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March 29 2017

Harvey Weinstein Loves ‘Leap!’ So Much He’s Delaying The Release…Again

The Weinstein Company has a history of repeatedly delaying animated feature releases, and 'Leap!' is no different.

The post Harvey Weinstein Loves ‘Leap!’ So Much He’s Delaying The Release…Again appeared first on Cartoon Brew.

a force of one (paul aaron, usa 1979)

‘Strange Beasts’ by Magali Barbé

Strange Beasts is an augmented reality game. It allows you to create and grow your own virtual pet. How far can it go?

The post ‘Strange Beasts’ by Magali Barbé appeared first on Cartoon Brew.

March 28 2017

Monstra Festival Report: Is Two Weeks Too Long For An Animation Festival?

We travel to sunny Lisbon to experience Monstra, a two-week long animation festival.

The post Monstra Festival Report: Is Two Weeks Too Long For An Animation Festival? appeared first on Cartoon Brew.

Watch the Trailer For Blue Sky Studios’ ‘Ferdinand’

A first look at "Ferdinand," the next film from "Ice Age" maker Blue Sky Studios.

The post Watch the Trailer For Blue Sky Studios’ ‘Ferdinand’ appeared first on Cartoon Brew.

Digital Gotham

Innenansicht der Maschinenhalle, Paris 1889,  Quelle:  Wikimedia Commons . „Es gibt einen Aufsatz von Habermas zum Phänomen des Historismus' in dem er sinngemäß sagt, der Historismus in der Architektur des 19. Jahrhunderts sei das Resultat einer „Überforderung”, der Rückgriff auf die Formensprache der Gothik etwa, wenn es darum ging, „Technikkathedralen” zu bauen. Neue Funktionen, die noch nicht ganz verstanden, neue Technologien, die in ihren Möglichkeiten noch nicht durchdrungen sind, suchen Zuflucht in der alten Form, die zugleich Legitimierung bringt gegenüber den Skeptikern, weil sie das Profane sakralisieren. Vielleicht könnte man hier eine Analogie ziehen zwischen der gothisch verbrämten Stahl-Glas-Architektur des 19. Jahrhunderts und der sich analog gebenden digitalen Filmtechnik.” (Fragment aus einem Vortrag)

Three

THREE-poster.jpg

San ren xing
Johnnie To - 2016
Well Go USA Entertainment BD Region A

Three is an exercise in formalism by Johnnie To. Until the inevitable shoot out near the end, there is very little action as such. The pacing is deliberately slow compared to To's other films. Most of the film takes place on the floor of a hospital where all of the patients are separated by curtains. This would make sense if these were all emergency patients, but that's not the case here. The setting is essentially there to allow To to design most of the action within a confined space.

The three of the title are Chen, the Hong Kong cop who has brought the gangster, Shun, to the hospital. Shun has a bullet in his head, yet otherwise is able to function. The neurosurgeon, Tong, is to operate on Shun, adding to a stressful day. In addition to one patient paralyzed following surgery, Dr. Tong finds herself unable to save another patient, resulting in leaving him in a coma. Refusing the surgery that would save his life, Shun taunts Chen, who is hoping to capture the other members of Shun's gang. As Chen, Louis Koo has to keep a straight face, while Wallace Chung, as Shun, gets to show off, whether flopping manically in the gurney while have a seizure, or spouting off the Hippocratic oath in English to Dr. Tong.

This is a film where almost everything goes wrong for most of the characters. That's obvious from the moment when Shun is brought in, handcuffed to a gurney, and the cop called Fatty, played by To regular Lam Suet, has lost the keys to the handcuffs. Even when it looks like Fatty will finally redeem himself in pursuit of a gang member, he almost loses what little dignity he has left. Vickie Zhao takes a pratfall as Dr. Tong, tripping down a flight of stairs. To even has the paralyzed patient rolling and tumbling down a staircase with his wheelchair. There is also a mysterious phone number that seems to lead to a dead end, an unexplained switching of medicine, and characters whistling Mozart. Of course, Johnnie To has his own ideas about what constitutes a little night music.

Shun's gang goes to elaborate lengths to rescue their leader, as seen in the set piece, a series of tableaux of explosions and gunfire within the hospital floor. The action is rendered in extreme slo-mo, with the camera surveying the action with traveling shots circling the floor. On a technical level, this is spectacular, the artistry involved can not be denied. It's not a stretch to see this scene as To's claustrophobic version of the climactic massacre at the end of The Wild Bunch. The difference is that nihilism is integral to The Wild Bunch and Sam Peckinpah.

Die Letzten


Miron Zownir, Berlin 1980.
Das Prinzip der Steigerung ist ein mühsames Geschäft – zumal wenn es um Dramaturgie geht. Blickt man auf die populärsten Hollywoodfilme der letzten Jahre, kann man grob vier Strategien ausmachen: 
1) „Super”, d.h. Helden oder Feinde zu behaupten, die paranormale Fähigkeiten haben (MATRIX, SPIDERMAN, X-MEN, TWILIGHT) und so die Handlungsmöglichkeiten beliebig erweitern. 
2) „Desaster”, d.h. einen grundsätzlich denkbaren Ausnahmezustand (ARMAGEDDON, THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW, 2012) zu benutzen, um die übliche Ereignisökonomie außer Kraft zu setzen. 
3) „Mindfuck”, d.h. mit Strukturspielen (PULP FICTION, FIGHT CLUB, INCEPTION) mehr Ereignisse in einen Bogen zu zwingen, als logischer Weise möglich wären. 
4) „Torture Porn”, d.h. Darstellung und Plotfunktion der Gewalt ins Extrem zu treiben (SAW, HOSTEL etc). 
Alle vier Wege sind inzwischen so oft beschritten worden, dass sich die Rauschwirkung schon wieder zu verflüchtigen droht. Was tun? Man kann sich an einer Fusion versuchen, zusätzlich ältere Rezepte der Steigerung miteinbringen (Serienkiller, Kriegsfilm), zum Beispiel einen mehr oder weniger fragmentierten Alien-Invasion-Horror-Kriegsfilm machen (CLOVERFIELD, BATTLE: LA, SUPER 8) usw. 
So oder so, im Bemühen, möglichst schnell die maximale dramatische Betriebstemperatur zu erreichen, hat sich eine Art Weltuntergangs-Standard herausgebildet. Aber weil jede Filmerzählung neben ihren Produktfunktionen, denen die Steigerungsdramaturgie natürlich huldigt, auch so etwas wie Sinnproduktion betreiben muss, um auf echte Resonanz zu stossen (auf die auch die großen Hollywood-Maschinen nicht verzichten können) – fragt man sich, wie es passieren konnte, dass das Apokalyptische zum Lieblings-Setting des Mainstreamkinos geworden ist.
Passt das noch zu der Idee, die Kulturindustrie würde „Flucht” verkaufen („nicht die Flucht vor der schlechten Realität, sondern vor dem letzten Gedanken an den Widerstand” – Horkheimer & Adorno 1988, S.153)?

Meine Vermutung ist, dass wir uns berauschen an der Vorstellung, die Letzten zu sein (SILENT HILL, I AM LEGEND, THE ROAD, THE BOOK OF ELI) – ähnlich vielleicht, wie es die  Adventisten  getan haben, die Jesu Wiederkehr dreimal vergeblich errechnet hatten, bevor sie sich auf ein „bald” verständigt haben. Der narzisstische Kick läge demnach darin, nicht mehr Teil des ewigen Werdens und Vergehens zu sein, sondern tatsächlich einem signifikanten Punkt der Geschichte – nämlich ihrem Ende – beizuwohnen. Diese süße Endlichkeit, den Tod der Tode, zu feiern und zugleich wider alle Wahrscheinlichkeit,  deus   ex machina,  an der finalen Rettung festzuhalten – das ist der Widerspruch, der das Kino der Apokalypse so attraktiv macht.
Was daran seltsam berührt ist die gelegentlich unheimliche Doppelung der Katastrophen-Fiktionen mit den wirklichen Krisen unserer Zeit. Warner Bros., so war heute zu lesen, hat Clint Eastwoods HEREAFTER aus den japanischen Kinos genommen, weil der fiktive Tsunami angesichts des realen frivol wirken musste. Die „Übertreibung” in der Wirklichkeit kränkt die Erfindung, die ihre Masslosigkeit („noch schlimmer als die Wirklichkeit”) als Trost verkauft…
(Geschrieben 16.03.2011 für das Revolver Blog)

