Trickle-Down Stupidity

March 20, 2010

Ever since the exhausting, and mildly controversial, reports I filed on the twin Route 66 and The Fugitive DVD debacles of ’08, I’ve made a conscious decision to avoid filling this space with too many bad vibes.  Infighting among internet outposts is one of the least attractive components of the blogosphere.  It’s inside-baseball, it’s often uncivil, and it’s almost always a big waste of time and energy.

But some days, you just need to call an asshole an asshole.  This is one of those days.

The Home Theater Forum, for those of you who don’t follow home video matters obsessively, is a website that covers the content that comes out on video disc, and the equipment used to enjoy it.  It’s large and, by internet standards, venerable.  As the word “forum” suggests, the site is structured as compendium of conversations in which readers drive the discussions and contribute most of the content.  But, while the name is democratic, the management is despotic. 

For a few years I’ve been an occasional participant at the Home Theater Forum (HTF) – occasional enough to tune out the epic obnoxiousness of its founder, Ronald Epstein, and some of his moderators.  Finally, that obnoxiousness has caught up with me.

Earlier this week, I visited the HTF and left a few comments in its TV section, including one in a discussion of Universal’s donation of copies of the entire run of the fifties anthology GE Theater to the Reagan Presidential Library.  Reagan, of course, was the host of GE Theater.  I’m guessing that the tapes of the show were discovered (along with some other intriguing rarities, like the western Whispering Smith, which is due on DVD next month) during Universal’s inventory of what survived the disastrous, embarrassing vault fire last year.  This is what’s called a “silver lining.”

On the Home Theater Forum, I remarked that I’d like to see those GE Theaters emerge commercially, since the show was produced by William Frye (of Thriller), and attracted some talented writers and actors during its later seasons.  I also suggested that it might be nice if Universal sent another set of the shows down to Hell, so that Ronnie Reagan could see them again, too.

A few minutes later, I received a message from an Epstein lackey, Michael Reuben, who is an attorney.  (I happen know that because Reuben, in his HTF posts, avails himself of the opportunity to point out that he is an attorney quite frequently.)  Reuben, who is an attorney, informed me that my comment had been deleted because it was “political.” 

Now, I’m not sure that my kind thought for ol’ sweat-drenched Ronnie down in aitch-ee-double hockeysticks really amounted to political commentary, and I noticed that nobody saw fit to remove any of the tired political lies about Reagan’s legacy from the AP story posted (in violation of copyright, incidentally) at the top of that thread.  But, whatever.  Rather than argue that point, I asked Reuben, who is an attorney, what happened to the inarguably apolitical remarks I made about GE Theater.  Why had those been censored?  “Move on,” was the non-responsive response from Reuben, who is an attorney.

But wait – it gets better!  I also received a message from the Home Theater Forum entitled “Infraction Issued.”  Oh, no – an infraction!  Now, let’s see, is that more or less severe than a demerit?  When I posted my polite question about the deletion of my GE Theater comments, Reuben, who is an attorney, informed me that “the HTF Rules also prohibit public arguments with moderator actions.”  Well, it would seem that I just can’t win.

Hmmm … a forum in which talking back to the teacher isn’t allowed?  Wouldn’t a better name for such a place be the Home Theater Podium?  I’m expecting that the next communiques I receive from the HTF will inform me that I’ll need to cut myself out a dunce cap to wear while standing in the corner during recess, and that I won’t be allowed any dessert after dinner.

I have to wonder: what kind of person spends most of his time handing out “infractions” to other adults?  Punishing readers and commenters whom some of us bloggers would consider ourselves lucky to have?  And what kind of person would submit to that kind of treatment on an ongoing basis?  The ones who stick around seem to have gotten used to looking over their shoulders.  Moments after I loosed my little Reagan quip, I received one furtive message from another Home Theater Forum poster who urged me, with lots of exclamation points, to “watch out”! 

What mostly happens, of course, is that the people who have the most to contribute get fed up and follow the advice of Michael Reuben (who is an attorney): they move on.  I know, personally, at least a half-dozen knowledgeable historians, writers, or collectors who have left the HTF as a direct result of its draconian policing.

(Reuben, who is an attorney, did not respond to a request for comment.)


Of course, I have indulged in a bit of ill-tempered mockery here, but I also have a serious point to make.  The Home Theater Forum could be an essential resource, and yet it isn’t, solely because of the hostile, constipated, professional hall-monitor attitude taken by its leadership. 

