Thursday, February 14, 2013

Safrea Fail(ures) Part 1

Hagen Engler.  You may know him, he was the editor of FHM once upon a time and now he's...I'm not quite sure what he's doing now, but he's offered his services to me as a book editor. And he's publishing, and I'm just going to say it, for me an odd line of books.

I offered to review the first, as a gesture to a fellow freelancer and I have to say, I was surprised Engler actually said no thanks.  I mean, which writer of books doesn't need PR? Closer to reality, I think is which writer doesn't want PR and even closer, why not? I'll get to that.
For me, and it's simply a personal observation, I find both these titles very on the chin.  Like 'let's interrogate face'  Let's go black and white.  I was less surprised when I figured out Engler is married to a beautiful black girl.  Sure.  It made sense.  Sort of.

On the other hand, holding out your marriage as a poster child for your story...that's not something I would do, but then, at the same time, I'm not even married.  (Oh, and I'm not gay, in case you're wondering.  I'm also not in a huge hurry to get married, which I admit is weird.  My biography may reveal more in case you're curious).

Back to Engler, he's just brought out a new book seemingly on this same theme that he is running with, in my view, not a great idea, but then, I've haven't read either of these books.  Maybe they're good.  Let's check quick-quick.

On Amazon, there are two reviews, and the first, five star, reports:
you will laugh. A lot. And out loud...

The second reviewer, Thuli, gives three stars and is a little more muted than the first:
Not your typical interracial romance book. I must say that the title just does not at all reflect what's in the book. Like his witty and humorous style of writing though.

Okay.  Now how does Amazon rank Marrying Black Girls?  Well, see for yourself:
Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #761,333 Paid in Kindle Store

Not great.

And the other title not so great either, but I don't think it's been out there for a long time.

The first and only review (so far) was posted July 3 (One star):
By this book's standards, I am neither South African nor white then.

Don't take my word for it though, go see for yourself here.

And if you're in a roaming, curious mood, have a look here, at my three books, all published since early June this year.

I gotta tell you, the research and analysis I did for these Oscar Pistorius books has honed my analytical skills to such an extent, I've developed quite a good nose.  It's a mixture of intuition, I guess, and experience.  I'm also a media person so I know what people are trying to do, and a lot of it is about building perceptions.

 Hey, that entirely sums up who Oscar Pistorius is as person - a huge branding enterprise.  A huge marketing machine, which sucks in sponsors and contracts, so you can see, get the persona thing right and it can be worth a fortune.  Millions and millions and in Oscar's case I think tens of millions.

Getting the Persona Thing Wrong

Getting the persona thing wrong, on the other hand, is a disaster.  You'll see Loki get his ass handed to him below.
You'll see him telling Hulk he was a god and all these people are below him, and that's when it happened, he got PWNed.

So when I begin to apply this methodical business of gathering data, organising it, stringing it together and joining the dots, as did with the Oscar Pistorius Trial books a flag comes up when I turn that sharp gaze on Hagen Engler.  I'm sorry to say that because until now, I didn't know.  And I'm not going to uncover here any more than the minimum.

You see the one reviewer used the words Standards.  It's an interesting word. The second reports that the cover doesn't  reflect what's in the book.  This is a huge red flag, especially from where I am coming from.  I spend hours analysing semantics and then linking these apparently cursory, apparently random remarks into something that I hope paints an accurate picture.  Eventually when you accumulate enough data, the dots start to coalesce. Yes, they arrange into a shape, and soon they pixelate.  They form a picture.  And that is what makes it such a rewarding process, and also how in Resurrection I got right up to the toilet door when I was interrogating Oscar's motive.  When you do, it's dizzying.

That's why I am a little sad to disclose this, but having started down this rabbit hole, you'd be an idiot not to say what you found on your first foray.

