The same gracious people who introduced me to Diamond & Silk also approached me with a suggestion that I watch the so called "Trump episode" of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Knowing my time constraints and quality standards, they weren't very insistent. They said, "We think you may want to watch this one episode." But I didn't need much convincing anyway. After all, I liked John Oliver's Britishly offbeat, overly serious persona as a Senior British Correspondent on The Daily Show. I was excited when he got his own HBO program and even watched the premier on its first airing. It was quite good, but not stimulating enough to get on my must-watch list. Plus, I was somewhat creeped out by the overly excited John Oliver. So, that first episode was also my last. But if people I respect singled out another one for me, why not?
Granted his audience is small - it averages 0.9 million viewers per episode. Still, to go in front of 900,000 people and advertise yourself as a complete nincompoop, desperately ignorant of the most elemental insights every political commentator simply must have - that requires some seriously engorged balls. How he isn't dead from embarrassment is difficult to understand for someone like me. I mean, whatever subject he touched: public relations, social responsibility, campaign finance, corporate vs. individual contributions, wealth management, commercial lending, real estate, subprime mortgage industry, licensing - to put it mildly, he didn't know what the fuck he was talking about.
Well, I understand that John Oliver is "just a comedian" and encyclopedic standards should not be applied. But the power of political satire has always been in the full grasp of the subject matter. That's what gives laughter substance and makes it an effective weapon. Of course, I know better than to expect such quality here; still, he's got some gall talking out of his ass like that. Why discuss intangible assets with such authority, for instance? Trust me, it takes some heavy-duty modeling to evaluate those. My best guess is that Mr. Oliver is completely unaware how uninformed he comes off. Who's going to tell him? He is probably surrounded entirely by like-minded folk.
But forget the intellectualism; the most shocking element of the program for me was Mr. Oliver's conspicuous hatred toward Mr. Trump. The level of outrage, the voltage of disdain! You would think that Donald Trump's political agenda included cancelling the Bill of Rights and setting up labor camps! (Wait, that's the candidate on the other side, isn't it?) John Oliver was literally exploding with venom! At certain point he reached the state that can only be described as explosively deranged.
This spitting of lies and saliva at your opponents are, of course, the gold standard of yellow journalism. This is exactly how it's done: stretching some tweeted scheduling inaccuracies of a man, whose appointment book is fatter than John Oliver's head, into political lies; or reducing one of the most critically acclaimed musicians of the 21st century (albeit a controversial personality), who smashed hip-hop standards and garnered high praises from the likes of Paul McCartney and Lou Reed, to a "sociopath with a finger-free anus." I guess, that's the brand of programming HBO was expecting when they gave John Oliver what he describes as "creative freedom."
And making fun of immigrant's names?!!! That's just unseemly. It's nice for Mr. Oliver that his name originates in such deep WASP annals that it's unlikely to be misspelled here in America. But many Americans had there original names changed for the sake of assimilation (including Clinton and Sanders) or, even more frequently, misspelled upon entry by immigration clerks. My mother is a Cohen. There is like a hundred variations - Coen, Cohn, Kahn, Kohn, Koyen, Kagan, Kogan, Kogon, Kogen. Ask you friend John Leibowitz (a.k.a. Stewart), Mr. Oliver, and he will explain to you that these are all the same names. And my own names, both first and last? I can fill a volume larger than John Oliver's Earth book with misspellings. I am unequivocally in support of everyone's right to declare their political views; and, like Voltaire said, I will die for their freedom to do so; but that name bit has nothing to do with politics and it felt like a personal affront to me.
This whole tasteless attitude directed specifically towards one presidential candidate has all the makings of media bullying. And it sort of feels like HBO's mandate, doesn't it? First, Oliver's outrageous escapade. And now Ms. Lena Dunham, another HBO alumna with an even tinnier audience (700,000 viewers per episode average) but a larger bag of scandalous tricks, "threatens" the world with a promise to move to Canada if Donald J. Trump wins. Wow, some people! Not only their feminism but even their patriotism is skin-deep. "I don't like the executive part of my government, so bye-bye America!" I would expect a bit more gratitude to this country from someone with pilgrims on one side and Jewish immigrants on the other side of the family. But way to put yourself back in the news with this political barbarism!
