it’s the end of the world as we know it

and I feel fine. Really, I do… well, it’s the end of the world of the traditional media industry as we know it, and I feel just peachy about it. Why is this? Well, several things: one was this thoughtful article by the Pirate Party on modern copyright issues in the time of the internet which states a staggeringly obvious conclusion: popular culture has survived in an age of massive digital filesharing, and also the fact that the internet is finally giving people what they want, rather than what one particular group of people thinks another wants.

I’m not really going to talk too much about internet file-sharing, suffice it to say my attitudes are pretty much that trying to profit from selling on someone’s copyrighted work is wrong but sharing something you think is cool for free so that others may see it (no profit involved) is for purposes altruistic rather than selfish so it’s a whole different kettle of fish. I’ve also seen that people are more than willing to pay for things if offered a fair price and treated with respect, and so I think I’m correct in thinking more liberal attitudes towards copyright in general pay off.

What I actually find much more interesting is how the internet is going to change the way we consume popular culture. This is the real reason why we see SOPA and PIPA and all manner of other stupidly named legislation that is trying to hurriedly stuff the genie back in the bottle – we have a lot of scared middlemen who are hurriedly trying to protect their jobs because it’s going to render them worthless. I think a lot of corporations are worried that really in the world of the internet they’re going to lose out and so they back efforts to try and put it under their control, but they don’t seem to really get that in the “new world” there’s still a place for them.

I’ll still go see Battleship, for instance. Even though the story is codswallop I found it entertaining, and so I will pay for the privilege of sitting in a big room for two hours watching a big budget fireworks display interspersed with hilarious attempts at “acting”. I’ll buy Marvel comics, owned by Disney, because I enjoy reading about the characters and the world and again I feel that the owners of that property should be compensated for providing me with those stories. Nothing will change my propensity to go to the cinema or buy physical comics.

At the same time, I’ve seen how the big budget culture can squeeze all the life out of something. I read The Art of Drew Struzan recently, and most of the stories about his work are how a bunch of fuckwit marketing execs and Photoshop whizzkids who thought that clicking a mouse was “talent” basically hounded him out of the poster industry by trying to impose a “vision” based on spurious market research that would guarantee success. The same kind of thing has been happening to quirky games, films and TV – you have something beautiful and clever that gets killed off by a dull-minded fuck who waves a piece of idiotic research saying “the market doesn’t like it” even though there could easily be enough interest in it to finance it but not churn out massive profits (step forward, works of Joss Whedon).

That’s why I’m happy to see that the internet is now turning to make said media execs redundant. It’s cutting them out and allowing creators to get in touch with their audience directly and well, I think it’s going to turn out to make the world a much better place to live in culturally than the one we did previously. Several of my favourite shows are not, in fact, network shows. The GuildThe Angry Video Game Nerd and The Nostalgia Critic are all internet-based and are owned by their creators, rather than being part of “an IP portfolio” sloshed around by execs. I’m sure there are execs involved, but they seem to mostly keep schtum and let the creative staff of each of the shows do what they want.

To give you an example: if you’re on the internet now and haven’t heard of Felicia Day, even just a whisper, then you’ve been living under a rock. Well, actually now you have so I can’t say you haven’t so you’re not living under a rock… uh, anyway I digress. She’s an actress whose work is enjoyed by millions and whose fanbase could easily rival many A-list actors starring in traditional Hollywood films, but instead that audience is going to the internet to see it rather than a cinema.

The Guildher show, is one of the funniest and most relevant shows on the net at the moment. Its humor is based around things I find culturally relevant, and every time there’s a new season out I eagerly await the next episode. Why? It feels a hell of a lot more natural than many sitcoms currently put out by the studios. I sit and watch a traditional studio sitcom and watch someone crack jokes about an internet meme that became old a while ago. I sit and watch The Guild and I see humor that feels relevant and I identify with. I don’t watch the studio sitcom, I watch the internet show religiously as it’s better written and Day hasn’t had some exec who thinks he’s “with it” breathing down her neck sending her notes all the time to maximize appeal to “key markets”.

Another example is Kickstarter. Kickstarter is a funding platform for creative projects, as the site plainly says, and again it kicks the marketing execs and lets the creators directly talk to the viewer and say to them: do you want to see this? For years, we’ve had studio execs sitting there and listening to these pitches and deciding on our behalf if we want to see it or not. A lot of shit has gotten funded, and some beautiful stuff falls by the wayside simply because an exec “didn’t get it”. Well, now someone with an idea can talk to us and ask if we want to see it.

This doesn’t guarantee success for things I think are cool: I’ve seen several shows that appealed to me go unfunded and just collapse (and I got my money back) but it occurs to me that quite a lot more stuff I like will get funding and will be there for me to see in some way, shape or form. I have seen stuff I’ve liked the look of, and contributed something like $5 toward it and some of it has been successful. I’ve liked the look of things that have already closed, as well, and I will buy the DVD. 

I find all of this tremendously exciting. It offers hypotheticals like this: Joss Whedon gets the rights to Firefly back from Fox and comes to Kickstarter seeking funding to make a 13-episode webseries of it. He’d get more than enough money to make it, and the sales of DVDs and associated Firefly stuff would make him a handsome profit. I’d be happy, because rather than lining the pockets of a big studio that didn’t get what he was trying to do with the series the money went straight to him, because he deserves it.

Hollywood promised us in films that the future would be a brighter, fairer place but it didn’t turn out that way, yet. Ironically, Hollywood appears to be actually afraid of that happening but somehow I don’t think it’ll succeed. It might take a while, but I think eventually the internet will help us build a popular culture that reflects what the people really want, rather than what someone thinks they want. Of course, this does give us things like Justin Bieber (thank you, Youtube) but hey – you can’t change the world of popular culture without making a few Biebers along the way… 

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