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Friday, Jan 11, 2008

In a CNET article, Trent Raznor said that he was disappointed with the sales of the Saul Williams album he did but what makes this newsworthy is that this was yet another online experiment in pass-the-hat (getting consumers to pay what they want, like Radiohead).  He was disappointed with this figure: “154,449 people had downloaded NiggyTardust and 28,322 of them paid the $5 as of January 2.”  That comes out to less than 20% of the people willing to shell out five bucks for an album.  But Williams himself in a separate interview with CNET saw things differently.


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Friday, Jan 11, 2008
by PopMatters Staff
Trans Am

Trans Am


Today’s the day to wear orange to voice your support for the closing of Guantánamo Bay. The ACLU has organized this visual, political effort and is calling on people opposed to torture and indefinite detention to show their thoughts by donning orange garb today. Find out more about what you can do and how to get involved on the ACLU site.


Here’s what a few folks you may know have to say on the issue:


“I’ll be wearing orange because I believe in human rights.”
Susan Sarandon


“I’ll be wearing orange because this prolonged torture is obscene, nakedly sadistic and patently un-American.”
Henry Rollins


“I am wearing orange because respecting human rights is the only way to preserve humanity.”
Gloria Reuben


“I am wearing orange to help bring back the dignity our country has lost as a result of Guantánamo. We must join together in solidarity to demand the immediate closure of this shameful prison. It has tarnished America’s image in the world and continues to be a symbol of torture and injustice.”
Meshell Ndegeocello


“Guantanamo Bay is un-American.  That’s why it’s in Cuba.”
Phil Manley, Trans Am


“Everybody has the right to be treated justly and the injustices and corruption of this facility has already been exposed.”
One Be Lo


“I wanted to get involved with this cause because I feel no matter the situation, human rights come first”.
Rasco, (one half of Cali Agents and solo emcee from NorCal)


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Thursday, Jan 10, 2008


It will be interesting to see what the press conference scheduled for 13 January brings. For the first time in many, many years, the Golden Globes, the more party/perfunctory wrap up of the annual awards season is unable to shower the deserving and the questionable (Pia Zadora?) with their tiny trophies. Thanks to the writer’s strike, and the complementary decision by the Screen Actors Guild to honor same, there will be no soirées, no foreign press corps preening, no bifurcated categories, and perhaps most importantly, no early gauge as to who and what might walk away with an Oscar come 24 February.


Film fans have had a love/loathe relationship with the blatant schmooze/shill fest since it dropped the outsider pose (with all its easily bribed and/or bought rewards) and became an Academy bookie. It used to be that the Globes played also-ran to the more formidable, formal cinematic BMOC. But by trying to legitimize itself as more critical and less comical, performers and studios have seen the event as a excellent catalyst. It’s a way of building momentum for an underdog. They’ve also used is as a way of gaining recognition for an unheralded project/person or plugging the gaps in a failing publicity campaign.


But thanks to a unionized effort to get already well paid insiders a few cents more for their services, the Golden Globes are forced to cancel this year’s ceremony. Even a proposed plan to have presenters travel to the different industry parties and hand out trophies to the winners was nixed. With Oscar nervous, and sponsor ABC jockeying to prevent a similar situation, we could be facing an awards season without the very thing that makes it attractive/aggravating - the self-serving spectacle of an overproduced, overlong, self-serving ceremony. Unlike the year where a walk out by baseball players caused the cancellation of the World Series, however, few will probably bemoan the loss of the famed black-tie blight.


The sports analogy is viable since, for many outside the Hollywood wire, the strike appears like two groups of unfathomably wealthy individuals arguing over who gets the last serving of caviar. Of course, that’s unfair and untrue, but we’re talking about the all important concept of perception here, not the clauses and subsections of a collective bargaining agreement. There is much more on the table than the money derived from the medium’s rapid digitization, but tell that to the family unable to afford a night at the movies, or the triple digit cable bill, and you’ll find little sympathy. This is not meant as a slam against workers demanding their rights. It’s just a reminder that not everyone sees this as a selfless stand.

Cancelling shows that most outside the business already dismiss may not be the best strategy. It will win a few fans - on a recent podcast, Clerks king Kevin Smith said he’d LOVE to see awards season reduced to a series of brief, by the book announcements - while others have lamented the fact that artists who’ve worked, sometimes for years, are not being allowed that additional moment in the limelight that a nomination (and potential win) provides. It’s an intriguing concept, since a statuette and a gift bag are nice. But in a realm where everything is ego, is that five minutes of mega-fame, followed by a network mandated musical cue play-off, the ultimate validation?


