Killer Tapes and Shattered Screens: Video Spectatorship from VHS to File Sharing

By Caetlin Benson-Allott | Go to book overview

5 Paranormal Spectatorship
Faux Footage Horror and the P2P Spectator

Over the previous four chapters I have argued that the platform through which a viewer encounters a movie fundamentally changes how she understands it and how it understands her. As Amy Villarejo observes, “cinema is about everything and always about itself,” but since movies left the cinema, they have also become about television, VHS, DVD, and—most recently— computer exhibition.1 While the major US distributors would no doubt prefer viewers to limit their cyberspectatorship to authorized outlets like iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, and CinemaNow, multiple independent studies confirm that piracy is the most popular form of movie downloading. Since 2006 users of the peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing program BitTorrent have downloaded more than 650,000 movies a day—and BitTorrent is only the most popular of many protocols for obtaining movies online.2 By contrast, iTunes sells a mere fifty thousand movies a day, and it is by far the most popular legitimate download-to-own or -rent service.3 In short, P2P piracy is the most important new motion picture apparatus of the early twenty-first century, and no contemporary account of video spectatorship can be complete without addressing the unique triangulation of movie, viewer, and technology produced by BitTorrent and its ilk.

P2P file sharing has become so prevalent among US viewers that the MPAA has had to take imaginative new steps to discourage or punish illicit downloading. On November 15, 2004, two and a half months after taking over as president of the MPAA, Dan Glickman told KCRW host Claude Brodesser that the MPAA’s “war on piracy” would involve more than just lawsuits and lobbying: “If suing were our only strategy, we’d be in deep trouble. We have to do more than that. We have to work on technology. We have to find new product.”4 Some MPAA-member studios and mini-major distributors are pursuing Glickman’s suggestion that they release new,

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