February 6, 2007

Web 2.0 ... The Machine is Us/ing Us

A wonderful, brief introduction to technologies of writing, online media technologies, and Web 2.0, by Michael Wesch.

[via Jill]

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August 4, 2005

Serenity Now!

We just finished watching the DVD of Firefly. When the show came out, we watched several episodes but because of its schedule, we missed many. Having now seen the entire (half) season, I really wish it was still on the air, and heartily recommend that you Netfli... (how do I make this a verb?) ... it asap.

The film, Serenity, is due to come out September 30th, so we're booking babysitters now. ;-)

Meanwhile, read an interview with Joss about the film.

[thanks to Wonderland for the t-shirt heads-up]

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May 18, 2005

Star Wars, The New Yorker Like Not

SPACE CASE by ANTHONY LANE “Star Wars: Episode III.”

The general opinion of “Revenge of the Sith” seems to be that it marks a distinct improvement on the last two episodes, “The Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones.” True, but only in the same way that dying from natural causes is preferable to crucifixion.
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April 15, 2004

Apprentice Finale

Kwame delegated, but he did not manage. Even if he didn't know he could fire Omarosa, he should have at least taken her to task.

I totally respect a laid back manager who doesn't micromanage. But if your people aren't getting the job done, you need to (if you wish, in a calm, laid back manner) step up and get your ducks in a row. Saying "I expect them to do their job" isn't leading them to getting that job done. I think that's the difference between a manager and co-worker.

I'm bummed, because I really liked Kwame and because I think Bill's a jerk.

And Omarosa is crazy as hell. I thought her head was going to pop off during the live sequence. Did anyone else notice that she shoved Heidi awful hard and laughed a little too loudly? "I'm so confused ... am I hired, or am I fired .. hehehe." Lady, you're the only one who's confused about that...

Enough. I'm tired. (can i trademark that?)

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April 9, 2004

The Apprentice

I'm enthralled. I despise so-called 'Reality TV' but The Donald has created a winner. We're in the final week. After a series of interviews with some of Trump's top advisors, The Donald dropped Nick and Amy. Dropping Nick was a good move - Nick is a fine salesman and a strong player, but he really did not stand up against the other three in the room.

Dropping Amy was unwise overall, I think, but she interviewed badly (by her own admission, she lacked substance; I missed her actual interview, as I was changing a diaper). But I'm surprised that she was so easily dismissed. The interviewers called Amy "irritating" and a "Stepford wife" - all of which made me wish I saw her interview (and made me wonder yet again about the gender dynamics of the entire show - something that begs further investigation). Even more surprising was Trump's one-two punch, where he first asked Amy who the weakest person in the room was after Bill and Kwame both pointed towards Nick, and then called her "cold ... a cold-hearted person" when she too sided against Nick, even though there's been much made about their "relationship." Amy was honest (and right! [see edit below]), but not harsh, in her assessment of Nick's abilities and I'm willing to bet that she would have been praised for such frankness in other circumstances. I also wondered if The Donald would've made so much of the loyalty issue if she were a man instead of a woman, or if he would have just called her soft and a Stepford wife if she had protected Nick (in fact, Trump almost said as much in episode 11, when Amy brought Katrina into the board room instead of Nick). A lose-lose situation for Amy.

Anyway, that leaves Bill (smart enough, and ambitious, but a jerk) and Kwame. Smart and charismatic, Kwame is good, but hasn't been shining as a leader - the "low energy" discussed during the interview phase. Kwame steps back and expects people to do their job, which is fine, but he has failed to step up and correct the issue when people haven't done their job, which isn't so fine. I think Bill will take the final spot, if for no other reason than Kwame made a DUMB decision by picking Omarosa to be on his team (the six most recently fired contestants were brought back as "employees" for the two finalists). Doing so let Bill pick Nick, leaving only Heidi. Kwame's laid back personality will simply be overwhelmed by the trinity of egos on his team (the third being Troy, of course). With Omarosa already totally screwing up her job (and showing herself to be a liar to boot), Kwame's best shot is if Bill's arrogance gets him into trouble.

Sure, the show can be just as contrived as any of the other 'reality' series, but it successfully blends the aspects of competition and elimination from those other (crappy) shows with the makeover appeal of shows like "Trading Spaces" and "Monster House," where style is coupled with budgeting, and creativity with strict deadlines. The Donald also leaves us with some pretty significant life lessons: Troy's dismissal said nothing if not "go to college," and Carolyn's sugary "It's nice that he made it this far" drove the point home.

Edit: Regarding Amy's catch-22, instead of pointing to Nick, she might have instead singled out Kwame who, despite his education and charisma, really has not stepped up to the plate, whereas Nick has lead a team to wins. Selecting someone else might have highlighting some of her own leadership skills (in the boardroom, she sort of looked like she was just following the others' lead). Although, in such an approach, she probably would've been called out for just protecting her boyfriend. A tough call.

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March 10, 2004

Game Over (UPN)

Game Over, UPN's animated show about what happens when you turn that console off, premiers this evening at 8 pm. Voice actors include Lucy Liu (of Ally McBeal and Charlie's Angels fame), Patrick Warburton (from Seinfeld), and Rachel Dratch (of SNL).

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February 19, 2004

The Muppets Take Wolfram and Hart

Just when I started not to care about the WB canceling Angel, they turned around and put out one of the best episodes ever.


