Posts Tagged Andrew Sullivan
Aside from being British ex-pats, Andrew Sullivan and I do not have much in common – he is gay, middle-aged Catholic, living in the US and extremely successful as a writer-cum-blogger; I am straight, mid-20s, Jewish, living in Australia and pretty much unsuccessful as a writer-cum-blogger. That said, it is remarkable how much we seem to see eye-to-eye on issues that aren’t Israel.
Of course, most of what Sullivan does these days is link to other people’s writing – which is how I find a lot of interesting things to read, but means that there isn’t quite as much of this kind of thing as I’d like:
This is a church now intent on erasing from visibility a small minority of human beings, while waging a campaign to keep them as second class citizens in their own countries and as subhuman “objectively disordered” beings in their own church. They cannot even speak our name. Because were they to see us as the human beings we are, if they had to confront the actual experienced reality of our lives, if they actually had a conversation with us, and engaged the problem rather than dismissing it as “madness”, their pretense would be exposed.
The leaders of the current Catholic hierarchy are the Pharisees of our time. They are the people Jesus came to liberate us from. And he does. And he will.
I have not seen a more damning indictment of the way the Catholic Church is pretending that there are no gay people in its ranks (ironically, this is the same stance taken by the Iranian President).
What is amazing is how different the debate seems to be in Australia – where Catholics compose the biggest single religious group – versus both the UK and the US. Take Rush Limbaugh for instance – while yesterday I reported that he is losing sponsors and may be going out of business for sexism, many others have noted that he doesn’t have a great record on gay rights either. In stark contrast, Alan Jones, the closest thing Australia has to Limbaugh, is known to be gay himself (if not particularly publicly).
Similarly, Australia’s top sensationalist rightwing columnist, Andrew Bolt, just came out with a vehement condemnation of homophobic advertising by “Australia Party” founder Bob Katter in the Queensland elections:
It’s fair enough to raise the issue of gay marriage in the context of a state election, despite it being essentially a federal matter. There’s no law against irrelevance, after all, and Newman’s inconsistency goes to his character.
But this ad crosses way, way over the line.
First, why freight the same sex marriage debate with pictures of gay men being physically intimate? The intention is plain and foul: to appeal to the yuck factor with homophobes. Would we illustrate a defence of traditional marriage with a couple of porn stars engaging in foreplay?
Second, why show a gay couple as a beautiful young man and an older and plainer one? Again, the intention seems plain: to link gay marriage or gay relationships generally to pedophilia – or at least to gay predators. Would we illustrate an argument on the sanctity of marriage by showing a 40-year-old groom with a teen bride?
Third, what’s with the creepy pixellation on the picture of the gays? The area being covered is a man’s chest, for goodness sake. Again, the intention is plain and foul: to make even the sight of a gay man’s chest seem sinister. To hint at the illicit and disgusting.
Fourth, what’s with the footage of Newman folding a skirt, after asking in this context: “How well do you really know Campbell Newman”? This time the intention is slightly less clear, even if the malice isn’t. Is this meant to snear at gays as sissies? Or at Campbell as a closet gay – or even crossdresser?
I have always had a feeling that most of what Bolt writes is more his cultivating a character than actually speaking from the heart (although unlike Anne Summers, I have no doubt that he is genuinely very Conservative), but occasionally he uses his pedestal to do something that he believes in. Yes, this can be tearing down climate change advocates, but it can also be this kind of thing.
Either way, Bill O’Reilly would not be caught dead condemning someone for being Conservative enough to run homophobic ads like that one. Note: I use the term “Conservative” with a bolded and capitalised “c” because there is nothing remotely conservative about homophobia. This is obviously something that is recognised by Australia’s conservatives, but Britain, America and the Catholic clergy seem to be off the mark somewhat.
For the record, my views on gay marriage were mostly laid-out in this post. I’ll end by citing another of Sullivan’s finer moments on this issue, where he explains exactly why the way the Santorum-style Conservatives are, in fact, more radicals than most who claim to be “progressives” (although I have a lot of issues with that label as well). He really says it better than I could:
What’s fascinating to me about Santorum’s outburst yesterday was not its content, but its candor. In fact, one of Santorum’s advantages in this race, especially against Romney, is that we can see exactly where he stands. There can be no absolute separation of church and state, let alone a desire to keep it so; and in their necessary interactions, the church must always prevail, or it is a violation of the First Amendment, and an attack on religious freedom. The church’s teachings are also, according to theoconservatism, integral to the founding of the United States. Since constitutional rights are endowed from the Creator, and the Creator is the Judeo-Christian one, the notion of a neutral public square, embraced by liberals and those once called conservatives, is an attack on America. America is a special nation because of this unique founding on the Judeo-Christian God. It must therefore always be guided by God’s will, and that will is self-evident to anyone, Catholic or Protestant, atheist or Mormon, Jew or Muslim, from natural law.
