Tag Archives: Science fiction

Fantasy and Science Fiction Media, Spring 2013

FILM 4280/6280, Spring 2013
Tuesdays & Thursdays 1:00-2:15 PM, 331 General Classroom Building
Screenings Tuesdays, 11:00 AM-12:50 PM, 406 Arts & Humanities

Ted Friedman
25 Park Place #1017
tedf@gsu.edu
http://twitter.com/tedfriedman
http://tedfriedman.com

Course Description
How do we dream our visions of the future? How do we explore our fantasies of the past?

Science fiction extrapolates the trends of the present to imagine possible future worlds, both utopian and (more often) dystopian. Fantasy looks back to imagine past worlds in which technology has not yet usurped nature. Both genres are rooted in mythic traditions that push beyond the boundaries of realism to reach for deeper truths.

This class will examine the genres of fantasy and science fiction across multiple media, including film, television, literature, comics and gaming. We’ll survey their history, while at the same time tracing the impact of each text forward into the present. We’ll look at how these works have reflected and influenced American society, as each new generation of creators has responded to changing social conditions by re-imagining the key tropes and themes of the genres. And we’ll try to understand why these visions continue to capture the world’s imagination.

Readings
Class readings will include books and a coursepack of articles. Here are the books you’ll need:

Maggie Hyde and Michael McGuinness, Introducing Jung
Salman Rushdie, The Wizard of Oz
Neal Gaiman, The Sandman: Season of Mists
Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game
Karen Thompson Walker, The Age of Miracles

The course books can be ordered through online retailers such as amazon.com/student, bn.com, and powells.com. The coursepack is sold by Bestway Copy Center, 18 Decatur Street SE (on the first floor of One Park Place South).

Students in Film 6280 will read two additional books of their choice, one scholarly book and one work of fiction, and will present them in two separately scheduled meetings with the other graduate students.

Twitter Feed
Relevant news and commentary will be shared with the class via the Twitter hashtag #fsfmedia. Feel free to respond to tweets or post your own. Class Schedule

Unit I: Modern Myths

T 1/15 Understanding Fantasy and Science Fiction

Th 1/17 The Power of Myth
Ted Friedman, “Myth, the Numinous, and Cultural Studies”:
http://flowtv.org/?p=4161
Ted Friedman, “The Politics of Magic,”
http://www.scope.nottingham.ac.uk/article.php?issue=14&id=1138&section=article&q=rose

T 1/22 Star Wars
Joseph Campbell, excerpt from The Hero With a Thousand Faces (CP)
Christopher Vogler and Stuart Voytilla, excerpt from Myth and the Movies (CP)

Th 1/24 Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious
Hyde and McGuinness, Introducing Jung
Ted Friedman, “Jung and Lost”:
http://flowtv.org/?p=3865
Ursula K. LeGuin, “The Child and the Shadow” (CP)

T 1/29 The Lord of the Rings
J.R.R. Tolkien, “Introduction to The Fellowship of the Ring” (CP)
J.R.R. Tolkien, “On Fairy Stories”:
http://bjorn.kiev.ua/librae/Tolkien/Tolkien_On_Fairy_Stories.htm

Th 1/31 Game of Thrones

Unit II: Folklore and Fantasy

T 2/5 The Wizard of Oz
Salman Rushdie, The Wizard of Oz

Th 2/7 Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan, “Why Vampires Never Die”:
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/31/opinion/31deltoro.html?_r=1
Laura Miller, “Real Men Have Fangs”:
http://online.wsj.com/article_email/SB122540672952785957-lMyQjAxMDI4MjE1MTQxMDE2Wj.html

T 2/12 The Company of Wolves
Angela Carter, “The Company of Wolves” (CP)
Selections from Marjorie Tatar, ed., The Classic Fairy Tales (CP)

Th 2/14 Firefly

T 2/19 Where the Wild Things Are
Alison Lurie, “Something Wonderful Out of Almost Nothing”:
http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/jul/12/something-wonderful-out-almost-nothing/