The description:

When a popular children's show begins to steal the life forces of children by hypnotizing them, Angel (David Boreanaz) goes directly to the studio to uncover the evil doings. Upon entering the building, Angel triggers a spell that transforms him into a puppet.

Now ranking in my top 10 list of Buffy/Angel episodes. Ever.

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January 14, 2004

Race in Translation

GrumpyGirl at Invisible Shoebox wonders about the claims that Sophia Coppola’s film Lost in Translation is racist (entry on Wednesday, January 14, 2004 - bloggered permalink). Though she didn’t think so at first, she came across an article by E. Koohan Paik that has her thinking twice.

The article claims: "The inaccessibility of Japan functions as an extension of the alienation and loneliness Bob and Charlotte feel in their personal lives, thus laying the perfect conditions for romance to germinate" - which is, I think, exactly the opposite of how I would read the film. Part of the point, it seems to me, is that despite the language barrier, despite some very different cultural norms, Bob and Charlotte are able to feel less "alienated" in an "alien" environment. Their isolation is soothed by, rather than extended by, immersion in a foreign culture, even if it is awkward and difficult.

The paragraph quoted above ends: "Take away the cartooniness of the Japanese and the humor falls flat, the main characters' intense yearning is neutralized and the plot evaporates."

Sure, there are caricatures in the film, but these are not limited to the Asian characters. When I first blogged about LiT, I talked about Kelly - the one dimensional movie actress who represents one extreme of the ‘obnoxious American.’ A stereotype? Yes. An incorrect one? Hardly. All countries have their fair share of flat, snobbish, boorish, ignorant, or ridiculous folk - is it more or less disingenuous to pretend otherwise? And, I would argue, the American characters, especially Bob, don’t exactly come across as model citizens or, given Bill Murray’s acting, any less clownish than many of their Japanese counterparts. Overall, the only characters with a great deal of complexity are the two protagonists; that the remaining characters, from any culture, have little substance beyond their ‘snapshot’ utility is less surprising to me and is more an indication of focused filmmaking that racist (intentional or not) exclusion.

I’m not sure I agree with the article writer’s claims that LiT simply perpetuates arrogant Western attitudes in a foreign culture. To claim that the humor found in the difficulty in language between cultures is a criticism of the Japanese characters is a bit of a stretch - the comedy of Bob’s interactions with Japanese characters is juxtaposed to that same inability to communicate with his own wife. The embarrassment of culture isn’t an excuse in his family situations, so instead of a comedy of situation (the complexity of traveling in an unfamiliar place), you get a tragedy of circumstance. The tragedy of the American family isn’t a new theme for Sophia Coppola, whose film adaptation of The Virgin Suicides offered a dark vision of 1970s suburban life.

All that being said, the scene that many seem to highlight as racist - where a prostitute is sent to Bob’s room and chases him around asking him to "lip my stocking" - struck me as the most uncomfortable in the film. Yet the awkwardness in communication from other scenes allow for more positive results: quiet reflection, (dis)harmonic cultural exchange (I’m thinking of the karaoke scene), and perhaps more importantly, a patient, repeated effort to listen until some measure of understanding occurs (something that just doesn’t happen in either of the main characters’ marriage). While Paik's article seems to miss the nuances present throughout the film (and tends towards the reactionary as it progresses), the question of race, place, and translation is, ultimately, an interesting conundrum in film in a globalized age - at what point does representation of race become racism? Given LiT's dependence on Tokyo, at what point is it a discussion of place, alongside or in lieu of race? Like GrumpyGirl, I think this merits further thought and at least another viewing of the film, which I only saw once in the theatre.

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December 18, 2003

One Film to Rule Them All ...

... and in the Oscar bind them.

[Warning - spoilers included, but if you haven't read the books, you should be fed slowly to Shelob anyway. By the way, the film's title is Return of the King - which may be a bit of a plot spoiler ... ]

Peter Jackson's final installment of the Lord of the Rings was, quite simply, a wonderful conclusion to a brilliant revision of Tolkien's masterpiece. Sure, there were some melodramatic moments (years of literary graduate study means that my wife and I both just can't help but snicker when characters tenderly and reverently caress the pommel before 'drawing their swords' while others gaze on with admiration; those who haven't seen Return yet can just reference the scene in Towers where Gandalf rather dramatically suggests to King Theoden of Rohan: "Your fingers would remember their old strength better--- if they grasped your sword." But I digress.) - given the epic scale, melodramatic moments are to be expected. Most were handled very well, such as the subtle scene where Aragorn tells Eowyn that he, alas, cannot return her love.

In fact, one thing I liked about the film was that (for me, at least) the usually awe-inspiring speeches and calls for battle were surpassed by the more subtle scenes - Pippin's song, Eowyn's relationship with Merry, Faramir's realization that he doesn't measure up to Boramir in his father's eyes, just to name a few.

The battle scenes were no different: while I expected to see some awesome fighting on the part of the Amazing Trio (Aragorn of the Stringy Hair, Gimli the Comedian, and Legolas the Rapid-Fire Elf), Jackson really spread the wealth. A catapult battle leads into a scene where Gandalf wields his wicked elven blade in one hand while smacking orcs with his staff in the other; Eowyn was sheer brilliance as she dropped a giant elephant by hamstringing it on her way to punctuating a woman's right to battle by shoving her sword through the Witch-King's face (I agree with Liz, Eowyn rocks); and - best of all - the hobbits had some of the best fighting scenes, especially one Mr. Sam-Wise Gamgee, who reminded me not to be afraid of spiders.

