aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Sunday, October 09, 2005
Judge Judy’s crowd-pleasing bullying injustice
Last week I endorsed Malcolm Gladwell’s suggestion that hiding the race of a defendant in a legal proceeding would alter its outcome. Adam Cohen in the Times today says Judge Judy brings up another, equally important point:
Since the French Revolution, Western society has been committed to the ideal that social status should not matter in court. The American legal system, perhaps more than any other, insists that all men and women are equal before the law, but legal sociologists can show that the reality is far different. In “Sociological Justice,” a book he wrote for a popular audience, [University of Virginia social sciences professor Donald] Black argues that the legal system would be fairer if efforts were made to hide information about the parties’ social status from judges and juries. Judge Judy, of course, is an extreme example of the reverse; she is constantly asking about people’s idleness and bad debts, and generally digging for what Professor Black calls the “social geometry of the case.”
It is hardly surprising that “Judge Judy” is so popular. People like to see social hierarchies reinforced, and people who violate social norms “taught responsibility” or otherwise punished. Humiliation is also a traditional crowd pleaser, and an important part of virtually every reality show on television. The real problem with “Judge Judy” is not that it is worse than most reality TV, which it is not. It is that for an audience that runs well into the millions every week, it is blurring the line between justice and social bullying.
Barry Diller doesn’t get it
Barry Diller has a much different take than the one I espoused just the other day:
Diller is still wearing his skeptic’s hat; at Web 2.0 he turned it on those among the new wave of Web visionaries who have dared to dream that our new publishing and searching technologies might help bring a wider conversation into being beyond control of the broadcast world’s gatekeepers. “There’s just not that much talent in the world,” Diller says, “and talent almost always outs.”
On the one hand, Diller likes the Web, because it makes it easier for people to strut their stuff, if they have any: “If you have an idea, you can get it up and out, and good ideas resonate.” On the other hand, don’t expect some sort of renaissance of creativity to happen when the Web allows us to tap the talents of a wider swath of humanity: “I think that entertainment—TV, movies, games—I think it’s going to be a relatively few people who do that, simply because there is not enough talent, and it is not hiding out somewhere...”
Scott Rosenberg could teach him a thing or two. He has me:
I’m sorry, I worked for 15 years as a theater and movie critic, and I know that Diller is wrong. Sure, I did my time working at a theater reading the slush pile of unproduced play submissions; I spent too many hours watching the awful 95 percent of movies that do manage to get produced and released. I don’t have any illusions about repealing Sturgeon’s Law.
But the promise of the Net, still not fulfilled but hanging there hopefully before us, is that a free, open, teeming network can actually provide more opportunity for “talent” to “out” than a handful of overworked script readers, slush-pile combers and A&R men. To think otherwise—to think that the existing corporate cultural system is the most efficient mechanism imaginable for the identification of artistic talent—is pure arrogance.
Based on what he said here, I think Barry Diller believes he is someone who understands the Internet because he knows so well how to make money through it. But I don’t believe he understands the first thing about what makes it anything more than just a money machine.
Lego’s Long Tail
It all starts with Lego’s mail-order business, which began as a traditional shop-at-home catalog and is now increasing organized around its website. In a typical toy store, Lego may have a few dozen products. On its online store, it has nearly 1,000, ranging from bags of roof tiles to a $300 Deathstar (shown). If you want to see how different the online market is from the traditional retail market for Lego, check out their topsellers list. Only a few of those products are even available in stores, and most of those are inexpensive items added to other purchases to bring them over $50 and thus qualify for free shipping.
It’s worth pausing here and considering the Long Tail implications of this. At least 90% of Lego’s products are not available in traditional retail. They’re only available in the catalogs and online, where the economics of inventory and distribution are far friendlier to niche products. Overall, those non-retail parts of the business represent 10-15% of Lego’s annual $1.1 billion in sales. But the margins on these products are higher than the kits sold through Toys R Us, thanks to not having to share the revenues with the retailer. And because the virtual store can carry products for all Lego fans, from kids to adult enthusiasts, and not just the sweet spot of nine-year-old boys, the range of prices can be a lot greater online, from $1 bricks to the aforementioned $300 Star Wars kit.
I said bravo Lego last month, over their reaction to a customer hack. Chris has more…
Could she be the Rose Mary Woods of our time?
She’ll be back.
Howard Fineman on Chris Matthews this morning:
This is a woman who is Karl Rove’s secretary. But before that she worked for Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist who’s under investigation by another grand jury. Susan Ralston is arguably legally the most important person in Washington right now because she central to a lot of different investigations and you’re going to be hearing more about her in the days and weeks ahead.