March 27 2017

Fart Jokes, Pranks, Selfies and Other Applications of Smart Technologies Germaine R Halegoua / University of Kansas

flow 1.2

A preferred imagination of the smart home as a friendly concierge service

In previous essays for FLOW, I highlighted different implementations of “smart” technologies and their imagined uses. In terms of infrastructure, I started to think about what stories inactive as well as active networks tell us about smart cities and opportunities for Internet access. After the prevalence of Alexa connected devices at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show, I considered how people make sense of and make room for intelligent agents within domestic spaces. What types of interaction and engagement with the world, and with each other, do these responsive information managers present? Underlying these questions is a concern about the meaning of “smart” technologies and spaces, not only in origin or definition, but in current implementations and imaginations of the term. The rhetoric at trade shows and smart city summits seems to contradict the traces of everyday experience with smart technologies and sentient objects shared in unboxing videos, memes, comments sections, and conversations. While technology designers and smart city developers laud the transformative capabilities and “intelligence” of the Internet of Everything to improve quality of life, users seem to appreciate technologies for playful engagements or misuse rather than their utilitarian efficiencies. Or perhaps different social groups are still searching for ways to make smart technologies relevant and meaningful in domestic and urban spaces; still working to figure out how and what it means to live “smart” with the limited tools and visions currently provided.

dmc_streetselfie flow 2

Images of people (including the author) taking selfies at digital kiosks in smart cities

“Smart living” is currently undergoing a period of interpretive flexibility. At the moment, living with “smart” devices and systems is built on the promise of transformation, however vaguely defined. Cities, homes, and people are regarded as entities with bad habits or with “problems” in need of digital “solutions.” These spaces and individuals are imagined as complex organisms that can be guided by digital aides and computational processes to make “better” decisions and change behavior to improve health, efficiency, productivity, and safety. While “smart” technologies are generally understood as adaptive, responsive, and predictive, underlying these definitions is that idea that if given information or data about their everyday activities people will transform themselves, their activities, and the places they live. First, observed activity is transformed into digital code. Smart systems transmute everyday actions and bodies into legible data that can be read and understood by human as well as machine — with the promise that being able to read and observe ourselves in and through data will giving us a sense of control or efficacy. Sarah Murray describes the transformative promise of “smart” technologies in terms of “self-actualization” or self-improvement, pointing to activity trackers as well as TED talks as efforts toward creating a “smart self.” [1]

A similar type of transformation has been lauded in the contemporary smart home and smart city based on the idea that more data about activities and environments will “optimize” people and places. Although the trope of transformation as improvement through sensors and responsive technologies has gained traction in self-tracking and quantified-self movements, the promise of digitally aided transformation in the home and city seems to be a harder sell. It is unclear how smart technologies have or will transform or improve the city, the household, or our lives as residents and citizens, and what exactly stands to be improved.

Critics of contemporary smart spaces and technologies call attention to the blinkered imaginations of how these systems and services become integrated into everyday life. Architects, urban planners, and researchers have repeatedly asked: What can people actually do with smart city technologies? What can smart city technologies do for people? These questions evoke several notable contradictions between “smart” and city. Dan Hill observes that while the smart city is based on a drive toward efficiency, the reasons why people want to live in cities are often incredibly inefficient. [2] Building on this idea, Shannon Mattern recognizes that the image of the optimized, efficient smart city might be attractive because it “frames the messiness of urban life as programmable and subject to rational order.” [3] In an abbreviated version of his arguments against the smart city, Greenfield notes that interconnected systems of smart technologies and their affordances are “distressingly hard to understand, even to people exposed to them on a daily basis.” [4] When aggregated, these contradictions highlight an overwhelming aspect of what it means to be “smart,” namely that people aren’t always sure why their spaces and lives need to be smart or smarter.

In researching smart cities and smart homes, I’ve watched more videos than I ever expected of Amazon Echo “easter eggs” and Alexa farting, telling jokes, being used to prank companions or repeat risqué words to children. After watching these videos and reading press releases and tweets from municipal officials and innovation experts who seem to struggle with justifications for why digital kiosks actually transform or improve urban life, I was reminded of how many times I’ve heard these technologies referred to as “cool” rather than useful or important. While these texts depict people exploring the parameters and playing with smart technologies, these videos and instructions for joking with or about smart technologies are also reminiscent of Carolyn Marvin’s analysis of jokes as boundary-work in her research on electric communication. [5] 19th century electricians used jokes in order to differentiate themselves as experts and carve out a place for themselves within emergent social hierarchies. Often these jokes would poke fun at minorities, women, and immigrants as outsiders and technological newcomers who didn’t understand technical processes or made mistakes when talking about or working with new technologies. It is possible that smart technology users are enacting a similar practice of constructing the other and exercising social control and status. However, in this version sometimes it is the technology that is laughed at for making mistakes and serves as the butt of the joke.

Within these jokes, pranks, and street selfies are unspoken fears and desires for how early adopters and innocent bystanders understand the intersection of smart technologies with their everyday lives (or don’t). The reactions in the “Simon Says” genre of Amazon Echo and Google Home pranks illustrate the boundary between clever and “creepy” – intelligent agents are clever when they can provide requested information, harmless when they can imitate human bodily functions, but creepy when they know too much. If the smart kiosk really is a “giant iPhone,” it is not surprising that passersby use kiosks to take selfies, but also articulate privacy concerns about the personal data being collecting through the camera, email services, and WiFi connection.

In short, being “smart” is not enough. Although this statement may be cliché, what is less obvious is how we break away from this critical platitude toward creating more pleasurable and equitable digital spaces and mediated social relationships. As other scholars, urbanists, and architects have argued, we need to rethink the meaning and current imaginations of smart cities, smart homes, and smart technologies to include people and diverse communities. However, we should also take more time to read and understand the inherent critiques and desires articulated by early adopters (as well as non-users) of smart technologies. Even if these traces exist in the form of pranks and the sound of flatulence.

Image Credits:

1. Amir Zmora
2. Author’s personal collection
3. Author’s personal collection

Please feel free to comment.

NOTES

  1. Sarah Murray, “Get Smarter: The Wearables, Carriables, and Shareables of Digital Self-Actualization,” The University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2016, http://gradworks.umi.com/10/14/10142454.html.
  2. Dan Hill, “Essay: On the Smart City; Or, a ‘Manifesto’ for Smart Citizens Instead,” Cityofsound, February 2013, http://www.cityofsound.com/blog/2013/02/on-the-smart-city-a-call-for-smart-citizens-instead.html.
  3. Shannon Mattern, “A City Is Not a Computer,” Places Journal, February 7, 2017, doi:10.22269/170207.
  4. Adam Greenfield, “The City Is Here For You To Use, One Hundred Easy Pieces,” WIRED, December 3, 2012, https://www.wired.com/2013/02/adam-greenfield-the-city-is-here-for-you-to-use-one-hundred-easy-pieces/.
  5. Carolyn Marvin, When Old Technologies Were New : Thinking About Electric Communication in the Late Nineteenth Century (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1988).

Power-Knowledge in a ‘Post-Truth’ World Roopali Mukherjee / CUNY, Queens College

image1

Joe Heenan’s satirical art pokes fun at Trump’s rhetoric

Days after the 2016 US elections, The Poke invited readers to send in renderings of famous Western artworks that photo-shopped or otherwise incorporated newly elected Donald Trump into them. Collected under the hashtag #TrumpArtworks, scores of images, smarting with sarcasm and contempt, poured in, among them Joe Heenan’s revision of the 1942 Edward Hopper work, Nighthawks. In a send-up of Trump’s “alternative fact” about the size of the crowd at the inaugural ceremonies, Heenan’s revision seats Trump at the iconic late-night diner, announcing to the few patrons there: “This place is packed!”

Answering Trump’s bluster that the inaugural ceremonies would gather his supporters in a rally that “would be the biggest of them all!,” mild-mannered Bernie Sanders responded with a side-by-side visual comparison, tweeting a rare jab: “They didn’t. It wasn’t.”

Sanders Tweet A Sanders Tweet B

Images comparing the crowd sizes for 2017’s Presidential Inauguration and Women’s March

Within hours, CNN unveiled the now famous split-image comparison of aerial shots of Trump’s 2017 and Obama’s 2009 inaugurations, which showed, quite unequivocally, that the Obama crowds far outnumbered those that had assembled for Trump.

Image3

Images comparing the crowd sizes for Obama’s 2009 inauguration to Trump’s in 2017

Gleefully re-tweeted across social media circuits worldwide, these responses join a nightly barrage of sharp-tongued television satire as well as a string of public condemnations – Meryl Streep, John McCain, and others – contributing to a glut of blistering commentary and satire. A catalogue of Trump’s characteristic lapses into invention and exaggeration, these rejoinders track prognoses of an alarming new “post-truth” or “post-fact” world. [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] The willful spread of “rumor bombs” [8] [9] and “contrary facts of dubious quality and provenance” [10], the dangerous masking of propaganda as “fake news” and “alternative facts” [11] [12], each underscores the stakes of the post-truth/post-fact crisis. A sign of its permeation within the cultural milieu, popular use of the term “post-truth” grew by approximately 2,000 percent over the year, a spike that so distinguished the term that Oxford Dictionaries named it the 2016 Word of the Year.

