I'm Chuck Tryon and I'll probably spend a lot of time writing about popular culture, since I teach cultural studies at Georgia Tech. I may also spend a lot of time writing about politics, since I have an overdeveloped sense of righteous indignation. We'll see how it goes.
drivin' n' cryin'
Wednesday, April 30, 2003
Visual culture scholar, Alison McMahan, is giving a talk entitled, "Fiction and Presence in Immersive Virtual Environments," at Georgia Tech at 11 AM in Room 343 of Skiles Hall. It should be an interesting talk. I'm particularly excited about the talk because her essay, "The Effect of Multiform Narrative on Subjectivity" was pertinent to my work on alternate reality films in my dissertation. Her course on Hypertext Rhetorics and Poetics also seems to be addressing some cool issues pertaining to constructions of time, memory, and identity in hypertext narratives.
Monday, April 28, 2003
Your Friendsters and Neighbors
Friendster, a social networking site that operates on the "six-degrees-of-separation" principle, has been creating a lot of buzz today. The premise is that you enter your profile--including your interests, favorite TV shows, movies, etc--and link to your friends. It seems a little different than standard dating sites--like Match.com--in that it more self-consciously offers itself as a means of creating networks of friends and business partners (although using it as a dating service isn't excluded). These connections are also made based on "friendship links" rather than on search criteria such as location, body type, or political orientation. Therefore, one of the difficulties of Friendster is fabricating (or at least cajoling friends into joining) the social networks that will allow you to make broader connections.
I think that what interests me about something like Friendster (and the same is true of most dating sites) is the self-conscious attempt to construct an identity using the range of questions offered by the site. Dave Weinberger expresses some resistance to a site like Friendster:
Friendster asks me to describe myself. Gender, age, occupation all are no problem. But then there are my interests, my favorite music, favorite TV shows and "about me." I don't actually have an internal list of favorite music so I can't simply make explicit what was implicit all along. I'd have to fabricate a list and do so pretty much without context.I don't have any particular reservations about revealing basic autobiographical information on a site like Friendster. I don't really regard it as terribly personal, and there's always the choice not to answer any question (or even to make fun of the questions), but I am always aware of the difficulties of context when translating an online conversation to RL. I've had about fifteen dates through various personals sites, and I'm quickly discovering the complications of context (or the absence of it), even when I've exchanged several emails with a potential date. I feel much more like I'm on an audition than I would if I met a person at a party, for example. But I think it's much more complicated than just not having the nonverbal cues that are associated with flirting or backing off, of trying to read someone based on a photograph (or not), a few lines of text, and a couple of emoticons.
I was IMing with George about online dating services last night. I was discussing the experience of meeting a woman online, chatting with her, and having her send me the URL to her website (and I then sent her the URL to my blog). It's a new twist on the dating ritual, a strange way of revealing information about yourself, whether intentionally or not. Because I hadn't blogged in a couple of days, I'd forgotten some of the issues I'd written about recently (fortunately, she shared my views on the Georgia flag). Each medium presents its own complications, and my blog (and her webpage) each offer their own ways of revealing and hiding (or better, constructing) an online identity (one that rarely matches an RL identity, no matter how transparent we try to be).
Because of a few disappointing dates, I'd all but sworn off these online dating services, but now, I'm not so sure. In a way, I think the lack of transparency of these services may be what makes them interesting, the fact that something very tangential to my personality might inspire someone to contact me. I need to think about these questions further, but it certainly points to the ways in which we can construct and perform identities online; Friendster, with its explicit focus on networks of friendships, simply seems to provide a new and different language for doing that, especially through the testimonials authored by one's friends.
Saturday, April 26, 2003
I thought current and former Georgians might be interested in this story: The Georgia flag controversy has taken yet another turn. After the previous governor, Roy Barnes, finally eliminated the large Confederate battle emblem, current governor, Sonny Perdue, ran on a promised referendum allowing state voters to vote on the flag, strongly implying that the old flag, with a prominently displayed Dixie battle cross, would be one of the choices. Instead, the state legislature has decided to "allow" voters to choose between the current flag (the state seal against a solid blue background--can't find a photo) and a "temporary" flag based loosely on the Confederate national flag. While the Confederate national flag does not evoke some of the more horrifying aspects of the post-Civil War South in the same way as the Dixie Cross, it still evokes a belief system--and a set of practices--that I cannot support. Fortunately the NAACP sees through this proposal for the sham that it is:
"This is a heinous proposal," said NAACP member Michael Bond, son of NAACP chairman Julian Bond. "It's still a Confederate flag. It's completely objectionable." This story isn't going away anytime soon, but through the referendum and through potential economic boycotts, hopefully we can at least eliminate the public affirmation of these symbols from Georgia's Confederate past.
