Close reading works because power is fractal.
Zoom in: microstruggles of text.
Zoom out: macrostruggles of world.
100% resolution = the struggle being played out in your bodymind.
Close reading works because power is fractal.
Zoom in: microstruggles of text.
Zoom out: macrostruggles of world.
100% resolution = the struggle being played out in your bodymind.
My first book, Electric Dreams: Computers in American Culture (NYU Press, 2005) is now available on Kindle and in the epub format. You can also use this page to find a library near you with a copy. For a taste of the book, you can check out the introduction and excerpts on Apple’s “1984” ad and simulation games. More info about the book, including links to reviews, here.
This week the digital humanities journal In Media Res will be posting a series of short pieces I organized on pop music. All the contributors are old friends who worked with me in college on the zine Nadine. Today some of us are academics, others journalists, editors and novelists. Here’s the publication schedule – I’ll come back and add links as each piece goes live.
“Tickling the Ivory Towers” by yours truly. It’s about academia, rock criticism, and Madonna.
“Words, Words, Words” by Gavin Edwards. Gavin is a Contributing Editor at Rolling Stone, the author of numerous books on pop music, and one of my oldest friends – we met in high school when I loaned him my copy of the Bob Dylan boxed set Biograph. His contribution is an extension of his ongoing project to chronicle every minute of the 1988 MTV New Year’s Eve Top 100 Videos countdown, which I primarily remember for the innumerable commercials for the Kevin Kline flop The January Man.
“Hide Your Kids! Hide Your Wife! Hide Your Husband!” by James Hannaham. James is the author of the acclaimed novel God Says No (McSweeney’s) and one of the founders of the performance group Elevator Repair Service. He’s written for The Village Voice and Salon, and teaches at the Pratt Institute. His piece is on the “Bed Intruder Song” viral video.
“… Or Other Visual Media” by Marc Weidenbaum. Marc is the editor of the ambient/electronica music website disquiet and a contributor to Nature. He was an editor at Tower Records’ late, lamented Pulse! magazine, as well as the groundbreaking American version of the omnibus manga magazine Shonen Jump. His piece is on videogame music.
“Free and Freer: Wikileaks and ViCKi LEEKX” by Ivan Kreilkamp. Ivan is Associate Professor of English at Indiana University. He’s the author of Voice and the Victorian Storyteller. He’s also on the cover of the Lemonheads’ Creator holding a box of Cheerios. His piece is on M.I.A.’s mixtape tribute to Wikileaks.
I’m going to try to keep the conversation going all week on Twitter through the hashtag #IMR, culminating in a live tweet chat Sunday night during the Grammies. Join us!
Quora is a new social media service that’s organized around questions and answers. So far, it’s pretty intriguing. The proto-web of the 1980s – Gopher, FTP sites, BBSs – was built around collectively-authored FAQs. I’m sure Google, Bing and Facebook all find that a most web searches are awkward attempts to convey in Boolean terms what you’d convey to a human in the form of a question. Ask Jeeves has always failed at natural-language processing, just like the giant mainframe EMERAC in the 1950s Hepburn/Tracy comedy Desk Set.
IBM is still hard at work at Watson, a computer smart enough to win on Jeopardy. Questionable PR move – everybody roots against Deep Blue. HAL was more sympathetic, and IBM disowned him. See Electric Dreams for more on the history of computer advertising.
But Quora takes a different track, drawing on the crowdsourcing model of Wikipedia to develop one global database of FAQs. Further, it doesn’t attempt to iron out differences of opinion as Wikiprose demands, but rather embraces a diversity of voices and relies on the crowd itself to serve as collective gatekeeper by rating each answer.
Who knows where this will go. But we may be seeing the formation of the next Google. Or Facebook. Or Pets.com – who knows. Ideally, it’ll become the next Wikipedia – one which embraces crowdsourcing, but also rewards both expertise and diversity, while engaging the crowd as both producer and gatekeeper.
So, I figure I might as well try to get in on the ground floor, or at least as close to the ground as you can get without ever having lived in California, pitched a venture capitalist or attended SXSW.
Here’s my answer to an ongoing discussion on Quora: Can information be empowering, and why?
The distinction between information and knowledge is like that between database and algorithm. (Also content v form, superstructure v base, syntagm v paradigm, & practice v theory, and logos v mythos.) Information without a contextualizing theoretical (and inevitably ideological) framework is just “data smog” or bloatware. We all have access to more information – in terms of pure bits – than any citizens of any society ever before us. Does that make us more powerful? Not necessarily, as long as we still remain trapped within ideological blinders, stale frames & obsolete paradigms. Information becomes powerful – revolutionary, in fact – when it inspires and fuels paradigm shifts: from feudalism to capitalism, from monarchy to democracy, and hopefully from postmodernity/late-capitalism/corporate-globalization/scientific-rationality/phallogocentrism to transmodernity/postcapitalism/the-commons/dialectics&alchemy&mythos&logos
I also started a new question:
I’m developing a new media studies class for undergraduate media studies majors. In small 8-15 student seminars I teach game design by playing and then discussing board, card and party games like TransAmerica, Apples to Apples and Werewolf. In large lecture classes so far I’ve assigned students to download and play the World of Warcraft demo, I’ve set up presentations where students demo games for the class, and I’ve given students the option of writing about games on their final essays. But I miss the opportunities for playtesting and examining strategy tweaks and rules variations that I had in the old seminars.
