February 27, 2014 § Leave a comment
Philip K. Dick, Ubik (1969):
Back in the kitchen he fished in his various pockets for a dime, and, with it, started up the coffeepot. Sniffing the — to him — very unusual smell, he again consulted his watch, saw that fifteen minutes had passed; he therefore vigorously strode to the apt door, turned the knob and pulled on the release bolt.
The door refused to open. It said, ‘Five cents, please.’
He searched his pockets. No more coins; nothing. ‘I’ll pay you tomorrow,’ he told the door. Again he tried the knob. Again it remained locked tight. ‘What I pay you ,’ he informed it, ‘is in the nature of a gratuity; I don’t have to pay you.’
‘I think otherwise,’ the door said. ‘Look in the purchase contract you signed when you bought this conapt.’
In his desk drawer he found the contract; since signing it he had found it necessary to refer to the document many times. Sure enough; payment to his door for opening and shutting constituted a mandatory fee. Not a tip.
‘You discover I’m right,’ the door said. It sounded smug.
From the drawer beside the sink Joe Chip got a stainless steel knife; with it he began systematically to unscrew the bolt assembly of his apt’s money-gulping door.
‘I’ll sue you,’ the door said as the first screw fell out.
Joe Chip said, ‘I’ve never been sued by a door. But I guess I can live through it.’
February 19, 2014 § Leave a comment
Palgrave Macmillan is trialling an open peer review process until 7 March. They have a few books available (4 under “Culture and Media”), and where it seems particularly interesting to me is that this is less peer review as “inviting feedback” and thus allowing for works in progress to be further developed. Jason Mittell tried a similar experiment in 2012 for the publication of his book Complex TV, and MediaCommons has of course lots of other texts opened for scholarly review and feedback (including the White Paper on their study of Open Review practices, together with NYU Press) — but still, it’s nice to see an established publisher get on board.
January 28, 2014 § Leave a comment
Woody Allen, “Mechanical Objects”, San Francisco, August 1968:
About three years ago I couldn’t stand it anymore. I was home one night. I called a meeting with my posessions. I got everything I owned into the living room. My toaster, my clock, my blender. They never been in the living room before. And I spoke to them. I opened with a joke. And then I said “I know what’s going on, and cut it out!” I have a sun lamp, but as I sit under it, it rains on me. And I spoke to each appliance, I was really articulate. Then I put them back, and I felt good. Two nights later I’m watching my portable television set, and the set begins to jump up and down, and I go up to it. And I always talk before I hit, and I said “I thought we had discussed this, what’s the problem?” And the set kept going up and down, so I hit it, and it felt good hitting it, and I beat the hell out of it. I was really great, I tore off the antenna, and I felt very virile. And two days later I go to my dentist in New York. I had gone to my dentist, but I had a deep cavity, and he’d sent me to a chiropodist. I’m going into a building in mid-town New York, and they have those elevators, and I hear a voice say “Kindly call out your floors, please”, and I say “sixteen” and the doors close and the elevator starts going up to sixteen. And on the way up the ellevator says to me “Are you the guy that hit the televison set?” I felt like an ass, y’know, and it took me up and down fast between floors, and it threw me off in the basement. It yelled out something that was anti-Semitic.”
January 27, 2014 § Leave a comment
I have been thinking recently about working on developing a class on global media and migrations. Not very clear what it entails, apart from a consideration of where the “border” figures in a global media culture increasingly “borderless” (or is it?) — or the locus of tension between national memories vs. international futures, or national comforts vs. international fears. To be continued.
In any case, found this conference that I’ll try to attend, as one of the ports of call in this journey — working on what the CFP calls “a public history of immigration” would be quite exciting indeed.
Immigration, Nation and Public History
Wednesday 18 June 2014 at King’s College London
Hosted by the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies.
Convenor: Dr Eureka Henrich
Symposium Aims and Themes
This symposium provides an opportunity to reflect upon the tension between different representations of migrants in the public arena – from so-called ‘medical tourists’ and ‘problem’ populations, to immigrant ancestors and national founders, to affluent global citizens and international students. It asks: what part do historical perspectives play in these
representations? Can we talk about a ‘public history of immigration’ within Britain or elsewhere? If so, what might it look like? In other words, where do we encounter historical narratives of migration beyond the academy, how are they constructed and who do they seek to represent?
January 24, 2014 § Leave a comment
One of the fun things about studying things historically is to realise how modernity is laced with the past — intersected, habited, haunted. Not in the sense of plus ça change, more in the sense that the “new” carries with it undertones of leads already explored, of thoughts already spoken, of directions already tried — in a quasi-biological sense. The now, in science-fiction terms, is merely one of the possible futures that the past has developed — but it bears the traces of what might have been — tantalising, inviting us to invent tomorrow.
So we now call it “viral marketing”, or even “prankvertisement”, but it is ballyhoo back from the 1920s, promotional stunts that are meant to get people to talk about the film, at all possible cost. And just like ballyhoo, it is, at the very least, about rehearsing audiences’ media competencies — working on that border between the fake and the real, helping them (us) put reality in play. This training of media competencies, then, goes back a long way — the “magic” of new media technologies more a skill we entertain than an innate quality of any medium. Viral marketing, then, takes the Barnum hoax (Barnums’ “operational aesthetics”) to new, more modern, heights: “is it fake, or is it real?” It is the same question, it is the same game — but realising that we’ve been playing this game for at least 200 years (much, much longer than that: since the first time a human decided to make-believe that any piece of unbelievable information relayed in some form, oral, painted, etc., was potentially true) may help us enjoy it more — indeed, help us live with media fictions.
