Terrorism is the Weasel Word of the 21st Century

It’s almost inescapable. Every day we are bombarded with a terror attack here, a terrorist threat there – we hear the word terrorism so often that we have almost become immune to it. Worse than how often we hear the word is often we hear the word misapplied, or used in an exaggerated sense. That for every legitimate instance of terrorism, we are treated to a news report or public description of terrorism where the word most certainly doesn’t apply. In fact, most of the time this is the case; the word is sensationalized to draw attention to whatever the speaker/writer is trying to demonize. While the century is young, I am so exhausted with the misapplication of the word “terrorism” that I am calling it the weasel word of the 21st Century.

Terrorism has no official definition under international law. Yet in the average mans lexicon it is the “carrying out of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims” – this according to Webster. This is however a broad and simplified definition which fails to contextualize the severity of the word. This is part of the problem, it doesn’t.

Prior to 9/11, the word terrorism was not used nearly as often as it is today. The powerful imagery of 9/11 and of post-9/11 actions and geopolitical instability has allowed the word to pack a particular solid punch. In fact I think you would be troubled to think of anything other than 9/11 and the “War on Terror” the moment the word terrorism is evoked.

We are at perpetual war with an existential crisis. We are at war with what it means to live in a “post 9/11 society.” What does it mean to be “western” or what values do you represent versus that of those called terrorists? Who are the good guys, and more importantly who are the bad?

Why is what happened at Sandy Hook not a terrorist attack but what happened at Fort Hood a terrorist attack? Is it because the perpetrator was Muslim at Fort Hood? Or how about the man who flew a plane into the IRS building back in 2010? Was that a terrorist attack? Depending on who you ask, the Israelis are the terrorists or the Palestinians are. What about the attack on federal officials, shootings from Gabby Giffords to Pentagon officials? Assassination attempts on the president? Jumping the walls of the White House armed to the teeth? A government we don’t like in a sandy nation state? The allies of governments we (America) dislike?

Where does it end?

We hear the word so loosely applied that it begins to lack any kind of bite whatsoever. People are legitimately tired of hearing this word. It is so grossly misused, it has essentially become a weasel word. And that’s a shame for when things like 9/11 occur, when the word is truly justified.

Best example of this is when promoting the film The Interview Howard Stern told his audience in reference to the Sony Hack “This attack is no different than a 9/11-type attack…The president should have announced immediately we’re under attack.”

Hollywood was quick to embrace these comments, with many in the industry (while maybe not comparing the hack to 9/11) quick to call the hack-attack “terrorism.”

It’s not. To call this an attack on private memos and documents an act of terror is not only a ludicrous exaggeration of that word, it is to affront those who were actual victims of terror. In response to his comments, the NY Post posted the following headline:

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Less than twenty four hours later, emails were purportedly sent to various entertainment trades telling them to “remember September 11th, 2001″ when threatening violence to theaters showing The Interview. Homeland Security was later quick to denounce any threat, but it didn’t stop many in the industry from ramping up the use of the word “terrorism.”

While I do not condone the crime which was committed against Sony, it fails to even meet the Webster definition of terrorism — that this was carried out as any sort of political act. And if it is found out to be politically motivated once the actual hackers are caught, it is still not an act of terror the way 9/11 was and any comparison to that effect is disgusting.

For every person comparing computer hackers or lone gunmen to militants who flew commercial aircraft into a building full of civilians let it be known you are not only cheapening the word, you are insulting actual victims of terrorism. I remember closing the windows to my bedroom in September 2001 and throwing up in the trash can because I knew what I was smelling was the decomposition of thousands of human bodies amid an acrid metallic-smelling fire. I remember watching people jump from the burning towers to their death. I remember my father, a city fireman, recall every time he heard a thud he knew it was another life he could not save. I remember sitting on my stoop with my dog wondering if I was an orphan after the buildings collapsed and day turned into night. And I am tearing up now as I type this because I and so many other New Yorkers are so irreparably damaged with PTSD by the events of that day. So for you or someone you know to call computer hacking or Fort Hood terrorism, it is an insulting and cheap use of that word.

We cannot just blindly call any threats, actions or attacks terrorism simply because of some narrow dictionary definition. Even when we feel violated or terrorized like I am sure many in LA feel right now, it does not make it an act of terrorism. The more we use extreme words like terrorism to define both a computer hacking and 9/11 the more it becomes a weasel word, devoid of any real significance. It is a cheaply used word to vilify whatever the user of the word is trying to vilify. I write this article in the hopes that people will more selectively apply the word “terrorism” in only the most extreme and catastrophic circumstances otherwise “the weasel word of the 21st Century” it just may become.

Please also read NSA reporter Glenn Greedwald’s more scholarly essay on the subject:

Terrorism: The Most Meaningless and Manipulated Word

Letters to Paris

Everyone has a sort of romantic vision of what Paris, or some other famous city to which they travel will be like. While I went searching around the city for great views and good food, I also went searching for something else – myself.

Traveling to Paris was not just a vacation for me, a reprieve from a most difficult year, but quite possibly a turning point in my own life. It was in Paris where I decided that I am one hell of a good person, and that despite my faults and sharp tongue at times, I realized that I do not give myself enough credit for being a good person.