Unlike Tolkien's novel, where I frequently wanted to speed-read through the sections detailing Sam and Frodo's journey ("Oh look Mr. Frodo. More desolate landscape. More heavy ring carrying. We should take a break - why don't you rest your head in my lap?"), Jackson managed to glean the gems without making the journey tedious. Pulling Shelob the Spider in from Tolkien's Two Towers helped achieve this balance and the stunning work of Andy Serkis as Gollum always enhances these scenes.

The few critical reviews I read did point out perhaps the one - very slight - flaw of the film, which really only mimics that of the book: the difficulty of the ending. As many critics pointed out, there are about six of them, each of which I think should be named. There is what must certainly be summarily called the "Wizard of Oz Ending," wherein Frodo awakes to find the fellowship slowly spilling into his room in slow motion while he mouths each of their names: Why Gandalf! I had the weirdest dream ... and you were there ... and you ... and Gimli, you were there! ... Of course, this is also the "Pillow Fight Ending," wherein a bunch of hobbits bounced on the clean linens of Frodo's bed and tickled each other. If they had dressed in lace and had a pillow fight, theatres could have charged an extra $4.99 (discreetly, of course) to each viewer's credit card.

But the problem of the ending isn't really Jackson's so much as Tolkien's - I simply expected Jackson, who has both preserved the spirit of the series while not fearing to revision it for his own purposes, to come up with a smoother series of transitions.

These are minor details. The film felt much shorter that its approximately 200 minute run-time and I'll happily sit through the extra hour or so when the extended version is released.

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November 20, 2003

Matrix: Revolutions

I had a desire to review Matrix: Revolutions ... before it came out. Quite frankly, I'm not sure I can muster the energy to critique the Worst. Damn. Ending. Of. All. Time. I mean, did the Wachowskis just hand it over to George Lucas (of Prequel years) and ask him to have at it? Did they decide to give the guys from Ishtar another crack at infamy?

[spoilers within]

For the record, aside from some terrible lines, I actually liked the first 2/3 of the movie. I always argued that Neo would only be truly interesting outside of the Matrix, rather than inside, where he was all powerful. The mixing of the worlds - not just a blurring but an outright fusion - had amazing potential. The battle for Zion, which some reviews I read found worthless, I thought was just as good as, say, Attacking the Death Star (no, the second Death Star). Whereas the Death Star represented the monolithic destruction of worlds by a powerful War Machine, the diverse, flexible, intelligent, and multitudinous Squids remind us of the constant fear of detection, location, and destruction in modern warfare. Two different but powerful images of tyranny.

And, quite frankly, I'm glad they killed Trinity, precisely because I didn't want them to. By the time the film was complete, I was pretty damn glad Neo was dead too (until Matrix: Resurrection).

By that time Matrix: Revolutions would have actually improved had an Ewok, rather than "the Kid," jumped up on a rock and screamed "the war is over!" to the disbelief of the audience, if not to those hiding in the Temple-Wait-It's-Soul-Train. Seriously. I think the residents of Zion stood there staring for those 3 or 4 heartbeats not because they were instructed to, but because the actors were stunned: "Are they serious? This is it???" *blink* *blink*

Hurray, indeed. Or, in Ewok, "Aieee Aieeeeee!"

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November 7, 2003

May the Force Animate You

Check out the Star Wars: Clone Wars animated shorts, detailed here: 'Star Wars' goes animated tonight. Slashdot rightly points out that "The USA Today article is incorrect in saying that 'Clone Wars marks the first animated series to involve any of the saga's leading characters.' That distinction goes to Nelvana's Droids, which followed the adventures of R2D2 and C3PO."

Check out the rad "official site" here. You can also, I believe, see the shorts the next day on the Cartoon Network website.

Something tells me, by the way, that these 3 minute short animations have a high chance of being the best part of the prequel series. Of course, the bar ain't set too high as is (at least Lucas isn't directing these)...

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October 23, 2003

Lost in Translation

Unlike the slightly suburban-mystical mood of Virgin Suicides, Sophia Coppola's Lost in Translation (IMDB)provides a striking shot at realism, toned by the semi-magical landscape of Japan, sculpted both in technology and nature, globalization and tradition.

Good friend (and former Misc. guest speaker on Buffy) "L" called the film "uncomfortably real." Elaborating, she said:

"there is a texture to some of those scenes, like the one in the sushi restaurant, [and] the one when the first talk at the bar, that feel like the actors aren't aware they're being filmed... like you're eavesdropping and you shouldn't be"

Sound plays a pivotal role in Lost in Translation. The obvious complexities of language - in the mixture and confusions of Japanese and English, both written and spoken - are combined with the less obvious sounds of culture and city - ranging from the karaoke bar, to the chants and drums of a temple, to the silence of a contemplative moment, punctuated by horns and arcades, or wind and footsteps. Those scenes are crucial for the overall tone of the film. The abrupt contrast of karaoke vs. the music in the temple shows how sound can both penetrate and numb you at the same time.

Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson are superb, with a subtle attention to dialogue that struck me as honest, with mumbles, long pauses, and uncertainties proving that a tightly woven script can - and maybe must - account for the uncertain, stumbling offerings of oral speech. The moments where language is most scripted prove that streams of chatter and forceful language amounts to little substance - perhaps best represented by the "movie star" character, Kelly (played by Anna Faris), who is in Japan to promote her new action movie.

