Mr. Sherman’s Magical Thinking

I am always impressed with the utter unwillingness of the Entertainment industry to acknowledge the world as it actually is, rather than the world as they want it to be. Perhaps it is a side effect of being in the business of ‘selling dreams.’ In any event, I could not help but marvel at Carey Sherman’s recent New York Times Op Ed “What Wikipedia Won’t Tell You.” Even for the Entertainment Industry, it is astounding. It actually crosses the boundary from an industry-centric bias to outright magical thinking.

[“Magical Thinking” Noun a conviction that thinking is equivalent to doing. In children ages 0-4, “magical thinking” describes the child-centered view of the universe common to all children that their beliefs define reality.]

Mr. Sherman, the CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and one of the chief lobbyists behind the push for PIPA and SOPA, just cannot believe that anyone could find flaws in the most perfect bill he and his fellow Hollywood lobbyists wrote, especially when they tried so hard to keep it narrowly focused. Happily, Mr. Sherman knows who is really responsible for this travesty – that wicked pair of Internet troublemakers Google and Wikipedia! Thankfully, the pages of the New York Times have given poor Mr. Sherman a rare opportunity for the industry which controls television, radio, movies, and cable news to state his case and expose Wikipedia and the rest of ‘Big Knowledge’ for the pirate conspiracy they really are.

 (The reasonable person might pause to ask “Wikipedia? Why on Earth would a non-profit online encyclopedia want to engage in a nefarious scheme to deceive the American people? It makes no sense.” But set that aside for the moment.)

 Mr. Sherman expresses his dismay at the “digital tsunami that swept over the Capitol” that, he believes, “raised questions about how the democratic process functions in the digital age.” Needless to say, Mr. Sherman is unhappy with the answers. Rather than learning like King Canute of old that no man may order the tide to come and go as he will, Mr. Sherman insists that the digital tsunami was ordered by that nefarious duo, Google and Wikipedia, who vilely deceived an unwitting public with “misinformation.” Still, Mr. Sherman magnanimously offers to forgive them if they will only now engage in some “reasonable” backroom negotiations with a handful of Congressional staffers.  “Come let us reason together,’ says Mr. Sherman, channeling his inner Isaiah. “Though your sins are like scarlet, we will wash them clean with PAC money. Join us in the Smoke Filled Room and we will pretend to engage you this time. Really. After all, would we lie?”

Mr. Sherman is only one of many disappointed lobbyists for the entertainment industry expressing similar views. A number of folks from the SOPA protests have reacted to this amazing combination of patronizing arrogance and delusion as to the state of the world with a range of emotions from outrage to utter bewilderment. More than a few have written pieces setting the record straight for those who weren’t hip deep in this from the beginning. In addition to my Public Knowledge colleague Ernesto Falcon’s piece here,  I recommend Nate Anderson’s point-by-point rebuttal here and Mike Masnick’s here.

But for myself, I can only feel pity for Mr. Sherman and his Hollywood friends. I have no doubt Mr. Sherman and his fellow Hollywood lobbyists who have mastered the traditional Washington game of $2500-a-plate fundraisers and the privileged access they bring feel themselves genuinely aggrieved by what happened last month. From their privileged perspective, the “democratic process” they knew and loved was swept away by this awful “digital tsunami” of real people articulating real concerns and objections. Like many people caught up in the destruction of the world they knew, Mr. Sherman and his fellow Hollywood lobbyists fall back on the “magical thinking” of the two-year old.  ‘It can’t be real,’ they tell themselves – huddling together in the trendy DC bars that serve as the equivalent of Red Cross centers for DC Lobbyists swept away by digital tsunamis. ‘It can’t be people. It must be another special interest like us. Nothing has changed. Nothing can change, so nothing has changed. We’re still fine. We’re still in charge.’

Happily for the rest of us, the digital tsunami that swept over the Capitol last month, forcing Congress to set aside bad legislation dealing with online “piracy,” did indeed answer some pivotal questions about how the democratic process functions in the digital age. After a long, bad period of dysfunction, the democratic process may finally start working again.  Yes, it takes a lot of work from a lot of people to break through the walls erected by Mr. Sherman and others to “protect” elected officials from the people they represent. But now we know it can be done.

Needless to say, those used to the traditional Washington game are having some trouble adjusting. As Mr. Sherman explained, under Washington game rules, bringing in the public is a “dirty trick” and a cause for alarm. For the rest of us, it’s a level playing field – and a cause for celebration.

Stay tuned . . .



  1. It sounds like it was Knut’s court that learned what the King already knew.

    All entrenched regimes react when they see their power challenged. Between the flappers, sorry, lobbyists, and the industry’s gatekeepers power over information broadcasting (the power to control public information and direct discourse), yes, the big IP corporations did feel like they controlled things. But they have not felt secure in that control for years, otherwise why would the ACTA negotiations have been carried out in secret meetings? The reaction of the big internet discussion sites and the public reaction when Google/Wikipedia/etc. successfully raised awareness of the issue just proves that Big IP’s fears were justified.

    The scary part is that the kind of ‘reasoning’ published on the NYT OpEd page is the thinking of someone whose job description is convincing elected officials how to vote on laws affecting all of us. The really scary part is that his past success as a lobbyist might indicate that this kind of thinking works with them.

  2. Indeed, that “digital tsunami” indeed “raised questions about how the democratic process functions in the digital age.”

    The question was: “Can Democracy function digitally?”

    The answer is “yes”.

    Of course, to paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, it will only remain one if we Netizens work to keep it that way. . . .

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