More importantly, I realized that I am too quick to settle when in reality I crave adventure and constant movement in direct conflict with stagnation. I want to see the world. I want to make sure I am living my life without regrets. I realized that memories, life experiences and those who you care about and those who care about you in return are more important than any money or VIP status.

Then came Sunday night (Paris local time). I downed a bottle of wine and went on a rant. And so begins ‘Letters to Paris,’

This rant, while nonsensical was deeply inspired from the feeling of “why am I not good enough.” Paris, or the aptly given nick name for which I gave to my former mentor, a Hollywood producer with close ties to the city was at the center of it. My rant stretched from things not previously alluded to (namely financial connections & some industry connections within my own family in LA), it then went on to cover my abilities from language skills to culture, to respected talent. More nasty, it went into jealous domains, as I wondered how he could still seemingly follow on social media two individuals from New Orleans (at least as of a few months ago, last I saw). I was jealous that he would consider them worthy, but not someone who is currently writing a script that will be read by many in his industry.

Why am I not good enough was the subject of the rant, but one which got lost in the haze of drunken reflection. It came out all wrong – narcissistic even. If he saw it, I don’t know what he’d think or whether he’d continue to keep tabs on me. All I can do is say I am sorry, because it is not how I intended it to come across.

Why is it that I am able to hold myself together so well, that when it comes to ‘Paris’ I just get so deeply frustrated that such a rant could even be inspired? In the scheme of things, it shouldn’t matter what he thinks of me, because I’ve done very well since taking his advice. But it does matter – it matters on a very deep, personal level because I care about him deeply & have admired his professional achievements since I was 14. I would do anything I could for him. Only I wish I could just let him go, but I am stubborn and can’t, and I probably never will.

So sitting in Paris, France, staring out along the Seine, drunk (which I rarely ever get) I lost it. I thought about everything over this past year, the games, the torment – the feeling of just not being wanted. I am not crazy, I am not mentally unstable – I am deeply hurt by the fact that I could not interact with him the way I have many others in his industry because he is the one person I wished to have friendship with the most (and we could’ve given all we have in common). At the core, I just wanted to be his friend. Instead, the most interaction I’ve ever gotten over the past year were his ways of saying “I am watching.” Only now I no longer know if he is.

Part of me regrets that rant for its misguided attempts to ask “why am I not good enough?” Part of me also realized it was completely necessary to realize that I am good enough. Sure I have my faults, which no doubt is to some degree my lack of a filter. Largely, I realized in Paris that I am a good, loyal, hardworking & talented person. I am talented, I am deserving of his attention. If anything, I would be flattered to have a young beautiful woman admire me as a man, a young beautiful woman who is very confident, intelligent and a true asset in many respects. If anything it is a reflection of him, that I would choose to admire him over so many other possible individuals – but it was him who made an impact on me.

To this day should I ever be granted forgiveness, I would go to bat for him and defend him against anything or anyone. Even if he never talks to me again, I would still be loyal to him. Part of me even hopes he still looks after me. I’d lie if I said I didn’t like the attention from him. I just wished it were so much more. I just wished I could have walked along the Seine with him and talk comfortably about everything, not a concern in the world. I just wished I could have practiced guitar with him, and talked about music and music history.

I just wished I could have been his friend.

I just hope that whoever does get that honor of friendship, or whoever does become his next assistant or trusted employee on his next project values the opportunity as much as I would. Of course that is a tall request – because it would be impossible for anyone to value that opportunity as much as I would. But it’s most likely an opportunity I will never get. That’s not because I am not good enough, I am. I am good enough, and sometimes even when you’re good enough things don’t go your way. That’s what I learned in Paris – all that matters is that you know you’re good enough and that rejection or otherwise does not mean it is not so.

Space and Time: Why Some Relationships Remain Online

Many moths ago, I wrote a popular piece about how we interact with each other online, called  Space and Time: Interpersonal Relationships on the New Technology Frontier

The post revealed ways in which despite the lack of actual contact or in-person relationships, people could come to befriend one another, or even fall in love with one another over the internet. Much like the science fiction film Her, people can have much of the same response to emotional or psychological stimuli that they can get in person.

Of course there are also pitfalls to online relationships. In the case of friendship, it is hard to ever verify the experience. So much communication occurs non-verbally, that we are left open to misunderstanding. The physical mind needs that shake of hands to verify things, even where we feel comfortable with one another. In that case of a romantic relationship, as well covered in Her, the lack of physical expression of emotion can prove tormenting.

So why do some relationships stay online, and why do others begin there and move into the physical space? That’s what this long-delayed follow-up post seeks to explore.

It’s about control.

We wouldn’t enter into a relationship if we didn’t feel that both parties got something rewarding out of the experience. The internet provides a convenient medium to befriend people from far and wide, and across many different cultures and socioeconomic levels. It’s pretty incredible the types of people we can meet, the discussions we can have and the knowledge we can gain. And in many cases, from these exchanges, people decide to meet in person when that convenient opportunity presents itself.

