Archive for August, 2011

Saturday Links: Marker, Pop-Up Cinemas, Digital Delivery

We’re starting slowly this morning as we wait for the edges of Hurricane Irene to pass through North Carolina. For those who have asked, we’re experiencing some moderately strong winds and light rains, but we’re keeping our fingers crossed for those of you living further up the coast. I’ve been pretty distracted this week with early semester business, but here are a few of the things I’ve been reading and watching over the last few days:

Representing Rebellion: Like many people, I’ve been paying attention to the discussions of the recent protests in London and watching as pundits seek to make sense of the underlying causes that have led to looting and other forms of destruction. Now, Chris Marker (a director I admire quite a bit) has made a short film, Overnight, and posted it to YouTube. It’s a powerful little film that shows several businesses before and after they were damaged during the protests. This before-and-after approach leaves us to imagine ourselves the riots and protests, which are rendered invisible, in much the same way that the protests themselves (and the anger they expressed) continue to be largely ignored by the larger political culture. Thanks to the cinetrix for the link.

Media Mobility: The cinetrix also led me to this very cool article on “Pop-Up Cinemas,” improvised theaters built in pubs, disused gas stations, with impromptu screens sometimes assembled from discarded refrigerators. These improvised screenings aren’t an entirely new concept, of course, but the Guardian article offers a nice overview of how they are becoming a more visible part of an informal movie culture.

Digital Delivery: As usual, media industry journalists have quite a bit to say about the ongoing shift toward digital delivery. Will Richmond makes the point that revenues from digital downloads and purchases remain “anemic.” Others continue to argue that we are migrating away from cable in favor of streaming. Meanwhile, New Tee Vee points out that Netflix’s growth in the United States is likely to slow down soon and that they will have to come up with new services (including their long-planned family accounts) to sustain their momentum. Finally, Focus Features, part of Comcast/NBC/Universal,  has joined a number of other independent companies in creating a video-on-demand distribution platform, Focus World.

On-Time Piracy: As many readers may know, Fox has altered the release window for TV shows on Hulu. Instead of posting TV episodes on the website immediately after they air, Fox now is requiring that Hulu wait eight days before posting an episode. As a result, fans who want to remain caught up with their favorite shows are now increasingly turning to pirate sources to watch those shows. Torrent Freak has some interesting statistics on this shift. Via Tama Leaver.

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It Stinks!

The verdict now seems to be in for Robert Rodriguez’s Spy Kids: All the Time in the World, and the movie’s poor performance, critically and at the box office, has inspired a number of bad puns (including my own) on its use of Aroma-Scope, the scratch-and-sniff cards that were incorporated into the movie, a la John Waters’ use of Odorama in Polyester. Nikki Finke does point out in her “autopsy” (edit: forgot the link earlier) for Spy Kids that the film played much better to kids than adults, probably because Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino were MIA, while also noting that, despite more screen showing the film in 3D, more people saw the film in 2D. I actually thought the 3D aspects worked OK, but as usual, they weren’t really necessary and wouldn’t be worth paying for, especially for a family of three or four. The higher ticket price may offer yet another explanation for why I saw the film in an empty theater on opening weekend.

The Vulture offers a nice review of the Aroma-Scope aspect and confirms basically what I’d noticed: the production of scents was not up to par. Despite the fact that it would have been easy to manufacture the smells used in the film (bacon, candy, dog farts), very few of them resembled their source in the film and almost all of them were weak and difficult to detect, although that might be attributed to the quality of individual cards.

It’s also worth noting that my reaction to dealing with the card may have been somewhat generational. Rodriguez reports that he incorporated smell into the film because he observed his own kids’ behaviors with games and concluded that they would prefer something more interactive and engaging: “Just watching my own kids with interactive gaming, you ask them to watch a movie, it just feels so passive to them. I thought, this helps bridge the gap. It’s an interactive thing, almost like playing a game while you’re watching the movie.” Rodriguez added that test audiences with children also wanted to have some stinky scents in the film, which makes sense. But given critical and box office reactions, I almost wonder if Spy Kids 4D is guilty of not stinking enough?

