Protests over Verizon deal with 1938media

by Mathew on July 7, 2008 · 74 comments

Update:

Verizon has apparently dropped 1938media’s content from its Vcast service and the distribution deal is off. Some people are happy with the decision while others think it is hypocritical. What do I think? Obviously, Verizon is a private company that gets to do whatever it wants, and this kind of controversy isn’t good for business. But those who argue that this isn’t a free speech issue are making a mistake, I think. It’s easy to stand up and defend speech when we agree with it — harder to do so, but just as important, when we don’t.

Original post:

A video that controversial video-blogger Loren Feldman of 1938media did almost a year ago has come back to haunt him, it seems. Several civil-rights groups and media watchdogs are protesting a decision by telecom giant Verizon to add 1938media’s video clips to its mobile Vcast service, saying Loren’s “TechNigga” clip is demeaning to black people. Project Islamic Hope, for example, has issued a statement demanding that Verizon drop its distribution arrangement with 1938media, which was just announced about a week ago, and other groups including the National Action Network and LA Humanity Foundation are also apparently calling for people to email Verizon and protest.

The video that has Islamic Hope and other groups so upset is one called “TechNigga,” which Loren put together last August. After wondering aloud why there are no black tech bloggers, Loren reappears with a skullcap and some gaudy jewelry, and claims to be the host of a show called TechNigga. He then swigs from a bottle of booze, does a lot of tongue-kissing and face-licking with his girlfriend Michelle Oshen, and then introduces a new Web app called “Ho-Trackr,” which is a mashup with Google Maps that allows prospective johns to locate prostitutes. In a statement, Islamic Hope says that the video “sends a horrible message that Verizon seeks to partner with racists.”

The TechNigga routine (which was actually a series of videos) apparently led to Loren’s distribution deal with Podtech being dissolved, and also caused problems with The Huffington Post — which 1938media was also working with — after founder Arianna Huffington was quoted as saying she was offended by the clip. Loren also said recently that a proposed deal to make videos and write columns for CNET was on hiatus, although it wasn’t clear exactly why. Was the company concerned about possible offensive content, given the TechNigga incident and the series of videos taking shots at social-media guru Shel Israel? Possibly.

On some level, I can understand the protests against Loren. Some of his content is in pretty poor taste. That said, however, a lot of it is also pretty funny. Does it cross a line sometimes, or at least come right up to the line and stick its tongue out, or give the line the finger? Yes. Lots of good comedy does. There are plenty of people who don’t think TechNigga was funny, and for the record, I am one of them. I get the point that Loren was trying to make (or at least I think I do), but to me it just didn’t work. Loren’s friend Prince Campbell — who is black, and considers Loren a friend (as I do) — has said much the same thing.

But does that mean his content shouldn’t be allowed on Verizon’s mobile service? No. I think when it comes to comedy and critical commentary of all kinds — satire or otherwise — we have to offer a lot wider latitude than we might otherwise. Freedom of speech shouldn’t be just a flag that we wave from time to time whenever it suits us. It’s an important principle. Loren should be free to make and distribute his content, and others are free not to watch it. Somehow I doubt that a mega-corporation like Verizon is going to see it that way, however.

  • http://www.stealthmode.com hardaway

    That's right. It's a distribution thing. And Loren isn't being put in jal; he is being denied a “cabaret carfd,” which is access to a spcific venue or platfor,. Shelley, you are right. And as for whether Loren is funny. he's really funny some of the time. But he's not a valuable commenter on society like Bruce was, or George Carlin. They excoriated us all, not just one of us.

  • SG

    Mathew, since you still maintain that this is a freedom of speech issue: White supremecist groups produce lots of videos mocking minorities. If they send them to Verizon for inclusion in the V Cast network, should Verizon feel obligated to make them available? How about neo-nazi groups? NAMBLA?

  • http://www.foneshow.com Erik Schwartz

    Loren is getting more press for getting kicked off of verizon than he got for signing up.

    Do you that's an accident?

    Adding 1938 media was a non-event for Verizon. They do lots of content deals with web video. Verizon media relations only got involved when Loren got booted.

  • ABlogger

    “But does that mean his content shouldn’t be allowed on Verizon’s mobile service? “

    The people who found his content unfunny, racist, and inappropriate exercised their free speech rights by letting a corporation know they wouldn't be customers if they disapproved of the content.

    Loren Feldman's supporters are free to exercise their free speech rights as well, to contact Verizon and let them know they do want his content. As opposed to just visiting all the blog comment sections and accusing everyone who disagrees with them as being “politically correct” or “humourless”.

  • johnpiercy

    Maybe Don Imus and Kramer can give Loren some advice !

  • http://mickelehsoap.blogspot.com Michael_Markman

    This isn't “freedom of speech,” which is a Constitutional right, but rather “access to a corporate deal,” which has to be earned. It's a business decision by Verizon.

    Someone at Verizon thought that having 1938media on the roster would earn money for them. Now someone at Verizon has concluded it would be a net loss. That's business.

    Loren's videos are freely accessible on his site and on YouTube. He's still free to make more of them.

    Anyone who thinks this is free speech is what Loren would call, “a dope.”

  • http://mickelehsoap.blogspot.com Michael_Markman

    Whoa! This is not being denied a “cabaret card” This is just not getting booked at a particular cabaret. A cabaret card was a New York City government-issued license that was required by anyone working in an establishment that served liquor. Many brilliant artists were denied the ability to work in New York because of drug charges or obscenity charges. (Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday, Lenny Bruce, and Lord Buckley among the most famous).

