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by Bill Gibron

13 May 2009

While his massively successful Star Wars was raking in the ‘70s blockbuster bucks, creator George Lucas let slip that we was considering not one, but three trilogies for the fledgling franchise. First, he would finish up the adventures of Luke, Lea, Han, and the rest, then he would go back and explain the origins of these familiar characters (the last three would deal with some future scenario long since forgotten). At the time, the announcement was met with great enthusiasm, fans eager to see how such familiar icons in the making found their niche in such an epic environment. Ten years ago, we got the first of these pathetic prequels, films that failed to realize any of the aims that many Wars Heads had for the mythos. Now, in retrospect, Lucas’ lame excuse for a series start-up is often sited as the main reason why these kinds of film, in general, do not work. And they are, for the most part, pretty bad.

Enter J. J. Abrams and the next to impossible task of taking Star Trek back to its Starfleet Academy days. Paramount, eager to jumpstart its once mighty motion picture series, gave the Lost man an interesting ultimatum - turn the aging voyages of the Starship Enterprise into something so unique that both old and new fans could enjoy it. Initial buzz was sketchy, with casting being the biggest concern. Happily, Abrams delivered, turning the once over the hill catalog entry into a new and very viable tentpole. Naturally, this has Wars fans wondering what could have been. What if George Lucas wasn’t such an insular entrepreneur and hadn’t insisted upon writing and directing all three of the prequels? What if he had made better casting or character choices? In fact, what if he had scrapped the original legacy of his beloved heroes and villains and, instead, taken some much needed risks with these overly familiar icons?

by Jason Gross

12 May 2009

The major networks have always had their little battles going on about ratings and who’s on top, extending to their news broadcasts but now that little battle has gone even deeper into… indie rock?  Yep, it seems that NBC and ABC are now battling it out with their own programs: NBC anchor Brian Williams has BriTunes while ABC’s Dan Harris has Amplified.  How the hell did it come to this?

Where it was once a given, nowadays it’s comical to think that a half-hour (22 minutes, really) daily brodcast can cram in all the news around the world.  In that space of time, there’s little room for entertainment news, which gets turned into short blurbs or puff pieces at the end of news casts, if that.

As such, Williams’ and Harris’ five minute music segments wouldn’t be able to find a place in their regular newscast and they don’t- both series are web only.  It’s probably not too much of a stretch to think that the two networks are doing these programs to reach a younger demographic in a medium that Gen Z can relate to better.  The boobtoob is so 20th century by now with figures showing that the audience for network news is now only shrinking quickly but that it’s also at AARP age- if you think I’m kidding, there’s several recent reports to back this up, from 2009, 2007 and 2006. NBC and ABC clearly ain’t happy about this and most likely, they think Bri and Danny can turn the tide.

But can they really do it alone?  Both do fine jobs on their regular TV newscasts with Williams’ stern demeanor (though he races through headlines so quickly sometimes, you don’t know when one story starts and when one ends) and Harris as the earnest observer, and not the main anchor at his station (yet).  On their webcasts, neither of them wears a jacket and tie like they do on TV, just to show off their casual look as they interview bands.  They also rely on flashes and clips from music publications to show you why the bands they chose are worthy of their time and your time- Rolling Stone, Spin, Pitchfork and yes, PopMatters all help them bolster the bands’ reps.

Harris has been at it for a few months now, having Superdrag, Superchunk, Camera Obscura, Hold Steady, Bob Mould, Dan Deacon, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart and Neko Case among others on his show.  All of which makes for a nice mixtape but you’ll notice that other than Pains, all of the others have been around for some years and already have a rep.  The thing is, that rep is in the indie world and in the greater world of music, they ain’t exactly household names.  ABC then is either trying to expand its audience’s musical pallette or trying to lure in the younger demographic who knows and supports these bands- maybe they’d appreciate seeing a news clip of their favorite bands or think “Wow, they’re putting them on ABC’s website!” 

Either way, ABC is going to be hardpressed to compete with places like Pitchfork that already make the indie scene their bread and butter. Harris (who admits to being a Superchunk freak and did the best in that segment) is earnest on the Amplified segments as well, and a little looser too though he could and should be more- he asks mostly background questions from the bands, about their lives growing up or how they cope with being an artist now, which isn’t bad but doesn’t always generate deep, penetrating answers or analysis. Until the program sticks its neck out to break bands or can do something more than the mini Q&A’s with little clips of songs now and then, it’ll never take off or distinguish itself.