Th 2/21 Dollhouse

T 2/26 Spirited Away
Margaret Talbot, “The Auteur of Anime” (CP)
James W. Boyd and Tetsuya Nishimura, “Shinto Perspectives in Miyazaki’s Anime Film Spirited Away,” The Journal of Religion and Film 8.2 (October 2004):
http://www.unomaha.edu/jrf/Vol8No2/boydShinto.htm
Norkio T. Reider, “Spirited Away: Film of the Fantastic and Evolving Japanese Folk Symbols,” Film Criticism 29.3 (2005): 4-27:
http://www.corneredangel.com/amwess/papers/spirited_away.pdf
Aaron Sherwood, “Characterization, Narrative Structure and Mythopoeia in the Films of Hayao Miyazaki” (2006):
http://www.nausicaa.net/miyazaki/essay/files/AaronSherwood_Mythopoeia.pdf

Th 2/28 Lost
Jason Mittell, “Sites of Participation: Wiki Fandom and the Case of Lostpedia”:
http://journal.transformativeworks.org/index.php/twc/article/view/118/117

T 3/5 Pan’s Labyrinth and Sandman
Neil Gaiman, The Sandman: Season of Mists

Th 3/7 The Walking Dead
Take-home midterm due

Unit III: Science Fiction

T 3/12 Metropolis
J. P. Telotte, “The Seductive Text of Metropolis” (CP)
William Gibson, “The Gernsback Continuum” (CP)
Andrew Ross, “Getting Out of the Gernsback Continuum” (CP)
David Hartwell, excerpt from Age of Wonders (CP)

Th 3/14 The Twilight Zone

T 3/19 Spring Break – no class

Th 3/21 Spring Break – no class

T 3/26 Bride of Frankenstein
Gary Morris, “Sexual Subversion: The Bride of Frankenstein”:
http://www.brightlightsfilm.com/19/19_bride1.html

Th 3/28 Star Trek
Henry Jenkins, “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations” (CP)
Ted Friedman, “Capitalism: The Final Frontier”:
http://www.tedfriedman.com/essays/2005/03/capitalism_the.html

T 4/2 Blade Runner
Donna Haraway, “A Manifesto for Cyborgs” (CP)
Fredric Jameson, “Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism” (CP)

Th 4/4 The X-Files
Carl Jung, “Flying Saucers as Modern Myths” (CP)

T 4/9 Brazil and Ender’s Game
Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game

Th 4/11 Battlestar Galactica
Spencer Ackerman, “Battlestar: Iraqtica,”
http://www.slate.com/id/2151425/nav/tap2/

T 4/16 The Matrix
David Weberman, “The Matrix: Simulation and the Postmodern Age” (CP)
Slavoj Zizek, “The Matrix, or the Two Sides of Perversion” (CP)
Aleksandar Hemon, “Beyond the Matrix”:
http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/09/10/120910fa_fact_hemon

Th 4/18 World of Warcraft and The Guild
Download and play the free World of Warcraft trial:
http://www.worldofwarcraft.com

T 4/23 Children of Men and The Age of Miracles
Karen Thompson Walker, The Age of Miracles

Th 4/25 Futurama

Take-Home Final due via email to tedf@gsu.edu on Tuesday, April 30 by 5 PM

Screening Schedule

You are responsible for viewing assigned films in time for class discussion. Screenings are held on Thursdays at 4:30 PM in 406 Arts & Humanities.

1/15 No screening
1/22 Star Wars
1/29 The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
2/5 The Wizard of Oz
2/12 The Company of Wolves
2/19 Where the Wild Things Are
2/26 Spirited Away
3/5 Pan’s Labyrinth
3/12 Metropolis
3/19 Spring Break – no class
3/26 Bride of Frankenstein
4/2 Blade Runner
4/9 Brazil
4/16 The Matrix
4/23 Children of Men

Assignments

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+ 100-98 B+ 89-88 C+ 79-78 D 69-65
A 97-93 B 87-83 C 77-70 F 64-0
A- 92-90 B- 82-80

TV Presentation – 10 points (Film 4280 only)
As part of a 2-3 person team, you will give a presentation on an influential fantasy or science fiction television show. Your team has two presentation options:

Research Presentation: Each member of the team gives a 5-minute presentation on a different aspect of the show: 1) the creator/creators; 2) the economics of the production, including available budget and ratings information; 3) audience responses. Each member hands in a list of sources. A minimum of five separate sources is required for each member’s presentation. (Wikipedia can be consulted to find sources but does not itself count toward the five sources.) PowerPoint is not necessary, but short video clips (such as creator interviews, news stories, and fan films) should be incorporated into each presentation when available.

