Starship Operators finale – On the Media and War

As a wrap up to these series of posts I’ve made about Starship Operators, I figured I’d answer my own question that I posed earlier. What is the relationship between the media and war? And if anyone disagrees with me at the end of this feel free to post a comment.

And fair warning the following example contains a three-foot-tall working penis. If that offends you, well get over it, because war isn’t hell, it’s just controlled unleashed insanity. For the sake of brevity, I’m going to shorten news media to media.

Like I said before. the media and the government make strange bedfellows. A lot of conspiracy nuts on both sides of the aisle would have people believe that the media is in bed with the government. That it’s either run by the military-industrial complex, or it’s the tool of labor unions, Greenpeace and a bunch of pot-smoking hippies. Well, they’re wrong.

The media and the government are like a fifty-year-old couple. The government is the man. He wants what any fifty-year-old guy wants – sex, football and to be left alone on poker night. But for the most part he’s pretty faithful to his wife, so he only wants to have sex with her. The media is the wife. She’s gone through menopause. She doesn’t want sex anymore, but she wants what any fifty-year-old woman would want – for her husband to make sure that the bills got paid, for him to clean up after himself and for him to pay attention to her.

They aren’t much different when it comes to war. Back in the good old days of their marriage, when they weren’t tired of each other, they would work together to serve a common purpsose. Just take a look at the old news reels that came out during WWII – they are pieces of propaganda garbage.

But now, they have different agendas, but with the same common goal – to meet the needs of their customers/voters. The problem lies in the fact that they don’t have the same idea about what meets those needs. To take the metaphor a step further – the public is the teenage daughter of this couple, who’s a bit flighty, but loves horses and cute pictures of kitty cats.

So the government wants to protect/control his kid. He has a big stake in selling the agenda to her before she meets some transient biker and makes for the Mexico border. She loves her father, but she isn’t stupid. She knows that sometimes Daddy spends all night drinking and playing poker, that he occasionally flirts with the waitress right in front of Mom.

And this is were her mother comes along. She wants to win her daughter over because of some decades long grudge match that she has going on with Dad. So she whines about his drinking, his spending and how much he doesn’t do for her. But she knows that her daughter is a bit flighty and won’t sit still long enough to pay attention. So she has to make her delivery thrilling or else her daughter is going to go back up to her room and chat with her Myspace friends.

Enter the next door neighbor (or whatever foriegn power you want to put here). So say the next door neighbor just strikes Dad as wrong. So he starts in on the posturing, perhaps he goes over and warns him about his three-foot tall statue of a working penis. But the neighbor just brushes him off. Then he starts talking to the other neighbors about that statue, trying to gain some support.

But in the end, he has to have his family backing him, or else none of the other families are going to buy what he has to say, right? I mean if the guy doesn’t even have his own house in order, how can anyone else support him? So he starts with his wife, knowing that she can get her daughters attention. In some cases, he tells a few white lies, in some cases he doesn’t have to. But lets keep going with the statue thing, because I really like it.

So he paints a pretty lurid picture for his wife. Well his wife doesn’t really trust him, I mean it’s only a statue, right? But Dad says he talked to the guy and he blew Dad off and treated it like it was no big deal. Totally dissed the entire family in the process. Well his wife tries to go over to the neighbors and gets the brush off too. So is stuck with her husband’s story.

After a bit of hemming and hawing, she tells her daughter the story about the three-foot working penis. She keeps out the most lurid details, but it’s still pretty impressive. Well she likes her Daddy, and she’s kind of pissed that the neighbor’s picking on them. So she joins forces with her Daddy and well Mom’s along for the ride right now, because the neighbor’s not talking, and she doesn’t have any other information.

Now the neighbor starts to get surly. He makes a bunch of counter-accusations. Thing escalate until Dad decides to go onto the neighbor’s property to destroy the penis. And then everything goes to hell. The Penis doesn’t get destroyed but the fence between the properties does. Lawns get trashed. Statuary destroyed. Maybe the penis even gets chipped. The neighbors who agree are all cheering Dad on, the neighbors that don’t are all complaining.

But for right now Dad’s got what he wants – a war on the neighbor.

And then Mom realizes that this is all about a three-foot-tall working penis. She starts telling her daughter about all the horrible things Dad is doing to the neighbor. She’s kind of ashamed that she originally told her daughter about this stuff to begin with. But Dad’s at war, so he doesn’t care, except when his daughter comes up to him one day and says, “I want a new Dad because your being horrible.” That’s when he figures out that he’s in trouble, so he tries to backpedal a bit, or tries to bluff his way through, but the daughter’s not buying it, Mom’s not buying it, but he’s at war now, so what’s he going to do. So he keeps at it.

