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'
Saturday, May 31, 2003
Salam Pax to Write for Guardian
According to reports, Salam Pax has signed to write a bi-weekly column for the Guardian. I've always found his blog reflective and informative. I'll be interested to see what he can do with a newspaper column.
Friday, May 30, 2003
Monopoly or Democracy?
Ted Turner makes one of the strongest arguments I've seen in opposition to further deregulation of the media:
Large media corporations are far more profit-focused and risk-averse. They sometimes confuse short-term profits and long-term value. They kill local programming because it's expensive, and they push national programming because it's cheap -- even if it runs counter to local interests and community values. For a corporation to launch a new idea, you have to get the backing of executives who are obsessed with quarterly earnings and afraid of being fired for an idea that fails. They often prefer to sit on the sidelines waiting to buy the businesses or imitate the models of the risk-takers who succeed. (Two large media corporations turned down my invitation to invest in the launch of CNN.)
I know I've written about this issue several times recently, but I believe Michael Copps' assertion that it's possibly the most important domestic policy issue facing our country right now.
That's an understandable approach for a corporation -- but for a society, it's like overfishing the oceans. When the smaller businesses are gone, where will the new ideas come from? Nor does this trend bode well for new ideas in our democracy -- ideas that come only from diverse news and vigorous reporting. Under the new rules, there will be more consolidation and more news sharing. That means laying off reporters or, in other words, downsizing the workforce that helps us see our problems and makes us think about solutions. Even more troubling are the warning signs that large media corporations -- with massive market power -- could abuse that power by slanting news coverage in ways that serve their political or financial interests. There is always the danger that news organizations can push positive stories to gain friends in government, or unleash negative stories on artists, activists or politicians who cross them, or tell their audiences only the news that confirms entrenched views. But the danger is greater when there are no competitors to air the side of the story the corporation wants to ignore.
Thursday, May 29, 2003
Say, Didn't We Just Destroy Iraq...
Because their leader was guilty of torturing and killing his own citizens? Didn't we also support once that leader with money and arms because it supported our "interests?" This Guardian story contains some pretty horrific images. According to British reports, two prisoners were boiled to death, and according to the State Department's website, torture in Uzbekistan is a "routine investigation technique." And yet, "we" gave Uzbekistan, and President Islam Karimov, $500 million last year because of its strategic location and Karimov's use of force against Islamists.
While I'm thinking about it, didn't we go after that leader because his weapons of mass destruction posed an imminent threat against "our" safety? Actually, this Philadelphia Inquirer editorial is pretty powerful in its critique of Bush. The author, Mark Bowden, points out that Bush's case for war was primarily based on WMD:
I trusted Bush, and unless something big develops on the weapons front in Iraq soon, it appears as though I was fooled by him. Perhaps he himself was taken in by his intelligence and military advisers. If so, he ought to be angry as hell, because ultimately he bears the responsibility.If more people who supported the war demonstrate this type of reflection, maybe the hawks will be accountable for their actions, at least in the voting booths in 2004.
Wednesday, May 28, 2003
Random Wednesday Post
Just a couple of interestng items that crossed my path in the last few minutes:
- L sent me a link to this interesting satire recently discussed in the Washington Post. Perhaps most disturbing is the fact that the author of the site has had dozens of serious inquiries. The FAQ page and the "prices" page are especially entertaining.
- From Invisible Adjunct, the Time Travel Fantasy Game, in which she asks the great question, "If you could travel back to any time and place of your choosing, where would you go and with whom would you like to have dinner?" Given the subject of my dissertation, my temptation is to suggest a high level of "theoretical sophistication" already exists within this question. Implied within are all kinds of political and ideological considerations as well as an interesting consideration of the "frames" with which we "read" the past. By the way, I chose Orson Welles during the making of Citizen Kane for my dinner with the past, but now I'm thinking that the dinner party when Mary Shelley began telling the story that would become Frankenstein might be pretty cool.
- Update: For dinner tonight I had the best New York style pizza I've had in the five years since I ate at Mama Teresa's in Ithaca, NY. Johnny's in Decatur makes a great cheese slice.
- Update II: Tonight's student film screenings at the Eyedrum were a lot of fun. Lots of talented, young filmmakers here in town. Student film screenings take place on the last Wednesday of every month. One film by a group of Clark Atlanta students, Sydney and Shelley, was beautifully done, especially the editing between the two main characters who were talking on the telephone during the majority of the film. Really terrific sense of narrative progression and pacing, and my feeling is that the film could possibly be expanded into a feature length project.
3D Movies Are Making a Comeback
According to a Wired online story, James "King of the World" Cameron announced at the Large Format Cinema Association conference that he is planning a high-definition, 3-D digital feature (no details on the script, but some rumors have him eyeing a plot based on a manned mssion to Mars, a plot that didn't work out very well for Brian DePalma or John Carpenter). In the same article, Cameron pretty much dances on the grave of the photomechanical process:
"I don't see a need for 35-mm film based on what I've seen over the last few years," he said. "Long term, it's all going to go digital."I have to admit that I have some mixed feelings here. I hate to see celluloid disappearing (which places me in the unexpected position of being allied with Steven Spielberg among others) because I really do think that film itself--as a material artifact unlike digital--has properties that digital technologies lack. I'm also perfectly aware that digital technologies can do some amazing things, including many things that are unavailble to celluloid. I'll definitely be interested to see how Cameron renders his 3D images. The big question here, though, is definitely immersion, the attempt to create a completely realistic world, one that surpasses cinema's capacity for mimesis. Of course, one of the things I value most about cinema is the constant reference to its own artificiality as a medium. Most importantly, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Cameron finds a better script this time around.
