Archive for viral videos

Kickstarting All the Way to Mars

I just learned via Facebook friends about the launch of a new Kickstarter fundraising effort to crowdfund a Veronica Mars movie. The fundraising effort is asking fans of the critically acclaimed show, which ran from 2004-2007, to donate $2 million to support film production, which would begin over the summer if the producers reach their goal. Watching the Kickstarter page this morning, I’m pretty optimistic that the project will happen. In just about twenty minutes, the total amount pledged has increased by something like $30,000, and the number of donors has also gone up considerably (by at least 800 or so). Given that this project launched only in the last day or so, I suspect that word-of-mouth (including commentaries in the tech and entertainment press) will only increase donors’ awareness exponentially, even if the show had a relatively small fan base when it first aired.

The fundraising pitch itself is pretty savvy, using some of the self-aware techniques that fans enjoyed during Veronica’s initial broadcast run, gently mocking the characters’ personalities and making references to the show’s storytelling style. The technique also helps to establish that many of the major actors (Kristen Bell, etc) are already signed on to do the movie, as well. The perks offer a range of collectibles, and for the biggest donors, opportunities to interact with cast members (including the opportunity to have Bell or one of the other actors record a voice mail greeting) or even to appear in the film and have a speaking part (sorry, that one’s already taken).

But in watching this project unfold, it raises a few questions for me about how to think about Kickstarter. First, I don’t think that high-profile projects like the Veronica Mars movie will necessarily prevent smaller projects from happening. If anything, these projects may bring further attention to the site, encourage people to view themselves as donors, and in turn to consider funding other projects. Still, I think we may need a new term to describe the massive crowdfunding practices to contrast them from smaller scale projects that ask for only a few thousand dollars.

In fact, since I typed my original paragraph on the show, probably another 200 or so donors have chipped in. This project could open up new ways of thinking about how fan cultures can serve as a new version of the “pre-sale” model that independent studios have used to finance low-budget films in the recent past.

Here’s the Veronica Mars Kickstarter pitch:

 

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“Binders Full of Women:” 2012 and the Image Macro Election

Last night’s debate left us with two or three comments that will endure throughout the election season and beyond, but none will likely have the staying power of Mitt Romney’s remark that when he was seeking out job female applicants his staff brought him “binders full of women.” On one level, it’s easy to read Romney’s remarks as a slip of the tongue, but on another the comment seemed to confirm the viewpoint that Romney is a jerk who is oblivious to women’s needs. In her debate post, Amy Sullivan details the ways in which Romney (“Mitt the Man”) came across as insensitive to women, and the binders comment–which only came out when Romney was trying to avoid answering whether he supported the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act–has provided a shorthand for expressing that sentiment. Within minutes of of the comment (as CBS News reports), there were Twitter feeds (@RomneyBinders had 33,000 followers by Wednesday afternoon) and Tumblr accounts where many of the Romney binders images were posted, suggesting that the comments provoked a fair amount of outrage.

In keeping with the current election-year rhetoric, many of the Romney binders relied upon existing internet memes in order to make their political points, ranging from The Most Interesting Man in the World to a revival of the “texts from Hillary” meme (via That Wren Girl) and even a riff on the Ryan Gosling meme (borrowed from MoveOn’s Facebook page). Many other posts from the Binders Full of Women Tumblr use images of recognizable celebrities in order to mock Romney or tie his comments to misogynistic aspects of contemporary culture. In one image, Romney’s comments are aligned with Hugh Hefner and in another with John Cusack, and in probably my favorite, with the movie Dirty Dancing. Although these posts may not constitute an entirely politically coherent response to Romney’s remarks, they do help to make visible Romney’s lack of concern for a number of women’s issues (including his non-answer on the Lily Ledbetter question). Further, because of the popular culture associations–with TV, film, and other internet memes–many of these political expressions are instantly accessible.

In addition, these images help to reinforce the idea that the 2012 election’s media format is that of the image macro, a picture superimposed with text, usually with humorous intentions. If 2008 was the “YouTube election,” then it might seem odd that static images would make such a comeback, but I think there are a few reasons that this is happening. First, the role of Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook in this election eclipses what was happening in 2008. More people are sharing political information than before, and thanks to Twitter’s associations with micro-celebrity, more people are attempting to create clever responses to debates and other political events in order to achieve (very) temporary fame–a tendency that The Onion beautifully satirtized in a post anticipating the second debate. Second, image macros are more instantly accessible than video mashups, even while using some of the same principles of montage and associative editing that Richard Edwards and I discussed in our article on some of the more popular mashups from 2008, including “Vote Different.” Image macros are fleeting; they can be viewed more easily than videos. Richard and I argued that mashups created meaning through the clash (or meshing) of popular and political culture imagery, and most image macros follow this same logic. More crucially, they have a much lower barrier to entry in terms of their production in that virtually anyone can go to a Meme Generator site, post or (more likely) borrow an image, and then add the necessary text to create their contribution to a meme. Video editing, on the other hand, requires a much more significant investment of time on the part of the creator. Thus, rather than taking several hours to painstakingly piece together multiple clips from a movie with a political speech, meme participants can get something posted literally within minutes, shaping the response to a debate even before it has finished.

