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Why I Am Taking Part in the March Media Blackout

I am an American expat, a vidder, a gamer, and hopefully I will continue to be a games, or at least software, developer.

As such I've got a few horsies in this race.  Recent developments have come to light, and I'm kind of grateful for the timing.  After SOPA died down I was gonna ease off the promise to participate in the March Blackout, but now the likes of the MPAA, RIAA and Electronic Software Association (ESA) have kindly reminded me why it's so important that I don't.  None of this is over, and furthermore it's going to affect me on yet another level:  as a vidder.

So, to reaffirm my commitment:  In the month of March I will not be purchasing, downloading, playing or watching broadcasts of any film, tv show, music or game that is produced or distributed by members of the above.  I will not go to the movies.  I will also not illegally aquire media in any form (I don't tend to to begin with, but it's worth stating that this is part of the deal).

This is a moderation of the Blackout as originally proposed (somewhere on Reddit, before it went to LJ and elsewhere) which was just a full blanket ban on purchasing/downloading any media, in any form, period.

I have altered it because, 1) to be honest it's gonna be really hard to find anything other than games that doesn't have *something* to do with one of these companies so it's as good as a blanket ban for my purposes and 2)  The spirit and purpose of the protest, in my view, requires acknowledging people who are outside of the system I believe to be toxic, and rewarding them.  As someone who contributed to the development of an independent game, this *only makes sense*.

What is This Meant to Do?  Why is Downloading a part of it?

March is an important month is the entertainment industry's financial year,
and we're trying to make a noticeable dent.   That said, the purpose of the blackout is not just to hit revenue streams of the industry, but to effect the *demand* of their products.  That's why refraining from illegally acquiring stuff is included in the protest.  Download rates are tracked and accounted for by companies, not only as money lost, but as an indication of a product's popularity (fwiw, this holds true for physical goods in shops as well).

For many patrons of pop culture and the arts, the struggle against entertainment trade bodies aggresive lobbying for SOPA-alikes is about access to and preservation of our culture, and that is a fine thing.  For the trade lobby organizations that are spearheading all of the laws and crackdowns, it has almost nothing to do with culture.

It is about commodification; it is about culture and entertainment as *products*, and given their position relative to ours, that forces a frame onto the argument that I think us high-minded folks would do well to try and work within, for the time being.

To successfully engage with organizations so hell-bent on protecting their revenue streams (even when the content producers do not agree with their methods as is the case with the ESA), we need to consent to the argument that any piece of contemporary popular culture that is not free or acquired directly from the creator is a commodity.  One could even argue that it is a commodity *before* it is a piece of art or culture (but we'll save that argument).

But what about the creators?

Content *producers* - screenwriters, games designers, musicians, directors, actors: they are not the targets though they will inevitably be effected if this is at all successful.  They are, by and large, stuck in a system that reduces their work to something that must be successfully monetized to have any value to those who control their ability to continue acting/designing/writing for a living.

The problem I see, is that the system has become toxic not just for them, but for the general public and it needs to change.  It doesn't matter how many times the RIAA attempts to use Poor Starving Musicians as human shields, more and more folks within and without the industry and getting wise.  It especially needs to change if it buys lobbying groups enough leverage to seriously propose a bill that would legalize the close monitoring of internet traffic of each individual, as with SOPA/PIPA and whatever new piece of fresh hell they're drafting as we speak (the technical issues of implementing such a system notwithstanding).

It is the content *distributors* that are the issue.  The ESA, for example, does not even pretend to speak for developers.  The front page of their website makes it clear that they exist to protect the interests of *publishers* and the business side of development.

And that's fine.  We need distributors, we need publishers.  Those of us who create need people whose talents are more "practical".  Trust me on this, I was part of a dev team on an indie game.  I am not just paying those folks lip service. 

But there needs to be balance.  If the Powers that Be wish to commodify culture, then we need something to keep that in check, and we need to acknowledge the paradigm that we are part of in contemporary culture because we have already implicitly assisted its creation by virtue of our taking part.  We need to stop it before it gains sovereignty (I mean ffs corporations are already people...lets reign this in a bit)

So, for those of us who are taking up this banner, for all of March "culture" becomes "entertainment product".  We are consumers, and as such we have control over where and what we consume.  That is the power that we have.

What About My Show/Movie/Band?!