All of this is played off of long stretches of silence or near-silence. Quiet moments where the camera takes long looks at the landscape, a synchronic exploration of exterior and interior, paced by a character's unspoken thoughts. Silence and quiet is often a bold move in film - at least since it was an option - and Coppola makes wonderful use of it throughout, mixing in subtle rhythms to complete - or complicate - the mood. The ending - which I'll not ruin for those who haven't seen it - is unique for its deliberate obscurity.

This is not a happy film, in any imagination. But it is a beautiful one.

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September 23, 2003

National Treasure on Display

My regular metro stop downtown is Archives/Navy-Memorial, which is just a few blocks down the street from my office. When walking to work yesterday morning, I noticed lots of activity - lights, power surge protectors, lots of vans. Movie vans. On my way back in the evening, I asked a guy who looked a lot like an FBI agent (and could have been, given that the FBI building is right there) what was going on.

Nick Cage is breaking into the National Archives. At least, his character is, in the film National Treasure, currently in production down the street.

Premise: Modern treasure hunters, led by an archaelogist [sic] (Cage) who is the eighth descendant in a family all searching for the same thing: a massive war chest treasure reportedly hidden by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin as funds for the Revolutionary War, using a secret code found in the Constitution (and a map that might have been drawn on the back of the Declaration of Independence) to find its location. [from Yahoo! Movies]

Filmjerk reviews a version of the script, citing more than a few similarities to the Indiana Jones franchise and noting the difficulty of exceeding that franchise's influence.

Part of the script includes a daring escapade that involves stealing the Declaration of Independence from the National Archives (why? there's a map on the back, of course! In invisible ink. Those wacky founding fathers.). That is, of course, why the film crew is set up in front of Archives this week.

Meanwhile, our founding documents - or "Charters of Freedom" - just got a facelift and are now available to see once again in the newly rededicated National Archive building. At least, until Nick Cage swipes them.

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September 4, 2003

August 21, 2003

Matrix Revolutions

The Matrix Revolutions trailer is online.

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August 1, 2003

Donnie Darko

I finally saw Donnie Darko (2001) the other night, after many months of wanting to watch it (my last attempt - with B and D - turned into a nice long gab session, so the film sat in its box). I thought that the film was beautifully done and truly creepy. The lead who played Donnie was able to convincingly switch from awkward teenage boy into sleep-walking lunatic with amazing simplicity, aided in part by the sharp cut in appearances of "Frank," the bizarre bunny who struck me as 33% Mothman (yeah, I know the movie came later, but I saw it first, ok?), 33% of the weird bunny from The Shining (yeah, the scene they usually don't show on the TV version), and 33% Bugs Bunny after a 10 day binge on carrots.

I was very pleased by the fact that I didn't figure out what was going to happen until towards the very end; the film does an excellent job of keeping you in the dark - is Frank an alien? a bizarre traveler from the future? a hallucination? And, as I said, I was *creeped out* the entire movie.

But I have a question that I'm hoping someone who's smarter than me might explain. Donnie, during a classroom scene where he was protesting the mantra of a local self-help guru, makes this big deal about how he believes there are more than two choices in life - more than two emotions (in that case, Love and Fear, the self-helper's proclaimed spectrum of human emotion). Donnie raves about the enormous potential and range of emotion and choice.

So, why, when he does his little time traveling trick, does he think that getting killed is going to do a lick of good? Why doesn't he just time travel himself back to the bedroom scene with his girlfriend and then - instead of going to the house where all the bad stuff happens - why doesn't he just snuggle up close and stay home? The movie seems to say, in other words, that there are, in fact, only two paths to take for Donnie - one deadly for someone else, one deadly for him. What happened to Donnie's vehement arguement about the failure of a binary system?

Now, I realize that this happy ending wouldn't have really suited the film's dark approach, but to me, it made more logical sense. In such a case, I feel like it is incumbent on the filmmaker to clarify this decision, which didn't seem to happen. What am I missing? Was the whole sequence just a dream - a what-if scenario prior to the normal progression of events that led to his death? Or was it "just in the script" that this sacrifice is the one Donnie chose to make?

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July 7, 2003


[This post is in response to the conversation over at chuck's about the film. I have been wanting to write up some thoughts about the Matrix Reloaded for some time, but I wanted to finish the game and see the Animatrix. Alas, I will have to add those thoughts when I have time to view/play some more...]

Maybe I was lucky - I ended up sneaking out to the restroom during most of the bland conversation between Neo and the council elder. And I pretty much knew that the fight scenes would leave me, well, less impressed that the first. So why did I like Matrix Reloaded so damn much?

