Jonathan Gray – Antenna Responses to Media and Culture Thu, 30 Mar 2017 23:48:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Goodbye to Antenna Thu, 04 Feb 2016 15:00:45 +0000 end

In the week of November 6, 2009, Antenna published its first posts, by Matt Sienkiewicz, Josh Jackson, Nick Marx, Sreya Mitra, myself, Erin Copple Smith, Liz Ellcessor, and Kyra Hunting. I was a new faculty member at UW-Madison, and all these other writers were grad students, as Antenna was an experiment in group-blogging by the Media and Cultural Studies graduate program here.

We had been inspired especially by UT-Austin’s Flow, the preeminent media studies group blog. However, where Flow had more of a schedule, and worked with a columnist model, we hoped to create a system wherein people could write when they wanted to do so, thereby enabling timely responses to current events. The hope was that if there were enough people involved, nobody would need to promise to write much, as the system would carry itself in aggregate. We’d thereby aim to join and complement Flow, not compete with it.

It worked, and quite beautifully so. Those listed above, alongside Germaine Halegoua, Lindsay Hogan, Megan Biddinger, and Megan Sapnar Ankerson kept it stocked with content for the first month. Then, a month later, we had our first post by a non-UW grad student or instructor, when Amanda Lotz wrote for us. Within the next few months, many more wrote for us. Just over six years later, we’ve posted the words of 320 authors, with comments from many more. This is the 1229th post, which means we’ve averaged 3.85 posts a week for our lifetime. And Google Analytics suggest we’ve had a healthy readership throughout, with readership from 222 countries (even one read from Antarctica!) and about 400-600 reads daily (spiking when Myles McNutt wrote something, when Avi Santo pissed off some Whedon fans, or when we apparently hit a deep nerve of the Internet, as with posts on River Monsters or Hit Girl).

A lot of invisible labor went into this. To readers, it may’ve seemed as though posts just magically appeared, but there were always editors behind them, encouraging others to write, helping them understand Word Press, tagging and editing and polishing up posts when necessary, adding photos, organizing columns and series, and more. Those first voices on Antenna all finished up and moved on elsewhere, and were replaced by yet more amazing editors. Andrew Bottomley and Chris Cwynar were here from the start (and alongside me are now the greybeards), as were Mary Beltrán and Danny Kimball, and were joined in time as editors by the likes of Myles McNutt, Nora Patterson, Evan Elkins, Kit Hughes, Jennifer Smith, Alyxandra Vesey, Sarah Murray, Taylor Cole Miller, Drew Zolides, Tony Tran, Caroline Leader, Nicholas Benson, Jenna Stoeber, and April Bethea. Jeremy Morris and Derek Johnson also worked with us behind the scenes after their arrivals in the department, and Eric Hoyt offered background support. Throughout, Comm Arts’ fantastic staff, first Joel Ninmann, and then Pete Sengstock and Michael Trevis, have made it all possible by working the back-end.

But the gas tank is empty. We’re tired. That invisible labor has to come from somewhere, and it’s become hard to keep finding ways to gas up when we have other things going on. Roaming around for content has proven harder and harder a task with each semester. Academic blogging in media studies in general seems to have hit peak then started to decline. Many conversations are happening on Medium, Facebook, Twitter, or elsewhere instead. And so we find ourselves at a point where it’s time to take down the rabbit ears and press the off button.

There are so many people to thank. I list the key grad students, UW faculty, and staff above (and picture the editors below). Andrew Bottomley, Kyra Hunting, Myles McNutt, Taylor Miller, and Alyx Vesey deserve particular commendation for regularly doing way, way more as editors than could ever fairly be expected of mere human beings. I highlight their superhuman efforts not to diminish others’, but because they’ve been especially tireless. And as writers, all hail Myles McNutt for his 52 posts. Other MCSers who’ve spilled more than their fair share of online ink are Erin Copple Smith with 27 posts, Drew Zolides with 23, Kyra Hunting with 19, Matt Sienkiewicz with 16, Andrew Bottomley with 15, Chris Cwynar with 14, Nora Patterson and Nick Marx with 13 apiece, Alyx Vesey with 11, Danny Kimball and Jennifer Smith with 10 each, and Liz Ellcessor and Lindsay Hogan with 9 each. Liz also made it all technically possible in the early days, while Megan Sapnar Ankerson made our little antenna.

Antenna has had some great friends from elsewhere along the way, too. Avi Santo, Jason Mittell, Amanda Lotz, Kristina Busse, and Jeffrey Jones were all supremely helpful in talking through what it could and should be before and after it went live. When we’ve threatened to pull the plug before, Amanda, Jason, and Kristina in particular gave me the pep talks I needed to keep going on, as they often do. All five of them produced content for us like bosses too. Jason’s written 34 posts, Amanda 20, Kristina 17, Jeff 14, and they’re joined in the 10-and-above club by Matt Hills with 21, Kristina Busse with 17, Martha Nochimson with 16, Melissa Click with 13, Brad Schauer with 12, Ben Aslinger, Allison McCracken, and Louisa Stein with 11 each, and Tim Anderson, Bill Kirkpatrick, and Elana Levine with 10 each. Especially amazing was Chris Becker with 70 posts (!!), many (but not all) from her “What Are You Missing?” column. Many more wrote multiples less than 10. And of late our great colleagues at University of Nottingham, led by the formidable Mark Gallagher and Roberta Pearson, have often held us up with their posts.

Thanks to all our readers too for reading, commenting, sharing, “liking” on Facebook, retweeting on Twitter, citing, and so forth.

We debated whether to end with a “best of” series of posts, but partly because the possibilities of the site and the day-to-day-ness of it – what it represented, and what it did in aggregate – were its greatest offerings, and partly to avoid serenading ourselves, instead let’s just end it here. In television finale terms, we couldn’t script something as emotionally satisfying as the Justified finale, and feared the mis-steps of so many other finales, so instead we thought we’d follow Cheers’ lead and say, “sorry, we’re closed,” adjust a picture on the wall, and walk off-stage, leaving a darkened set behind us. As with Cheers in reruns, we’ll keep the site up and running as long as possible so that you can still read past articles, but this will be Antenna’s last post.

