Why Ticketmaster Sucks

Ok, we’ve had enough. Largely by chance, we discovered that Henry Rollins was doing a spoken-word show in Tempe on Monday – since a cousin is visiting from Australia, we aren’t able to go to the box-office, so visited ticketmaster.com in order to pick up tickets. Four tickets at $20.75 = $83.00, right? Not by Ticketmaster’s math:

  • Face Value: 20.75
  • Building Facility Charge: 1.25
  • Convenience Charge: 6.75

Total cost = $115, including $32 in total charges, an almost 40% surcharge. And that’s not even including the $2.50 they’d charge, had I wanted to print the tickets out on my own computer – using my own paper and ink. Are they taking the piss? Apparently not. This is part of the reason why they are widely referred to as Ticketbastards.

No-one would argue that they are entitled to cover their costs and make a reasonable profit, but what they are doing goes well beyond both. It’s both ludicrous, and entirely unjustifiable, not least because the charges are arbitrary. For a Merle Haggard concert, the add-ons are $2.00 and $8.25 – that’s at exactly the same venue, so why is the “building facility” charge different? And why is it suddenly $1.50 more ‘convenient’ to buy Haggard tickets than Rollins ones? Is there some hidden expense associated with the former? No – the only difference is the face value, and hence how much money Ticketmaster can gouge out of the buyer.

Unfortunately, these days Ticketmaster are an unstoppable behemoth. Complaints about their behaviour go all the way back to at least 1994, when Pearl Jam cancelled a tour as part of their battle with the company. It serves as a nice illustration of how the company operates, and why it has become such a monster.

It started when Eddie Vedder and his mates objected to Ticketmaster adding their (strangely variable, but even back then, extortionate) fees to concert tickets, whose face value had been kept deliberately low at $18. A couple of dates in, after selling tickets through other means, they discovered that across the country, Ticketmaster had a monopoly on sales at a lot of venues, and was enforcing it aggressively. For their compliance, the venues, on their part, got what can only be described as “kickbacks”, funded by the service charges. These were sometimes as much as $500,000/year, in addition to what Ticketmaster paid them up front for the monopoly. Little wonder places have no interest in exploring other avenues.

Equally as bad, the company also had exclusive contracts with promoters, locking them in with Ticketmaster. So even at an independent venue, if the event promoter is contracted with Ticketmaster, the result’s the same. In the end, the problems proved too much for Pearl Jam to overcome, and the tour was cancelled, costing somewhere around $3m. They complained to the Justice Department, and two members, Jeff Ament and Steve Goddard, testified before a House Committee that Ticketmaster were a monopoly bent on eliminating competition. Aerosmith’s manager testified too, saying he had no choice but to use the company, even though he hated doing so.

In 1995, the Justice Department decided against investigating Ticketmaster; Pearl Jam became Ticketmaster’s bitches, and since then, things have got worse. Much worse. Ticketmaster has gobbled up competitors such as Ticketweb, to such an extent that in 2000 it was estimated that the company controlled 90% of the market, and in 2001, they sold $3.6 billion worth of tickets.

Another part of the problem is their “exclusive agreement” with the very worst of the media companies, Clear Channel, through the latter’s SFX Entertainment subsidiary. This cosy cartel of venues, promoters, and the media means the chances are slim of you hearing about any other means of getting tickets – especially if you listen to one of Clear Channel’s 1,200 radio stations, which control 60% of all rock programming in America.

[As an aside, in August 2001, Nobody In Particular Promotions sued Clear Channel charging it “used monopolistic, predatory, and anticompetitive practices to prevent NIPP and others from offering concert promotion services in that area.” The irony is, guess who owns the venue Henry Rollins is playing at – which is just down the road from where Ticketmaster started? Yep: Nobody In Particular Promotions.]

This August, String Cheese Incident were the latest to suffer. They sued Ticketmaster, frustrated because the company refused to let the band sell tickets direct to their own fans. They were unable to play in San Diego, because every appropriately-sized venue was exclusively tied up. See Pearl Jam for details, boys – the band may have changed, but Ticketmaster’s tune remains the same: “We’re in the Money”.

