(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘entertainment

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function”*…

The Long Tail

One the one hand: Ted Gioia suggests that, while ‘The Long Tail’ was supposed to boost alternative voices in music, movies, and books, the exact opposite has happened…

When I first heard people predict the rise of the Long Tail, I was amused. Not only did it seem wrong-headed, but it ran counter to everything I saw happening around me.

It pains me to say this—because the Long Tail was sold to us as an economic law that not only predicted a more inclusive era of prosperity, but would especially help creative people. According to its proponents, the Long Tail would revitalize our culture by expanding the scope of the arts and giving a boost to visionaries on the fringes of society.

Alternative voices would be nurtured and flourish. Music would get cooler and more surprising. Books would become more diverse and interesting. Indie films would reach larger audiences. Etc. etc. etc.

Hey, what’s not to like?

But it never happened. More to the point, it was never going to happen because the story was a fairy tale. I knew it back then because I had been hired on a number of occasions to analyze the Long Tail myself. But the flaws in the reasoning are far more obvious today, even to me.

Nonetheless many believed it—and many still do. So it’s worth digging into the story of the Long Tail, and examining exactly why it never delivered its promise.

And maybe we can find some alternative pathway to that lost cultural renaissance by seeing how this one went off the rails.

On the other hand: Cal Newport suggest that Kevin Kelly‘s fourteen-year-old prediction that an artist could make a living online with a thousand true fans is (finally) coming true…

In his “1,000 True Fans” essay, Kelly explains that he wasn’t as excited about this new economic model as others seemed to be. “The long tail is famously good news for two classes of people: a few lucky aggregators, such as Amazon and Netflix, and 6 billion consumers,” he writes. “But the long tail is a decidedly mixed blessing for creators.” If your work lives in the long tail, the introduction of Internet-based markets might mean that you go from selling zero units of your creations to selling a handful of units a month, but this makes little difference to your livelihood. “The long tail offers no path out of the quiet doldrums of minuscule sales,” Kelly writes. “Other than aim for a blockbuster hit, what can an artists do to escape the long tail?”

This question might seem fatalistic, but Kelly had a solution. If your creative work exists in the long tail, generating a small but consistent number of sales, then it’s probably sufficiently good to support a small but serious fan base, assuming you’re willing to put in the work required to cultivate this community. In an earlier age, a creative professional might be limited to fans who lived nearby. But by using the tools of the Internet, Kelly argued, it was now possible for creative types to both find and interact with supporters all around the world…

A shining example of the 1,000 True Fans model is the podcasting boom. There are more than eight hundred and fifty thousand active podcasts available right now. Although most of these shows are small and don’t generate much money, the number of people making a full-time living off original audio content is substantial. The key to a financially viable podcast is to cultivate a group of True Fans eager to listen to every episode. The value of each such fan, willing to stream hours and hours of a creator’s content, is surprisingly large; if sufficiently committed, even a modest-sized audience can generate significant income for a creator. According to an advertising agency I consulted, for example, a weekly podcast that generates thirty thousand downloads per episode should be able to reach Kelly’s target of generating a hundred thousand dollars a year in income. Earning a middle-class salary by talking through a digital microphone to a fiercely loyal band of supporters around the world, who are connected by the magic of the Internet, is about as pure a distillation of Kelly’s vision as you’re likely to find…

The real breakthroughs that enabled the revival of the 1,000 True Fans model are better understood as cultural. The rise in both online news paywalls and subscription video-streaming services trained users to be more comfortable paying à la carte for content. When you already shell out regular subscription fees for newyorker.com, Netflix, Peacock, and Disney+, why not also pay for “Breaking Points,” or throw a monthly donation toward Maria Popova? In 2008, when Kelly published the original “1,000 True Fans” essay, it was widely assumed that it would be hard to ever persuade people to pay money for most digital content. (This likely explains why so many of Kelly’s examples focus on selling tangible goods, such as DVDs or custom prints.) This is no longer true. Opening up these marketplaces to purely digital artifacts—text, audio, video, online classes—significantly lowered the barriers to entry for creative professionals looking to make a living online…

But can this last? Is it destined to fall prey to the forces that Gioia catalogues?