With thanks to the editors who made it happen:





And a thank you to everyone who has written for us (with apologies for anyone we’ve missed. Tell me and I’ll add you):

Rebecca Adelman

Pablo Alonso González

Hector Amaya

Robin Andersen

Bailey Anderson

John Anderson

Tim Anderson

Mark Andrejevic

Megan Sapnar Ankerson

Melissa Aronczyk

Robert Asen

Ben Aslinger

Jennifer Stephens Aubrey

Jane Banks

Miranda Banks

Corey Barker

Kyle Barnett

Kathleen Battles

Geoffrey Baym

Nancy Baym

Christine Becker

Ron Becker

Mary Beltrán

James Bennett

Nicholas Benson

Megan Biddinger

Jonathan Bignell

Trevor J. Blank

Anthony Bleach

Aniko Bodroghkozy

Paul Booth

David Bordwell

Nandana Bose

Andrew Bottomley

Maria Suzanne Boyd

Miranda Brady

Lauren Bratslavsky

Piers Britton

Will Brooker

Robert Brookey

Bill Brown

Blanka Brzozowska

Chiara Bucaria

Chelsea Bullock

Colin Burnett

Kristina Busse

Nick Camfield

Karma Chávez

Aleena Chia

Mike Chopra-Gant

Yiu Fai Chow

Cynthia Chris

Yiu-Wai Chu

Jennifer Clark

Melissa Click

Norma Coates

D. Elizabeth Cohen

Brandon Colvin

Andrea Comiskey

Cindy Conaway

Matthew Connolly

Kyle Conway

Li Cornfeld

David Crider

Phillip Lamarr Cunningham

Michael Curtin

Christopher Cwynar

Shilpa Davé

Evan Davis

Max Dawson

Amber Day

Jeroen de Kloet

Rayna Denison

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Matthew Dewey

Camilo Diaz Pino

Eric Dienstfrey

Courtney Brannon Donoghue

Bonnie Dow

Jimmy Draper

Brooke Erin Duffy

Sean Duncan

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Amanda Nell Edgar

Kate Egan

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Evan Elkins

Liz Ellcessor

Tarik Ahmed Elseewi

Elizabeth Evans

Anna Everett

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Terry Flew

Sam Ford

Matthew Freeman

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Joy V. Fuqua

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Mark Gallagher

Patryk Galuszka

Racquel Gates

Kamille Gentles-Peart

Lincoln Geraghty

Lindsay Giggey

Anne Gilbert

Colleen Glenn

Kevin Glynn

Keara Goin

Ian Gordon

Paul Grainge

Jonathan Gray

Brian Gregory

Hollis Griffin

Sabine Gruffat

Leora Hadas

Germaine Halegoua

Erin Hanna

Mary Beth Haralovich

C. Lee Harrington

Nate Harrison

John Hartley

Mobina Hashmi

Dan Hassoun

Timothy Havens

Mark Hayward

Heather Hendershot

Brian Herrera

Richard Hewett

Matt Hills

Michele Hilmes

Ashley Hinck

Lindsay Hogan

Lisa Hollenbach

Su Holmes

Chris Holmlund

Noel Holston

Jennifer Holt

Jonah Horwitz

Robert Glenn Howard

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Eric Hoyt

Kit Hughes

Kyra Hunting

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Kiranmayi Indraganti

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Jason Jacobs

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Derek Johnson

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Jennifer Jones

Liew Kai Khiun

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Katie Karpuch

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Jen Kelly

Kelly Kessler

Dina Khdair

Danny Kimball

Bill Kirkpatrick

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Derek Kompare

Jon Kraszewski

Shanti Kumar

Katariina Kyrölö

Jorie Lagerwey

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Julia Leyda

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Jason Loviglio

Madhavi Mallapragada

Daniel Marcus

Stefania Marghitu

Kelli Marshall

Alfred Martin

Nick Marx

Catherine Martin

Ernest Mathijs

Vicki Mayer

Allison McCracken

Chelsea McCracken

Paul McDonald

Alan McKee

John McMurria

Myles McNutt

Ritesh Mehta

Ross Melnick

Cynthia B. Meyers

Brandon Miller

Taylor Cole Miller

Sreya Mitra

Jason Mittell

Kelsey Moore

Chris Moreh

Jeremy Morris

Caryn Murphy

Daniel Murphy

Sarah Murray

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Diane Negra

Michael Z. Newman

Jack Newsinger

Darrell Newton

LeiLani Nishime

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Andrew Owens

Kathryn Palmer

Eleanor Patterson

Roberta Pearson

Reece Peck

Allison Perlman

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Anne Helen Petersen

Jennifer Petersen

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Devon Powers

William Proctor

Aswin Punathambekar

Debra Ramsay

Sripana Ray

Mike Rennett

Maureen Rogers

Sharon Marie Ross

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Judd Ethan Ruggill

Alexander Russo

Maureen Ryan

Mark Sample

Rossend Sanchez Baro

Cornel Sandvoss

Kevin Sanson

Avi Santo

Stephanie Sapienza

Emily Sauter

Bradley Schauer

Philip Scepanski

Peter Schaefer

Laura Schnitker

Suzanne Scott

Robert Sevenich

Adrienne Shaw

Josh Shepperd

Shawn Shimpach

Tyler Shores

Matt Sienkiewicz

Anthony Smith

Erin Copple Smith

Iain Robert Smith

Jennifer Smith

Beretta Smith-Shomade

Jason Sperb

Carol Stabile

Matt Stahl

Louisa Stein

Chris Sterling

Jonathan Sterne

Jenna Stoeber

Bärbel Göbel Stolz

Nora Stone

David Suisman

Sylwia Szostak

R. Colin Tait

Lynnell Thomas

Ethan Thompson

Nao Tomabechi

KT Torrey

Tony Tran

Chuck Tryon

Amy Tully

Shawn VanCour

John Vanderhoef

Sonja van Wichelen

Julia Velkova

Neil Verma

Alyxandra Vesey

Travis Vogan

Ira Wagman

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Gregory Waller

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Ann Werner

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Joe Wlodarz

Pamela Wojcik

Jennifer Hyland Wong

Faye Woods

Dannagal Goldthwaite Young

Sabrina Q. Yu

Andrea Zeffiro

Andrew Zolides


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The Force Re-Awakens: Star Wars, Repetition, and Nostalgia, Part 2 Wed, 06 Jan 2016 19:21:59 +0000 Samurai

In my previous post, I pointed to numerous “new” things in The Force Awakens that should challenge a slipshod reading of the film as “mere” repetition or nostalgic pastiche and homage. Now, though, let’s look at the very terms and assumptions mobilized in the attack — pastiche, repetition, originality, and nostalgia.

