We Are Supposed to Learn from History, Not Do It Again and Again

I’ve given some serious consideration to the video that so many people enjoy sharing of a man, supposedly in Iraq, explaining in a “non-political” way (quotes because of the absurdity of trying to claim the comment was not inherently political, a point which automatically makes the remainder of the statement problematic for me), why we should not allow refugees from majority Islamic countries that we don’t have strong economic ties with. I have problems with it. I feel like sharing my problems.
Map of countries on travel ban list.

Map of countries on travel ban list.

1. It’s completely un-American. It just is. No matter how they try to spin it, the United States is a nation of immigrants. Some fool just a few days ago claimed we were a nation of settlers; that’s offensive and ignorant. The land was settled when Europeans got here. There was no settling; there was moving in to other peoples’ land and claiming it for their own. The inscription says, “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.” Just because other people act in a certain way does not mean that we need to do the same.
1A. Let’s be honest, though. The United States has a long history of doing things that are completely un-American, from the very founding when it was decided that some people were only worth 3/5 of a white man, and some people just didn’t matter at all. We had a war about whether you could legally own a person and later tried to force generations of people to learn that that was not the reason. Jim Crow. Anti-Chinese laws.
Miscegenation laws. The St. Louis. Internment of Japanese Americans. Segregation. The list could go on. We unfortunately all-to-often refuse to review or study those periods of time, and so find ourselves repeating mistakes, or worse (as in the case of segregation), never solving it in the first place.
2. It’s completely un-Christian. Not a surprise, because all too often people claim things (like on the above list) are Christian as they do them and only come to realize later that they were wrong. Still, your Bible says that vengeance belongs to one person. It says to turn the other cheek. To love your enemies, to specifically do good to those who hate you. It sums up the teachings of the Torah as “Do to others what you would have them do to you.” It says, “Go and do likewise.”
2A. See the above list. Slavery, miscegenation, even eugenics, were all once argued from a christian standpoint. Not just that they were morally correct, but that christianity specifically made it correct. Christianity changes, and with it the belief of what is right and wrong.
3. It completely ignores recent history and glosses over reality. Could there be a possible reason why the average Iraqi would not be happy to see an American? We as a nation try to erase our history, but we cannot forget that it was less than twenty years ago that we invaded their country without cause, destabilized their nation (allowing a small, unimportant death cult to suddenly rise to prominence and spread around the world), and killed thousands upon thousands of their people. Anybody willing to take a moment to look at things from another person’s perspective would see why they might have problems with American people.
Those are just some of my thoughts. I’ve had many more. Some about the “all refugees should serve in our military.” Some about other things. I don’t want to wallow in the hatred that people put out there, but sometimes I feel that it cannot go unchecked.
Advertisements

The New Movie Marketing (Part I)

 

I. “We ain’t one-at-a-timin’ here.  We’re MASS communicatin’!”1

Not to belabor an obvious point, but making movies is an expensive process.  If you subtract Colin2 and a handful of other extremely low budget movies from the equation, the lowest cost movies, such as My Date with Drew, come in at one thousand to fifteen hundred dollars.  Once you get to the 1992 cult classic, El Mariachi3, which helped launch Robert Rodriguez’s career, you begin to see costs edging seventy-five hundred dollars, in early 1990s money.  (To give some perspective on just how much money that was, a semester at The University of Texas at Dallas cost one thousand ninety-six dollars in 19924.) At this point, unknown directors who are trying to get their dreams on film begin to come up with creative methods to fund even those relatively mediocre budgets.  Rodriguez chose to perform drug trials to earn money for El Mariachi.  Meanwhile, Christopher Nolan used friends for his first film, Following, which took over a year to film because they all had day jobs and could only shoot for fifteen minutes at a time on the weekend.

Today, meaning 2012 for future audiences would be film makers have access to online begging (a word used in the kindest possible sense) via their Facebook and other social networks as well as the venerable Kickstarter.com.  Kickstarter especially is useful because it enables the creators to directly petition a much larger target audience than they might already have contact with.  It also offers an opportunity for them to learn the most effective ways to pitch ideas, as well as a glimpse into the everyday life of people searching for grants. The Guild, on the other hand, went in the PBS direction and appealed directly to its viewers for funding.  Obviously, as PBS and NPR find out year after year, this method proved effective for them and was able to sustain them to until they discovered a more permanent source of funding.  It’s hoped that this technique can continue to work for many, many years.  Even so, the feasibility of using that method to bankroll a two hundred million dollar movie seems unlikely.  The long term effect of Kickstarter, meanwhile, has yet to be seen, of course, but offers an interesting study for the future.

