Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Blaxploitation History Month

February is Black History Month – a celebration of all the amazing contributions African Americans have made to this great nation's history and culture.

In a complete departure from political correctness, I'm going to bypass the more obvious things – the people who fought for the end of slavery, civil rights and the fight for equality and dignity – and instead look at one of the aspects of African American history that I have always found fascinating, sexy and cool – Blaxploitation.

Blaxploitation was a genre of movies and music that originated in the seventies, designed specifically to appeal to an urban black audience. Many people these days look back at them with a mixture of embarrassment and disdain – I personally think they're awesome.

What was great about the blaxploitation movies from a masculine perspective was that they were empowering. Up until then, black characters were either butlers or bellboys (in traditional mainstream cinema) or intense and earnest caricatures intended to push a socially responsible message about equality and race relations.

Blaxploitation gave the middle finger to all that and said: Here are some cool action movies, in which all the characters and actors are black.

And for black guys, I can understand the appeal. No black actor had been the heroic lead before, and now here was a genre of films presenting African American men as tough, abundant, capable and sexy. It gave African American men role models to aspire to in the same way white guys looked up to James Bond and other action heroes.

The decade cinema said: Pick up your own goddamn suitcase...

As a white kid, the appeal of blaxploitation movies to me was that they did all of the above, but added another layer to the action genre. Blaxploitation films were funky and sexy in a way white mainstream cinema still isn't.

A classic 'Pimpmobile' - a period Corvette with Lincoln body panels.

The big, badass black heroes drove gleaming Lincolns and Cadillacs, and bedded beautiful brown-skinned babes with curves no Caucasian chick could challenge. It was unashamedly materialistic and conspicuous – in a way that both earned the 'exploitation' part of the genre's name, but again was empowering for aspirational African American men during a socioeconomic period in which they were definitely under the white man's thumb.

"These guys," the movies announced, "are affluent, powerful and sexy. There's no reason you can't be as well."

You can argue that this wasn't a good social message to give. You can argue that it was shallow and ignorant and highlighted the other flaws in the blaxploitation genre – like the generally poor treatment of women and the glorification of violence. I'm not arguing that the blaxploitation genre was some great liberating social force or a step towards true economic equality for people of color…

Vonetta McGee was just one of the period actresses who showed black women as sexy and desirable

I'm just saying it wasn't half cool.

And in all honesty, most of the condemnation pointed in the direction of the Blaxploitation genre comes from outraged white people anyway. Just take one of my favorite James Bond movies, for example. Live and Let Die, starring Roger Moore, was an iconic blend of superspy and blaxploitation; with a villainous black bad guy and a cohort of black henchmen from Harlem to the Bayou.

One of the best Bond films ever made - Live and Let Die

Some argue that it was 'racist' because the bad guys were black. I argue the opposite – that was was atypically non-racist because it treated black characters as more than just the color of their skin. What's more, the bad guy in Live and Let Die was one of the most menacing and capable in the Bond franchise's history – no camp and clueless Blofeld or Goldfinger here. Similarly, his henchmen were tough badasses who bucked the trend of the anonymous, faceless 'goon' getting turned into cannon fodder during the action sequences.

From a socioeconomic standpoint, it was the movie that helped launch the career of the only black stuntman at the time, Eddie Smith, who went on the form the Black Stuntmen's Association – plus the career of character actor Yaphet Kotto.

"In the history of Negro emancipation there have appeared great athletes, great musicians, great writers, great doctors and scientists. In due course, as in the developing history of other races, there will appear Negroes great and famous in every other walk of life. It is unfortunate for you, Mister Bond, and for this girl, that you have encountered the first of the great Negro criminals." Ian Fleming, Live and Let Die

Sometimes, the most mainstream and populist things are the most powerful and trendsetting. The blaxploitation genre might not have been a great catalyst for civil rights or racial equality – but it did teach a generation of young black men that there were more opportunities available to them in the white man's world than serving drinks and carting luggage.

