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Monday, December 5, 2011

Final Blog: It was the best of the internet, it was the worst of the internet.

bad. by Nicholas James Santiago through CC Licensing

THE BEST STORE IN TOWN by Robert Huffstetter through CC Licensing

   How do you define the best and the worst? After all, the best thing in the world is the worst thing in the world to someone else (i.e. how there are people on this planet who can actually somehow stomach the taste of pickles). A traitor to one country is a hero to another. So, I'd like to take a look at some things that have different perspectives, any incongruities involved and which side I think may have a better argument.


This Is A Political Cartoon from Penny Arcade © Copyright 1998-2011 Penny Arcade, Inc.

  Copyright infringement has been a mess on the internet for well over a decade now. It flew under the radar for a while until Napster caught too much attention from the wrong people. It is true that the recording industries did lose a large amount of money since then, but many people believe that they were earning more than enough money as it was. CD copy protection, forced commercials on YouTube, legitimate pay to download sites (such as iTunes) and various things evolved to come up with ways around the lost revenue. Its easy to get caught up in the shock of what one has lost, but with a little ingenuity, things can recover. In light of what happened, there's been several lawsuits but are they really fair? Why are the penalties for song downloads MORE harsh than shoplifting the CD from a retailer? Consider the case of Jammie Thomas-Rasset from Minnesota. Why should she have to pay $1.9 million to make up for what would have only set her back $24 on iTunes? In fact, its been said that the musicians whose songs she is in trouble for downloading don't support the lawsuits against her and agree that paying the worth of the songs plus a court filing fee is more than enough. Now, consider what would have happened if she had shoplifted the physical CDs from a store instead. According to , if the value of the stolen goods is less than $500 it is only a misdemeanor. The punishments cap out at 90 days in jail or fines up to $1,000. Other sources say community service can be an option. Another response on Yahoo! Answers says he got off with only probation for shoplifting. That's a huge difference. This difference is caused by the gap in moderate laws created by law enforcement and greed induced lawsuits that happen when an industry gets to pretend that it is a policy agency. Why does this happen? The obvious answer we all get is that the people who have money have a huge influence on the people who make laws. Ironically, they seem to have a stronger hold over them than the people who actually voted to put them in office. If people start to refuse to vote for politicians that take money from lobbyists, the values in the government could drastically shift to the point where politicians actually represent the people they claim to. Another problem is that the internet is international. America in particular loves to go nuts creating these new laws for the internet but they don't seem to understand that their laws cannot be enforced on foreign sites. It seems that they're finally getting the idea, but the method to fighting it is a bit radical. In fact, it is exactly what China received international criticism for a couple years back. Wherever America makes a law, another country won't have one and I don't think that cutting the global internet into a domestic intranet is the right idea. Plus, where there's a will, there's a way and people will always find their loopholes or just break on through the old fashioned illegal way.

   On the flip side, what are the good points to free media? First of all, many believe certain artists would never would have been successful without it. Bands such as Linkin Park and The Mr. T Experience often have their success accredited to the fact that their early songs spread online creating a demand for their music. I don't believe that either band has made an official statement (which would be quite controversial) but I haven't seen any argument against downloading from either. Many bands have stepped up what the included content on their CDs is to make the albums seem more appealing than just downloading the songs. Behind the scenes DVDs, art booklets, and so on are a side-effect of the downloading phenomenon. I, for one, enjoy getting all the extra stuff when I purchase CDs now. Think back to the 80s and 90s. None of the VHS, cassette tapes, or early CDs I bought ever came with anything special. Hell, you were lucky if the cassettes even came with the words to the songs. Now, everything is all "special edition" and I actually feel like I do get a bit of my money's worth. The lead singer of Disturbed, David Draiman, made a comment in an interview with Metal Edge Magazine. He said,

"...when KISS was putting out records, their 'Alive' record sold so well because it made you feel like you were part of the concert experience. There was also an actual program in the thing, all these pictures, the KISS Army stuff… There's so much stuff that added to the value of that package. There wasn't a KISS fan out there who didn't want the whole thing, because everything that came along with the music was so worthwhile to them. It's not rocket-science, this stuff." 

Furthermore, it helped create a sense of international awareness of artistic expressions. Growing up in the US, we were effectively shut out from foreign music. If it wasn't in English, we didn't hear it. Part of this is due to American's negative attitude towards other languages, but it was always an uphill battle. Artists wanting to break into the US market almost always had to rewrite their songs in English which caused problems with timing the words and being forced to use the English language rules of rhyming lyrics that many other languages don't have. A few musicians slipped through the cracks but it was rarely more than once a decade. What ended up happening when Napster opened the doors is that an interest in foreign music skyrocketed. All of a sudden I was listening to bands I never would have had a chance to hear. Also, access to this music was crucial to me for studying Japanese. I even imported a handful of albums from musicians I learned to love. Some foreign groups also ended up getting domestic labels when their demand got high enough. Without downloading, none of them would ever have gotten their feet in the door.