Once a film maker finds a way to fund their project, if they find a way to fund their project, then they have the less than glamorous task of promoting it.  According to Reuters, “. . . for every dollar spent on producing a major film, the studios have been spending 51 cents-58 cents to release and market it in the United States and Canada.”5  While that might be an easy enough feat for a movie such as Colin, it’s difficult to see how much advertising someone can get out for thirty-five dollars.  Worse still, how well could that compete for the eyes of would-be viewers up against a juggernaut such as Iron Man 2, which had an estimated marketing buy for prints and advertisement of one hundred million dollars? 6

To make matters worse, films in the mainstream, movies released by the studios are expected to open big or fade away.  In the modern day of make it or break it opening weekends, most films no longer have the luxury of building up a strong word-of mouth campaign.  Take one of the classics and most beloved movies of all time, the original Star Wars, and compare it with a more recent film such as The Avengers.  When Star Wars opened in limited release in 1977, its opening weekend take was 1,554,475 dollars7, which in today’s money is a little under six million dollars.  The Avengers, on the other hand took in eighty and a half million dollars on its opening day8, and that was just its domestic take.  While Star Wars was allowed to flourish and reopened on more screens launching a franchise, news reports about The Avengers pointed out that it was only number two in opening day box office.  (To put it another way, rather than congratulate the film on its opening, they chose to point out that it did worse than Harry Potter and The Deathly Hollows, Part II.)

Both Star Wars and The Avengers benefited from an extraordinary amount of buzz, some manufactured, some genuine word-of-mouth generated.  Buzz becomes the life blood of any marketing campaign, for movies or any other product.  As Henry Jenkins said in the title of his blog post, “If It Doesn’t Spread, It’s Dead.”  If word of the film cannot get out, then the movie dies on the vine.

The trick for the modern day movie maker, producer, and even studio is to come up with ways to spread buzz, to create a need that only the film can fill. Many methods have been tried over the years to create that indescribable buzz.  Some early movies tried spectacle that would have made the promoter in King Kong blush.  There have been examples of reverse word-of-mouth, a declaration from the ads to not reveal the shocking ending.  (This in modern times seems to have translated into the ubiquitous “spoiler alert,” where people find themselves self-censoring, saying only that you will not believe the ending.  This was both the rise and fall of M. Knight Shyamalan.) Finally, they had good-old-fashioned word-of-mouth, the most untamable of beasts, since so many people have trouble explaining why they tell anyone about a product or movie, even after they just talked about it.

The emergence of the television was a boon to the advertisement of films, but generally only those that had major studio backing.  The divergence of cable channels, the no longer exactly true idea that there is a channel for every lifestyle and personality, offered a chance for more obscure films (and bands and books) to have their moment of discussion, to inform more people of its existence.  The advent of the DVR has virtually killed the thirty second ad spot, which has led many film makers to fully embrace the goldmine of advertising potential, The Internet.  The greatest function of the Net is the interactive nature of it; rather than submissively watching an ad on TV, people go searching for news and information about a film they had just heard of.  One person actively searching out the film could be much better than ten people saying that they had heard of it.  The Internet has opened up new possibilities of advertising for all types of movie makers, not just those that can afford a one hundred million dollar ad buy.

II. “Just an old fashioned love song.”9

Buzz marketing is an old institution, existing back as far as people have had a product that they wanted to convince another person to buy.  Like viral marketing it is a “. . . manufactured marketing initiative . . . that [is] intended to capture people’s attention and get them talking.”10  An argument could be made that the earliest word-of-mouth push was Eve’s recommendation of the fruit in Eden.  Early in the book printing industry, books were pushed as true stories of adventures in an effort to boost the appeal of the book.  Big flashy displays, word-of-mouth, and the hint of truth in the fictional story are just some of the tools that film makers have used in the past to promote their movies.

Hollywood is no stranger to bold marketing strategies, sometimes given the derogatory and strangely quaint nick name “publicity stunts.”

