Monday, February 25, 2013

Dollhouse - Week 6

This is the week before a bit of a break. We have also gotten to the end of the first season and have begun the second.

Susan Quilty asks a similar question as was asked at the beginning of the course: "What constitutes personality? ... Can the total personality--the entire sense of self--really be removed and replaced at whim? Or does some unique piece of self remain in the body?" (133) Does the body keep in itself an inherent personality?

Season 1:
Caroline = central image
Echo = negative space

Season 2:
Echo emerges from negative space to be the central image

The point is that both of these entities are part of the same whole, recognized by change in focus. Quilty, though, seems to confuse these notions of difference in personality with notions of personality being inherent in the body. Later, she discusses the sense of self which Echo possesses, and the seeming sense of self (however slight) that the other actives possess in their doll state, sitting and eating together, for instance. This "instinctual level" is what Quilty suggests is "negative space."

Quilty suggests that love exists in this negative space, inseparable from the body. While I do find some of her arguments problematic, I do appreciate her final thoughts: "As Echo and one of the men discussed the paintings [in a museum vault in Episode 1.04], he commented, 'That's what art's for, to show us who we are.'" (144)

As per Hiromi and Da Silveira, is it only through narrative (or stories) that we understand the world?

A question I have here is, does cancellation work to make viewers perpetually uncomfortable, because the narrative ended without closure? In a way, I agree, but this discomfort brings pleasure. That is, closure closes the narrative; cancellation leaves the narrative open. Anyone who read any amount of Roland Barthes will understand that the latter is better.

I observed what they observed, that the second season moved too quickly (we can discuss this a bit more as we watch the second season in the coming weeks), but I'm not sure that cancellation works in the positive way they suggest. Allowing (or forcing) the closure of story arcs might provide closure, but doing so in a rushing manner doesn't seem to necessarily be a better way of doing things. Consider the fine example of Firefly, the other Whedon show cancelled after something like 11 episodes: closure did not happen (not even in the film Serenity, though perhaps the "closure" of certain storylines there was also rushed). This worked for Firefly; I want closure there, but I'm sort of happy that we are not getting it.

Again, I want it. But in wanting it there is some pleasure there. Barthes considers this in The Pleasure of the Text, in which he suggests the turning of pages to find out what happens next is most important, and pleasurable. It is in the turning of the page, not in the revelation of details, that we derive pleasure. (Don't quote me on this. It has been a bit since I read this book, so I might be quite off regarding Barthes' comments there. I think I do reflect Barthes accurately, but maybe not from that particular book.)

This week we watch Episode 13, which was not aired on television. What is your reaction to "Epitaph One"?

Note that next week is Reading Week. There will be no blog entry next week.

New Media - Cell Phones/Smart Phones

The reading can be found here.

I seem not to have notes for this week, which is strange. But I think I can still guide the discussion, however brief it might be.

First of all, what do you think of Shiga's paper? Discuss.

Second, do you have a cell phone or smart phone? What does it do for you?

Third, what do you see as the future of mobile technology?

That is all.

Note that next week is Reading Week. There will be no blog entry next week.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Dollhouse - Week 5

We are almost at the end of the first season. Consider for next time making some sort of statement about the first season of the show.

Levinger begins with an interesting twist as an observation: “Echo wasn’t Caroline. Echo was Echo. Caroline was Echo.” (105) Her article begins with the assumption that the series was about the Dollhouse creating slaves without identity, tabula rasa robots that are unable to be their true selves. But is this truly the case? Is this not just part of the marketing of the series?

I wonder if Levinger is reading too much into (onto?) the character of Claire. I’m not sure we are ever privy to the actual Claire, and so I’m not sure we can really speak of a loss of identity, as well as any notion of low self-esteem, etc. Claire, or Whisky, is a tragic character overall. We will see her next week in the final (unaired) episode of season 1, but you might want to contribute a comment about that character at this point.

As an aside, there are problems with Rebecca Levinger’s essay, but considering she is a high school student (or was at the time of writing it), she should be commended.

How do Saunder’s scars function? I posit that they act as an element which creates enigma. They tease a questin: how did those scars get there? What damaged (beautiful) Claire’s face? Consider, though, what I suggested above, that Saunders is a tragic character overall. Can she also be heroic, as suggested by Klein?

