Archive for October, 2008|Monthly archive page

Where is all of our money?

It is true – the rich are getting rich and the poor are falling into greater poverty. This, however, is no fault of the government. Guess who is to blame.

Us.

That’s right, you and me. After all, who goes to see expensive concerts? Who continues to pay overpriced movie tickets? Who pays an arm and a leg for season tickets to athletic events? It’s not the government, it’s the consumers.

There is also a terrible misconception in this country that it’s always the government’s responsibility to fix our problems. I challenge that thinking – keep in mind the government is responsible for most of our problems. This topic however will be reserved for a future rant.

In a small survey I did with some close friends, here’s how our money usage is spent.

  • A little less than a third spent in taxes
  • A little more than a third spent in bills including shelter
  • A little less than a third spent in “entertainment” and food.

Ok, so let’s take a closer look at the “entertainment” section. For most Americans that means
movies, compact disks of some kind (DVD/CD), concerts, comedians, restaurants, etc.

If I go and see a mainstream artist in concert (depending on my income and the quality of the seat I paid for) I just gave this already ridiculously rich person MORE of my hard earned cash. In my specific example, a good seat at a mainstream concert probably cost me %10-%15 of my disposable income (the money left over after bills/taxes/etc). Sure, I might like the artist, but do I REALLY need to give them that much of my money?

The answer is no. Anyone who complains that we don’t tax the rich enough but goes supports these rich people with their personal funds are hypocrites. How ridiculous is it to say “Ok, I’ll give you my hard earned money” and then come tax season say “Hey, give that back to us!”

Music is a classic example – see my previous blog by clicking here.  I talk about MIDI files and how mainstream musicians do not deserve our love or money.  Music is an industry where one attractive person has a good to wonderful singing voice… that’s it.  They have entire staffs of people to write their lyrics, write their songs, and technology to make these processes flawless.  The technology utilized in concerts is dishonest and contrived.  The end result is this: Consumers think they are supporting an artist.  The fact is that every dollar spent in that artist’s name is a waste.  The artist (who is already rich) didn’t do nearly the amount of work that you did for that money.  Remember how hard you worked for that $75 concert ticket?  Say the concert had 3,000 attendees.  That artist just raised $225000 and did little to no work whatsoever.  Come on folks – our money is worth more than that.  I’d rather not have to remind people about impoverished people in our country and other parts of the world; I’ll save that for another post.

The bottom line here is this:  If you feel like athletes are overpaid and more money should be spent on cancer research, then don’t go to sporting events and donate more money for cancer research.  If you think the money in the pockets of the Hollywood types would be better spent in the pockets of those in poverty, don’t go to Hollywood films.

I understand as well as anyone else the value of entertainment.  We’ve all been brainwashed into thinking we can only get entertainment from big companies.  THAT IS COMPLETELY RIDICULOUS.  You like sports?  How about PLAYING them with your family or friends?  You like movies?  Hit up the independent movie theater or local film festival.  Remember Memento? Pans Labyrinth? These were at one point film festival movies that were so successful they were mass produced.  Independent films are great – do not believe the stereotype fed to you by the big studios leading you to believe that anything that does not come from them is crap.  Remember Speed Racer?  Pearl Harbor?  Superman Returns?  Valentine?  These were studio pictures and they were TERRIBLE!  How about music – do you really need to go to a concert and hear music (that is probably pre-recorded) when you already have the Mp3 files and/or the radio?  How about the local coffee shop that features talented folks in your community – don’t they need your support more than the mega-artists?  The answer is obviously YES!  Again, it is propaganda that only the big guns are talented.  At least the local kid who is getting NO CORPORATE HELP probably wrote his or her own songs for goodness sake.  We should definitely be supporting them and I’m telling you the music is just as good.  I’ve been to local coffee shops and small venues and I know it can be just as good.

In conclusion, think about this.  If you think the rich in America are too rich, you’ve got to stop supporting them.  WE are the reason they are getting richer and richer.  No matter poor we get – even if we can barley support ourselves, we STILL give these ultra rich people MORE of our money.  We’ve got to wake up.

The only thing more terrifying than being exposed to 5,000 ads a day (which we are) is realizing that IT IS WORKING.

Just think about it.

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Why Celebrities Don’t Deserve Our Love or Money (part 1 of many)

In a world of Paris Hilton, Lauren Conrad, and Kim Kardashian, it’s obvious that many celebrities do not deserve the admiration they receive. More and more, the American star system is promoting people like the Star Wars Kid, Chris Crocker, and Tila Tequila. At first, this seems to imply that the star system is being perverted by these exhibitionists and characters of intrigue. Upon closer inspection it is not that the new stars are perverting what was once a wholesome and legitimate community. Rather, the recent events created by digital media implicate and expose the star system as the sham it always has been. In other words, new/digital media proves that talent is the least important thing in pursuit of fame.

New digital technology makes production of all kinds more affordable and therefore more available. In the past, it would be impossible to film yourself and broadcast to the entire world. Now

...just for example
Chris Crocker

this process can be achieved for the price of a webcam and a computer. For example, if someone does not like how Brittany Spears is being treated, they can post a video and become a celebrity themselves (Chris Crocker).

