Whoosh! Issue 44 - May 2000
Editor's Page



From the Editor-in-Chief:
BLACKOUTS, OPINIONS, AND AUTOGRAPHS
From the Graphics Editor: THE NIGHT OF THE BOGGLING BLACKOUT

From the Editor-in-Chief:
BLACKOUTS, OPINIONS, AND AUTOGRAPHS

Blackouts

One of the privileges of having your own website is you can humor yourself publicly. Because of my decision, and mine alone, I have decided to have WHOOSH participate in the May 13th Blackout. This is not a position shared by all who participate at WHOOSH (see, for example, Bret Rudnick's opinion below), and it is not one that I do lightly. Rarely do I use WHOOSH to promote something that is this devisive or political. In this case, however, because I feel it represents something that goes beyond my usual avoidance of controversy or politics, I am using WHOOSH to help educate readers on this very important issue. Some issues go beyond politics and should not be avoided.

The Blackout is a grass-roots response to the inevitable arrival of commercial interests onto the web. In short, the owners of copyright and trademarks have been trying to expand their rights under law (usually more successful than unsuccessful) in a society which has created a popular culture around the consumption of such copyrights and trademarks. WHOOSH has, along with the url to the Official Blackout statement of purpose (http://www.spookweb.com/blackout/about.htm), posted two articles, by Henry Jenkins ("Media corporations are stealing our cultural heritage") and Jesse Walker ("How intellectual property laws stifle popular culture"), which explain each of their concerns over this frightening development of what is becoming a form of cultural fascism. The concerns run the gamut from the relatively minor annoyance of webmasters getting cease and desist letters, which affects at the most a few, to the chilling of folk and popular creativity, which affects our entire culture.

The Blackout started as a protest against Fox sending cease and desist demands to a small group of websites for using copyrights and trademarks without a license. The Blackout organizers goal in all this was (1) to show Goliath that David at least could stand up; (2) to publicize their dilemma; and (3) to encourage discussion over making the copyright and trademarks laws at least on par with the print laws when it came to fair use. Their means to do this was a voluntary, and mostly symbolic, "boycott", a highly traditional means to demonstrate peaceably citizen's concerns and discontent as to the affect of specific issues. But it also has a deeper level.

As explained in the Jenkins and Walker articles, there is something else going on which the on-line media fandom community has stumbled onto, most likely by accident, in their enthusiasms for the object of their adoration. The law rarely blazes new pathways. The law traditionally lags behind and catches up eventually if you are lucky. Grassroots actions are usually what really change things, and it has to start somewhere. There are usually lots of false starts and starts that are nipped in the bud. But after a while all these starts begin to stick, and finally there is a critical mass reaction in the population. We live in a time where patience is scorned over instant gratification. By an advertising culture running amuck, many of us have been conditioned to believe that if we cannot have it now, then we should forget about it. I am pleased that the Blackout, which has been in planning for over 6 months, is going through. It shows that we of media fandom are not just a bunch of geeks who only care about our TV shows, movies, or latest obsessions. We actually care about our fellow fans, our culture, and most importantly, when we can sense something is going wrong, we do not hide our heads in the sand or avoid the issue for fear of reprisal, but try whatever means are available to us to stand up and say that something is or might be wrong.

Opinions

Which leads me into another issue, WHOOSH is not any more a statement of a unified fan position than any other website in Xena fandom. It's a website that a bunch of fans collaborate on. I have fun with it because I created it to have fun with. I am who I am. I love to watch things develop and change. One of WHOOSH's mandates is to observe and comment about not only the show, but also fandom and all related things. There is no public service mandate or any political conspiracies over the use of WHOOSH. WHOOSH at best is a collection of the feelings, thoughts, and output of a bunch of fans whose individual tastes and experience dictate what they have to share with WHOOSH readers. True, WHOOSH is supporting the May 13th Blackout, but this is more the exception that proves the rule.

Nothing in WHOOSH is the opinion of ALL Xenites (heck, it's not even the complete opinion of me!). Nothing can be. Xenites are individuals. To remind people of that I even have this on the main page (amazing that it is even needed):

"The views of the authors of the articles, reviews, reports, editorials, and other content published in WHOOSH! represent the various and at times conflicting views of individuals active in media fandom and are not necessarily condoned by WHOOSH! or its staff purely by their inclusion into an issue. The articles are intended to foster debate, explicate theories of interpretation, and to add to the viewers' understanding, appreciation, and enjoyment of XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS. If you are affected, positively or negatively, by reading any article in WHOOSH!, the editorial staff strongly encourages you to express your concerns to us through a letter to the editor or through private e-mail to the author of the article."
WHOOSH is not like the LA Times who has an agenda and endorses a bunch of issues. It is not a political tool. It is just a fun pursuit. It does often transcend this simple purpose, but it does not go out of its way to shape the Xenaverse. It cannot. Would be a waste of time. It has published articles and editorials that the writers have felt passionate about or concerned about. But never, to my knowledge, has WHOOSH tried to purposely manipulate politically fandom. It has tried to educate, to elucidate, and entertain. But that's about it.