This might produce some anxiety about critical distance or a fear that we may be relying too much on snap judgements about who “won” a debate. But I would argue that these fleeting political comments actually open up the debates to greater scrutiny than ever before. And the “Romney binder” meme has, in fact, opened up Romney’s record for hiring women, and it turns out that his record isn’t that great. It’s difficult to predict whether a political meme will endure. Eastwooding seems to have faded relatively quickly even though it was able–briefly at least–to integrate itself with older, more established memes. Still, as a moment of crystallizing a political truth, these populist forms offer a fascinating, lightning-quick mode of expression.

Update: Tama Leaver gave a talk at this year’s Internet Research Conference that mentions this post–talk about up-to-the-minute research–and makes a useful distinction between “trolling,” which he defines as disruption for the sake of disruption, and “image macro politics,” which can work as a form of online activism or engagement. But even as I review Tama’s presentation, I find myself wondering whether “meme election” might be better, especially given elements such as the Paul Ryan Gosling Twitter account, which borrows heavily from the logic of “remix politics” but also makes only limited use of images or image macros.

 

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Eastwooding, Or Old Man Yells at Chair

Given my interests in the intersections between politics, humor, popular culture, and social media, I found the responses to Clint Eastwood’s bizarre, ad-libbed campaign performance art at the Republican National Convention to be completely irresistible. In case you missed it, the Hollywood icon (whose movies I admire) gave a 10-minute speech supporting Mitt Romney in which he lectured an empty chair meant to represent current president, Barack Obama, asking “him” questions about why he has failed to deliver on his campaign promises. From a conservative perspective, there’s probably a valid point embedded in the speech–Obama as empty suit or whatever–but the impromptu nature of the talk has made it the subject of widespread mockery on the political web.

To some extent, the mockery derives from the fact that Eastwood’s performance before the RNC departs so radically from his star persona as a tough-talking Dirty Harry-type. Instead, the bit accentuated his age, a perception that was probably reinforced by his slightly disheveled hair and by the fact that he was ad-libbing and often seemed to be searching for the right words. The performance also departed radically from the rest of the RNC, which appeared to be tightly scripted, a perception that is mocked in this Photoshopped image from The Simpsons showing an altered headline in which Abe Simpson “yells at a chair” (the original if I recall says “cloud” instead of chair).

But as Chris Becker documented in an indispensable post on her News for TV Majors site, there were literally hundreds of tweets and Facebook posts that showed up within seconds of Eastwood’s appearance. One of the most notable was the appearance of the Invisible Obama Twitter feed, which was created during Eastwood’s speech and which now has 45,000 followers less than a day after the speech (one of “his” best tweets: “Someone should tell Marco Rubio he’s standing on my foot right now”). Eastwood’s speech also provided an excuse for celebrities to weigh in with both supportive and humorous content, all of it documented by Entertainment Weekly. Among the best remarks was Seth Myers’ “props” to Eastwood for bringing down Twitter. Even the Obama campaign got in on the act with an amusing, if slightly smug, tweet showing Obama seated in the Oval Office, saying “this seat’s taken.”

But one of the more common responses has been the practice of having a picture taken of a person pointing to an empty chair and acting as if the subject is lecturing it–a practice that has quickly become known as “Eastwooding,” although many of them feature pets and even children. Ana Marie Cox has identified this picture as the “original” Eastwooding image, but in any case, the empty chair has now become a key signifier in the political blogosphere, one whose meanings will probably take some time to settle into place (although I think the Abe Simpson image probably tells us the direction this is heading).

Finally, there is another Invisible Obama meme, one that features a photograph of Eastwood gesturing toward the empty chair with a red, white, and blue background. The Meme Generator allows people to enter their own text to create captions that comment on Eastwood or use his performance to make a commentary on politics. On a brief glance at most of the images that have been generated, they are generally anti-Romney or anti-Republican. My favorite so far actually makes reference to another popular meme, the “Most Interesting Man in the World” images that mock or make use of the character from the Dos Equis advertisements. The Meme Generator is especially interesting to me in that it readily invites the participation of others who may have limited coding or video editing skills. It also fascinated in that, like Twitter, it benefits heavily from verbal dexterity, even while participants have the ability to riff of a specific image, creating an incredibly low barrier to participation (although, in an odd sort of way, it doesn’t seem that remote from the longtime New Yorker contests inviting readers to provide captions for its cartoons). Facebook and Twitter users can also share and comment on many of these images without having to create new ones themselves, so that provides another important layer of participation.