First, it might be worth noting the significant irony that some people are only now concerned about a Star Wars film being full of pastiche. A princess must return to her people who are staging a rebellion against an imperial force; she is helped by an odd duo who seem there mostly for comic effect, and by a venerable old knight who must face off against his former second-in-command who went bad and now leads the imperial forces. Sound familiar? That’s the plot of Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress. Kurosawa influences abound in A New Hope and its progeny (those Jedi do seem remarkably samurai-like, as does Vader’s helmet, no?). Yet of course Kurosawa was himself deeply beholden to John Ford and other westerns, another genre that is plastered all over A New Hope. Add some Flash Gordon. And some King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. And so much more. A New Hope was always a poster child for postmodern pastiche of pastiche of pastiche – and proof that movies could still be enjoyable and amazing while looking deep into a hall of pastiche-y mirrors.


Hidden Fortress & A New Hope‘s beginnings: bickering, funny lowly figures walk through sparsely populated landscape, telling us about the world as they do so. They disagree over which way to go, and split up. Each is picked up by slave traders, thereby reuniting them.

Indeed, and second, we could benefit from unpacking this ludicrous notion that any work of art must be “original” to be good, since absolutely nothing is (or could be) original. Everything learns from, and comes in the wake of, other texts. Sometimes this is direct (even the beloved Shakespeare struggled to create an individual plot of his own), sometimes it’s “just” scenes or characters or character types. But nothing is original. Rather, the value in anything comes from how it repeats and/or reworks. When we marvel at how fresh or original something is, we’ve usually realized a genre to which it belongs (through multiple other similarities and through repetition), and are excited to see a lone element or two of that genre reworked.

Vladimir Propp and some of his formalist colleagues would tell us, in fact, that the kind of exercise I conducted in my previous post – of walking through how a plot repeats another – can be done with all literature, all stories. At a certain level of abstraction, there really are a very limited number of tales to be told. And this idea is especially central to discussions of myth. Read Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces … and if you do, incidentally, you’re reading something that was a key influence on George Lucas, and hence on the very foundations of the original Star Wars trilogy. Repetition is key to myth, and, c’mon, it’s clear when A New Hope situates us in a world in which good guys wear white and bad guys wear black that it’s aiming to be mythic. So let’s not be surprised when we see heroes needing to storm the castle again. Or when we see the young upstart experience a moment of becoming on the battlefield again. When a great hero is struck down publicly again. Give me another 2000 words and I could use them simply to list moments when these events happen across filmic and television genres, Greek epics and tragedies, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Milton, etc.


Recently, the wise Nancy Baym told me that when we say two things are opposite, we’re actually saying that they’re entirely alike in all ways but one (otherwise, for instance, night and pencils might more appropriately count as opposites, not night and day). That’s worth thinking about here, since it suggests that fundamental difference is regularly structured upon and within fundamental similarity. In storytelling terms, therefore, that which is most amazingly “different”/“original” may be only a slight reworking of something else. We’re often doing things wrong as analysts if we’re looking for true, stark difference (the pencils instead of daytime), as instead there may be just as much value to be found in seeing how night and day are related yet still different. So, yes, Obi-Wan and Han both get struck down … but how are the integers of those scenes different in ways that evoke different reactions, from us, from the characters, by the story itself? In my previous post, I suggested that this “similarity” is far from it, since the emotional weight is different, the intent (of the victim, and of the killer) is different, the place it has in the narrative is different. Originality comes when an expectation is violated, but expectations are set up through similarity.



Changing tacks, I’d also want to question what is being demanded of sequels and franchises in general here. It’s deeply perplexing to hear people angered and disappointed by a sequel doing things that the original did. Isn’t this par for course? When James Bond orders a vodka martini, gets a fast car with buttons that activate weapons on it, has a knock-down, drawn-out chase scene, or beds yet another woman, do we roll our eyes at how the film is just “fan service”? When we return to Godfather II and find out that it’s still a gangster film (yawn) obsessed with family members (oh, how original) who sometimes lie to each other and operate behind each other’s backs (never heard that before), while jockeying for power with other families or contenders (ripoff!), is this “fan fiction”? When Harry Potter has another Quidditch game that involves an amazing come-from-behind victory, when Katniss Everdeen must work her way through another set of competitors, when Bella Swan is still working out who she loves, is this all just pathetic repetition? Sequels repeat. That is what they promise to do. They are all “fan fiction,” if fan fiction is the act of taking many of the same characters or elements and reworking them with some new elements added. And unless a sequel radically violates the terms of the original world, narrative, or characters, it’s also always “fan service.” Using those terms to criticize a sequel, therefore, is too often indicative of the speaker’s derogatory elitist ignorance about fandom (aw, how cute that some people think all fanfic is “My Big Day at Hogwarts,” and don’t know about all the fucking and cuddling that Harry and Draco get up to in fanfic), but also betrays a very odd lack of awareness of the very point of sequels, like complaining that a eulogy just wouldn’t shut up about the dead person and their life.

Yawn. How Fan Service. Such No Originality

Wow. How Fan Service. Such No Originality. So Repetition.

I wonder, though, whether The Force Awakens was misread by some viewers as a reboot not “just” a sequel. Certainly, sequels more usually follow fast on the heels of their originals, whereas The Force Awakens is many years “late,” as is more common with reboots. And whereas increasingly franchises lack a constant auteur figure, Star Wars was associated with George Lucas (and Twentieth Century Fox) for so long in a way that may have led some to see J. J. Abrams and Disney as necessarily “rebooting” the franchise, especially since Abrams recently (sort of) rebooted Star Trek. Reboots are all the rage, and carry with them a different set of expectations, namely that a fresh start of forms will occur. The narrative world should feel different, the key characters should be given new backstories or wrinkles. But The Force Awakens isn’t a reboot, and the prominent use of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and (to a lesser extent, at least in trailers) Mark Hamill in promotional materials should’ve made that clear: the gang was getting back together. In the absence of announcements that, say, The Rock was going to play Han, or that Kristin Schaal would play a reinvented Leia, there was no fakeout here: The Force Awakens was sold as a sequel. The most prominent line across many of its trailers was Kylo Ren’s “I will finish what you started,” and one of them ended with Han pronouncing, “Chewie, we’re home.” Those lines subtly (or not-so-subtly?) alluded, too, to the franchise’s need to overcome the prequel trilogy, to reset, and to get back to basics.