Friday, April 25, 2003
Two Thumbs Up
In recognition of Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival, I thought I'd include a shoutout to one my favorite mainstream film critics. There's a transcript of an interesting interview with Roger Ebert in the Progressive where he discusses Michael Moore's Academy Award speech, Bush's theocratic impulses, and political Hollywood films. At one point, when the discussion turns to Hollywood and social class, Ebert comments:
Class is often invisible in America in the movies, and usually not the subject of the film. I just saw a wonderful film called "Better Luck Tomorrow" by Justin Lin about rich, Asian-American kids in Orange County and how they go astray and how they get into drugs and then into crime. And I saw another movie by Larry Clark called "Bully" about poor white kids who get into drugs and are led astray and get into crime. And these two movies are instructive because neither one of them seems to be totally aware of the class issue. One is about a lower economic group, the other is about a higher economic group, and both are totally involved with story and character and personal relationships. We don't have a lot of class-conscious filmmaking. Ebert then discusses another great film, Hoop Dreams, that shows the warped perceptions about class, race, and success in the United States, specifically focusing on the scene in which Arthur Agee's mother completes a certification program for becoming a nurse's aid and how that accomplishment is almost completely ignored culturally compared to the packed houses for basketball games. This class-consciousness is also reinforced through the Agee family's amazement as they walk through the quad of the University of Illinois during a basketball tournament, an experience that many Illinoisians take for granted.
Hoop Dreams, through its narrative documenatry approach captures these class antagonisms as well as any film I've seen recently, but even with the film's storytelling consciousness, I've encountered students who were incredibly resistant to this reading, who saw no exploitative behaviors on the part of the private high school that recruited and subsequently dropped a basketball player simply because he wasn't progressing fast enough (on the court, especially). I think what I'm saying is that the film seems to point to the impossibility of representing social class on screen rather than necessarily producing any form of class-consciousness in its audience. That's not intended as a critique of the film as much as it is an observation about some of the potential limits of cinematic narrative.
Further Proof that Ben Affleck has Sold His Soul
Just learned from the Invisible Adjunct that Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez "have secured a deal to remake the classic movie Casablanca". Anyone who has spent a lot of time with me knows that I am far from a purist when it comes to remakes (and I don't have any special allegiance to Casablanca as a film), but this one seems like a car crash waiting to happen. To paraphrase Rick Blaine, "If you make this film, you'll regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life." Update: I can't find any other evidence confiriming this story. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it's a belated April Fools' joke.
By the way, I'm strongly considering making the, ummm, move to Moveable Type once the semester ends. I'll keep you updated on that as well.
Wednesday, April 23, 2003
Blogging and Death
Wired Magazine has an article about the continued presence of blogs and web journals after their users die. The article focuses on a student, Adrian Heideman, at California State University, Chico, who kept a web journal until September 2000, when he died due to alcohol poisoning. The article discusses the mixed feelings of friends and family regarding the continued presence of the journal in cyberspace. A friend, Garrett palm comments:
"I'm glad to have Adrian's LiveJournal still around, although I never visit it anymore," said Palm. "I keep it on my 'friends' list just so I can see his name every so often, but I can never bring myself to click on his name. The first year or so after he passed on I visited it with decreasing regularity, until eventually I couldn't handle the emotions. I had to move on. But the idea that it is still around is comforting … it's almost as if he isn't dead."The article also mentions Rebecca Kris, a Central Michigan University student who died in a car crash. Like another blogger , this article reminds me of Salam Pax, with the disruption of his blog haunted by the awareness of the violence of war, especially its toll on civilians.
In all of these cases, the medium of the weblog seems to be partially what provides these images with their particular power. Since the weblog is updated frequently, the disruption of that temporality
is particularly striking. and the theoretcial permanence of the digitally-stored weblog combine to produce an effect of immortality (I know this discussion of immortality is discussed in Katherine Hayles' How We Became Posthuman, among other places). These interrupted blogs provide an interesting counterpoint to an example I discovered while reading Jill Walker's blog a few days ago. She mentions Milon's Memory, a "living obituary," a blog written by Bernard Lane, in which he periodically records memories of his friend, Milon, who died twenty years ago. In both cases, questions of memory are brought to the surface; however, Milon's Memory offers the added recognition taht our memories evolve and change over time while blogs whose authors have died tend to resist these transformations. I think my arguments here are probably informed by Baudelaire's aversion to photography's attack on human memory, and the weblog seems to complicate that argument in ways that I'm not quite able to articulate. Any ideas?
Monday, April 21, 2003
Listening to Alice by Tom Waits and Ancient Melodies of the Future by Built to Spill.
Working on some ideas for my discussion of Katherine Hayles' How We Became Posthuman and Writing Machines for the electronic pedagogy seminar at Georgia Tech. While reflecting on Hayles' argument that critics consider more carefully the materiality of the medium, I came across George's post about print and information technology. After asking whether or not print is an "information technology," George aptly addresses some of the complications involved in such a question:
I need to think more about how to frame the issues. In particular, one would need to define "information technology" before arguing whether something belongs in the category or not. Ditto for "user" and "input" and "change." Hayles' book addresses many of these concerns and her insistence on the materiality of the medium makes a lot of sense to me. Hayles writes:
materiality depends on how the work mobilizes its resources as a physical artifact as well as on the user's interactions with the work and the interpretive strategies she develops--strategies that include physical manipulations as well as conceptual frameworks. (33). I'm still struggling a bit to define my concept of user, but I'm
suspicious of ambivalent about certain defintions, specifically Espen Aarseth's notion of "ergodic texts," which he (according to Hayles) "defines as those literary systems that require 'nontrivial effort' to allow the user to transverse them" (28). I don't have Aarseth's book, Cybertext nearby, but I immediately found his concept of "nontrivial effort" somewhat broad, that the definition might include what is perceived as a highly passive activity such as channel surfing. As I make this observation, however, I'm not sure that I mean it entirely as a criticism of Aarseth's thoughtful notion of the cybertext. It might instead introduce a re-evaluation of the concept of televisual spectatorship, one based in part on the viewer as a user who constructs her own meaning (by surfing past commercials, by flipping between Bill O'Reilly and Bozo the Clown). It might also point to the ways in which television and new media are potentially interrelated in terms of their narrative constructions.
