Sunday, March 31, 2013

Dollhouse - Week 11

PW, this is the final post for this course.

Does Jesus actually say anything like "there is no 'I' without desire, and no desire without the 'I'"? (248) It seems Hawk is referring to self-identity ("I"); I'm not sure of the link between her comment and Jesus, but surely it can be unpacked at length (by someone, but perhaps not us).

Does Echo transcend desires? (249) What about her relationship with Ballard? Can the "I" function at all without some sort of desire at work?

The last part of the paragraph at the top of p.250 is important. I like the sentiment, but I'm not sure I accept it.
No longer caught in the subject – object dyad, Ech enacted a truly queer relationship by allowing deeper penetration – unshackled to sexual reproduction or hegemonic heteronormativity – than is possible for any human subject. Her post humanity allowed for, and, indeed, necessitated, a rearticulation of the fulfillment of desire. She was able to transcend desires as well as the physical and mortal constraints of humanity by integrating the man she loved into her very self.
Apple is posthuman, not only post-PC. Are our very being mapped onto social networks? I suppose.

These last two articles have been refreshingly complex and clever.

New Media - Gaming

PW, you are more the expert at this than I am, I think.

The reading for this final week is available here.

The prevalent attitude regardint the "third place" of games is that “media are displacing crucial civic and social institutions.” That is, the Internet allows connection over time and space (good) but the Internet also enables “pseudo comunities” (bad). But not all Internet use is the same, something which the above claims suggest

The notion of “Third place”
Relationships are fostered at home, and at the workplace (2 places); relationships are also fostered at a new “third place” for informal sociability (pubs, coffee shops) - there has been a decline in participating in “Third place” sociability. MMOs or Massively Multiplayer Online Games are a place for increasing social capital, and a new “Third place.”

Such places are neutral ground: individuals are free to come and go with little obligation to interact with others. These places are levellers: an individual’s rank and status outside are not important. Conversation is main activity: playfulness and wit are collectively valued. There is the notion that these places are accessible and accommodating: they are easy to access and accommodating to those visiting (not sure this is exactly true). There are regulars (people who frequent the place, inviting newcomers and provide a mood), and the place has a low profile (that is, the place is not pretentious). The mood is playful: frivolity and wit abound. It is like a home away from home: home-like - rootedness, feelings of possession, spiritual regeneration, feelings of being at ease, and warmth.

So is an MMO a “third place”? Consider what the authors suggest: an MMO is a “third place” in all areas except accessibility (it costs to have access) and low profile (although it works in terms of conversation, but not in terms of “physical” settings). Are virtual communities really communities, or is physical proximity necessary? (This seems like an age-old question.)

Social Capital (again): this is like financial capital, but for social and personal gains rather than financial. Bridging social capital is inclusive; individuals from different backgrounds make connections between social networks (large, weak networks). Bonding social capital is exclusive; strongly tied individuals provide support to one another (small, strong networks). Bonding social capital was much rarer than bridging social capital.

“MMOs are new (albeit virtual) ‘third places’ for informal sociability that are particularly well suited to the formation of bridging social capital.”

“Perhaps it is not that contemporary media use has led to a decline in civic and social engagement, but rather that a decline in civic and social engagement has led to retribalization through contemporary media.”

The lack of bridging relationships, the opportunity to expand the social structures of which one might be a part, can be looked at as extremely negative. From this point of view, any technology which suggests greater bridging social capital might be seen as extremely worthwhile and perhaps beneficial: “Without bridging relationships, individuals remain sheltered from alternative viewpoints and cultures and largely ignorant of opportunities and information beyond their own closely bound social network.”

Is there a Christian view of games? Christians have often weighed in with medieval and early modern critiques of games: evils of games of chance; slothfulness attributed to gaming; addictive nature of games; avoid leisure and do work instead (“idle hands do evil deeds”). At one point, Dungeons & Dragons was considered a game which opened one up to devilish influences. Once this died down (ironically coinciding with the decline in the popularity of the game), Christians became concerned with video games.

Do we really need a "Christian" game industry? What do you think of this statement, that "gaming is a God-given potential"?*

*Citation: Quentin J. Schultze and Robert H. Woods Jr., eds., Understanding Evangelical Media: The Changing Face of Christian Communication (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2008), 208.

Dollhouse - Week 10

Shuster begins his essay by pointing out an essential aporia, a moment of contradiction, in the show:

1) "There was sopme bodily essence that constantly asserted and reasserted itself, even in spite of imprinting and global wipes,"
2) "We saw precisely how disposable bodies were." (233)

Shuster states, interestingly,
Dollhouse found itself in the strange predicament . . . of decrying the objectification of women while lavishly promoting itself by means of Eliza Dushku's scantily clad body. (235)
I always found this interesting, but more so in the context of third-wave feminism.

