If A Room Eats An Elephant…

…Does it still vomit up blind men, even if no one sees them?

Just a quick note, Bloggers:  I am off to see Aida tonight, as you know the most sheerly spectacular of operas…but Aida has already proved me a liar, since I promised my young opera-going companion some papier-mache elephants, and as it turns out there will be none. And I can’t quite understand this.  After all, you can crowdsource papier-mache to elementary schools.  When I was young, our brilliant-yet-imposing music teacher had us all learn to sing The Toreador Song, then arranged for a boxing ring to be built in the school gymnasium, then arranged for two chicken costumes to be made, then put two students in the chicken costumes and then put them in the ring with a whole choreographed boxing routine, and then put all of us around the boxing ring with betting slips in our hands like it was Guys And Dolls or something, and had us all explode into ruinous song.

Parents weren’t even invited.

As far as I know, none of them even knew it was going on.

She would’ve arranged for each elementary school in Vancouver to work on a part of a papier-mache elephant’s body — foot, trunk, tail! — hmm, it’s like an elephant, only missing a trunk!tail!foot! — and then at the end arranged for all the parts to be delivered to the opera company, only wanting a bit of twine to tie them together, in exchange for a bank of cheap seats at each performance…

…Because nothing is more delightful than seeing little kids attend the opera and not hate it…what you do is, at intermission you buy them all five-dollar cookies from the concession…

…But unfortunately, she retired from active subversion before this show ever went on.  And that’s a shame, because…you know, elephants.

It just isn’t the same, when they’re not in the room.

Okay…

…So let’s talk about The Avengers.  It opens this weekend, so this’ll be the last good chance to talk about it.

I’m not seeing it.

You should see it if you want to.

BUT!

I’ve been thinking a lot about the advertising campaign on this one.  It is a BIG advertising campaign, have you noticed?  It’s beyond impressive, it’s…er…well, the only word is, it’s positively TITANIC, you know?  It’s all over the place;  it’s everywhere.  I’m stunned at the total media penetration that’s going on with this one, can’t think of a movie in my lifetime that’s had such a full-court press going on in the ramp-up to the opening weekend.  The energy being expended is fantastic, and so the aim is clear: this movie can’t be permitted to fail.  This movie is receiving the full attention of the parent company, in terms of marketing.  I wonder if even Gone With The Wind was so heavily, ubiquitously promoted.  I mean, it really seems to have become a big deal, somehow.  Everybody’s talking about it, somehow.  In the customary lingo of the old-time record industry, it’s clearly set to debut at Number One.  The fix is in.

And one really has to wonder why such effort has been expended, to make sure that’s the way things go.  Or…does one?  Everybody knows about comics, but no one knows what comics people know about comics, and that’s what has kept — and still keeps — the comics business from scoring massive PR heat from a public at large that is quite prone to look at business practices of the type routinely practised in comics, and give a big ol’ SHIT IS FUCKED UP AND BULLSHIT to it.  I mean, seriously, it’s pretty politically-charged stuff everywhere else it happens that people notice it, right?  But the comics biz has long enjoyed a low enough public profile, that no one with a big CBS eye behind them ever felt moved to opine, Keith-Olbermann-style, that at long last sir have you no sense of decency.

And so, that this lowness of profile is changing is both a good thing and a bad one, for the large corporate superpredators that now control, and wish to make hay from, the irreplaceable and now-irreproducible IP stables of the comics business.  Big blockbuster movies, YES!!  They can be had, out of this.  Merch receipts dropping from the skies.  A glorious nostalgia inspired among an increasingly-jaded populace, for the half-remembered sharing of the things of youth.  You could see a perfect storm in that, if you had half a brain:  a return to the marketability of superhero comics properties that hasn’t been seen in fifty years, and as the businessmen say in their most deleriously-exuberant moments, it’s win-win-win-win…!

