Sunday, July 25, 2010

Nostalgia Critic: Bad for Tommy Wiseau?

 Over a year ago, I posted a rant on why the Nostalgia Critic sucks, focusing on his bad comedy and negative attitude towards the work he "reviews." Doug Walker, mediocre improv actor became an "internet household name" (whatever that is) by mocking movies that by and large are more entertaining than anything he does.

Another name we've mentioned several times on the domain is Tommy Wiseau, the American filmmaker who wrote, produced, directed, and starred in The Room, a crowning work in the field of bad movie achievement. We here at YSM still haven't reviewed the film, in part because it's such a difficult work to evaluate in anything approaching an objective manner. I can say without exaggeration that I have personally seen The Room a dozen times, and each time I find it absolutely hysterical, but it's difficult to express that in words and pithy captions.

Doug Walker apparently felt no such difficulty reviewing The Room a week ago, although to pad his review out to an excruciating 30 minutes, he included more of his mediocre improv background, dressing up as Christopher Lloyd and showing footage from the film Back to the Future. I just hope he remembered not to digitally add Crispin Glover. The review includes a good 15 minutes of video/audio from the film, in addition to a full summary of the plot.

The review was pulled from Nostalgia Critic's site following a complaint from Wiseau's people, a "John" from The Room asked for the review to be pulled, citing copyright violation. In a completely not-surprising show of immaturity, Walker responded by putting up a tasteless improv sketch, taking central attention to provide "John's" e-mail address. Walker lampoons Wiseau and John, and, as himself, points out that fair use protects his review and he is actually trying to help the film. The result of this, not surprisingly, was Nostalgia Critic's borderline autistic fanbase sending literally dozens of harassing e-mails, getting Wiseau's Wikipedia entry locked, and spamming several fake Facebook accounts and fake Twitters, most of them telling Wiseau that he needs to learn to take a joke.

Not surprisingly, there's a little more to the story. First, there is no "John." It's just Tommy under an alias. A recent Harper's Magazine article references a mysterious "John" that contacted the article's author with messages showing a minimal grasp of English: "Does your peace is for print or/and on line viewing?" When confronted about the identity of "John," Tommy, being his typically evasive self answered only that "He's doing... freelance. He has limited hours," and laughed.

Second, Walker's legal position isn't as strong as he seems to think: by showing significant portions of unedited copyrighted material for his own use, Walker has put himself in a pretty tenuous position: it's what got him kicked off of YouTube in the first place. A fair-minded article on the fair use debate argued that while it was probably stupid of Wiseau to pull the review, Walker's position isn't exactly iron clad:

...[T]here are several strikes against Walker. First, his review was not short by any stretch. It was almost half an hour-long and included 19 minutes of footage from “The Room” (about 20% of the film), though some of that was replaying the same clips repeatedly and much of it with Walker’s voice over.
Also, though attribution is not necessarily a requirement of fair use, the title card on this work did not mention who owns “The Room”, which is out of step for Walker’s usual practice. Also, the review did cover the plot of the film from beginning to end, making it a pretty thorough summary of the film.
Far from being an irrefutable defense to copyright infringement, fair use in America is not a particularly strong right. There's a reason the folks at Rifftrax don't just release a copy of the films they parody but an alternate audio track: even though they are substantially transforming the work by completely replacing the audio, the video they'd be using is entirely someone else's material. This is also part of why the MST3K box sets are so goddamn expensive.

The internet has managed to come up with a small amount of intelligent discourse on the debate at the Rifftrax forum, which also features some hilarious "but but but... fair use!" that's pretty par for the course when it comes to any issue like this.

I'm not exactly objective on this one but I can't say I blame Wiseau too much for getting the review pulled, especially since he's shown he's willing to do a lot to promote the work, and had Walker actually asked permission for use of Wiseau's copyrighted material he may have received it. Instead, Walker throws a temper tantrum in the form of an unfunny sketch where he plays the reasonable, intelligent victim, as well as Wiseau and the fictitious "John," played as a money-eating sycophant. Walker clearly doesn't have a particularly strong grasp of copyright law and how weak his position is, nor do his fans (hilariously, some of his fans wanted Walker to sue Wiseau somehow, for... God only knows). The terrible quality of this video is exhibit #1000 that Walker uses bad movies as a crutch because independently he's just an awful entertainer:

The most-liked comment on this unofficial YouTube version is as hilariously ignorant as you'd expect:

If I could, I would kiss Doug for this. This is exactly what those copyright nazi's are like.
This whole damn vid, I was both laughing, and yelling 'THANK YOU! THANK YOU! FUCK YEAH!" So yes, thanks Doug for not only letting your fans know wtf is going on, but also ripping those copyright nazi fuckers a new one. Btw the random "Poodles" was hilarious
A combination of total ignorance of the legal theories behind YouTube's actions with a love of "monkey cheese" humor.


