Marginalized Media

I just realized that I had this draft of an almost-complete entry saved for more than a year now. (Looks like I started writing it in February ’08.)  Seeing nothing particularly objectionable in it, I’ve filled in blanks (and only one with an anachronistic reference) and am hitting submit now:

Long time no post – my life’s been kind of deadline-to-deadline for a little while now, so I’m only just getting back to the world online, or at least only just getting back to contributing to the world online.  Anyway, excuses, excuses…

Today’s NYT has an article about a new graphic novel, The Search, being used in schools in Germany to prompt discussion about the Holocaust, the Third Reich, and the lives it touched.  It’s fascinating, and you should read it, but the reason it sparked a post from me is because of one quote:

“It would not have been possible as a history text 10 years ago, when people here assumed comics were only for those who couldn’t read properly,” Ms. Harms, from Reprodukt, the comics publisher, said.

I applaud Fraulein Harms’ sentiment, and I suppose it’s best in her line to state what should be true about comics as already being so, but the truth I’ve found is that comics are still, in many people’s minds, the bastard children of literature.  Over Christmas 2006, as I was avidly tearing through the entire Sandman collection (for the first time ever, sadly), my father joked that he figured that after a certain point he assumed I’d be old enough to no longer need to read books with pictures.  I didn’t know how to express to him that I couldn’t have read those particular books when I was younger, and that even had I read them five or ten years ago, I could not have gotten as much out of them as I do now.  Yes it’s words and pictures, but there’s more there than a picture book.  (There I go, marginalizing picture books – as if Dr. Seuss isn’t art.)  I couldn’t really blame his misapprehension – most of his (and most people’s) exposure to comics is only as daily newspaper strips or pulp hero fiction with illustrations geared towards a younger audience.  But like all media, comics are more than just entertainment – they are a forum for exploration, for edification, and for artistry.  Of course I’m preaching to the choir here – I suspect almost everyone who reads this agrees that comics can be works of art and works of literature which are only enriched, not cheapened by the crossing of media.

But the popular marginalization of comics as an art form still exists, and it exists for other media forms.  As my friend Darius observed earlier this month, musicals and video games have it hard, too – both are perceived to be “light” media, suitable for entertainment, not enlightenment or catharsis.  In my personal experience, I’ve found that in America, Bollywood musicals definitely carry this stigma – intensified by the fact that many people who enjoy Bollywood movies (here and in India) enjoy then for the silliness and shun the deeper, heavier entries into the genre.  People forget that for every Spiderman, there’s a Maus.  For every South Pacific, there’s a Les Mis.  For every Quake 3 there’s a Braid.  More to the point, for every Godfather, there are a dozen mindless, explosion-filled popcorn movies, and for each To Kill a Mockingbird there are Harlequin romances and John Grisham novels, but this doesn’t make anybody think that movies and books are incapable of moving us in a way that is greater than the superficial.

Picture and word can both exalt the soul – why can’t they together?  Music, speech and dance can each rend our hearts – why not all three?  Story, sport, gameplay, and cinema can show us the very nature and rhythms of life, why shouldn’t their fusion?


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Movie Review: Spiderman 3

Spiderman 3I went to see Spiderman 3 the day it opened. A longtime fan of the comic franchise, I’ve been more or less amused by the film versions to date. What follows is my reactions to the latest installment. Warning thar be (minor) spoilers below:

Overall rating: ** (out of 5)

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Ann Coulter’s Godless

Dust Jacket of Godless by Ann CoulterI was in Barnes and Noble the other day, and from a distance, I saw the cover of Ann Coulter’s newest book, Godless.
I don’t have a lot of love for Coulter, but I know she or the people packaging her, are very good – they sell grandstanding and posturing in a way that they could never sell reasoned or sensible. She says the most egregious, obviously idiotic and unthinkable things and it sells, because she says the unreasonable things a certain segment of the population wishes they could say, and which another (hopefully larger) segment of the population finds compellingly repellent.

So, I ask you, how the hell did she come up with the cover for this book? From a distance, all you see is “Ann Coulter [scribble scribble]” and a photo of Miss Coulter herself leaning on what appears to be a nice big label. Maybe she needs new image management. Maybe it’s intentional – maybe they’re playing up her negative reputation among the thinking masses. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s proof that the media package that is Ann Coulter is sheer parody. Imagine it. Could it be, I wonder, that Ann Coulter is a liberal satirist who has been trapped in the hell of having her lampoon of the worst of the other camp be taken seriously, and worse, turn lucrative? Surely you can sometimes see the glint of sadness in her eyes through the books signings and talk show appearances — a glimmer of repentance, perhaps? Or a plea for escape?

Then again, maybe she just is the worst of that camp and in these day and age, public opinion has given her the bullhorn. Maybe she’s just her own parody.

The Substance of Things

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Alias Canceled – Tens Outraged

So, I know a lot of people who may or may not read this may be upset about this, but Alias was finally given the axe (use if you don’t have an account…)

It was bugging me that ABC will pick up a show like Alias and let it run for 5 seasons, while Fox will option shows like Firefly and Arrested Development and kill them all too prematurely. However, upon reflection, NBC kept West Wing alive through at least seven seasons, and now look at what’s happened to it. It just seems to me that short series are able to pack all their quality in high concentration. This is true almost across the board – in movies, books, TV shows – a good series that’s kept short is a lot less likely to run dry.

Think of the examples:
Harry Potter vs. The Hardy Boys, or Nancy Drew, or The Boxcar Children
Star Wars the real movies vs. Star Wars including the extra lesser trilogy

OTOH, the good Star Trek series did well with their 7-year schedules, but that’s in large part because it typically took them 3 seasons to really hit their stride.

In any case, I’ve stopped feeling upset about the cancelation of Arrested Development, with the knowledge that all good things must come to an end, and I’d rather they stopped while still being good, rather than faded into mediocrity.

By way of postscript, I’d like to end with a choice extract sure to get the goat of my Alias-loving friends:

But, in a nutshell, what they said was:
“We’re devastated to announce the end of the longest running unsuccessful prime-time series on television.”
“Alias” is, let us not forget, the lowest-rated show ever to air after the Super Bowl.
And yet, as “Law & Order” creator Dick Wolf so grumpily — and yet so accurately — pointed out at the most recent TV press tour, “Alias” got more hype per rating point than any other show in TV history.


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