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The Daily Show on Bookstores

Via Tech Crunch, a sketch from The Daily Show, in which Jon Stewart and John Hodgman discuss the closure of Borders Bookstores, which they attribute to internet distributors such as Amazon and e-readers such as the Kindle.

There’s even a joke toward the end in which Stewart suggests turning Borders into a historical tourist attraction (as in the Onion video about Blockbuster from a few years ago). This one isn’t as funny as the old Onion video, but I think it taps into ongoing perceptions about the decline of physical media and, in this case, about a decline in print literacy as well. There’s also the implication that bookstores are inconvenient and that people would rather stay at home (Hodgman’s suggestion that Borders could transform itself into a bunch of living-room-like pods).

It’s odd to watch the video because I don’t really see myself in the characterization they create in the video–I like going to bookstores and I’ve been holding out on getting a Kindle because I really like physical copies of books, for a lot of reasons–but at the same time, I’ve probably been in a Borders once in the last six months, and I can’t remember the last time I bought a book in a bookstore. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t think Borders was solely a victim of the shift away from physical media, but their closure certainly reinforces the narratives that are being presented in this vido.

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Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D

There really isn’t much to say about the narrative of the latest installment of the Spy Kids franchise. It’s an incoherent, garbled mess, one that seems to have written pretty much on auto-pilot. The jokes and sight gags were equally tedious, making it difficult for me to grasp how the franchise had managed to last this long. There is a basic message about spending time with family, one that is reflected in the film’s time-travel plot, but even that seemed utterly cynical. Of course, All the Time in the World has been promoted almost entirely on the basis of its use of “Aroma-Scope,” the scratch-and-sniff cards that incorporate smell into several of the film’s scenes. But as Maryann Johanson observed in her review, these 4-D elements seemed to expose the limits of the New Gimmick Cinema.

Like Johanson, I found that the film worked to hard to make it appear that the incorporation of scent was seamless. During the opening sequence, a robotic dog, voiced by Ricky Gervais, explains that when a number appears on screen, viewers are suposed to scratch the corresponding number on a card they were given upon entering theaters. Simple enough, of course, but given that you are fumbling with a card in a darkened theater (one that is even darker thanks to the darkened lenses on your 3D glasses), you have to glance down away from the screen and feel around a little for the appropriate number.

Even worse, the scents were almost too mild for me to smell. Johanson also complains that most of the scents actually resembled “cardboard,” while other critics noted that pretty much all of the smells recalled “fruity gumball.” The faint smell actually became even more of a distraction since I wasn’t sure whether I was just missing the smell or whether I needed a key or coin to scratch off the surface of the card.  So, I spent one or two minutes fumbling with the card without any real payoff from the movie. In addition, even walking to the theater while carrying 3D glasses, the card, my ticket, my phone, and a book meant that my hands were full. While entering the theater, I almost felt as if I needed an equipment check.

That being said, it was interesting to observe when Rodriguez incorporated smell into the movie and how the movie teased viewers with references to various scents. For the most part, the smells were introduced during scenes with little dramatic significance. In one scene, the two kids were exiled to a lounge in the spy headquarters building soon after a big action sequence. The kids stumble into the kitchen and dive into the snacks they find there, unleashing three different smells in succession, most of them of the synthetic fruit variety. To some extent, this choice seems to acknowledge that viewers might find Aroma-Scope distracting.

I’ve been struggling against the impulse to create an opposition between immersion and distraction when describing Spy Kids 4D. The film, to a great extent, is not meant to be an immersive narrative but instead offers a spectacle (broadly defined). Spectacle isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but for the most part, the execution in this film came across as relatively lazy, as if Aroma-Scope was enough to drag us off our couches and back into theaters. But when my biggest memory of the film is of fumbling in the dark to find the right number to scratch, something isn’t working.

