Hard News by Russell Brown

Creative Indigestion

In last Sunday's Star Times, Kim Knight wrote a feature on the apparent persistence of sexist advertising. It reads a bit like the editors decided it'd be a good topic before they went out and tested the hypothesis, because most of the examples are frankly tenuous. The Nutrigrain ad where the teenage son eats his cereal and helps his mother with various improbable feats of Nutrigrain-assisted strength? Really?

To be sure, there's more skin than ever on show in certain sorts of advertisement - but it's almost wholly in the service of products targeted at women. Go figure.

Ironically, if you were in pursuit of unflattering and insulting depictions of one gender you'd have a lot more luck if you looked at the way men are depicted in middle-market TV commercials. We're blithering idiots, apparently, although capable of rescue and redemption through the use of certain products. Honestly, if you cast wives and mothers the way husbands and fathers are cast (often with the intention of flattering female consumers) there'd be an uproar.

The feature, perhaps for want of material, does venture into the men-are-stupid genre, but it picks some odd examples. I'm not even remotely offended by the Tui billboard about men looking good in speedos (yeah, right), let alone of the belief that it's about "objectifying men or making them feel awkward about their bodies," as Camilla Belich, co-president of the New Zealand University Students Association, suggests. I'm sure she's a good person, but I think we left this sort of stuff in the 80s.

Regarding the niceties of the BBC's Creative Archive licence and the extent to which it allows sharing outside the UK, I was lucky enough to be able to put a couple of questions to Paula Le Dieu, the head of Creative Commons International and the first leader of the BBC Creative Archive. Specifically, whether sharing the clips on a UK=based website (or from a filesharing service) breaches the licence, and on the implications of a possible move to make CA material available to non-Britons for a fee (which could imply, bizarrely, DRM on commons files). She said:

The terms of the licence do not include any requirement for DRM or TPM measures to be put in place when re-distributing the Creative Archive files. Therefore, if I as a Brit resident downloaded material from the archive and then decided that I wanted to put it on my website for download that is fine. The license requires that the consumer of the material is in the UK.

With respect to a pay system - it is far from clear as to whether this is the way that the Beeb will go in terms of international access. As you are probably aware they are experimenting with a number of different models of content access including a fully DRM'd, view only model called the Interactive Media Player (iMP). The reality is that DRM and the Creative Archive model are not compatible.

The best analogy that I have come up with is that DRM is like an envelope, a very secure envelope (at least that is the intention!) with one of those windows on the front. The idea is that the experience of the content is via that window. The envelope ensures you can't get to the content on any other terms other than intended. When you come to try and reconcile that with the Creative Archive model you come to understand that Creative Archive explicit encourages you to open the envelope, take out the contents, throw the envelope in the bin, mess around with contents and never put it back in an envelope again!

We're hoping to bring you more of Paula in 2006 … And might I also say thanks and Merry Christmas to the British reader who just happened to put up a selection of the BBC "iconic moments" clips on a website I just happened to find.

Anyway, interesting range of readers' views on the merits of the Kong film. Francis Wevers thought "it was great - even got a tear at the end when Kong died," and Toby Manhire called Kong "a magnificent, joyful motion picture - loved every minute of it, despite the bladder-challenging length. Shame the same can't be said for Narnia."

On the other hand, Edmund King said:

I'm not sure Jackson should be let off too easily on the racism issue - especially in the portrayal of the Skull Islanders. Obviously, they're not supposed to be 'real' in any documentary sense (although, geographically, they would be Andaman Islanders, who have had a hell of a lot of racism flung their way since their 'discovery' in the nineteenth century), but they do crystallize and express (in a really powerful sense) any number of racist stereotypes about cannibal islanders/savages. I can kind of see what Jackson might be doing here - taking elements already present in the '33 version and, by turning the amp up to 11, problematizing them.

The problem is though, by importing elements from a less reflective time in cimematic history and combining them with the imagery of '70s Amazon cannibal and Italian zombie movies, Jackson's created something new in the Skull Islanders, and I'm not sure that it's any less racist than the earlier version. It certainly felt as 'off' to me as the portrayal of the orcs in LOTR -- where Jackson performs a similar elision of dark skin and pure, unthinking evil.

As my wife commented to me as we left the theatre, 'I know Don Brash is in the ascendancy at the moment, but Jesus...'

Gotta disagree. I took the whole point of going OTT with the Skull Islanders to be that they were meant to be something out of a movie, rather than anything from life.

Geoff Lealand agreed with Edmund:

Most of the time I agree with you, Russell--but not in respect of King Kong. I started looking at my watch 60 minutes in, and groaned inwardly (there being sufficient audible groaning on the screen!) when I realised there were another two hours to go. It is all too big and too excessive and all I want to do now is go to small film with a strong narrative and well-rounded characters (Little Fish, maybe?). As reputedly the sixth-most expensive film ever made, maybe we need to ask, 'was it money well spent?"

In respect of your comments about racial portrayals--the exaggerated 'natives' might have been acceptable in 1933 (the original Kong was a contemporary film in that it was made in 1933 AND set in 1933) but I felt that Jackson, Walsh and Boyens could have displayed a little more post-colonial sensitivity!

Speaking of monkeys and stuff, a judge appointed by Bush has quite thunderously come down against the teaching of "intelligent design" in school science classes, and criticised the "breathtaking inanity" of the decision by the Dover Area School District to order that ID be taught as science. Wow.

Right-wing political correctness is descending on Steven Spielberg's Munich before it even opens. Spielberg seems as entitled as any other film-maker (more than most, actually) to present a nuanced perspective on the 1972 Olympic massacre and (more particularly in this case) its aftermath, but, as usual, the trusty conservative forces of freedom want to shut down the speech of others. There's a good column by Michele Goldberg on Salon about the furore.

Meanwhile, the populist loon elected president in Iran has followed up his appalling comments about Israel and the Holocaust by banning Western music from the country's TV and radio stations. Uh, wasn't the invasion of Iraq going to triggering a flowering of secular liberalism in neighbouring countries? Or did I get that wrong?

The Greens want New Zealand to stop sending spy-base data to the US because it could be misused. You know it's not gonna happen, but they have a point. A Defensetech story hints at the idea that Echelon has been part of the illegal domestic spying programme in the US. Although the useful-idiot brigade (hello Power Line!) has fallen into line, even conservative commentators are worried. Some say it's an impeachable offence.

Newsweek says Bush tried to get the New York Times to kill the story. And now a separate Times story reveals that since 2001 the FBI has monitored such dangerous domestic groups as vegans and Catholic Workers. AmericaBlog notes that under the same policy a "kiss-in" staged by a law school gay-rights group was monitored as a "credible threat" of terrorism. Yes, really.

Meanwhile, check out this female Iraq vet running for Congress as a Democrat - the video interview (conducted two days after she left hospital after months of treatment and rehabilitation - she lost both legs and the use of an arm) is quite long, but she's strikingly good. The NYT has a backgrounder.

And finally, human occupation of northern Europe goes back way further than anyone thought.