I have a difficult time understanding why anyone WOULD assume that WHOOSH would 'speak for all fans'. It is a very unfair assumption. WHOOSH is not a political animal, it is merely an archive and a depository of fan opinion and activity and other things of potential fan interest. We have no agenda other than to have fun and help and encourage fans write more fan non-fiction. We do not endorse candidates or organizations. However, as editor-in-chief and creator and architect of the site, I have put in more than enough dues (as well as others connected with the site) to feel free to express my opinions especially in things, which I personally feel, are of interest for conversation, debate, or what not. The duty of any journalistic endeavor is just not to report the news, but to also offer analysis and meaning to the news. As the statement above says, if you have an opinion about an opinion, send it to the letters to the editor. Share it with others.

Opinion is opinion. I know why I watch the show and have found it unique above all others to devote half my life over the past 5 years to maintaining a website about it. XWP that first year and a half was a phenomenon that broke cultural expectations and norms almost with every show. It was an exciting new look at a tired old genre in a tired old society and it shone brightly. Now, the show has settled into comedy forms which not only were not significantly present the first two seasons, but also are done way better by others. If RenPic insists on writing comedy, they should hire comedy professionals to do the job. Comedy is not their forte. Also, sadly enough, high drama is not their forte. What they do best is the understated yet hilarious dramedies they did the first couple of seasons and then sparsely thereafter. Again, that is my opinion. But with the loss of fan base and loss of momentum for the show, I know I am not alone in this sentiment. I know that I would be watching it more and enjoying it more if they would start writing better shows, leave the attempts at screwball comedy to people who can do it well. They do not need that stuff because they have proven countless times that they have a skill in the dramedy genre -- why not create a better than average product and stop dabbling in something that they do not do well.

"South Park" and Adam Sandler have a comedy niche. They try to push the envelope in vulgar humor. That is their niche. And they are at the top of their field. Personally, I am not a fan of vulgar humor. However, I do accept that there are ways of doing it that are better and more clever than others. I feel the same way about horror and violence. I do not enjoy horror films for the sake of horror films, but I have seen some which, for me, transcend their horrorness or violence and I appreciate that they can be excellent films although I would not normally watch something like that. I feel the same about vulgar humor, but I tend to have less tolerance for that. So now perhaps my personal horror about what XWP has become can be better understood. If not, fair enough.

I have been adding more "editorial" information into my writing because believe it or not, it makes the product more entertaining and more valuable over the long run. If you do not like it, then don't read it. Or better yet, create your own website and put up what you want to say about a situation or you observations of a critical problem of the show.

Finally, returning to the issue of WHOOSH representing ALL fandom, and therefore having some duty to only publish either positive information about the show or not criticize it, I have a question. Why should it be? WHOOSH is not hired by the fans to represent them (think about it...how could it be even done if the "fans" wanted some monolithic body making decisions for them? Have an election? Its absurd). WHOOSH is not a P.R. department of Renaissance Pictures. WHOOSH doesn't even have any paid advertisements. All it is, is a website which was built by a bunch of fans of XENA who are fascinated by all the different news and views of about XENA who wanted to share the information. True, it has become popular and is read by a relatively large amount of people, but why should that change the fact that one of the reason someone puts up a website is to express themselves. Why should I invest hundreds of dollars in cash and human hours each month just to keep it to myself when I think an episode is brilliant? Or that a show did not live up to its potential? Or even, dare I say it, a show totally sucked in my opinion? Why? Is it treason in any sense of the word? No. It's not about selling state secrets or potentially causing physical harm or loss of liberty to people. No one is being physically or psychologically hurt just because I have the opinion that RenPic has no idea how to make competent comedies (And I offer JACK OF ALL TRADES as Exhibit One), and that the ones that were tolerable seem to have been more accidents of fortune than any true sign of skills. It is just a TV show. And yet WHAT a TV show when it is on its mark, on its game, and doing what it can do well. That's what I usually talk about. But I still have a right to make whatever comment I want about the show.