Update: Last night’s comments were admittedly somewhat impressionistic and written when I was pretty much exhausted. I’ve mentioned in some other places that I saw the movie in a completely empty theater, so that may have made the movie more difficult to enjoy, but crowdsourced grades on Box Office Mojo and other sites suggest that Spy Kids 4D hasn’t really connected with audiences. The more crucial question for me continues to be how these forms of augmented cinema fit within current trends. It’s hard for me to imagine too many other films using “Aroma-Scope” or any other variation of the scratch-and-sniff cards, although some might.

Rodriguez has tapped into various forms of kitsch quite a bit in his previous work, and many of his Spy Kids films use what might be called a form of juvenile kitsch meant to entertain younger audiences, even while amusing their parents (Pixar does this quite well, of course). As I was writing about the film this morning on Facebook (and this comparison crossed my mind last night), I found myself comparing Sky Kids 4D to Speed Racer, another critically maligned movie that deployed a similar presentational, rather than immersive, aesthetic. Both films knew we were watching a movie and frequently winked at us, and Rodriguez’s movie focused more on staging the stunts and scents while playing to our sense of anticipation of experiencing the smells. But it felt more like I was at Universal Studios on a movie ride rather than simply watching a movie.

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Fan Films, Adaptations, and Media Literacy

I’ve just received a copy of the edited collection, Science Fiction Film, Television, and Adpatation: Across the Screens, from Routledge, in which I have an article, “Fan Films, Adaptations, and Media Literacy.” The collection looks fantastic, with articles that look at the issue of adaptation through texts ranging from The Twilight Zone and Logan’s Run to Stargate SG-1, Doctor Who, The Sarah Conner Chronicles, and Serenity. Given the focus on a wide range of texts, the book would seem to be a great fit for courses on science fiction film and TV, as well as courses that seek to challenge older concepts of adaptation theory.

My own essay is less tied to any individual science-fiction franchise but looks more broadly at a number of fan film adaptations, including Star Wars Uncut (which I mentioned very briefly back when I was writing the article), Troops, and Doctor Who: Alternative Empire. The essay concludes with a brief reference to Henry Jenkins’ concept of “Avatar activism.” As the title and the nod to Jenkins suggest, my goal in the article was to link the practices of fan adaptations to emerging forms of media literacy and political activism.

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Friday Links: Big Ideas, Amazon, Mobile Consumption

In the spirit of the Nieman Journalism Lab’s Week in Review posts (one of which I’ll discuss in more detail below), I’m thinking about doing something similar, a weekly blog post that highlights some of the stories I’ve been following. It probably wouldn’t be that much different than the periodic links posts I’ve been doing for several years, but I’d like to formalize it just a little. I’m anticipating a busy semester–I have some big publication deadlines, some potentially demanding committee work, and all of the usual teaching obligations–so a weekly links roundup might be the best way to stay engaged online. Classes at Fayetteville State started yesterday, and while I’m quite excited about my new crop of students, starting a new semester (especially one where you are moving to a new office) has taken quite a bit of energy.

Thinking about Big Ideas: With that in mind, I’ll start by highlighting some of the other responses to Neal Gabler’s recent NYT column, in which he argued that social media is contributing to the waning of Big Ideas. as the Nieman Journalism Lab pointed out, there were a number of insightful responses to Gabler, and one of the strongest came from Megan Garber who argues that Gabler’s concept of Big Ideas is complicit with a more traditional idea of Big Media. But I think her more crucial point is that Gabler overlooks a number of Big Ideas that have been taken for granted or naturalized into our daily lives, such as Google and Wikipedia (whether we like these changes or not, there is little doubt that our concepts of information, research, and knowledge have been utterly transformed by these resources). Related: Wikipedia is also an example of the practices of crowdsourcing that complicate the notions of individual authors stumbling upon Big Ideas through “eureka” moments. Instead, many of our transformative ideas are the result of collective activity. Also god on Gabler: Stephen Baker and Mike Masnick.

