This time around, the very funny Gregory Brothers give us Congress debating climate change, reaction to Michael Jackson’s death, and of course, more of the amazing Autotuned vocal stylings of Katie Couric. As always, it’s the catchy, catchy music that makes the comedy really work.
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Certain subjects lend themselves to specific sonic approaches. It’s part of the cinematic standard. When you hear that a movie is going to cover the formative years of a boy wizard, follow a group of novices into a dangerous wilderness situation, or deal with a daring aerial rescue of a group of hostages, clichéd aural answers start playing out inside your own personal product jukebox. You instantly imagine what the fantasy will sound like, suggest the sounds of a jungle primeval or a stunt-laced bit of derring-do. Of course, part of the magic inherent in motion pictures is the way said conventions are embraced, thwarted, or dismissed completely. There are occasions however when the unusual or downright odd tactic taken by a composer completely loses the meaning of the movie it is supporting. When that happens, the aforementioned magic turns middling, and then mediocre.
Luckily, that doesn’t happen within any of the three scores we are covering in this issue of Surround Sound. In fact, aside from a lackluster entry in a long running series, we have a couple of real compositional curiosities. Indeed, it always seems that the independent or outsider artists working in film today (or as part of the fraternity of the past) come up with a far more intriguing sonic display than someone hemmed in by the needs of a multi-entry big screen blockbuster franchise. Perhaps that’s why The Interior and Sky Riders feel so satisfying and why a certain Harry Potter has a hard time leaving an indelible aural mark. In any case, we can easily see where a certain sixth entry fails to fulfill its promise and how a couple of unknown quantities step up and deliver something unusual and quite memorable. Let’s begin with the most well known entry this time around:
The usual BPM for this week got posted a bit earlier than usual, but you can check back here if you missed it.
As a substitute though, I thought I’d aggregate a few links to the growing discussion about video games that specifically target female gamers. An excellent post at Wired highlights some of the top contenders for most awkward thing to teach a young girl.
The games listed in the article vary in subject matter from using clothes and behavior to be accepted by the “Pretty Committee” to revolving around trying to get a boyfriend. Other titles only allow the female character to advance by purchasing clothes and jewelry. A similar post at Brainy Gamer summarizes the issue nicely:
Most video games for girls send a steady flow of narrow images and self-limiting notions about how to succeed in today’s culture. They reinforce all the worn-out essentialist tropes: be beautiful, be fashionable, be popular. If parents want to worry about the messages kids receive from video games, they should pay more attention to these.
Other than the inherent nature of the media a person playing these games are exposed to, it is hard to say what kind of effect these games may have. Craig A. Anderson, who is one of the psychologists arguing in favor of a connection between violence and video games, points out in a FAQ, “all games teach something, and that ‘something’ depends on what they require the player to practice.” Anderson is outlining how both positive and negative behavior is taught through games in that quote, but the potential for negative behavior outside of just the violence that he addresses is very real. A child who constantly acts out, achieving success through purchasing clothes and behaving how their friends want them to might be, absorbs some strange lessons.
These question are further complicated by the fact that these types of games aren’t even considered particularly popular in their target demographic. A post at Feminist Gamers points out that a survey at the Institute of Adolescent Health found that girls ranked Grand Theft Auto as their favorite game. It was followed closely by The Sims, which allows female characters to be or do just about anything. Considering that even the most violent games are just empowerment fantasies, it isn’t surprising that these can be enjoyed by anyone regardless of gender.
One of the ideas that Ian Bogost outlines in Unit Operations is that our relationship with games work as a sort of response to the game’s world. That is, we look at how the game is depicting reality and contrast that with our own perspective. The things that we can do in the game that conflict with how we believe the world works generates an emotional reaction. In a game like Grand Theft Auto, my reaction to stealing a car is one of excitement because I personally could never do that. There are moral reasons for this but also social concerns that intervene like law, friends, and concern for hurting another person by taking their car. It’s fun to do it in the game because of the conflict that the activity has with my perception that what I’m doing is not possible normally.
The issue with a child playing one of these games revolves around the question of which misconception about reality is easier to correct. An adult would reasonably be able to correct a twelve year old child’s misconceptions about violence seen in a video game. But a young girl believing that the best way to make friends is through buying clothes and being pretty might be more impactful.
Put another way, you might be better off with your kid playing Grand Theft Auto after all.
Messing around in a secondhand bookshop some time ago I came across a series of thin paperbacks with orange and black covers. Opening one of them I saw this heading:
African Writers Series
Founding Editor: Chinua Achebe
The heading was followed by a list of writers in alphabetical order, starting with a book called Mine Boy by someone named Peter Abrams and ending with Robben Island by D. M. Zwelonke. D.M. Zwelonke was followed by anthologies of play scripts, poetry, and short stories: Onitsha Market Literature, Igbo Traditional Verse, Short East African Plays, and so on.
The books were numbered from one to 210, with 210 being Elechi Amad’s The Slave, and number one being Achebe’s own Things Fall Apart. I recognised some of the authors. Here was Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North at number 69, here was Wole Soyinka with The Interpreters at 78, here was The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing at 131. Others were strangers. I’d never heard of Okot p’Bitek, author of Hare and Hornbill, or Nkem Nkwanko, who had written something called My Mercedes is Bigger than Yours. Social commentary, I thought, probably satirical. I guessed that J.L. Vieira, whoever he was, must have come from one of the Portuguese colonies, just looking at his name, and that Tom Mboya must have lived in an area that had been colonised by the British. When I looked up Mboya later he turned out to be a politician from Kenya who was shot dead in 1969, possibly at the request of a political rival. “Why don’t you go after the big man?” asked the gunman when they caught him, refusing to tell anyone who the big man was. Mboya’s fellow Kenyans assumed it was the president, Jomo Kenyatta, who set off a riot when he decided to attend the funeral.
Book number 81 is an anthology of the dead man’s speeches. Vieira, who appears to be still alive, was raised in Angola and spent years in prison after pushing for the cause of Angolan independence.
July 12th, was the 30th anniversary of disco Demolition Day, a day when radio host Steve Dahl declared a cultural war on the aforementioned music by blowing up stacks of records in Comiskey Park in Chicago. It’s now generally accepted that the seething crowds were at least partially motivated by the subcultural and multicultural context of disco’s reign, seeing the gay, black, latino, and women-friendly movement as an affront to the ordained thrown of rock, which was at this point mainly a chauvinist enterprise. That this came at the height of radio’s racial re-segregation formatting certainly encouraged the backlash. In the aftermath, disco was declared dead, which was widely accepted as a historical platitude for years, and even still is today. “I think it was a fad and it was probably on its way out. This probably hastened its demise,” Steve Dahl said in 2004, reflecting on the incident on Keith Olbermann’s Countdown.
While disco may have become a dirty word in mainstream culture after scores of alpha males began parading around in “Disco Sucks” and “Death Before Disco” T-shirts and the clubs began collapsing from the white lines snorted across broken mirror tables, disco continued to expand exponentially. Indeed, years later, the explosion in Comsikey Park seems to have scattered disco’s ashes across the globe, where it has manifested in myriad different vital forms. Ironically enough, the two teams playing that night, Detroit and Chicago, became the epicenters of disco’s revitalization in both house and techno music.
Below is a smattering of disco from its heyday through the present. It is by no means a complete representation, but hopefully you will agree that this is dynamic and exciting music, whose shelf-life has already far surpassed many of the rock dinosaurs being defended at the time of the disco demolition.
First Choice—The Player (Philly Groove, 1974)