And then Fluffy the dog gets killed trying to stop the neighbor from coming over to the lawn. And things really get bad for Dad. Everyone loves Fluffy. (This is not a statement intended to say that soliders are stupid dogs, just to say that everyone likes dogs or they should.)

The question then becomes for the daughter is all of this disaster worth wrecking a three-foot-tall penis?

And that is my take on the media’s relationship when it comes to war. Honestly, I think it’s the only way the media can go. As long as they do their best to report the facts as they learn them, then there isn’t much more they can do. And this is the relationship that Starship Operators showed. Sorry, if this all seems a bit off of the anime topic. You can leave that comment as well.

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Bargain Bin Reviews – Starship Operators (TV)

Sometimes there are just shows that pass beneath my radar, or rather I get so caught up in the other stuff that I’m collecting that they get put on the backburner. Starship Operators is one of those shows.

The story follows the 73rd class of cadets from the planet Kibi’s military academy. After finishing a run on the space battleship Amaterasu (pronounced Ah-mah-ter-ahs), they find their home planet is taken over by the Kingdom (the exact political structure is a bit shaky, but more on that later). They make the decision to buy the Amaterasu, and declare war on the Kingdom. But to do it they need money, so they do what any saavy group should do – they sell their story to the media.

When I first heard about this title, I was skeptical. As I mentioned before, most fiction either treats the news media as the heroes or the villians, but never really delves into the interplay between the media, the government and public opinion in a way that’s really meaningful.

Also, the whole thing had another strike against it. The original idea came from Ryo Mizuno, the person responsible for the horror that is Record of Lodoss War. So, I didn’t really expect much.

Boy was I surprised. The overall handling of the relationships between the government officials, the crew, the media and the public were so well done, I almost fell out of my seat. All of the sides scheme for the support of the public, and use the media and in turn the media uses them to get their show. But the media isn’t portrayed as consistently money hungry, no, they’re also shown as noble and compassionate at times. Those relationships were so well done, I just wish every show about the media was that intelligent.

It’s too bad they didn’t spend as much time developing out the characters. The story mostly follows the vice captain (and military genius), Sinon, and does an adaquate job filling out her as a character who starts off as reserved and standoffish, but becomes fully committed to winning by the end of the series. But most of the side characters get little to no development. Rather they end up being plot devices. While that in and of itself isn’t necessarily bad, it makes several moments in the series that should be heart-rending simply fall flat. Trust me there is a pattern for any character that gets developed later in the series. I won’t spoil it, but you’ll see what I mean.

Second, much like Crest of Stars, Starship Operators avoids any exposition like it’s the plague. Which is great, since we don’t get lines like, “As you know, this ship is equipped with a plasma cannon.” And horrible because I still don’t understand the political structure of the world. And in a series that is so much about politics, that could have been really helpful.

However even with the character and plot problems, the animation and character designs were still solid. There is almost no fan service, and even with the obligatory moe design, I didn’t feel put off by the artwork. The CG effects were blended well into the animation and did enchance the space battles.

The score was pretty standard fare, with the orchestral going to war sound to it. But the opener and closer were both throw-aways that really can be skipped.

All in all, Starship Operators suffers the fate of most thirteen episode series. It tries to do too much with too little space and never really accomplishes everything it should. But what it does accomplish is interesting enough that it’s worth picking up.

Recommendation: I picked up the series off of Amazon Marketplace for about $20. I would say it’s a reasonable price for the series. I wouldn’t spend more than $30 on it.

Open the Floor – The Media and War

So the two people who have replied to my poll, said they wanted more intellectual discussion. Mostly I kind of threw that in there as a joke, but always the servant to my readers I’m going to try to accomodate them.

So what I’m going to do is present some info, and I want to hear what you, the reader, thinks about it.

On with the show –

Well, I’ve been watching Starship Operators, and it has started to raise some interesting questions in my mind about the relationship between the media, the government and war.

As someone who has been trained as a reporter, I’d really like to say that the news media and war are some sort of distantly related cousins. No one wants to think that they’re the cause for continuing conflicts, or that they’re doing anything more than reporting the facts.

But war and the media make strange bedfellows. Take a look at the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine if you want proof (it started the Spanish-American war). It was an accident, but because William Randolph Hearst wanted to have a war in Cuba so much, he painted it in lurid tones and made it a national tragedy. So, the media can cause war.