On Quora you can choose to “follow” other users, just like Twitter. If you let it, Quora will scan your Facebook friends to find people to follow.
Hi Quora Followers –
I’m sending this post to let you know I’ve now both answered an existing question and asked a new one.
I answered the question: “Can information be empowering, and why?” If you find the answer helpful, please consider voting it a thumbs-up, or whatever they call the little up-pointing triangle to the left of each answer.
I also asked my first question: “How do you teach game studies in a 30-student classroom?” If you have any thoughts on the subject, please consider answering. And if you check out the posted answers, please vote for your favorites.
I’m brand-new at this, but already intrigued. Thanks for the follows!
The complete Ted’s Movie Database, featuring the Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead rating system, is now back online. It’s part of the new Lists section, which includes year-end Top 10s and decade-end Top 50s, syllabi, comprehensive exam reading lists, old Village Voice Pazz & Jop critics’ poll ballots, and now TMDB. Follow the links from the navigation bar, or click here to go directly to TMDB.
My movie rankings have used the DTMTBD system ever since I first unveiled it in the fanzine Nadine in 1992. I keep a complete database of every movie I’ve seen using Movie Collector by collectorz.com, sorted by year and DTMTBD rating. It’s proven an invaluable resource for syllabus ideas, zeitgeist reminders, and producing a feeling of accomplishment out of sitting through anything. (I had an online version of my database on the old website; look for it soon on the new TedFriedman.com.)
My premise is that the most typical, amiably professional Hollywood genre piece is a good milestone against which to compare other films’ successes and failures. Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead is my line in the sand: anything better is a treat, anything worse is time wasted. I wrote back in 1992 that going to see Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead itself still counted as a good time, since going to a movie theater and eating popcorn is an inherently fun activity. 18 years later, either I’ve raised my standards or the theaters have gotten worse. Today I’d certainly regret hauling to a theater just to see Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead, just as Date Night was a disappointment. (We actually drove out to see it on a Thursday night when NBC was all reruns. It was cute, but a definite cut below a lineup of Community, Parks & Recreation, The Office and 30 Rock. Not even close, actually.)
I admit I haven’t seen most of the big Oscar contenders, including The Fighter (no interest), The King’s Speech (mild interest), or The Social Network (Aaron Sorkin grew up in Scarsdale and I believe went to SHS even did Scarsdale Summer Music Theater, while Zuckerberg’s dad is an orthodontist in Westchester. It feels too much like a high school reunion). But here’s what I thought of what I saw.
The Best Movies of the Year
2. Please Give
Much Better Than Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead
5. Easy A
7. Toy Story 3
Better Than Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead
11. The Other Guys
13. The Expendables
About As Good As Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead
14. Date Night
15. Iron Man 2
Media and Popular Culture
Film 4810, Spring 2011
Mondays & Wednesdays 1:30-2:45, Aderhold 303
Office: 738 One Park Place South
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: http://twitter.com/tedfriedman
Popular culture is often described as “escapist” entertainment. But this dismissal evades some very serious questions. What are we escaping? Where are we escaping to? Does everybody go to the same place? How might the trip affect us, once we get back? This class looks at the social consequences and political implications of mass mediated entertainment. Its goal is to develop the theoretical tools and critical perspective to interrogate the TV shows, commercials, films, books, songs, videos, and web sites that saturate our lives.
The coursepack is sold by Bestway Copy Center, 18 Decatur Street SE (on the first floor of One Park Place South). Some readings are available online through the links provided. Links to additional optional readings will be distributed via the Twitter hashtag #popcult.
Unit I: Introducing Cultural Studies
1/19 Introduction: What Is Culture?
1/24 Barbie Nation: Culture as Struggle and Negotiation
Ted Friedman, “Introduction,” Electric Dreams: Computers and American Culture:
Watch The Century of Self online:
1/26 Culture as Sentimental Education
Clifford Geertz, “Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight”:
In Media Res theme week, Sports & Media: Football/Futbol:
1/31 Paris Is Burning: Subcultures and Mass Culture
Dick Hebdige, “The Function of Subculture”: http://www.kirkarts.com/wiki/images/a/af/Hebdige_subculture.pdf
Malcolm Gladwell, “The Coolhunt”: http://gladwell.com/1997/1997_03_17_a_cool.htm
Gladwell, “The Science of Shopping”: http://gladwell.com/1996/1996_11_04_a_shopping.htm
Unit II: The Circuit of Culture
2/2 Regulation and Production
Thomas Schatz, “New Hollywood, New Millennium,” from Film Theory and Contemporary New Media, ed. Warren Buckland (Routledge, 2009). (CP)
Chris Anderson, “The Long Tail”: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.10/tail.html
Ellen Seiter, “Semiotics, Structuralism and Television,” from Channels of Discourse, Reassembled, ed. Robert Allen (UNC Press, 1992). (CP)
Roland Barthes, “Myth Today”: http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~marton/myth.html
2/9 Audience, Identity and Meaning
Barbara Ehrenreich et al, “Beatlemania: Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” from The Adoring Audience: Fan Culture and Popular Media, ed. Lisa Lewis (Routledge, 1992). (CP)
Ted Friedman, “Myth, the Numious and Cultural Studies,” Flow 10.05, August 6, 2009:
In Media Res theme week, “Science Fiction and Fandom,” September 6-10, 2010:
Unit III: Culture and Power
2/14 Reading the Romance: Cultural Capital
Janice Radway, excerpts from Reading the Romance (UNC Press, 1984). (CP)
John Fiske, “The Cultural Economy of Fandom,” from The Adoring Audience. (CP)
Go to a bookstore. Browse for, buy, and read a romance novel.