FYI Atlanta readers: For a much different film experience, wander down to the Eyedrum tonight at 8PM for the monthly student film screenings. It's a cool little venue and a great way to support the local film community.
Man Without a Past
Went to see Aki Kaurismäki's Man Without a Past tonight at the Plaza. Past is a challenging film to describe: it focuses on a man who is beaten so severly by a group of muggers that he develops amnesia. The man then adapts to his new situation, moving into a small apartment (essentially little more than a shed) and taking a job with the Salvation Army. Undeterred by his condition, the man develops friendships in his new community. I'm also struggling to wrap any kind of interpretation around the film. Despite the noirish trappings of the title and the narrative about amnesia, this film has little in common with film noir--the bright palette and the absence of any real detective plot seem to work against that interpretation. It was certainly an entertaining film, full of the deadpan humor I've come to associate with Jim Jarmusch (who is a big admirer of the director). There's also a clear identification with the homeless and dispossessed people of Helsinki's slums, as J. Hoberman (one of my favorite film critics) points out, but more than anything the film struck me and Doreen as incredibly "ethical," in the sense of regarding others with dignity, recognizing the humanity in other people, no matter their condition.
Hoberman also adds some important political context, notably that a Salvation Army employee who reports that she used to be a singer actually was a famous Finnish musician, and her song mourns the annexation of a Finnish province by the USSR in the 1950s. Hoberman also reports that Kaurismäki has acted in solidarity with the "State Department-banned" Iranian filmmaker, Abbas Kiarostami, in boycotting the the New York Film Festival and skipped the Oscars because of US-UK military action in Iraq.
Sunday, May 25, 2003
After Matt Kirschenbaum's enthusiastic mention of Steven Johnson's Emergence, I've been immersed in his discussion of "organized complexity," the ways in which complex behaviors can emerge from relatively simple rules. So far I've been most intrigued by his discussion of Jane Jacobs' The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Because I had read Jacobs through a different lens, I failed to recognize her appropriation of complexity theory to explain how cities operate--and how we can learn about the functioning of cities on the macro-level from "street-level" interactions. I haven't finished the book yet (I'm also revising some articles, including my paper on Dark City), but I'm definitely intrigued by the discussion of complexity and urban space (and the relationship to complexity in software). Within "cyberfilms" (The Matrix, Dark City, Blade Runner, and The Thirteenth Floor), the setting is almost invariably urban (Cronenberg's eXistenZ is the only exception I can think of), which leads me to think this connection is more than accidental. In addition, recent alternate reality films (Run Lola Run, Sliding Doors, and Me Myself I) also seem to have specifically urban settings (Berlin, London, and Sydney). I certainly recognized the importance of chaos theory (loosely applied) to the logic of these films, but I don't think I really "got" the connection between cities and emergence. These connections seem very important to me, and I think Johnson's book is leading me in the right direction, but I'm still sorting out some of these ideas. I'm also trying to think about how film--an incredibly linear medium in its most material definition--might fit into these concerns.
Saturday, May 24, 2003
The Thirteenth Floor
[Spoliers ahead] I rewatched The Thirteenth Floor the other night. It's one of my favorite "cyberthrillers," even if it's slightly flawed. The 1937 Los Angeles VR world, for example, really seems to open up the possibility of doing something more interesting with the detective story and especially with film noir (although noir is, of course, more of a post-war phenomenon). The detective story, especially in its noir incarnation, seems to fit pretty well against the cyberthriller, especially as characters search for certainty. I also like how the film treats each character's realization that they are living in a simulated reality.
Like most cyberthrillers, I think The Thirteenth Floor cheats a little at the end after the main character (played by Craig Bierko) discovers that he is living in a simulated 1990s in that the film seems to take for granted the idea that the "2024 world" he returns to is real and not another simulation. After all, the only objects that ground Donald in 2024 are the assertions of one his programmers and a newspaper with a June 2024 date on it (whether paper newspapers will actually exist in 2024 seems an entirely different question). On the whole, the film fits pretty well within some of the issues I'm wanting to address in terms of how "time travel" functions within cinematic narratives about computer technologies. On the other hand, the film made me feel incredibly paranoid the other night for reasons I can't really explain. Of course, it could have been those two extra cups of coffee.
Wag the Blog
One of my former students alerted me to a FoxNews article claiming that Bill Clinton may be joining the realm of bloggers. As much as I hate Fox, this is interesting news. I also have to give credit to one of the commenters on this blog the title to this entry. Stay tuned on the Bill Clinton story.
Friday, May 23, 2003
Dynamics of a Blogosphere Story
Reading Scott Rosenberg today (note: it's a Salon.com blog, so I'm not sure about access for non-subscribers), I came across two interesting stories about online journalism, including one focusing on the role of blogging in creating a new kind of news story: Microdoc News has an interesting article arguing that the "blogosphere stories" develop following a specific pattern. I have some reservations abvout the article because I'm a little suspicious of quantitative analyses that reduce complex phenomena into simple formulas. They also reduce the diverse set of practices associated with blogging to a specific type of blog: commenting on news stories and then responding to those comments. My sense is that their research process seems somewhat skewed when they comment,
A blogosphere story that gets branded with a keyword, like "googlewashed" or "second superpower" is observable in total through searching in Google on that word.Despite this disagreement, I think the article does highlight some of the key differences between news blogs and mainstream media:
Perhaps the last conclusions we came to in this study is that blogs cannot be read in isolation from each other. Blog stories are understood and appreciated in aggregate and not in isolation. On the other hand, mainstream media stories tend to be read in isolation rather than read and compared.
