8.16.2007

Harry Potter (or, The Media needs to back the fuck off, part I)

I have an idea for a new series of pieces about a big topic- The Media needs to back the fuck off.

No, not the so-called "Liberal Media" or the misnamed "Conservative Media," because let's face it- The Media is about money, pure and simple.  Nor is this restricted to the news media- this is everything.  The Media (I use it like a proper name to distinguish the large industry from those little indie film makers who dream about being the next Kevin Smith, or genuinely talented artists and musicians just trying to get a break) needs to back the fuck off.

This idea came when I was reading a private message board and responding to a topic about "What do we do now that there are no more Harry Potter books?"

My first response inside was "Um, be grateful that J.K. Rowling can afford to feed her kids now, and then some, and hope that they are grateful for their mom's labors?"

But that's not what I posted.

Here's my response, which quickly got off on a rant (to borrow a line from Dennis Miller: The Funny Years.  Come back to us, Dennis.  We miss the funny, insightful guy who skewered everyone regardless of political or media affiliation.  Your kids are 10,000 times more likely to die in a car accident than to ever be the victim of a terrorist attack, especially if they don't go to some hotbed country like Iraq or Israel).

Not me. Are [my girlfriend] and I the only people with geek tendencies that don't care about Harry Potter? I don't have a problem with anyone else liking it. The books just don't have that much appeal to me. I have a feeling I would like them a lot if I read them, but I think the runaway success and spikes of hype around the new book releases are what turned me off to the series. Of course, I don't play Madden on my videogame systems (and people who spend most of their gaming time playing Madden or a basketball game are not "hardcore gamers." I don't give a damn what they say- those assholes were the same ones calling us real old-school gamers "nerds" in school). I hate 99% of the crap that mainstream radio plays (I can think of maybe 3 new releases I have heard on the radio in the past year, from bands I didn't already know, that I actually like). Most TV is banal, retread dreck. Even a lot of the films coming out annoy me just from their existence- did we really need Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector? "So you like indie music?" is what I hear when I tell people I hate Top 40 radio. No, because instead of insulting my intelligence by repackaging old songs and overproducing the crap out of them, they insult my intelligence by creating such obtuse shit that no one has a clue whether it is serious or not, then mocking the people who don't "get it." No, I get it, Mr. Indie Guy- you suck, so you try too hard to be "eclectic" and pass off your lousy songs as too "complicated" to be understood by "philistines." People wonder why I like anime and cartoons- it's because animation is one of the few mediums where experimentation and daring concepts are actually encouraged. Even in those fields, there are still formulaic shows designed to sell merch (Dragonball Z, Inuyasha, and Naruto come to mind, even those Inuyasha is by the creator of Ranma 1/2, which is quite good.).
Sorry, Lar, I watch anime and cartoons.  Hope I haven't lost your respect- only about 1% of it is hentai (adult), and I don't think my girlfriend would like that, even if I was interested in ecchi.  Moving on....
Were the older days about "making money by creating art" as opposed to "creating art by making money," or were they just better at hiding it back then? I have become an art curmudgeon- I am so used to the entertainment business trying to shove garbage into my hands, eyes, ears, and even mouth (thank you fast food and tie-in cereals and sodas). Sorry to jack your thread. The short version is this: The Harry Potter books may very well be worth the hype, but I will at least have to wait until the mania has died down. When I can quietly pick up copies and read them without being harassed from all angles by precocious kids, obnoxious parents, idiot fanboys, and (most importantly) media hype, maybe then I will give them a shot. Then, free from people all around me attempting to influence my decision, I can judge the book on its own merits. If it is truly good writing, it deserves my full attention.
Keep in mind that the other members of this forum are net-friends and my girlfriend, so I didn't want to be too acidic.  And who knows, maybe these books are as good as everyone says and it's not just media hype.

I guess I'm going to try to reason it out here. I think it best to start with Part I (since only coders and comic books start with zero), and since a book inspired this, it should be about books.

I will probably end up having to research the New York Times' Best-Seller List at some point. Let's face it, what is one of the biggest accolades a book can get now? No, not all of those medals and awards from peers and industry experts, and not People's Choice awards, but getting on this best-seller list. Being able to put that on your book probably guarantees at least a second printing (unless the book was ridiculously overprinted to start), and it will likely make back the printing costs before it ends up at those half-price book stores that are popping up. Yes, I will have to research it and find out exactly why this list is the big one that guarantees more sales, like an Oscar, Emmy, or Grammy (though it isn't the only one- I will get to that later).

