{fv_addthis}

Latest Blog Posts

by Jason Gross

3 Mar 2010

Very interesting story from Billboard about Apple’s challenging of Amazon of exclusive rights to sell new albums cheaply.  The labels clearly want some competition so they’re not beholden to Jobs all the time but for now, it looks like he’s still got the juice, being able to scale down Amazon’s ambitious plans in this area . 

So who’s the good guy or bad guy here?  Keep in mind that these are two big companies fighting to see which one of them will dominate the label-approved download market (which Apple still does by a wide margin), which nowadays is kind of like two dogs fighting over a relatively small (and shrinking) piece of meat from a dumpster. ... which is to say that even with 10 billion downloads sold by Apple, the market for online music sales isn’t exactly booming now

So why are they fighting this turf war?  Apple still wants to dominate not necessarily with iTunes but with the iPhone and to a lesser extent the iPod (which ain’t the hot new item anymore), which gives them a much higher profit margin than song sales.  The fact is, they also need the song sales tied to iTunes to help sell their hardware.  Amazon wisely sensed the need for some competition in this market that Apple’s dominated for years.  They want to sell hardware too (Kindle) though they don’t have their own device for music, at least yet. So for now, they’d like you to get accustomed to downloading media from them, be it books or music.

by John Lindstedt

3 Mar 2010

Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland premieres this weekend, and while some are eager in anticipation, others are rolling their eyes at yet another Burton-ization of a story they’ve heard many times before (See: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Sleepy Hollow, Planet of the Apes). While the stories themselves have been done to death, Burton’s motifs have begun to grow as tired and predictable as the story beats. Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter star, check. Macabre imagery, check. Danny Elfman score, check.

Meanwhile, the good folks over at College Humor show us just what exactly goes on in a Tim Burton pitch meeting: 

by PopMatters Staff

3 Mar 2010

Kill Rock Stars completes its Elliott Smith re-issue program on 6 April with the re-release of the late singer-songwriter’s first and last albums. The label has also just released a free MP3 from each record.

“Last Call” (Roman Candle) [MP3]
     

“Twilight” (From a Basement on the Hill) [MP3]
     

by Crispin Kott

3 Mar 2010

Despite a curriculum vitae packed to the edges with brilliant music, Prince’s recent legacy has been marred by his absolute need to control how he’s seen and heard on the internet.

The debate over how the wilderness of the web affects music isn’t exclusive to the diminutive soul genius from Minneapolis, though there are few artists who’d go as far as forcing fan sites to remove their high-heeled likeness.

Prince’s paranoia has repeatedly touched YouTube, beginning in 2007 when he threatened a lawsuit against the site for allowing the use of videos featuring his music. A year later, he raised the ire of Radiohead when he forced the removal of videos of his live Coachella performance of their song “Creep” from YouTube. The videos were reinstated in that case, though other have disappeared and reappeared in some bizarre cycle of friend versus purple foe.

But what’s getting lost in the ongoing battle between Prince and the fans who love him in spite of himself is just how incredible his music can be. Whether it’s video of him stealing the show at the Concert for George with a blistering solo during “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” in 2004 or shaking his ass at the Super Bowl in 2007, Prince has still got whatever it was that made the world fall under his spell 30 years ago. Whether anyone gets to witness any of that depends upon how quickly they get over to YouTube.

Witness a series of videos posted by a user called groovytv80. The sound quality is terrible, and the video a static black & white shot in a large, but dingy basement. It’s Prince and the Revolution rehearsing for a tour in support of Purple Rain, the album and film which cemented his reputation as a superstar. “When Doves Cry” is the obvious go-to video for the casual fan, though it’s on b-side “Erotic City” that Prince’s brilliance is most apparent, on guitar, on vocals, as a bandleader and composer. It drips with sex, no mean feat for something that looks like security footage from a shopping center in the ‘80s and sounds like your next door neighbor playing their stereo louder than you’d like.

Run over to YouTube and check it out before Prince realizes it’s there. Or wait a week, and maybe it’ll turn up again. Such is the circular relationship between Prince and YouTube.

by G. Christopher Williams

3 Mar 2010

I recently caught the first few minutes of the cartoon movie version of Dante’s Inferno.  Besides reminding me that “serious” cartoons that are supposedly made for adults are often really badly written, it also reminded me of how poorly the motivations were developed for the character, Dante, when I tried to play the video game version.

Using that old chestnut, the “damsel in distress,” as a primary motivator in video game narratives is hardly something new.  The slight plot of Donkey Kong wholly rests on the idea of “guy needs to save girl.”  This plot line represents a very simple emblem of a traditional sense of heterosexual romance, men pursue women, thus, it is compelling to tell stories about this pursuit or, in the case of games, take on the role of the man pursuing the woman. Embedded in this notion is the idea that a woman is something worth pursuing in and of herself, however, more sophisticated versions of these stories tend to at least attempt to give us some sense of a relationship that exists between these characters or a sense of who the woman is that a man should go to so much trouble for.

