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“Basic,” “painful,” “embarrassing,” and comparable to necrophilia: a small sampling from the reviews of Fuller House over the last couple of months. The Netflix original, a remake of the classic 1980s/90s sitcom Full House, may become a lasting icon of terrible, terrible, really quite bad moments in television history. The kindest sentiment I came across was expressed by Maureen Ryan in Variety, who generously conceded that “[t]hose who enjoyed the original…and don’t mind its patented blend of cloying sentiment, cutesy mugging and predictable humor might find enjoyment in this unspectacular retread.”

Naturally, I binge watched. Of course, it was as awful as expected. Maybe worse. The remake is identical to the original in both form and feel. The characters are unidimensional, the story is episodic and shallow, the catch-phrases are somehow even less catchy, and oh the racism. Kimmy Gibbler’s ex-husband is a cringe-worthy Latino caricature whose lustful propensities can hardly be contained and the 11th episode centers around an Indian themed party which acts as the foil for copious jokes, includes an almost entirely white cast dressed in saris and jamas, and culminates with the party attendees spontaneously breaking into a choreographed dance for which mysteriously, they each know all of the moves. That last part may or may not be racist, but as a storytelling decision, asks the audience to suspend an unfair amount of belief.

Fuller House could not have been worse if it tried. Which is why I reinterpreted the season as though it did try. And then, Fuller House was very good. more...

metled darth vader helmet

I have not seen the new Star Wars but ambient levels of Star Wars have reached such a peak that I feel eminently qualified to review it without actually seeing the film or even reading a plot synopsis. In all honesty I probably will not watch it until I can assure that I will see a high definition version for free through whatever means comes to my disposal. What I have seen, the cross-promotions, the essays, and the toys, tells me everything I need to know to assess it as a piece of culture. Star Wars is not a movie, it is a platform for media and a financial vehicle. Star Wars has plot like America has elections. It’s almost a formality, the official pomp heralding in a new wave of characters, theories, and controversies. If we black box the film itself and instead look at all of the culture that spews out from its unknown (to me) depths, I think we get a much more cohesive (I’d even go so far as to say honest) assessment of the entire event. more...

Both are technology books that came out in 2015, and John Durham Peters’ The Marvelous Clouds is perhaps the best counterpoint, or antidote, to Sherry Turkle’s Reclaiming Conversation. Turkle is the avatar of digital dualism, seeing a real world that is natural versus technology that is inhuman and added on. Peters instead puts forward a view of media and technology as part of the environment, and the environment as inherently technological and itself a type of media. Peters doesn’t think of only one all-encompassing environment but of many elements, be they water or language or fire or digitality. Each is its own intersecting environment. Whether you like to think of digitality as part of one world or infinity worlds is an improvement over the digital dualist mistake of seeing two. more...

I'm not kidding, this is a VHS from www.Tower.com which I'm pretty sure is the current iteration of Tower Records.
I’m not kidding, this is a VHS that you can buy right now from www.Tower.com, which I’m pretty sure is the current iteration of Tower Records.

In 1953, Hugh Hefner invited men between the ages of “18 and 80” to enjoy their journalism with a side of sex. It was Playboy’s inaugural issue, featuring Marylyn Monroe as the centerfold, and it launched an institution that reached behind drugstore counters, onto reality TV, and under dad’s mattresses.  It was racy and cutting edge and ultimately, iconic. Posing for Playboy was a daring declaration of success among American actresses and the cause of suspension for a Baylor University student [i]. But edges move, and today, Playboy vestiges can  be found on the Food Network.

In August, Playboy stopped showing nude images on their website. The New York Times reports that viewership subsequently increased from 4 million to 16 million. That’s fourfold growth!!   In what can only be described as good business sense, the company announced that in March, they will stop including nude women in their magazine as well. Putting clothes on appears surprisingly profitable. more...

