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Monthly Archives: October 2010

I promised my students some general ideas for their paper proposals…

I made all of the ideas focus around the cartoon “The Venture Brothers” on Adult Swim, just to avoid any conflicts with any of their potential topics. The course is “Introduction to Popular Culture,” and focuses on many different analytical approaches to cultural studies.

The Office of Secret Intelligence and the Guild of Calamitous Intent– Repressive and Ideological State Apparatus in The Venture Brothers

The Persuasion of Society and the Creation of the Villain – Rusty Venture as Bad Guy and Dr. Killinger as Hegemony.

Dr. Girlfriend and the Gender Binary – Desired Beauty, A Husky Voice, and Moves that Kill

The Failures of Masculinity – Realism and Variety in the Representation of Man in the Cast of The Venture Brothers

The Military Industrial Complex in Cartoons – The Ethics of Science with the Dr. Venture Brothers and the Battle for Military Contracts

Shoreleave and The Alchemist – Representations of Homosexual Men in The Venture Brothers

Quality is Key – How The Venture Brothers Rejects Adult Swim’s Mass Production and the Industry of Culture

The Politics of Baldness – Hair and Success in the Manifestations of Dr. Rusty Venture

“That isn’t a lunchbox” – The Goth Authenticity of Triana and Kim on The Venture Brothers

Some of them could use snappier titles, but I’ll settle. Maybe some day I will write one of these.

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Bring me my megabuster…

So, this is a topic I felt like I driven to write about in some capacity. However, this will probably be rather rambly and discordant.

The article over here states some very interesting points in regard to this sudden (is it?) genre explosion of nerd music – a term that I particularly despise. It sort of sensationalizes the concept of enjoying the music into something only a nerd is capable of doing, and also associates the environment which helped produce the musical text as something inherently nerdy. Not to mention associates the listener with a problematic, though a re-appropriated term. Nerd was never something I was comfortable with defining myself as, even in an ironic/accepted way. I have enthusiasm over many things, some of them associate with traditional nerdom, some not. What it does speak to is sort of the alarming trend of hegemonic power over people who chose to ignore traditional media and fan activities.

Genre works as a discourse, a constant dialog of shifts and changes within a particular set of associations and generic “rules.” So, saying this music is a new “genre” is odd to me, because bands like The Protomen (of whom I am a huge fan…) is rock music, not nerd music. But, it is this paradigmatic shift in genre towards this evolving and new media landscape of the internet that, I think, is partially causing some of the needless tension. Contemporary music has been built up on the DIY ethos of the punk and post-punk movements, creating a viable performance network and distribution of music and expression by un-signed bands, and to have it be profitable. This ethos is still applicable to the current generation of underground bands that make up this movement of “nerd music,” but is also greatly expanded by the internet.

We live in a postmodern world of immense media saturation, to the point where all texts become inter-texts. Where the creation of something new is inherently constructed by something in the past. All texts link to all other texts, and influence the author. So, the fact that this music uses cultural reference points ( nerd rap, or the nostalgia of 8-bit noise, etc) isn’t anything new, revolutionary or particularly important to the music itself.  Black metal bands build albums around Norse myth, and The Protomen have created albums around Mega Man myth. The act becomes culturally significant, however, because it speaks directly to a culture that would get/understand these references, and be able to engage with them in a serious way. And this contemporary nerd culture often lacks a voice in media – they are presented to (with video games, comics, film, etc) but not asked to participate with their culture, unless it means buying more products. Nerd music has created this participatory output for a culture that is heavily mediated, and thus, exposed to cutting edge texts and technologies to use and engage with.

Part of the problem is America’s fear of messing with intellectual property, I believe. The movement and genre play hasn’t developed too much because it isn’t profitable for major record labels, especially if they have to worry about Capcom suing them because The Protomen have put out a new album. It is nearly impossible to escape political economy, and this is no exception. The second a major corporation can figure out how to get Anamanaguchi on MTV, this sort of debate will change in a drastic way.

