrative unfolds around two robots, WALL-E and EVE. It’s (shall we anthropomorphically call it…) a love story set in a dystopic and divided auto-consumerized future, which eventually becomes the ground for a new, more human, Earth.

Hands down: the animation is gorgeous. You know something’s picture-perfect when you don’t even think it’s an animated production. I still remember seeing-but-not-believing its first animated feature “Toy Story” back in 1995. “Wall-E” is Pixar 2008 and Disney 21st Century. Baudrillard might have called it a simulacrum so seamless you forget it’s a fiction. There are moments in the first part of the film when you really think there’s a crew filming WALL-E’s dust-ridden, junk-filled terrain.

WALL-E itself is a friendly garbage-collecting-robot that looks strikingly like Johnny 5 in “Short Circuit” (1986). It’s the last remaining robot on Earth. It’s been tirelessly doing its job for about 700 years. (Since the movie is set in the year 2700, we might assume that the writers are trying to tell us that WALL-E was probably created right about now.) It’s got a soft spot for old-fashioned romance musicals.

Suddenly, WALL-E encounters EVE, a futuristic cyborg/militarized automaton who has landed on Earth to look for sustainable life. WALL-E’s got it, in the form of a single plant. EVE, it turns out, is a probe from a spaceship in which the last remaining humans are consuming themselves into an overweight and immobile oblivion. The two robot-opposites attract and the rest, as they say, is history. Or maybe the future.

What do we expect from Disney? It’s a classic love story, along the lines of Beauty and the Beast or Cinderella. Set against an environmental catastrophe and “An Inconvenient Truth”. Disney sure knows how to tug at them heartstrings — a lot for a movie with minimal dialogue.

While I did honestly enjoy “WALL-E”, I also found myself asking how much it illuminates our current state of affairs: I’m watching a love story about two inanimate machines, who are somehow more human than humans. I’m looking at the effects of hyper-consumerism and technology-driven simulation — through a Disney/Pixar creation. And I’m facing a screen, blogging about this to a largely-unknown group of readers. We are living the foundations of this science fiction. WALL-E mirrors our time.

In short: good movie, good soundtrack, great animation. Go see it! Opens June 27.


A Life for Sale on eBay

June 23, 2008

Does everything have a price? Apparently so. Ian Usher, a 44-year-old Englishman living in Perth, Australia, has had enough of his life. So he’s selling what he feels has defined his life up to this point: 3-bedroom home (valued at AU$400-420,000) and all its contents in Perth, car, motorbike, jetski, kitesurfing gear. Introductions to his friends. His lifestyle. Even a trial stint at his job at a carpet store.

Usher has published the details on http://www.alifeforsale.com and is holding an eBay auction that ends this Sunday, June 29th. As of this posting, his eBay listing (which opened Sunday) already has 115 bids. The current bid is at AU$2.2 million (approximately US$2.1 million).

Why? Apparently, a broken heart. Usher says he married “the best girl in the world”, but was “blindsided…by a shocking and awful discovery.” He doesn’t specify. He does say this though:

I now live alone in a house that was being built for us to live in together…I am still surrounded by all the memorabilia of our years together… Everything in my home is a reminder of the wonderful past we shared.

So, after a year in this house I decided that it is time to sell it and move on.

What next?

Upon completion and settlement I will walk out of my home for the last time in just the clothes I am wearing, and carrying only my wallet and passport.

My current thoughts are to then head to the airport, and ask at the flight desk where the next flight with an available seat goes to, and to get on that and see where life takes me from there!

Considering that Usher expected to get just £185,000 (US$365,000) according to BBC, he’s not doing badly. Perhaps people facing foreclosure might adapt his strategy. Why just sell the house? Hey, throw in the whole deal. And the personal narrative too.


Beijing Olympics: The Curse of the Five Fuwa Mascots

June 19, 2008

fuwa

These five Fuwa characters are the official mascots of the Beijing Games. Based on the five traditional Olympic rings (designed in 1913 to represent the five major continents), four symbolize China’s most popular animals and one stands in for the Olympic flame.