As my previous post suggested, The Force Awakens does have a lot that’s new, the world is slightly different, the stakes are revised, and the key narrative and character dynamics are not carbon copies. But even if we acknowledge the significant repetition, mythic resonance, homage, pastiche, and loop-backs, none of those should be the grounds for castigating a text. So by all means say you didn’t like the characters, the feel, the pacing, or any specifics. Snoke sucks in totality, for instance (the name alone is stupider than even “Jar-Jar”). The fact that one sanitation stormtrooper knows how to destroy Starkiller Base is a ludicrous plot-hole (maybe all those Bothan spies wouldn’t have died finding plans for Death Star 2.0 if only one of them had thought to ask the dude cleaning the toilets how to destroy it). There’s more. Or by all means criticize how any plot element was redone and didn’t work as well (or at all) in the reworking. Part of my problem with Starkiller Base is that as new as it is in some ways (a supergun rooted in a planet, that siphons energy from the Sun is somewhat fresh), it violates what we’d expect from the third in a sequence, being bigger and better, yes, yet having far inferior defenses (2.0 was harder to destroy than 1.0, but 3.0 is way too easily destroyed). Or, as strong as the team of Rey, Finn, and Poe are in other ways, I worry that they’re not particularly fun, and that we just killed off Han the Fun Bringer. But the attack on the film as a repetitive, unoriginal clone is replete with erroneous, idealistic notions of originality that simply don’t hold up, and that critical scholars should be able to cut through.

Snoke sucks

Snoke sucks

Finally, and changing tacks again, there’s the critique of this being nostalgia. As I noted in the last post, this alone is an interesting admission that The Force Awakens is different, since A New Hope was more definitively future-focused. Nostalgia is too often used clumsily in regular speech, though, used to mean “a desire for repetition” or “a desire to go back,” yet without realizing that nostalgia always carries an element of pain, emanating from the realization that we can’t go back. There can be great warmth in nostalgia, and some versions of it aim only to revel in that warmth (cf. Happy Days). But handled well, nostalgia should encourage reflection, not only on the fact that we can’t go back because of time’s onward march, but on the idea that the time, place, or feeling that we want to go back to was never really there.

Consider Kylo Ren, who holds onto the melted mask of his grandfather, and who looks to it for guidance and support. We all know this to be a pathetic act, partly because, well, speaking to a melted mask isn’t entirely healthy, but mostly because we know his grandfather well. Anakin went to the Dark Side, destroying many good people in the process, killing kids in the process, and allowing fascism to rise. He lives up to his destiny to “bring balance to the Force” in his last moments, but overall his life was unequivocally tragic. He wore his mask, no less, not strictly speaking to be bad-ass and masked, but to hide a scarred face, to support his crumbled body, and to hide his last vestiges of humanity. For Ren to want to be Vader, to walk in his foot-steps, to “finish what he started,” is thus deeply misguided to say the least, and shows as much misunderstanding of history as does an average Tea Party rally. Ren is a figure suffering from nostalgia, mired and trapped in the past that he has created, not a real past. And yet when his father Han calls for him to snap out of it, Ren acknowledges that moving back in time isn’t possible. That whole scene, no less, is marked with futility – precisely because we’ve seen the original trilogy, we know when Han steps out onto that platform that he’s dead, and as he appeals to Ren, we know the appeal will fail. There is no going back.

Things My Grandpa Did

Things My Grandpa Did, by Kylo Ren

To be fair to The Force Awakens’ critics who allege woeful nostalgia, though, they’re not talking about nostalgia within the diegesis per se; they’re talking about nostalgia for the original films. Abrams certainly gives us Han and Chewie in the Falcon again, X-Wings destroying enemy bases, lightsaber battles in the dark, and even iris and wipe edits, but he also denies us some pleasures in thoughtful ways that conform to this interesting, reflective type of nostalgia. Take Han and Leia. We don’t get much of them bickering playfully and in a somewhat sexually charged way in The Force Awakens, and we don’t see them living happily ever after. We see them hug, but with Leia’s eyes full of loss and sadness. They reflect upon the fact that their relationship wasn’t strong enough to survive the loss of their son, and in their reflections that they each responded by “going back to the only thing I was ever any good at,” there’s an admission that they weren’t good at being with each other. There’s an acceptance of this, moreover, and Abrams never poses the state of their relationship as something to be resolved or overcome. I find a painful beauty in that. Nostalgic? Yes. But not at all repetition, nor a return to the way things were; instead, a message that the only (open, obvious) couple that the original trilogy gave us wasn’t a princess and her knight destined to live happily every after, and that maybe we don’t need a princess and knight to live happily ever after (since neither is “broken” per se).

Just like old times??

Just like old times??

The film isn’t just an exercise in the gleeful nostalgia of going back to where we were, and it has a more complex relationship to time and to the pasts in and of the film. The Force Awakens engages with nostalgia, but it is a thoughtful engagement, not at all the “aw, geez, isn’t it nice to be back where we started?” nostalgia that the disdainful criticisms of it suggest.


Let me conclude by reiterating that I don’t intend anything here to demand that The Force Awakens is an amazing film that must be revered. But to attack it front-on as an exercise in mere repetition, loving and uncritical nostalgia, and pastiche is, as Admiral Ackbar would tell us, a trap, since those pesky shield generators are still up. If you want to dislike it, go for it, but avoid an attack that idolizes a whacky notion of originality, and/or that rests upon on a misguided understanding of what repetition and nostalgia are.


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The Force Re-Awakens: Star Wars, Repetition, and Nostalgia, Part 1 Tue, 05 Jan 2016 17:18:52 +0000 Heading

Since the release of J. J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens, the Internet has been alive with complaints about it as an exercise in nostalgia that revels in mere repetition, pastiche, photocopying, etc. (I’d cite some examples, but at this point it’d be like citing examples of cats being popular on the Internet: you can find these complaints anywhere). Sometimes, these ooze with contempt for fandom, writing the movie off as “fan service” or “fan fiction,” as if that’s the worst thing anything could ever be. Some such posts and reviews rehash the tired, ancient, and utterly insipid suggestion that anyone who enjoys a blockbuster Hollywood franchise film is a brainless sheep, grazing here in the pasture of Farmer Walt. Others are less unkind to the audience, but instead regard themselves as offering aesthetic critiques, arguing that there is “nothing new” and wringing their hands about a culture of repetition.

