8/14: Further Thoughts On Nazis And Uniforms

While the dust was clearing from the inauguration, I wrote a blog about what Nazi media is out there. As most of my more emotional blog posts at the time did, it all turned into a joke about pop culture, specifically Zach Braff. I meant that piece as a way to address punching Nazis, which I still think is a pretty reasonable course of action.

This weekend, however, the Alt Right made the boldest move it could and hosted a "Unite The Right" rally in Charlottesville, VA protesting the removal of Confederate monuments from public places. To put it more simply, a bunch of white folks were upset they could no longer worship icons of an era when certain people were treated worse than cattle, and decided to show the world that 1800s never ended for them. As they waved their swastika flags and raised their tiki torches, I knew my focus had to turn to the uniform.

First, a word on taking off uniforms: no claims of ignorance, of coercion, of youth, can erase a history of supporting a fascist ideology. If someone wears the colors or a Nazi wristband, they will never be able to claim they did not. Even punk rockers, who claimed to use swastikas and safety pins to shock an older generation, still had to fight uphill to make anyone believe they were not legitimate fascists. The iconographic power of the swastika is easy is low-hanging fruit with a terrible cost, and all who take on its garb must accept that they once wore the world's most horrifying symbol of terrorism. 

One huge problem I can see right now is that people are not being held accountable for these actions. Yes, there is a Twitter account that exposes people who would otherwise keep thinking their thoughts in secret, but these are drops in the bucket. 

You know, I started writing this blog as a review and commentary on the successful German film Look Who's Back. Basically, imagine this movie as a Sacha Baron Cohen movie, except Borat is Adolf Hitler sent through time and he wins the hearts of the people at the end. It shouldn't sadden me as much it does to say that I accepted time travel's existence in the film far more quickly than I could believe that modern Germans accepted a Hitler impersonator in their midst as quickly as they did. 

Back to here and now, we live in a nation where the leader is not an outspoken fascist, but a smugly silent partner. Though Trump has not endorsed the Nazis in Charlottesville, he has not condemned them either.

"We need somebody that literally will take this country and make it great again"

As a personally introverted person, I have always found my space for resistance in words and letters. Aside from working, I don't hardly like to leave home much. It's a scary world out there, and I don't like being a part of it most times.

Now, the time has come to change that. It is not in my character to hurt others, so I will not be physically violent. I am not much one for being silent either, but I know that my range of communication remains limited so long as I only use a digital voice. I must take my resistance to the streets, use my body and mind, while I still can.

8/10: This Blog Still Probably Isn't Worth It, But It's Going To Be Different

The last time I wrote on this blog, I was getting ready to move back to Portland and live my life as anything except a second-grade teacher. I had a job lined up in the beer industry so that I could pursue my passion of bringing great beer to people, and I knew things were going to go right for me. 

I guess I should have read my own writing more carefully. Even though my time in San José was not easy, life since then has been full of rude awakenings and abrupt transitions. Now, I find myself fully alone and struggling to keep my head above water again, preparing applications and gathering the momentum to write again.

In my quest for inspiration, I somehow stumbled across The Founder.

Even though the film is essentially a single, gigantic advertisement for the most successful fast food chain in American history, the performances put on by the three main characters with controlling interests in McDonald's makes it a compelling piece for me to study right now. Particularly, I become attracted to the character of Ray Kroc.

As the mastermind of McDonald's, Kroc is a character like Gatsby or Kane, purely American by way of his outright dedication to  outrageous and heinous actions in the pursuit of glory. Yet, we are likely to "hear [Kroc's] lines quoted by businesspeople and b-school students as inspirational texts, probably because it's more fun to identify with the bastard who gets things done than the people who suffer from his actions" says critic Matt Zoller Seitz. This is a fundamental disconnect I have often wondered and written about.

 Kroc at his lowest turns to motivational records

Kroc at his lowest turns to motivational records

But I was not as compelled by his later character, the merciless billionaire who is rising gloriously to the epoch of his success. Instead, I loved the character who sat in the dirt, down and out, realizing that his dreams are on the line and he may never, never make it big.

On the brink of failure, Kroc desperate pushes until he breaks. From the ashes, he arises and makes it.

 The last chance for an old man

The last chance for an old man

The reason I love this idea so much, of course, is because it reminds me once again that "pulling yourself up by your bootstraps" is a lazy, racist myth. Kroc is someone who pushed until he succeeded, but he is also some upper-class white guy who took advantage of other white guys. 