So, Shuster argues that aporia exist at both the level of the narrative and at the institutional/organizational level of the television show on FOX.

The citing of Adorno is interesting. I applaud this but I wonder: Dollhouse depicts a fictional genocide (though horrific) but Adorno is referring to an actual genocide (see pg. 237).

I would simplify this article into the following statement: Dollhouse juxtaposes many elements which result in the construction of an atmosphere (or space) of ambivalence.

Further thoughts on this interesting article?

New Media - Religion on the Internet

Take a look at (there is some information about it here). Beliefnet has sections dedicated to many different religious movements, and articles such as Charles Colson's “Spinning Yarns That Deceive: Harry Potter books are not as dangerous as ones that directly undermine Christianity,” (an article against Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass), and Anthony DeCurtis' “Bono: The Beliefnet Interview” (DeCurtis is a Rolling Stone interviewer).

Casey’s article is here.

The article opens with a dichotomy:
- the idea of a physical experience of the sacred (eg. walking into a Hindu temple in southwest India)
- the idea of visiting a webpage which attempts to recreate that experience through the mediation of a computer screen.
She cites a book by Brasher, Give me that Online Religion (2001): “in the transition from temple to screen, a radical alteration of the sense stimulation has taken place, consequently altering the religious experience itself.” Nearly 80% say the medium plays a major role in their spiritual lives (note that these statistics date back to 1999, and so the numbers have probably changed drastically), and 53% solicit prayers through email.

A good question: “Why are millions of electronic pages dedicated to sharing the ineffable, that which can’t be expressed in words? Is cyberspace becoming a new--or the new--sacred space?” (32)

More good questions: What implications does the Internet hold for our spiritual identities, our practices of worship, and our sense of religious community? What limits or constraints are defeated by Internet technologies? What is lost?

The Internet alters the religious environment as we have otherwise come to define it. What is this religious environment, either the one that presently exists or the one that is created by the Internet? What has changed? The primary answer is access, since the Internet transcends spacial and temporal boundaries (space and time). Also, the concept of belief has replaced the concept of belonging. Presently, religion cannot be separated from other areas of life (in case we might have been able to do this is the past). Casey argues that religion cannot “exercise its integrating functions” (that is, its place in our lives) through the traditional avenue of the Church.

The term "cyberspace" was first coined by William Gibson in his novel Neuromancer, published in 1984, about 10 years before the World Wide Web. Lance Strate (1999) defines cyberspace as “diverse experiences of space associated with computing and relation technologies”: “cyberspace is frequently taken for granted as a profane space, but it is indeed a sacred space as well, as can be noted not only in specific sites, but in the non-physical--and therefore potentially spiritual--properties of cyberspace.” (34)

As for God, Sherry Turkle (1996) writes, “God created a set of conditions from which life would emerge. Like it or not, the Internet is one of the most dramatic examples of something that is self-organized. That’s the point. God is the distributed, decentralized system.” Jennifer Cobb (1998) writes, “as technical systems become more complex, something elegant, inspired, and absolutely unpredictable simply and suddenly ‘emerges.’ What many observers see emerging is the ‘hand of God.’” (34)

Furthermore, “religions themselves can be viewed as systems of communication, designed to facilitate and control the exchange of information between the mundane world and the realm of the sacred.” (35) Computers don’t only do things for us, they do things to us; technology plays a significant role in the creation of new social and cultural sensibilities (how we respond to and interact with various factors in our society).

Back to beliefnet, consider these random thoughts:
- the motto of Beliefnet: “We all believe in something.”
- “Inspiration. Spirituality. Faith.” - suggests a kind of sequence of commitment, perhaps.
- “a veritable marketplace of religion.” (37)
- “For virtual communities of believers, the Internet is a high-tech, high-touch way of saying, ‘You matter.’ Many who participate in cyber-rituals say they feel part of an authentic religious community.” (37)

What online religion offers:
- freedom from church dogma and hierarchy
- open discussions on matters of faith
- stereotypes can be ignored and people might more easily come together to speak about issues and disagreements
- reduced barriers between faith communities

More quotes from Casey:
- “Signing onto the Internet is a transformative act, one which takes participants into the vast cathedral of the mind, a place where ideas about God and religion can resonate, and where faith relies not on great external forces to change the world, but on what ordinary people can create on the World Wide Web.” (38)
- “skeptics are concerned that the pathways to techgnosis (spiritual insight via the Web) may lead away from traditional structures of worship and the living communities that suport them.” (38)

Some "final" questions: Are places to be technological really places where we can also be spiritual? Could the Internet sufficiently deliver the emotional side of religion and belief that many feel is integral to the very definition of spirituality itself? Can we really conceive of a faith community of people plugged into their individual computer terminals?