The Home Theater Forum aggregates a lot of valuable information.  At the moment, for instance, there’s a very useful thread going about which of the many Spanish DVDs of older American films have acceptable transfers, and which look like mud.  But the unfortunate reality is that that kind of information always comes from the readership of the Home Theater Forum, rather than the management, which consistently takes an indifferent or even hostile attitude toward it. 

Consider the way Ron Epstein and company reacted to the June 2008 revelation that the original music had been removed from CBS’s second season DVD release of The Fugitive.  An HTF reader was, I believe, the first person to break the story anywhere on the internet.  Epstein quickly leapt into the fray – with a knee-jerk defense of CBS, before any of the facts were known.  When the chorus of complaints grew louder, Epstein locked the thread to staunch further discussion.  Eventually the thread was reopened, after numerous readers (including myself) complained, only to be closed again, for good, after the initial furor died down. 

In the meantime, the HTF moderators deleted comments directing customer complaints to individuals within CBS’s home video division, and banned members who posted them.  The issue that seemed to concern Epstein most was not the violence committed by CBS against the artwork under its copyright, but (quoting one of Epstein’s final comments on the subject) “the poor guy at the studio who fell victim to a rash of nasty e-mails.”

Is that really an acceptable priority?  A pro-industry bias makes sense for a trade paper, but for a public, user-oriented website like the Home Theater Forum, consumer advocacy should be a given.  When the HTF abdicates that role, it is worse than useless.  A first step in the right direction?  The HTF could stop treating its members like chattel.


23 Responses to “Trickle-Down Stupidity”

  1. ejp Says:

    ****Now, I’m not sure that my kind thought for ol’ sweat-drenched Ronnie down in aitch-ee-double hockeysticks really amounted to political commentary,****


  2. ejp Says:

    Oh and one more thing. Thanks for the comedy spot that gave me some interesting fodder for my own blog! :) (reproduced below)

    The Classless Left In Action
    At the Home Theater Forum yesterday, a certain individual named Stephen Bowie, who occasionally writes about TV history, chose to ruin a thread about historic broadcasts of the GE Theater being donated to the Reagan Library by saying that a set of tapes should be sent to Hell so Reagan could enjoy them.

    Mr. Bowie, after being taken to task for his graceless and despicable comment by seeing it removed by the powers that be there, then took it upon himself to defend his despicable remarks on the grounds that it somehow wasn’t “political” of him to suggest the former President is in Hell. Whereupon he got another warning and his comments were removed again.

    Mr. Bowie now has unloaded with a hissy fit on his own blog that is so pathetic it makes one laugh as he assails HTF for violating his rights (even though there is supposed to be no political discussions at that place) and then he repeated his vile canard that what he said was not “political commentary.”

    Mr. Bowie has a right to say whatever he likes on his blog ( as the rest of us do. But when one is a part of a forum where there is a diversity of opinions on all things under the sun, discretion and tact is usually what’s called for, and that means one should avoid saying anything that could cause offense needlessly. For him to not recognize how offensive his comment is in all respects (even beyond the fact that it was inappropriate for that place) is a testament to the colossal arrogance that infests the Loony-tune left-wing of the political spectrum, of which it is clear that Mr. Bowie is a proud member. These third-rate Keith Olbermanns believe they can get away with any kind of disgusting comment because they think somehow they are speaking to some great truism in life that validates such comments, and woe unto anyone who would have legit cause to be offended by their crap. Again, it’s not a case of him doing that at HIS blog, which is HIS playpen to vent (just as I use my own blog as the place to say things that I KNOW I can not and should not say in other venues that are not my own forums that I pay the freight for) on anything under the sun, and if he wants to indugle in his hate-Reagan screeds there, fine. But if he’s going to extend that to other places where other people don’t want to be subjected to that kind of commentary and don’t expect to be, he shouldn’t act like such a baby when he gets properly taken to the woodshed for his conduct.

    Oh and one more thing. Mr. Bowie, regarding this comment of yours: “I’m expecting that the next communiques I receive from the HTF will inform me that I’ll need to cut myself out a dunce cap to wear while standing in the corner during recess”

    Actually Mr. Bowie, when it comes to the need for a dunce cap, your ignorance of American history, especially in regards to Ronald Reagan, the most successful president of the 20th century, more than proves that you’re already wearing one!

