Archive for September, 2010

Wikipedia Project 2.0

I’ve decided to revisit the Wikipedia Project I used last fall in my English 120 classes–but with a slight twist.  This time, as an alternative to asking students to evaluate a Wikipedia entry, I’ve also decided to allow enterprising students the opportunity to write their own entries, whether from scratch or from existing stubs that need to be developed.  I’d originally planned to update last year’s assignment, but when an ambitious student asked if he could revise or develop an existing, entry, I immediately said yes.  For those students–and at least 3-4 seem likely to pursue this approach–I have sent them to the Wikipedia Guidelines page for student projects.  It’s a pretty welcoming page and seems to support the general thesis about Wikipedia: that the aggregate contributions of the collective are more crucial than those of any one individual.

Students can still do a variation of the project I assigned last year, which requires them to assess the usefulness of Wikipedia as a resource.  This time, in addition to requiring them to cite sections of the discussion page for a typical Wikipedia entry, I am also requiring that they cite an alternative secondary source on the same topic in order to compare the aims and goals of a typical Wikipedia entry with those of other resources.  I’ve also decided to continue to require that students cite at least one secondary source about Wikipedia in order to engage with some of the existing debates about the website and its place within information culture.  My only concern about this version of the project is that it risks becoming a little too formulaic, but I’m hopeful that it will allow them to think through some of the questions about information literacy that we have been confronting for some time.

It’s also worth checking out all of the new projects that have been added to the Wikipedia Sudent project page, in particular, a University of Maryland project that sounds fairly similar to mine.

Update: I’ve just had a “duh!” moment when it comes to encouraging students to share resources about Wikipedia.  Since all students are required to cite at least one secondary source on Wikipedia, I have offered them credit for going out and compiling sources that could be collected in a class bibliography.  If their bibliography proves to be extensive enough, I’ll post it in an appropriate location.

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Wednesday Links

Here are some of the film and media stories that I’ve been following today:

  • Henry Jenkins posted the extended version of his op-ed, on “Avatar Activism” to his blog.  The original appeared in Le Monde Diplomatique.
  • Cinematical reports that the makers of Freakonomics have a one-day-only promotion that allows audiences to pay the price of their choice to see the film.  You can pay as little as one cent and as much as $100.  All you have to do is fill out a survey, “so economists can analyze data about what kind of person chooses what kind of cost for him or herself.”  This is the second major experiment with alternative forms of distribution for this film.  It’s already available on pay-per-view, several days before its theatrical premiere.
  • MediaShift has an interesting discussion of how filmmakers have used crowdfunding tool Kickstarter to help pay production costs.
  • Some fascinating discussion of the blurred lines between democracy and entertainment when Lady Gaga tweeted an appeal to her followers to contact their Senators to support the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
  • And in what seems like a notable juxtaposition: Netflix announced it is now making its streaming video service available in Canada just as the Wall Street Journal was reporting that Blockbuster looks to be headed into bankruptcy.
  • Finally, Lawrence High School is back, following up their “Kids in America” lip dub video with a performance of “Colour My World.”  Once again, they’ve made an incredibly fun video that brightened my afternoon.

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(False) Mourning

I’ve been intrigued by the discussion on Wonkette and in Kathleen Parker’s latest column about “Mourning,” a reworking of the classic 1984 Ronald Reagan ad, “Better, Prouder, Stronger,” a.k.a. “Morning in America,” this time suggesting that Obama has sent the country into a national state of mourning over high taxes, unemployment, deficits, and (implicitly, at least) health care.  At first, I mistook it for a straightforward mashup along the lines of “Vote Different,” but it’s actually just a masterful emulation of the original, twisting it to imply that Obama has, in the space of less than two years, destroyed the Reaganite main street utopia celebrated in the original ad.

