Friday, October 03, 2008

To: WidgetWalls and his media empire.

I would normally not give a person with an inflated sense of ego this much space, but this has to be explained in detail. Because it does have to do with media manipulation.

In my first Dragon*Con 2008 post, I mentioned the event which brought Paul and Storm, Dana Snyder and the following expensive piece of swag to the con. It appears to be a Stark Industries RPG launcher; it is really an expandable poster tube, one of the most useful things given away at a convention. A conventioneer can carry posters home, safely rolled up and in good condition. But...

I expressed my dismay that other performers - namely, the entire filk/Dementia track - was replaced by a commercial presentation. Someone who bought a major convention slot out from under fan-based presentations. Well, the head of that commercial concern - the guy called WidgetWalls - has taken umbrage at this criticism.

You can read the posts he has sent in my previous Dragon*Con post. In it, he pretty much explains who he is and what he's about. To quote from his post:

My company's long term goals are to get me rich enough so I can quit my day job and do what I love to do. Which is write my own stuff and provide content on my website, free of charge, to people, most of whom you would consider fans. And along the way I'd like to get a bunch of my friends out of their day jobs as well.

And my question, which he has not answered, is "At what cost?"

Sure, it's the great geek dream. To make money as a geek. In a greater sense, to be loved unconditionally for who you are. Everyone wishes that the special interest that gives them pleasure would earn them money, respect and love. But WidgetWalls's path to that is to be an advertising agent for companies like Paramount, pushing their products and other items at conventions. That is a path that leads to exploitation - of the conventions, of fandom, and of the ad agent himself.

It's one thing to represent a firm at a con. But it's another to push other people away in favor of pushing advertising at a con. And my concern isn't simply for the convention or fandom itself, great as those concerns may be. It's about the belief that being a corporate tool will somehow get a person respected by that corporation.

Should I mention Harry Knowles of Ain't It Cool News, who three years ago was the fair-haired boy of the movie studios? He managed to make a good living out of recycling the hype about fan-interest films. He got all-expense-paid trips to Cannes and exclusive set tours and interviews with the top actors and directors. To the studios he was the way to get those unwashed smelly kids at conventions to flock to their expensive movies.

He can't do that any more. He was caught abusing his privilege; one of his proteges was found selling bootleg copies of the DVD screeners the studios sent him. While it wasn't Knowles that did it, and while that protege was "disappeared," the responsibility and blame went to Knowles. What's worse, Knowles started offering genuine opinions about some of the movies he was shown, opinions that weren't the boot-licking kind the studios thought they were buying from him. The studios got pissed at him, and they haven't been his Very Special Friends for a long time.

I met Knowles a few years ago at San Diego Comic-Con, at his peak of popularity. I was impressed by him. He had an encylopedic knowledge of films too obscure, too emotional, too non-fan-boy, to promote on his site. He was brilliant and generous to fans. He seriously loves movies, more than anyone I have met in person. But Knowles sold out a lot of his self-respect during the period when Hollywood thought he was the man to attract all of us ignorant geeks to their badly-designed products. He thought he'd achieved permanent fame, and spent much of Comic-Con telling how we could be successfu by imitating his submission to Hollywood. He even gave out hints about how we could sell ads on web sites to make a living from our fan activities. (Sound familiar, WidgetWalls?)

Although he hasn't said so publicly, Knowles learned his lesson. He isn't getting the trips to Cannes any more. He's been more modest about his claims. He no longer talks about doing an animated movie review show with his associate Drew "Moriarty" McWeeny, or being Roger Ebert's new sidekick. He's sticking with running his web site. He's happier without the pressure of being someone else's front man.

Maybe I should recount the recent stories of the phony film critic created by Sony who praised their films to the skies? He didn't exist. Since then, Sony and the other studios have taken a safer route. They have limited advance screenings to people known as "quote whores," who lavish praise on films - sometimes with the quotes written for the critics by the studio's PR department.

It has become impossible for a dispassionate, un-purchased film review to be published in a magazine. The only place you can find such reviews, where nobody is being paid for a favorable blurb, is on the Internet. And Web reviewers don't even get free movie passes any more, unless they bribe a theater owner where the sneak is playing.

Basically, the media megacorporations that employs guys like WidgetWalls want no real critiques of their products. They want us to go to the film, and THEN find out that it sucks, by which time they have our money. And guys like WidgetWalls are replacing the work of independent fans, who aren't being paid for their opinions.

WidgetWalls, your statement says that you hope to become a creative person who is paid for your creativity, and given support by the media megacorporations, by doing their scut work. I will tell you right now that it won't work. You have as much chance at getting your creative shot through this path, as the college students flipping Pizza Hut signs towards oncoming cars have of being invited into brainstorming sessions for the next DreamWorks blockbuster.

Sadly, this is the state to which Americans have become accustomed. You're told that you must suck up to the rich man in order to get the crumbs from his table. And you're lead to believe this is a respectful, even privileged, position to have.

The rest of WidgetWalls's post was promoting his upcoming events. I won't quote them here, even if he sends us another Iron Man DVD rocket launcher poster tube. That's another factor; once you start doing hype, and living for hype, hype replaces thought and soul. You can look up his entire post on the previous Dragon*Con article, if you really like reading ads.

For the record, nobody here at the Cartoon Geeks can ever expect to make a dime, or even get a handshake from Spielberg, for what we do. That isn't saying that we're noble, or that we won't get creative work for pay someday, somehow. (Here's a secret; some of us have done such work, and had to fight tooth and nail to get paid by those rich guys.) We just recognize that we'd rather be ourselves than someone else's thrall. And we believe it isn't who you know that counts; it's what you actually do. That attitude runs contrary to the Rupert Murdochs of the world, but it's making a comeback.

WidgetWalls, your last quote to me was "You live in an interesting world." Well, yes. It is interesting to be your own person. Maybe, after you've been burned by your corporate sponsors, you may get to experience it yourself.

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