I should probably state two things right off the bat, just to set the stage. The first is that editing anything, whether it be a weekly all-comics print publication or a blog that floats a measly few thousand views a week [not a humblebrag, I know what good site traffic is], is difficult. The second is that I consider fellow Culture War Reporter Gordon one of my best friends on this planet. It’s for those two reasons that I find covering the issue of piracy, of the copyright infringement variety, so harrowing.
In writing this post I forced myself to do my due diligence and read over my co-writer’s others two articles concerning the topic, and it was truly an ordeal. While in his first there are some fairly reasonable assertions like “Some People Will Never Buy” they’re coupled with others like “Anti-Piracy Hurts the Environment”, a point that ignores outlets like Netflix and other similar legal streaming services that harm God’s green earth just as much as The Pirate Bay. The second covered the “Vindication of Piracy” predicated on an article published by the BBC. All I have to say about that is . . . covered in the lengthy comment I left on that very post, if you’d like to check it out on your own.
As you should be able to tell based on how the above paragraphs are written, I feel very strongly about this. Which should make it particularly notable when I say that due to recent events in the past week I almost agree with Gordon.
And it’s all because of Hulu.
Hulu is the most compelling argument I have ever come across that piracy is both legitimate and possibly even necessary.
Now it’s going to look like I’m talking down to you, but I just want to make everything as clear as possible.
When we watch TV we are bombarded by commercials because the networks need money [as we all do] to survive. Some of that money makes its way to showrunners and the like, and the more successful their programs are the more money, ostensibly, the network will give them, because you want to spend money on that which makes you money. Hulu is an American streaming service that allowed you to watch TV shows the day after they aired, but had them accompanied by ads, for obvious aforementioned reasons. Continue reading →
I have to admit it. We had a Super Bowl party at our house. By Super Bowl party I mean we had some friends over and John watched the game while the rest of us chatted and ate food and had fun, then when the commercials came on we would all quiet down and turn up the volume.
While there were, of course, a few “ugh” commercials, most were pretty good.
One that really stood out was this year’s GoDaddy commercial. For those of you who haven’t seen it, it featured this woman quitting her job in their commercial, since she knew her boss would be watching the game.
Gwen Dean says “I Quit” to her boss as she publicizes her plans to become a puppet master.
GORDON: Ladies and gentlemen, today’s Culture War Correspondence is brought to you by-
-well, we’re going to hash that out in just a second. Our topic tonight is advertising, on this blog specifically.
EVAN: If you all want to check over on our Contact page you’ll see that Michelle, “of BowlingShoes.com, BowlingBags.com, BowlingBalls.com and DiscountBowlingSupply.com” left us an offer to help advertise their products.
This isn’t the first time she’s contacted us either, as she sent the same offer to the blog’s email address, which I thought I replied back when I got it early November but didn’t.
As it stands, I’m going to have to publicly politely refuse her offer, as this blog isn’t the sort of place to find a) bowling paraphernalia reviews or b) other people’s writing. She did help us come to this topic, though, so my thanks to her for that-
GORDON: Which begs the question, of course, if you’d be up for other kinds of advertising here on the blog. What’s your gut reaction to the idea? Continue reading →
EVAN: This topic arose organically, actually, due to a few posts by Gordon on piracy and my not being able to fully agree with them.
And no, it’s not that kind of piracy, though we did start a new pirate-themed D&D game just this past Sunday.
GORDON: And it shall be awesome- but back to the subject at hand. I’m going to start with some full disclosure:
I am not of the mind that piracy is, in and of itself, a great and noble thing. Any indication or implication of this on my part is usually just in reaction to the mainstream media’s portrayal of piracy as a crime on par with defacing priceless art, grand theft auto, and punching old ladies in the face.
EVAN: And in all fairness from my part, I will admit that I’m no saint when it comes to piracy. I stream a plethora of shows for my viewing pleasure, though I have [and this is likely the voice of Justification speaking] sworn off downloading full-length films, music, books, etc.