It also can end it. For instance, the Vietnam Conflict (and arguably more currently the Iraq War) have been largely influenced by the reporting on the conflict. How else would we know about the mess in Baghdad right now if it wasn’t for their reporting. And the American government definitely doesn’t want us to know what it does with detainees from the conflict. Or how poorly they’re doing over there.

So here’s my question to you – What do you think the role of the media should be in times of war? Should they support the government like they did during WWII, or is the current incarnation more appropriate?

Head Hurting Time – More on Fansubs and the Industry

Right on the heels of reading about the Comcast/Odex snafu, I came across this interview with Arthur Smith, the president of G.D.H Int’l on activeanime.com. Part of me wants to agree with him. I mean, he’s right. People who download fansubs and don’t buy the DVDs hurt the market. As HardCheese pointed out in a recent post, it’s simple econimics.

But something bothers me… What could it possibly ever be? Oh yeah, we don’t actually have any real numbers. Well except for this part:

“…why the overall DVD market in US is down 15% and anime DVD market, even though interest in anime is GROWING much faster than other types of programming, is down 30%!! How can that be, if not through the impact of file sharing!?!”

Besides the extreme overuse of exclamation points (I mean how do you yell more than yelling), I’m curious about these percentages. So the DVD market overall is down 15 percent? What does that mean really? If 100 DVDs were sold last year then this year 85 DVDs are sold? Or does it mean that if the company made $100 last year on DVD sales, they made $85 this year on those same sales?

I tell you those percentages are tricky. And can you really compare a relatively small niche market to a larger mass audience market at all? It seems to me that these are alarmist tactics at best. At worst, they’re downright fabrications.

On top of that, I’m having a really hard time feeling bad for Mr. Smith. It’s really easy to blame the fansubs. He even says “What other reason could there be?” And then turns around an points out one of the top reasons – There’s a two year gap between when the show is released in Japan and when it’s released in the United States.

Let me give you another one, Mr. Smith. I just spent $30 filling up a 12 gallon tank of gas. My electricity, cable and rent are all going up, but my paycheck isn’t. Oh, here’s another one – the quality of your shows have gone so far downhill in the last couple of years that your company has officially been branded a laughingstock.

Oh wait. But see you can’t attack those. So it has to be those naughty fansubbers that are doing it to you. For goodness sake, lay off the semantics. Yes, people who do not buy the anime DVDs (or at least rent them) are hurting the industry. But to simply throw some meaningless numbers up there and expect the rest of us to run around like Chicken Little screaming, “The sky is falling.”

Well, that’s just dirty.

Why not FLCL?

Wow, I don’t post for a week and now I’m going to do my third post. Although my last couple were under the influence of a lack of sleep and caffiene. Oh who am I kidding, this one is too.

So, I recently exchanged a couple of emails with animesophist and he mentioned Fooly Cooly to take my number nine spot. (Go read his review, it’s about as good of a review of the series that you’re going to find.) But that said it raises an interesting point. Why not FLCL? I mean it has everything a discerning anime viewer like me could want: Robots, a fast moving and crazy plot, robots, a crazy interstellar traveller riding a Vespa, more robots, amazing visuals and well… stuff coming out of people’s heads. Thought I was going to say robots, didn’t you?

But it’s really tough for me because FLCL is a good show, but…

Does anyone really understand what’s going on? Because if anyone does could they explain it to me. The problem with shows like FLCL and Lain and Texnolyze is that they get stuck in their own merry-go-round of crazy themes that they really forget simple things like plots. Or rather the plot gets buried under so much other junk that it forgets what the point of a story is.

And that’s to entertain. And to entertain, I have to at least have a basic grasp of the rules of the world. Even in a show like RahXephon (which I finished watching after being up for 24 hours) I understood what was happening at least on a basic level. All of the other connections and conspiracies were icing on the proverbial cake.

On top of that, while animesophist is right, it is a show that defies categorization. It’s also a show that uses and twists all of those categories it touches on. Sometimes it takes it right up to the level of a farce, sometimes it stops just short of it. So it’s hard to take it seriously as a drama. It’s hard to take it as light as a comedy. In fact it just muddles up all of them into one gooey mess, so that when I finished it I knew I’d experienced something. I just wasn’t sure what.

And that’s what lies at the heart of my problem with this kind of show. I can’t connect with it. It’s a good show and an interesting experience, but walking away from it doesn’t leave me wanting to watch it again.

It ends up leaving me looking for something to wash my mouth out with.

Fansubs, Piracy, ISPs – Why won’t the pain stop?