I want to respond to and engage with this line of attack. I don’t intend this as a defense per se – since the film obviously has many lovers whose gushing praise of the film is as prevalent as the attack, and since I think the film is going to be just fine (understatement alert). Nor is this a plea for critics to come around and see the light, since they’re welcome to dislike the film. Rather, it’s interesting to stop and think through what’s being said about originality, nostalgia, franchising, and repetition.

In this post, I’ll discuss what is in fact new, then in a follow-up post I’ll ask “so what if there’s repetition?” and explore the bizarre criticism that The Force Awakens looking and feeling like A New Hope is contemptible. To discuss what’s new in the film requires getting into its guts, so this post will focus heavily on the plot and characters, whereas the next one will examine broader issues separated from that plot and those characters, of repetition, sequels, and originality.

A warning – spoilers abound. Don’t read past here if you don’t want to be spoiled (but also, hey, it’s been out for three weeks now. If you don’t want to be spoiled, go see it already).


To begin, let’s acknowledge that the film does indeed engage in quite a lot of repetition with variation. The (1) First Order is catching up with (2) Poe, who is believed to have important information regarding the whereabouts of a lynchpin of the (3) Resistance efforts against it, when (4) BB-8 is set loose on the desert planet of (5) Jakku with said information. Our young desert-dwelling hero with a mysterious past, (6) Rey, stumbles into an alliance with (7) Finn, and the old warrior (8) Han Solo, while that pesky evil organization engages its mega weapon, (9) the Starkiller Base, to destroy (10) many planets, to show its supreme fascist power. Positioned within the evil organization, and following the leadership of (11) Snoke, and alongside numerous Brits in grey uniforms, is the disliked Sith figure of power and malevolence, (12) Kylo Ren, who has a fondness for helmets and dark clothing. After encountering numerous interesting species, some friendly some dangerous, our heroes find plans to destroy this nasty base, team up with the x-wings to do so, and in a race of time to see who will strike first, the good guys or the bad guys, yay, the good guys win and destroy the base, but not before the nasty Sith faces off with an old frenemy and kills him, much to the horror of our onlooking heroes. Replace those numbers with, respectively, the Empire, Leia, the Rebellion, R2-D2, Tatooine, Luke, Han, Obi-Wan, the Death Star, Alderaan, Grand Moff Tarkin, and Darth Vader, and you have the plot of A New Hope. So, yes, there is definite overlap.

What’s new?

A lot of scenes, while ostensibly similar, carry vastly different weight precisely because they’re happening in the seventh movie of a franchise that is now 38 years old. Saying that a scene is “the same” as one in A New Hope is like saying a 60s style diner is “the same” as a diner one would actually have visited in the 60s, when of course it’s not – time has intervened and history has added and edited meaning. Maybe that diner you used to eat in as a kid looks just the same, but its neighborhood has changed, the owner has wrinkles, the people sitting there are no longer choosing between it and twenty other similar diners but between it and a Thai place, Chinese takeout, arepas from a food cart, and so on, the restaurant has its own stories, and thus you’re simply wrong if you think you’re reacting to it the same way as you used to. When context changes, meaning changes, and this script would surely have been written with an awareness of context changing. Add “small” changes, since this is not repetition – it’s repetition with variation – and add history, and a great deal changes.


The Force Awakens situates us in a galaxy where fascism and evil seem doomed to return, to hold the day, as a constant threat, even when we thought it was vanquished. By comparison, Leia’s Rebellion in A New Hope has been fighting the Empire for how long? Star Wars fans can now answer that question precisely, but when the film came out, we didn’t know whether it was a recent threat or a long-running one. This changes the stakes considerably, and proposes a bleaker, darker world, one that is further signaled by relationship failures and by loss – Han and Leia didn’t live happily ever after, they lost their son, Leia lost her brother, we all lose Han (and where, really, is the parallel there? The worst unplanned death of a good guy in the original trilogy is who? Porkins? Random Ewok #8? Han’s tauntaun?), and Rey feels the absence of her parents as Luke never did. Tears are shed. The kids with whom I watched The Force Awakens the second time found the movie a downer, and many adults did too, whereas A New Hope is effervescently upbeat.


Our bad guy is different too. When we encountered Vader, he was something of a solitary figure, derided for practicing an obscure religion, and simply A Bad Guy; by contrast, Kylo Ren not only follows Snoke, a Sith Lord, in a way that automatically privileges him over his fascist ginger (am I the only one to see a South Park reference here?) counterpart, and that puts him in a long line of Sith, but we know at this point in the franchise to assume that bad guys have good struggling within them, so we’re asked to relate to him differently. Vader, moreover, is confident and assured: he doesn’t run anywhere, he just strides; he never questions himself (till Return of the Jedi); he seems certain of victory. Kylo Ren, though, is replete with weakness, sensed by Rey when she backwashes his mind-reading trick; he rages like an angry toddler; he shows off; and for half the film he has his mask off, making him more human than Vader. Defeating him therefore seems to require a wholly different bag of tricks than defeating A New Hope’s Vader.


Or take the much-discussed killing of Han, reminiscent of the killing of Obi-Wan. When Obi-Wan’s killed, he’s had about fifteen minutes of screen-time, if that. By contrast, when Han’s killed, he’s arguably the most beloved character in a 38 year-old franchise, somebody who many audience members may’ve imagined they were on the playground, may’ve (should’ve?) even had crushes on. And since it’s Harrison Ford, he’s also Indiana Jones. Comparing the emotional impact of their deaths is thus plain silly. Let’s remember, too, that Obi-Wan wanted to be struck down – his little smirk before he stops fighting is one of the best parts of A New Hope, as is his mercurial threat that striking him down will only make him stronger, and the suggestion that Luke’s meant to watch, that Obi-Wan’s death is a sacrifice in aid of some future gain. Barring major new information, though, Han’s just dead: he won’t be appearing in ghost-form in a swamp near you anytime soon. He doesn’t do it to help Rey along a path. Obi-Wan doesn’t appeal to Anakin as his old friend, as Han appeals to his son; Obi-Wan is sure either than Anakin is gone or that he can’t bring him back except through death, whereas Han wants to bring his son home and thinks for a minute that his appeal is working.