Think of it this way - you spend years working at crap jobs and minimal corporate positions, all in pursuit of a single, always elusive goal. You try, are turned back, and try again. You make inroads only to have the pathway ripped up and placed along some other topography. Somehow, through persistence, place, and a good deal of personal sacrifice, you make it in. You’re talent is rewarded, you never again have to sling hash or wonder if someone would like fries with that. Your friends and family finally stop thinking of you as a slightly insane pipe dreamer, and your every career wish is now just a mere pitch/contract/greenlight away.


Now, let’s go a step further. Let’s say that the fruit of your intense, lifelong labors have finally come to fruition. Success - measured in money or mentions - is here, and it feels oh so good. Then, something wonderful happens. Said triumph turns back at you, and your peers are demanding to recognize and reward you. It begins with those typically critical of your career, and then begins to bubble up from those who you directly compete with. Before long, certificates and other swag are shoved in your direction, with promises of the big party just around the corner. That’s right, the ultimate goal, the final fulfillment of all you’ve worked for…and then the door is closed. No one is invited, no one is allowed to attend.


No matter how nominal, actors and actresses, writers and directors, tech people and other production crew work damn hard for something like the Globes. For every person recognized, thousands would kill just for the off chance at replacing them. Receiving an award, like recent Emmy recipient Kathy Griffin noted, means that every time someone mentions your name, they have to preface it with “X Winner…” such and such. So forget all the George C. Scott/Marlon Brando machinations about rejecting competition among fellow artists - in a biz that will spit you out quicker than it will ever embrace you (especially in the talent interchangeable ‘00s) - reducing any award, by definition, lessens its significance.


Someone like Diablo Cody must be shifting uncomfortably in her ex-stripper pants right about now. As the out of nowhere flavor du jour in this awards season (she wrote the pop culture reference heavy script for Juno), she’s that highly touted talent who, on a yearly basis, gets both sides of the issue enflamed. Some see her as a new, novel voice in a realm where everything is predictable and pat. Others view her as Quentin Tarantino after one too many estrogen laced pixie sticks. Whatever the case, Cody has enough steam to plow through the next few months with many trophies, a fashion faux pax or two, and a three picture deal from some suckered studio.


But instead of getting to gloat over all this ‘sudden’ success, Ms. Cody gets to protect the picket lines. As numerous critics groups hand out their plaudits, she gets to sit at home and enjoy an indirect moment of satisfaction. If the Oscars should be cancelled, or truncated somehow, the biggest moment in what could be a very short career as a screenwriter will be traded for some far off monetary equilibrium. And let’s say the writers fail to win their position. Will someone like Cody appreciate the fact that her one chance at universal acknowledgement came at the expense of a losing cause? For an actor like Daniel Day-Lewis or Johnny Depp, the Golden Globes and The Academy will probably be everpresent concerns. But many first timers will feel the pinch come the time to rip open the envelope.

Of course, no one will miss the bad speeches, the political grandstanding, the numerous mentions of God, Jesus, the little people, “everyone I’m forgetting”, the bad presenter banter or horrendous ‘live’ versions of the Best Song. The spectacle of seeing your favorite film star bathed in the glory of his celebrity constituency will be lost, but so will a great deal of needless pomp and backslapping circumstance. Besides, Oscar tends to get it wrong more times than not. Do we really need to see another Shakespeare in Love/Saving Private Ryan moment, or the long lapsed recognition of someone (Spielberg, Scorsese) who should have been acknowledged decades before? Being out of touch is one thing. Having such a stance forced upon you by disgruntled employees just may be the remedy the entire system needs.


Shake up or not, it will be interesting to see what happens come Sunday. How will the media treat the marginalized moment? How much play will the Writer’s Guild get, and will their message be mired in the appearance of arrogant impropriety? Frankly, will anyone outside the obsessive really care that there’s no glitzy show biz-y banquet, that their favorite faces aren’t gussied up in red carpet accoutrement waiting for an entertainment talking head to ask them who designed their duds?


As with any ongoing issue, the strike will harm more everyday elements (favorite TV shows, upcoming movie releases) than a once a year entity of entitlement. Yet when a labor disagreement can adversely effect the most superficial of spectacle (cue Golden Globes theme song), it may be time to reconsider the structure all together. Maybe it’s time to revamp the entire awards season strategy once and for all. It’s been a long time coming. A passive approach only guarantees that someone - or something - else will end up doing it for you…and you see how that’s worked out so far.