But others choose not to, and this is where things become complex. In Her, Joaquin Phoenix’s character spends time finding ways to replicate Samantha (his computerized love interest) through the vessel of an actual woman at Samantha’s suggestion. He fails to experience the pleasure he hoped to achieve and becomes deeply depressed. The moment of “meeting” failed to meet his expectations.

We all have some kind of idea in our minds about what we hope to achieve by meeting in person when that opportunity arises. For many online relationships, the relationship just works better online. It is the fantasy of it. You are 100% in control of the stimuli.

If you do not want to talk, you can choose not to reply to the message – that’d be much harder to do in person. If you want to engage in conversation, you can at the click of a button. You can choose what you can see about that person, and what to ignore. It’s easier to compartmentalize things. You can grow into your own assumptions about someone. You begin to develop a sense of this person through the way they carry themselves online, which may in fact be much different than in person.

Not everyone is gregarious and open enough to meet someone they’ve met online and fear being disappointed. By keeping the response to stimuli online only, the person who experiences satisfaction from this relationship gets their emotional needs met without fear of disappointment.

It is only natural that one may eventually want to meet. It is only natural to want to express that kinship, or as in Her, the physical desire of being infatuated with someone.

The act of online engagement can be compared to a game of sorts. A catch me if you can. This may be because of avoiding potential disappointment, or because you yourself may not be ready to share your truths with that person.

Imagine you meet someone, and find out the perfect image you had of them is shattered when you find out they’re struggling with drug addiction and major depression. Imagine you meet someone and they actually have a significant other. Imagine you befriend someone, and find out they were not who they appeared to be. This is the risk that for some outweighs the potential to verify the exchanges you’ve had.

In Her, Joaquin Phoenix realizes toward the end of the movie that Samantha was actually a security blanket for his own problems. He felt so relieved to know that someone could care about him so much, understand him and make him feel so good. He felt good that someone gave him attention and affection when he barely had affection and care for himself.

As humans we enter into relationships of all kinds for a variety of reasons. We are after all a gregarious species in need of other human contact. Despite all the conveniences of modern technology, they cannot stand in as a replacement for physical relationships. We need to verify our exchanges to make them worthwhile.

When we fail to naturalize the experience, there is often a very rational reason: we’re not able to. It could be personal, not wanting to share yourself with someone. It could be that maybe you are unsure of who exactly you would be meeting. And so it’s easier to just play games. You’re 100% in control, every time. The longer we delay the inevitable, the more we come to be fascinated by it as well. It becomes a sort of high. It’s why even in person, the chase is often more fulfilling than the reward.

Ultimately, that’s just the way some relationships are. They’re not meant to be verified. And even these relationships can provide meaningful excavation to learn more about ourselves, even without verification. Instead of complaining about the lack of verification, we should look inwards and be thankful the technology of today allows the concept of Space and Time to be so radically altered that such friendships can even be formed. Technology is a wonderfully powerful thing. I look forward to continue to excavate its effect on relationships going forward because it holds revolutionary capabilities and the potential for an entirely new social order and interpersonal context. That is fascinating to think about.

Copyright Wars: Theft v. Infringement

Read time: 5 minutes

Recently my Twitter feed has filled up with this debate, with one side claiming copyright as theft, the other claiming it is infringement. I am writing this piece not to take sides, but to put forth the actual law of the land regarding this debate. A scholar of law, having nearly gone to law school to study Intellectual Property Law, and whose thesis at the undergraduate level was a report on issues with 21st Century Approaches to Intellectual Property, I wanted to provide an non-hysterical academic approach to help people understand this subject.

Editors Note: I do not pirate, nor do I explicitly condone piracy. I own my entire library of music, movies and also pay for my own Netflix and HBO/Showtime subscriptions.

1. Theft or Infringement?

If you’ve rented or bought a DVD in the past 10 years you are probably now familiar with the MPAA ad that plays at the outset of your DVD. It’s an ad cut to an action movie score, proposing the argument that you wouldn’t steal (all theses things) so why would you steal a movie? “Downloading is theft” they say at the end of the ad, which you can view here.

Here’s the problem with that claim, it is entirely wrong as a matter of law. In 1985, the United States Supreme Court sought to answer this question, “theft or infringement.”

A man by the name of Dowling transported goods that were reprinted without the copyright holders permission across state lines, specifically, bootleg phonorecords (which just as easily could have been bootleg movies, CDs or any other form of copyrightable entertainment fare). He was caught and charged with violating Title 18 U.S.C. 2314 which is defined as “transports in interstate or foreign commerce any goods, wares, merchandise, securities or money, of the value of $5,000 or more, knowing the same to have been stolen, converted or taken by fraud.” While convicted by the lower courts, Dowling and his team of attorneys contested that violating copyright wasn’t actually theft, since Dowling did not deprive the owners of any physical copy.

