TheNew20


I smell fear
January 7, 2010, 8:43 pm
Filed under: Media | Tags: , , ,

In a January 6th blog posting, actress, writer, and all-around nerd-genre-genius Felicia Day takes to task an article published in a recent issue of Vanity Fair magazine. The article, written by Vanessa Grigoriadis, is about women who have used Twitter successfully to raise their professional profile – to gain “Twilebrity” status, as the article puts it. Day herself, whose feed has more than 1.7 million subscribers, was one of those women profiled.

As Day notes, on one level the fact that this article was written at all is fairly exciting for people interested in social media, since it means that a major mainstream news outlet is taking an interest in a still fringe-y media source, providing a certain degree of validation for those whose claims that social media is the future have long been met with skepticism and ostentatious eye-rolling. Furthermore, the article focuses on women who are helping to lead the evolution of the media landscape, an area not always known for being equally accessible to both sexes. Good stuff all around.

Or at least it would be good stuff if not for the numerous examples that Day points out indicating that the writer either doesn’t know a thing about social media or doesn’t take it or its practitioners particularly seriously (or, more likely, both). Take these little gems for example:

“For tweeple, e-mail messages are sonnets, Facebook is practically Tolstoy. ‘Facebook is just way too slow,’ says Stefanie Michaels. ‘I can’t deal with that kind of deep engagement.'”

“‘Sometimes,’ says Julia Roy, a 26-year-old New York social strategist turned twilebrity, scrunching her face, ‘when you’re Twittering all the time, you even start to think in 140 characters.'”

(I particularly like Day’s response to the second quotation: “‘Scrunching her face?!’ Oh gosh, thinking is hard!”)

I’ll dispense with any further analysis, since Day’s blog does a much better job of that than I could, so you’re probably best off just to read her posting on the subject. Go ahead, read it now – I’ll wait.

But there is one thing I would like to point out, and that’s the likely motivation for the tone of this stupid article: fear.

The traditional publishing industry is in serious trouble. More and more consumers are getting their news, entertainment gossip, and whatever else was formerly available strictly on the newsstand from online media sources. Now that hand-held web-browsers are in such wide circulation, the rate at which people abandon their daily newspapers and monthly celebrity magazines in favour of their iPhones and BlackBerries is only going to increase.

Not only that, the rise of social media has made it possible for anyone to be a publisher (this is not news). And as more and more talented writers choose to publish online rather than through traditional channels, those online sources are rapidly gaining credibility (this is sort of news), taking away one of the few major advantages the traditional media had left and flooding the media pool with competition – competition that, unlike say Vanity Fair, has low overhead and has learned that you write for business development, not for business. These people are therefore much less worried about the revenue from their media outlet and can give their content away for free, which gives them a significant competitive advantage over the old-guard (this is big news).

The scariest part for peddlers of traditional media is that these low-cost outlets are proving just as desirable for readers as their high-cost competitors. Felica Day’s Twitter feed (@feliciaday), for example, has more than 1.7 million subscribers; Vanity Fair‘s monthly subscribers only number about 1.1 million. Those are scary numbers for an organization with a vested interest in making sure that their (much more expensive) medium is the one attracting the most readers.

So it’s no wonder that they’d take such a snarky tone towards social media – if their capital can’t help them, what weapon do they have left to protect their market share, aside from barely-veiled attacks on their competition’s credibility? To be fair, it may just be that the writer isn’t into social media and – mistakenly – adopted a tone appropriate for a fluff piece about a faddish, passing trend, rather than a proper examination of a media game-changer.

Either way, you can’t ignore the fact that there is blood in the water – and from reading between the lines in this article, Vanity Fair knows it.

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Death in Comics – The Batman is Dead
December 22, 2009, 9:48 pm
Filed under: Media | Tags: , ,

Anyone who’s read comic books for long enough can tell you that dying in the comics is about as serious as getting mono. It’s inconvenient and it’ll definitely keep you out of action for a while – maybe even months. But at some point you’ll be back on your feet, no more the worse for wear.

The death of a major comics character has become something of a cliche, a cheap trick used to sell books and hopefully refresh the character without doing any actual character development. Death in comics is actually beginning to be a boring non-consequence, a plot device whose overuse highlights the inherent unsustainability of trying to maintain an ongoing story and character for, in some cases, 70+ years.