These shifts toward distortion, misrepresentation, and hyperbole have, in turn, spurred reprisals of a vehement facticity – vigilant repositings of verified and verifiable claims – via news reports, blog posts, social media updates, op-eds, scholarly commentaries, fact-check services – and a parade of data-heavy empirical forms including charts, graphs, interactive maps, timelines, testimonials, photographs, video and audio recordings, surveys, and interviews. Thus, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s HateWatch maps [13], Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King’s crowd-sourced USA Election Monitor [14], the Pew Research Center’s sobering graph showing anti-Muslim hate crimes escalating to post-9/11 levels [15], the Center for American Progress’s fact sheet on the costs of Trump’s deportation policies [16], the Reuters/Ipsos poll that documents high levels of anti-black sentiments among Trump supporters [17], each offers a painstaking compilation of figures, statistics, records, and documents as a demonstration of, and a prophylactic against, the administration’s dangerous disregard for facts and evidence.

SPL Hate Map

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s HateWatch maps track active hate groups in America

Pew Anti-Muslim Assaults

The Pew Research Center Fact Tank found that anti-muslim assaults are at highest level since 2001

Reuters/Ipsos Poll

Reuters/Ipsos’s poll documents high levels of anti-black sentiments among Trump supporters

The steady drumbeat of these data-heavy responses suggests a foreboding, a widespread unease, as if their testimonies must bark to drown out Trump’s machinery of dissemblance and exaggeration. Belting out refrains of reliable and replicable evidence, they labor to assert the disciplinary modalities of facts and truth as if, somehow, the formidable authority of these epistemic forms now needs shoring up and reassurance. Reiterating the ethical necessity of empirical, fact-based truths, each is, at once, an inoculant against and a wary admission of the bewildering specter of a post-truth/post-fact world.

Certainly, the fast-and-loose proclivities of the new administration deserve nothing less than relentless vigilance for they are, quite without doubt, opportunistic, irresponsible, and dangerous. But the post-truth/post-fact crisis also invites insights about a whole terrain of epistemic contestation that marks the authority of official knowledges precisely in their encounters with unpalatable counter-knowledges. The stakes of the current crisis, then, also allow us glimpses of the disciplinary modalities of facts and falsehoods themselves as categories of power-knowledge embedded within struggles authorizing some truths and repressing others, and enlisted to maintaining the dominant order.

******************

The earliest salvo in Trump’s arsenal of reckless “truthiness,” as Stephen Colbert terms it, repeated the widely discredited but viscerally effective birther lie that the nation’s first black President was foreign-born. His assertion that Mexican immigrants are “rapists” and “criminals,” likewise, struck a chord, needing little factual footing to cement support for his candidacy. His claim to have watched “thousands and thousands of people” cheering in Jersey City as the World Trade Center buildings collapsed on 9/11 drew discursive life not from any basis in truth but from its cynical wink-and-nod appeal to anti-Muslim sentiment. Each of these declarations links Trump’s spectacular ascent to a series of racial, and reliably racist, assertions, each one resting not on the power of evidence but on that of gut-level, intuitive beliefs. The propagandist, know-nothing excesses of the Trump edifice, then, track, and are themselves tracked by, the genealogies of racial, and racist, epistemic orders, which with visceral obduracy – in the face of incontrovertible countervailing evidence – have long organized truth and fact as profoundly raced categories of power-knowledge.

How does the post-truth/post-fact crisis engage and mediate this racial order of things? How might we understand the predicaments of truth and fact, marked and haunted by racial counter-knowledges, which remain, in the main, repressed, dismissed as laughable, odd, impossible?

In a January 11, 2017 episode of the ABC sitcom Black-ish, the protagonist Dre Johnson (Anthony Anderson), confronted by a white co-worker despairing after the election, responds with an impassioned enumeration of bleak everyday truths about black life. [18] In a monologue accompanied by a montage of images representing black experiences, and featuring Billy Holliday’s brooding anti-lynching anthem Strange Fruit on the soundtrack – in effect, dossiers of stirring visual and sonic evidence – Johnson reposits the shameful record of the nation’s racial crimes to explain that Trump’s victory is no cause for heartache to a people for whom the system has rarely worked, and who have long suffered its brutality.

Black-ish screen grab

When confronted about the election, Black-ish‘s Dre Johnson responds with an impassioned enumeration of bleak everyday truths about black life

The scene choreographs a spectacular encounter between dominant and marginal truths, dramatizing the epistemic force with which empirical, fact-based evidence of enduring and persistent racial inequalities remain, for the most part, subordinated to dominant national scripts of a square deal and a fair share bolstered by smug Obama-era conceits of racial progress. Like the “Election Night” skit on NBC’s Saturday Night Live that aired days after the election, in which host Dave Chappelle pokes fun at the visceral sway of authorized truths about racially tolerant rather than blinkered white liberals, and sentimental attachments to an innocent rather than shameful national past, these are counter-knowledges that resonate within black public spheres but which remain, for the most part, assiduously silenced and marginalized.

Labored reiterations of empirical, fact-based truths in the current moment, then, are symptomatic, as the Black-ish episode proclaims, of “knowing what it [feels] like to be black,” of knowing the truth – about climate change, mass deportation, the Muslim ban – despite its dismissal or repression as laughable, odd, impossible. Confronted with challenges that have long bedeviled unpalatable racial knowledges, the current crisis underscores the ethical necessity of “deconstructive jolts” to the disciplinary modalities of what counts as fact and falsehood, and the hard work of opening to skepticism the armature of distortion and erasure necessary for maintaining the epistemic order of a post-truth/post-fact world.

Image Credits:

1. Joe Heenan, January 23, 2017. “This place is packed!” @ThePoke #TrumpArtworks. Author’s screen grab.
2. Bernie Sanders, January 20, 2017. Twitter.
3. CNN, January 20, 2017.
4. Southern Poverty Law Center, Spring 2017.
5. Pew Research Center Fact Tank, 2016.
6. Reuters/Ipsos. June 30, 2016.
7. Black-ish (TV series, Season 3, Ep. 12, “Lemons”), ABC, January 11, 2017. Author’s screen grab from YouTube.

Please feel free to comment.

NOTES

  1. Belluz, Julia. June 28, 2016. “Do Brexit and Donald Trump prove that we’re living in an era of fact-free politics?” Vox. http://www.vox.com/2016/6/28/12046126/brexit-donald-trump-facts-politics
  2. Drezner, Daniel W. June 16, 2016. “Why the post-truth political era might be around for a while.” Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/06/16/why-the-post-truth-political-era-might-be-around-for-a-while/?utm_term=.9d9bce8b42bc
  3. Egan, Timothy. November 4, 2016. “The post-truth presidency.” New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/04/opinion/campaign-stops/the-post-truth-presidency.html
  4. Holland, Justin. November 30, 2015. “Welcome to Donald Trump’s post-fact America.” Rolling Stone. http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/features/welcome-to-donald-trumps-post-fact-america-w452917
  5. Krugman, Paul. December 22, 2011. “The post-truth campaign.” New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/23/opinion/krugman-the-post-truth-campaign.html
  6. Manjoo, Farhad. 2008. True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society. New York: Wiley.
  7. Sirota, David. March 3, 2007. “Welcome to the post-factual era.” Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-sirota/welcome-to-the-postfactua_b_42527.html
  8. Harsin, Jayson. 2010. “That’s democratainment: Obama, rumor bombs and primary definers.” Flow, 13(1). http://flowtv.org/2010/10/thats-democratainment/
  9. Harsin, Jayson. February 2015. “Regimes of posttruth, postpolitics, and attention economies.” Communication, Culture & Critique, 8(2): 327–333.
  10. Fukuyama, Francis. February 23, 2017. “The emergence of a post-fact world.” Project Syndicate. https://www.project-syndicate.org/onpoint/the-emergence-of-a-post-fact-world-by-francis-fukuyama-2017-01
  11. Soll, Jacob. December 18, 2016. “The long and brutal history of fake news.” Politico.com. http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/12/fake-news-history-long-violent-214535
  12. Stanley, Jason. 2015. How Propaganda Works. Princeton University Press.
  13. Southern Poverty Law Center, Spring 2017. Active Hate Groups in the United States in 2016 (Map). https://www.splcenter.org/hate-map
  14. King, Shaun. 2016. USA Election Monitor (Interactive Map). Ushahidi.com. https://usaelectionmonitor.ushahidi.io/views/map
  15. Pew Research Center Fact Tank, 2016. “Anti-Muslim assaults reach 9/11 era levels FBI data show.” http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/11/21/anti-muslim-assaults-reach-911-era-levels-fbi-data-show/
  16. Edwards, Ryan and Ortega, Francesc. September 21, 2016. “The economic impacts of removing unauthorized immigrant workers: An industry- and state-level analysis.” Center for American Progress. https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/immigration/reports/2016/09/21/144363/the-economic-impacts-of-removing-unauthorized-immigrant-workers/
  17. Reuters/Ipsos. June 30, 2016. “Racial attitudes of Presidential candidates’ supporters” (Chart). http://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/rngs/USA-ELECTION-RACE/010020H7174/USA-ELECTION-RACE.jpg
  18. “Black resilience in America” (Post-election Anthony Anderson monologue). Black-ish (TV series, Season 3, Ep. 12, “Lemon”). ABC, New York, January 11, 2017.