Like “Vote Different,” I’m fascinated by the rhetoric of the advertisement and what it might suggest about web-based political advertising. Perhaps the most notable feature of the advertisement is its uncanny resemblance to the Reagan ad, playing off of nostalgia for Reagan and the older forms of televisual political advertising associated with the ad, and in this regard it’s hard to deny the ad’s cleverness, its ability to use intertextual appeals to evoke a specific experience of American identity and culture.  But I have to wonder what audiences will feel included in that appeal.  Although some younger viewers may know the Reagan ad from their political science or media studies courses, it’s likely to be only vaguely familiar to most younger viewers.

The advertisement seems to work relatively well as an attempt to define the current climate of economic frustration by suggesting that Obama has reversed Reagan’s efforts to reduce government.  Over a shot of the Capitol, the folksy (but mildly ominous) narrator remarks that “the government is taking over choices we once made,” before dissolving to a shot of a flag at half-mast and then a funeral, turning a significant symbol of national identity into a vague threat.  Unlike the thriving main streets of the Reagan ad, we see shuttered buildings that indicate that Obama’s policies have “failed.”

The ad’s racial rhetoric is also striking: Shots of unemployed workers, one of them Latino, seem to imply, in part, that immigration is a root cause of the country’s economic problems.  During a closing shot sequence depicting a white, male child waving a flag, the voice-over calls for a “smaller, more caring government, one that remembers us,” with the word “us” superimposed between the flag and the boy’s face, inviting me to ask who is excluded from the “us” in that particular image.

I’ve concentrated primarily on the advertisement’s visual rhetoric primarily because “Mourning,” like “Better, Stronger, Faster,” seems to be working primarily at the emotional level, engaging with (and seeking to shape) a national “mood.”  But it’s worth noting that the advertisement obscures the fact that the debt described in the ad is primarily the result of the Bush tax cuts and spending.  And the ad also implies that the government is also taking “choices” away from the people, when in fact, Republicans have worked against certain kinds of choices, including the “choice” to marry the person you love, regardless of gender.

It’s worth noting that the ad was made  not by an individual, but by an organization called “Citizens for the Republic,” an organization that should not be read as representing a grassroots insurgency against Obama.  In fact, as Kathleen Parker acknowledges the ad was produced by Fred Davis, who also made the Carly Fiorina “Demon Sheep” ad, but I think that as online political advertising continues to evolve, the boundaries between inside and outside are going to become increasingly permeable.  I’m not convinced that the ad will work for all audiences.  As Parker suggests, the advertisement works well to define (or at least reflect) some aspects of the employment crisis, but what seems most endangered in the ad actually seems to be a Reaganite vision of America.

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Monday Links

Here are some of the stories and videos I’ve been reading, watching, and following over the weekend:

  • Christine Becker has a pointer to David Carr’s analysis of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s planned 10/30/10 rallies in Washington, DC.  Carr does a good job of tracing out the challenges that both comics face in transitioning from media satirists into something closer to genuine political figures.  Carr surmises that Colbert, who can continue to operate within his carefully-crafted persona, may have an easier time pulling off his “March to Keep Fear Alive.”  Meanwhile, the Christian Science Monitor asks whether the rally will have an effect on the election.
  • An interesting discussion in the Chronicle of Higher Education: several college and university libraries have decided to purchase Netflix subscriptions to make films available to students and faculty, and Netflix is crying foul, suggesting that the libraries’ subscriptions violate the user agreement.  I kind of like what the libraries are doing here.  Although I usually encourage my students to pay for a Netflix subscription as a cheap alternative for watching the assigned movies in my film course, I realize that not all of them an afford the extra monthly fee.  One cool alternative might be for Netflix (or some other service such as Mubi) to create institutional accounts that would allow libraries (or university film studies programs) to subscribe.  Seems like a good way to recruit future customers, as well.
  • There is a new issue of the open-access journal, Transformative Works and Cultures.  Check out the TWC blog for more details.  Especially relevant to my readers is a discussion of fan filmmaking in several of this issue’s articles.
  • Inside Redbox discusses details of an article that suggests that the kiosk company may not have streaming video on its horizons.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Redbox stayed out of streaming.  After all, there are so many other video rental services that already stream, and most of them have much deeper catalogs than Redbox; streaming seems like an unnecessary complication of their existing approach.  Just a hunch.