 Free Anonymous Speech
Free Speech for the Dumb
Free Speech for the Dumb by Walt Jabsco through CC Licensing

  Back in the 90s we had guys like Howard Stern and Eminem. They were known for their shock value. Granted, there were several types of "tell it like it is" personalities over the years, but these are the big two I remember growing up. Once upon a time, it meant something to be able to speak your mind without fearing repercussions. In his song, The Real Slim Shady, Eminem acknowledges that part of his fame was built around the fact that he's "like a head trip to listen to, cause I'm only givin' you things you joke about with your friends inside your living room. The only difference is I got the balls to say it
in front of y'all and I don't gotta be false or sugarcoated at all." Those were much different times. Granted, at that time LiveJournal was available, but not widely known. Forums were steadily growing and various messengers were popping up faster than we could sign up for them. What happened was that everyone could be their own little Slim Shady. We could say whatever we wanted and it would be attributed to a screen name. All of a sudden, repressed human nature exploded and it looked something like this:

Green Blackboards (And Other Anomalies) from Penny Arcade © Copyright 1998-2011 Penny Arcade, Inc.

The next thing you know, you're getting links to disgusting pictures taken at hospitals, porn, freaky porn, and whatever you can think of (or would have been better off never thinking of) in your chat window or e-mail inbox. All kinds of movements were made to stop this stuff from getting in to the hands of children (which didn't work due to the international nature of the internet and that merely asking what your birthday is won't stop a kid from entering a porn site [they're smart enough to lie about their least I was back then]). It was getting so bad that I actually started to hate playing video games online because it was beyond irritating to hear some stupid kid shouting, screaming, and just using the most abusive and often randomly racist things I've heard right into the headset I'm using. Once Halo 2 launched, I reached a point where I decided to quit playing the game because I was spending more time blocking obnoxious people I had the misfortune of playing with than actually playing the game. Though while most people attribute anonymity of the speaker to the problem, the anonymity of the listener is also an attribute to this behavior. For example, I tend to hedge my words and clean up my language on facebook because I don't want my adorable 9 year old nephew to ask my sister what things like "chlasyphilgonnohrealherpanaidalwarted lice" are. If I didn't have my real name and real people I know on it, every 5 to 9 posts would probably either say "penis" or "vaginal discharge." Where I'm going with this is because Steven Q. Dangerfist is an alias, I am not inclined to hold back like I would on facebook or at a family reunion (on a side note someone actually did think my name was Steven Q. Dangerfist for real recently and I got a kick out of that) and I won't know the people who randomly stop by this blog and read it. If anyone is offended by it, their lack of identity would prevent me from feeling any regret over it.  Eventually, all of this miscreant behavior had to go somewhere, and that place is 4chan (the link is to the Wikipedia page on 4chan, not the actual board itself so its safe to click). 4chan has caught a lot of heat over the years for some very controversial content on its /b/ board that has almost no rules (just certain international crimes are not allowed as well as flooding posts). Although it is a controversial place, it is also interesting to see how it is self-policed. Every time someone goes too far, the members of the board have been very cooperative in ensuring that perpetrators are caught. The power to say and do whatever you want is great, but remember what good old Uncle Ben Parker has been reminding us of since the 1960's: "With great power comes great responsibility."

   On the flip-side, open communication has been hugely helpful. Many people are able to make new friends much easier than they used to be. More importantly, it has let those of us who were always treated as unnecessary by those around us have some sort of connection to others. In recent years, Japan has had this issue with people called hikikomori. In English, we have words like agoraphobia (though I guess that's more Greek than English...) and to some extent shut-in. Although it has been deemed a recent phenomenon, I think it has been around across most cultures and across all time. It's only become a public issue because these people suddenly have voices heard. When I read about what a hikikomori is, it hit me because it was exactly the way I was back in the 80s and 90s. One of the hardest things about being like that is this extreme sensation that you're the only one. With the dawn of open communication on the internet, it was like we all suddenly found out about each other. It's quite therapeutic. We didn't have to worry about being rejected anymore because it's a lot less terrifying when your name and face aren't involved. Over time, I wasn't pushing my bed or dresser against my door to keep the world out, I was sitting at my computer finally getting a chance to communicate with others. It was awkward at first and took a lot of practice, but by the time I got to high school I was actually involved in sports for crying out loud. Another thing that helped is that the line between being a geek and being a normal person got thinner and thinner and has even started fading out. As I slowly started feeling like a human, people also slowly started treating me like one.

The Ending
   For anyone who took the time to read all of this, I hope you got something out of it. My lifelong campaign against tunnel vision by use of perspective doesn't end here. It just does for the sake of this class. There was a lot more I wanted to write, but I decided to cut it where it stands. Perhaps some day I'll do some upkeep posts on flip-side perspectives here to keep the ball rolling. I'll try to put more humor in the following's finals week...cut me some slack.

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