The company now have exclusive rights to 90% of the nation’s large arenas, and over 70% of the clubs and theatres. This pretty much allows them to charge whatever markup they want – and as the example at the top of the page shows, they take full advantage of the opportunity. It’s interesting to note that Ticketmaster get their claws in at both ends. If they sell your band’s tickets, they charge 3.5% commission on gross sales, plus a further “administrative fee” for credit/debit card fees. The latter is particular interesting, removing wholesale one potential justification for what they add to the price of a ticket.

As if gouging in this manner weren’t enough, in September the company announced plans to auction off the best tickets to the highest bidder – effectively becoming nothing more than touts, driven entirely by market forces. The worst thing is, laws against scalping are ineffective, since they apply only to the resale of tickets, not the initial purchase. Again, they’ll be laughing all the way to the bank.

Paul Allen – Owned not
one, but two companies
loathed by millions…

I’m a huge fan of the free market – but for a truly free market, competition is absolutely essential, and is conspicuously absent in this field. It’s difficult to see how Microsoft is a monopoly, but Ticketmaster isn’t – the latter deserve investigation equally as much. [Interestingly, Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, was at one point the main Ticketmaster shareholder] The arrogance, selfishness and greed they display leaves me wishing they get splintered into a thousand pieces for their dubious business practices.

Downloading may or may not be killing CDs, but the leech which is Ticketmaster drains the vitality out of live entertainment just as badly. Most people don’t have an unlimited budget, and these hefty “convenience charges” inevitably mean fewer events will be attended. Ticketmaster have certainly succeeded in making us think twice about what concerts we go to.


Cliff Dickinson: “I just want to thank you for the article and links you have posted concerning Ticketmaster’s schemes. I only wish there was a way to warn more people of their rip-off tactics before they buy. Here’s a copy of my note to their customer service email-box. Fat chance of it getting anywhere with them…”

“I purchased two tickets to the Cher concert last night in Daytona. The start time for the concert, printed on the ticket and published on your website was 7:30 PM. We rushed to get there after work. The show did not start until 9PM. We learned from the Event Director that Cher’s contract stated 9 PM start time. We also learned that Ticketmaster recieves a commission from Centerplate for concessions. Sounds like Ticketmaster has a problem with the truth. I paid a $25 “convenience fee” to get these tickets plus a $5 fee to get to print them out on my printer, on my paper. Then to top it off Cher played for 1 hour and 18 minutes. Thus, we spent more time sitting, with no act or entertainment than the combined opening act & Cher’s concert. That’s hardly what we had in mind for a great concert. Ticketmaster is responsible for a lot of frustration for my wife and me last night. Unless, Ticketmaster resolves this matter with us, I will make it a policy in our household going forward that, if we cannot buy tickets directly from the event location or somewhere other than Ticketmaster, we will not go. I look forward to your response.

Further reading

Ticketmaster Customer Experiences

Against Copyright

The issue of music piracy on the Internet has reared its head again, with the entertainment industry blaming the likes of Napster, AudioGalaxy and Kazaa for the decline in CD sales. This should be taken with a pinch of salt, as they are quick to blame piracy for any and all ills. Witness the MPAA website, which says: “One real-world example of piracy’s devastating impact on the legitimate marketplace is with the 1999 release of the film Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace. Pirate copies of the film (created by using camcorders in US theaters) flooded the Asian marketplace while the film was still in U.S. theatrical distribution. When the film opened legitimately in Asian theaters, attendance was far below expectations.” Er, could this perhaps be because it sucked? I should also point out that the film still grossed over $920m worldwide, the majority of it outside North America. As the original Star Wars took barely 1/3 of its money overseas, it thus hardly seems in need of protection.

With regard to music, the actual evidence – largely ignored by the mainstream media for obvious reasons – appears to be that people who use file-sharing networks are twice as likely to spend more on music as they are to spend less. But regardless, I imagine few people feel particular sadness for the record companies; those with long memories will remember them saying when CDs arrived, that they would drop prices once the new medium caught on. Their failure to do so, preferring to price-gouge consumers mercilessly, is certainly one of the direct causes of any decline in sales.

