Tag Archives: television

Modern Myths: Mundane Enchantment and Creating Ghosts


When I was young, Robert Stack would visit me in my dreams. His monotone voice and sharp eyes would come through my wood-paneled RCA cathode-ray childhood TV and settle in my subconscious until I went to sleep.  During the day Unsolved Mysteries was an opportunity to, “solve a mystery” from the comfort of my own home. If I watched the dramatizations closely enough I thought I might recall some repressed memory of an alien abduction or I might notice a telltale tattoo that marks the new neighbor as a relocated serial killer. Solving these Lifetime-disseminated mysteries was a sacred trust that I did not take lightly. Everything from persistent hauntings to serial killings were on my plate. When you grow up in South Florida, extra terrestrial abduction and friendly serial killers seem so plausible. If we were able to fit over a million people on a sandbar and intoxicate them long enough to stay through hurricane season, anything could happen. But no matter how much I investigated I always seemed to disappoint Robert. My neighbor with eight fingers that loved ham radio was not the man suspected of murdering two teenagers in Ohio; he was just really racist. The lady across the street was not a reoccurring spectral phenomena; she was just 90 years old. None of these people were particularly extraordinary —let alone extraterrestrial— but Unsolved Mysteries injected a sense of the enchanted in an otherwise mundane suburban landscape. (more…)

Netflix doesn’t count as watching TV

Via: http://forum.nationstates.net/viewtopic.php?f=31&t=215547

Via: http://forum.nationstates.net/viewtopic.php?f=31&t=215547



The folks at eMarketer just released a study which projects that this year, adults will spend over 5 hours consuming digital media, as compared with about 4.5 hours watching television.  This makes for a nice headline. It also makes for a wonderful example of the social construction of knowledge, and relatedly, the embeddedness  of digital dualism.

A root assumption of Science and Technology Studies (STS) is that both science and technology, though billed as objective, are anything but. Knowledge systems, and methods of knowing (i.e. epistemologies), are necessarily based in human values, cultural norms, power structures, and historical context. Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar famously deconstruct the notion of scientific objectivity in their 1979 anthropological study of Laboratory Life. In this vein, Emily Martin illuminates the gendered ways in which biologists depict the egg-sperm relationship within the reproductive process.  And a few months back, I argued that to be a Quantified Self requires quite a bit of qualitative interpretation and decision making. In short, Big Data, statistical techniques, and laboratory procedures produce knowledge that is equally as biased as storytelling or ethnographic interpretation. Sorry, Enlightenment. (more…)

Wibbly-Wobbly Women for a Timey-Wimey Universe

Laurie Penny’s great new piece about Manic Pixie Dream Girls (MPDGs) has me thinking about the role of women/femininity in the compositional structure of music, film, and other media.  Penny uses a narrative metaphor to explain the subordinate role of MPDGs in contemporary patriarchy: patriarchy expects and encourages women to ghostwrite or be, as Penny puts it, “supporting actresses” in men’s stories.  When women (such as Penny) craft their own autobiographies with themselves as the protagonist, this upsets both patriarchal conventions, and our aesthetic sensibilities, which have been trained to expect and enjoy these conventions.

But, especially in light of the finale of this past season’s Doctor Who (so, uh, need I say it: spoilers) I think the MPDG supports men’s/masculinity’s centrality–in other words, patriarchy–in specific ways, ways that are uniquely appropriate to the compositional logic of contemporary media.


Fuck, I Need Some New Swear Words

Note: This article touches on slut shaming, body shaming, homophobia, and ableism.

original (2)

I love swearing. It’s a weekly miracle that my essays don’t include “totally fucked” or “fucked up and bullshit” in every paragraph. If I were reborn as a linguist, I would study swearing and cursing. I watch documentaries about cursing, I play a lot of Cards Against Humanity, and this interview with Melissa Mohr, the author of Holy Shit: A Brief History of Swearing is my favorite episode of Slate’s just-nerdy-enough podcast Lexicon Valley. If you’ve been in the audience when I give a presentation, you probably (despite my efforts to the contrary) heard me swear five or six times. I would hate to live in a world without swearing because it would be fucking dull. Unfortunately, my (and most English-speaking people) love of swearing comes into direct contradiction with inclusionary social politics. I need a new arsenal of swear words that punch up and tear down destructive stereotypes. Every time I swear, I want to be totally confident that I’m offending the right people. (more…)