…With just one small defect in that colossal heavenly lens, which is:  what the fuck are regular people going to say when they find out how all the creators of said beloved nostalgic properties got fucked, when they were making them?  What are they going to say about how the health insurance couldn’t be found, how the skinniest percent of a percent couldn’t be liberated to help somebody keep a home, or put food on the table?  Real people do care about such things, you know;  there really is a presumption out there that if you made something worth millions (let alone billions!) then you damn well get proportionally-compensated for it.  No one cheers for the guy that screwed the guy who made him his fortune, they really don’t.  Why I do believe they even make movies about how they don’t.  So, it’s a bit of a problem, I’m sure you can see.  But thankfully, there’s already a solution to the problem available, that’s been most thoroughly tested.  On a small scale, to be sure, but in principle the thing is extensible…and actually it’s all real simple, right?

As we all know, don’t we?

What you do, is you make the people who might object to the poor treatment of creators complicit in that poor treatment.  You get them liking the stuff, see?  You get them boosting it.  Then when the truth comes out, they’re implicated:  they’re shamed, they’re guilty.  And this provides a most powerful motivation for them to turn their back on the issues at hand.  If I talked up the Avengers movie, and then found out how Marvel treated Jack Kirby, then my only choices would be a) to walk it back, or b) to push it ahead, and guess which of these is easier?  Out of “I was wrong”, and “I don’t see what the problem is”?  Well…there is always the danger that the whole thing will backfire, that somebody somewhere will find a way to build a more successful soapbox because of the increased visibility of the superhero stuff, the heightened sensitivity to the hypocrisy of the superhero business…but then what are the superpredators supposed to do:  not try to make blockbuster movies and giant merch-showers out of the IP they now control?  And if the worst-case turns out to be the actual case, then of course there will be damage control to be done, but when you consider that what “damage control” means in this case is only making a few retroactive agreements, possibly shaving off just a few tenths-of-percents of profits, then as long as the snowball keeps rolling you can afford to lose a few flakes, right?  And if it ever stops rolling, then people will stop caring so it won’t matter anyway, and in the meantime what you can do to ameliorate this potential equitable-payment disaster is get your public attached to your properties, just as the comics public got so attached, and thus give them a motivation to scuff their feet and drive those guilty consciences under the carpet.  Beat the implications, by getting people implicated first, before they even know what’s going on.

And if worst comes to worst…well, so you pay the people!  And say you’ve fixed it.

And then everybody’s happy!

But then again…

It may never come to that.

And it probably won’t, but you know there is something you can do, and I can do, and we all can do, even if we do want to see the movie…even if the ending of this story is pretty well predetermined…

That is:  we can just skip the opening weekend.

Just the weekend.

That’s not too hard to do, right?

It may not seem like much, sure.  Well, it really isn’t much!  But the small thing that it is, is at least a very definite thing…

…In that it at least the elephant keeps on existing, even when there’s no one there who wants to see it.

Which is, you know…

Not nothing.

So why not just give it a try, Bloggers?  Close your eyes and just visualize that elephant, eh?

That’s what I’ll be doing, tomorrow night.

What fun it’d be, if we could arrange to do it together!

14 responses to “If A Room Eats An Elephant…

  1. It would be hollow to announce my intention to not see The Avengers on opening weekend when I was never going to see it on opening weekend anyway. I saw Captain America for the first time on DVD, and I only rented it after Harry Mendryk wrote a blog post about how his friend Joe Simon had really enjoyed the film and was happy to have seen it. Of course I was going to see it eventually because I admire its director even more than I do Joss Whedon…but knowing that it had been a source of pleasure for Joe Simon and that the makers of the film had been hugely respectful to him throughout the production process made it a pleasure.

    I’m wary of boycotts when they’re just a vehicle for the boycotters to feel as if they’ve done something, while accomplishing no material change. We’re not going to affect Marvel by trying to reduce the flow of cash from this opening weekend. “This giant river feeds into the Pacific Ocean…but if enough of us stand next to the bay with these teaspoons and start splashing the water back upstream, we’ll eventually change its course. Provided there are enough of us, and we spoon hard enough. And if we fail, it’s because not enough people cared.” (I say that, and yet I’m exactly the person who’ll pick up a spoon, not because I think it’ll work — I know it won’t — but out of love for the ones who do think that.)