As in all things, though, there is an exception and it is, oddly enough, in one of the oldest characters in comic-dom – the recent death of the Dark Knight himself.

For those of you who don’t know, Batman (well, Bruce Wayne more specifically) recently disappeared from the DC Universe, though the cause of his death seems a little muddled – he’s either been killed in a helicopter explosion after an encounter with the Black Hand or killed by Darkseid’s Omega Sanction at the end of the Final Crisis or sent back in time by said Omega Sanction or turned into a small, furtive newt-like creature. Okay, I made that last one up, but regardless, it’s all very confusing.

The fuzzy details notwithstanding, one thing is clear – Gotham City is now without its Bruce Wayne and, in typical comic-book, publicity-stunt style, there have been a whole host of special issues, cross-overs and new title launches to commemorate the occasion.

What’s not typical about this particular comic book death, though, is that – despite the fact that nobody has any business believing that this is more than a temporary set-back for the Dark Knight – Batman’s death is proving to be fertile source material for the development of one of comics’ most interesting characters: Dick Grayson.

Grayson – the original Robin – is interesting because he’s one of the few characters in comics who has experienced genuine character growth, rather than simply being batted around (hi-oh!) by tangential side-plots meant to sell a few comics before returning neatly to the status quo. After starting his comic life as Robin, Batman’s trusty Boy Wonder side-kick, Grayson eventually left the Batcave and Gotham to pursue his own crime-fighting career as Nightwing, stalwart defender of the city of Bludhaven (Gotham’s neighbour across the river).

Contrary to comic-dom’s SOP, the change has stuck to this day, and many writers of both Batman and Nightwing stories have mined the development for rich source material, as Grayson tries to establish himself as a crime-fighter in his own right, occasionally languishing in the shadow of his mentor, and as Batman attempts to find and train a new protege (with, so far, only marginal success).

With Batman’s recent “Death”, Grayson has put his activities as Nightwing on hold and has taken up the cape and cowl, attempting to fill the shoes of the original caped crusader (and do so seamlessly enough that Gotham’s cadre of supervillainy doesn’t catch on that Batman was ever killed in the first place).

Grayson’s new role has allowed some of DC’s better bat-writers – specifically, Grant Morrison (Batman & Robin) and Judd Winnick (Batman) to do some genuine character exploration into both Grayson and Bruce Wayne, as Dick grieves the loss of his friend, struggles with filling the Batman’s shoes and tries to manage the latest, and possibly most incorrigible incarnation of Robin, Bruce Wayne’s Shadow-League-trained son, Damian.

Unable to master either Batman’s voice or his style – in one particularly astutely constructed scene, he complains to Alfred about having to wear a cape again, one of the first accoutrements he shed upon leaving the Batcave – and is forced to both examine and adapt the Batman identity in order to be comfortable in his own skin, effective as a crime fighter, and worthy to fill the role of his mentor.

Leave it to Grant Morrison (We3, All-Star Superman), who seems to be the man in charge of this whole Bat-evolution (having penned both Final Crisis and the Batman story arc that culminated in Wayne’s death, and who continues the story in Batman & Robin) to pull off this kind of soft-restart of the character in a way that breathes life into the franchise without making a much-overused gimmick too… well, gimmicky. He already did it once with the (New) X-Men in the early ’00s and it looks like he may be on track to do it again with the Dark Knight.

So while it lacks the fanfare and media attention of the death of the Man of Steel in the ’90s or the recent demise of Captain America, the death of Batman may be one instance of a comic writer actually having the skill to do comic death right. If I wasn’t before, this would have made me a huge Grant Morrison fan – and I look forward to seeing how the rest of this story plays out.



Making Media Predictions
December 5, 2009, 12:30 pm
Filed under: Media | Tags: , , , , ,

Making predictions about where the world is headed – especially the world of media and technology – is a dice game at best. We’ve all heard (and laughed at) the ones that failed to come true (here are some good ones). However, the subject of the current direction of media technology just seems to keep coming up in my conversations with people these days, so let’s have a go at it. In 10 years, feel free to laugh at me when none of these come true.

DVDs are the last hard medium
Has anyone else noticed how little everyone seemed to care about the fact that Blueray beat out HD DVD to become the home movie industry’s official next-generation format? For something that was supposed to change the home entertainment market as much as the VHS/Beta battle or the invention of the DVD itself, nobody really seems all that fussed about the fact that all of our DVD players are supposed to become obsolete in the next few years.

