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David Poland

By David Poland

Media Evolution Is Less Fun Than Intellegent Design

Sorry to be missing in action… the good part is that you’ll have enough Black Swan action this week to choke on… the bad news (or maybe it’s the good news?) is that I have been recharging the batteries.

Besides the work load lately, I must admit that I am profoundly exhausted by the endless parade of meaninglessness being pumped through our little media world, day and night, so incredibly self-reflective but utterly lacking in any perspective besides an ugly, desperate need for attention. If you’re saying, “Pot meet Kettle,” I get that. But it’s not the same.

I guess the version of this over the weekend that was most striking was an Exclusive that Jane Lynch would be in the next Muppet movie and then an EXCL (because it was such an important item that spelling out the whole word would just slow things down) that she hadn’t been asked. Of course, both “exclusives” were a function of someone asking a question at some roundtable and behaving as though casting news is really, really important.

Or maybe it’s the lazy and thoughtless way internal memos are now used as fodder to make a story out of nothing. Should people who work for Disney really be breaking the law of the State of California while driving, putting themselves and others in harms way? Is Disney wrong in any way for taking a firm position about not doing it? Is it possible that the studio took an extreme position on digital paper because employees don’t take it seriously, which is why a memo doesn’t need to go out telling people they will be fired if they murder someone, a much more serious offense, but also against the law.

But the bigger point… this internal memo is not really news, unless you’re doing a real story on how studios deal with their employees when their employees break the law. It’s water cooler chatter. And that is now what “journalism” has been reduced to, on Evil Blogs or Mainstream Dailies.

And i guess that my conclusion is… casting news is almost never really, really important. Who is penetrating who in their set trailer… not really important. Who washes their hands after peeing in a studio restroom… not really important. And if you want to write about who is switching from which agency to the other agency, please do it quietly, because a grand total of 37 people actually give a shit.

And yeah, you can say the same thing about Oscar. And yes, people are too wrapped up in it. And it gets silly. But at least the general notion is celebrating something people with some degree of taste like and wish to honor, not tearing down people or turning artistic intent into mush by analyzing each stroke of the brush before the brush even gets sullied by the first glob of paint.

I couldn’t really have had a nicer day dealing with a movie than I did on Saturday. As it turns out, pretty much everyone in and involved with Black Swan values their privacy in a real way and has some perspective on the madness. Yet, here they are, making a movie that is truly outrageous and smart and demanding and funny and impactful. And yes, they want attention to be paid. But while it seemed like every one of them could go diva on paper, not one was disconnected or uninterested in being engaged. (Whether I took them someplace worth going will be your judgment).

And then I emerge from the bubble of surprising calm and am slapped in the face with the full array of hungry, desperate media madness. Yet I feel silly caring because it’s all so so-what… but then I realize that that’s virtually all there is. It’s gotten to the point where pointing out any one idiotic story seems unkind to the “journalist” involved because it singles out one act of stupidity when there are so very many every day now.

We are hanging on to a past that cannot come back… and we’re barreling in a future without using our best judgment or making much of an effort to understand what you, as consumers of news, might want more than 90 seconds from now. We’re the Daily Beast, losing 8 figures a year, pretending it’s a heroic event to take over a bankrupt Traditional Media outlet that was sold for $1 in August and is now being re-leveraged just 3 months later as Barry Diller and The #2 Tina try desperately to figure out how to spend money like they did in the Good Ol’ Days putting out the kind of product that was profitable a decade ago and not lose money every month.

And to the media, this is BIG news.

Are we just all stupid now?

I have been in movie journalism for almost 20 years now and I said when I started and I still say, “There is virtually no journalism in movie journalism.” It crops up now and again, but almost every EXCLUSIVE you read is placed there by interested parties and when The Hollywood Reporter goes all cesspool and reports the sex lives of the studio executives as news right NOW because someone else will break it if it becomes actual news in a week or three, it’s a bunch of nasty gossip and not anything close to serious reporting, even if the person writing it up is a serious person at times.

It doesn’t even matter any more if you think you know something about a subject. Just start typing.

I guess, in some ways, I am now where the Traditional Media types were when many of us arrived via internet and were suddenly drawing attention away from their exclusive party of know-it-alldom. But it feels different to me because it feels, right now, like everyone on every level has thrown in the towel and wants to be all things to all people.

