Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Anti-Media Media Social Marketing

Check out how a new social marketing campaign from the Ad Council, Ripple Effects Interactive, and McCann Ericson is pushing filtering software and V-chip technology on parents at The TV Boss. For eighteen months, state-sanctioned public service announcements will feature parents kicking fictional characters out of their living rooms. Of course, these public service announcements are careful to make these fictional characters mobsters and drug-users, rather than the homosexual characters who would also be excluded by many rating systems.

You can watch copyright kingpin Jack Valenti praise the new program to the Senate Commerce committee with a panel of entertainment industry cronies flanking him on either side. Feel free to roll your eyes when Valenti casually but very deliberately mentions his attendance at Mass or titter with disbelief when the problem of surveillance-free homes is compared to drunk driving or starting forest fires. You can marvel at how the witnesses' testimony lauds control, monitoring, and surveillance (rather than watching, playing, or listening with your kids) and how "parental responsibility" is equated with "the use of these blocking techniques." Poor Dr. Spock must be rolling in his grave!

When I was a kid I watched a lot of "adult" TV with my parents, mostly because that was pretty much the only time that the tube was even on. I vividly remember seeing I, Claudius, Shogun, and Monty Python's Flying Circus with my folks, shows that would all be blocked by any brute force solution. As a result, I grew up loving world history, based on the cheesy versions of it from my youth. Now that I'm a parent myself, I find myself strongly disagreeing about cyber-safety with Valenti. Besides, these filtering programs don't let you block damaging sexist, racist, consumerist, or environmentally irresponsible messages from reaching impressionable tots.

For more corporate media social marketing designed to put chills down your spine, download the new scare film from Campus Downloading, which is -- of course -- just begging for a remix. See the spooky, off-kilter background behind the prosecuted college student for a section particularly ripe for parody. I might suggest that these Cabinet of Dr. Caligari effects should appear throughout. The footage begins with making "downloading" itself sound like an immoral activity, regardless of whether or not it comes from the public domain or the very pay sites they are promoting. By the way, their list of "legal sites" doesn't include Creative Commons, which is only -- um -- run by law professors, and their list of FAQs contains a seriously distorted version of court decisions about fair use. I was shocked to see the Penn State president Graham Spanier appearing in this farce, where he complained about the "cost" to universities without holding the litigiousness of the recording industry responsible. (Of course, the section of the video about how illegal downloading crashes computers doesn't mention that Windows and Norton will also perform that service for you as well -- and, needless to say, you have to use Explorer to fully use the Campus Downloading site.)

When I was teaching Bertolt Brecht a few years ago, a student brought me a mix CD he had made from "Mack the Knife" covers that illustrated my point about how Weil's music and Brecht's lyrics had been appropropriated by artists with very different political agendas. I remember regretting not having time to play any of it in the class. Instead of giving him extra credit, which I did, apparently I should have turned my model student over to the FBI and tried to get him kicked out of school!

How funny to see this anti-piracy campaign at a time when Wired is declaring the recording industry's obsolescence with Beck as their coverboy, advocating that listeners should be able to "not just remix the songs, but maybe play them like a videogame." After all, this is the summer where the number one hit "Crazy" (of which I am now really, really, really tired) was brought to us by DJ Dangermouse, who thumbed his nose at artistically restrictive laws that prohibited remixing Beatles tunes among others.

I've been doing research on the history of "Social Marketing" and the related genre of "Risk Communication," as special cases of public rhetoric that require some updating of Aristotle's models. I have to say that these latest campaigns from the broadcasting and recording industries really take the arts of persuasion to a new low.

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Blogger Julia Lupton said...

As usual, you're right on the mark. We have very few media rules in our household (many fewer than you, I believe!). We watch lots of adult content shows with the kids, or with the kids around (current and recent favorites include Entourage, Deadwood, and Desperate Housewives). My main concerns for the kids are advertising and crappy preteen sitcomes, NOT "violence," "language," and "brief nudity." We talk to the kids a lot about what they see. Just like my parents did.

8:14 AM  

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