Last summer I noted that Comcast's PR department pretty consistently now sends me snotty e-mail "corrections." Not about any of the thousands of articles Techdirt or I have written about the company's abysmal customer service, punitive usage caps, ridiculously high prices, or obnoxiously anti-competitive behavior mind you, but to scold me for one and only one thing: calling the company's top lobbyist a lobbyist.
You see, despite the fact that Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen spends the majority of his time trying to influence state and federal regulators (he was the lead salesman of the NBC and Time Warner Cable mergers), Comcast calls him the company's "Chief Diversity Officer." That's because updated 2007 lobbying reporting rules require that if an employee spends more than 20% of their time lobbying in DC, they have to register with the government as a lobbyist, detail their travel with lawmakers, and more fully outline their contributions to politicians and their myriad foundations.
As a result, Cohen -- and thousands of other lobbyists -- simply started calling themselves something else. And ever since Comcast started complaining, I've of course felt compelled to refer to him as a lobbyist as often as possible. I did so again last week when I wrote a blog entry noting that Cohen saw a notable contract extension and pay raise despite his failure to get the company's Time Warner Cable deal approved. Not too surprisingly, Comcast spokesperson Sena Fitzmaurice was quick to reach out and scold me, for what I believe is now the third time:
"I know I may be not worth asking, but could you use factual information in your pieces? It is factually incorrect to say that “David Cohen spend the lion’s share of his time pushing Comcast in policy circles just like any other lobbyist.” That is just not true. To be true, David would have to spend the lion’s share of his time in Washington, DC – which he doesn’t. It would have the be the lion’s share of his responsibilities which it isn’t. Your belittling of the serious time he devotes to his Chief Diversity Officer duties is insulting, it isn’t tap dancing around a legal rule. Our workforce is 59% diverse, our 2014 hires were 69% diverse, and David expends considerable time to his commitment as Chief Diversity officer."
Cohen and Comcast use Internet Essentials as a public relations and lobbying weapon to highlight the company's incredible altruism at every conceivable opportunity. Cohen's cherub-esque visage can often be seen standing among smiling children at what's an endless series of PR junkets. That I doubt the purity of these efforts by arguably the least-liked company in America is most likely some kind of defect in my character, I'll be the first to admit.
But Fitzmaurice continued, lecturing me on the fact that Comcast actually did a wonderful job at adhering to the more than 150 flimsy NBC merger conditions, most of which Comcast itself created:
"Further, your continued insistence that Comcast hasn’t adhered to the more than 150 conditions of the NBCUniversal transaction by the FCC and the DOJ consent decree belies the facts. In the nearly 5 years since the transaction was concluded, the FCC has taken 1 action on a merger condition, and that was over 3 years ago. That means the FCC has not had enforcement issues with about 150 other conditions. That hardly seems like “failed utterly to adhere to merger conditions.” Other than on that one issue of standalone broadband marketing, which was resolved and the consent decree on that issue itself has expired, the FCC and the DOJ have not taken actions on violations of conditions or the consent decree."
And that's technically true. The only wrist slap Comcast got was a $600 million fine from the FCC for hiding a $50 a month standalone broadband option it had promised to offer. But the fact that the FCC couldn't be bothered to enforce the NBC merger conditions says more about the FCC than anything else. And indeed, the lion's share of the conditions Comcast pats itself on its back for adhering to were utterly hollow, including things like adding "1,500 more titles to Comcast’s on-demand offerings for children." Most of these show pony suggestions were suggested by Comcast because the company had already planned to accomplish them anyway as a matter of course, like expanding its broadband network to 400,000 additional homes.
After explaining this all to Comcast (again) I reminded the company I'm using the dictionary definition of the word lobbyist, and it may want to contact Random House and Merriam Webster with any future concerns. Still, I'm happy to use the powers of the Streisand effect and pen a blog post each and every time the company's PR representatives feel like scolding me for semantic bullshit. There's certainly a lot more to be said about the nation's utterly pathetic lobbying rules that let most lobbyists like Cohen tap dance over, under, and around political influence reporting requirements.
Hollywood's efforts to win political clout have always stretched across the country, from glitzy campaign fundraisers in Beverly Hills to cocktail parties with power brokers in Washington.
Last year, the film industry staked out another zone of influence: U.S. embassies. Its lobbying arm paid to renovate screening rooms in at least four overseas outposts, hoping the new theaters would help ambassadors and their foreign guests "keep U.S. cultural interests top of mind," according to an internal email.