Reflecting on my own life, I am rapidly realizing that no matter how desperate my quest for meaningful employment becomes, I must never forget that I am operating as a part of a system that is predisposed to favoring my type of people. 

No matter how hard it is for myself or it was for Ray Kroc, I cannot let myself be inspired by simple inspirational rhetoric. To abandon the knowledge of systemic classist and racist systems in order to glorify my own accomplishments even in the darkest times is an indolent fallacy.

Kroc finally answers, "What's in a name?"

So, what did we learn?

  1. The Founder is a fascinating movie
  2. I don't want to use unemployment as an excuse to forget my white privilege or stop writing
  3. Tim Burton is making a live-action Dumbo movie, and folks are already trying to leak pictures of it
 It's gonna get weird, boys and girls

It's gonna get weird, boys and girls

4/25: Is This Blog Worth It?

When I first set out to write this blog, the purpose was simple. I meant to maintain a scheduled series of posts that I thought would show my commitment to media studies scholarship. It was fun, it was weird, but it was mainly on track until it wasn't.

Many months later, this strange collection of posts has proven to be less consistent than I hoped, but also more interesting. It's a backlog of my emotions through one of the most difficult years in my life, and I wouldn't trade it for anything. 

Looking forward, this June I am returning to Portland and figuring out where my life goes from here. I'm not entirely certain how it will go, but, as I've said elsewhere, I will not forget my time in between college and adulthood. I'll probably keep writing too, in one way or another.

By the way, did anyone else see Sand Castle? Imagine a discount Jarhead and then make it less poignant, and you'll start to grasp at what this story does. I understand that they used less resources, but if I see another xenophobic war movie with characters so shallow they are literally indistinguishable I might go join the Army myself. Sand Castle's ending could copy-paste the last act of American Sniper and become an objectively better film because then at least the warriors would be believably sad.

But I also did not and could not make the movie, so, ya know, props to the folks whose visions were made and whose bellies were filled.

4/23: Hello Again, And A Sunday Night Challenge

I'm coming at you tonight with an announcement and a challenge. First, the news: I have finally finished presenting at the Society for Cinema & Media Studies Undergraduate conference! While I have been using that as an excuse to be lazy for a while, I am glad to be done with the paper I did not plan on writing a full year out of formal studies. The people that I met there were all incredibly dedicated to their crafts, and I have no doubt that they will succeed if they choose to pursue further studies. I may return to my original posting schedule (Tuesdays and Sundays) this week, but we shall see.

As is pretty typical of me, I am putting the whole script of my presentation (along with the Powerpoint) up on this page. I am doing this not to show off (because, honestly, it's pretty rough), but to put the resources out there so that the community can study this more. My challenge: this subject warrants deeper investigation. I want you to at least think about it, and you have my explicit permission to use any of my materials however you wish.

SCRIPT

PPT

    In case you aren't inclined to wade through my notes, here's a TL;DR:

    • Donald Trump has two Twitter accounts that act incredibly differently
    • @realDonaldTrump acts as a loudspeaker, and having simple textual tweets gives it a weird validity as a "real", "live" identity
    • @POTUS is a way for the official office to pass memos along, but the account's use of external links diminishes its power
    • This is not normal

    3/7: A Hiatus, But With Updates Soon

    Unfortunately, I must again take a small hiatus from posting this week due to two exciting factors. 

    1. First, I am planning on publishing a newsletter for my place of employment. Editorial cap is going on for this one, so we shall see how it goes.
    2. Secondly, I had a paper accepted into the SCMSU Conference this April. This is the paper I mentioned, but I haven't made much headway due to the timeline of the media being released. I can post more in detail later, but as a teaser, here's a screenshot of my application to the conference.

    3/4: Logan, Shane, And The Dubious Future Of The Superhero Western

    This morning, I went and saw a matinee screening of James Mangold's Logan. Despite the overwhelmingly positive reviews, I could go either way on this particular film. On the one hand, it is an incredible moment for the immensely talented writers to liberate the largely PG-13 characters of Wolverine and Professor X in new and exciting ways, and Jackman in particular shines like he hasn't since The Fountain. On the other hand, Marvel is trying so hard to infiltrate yet another genre that it is almost comedic, and I'm not sure what I think of that.