2/16 Ideology, Hegemony and Resistance
James Kavanaugh, “Ideology,” from Critical Terms for Literary Study, ed. Frank Lentricchia and Thomas McLaughlin (U Chicago Press, 1995).
John Fiske, “British Cultural Studies and Television,” from Channels of Discourse, Reassembled.
Stuart Hall, “Encoding, Decoding,” from CCCS Stencilled Paper 7:
2/21 Ultimate Fighting Champsionship
In Media Res theme week, “Professional Wrestling,” August 16-20, 2010:
2/23 Color Adjustment: Racial Formation
Omi and Winant, excerpt from Racial Formation in the United States (Routledge 1994). (CP)
2/28 Spring Break – No Class
3/2 Spring Break – No Class
Ariel Levy, “Raunch Culture” and “The Future that Never Happened,” from Female Chauvinist Pigs (Free Press, 2006). (CP)
Alexander Doty, “There’s Something Queer Here,” from Making Things Perfectly Queer (U Minnesota Press, 1993).
3/9 Mad Men
Unit IV: New Media Futures
3/14 Understanding Comics
Scott McCloud, excerpt from Understanding Comics (Kitchen Sink Press, 1993).
Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield, Freakangels: http://www.freakangels.com/?p=23
(read through at least Volume 1)
3/16 Adult Swim
3/21 Game Studies
Ralph Koster, excerpts from A Theory of Fun for Game Design (Paraglyph Press, 2004).
McKenzie Wark, GAM3R 7H3ORY: http://www.futureofthebook.org/gamertheory/ (read “Agony: on The Cave,” page cards 1-25)
Ted Friedman, “The Play Paradigm: What Media Studies Can Learn from Game Studies,” Flow 9.03 (December 1, 2008): http://flowtv.org/2008/12/the-play-paradigm-what-media-studies-can-learn-from-game-studies-ted-friedman-georgia-state-university/
Ted Friedman, “Strat-O-Matic and the Baseball Tarot: Sense and Synchronicity in Sports and Games,” Flow 9.07 (February 20, 2009): http://flowtv.org/2009/02/strat-o-matic-and-the-baseball-tarot-sense-and-synchronicity-in-sports-and-games-ted-friedman-georgia-state-university-atlanta/
In Media Res theme week, “Gaming,” December 6-10, 2010: http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/imr/theme-week/2010/49/gaming-december-6-10-2010
Play World of Warcraft, Farmville, or any other MMORPG or social game of your choice.
Free 10-day trial for WoW at http://www.worldofwarcraft.com.
3/23 Game Demos
3/28 Social Media
Emily Nussbam, “Say Everything,” New York, January 15, 2009:
Ted Friedman, “Tweeting the Dialectic of Technological Determinism,” Flow 10.02, June 27, 2009:
3/30 New Media Demos
Unit V: The Politics of Culture
Benedict Anderson, from Imagined Communities (CP)
Arjun Appadurai, from Modernity at Large (CP)
4/6 Global Formats
Watch Naomi Klein, “Addicted to Risk,” online:
Watch The Story of Stuff online: http://storyofstuff.com/
4/13 Late Night TV
Donna Haraway, “Manifesto for Cyborgs” from Simians, Cyborgs and Women (Routledge 1990).CP
4/20 New Media Demos
4/25 Ecocultural Studies
David Abram, “The Ecology of Magic,” from The Spell of the Sensuous (Vintage, 1996):
Scott London, “The Ecology of Magic: An Interview with David Abram”:
Ted Friedman, “The Politics of Magic,” Scope 14 (June 2009):
Ted Friedman, “Vertigo,” Flow 10.08 (September 19, 2009):
Take a walk in a park.
Take-Home Final Exam due 5/2
The class assignments add up to total of 100 possible points. Your final grade for the class is determined by adding up your grades for each assignment, adjusting for attendance, then applying the final number to the following scale:
A 100-93 B+ 89-88 C+ 79-78 D 70-65
A- 92-90 B 87-83 C 77-73 F 64-0
B- 82-80 C- 72-70
Take-Home Midterm – 45 points
The take-home midterm will require you to relate concepts from the readings and lectures to the films screened for the first three class units. Due in class March 17.
Take-Home Final – 45 points
The take-home final will be structured just like the midterm, covering units 4-7. Due May 5.
Presentation – 10 points
You will sign up with two partners to research the creators, economics, and audience contexts of a television program or video game. You will then choose a sample episode or gameplay experience, present your research to the class, screen the episode/game for the class, then participate in the class discussion. More information will follow in a separate handout.
As Woody Allen put it, “80 percent of success is showing up.” It’s less than that in this formula, but the bottom line is that you can’t contribute to the class if you’re not there. You’re allowed one unexcused absence for the semester. After that, each unexcused absence subtracts one point from your grade total. Excused absences include medical and family emergencies. You will be expected to schedule any employment responsibilities around this class, or accept the consequences of missed classes for your grade. If you do need to miss a class, please contact me ahead of time, and make arrangements to catch up on missed material.