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Friday Links

Here’s a wide range of reading and viewing for your early weekend pleasure:

  • The first part of a series of videos on remix culture called, aptly enough, “Everything is a Remix.”  One of the strengths of the video is the argument that remix practices have a much longer history (note the persistent recycling of the bass line from Chic’s “Good Times”).  This video is really good on how we evaluate the quality of remixes, so this is certainly a project that is well worth following (update: via Film Doctor).
  • Given some of my interests, I’m bummed that I haven’t come across Aina Abiodun’s Film Futurist blog sooner, but her recent discussion of three new movies that negatively depict social networking and/or the internet is well worth a read.
  • The Vulture has an interview with Werner Herzog about his new 3-D documentary about cave paintings (which I can’t wait to see).  Keep reading for the section where he explains his distaste for Avatar, in part because he is “allergic against group sessions of yoga.”  Speaking of 3-D: here is a little more skepticism about the appeal of 3-D storytelling, with Jeffrey Katzenberg calling for more films that “look good” in 3-D, while a DirecTV casts 3-D TV as a “niche” product for the foreseeable future.
  • Matt Dentler links to and analyzes a recent study that observes (among other things) that 37% of Netflix subscribers aged 25 to 34 use Netflix’s streaming service as a substitute for pay cable.
  • Here is an interesting documentary short about the success of Threadless Tees, the online T-shirt company that sells uniquely designed shirts.  It’s pretty celebratory, but the exploration of design culture is worth watching.
  • Via News for TV Majors, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are organizing rallies in Washington, DC.  Stewart’s rally is a Rally to Restore Sanity, while Colbert’s planning a March to Keep Fear Alive.  James Poniewozik and CNN have all the details. It may jut be time for a “research trip” to our nation’s capital.
  • The LA Times also has a discussion of the promotional plans for Paranormal Activity 2.

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Something Blu

Glenn Kenny and Matt Singer have been reflecting on whether Blu-Ray discs are better than traditional DVDs, and both of them express some skepticism about the necessity of Blu Rays.  While I generally agree with both Kenny and Singer that we need to interrogate the claim that new technologies are inherently better, I think their underlying points about Blu-Ray consumption also speak to some of the questions I’ve been thinking about lately when it comes to movie consumption, especially in the age of Redbox and streaming video.

First, as Kenny points out, Blu-Ray was touted as a transformative experience, one that would “CHANGE THE WAY YOU WATCHED TELEVISION” (all caps emphasis Kenny’s).  A similar hype has accompanied both 3-D film, especially during the relentless promotion of Avatar, and 3-D television.  That hype, especially the predictions that 3-D projection would supplant 2-D, was tedious at best, and now that the Avatar buzz has essentially run its course, audiences seem more or less indifferent to the format.  But as Kenny observes, cinephilia, with its interest in idealized projection situations, is often bound up in some of the language of “technological minutae,” details that may be difficult to glean for all but the discerning eye.  Singer acknowledges, for example, that there are many Blu-Ray discs that seem almost identical to their DVD precursors.

Kenny goes on to add that many films were not made to “shimmer.”  The naturally-lit Breathless, for example (as Jeffrey Wells points out), gains little in its Blu-Ray upgrade.  The same, perhaps, goes for Ozu’s Tokyo Story.  On a similar note, Jonathan Rosenbaum comments that a restoration of Albert Lewin’s Pandora and the Flying Dutchman appears brighter, less murkier than the original.  But is that what the filmmakers wanted? Rosenbaum also speculates about the accuracy of his memories of that original screening, which he saw as a grade-schooler in the 1950s, bringing to the surface questions about the subjetcive experience of moviegoing and its relationship to cinephilia.  Rosenbaum’s comments, in my reading, complicate any simple definition of an idealized encounter with a film.