    Here’s what I figure: a nine year old of today isn’t going to find out why Jack Kirby is awesome by going to the newsstand and buying a comic book. He or she isn’t going to buy some $50 hardcover collection of comic stories from before mom and dad were born (!!!) and find out that way. The way that nine year old might someday discover Jack Kirby? If the Avengers movie is really really awesome and the kid decides the Avengers are awesome and wants more. And then maybe starts grooving on the history of the comics. Someday one of those kids is a future donor to the Kirby Museum, you know? I’m afraid the process only starts if they see the movie and it makes them love his characters. We can’t breed a more ethical fan of the future by saying “I know this looks exciting but you mustn’t enjoy it, because some old man you never heard of wasn’t treated fairly forty years before you were born and those wrongs have never been corrected.”

    I guess what I’m saying is, people enjoying The Avengers aren’t necessarily betraying Jack, and for some people it might even be the opposite. And I say that as someone who won’t willingly toss a dime in the direction of Marvel or DC these days.

  2. I think this is going to be one of those interesting occasions, Richard, where you and I disagree even though we’re on the same side!

    We can’t expect to be able to start anywhere but small, with protesting Marvel and DC. But I think we can reasonably expect to affect them. Perhaps not in the sense of a final, fatal mass uprising that makes movies uneconomical to make, or unions impossible to keep out…but then if that were the only benefit that justified the cost of protest, there’d be no point in ever protesting anything. And “affecting Marvel” is not a goal that’s particularly responsive to cost/benefit analyses anyway…what is “affecting Marvel”? What is necessary, to affect Marvel? It’s impossible to say, when we don’t know what kind of attention they’re paying, and what kind of decision-making style they embrace…

    That’s on the one hand.

    But on the other hand, we can know that Marvel (and DC) are not indestructible, invulnerable entities that feel no effect from changes in their markets, paying attention or no. A few hundred thousand diehards, almost none of whom feel the slightest inclination to become stubborn or pissed-off, even to the point of missing the opening weekend of a movie, none of whom ever say anything to anyone about disliking standard corporate practice, none of whom so much as even kick up a human-interest story on a local TV station on a slow news day…“but these comics fans aren’t camped out for the reasons you might think!”…now, that is different from a few hundred thousand diehards who nonetheless get weird and touchy from time to time, and are willing to change their habits. And it’s also different from a market of (suddenly!) millions, who all know at least one comics fan they can talk to about whether or not they’re going to see The Avengers, or what they thought of Iron Man 2, or why Reed Richards’ temples went grey all of a sudden, or “if that’s in the comic”. So quantifying what it means to affect Marvel or DC is tough in a situation where we don’t have any hard numbers on how they are already being affected, you know? Right now there are a lot of people who are getting kind of vocally pissed-off with the Big Two, who never were the vocally pissed-off type before…now, if Marvel or DC simply doesn’t attend to that change, then I guess you could argue it doesn’t affect them…

    But on the other hand, a horseshoe brings you luck whether you believe in it or not, and things are already different than they once were. A large chunk of comics fandom, that never used to be remotely interested in protest, is on the cusp of it now…and who knows how many more there are, on the cusp of that cusp? No one’s ever tried to screw with an Avengers movie’s opening weekend before, and we don’t know what that could look like. We don’t know what effect it could have. But I think we have to be confident that if it even happened, it’d be a sign of more change happening faster.

    I don’t want to call anyone a class traitor for going to see the Avengers movie. I just want everyone to think about making their displeasure felt, in some way of their own. Just some action they might take…and after all, waiting a couple of days to see a movie, that’s not a very effortful thing, because it is not a very obviously dramatic thing, but the real drama is that it’s SOMEthing, instead of nothing. And so it demonstrates something, even if the something it demonstrates is only that it can, itself, exist for true. So, I don’t want the nine year-old kid to not get into comics either…but I do want to have some constructive advice for him when he’s twenty and wants to know what he can do about the ethical rot in his beloved comics, that isn’t just “it’s Chinatown”.