GORDON: And Evan, I will attest, is not some twisted chaos-worshiping miscreant devoid of honor or humanity, as the major media industries would have you believe. Well, not entirely, anyways.
Now, Evan, one of the justifications I’ve heard you use in the past is that you’re living in Canada. Many- if not all- US shows are simply unavailable outside of the States through any conventional means.
EVAN: This is true. And while I resided in the States for my post-secondary education I made frequent use of the free streaming service Hulu. I even watched, and somewhat enjoyed, the ads.
In Canada we cannot even watch the episodes on the channels’ respective websites [NBC.com, CBS.com, etc.]
GORDON: And you’re certainly not alone in that. The vast majority of the world is in the same boat, forced to choose between piracy or waiting a few years for the DVDs to come out and then pay an exorbitant fee plus crazy shipping costs. Better hope your purchase isn’t damaged en-route.
EVAN: Since we have been so good about being fair, I will point out that there are options- many television episodes are available to buy via Amazon, online. Before you ask why you should pay for something you would otherwise get for free I’d point out that you pay for these shows by watching ads, and that as someone not in the States you would not “otherwise get it for free” to begin with.
GORDON: And that’s something I can actually tolerate. In spite of my muting ads and/or talking back to them while giving the corporate pigs the finger, I’m perfectly willing to subject myself to ’em if it means cheap and convenient access.
EVAN: If I recall our time together in college correctly [which we both know I can, and do], I distinctly remember you blocking said ads with Adblock.
GORDON: Even though it meant the waiting time was ultimately longer.
EVAN: Which is besides the point. But let’s continue onwards: is piracy damaging?
GORDON: The continued existence of Hollywood, as well as the ever increasing budget of films, would seem to indicate otherwise.
There are people out there who might try to argue that piracy hurts new musicians, who can’t afford to lose profits like big businesses can, but that’s a flawed argument. Truth is, musicians only get a sliver of the profits they generate, and wind up losing the rights to their own songs in the process. Working independently with the consumer is generally a safer and more profitable move.
EVAN: I will not argue with what you have said about musicians for a second. The amount they make through selling single tracks on iTunes is deplorable.
What I will point to, however, are the other areas where piracy can [and does] occur. Television series live and die based on their ratings, and buying them does nothing to help what’s perfectly good [if not great] television. Similarly, if only 1,000 people decided to download a new issue of a comic book instead of simply paying the three or four dollars, that could mean the end of that series; titles that dip below 20,000 are typically cancelled soon afterwards.
GORDON: I agree wholeheartedly. But I think that speaks the whole reason piracy exists- not malice, but rather cost and convenience. These people- especially television producers- have got to understand that their old metrics for measuring the popularity of shows are dead.
It’s the equivalent of saying communication isn’t popular because house phones are dying out. No, we’re just turning to new, cheaper, and more convenient methods. Piracy could be dealt a deathblow if these major industries would just step up their game, rather than trying to use lobbies and buy off politicians to keep us dancing to their tunes.
EVAN: The thing is, I think in arguing for “cost and convenience” you run the risk of defending those who just a) want to get quality products for free b) whenever they want.
It’s not just that people want ease in accessing what they love, the truth is that when given the choice between paying and not paying people will always opt for the latter.
Not to bring it back to comic books [who am I kidding, it’s what I do], but you putting down a few dollars means that a talented writer or artist is able to keep on doing what they do: providing you with high-quality stuff. That’s an actual case where piracy can severely jeopardize both artists and their art.
GORDON: Again, I agree. I do believe in paying for what I love. My record collection stands as a testament to this, as does my choice to spend a few extra bucks buying beer produced by one of the few ethical companies on this blighted earth.
Tell me this- you like the show New Girl, right?
GORDON: Would you pay fifty bucks American to watch the show at 4:12 (and ONLY at 4:12) in the afternoon?
EVAN: I would not.
GORDON: How ’bout ten cents to watch it whenever you so desire?
EVAN: Yes indeed.
GORDON: You and millions others, am I right? Ten cents for a crisp, working copy rather than some choppy, blurry pirated version where the sound and video are out sync?