Importantly, too, A New Hope is governed by young people, and brims with youthful desires to become someone, to grow up, to create something new, and to throw off the shackles of old guardians. Uncle Owen is unlikable for holding Luke back (as is Grand Moff Tarkin for holding Vader in check, for that matter), and Obi-Wan is exceptional precisely because he plays the role of cool uncle saying that Luke should go ahead and train as a Jedi, travel the galaxy, leave home. There’s more than a touch of the sixties in these folk. The Force Awakens, by contrast, respects and reveres its elders. Only Kylo Ren rages against his parents, and we as an audience are presumed to side with those parents. The film is quite tender in its brief treatment of Leia and Han as an old couple, Mark Hamill’s face in the closing scene is worn down by time, even new character Maz has a wisdom to be heard. Ironically, in other words, when critics say The Force Awakens is drenched in nostalgia, they’re noting that it’s operating in a very different mode from the future-centered New Hope.


And then there’s Finn, Rey, and (the admittedly under-developed) Poe. I can’t help but notice that an overwhelming amount of the attacks on The Force Awakens offering “nothing new” are from white guys, who clearly don’t get why it might matter that the franchise – the most successful franchise in media and merchandising history, no less – has just been entrusted to a Black English man, a White English woman, and a Guatemalan-American man. This is massive for identity politics. Perhaps not unique, but big. Especially for a franchise that has often relegated people of color to being comic fodder or the basis for stereotyped alien races. As a kid playing Star Wars, I was invited to play a host of white mostly-American figures (or the Black Bad Guy), but if kids are playing Star Wars now, they’re presented with a much wider range of options.


Finn appears in my plot parallel exercise above as a counterpart to Han, but is not at all Han. He’s a defector – a role entirely new to the films – not a rogue. Being a defector invites us to think about the ethical positioning of being part of the First Order, in a way that none of the original movies ever cared about, and in a way that immediately positions him as principled, whereas Han’s principles are notoriously questioned throughout A New Hope. Finn’s not as sure of himself as is Han, and he’s arguably allowed a wider range – brave, crack shot, scared, tentative, funny, impulsive, controlled, along for the ride, ready to act.


Rey, meanwhile, is the movie’s centerpiece. There are some nominal similarities to Luke, but she’s so much more capable, less whiny. The schtick surrounding her annoyance at Finn taking her hand tells us a lot about her independence. The Force is stronger in her, as is having her shit together. And let’s be honest that Daisy Ridley runs circles around Mark Hamill’s rather poor acting from A New Hope. Her Rey is the first bona fide hero in the filmic franchise: I count Han and Obi-Wan as sidekicks, Luke was too dithery and needed two films to get up to speed, and Episodes I-III’s Anakin was so horribly acted that he just existed as a long, stale filmic fart. Despite being the film’s clear hero, she doesn’t destroy the Starkiller Base, nor does she defeat the bad guy, and yet she offers a stronger spine for the next two films than Luke ever did.

I could go on about all sorts of little changes, too, but each of the above changes tone, theme, and stakes.

The Force Awakens isn’t just A New Hope in slightly newer clothing, therefore. But in the next post, I’ll allow the critics the day, assume it is or that my comments above aren’t convincing, and I’ll then ask, “so what?” Why are people bothered that Film #7 in a series seems a lot like some of the earlier films? And what might they be overlooking about how storytelling in this mode works?


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Fall Premieres 2015: The Best and the Worst Sun, 18 Oct 2015 15:00:54 +0000 combo

The Fall pilot season is not over – it lingers on well into Winter – but our sustained coverage at Antenna ends here with 47 shows reviewed. Partly as a coda, partly to change things up and have one person weigh in on several shows, and partly because my own blog is currently hacked and/or dead, I thought I’d give a round up of what I consider to be the best and worst. These aren’t group picks, just the choices of my own addled brain.

(and a quick disclaimer: I’ve not yet seen Casual [don’t have Hulu] or Blood and Oil [didn’t record], so they’re not included in consideration)


Best New Sitcom


The Grinder – Rob Lowe is excellent in this, bringing the best of his Parks and Rec performance, with both a great knack for comedy and a deft ability to hit touching moments within and through that comedy. It’s outlandish and over-the-top, but quite gloriously so. And, to compare to the other alliteratively paired FOX new sitcom starring an ageless 80s icon, The Grinder is smart enough not to rely upon Lowe as much as Grandfathered relies upon John Stamos, as Fred Savage holds the show together in many ways. It’s lightweight and has little of note to say about anything, but it’s very funny.

Honorable mentions:

The Muppets – This is fun. It’s not brilliant, but it’s done well, the script is at times very crisp, I’m not wailing “think of the children!” just because there’s some adult humor, and the sub-genre at least pulls something different out of a set of characters that I love. Perhaps I’ll turn off in a week or four, but for now I’m happy to continue with the ride. Besides, Gonzo always deserved more comic action, and here he gets it.

The Carmichael Show – Loretta Devine bugs me, as she does on Doc McStuffins, but otherwise it’s a passable sitcom. I’d never seen Carmichael prior to the show, yet he is all types of comfortable in the genre. I fully plan to check back in on this one, but with such a tiny first season, it hardly encouraged me to do so till later.


Worst New Sitcom


Benders – I was happy to see my old neighborhood of Sunnyside, Queens feature on television as something other than the location of a key witness on Law and Order, but that’s almost all I liked. It’s trying to be It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and yet doesn’t pull it off. Weak performances make it feel like a bad script reading not even the final product, weak and telegraphed humor tries to be edgy but is too unoriginal to manage it, a weak concept holds over it all, and there’s not even any ice hockey in a show about an ice hockey team.

Honorable mentions:

Dr. Ken – The stinkiness of the writing here is quite stunning at times. Sitcom pilots regularly stink but this one has so far to go to get anywhere half-decent. The jokes are the worst sort of dad jokes, making Two and a Half Men and According to Jim look proficient and positively witty by comparison. A real pity, especially since Albert Tsai ruled Trophy Wife and can do so, so much more than half-baked mime jokes.

Moonbeam City – Take Archer, modify it slightly for the 80s (but only slightly: visual and comic styles should remain), add comically gifted actors, and it should be alright, yeah? Nope. Very unfunny.