Ilsa Spears vs. Scissorhands Jackson

They are also guilty of force-feeding the market with garbage, for which it certainly isn’t worth paying $14.99, and up – indeed, if local phone calls here weren’t free, neither would it be worth the cost of downloading. I just don’t care about an industry for whom Britney Spears and N*Sync (anyone else praying for a rerun of the Challenger disaster?) are the cutting edge, and where hype and image are more important than substance and talent. Keep cramming crap down anyone’s throat, and they will eventually gag, throw up and refuse to eat any more, no matter how good you tell them it is.

So what if Eminem loses a million sales of his new CD? While his previous LP was amusing enough, all he now seems to offer is whines about how screwed up he is (it’s all his parents’ fault, naturally) and how everyone hates him. Mr. Enema badly needs to Get Over Himself. Who cares if the executives at his record company have to cut back on their coke habit?

The entertainment industry already hated the Internet, largely because it renders them redundant. You need $20m to start a radio station, $200m for a newspaper and $2000m for a network TV station. But any idiot can start up a website (even me!), and use it to promote and distribute their book, CD, film, or whatever. It’s a level playing-field, and that infuriates and threatens media cartels. There’s no denying that the vast majority of musicians, who are at the bottom of the pyramid, benefit from the Internet and the exposure it permits. Those at the top are the only losers, and I would certainly say they deserve as little sympathy as the baseball players who threatened to strike while earning an average $2.4m per year.

The concept of copyright, as currently applied, no longer has any resonance for me. I can see why creators of work should be entitled to some protection during their lifetime, though no-one has a “right” to get paid for their art, any more than I have a “right” to get paid for writing these words. However, the principle has been utterly corrupted by the likes of Disney and the others who are largely responsible for the (soon-to-be-challenged) Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, which packed another couple of decades onto the time before material become public domain – thereby saving Mickey Mouse from becoming fair game for one and all. This is merely the latest in a series of corporate land-grabs, which have extended the period of copyright from 14 years to over a century.

Jack bravely defends Hollywood
from the public domain

What moral justification is offered for this? Here’s Jack Valenti, chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America – conspiracy theorists might care to note that Valenti was in JFK’s 1963 Dallas motorcade, and within hours of the assassination, became the first special assistant to President Lyndon Johnson. Hmmm. In testimony to Congress, he said: “The core copyright industries, movies, TV programs, home video, books, musical recordings and computer software…gather in some $45 billion in revenues abroad, and has grown its employment at a rate of four times faster than the annual rate of growth of the overall U.S. economy. Whatever shrinks that massive asset is NOT in America’s interests… The case for copyright term extension is that simple.

Yes, it begins and ends with nothing more than bare-faced greed. We want to make more money, so you will change the law to let us do so. You don’t think the media companies’ $6.5m in political contributions had anything to do with the bill getting passed, do you? I’m sure it’s mere coincidence that, of the 13 sponsors of the original bill in the House of Representatives, ten took money from Disney. Indeed, the very same day Senator Lott of Mississippi signed on as a co-sponsor, his campaign committee received a Disney check for $1,000.

It is double ironic that it’s Mickey’s hands which are grasping, given how many Disney films are based on public domain works – or in the case of The Jungle Book, came out one year after author Rudyard Kipling’s copyright expired. The laws which they lobbied to pass, would have prevented them from making such films freely, and as it currently stands, copyright doesn’t protect, it suppresses. It’s acknowledged that Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is based on Arthur Brooke’s poem Romeus and Juliet/ This was written less than 30 years previously and would, under existing law (the creator’s life, plus 70 years), have led to Will being smacked with a plagiarism suit faster than you can say, “First, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

Readers with long memories may remember the “Home Taping is Killing Music” campaign begun by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry in 1978. [On the nostalgia front, there was also the bizarre and highly amusing British Video Association claim in the following decade that video piracy financed terrorism. As yet, the MPAA have yet to claim that downloading Rush Hour 2 off the net is aiding Bin Laden, but after the “Drugs = Terrorism” adverts – which conveniently forgot the CIA funding pumped into Afghanistan when they were fighting Commies rather than us – it can surely only be a matter of time. (2010 update: And so it proved) Anyway, where was I…? Oh, yes…]

Funnily enough, home taping didn’t kill music: it survived, just as it’ll survive the Internet. In even the worst case scenario – the absolute and final death of the music industry – musicians would have to go back to playing live, as they did for the great majority of recorded history. They will have no option but to succeed or fail on their talent, rather than how many times MTV plays their video. It’s hard to see why anyone could realistically view this as a tragedy.