That was the same year that the Motion Picture Association of America, which represents the six biggest studios, reported it was lobbying the State Department on issues including piracy and online content distribution. Hollywood's interests – including its push for tougher copyright rules in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact – often put the industry at odds with Silicon Valley.
The only public indication of the embassy-theater initiative was a February 2015 press release from American officials in Madrid, titled "U.S. Embassy Launches State-of-the-Art Screening Room." It credited "a generous donation" from the MPAA.
Asked about its gifts to the State Department, the lobby group declined to say how many embassies got donations or how much they were worth.
"Because film is a great ambassador for U.S. culture around the world, MPAA assisted with the upgrade of some embassy theater facilities," said spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield. "All gifts complied with the law as well as with State Department ethics guidelines."
Nicole Thompson, a State Department spokeswoman, said at least three embassies besides Madrid received between $20,000 and $50,000 in entertainment upgrades last year – London, Paris and Rome. The revamped screening rooms, she said, aren't intended to entertain U.S. officials, but rather to help them host screenings to promote an American industry and sow goodwill.
Thompson said the donations were proper and that all gifts to the department are reviewed to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest. "The department has explicit authorities to accept gifts made for its benefit or for carrying out any of its functions," she said.
The State Department routinely accepts gifts from outside groups, Thompson said. She couldn't provide any other examples of major gifts from groups that simultaneously lobby the agency. Thompson declined to list the items given by the MPAA or their total value, and wouldn't say whether the group had made similar gifts in the past.
There was at least one precedent. A spokesman for Warner Bros. Entertainment said the studio helped pay for the refurbishment of the screening room at the U.S. ambassador's home in Paris in 2011. "This donation was coordinated with the State Department and complied with all appropriate rules and regulations," the spokesman said.
State Department policies posted online specifically permit gifts from individuals, groups or corporations for "embassy refurbishment, " provided that the donors are vetted to ensure there's no conflict or possible "embarrassment or harm" to the agency. The posted policies include no caps on the value of donations, nor any requirements for public disclosure of foreign or American donors. The rules also say that the donations can't come with a promise or expectation of "any advantage or preference from the U.S. Government."
Obtaining an advantage, albeit a nonspecific one, sounded like the goal when a Sony Pictures Entertainment official wrote to the studio's chief executive officer, Michael Lynton, to relay a request to fund the screening rooms from Chris Dodd, the former U.S. senator who heads the MPAA. The executive writing the note – Keith Weaver – sought to assure the CEO that such a donation wouldn't be improper.
"The rationale being that key Ambassadors will keep U.S. cultural interests top of mind, as they screen American movies for high level officials where they are stationed," reads the message, included in a cache of emails hacked from Sony and which were posted online by the website WikiLeaks.
"The cost implication is estimated to be $165k (aggregate of $$$/in-kind) per embassy/per studio. Apparently, donations of this kind are permissible."
Besides Sony, the MPAA represents Disney, Paramount, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal Studios and Warner Bros. Entertainment. The e-mails suggest that Sony executives decided against contributing to the project for budget reasons.
The MPAA has long been a powerful presence in the nation's capital, spending $1.34 million on federal lobbying last year, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. One of its flashier tools has been to host exclusive gatherings at its Washington screening room, two blocks from the White House, where lawmakers get to watch blockbuster films, rub elbows with celebrities, and up until several years ago, enjoy dinner – a perk scuttled because of stricter rules on congressional lobbying.
Hollywood studios depend on foreign markets for much of their profit but the MPAA's interests don't always align with those of other major American constituencies. For example, Hollywood studios have moved some film production to Canada to cut costs. American film workers have tried to get the federal government to stop the outsourcing of jobs, but have been met with resistance from the MPAA.
The trade group has also pushed federal officials to pressure foreign governments into adopting stricter copyright laws. An MPAA-funded study found that in 2005 worldwide piracy cost American studios $6.1 billion in revenue. That number has been disputed by digital rights advocates.
For the TPP trade deal, the MPAA has discouraged the American government from exporting "fair use" protections to other countries. In a hacked message from Dodd to the U.S. Trade Representative, the MPAA chief warned that including such provisions, which in American law allow limited use of copyrighted materials without permission, would be "extremely controversial and divisive." Digital rights activists have characterized the efforts as overzealous.