    And in the meantime, I also suggest you get over your God complex regarding your ability to somehow discern who is and who isn’t residing in the Lake of Fire. Goodness knows I’m not going to do that for the guy who sent Mary Jo Kopechne to a premature demise.

  3. I doubt “ejp” will appreciate the irony that while you’ve chosen to let his apropos-of-nothing tantrum run undeleted, your extremely mild reference to Ronald Reagan (who was after all a concurrently politically active host of ‘GE Theater’) was treated like the Pentagon Papers over at HTF.

    Their double standards are hardly surprising. Intrigued by your post, I did a search of “Obama” over at HTF and by their own screwy logic “non-political” anti-Obama statements are okay but not the other way around. Sort of like reconciliation: it’s fair game when Republicans use it 200+ times in the recent past but an “unconstitutional” “nuclear option” when it’s the Democrats’ turn to use it.

    In any case, I consider it a Badge of Honor to have been banned from HTF for something approaching ten years.

    Back around 2001 (or maybe 2002?) I accepted Ron Epstein’s offer to become their (at the time) exclusive DVD reviewer. That gig didn’t last long but we parted amicably enough, or so I thought, and went to work at DVD Talk immediately after, where I’m happily still at it 1,120 reviews later.

    However, some time after the move, when a HTF poster innocently asked why a particular DVD had never been reviewed, Epstein replied it was because that no-good Stuart Galbraith IV >stole it!< (If memory serves, the title in question was the second 'Lord of the Rings' movie.) I never received it in the first place, and in the second place when we parted ways I volunteered at my own expense to forward any titles that might turn up at my doorstep. None did.

    Instead of simply asking me directly about the missing disc, apparently to vent old grudges again his former employers at DVD Talk Epstein opted to dump his baseless accusations in my lap.

    Naturally, I tried to defend myself on the HTF but within 30 minutes my post was removed while his false accusations remained. Gee, that's fair.

    I posted my response again, only to be "permanently banned" a few minutes later. When I threatened to file a lawsuit his post was quietly removed (but without an apology from him, of course). His lackeys claimed Ron was out of town all this time but his actions speaks for itself: He is a gutless child-man, too immature to admit when he's wrong and too thin-skinned to have his opinions challenged. Forum, indeed!

  4. ejp Says:

    Show me one instance where anyone has said Obama is going to go to Hell or is someone who should be rotting in Hell. The incapability of recognizing that point and how the comment was beyond the pale when it comes to simple decency regardless of where one stands politically, is what I find disgusting. Not to mention the idea that what was uttered was not a “political” comment.

    Oh and BTW, in addition to being devoid of class, it would seem that Mr. Bowie is incapable of telling the truth on another matter when he complains that there were “tired political lies” in the original AP account in the thread. The article in question is a simple straight *news* account about the event and there is a positive comment about Reagan’s place in GE and American history from the GE CEO (and considering how GE underwrites the nightly frothings of the mouths of the MSNBC weirdos, it’s an achievement unto themselves that they could be showing some class regarding President Reagan!). But I guess only in the minds of the left-wing haters should this suddenly be confused with pushing something evil to then merit the graceless comment that followed from Mr. Bowie for which he has no legit excuse.

    Ultimately, this is not about HTF. It’s about Mr. Bowie and his lack of basic decency.

  5. Stephen Bowie Says:

    Eric Paddon, your hypocrisy makes this too easy. You say I have no class for making a joke about Reagan, but you can’t resist a cheap shot against Ted Kennedy in the very same comment? Please.

    Stuart, it never occurred to me that there might be a political bias at work here. I just assumed that I was dealing with equal-opportunity bullies, but perhaps I’m naive.

    I also want to reiterate that what set me off on this intemperate rant was not the censorship of my Reagan jab, which did technically violate the HTF’s ridiculous rules. It was the censorship of my NON-POLITICAL comments as well, and Michael Reuben’s refusal to restore them or even acknowledge that he had made a mistake.

  6. ejp Says:

    There was no cheap shot at Ted Kennedy. I merely noted that *regardless* of my low opinion of him (in which like it or not, he is the reason why Mary Jo Kopechne saw her life shortened, or am I to assume you believe that car went over the bridge all by itself without him having any involvement in it?), it *isn’t* my place to declare that he’s in Hell right now. You’re the one with the God complex in which you can somehow presume to judge who is and who isn’t in Hell, not I, so hearing you accuse me of hypocrisy won’t wash anymore than your dishonesty regarding what the AP article said.