A more pointed question is raised by Richard Brody in a comment left on Kenny’s blog during a prior discussion of the Blu-Ray format, arguing that the biggest question about a DVD is its accessability, suggesting that “to obsess about the quality of a transfer without discussing the film that’s being transferred” is, in some ways, missing the point.  Brody’s comment, to my mind, helps to illustrate why there is a lack of urgency to adapt the Blu-Ray format.  What matters, to a great extent and for a large number of viewers, is whether the film is available at all and why the film might be of value or interest.  What might also matter, with regard to the consumer-guide DVD review (or the critical studies scholar interested in movie ephemra), is how the movie is “packaged,” a question that becomes complicated when many audiences are accessing movies via streaming video options such as Netflix and Mubi.  What are the “extras?”  What do they tell us about the movie? Its history of production?

Singer concludes by revisiting the question of an “ideal” moviegoing experience.  Is a movie always better when it’s projected on a big screen? When its a 35 mm print?  What about the guy in front of you who won’t stop text messaging?  All of these questions are caught up in practices of cinephilia, discourses of technological innovation, and even the social role of movie consumption.  Singer’s conclusion is that enjoyment is subjective and that we should embrace what we like, which is fair enough.  I don’t feel enough urgency to go Blu-Ray just yet, even though I recognize that some films may be enhanced by it.  For the most part, DVD fulfills the “good enough” criterion: good (albeit not immaculate) image quality and plenty of access to a wide array of movie choices.  But I’m also intrigued by how these tastes are formed, how they come to define a technological format such as Blu-Ray while also being shaped by the hype that inevitably accompanies technogical innovation.

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Hollywood Gamers

I stumbled across Robert Alan Brookey’s engaging new book, Hollywood Gamers: Digital Convergence in the Film and Video Game Industries, via Will Scheibel’s Camera-Stylo blog, and because I’m working on a project that attempts to engage with issues related to film and digital convergence, I gave the book a quick read this weekend and this review is an attempt to think through some of Brookey’s more compelling concepts.  I’ll be the first to admit that my first book, Reinventing Cinema, did not do enough to address the ways in which convergence is taking place between the movie and video game industries, whether at the level of narrative (transmedia storytelling in The Matrix, The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) series, etc) or at the level of media ownership (Sony’s investment in the PS3, in DVD players, and in movie franchises), but there is little doubt that the relationship between movies and gaming is deepening on a number of levels, and Brookey’s book considers many of those changes from the perspective of someone who enjoys both movies and games.

Brookey uses a political economy approach to issues of media convergence, in places taking issue with some of the more utopian celebrations of “interactivity” that are introduced in some of the more uncritical studies of video games, a move that I think is generally useful, even if I am skeptical about some of Brookey’s conclusions (more on that in a minute).  Drawing from Ian Bogost’s discussion of the persuasive function of the “procedural rhetoric” associated with most video games, Brookey remarks that “interactivity invites video game players to participate in the persuasive practices built into the games” (27).  And, according to Brookey, what do most of these games persuade us to do?  Essentially, they ask us to buy into the production narratives associated with the story world of both the game and the movie.  In one of his most extended case studies, he describes the production narratives associated with the LOTR films, in which actors from the films describe their engagement–or lack of engagement in the case of Ian McKellan–with video games and the pleasures of playing a video game avatar.  In essence, they teach us how to read these textual worlds and how we fit within those worlds.  Brookey goes on to add that “video games reward compliance” (34), essentially turning interactivity into a form of compliance with the logic of the video game.

One of the strengths of the book is Brookey’s detailed description of game play, which he was able to achieve by a combination of playing the games and observing as others played, allowing him to detail the narratives of the games, as well as the relationship between the cinematic “cut scenes” and the action in the games themselves.  In addition to his accounts of the LOTR video games, he offers a fascinating reading of the video game adaptation of Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather movies (themselves an adaptation of Mario Puzo’s novels), one that clearly identifies how the video game play works against the attempts by Coppola to challenge romanticized portraits of the mafia.