Don't even get me started on the improbability and the emptiness of this threat! Moving to a "lovely place in Vancouver" and getting her "work done from there" only makes a person a short-term visitor to Canada. It's just silly! Trump still will be her President, she still will be paying federal taxes, and without a proper visa she will be asked to leave fairly soon. Giving up US citizenship and actually immigrating to Canada - that would be a serious step. And it's also a seriously difficult process. Unless she already has a Canadian family, gets a job in the oil industry, claims a political refugee status (no, Trump's presidency will not qualify), goes to school in Canada (a temporary solution anyway), marries a Canadian (maybe Taylor Swift can hook her up with Justin Bieber), or deposits $7.5 million with the Canadian government as an immigrant investor (with the supposed net worth of $12 mil and the only alive project going into the last season - I don't think so), she will have no chance to become a Canadian. But let's say her celebrity status gets her there somehow. I can only imagine her shock when she sees the tax bill and the diminished consumer basket she will be able to afford with the remainder of her earnings. And all those gynecological issues she habitually bares for the general public - they will be subjected to the state-run Canadian medical industry; very different from the wonderful care she receives in one of the best hospitals in the world here in New York.
Yet, apparently more celebrities are joining this unpatriotic trend of "moving to Canada" threats. Well, it just shows you how politically unsubstantial, unjustifiably empowered, uninformed, and removed from reality these people are. Ignorance is a bitch. If I were on Hillary's campaign I would've recommended her to immediately separate herself from this anti-American movement.
I cannot help but wonder whether these self-righteous entertainers with overblown egos (as well as their HBO bosses) understand that at the end of the day they are nothing more than tiny bolts in a humongous, stock-market fueled, corporate machine, i.e the Time Warner Inc. conglomerate, whose CEO makes $35 million annual salary. And come to think of it, considering the content-driven business model of a premium cable network such as HBO, this could be just a ploy of exploiting Trump's trailblazing persona for the sake of maximizing the big corporate daddy's profits and public stock values. I mean, the media is flooded with Lena Dunham's face like never before; and, according to HBO's statement, John Oliver's Trump episode broke the network's social media viewership record with 23 million YouTube and 62 million Facebook views. Isn't it amazing how Donald J. Trump's Midas touch works? He even turns the shit thrown at him into gold.
But you know what the scariest thing is? It's how fascist the supporters of both the democratic candidates are! They don't leave room for others' right to speak freely at all. These people are militant. One has to be really brave to declare her opposition to Hillary or Bernie in the liberal circles of New York and Hollywood. I guarantee you, these liberals wouldn't even think twice before secretly blacklisting such a daredevil. And heroism is dead (okay, almost dead). And so, with the exception of a few, people hide their true beliefs and yield under the oppression of these bullshit-spewing fanatics.
Olivia Pope: Twice as good as them to get a half of what they have.
Scandal, Season 3, Episode 1
The Frustrated CFO's Comment:
I'm not placing this excerpt into quotation marks. First of all, it's not an exact citation - on screen it gets all broken up, because the characters interrupt each other with anger, frustration, exasperation, and all other similar feelings; Eli is yelling, and Liv is sort of shudders and attempts to shy away - all those over-the-top dramatics and stuff. More importantly, though, it's not an original phrase. Shonda Rhimes, who actually penned this episode herself, is brilliantly entertaining, but she didn't come up with this maxim. Many African-American journalists, bloggers, and celebrities commented on its wide-spread popularity in their families and communities. Some even tried to date it - 70s, 50s...
The truth is, however, this concept doesn't belong exclusively to black people of the United States. In fact, everywhere around the world similar formulas are spoken in different languages to bright and promising children who will have to spend their lives jumping over the barriers raised in front of them for no other reason than their minority status: Kurds in Turkey, Chinese in Indonesia, Hui in China, Indians in Uganda, Rohingyas in Burma, Jews and Gypsies wherever they are, etc., etc., etc.
Furthermore, the applicability of this mandate goes way beyond race and ethnicity. The same mantra is adapted as a way of life by every marginalized overachiever even in our blessed land we call "Free Country:" women going into "men's" professions; immigrants with strong accents attempting to climb corporate ladders; members of LGBT community trying to get a job outside of the fashion and the entertainment industries; overweight and deformed individuals applying for any position; young talented people without connections trying to break into especially nepotistic fields - the list is long.
Growing up a Jewish girl in one of the most anti-Semitic of European countries, I was barred from many professional careers and life opportunities. And in those that were permissible, someone like me had one chance in a thousand. My personal slogan was even more maximal: I had to be the best just to get in. Was I able to completely shake off the disenfranchised complex after nearly three decades in America? Fat chance! For starters, I'm a woman...