    Remember the old times, when Marvel only made superhero movies? I consider the start of the modern era 2008's Iron Man, but for a great many years, the comics company only portrayed strange men and women in tights who faced serious life crises that stacked on top of one another. And yet, over and over, protagonists lived on undamaged and invincible because they all had contracts that demanded it, emerging unchanged at the end of the journey except that now they had powers. Stories began, heroes used powers, villains were defeated.

    Around the start of 2016, people started vocally registering that they were sick of the Marvel model, but it took until the release of Deadpool later that year to really lay the groundwork for what a different, Hard R superhero movie could be. Because it was such a radical twist on the superhero genre, it garnered critical respect, yachts full of money, and even a few awards. It was a turning point, a mark that Marvel's superbrand could succeed pretty much however it was used.

    In this light, Logan seems like an experiment: can Marvel make a Western?

    When you think "Western," what do you think of? Likely, an image of a cowboy in a bustling frontier town filled with gunslingers popped into your head. However, the film that Logan chose to base itself on is not one glorifying the West, but a glorification of its end. Shane is the perfect film to describe Wolverine, seeing as it is more about a homesteader failing to hang up his guns than it is a glorification of that nomadic, violent lifestyle. Like many post-modern Westerns, both Logan and Shane are about men who desperately want to die quietly in their beds and are prevented from doing this by their own abilities. I will admit that it is done remarkably well and I am surprised that Marvel let such an iconic character go in such a cathartic way.

    lohan.jpg

    I would love to dive deeper into Logan's similarities with Western characters, specifically the tropic Man With No Name, but I would rather spend my energy raising this one question: now that Marvel is capable of making Westerns with their characters, where will they go next? Action, Comedy, and Drama are now fully dominated by superheroes, and I am frankly frightened to see what comes next.

    Unless it means Spider-Man in a musical. Cause that would be really fun.

    2/21: On Survival And Looking Back From Magazine Covers

    Today's post will be shorter, as the workplace rhythm continues at a fever pitch. So, without further ado, I'll dive right into Janice Winship's selection from her "Inside Women's Magazines" titled Survival Skills And Daydreams. As much as I hate to admit it, that subtitle alone compelled me to select it for my reflection. 

    The selection opens with a general overview of where men's and women's cultures are at the moment according to publications. Not only does it analyze how gendered lives are "culturally defined in markedly different ways," but also how they are much different in their actuality (334). "Women have no culture and world out there other than the one which is controlled and mediated by men," she writes at one point, and I am inclined to agree (335). Furthermore, when women are afforded media spaces designed for their own pleasure, they and the women are "perennially belittled" by the nation (335). 

    However, after this interesting content Winshop moves into a topic pretty atypical of media studies: "the woman's gaze" (336). While everyone and their Oedipal mother discusses the male gaze as how cinema's perversion operates, the female gaze operates outward here. There are two types of gaze emanating outward from a magazine, argues Winship, the first being a "provocatively sexual" look into the eyes of the viewer (337). Unfortunately, the spectator still has "the controlling look," choosing to either be aroused or to "turn the page" (337). However, the other sort of gaze is not sexual at all, but encourages "complicity between women" as "the steady, self-contained, calm look of unruffled temper... [she] is the woman who can manage her emotions and her life" (337). Such an interesting duality here, I can't help but write on it!

     

     Eyes #1

    Eyes #1

     Eyes #2

    Eyes #2

    As a post script, let me mention Winship's writing style. Writing as a woman and addressing her family's own routine is an extremely compelling method, and it works well for Winship. 

    2/11: Engineering The Perfect 12 Song Mixtape

    Most of the things I know about mixtapes I learned from High Fidelity. And honestly, the rules are pretty simple: start strong, bring it up, chill it out, and follow through. 

    Still, there's no harm in aspiring to perfection, so I thought I'd explain what my favorite way to form a 12 song playlist is. It's not perfect, and at times I'm making it up on the spot, but that's kind of the case with most things I do.

    1.) Start Strong, Start Weird: Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a universally strong song. For instance, the strongest song to start a mixtape to me is London Calling by The Clash because it's weird, starts way too loud, and is still a recognizably popular rhythm. To you, it may be What Do You Mean. The point is, the song has to be unexpected and pleasant, like ice cream for breakfast.