Donkey Kong has a seemingly similar advantage that Dante’s Inferno should have in telling its story.  Since Donkey Kong derives its minimal structure from King Kong—ape steals guy’s girl, guy has to pursue girl to get her back—prior knowledge of the story of King Kong may help us to understand that a relationship exists between our hero and damsel.  The need for exposition then in Donkey Kong is obviated by the romantic background of the story having already been told. 

Likewise, a prior knowledge of Dante’s Divine Comedy should give us insight into the relationship between Dante and Beatrice, idealized as it is by the poet.  However, Dante’s Inferno has also revised the tale, making Dante and Beatrice’s platonic and ideal love something less so, modernizing it for a contemporary audience.  Beatrice “gives it up” only to Dante because he is especially worthy and faithful.  A modern day version of “platonic” love is monogamy . . . or something? Despite being familiar with the previous work, the game still leaves me cold regarding Beatrice as a motivation for Dante. 

However, I can’t quite figure out why I am pursuing her so very hard (indeed, like the cartoon movie, I only made it through the first 10 or 20% of the game before returning the rental—talk about a lack of motivation).  This brief nod to idealization and a few scenes that fail to give me a sense of who this woman is before she is bleeding on the ground and giving up her ghost to Lucifer himself don’t really speak to me of why Dante likes this woman so much.

Curiously, though, lack of motive is at the heart of classic games that utilize the damsel in distress motif.  Is Mario in love with Princess Peach?  Is that why he is pursuing her in Super Mario Bros.?  That has always remained a bit unclear to me in the Mario mythology.  I seem to vaguely recall a reward kiss from Peach in some iteration of the series, but Mario’s motives in the first game seem especially unclear as he is merely launched into the Mushroom kingdom and begins moving to the right (assumedly, the direction that “the castle” where Peach is being held exists).  The closing scene, in which Peach simply thanks Mario, also doesn’t clarify any kind of romantic closure to a potential love story. 

Instead, if we are to assume some sort of romantic motivation or at the very least that the princess is valuable enough to pursue, Peach is defined merely by her status as princess.  In this instance, Peach seems to be reduced to a characterless object rather readily.  She has a crown, so she is conceived of by the player as something like treasure, maybe?  It’s a rather cold emblem of the goal of a romantic, epic quest if that is the case.

That same coldness seems to exist in Dante’s Inferno.  While Beatrice and Dante’s relationship is at least represented briefly in some flashback sequences, as noted the player is simply never really given a sense of who this woman.  She is blonde and voluptuous and maybe this signifies something like “treasure” in a most bleak vision of the fundamental nature of male-female relationships, but is blonde and voluptuous a sufficient motive for harrowing hell?

Ironically, I just wrote a few weeks ago about “The Romance of Karateka, a game very much in the vein of Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros., and Dante’s Inferno, but I praised it for its success as a romance cast in this very same formula, saying, “In a sense Karateka‘s romantic sensibilities are simple, traditional, and cliched, but they are also simple, relatable, and supported by the gameplay itself, which boils romance down to one thematic interest: how does effort fit into the equation [of romance]?” (Popmatters.com, 3 February 2010).  However, I also observed about the reason for the elegance and simplicity of the way that that game approaches romantic relationships is due to the fact that “It is a boy’s story.  Frankly, it is a little boy’s story.”  While Mariko is the “object” that motivates the effort in the game, nevertheless, the experience of the game focuses the player on its lesson in romance, which is that effort is required to reach that goal.  It is a simple enough lesson about love when you haven’t yet reached puberty, requiring no real necessity in creating complex characters and psychologies to support a mature sense of the complexities of a relationship.

Frankly, such simple goals and lessons also make the seemingly purposeless pursuit of Peach similarly palatable to the pre-pubescent gamer.  But Mario has always been marketed first towards that demographic.  If the game holds charm for adult gamers, that charm lies in its innocence and simplicity because of the way that it has been shaped for its younger target audience.

If that is the case, Dante’s Inferno rating, Mature, may speak to its problems in developing a plot based on underdeveloped relationships and an underdeveloped damsel in distress.  While children might need a simple and emblematic vision of romance to tell a story, adults generally want a bit more information to begin to believe in character’s motivations. If Beatrice is represented as a flat, emblematic character laid bare (quite literally, which is part of the many reasons for its rating) for the adult player, the mixture of mature subject matter with an idealized image and childish theme becomes problematic for the game’s target demographic.  It is a dilemma for Dante’s Inferno as the imagery that the developers want to portray in hell is certainly not suitable for a child’s eyes, but, unfortunately, the romance that is being presented is maybe only believable when viewing it through those same eyes.  It is a children’s story trapped in an adult frame.  If the content of games is to mature, characterization needs to mature alongside it.

//Mixed media
//Blogs

The Bubblegum Noir of ‘2064: Read Only Memories’

// Moving Pixels

"Read Only Memories is a bubblegum-happy, brooding and brutal noir about kidnapping, murder, corruption, revenge, and corporate conspiracies.

READ the article