According to the official website:

Each of Fuwa has a rhyming two-syllable name… Beibei is the Fish, Jingjing is the Panda, Huanhuan is the Olympic Flame, Yingying is the Tibetan Antelope and Nini is the Swallow.

When you put their names together — Bei Jing Huan Ying Ni — they say “Welcome to Beijing”…

Turns out, the mascots also represent five curses. According to Reuters:

After a devastating earthquake struck Sichuan province last month, Internet users tied four of the five Fuwa mascots to the calamities that have struck China…

One Fuwa is a panda, the totem of Sichuan [earthquakes]. The others resemble a torch, reminding netizens of the protests against the international Olympic torch rally; a Tibetan antelope tied to widespead demonstrations in Tibetan areas; and a swallow that looks like a kite, linked to a deadly train crash in Shandong province.

The final Fuwa, sporting a fish, was left unexplained… until widespread flooding in southern and central China claimed dozens of lives in June.

Reuters reports that government censors have been removing postings about the curse so as not to fuel the superstitious. The Games, however, are still scheduled to begin at 8:08 PM on 8/8/08 — 8 being a lucky number for certain superstitious Chinese.


French Spiderman/Environmental Activist Becomes Paid Promoter

June 18, 2008

On June 5th, Alain Robert (aka French Spiderman) boldly scaled the 52-story New York Times building in Times Square to call attention to global warming. This afternoon, he climbed the 32-story Dresdner Bank building in Frankfurt.

robert dresdner

No environmental activism or political intervention behind today’s stunt, though. It’s all legal, secure (Robert wore a safety harness) — and paid for. His 40-minute climb was filmed for a German program called “Unglaublich!” (which NYT translates into “Unbelievable!”). This time, his call-to-action was replaced by a T-shirt with the name of the show.

Why do so many independent acts get turned into promotional vehicles or media opportunities? As our visual landscape gets more and more jampacked with promotional messages, corporations are always on the lookout for the next out-of-the-blue spectacle. And they’ve got the budgets to monetize these unusual acts.

Does everything and everyone ultimately have a price?

Photo: Arne Dedert/European Press in NYT

Republican Radio Host Calls for Murder of Media Activist

June 14, 2008

Michael Reagan, eldest son of Ronald Reagan and national radio talk show host, is calling on listeners to kill Mark Dice, political activist and founder of a Christian media watchdog called The Resistance. Reagan’s words:

How about you take Mark Dice out and put him in the middle of a firing range. Tie him to a post, don’t blindfold him, let it rip and have some fun with Mark Dice. (full audio link)

What provoked the former president’s adopted son?

Apparently, Mark Dice and his group of 3,000 Christian activists had been urging people to send letters and DVDs to U.S. soldiers stationed in Iraq informing them that 9/11 was an inside job produced by the American government. In an interview with Fox News, Dice explained his motivations for “Operation Inform The Soldiers”:

I don’t want the soldiers who are risking their lives in Iraq to be used as pawns in the creation of the New World Order… We want U.S. troops to know that we care about them and are doing our best to make sure that they don’t have to risk their lives based on false pretenses.

While we do NOT agree with or endorse Dice’s platform, Reagan’s open call for murder is just plain repulsive. A transcript of the words he used on his radio program:

We ought to find the people who are doing this, take them out and shoot them. Really. You take them out, they are traitors to this country, and shoot them. You have a problem with that? Deal with it. You shoot them. You call them traitors, that’s what they are, and you shoot them dead. I’ll pay for the bullets.

Dice certainly knows how to fight back. He has filed a report with the FBI, is considering legal action, and is calling for Reagan to be fired immediately.

It’s not often that we see two right-wingers throwing fire and brimstone at each other. Perhaps a reality tv show is in the works.


Benedict XVI Meets Bush In Realignment of Church and State

June 13, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI, head of the Roman Catholic church, granted a special audience to U.S. President Bush on Vatican state grounds earlier today. This is their second official meeting in exactly three months. Photos of the seemingly casual encounter unambiguously articulate a new alignment and alliance between the two powerful leaders. Both men walk (or sit) side by side — as amiable colleagues, placing Western religion and Western politics on equal, albeit very precarious, footing.

bushpopeOn the surface, the two men appear diametrically opposed. Joseph Ratzinger consciously adapted his papal name from Benedict XV, known as the “peace pope” during World War I. While George W. Bush simply inherited an ancestral name then fell into (some say stole) a legacy of war.