Most American households have at least one computer and most new computers have built in web cams so the process of international broadcasting is free. It takes a moment of contemplation to fully wrap one’s mind around this concept. Within minutes, anyone can broadcast whatever they want to the entire population of the world… for free.

In the past, it was expensive to film talent and a very select population had access to this privilege. Once the talent was filmed it was even more expensive to distribute. This meant making an abundance of copies of the media. In some cases it was film, in other cases video tapes or audio tapes not to mention the freight costs of shipping these items to various studios and television stations across the world. The entire process was incredibly expensive. Digital media also allows duplication of information very easily. Since digital signatures are simply recoded information, that information can be easily duplicated. One file can be copied millions of times with zero degradation to the image or audio quality. Digital media can spread like a virus which is where the term “viral continent” comes from. In other cases, digital media does not have to be duplicated but posted in a public forum such as http://www.youtube.com. The end result is an unprecedented access to the content that is now produced for such little money. In other words, there is an incredible amount of content and endless access to that content. What this means for the world is that anyone can be a celebrity, not just the lucky few. On one hand, digital media provides a venue for undiscovered talent to get the exposure they deserve. Unfortunately more often than not, the cheap production and easy distribution is exploited by the celebrity industry. “Talents” like Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian and others can drop a sex tape online and become household names overnight. Do these people deserve less credit than the talents of old?

In the old days, celebrities became famous for a variety of reasons – more often than not celebrities were inbreeds. Tori Spelling (the ugly girl on 90210) became famous because her father was the producer of 90210. Nicolas Cage’s actual name is Nicolas Coppola and is Francis Ford Coppola’s nephew (don’t forget about Sophia). Jake Gyllenhaal’s parents were producer/writer Naomi Foner and director Stephen Gyllenhaal. Conan O’Brien is related to Dennis Leary. Sean Astin (the Goonies and The Lord of the Rings) is Mackenzie Astin’s (The Facts of Life) brother and John Astin (Gomez on The Addams Family) and Patty Duke are their parents. Jennifer Aniston is John Aniston’s daughter (Days of our Lives). Shirley MacLaine and Warren Beatty are brother and sister. Melanie Griffith is Tippi Hedren’s daughter. Oliver Platt, Princess Diana, and Orson Welles are all related. It seems as though everyone in Hollywood is family – if they are not related to someone directly in entertainment, they are connected somehow. Believe it or not, Tom Hanks is related to Abraham Lincoln – no joke. Still don’t believe it? How about this test: I say the last names Fonda, Bridges, and Sutherland. Who is being addressed here? There are too many to choose from and yes, they are all related! Most people believe that the actors on the silver screen are the best actors around. That is simply not the case. The folks on the silver screen are merely the best entertainers that are related somehow to other entertainers. Today’s celebrity population is contrived in another way.

Enter Tila Tequila. She was selected as a celebrity simply because she’s hot and her MySpace page was scandalous. Not so different from the sex tape celebrities, Tila Tequila has relatively no talent and no

Tila

Tila

reason to be celebrated as a “talent.” None the less she has been propelled to stardom. The question is: by whom? The answer is simple. Anytime there is an opportunity for someone to make money, they will lie cheat and steal to get it done. MySpace (therefore NewsCorp) makes money off Tila Tequila, and now Playboy, Penthouse, Maxim, etc have hopped on the Benjamin-lined band-wagon. They saw a terrific opportunity to make money and they did. It’s possible to get everything from Tila Tequila songs and videos to Tila Tequila clothing and underwear. This is someone who was plucked out of nowhere and made an international phenomenon. The celebrity system today operates like a cooperate fairground grabber. The industry has gotten so good at artificially creating talent through technology and marketing, they don’t even need talent anymore. Take the American Idol meat puppets for example.

Advancements in technology and digital media allow mass audiences to interact with the television show creating almost a “choose your own adventure” type of reality. VIA the internet and phone lines viewers are empowered to eliminate contestants on the show. From a marketing prospective, it’s the masses telling the producers whose album they are most likely to buy; that way the producers don’t have to guess who to push into the marketplace. American Idol is an enormous “product survey” for the record producers. Audiences feel ownership over the winner because they helped “make” them. They feel more of a personal relationship with those artists than with the ones that have been more blatantly marketed to them so they are more likely to want to “support the artist” and purchase the CD. The producers have no problem with this whatsoever naturally. The question becomes this: is Carrie Underwood more talented than the acoustic guitar player at your local coffee shop?

American Idol is glorified Karaoke. The performers need only one thing: a good voice. The vast majorities of American Idol contestants have never written a song and probably don’t even play any instruments. Throughout the duration of the show, they will not write their own songs, and they will not play their own instruments. None the less American Idol winners are some of the most broadcast artists. Meanwhile folks like the acoustic guitar player at your local coffee shop will probably never hit the radio waves. So if American Idol contestants really can’t do much, to what do we attribute their success? Welcome back digital media!