I've been thinking about these distinctions quite a bit lately (especially during the war), and I'm considering proposing a panel for the SCMS (Society for Cinema and Media Studies) conference on blogging and the new journalism (or something like that). If anyone is interested let me know, and I'll take a closer look at the proposed conference theme, "Mediating Tomorrow's History: Live Coverage and Documentary in the Digital Era," and try to put something together.
In total, Microdoc News believes blogging to be a radically different world than that of mainstream media.
The other story focuses on a progressive grassroots online journalism project in South Korea started by Oh Yeon-Ho. His OhMy News actively solicits citizen reporters and publishes over 70% of submitted articles, subverting South Korea's relatively strict hierarchy between news reporter and audience. The project is largely credited with helping elect the current South Korean president who ran on a reformist platform and acts as an alternative voice to South Korea's largely conservative press. It also takes advantage of South Korea's status as one of the most wired nations in the world. Ironically, Oh developed his grassroots chops while studying under Pat Robertson at Regent University who has fueled his own media movement in response to what conservatives have continually identified as the liberal mainstream media. I like this summation of Oh's project:
The easy coexistence of the amateurs and professionals will, soon enough, seem natural. Publications like OhmyNews will pop up everywhere, because they make sense, combining the best of old and new journalistic forms.
Again, if anyone's interested in getting together on an SCMS panel about blogging (or digital media) and "new journalism," let me know in the comments or email me.
OhmyNews is an experiment in tomorrow. So far, it's looking like a brilliant one.
Wednesday, May 21, 2003
Media and Democracy Part II
(Scroll down for a discussion of WiFi for homeless people)
There was a solid turnout of approximately 500-600 people (despite the rain) for the discussion of the deregulation policy under consideration by the FCC. The event was sponsored by community radio station WRFG 89.3. Panelists included the two Democratic FCC commissioners who plan to vote against deregulation, Micael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein; Vanderbilt law professor, Christopher Yoo; Democracy Now producer, Amy Goodman; Creative Loafing editor, John Sugg; and several local politicians (more about them later). You may be able to hear a broadcast of this forum on your local NPR station tomorrow (or if you're fortunate enough to have a Pacifica station in your community, on Democracy Now).
At stake is unprecedented deregulation of media ownership and the potential silencing of many diverse and dissenting points of view in what Commissioner Copps called "the most important domestic policy issue" facing the United States right now. Copps warned that Commission chairperson, Michael Powell, is "racing" to get this legislation passed, and in fact, a vote is due on policy changes on June 2. I'd like to encourage my readers to contact each member of the FCC board (update: I had the wrong URL here, but the problem is now fixed) and to express your disagreement with further deregulation. You can also contact your representatives or Senators in Congress and encourage them to put pressure on the FCC to either delay this vote or to decide against deregulation.
Copps warned against the dangers of deregulation, specifically citing the changes in ownership of commerical media since the 1996 Telecommunications Act. He noted that there are now 34.3% fewer radio station owners, that 3 companies own 60% of all radio stations, 5 companies own 67% of all television stations and these 5 companies own 90% of the top 50 cable channels, but with this new legislation, one company could essentially dominate the American media landscape. Copps also addressed one of the major arguments supporting relaxing media regulation, the claim that the Internet changes everything. While I certainly value the Internet as a means of disseminating information, it is important to remember that only a limited number of people have internet access and that the top twenty news sources online are owned by major media corporations. Already brokers are salivating over the hundreds of TV and radio stations that will be sold under the new legislation. As Copps pointed out, these changes will have lasting implications: "How do you put the genie back into the bottle?" Adelstein later added that this legislation has the potential to create a "21st-century Citizen Kane." Of course we'd need Orson Welles to direct.
Copps also identified one of the major problems with the new policy changes: the fact that FCC chairman Powell has tried to hide many of these changes from the public. In fact, there has been only one formal public meeting, in Richmond, VA, focusing on these changes. Adelstein and Copps have since been hitting the streets (and the airwaves) in raising public awareness of this issue. Copps noted that the FCC has already received 137,000 comments from concerned citizens, with about 40-50 total people supporting deregulation. A broad coalition of organizations also have fought against media concentration, on both sides of the political spectrum (including a certain organization for which the star of Planet of the Apes once served as president).
Law professor Christopher Yoo explained the basics of the planned deregulation, and I'll do my best to paraphrase these changes. He noted that the number of television stations has tripled since the 1970s, and added that the average cable subscriber now has access to an average of 55 TV stations. Yoo noted that there were three major rules under scrutiny:
- Local ownership limits within media: The original rule prevented owning more than one radio station in a city. Currently there is a tiered approach allowing comapnies to own anywhere from 4-8 radio stations depending on the size of the city and up to two TV stations (if there are 8 or more TV stations in that city).
- Local ownership limits across media: The original rule "limited owners to one AM, FM, or television station." Currently companies may own 1 TV + 7 radio stations if there are more than 20 "voices" in the market. The current rule also bars ownership of a newspaper and radio station or television station in the same city (Atlanta's Cox Communications is one the 54 "grandfathered" exceptions).