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“Politicians are all talk” -Trump, in the nytimes

Buzzfeed asked Donald Trump if he knew what trolling is. Trump didn’t know the term, so Buzzfeed explained it,

“It’s basically saying or doing things just to provoke people,” I said, explaining that there were many who considered him a troll because “provocation is your ultimate goal.” Trump bristled at the characterization. “That’s not my ultimate goal,” he protested. “My ultimate goal is to make this country great again!” But then, he thought about it for a moment. “I do love provoking people,” he conceded. “There is truth to that.”

The news media –especially those who report on, rely on, presidential electoral politics– are quick to call Donald Trump a “troll.” In this exchange, look at the word “just” in the definition, “saying or doing things just to provoke people”, that Trump isn’t really a candidate running a real election, he’s not politics as normal, but just going for attention. In the current media feeding frenzy over Trump, from Time, The Washington Post, MSNBC, and so many others, there is an emerging and necessary narrative that he’s a “troll.”

Classifying Trump as a “troll” is centrally about saving the rest of the election coverage as real and authentic. The narrative that Trump is trolling assumes and reinforces the notion that the rest of the coverage is in good faith, something news organizations desperately need to sell. more...

I love speculative fiction, especially when it includes a mystery. So imagine my excitement this past Saturday when I learned that Netflix released the new original series Between, premised on a mysterious illness that kills everyone over 21 years old. Blue skies could wait, this day was for binge watching. Or, as it turned out, for watching a single episode and then taking the dogs for a walk. Contrary to their usual season-dump format[i], Netflix is releasing Between on a weekly basis.

This got me thinking about how release schedules affect television for both producers and consumers, and wondering why Netflix would revert to the more traditional model. more...

Cartoon by Matt Lubchansky (@lubchansky) original posting can be found here.
Cartoon by Matt Lubchansky (@lubchansky) original posting can be found here.

A few editorial cartoons offering a counterpoint perspective to the cultural sentiments and media portrayals that denounce the Baltimore “riots” as politically unproductive, ethically unjustifiable hooliganism have achieved viral status.  One particularly prominent cartoon illustrates alternative histories in which once denied freedoms and equities were achieved without systemically disruptive uprisings (see image above).  In one panel an 18th century Haitian slave cordially informs a French Imperialist that he and his fellow slaves would rather be free.  The receptive overseer responding in an equally kind fashion decides to abolish the system of slavery that legitimizes his very authority.  In another panel an 18th century French revolutionary asks King Louis XVI to abdicate his power as well as dissolve the monarchy to make way for democratic rule and, like in the previous example, history is comically rewritten to suggest that the powers that be were enthusiastically and progressively responsive to such a request.  more...

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...

in defense

 

Last week the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) heard arguments on landmark civil liberties cases with regards to same-sex marriage. On Tuesday, the courts took on California’s Proposition 8—a ban on same-sex marriage, and on Wednesday they heard arguments on the constitutionality of DOMA, a law that excludes same-sex couples from federal recognition. In light of these cases, I saw two interrelated trends in my Facebook newsfeed: profile pictures in the form of the red Human Rights Campaign (HRC) equality sign (headline photo), and snarky status updates making fun of these HRC profile pictures, accompanied by a note of support for marriage equality[i]. That is, although both groups shared and expressed the same opinion about same-sex marriage, they disagreed about the appropriate methods for showing this support. This disagreement highlights debates about political activism in the face of new technologies and brings us back to the question: Does slacktivism matter? I will argue here, as I have argued before that yes, it does. more...

Is there a Dunbar’s Number for our documentary consciousness?

Dunbar argued that we can only keep up with about 150 people at a time, at which point we reach a cognitive saturation. Can this similar sort of saturation occur with the proliferation of ways we can document ourselves and others on social media? The ways someone holding a working smartphone can document experience grows not just with the number of sites one can post to, but also the number of available mediums of documentation: audio, video, photo, and their recombinations into things like GIFs and Vines whatever else I’m forgetting or will come next. Each new app carries with it a different audience with different expectations, adding to the documentary chaos.

Or: Given the proliferation of options, how should I document this cat? more...