Creative Presentation: Alternately, the presentation team can choose to collectively produce a short film about the TV show. Options include an edited selection of clips with voice-over commentary, a series of interviews with viewers, or a fan film.

Book Presentations – 5 points each (Film 6280 only)
Graduate students will read two additional books of their choice, one scholarly book and one work of fiction, and will give short a presentation on each in two separately scheduled meetings with the other graduate students.

Take-Home Midterm – 45 points (Film 4280 and 6280)
The take-home midterm will require you to relate concepts from the readings and lectures to the assigned films, series, novels and comics. Undergraduate and graduate students will take the same exam, but graduate students will be expected to submit more detailed answers. Due March 7.

Take-Home Final – 45 points (Film 4280 and 6280)
The take-home final will be structured just like the midterm, covering the second half of the semester. Due April 30.

Attendance Adjustment
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.

Policies

Office Hours
Office hours are by appointment. I’m usually available to meet before and after every class.

Late Papers
Late midterms are penalized at the rate of 1/2 point per day overdue. Late finals cannot be accepted without an extension.

Rewrites
Rewrites of any midterm question are welcome. The final grade on the question will be the average of the original grade and the rewritten version’s grade. Rewrites of the final are unavailable, but rough drafts of the final can be submitted for feedback through April 23.

Incompletes
Incompletes may be given only in special hardship cases. Incompletes will not be used merely for extending the time for completion of course requirements.

Assessment
Your constructive assessment of this course plays an indispensable role in shaping education at Georgia State. Upon completing the course, please take time to fill out the online course evaluation.

Disability
Students who wish to request accommodation for a disability may do so by registering with the Office of Disability Services. Students may only be accommodated upon issuance by the Office of Disability Services of a signed Accommodation Plan and are responsible for providing a copy of that plan to instructors of all classes in which accommodations are sought.

Changes to the Syllabus
This syllabus provides a general plan for the course. Deviations may be necessary.

Marx, Jung & Yoda: The Dialectics of The Force

Here’s a talk about Star Wars and myth that I gave last month  at the Academy of Religious Studies conference in San Francisco. Feedback is welcome – I’m in the process of turning this into the introduction to my book, Centaur Manifesto.

I’m really thrilled to be here at the AAR conference. This is the first time I have been to a conference in religious studies, and I want to admit right off the bat that I’m not a trained scholar in religious studies. My own background is in cultural studies, new media, and critical theory. But I have found more and more that in trying to understand contemporary American culture, it’s impossible to ignore spiritual themes, and that the theoretical models of cultural studies really don’t offer a lot of space to think through questions of spirituality. There are some good and legitimate reasons for this. The Marxist and Freudian hermaneutics of suspicion have been incredibly valuable in uncovering the ideological underpinnings of religious discourses, along with all other discourses. But I’ve come to conclude that they’re not enough to tell the whole story.  I’ve come to this conference because I think a theological turn – or, in psychoanalytic terms, a Jungian turn – can help cultural studies develop a richer vocabulary to talk about the numinous. And at the same time, I do have some hope that some of the ideas that have come out of my own field might be of use to religious studies as well.

I’d like to begin by giving a little context for how I came to this topic. My first book, Electric Dreams, looked at the cultural history of personal computers, and what I argue is that cyberculture in the 1980s and 90s became what I call a utopian sphere: a space to imagine different visions of the future beyond the boundaries of late capitalist ideology. I was inspired by the work of Fredric Jameson, particularly his groundbreaking essay “Reification and Utopia in Mass Culture.” Jameson argues that for popular culture texts to capture the imaginations of large audiences, they must include at least glimpses of a better world. But capitalist ideology represses and recontains these utopian impulses, channelling them into consumerism, cynicism, and alienated individualism. For Jameson, the goal of the critic is to rescue and expand upon the utopian visions that have been buried within what he calls The Political Unconscious.

