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Wednesday, Apr 2, 2008

Times like this, I wish we had a woman on the PopMatters Multimedia staff (and hey, any who wish to apply only have to click here and follow the directions).

It being the case that we don’t, I decided to go ahead and check out this past Sunday’s Best Buy “Wii for Women” event myself.  In case you hadn’t heard of the event, either through Best Buy itself or the countless blogs that went ahead and did some of Best Buy’s advertising for them, here’s the flyer:

Right from the outset, it looks a little bit suspect—I mean, we have a flyer that’s attempting to lure women to a video game based event by making a point of offering non-video game stuff.  Granted, it’s Best Buy, so the GPS sort of makes sense, but raffling off spa visits?  Do we even have spas in Buffalo?

(Oh, stop that.  Of course we do.  Somewhere.)

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Wednesday, Apr 2, 2008
by PopMatters Staff

This week: A medieval tale that involves a laser. Need we say more? There aren’t really words to describe the strangeness of this particular episode. Stick around for the surprise ending of the year!

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

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Wednesday, Apr 2, 2008

Travel + Leisure’s Unexpected Italy
Nancy Novogrod (Introduction)
DK Publishing
January 2008, 192 pages, $24.95

From the well-traversed urban centers of Venice and Rome to out of the way and rarely visited vineyards producing incredibly robust wines in the northwest Le Langhe region, every reader will come away with a new destination atop their travel list.

As with Unexpected France, the reader is quickly drawn into this fascinating collection of articles from Travel + Leisure magazine. Useful maps, suggestions for lodging, dining, and occasionally, reading material (such as poetry from a famous writer native to the Le Marche region on the northeast coast, or world-class literature inspired by visits to Naples) accompany each section. The focus of each traveling journalist is different, from experiences centering around a single city to the wearying journey around an entire region in search of the boldest Borolo.

Michael Gross describes his quest to find an island getaway more satisfying than touristy Capri, and encounters the Madonna sott’acqua off Lampedusa, an island so far south as to be nearly in Africa. He writers, “We dive down to the ghostly yet benevolent Virgin, who is gazing up from her silent blue sanctuary.” The statue is set in a stone arch nearly fifty feet below the surface of the water.

A journey through “hidden Rome” reveals more than any vegetarian (and possibly most carnivores) would ever want to know about the old slaughterhouse district of the city. True epicureans will revel in the descriptions of various traditional and modern recipes for the “fifth quarter” of certain farm animals.

I noted with curiosity that the entire “Places to Stay” section was contributed by the same Christopher Petkanas, but quickly became enamored of his quick-witted observations and inclusion of unusual elements, not to mention his willingness to be rather critical of service if warranted. Observing historical villas with an artist’s eye, both flaws and impeccable details are pointed out.

And for those wishing to truly commune with great art, a section on Florence details how it is possible not just to observe, but to sign up for amateur figure sketching classes and draw (so to speak) on the inspiration of centuries of painters. The hands on style of this entire book helps it stand out from the normal rank and file of travel guides. Turning a mundane trip into the experience of a lifetime just got a bit easier for those not totally comfortable with venturing into totally undocumented territory, yet wanting to avoid the well-worn pathways of major cultural centers.

With such a promising start to this series of books in Unexpected France and Italy, the first ever compiled and released by the magazine, I definitely hope to see more of these country-specific collections of inspirational articles and stunning photographs.

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Wednesday, Apr 2, 2008

Here’s some good advice- if you’re going to make an announcement to a lot of people online and you’re slipping in a joke that might not be obvious, always tack on something that does make it obvious (“ha, ha” or a smiley face symbol).  I learned that the hard way when I made this announcement about the latest issue of Perfect Sound Forever: “rock crit dean Robert Christgau will edit the summer issue of PSF (which will be followed by rebuttal issues edited by Byron Coley and Joe Carducci)...”  The first part is true- Christgau’s doing the next issue- but Coley or Carducci ain’t doing any issues of PSF that I know of (though I’d be glad to work with them if they wanted to).  Since neither of them seems to be a fan of the Dean, I thought it’d be funny to imagine them doing entire issues as rebuttals to his work.  Not funny enough as it turns out since I received e-mail’s congratulating PSF for working with THREE esteemed scribes.  Only later did I realize that I posted that info late in the evening on March 31st, making it an unintentional April fools joke.  Oh well, live and learn… Admittedly, not as funny or outlandish as John McCain appearing at Burning Man (and yes, some people took that seriously too).

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Wednesday, Apr 2, 2008

I’m generally skeptical of social networks—they seem to me primarily ways to commercialize and monetize one’s presumable bevy of friends and get competitive over how social you are—but I find this trend (via Marginal Revolution) toward using them to play games heartening. It makes me understand for the first time why people bother to sign up for them. (I don’t understand why so many people play Scrabble on them though, a game I find to be no fun and very nearly antisocial.)

Games have become some of the most popular applications to be introduced. While some programs have quickly flamed out, games have drawn repeat users who keep coming back for more. And games have steadily amassed new recruits as players invite their friends.
Unlike traditional online casual games, users playing inside a social network aren’t competing against strangers who happen to be online at the same time, but against their friends. It’s a significant distinction: Segal said he had tried playing backgammon online in the past, but didn’t have a good experience. If he played well, his opponents sometimes would just abandon the game and disappear. That doesn’t happen among his friends.
Social gaming has become yet another means to keep in touch.
“It delivers the message, ‘I’m thinking about you’ without having to think of something to say,” said Jeremy Liew, a general partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners, who has blogged extensively about social gaming. “You can’t always instant message (your friends) or write to them, but playing games with them is one way of expressing that they’re important to you.”

I completely relate to that last part. I used to play bridge (wished I still was playing bridge, actually) and part of the pleasure was definitely the structured social activity, which allowed conversation to be subordinate, and fill in the gaps naturally. It’s very hard to make an activity out of “keeping in touch”—it ends up feeling forced and off-putting; there’s just no context for knowing what a friend who is not integrated into your everyday life would want to hear about. How I went to the hardware store to get screens for my windows? How I spent hours combing over fantasy baseball news? These were among the big personal events for me recently. But a game obviates the need for pretexts, lets a connection exist without contrived chitchat.

I don’t quite get this though:

San Francisco startup Serious Business, founded by 23-year-old Alexander Le and 24-year-old Siqi Chen, believes that a new genre of games could be mined from tapping into social networks.
In November, the duo created Friends for Sale, now one of Facebook’s most popular games with nearly 700,000 daily players. Users buy, sell and own their friends, as though their friends were pets or stocks. Owners can control their acquisitions, forcing them to do or say things, as well as sell them and turn a profit. Those being bought and sold are also part of the game, going up and down in value.

This sounds like Slave Trade, the home game.

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