While the artist’s life may have driven everyone’s favorite eyebiter to go without HBO (a catastrophe if ever there was a catastrophe), the sometimes solitary life of a scholar-in-training has forced your 5th favorite correspondent/epistlist to spend long hours reading texts in languages he barely understands and shorter hours reading languages he doesn’t understand at all. Somewhere along the way he’s supposed to find time to think of research topics and research those topics. It is, sadly, no longer acceptable to write the paper synthesizing a couple of articles, or the paper explaining how one randomly selected type of literary criticism effects this less-randomly selected author (that these occasionally find their way to the salad should come as no surprise). But the worst part of graduate school is that I have increasingly less time to spend on things just for myself, and too often that means Salad posts have fallen by the wayside. Though my frequency might be faltering there are as of yet no plans to (again) abandon the site. Although, I must admit that it would be great to hear something from the readers. Let yourselves be known.

Otherwise, today’s topic is one of the stranger examples of an art/film. Recently we talked about Cory Arcangel’s nintendo experiments. The project that first drew me to Arcangel was his Whitney biennial piece, a Mario 3 cartridge hacked to only show the clouds while really awesome techno bump-bump-thumped around the room. One of the things that very much makes this piece “art” is its singularity. Arcangel hand hacked the Mario 3 cartridge to make it into something very much his own, and something new. Once more, we were the only ones capable of seeing it, and watched it within its own installation, its own exhibition space.

One of his follow-up projects was a Mario “short film.” Its initial conception was similar; it had a unique installation at a museum/gallery setting, and was a hand hacked cartridge. But in its afterlife, it’s found it’s way to youtube. I’m going to post part 1 within the post, and anyone who’s interested should go to youtube for the other parts.

The primary question is how has our viewing experience changed as a result of watching the movie on youtube rather than in a museum. There are a few obvious answers. 1) the piece is somehow less art-like. It no longer has the curatorial stamp, nor does it have the singularity or limitedness of art. 2) the craft element has disappeared. We’re no-longer impressed with the technical aspect of the movie, the ways in which Arcangel was able to graft new vessels into old wine. Instead, it resembles a computer program, something far more people are skilled to do. And 3) as a result, it becomes more of a movie. Though our main character is an 8-bit Mario, we expect more film-like things to happen. More movement, more progression. Arcangel presents an existentialist Mario, fine, but doesn’t necessarily explore that through any film-like interactions. Oddly, it seems to suffer because it carries itself with the pose of fine art, rather than the mixed popular-high art genre that is film.

It’s an interesting project nonetheless, and I’m interested in the opinions of others. Hopefully, notwithabang will give his thoughts from the gamer’s perspective.

Gladiators…Ready?

January 7, 2008

The return of American Gladiators aroused much excitement in me. A two-hour (!) series premiere on NBC allowed for some good roommate bonding as we cracked smart-aleck remarks at the over-the-top demeanor of Hulk Hogan, the theatrical personae of the Gladiators, and the (seemingly scripted) indefatigable optimism of the many contenders. It also left me with many questions. Questions, Gandalf would say, that need answering.

The formula and nearly all of the events remain largely the same as the original. All of the favorites are here – powerball, gauntlet, joust, assault, etc. Any point advantage gained during competition only earns the leader precious seconds of head-start time during the culminating event, The Eliminator. This is old wine in a new, very ridiculous bottle.