    2.) Push Harder: I agree with High Fidelity again, you have to bring it up from here. Please note, faster does not mean the song is more intense. You could have the most jumbled guitar-driven anthem here if you wanted but the it wouldn't mean anything unless the song builds off the previous song to a rising crescendo of melodic energy.

    3.) Don't Be An Asshole, Asshole: Here is where logic dictates that you take a light downhill to let the person you dedicated this album to catch their breath. On the one hand, you could make the choice to include something soothing and chilled out that doesn't mean much, and you could probably get away with it. But that's not what this album is about, it's about you telling someone how much they mean to you!  Take the time to find out their favorite acoustic record, look through your texts to find their favorite song off that record, and let their body relax while their heart soars. 

    4.) Life Is Made Of Wonder: Having just done something nice for them, do something nice for the album. Play something so bizarre, so out of touch with everything in the taste of the album, that they know it signals they are over the first wave. This song is a narcissistic endeavor, a song to help you meditate and reengage in your music selection.

    5.) Love Is Intimate: If this album isn't made for someone you love, then why are you making it? This is the song that represents you both, and becomes a transition away from the album being about just impressing them. The playlist evolves from a boombox under the window to a soft confession on the balcony.

    6.) Vulnerability Is For Squares...: You just bared your heart, play something to make them smile. It shouldn't be over three minutes. 

    7.) ...So Make Them The Square: This one is tough, because you have to guess exactly right what song meant so much to them that they don't even talk about it. I'd recommend looking back at their Facebook posts, or taking a shot in the dark based on something they mentioned offhand a while ago. Low success rate, but it's always worth a gamble.

    8.) Damage Control, One Way Or Another: Following that previous song, there are two possible outcomes. They are either feeling so happy you could play Nickelback and get away with it, or they are pleasantly nonplussed by a band they happen to like quite a bit. Either way, this one's a good time to play it safe, back off a bit, and pick a nice, neutral song.

    9.) Narcissus And His Damned Swan Song: This song is your final one that is just about you, and at this point should introduce a part of your heart they didn't know about. Whether that be your unresolved taste for Punk or your love of Beethoven, it should be something deeply important to you that they don't expect. Hell, it may even be something you don't expect.

     

    10.) Yes, I Can Hear You. Can You Hear Me?: They deserve a nice, mellow song by a band they like. I recommend something in the Alt J range of interesting and chill, but that's just me. 

    11.) This Is Our Song, You Know: At this point, you're reaching the end of the album and need to put in the song you both love. You know, the song that came on the first time you danced or some sentimental thing. Maybe it's just a song you think you would both like, but that's up to your discretion.

    12.) How The Hell Do You Spell "Epitaph?": The most important songs on an album are the opening and the closing. This song should be like the heel on a loaf of bread: tough because you are realizing it's over, yet crunchy in its own way. Have a nice, long reverb on the final chord and close the doors.

    13.) But Wait, There's More!: Except the thing is, no mix is complete without a twist at the end. The final, bonus song on your album should be something that challenges the recipient to match and better the mix. It's a confrontation of sorts, but also an affirmation that you two are whatever you are, and that will not change. Invite them to return your correspondence, and see what happens.

    2/7: Making Advertising Less Magic, Everybody Loves Raymond Williams

    As if I even need to reiterate it at this point, I will be using this post to break down an already simplified version of a classic text: "Advertising: The Magic System" from Raymond Williams' Problems and Materialism and Culture. In fact, this text is actually much shorter than its peers in my blog (weighing in at roughly 5.5 pages,) so I'll be a bit brief. There are three major topics covered by Williams, the first being the basis of advertising. A deep knowledge of Marx is all over this, with the words "Capitalism" and "Use" being flipped out like hotcakes (704-705). However, midway through the second page he crescendos into the word "magic" in a way only Williams can, midway through a paragraph and in light italics (705). Williams grounds this system of advertising in the occult and the real, calling it "similar to magical systems in simpler societies, but rather strangely coexistent with a highly developed scientific technology" (705). Maybe its just me, but this is Williams at his finest, writing on the unknown.

    After a brief section on consumerism (which our author notes is a "metaphor drawn from the stomach or the furnace,") Williams returns to the concept of magic as "the jejune bravado of deeply confused men" (706, 709). This is the most relevant claim to me, probably because I pretend to be a cynically wise young man when in reality I am a notoriously selfish and confused boy. Advertising is magic not because it is cast by sorcerers, but because it is a curse unleashed by those who willingly appear Faustian while remaining empty as us inside. Advertising is fake, "a true part of the culture of a confused society" (709).

