State of the internet: Turning pre-teens into potty mouths to make a buck

A couple of recent articles on the New York Times website seem to contradict one another.

Cat-and-Mouse for a Trashy Trailer”, published on February 24, laments the spread of explicit movie trailers across the internet.

Another piece, published days earlier, examines just the opposite situation.

In “WhoseTube?OK Go’s lead singer explains why his band’s music videos have trouble escaping the hallowed Walls of Google.

While seemingly at odds, the the two articles together actually represent all that is wrong with the modern internet.

Everyone’s favourite unregulated online space has been invaded by buck-thirsty business interests. These aliens from another market have cast matters of no profit like artistry and good taste aside.

The result is an online media culture that’s evolving almost by accident, shaped not by social activity – as you might expect in a social media climate – but by what best suits the general ledger.

OK Go’s music videos are exemplary pieces of contemporary artistic achievement. The band’s lead singer, Damian Kulash Jr., describes them as “creative works and not … our record company’s marketing tool.”

Most are shot in one take and involve extravagant and elaborately choreographed routines that succeed in mesmerizing despite the absence of both boobs and booty. (In fact, they’ve made this column hard to write since I just keep watching them in the interest of “research”.)

OK Go’s early success was solidly based on widespread online access to their videos. Now, however, the corporate invaders seek to corral them like ponies in a petting zoo.

It seems that OK Go’s record company, EMI, agrees with Kulash’s assessment of the music videos not being “marketing tools.” Unfortunately, in corporate-speak, that other term Kulash used, “creative work,” translates to “commodity.”

As a result, EMI has begun to demand payment each time someone views the band’s videos.

Google’s YouTube, the arbiter of online video content, concurs.

So rather than promote the sharing of OK Go’s videos, YouTube actively prevents them from escaping outside of its domain – presumably since it’s unwilling to pay for content somebody else might be making money off of.

EMI’s theory here appears to be that a video-viewing fee will be a cash cow both for EMI and for OK Go.

Kulash explains, however, that his band has netted a mere $27 in streaming fees from Google in the last 6 months.

He figures the record company might have pulled in about $5400, a sum that may just barely cover the cost of toilet paper in the men’s washroom of the legal department at EMI.

Meanwhile, there has been a 90% drop in people viewing OK Go videos online.

On the other hand, the Hit Girl trailer for the upcoming film, Kick Ass, is on a viral rampage.

It details the crime-fighting exploits of an 11-year old girl dressed up like a superhero. She shoots men in the face at point-blank range. She chops a guy’s leg off with a machete. She declares obscenities rude enough to send veteran truck drivers into convulsions.

But, you know, this is a world where parents blithely sell the consent-challenged souls of their 2-year old daughters to Facebook, so why shouldn’t a pre-teen girl callously spew the c-word? (After all, she’s probably directing that venom at her parents.)

As you might expect, Hit Girl is what’s known as a “red band” trailer. It’s been officially rated by the Motion Picture Association of America as restricted for viewing by people who are over 17 years of age.

(Ignore the sick irony in the fact that the actress portraying the explicit Hit Girl character only just turned 13.)

However, despite the legal sanction it carries, and unlike OK Go’s perfectly awe-inspiring music videos, the brutal Hit Girl trailer has managed to travel far and wide online.

If the MPAA’s red band rating carried even a modicum of credibility online, the Hit Girl trailer would never have been produced.

It’s not as though the web’s “age walls” really have any effect.

One I came across while accessing Hit Girl was simply a link that read, “Click here to verify you’re over 17 years of age.”

Yeah, that’ll keep this kids out.

In fact, the trailer was produced specifically to acquire that “red band” prestige.

The rating is a cornerstone “marketing tool” for the Kick Ass movie (and, by extension, Brad Pitt’s production company, Plan B Entertainment, the financier of the whole sick affair).

If media companies actually cared enough, they could easily ground Hit Girl. There’s no technical reason that she’s out tearing up the neighbourhood while her older brother, OK Go, is quarantined in the basement.

It’s purely a business decision.

When dealing with the unregulated internet, media companies appear to have set aside traditional media values such as artistry, integrity, morality, and ethics.

Instead, they’re lost in a world of ROI tunnel vision.

They’re chasing the buck, as long as where the buck stops best suits them. If they have to turn a pre-teen starlet into a potty-mouth prima donna to do this, oh well.

It kind of makes you wish Hit Girl would visit the corporate offices at EMI, YouTube, and Plan B to set things right.

OK Go could write the soundtrack for the scene.

Now that would be a music video worth paying to watch. As long as you’re over 17.

Originally published in the Yukon News on Friday, March 5, 2010.