New Media - Convergence of Media/Marketing Disney

This week's reading can be found here. I've decided to use an earlier version of the chapter originally suggested in the syllabus.

This week will focus primarily on the Disney Company. In the construction of the company, there is a merging, or converging, of media. Products market products; Disney products market other Disney products. Can you think of other companies that do this?

Some ways in which Disney cross promotes:

- television shows become parades at the Disney theme parks (High School Musical, for instance)
- movies become rides/movies sre integrated into existing rides (for instance, "Pirates of the Caribbean" was a ride which became a movie, elements of which were then integrated back into the ride)
- rides become movies (The Haunted Mansion)
- accessories (Mickey Mouse watches, for instance)
- costumes for youngsters
- vacations: 2 theme parks in the United States, 1 in Europe, 2, soon to be 3, in Asia
- cruise line
- entertainment becomes media for sale for home use
- the rarity of this media becomes a part of the experience (the notion of the “Disney Vault”)

From 2005-2008, Disney curated something called Disney VMK, or Virtual Magic Kingdom, an onlineenvironment similar to World of Warcraft. A player could collect prizes like virtual furniture for his or her online space, or costumes, or things like Mickey Mouse ice cream bars, items which exist in the real-life theme parks.

There is a continual loop of promotion. All areas of the company point to other areas, in terms of promotion.

What did you think of Pahl’s criticisms? The media-rich environment that Disney presents is interesting. I should be noted that there are various third-party additions to this kind of widespread promotion. These include:

- license holders (Walmart, Dollarama, etc.)
- fans (in the form of fan culture, podcasts, the D23 fan community, actually a first-party promoter)
- multiple television shows that are simply promotions for traveling to the parks

Is there a cultural identity which is worth preserving in the experience of Disney? Or is it too marred by consumerism?

Does the Disney worldview compete with Christianity?

Please note that your final paper needs to be 8 to 10 pages long, not 10 to 12 pages as it mentions in the syllabus.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Whedon's Dollhouse - Week 4

We can begin this week's reflection on Dollhouse by asking the question, do you like Topher? Your answer might or might not agree with the answer that Zimmerman Jones found on the Internet early on in the first season might (the answer he found was no). Is it true that (so far) Topher doesn't care about the dolls? Is Topher amoral? Just so you know, I probably didn't think about this question much when I first watched the season, but I never really considered Topher amoral. I maybe didn't know how to read him, but I think the show as a whole is a bit difficult to read; maybe this is what to what Zimmerman Jones is referring when he writes about the "moral ambiguity of the whole situation," also known as "being difficult to read." (82) As per the arguments in this first article for this week, does the "imprinting technology idea [shift] from being morally reprehensible to being . . . morally justifiable"? (85)

Do you recognize the evolution or transformation of Topher Brink as suggested by this author? On p.90, the writer suggests that the tactic of violence would not have worked at the start of the series. What do you think? (I know that you might not have watched the whole series at this point, but perhaps you can still comment with knowledge of the first 10 episodes or so).

Another question might be asked in considering Mason's article: is Adelle an amoral character as well?

As an aside, I am interested by Mason's suggestion that the show could be boiled down to terms available to us from Whedon's other shows. So, Dollhouse is "in Firefly terms, what happened to River's brain, explored through the consequences of Inara's profession." (102) This assumes, though, that Inara acts toward River in the same way as Adelle toward Echo. Thoughts?

Finally, out of the two episodes from this week, which works best?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

New Media - iPods and mp3 players

The readings can be found here and here.

I was once told that the iPod is a kind of drug, in that it causes the listener to achieve a state of euphoria or happiness, simply because each song is (potentially) a favourite. In other words, there are no mediocre songs on someone’s iPod. There is the potential that one will simply continue to listen to favourites throughout the day.

Michael Bull calls this kind of state a “zone of immunity,” to use Richard Sennett’s term for the place of the church in Western civilization.

“The church, in Sennett’s argument, created a zone of ‘immunity’ for the citizen, an ordered space in which the subject could feel secure. Today this zone of immunity and security is a mobile one existing between the ears of iPod users as they move through the city--enveloped in what they imagine to be their own reality, each holding Apple iPods--twenty-first century icon and acoustic metaphor for much urban life.” (Iconic Designs 108)

The interesting thing is that the design of the iPod has evolved over time. The key to the iPod's success is twofold. It is an issue of space, that one could now conceivably put their complete collection of music on something small enough to fit in their hand. It is also an issue of user interface, a way to access that music.