I think that beneath the scum surface of occasionally stupid dialogue and obvious pokes at postmodernism, there were some really interesting developments and/or issues:

1. Faith - Unlike the first film, where Morpheus reveals the 'desert of the real' (or brings you into the rabbit hole, or shoots you through a mechanical birthing sequence), he serves less as midwife in the second film and more as potential fanatic (some have suggested fascist). By broadening the universe - and investing others with political power - Morpheus' all-to-certain attitude makes me - well - less than certain. Now, I didn't care for all of the *overt* methods in which they forced this issue, like the mundane "I need love" commander Jason (thanks) getting all fanatic (or equally fascist) on the other side of the issue. But I actually liked the sort of awkward grace that Neo used to deal with his 'worshippers'. I also liked the immediate problem that comes from the 'oracle' - can we trust her or have faith in her now that we know she lacks

2. Humanity? Or does she? This was one of the triumphing movements of the film for me. Unlike *any* other film that has attempted this, I most felt during Matrix Reloaded that those bots/rogue programs struggled with the issue of humanity as much as ... well, any other human. The spider fallen prey to its own web - and that to me was just a wonderful addition to the richness of the world - from the Merovingian / Persephone point-counterpoint of dispassionate passion to passionate dispassion, to the Keymaker's desperate fear, and even to the development of

3. Agent Smith's multiple personality disorder. All of which gave good fun, sure, when 35 or so Agent Smith's piled on top of Neo in a fight then flight sequence that - despite its "too perfect" appearance (which I criticized when I saw the previews) still left me impressed when I compare it too all of the other more obviously computer-generated 'human' interactors on the screen. Watching Agent Smith go rogue was a lot of fun and reminded me that the film really *isn't* about Neo right now - it's about building a universe. Now whether it be for marketing or storytelling (clearly a bunch of both), the Matrix world is exploding - and we have perhaps in front of us one of the most fascinating examples of (well-planned) crossmedia, collaborative authorship and development that is not only not a flop ... but popularly successful. Talk about

4. Bridging worlds. And sure, I'm talking about the media, but what I really mean is - really bridging worlds. What do I mean? Neo - in this incarnation - is kind of boring. We know what he can do (although I loved the flying sequences, with a hint of the Superman score in the background) and he really doesn't even have Krytonite (the *only* thing that kept Superman slightly interesting to me, who was otherwise just a powerhouse; that's why I prefer Batman - that weak human heart and a bunch of wicked gadgets - or Spiderman - all limbs and lanky wit). So how do we solve this problem - we bridge the world of Zion with the world of the Matrix. We make all that 'desert of the real' crap fall by the wayside. Because - holy cow! - Agent Smith is in the 'real' world, fascinated with carving his own flesh - just. because. he. can. And Neo - he too is a folding of the two realms, as we find in the shocking (ha.) final sequence. This false VR / RL (virtual reality / real life) dichotomy is discarded like so much malarkey and we suddenly - in my obviously not so humble opinion - find ourselves in a different territory. This is not Dark City, where the sun finally comes out. Instead of supporting the divergence, we have a convergence. And I have no idea where they plan to go from here.

Which makes me just really excited to see the last film.

So yes, I found the fight scenes a little dull at times, but I didn't expect my heart to pound the way it did when I sat in the theater and watched the first Matrix without any expectations at all (I hadn't even heard of it when I went). And I thought that the overt phil-os-o-phizing and the aw-shucks 'believe-in-me' pontificating was dull too. But the depths of the film - the implications in the very structure of the world that the Wachowski brothers created - continues to capture my imagination.

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June 11, 2003

I create this content in my form

I have been thinking quite a bit about Matt's recent post where he said:

Indeed, with the rise of CSS, skins, etc. there is now a more pronounced division than ever between "form" and "content"


but the interface as "contact surface," an add-on to a "pre-existing bundle of functionality" is precisely the relationship between data and styles that's been reinstated by CSS, is it not?


Note too that the separation of data and styles goes against the grain of the old humanistic saw about the mutually informing and inextricable nature of the relationship between form and content

This seemed fairly straightforward to me at first (this is how I interpreted it, not necessarily how Matt said it) - here we have two documents: first, the HTML document, content. Second, the CSS, form or (sounds like smooth jazz) - style. Visual rhythm. Sure. That makes sense.

And then my head said: Wait a second. That's not right. The data is not in the HTML - it's text in a (in my case) MySQL database.

Alas. A wrench.

Ok, three parts to the gestalt triangle: HTML templates (to include, perhaps, an image header), CSS styles (link and page colors, physical arrangement on page, fonts), and database (text/content). And of course I'm ignoring Perl scripts that make MT work, the server it runs on, the extra Perl:modules that give you perks. These things I'll continue to ignore for now, because a triad is as much as my brain can handle before my second cup of coffee.

Since I'm not the only person intrigued by Matt's comments, I refreshed myself with the discussion through his trackbacks, finding myself struck again by Kari's astute discussion of "accidentals and substantives" and the terms' influence on textual editing. I was surprised by this deft twist, which I expected to go one way, when it actually went another:

"In the context of Matt's entry on the strict separation of style and content in current web-design practice, I am struck by just how "organic" the metaphor is: each of the strands, linguistic and bibliographic, intertwines about a common textual axis. The free variation of style in electronic environments--the ease with which one skin can be swapped out for another--throws a monkey wrench into contemporary editorial theory.

I loved this notion of an organic metaphor, but I thought of it in entirely a different manner. In looking at the CSS, the HTML templates, and even the database, I see a variety of levels of "form" and "content" intertwining in a (seemingly) organic fashion. I'll describe quickly what I'm thinking and then I'll follow up later with some snips of the code to (hopefully) support my point.

The database itself contains a structure of tables and data cells. Each "type" of data rests firmly in its assigned cell, although within those cells there is of course "play" between the types of data that sneak through. The main entries, for example, can have almost any type of alpha-numeric content and I could buck the trend, for example, by editing into the main text of my argument comments made by others after the fact. Slippage perhaps.