After finishing my first book a few years ago, I began to look more closely at the popular culture of this past decade, and was surprised by what I found. Electric Dreams argued that science fiction was the most influential genre of the 1980s and 1990s, helping to invent and make sense of the transmediated universe that we all live in now. But in this past decade, there’s been a cultural shift that has paralleled the growth of transmedia. These days, I’d argue that it’s the genre of fantasy that has been the most influential to our culture, producing the biggest blockbusters (Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings), the most popular gamespaces (World of Warcraft), and, to my mind, the most interesting genre authors

Fantasy works differently than science fiction. Science fiction speaks in the register of science and technology. But the central trope of fantasy is magic – a mystical force beyond the boundraries of Englightenment rationality. If science fiction celebrates logos, fantasy is the genre of mythos. As Arthur C. Clarke points out, any technology sufficiently advanced beyond our own is indistinguishable from magic. In this sense, all science fiction is part of the larger fantastical, mythological tradition. It’s just that the technological gloss of SF provides a cover of rationality over its magical, mystical core. Lately, that cover seems to be slipping. The rise of popular fantasy, I’d suggest, reflects what Christopher Partridge calls The Re-Enchantment of the West, in a play on Max Weber’s famous description of modernity as “The Dis-Enchantment of the World.” The desires underlying many fantasy texts, then, are not only the visions of a more just and egalitarian post-capitalist society that Jameson identifies, but also repressed visions of the spiritual – of mytical, gnostic experience.

Now, it may seem strange to describe spirituality as a repressed subtext in American popular culture. After all, the US remains one of the most religious societies in the world, an ongoing repudiation of the secularization thesis. But I’d suggest that the mystical, gnostic sensiblity of popular fantasy is not prominently represented in the American public sphere. This is the argument religious studies scholar Jeffrey Kripal makes in his fascinating new study of comic books, Mutants and Mystics. Furthermore, the core audience for these texts – the kinds of geeks and techies like myself who attend the San Diego Comic Con and play MMORPGs – are exactly those whose everyday worlds are most structured by the capitalist technocratic rationality of binary codes and spreadsheets. In this context, the mystical vision of fantasy represents what Jung would call a compensatory myth – not, as classical ideology theory would have it, because it mystifies and justifies capitalism, but rather because, like a recurring dream, it points to a psychological need that is not being met – a potential transformation of the self, and of society, that challenges the illusion of a stable, complete ego.

In other words, there is a spiritual impulse that is repressed in technocratic postmodern American culture. But that human need does not go away. The return of the repressed shows up in our shared fantasies. Jorge Louis Borges suggested that the theological is a part of the fantastical genre.  I’d like to suggest the converse: that we consider popular fantasy as a form of folk theology.

Another inspiriation for my work, and for much of transmedia studies in general, has been Donna Haraway’s hugely influential 1986 essay, “A Manifesto for Cyborgs.” Haraway turned to the figure of the cyborg to argue that it offered a way to reimagine the intersection between the human and the machine, between nature and technology. She saw the cyborg as a figure who could challenge the presumptions of many on the Left at the time who saw technology as the enemy. Instead, she suggested that films like Blade Runner offerred ways to imagine reappropriating technological tools to empower the disnenfranchised. Haraway’s ideas, controversial in their time, have become a kind of common sense today; I don’t think technophobia on the Left is nearly the problem it was when she was discussing it. Instead, just as science fiction was dismissed by most of Haraway’s peers in the 1980s as escapism, today it is fantasy that is often dismissed as reactionary nostalgia. In fact, both the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter movies first came out in the fall of 2001, shortly after 9/11, and many critics  argued that these films were so popular at this moment because they offer a safe, reassuring retreat into a fantasy world. I don’t think that’s completely wrong, but I don’t think it tells nearly the whole story. If in the 1980s what was needed was a cyborg manifesto, today what’s needed is what I call a centaur manifesto, a similar embrace of a liminal figure. The centaur is on the boundary between human and animal, between nature and culture, and even on the boundary between reality and fantasy, between the scientific world of everyday life and the fantastical world of mythology. Just as Haraway saw the cyborg as an inspiring figure to imagine how we could rework science fiction in new, more empowered ways, I think the centaur similarly can be that type of fantasy figure.

To flesh out the implications of this centaur manifesto, I’ll be turning now to a specific text. The movie I want to talk about might be a little surprising because at first glance we might presume it’s science fiction: Star Wars. Star Wars is on the precipice of science fiction and fantasy. It has spaceships and light sabers, but it’s also a story of a knight who rescues a princess. It begins like a fairy tale: “Long ago in a galaxy far, far away.” And most of all, it’s a world in which magic overcomes technology, as Luke turns off his computer and destroys the Death Star by trusting instead in the Force.