So why the love fest?

We can only speculate. Both are heads of institutions whose global dominance and relevance are currently on the wane. Future growth and stability are dependent on cultures outside their historic territories. Do they simply need each other to survive into the next century?

The more important question for me is why Benedict XVI has positioned himself (and therefore his god, his church) so squarely on the side of a president who continues to wage a profoundly unjust war.

There are at least three answers — all of which, of course, just lead to more questions:

1. The pope condones war. Has Benedict XVI chosen to walk in the footsteps, NOT of Benedict XV, but of one of Benedict XV’s proteges: Pius XII, who was crowned pope on March 12, 1939, the eve of Adolf Hitler’s march into Prague? (Controversy over Pius’ papacy continues today because of his refusal to condemn the Nazi regime and his silence in face of the Jewish holocaust.)

2. The pope rejects war. Perhaps these meetings are subtle attempts to sway Bush from staying the course of war. The Vatican’s official line, of course, is that Benedict XVI rejects the war and is “skeptical of politics without reference to the Gospel.”

3. The pope rejects war but has to turn a blind eye in order to win his church’s larger battle — converting the entire world over to Christianity. In other words: the elimination of all other religions, including the Abrahamic traditions of Judaism and Islam.

It’s a new world. All roads no longer lead to Rome. Strangely, they now all lead to the Middle East.

Whichever the answer (and there are admittedly many more), both Benedict and Bush seem to be ideal counterparts. Not two men from different spheres, but two halves of a single neoconservative coin.

During his visit, Bush reportedly told Benedict: “This is fantastic up here… Thank you so much for showing me this.” The view of the gods must be spectacular. Caution: thunderbolts ahead.

Photo from Getty Images, as published in NYT’s lede story this morning.

Bill Moyers Fights Back, Sends Fox News’ O’Reilly Henchman Scurrying

June 8, 2008

Free Press is holding its 3-day National Conference for Media Reform in Minneapolis this weekend. Bill Moyers delivered the Saturday morning plenary to an audience of more than 3,500. (Closing remarks are later today, tbd.)

Describing the media reform movement as “the most significant citizens’ movement to emerge in this new century”, Moyers’ address called on independent and alternative media producers to challenge “the stranglehold of mega-media corporations over our press” and deliver “information that people can trust”.

Moyers’ 39-minute speech on stage is inspiring, indelible, and hopefully viral. But here’s a 9-minute video that’s REALLY worth seeing. Moyers puts his words into live action.

Background: Moyers appears cornered by Porter Barry of Murdoch’s Fox News. Barry is on assignment, sent by Bill O’Reilly on a mission to drag Moyers into his nucyular waste dump of a show. Trained in O’Reilly’s draconian intimidation tactics, Barry badgers Moyers. Without blinking, Moyers proceeds to throw it right back.

Raw video captured by correspondent Noah Kunin of Uptake. Originally found on fearless Fark.

A blixity tip of the hat to Bill Moyers! A rare class act. Here’s to learning from a master of words and slowly turning the cameras back on big media. Support public broadcasting and the fight to sustain independent productions. To paraphrase Moyers, freedom of speech is the basis of all our freedoms.


Day of Silence For An Historic Clinton Campaign

June 3, 2008

Senator Barack Obama of Illinois has claimed the Democratic Party’s nomination tonight in Minnesota. While the future of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton remains unclear at this time, we are observing a day of silence on Wednesday, June 4th, to salute the historic implications of her hard-earned, hard-fought campaign.

A blixity tip of the hat to a formidable candidate and an ever-defiant force. Here’s to Clinton for fighting a stunning fight and keeping the serious debates going.

We now have 24 hours to switch gears and get behind the party’s nominee, after an epic and invigorating primary battle. Clinton’s campaign is dead. Long Live the Obama campaign.

We hope to see the emergence of an Obama-Clinton dream team — perhaps when the media pundits decide to stop dragging Clinton through the coals. Let’s go win this one for peace and democracy, why don’t we?

hillobamared

It’s time.