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Help prevent fan abuse

June 16th, 2011 | Et Cetera

All publicity is good publicity. – P.T. Barnum

Poor, dumb Harry

I’m a bit late to the game on this, but I still feel the need to say something, because this is important. The issue is this: fans are being abused. The history is long and familiar: fans create derivative works, and copyright holders force a takedown. Granted, much fan-produced work is of little interest to others, but occasionally fans produce strong, original content that seizes the attention of the rest of the fanbase. These works present the source material in arresting and creative ways, building on the original while not detracting from it. As many have pointed out, these “derivative works” should be protected under the “fair use” exception, and yet copyright holders persist in ordering takedowns of fan-produced works, claiming infringement.

This hurts everyone–including the copyright holder. I will elaborate.

What led me to write about this was the expulsion of SF Debris from YouTube. For those of you unfamiliar with him, Chuck “SF Debris” Sonnenburg is an amateur reviewer of Star Trek episodes (among other things) and has for several years been creating video reviews using his trademark combination of silly jokes and insightful analysis. Prior to the takedown, he had posted reviews of over a hundred episodes of Trek on YouTube, including multi-part reviews of all the films through First Contact. Unfortunately, as Sonnenburg uses clips from the shows to illustrate his points, CBS views him as being no better than a pirate, and effectively forced him to remove his entire archive–the product of years of work–from YouTube.

While Sonnenburg is in the process of transferring to blip.tv, which attempts to protect its users from these kinds of claims, this nonetheless is a setback for him, as he now has to reprocess all these clips before he can bring them online again. This is also unfortunate from the standpoint of his fans, because we no longer have access to most of his archive. And, finally, this is bad for CBS, too. Here is what the studio fails to realize: fans are providing free advertising. I first found Sonnenburg’s work while looking for information regarding Voyager‘s most notorious episode, the infamous “Threshold.” (In which Tom violates the laws of physics, turns into a salamander, and has salamander babies with the  captain.) Sonnenburg had already posted a three-part review of the stinker at that point, and I was delighted by it. Naturally I began watching more of his reviews, and as I did so I was reminded of the fact that, flawed though it is, I actually kind of like Voyager. Suffice it to say I have since bought three seasons of the show (3, 4, and 6, which my research leads me to believe to have the best good/bad episode ratio). I likely would not have done so if not for these reviews.

When fans produce derivative works, they are not violating a copyright. They are celebrating the source material, and this can only lead to good things for the copyright holder. Fans are a precious, precious commodity, and persecuting them is perhaps the stupidest thing a creator can do. By eliminating sources of discussion within the fan base, they risk destroying the fan base altogether, and the fan base is, of course, where the money comes from. Honestly, who else is going to buy old episodes of Voyager anymore?

I will continue tuning into blip.tv every Saturday to see the new SF Debris reviews. I have faith that they will continue to be funny and insightful even as the Star Trek franchise continues its forty-year nosedive. And if CBS has a change of heart and allows him back onto YouTube, and they make more money thereby… too good for ‘em, I say.

Five Legitimate Words Which Must Die, Preferably Now

November 27th, 2010 | Et Cetera, Writing

Anyone can hate the word moist, or hideous portmanteaus such as staycation or funemployment, but never to be outdone, I have here assembled a list of otherwise perfectly legitimate words which I humbly submit should be excised from the English language at the soonest opportunity.

In descending order, #1 being the worst:

5. Like – In either of its uses, be they I like this or So I, like, went to this, like, etc. etc. The former usage listed here is not really wrong in any sense, but I take issue with how commonly-used it is considering its shallowness. These feelings were, of course, grilled into me by four years of art professors, but regardless of my reasons, I now have a low tolerance for like. Now, of course, Facebook is exacerbating the problem by  sticking those stupid Like buttons all over the internet, encouraging us to think in meaningless binary terms of Like and Dislike. Don’t cooperate. Use more specific terms and say how you really feel about something whenever possible. When the word like is what works best, do at least elaborate on what you mean by it, because it doesn’t mean much by itself. (This is my disclaimer, I guess, since I’m currently working on a multi-part essay entitled “Why I Like Star Trek.”) ¶ The second usage listed there needs no explanation, I think. Stop doing that. Please. Just stop.

4. Boyfriend / girlfriend – Who introduced these horrible constructions into the English language? Vague, infantilizing, and cumbersome, this duo of outmoded terms has been used to describe any number of different kinds of relationships. I suggest we scrap both and replace them with about six different words (preferably gender-neutral) that will do the same thing in better ways.