    2/4: Random Thoughts On Punching Nazis

    Even before Richard Spencer got assaulted during an interview last month, people have not exactly been conflicted what exactly we should do with the alt right. The phrase "punch a Nazi" is so simple that it is tough to say anything against it: when confronted by Nazi, punch. The sheer physicality of being able to swing at a hate object is by nature satisfying, and I hope the trend stays alive.

    That being said, uniformed Nazis (or even uniformed alt right folks) are not the people I generally run into on the street. Maybe we move in different social circles, maybe they think I smell weird, I'm not sure.

    However, as I am a person who enjoys movies and media pretty extensively, I thought I'd put together a list of five or so media objects concerning White Supremacy that I've watched in the recent past.

    American History X: 

    This movie alternates between moments of extreme love and brutal violence. The tale of Edward Norton being raised as a misinformed skinhead is frighteningly relevant, especially given the ending of failed redemption. The story here: we must not punch Nazis, we must annihilate them by changing their minds.

    Inglorious Basterds:

    Admittedly, this one goes the opposite direction. There is no understanding in Tarantino's universe, only a bloodthirsty desire for revenge. And I dig that, there are those of us who need to keep killing Hitler until every Nazi is dead. 

    Triumph Of The Will:

    Everybody loves this film because it is one of the best-photographed documentaries of all time, and everyone has their own way of brushing past the fact that it's a movie about the glory of Adolf Hitler's movement (Roger Ebert had only one thing to say about that particular leader: "What a horrible man.") I do not intend to make this excuse, for it is important to bathe in the fact that Hitler led his nation with far fewer checks to his power than Trump's administration has right now.

    13th:

    Part of the reason people weren't concerned about Trump is because they didn't realize just how fucked the country is. Ava Duvernay pries the scabs off fresh wounds to remind the white, hipster audience perusing Netflix for documentaries that yes, we are implicit in a racist state. Crime and punishment to me has always come down to this: if you do things a police officer doesn't like, he can keep you in a cage until you die.

    Garden State:

    Not a movie about Nazis, I just really strongly dislike Zach Braff and needed a fifth movie.

     Couldn't find a match for me.

    Couldn't find a match for me.

    1/31: Idle Racism In The Citadel, Writing Love On The Walls

    I do believe in my heart of hearts that Stuart Hall is one of the most influential writers in Media Studies for me. His remarkable selection, "Racist Ideologies And The Media", details all varieties of racism, mass media, and everything in between. Frankly, it's a great bit of writing.

    But the problem with that which you love is just how frustrating it can be. This is the case for me with Hall. 

    I have expressed my frustration with Hall in the past, for he tends to write beautiful, exorbitant essays punctuated with harsh meaning and numerical lists. It is, to me, the most effective way to get his points across, especially his points about ideologies (in short: ideologies are not "isolated concepts," nor are they "the product of individual consciousness or intention", for ideologies are based on the laziness that allows people to "'utter' ideological truths as if they were their authentic authors" (271-272). The high level stuff comes naturally to our author, and I can see the influence of this essay floating through the academic world.

    That being said, I think his more important distinction is between "overt" and "inferential" racism. The difference here is something I have been grasping at for years, that white liberals are more dangerous racially then most KKK rallies simply because no one takes them seriously as threats. As is classic Hall, the author deals with an analysis of television programmes with best intention, but eventually this stops becoming a Media Studies paper. By the time Hall reflects on the graduate student that was grasping hopelessly at simplifying because "racism was so ubiquitous, and at the same time unconscious... that it was impossible to get any critical purchase," we can see that Hall is not trying to grab, hold, and analyze the complex topic (275). This essay becomes a discussion out of place and yet necessary and vital in the world of critical theory.

     

    1/21: Live Annotation Of An Inauguration

    Inspired by those good government employees over at NPR, I thought I'd do my own annotated version of Trump's inaugural address before I read their version. All timecodes were taken from this video. "But wait, this isn't about the media at all!" you might say. "You've already written about Trump!" you also might say.

    My blog, my rules.

     I try not to make fun of Trump's physical appearance, as it distracts from the horrifying fact that this thoroughly awful person and his cronies control the government now.

    I try not to make fun of Trump's physical appearance, as it distracts from the horrifying fact that this thoroughly awful person and his cronies control the government now.