From Dust till Drone: Roomba Aesthetics and Non-Human Cinema Neta Alexander / New York University

“iRobot Roomba GoPro” on YouTube

There is not much happening in this short YouTube clip: a glimpse of Mitt Romney talking on Fox News; a nameless white man sitting on the couch alongside his Labrador while absentmindedly staring at the television screen; a few wooden chairs and a kitchen table blocking the way. In short, a domestic scene that looks like an IKEA ad. And yet this five-minute clip, titled “iRobot Roomba GoPro,” has garnered hundreds of views since it was uploaded by a YouTube user named Grattan Heyward on January 10, 2011.

While Grattan’s contribution is an early example of the genre, by early 2017 more than 20,000 other “Roomba films” have been uploaded to YouTube – some of which reaped millions of views. How did this genre become successful? Why would anyone be bored enough to replace the kittens, panda bears, or adorable toddlers that occupy social media feeds with a clip made by a vacuum cleaner? While there are many possible answers to these questions, this short essay will contextualize Roomba aesthetic within the long tradition of non-human cinema. Moreover, I wish to argue that the surprising proliferation of this nascent genre cannot be detached from the growing scholarly and public interest in drones and “the rise of vertical perspective” as described by Hito Steyerl. [1] As above, so below.

While drones and automated vacuum cleaners entered our lives in the past two decades, the desire to free the camera from the human eye is as old as cinema itself. According to Dziga Vertov, the movie camera is not only an extension of our eyes, but a technological tool opening up a new kind of existential amplification: “Our eyes see very poorly and very little… the movie camera was invented to penetrate more deeply into the visible world.” [2] In Theory of Film, Zigfried Kracauer reminds us that humans were able to release themselves from the prison of their limited perspective and vision with the invention of aerial photography based on automatic cameras, which was first put to military use during the First World War. [3]

However, the current proliferation of “nonhuman cinema” – a wide-raging category consisting of GoPro films made by animals or objects, aerial footage shot by drones, or Sensory Ethnography Lab documentaries like Leviathan (2012) – is the result of two central developments in the Anthropocene: an enhanced awareness of the troubling aspects of human activity on both the environment and other organisms; and new wearable technologies that can easily turn an octopus, an eagle, or a vacuum cleaner into cinematographers and “content producers”. [4]

Nevertheless, there are substantial differences between Roomba clips and films made by animals. Take, for example, a short clip titled “Flying eagle point of view” which was uploaded to YouTube on 2014 and has since gained almost 10 million views.

“Flying eagle point of view #1” on YouTube

At first view, our eye is attracted to the green landscape and the snowy French alps. However, the source of the attraction is not only the landscape, but also the documentation of the eagle’s head and feathers at the bottom right corner of the frame. The eagle thus simultaneously functions as the one who looks and an object to be-looked-at. This GoPro aesthetic could be found in numerous other clips shot by birds, mammals and even an “octographer” (an octopus-turned-cinematographer who starred in a 2015 Sony commercial for underwater cameras). The decision to include the head of the “cinematographer” in the frame is more than a technical constraint. It is an aesthetic and narrative device that serves as an indexical signifier. By showing us the cut off torso or head, we are invited to indulged in a magical world supposedly created without any human intervention.

In a similar manner, Roomba films challenge our anthropocentric perspective. In the “iRobot Roomba” clip, for example, a GoPro camera was attached to a Roomba vacuum cleaner. Instead of breathtaking landscapes, the mechanic gaze of the machine’s eye reveals the domestic sphere to be a frustrating maze. While it seems that this clip is devoid of any drama, there is a suspenseful encounter with a chair one and half minutes into the “narrative”. Our protagonist/filmmaker boldly approaches a set of chairs in order to dust the kitchen floor, but it soon realizes that the space between their legs is too narrow for its round, chubby, and mechanical body. A struggle ensues. In fact, it takes the Roomba almost 30 seconds – eternity in terms of YouTube clips – to release itself from the grip of the chair’s legs and roam forward with pride.

There is something weirdly reassuring in this short scene. It makes us more aware of the fact that the material world we inhabit is built around a set of assumptions, one of which is that human beings walk on two legs. The Roomba’s wretched journey through the house is a constant reminder that we are privileged in terms of our encounter with the spatial environment.

Moreover, the pleasure of watching the Roomba do its work cannot be detached from the knowledge that its human master sits on the couch while listening to Romney. The human is resting; the machine is doing the dirty work while struggling to find its way in an environment built and designed for humans. In this sense watching Roomba films resembles staring at what Anna McCarthy calls “industrial GIFs:” “Snips of people and machines at work, these hypnotic loops provide vicarious access to the linked sensations of precision, efficiency, and effortlessness associated with a job well done. We see drill bits go in, we see pencils sharpened. We see cakes on a conveyor belt sail through a waterfall of icing, again and again and again.” [5] While the little Roomba encounters obstacles and hazards, the viewer knows that it will eventually achieve its goal. After all, it was uniquely designed to clean our messy, cluttered households.

With their “hypnotic” quality, Roomba films can be seen as a mirror image of a more ubiquitous and prominent phenomenon: films, military footage, and short clips shot by drones. It is therefore noteworthy that the Roomba’s manufacture, iRobot, is also responsible for Packbot, a popular terrestrial military drone. In its effort to outsource various kinds of dirty jobs and clean the world from either domestic or human “dust” (e.g potential terrorists, refuges, and other unwanted entities), the company is currently developing “drone swarms” consisting of hundreds or thousands of tiny drones that can be used for surveillance, military strikes, or intimidation of civilian population. [6] As Malcolm MacPherson reminds us in his book Roberts Ridge, drones are capable of “giving commanders what they had only dreamed of: total situational awareness – making them like gods, omniscient and all-seeing”. [7]

Still, there is nothing “god-like” in a Roomba desperately fighting a kitchen chair. While drones produce a “vertical perspective” of the outdoors, what can be called “the Roombian gaze” is based on low-angle documentation of domestic settings. Drones see more than humans; Roombas see less. But there is also an uncanny similarity between these two technologies: they both produce a repetitive, disharmonious, and somewhat disturbing sound. Even when their function is different – saving time for people too busy to clean their home or playing an integral part in the War on Terror – their sonic presence is ominous: mechanical “white noise” of a machine that never sleeps, gets tired, or contemplate the moral or economic implications of its existence (do Roombas dream of electric sheep? I doubt it).

Drone footage often scares us because drones are invisible, omnipotent, and superior; Roomba films relax us and make us Laugh Out Loud because these machines – while capable of doing their work – are helpless and inferior. According to Steyerl, the ubiquity of technologies used for tracking, surveillance, and targeting has made us grow increasingly accustomed to what use to be called a God’s-eye view. The linear perspective that dominated the arts until the 20th century has gradually given way to the “vertical perspective” of Google Maps, drone footage, or satellite imagery. As a result, “perception is reorganized by warfare, advertisement, and the conveyor belt”. [8]

The fact that drones and vacuum cleaners are manufactured and developed by the same company can alert us to their oft-denied similarities. As different as they may seem, they adhere to the logic of “warfare and the conveyor belt” by sharing the idea that some jobs are too dirty to be left for human agents. Staring at a Roomba vs. kitchen chair showdown is far more entertaining than watching an undocumented immigrant cleaning a bathroom while fighting fatigue and disgust. These films dust away the earthly concerns produced by a system that relies on overworked and underpaid humans. Instead of looking fearfully at the skies, we can stare at the maze that we call home. Oh, bless the machines. They keep our houses, streets and hometowns “clean” and damn they are funny to watch.

“Cat In A Shark Costume Chases A Duck While Riding A Roomba” on YouTube

Please feel free to comment.

NOTES

  1. “In Free Fall: A Thought Experiment on Vertical Perspective”. In The Wretched of the Screen. E-flux Journal/ Sternberg Press, 2012:12-30.
  2. Kino-eye: The Writings of Dziga Vertov, University of California Press, 1984: 67.
  3. See Siegfried Kracauer, Theory of Film, Princeton University Press, 1960. Due to the limited scope of this essay, it will not explore the history of films made by automatic or algorithmic cameras. Notable examples include Michael Snow’s Back and Forth (1969) or Lars Von Trier’s The Boss of it All (2006).
  4. GoPro, the most popular brand of wearable digital cameras, was launched in 2002. However, the realization that these tiny cameras can be easily attached to either objects or animals had only gained popularity in the last several years. See Nick Paumgarten, “We Are a Camera: Experience and Memory in the Age of GoPro”. The New Yorker. September 22, 2014.
  5. “Visual Pleasure and GIFs,” in Compact Cinematics, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2017: 117.
  6. See John Teschner, “On drones,” The Iowa Review, Vol 43, No 1 (Spring 2013): 79.
  7. Qtd. in Teschner, 75.
  8. Steyerl, 2012: 22.

