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Monday, Apr 2, 2007

Online Journalism Ethics – An Oxymoron?


As digital media blazes new trails and transforms itself, the need for fresh ethical standards grows more urgent with every deadline. At Poynter Online, Bob Steele has written “Helter Skelter No More: An Evolving Guidebook for Online Ethics,” which outlines one of the institute’s recent projects: to assemble professional journalists with experience in online journalism to establish a new Guidebook for Online Journalism Ethics. The project was triggered by a survey the Institute conducted that revealed what many already knew: deep ethical dilemmas exist when doing journalism online. And they are different than the ethical challenges print journalists frequently encounter. They include vetting the opinionated nature of “news” blogs; easing the tension between the speed of news delivery and the quality of news content; understanding the sophistication of digital advertising and its relationship to content; and tempering the growing need for more visual content, to name a few. The Golden Rule applauds these efforts and looks forward to reading that guidebook.


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Monday, Apr 2, 2007

Having just returned from a vacation at a resort hotel in the Caribbean, I found this WSJ article about exclusive resorts within resorts pertinent. The resort at which I stayed felt carceral to say the least—it was retrofitted into the site of an old fortress, and portions of it were literally cordoned off with barbed wire. Yet at the same time, an atmosphere of openness was built into the infrastructure of the place, with all the restaurants and bars and hotel services being outdoors. Just enough relaxed openness was suggested by this setup to allow the more imaginative tourists to pretend that they weren’t in a fortress and were instead integrated in some way with real island culture. The ability to relax at the resort seemed akin to the ability to enjoy TV shows with laugh tracks, or incoherent special-effects laden movies: It seems as though you have to be willing to do a lot of pretending and suspend a lot of disbelief to overlook the fact that the staff regards you with a mixture of contempt, suspicion and condescension, overlook the tension generated by income disparities between tourists and locals, the essentially predatory nature of tourist enterprises. Of course you can skirt a lot of that by eschewing the amenities of resorts, but then you are forced to concentrate on how to actually do everyday things in a foreign environment, which is probably the opposite of relaxing for many vacationers. The things you take for granted (buying gas, reading a menu, etc.) become complicated, and embarrassment lurks around every corner.


Resorts protect you from all that complication of the reality of foreignness, but at the expense of jailing you in a plush prison. But they go beyond merely insulating us from the challenges of learning how to function in new environments and having to make too many decisions, beyond permitting us to take a vacation from thinking (“A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” David Foster Wallace’s account of taking a cruise, explicates these points pretty well). By foregrounding the helplessness of the tourist while confronting him at every turn with semi-sarcastic solicitude, resorts actually heighten all the tensions and pretenses, the disparities between tourists and servants, rather than dissipate them; perhaps it’s because these tensions are actually what many vacationers want to consume, class resentment as a testimony that you’ve arrived, that you’ve reached a place where you can have the power to boss people around and be fussed over. The elaborate gate-keeping procedures at resorts are a part of this; if resorts are like prisons, it’s because we want to consume the feeling of being guarded—we want to taste the power of exclusion (which epitomizes class conflict generally) in one of its most concrete forms.


But when regular shmoes like me can be at a resort, the resort has clearly lost some of its exclusive appeal: Hence the ultraprivate resort within the resort the WSJ article notes:


Now some resorts are rolling out fancier service tiers that come with benefits blatantly visible to other guests, from private pools and beach areas in the middle of the grounds to guaranteed spots at crowded restaurants. Elite guests—who pay an additional $40 to $900 or more per night—also get nicer rooms and full access to the main resort. To distinguish them from the regular guests, many of whom are paying hefty rates of $400 to $1,000 a night, they sometimes get special bracelets or towels.


The writing here seems a bit slanted toward maximum populist outrage, but nevertheless it makes clear that consuming exclusivity is less a matter of achieving privacy (as is the case in some of the upgrades discussed) and more a matter of showing those beneath you what your money can buy, gloating in the VIP pool with your special wristband. If you pursue these special services, you actually want less privacy; you want more people to see you in all your luxuriousness. The desire to be seen enjoying privileges is an extension of the reality-TV mind-set, where having an audience is an essential ingredient for validation. But other resort guests don’t want to be an audience; they want to consider themselves the stars too—hence, the article’s focus on the aggrieved hotel patrons discovering they are second class citizens.


The idea that others might be more important can spark a little vacation insecurity. During her weeklong visit to the 49-room Anse Chastanet Resort on St. Lucia last fall, at $475 a night, Rosaria Davies could see the five-month-old Jade Mountain extension every time she went for a swim on the beach. Guests there get their own restaurant, spa and pools, plus access to the main resort; nightly rates this season start at $1,150. “It looked great from afar,” says the 37-year-old from London. When she and her husband had to wait an hour between the appetizers and main course at dinner one night, they wondered if Jade Mountain guests were being served more quickly. During the trip, the couple joked, “Are we chopped liver?” The hotel says it treats all of its guests equally.