Re-Writes and Makeup Tests
Opportunities for revision and improvement will be available for the midterm and presentations. In addition, I will look at optional drafts of the final submitted on or before the deadline listed above.
Late and Unsubmitted Papers
Late papers will be marked off by ½ point for every day overdue unless an extension is agreed upon before the due date. No work can be accepted after the deadline for the take-home final. Any unsubmitted papers will receive a 0. Likewise, any unanswered exam questions will receive a 0. So, if you answer only 2 out of 3 required exam questions, you will get a 0 on the third question.
Students withdrawing on or before the midsemester point will receive a W provided they are passing the course. Students who withdraw after the midsemester point will not be eligible for a W except in cases of hardship. If you withdraw after the midsemester point, you will be assigned a WF, except in those cases in which (1) hardship status is determined by the office of the dean of students because of emergency, employment, or health reasons, and (2) you are passing the course.
Incompletes may be given only in special hardship cases. Incompletes will not be used merely for extending the time for completion of course requirements.
Changes to the Syllabus
This syllabus provides a general plan for the course. Deviations may be necessary.
1. Bill Simmons, The BS Report
2. Marc Maron, What the Fuck
3. Jeffrey Kripal, Impossible Talk
4. Masterworks Broadway Podcast Theatre
5. Terri Gross, Fresh Air
6. John Hodgman, Judge John Hodgman
7. Robert X. Cringely, I, Cringely
8. Dan Savage, Savage Love Podcast
9. Doug Benson, Doug Loves Movies
10. Doug Henwood, Behind the News
11. Alex Tsakiris, Skeptiko
12. Jon Suintres, Word Balloon
13. Tami Simon, Sounds True: Insights from the Edge
14. The Guardian, World Cup Daily & Football Weekly
15. Adam Carolla, The Adam Carolla Show
Ineligible but recommended:
Originally posted December 29, 2009
This was the decade in which TV became America’s most exciting creative medium. When the most compelling auteurs were not filmmakers, but showrunners like Joss Wheedon, David Simon, David Chase and Matthew Weiner. When fandom became a matter not just of accepting the limitations of a mass-produced format, but celebrating the novelistic possibilities of serialized storytelling. When hundreds of channels meant, at least some of the time, true diversity. Even as the music industry tanked and the movies got bigger and dumber, TV – at least the best TV – got smarter. How long it’ll last is up for grabs. But this decade has at least demonstrated that there’s an audience out there for great weekly storytelling.
Below is a list of my favorite TV shows of the decade. For shows that started in the 1990s (like Buffy), I only considered the episodes that ran in the 2000s.
1 – The Wire
2 – The Office (US version)
3 – Lost
4 – Chappelle’s Show
5 – Lucky Louie
6 – Breaking Bad
7 – The Colbert Report
8 – Battlestar Galactica
9 – Mad Men
10 – Top Chef
11 – Flight of the Conchords
12 – 30 Rock
13 – Big Love
14 – Deadwood
15 – Buffy the Vampire Slayer
16 – The Gilmore Girls
17 – Insomniac
18 – Generation Kill
19 – Project Greenlight
20 – Sex and the City
21 – Futurama
22 – Curb Your Enthusiasm
23 – The Sopranos
24 – The Daily Show
25 – Undeclared
26 – Dollhouse
27 – True Blood
28 – Hey Monie
29 – The Powerpuff Girls
30 – Parks and Recreation
31 – The Amazing Race
32 – The PJs
33 – Project Runway
34 – Pardon the Interruption
35 – Weeds
36 – CMT Crossroads
37 – No Reservations
38 – Best Week Ever
39 – MXC
40 – Cover Wars
41 – Human Giant
42 – Michael and Michael Have Issues
43 – King of the Hill
44 – Celebrity Poker Showdown
45 – Ultimate Film Fanatic
46 – Beat the Geeks
47 – World Poker Tour
48 – South Park
49 – Yo Gabba Gabba
50 – The Guild
Originally posted December 29, 2009.
As I argue here, this has been the decade of fantasy film, led by Pan’s Labrynth, Lord of the Rings, and Spirited Away. It’s also marked the return of ribald comedy, led by the auteur of arrested adolescence, Judd Apatow. And it’s seen the emergence of a cohort of Mexican directors who bring a new global vision to Hollywood. Childen of Men is to our moment what Blade Runner and The Matrix were to theirs: an extrapolation that tells the truth about right now. Most remarkably, it has the courage to be an SF film that doesn’t fetishize technology or violence – a temptation to which both the other films succumb. Instead, we have a hero who holds a baby but never a gun, and that beautiful final scene of a boat at sea, bobbing in the water, attached to no country. (Then, when we’re ready for some tech & violence, we can turn to Clive Owen’s other classic, Shoot ‘Em Up, which demystifies the Hollywood hero by turning him into a live-action Bugs Bunny.)