The highest court in the land agreed in its decision in Dolwing v. the U.S. 473, U.S. 207 (1985), it’s majority opinion has since become law of the land. Here’s some of the majority opinion and it’s definition of theft v. infringement, specifically why infringement is NOT theft:

It follows that interference with copyright does not easily equate with theft, conversion, or fraud. The Copyright Act even employs a separate term of art to define one who misappropriates a copyright: “`Anyone who violates any of the exclusive rights of the copyright owner,’ that is, anyone who trespasses into his exclusive domain by using or authorizing the use of the copyrighted work in one of the five ways set forth in the statute, `is an infringer of the copyright.‘ [17 U.S.C.] 501(a).” Sony Corp., supra, at 433. There is no dispute in this case that Dowling’s unauthorized inclusion on his bootleg albums of performances of copyrighted compositions constituted infringement of those copyrights. It is less clear, however, that the taking that occurs when an infringer arrogates the use of another’s protected work comfortably fits the terms associated with physical removal employed by 2314. The infringer invades a statutorily defined province guaranteed to the copyright holder alone. But he does not assume physical control over the copyright; nor does he wholly deprive its owner of its use. While one may colloquially link infringement with some general notion of wrongful [473 U.S. 207, 218]   appropriation, infringement plainly implicates a more complex set of property interests than does run-of-the-mill theft, conversion, or fraud. As a result, it fits but awkwardly with the language Congress chose – “stolen, converted or taken by fraud” – to describe the sorts of goods whose interstate shipment 2314 makes criminal. 8 “And, when interpreting a criminal statute that does not explicitly reach the conduct in question, we are reluctant to base an expansive reading on inferences drawn from subjective and variable `understandings.'” Williams v. United States, 458 U.S., at 286 .

On the intent of Copyright Law:

[t]his protection has never accorded the copyright owner complete control over all possible uses of his work.

So there you have it, the law of the land as it stands is that copyright violations are not theft, but infringement. So the MPAA cannot make the claim that it is theft, for that would be a legal fiction that stands at odds with what the highest court in the land has held as a matter of jurisprudence. Additionally, the intent of copyright law illustrates a separate concept of property which is naturally defined by limits and so cannot be seen as traditional property but rather the temporary grant of a license. While it is no doubt illegal to violate the terms of that license, namely not obtaining the uses of it, it is not theft, but unlawful copying without prior consent.

2. In Case You Still Find Disagreement With the Law, Why is it Still Not Theft?

In the now notorious Expendables 3 case, Avi Lerner, the films producer, has sought to sue for the losses encountered by his film as a result of piracy. If you’re wondering how exactly you calculate the losses from this film, you’re not alone. Avi claims that his film lost $250 million as a result of people downloading his film and not going to see it in theaters. The problem with this logic is that is rests entirely on an assumption, namely that those who would download the film would have paid to see it had the film not been made available digitally for free. You cannot assign a concrete dollar amount based on a logical fallacy like an assumption, it would not nor should not stand in a court of law. For what it is worth, because of said assumptions on calculating loss, the London School of Economics in an impartial peer reviewed study found that the industry routinely exaggerates its losses from piracy: here.

Lets look at it in strict logic. If I do not pay for a product, that does not mean I have in fact stolen that product. For example, I go into a store and obtain something without paying. Logically, P -> Q, where P = Does not Pay, Q = Obtains item. The only thing this logic illustrates is that I did not pay for the item. “But you stole it!” That would be an assumption, I could have borrowed it with permission, I could have gotten it for free, I could have bought another item and got that as a gift.

Now how does this logic apply to the piracy debate? Someone posts a copyrighted song on YouTube. I look up that song and listen to it, even though the artist did not give express permission for that user to redistribute the song on their page. I essentially got to listen to the song for free. Did I steal anything? No, I simply did not pay for it.

Now you may still be screaming “theft” but this is where infringement actually comes back into play. The person who ripped that song and posted it to their YouTube page is in violation of breaking the law. However, they did not steal the song. The song is still available for purchase on iTunes, Amazon and a litany of other legal avenues. The song was merely redistributed without consent. The poster of that song failed to pay to post that song. That is not theft, that is infringement of the users copyright. That is the failure to pay a middleman to redistribute the work.

3. The Conclusion, It’s About the Artist!

“But it’s about the artists, this all hurts the artist!” The sad thing is, artists don’t own their copyright. In the instances where conglomerates have taken legal action against torrent sites and individual infringers, most of that money is taken up by legal fees and goes back into the coffers of the copyright holders. The artists receive comparatively little money from any settlements (provided settlements even occur, as often times the pirates are actually insolvent).

Even Chris Dodd of the MPAA himself said before Congress earlier this year that fighting piracy through court battles and excessive fines was not going to solve the problem. I agree with Mr. Dodd, and appreciate his confession.  Ultimately all of this legal crusading does nothing but enrich conglomerates, all the while failing to actually stymie piracy. Providing works in more formats, at appropriate price points and with less restrictions by geography and exclusivity would be a step in the right direction.

The problem with combating piracy in the most effective way is that is stands at odds with how these media conglomerates and copyright holders actually make money. By restricting content and making exclusive agreements with distributors, they rake in billions. In fact, since the decline of traditional DVD sales and a further decline in North American box office, a sizable percentage of Hollywood’s money is coming from licensing and exclusivity contracts.

