MPAA Uses Unfair Rhetoric in their Ad Campaigns
A new car sits in lonely solitude in a vacant parking lot, dimly lit; until an ominous figure approaches the vehicle. The warm quietness of the night is broken by the sound of shattered glass and the shrill of a car alarm. In only a few minutes, a car is stolen. A police car driving by instinctively turns on his lights and siren in pursuit. The car thief slams his foot on the accelerator, but after a high speed chase, is forced out of the car, handcuffed, read his rights while his legs are spread, and thrown into the back of a cop car. Meanwhile, a 22 year college student sits on his laptop, tapping his fingers and checking his MySpace while he waits for Underworld II to finish downloading. According the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the college student should be looking over his shoulder, anticipating the police to knock down his door, point their loaded weapons at him, handcuff him, read him his rights, and throw him into the back of a cop car. But are these two "crimes" truly analogous? And do they deserve the same punishment? If one doesn't believe so yet, the MPAA is working hard to convince us that they are equivalent. Petrified that they're fate will be the same as the music industry's, the MPAA is rallying against piracy. And while the Supreme Court has said that file sharing is not illegal, forces at MPAA, like President Glickman, are disseminating propaganda to movie goers that attempts to convince us otherwise. The rhetoric in their ads is unfair, insults the consumers' intelligence and character, is full of logical fallacies, and is an attempt to brainwash our culture.
The most widely known campaign against movie piracy is the commercial titled, "Piracy. It's a Crime." It begins, "You wouldn't steel a car. You wouldn't steel a handbag. You wouldn't steel a mobile phone. You wouldn't steel a DVD. Buying pirated films is stealing. Stealing is against the law. Piracy, it's a crime" (Motion Picture Association of America Internet Piracy Alert). First, according to the book Dialogues: An Argument, Rhetoric, and Reader, the commercial makes a false analogy by attempting "to draw a parallel between two things that are dissimilar" (Goshgarian, et al. 49-60). While steeling a car is a federal offense, most people charged with movie piracy are fined. Also, the advertisement is drenched in scare tactics because it pushes the audience to believe that if they were to ever purchase a "pirated" DVD, that they should feel as guilty as if they had stolen a poor old woman's handbag. At the closing of the commercial, the MPAA makes sure to reinforce their message by giving piracy a rating; "'I: Illegal downloading, inappropriate for all ages!" The commercial is successful in addressing the audience as though filled with unintelligent adolescence who, in order to really comprehend the seriousness of illegal downloading, have to be given a rating.
Another commercial that the MPAA has released features action heroes, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jackie Chan. Together, they spread the word that piracy is a crime. According to the California Commission Jobs and Economic Growth, the ad cost "about $190,000 to produce," as well as an estimated $350,000 in volunteer help to finish the spot" (Mosher). Clad in leather suits, dodging exploding cars on motorcycles, the duo explain “If this were the movies, we could stop the bad guys ourselves,” says Jackie about counterfeiters,” But this is the real world, and we need your help,” says Arnold. How can we help? Jackie says that, "When you buy pirated movies and music, you support criminals." And Arnold elaborates; "Now these criminals are counterfeiting other things like electronics and medicines." The commercial could be criticized for its lack of logic, and its path down a "slippery slope" (Goshgarian, et al. 49-60). Arnold attempts to convince us that if we support piracy, the criminals will "pirate" other things; things like "medicines." And the consequences of imposter medicines are severe. The high drama and action of the scene also add to the hyperbole, and is yet another reason why the audience might have difficulty taking this commercial seriously.
"Every once and a while, overstatements are delivered with a pathetic appeal to the perceived biases of public in order to evoke great fantasies of seriousness" (Fisher). According to Fisher, this is just what the MPAA is doing by equating buying pirated DVDs on the corner to drug trade. Supik, an MPAA field investigator who assists local law enforcement in anti-piracy raids, said or pirated movies, "This is the new drug on the street" (Fisher). This tactic is similar to the 2003 campaign that attempted to convince the public that downloading mp3's supported terrorism. Jack Valenti, head of the Motion Picture Association of America in 2003, said "…International criminal groups are getting rich from the high gain/low risk business of stealing American's copyrighted works" (Haugland). And that ""September 11 changed…the way American law enforcement looks at Intellectual Property crimes" (Haugland). This argument commits yet another logical fallacy; one that aims at the "fears and emotions of the masses" (Goshgarian, et al. 49-60). While some can see through this rhetoric, it is unfortunate that businesses use arguments that are meant to emotionally stir, and scare the consumer.
