Archive for January, 2007

Bunker Hill Trailer

I’m still in heavy-duty writing mode but I just wanted to mention the trailer for Bunker Hill, a new film by Kevin Willmott, who made C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America, one of the smartest and most thought-provoking films I saw last year. Bunker Hill focuses on a Wall Street banker, who after being released from prison, goes to the small town of Bunker Hill, Kansas, where his ex and their children are living. Soon after his arrival, an apparent terrorist attack takes place, leading the town to take extreme measures to protect itself. Given Willmott’s past work in interrogating the politics of popular culture images, I’m really looking forward to seeing this film.

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Searching for Hillary Clinton

Interesting Washington Post article by Sara Kehaulani Goo about the attempts to refine video searching on the web, comparing video searching to the early days of the web when text searching “was clunky and largely incomplete.” Goo notes that if you conduct a search using Hillary Clinton’s name on one of the big online video search engines, her online video announcement will not appear among the top search results. I’m generally sympathetic with the idea that we need more sophisticated video search technologies, but I’m also intrigued by the “problems” that search engines are facing in terms of video search, in part because these problems speak to important questions about how web video will be defined and what kinds of videos will be privileged.

I tried the same search for Hillary Clinton on YouTube and with some minor tweaks–ranking by date instead of relevance, adding another keyword–her announcement moved to the top of the listed results. But what I found instead of Clinton’s official announcement was far more interesting, in my opinion. There were already dozens of video mashups and other responses to Clinton’s announcement, many of them deconstructing the language and the camera techniques used in the announcement. Others posted homemade commercials endorsing Clinton for President. While I’m not a big fan of Senator Clinton, I’m even less of a fan of her conservative critics, but it was interesting to see their (apparently homemade) videos ranked “above” hers in the YouTube search. This is something that will no doubt be lost if the monetizing potential of web video is privileged over other criteria.

I need to get to some other writing projects right now, but I just wanted to point to the article because I think it does raise some interetsing questions that we’ll be thinking about for some time.

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Messiah Blogging

Joining the ranks of lonelygirl15 and Ze Frank, Brian, the messiah of The Proper Care & Feeding of an American Messiah, is now videoblogging.

I really enjoyed American Messiah when I saw it a while back, and now it’s available on DVD. And Brian’s first attempt at videoblogging is pretty fun, too.

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Schindler’s List with a Chinese Twist”

No time to write a longer post because I have to teach in a few minutes, but I thought that Thomas Heath’s Washington Post article about businessman Ted Leonsis’s decision to produce films with a social bent. Leonisis, who calls his concept “Filmanthropy,” explains that “You raise the money around your charity and make something that can drive people to understand an issue….It brings together philanthropy and understanding how media works. You’re going to see a lot of people doing this because a studio probably wouldn’t do a story like this.”

Leonisis’s concept sounds a lot like Jeffrey Skoll’s Participant Productions, which I discussed a little over a year ago (although Skoll’s project explicitly invokes political activism). Not much to add right now. Obviously I’m not going to complain if Leonisis bankrolls a few good movies, but I think this connection between film and philanthropy needs to be investigated a little more carefully (especially when Leonisis describes his first film as “Schindler’s List with a Chinese twist”).

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Lazy Wednesday Links

Still exhuasted from a long day of teaching on Tuesday, but I just wanted to mention a couple of interetsing links. Via Tom Tomorrow’s blog, Bill Moyers’ 1987 documentary, The Secret Government: The Constitution in Crisis (full-sized version here). I haven’t had time to watch the whole thing, but the references to the Iran-Contra scandal look interesting.

Also, an interesting New York Times article about attempts by several New York museums to rehabilitate the reputation of Robert Moses, the notorious “public-works kingpin” who stamped his vision irrevocably on New York City for over three decades, starving mass transit while building massive highways into the city. My perception of Moses is primarily informed by Robert Caro’s exquisitely-researched Power Broker and by Marshall Berman’s chapter on Moses in All that Is Solid Melts into Air, but it’s interesting to see Moses’s reputation being revisited at a moment when the city itself is undergoing significant changes.

