Chinese Democracy: Axl Rose and Tibet

Neither the Chinese Democracy involving a change in political process in a vast Asian country nor the Chinese Democracy involving the most expensive never-released album seems to be forthcoming. Yet non-change is presently newsworthy.

The Guns n Roses “forthcoming” album, Chinese Democracy, has been a joke for years. According to a 2006 New York Times article , as of two years ago, Geffen Records had spent $13 million:

ranking [Guns n Roses’/ Axl Rose’s] unfinished masterpiece as probably the most expensive recording never released…. the singer who cast himself as a master of predatory Hollywood in the hit song “Welcome to the Jungle” has come to be known instead as the keeper of the industry’s most notorious white elephant.

So since Geffen has not made any money from this album who wants to use this as a PR stunt? Dr. Pepper, of course!

According to Consumerist, Dr. Pepper is offering everyone in the U.S. a free drink — if Axl Rose finally releases Chinese Democracy this year. Except for Slash and Buckethead.

OT: Slash and Buckethead as equal non-members of GnR? No way! That’s like calling Courtney Love and Mike Patton equal members of Faith No More.

Rose says neither he nor Geffen are working with Dr Pepper. While funny, this PR stunt seems wrong –Dr. Pepper gets to promote itself in a way that will not lead to any expense on their part, by picking on others.

Dr. Pepper Democracy seems very different from music fans making fun of the same situation because they aren’t making money or advertising themselves — just pointing out one of the most ridiculous points in music industry history (for others, see KISS solo albums, lowball sale of Motown,etc)

On a much more serious note, as someone who has been watching/listening to a great deal of media over the last few days due to illness, I’ve been shocked by the lack of coverage of the recent Tibet riots and their implications for the upcoming Beijing Olympics and for the world economy.

Generally, if it bleeds, it leads … but not if it is outside of the U.S. So where has there been actual discussion of Tibet — the only U.S. sources have been NPR, Macneal, and major newspapers (with blurbs), with no network news reporting.

Considering that international news sources (BBC tv and radio, KBC, etc) are spending time discussing -our- presidential election, it’s beyond sad…into depressing that important world events are being ignored — and continuing to allow Americans to remain isolated from the world.

Did you know that the U.S. and French government have implied that they will not be condemning the actions of China in Tibet and will not be pulling out of the Beijing games because of the overall economic power of China? This is important to know regardless of where one is on the political spectrum — from free-market isolationist to bleeding-heart interventionist.

But unless you get at least some of your news from NPR or international sources, you won’t even know what you are missing.

EDIT: Chinese Democracy (the album) has finally been released on November 23, 2008.

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Ripped from the Headlines: Law and Order Real-Person Fic finally catches Wolf!

Ka-chung! Ripped from the headlines — behold the actual legal implications of published real-person fictionalization! And what better source for this than Law and Order, the semi-official home of fictionalized legal and crime news.

In a November 2003 episode of original-flavor Law and Order, called Floater, a bald desi Manhattan attorney with the first name Ravi bribes a judge. In RL (for those of you not verbose in fanfiction/online gaming terms, this means real life), there is a bald desi Manhattan attorney with the first name Ravi who was investigated as part of a bribery case, but has never been charged.

The RL Ravi is suing under the theory of “libel-in-fiction”, claiming that all who watched the episode will assume that he is an actual briber. To put it more legally, RL Ravi must prove that the fictional Ravi has become so intertwined and unable to be distinguished so that the “defamatory material” has become an “aspect” of his real life.

At this preliminary stage (summary judgment), the judge said that Law and Order viewers

“would identify” this  fictional Ravi-name lawyer “because of the uniqueness of [his] name, ethnicity and appearance.” And “because of the widespread media coverage of the [bribery] scandal, with which the accusations against [RL Ravi] were inextricably intertwined, it would be reasonable for a viewer to associate” him with the Law & Order character.

Law.com says that NBC Universal has said that “This episode, like all ‘Law & Order’ episodes, is fiction.”

However, it is clear from the marketing efforts surrounding Law & Order (do I need to say “ripped from the headlines” again?) that the basis of the show are news stories. Fictionalized. And as Christine Hurt states on the Conglomerate, many non-NYC lawyers wouldn’t have known about this story because it is New York-based story that seems to have remained local.

