Monday, June 25, 2007

Still in Saigon.

It's not a bad hotel room view, I'll admit. It's also not a bad conference that I'm at - the 2007 NMEC, hosted by AMLA (Alliance for a Media Literate America). And what I am about to say should definitely be taken within the context of the fact that I am a newbie when it comes to conference-going. This is literally my first conference of any sort, not just my first media education conference. A more experienced friend tells me that "in general, conferences are disappointing," which I can imagine would be the case. But, even considering that fact, I can say without a doubt that many elements of this event could have been done in a much wiser and all-around more enjoyable fashion. The huge elephant in the room is the fact that the event's organizers decided to conceal the fact that Douglas Rushkoff (author and PBS "Frontline" producer, best known for "Merchants of Cool") canceled his engagement as a keynote speaker. Rumors were flying about this being the case by mid-day on Sunday, but whenever I asked a board member, I could never get a straight answer. People literally mumbled and walked away from me. This went on until five minutes before the event the following day. If someone from the board ends up reading this, I just want to say that I honestly would not have been upset about the cancelation, had you been honest with the members. The way you handled it was ultimately far more upsetting than the matter of the cancellation itself.

Despite the Rushkoff thing, a host of hotel issues (I walked sixteen flights last night because all three elevators were out, and when I got back, housekeeping had left the door to my room standing wide open), St. Louis issues (bus fare=$4.50, wow, that makes mass transit so accessible), and quality of presentation issues (I just sat through an hour-long session with a really interesting, thought-provoking title that turned out to be a workshop on how to use instant messenger, sample moment: "You can even enter your own away messages. Some people, when they don't feel like entering an away message, type a smiley face."), I AM STILL ENJOYING MYSELF AND LEARNING.

Highlights so far have been the INCREDIBLE presentations by Chris Sperry from Project Look Sharp, Henry Jenkins (who really set my mind on fire with an amazing hour-long presentation on the implications of Wiki software), and Also, the bookstore here is jam-packed with amazing resources...I'll probably just abandon some of my clothes here in St. Louis so I can bring more things back with me. Just Think (of San Francisco) is also here, and it's inspiring being around them - they've been doing youth media production for a very long time.

But ultimately I can't help but think of that scene from "Good Will Hunting," where Will confronts the intellectual bully at the "Hahvad Bah" and says something like "You've dropped $150,000 on an education that you could have gotten for a dollar fifty in library fees and the cost of a bus pass." So, if you couldn't afford to drop a grand or so on hotel rooms, registration fees, meal costs, etc., here's a library card to some of the most amazing moments I've had at this admittedly very valuable conference. But I can't afford the bus pass. At least not in fuckin' St. Louis.

As of Tuesday morning, June 26th, you'll be able to download the presentation he gave this morning about Wikipedia (using Middlebury College's official rejection of Wiki sources as a jumping-off point for a larger discussion of participatory culture) at the above link. I am currently reading Convergence Culture, Jenkins' most recent book, and it's a wonderfully fresh and readable look at the same topic. Also, his blog looks incredibly enlightening in general. I have to ask myself...with blogs like this out there, is college worth $30,000 a year anymore? I'm inclined to answer "Yes." It is, after all, a great time to make friends. And make out.

Project Look Sharp

Immediately visit this site and download the "Media Construction of Presidential Campaigns" curriculum. It is free, entertaining, and hella enlightening. It can't possibly be as much fun as the actual presentation with Chris Sperry, who was undaunted by the fact that 8 people showed up to hear his presentation (they scheduled it at the same time as a "Leading the Field" working steak dinner where, I am told, lots of by-laws were ammended and such). Sperry's presentation skills are not unlike those of the wonderful Bryan Alexander. Dissecting the history of media construction of presidential campaigns with him is a process filled with "a ha moments." No, they're not "a ha moments." They're "holy fucking shit, I can't believe how stupid white people can be!" moments.

1 Part Steve Inskeep
1 Part Saul Williams
1 Tbsp. Expert Guidance in Public Radio Production
Add all three to martini shaker, shake, and serve in very cool container

Seriously, last night I met a young woman named Ayesha Walker, who has created some amazing stories that you may have heard on NPR. Here's one about Bathing Ape hoodies (this new Nigo-designed Batman joint is CRAZY RETARDED), here's the Youth Radio iTunes show. Again, there were about four people in this presentation, which was also scheduled during what I am sure was a very important networking opportunity.

