A Bloggy Trip Down Memory Lane

As of this September, I will have been blogging for six years. One of the few upsides of comment spam is that the messages occasionally remind you of old posts that you’d totally forgotten about. Given my poor memory, and the fact that I’ve written more than 5000 posts, I’ve forgotten almost all of mine.

It’s Cheap Post Friday, so I thought I’d go back five and a half years in time to see what sort of links I posted in late 2002. Here’s a list of some of the earliest stuff I linked to. Almost all links go to external stuff, not my old and busted blog posts.

  1. The Greek government sought to ban all video games. Today, Wikipedia says the law is unconstitutional, and therefore not enforced.
  2. A cool technique for creating WAV files from the scanned images of vinyl records.
  3. Alan Dershowitz talks about why terrorism works.
  4. A New York Times piece about providing sanitized versions of movies for ‘sensitive or conservative consumers’. I linked to two companies that did this. MovieMask appears to have gone the way of all time, but Clean Flicks is, disappointingly, still around.
  5. Hurray! Metatags are dead.
  6. Ted Leonsis’s list of 100 things to do before he dies. I still have to fill out my list.
  7. Dialtones, a telesymphony.
  8. CrashBonsai.

It’s actually encouraging how many of those links are still live. I’d say I had, like, an 85% success rate. Of course, I was mostly linking to pretty popular stuff, so that’s hardly a realistic sample of the lifespan of web pages.


  1. Re item #4, doe’s anyone know if Blockbusters is still censoring or editing movies? There was a flap about this a while back. The people who run this company are well known social conservatives.

  2. Why are you disappointed that Clean Flicks is around?

    Indeed, I continue one of my ongoing projects, which is to find a tool for doing what Clean Flicks does (non-linear recuts of DVD content) with user-generated edit lists.

    As I’ve mentioned before, this would be for fan-edits in a lightweight, legal format.

    Gar: as for Blockbuster, La Wik can answer your question. As for “well known social conservatives,” Are you referring to David Cook, Wayne Huizenga, Viacom, Sumner Redstone, John Antioco, or James Keyes?

  3. Ryan: Because I don’t think people should mess with art without the artists’ permission, particularly when it comes to censorship. And by ‘artists’, I mean the principal creators, not the studios that may own that content.

    If you don’t want to watch movies that you find too violent, then simply don’t watch them. I don’t want to read books about cowboys, so I skip the Westerns section at Chapters.

  4. Based on item #4, I just had a blast reading some of the “Parental Advice” on Clean Flicks for some of entertainment purposes.

  5. Ryan: “Mess with” probably was a bit unclear. Let me amend my statement thusly:

    “I don’t think people should censor art.”

    There is clearly a grey area here, and many creative works–including sampling–fall into it. Aside from the creator’s permission, intent is another important determiner. If you’re trying to make new art (instead of merely censoring) by recombining existing art, then I’m going to be more sympathetic to your cause. Clearly, CleanFlicks’s only intent is censorship.

    The New York Times article quotes director Michael Apted, who describes the process as ‘ridiculous’. The Director’s Guild of America filed a suit against various companies like CleanFlicks. It names 16 prominent directors (including Spielberg, Soderbergh, Scorsese, Mann and others) who oppose this practice. I mention this only to confirm that the creators disagree with what CleanFlicks does.

    TV and airplane edits fall on that same continuum of censorship. I haven’t watched any CleanFlick’d movies, so I can’t say if they’re worse or better.

    Aside from the questions of the artist’s rights and censorship, there’s also the integrity of the artwork. We should see art the way artists intended us to see it. We cheat ourselves by experiencing sanitized versions.

    To reiterate: if you don’t want to see sex and violence in the movies, don’t watch movies that contain sex and violence. What’s wrong with that logic?

  6. From CleanFlicks’ FAQ:

    We can’t edit movies anymore, but we’ve gathered a large selection of ALL family friendly movies you can rent online.

    In response to the DGA suit, they had their knuckles rapped about the censoring (err, editing) thing. They initially planned to appeal the ruling, but apparently decided not to, and changed their business plan to offer pre-screened “family friendly” movies only.

  7. Brent: Ah, thanks for clarifying. I noticed that the only Spielberg movies they had were E.T., Hook and something else, so that explains why.

  8. I’m still trying to limn this whole artistic-integrity argument…

    But first, a confession: I got CleanFlicks confused with the still-operational ClearPlay, whose technology (special DVD players, standard DVDs, and a ClearPlay-created EDL for each DVD) is way more cooler.

    It is noteworthy that ClearPlay and CleanFlicks are the same end by technologically different means, and one has had legal success, and the other has been a legal failure (but both were sued for what they did).

    Second, people who use either service are choosing the movies they want to see, the way they want to see them. If you disagree with their choices, that’s fine. But claiming some moral imperative for the glory of forcing people to experience art only the way the artist wants it to be experienced is nonsense, and when I phrase it that way, it becomes obvious nonsense.

    Also, it means if you look away during the scary parts of the movie, you hate art.

    There’s precious few auteurs in film that have demonstrated enough stalinism in their management of their art to even deserve the protection you’re offering them.

    Finally, the canonical ClearFlicks use-case would be a movie like the recent Charlie Wilson’s War. That film features one brief nude scene at the very start of the film. The rest of the movie is a nudity-free docudrama.

    Now my mother-in-law, God love her, has a very specific set of things she finds intolerable in films. Gratuitous violence? Loves it. Swearing? She could do without. Sex and nudity? No thanks!

    Now she would really enjoy about 99% of the film, and really be mad about 1% of the film. Are you saying she shouldn’t be able to watch the movie she wants to?

