As usual, blame it on the media

A special interview with the man who lit up the Internet with the Metallica hoax: "This hoax is just the tip of the iceberg as far as what kind of mayhem someone could someday cause"

27 July 2003
Ashley`s self portrait
 Ashley`s self portrait   

How do you like this as a special summer vacation outing for the entire family: for ten grand, you can play paintball with naked women, and if you wish, you can also have sex with them. Really? No, it's just an "Elaborate Hoax", according to the Washington Times. What's so elaborate about a guy who shoots a porn film where people allegedly shoot naked women, and hands it over to the media? Maybe Erik Ashley has the answer.

Ashley, 29, a freelance graphic artist and the singer and songwriter for Canadian indie band Unfaith, was successful in cunning the media into believing that Metallica had sued his band for copyright infringement for using the E-F chords progression.

Ashley claims he'd only conducted an experiment to evaluate "just how willing America was to buy a story as extraordinary – as outlandish – as Metallica claiming ownership of a 2-chord progression".
Nude paintball. ``Hunting For Bambi`` website
 Nude paintball. ``Hunting For Bambi`` website   

What led you to pulling this prank? Do you often do such things?
"I used to run ScoopThis.com from 1997-2000. Back then, I wrote parodies on a regular basis. These days, it's a lot more rare, and I do it for other websites (in this case, 411mania.com)".

Has the media fallen for any of your fake-stories on ScoopThis.com in the past?
"The smaller websites have. But this is the first time that major media like MSNBC and Ananova get fooled".

Was your intention to parodize Metallica, the media, or both?
"Originally, the intent was to satirize Metallica and how negatively-biased their so-called Internet 'fans' are. The media wrote itself into the story by being what it is".

Are you yourself critical of Metallica's lawsuit-happy behavior?
"I try not to judge anyone over things that the media has reported. And I think now we know why. The media doesn't paint a very fair portrait of anyone. Even while covering this story, which specifically deals with inaccuracies shamelessly reported by the media, CNN referred to Unfaith as a "poppy Christian band", which we are not -- and the original website hosting the parody as 'SpoofThis.com' (it is actually 'ScoopThis.com'). How's that for irony? How can anyone judge anyone else based on what is said in the media?"

So whom do you trust, then?
"Nobody. Hence the name, Unfaith. Blind faith breeds complacency. Doubting and questioning pushes me to surpass myself constantly, because I don't take anything for granted. As an example, I'm not banking on this story making us celebrities. I continue to doubt, and work as though nothing will have changed by this time next week. Once you start believing things such as hype, you start cutting corners, and not working as hard".
Not Christian pop. Unfaith
 Not Christian pop. Unfaith   

Do you use the Internet to find the information the media doesn't always bring (like looking for the full text of Metallica's lawsuit on their official site or on that of the court where the trial will take place)?
"I use the Internet all the time. But that doesn't mean I trust it".

Don't you agree that the Internet gives media consumers powers that they didn't posses before, such as access to information that wasn't easily available for them in the past? Do you feel they use this power wisely, or waste it by using their broadband to download pirated music and porn?
"The Internet has created a society where everyone has the same voice. The world is now witnessing how that might not be the paradise they thought it would be. Democracy does not necessarily mean anarchy. The Internet has no governing body watching over it. This hoax is just the tip of the iceberg as far as what kind of mayhem someone could someday cause".

Who do you think is to blame for this hoax infiltrating the media as it did? Is it because the media is lazy, or the complete opposite – because they work so fast to be the first to publish a breaking story, that they forget (or don't wait) to check the facts?
"I think that wanting to be one of the first to run the story is a big part of it. Being the first to report it means having readers talking about your publication as the source around the watercooler (or the online equivalent to the watercooler : online message boards), which in the short term will indeed attract more people and business".

And in the long term? Do you feel the media is losing the public?
"I doubt it. If this has proven anything, it's that people in general are a lot more starved for drama than they are for truth. The media is only giving them what they want. Ultimately, the public are the real sponsors of all these publications, by their patronage".

Do you think the internet is to blame, for making the media frenzier, and/or making the news consumers more demanding?
"The Internet allows you to publish something within seconds. Print publications are on a different schedule. It's like some American states forcing you to wait 7 days when purchasing a firearm. A lot of people don't like this mandatory waiting period, but it does prevent people from doing stupid spur-of-the-moment things. The Internet is just like print media – minus the mandatory waiting period".

Has this story made you think less of the media?
"Yes, very much".
Lars Ulrich forgives
 Lars Ulrich forgives   

Why do you think your hoax was such a success? Is it because Metallica is a hot issue among Internet users (what with the Napster story and all the parodies which ensued)?
"It was a combination of factors. First, Metallica's history is part of the reason why people were so eager to believe the premise of the satire was even plausible. Also, reproducing the official Metallica and MTV web pages and having all the options be 100% functional was harder than it looks, and required some degree of web design experience. And finally, the wording of the original spoof article was important. It had to be written in a semi-believable way".

Aren't you afraid that you'll become a persona non grata in the media because of this hoax?
"If the media has proven anything through this, it's that the only thing they care about is the drama. As long as you provide them with something dramatic to write about, they will love you. The only crime that the media will not forgive you for is being boring".

Aren't you afraid of lawsuits on account of fraud?
"Not really. Maybe I'm being naive, but I think this parody ended up making a point FOR the band. The longer this goes on, the more Metallica can say 'See how the media is? See how the fans are? Nothing we could have said or done would have made our point better than this'".

Were you already threatened with any?
"Not yet, but I'm still young".

Ashley already knows he has no reason to fear Metallica. In an interview with the Canadian music channel MuchMusic, Metallica's drummer, Lars Ulrich, said: "I like to laugh. I thought this was actually quite clever. [...] The only thing is that there's some people that actually believed it, which is pathetic, but that's OK, I can't tell everyone how to think".

Where do you stand, as a musician, on the Napster/P2P issue?
"It's stealing. However, I think P2P file sharing can be a great thing if both sides (the artists and the fans) met each other half-way. My suggestion would be to limit all commercial MP3s to 1 or 2 minutes. In other words, have P2P services trading song teasers instead of the songs themselves.

This way, if a guy hears about a song or an album he's on the fence about purchasing, and radio won't play it in his area, then he can go download the teasers. Just like movies, only this time you're downloading half the product, not a small percentage of it. That's more than enough to know whether you're interested in buying it or not. You can even recommend the song to a friend, and recommend he go download the MP3 teaser, etc. So the P2P user benefits, and so does the artist. It's win-win.

I can't imagine what argument P2P users could possibly have for insisting on access to the entire song. It's not going to get fairer than that. Right now, in America, laws are being passed that can send someone in jail for up to 5 years for downloading just 1 song illegally. P2P users need to realize that by being too greedy, they may end up with nothing in the end. Quickly finding a middle-ground – such as promoting song teasers – might be the best way to salvage a great and potentially useful technology before it's too late".


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