A Certain Lack of Focus

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

REM & Improv Everywhere

Some of you may remember a stunt I posted on by Improv Everywhere a couple months ago. A group of I think 300 agents infiltrated Grand Central Station in NYC and froze simultaneously for five minutes. If you haven't watched it yet, it's surely worth it.

Well a couple days ago REM posted this video, which IE was calling a shameless ripoff.

I guess it kind of is. I mean they're obviously doing the same sort of thing, and that is in fact a ripoff... sort of.

Wired Magazine picked this up yesterday and made a few counterpoints. The main one being everything is copied from something these days, so what's the big deal? While I don't agree with that statement necessarily I think it could be fair to say this video was inspired by, rather than ripped off from the IE video. It's even possible that they thought of it independently based on a common influence. Thill at Wired says, "It has been done before, differently and similarly, which is to say that the frozen-in-time routine is hardly an 'original idea.' As James7777777 commented on Geek Gestalt, the U.K. spoof Just for Laughs pulled the same trick almost a decade earlier, albeit in a convenience store rather than Grand Central Station."

So you could say it's not a ripoff, get over it, except that yesterday in response to the backlash REM PR people apologized, admitted that "us on team REM love the stuff you guys do," took it down and are currently redoing the video to include a nod to IE. By taking those steps, REM basically admitted that yes, it was in fact a ripoff. Honestly I don' t think there's anything wrong with that, and I'm even impressed that they're taking steps to repair the hurt feelings. Because in this case that's all it is... as far as I can tell there was no possible legal action IE could have taken as far as copyright stuff goes. (Lori, are you out there? Am I right about that?)

Here's my issue. In spite of REM's response, I don't really think this was a ripoff. For one thing the REM version doesn't take place in Grand Central Station which takes one degree of similarity away. As far as the style of the stunt, as James pointed out, freezing in a public place to confuse and weird people out? Been there. The main connection between IE's stunt and REM's stunt was the number of spectators and agents involved and the simple admission by REM that they ripped it off. That isn't enough of a similarity for me. The biggest single difference between these two videos in my mind is intent.

The purpose of the REM video is to look cool (and it does). It also succeeds wonderfully in capturing the attitude of the band REM. While the spectators involved probably didn't know what was going on, the people freezing were likely paid actors, or at least an informed group of people who wanted to be associated on video with REM rather than the stunt itself.

The IE video on the other hand uses hundreds of agents who, before they meet up right before the stunt, have no idea what they're going to be doing. In away the spectators, while even less informed, are every bit as involved as the players. And the main difference is that in IE the intent is to play, to confuse, to interact with people and spaces. This is fundamentally different from the purpose of REM.

I guess my point is that while it might have been copied it's not even possible for REM to ripoff what IE did in Grand Central station. It's the difference between art and marketing.

And since we're talking about Improv Everywhere, I'll finish off with the latest IE video from the The Boston Society of Spontaneity.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Having seen the IE skit first, my reaction to REM is... Simpsons did it!

If I were REM, I'd say, ahh shucks, we have to scrap the video and come up with a new idea.