1 – Children of Men
2 – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
3 – Best in Show
4 – Pan’s Labrynth
5 – Brokeback Mountain
6 – City of God
7 – Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
8 – Finding Nemo
9 – The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
10 – Kill Bill Volumes 1 & 2
11 – Rivers and Tides
12 – Spirited Away
13 – Memento
14 – The Aristocrats
15 – Requiem for a Dream
16 – Mulholland Drive
17 – Grizzly Man
18 – The Bourne Trilogy
19 – Bad Santa
20 – The Girlfriend Experience
21 – The Wrestler
22 – The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill
23 – Ratatouille
24 – Knocked Up
25 – Wall-E
26 – Startup.com
27 – About a Boy
28 – Old School
29 – Control Room
30 – Little Miss Sunshine
31 – In the Realms of the Unreal
32 – Down with Love
33 – Bend It Like Beckham
34 – I Heart Huckabee’s
35 – Sideways
36 – Moulin Rouge
37 – Lost in Translation
38 – Shoot ‘Em Up
39 – The 40 Year Old Virgin
40 – Casino Royale
41 – The Barbarian Invasions
42 – Hustle and Flow
43 – Crank
44 – Dodgeball
45 – Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle
46 – School of Rock
47 – Sin City
48 – Borat
49 – Zoolander
50 – American Dreamz
Originally posted December 30, 2009
This was a mixed decade for comics. On the one hand, superhero comics rebounded from the “grim and gritty” cliches of the 1990s to newfound creative relevance, thanks largely to the savvy of Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada, who recruited writers like Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Millar, Robert Kirkman and Warren Ellis from the indie world and let them run wild on the Marvel universe. Bendis proved to have the best ear for dialogue in the history of the word balloon, and Quesada oversaw a series of crossover events that actually managed to deepen rather than exploit the mythos.
At the same time, the indie bubble of the 1990s popped, as the entire American comics infrastructure shrank in response to overspeculation, insularity, and new competition from manga and the internet. A new generation of personal artists never emerged to follow pioneers like Peter Bagge, Daniel Clowes, the Hernandez Brothers, Chester Brown, Seth, and Joe Matt. Or if they did, they never made it to my comics shop – which these days is a website, since the three stores closest to me all closed down by the middle of the decade.
By the end of the decade, it appears the industry is finally responding to these transformations. Several of my favorite comics, including Freakangels, Bayou, and PVP, are available for free online (although I still prefer to read them in ink). The early attempt to turn Watchmen into a “motion comic” in advance of the movie was a disaster, but the adaptation of Spiderwoman is much more promising. And the widespread recognition for works like Fun House, Epileptic, and Persepolis suggests the space for sequential art outside the comics ghetto may be growing.
Not that there’s anything wrong with the margins. As science fiction began to gain critical respectability in the 1960s and 70s, some SF authors railed, “keep science fiction in the gutter where it belongs!” Similarly, there’s a legitimate danger that the recent superhero boom – capped by Disney’s purchase of Marvel – will dull the critical edge that Quesada, Bendis, and their cohort worked so hard to sharpen. But with great responsibility comes great power. Hopefully, the new creative opportunities opening up for comics artists will give them the room to explore even fresher visions. The recent explosion of work by the astonishing Warren Ellis for indie publisher Avatar demonstrates what can happen when a writer bursting with ideas wins full creative freedom, and finds the collaborators who can bring his visions to life.
Here’s my list of the top 50 comics of the decade. I’ve lumped together spinoffs like New Avengers, Mighty Avengers, and Dark Avengers, as long as they’re from the same writer. I’ve listed the primary artsists who worked with each writer, using front cover credits to decide whether to include inkers and colorists, and skipping fill-in artists. Foreign comics were considered if they were translated into English in this decade.
1 – Epileptic, David B.
2 – The Walking Dead, Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn
3 – Y the Last Man, Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra
4 – Planetary, Warren Ellis and John Cassady
5 – Buddha, Osamu Tezuka
6 – Stray Bullets, David Lapham
7 – Alias/The Pulse, Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos
8 – Fun Home, Alison Bechdel
9 – Box Office Poison, Alex Robinson
10 – Wolverine: Old Man Logan, Mark Millar and Steve McNiven
11 – Freakangels, Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield
12 – Black Hole, Charles Burns
13 – Desolation Jones, Warren Ellis and JH Williams
14 – Promethea, Alan Moore and JH Williams
15 – Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi
16 – The Book of Genesis Illustrated, R. Crumb
17 – Daredevil, Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev
18 – Dykes to Watch Out For, Alison Bechdel
19 – DC: The New Frontier, Darwyn Cooke
20 – Breakfast After Noon, Andi Watson
21 – Top 10, Alan Moore, Gene Ha, and Zander Cannon
22 – Powers, Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming
23 – New/Mighty/Dark Avengers, Brian Michael Bendis and various artists
24 – Fables, Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham and Steve Leialoha
25 – Fell, Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith
26 – Bayou, Jeremy Love and Patrick Morgan
27 – Hate/Hate Annual, Peter Bagge
28 – Pride of Baghdad, Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon
29 – Kick-Ass, Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.