    0:08: At least the president has figured out the Thumbs Up sign. That'll help him communicate after his administration plunges us into a state of ruin and a righteous civil war erupts. I want to watch I Am Legend?

    0:22: Are his fingers glued together? Why does he talk about the former presidents and Americans and the people of the world differently? I'll bet this is going to be sup

    0:25: UPDATE: Fingers not glued together.

    0:55: Didn't you ever see Dead Poets Society? Don't ever use words like "very" or "many," it makes it look like you don't know a better word to describe exactly what you're talking about or you're just lazy.

    1:05: Something about power or something. I should watch Dead Poets Society again. Go Obama!

    1:32: Came back from a shot of Obama and now there are army men all over! (Wait, no, Marines are navy men.)

    1:49: "We are transferring power... back to you, the people." Didn't you just say we all, including you, were the people? Nice accentuating though.

    2:07: Now you're gonna talk about a small group of people reaping the rewards of government, Mr. Nepotism?

    3:10: Nope, this isn't all of our moment. Just yours.

    3:33: Are they even trying to find POC they can put onscreen, or are there actually none there?

    3:54: You keep saying "The People." Not sure if you know what that word means.

    4:06: Technically, that's called Communism. I'm way in for it, but are you?

    4:35: Trump announcing his huge revolutionary movement, followed by light applause.

    4:49: Ahhhhhhh here comes the Nationalism. Gotcha.

    5:30: Wow, I didn't know our education system was "flush with cash!" I'll have to go out and ask for a raise on Monday.

    5:50: Even if you talk about "unrealized potential" I still don't want you as my guidance counselor.

    6:07: "Hey Hil, I don't know if I get this guy's jokes."

    6:18: Christ on a cracker, control your pronouns man! 

    6:30: Yes, I'm still petty enough to notice that you just said you were going to take the Oath of Office later even though you took it six and half minutes ago. 

    7:30: Something something you don't wanna do no foreign aid because the United States can live as an island and we don't need nobody else. 

    8:03: Wow, that good quote again about only looking to the future! I'm glad we're not learning from history.

    8:06: This woman is not buying your shit, dude. Quick, throw it to your son and the alt right brigade!

    Screen Shot 2017-01-21 at 20.24.42.png
    Screen Shot 2017-01-21 at 20.26.36.png

    8:39: Well, that's a big declaration.

    9:10: Actually saying that all the other nations on earth are out to steal America's jobs has to be good for foreign affairs, right?

    9:32: Glad to hear he's never going to let me down.

    10:15: Wait, why is he talking about railways? He just said something about rebuilding our country and getting people off of Welfare, does he want to have his own WPA?

    10:53: Foreign Affairs again, huh.

    11:08: Showing this turbaned man nodding is not an accident, especially considering that the next words are about "radical Islamic terrorism."

    11:53: "When you open your heart to Patriotism, there is no room for prejudice." Annnnnnnnd straight into the Bible. What is even happening?

    12:18: THERE! HE SAID IT! "WE MUST ALWAYS PURSUE SOLIDARITY." For those of you following along at home, that's not great.

    12:50: "Most importantly, we will be protected by God." What the fuck? Is Trump going to start a church show after this? I can't blame him, there's good money in it, but wow.

    13:20: Now talking about politicians who are always talking but never doing anything about it. This is a bizarre moment.

    14:16: Now he's talking about space and the future, which is odd. I like space and the future, but I don't like them being put ahead of domestic peace and well-being. 

     

    15:24: Something or other, nationalism and things.

    16:00: Yeah, I don't wanna do this any more. Go America, it'll be Great someday.

     

     Work in Progress

    Work in Progress

    1/17: Public And Private In The Times Of Revolution

    I will admit, the selection process for the reading these blogs are based on usually begins at around 9 PM the night they are "due" for me. Opening a book, I skim through the table of contents looking for something that is both short and meaningful, a combination that has yielded somewhat successful results for me as of yet. I haven't really hit a home run yet, but I have produced a string of interconnected thoughts that have documented my journey into academia and this fine year of service. Analyzing Jürgen Habermas' "The Public Sphere" is no different, as it is a strange essay on the power of the public and the press that doesn't really relate to Media Studies much at all. There are some interesting moments certainly, such as the introduction of "public sphere" as  "a domain of our social life in which such thing as a public opinion can be formed" (92). Seeing as I'm about sick of the strange, skewed social life Facebook has led me to develop, I took a lot of joy in the harsh words that public opinion "can be formed only if a public that engages in rational discussions exists" (93). I'm not sure that we are headed that way as a society, to be honest.

