epershand: Rose brandishing knitting needles. (Rose)
So I just watched this well-done video on the new Lego Friends line, from Feminist Frequency:

Over the course of the video I went from peeved at Lego to actually really impressed with what they've done and grumpy at all the hate they've been getting for it, the exact opposite of what the video was aiming for.

I know! It's horribly gender-essentialist, all these pink and purple sets designed to help build houses instead of cities, with their human figures that look more like dolls than the iconic lego figurines.

But it's *exactly* the sort of thing that might have gotten me started playing with legos as a kid. I was never really into legos. I loved lincoln logs--I used them to build doll houses. I loved blocks--I used them to build doll houses. And I loved erector sets and chemical bond model kits (look I was the grandchild of a nano-physicist ok????) and mostly I really, really, loved cardboard, which I could cut and fold into ANY SHAPE I WANTED to build things with. (Mostly things for my dolls to live in and/or use.)

Legos always seemed horribly limiting. They only came in rectangles, for one, unlike things like erector sets and all the neat toys at my grandparents' you could use to build elaborate crystalline structures. And there were never enough vertical panels so if you wanted to build a doll house you had to build all your walls out of bricks, which just wasn't that fascinating an activity.

And those lego figures--they're pretty neat, I'll admit, with their different hair options and differently-colored shirts and stuff. But they're anonymous. They're not really people--they're just another shape of brick that you can use to decorate your scenes.

Lego friends introduces a set of distinct *characters* with names and personalities and identifiable features. That's an inroad to being able to use them to tell stories. And if there was one thing that I liked more than designing and building elaborate dollhouses out of everything I could possibly find for that purpose, it was acting out stories with my little sister and our dolls. Lego Friends would have let us do that, and hey, if we needed more pieces or wanted colors other than pink or purple we could have then turned to THE ENTIRE REST OF LEGO-KIND.

The uproar is about the fact that these are being marketed as "legos for girls", and I keep seeing this image being passed around the internet as a preferred marketing campaign:

Little girl in traditionally boyish clothes grinning with her legos. Text overlay reads 'what it is is beautiful.'

And that's great for girls who want to play "like boys". But what about girls (and boys, and others) who want to play "like girls"? Lego Friends isn't necessarily Legos for Girls. It's Legos for Feminine Kids. And I'm sorry, but I can't be angry at Lego marketing itself to feminine kids and giving them a doorway into the broader world of playing with Legos. I created my own inroad with erector sets and the other "masculine" toys I played with, but not every kid does that on their own.

The path "forward" doesn't necessarily have to be a brave march forward into an increasingly "gender-neutral" future where masculinity is the norm. That's not gender-neutral. That's masculine. Sometimes girls don't need to be given the freedom to "act like boys". Sometimes they need the freedom to "act like girls", damnit. (This is the part where I really want to insert a pithy Julia Serano quotation but if I tried it would wind up being everything she's ever said. If you want to pause at this point and get a copy of Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity and read the entire thing I don't blame you--that would be an excellent life choice. But there's only one more paragraph and you can go read all the Serano after that.)

Twenty-ish years ago another toy company did the same thing--they took a toy traditionally sold in neutral colors and created a pastel version, with a set of unique characters, each with their own personality. That was My Little Pony, a toy that's increasingly in the news as it gains more fans of all genders. Can we give Lego the opportunity to do the same?

epershand: A stick figure watching the gap. (Watch the Gap)
So, I was just reading Karen Healey's post and Saundra Mitchell's post about the Sarah Reese Brennan fan twitter assholery.

Some jerk downloaded Brennan's book illegally and then had the gall TO TWEET TO HER telling her she'd done so. Man, what a jerk.

Good thing I've never done something like that. #OhWait #DoesItHelpIfIUsedTheHashtag #reluctantPirate


I've never illegally downloaded a book that was still in print, although I do wish there was a way for me to buy digital copies of all the books I lurk after in used bookstores. I do, however, illegally download music and TV, and I tend to (a) be pretty upfront about it and (b) refer to it jocularly as "illegally downloading."

I am well aware that I am not every pirate, and that my story is neither unique or universal, but here are a few stories of mine.


I'll start this off my mentioning that I buy a large amount of TV and music. Wow do I. Wow is the iTunes Music Store bad for my wallet (fortunately I budget for it, because I know how much music I like to buy). Seriously, if I hear a random song that I like somewhere, I will go to the iTMS and buy the entire album. And then maybe another album by that artist.