Williams’ show, which is just starting out, follows the same basic format- BW does a brief Q&A with the band and we hear short clips of their music.  It’s obvious that he’s not as comfortable interrogating bands as he is with politicians.  That might change but he should really take a good hard look at his own clips though he doesn’t come off as laughably square as Tom Synder did on his Tomorrow show.  Williams might also want to take a gander at the advice that Harris gives him on his blog (“The V-neck sweater works. Love it”).

Despite all of these reservations, I hope that both of them keep at it and not just because we see a more relaxed, human face on these two pillars of network news.  As it is, the big networks don’t show enough love for music so maybe this is a foot in the door.  I just hope that they find the time to get some rap, country, modern classical and jazz in the mix too at some point, no matter what the demographic reports tell them.  Hope that also means that they won’t wear flannel shirts, cowboy hats and backwards baseball hats too though…

by Rob Horning

12 May 2009

Peter Suderman’s contribution to the “Is Google making us stupid” debate has already attracted some attention. Suderman’s contention is that anytime access to all the information on the internet is making us smart in a different way—rather than signaling intellegence by having facts memorized, we demonstrate intelligence by knowing where to find information online. The internet becomes collective memory, and intelligence is a factor of who has the best system for accessing that memory. Hence, as he titles his post, “your brain is an index.”

Books taught us to think like they do — as tools for storing extensive knowledge. Now the web teaches us to think like it does — as a tool for recall and connection. We won’t be so good at memorizing everything there is to know about a particular small-bore topic, but we’ll be a lot better at knowing what there is to be known about the broader category the topic fits into, and what other information might provide insight and context.

He may be right about this, but that is exactly what people are afraid of. Suderman’s focus on memory and data retrieval seems to ignore the aspects of intelligence that involve synthesizing ideas and making argumentative leaps, and more to the point, that involve hanging with an intricate and long-winded argument and understanding how it works and what its weaknesses are. The fear that critics of internet-mediated consciousness have is that we’ll lose the ability to formulate these critiques because we will have regressed into the habit of searching for what has already been said and latching on to whatever superficial information ebbs up from that search. As Kevin Drum, who yearns to be sympathetic with Suderman, is forced to point out,

Understanding ‘broader categories’ — the context into which individual pieces of knowledge fit — requires you to read books. Full stop…. Kids who grow up on the internet may be great at looking up odd bits of information quickly, but my experience is that they often suck at figuring out what that information means and what conclusions it’s reasonable to draw from it. That’s because they don’t know the context. They don’t know the rest of the story. And that’s because they don’t read enough books.

Matt Yglesias wonders why Drum picks on the internet and fetishizes the book as a mode of learning, though Suderman himself seems to grant Drum’s point, following up his post with links to some reference books. But the deeper question has to do with whether the mountains of data now available to us inhibits thought or enables it, or has no particular effect on the quality of thought. It’s great to be able to look up specific information and get it quickly—to be able to pull up texts and search them for half-remembered phrases, for example. But chasing down information online tends to generate a centrifugal force that takes one out of the orbit of the original inquiry. The promise of more and different and enticing stimuli is always there, and our battle against distraction seems always to become more difficult. I’m not sure if the opportunity for distraction makes it inevitable, or if that’s just me. Maybe I need to try meditation.

by Sarah Zupko

12 May 2009

The year’s best Americana record so far is Ryan Bingham’s upcoming Roadhouse Sun. Lost Highway releases the album on June 2nd, but you can listen to a stream on the album over on the label’s site.

Ryan Bingham
Roadhouse Sun [Stream]

by PopMatters Staff

12 May 2009

The video for Mos Def’s new single “Case Bey” has premiered on MySpace. The hip-hoppers long awaited new album The Ecstatic will finally see the light on day on 9 June.

Mos Def
“Casa Bey” [MP3]

//Mixed media

NYFF 2017: 'Mudbound'

// Notes from the Road

"Dee Rees’ churning and melodramatic epic follows two families in 1940s Mississippi, one black and one white, and the wars they fight abroad and at home.

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