Digital Delivery News: There has been some discussion of the Amazon has announced that they now have more streaming titles available than Netflix (over 100,000, in fact), which is, of course, a notable achievement. New Tee Vee warns that we shouldn’t get caught up in mere numbers, given that having a large number of titles is no guarantee of quality. However, it is a clear indication that multiple digital delivery systems (Amazon, Netflix, iTunes, Mubi) will likely be able to coexist for some time. Matt Burns, however, argues that Amazon may be positioned to challenge Netflix’s “dominance” when it comes to digital delivery.

Curating Audiences: New Tee Vee also discusses some of the ways in which Facebook may begin to function as a means for the media industries to track TV and movie viewing habits more effectively. As online advertising becomes increasingly viable, the ability to “curate audiences,” to find and target precisely who is watching a specific show, will become increasingly important. With that in mind, New Tee Vee alerts us to the launch of Nielsen’s Online Campaign Ratings, which can match individualized demographic data with online ad viewing.

Curating Audiences II: Also worth noting: Briabe Mobile has done some interesting research tracking the ways in which Hispanic audiences use mobile media to engage with movies. Their research seems to confirm some recent research by Pew that suggests that Hispanic and African-American groups tend to be particularly active users of mobile technologies.

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What’s the Big Idea?

Neal Gabler has a column in today’s New York Times arguing that our contemporary culture is bereft of “big ideas.” Our evening talk shows are dominated by pundits rather than thinkers; our news magazines lack essays by public intellectuals; and our ability to process ideas has been weakened by the glut of information that has become our daily norm. Gabler develops this thesis out from his reading of an Atlantic article about “Big Ideas” that seemingly substitutes observations for genuine Big Ideas, and while I might share his skepticism about the article, I’m reluctant to accept many of his arguments about whether “we” have a dearth of thinking, much less how we’ve goten to this point.

Gabler eventually gets around to the chief villain in this story, and as you might guess, it’s social media, Twitter and Facebook in particular. Gabler suggests that these sites entrench a culture of narcissism and a focus on gathering information, on knowing things rather than thinking about things. And for the most part, Gabler seems to imply, we are obsessed with gossip and trivia, caught up in knowing about the personal lives of others (whether they are friend, acquaintances or celebrities). He comments at one point that “We prefer knowing to thinking because knowing has more immediate value. It keeps us in the loop, keeps us connected to our friends and our cohort. Ideas are too airy, too impractical, too much work for too little reward. Few talk ideas. Everyone talks information, usually personal information.”

Although he skirts carefully around making an argument based in the logic of technological determinism, Twitter, with its 140-character soundbites, seems to reduce the possibility of intellectual conversation to the point that we get vacuous discussions of what we’re having for lunch. Even if we meet “strangers” via these sites, this is not the same as expanding one’s intellectual horizons. However, like many people who criticize the use of social media, Gabler seems unfamiliar with the ebbs and flows of how Twitter and Facebook conversations function. Yes, I may have mentioned the omelette I made yesterday with homemade tomatillo salsa on Facebook, but I also link to blog posts, articles, videos, and other forms of discussion that extend well beyond 140 characters. In essence, Gabler is reinforcing what might be called the Soundbite Fallacy, the idea that the shortened individual posts on Twitter inevitably reduce our ability to think and engage, that the form of Twitter determines the communication, when in fact the hyperlink and the response  (the @otherTwitteruser) are, in fact, integral parts of the way we communicate within social media (I made a version of this argument several years ago for AlterNet).  Although Facebook and Twitter are often treated as sites that pull us in, links, photos, and threaded conversations may also direct us outward to read elsewhere.