Hence the notion that America could countenance abortion or same-sex marriage is anathema to Santorum and to theoconservatism. It can only be explained as the work of Satan, so alien is it to the principles of Judeo-Christian America. Hence the resort to constitutional amendments to ban both: total resolutions of these issues for ever must reflect what theocons believe was in the Founders’ hearts and minds.
This has long been the theocon argument; it was the crux of what I identified as the core Republican problem in “The Conservative Soul”. It is not social conservatism, as lazy pundits call it. It is a radical theocratically-based attack on modern liberal democracy; and on modernity as a whole. It would conserve nothing. It would require massive social upheaval, for example, to criminalize all abortion or keep all gay couples from having any publicly acknowledged rights or status. Then think of trying to get women back out of the workplace or contraception banned – natural, logical steps from this way of thinking. This massive change is radical, not conservative. It regards the evolution of American society these past few decades as literally the work of the Father of Lies, not the aggregate reflection of a changing society. It is at its essence a neo-Francoite version of America, an America that was not the pinnacle of Enlightenment thought, but an America designed to destroy what the theocons regard as the catastrophe of the Enlightenment.
Andrew Sullivan linked to Forbes’ Timothy Lee citing a “study” called The Sky is Rising that claims to prove that the entertainment industry is not suffering.
Mike Masnick (who, full disclosure, has paid me to contribute to his Techdirt blog in the past) has a great new study out today about the growth of the entertainment industry. Driven by complaints from a handful of large movie studios and record labels, there’s been a tremendous amount of discussion of the negative effects of the Internet—specifically, illegal file-sharing—on content companies. In a new study funded by the Computer and Communications Industry Association (which frequently locks horns with content companies over copyright issues), Mike nicely illustrates that if you look beyond the largest firms, the entertainment industry is in great shape by almost any measure.
Masnick himself had some very optimistic-sounding words and some impressive-looking statistics to back them up, as well as a pretty infographic to explain what he is saying.
Yet, what we find when looking through the research — from a variety of sources to corroborate and back up any research we found — is that the overall entertainment ecosystem is in a real renaissance period. The sky truly is rising, not falling: the industry is growing both in terms of revenue and content.
This “study” is a great example of why you should never trust people with a clear agenda when they tell you what their research has proven. I took the step of actually downloading Masnick’s “study” and, to be blunt, it’s a load of bullshit.
I’m not sure what makes Masnick think that he is convincing, but he was obviously banking on no one who knows what they are talking about actually reading his study. He has a decent graphics designer, but even any first-year maths/economics student could tell you that his “study” is an extended polemic and not much else. For those of you out there who have never studied in this field, here’s a few of the many reasons why you should not trust a word in The Sky is Rising (aside from the fact that it’s called that, obviously):
According to who?
Take a look at this:
More recently, the movie industry has also been dubbed recession proof, due to the box office ticket sales that have held up rather well in comparison to other industries. In 2008, DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg said, “Both traditionally as well as recently, we have seen that our product is, at worse, recession-resistant and, more optimistically and historically, has actually been recession-proof.” Additionally, according to the MPAA, total worldwide box office ticket revenues have increased by 25%, from $25.5 billion in 2006 to $31.8 billion in 2010.
According to PwC reports that include movie revenues beyond just box office ticket sales, the film industry has grown worldwide by almost 6% over the five-year period from 2005 to 2010, exceeding approximately $82 billion in value. For an industry that claims to be plagued by piracy, this steadfast level of growth during the Great Recession appears to justify the boastful statements of being recession proof.
The “PwC” referred to is presumably international accounting firm Pricewaterhouse Coopers, the issue here is that the “study” has not even said this, let alone provided a way to see the PwC data. What we do have is a nice-looking chart that doesn’t really say anything.
But wait, what about ..?
We can intimate that we are seeing the MPAA box office revenues from 2006-10, but there is a lot of information missing:
- Obviously, the US market has been quite stagnant while the international market has been steadily growing, why is that?
