Monthly Archives: September 2010

What Stays on Sesame Street has to be Sesame Street

The now infamous sketch of singer Katy Perry and red monster puppet Elmo singing an adaptation of her “Hot N Cold” song for the venerable preschooler kids show Sesame Street has been the subject of much discussion, including in my own household, when the bit was put onto YouTube and subsequent complaints caused the show to decide to leave the video on the Internet but not air it on the actual show broadcast. Most of the discussion about this incident has been along the lines of “Why are they being so mean and censoring to Katy Perry? There was nothing wrong with that dress she was wearing!”

Well, yes, there was something very wrong with it. It was not a Sesame Street dress. It was a Katy Perry dress. The dress, which despite being yellow and having a clear mesh top, was supposed to be a sort of wedding dress for dress up, had the opaque material of the outfit cut just 2 inches above Katy Perry’s nipples, with a V cleavage that went all the way to her sternum. It was a great dress for Perry to wear to a music awards show, or even shopping in L.A., but it made utterly no sense for running around with Elmo.

A lot of people argue that 3-4 year old kids aren’t going to realize there’s any problem with the dress, that they aren’t thinking of it as a sexy low cut bodice. And that’s true. Little kids are going to know Katy Perry as the bubbly, pretty singer with funny cupcakes on her breasts who their older siblings listen to, if they know who she is at all. But that’s not the point. It doesn’t matter if little kids see women in barely there clothing on a regular basis in the real world, if they are bombarded with billboard ads and commercials of half-naked ladies sexily draping themselves around perfume or beer bottles. It doesn’t matter because Sesame Street isn’t the real world. Sesame Street is little kids world.

The rule is, when you come on Sesame Street as a guest, that you come as a cuddly, non-threatening, non-sexual eunuch buddy, not that you bring your adult “I will pretend to have sex with you to move product” persona into the world of Big Bird and Grover. When Tina Fey comes onto the show, she doesn’t start making jokes about how long it’s been since she’s had sex, like she does all the time on her show 30 Rock. She talks about being a bookaneer who loves books. Jack Black does not act drunk and show his butt crack while searching for an octagon. does not bring a bevy of sexy back-up dancers in hotpants to sing along with the Muppets on “What I Am.” Because while appearing on Sesame Street is a prestigious gig with some PR value, your appearance is not supposed to really be about you. It’s about the kids and what the show is trying to teach them with your bit. Katy Perry broke the rule.

So the questions aren’t about whether the dress was inappropriate for Sesame Street. (It was.) Or whether the show was right to cancel the video for the broadcast. (They were, although it’s rather sad as the song adaptation was cute. ) The questions are, why did Katy Perry insist on wearing her MTV style dress for a Sesame Street appearance? And why did the Sesame Street people involved with shooting the video let her do it instead of making her change outfits? (And if it was the show that provided that dress, why on earth did the costumer think it was a good idea?) Sesame Street has managed to survive for over 40 years despite a very determined, very powerful cadre of people relentlessly trying to close it down. It’s survived by being a kids first zone. The cut of that dress was most definitely not designed with little kids in mind.

I firmly support Katy Perry’s or any woman’s right to wear a string bikini in public in the middle of winter if she wants. But Sesame Street gets to be Sesame Street. And they get to choose who gets to visit and how.

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Interesting Writings for the Last Bit of September

1) Excellent SFF writer A. Lee Martinez points out that screaming “The Internet will destroy your brains!” has no more meaning than when people shouted it about other forms of media:

2) Excellent SFF writer Patricia Wrede delivers interesting insights into fiction writers on her blog:

3) The Borders blog has been very busy lately. First off, excellent SFF writers Brandon Sanderson and Brent Weeks have a semi-satiric and semi-serious discussion about mostly alternate world (epic) fantasy:

4) Second at the Borders blog, excellent SFFH editors Lou Anders of Pyr Books, Ginjer Buchanan of Berkley Ace, and Jeremy Lassen of Night Shade Books have a wonderful discussion about the symbiotic realities of fiction publishing and being SFFH editors:

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Why It Is Very Hard to have a Rational Conversation About E-Books

Thanks to Nick Mamatas’ blog: for alerting all to this whacky article in the Wall Street Journal about literary fiction and e-books.

Among the howlers in the piece:

1) The article only talks about hardcover prices and e-book prices, ignoring that around 70% of the print publishing market is in paperback.  It also gets it wrong about e-book prices being universally low.