Tags: Eli Pope, ethnic minority, minority groups, Olivia Pope, racial minority, Scandal, Shonda Rhimes, you have to be twice as good
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In the TV business, summer traditionally has been considered an off-season. Primarily because the broadcast networks' prime series go on a 4-month hiatus after completing their 20+ episode seasons. Nowadays, of course, it's not all that relevant for TV viewers, because... Well, for multiple reasons, really, but to name a few:
First of all, if you prefer edgier premium cable series, your TV viewing patterns are driven by 2-3 month seasons scheduled at different times throughout the year: Shameless airs January through March, Game of Thrones and Silicon Valley - April -June, Masters of Sex - July-September, Homeland - October-December, etc. Even if you are into blending your TV cocktail out of cable and broadcast ingredients, you most likely use on-demand and DVR options to accommodate your personal schedules and to fill the airing gaps. Plus, some broadcast networks now have "summer shows" - short-seasoned and "limited" series aired specifically to cover the off-season void: Hannibal, Wayward Pines, Under the Dome, Aquarius, etc.
The most important factor, however, is that we've stopped being restricted by conventional TV ever since Netflix came along. First, they made the idea of going to video stores and looking for something to watch unnecessary. We were so grateful for digital searching, online ordering, and USPS drop-ins and drop-offs. But then even walking to the mailbox became unnecessary, because they made a tremendous volume of content available for IP streaming, including rare and obscure movies, shows, documentaries, anime, etc. from all over the world!
They didn't stop there either - they got into creating their own original programming. And then Amazon followed suit! As a result, we got access to gems that make me feel as if I am living through some sort of an indie renaissance via the Internet: House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black, Peaky Blinders, Grace and Frankie, Sense8 (Netflix originals), Transparent and Mozart in the Jungle (Amazon's originals). It's fucking incredible!
Moreover, not only that streaming content is available everywhere you can go online, it's available in whole seasons. There is no waiting for weeks at a time until the next episode; no mid-season separation anxiety; no loss of vital details from previous weeks. Technically you can watch a 12-episode season in one day. It is my understanding that some people actually do that.
Netflix had at their hands the best market-testing sample imaginable - their entire subscription base. They must've noticed early on that a large percentage of the viewing population doesn't restrict itself to one episode at a time. They even installed a special probe at the start of the third consecutively watched episode to test whether you are actually binging or have simply fallen asleep on your couch. Brilliant!
Yes, binging - as in excessive indulgence, as in manifestation of addictive personality traits. Not a new thing, really. TV networks (USA especially) have been scheduling rebroadcasting marathons since the 80s. By offering this opportunity to audiences with pretty much any kind of preferences, Netflix forever altered the cultural lives of millions of people.
The phenomenon itself became a marketing tool for Netflix's competitors, who want you to know that you can replicate this experience with them as well: This summer, Amazon actually used the phrase "binge on your favorite shows for free" in its promotional messages for Premium subscriptions. HBO, still holding onto their highbrow status, softens it by offering you to "feast" on your past and present favorite shows on HBO GO.
Poor David Foster Wallace warned, way before streaming had become a household concept, that Television is the one and only true American addiction. He predicted that catering to user demand for content of their choice whenever and wherever they wanted it (remember the "direct dissemination"?) may irrevocably alter us and potentially result in the crumbling of human will.
But who am I to judge? Yes, my life is too busy for hardcore binging and I refuse to watch an episode of anything on my goddamned iPhone, but I've been taking advantage of on-demand entertainment ever since it was first introduced by American cable providers 15 years ago. Then came iTunes 6.0 (2005). Today - Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus, HBO Go, Showtime Anytime - I've got them all, including a Fire Stick to carry them with me wherever I go.
But that was not the topic of this post, was it? (Too bad you cannot hear me laughing at myself.) This was meant to be a brief introduction to the shocking fact that, even with all that variety of quality entertainment on hand, at some point in July I found myself with my personal TV time-slot empty. And let me tell you, that made it hard to ignore the binging and feasting callings of the content pushers.
I browsed the variety of offerings and ended up with The Good Wife on Amazon Prime. It used to be one of the shows I watched during its active seasons - all the way through the middle of Season 4. But then, 2013 announced its arrival to Netflix with their first two major originals, plus Top of the Lake, plus The Fall, the first season of Broadchurch, etc., etc. I'm a busy woman - something had to go. Now I picked up where I left off.
I have to admit, assuming you manage not to paralyze your life or degrade your mental and motoric agility, watching multi-season, multi-episode shows without gaps measured in weeks and months has its undeniable benefits. Complex and intricate storytelling loses some of its power when it's broken up into weekly installments and then gets shelved away for 4 or more months. Reducing these gaps not only allows for a more detail-oriented viewing, it also gives you an opportunity to assess the show's merits and values in a more coherent way.