His final chapter is, perhaps, the most important one, in that he traces out the logic behind media convergence by noting how Sony’s development of the Playstation 3 was intimately tied to the DVD format wars in the mid-2000s, with Sony working to ensure that the Blu-Ray format would win.  This relationship between video gaming and DVD watching has only been intensified due to the use of PS3s and Nintendo’s Wii consoles as machines for playing movies.  The role of Sony in shaping the viewing platforms through which we obtain DVDs is well worth addressing, as is the techniques Nintendo has used in marketing the Wii to people who typically don’t consider themselves to be games.  At the same time, Brookey revisits some of the claims about the future of storytelling that have been associated with media convergence.  Specifically, he cites a Wired interview with Guillermo Del Toro, in which the famed movie director asserts that in the near future, “we’re going to see all the forms of entertainment—film, television, video, games, and print—melding into a single-platform ‘story engine.'”  Del Toro’s account also takes into account fan productions, likening the changes in entertainment culture to the oral tradition of storytelling.  Del Toro goes on to add that by encouraging fan participation, we will witness the creation of a “promiscuous form of mythology,” one that will “rewrite the rules of fiction.”  Brookey, citing the current state of “bad” video game adaptations concludes that such a future is unlikely to emerge from the logic of convergence (138).

This is, perhaps, where my disagreement with Brookey is strongest.  Although I recognize that financial interests often trump artistic ones when it comes to the production of games, I think Brookey’s political economy approach sometimes sells existing storytelling and interactive practices short.  To be sure, the practices of making machinima movies using video game engines have led to a number of creative reworkings of older texts, some of them with strong political critiques.  These texts, whether tour de force performances or political statements, show that not all uses of games are compliant ones (though many of them certainly are).  Like Brookey, I think it’s important to remain skeptical of celebrations of interactivity in video games (and I think his book deserves to be read widely by media studies scholars), especially when it comes to fan-created narratives.  Issues of copyright and media franchising help shape what kinds of stories can be told.  But it’s also worth asking how convergence can expand our storytelling repertoire in engaging–and potentially unexpected–ways.

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Robert Rodriguez’s Machete (IMDB) offers a strange brew of exploitation movie action sequences and political satire, one that has sent a number of right-wing blogs (see for example John Nolte’s Big Hollywood screed) into an uproar over the film’s depiction of the immigration war.  The stylized, often ludicrous, violence recalls everything from blaxploitation and kung fu movies to spaghetti westerns, with the film’s titular character, played with quiet panache by longtime character actor, Danny Trejo, quietly offing a diverse set of bad guys after he gets mixed up in the ongoing border wars over drug smuggling and illegal immigration.  Like Grindhouse, where the concept for the movie originated in a fake trailer also directed by Rodriguez, the film is an exuberant love letter to B-movies while also eagerly dropping itself in the midst of contemporary politics.

The film opens with Machete working as a police officer in Mexico and refusing to take a bribe from a Mexican drug kingpin (Steven Segall), establishing a revenge subplot that will develop later, before moving to the present day when Machete is hired to assassinate a right-wing state senate candidate (played by Robert DeNiro) campaigning for office on the strength of his stance against illegal immigration–a stance he proves by shooting and killing a pregnant woman as she seeks to cross the border while riding with a militia-style border patrol group.  Without going into too many details, the film depicts a clear alliance between the Mexican drug kingpins and the conservative politicians.  The planned border fence would potentially block people from entering while continuing to allow dealers to slip through.  Meanwhile, Immigration Officer Sartana (Jessica Alba) spends much of her time monitoring a food stand run by Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), allowing Rodriguez to show how much our economy depends on the cheap labor done by many immigrants.  Sartana is monitoring Luz because she is rumored to be “She,” the leader of an underground organization of immigrants ready to fight back.

