Video Argument, Ms. Pac-Man Edition

Apparently, I’m all about reposting other people’s content here. However, this video is up on Feministe this morn, and it’s taken from Pandagon, so I’ll just imagine that I’m sharing the love. You TOTALLY have to get over your initial reaction to hurl invective at the screen shot figure here—suffice to say that it’s a terrible representation of the yummy goodness (yummy pretzel goodness, to be exact) that comes after it, which, I’d like to say, is making me think about the rhetorics of argument via video.

I’m no rhetorical expert, and I’m sure that the peeps in comp/rhet could run circles around me here (and I encourage them to do so, both for the public service of greater knowledge, and because it’s good for their health), but there are several things that are working in this video. First: the tone is, while a bit outre, also right on for the subject. It’s colloquial, it’s entertaining, and it fits the subject matter completely (can you imagine this as a “straight” reading of the cultural value of Ms. Pac-Man? Please. What’s the point?). Second, while I’m almost always dismissive of still images, the editing in this piece is fab. The juxtaposition of picture of Gloria Steinem and Shirley Chisholm(?) with Margaret Thatcher and Nancy Reagan; the Ken Burns effect on the initial image of Ms. PM—it’s as entertaining as the voiceover and the nostalgic kick of the A-Ha song in the background. What I’m most impressed by, here, is the way in which the producers have integrated information and cultural analysis: reading of symbolism, parallels to the contemporaneous social and economic milieu, a short history of the origin of the names. It’s delightful, it’s informative, it’s convincing, it’s making me want to find chapters 1-3 immediately.  How does a video argument differ from a textual one?  How does it make the most of the particular affordances of its medium?  Here are some ways to start thinking about it.

This, my friends, is a keeper. And one that offers up some real-world criteria for video argument assignments.

My Damnable Lack of Imagination

When I was a kid, I spent many summers with family in Hawaii.  [Don’t worry, I’m not about to complain about it.]  My grandparents were pretty invested in making sure that I, half Korean kid raised on the mainland, got a sense of the varied cultures that made up the landscape of Hawaii, and local music (and food, let’s not forget the food!!) made up a big part of that.  My grandfather was a bit of a whiz on the ukelele, and would occasionally bring it out and give me a taste of traditional Hawaiian songs.  Thanks to the beauty of YouTube, I can give you an example:

Not bad, right?  Mellifluous, lovely…but a bit staid for my young self (who was, as previously noted, busy grooving to The Thompson Twins and the like).  Despite the encouragement of both my grandparents and my mother, I never felt inclined to pick up the ukelele.  Four strings?  No bass?  It’s a bit tinny and too high to rock, right?

And thus we get the title of my post—my damnable lack of imagination.  Because I was busy trolling the archives over at Angry Asian Man today (all things Asian American pop culture and a Bruce Lee  fan to boot!), and he’s got a link up to a Jake Shimabukuro performance on Conan O’Brien, in which he plays George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”  Reposted here, for your viewing pleasure:

Holy moly!  Why, why did no one ever tell me that the tiny but powerful ukelele could do that, in the right hands?  Here I thought if I took it up I’d have to be standing on a stage somewhere wearing a grass skirt and a lei.  But no!  I could have been ripping it up with Beatles tunes!  Or, like this kid, classics from the Cars, or even, dare I say it, like Will Smith (who knew?!)!  That will teach me to ignore family knowledge.

All hail the mighty ukelele.  Don’t let its size fool you like it fooled me.

Snow Days=Cinema Catch-up

There are many revelatory benefits to snow days—freedom from class preparation; not having to put on teacher-appropriate clothing; eating meals from a plate rather than a tupperware container.  [There are of course, drawbacks as well: revising carefully crafted syllabi; fielding panicked emails; etc.]  As ice blanketed the Capital Region and the Saint Rose campus, however, what I hadn’t expected was the way in which calling off classes would equate to catching up on missed movies.

I was in my office writing an exam when the school cancelled class from 2:30 onward on Wednesday.  What a lark!  Wednesday afternoon?  What better time to go to the movies?  K. and I shared the theatre with exactly 3 other people who were brave enough to face the rain/ice bonanza in the Northeast.  And few things were a better corrective to all of that water runoff than the desert terrain in No Country for Old Men.  [How did I go this long without seeing it?  Don’t get me started…]

It goes without saying that the film is phenomenal, yes?  I’ve come to associate the Coens primarily with their gonzo sense of humor in The Big Lebowski and Raising Arizona, so the starkness of this film was a bit of a shock.  Sure there are some moments of humorous dialogue, but those are sandwiched in between  stretches of dark and impending doom that they barely make a dent in the tone.  For all that’s been written about the movie (much of it focused on the characterization of Javier Bardem’s Chigurh), I found myself constantly coming back to the scenes with Kelly McDonald (whom I haven’t seen since Gosford Park, and wouldn’t have recognized unless someone tipped me off).  For all that this film is about inexplicable and random violence, and largely in a man’s world, her character is invested in holding people accountable for their involvement.  Even as the dominant voices in the film (Tommy Lee Jones’ monologues that bookend the action) gesture toward the helplessness of the law, of humans in this landscape, her voice is the one that sticks with me.  [As a sidenote, her early scene with Josh Brolin is taking on the quotability factor of Lebowski in this household.  “Kim, where are the vacuum cleaner bags?”  “You don’t gotta know everything, Carla Jean.”  “But I gotta know that…”]

Once you’re in the cinematic groove, there’s no stopping.  We took in Persepolis last night,  which was touching and visually exciting and bittersweet.  I have to confess to having never read the graphic novels, so I can’t comment on the correlation between the two, but the film was charming.  How it manages to blend a short history of Iran with a coming-of-age story with the pain of transnational migration and exile with the story of a family—-all done effortlessly—has something to do, I think, with the visual style.  I’d love to see Scott McCloud take a whack at an interpretation of how the animation works in this film.  And without spoiling it for everyone, you’ll never think of “Eye of the Tiger” the same way again.