On a completely unrelated topic: I found this poem, "Revolution is Not an AOL Keyword," on Blogdex. What's most striking about it (to my mind) is the combination of retooling the Gil Scott Heron song with the medium specificty of hyperlinks. As one of the commenters points out, you can't print out the poem because you'd lose the hyperlinks, which are very much part of the text, especially the emphatic claim at the end of the poem that "Revolution must still be live." The poem brings up for me all of the complications of "liveness" that become measurable only in the context of all of the technologies of mediation the poem sets out to satire. I've had way too much caffiene tonight.
Bombers, Basra, and Burgers
For their hypertext project in my English 1102 course, one group decided to focus on fast food culture (I'll provide that link later). While doing research for their project this week, they discovered that fast food franchises Burger King and Pizza Hut have already arrived in Iraq. The franchises are set up inside the military bases, but it strikes me as just a little, umm, inconsistent that Pizza Hut and BK are lining up at the trough while aid convoys wait by the border for the war to end.
Saturday, April 19, 2003
Had the strange experience of grading Regents Exams at Georgia State University today. Now that I've been grading Regents exams for three Saturdays in a row, my senses are completely dulled. I have become a grading machine. But what was intriguing about the experience was returning to Georgia State, where I earned my M.A. in English in August, 1995. I grew up in Atlanta, and teaching at Georgia Tech has enabled me to have many of these "homecomings" over the last few months. I've enjoyed revisiting favorite movie theaters (The Plaza, Tara, Garden Hills) and hearing favorite local musicians (Vic Chesnutt, Murray Attaway, Kevn Kinney, Magnapop) live for the first time. But returning to the GSU English department was particularly strange, especially given the changes they've made to the Writing Center, a place that holds a lot of meaning for me.
The physical changes to the room are definitely positive (I won't bore non-GSU readers with the details), but I definitely felt a strange sense of a past being buried beneath the new surface. There were many ways in which the space felt very much the same (the hallways, the arrangement of offices), and I was able to find my way relatively quickly, but the whole experience had an uncanny element--the sense of being at home and not being at home at the same time. I wanted to talk to current GSU students, to find out their perceptions of the department, their experiences at the university, but the grading assembly line of Regents grading doesn't really allow it, and I didn't want to appear to be one of those sad old alumni you see at University homecomings reliving his glory days after they have long passed (because I'm not one of those people, my life is not a Bruce Springsteen song). Strange days indeed.
Brief Aside: My comments function doesn't seem to be working today, which is really annoying. Hopefully I'll be able to get everything back in order soon. I hate not having the comments section up. One of the major pleasures of blogging for me is knowing how my audience (however small it may be) is responding to what I write.
Friday, April 18, 2003
"Must See" New Media
Listening to Leonard Cohen's Ten New Songs.
Matt Kirschenbaum called my attention to Adrian Miles recent discussion of why television is a more insightful reflection of the new media. Matt's reference to Lev Manovich's The Language of New Media is useful here, too. I've been trying to work out some similar questions, generally from the point of view of film studies, and in my dissertation made teh argument that within the logic of cinematic time-travel narratives, television is often structurally a part of new media. Adrian Miles comments that:
It is a condition of online works that they stutter (I'd recommend reading Deleuze and Guattari's Kafka: Towards a Minor Literature to get a valuable take on stuttering, or indeed note Deleuze's description of Godard as someone who makes the cinema stutter), that they don't flow in a controllable or controlled way (regardless of the fantasy of Flash). This notion of bandwidth makes a lot of sense to me, especially in terms of his discussion of how television and new media structure time in similar ways that might diverge from cinema, and his post reminded me of Chris Marker's Sans Soleil (which isn't surprising since almost everything does), specifically the extended meditation on television that serves as one of the film's key considerations.
The premise of the film is that a fictional filmmaker has been sending filmed images along with letters back to the narrator who reads and interprets them (Brief aside: several years ago, I gave a conference paper considering Sans Soleil against Derrida's Post Card, that I thought worked really well, but that's a story for another day). During the Tokyo sequence, the narrator relates that he spent an entire day in his hotel where he watched television all day long, referring to television as a "memory box." The sequence opens with shots of the telvision broadcasting a series of disconnected images--a samurai film, news broadcasts, a documentary on Rousseau. Soon the camera begins tilting and panning between televsions, the camera moving faster and faster with the haunting synthesizer score. Later Marker reflects on the new computer technologies, specifically an image synthesizer that the owner, Hiyao, refers to as "The Zone" in homage to Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky. Marker feeds several of the filmed images we have seen (including some moving footage from Guinea-Bissau's war of decolonization) into the Zone. I haven't worked out the comparison completely, but I find the similarities between the television and the synthesized images striking, especially in the way the newer technologies rework cinema, specifically in terms of "attention, time and space," as Adrian Miles puts it. Somehwere, in the back of mind, is Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin's concept of "remediation", but I'm still working that out, too.