Perhaps a simple side by side comparison will help flesh this out. The original “Gladiators” (series began 1989) had a meat and potatoes kind of aesthetic. Dan Dierdorf and Joe Theismann, both NFL greats and Monday Night Football mainstays, were amongst the announcers. The gladiators themselves wore red, white and blue onesies that barely covered their obviously ‘roided out physiques. This included the women. The men had mullets . The 2008 reincarnation features a disembodied announcing team with raspy voices. The presence of Hulk Hogan and Laila Ali as on-the-ground correspondents adds to the surreal atmosphere and Korn-infused-light-show intensity. The gladiators themselves, however, are the biggest difference. Featuring names like Wolf, Toa, and Hellga, there is a theatricality here that was never present before. The gladiator is more in costume than anything else. It seems that meathead gym rats beating up on accountants is not sufficiently entertaining in these, the days of reality TV.
Though he is writing about the perpetual rehashing of old TV as inspiration for film, The Times‘ A.O. Scott demonstrated why our cultural moment is one in which nostalgia (sadly no solastalgia to be seen) sells by catering to both the parents who grew up on the product as well as their children. He is worth quoting at length:

“The basic, benign selling point is that parents, fondly remembering their own experience of these shows, will bring their children along to the theater, initiating the youngsters into a charmed circle of endless parody. Many of the original programs were benign satires of familiar genres and conventions…In the movies, though, that mild, occasionally thrilling sense of subversion is betrayed not only by the overblown scale but also by a tone of vulgar smirkiness that makes the grown-ups feel smarter than they should and the kids feel dumber than they need to. The adults, that is, laugh knowingly at the in-jokes and moments of pastiche, while their children chuckle at the easy physical humor and the inevitable scatology. And then the grown-ups can lecture the youngsters about how much better ā€” smarter, more innocent, more fun ā€” the originals were. Which is so frequently true that you begin to suspect it may be the point, that built-in inferiority is part of the formula.”

Though the parallel is not perfect it is useful. Does “American Gladiators” 2008 have as its target audience a new generation that did not know the original? Or does it play to those of us who enjoyed playing along with the original by building pillow forts in our houses or just by winging tennis balls at each others’ head? Perhaps the answer is: both. If the 18-30 (34? 40?) consumer bracket is really the target as it is with most things these days, I can sit with my roommate and laugh at how overblown and vulgar the new gladiator on the block truly is while some young upstart can eat up Wolf’s eye makeup and antics with a fat spoonful of irony. Or perhaps it is just that our generation has become both child and parent in the equation and that the producers of our culture are able to patronize us more than ever.

Pop-culture nostalgia is at the very root of our…cultural moment (I do like that phrase ever so much). Most glaringly, the hipster will cut and paste artifacts for the sake of cultivating irony and detachment (read:douchedom) as fashion. However, the referential quality of Family Guy relies on a mere difference of kind to achieve its goal – comedy is entirely different as a desired outcome – but there is certainly no difference in degree. Perhaps it is just the let-down from a pre-millenial foment, or the explosion of technology and the imdb-wiki-google age, but it seems that these days it is he who remembers the most obscure cartoon from their childhood or knows the most about the original upon which the movie is based is tops. As I am Dr. Haverstam I suppose you might think it strange for me to find nothing romantic in such hyper-nostalgia. Don’t get me wrong – rehashing classic themes is what Western civilization should be in the business of doing. The problem is when the half life of what is deemed classic becomes smaller and smaller and the snark-factor becomes larger and larger. What the Ciceronian says in earnest about Competition as demonstrated by his contemporaneous gladiators carries great weight. Whether that means 1989 or 89 CE I’m not entirely sure. All I know is that Wolf is a clown.

In the article “The New Yorker, a Magazine or a Club?” from Nouveaux Fragments du Puzzle American, written before a time when playboyclubhef.jpgcommunities were imagined, the author comes to the conclusion that though there is no such thing as a New Yorker club, “we may say…that all The New Yorker readers…form a virtual community which is unimaginable in the case of Time, Newsweek, and New York Magazine, the other magazine with a similar name.” This virtual community is contrasted with Playboy, a magazine that actually opened clubs around the country and thus allowed its readers to occupy a physical space with real membership and privileges of membership. Few magazines would dare to open such a club today (although Hustler is giving it a go), but perhaps one should. Now is a season when popular discussion of a film is more likely to focus on its box office prospects than on its critical merits, and a time when Americans are conflicted about whether their tastes should be reactionary (e.g. 80’s revivalism, Books, Christopher Hitchens, Yesterday’s Salad, and/or Hilary Clinton) or radical (2010’s futurism, Amazon Kindle/Sony E-Reader, Notwithabangbutawhimper, the upcoming spin-off New New Salad, and/or Barry Obama Joe Biden). Only one magazine reflects this delicate balance b/w postironicsnark-ism and our latent critical sensibilities. It is a time when we all belong to the same club: Entertainment Weekly.