But I don't always know what I want to buy, and that's a challenge. So also I download music. For the most part, this is on a pretty small scale--fanmixes are the major way I hear about new, completely random music these days.

Worse than downloading, I also UPLOAD fanmixes. I am a DISTRIBUTOR of music that is not mine to distribute.


A few years ago I used to be a part of this music site. There was this teenage girl who would just post multiple albums a week, and pretty much whatever she posted, I'd download from her. In return for all the free music, people like me would send her cartons of cigarettes, which she couldn't buy legally because she was underage. How skeezy does that sound? Skeezy, right?

The vast majority of the bands whose music I got from there didn't make one red cent off of the fact that I downloaded their albums. The ones I found there and liked, though?

I buy their albums. I go see them in concert. I promote them to my friends and talk them into buying their albums. I put a song of theirs on a fanmix, letting at least a few hundred people at a time know how awesome they are (while simultaneously perpetuating the cycle of extra-legal music distribution).

To be fair, I am one out of thousands of people who used to follow this girl before she got shut down. I have no idea how many of her other regular followers wound up purchasing music as a result. I have no idea how many people who download my fanmixes purchase music by any of the artists as a result.

But of all the albums I downloaded for free from that site, how many would I have purchased without it? Exactly zero. I wouldn't even have known who the artists were.

I was really sad when that site went down. It was a major blow to my ability to acquire new hipster cred, let me tell you.


Another thing. Broadway music. I like Broadway music a lot. I don't see a lot of stage productions, because I'm not in New York, but I do buy cast albums. Also, I'm a singer, so I buy sheet music.

So, Christmas of '09 my sister gave me a USB drive with The Last Five Years on it. She hadn't purchased it, she'd gotten a copy from a friend who had purchased it. At least I think he purchased it? And man, was that an incredible musical. It ripped open my chest and dragged my heart out kicking and screaming.

And it made me love the composer, and it made me hate the fucking composer, because how dare he write what he wrote in that fucking musical. Except I kinda sorta loved him. Resentfully. Fucker.

(My level of emotion about that fucking man and his fucking music is such that I cannot even have internal dialogs about him without them becoming profanity-laden. More profanity-laden than usual, I mean.)

So, I wanted to subsidize Brown in at least SOME way for all the torment and heartbreak and anger he'd given me. And I wanted to be able to sing some of his music. So I bought the sheet music for the musical.

A few months later Jason Fucking Robert Fucking Brown got into a well-publicized fight with a teenager over distributing digital copies of his sheet music.

In which he was very self-righteous about his rights to earn money every time someone sang one of his songs. In which he made similar arguments to the ones Healey and Mitchell and Brennan made last week. But mostly?

In which he looked like a gigantic fucking asshole.

(Pro-tip: if your goal is to make you, the famous rich middle-aged white guy, the hero and your interlocutor, the teenage starving artist, the villain, please make at least an attempt to get her name right. Or at least refrain from mocking her for correcting you.)

Last week, I was looking for pieces to audition for my chorus's upcoming anti-Valentines cabaret, and I went to the library and checked out Songs For a New World.

"Fuck you, Jason Robert Brown," I thought. "I'm not buying any more of your fucking sheet music. I'm getting it from the motherfucking library, so there."

But then I auditioned a piece from The Last Five Years anyway. Fucker.


Anyway, what all this is meant to say is, a sea change has happened in the way people are producing and consuming media, and with the way they're interacting with the traditional gatekeepers of the media world. I realize that the old way things worked afforded you a living and that the new way doesn't. But the new way is here, and it's here to stay, and I don't want to be an asshole, but every time I hear someone shouting about how we should just go back to the old way? My main emotion is pity, not sympathy.

Like it or not, the way that you, author, interact with your intellectual property and the people who are consuming it is going to have a very strong impact on my willingness to consume it.

Cory Doctorow's fiction bores me to tears, but I keep valiantly talking myself into reading his books because I like his politics. Despite the way I feel about his works, I'm going to try very hard never again to send a cent in the direction of Jason Robert Brown.