I'm still struggling with these ideas, but this connection between the new media and television seems really useful, especially when seen from the perspective of the movie theater, where multitasking (talking on cell phones, receiving beeper and pager mesages) is strictly prohibited and all eyes are directed on the screen where we watch a linear narrative unfolding (unrolling?) in time at 24 frames per second.
Thursday, April 17, 2003
David Gordon Green
In an interview promoting his debut film, George Washington, with Netribution, a UK film site, Green says:
We didn't spend a lot of money on anything, but all of the money we had was put into the camera department to capture the landscape and environment in a way that would be cinematic. -- To me, film is the perfect blend of pictures, performance and music. To create an evocative mood, tone or atmosphere, they really need to compliment each other and bring the audience to a new sense of place.While he's talking about his first film, a similar aesthetic clearly permeates All the Real Girls. In the same interview he mentions Terrence Malick and Robert Altman as influences, which makes a lot of sense. Thanks to Lara for calling my attention to this interview!
Wednesday, April 16, 2003
Run Lola Run
Just finished teaching Tom Tykwer's stylish 1998 film, Run Lola Run in my freshman composition class. My students responded to the film incredibly enthusiastically and the discussion ended up being very productive. Since Lola brings together the possibilities of time and the possibilities of cinema, I've felt for a long time that it would prove to be an effective capstone to an introductory film course, especially as an introduction to the questions of how digital technologies might transform the institution of cinema. Lola seems to be acutely aware of its place in cinematic history. These questions about the relationship between new media technologies and cinematic history are implied in Janet Maslin's New York Times review of the film:
It's a furiously kinetic display of pyrotechnics from the director Tom Tykwer, who fuses lightning-fast visual tricks, tirelessly shifting styles and the arbitrary possibilities of interactive storytelling into the best-case scenario for a cinematic video game. This assocaition of the film's virtualized subjectivity with Katherine Hayles' concept of the posthuman has always struck me as an interesting lead. Many of the questions that Hayles is asking (about identity and agency in the posthuman age) are pertinent to an analysis of Run Lola Run's video-game style narrative. In my recent conference paper on Dark City, I reflected on the ways in which the narrative consideration of digital technologies often focuses on the ways in which they represent a threat to more traditional concepts of identity. Run Lola Run is definitely a film I'll be thinking about as I begin looking toward writing my book, so I'd enjoy hearing the prespectives of others on this really cool film.
Tykwer does this with a vigor and pizazz that offset the essentially empty nature of the exercise. He makes "Run Lola Run" sufficiently hot, fast and post-human to pull that off.
I've Gone Public, Finally
My weblog has finally gone public. Here's your chance to get in on the ground floor of a really sound investment.
All the Real Girls, Take Two
George has offered a compelling reading of the film, All the Real Girls that complicates my original reading (just scroll down to my previous entry). My original entry foucsed on what I found to be a spirit of nostalgia that seemed to permeate the film, and looking back I'm not sure if my entry articulates clearly enough that I don't see that nostalgia as at all "negative." George writes:
Abandoned buildings, broken down cars, busted pianos -- images of materials that have outlived their usefulness seem to permeate this movie. The dreamlike music of artists like Will Oldham and Sparklehorse parallel the seemingly slow lives lived by the characters, who aren't ambitionless (or bored) so much as thoughtful and unhurried, if vaguely dissatisfied. It's this lack of hurry, the aimlessness that I really admired in the characters and, in a sense, why I found the film to be nostalgic. Unlike most cinematic narratives that feel the need to go somewhere, Girls was satisfied to move casually, thoughtfully, contemplatively through time. The sense of drift that we get--from the music, from the foggy Rocky Mountain skies--recalled for me Italian neo-realist films such as The Bicycle Thief and L'Avventura. That may be why I saw the film as nostalgic, becuase the characters--through their aimlessness--were given time to think, something all too rare in contemporary film. I'm going to have to think about these ideas a little further, but I think that's why I chose the term "red clay realism," in my last post--still not sure it's right, but it's meant as a tremendous compliment to a film that continues to haunt me several days later. We need more fims like this one.
Sunday, April 13, 2003
All the Real Girls
Just returned from the Tara, where I saw David Gordon Green's latest film, All the Real Girls. Green, who directed the critically acclaimed George Washington has made what I regard to be a stunning film; it's a contemplative, reflective film, one that takes its time to trace out its characters (not to mention the fact that a Will Oldham song plays during the opening credits). It focuses on Paul, a lazy womanizer in his twenties, who falls madly in love with his best friend's sister, played by Zooey Deschanel (daughter of the talented cinematographer, Caleb Deschanel). But rather than being a mere romantic film, Girls traces the complications of small-town southern life, offering a red clay realism that I found very powerful. The film uses ambient sound and the Asheville landscape very well in creating the sense of isolation that Paul and some of the other characters feel. In some ways, I think the atmosphere is one of the major strengths of the film, and the regionalist quality of the film (its setting in western North Carolina, near where my grandfather grew up) captivated me. I've been thinking about this "regional" quality--truly possible only in independent films--for some time, and it seems to speak to a certain set of desires, specifically a nostalgia for a lost past that threatens to disappear irretrievably. I often find this quality in John Sayles' films, especially Limbo and Sunshine State Even the early Kevin Smith movies might fit this category--"strip mall" realism, anyone?