The recent history of the Internet, however, warns that we shouldn’t necessarily expect the endearingly homegrown nature of these 1,000 True Fans communities to persist. When viable new economic niches emerge online, venture-backed businesses, looking to extract their cut, are typically not far behind. Services such as Patreon and Kickstarter are jostling for a dominant position in this direct-to-consumer creative marketplace. A prominent recent example of such attempts to centralize the True Fan economy is Substack, which eliminates friction for writers who want to launch paid e-mail newsletters. Substack now has more than a million subscribers who pay for access to newsletters, and is currently valued at around six hundred and fifty million dollars. With this type of money at stake, it’s easy to imagine a future in which a small number of similarly optimized platforms dominate most of the mechanisms by which creative professionals interact with their 1,000 True Fans. In the optimistic scenario, this competition will lead to continued streamlining of the process of serving supporters, increasing the number of people who are able to make a good living off of their creative work: an apotheosis of sorts of Kelly’s original vision. A more pessimistic prediction is that the current True Fan revolution will eventually go the way of the original Web 2.0 revolution, with creators increasingly ground in the gears of monetization. The Substack of today makes it easy for a writer to charge fans for a newsletter. The Substack of tomorrow might move toward a flat-fee subscription model, driving users toward an algorithmically optimized collection of newsletter content, concentrating rewards within a small number of hyper-popular producers, and in turn eliminating the ability for any number of niche writers to make a living…

The future of the creative economy: “Where Did the Long Tail Go?,” from @tedgioia and “The Rise of the Internet’s Creative Middle Class,” from Cal Newport on @kevin2kelly in @NewYorker.

* F. Scott Fitzgerald (“The Crack-Up,” Esquire, February, 1936)

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As we contemplate culture and commerce, we might recall that it was on this date in 1894 (after 30 states had already enshrined the occasion) that Labor Day became a federal holiday in the United States.

labor day
The country’s first Labor Day parade in New York City on Sept. 5, 1882. This sketch appeared in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper.

source (and source of more on the history of Labor Day)

“Damn everything but the circus!”*…

Acro-balancing in Circus and Philosophy at the University of Kentucky, fall 2017

Meg Wallace, of the University of Kentucky, teaches the philosophy course that I wish I’d taken…

The circus is ridiculous. Or: most people think it’s ridiculous. We even express our disdain for disorganized, poorly run groups by claiming, disparagingly, that such entities are “run like a circus.” (This isn’t true, of course. The amount of organization, discipline, and hard work that it takes to run a circus is mind-blowingly impressive.) But this is one reason why I teach Circus and Philosophy. I want to show students a new way into philosophy – through doing ridiculous things.

 It seems strange that philosophers often teach philosophy of art, philosophy of sport, philosophy of the performing arts, and so on, without having the students at least minimally participate in the activities or artforms that are being philosophized about. This lack of first-person engagement is especially unfortunate when the topic at hand crucially involves the perspective of the participant– the painter, the dancer, the actor, the aerialist, the clown. Circus and Philosophy is an attempt to explore this participation/theorizing gap. (Another aim is just to magic-trick undergrads into loving philosophy.)

[The circus is] rich with potential for deep discussions about an array of philosophical topics in aesthetics, ethics, social and political philosophy, personal identity, mind, metaphysics, epistemology, and so on. It is also intrinsically interdisciplinary, so students with interests and majors outside of philosophy can easily find a way in…

Finding the profound in the profane: “Circus and Philosophy: Teaching Aristotle through Juggling.”

* e e cummings

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As we benefit from the big top, we might recall that it was on this date in 1987 that another instructive family of entertainers, The Simpsons, made their debut on television in “Good Night,” the first of 48 shorts that aired on The Tracey Ullman Show before the characters were given their own eponymously-titled show– now the longest-running scripted series in U.S. television history.