Lo, such is the genius of The Shaw Report! Every week EW exploits our demands for newness with its dogged pursuit of not only the new-it-thing but the new-five-minutes-ago-thing and the new-out-thing. True, some may argue that only the cyclical demands of fashion keep this from being overly dependent on binaries, but those naysayers fail to appreciate the intertextuality at play. Though billed as an innocuous go at pop-insouciance, EW recalls the Shaw Report, the British Mandate’s inquiry into the 1929 Arab Riots in Palestine with every printing. There is no justice in the world of popularity, just as there is no justice in the Levant.

EW has also been a place where struggling authors can have their work published. Not too long ago, the magazine took a chance on an upstart long-hand writer named Stephen King, and gave him a column. Sure, they stuck his feuilleton at the back of the magazine, but the fact remains they gave him a shot. Read the rest of this entry »

Fashion (Turn to the Left!)

December 7, 2007

As a fan of four-year lettermen from solid midwestern universities where continental philosophy is surely not on the syllabi, I’ve always supported that symbolic exemplar of alliteration, the Machiavelli of marksman, Kyle Korver. Based on “values” alone, he probably would have been lbj.jpgmy first choice in the 2003 draft (yet another reason why neither Deconstruction nor post-Colonialism have any place in NBA front offices). But even I can admit that LeBron James should have gone first in the 2003 fashion festivities. From draft night on, when LeBron wore all white whilst everyone else went conservative, LeBron James has led the pack of NBA dressers.

But not everyone is in agreement on the matter of Mr. James’ fashion sense. His decision to wear a Yankees cap to game one of the New York-Cleveland ALDS caused quite the uproar around the blogosphere, even reaching the hallowed pages rss of Esquire (though the author took the “betrayed fan” angle, and did not provide style commentary). But the most egregious of all this sartorial player hating is this claim that LeBron James is a poor dresser. As our fellow wordpress blogger put it, “Heal fast, Lebron. If you had to dig in your closet for that velour mess after only 2 games, Iā€™d hate to see what you show up in next.” [see the photo at right.]

I actually attended the game in question, and, courtesy of devoted reader Jennifer (she thought she was taking ibiteyoureyes), I had seats right by the Cleveland bench, perfect for viewing the injured Mr. James hobble past. In person, LeBron’s jacket was spellbinding, the gold buttons radiant. ( It also appeared to be more suede than velour as cited in the report. ) I wasn’t the only one transfixed by James’ attire; several fans shouted out non-ironic words of encouragement, and the ever stylish Jennifer also loved the jacket. Of course, I’m hardly the first to notice the difference between first-hand experiences and photographic representations. Indeed, the world would probably be a better place if fashion bloggers everywhere read Benjamin’s “Little History of Photography” and “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (full text!) before jumping to ever snarkier conclusions.

And for those who like their sports commentary with even more literary analyses than Free Darko provides, consider In Praise of Athletic Beauty by Hans Ulrech Gumbrecht. This quote sums up his central argument quite nicely:

His central thesis, to round it out a little crudely, is that we watch sports not out of identification with the players but out of a kind of happy absorption in someone else’s ability…In other words, when we watch Joe Namath or Chad Pennington or even Eli complete a pass what we feel isn’t pathetic and vicarious but generous and authentic: we give up a bit of ourselves in order to admire another. [source]

The real fun isn’t to be found in Gumbrecht’s argument, but his excellent readings of sports and literature and his bizarre epigram thanking the Stanford Cardinal Football team, 197?-2048. Prophecies of the end abound!