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Thursday, Jan 10, 2008

No Country—hard to make a bad movie from such stellar source material. The book is a brilliant meditation on life and fate, and the choices we make that effect who we become, who we interact with and the consequences of those interactions. Most every conversation in the book reminds us of this theme. The story highlights with it’s violence and horror just how the simplest of motions can have the deepest impact.


The movie continues this theme, though not nearly as starkly. Notions of fate and choices are in there, but whereas Bell in the book (Tommy Lee Jones’ character) is driven by one very specific choice he made back in the war, the Bell in the movie is simply a man on the land, doing his job in a society gone mad with drugs and violent crime. Bell’s meditations in the book appear as introductions to new chapters, so, essentially, he guides us through this story, commenting all the while on its effect on himself, his family, and the main characters, Moss and Carla Jean. That is removed from the film almost entirely, popping up only as brief narrative in the beginning and peppered through conversations Bell has with various characters.


I realise it’s a movie, though, and so it’s difficult to include that narration, but if I really think about, I can see where perhaps the narration might have fit. But I guess I’m not a filmmaker, so maybe not. I was disappointed, too, that Moss’s trip to the Desert Sands Motel was constructed differently in the movie, removing the hitchhiker character, who I thought was so very important in bringing out a bit more of the Moss character and his motivations. Moss is as concerned about choices and fate as Bell, and here is where we find that out. From the book, Moss talking to the hitchhiker:


You think when you wake up in the mornin yesterday dont count. But yesterday is all that does count. What else is there? You life is made out of the days its made out of. Nothin else. You might think you could run away and change your name and I dont know what all. Start over. And then one mornin you wake up and look at the ceilin and guess whos layin there?


Later he says:


There’s a lot of bad luck out there. You hang around long enough and you’ll come in for your share of it.


Prior to this, Moss is really just a man who, as he sums it up, took something from someone who wants it back (Moss stumbled on a drug deal gone bad in the desert and took a bag of money). Here, though, we realise there’s much more to Moss. The movie version of the character is rarely anything more than a hunted man who refuses to yield. But his whole point is about following through with your choices, to see where they lead, what they teach you. One character in the movie remarks, “you never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from”, and this seems to illustrate Moss, too. Luck is luck and you play your hand.


The movie, I thought, was more a meditation on the land and the violence it creates, with dribs and drabs of social commentary about the world a-changin’. I was sad that some of those tiny bits that made the book so powerful to me were overlooked in the final film. Still, what a great movie. A stripped back version of the full story, I guess, which is usually the case in adaptations. I can’t complain too much about the adaptation, though. The movie is, for the most part, a wonderful reconstruction of the novel. My complaints aside, it’s its own work of art, suspenseful and violent, confronting and beautiful.


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Thursday, Jan 10, 2008

Science News reports about a study testing the influence of opinion leaders, busybody extroverts eager to share recommendations with a wide network of people. Somewhat surprisingly, the researchers Duncan Watts and Peter Dodds found with computer simulations that a critical mass of easily influenced people is more important for the spread of an idea rather than super proselytizers.


More important than the influencers, the researchers found, were the influenced. Once an idea spread to a critical mass of easily influenced individuals, it took hold and continued to spread to other easily influenced individuals. In some networks, it was far easier to get an idea established this way than in others. The entire structure of the network mattered, not just the few influential people.
Dodds compares the spread of ideas to the spread of a forest fire. When a fire turns into a conflagration, no one says that it was because the spark that began it was so potent. “If it had been raining,” Dodds says, “that same match wouldn’t have had an effect.” Instead, a fire takes off because of the properties of the larger forest environment: the dryness, the density, the wind, the temperature.
The upshot of the study, Dodds says, is that “in the end, you don’t have control over how people spread your message.” The best way to increase the odds of person-to-person transmission of an idea is to make it a good idea and to give it “social worth,” he says. “Some things are just fun to talk about.”


Ideas, then, are subject to network effects—the notion that the size of a phenomenon creates its own exponential positive feedback—and their spread has even less to do with their intrinsic quality. What helps spread an idea is not some Tipping Point style special influencer but the ability to bring a large group of naive and easily persuaded people with a propensity for novelty for its own sake into contact with one other—say, some site that would get a bunch of teenagers together to do little other than share and reaffirm one another’s preferences. I wonder if some clever college dropout will come up with such a thing.


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