Aside from the most obvious and well acknowledged attributes of The Good Wife - strive for realism; acute attention to the impact of technology on our lives; honest depiction of shifting morality; head-on tackling of race, class, gender, sex, and all other divides - what I like the most about the show is its refusal to label itself as a single genre. We can definitely identify it as a Drama, but the range of applicable modifiers is quite long - family, political, crime, legal, courtroom.
But what I realized while watching seasons 4 through 6 now, was that in it's wardrobe full of genres, The Good Wife's favorite outfit was the Workplace Drama. One law firm, another law firm, State's Attorney's office, governor's office, clients' businesses (including a drug-distribution organization), you name it - all of them are depicted as places of employment. And the human relationships inside these businesses play essential roles in the show's storytelling. The office politics, alliances, squabbles, hiring, firing, promotion, compensation, peers' competition, subordination, fraternizing, partnerships, resignations, harassment, even telecommuting - all of them have been used as plot points.
Once I started noticing, I've found so many typical and easily recognizable Human Resources issues, it was hard to pick the following ten:
But the most valuable life lesson one should take away from The Good Wife is that you should never ever burn all the bridges and cut all the ties, because you never know with whom you may need to partner next.
Tags: Alicia Florrick, Amazon Prime, binge-watching, Cary Agos, Lockhart & Gardner, Netflix, original programming, streaming content, streaming TV, summer TV, The Good Wife
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On Saturday, August 22nd, internationally famous British street artist and social rebel Banksy declared his latest project Dismaland open to the public.
I've noticed that many commentators rushed to label the large-scale art installation dystopian, but I tend to disagree. Dystopia is an imaginary place where everything is scary and bad. But Banksy's mini "park" in Weston-super-Mare (UK) is an artistic re-imagining of a fairy-tale theme park in the harsh light of our miserable reality. From what I've seen, instead of saying, "Imagine if everything was horrible," the site screams, "Take off your pink glasses and see the horrors around you. Look in the mirror and see who you are."
While Dismaland is basically a collective art show (50 artists in total) and Banksy himself contributed only 10 pieces of his own into the mix, it is first and foremost his aesthetic concept, his political declaration, his social commentary. And even if you never bothered yourself with an interpretive analysis of art and know very little about this artist and his work, as long as you know something you most likely know that
Knowing this makes it hard to resist a thought that, regardless of the artistic merits and social significance of the individual pieces inside, a stationary installation with a six-week limited run and a daily allotment of only 2000 tickets priced at a laughable £3 is Banksy's latest experiment in human behavior. His name itself is a perfect sensationalistic stimulus required to initiate the chain reaction ripe with observational material. He already knows what an attraction he is - his 2009 Banksy vs. Bristol Museum show was attended by 300,000 people in 12 weeks.
It started immediately. As soon as Dismaland's site came to life the day before yesterday, 6 million people attacked it trying to pre-book the admission tickets; crushing the site. We cannot know what proportion of these people were scalpers, but a few tickets (most likely fake) are being offered on eBay for $700. (It's worth noting that the "park" would have to stay open for over 8 years to accommodate 6 million people).
Now that the online ticketing is disabled (supposedly temporarily - until Tuesday), people are queuing in person and there are definite reports of ticket hopefuls camping out around the site. Of course, it is only the second day of the show, but it is easy to imagine that the number of campers will only increase.
For those of us who stayed for hours and sometimes days in front of museums just to get in, or concert venues to win a place by the stage, it is easy to envision further developments: lists organized by orderly art-lovers, marks on hands, attempts to join a "party of friends" upfront, offers to buy someone's place for an exorbitant amount of money, yelling matches, and fist fights.
Things like that happen around events that only last for a few hours. This one will be open for six weeks. So, those with the especially strong propensity for an escalation of commitment may be there for days upon days with limited access to food and hygiene - dirty, unfed, angry, and semi-violent "art lovers."
Remember? Dismaland is an absurd version of a Disney park and the most dismal part of a Disney experience is the lines. Recreating that in an extreme way is an art piece of its own right. Every single person trying to get in becomes a part of Banksy's art project and even more so when they finally get inside and start wandering among the attractions.
So, ask yourself: Do you want to be a part of Banksy's social experiment? It's up to you to decide whether it's more important to attend and be a subject in it, to watch from the sidelines through media, or to purposely not engage. Banksy's Cinderella's Castle centerpiece seems to be asking the question - what will it take for people to look away?