3. Trafficking – Not a bad word really. Perfectly useful in many contexts. That said, can we please either reform how it’s spelled or restrict it to spoken language only? I know it wouldn’t read correctly without that K in the middle, but it looks wrong!

2. Gorgeous / Scrumptious (tied for 2nd place) – These are just plain ugly words, both of them used to describe things that are ostensibly good. They sound like they ought to describe vile space aliens rather than beautiful/delicious things.

1. Gubernatorial – Undoubtedly the ugliest word I have the misfortune of knowing. Egad. I can’t even begin to say what this word sounds like it should mean; it’s such an unholy combination of sounds that all I can think whenever I see it is ick. Let’s change this, please, and pretend it never existed.

Now, in an attempt to make this post slightly less negative, here are three words which I enjoy:

1. Idiom – Makes me laugh every time. “Stupid idioms!”

2. Bludgeon – Something about the sound of this word is very amusing to me.  blʌdʒən. Naturally it’s somewhat of a guilty pleasure considering its meaning. Ouch.

3. Defenestrate – Another guilty pleasure. I know defenestration is bad, but come on, we have an actual word which means “to throw out of a window!” What’s not to like? Heck, I’d jump at a chance to be defenestrated, assuming proper safety precautions, just so that I could use the word.

Zombies Are Stupid

October 31st, 2010 | Et Cetera

Hahaha, zombies are like sooo awesome, amiright? Zombie invasion OMG!

As you can probably guess by the above burst of interwebspeak sarcasm, I am growing very tired of the zombie meme. Why? Well, there’s one simple reason: Zombies are stupid.

zombies_stupid

They’re stupid because they’re one of the most implausible threats I’ve ever seen contrived, and their bizarre blend of bad science and reliance on hacky magic leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
Zombies are not, of course, the first popular doomsday scenario to encompass both bad science and magic; see 2012 for another example. My problem with zombies, though, is that for some reason I cannot begin to understand, they’ve been embraced by the “smart people” crowd as a cultural touchstone of sorts. ThinkGeek, the quintessential “stuff for smart masses” site, carries endless amounts of zombie-related kitsch (second only to “pop culture junk” in my list of things that have reduced my esteem of ThinkGeek). The zombie invasion has already begun, starting on the internet and spreading out into the real world, despite the fact that zombies are an absolutely incredible threat and anyone who can think should know better.

Allow me to explain.

First, a word of background on zombies. According to the Skeptic’s Dictionary, zombies originate in Haitian voodoo traditions, in which a voodoo practitioner would poison a victim with a pufferfish extract; resulting in a temporary death-like state followed by brain damage after revival. These people were called zombies, and were used as slaves by the voodoo practitioner.

The zombies prevalent in our culture today, however, are literal corpses, slouching around and moaning in a very un-corpselike manner. Here’s why that’s stupid: by their very definition, corpses can’t do anything.

Death follows a number of predictable stages, none of which are particularly conducive to zombieism. The first is pallor mortis, in which blood circulation effectively ends. Our bodies rely on blood to function, without blood nothing works.
Soon after the pallor mortis, mere hours after death, rigor mortis occurs. This involves chemical changes in the muscles which cause them to become stiff and immobile. After a few days rigor mortis subsides, but that’s because the muscles begin to break down. It is very difficult to lurch around without any usable muscles.
Decomposition begins swiftly. Living organisms enter the body and begin to break it down. (Eyes are always among the first things to go, though zombies are nearly always depicted with eyes for some reason.) Decomposition means that a body is falling apart, and though depictions of zombies usually do acknowledge this, they seem to assume that the body can continue to function while it’s decaying, which any amount of thought should be able to discredit.

To account for these problems, one must assume that zombies are animated by magic. How else could a decaying body be animated? Puppet strings? Stop motion? And yet a common trope of zombie fiction is that zombies are caused by some sort of pathogen. Furthermore, in many cases zombies can be killed by traditional projectile weapons, which generally work by the destruction of flesh–and as I think we’ve established, zombies are falling apart already and seem to have no particular problem with it.

I don’t have any problem with fictional doomsday scenarios on principle. They can be fun to imagine, and can make for some exciting stories. Zombies, however, just strike me as so implausible and contradictory that I don’t have any patience for them. I don’t know why ThinkGeek and other normally-rational people have become so enthusiastic about them, but I highly recommend that we leave the zombies to the writers of terrible horror movies and come up with our own doomsday scenarios for smart people. Bring back the nanomachines, gamma-ray bursts, and evil space aliens!

Zombies want your brain. Don’t let them get it.