- Restrictions focused on national markets: Rule originally prohibited ownership of more than three stations nationwide. Now companies may own any numebr of stations, up to 35% of the national audience. Two companies, Fox and Viacom currently own more than 35%. Viacom also owns two major networks, CBS and UPN. One of the major changes would allow comapnies to own stations totalling up to 45% of the national audience.
Yoo noted that these rules have come under reconsideration due to inconsistencies, specifically the slippage between "voices" and stations in the rules against "cross-ownership." He also noted that the FCC discussion is not just about deregulation, but also about questions regarding the emergence of new media and what he called "the economics of information," the challenges facing many media outlets in disseminating news, offering one interesting example where regulation ended up preventing a newsppaer competing the Boston Globe from succeeding. Of course, my experience in Atlanta suggests the opposite, with the merger of the Atlanta Journal and Constitution reducing the quality in coverage. Naturally, many of these rules (regardless of the FCC's decisions) will be challenged in court. Unfortunately, the DC Appeals Court tends to look favorably on deregulation.
Amy Goodman later added that this deregulation can have tremendously destructive consequences, noting that corporate profit frequently gets in the way of responsible journalism. She observed that according to a FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) study, out of 393 interviews broadcast on the major networks in the week leading up to Colin Powell's UN speech, only 3 were with people opposed to the war. Dissent against the war has been relatively ignored by mainstream media, leading Goodman to refer to anti-war advocates as a "slienced majority."
She also emphasized the lack of minority voices in the mainstream media and concluded with some harsh criticism of Clear Channel's homogenization of radio broadcasts and elimination of local voices, including a case in Minot, North Dakota, where a chemical leak led to 300 people being hospitalized. When rescuers attempted to contact the local media so that they could warn listeners about potential contamination, they discovered that Clear Channel owned all five stations and that the one person who worked at the news desk was unavailable.
The meeting itself was an amazing experience, both encouraging in the sheer number of people working against deregulation and discouraging in feeling powerless to stop the deregulation steamroller. Perhaps the most exciting moment of the evening was the presence of alternative media sources and the movement toward coalition building, especially during the question and answer session at the end. People from countries including Iran, Bosnia, and Palestine, all spoke against deregulation, emphasizing their experiences in countries where media coverage is extremely limited with sometimes fatal consequences. There was also the 76-year old woman who said she couldn't sleep at night due to her anxieties regarding the direction the country is taking and said to pass the message to Michael Powell that if deregulation passes, "I'm turning the TV off." There was the young independent musician who siad she wanted to have children, but couldn't imagine raising them in a world where corporate profit is valued so highly. There were several former CNN employees who praised Ted Turner's original vision for cable news ("the little guy shaking his fist at the injustices of the world"), but left the company after AOL took over. There was an independent radio station owner from Selma, Alabama, whose broadcast towers were twice damaged or destroyed during consecutive Congressional elections.
WiFi and the Homeless: There were also coalitions and alliances formed, inlcuing a powerful connection that would allow greater Internet access to Atlanta's homeless population. One woman spoke about her role in working with Atlanta's homeless population, and Jabari Simama, the Executive Director of Atlanta's Office of Community Technology, mentioned a project supported by the city, a "Technology Bus" that brings computers, complete with WiFi Internet access, to Atlanta's poor and homeless population. The bus was parked in front of the rally, and it looked to have about ten relatively high-speed computers available for public use. My feeling is that this is one really cool use of technology, especially WiFi. For the city's poor population, applying for jobs, searching for jobs, sending resumes, researching apartments, is much more difficult becuase of the lack of access to technology. It's a great opportunity to help bridge the so-called "digital divide." It's projects like these that give me hope that independent media will not only survive but will flourish.
Tuesday, May 20, 2003
Media and Democracy
FYI, Atlanta readers: There will be a major public discussion about the deregulation of media ownership at Glenn Memorial Chapel on the campus of Emory University tomorrow night, May 21, at 6 PM. Planned guests include Jon Lewis, Cynthia McKinney, Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, and Jonathan Adelstein of the FCC.
The event is open to the public, and guests are invited to submit written statements about their concerns with this new policy regarding media ownership. This meeting may be the last public discussion of these proposed changes in FCC guidelines before the FCC meets in Washington, DC, on June 2nd. One of the major areas of contention is the elimination of the ban on "cross ownership," allowing companies to own local newspapers and TV and radio stations in the same market. Like many people who either support or participate in independent media, I worry that cross ownership will significantly reduce the diversity of our nation's media. This looks like an important event for conveying our concerns about this potentially groundbreaking deregulation.
Say It Ain't So, Joss. Say It Ain't So
Final episode of Buffy tonight. Salon has a good article about the series and an interview with series creator Joss Whedon.
Dating a Blogger
George mentions this New York Times article about "Dating a Blogger." It's an interesting little article about some of the risks involved in blogging about social relationships:
In the rush to publish, many bloggers are running headlong into some of the problems conventionally published memoirists know too well: hurt feelings, newly wary friends and relatives, and the occasional inflamed employer.Since I don't often blog about dating specifics, I'm not sure that I've had any experiences like the ones described in this article. Still, I find myself hesitating to write about certain events or writing about them in very cryptic ways, often avoiding details and deleting commentary. When I first started blogging, I rarely revised, but now I'm constantly going back, modifying what I've said, posting and re-posting.
I also tend to hesitate before mentioning someone by name on my blog. To what extent am I invading someone's privacy? To what extent am I revealing things that I'd rather hide? I've definitely become much more conscious of audience as a blogger than I ever was before, and to that extent, it has been a really valuable experince, something I can hopefully translate in various ways into my academic writing and into my social relationships.