I will confess that the mini-backlash I saw when it was announed was irksome.  There were more than a few "omg great idea but...<Show> premieres in March/<Movie> comes out in March and..."  But getting annoyed was not a fair reaction, because despite what's at stake you can't dismiss people's attachment to the bits of culture that they love.

So instead, let's have a real-life analogy:

I am, as you read this, continuing a very successful boycott of Dominoes Pizza that's still running 4 years after the discovery that their UK outfit has pretty dickensian employment practices.  That sounds pretty good, doesn't it?  The problem is it means precisely fuck-all because I have *never liked* Dominoes and already wasn't giving them money *before* I started "boycotting".

For a statement like this to be meaningful you have to be willing to give something up that, on its surface, seems hard to give up.

But let's induldge the other side of this spectrum for a moment, because after all this is like, TV we're talking about.  I mean, that *should* be easy, right?  It's not a need.  This isn't a 1960s civil rights protest.  Or, to get more modern, no one's asking us to pitch a tent in Battery Park in midwinter and get tased by the cops. 

And that's true!  But it doesn't mean what's being asked of us is "easy"

It may be tempting to browbeat folks along the lines of "jesus christ you guys, just turn off the idiot-box off and go outside!" but, aside from being a really ineffective "hearts and minds" tactic, it's entirely dismissive of what fans are actually giving up.

The personal emotional and social forces involved in media consumption are powerful.  The desicion to willingly opt out of watching Community when it returns on the 15th, or from catching a film on its opening weekend, or watching The Big Game live with your buds is not the same as the desicion to use a different brand of cereal, or to buy mediocre pizza from a different place.

Broadcast media is an experience that is shared, and fandom is familiar with this.  We watch, and then the episode reactions go up.  If that is something that you value, as many fans do, then you are missing something by not being a part of it.  And that is a sacrifice that I think shouldn't be trivialised, because once you miss it?  It's gone. That moment of collectively experiencing an amazing moment with a room full of strangers?  That's not permanent either.

And then there's the content producers!  We love them too!  And we're worried about what happens to them in all of this.

The Exciting Conclusion!

As it happens I've never actually seen an episode of Community as it aired, and only rarely in the same *week* that it aired.  So frankly I can wait 15 days to try and catch up.  That's no skin off of my teeth.

What I'm worried about is the effect a "successful" blackout would have on Community, in its precarious situation.  It's a show that is very dear to me and I want to succeed because it's such a special rare kind of show, and as it happens I will physically be in the States when it airs and could have watched it with fans as it aired for the first time.  And I'm actually really bummed that I won't be.

But I hope I don't slip and give in.  I really hope I don't.  Because it's been made clear that the major trade lobbyists will hold hostage the pieces of culture that we hold dear, and use them against us.  That is a sick system.  I refuse to feed it.

So instead I hope to send a message:

If you want to erode civil liberties in my country and internationally under the guise of "stopping piracy", and, on a personal level, to criminalize non-profit hobbyists, then I will treat your television, movies, games and music as you wish it to be treated:  as a commodity. 
And if you will insist on putting me in a position where I have to choose between leisure commodities and those liberties?  You are going to lose. 

Every time.

Date: 2012-02-23 09:34 pm (UTC)
laurashapiro: a woman sits at a kitchen table reading a book, cup of tea in hand. Table has a sliced apple and teapot. A cat looks on. (Default)
From: [personal profile] laurashapiro
Thank you for posting about this. I really appreciate your perspective, and I plan to participate in the blackout myself.

Date: 2012-02-24 08:27 am (UTC)
necaris: me looking dapper at a wedding (Default)
From: [personal profile] necaris
If you want to erode civil liberties in my country and internationally under the guise of "stopping piracy", and, on a personal level, to criminalize non-profit hobbyists, then I will treat your television, movies, games and music as you wish it to be treated: as a commodity.

I like this sentiment -- and I agree that liberties trump luxury "cultural" items every time -- but from everything I've read it seems like you're giving the MPAA/RIAA/BPI et al too much credit for trying to be legitimate organizations whose members sell legitimate commodities. After all, that'd imply they participate in traditional supply/demand-mediated free market exchange... and they seem rather hell-bent against that.

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joyo: One panel from the comic "Love and Rockets".   Has maggie standing holding a giant wrench. (Default)
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