30 – 50 Days of Night, Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith
31 – DMZ, Brian Wood and Ricardo Burchielli
32 – Northlanders, Brian Wood and various artists
33 – Parker: The Hunter, Darwyn Cooke and Richard Stark
34 – La Perdida, Jessica Abel
35 – Eightball, Daniel Clowes
36 – Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga, Koji Aihara and Kentaro Takekuma
37 – Doktor Sleepless, Warren Ellis and Ivan Rodriguez
38 – Reinventing Comics, Scott McCloud
39 – Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea, Guy Delisle
40 – Conan, Kurt Busiek, Cary Nord and Robert E. Howard
41 – Marvel Zombies, Robert Kirkman and Sean Phillips
42 – Astonishing X-Men, Joss Wheedon and John Cassady
43 – PvP, Scott Kurz
44 – Local, Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly
45 – Mouse Guard, David Petersen
46 – Courtney Crumrin, Ted Naifeh
47 – 100 Bullets, Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso
48 – Bonndocks, Aaron McGruder
49 – Ultimate Marvel Team-Up, Brian Michael Bendis and various artists
50 – Dork Tower, John Kovalic
Originally Posted December 31, 2009
Music became less and less important to me over the course of this decade. At the beginning of the 2000s, I was still dabbling in professional rock criticism; by its end, I was having trouble coming up with ten 2009 releases I enjoyed beginning to end.
I know, it’s a cliche for old farts like me to stop listening to new music and just replay their golden oldies. But I didn’t really retreat into nostalgia; rather, I kept discovering older albums I found more compelling than the new stuff. The three records I’ve listened to the most in the past few years were all old, but new to me: the Steve Reich Ensemble’s Music for 18 Musicians, Joni Mitchell’s Hejira, and Orchestra Beobab’s Pirate’s Choice. I also just spent less time listening to music period. After troubles with vertigo early in the decade, I stopped listening to music while working at the computer, and discovered the virtues of mindfulness over multitasking. While driving, I found podcasts and books on tape more consistently engaging.
I still try as much music as ever – more, actually, since eMusic and Lala make it so cheap to check out new albums. That may be part of the problem – an info glut, in which my iPhone clogs up with dozens of releases to which I never get around to giving more than cursory attention. I bought into the trade-off from vinyl’s warmth to digital’s portability, and now I wonder if I’ve shortchanged myself in the process – nothing on my iPhone sounds nearly as good as my vinyl copy of In Rainbows. I’m trying to even things out a little by at least ripping my old CDs uncompressed. But it’s hard to give up the convenience of instant $5 MP3 downloads – even when I get the feeling the compression is sucking the soul out of the new Dinosaur Jr. It may be time to go totally analog. If only I could fit my turntable in my car . . .
In any case, I’m clearly out of step with this generation’s aesthetics. I grew up on the old-fashioned album as a coherent artistic statement, and I still love the experience of listening to a single record – or, more atavistic yet, album side! – from beginning to end. But when I try to listen to new releases that way, they don’t hold up, and I realize the problem’s not just them, but me – they weren’t built for that kind of listening practice. Bands expect you to pick and choose your favorite cuts, then put your whole library on shuffle. But I rarely find that algorithmic experience satisfying – for me, it leads less to serendipity than to impatience, as I keep wondering if I’ll like the next song better than the current one.
I’m sure some of this past decade’s music will eventually grow on me. It took me years to warm to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot – it wasn’t until I heard the live Wilco record, Kicking Television, that I realized how much life there was in those songs that initially seemed so cold. Likewise, I was late to Radiohead because I never liked OK Computer – although when I finally heard Kid A, it grabbed me from the first cut. Maybe a few years from now Animal Collective will similarly speak to me – but for now, even after repeated attempts, I just don’t get the fuss, and I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of other listeners feel the same, but are afraid of crossing the Pitchfork mafia. I do see the point of Grizzly Bear and TV on the Radio, but neither band has ever grabbed me for an entire album. Although maybe they would if MP3 wasn’t subjecting my ears to continual sonic fatigue.
In this midst of this midlife sonic crisis, there were still a handful of artists who made music I couldn’t get enough of. Not only Wilco and Radiohead, but also Hem, LCD Soundsystem, Calexico, and Stephen Malkmus. And Axl Rose, who made the great lost guitar-rock record of the decade. Future generations will rediscover Chinese Democracy for the masterpiece of power balladry it is. Or they won’t, and it’ll be their loss.
Below, my top 50 albums of the decade. Tomorrow, I’ll post a separate list of my top 50 songs.