EVAN: Oh, I stream at only the highest quality.
GORDON:That’s my point, I guess. Yeah, there will always be people out there who don’t want to pay the ten cents, but overwhelmingly, that kind of price and convenience will make such a minority negligible.
I assert again that piracy doesn’t exist because millions of people are art-hating maniacs, but because the business plans of these networks and companies are painfully obsolete and short-sighted, especially in regards to the international market. Heck, I’d say such changes could ultimately lead to these companies turning a healthy profit- especially if they just included some advertising à la early Hulu.
EVAN: Here’s the thing, the US already has a working model of what you just said. As I mentioned you can purchase episodes of stuff on Amazon, and I’m talking $2 an episode. That is reasonable. I don’t think your average American would look at that price and think, “There’s no way in Hades I am spending two dollars on a 45-minute episode of television that I can keep forever.”
Yet in spite of that, people in America still download TV shows all the time. If it doesn’t work for them, what makes you think they can extend something like that to the rest of the world?
GORDON: Firstly, I disagree that 2 bucks is reasonable for an episode. That’s the cost of an entire dinner right there. How much more so is that going to be true for the rest of the world, who have even less?
I mean, we’re not talking about a book or a record which goes through an intensive manufacturing process for each copy- we’re talking digital here. Every man, woman, and child on Earth could be given every book, movie, song, and piece of art on earth if the masters so chose…
EVAN: Gordon. It’s two dollars. The average American does not spend that much on a full meal, they spend that much on stuff they don’t need, like gum or coffee or inane tabloids. As a country America is more than able to pay that paltry amount and yet they do not. My point stands.
I’d further argue that since it’s digital that ease of access adds, not detracts, from its value. You can watch it whenever and wherever you want.
GORDON: What I mean about it being digital is that it doesn’t cost money (anything noticeable) to reproduce it, unlike hard copies of things such as books or art. With that mind, charging two bucks an episode seems to me to be unreasonable. I’d cite the fact that for 20 dollars you can get a season of a show with (at least) 20 episodes as proof of this. The cost can, and should, be lowered for great consumption.
EVAN: Like I said, we’re adding availability as a variable. Sure, you can pay 20$ for a full season of a show, but that’s waiting a year or however long it takes for it to come out. People are also paying for the availability of getting it when or soon after it airs.
GORDON: That’s gonna be different from company to company, but for the most part, that’s true. But I’d jump back to my complaint about how little the actual artists get in all this. If anyone- anyone– is gonna set a price, let it be the ones producing the work.
EVAN: Honestly, though, that’s an entirely different argument.
The fact of the matter is that if a writer/artist wanted to print their own comic book there’s no way they’d be able to do it on any significant scale on their own, the cost of printing alone would wreck them.
Different industries pay those who work in them different amounts, and it’s not the topic of our conversation this week.
GORDON: Again, my issue isn’t with the fact that we must pay; we can all get behind this. My issue is with the terms and conditions we’re subjected to- especially when big companies start throwing their weight around to slow progress.
If piracy is the rampant issue that they say it is- and I seriously contest that- then I submit that the fault is on their part for adopting inconvenient, pricey, and exclusionary policies. Let me put it this way: If you say apples can only be purchased by people who’ve climbed Mount Everest, you’re gonna create a lot of apple thieves.
EVAN: We’ve left you a lot to think about, even if you’re not someone who refreshes a website over and over waiting for a new episode of 2 Broke Girls to pop up [did you know I review that show?].
So with that ladies, gentlemen, and genius babies, we bid you a happy Wednesday. We came up with this week’s topic, but you can decide if next week we talk about . . . um . . . Dungeons & Dragons. How we’ve chosen to play it and why we think it works [better?].
GORDON: Alternatively, you may vote that we discuss the role of religion in our (relatively) secular society.
EVAN: Thank you, as always, for reading, and please vote!
There are certain things in life that can be avoided.
For all our howling about vapid, synthetic pop-songs we do, at the end of the day, have the ability to simply turn the radio off. For all our wailing about trashy, stupid television, we have the ability to just point our remote and switch off the TV. Even people who annoy us we can at least avoid.