  1. If I could, I would kiss Chris for this. This is exactly what those anti-copyright Nazis are like.

    Seriously, though; this is one of the most professional articles I have read on the internet in a long time. Well done.

  2. I heard the NC also mention a "satire-parody clause". Do you know if this protects him at all?

  3. tsquared: yes, parody is protected under fair use, but no, this wouldn't help NC at all. Parody is a derivative work intended to critique or reference the original, but it's a new work. The Simpsons Halloween specials are great examples of how the fair use parody clause works: they reference classic films like King Kong or the Shining but through a new work that comments on the old one. You couldn't just call the episode "The Shining" (with the exception of Dracula, which is in the public domain), because at that point you're confusing the nature of the work and you would need to pay Stephen King and whoever distributed the film in order to avoid infringement.

    What NC does is not a parody: he's just showing copyrighted material, completely unaltered, on a site he maintains for profit. The fair use protection for reviews is really his only defense for what he does, and as mentioned earlier, it's not exactly an iron-clad right.

  4. None of this truly matters because there are multiple copies of Walker's review on youtube and Wiseau is still touring his film and selling DVDs of it. Both sides got some free Internet buzz from this - except for the other reviewer on Dough Walker's site (a young woman with the handle Obscurus Lupa) who reviewed "The Room" before Walker and had to take that video down like Doug. (No worries - somebody posted it on youtube, which is funny because that's where Lupa came from.) What I don't like about the whole affair is the lame "John" sock puppet; if Wiseau wants to make a case he should not be hiding behind an alias.

  5. Sorry, but whatever you were trying to get across with this article died on its arse the moment you referred to the Nostalgia Critic's fanbase as 'borderline autistic'. Don't get me wrong, I realise that he has a lot of fanboys who will praise anything he does and rubbish anyone who disagrees. But to label his entire fanbase in that way is totally classless. In fact, it also shows a complete ignorance of autism.

    On an ironic sidenote, Doug Walker actually removed an autism joke from one of his reviews and apologised for it recently. Maybe you should follow suit because at the moment you just come across as a narcissistic troll who writes a bit better than some of the other trolls.

  6. Notorious B.I.G.O.T., sorry my points about copyright infringement were unconvincing because of an off-hand half-joke I made. A careful reading of my article would reveal I was referring to the actions of particular fans and not "labeling" an entire fanbase. And since these fans did in fact display borderline autistic ( behavior by spamming wikipedia, twitter, and a personal e-mail, displaying the sort of lack of social empathy and intense preoccupation with a single subject that characterizes borderline behavior,what I said isn't false.

    I have no plans to remove anything, as it is an accurate description of a subgroup that exhibits that behavior type.

    Thanks for the writing compliment, although I guess I"m confused how I'm a "narcissistic troll" for explaining a legal issue relating to bad movies. I didn't write this as an attack piece and I didn't talk about my own expertise in this area.

  7. As much as it really, really pains me to say, I do agree with some parts of this article. It's true that the video is somewhat childish in its argument, and looking at the Fair Use excerpt does show that Walker's video did cross the mark.

    HOWEVER, in the video the Wiseau character is treated with a lot less vitriol than the John character. Granted, Wiseau is made out to be a nonsensical weirdo (and by the way, there are people in the world that find randomly exclaiming "Poodles" humorous), but it's lighthearted teasing compared to how John is shown to be a whiny brat. In fact, near the end of the video, Wiseau is portrayed as the reasonable one when talking with John. It's perfectly possible that Walker didn't know John was an alias for Wiseau, and harbors no ill feelings towards Wiseau.