In some ways, as Christopher Campbell points out, Machete offers a mix of “serious issue and stupid action,” and the blunt political allegory is hard to take too seriously.  Although Rodriguez shies away from commenting seriously on the immigration issue by suggesting that serious commentary wouldn’t be “entertaining,” he also hasn’t hesitated to comment from a satirical point of view, as his “Cinco de Mayo” trailer (sending up the new Arizona immigration law) illustrates.  At the same time, the campy action sequences–including the transformation of Luz into a latter-day Che with better abs–make it seem rather silly that the film would be read as inciting a “race war.”  Finally, the film offers enough subplots that it’s hard to see the film as a simple allegory.  How, for example, are we meant to interpret the subplot involving April (Lindsey Lohan), the daughter of conservative political operative Booth (Jeff Fahey) who transforms from a webcam starlet to a machine-gun slinger wearing a nun’s habit? Or the ability of the virtually mute but muscle-bound Machete to seduce virtually every woman he meets (including April and her mom)?  A running gag reminds us that “Machete doesn’t text,” so is this a satire of geeky (but wimpy) guys?  Or just another way to have fun with Machete’s old-school style?

Because I’ve had a stressful week, I was in the mood for some big, dumb fun and Machete definitely fit the bill.  The film’s treatment of the immigration debate, its satire of race-baiting politicians in particular, was pretty amusing, even if it’s difficult to take it very seriously.  Karina Longworth is most certainly right that the film doesn’t really offer a “consistent” political critique, but the film’s sheer enjoyment of B-movie tropes was a lot of fun, and although its critique is far from coherent, Machete is a fascinating “political” text, in part because of its incoherence.

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Wednesday Links

Taking advantage of the brief break in the middle of my work week to bring you the latest links I’ve been reading and watching:

  • YouTube has made its gallery of videos for the crowdsourced documentary Life in a Day open to the public.  YouTubers contributed over 80,000 videos for consideration to be included in the final documentary.  NewTeeVee and Cinematical have all the details.
  • Scott McLemee writes about his decision to bite the bullet and buy an e-book reader.  I’m still resisting buying one, but I think that Scott usefully demonstrates how they might be useful under certain circumstances.
  • Johnathan Zittrain asks whether the “future of the internet” he predicted has come to fruition.  Some interesting thoughts on the state of the “generative internet” as it exists today.
  • Bob Stein has a discussion of James Bridle’s The Iraq War, a compilation of all of the edits to the Wikipedia article on the recent Iraq War.  As a historical document and an attempt to wrestle with how knowledge is constructed in the internet age, this seems like a fascinating project.  This echoes a project I’ve assigned for my first-year composition students several times that asks them to anaylze the changes made to a “controversial” Wikipedia article.  Interesting stuff.
  • Adam Jackson discusses the future of cloud storage for digital media and its implications for consumers, touching on the implications for corporate control over our data and concluding that we’re better off with physical copies (DVDs, etc).
  • On a related note, Mark Hayward discusses the implications of Google’s recent moves regarding net neutrality.
  • And, just for fun, Neo-Lebowski, where Morpheus introduces The Dude to the nature of reality.  Somewhere, I think film geekdom just exploded.

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The Art of the Steal

I finally caught Don Argott’s fascinating art heist documentary, The Art of the Steal, last night on DVD.  The film tells the story of the Barnes House paintings, an amazing collection of Post-Impressionist and Modern art that Henri Matisse believed, at the time, to be the best in the United States.  Albert Barnes, a Philadelphia businessman, collected these paintings by artists ranging from Picasso and Matisse to Cezanne and Van Gogh and placed them in a small museum outside of the city center in the Philly suburb of Marion, far out of the reach of the business community in Philadelphia he despised.  The paintings and sculptures were rearranged according to Barnes’ own idiosyncratic tastes: rather than placing the work of artists or from specific schools together, Barnes sought to place paintings that he believed to be related in juxtaposition.  He also strictly restricted who had access to the paintings, rather than making the museum open to the public.  Later, he willed ownership of the paintings and building to a small Historically Black University, Lincoln University, with the insistence that the paintings never be moved, split up, or sold.  From here, Argott documents a series of moves by the city of Philadelphia and state of Pennsylvania and by several philanthropic organizations, including the Pew Charitable Trusts, that show how the art was “stolen,” so that it could be moved into the city (presumably to become a major tourist attraction), and how, as a result, Barnes’ vision for the art was betrayed.