At the end of the day, artists aren’t in control of their work. Additionally, copyright is now being lobbied into a perpetual property right in conflict with its original intentions, which was a temporary license of the redistribution of a copyrighted work. Happy Birthday is still not in the public domain, nor is Mickey Mouse. Why? Because conglomerates want to keep stretching the term of their copyright so as to continue to make money through licensing and ownership of the work.

It’s really simple, Hollywood and others can either continue to rake in billions through licensing and exclusivity contracts, or they can make work more widely available to combat piracy while having less exclusivity contracts. Someone who wants to watch Orange is the New Black but can’t because it’s only available on Netflix and Netflix isn’t available in their country will not wait, they will pirate – and they have, it’s among the most pirated shows. It’s a global cultural marketplace now, geoblocks and content restriction, and drawn own windows of distribution do not make sense in the 21st Century. So either Hollywood can find a way to cater to demand or constantly be behind the 8-ball.

Hollywood cannot have its cake and eat it too. We need to find a way to make IP law and copyright work for both the artist and the company that funds and distributes the artist’s work. Currently too much is in favor of the conglomerate. This has wide spread consumer choice ramifications that also tends to increase piracy in the near term. Fact is, you cannot eradicate piracy any more than you can poverty, or unemployment – or what in economics is referred to as “the natural level,” in that there will always be some natural level of piracy the same way there will always be some natural level of poverty, unemployment or even illicit drug trade. If you shut down Silk Road today, people will buy pot from another online vendor tomorrow. If you shut down Pirate Bay today, another Pirate Bay will pop up tomorrow.

This whole MPAA crusade is The War on Drugs on steroids (pardon the pun). It DOES NOT work. The only thing that will work is embracing innovation, reforming copyright law, making content widely available at reasonable price points and working with artists to assure they are getting a fair share of the work they essentially created. Unfortunately, we cannot have that debate without first understanding the difference between infringement and theft, and with Hollywood’s fingers still firmly in its ears, I don’t know when we ever will.

Who You Gonna Call? Why Women Should Be Concerned with a Female Ghostbusters

Earlier this week, Paul Feig and co. officially committed to making an all-female version of the beloved Ghostbusters classic which is set to begin filming early next year. The scribe, Katie Dippold (The Heat, Parks and Recreation), will be co-writing with Feig whom she also worked with on The Heat, starring Melissa McCarthy.

The reaction was swift and equally divisive. Many women praised Paul Feig for taking a step in the right direction by casting more women in a major feature. Others belittled Feig for messing with a classic and the beloved cast — and worst of all, others accused him of “militant feminism” (feel free to browse through the hate here in the comments section at your own discretion).

Whatever your thoughts on a Ghostbuster re-boot, many rightfully noted the gender politics behind this decision. While as a woman I am 100% in favor of better and more numerous on-screen representation of women, I believe this is NOT the way to go about it.

Why?

1. Don’t Preach

First and foremost, people don’t like being preached to. Even where an individual is inclined to agree with the view or issue being preached, people don’t like it because they would rather arrive at the conclusion on their own. People don’t like it when they feel something is being forced down their throat, or when a message is too self-aware. By making this about women over the film itself, Feig has set this up as gender politics first, a Ghostbusters reboot second. Such a divisive strategy is not good marketing for this film.

A while back, Mike Flemming of Deadline wrote an extremely one-sided, offensive take on why he thought an all female Ghostbusters was a bad idea, namely why he disagreed with Feig’s decision to consider doing so. In making his argument he used sexist language and offended his female readership in the process. Afterward many took to Twitter and social media to take up sides on why or why not an all-female Ghostbusters would be a good idea. While both sides agreed that Flemming’s article was offensive, the camps disagreed on whether an all female cast would actually work in this case.

While supportive of greater onscreen representation, many noted that the way in which Feig chose to go about stirring the pot  was not constructive for the cause of diversity in casting. The message was too self-aware, and to quote one Deadline commenter, “this film will forever be shrouded in controversy, and that’s not good for anyone.”

2. Who You Gonna Blame? Women.

What happens when you make your film about women before the actual film itself? You may unintentionally be setting up women for immense failure.

If this film should underperform for any reason, mark my words, the all female cast will get the single blame. It won’t matter the star power involved, or the quality of the film itself. As history has shown us in the past, when a female film tanks, the female is blamed before many other factors. A good example of this at work are the films Elektra, starring Jennifer Garner fresh off Daredevil and Cat Woman starring Halle Berry fresh off James Bond.

Have you seen a female super hero film since those two films were released in 2005, and 2004 respectively? No – there has not been one. While these two films were truly awful, from story to the directing itself, the blame sadly fell on the female stars at their center.

The failure of Ghostbusters may work unintentionally the same way. If it tanks, it will be years if not decades before execs think twice about green-lighting an all female comedy or mega-budget film. Especially given the preachy nature of Feig on this matter, if it fails, diversity nay-sayers will be the first to line up and say “I told you so” while green-lighting another decade of white all-American male led films at the expense of women.

This is a risk that in my opinion outweighs the prospective benefit of this movie being a success. It will work decidedly against the goals they are trying to achieve.