"They're basically encouraging other countries to adopt the most draconian parts of U.S. copyright law and even to reinterpret U.S. copyright law to make it more stringent," said Mitch Stoltz, an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "Broadly speaking broadening copyright law harms free speech in many cases by creating a mechanism for censorship."
The state-of-the-art screening rooms are a relatively minimal investment by Hollywood as it works to strengthen connections abroad.
This spring, the U.S. ambassador to Spain, James Costos, brought a group of foreign officials to Los Angeles for a meeting hosted by the MPAA. Among them were representatives from the Canary Islands, who came prepared to discuss filming opportunities and tax incentives for American studios in the Spanish territory. The State Department touted the trip as an opportunity to "expand bilateral trade and investment, including through ties between the entertainment industries."
It's not known whether the path to that particular meeting was eased by the new screening room in Madrid. At the theater's debut in February, the ambassador's guests were treated to a dark tale of corruption, lobbying and double-dealing in Washington – the Netflix series "House of Cards."
We've been discussing Sony's ridiculous threat letters to members of the press (including us) with claims about how they should not read, share or report on the leaked Sony emails, hinting at how this violates all sorts of laws. As we've explained, that's a bunch of hogwash. While the original hacking almost certainly broke the law, reporting on what's in there after it's been leaked remains entirely legal. And, if you want even more support for why it's important, with the latest Pulitzer Prizes being awarded, it's notable that one of the winners for investigative journalism went to Eric Lipton of the NY Times for a series of stories that he's done exposing the influence of lobbyists -- and that includes Lipton's excellent reporting (with Nick Wingfield) using the leaked Sony emails to detail how the MPAA was trying to bring back SOPA via influencing various State Attorneys General.
That reporting has been tremendously important in exposing how the MPAA has sought to undermine the will of the public that was so outspoken concerning SOPA, but which had no way to speak out about what was happening behind closed doors because of those very doors. The fact that these emails have shone a bright light on questionable moves by the MPAA has also highlighted why we need more transparency on the policy making front and an end to backroom negotiations. That doesn't mean whoever released Sony's emails was necessarily right to do so, but those reporting on them absolutely have done incredibly valuable and important work. And, yes, it's legal to do so, contrary to Sony's silly threats.
Earlier this year, there was a lot of hype and uproar about the revelation that, back in 2012, Facebook had run an experiment on news feeds to see if it could make people happy or sad. While I really don't think the experiment was so crazy, others disagreed. Of course, that was hardly the only experiment that Facebook has run on its users, and over at Mother Jones, Micah Sifry last week revealed the details of another Facebook newsfeed experiment from 2012: one that influenced how and if people voted:
For one such experiment, conducted in the three months prior to Election Day in 2012, Facebook increased the amount of hard news stories at the top of the feeds of 1.9 million users. According to one Facebook data scientist, that change—which users were not alerted to—measurably increased civic engagement and voter turnout.
As the article notes, Facebook had experimented with "I'm Voting" or "I'm a Voter" buttons on its site to see if that would encourage friends to vote, but its civic engagement tactics have gone much further than that. Still, even all the way back in 2010, Facebook had realized that just using those "voter" buttons likely increased voting:
After the election, the study's authors examined voter records and concluded that Facebook's nudging had increased voter turnout by at least 340,000. As the study noted, that's about 0.14 percent of the total voting-age population in 2010. Considering that overall turnout rose from 37.2 percent in 2006 to 37.8 percent in 2010—both off-year, nonpresidential elections—the Facebook scientists maintained that the voter megaphone impact in 2010 was substantial. "It is possible," the Facebook team wrote in Nature, "that more of the 0.6 percent growth in turnout between 2006 and 2010 might have been caused by a single message on Facebook."
Now, for the 2012 experiment, which Facebook doesn't seem to want to talk about very much (and, in fact, it pulled a video about it, after Sifry started poking around, asking questions):
In the fall of 2012, according to two public talks given by Facebook data scientist Lada Adamic, a colleague at the company, Solomon Messing, experimented on the news feeds of 1.9 million random users. According to Adamic, Messing "tweaked" the feeds of those users so that "instead of seeing your regular news feed, if any of your friends had shared a news story, [Messing] would boost that news story so that it was up top [on your page] and you were much more likely to see it." Normally, most users will see something more personal at the top of the page, like a wedding announcement or baby pictures.
