FlashForward Keynote Was Backward

The first FlashForward 2000 conference took place last week in San Francisco. Sold out before it even began, the event demonstrated yet again that Flash, Macromedia's Web animation and interface authoring tool, is hot.

The conference's educational and inspirational sessions were successful. One man told me the ActionScript workshop alone was worth the price of admission. Hillman Curtis' presentation awed an auditorium full of Flash developers. Macromedia's chairman and CEO Rob Burgess garnered loud applause when he previewed tools that will debut in the next version of Flash. Too bad that same keynote speech featured a Flash movie in which a man forced a woman's lipstick-smeared mouth into his lap.

Burgess seemed especially excited about Flash's possibilities when he demo'ed this animation. Its soundtrack was "Internet Killed the Video Star," a take-off on "Video Killed the Radio Star," the Buggles hit that launched MTV in 1981.

Like most music videos, the Flash movie featured gratuitous T and A. However, the blow job was a shocker. That may be the norm on MTV, but not for a professional conference, unless your profession is the oldest. Burgess made a serious error in judgement.

One of the appeals of Flash is that it's a creative's cutting-edge oasis in the bottom-line desert that has overwhelmed the Web. By definition, the cutting edge isn't always comfortable. But relying on sexism for impact is uncomfortably predictable.

Burgess' ill-conceived keynote is just a recent example of women's bodies being used to promote goods and services. The traditionally male-dominated computer industry has long been a notorious offender. Flip through the ads in almost any computer magazine and you'll see glossy-lipped, dewy-eyed, full-breasted women peering out at you. Is anyone fool enough to fall for the implication that buying the accompanying software or hardware (let's not even explore the parallels) buys you sex appeal too?

FlashForward2000 was produced by training companies Lynda.com and United Digital Artists. I called Lynda.com founder Lynda Weinman for her take on the music video. She was not offended, interpreting it instead as parody. "It wasn't advocating anything it was parodying. By [Burgess] showing it, I don't think he was advocating that act. There's sensitivity when there's satire. A lot of satire is offensive. It's nice that it's a free country."

Weinman has a good point: Burgess had the right to show anything. So why choose something in which a man shoves a woman's head into his lap? If he wanted to prove that Flash blows away the... envelope, he could have focused on Amy Franceschini, a real woman and new media artist whose work at www.futurefarmers.com and www.atlasmagazine.com is profoundly beautiful and thought-provoking.

If you want to voice your thoughts on Burgess' keynote, you can call Macromedia (415/252-2000) or send e-mail to pr@macromedia.com.

Terri Stone is Macworld's bra-burning associate editor.

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