It's essentially a nostalgia for a lost mode of production; in each of the films I've mentioned, jobs have either dried up or the town's residents are forced to take work that dehumanizes them (Paul's mother for example works as a clown, and Noel works in a textile plant). But along with that nostalgia appears--to my mind--a nostalgia for an earlier mode of cinematic production, one that relies less on digital effects and post-production work. I'm still working through these ideas, and I'm not sure where to take them, but if you've seen All the Real Girls (or George Washington, for that matter), I'd enjoy hearing your take.
Saturday, April 12, 2003
Nowhere in Africa
Went to see Caroline Link's Nowhere in Africa last night at the Plaza. It's a visually striking film that uses the African landscape very well. Nowhere focuses on a Jewish family forced to flee Germany for Kenya during World War II. The father, a lawyer, leaves Germany before his family, taking a job managing a small farm and sending for his wife and child once conditions in Germany begin to worsen. The film is based on an autobiographical novel by Stefanie Zweig. I had mixed feelings about this film, in that it seems to be walking an interesting tightrope. One of the major plot concerns involves Jettel's gradual acceptance of Africa as her new home (to the point that she wishes to stay even after the war is over). This gradual acceptance is beautifully conveyed visually through her gradual rejection of her "European" trappings--she chooses to bring her fine china and book collection to Africa rather than more practical objects, like a small icebox. On the one hand, Jettel's wish to stay in Afica after the war (shared by her daughter) seems loosely predicated on her affection for their African chef, Owuor. The potential here is that Owour's character could easily slip into a "noble savage" cliche; however, this film seems a little more complex than that, as Curt Holman acknowledges in his review of the film, and the film does elide issues of colonialism in ways that I found a little jarring. On the other, the way that the film treats exile and home is pretty powerful stuff. The family struggles with their refugee status, uncertain where to place their trust--a fear that unsettles an already unstable marriage. Stephanie Zacharek, of Salon.com is far more critical of the film than I am, criticizing the film for shifting focuses from the child's point of view to the mother's. Zacharek comments that Nowhere
hints at a burgeoning romance between the adolescent Regina and a local kid, then leaves it hanging. We can easily assume that the friendship sputtered away to nothing. But why pique an audience's interest in one particular angle of a story if you're not going to do anything with it?I'm not sure that this exploration is needed. The hint of connection between Regina and her friend is enough, and for me, the film's struggles gesture towards the difficuly in saying--or showing--anything new about this topic.
Just returned from six hours of grading Georgia Board of Regents essays (required of all students who graduate from a state of Georgia university) where I learned that one of my colleagues, Jason, has a weblog. Check it out!
Friday, April 11, 2003
For the Patriot Who Has Everything
I've just discovered that Collectibles Today has taken down the link to the figurine of the child holding a machine gun. The other figurines are still there, ready to order. Maybe they realized just how disturbing it is to show a small child holding a machine gun? Randy, in a comment to my previous discussion of figurines points out another example of this troubling form of patriotism from JC Penney. This might be more disturbing since it is targeted more directly to children, preparing them to accept the militaristic narratives embodied in these toys. I'm also somewhat disturbed by the rush to collect Iraqi currency with the image of Saddam Hussein on it.
While preparing to teach this morning, I went to check on my blogshares stock (I'm back in the black, thank you, but won't be recommending any more stocks, since my last recommendation tanked right after I gave it a plug) and learned that the creator of blogshares is considering resetting everyone's accounts at $500 (plus 1000 shares in your own blog) once the game goes live (It's currently in the beta testing stage) on April 30. My immediate impulse was: What, after all that hard work, I'm going to lose that "money" I've accumulated? This reaction bothers me just a little--I know it's "just" a game, but that competitive streak bothers me. Maybe the fantasy of being a savvy speculator is enough for this underpaid academic since I realize that I'll never have the nerves (much less the investment income) to really "play" the market. On the other hand, I'm also congratulating myself for being on the cutting edge, for being one of the first participants in a popular new game.
Steven Berlin Johnson offers an intriguing reading of the televised images of Saddam Hussein's statues being toppled. I've been thinking about these images for a couple of days, in part because I recognize that they will achieve iconic status; these images almost certainly will be the ones with which the war in Iraq will be remembered (or at least packaged on television), and they inspire a swirl of mixed emotions for me. Johnson comments that he can't help but feel "some solidarity seeing that kind of fascist iconography torn down," and, yes, I am moved by these images. However, the images of Iraqi citizens celebrating mask the fact that peace has not been achieved--even now, the U.S. military continues to fight. Perhaps more significantly, the toppling of the statue implies through visual rhetoric an "achieved utopia," in which Iraq is "already" liberated; the toppling of Saddam's regime manifested in the toppling of the statue seems to blur lines between the liberation from Saddam Hussein and the liberalization that Gary Hart discusses in a recent blog. I can't help but think about how carefully crafted these images are, inspiring as they do the sense that Iraqi freedom has been achieved. As I've said before, I'm really struggling with my emotions about the last few days--I'm happy that a tyrant like Saddam Hussein is no longer in power, but I'm deeply troubled by the implications of the war, of the decision to act pre-emptively without general support of the international community. Already, the US Government is making threats toward Syria.
