July 20, 2007

The HuffPo Potter wars continue

My new attack and what I guess is supposed to be a response.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


An angry, drunken J.K. Rowling seems to have put the dreaded arbitrarius line-breakus curse on you.

Anyway, I agree with your points, except for I think the New York Times should start adding SPOILER!!!!!!!! to the headlines of all its reviews and arts coverage. And also (especially) its news. For instance, I would have greatly appreciated something like, "Boris Yeltzin is SPOILER!!!!!!!! dead at 76." I had just gotten to the part where he was run out of office in disgrace, and now slogging through the rest seems pointless.

Also there is this.

I'm not sure what Neffinger is on about. Did someone force him to read the NY Times review?

The anti-advance-review argument for Harry Potter appears to be self-annihilating. The books can be culturally important enough to justify exceptional rules only if they are also culturally important enough to continue to be important after most people know the story -- in which case they and their readers don't need the exceptional rules. (That's just restating Daniel's original argument, as I understand it.)

However, there's another factor here, a backlash against (or let's say, a growing appreciation of the downsides of) bandwidth. If so, there might be a point. When I first read Lord of the Rings as a teenager in the 70s, the books were long well-known and I had been curious about them for a few years before I got around to reading them. Nontheless, I had no idea how the story went, or ended, until I read it. I wonder if that's possible today, without exceptional circumstances.

Consider the possibility that the exceptional rules may be justified not by HPatDH being an exceptional book, but by the consequences of a new and exceptional techno-culture. Instead of just spoiling the ending for a few siblings and classmates (who can easily avenge themselves), one person can now spoil it for arbitrarily many, with impunity. And even without blatant spoilers, the osmotic pressure of general Net knowledge, of hints and references, can still make an unread book, an unwatched movie, etc. a less attractive vacuum than it used to be. (To give an example uttery divorced from the red herring of special cultural significance, was there any point in actually watching Snakes on a Plane by the time it was released?)

Neffinger's issue isn't the Times, it's MySpace and YouTube and a million blogs and boards. But the only option against that opponent is surrender, so Neffinger is trying to draw new lines elsewhere; hence the special pleading against the Times' standard procedure.

If couched in more honest terms, such an argument might be worth considering.

I think you're on to someting. HuffPo should let you blog instead of me.

Is that Nefflinger guy for real? My thoughts reading him were of the Mohammed cartoons and I'm glad you mentioned the Bible in your response.

He's real. We went to law school together. I wouldn't have pegged him for putting "reviewing a book, prerelease" as something that can be evaluated on ethical grounds.

There may be legal grounds, as he alluded to, but they would be based on one of the worst free press decisions the Supreme Court ever made after The Nation leaked the juicy bits of the Ford autobiography.

Charles, I'm no lawyer, but wouldn't this connect somehow to the "tortious interference" gambit made famous in the Insider?

I don't see enough movies to know what 'tortious interference' went on there. Theft of corporate documents? Trade secrets? None of that seems all that relevant to the pre-publication acquisition of a book for review.

Then again, I'm not much of a lawyer.

Well of course it was actual news before it was a movie. The tobacco company Brown and Williamson threatened to sue 60 minutes for enticing its source (Russell Crowe!) to violate his confidentiality agreement with the company.

Walt, you've got it all wrong re: Snakes on a Plane. The advance hype didn't spoil it, "'Snakes on a Plane' starring Samuel L. Jackson" was all you needed ever needed to know. The title (+ star) was it's own spoiler -- that was the joke.

But you're right, my issue also applies to YouTube, etc as well. It's just that I don't expect nihilist netizens to respect anyone else's wishes (not because they shouldn't necessarily, I just don't expect it). So if I'm into the whole release date thing Rowling has going, I'm not going to dredge the internet looking for things Harry Potter. Until this episode, I expected different from the Times: that it would (and should) have waited the couple of days, out of respect for Rowling fans among its readers and/or the legally binding but unenforcable wishes of the author herself, without whom there would be no book to review.

Yes Charles is right, I'm real (and we went to law school together). And yes, much more than enough has been written about this already. But I'm not taking criticism for going overboard from anyone who's following this closely enough to write comments about it.

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