I’ve been fascinated by political memes for a long time, in part because they invite citizen participation, but also because they allow untapped political meanings to gain expression, often through coded language associated with popular culture. Most of these Eastwood memes show a fluency with popular culture that invites sharing–they’ve also attracted the attention of George Takei, which never hurts–so it’ll be interesting to see how the Eastwood meme plays out over the next several months.

 

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What Else I’m Reading

Because I haven’t been posting in a while, here are some more things I’ve been following lately. In other news, I somehow completely forgot to mention my ninth anniversary of blogging last month (I started a Blogger blog way back in March 2003)  until I noticed how Atrios was commemorating his tenth (!) anniversary. This gives me about ten or eleven months to come up with a creative way of marking ten years of blogging by March of next year. Suggestions are always welcome. By the way, here’s another bulleted list for your weekend entertainment:

  • A longtime blog friend, Craig Lindsey, will be teaching a course on film criticism and column writing on May 5. The course is open to the public and will be held here in Raleigh.
  • One of the early inspirations for my blogging habit was Robert Greenwald, whose anti-iraq War documentaries showed me how social media could be used to promote political activism. Now he’s back (yet again), this time with a documentary, Koch Brothers Exposed, which is meant to document the poster boys of SuperPACs.
  • The cinetrix has posted another fantastic collection of links, but I’m highlighting this one because I’ll probably borrow at least half of these links when I teach Introduction to Film next fall (scroll down a bit for some terrific Welles and Kubrick links).
  • Hugh Atkin has posted what is, without doubt, the best political remix video of the 2012 election so far: Will the Real Mitt Romney Please Stand Up?
  • Michael Newman offers a compelling reading of advertisements for TVs, mobile devices, and 3D imagery.
  • For the 10th edition of Film Art, their introductory film textbook, Bordwell and Thompson are linking up with Criterion to create a series of videos for teaching many of the formal techniques of cinematic storytelling. Very cool.
  • Meanwhile Kristin Thompson warns against identifying trends based on a single year of box office numbers.

Hoping to have some more substantial blog posts soon, including reviews from this year’s Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, scheduled for next week (I believe this will be my fifth or sixth year of attending, another milestone that I find particularly unsettling).

 

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“Stop Kony” and the Viral Politics of Visibility

For a variety of reasons, I feel like the last person on the planet (or at least on Facebook) to have learned about the Stop Kony phenomenon. I had just landed in England on March 3, when the video launched, and by the time I was back in the United States ten days later, the video had been viewed an astounding 78 million times, making it one of the most viewed videos in YouTube’s history. But although the video has generated almost unprecedented attention, I’ve been watching the reception of it with a great deal of ambivalence, in part because it reveals some of the potential risks of the power of social media. But despite these risks, I think that critics who dismiss the video outright also miss out on what the Stop Kony phenomenon actually means about a nascent desire to be involved, active, and potentially, transformative.

Stop Kony, if you haven’t heard, is a 30-minute video that seeks to mobilize young social media users in an awareness campaign to get the United States government to take action to arrest Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army. Kony’s military group has brutalized villagers in Uganda, Congo, the Central African Republic, and southern Sudan, deploying child soldiers who have, in some cases, been instructed to kill their parents. Kony has been operating in this region for years and has, as the video asserts, benefitted from being “invisible” to the rest of the world due to a lack of interest in the (U.S.?) news media and due to the fact that Kony doesn’t really threaten American interests (the video seems to have no particular concern about whether or how non-U.S. activists should get involved).  The video, directed by Jason Russell, is up-front about its desire to affect and reach out to policy makers and to affect public opinion, gleefully acknowledging its efforts to leverage the stardom of people like Angelina Jolie, George Clooney, Oprah Winfrey, and Rhianna to promote intervention in Uganda.

But what makes “Stop Kony” so troubling is the video’s underlying narrative structure, which seems to have more to do with celebrating the possibilities of viral activism than it does with genuinely educating the social mediasphere about Kony’s criminal activity and what should be done to stop him. In fact, the video opens with the oft-quoted statistic that there are 750 million people on Facebook and then goes on to attribute the uprisings in Iran and Egypt to social media, a somewhat dubious claim (although media journalist Sharon Waxman accepts it uncritically), before suggesting that an “older generation” is “very concerned” about losing control to a younger social media collective. From there, Russell, who narrates the video, describes and depicts the birth and childhood of his son, using his own (white, middle class) child’s innocence as a stand-in for that of a Ugandan child’s. Only about 4-5 minutes into a 30-minute video are we introduced to Jacob, a survivor of Kony’s attacks, but Russell’s promise to help Jacob, we are told isn’t about the Ugandans, but it’s “about you,” about the ability of social media activists to change the world. Russell imposes some artificial forms of urgency here, telling viewers that “time is running out” and that the movie will “expire” (be taken down? it’s not clear) on December 31, 2012. Russell underscores this activist public by showing cheering, mostly middle class crowds of young adults and teens.