    Which is something I’m absolutely sure we’re on the same side of, eh? Well of course! So here we are disagreeing, and I don’t think it’s a bad thing. Any amount of talk about this stuff is a good amount of talk.

  3. The thing for me is, there are too many things in the world to care about to do something about them all. There just isn’t time. So, you want to see the Avengers movie, go ahead… but do something to help out something. You can’t keep your conscience happy all of the time, but you don’t have to starve it, either.

  4. That’s a very admirable point of view, Matthew, and one we’d all do well to follow…I think it’s important to bear in mind, though, that not seeing the Avengers movie for a couple of days doesn’t cost anyone a darn thing, so in terms of “picking battles” it isn’t that one only has so much energy with which to do good works, it’s that the best way to break a habit is to drop it.

    Although this possibly sounds a little harsher than I intend it. The problem with actions that cost nothing is that there are a lot of them, and it is taxing to constantly make decisions against one’s own desires — you work hard at your job, your money’s supposed to be able to buy you stuff, that’s kind of the bargain! And some stuff you need, and other stuff you don’t, and yet you do also have needs that go above mere survival and efficiency. Yet at the same time these other needs can be fulfilled by many different things, so it is possible for that not to be a struggle if you’ve got an impetus to adjust your preferences. I used to really enjoy eating Filet-O-Fish sandwiches from McDonald’s, it was just a small thing and it actually wasn’t very economical but I liked it…however having dropped it, I don’t miss it, because of course there are many other things to like. And! There are also compensations for choosing those other things, that go beyond the economical. So I’m not going to convince anyone to not see the Avengers movie who’s already quite sure they’re damn well going to see it, but for many other people they could not see it, or they could just skip the opening weekend…and find it didn’t require anything from them they didn’t find very easy to give. Stay home and beat the rush! See a matinee for less money! Eat a nice meal at home instead of grabbing something in haste on the way there! Save yourself the hassle of finding parking! When I was a kid, I agitated for seeing Star Wars in the theatre when there were still lines going around the block, and I’m glad I did…there was something about that atmosphere that I sensed my family needed to catch, especially that I needed to catch, and I’m glad I did…but, you know, I was eleven, and it actually did turn out to be a rather exceptional event. I’m forty-five now, and I don’t need to catch that atmosphere again — I’ve caught my share of it many times over! — and also the Avengers in 2012, it just isn’t a massive cultural phenomenon of the same type as Star Wars, there actually is not as much to miss, even if I cared as much about not missing it. So, I do understand the value in terms of fun, to want to hit the opening weekend…

    It’s just that the ineffable gains to be had here aren’t of such a scale that it’s necessarily worth all the frenzied hassle anyway. So, it’s just a calculation: if organic apples are the same price as non-organic ones, how much must it draw from the daily pool of attention, how much decision fatigue must it entail, to grab the organic ones? Again, a very small thing…but that’s what we’re talking about, we’re talking about very small things, and though I’m not gonna deny that small things can be big hassles, and that trying to make every such small thing/big hassle into a simple daily calculation is probably impossible…nevertheless, it’s still possible to look at something small and make of it something small. I have a little theory that putting on “the armour of character” — an interesting term that covers the response “well I’m not gonna believe that thing they say on TV”, or “well I’m not the kind of person who gives a damn about getting my beer all fancily microbrewed”, or “well I’m not gonna pick and choose what goddamn apples I’m gonna buy according to what a bunch of hippies say I have to do” — that putting on character’s armour isn’t a costless defence against social impulsion, and that it probably requires as much from the attentional pool to ignore shit, as it does to pay attention to it. The armour’s armour, so it isn’t made out of aerogel and fairy-dust…refusing to wear a motorcycle helmet is in this sense to simply put on another kind of helmet — somehow or other they’re both helmets, and they both have to be put on.

    Sorry, bit longwinded — the coffee thing, y’know — but basically YES, if you weren’t to do this, then maybe you should find something to do…

    …But many people could do this, and wouldn’t feel it to be a hardship.

