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by Kit MacFarlane

4 Jan 2010

It’s finally here! All over the place in the mainstream media, fawning fans of various shows have finally declared television to have officially achieved the status of capital-A Art, with a new era of greatness spilling out of our screens and ushering in a future of digital, LCD, 16:9-enhanced cultural prestige. Phew, that’s a relief. Now I can happily expand my cultural horizons every gosh-dern day without actually having to do anything (except maybe buy a set-top box).

Really, it all sounds a little more like the epoch of an obsessive cultural need for narcissistic self-validation (look Ma, watching TV makes me feel important!)—even a quick look back through history will see modern television repeating many of the high-points, and replicating many of the sins, of its past. Yes, The Wire really is great; but Art is discussed, not declared, and television’s been art for as long as it’s also been trash.

So, while some will still be patting themselves on the back for having watched The Sopranos all by themselves and without any help at all from the big kids, I’m still just as interested in trash and what’s going to happen on Mondays nights in wrestling. Yup, rasslin’. In fact, in the spirit of this great new media dawn we’re facing, I’m going to declare it a cultural turning point: TNA vs WWE on January 4, 2010.

by Rob Horning

4 Jan 2010

I think I read this Bruce Schneier piece somewhere else before Christmas, but it obviously resonates even more now.

Stories are what we fear. It’s not just hypothetical stories—terrorists flying planes into buildings, terrorists with explosives strapped to their legs or with bombs in their shoes, and terrorists with guns and bombs waging a co-ordinated attack against a city are even scarier movie-plot threats because they actually happened.
“Security theater” refers to security measures that make people feel more secure without doing anything to actually improve their security. An example: the photo ID checks that have sprung up in office buildings. No one has ever explained why verifying that someone has a photo ID provides any actual security, but it looks like security to have a uniformed guard-for-hire looking at ID cards.

This whole idea of “theater” makes me uneasy; it reminds me of how many ideological screens there are between me and what I think I am experiencing. I see through the demeaning hassles at aviation-screening checkpoints, mainly because they inconvenience me and don’t make me feel any more secure about anything. But what of the ideologies that are convenient to me, that do smooth my passage through my life while hiding from me the “realities”? Should I even worry about that?

The misconceived “security theater” at airports is so disturbing because it fails so spectacularly to bring the threats to our peace of mind under control. The ideology is too apparent—no one believes that X-raying shoes will prevent would-be terrorists from coming up with a new way to evade security checks. Everyone knows the stories the TSA reacts to are yesterday’s news, and the future is unwritten. The lack of imagination in the TSA responses makes us all too aware of how unlikely it is they will anticipate any coming threats.

by Tyler Gould

4 Jan 2010

That crazed devil-on-a-rollercoaster look that John Darnielle gets on his face when his songs get going is more than enough to calm (or amplify, I suppose) a Mountain Goats’ fan’s anxieties about the next twelve months. He stopped by NPR recently to perform some old hits (“Color in Your Cheeks”, “Going to Georgia”) and two from last year’s wonderful The Life of the World to Come.

by Sean McCarthy

4 Jan 2010

In 2002, I did some record store browsing with some fellow copy reporter interns-to-be in Austin. While I was fishing through the ‘R’s, one girl next to me said “One thing you can count on when you go into a used record store is at least five used copies of R.E.M.‘s Monster will be on hand.” At that moment, I saw a solid brick of orange CDs, proving her point. Several hours and several beers later, we started wondering why so many people turned on Monster. A few months later, I vowed I would get a record store clerk to buy my copy – a feat that took more than seven years to complete.

Before going into why people have sold the album en masse, it merits looking back to see why so many people picked up the album in the first place. After all, a used CD once had a buyer.  Document put R.E.M. in the majors, but was followed by three less rock-oriented albums that made the band superstars nonetheless. Automatic for the People was regarded in many circles as one of, if not the best work from the band. Still, once that album was released, there was a definite rumbling in the band’s fanbase for the band to return to the more rock-oriented sound of their earlier albums. Enter Monster.

by shathley Q

4 Jan 2010

Has the collaboration of writer Matt Fraction and artist Salvador Larroca produced the best comics of the past decade?

Issue 20 of Invincible Iron Man marks the beginning of the five-part “Stark: Disassembled” storyarc and sees the reboot of Tony Stark’s Iron Man in the skilled hands of series regulars Fraction and Larroca. But this is not the continuity reboot of the character, nor is this a modernization of the Iron Man mythos as was performed by writer Warren Ellis in 2005. Following the traumatic events which took place in the closing stages of preceding storyarc “World’s Most Wanted”, “Stark: Disassembled” opens with Tony Stark in a ‘persistent’ vegetative state’ after a self-performed lobotomy.

But Tony Stark has a contingency plan for everything. “Stark: Disassembled” relates the story of how Tony rallies his friends and compatriots to participate in rebooting his consciousness. This includes downloading his memories from a massive file server, recreating recombinant DNA that will enable him to pilot the Iron Man system, and a massive neuroelectric recharge that will finally reconcile Tony with the God of Thunder.

At the story’s heart however, lies the story of a reconciliation. For nearly half a decade, since 2007’s “Civil War” crossover event, Tony Stark’s Iron Man, Captain America and Thor have found themselves on opposite sides of a feud not of their own making. The three iconic, and in many senses most powerful, characters of the Marvel superheroes now found themselves gathered together once again. Will Cap and Thor participate in the resurrection of their fallen comrade? “Stark: Disassembled” is very much the story of mending fences across the chasm of a shared history, not all of it pleasant. In this regard it is the measure of such great Russian novels of the nineteenth century, like Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.

What makes “Counting Up From Zero” (part one of “Stark: Disassembled”) at once so credible and so engaging is what Fraction and Larroca, along with series regular colorist Frank D’Armata, achieve over the course of six pages. With each page limited to an eight-panel grid (four vertically-stacked rows of two panels), readers view a recording of Tony’s final address as Director of intelligence agency S.H.I.E.L.D. In it, Tony reiterates his planned reboot, but also confronts the gathered heroes with the ethics of this resurrection. The comics itself is rigorous and disciplined, and wholly demonstrative of the full skill of the creative team at sustaining drama while engaging the audience with nothing more than a single image.

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