- Where has the growth been? We are told that other countries have high ticket sales, but not how they changed over the same time period.
- How have films been doing relative to the wider world? (i.e. if Nigerian films are booming, is that a sign of films doing well or of Nigerians doing well?)
Other films that deserve to be mentioned are independent films that don’t generate mainstream box office ticket sales. In 2011, the Sundance film festival received around 4,000 entries, and independently-financed films are being produced with renewed vigor as production costs have dropped.
- How have production costs dropped? What are these costs? What were they before and what are they now?
- Why don’t “independent films” achieve box office sales? Obviously they achieve some, how many do they actually get and why is it so much less than “non-independent”?
- For that matter, what do you define as “independent”? Does that include everything outside of the major US studios? Does it exclude big Bollywood productions?
Oh, it’s obvious is it?
Probably the biggest error that Masnick makes repeatedly is that he simply states facts that are “clear” without any evidence to substantiate them. I have picked a few examples out, but this happens again and again (emphasis added):
In 2001, Forbes published an estimate that assumed around 13,000 video releases were created every year and pegged the entire US porn industry to be valued at less than $4 billion. The widespread piracy of these types of movies is putatively ubiquitous, but despite this copyright infringement, predictions for the demise of the adult film market seem to be dismissed easily, given that the demand for adult entertainment seems to be going strong.
It “seems to be going strong”??? According to who? You can just “feel it”? Because the people making the movies definitely seem to think that their industry has taken a massive hit and, by the way, this has led to a competition to see who can be more “extreme” in order to capture the shrinking number of guys who actually pay for porn. This “fact” needs to have some substance, i.e. “which seems to be growing strong, as we can see from the increase in sales reported by [x]“.
Similar for these:
However, outside of advertising budgets, consumers are still willing to subscribe to television services in significant numbers even when free over-the-air broadcasts are widely available.
… These digital distribution methods for movies and shows are still in their infancy, but the convenience for viewers creates valuable services — which appear to be in growing demand as traditional television networks are beginning to provide their own online video strategies.
… A TV show or movie can be produced for a fraction of the cost compared to a decade ago, so many more kinds of shows can be developed with less risk.
What are these “significant numbers”? What is the demand for digital distribution? What fraction of the costs of a decade ago is production at now? This is actually a nice segue into my next point:
Volume published doesn’t mean anything
“Production costs” are relative, but what have undeniably dropped are distribution costs – mostly because they have gone from something (i.e. the cost of creating a physical product to distribute) to nothing (the cost of distributing a digital file). As a result, the volume of units has increased dramatically in film, publishing and music. This does not say anything about the number of people watching them or, most importantly, their quality (I have already argued that the quality of music being produced has been declining recently).
Here’s Masnick’s take:
With the cost of both production and distribution falling dramatically, different options for watching movies are more widely available than ever before, which creates an environment where a low budget film can potentially become enormously popular. Examples like Paranormal Activity, The Blair Witch Project and El Mariachi might be rare, but they also demonstrate the very real possibility for moviemakers to produce incredibly profitable films without a $200 million budget. There may be some exaggerations regarding movie budgets, but memorable (and profitable) storytelling doesn’t necessarily require an Avatar-sized budget.
Here are some numbers for you: according to IMDB, these three films, released in 2009, 1999 and 1993 have grossed $444,045,819 to date with combined budgets of $295,000 (most of which was for El Mariachi). Avatar, on the other hand, had a budget of $237,000,000 but grossed $2,782,275,172 in two years. Even factoring in the budgets, Avatar grossed six times as much in two years than those three films did in a combined 35.
What does this say? Whatever you think about “memorable storytelling”, Avatar-style productions are immensely more profitable than their smaller, cheaper counterparts and a lot more people are willing to pay for them. If the movie industry can no longer produce the Avatars of this world, that is a problem.
Now here’s where piracy comes in: people will not be thinking long-term about the problem because we inevitably choose short-term rewards (watching Avatar for free!) over long-term ones (more Avatars being made) – see hyperbolic discounting. Ultimately, however, if we all stop paying to watch Avatar there will not be another James Cameron movie made ever.
… The line between amateur and professional video is even becoming difficult to define, as the children from the viral video “Charlie Bit My Finger” have gone on to become minor celebrities — earning enough income for Charlie’s family to afford a new house.