Monday Reads: “Lucy” and Media Consolidation

Scarlett Johansson reading  Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness'

Scarlett Johansson reading Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’

Good Morning!!

As usual, U.S. and world news is mostly bad, so I thought I’d focus on some news emanating from escapist Hollywood. I do have a serious point to make later on.

The latest action movie hit is Luc Besson’s “Lucy,” starring Scarlett Johansson as an ordinary woman who suddenly begins using the full capacity of her brain (this is based on the oft-repeated notion that humans only use 10% of their brains) after she accidentally absorbs some kind of super-drug that Korean drug lords have surgically implanted in her abdomen so they can use her as a drug mule. If that sounds like an idiotic premise, just wait till you either watch the movie or otherwise get the details of the so-called plot.

“Lucy” is the epitome of what’s known as a “high concept” film. The main character’s name is presumably drawn from the name that has been attached to a partial skeleton of a female Australopithecus Afarensis that was discovered in Ethiopia in 1974.  “Lucy” could walk upright, but her small skull indicated she didn’t have much brain capacity; scientists argued from this that bipedalism led to larger human brains.

Thus, the Lucy of the film demonstrates the how humans could further evolve if they used the brain’s full potential, get it? The Wall Street Journal loved it; Here’s their review, ‘Lucy’: A Diamond in the Action-Thriller Sky

The problem with the concept is that we humans are already using the full capacity of our brains, and the idea that we only use 10% is complete bullshit. Here’s a brief explanation from brain scientist David Eagleman at NPR: Sorry, Lucy: The Myth Of The Misused Brain Is 100 Percent False. But, like the GOP, Hollywood couldn’t care less about scientific facts.

In case you don’t mind a bunch of spoilers, here’s a hilarious review of the movie by Christopher Orr at The Atlantic: Lucy: The Dumbest Movie Ever Made About Brain Capacity. Here the introduction; you can click the link to read the rest.

Every now and then a movie comes along that’s so beyond-the-pale sloppy, so disastrous in both conceit and execution, that it simply defies conventional analysis. It happened with The Happening. There was something unspeakably wrong with The Words. And Broken City was utterly beyond repair.

So, too, with Lucy, writer/director/producer Luc Besson’s mind-bendingly miscalculated sci-fi vehicle for Scarlett Johansson. In its defense, I can offer only that Johansson is a moderately charismatic presence (despite playing a character who barely qualifies as a character) and that the film clocks in at a mercifully brief 89 minutes. That said, the sheer quantity of inanity that Besson squeezes into his limited screen time beggars that of awful movies of substantially greater length.

Consequently, what follows is not a review but a spoilereview. If you are genuinely considering watching Lucy—and I urgently recommend that you reconsider—you should stop reading now. If, by contrast, you plan to give the movie a pass and would like to have your good judgment ratified (or, alternatively, if you have stumbled out of the theater bewildered and seeking commiseration), read on. Because while Besson has made very, very bad films in the past—most recently, last year’s The Family—this is the first time he has made a film so idiotic that the only way to properly convey its flaws is to enumerate them.

Australopithecus Afarensis AKA "Lucy"

Australopithecus Afarensis AKA “Lucy”

Read on for a complete dissection of the movie’s plot. Whatever happened to intelligent films made for adults? Maybe it has something to do with the growing control of media by just a few giant corporations. And it’s going to get worse.

Did you know that Rupert Murdock is trying to buy Time-Warner? From The New York Times on July 17, A Potential Combination of Two of Hollywood’s Most Successful Studios.

LOS ANGELES — What for years has been a whisper in Hollywood — the possible consolidation of major studios in the face of tough industry economics — has become a starkly real option with the disclosure on Wednesday that Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox made an $80 billion bid to acquire Time Warner Inc.

In the bid, which Time Warner rejected, Mr. Murdoch is said to have made clear that his 20th Century Fox and Time Warner’s Warner Bros., two of Hollywood’s six major studios, would be managed jointly, but kept essentially separate.

But business history and market pressures in both the movie and television industries make it almost inevitable that studio overhead would be cut, back-office operations would be combined, and jobs would be eliminated if a merger happens.