Monday, May 19, 2003
Recovering from a long, exhausting weekend in Athens (currently college sports scandal central with multiple football players suspended for smoking pot and/or selling their championship rings on e-Bay). My car--a hardworking 1989 Mazda 929--broke down while I was just outside of Athens Friday evening, leaving me with a few unexpected hours of time to explore downtown Athens. After seeing Of Montreal at the 40 Watt Club on Friday night, I spent most of the day Saturday exploring downtown Athens, finally tracking down a new pair of Converse All Stars and then settling down to read Paul Auster's City of Glass. Glass was a good read, a nice parody of the detective novel that reminded me a lot of Borges.
Thursday, May 15, 2003
Just watched Coline Serreau's 2001 French film, Chaos at the new Madstone Parkside 6 in Sandy Springs. Serreau, who also directed the film that, um, inspired, Three Men and a Baby, satires the complacency of French bourgeois culture through this frenetic feminist thriller. The film opens with Paul, a high-powered businessman, and Hélène, a successful attorney, rushing through their apartment for a dinner obligation. While in their car, they watch as an Algerian prostitute is being violently pursued by three men. Rather than helping her, Paul locks the doors to the car, and the couple watches as Noémie is brutally beaten, her blood smearing on their windshield (a following shot of Paul and his wife in an automatic car wash reinforces Paul's lack of concern, his ability to distance himself from the inhumane beating). Hélène, feeling guilty, goes to the hospital and begins nursing Noémie back to health. Without giving away too many details, we are given Noémie's backstory, and learn that she has essentially been forced into prostitution, in part due to her father's selling her as a wife to a wealthy, older businessman. As a film, Chaos is definitely entertaining, and the feminist critique of various forms of male privilege doesn't come across as preachy, in part due to the comic gifts of the actors playing Paul and Hélène. Check out the Village Voice and Los Angeles Times reviews.
A quick review of the Madstone Parkisde 6, since it just (re)opened as an arthouse theater a few weeks ago: it was actually a nice venue with comfortable seats and a great projection system. Not sure how long they'll be able to maintain much of an art house set-up in that they have already started subsidizing the art house screenings with blockbuster films. The snack bar is the best I've seen in Atlanta, with several coffee drinks available and a small bar. It also appeared to have a larger snack collection than the mere candy and popcorn. A few tables in the lobby provided a welcome space for a pre-movie drink. I think the theater has a lot to offer, and I hope that it can sustain itself with art house films.
Wednesday, May 14, 2003
"Put Me in, Coach"
Attended tonight's Tech-Georgia baseball game (Tech lost 10-3! Boo!) at Turner Field with my sister and a couple of friends. Despite the blow-out, it was fun to catch a college b-ball game again.
Also had the strange experience of parking in the lot where Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium used to stand. I stood precisely at home plate and looked out at the outline of the fence (with its marker commemorating Hank Aaron's record-breaking 715th home run), and it was really hard to imagine the field ever being there. I don't feel a strong allegiance to the old stadium, even though I have a lot of memories from it, but there is a strange sense of loss when the place that housed such a major athletic achievement is destroyed, and I do have some mixed feelings about the practice of building new stadiums using taxpayers' money.
"The Ted" is actually an interesting ballpark. Since I've only been there once before (for last year's heartbreaking playoff loss to the Giants), it was interesting to observe all of the amusements set up around the periphery of the stadium. Of course, since the Braves weren't playing, most of these amusements were closed, which gave the area the feel of a ghost town.
Congratulations to Jason, author of No Symbols Where None Intended, who is now the father of a baby boy, a.k.a. the "Little Man." Mother and child are "recovering nicely."
Tuesday, May 13, 2003
Downstream International Film Festival
My sister mentioned (by email) a local film festival that is currently organizing and seeking volunteers, and after my wonderful experience with the now defunct Freaky Film Festival in Champaign, I thought I'd investigate. I did some quick research, and noticed an ad in Creative Loafing for the Downstream International Film Festival. I'm not sure this is the festival that Kristen mentioned, but it looks similar in spirit to the Freaky Film Festival (lots of indpendent, experimental, and just plain quirky films).
Monday, May 12, 2003
WMD: "We Might Deceive"
The Washington Post article documenting the inability to locate any major evidence of WMD is certainly disturbing news and completely calls into question our motives for a pre-emptive war against Iraq. I'm not sure I can really add much to what other people have said, so instead of commenting further, I'm adding a quick link to Christopher Allbritton's Back in Iraq 2.0. I haven't mentioned this site in a few weeks, but throughout the war, he's offered a valuable counternarrative to the hawkish images broadcast on television. In a recent post, Allbritton expresses plans to continue his career as an independent blogger journalist and asks some important questions about the role of blogging as a new journalistic medium. There's some interesting discussion following in the comments section.
Sunday, May 11, 2003
Just read this month's Wired cover article on The Matrix Reloaded, and I think I'm pretty excited. The sequence they're referring to as the Burly Brawl seems relevant to my current research direction, specifically in terms of its treatment of the relationship between digital effects and identity fragmentation. I want to see the film before I comment further, but I think this sequence (from the description in Wired) could become really useful in thinking through and about digital effects. Visual effects supervisor John Galeta refers to his work in The Matrix Reloaded as "impossible cinematography." The infinite replication of Agent Smiths sounds like a stunning visual feat. Okay, I'm excited.