    Despite a short interlude into history (which is in its own right fascinating, but not what my brain has ever really wanted) Habermas picks up his thread soon with the observation that political press "can be observed especially in revolutionary periods" (96). I find this interesting because, arguably, we are in a state of revolution or near to civil war as a nation, and the continued polarization of the press on both sides is like the pounding of war drums in my ears. Our author even addresses the rearing head of neoliberalism, noting the "'refeudalization' of the public sphere" that comes with growing influence of corporations in the press and a simultaneous "singular weakening of [the public opinion's] critical functions" (97). 

    I suppose what I see Habermas driving at is that we can live in a world where corporations control the media which in turn controls the public opinion which in turn controls the political outcomes, and we end up with a hulking, uncritical mass of strong-minded opinions. Divide that nation in two, and it is no wonder that we are inaugurating a Feudal Lord on Friday.

     

    1/14: Netflix's Fourth Release Date, and "IT FOLLOWS"

    If we asked the standard person 10 years ago when a movie came out, their answer would either be the theater release date or the home movie release (The occasional overeducated individual might list the film's first festival appearance, but these cases are few and far between.) This is the model people over a certain age probably still think of because, perfectly honestly, it worked really well for decades. However, I am proposing that there is a new release date that has sprung up with minimal notice, and one that dominates a certain market: the day films begin streaming on subscription services.

    For simplicity's sake, let's consider the Millennial and Netflix. We must start off by saying that, generally, people my age do not generally pay to watch movies, whether that be in the theater or on demand. I don't really want to go into depth of why this phenomenon exists, but I'll assume that my nonexistent readers trust me that young people have little problem pirating films. The thing is, going to a streaming site is hard and can offer lower quality video streams. 

    This is where Netflix streaming comes in. As a service that took up 37% of peak download internet traffic for North America in 2015, we can reasonably say that a lot of people view their media based on what is on Netflix. Furthermore, based on the success of sites that do nothing more than list what movies and shows are coming to and leaving Netflix each month, I believe that people care how Netflix is shaping their catalog.

     I'll admit, the "Trending Now" data for a Saturday night is pretty skewed.

    I'll admit, the "Trending Now" data for a Saturday night is pretty skewed.

    And surely, so does Netflix. Their "Trending Now" section is not only an observation of what the region is thinking at the time but a tangible barometer for the Zeitgeist. The above screenshot, taken on a Saturday night, shows that Americans are likely to enjoy the dependable comedies and TV shows that are a mainstay in living rooms. However, taken on a different day, the list might display different films. 

    One media object I have a particular interest in is "IT FOLLOWS," added yesterday. And gosh, is that movie a real trip (I had to turn it off more than once because it was so terrifying.) The inevitability of doom overrides every other emotion in the film constantly, and is reinforced by a soundtrack that is like how Halloween should have been. But more importantly, we must ask, "Why did Netflix add this film now?"

    The easy answer is that this when they got the rights. And technically, by my perception, that is not a wrong answer. 

    In a rather familiar move for this blog, I'll posit that the addition of "IT FOLLOWS" is a byproduct of the election of President Trump. We are in the final days of Obama, and things are so out of control it seems like the sky is falling. What better time to stage this final release of a horror movie about female sexuality than when a man who will most likely defund women's health care is about to become our supreme leader?

     

    1/10: Stagnation Of The Problematics

    Getting back into theory, I thought I'd pick John Ellis's shorter piece "Broadcast TV Narration" because it sounded interesting and I've had a strange hankering to see Full Metal Jacket again for two days. Having now read through it with a wayward eye toward analysis, I am shocked by how little it says even as an excerpt of a chapter in his book. The basic things I could glean: television is live, television is repetitive, and television is live. (Heh.)

    Liveness has been something that has been plumbed in such depth for me recently that I suppose I am jaded by an author even mentioning it anymore (though, in 1982, it made more sense I suppose.) Ellis first notes that there is no difference in models between fiction and nonfiction on TV, but that both can be thought of in terms of "the broadcast output... of segment following segment" (238-239). He goes on to call TV "a continuous update" on the same page, noting several formal elements of TV ("dead time", the "fragmentary nature" of broadcast TV, the "use of real time" in staging sitcoms, etc.) that make it seem more immediate and capital-ell Live (239-241). And yet, Ellis hardly ever pauses to discuss narration in his entire piece, except to note that it is "relatively perfunctory" in the entirely different cinematic arts (242). 

