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Ready Player One

April 30, 2014 Leave a comment

In this 2013 podcast, Douglas Rushkoff makes a poignant observation on how media companies curate content and present stories. He suggests that “comic relief” stories are presented to maintain a “cultural wave” of interest. He suggests that sad stories like natural disasters or other mass casualty events create a need for lighter fare. Do we follow plane crash stories with the comments of racist farmer avoiding taxes? Might a secret recording of a racist NBA team owner satiate a public drained from foreign diplomacy or missing boats?

Rushkoff suggests there is a “cultural wave” of attention that must be contained. The visual suggested is a mass of moving water that the media stirs and quells to maintain power. Maintain the water’s height and our attention is kept piqued. Bore us and the water falls and the ocean wave is smooth as silk: peaceful yes, but a bored public is a public not interested in viewing. For the media company to maintain our attention we must be engaged: emotion is attention.

This seems to suggest our society can be unified by media. Do we unite in sharing the news? How do news stories function to create a sense of shared suffering and experience. Though only a select group of people directly experienced the Boston Marathon bombings, millions of others watched the video, considered media analysis and worked to track down suspects.

Rushkoff is a keen observer of the media and our relationship with it. He urges us to be “less consumers” and more educated users of technology. He argues that we must recognize the utility of technology and steer clear of hazardous uses. His sense of consumer use of technology is one in which the user acts as brainless cog in the machine. One wonders how these skills will be developed in future generations. As newer generations use technology their relationship with these plastic tools will be very different from generations of the past. Might we worry less in the future when less experienced users of technology are fewer?

No matter our experience, one’s list of essential skills for an educated citizen has to include digital literacy. In a world where technology plays a major role in daily life it is essential that each user understands a healthy way of using tech and the significant implications that arise with every keystroke. Though the media works to keep us interested, we are individuals with choices. To understand the system is to be an intelligent user. True power is the ability to both see the games at play and make a considered choice: Do I want to play their game or is something better out there?

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Window Glaring Glimpse

April 26, 2014 Leave a comment

In the director’s commentary for his film Don’t Look Back, D.A. Pennebaker shares a story of observing Bob Dylan backstage with Alan Price. Price had just recently left The Animals and Dylan is shown asking Price for an explanation for his exit. What follows, according to Pennebaker, is a “shared moment” between musicians in which both utilize their craft to express their inner feelings. With Dylan on guitar and Price at the piano, a sudden shift occurs and conversation becomes music. Dylan strums a blues riff while Price accompanies him with a blues piano part and vocals.

Pennebaker reflects on a particular look that Dylan gives the camera as notification that his camera was intruding. To Pennebaker the look communicates a warning, a statement saying that he was privy to a special moment.

The moment is a single example of the many facets of Dylan’s genius and mystique. Seen through the eyes of an admirer, it is difficult to perceive objective observation and subjective framing. Though known for his sparse production and journalistic-like style, Pennebaker appreciates Dylan and clearly admires his work. No matter what his opinion, the film persists as testament to craft. Glimpsing into this moment between Dylan and Price is a brief glimpse into the magic of creative work. Was Dylan telling this to Pennebaker or was some other force, perhaps the creative muse, glimpsing out towards the outsider. Odd enough that we are witness to the work of art being created through another piece of art. Via film we see the music.

Saying Nothing: “Lethal Aid”

April 15, 2014 Leave a comment

Political leaders are perhaps experts not at making policies or making important decisions but in abusing language. President Obama’s white house spokesperson used the odd phrase “lethal aid” in a press briefing today. The entire quotation, “We’re not actively considering lethal aid” came in response to a question regarding the United States assistance to Ukraine. Certainly an odd phrase, “lethal aid”, but what does it mean?

What is “lethal aid”? Rearrange the words to read “aid that is lethal”. Of course the “lethal” nature of this aid means that it’s not lethal to it user. The lethal features of such aid stem from its application to another. In this case the lethality of the aid would only be experienced by Ukrainian protestors who would likely not consider it aid. This “lethal aid” term is a perfect creation of two opposed ideas. It is the paradox perfected as it works to both convey a gentle act of strength and the violent act of killing. It is both cold and warm, boiling and frozen.

The art of politics: saying something that says nothing.

Evaluating Value

April 15, 2014 Leave a comment

Is it fair if we compare? Would a Warhol viewed in Rembrandt’s time be greeted with respect? One can wonder how Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address would have been received if, instead of that famous text he gave, he used instead the movie speech from Independence Day. Context is essential in these situations.

A work of art is reflective of its age and viewing it outside of or in disregard of these facts fails to consider essential details of the art. A painting is far more than just its ink and canvas. Contained within that painting are the background details of both its own time and ours. View a painting in 2014 and its interpretation is not the same our viewing of it in 2013. Art, just the humans who create it, are constantly in flux.

“We cannot step into the same river twice” is a statement that connects here. Linked to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus it reminds us of the constant flux of life. Wary we must be when considering our own interpretations and the objects of our thinking. Never will we reach a point of certainty.

With every day our experiences and knowledge expand and change and from these “evolutions” come a new and different person. Perhaps our age is less a measure of our time alive and more a measure of the days in which we have been adjusted. Life affects us all, but for those who seek to truly apply their thinking and experience a work of art is a prime tool of consideration.

In a painting we have a constant object on which to ponder. Generation after generation can cast its gaze on the object and engage in the work to draw conclusion. Each individual will conduct this work in different ways and reflect the society from which he or she exists. By the questions we ask and the conclusions we draw much can be learned about the times from which we stem. Art is perfect for these experiments: thinking on our thinking reveals who we are. What can be said for a culture who made popular the work of a man whose sold process was printing soup cans? Does it suggest a commercially obsessed cultural or a culture reveling in a post-war glut of capital and power. All interpretations will vary, but what matters most of all is that work is being done.

The greatest art inspires thinking and while all art makes a statement it is the audience and critic’s job to evaluate the statements. Everyone can make an artistic statement but the value of these statements is a conclusion draw by the culture. These will vary over time and herein lies the glory of great art. Shakespeare persists not because of viral marketing but because his work continues to connect with generations.

Our sense of humor may change but what often remains constant is our sense of sincerity. If the art conveys a truth and speaks to us we continue to preserve it. Passing it on and suggesting others consider it becomes both a benefit for the future audience and the artist who created the work.

Valuable art is never about money: true value lies in immortality. No dollar amount can measure that power and no leader will ever hold the strength of a great painting. Biceps be damned: true power lies in great. Immortality is real: great art will live forever and though the hands and souls who created these works will perish the works themselves continue forward for as long as their message continues to be true. In truth beauty and in beauty truth.

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