Recently, I came across two articles on Anime News Network. Both of which made my head hurt for completely different reasons. The first was part of the Hey Answerman! column:

“.. Arent fansubs protected by the first amendment?… “

All I have to say is “What the?”Okay, so that isn’t all I have to say. What bothers me isn’t the fact that someone is trying to use something totally unrelated to justify downloading fansubs. It’s that the argument they are using is so blatantly and unrepentently dumb? How is using copyrighted material that someone else created that you have no part in protected speech?

What bugs me even more is the fact that people need to feel that they’re justified in downloading fansubs SO much that they create these fantasies that are just a few steps shy of institutional. Look, I’m not an RIAA puppet or anything, but downloading copyrighted material that you didn’t pay for is stealing. Get over it. Don’t try to justify it. Don’t try to make it some holy mission. And definitely, most certainly don’t drag the First Amendment into the argument.

There are plenty of good reasons to download fansubs: as a preview of a series, because it’s not available in the United States or just because you want to. Yes, it’s a good enough reason as long as you accept on some small level you are stealing.

On the other side of the court, I came across this article on Anime News Network. The part that caught my attention was: “The majority of the notices (which are similar to an unrelated one archived at the Chilling Effects website) reportedly came from Comcast, a Internet service provider in the United States, on behalf of an unnamed “copyright owner, or its authorized agent” and cited America’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act.”

Chilling effects is right. That goes straight past chilling and right on through to downright disturbing. Comcast can judge the materials I have stored on my computer, or that I send through their cables? Yes, I just said that fansubs are stealing. And they are, no matter which way you cut it. But there’s no way I want the corporations acting as the police on what people send through their lines. Good lord, is it me or does that give anyone else the heebie jeebies?

Just imagine this scenario: I decide that I want to criticize Comcast’s Anime Selects service on OnDemand. Do they now have the right to curtail my commentary? Am I going to get a notice in the mail telling me to cease and desist picking on them while I PAY TO USE THEIR SERVICE.

All I can think of is Julius Caesar at the moment: “Oh judgment thou art fled to brutish beasts and men have lost their reason!”

Bear with me – my brain is swirling in this mire of stupidity. I must pause till it come back.

On The Media

So I’m halfway through watching Starship Operators, and I’ll have a review for it up pretty soon, but as I was watching it, it raised an interesting point for me.

If anyone doesn’t know the idea behind Starship Operators is that there’s a starship that’s being funded by a news organization to participate in a war after the home world of these cadets is taken over. (That in and of itself raises some interesting questions, which I’ll probably touch on in the review, but not right now).

What it reminds me of is how the media gets the short shrift in fiction. Really.

There are two types of news media in fiction: the Crusaders and the Paparazzi. The Crusaders are the noble, against all odds, fighting the man, noble types who are trying to get the truth out to the people. They embody all the noble qualities of the news media. Generally these pop up when the reporter is the hero of the story.

The Paparazzi are the dark side of all of these qualities. They’re the vultures, who want to make a buck off of the suffering of others. They deride and sling mud on good people. Generally they pop up when the media is the antagonist in the story.

All I have to say is bullshit. I mean where’s the regular joe who has to cover the local 4-H fair, or the fire that burned down the local drug store. Where’s the normal guy who’s having to shuffle through reams of agendas, trying to decipher exactely what the change in zoning is going to mean to the people living on Main Street, USA. Where are these people in fiction?

They aren’t there. Why? Because it would make the media too human. And assuming that the media is human breaks the comfortable wall we’ve built between ourselves and what appears in the newspapers, the television screen or the front page of Yahoo or MSN. In fact, it’s become the last great frontier in fiction. Because once we accept that the media is giving the audience what they want, we have to ask ourselves, “Do we really want that?”

And the answer is an emphatic, “YES!” Yes, we want to know about Britney Spears drug addictions and self-destruction. Yes, we want to know about the hummer Bill Clinton got in the Oval Office. Yes, we want to know about the 20 car pile up on the local intersate. And hell if we can get a close-up on the left arm of that young mother dangling lifeless out of the car than more power to us. We want that.

Now most of you are probably saying, “Oh he’s full of it.” right about now. But ask yourselves, why is the National Enquirer have a larger circulation than any other newspaper in the country? Why are shows like Survivor and American Idol and Entertainment Tonight and E! so popular? Why do more people know about Lindsay Lohan’s police record than know about George Bush’s education bill?

Because people eat that up. But it’s an uncomfortable fact. It sits in our guts like leftover fruitcake making us wish we’d done something else with it.

But until we’re willing to accept that about ourselves, we’ll keep shuffling the blame off onto the media. We’ll keep either villifying or glorifying them until we can accept that maybe, just maybe they’re giving us what we want.