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Tuesday, Jun 10, 2008
Emily - The Shocking Pinks

This is a perfectly good example of great songs getting a video treatment that not only highlights the song’s weakness but makes the band seem a little bit on the desperate.  “Emily” has all the morose grandeur of a Psychedelic Furs song with a fair amount of Jesus and Mary Chain sonic smudging around the edges.  Not that the band doesn’t ad some elements of their own, it’s just that this particular song has enough 80s immediacy to make you think that you’ve heard it all before. 


But the video only makes the song seem entirely too long and, with its unsparing use of cliched image, entirely unoriginal.  This is the video a stupid ex would send you as evidence of their undying devotion to your idealization.  It’s if to tell someone, “I’m still getting over you, that’s why I’m having all of this anonymous sex with different women”.  Granted, he seems disconnected from all the half-clothed women, but the entire concept seems like an excuse for the band to place a dirty craig’s list ad soliciting video babes.  It seems wholly out of a genre, a mopey little piece of drone pop being given the poolside hip hop/hair band metal video treatment of boobs, boobs, boobs. The Michael Jackson “Black or White” morphig of all the other women into each other seems as disturbing as Edina (from Absolutely Fabulous)telling her daughter Saffron that she was born she named her “thing-it”.  The fact that it’s an attempt to tastefully render this kind of interchangeable-laws-of-booty video only makes it seem more farcical. 


It’s a shame too because the song has the kind of woozy, blurred undercurrent that sets it up for visual play.  But the time lapsed walking and thing-it “not Emily” girl are all you get.  Of course, the video shouldn’t taint your experience of a song, but with images this inept, there is the somewhat comical conclusion that Emily isn’t all that special.  Incidentally, according to the research cited by Rob Horning, this is close to the perfect pop song length.


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Tuesday, Jun 10, 2008

Little did I know that when I referred to the emerging “promotional culture” in my post the other day that there was already a book called The Promotional Culture, which was mention in this recent Toronto Star piece by Ryan Bigge about the “mass underground” (via Rob Walker). The premise is that the internet has eroded the former foundations of subcultures—the obscure information and insider cultural goods that are now immediately accessible for those who are search savvy. I still forget sometimes that nothing in the realm of pop culture is really rare anymore, and that anything I might have wondered about before but never thought I would find is now probably out there: weird albums I’d read about, SCTV sketches I remembered dimly, Situationist experiments in redubbing movies with Marxist dialogue. This stuff was once currency in subcultural circles; I’m not sure if merely knowing about such things and linking to them has any real value for one’s underground credibility at this point. Is that a good thing? Or will subcultures disappear without their basis in a certain kind of material scarcity?


Bigge cites Dick Hebdige, author of Subculture: The Meaning of Style, who argues that subcultures allow people to acquire social recognition without securing it at the expense of conformity and subordination. According to Hebdige, “it translates the fact of being under scrutiny into the pleasure of being watched. It is a hiding in the light.” Of course, nonconformity itself has been a mainstream value since the 1960s, so that muddles things some; since aggressive individuality is a pervasive value, we are all encouraged to become subcultures of one, to play a double game with ourselves in which we forget the mass-market origins of the things we acquire to project our “unique” identities while relishing in the comfort of partaking of brands and trends that are much, much larger than ourselves. 


This same logic plays through things that were formerly underground and exempt. They once supplied a refuge from the pressure of popularity. But if the underground is mass, then subcultures will no longer be content to be sub-anything, and they are subject to same impetus to achieve recognition on a much broader scale and permit participation in something much bigger.


The mass underground distorts the equilibrium suggested by Hebdige’s hiding in the light. Because built into the technology and logic of the mass underground is the possibility of blowing up huge. As the title of an October 2006 New Yorker article about YouTube fame suggests, “It Should Happen to You.”


The same would seem to apply to social networks, which implicitly pressure users to expand their base and sacrifice quality to quantity. This is the essence of the promotional culture—the possibility of a large audience (and of measuring one’s own success in reaching it through site meters and such) becomes a requirement to pursue it.