There were other problems as well. The article seemed to offer a universalized account of our current “Information Age:” He never quite stipulates whether he is referring to U.S. culture or not, although most of his examples draw from American culture or media, even if he occasionally makes reference to world events (such as the rioting in England, which has, in fact been the subject of quite a bit of thoughtful discussion). Talk shows outside the U.S. are often quite a bit different, and usage rates of Twitter and Facebook vary by age, gender, class, and race. There likely is a decline in the kind of reading culture that Gabler describes, but I think it’s worth following how Kindles, Nooks, Ipads, and other tools feed into different forms of reading in ways that might complicate some of Gabler’s arguments.

I don’t entirely disagree with his thesis about social media potentially reinforcing narcissism, but I don’t think it has to function that way. And while there may no longer be a central art critic or economist who can galvanize debate within an entire field, that may be a product of a more egalitarian intellectual community, one in which writers operating outside of more centralized locations are in a position to see their ideas flourish. I think it’s possible that this fragmentation may contribute to the problems that Gabler is trying to diagnose, in that we tend to place ourselves in intellectual silos (Cass Sunstein talks about the role of social media in creating echo chambers), where a large segment of the population no longer accepts the validity of scientific research, but that’s far from universal. I didn’t mean to address Gabler’s arguments in such detail, but I think it’s worth emphasizing that the content of social media’s forms is far more complicated than Gabler allows. Yes, I might tell you what I had for lunch today, but I may also collaborate with you on assembling new ideas about teaching, about communication, or about anything else.

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Engaging the Post-Cinematic

I’ve been mulling over Steven Shaviro’s fascinating blog post, in which he seeks to define the concept of the “post-cinematic.” The post serves as a response to a conversation between Steven, Therese Grisham, Julia Leyda, and Nicholas Rombes about the first two Paranormal Activity films, and their exchange will be published in the online film journal, La Furia Umana. But given its widespread implications in offering a map (however tentative) of our current media moment, it has truly challenged me to think more carefully about my own attempts to work through what is happening to the concept of cinema, much less the practical changes to the movie industry in a time of rapid media change.

Steven starts by asking what happens when cinema is displaced by digital and computer-based media as a “cultural dominant” (to use Frederic Jameson’s term). Steven is careful to complicate the idea that cinema has been surpassed by digital media, but as he notes cinema’s dominance has faded, even while mass audiences continue attend Hollywood movies in theaters or watch them on a variety of smaller screens, whether a big-screen TV set, a computer, or even a cell phone. He goes on to note that this declining dominance functions economically–TV is watched by more people than cinema–and arguably in terms of prestige, as TV shows such as The Sopranos, The Wire, and more recently Mad Men and (maybe) Breaking Bad have begun to receive acclaim normally reserved for films. I’ve used the term “cinema” rather loosely here to refer to the institutions of movie production, under the assumption that “film,” especially in the material sense of celluloid passing in front of a lens, no longer describes most of the movies we see, either at the level of production or at the level of projection, a shift that has only been reinforced by the enforced popularization of 3D. But the more crucial point here is that movies appear to no longer have their dominant role within media culture, even if some movies, such as Avatar, are capable of attracting enormous levels of attention.

But I’m most interested in thinking about Steven’s arguments about the changing place of movies and television “in the wake of a whole series of electronic, and later digital, innovations,” starting with tools that are now taken for granted (or even apparently obsolete) such as VCRs, remote controls, and more recently, DVD players, iPads, and even distribution platforms such as Hulu, Netflix, and YouTube. As Steven notes, movies and TV shows are now (apparently, at least) available in a wider range of platforms and contexts than ever before, although this distribution process remains uneven and often quite perplexing, especially outside the the United States. I’m told, for example, that renting a video from a Blockbuster in Italy costs approximately ten euros. And certainly Netflix, Hulu, and Redbox have only recently begun to move beyond U.S. borders, complicating any claims to media ubiquity (unless, of course, you go to pirate websites). So, one of the questions that has come up for me as I write is how to engage with this mythology of digital plenitude, especially when issues of digital rights management and geo-blocking arise.