I automatically didn’t think of Chicago-former-TV-journalist Amy Jacobson when “the journalist who will hang out with a murder suspect in a bikini episode because she will do whatever it takes to get a story” starring Lara Flynn Boyle recently aired. But then again, if it was episode based on a bribery case involving sordid details and a government official, there are residents of several states that could possibly say — “Hey, that’s based on my governor/major!”

And the issue of how public is the real person, Mr. Ravi Batra, will be sure to be discussed in this case — is he more like an elected official or a movie star with everyone knowing details about his life? Or is he more like your average Joe (leaving aside that Joe or Josie likely has a Facebook/MySpace/blog online life) where private is more private? Or does the newsworthiness cancel out everything else? And are the similar details really unique? My guess is not individually — but the collective combination of facts matched up to “facts” will be determinative.

We’ll just have to wait for what the judge says — and considering there is no non-criminal Law and Order, I doubt Dick Wolf will be further fictionalizing this issue on his Laws and Orders.

(composite fanmade image from http://www.nbclawandorder.blogspot.com/)

Fansubs Don’t Grow On Trees: Gundam 00 and the new ethics of fansubbing

gundam_00_title.jpgI quit watching Gundam 00, about a month ago. The storyline was moving at a snail’s pace, even for a mecha show (which is known its glacial plot development) and there were too many characters to keep track of. I come back to it this weekend and a good quarter of the secondary characters were dead. Wow, Sejii Mizushima, you work fast.

Last week, a major (not to mention extremely popular) character was killed off, after having a near-death skirmish only two episodes earlier, and an iconic death scene that seems to take a page from Spike Spiegel‘s School of Dying.

Within hours of the show airing in Japan, messages boards and blogs were flooded with eulogies and someone posts a bagpipe tribute to the Irishcharacter.Comments came in from the UK, the US, France, Canada. Astounding because the episode is only completing its first airing in Japan.

Back in the day (and I am talking about a decade or so ago) U.S. fans who wanted to stay on top of the latest anime in Japan through of fansubs often had a lengthy and frustrating waiting process – at least 5-6 months, and that’s a generous estimation – before getting their hands on the VHS recordings of the shows. You had to wait for the show to come out, then for a fansub group to do translation and endure the technically elaborate subbing and distribution process.

Sometimes, fans paid the price for their enthusiasm, if a show was licensed by a commercial anime distributor, many fansubbers stopped distribution of a show once it was be available for legal distribution in the States. It’s a laudable code of ethics; most fansubbers do what they do for the love, not to promote piracy. But it could be a frustrating situation for the (somewhat) ethical fanboy or girl; you could conceivably be in the middle of a series and then would have to wait several more months, if not years, to see how the show ends. Sometimes the limbo would be longer, if the show was licensed but lacking a firm release schedule, or if a show didn’t sell well and the commercial distributor let the license expire, the viewer once again forced to turn to fansubs should they want to view the full show.

Now, with desktop video editing software, YouTube and file sharing as the norm, and online forums making it impossible for fans to escape spoilers, the fansub of old is a relic. And along with it, the taboo of fansubbing is a thing of the past with many contemporary anime fans, who don’t make the same distinction between anime that is licensed or unlicensed, legal or illegal. Much as with the music fans, if it’s available on BitTorrent or on YouTube fans see it as freely available and will consume it with little compunction. Also the expected turnaround time for a fansub has evaporated to nearly nothing. the idea of , waiting for a show as little as two days after its original airing is toolong of a wait. A week is an eternity.

So it’s interesting to me, as a fan that’s old enough to remember VHS fansubs, but young enough to watch fansubs on YouTube to see the new debates about distribution of fansubs m ove away from issues of ethics (i.e. when is it was ethically correct for a fansubber to take a show in or out of distribution) and more into issues of fandom “quality assurance.”

Take, for example, a controversy earlier in Gundam 00’s run when a previously respected fansubber came under fire for a number of translation errors, which you can read more about here.

It’s worth mentioning that the subtitled show was available via, er, various means only two days after its initial air date in Japan. While some fans were angered and disappointed by the errors, other fans lamented the transactional perspective of some fans toward fansubbers efforts.