Update 4/12:One of the major suggestions floating around about these images is that they were staged. Here's one photograph that reinforces that claim. I'd have to acknowledge that this photograph's blurriness leaves me feeling a little skeptical (the photo reminds me of Powell's testimony before the UN that he had photographic "evidence" that Iraq had WMD). However, the larger claim that the images are fabricated--a consciously staged media event along the lines of Iwo Jima and the Berlin Wall--is somewhat compelling.
Thursday, April 10, 2003
And the Nomination for Director of the Ministry of Misinformation Goes To...
"The war started right here on Sept. 11, 2001," Gov. George Pataki said.
Maybe I'm wrong, but I thought Al-Qaeda was responsible for the events of September 11, not Saddam Hussein. Check out the story here.
Blogging, Time, and Memory
George asks some interesting questions about blogging and time, specifically in terms of eighteenth century epistolary novels, such as Pamela. As George points out, Pamela is
a story told in letters, narrated by characters who don't know how the story is going to end....Richardson called this "writing to the moment"; things happen to his characters, and almost immediately they are writing about them in their letters. They do not narrate a story from a temporal position months or years later, after they've had a chance to sort things out. I find this notion of "writing to the moment" enticing, and it's the appraoch that I have usually taken when writing entries in my blog, as I suggested here in a comment on Matt Kirschenbaum's discussion of "blog flutter." However, since I've written that comment, I have actually found myself revising my blogs a little more frequently.
I think this habit grows out of a greater self-consciousness about my blogging practices (which is tied to my realization that I have audience members who are embedded in a broad range of discourse communities), including my interest in incorporating blogging into my composition courses next fall, something I've been discussing with a colleague at Georgia Tech. I'm becoming aware of my blogging parctices as not just "writing to the moment," but also in terms of the intriguing memorative functions that blogging serves, something that George's entry implies when he asks the question about how he (or some other reader) will perceive today's reflections a few years from now. Through the blog, we are consciously crafting a narrative in much the same way that the characters in an epistolary novel do: we don't know how our "story" is going to turn out.
Wednesday, April 09, 2003
On a Mission from God
Perhaps I'm wrong, but does anyone else find this a little creepy?
Update(s): I did some more exploring and found out there is an entire series of these figurines. The army figurine (showing a small child in military khakis holding a machine gun) is by far the more disturbing, but both identify our assault on Iraq with childhood innocence. The celebration of the "handcrafted" quality also masks the production process, providing these artifacts with an additional layer of nostalgic patriotism. Also because the series is ongoing, a collection, it seems to imply that this "defense of freedom" is a permamnent condition and that U.S. victory is pre-ordained. This attempt to naturalize our actions in Iraq (and potentially the rest of the Middle East) recapitulates Bush's belief that he is called by God "to engage the forces of evil in battle," as a BBC article puts it.
I'm actually finding that it's somewhat difficult to analyze these images even though I know well the ways in which they are troubling. For some reason, these images are really haunting me, and this blog entry is one of the most challenging ones I've ever written. I've revised it several times (something I rarely do), and still don't feel like I have it completely right. Perhaps it's the sense of triumphalism that has accompanied the US forces taking Baghdad. Cheney's attempts to silence critics of the plans for the war masks a more significant silencing, those who would criticize the cost of this war in genuine human terms.
Tuesday, April 08, 2003
Bearish on Blogshares
My Blogshares portfolio is tanking fast! I lost something like $100 (virtual) dollars investing in the popularity of Back in Iraq. So, I'm totally bummed. I'm also somewhat disturbed by my immediate and complete addiction to this game that so closely simulates the stock market. George discusses some of the finer points of Blogshares in a recent post. In the comments section, George notes:
The forum at blogshares contains some really interesting conversations about all of this [the method of estimating the value of blogs], including one thread warning of the potential of a market crash.Note: George's post also explains that value is calculated by the following formula: ($100 + Value of Blog) / (Total number of outgoing links). I'm intrigued by the idea of a market crash in a stock market simulation. As I mentioned, I've already been slammed on a couple of my high-price celebrity blogs. My impulse is to suggest that the arbitrariness of Blogshares points toward the more damaging arbitrariness of the NYSE and other stock markets that are based on the investment of "real" money. Update 4/9 (11 AM): I'm back up by $30 today! Scriptygoddess has been my best investment so far.