The iconic sign that one upon a time read “Hollywoodland” was once the brain child publicity stunt of a housing developer that stuck around long after its origin faded from the mind.  This was viral marketing before viral marketing was cool.  One of the earliest forms of movie viral marketing was a push by Cecil B. DeMille to erect monuments of the Ten Commandments near court houses and public buildings in order to publicize his film The Ten Commandments. Charlton Heston went to several locations around the United States to dedicate the monuments as a promotion for the film.  As the film is still one of the most popular films of all time without the average person being aware of the connection, it is unclear if the strategy paid off in the way they hoped, but it obviously didn’t hurt.

Documenting all the successful and failed attempts at publicity stunts would be an epic work in and of itself.  Suffice it to say, from the days that film started out, people were finding grand, sometimes shocking ways to promote it.  Modern iterations have used leaked footage from sets, or accidentally recorded on set tirades.  (Some people have theorized that Christian Bale’s entire breakdown prior to the release of Terminator Salvation was a carefully orchestrated publicity stunt.  While this theory has never been verified, Joaquin Phoenix’s slow descent into insanity was a proven success as a publicity stunt.  Rumors of Bale’s bad behavior certainly didn’t hurt the movie.)  M. Knight Shyamalan worked with the Sci-Fi Channel to produce a “mocumentary” that was supposed to show an unauthorized view of him and his movie The Village.  The original intention was to show it as a straightforward documentary, which as we’ll see in discussing The Blair Witch Project could have had some considerable consequences.

Countless movies have drawn inspiration from the serial killer Ed Gein, from Psycho to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  Rather than claim something as simple as inspiration, they often make use of the well-travelled “based on a true story” trope.

Claiming that element of truth, or in the modern parlance, “ripped from the headlines,” draws people into the movie, and gets them talking about it.  Conversations begin with, “You know it’s true.  There really was this family in Texas.” Or, “I drove by the house once, it was scary.”  From there the conversation carries on, and the movie is passed from one to another.

The other side of the true story trope is the urban legend.  These are stories that latch onto either the making of the film, or to the film itself.  Here we see legends about dead munchkins in the background of The Wizard of Oz (or even just the idea that the film syncs up with “Dark Side of The Moon”), a ghost haunting Three Men and a Baby, and rumors of a death curse surrounding Poltergeist.

Ooh. . . Scary . . .

Ooh. . . Scary . . .

These legends hang on despite any attempts to discredit them.  Most remarkably, they seem to persist through generations, leading ever new groups of people to obsessively watch The Lion King to see how the stars spell out “sex.”

To be fair, the perversions of the Disney studios are well established.

To be fair, the perversions of the Disney studios are well established.

This is marketing that advertisers wish they could do; a multigenerational drip seemingly passed through the DNA.11

One of the first films to try and take advantage of all of these aspects to create a truly viral marketing campaign, was The Blair Witch Project.

The film was made up of footage that was allegedly found after the disappearance of three young film makers. Not only was the urban legend of the Blair Witch presented as fact, but all the elements, how the film was made, how the footage was found, even the soundtrack that was released (based entirely off the tape that was in the car they arrived in) were all presented as true facts.  The interesting nature of the film coupled nicely with a relentless word-of-mouth campaign that ensured everyone would eventually see it.  (Sadly, its sequel did not fare as well, taking a beating both critically and financially.)

Ultimately, The Blair Witch Project helped to reveal one of the potential pitfalls and flaws in viral marketing.  It became increasingly clear that the campaign was being dishonest and that caused a backlash against the film.  As AdAge put it, “. . . the viral marketing behind ‘The Blair Witch’ . . . tried to trick audiences . . . .”12  While the film more than recovered its relatively small expenses, it is very difficult to find people that don’t have a negative view of the movie now.  That becomes one of the difficulties that viral marketing campaigns face: Not only do they have to pass the TARES Test13, they have to not be so pervasive that “. . . they are at risk of becoming part of the noise or worse.”14

To be continued . . .

End Notes

1. Joel and Ethan Cohen, “Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou?” movie, 2000.

2. Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com

The official budget for Colin, an independently made zombie movie, is a staggering 70 dollars.  According to the director, Marc Price, the movie was made on a camcorder he had, edited on software he had received from his school, and used his friends and volunteers as actors.

3. ibid

Rodriguez earned 3,000 dollars testing a cholesterol drug.  Production work on El Mariachi came in at 7,500 dollars.  The post-production, on the other hand, has been estimated at 220,000 dollars, which works against him by stealing some of his Indie cred.