1 Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
2 Radiohead, In Rainbows
3 LCD Soundsystem, The Sound of Silver
4 Daft Punk, Discovery
5 Beck, Sea Change
6 Hem, Rabbit Songs
7 Bebel Gilberto, Bebel Gilberto
8 Bob Dylan, Love and Theft
9 Badly Drawn Boy, About a Boy
10 Calexico, Feast of Wire
11 M83, Before the Dawn Heals Us
12 Broken Social Scene, You Forgot It in People
13 The National, Boxer
14 Radiohead, Kid A
15 Guns N’ Roses, Chinese Democracy
16 The Langley School Music Project, Innocence & Despair
17 Wilco, A Ghost Is Born
18 Loudon Wainwright III, Here Come the Choppers
19 The Cast of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Once More with Feeling
20 Stephen Malkmus, Stephen Malkmus
21 Norah Jones, Come Away With Me
22 Stephen Malkmus, Real Emotional Trash
23 Hem, Funnel Cloud
24 Wilco, Sky Blue Sky
25 Jayhawks, Rainy Day Music
26 Zero 7, Simple Things
27 Antony and the Johnsons, I Am a Bird Now
28 Nick Lowe, The Convincer
29 Kanye West, The College Dropout
30 The White Stripes, White Blood Cells
31 Arcade Fire, Funeral
32 Fountains of Wayne, Welcome Interstate Managers
33 Jens Lekman, Night Falls over Kortedala
34 Matthew Dear, Asa Breed
35 NERD, In Search Of . . .
36 Stereophonics, You Gotta Go There to Come Back
37 Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes
38 Kanye West, Late Registration
39 D’Angelo, Voodoo
40 Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, Come Poop With Me
41 Death Cab for Cutie, Narrow Stairs
42 Yeasayer, All Hour Cymbals
43 Outkast, The Love Below
44 Lambchop, Is a Woman
45 Various Artists, O Brother Where Art Thou
46 Son Lux, At War With Walls and Mazes
47 Suzanne Vega, Beauty & Crime
48 M83, Saturdays=Youth
49 Randy Newman, Harps and Angels
50 MC Paul Barman, It’s Very Stimulating
Originally posted December 31, 2009
This has been the hardest of all my lists to put together. With the death of Top 40 radio and of music on MTV, it’s become harder and harder to recapture the rush of discovering a great pop song; what used to happen every couple of weeks now only comes a few times a year. On such a limited supply, it’s hard not to OD on the few knockouts when they do come around. I can still appreciate all the songs on this list, but I can’t pretend I still love them the way I did when I first discovered them.
While this list includes my most ephemeral pleasures, it’s also got more explicit political content than any of my other lists. Notoriously, filmmakers had enormous difficulty crafting their outrage into compelling narrative in this decade. The most successful commentaries were oblique: Guillermo del Toro’s fantasy, Alphonso Cuaron’s and Ron Moore’s science fiction. The one great novel I read about the oil wars, Gary Shteyngart’s Absurdistan, was, well, absurd, in the tradition of Dr. Strangelove and Slaughterhouse-Five. But the single is all about raw emotion, and as John Lydon taught us, anger is an energy. “George Bush Doesn’t Care About Black People,” “Windowsill,” “Let’s Impeach the President,” and “A Punch-Up at a Wedding” moved me in a way few love songs could in this infuriating decade. And bittersweet tracks like “Crazy,” “All My Friends,” “Handshake Drugs,” and even the sneaky-dark “Hey Ya!” took on extra poignancy.
Does that mean we’ll now start hearing more of the music of hope? (Maybe the cast of Glee’s revelatory cover of “Dont Stop Believin‘”?) Or of diminished expections for piecemeal reform and timetables for withdrawal? (Yet more Black Eyed Peas singles?) I dunno – I can’t figure out this pop moment. I approve in theory of Lady Gaga, but can’t say she does much for me in practice. I’m still waiting for the next pop revolultion to match hiphop in the 1980s and grunge in the 1990s, but maybe there just is no more center for the margins to storm; after all, these days indie darlings crack the Billboard charts with regularity, and Li’l Wayne went from mixtapes to platinum faster than I could keep up. I can’t say that’s a bad thing.
1 “Crazy,” Gnarls Barkley
2 “Hey Ya!” Outkast
3 “Portions for Foxes,” Rilo Kiley
4 “Crazy in Love,” Beyonce with Jay-Z
5 “Do You Realize?” The Flaming Lips
6 “Maps,” Yeah Yeah Yeahs
7 “All My Friends,” LCD Soundsystem
8 “Cavity,” Stew
9 “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy,” Big & Rich
10 “Ignition (Remix),” R. Kelly
11 “Handshake Drugs,” Wilco
12 “George Bush Doesn’t Care About Black People,” The Legendary K.O.
13 “A Stroke of Genius,” Freelance Hellraiser
14 “Danger! High Voltage,” Electric Six
15 “The District Sleeps Tonight,” The Postal Service
16 “Hurt,” Johnny Cash
17 “Don’t Stop Believin’,” The Cast of Glee
18 “Paper Planes,” M.I.A.
19 “Over and Over,” Nely with Tim McGraw
20 “Windowsill,” Arcade Fire
21 “A Punch Up at a Wedding,” Radiohead
22 “Let’s Impeach the President,” Neil Young
23 “Sk8ter Boi,” Avril Lavigne
24 “I’m Losing My Edge,” LCD Soundsystem
25 “Stan,” Eminem
26 “B.O.B.,” Outkast
27 “1 Thing,” Amerie
28 “Tom Sawyer,” The Bad Plus
29 “Stupid Boy,” Keith Urban
30 “99 Problems/Helter Skelter,” Danger Mouse with Jay-Z and the Beatles
31 “Time to Pretend,” MGMT
32 “Take Me Out,” Franz Ferdinand
33 “Milkshake,” Kelis
34 “Clocks,” Coldplay
35 “Go,” Common
36 “Dance Till We’re High,” The Fireman
37 “I Need More Love,” Robert Randolph
38 “Get Ur Freak On,” Missy Elliott
39 “Oops (Oh My),” Tweet
40 “Bootylicious,” Destiny’s Child
41 “In My Pocket,” Mandy Moore
42 “Don’t Tell Me,” Madonna
43 “The Thong Song,” Sisquo
44 “La La,” Ashlee Simpson
45 “Southern Point,” Grizzly Bear
46 “Strange Overtones,” David Byrne & Brian Eno
47 “Tex Hooper,” Norm McDonald
48 “Umbrella,” Rihanna
49 “Lovestoned/I Think She Knows,” Justin Timberlake
50 “When I Get You Alone,” Thicke
Originally posted January 06, 2010
OK, here’s one more end-of-decade list, a few days belated. I wasn’t planning on covering books, because I wasn’t sure how to combine fiction, journalism, memoir, history, biography, sports, gardening, cooking, and everything else into one big category, and I hadn’t read 50 books in any subcategory. Plus, I’d already lumped graphic novels in with the comics list. But I did want a place to lay out the really satisfying reads (and audiobook listens) I had over the decade. I decided to skip the academic works; that stuff already has a home on this website, in my syllabi and footnotes. Everything else, fiction and nonfiction, is on the list below. As with the other lists, series are lumped together, but only the volumes published in this decade; for example, the Harry Potter ranking only covers books 4-7.
