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Lost on the web

That ABC will release Lost episodes on the web for download has been getting a lot of coverage and has been hailed as a brand new era in media and the ultimate maturation of Web synergies and so on. I'm not sure that this is much of a bid deal at this point. The audience who relies on the Internet for entertainment seems different in nature than the group who counts on the cable box. In BusinessWeek columnist Stephen Wildstrom argues that until searching for shows becomes more mainstream, and until you can make your computer function like a souped-up cable box, Net TV won't make much inroads, and that seems right to me. TV watching is rarely something that happens as a result of the active curiosity that drives one to seek out content on the Internet. Rather it is a result of the passive indifference to specifics and the vague desire to hear people talking and to see pretty people doing stuff. The Internet provides too many choices, even now, of things to watch that it frustrates the goal of much TV watching, which is not to think, to be permitted not to think and indulge oneself in a soporific stretch of brainlessness.

That's why I'm skeptical of Tyler Cowen's analysis

that on-demand programming will make TV smarter. His logic is that episodes won't need to be redundant with previous ones since those earlier shows wil always be available for people to catch up. And presumably the ability to play through shows again will permit a greater complexity that rewards the diligent attention of viewers and engages them in a quest to figure out what the hell is going on. Perhaps the niche shows Cowen mentions -- Lost, Battlestar Galactica (which is really good) -- will better cater to their audiences this way, but many TV shows are about the flight from complexity. I guess I'm not a beleiver in the argument Steven Johnson put out last year that pop culture makes you smarter -- if only. Johnson assumes that since the potential is there for complex analytical culture, it is being widely realized by a thoughtful, analytical audience. But complex culture can be comsumed in a simple-minded way -- you can watch Fellini films just to ogle the women. The amount of concentration a viewer brings will ultimately determine how intellectual an experience one has with television -- you can do deep Lacanian analysis of Teletubbies and be far more intellectually engaged then you would be watching Johnson's favorite example, 24, and its intricate plots.

If the programming choices are truly left in the hands of individual consumers, I suspect many would be content to watch the same few things over and over again, which reduces the pressure of watching while providing the comfort of familiarity. The challenge for the culture industry in an n-demand world is to keep a populace as addicted to novelty as they are when their programming is controlled centrally.

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

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This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

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​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

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Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

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There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

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