“In size and structure, the studio of the 21st century still looks very similar, if not identical, to the studio of the 20th century,” said Marc Shmuger, a producer who was formerly co-chairman of Universal Pictures. “That has to change,” he added.

Murdoch is worried because Comcast is currently working on (and will likely succeed in) merging with Time-Warner Cable. Harvard professor of intellectual property Susan Crawford explains what’s going on:

Both sides of the negotiating table — programming and distribution — are already highly concentrated. In 1983, 50 companies ran 90 percent of American media; today, just five mega-entities control 90 percent of what we read, watch and listen to. Among the notable properties owned by Murdoch are Fox, as part of Twenty-First Century Fox, and the Wall Street Journal and New York Post, as part of the spun-off News Corp. Time Warner has CNN and HBO. Comcast Corp., now thoroughly vertically integrated, has NBCUniversal….

After the merger, Comcast will be available to 70 percent of American homes. Most of these will have no other choice for high-speed data distribution: anything over 10 Mbps download. That means the programmers — even though they’re giant companies with gigantic quantities of high-value video — won’t have competing distribution outlets to play against one another in negotiations. In order to reach most Americans, they’ll have to deal with Comcast. That means they have to make sure that Comcast needs them more than they need Comcast.

The merged Comcast-Time Warner Cable entity will control 20 of the top 25 metropolitan areas in the U.S. and a vast number of regional sports networks. (Sports is at the heart of this story; Murdoch knows he will need the heft to negotiate for sports rights that Comcast will need.) …. Because there will be so few alternative content buyers, and because Comcast’s control over its data flows is so absolute, if the programmer someday decides to go “over the top” — across the Internet, as Netflix has — its fate will be utterly dependent on Comcast’s good graces.

murdoch

You’ll note that once Murdoch owns Time-Warner, he’ll be in control of HBO, one of the few remaining producers of quality video content. From Bloomberg Businessweek July 16:

No matter who winds up owning Time Warner (TWX)—Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox (FOXA), Disney (DIS)Amazon (AMZN), or even its current shareholders—it is clear that one of the shiniest jewels in the entertainment company is the 30-year-old cash-printing machine once known as Home Box Office.

A report in Bloomberg News, citing an unnamed source familiar with the bid, put the perceived value of HBO alone at $20 billion as part of Fox’s offer of $75 billion or more for Time Warner. “It’s really now HBO that’s the driver, and I think that’s the Holy Grail that Rupert had his eye on,” Porter Bibb, managing partner at Mediatech Capital Partners, said in a radio interview on Bloomberg Surveillance. “It’s a huge money maker with a huge potential. And probably the only Netflix killer that’s in the world right now.” ….

…virtually no other enterprise in Hollywood has been able to crack the code of critical and financial success with the same consistency as HBO, the most-cited darling of those who praise today as television’s golden age. The network’s recent hit, True Detective, pulled in almost 12 million viewers per episode, a feat never before accomplished in its first season by an HBO series. And the ongoing Game of Thrones series, which recently concluded its fourth season, has drawn audiences of 17 million in what has become the biggest show for the network since The Sopranos.

I guess we can kiss all that goodbye once either Murdoch or Comcast buys Time-Warner. Because it’s not about producing a quality product; it’s about making money by appealing to the lowest common denominator. Here’s a deeply disturbing NYT report on what’s going on and what we can expect in the future: When Media Mergers Limit More Than Competition, and a quick digest version from the Sky Valley Chronicle:

By 2012, just six companies — including Fox (then part of News Corporation) and Time Warner — controlled that 90 percent, according to testimony before the House Judiciary Committee examining Comcast’s acquisition of NBCUniversal.

So what does a merger between 21st Century Fox and Time Warner mean for consumers of media in this country?

~ “The situation is already terrible and this would make it worse,” according to Susan Crawford, a visiting professor in intellectual property at Harvard Law School. Coupled with giant cable and Internet distributors, like Comcast and AT&T, “you’ve got two highly concentrated markets that need each other to survive and protect their profits,” Professor Crawford said. “The public interest side of this conversation is hopelessly outgunned.”

~ Such a merger would reduce control of the major Hollywood studios to five owners, from six, and major television producers to four, from five.

~ Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black once wrote in a 1945 antitrust case, “The widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public.”

~ Regarding the proposed 21st Century Fox and Time Warner  merger, “These so-called horizontal mergers always reduce competition, the only issue being whether it’s enough to warrant blocking the merger or imposing conditions on it,” according to the report.

~  “When you’re dealing with media, you’ve got to look more carefully at the impact than with other commodities,” said Allen P. Grunes, an antitrust lawyer at the firm GeyerGorey, and an author, with Maurice E. Stucke, of “Antitrust and the Marketplace of Ideas.” “It has an impact on democracy and what the public discourse is.”

Here’s a graphic depiction of the situation:

media-consolidation

 

We’ve seen what happened to journalism after media consolidation; now we’re learning what happens when the people who control the news also control the entertainment industry. We end up with endless reality TV shows and mindless high-concept movies. Then what?

So . . . that’s what’s on my mind today. What’s on yours? Please post your thoughts and links on any topic in the comment thread.

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45 Comments on “Monday Reads: “Lucy” and Media Consolidation”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    Another interesting read from The Atlantic:

    Being Powerful Distorts People’s Perception of Time

    A new study out of the University of California at Berkeley examined how the perception of time can be distorted by being in a position of power. With the help of hundreds of people, the study’s authors found that the more power people have, the more time they feel they have available in their lives. The researchers primed some subjects for feelings of either power or powerlessness by assigning them to the role of either boss or employee in a mock task of solving brain teasers. The bosses were told they’d be making decisions about which puzzles to solve and how to divvy up the highly-sought-after candy prize at the end of the exercise. Once primed, the subjects filled out surveys that revealed their perceptions of time availability.

  2. bostonboomer says:

    AP: Deal on Veterans’ Health Care Costs at Least $15B

    A bipartisan deal to improve veterans health care would authorize at least $15 billion in emergency spending to fix a veterans health program scandalized by long patient wait times and falsified records covering up delays.

    Congressional aides say the agreement includes $10 billion to make it easier for veterans who can’t get prompt appointments with Veterans Affairs doctors to obtain outside care and $5 billion to hire doctors, nurses and other medical staff.

    The chairmen of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees have scheduled a news conference Monday afternoon to unveil the bill, which also grants the VA secretary authority to immediately fire senior executives, while providing employees with streamlined appeal rights.

  3. bostonboomer says:

    UPDATE:

    A couple of days ago, I posted a link to a story about a body being found under a motel bed. It turns out I was duped by a fake news site.

    Sorry about that. I thought it was a pretty bizarre story. I should have checked into it further, but I totally fell for it.

  4. RalphB says:

    I read somewhere yesterday that season 5 of Game of Thrones had been cancelled. That may have also been fake though.

    As for “Lucy”, while I know the 10% usage isn’t true I worship the idea itself, so I think I still want to see the film. I don’t trust most reviewers.

    • bostonboomer says:

      Hang onto the link so you can read it after you see the movie.

    • NW Luna says:

      I too am irritated when someone trots out the old urban myth that we use only 10% of our brains.

      The problem’s more that we’re not taught methods of analytical thinking, or it’s not valued, or we’re drowning in so much data that it overwhelms our ability to separate important from nonimportant data.

      • RalphB says:

        I like the idea that our brain’s operating system is still evolving over geologic time.

        • bostonboomer says:

          It definitely is. In fact, parts of it are evolving much faster than that, and so is our knowledge of how it works. Even old folks like us can grow new brain cells! How amazing is that?

  5. dakinikat says:

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-07-28/former-members-break-silence-over-christian-cult-of-horrors/5627794

    A four-year investigation by the ABC has uncovered shocking claims of abuse and torment in relation to NSW-based registered charity and religious group Christian Assemblies International (CAI).

    Four Corners has revealed that self-styled religious guru Pastor Scott Williams was using his warped brand of evangelical Pentecostalism to run a clandestine homosexual sex ring while allegedly misusing vast amounts of member donations for personal use.

    Courageous former members broke their silence and told of their torment living inside the group, which they said is not a Christian church but a horrendous cult run by one man.