Monday, April 07, 2003
Bullish on Blogshares
Just listed my blog on Blogshares after noticing that several of my favorite blogs, including George's and Liz Lawley's weblogs are listed. Blogshares is "a fantasy stock market for weblogs. Players get to invest a fictional $500, and blogs are valued by inbound links." In other words, the price of shares in your weblog increases with the more people who link to your weblog. The result is that I find myself scrambling to link to other weblogs in order to inflate the stock that I own in their weblog (or to encourage people to link to me). Jill Walker also comments on the Blogshares phenomenon, noting that:
Blogshares is a brilliant concept. It's like the gaming version of the short article I wrote last year on Links and power. I'm disheartened that jill/txt is only valued at $218.80, but I've been interested to see that almost all the blogs I regularly read and wanted to buy shares in have low valuations too. Jill does note the interesting potential here: in order to drive up the value of their portfolios people may seek out interesting but undevalued portfolios, link to them, and encourage others to do likewise, with the hope of gaining a "return" on one's investment. Other possibilities include the speculation regarding certain promising blogs--Gary Hart's weblog, for instance. In any case, it looks like a potentially entertaining game (or at least a real time drain) that might help to increase connections between blogs.
Sunday, April 06, 2003
More Gary Hart
Democratic presidential candidate, Gary Hart, has been asking some important questions about the consequences of our actions in Iraq. He points out that democracy does not equal "liberality," and challenges current leadership to consider the problems that may arise in a supposedly "democratized" Iraq. Most provocatively, he makes a call to action for those people (including myself) who have been protesting the war:
Instead of just demonstrating against this war (the first of many?), now is the time to propose a better, more American, course. We must lead and strengthen existing international institutions, including the UN, and design new ones, including, for example, an international peace-making force. We must start immediately to repair badly damaged relationship in Europe and with nations such as Russia and China. And we must have a foreign policy based upon America's highest and best principles (as I outline in my San Francisco speech), that inspires and gives hope to the millions of fellow inhabitants of the globe who would like to respect and admire us. I still cannot abdicate what I perceive to be my responsibility to protest a war that I find unjust and unethical, but I think he is right to suggest that we need to rebuild ties with our neighbors in the world, recognizing our position as global citizens (see John Kerry's provocative comments about "regime change" here). In a sense, though, I can't help but think that the war protests are one way among many that I can demonstrate global solidarity. By demonstrating against the war, protestors are not only exercising their important right to free speech, but they are speaking against an abuse of military power that many people find truly frightening.
Still, I'm finding Hart's blog to be a provocative read, in part because he is one of the few Democratic candidates for 2004 to offer somewhat concrete alternatives to the present course of action. I'm also intrigued by the ability of his blog to bridge some of the gaps between public and private. In a recent post, Hart took care to directly address some of the more interesting comments, using the blog as a type of town hall.
Saturday, April 05, 2003
Sushi for dinner and a Vic Chesnutt concert to top it off. Sometimes life is good.
Friday, April 04, 2003
The Third Photograph
Found this "correction" in the LATimes, apologizing for an altered photograph, in which the photographer (who was fired) combined elements of two different photographs in order to "improve the composition." While the paraphrase of the original caption suggests that the American soldier is directing the Iraqis to take cover (against Iraqi weapons), the image itself seems significantly more complicated. The newly created (composite) photograph does seem much more compelling in that it combines the image of the American soldier with the raised gun and the Iraqi citizen moving toward the camera (and much closer to the soldier) in what might be interpreted as an act of aggression (although that wouldn't be my reading of it). The three photographs (the two "real" photos and the composite) do point to how meaning is created through visual images, and the "meaning" of the third photo seems to imply a more heated conflict, possibly one in which the Iraqi prisoners are not under control of the American soldier. I want to find ways to complicate the interpretation here: there's more going on than the mere manipulation of factual information that is suggested in the LATimes apology.
How do others read these photographs? Are there ways in which manipulating images for "positive" political meanings (that might engender some form of critique of the war) is possible or even appropriate? Or do we still need to rely on the authenticity of the image in order to capture the authentic experience of the war? To what extent is the experience of war even representable photographically. I'm also thinking about Walter Benjamin's discussion of photography and the role of captions in containing their meaning. In my initial reading of the photo, I wouldn't have guessed that the soldier is directing the Iraqis to take cover, perhaps because of the large gun and the finger reaching slightly toward the trigger. Any thoughts?
Update: The blog, Extenuating Circumstances provides an interesting and important spin on this controversy:
the mask of righteousness conceals the real issue - that of the fundamental purpose of such imagery. wars are as wonderful for photographers as they are for arms manufacturers - they provide the opportunity, in the guise of revealing the truth, for feeding the voracious appetite for war-porn. substantially, since no American newspaper is ever going to show pictures of the burnt and mutilated bodies of civilians, especially not women and children, nor of American casualties, the photographer's role is limited to mediating between the reality and the Hollywood version of 'war' (we'll skip over the issue of whether this Interference in Iraq is a war or an illegitimate invasion). I agree that the manipulation itself isn't the problem. Instead, what seems significant is that the controversy masks what can and cannot be shown in the mainstream American media in the first place (the problem of embedded journalists, the war as video game, etc).