Another part is authenticity. Music fans are intensely fierce and protective. Cover bands are never seen as authentic, and originality counts. I think a lot of the fear comes from the ideas around what it means to be original. Girl Talk is respected and seen as authentic, but his music comes entirely from cut up samples of other musicians. Is he more or less original than The Protomen creating a story around the mythos of the Mega Man universe? The documentary Rip: A Remix Manifesto posits the idea of creativity and cultural development versus intellectual property, and again, is related to this discussion.

That being said, I can’t stand about 99% of it. But, it is certainly a topic for interesting debate. Nerdcore has sort of exploded (enough so to have its own documentary…), but for my money the best “nerdcore” song is by someone who doesn’t fit the nerdcore mold, and possibly not even known within the nerdcore culture:

Del Tha Funkee Homosapien has a brilliant song about video game culture, and able to keep the cultural cache (another important element of this debate…) of auteured hip hop. And he was able to do this 4 years before MC Chris burst onto the scene. So, this idea of contemporary inter-textuality has been around, and musicians were willing to play with this idea a decade ago.

Do I want to listen to Nerdcore? No, but I don’t want to listen to country music either. But, of course, there are always exceptions to these rules. Quality helps, authenticity helps, originality, expressibility, performance, taste – all of these help. I’ve gotten friends into The Protomen not because they play video games and are literate in that medium, but because they like a lot of the music and culture that came out of the 1980’s, and The Protomen is clearly influenced by that. That being said, I have friends who love video games and even Mega Man that wouldn’t touch the band with a pole. There is lots to be said on this topic, and it is certainly complex, but in 10-15 years I think people will think we are all being silly for having such problems with “nerd music.”

Happy Birthday, 4chan!

4chan.org is seven years old today. In honor of this, I’m putting a paper/presentation I did at the Graphic Engagement conference online. I will probably notice problems with it the second it is posted.

I was encouraged to share it by a lot of the people at that conference, and 20 minutes of talking and Power Point slides only allows for so much. So, this is the more complete .pdf version.

Another reason, I suppose, is because of a comment on a BleedingCool article (hello again, Rich), which devalued what is a really strong and interesting community.

…Out of pure evil, there is always the rare, occasional result that is of a positive benefit to all. Or, to put it another way, even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and then.

The community there is far more rich and complicated than that.

This is a bit of a weak post, so just read the paper instead.

Anyway: /Co/operation and /Co/munity in /Co/mics: 4chan’s Hypercrisis and Anonymous Authenticity

The Shadows of Superheroes

Super Genre: 10 Things Superhero Comics Do Better Than Any Other Genre in Any Other Storytelling Form

I love when this argument comes up because I do a lot of work with comics, and work exclusively in superhero comics. There is a tragic hierarchy in representation and importance, not just in terms of the tired argument of “comics as art” that, as scholars, we somehow feel we need to keep reminding ourselves of this. However, there is a sad reality that indie comics (as a loose classification) tend to get more academic/critical attention and are generally seen as more important than superhero comics. Comic researches don’t really let this get in the way (as, on an individual level we just work with what we like or are interested in anyway), but I’ve seen too many Call-For-Papers and journals that have language that asserts this system of power over superhero comics.

Here is an example: The Graphic Novel In Global Context – I don’t want to fault this conference or any of the people involved, but I’m going to air my beef about this with them as an example. First of all, “graphic novel” is a term I hate and I think is problematic in terms of privilege and power over select texts in the medium. It also serves as a way to automatically disassociate these privileged texts from superhero comics. Superhero comics are a storytelling form that comes out weekly in single issues and as a continuing, “incomplete” narrative. Some superhero comics don’t fit into a graphic novel form, single issue stories or giant collections over multiple books. It also tends to hold power over newer stories versus older ones. Some superhero comics fit in the world of “graphic novels” and the term can be easily swapped for “trade paper backs” in most contexts, but it excludes the idea that a story being published in single-issue form, and thus excludes contemporary texts.