Acknowledgement: Special thanks to Y.A. Crow for invaluable advice and inspiring editing
Some topics simply cannot let you be. They are just way too potent. For example, some time ago, in Part I of my Arts & Entertainment by the Numbers series, I already addressed the matter of earnings one can expect to generate if he or she decides to become a "writer." If you recall, it was established that, with a few exceptions primarily driven by seductive (literally) subjects, or notoriety (oh, I am sorry - fame) of the authors, or some magical (again, literally) mass appeal, there is not much money in writing.
Of course, I didn't talk about ALL "writing." That post was focused on books, both fictional and not - the self-contained multi-page opuses that come into public distribution through more or less conventional channels, which in our contemporary world include not only the old-fashioned publishing houses, but also self-publishing (including web-publishing) and on-demand-printing. The latter have been pretty much commandeered by our ubiquitous mega-villains, Amazon and Google.
Surprisingly, the vast majority of books are still printed and bound; and pretty much all of them are digitized as AZW, EPUB, IBA, PDF, etc. publications. From my personal experience I can tell you that royalties on e-books, being profitability based, are actually much higher than on the printed copies. As you can imagine, distribution of files costs a fraction of physical printing, shipping, etc.
Of course, books are not the only products of the "writing" professionals. I fitted playwrights into Theater and screenwriters into Movies. And I didn't want to discuss the earnings of conventional journalists, not only because I am really appalled by the contemporary standards of that trade, but also because there is nothing particularly special about their compensation. It's basically a pay scale - no different than the one for any back-office workers.
According to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an average reporter or a correspondent makes about $21 per hour, or $43,780 a year. Of course, those working in publications with household names, especially in DC or NYC, or at cable and broadcasting venues, earn above average. But even then we are talking $53K-$60K annual salaries. Nothing glamorous.
If famous faces of Barbara Walters, or Katie Couric, or Matt Lauer pop into your head, stop it - those people might've started as journalists early in their career, but that's not what they are now - through some peculiar twists in their fates they've become multimillion-dollar TV personalities with roomfuls of staff who do the actual work and get paid what I said above. Moreover, as far as I am concerned, the professional comedians Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher, and John Oliver turned out to be much better newsmen than all those other smiley faces.
But forget all that! The remarkable thing about our electronically permeated era (as far as the writing is concerned, of course), is that the majority of the "written" words nowadays floats in the realm of computer codes; resides on some servers in the unknown to the authors locations. The vast majority of that majority is motivated into existence by a singular intangible incentive - the writer's desire to verbally express his/her opinions and ideas; it's produced for no material reward at all.
This includes over 10,000,000 (that's 10 million!) individual and collective blogs, which produce over 4,000,000 (and that's 4 million!) posts every day (hence, my utter surprise that my own humble entries are consistently found and read by people from different countries); online fiction publications; fan-fiction entries into various pop-culture Wikias, unpaid entries (in hopes of exposure) into a multitude of e-zines, etc., etc. It's all created for no pay and mostly available for free (if you don't count the unbearable assault of advertising on more popular sites as your cover charge - I do).
And even those who appear to be writing not on spec but on assignment or write on spec but get syndicated, possibly generating fees and royalties for their digital words at such giant contentmongers as, for example, The Huffington Post - nobody seems to know for sure how much money they make. Well, people close to the subject probably have some scattered bits and pieces of information, but it's so sparse and inconsistent, it's impossible to draw any solid conclusions. In fact, the aforementioned Bureau of Labor Statistics simply gives up on the matter, basically admitting that the new media is so, ahem, new that there are no set rates and no correspondent statistics.
But I am not an official government agency - I am just a curious person armed with my common sense and capable of making logical conclusions. Moreover, I have the freedom to extrapolate, speculate, and infer. And infer I shall.
The first fundamental truth about online presence is that the majority of people religiously believe in its powers of publicity. Hence, the said number of blogs, shameless exhibitionism of facebook pages and personal sites, endless YouTube videos, etc., etc. - general population thinks that if anybody can "be found" today, it will be online. A few miraculous stories of the Internet exposure actually leading to "fame" only reinforces this belief. (And the sea of content is growing exponentially, if you catch my drift - but that's another topic). In context of our subject this makes me think that those who get published in popular online outlets agree to do so for next to nothing, i.e. for much less than even conventional writers get.