For Andrew Wernick, a professor at Trent University, the problem is that our desire for attention and fame is leeching into the creative groundwater. As he writes in his 1991 book Promotional Culture: “When a piece of music, or a newspaper article, or even an academically written book about promotional culture, is fashioned with an eye to how it will promote itself – and, indeed, how it will promote its author and distributor, together with all the other producers these named agencies may be identified with – such goods are affected by this circumstance in every detail of their production.”


The internet obviates barriers imposed by natural limits in the world, by where we can be in time and space. Without those barriers, we are likely to overwhelm ourselves and fail to recognize the aggregate harm of something that seems positive in incremental doses. Our ability to pay attention suffers as the amount of attention we have to pay fails to meet even a fraction of the things demanding it. We fail to engage with any one thing because the awareness of all the other things crying out for attention is always so palpable. Inevitably, people will begin to impose on themselves arbitrary limits for how many friends they’ll have on Facebook or how many gigs of music they’ll have, or they will choose services that impose limits for them: a social network that lets you have only 10 friends. The craving for artificial limits is probably what gives Twitter its devotees.


Could there be an arbitrary limiting system that could restore the potency of formerly underground cultural goods? Could a samizdat system of cultural exchange emerge in the absence of necessity? Bigge argues that “the next subculture or underground movement will not be discovered behind the door of a secret handshake speakeasy somewhere in East Berlin, but in the center of Alexanderplatz; hiding in plain sight, everywhere and nowhere, simultaneously.” Perhaps. It’s optimistic to think anonymity can trump anomie. But I find myself reminded of the empty promise of the silent rave. I’m afraid that all activities in the public sphere will tend toward technologically enabled narcissism and people will be too preoccupied with their own potential fame to want to sustain close-knit connections of a subculture, weaving together with a select few others so tightly as to block out the isolating glare of the spotlight. Subcultures were a line of defense against a corrosive mainstream culture and ideology that seemed to trivialize things we wanted to care about; now it seems as though few people find the mainstream culture sufficiently dangerous, because it presents itself as fragmented and user-driven. Or perhaps we’ve succeeded in convincing ourselves that there is nothing at stake in resisting the mainstream except one’s own ego, which can be gratified much more comfortably through collaboration.


 


 


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Tuesday, Jun 10, 2008
by PopMatters Staff
backpack-picnic

This week: Pay attention, and play along at home, as three contestants compete for your text vote. Who would you rather be stranded on the moon with? The answer may not be as simple as it seems! Text your vote and see how much of a waste of time it’s all been!


PopMatters offers exclusive early looks at new episodes of Backpack Picnic, an online sketch comedy show from ON Networks.


Tagged as: backpack picnic
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Monday, Jun 9, 2008
In a new feature here on SE&L, every Tuesday we will be bringing you breaking news from the world of film. From the newest trailers to the biggest deals, we'll breakdown the weekend box office and guide you toward some interesting titles new to DVD.

Universal Unveils Yet Another Inspirational Sports Film

According to the press release, The Express (coming 3 October) is “Based on the true story of college football hero Ernie Davis, the first African- American to win the Heisman Trophy. His fight for equality and respect forever changed the face of American sports, and his story continues to inspire new generations.”  The film will star Dennis Quaid and Rob Brown. Here are some early photos:






Weinsteins Wants You to Channel Your Inner Igor

In connection with their upcoming animated film, the Weinstein Company offers you the opportunity to put on your best “Igor” impression. Winners will have their voice added to the final film, expected sometime this fall. More information can be found here.






Disaster Movie gets a Pair of Teaser Posters
After consistently devaluing the big screen spoof with their increasingly sophomoric efforts, the writing/directing team of Jason Friedbeg and Aaron Seltzer are back with another parody. Oddly enough, they seem to be taking the genre right back to where it started - the Zucker/Abrams/Zucker classic Airplane!, which was, after all, a lampoon of disaster films.




Jumper to Become a Franchise - from IMDb
According to WENN and the Internet Movie Database, Actor Hayden Christensen is set to return to the developing Jumper franchise for a further two movies. The new DVD coming out today confirms the plans to create a trilogy for the solid sci-fi hit. According to the actor, “We’re talking about it. I know that they’re having those conversations, I hear about them. It was set up to become that - a trilogy - if it did well. And I think they’re happy with how it did so they want to make another one. But I don’t think they’re rushing to get into production.”