Best New Procedural

The Player

The Player – This show is really stupid, and makes no or negative sense half the time. But it’s a lot of fun and it’s never trying to be more than it is. I’ll need to be in the right mood to watch it, but if that mood calls for mindless, silly, yet high-paced action, it fits the bill. NBC out CBS’d CBS. Plus, all those silly elements (people running the world who like to bet on whether some random dude in Vegas will stop a predicted kidnapping or robbery? Whuh?) are silly enough to allow for a touch of camp, like a higher budget A-Team.

Honorable mention:

Blindspot – A rather gripping pilot that did a good job announcing itself as The Blacklist 2. The Blacklist doesn’t do it for me, and nor will this one, but it’s well-acted, tightly scripted, and once the woman is out of the bag (not a metaphor), it sets a good pace and isn’t as icky as I thought it would be. Not for me on a regular basis, but a step above the “No Thanks” category.


Worst New Procedural


Limitless – Matt Sienkiewicz’s review is really smart and deserves reading, much more than the show deserves watching alas. For me, it just couldn’t get its tone right, jolting between camp, serious, goofy, cool, grave, and frequently with music that jolted a different way. Not horrible, just not worth more time.

Honorable mentions:

Rosewood – Morris Chestnut is good in this, but it’s paint-by-numbers. Granted, some other things I like are paint-by-numbers, too, but I don’t especially care for these numbers. You know those B- papers you read that are okay but don’t really try to do or say anything about anything? This is that. It doesn’t fail, it’s not bad – it just put so little effort into being anything other than adequate.

Public Morals – Just so boring. I guess it’s okay, but I couldn’t get far enough into it. Ed Burns may be one of the more boring people alive, so this show fits him, but after rewinding twice to watch a scene that I’d zoned out of, I realized it wasn’t my fault. (note: maybe it’s not a procedural and belongs in the serial category, which is why I gave the nod to Limitless here, but I’d need to watch more to work that out, and I just can’t).


Best New Serialized Drama


Fargo – A brief history of me and this show: I thought it immensely stupid to try and make the film into a television show, and I avoided it. Then Myles McNutt told me I really should watch Season One, for my class, so I did, and I was blown away. When my fellow Peabody Board members and I awarded it a Peabody, I was excited and proud. It’s a truly amazing season. So where could one go from there? Season Two is off to a superb start, again visually and aurally experimental for television, yet in different ways from Season One, again getting amazing performances from its cast (I saw better acting from Kirsten Dunst in a scene than in her career to date. Even Kieran Culkin rocks his scenes), again delighting with an unpredictable plot, and again an artful mix of gravity and levity. If you choose to watch only one of the new shows, make it this one.

Honorable mentions (though a big gap exists between the above and the below):

The Last Kingdom – Compelling television, this has been billed as BBC and BBC America’s attempt to do Game of Thrones with some historical stakes and referents. So it’s not the fantastical universe of GoT, but nor is it entirely trying to be the same thing. If anything, in fact, it’s BBC and BBC America trying to do The Vikings. And they’re doing it well for now. A decent mix of drama, action, and a tiny bit of history to make it feel like one is eating one’s cauliflower while watching men with unkempt beards bash swords and heads against each other.

Quantico – After the second episode, I already feel this one sliding down in my estimation, but it delivered a very impressive pilot, that packed about ten times as much in as its peers, and that balanced anti-terrorist intrigue and suspense with hot young people mating and dating. Grey’s Anatomy meets Homeland, we were told, but since both shows fell apart, I see the writing on the wall for this hybrid.


Worst New Serialized Drama


Bastard Executioner – I was bowled over by how bad the acting and writing were, such that twenty minutes in, I turned it off. It’s hard for me to comprehend that the same guy who wrote Sons of Anarchy penned this pile of medieval turd.

Honorable mentions:

American Horror Story: Hotel – I don’t subscribe to the AHS Just Gets Worse script that so many others uphold, but this season just strikes me as a different type of horror altogether. I grew up reading and watching huge amounts of horror, but I simply can’t stomach torture porn, and this season is too gleefully going the way of AHS: Hostel. Its filming, editing, and cinematography are still beautiful and refreshingly inventive, but I just can’t watch. At least something like Texas Chainsaw Massacre built up to and earned its scenes of gore, whereas the pilot stumbles from death and bloodbath to death and bloodbath with only thirty seconds or so of setup each time.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend – Stalking is neither funny nor endearing, Hollywood. So I was overboard and swimming for dry land at the premise alone. Jenny Clark’s review made me consider turning around to swim back a little, but we only have so much time in our lives. Extra points docked for putting a “West Covina” earworm in my skull.


Best New Reality Show


I’ll Have What Phil’s Having – I really don’t like Exporting Raymond, seeing it as the Uncommon Grounds (see below) of documentaries about the media, and it led to me finding Phil Rosenthal as intensely annoying. But if we hit the mute button on Rosenthal, this is amazing food porn, filmed beautifully, and striking, for me, the right balance between travel show and food show. And Rosenthal’s not that bad – I appreciate how nothing grosses him out, and he’s not out to depict anywhere as a space of either mysterious exoticism or odd barbarism (so far?). I’ve watched two to date and enjoyed both quite a lot.

Honorable mention:

Suddenly Royal – my review is here. I expected nothing from it but was intrigued. Still, as much as I’ve meant to check back, I haven’t, and that probably says something. Passable, interesting, a cut above many others, and just such an interesting premise that makes it somewhat unique in a very paint-by-numbers genre, but ultimately nothing to write home about.


Worst New Reality Show

Uncommon Grounds

Uncommon Grounds – Todd Carmichael proves himself to be a jerk, but I thank him for providing me with a few clips to use next time I teach Othering, since his belittling commentary on Japan dominates a glorified informercial pilot. Many of the other shows that I disliked at least tried to do something and do it well for an audience that isn’t me, whereas this is lazy in every way, and the only people I could conceive of who’d want to watch this are in the “people who enjoy seeing other countries made fun of” demo, which may be large, but fuck them.

Honorable mentions:

Bazillion Dollar Club – my review is here. When you find yourself rooting for everyone on a reality show, contestants and judges alike, to fail and fail abysmally, it’s kind of over, yeah?

Monica the Medium – my review is here. There’s just so much wrong with the person at the center of the show that I can’t stomach the idea of spending more time with her.


