Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow

Posted: March 7, 2013 in Books, Current Events, Entertainment, Media Gleanings, Movies, Pedagogy & Education, Reviews
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So, after the right wing propaganda of Flashback, fate chose to drop on me a few novels that are quite the opposite.

Pirate Cinema is classed as a YA novel, but you’d never know it.  Typically, the main character is an adolescent boy coming of age and all, but the bulk of the story is quite mature and fascinating, even if a little simplistic.  In the opening chapter, sixteen year old Trent McCauley is caught pirating videos and gets his family’s Internet access terminated.  This is a disaster for his family, affecting their lives in all kinds of ways, including his sister’s education and his father’s job.  Feeling disgraced he runs away to London, where he experiences homelessness, dumpster diving, and house squatting.  While a little less than realistic, and unfortunately likely to make many people view homelessness as less traumatic than it really is, it is still interesting and adventurous.

But the core of the novel is Doctorow’s fairly obvious rant against the government, big business and copyright laws.  It is the perfect antithesis to Simmons’ Flashback, with Doctorow speaking from a very liberal and environmental, pluralistic idealism.   It’s not as overtly preachy as Simmons.  There are few outright speeches, although there are a few at the end when the pirates hack the government.  Once again we are presented with an entertaining thought experiment.

Like Flashback, Doctorow makes a lot of idealistic ideological points without considering the opposing view.   His points are valid and thought provoking, but since they are unchallenged they sometimes come across as a little shallow.  His point, that stiff penalties for illegal downloading are overkill, is a valid one.  His presentation of big business being able “buy laws” and government trying to sneak unpopular legislation through being undemocratic is simply a valid reality.  His claim that artistic freedom should allow pirate cinema to go unchallenged is not fair to some of the economics of the situation.  Whatever you may feel about pirating and big business, -and I have strongly opposed the claim that the entertainment industry is suffering-, it is still true that intellectual property requires some respect so that people can reap some benefits from their creation.  Artists require some kind of protection.

However, a study released today and reported on the news claims that movie studio revenue increased in the period following a crackdown on major movie pirating sites were shut down.  What a crock!  The study is flawed in a multitude of ways.  First of all, it didn’t look at either cinema ticket sales, or DVD rental at all, only overall revenue.  Secondly, effects on a corporation’s revenue is going to be dependent on all kinds of things and is not going to respond very quickly to any sort of external event.  It’s a rather shaky correlation at best.  Thirdly, major pirating sites were completely unaffected, meaning that the closing of a few hardly dented the amount of downloading.  Thirdly, I know a lot of people who dl movies.  They are mostly people who attend cinemas very regularly.  What is downloaded is very unlikely to affect their movie attendance or DVD buying.  The economic impact is going to be a small fraction of the practice.  Economic impact on movie theatres is much more likely to be a result of on-demand movies being provided through cable TV.  There are many more intelligent, unbiased studies showing almost no impact of pirating video or music on the fiscal bottom line of big corporations.  The drop in their revenue over the past decade or two is a result of them no longer having a monopoly on their media (due to legitimate competition) and a change in demographics because of a shift in the baby boom generation.  They’re greedy corporations, as papered as many of the spoiled stars that work for them, and that don’t want to see their heyday come to an end.  Even though it already has.

So, I have an implicit biased for Doctorow’s message in Pirate Cinema.  Even if I didn’t, like Flashback, it is an adventurous and engaging view of the near future, and food for much thought.

I would give this book an A-.  It is definitely on the list of those books I’d try throwing at teenage boys to encourage them to read.

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