The formative religious experience of my childhood was Star Wars – certainly more so, I have to admit, than Hebrew School or my Bar Mitzvah. When Obi-Wan Kenobi told Luke, “The Force . . . is an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together,” I could feel The Force tingle in my own fingertips. More than once I attempted to move objects with only the power of my mind. They never moved, but I can’t say I was ever disappointed – I think something in me moved, as I recognized that my mind and the outside world in were in some ways part of an indivisible whole. Years later, I would rediscover the flavor of those experiences when I began meditating regularly.

The power of The Force, I think, has a lot to do with the endurance of the Star Wars mythos, over three decades past the release of the first film. Star Wars was one of the first transmedia blockbusters, spawning books, comics, videogames, lunchboxes, and most lucratively, toys. All of these spinoffs meant that watching the movie was only the beginning of the experience – kids like me could move on to tell our own stories, as we did for all the years between 198tk and 1999 when no new films were being made.

The Force is a fictional construction, but at the same time it is a very powerful model for thinking about the numinous in our lives. In fact, its very fictional nature may be part of what has made it so resonant and lasting. In Jungian terms, we could say that for Star Wars fans, The Force is an archetypal image rather than the archetype itself. While there are a few people who mark ‘Jedi’ under religion on their census forms, most people don’t explicitly believe in the theology of Star Wars. Rather, they find Star Wars a set of metaphors that can help them conceive of their own sense of the spiritual or the numinous without feeling constrained by the doctrines of traditional religions. In this sense, Star Wars is one example of what Paul Heelas and Linda Woodhead call The Spiritual Revolution, in which more and more Westerners define themselves as spiritual rather than religious.

So, how does cultural studies theorize texts like Star Wars? In Convergence Culture, Henry Jenkins’ agenda-setting work on transmedia, Jenkins recognizes the influence of Joseph Campbell’s ideas about myth not only on Star Wars, but on the many other screenplays that have been inspired by Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces. But Jenkins characterizes Campbell’s ideas in a very distinctive way. He writes: “Audience familiarity with this basic plot structure allows scriptwriters to skip over transitional or expository sequences, throwing us directly in the action.” In other words, Jenkins finds Campbell important as a structuralist who codified the generic expectations that make these heroic narratives easier to parse. But Jenkins passes over exactly what’s most important about myth to Campbell: the mystical. As Campbell put it: “Without the mystical, myth is just ideology.” For Campbell, as a Jungian, the hero’s journey is fundamentally about the descent into the unconscious to engage the numinous – what he calls “the mystery which is the ground of our being.”

So what would it mean to take the numinous more seriously in cultural studies? Is there a way to articulate spirituality within the set of ideas that have been so influential in cultural studies?

The circuit of culture is Paul du Gay’s very influential model of the five nodes through which every culural object passes. Where does the numinous fit in this model? Spirituality is certainly an aspect of personal identity. It’s also, as I’ve been arguing, a key theme of textual representation, even if remains as subtext. But I’d suggest the numinous – a vision of the transcendental – also informs the activities of production, consumption, and regulation. Another way to rework the circuit of culture is this:

[To come: image of a Mandala of Culture. Submissions welcome.]

Here is a Mandala of Culture, which transforms Du Gay’s two-dimentional circle into a three-dimensional sphere. It conceives of the numinous as the ground, the context in which all the circuit goes around. The numinous in itself is not directly accessible. In Jung’s terms, it is the realm of archetypes. It enters our world through the circuit of culture, where it becomes an object of representation, redefinition, and struggle. The circuit of culture is where archetype meets ideology.

I like Jung’s term “the numinous” because it locates the spiritual in the unconscious, the unrepresentable. We could also call this axis the sublime, or even Lacan’s Real – in some sense, I’d argue that all these terms are pointing to the same thing: that part of the humand experience beyond Enlightenment rationality.

[Note – this is the fuzziest, most speculative part of the talk. More to come in Centaur Manifesto.]

