Editor's Choice

Twittering the revolution

This post (via 3QD) from Josh Tucker reminds that my reaction to new media like Twitter is often pretty parochial. I tend to imagine only Americans using it, and then only the sort of urban Americans who are invested in being part of the tech cognoscenti, the sort of people who need to crowdsource their afterparty plans. Tucker points out that Twitter works effectively as a low-cost walkie-talkie server for oppressed people/guerrilla groups organizing social protests.

The events unfolding in Moldova, however, suggest that internet-based social networking tools that were not even present during the original colored revolutions, such as Facebook and especially Twitter, may also be able to play a very valuable role in allowing even loosely organized opposition networks to coordinate protest activity. To the extent that a constant stream of Twitter posts increases any individual’s confidence that there will be more protestors in the street at a particular place at a particular point in time, it should also serve to lower the perceived costs of participation to potential protestors.

The more people there are, the less likely you will be singled out for post-unrest beatings -- though I would want to make sure my protest-faction Twitter account was pretty solidly anonymized. I suspect repressive governments will get wise to this, and shutting down cellular phones and wi-fi hubs if possible will become fundamental riot-police actions. Could there be a clandestine Twitter? How many Twitter messages are currently in spy code? ("The gray owl flies at dawn. Seek the pale stranger at the cafe with no faces.")

But this post made me realize how distracted I'd become by the lingo and branding associated with Twitter. It hadn't occurred to me before that it was essentially an internet walkie-talkie system and nothing more -- the business about sharing what you are doing and providing status updates so on is just window dressing, not the essence of the service. I still think Twitter will ultimately reach is apotheosis as a personalized advertising medium, providing us a stream of demographically and geographically targeted information to help us remember to want things. But in its transitionary phase, it works to teach us the joys of nonreciprocal communication with an audience that becomes less and less differentiated as we grow accustomed to the medium and expand our reach. Already I'm slipping away from the revolutionary potential Tucker hints at, back toward Western narcissism -- probably because it is hard for me to imagine ordinary people needing walkie-talkies. (Just think of those douchebags who use push-to-talk services when they are on elevators, like they are A.D.'s on the set of the movie of their life.) I guess Twitter can be used to organize radical activity, but nothing in the medium is likely to radicalize its users. It's more likely that using the service the way it is designed to be used will coarsen and simplify one's discourse and encourage a bizarre and unnecessary self-importance.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

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TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

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The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

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If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

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Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

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