Posts about entertainment

Drowning upstream

Here’s what I think is a pretty solid business tip: I wouldn’t back or bet on a company and industry that’s described this way in today‘s New York Times (my emphasis):

Like newspaper owners, media moguls are looking for new ways to protect their investment from the ravages of the Internet. And, as with the newspaper industry, the answer remains elusive.

I’d rather invest in a company that will take advantage of the new opportunities of the internet, not seeing ravages in the future but instead growth and profit. I’ve said often that protection is no strategy for the future. An industry whose strategy for the future is built on trying to keep us from doing what we want to do and resist the flow of the internet is an industry that is merely biding time. That should be the lesson they learn from newspapers and music.

Yes, I think that the tactic described in that story, put forward by Time Warner’s Jeffrey Bewkes, of enabling us to watch shows we’ve already paid for online makes sense. Indeed, I refuse to use HBO on demand on cable today because they want to charge me extra to watch what I’ve already paid for. So I’ll rush to the chance to watch my shows without having to go through the bother of recording them or paying for them twice.

But the real future is an on-demand future, an unbundled future. Once freed from the forced march of cable bundles, I will buy only the content I want to buy online, no longer being bribed into supporting the 90 percent of cable channels I never watch so I can get the 10 percent I want.

For that matter, what’s a channel? I was an an event last week with entertainment moguls of various camps and one asked another whether the channel would die. The second exec didn’t think so. At first, I agreed, as I pictured myself on the couch watching one of the channels I do care about.

But then I pictured my kids on the couch. They’re not doing what I do. They never just watch channels (tennis matches excluded). They live on-demand. They watch programming only through the web, Hulu, the DVR, on-demand channels. Some look at that future, our kids’ future, and see “the ravages of the internet.” They’re not long for this world; they’re only trying to delay the inevitable. They’re trying to swim upstream against the internet. But they’re only going to drown there.

Help with the Googlewood chapter

I’m a little stuck on teh chapter I’m writing for my book now: Googlewood, how movies, TV, and entertainment will change thanks to Google. I have plenty to say but I need one of those great surprising insights you all have (flattery will get me everywhere). So if you don’t mind, please help and share how entertainment can and will change in the Google age. As always, thanks!


I was unimpressed with Borat. The most chortlable moments, for me, were slapstick (bear growls at kid from ice-cream truck after one-hour setup). Is it easy to find Americans whose morality, common sense, and intelligence are outweighed only by their hospitality, who are good at making asses of themselves and us? Obviously so. But biting social commentary? I wish. Brilliant buzz marketing is more like it.

Of course, I’m quite alone in this view: in the growly 4 percent amongst the commoner critics of Rotten Tomatoes. 100 percent of the creme de la ketchup loved it.

Let Manohla Dargis (Kazakh name, don’t you think?) speak for them from The Times: “The brilliance of ‘Borat’ is that its comedy is as pitiless as its social satire, and as brainy. Mr. Baron Cohen isn’t yet a total filmmaker like Jerry Lewis. . .” That line was funnier and more embarrassing than most of the movie.

This is mostly an opportunity for critics to think they can do shtick. Witness Paul Arendt at the BBC: “Welcome to the reviewing! Here, we in processes of making mind up for yous: Question: to go to cinegraphic house and see Borat, hilarious new celluloid making from funny prankster Sacha Baron Cohen, or stay home and milk chicken?” Give up your day job . . . please.

It is also an opportunity for critics to talk down to the rest of us, to let us know that they’re in on the joke and its greater meaning, as is everyone outside of Kazakhstan and Texas. Jim Emerson at Roger Ebert’s site: “The full title is ‘Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.’ Every single word in that title (including ‘for’ and both ‘of’s’) is, in its context, really funny. If you have to ask why, then you probably won’t understand why ‘Borat’ is funny, either.” Thank God you’re here to explain the joke to me, Roger.

What isn’t an opportunity for The New Yorker to find some great and otherwise-undiscovered social abstraction. Pontificates Anthony Lane: “Who is Sacha Baron Cohen? We know that he is British, that he is Jewish, and that he studied history at Cambridge, where his cousin Simon is a professor of developmental psycho-pathology. Sacha has entered a no less delicate field. He is a squirmist: a master of SECS, or Socio-Ethnophobic Comic Simulations, in which he adopts fictional personae and then marches briskly into the real world with a mission to embarrass its inhabitants.”

It is an opportunity for critics to get hiccups. They often do. Joe Morgenstern in the Wall Street Journal: “Borat may be dangerous to abdominal health; there must be a limit to how many convulsions a belly can take without trauma.” My belly’s just fine. So were those of people in the theater, who did laugh, but none to the point of hospitalization nor even spit take. I mean, he’s no Jerry Lewis.

It is an opportunity for critics to engage in hyperbolic leapfrog. Chris Hewitt in the Pioneer Press: “Borat is the funniest movie of the year, but is it also the smartest?” Lou Lumenick in the New York Post: “This is take-no-prisoners, social and political satire in the tradition of Jonathan Swift and Lenny Bruce. . . This is the finest and most thoughtful comedy released so far this century.”

Gene Seymour in Newsday: “Borat IS the quintessential movie comedy of our times – whether you like it or not.” So there.

And it is another chance for unknown shmucks to get their names in lights, that is blurbs: “Face it, Borat is the funniest movie ever made!” says Orlandoweekly’s Jason Ferguson! Ever!

I’m hardly saying it is a bad movie, only that for me it certainly did not live up to its buzz, hype, or reviews. The movie’s not a disappointment. The criticism is.

Mel, Mel, Mel

Mel Gibson compared the war in Iraq to the human sacrifice by Mayans in his new movie. Well, if you want to talk about human sacrifice in the name of religiosity, look no farther than the suicide bombers sent to murder by their elders.

The sun sets on Hollywood

Peter Preston writes in the Observer:

. . . Professor Jeremy Tunstall has just written a successor to his magisterial 1977 study, The Media Are American. It is called The Media Were American.

Tunstall’s thesis is simple, but jolting. Of course America still floods the world with movies, music and TV shows. And, of course, their combined value climbs higher and higher. But if we’re talking something different – market share – then the US is in headlong decline, and has been for nearly 50 years. Discount around 100 annual hours of bigbudget movies and the residue is a pitiful, shrivelled thing.

India, China, Brazil and Japan (to name but four) have media exports of their own that equal or outstrip any imports. China, with 1.3 billion people, relies overwhelmingly on home production in local languages. So, with a bow to Bollywood, does India. Egypt looks after the Middle East.

The bigger Latin American countries make most of their own popular media now – and export lurid soaps to Spanish-speaking channels everywhere, including the US.

So at last we can stop being accused of ruining the world with our tawdry entertainment.