From here, the video offers only the most basic overview of Kony’s tactics and activities, noting only in passing that Kony is no longer active in Uganda, while also establishing the (somewhat tenuous) thesis that if we “all” knew about Kony, then the U.S. government (again, no mention is made of non-U.S. governments, although the International Criminal Court is briefly cited) would be forced to act. In response, Russell suggests, using an interview with Shepherd Fairey, that social media allows us to “redefine propaganda,” so that people who feel powerless can make an impact. The desired actions fall into this new form of social media activism: users can sign a pledge and post their support on social media platforms, which they, in turn, are able to track. They are encouraged to donate to Tri, a non-profit involved in the anti-Kony efforts, and donors receive the “action kit” that allows them to create posters that will be disseminated all over every major city on April 20, 2012, an action that now seems redundant given the attention the cause has already received.

It’s worth noting–as Waxman observes–that the video clearly targets younger users of social media. The messaging seems designed to reach college students and teenagers and appeals to and through social media expertise. Similarly, Nicholas Kristof argues that although the video has a number of distortions and inaccuracies, it serves an educational purpose, making viewers more aware of Kony’s crimes, while adding that we “shouldn’t let nuance get in the way of action.” That being said, these simplifications and distortions reinforce a patronizing view of international politics, one that is based in colonialist discourses of a “white man’s burden” (or what the LA Times aptly describes as the “White Industrial Savior Complex”) regarding Africa. A related complaint has been that Invisible Children has an underlying (and mostly unstated) goal of promoting evangelical Christianity, a claim related by Alternet’s Bruce Wilson. That being said, Wilson’s primary bit of evidence was a talk that Russell gave at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, encouraging the Baptist student body to get more involved in the fight against Kony, so rather than viewing the video as a deliberate attempt to proselytize, I would argue that the video appropriates the evangelical language of reaching out and converting others, language that fits rather neatly into some of the more utopian accounts of using social media to effect change.

The video’s inflated sense of self-importance becomes all the more evident when we consider the fact that Russell so prominently features himself and his son as the moral centers by which we view Kony and the conflict in Uganda (a position that has become even more compromised given that as I was writing this entry a report surfaced that Russell was arrested in San Diego for a variety of crimes including public indecency, drunkenness, and vandalizing cars). The focus on Russell and on a network of middle-class social media users proved especially puzzling to the Ugandan people who were supposed to benefit from Stop Kony’s campaign of networked visibility. In an Al Jazeera report linked by Xeni Jardin, we learn that Ugandans were puzzled by the video’s emphasis on Russell and by the calls to create t-shirts bearing Kony’s image, even while the video states that its intended purpose is to make Kony “famous” in order to see him captured. Ugandans complained that the video depicts events from nearly a decade ago, out of context, and some felt it was a cynical attempt to raise money. The outdoor screening was eventually stopped when viewers began throwing rocks, and future showings of the film in Uganda were postponed.

But the biggest concern I have about the video is one that was articulated by Engage Media, which observes that the Stop Kony rhetoric frames activism in ways that are cause for concern. The Twitter hashtag #stopatnothing is most significant here. This kind of viral social media activism can often lead to some of the same forms of uncritical acceptance that we have seen in other media, and in some cases, it potentially amplifies some potentially violent rhetoric. Engage is also attentive to the fact that the videomakers should have taken into account the local groups who were affected by Kony, providing them with the tools and the platform to share their message with the world (assuming that is what they want). Russell–and others, including Nicholas Kristof, who should know better–make a number of assumptions about the desires of a potentially disparate group of people, with Kristof concluding his op-ed with the phrase “If I were a Congolese villager…”  Which, of course, reduces a diverse grouping into a homogeneous whole.

So, yes, I am disturbed by the Stop Kony phenomenon, and in fact, as I wrote, I found myself becoming even less sympathetic with the tactics Russell is using, even if I recognize that Kony is a cruel individual. I don’t like that the video positions me as an impediment to justice when I ask for more nuance and subtlety and question the video’s uncritical embrace of the Ugandan military. And, yes, I am skeptical about Russell’s self-importance. But despite the video’s numerous flaws, I still find myself trying to make sense of how the video is using and mobilizing the good intentions of an international and socially-networked youth culture to try to make a difference in the wider world. To be sure, condemning a child-killing mass murderer in Africa is a relatively easy target, and the project’s militant rhetoric (#stopatnothing) is concerning, but the questions about empowerment, activism, and collectivity should not be easily or quickly dismissed.