2) The article posits the total whopper that literary fiction debuts used to draw $50,000-$100,000 advances on average from the big publishers. The reality is that contemporary and historical fiction debuts, whether it was being sold as literary or not, averaged advances of $5,000-$15,000 from big publishers. Suspense, SFF, romance, and children’s debuts paid advances on average of considerably less than that, and those figures have largely gone unchanged for the last twenty years.

3) That publishers are buying fewer debuts and at lower advances because of the e-book market. This ignores basic realities such as that A) e-books are still only around 4% of book sales; and B) the actual reason that publishers are buying fewer debuts at lower advances is the same reason that they always have — we just had a giant recession. Every time we have a recession, especially a violent, bubble-inflated one, publishers do the same things: buy fewer new authors for less advance fees, cut mid-list authors from their lists, concentrate on big name authors and demand that those authors perform better, and fire publishing house staff, often starting with editorial. Book chains close stores and some of them usually go out of business. It happened in the early 1990’s recession, complicated by the Gulf War and the shrinkage of the wholesale market, and it happened in the late 1990’s, early oughts in the Tech Bubble recession.

But this recession was the Great Recession — the one that was only a hair’s breadth away from being a depression. With the shrinkage of the wholesale market over the last twenty years, and with real estate values tumbling, this recession rocked even the big chains — who haven’t been as well managed as they might be — caused mass firings and consolidations in the publishing firms and got some terrific authors punted from their contracts even as they were building a following. It was a mess and is still a mess. And in those circumstances, publishers are exceedingly cautious about buying new authors, while at the same time realizing that new may sell better than old.

The Wall Street Journal seems to want to pretend that the Great Recession never occurred or is no longer a factor. It revives the commercial vs. literary myth, creates an imaginary past where “literary” fiction was supposedly once more valued and declares that the barbarian e-books will cause publishers to throw out literary fiction for commercial e-commerce. This ignores that quite a few literary titles do exceedingly well in the e-book market. So much so that agent Andrew Wylie made a massive e-rights deal with Amazon for his highly eminent clients’ backlists of classics. (Wylie, known affectionately as “the Jackal,” has made his fortune getting mega international deals for some of the most revered authors of the 20th century. Perhaps that’s where the Wall Street Journal got confused about book advances.)

It’s all ridiculous hype, which Christopher Mims expertly dissects for Technology Review in this piece, “The Death of the Book Has Been Greatly Exaggerated.” (Yes, the Mark Twain quote will always be used.) Mims opens with the question:  “Why are tech pundits so eager to announce that the Ebook is taking over?” And the answer is because they are trying to sell gadgets. Mims lays it all out for you with graphs and everything:

The Wall Street Journal is interested enough in e-books (or rather iPads,) that it is planning to review books and cover the publishing industry a bit more. So expect more fantasy analysis soon.

Also, interesting news:

This is of course a really bad idea that Amazon is working up for a feature that helped negate their one disadvantage over brick and mortar bookstores — the ability to pick up the book, read the back cover and skim a few pages to see if you like it. It would also reduce Amazon’s effectiveness as a search site destination. Even if Amazon doesn’t ultimately charge for peeking — which they are blaming on publishers, the same publishers they charge to have the search inside feature for their books — it is a symbol of what’s probably going to come — more charges for access to various parts of websites. It seems like a really good way for Amazon to lose sales, though, on the whole.


Filed under book publishing, Technology

Monkey War!

Apparently, the best defense of troublesome monkeys when you have an athletic competition to host is…bigger monkeys! Frankly, I think the fighting between the monkeys might be more fascinating than the games themselves:

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A Dose of Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt directed and starred in a cute pair of mixed live and animation shorts, the first of which was shown at the Sundance Film Festival. The first one, Morgan M. Morgansen’s Date with Destiny, also stars Lexy Hulme and Lawrie Brewster. The sequel, Morgan and Destiny’s Eleventeenth Date: The Zeppelin Zoo, adds Channing Tatum to the cast. (It’s almost enough to make one forgive the boys for G.I. Joe, but not quite.) Thanks to Tor. com for the introduction.

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Your Weekly OK Go Video

As I said earlier, I’m putting up one of the music videos from the band OK Go each week. This week is the video for the single “Invincible,” one of their songs I like a lot, from their second album, Oh No, in which the guys blow things up. (You would think that there would be more music videos where they blow things up besides glitter.)

*Update:  Apparently, you’re not allowed to embed this video. So you just click on it, then click to go to YouTube, which sort of negates the point, but still, they blow things up, so worth two clicks.

