A front-page story in a recent edition of the LA Times looked into the creation of web sites for entertainment products—films—by alleged fans. As the story, “Fake Fans, Fake Buzz, Real Bucks” by Dana Calvo (20 March ’01), opens: “The 34-year-old computer whiz in Silver Lake got a phone call from the friend of a friend—the head of publicity for a movie studio. The offer as $10,000 a week for an Internet ‘project.'” The project was to create an indie-appearing website to flak a movie.
The story of the generation of the enthusiasm for The Blair Witch project is well known. And because of the usefulness of the Internet to create interest (Blair cost about $1-million to make; it grossed, according to Calvo, $128-million in just five weeks), this is becoming a marketing strategy. And let’s face it: movie companies are record companies. The names are different but the suits are the same.
Calvo writes: “The hired enthusiasts don’t reveal that they are on entertainment company payrolls. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to verify which Web pages are by genuine fans and which aren’t even by tracing the registered owner of the site.”
Which strikes me as somewhat disturbing.
Take this site, for example. How does someone know that those of us who post to this page aren’t really in the thrall of some anti-Sting cabal? How does someone know that there is actually more than one person writing this stuff? I don’t want to get into some sort of riff on solipsism here (“Hmm. . .I haven’t been to France for a while: How do I know Paris exists?”), but to simply muse on the fact that those who participate in the creation of bona fide sites about stuff really need to concentrate on providing authenticity of voice, a reality that can’t be bought by corporate suits. I suspect that if you were to go to Yahoo and search for a pop artist, beyond the “official” sites there are more than a few that are nothing more than genuine-for-hire. It may be dismissed as just a matter of the unenlightened not getting it (“So what?”), but it seems to me that this is sort of a slippery slope to the world described in 1984, where the Government (or in this case, the Industry) creates the entertainment for the proles. And there are one hell of a lot of proles whose spending affects what gets elevated and what gets quashed.
There could be an argument raised that this is done only for the “name” acts, but isn’t it posible that given the comparative low cost of creating sites (the guy from Silver Lake obviously got one hell of a deal; I imagine that Jake may be wondering at this point. . .), it would be the marginal artists who are more likely to be the ones for whom Internet crypto marketing is done. The budget may be low, but the Internet is infinite.
The truth may be out there. It’s just hard to find.
(Next time: Man on the Moon? Fact or a bad movie shot at Area 54?)