I mean, The Hollywood Reporter really is the porn star who specializes in anal, but is using the money to continuing studying Philosophy at UCLA (at least until she gets bored with people who know more than she does teaching her and jettisons them for a bedroom with a Bel Air view). Nikki Finke really is Broderick Crawford in Born Yesterday, hiring a bunch of Bill Holdens to make herself look legit and not just successful in acquiring power through thuggery, never realizing that it would crystallize the view of her own limitations. indieWIRE is the classic story of a successful ethnic restaurant that struggled to make it, finally got to be a stable business, but couldn’t help itself when it found a rich guy who wanted to pay for them to expand into the giant space next door, suddenly making the restaurant feel half-empty, which made the whole thing less attractive to those who loved its earlier intimacy and spunk. Variety decided to go exclusive… and are now realizing that they have nothing to sell that is remotely exclusive. The New York Times has become the least focused, least motivated major outlet covering the beat, basically fielding calls and filling out stories with quotes from the self-interested… which is better, I guess, than pretending the information was a product of reporting. And The Los Angeles Times is like a George Romero movie, mostly corpses, but with occasionally zombies rising up… but moving really slow and eventually getting shot in the head. (And ironically, has the most experience and real reporting talent on staff… that is kept inert… perhaps the greatest single mystery in movie journalism.)

And you want to know about the web? Let’s just say, as nasty as the paragraph was, there will be some web sites that are really upset that they were not included…. because they don’t care what one says about them or even what whorish messes they are, so long as they get links and mentions.

I guess what I’m saying is that I am overwhelmed by the noise these days. It’s almost all sugar cereal with the sprinkle of vitamins on it so they can say it’s nutritious in the commercials.

Fifteen years ago, I felt like I knew what I could do to try to contribute to raising the level of the conversation. Maybe I succeeded, maybe I failed… most likely, both. But I have always tried to work to my highest intelligence. I have never prioritized popularity. I was lucky to find some.

But right now, I don’t know. What can someone who has a small bully pulpit do to move things in a more productive, more respectful, more movie-loving direction? How can anything matter when everything seems so important that it is so profoundly meaningless?

As it turns out… here is a bit of carefully considered perspective from Ms. Natalie Portman, considering the nature of acting and the nature of how people engage with media these days…

6 Responses to “Media Evolution Is Less Fun Than Intellegent Design”

  1. Krillian says:

    I love Portman, but I guess what it comes down to is if you don’t want to wind up on Mr. Skin, ask yourself if the nudity is really really necessary for the film. In most cases, it’s not.

  2. Tim DeGroot says:

    Apparently Anne Hathaway doesn’t live in fear of Mr. Skin; she’s confident in her work. Good for her.

  3. LYT says:

    Considering you can see right through Portman’s white shirt in the movie anyway, it’s just semantics.

  4. LexG says:

    I will ASTOUND the regulars and be serious about this, and say I agree with what she’s saying 10000%.

    Major, major actresses in the late ’70s would do nudity ALL the time, because the material was intelligent and adult and the subject matter warranted it, especially in, say, the smart, liberated feminist vehicles of the day. It was nudity that was occurring solely within that context and could be seen as artistic or beautiful or harrowing or vulnerable or expressive…

    The Internet destroys all of that; Even as recently as the mid-90s, up-and-coming stars like Rachel Weisz, Liv Tyler or Charlize Theron had no qualms about appearing nude when it was warranted; Next thing you know, it’s Mr. Skin O’Clock, and you’ve got a bunch of basement dwellars drooling over still freeze-frames from the eminently depressing, un-sexy in context scenes from the end of REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (also by D.A., coincidentally)… Like, if you had seen the movie and were moved by it and understand those Connelly scenes within the context, it felt like some unholy violation to have some goateed dweebs out there drooling over it. Almost as if had the net been around in 1978 and there was a quarter-second nip-slip from the victim in some hideous B-movie rape scene, there’d be assholes on the net turning that into a salacious still image because, “Look! Nipple!”

    Also shows how little imagination or subtlety most guys have, that they require technical “nudity” to be titilated by anything.

  5. christian says:

    And next thing you know horny old bloggers will be bugging movie directors for naked star outtakes…

  6. IOv3 says:

    Here’s what I do not get: she already is practically nude in that Wes Anderson short and she already has had nudes on the net for close to 10 years. If she’s so worried about being on a porn site, she should realize that if she wears a t-shirt without a bra to an event, she’s going to end up on a porn site because that’s the way of the world. It’s just the way things are now, especially with Portman, who people want to see naked because she’s Natalie Portman. If that makes any sense.

    Nevertheless, she has a picture with Hillary Clinton that may be one of the funniest pictures ever. If she can handle that, she can handle her nude scene online :D!

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