At most viral marketing (just like 1920s promotional stunts, though the technology, then, was different) asks hard questions about the nature of film-going, since it can be about transmedia storytelling expansion, furnishing bits of information to the main movie plot that help make sense of the movie world and expand it – hard questions about where the pleasures of “cinema” precisely lie. You may, for example, have felt (as I did) rather unsatisfied with the restricted world-building that the movie Elysium offered, notably the limited views of both Earth and the space station for the rich,
the way the movie restricted all economic activity on Earth to Matt Damon’s character’s factory job or his sweetheart’s nursing job (an economy based on just those types of low-skilled jobs would very soon crumble: what of the research, innovation, engineering jobs? How do these professionals feel about inequalities? About Elysium? How do they vote? These are all world-building questions, and what good sci-fi should be about as it attempts to build a model of a possible future). Indeed, it may be because that world-building was going on somewhere else: on the official website for the movie (www.itsbetterupthere.com), where there is[still, as of 24 Jan. 2014, but for how long?] a rich array of websites pretending to be from the construction company of the space station, complete with
set-drawings blueprints of the homes one may “buy” on Torus. In lots of ways, the world-building that goes on with the promotional websites is more interesting than the movie itself — conventional, déjà-vu plot-driven fast-paced flick. And this raises the question, at least to me, of whether the film is not suffering from the fact that a decision was made to outsource lots of world-building material to the promotional campaign. Think about all the detailed world-building that went into the film itself of 2001, and made the experience of watching the film truly mesmerising. You’d have to start toying with the Elysium website before you’d start feeling the same level of amused amazement, the desire to stay in that world.
Incidentally, if the marketing is part of the fun of the film, it also raises the question of what happens to the film once that promotional material is gone (the anti-segregation blog “set up” by alien Christopher Johnson, a promotional stunt devised for District 9, for instance, has been archived, but the official link is dead) — and whether a true artist of viral marketing should not expand efforts into maintaining the fictional worlds they have set up for the film. Whether or not this would make any business sense, for the artist, would hopefully be irrelevant, though this points to a potential site of tensions here: the long-lasting relevance of a work, or the short-term, but powerful, vibration of meaning of a work encountering an audience? What if the second burst, though ephemeral by definition, could be made to last? A film like 2001 has no problem recreating its own flash of relevancy for a modern audience–but couldn’t there be another path to artistic longevity that promotional stunts, allied with new media tools, fast-speed networks, virtual reality equipment, and so on, could trace in the future of the industry? Prometheus may have been a disappointing film (haven’t seen it), but the website still looks good, inviting, tantalising — magic of sort, yes.
All of which makes me wonder if there is not more creativity being now expanded into the promotion — and less into the films themselves — and if the true evolution of transmedia storytelling is not just that the film fictions expand into other media, or that the films serve merely as events to launch a new line of merchandising, toys, TV series, and other products, as we are all quite aware — but that, more profoundly, the films serve as launching pads for the true fictional life of the stories that indeed take place somewhere else, in the promotional stunts. That the film becomes, in other words, a fictional virtual space more than a text. That maybe we need to think about a future where the film is reduced to a clickable link (“You Don’t So Much Watch it As Download It”) on a website where lots of other material build a detailed and amazing fictional world — where the film is one possible activation of the fictional world, which remains however open to other narrative possibilities through the world-building the websites offer. Given that promotional budgets may come to dwarf production budgets, this would not be such a surprising evolution after all–an evolution where film, “cinema” as we used to call it, expands its “interface” from a screen (a movie screen at first, a TV screen next, a mobile screen now) to a space (cyberspace, virtual reality).
The research project: to trace the development, history, genealogy, variations, evolutions of ballyhoo, promotional stunts, prankvertisement as the interface of cinema — from 1920s carnival to Torus, as cinema’s privileged world-building tool, en route to our future(s) where living with virtual realities is going to be loads of fun.
January 22, 2014 § Leave a comment
[UPDATE Jan. 22 2014: this was written back in July 28, 2009. Still worth a post I reckon, though the film referenced may be a bit obscure.]
Remember those ecstatic pronouncements of silent cinema as the New Esperanto ? Was going to save world peace ! Was going to make humanity One ! Would convert the Czar of all Russias to judaism (not really, just throwing this one in) !
Turns out, this depends on where you’re sitting. If you’re from Hollywood, the world may have looked remarkably flat as early as the 1920s. But a Russian émigré living in France in 1920 may have had a different view : consider the titles from Jakov Protazanov’s L’angoissante aventure
Back to Babel it is with the pesky problem of the intertitles.
But it’s not just the intertitles that erect conventional barriers to universal meaning. I defy anyone outside of the tight-knit émigré circles of expatriate Russia to understand the man’s expression as he reacts to the woman’s innocuous enough pronouncement (granted, I haven’t seen the film):
I don’t want to think how Peoria, Kansas would have taken that look. Bottom line: there is not one universal meaning, or one universal audience, in films. Not then, and not now.