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Oscar Nominees 2006-07

No major surprises among the nominees, as far as I can tell. I guess Dreamgirls missing the cut on best picture comes as a small surprise, and I wasn’t expecting Paul Greengrass to get a best director nomination for United 93, but overall, the choices were relatively predictable. Sacha Baron Cohen should have been nominated for best actor, perhaps, but at least Borat got some recognition.

For the category I care about the most:

Documentary Feature: Deliver Us From Evil, An Inconvenient Truth, Iraq in Fragments, Jesus Camp, and My Country, My Country.

I’m a little bummed that Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore missed the cut, but I can’t argue with these nominees. I’d like to see Iraq in Fragments or An Inconvenient Truth win the award, but all five films are worthy, which is a testament to the fact that documentary as a genre is continuing to thrive.

So what do you think? Any major snubs? Who’s going to take home a golden statue?

Update: Go here for a discussion of the results.

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The YouTube Campaign

The Washington Post has an interesting article on the potential uses of web video in the 2008 elections. Obviously, one of the biggest benefits of web video is that it is relatively inexpensive. Candidates can post videos online for free, dodging the expensive ad buys on television, and political junkies can create their own videos, with one recent example being the footage of the 1994 Mitt Romney-Ted Kennedy debate, in which Romney expresses support for abortion rights and gay rights, positions members of his Republican base might find undesirable. Romney’s campaign immeditely posted a response in which he distances himself from those positions (a similar advertisement by attacking John McCain’s position on the war has been making the rounds). Others have suggested that web video will provide something closer to “backstage access” to life on the campaign trail–kind of a web video version of The War Room or Journeys with George.

Of course, the potential effects of web video were dramatically illustrated by the video of George Allen using a racial epithet to describe one of his opponent’s campaign workers. The video quickly caught the attention of cable news pundits and helped put Allen’s record on race back onto the table. Similarly, footage of Rush Limbaugh mocking Michael J. Fox’s Parkinson’s symptoms may have helped galvanize support for Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill. I think it’s reasonable to speculate that web video may even foster political participation in ways that television has discouraged.

But, at the same time, I wonder to what extent web video will give credibility to false attacks. Obviously the most famous recent example is the “swiftboating” of John Kerry’s 2004 campaign, but even the Romney video is clearly an intentional distortion of his current positions on abortion and gay rights. And Romney’s campaign is free to respond, just as Kerry campign should have responded to the Swift Boat ads. I’m a little uncomfortable with my skepticism here because I think it risks sounding undemocratic (and I’m not particuarly interested in shutting down new avenues of expression), but I have to wonder how web video’s appearance of authentic, direct communication can be manipulated, especially by the campaigns themselves.

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Netflix Guilt Revisited

A few months ago, in response to a WSJ Online article, I mentioned the fact that my DVD watching habits had been radically altered by my Netflix subscription. Because of the paper I’m currently writing, I have been burning through lots of DVDs lately, but that remains the exception. I still let the DVDs I get from Netflix gather dust on my shelves, often for weeks or months at a time.

In the article I’m writing, I’m currently working through what Siva Vaidhyanathan calls the “paradox of abundance” made possible by TiVo, Netflix, and other similar services and happened to come across Brad Stone’s concept of “Netflix guilt” and didn’t want to lose track of it. Not sure I have much to add right now, but I still find these concepts useful for describing my own encounters with TV and DVDs.

Update: Not really related, but just thought I’d point to Bill Gates’s comments about what he sees as the convergence of TV and the Internet. Not sure there’s anything new here: broadcast TV will soon be abandoned because the internet is so much more flexible–you know the drill.

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Classroom Distinctions

A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog entry explaining why I don’t like movies about teaching, but a recent NYT editorial, responding to the upcoming release of Freedom Writers, articulates the problem with these films far better than I did. In the editorial Tom Moore describes what he calls “The Myth of the Great Teacher,” and I think he’s right to criticize the film for portraying teachers as missionaries rather than professionals, willing to sacrifice themselves (and even financial compensation) for the sake of education. Not much to add here. I’m mostly blogging as a form of procrastination from the writing I ought to be doing.

