The following is a guest post by filmmaker and Copyright Alliance onevoi©e network member, David Newhoff.
A few months ago, our Facebook walls were adorned with images of “pink slime,” the nickname given to Mechanically Separated Meat (MSM) that is now the subject of controversy. And although claims that pink slime is currently used in McDonald’s nuggets aren’t true, who isn’t disgusted by this stuff, no matter where it might be in the food supply? I know I would certainly like to see a world that neither “needs” nor even allows pink slime to pose as food. To me, this goo is emblematic of what happens when we allow unfettered corporate culture to lead society away from the most basic qualities that actually make us human -- like eating chicken that is actually chicken. Of course, the consumer plays a role, too, by demanding more volume for less money; and the U.S. obesity rate is, perhaps, an indicator as to how much emphasis is placed on quantity over quality.
Another thing that makes us human is the desire and ability to create and experience art in its many forms; and I would certainly like to envision a future where technology companies don’t do to art what the slime makers are doing to meat. Setting aside the arguments over economic harm done to the culture industries, we should consider how the work itself is being treated and what this means to our quality of life in general.
Among the reasons I believe companies like Google are so hostile not only to copyright but to other regulations, is that their revenue and aspirations are anathema to distinguishing value (prime meat) from muck (MSM). To the contrary, their business models are literally based on grinding up all content into a homogenous slurry in order to turn billions of clicks into billions of dollars. To companies like Google, torrent sites, and many aggregators, everything goes into the big, digital grinder -- a John Irving novel, some bits of junk journalism, a few stupid cat videos, Lawrence of Arabia, several thousand mail-order brides, a hard-news report from Central Africa, trafficked children, an episode of Downton Abbey, counterfeit pharmaceuticals, The White Album, years of scientific research, and of course several jiggling pounds of college chicks shaking their booties at webcams. It’s all just ones and zeroes, right? It’s digital pink slime.
This is where I think the schism between technologists and creators becomes ideological and sociological. The serious artist is offended to have his work ground into mouse fodder, valued identically with the garbage; and the consumer should be offended, too. The paradigm Google wants to foster is one that asserts that the booty-shakin’ college girl video has the same intrinsic value as the Emmy Award-winning TV show and that the value of either will only be determined by the number of hits each receives in cyberspace. Never mind that the financial value of those hits won’t be shared; this is a philosophical world view through the eyes of a computer. It is a machine’s sensibility, not a human being’s.
I believe our current economic woes are cultural, asserting short-term transactions over long-term production. Wealth consolidation has resulted from allowing many corporate interests to practice in an unregulated environment that grinds real value into virtual value, generating cash for the few and leaving the many empty-handed. And all under the guise of “freedom,” according to many industry leaders. This is the same culture that produces junk securities backed by faulty mortgages, the same culture that wants to refute climate change, the same culture that ignores child labor making our products overseas, the same culture that makes pink slime, and the same culture that treats art as generic ones and zeroes. At some point, the consumer has to realize that he’s going to get exactly what he pays for and decide just how much slime he’s willing to swallow.