Monday, June 11, 2007

My Thoughts on What Happened Last Night

I think there are two kinds of Sopranos fans, and I think their reactions to last night's series finale split right along their respective party lines. There are those who believe The Sopranos was a really good mob show. They're bloodthirsty, voyeuristic, and they like standing around the water cooler on Mondays yammering about who got "whacked." They're pissed off about how the show ended. Then there are the folks who are David Chase fans as much as they're Sopranos fans, people who enjoy The Sopranos as a mob show about mob shows, a metatext crammed to bursting with henchmen who only act like henchmen because they like the way henchman on TV act like henchmen on TV, visual puns galore, inside jokes and, honestly, a lot of thumbs in the eye to that first kind of viewer.

There aren't a whole lot of that second kind of viewer, but all of the ones I have communicated with are pleased as punch with last night's finale, which kindly told America to go fuck itself and its bloodthirsty expectations. You've seen The Godfather, right? Then you should know what it means when the camera follows a random guy in a "USA" hat to the bathroom in an Italian restaurant. Or when two guys in ballcaps enter and half-heartedly look at the jukebox while stealing sidelong glances at Tony, or when Meadow struggles to parallel park, delaying her arrival to this fated last supper. You know they're going to die, right? You've been here before, haven't you?

Haven't we?

But no. Black screen. No payoff. No blood. Maybe there was blood, but it wasn't for us to see. Maybe there was just spaghetti, and the best onion rings in the country. And a family full of fuck-ups - fuck-up real estate agents, fuck-up mobsters, fuck-up liberal idealists, fuck-up med school drop-outs...having dinner in a fuck-up country.

I loved the series finale. To me, this series started out rebellious and went through a few seasons of malaise, weighed down by its own negative space, crippled by its need to play by genre rules while simultaneously impaling the genre. To me, the series just simply bled to death, and I find it incredibly appropriate that - instead of some wank-off shoot out or coda, we just got a series quietly drawing a breath and suddenly going under, being gone.

There is a lot more to say about the finale, but I'm pressed for time, and there's a beautiful lady on my couch. Peace.

Monday, June 04, 2007

"Vengeance is Mine"

Easily the greatest serial killer movie I have ever seen, Shohei Imamura's "Vengeance is Mine" (1979) is more than a dark film, it's a film of true, physical violence. By that I mean that after seeing the film I felt it, physically, in my heart and my bones. The only film that I have ever seen to which I can compare "Vengeance is Mine" is "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer." "Vengeance" follows a Japanese loner as he embarks on a senseless killing spree over the course of several months. Based on true events, it's like watching "Natural Born Killers" on peyote. I literally cowered throughout this entire harrowing two-hour trip. For the lead character, a sexual predator and sociopath, it isn't so much that there is a reason to kill people - there's just no reason NOT to kill people. In the case of a film like "Natural Born Killers," the violence has a kind of rock and roll sexiness to it that's just American, scummy, and deplorable. In "Vengeance," the killings are anything but climactic, anything but cathartic. They're cold, empty acts. When the lead character kills a truck driver at the onset of his rampage, he does so with a tiny knife, stabbing the man dozens of times in a wind-blown field overlooking the city. He gets frustrated with seeing the man struggling, so he covers the fellow in a yellow tarp and continues stabbing him. It's a difficult two minutes to sit through.

This is a movie that doesn't wash off. It's not compelling, it's not "gripping" or any of those other terms. It presents senseless murder through the eyes of a sociopath in a cold, detached way - the camera itself is a sociopath, it seems to have no opinion whatsoever, no emotions, nothing to say about what is unfolding. I think the film should be seen because of all of these things. We live in a world where the serial killer is pretty much a hero in most films - usually the sexiest character. In films like "The Silence of the Lambs," we have characters like Hannibal Lecter, who is obviously designed to be enjoyed by the viewer. He's cultured and dynamic and fun to listen to. In limp Hollywood backwash like "Mr. Brooks," we get ice-cold serial killers on rooftops, being circled by swooping cameras and playing fun cat-and-mouse games with the police.

In "Vengeance is Mine," all of that is stripped away and we get to see killing for what it is. Waste, horror, a void. I loved this film not because it was pleasant to watch, but because it was so unpleasant to watch.

Here's a great resource on Shohei Imamura, for anyone interested.