Monday, May 19, 2008

Want some advertising? For $3? UPDATED.


As part of a deal with a discount bookstore, I got a subscription to Entertainment Weekly for a few months. (After which I started to pay for it.) I am cancelling the subscription this week. Let me explain what triggered my gag reflex.

You see the cover. Read it carefully. That's right. Over half the magazine covers the upcoming disaster film, Sex in the City. By "covers" I mean "advertises."

To begin with, Sex is agony for anyone except the flightiest of women and gay men. If you remember the long-running HBO series, it's about some Manhattan women who apparently have no real jobs, but make enough money to dress in drop-dead fashions and the most killer shoes. They have affairs with numerous vaguely-handsome and bland men. They talk a lot about the sexual and emotional relationships they have.

The movie revolves around the wedding of one or more of these women. Be still, my heart.

Those pages in Entertainment Weekly talk to the actresses, briefly. They give the standard actor speech, about how happy they were to work on this fabulous project and how wonderful their co-stars are. They are filled with close-up photos of the clothes and especially the shoes. A pair of lime-green spike heels, with the designer label clearly visible, fills about half a page.

There are a few paragraphs among all those pages that aren't pure hype. They are lame natterings about how things might be different if, let's say, Miley Cyrus was one of the horny women. Or Mark Wahlberg was one of their men. Most of this is in-joke material, funny only to the people who are soaked in celebrity culture up to the nostrils. You think we geeks with our talk of Doctor Who and Farscape puns are closeted and obsessive? Meet some of the Entertainment Weekly writers sometime.

"Wait a minute," you're saying. "Of course this is advertising. This is a Time Warner publication describing a Time Warner movie." Yes. But they made me pay for the advertising.

And the quality of the advertising-as-pseudo-journalism shows. There is flop sweat steaming off the pages. The megacorporation is fearful that anything but adoration and wonder at the appearance of this film will cause the movie to tank. They are so afraid that nowhere in the article is there a hint about the plot of this movie, if indeed it has one.

And what angers me more is that this isn't exceptional. It's become the dominant mode of entertainment journalism, in print or on television. Perhaps the only independent movie critics in commercial media, the last of a generation, are Roeper and Siskel. The host of PBS's movie shows, Michael Medved, is a right-wing Christian propagandist (the show is sponsored by prominently Catholic businesses), which makes him less than forthright - but at least he isn't whoring for a megacorporation, only his political buddies.

On the Internet, things are better. Although Harry Knowles of Ain't It Cool News often descends into hype, sites like Rotten Tomatoes and Film Threat are much more honest than the paid press. The people who see those movies often have to sneak in; the studios no longer give complementary passes to internet review sites. They don't want honest critics. They want media whores.

None of the Cartoon Geeks will act like that. Which is why we don't get free passes to the movies or cheery calls from big celebrities or anything like that.

I can't change the face of movie criticism. But I can refuse to pay for advertising of a movie I don't wish to see. If more people did the same, perhaps we might get honest movie reviews once again.

EDIT: Of course, I meant Ebert and Roeper. But even Roger Ebert can't quite forget Gene Siskel; in the open of his show he has a photograph of his long-time, dearly departed partner on his desk.

Also, I was somewhat unkind to the new generation of critics. There are a few critics with the chops. Stephanie Zacharach of is one of the best. And despite his love of hype (and occasional pandering) Harry Knowles is a knowledgable film historian, an impressive intellect. (Although Ebert couldn't accept him as a permanent partner after one tryout.) You have to hunt for them, though. If there's a flashy party, with glamourous women and handsome men strolling down the red carpet, and paparazzi won't find a solid critic within five miles.