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Catching Up

With Andrea out of town for the weekend, I’ve spent much of my time attending and participating in Duke University’s Marxism and New Media Conference. While my own work seemingly places much more emphasis on the category “new media” than “Marxist,” I deeply enjoyed and benefitted from testing the limits of current conversations in media studies about the practices of production, and in my own essay on social check-in services, about the creation of value in an attention economy. I’m not going to try to read today’s links completely through the lens of the conference, but I think it has sharpened my thinking on a couple of key points:

  • One quick bit of news: Star Wars Uncut, a fan film I discussed in the edited collection, Science Fiction Film, Television, and Adaptation: Across the Screens, has been released on YouTube in a director’s cut, one that includes more seamless video and sound editing. I discussed SWU as a paradigmatic example of a crowdsourced adaptation and still remain fascinated by it, though I have to admit that I still have some fondness for the original patchwork version that was auto-generated based on people’s votes.
  • Speaking of fan responses, I’ve been interested in the Vertigo meme, in which fans, responding to Kim Novak’s complaints about the use of the Vertigo theme in The Artist (which she referred to as a “violation”),  have been adding the music to a wide range of other texts. For one of the more thoughtful discussions of this project check out Jason Mittell’s discussion of how he Vertigoed The Wire and Kevin Lee and Matt Zoller Seitz’s announcement of the contest at Press Play.  Scroll down for one of my favorite examples, in which The Big Lebowski gets the Vertigo treatment. Moments like these renew my faith in remix culture.
  • This story is a few days old, but given my focus on digital cinema, I think it’s worth noting that Eastman Kodak has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
  • I’m intrigued by the discussion of this screening of Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, in which the pre-show advertising automatically turned on during the movie, leading to overlapping images showing Ben Kingsley talking over ads warning us to silence our cell phones, animated candy bars, and other advertising ephemera. It’s a bizarre mashup and a horrifying depiction of the automation of theatrical projection in the era of digital cinema.
  • On a related note, Anthony Kaufman discusses some of the challenges for indie and art house theaters in the era of digital projection.
  • Worth noting, many of the videos I’ve mentioned today would be at risk of being pulled (and their websites would also be threatened with legal action) if SOPA and/or PIPA had been passed. Henry Jenkins links to a detailed discussion of some of the creative activism that has been inspired by the anti-SOPA movement. On a related note, New Tee Vee has an article that explores some of the possible motivations for piracy, specifically the lack of available premium content via digital platforms.
  • Curiously, given this complaint, however Janko Roettgers, also of New Tee Vee, argues that we are in a “golden age of content.” Roettgers uses the announcement that  both Hulu and Netfix are producing original series (rather than merely serving as a portal to access content produced by others) to argue that we have far more choices for watching than ever before. Videonuze also has a discussion of “online originals.”
  • On a related note, Aymar Jean Christian has announced the launch of a new academic blog dedicated to the study of the future of video and television, Hacktivision.
  • This has been around for a while, but via the cinetrix, I just learned about the promo video for a planned adaptation of William Gibson’s Neuromancer from 1986.
  • Joe Swanberg has a new film out called Marriage Material. Richard Brody reviews the film favorably and notes that it will be available to watch online for free for two weeks.

The Big V from Will Woolf on Vimeo.

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Digital Distribution Links 12/22

I’ve got another post brewing about one of my other spring courses, a reprise of my graduate-level Technology in the Language Arts Classroom, but for now I’d like to try to get back in the habit of tracking some of the links I’ve been following:

  • The finalists for the most recent Amazon Studios contest have been announced. Winners receive prizes ranging from $1,000 for best actor to $100,000 for the best movie.
  • Aymar Jean Christian has two outstanding posts reviewing the year in digital video delivery. The first covers some of the changes in industry practices and the second looks at the potential of YouTube as a substitute for TV. So far, most of my online TV viewing has consisted of shared Daily Show, Colbert, and SNL segments. That could simply be a product of my taste cultures, but I wonder how viable it is for longer form and narrative shows.
  • Netflix inks a deal to distribute some BBC content in time for their launch in the United Kingdom and Ireland early next year. Worth noting: Love Film, the British streaming service owned by Amazon currently does not have a deal with the BBC.
  • More good news for Netflix: the tide of people leaving the service seems to have slowed down. That being said, satisfaction with the service has also declined considerably.
  • New Tee Vee offers some interesting viewer numbers for the music video service, Vevo.

 

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Supercut Analysis

Via Wired founding editor Kevin Kelly, I learned about Andy Baio’s archive of “supercut” videos, which Kelly defines as “a video montage cut and sequenced from existing movies and TV and commercials. It creates a rapid-fire medley of shots representing a theme of some sort.” As Kelly notes, these videos are often used to depict movie or TV show cliches, or repeated elements, such as Kramer’s entrances on Seinfeld or every mention of the word, “dude,” in The Big Lebowski. I’ve discussed some of these videos in Reinventing Cinema and in passing in an article I co-wrote with Richard Edwards on political videos, but I wish I’d had the term “supercut” available to me when I was writing these pieces.

As Kelly notes, the archive is a great resource, and the video Kelly cites–a compilation of shots of Palin breathing–is positively creepy, but one of the highlights for me was a short essay on the history and formal aspects of supercut videos. Baio astutely links the practice to avant-gare filmmakers such as Bruce Conner and Christian Marclay (Telephones, 1995), but he also has analyzed the  structure of supercut videos tracking the average number of cuts (around 82, with 5% of videos consisting of at least 300 cuts) and the common rhetorical effects of these films (supercuts as criticism, etc). It’s a good  overview, one that I think will be helpful for fans and scholars of online video.