Sam Raimi Wants Spider-Man 4 - from IGN
Apparently, the stories about Raimi being less involved in the future of the Spider-man franchise were wrong, or maybe the director of the three previous popcorn smashes is indulging in a little wishful thinking. Whatever the case, you can read his thoughts about the fourth go round for the webslinger here.






MPAA Pulls Plug on Kevin Smith’s Porno Promo - from /Film
Just last week, we noted that the Clerks auteur had released a Red Band teaser for his upcoming comedy Zack and Miri Make a Porno. Well, apparently Quick Stop Entertainment, Smith’s internet locale, didn’t get permission from the MPAA to “broadcast” such content across the web. The whole stink gets aired out over at SlashFilm.com.




My Fair Lady Getting a Remake - from Variety
From the official press release:
Considering the talent involved the first time around, it seems hard to imagine that anyone would seriously consider remaking this Oscar winning effort. Still, producers Cameron Mackintosh and Duncan Kenworthy are convinced they can “update” the material by adding more of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion to Alan Jay Lerner’s musical book. Initial reports had Keira Knightley and Daniel Day Lewis as the new Eliza Doolittle and Professor Henry Higgins, but with the There Will Be Blood star hopping projects for the big screen version of Nine, casting remains unclear. Read more here.




DiCaprio to Produce/Star in Atari Story - from THR.com
According to the Hollywood Reporter, Leonardo DiCaprio plans on bringing the story of ‘70/‘80s video game giant Atari to the big screen. Writers Brian Hecker and Craig Sherman hope the star will play Nolan Bushnell, engineering student and computer geek who went from fixing broken pinball machines to creating the company responsible for the first major arcade game - Pong. The rest of the story can be found here.





DVD releases of Note for 10 June
Be Kind Rewind
The Bucket List
Funny Games (2008)
Invisible Target - Read the SE&L Review Here
John Adams: The HBO Mini-Series
Jumper
The Other Boleyn Girl
Witless Protection


Box Office Figures for Weekend of 6 June

#1 - Kung Fun Panda: $59.8 million
#2 - You Don’t Mess with the Zohan: $40.3 million
#3 - Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: $22.9 million
#4 - Sex and the City: $21.3 million
#5 - The Strangers: $9.2 million
#6 - Iron Man: $7.4 million
#7 - The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian: $5.5 million
#8 - What Happens in Vegas: $3.4 million
#9 - Baby Mama: $2.2 million
#10 - Made of Honor: $2.0 million


Films Opening This Week:

General Release:
The Incredible Hulk - Bruce Banner searches for a cure to his raging inner ‘demon’ while the Army plots to use his power as a weapon. With Edward Norton and Tim Roth. Rated PG-13
The Happening - A sudden, unseen epidemic causes innocent citizens to kill themselves in startling violent ways. It’s up to the survivors to figure out why. From M. Night Shyamalan. Rated R


Limited
Quid Pro Quo - With comparisons to David Cronenberg’s Crash, a young reporter, paralyzed after an accident, discovers a subculture of fetishists. Rated R
Baghead - a group of independent filmmakers head out into the woods to brainstorm a script. They are instead terrorized by a stranger in a bag. Rated R


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Monday, Jun 9, 2008
The last installment of the ZA series (for now) is finally here, with L.B. Jeffries talking about why the critical focus should be on the experiences games can potentially generate as opposed to other approaches.


At long last, we come to the final entry of the Zarathustran Analytics series. The question proposed in the first essay of this series was essentially this: if we define video games by player input, how do we go about assessing that? Since the game design illustrates what the input precisely is and the plot defines the meaning of that input, the thing game critics should be looking at is the overall experience the game generates rather than just one of these particular elements. Then we took into account how to categorize games by experience rather than game design, exceptions to this concept, and the basic philosophies that govern what people think games should be. We also made the decision to not factor in graphics or A.I. in order to not inhibit creativity in the medium (and somehow, no one called me out on it). After taking into account what a critical language for video games should not do, we finally get to the point of why we need to be talking about the player experience in the first place.


