Weekend Divertissements

This started out to be an abbreviated post--a space-filler and a diversion from Culture Shock's recent immersion in serious matters of arts advocacy and cultural policy. It was going to be a post about Jerry Lewis. Then my mind wandered.

As previously announced, the Mighty Toy Cannon household has given up its regular subscription to the New York Times. Fortunately, the Grey Lady has adopted a sure-fire business strategy based on one simple principle: If the customer is no longer buying your product, give it away for free!

(Perhaps the auto industry should consider a similar approach: Instead of selling vehicles, GM could park cars all over town and let people use them anytime they want. The industry could "monetize" this business model by selling banner ads that run on a little screen mounted on the dashboard.)

Thanks to the publisher's generosity, not only did I enjoy the Times over coffee on Saturday morning, but I was able to read an article that did not appear in the pulp and fiber version until Sunday. Let's examine the NY Times approach more closely: (1) Give away your content; and (2) Give away the free version before it gets to the people who are paying for it.

What I like about the NY Times online is that it's easy to navigate (unlike OregonLive) and isn't slathered with banner and pop-up ads. So there's a third critical element in the business model: (3) Minimize online ads as much as possible. Recipe for financial ruin? Or a cunning strategy beyond our ken?

The media industry is madly trying to figure out how to survive and adapt to changing times. (This morning's news included a report that the Philadelphia Inquirer has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection). In a recent Time Magazine cover story, “How to Save Your Newspaper,” Walter Isaacson (a former managing editor of Time magazine) argues that the advertising-supported model of online journalism is flawed; not only is it failing financially, but it makes publications beholden to advertisers. He hopes new approaches to paying for online content will ensure that news organizations get paid for the journalism they create, perhaps through micropayment mechanisms. Jon Stewart recently interviewed Isaacson on the Daily Show. (I had originally embedded a video of that interview on this post, but it had a ton of HTML code that made me nervous so you'll have to follow the link instead).

The NY Times media critic, David Carr, makes essentially the same case in an article, “Let’s Invent an iTunes for News,” though without delving very deeply into how that might happen. (Side note: If you're a fan of grim, unflinching memoirs by former junkies, Carr's "Night of the Gun" is a fascinating confessional and journalistic exercise).

My inner-optimist thinks (hopes) that we'll emerge from the global economic meltdown stronger and smarter, including finding new ways to communicate and share information. That may require us to figure out how to pay for journalism and other online content. Would you be willing to pay to read online articles (or even blog posts) by making "micropayments" for each story? What about the monthly or annual subscription model?

I don't want to have to make an economic decision each time I open a link to an article (even if each choice was a matter of pennies). Nor do I want to sign up for multiple subscriptions to get the variety of content to which I've grown accustomed. On the other hand, I might be willing to pay a small surcharge on top of my monthly internet charges if the proceeds were distributed equitably to content creators. The algorithms for calculating what's fair would be complicated and subject to debate, but I presume the technology for tracking usage is not an issue. (As Isaacson points out, the original concept of the hyperlink was that it would work as a tool for tracking content usage and to allocate micropayments).

Realizing that I've waded into complex policy territory that I barely understand, let's get back to Jerry Lewis, who just received one of those honorary Academy Awards. This post was prompted by a story by NY Times film critic, Manohla Dargi ("Hey Laaaady!"), in which she calls the movie, CinderFella “an astonishment” and describes the “knockout musical number” in which Lewis (as Fella) dances down a long staircase.

By the time he makes his way to the understandably stunned-looking princess (Anna Maria Alberghetti), Fella has captivated the entire ballroom. He awkwardly takes the princess’s hand, and the two begin to move harmoniously around the white polished floor. They separate, then join together, hitting the floor in synchronous, jazzy motion until Fella suddenly motions for her to stand still. And then, as the horns keep blasting and blaring, he begins jumping around her, drawing circles with his hands while his legs turn into airborne right angles. It’s a ridiculous expression of pure kinetic energy and — as is often the case with this performer — a blast of untamed, untamable libido that threatens to destroy the carefully controlled gathering like a bomb.

Though Dargis provides a lively and detailed description of the scene, I wasn't satisfied until I could see it with my own eyes. Thanks to the miracle of the internets, I jumped over to YouTube and found the scene. Since Culture Shock, unlike the NY Times, doesn’t have a legal department to advise us on intellectual property and copyright rules, I can post it here for your enjoyment and edification:

Lewis’s frantic, goofy solo reminded me of Steve Martin doing a happy dance on Saturday Night Live. I couldn’t find a copy of that scene (SNL is diligent about scrubbing the internet of copyrighted material), so I wandered around and was soon watching videos of Christopher Walken dancing , and then an excerpt of Eddie Izzard doing a Christopher Walken imitation, then back to Jerry Lewis (in his alter ego/Buddy Love persona), then to Andy Kaufman (in his alter ego mode) ... and then ... and then my Saturday morning was over and it was time for a fresh cup of coffee.


shobiz said...
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shobiz said...

Aww, I love Cinderfella! Haven't seen it in many years. Thanks. Too bad you couldn't find that Steve Martin "happy feet" bit. I searched and came up empty, too. But I did find this video of him playing the banjo pretty darned well, which I always thought was a cool thing that he included in his act: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l31MSpojWTA

MightyToyCannon said...

Thanks for the link to Steve Martin's top notch banjo picking. I recently read Martin's book "Born Standing," which NY Times book reviewer Janet Maslin accurately described as "smart, serious, heartfelt and confessional without being maudlin." It's a good read for anyone interested in how one comic worked to create his act, and what he did when it all got out of hand.

shobiz said...

Yes! Good book. I enjoyed it. Steve Martin is one of my favorite performers, and that memoir is a great peek inside the mind of a multi-talented artist.