13 July 2010

Pot, Meet Kettle

Today's link sausages all have a considerable aspect of "Pot, meet Kettle: You're both blackmelaninically enhanced". The first and last arise through a crunchy fond of delicious irony, the middle one through a rhetorical failure that, on examination, becomes a problem with some substance. Like gristle. These are, after all, sausages.

  • Nikki Finke writes at Deadline Hollywood:

    Both [new Hollywood/TV/media] editors are veterans of The New York Times but have zero showbiz expertise. Because we all know that it takes no special knowledge to cover Hollywood, right?

    <SARCASM> Right you are, Nikki. Just like it takes no special knowledge to describe legal developments in and around Hollywood. </SARCASM> Like not misstating the scope or effect of a British Columbia court's preliminary determination of a "poison pill"'s validity on the takeover battle for a studio; or not misconstruing the ridiculous, unethical complaint filed against Mark Toberoff by Warner (et al.) over the Superman rights battle; or any of the other pervasive errors of legal meaning that you, and your colleagues — and they are your colleagues, however much you try to pretend that you're different — at Variety and THR and the LA Times and TMZ, continuously commit... and thereby mislead both your readers and yourselves.

    I'd snidely mutter "grow up" or something like that under my breath, but we are talking about H'wood here.

  • I'm also going to pick a bit on an agent for a misstatement... or, rather, the failure to include a definition. Rachel Gardner, in trying to help authors understand that not every rejection is, well, a rejection, says:

    If I get, say, 400 to 500 queries a month, and I can only say yes to a couple of them, there's a really good chance that there are perhaps dozens of amazing, worthwhile projects in there. I still can’t take them all on. The numbers don’t work.

    It's a supply and demand issue. The supply of good writers outweighs the demand for them.

    (emphasis in original) Well, no. It doesn't... unless one is constricting the definitions of "supply" and "demand" and "good writers" inside the horribly cramped, unrealistic frame of "as perceived by the actual decisionmakers — including S&M, accounting, etc. — at publishers, most of whom do not actually read the works in question." If one accepts that frame, then the statement begins to make some sense.

    The problem with Ms Gardner's failure of definitions is twofold. First, and most obvious, it equates the demand at this step in the process — demand by publishers for works by authors — with demand for the writing itself, which must necessarily include the demand by the reading public (and all of the other intermediaries, like H'wood, and bookstore distributors, etc.). If this was an actual equivalence, there wouldn't ever be such a thing as a surprise bestseller or surprise bomb.

    Second, and more subtly, it assumes perfect competition with perfect information... because that is the fundamental requirement for supply and demand to be at equilibrium. One of the seldom-acknowledged corollaries of the equilibrium assumption in neoclassical economics is that the farther away from equilibrium a given transaction occurs, the greater the probability that nonreplicable, nonrational factors are acting to influence the price and quantity (or even existence) of that transaction. Whether there is anything in publishing — let alone an entire transaction, and not even trying to imagine publishing as a whole — that comes even close to qualifying for equilibrium is an open question at best. Publishers certainly do their best to prevent authors (and agents) from having adequate, let alone perfect, information; when's the last time a royalty statement showed even as much information about actual marketing expenses as appears in a net-points reconciliation out of H'wood?

    My point here is that the good writing is the only thing in the author's control. If good writing was all that mattered, we wouldn't have "James Patterson" and Dan Brown et al. and Stephanie Meyer leading bestseller lists, and Thomas Harris wouldn't have been allowed the shenanigans he got away with for the most recent Hannibal Lecter novel, etc., etc., etc. That said, the author simply cannot afford to worry about those factors not in her control: Instead, as Don Maass implies (but, sadly, doesn't explicitly say), the solution to having problems with getting published is to write a better book.

  • Much as it pains me to support anything from the empire of Evil (and its battalions of Stromtrüppen1), sometimes they do something good for freedom... like challenge the prudery of the FCC on so-called "fleeting expletives." The Second Circuit ruled today that:

    As these examples illustrate, the absence of reliable guidance in the FCC’s standards chills a vast amount of protected speech dealing with some of the most important and universal themes in art and literature. Sex and the magnetic power of sexual attraction are surely among the most predominant themes in the study of humanity since the Trojan War. The digestive system and excretion are also important areas of human attention. By prohibiting all “patently offensive” references to sex, sexual organs, and excretion without giving adequate guidance as to what “patently offensive” means, the FCC effectively chills speech, because broadcasters have no way of knowing what the FCC will find offensive. To place any discussion of these vast topics at the broadcaster’s peril has the effect of promoting wide self-censorship of valuable material which should be completely protected under the First Amendment.

    Fox Television Stations, Inc. v. FCC, No. 06–1760 (2d Cir. 13 Jul 2010) (PDF), slip op. at 32. This does not mean that, on the upcoming anniversary of his death, George Carlin's notorious seven words routine can be broadcast in prime time. It damned well should; Pacifica Foundation was wrong even when it was decided, cf. Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15, 16–18, 22–26 (1971), and — as the panel points out while saying that it can't overturn it — it is even less applicable now, see Fox TV, slip op. at 15–18.

    So maybe we can let Janet Jackson's boob rest for 0.6sec now. Which leads one to wonder a great deal about exactly what the FCC should have been doing with its time and money... such as some actual bloody oversight of self-dealing and other abusive practices by media magnates.

  1. As in Strom Thurmond. And the multilingual puns. What's scary is that it took less than two seconds to go from typing "empire of Evil" to that thought...