4. Susan G Broyles and Frank B. Morgan, Basic Student Charges at Postsecondary Institutions Academic Year 1992-93. Tuition and Required Fees and Room and Board Charges at 4-year, 2-year, and Public Less-than-2-year Institutions. Statistical Analysis Report(Washington, D.C.: ERIC Clearinghouse, 1993.)

5. Larry Gerbrandt, “How Much Does Movie Marketing Matter?” Reuters, http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/06/11/us-industry-idUSTRE65A13Q20100611

6. multipurposeponi, “How Much Does All This Iron Man 2 Marketing Cost?” Comic Book Movie, http://www.comicbookmovie.com/fansites/Poniverse/news/?a=16786

7. Box Office Mojo, http://boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=starwars4.htm

8. Associated Press, “’Avengers’ Scores No. 2 Opening Day With 80.5 M http://movies.yahoo.com/news/avengers-scores-no-2-opening-day-80-5m-154806723.html

9. Three Dog Night, “An Old Fashioned Love Song,” 1971.

10. Balter, Dave, Grapevine: The New Art of Word-of-Mouth Marketing( New York: Portfolio, 2005)

11. Snopes, www.snopes.com

12. Aris Georgiandis, “10 Years after ‘Blair Witch,’ Viral Movie Marketing Grows Up,” Advertising Age. http://adage.com/article/madisonvine-news/10-years-blair-witch-viral-movie-marketing-grows

13.  The TARES Test  was first proposed by Sherry Baker and David L. Martinson in their article “The TARES Test: Five Principles for Ethical Persuasion.”  They proposed that for advertisement to be ethical it had to meet five standards.  It had to be:

  • Truthful
  • Authentic
  • Respectful (of the viewer)
  • Equity
  • Social responsibility

The argument that these five needed to be fulfilled for an advertisement to be considered ethical.  Applied to The Blair Witch Project it fails on all levels.

14. Balter, Grapevine.

Krakow: Day One

Monday, March 11th, 2013
Krakow breathes in a way that I can’t fully understand. Unlike Warsaw, he city is old and real. Though real is a relative state of mind.
We began our exploration in the Jewish quarter of town, which while devoid of actual Jewish people (which explains my usage of “real” as relative) maintains the flavor. And yet there are no Jews. It’s now the hip part of town for people to live in, seemingly the party district of Krakow

imageWe first went to the Jewish Community Center who kindly hosted us for lunch. From there we explored the quarter, going to a synagogue that was real as opposed to the one in Tykochin. We explored the Jewish Cemetery there, which was sadly beautiful.

image

Afterwards, we stopped at a few more synagogues, useful to se the different ways the Jewish people designed these buildings, which tell quite a bit about the times that they were built in. While in the quarter we stopped by a courtyard where the infamous scene of the boy hiding beneath the stairs was filmed.
We then drove through the Krakow ghetto, which is fascinating because of how small it is. It’s hard to fathom, and the Warsaw ghetto demonstrated this as well; how could all of those people possibly live in such a small place? From there, we were on our way to the Plaszow Concentration Camp. We drove by the grey house, which Michael informed us was the only real spot that the shooting from the balcony, as depicted in Schindler’s List could have occurred from.
There’s something fascinating about seeing the places that these events really took place at; layering what we’ve seen in film over the reality, and seeing just how close it all was. To drive this point home, we drove by Goth’s house, which is for sale (and if the students from Krakow are any indication, likely will be for a long, long time).
We then came to the Plaszlow Concentration Camp. The monument is gigantic and blatantly Soviet; it blames Hitler specifically, because in the minds of the Soviet Union there was truly no one else to blame.

image

And yet the deep trench where they burned the bodies is a much greater memorial than the actual monuments (of which there are many, as each society wants its own). Michael said that bones were still being found.

image
This park, because it is a park, led to an interesting discussion. I love being able to talk with people from different cultures. After visiting and talking to Michael we were led to talking to him about the usage of land. He had explained that people used the grounds of the concentration camp for things like walking their dogs, riding bikes, and even sunbathing topless (which he was kind enough to point out was shockingly disturbing when visiting the memorial). The idea seems so foreign to us (the irony of which is not at all lost on me), because in the States we would never use our memorial ground for anything else. We sanctify (I wonder if this has anything to do with Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address?). In Europe they need that land, and they use it. We insist on locking these lands in, and in our minds they insist that they never be used for anything else. Which side is the appropriate one?
For this I have no answer; I just put it out there.

image

In Which I Discuss Elton John

 

My first exposure to Elton John came in my early teen years, when the local light rock station would play “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues.”  I can often recall waking in the middle of the night to that song playing durikng the segmant called “Love Songs at Night.”  Which, of course, like many love song compilations featured many a song that wasn’t really a *love* song.