The previously linked to Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics places graphic novels first in their name, even though it is a newer term, problematic, the field is mostly referred to as “Comic Studies”, and isn’t smoothly alphabetical. Though, I’m sure they had their reasons…

Names begin to be associated with this more high-culture form of comic, and scholarship gets stuck focusing on the acceptable author and acceptable graphic novel. If it isn’t Alan Moore and Frank Miller it is Art Spiegelman or Marjane Satrapi. Not that these creators aren’t deserving, but it hurts the field as a whole if we can’t escape talking about them. Especially when the four listed creators don’t produce much work, and others bust their asses on consistent and multiple monthly deadlines. It’d add more validity to the medium if it were okay to discuss more than 4 people. I know these conferences are never limited in that capacity, but it might also encourage scholars to actually look at other texts outside of the canon as well.

DC and Marvel superhero stories exist in the Dreamtime of their continuity. Alan Moore has specialized in elegant depictions of storybook characters growing old or disillusioned and having lots of sex with one another, but to insist that Batman or Spider-Man should be subject to the same rules of change that apply to living, breathing people without acknowledging the obvious reasons why they are not seems a willful misunderstanding of the basic nature of this material.”

I can think of numerous innovative and generally superlative superhero comics that have been published since then, never mind all of the great sci-fi, horror and non-genre books. Most of them owe nothing to the style, themes or so-called ‘bad mood’ that drove Watchmen. Peter Milligan and Duncan Fegredo’s Enigma, for instance, is a story about a Dr Manhattan-level superhuman in the ‘real world’ which is sexy and playful and operates on every level at several notches sophistication and maturity above Watchmen. I’d say the same about Rogan Gosh by Milligan and Brendan McCarthy. Sandman surely has some merit. I’ll throw in my own Flex Mentallo or All Star Superman as two examples of intelligent, non-Watchmen-influenced superhero stories.

– Grant Morrison in Comic Heroes Magazine

Essentially, I guess, I need to, in the words of my buddy Nick Ware, “write a critique of the academic framing of “the graphic novel” which mirrors the literary framing of “the novel” and use the populist culture theory (Ray!) to tell them they’re doin’ it wrong.” I will probably get around to it someday, but someone will most likely beat me to it and do it better than I could.

So, I like all 10 of Marc-Oliver’s points, and I’m glad that superhero comics aren’t presented as “adolescent male fantasies” – which I think is a pretty worthless point to attribute to the medium. Though, I think his argument can be expanded. In doing so, I’m going to call upon my old friend (not really) Geoffrey Galt Harpham and his book, Shadow of Ethics. I put comics under the umbrella term of literature, as sort of a mega-medium, and Harpham states that one should, “assert the claims of literature as a way of understanding human life that is superior to that of philosophy.” I love this idea, and I think it works well for superhero comics, not in a way that is better than literature, but as a part of it. I need to do some work with this also.

Open Ideas: Project Runway Inspired.

Again – these are open ideas. Things I came up with at spur of the moment that aren’t necessarily my field of interest or research or things that I will ever have time to work with.

I watch Project Runway and am not afraid to admit it.

Last night’s episode focused heavily on family and past, and we learned that one of the more dynamic contestants for the season, Mondo, has been living with HIV for about a decade, and has been keeping it a secret from his family.

The show handled his admitting of this in an delicate way, I felt, and it was a very emotional episode for a game show/reality show.  Nobody felt sorry for him or treated him as diseased, and Michael Kors and Tim Gunn looked sincerely moved and visibly identified with Mondo and his emotional and physical struggle. It was clear that this wasn’t something done for the sake of ratings, but was something that came about by the challenge of the episode – to create a clothing pattern that was important to you personally and your life. Had this particular challenge not existed for the season, it wouldn’t have come up.

I knew a few people who cried watching it, and I was very moved. Personally, I’m glad that Lifetime didn’t really advertise it as an episode plot point.

BUT – I wonder how reality shows on a whole treat HIV/AIDS, possibly comparing and contrasting networks, shows, audience markets, the individual person, etc. The idea of framing disease with the person inflicted – something VERY real – in the setting of a show that presents itself as “reality” but is anything but.

JUST AN IDEA. (It would surprise me if no one was already doing this)