Sunday, June 19, 2005

The protection racket

During the 1920s and 1930s the protection racket was pretty hot business. It was the main cash cow for gangsters. The gangsters' muscle man would come in with some slick operator dressed in an expensive shark skin suit. The muscle man would get a little out of control and break a few things, scowl and maybe even growl a bit. The slick operator would shake his head with a rueful expression and tut-tut about his backward associate's tactics, all the while letting the business owner know that he could keep such distasteful actions from happening to him, his family or his business if he paid for protection. Most business owners paid. The few who stood up to the gangsters watched all they worked for go up in flames while they fingered the black band on their casted broken arm leaning on their crutches while they mourned their dead families.

It was nothing personal. It was business as usual.

Fast forward to the Internet connected world of the 21st century where you can download music, movies, data and anything else you want at all hours of the day and night. Instead of stereos, some people play music on their computers. Enter the protection racket.

If you want to customize your music station to listen your favorite songs and skip the ones you don't like, it will cost you. It's such a small amount, less than the cost of a grande latte from a designer coffee shop. Such a small price to pay to pick and choose what you listen to on your computer and avoid the inevitable commercials that pad the music station's pockets. Of course there is National Public Radio and PBS stations. They aren't immune to the protection racket either.

Twice a year PBS stations put on pledge breaks, showing you the good stuff you'd have to pay big money to see, while they hold out their hands and remind you that public broadcasting belongs to you, the people who pay to keep it commercial free.

That was once upon a time. Pledge breaks now come every six weeks and commercials fill in during the non-pledge break weeks of interminable begging while they cut the good stuff to pieces with their outstretched hands and erudite guilt trip. Even if you pay them money, you don't avoid the pledge breaks, but at least you feel good about contributing to keep commercials out of your programming -- except not so much any more.

It's the repackaged protection racket.

Now Internet radio stations want you to pay them to leave you alone with your commercial free music. Something tells me it's time to go back to records and CDs, 45s and 78s where you choose what you want to listen to without commercials or paying to get rid of the commercials.

Yes, computers are convenient, but you can program your music onto your computer without commercials and it's a whole lot cheaper. it's free. No more pledge breaks. No more advertisements telling you to pay to get rid of the advertisements.

See that violin case open on the chair? It's empty because the slick operators are waiting for their muscle men to use the Thompson submachine gun that was in there a moment ago to talk you into paying them to leave you alone.

Aah, the simple life.

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