Maybe it’s because everything is going online – with more and more material becoming available via download-on-demand, the rapid increase in worldwide broadband penetration, and the availability of hi-def features over cable, it’s just not worth it to upgrade your hard-media player anymore. Even video games are going online – Wii users are able to download and play games from older Nintendo systems, for example, and one next generation handheld – the new PSP – makes games available by download only. With the convenience and quality of online content, there is just no reason to waste space and material on hard media – and it may just be that DVDs are the last of their kind. 

Copyright laws are going to change to reflect the new media environment
I was watching a UFC event on cable the other weekend and at one point, one of the announcers had to read out the obligatory statement threatening legal action against anyone who copied or rebroadcast the program without permission. The announcer had barely finished the last sentence of the disclaimer when his partner (Joe Rogan – what a guy) piped up with something along the lines of “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you can’t stop the internet, baby.” It was hilarious and, more importantly, it points out the futility of copyright laws based on 18th century principles of content distribution.

With the rise of digital media, these principles (e.g., exclusive ownership of the content by the author, exclusive control by one party over the means and the channels of distribution) just don’t hold anymore, and laws created and enforced by people who still cling to them are bound to become irrelevant and fall apart, if for no other reason that they become essentially unenforceable (ask the RIAA). The question, of course, is that if nobody is following the laws, nobody seems all that upset when they’re broken, and attempts to enforce the laws are often met with indifference or scorn, do the laws still reflect and work towards the needs of the population? And if not, shouldn’t they change?

Social networking will become the new dominant mode of communication
This is a no-brainer. We’ve all seen this. We all know that everyone – everyone – is already on some kind of social network somewhere. And at least a few people know that social networking now is as important to communication as email was in the 90s. It’s a game-changer, and before long, not having a profile on at least one social networking site will make you look about as ridiculous as you would right now if you didn’t have an email (or, for that matter, a phone number)

One-way communication will become completely obsolete
Audiences will come to expect the ability to engage with content to the point that content producers will not be able to get away with one-way communication – your resource either enables two-way communication (which means the online version becomes the centre-piece) or your resource dies. Content will be about creating a community, not about just informing an audience. One-way communication will become obsolete.
 

Print media’s role within the media environment will radically shift
I will stop at predicting the demise of printed media – but, given the above, plus the fact that hand-held browsers and readers take away print’s last major competitive edge (portability), it will stop being the cornerstone of…well, really anything. It will be a peripheral element of the media environment, not its centre like it is now (or was five years ago – you could argue this has already happened). It will still provide a certain type of experience that digital media can’t replicate (there are tactile elements to reading a newspaper, for example, that I imagine some people find comforting), but as generations grow up with digital media and, thus, don’t care about those types of experiences, even that advantage will fade away.

 And finally –

Pong: The Movie will become a reality
It’ll happen. Just wait.



Reality TV and children – the case of the Balloon-kid
October 16, 2009, 11:15 am
Filed under: Media | Tags: , , , ,

So here’s an interesting thought coming out of yesterday’s whole balloon-kid fiasco. And I’m going to keep this short because this story is getting really old really fast.

But I’m interested in the speculation over whether or not this whole thing was a hoax, fomented by the balloon-kid’s statement on Larry King that he didn’t come out of hiding when he heard his parents calling him because they “had said that we did this for a show”. At first I thought that this was just a case of a bad publicity stunt, perpetuated by attention whores of the worst ilk, being accidentally (and hilariously) debunked by a kid saying the darndest thing.

But now I’m starting to wonder about the kid’s grasp of reality. After all, this was not his first time on television, the family having made two appearances on ABC’s reality show Wife Swap. And it poses the question – does a six-year-old child have a firm enough grasp on the difference between TV and reality to know where one stops and the other starts? Especially when, during his formative years, he was at the centre of a spectacle that purposely blurs the lines between the two?

Maybe he just thinks that whenever your personal life receives attention from the outside, it’s for TV? (Which, now that I think about it, is not that far fetched.)

Or is it possible that, having grown up in an environment where the most important part of “reality” is creating a spectacle for the camera, that he behaved in the way that would prolong the spectacle because he thinks that’s just what people do? Maybe his parents didn’t put him up to it at all – maybe he did it “for the show” all by himself.

