Thursday, January 31, 2008

Bootlegs: What to do? Part II

An exceptional quality of the internet is the unprecedented way with which it’s ushered in an era of global popular culture on a real-time basis. Anything that’s celebrated anywhere in the world instantaneously becomes a global phenomenon provided people are interested in it. Since that interest - or consent, as that most self-righteous of linguists calls it - is something that can easily be manufactured, it stands to reason that the global marketplace is of utmost importance to mainstream products of pop-culture, the only true core of which is the United States. In fact, that’s not an astute observation more than it is an undeniable fact that most Hollywood products - tv shows, or, more so, films - are tailored more and more with the global marketplace in mind. And it’s impossible for studios to keep tabs on their products, and control their release schedule to optimise income, when there is such an easily accessible nexus of piracy that is the interwebs.

Yesterday, I tried to outline how this is an ethical dilemma for someone, like yours truly, who is against the idea of piracy, but who is also a pop-culture hound. It is impossible to keep away from spoilers on shows like Lost or Heroes (even though the only spoiler for that show is that it’s rubbish) when their terrestrial premieres in the rest of the world are bound to be much later than in the US. A quandary exists for Oscar nominated films, too. As it currently stands, No Country For Old Men, There Will Be Blood and Juno, best picture nominees all, are not set to open in Turkey until late February, early March. Even if one manages to keep one’s innocence towards them for a while, that will be a hopeless feat come Oscar time. And it’s not just about the internet either. Even if one can avoid TV or newspaper reports, and tries to turn a blind eye towards features on said film on internet journals and blogs, there is always that one guy waiting in the wings to rub salt on the wound that is the films’ late release by spoiling them at most inopportune moments.

And people don’t even have to look hard for them anymore. Like I mentioned yesterday, there are shops galore all over Istanbul, not to mention other European cities, that sell pirated films, and do so with not only impunity, but apparent gusto (A pirate copy of Juno had a pitch-perfect DVD jacket presentation, with quotes from critics, technical aspects and, bizarrely, details of fictitious extras). The Thursday before I Am Messiah Metaphor opened in the US, for example, a colleague of mine had already seen the film on a bootleg DVD, which, apparently, was a top quality screener copy. Now that was not a film that I was anticipating with fervour, but No Country For Old Men is. When that film is only scheduled to open a month after the Oscars, the temptation to watch a pirated copy is all the more tempting. Even though I won’t have to do that (an upcoming independent film festival in Istanbul seems to have all three in its line-up), I can’t say that the choice to watch bootleg copies is a clear-cut case of black and white. While it must be mighty comfortable on that high horse, campaigners against piracy have to face the reality of the facts. You can’t create an instantaneous media event out of your product, only to keep the latter away from the global public. Not only is it morally dubious, it doesn’t make great business sense. Either the studios get into the piracy business, or they find a way to roll-out their films globally. The two options are not mutually exclusive.

(Sidenote: Even the eventual DVD releases pale in the rest of the world compared to the ones in the US. Not only are they technically inferior, but, most of the time, also lack all the extra bells and whistles. The classics, basically any film that was made before 1969, get hardly any releases in this country[Try to buy the complete catalogue of Ozu and see how far that gets you in Istanbul]. It’s extortionate to order them from the US, or even the UK. I bought the box sets of the first four seasons of The West Wing two years ago, and ended up paying half as much as I paid for the DVD’s at the customs.)