screed

It had a really different perspective

I don't know what's more galling. 1.) Being a film pariah for making experimental work. 2.) Being an experimental film pariah for making work that doesn't mesh with the parameters du jour. 3.) Suffering fools who think any filmmaking that happens to be missing structure or narrative is experimental, when they really ought to know better.

Oh. Now that I see it laid out like that, the answer is 3.

Warehouse of Treason

My family and I visited Fort Sumter last week. We've lived in South Carolina longer than we've lived anywhere, and that's a pretty important spot for a house full of history buffs. So we needed to see it.

Usually when I go to a Civil War site my reaction is a mix of melancholy and introspection. The enormity of Antietam, Bull Run, Gettysburg overwhelms me. But Fort Sumter? Nothing but anger.

Fort Sumter isn't overrun with ghosts the way battlefields usually are. It's a warehouse of treason. In the museum you go through beforeheading out on the boat to the fort, there are some choice nuggets the encapsulate the rhetoric being thrown about the South prior to the siege of the Fort. Robert Barnwell Rhett wrote:

"There exists a great mistake in supposing that the people of the United States are, or even have been, one people. On the contrary, never did the sunshine on two more thoroughly distinct as the poeple of the Noth and South..."

and then—wait for it—

"Like all great nations of antiquity we are slaveholders and understand free governments. The North does not."

There's a lot of romantic equivocating that goes on today that casts the Confederacy as a struggle for freedom and a war to preserve a way of life that was being threatened by outsiders. That stance is disingenuous, and when modern politicians throw around that kind of rhetoric, they are no better that the plantation owners pretending to be civilized to couch their barbarism.

Say it plainly. The rebels did struggle for freedom: the freedom to enslave black Africans. They did fight to preserve a threatened way of life: an entire economy built on the backs of laborers who were considered property. Read what people wrote at the time. Study the laws and constitutional amendments that were proposed and debated at the time, both at the state and federal levels. Every single bit of it can be traced back to a petulant "you can never take away our right to own slaves." An equivocator will say the causes of the Civil War were varied and complex and weren't really about slavery, but about self-determination. I will agree that it was complex, but only because any large economic system is complex. Slavery was a complex system, the only problem was that it was morally indefensible. And the self-determination spoken of was the determination to own slaves. Period.

What do you do when your entire existence is revealed to be broken at its core? One solution would be to take stock and say "we have to change this, we can't do it like this anymore, and we commit ourselves to fixing it from this day forth." That would be difficult, maybe impossible. Or your could dig in your heels and commit treason, and cast yourself as martyr to outside aggression. Politician W.L. Yancey summed up this delusion pretty well:

"Ours is the property invaded; ours are the institutions at stake; ours is the peace that is to be destroyed; ours is the honor at stake... bear with us then if we... yield no position here until we are convinced we are wrong."

And we get to the core of why I get so angry at this. I hear the smug echo of "until we are convinced we are wrong." On the grounds of the South Carolina state house, where the so-called tea partiers like to gather in lawn chairs and rant about how President Obama is destroying the United States, there flies a confederate battle flag that says "you still haven't convinced us."

You Can't Buy What You Want

Good Lord I love the Olympics. I love to share the Olmpics with my son. I do not, however, like broadcast sports. I would leave it on mute to shut up the commentators, but then you miss the other sound.

Good Lord I hate Time Warner. We don't have cable TV at our home. There's cable internet. There's cable phone service. And when there's a show we want, we buy that show (Legend of Korra!) on the AppleTV. I am completely uninterested in any tier of cable service, and it is unlikely that I ever will be.

Oh, but the Olympics. Sure, there's the basic broadcast that they have on NBC, but Bob Costas is still alive and talking, and that just won't do. Enter this amazing thing: Live Extra. It's everything. You want to watch one tennis match without them cutting away, you can. Fencing? ALL the fencing? Yup. An individual track and field event? Boom. It is, in short, exactly what I have wanted the Olympics to be my whole life, short of actually going in person (which I don't really want to do). I would pay for this. I would pay somewhat handsomely for it.

And then, there it is at the bottom:

You will need to verify that you subscribe to a cable, satellite or telco video tier that includes CNBC and MSNBC. There is no additional charge. 

Fine. I'll get cable for a month. Oh wait, you have to get it for a year. I don't want it AT ALL. And obviously, you can't just buy the channels you want. I already have the data coming through the pipes, and I'm paying for that, I just don't have permission for those specific bits. Think about that. You can't buy what you want, you can only buy what they want you to buy, or nothing.