Since everyone can’t feel as though they are the only guest, treating everyone equally is the next-best thing—a compensatory egalitarianism that nullify’s our awareness of others—being as we often only notice strangers through invidious comparison. But resorts are tempted by the allure of discriminatory pricing, reintroducing an aspect of the world (relentless status competition) many of us specifically go on vacation to escape.


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Monday, Apr 2, 2007
by Edward Wasserman - McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

Sometimes a newsroom conflict of interest is as unmistakable as a pimple on prom night.


Consider a financial writer praising a company whose stock she owns or a real-estate reporter hyping a neighborhood where he has land. There, the journalists’ private interest in telling certain things certain ways can’t help but clash with a professional duty to serve the public with clean hands.


But you often hear talk about conflicts of interest when the activities involved don’t clearly influence the journalism, and which may be nettlesome largely because employers abhor criticism. Why shouldn’t a sports reporter donate to a mayoral candidate? Even if it’s condemned as a “perceived” conflict of interest, is it really a threat to honest sports coverage—or an image problem for the newspaper?


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Sunday, Apr 1, 2007


In a little less than five days, maverick directors Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez will unleash their long awaited double feature phenomenon in the making, Grindhouse, onto an unsuspecting motion picture marketplace. Starring Kurt Russell, Rose McGowan, Rosario Dawson and a cadre of filmmaking friends (fake trailers for the presentation have been crafted by the likes of Rob Zombie and Eli Roth), the diabolical duo are hoping to open the eyes of tenderfoot film fans everywhere. It is their goal to bring the good old days of onscreen exploitation back to the masses.For his part, Rodriguez is serving up the splatter spoils, offering a zealous zombie stomp entitled Planet Terror. Tarantino, on the other hand, is exploring the seedier side of things with his psycho stuntman on the prowl, Death Proof. Together, they guarantee the classic concepts celebrated by drive-in film critics Joe Bob Briggs – beasts, boobs, and blood.


But is it really exploitation – or better yet, do these two inexplicable genre efforts guided by a pair of exceptionally talented men really warrant the true ‘grindhouse’ label? Signs are sketchy at best. It remains a fact that, scattered throughout the legacy of the taboo-busting genre, there are movies that explore similar themes. Harry Novak’s The Child, for example, was a great example of the living dead dynamic, and crazed killers stalking and splattering unwitting innocents (Booby Traps, A Scream in the Streets), were an industry mainstay. Even when you move beyond the outer fringes of the genre and into the more obscure examples of filmed filth, there are enough examples of the horror/crime/drug/sex standard to fulfill the retro raincoat crowd title. But the question remains, what about these new films in particular. Are they fact or fad, real attempts at recreation or, as one suspects, a gimmick used to serve an already attention-grabbing release?


It is obvious that no filmmaking duo – or dozen directors, for that matter – could sum up the exploitation genre in a single set of films. There are far too many subjects and subsets, aspects and approaches involved to allow for such an easy dissection. But the main issue with any supposed grindhouse offering is the purpose behind the production. Money was the motivating factor for these carnival barker like showmen. The main distributors and producers of the old school product even had a self-effacing nickname for themselves – The Forty Thieves. Running around the country playing drive-ins and gritty downtown theaters, they purposefully positioned their product like inventory in a warehouse. In his exceptional book, A Youth in Babylon, Mighty Monarch of the Exploitation World David F. Friedman argued for what is, in essence, a post-modern Hollywood film production ideal to the creating and commercializing of controversial cinema.


Whenever they began a project, the smart schlock filmmaker always took the temperature of the times. He (or in rare cases, she) sampled the pop culture landscape, looked to see what was making headlines (violence, sex crimes, drugs, etc.) and then made sure their movie stayed true to said subject’s more sensational elements. But beyond the narrative, producers recognized that through a clear demographical decision, they could almost predict where certain types of movie would be best received. Rowdy sex farces usually did well in the South, while far more mean-spirited or sadistic fare drew better in big cities. Finally, they would work up a mock budget, and determine a maximum amount of advertising and distribution monies to be spent. If all the salesmanship stars were aligned, they would then figure out the potential profit (these movies were NEVER made without a clear indication of the possible success) and maintain a strict adherence to this limited fiscal plan.


As a result, most exploitation films were not hits, but solid returns on precisely planned out investments. The artistic nature of a release was never considered, nor was the inevitable entertainment value to an audience ever gauged. In essence, the men making grindhouse fare were playing a masterful game of bait and switch. They would lure in curious crowds with their tantalizing, taboo subject matter, and then once the coinage was carefully concealed, roll out their less than exceptional effort. For anyone familiar with the long lineage of this kind of moviemaking, the vast majority of the interchangeable offerings are quite forgettable. Aside from their time capsule qualities, and ample depictions of nudity, they tend to be boring, unexceptional, crass and without merit.


So where exactly do Planet Terror and Death Proof reside? Well, for one thing, it’s clear that the entire premise for this double feature extravaganza comes from the drive-in dynamic which in turn, represents a late in life adjustment made by the exploitation gang. When theaters could no longer guarantee audiences, and mainstream movies started limiting available screens, the passion pit was instantly targeted. Not only was this done because of the guaranteed audience (remember, couples weren’t necessarily coming for the movies) but also out of a firm financial desperation.