More on Why PayPal Sucks

Messages on DVDTalk.com

The following thread was copied from DVDTalk.com, because I don’t think it exists there any more, but it gives a good sense of how good PayPal Customer Service is i.e. not at all…

January 19, 2001 08:39 AM

Does anyone have any idea how to get in touch with PayPal, other than through their website fill in form (maybe by phone…)? I am desparate. I won a Yahoo! auction in October and the seller went defunct. I have tried relentlessly to contact PayPal and have filled out all their damn forms and sent all the appropriate materials, but they refuse to return my emails and I’m desparate to wrap up my claim. I have no idea what the status is and I’m owed $500! Please help in any way possible!!! Any ideas Geoff?

January 19, 2001 10:55 AM

I have had trouble with paypal also. I will never use them again. Someone tried to pay me with a stolen credit card, and my money was tied up for months. The only people at paypal that were any help were Todd, he is a CSR, and Amy, she is a supervisor. Ask for either of them, and don’t waste your time with the others. No one ever responded to the emails I sent them either.

January 19, 2001 08:40 PM

I too have had problems with them, they need to shape up or ship out. I too am waiting for 75.00 from them, its been 2mths. When I make a payment, I have to do it three or four times for it to go thru.

January 22, 2001 12:27 PM

PayPal’s customer service is ridiculous. I asked for a supervisor today, and this lady said she didn’t have one. Grrr. Had to call about 5 times, and my account is STILL RESTRICTED WRONGLY! GRRRRRRRR

January 22, 2001 01:38 PM

Paypal has also wrongly restricted my account, and i’ve been trying to get it unrestricted for a month now. It has nearly 500 dollars in it and I am astounded by this company’s lack of help. I have emailed probably 25 times and gotten 2 replies and calling isn’t any help either. Once I get my money from this place I will never use them again.

January 22, 2001 02:44 PM

Yup, the people at Paypal are a bunch of pretentious dolts. They have no idea of what customer service is. I’ve never had any of my problems resolved…they just kind of ignore you and treat you like an idiot. If it wasn’t free to use, I’d say the place would go belly up within weeks.

January 22, 2001 04:09 PM

Just hassle them daily non-stop. Ask to speak with a supervisor right away and tell them you emailed a zillion times and called a zillion times. I think today was my 10th call or something and they FINALLY unblocked my account. God, they are awful when it comes to customer service. I would advise to keep your money in there for umm, as less time as possible. i know someone personally that has had money taken back from their account for a transaction FOUR MONTHS ago. I hope they can prevent the real fraudulent people instead of hassling people that haven’t done anything wrong.

January 22, 2001 09:34 PM

I ordered $2700 worth of stuff from a seller (who took the money and ran) on Yahoo auctions in AUGUST, filled out all of the forms, and was only given back half of the money. It took the better part of 2 solid months of emails back and forth to finally get the rest of my money. At least I did finally get it back.

January 23, 2001 01:26 PM

Well, after a month of emailing and calling PayHELL they finally unrestricted my account today. I hope things go well for anyone else trying to get their account unrestricted.

January 23, 2001 03:53 PM

I have been hearing complaints about PAYPAL all the time. I am thinking about closing my account in fear that some of this might happen to me. I too have heard numerous stories about Paypal’s horrible customer service. Lets keep this thread going to inform everyone that PAYPAL isn’t the great company everyone thinks it is.

Why PayPal Sucks

PayPal is a brilliantly simple idea. Unfortunately, only half of that statement applies to PayPal Customer Service, who are without a doubt, the biggest bunch of useless tossers – not a word I use often, but in this case, even I can’t find a better one – on the Internet.