I'm not trying to impinge on this dudes character, and as far as I know, he hasn't impinged on mine.  I also haven't read his books, but when I come across concerns about standards, a flag goes up.  I have high standards.  For myself and others, and it gets me into a world of shit.  The other thing, is the reviewer pointing out that the cover of the Marrying Black girls book, more specifically the title of the narrative, is misleading. The reviewer doesn't simply say the cover/title doesn't  reflect what's in the book but adds: at all.

I can tell you now, semantics in the context of a court case, in the context of your or my life, any narrative, are crucially, crucially important.  We say actions speak louder than words, but we forget the other stuff.  Words also speak about what is going on in the heart.  And pictures really do tell a thousand words.

Since Engler departed FHM, what has he been doing?  Well writing books, we know, and I'm not sure if they are wildly successful, but bringing out a book is also not the easiest thing. What I do know for a fact, is Engler has also been offering his services as an editor.  Of  manuscripts.  You know, book doctoring.  He did a demo for me too, did a fantastic job too with track changes and some very helpful commentary, but if I have to pay R5000 for it, I'd rather not be too lazy about my own work. I'd rather see how far I can polish my own stuff myself.  Not that I think my work, especially fiction, is not in need of a doctor and a few shots in the arm. It is.  Can fiction ever be polished enough?  Point is, I was kind've surprised this was what Engler was doing. And I felt intuitively a little uncomfortable paying someone to appraise my work.  I want to be told what's wrong with it, what to fix, not get a glowing endorsement.  And there was something a tad too effusive about how he appraised my novel that didn't sit so lekker with me.  So I said hold on, and sort've put the thing on the back burner.  Here's the Hagen Engler I think about when I think of Hagen Engler.

I quoted him briefly in Reeva in her own Words currently ranked #21 on Amazon.  But that wasn't quoting him directly as much as quoting what he said on TV and in this article.  And in this blog.

And because I have forced myself to pay attention to the minutest detail in preparing the research for these books, and because anything around the Oscar Pistorius trial sets my mind gnawing on the bone, it was automatic, when I went to those links, to notice something as incidental as the date.  The timing of the murders (Simpson, and both Steenkamp cases)  is crucial to determining what actually happened.  But dates and times also reveal our methods.  And madness.  Our standards, and what lies beneath the 'cover' we're presenting to the world.  Is that who we are?  Is this good looking guy here on the left the real Hagen?
It disturbs me when I see this.

No, not because Engler wrote about her.  Also not because he immediately provides a disclaimer [He says he's her friend, sort've, but not actually, but it's implied that she is 'my friend'.]  No, none of that is particularly incriminating.  But something is.  Do you see it? Look closer...

It's the date and time.  We know now Reeva Steenkamp was shot to death on Valentine's Day (14 February 2014) at very close to 03:17.

But the time of the article is 07:28 and the breaking news tweet is:

The second breaking news tweeyt is five minutes later:

I could follow the conspiracy theory and ask why does it actually show 5 hours earlier on the screengrabs (ie 03:03 and 03:08, but that would put the tweets before the murder (alleged, right?) but I'm pretty sure there is a techy reason for that.

 I'm more perturbed, firstly by Hagen Engler's timing, and secondly, by the Daily Maverick.  It's very likely that the Daily Maverick editor back-tracked the time, in order to attract google spiders looking for the earliest news reports.  This would allow them to preempt Beeld and possibly Radio702's online coverage.  If that's true, that's opportunistic and dishonest journalism right there. You're reporting in the public domain about someone who has been shot to death, a crime, and you're going to play games with the time?

