January 10, 2014

Amazon's Ministry of Truth & RWBY

A minor kerfuffle involving the RWBY soundtrack  has resulted in the somewhat surprising revelation that ALL OF EXISTENCE IS A LIE!



OK, perhaps that is ever so slightly hyperbolic, but this is interesting and potentially worrisome.

First, some background:
The soundtrack for the superhero webtoon RWBY is actually excellent. its release was  at least as highly anticipated as the DVD. Now, this odd little adventure show has been remarkably family friendly on numerous levels* so it was quite a shock when one of the songs on the soundtrack had a segment that was profanity laced rap. There was no EXPLICIT ADVISORY or anything, it just sat in the MP3 album waiting to broadcast unexpected NSFW lyrics at the worst possible moment.
 
There was a spot of griping.



...some of it overwrought.

This was indeed a branding goof, but it was minor. Far larger, better funded outfits have released tie-ins they regret and this was nowhere NEAR as bad a misstep as The Star Wars Holiday Special.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago and the CD release reportedly contains an edited version of the song which somewhat amusingly cleaned up the rap portion of the song (which now includes the bewildering line "melt their britches down to ash")



I...dunno....

Anyway, this elicited concern from those who like hearing about women being immolated as well as those disturbed that the RWBY people had CENSORED the song.  This has in turn, inspired the sort of thoughtful, high-brow discussions one would expect from adult fans of cartoons engaging in a disquisition on the internet.



...which is silly, because, actually, this was a very nice display of responsiveness from a show on a shoestring budget, that has a cast and crew of around a dozen. If they'd simply made the profane version of the song an MP3 single with an explicit lyrics advisory and it'd be a win win. But that's not what happened. The song was changed on the MP3 version too and the original deleted.

 OK, that could cause some consternation but, again, no big deal. They discontinued that product as damaging to the brand. While the dance edit of I Burn is, IMHO, the weakest song on the album, I went ahead and repurchased it...only to discover that Amazon had 'helpfully' edited the song in my cloud player.

The original no longer exists in my cloud player.

It exists on my Blackberry and just because I'm silly, I copied a version of it to a separate folder on my iMac...but it is as if it never existed on the cloud player... the version that I originally purchased was changed.

On one hand this is the most minor of first world concerns....a tiny company fixed an editorial goof that could potentially have damaged their brand. On the other hand the implications are actually worrisome.

Hell, given the proper payments from and too the right people, instead of Pumkin Pete's Marshmellow Flakes, Pyrrha could one day find herself retroactively having been the spokes-model for  Kaboom.


"That...would be most disheartening."

Of course this far more sinister real world implications...of the Ministry of Truth variety. Literally...as  this story from 2009 demonstrates.

On Friday, it was "1984” and another Orwell book, "Animal Farm,” that were dropped down the memory hole — by Amazon.com.

In a move that angered customers and generated waves of online pique, Amazon remotely deleted some digital editions of the books from the Kindle devices of readers who had bought them.



So if a book you buy on Kindle is declared Double-Plus-Ungood it can be double-plus-unbought.

This has the potential for much mischief, especially given the recent revelations about the NSA and IRS as well as the fact that Amazon (and most other tech companies) are enthusiastic supporters of the politicians most  responsible for those missteps (even as they express their shock...nay SHOCK that such things can happen).

I'm not knocking the creators of RWBY here..despite the wailing and gnashing of teeth, this particular incident is no big thing, but the long term implications with so much being in "the cloud" are troubling to me, especially given the advent of "bookless libraries" (why aren't they called cyber cafe's?). We have people in places of responsibility and power who even today make claims like this fellow, who insists that Stalin killed no-one...



This wicked asininity has been going on for a long time, but without the ability to edit out uncongenial histories.

 I'm not tech-savvy enough to be able to guess at what, if any, safeguards are possible or even desirable. Every safety feature has a trade-off in both freedom and useability. This is especially true on IT systems. However, this ability to rewrite history is a totalitarian's dream and as we find ourselves moving forward towards an increasingly paperless society we should take care to guard our history carefully.



The future is an unlit road...the past should be less so lest we loose all ability to learn from its warnings.


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