  5. But I gotta say…if someone does really want to see the Avengers, it’s a FINE IDEA to also contribute to the Hero Initiative when you do it, as many more practical heads are suggesting. In fact one could wish that people did this whenever they went to see a superhero movie. Richard, I think that would count nicely as some quantifiable material good being done?

    I’m still very much in favour of encouraging comics fandom to be just a little more demonstrative about their pissed-off-ness, you know! And don’t see why we couldn’t have both of these things at once…

    But I have to say, I would’ve signed a petition saying “Dear Marvel and Disney, I will DEFINITELY SEE your Avengers movie, if you promise to put a little display out front of each theatre encouraging moviegoers to contribute to HI.”

  6. In fact I’m probably guilty of not thinking things through enough, when it comes to something like that…damn it, I should’ve STARTED such a petition!

  7. The thing I wonder about is, does it really matter when you see the movie? I mean, the opening-weekend thing. Who cares? Are the opening-weekend numbers really so much more important than the overall box office numbers? Or is that just for purposes of hype?

    • Insane as it seems, it actually does make a difference: the opening weekend numbers have become the single defining metric of success or failure in Hollywood. Studio heads have lost their jobs over films that ultimately turned a profit internationally, simply because they opened poorly here. Major decisions are made on that basis.

  8. The rough idea, for me, is to try to make a change in the audience’s general volatility, at just such a time when it’s most likely to be noticed. It’d probably be foolish to expect a sizable minority of people even in the tiny sector of comics blogland that I/we frequent to boycott the Avengers opening weekend, much less boycott the Avengers altogether…or stop reading Marvel comics, for that matter!…but if I were a big corporate marketing guy, I would totally notice an increasing instability even if it happened to be at the edges of my graph, and I would probably call it, at least, “something to be looked at”.

    And, too, for myself I know that there are people in my hometown who might’ve seen the Avengers movie but now won’t, just because when they asked me if I was going to see it I said “no way in hell”…those are the non-comics people obviously, who can easily not see Avengers and not miss it…

    And as for the comics people who are definitely already going to it, when they ask me I just say “Kirby, Siegel, the whole thing, so the hell with it”, and though they’ll still go they do look at me sympathetically, even apologetically, because they get it that that’s a good reason

    So, it takes time, but it takes less time if there’s a clear place to start from, and “opening weekend” is a pretty good clear place to start, it may not be an ideal place but at least you can say it’s a clear one. And it isn’t that I want to give the notional guy in marketing a heads-up, or anything…it’s just that with things as they are they don’t see a single reason to think they’ll ever have to change their practises, even in the wildest hypothetical, so with things as they are they will not change…uh, therefore any ruckus that we can possibly raise must be a good ruckus?

    …Christ, that sounds a little bit too much like Deng Xiaoping, doesn’t it? “Black cat, white cat, if it catches mice it’s a good cat”…

    Still, the Internet is full of people arguing, in that tried-and-true political fashion, that if things aren’t being done the Right Way then it’d be better for nothing to be done at all, and though like Richard I’m wary of people protesting just to make themselves feel important, I think I’m even more wary of people counselling passivity because action may not be effective…letting “I dare not” wait upon “I would”, as it were. Right now, everything political looks to me like Occupy in miniature, even down to the lowly business of supercomics: first they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win, but first you have to leave your house.

    Which, obviously, the three of us here have already done. And the way I figure it is…are we just such outliers, really? This is how I always operate in elections, I always think “well, I can’t be the only one who’s teetering on the brink of this particular decision, so if I teeter over onto the virtuous side doesn’t that mean there are probably also lots of people like me who might do the same?” Whereas if I don’t, that probably means there are lots of people like me who won’t. Bit fallacious, I know, but…this was really the story of the last Canadian federal election, for me — a voter the Liberal party really should’ve been able to count on, but I voted for a smaller third party instead. And at the time, you know, I DID WONDER if there were lots of other people like me out there, who may perhaps have been thinking “this isn’t very strategic of me, and there are really important things at stake in this election so I can’t afford to screw around, but I am bloody well NOT okay with living in a two-party system just because it makes strategic voting easier to do, and anyway when strategic voting has never in my lifetime actually made things better…”

    And I think the result of that election has indeed been to make the electorate much more volatile. Most of the people in power don’t see it yet, and most of the press seems to be doing anything they can to avoid seeing it, but I think that’s what’s happened. I think the days of locking up votes through rhetorical brinksmanship are over.

