27 June 2011

The Video Game's Not for Burning

Since I often feel like the publishing industry wouldn't just be glad if I was burned at the stake — it would sell pseudocelebrity personal reflections on the otherwise-unheard-of incident...

  • Just what educational publishing needs: One of the imprints most prone to reinterpretation of contracts in its own favor in American educational publishing is being purchased by a unit of one of the most rapacious publishers out there. We've got both kinds here: Country and Western.
  • The Atlantic has a fascinating article on Weird Al and the changing acceptability of "parody" that rather emphatically, if nonspecifically, cuts the definitional legs out from under Justice Souter's ill-considered distinction between parody and satire in 2Live Crew.
  • From the department of buggy-whip manufacturers' complaints: Oh, my, J.K. Rowling's turning of the tables on chain bookstores has resulted in a tempest in a teacup (and outraged bloviation) from established chains... but, interestingly enough, very little open and public reaction from either specialist stores or true independents, whether over here or across the Pond. And the irony that her print publishers will be depending upon her to accurately account for and timely pay their shares of e-book royalties is just far too delicious for words...

    In this instance, the main interest is in defining what the buggywhip is... and who the buggywhip manufacturers are, and how they got into the business. As the lovely and talented Sarah Weinman implies in the first link in the preceding paragraph, the "problems" are not with either all bookstores or even all kinds of books; they are, instead, with a submarket: Event-laden, brand-driven bestsellers (and cheap knockoffs thereof). Haven't we seen this relatively recently in American retail? Perhaps in the demise of Montgomery Ward; the bankruptcy of K-mart; the transmogrification of Sears, including the sordid subtales of Dean Witter and the Discover card; even the bankruptcy of Borders (which, not at all coincidentally, was driven by the expectations and corporate culture forced upon it after K-mart bought the chain in the early 1990s)... My point is that the "marketplace," such as it is, is changing at a substantially greater velocity than the expectations, perceptions, and abilities of land-based-wealth investors, including both shopping-center landlords and the gentleman-farmer-and-mine-owner investors who control so much of publishing itself (specifically, the foundations for the fortunes that created von Holtzbrinck, Bertelsmann, Pearson, and Lagardere). That is, the "proper place" for bookstores is for noncommodity publishing — which requires treatment almost from beginning to end that is at odds with the notions of efficiency taught (however ineptly and however incorrectly) in business schools across the globe.

  • From the department of not-judging-a-book-by-its-cover, there's a fascinating piece on the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund's efforts on behalf of an American who was "caught" with manga on his computer when crossing the Canadian border. This leads to a meta-inquiry that is being largely ignored: Without actually reading the material, how was this individual supposed to know that it was contraband? And the implications of that lead to...
  • This morning's haul from the Supreme Court. No, really.

    Although not the first decision announced, I'll deal first with the one that authors (among others) are waiting for: Brown v. Entertainment Merchants' Ass'n, No. [20]08–1448 (PDF). By a 7–2 count, led by Justice Scalia, the Court held that California's attempt to prohibit sale and/or rental of "violent video games" to minors violates the First Amendment... if nothing else, because it failed to include so much else in the prohibition that is at least equally questionable:

    Even taking for granted Dr. Anderson’s conclusions that violent video games produce some effect on children’s feelings of aggression, those effects are both small and indistinguishable from effects produced by other media. In his testimony in a similar lawsuit, Dr. Anderson admitted that the “effect sizes” of children’s exposure to violent video games are “about the same” as that produced by their exposure to violence on television. And he admits that the same effects have been found when children watch cartoons starring Bugs Bunny or the Road Runner, or when they play video games like Sonic the Hedgehog that are rated “E” (appropriate for all ages), or even when they “vie[w] a picture of a gun.”

    Slip op. at 13 (citations and footnote omitted). And this, of course, is the other meta-inquiry that the preceding item implicates: Would it be equally inappropriate for an individual to cross into Canada with a copy of the novel Lolita? How about a copy of either the Kubrick (1962) or Lyne (1997) films? How about a graphic-novel adaptation thereof? Worse yet, how about that individual's sketchbook for a graphic novel thereof? As Neil Gaiman says in the second of the two videos from him linked today, we (fortunately) have a first amendment to deal with things like this; unfortunately, Canada does not. The ultimate point is that we do not want governments (in theory) or low-paid government employees actually encountering this stuff without adequate supervision (in practice) making these decisions... any more than we want lawyers deciding artistic similarity (third bullet point).

More later today, or perhaps tomorrow; for the moment, Life calls.