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Quote for the Week

Quote for the Week:

We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy…. –Martin Luther King Jr. “Beyond Vietnam”

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Movie Previews With No Discernible Common Theme Whatsoever

First off, Matt Damon goes Sixth Sense in the film Hereafter, in which he plays a reclusive psychic drawn into an unusual ghost situation:

Next, from Australia, a country with a solid fondness for making post-apocalyptic film and television, a movie based on John Marsden’s excellent YA science fiction series, Tomorrow, When the War Began:

Kevin Spacey gets his freak on in a dark comedy portrayal of Jack Abramoff, one of the most successful and corrupt lobbyists of all time:

Vince Vaughn and Kevin James ham it up in a comedy about a guy who discovers his best friend and business partner’s wife is cheating on him in The Dilemma:

Apparently, they decided to remake Wanted with Johnny Depp in The Tourist, a film about the usual — a guy gets involved with a mysterious beautiful woman, people shoot at him, he must unravel the mystery to survive, etc., but let’s face it, it’s just plain fun watching Angelina Jolie do this sort of thing:

The fantasy film Legion had a lot of problems, despite a great cast that did the best they could with the illogical material, so having the same crew get together to do the post-apocalypse film Priest, based on the graphic novel, does not entirely fill one with confidence. On the other hand, it’s Paul Bettany, it’s vampires and it’s a great Western rescue story, so when it comes out a few months from now, I’m going to be watching it:

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Excellent News — Jay Lake

Jay Lake is a smart, erudite SFF writer  who is part of what I like to call the Dark Cadre of authors in the field, along with folks like Joe Abercrombie and Alan Campbell. He writes weird and twisty stuff that is also very human stuff. For awhile now, Mr. Lake has been fighting off cancer, including a recent operation on his liver. So it’s great to hear that he is now officially in remission and doing a lot better. You can check out the news on his blog:

You can also check out his fiction:

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Male and Female Readers, YA Fiction and Maureen Johnson

A bit ago, I did an entry about the uproar concerning authors Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner’s awareness campaign against the New York Times where they used Jonathan Franzen’s new novel Freedom to complain about inequalities in how male and female writers are treated by review and other media. (And Franzen — who gets to be an Oprah pick again — basically agreed with them.) I looked at how this was connected to the bigger path dependent, outdated commercial-literary marketing hoax, which includes the completely ridiculous belief in media that women can only rarely manage to write fiction of style and worth and the tendency to judge women written books often on their packaging, not their content, and the equally bogus claim that women seldom write in a socially meaningful, globally political way. (I.e.: Guys supposedly write about politics and war, even if it’s a love story, and women always write about romance and relationships, even if it’s a political war novel.)

Since then, there has been a lot of interesting stuff written about this issue, and I’ve found myself in a number of discussions where the assertion above continued to be asserted. Both women and men continue to cling to outdated gender rules (the younger ones somewhat less so,) especially if they happen to fit their own personal reading preferences. They determinedly interpret similar material in stories as being either in the romance camp or the politics camp on the basis of A) whether the writer is male or female; and B) if the writer is female, whether the protagonist whose inner thoughts you get is male or female. The theory is that most males will only read male writers writing preferably about boys and may read some women writers, but only if they write about boys and as much like a “man” as possible. And those are the important books, of course. The argument for all this is that it isn’t cultural, but genetic, can’t be helped. That this claim has been proven completely bogus again and again by male writers successfully masquerading as women and women writers successfully masquerading as men does not deter them. In their minds, the role of women writers is largely fixed.

This is a generational thing and it is changing, but recently it’s made more inroads in education, where they are desperate to recapture at least some of the boys who’ve gone off to computer games, sports and the Internet over reading novels. Quite a lot of female writers are capturing boys’ attention, but the female influence is of course thought to largely repel boys (with the pastel romance covers the publishers slap on female written works discounted as having nothing to do with it,) and that repellance, instead of being turned around because it’s a dead end strategy for attracting boys long term, is being catered to. There are numerous male writers doing YA and doing it well with bestsellers, but the claim is that they barely exist, that there must be more of them and they are the only ones who can reach boy readers. (Never mind that Suzanne Collins chick or J.K. Rowling.)

Maureen Johnson is not only a good YA writer, but she should really be writing some non-fiction books, because when she manages to do a blog entry, it’s usually terrific. She has weighed in on the subject, in particular to the YA market, and it’s a fun read. It is also, for all but the latest generation, remarkably true. Whether publishers will heed what she’s saying and start figuring out ways to market both male and female authors to boys is up in the air. But eventually, despite the insistence that boys (and men) are inflexible sexist creatures and will never change, that cultural shift is going to happen.

And yes, the Nicholas Sparks interview she links to is pretty funny, and shows again the confusion of packaging — the idea that a category market (romance) somehow is a separate kind of story from non-category stories of the same type (love stories).

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