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Netflix Relief Fund

Funny or Die has an amusing satirical video mocking the outrage of Netflix users over the company’s recent price increases. The video features a deadpan Jason Alexander asking for donations as upper-middle class people lament the new prices and how they will affect their ability to access all of the movies they want.

Netflix Relief Fund with Jason Alexander from Jason Alexander

A couple of quick remarks once you’ve seen the video: There are some pretty amusing highlights, including some jokes about how bad some of the films are on Netflix, how people have come to take a service like Netflix for granted, and how piracy continues to haunt digital delivery. To some extent, there seems to be a mild amount of resentment toward Netflix and its users here, perhaps because digital delivery is bringing down the (exchange) value of all media content. But it’s a pretty nice companion to the Onion’s famous satirical video about Blockbuster from a few years ago.

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George C. Scott Doesn’t Like Adam Sandler Movies

Via Jim Emerson, one of the best trailer remixes I’ve seen in ages. The video intercuts between the trailer for the new Adam Sandler movie, Jack and Jill (featuring a paycheck-cashing Al Pacino), and scenes from the 1979 Paul Schrader movie, Hardcore, in which George C. Scott discovers that his missing daughter has been working in the porn industry. Great stuff.

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Tuesday Links: Hulu, Arcade Fire, UltraViolet

More digital delivery news stories as I slowly settle back in to book writing mode:

  • While I don’t always (or, maybe, ever) agree with the political views over at Big Hollywood, John Nolte is asking some of the right questions about UltraViolet, the new digital distribution initiative put together by the major studios. One assertion he gets wrong, sort of, is the idea that Hollywood isn’t making “good” movies anymore, but that’s kind of beside the point here. Nolte is responding to a recent article by Brent Lang in The Wrap discussing UltraViolet’s upcoming launch, which raises the even more crucial point that Apple, which controls 60% of the digital download market still hasn’t signed on with UltraViolet.
  • New Tee Vee reports that Arcade Fire and Spike Jonze’s short film, Scenes from the Suburbs, which was set to premiere this week on Mubi.com, has been geo-blocked in the United States, Germany, Australia, and Canada. The short film was intended to serve as a promotion for a limited edition copy of the Arcade Fire album, The Suburbs. One reviewer who caught the film before it was geo-blocked came away impressed, and the trailer itself looks engaging, but the band’s manager chose to make the film unavailable until the August 4 release of the album/DVD.
  • On a related note, Jason Mittell discusses his attempts to plan how he will continue to consume American media, even while spending a year in Germany.
  • New Tee Vee also discusses MoviePass, which would allow people to pay up to $50 a month to see an unlimited number of movies in theaters. A second pass for $30 a month would allow people to see up to four movies per month. Given that many frequent moviegoers are teens who tend to plan spontaneously, I’m a little skeptical about this idea. Also, unless you’re seeing 3D movies exclusively, you’d probably have to see five or six movies a month to make the $50 pass worthwhile, something that seems like a stretch for anyone other than a theater employee or a movie critic.
  • New Blockbuster President Michael Kelly tries to make the case that physical media, such as DVDs, continue to have advantages over digital delivery and kiosk services such as Redbox. Oddest moment: Kelly emphasizes that you can watch DVDs in your car.
  • Peter Kafka explores some of the changes Hulu may make in the near future.
  • Finally (via The Valve), just for fun, Nina Paley’s anti-plagiarism video, “The Attribution Song.”

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Friday Links

Huge collection of links since I haven’t blogged in a while, thanks to wedding, writing, and other forms of busy-ness:

  • Girish has a contribution to the Edinburgh Film Festival’s Project: New Cinephilia, a roundtable discussion of the new forms of cinephilia inspired by the web. The whole discussion is worth reading, and it’s an engaging example of how festivals can be extended to the web.
  • David Poland expands on his recent arguments that the 3D bubble has burst. The National Organization of Theater Owners, citing an article by Scott Mendelson, would beg to differ. Anne Thompson, pointing to a New York Times article, echoes Poland’s argument that 3D has been overused.
  • Poland also looks at the digital future of inexpensive downloads and concludes that theatrical will becoming increasingly important.
  • Anthony Kaufman considers whether the crowdfunding service Kickstarter has revolutionized the indie film business
  • A new indie film service Flicklaunch is using Facebook as a platform to distribute independent films
  • Roger Ebert has an article bemoaning the latest “attraction” in some theaters: D-Box, a device, in which seats move, rock, and heave viewers. So far, according to Dan Craft’s Pantagraph.com article, only 80 theaters are equipped with D-Box devices, and viewers can shut the devices off if they don’t enjoy the ride (note: I may revisit this story soon).
  • Netflix CEO Reed Hastings discuses the future of TV in an interesting New Tee Vee article.
  • In other news, Hastings reports that Netflix is “finally beating” piracy site Bit Torrent. Hastings adds that Netflix has become instrumental in helping some shows find a (paying) audience, offering the examples of Firefly and Dexter.
  • In big news for video mashup creators, YouTube has adopted Creative Commons licenses, making it easier for users to find content they can remix or repurpose.
  • Matt Dentler also has some good news for people who consume streaming video, especially in Canada and the UK. On a related note, Hulu (following their acquisition of Criterion rights) has purchased streaming rights to Miramax’s catalog.