I'm not going to deal with those ethics, there's a time and place for that.  For now, I'm coming back to Engler.  Even if Engler wrote his story at 9am or 10am or 11am, that is a pretty damn blistering fast turn around on telling the world about 'my homegirl'.  Reeva was shot around 3am.  If this story was published the time it says it was published, it means Engler must have been working on it between 5am and 6am. It's also possible that Engler is buddies with one of the first people Oscar called, Justin Divaris, Oscar's best friend.
"At 3 h 55 Oscar called me: "I shot Reeva! I shot Reeva! '' he cried on the phone. A neighbor then took the handset: "You'd better come, this is serious! ''  ' between Johannesburg and Pretoria, the wide ribbon of asphalt fully lit at night, has Divaris dark. It was he who introduced Oscar Reeva, three months earlier, on November 4, 2012. Incredulous Here he looks at the scene from the sidewalk. He can see the body of Reeva lying in the living room.And, turning his head toward the garage, discover the champion's head in his hands, his shoulders shaking with spasms.
The day before, he lunched with him! He had even offered him a night with the guys while Samantha, his own wife, very close to Reeva, called on his side to make a canvas they getaway.
Not sure why this is published on a French website.  But even Oscar has testified to calling Divaris. If the Daily Maverick's time is right, the only other logical conclusion is Divaris either called Engler, or called someone who subsequently told Engler. Engler then busted his butt to get his story out as soon as possible.  What's interesting is that it appeared on the Daily Maverick, which I know pays peanuts, and which suggests to me - I'm speculating, he was turned down by the major dailies.  And for good reason, this is particularly poor taste.  Her blood was not even cold.

One could check, given that FHM was all about the laddish lifestyle, and Divaris' company was all about fast and flashy cars (a perfect fit for FHM) I wouldn't be surprised if Divaris and Engler were more than aquaintances.  Just look at it.  Divaris - Engler - Steenkamp/Pistorius - Divaris - Engler? Foreseably Divaris may have known or suspected the 'scoop' (which he had) was worth a lot of money, and so helped out his buddy.  Speculation.  I don't know. What's not speculation was that this was uploaded at such breakneck speed, then uploaded to Engler's blog the very next day,
But Engler wasn't done yet, that afternoon he did press for AP saying:

02/15/2013 05:33 PM

"The way I knew her she had had a very long relationship before. So, she wasn't really an opportunist, isn't really the way I understood her. So, you know, one never knows. She is a beautiful woman, so perhaps Oscar was taking his opportunity, but that's just speculation, you know.

Maybe you were too, Hagen.

On 25 February, 11 days after her death, Engler blogs about how much money her images are worth,[it appears on the Daily Maverick] and whether Reeva's family are due any benefit for the use of his images.

But where did these images come from? And does Reeva’s estate, or her family, get to benefit from this massive use of her image?
It appears not.
Copyright in images as intellectual property, while indeed a fraught issue, is mainly an area of contestation between photographers and employers. Usually the creator of the “artistic work”, ie. the photographer, will own copyright in the images. Exceptions are if the images are created in the course of his/her employment. If a client commissions a photographer to take an image, copyright rests with the client.
Writing on the website, intellectual property lawyer Mariette du Plessis points out that these exceptions can all be changed by prior agreement between the photographer and the employer.
Models, though, appear to left out of this arrangement.
Prime sources for Reeva pics have been Tropika Island of Treasure, the branded reality show she was set to appear in at the time of her death. Stills images from the Tropika show have been supplied free to news outlets, although Britain’s The Independent has reported production company Stimulii charging $3 000 a pop to use a video clip from the show, raising questions of profiteering from her death.
Local picture agency Gallo Images has been selling images of Reeva, including images of her shot for Media24 magazine title FHM. An FHM bikini pic of Reeva graced the cover of Britain’s The Sun on Friday morning, prompting a Twitter storm over the ethics of featuring a murder victim in her bikini.
“Reeva pics are selling. But at about the same rate as any other celebrity,” said a cagey Gallo MD, Pam Wills. “We’ve had lots of requests for pics of her and Oscar.”
The ethics of selling images of dead people is a minor subplot to the shock and outrage of the unfolding Oscar-Reeva saga. It lives alongside such other considerations of commerce vs commiseration as should the Tropika show be broadcast, should Oscar’s sponsors drop him, and should journalists camp outside the late girl’s family home to film her shattered dad and add an extra dimension of tragedy to this grim tale.
Our morbid fascination has been piqued, and a long-established industry is ready to feed that. Some of us will benefit from it. Reeva Steenkamp will not.