This started when I tried to open a personal account – we’ve got one here, for the Trash City jewellery business, but I wanted a separate one of my own. If I was buying Chris a birthday present, the last thing I wanted was for its purchase to turn up on our account! Already being a business member, this should be a piece of cake.

Or so I thought. And the first part was, indeed, plain sailing. But when I typed in the credit card details, it was rejected because, so they claimed, they could not verify the billing address. A call to PayPal Customer Services (or, to be more exact, an unanswered email, on February 8th, and a follow-up call – it’s nice to see PayPal supporting care in the community by employing the mentally retarded) revealed that I had to type it in exactly as it is on my credit card statement. This I did. Still no dice.

A further flurry of attempting to communicate with the dead followed. Here’s PayPal’s next letter to me, dated March 8th – a month down the line:

“I apologize for the inconvenience in not being able to add/use the credit card ending 1134 in the PayPal system. Since we are a non face-to-face transaction provider, our process for accepting cards is more stringent and complicated. This process helps prevent the use of stolen and unauthorized cards for making PayPal payments. Because this process is very complex, it does occasionally impact valid cards. The denial of this credit card is not reflective of your credit worthiness. In these instances where a good card fails these checks, we suggest you try another card in the system.”

To which I replied, that same day:

Unfortunately, trying “another card” is not possible. The credit card you rejected is my sole one, which I have held for over a decade – without, I might add, having ever exceeded my credit limit or abused it in any way.

While I accept that you need to be stringent about accepting cards, you are the first company to refuse to acknowledge it; other “non face-to-face transaction providers” (for example, Amazon) have been quite happy to accept it for on-line purchases. It would thus seem that the problem is with your system, rather than my card.

But even if an automated system refused to accept it, a single phone-call would surely be sufficient to confirm that the details I provided were accurate, and that the card is neither “stolen” nor “unauthorised”. But I want to work with you to solve the problem – although you have yet to explain what that actually *is*! If, as my original attempt suggested, it is an inability to verify my billing address, I am willing to supply copies (or even originals) of my statements, or whatever other evidence you require to verify the card.

My fiancee and I have been business members of PayPal in good standing for a significant length of time, with tens of thousands of dollars having been processed through us. Yet when I try to set up a simple personal PayPal account, you are unable to assist. This is unacceptable: it gives the impression of a company indifferent to customer satisfaction, and that goes totally against our own standards of practice. If we do not receive a satisfactory explanation, we will certainly have to reconsider our association with you – I am writing from the account associated with my business, to stress the seriousness of this matter.

Paypal’s response?

Your card was denied due to a difference in the address where you receive your monthly billing statements for this credit card and the billing address indicated on your PayPal account. Please check your credit card statement to make sure that the address where you receive your monthly billing statements for this credit card is exactly the same as the address on your account. This includes abbreviations, CAPs, punctuation, etc. Please also note that his declination of your card is not reflective of your credit or credit worthiness.

Can you spell F-O-R-M-L-E-T-T-E-R? Ironically, at the bottom of this response was a footnote: “We at PayPal would like to know how well this response accommodated your request…If this email did not meet your expectations: mailto:didnotmeetexpectations@paypal.com”. Needless to say, my next letter was copied to that address as well…

This is rapidly becoming a complete fiasco. Your email tells me nothing I did not learn the very FIRST TIME I emailed customer services… The email which I sent…follows AGAIN, because your reply above is obviously a stock response, sent without actually bothering to look at my email in any detail, and completely fails to address any of the issues I raised. Please *read* it this time!

You might also want to look and see how many people my fiancee and I have referred to PayPal through the business account detailed above; I think that, given this, we deserve better customer service than a standard email when we try to open a personal account. Once again, I look forward to hearing from you shortly – this time with a proper resolution of the problem.

Okay, so that last paragraph smacks of desperation a little bit. 🙂 But after the usual automated acknowledgement thanking me for my interest, and only three days later:

Thank you for contacting PayPal. We apologize for the delay in responding to your service request. We apologize for not meeting your expectations and for the difficulty you have had in trying to add this credit card.