Steven’s comments also helped to frame some of my recent reflections on the implications of digital production, delivery, and exhibition for social, economic, and political developments. As he points out, digital delivery can be linked to the processes of “flexible accumulation” (David Harvey’s term), while also making media labor more precarious, and enforcing more intrusive forms of surveillance (think of the elaborate terms of service agreements that many of us sign when joining social networks). In my own work, Steven’s discussion of the “precarization” of media labor seems especially acute in the independent film sector. No matter what, as Steven points out, our experience of movies changes considerably, as the cinema increasingly becomes available to us at home, on our computers, or even on our phones.

In my own work, I’ve been thinking about this in the space-time vocabulary cited by Steven (he mentions the work of David Harvey and Manuel Castells, in particular), specifically, for me, the concept of mobility. Texts, screens, and people now appear to be increasingly mobile. We are always “on-the-go” to use a phrase common to contemporary advertising discourse. We can watch anywhere; we can start a movie on one device and finish it on another; we can also gain temporal flexibility, watching a TV show on our own schedule. There are a number of factors impinging on this mobility: geoblocking, digital rights issues, some networks limiting access to their shows on Hulu until a week after they originally aired.

On a related note, media are more personalized, with all of the resulting implications. With all of the personalized screens in our household, my wife, stepchildren, and our exchange student could all theoretically watch something different while ostensibly being together. This combination of personalized mobility is often portrayed in terms of the specter of the iPad-watching commuters on the subway, alone together, but this fragmentation often takes place within the home, and in some cases feeds into more effective forms of target marketing. Personalized Netflix queues, for example, might make it easier to sell to the different tastes of multiple family members within the same household. To be sure, this personalized media mobility is often depicted as empowering (Charles Acland has a wonderful essay about this in The Contemporary Hollywood Film Industry), although in reality, it is far more complicated than that.

There is, of course, a massive bibliography of boks and essays that have sought to make sense of this new mode of media consumption, many of which have tried to come up with terms that unite the combined experiences encompassed by the idea of the user, viewer, spectator, consumer, something I’ve been struggling with in the current draft of my book. In short, we need a better vocabulary for thinking about the idea of media mobility, one that accounts for this combination of textual, platform, and personal mobility and that acknowledges the range of viewing practices that encompass film and television culture today. We need to think about this not just in terms of the possibilities for interactivity and movement but also in terms of surveillance and marketing. Texts and screens have always been mobile, but our current moment offers an intensification of this process, and it is well worth engaging with the discourses of personalized mobility.

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Life in a Day

There are three primary structuring devices in Kevin Macdonald’s YouTube-enabled documentary Life in Day (IMDB): The first is a charismatic Korean young man who has traveled to over a hundred countries, riding through most of them on a bicycle. The second is the (somewhat falsified) chronology of the film itself, with the opening sequences featuring people starting their day and all of the morning rituals that entails (shutting off alarms, making coffee, reading the newspaper). The third, of course, is YouTube itself and the global totality of amateur self-expression that the site represents. YouTube was the first video sharing site to make uploading videos appear to be accessible to the masses, and as a result it invited a wide range of self-expression, practices that may be somewhat obscured by YouTube’s more commercial uses.

As I watched Life in Day, in fact, I was reminded of YouTube earlier, mostly unrealized utopian fantasy of global community, one that is based in the shared banalities of everyday life–our morning rituals, our moments of vulnerability–as well as the cultural and economic differences that continue to mark our daily existence. Life in a Day is, perhaps, one of the most ambitious crowdsourcing projects in recent memory, with the film’s director Kevin Macdonald combing through over 4,500 hours’ worth of video recorded in 192 countries, all filmed over the course of a single day July 24, 2010, and uploaded to YouTube. The clips were structured around a small number of questions (what’s in your pocket? what do you love? what do you fear?), and although such questions might invite us to reach for some kind of global “temperature taking,” a recognition of the ways in which our lives and experiences and behaviors are interconnected, but those kinds of observations remained elusive, reinforcing the individualism and narcissism that a site like YouTube often invites.

