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Worst. Post. Ever.

Matt Hill uses Fan Cultures to examine the differences between the “scholar-fan” and the “fan-scholar” who uses academic theory in their fan writing. Through his analysis, Hill manages to align fans and academics through the concept of the elite fan. As the elite fan becomes more knowledgeable and encounters opportunities to defend and analyze the popularity of their interest, they become “scholars of their idols”. Though they are not academics, these scholars still exhibit “flashes” of theorization.

Comic Book Guy is the cartoon fan-scholar.In Part I, Hill adds the important role of consumerism into this analysis. “For, as well as constructing themselves against ‘bad’ academics, fans also construct themselves against ‘bad’ (mindless or undiscriminating) consumers”. With this statement I was reminded of a popular character in pop culture who is the cartoon embodiment of the “fan-scholar”, The Comic Book Guy (also known as Jeff Albertson).

As the audience, we notice that Comic Book Guy (the owner of The Android’s Dungeon) possesses a great amount of knowledge about his work and spends a lot of time discussing it on online forums. He also attempts to establish his greater authority and knowledge with his overused catchphrase, “worst episode ever”, which is used to justify his opinions of many nerd related topics against mere consumers of nerd culture like Bart Simpson and Milhouse Van Houten. According to the Simpsons Wikia, Comic Book Guy is a “very obese, socially incompetent, unshaven, cruel man who is perhaps best known for his sarcastic quips. He holds a master’s degree in folklore mythology (he translated The Lord of the Rings into Klingon as part of his thesis)”. Clearly, Comic Book Guy is an academic, but his fandom comes first despite his all encompassing knowledge of every one of the most cultish topics. Comic Book Guy’s fandom is not merely implied in his academic work, he lives it.

So we know that Comic Book Guy is meant to represent the stereotypical “nerd who lives in his parents’ basement”, but does he also represent the stereotypical fan-scholar?

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Walter Benjamin and The Effects of Reproduction

While reading The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, I wondered if Andy Warhol ever read Walter Benjamin. Warhol’s screen printed and highly reproduced portraits of Marilyn Monroe were certainly produced at a viral rate by the artist alone. Over the years this production has only increased with the advent of professional and home printers. Of course, with each mode of reproduction, it’s as if Warhol’s works of art are diluted.

The first print possessed the most impact and the soul of the artist himself. Once the images were reproduced as poster-sized prints for financial gain, the work lost its original essence, but still got the point across in order to solely portray the visual properties of the work. Once the image of Marilyn can be reproduced on a home printer, even more of the work’s aura is lost. The piece has now been reduced to a small, shriveled blot of brightly colored ink on flimsy printer paper. To take the concept even further, we can now reproduce Warhol’s images on computer screens, or even mobile screens, downsizing the images and reducing them to intangible representations of what they once were. In reducing an image through reproduction, are we denying the art the respect it would deserve if left only in its original form? Are we somehow cheapening the experience of art by making a reproduction readily available? Clearly we do not derive the same enjoyment from the reduced reproduction, but do we instead pay these images an equal but separate homage.

“Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be. This unique existence of the work of art determined the history to which it was subject throughout the time of its existence” (Benjamin). This quote from Benjamin’s text leads me to believe that reproduction does diminish our respect and understanding of a work of art. As we venture further from the original work, our understanding of the initial intent disintegrates like a message passed around in a game of telephone. I’m led to wonder if many pieces of modern art, from Warhol’s screenprinting, to Mondrian’s Neoplasticism, to Rothko’s abstract expressionism would be better understood today if presented in their original context. Unfortunately we will never be able to see these artists’ pieces in the same context of time and space in which they were created because, as Benjamin quotes, nothing “has been what it was from time immemorial”, including our social and aesthetic perception.

*Note that the first link to Warhol’s work also allows you to adjust his Marilyn painting as you see fit. It’s like a form of instant, interactive reproduction that Benjamin never saw coming.


Convergence Culture and Art21

A selection from the Burning Life Flickr group by Cherry 108.

A selection from the Burning Life Flickr group by Cherry 108.

Somehow, Henry Jenkins manages to make an unlikely pair of punk DIY culture and traditional quilting bees in his book, Convergence Culture. So what do these two have in common? They both have to do with cultures that foster “broad participation, grassroots creativity, and a bartering or gift economy”. Through varying levels of involvement, members of the convergence culture can interact and participate with media and each other.

In the beginning, many businesses tried to harness the power of convergence culture under the ill-conceived idea that internet and television culture would converge to form new media. Later, many realized that old and new media are not converging, but that new media overcomes old media, the same way the computer overcame the typewriter. With this new media, convergence comes in difference forms. The power of collective intelligence is recognized, but not always understood, and many businesses now realize that participatory culture is of use to them.