    As is pretty typical for me, I was drawn to a pretty insignificant paragraph to the essay that has quite a bit to say for me. In this section, Ellis compares the difference between a movie, which always has "a new story subject" (with the exception of recent Marvel/Disney films,) and a TV series, which "repeats a problematic" and "is based on the repetition of a problematic" (242-243). Far later on, he makes the most interesting statement about characters in a series: "They never learn." (244). I think that the novel show It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia has addressed the topic of staying the same fairly well by frequently mocking characters not changing over the course of their now twelve year run. It is one thing for four adults to be running an unsuccessful bar when they are 25, but what about 35? 40? 45? At a certain point, the life of a sitcom character is a doomed purgatory, waiting to change but forever unable to. 

    Alright, maybe I'm looking to deeply for meaning there. Maybe the real question is: If TV characters don't change, adapt, or grow, what hope do television journalists have?

    1/7/17: Getting Restarted

    Sitting here in an armchair drinking Dr. Pepper and eating tortilla chips while I wait for my body to recover from a night of beer and memories, the most immediate thing I feel is a sense of sloth. I don't expect this particular blog post to have much meaning at all, but I know that if I don't get back on a schedule I'll probably lose my edge (providing I haven't already.)

    Here are some things I did since last we spoke:

    • Took a bus from San José to Los Angeles: Man, what a whirlwind trip. My bus ride started around 10:45 PM Friday, yet I still waited for the first train to my final destination for a full hour.
    • Had a friend die
    • Went to Iceland to hike with my family: I now fully appreciate the value of warm gear. And I am now part Viking, or so I like to think.
    • Reapplied to certain graduate programs: I want to go to grad school more than I've ever wanted anything else, and I think with some good luck I may even get there.
    • Watched "Anomalisa" and "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story": Anomalisa ruined my day because I knew I could never make anything quite as beautiful as it. Rogue One would have ruined my day with how two-dimensional it was if I hadn't been spending it with my father.
    • Got kicked out of a bar: No fault of my own.
    • Reread "A River Runs Through It": What a beautiful collection of stories.
    • Gone back to work after the holidays: And what a job I have.
    • Other things, probably

    I'm off to watch a double feature of "Starstruck" and "Forbidden Zone" now. It's going to be a blast; see you again on Tuesday!

    12/6: The Importance Of Routines

    Today, I chose to go wildly off the track and read a selection from "Media, Meaning And Everyday Life" by Joke Hermes. Like many scholars I love, Hermes opened her piece with an analysis of the classics, scrutinizing Stuart Hall's ideology against the widespread "paradigm that was organized around texts producing subjectivities" (557). Hermes believes that the viewers and observers in media interact far more complicatedly than even Hall could have guessed, finally writing that "how and why everyday media use becomes meaningful needs to be carefully thought through" (557). However, this is not the part of the piece that grabbed me.

    Far into the body, Hermes finally brings up the idea of incorporating the routine into how media consumption is studied. Coming home every day to the same TV show and the same newspaper articles "can be reassuring, a guarantee one's viewing or reading pleasures will not be interfered with or uprooted" (558). And that makes sense, because no matter what happens out there, Alex Trebek always flashes on at 7 PM PST to lead us through a series of answers. In watching that media, one woman surveyed for the piece noted that "you are reminded of all sorts of things that you knew already but kind of had forgotten" (559). I can see the comfort, but more worrying is another turn of phrase: "life is largely organized around routines that do not allow for elaborate self-reflection" (559).

    What does it mean that members of society prioritize momentum over self-reflection so much? Perhaps we can finally conclude that all media is indeed the Opiate of the Masses, but that's too easy for me (and far too simple for Hermes.) Instead, I tend to think that the best way to deal with life (which is itself "a mixture of being much the same from year to year and sudden, radical changes") is sometimes to choose the pure escapism, the empty media used not as drug but as background music (563). And in the foreground, while life continues to happen, we can continue to knowingly ignore the "contradictions no one in an everyday context feels are necessary to sort out" (563).