The second fundamental characteristic of the Internet itself as a business is that the majority of revenues generated by non-eCommerce websites, if any, come from online advertising, at least for now (I think this situation is going to change, but that's, again, another topic). Advertisers, just like the general public, have their own system of the Internet faith - the click-per-view conversion. In the web environment, the old admen rule of placement for the maximum consumer impact gets a statistical dress-up: a certain number of views results in a click on the ad's link; a certain number of clicks, in its turn, converts into a consumer acquisition, i.e. a sale. Everyone is invested into the same idea: the more views, the more clicks, the more sales; hence, the popular pay-per-click pricing formula. As a result, the online content is monetarily valued on its potential viewership.
This made me think that the most logical way for an owner of a content-driven website to compensate a contributing writer would be based on some rate-per-view (just like YouTube with its videos). The question is how much? What's the digitally published word worth? Apparently, even Labor Statistics officials don't know - most likely because reporting those earnings is still a gray area.
Ah, but that's what the Internet is actually for - the information superhighway. If something piques your interest and you know how to formulate your search, you will find what you need: like the large UK blogging hub on everything pop WhatCulture.com (they are absolutely right - they have nothing to do with Culture, concentrating primarily on blockbusters and gossip in film, big hits and gossip in TV, mega stars and gossip in music, plus gaming, sports, WWE).
The site's content model is based on accepting (not guaranteed) and publishing other people's submissions. On their Write For Us and Get Paid page they openly solicit material from the potential contributors (Lists! Lists! Lists! That's their preferred format - "9 Reasons to Be Excited About Arrested Development Season 5" or "10 Actors Who Really Don't Belong in the Upcoming Movies" and shit like that). Therefore, the "get-paid" rate is openly disclosed right there: £0.40 ($0.62) per 1,000 views.
Aha! With that in hand, let us entertain ourselves with some arithmetical exercising: Yesterday, the most-read entry in the film section of WhatCulture.com was "10 Things You Need to Know About Captain America: Civil War" - it had 1.3 million views, thus generating its author $806. Not bad, assuming he put it together pretty quickly. Theoretically speaking, if you can pop one of this every day, 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year, you can actually earn $210K annual wage!
But the probability of it, of course, is quite slim - not only because no one on their own can research and write 260 entries a year, but mainly because it's hard to achieve such viewership: for example, the most read TV article had only 223 thousand views ($138.26) and the top one in a deeply hidden Art division (the only one in the whole site I personally found interesting - 10 Up and Coming Portrait Photographers) attracted exactly 2000 readers ($1.32 worth). The audience's interest is fickle.
This site is big and popular - the effort of a full-scope statistical analysis goes beyond my level of interest (I am sure the management has all the numbers readily available to them), but my quick-glance conclusion is that the average views per post is about 50,000 or $31 value. So, ladies and gentlemen, even if you can do three of those a week, the more realistic earnings would be a modest amount of $4,836 per year.
I say, don't quit your day job for this just yet - that is, of course, if you have one.
Just like every other New Yorker, I have experienced the rush of LIE's giant billboard ads coming at me on the way out of and into the Midtown Tunnel on numerous occasions. You cannot really avoid the experience - there are just too many possibilities that can draw you that way: JFK, LaGuardia, US Open at Flushing Meadows, its next-door neighbors the Mets, your relatives in Queens, your suburban friends with their Near Long Island homes, and maybe even rich acquaintances with summer residences in the Hamptons. Hey, it's possible you just like sitting in traffic for hours. Whatever is the reason, the majority of people who live in or visit NYC have been exposed to the visual calls of various brands, upcoming movies, TV seasons' premiers, etc. strategically positioned on that particular spot between the boroughs.
Liberal extremists and snooty hipsters unconditionally reject all forms of commercial publicity as the front-end of consumerism (yet, they all support it by the sheer fact of having facebook accounts and iPhones). But I'm no hypocrite - I don't simplistically dismiss advertising and even consumerism itself as evil. In full honesty: quality objects are quite necessary in my life for aesthetic, utilitarian, vain, and psycho-therapeutic reasons. Quality being an operative word, of course. Unfortunately, the majority of contemporary promotions target general public that cannot afford quality anymore. And it has been reflected on the ever-changing billboards.
Over the years I've experienced a broad spectrum of reactions to the images coming into my view on LIE. At worst, they've ranged from "Who the hell is this ad for? Billionaires?" to "God, that's just cheap and ugly!" And at best, I have been pleasantly surprised by the resurrection of a high quality classic (Longines); awed by the first digital installation (FreshDirect); excited by the success of a small business (7 for All Mankind - unfortunately, they sold out to a global conglomerate VF within a couple of years); inspired by the social changes we have witnessed (Queer As Folk).