And on July 1, just a few days ago, Engler writes this for the Sunday Times:

 I felt some people should say something about her, what she was like as a person.
So I tweeted something. Three words, along the lines of “She was lovely”.This precipitated a DM: Did you know this girl? Would you do an interview?
I said yes. And thus began my spell in the media spotlight as “Someone who’s prepared to speak”.
I did some interviews. The interviews precipitated more interviews. And the more I did, the more my number was passed around by journos around the world. I soon realized that, thanks to the global fame of Paralympian Oscar Pistorius – now accused of Reeva’s murder – the appetite for news of the case was insatiable.
In the days after her death, I could mark the passage of the sun across the face of the earth by the calls I was getting on my cell. It went New Zealand, Japan, Australia, Singapore, Norway, France, UK, USA… I was woken up at 4am for radio phoners, newspapers called constantly – the Independent, the Mail, the Telegraph, The Guardian, L’Equipe… I forget who all.
Where can we get pictures? Remember, we met the once? We’ll pay you for your time (that never happened) I got calls from correspondents who sounded cute and sexy on the phone. Cool people you wouldn’t mind having a beer with…
Softie that I am, I’d always break down and meet them. Sometimes a TV crew would occupy my home for four or five hours. I met crews in their homes, at restaurants, hotels. And after a while I began to feel some kind of way.
Sure, I was telling Reeva’s side of the story, but I felt a little, well, used. 
You might look and feel a bit like I did once the world’s media were finished with me. Wide-eyed. Paranoid. Embarrassed.
Can I be honest.  I don't buy it.  I don't buy the level of friendship he is portraying.  He turned the poor girl away twice out of the three times she approached the magazine, which to me shows less about his friendship with her and more about the average tendency of the average editor to be a dick.  Apologies to the good and decent editors out there (I'm sure you do exist), if this isn't you.

Writing this story as fast as possible to crow about his relationship with Reeva is sufficiently doos-like behaviour, if his clever (but actually not so clever) obfuscations about his friend, but sort've friend, special friend, different friends didn't feel so ill-timed and ill-motivated.

Perhaps I'm being unfair?  Or unfairly attacking Engler? Have a look at the top three or four comments in response to Engler's story, which is media opportunism - vile and cruel - at its worst.

One comment sums up the spirit of just how inappropriate (desperate) Engler is here:
Shallow and glib...insubstantial...your claim to fame in kwowing her...hilarious that you should distance yourself from the superficial model industry...

Talk about a patently false narrative!


Engler asked me if I was embittered (copy of the email is below).

It's not true.  Embittered is what loser Impala's do when they don't win the harem.  No, I am angry, and justifably angry.  Injustice makes me angry.  Injustice should make us angry.  We should oberve the Oscar trial and the OJ Simpson trial and David Baine and this Griekwastad boy and be mad as hell.  We should, above all, rage at the dishonesty of these people, and right next door, their flagrant deception.  They deceive, they defend their shameful greed and people accept these shallow defences at face value.  Shame on us!

So, no there's no bitterness.  There is anger that common people can be so common.  I've shown above what I think is pretty disgraceful conduct for a washed up magazine editor. And I'm going to give another specific example here.

I've been a member, until recently of what is effectively just a Google Group that you have to pay R500 to subscribe to. Engler will say this is my motive in pointing out his flaws.  Actually, my motive is to interrogate a narrative and test it for its authenticity.  Yours, Oscar's and mine. Incidentally, if you think that's bluster, here's my narrative.  Feel free to interrogate it.

The intention of this blog was to poke fun at myself as a freelancer who has failed to maintain his membership at a freelancers association.  But the tongue-in-cheek fun story became something else when I started pointing my torchlight around.  And now, it's time to finish it.

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