Messing's "tweak" had an effect, most strongly among occasional Facebook users. After the election, he surveyed that group and found a statistically significant increase in how much attention users said they paid to government. And, as the below chart used by Adamic in a lecture last year suggests, turnout among that group rose from a self-reported 64 percent to more than 67 percent. This means Messing's unseen intervention boosted voter turnout by 3 percent. That's a major uptick (though based only on user self-reporting).
There were also other experiments to see what types of messages (i.e., "I'm a Voter" vs. "I'm Voting") were more effective.
I'm sure that these kinds of efforts will concern some -- and there are already some people talking about "manipulating the election," but to some extent that's silly. The same is true of just about any political campaigning or "get out the vote" effort. Could there be some concern that Facebook has disproportionate power or (as the article suggests) really only helps one party (more Facebook users are Democrats)? Perhaps, but that's the nature of a (mostly) free and open society where we have democratic elections. Some percentage of the public votes, and lots of people are pushing to either get them to vote or to vote in certain ways. Facebook being a part of that seems interesting to note and to follow, but it's not necessarily a problem or something to be concerned about.
Sent by Colin Reed, the campaign manager for New Hampshire for Scott Brown, the letter opens this way and doesn't let up.
Your MAYDAY Super PAC has issued a piece of mail to New Hampshire voters falsely calling Scott Brown a 'Washington lobbyist.' This is a flat-out lie.
Scott Brown is not nor has he ever been a lobbyist. Ever. We call on you to immediately cease and desist with the mailer in question, and to use one of your various media appearances as a purported authority on ethics to retract your falsehood.
As Lessig points out, Brown not being a lobbyist largely depends on what a normal person would think a lobbyist is. He quotes The Hill, which details Brown's post-Senate employment.
I take it Mr. Reed’s outrage is triggered by the Senate’s regulations of what constitutes being a “lobbyist” for purposes of the Senate rules. I hadn’t received the memo that explained that the English language is now regulated by the rules of the United States Senate. If there is such a memo, they should send it to The Hill too. Here are a few snippets of what they reported last March:
Brown has joined Nixon Peabody, a law and lobby firm, as counsel in the firm’s Boston office. The Massachusetts Republican, also a former state senator, will concentrate his practice on “business and governmental affairs as they relate to the financial services industry as well as on commercial real estate matters,” according to the firm.
Nixon Peabody has a burgeoning K Street practice, having made more than $1.5 million in lobbying fees for all of 2012, according to the Center for Responsive Politics...
So yes, according to the Senate, Scott Brown isn’t a “lobbyist.” But I submit to anyone else in the world, a former Senator joining a “law and lobbying firm” to help with Wall St’s “business and governmental affairs” is to make him a lobbyist. Because to anyone else in the world, when you sell your influence to affect “business and governmental affairs,” you are a lobbyist.
The Boston Globe noted Monday that while Brown himself will not be a lobbyist — Senators may not lobby their former colleagues for the first two years after leaving office, under the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 — “he will be leaning heavily on his Washington contacts to drum up business for the firm.” The position will also allow him “to begin cashing in on his contacts with the financial services industry, which he helped oversee in the Senate.”
So, not technically a lobbyist but as close to a lobbyist as one can get. The overblown letter also calls into question Lessig's "Harvard code of conduct" and hilariously refers to the Mayday SuperPAC's letter as evidence of Lessig's "partisan political agenda" -- apparently unaware of the fact that Lessig is backing a Republican candidate against Brown in the upcoming New Hampshire election.
The letter wraps up with the following threat:
If you fail to immediately cease the mailer in question, we are leaving all our legal options on the table.
Lessig has responded to this angry letter in three ways, all of which suggest a dearth of respect for Scott Brown or his purported legal representation. First, there's the last line of his blog post about the letter:
And finally, as for those “legal options” that Mr. Reed says he’s “leaving on the table,” let me offer the words of Harry Callahan: “Go ahead. Make my day.”
And this tweet.
Yea, an institution that calls ketchup a vegetable doesn't get to tell me how to speak English. http://t.co/mjBTc4bNP0
For many years, we've talked about the very questionable practice by the USTR to set up "Industry Trade Advisory Committees" (ITACs), who had full access to the various documents concerning the trade agreements that were being negotiated. Obviously, for big companies, being one of the very small group of people on the inside, helping to shape trade agreements, is enormously powerful -- especially since industries long ago learned that you can "launder" policy changes that Congress doesn't want to make via the international trade agreement process, thereby putting pressure on Congress to act. It's why we've pointed out that it seems rather unfair that the RIAA has direct access to the TPP agreement, but Senate staffers (including experts on international trade) have been refused access.
