Category Archives: media

Leni Riefenstahl

As a change from the usual fare of economics and finance, I recently read  Jürgen Trimborn’s biography Leni Riefenstahl: A Life about Hitler’s favourite film-maker, Leni Riefenstahl. Riefenstahl was a highly controversial figure. Her films Triumph des Willen, chronicling the 1935 Nazi party rally in Nürnberg and Olympia, documenting the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin were critically acclaimed around the world, but also served as propaganda for the Third Reich.

After the war, Riefenstahl was acquitted in de-Nazification trials, but for some years struggled to shake the taint of her association with Hitler and his regime. Over time she found much of the world shifting its attitudes towards her. As Trimborn observes:

The older she became, the more pronounced was the phenomenon of Riefenstahl’s “promotion to the status of a cultural monument,” as Susan Sontag described it in 1974. The critical disputes surrounding her receded further and further into the background, replaced by an enthusiastic, or at least respectful, tribute to Riefenstahl’s ceaseless vitality.

This vitality really was extraordinary. At the age of 71, she lied about her age, claiming to be twenty years younger in order to take a scuba-diving course and from there spent decades developing a new career as an underwater photographer. She died in 2003 at the age of 101.

But Trimborn argues that this fascination with Riefenstahl’s vitality was a distraction from the complexities of Riefenstahl’s character. His biography portrays a brilliant, driven woman who was also a narcissist and a liar, who spent most of her life denying her complicity with the Nazis. For instance, she spent the later years of the war working on a fiction feature, Tiefland. The exigencies of war stymied her plan to film in Spain, so instead she made use of gypsies from Nazi labour camps as extras. She later claimed to have seen her cast fit and well after the war, but later eyewitness testimony not only revealed that many had ended up in concentration camps like Dachau, but that Riefenstahl knew only too well what was happening.

Reading about Leni Riefenstahl is a good recipe for cognitive dissonance: the contradictions are hard to reconcile. Her documentaries were stylistically revolutionary, redefining the genre, and yet the content and the context are appalling. She was a gifted artists, but in many ways highly objectionable. But, who said the real world was simple?

End of the Age of the Gatekeepers

Homer & Bart 2Mark Pesce describes himself as “an inventor, writer, theorist, very minor TV personality” (he’s a regular on the ABC’s New Inventors). He is also a major personality in Australian twitter circles. Yesterday Pesce penned an excellent opinion piece connecting two recent Australian court cases. In one a judge ruled that tasteless sexual depictions of Simpsons cartoon characters should be considered child pornography. In the other case, a man was found guilty of distributing child-abuse materials. What he had actually done was pass on a link to a video of a man swinging a baby. He had nothing to do with the creation of the video, but simply shared a link to a video that thousands around the world had already seen.

Now each of these cases in isolation may well be legitimate interpretations of Australian law, but taken together the implications are rather ridiculous. As Pesce observes:

[It] means that viewing a clip of The Simpsons on YouTube will soon be as illegal as watching it on television. In particular, videos showing the various times Homer has strangled Bart – which exist – would be very illegal, the equivalent of the most severe child abuse materials. And God help you if you should flip a link of that video to one of your friends. That’d be “distributing” child-abuse materials, because, where we are now, distribution has expanded to include link-sharing.

Another Australian twitter luminary, Stilgherrian, is fond of seeking out modern day inheritors of King Canute (not Stil’s preferred spelling) who try to turn back the tide. So it seems that Australian courts are joining the RIAA, television stations and the Australian Government in vying for the Canute mantle and attempting to put Pandora’s internet back in the box. They should face reality and give up. As Pesce says, we have reached the end of the age of the gatekeepers.

RIAA Continues to Stifle Innovation

Back in August, muxtape, a popular music playlist site, was forced to close by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Now mixwit have announced that it is closing too. The only explanation offered was as follows:

We’ve put a year of work into Mixwit so this choice wasn’t taken lightly. I won’t go into the details of our situation but state simply that we boldly marched into in [sic] a position best described as “between a rock and a hard place.”

Reading between the lines, it looks as though they too have fallen at the hands of the RIAA. Under the cover of claims to be protecting artists, claims that do not bear close scrutiny, the RIAA is building an impressive track-record of stifling innovation. While it is possible to take comfort from the fact that attempts to stem the tide of progress always fail in the end, it is nevertheless frustrating to see the suffering of victims of this pernicious organisation in the meantime, whether those victims are single mothers sued for file-sharing or the creators of sites like muxtape and mixwit.

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Income Inequality in Australia and the US

A topic that the New York Times visits from time to time is that of income inequality. In the United States, the gap between the highest and lowest earners has been increasing over the last 80 years or so. A recent article returns to this theme and provides further insight into the trend. It cites research from the new book “Unequal Democracy” by Larry M. Bartels, which indicates that income inequality has increased far more under Republican presidents than under Democrats.

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This evening I caught up for a chat and a couple of beers with Dan Walsh, the technologist behind the scenes of the Australian social news site Kwoff.

For those not familiar with social news sites, the idea is that users submit links to interesting news articles (or blog posts, funny photos, videos or anything else that tickles their fancy) and then other users can vote for the stories they enjoyed reading. The most popular stories then float to the top where they are easily found by visitors to the site. This is a classic example of the Web 2.0 technique of crowd-sourcing.

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The Gradual Demise of the Compact Disc

The Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA), after taking a look at sales for the first half of 2008, has run crying poor to the Herald Sun. While they have not yet released these figures to the public, they presumably continue the trend evident in published figures for 2006 and 2007.

Australian Music Sales

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PubCamp Vox-Pop

As promised in my PubCamp Sydney post, I am now able to provide a brief glimpse of the Stubborn Mule on camera. Sticky Media’s Craig Wilson asked the probing questions while Gordon Whitehead rolled tape…or at least operated the video camera. Gavin Heaton (aka servantofchaos) was up first, followed by yours truly and finally Markus Hafner (aka eskimo_sparky) of Happener. That was all there was time for as the conference was about to begin.

PubCamp Sydney

I took an early mark today to attend some of the PubCamp Web 2.0 Media (un)conference in Sydney. Unfortunately I had to leave early and so missed the later unconference sessions, but I have a spy who promised to provide a detailed report. Still, there was enough in what I did see to make me glad to have made the (short) trip.

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