For fans lacking the wherewithal (or energy) to attend one of America’s large summer music festivals, the free webcasts of SXSW, Coachella, Bonnaroo, and more available at AT&T’s Blue Room site have been a godsend. But Pearl Jam followers who logged in to this weekend’s Lollapalooza coverage may not have gotten the band’s entire performance — and what’s missing is especially troubling from a freedom of speech standpoint. According to the PJ website:
After concluding our Sunday night show at Lollapalooza, fans informed us that portions of that performance were missing and may have been censored by AT&T during the "Blue Room" Live Lollapalooza Webcast.
When asked about the missing performance, AT&T informed Lollapalooza that portions of the show were in fact missing from the webcast, and that their content monitor had made a mistake in cutting them.
During the performance of "Daughter" the following lyrics were sung to the tune of Pink Floyd’s "Another Brick in the Wall" but were cut from the webcast:
- "George Bush, leave this world alone." (the second time it was sung); and
- "George Bush find yourself another home."
This, of course, troubles us as artists but also as citizens concerned with the issue of censorship and the increasingly consolidated control of the media.
Weird, right? My first response to this was, Uh … what year is it? 2002? But then I sort of got more constructive: Confused and a little dismayed, I put in a call to the Blue Room’s spokesperson this afternoon. After the jump, his response, and what I hope will be a lively, issues-oriented discussion. Completely un-edited, of course!
Considering that the Blue Room is something I’ve linked to a couple times during my festival blogging this summer, it was important to me to find out exactly what I’d been feeding you PopWatchers. And sure enough, the company’s spokesperson told me that the editing at Lollapalooza was not intentional, and was the decision of an "overzealous" web editor at a company AT&T subcontracted to handle the event. "We have policies for profanity and other actions," the spokesperson continued, "but this was a mistake, and we are working with the band to resolve it." They hope to have an un-edited performance online soon, and, naturally, they regret the situation.
That’s nice. But the first question here, obviously, is how to keep something like this from happening in the future. One can’t help but wonder how Joe Webcasteditorguy determined that Vedder’s remarks were somehow inappropriate — according to the spokesperson, the Blue Room’s only policy regarding editing is to remove "excessive profanity" from webcasts, based on the fact that they have no age restriction for the website. What I found interesting is the fact that all Blue Room transmissions are running on a two-minute delay, which, unlike your more standard SNL-and-news-broadcasts seven-second delay, must be an agonizingly long time for any editor to stew over a snap judgment — especially if they’re engaged in a fierce internal debate about whether allowing the liberal rock star’s anti-Bush comment through the filter might get them fired, or, worse, added to some sort of list that could lead to phone monitoring and/or the inability to get on a plane next time they want to visit grandma. And yes, that is a slight exaggeration. But throw in paranoia involving the giant corporation for whom they are working, the opinions/beliefs of shareholders, the chance that you might be providing the dreaded "succor" to the damn terrorists…. Well, one can see where Joe Webcasteditorguy was, maybe, just trying to do what’s right.
So my second question is, do you want your information — even if it’s just a rock show webcast — from a source that censors at all? Many people, including myself, would say no. Because if they’re bleeping the f-word, there’s no way to know what else you might not be hearing … and situations like this weekend’s bear that theory out. I went searching for other places where I could have watched an unedited Lollapalooza webcast, and came up empty. It appears that AT&T and their Blue Room have developed something of a monopoly in this medium.
Which brings me to the third and final question: What’s to be done in a world where we are forced to get our information from increasingly consolidated providers (like, yes, EW parent company Time Warner)? If we can’t vote with our feet — i.e. "no, I do not like the way you are bleeping out those cuss words, so I will go over here instead, until you stop doing things I don’t like" — then we become a captive audience, with no choice but to open up and accept the spoon with which we’re being fed. Even worse, given that most of the consolidated providers are giant revenue-generating corporations, how often are they including or omitting content thanks to economic concerns? And how many of those decisions — often, sadly, the shadiest kind — will we never know about?
I’m going to stop now, before I spin off into some sort of ideological k-hole, and open the floor to you, PopWatchers. Is this Blue Room snafu just a silly misunderstanding, or is it a symptom that something else is wrong? Can the Internet — once a truly free wilderness of uncensored content — survive its ongoing transformation into a medium that’s just as commerce-driven as TV, radio, and paper products? And is it more convenient to be able to get all your information from one source, even at the risk of losing competitors — or just kinda scary?
Go check out Shirley’s recent post on censorship on MTV, Gary’s latest on the trend towards phasing out local movie critics, read the entire post from the Pearl Jam site (which includes linkage to some net neutrality resources), and then post your own thoughts below. Which will be edited for profanity. Sorry.