I Am Woman, See Me Bleed: from Tampon Taboo to the Pro-Period Movement Alexis Carreiro / Queens University of Charlotte

Flow1

Steph Gongora’s Instagram post regarding her ‘leak’ during her yoga class

People Magazine isn’t exactly on the cutting edge of feminist sub-culture. In fact, it’s usually the opposite.[1] However, on February 14, 2017 it ran this story online (“Yoga Instructor Practices in White Pants While Free-Bleeding to Make a Point About Period Shame”) and posted the image above. Perhaps more shocking than the image itself is that, according to the homepage, it was the third most popular story that day.

Flow2 People‘s website showing the ‘Free-Bleeding’ article among its most popular pieces

The story features Steph Gongora’s Instagram video of her yoga practice while having her period. However, contrary to People’s headline, Gongora claims that she wasn’t free-bleeding and that it was “just a leak.” [2]

Free-bleeding refers to women who don’t use any menstrual products during their periods. Gongora, on the other hand, seems to imply that her product leaked during yoga. For some women, free-bleeding is a choice while for others, it’s not. In her original Instagram post, she highlights how millions of women around the world lack access to (or can’t afford) menstrual products and the negative impact it has on their lives. She directly relates that to her decision to post the video and encourages women to break free from the shame and embarrassment they feel about their bodies during menstruation. For Gongora, she posted the video of herself in solidarity with women who free-bleed—not by choice but—by necessity.

To date, the post has over 520,000 views and (almost) 8,000 comments that, not surprisingly, are not all positive. They range from supportive and celebratory to callous and contemptible. To put it mildly, the comment section, like the history of the tampon itself (and its history in popular culture), is a bit… messy.

************

Flow3

The lead image in The Atlantic‘s article on the history of this particular menstrual product

In her article for The Atlantic, Ashley Fetters charts the history of the tampon from its origins in the late 18th and 19th century, and examines the various materials used over the years (like plants, paper, wool, gauze, and glycerin) to aid in absorption. [3] Over the last several hundred years, companies have improved the basic design and are now offering eco-friendly alternatives like “period proof underwear” (Thinx) and various menstrual cups designed to catch the flow, [4] but menstrual blood is still taboo to talk about and, even more so, to show or display on film or TV. For such an ordinary and daily occurrence, it’s largely and—more specifically—visibly absent within mainstream, American media. Or, when it is present, it’s traditionally seen as horrific, comical, or shameful. [5] According to Fetters, “the commercial tampon as we know it has been shaped and re-shaped by a myriad of invisible forces—like genuine concern for women’s wellness, certainly, but also sexism, panic, feminism, capitalism, and secrecy.” Part of what the pro-period movement attempts to do it remove that panic and secrecy. [6]

Over the last several years, all-things-menstruation have gained momentum and visibility outside of broadcast media. [7] People across the world have used social media to protest the “tampon tax” that categorizes menstrual products as luxury items. [8] Some people (women and men) have used social media to de-stigmatize the natural phenomenon. [9] For example, artist Rupi Kaur posted a photo of herself during her period on Instagram.

Flow4

Artist Rupi Kaur’s interpretation of a woman’s monthly menstrual situation

It was part of a larger photography project her visual rhetoric college course. Instagram originally banned it but later reversed their decision after the outcry on social media. It was in 2015, however, when former M.I.A. drummer Kiran Gandhi ran the London Marathon without a tampon that the movement really gained legs. [10]

Flow5

Former M.I.A. drummer Kiran Gandhi and friends after they ran the London Marathon in 2015

She did it for several reasons—one of which was physical comfort and the second was to raise awareness about the relationship between economic oppression and period stigma. According to Gandhi, “My run was about using shock factor to create dialogue around menstrual health and comfort, so that women can start to own the narrative of their own bodies. Speaking about an issue is the only way to combat its silence, and dialogue is the only way for innovative solutions to occur.” [11] And create dialogue, she did. This story was picked up and covered by Buzzfeed, The Daily Mail, The Telegraph, The Huffington Post, The New York Times, Mashable and more. In fact, it helped push the movement so far forward that National Public Radio called 2015 “the year of the period” [12] and Cosmopolitan referred to it as “the year the period went public.” [13]

Women, however, aren’t the only ones contributing to the movement. Two teenage girls created a video game called Tampon Run that also went viral and eventually landed them a book deal. In the game, the player has to “collect tampons, shoot them at your enemies, and don’t run out of them before your moon cycle is over.” [14]

Flow6

A screenshot from the Tampon Run game

Of those whose bodies who are capable, roughly 25% of the female population are menstruating at any given time; that means approximately half the population are bleeding from their vaginas about a quarter of the time. Therefore, there is nothing inherently strange or weird about the biological process. Yet, culturally, it is shrouded in mystery, largely invisible in mainstream media, and remains taboo. This is exactly what Tampon Run is trying to resist. According to the developers, the goal of the game is to “normalize tampons in video games where guns would have been acceptable otherwise.” [15]

And this, to me, highlights the central problem; we live in an era where it is more acceptable to see dead victims of police brutality (on TV or in the news) than it is to see menstrual blood; the menses is more shocking than the murder—and the blood more shocking than the bodies. It is a striking example of how something so ordinary and mundane is actually shocking—and how something so shocking has become so ordinary. [16]

The pro-period movement, with its diverse members from across the world, is only working to solve one part of that problem and, more likely than not (similar to the debate about breast-feeding in public), it will never completely go away. So the question we need to ask ourselves is: whose blood, and in what circumstances, is the most difficult to look at? And, what does that reveal about us as a culture?

Image Credits:
1. Image for “Steph Gongora Free Bleeding Yoga,” People.com.
2. Author’s screenshot; People.com, February 14, 2017
3. Image for “The History of the Tampon,” The Atlantic, June 1, 2015, credited to “ SASIMOTO / Shutterstock / Kara Gordon / The Atlantic.”
4. Rupi Kaur, Artist’s Website.
5. From Kiran’s “modern period piece” on Medium.com.
6. Screen shot from Tampon Run, Fast Company, September 5, 2014.

Please feel free to comment.

NOTES

  1. They, like many celebrity publications, often use the words “flaunt” and “showing off” when describing women who are simply in public. Running errands. Going to wok. Playing at the beach with their children. That language perpetuates the idea that women exist to be looked at — and dress as objects for other people rather than subjects in their own lives.
  2. You can see the full video and text here.
  3. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/06/history-of-the-tampon/394334/
  4. It seems fitting to discuss this topic in a journal called Flow.
  5. For a quick overview of film and TV shows from the last 25 years that feature menstruation, see this and this. And, for a great satirical sketch about men’s role during women’s menstruation, see Key & Peele’s Menstruation Orientation.
  6. This pro-period movement, of course, isn’t new. This 2015 Bustle article explains the recent history of the movement which most people seem to date back to a 2004 blog post and then chart through 4chan’s 2014 “Operation freebleeding” hoax.
  7. Some of the most popular hashtags related to this are: #padsagainstsexim #freebleeding #notaxontampons #justatampon #PeriodsAreNotAnInsult #realmensupportwomen.
  8. Larimer, Sarah. “The Tampon Tax, Explained.” Washington Post. January 8, 2016.
  9. See Jose Garcia, Instagram, 2015.
  10. Here is her first-hand account of the experience.
  11. Madame Gandhi Blog. Sisterhood, Blood, and Boobs at the London Marathon 2015.
  12. Gharib, Malaka. NPR.org. December 31, 2015. According to this article, “But social media’s been awash with the p-word, and when we checked the number of times the word “menstruation” was mentioned in five national news outlets, it more than tripled from 2010 to 2015, from 47 to 167.”
  13. The 8 Greatest Menstrual Moments of 2015. October 13, 2015.
  14. Brownstone, Sydney. Fast Company. September 5, 2014. The game creators are not the only females to fling tampons or sanitary products as a form of protest. See A Brief History of Tampon Throwing and A Short History of Women Throwing Their Tampons at You for more information.
  15. Brownstone, 2014.
  16. International artist Elone is also tackling this concept in her work.

TV Finales: On-Demand Endings Casey McCormick / McGill University

house-of-cards-s01-trailer-premiere-date

House of Cards season one teaser

When Netflix released a full season of House of Cards in 2013, the online streaming company paved the way for a major shift in how TV gets made and watched. Of course, this was not the first time that TV viewers had access to the entirety of a season (or even series): on-demand technologies such as VHS, DVD, PVR, and streaming, had made TV compilation relatively common by 2013. But it was the first time that a series had been crafted with this method of distribution in mind, and the first time that the initial release of a series took the form of a full-season “dump.” Such on-demand native programming is becoming increasingly common, with Netflix’s $5 billion investment in original programming in 2016, and several other online distribution companies (e.g. Amazon, Hulu, CraveTV) all producing their own series—and in almost every case, releasing entire seasons at once.