Written by (Roughly) Daily

April 19, 2022 at 1:00 am

“Everyone waits in line”*…

What we can learn from studying the crowd-management approaches at Disneyland…

Who gets to do what and when at a themepark may sound like a trivial question, but I think it’s a perfect little microcosm for the distributional problems that are at the heart of all political economy – questions that the pandemic’s shortages and shocks threw into stark relief…

Stay in your lane: “The definitive answers to Disney’s pernicious queueing debates,” from Cory Doctorow (@doctorow)

The video that Cory recommends:

(image at the top: source)

* Paul Theroux

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As we bide our time, we might recall that it was on this date in 1971 that traffic-choking crowds jammed Walt Disney World to capacity (on the day after Thanksgiving). Shortly before noon the Florida park closed its gates to additional visitors.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 26, 2021 at 1:00 am

“Horror is a universal language; we’re all afraid”*…

The Exorcist

It’s that time of year again…

Why do so many people voluntarily seek out entertainment that is designed to shock and scare them? What do they get out of it? A thrill, a jolt to the nervous system – or is there something deeper going on?

Horror movies come in various forms, which can be divided into two main subgenres: supernatural ones (think of wailing ghosts, rotting zombies or mind-shattering abominations from forbidden dimensions), and the more psychological (your masked-serial-killers and giant-reptiles varieties). Common to them all is that they aim to evoke negative emotions, such as fear, anxiety, disgust and dread. They also tend to be enormously popular. According to a survey my colleagues and I conducted a few years ago, more than half of US respondents – about 55 per cent – say they enjoy ‘scary media’, including movies such as The Exorcist (1973), books such as King’s Salem’s Lot (1975) and video games such as Amnesia: The Dark Descent (2010).

What’s more, people who say they enjoy scary media really mean it. We also asked our respondents how frightening they wanted their horror to be. It might sound like a weird thing to ask – like asking how funny they want their comedies to be – but we wanted to test an old Freudian idea that the negative emotions elicited by the genre are unfortunate byproducts; a price that audiences are willing to pay in order to watch movies that allow them to confront their own repressed desires in monstrous disguise. But that’s not what we found. About 80 per cent of our respondents said they wanted their horror entertainment to be in the moderate-to-highly frightening range. By contrast, a measly 3.9 per cent said that they prefer horror that’s not scary at all.

So, fear and the other negative emotions are central to the appeal of horror, a fact not lost on the creators of horror entertainment. Surely you’ve seen movie trailers claiming to be ‘The scariest movie of all time!’ or promising to make you sleep with the lights on for weeks afterwards. More inventively, the US filmmaker William Castle once took out life insurance on his audience. If any audience member died from fear as they watched his movie Macabre (1958), their bereaved ones would receive $1,000 from Lloyd’s of London. (Nobody did die. But the gimmick surely drew more horror hounds to the picture.)

Unsurprisingly, given their appeal, horror movies are big business. In 2019, 40 new horror movies were released in North America, grossing more than $800 million in the domestic theatrical market alone. Likewise, the US haunted attractions industry is growing steadily, in 2019 generating up to $500 million in ticket sales. The following year, 2020, naturally saw lower numbers, but even in that year of COVID-19 lockdowns and empty movie theatres, horror movies broke all previous records in terms of market share. That development continued into 2021, with the horror genre now accounting for almost 20 per cent of the market share at the US box office. Evidently, people want scary entertainment, even when you’d think the real world was scary enough.

Despite the broad appeal of the horror genre, it is haunted by bias and prejudice. Many people, apparently, think that horror movies are dumb, dangerous or both – artistically unsophisticated, morally corrosive, and psychologically harmful, with a dubious appeal primarily for maladjusted teenage boys. But what does the science say?

Firstly, horror is not a particularly male genre. While boys and men are slightly more likely than girls and women to say that they enjoy horror, the difference is much smaller than many people seem to think. In our aforementioned survey, when we asked to what extent respondents agree with the statement ‘I tend to enjoy horror media’, on a scale from 1 to 5, men averaged at 3.50, whereas women averaged at 3.29.

Secondly, horror movies are not only watched by teenagers. Yes, the movies are often marketed to that audience, and the appetite for horror does seem to peak in late adolescence, but it doesn’t emerge out of the blue the day that kids turn 13, and it doesn’t disappear in older people either. An ongoing research project of ours is finding that the desire to derive pleasure from fear is evident even in toddlers, who universally enjoy mildly scary activities, such as chase play and hide-and-seek. Even old folks seem to enjoy the occasional thrill provided by mildly frightening media such as crime shows. The British crime drama Midsomer Murders (1997-) always seemed to me like light horror for seniors, with its eerie theremin theme tune and the inexplicably abundant, often startlingly grisly murders in the otherwise peaceful fictional Midsomer County.

