prof. e.

Mass Communication, [multi]media, methodology and much, much more!

Archive for April, 2010

Should Portrayals of Animal Cruelty be Protected?

Posted by prof e on April 21, 2010

I have a documentary about fly fishing that airs on RMPBS this Monday (April 26th, 9:30pm). Thanks to yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling I may have to worry about PETA picketing my show for depictions of cruelty to trout, but I won’t have to worry about serving jail time. Even though the featured fly fishermen practice catch and release, there may be instances of temporary pain or emotional distress on the part of the trout.

Okay, that was a rather light-hearted beginning to a very serious blog about a very serious issue. Animal cruelty is wrong and, in many cases, illegal. But not always. In Spain bull fighting is a highly revered cultural tradition that, according to the Humane Society, kills about 250,000 bulls each year. People often differ as to what constitutes cruelty to animals. Few people argue in support  of the kind of dog fighting that led to the conviction and sentencing of Michael Vick. On the other hand, sport hunting is big business and has a many supporters and advocates.

Perhaps the most vocal opposition to animal cruelty is when it is directed at animals typically regarded as pets. Many years ago the Bonsai Kitten website created an uproar that persisted even after the site was revealed as satire. In this case it was a joke, in poor taste perhaps, but only a joke.

A few years ago, however, reports surfaced of a Chinese woman who stomped a kitten to death with stiletto heals. The New York Times described it as follows:

The short video made its way around China’s Web in early 2006, passed on through file sharing and recommended in chat rooms. It opens with a middle-aged Asian woman dressed in a leopard-print blouse, knee-length black skirt, stockings and silver stilettos standing next to a riverbank. She smiles, holding a small brown and white kitten in her hands. She gently places the cat on the tiled pavement and proceeds to stomp it to death with the sharp point of her high heel.

Apparently there is an underground market for fetish “crush” videos in which women in high heels crush all manner of lifeforms–from bugs to, yes, kittens.

The reason this is back in the news is that the US Supreme Court, in an 8-1 decision yesterday, struck down a 1999 law against animal cruelty that, according to the Court, was written too vaguely. The ruling overturned the conviction of Robert Stevens of Pittsville, Virginia. Stevens is, according to Newsweek, a self-described dog trainer, author, and documentarian, had been charged with violating interstate commerce laws by selling depictions of animal cruelty through his business. According to the Court the law used to convict Stevens could have infringed on hunting videos. Chief Justice Roberts wrote:

The First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech does not extend only to categories of speech that survive an ad hoc balancing of relative social costs and benefits. The First Amendment itself reflects a judgment by the American people that the benefits of its restrictions on the government outweigh the costs. Our Constitution forecloses any attempt to revise that judgment simply on the basis that some speech is not worth it.

What do you think? Should First Amendment protection apply to despicable depictions of animal cruelty?


Posted in 1st amendment, media effects | 26 Comments »

Copying is Not Theft…Or is it?

Posted by prof e on April 21, 2010

This video is a rather “cute” argument in favor of digital copying, but the logic has some serious flaws. As YouTube commentator “spare2288” noted (with a little ad hominem thrown in for effect), “Copying is not theft. okaaaay. Also, theft is wrong. uhh yeahhh. Therefore copying is not wrong. hmm…sorry are you a moron?”

On another blog, “Anonymous” said, “I’m sure the manufacturer of the bicycle in the cartoon will be glad that making a copy of the bicycle is so easy. This will free him from the burden of actually manufacturing and selling bicycles which used to be a high-paid technical position. User-generated copying saved him just like it saved the music industry.”

If you’re a bicycle maker, or musicians, having people copy your work for free may not put you in the mood to sing along with this catchy little tune.

Posted in media industry, music, regulation | 28 Comments »

Tiger Woods, did you learn anything?

Posted by prof e on April 8, 2010

Nike just released a new ad featuring Tiger Woods and the voice of his deceased father. The voice over by Earl Woods concludes with the line, “Did you learn anything?” My question to Nike is, “did YOU learn anything?”

You can see the spot here and read more about it here. Stephen Colbert even weighed in with alternate versions of the spot.

People I’ve spoken to see the spot as polarizing…they either love it or hate it. One possible explanation for the divergent views is that the blank expression on Tiger’s face, and the polysemic nature of the phrases spoken by Tiger’s late father, allows the viewer to project onto the spot what the viewer already feels. If you believe that Tiger still has penance to perform, this spot is unlikely to convince you to give him a pass.

Nike may be hoping that his fans are predisposed to extend an olive branch to Tiger…but early responses suggest that the public is not quite ready to do that. The Tiger brand was built on his squeaky-clean image and his role as father, son and husband. That all came crashing down with revelations of Tiger’s “transgressions” and rumors about his father’s indiscretions.

Nike may have erred by jumping the gun and this spot may, in the end, be a detour on Tiger’s road to recovery.

Posted in advertising, media effects, media industry, tv | 31 Comments »