Letterkenny Promo

Letterkenny is the flagship series of CraveTV, a Canadian video on demand (VOD) service

The full-season dump model departs from the traditional industry logic of offering viewers a slow drip of content, hyping appointment viewing, and using distribution gaps and hiatuses to generate anticipation and demand for more “product.” These financial imperatives trickle down into the formal structures of television, affecting plot and character pacing, season and episode length, and expectations regarding narrative resolution. Before on-demand technologies, viewers were at the whim of programming schedules, and TV series could wield that narrative power in delightful and/or frustrating ways. Indeed, one of the recurring themes in accounts of on-demand technologies center on the idea of increased viewer control over when and how we watch content. While I agree with the fact that VOD shifts the power dynamics of media consumption, we need to interrogate more fully the repercussions of this shift—particularly when it comes to understanding our narrative desires. Therefore, I’m interested in two questions: how do on-demand native series take advantage of their distribution format to tell stories in new ways? And how does on-demand viewing change our experience of serial television, especially with regard to endings?

Stranger Things on Netflix

Stranger Things utilizes chapter-based naming and variable running times in its eight-episode first season

In 2015, TV critic Todd VanDerWerff wrote about how “Netflix thinks more in terms of seasons than episodes,” quoting chief content officer Ted Sarandos’ claim that “The first season of Bloodline is the pilot.” TV critic Alan Sepinwall has bemoaned such storytelling structures, arguing that many of these series have “no interest in differentiating one episode from the next, and just offe[r] up 13 amorphous hours of… stuff.” Sepinwall’s criticism is rooted in a deep loyalty to the television medium and an aversion to TV positioning itself as “like” literature or film. VanDerWerff, on the other hand, recognizes the Netflix model as a “new art form” that will “require a fair amount of trial and error.” The proliferation of Netflix original programming over the past two years has certainly given creators the opportunity to experiment with this storytelling form, and so the growing library of Netflix originals invites us to think about what I’m calling “Netflix poetics,” a specific set of tools and tactics for creating meaning in televisual narrative. [1]

In addition to variations in episode and season structures, Netflix poetics include thematic and stylistic consistencies across programming genres. In my experience of watching *a lot* of Netflix originals, I’ve found that they tend to be particularly metafictional, or self-conscious about storytelling. Many include narrators (Narcos, Jessica Jones), some of whom are able to break the fourth wall (House of Cards, A Series of Unfortunate Events), while others emphasize storytelling-as-such (The OA, Bloodline). Several Netflix originals also feature addiction plots, which, as I’ve argued elsewhere, can be understood as thematizations of the binge-viewing process. Stylistically, Netflix originals share similarities with what many have called “quality TV,” such as higher production values, darker colour palettes, and more “cinematic” camera work. In addition, these series typically assume a dedicated viewer who watches each episode closely, so they do away with many of the recapping strategies typical of broadcast TV, and they don’t use cliffhangers to manufacture hype. Fuller House and The Ranch notwithstanding, Netflix original series seem to be attempting to offer stories that aren’t often told on television.

“That’s Not How the Story Goes,” the closing musical number to season one of Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, emphasizes how the the show is resisting conventional narrative tropes

So, how do Netflix poetics change our relationship to endings? In my previous Flow article, I discussed a pervasive ambivalence that we feel with regards to the ends of TV series. I was speaking particularly about series finales, but that ambivalence is often present in relation to season and even episode endings as well. While there have been relatively few series finales of on-demand native shows (itself a phenomenon in need of more attention), we can still draw some conclusions about the effect of Netflix poetics on our experience of endings.

When we reach the end of an episode on Netflix, the infamous “auto-play” function begins a countdown that gives us roughly 15 seconds to decide whether or not to keep watching. Auto-play is one of the ways that Netflix subverts the power of endings, instantly reminding us that there is more to be watched. Recently, Netflix has extended the reach of the auto-play function, so the closure (or lack thereof) of a season finale is immediately undercut by the start of the next season—if it exists. Anticipation has traditionally served as the central component of TV storytelling, but on-demand viewing limits the opportunities for a series to capitalize on this emotion. When a full season or series is available on Netflix, we control the temporality of endings: we can race to the finale, milk a season for all its worth, or skip right to the final episode. But even as we gain more control over viewing time, we are often so lured by the joys of narrative immersion that we give ourselves over to the addictive flow of a particular series. We binge because we can, but also because it feels good.

Jessica Jones Finale House of Cards Ch 27 Netflix addiction

Jessica Jones, “AKA Smile” (2015) | House of Cards, “Chapter 27” (2015) | Essenpreis’ Netflix Addiction

On-demand contexts like Netflix divorce endings from the paratextual hype and social buzz that accompanies most season and series finales. Sometimes, as a result of auto-play functions, we may not even realize that we’ve reached a finale. Most discussions about series finales position these episodes as “cultural spectacle[s],” emphasizing the social nature of endings and communal experiences of closure and finality. [2] While we certainly do sometimes watch Netflix with our partners and friends, the ability to personalize viewing temporalities means that, more often than not, Netflixing is a solitary act. We still discuss and share our experiences of a series with others, which is why I disagree with accounts claiming that on-demand viewing diminishes the social nature of television, but there’s no doubt that these technologies change the value and meaning of finales.

As I noted above, very few Netflix originals have ended their series runs. [3] Once we get a proper sample size, it will be interesting to see how Netflix series finales stack up against a history of TV endings. As for season finales, Netflix originals strike a balance between utilizing traditional closural gestures—answering season-spanning questions, setting up the conditions for subsequent seasons—and maintaining stylistic loyalty to the rest of the series. In other words, Netflix season finales don’t tend to stand apart from other episodes to the same extent that cable and broadcast finales do, and so the special pressures of finale storytelling come more from the viewer’s ingrained expectations than from structural narrative imperatives. Personally, I’ve found Netflix season finales less disappointing overall, but nonetheless underwhelming. I’m rarely angered by them, but I’m rarely satisfied. It seems that on-demand viewing emphasizes a drive towards finality by encouraging binge-viewing, but Netflix original series have yet to solve the problem of what it means to make a “good” finale.

Hemlock Grove Finale

Hemlock Grove, “Brian’s Song” (2015), resorts to a common series finale trope

Image Credits:

1. Author’s screen grab
2. Letterkenny is the flagship series of CraveTV, a Canadian video on demand (VOD) service3
3. Author’s screen grab
4. Author’s screen grab
5. Author’s screen grab
6. Kiersten Essenpreis’ Netflix Addiction
7. Author’s screen grab

Please feel free to comment.

NOTES

  1. These changes in TV poetics are not limited to Netflix, or even to on-demand native series. As Sepinwall points out: “More and more […] dramas are being structured for marathon viewing, rather than the weekly schedule in which they originally air.” In Complex TV, Jason Mittell argues that “Compiling a serial allows viewers to see a series differently, enabling us to perceive aesthetic values traditionally used for discrete cultural works to ongoing narratives” and VanDerWerff notes that binge-viewing “changes everything” about our relationship to a series. In the context of this article, I’m using “Netflix poetics” to describe features of Netflix original series, though I believe that this poetic structure extends to all series that are put into on-demand context.
  2. Joanne Morreale (2000), “Sitcoms Say Goodbye: The Cultural Spectacle of Seinfeld’s Last Episode.” Journal of Popular Film and Television. 28.3. 108-15.
  3. Hemlock Grove ended after 3 seasons (a planned finale), and Marco Polo was cancelled after two (unplanned).

TV Critics and Taste Culture, or Why Everyone Ignored Oxygen’s Funny Girls Stephanie Brown / University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Brown image 1

The women of Oxygen’s Funny Girls (2015).

As Pierre Bourdieu famously stated, “taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier.” [1] While Bourdieu likely would have placed stand-up comedy low on the hierarchy of artistic creation, humor scholars like Giselinde Kuipers have used Bourdieu’s framework to understand how sense of humor classifies along not only class, but also gender lines. [2] While Kuipers has largely studied individual senses of humor through ethnographic interviews, I’m also interested in the ways in which an analysis of taste and reception can augment the study of gendered representation and industry hiring practices. Indeed, while the recent success of women-helmed comedy series like Insecure, Inside Amy Schumer and Broad City in the form of accolades, positive reviews and growing buzz seems to signal a shift in the historically male-dominated arena of comedy, television critics tend to take seriously women-centric comedic programming only when they abide by masculine standards of good taste.

Funny Girls and ‘Authentic’ Comedy

Television critics tasked with “officially” classifying pop culture often reify gendered hierarchies of genre. One show that was largely ignored by TV critics and comedy fans alike for falling outside of the acceptable limits of this masculine good taste is Oxygen’s 2015 docu-drama Funny Girls, which chronicles five women navigating the notoriously difficult stand-up comedy scene in Los Angeles.

Funny Girls trailer, posted by Oxygen Media.

