Monday, February 12, 2007

What Are They Going to Do for an Encore, Burn the Book?

Long before Mark David Chapman was autographing copies in his jail cell, The Catcher in the Rye was a perennial bestseller.


In my previous posting “With Enemies Like This, Who Needs Friends?” I suggested that to generate publicity for their film Chapter 27
—starring Jared Leto as Mark Chapman and Lindsay Lohan as Jude, a Lennon groupie—Peace Arch Entertainment created and continues to finance Such a tactic is hardly farfetched. With the notable exceptions of O.J. Simpson and Michael Jackson, the Golden Rule of Hollywood is: All publicity is good, no matter what they say. Press coverage means interest, and interest means distribution deals and ticket sales. Any time the government or any group attempts to boycott or censor a work of art (and I use the term “art” in the broadest possible sense), everybody wants to find out for themselves what all the fuss is about. So they run to see it. It never fails.

The classic example, which I cited a year ago in one of my first postings, “Astute Readers, Aspiring Censors, and IMDB: The Chapter 27 Page,” is Richard Nixon’s 1972 attack on Deep Throat. The week the Watergate scandal broke, Nixon, in an attempt to distract the country, ordered the FBI to shut down every theatre showing the film, confiscate the prints, and arrest the filmmakers and actors on obscenity charges. The result: a mediocre porn flick, shot in a week for $25,000, became the 11th-highest-grossing film of 1973, with earnings of over $600 million, and Linda Lovelace became the world’s first porno “superstar.”

I also pointed out that long before Mark David Chapman was autographing copies of The Catcher in the Rye in his prison cell, the book was a perennial best-seller, thanks in part to the high school principals all over America who’d been banning it for 29 years.

And in 1999, of course, there was Rudy Giuliani’s attempt to shut down the “Sensation” exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum because one of the paintings, Chris Ofili’s “Holy Virgin Mary,” was partially composed of elephant dung, and the former New York mayor found it offensive. The result: 170,000 people, the most that had come to the museum in a decade, showed up to look at the painting.

Publicity is not an easy thing to come by. A person’s name (or the name of an organization) does not end up in a high-profile gossip column by accident. In general, if you want to see your name in boldface, you have to pay a well-connected PR firm between $3,000 and $10,000 per month to pull the required strings; some authors have been known to spend their entire advance on a month of PR—with no guarantees.

That the Chapter 27 boycott was the lead item in a gossip column in the New York Daily News just as Chapter 27 was being buried under an avalanche of less-than-kind reviews following its Sundance premiere, and that the story was then flashed around the world, seemed too well timed, and far too sophisticated a result for an organization whose blog, at best, rises to the level of coherent hate speech.

So I raised the question: Is an arm of Peace Arch Entertainment?

The people behind were not happy with this, and, predictably, they responded with an invective-and-innuendo-filled diatribe that questioned everything from my sexual orientation to my research methods. But they didn’t answer the question.

So I went to their blog and asked them flat out: Are you now taking, or have you ever taken, money from Peace Arch Entertainment, or any individual or corporate entity affiliated with Peace Arch Entertainment? A simple yes or no will suffice.

They said no, they weren’t taking money from Peace Arch Entertainment.

Whether this is true or not I can’t say. Though, for the time being, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they are who they say they are and what they seem on the surface to be: a loosely knit coalition of Chapman-hating businessmen and lawyers, apparently based in Pompano Beach, Florida, who have a lot of free time, who have money to burn on PR, who want to destroy Peace Arch Entertainment as punishment for having made Chapter 27, and who routinely respond on their blog and elsewhere with hateful (and often incoherent) rants to any suggestion that their boycott is ill-conceived or counterproductive, or that people, if they’re so inclined, should just go see the movie and make up their own minds about it.

Since their boycott began a year ago, Chapter 27 has:

  • Had its world premiere at Sundance.
  • Had its European premiere at the Berlin Film Festival.
  • Been picked up for theatrical distribution in Europe, Asia, and South America.
And as the controversy continues to fuel the fire, it certainly looks as if, despite the overwhelmingly savage reviews, Chapter 27 will reach a mass American audience, even if it’s only in select “art houses” and on DVD—because people are curious and they want to see it.

So why then are these presumably successful businessmen and attorneys boycotting the film if their boycott is doing the exact opposite of what they claim to want? Why are they breathing life into a movie that most critics have written off as a vanity project lacking in insight?

They could be completely delusional, I suppose. Or they could be a newly formed PR agency, drumming up business with an ugly but effective postmodern publicity stunt. (They did offer to boycott my next book for $5,000.) Or more likely they’re just a couple of ex-frat boys into publicity for publicity’s sake: they enjoy reading about themselves in the tabloids, and that’s all there is to it.


Anonymous said...

You seem to be spending a tremendous amount of your valuable time fighting with the frat-boys at Why would you bother?? Do you have something to gain or some involvement in the boycott yourself? Seems like the success of this film could help sell your book? Makes me wonder?

Maybe you should send them the $5,000, that book of yours needs all the help it can get.


Fred Norris

Robert Rosen said...

Thank you for your advice. I’m writing about the “Chapter 27” boycott because it’s interesting, and it makes a larger point about the nature of censorship and repression.

Upon further reflection, I now think that Peace Arch Entertainment themselves, taking advantage of the gift that handed them on a silver platter, arranged for the boycott to receive the high-profile media attention it so richly deserves.

As far as paying your friends $5,000 to boycott my next book (which, in part, explores the nature of government censorship): It’s a very fair price. But I think I can find an equally qualified freelance hate group to do the job for free. Of course, if were to make a better offer, I’d certainly consider it.

It’s too late to boycott “Nowhere Man,” by the way. It’s already been a bestseller in four countries and three languages.

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