I'm Going Straight to Hell, Just Like My Mama Told Me
Just took the Dante's Inferno Test after reading about it on Kieran Healy's weblog.
Here is how I matched up against all the levels:
Looks like I'll be hanging out in the second level of hell with Helen of Troy and Cleopatra. I suppose there are worse places to be, but I'm a little perplexed that the test interpreted me as even moderately violent--maybe it's all those violent movies I watch?
Be like me: Take the Dante's Inferno Hell Test
Saturday, May 10, 2003
Grading Marathon and X2: X-Men United
Spent all day today (well, 9-5) grading diagnostic exams for Georgia Tech. It's an utterly exhausting activity, but I need to make a little money this summer (anyone have a part-time job?) and I like to be a good departmental citizen (mostly I need the money). I think the most striking moment (for me) was reading an essay on academic honesty in which a student cited a Princeton Review survey that indicated that Georgia Tech has the second least happy university students in the country. Now, I don't really trust these surveys, or statistical measures in general (and I realize that some university has to have this distinction), but I have to admit I was a little surprised to hear this infomation. For the most part, my students seem like bright, enthusiastic, and energetic people. I realize there is lots of pressure at Tech, and I got more than a glimpse of that today when I was reading these exams. After the long day of grading, though, I had a chance to get a couple of beers with Doreen, which was a nice way to end a very long and tedious day.
Oh, by the way, I finally saw X2: X-Men United, and I found it kind of frustrating, to be honest. Maybe I'm too much in the habit of seeing art house movies, but the film felt far too noisy and far too short on some of the exposition and development that I really like about many comic book narratives. First of all, I find Ian McKellen completely amazing--any moment with him on screen is utterly enjoyable. I really did enjoy the increased emphasis on Mystique--the relationship between shape-shifting and identity is an interesting one--but I remember liking the first film a lot more (and to be fair, it has been a while since I saw it). I also found the Kurt Warner/Nightcrawler character (thoughtfully played by Alan Cumming, an underrrated actor) a little strange, especially his appeal to religion in a film that so explicitly draws from theories of evolution. I know that a film like X2 is pure spectacle, that I'm supposed to sit back and enjoy the show, but the spectcacle never really drew me in--I didn't feel quite as connected to this world as I did the world of the first film.
Just looking at some of the reviews that George helpfully posted, and I found the Washington Post review incredibly bad and seriously condescending. Stephen Hunter can't see the film as depicting anything other than teen angst:
One can certainly see the appeal of the conceit to the adolescent mind. Most teenagers, their hormones aflame, their imaginations aflame, their skins aflame, see themselves as outsiders in the key of self-pity, the melody of self-dramatization. They're so alone. Waaaaah! But beneath all the self-loathing, there's also a kind of narcissism: They're so damned special. I'm very happy that Mr. Hunter has a perfectly happy life and never confronts feelings of self-doubt or isolation, but to discount these feelings out-of-hand seems rather mean-spirited. And he also complains about the film's lack of narrative clarity, but he completely misnterprets Rogue's superpower:
The rest remain ciphers, the saddest being Anna Paquin, whose character's mutant talent, other than ugly mall-droog hair, appears to be to make things happen backward. I guess. She's some kind of Mistress of Rewind.Maybe Mr. Hunter should do his homework like all those crazy kids he's complaining about and learn Rogue's actual power (although a character who could make things rewind would be pretty cool). I think what I wanted out of this film was a little more subtlety and more attention to dialogue, to the ways in which the various mutants interact (such as the carefully crafted tension between Rogue and Wolverine in the first film, for example). There were some nice moments in the film (Iceman's "coming out" to his parents as a mutant, for example). Looking back at some of these reviews (and George's site has several good ones), I'm willing to give the film a little more credit than I initially did, but I think the film itself failed the potential of the characters, which may be inevitable given their long history.
Getting very tired, hence the overuse of parentheses.
Thursday, May 08, 2003
Plagiarism for Fun and Profit
While reading the Invisible Adjunct, I discovered that Kieran Healy's weblog has an interesting discussion of plagiarism going on right now, including some discussion of turnitin.com. With online search engines changing the way research happens, talking about plagiarism becomes much more complicated, especially when it's so easy to copy and paste information from one "place" to another (and when authors of websites lift material from other places without attribution). This discussion, however, can raise some interesting issues about citation and interpretation, especially when students are working on hypertext projects.
Wednesday, May 07, 2003
Random Wednesday Night Post
With summer starting, I'm feeling a little lazy and self-indulgent. It has been a long year, and I need a few days to unwind. Readers are, as always, strongly encouraged to comment.
- I'm reading Michael Chabon's first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, and I'm really enjoying it, so far, especially the treatment of a lost Pittsburgh summer (which of course reminds me of his other Pittsburgh novel, Wonder Boys).
- Just learned from George that the "first" review of Matrix Relaoded is out. I'm not terribly optimistic that the Wachowski brothers can match the meshing of gee-whiz camera effects and pop philosophy (if you're interested check out my students' project on the film) as effectively as they did in the original, but, you know, I'm still pretty excited.
- It seems that I've helped to contribute to my student's addiction to Blogshares. I feel mildly guilty about this, especially since my addiction seems to have passed so quickly. Once I "figured out" the game and began making steady profits, I began losing interest. When they restarted te market on May 1, it seemed like a good excuse to quit. I still have about $5000 to invest, just in case. My student does deserve some credit in getting me started on blogging in the first place.