The film’s narrative approach is established quickly, as it opens with a montage of people performing their morning rituals, including a sequence of people reading their morning newspaper, imagery that evoked (perhaps unintentionally) Benedict Anderson’s concept of imagined communities. These sequences seem to emphasize our commonalities, allowing us to see how we are in fact connected with others. From there we get vignettes of people whose experiences seem designed to touch on something more universal. One father teaches his son to shave. Another directs his son to light an incense candle for their mother. From there, Life in a Day weaves back and forth between montages of individuals engaged in their daily routines and these vignettes, inviting us to draw connections, although many of these connections are incompletely drawn, though most of them seem related to broader themes of birth and death, love and loneliness, community and isolation. We see pregnant women and the birth of a giraffe. We also see a cow getting slaughtered followed by a shot of someone eating spaghetti (an implied argument for vegetarianism, perhaps?).

Two of the more compelling juxtaposed vignettes featured an army wife preparing to Skype her husband, who was stationed in Afghanistan. She gets ready for their “date” by dressing up and seeking to find some way to alleviate her loneliness. This is juxtaposed with a scene filmed by a self-described photojournalist living in Kabul who seeks to challenge our perception of Afghanistan as a war-torn country, showing us people engaging in their daily routines of buying and selling and going to school, and in one case an all-female martial arts class. The implications of the opposition are somewhat unclear, though: are we meant to see the soldier’s actions as improving the situation in Afghanistan? Are we supposed to draw the conclusions that our commonalities should unite us? Again, the answers are frustratingly elusive. Others tell us that they “fear” homosexuals or that people who don’t believe in God will go to hell. Is Life in a Day mocking, endorsing, or merely reporting here? Do we learn anything from the depiction of these pronouncements?

For the most part, the film avoids direct reference to any major political or world event, with the one exception being the tragic deaths of 18 people who were trampled at the Love Parade in Germany, and although it seems important to acknowledge a significant event that happened on the chosen day, the flat tone makes it difficult to even grasp how that event fits into the film’s overall narrative. To that end, this is where the film’s delicate balance between collective authorship (all of the YouTubers who created videos) and individual authorship (Kevin Macdonald’s attempt to craft a narrative) struggled the most. Late last week, there was some discussion of whether the crowdsourcing approach used in Life in a Day was exploitative, and I argued that the non-monetary rewards of self-expression might be more meaningful than any financial compensation the contributors might gain (assuming the film is financially successful). I’m still convinced that the pleasures of participation–of contributing to the activity of making meaning–came through. But I think that the attempt to grasp YouTube through these broad emotive connections prevented the film from making more meaningful insights.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t believe that we can’t make sense of the world through the banalities of everyday life, as Andrew Schenker seems to argue (in fact, I have an essay on Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil and another on Jem Cohen’s Chain that argue the opposite). But I don’t think it’s enough to present us with a decontextualized set of images, as Christopher Campbell reads the film, and assume that will provide us with anything other a murky glimpse of a far more complex human experience. Although the Korean bicyclist imagines a more harmonious world–one in which the two Koreas are, in fact, no longer divided–Life in a Day mostly seems to miss how the banalities of everyday life are structured by larger factors (economy, politics, etc), even while it sees YouTube (at least in its initial You-topian conception) as a partial expression of a desire for a globalized community.

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New Jump Cut Issue

The latest issue of the film and media journal, Jump Cut, is now available online. As usual, it’s packed with a wide range of articles on topics relating to the film and media industries. I’m excited to add that I have an article focusing on the concept of the transmedia documentary, where I look at how transmedia techniques have been used by documentary filmmakers for political purposes. The article looks at a range of films including An Inconvenient Truth, The Age of Stupid, and Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.

The articles in Jump Cut are meant to be accessible and engaging for scholars and non-scholars alike, so take some time and dive in to some excellent work on film and media.

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