Buying The DVD: Unhelpful And Unethical

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These last few years P2Pers have got used to TV entertainment 'our way': unfucked, de-loused, delivered efficiently in economical, good-looking codecs. Because we rarely turn it on, it's been easy to forget just how cynical, unsatisfying and downright venal television, as a distribution medium, has become.

Whether it’s the stupor-inducing gambling channels dedicated to parting fools from their money, the late-night pseudo-porn selling premium-rate phone sex, or the corrupt ‘competition’ call-ins plaguing the UK’s prime-time (even that Holy of Holies, the BBC), there’s the unavoidable sense that TV is on the rocks. Anyone who’d have you believe filesharers are the only scourge afflicting an industry that would otherwise be healthy is smoking crack, in the business, or both.

This is why Tape It Off The Internet seemed like such a good idea until you actually started trying to use it. There are just not enough good shows being made to justify something as complicated and involved as TIOTI. Enter all your favorites and share them with strangers ‘just like you’ and discover… what? That there are only seven good shows in the world at any one time, you were already watching six of them, and they’re all in the Pirate Bay’s Top 100 anyway. When you strip away the hours of dross and advertising, the truth is that the world’s mighty entertainment infrastructure is only capable of producing half a dozen hours of passable content a week. Maybe it’s because they spend the rest of their time on lawsuits.

One of these rare hours is The Wire. If by some small chance you’re not mainlining it already, think yourself lucky. You have four back seasons to enjoy, of what is quite possibly the last great show television will produce before it’s entirely superseded by — well, by whatever is coming around the way.

I’m not sure anyone has ever attempted to make a show of this scope: The Wire’s by-all-accounts-not-very-nice creator David Simon (Homicide, The Corner) has said his theme over the series’ five years has been ‘the decline of the American empire’ — which means decay of its cities through poverty, of traditional jobs, of the education system, of the police force and of the media. For those getting restless at the back, the show’s also got the slickest, nastiest drug slingers you’ll see on screen and is so realistic that the Baltimore Police have apparently complained it reveals too much about how crimes are — or are not — solved; apparently real thugs love it as well.

Find it and download it — though probably David Simon doesn’t want you to and neither does HBO, which has been actively poisoning Torrents of its other shows. Tell everyone you know about it. Maybe those of them still rocking TVs will raise the show’s increasingly dismal viewing figures.

Or maybe that’s no longer the point. While I sympathise with the plight of the David Simons, David Milchs (Deadwood, John from Cincinnati) and Joss Whedons (Firefly) of this world, and would like to help them in future endeavors, I specifically do not sympathise with the plights of the craven, dim-witted, played-out producers that surround them on all sides. And by ‘playing fair’ and buying the DVD or the cable package, besides the fact that most of our money is not going to the creators and their families, aren’t we really saying we accept the meshwork of shit in order to get the two or three gems that occasionally sift through it? Aren’t we signalling the industry that there’s something we still find acceptable about their way of doing business?

Now I suppose this could seem a bit extreme to some. But again and again in blogs and comments about shows like The Wire you hear ‘I’d pay for this if…’ — if it wasn’t DRM’ed all to hell like HBO’s own online offering, if it was freely shareable, good to be watched whenever, wherever, on whatever, without constant interruption by adverts. The kicker is that we’re not only unable legally to liberate and re-distribute shows from the broken, corrupt mechanisms of television and DVD distribution: we also have no way of supporting creators like David Simon and crew outside of it.

This means that right now, people still stupid or unfortunate enough to sit in front of TVs watching months-old shows or paying massive cash-or-attention premiums for the new ones are heavily subsidising us P2Pers. This is genuinely immoral, because we’re really exploiting people less fortunate than ourselves. Instead, we should be helping them out of the wasteland, and thinking of new ways to get the creators we like creating outside the prison of mass distribution. It cannot be that we are able to figure out how to make GNU-Linux – a world-class operating system — together, but not to make a dozen decent shows a year.

The irony is that TV series really feel like they’re coming into their own, just as the media that spawned them is dying. From the ‘high art’ of Deadwood and John From Cincinnati to the epic modern-day myth of Lost to the (dare I call it) Beckettian dark comedy of Trailer Park Boys, the drawn out tales of our series (often consumed a ‘season’ at a time: I know at least three people waiting for The Wire to finish before downloading it) are an undeniable core of our emerging P2P culture.

We are the most passionate viewers ever, talking and writing profusely about the media we love, analysing, promoting, hosting free screenings… And they need us as much as we need them — all of these shows, without exception, enjoy their primary life on the networks, through our blogs, comments, reviews, remixes and fan fiction. Lost in particular has learned that incorporating online feedback can make a great (if utterly Shaggy Dog) story.

Can we find a way to get the shows we want made without buying the goddamn DVD? I remember this guy talking really sensibly a couple years ago about how Joss Whedon could get to make another season of Firefly, and we got this project back up his musings. Why didn’t Whedon try it? Because someone else owned his ideas? Perhaps it could have worked otherwise, and maybe it could work for the future. If you’ve got ideas, throw them in the comments box below. And if you have time in between catching up on The Wire, read this by the venerable guru of Wired magazine, Kevin Kelly — I’m going to try to get him into the next installment of STEAL THIS FILM. See you around. I’ll be back in two weeks to pick up the pieces.

TorrentFreak welcomes Jamie King as our new bi-weekly columnist. Jamie is the Director of STEAL THIS FILM I & II and a member of the League of Noble Peers. He is currently working on a cinema release of STEAL THIS FILM and prototyping an experimental, post-P2P remuneration system for creators.


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