One commenter on the above linked page posted:

“I’m just sick and tired of the mentality among anime fans that “Anime should be free and I should not have to pay” and “I want my anime here, now, in the highest quality and with the best translation” without really thinking about supporting the oficial(sp) release that has this, only that it isn’t here as soon as the show aired in Japan and they have to pay for it.”

So it’s an interesting point we’re at with anime fandom, just as with music fandom, where the much of the fan expectation is lightning-fast turnaround and professional-level quality from fansubbers without also participating said volunteer efforts, or intending to financially support the original creators in any way. Without sounding too much like a fogey, I wonder at what point does this interpretation of the Free Culture mentality hinder fandom just as much as big business and restrictive copyright does.

Credit where credit is due? If we’re friends, let’s share! If it’s business, creative accounting.

So which group is the new Carrie ‘n’ friends?*

You’ve likely never watched either of the “new Sex in the City” shows this season, Lipstick Jungle and Cashmere Mafia. The only difference in substance I’ve figured out is that one has Lucy Liu, the other has Brooke Shields — and they both seem more like the female version of that horrible we-are-the-rich-white-mens-with-all-the-moneys show also from this season (not to say that Sex in the City was a realistic show, but the characters dealt with more than where to throw their/others money at.)

So why are there two almost identical shows on? It’s an issue of credit — and in this case and in many similar ones, the original author not believing that credit and the money that flows from it is going to her.

While most who know who Candace Bushnell know that she is the author of Sex and the City, her most famous book, and identify her with the show, few know that she was paid a small lump sum by the show…. and that was it. Even though more people associate her with this product and all of its “exciting” byproducts (note ironic/marketing quotes), than its executive producer Darren Star, he’s made more money from her original creation than she has (she got $60,000).

Lipstick Jungle is based on a newer Bushnell book; Cashmere Mafia on Darren Star’s “inspiration” after the relationship between the two soured, according to the New York Post:

Star “recreated his own version of Bushnell’s pilot, “Cashmere Mafia,” and sold it to ABC. … “Candace was actually living at Darren’s house when she was writing the pilot for her show,” said our source. “Candace called him to say how happy she was that NBC picked up her script, and Darren told her, ‘Oh, yeah, I have a similar project at ABC.’ She was devastated.”

A recent Los Angeles Times article about the creator of the Cheetah Girls, Deborah Gregory, shows how deliberate “creative” accounting prevents authors/creators from recouping profits from their creations. If you have been to a Disney store, Sears, or watched the Disney channel in the past five years (or have a tween girl, especially a tween girl of color, in your life), you have seen how much stuff — from albums to clothes to accessories have been based on the now at sixteen original novels about a singing group of minority teen girlfriends. And this Cheetah empire includes three movies starring Disney real-world star-princess Raven.

“Though Gregory contracted for four percent of the Disney-related profits from her work, she has yet to recoup anything from Disney except for $175,000 for additional work she completed as a co-producer.”

”If anyone is getting rich on this formidable franchise, Gregory said, it’s not the woman who created it. “People think I must be living in a palace, when they think of the success of the Cheetah Girls,” she said, sitting in the cramped studio apartment she rents in Manhattan. “But look at this place. It’s a . . . dump.””

””I never dreamed things would turn out the way they did,” Gregory said, recalling the heady days when she first wrote The Cheetah Girls and the Disney Channel expressed interest. “I really believed I would be able to share in everything that was created, that I was going to be a participant. Well, honey, that was a sham.””

”Gregory’s 16 novels went on to sell an estimated 2-million copies for which she got $180,000 in advances. But beyond her title as a co-producer on both films, she had limited creative input as Disney turned her books into a TV and marketing phenomenon. And she didn’t share in the bounty.”

Still hold fast to the belief in the traditional and romantic idea of the artist creating — and then making money from their individual efforts? Often the credit and the money flows to others.

* Sorry, I couldn’t help but include Girlfriends — the only semi-realistic recent show about four women who juggle jobs, friends, and sometimes husbands/boyfriends, and over the course of the show, three kids. Yes, it was a sitcom — with all that entails, yet was a vast improvement on Sex and the City. They change careers! And pay bills! And move! And are broke! And date/marry/divorce/remarry/stay single! And … it’s cancelled.