Of course, there is a difference between interaction and participation in convergence culture. Interaction describes the ways in which media is created to allow users to respond, no matter how small or subtle their method of response. Participation, however, contrasts with “passive media spectatorship”. In participatory culture, producers and consumers do not assume separate roles in the spectrum of media creation. To participate, we put the pieces of our knowledge together to create better, more complex media. In effect, participation is generative whereas interactivity is like a mouse pushing a lever to receive a parcel of food. Participation, by definition, is a “relation to the larger whole“.

The Art21 Blog post on Burning Life brings to mind the very definition of collective intelligence by bringing “together people with different knowledge and skills”. In this instance, the collective sphere is exhibited in the form of virtual worlds. The main idea behind the project is to maintain audience involvement with the artists through Second Life. Author Nettrice Gaskins hits on a few pertinent points when she mentions that the collaborators share a “common goal”, and that the work is “transcendent” and “greater than the sum of its parts”, distinctly describing this little niche of participatory culture.


Ringu

After watching Ringu and reading a synopsis to better understand the story, I was easily reminded of  “cursed” chain letters and emails that used to go around. If the reader didn’t “pass on” the letter or email, they were supposedly cursed to an early death. The viral nature of Ringu’s film and the retro chain letters thrive on fear tactics, collective anxiety, and the human penchant towards insufferable curiosity. The “curse” of Sadako serves as a virus in itself. It’s kind of interesting that she climbed out of a well in the end in order to kill one of the main characters, recalling the cholera infected wells mentioned in Steven Johnson’s The Ghost Map.

The curse also has many vectors in the school children that spread it around their region, and is mediated by video cassettes, televisions, and telephones. Of course, the creator of the video and visual artist, Kurt Schwitters, might have something in common when considering Schwitter’s definition of assemblage. The disturbing and confusing scenes in the cursed video seemed disjointed and unrelated, but Schwitters would have us believe that “they set in play a process of mutual stimulation that exceeds what they are as a set”. The video made another world possible, and let the viewers see into the life of Sadako. Unlike most viral structures, however, the curse of Sadako’s video must be replicated and transmitted in order for both the viral curse and the viewer of the video to survive. In effect, the community is being inoculated in a manner that will become exponential.

On that note, I feel something was lost in translation after watching the original Ringu. The synopsis for the remake seems to describe Sadako’s life in greater detail, a story that was vague in the original film. Knowing very little about Sadako’s life did lend a lot to the imagination of the viewer, however, and mimicked the type of fear incited by an unknown virus.


Digital Contagions: Viruses Are No Tribble At All

The tribbles manifest an accident that related to Jussi Parikka's Digital ContagionsIn many ways, viruses bridge many differing types of bodies. Jussi Parikka, author of Digital Contagions, argues that while viruses are not necessarily good, they’re not inherently evil. However, viruses have become the next big bogeyman in lieu of the “Indians” and “Soviet Russians” of past decades. The virus scare is described as if it was the official fear of the 1980s and 90s, and the relation of new found computer viruses and AIDS reflect that.

From Parikka’s perspective, viruses show us “accidents”, or the shortcomings of the body (or network) that the virus is infiltrating. Companies that sell anti-virus software like to harness our fear of those shortcomings (which we manifest as the virus, or “malicious actor”) in order to profit. Anti-virus software must always be updated and repurchased annually, maintaining this cycle. If not, ominous red notifications pop up to warn computer users that “your computer may not be protected!”, or “your computer may be under attack!”. Of course, these warnings make use of very explicit vocabulary to generate immediate action, and to instigate the purchase of another year of protection as quickly as possible. I’m often surprised that my computer doesn’t flash red, clamp shut and start yelling “danger! Will Robinson, danger!” in this situation.

Parikka also speaks of the “body politic” and adds that a body can be comprised of many systems other than human bodies or computers.  This examination in chapter 2 of Digital Contagions reminded me of  the Stark Trek episode, “The Trouble with Tribbles”. While the tribbles acted virally upon the USS Enterprise,  another virus was lurking where the crew could not see. Parikka states that “the media ecology of cities and human bodies is now supplemented with the global city of networks. This is created and conceptualized as a global body of network flows through the veins of the digital version of a circulatory system” (pg 124). This is exactly where the trouble with tribbles begins.

The little fuzzy space creatures start with one virion which replicates wildly to infect different cells of the ship. The tribbles did not have to reproduce with each other as they were “born pregnant” and only needed to feed off of anything present in the cell they infiltrated. Once the tribbles enter the essential systems of theEnterprise, compromising the functionality of the body, many dead tribbles are found in a compartment. At this point, the viral example is turned in a different direction. The tribbles ate all of the ship’s stores of grain that were meant for the crew. Luckily, the tribbles acting as a virus saved everyone from a virus implanted into the food stores by a disguised Klingon, and the perfect example of Parikka’s “accident”. With the tribbles going viral on the ship and creating a gigantic nuisance, a much more serious and innocuous virus was avoided because the tribbles showed the crew a flaw living in the body of the Enterprise.