Of course, one of the lame responses from the USTR and others is that, technically President Obama's ethics rules forbade "lobbyists" from being on those and other committees. But that was already very narrowly focused just on people who met the official definition of lobbyist. And, you could still have other people who work directly with lobbyists on the committee. So, for example, Neil Turkewitz, a VP with the RIAA is currently on the IP advisory committee. He can do that because he's not technically a "lobbyist" -- he just happens to work for an organization where the main function is lobbying, and where most of his colleagues are lobbyists.
Under the Memorandum and this Revised Guidance, federally registered lobbyists may
not serve on an advisory committee, board, or
commission (hereinafter, “committee”) in an
“individual capacity.” In this Revised Guidance, the term “individual
capacity” refers to
individuals who are appointed to
committees to exercise their
own individual best judgment on
behalf of the government, such as when they
are designated as Special Government Employees
as defined in 18 U.S.C. 202. The lobbyist ban do
es not apply to lobbyists
who are appointed in a
“representative capacity,” meaning that they are appointed for the express purpose of providing a
committee with the views of a nongovernmental
entity, a recognizable
group of persons or
nongovernmental entities (an industry sector, labor unions, or environmental groups, etc.), or
state or local government.
The original ban was one of President Obama's apparent "sweeping" changes, and which the President insisted showed how he was reducing the influence of lobbyists in government. Here's what he said back in 2010 about this:
My Administration is committed to reducing the undue influence of special interests that for too long has shaped the national agenda and drowned out the voices of ordinary Americans. Special interests exert this disproportionate influence, in part, by relying on lobbyists who have special access that is not available to all citizens. Although lobbyists can sometimes play a constructive role by communicating information to the government, their service in privileged positions within the executive branch can perpetuate the culture of special interest access that I am committed to changing.
Apparently, the administration is a little less committed to changing that these days. Admittedly, the White House was somewhat pressured into this by a lawsuit from some lobbyists who (I'm not joking) argued their First Amendment rights were being violated. While a lower court rejected this argument, earlier this year, the DC Circuit appeals court claimed it was a legitimate First Amendment issue and that "the ban pressures them to limit their constitutional right to petition."
Frankly, that's ridiculous. Almost no one is allowed on these advisory committees. The Intellectual Property Advisory Committee has a grand total of 16 people. I'm sure there's no way in hell I would be allowed on it. Does that mean that my constitutional right to petition the government has been denied? Of course not, because that's a ridiculous interpretation of the First Amendment.
The Appeals Court ruling wasn't the end of the case, as it was was sent back to the lower court for further review -- but it appears that the Obama administration has effectively thrown in the towel and will allow the lobbyists back onto the committees that none of us are likely to ever be allowed on. Because that process wasn't corrupt enough already...
Agents from the National Intelligence Service of South Korea posted more than 1.2 million Twitter messages last year to try to sway public opinion in favor of Park Geun-hye, then a presidential candidate, and her party ahead of elections in 2012, state prosecutors said on Thursday.
As the New York Times post quoted above goes on to explain, the whole story is rather murky and complicated. One of the curious claims being made by the Korean spy agency accused of interfering with the election process is the following:
The intelligence service said its online messages were posted as part of normal psychological warfare operations against North Korea, which it said used the Internet to criticize South Korean government policies, forcing its agents to defend them online. In a statement on Thursday, it also accused the prosecutors of citing as their evidence online postings that had nothing to do with its agents.
Even if that's true, other departments may have gone beyond simply defending the government of South Korea to attack its political rivals:
In a separate inquiry, military investigators are looking into South Korea's Cyberwarfare Command after it was revealed last month in Parliament that some of its officials had conducted a similar online campaign against opposition candidates. The Cyberwarfare Command was created in 2010 to guard South Korea against hacking threats from North Korea.
That raises a very real problem with these kinds of online operations: they can easily be misused for purely political purposes, and oversight is easy to evade, since it's all about moving bits around. Of course, exactly the same could be said about the blanket surveillance being carried out by the NSA and GCHQ....
from the there-is-no-evil;-only-bad-influences dept
As is the case with any inexplicable tragedy, a million pundits and armchair psychoanalysts have emerged to "explain" what would turn a person into someone who would enter a darkened theater and methodically open fire on a crowd. Tim Geigner ran down a few of these earlier, and so far the blame lies at the combined feet of opponents of bullying, opponents of Judeo-Christian lifestyles, Star Trek, video games, Occupy Wall Street, and the easy availability of weapons and ammo.