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Thursday Links

Expect light blogging for the next few weeks, due to a couple of big upcoming events, including a trip to Costa Rica, where the Best Fiancee Ever and I will be recharging our batteries for a few days. I’ve also been working on a new book, which tends to pull me away from the blog. Even so, here are a few links:

  • The new Muppets movie has been using parody trailers as a form of promotion. Viewers in theaters are presented with what appears to be a trailer for a romantic comedy called Green With Envy, featuring Jason Segal and Amy Adams, with the Muppets showing up halfway through. It’s a pretty creative parody of rom-coms and shows the Muppets at their playful, often slyly subversive, best. The Muppet Hangover 2 parody, “The Fuzzy Pack,” is also very funny.
  • New Tee Vee has a cool infographic illustrating the almost exponential growth of video uploads to YouTube. In 2007, YouTubers were uploading eight hours per minute. By 2011, that number has increased to 48 hours per minute. If my back of the envelope math is correct, that means that it would take nearly 3,000 days to watch all of the video posted to the site every day. I’d argue that it also makes it difficult to make broad generalizations about user practices.
  • Roger Ebert seizes on an article by Boston Globe writer Ty Burr to argue that 3D films are now negatively affecting the projection of 2D films. Ebert and Burr both note that 3D projectors are often used to show 2D films, and when the polarizing lens (which creates the 3D effect) is left in the projector, it makes the image dark and murky. While I suspect that they are both right, I find it interesting that Burr’s “informal survey” of moviegoers showed that most of them were indifferent or unaware of the difference in quality.
  • Home Media Magazine more or less confirms what seems to be conventional wisdom: most movie consumers now prefer to rent videos (in whatever format) rather than buying them.
  • Disney is joining the retro-3D party with their plans to rerelease their 1994 animated hit, The Lion King, in 3D in September of this year. This means that Disney will beat out the re-release of Titanic by several months. Given recent reports about a 3D backlash (see below), I’ll be interested to see how these 3D re-releases are received.
  • David Poland crunches the numbers for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and concludes that moviegoers last week offered a “clear rejection” of the 3D format, with ticket sales for the 2D version vastly outpacing the 3D.
  • Canadian cable provider, Shaw, has increased its bandwidth caps, which is good news for Netflix and other streaming video sites that depend heavily on the higher caps. Netflix had already been providing Canadian subscribers with a lower quality streaming image in order to help customers avoid fees for exceeding their monthly bandwidth allotment.

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The Speed of Speculation

Like pretty much everyone else in the world, I’ve been fascinated by the coverage of the news that Osama bin Laden has been killed. Unlike the people dancing in the streets, many of whom were documented in a Rachel Maddow blog post, in front of the White House, near Ground Zero, and in Times Square, I have a hard time seeing this as a moment of pure jubilation. Not so much because I mourn bin Laden, but because of what we have all lost over the last decade, thanks to the terror war. The chanting and cheering seems grounded in an anger that I still find unsettling. I’m not in a position to reflect on what this means for the war on terror. There are countless others who are already doing that, including Nicholas Kristof, who offers a pretty good place to start. But I have been intrigued by the discussions of how the bin Laden story broke, especially the distinctions between how the story was covered on TV and how people responded online. More than anything, I think that it’s worth reflecting on how social media help to restructure the way that news stories of this magnitude are reported and how viewers respond to them.

Although I was home alone when the speculation began, around 10 PM, I wasn’t paying that much attention to Facebook or Twitter for a change. I had been grading for most of the evening and was kind of surfing aimlessly while listening idly to the Phillies-Mets game on ESPN (much like Tom Watson, whose reflections on last night’s news are worth reading) when the broadcasters abruptly mentioned that Osama bin Laden may have been killed and that President Obama would have a major announcement. I immediately flipped over to CNN and began digging around my “most recent” Facebook feed. As I saw quickly, the news had been building gradually for half an hour or so. The earliest mention–from a reporter friend–simply mentioned speculation that bin Laden was dead. My guess is that, like me, many people were driven to watch TV or listen on the radio because of something they saw on Facebook or Twitter, suggesting that it would be reductive to suggest that people saw social media as a substitute for televised news.

