By Matt Salisbury
Soft porn, info-tainment, and the new ways we tell old lies.
Years ago – YEARS ago – I worked with a couple other erstwhile young bucks on a faux-reality web series about three women facing unplanned pregnancies. It was an ultra low-budget affair that bore a harvest of intriguing fruit. We thought stories were a great way to relate to people and lower defenses around hot-button issues.
Planned Parenthood & co. has taken a page from our playbook. A card from our deck. An arrow from our quiver.
East Los High is a brand new web series about, well, let’s see what their Facebook page says:
Love. Sex. Revenge. High School Like You Have Never Seen It – At East Los High.
Okay. I’ve read a few interviews with the creators, and they basically position it as a soap opera/telenovella with a message (the word “transmedia” gets thrown around a lot, too). There’s no real place for discussion; this is all about top-down “education.” Non-offensive, if predictably banal, until you start following the actual stories. The pilot has its first sex scene about ten minutes in. There’s a “resources” page on the website that’s chock full of interesting content like condom how-tos and fun abortion deets. I shit you not.
See, the thinking is that must-know, bleeding edge messaging around birth control, “sexual health” and other boring but VITAL (CRUCIAL!) info is best communicated by sexy Latins in emotionally-wrought love triangles. I can’t really disagree with Planned Parenthood’s quest for heightened attention. I mean, this is a Web 2.0 world. You gotta do what you gotta do.
Let’s even forget for a beat that this storytelling uses immorality to peddle immorality. Let’s cede a point to the “your truth, my truth” relativist morons for argument’s sake. Let’s say Planned Parenthood & co. wants to help Latino youth. It’s about aiding women of color. Other fine institutions like Voto Latino and the California Family Council have thrown their sombreros charros into the ring, too.
You’d still have to confront the fact that these folks are spending a crap ton of resources on a medium that won’t really educate. There is no conversation, the Facebook audience is tiny, and most of the viewing seems to happen on Hulu. The racy eps are what’s being watched, if any of it is. IMDB says the show cost about $2.5 Million to produce. That’s a lot of money for a sexy soap opera. How many breast cancer screenings could you give with a couple mil? How many low-income families could you feed and shelter? It’s hard to look at such a high spend by organizations that insist they only want to help underprivileged folks. UNTIL, that is, you go back and study the messaging objectively. It’s creating “buy behaviors” for the sponsors. It’s creating customers.
When you watch a nice chunk of East Los High on Hulu and emulate the heroes, you will end up at a Planned Parenthood for birth control, possibly wanting STD help, possibly wanting abortion. You’ll end up supporting whatever legislative agenda channels the most services to your fatherless kids. The show’s website won’t make the kids get very educated, but the soft core porn might make the kids get very busy. Creating and normalizing those “buy behaviors” is just smart business.
By Matt Salisbury
A letter to Paul Ryan.
I really like you. That’s ridiculous, of course: I don’t know you, I’ve never shared space with you. I like you the way a guy likes a politician. The way a farmer likes the ocean or a hipster likes the Twenties. I spent some time this last go-round working for your abortive campaign, cropping out your head over and over and editing your words with my fearless friends. I like many of your ideas. I like your interest in numbers and policy and Getting Real Things Done. I’m no Republican, but let’s be honest: you guys are really my only option for the immediate future. Would that I lived in my Grandpa’s day; I coulda swung Dem with him. But I digress.
I won’t claim to know how stressful the slings and arrows of politicking are for you. I did notice a recent picture you put on your public Facebook page featuring yourself and your ruddy-faced kiddo at Lambeau for Draft Day. The last two comments were, “Paul Ryan represents the worst in this country. He is vile and reprehensible” and something unpublishable about a horse’s member. So I get that words can hurt. And I get the desire to reach out and soothe people.
But I don’t get your thinking when you stray from pretty clear Catholic teaching in your role as public servant. You did it to some extent when you voted to support our adventure in Iraq (don’t you want JPII on your side in matters of prudential judgment?), and you did it more distinctly when you announced a change of course to embrace adoption by gay parents.
I really admired your open letter to Cardinal Dolan about the US budget you proposed, and I’m sure you appreciated his thoughtful response. But I’m also sure you’re aware that the Church and the USCCB are both pretty direct about what does and doesn’t constitute a set of parents. When you said, “I do believe that if there are children who are orphans who do not have a loving person or couple, I think if a person wants to love and raise a child, they ought to be able to do that. Period,” you caved a bit to the moral relativism you despise.
Your office then attempted to walk back your comments by shrugging out from under the issue on jurisdictional grounds. After a bit about states’ rights and the importance of religious adoption agencies and their rights, you cryptically stated that, “I believe that our focus should always be on the wellbeing of the child.”
Why on earth would you disallow civil gay marriage if not for the sake of children?
The thing is, Paul, you can’t please everybody. You can certainly try. Or you can follow the Church. I deeply admire the conversation you’re driving about what really constitutes Catholic Social Teaching, first at Georgetown, more recently at Benedictine. You’re telling us disagreement about weighty matters is all right, even healthy. I’m pretty damn glad you’ve been saying that. Our political environment is toxic. You rightly point to the countless issues where good Catholics can legitimately disagree, no one leaving the debate a worse person. There are issues where you can be a politician, you can unite enemies, you can be a peacemaker. There are issues you can shake hands over.
Gay adoption isn’t one of them.
By Matt Salisbury
There are new irons in new fires.
I'm happy to announce that my wise business thinking is available Right Now This Minute over at our company blog. Articles cover topics like Social Media clout, Quantified Self, and, I donno, Kickstarter campaigns.
I also suggest anticipatory celebration for a new property launch coming from Yellow Line. MENSCH will be our take on reinventing Gonzo Journalism with at least one eye on the Truth. Expect long-form articles that follow our intrepid selves as we invite hateful neighbors to their first block party, contrast our experiences of suburban soccer moms with (chaste) encounters involving women of the night, and take you into the wild to figure out how we can better connect with other people.
As for the internet streetcorner you're at, expect one to three posts per month about faith's impact on business and culture. It's essentially meant to be impolite conversation about God, money, and politics.