Two editorials have been added to the mix, pointing the finger at violent movies in general, and even more peculiarly, at Warner Brothers Studios itself. Michael Cieply's editorial for the New York Times never comes out and states explicitly that Warner Brothers is responsible for the Aurora shooter's actions, but its opening anecdote seems to think that such a connection should be made.
For decades Warner’s films have frequently put the studio in the middle of a perpetual and unresolved debate over violence in the cinema and in real life. That debate has been revived after the deadly shootings last Friday in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater at an opening night showing of “The Dark Knight Rises,” from Warner.
While the box-office success of “Dark Knight” seems assured — the opening weekend produced $160 million in North American sales — Warner executives have decided to delay the planned Sept. 7 release of another film, “Gangster Squad,” according to a person who was briefed on the studio’s plans on Tuesday and spoke anonymously because the change has not been officially announced. The film is a hard-edged cinematic portrayal of the police war on mobsters in mid-20th-century Los Angeles.
Trailers for the movie, which showed gunmen firing into a movie theater, were pulled after the shooting last week. Executives have further debated whether to go so far as to reshoot portions of “Gangster Squad,” according to published reports. Warner executives declined through a spokeswoman to discuss their plan or the studio’s posture in general toward screen violence.
To go forward with “Gangster Squad” as is might trigger revulsion at scenes that seem to recall the movie-theater slaughter in Colorado. But to change it substantially or delay it for long (no new date has been set) might seem to acknowledge an otherwise debatable link between movie violence and real events, breathing life into a discussion that is perhaps more familiar at Warner than at any of Hollywood’s major studios.
It's quite a stretch to contend that an unreleased movie somehow "acknowledges" the "link" between movie violence and actual violence. Unless James Holmes was part of the "Gangster Squad" crew, this is simply unfortunate timing, much like the terrorism scenes that caused several films to be delayed following the 9/11 attacks.
Branching out from this dubious start, Cieply retells the story of Warner Brothers' fascination with violent movies, stopping to discuss copycat rapists/killers "inspired" by "A Clockwork Orange," "Natural Born Killers" spawning imitation acts of violence and a few others before winding up at "The Matrix," tenuously tied to defendants trying to cop an insanity plea by claiming they were trying to "escape from the matrix."
A few "copycat killers" may emerge for the Aurora shooting or from the movies themselves, an unpreventable byproduct of evil people with limited imagination. In many cases, the copycat aspect is simply a convenient scapegoat for the killers to use themselves: "The devil made me do it."
After this history lesson, Cieply just lets himself out the back door without drawing any real conclusion:
Three decades earlier, however, a Newsweek writer, in a review that derided the “lethal ugliness” of “Dirty Harry,” also registered the futility of worrying about the bad effects of a movie. Good-hearted pictures, the magazine reasoned, rarely seemed to do much good. “There is little chance that this right-wing fantasy will change things where decades of humanist films have failed,” the review said.
True enough. If positive, non-violent films aren't resulting in copycat altruism, it's just as likely that even the most dark-hearted film won't have much of an impact.
Peter Bogdanovich, director of "The Last Picture Show" and "Paper Moon," has an op-ed of sorts as well over at The Hollywood Reporter laying the blame for the Aurora shooting at the feet of violent films. Bogdanovich probably has a more relevant take on the shootings considering his film, "Targets," ends with a sniper attack at a drive-in, as well as having lived through a very violent experience when Dorothy Stratten was killed by her estranged husband.
Unfortunately, this piece (credited with "As told to Gregg Kilday) isn't it. He sounds completely dismayed and genuinely angered by the shooting, but emotional reactions rarely make for the best logical arguments.
Violence on the screen has increased tenfold. It's almost pornographic. In fact, it is pornographic. Video games are violent, too. It's all out of control. I can see where it would drive somebody crazy.
I'm in the minority, but I don't like comic book movies. They're not my cup of tea. What happened to pictures like How Green Was My Valley or even From Here to Eternity? They're not making those kind of movies anymore. They are either making tentpole pictures based on comic books or specialty pictures that you pray someone will go see.
The fact that these tentpole movies are all violent comic book movies doesn't speak well for our society.
