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by Rob Horning

16 Mar 2009

Clay Shirky’s essay about the decline of newspapers is excellent on how they have ended up in their predicament.

Revolutions create a curious inversion of perception. In ordinary times, people who do no more than describe the world around them are seen as pragmatists, while those who imagine fabulous alternative futures are viewed as radicals. The last couple of decades haven’t been ordinary, however. Inside the papers, the pragmatists were the ones simply looking out the window and noticing that the real world was increasingly resembling the unthinkable scenario. These people were treated as if they were barking mad. Meanwhile the people spinning visions of popular walled gardens and enthusiastic micropayment adoption, visions unsupported by reality, were regarded not as charlatans but saviors.

When reality is labeled unthinkable, it creates a kind of sickness in an industry. Leadership becomes faith-based, while employees who have the temerity to suggest that what seems to be happening is in fact happening are herded into Innovation Departments, where they can be ignored en masse. This shunting aside of the realists in favor of the fabulists has different effects on different industries at different times. One of the effects on the newspapers is that many of their most passionate defenders are unable, even now, to plan for a world in which the industry they knew is visibly going away.

What those working at newspapers couldn’t face was that the problem that publishing as an industry had developed itself to solve—how to overcome the expense of printing and distributing bundles of information—was no longer a problem at all thanks to the internet. A new industry to solve a new problem—how to pay for news gathering—must emerge.

But Shirky refuses to attempt to predict what that will be. He adopts a kind of anti-teleological stance, declaring that no one can know which experiments in news dissemination will take hold until after the fact. This is a wise and careful stance, but it ends up being tantamount to urging a kind of analytical passivity: We should just wait and see what shakes out, and then we will know what the right answer was to the problem of how journalists will be paid.

For the next few decades, journalism will be made up of overlapping special cases. Many of these models will rely on amateurs as researchers and writers. Many of these models will rely on sponsorship or grants or endowments instead of revenues. Many of these models will rely on excitable 14 year olds distributing the results. Many of these models will fail. No one experiment is going to replace what we are now losing with the demise of news on paper, but over time, the collection of new experiments that do work might give us the journalism we need.

What “we need” is whatever we end up getting. So in a sense, we can’t possibly go wrong. All truly is best in this best of all possible worlds.

by Terry Sawyer

16 Mar 2009

It’s tragic to say that, for the most part, I’ve seen so many “slices of reality” and artistic biographies that I wince at the prospect of either. With so many people living life within the incessant Twitterati spectacle, it’s difficult for me to believe that people can actually be captured in the wild. It’s hard to sneak a camera in front of someone and not see themselves begin to live as autobiographers. That’s just one of the reasons that Sissyboy was such a genuinely enjoyable film. Katie Turinski had delicate, intimate technique as a director. She obviously built a fairly stunning rapport, a confessional safety zone, and even an eye for capturing settings that were as entertainingly revealing as the characters themselves. 

Sissyboy follows the ideas and relationships contained within a cross country tour of a group of drag queens, albeit drag queen self-consciously acting as satires about the ideas of women rather than attempting to embody some idealized, materialistic, glamorized interpretation of femininity. They’re gender outliers, critiquing some of the reactionary gender rules that gays import into gay culture. Geeky, muscley, tatted, or sporting wheat grass facial fur, these gay men simply don’t fit a type. The sissyboys are a softer version of what Leigh Bowery was to RuPaul. They’re a courageous troupe of funny and flawed artists that have managed to laugh at some really painful life experiences. They share these stories in mini-monologues of free association, group history and their struggles with being who they are. The documented understand that they’re something of jesters, hiding hard realities with flamboyant misdirection. But for all their meth benders and petty thievery, they’re a deeply compassionate group of people that you fall in love with within seconds. 

Sissyboy, however, is so much more than a Pacific Northwest version of Priscilla Queen of the Desert. It’s rarely talked about how gay people try to import the morality of oppression into their own communities in fetishizing gender roles. The sissyboys seem completely aware that as flippant as their performances seem, they are at odds with unspoken codes of bigotry in their own communities, and they want to address these injustices as much as heal their own private, complex and sometimes troubled personal worlds. The sets might look like elementary versions of the Passion Play, but the shows are brave and garishly hilarious. They rewrite a L’Trimm song to make it from the point of view of teenage Muslim women serenading hot Jihadis. They turn a Fergie song into a primal pro-choice howl. Other jokes are so profane that I can’t even explain them without sounding evil. 

This is the kind of narrative documentary that runs well above its form. I thought this was the best intellectual documentary with ballsac close-ups I’ve ever witnessed. The sissyboys presented here seem like admirably self-aware artists creating without endgame. I’m ruining nothing by telling you that at some point, they decide that their experiment has run its course. They created something and understood when it was finished. How many lovely things would be better off as hit-and-runs? How many artists move on so gracefully, leaving such a comfortable place? It’s difficult not to gush about a documentary like this as much as I am embarrassed for doing so. But the sissyboys were such an outstanding collective of comics, commentarians, artists, and humans, that I forgive myself an hour and some change of being hopeful in the land of the damned.

 

by Mike Schiller

16 Mar 2009

Oooo, tough week for the consoles.  Maybe the big console publishers are assuming that most of us are going to be out partying it up and pounding Guinness for St. Patricks day instead of sitting in our houses playing video games.

Or, maybe it’s March, and the publishers just don’t care that much.