If you export MT files, the format provides a pretty good indication, however, of the basic structure established by the database, so we already have form and content in place. But is this text file, structurally sound perhaps, "my blog"? Personally, I don't think so. Nelson Goodman might say, "sure" (or he might say, "Don't put words in my mouth").

As I turn to the HTML document, I notice that it is actually as second (at least) layer to the design of the blog as a whole. The div tags are very specific and help separate the website into specific units (headers, bodies, title types, and so on). They are the bones on which the muscles of the CSS must graft. And yet by adding extras to the default, I can add "content" to the website that is not part of the database. In my case, I have extra links, a little picture of angry robot, and (soon, I hope) some added features.

And the CSS - well, whether or not that is content, or accidental, or substantive, I suppose is an argument of materiality. I personally believe that such markings - fonts, colors, etc. - by choice or not, play a role in our reception and interpretation of a work.

Wish I could write more about it, but alas - time to put on that tie. I'll add edits later.

Posted by Jason at 5:34 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 21, 2003

They Saved the World... A Lot.

The final episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer aired last night and in the midst of the final episode frenzy, a larger than usual number of articles were written about the show. I tended to avoid most of them, hoping desperately to skip the spoilers. Even so, I found out that some Scoobies would die (Anya did, which I guessed, but didn't know for certain, as did Spike, even though we know he will be back in some form for Angel next season) and that Buffy would not. The episode excelled, however, in that I finally felt like I saw a gleam of the old characters I had come to love - the humor, the mutual respect, the "That was nifty" understatements far outweighed the battle sequence in my mind.

Though I avoided most articles, I did read one on Salon that my friend "L" showed me: Why Spike ruined "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (you'll have to do the day subscription to get the entire article). With L's permission, I thought I would share some of our e-mail conversation about it, whereby I rant, and she speaks intelligently about coolness, attitudes, cyborgs, and monsters. My rant starts, followed by L's, and it switches back and forth. As a disclaimer, this conversation happened prior to the series finale, which added a great deal to some issues, and helped resolve others. (edit: I moved most of this into an extended entry)

---- J ----
Ok, getting beyond my initial slapdash response... I read the rest of the article.

I agree with some points - esp. about Kennedy (I don't understand that relationship at ALL). But Spike is a total misfit - almost a complete misfit. He's not a "cool punk" [edit: the argument from Salon guy] - he's a failed poet in a cool leather jacket. And he's ten times more interesting a character than Angel ever was while on Buffy - b/c his life is about choices, especially the bad ones. Of course he didn't apologize about Woods' mother - because even with a soul, Spike can be an asshole. He has one priority, and that is Buffy [edit: usually, i would argue, from a needy, selfish perspective]. Which makes him a little off, a little scary, and a little daft.

As to the reference [edit: again, ref. to Salon article] about his "beating women" - well, first, I hardly think that's set up as a good thing (not so "cool," as it were); second, it's not like he's beating on women who generally aren't beating on him as well. Buffy was as much an abuser of Spike as the other way around. Both are seriously messed up individuals, who use violence as a primary method of communication. None of these folk are real charmers, with the exception of Xander..

And I disagree about Andrew - even though I didn't like him at first, he draws out the geekiness (and our love for geeks) in almost every episode. We like when Dawn treats him nicely. We laugh when Spike shares a recipe with him on the motorbike. We chuckle when Xander reveals that he knows just as much Star Wars lore as Andrew does. But all of those people are embarrassed by these hidden things, while Andrew naively (rather than innocently) spills them - this is perhaps the show's BEST revelation about adulthood - about how we become ashamed of those things that we loved as children and teenagers. A turn away from the games and fantasies that we loved to engage and a turn towards the "horrors" of adult life. Not to mention the fact that his episode with the camera (can't remember the title) was actually one of the best of the season, despite the fact that I thought beforehand that it would be terrible.

What ruined Buffy is not Spike, but Buffy, who has never learned from her mistakes, who only just now learned to block, who every single season runs away from her friends rather than embracing them and - god forbid - asking their opinions with intent to listen. The article is right - Willow got a token relationship, Anya got nothing, Xander got a poke in the eye, and Giles turned into a prick - but this is Spike's fault?

Hardly. It's the writers. A shame too...

---- L ----

Wow, Jason... this is a blog entry, not an e-mail! Here's another Buffy bit for the day:

All Things Considered is doing a story on Buffy in academia today... website says it will be available online after 9 p.m. tonight.

I wish I had time to give this a proper response. Mostly I would say I agree with you. I like that the less cool parts of Spike are often played up... his lowly beginnings as bad poet for instance... and you're absolutely 100% right that he is way more interesting than Angel ever was... I never liked David Boreanz (sp?) or found the character all that interesting, and that's why I chose Alias over Angel this year when I had to make a choice. Spike has always been the antidote to the very bland, and badly acted, Angel.

To me, Spike (*not* Angel) has *always* problematized the line between those with and without souls, those who are human and those who are vampires (and thus slay-able). When Angel has a soul, he's human and compassionate and etc... when he doesn't, he's a vicious, unrepentant maniac who needs to be killed (and Buffy did have to kill him once of course)... his "humanity" rests on whether or not he has a "material" soul. But Spike is more-or-less the same guy, with or without the soul... as human, as vampire, with soul, without, he has a tendency to fall in love, hard, and his volatile emotionalism has always been his downfall (remember Druscilla, I would say to Salon guy, or how Spike's jealousy of Angel got him into trouble time and time again).