And I'll have to admit that from my big-collared suits to my eighteen-foot long Lincoln Continental, I've tried to insert a little funk and soul into my modern-day American lifestyle, even if I am about as white as it's possible to get without being translucent. Perhaps the best thing about blaxploitation cinema was that you didn't need to be black to appreciate it.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Why an attack on Eden Fantasys dragged me out of hiatus

I have horribly neglected this blog - but I'm back, in time for a rant.

One of my favorite Twitter chums - who I love and adore - pointed out today that the 'auto cue' feed in Google throws up a pretty interesting search result if you type in the words Eden Fantasys - first thing that comes up is 'Eden Fantasys Scam.'

While I completely adore my Twitter pal, she and I have a difference of opinion when it comes to my favorite purveyor of provocative playthings (as is her right, and I'm glad we can be friends despite that.) This is why, when she made this discovery, she posted: "There is a reason this company comes up on a Google search in this way."

And in her defense, she's absolutely right - there is. But not in the way she might have thought.

Because if you write Eden Fantasys into another search engine, like Yahoo, for example, you'll find that the results that get displayed are different - more like you'd expect to find regarding a popular online retailer.

So why is Google different?

I suspect a Googlebomb - a deliberate and lengthy digital attack made to distort and manipulate a search engine's ranking. You do it by repeatedly entering terms you want to be associated with a specific set of keywords. Back during the days of President Bush, for example, somebody did it by linking his name to the words 'miserable failure' and created a fake 404 page for the keywords 'weapons of mass destruction.'

It seems to me that somebody has laboriously done the same with Google to connect the word 'scam' with Eden Fantasys.

Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? Who would take the time and effort to do something so mind-numbingly pathetic and insidious?

Well, actually there's a laundry list of suspects. You have the remember the enthusiasm in which some of Eden's detractors attacked this company before. Remember somebody with far too much time on their hands once set up a site called www.edenfallacys.com, specifically written to list their complaints?

Another blogger still remarks in her twitter feed that 'she'd never miss an opportunity to attack EF' because they kicked her out of their forums (the Groucho Club - ur doing it wrong.)

I can understand some of these people's complaints about the way they - as contributors - have been treated in their business relationships with Eden. I can think of three people I think have legitimate complaints about the business they've done with EF, based on what they've told myself and others. They're also, as far as I know, a little too busy and grown up to indulge in Eden-bashing.

It's the ones who aren't so mature who are most passionate about attacking Eden - so much so that they've repeatedly overstepped the bounds of any 'justification' for their complaints and ended up looking like far worse 'bad guys' than EF could ever have been in the first place.

In my mind www.edenfallacys.com was the perfect example of that. Also, the enthusiasm in which certain bloggers tried to create a baseless rumor that Eden sold 'used' sex toys was another pathetic demonstration. By comparison, the 'scam' Google bomb I suspect is small potatoes - but just another example that deeply troubles me.

Yet again, it's malicious, deliberate and - this time worst of all - fundamentally fucking dishonest.

Because if you actually look up Eden Fantasys you'll see they have a stellar reputation when it comes to dealing with customers. They're rated 5 stars on www.resallerratings.com. Trying to deliberately attach the word 'scam' to EF's name is basically trying to infer a connection to dishonest business practices that they don't and have never engaged in.

It's a lie, in other words. It's libel. It's false information.

And frankly, it's pathetic.

Some bloggers have questioned my unswerving loyalty to Eden Fantasys over the years - but this latest vignette in the blogosphere drama demonstrates why I stick with them.

I've done business with Eden as a customer and a contributor - and always been treated right.

In comparison, I've seen several of Eden's most vehement detractors backstab, bitch, badmouth and bellyache so many times that they make Eden Fantasys look like UNICEF by ethical comparison.

There are those few who still have legitimate reasons to complain - I'm not attacking them. But the majority of Eden's 'enemies', however, seem to have abandoned the moral high ground a long time ago.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Can somebody steal your blog posts?

Dangerous Lilly is on fire recently - her most recent post is in response to Lelo publishing her entire review of their product on their blog without reciprocal links or credit. She's rightfully pissed off. That, in turn, has sparked a lot of debate about what is an isn't 'fair' in taking content somebody else has written and using it on your own website or blog.