Sadly, in the last couple of years my reaction range narrowed to one very intense sliver of irritation, but at least the billboards were largely occupied as recently as four months ago. Imagine my surprise last weekend when I saw that less than 50% of the boards were actually covered by promo bills. I don't think I've ever seen them like that.
No, wait! There was a period back in, I believe, 2012 when a lot of ads had to be taken down and boards dismantled due to the strict enforcement of the billboard laws related to the size and distance requirements. But it is safe to assume that both the space owners and advertisers overcame the regulation hurdles, since, as I said, I just recently saw practically all billboards occupied.
So, that's not it. What then? Two things, really - the national impoverishment and the incurable social-media degeneracy.
You see, the billboards are not cheap. It's not Super Bowl prices ($4.5 million for a 30-second spot this year), but still - an LIE billboard rents for about $30K per month. And that's at the time when every single company that targets the consumer market with its goods or services MUST make room in their advertising budgets for GoogleAds (which also owns YouTube), iAds, facebook, Twitter, etc.
Multiply that consideration by the wavering consumer confidence (I don't care what the "official" numbers are showing) compounded with the dwindling buying power and you come to the point when even the companies selling the highest volumes of consumer goods have to start making tough choices: whether to allocate $300K per year to a physical spot with a maximum of 210,000 possible views a day (LIE's 2014 auto throughput) or to a virtual spot tied to some viral YouTube video that generates 5 million views in 5 days.
The empty spots along the expressway testify to the choices the companies are making. It's totally opportunistic, of course. Moreover, from my POV it's also totally short-sighted - there are so many existing and potential problems with online advertising, I intend to write a separate post on the subject. It is possible that we are yet to see the times when advertisers will be fighting for the physical publicity spaces. But for now, more and more billboards along the highways and on the City's buildings will go empty.
I have a feeling that even the famous and fabulous digital screens at one of the most visited places in the world (50 million visitors a year), Times Square, may end up going dark at some point. After all, nowadays the tourists and locals alike are mostly looking down at their electronic devices, not up. So, it would be only fiscally prudent for the consumer-oriented companies to spend $1M-$4M a year (2015 rates) some place else.
And I find it very telling that the most gigantic (the whole block, 77 feet tall by 323 feet long, 20 pixels big) and the most expensive ($2.5 million for EVERY 4 WEEKS) LED advertising screen was taken by the company that makes billions on online advertising - Google. They can actually afford it easily.
Of course, the blank billboards are good news for graffiti artists like Rambo - more real estate for them! There is a poetic justice in that: the promotion of consumerism gets replaced by the guerrilla art. Historically, the explosion of street art always went hand-in-hand with the economic downfalls. That's why in the past it frequently (and expediently) turned into Prop Art - going from philosophical expressionism straight into political activism. People should remember that as a valuable lesson in social science.
In my opinion, it's not accidental that the crumbling of our ecological and socioeconomic environments coincides with the aesthetic degradation we are experiencing right now - when people bow to false idols and nepotistic, masturbatory garbage is passed as the "contemporary art" by the pushers from auction houses and big-name galleries. I can only hope that real artists will fulfill their soul-changing mission and force people to look away from their little crack-emitting handheld displays and up at something awesome and powerful.
Joe Caputo (Litchfield Penitentiary's Assistant to the Warden): The fish stinks from the head. And I'm not the head! I am actually down by the gills somewhere. So, once I call the police and US Marshals; and the DOC investigators start sniffing around, it's going to look a lot worse for the 'Director of Human Activity' here at Litchfield!
Danny Pearson (MCC appointed Director of Human Activity): Whoa!
Pearson: Whoa! Yeah...
Caputo: Whoa, whoa, whoa! Yeah!
Pearson: Slow down! Why do we have to involve all those people?
Caputo: We have an escaped convict!!!
Pearson: Let's just go get her back!
Pearson: You and me. Where did they take her?
Caputo: The bus station in Utica.
Pearson: Let's just get into a car. We'll go get her, bring her back. Yeah! Nobody has to know.
Caputo: So, you're saying, the two of us should go and apprehend an escaped convict? This is not The Fucking Bloodhound Gang! Okay?
Pearson: Well, I don't know what to do! I honestly don't know what the fuck to do! Do you know how I got this job? My Dad is one of the SVP's at MCC.
Caputo: (smirks and nods his head in full comprehension and disgust)
Pearson: Yeah... This is going to be worse than when I got kicked out of Ohio University... I have no idea what I'm doing..