 

Pictured: Not a love song.
Source.

 

I must have heard his music before, because my mom was a little hippie and had at least one of his albums.  Her epic collection crossed the sixties and the seventies (And some eighties; who didn’t love Neil Diamond’s “Heartlight?”  Especially after seeing E.T.), and I know I remember seeing “Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player” in her collection, the cover stands out in a way so many covers did back then, but curiously (Especially considering what I’m about to say) I can’t recall ever hearing it.

 

 

When I was around ten years old, I fell in love with “Crocodile Rock.”  (This song can be found on the above mentioned album.)  That’s hardly surprising.  No matter how great music might be, and there is plenty of great music in the world, we all have to find our own groove before we can really learn to appreciate the artistry of the music from earlier generations.

 

Some parts of the 60s were easier for us to accept.
Source.

 

Then in the 90s, the circle of life turned and we most definitely could feel the love, that night and every night.  Suddenly, Elton John belonged to Gen X, and we were hardpressed from there to release him.  After all, we had to introduce our parents to this great, new musician we had just discovered.  (That is a joke.)

The beautiful irony of owning Elton John is how many of my memories are tied up in memories that have little to nothing to do with his music.  I’ve seen him in concert a few times, own his greatest hits, and have some of his sheet music.  I love, love “Rocket Man,” and “Tiny Dancer,” but when I think of those songs, it’s not his live performances that I think of.  (Which is odd, because “Rocket Man” goes on for about half an hour when he plays it live.)

Whenever I think of “Tiny Dancer,” two thoughts pop into my head.  The first is a throwaway moment in the first episode of season three of Friends, “The One With the Princess Leia Fantasy,” which is a favorite episode of mine for many reasons.

 

For whatever reason, that joke has stuck with me since the very first time I saw it.

The other thought that springs to my mind is the beautiful group sing-along aboard the bus in Almost Famous.

 

I can’t explain the appeal of the scene, beyond it being catharic and somehow haunting.  Thankfully I know I’m not alone in liking it.  Sometimes that scene just pops into my head, and the I feel like I need to see that movie.

“Rocket Man” is more complex in my mind.  I can remember always liking the song, even before being fully aware of it existing.  (Life does not always make sense.)  But somehow, it’s not the 30 minutes of  crooning, “Rocket man, Imma rocket man, burnin’ out my fuse out here alone.”  No.  It’s what a lot of people probably think of.  That slow, thoughtful spoken word, where my wife and I first learned what the actual words were:

She packed my bags last night . . . pre-flight.

Zero hour . . . nine A.M.

And I’m gonna be high . . . as a kite by then.

Of course I’m referring to . . . Stewie Griffin’s awesome homage to the William Shatner song.

Which I can not find a decent link to.  Pirates of the Interwebs, you have let me down.  Follow this link if you’d like to see a  Shatner/Griffin duet.

It’s strange to me that these are the memories I have of Elton John: A cartoon lion, a bad joke from the nineties, a strange scene from an awesome movie, and a kid with a football shaped head and Electra tendencies.  They’re tied up with memories of hearing the music performed, or just driving down the road listening to a CD.  In the end, it doesn’t matter, because they’re all good memories.

I’ll Take the Easy One: “You Sunk My Childhood!”

I’m going to spend a moment and talk about bad movies.

A lot of people spend a lot of time griping about movies based on properties of the 1980s, and not just because they’ve been almost universally bad.  The main gripe stems from some idea that our childhood is being used for commercial purposes, or that there are no original ideas left.

This one gets to be bad and unoriginal! Go Nic Cage! Source!

The second argument is too easy and gets trotted out anytime a movie is remade or a TV show turned into a movie.  Usually trotted out by people who lack the creativity of a meth addict with multiple cans of paint.

This was much too obvious of a joke.
Source.

