music


Here are some things I have opinions on.

Drinking at Lunch: PRO!

Drinking at lunch is great! You get to come back to work a little tiny bit drunk, but it only lasts for like an hour! I’ll grant that drinking at lunch is a sometimes thing, but I am categorically in favor of it.

The Free Market: CON!

I don’t believe in The Free Market. I don’t mean that I disagree with ideals of Free Market capitalism, I mean I don’t think it is a thing. If the Market is not regulated by an outside force, it will fall into monopolies and oligarchies who will control it from within, generally at the expense of the consumer and bottom rung employees. The Free Market is dumb.

Lady Gaga: PRO!

I want to be clear that I have no interest in her music in any way. I am just happy that if a person has to be famous, it is her. She got famous and immediately said “I know, I’ll dress like a loon, get naked, and staunchly support safe sex and gay rights!” Lady Gaga, KillAllTheWhiteMan supports you in a way that does not involve actually listening to any of your songs.

It occurs to be that it’s probably pretty weird being the Didn’t Get Famous guy from:

  • Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure
  • That Show Tom Hanks Was on Where He Lived Part Time as a Woman
  • Wham

If you are having an argument, and you decide it would be a good idea to really really infuriate the other person by making it clear that you don’t care and you’re not taking it seriously, just start playing peek-a-boo. There is nothing less respectful than covering your eyes while someone is talking, saying “where’d I go!” then looking at them again and saying “here I am!”

There’s a feeling, and to my knowledge it doesn’t have a name, that people seem to share. Sometimes, you’re told something, and you can just tell, without being able to fully explain why, that what’s being said is bullshit. I call this feeling cole*.

An example of something that gave me, and gives most people a sense of cole are those ads, usually at the beginning of a DVD you’ve already bought, telling you not to download movies. The argument (set to obnoxious jump cuts and pounding music) is that since you wouldn’t steal a purse, a TV or a DVD, you shouldn’t download movies because it is a form of theft, and therefore exactly the same thing. Except, as that feeling of cole in your gut tells you, no, it’s not.

But why isn’t it? What makes it different, and why does that influence so many people who would not steal a purse to feel that the theft of a film via downloading is not wrong? Here we get to our subject, the ethics of theft. Fortunately, the words we need to describe this already exist. First up is dispossession.

Dispossession is the denial of a person or persons’ access to or use of a thing, service or location. When you steal a purse, you have dispossessed the owner of that purse. They are no longer able to use that purse, or any of the objects inside of it. Stealing a DVD from a store dispossesses the owner or owners of the store of the DVD and the subsequent income from retail. They have now lost money since they purchased the DVD originally with the understanding that it would be sold.

For most of history nearly all theft has been dispossession in one way or another. It is only with the introduction of photographic, photostatic and digital copies that theft without dispossession has become common. In these cases the essential nature of theft is changed, and with it, our ethical understanding of the seriousness of the offense has been massively altered. Essentially, the primary reason theft offended people was that it deprived the rightful owner. In cases where that is no longer true, people now tend to see this dispossessionless theft as a victimless or nearly victimless crime. A lack of victim means the degree of offense is dramatically lessened.

It doesn’t vanish though, and that brings us to the other axis upon which ethical judgments of theft are considered: valuation. Where dispossession is an essentially binary consideration (either someone has been dispossessed or they have not), valuation introduces a great deal more granularity, and also serves to explain why the downloading of a film is, while certainly not on par with stealing a TV, still essentially unethical.

Valuation is a complex term, but for our purposes it means the assessing of value or worth, and the method of the assessment we are concerned with is implicative, meaning not a formal assessment, but an attempt to determine one’s assessment of value based on their actions.

Going back to our purse example, assuming a thief has snatched a purse, stolen the money or other valuable goods and then thrown the purse away, their valuation of the purse itself is roughly $0. It was worth taking for its contents, but beyond that is essentially trash, and since it might eventually serve as evidence of their crime, could even be said to take on a negative value.

Now we apply this to theft via download. Essentially, the person who downloads a movie without purchasing is saying “I value this at about a gig of hard drive space, and a little time tracking it down.” Unfortunately for the people planning to make money from sales, it’s very difficult to buy groceries with a gig or so of some other guy’s hard drive space.

Alternately, it is possible for a theft to increase the value of that which has been stolen. There is the classic example of stealing a loaf of bread to feed your starving family. Now we’ve taken a loaf of bread, value: $2, and turned it into food to keep your family alive, value: multiple human lives. In this case the ethics of theft, which we compute almost instantly and automatically, tell us that this has become an ethically sound act. We have increased the valuation of the stolen item so much that it is agreed to have been worthwhile. See also: E.T. Stealing a bunch of stuff to call for a ride home.

With that established, copy theft enters a grey area very quickly. What about a TV show that is off the air and not available by legitimate means? The value of the product, per the copyright holders is almost impossible to determine, which means the theft of the object can almost be construed as an increase in perceived value. Then there’s broadcast television, where if a viewer is not a Nielsen Family, the value of their viewership, whether watching the original broadcast or a downloaded copy is essentially 0, so is there actually a devaluation taking place during the latter?

Largely, this grey area exists because our ethical systems have not had time to catch up with the new scenarios of action offered to us by advancements in technology. Additionally, the questions of value (how much a thing is worth to each person, and who exactly is receiving what) continue to evolve in complexity**. It will be interesting to watch our culture adapt to answer these questions in the coming years.

*Named for James Cole, my sixth grade teacher and the person responsible for giving me this feeling more often than anyone I’ve ever met. Honestly, I’d like to thank him for instilling such a complete distrust of authority at such a young age.
**A popular bit of rationalization, one which I myself am not above using, is that while my actual valuation of a product is quite high, my willingness to support the structures that have been built to profit from that product is rather low. Do I want to support a musical artist whose work I enjoy? Absolutely. Do I want to do so when more than 97% of that support is siphoned off before reaching the artist? Not always. Should distribution channels receive recompense for the work and cost required for disseminating art? Yes. Should they be allowed to bloat up like the record and film industries have? Of course not. The line is then, wavering, and often poorly marked.

These words are a link to another page. This page is about the aesthetics of the counter-culture, and the failure there-of.

If you are not interested in that, we will also be discussing The Reflex by Duran Duran, the best band ever to get their name from Barbarella*. Here are the lyrics. They are insane.

You gone too far this time
But Im dancing on the valentine
I tell you somebodys fooling around –
With my chances on the dangerline
Ill cross that bridge when I find it
Another day to make my stand, oh..
High time is no time for deciding
If I should find a helping hand, oh..

So why dont you use it
Try not to bruse it
Buy time dont lose it

(chorus)

The reflex is an only child, hes waiting in the park
The reflex is in charge of finding treasure in the dark
And watching over lucky clover isnt that bizarre
Every little thing the reflex does leaves you answered with a
Question mark

Im on a ride and I want to get off
But they wont slow down the roundabout
I sold the renoir and the tv set
Dont want to be around when this gets out

(chorus) (chorus)

The reflex is an only child, hes waiting by the park
The reflex is in charge of finding treasure in the dark
And watching over lucky clover isnt that bizarre
Every little thing the reflex does is an answer with a
Question mark

(chorus) (chorus)

The reflex is an only child, hes waiting by the park
The reflex is in charge of finding treasure in the dark
And watching over lucky clover isnt that bizarre
Every little thing the reflex does leaves me answered with a
Question mark

Oh, the reflex what a game hes hiding all the cards
The reflex is in charge of finding treasure in the dark
And watching over lucky clover isnt that bizarre
Every little thing the reflex does leaves you answered with a
Question mark

What the fuck is that song about?

 
 
 
 
*Fuck You Matmos!

Emphasis on the perfect.

I LOVE Crossroads. It is an almost perfectly broken thing. It doesn’t aim very high, and it fails at everything it attempts. All this, plus a moment of ineffable transcendence. You should watch this movie*.

The movie opens with three friends burying a shoe box full of dreams in a field. Though they have not really been introduced they are

  • White Trash Girl (later Pregnant White Trash Girl with Speech Impediment)
  • Bitchy Popular Girl (we are later told she was a chubby child, but she’s clearly not)
  • Britney Spears’ Idea of a Normal Girl (played by her little sister, who is, at the time of this writing, an unmarried, pregnant teen)

We cut forward to The Last Day of School. Britney is singing along to Madonna in her underwear because A: This is what Normal Girls do. and B: There are probably some boyfriends in the crowd. Then her dad, Elwood Blues (Now Fat) walks in and tells her to hurry, or she’ll be late for her speech as Valedictorian. Because in this movie Britney is not only a Normal Girl, she is The Best Normal Girl EVER.

Moments later Britney is insulted by being called a virgin. The person insulting her is the Bitchy Popular girl. Then the Pregnant White Trash girl shows up and everyone is mean to her. Best Friends No More Forever!

NOW! We have three of the major themes already. I know, it’s only like five minutes in. The first theme is FRIENDS FOREVER? Can you stay friends with the people you got along with when you were six for the rest of your life no matter how much you change and develop differing interests? Spoiler Warning:

YES.

The second theme is Britney is normal but better. This makes her unpopular. It’s important to be aware that while she didn’t write the movie, the plot and characters really were from the mind of Ms. Spears. So what you see here is Britney’s idea of what a nice normal girl is like. She’s a good singer, and super smart, and her dad loves her even if he is over protective, and she’s gonna be a doctor and also her mom abandoned her for no reason.

Britney has parent issues.

Theme three: Britney needs cock. Her virginity, and attempts to lose said virginity are bizarrely prominent. Which would make sense if this was a coming of age movie. Which it is. Sometimes.

The movie continues in this disjointed way throughout. It muddles through comedy, attempts at Girl Power drama, a budding romance and the occasional horrible musical number (the most UN-rocking version of I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll EVER). Characters are all poorly sketched cyphers, and best of all is Britney Spears as the unpopular brainiac who almost sleeps with her lab partner out of desperation. While the other performers can at least fulfill the shallow roles they’ve been given, it is entirely impossible for any viewer to accept the Pop Princess as a shy, quiet genius who never went to parties, and spent all her time studying. It is roughly the worst possible casting, and it makes for this brilliant tension the entire time. In a movie where everything is fake, nothing is faker than her.

Highlights include Britney meeting her mom (Kim “The Slutty One on Sex and the City” Cattrall), who is a huge bitch about everything, won’t let Britney meet her half brothers, and tells her she was an accident, for no real reason. An awkward and mostly incoherent romance between Britney and some guy who she thinks might be a murderer, who is out of jail at like 21, so clearly he didn’t even get nailed for Man 2 let alone Murder. The culmination of that awkward romance in the most unsexy scene in the movie. And then, the coup de grace.

Crossroads is a movie that aims low, and fails anyway. Except for one scene. Suddenly, almost out of nowhere (repeat viewings yield subtle clues) the movie decides to shift from lighthearted-coming-of-age-romance-road-trip-friends-forever-girl-power-musician-vehicle to Serious Drama. And it fails so completely that it becomes a special kind of success. I don’t want to ruin this for you. Please, see the movie. You’ll know which scene I’m talking about. Huge issues, well outside the scope of this film are raised, and a dealt with a manor so cursory, so casual, that they actually make both rape and miscarriage into high comedy. No attempt at satire could ever attack the Serious Drama with the ferocity that Crossroads summons ENTIRELY BY ACCIDENT. It’s a truly stunning bit of cinema.

And then, before you know it, it’s over. The girls are friends forever, Britney has gotten laid, and she’s finally doing something for HERSELF. Of course, what she’s doing is getting a recording contract while Elwood Blues (Now Fat), looks on, at least seeing his daughter for who she really is, and loving her despite the fact that she’s going to be a rich and famous pop star. Not because of it. Poor Britney Spears made a cry for help SO BIG it looked like a crappy movie, and no one noticed until she was wandering around on coke with no underpants and being locked up for psych evaluations.

*OK, not all of you. Basically, did you see Showgirls? Did you enjoy the mess? If so, I humbly recommend Crossroads.

This post will be Geek centric, and so, for our excluded members, I offer the following alternative post:

Sometimes when my friends are having problems, I will say:

DO NOT WORRY! EVERYTHING WILL BE OK!

but secretly what I mean is:

DUDE, THIS IS NOT EVEN A PROBLEM. YOU NEED TO STOP BEING SUCH A BABY.

I feel a little bad about it, but then I remember that I almost died and stuff, and it feels reasonable again.

Now for the Geek part:

I am, as anyone who cares about the subject would expect, anti DRM. Mostly. I sum up my argument thusly:

the noble newspaper stand

Now, some of you might be saying “That’s a picture of a newspaper stand.” And you’d be wrong. It’s actually a picture of a giant balloon shaped like a newspaper stand. However, the point is valid, and I’ll explain.

Newspapers cost very little. A quarter most days, a buck fifty on Sundays. One of the primary distribution vectors is the newspaper stand. The barrier to access is very low (drop in the coins) and the potential for redistribution or theft is very high (hand off the paper, steal more copies). Yet no newspaper ever went broke from losses suffered due to the lax rights management of newspaper stands. This is because they make buying SO EASY that many people buy, offsetting any people who may choose to steal.

I feel that in general, this is the direction that digitally distributed media should move. The payment process has to be about as easy as getting some coins from your pocket and dropping them in the slot, and delivery equally simple. Now, currently, this isn’t usually the case. Apple’s iTunes is about as smooth as this gets, but it fucks up on the other end.

Use.

I was given an MP3 player by my office. It’s not an iPod though. In fact, its firmware is explicitly designed for use with Real Networks’ Rhapsody software. This is a lot like a newspaper stand selling papers you can only read with special glasses. If I’ve bought rights for a media, I should have the use determined on my end. Burn to a CD, add to my MP3 player, stream through my home stereo, or (and here’s a big sticking point) send to a friend.

There are a bunch of ways to deal with the passing on of media, but none of them are very customer friendly, and I can’t help but feel that a business focused on getting people to pay them will be more successful that a business focused on stopping people from stealing. And what are they stealing?

Remember, people will use the “But digital is so easy to copy and reproduce!” as an argument for why it has to be harder to steal. That’s retarded. That means that your losses to theft are almost nothing, because there was so much less overhead. Thieves are thieves. They’re going to keep stealing. You need to make it so easy and convenient to buy that you make money from the honest people. And what do newspaper stands teach us? Most people, faced with a cheap, easy way to buy something, will take it.

BUT WAIT! There’s one BIG exception here, which is something I think content providers should get behind full force: subscription services. I still expect a certain amount of freedom in how I use my file while I have access to it, but it’s pretty reasonable to make sure it only plays on devices that will stop playing it when it expires, and to limit my ability to share. The secret to success here is that the charge is monthly, and likely automatic, and the ease is almost total. So while I can grumble about not being allowed to burn a CD, I’m currently streaming the theme from Ghostbusters, and well aware that while I’d never PAY for it, I’m glad to pay for ACCESS to it.

If anyone can write the rest of this song, please let me know. I’m pretty sure we have a pop-sensation on our hands.

I aim to please
and shoot to kill
and when I play doctor
I play to win