Monday, March 25, 2013

Dollhouse - Week 9

In the article by Morohunfola, we revisit some of the ideas that we have encountered in the past regarding the television series: the nature of the soul and self-identity. The author’s initial premise is as follows: “there is more to people than their personalities, and what’s underneath can never be erased.” (221)

The author presents an interesting concept: the term via aperi refers to the composite actives’ state of mind.

The premise of the series as a whole can be summed up as “the soul can never be erased.” (225) We have seen this idea before. Such repetition brings up another question: is the series a rich text? I think so, but it seems that some of the ideas that the series evokes are repetitive. Care to comment?

New Media - Making Media "New" (Comics into Film)

The reading for this week can be found here. Note that the link in the syllabus is outdated.

Batman Crucified: Religion in comics

Some random notes:

Religious language and imagery - why might it exist in comic books? Religion continues to provide resources for those engaged in quests for meaning or for those caught in struggles of good and evil.

What are comics?
- An art form - an aging readership has caused comics to become collectibles, with speculation driving up worth and price guides guiding prices
- sequential art - pictures in sequence to tell a story
- Stations of the Cross - a sequential retelling of the crucifixion of Christ
- stained glass windows as sequential art for the education of an illiterate people

Why religious images in comics?
Comic books raid iconography from general culture. Battles between good and evil are the basis of comics. There exists the humanizing of comic book superheroes, resulting in a superhero with personal doubts. Another note: a superhero is basically a redeemer figure.

Batman as a “human” figure
Frank Miller’s miniseries in 1986, "The Dark Knight Returns," explores the psyche of an obsessed vigilante; it is an exceptionally dark story (with a female “Robin”). Batman is so dark that he fights, and basically beats, Superman

The superhero as redeemer
The common American (or Western) mythic pattern is a story of redemption. What are some examples of this?

“the American monomyth secularizes the Judeo-Christian redemption dramas that have arisen on American soil, combining elements from the selfless servant who impassively gives his life for others and the zealous crusader who destroys evil.” (Forbes 5)

Batman as a Christ figure
The symbolism of a Christ figure includes both superheroic aspects (“divinity”) as well as humanity (Batman’s shortcomings). To serve as a Christ figure, one has to be vulnerable: “Comic book superheroes, especially when humanized, are redeemer figures.” (Forbes 6)

The Dark Knight film
How does this new movie (or the subsequent sequels) reflect these ideas or does it? What do you think might be lost in the translation of something like this from one medium to another, that is, comics to film?

More about the movie:
“The film feels dangerous, risky, terrifying.” (Todd Hertz in Christianity Today) This is a kind of “new media,” but in a different sense of the word than has been used here thus far. This is a new kind of movie making. Perhaps the new Bond follows this: action not necessarily for pleasure but rather as a violent act . . . against the viewer. This violence is accompanied with thoughtful dialogue, a questioning of allegiances and roles. Care to comment?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Dollhouse - Week 8

There are two articles today, and we are well into the middle of the second season. These are critically acclaimed episodes and mark the beginning of the “rush to the end” that seems to occur with this series.

I’ve written a paper that suggests similar things to Deritter’s essay, that masculinity (in particular, that of Topher) is problematized by his continued “flusteredness” (his deteriorating mental state throughout the series). Madness is a feminine characteristic, primarily in the arts.

The author here is right to identify the Supergirl type in Whedon shows, as well as the emasculated (lovable) male (she even identifies Topher here). So, then, what of the crisis of masculinity that occurs in Whedon’s shows?

Does Dollhouse show a different kind of masculinity (a possible option) rather than a failed (conventional) masculinity?

Souza asks, “Why would so many characters and audience members continue to trust in such a man, given all this?” (206) This is supposedly the question after seeing Boyd working for an organization that he seemingly despised every week. The question is ultimately one we could ask of the show as a whole: why did/do we watch it? Who do we root for?

This is, to me, why the show failed. Because it is a hard show.

For PW: The following weeks have a single reading for each week. If it works, we can continue with 2 readings and finish a few weeks early.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

New Media - Religion in Media

The URL in the syllabus is no longer functioning. Download the article by Matt Taibbi here.

This article talks about American Evangelical Christianity and, more specifically, what the writer calls Christian Zionism. The group that Taibbi visits might be called “Fundamentalist,” although I never liked that term. Pentecostal, evangelical, radical, what else?

What did you like in this article, if anything? What did you dislike?

It reminds me of Jesus Camp or even the scenes in Borat where Borat gets “baptized in the Holy Spirit.”

These are not images of traditional Christianity, right? What are these images of?