What of the first school of thought, though?  Are movie studios ritually bastardizing our childhoods for fun and profit?  Well, of course they are.  That’s why the vehicles in G.I. Joe looked like they were actually made of plastic.

And the people looked like action figures.
Source.

Movies, as I have been known to expound on ad nauseum, are expensive, and it makes more sense for them to bank on a profitable venture, which is why Nolan had to make Batman before they would let him make Inception. (Or so the story goes.)  With the amount of money that people spend on the bits and bobbles of their childhood, why wouldn’t the studios play on that nostalgia?

But really, is that nostalgia even a real thing?  The Transformers, bad for so many reasons, and G.I. Joe, which I enjoyed the way we all enjoy our guilty pleasures, in the dark under a blanket, both had the distinction of being based on 1980s cartoons.  So they must be playing on our childhood hopes and dreams to sell toys.  So frickin’ what?  Both those child hood cartoons were nothing more than half hour long commercials for the toys.  Both with characters and objects created specifically to sell a toy.

Or maybe I’m wrong and he was the most popular charcter ever.
Source.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which gets to drop the “teenage” and the “Mutant” (at least according to imdb.com) in its Bay guided implosion, began their lives as a comic book that reveled in not being kid friendly.  (Well, actually they began their lives as small turtles that got doused in ooze, but the over all point remains.)  They survived being turned into a cheesy cartoon, they even survived having Vanilla Ice sing in their movie, (Still not the worst thing in the movies.) I feel relatively certain that they will survive the clamity that is Michael Bay.

I genuinely like this movie. It has Michael Clark Duncan in it.
Source.

So to me it just seems that they’ve taken our version of the Sears’ Catalog and updated it, and made a movie out of it.  (Calling dibs if anyone steals that idea.)  My childhood is not at risk, because no matter what they create or make, they cannot take away my memories.  (Being a Stephen King fan, this is an all too common refrain.  No mattter how bad the movies are, they cannot take away the joy I got from the books.  And let’s be honest, they’ve made some bad movies based on his books.)

Or just claim they based it on his work.
Source.

But Battleship seems to be a special breed of nostalgia based movie making.  After all, who really claims ownership rights to that nostalgia?  The kids who first played it after seeing that awesome ad above?  The kids of my generation who didn’t reallly play it because that game was old, and their older bother, Michael, didn’t want to play it with them, and their cousin, Brad, cheated, and they kept losing all the pegs anyway so you couldn’t really play it?  Or does it belong to the younglings who post on 9Gag thinking only they know what made a happy childhood?

This, apparantly, is what childhood is about.
Source.

So, I don’t own the rights on nostalgia in regards to Battleship, and to be frank, care very little about seeing the movie, because it looks to be a big pile of suck.  What interests me most about the movie, aside from the inclusion of Rhianna instead of taking the chance and giving the role to an up and coming actress (Ihave personal issues with Rhianna, and choose not to go into them right now.), is that they seemingly chose to throw out the basic charm of the game: Two sides unable to see each other lobbing bombs in the hopes that they land a strike.  This is beautifully simple.  This could have been a movie about two naval fleets waging war in the depths of a deep, perhaps mystical, fog.  A clausterphobic, charcter piece.

Instead? Aliens.

I don’t expect much from movies based on a property.  I just expect them to follow the basic rules of the property.  If you retell King Lear, I expect there to be three daughters and a jester (and thanks to Christopher Moore for pulling this off).  If you make a movie about the game “Clue,” it better be set in a mansion with a cast of colorful characters. (It was, and I love this movie.)  If you turn “Battleship” into a movie, there should be two naval fleets battling each other.

Like this, ya’ know, but with more CGI.
Source.

Now this is just my opinion and only worth about that much, but I hope it’s something they keep in mind when they decide to make that biopic about the spinner from “Twister.”

“From my earliest memories my world just seemed to be spinning and spinning.”
Source.

At Long Last . . .

Star Wars!

We’ve stumbled over the idea of Star Wars before, in discussing the “Star Wars Kid” and how his interpretation of the fight scenes went viral, which then, of course, reminded me of “Arrested Development,” because everything eventually comes back to “Arrested Development.”

Now, though.  STAR WARS!