Unfortunately, because of our security procedures, the website is not accepting the address that you are entering for your credit card. If you have checked your credit card billing statement and you are entering your address exactly the way it is seen on your billing statement and we still are not accepting it, you will need to obtain another card to add to this account. We do apologize for the frustration and inconvenience this is causing you. However, if the system will not accept it, there is nothing we can do.

So, they were suggesting that I should go to all the trouble of applying for and obtaining another credit card, purely to accomodate the deficiencies of their system! How nice of them! I even tried applying from an entirely separate email address – still, no luck. As for their “there is nothing we can do” comment, here are the suggestions I came up with for them:

  • 1) Explain why your system is rejecting a valid credit card. I am quite prepared to PROVE that I am supplying the correct address.
  • 2) Fix your system so that it works properly.
  • 3) Verify the credit card details manually.
  • 4) Activate the account manually? I will then transfer in money from the business account and charge my credit card with the amount. Oddly, OUR system – along with Amazon and, it seems, everyone else on the Internet apart from PayPal – is quite willing to accept my card as valid.
If you’re trying to
contact Customer Service,
you’d better…

To which they replied: “I would suggest you contact your credit card company and see what the correct mailing address would be, to use for a verification.” No: fuck you – I amn’t going to waste any more time trying to work around the inadequacies of your system. So there, for the moment, the matter rests: option 4 is exactly what I did anyway. They keep very quiet about it, but you don’t need a credit card or a bank account to use PayPal, just get someone who does to transfer money across. It thus doesn’t matter whether or not I hear again from PayPal Customer Service (a true oxymoron), but if I do, I’ll post it here.

If anyone else is having PayPal problems, I’d like to hear from you. We are rapidly discovering that it has all the bureaucracy of a bank, with none of the safeguards. On the business side, we have noticed a steady increase in the numbers of people using Billpoint rather than PayPal – if I were you, I would certainly consider keeping as small a balance in there as you can…

It’s not just me who has an appalling opinion of their Customer Service.

Neil from Canada writes: “So I recently had a dealing with a fraudulent seller (purchased a software application that was bogus) on paypal, and when I contacted paypal regarding this they said “Yes, we are aware that you’ve gotten ripped off, but there’s nothing we can do, since the product you purchased is an intangible item. You are going to have to contact your credit card company.”

So I contacted my credit card company and the fraud investigations department investigated and found it a clear case of fraud and charged back the amount. What does Paypal do? They put a whole bunch of limitations on my account (limited my purchase amount to $100, from $1500) and dispute the verdict from the fraud department of my cc. I didn’t really want to be a buyer on Paypal anymore after this anyway but just for shits and giggles I emailed them asking why my account was limited. This was their response:

“Thank you for contacting PayPal with your concern. If a buyer goes outside of PayPal to dispute, we reserve the right to limit the account. This is dependent upon many factors.”

So basically “if a buyer” tries to resolve a dispute through the very means that PayPal in fact suggested since they weren’t going to do anything to help me, they will basically punish me by making sure I can’t buy anything of value anymore.

Porn Free

The BBFC have had a busy couple of weeks; not only have they released their new guidelines for R18 videos – which basically legalise hard-core pornography in this country – they announced changes to the way all films would be classified, as a result of consultation and research. The basic summary is fewer restrictions on films for adults i.e. with an ’18’ certificate, but tighter regulation on those available to be seen by children. These two combine to make what is perhaps the biggest shake-up in British censorship since the Video Recordings Act and could usher in a new, glorious dawn of freedom…

Or maybe not… It will be interesting to see how this works in practice. For example, although ’18’-rated films are now expected to be “only rarely” cut, the policy on video is still dictated to by the notion that videos may be seen by younger viewers. So we are still likely to have atrocities like Eraser imposed on us, where responsible adults, and those living in homes without children have to suffer cuts because of the failures of a small group of parents.