I sometimes wonder what effects reality shows featuring young kids – Supernanny, Wife Swap, or John and Kate Plus 8, for example – have on those kids and their perception of how the world works. I wonder if the balloon-kid fiasco is going to shed some light on this question. I always figured that reality TV would spell the end of humanity – but this is a wrinkle even I didn’t anticipate.



Advice on life and career from Wolverine
August 10, 2009, 8:47 pm
Filed under: Media | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Really good advice is rare, especially when it comes to figuring out who you are and what you want to do with your life. I can literally count on one hand the number of times I’ve received really good advice on either of these topics.

One of those times, the advice came from the father of a friend of mine, who told me that no matter what you do for a living, there will always be moments of boredom and tedium.

Even the most exciting job in the world has days where you’d rather be doing something else. This is a phenomenally and necessarily sobering idea that has kept me from getting discouraged when I hit those “dip” moments, when the excitement of some pursuit starts to (temporarily) give way to those phases when it just feels like work.

Another time was a bit of insight on rejection from Stephen King’s On Writing, which I’ve mentioned before.

Most recently, I found some great advice in, of all places, an issue of Amazing Spider-Man: Extra!, released this past winter. The advice comes in the form of a story that the character Wolverine tells Spider-Man after the two of them get into a bar fight together.

The story is about dating and the advice is about fighting (I’ll let you make your own pithy observations about that little juxtaposition), but it could just as easily apply to starting a writing career or, indeed, just getting your life together.

The bar fight was a fairly pointless one: Spider-Man and Wolverine weren’t really foiling super-villainy, they were just – as Wolverine puts it – “blowing off steam.” Spider-man, being an eternal worrywart, asks Wolverine why he would take the risk of getting in a fight when there was so little to gain.

Wolverine responds with this story, which an old army officer once told to him:

***

“It’s about a good guy, like you (Spider-Man). He grew up poor, though around people like him. People who dressed a little shabby but good people nonetheless.

But he decided he was meant for somethin’ better. He wasn’t gonna settle for any plain woman like his pops had. He was gonna marry a beauty… nothin’ short of a knockout.

So he stayed away from the neighborhood girls, even though some of ‘em woulda been happy to show ‘im a thing or two. But he waited.

Months of waitin’ turned into years and people started to talk. But he didn’t care. He was waitin’ for his perfect girl. A stunner.

And one day, what do you know, he found her. Everything he’d hoped for. Smooth skin, big eyes…a knockout.

He chased her like his life depended on it, and she must’ve seen something in his enthusiasm, because eventually she relented.

This was it. His big moment. And you know what? He had no idea what to do. He kissed her with a dry mouth, fumbled with things he shouldn’t have, and before he knew it, the whole thing was over.

The beauty, unsatisfied, left him stunned and alone, wishin’ he’d let a few of those plain janes teach him a thing or two.”

***

What a great little analogy. The point – as I see it – is that nobody ever got anywhere by sitting around waiting for conditions to be perfect. Because even if – by some unlikely cosmic convergence – the perfect conditions DO present themselves, if all you’ve done is sit around waiting, you’ll be completely unprepared to capitalize on them when they do.

Progress comes from movement. Whether you’re trying out a new career or trying to get your work in the public eye or even trying to make sense of your dating life, taking risks by starting down a road you can’t necessarily see the end of is a good in itself – because chances are, the experience you gain will far outweigh anything you might have lost by taking it and finding out it was the wrong one.

The only wrong direction is no direction – as long as you’re moving, you’re on the right track.

Thanks for the good advice, Wolverine.

——————————————————————-

Wells, Zeb. “Birthday Boy”. Amazing Spider-Man: Extra! No. 2, March 2009. Published by Marvel Publishing Inc.



Future vs. present in Art. Or something about Batman.
July 24, 2009, 12:38 am
Filed under: Media | Tags: , ,

This past weekend, while watching a rerun of Boston Legal of all things (judge if you must, but William Shatner just keeps getting more entertaining the older he gets), I had a thought about the difference between art and entertainment.

In the scene that inspired the thought, Denny Crane (Shatner) and Alan Shore (James Spader) discuss the difference between the promise of the future and the joy of the moment. Denny and Alan were talking about love, but I think you can apply the same principle to art/entertainment.