Thirdly, there is no evidence that horror fans are particularly maladjusted, depraved or unempathetic. When my colleagues and I looked into the personality profile of horror fans, we found that they are about as conscientious, agreeable and emotionally stable as the average person, while also scoring higher than average on openness to experience (meaning that they enjoy intellectual stimulation and adventure). It’s true they do tend to score fairly highly on sensation seeking, which suggests that they tend to be easily bored and on the lookout for excitement. Maladjusted or depraved, though? Nope, no evidence.

If horror movies do not attract the maladjusted and the depraved, do they then create psychotic monsters? One might think so, judging from the moral panics that have surrounded the horror genre throughout its recent history, from Victorian-era concern over ‘penny dreadfuls’ – sensationalist, often spooky or grisly stories sold in cheap (one-penny) instalments – to modern-day media meltdowns over slasher movies…

There is no substantial evidence to support that concern – audiences know that what they are watching is fiction. The psychological effects of violent media are still discussed by scholars and scientists, but the ‘monkey see, monkey do’ model of media psychology has been severely criticised on methodological and empirical grounds, and now seems to have been abandoned by most experts. In fact, one recent study covering the period 1960-2012 in the US found that, as movie violence went up, real-world violence actually went down.

A taste for horror is natural and should not be seen as pathological. Kids who are attracted to monster comics such as Tales from the Crypt (1950-55) and The Walking Dead (2003-19) are perfectly normal, as are teenagers who love slasher movies or adults who enjoy haunted attractions. That taste makes good sense from an evolutionary perspective. People evolved to be curious about danger, and they use stories to learn about the world and themselves. Horror stories specifically allow them to imaginatively simulate worst-case scenarios and teach them about the dark sides of the world, and about the dark spectrum of their own emotional lives…

Horror movies… can function as inoculation against the stresses and terrors of the world. They help us improve our coping skills, and they might function as a kind of enjoyable exposure therapy. There is also some preliminary evidence to suggest that people who suffer from anxiety disorders can find comfort in horror movies, presumably because these movies allow them to experience negative emotions in controlled and controllable doses, practise regulation strategies, and ultimately build resilience.

In addition to those psychological benefits, there might be social benefits of watching horror movies. Consider how scientists of religion have puzzled over the prevalence of painful religious rituals. Why do people fire-walk and pierce themselves with sharp objects in religious contexts? Apparently, one major function is that such psychologically and/or physically painful behaviours strengthen group identity and make group members more altruistic toward each other. You go through a painful experience together, which reinforces group bonds. It’s a similar story for horror entertainment…

Horror movies have gotten a bad rap, but watching them has surprisingly wholesome effects: “Fear not,” from Mathias Clasen (@MathiasClasen), director of the Recreational Fear Lab (@RecFearLab) at Aarhus University in Denmark.

* “Horror is a universal language; we’re all afraid. We’re born afraid, we’re all afraid of things: death, disfigurement, loss of a loved one. Everything that I’m afraid of, you’re afraid of and vice versa. So everybody feels fear and suspense. We were little kids once and so it’s taking that basic human condition and emotion and just f*cking with it and playing with it. You can invent new horrors.” – John Carpenter (in a 2015 interview with Interview Magazine)

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As we shiver, we might send bracing birthday greetings to Robert Alphonse Picardo; he was born on this date in 1953. An actor probably most widely known known for his roles as Dr. Dick Richards on ABC’s China Beach; the Emergency Medical Hologram (EMH), also known as The Doctor, on Star Trek: Voyager; the Cowboy in Innerspace, Coach Cutlip on The Wonder Years (for which he received an Emmy nomination); and as Richard Woolsey in the Stargate television franchise.

But Picardo also has a distinguished resume in horror, having starred in The Howling (1981), Legend (1985), Munchies (1987), Bate’s Motel (1987), 976-EVIL (1988), Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990), Matinee (1993), Tales from the Crypt (episode: “Till Death Do We Part”), Masters of Horror (episode: “Homecoming”), Sensored (2009), Monsterwolf (2010), Supernatural (episode: “Clap Your Hands If You Believe”), Trail of Blood (2011), Don’t Blink (2014), and Mansion of Blood (2015).