As a journalist and former law student, I think there's a standard about using written content from other people's blogs that everybody needs to stick to, and some unrealistic expectations bloggers have about their own work.

The standard? As a good rule of thumb, you can legally copy, paste and post just about anything from anywhere as long as it meets the legal definition of 'fair use' and you attribute it appropriately. For a journalist, this means always linking back to the original source (the original blog post, or blog itself) and attributing the writing to the person who first wrote it clearly and explicitly.

For example:
Dangerous Lilly writes: "...they are using our content on their site without permission or even at the least a link in some cases."
If you follow that rule of thumb, you'll probably spend your entire career copying and pasting and I doubt you'll ever run into hassle.

However, there are some other important points of netiquette to remember:
  • Don't post the whole thing. If somebody wrote a blog post or review, it's great to post an excerpt from it, but bad form to post the entire thing. We bloggers write to encourage traffic, and if you paste everything somebody's written, it's doubtful the reader will bother clicking through the links to the original site. In that case, you've basically stolen their traffic.
  • Don't cut out the links. Many bloggers, myself include, use affiliate marketing links in our blog posts. These click-thrus help us pay for bandwidth, hosting, lube and alcohol (and whatever else people spend money on.) If you take somebody's copy from their website, it's only fair to keep the links from their text intact. If not, you're essentially stealing revenue from them as well as traffic.
  • Don't edit (unnecessarily.) If you're taking somebody's writing from their site, don't fuck around with it. That means don't reorder it, rewrite it or change it to better suit the point you're making. That's dishonest. If you do need to clarify things, use square brackets. For example, if somebody wrote: "They don't know what they're doing" and it's not clear who the 'they' is, try this: "They [The Republican Party] don't know what they're doing." If there are spelling errors in the copy, I normally fix them. If you're trying to make somebody look like an uneducated hick, and want to show up their poor spelling, use the term [sic] in square brackets to clarify "This is their fuck up, not mine." It's seriously passive-aggressive, though, so you're probably an insecure douche if you resort to that.
  • Make it have value. A good blogger takes content from somebody else's site and uses it in conjunction with theirs to enhance their work, and showcase what they've borrowed. If you've got an empty blog and are just posting other people's stuff to fill space, you can follow all the above rules and still be breaking etiquette. Even with reciprocal links, you're just turning their work into spam.
Now I've said that, there are a couple of rules that bloggers should be aware of regarding their own writing:
  • You can't own it. Your content from your blog is your own - but that doesn't mean you'll be able to keep it on your blog. If you're any good as a writer, people will want to take excerpts from it, link to it, discuss it and debate it. Most likely, bits will find their way onto other blogs, forums and websites. Expecting every blogger to ask your permission to use even a line of your copy is pretty unrealistic. As long as all the rules are followed above, it's generally in the legal realm 'fair use'.
  • Don't steal from yourself. A lot of writers assume that because they wrote it, it's theirs. For the most part, this is true. However, if you're talking about copy you wrote that other people have posted, you need to be careful. Some bloggers I know write sex toy reviews for Eden Fantasys and other companies. If they copy their review text from that company's website and post it on their blog - even though they wrote it in the first place - it's considered theft.
How come? Because if a sex toy company gave you a product in exchange for writing a review, the review now belongs to them. You no longer have any rights to it.

For a lot of non-writers, this is a difficult concept to get their heads around - but it's a cold, hard legal fact. It's the price for being paid (in products or cash) for writing. It's no different to a best-selling writer selling a short story to Playboy and then posting it to their own blog. Playboy would naturally ask: "Why would people pay to read your story in Playboy when they can read it on your website for free?"

But here's the good news. If somebody else is giving you money or products for your writing - congratulations! You're officially a real writer! (Now quit complaining and act like one.)

As for Dangerous Lilly - she totally has have a right to complain about the Lelo situation, because they posted her whole review, and didn't bother to provide reciprocal links.

That's a major party foul.

If they'd done both those things, not only would Lilly have less of a reason to complain; it's likely she wouldn't been that upset about it in the first place. Ultimately, that would have been in Lelo's best interests.