The full details of the research carried out by the BBFC are available through their web-site: they combined a national survey with smaller “juries” who were asked for their views in more details. I’ve picked out a few elements of particular note:

“About half the national sample agreed that violence in films might make people behave more violently in real life… The same statement was put to participants before and after the jury. As part of the process, they heard from witnesses involved in researching the effects of screen violence, and this seems to have made them much more doubtful about the simple cause and effect proposition. Agreement fell from half the jury beforehand to less than one in five afterwards.” The implication is that the “gut-feeling” people have that media violence leads to real violence, doesn’t stand up in the face of the actual facts.

“Almost half the national and postal samples agreed with the statement that people over 18 have a right to see graphic, real sex in films and videos. Internet respondents were much more strongly behind the proposition.” Indeed, 89% of us agreed, probably because we can see graphic, real sex on the Internet any time we want. But generally, Net respondents were much more liberal — only 7%, as opposed to 46% gave credence to the “imitative violence” statement. Some might say this is due to the fact that the technical feat of getting onto the Net filters out the dumber members of society…

“Approaching half of all three survey samples agreed that violence becomes more acceptable if it is humorous or in a historic/fantastic setting.” Actually, this is something that has always bothered me a bit; A-Team style violence without consequences would seem to me to be potentially more damaging, since it could cause people to downplay the real effects of violence. Obviously, there’s a point beyond which it becomes gloriously Tom & Jerry, but it’s always the nasty, brutal, realistic violence which the BBFC seems to cut.

“Respondents were asked to think of the different categories of film…and indicate for each level how offensive they found specific elements… Drug portrayal consistently [caused] the most offence and nudity the least.” As a result of this, there is the perhaps surprising recommendation that “natural nudity, providing there is no sexual context or sub-text, is acceptable at all classification levels.” A return to the days of naturists playing volleyball may be expected as a result…

“The BBFC recognises that audiences pay to see horror films because they like being frightened. The board does not cut films simply because they alarm or shock. Instead, it classifies them to ensure the young and vulnerable are protected.” Those are my italics – it’s good to see that the culture of doublethink promoted under Ferman, including the name change from “…Film Censors” to “…Film Classification”, is still alive and well. Try telling that to the distributors of Last House on the Left, recently refused any kind of certificate.

The BBFC attempt to portray the changes to the R18 category as a small loop-hole, since they are a tiny fraction of the tapes certified, and are “only” available through licenced sex-shops. However, what they forgot to mention – accidentally I’m sure – is that HM Customs and Excise have now been ordered to follow the same guidelines and so anyone with a credit card can import, not just the films which have been R18-passed here, but any of similar content. Previous attempt at liberalisation have been foiled by Customs bleating to Jack Straw that the BBFC were passing stuff which they would seize on import. No more, as the following news-group post shows:

Today I received a package from Customs HQ containing a DVD. The DVD contains graphic scenes of sex, including erections, masturbation, intercourse, group sex, oral sex, anal sex, double penetration, ejaculations on the body and in the mouth. Here is an extract from the covering letter:

‘I refer to our various conversations following your letter to Customs at Dover Postal Depot concerning the seizure of a DVD entitled “Pyramid”… The case was referred to me to enable you to view the DVD… However, after considering the impact of recent developments concerning the domestic distribution of material depicting consensual sexual activity between adults we have now revised our guidelines for the assessment of such material. We no longer consider material depicting consensual sexual activity between adults to fall within the scope of the import prohibition on obscene articles. I am therefore releasing the DVD to you…’

Hang out the bunting, pop the champagne, and get your credit cards ready for action. Britain has finally hit the 20th century. It’s still bizarre that sex shops are not allowed to supply R18 videos by mail-order, but you can buy and import them perfectly legally from the comfort of your own home, if you do it from abroad. I suspect that this prohibition will not remain in force for long — I think the first challenge to it as an unreasonable restraint of trade, giving foreign suppliers an unfair advantage over British ones, and it’ll come tumbling down too. Will the last remnant of the Empire collapse into anarchy and chaos as a result? Who cares – I won’t be around to see it!

For it is, of course, deeply ironic that all this happens two months before I leave the country for good, particularly since likely Presidential coupling Gore and Lieberman have made complaining about media violence a plank of their campaign platform — but what else would you expect from the husband of the notorious Tipper Gore? So I wonder how long it’ll be before I’ll need to start importing uncut versions of films from Britain into America…