I don't feel like doing research right now. I just want to rant, even if it means being uninformed for the short run.

The reason I won't read the Harry Potter books ever, or at least, not for a while, is because of the ridiculous amount of coverage they are getting, and how stupid people can be when they latch onto something like a full-on fanboy remora, sucking out some semblance of meaning in their otherwise worthless lives. This is something I have been thinking about lately too- sure, I make enough money to pay all of my bills, and I am not in a ridiculous amount of debt, but my job is not that fulfilling. I have been thinking about trying to get a job at a non-profit. Even if it's not my dream job, knowing I am helping a good cause wouldn't hurt. Right now I work at a company that is reaping the benefits of our complicated, greedy, profit-driven medical industry. It's not a bad place to be, but is this really what I want to do with the rest of my life?

Back to the point. First off, as much of a freak as I am, I am nowhere near as bad as these hardcore fanboys, if for no other reason than my weirdness is spread out over several areas (how many video game junkie/beer nerd/anime geek/computer geek/metal freak/aspiring cheese snobs do you know?). Fanboys can sometimes be helpful- well, actually no, because people truly knowledgeable about a genre (as opposed to one series) are not really fanboys. Even if someone is, say, a science fiction geek, he/she will likely have read at least a dozen different authors' works. Fanboys only tend to read 4 or 5 at most in the book realm. Comic books are different because some are artist fanboys (who will buy anything drawn by their favorite artist), others are writer fanboys, and some are more loyal to individual characters or titles.

Anyway, fanboys will look you over if you're in the store and either eagerly attempt to sell you on the book in question, or scoff at you for just getting into it now. This is analagous to those idiot band fans who scoff at anyone just discovering their favorite band. There's a difference between this (using The Cult as an example):

"Yeah, you can start with Sonic Temple- it's pretty good, and easier to get into if you don't know a lot of the band's work, but you should also check out Love, Electric, and the self titled album, because those are even better."

and this:

"What, you're buying Ceremony? Are you an idiot or just a poseur? That's their worst album, and no real fan would buy it. Where have you been? I liked these guys back when they were the Southern Death Cult and, like, nobody in the States even knew who the fuck they were, man."

Which one is going to convince a potential new fan to stick around? In every instance outside the indie rock community, the former will work better. Sometimes I think the counterculture snobs in the indie rock scene do better with the second version. Because the scenesters are sheep, just like those who mindlessly follow pop music. The counterculture types are just a heartier breed of sheep- they have to be, because they have to work harder to know what bands their clique(s) approve and disapprove (instead of being led by Top 40 charts and radio rotation).

For the record, Ceremony may not be The Cult's greatest album, but it still has some good songs on it (and it is still better than a lot of the schlock released around that time).

So that's two factors that might sway a person's opinion- fanboys and best-seller lists. If the book is something the most powerful woman in media (hint: her name starts with "O") enjoys, and she says so in public, that pretty much guarantees at least 2 million sold, even if the book is utter tripe. Let's be honest, a publisher could take a Dick and Jane book, put a new cover on it, and have Oprah shill for it and they'd sell a million of them, easily. Double that if she says "it's a great book for the kids." Fuck, if she was willing to do it, she could make a racist book like Little Black Sambo into a best-seller if she talked it up for 5 minutes on her show. How much power is that?

Fuck the so-called pundits like O'Reilly, Hannity, that filthwhore Coulter, the wannabe filthwhore Michelle Malkin, Limbaugh, and Al Franken....who cares what they think? Get Oprah to like you and you've got something. If I ever write a book, all I need to do is make sure Oprah likes it, and I'll be rich. Then I can write the book I really want to write while a hired accountant counts my money.

As an aside, to any woman out there that is one of Oprah's gyno-soldiers, grow a spine. I'm not saying that you can't watch her, or even buy a couple of things she has endorsed, but find at least 5 things/people/places that she raves about and refuse to like them. Have you own fucking opinion for once. You can watch the woman and even like her show, but stop buying everything she gives the thumbs-up for once. Baaaaa.

Then there's the 800-lb. gorilla in this whole mess (yes, even bigger in influence than Oprah). The advertising agencies, and more importantly, the money they get. When the last book was about to be released, I couldn't get away from Harry Potter short of a one-way flight to Chechnya. Everywhere I went with anything printed on dead trees, I saw a headline or tagline about Harry Potter. On TV, news stories about the potential for people to camp out waiting for midnight so they could buy the book (don't bookstores do preorders like video games or DVDs?). In the theater, trailers for the upcoming movie (based on the last book that every other child in America has already read). On the radio, drive-time DJs making snarky remarks about the "nerds" reading the book- wow, picking on geeks, how original. At least pick on why they can't just wait until the next day or the weekend for the book. Don't lump everyone who isn't a fratboy goon squad member like your listeners (not you- everyone knows you're a geek too, you fucking liar) into one group for your mockery.

