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by Terry Sawyer

16 May 2008

Though Diplo has reigned supreme as the underground ying to Timbaland’s overground yang, for my buck, one of the best beat magicians slicing and dicing today is Montreal’s Ghislain Poirer.  His non-instrumental work with MC’s, such as the collaboration with Abdominal (“City Walking”) brim with alleyway menace and threatening intricacy.  For Poirer, it’s not a matter of just finding the groove and then just striking over and over again in that same sweet spot.  Poirer’s beats are knotty, itchy and architectural.  “Don’t Smile, It’s Post Modern” sounds like a particularly fast and difficult Tetris game where patterns are assembled and dissolved at a furiously glitched pace. 

The video is little more than a one-joke stretch, but as Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You” proved, you can create an infinitely entertaining video out of the rapt fascination people have with dance moves.  (the quality seems to be a secondary issue) Even the Ipod silhouette commercials recognize the magnetic currency of raw movement, proving wildly popular despite the fact that they are little more than outlines pulsing to an upbeat song.  I think this video similarly succeeds in part by playing on all the hilarious tensions of the situation coupled with the freedom and joy of just watching some fool, in this case, possessed by the need to dance.

First off, it seems to be shot with a club-drug lens, a fact emphasized by the superimposition of the germy spots which glide across the toilet surfaces.  For anyone whose ever abused/used these drugs, the effect is a familiar one as is the almost painfully fluoresced tile and uncomfortable urinal silences.  I’m sure someone has analyzed the weird tensions involved in the men’s restroom where sexual panic, fear of inadequacy and free floating erotic tension mix.  It’s probably somewhere in Camille Paglia’s footnotes.  Perhaps the best part of the video is that it makes a dance routine out of post-micturition convulsion syndrome, a shiver/tremor sensation that a large percentage of men have after or during urination.  For me, that’s funny enough to make the video one that bears repeated viewing.

by Nikki Tranter

16 May 2008

Look Me in the Eyeby John Elder RobisonCrown, 2007

Look Me in the Eye
by John Elder Robison
Crown, 2007

I enjoyed this article today from Northwestern University’s Medill Reports about the joyful moments of a life in online journalism. Dianna Heitz describes the rush of approaching and interviewing one of her writing idols, John Elder Robison, author of Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s.

I emailed the author’s publicist on a whim, thinking I’d have to wait weeks to get a response. About an hour after I sent the email, the author called me on my cell phone. And once again, I bounced around like a kid who had a bit too much sugar.

Dianna also has a great piece up on the Examiner today about the effect Cafe Press merchandise sales are having on the 2008 election. Here’s a sample:

Embracing the interactivity of modern media, CafePress lets customers submit designs for everything from shirts to hats to underwear. It has received more than 1.2 million designs for Obama products, while those for Clinton and John McCain combined barely break 1 million.

Dianna Heitz is profiled on the Loyola University website here.

 

by Rob Horning

16 May 2008

I am on the record as being against customer service. It seems to me a trick to get us overinvested in shopping as a place where we can exercise our will to power. So when Yves Smith asks, in this post about a few ideas for new consumer-service businesses, “Do we want to foster customer neurosis?” I believe the answer is yes. Of course we do. Retailing is essentially the art of making insignificant choices seem paramount, and getting people hooked on the “thrill” of making such discriminations. Total neuroticism is the art practiced at its highest form and is a state of mind marketing in general is always preparing us for, stoking our fantasies of omnipotence and our insecurities about not belonging to group of preferred customers or whatever. (That is part of the logic behind retailers’ loyalty programs—those stupid cards you have to flash to get the sale price on items, like you are part of some elite cadre of special shoppers. Though the main reason for them, I always thought, was to track what you purchased and use that to compile demographic data to sell to manufacturers and advertisers.)

Perplexed by services for helping customers get the best rooms or seats within a hotel or particular flight, Smith asks “Is this much information really empowering, or does having such fine grading merely make some people unhappy when they don’t get what their little website says is the best?” It certainly supplies the illusion of power and an opportunity to discriminate. I think it allows for the pleasure of making petty judgments, becoming ersatz insiders, and scoring insignificant victories over peer shoppers on a scoreboard that the insecurity mongers conjure out of thin air. Basically, when we as customers become fussy children, the retailers become our parental authority figures, granting or withholding the love we crave, even as we foolishly believe we are in control because we are being fussed over.

In a consumer society, shopping isn’t about satisfying some set of wants extrinsic to the market arena—it is about entering the arena and having our wants stoked and then satisfied, with our competitive juices stoked and our fantasizing mind fully engaged. Shopping is itself an experiential good; anything we take happen to take home from us is often just a souvenir.

Like Vaughn at Mind Hacks, I’m generally skeptical of neuroscientific research of the brain-lights-up-therefore-it’s-true variety, but for what it’s worth, this WSJ piece today explains that shopping is like crack smoking:

Research shows that people often do get a high from shopping—the brain releases chemicals such as dopamine or serotonin when a person is stimulated by discovering something new, such as a handbag. Sometimes, aspects of the shopping experience such as friendly sales clerks, eye-catching displays or aisles that are easy to navigate can trigger brain activity that brings about these “euphoric moments,” says Dr. David Lewis, director of neuroscience at Mindlab International, a United Kingdom-based consultancy whose clients include athletes, retailers and advertising companies. “The brain is turned on by novelty.”