 


In a blog post by Henry Jenkins in 2006, he points out the basic problem that interactivity creates for a critic. Unlike Gone with the Wind, in a video game the player’s input may result in an extremely different outcome. Rhett may have gotten shot a while ago, or Scarlett might be level 80 and fully capable of running the farm herself. The basic problem of re-addressing art’s quality in terms of seeing the audience’s response to the show rather than the show itself is that most people aren’t used to the audience response being a factor. For someone like Roger Ebert or a literary critic, focusing on the audience response is reverse-thinking. Not what does the game project at me, but what does the game allow me to project back. Jenkins and others compare game criticism to assessing architectural designs and discussing how a person will inhabit a building. I personally tend to think of them as miniature languages and what those languages allow me to express. Whatever the mindset of the critic, rather than dismiss the audience experience as impossible to discuss we should tackle it head on. We do this not by talking about what a player should be thinking, but what a player could think in the space given to them within the game. That’s what it means to assess a game experience. Since we can put so much of ourselves into a game, the critic must assess where our response can go in such a place. 


 


So how big of a difference does adding player experience to our criticism really make? In a link from Jenkins’ post, Timothy Burke goes over several examples of games that by themselves sound downright dull. Planescape: Torment is a basic D&D affair about an immortal who can never die. The average player spends the whole game wandering huge dialogue trees, sometimes behaving and sometimes being cruel depending on what’s advantageous. Yet what made the game profound was that at the very end, the game asks you what all that meant in terms of your identity. What made you help people, what made you abandon them? And every person has their own, self-realizing response to that. Or Burke’s comment on Katamari Damarcy being impossible to explain without sounding idiotic. You’re a tiny man rolling a tiny ball into a gigantic one, going from items on a desk to entire cities. Beyond the complete control of what you roll into the ball, the sheer pleasure of progress and happiness at rolling together an entire planet of junk is what makes the experience amazing. Or perhaps the most profound story on the web thus far is the incredibly personal reaction to Animal Crossing that one player had with their mother. That brief story about one person’s reaction to a game played with their mom is probably one of the highest emotions art can ever achieve, and we need a critical language that can talk about how that experience was created. Otherwise, we’re only talking about half the story.


 


Finally, we need to talk about player experience because this element, this way that games allow audience input which makes them art, is going to be neglected if we don’t. If no one notices game developers for producing profound player expressions in their games, why should they bother making them? If no one bothers to look beyond the plot or the game design, then no one is going to ever really get into what makes games so amazing in the first place. The late Joseph Campbell, whose works with mythology inspired Star Wars and countless video game plots, was asked in a PBS interview what he thought of video games. He said that they were another way of imparting wisdom. That games were still functionally doing the same thing as a group of people practicing hunting or sitting around a fire. Games were just a new way of teaching and sharing experiences, whether that experience be making a successful kill or hearing the legend of an epic hero. Such is the function of myth, philosophy, and art amongst people and Campbell thought video games would eventually take their place with them. We need a new critical approach so they can finally start doing it.


 


Joseph Campbell was the first person to make me sit down with video games and start looking at them in a new way years ago, so I’ve decided to end with a quote from his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces. He writes:


Art, literature, myth and cult, philosophy, and ascetic disciplines are instruments to help the individual past his limiting horizons into spheres of ever-expanding realization. As he crosses threshold after threshold, conquering dragon after dragon, the stature of the divinity that he summons to his highest wish increases, until it subsumes the cosmos. Finally, the mind breaks the bounding sphere of the cosmos to a realization transcending all experiences of form – all symbolizations, all divinities: a realization of the ineluctable void.


If the audience response is where games become art, if that response could become so powerful that it could allow a person to achieve personal breakthroughs, or to gain new perspectives on life, then it is not enough for game developers to create more complex games. It is not enough to just make them more realistic or incredibly satisfying. We must now, both as critics and as gamers, start to ask ourselves something far bigger when we play a video game: What are video games for?


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