    Erm…

    Sorry, bit digress-y there, I guess! Many phone calls coming in here, screwing with my schedule of tasks. I intended this comment to be done about four hours ago, and I may’ve gone a bit off the rails while I struggled to get back to it…

    • What I object to is people going for an easy form of protest if it deceives them into thinking “Boy, we’ve really accomplished something here” while actually not making any impact at all, and expending the time and energy and effort on that while neglecting other things that really *could* make a difference. My argument isn’t the corrosive cynicism of “if you’re not going to do the right thing, do nothing at all” but rather “try and figure out if there’s a better tactic, don’t just use a tactic because ‘that’s what people always do’.” I’m not saying be an accommodationist; I’m saying be Occupy Wall Street! You have to be uncompromising in ideals, and smart in strategy. A boycott or a march or a rally are individual things that might be appropriate at a specific time to produce a desired reaction, or they might not. And worse, sometimes if you try to play a hand you don’t have, you end up losing your position because you’ve exposed your weakness. That is NOT a call for passivity; it’s a call for BETTER action. People just have to be more imaginative. And that’s hard, but when has it ever been different?

    • I should’ve made myself a LOT plainer about this, Richard, at least for the sake of other people who might look in…that implicit in every argument you ever make is a thoroughgoing rejection of cynicism’s corrosion! I’m just trying to rise to the level of Metron, by and by and if the wind is with me; you’re already Himon. There’s a similar thing that happens with Matthew, he always expresses just what he means to say, he is Face-Value-Man on the Internet, refreshingly non-rhetorical…for example, he is not saying “what’s the point, why bother?” up there, he is saying “this is a thing I’m curious about, what’s the deal with this?”

      I think I do you guys a bit of a disservice with my rambling responses.

      And yes; it’s about better and smarter action. And, I think you and I probably agree on this, with Occupy it is also about more imaginative action — thinking of something to do which according to the rules generally-accepted is a) impossible and b) futile, but which once done becomes a fact that challenges the ideas of impossibility and futility. The “wash my hands by making an isolated gesture” protest is no good to anyone, about as no good as insisting there must be ONE overriding enormous revolutionary uprising that cuts off the vampire’s head in a big cataclysm of victory, otherwise there’s no point, but then once you’ve accomplished that victorious uprising there’s no need to continue to pay attention, hooray we’ve blown up the Death Star so I guess there’s no need to worry anymore…

      And I do wish I could come up with a really good idea!

      But what I’m like, is: a couple of years ago on December 23rd I got into the elevator with a neighbour who had boxing gloves slung over her shoulder and a gym bag in her hand. And I said:

      “Working off the turkey? But you haven’t eaten it yet!”

      And, being a very sharp woman used to witty banter, she gave me a PITYING LOOK

      And then she got off the elevator and the doors closed, and one floor later I smacked my forehead and said aloud “OH, WHAT AN IDIOT…! IT WAS RIGHT THERE, FOR GOD’S SAKE…!”

      “JESUS, WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?!”

      So I should definitely not present myself so much as a guy who can come up with clever solutions in a pinch!

      • That is the kindest compliment I’ve ever received. No fooling. Fortunately for me, I know it’s completely underserved, so there’s no danger it’ll swell my head. But Himon! What a fine thing to aspire to!

        And just to clarify, I didn’t think you were accusing me of cynicism — you and I know each other too well — but I wanted to clarify my stance for everyone else reading this.

  9. There’s a similar thing that happens with Matthew, he always expresses just what he means to say, he is Face-Value-Man on the Internet, refreshingly non-rhetorical…

    Also, seconding your comments re Matthew E!

    Coincidentally, the kindest compliment(s) I’ve ever received also.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s