Aside from a smattering of middling reviews about the pilot, critics wrote fairly little about the series after its first episode. These reviews largely dismissed the series as another reality show focused too much on so-called “drama” rather than the artistry of being a comic. Flavorwire’s review couldn’t even be bothered to get the title of the show right in the headline. [3]

Brown image 2

Flavorwire review of Funny Girls, though the headline editor didn’t get the memo.

Reviews for new shows tend to rely on associations with genre formats, comedic voices, or television networks in order to quickly convey information and to make value judgments. Funny Girls had two negative associations working against it: The Oxygen Network and reality television, both cultural products that are often denigrated (with a haughty eye roll) as melodramatic and feminine, and therefore bad. And, in fact, the review starts with such dismissal: “On the whole, Oxygen’s Funny Girls is easy (and understandable) to dismiss […]Funny Girls barely even registers (and not many people pay attention to Oxygen to begin with.” Other reviews echoed this complaint.

Brown image 3

A.V. Club review of Funny Girls, props for getting the title correct.

A.V.Club’s review cites the reality-show connection as well, arguing that stand-up is a “singular art form where it’s all about the creator,” while reality TV is about corporate string-pulling and manufactured “drama.” [4] When stand-up comics are forced into “the confines of this fake reality…their material feels labored as well.” The review then cites Marc Maron’s WTF podcast as a show that actually “lifts the veil via a conversation with two insiders,” rather than forcing stand-up into the “fake reality” of a docu-drama. Most other reviews echoed these complaints. Variety commented that the show was at its best when the comics “stop working at being funny” [5] and Entertainment Weekly suggested the show “focus less on drama and more on the craft.” [6]

Authenticity, a type of performance in itself, is one such subjective standard against which comedy is frequently judged. As Judith Yaross Lee, has argued, modern comedy venues, outlets, and performances create the illusion of authenticity by professionalizing intimate one on one conversations. [7] “Authenticity” also means different things to different people, and is often used as an arbitrary marker of quality and legitimacy by those with the capital to set artistic standards. [8] Indeed, a lack of so-called “authenticity” due to its perceived status as a reality TV show was cited in nearly every review of Funny Girls as the reason it wasn’t a comedic series worth watching.

Of course, these complaints that docu-dramas are inherently inauthentic forms of comedy ignore the fact that all media is constructed or scripted. The critically acclaimed FX series Louie is, of course, not “real” either, and according to A.V.Club’s review of the pilot, can actually unpleasant and alienating. [9] However, because Louie is generally associated with independent cinema, a format that is understood as difficult and artistic, it is often read as more authentic than other television shows. The gendered subtext is that representations of comedy tied to masculine formats like stream-of-consciousness, discussion of craft, or narrative arduousness are authentic, while representations of comedy tied to feminine formats like reality docu-dramas are not.

In addition to being a reality show, reviewers complained the comics of Funny Girls are defined too much by their love lives and that the women have fake fights with each other. A.V.Club’s review comments that:


“These women’s desire for men is probably a gambit to make them relatable and likable to the audience, but instead feels like every female stereotype lobbed at female comedians.”

While FlavorWire’s main complaint is that:

“by far the worst part of ‘Funny Girls’ is the manufactured drama between the women….it takes away from the characters’ real compelling narratives: their struggles in the comedy world.”

While these are valid concerns, I would argue that complaints that women are too often defined by their love lives is an underrepresentation problem more so than a stereotyping problem. Funny Girls, like other shows about female comics, carries the weight of representation because they are so few and far between. Funny Girls not only has to be entertaining in its own right, it has to make a progressive statement about women in comedy. These complaints also forget the fact many acclaimed comedy shows starring both male and female comics often focus heavily on the love lives of the main characters (see Maron, Louie, Broad City, Insecure, Seinfeld, etc), and that spats between comics are common, whether or not these fights are scripted or not. Both the real and fictionalized versions of Louis CK and Marc Maron are notoriously unpleasant (to say the least), but when they have fights (or drama) with fellow comics on their TV shows or podcasts (sometimes with each other!) these are seen as markers of authenticity. Reviewers’ complaints that Funny Girls should ignore tension between comics and focus on their craft reinforces the false notion that comedy is a “singular art form,” free from the personal grudges, complicated romantic relationships, and infighting that characterize the Los Angeles comedy scene.

Again – the actual issue critics have with Funny Girls isn’t that female stand-up comics don’t really worry about their love lives or fight with each other, it’s that comedy critics don’t think reality shows are a legitimate format for representing stand-up comics.

Notably, the mentions of Funny Girls on women-oriented sites like VH1 [10] and Glamour [11] were much more positive.

Brown image 4

Headline from VH1’s (positive!) review of Funny Girls.

Brown image 5

Headline from Glamour’s (also positive!) review of Funny Girls.

Glamour’s review is particularly relevant in that Megan Angelo takes the opposite stance on authenticity than did the reviews on entertainment-centric outlets. While sites like A.V.Club argued that reality show conventions painted the comics as inauthentic, Angelo notes that what sets these comics apart from the typical reality show character is that they’re more naturally funny and more authentic than the bachelorettes or housewives. While this comparison reaffirms similar taste distinctions between comedy and reality TV, it epitomizes the ways in which both authenticity and comedy are not only subjective, but tied to the gendered genre conventions often reinforced by TV critics.

Conclusion

The critics cited above obviously want to celebrate women comics, but only within certain boundaries of accepted taste. By celebrating women comics only when they work within accepted masculine styles, critics reinforce gendered taste hierarchies that construct genres like soap operas, reality shows, or melodramas as fake or silly, or at best, as “guilty pleasures.” Because reception and ideologies of taste are integral to shows’ economic and popular success, reviews are a useful lens through which to interrogate the ways gender, race, and class intersect with television representation and production practices. More specifically, now that feminist media scholars have (hopefully!) moved beyond the need to defend female comics, we can now focus our efforts on dismantling the television taste patriarchy and expanding what it means to be a ‘real’ comic.

Image Credits:
1. The women of Oxygen’s Funny Girls (2015).
2. Flavorwire review of Funny Girls, though the headline editor didn’t get the memo.
3. A.V. Club review of Funny Girls, props for getting the title correct.
4. Headline from VH1’s (positive!) review of Funny Girls.
5. Headline from Glamour’s (also positive!) review of Funny Girls.

Please feel free to comment.

NOTES

  1. Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique Of The Judgement Of Taste (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984), 6.
  2. Giselinde Kuipers, Good humor, Bad taste: A Sociology of the Joke (Boston: Walter de Gruyter GmbH, 2015).
  3. Pilot Viruet, “Oxygen’s ‘Funny Women’ Relies Too Much on Reality Show Tropes,” Flavorwire (April 7, 2015).
  4. Molly Eichel, “Funny Girls Forces stand-ups into a reality show mold” A.V. Club (April 7, 2015).
  5. Brian Lowry, “TV Review: Oxygen’s ‘Funny Girls’” Variety (April 6, 2015).
  6. C. Molly Smith, “Funny Girls Review” Entertainment Weekly (April 7, 2015).
  7. Judith Yaross Lee, Twain’s brand: Humor in contemporary American culture (University Press of Mississippi, 2012).
  8. For a useful discussion of how authenticity is used to explain affective responses to music and other forms of media, see Lawrence Grossberg’s “Is There a Fan in the House?: The Affective Sensibility of Fandom,” in The Adoring Audience edited by Lisa A. Lewis (New York: Routledge, 1992), 50-68.
  9. Nathan Rabin, “Louie: ‘Pilot’” A.V. Club (June 29, 2010).
  10. Alexa Tietjen, “Oxygen’s Funny Girls is the Most Hilarious Show You’re Not Watching,” VH1 Celebrity (May 5, 2015).
  11. Megan Angelo, “Obsessed TV Report Card: Funny Girls,” Glamour (April 8, 2015).

Competition, Economics, and Social Trends: Assessing the Value in Kids Cooking Shows D. Jordan Davis / Independent Scholar

Davis1

MasterChef Junior’s Gordon Ramsay, Season 3 contestant Cory Nieves, and judges Graham Elliot and Joe Bastianich

They barbeque. They deep fry. They sauté. Today’s TV kids aren’t just cute—they’re fierce cooks in the kitchen. And they’ve become a staple of primetime programming. Food Network produces most kids cooking shows, with popular programs such as Chopped Junior and Kids Baking Championship now mainstays in its evening lineup. FOX is the home of Gordon Ramsay’s MasterChef Junior, and Man vs. Child: Chef Showdown airs on FYI. A subset of the reality TV competition genre and patterned after similar shows featuring adult chefs, these programs capture the joy of culinary creation, and the agony of leaving a basket ingredient off the judges’ plates. Yet, they also capture the sweet dreams of kids who just want to cook. It’s a potent combination that’s fueling ratings, business, and debate.