AND MORE IMPORTANTLY, do I keep others from making their comments? Do I censor political opinions? I have been known to pull things for factual inaccuracy or just plain bad taste, but again, is that not an accepted right? I have been accused of being too liberal with the myriad views and articles that do get published in WHOOSH. The only times I am accused of limiting it is when people who do not take the time to see what WHOOSH is and how it works just assume that I limit viewpoints and topics. WHOOSH publishes way more than most other journalistic sites would publish. That is because I feel that any article/opinion/thought by a FAN deserves to have the opportunity to be shared with other fans (granted it is factually okay and not too bizarrely out of social norms) just as long as it has at least one coherent thought in it. I have published stuff that really would have been seen by most people as junk (and usually is), because I felt at least one point in the paper was something that had not been raised in WHOOSH before. I am a lawyer and an academic. I have been trained all my life to appreciate creative arguments. I also believe passionately that the only way anyone can make anything resembling an informed opinioned is by exposing themselves to as much opinion and analysis on an issue. When I make an opinion, it is more often than not informed. However, I also realize that someone else's informed opinion may be totally different than mine. In the scheme of things, my informed opinion shows up on my website and the other one in the letters to the editor or as an article or perhaps on their own website (and if by any chance THEY have a letters to the editor type section, which BTW very few websites have, I can present my informed opinion there). That's how the system works.

Autographs

Over several editorials in WHOOSH, I have written about my exasperation about the Lucy Lawless autograph cartel that Creation has created and the disturbing impression they've given that Lucy Lawless appeared to have been supporting their actions. Recently a fan got some pictures to Ms. Lawless during the "Politically Incorrect" taping. A letter explaining that they were to be used for Sword and Staff charitable auctions accompanied them. Ms. Lawless graciously signed all six of them, taking the time to personalize each of them several times, although she was being hounded by other requests for her time. This clearly showed that Ms. Lawless does not have any personal reasons for not signing anything for Sword and Staff auctions.

Given the events that transpired backstage at "Politically Incorrect", the evidence appears to point to Creation Entertainment and not to Ms. Lawless as to being the cause of this autograph inflation and the sad fact that many, if not most, charitable organizations do not feel confident to approach Ms. Lawless through her official channels because they are usually given a run around or worse, have their inquiries and requests ignored by Creation Entertainment representatives.

The good news it that it has now been established that a fan run charity clearing-house, Sword and Staff, whose only purpose is to collect charity in honor of the show XENA (in fact the ONLY such organization at this time; we are not talking about any competitors out there) can get a copy of signed Lucy Lawless pictures by the luck of a fan having private connections and having to pull strings to make sure the pictures were at the right place at the right time. Before this, Sword and Staff had to depend on donations from fans donating their purchased autographs. The bad news is that this approach to getting Lucy Lawless autographs is way too complex for what it is. What is going on? It is ludicrous and sad. What has been created is a group of fans (either individually or through Sword and Staff) going out of their way to make Lucy Lawless look good, when her own people should be doing it. Hopefully, if enough people become aware of this situation, perhaps Ms. Lawless will notice that her representatives appear to be representing their own interests over hers.

Now remember, if you do not like what I said, do not harass Mist. She has nothing to do with this editorial.

Kym Masera Taborn
Editor-in-Chief/Publisher
Executive Committee
Calabasas, California
April 30, 2000



From the Graphics Editor:
THE NIGHT OF THE BOGGLING BLACKOUT

Depending on where you are located on this planet, there will be a period of time spanning two calendar days (but less than 48 hours) in the middle of this month during which you will not be able to read this editorial, or this webzine, even if you wanted to. Why? Because WHOOSH!, in sympathy with some other websites, is observing a "fan blackout" to protest the shutdown of some fan websites, ostensibly because owners of copyrights, trademarks, merchandising licensces, or intellectual property objected to material they owned being placed on the Internet without permission.

It's difficult to find a place to begin my list of objections to this "fan blackout" movement, but here's the gloss: I think this is not a good idea.

Let's begin with some background information. There were some STAR TREK websites and some BUFFY websites and I daresay others I don't know about directly that put up on display images or sound files or video clips of television broadcasts and/or motion pictures as an adjunct to a fan site. Fan sites typically are put up by people who very much like a show or actor or story or concept (and sometimes by those who very much dislike those things). They exist to promote a show, show appreciation for it, and/or offer information or criticism. WHOOSH! is one such site, and covers basically the output and content of Renaissance Pictures products (having grown from its original XENA concept).