All of my lists are inherently scattershot, but this one is probably the most unreliable. I managed to catch up with most of the most buzzed-about American comics, TV shows, records, and movies. But it takes a long time to read a book, and I have finicky tastes. I tried and bailed on lots of critics’ darlings, and ignored many more. And there are probably hundreds of books I would have enjoyed, if I’d ever heard of them.
As you’ll see, I read a lot of fantasy this decade, after reading mostly SF in the 1990s. Many of my favorite “literary” novels engaged fantasy culture as well, including The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. I think this has something to do with the zeitgeist, as I argue here, but obviously it has a lot to do with the vagaries of my tastes, as well.
1 – The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz
2 – The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga
3 – Absurdistan, Gary Shteyngart
4 – Game of Thrones series, George RR Martin
5 – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon
6 – The Time Traveller’s Wife, Audrey Niffenberger
7 – 3 Bags Full, Leonie Swann
8 – Love Is a Mix Tape, Rob Sheffield
9 – Consider the Lobster and Other Essays, David Foster Wallace
10 – The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss
11 – Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert
12 – His Dark Materials series, Philip Pullman
13 – Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Susannah Clarke
14 – Hunger Games series, Suzanne Collins
15 – Born Standing Up, Steve Martin
16 – The Book of Basketball, Bill Simmons
17 – The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman
18 – Samaritan, Richard Price
19 – The Book of Lost Things, John Connolly
20 – Have a Nice Day, Mick Foley
21 – Foreign Babes in Beijing, Rachel DeWoskin
22 – Harry Potter series, JK Rowling
23 – The Post-Birthday World, Lionel Shriver
24 – Moneyball, Michael Lewis
25 – The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature, Neal Pollack
26 – Old Man’s War series, John Scalzi
27 – The Partly Cloudy Patriot, Sarah Vowell
28 – The Wife, Meg Wolitzer
29 – Karl Marx: A Life, Francis Wheen
30 – The Ballad of the Whiskey Robber, Julian Rubinstein
31 – Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education, Michael Pollan
32 – Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain
33 – Gang Leader for a Day, Sudhir Vinkatesh
34 – Heat, Bill Buford
35 – The Geese of Beaver Bog, Bernd Heinrich
36 – Perdido Street Station, China Mieville
37 – The Magicians, Lev Grossman
38 – How I Became a Famous Novelist, Steve Hely
39 – The Areas of My Expertise, John Hodgman
40 – Little Children, Tom Perotta
41 – The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Michael Chabon
42 – The Columnist, Jeffrey Frank
43 – A&R, Bill Flanagan
44 – The End of Mr. Y, Scarlett Thomas
45 – Bangkok 8, John Burdett
46 – How to Lose Friends & Alienate People, Toby Young
47 – From the Ground Up: The Story of a First Garden, Amy Stewart
48 – Six Seconds or Less, Jack McCallum
49 – In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan
50 – Stardust, Neil Gaiman
The third Tedcast takes a break from my Fantasy & Science Fiction lectures to present an interview with me conducted by Erik Davis. Erik hosts Expanding Minds on the Progressive Radio Network, and is author of numerous books, including a great study of Led Zeppelin IV and the new collection Nomad Codes. Erik and I go back to college, where we worked together on a zine. Here we talk about the Centaur Manifesto, critical theory, and the tensions between being an academic and a public intellectual.
I’m writing a book about centaurs and cyborgs – about trying to bring together mythos and logos, magic and science, Carl Jung and Karl Marx, Maria Von Franz and Fredric Jameson. I’m podcasting the book via my lectures on Tedcast. I’m tweeting the book via the #centaur hashtag. And I’m blogging the book here.
The book expands my work on politics, myth, fantasy, and the ideas of Karl Marx and Carl Jung. Theoretically, it’s a marriage of post-Marxist critical theory with post-Jungian depth psychology. My hope is the combination will prove, if not a dialectical synthesis, perhaps an alchemical reaction – what Jung calls syzygy, the marriage of opposites.
Jung like Marx began as a Hegelian. Alchemy is Jung’s own revision of Hegel’s dialectic, just as deconstruction is for Derrida. The Buddhist version is my personal favorite: the middle way. Which leads to emptiness, no-self, nirvana. And as Jack Kornfield puts it, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry.
My most recent work has been on games as forms of active imagination. Here’s a short slideshow I made about the social game Farmville and active imagination. It accompanied a piece I contributed to the digital humanities journal In Media Res, “Farmville: the Garden in the Machine.”
Here’s an interview I did with David Metcalfe, who runs the wonderfulOpenMythSource.com. He also wrote a very thoughtful follow-up piece about my work, “Digital Gardening,” and republished “Myth, the Numinous & Cultural Studies.”
And here’s a talk I gave a couple of years ago about the politics of fantasy films.