3. Why Ghostbusters?

Seriously though, why? I am a female and even I find this to be a terrible idea. The only thing more terrible than rebooting a film famous for its incredibly iconic cast would be to cast Melissa McCarthy in place of Dan Akroyd. Without going into detail on why I think McCarthy’s fat-trope humor is unproductive to representation of women on screen, let me focus on why I think this idea stinks to begin with.

The original film has a cult following. Key to understanding why a film gains such a following are the ingredients that made it work in the first place. There are so many other films that do not have the emotional attachment issues that Ghostbusters has. I am pretty sure you would upset a lot of people by casting current male comedy stars like Seth Rogan or Zach Galifianakis in place of the originals too. People don’t want to have their cult titles messed with by modern conglomeritzed Hollywood.

Instead of Ghostbusters why not try to come up with an awesome new generation of comedy for women to star in? If commercial appeal or brand-tie in’s are your concern as a conglomerate, why not reboot a film that doesn’t have this level of attachment, emotionally? I would much rather see an all female cast appear in something new than to fight to overcome the incredible expectations that will be set for them to out-do the original cast.

And for the love of God, keep McCarthy out of this film!

Conclusion

There are just too many hurdles for this film to climb to make a success out of it. The risk of the films failure additionally threatens to hurt more than help onscreen representation of women.

While Feig’s heart is undoubtedly in the right place, he has set in motion controversy that threatens to derail this cause. In order to give women a better seat at the movie star table, we need to be united on this issue, not divided. By coming out the way he did to announce his intentions for this film, he has given this film an even bigger hill to climb.

My last words: if you want to see more women on screen, support this film and see it in theaters no matter how bad. I believe in having to overcome the original, the attempt will likely be pretty mediocre with a male or female cast in lead.

Frankly, I think women deserve better than this.

A Word on IMDb (From a Film Industry Perspective)

IMDB

IMDb, short for The Internet Movie Database. Launched in 1990 by computer programmer Col Needham, the site quickly took off as the go-to for folks looking to find information about their favorite film titles. The site boasts over 2 million titles from around the globe, providing information from cast and crew all the way to goofs, trivia and message boards for fans to discuss the movies they’ve seen.

As the site grew, so too did the need to find a way to monetize its content. In 1998, Col sold IMDb to Amazon as a subsidiary, maintaining control over the operation of the site in exchange for allowing Amazon to advertise sale of DVDs on the site. The site remained with Col in charge, along with a number of managers and section managers in charge of monitoring content.

In 2002 at the Sundance Film Festival, IMDb launched a Pro service to compete for the business of entertainment industry professionals. Like Tracking Board or Done Deal Pro and similar services, IMDbPro sought to give professionals a behind the scenes access for fee regarding the dealings of the industry. The main difference being, it is much more limited than its competitors, often lagging behind in terms of reporting news. It exists primarily for those looking to use the site more in terms of LinkedIn and resume building than actual access to information.

The fact remains, IMDb is NOT a valuable tool for those in the industry. More often than not, it is actually a minor inconvenience.

IMDb is primarily reserved for the info-hungry movie going public, which was the case since its inception in 1990. As the site grew, growing to become an Alexa top-50 site on the internet, it became increasingly important for industry professionals to be mindful of the correctness of information on the site, as well as monitoring message-boards to keep track of buzz regarding projects. It is NOT a tool used by the industry to browse deals, gather info etc. as IMDbPro likes to suggest, it is an informational tool for the non-industry movie-going public.

Industry professionals don’t use IMDbPro for anything more than to correct information, or sparsely update development details of projects. They are primarily following the Tracking Board, or Done Deal Pro or any other number of services with more direct ties to the business. However, as IMDb is the public face of their industry, they must still update the site, which at times can become problematic.

The reason this site has also become a hindrance is that professionals now must monitor their reputation and projects on yet another website, one which of late has increasingly failed to quality assure information as it had in the past. As the site grows, more and more staff must be hired to overlook the volume of entries to movie titles, actor info, corrections, deletions and any other range of information. This information is submitted through page-edits by site users (not necessarily within the industry), like Wikipedia, but the information is then quality assured and approved by a section manager.

Recently, I was making corrections to my own page, when out of curiosity, I decided to look up a favorite producer and former mentor of mine. Under his Past Projects, I noticed a suspicious new animation entry slated for release this December. At first I was even fooled by it, it had 67 listed crew members and a release date. I figured, surely if it got past Section Managers, it must be legit! I clicked on it, and immediately saw the “director” credited under multiple departments, including voice actor, storyboard artist and animator. When I clicked on distributors and company info, no production company was listed, those distributors that were listed were competitors (they would never co-distribute in the same territories). Red flags were everywhere. The film didn’t even list a writer! And in the back of my mind, I felt I would have heard about a project moving forward if one of my favorite filmmakers were involved.

Since I have an IMDPro account, I decided over my lunch break to do a little investigative work, and what I uncovered should show just how bad IMDb quality assurance has become.

I Googled the film’s title in quotations (since the title itself was very generic) alongside the name of the director (also in quotations). What I found were two website results – that’s it. Only two unverifiable sites, and nothing industry related!