Like many, I’d imagine that I began following this story during this brief window between the first reports that bin Laden was dead and Obama’s official announcement, a period that Myles McNutt has powerfully described as a “space of speculation.” McNutt observes that people were speculating about the news on Twitter, well before official reports were confirmed. To be sure, such speculation can often follow false paths, but I think that McNutt is correct to suggest that our memories of an event of such dramatic proportions are shaped not only by what we learn, but how we learn about it. Significantly, this speculation begins to create its own archive, as we seek to re-create what happened. One example of this would be the tweets by Sohaib Athar (@reallyvirtual), who lives in Abbottabad, where bin Laden was captured. Although his tweets were likely overlooked when they were first posted, they now serve as a tool for reconstructing what happened:

As you can see from looking at the image, Athar heard the explosions and the helicopter crash and, along with others in his Twitter feed, began assembling a sense of what was happening in real time. Alongside of this speculation, the “traditional” media was also seeking to put together what happened. Brian Stelter has a couple of interesting posts about this work (here and here), but again, the speculation was especially intense online, where (as Stelter reports), Twitter saw nearly 4,000 posts every second at the peak of activity. Certainly my Facebook page hummed with activity, as we sought to make sense of what had happened and what it meant.

Within minutes, of course, people were already teasing out the implications and coincidences: that the story broke during an episode of Celebrity Apprentice, that this was the eighth anniversary of Bush’s Mission Accomplished speech, that it was also the anniversary of Adolf Hitler’s death. It didn’t take long for the event to fit into various internet memes. An LOL Cats post showing a triumphant Obama mocking the birthers hit within minutes of the announcement, linking the story to the increasing complaints about Donald Trump’s posturing. And as I discovered while reading David Poland’s blog this morning, someone has already revived the Downfall meme, redoing the subtitles yet again to show Hitler reacting to the news that bin Laden was killed. The language is often caught in the jubilation of the moment (Osama’s compound was “owned”) and often quite silly (Hitler comments in this version that he was looking forward to watching the American Idol finale with bin Laden), but the timeline for the video suggests that it was posted before midnight on May 1, which means the creator must have worked incredibly quickly.

Again, I write this in the midst of a sense of profound ambivalence. It’s clear that this is a moment of historical significance, one that has been shaped in the media, old and new, that helped to shape it. But I’m skeptical of the unfettered triumphalism that has led people to compare bin Laden’s death to VE Day (to name one example). Now, I feel like we’ve moved from one mode of speculation to the next. Rather than trying to anticipate the content of Obama’s announcement, we all have to sit, watch, and wait to see what happens next.

Update: Worth noting, Media Bistro has an intriguing post in which they discuss the fact that the New York Times literally had to stop the presses to reflect the late-breaking news. Eileen Murphy of the New York Times estimates that the last time that happened was during the first Gulf War in 1991, which shows just how rare it is.

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Wednesday Links: Cinematical, Blockbuster, Harry Met Sally 2

Shifting back into project mode, but first, here are some links:

  • There has been quite a bit of discussion today about the “implosion” taking place at Cinematical. Until this morning, I’d missed the story, but Movie City News brought my attention to the fact that Erik Davis, a longtime writer and editor for the site, had tendered his resignation. Meanwhile Mary Ann Johanson offers a more detailed explanation of why Cinematical, a long-running film blog that dates back to 2005, may be seeing its last days as a prominent source for film news: the Huffington Post-AOL merger. As Johanson reports, the new management at AOL/HuffPo sent out an email to their freelancers telling them, “You will be invited to contribute as part of our non-paid blogger system.” That’s awfully kind of them, isn’t it? I am sad to see Cinematical coming apart like this. When I was writing my book and for many years since, it has been a major go-to site for impassioned coverage of the film industry, but I think it also shows the fragility of the professional film and media blogosphere.
  • New Tee Vee asks a really interesting question: why is Dish TV willing to pay $320 million dollars to take over Blockbuster Video? They don’t really come up with a clear answer, but one partial answer might be that Blockbuster owns streaming rights to a number of movie titles.
  • Speaking of rights issues, the MPAA is planning to urge Congress to take up legislation banning “rogue” websites that are pirating Hollywood films. With former Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd now leading the MPAA, it will be interesting to see what happens with this kind of lobbying.
  • One reason why piracy is so important: Convergence Consulting Group is estimating that streaming TV will be an $800 million business within two years. Tech Crunch has a pointer to some recent reports they have produced, including “Battle for the North American Couch Potato.”
  • Home Media Magazine is speculating that Redbox may partner with Hulu in its effort to launch a streaming video service.
  • Ted Striphas explores the implications of the latest Wired jargon, Culturomics, comparing it to his own attempts to read what he calls “algorithmic culture.” Wired’s Jonathon Keats discusses the term here and Brandon Keim mentions it in this blog post on the data-crunching possibilities found on Google books.
  • Finally, just for fun, the very amusing Funny or Die video, When Harry Met Sally 2. I don’t want to give anything away, but stick with the video. It gets much funnier about 2 minutes in.

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