With this model in place, let’s turn back to Star Wars and ask how we might integrate the numinous into cultural studies. One place to start is to point out that Joseph Campbell was not George Lucas’s only guru. As I was doing research for this paper, I came across a series of fascinating talks by Alan Watts, who was a very influential popularizer of Zen Buddhism and Taoism in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. During the period that George Lucas was writing Star Wars, Watts lived in the Bay area, speaking often at places like the Esalen Institute and on his weekly public radio show. The vocal, physical, and philosphical resemblance between Watts and Alec Guinness’s portrayal of Obi-Wan Kenobi is so unmistakeable that many fans have concluded that Watts was “the real Obi-Wan Kenobi.”

In this context, then, we can see the Force not only as a generalized religious metaphor, but also more specifically as an example of the popular transmission of Eastern spiritual ideas to the West in the second half of the Twentieth Century. But Lucas’s Force is not quite the same thing as the Tao. In Taoism, the model of yin and yang reflects the interdependence and interpenetration of all things. Dark and light depend on and need each other. One cannot exist without the other, just as any figure depends on the negative space of its background. In George Lucas’s version of the Force, while the language of dark and light remains, it’s reincorporated into a much more Western, Manichean vision of absolute good and evil. There is the light side of Obi-Wan and Luke, and there is the dark side of Darth Vader and The Emperor. So while on the one hand George Lucas brought a Taoist vision to the United States, on the other hand, in the process he robbed it of much of what makes it distinctive, complex and resonant. For this, it’s been justly criticized for validating Ronald Reagan’s attack on the Soviet Union as an “Evil Empire” in the 1980s, and George W. Bush’s similar demonization of an “Axis of Evil” two decades later.

Having said that, however, if we then begin to think about Star Wars as a transmediated text, what is significant not only its original texual representation, but also its reappropriation and reworking by its audiences. If we think of the cultural studies model of an active audience negotiating and resisting dominant codes, then we can see George Lucas’s original vision of the Force as only a first step towards a more complex, collectively produced theological vision.

I work in downtown Atlanta. Just up the block once a year is the Dragon Con annual convention where science fiction and fantasy fans come from all over the world to dress up as their favorite characters. The most popular characters, by far, are the Star Wars Storm Troopers. Every year the Storm Troopers parade down Peachtree Street. This may seem surprising: why, we may wonder, would so many fans want to dress up, not as heroes like Luke Skywalker or Obi-Wan Kenobi, but instead as part of the forces of darkness? The answer, I think, is that for Star Wars fans, the metaphysics of Star Wars are more complex than it is in Lucas’s original formulation. The dark side represents not simply evil, but the shadow side of our own personalities – the attraction towards violence, aggression, and power that we repress in our daily lives. The play space of the Dragon Con convention and the Star Wars transmedia universe provides a safe, delineated way to engage with that shadow side. And in the process, to create a more complex moral vision: to embrace and show sympathy for the devil.

What Star Wars fans are doing is what we could call vernacular theology: challenging Lucas’s dilution of Alan Watts’s Taoist vision, returning it to a more complex model that has kept the power of the Force alive after 35 years.

Ted’s Top Movies of 2010

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

1. Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World

2. Please Give

3. Hot Tub Time Machine


Much Better Than Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead

4. How to Train Your Dragon

5. Easy A

6. Inception

7. Toy Story 3

Better Than Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead

8. Salt

9. Dinner for Schmucks

10. Greenberg

11. The Other Guys

12. Kick-Ass

13. The Expendables

About As Good As Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead

14. Date Night

15. Iron Man 2

Ted’s Top 50 Movies of the 2000s

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
– 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

Tedcast #3: Interviewed by Erik Davis

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.

Tedcast #2: Magic and Extrapolation

My rebooted podcast, TedCast, is up and running. The first few episodes will come from Fantasy and Science Fiction, a course I teach at GSU. Future episodes will cover cultural studies, new media, film history, and eventually  everything else I talk about in public.

In Episode 2, we discuss the key tropes of fantasy and science fiction: magic and extrapolation.

To subscribe to TedCast in iTunes, click here.

For the TedCast RSS feed, click here.

Episode 2 – Magic & Extrapolation

Tedcast #1: Fantasy and Science Fiction

Here’s  Episode 1 of Tedcast, my rebooted podcast. It’s the first class in Fantasy and Science Fiction Media, a class I taught at GSU in Fall 2010. In this opening lecture, I introduce the concept of genre and discuss what distinguishes fantasy and science fiction, and what they share.

To subscribe to Tedcast on iTunes, click here.