Nintendo really has the reins this week, as the most interesting releases we’re going to be seeing are all coming out for the DS and the Wii.  Of course, right off the bat we see Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, which has been drawing press for the Drug Wars-esque side game that it seems to contain.  This has been a huge year for Grand Theft Auto (can you believe GTA IV came out less than a year ago?), and Chinatown Wars has the potential to be one of the biggest-selling iterations of the series yet.  Initial impressions have been positive, the graphics are solid considering the system it’s playing on, and who hasn’t wanted to bring GTA with them when they’ve been locked into a particularly long session?  The only question, really, is whether Chinatown Wars can break through to the DS’s highly casual-leaning audience.  Even if it doesn’t, though, there are probably plenty of hardcore DS owners to make the game a surefire success.

Of course, the DS is competing with itself, as this week also sees the release of Pokémon Platinum—perhaps not as big a deal as a new Pokémon game typically is simply because, well, it’s not strictly “new”.  Pokémon Platinum is an update of Pokémon Diamond/Pearl, with some new junk thrown in for the sake of convincing people to buy the same thing twice.  Of course, if you haven’t bought Diamond or Pearl, Platinum might just be the version you want.

A little game for the big console is also drawing a lot of attention: BIT.TRIP BEAT, which looks a lot like one-player pong crossed with Frequency.  The player has to knock back a nearly endless parade of dots, which hit the “paddle” at a speedy, highly rhythmic rate.  This means that if you play well, you’ll create a song as you go.  It doesn’t sound like much, but the few gameplay videos that have been released before today look like a ton of fun—and the tunes aren’t bad, either.  At a mere six bucks, what do you have to lose?

But mostly, it’s the DS’s week—I haven’t even mentioned Henry Hatsworth (who I’d love to see brawl with Professor Layton) or the excellent DS port of Trackmania, both also on the way this week.  What do you think?  Are you playing anything other than DS this week?  Let us know!

The full release list and a trailer for Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars are after…the jump.

by Alan Ranta

16 Mar 2009

Hot dog.  Four brand spanking new videos from one of the most exciting electronic jam band hybrids in the world today. Jason “Bong-Ra” Köhnen and his pals are in the process of creating something truly special.  Here’s what I said about their latest EP: “As great as the debut record was, everything about this EP teaser for the upcoming sophomore full-length on Ad Noiseam indicates it will be a superior product. The production is that much more spooky, rich, and atmospheric, and the song structure that much more purposeful and realized. It seems they have struck a perfect symmetry in the studio as a group, feeding off one another and performing cohesively. There is not a wasted moment to be heard. Mutations will slide its greasy fingers up your spine and linger there until you like it.”

The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble - “Avian Lungs”

The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble - “Shadows”

The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble - “Goya (Live in Budapest 2008)”

The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble - “The Nothing Changes (Live in Budapest 2008)”

Just for contrast, here’s what Jason Köhnen does when he’s not jamming with the Ensemble…

Bong-Ra - “Jo Bench”

by Rob Horning

16 Mar 2009

Am I the only one who can’t wait for Battlestar Galactica to be over already? The only one who feels compelled to watch it through to the end even though it ceased to be consistently compelling right around the time people started hearing Bob Dylan songs in their heads? If you haven’t watched the show and you intend to (and I would recommend the first two seasons wholeheartedly, though you will inevitably be sucked into the unrewarding final seasons) you probably shouldn’t read on here, because it may spoil the plot line. And the fact that the show can be “spoiled” by undermining the suspense suggests something worth remembering about the show—that in the end it turns away from providing a subtle and provocative commentary on contemporary politics and becomes just another show where you try to guess how the writers will twist the plot next. It devolves into a hermetic, self-referential show like Lost, the television-watching equivalent of doing a tricky word find.

At 3 Quarks Daily, David Schneider argues that the show ambitiously attempts and succeeds in creating “a vital, dynamic myth for contemporary Western civilization.” His case is well-supported, but I’m not persuaded—the presentation of the mythic dimensions on the show, particularly in the final 10 episodes being aired currently—is too truncated and incoherent, too compromised and rushed. We get scenes of incoherent exposition that are dead dull as well as confusing. As with teh Star Wars series, these latter developments feel as though they were invented ad hoc, to extend the show’s life, rather than something that animated the writing from the beginning. As a consequence, viewers can’t possibly know what is even at stake anymore, particularly when the obvious arc—finding Earth—proved to be a subterfuge. I find myself uncertain of whether the writers are working in moral ambiguity intentionally or whether I am in open revolt against the show when I eagerly await the death of Adama and Roslyn and Lee and the whole sanctimonious crew. That is to say that the writers lost me; I don’t trust that they are in control of what they are doing anymore; their emotional manipulations aren’t working, the sentiment suddenly seems rote and unearned, the characters no longer compel me to keep watching. All that is left is seeing what happens next, the same motivation that drives me to finish jigsaw puzzles.

One could make the argument that the show is testing the boundaries of the form or something like that, but the experiment seems to have yielded—perhaps fittingly, given its preoccupations with healing feuds through cross-breeding—an unsuccessful hybrid. The show’s mythos is intricate enough to be irresolvable yet general enough to be open to endless exegesis by zealous fans. Perhaps that means the show went from transcending its roots in the science-fiction genre to returning to them, to providing the SF-specific pleasure of articulating an invented world, with the consumers fleshing out and resolving the hints and contradictions supplied by the writers. Schneider regards this as unfettering viewers’ imaginations, and I’m not saying he’s wrong. The show’s incoherence is fertile ground for exegetical exercise. But I find myself too annoyed by the pieces that don’t fit, by the inconsistencies. And I’m annoyed that it ceased to be a show about life during wartime, about exigency and hard choices and scarcity and fear, and instead became a show about metaphysical mumbo-jumbo, about the writers’ fantasy of being cosmogonists.

In the show’s marketing, a constant refrain is “You will know the truth.” At one point, the show threatened to reveal some truth about actual human life, as it is lived on Earth, but now it seems content to reveal the “truth” about its own fictitious world.

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