Today, there' a general numbing of the audience. There's too much murder and killing. You make people insensitive by showing it all the time. The body count in pictures is huge. It numbs the audience into thinking it's not so terrible. Back in the '70s, I asked Orson Welles what he thought was happening to pictures, and he said, "We're brutalizing the audience. We're going to end up like the Roman circus, live at the Coliseum." The respect for human life seems to be eroding.
Orson Welles make a good, if inadvertent point: compared to the actual violence that was used for entertainment in the past, today's movie violence is a very pale imitation. And the level of violence in major motion pictures is nothing compared to the violence displayed in theaters elsewhere in the world. If movie violence were truly driving people to this sort of behavior, one would expect Japan and Korea to be epicenters of mass killing. What Cieply lists (and Bogdanovich echoes) is truly kids' stuff compared to the imagery conjured up by Takashi Miike and Park Chan-Wook.
The problem with all of these theories is that the variables are common to the entirety of the US population. If these are all creating killers, we should be suffering from an epidemic of violence rather than dealing with isolated tragedies. And the issue with violent movies is nothing new either. Concern about the level of violence and portrayal of villains and anti-heroes goes all the way to the Hays Code. Read this stipulation from the Code and see if you don't find that echoed by the implicit statements in Cieply's and Bodanovich's editorials:
Theft, robbery, safe-cracking, and dynamiting of trains, mines, buildings, etc. (having in mind the effect which a too-detailed description of these may have upon the moron)
These editorials argue that homogenization or repression (or at least a return to the "good old days") is preferable to the current cinema's taste for violence in light of the Aurora shooting. The deplorable actions of a single individual somehow makes the case that the general public should be denied access to portrayals of violence, because "there but for the grace of God, go..." well, not these authors anyway, but certainly everyone else. Whether its movies, video games or music, the "answer" to violent tragedies is always the same: the public cannot be trusted with questionable material. This sort of punditry is the worst kind. It willingly throws personal responsibility out the window in favor of mass scale condescension.
from the disconnect-with-fans-plus-reason-to-not-buy dept
We've talked before about services that attempt to measure someone's social media "influence" and the inherent silliness of the concept. Although the numerical values assigned by services like Klout are, at best, weak indicators of a person's actual influence, it's not surprising that people are trying to make it work. The advertising industry has run on flimsy numbers for a long time: newspaper readerships and television ratings are all extrapolated, not directly measured, and advertisers pay rates based on numbers that may or may not be indicative of how much exposure they are really getting. This was an advantageous situation for the media industry, but the digital world has largely nullified that advantage. Today's advertisers are clamouring for social campaigns and viral ads, but ad agencies and publications aren't quite sure how to actually measure those things—or how to charge for them.
A 40-minute film called Andy X (about the life of Andy Warhol), which was available for streaming starting Feb. 22, is offering interested viewers an opportunity to get a discount on the $6.99 price tag. As the promotion explains, "We're trying something a little different here. We're letting you pay to watch the movie by using your friends as currency."
In other words, one Facebook friend equals one cent. If you have 300 friends, you'll pay $3.99 for the rental. Don't get too excited if you have more than 400 friends since there is a cap ($2.99 is the least you'll be able to pay to stream the film).
It's a novel idea, but one that I doubt will work for a variety of reasons. For one thing, number of friends is an even worse influence metric than something like Klout, which at least looks at multiple factors. People use Facebook in all kinds of different ways: someone with 100 friends might be a quiet user who uses the site for little more than private messages and birthday wishes, or they might be a powerful voice who keeps a small social circle of others like them. Similarly, someone with 1000 friends might be a trendsetting socialite, or they might be an indiscriminate social media butterfly whose posts are lost in the noisy news feeds of other people who also have 1000 friends each, and who don't really remember who they are.
Moreover, the promotion doesn't actually encourage fans to do anything. Nobody is going to go out and add an extra hundred friends to save a dollar, and those getting the full discount have no added incentive to actually use their supposed influence on behalf of the movie. I bet this promotion will alienate a lot of people, since it's basically a direct insult to anyone with fewer than 400 friends. Telling your fans that they have to pay more because they don't use Facebook the way you want them to (or don't use it at all) is not going to endear you to them. "You have been weighed in the balance of customers, and found wanting."
I'm all for creators trying to leverage the evangelistic powers of their fans, but the creators of Andy X have really missed the mark. Their promotion comes across less as a reward for fans who have big social circles and more as a punishment for those who don't—and it doesn't encourage either group to do anything useful.