The writer sums up that “For the consumer, such studies serve as an important reminder that these euphoric moments do exist but they aren’t necessarily triggered by the desire to own a particular item.” I’m starting to believe that we convince ourselves we want some specific thing as an alibi so that we can enjoy the shopping experience as a whole. Like when I would sit down for some “writing” because I knew that would lead to cigarette breaks.

To a larger and larger degree, the wants occur after we have already decided to go shopping; they are not the impetus. So we don’t start by wishing we could be “getting a better room” but we enter the sphere of services and discover that we can and then want to. The key for marketers is to keep us in that sphere—a mental space more than a physical space—where we are searching for things to buy, with buying becoming how we remind ourselves of our being.

by Jason Gross

16 May 2008

When Apple actually considers breaking out of it’s 99 cent box for selling all of its items, that’s news.  No doubt that this has something to do with the fact that the entertainment companies that were supplying it with content were getting frustrated and finding other online services to do business with (i.e. Amazon).  While Apple still holds a huge share of the music download market, it’s not on as solid ground with movies or TV, where it hasn’t been able to strike as many deals.  No doubt the TV/movie companies don’t want to make the same mistake as the music companies (who are sometimes part of the same corporation) and all agree to give over all their goodies to Jobs and friends so that they can corner the market in another realm of online entertainment.  While they’re still far ahead, Apple ain’t dumb- they know that they have to stay competitive and that the entertainment big-wigs don’t like ‘em and want more options so they’re not tied into the whims of Apple (much like they have to kiss Walmart’s feet when they make decisions about pricing too).  Now if only Apple would see the light about streaming albums for a monthly fee…

by Bill Gibron

15 May 2008

Summer’s still sizzling away, and for the weekend beginning 16 May, here are the films in focus:

CJ7 [rating: 7]

CJ7 is a deceptive little delight, a movie that wisely avoids the pitfalls of its obvious homage to set its own cinematic course

Every director has a little whimsy in him (or her). It’s a crucial element for being an artist. When utilized sparingly, channeled alongside a well-considered storyline or narrative, it’s the reason that movies are magic. On the other hand, overdose on the capricious and you threaten to drown the audience in uncontrollable waves of saccharine schlock. Stephen Chow, best known to Westerners for his cartoon action comedies Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle, is actually considered a master of the mo lei tau, or nonsense/ ‘silly talk’ comedies in his native land. That may explain why his latest effort, the speculative fable CJ7, feels so unlike his more famous films. Indeed, it tends to look more toward Chow’s performance past than his present day rise to international superstardom.  read full review…
 

Frontier(s) [rating: 7]

Frontier(s) still finds a way to mine the past while staying rooted in the present. It may seem recognizable, but it’s a well made and effective awareness.

When it comes to reviving old horror clichés, the French have been on quite a roll recently. First, they deconstructed the stand alone suspense thriller with the straightforward shocker Ils. Then they took on the hoary slasher genre with the gruesome, gore-drenched delight Inside. Now, Xavier Gens, the man behind the mainstream Hollywood video game actioner Hitman has reconfigured the isolated terror take best exemplified by Tobe Hooper and his larger than life man-monster Leatherface. And while it’s not as successful as his countrymen’s contributions to the category, Frontier(s) is still one surprisingly sick ride. read full review…
 

Hats Off [rating: 5]

Sometimes, a story is just not worth telling, and while Mimi’s life is definitely an unusual one, it’s not iconic.

There is a big difference between interesting and intriguing. The former identification can be connected to any subject that spikes our attention. We may not enjoy everything that we hear, but at least we wanted to listen. The latter is far more fascinating. It’s indicative of something that transcends the initial curiosity, and moves us to consider ideas far beyond the scope of the subject matter. Clearly, documentarian Jyll Johnstone believes that 93 year old actress and free spirit Mimi Weddell is intriguing. Her unlikely life story, filled with personal pitfalls and minor professional triumph definitely feels like the stuff of modern mythos. But something in Hats Off, the film focusing on this driven diva, falters. Instead of winning us over, we’re only mildly interested. .read full review…

Other Releases—In Brief

Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian [rating: 5]

When will Hollywood learn that you can’t recapture the magic of a previous cinematic epic. If it was possible to capture lightning in a bottle over and over again, no franchise would fail. The sad fact remains that, for every Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter tale, there are a dozen Golden Compasses. The Chronicles of Narnia were reviled by J.R.R. Tolkein, the author arguing that C. S. Lewis’ faith-based fantasies were too enamored of their internal belief subtext to work as actual adventures. Mr. Hobbit had a helluva point. While the first film in the series, the likeable The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe had the entire make believe mythos to deal with, the sullen sequel Prince Caspian just pours on the pointless war mongering. The Penvensie quartet is back in their former kingdom for the first time in a year. Sadly, 13 centuries have passed, and a despotic race of human Telmarines is in charge. They have all but destroyed the empire, and evil King Miraz has removed rightful heir Caspian from the throne. With everyone speaking in thick Spanish accents and relying on knowledge of the books to avoid narrative depth, we wind up with a series of long walks followed by sequences of slipshod CGI swordplay. While it’s not quite dull, it’s never the spectacle that returning director Andrew Adamson thinks it is. In the end, we find ourselves waiting for an entertainment epiphany that never comes. 

 

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