Next up?  Michael Gondry’s Be Kind, Rewind.  Because what’s better than Mos Def and Jack Black acting out popular movies?  Here’s to bad weather!

The Magic Word is “Thompson Twins”

Heads up: this is a shamelessly vapid music post.

I’ve used Pandora at my office for about two years, since I’m too lazy to either A) transfer my music from my home computer onto the office one, or B) get the cord I need to plug my iPod into my office computer. Compared to these two work-intensive (hah!) options, Pandora is the way to go: type in an artist and you get a playlist tailored to your particular sonic proclivities. Two minutes and you’re off and running. It’s obviously not a perfect system; if you don’t tinker with your “channels” (the playlists determined to most clearly cohere to the musical DNA of the artist or song that you’ve entered), you are subject to the same songs and artists over and over again. Based on my disinclination to tinker (there’s a significant theme running throughout this post, methinks) I’ve been stuck in a channel rut for the past few months. it’s been the “all Rufus Wainwright all the time” channel (which has, on the upside, turned me on to Greg Laswell, which is an unexpected bonus). Periodically, I’d switch over to the Elvis Costello or The Psychedelic Furs, just to break up the redundancy.

But, hold the phone! After a colleague’s celebratory jaunt to a local 80’s dance party, I found myself revisiting the gems of the genre. Where did I put my entire collection of Depeche Mode compact discs? Somewhere along the way (in the land of iTunes, no doubt), I was reminded of the Thompson Twins, and I plugged them right into a Pandora Channel. Sweet fancy Diety! It’s like a pipeline of everything I forgot I loved! Hello, OMD and Soft Cell and Peter Gabriel and the Pet Shop Boys!

My assignments for the semester will all be set to the beat of a synthesizer, apparently.  Harmonica, as below, is optional.

Sucker for Software

When it comes to technological “appliances” (i.e., gadget objects), I find that I most often have the magpie response: pretty!  shiny!  want to take back to my nest!.  With a very few exceptions (the iPhone, strangely, being one of them, but only because of my bizarre dislike for cell phone apparati), I can be convinced to want a lot of shiny metal objects run by computer chips.  That same love has now transmuted itself to software, all of which promises the functionality that I’ve always been missing; or in other words, it promises, like any good product, to fix all of my problems.  The focus here, in fact, seems to be on fixing the problems of research and writing.

It must have begun with Endnote, which promised to optimize my crap recording of research.  Back when I was working on the dissertation, I had a terrible habit of getting excited about an article, photocopying it, and neglecting to copy or write down WHERE THE ARTICLE CAME FROM.  Cue montage music of my hours in the library, retracing my steps from stacks to carrel to reshelving units (and yes, kiddies, this was in the days before JSTOR, dammit).  So Endnote promised to solve that fundamental issue: if I could stay on it, then I would have a neverending database of my research.  Three years later, Endnote is still in the box; in large measure precisely because online databases are so ubiquitous, and because it seems easier to type up a bibliography than it is to learn all of the functions of the program.

Round two: Zoho’s suite of programs.  Not software per se, but something that began to speak to my desire for a common storage place to put notes, upload relevant files of all types, etc.  I spent 3 days working with the Zoho notebook and found that it did just that, except that the notetaking function was a bit clunky for my taste, and I was doing a bunch of flipping back and forth between tabs when I wanted everything in the same place.

Round three: collaborative writing on a wiki.  Now that’s more like it!  What began as a mild brainstorm over the summer (Jeez, M., how are we going to keep everything in the same place so that we don’t lose it and can show each other what we’re working on?  What do you think about a wiki?).  By far the most productive and easy to use, our PBwiki site has been the central housing place for documents and files and lists and links and notes on a faculty lunch series for teaching and learning, a co-authored conference paper, a co-authored article, and virtually all of the secondary sources related to these.

And now there’s Scrivener (hat tip New Kid).   Promising to integrate the various tools that are now crucial to extensive writing projects (pdf files, word processing, digital movies, sound files, web pages) into a single format, Scrivener appears to be the hub that consolidates all of the errata that one brings into lengthy compositions.  Shiny!  Want to bring home!!

It’s difficult to tell whether I’m more attracted to the format itself (it looks awfully clean, that Scrivener, unlike my desktop), or to the promise that I could, someday, get my research organized.  And that promise is no joke: I’ve got a June 30 deadline to talk about a series of fan videos, and the thought of keeping them all in line is daunting, to say the least.  But the question, as always, is this: will it really work, in practice?  Because if I begin a project in Scrivener and end up hating the interface, then I’ve lost three days of work time getting everything set up.  And if one already has agita about beginning monumental writing tasks (no one I know, but I’m just saying), then the feeling of double jeopardy in a false start with untried software is pretty daunting.  Oh, but the promise of organization and clean integration…

On a less personal note, I’m fascinated by the number of emerging programs now that attend to this idea of organizing information for writing.  If I hear one more word about Devon and the majesty and wonder therein, I might scream.   Add Zoho, and Scrivener, and a host of other products with good press, and it just may add up to the ways in which our collective anxiety about the glut of information—and about finding and then later re-locating the gems within the glut—is growing, and with it, we’re creating a whole new sub-market of software.  For my part, I’m wondering how long it will take for someone to provide this service with humans—a personal research assistant to rival the Hollywood personal assistant.  Now who doesn’t want one of those?