The Politics of Communications Technology


It is pretty easy to mistake most technologies as politically neutral. For example, there is nothing inherently radical or conservative about a hammer. Washing machines don’t necessarily impose capitalism on whoever uses one, and televisions have nothing to do with communism. You might hear about communism through television, and there is certainly no shortage of politically motivated programming out there, but you’d be hard-pressed to find someone that says the technology itself has a certain kind of politics. This sort of thinking (combined with other everyday non-actions) is what philosopher of technology Langdon Winner (@langdonw) calls technological somnambulism: the tendency of most people to, “willingly sleepwalk through the process of reconstituting the conditions of human existence.” It is difficult to see the politics in technology because those politics are so pervasive. The fact that technological artifacts have politics is kind of like Call Me Maybe, once you’re exposed, it is hard to get it out of your head. (more…)

Cable News is Dead, Long Live Cable News

Original picture of control room from Flickr user llee_wu, edited and used by the author under Creative Commons

The very fact that your eyes rolled (just a little bit) at the title tells you that it is absolutely true. So true its obnoxious to proclaim it. Perhaps cable news died when CNN made a hologram of  Jessica Yeller  and beamed her into the “Situation Room” just to talk horse race bullshit during the 2008 election. Or maybe it was as far back as 2004 when Jon Stewart went on Crossfire and shattered the fourth wall by excoriating the dual hosts for destroying public discourse. The beginning of the end might be hard to pinpoint, but the end is certainly coming. Fox News had its lowest ratings since 2001 this year, but still has more viewers than CNN & MSNBCNEWSWHATEVERITSCALLEDNOW combined. Even if ratings weren’t a problem, credibility certainly is. Imagine if CNN stopped calling themselves the “Most Trusted Name In News” and used the more accurate, “A Little Over Half of Our Viewers Think We’re Believable.” By now it is clear that the zombified talking heads of cable news are either bought and sold, or just irrelevant. Cable news channels’ hulking, telepresent bodies have been run through and left to rot on the cynical barbs of political bloggers and just about anyone at a comedy shop’s open-mic night. This last series of screw-ups in Boston (here, here, here and unless it was avant-garde electronic literature, here) begs the question if cable news channels can even tell us what’s going on anymore. Cable news is dead, but something keeps animating the corpse. (more…)

Shifting Forms of Narrative Consumption

“Hey, don’t let me forget to TiVo Two and a Half Men”—said nobody ever.

NPR has been running a series that looks at the ways in which new technologies are changing how we consume television[i].  The latest installment, based on an interview with Jessica Helfand, author of Screen: Essays on Graphic Design, New Media and Visual Culture has a troublesome tone. Helfand worries that on-demand television is ruining our attention spans, as we consume only what we want, when we want. She worries that we watch on our own time, rather than as part of a collective schedule-following community. She worries that content will have to get shorter, more easily consumable, and that the focus will shift from away from the story, and towards the medium itself. Referencing a colleague, she labels today’s media consumption environment as a “narrative deprivation culture.”  Below are a few representative quotes from Helfand: (more…)

Presidential Debates: The Social Medium is the Message

Presidential debates might be the single political event where Marshall McLuhan’s infamous phrase “the medium is the message” rings most true. Candidates know well that content takes the back seat, perhaps even stuffed in the trunk, during these hyper-performative news events. The video above of McLuhan on the Today show analyzing a Ford-Carter debate from 1976 is well worth a watch. The professor’s points still ring provocative this morning after the first Obama-Romney debate of 2012; a debate that treated the Twitter-prosumer as a television-consumer and thoroughly failed the social medium.  (more…)

Hey Ellen DeGeneres, Violating Privacy Isn’t Funny

I like Ellen DeGeneres. Lots of people respect what she does and she has a reputation of treating people right. However, I was surprised when I came across a clip from her popular daytime television show where she unsuspectingly broadcasts compromising Facebook photos of random audience members, a sketch I saw for the first time yesterday, and there seems to be at least a few more of these on YouTube.

I get it, it’s a gag on context collapse: photos taken in and for one time and place are dislocated onto broadcast television, to unexpected and hilarious results. Cute. However, the reality of this is not so funny, and The Ellen DeGeneres Show should know better.

The problem here is that Ellen is setting a precedent that it is okay and fun to share each others information to a larger audience than was initially intended; that blasting compromising photos from someone’s Facebook profile to other audiences, large or small, is a funny joke. For many, it isn’t.

Ellen’s lighthearted joke takes the form of much modern bullying; especially what is often called “cyberbullying” (more…)

Tattoo TV, Postmodernism, and the Crisis of Representation

A couple weeks ago I stumbled across this image of a “Where’s Waldo?” backpiece, and it got me to thinking about body modification, the cyborg body, and postmodern theories of the sign (Baudrillard 1972; Turner 1999) as they relate to contemporary tattooing.

The contemporary tattoooed body, which I often refer to as the cyborg body, is at a crisis. That is, we do not have a uniform means of interpreting and displaying these signs to others. What’s more, the content of tattoos varies significantly, from direct referents and iconography to indirect, playful and self-referent images.