You can't buy what you want. You can only buy what they want you to buy, or nothing.

Case in point, my son is now a They Might Be Giants fan, which means I'm doing something right. I realized yesterday morning that they did the marvelous theme song to Malcolm in the Middle, so naturally, I went to my phone to buy that track.

ALBUM ONLY. The Malcolm in the Middle soundtrack is a dozen tracks of crap that no one wants to hear ever, and the sublime "Boss Of Me" by TMBG. Which means that this one song costs $10. All of the comments on iTunes were variations on "iTunes, you suck! Come on iTunes, we just want this one song!" Really? do people really think that Apple wants to do it this way? The original iTunes store stipulated that all songs had to be available as tracks for $.99, but they capitulated to the RIAA to allow for variable pricing of tracks and extensive album-only offerings. Why? Because the model of the desperate is this: you can't buy what you want. You can buy what they want you to buy, or nothing.

Desperation won't last.

The Best My Butt Has Ever Looked In Print

I let my students use devices in my classes. I let them type, tweet, and text because I find that it often creates a meaningful (or at least amusing) backchannel that runs concurrent to the class meetings. Sometimes I’m in on the side discussions, sometimes I’m not, but I support it nonetheless.

Last month, I got a request from my university’s student magazine, The Garnet and Black, asking if they could take a picture of my class. They were planning a piece on social media, and one of the magazine’s photographers (the particularly talented Sarah Kobos (http://skobos.tumblr.com/ …very strong photography, Sarah, well done!) is in my class. I was led to believe that they were using a shot of my class because of my policy supporting the use of social media in the classroom! So I agreed, provided that they name me and the class.

As it turns out, the writers and editors already had a joke planned, and they just wanted any old classroom setting to let their little idea play out. I’m linking to these primarily because I like how my butt looks in the pictures. Here’s the online version of the piece: http://bit.ly/st_butt_1. Okay, not what I thought it’d be. Sort of a super-basic how-to for people who don’t need it. Whatever. But wait. Here’s what actually made it to print: http://bit.ly/st_butt_2

Turn to page 18. Yes, yes, I know. My butt looks even better in that one. This, I’m actually thrilled about. But look closer. They added thought bubbles. Not only did they add thought bubbles, they added not-very-funny thought bubbles.

But worst of all, the young lady in the middle of the photo using the iPad (which I loaned her for the shoot to make the class seem even more connected) is now thinking “In class. Bored.” And down in the lower right hand corner, in all caps: “SIMON TARR’S MEDIA ART 210 CLASS.”

After bursting a blood vessel, I called the editor to explain how angry and misled I feel, and also to mention that the woman featured in the center of the photo seemed mighty embarrassed as well. The response? “We really didn’t mean to say your class is boring,” and “sorry, but there’s nothing else we can do about it.”

Well, I teach media, too (but in the arts—I don’t think I have the temperament for journalism). The first thing I can tell you is that “meaning to say” something is only the first baby step toward actually saying something.

Luckily, I don’t have to wait for a slick quarterly to get out what I have to say, so I’m glad you’re here to see this blog post. But, I doubt my department chair, the Dean, the Provost, and the President—who glance at a million things a day— read my blog. So this glossy two-page insult is what they’ll see. I’ve got an internal course development grant proposal coming up this week, I hope that this isn’t fresh in the minds of the grant reviewers. Plus course registration is soon, and now prospective students that might have decided to take my course are getting the lovely subtext that my flagship class, a foundation to the media arts major, is some dull thing that people text through.

So thanks a bunch, Garnet and Black, for your well-considered decisions. You only had to worry about getting a slick issue out, but you don’t have to be bothered by the collateral damage of a regrettable breach of professionalism. I don’t really have any legal recourse, though I have this fantasy of being in front of a judge and shouting "THIS WHOLE COURT IS OUT OF ORDER," but that's not important here. In the end, these are students, and they need to learn. However, I’d prefer to not be professionally insulted in print for people to be able to learn their craft.

As for what else can be done about it? Well, that depends on what they really care about. The Garnet and Black could say “hey, we made an egregious ethical error, we misled a professor and defamed the character of his teaching and his course… but we have an opportunity to use our medium to make things right!”

I dunno, maybe a basic internet search on my name could have alerted them to my teaching awards based on these very types of courses? Maybe in between features on clothes and fun things to do this summer, they could mention something in about the things I travel the world doing to bring to my students? Or at the very least run something that doesn’t distract from the best my butt has ever looked in print.