“Art” – as in, “serious” Art – is all about the promise of the future. Someone participates in Art in order to improve themselves by gaining valuable insight or wisdom about themselves, the world, whatever.

In a sense, participating in Art is about sacrificing the present. You’ll never get back the two hours you spend watching Citizen Kane, but ideally, you’ll have learned something about life or about film or about something that makes you just a slightly better person. Those two hours are gone, but they were an investment in your future self.

Watching Transformers, on the other hand, is a whole different experience – it’s fun and it’s loud and there are cool transforming robots and explosions and uplifting lines like (Megatron) “Humans don’t deserve to live!” (Optimus) “They deserve to choose for themselves!”

Now, you likely didn’t learn too much from watching Transformers – chances are, you’re precisely the same person you were at the beginning of the movie as you are at the end. You haven’t gotten any farther ahead in terms of your personal development as a result of watching this movie. But there’s a good chance you had a lot of fun watching it. Your future self is none the richer for your Transformers experience, but your present self sure enjoyed the heck out of it.

With that in mind, it’s not really hard to see why Art gets privileged over Entertainment in intellectual circles – intellectualism, of course, is all about self-improvement, all about sacrificing your present self for a better, future one. But it’s something of a shame when someone can’t put that aside and live in the present for a little while – I think you could even argue that one would be better for it.

Either way, the best examples of Art/Entertainment, I think, are the ones that manage to have one foot in both camps, that manage – as Phillip Sidney would put it – to delight, as well as instruct.

My personal favourite example of late is the movie The Dark Knight. The film is emminently watchable as an action flick, with excitement, suspense and the coolest super-villain since Star Wars. And who can get enough of those adolescent power fantasies? Not I.

At the same time, the film deftly poses questions about the nature of the hero, of violence and its justifications, and, of course, the social roles of chaos and order (one of the most brilliant parts of the film is during Batman’s interrogation of Joker at Gotham PD when Joker starts to talk about the insanity of a system of rules – and actually starts to sound like he’s the only one who’s got things at all figured out).

Because it blends the promise of the future (i.e, an investment in the future self) with the joy of the moment, The Dark Knight can be enjoyed on many levels, allowing it to have a deeper and more lasting impact than a film that focuses on just one or the other.

Perhaps Art vs. Entertainment isn’t so much a dichotomy as a spectrum, but either way I think that the most successful examples of culture and media are the ones that manage to land somewhere in the middle of that spectrum.

What about you – what’s your favourite example of art or media that delights as well as enlightens?



NxNE wrap-up
July 15, 2009, 12:11 am
Filed under: Life in Toronto, Media | Tags: , , ,

It’s hard to distill the experience of North by Northeast, Day Three into words. It was fun, it was loud and it was a little bit blurry. It included spilled beer, a fair bit of embarassment and a friendly Englishwoman name Cat. I learned never to stand on the seats at Black Bull and Iain learned not to trust me with event calendars – though we all learned that the best way to make friends at an indie music festival is to take your copy of said calendar and discuss it loudly enough that people around you can hear what you are saying (pro-tip #3).

Musically, it seemed to be the night of cover tunes – though covers are somewhat rare at NxNE, at various points, we heard fully legitimate renditions of a Johnny Cash tune, the Stooges’ “Search and Destroy” and the Beastie Boys’ “Fight for Your Right”, which – astonishingly – the band managed to PULL OFF.

Other highlights included:

  • catching a great string of sets at the Black Bull (one of NxNE’s more underrated venues – there usually aren’t crowds here, but the music has been quirky and catchy and exciting for two years running)
  • making it in time for an after-hours set at Horseshoe (not at all underrated, but just as consistently good during NxNE)
  • and getting a free copy of Three Day Threshold’s newest CD, then getting the whole band to sign it. Every single one of them made a penis joke.

If I can offer any conclusions from Day Three, it would be these: take any chance you get to go see either Three Day Threshold or You Handsome Devil. And if you have the chance to be the only person in front of a stage screaming your head off to the lyrics of “Search and Destroy” while the band screams them back at you, take that too (pro-tip #s 4 and 5, respectively).

But of course, the most important pro-tip of all for NxNE is just go. Get out there. Get into it. You’ll never be sorry. It’s the best weekend of the year.