To me, Star Wars was viral before there was such a thing as viral.  A true meme from a cultural and sociological aspect.  It’s a part of out society in a way that so many of today’s videos wish that they could be.  It creeps into our ongoing pop culture environment, sometimes as an unexpected idea.  Arguments flourish about who shot first and how a unit of distance can measure time.  It becomes a part of the dialogue in our new media, from “How I Met Your Mother,” to discussions of innocent victims aboard the Death Star in Clerks. Ewan McGregor head to be stopped from making the lightsaber noises during the battle scenes just as he had when he was a kid playing at being a Jedi, because he kept “getting carried away.”

Yeah, like you wouldn't do it, too.

Star Wars, like the Jaws theme, went beyond viral and basically became part of our genetic culture, something that we gleefully pass on from our generation to the next as if it is an all-important legacy.  It has moved beyond its original source to become a shorthand to tie the new to a cultural touchstone, to show that the people who make the new media are like us.

Plus, let's face it, "Star Wars" makes everything better.

Star Wars is a perfect example of convergent media in my mind, because of that.  It is no longer “just” a movie, but in many ways a lifestyle.  (What the nature of that religion is still eludes me. Though I do love the ads on their page.)  It’s found its way into multiple forms of new media, from comic books to Lego based video games.  Jenkins discussion of convergence culture can focus on the parodies and homages to the Star Wars universe precisely because of how expansive that universe is.  What Jenkins calls parodies are in reality love song to an extremely important part of our culture.

And they’re love songs that we can all relate to, because we have all, in our own ways expanded the universe beyond the movies.  As a child I had nearly every one of the action figures, and in my play they always crossed over to the G.I. Joe universe.  We didn’t reenact the movies, we tried to move beyond them and create something new. Whether that turns into fan fiction that a five-year old writes about how awesome Boba Fett is, or people coming together to make a movie almost completely separated from that universe but attached by sheer affection, combines a small portion of the culture with another small portion and brings them all together to create an entirely new culture.

And now, just because it’s awesome:

A Funny Thing Happened On My Way To Watch “Outbreak” . . .

I ran into an episode of Futurama.

Now, I’m not a religious man, but it’s hard not to notice the sudden onslaught of things concerning the rapid dissemination of disease that has crept into my life, and harder still to dissuade myself that it means nothing.  (Spoiler alert: It means nothing.).  Far be it from me to use the word synchronicity again (because, really, who wants to be that guy?) but it’s very clear to me that the universe is trying to give me some type of sign.

I also don’t buy into the absurdity of the Mayan 2012 prediction, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t believe the Earth is due for another great purging.  That’s been pretty much the modus operandi of Ras Al Ghul since he first showed up.  Just not in his one media appearance that most people know him from.

Which one of these people wold you pay 12 dollars to watch in a movie?

There’s a certain elegance to the idea. If the Spanish Flu had just spread a little bit faster, we might not have had to witness the birth of The Twillight “book” series.  We’re officially past the seven billion people mark, which is a lot of people competing for the requirements of life.  People have theorized, seriously theorized, that future wars will be fought over fresh water. Fewer people would mean a much smaller impact on the resources of the planet.  Many people can be convinced it’s a good idea just because “Twillight” wouldn’t exist.  And really, at the end of the day, who amongst us hasn’t argued for wiping out 95% of the population.

"I'm gonna be famous!"

What does this mean for the now virtually omnipresent viral media in the world?  Probably not a whole heck of a lot.  Viral media isn’t technically dangerous (misinformation not withstanding).  No amount of sneezing pandas, Charlies biting fingers, or even Nyan Cats (NO LINKS! If you can’t find them you shouldn’t be on the internet!) can hurt the world or even keep real information from getting out.  They might distract, but how is that any different from the average shiny object or mirror?

Ooh . . . shiny . . .

Science fiction though has become more and more littered with the idea of attack through viral media.  1984 is, from a certain perspective (mine, currently, which is the important one), about the use of viral media as propaganda.  Stephen King’s Cell is about the spread of an insanity inducing virus via cell phone.  DC Comics’ Final Crisis may also have had something to do with the spread of an insanity inducing computer virus, but to be blunt, it sucked and I don’t remember much about it. The movie The Ring was litterally about viral media that would kill you after being watched.

Speculative fiction has often tried to warn the world of things to come: cloning, artificial intelligence, and food shortages, to name just a few.  As much as people who ignore history are doomed to repeat it, those who ignore the warnings of even dime store prophets might just be doomed to be taken out by things they were ill-prepared to handle.