The scroll wheel is the key - first, the click wheel, a combination of moving parts and buttons. Next, touch sensitive, solid state, no more clicking or buttons. Finally, a combination of solid state touch sensitive and clicking for play/pause, next/back, etc. The interface becomes simpler for the user as it becomes more technologically complex.

The aesthetic design of the iPod is something which is often overlooked in terms of its allure. Many would talk about its domination in the marketplace, or the problems with its ties to specific software (iTunes). Not many discuss what I think is its main strength - its appearance. Its design is what draws me to it - its clean lines, the materials that make it up. The way it looks in the dark (the 3rd Gen iPod is what this last part is referring to).

Bull calls the iPod a “perfect marriage between aesthetics and functionality, of sound and touch--the auditory world in the palm of the hand.” (105) It comes to market at a time of increasing mobility and privatization - this is, in fact, not a new thing.

Bull seems to equate an iPod with the Gothic cathedral: “The populace invariably went into these spaces not merely to pray but to enter envelopes of sound resounding through their bodies, amplified by the great arches of the cathedral.” (106) Back to the iPod, now that people were free from the constraints of radio, those sonic envelopes “exist in the personal playlist of the iPod.” He also considers the idea of your whole music collection fitting in the palm of your hand a magical one. (107) This is interesting. This is something that was never possible in the past.

The iPod is, in fact, intoxicating: “an intoxicating mixture of music, proximity and privacy whilst on the move.” (No Dead Air 344) iPod users might use the device as a way to inhabit the spaces within which they move, a creation of a “privatised auditory bubble,” a means to control time and space through which they move.

Consider what Bull writes on the bottom of pg. 346.

As opposed to thinking that the iPod destroys community or creates isolation, Bull suggests that “music enables users to clear a space for thought, imagination and miid maintenance.” (349) For Bull, the choice of music by the listener enables a form of “biological travelling,” that the narrative of the listener’s life is recalled in the current space of travelling, thus making their journey one that is more personal.

“The world and their biography is recollected and accompanied by sound.” (349)

The world becomes “intimate, known, and possessed.” (350) - the world around them seem to work in tandem with the music (this isn’t actually happening, but it seems like it might magically be).

The city dweller is able to reorganise the sounds of the city. (352)

“the city becomes a personalised audio visual environment, yet even the sense of touch and the concomitant [naturally accompanying] relational experience of the street is transformed, invariably making the iPod user happier as they move, empowered through the street.” (352)

What do you think of Bull's idea of dancing through a crowd, instead of struggling? Does the iPod still hold such cultural cache as Bull suggested it did in 2005 and 2006?

Monday, February 04, 2013

Dollhouse - Week 3

In reading Tupper's article on the Gothic in Dollhouse, I came across an absolutely funny description of the Dollhouse itself: "a slightly sinister dayspa." (51) I'm not sure why I found that so funny, but I did. It seems that it betrays something of the series: that it is simply too dark of a premise to work at all. The setting is just a strange symptom of it simply being off. That's why the setting is not particularly threatening. So, while this might be true (that the show doesn't work, fundamentally), I think, rather, that the show works in spite of its darkness. It forces us to watch, knowing that it is too difficult of a show for prime time television. Comments?

Do you think that the notion of enigma is at work in the show? If so, what does it accomplish?

So, if Dollhouse subverts the gothic, is it a new gothic? What exaclty is it? (hint: there isn't really a right or wrong answer to many of these questions, in case you didn't guess - I don't know the answers myself).

Is Dollhouse a fairy tale?

Finally, which of these three episodes is most effective and why?

New Media - MP3s and Mashups

You can find the reading here.

How does Shiga define "mash-ups"? Is this phenomenon due to the easily-sharable music file (mp3 or variant), or did it exist before that? What contributes to its existence?

Do you have a favourite mash-up?

Finally, what happens in the future? Are mash-ups finished now? (Perhaps they have been for a few years)

That's all - I know there isn't much this week, but that is alright. The reading is not the easiest either, so that's that.