There are plenty of sane, rational people who happen to like these books that don't dress in costumes or insist on waiting for hours and hours in line just to be the first to read the book.  Meanwhile, as the nerds wait in line, you and your buddies go drink and fecklessly try to get laid with some equally drunken skanks.  Because hey, that is so much cooler.

Unlike most nerds, some geeks and a few freaks, I stand a good chance of kicking your ass, so shut the fuck up if you can't come up with good material, you worthless shit-spewing monkeyfuck. I used to be a DJ part time, and most of them aren't exactly what you call healthy- the one DJ I knew who could definitely fuck me up was a Desert Storm vet, and he doesn't make fun of geeks because he has bigger, more obnoxious targets to flash-fry.

Then there was the stupid stunt where those assholes went around with a megaphone spoiling the book for all of the people in line. Hey guys, congrats on your 15 minutes, but I have news for you- the only thing lamer than people who stand in line waiting for midnight to buy the hot new book (or anything else, for that matter) are people who go out of their way just to make fun of them. These people are already either losers, incredibly bored, or without joy in their lives (or all of the above). Instead of taking up a challenge and mocking the mainstream cool kids for their ridiculous social standards of what is beautiful, popular, "cool," masculine, and feminine, you pick on easy targets. You're even worse than those drive-time DJs that suck balls, because no matter how lousy they are, at least they are getting paid for it.

So I basically had to turn everything off, and even then, just passing by a newspaper box would expose me to more insinuated sales pitches. I know about the series, OK? I am not going to give in to a flood of ads and buy the book from the sheer weight of the marketing juggernaut. As I have already mentioned (more or less), this turns me off to things like this. I tend to prefer ad campaigns that offer just enough info to make you curious.

Some stores even carried a book that claimed to have the most likely predictions of what the real book was going to be like. A fucking rumor mill in book form. For sale, not just on the Intermuhnets. I wonder how much those books cost now. More importantly, I wonder how many trees died to produce those wastes of paper. I'm not a hippie or anything, but the thought of thousands of trees being cut down to supply paper for something so worthless makes me want to cry right next to that Italian guy who wanted to be an American Indian in the famous anti-litter campaign from the late 70's. Even a tic-tac-toe strategy guide would have more merit in print than this thing.

There's a question for everyone- what happens to all of the stupid campaign t-shirts once the election is over? Nobody wears 'em after that, do they? For another time, I suppose.

Even just a trip to the grocery store yields Harry Potter greeting cards, paper plates/napkins/party supplies, candy, cereal, fruit snacks, and toys. I suspect that even a trip to the fucking park would end up with some stupid parents yammering on about Harry Potter this and that.

People wonder where backlash comes from- this is it. It just dogpiles, adding pound after bonecrushing pound, until you do one of two things:

1) You cave in. You buy the book, and some fruit snacks for the kids, and promise them a Harry Potter birthday party (which they might not even want by the time the birthday rolls around), get them all of the DVDs, and promise to take them to any and all of the movies. 2) In an act of desperation, you do the psychological equivalent of punching people in the nuts and clawing your way out from under the fat pile of oversell. In other words, you refuse to read it, immediately react in disgust, and look with contempt and even a bit of hatred at anyone who mentions....that name, that damnable name again.

So no, I have not read the Harry Potter books. No, I will probably not read them, at least not unless and until I have kids of my own and there's no more hype machine surrounding them. Even then, I am going to do my best to make sure they aren't exposed to the greedy junk surrounding what might be a good book, if these people are right.

On the other hand, I can't blame a single housemother who has had it rough in the past wanting to make a ton of money. It's not like Lucasfilm was with the prequel trilogy. Lucas and company were already filthy rich; it's as though they blow tons of money on the movies just to have an excuse for all the merchandised product. It's certainly hard to make money off ticket sales alone when the budget is ridiculously huge. I think even Harry Potter managed to avoid having his name put on potato chips and sodas.

At least it encourages literacy.  That can't be all bad.

Part II will come....sometime. Don't know which medium I will skewer next, though I kinda touched on all of them here, didn't I?

---END OF LINE---

"I am sorry, but all questions must be submitted in writing."

1 comment:

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