The first site was an Instagram account of the director, animator, storyboard artist jack-of-all trades who pulled off this elaborate prank on IMDb. He is a 19 year-old college student living in Idaho. On his account, he advertised an animated poster of the film with hash-tags denoting crew, distributors and phony release information. On the second site, a Wikia page, he drew up a mock credit and film Wikia page (much like IMDb). There he tried to tie his fake film in with the Producer (also ironically once an Idaho college student) and a past animated title of his (hint: there is no relation between these two films).

So IMDb allowed a fake film to be submitted to its site with only a Wikia page (easily created by the prankster – and probably pathological liar) and an Instagram account to “verify” its existence. Not a single mention of this project exists on any verifiable website from Trade dailies to the Tracking Board, or in the news, or uttered by the Producer(s) or distributors themselves. What took me a 3 minute Google search to uncover, was completely overlooked by IMDb!

I have since requested IMDb remove the title from its website, since I am sure my favorite producer would be quite irked if he’s even seen it (as I am sure the other 65 or so “crew members” would be). I have yet to hear back, but I am sure they will corroborate and follow through.

This is just one instance I have seen, heard of or dealt with regarding a serious lapse in quality control of high-value information on IMDb. These people are worth millions of dollars, and their image matters very much. The other producer listed (in addition to my former mentor and professional influence) has made over a billion dollars in Box Office the past two years alone! This is completely irresponsible (almost negligent) by IMDb to allow a 19 year old from the Mountain West to misrepresent folks in the business this way.

The fact that this even has to occur is ridiculous, especially since they recently raised prices on their Pro membership. This is something I would expect from Wikipedia, but not from a paid service with Section Managers overseeing submissions. Pro membership offers little, other than to have management over your page or projects (which is an obvious necessity in the information age). IMDb has forced its way into industry relevancy as an information access point. I have yet to meet people in the business who value it as a truly reputable resource the way the Tracking Board or other forums/sites are seen.

So for now, I await IMDb doing the right thing and taking this ridiculous prank off its site. And when they do, I will promptly suspend my Pro account until they can assure me lapses in quality like this won’t happen again. The industry frankly deserves a better information outlet and public face.

Are the Hollywood Guilds & Labor Unions Also to Blame for Dismal Female Employment Numbers?

Recognize the woman at the outset of this post? That’s Kathryn Bigelow, Academy Award winning director and of course a “female director.” She is also the example every diversity naysayer in the industry uses to illustrate their claim that “women are doing just fine in the business.”

The reality is much different of course. Women continue to struggle, even more so today than 20 years ago. However, there is one thing I will agree with these diversity naysayers on, and that is the repeated claim that “there are very few women directors and writers to hire.”

The DGA and its diversity task force frequently cite their studies, and comparable studies done by USC and UCLA, that women only made up 14% of directors on television projects over the past year. They cite similar abysmal numbers concerning feature films, where women directed only 8% of films theatrically released in 2013.

Looking at these percentages alone, one would be hard pressed to conclude things are going well for women in Film/TV. The numbers are equally depressing on the female writer front, with women writing only 27% of TV content and 16% of film according to the 2014 WGA Writers Report.

And yet, these are not the most shocking numbers.

These numbers are actually in line with the percentage of female membership in the Guilds themselves!

While the DGA and WGA West do not make percentage of their membership available by gender-breakdown, they do provide a list of members by gender. Using the search by gender function on both the DGA website, and the WGA West website, I was able to assign percentage of females in full membership of both guilds. Since most Writers/Directors come from NY and LA, I limited my calculations to include the overall makeup of women members residing in these cities (so the margin of error is around +/- 3%).

The Directors Guild of America is comprised of only 15.9% female membership.

The Writers Guild of America West is comprised of only 11.9% female membership. The Writers Guild East does not even allow people to search their website for a writer by gender or minority status!

When Hollywood goes to Guilds to find diverse employment (assuming they even do, for most hires are referrals which result in limited diversity), they only have a small number of women to choose from to begin with.

So Hollywood is actually not incorrect when they make the claim that there are few women directors or writers to choose from.

The guild’s are to some degree are OK with this, even if they actively commission Diversity Task Forces and panels ad nauseam.

Why? Well, it begins with understanding the actual purpose of a guild or labor union and the barriers to entry that exist to find yourself a member of one.

Guilds and labor unions by their very nature are anti-competitive. If you’ve followed American politics at all, you may have heard of “Right to Work States.” These states believe that independent of union membership, folks who are qualified to do the job can take that job independent of whether they belong to a labor union for that respective trade. Unions do not like Right to Work States because they want THEIR members to get those jobs. The reason they want their members to get these jobs is because they want the union dues inside their coffers versus in the savings of private companies that hire non-union work.

The same is true of Hollywood labor unions and guilds. Virtually no domestic production is working outside of the confines of the DGA or WGA. A studio film is not going to hire outside of the union for a writer, or a director. Also based on production locations, the crew itself is unlikely to not belong to a labor union like the IATSE or local branches of various “bellow the line” positions.