That the line is problematized is crucial to the show and what it makes it interesting, particularly in the last couple of years when the issue of what is good, what is evil, is so central to the development of the story arcs. And it's central to the last episode, which I thought was fantastic (but I'm still feeling blog-shy so I didn't post to your entry on it). The whole ethos of the show turned on a realization that to fight pure evil and unspeakable violence you can't use more evil and violence, or at least not terribly effectively. Thus the elaborate speeches of love, the sex scenes.... thus Buffy fighting by not fighting. I don't think she just suddenly remembered how to block punches... I think she realized that evil is the absence of love and human contact (even the First is jealous that it cannot experience those things, that scene a big deal I think, a big clue as to what is at stake)... so to fight violence, you do so nonviolently. All season long she has been going at this thing in a scary extreme version of what he's been doing for years... she's been calling herself "the law," she's been acting like a general, she's been training warriors, she's placed herself above everyone else because she is superior at committing violence. I think the last episode illustrated how wrong she was to approach it like that... it plays off the episode where she turned down the power offered her in exchange for a partial loss of her humanity. A little sappy, but there it is.

All that said, Salon guy is right I think about one thing... I have felt some real lost opportunities this season to fully explore what it means for Spike to deal with having a soul and being human... we have only had that in narratives and flashbacks with Angel, but here was a chance to watch a real struggle over what it is to be human, an embodiment really of the issues the gang has been dealing with the last two years since Buffy was resurrected... and I think that the overarching plot of the First so engulfed the show this year that the opportunity was lost.

Some thoughts...--L

---- J ----

Sorry I didn't reply to this earlier - got lost in the tangle... and all I really have to say is, ABSOLUTELY. Spot on.

The thing that I would add to the monster/human binary (complicated by Spike, maintained by Angel) is this: cyborg. Spike is the one who had a chip in his head for years, thus creating a triad of cybernetic behavioral control, soul(less)-desire, and monstrous hunger. At some point, Buffy says to Dawn, "I want you to stay away from Spike - he's dangerous, he's a vampire." Dawn says, "What about Angel - he's a vampire." Buffy: "Angel had a soul; Spike just has a chip." Dawn: "What's the dif?"

That to me signifies an important trend in the Buffy-verse conception of morality and behavior - a really fascinating complication of what measures humanity. Because it's not like most of the characters are not morally ambiguous - Cordelia and her selfish behavior (as the most simple, earliest form of high school "nastiness"), Willow and the "dark" arts, Oz and his werewolf coupling (with that other female werewolf), Xander and Willow's frisky-ness in season 2 (3?) which caused them to betray their lovers, Buffy's *violent* abuse against Spike and Spike's sexual abuse of Buffy. Xander leaving Anya at the altar.

What, then, makes Spike "the bad guy"? Physical teeth. Frumpy brow. Physical signs as much as demonstrated behavior, which is why The First (while tedious) is also a somewhat interesting character, because it abuses this notion of physical signs as indicators of righteousness or "goodness" - Caleb "the priest garb" Evil-boy is a prime example.

Hmm.. maybe we need to post this all as a collaborative (anonymous, if you like) blog entry.

---- L ----

EXCELLENT... I agree... loved that scene... I had forgotten about the chip. Interesting that without the chip and with a soul, it's still ok to beat the hell out of Spike. I have to think way more about the Buffy-verse and morality... not sure how coherent this will be...

At some point (season 3? season 4?) I started to question the distinction between good and evil continually evoked... kill demons?=good but kill humans?=evil... maybe it was the point at which the show Angel comes along and we start to get "good" demons portrayed... or maybe the body count of demons was getting so high that it just started to bother me. It's coming up again a lot lately now that Faith is back, as she is often the catalyst for moralizing.

Seems to me that if Spike, not Angel, is the nonhuman character who best embodies the contradiction of humanity... Faith might be his human counterpart. Like Buffy, she's a slayer, born to kill essentially (notice they are "slayers" and not something noble sounding like "protectors")... but she actually seems to both enjoy it *and* feel remorse about it (neither feeling do we get from Buffy, at least on the surface)... and Faith crosses that (somewhat arbitrary, somewhat comprehensible) line between killing demons and humans, which condemns her to a lower spot in the moral universe, beneath Buffy, just as Spike is continually relegated to a sub-Angel position.

Yes, you can post it if you like ;) Just sign me L though.

Posted by Jason at 5:59 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

May 7, 2003


A&E's wonderful Biography series tackles... Buffy the Vampire Slayer?

As a good friend would say: "Life writing, J, life writing..."

For you Buffy fans, the show premieres: Wednesday, May 14 @ 8pm ET/PT

On a side note, I was *incredibly* pleased last night when Buffy actually behaved as though she knew what the word "defense" meant. Let's hear it for blocking and dodging. Only two more episodes left. Woe.

Posted by Jason at 6:43 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

April 21, 2003

Nebula and Hugo Awards

Alas, another quick "link and run," but as reported by slashdot, the winners of the 2002 Nebula Awards and the nominees of the 2003 Hugo Awards.

Neil Gaiman's book American Gods won the Nebula best novel (I read this a while back and thought it was a fine read, but I was not overwhelmed by it). Of course, Gaiman is perhaps best known for his Sandman series.

I was pleased to see that the Buffy season 7 episode "Conversations with Dead People" was nominated for the Hugo Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form Category. This was an amazing episode co-written by Jane Espenson (one of my favorite scriptwriters) & Drew Goddard.

