Thursday, September 21, 2006

Marketing’s Abiding Target

Major scariness happened today. In the mail, I received a postcard promoting the theatrical release of an upcoming film, Love’s Abiding Joy, directed by Michael Landon, Jr. and based on a book series by Janette Oke. Sounds innocuous, right? What’s the big deal, you say? Just round file it and forget it.

Well, to me, the big deal is why Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, LLC would assume I had a bit of interest in such a film and how they would have obtained my name and address? Interestingly enough, there is only one possible answer.

You see, I have never visited or registered on a web site of theirs or their subsidiaries or the director or the author. I have never read or purchased any of the books the film is based on. But the name of the film, the director and the author of the books did ring a bell with me.

A few months ago, I saw a couple of episodes of rerun TV shows in quick succession in which a B actor named Dale Midkiff, whom I had seen off and on through the years, appeared. I sort of got interested in Dale as I occasionally do with various B or character actors, as I once had, for example, with Kevin Spacey after seeing him in The Negotiator. This summer, when there was absolutely nothing on TV that I hadn’t seen or cared to see, I spent any TV watching time idly surfing through the online guide. I came across a movie on the Hallmark Channel and saw Dale Midkiff’s name in the credits along with Katherine Heigl and Corbin Bernsen, both of whom I like, and I decided to watch it. That film, whose name I can no longer recall, (but which I can almost guarantee had Love’s Something Something) in the title was, the credits said, based on a book by Jeanette Oke. It wasn’t really my cup of tea, being sort of like Little House on the Prairie finds Jesus and becomes a Harlequin romance, but I watched it anyway. Being on my Dale kick, I watched again, a few nights later, when Dale starred in a sequel. By the time the third movie in the series appeared, the level of actors had descended substantially along with the quality of the scripts. There was no sign of Corbin or Katherine, and Dale himself made only a cameo.

So, imagine my surprise when this post card touting the theatrical release of a fourth movie in the series, appeared in my mailbox today. There is only one explanation. Bright House, my cable service provider, is not only recording in a database what I am watching on television (via the Trojan horse they installed in my living room that they call “an interactive digital cable box” in their sales pitches), THEY ARE SELLING THE DATA TO THIRD PARTIES ABOUT WHAT I WATCH ON TV—not anonymously, but WITH MY PERSONAL INFORMATION INCLUDING NAME AND MAILING ADDRESS AND GOD KNOWS WHAT ELSE—ATTACHED. I am confident that absolutely nothing I ever signed authorized them to do either of these things.

Why do I find this so scary? Beyond the fact that if I wanted Corporate America to know what I watched on television I would tell them myself? Hey, this is Bush World, where the Administration claims that it has the right to access and datamine and sift and combine any and all records of any and all Americans to find terrorism and terrorists without any legal oversight of any kind. If Ken Starr can look at Monica Lewinsky’s book purchases, what makes me think that Dick Cheney and the vile and insidious John Poindexter won’t check out what I watch on TV?

We Americans are all asleep at the switch or resigned to the no longer slow and no longer subtle erosion of any right to privacy we ever claimed to have. I got a wake up call today. I urge you to look around you for your own.

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