In their campaign against piracy, the MPAA has targeted two specific groups, children (and concerned parents) as well as the "average working john." The MPAA 's most recent attempt to indoctrinate American's teenagers is the established curriculum in junior high schools titled,” What’s the Diff?: A Guide to Digital Citizenship." Which, according to Jeff Howe, has "reached slightly more than half a million junior high students since it began this school year" (Howe 11). During the "lesson," students are handed cards that say which role they will be playing, actor, director, producer, set builder, or computer user, as well as the view they are supposed to express. According to Jeff Howe, who was present during a lesson in action, "Five of the pieces assert that file-sharing is unequivocally immoral. The single counterpoint is represented by the computer user. He defends file-sharing largely on the grounds that he won't get caught: 'Last time I checked, the Internet police didn't exist.' (Howe 11). This presents an extremely one sided view, and I'm not sure how the MPAA's goal of letting "students reach their own conclusions about being a good digital citizen" when they are fed what the MPAA wants them to decide. Howe, a journalist not confused by poor rhetoric or swayed by propaganda says that "the real point, of course, is to protect Hollywood from the fate of the record industry."
The MPAA is also concerned for Hollywood's little man, according to a commercial played during the previews of movie American Splendor. Author William Grosso was in the theater to witness the MPAA's latest attempt to woo its audience. Featured in the commercial is a painter named Daniel. According to 'Daniel,’ “The piracy issue … I don't believe it will effect the producers. I mean it does affect them, but it's miniscule to the way it effects me…. we are not million dollar employees… we're lucky if we put together 12 straight months" (Grosso). Some would argue that it is very hypocritical of the MPAA to argue that piracy hurts the little man, when "The film industry is run by people who take enormous amounts of money off the top and leave drippings for everyone else" (Grosso). In my opinion, i find it very discomforting that the MPAA's tactics are similar to Joseph Geobbles's, propaganda leader of the Nazi party during Hitler's rise to power. Not only did he focus on indoctrinating Germany's youth by getting them involved in Hitler Youth programs, he also made many attempts to appeal to the working class. And although "file sharing" and piracy may in all rights be illegal, it is this similarity that discredits the MPAA's attempts to persuade us.
While I do understand that Hollywood and the movie industry is having to adapt to a lot of change, and is having to salvage and protect their business, I do not agree with their tactics. In looking at the RIAA, and at its reaction to the piracy of mp3s by suing its consumers, I'm not sure which reaction is better. However, I believe that the movie industry and the MPAA would have an easier time convincing the public that piracy is a crime if they didn't use faulty arguments and poor rhetoric.
Fisher, Ken. "MPAA equates pirated DVDs to "drugs on the street"." ars technica. 15 Nov. 2005. server central. 06 Apr. 2006 <http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20051115-5580.html>.
Gary Goshgarian, Kathline Krueger, and Janet Barnett Minc, ed. Dialogues: An Argument, Rhetoric, and Reader. 4th ed. New York: Longman, 2002.
Grosso, William . "Getting Lectured by the MPAA at the Movies." Policy DevCenter. 28 Aug. 2003. 06 Apr. 2006 <http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/wlg/3716>.
Haugland, Jan. "You support terrorism if you download that ." MP3Secular Blasphemy. 15 Mar. 2003. 06 Apr. 2006 <http://blogs.salon.com/0001561/2003/03/15.html>.
Howe, Jeff. "File-Sharing Is, Like, Totally Uncool ." Wired Magazine May 2004: 11.
Mosher, Mark. "ARNOLD AND JACKIE CHAN ASK HONG KONG." California Commission for Jobs and Economic Growth 19 Nov 2005. 06 Apr 2006 <http://www.4cajobs.com/china/chinapressrelease6.pdf>.