The film has all of the makings of a conspiracy potboiler: the enigmatic Barnes, who is presented rather uncritically as a sharp-eyed patron of the arts; mismanagement by the Barnes Foundation’s board of trustees, including several executives at Lincoln University; tough0guy politicians like Governor Ed Rendell, and cynical modern philanthropists, like the Pew leadership and the Annenbergs (who are depicted as having a long-simmering feud with the Barnes people).  The film is clearly sympathetic with the Barnes Foundation, and yet, I found Art of the Steal somewhat unpersuasive.  The NPR review helps to spell out why the film may have sensationalized the Barnes story and offers some explanation for how Rendell, Pew, and others may have been unfairly demonized, but by casting the question of rightful ownership in terms of a pitched legal battle, I think the film misses an opportunity to ask some more interesting questions.

Namely, like Manhola Dargis, I found it frustrating that the film seemed to stack the deck so heavily in favor of the “art snobs” who were trying to protect Barnes’ original mission for the art against the “vulgarians,” who are portrayed as simply trying to cynically create yet another tourist attraction for a wanna-be world-class city.  Beyond their own goals, whose interests are served by keeping the art where it is?  Bigger questions for me included the role of the hyperinflation of the art market.  What does it do for the fine arts when a collection of paintings is valued at anywhere from $4 to $25 billion?  In some sense, I found the film’s attempts to manufacture outrage to be somewhat unconvincing, especially given that it was less than clear that the interests of the art-viewing public were being served by having the art in such an obscure location.  Does Barnes’ purchase of the art at one point in the past allow him to determine how it will be used in perpetuity?  It seemed that the Barnes supporters’ arguments were that we should not break Barnes will because….well, just because.  As a result, The Art of the Steal never quite convinced me that the art snobs were serving the public’s interests better than the vulgarians.

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Monday Links: e-books, Facebook, Hitchcock, and More

Here are some the things I’ve been reading, watching, and thinking about this morning:

  • First, Inside Higher Ed has an interesting discussion of Daytona State College’s plan to convert to a textbook system based entirely around e-books.  There are obviously some benefits here: no more heavy books, cheaper textbook prices, and more profits for publishers.  The campus bookstore would–at least in the short run–appear to be the biggest loser, financially.  I’m still ambivalent about e-book readers, in part because I appreciate the tangibility and permanence of physical books, but this is an interesting experiment, especially given that most students essentially rent their textbooks at a prohibitively high cost.
  • On a related note, Kairos News has been exploring questions about why open-source textbooks appear to be struggling to catch on.  Part of the problem, of course, has been that these open source projects, fairly or not, are perceived as vanity projects.  I can imagine that many tenure committees would look with skepticism at the open-source model, so there is probably a need for some form of institutional change and continued education from open-source advocates.
  • Continuing with the education theme, Catherine at Film Studies for Free (one of the best open-access models out there) provides a pointer to yet another wonderful tool for the Introduction to Film classroom: Majestic Micro Movies’s video primers on film aesthetics.  Catherine cites four videos dealing with topics such as deep focus, shallow focus, tracking, and short-reverse-shot.  They’re witty, fun, and provide some context for why these techniques are often hotly debated.  Their YouTube and Facebook pages are great resources for students and teachers of film.
  • More classroom stuff: The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that a recent study published in the Journal of College Student Retention has concluded that frequent Facebook users are more likely to stay in school and shows that students who have more friends on Facebook are more likely to return for their sophomore years.  Because the study is based on a survey at a single university, Abilene Christian University, I’d like to see the results reproduced elsewhere before I put much stock in them.  Is a public HBCU or regional state university going to be different than a private, religious institution?  A bigger question might be causation versus correlation. Perhaps the networked students are already disposed toward returning to school and Facebook is simply an expression of that.
  • Tama Leaver points to an Economist article on “the future of the internet.”  Like Tama, I appreciate the article’s acknowledgement that the internet seems to be continuing its fragmentation into various “walled gardens,” many of them highly profitable, as well as the discussion of the ongoing attempts to create tiered internet provision (different levels of internet service for different prices), moves that the author characterizes as a virtual “counter-revolution.”
  • The journal Off Screen devotes its most recent issue to internet-based film criticism. Especially noteworthy: Paul Salmon’s “A Film Prof at the Cineplex.”
  • Finally, Christine Becker links to David Carr’s article arguing that there is “too much” TV out there.  A couple of key quotes: “Our ability to produce media has outstripped our ability to consume it. The average photograph now gets looked at less than once simply because there is almost zero cost and effort to producing one.”  And perhaps more crucially: “We don’t watch TV anymore as much as it seems to watch us, recommending, recording and dishing up all manner of worthy product.”  Database TV seems to hold out the prospects of unlimited choice, and yet, as Carr suggests, recommendation algorithms, DVRs, and other tools have become more adept at assessing tastes, analyzing us and, in some sense, choosing what we want to watch.

