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Let’s compare.  Both of these videos are technically marketing pieces. I would know as I’ve made a few hundred marketing videos in my career.  But what is each video selling, and how is each doing its job?

The video on the left is produced by Kim Dotcom and is selling one message:  Free Kim Dotcom.  The video on the right is produced by The What Took You So Long Foundation, and it is selling one message:  TEDx is a force for positive change in the world. Dotcom’s video has nearly one million views; the TEDx video, just over one thousand.  The former is an example of what I consider the most destructive and cynical manifestations of the digital age, while the latter represents what I perceive as the best in next-gen, progressive spirit connected and empowered by technology.

Dotcom’s video is more than a little creepy. It uses the desaturated hues we associate with post-apocalyptic movies, a fake TV-noise plug-in to give Dotcom himself a subversive, underground appeal; repeated images of angry mobs hiding behind Guy Fawkes masks to enhance the theater of revolution; and a catchy, electronica tune with lyrics that speak of humanism in contrast to the almost threatening, dystopian montage.

Dotcom may have the gall to compare himself to Martin Luther King, but the video is actually more reminiscent of a terrorist training film than a promo for social change, and that’s why it’s effective.  It takes a cynical, pseudo-revolutionary video to appeal to a cynical psychology — one that actually believes that streaming stolen creative media via torrent sites is somehow striking a blow for freedom and justice in the world.

By contrast, everything we see in the TEDx video is exactly the opposite in sensibility and intent.  First, we see faces, a lot of faces of real people who left their desktops and traveled to Doha to participate in something and engage in physical interaction. Not that the TED enterprise is without its flaws, but this video itself taps into what I would describe as a progressive deconstruction of institutions — a global “think different” consciousness that very likely will bypass traditional means to solve real problems like hunger, disease, and poverty.

When Eiso Vaandager says toward the end of the video that he “envisions the UN coming to TEDx organizers to solve a problem they can’t,” this is the kind of audacious claim worthy of our attention; and it only underscores just how offensive it is to hear Kim Schmitz use the same media to compare himself to civil rights leaders and other legitimate heroes.

I suspect the jaundiced supporters of the Dotcom video imagine themselves somehow allied with the proactive folks in the TEDx video because, of course, people have a tendency to believe in associative relationships among things that sound similar (both are bucking systems, aren’t they?); but there really is no comparison.  Dotcom’s video targets Americans — people who already enjoy freedom, and it aims to convince them that his incarceration would be their prison, too. The TEDx video targets a global community, and it aims to convince people that energy, willingness, and intelligence can solve real issues.

Of course the word freedom is a slippery little bugger. It gets used by everyone from peace activists to corporate fat cats to terrorists; and Dotcom is merely following in a long tradition of vested interests abusing the concept to defend personal gain and deflect attention away from the harm he does. As an artist and an American, I cherish the First Amendment above all other laws; and it is destructive both to creative works and to the First Amendment when a guy like Schmitz presumes to hide his theft of the former behind the humanistic benevolence of the latter.

If what you envision is legit social change, there are plenty of progressive and tangible ways to take action — everything from just supporting a crowd-funding campaign for a cause to lending actual knowledge, assistance, or muscle to a project of interest. But streaming free entertainment in order to fill the pockets of a guy who has produced exactly nothing in the world counts for less than zero on the social change meter.

There is actual oppression in the world, real sorrow, real evil worth your attention and action. Right now, thousands of human beings worldwide are being trafficked as sex or labor slaves; too much of the technology we take for granted is being produced by hands in poor working conditions; climate change is real; terrorism is real; hunger is real; there’s a revolution in Syria you might have heard about; the Iranian government is playing a dangerous and complex game; we have thousands of homeless and suicidal veterans here in the U.S.; Russia just sentenced musicians to prison for performing a protest song; oh, and the world economy is still pretty shaky.  If you’re looking for heroes and villains, they’re out there; but if Dotcom and Hollywood fit those definitions for you respectively, you’re more than a little naive.

© 2012, David Newhoff. All rights reserved.

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