    • Stephen Bowie’s got a God complex? More like you do, as soon as classic Battlestar Galactica or any other neocon thing you hold dear is talked about less respectfully. Please stop being a hypocrite about it, and admit the truth, Eric: anytime your lords and masters Reagan/Bush are hit, you come out swinging; anytime classic Battlestar Galactica is criticized (and rightfully so), you’re on the attack. Like most right-wingers, you can dish it out, but you sure as hell can’t take it, not from me or Stephen Bowie. You want neocon nonsense to predominate, but unfortunately, it can’t anymore, especially when America is going downhill because of it. What will you do now, I wonder?

  7. ejp Says:

    Tsk, tsk, such cattiness would seem to indicate it’s time for your saucer of milk. :)

    As I said, Mr. Bowie is entitled to vent his spleen with his hatred of Reagan all he likes on his own blog, but that to cross a line and presume a Divine Omnipotence unto himself regarding who and who is not in Hell crosses a line that is inexcusable *regardless* of which side of the spectrum one is on, *especially* when uttered at a forum in which he is not the one who pays the freight. This is the elementary fact you leave out, but given how your post is just a catty rehash of things unrelated to this issue and only indicative of your own long-standing grudge, I’m used to seeing elementary facts left out by those I find myself in clashes with. :)

    Believe me, I can take it quite well, since I’m immensely enjoying the dodge and weave amidst the cattiness.

  8. Jeff Wildman Says:

    While I won’t debate the issue of Mr. Bowie’s comment about Ronald Reagan, I do support his comments about the mentality of the moderators on HTF. I’m also among the proudly “banished” from HTF for the heinous crime of defending the accuracy of information provided by a poster who had just been banished. Apparently, this constituted “publicly arguing with the wishes of the moderator”.

    Aside from HTF’s policy of wanting only head-in-the-sand “happy talk”, Mr. Bowie’s statement rings very true that HTF ends up dismissing valuable people who have a wealth of experience in the industry and were happy to share their knowledge with the unwashed masses. Epstein has created a forum that only seems to favor fawning comments,studio apologists, and people who have an obsession with polluting the board with “happy dance” icons everytime a release is announced. It’s little wonder that those who were looking for serious information and debate about the DVD industry left this kindergarten class long ago-with their dunce caps in hand.

  9. Michael Alden Says:

    All I can say is that based on the comments listed here, all of you would be immediately banned from HTF, at least the few of us who haven’t been already.

  10. MDH Says:

    The Saint Ronnie contingent never misses a chance to defend the honor of its deified corporate interest-hand puppet… er, pardon me — “the most successful president of the 20th century.” I suspect that back in the day, before Reagan became a doddering mouthpiece for the far right, he would’ve chuckled over Bowie’s joke. The scraping and bowing upholders of his (shambolic, corrosive) legacy, not so much.

    Anyhow, I hope to see a commercial release of [i]GE Theater[/i] sometime before dear Ron’s post-retirement paradise freezes over.

  11. ejp Says:

    I’ll gladly put Reagan’s record of winning the Cold War ahead of the record of someone like for instance, the peanut farmer with the peanut brain. :)

    In the meantime, I suggest a remedial course in basic Biblical studies on the matter of what gets one into Hell or not. Of course that is a book that the Left is invariably totally unfamiliar with on all levels! :D

  12. Michael Alden Says:

    While I don’t consider myself on the left, I do consider myself advanced enough to not follow books written by primitive peoples centuries ago prior to the advent of science. One doesn’t have to be of any particular political persuasion to not live their life according to an ancient book of fairy tales.

  13. ejp Says:

    Gee, that’s funny considering how the greatest minds of science were also men of deep faith. (Newton, Kepler, Copernicus, Galileo etc.) The notion of worshiping almighty science as a god, is strictly part of the later period called The Enlightenment, which among other things also made possible the Reign Of Terror in the French Revolution, and then later still the rise of Nazism (borrowing as much as it did from Social Darwinism) and then Communism (over 100 million dead in the 20th century alone).