    I don’t think arguing for restrictions on how people watch movies they have paid for is a very compelling battle cry. But you and Mr. Spielberg have fun with that one.

  9. Actually, your mother-in-law doesn’t want to watch “Charlie Wilson’s War”. She wants to watch most of “Charlie Wilson’s War”, which isn’t the same thing.

    I’d recommend she just cover her eyes, or utilize the fast-forward button. She may be doing herself a disservice (I haven’t seen the movie) by skipping part of the movie, but I don’t seek to prevent her from doing so.

    I do have a problem when a corporation propagates censorship. Because when CleanFlicks edits a film without the creator’s permission, that’s what it is: systemic censorship.

    As I said, there’s a gray area here, with CleanFlicks on one side of the line, and your mother-in-law on the other.

    On a personal note, I do think people using a service like ClearPlay can do themselves a real disservice. I think that consuming art is different from consuming a milkshake. It sounds like you don’t.

    I’d also add, tangentially, that experiencing art sometimes involves seeing things that make us uncomfortable. That’s a good thing, as it can help us to reconsider something (an idea, a theme, a belief, etc) in a new light.

  10. Wait, are you making a moral argument against user edits?

    CleanFlicks (well, for a lot of reasons, I prefer using the example of ClearPlay, not least because their technology is cooler) is editing the film at the behest of the consumer, in the way the consumer wants.

    Is there seriously such a thing as a person who doesn’t know what they’re getting when they rent from these companies?

    I mean, I guess I could rip Charlie Wilson’s, do the Mother-In-Law edit (not as funny as Fargo Yeah, but more practical), and re-burn it for her, or I could outsource the work to some other company. (either NBC or ClearPlay, depending on how soon it gets shown on network TV).

    You’ve already said that “art” is some sort of defence for movie editing, so how about if I express that my recut is an art project demonstrating the gratuitousness of many R-rated movies, Charlie Wilson’s being a single example in a vast oeuvre? I’ll start working on my grant application tomorrow.

    Indeed, it appears ClearPlay may be one of the most clever art projects ever mounted, and certainly one of the most ambitious!

    If I make a tangential comment of my own, I remember back in the VHS era that my father had a copy of Top Gun (I think taped from TV). On the label he had written the time cue for the start of the final dogfight. So I think self-editing of movies goes back pretty much as far as TV.

    As for art versus milkshakes, I think we already consume art like milkshakes. I have reproductions of art in my house, and in some cases I have never seen the original works. I have CDs of classical music in my house, and not all of those were performed on period instruments.

    Heck, the most famous performance of any Bach work was done by an artist with a notoriously eccentric interpretation, on an instrument other than what they were written for!

    I think, fundamentally, that you can frown on the principle of user-editing, or you can dislike individual edits, but opposing edits for what amounts to their moral content . . . that appears to leave you (from previous arguments) saying that bowdlerizing movies is bad, but the Lebowski Swear Edit is art.

    I think your definition of art is sadly limited. Now, if you don’t mind, I have to go use some art.

  11. Ryan: You’ve moved the argument from CleanFlicks to ‘user-edits’. There’s a lot of ground in-between those ideas, don’t you think?

    I’ve already said the following:

    “There is clearly a grey area here, and many creative works–including sampling–fall into it. Aside from the creator’s permission, intent is another important determiner. If you’re trying to make new art (instead of merely censoring) by recombining existing art, then I’m going to be more sympathetic to your cause. Clearly, CleanFlicks’s only intent is censorship.”

    In fact, you’ve also entirely avoided the term censorship. Don’t you think what CleanFlicks engaged in was censorship? Whether it’s at the behest of the consumer or not, the term still applies.

    Let me return to my milkshake analogy to illustrate the point I’m trying to make.

    Say I went into business selling McDonald’s milkshakes. I bought a bunch of milkshakes from McDonalds, removed (though some chemical magic) the chocolate from each one, and then resold them, claiming that they were indeed genuine McDonalds milkshakes.

    That’s what CleanFlicks did to movies. Claimed that you were watching, say, “Saving Private Ryan” when, in fact, you weren’t. You were watching a censored version of it. And I think those things are fundamentally different.

    I think we ought to respect artists’ work, and do our best to consume it as it was intended. Your Bach example isn’t precisely germane, because Bach knew that his compositions were open to the interpretation of the musician. Music is made through a collaboration between the composer and the musicians, after all. Besides, musicians interpreting sheet music goes back to my intent point, above.

    As for the replica works of art in your home. Are they as faithfully recreated as cost would allow? I’m guessing yes.

    CleanFlicks, on the other hand, specifically sought to denigrate or lessen the artists’ work.

    We clearly disagree on this point, and we’re not going to change each other’s minds. I’m out of time to dedicate to this debate. Feel free to have the final word on it.

  12. It is kind of you to offer the final word here, and I am too cheap not to take it.

    CleanFlicks and its consumers thought they were improving the works in question. You say censorship, I say fan edit, and I say you can’t rationally distinguish the two.

    CleanFlicks sold Milkshake Lite with considerable advertisement of the Lite part. Its customers would not have bought Milkshake without the value-added Lite bit.

    Thus endeth the “serious” part of my argument.

    As a funny aside, I should say one of my favorite channels on TV is TCM, which shows uncut classic films with no commercials. I love uncut movies, and I love that TCM is so purist that they only show films in original aspect ratios (letterboxing where necessary) as I dislike pan-and-scan.

    What bothers me here is the elevation of a taste argument to some sort of moral (or at least legal) imperative. I fear that there is no practical distinction which sensibly extracts a difference between an outside edit that improves a film, and an outside edit that censors a film.

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