- Listening to Album 88 (the Georgia State University radio station) tonight reminds me that they are having another benefit show soon, at the Echo Lounge, one of the better live music venues in Atlanta (good shows, up-and-coming East Atlanta neighborhood, cool bartenders). Headline acts include Nada Surf. Last year's show featuring Magnapop was a lot of fun, so my Atlanta readers (I'm finally on the map! Just roll over the Decatur station) should check it out.
- I was disappointed to learn that Gary Hart has decided not to seek the Democratic nomination for President in 2004. I think he would have been a great candidate. It'll be interesting to see if other Democratic candidates eventually cultivate campaign blogs (quite frankly, I can't imagine our current President-select blogging).
Dear Raed Posting Again, or The Sexual Life of Palm Trees
Just received the good news that Salam Pax has finally been able to update his blog. I'm glad that he was able to weather the war, and I'm excited to read his reflections on the possibilities and problems in post-war Iraq. I think what strikes me most about his blog are the feelings of ambivalence about the war. On the one hand, he can write:
Let me tell you one thing first. War sucks big time. Don't let yourself ever be talked into having one waged in the name of your freedom. Somehow when the bombs start dropping or you hear the sound of machine guns at the end of your street you don’t think about your "imminent liberation" anymore.On the other hand, he can also see the potential for a better Iraq:
Aren't we just really glad that we can now at least have hope for a new Iraq? Or are we Iraqis just a bunch of impatient fools who do nothing better than grumble and whine? Patience, you have waited for 35 years for days like these so get to working instead of whining. End of conversation.
In some sense, I can't help but share his enthusiasm in hoping for a better future, and I am excited by Salam's discussion of becoming involved politically (scroll down to some of his earlier entries), but I worry deeply about the role of the US in shaping postwar Iraq (as Salam clearly does). I also cannot imagine what it must have been like to deal with bombs, machine guns, looting, all the horrors that he must have witnessed and experienced. His discussions of daily life in postwar Iraq and analysis of the media coverage of the war are still arresting. And then I scrolled down to his entry for April 17 and I realized we have something else very much in common:
The truth is, if it weren't for intervention this would never have happened. When we were watching the Saddam statue being pulled down, one of my aunts was saying that she never thought she would see this day during her lifetime.
Too much has happened the last couple of days but my head is as heavy as a lead boulder. Hay fever time. The sexual life of palm trees makes me weep.Something about this passing comment makes his experiences even more human for me.
Monday, May 05, 2003
A Mean-spirited America
I read editorials like this one by Jill Nelson, and think she's absolutely right: we have found little evidence of a WMD program in Iraq; Bush's contributors (Haliburton & friends) stand to clean up (literally and figuratively) from this war; civil rights are consistently being threatened in the name of a war on terror; Bush wants to repeal dividend taxes while auditing poor families seeking the Earned Income Credit. I read these editorials and articles, and I'm aware that something is tremendously wrong. Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney, and friends have certainly come under criticism in the US (Nelson's editorial is just one example) and abroad, but the "mean-spiritedness" that Nelson describes still seems pervasive, the image of the US that is being presented to the world (passive voice intentional: I'm not sure who is doing the presenting). I'm not sure I have a question here, and perhaps I'm just venting, but I share a lot of Nelson's frustrations, and I think she articulates them well.
I'm still thinking about some ideas I discussed privately with some friends about Bush's cynicism (in reference to Slavoj Zizek's reworking of Sloterdijk's concept of cynical reason in The Sublime Object of Ideology). After the war, I'm not so sure that description of Bush (and of the bloodlust for revenge after September 11) is accurate anymore. There's certainly a degree of cyncism in the ways in which the hawks have played fast and loose with the truth about Saddam Hussein, but I think that Bush's "determination" reflects the deeper impulses of a "true believer."
Saturday, May 03, 2003
SCMS 2004 Conference
Next year's theme for Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference, Mediating Tomorrow's History: Live Coverage and Documentary in the Digital Era, looks really good. Especially given the recent (current? who knows?) conflict in Iraq, in which digital technologies played such an important role (embedded reporters, bloggers), there are a lot of pertinent questions here. It doesn't hurt that the conference is in Atlanta, either.
Wow. I am completley stunned. Atom Egoyan's film about the Armenian genocide, Ararat is one of the best films I've seen in a long time (and I see a lot of films). In many ways, I think it was the film that Egoyan, an Armenian-Canadian was born to make. Some reviews of the film (such as Roger Ebert's) have been tepid, regarding Egoyan's cautious attempts to represent the genocide of nearly one million Armenians as unnecessarily complicated; however, given "the ethical dilemmas involved in depicting a historical atrocity" (note: this review from The Village Voice is quite good), Egoyan addresses the complicated relationships between photography and film, memory and narrative in order to wrestle with a forgotten act of violence, one available only by its traces.
Ararat, in typical Egoyan style, weaves several loosely connected narratives, the narrative elisions calling attention to the very problems of representing the unrepresentable. One focuses on Ani, an art historian who studies the art of Armenian artist, Arshile Gorky. Her fascination centers on a painting of the artist as a child with his mother, which is based on a photograph they took together just before she dies. We later learn that the photograph is based on a carving of the Madonna and child, the layers of reference calling attention to the difficulty of remembering--and representing--the past. A second narrative focuses on the making of a film, also called Ararat, about the Armeniain genocide. Ani, because of her research on Gorky, is hired to be a consultant on the film. The third narrative focuses on her son, Raffi, who has been stopped at the airport by a customs officer (played beautifully by Christopher Plummer) because he is carrying several film cannisters, and the customs officer believes that Raffi is carrying heroin.