    As you note, Loren still has his freedom of speech. He can make videos. He can post them. We all can view them. You don't need a 'cabaret card' to work the Internet.

  • http://leighhimel.blogspot.com leigh

    I read Corvida's post and was trying to remember when Loren had been all pissy about a Jewish stereotype. For anyone who is interested in the link:

    http://www.1938media.com/guy-kawasaki-is-an-ass

  • http://markmckay.ca markmckay

    I don't think it has anything to do with freedom of speech. Its not like they are censoring him. All they are doing is saying they don't want invest in racist content.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    But Mark, they and everyone protesting are making their decision based
    on a couple of videos from a year ago — don't you think that's a
    little unfair? Aren't there any of your videos that you feel a little
    uncomfortable about looking back on them? Would you want to lose your
    livelihood because of that? I realize Loren is free to make his
    videos, but he's still suffering from a form of censorship I think.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    But Mark, they and everyone protesting are making their decision based
    on a couple of videos from a year ago — don't you think that's a
    little unfair? Aren't there any of your videos that you feel a little
    uncomfortable about looking back on them? Would you want to lose your
    livelihood because of that? I realize Loren is free to make his
    videos, but he's still suffering from a form of censorship I think.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    But Mark, they and everyone protesting are making their decision based
    on a couple of videos from a year ago — don't you think that's a
    little unfair? Aren't there any of your videos that you feel a little
    uncomfortable about looking back on them? Would you want to lose your
    livelihood because of that? I realize Loren is free to make his
    videos, but he's still suffering from a form of censorship I think.

  • http://www.eatsleeppublish.com Jasonp107

    Well said. I think that free speech issues are going to start cropping up left and right as two things happen simultaneously:

    a) bazillions of people start, for the first time since towns were small enough that everyone knew and could talk to everyone, really *using* their right to free speech on the internet and on future systems of digital distribution.

    b) companies and services that have scale and built in audiences (and therefore are focal points for free speech) realize how much leeway they have, and consequently how carefully they have to tread, with what goes up on their services.

    At the end of the day, I agree that free speech has to be free speech whether you think it's funny/agree with it/or hate it, but Shey is right in his comment that Verizon isn't obligated to broadcast something they disagree with.

  • http://www.nickibrochner.com Nicki Brøchner

    I am not normally a fan Loren Feldman. I just don’t think he is that funny, but in this case I did think he had it going for him. It is Humour/comedy and that have a tendency to push the limits, and I am sure that it where what Loren indented here.

    And as he himself is saying: ” It’s not insulting an ETHNIC group, but a SOCIAL group, in this case: rappers/ganstas.” I am in a complete agreement with him here, and have a hard time understanding where the racism comes in, or is it just the fact that a white man used the ”N-Word” and that where not social accepted? Well if that is the case then we are not talking about racism but just different standards of what people is ”Allowed” by the social norms to do, and as I said before it is the comedians job to push the limited of that social norm.

  • http://www.bbc.co.uk/drama/spooks/ Mi5

    Free speech over a telecom's private network services? Just because your Mom if great at cutting your hair, does that make it a “free speech” issue that she wasn't allowed on Sheer Genius on Bravo?
    You're just a scumbag offering apologies for some semi-notable Jew racist.

  • http://mturro.bluepear.org mturro

    Ummm… how about the fact that the whole frame of the joke was “what if BLACK guys” ran TechCrucnch – NOT “what if GANGSTAS ran TechCrunch.” He very clearly ascribed a cultural stereotype to an entire race. That is racist, stupid, insensitive, offensive, and radically unfunny.

  • http://mturro.bluepear.org mturro

    censorship is when they throw your ass in prison, or flog you, or kill your family for the stuff you say. getting dropped from a fat sponsorship deal is more like just desserts.

  • http://www.nickibrochner.com Nicki Brøchner

    No that is NOT racism. Racism is when an entire race is discriminated against based on there race. 99.9% of all so called Gangster-rapper is black. The whole gangster culture is predominated by black males and females. It might be incentive but it is suddenly not racist. So no he is only describing the predominant perception of that stereotype, and if that happens to be a black man, well how can that be racist??

  • http://mturro.bluepear.org mturro

    Not sure where you're getting that 99.9% figure, but I would bet that it's probably not quite accurate. In fact I would go so far as to say that the bulk of revenue that the “gangster rap” genre generates comes from suburban white boys. Take a stroll through the halls of almost any American high school and you will get a good look at the color of “gangster culture.”

    As for whether “TechNigga” is racist – maybe, maybe not – but it does display an arrogant amount of racial insensitivity that could very easily be perceived as latent racism. As I said above, he used a negative cultural stereotype to describe “black guys” (his words) – not gangsters. He was effectively calling all black people gangsters.

    Whether or not Feldman feels this way is largely irrelevant – I would tend to think he does NOT. The point is he tried to be controversial (perhaps in the vein of Lenny Bruce) – and because he botched his execution he simply came across as ignorant. And usually ignorance will get you fired – unless you are running for office.

  • http://mturro.bluepear.org mturro

    I need to correct myself a bit – Feldman did NOT botch his execution – he did exactly what he wanted to do. He wanted to be seen as a racist and he has been. Of course he isn't one (at least he doesn't seem to be one – I don't know him personally). He wanted to make a racist video and he did. Interesting guy.

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  • http://penilestate.blogspot.com mdestape

    who cares what you think?

  • http://penilestate.blogspot.com mdestape

    who cares what you think?

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