But that’s not so much true when it comes to advertising. Unless you’re living in an underground bunker somewhere in Colorado, it’s not something you can get away from.
Why you’d even be reading this blog, I don’t know.
Between telemarketers, logos, TV and radio, billboards (including mobile ones, which we have in Vegas), and the internet, there’s really no escaping. Even if you’re sitting alone in your house, it’s all around you. You’ve got company emblems stitched onto your shirts. Manufacturer’s names written on your underwear. Go to your kitchen, and you’ll find advertisements on the back of pasta and cereal boxes.
I’m only here to offer some food for thought; I won’t be taking up myself the war cry that advertisements and commercials always play to the lowest common denominator. Sexuality in the crassest, most objectified form, greed, gluttony, envy, passivity, sloth (not the kind shown above)- it’s all there, and thrown at us every waking minute of every day of our lives. What does that do to us?
Most people who work with this line of thought point to the movie Idiocracy as a dark prophecy of the world to come.
In this movie, a man is (accidentally) cryogenically frozen and awakens in a dystopian future where advertising and trashy TV has resulted in the average human IQ dropping well into the double digits. While it’s not a masterpiece in and of itself, and it’s suggestion that dumb people have inherently dumb kids is just plain wrong, the fact that more and more our society seems to be moving towards Idiocracy is downright eerie.
I will, nonetheless, offer an alternative for you to ponder.
What if advertising is actually raising our BS awareness? Information on the internet is usually either (at best) misrepresented or (at worst) outright falsehood. We don’t seem dumber as a species for it- on the contrary, we seem more skeptical and discerning. Perhaps we are, in fact, becoming tougher to fool. Naturally I can’t point to any cause-and-effect relationship, but it’s certainly something to think about.
Of course, there’s the dark alternative to that as well.
What happens to our psyches and society when we’re constantly on-guard against everything? Is that paranoid cynicism really healthy for us? What does it do to us to hold everything in contempt as just another scheme to take away your money? Even if we tone that down a bit, what does it do to us to walk through life constantly being sold things? Cradle to grave, confronted by sales pitch after sales pitch- how can that be anything but damaging?
Again, this isn’t to simply rail against advertising. There’s plenty that advertising, well, I don’t want to say “does right,” but certainly does “well.” Managing to communicate messages or ideas in the shortest amount of time using the smallest amount of words and images is, well, impressive. The ability to remotely encode associations, emotions, and reactions in the human mind through slogans, catch phrases, campaigns and the like is undeniably clever, even if more than a little Orwellian.
Imagine if all that money, research, and manpower was put towards something actually constructive. Imagine even just a quarter of all advertising dedicated to communicating positive messages. How much more of an intelligent, healthy, compassionate society would we be? If nothing else, it would mean some telemarketers could do something more fulfilling with their lives than shilling out cruises in the Caribbean.
Despite our focus on American issues, we here at Culture War Reportersrecognize that in our world of ever-shrinking borders, there’s plenty more out there than just the cloudless skies of Nevada or the homeless-packed streets of Toronto (Evan, seriously- if the healthcare system’s so good, why does Canada have so many crazy people?).
Today we turn our attention to our pasty cousins across the pond, more specifically, their TV, excuse me, “Telly” (this is why you lost your empire- well, this and genocide), and how it stacks up next to ours.
CGI and Production Values
Now I have to admit- I haven’t extensively researched British and American television financing, nor have I had a chance to compare the two, taking into consideration differences in the economy and advertising fees over the past couple decades.
What I’m saying is- I’m not an expert.
That said, I don’t need to be an architect to tell you that chances are pretty good that a lot less money was put into making a tent than a condo. British TV shows, put bluntly, just seems to be vastly less funded than their American counterparts. Just take a look at this scene from America’s Battlestar Galactica.
Pretty intense, right? If there’s any poor-quality, it’s probably from the YouTube video, rather than the actual series.
Now look at this clip from Britain’s Doctor Who.