Picardo serves as a Planetary Society Board Member and host of The Planetary Post.

source

“To me, the ideal artist-to-audience relationship is a one-to-zero relationship. The artist should be granted anonymity.”*…

Wish granted…

Earlier this month a little piece of music history was restored. The news was easy to overlook. Sony Music Publishing announced that one of its outermost divisions would be rebranding: what had been EMI Production Music since 2011 would become KPM Music once again. The change may seem trivial, but it restores a name that has wielded a wide and surprising influence over popular culture.

The chances are you haven’t heard of KPM, despite its roots stretching back to 1780, when Robert Keith (the K of the name) set up a music shop in London. But you have almost certainly heard its music. Since 1956 KPM had been a producer of library music, which is not music to be played quietly for the benefit of readers, but music composed to a brief, kept on catalogue, and then used—in return for payment—to accompany something else.

You have probably encountered the work of KPM’s composers and musicians on television. In America the credits of “Monday Night Football” unfold to the sound of “Heavy Action” by Johnny Pearson; the melody for Channel 9’s cricket show in Australia was produced by KPM, though it was written with a news broadcast in mind. In Britain several shows have drawn on KPM’s library, including “All Creatures Great and Small”, “Mastermind”, “Grange Hill”, “The Two Ronnies” and the BBC’s coverage of Wimbledon.

Even if you never watch TV, though, you will know fragments of this music, especially if you like hip-hop. kpm recordings have been a rich source of samples (a segment of sound used in another composition). Of KPM’s star composers, Brian Bennett has been sampled 114 times, by Drake, Nas, Kanye West and more. Les Baxter has been sampled 79 times by the Beastie Boys, Ghostface Killah and MF Doom, among others. Rap’s founding text, “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang, sampled KPM stalwart Alan Hawkshaw—specifically the song “Here Comes That Sound Again”. “Library music is sought after by producers, collectors and writers because it was played by people, not manufactured by [a] machine,” Mr Hawkshaw once [said]…

One of the most sampled songs in pop history came from kpm musicians playing together for fun in 1968. “Champ” by The Mohawks has a distinctive organ hook—played by Mr Hawkshaw—that was sampled by Eric B and Rakim and Afrika Bambaataa in the 1980s and is still being remixed by Frank Ocean, Janelle Monáe and Nicki Minaj today. “People think that’s a black group from Detroit [playing the tune], but it was hashed together by session musicians in Yorkshire,” Mr Hawkshaw said.

Library music is not the rich trove of unexpected wonder it used to be. These days budgets are tighter and there is less inclination to hire whole orchestras for an afternoon, so there isn’t so much scope for the moments of brilliance a room full of musicians might create. Artificial-intelligence firms are also trying to muscle in on the market, offering computer-generated compositions to accompany video content for a fraction of the cost of real musicians. But there is still magic in the thought of those shelves, full of music composed and recorded for who knows what, sitting there waiting to be used for something else entirely…

Its artists aren’t famous and you can’t buy the records in shops; but its work can be heard everywhere: “KPM Music is one of the most important record labels in history,” from @TheEconomist.

* Glenn Gould

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As we honor the unnamed, we might send suspiciously on-key birthday greetings to Faheem Rasheed Najm; he was born on this date in 1984. Better know by his stage name T-Pain, he is a rapper, singer-songwriter, and record producer. But he’ll surely be best remembered as the person who popularized Auto-Tune pitch-correction technology. Indeed, T-Pain became so associated with Auto-Tune that an iPhone app that simulated the effect was named after him.

Developed in 1997, Auto-Tune was used in 1998 in Cher’s “Believe” to create vocal effects (though the producers attributed the result to a pedal, treating Auto-Tune as a trade secret). Years later, T-Pain popularized the tool… which has become a controversial staple in the recording industry (as it allows recording engineers to turn the tuneless into accomplished singers).

Time magazine quoted an unnamed Grammy-winning recording engineer as saying, “Let’s just say I’ve had Auto-Tune save vocals on everything from Britney Spears to Bollywood cast albums. And every singer now presumes that you’ll just run their voice through the box.” The same article expressed “hope that pop’s fetish for uniform perfect pitch will fade”, speculating that pop-music songs have become harder to differentiate from one another, as “track after track has perfect pitch.” According to Tom Lord-Alge, the device is used on nearly every record these days…

source

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