Sadly, Buffy ends May 20. I will wear black.

Posted by Jason at 2:56 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 10, 2003

Ghosts of Albion

Ah, the internet is a dangerous place, especially when one should be writing ... imagine my dismay (and my hour long procrastination session) when I came across Ghosts of Albion, a BBC animated webcast written by Amber Benson (alas, Buffy fans recognize her as our dearly departed "Tara") and Christopher Golden and animated by Cosgrove Hall.

Set in 19th Century England, siblings Tamara (a writer) and William (architect's apprentice) Swift discover that their grandfather's profession as a stage magician was cover for a hidden legacy - mystical protector of Albion (huh? you ask - ancient name for England, i reply).

Equally fascinating to me is Tamara's Diary, where you can read more backstory and even help solve clues. While I haven't had much time to read through this section, it highlights a significant interest for me - world-building, or the process through which we create a dynamic, believable world system. Faulkner was a master at this, as was someone like Tolkien. I'm fascinated, for example, by Faulkner's inclusion of the map of Jefferson, the Genealogy, and the Chronology in Absalom. These apparent "historical artifacts" work in direct contrast to the intricate negotiations and complications that Faulkner weaves throughout the "main" text itself; they are a comment on the act of making history and (I believe) not addendums but rather a crucial part of what we call Absalom.

More and more we see instances where writers, artists, (etc) employ a variety of media and perspectives in order to create the illusion of a complex world system. Comic books have been doing this for a while - weaving art, word, and overlapping superhero titles to maintain a constant sense of universe (unless, of course, you read competing publishers - not sure I've ever heard of Batman running into Spidey). In fact, a few recent comic books play on this idea.Alias (not the TV show) is about a former "power" - Jessica Jones - who decides that she just doesn't dig the superhero gig, so she becomes a private detective instead. Set in the Marvel Universe, she negotiates the power system of the tractional police departments (who dislike her because she's a PI and a former "power") and the elite superheroes (a club she used to belong to) - so you watch her get brushed off (or interrogated) by the police as well as the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, etc. She acts as a conduit through which we view the Marvel-verse; since Jones rests on the margins of these various power groups, she acts as the seam that stitches these worlds together.

Another semi-meta comic book is Powers, published by Image Comics and written by Brian Michael Bendis (who also writes Alias, as well as some Daredevil and Ultimate Spiderman) and Michael Oeming. Two cops (one a former "Power" - a superhero) are Homicide, Powers Division, investigating crimes of the superpowers who are, in this world, much more like pop stars. Again, we read at the seams, and while the powers are all original (not set in a Marvel-verse, or DC-verse), this book seems much more meta to me - commenting on the fandom of superpowers (and comic books) and the function of media in society. Not to mention some pretty great writing.

How did I get here? Comics have been on the brain, since a friend - D - lent me issues from Powers, Alias, Ultimate Spiderman, and Daredevil (the last of which I haven't read yet). I felt the need to brush up on my comic lore base on my interests in the intersections of various media - print, art, film, and so on. Not to mention the fact that I collected as a kid and wanted to revive my interest without paying $3 an issue. Matt lent me the first four issues of Global Frequency, which chronicles a network of agents that save the world from a variety of (often cybernetic-style) dangers. The premise is interesting, although I think that the issues suffer from compactness - they force an entire story into one comic, which doesn't leave too much room for dynamic development, whereas a traditional arc for one of Bendis' comics is about four or five books.

Back to world-building - I think this fits into a couple of schemes, one of which is marketing. Consider, for example, the strategy of a popular film of 1999 - The Blair Witch Project. I first encountered this film on the internet, not in the theater. The so-called "paratextual" (paravisual?) of the Blair Witch project is what helped it achieve such commercial success. Combined with the pseudo-documentary nature of the film, the "world" of the Blair Witch was so convincing as to drive people to call the University of Maryland for more information (by the way, there is no Maryland University - tricky tricky). Marketing or no, the success rests on the sense of verisimilitude that seems to be the ultimate goal of world-building - create a logical structure whereby even the unexplained - or the unmentioned - can be accounted for in some fashion (incidentally, lots of fan fiction is born out of such openings; yet another wealth of material to study and explore).

The failure of the follow-up film - Book of Shadows - destroys this verisimilitude by documenting the very act that we - as audience - enact during the first film. We already were terrorized by following the "documentary" - watching others do the same is less exciting (aside from the fact that BoS was simply mundane) and actually divorces us from our initial sense of participation. We *watch*, in other words, our role as "movie watcher" in BoS, whereas in the original we felt as though we were in the act of archival discovery - we *played* the role of "movie watcher".

I think this same sense of discovery (a game, perhaps?) is what interests me in books such as Danielewski's House of Leaves or Nabakov's Pale Fire. Incidentally, if anyone happens to have some version of Danielewski's HoL as distributed on the internet prior to its release in print, I would very much like to see a copy (for research purposes, of course - I already own two copies of the book ;-) ). I *really* would love to get my hands on the limited release "Full Color" version, complete with braille (if it even exists - has anyone seen it?).

Final thought re: world building - I'm waiting in great anticipation for the next installment of The Matrix - both in its film and game incarnations. Talk about an expansive world both in media - film, comic, anime, game, text - and in imagination.

Posted by Jason at 1:32 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 8, 2003

Fox News: A History?

Other amusing looks at Fox News' "History" available here.

Posted by Jason at 5:48 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack