Category Archives: Business

An ugly golden goose

“If you give a man a fish, he will eat for a day. If you teach a man to fish, we will eat for a lifetime.”

So goes the oft-repeated proverb, but it unfortunately ignores the matter of whether or not the man is question is the least bit fond of fish. Maybe he’s allergic, trying out a new “anti-healthy diet or just doesn’t want the darn tuna. To lather with cliche for a bit longer, we’re told not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but just as often as not, folks seem to do just that.

Perhaps it comes along with the whole, “decadent western civilization thing” or perhaps it’s a component of the perpetually lusty gaze we Americans turn to things we don’t have. Whatever the reason, just because something is beneficial, whether it be a material object or a skill, doesn’t mean that people will want it, even if their personal sacrifice in obtaining said gift is negligible.

Case in point: This show, otherwise titled as "Young Narcisists Want More Sparkly Junk: Why Everyone Under 18 Should be Mailed to Madagasscar."

Case in point: This show, otherwise titled as "Young Narcisists Want More Sparkly Junk: Why Everyone Under 18 Should be Mailed to Madagascar."

Dan Rather, in an op-ed for The Washington Post, echoed his calls for federal hand in solving the current crisis in the transition from old media (newspapers) to new media (tweets from some girl you hooked up with in sophomore year).

“I want the president to convene a nonpartisan, blue-ribbon commission to assess the state of the news as an institution and an industry and to make recommendations for improving and stabilizing both,” Rather said, obviously equating the quality of his commission to the upstanding quality of Pabst Blue Ribbon.

“Why bring the president into it? Because this is the only way I could think of to generate the sort of attention this subject deserves. Academia and think tanks generate study after study, yet their findings don’t reach the people who need to be reached.”

The problem with Rather’s suggestion, which is actually something I’ve considered advocating, is threefold. First, involving President Obama with anything at the moment is guaranteed to drag said thing into a cesspool of partisan bickering and a subsequent bout of amnesia about what the shouting was about in the first place.

Then, Rather suggests moving the study of the media’s evolution away from the academic sector, which sounds fine and dandy, except by involving the feds, you involve…well…the feds. Not only is the entirety of congress focused on solely on health care (and planes! more planes!), but any sort of government involvement in media at this time could be the most counterproductive way to create a trustworthy relationship between the public and reporters.

“But it worked with the BBC! It’s government-funded and is arguably the most highly-regarded news source in the world!” you may exclaim. While that may be true, the BBC also originates from a radically different time, when the populace was a bit preoccupied with the whole “post WWI fiasco,” along with an approach to free speech that was littered with seditious libel (remember, the monarchy actually mattered back then). To even involve the federal government in something as superficially innocent as a collection of assessments and recommendations on the media raises that damning specter of censorship and further speculation of a liberal bias in the media.

Oh. But that already happened.

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Filed under Business, Culture wars, Education, Government, Media, Monkeys, Obama

Freedom of the press (to charge you)

Rupert Murdoch did it. He pushed the big, red button. After months, maybe years of holding his trembling, anxious hand over it (the button’s pretty darn big) he shooed his butler out of the room, wiped his furrowed brow of the pooling sweat and pressed downward. Flashing lights popped out of the walls, and the signal was immediately sent to Fox’s Internet Golems to push the giant online switch from “Free” to “Not so much.”

Well, they're technically Morlocks, but Golem is currently the PC term. Don't ask me, ask their union.

Well, they're technically Morlocks, but Golem is currently the PC term. Don't ask me, ask their union.

So we now know for sure, that by the end of the fiscal year (aka next June) that all online content coming from Fox subsidiaries will have a handy little price tag attached to it. This makes them the first big player in the post Web 2.0 world to revert back to the limited-access viewpoint, because after all, as Murdoch has made clear, quality journalism doesn’t come cheap (apparently neither does FOXNews’ coverage). The question at hand is whether or not this venture will be successful or blow up in Murdoch’s face, as most Internet fanboys tend to think it will.

Fox ‘n Fans

On one hand, FOXNews has a very different audience and delivery method from the likes of say, CNN or the New York Times. While CNN presents news and then at least markets itself as leaving said news as it is, marketing itself as a presenter of facts and knowledge (though lately they seem to fancy themselves as a televised Twitter advertisement). FOXNews treats its audience differently. With its obvious ideological bend, it presents news and commentary simultaneously, the two contrasting ideas contorted around one another and presented to the viewer.

To some, this approach is entirely off-putting (though not to the brass at MSNBC…) but to those viewers who do enjoy FOXNews’ opinions, the coverage becomes conversational and personal. I personally think that no one tunes into FOXNews for the very latest, most indepth coverage, but instead to hear the opinions of their personalities, to see the anchors tear the left a new one.

Because of this, FOXNews fosters a community to a much greater degree than its competition. When was the last time you talked to someone who was passionate about CNN, who acted encouraged if you praised it or who reeled back and hissed if you sought to discredit it? FOXNews fans have these reactions, because it’s okay to be a fan of the network’s coverage, it’s built and marketed as such. While CNN advertises itself as “the number one name in news,” FOXNews lets communities build around its personalities.

This sort of loyalty might work in Murdoch’s favor in regard to this online plan. Since the network’s viewers already perceive the coverage to be a premium product, logic says that they would also have less of a problem paying extra for said product. Of course, this begs the question as to why anyone who loves FOXNews wouldn’t just watch it on the television, or pick through The New York Posts’ 10 pages of legitimate content at the newsstand and save themselves from online fees.

Those against the plan argue that it will limit the audience of Fox’s online content, thereby limiting both advertising and search engine access, which will then, in turn, further limit ad revenue. On an Internet landscape that’s becoming increasingly connected, Murdoch’s plan essentially creates a digitally gated community (now isn’t that appropriate?), but given the loyalty of his viewers, and his recent success in broadening the readership of The Wall Street Journal, this could work in his favor.

A profitable, vibrant, stagnant media

But, from a ideological standpoint, if the entire news media switches to this model, then you will not only have deep divides between party lines and political philosophies, but further divisions will emerge between news sources, which will only serve to further polarize the nation. I already have a subscription to The New York Times, and with that I receive unlimited access to their online content. Now let’s say the Times made that package marginally more expense, while the rest of the media instituted similar subscription plans. Of course I’m going to either stick with the Times, or with the news source that represents the best relationship between cost and quality. Remember that whole marketplace of ideas? Yeah, that gets tossed by the wayside.

Mmm, yes. As I have always said, "Let one's worldliness be born not from his press' freedom, but by the expanse of his coffers."

Mmm, yes. As I have always said, "Let one's worldliness be born not from the freedom of his press, but by the expanse of his coffers."

That is, unless, you had brilliant individuals who had subscriptions and then used said subscriptions to draw news out of the gated communities and then report on it through independent websites, which everyone who is used to paying nothing for online news would then turn to for information. This would, inevitably, lead to the old-school media magnates receiving even fewer ad dollars, and then perhaps being forced to open up to free models, which leaves us in this whole stinking mess all over again, just with a few more wrinkles and a heightened sense of cynicism.

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Those who repeat the past repeat the past repeat the past repeat the past repeat the past repeat the past repeat the past

Everyone complains about Hollywood’s reticence to create something new. The film industry has essential been a broken record for the past five years, with nearly every blockbuster having been based in intellectual properties that have already been established for decades. Superheroes, I’ve heard, originated in these things known as “comic books” that people would read on “paper.”

That doesn't look like Christian Bale at all...

That doesn't look like Christian Bale at all...

And before making “The Dark Knight,” director Christopher Nolan’s previous three films were all adaptations of previously established films or books. Just look at Tim Burton to see just how ridiculous the latest round of creative regurgitation has become. Did anyone want another “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “Planet of the Apes,” or “Alice in Wonderland?” Adding some cliche Gothic-teenager-pandering art style and Johnny Depp doesn’t exactly warrant the pillaging of established and perfected properties.

Besides, those kids whose rooms were filled with “Nightmare Before Christmas” merchandise are all probably too busy sleeping on top of life-sized pillows of that Edward vampire guy to care all that much.

Not to mention their Edward toothbrushes...

Not to mention their Edward toothbrushes...

But at least those films are remakes of things that came out more than a decade prior. The new trend is to remake films that came out oh, say last year. First, the director behind “Cloverfield,” Matt Reeves, signed on to do an American version of the Swedish vampire flick “Let the Right One In.” That’s all well and good…except “Let the Right One In,” came out LAST YEAR. And the idea itself is already based off of a book to begin with!

And now, 2007’s splendid horror movie “The Orphanage” is being remade for U.S. audiences. Sure, the film peaked at 702 theaters in the U.S., but can’t we at least give people a chance to discover the original before we stuff a remake down their throats? It’s interesting to note that both films were foreign flicks, indicating that Hollywood, in all of its creative glory, is outsourcing any sort of original thought, testing the waters to see if it works, and then buying out the rights so that they can water it down and add breasts to the movie’s climax. I mean, c’mon. Even “Avatar,” which I assume will be released alongside Christ’s resurrection, is just “Dances with Wolves in Space.”

Has the national attention span really shriveled to such a small size? This deficit doesn’t just pertain to pop culture, just look at the political landscape, a bizarrely inept and fast-paced zone where Obama is already being written off as a lame duck despite not even having a year under his presidential belt, where the debate on both sides depends on hammering in a single talking point, remaking the same sentence over and over again until it just turns into two idiots blaring a watered-down, pointless message at one another, and then their audiences spit out the same drivel, at which point these placated pundits report their own vomit as news. Weekly polls on every issue determine public opinion, creating our predilections for policies anew each time anything’s approval dips toward 50 percent, ignoring the fact that if you tell everybody that everyone thinks a certain way, as opposed to letting them figure it out for themselves, you’re helping yourself to a predisposed national opinion.

I guess it’s just easier to rely on the thoughts of our forefathers, PR goons and easily-plundered intellectual property than create something new.

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Filed under Books, Business, Culture wars, Hollywood, Media, Morgan, Uncategorized

Back in my day, things were (better/worse)

It turns out that things have actually been worse than you thought they were, after they were apparently slightly better than you remember at an earlier time. The Bureau of Economic Analysis (but her friends call her Bea) released revised economic figures, revealing that the recession wasn’t slightly worse than previously thought, nor was it just flat-out worse. It was more than twice as worse. The 0.8 percent drop in GDP between the fourth quarter of 2007 and the last three months of 2008 is now a 1.9 percent drop.

A jump from 0.8 percent to perhaps 1 percent would make sense. After all, certain factors may have been left out, and hindsight allows for a greater gathering and calculation of data. But a 1.9 percent contraction? Why bother sending out economic data so quickly if the figures are going to be completely wrong? The report also reveals that the 2001 recession was a bit better than previously thought, with growth between Q4 of 2000 and Q3 of 2001 clocking in at 0.1 percent, as opposed to the previously standing 0.2 percent drop.

Statistics are always easy to nurse. Let’s take baseball (c’mon, you knew the comparisson was coming) for example. Taking only batting average into account, the five best batters in history are…

1. Ty Cobb
2. Rogers Hornsby
3. Shoeless Joe Jackson
4. Ed Delahanty (who?)
5. Ted Williams.

Now let’s drain some statistics through some colanders, shall we? Taking into account the rigors of old age on bringing down a player’s batting average, let’s limit the figures to only the first 8,000 at-bats. Then, let’s adjust the numbers based upon the relative skill level of the players in comparison to their respective leagues and divisions, along with the quality of their competition (aka, comparing the figures to the yearly total averages of the league and readjusting as such). Then, let’s take into account the changing nature of the game and the role of the hitter (this is done via a study of deviations and other such statistical flotsam that goes a bit over my head). Finally, let’s adjust the rankings based on the ballparks these players batted in, because I’m pretty sure that on a good day, I could hit a ball into the outfield at Coors Field.

With all of that taken into consideration, the top five hitters of all time are…
1. Tony Gwynn
2. Rod Carew
3. Stan Musial
4. Ted Williams
5. Rogers Hornsby

(Many thanks to Paul Zweifel for the mathematical know-how on this)

Ty Cobb isn't pleased. Of course, he was scientifically proven to never be happy over the course of his life. Unless he had a Coca-Cola, which "refreshes me to such an extent that I can start the second game feeling as if I had not been exercising at all, in spite of my exertions in the first."

Ty Cobb isn't pleased. Of course, he was scientifically proven to never be happy over the course of his life. Unless he had a Coca-Cola, which "refreshes me to such an extent that I can start the second game feeling as if I had not been exercising at all, in spite of my exertions in the first."

Oh, would you look at that? Everything changed completely with a bit of statistical massaging. The long-coming point is that…nothing anyone says from a statistical standpoint matters. Polls fluctuate wildly from week to week, economic figures jump from loss to growth and careful evaluations of a man’s standing among his peers can be turned upside down and shaken about for their lunch money. If you see it, believe it. The recession isn’t over because Newsweek says it is, Obama isn’t unpopular because of a new poll that has his support fleeing, it’s because folks can’t get a job and people don’t agree with his policies. Don’t believe a guy has the flu because he’s absent from work, believe he’s ill because he’s coughing, sneezing and tells you, with a puffy face and beleaguered eyes, “I’ve got the flu, boss.”

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Spend weeks in your basement playing video games gearing up for this one. I know I will be.

For a while there I really thought there was a betterment in the standards of the movie industry. Obviously there were always exceptions, but the last couple years I’ve been an advocate for the path Hollywood was taking, producing some pretty good movies on high budgets with big name actors. I mentioned it in the bit about Spike Jonze’s Where The Wild Things Are. Awesome concept. Then the pretty cool direction the sub-genre of comic epics.

But I have officially been proved wrong. Perhaps it’s a tanked economy. Perhaps it’s desperation. Who knows. The man who brought us the incredibly revered Drag Me To Hell, Sam Raimi (also responsible for the Spiderman movies, which are a little cheesy compared to the better of that genre) is about to make a World of Warcraft Movie. Here’s a little bit of his work:

Yes, this is only a taste of some of the theme’s you’ll get in the WOW movie. I particularly like the seance. And that old woman’s teeth. Maybe there will be some awesome ghouls in this or some giant, badass, green hairy piglike creatures.

I’m going to say right now, too, that I have no knowledge of whether Warcraft isĀ  good game or not. I’ve never played it.

I did play Zelda, which was awesome. I mean I spent hours coming home and fulfilling the incredible, action-packed quest of Link. But in no way shape or form would I want to see a movie made out of that.

All this comes in the wake of an announcement of a movie based on Asteroids, which is only cool cause it was before the days of video game plot. Great movie material. A NYT column takes a pretty decent stab at what that will be like.

So all of this is not necessarily to chastise the industry as a whole, because decent movies are still being put out–hence the other posts I had on this subject. But it’s almost an insult to the movie going population to be offered famous video games repackaged into a two-hour excuse to blow some stuff up.

The only thing that would redeem this is if they can pull it off with a kind of postmodern feel to it, a fresh perspective on it that takes itself lightly. But then the people who are absolutely in love with WOW will uproar. Sorry, Mr. Raimi, but you might have picked a doomed project.

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Celebrate with well-deserved fightin’ words

To commemorate the 100th post on the blog, as well as pay respects to Walter Cronkite’s passing, here’s the very first podcast courtesy of the Opinions Blog. Enjoy!

Generation gaps, Mediaite, Cronkite, poor reporting and some indignation all in one link!

Even the Fighting Christian is celebrating, and he's usually cranky about everything.

Even the Fighting Christian is celebrating, and he's usually cranky about everything.

Or click below if you’d rather read the transcript for the podcast…

(Note: My statement that I thought that Clusterstock, the site that John Carney works for was “decent-enough” may have been prove wrong. Damian Ghigliotty, a freelance writer, wrote on his blog about his own experiences with Clusterstock, and it’s not a particularly flattering picture.)

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The Ever Expanding Comic Book Film Industry

If you’ve ever seen some of the old Batman cartoons or that utterly ridiculous rendition with Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze, you can appreciate the leaps and bounds taken by Marvel and DC Comics over the last few years in the film world.

Developed through a sense of actually-decent film making in the Spiderman and X-Men series–at least in comparison to the large budget, non-thought out style of the last few decades–the two comic book titans have started to boast their4 abilities to fund better movies, and it’s most obvious in the choice of actors.

Alongside a couple serious movies, an Aronofsky film being one of them, Natalie Portman has signed on to do Thor, which is set for release in 2011. Granted, she got her start in the Star Wars series, but she has developed into a respected actress, and can bring a larger audience to the movie.

The same was true with Edward Norton in The Incredible Hulk, Tobey Maguire in Spiderman only three years after The Cider House Rules, one of Robert Downy Jr.’s big return movies in Iron Man.

Also noteworthy, former Van Wilder Ryan Reynolds will be Green Lantern. He’s married to Scarlett Johansson, so that makes him respectable, I guess, if only for the sheer fact that any guy would appreciate that.

The real idea here, though, is not just in the better quality of the actors. That’s not entirely new–remember Jack Nicholson as the Joker? More than that, it’s testament to the developing genre that is actually producing some good movies. It’s one that has big plans, too, with Captain America, Green Lantern, Thor, and The Avengers all announced in the last year.

Of course, The Dark Knight can’t escape being categorized into this. It’s DC’s baby over the last few years and damn near took Titanic’s title. I remember. I saw it seven times in theaters.

While none have quite reached the same level as Chris Nolan’s brainchild, which made it as far as winning two Oscars and nominated for another six, it still begs attention, this new genre. It’s used the success of some of the earlier, halfway decent movies, to build a future that film lovers and comic nerds alike hope to see produce some good work

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