And, to be fair to those of us on the consumption side of the line, things are confusing out there. I've been at concerts given by artists who say "Please don't buy my CD. Please download it illegally, I am trying to get away from my recording company." (I think we all know who that was.) Cory Doctorow is telling us that he makes more money by virtue of giving his work away for free. We've read Courtney Love on recording contracts. We've read Wil Wheaton on self-publishing.

I don't know what the next world of publishing looks like, but I can tell you this. Yelling at people like lucyham isn't going to get you there, and it's not going to keep you where you are either.

And I can also tell you this: when you say that the figures of people who downloaded your book would have put you on the NY Times bestseller list if they'd been sales, I've got to call bullshit. First of all, the vast majority of the people who downloaded your book were not people who would have bought it if it hadn't been online. They are people who wouldn't have known that your book existed. Second, you should probably take a look at the illegal download figures for the books that ARE on the NY Times bestseller list before you start making that sort of claim.

Maybe I'm just another one of the self-justifying piracy advocates who just wants everything for free, but I don't THINK I am. Because I value you strongly, author. I value the work you do, I live and breath it. I also value musicians, and the work that they do. And I value publishing houses, and the way they guide me to find good books. (I particularly value publishing houses like Baen, whose policy of handing out large number of free e-books, and whose high quality writers, have pretty much ensured that I'm going to buy my third copy of Cryoburn when it comes out in paperback.)

When I say that the old business model has failed and you need to find a new one, it's not because I don't respect the living the old one gave you. I liked that business model too, in a lot of ways--it gave me a regular supply of books that have been professionally copyrighted and marketed, with rather nice cover art, and let me line the walls of my house with them.

But, and I am only telling you this because I love you and what you do, you need to find a new way to make an income on your writing. Because I love you, author of printed books. But I also love the authors of my favorite webcomics. They give me their work for free, and let me read it when I feel like it without going to a bookstore first. And I subsidize them by buying merch and the occasional printed edition. I love my favorite radio personalities, so I give money during every This American Life fundraising drive and buy all the audiobooks by them that I can.

The way I find new authors to read, and new artists to support? Is almost entirely through the internet, and the things I can get from it for free. From authors blogs, from authors twitters, from recommendations on my friends' blogs and twitters.

This is pretty good for me, but in a lot of ways it sucks, it sucks MASSIVELY. Because, author, I really want you to be able to devote yourselves full-time to writing, and not have to take on the subsidiary tasks of being your own editor, publisher, marketer, social media guru in order to get an online following high enough you have sufficient True Fans to support you. OK Go's model is succeeding brilliantly, but I don't want to require that you be OK Go in order to succeed.

But I can't fix that, and neither can you.

ETA: This post is beginning to get a fair amount of attention, and I am on my way to work right now. I intend to respond to comments, but it's going to have to wait until this evening at the earliest. Thanks for your understanding!
epershand: An ampersand (Default)
As of tonight I have been banned from one of my formerly favorite restaurants. Honestly, I don't particularly want to go back there on the basis of my experience tonight. Sorry, Ti Couz, I guess there will be no more tasty buckwheat crepes for me, because I'm not particularly a fan of being insulted and sworn at in a mildly antisemitic way by your wait staff. I also didn't know that asking to talk to someone's manager about their behavior was a bannable offense.

(I also would have liked: for our meal order to have been put in the first time we ordered it. For the entres to have been served to the correct people. For our desert order to have come back correctly, and for the waiter to have been something other than shocked that the person whose order was messed up... wanted to eat what she had ordered and not something else. For our request for a water refill to have been filled. For there have to been forks with dessert without our getting them ourselves.

And... how about not being called "damn New Yorkers" to our face while we were dividing up our tab? [A word of advice: when your audience of four includes two Jews, one of whom just moved from New York, pick your words more carefully. A further word of advice: "I've never been to New York, so I didn't know that was a stereotype" is not actually an apology.]

And, after that, to have gotten our bill back according to what we wrote down, not divided evenly into four. And to have had an actual chance to talk to the manager, not told that we should deal with it ourselves with the waiter. And then offered the chance to talk to the bartender. And finally to have another member of the wait staff come to talk to us.)

Really, before the "damn New Yorkers" thing I was just going to give him a 10% tip and be ok with things.

But on the BRIGHT SIDE I have a [livejournal.com profile] weetziefae! She is halfway between her old New York life and her new New Zealand life, and that halfway point is a summer in San Francisco! Hurrah!


epershand: An ampersand (Default)

July 2014

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