How is the presentation of this article different from any other “anti-Christian” type of reporting that one might find in other media? We can assume that this article appeared in the print version of Rolling Stone magazine, although I’m not sure that it’s clear from the online article.

This article was originally posted online, and included with it a comments section. Often, online articles include a forum for response in a much more immediate sense than writing letters to the magazine affords. There is also much less gate-keeping, in terms of editorial control over the responses that are culled from such an article. In addition to this, there is less inhibition on the part of the respondants--they are anonymous posters online. Do you have an opinion of comments sections on the web in general?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Dollhouse - Week 7

This post is later than usual, and for that, I apologize.

Tami Anderson suggests that there are many stories in the series, including the following:

- the stories of those who would be dolls
- the stories of those who would play with dolls
- the stories of those who work with dolls
- the stories of those who would save the dolls
- the stories of those who would be free

The last category seems to include all of us that live in the "real world," outside of the actual narrative of the television series.

How are we to take this sort of academic study of a television series? In a way, it seems to be too earnest of a study, to utopic in response to a televisual narrative. That is not to say that I think that the televisual narrative is powerless or ineffective, but I do wonder if Anderson is suggesting too much. On the other hand, she is perhaps suggesting too little. Of course, the dolls are us; this is not a big stretch if we consider the place of popular mediated culture in our society, as a product and reflection of ourselves. Anderson quotes Perrin saying, "We can decide who we want to be." (172)

This is not completely true in life, though. We must consider societal forces in our formation; there are limits placed on us on who we want to be. Some of Anderson's sentiments seem sappy at best, but perhaps I am simply betraying my current state of mind. What do you think?

Future History is an interesting idea. Have you ever read The Shape of Things to Come? I remember watching the black-and-white film as a teen, enjoying it, though finding it a bit long. Two questions:

Strayer writes, "Despite the show's very humanist ending, I see the Actives not as unfortunate, lost victims of the past, but as the architects of human history." (186) Care to comment on this?

She writes, "Rather than asking the age-old question, 'Do humans have free will?' the show seems to ask, 'Why are will, desire, and action only applicable categories for human subjects?" (186) She is referring to technology here, as taking an equal(?) role in the creation of history with humanity. Is this a completely preposterous notion?

As an aside, I am listening to the new David Bowie album; I like to think I know something of Bowie, as I wrote my Master's thesis on his work in the mid-1990s. (I should clarify, I wrote the thesis in 1999-2000, based on his work in 1995, and am considering revisiting it for a future book). I think the album is certainly his, but I think it is uneven. This is not that unusual; his last album Reality was like this. It does have a particularly strange aura about it, maybe because it comes after some years of inactivity. It seems dark (which I always thought was a good sound for Bowie), but dark in a strange way. These are early morning thoughts, so I will leave it there for now.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

New Media - Social Media

The article for this week is here. It was published in 2007, and so things might have changed. Feel free to express how you think the social media landscape has changed since the article was released.

How many "social media" technologies do you use (Twitter, Facebook, etc)? How long have you used these things? What do they do for you? Do you believe in the notion of “online community”?

This is something that has caused problems for some of us; some have problematized the notion of online communities as true communities. This article suggests, though, that communities online are actual communities, and that computer-mediated interactions have had positive effects on physical interactions.

“Capital” refers to having resources (money) in a market system. “Social capital” broadly refers to the resources accumulated through the relationships among people. Here it refers to the ability to bond with others on these social network systems, and it is quantified by the number of friends one might have on the network. “Maintained social capital” refers to the ability to stay connected to members of a community once the community has dissipated.

From the article: “When social capital declines, a community experiences increased social disorder, reduced participation in civic activities, and potentially more distrust among community members. Greater social capital increases commitment to a community and the ability to mobilize collective actions, among other benefits.”

How high do you think your social capital is? How many friends do you have on Facebook? If you quit participating in one of these communities, I wonder, how would your social capital fare? Would it go down? Do these online communities make it easier to maintain connection with people?

For one thing, there is less work needed to keep these connections with others open when a network like Facebook is used. The initial contact is really the only work that needs to be done; without the Facebook infrastructure (which basically keeps the connection active as long as one remains on your “friends” list), you need to work to keep that connection active. There isn’t really a real-life “friends” list that is constantly updated. Online, there are what the article writers call “weak ties,” loose social ties which are easily maintained.

There are lots of numbers and charts in this article. These stats are not the most important thing for us here. The findings are interesting, though. Facebook is overwhelmingly used to reinforce an existing relationship, rather than simply meeting new people. Maintaining a relationship with former high school friends seems to be a priority. Do you agree with these findings? What do you use Facebook for?

From the article: “Online interactions do not necessarily remove people from their offline world but may indeed be used to support relationships and keep people in contact, even when life changes move them away from each other.”