Caputo: Fine. I'll go. On my own.
The Frustrated CFO's Comment:Most shows experience some sort of a slump in the third season - the story exhausts itself, the characters become too familiar, writers run out of surprising ideas. Not this show, though! This 3rd season! It's so good, some critics and viewers rate it higher than the fist two! There is so much excellent, nuanced stuff! And this Caputo guy, who got promoted by the producers into a main character - I painfully relate to his plight of never-ending bad decisions. There are always insults added to his injuries: not only that he gets a new boss, but it's somebody's useless offspring on top of it. You just know, there is no happy ending for Caputo - he'll never get out of prison.
Generally speaking, all benchmarking techniques can be defined as ranking of a process or a product against another process or a product with similar specific metrics of known values. Financial benchmarking in particular focuses on the comparison of the financial results with a purpose of assessing overall competitiveness and productivity. The beauty of this research tool is in its potential to uncover some underlying reasons behind the comparative results.
While it's difficult (yet not impossible) to apply generic correlative methodologies to such subjective, ambiguously immeasurable, and predominantly qualitative characteristics as artistic values of cinematic products, fiscal aspects of the movie-making are not only comparable (as previously outlined in Arts & Entertainment by the Numbers III), at this point they are the chief driving force behind the big-screen output. It's that competitiveness, y'all! "C.r.e.a.m get the money. Dolla Dolla bill y'all."
Let's not forget that financial results are accounting reflections of the micro-economic patterns of supply and demand. Movies, being consumer products, specifically depend on the behavior of the consumer market; even more categorically - on the tastes of the viewing audience.
With that in mind, I would like to sketch out a simplified financial benchmarking exercise based on the most recent installments of two movie franchises (identical products competing in the same markets) that came out on the same day, 05/15/15 (another identical metric) - Mad Max: Fury Road (a terrifyingly believable upgrade of the post-apocalyptic high-octane series with Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, and Nicholas Hoult) and Pitch Perfect 2 (a hard-to-believe Cinderella-type contemporary chick-flick-with-singing about an a capella group on the road to stardom with Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, and Elizabeth Banks; the latter also produced and directed).
Mad Max opened on more screens: 3702 vs. 3473, yet Pitch Perfect 2 made $69.2 million (230% of its rumored $30 mil budget) during the opening weekend - $23.8 mil more than Mad Max whose $45.4 mil barely returned 30% of its $150 mil budget. Here, in our blessed USA, the fiscal gap between the two movies keeps only expanding: As of yesterday, Mad Max's domestic gross ($143 mil) was already trailing Pitch Perfect 2's by $34 mil.
Numbers don't lie: A handful of them is all we need to clearly show that American general public prefers to see a movie full of inexplicable plot turns and dialogue pearls akin to
"Fat Amy: Listen, I don't want you guys to fight. You're Beca and Chloe, together you're Bhloe and everyone loves a good Bhloe."
instead of taking a hard and honest look at the future that already awaits us around the proverbial corner, notwithstanding the high cinematic standards, tight script, awesome directions in all divisions of the process, and NO CGI (!!!)
Of course, making back multiples of the budget and fattening the pockets of producers and distributers pretty much guaranteed Pitch Perfect 3, which is already set to be released in 2017. On the other hand, if people behind Mad Max: Fury Road had to rely only on the US distribution, the $7 mil deficit would pretty much kill all the chances for the filming of the next installment - Mad Max: The Wasteland. Thankfully, there are international distribution channels.
And overseas results are quite opposite to what we observe here at home. The universal appeal of Mad Max's sci-fi realism yielded the film $202.5 mil of foreign revenues, making the total box office as of yesterday $346.10 mil.
On the other hand, I can't even imagine how translators deal with that Bhloe crap in the subtitles. So, it is not surprising that Pitch Perfect 2 made only $94.5 mil outside of US, with 51% of that coming from English-speaking countries of UK, Australia, New Zealand, and the Netherlands. In many countries the movie stayed in the theaters only for the opening weekend. As the result, its worldwide box office now totals $272 mil, or $74.1 mil less than its competitor in this example.
That's gross, of course. Nowadays, it's hard to overcome a $120 mil budgetary differential. Thus, the singing chicks are still $46K more profitable than the depiction of our damaged Planet and her marred inhabitants.
One can argue that today $150 mil worth of resources is too high of a price for any movie, good or bad. And I agree, but spending any resources at all over and over again on crap that furthers the process of human degeneration is simply criminal.
C. G. Jung: The Red Book (*****)