    As for your response to Notorious B.I.G.O.T's comment: I'm sorry, but you ARE labeling the whole fanbase. If you'd used 'the borderline autistic parts of the Nostalgia Critc's fanbase' rather than 'Nostalgia Critc's borderline autistic fanbase', then that would be half the problem solved. The other half of the problem is that you are quite clearly using Autism in a derogatory, insulting term. It may well be that they appear to display some symptoms, but when put together with the rest of your argument, it gives the impression that you think you are better than any autistic person, which can be taken as a huge insult.

    Finally, the 'narcissistic troll' remark. You must realize that people will become very angry over what's being said in these arguments. If you're serious about the fact that you think Doug Walker is an unfunny disgrace, then you're entitled to your opinion and there's nothing I can do about it. But I have had experience with trolls both on forums and in the same school as me, who can play devils advocate in such a way that the person talking to them thinks they're dead serious, when all they're setting out to do is getting a kick out of annoying people with a false quarrel. I'm not saying I know for sure that you're a troll, but all I'm saying is with a good enough troll you've no way of knowing if they're being sincere.

  8. By the way, I've just read the article you took that thing on fair use from, and it looks like you deliberately ignored the counts in Walker's favor, and the article even says that the takedown was a bad idea.

    One of the reasons the troll's I've experienced are so hard to distinguish from sincrere people is that they use parts of actual facts, ignore any other parts that might weaken them, and use that to get people annoyed.

    1. He didn't "completely" ignore what said - he said the case isn't ironclad, and it's not.

      I'm sorry you feel butthurt that the host of Your Stupid Minds doesn't like Doug Walker's work. To be honest, I don't, either - his comedy is puerile, his filmmaking skills remain at Wiseau levels of amateurish after nearly two decades of shooting video reviews, and Channel Awesome's business practices are sketchy at best and quite possibly actionable should other members and former members of the organization be able to afford to take action.

  9. A support of the person who yarked about the autistic joke but from a completely different perspective:

    Hello, I read Encyclopedia Dramatica, without getting angry and without being upset. Therefore, I'm used to offensive statements. However, this requires a state of mind I like to call /b/-state. In /b/-state, I don't take anything seriously, at all, ever. I often go into /b/-state while reading Chick Tracts, watching shows like Family Guy or South Park, or talking to racists. It's a way of preserving sanity in the cases of the former and latter: if I think everything someone says is just funny bullshit, I can play along and agree, because it's just a joke.

    With that "borderline autistic" comment, I immediately went into /b/-state to prevent my mind from being offended by a comment. As a result, everything you say is bullshit, and I can no longer take you seriously.

    See how that works? If you were merely trying to entertain or troll, you've succeeded. But any attempts to sound intelligent now sound like you're mocking the point you're trying to get across.

  10. Wronnie, I have very little power over people's thought processes, and the fact that a statement that accurately describes a segment of someone's fanbase makes everything I say in a more or less objective legal summary "bullshit" says far more about you than it does about me. See how that works? Also what do you mean by "yarked"? I looked it up on urbandictionary because it was the first hit and it was something pretty offensive.

    Asher: no, I'm not labeling the fan-base, I already explained that. And I'm not making an insult out of autism, I'm describing borderline behavior and calling it borderline behavior. I apologize if you read that as an insult. I didn't include parts of the article for two reasons: first, because I only used it as a source to develop my own conclusions, and second, because I don't necessarily agree with everything it says.

    Nobody has explained how I'm at all "narcissistic troll" in posting a summary of what happened. I mean I'm on my own site, not talking about my experience in this area of law.

  11. First of all, I'd like to start by saying that I am one of those borderline autistic fans of the ThatGuyWithTheGlasses website (I have Asperger's Syndrome, although I'm also a former Mensa member :-p). Anyway, Walker isn't nearly my favorite reviewer on the site and I never cared much for this whole ordeal, however I think Walker would hold a strong case in court using a combination of the fair use policy for parody and the fair use policy for reviews as a defence for his activities, since what he does is basically a mixture of parody and reviewing.

    So maybe ThatGuyWithTheGlasses is not your kind of humor and it's your right to consider it as such. I personally find it far more entertaining that most of the stuff produced by Hollywood these days... especially sitcoms. I don't see why you should act so hostile just because it isn't your taste and you question the the legally of Walker's website. As long as the courts haven't decided on it, let the fans enjoy it... Copyright laws suck anyway (I'm a programmer and strong supporter of open source and creative commons licenses).