Thursday, April 03, 2003
If You're Against the War, You're a Terrorist
A recent bill in Oregon would land protestors who "disrupt" daily activities in jail for twenty-five years by labelling them as terrorists. I realize this bill has little chance of passage, but the mere fact that it seems worthy of debate is rather troubling. I think what bothers me most is the implicit equation between anti-war sentiments and terrorism, but I also have to wonder why such strong tactics are necessary in the face of dissent. Is it an unwillingness to engage in meaningful dialogue with the protestors? By what defintion will an action be considered disruptive? For example, would campaigns like Moveon.org's phone call blitz before the war be considered terrorism because it tied up phone lines? Again, I realize this bill has little chance of passage, but it's troubling to see such strong resistance against a primary form of dissent.
Wednesday, April 02, 2003
Back in Iraq 2.0
Jill Walker makes an interesting point about Christopher Allbritton's weblog, Back in Iraq 2.0, suggesting that it represents a kind of double consciousness:
It's fascinating reading, though less about the war now than about the experience of travelling in such a region at such a time. It's also about being and not being at the same time: he's a journalist but not a journalist. That double vision is valuable.The metaphor works well for me, since he seems to be operating both within and outside the institution of journalism. I also found Allbritton's camera metaphor interesting:
My view has shrunk from a wide-angle lens to something resembling looking through the wrong end of a telescope.Wide-angle lenses tend to create their own distortions, blurring the edges of the screen, so seeing the "big picture" may in fact be just as partial as Allbritton's current position. But the metaphor does suggest the profound frustration that must be involved in trying to deal with traveling in such an unsettled location.
Tuesday, April 01, 2003
An independent filmmaker friend of mine, Chris, has started his own weblog in order to document the difficulties and (hopefully) the rewards of making an independent film on digital video. Conversations with Chris have often challenged me to rethink my defintions of "independent cinema" and the complications involved in the cinematic mode of production. As I mentioned a few days ago, I've been reading Jon Lewis's collection of essays, The End of Cinema as We Know It, and while the writers (including Wheeler Winston Dixon and Paul Arthur) point out ways in which digitalization is replacing cinematic ways of seeing, both essays (especially Dixon's) suggest that digital can allow for a new language, a new narrative. Looking forward to reading about Chris's experiences on this project.
Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival
Just IMing with Renee about Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival, which I'd like to attend (not sure my schedule will allow it). It's a good festival. I went last year, when I was teaching at the University of Illinois to see the anime version of Metropolis. The Virginia Theater is a great venue for watching films, and Ebert is actually a very thoughtful reader of films (and his guests also add a lot to the post-film discussions). Also very sad to learn that the New Art Theater, the primary venue for screening foreign and indpendent films in Champaign, shut down. Lots of good memories tied to that theater, including my involvement in the final Freaky Film Festival.
Watched Donnie Darko again last night after hearing a paper on it at ICFA. The film does some interesting things with time travel, most notably its treatment of the 1980s. The first line of the film, spoken by Donnie's older sister (played by Jake Gyllenhall's real-life sister, Maggie) Elizabeth, is her proclamation, "I'm voting for Dukakis." The setting of the film, its 80s alternative soundtrack (Echo & the Bunnymen, the Church, Tears for Fears, Joy Division), and the outsider teen characters all recall the classic John Hughes teen fables. But instead of the affirmative Hughsian message about self-acceptance, nothing about Donnie Darko's image of the 1980s ever appears settled. The film veers into the surreal and apocalyptic as the Darko house is struck by a plane engine (on October 2) that would have killed Donnie had he been in his bedroom.
After this event, Donnie
struggles speaks with a mysterious rabbit, Frank, who appears and speaks only to him, telling him that the world will end in approximately 30 days (a few days before the 1988 election that pervades the film's background) and encouraging him to commit acts of vandalism (arson, flooding the school). At the same time, Donnie begins to find acceptance with a girlfriend. However, as Donnie's world begins to veer further into chaos, he becomes fascinated with the idea of time travel (in part under the influence of an eccentric former teacher, "Grandma Death," who has written a book on the subject). The notion of time travel is connected to wormholes and visually represented through a digital blurring effect where Donnie can "see" the path that people will follow. The actual time travel takes place at the end of the film when Donnie manages to go back and sacrifice himself by being in his bedroom when the plane engine crashes into it on October 2. Added 4/2/03: This sacrifice negates the chaotic timeline and leads to something resembling a restoration of order conveyed through a long "tracking shot" that seems to transcend space, showing each of the characters waking up, appearing to have some vague "memory" of the life that could have been. The shot actually reminds me of the similar shot in Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia, in which the characters sing along to the Aimee Mann song.
The self sacrifice message is a little
weird cliche, but the film seems to provide space for seeing the 1980s as a "time out of joint" to use Philip K. Dick's phrase (and, yeah, I know that some guy named Shakespeare used it, too). Like Dick's novel, Donnie's experience in the alternate reality seems to provide a space for looking at the 80s historically, and the film does criticize much of the conservatism of the 80s (the corrupt self-help guru, the naive sex education teacher, etc). But it leaves some intriguing and difficult complications: Does Donnie's self-sacrifice "redeem" the people of his town? Does ripping open the fabric of time serve to expose the corruption on which the "comfort" of the 80s is based? I'm really struggling with this film because as a time-travel film, it doesn't fit comfortably into any of my categories. It's definitely a film that merits more thought.