HOPE springs eternal

Daily Sundial

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F or most observers, a Paris Hilton book signing would seem, at worst, like the setup for a bad joke–maybe one about her having to spell-check her autograph or something.

But for Chris Jackson, it was the final straw.

“I mean, that’s just the lowest of the low,” the 28-year-old television writer and producer said of the platinum blonde socialite’s appearance at a West Hollywood bookstore last September, where she was scrawling her name on copies of her literary masterwork, “Confessions of an Heiress: A Tongue-in-Chic Peek Behind the Pose.”

So Jackson, tired of just sitting around and complaining to his friends about the pathetic state of popular entertainment, finally decided to get off his couch and do something about it.

Jackson rounded up several dozen similarly disgusted individuals and, armed with signs and the steely nerve of striking union workers, marched to the Tower Records on Sunset Boulevard to protest.

By the end of the day, Jackson had been joined by more than 100 protestors, and his plight received mainstream news coverage.

It was from that act of pop culture disobedience that Jackson discovered his true mission in life: to fight mediocre entertainment wherever it may appear, whether it be in movies, music or on television.

Days after the anti-Hilton rally, he gave his movement a name: Horrified Observers of Pedestrian Entertainment.

The group’s website has received nearly 10 million hits to date and its membership has reached 3,000 worldwide.

“We want to improve the state of pop-culture to reflect what the American public wants more than what massive media conglomerates are forcing down our throats,” Jackson said. “We’ve tried just turning off the TV, we’ve tried not listening to the radio, but it doesn’t work.”

Instead of simply boycotting what they perceive to be lousy products, HOPE takes a more proactive approach, actively campaigning against them.

Since the group’s start six months ago, they declared war on the Jimmy Fallon-Queen Latifah flop “Taxi,” passing out copies of the film’s universally crappy reviews to people standing in line at movie theaters.

They partnered with adoption groups to oppose the short-lived FOX reality show “Who’s Your Daddy?”.

The group started a Britney Spears and Ashlee Simpson CD exchange program and, most recently, crashed the red carpet at the Oscars.

Of course, conventional marketing wisdom dictates that such tactics will only bring attention to the offending movie/TV show/pop singer/hotel heiress, thus playing right into the grubby hands of the publicists who handle them.

But Jackson said that kind of logic no longer applies to today’s media landscape.

“I’ll hear people say now and again, ‘When you’re protesting, aren’t you giving them publicity? Isn’t all publicity good publicity?’ Nothing could be further from the truth,” Jackson said. “These companies can generate their own publicity. They don’t need us. The only way to stop things nowadays is to give it a negative buzz.”

While Jackson admits most of their crusades are conducted with their tongues firmly planted in their cheeks, HOPE does carry a serious message about the threat of media consolidation and deregulation.

“People get so hung up on Democrats and Republicans, but the bigger enemy is corporate culture, which has no political leanings or bias,” Jackson said.

“Their only goal is to be profitable,” he continued. “It’s just killing us. It’s why you have Paris Hilton on the nightly news. There’s no way to get accurate and informative news when the same people that are selling you products are also giving you the news.”

Bernardo Tsattias, associate professor of communication studies, agreed with Jackson’s description of media concentration as the proverbial “500 pound gorilla” in the room nobody wants to talk about. While the issue has crept into public consciousness more in recent years, most Americans do not fully understand its implications, he said.

“I think it’s really important that there’s some media literacy encouraged, both in education and pop culture,” Tsattias said.

Jackson said he realizes that the concept of media ownership is too large for the average consumer to grasp, which is why he targets celebrities as figureheads of the system.

“People might not hate Viacom, but when they realize why they have nothing to watch or listen to, they understand (who is responsible),” Jackson said.

Jackson learned about the affects of media consolidation firsthand when he began his effort to get Ashlee Simpson dropped by Geffen Records in the wake of the “Saturday Night Live” lip synching debacle.

According to Jackson, AOL Time Warner, who owns Simpson’s label, forced Rhino Records, another one of their subsidiaries, to pull out from sponsoring a HOPE event in which people duped into buying the singer’s multiplatinum debut could trade it in for an album of “higher quality.”

“It’s so dangerous to live in a country where power is in the hands of so few,” Jackson said.

Despite that setback, and the occasional e-mailed death threat, Jackson and HOPE are pressing forward, with a full plate of projects ahead of them.

They are planning a “bad movie refund” program in which they will offer to refund the full price of a ticket to moviegoers who are “affected in a negative way” by the viewing of a sub-par film. Jackson said they are not exactly sure how they’re going to get the money to pull it off.

The group will also have information booths at some of this summer’s major rock festivals, and are looking for a senator to endorse their idea of forcing concert promoters to issue disclaimers for performers who lip-synch live.

He’s also working on two documentaries: one chronicling all the HOPE campaigns to date, the other an experiment in the vein of Morgan Spurlock’s “Super Size Me,” in which he will force a car full of people driving from New York to Los Angeles to listen to one Britney Spears song the entire way, and chart their predicted descent into madness. The title? “Super Traumatize Me.”

Most importantly, Jackson wants to better organize the expanding global HOPE network, by establishing more chapters on college campuses.

Beyond all those immediate goals, Jackson envisions HOPE contributing to something greater–to a fundamental change in the way fame is defined in this country.

“By making the gold standard of life being a celebrity, it’s the easiest way to sell products,” Jackson said. “(Being a) celebrity used to be merit based, but now the more celebrities a corporation can create, the more they can sell. I’d like to see a guy working to cure cancer on the cover of US Weekly. If we can get that kind of cultural shift in our society, it’d be a cool thing.”

“And,” he added, “I really don’t like Paris Hilton and Ashlee Simpson.”

For more information on HOPE, visit: www.hopeinamerica.com