    The ex-members have remained in the shadows until now out of fear and shame. They detailed shocking acts of abuse ranging from spiritual abuse, financial abuse, verbal and physical abuse, and the sexual abuse of adult men.

    They said bizarre sexual rituals were carried out in secret by Williams, who described himself as “The Anointed One” with the Lord’s authorisation to sidestep biblical commands against homosexuality and sexually train his male members into submission and obedience.

    strange goings on Down Under

  6. dakinikat says:

    Does feminism need men?
    There’s no point in relying on men to rescue women
    http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2014/7/does-feminism-needmen.html

  7. dakinikat says:

    Satanists Demand Religious Exemption From Abortion Restrictions, Cite Hobby Lobby Ruling

    http://thinkprogress.org/health/2014/07/28/3464769/satanists-hobby-lobby-abortion/

  8. Sweet Sue says:

    BB, I’m sure you weren’t anywhere near the tornado that touched down in Mass., or you’d have mentioned it.
    Stay safe, BB and everybody; there’s some wild weather out there.

    • bostonboomer says:

      No, I didn’t hear about it. We have been having thunderstorms for about three days here. This morning when I woke up it was dark as night and we had a horrendous downpour. The sun is out a little bit now, but we’re supposed to get more thunderstorms.

  9. NW Luna says:

    A recent survey found that 65 percent of women in the U.S. had experienced street harassment, with almost a quarter of all women being approached and sexually touched on the street. That’s a startling figure—all the more so because street harassment is rarely discussed as a policy issue.

    I’m surprised the figures are that low; probably underreported, especially among black women. I like the #youOKsis campaign to encourage intervention. Fairly good article despite the obtuse journalist: “As a guy, I think I have just about literally never seen a woman harassed on the street.”

  10. janicen says:

    New from the Commonwealth…Appeals Court strikes down Virginia ban on same sex marriage.

    http://www.timesdispatch.com/news/state-regional/virginia-politics/appeals-court-panel-strikes-down-va-same-sex-marriage-ban/article_0a448216-167c-11e4-8f75-0017a43b2370.html

    It’s not legal here yet, but another domino has tumbled.

  11. dakinikat says:

    Abbas has said that Israel can identify itself however it wants, but—given that 20 percent of the Israeli population is ethnically Palestinian Arab—it would be politically impossible to agree to something that would acknowledge second-class status for other Palestinians.

    Never in history has any country been required to recognize the ethnic or religious identity of another state as a condition for peace.

    http://fpif.org/u-s-culpability-failure-israeli-palestinian-peace-talks/

  12. NW Luna says:

    Fun science news:

    Scientists discover feathered, four-winged dinosaur.

    The meat-eating creature, called Changyuraptor yangi, had exceptionally long tail feathers — at 1 foot in length they were the longest feathers of any dinosaur. It had feather-covered forelimbs akin to wings as well as legs covered in feathers in a way that gave the appearance of a second set of wings, and that may have allowed the creature to glide.

    The Changyuraptor, however, is not considered a bird, but rather a very birdlike dinosaur. It measured a bit more than 4 feet long and weighed roughly 9 pounds.

    If a person saw the Changyuraptor, the reaction likely would be: “Hey! That is a weird-looking bird,” said paleontologist Alan Turner of Stony Brook University in New York, one of the researchers.

    http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/7/16/flying-featheredmicroraptorinedinosaur.html

  13. Fannie says:

    Thinking of Libya, I bet Darrell Issa is drooling all over it. He has convinced the entire world that Benghazie was the embassy headquarters, and not Tripoli. Have you notice that the GOP has blocked over 43 nominees waiting for ambassadorships in a lot of countries. These countries include Argentina, Boliva, Bosnia, Costa Rica, Belraus, Russia, Ireland, France, Iceland, India, New Zealand, Norway, on and on the list goes.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/16/us/politics/senate-conflict-creates-logjam-of-ambassador-confirmations.html

  14. Fannie says:

    Republicans Obsessed with burying Pres. Obama

  15. dakinikat says:

    Not sure if this is true, but it sure makes me feel better.
    Why Night Owls Are More Intelligent Than Morning Larks

    http://elitedaily.com/life/culture/night-owls-creative-intelligent/686025/