The unions have a vested interest in limited competition because they want to see their members get all the work. When it comes to employment in Film/TV, that work is already very hard to come by.

So why are there not more female members inside these guilds or unions? It all begins with how one can even obtain membership.

A recent study done by allies of the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) crunched BEA data to conclude that women only comprised 23% of film crews, and a meager 5% of Camera and Electrical departments.

In order for someone to gain membership in the Directors Guild of America, dependent on local regulations, on average a candidate must have approximately 1500 hours on a DGA signatory project (major Film/TV show). To even get in this position, one needs to work their way up on a film crew to get in the position to work as a DGA trainnee, find an entry-level camera position or find a way to develop an independent project as a DGA signatory. There are few exceptions to these rules for commercial/notable reasons.

If women only comprise 23% of film crews, and only 5% of Camera and Electrical departments, that means few women will qualify to join the DGA.

The picture is similar for women trying to get into the WGA West/East. In order to become a member in full standing, a writer must satisfy 24 units of work (which vary based upon project type). The only type of work that results in 24 units is the sale of a feature screenplay or the bible to a TV or miniseries project of at least four hours.

If women comprise such a low number of writers inside writers rooms, they are not exactly going to be racking up the units required. As far as the sale of a script goes, the number of specs sold has steadily declined over the years as studios and production companies focus on franchises. The best shot at selling a script remains landing on the Black List (a list of the industries favorite un-produced screenplays of the year – note the subjective word favorite). Sadly, the Black List is also largely void of women (women were less than 20% of the 2013 List) with some men landing on the 2013 List twice!

With competition stiffer than ever for an increasingly smaller number of jobs available domestically, the labor unions and guilds have little incentive to focus on new-member initiatives. As mentioned, unions are responsible to their current members. In the case of Hollywood, that membership is still overwhelmingly white-male. While these guilds and unions do receive a fee from new members, that dollar amount is a much smaller percentage of their overall financial picture than are the receipts from their more profitable members, which also skews white-male according to the above linked Writers and Directors reports from this year.

The obvious problem is that the guilds just do not have the member numbers to achieve diversity initiatives on their own, no matter how many initiatives they form. Regarding the makeup of the numbers of working women in the industry, many women are actually double counted in industry-provided statistics, meaning only a small number of the same women and people of color are working, a-la the Kathryn Bigelow syndrome: “Bigelow won an Oscar, things are looking up for women in film!”

So how can we ultimately achieve better representation of women and minorities in Film/TV?

Through State and Federal regulation.

Unfortunately, it is not in the industries best interest to self-police when it comes to diversity hires. With numbers stagnant for years, it is clear that film crews have not budged in favor of more diverse representation behind the scenes. When film school enrollment is near 50/50 for women as it is men, there is clearly a disconnect when it ultimately comes time to hire.

Film and TV continue to receive incredible amounts of tax-payer funded incentives to film on location. The Federal Government also gave the Film/TV community a sizable percentage of the infamous Obama ‘American Recovery and Re-Investment Act.’ It’s time to force films and television to be in compliance with Federal laws regarding diversity in employment and Title IX rules.

While certain incentives are linked to diversity hires across the country, these rules and regulations are not currently strict enough. Crews can hire women and people of color as non-speaking extras to comply with diversity regulations, all while critical departments remain overwhelmingly white and male. Regulations should require a bare minimum in ALL departments if a film or TV show is going to be the recipient of tax payer subsidies.

Additionally, the Department of Labor should look into the hiring practices of film & production companies for possible discrimination. The industry has failed to take the concerns of females and POC seriously, and has thus again failed to self-police. If it is indeed discrimination, the Federal government by law is responsible to remedy the situation.

Sadly, an anonymous member of one of the Guilds told me this conversation has been held to little effect. The industry does not want to have outsiders policing its hiring practices, because again, it’s not in their best interest to change what at present is a profitable status quo. While many guilds have tried to encourage trainees who are women or POC, they haven’t done much in terms of changing the overall makeup of the guilds or production sets themselves.

That does not mean we should not stop trying.

If Guilds and industry insiders are serious about diversity, they will champion diverse hiring practices at all levels, including in non-union positions that lead to employment within a union itself. In the interim, I have considered the idea of a 501(c)4 tax-exempt organization aimed at cooperating with the industry to educate insiders about diversity practices and provide significant training to women & people of color for roles that lead to employment with guilds and unions. I have also privately proposed the idea of an all-female equivalent to the Black List and other pre-guild talent searches that focus on underrepresented segments of the film and TV community.

We cannot achieve diversity by focusing only on the members already in the guild or union, though they are obviously important too. We need to be concerned about the fact that women currently represent only 23% of a film’s crew on average. Numbers are unlikely to budge if we are not focused on the next generation of diverse talent. And so diversity begins with entry-level hiring and practices best aimed at encouraging an equal shot at entry into elite guilds and unions.

While change may be hard for some to swallow, I believe more Kathyrn Bigelow’s and Nora Ephron’s in our industry would be a good thing for the industry and guilds overall, don’t you? Let’s all work to be the change, because diversity does not hinge on any one organization or show. It must be a combined effort, and it must not wait any longer than it already has.

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