After the initial craze in the ‘50s, drive-ins started losing their luster. By tapping into the need to compete with the major chains and growing Cineplex movement, the independent owners of these exterior entertainment venues would purposely look for something weird or unusual to enhance their visibility. And it usually worked. Herschell Gordon Lewis, the godfather of gore, once described his trepidation when his slice and dice epic, Blood Feast, was premiering at a rural outdoor theater from off the beaten prosperity path. Unsure of the location, his fears were quelled when he saw a mile long line of cars all waiting to pay for admission. So the bravura or bawdy b-movie found a second life playing to teenage audiences looking for a little psycho-sexual privacy as well as a place to pet. 


Certainly, there aren’t specific requirements mandated to make a movie meet the grindhouse distinction, but its fairly obvious that Tarantino and Rodriguez are using the moniker to make their standard scare fests appears far more scandalous than they are. One is fairly sure that these will not be the envelope pushing perversion of something like Let Me Die a Woman (Doris Wishman’s surreal sex change drama) or Lewis’ harrowing horror comedy precursor, The Gore Gore Girls. In fact, when faced with gaining a dreaded MPAA rating, the only required snips came at the expense of Eli Roth’s slasher spoof trailer, Thanksgiving. Like William Castle before, or some of the more famous members of the Forty Thieves (Dan Sonny, for one), our mainstream directors are going retro for a reason.


Sure, it could be for a love of the genre – and it can be very addictive once you recognize how important the industry was to shaping the modern movie going experience. They could also have a far more obsessive fascination with the cinematic category, resulting in an understanding that’s more in touch with the basic tenets and expectations of the exploitation ideal than the casual fan may have. And indeed, they’ve never said their movies were all inclusive, reveling in any and all aspects of the miscreant movie model. But when you call your offering “Grindhouse”, and spend countless weeks pimping your product as same, you better be able to support your shilling – and right now, all this film has going for it is a great deal of geek goodwill.


Early buzz has been positive, if not necessarily loaded with the flagrant fanboy pontifications that one comes to expect (especially when its QT and RR at the helm). And with 300 stealing some of the movie’s pre-Summer publicity, including its rating as a must-see cinematic happening, we could be looking at a case of bad timing accompanied by limited appeal. Finally, we are dealing with a clear critical bias here – horror oriented movies made with a kind of craven creativity that jaded journalists no longer respond to. So in the end, Grindhouse will live and die thanks to its artistic more than its artificial elements. But one things for sure – it really isn’t a throwback to the days when ballyhoo controlled the box office. There’s nary a shout out to the pioneering picture makers of the past, and many of the more important facets that formed the genre are all but absent. Until it officially opens, it will remain a crafty concept expertly rendered by a couple of extremely sharp anti-Establishment icons. It’s a shrewd marketing ideal that even an old roadhouse huckster would envy.


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Sunday, Apr 1, 2007
by PopMatters Staff

Andy Partridge —"I Lovely Cosmonaut"
From Monstrance on Ape House
Over a year ago, XTC founder/guitarist Andy Partridge, original XTC keyboardist Barry Andrews and drummer Martyn Barker (longtime bandmate of Barry’s in Shriekback) began to discuss convening as a trio to make improvisational music under the name “Monstrance”. These three finally got together to record live for three days amassing nearly eight hours of material which was subsequently sorted and mixed by Future Sound Of London guitarist Stuart Rowe and engineer Merv Carswell yielding Monstrance’s self-titled debut, a two disc set of overdub/edit-free music.


The Rosebuds —"Get Up Get Out"
From Night of the Furies on Merge
Night of the Furies is the third full-length from The Rosebuds, and will have fans heading for the dance floor with “Get Up Get Out” and “Hold on to This Coat.” Stylistically, however, Night of the Furies follows a logical progression from their earlier work, The Rosebuds Make Out (2003) and Birds Make Good Neighbors (2005). The danceable beats meld with catchy melodies built on themes both dark and seductive. Thematically, the songs are presented as individual and random parts of a larger story. The mood is ominous yet enticing; dangerous yet enchanting. Lyrics explore revolution and struggle, actions and consequences, but also love and redemption. One could easily just bounce along on the infectious pop hooks. Dig a little deeper, however, and a larger story and unified themes begin to unfold.


CocoRosie —"Rainbowarriors"
From The Adventures of Ghosthorse & Stillborn on Touch and Go
This album is a departure from the obscured blur of stained glass rêve to a more self-exploitive memoir. Parts are dreamy and parts are savage, but, as with an opera where death represents a secret heaven, the whole record feels like a black diamond in the snow. From her humble beginnings in the South of France, the saga sailed the Seven Seas all the way to that icy crack in the Earth’s crust just outside of Reykjavik. Upon her return to her Parisian homeland, she shared a mystical rendezvous with beautiful sailors Pierre et Gilles, the album cover being the consequence of that affair.


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