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Next Saturday Links

Thanks to a much busier week than usual, I’m just now catching up with some of my online reading, but here are some worthwhile things I found over first two cups of coffee:

  • Fred Fox, Jr., author of the notorious “Jump the Shark” episode of Happy Days, defends himself against charges that the Fonz jumping the shark was the beginning of the end for that show, and describes his reaction to becoming one of the most notorious phrases in ad hoc TV criticism.
  • NewTeeVee asks whether smaller cable channels, such as The Hallmark Channel, might be squeezed out thanks to the recent negotiations over carriage fees between cable providers, such as Time Warner, and channels such as TNT and ESPN.  We have over 100 channels I’d never miss–The Military Channel, Hallmark, etc–so I understand the temptation to eliminate some, even if I’d like to see niche programming get more protection and support.
  • On a related note, NewTeeVee also explores the implications of cheap iTunes rentals of individual TV episodes for television.  They also offer an assessment of Hulu’s impact on broadcast TV.  Perhaps lost in all of this is the impact of box sets of TV series, which now seem almost transitional as we look at how audiences access TV now.
  • David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson have a compendium of useful essays from their blog that address topics covered in Introduction to Film classes.  These blog posts might serve as useful supplements to pretty much any Introduction to Film textbook and serve as a useful reminder of how the blogosphere is cultivating new forms of film criticism (rather than killing it as many critics have recently claimed–more on this in a longer blog post).
  • I’ve been following Scott Rosenberg’s series defending the practice of linking with quite a bit of enthusiasm.  He is responding to Nicholas Carr’s assertion that linking serves as a form of distraction, one that inhibits understanding, rather than aiding it.  Rosenberg’s third post is especially useful in that it provides a brief taxonomy of what kinds of textual effects links can have.  In general, links offer new, more visible and more immediate forms of engagement, allowing us to connect with others who have similar interests.
  • Interesting discussion with indie filmmaking expert Peter Broderick on the future of festivals and much more (via Documentary Tech).
  • Also from Documentary Tech, news that the Freakonomics documentary will be released via iTunes before coming to an art house theater near you.  To be honest, I’m not sure that this move is all that surprising or unusual for a film dedicated to such a specific (if relatively wide) niche.  The point, especially for indie films and documentaries, seems to be to provide multiple access points and to entice audiences to view the film on the platform of their choice.
  • Radiohead joins the Beastie Boys and Bon Jovi in turning their fans into amateur cinematographers.  Here’s the story: a group invited 50 concertgoers to record a live performance of the band using Flip video cameras that were then edited together into a concert video.  Kind of fun, right?  But what’s kind of cool here is the fact that Radiohead has given their Prague-based fans the actual soundboard recordings of the concert, turning what was originally an engaging amateur video into a band-endorsed concert film.  The DVD is available for free from the film’s website, with the band’s blessing.

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