    Finally, I would like to mention that your autism reference in this particular article is very ironic since Tommy Wiseau has pretty much every characteristic of an autistic child. His barely existing facial expressions, the way he expresses anger and sadness, the awkward dialogue, the repetitiveness of his plot, his reaction to his film being spoofed, etc.... It all fits the thought patterns and behavior of an autistic child. I say 'autistic child' rather than 'autistic adult', because many adults in the autism spectrum (especially those with Asperger's Syndrome - borderline autism as you call it - like myself) graduately learn to adopt more traditional thinking patterns and behaviors by means of trial and error or simply life experience, but Wiseau seems to have been stuck with the mindset of a 10-year-old.

  12. Hey Tommy, thanks for checking out the site! As I mentioned earlier, the parody section of fair use is designed to protect new works that mock a separate work: NC's reviews are not parodies as the Supreme Court has defined them. And, as mentioned earlier, his rights re: reviewing aren't crystal clear either. I'm not saying he'd lose, but I am saying he could.

    I won't argue that copyright law in general is pretty terrible. There's a lot of things about the current system that I hate, however I don't really have the power to change that (yet). In this statement I don't "question the legality" so much as explain the reasons Walker was wrong to act as though he was perfectly justified in his behavior.

    I agree Wiseau does exhibit some examples of autistic behavior, but that is not "ironic," as the contrast in this instance is the separation between a subgroup of a minor public figure's fans and... a completely different minor public figure. It's comparing apples to people who fanatically defend oranges.

  13. How could somebody like the Nostalgia Critic? His videos are the most retarded and unfunniest thing that I´ve ever saw!

  14. In my opinion, Doug Walker does his job well. He always makes me and thousands of others laugh. The thing with Mr. Walker is that he focuses on very pin-point things such as the quality of background setting, character and scene relevance and the details of the story. These are things only a good movie critic looks for. When you go to a movie you are not going to be watching for all of these things, you are watching to be entertained. But the truth is, these little things matter for some people. Yes, he sometimes points out things that are not that big of a deal and sometimes even makes a mistake but most of the time Walker is being truthful and accurate- with humour. Believe it or not, he actually does post positive reviews. For example, his top 20 favourite movies. In the video he gives brief reviews of movies he feels are well done. I think some people dislike him because his harsh words come across as unappealing. But many people enjoy that. NC is by no means for everyone, but he is doing no wrong.

  15. All of you guys are freaking nuts, like no joke. I love the NC! Dobson, you sound like a fool, and I find what you say very uninteresting. You type too much. Stop trying to make yourself sound all big and bad, and just say what you need to say.

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  17. Note: When writing a persuasive essay/review/work of any kind, using words with an outright negative connotation (i.e., autistic) toward any party deprives the readers of a chance to empathize with the author.

  18. While I am not a fan of Doug Walker's recent work, this article from 2010 has a rather dated and mistaken perception of what fair use allows, as evidenced in this paragraph:

    "Walker's legal position isn't as strong as he seems to think: by showing significant portions of unedited copyrighted material for his own use, Walker has put himself in a pretty tenuous position: it's what got him kicked off of YouTube in the first place."

    That may have been true in 2010, back when YouTube showed hardly any leeway to content creators -- but it is not true today. You can show copyrighted clips in your videos AS LONG as you're changing their meaning as well. Doug Walker succeeded in doing this; thus, his review absolutely qualifies as fair use.

  19. "Far from being an irrefutable defense to copyright infringement, fair use in America is not a particularly strong right"

    "Walker clearly doesn't have a particularly strong grasp of copyright law and how weak his position is"

    These statements which you made might have been the generally accepted norm back in 2010... but they are not true today. Even if you're not a fan of Doug Walker, his review of "The Room" does, indeed, qualify as fair use. The length of the clips which he used from Wiseau's movie doesn't matter; what matters is that Walker provided enough of his own commentary and parody to change the meaning of Wiseau's work. Thus, his review falls under fair use. Your own website could be deemed protected by fair use, since you're linking to photos and videos without the need for permission from the copyright holders. That is what fair use is.