Raffi then relates the genocide story to the officer, claiming that he was doing second-unit work on the film in Turkey. The officer, who knows the film is complete (because his son's lover performs in the film) knows Raffi to be lying but listens to Raffi's story anyway. This is, to my mind, the most powerful sequence of the film. As Raffi tells his story, digital video of the Armenian countryside, including tracking shots of Ararat (first from a train and later from a truck), play in the foreground while Raffi's face blurs out of focus in the background. In the DV shots, the camera tracks around Ararat, but never draws closer to the mountain. Instead, we can only see it from a distance. The film is Egoyan's most personal by far. It speaks to the difficulties of understanding and representing such a calamity. It's an amazing film, and if you get a chance to see it, I highly recommend it.
Friday, May 02, 2003
I Need New Sponsors
Okay, I'm becoming tremendously annoyed with the banner advertsiements on top of my blog. Because I wrote about a certain piece of embattled cloth a few days ago, the search engine (or whatever) on Blogger has completely misinterpreted my politics, so I am now seeing advertisements for documentaries about my part of the world whose politics diverge tremendously from my own. I'm also stepping on eggshells in trying not to use terms that will trip the search engine again.
The obvious answer here is to move everything to my own server space (or better to make the switch to Moveable Type, which I will try to do, hopefully next week), but given that blogs are an extension of one's personality, it is hard for me to see my blog containing any "message" that I don't like. It's a strange and annoying lack of control. At worst, hopefully when that entry falls into my archive, those annoying advertisements will go away.
Maybe if I mention that I just learned that Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean has a weblog, I'll get better sponsors. I like possible Democratic candidate Gary Hart's weblog better in ways because he seems to be more self-consciously using the weblog as a type of public sphere, but Dean's strategy of a multi-authored campaign blog has the effect of illustrating the enthusiasm for his campaign in a variety of voices. Both candidates seem to be calling for more liberal opposition to the status quo, which I think is important when so much power is inappropriately concentrated in the Oval Office.
Update: Squawk Box is down again. Very annoying. Those annoying ads are still there, too. I'll never write about that stupid piece of cloth from my home state that flies over public buildings ever again (at least not here).
Thursday, May 01, 2003
Great talk by Alison McMahan on "Immersive Virtual Environments" this morning, specifically in her careful taxonomy of terms such as "immersion" and "presence" that are often loosely defined. She then discussed her current VR project, Memesis, specifically in terms of her attempts to use conventions of horror films in order to "test certain theories of presence and immersion in the environment and transparency or immediacy in the interface" (79). The user will be situated in a CAVE that simulates a "haunted house" environment that "collects information about users' phobias and deep-seated psychological fears [such as claustrophobia, agoraphobia] in order to provide an ultimate more-thrilling 'haunted house' experience" (79). If this experiment is successful, she eventually plans to produce a multi-user envronment.
In a somewhat different context, her course on Hypertext Rhetorics and Poetics suggests how alternate-reality and time-travel films (she uses the term non-linear films which I like), such as Sliding Doors, Dead Again, Total Recall, and Memento (speaking of Memento, check out my students' hypertext interpretation, which uses the iconic status of the Polaroid to great effect), are very much drawing on the conventions of hypertext. I'm still trying to work through some of these issues, and I think her defintion of terms will certainly help. One of the distinctions that seems important might be between "teleportation" and "teleoperation." In most time-travel films, the traveler is physically teleported into the past, future, or alternate present, but in a film like Frequency, in which John communicates in 1999 with his father via ham radio in 1969, it's more like teleoperation, in which John instructs his father on how to avoid dying in a warehouse fire and how to capture a serial killer who murdered/murders (how do you talk about time in a film that renders present and past simultaneous?) several nurses in New York City. It's a distinction I recognized, but I'm not sure I had the right language for talking about it, nor was I quite ready to work through the implications. I think this reading, though, is much more interesting than simply addressing the film's nostalgia for the so-called "simpler times" of the 1960s.
Update: McMahan's talk was taken from an essay to be included in the Video Game Theory Reader coming out later this year from Routledge. I think that what I liked about the talk was her distinction between two different kinds of immersion (and bear in mind, these definitions are paraphrased rather roughly):
She then makes the important distinction between immersion and presence, observing that many video game theorists tend to use them synonymously, and notes that video game theorists have often used the term presence to describe the experience of first-person shooters (FPS). She then draws from Matthew Lombard and Theresa Ditton to describe presence as "the artificial sense that a user has in a virtual environment that the environment is unmediated" (72). Note: As someone who has been studying with Jay Bolter, I can't help but immediately think of his and Richard Grusin's concept of "remediation" at any reference to unmediated experience, but I think her defintion is ultimately a little more complicated, especially in terms of her defintion of immersion (by dividing it into diegetic and nondiegetic categories).
- diegetic immersion--how the game involves the player in the story, and
- nondiegetic immersion--how the game affects your senses (she associates this concept with deep play)
I hope these clarifications help. I don't want to risk misrepresenting her essay (or risk failing to highlight her more important contributions). Since I'm approaching the essay from the very specific POV of film studies, I think I'm more interested in certain concepts (her discussion of telepresence, for example), but I'm also beginning to think about how the language of video gaming (and new media in general) might help us to reinterpret our experience as film spectators.