    As for regarding the Bible as “fairy tales” I’d sure hate to see your methodological standards of evaluation on the existence of Alexander The Great, since the earliest accounts of him come some 300 years after he purportedly lived (this in contrast to the mere several decades after the life of Christ in which the New Testament was written, and oh BTW, Christ is also mentioned as a real historical figure by the pagan Roman historian Tacitus, so that says a lot more about the peculiar lack of *scientific* skills in historical methodology to be found in those who really suffer from an affliction of too much Carl Sagan Kool-Aid). :)

  14. Stephen Bowie Says:


    God and presidents are indeed weighty matters, but allow me to steer us back to what’s really important here:

    Beating up on the Home Theater Forum.

    Thank you.

  15. Hank Dearborn Says:

    Really, what more needs to be said. The HTF has as much to do with the free and open exchange of ideas and information as the USSR did. The attitude is that they do what they want to whomever they want to and if you dare to question them, publicly or privately, you get the boot. And by the way, private messages on HTF are not so private. The powers that be also don’t believe that privacy rules apply to them. They are above any rules.

  16. LRobHubbard Says:

    Eric Paddon fouling up the HTF site? Is there no place that’s a refuge from this kook? Bad enough that he ruins the FSM site from time to time…

    • ejp Says:

      My my, if it isn’t the king of the FSM Toilet Mouths demonstrating his capacity for psycho-loon behavior yet again. :)

  17. 50swesterns Says:

    There’s lots of very good information to be found on the HTF. And as someone who hates buying DVDs that look like crap, are hacked to bits, have been rescored or whatever, they’ve helped me out a number of times.

    But they’ve taken their tiny bit of authority and run with it. A very long way. And to me, it’s not worth wading through all their crap to find out if the DVD of Colorado Territory is that same dusty transfer.

    And I’m sure the reason they tank a thread like the Fugitive music thing is that they don’t want to interrupt the flow of promo DVDs to their mothers’ basements.

    And another thing — this is the US of A. Even Reagan would agree that we have to right to voice our opinions.

  18. bobby J. Says:

    As someone from England, I can’t believe some of the things the far-right loonies sprout on about…the replies from ‘ejp’ come across as if they were scripted by Fox.
    Reagan was a disaster…as has been the corporate run agenda since his tenure (including idiots like Clinton and stooges such as Obama). I mean, their idea of taking down tariffs, opening the doors so that American industrial jobs could move to the cheapest countires (with workers living on factory floors and child labor) and then expecting US workers to compete with them is beyond the pales of stupidity. As Reagan’s economics guru has said many times again and again, the blur-collar sector is dead and now white-collar jobs such as design, and computing are being shipped out…to China.
    Democrats are usually no better; Wilson signed off the printing of US currency to the PRIVATE bank known as the Federal Reserve and died regretting it. Clinton rescinded the Glass-Steagal act dividing retail banking and casino banking. And Truman, dealing ably with the major political issues of the day, created America’s own Gestapo, the CIA and the military-industrial complex that that old coward Ike warned about in his farewell speech.
    The HTF seems to be supported by corporate interests, or by those benefiting from the favours bestowed upon them.
    I seem to have too much politics here, and rather talk about DVDs, but Reagan was as responsible for ending the cold war as Truman was for losing China. Exactly zero.

  19. ejp Says:

    The fact that you’re from England no doubt accounts for why you’re such an ignoramus of the first order when it comes to American history. Though there are plenty of Americans who share your fondness for America’s totalitarian enemies as you do. :)

  20. Neville Ross Says:

    Eric, what the frak do you know about anything, you Trumpanzee dunderhead? Not all of Bobby’s details are right, but the gist of it is true about Reagan being an old ineffectual ‘president’ -it’s right on the money, and then some (and it seems that his ‘presidency’ was predicted in this movie and the novel said movie’s based on.) Plus, he did single out the Democrats for what they did to the U.S.A. as well.

    As for the kerfuffle over the music on the DVD’s of The Fugitive, I’m sorry, Stephen, but I have to agree with the Home Theater Forum on this one; like it or not, the site’s tied to the major movie studios for releases, and they can’t be seen being antagonistic to anybody (Paramount & CBS included). Plus, the anger of the fans, IMHO, was (and still is) misplaced; instead of being angry at CBS & Paramount, they should be angry at the holders of the rights to the specific music that was omitted and replaced, and they should also be angry at the rights organizations for letting them have this much power over music (the old saying by Lenin about capitalists giving the Soviets the rope by which to hang them is very true with regards to the music industry-publishers/rights holders and the recording industry are just giving those who love to download music the rope to do the same thing to them by causing shit like this to happen to companies and others that want or need to use music for a task or a project.)

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