Commercial songwriters today are broken into two teams of people. One team writes the lyrics and the other team writs the music. Most of them are probably incredibly creative and talented but too unattractive to become stars themselves. As a result, they’ve agreed to sell their souls for tons of money. They write songs and give them to artists (not just the American Idol winners, by the way). Unfortunately most of them operate as ghost writers (for even more money) so we may never know which Stars deserve it and which stars are money making manipulations. Digital media is re-introduced into the equation with the presence of MIDI files. Think of MIDI files as digital sheet music. When a musician plays any instrument or sings any song, they sing on a timeline. Each note they hit is placed at a particular point in time and with varying levels of volume. MIDI files memorize digital signatures of when and how loud notes were struck. In other words, if a pianist was playing a keyboard that was recording MIDI information, the computer would log exactly when a note was played, and exactly how hard the key was struck. Later, the musician can take this file and open the timeline. When he or she does this, a timeline will open with dots and lines indicating the keystrokes. The pianist can then click on the dots and lines and move them around, manipulating the performance. This means that if the pianist accidently hits a note a few seconds too soon, they can simply go into the MIDI file and move the note back into place. If the pianist decides he or she should have played that note an octave higher or a bit louder – no problem; then note can simply be edited. MIDI files allow even terrible musicians to record tracks in perfection.

and there you have it

and there you have it

Utilizing MIDI files, the artist can go far beyond just correcting performance mistakes. Notes can be completely added. Perhaps the pianist can’t play a blues riff. No problem – the musician can click in the MIDI timeline and indicate where a note would need to be, and how loud the computer should play it. Remember also that MIDI files are only recording when in time the note was struck, and how hard the note was struck – not the actual instrument that was used to strike these notes. In other words, a pianist can record a banjo solo on his or her keyboard, take it into the MIDI file, and simply apply a sampled banjo sound to the MIDI track. It is possible for a musician to record an entire album complete with everything from a full string section to a didgeridoo and not know how to play a single instrument.

I don’t mean to imply that the American Idol and music celebrities of our time sit at their computers and manipulate MIDI files all day; most of them probably wouldn’t be able to describe a MIDI file to you if their life depended on it. Any musician that has any amount of monetary value has entire staffs of people writing their lyrics, and MIDI files. All they really have to do is look pretty, and try to stay on pitch. The rest of the music writing, recording, and performing will be taken care of for them by the massive staff of people who are in charge of keeping them commercial.

Digital media can be used for good, and it can be used for evil. It can be used to create exposure for undiscovered talent, and it can be used to create an illusion of talent in people who have no business in entertainment. At the end of the day artists sadly must take a back seat to money. Digital media is shedding light on our celebrity industry but even more frightening is what it says about American interests. If the masses truly wanted to see talent that is what would rise to the top of the digital media arenas and that is what would be bought up by the conglomerates. Unfortunately talent is crushed by sex, scandal, and just plain hot bodies.

So the kid with a great voice at the local coffee shop is probably more talented than 80% of the celebrities out there but will probably never be noticed. The actress at the local community college is probably a better actress than Angelina Jolie but she’s not related to John Vought so nobody will ever notice her either. If the money makers never notice these individuals, that’s one thing. Even worse, the public probably won’t give them due credit either. Brainwashing of the masses is nothing new. Most people know that television commercials are persuasive. Many people will even acknowledge that simply watching television and fast forwarding the commercials still subjects them to persuasion. A sickly few individuals are aware of the enormous business of “celebrity.” The conglomerates are working to propel individuals into name brands for no other reason than to slap a price tag on them and hurry them into the marketplace. Fortunately, the internet will hopefully prove to people that there is nothing special about celebrities and there probably never was. We are encouraged to care about celebrities for no other reason than to be convinced that they deserve our money. It’s vital for the preservation of art in this country that we look to one another as talented individuals. It’s significantly important; we MUST stop idolizing and worshiping celebrities – they do not deserve our love. The kid at the local coffee shop does.

REFERENCES
“Hollywood’s 10 Best: Famous Families”
http://www.thebiographychannel.co.uk/biography_story/1736:2126/1/Hollywood_s_10_Best_Famous_Families.htm

“The Top 6 “Celebrities “who shouldn’t be famous” Submitter: B00Radley
http://m.digg.com/celebrity/The_Top_6_Celebrities_who_shouldn_t_be_famous

“How Celebrity Sex Tapes Ruined America, One Thrust At A Time”
http://gawker.com/5056569/how-celebrity-sex-tapes-ruined-america-one-thrust-at-a-time

“Famous Family Ties” – ivillage.com
http://slideshow.ivillage.com/entertainment/famous_family_ties/hollywood_royalty.html

“Barbara Walters Demands Explanation For Past Decade of Celebrity History”
http://gawker.com/367645/barbara-walters-demands-explanation-for-past-decade-of-celebrity-history

“FOXSexpert: Why We Love Celebrity Sex Tapes”
http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,367644,00.html

Film Studies – Career of the Future?

As the entire world moves more and more toward moving images, is a career in film studies the way of the future?  The internet is taking over for newspapers and magazines, and advertisements on hand held/mobile devices are certainty right around the corner.  The visual language seems to be the voice of the future – what say you?

http://www.uncwil.edu/stuaff/career/Majors/filmstudies.htm

-David May