The success of kids cooking programs has been generated by the viewers who watch: kids and their parents. Citing Nielsen data, Food Network Senior VP-National Ad Sales Karen Grinthal said, “Kids love watching Food Network and it’s a family event. It’s not surprising that 60% of kids age 2-to-17 watch key Food Network shows with their parents.”1 Reaping the benefits of audiences and advertising dollars, Food Network looked to expand its foothold on the kids cooking show market by introducing three new shows in 2016: Kids BBQ Championship, Food Network Star Kids and Kids Sweets Showdown.2 MasterChef Junior completed a successful Season 4 in January, solidly performing on Friday nights, and will begin Season 5 on February 9, 2017. These shows are part of a larger trend involving upscale cooking “driven by other, more-adult trends: healthier eating; the desire for more family time; building kids’ self-sufficiency; the globalization of food and the emergence of cooking and eating as an American pastime.”3 While these shows are a boon to advertisers, they are also a boon to other businesses. Kid-friendly cooking magazines such as Ingredient and Butternut have cropped up, and upscale play kitchens have hit the market featuring dark-wood cabinets and imitation stainless steel appliances.4 Additionally, local culinary schools have seen enrollment spikes for cooking classes. In Richmond, Virginia, for example, Edible Education experienced an increase in 2016 after two of its youngest students were featured on Chopped Junior. One student, Claire Hollingsworth of Moseley, won the competition at just 10 years of age. Sur La Table’s Chef Lynne Just sees the connection between the kids who watch these shows and their desire to learn about cooking. “There is definitely a correlation! We hear it from our class participants all the time!” she said.5

Davis2

Chopped Junior winner Claire Hollingsworth

But Chef Ann Butler of Edible Education worries about the effect these shows are having on young viewers. “It was exciting to ride out the month’s worth of press – but we did not focus on that as we are a cooking school to get kids excited about real food – not to compete. I find it daunting that the only kids cooking shows are about competition.”6 Indeed, the hook of these shows is the competitive element, the drama of cooking against a clock. In her essay “On the Line: Format, Cooking and Competition as Television Values,” University of Milwaukee-Wisconsin associate professor Tasha Oren outlines how the format of competitive cooking shows differ “from the cooking instructional’s closed-form certainty—where the object under preparation is pre-determined—to a form of narrative suspense, conflict, humiliation and failure…Competition cooking shows trade on displacement, confusion and discomfort as important pre-conditions to productivity. As much as beautiful dishes, skillfully made, they also offer stress, discord and reproach.”7

Similar to other competition cooking shows featuring adults, kids are shown hurrying around the kitchen in a panicked state. They juggle multiple tasks such as cutting, mixing, frying, and baking to turn their ingredients into something not just edible, but prize-winning. And in order to win, the dishes prepared must demonstrate an advanced level of culinary expertise and creativity. “It is the only depiction of kids cooking,” Chef Butler said. “The kids are stressed, and not average ability – they are super culinary kids. Everyone thinks if my kid cannot perform at that level, they should not cook.”

Butler’s comments further speak to food having taken on the mantle of high art in the 21st century, and the challenges associated with home food preparation being elevated to a competitive level. The importance of learning to cook at any level as well as the joy of cooking may be lost, and the goal of healthy eating at a young age may be subverted by the lure of being a champion. “Now, it’s socially acceptable for a kid to be a food phenom comparable to a sports or arts phenom,” Karen Grinthal said.8 Similar to excelling in sports or the arts, it takes money to cultivate culinary expertise through quality ingredients, utensils, and cooking classes. Kids without access to these things may be able to watch their peers cook on TV, but the reality of preparing what they see is out of reach.

MasterChef Junior crowns its first winner, Alexander Weiss

However, experts see the positive value of competition and kids cooking shows. “Competition can be good for children,” writes Dr. Cynthia E. Johnson, an Extension Human Development Specialist. “It can help children develop healthy attitudes about winning and losing. Competition can encourage growth and push a child to excel.”9 Joyce Meagher, a Licensed Professional Counselor, concurs in her assessment of these shows. “Several of the contestants talked about having a passion for cooking since age 3 or so; I think role-modelling a passion for ANYTHING is a great lesson for viewers! Even the losers shared an optimism to continue on their personal journeys, which is what all of us want for our children and grandchildren. Striving for a personal best at anything creates the leaders of tomorrow!”10

There may be other positive elements on display. Kids on cooking shows tend to be…kids. They demonstrate compassion and cooperation more so than their adult counterparts on similar shows: sharing ingredients when possible, high-fiving or hugging when the competitive rounds are over, offering words of encouragement when the losers go home. From a diversity perspective, kids cooking shows feature contestants of various ethnicities and provide exposure to different food cultures. From a gender perspective, they feature young girls in an environment historically dominated by men. In the mid-2000s, Food Network revamped its programming lineup and placed its domestic-themed, female-led cooking shows during morning dayparts, while evening dayparts predominantly featured male “chefs” experiencing food outside the home.11 Seeing young girls in a professional cooking environment during primetime normalizes their presence as future members of the food industry and provides young girls at home with a reinforcement that gender is not a barrier to success.

Davis3

Kids BBQ Championship contestant Paris Hale receives advice from judge Eddie Jackson

In summary, the proliferation of kids cooking programs shows no signs of coming to a slow boil. Their impact reaches across several economic sectors including advertising, toy manufacturing and local culinary schools. There are social and cultural implications as well. Kids cooking on TV exposes young viewers to the possibilities in the kitchen and in life, but due to the competitive program format, the reality of preparing meals at home may be skewed. The door is open for further examination of how these shows affect kids. Will they view competition as healthy? Will they continue the trend of making home-cooked meals? Will they be the Alex Guarnaschellis and Bobby Flays of tomorrow?

Please feel free to comment.

Image Credits:
1. MasterChef Junior
2. Chopped Winner
3. Kids BBQ Championship

NOTES

  1. Snyder Bulik, Beth. “Growing Up Foodie: Marketers Turn Kids Into Sophisticated Chefs.” Ad Age, 31 Aug. 2015. Web.
  2. Berg, Madeline. “Food Network, HGTV and Travel Channel Turn To Kids And Celebrities To Boost Ratings.” Forbes. 29 Mar. 2016. Web.
  3. Snyder Bulik
  4. Snyder Bulik
  5. Just, Lynne. “Re: Kids Cooking Shows/Enrollment Correlation”. Message to the author. 8 Sept. 2016. Email.
  6. Butler, Ann. “Re: Kids Cooking Shows/Enrollment Correlation”. Message to the author. 6 Sept. 2016. Email.
  7. Oren, Tasha G. “On the Line: Format, Cooking and Competition as Television Values.” Academia. 2013. Web.
  8. Snyder Bulik
  9. Johnson, Cynthia E. “Children & Competition.” University of Tennessee Extension Center for Parenting. 1993 May. Web.
  10. Meagher, Joyce. “Re: Feedback on Cooking Shows for Kids.” Message to the author. 7 Dec. 2016. Email.
  11. Oren.

Phantasm: Ravager (USA 2016)

It breaks my heart to have to give this film a bad review. I love the Phantasm film series. The first one is a freaky trip, and the second one is a campy, action-packed blast – and both do an incredible job of creating a dreamlike atmosphere of hopelessness. Even the third film, while deeply flawed, is still a lot of fun. Unfortunately, Ravager follows in the path of Phantasm IV, an ultra-low budget mix of outtakes and inexpensive new footage with little narrative coherence.

I cannot imagine how this film would play to someone not deeply versed in Don Coscarelli’s phantasm universe. Even as someone with a fair amount of familiarity with the franchise, I found the new film to be garbled, confusing and unsatisfying. The characters have aged substantially, and while Angus Scrimm brings his usual talent to the role of the Tall Man, in this film he evokes my grandfather more than a terrifying apparition. Moreover, the film is ill-served by its low-budget. While scenes depicting wide-scale devastation are handled decently, filmmakers need to learn that CGI gunshots and injuries almost invariably look cheap and terrible. Invest in some squibs and blanks.

That said, while this, the first entry in the series not to be directed by creator Coscarelli, feels a bit like mediocre fan fiction, it is nice to see the old gang get together one more time (particularly in light of Scrimm’s recent passing) and everybody seems to be having fun. In fact, by far my favorite part of the film – aside from the joy of seeing the beloved Hemi ‘Cuda tricked out with hood mounted Gatling guns – was the five-minute coda at the end of the film which featured an unexpected and delightful cameo. 1 1/2 out of 4 stars (Below average).

Artist of the Day: Tea Jurisic

Discover the art of Tea Jurisic, Cartoon Brew's Artist of the Day.

The post Artist of the Day: Tea Jurisic appeared first on Cartoon Brew.

‘Sausage Party”s Conrad Vernon Continues Down Adult Animation Path with ‘Amberville’ Series

Amazon Studios is developing an adult animated series with the help of "Sausage Party" director Conrad Vernon.

The post ‘Sausage Party”s Conrad Vernon Continues Down Adult Animation Path with ‘Amberville’ Series appeared first on Cartoon Brew.

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