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“You Can Watch a Country Eating Itself Alive”

Interesting Todd Gitlin review of Brett Morgen’s documentary, Chciago 10, which mixes archival footage and animated sequences in retelling the story of the horrific events that took place in Chicago in 1968. Significantly, Gitlin reads the 1968 war protests against what he regards as the much savvier netroots actions during the current war in Iraq.

Morgen has done some interesting work in the past. His 2002 doc, The Kid Stays in the Picture was a fascinating look at a Hollywood mogul, so I’ll be curious to see if Chicago 10 lives up to its Sundance buzz.

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American Idol, MySpace, and Micro-Celebrity

I’ve been planning to blog Lakshmi Chaudhry’s Nation article on the role of YouTube and other video-sharing services in the “democratization” of celebrity but have been pretty distracted lately (she uses the term “micro-celebrity” to describe this phenomenon, which sounds about right).

Her article might compare usefully to the American Idol juggernaut (the ratings for last week’s audition episodes beat all other major networks combined) that shows little sign of slowing down. On a related note, Michael has a pointer to the MySpace pages of some of AI’s rejected performers. The blogger who tracked down all of these MySpace pages also has a fascinating narrative about (1) how he tracked down the performers’ pages and (2) how dramatically his blog traffic spiked after several high-profile blogs linked to him.

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Lazy Friday Post

I’m still in the midst of my writing project, but Michael has been blogging up a storm and points to a couple of articles I don’t want to lose.

First, he mentions that Netflix is experimenting with offering streaming video service to its subscribers, amove that seems intended as a response to predictions of the company’s eventual death.

Also worth checking out: Michael’s “Notes on Web Video Form” is a useful reading of the form. This entry has the added bonus of a pointer to the very cool video, “Season 4 of ’24’ in 2mn30s” (all events in real time, of course), which as Michael implies, makes Mike Figgis’s Time Code look like child’s play.

My latest paper-related semi-addiction: streaming vids of the first season of Jericho, the CBS show about the aftermath of a nuclear attack.

Also, for future reference: this Chris Hedges article, “The Radical Christian Right Is Built on Suburban Despair.” I’ve long admired Hedges’ previous book, War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning (I saw him speak on this topic at Emory several years ago), and Hedges latest project looks equally interesting.

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Democracy in Fifteen Seconds

I have a new column up on Flow. It’s about a contest sponsored by CBS inviting participants to submit 15-second videos to YouTube, with the winning video possibly being aired on Super Bowl Sunday. I think the contest is an interesting one, but I’m not quite sure I’m satisfied with whether I adequately explained my reservations about how “participatory culture” has been framed recently.

As usual, there are a number of interesting columns in the current issue of Flow, several of which are pertinent to my current writing project, including Jennifer Warren’s “The Final Frontier: Myth and Meaning in Science Fiction Television,” Jean Anne Lauer’s “‘They finally killed off Kat’: Battlestar Galactica’s and the Limits of its Politics,” and Hector Amaya’s “Film is the New Low, Television the New High: Some Ideas About Time and Narrative Conservatisms.”

Update: Just a quick pointer to my syllabus for my “Technology in the Language Arts Classroom” and the course blog. I decided to experiment with Google’s page creator following Michael’s advice. I found the page creator a little clunky, but like Michael, I wanted the page to be accessible to anyone and was looking for something relatively easy to use.

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Boston in April

Just found out that my panel was accepted to the Media in Transition conference, which will be held at MIT in late April. Thanks to David for inviting me to join the panel. Should be a fun conference.

Still working pretty steadily on the article, but the good news is that writing this article is giving me license to watch and re-watch lots of TV.

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Mobile Television

For the paper I’m writing:

Via the SciFi Channel’s Tech blog: Live television streamed to cell phones. Includes a mildly interesting discussion of whether customers will embrace such a feature.

No time to write much more, but I’ve been interested in this topic for a while.

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