Way worse. And oddly enough, Doctor Who has a bigger fanbase than Galactica, and despite it’s ever-increasing popularity, still has to deal with props dug out of someone’s kitchen drawers. I’m not saying Doctor Who is bad- it’s not. It’s really good- only it’s tough to really feel the full effects of a horrific reveal when the monstrous alien that’s been lurking the shadows until now makes your sock-puppets look scary by comparison. I can’t claim to know the reason for it, and I’m not putting the Brits down for it- I’m simply saying that funding- especially in CGI- appears to be a significant difference between the worlds of British and American TV.
You’ve probably heard jokes cracked about this. Not the “British are ugly” or the “British have bad teeth” jokes- the fact that the people on British television have the audacity to look like the people you’d see on the street.
That’s not to say the Brits don’t share the American weakness for fantasizing and glamorizing each and every facet of life, but it’s pretty clear that it’s nowhere near on the scale we have here in the US. Here- take a look at the leading characters of the American version of Being Human.
The guy on the left is decently attractive, as is the girl, and the guy on the right looks more or less like a life-sized Ken doll. Idealized people- no question about it. Now look at the same characters in the British original:
There’s not a huge difference between the girl (the blonde girl is another character- ignore her), and the dark haired guy certainly isn’t his American counterpart and stop looking at that guy’s ears! Yes, they’re huge- they’re gargantuan– and no, this isn’t just an unflattering photo- they actually are trying to escape his head in the first three seasons.
The point is, when it comes to their actors, the British are- well, appear to be- considerably less shallow. They don’t need a couple of supermodels to tell a compelling story of murder, secrecy, and perversion- and speaking of which…
Watch this clip- but before you do, get all children and Weslyans out of the room.
Pretty nasty stuff, right? Don’t say we didn’t warn you!
People complain that American media is nothing but sex and violence, but believe me- those Axe commercials are prudish compared to the Brits (and indeed- most of Europe). We may give the Brits a run for their money when it comes to blood and gore but never will we compete with them when it comes to explicitness of this degree. It’s almost to the point where it’s not even repulsive- you’re just impressed at how logic-deafeningly far they take it.
But only almost.
The Dying and the Dead
It’s been said that the difference between British comedies and American comedies is that American comedies begin with everything going wrong and end with everything being fixed, while British comedies begin with everything going right and end with everything falling apart. I wouldn’t call a story where everyone dies of scurvy at the end a comedy, but then again, I don’t whittle my life away on a miserable island full of alcoholics and skinheads.
I can say that because the only people who hate the British more than the Irish, the Kenyans, the Indians, the Chinese, the Australians, the New Zealanders, Iranians, and the Egyptians are the British themselves.
The simple fact of the matter is that there is this viciously self-deprecating mentality that pervades every element of British culture (barring fox hunts, which are just weird) that couldn’t be further removed from the general sense of optimism that you tend to find in America. Just take a look at British crime series.
Now I’ve seen quite a few, and while this certainly isn’t universally true, what I’ve typically found is that British murder mysteries focus on the whole “Whodunnit?” element, whereas American murder mysteries either have a “How’d he do it?” or a drive to keep the murderer from murdering again. Gross over-generalizations, I know, but it does seem to be true that American crime series episodes end with the detectives patting each other on the back for having done justice, while British crime series episodes end with the detective giving some despairing monologue about the tragic depravity of all mankind.
Because that’s a very depressing (and therefore, British) way to end the post- allow me offer this:
To say I’ve been ragging a bit on the British would be an understatement, and no- despite our attempts to be unbiased, we here at Culture War Reporters don’t care much for contemporary English culture. That established, there may very well be something to be said for the Brit’s here. Is it pretty? Not remotely, but for all the weirdness (from our perspective) that British TV has to offer, it can’t be denied that it’s simply more “real” than American TV. The sets aren’t shiny, the people aren’t (exclusively) gorgeous, and a stories of sin and murder actually recognize human suffering. There’s certainly a lot from British TV that merits imitation here in America.
Except for sexually explicit sausage commercials. **** that.