Edit: Due to this post being hit with lots of spam, we’ve turned off commenting for this and a couple of other posts.

My daily reading – Part One

I am very fortunate to have a job where I get to geek out over web 2.0, social networking sites, blogs, etc. all day long. In my daily online education, I read several blogs on “social media” and such. Here are 3 of my daily faves:

Ars Technica

Newsy blog about technology news and trends; lots of intellectual property oriented news and commentary. Snark-free, no racy tech insider gossip to inflate page views (*cough* Valleywag *cough*) If you follow technology and the music industry in particular, you will find a lot to chew on here. I especially appreciate its international focus.

Mashable

All the cool nerds read Mashable. If social networking is a big part of your job (i.e. “I run my organizations Facebook page!”) or you’ve got a brilliant idea for a Web 2.0 start-up like 80% of the world, then Mashable should be a daily read. Also a good place for new social network invites and helpful tips.

Convergence Culture Blog

Academic yet accessible, this blog is run by the good folks at MIT’s Comparative Media Studies department. If you care about sociological/culture aspects of how Web 2.0/participatory culture/fan culture affect how we communicate, consume and create, this is the blog for you. Best of all, it’s free of academic jargon and cultural studies navel-gazing!

Manga Nation on Vacation

So if there was was an example of the mainstreaming of not just Japanese manga but dojinshi (amateur manga) and participatory media  in the United States it’s this:

Travel company Pop Japan Travel has scheduled a tour to Comitia, one of Japan’s many dojinshi conventions. Not only that, participatnts who agree can have their dojinshi translated into Japanese and sold at the event. It looks like a great opportunity for burgeoning  U.S. dojinshi artists to broaden their distribution.

Back in November, I wrote a post commenting on Wired magazine’s doijinshi feature article. I have certain that the company will get enough takers for this tour, as their Yaoi and Gothic Lolita tours just recently sold out as well. Might we see more hyper-specialized fan tours of this sort? It’s a bit different from say, Harry Potter tours of the UK or Lord of the Rings tours of New Zealand because it caters so narrowly to niche, borderline underground subcultures of an already narrow fandom. If some travel company offered a “Black Metal” tour of Scandinavia would there be any takers? I don’t know.

I’m tempted to say it’s the kind of tour that could only be successful with the highly passionate and participatory fans of Japanese pop culture, but I could be wrong.

A slightly different take on the NIN release

So yesterday Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails unveiled his latest album, a two-hour instrumental offering called Ghosts I-IVexclusively online. He did it without any mainstream promotion, though within the NIN fandom there had been over two weeks of anticipation, based on a very cryptic post left on the nin website/blog. So while the NIN fandom – myself included – was expecting a big announcement(I was hoping for a tour, myself), to the rest of the world, the CD was a “quiet release.” In truth, it was anything but.

Shrewd on Trent’s part, as he knows us crazydevoted NIN fans, those of us who would easily consider shelling out $75-$300 for a “special edition” release are his bread and butter. While the industry/legal ramifications of this release are what’s currently crashing the nin.com servers right now as curious bloggers and music fans who like to collect music for free sample the tunes in question, at the end of the day, the NIN camp kept the “promotion” viral and local, letting the fanbase (blogs and fan boards like Echoing the Sound, primarily) do the heavy lifting for him.

Both Radiohead and NIN see the benefits in this. I think we’re in an age now where the lifelong music fan is increasingly becoming a rarity. While I am a huge supporter of Creative Commons and remix culture and a very vocal critic of the RIAA’s strong arm tactics – bullying music lovers while grossly overcharging for product, at the same time the growing fan consensus of file-sharing as the norm leaves working musicians in a bad situation. Studio time isn’t cheap, and musician have to eat an pay rent like the rest of us.

To me, Creative Commons licensing and digital distribution aside, what’s going to keep the music industry alive is this kind of hyper-focused marketing – knowing your fanbase well, communicating directly and intimately to them, and delivering something unique that you know they’ll value (and most importantly pay for.)So while I think that many of us can agree that the recording industry has got to change, the second question is, what model will allow artists to make any kind of profit from their work, so that they can support themselves and make more music. I think Trent may indeed have a answer here.

BTW: my first impressions of Ghosts I-IV are here.