There were also some sites that went beyond the placement of images for enhancement purposes and put up lengthy clips or even entire episodes of shows. Some sites sold merchandise that was not legally authorised. The owners of the copyrights and/or trademarks or their legal licenscees decided that any infringement was not acceptable and informed all those sites who posted such material to remove it or face legal consequenes. This extended, in some cases, to an area known as "intellectual property" which would include fan fiction that uses characters created and owned by another entity.

Fan sites are, overwhelmingly, the equivalent of placing posters in your room, stickers on your locker or notebook, or pictures on your refrigerator. The Internet is the means by which you can invite others into your room or school or kitchen. For the vast majority of fans who create or visit fan sites, it's simply a venue to share your interest with others world-wide, rather than just in your immediate neighbourhood.

There are, however, always a few people who will turn innocent enthusiasm into an opportunity for profit. This is fine if your idea or character is original. It is not fine if you use someone else's intellectual property without permission.

Some people will say "Hey, it's only a few bucks compared to what the big companies make. Lighten up, dude." That's not the point. Copyright and trademark law are designed to protect the owners from infringement. Those people who say "It's no big deal" probably have never had their intellectual property stolen from them. I have, and it's not a pleasant feeling. Believe me, if I saw people ripping me off I'd take legal action pretty quick too (and have had to in the past).

The law doesn't (or shouldn't) distinguish between an individual or The Very Big Corporation of America when it comes to owning copyright or intellectual property. Granted, a large coporation has a lot more money to spend on lawyers in such cases, but then, they usually have more at stake in terms of dollars and size of operation than a single individual does.

When a company aggressively asserts its rights to products and property, many people look on that negatively as a big bully pushing a little guy around. In fact, the corporation is merely protecting an investment, which often means jobs as well as profit to the company itself.

Unfortunately, what often gets lost in the fray is the spirit and intent of the issue. I see nothing wrong in shutting down a site that is infringing on copyright, trademark, or intellectual property if that site is taking in money wihtout proper permission. If a site conforms by removing such material, it can still exist. It wouldn't be very exciting, Internet-wise, to visit a site that was all text, no pictures, that basically just said "I like this show." Duh. We all do or we wouldn't visit each other's sites.

Where I see a valid objection would be in the shutdown of sites above and beyond the protection of rights to images, sounds, and character use such as fanfiction. A fan site that lists episode names, credits, synopses, or critiques of shows broadcast easily falls under the "fair use" doctrine and if properly quoted and attributed, should be treated as any journal, magazine, book, or newspaper. If someone tried to shut me down on those grounds, I'd fight it. If someone told me "I own those pictures, those sounds, those stories, so take 'em off your website," I could not in good faith do anything but comply.

My basic rule of thumb, were I in a position to decide such things, would be: If no money or goods change hands, fine, no worries, just make sure you attribute the creators and players properly. If any money is involved, play it strictly according to Cocker (that is, by the book, legally and ethically).

Unfortunately, many corporations and the lawyers that work for them don't make such a distinction. Some of them feel that any capitulation could be taken as an abrogation of their rights, and they're not about to give any of that up.

But there are some companies that do understand fan contribution and who do "get it".

Renaissance is one of them. Renaissance have known about fan sites from Day One. They certainly know about WHOOSH! and have been very cooperative with us. Several representatives of Renaissance have told me personally that they appreciate what we and others like us do for the shows. Our relationship has generally been quite good. There have been times when they have asked us to remove sensitive information from our site and we have complied. They have been quite responsive to us in the past regarding requests for information, making it available when possible.

This is the reason for my main objection to the WHOOSH! participation in the fan blackout. I think it's far more constructive to recognise a company that has been fan-friendly than it is to join in a "strike" action against companies we have had neither trade nor trouble with.

And while I sympathise with the attitude of "freedom, baby, freedom", I don't think the fan blackout will have any impact beyond the fans themselves whatsoever. It is not the attitude of the fans that has to change, it is the perception of the media companies that needs assistance.

So if you want to make an effective protest against the perceived evil of companies shutting down fan sites, perhaps a better course of action would be to organise protest against those offending companies particularly. Write them letters, refuse to watch their shows. If a show had ratings drop precipitously and could connect that to being "fan unfriendly" I suspect they'd change their attitudes pretty quickly.

But for some so-called fans, it's easier to NOT do something than to take an effective action. Personally, I don't think a blanket fan blackout for a specific problem is any sensible solution.

Bret Rudnick
Graphics Editor
Executive Committee
Boston, Massachusetts
16 April 2000






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