Best New Variety or Talk Show


The Daily Show with Trevor Noah – my review is here. Noah’s still not done enough to suggest he’s up to the challenge of interviewing real political guests, which worries me, but with John Oliver, Stephen Colbert, Larry Wilmore, South Park, and occasionally Bill Maher (when he’s not being a monumentally sexist, racist douchebag) doing some heavy-lifting on the satire front, The Daily Show doesn’t need to lead the pack any more, and there’s enough in it to amuse and impress me, so I can wait it out a bit longer.

Honorable mention:

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert – Sacrilege not to rate this higher? Look, it’s me – I just don’t like hour-long latenight talk shows that much: too much loud cheering, sketches that go on too long, a lot of guests that say the same thing. They all do it, and it’s great for some people (I don’t mean that to sound patronizing either: I’m just not one of them). Colbert’s better than many, and he’s using the new platform in some interesting and exciting ways, but I liked The Colbert Report better, so I’m still ambivalent about this one.


Worst New Variety or Talk Show


Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris – Blame me, since I’m not a fan of variety shows in general – or blame the show, as did Antenna’s reviewers. Either way, it’s clawing, contrived, and as much as I love NPH, that only made me want to conduct a rescue mission.

Honorable mention:

Fashionably Late with Rachel Zoe – I could be all kinds of snarky about this, and obviously I’m too old and fat to be part of its intended audience (which is why I take some mercy on it, and don’t let it win this category), but I haven’t seen another television host who is so clearly just reading cue cards. Heck, I’d settle for someone underlining the words Zoe could emphasize on those cue cards; Siri and xtranormal put more inflection into their speech than Zoe. It’s wooden, dry, slow, and lifeless.



Fall Premieres 2015: Halftime Report Tue, 29 Sep 2015 13:30:12 +0000 combo

We have three more weeks of Fall premiere reviews, but now seems like a good time to stop and take stock. So far, we’ve published 57 reviews of 30 new shows. Below we offer links, summaries, and (for the networks) some Nielsen numbers (from TV By the Numbers, and just the 18-49 ratings, since those are what most of these channels care about. No cable ratings numbers since they took too long to find). I’m deeply distrustful of the Nielsen numbers, but since they’re the coin of the realm, should you be deciding what to try watching and what to avoid, the numbers may give you a sense of whether they’re likely to stick around long enough to bother.



Blood and Oil was reviewed by Melissa Aronczyk (Matt Sienkiewicz will review soon), who saw little awareness by the show of what oil means, but some awareness of what melodrama means. A 1.4/4 is a little anemic (or is the correct bad metaphor “all dried out”?).

The Muppets was reviewed by Melissa Click, Kyra Hunting, and Caroline Leader, none of whom loved it, but Melissa and Kyra will be sticking around to see how it develops, while Caroline, Statler, and Waldorf were decidedly colder on the effort. A 2.8/10 is a strong opening.

Quantico was reviewed by Kyra Hunting, Kit Hughes, and Bradley Schauer. Kit wasn’t impressed, while Kyra and Brad will be back for more. A 1.9/6 improves on last year’s Revenge premiere, but is a little lackluster for ABC.


ABC Family

Monica the Medium was reviewed Jonathan Gray and Louisa Stein, with Louisa showing more kindness and interest, Jonathan showing only dislike.



Hand of God was reviewed by Charlotte Howell, who was cautiously optimistic and intrigued by its pilot.



Fear the Walking Dead was reviewed by Amanda Keeler (here), who is sticking around for more, having liked a fair deal of what she saw.



The Late Show with Stephen Colbert was reviewed by Geoffrey Baym, Amber Day, Nick Marx, Chuck Tryon, and Dannagal Young (special post here), garnering reactions ranging from slight amusement to excitement. Fallon’s been beating Colbert in the ratings, but Colbert’s doing alright.

Life in Pieces was reviewed by Kelly Kessler and Derek Kompare, neither of whom seemed interested in picking up the pieces. Its 2.7/9 premiere would be great for NBC, but represents a hemorrhaging of lead-in Big Bang Theory’s 4.5/16.

Limitless was reviewed by Matt Sienkiewicz, who had many smart things to say about the show’s point that while not amounting to an attack on the show don’t exactly suggest warm appreciation. A 1.8/6 is weak for CBS.


Comedy Central

Moonbeam City was reviewed by Alyxandra Vesey, who wanted to relocate Elizabeth Banks and Kate Mara to another town, leaving a poor show well behind.


Disney XD

Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy was reviewed by Nicholas Benson and Kyra Hunting, with Nick enjoying it less. Groot.

Pickle and Peanut was reviewed by Camilo Diaz Pino, who noted the show’s capacity to pick up a bro audience, and who admired its aesthetic, but who won’t be joining the bros.



Minority Report was reviewed by Nick Benson, Paul Booth, and Kristina Busse. Kristine liked it the least and (precog that she is) predicted imminent death, though neither Nick nor Paul glowed. A 1.1/3 is pretty lousy for FOX.

Rosewood was reviewed by Derek Kompare and Myles McNutt, both of whom found the wood rotten. A 2.4/9 is okay, but surely Fox would rather a better lead-in to Empire.

Scream Queens received mix reviews from Kyra Hunting, Alfred Martin, Andrew Owens, and Philip Scepanski. Kyra and Phil enjoyed it somewhat, while Al and Andy were unequivocal is their dislike. With a 1.7/5, fourth in its timeslot, its beginning is iffy.



Bastard Executioner was reviewed by Mary Beth Haralovich and Karen Petruska, and though it didn’t demand execution from either, nor did it seem to appeal all that much.



Fashionably Late with Rachel Zoe was reviewed by Erin Copple Smith, who found it derivative and uninspired.



Todrick was reviewed by Tony Tran and Alyxandra Vesey, both of whom found it a little pitchy.



Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris was reviewed by Kelly Kessler and Tony Tran, both of whom, it’s safe to say, did not have their best time ever watching it. It opened with a 1.9 then climbed to 2.2 in week 2.

Blindspot was reviewed by Kristina Busse, Melissa Click, and Laura Felschow, none of whom seemed too concerned to leave it in their rear-view mirror. A 3.1/10 that’s first in the timeslot (and ahead of NCIS: Los Angeles and Castle) is an especially strong opening for NBC.

The Carmichael Show was reviewed by Phillip Cunningham, Alfred Martin, and Khadijah White (special post here), all of whom found enough of value to stick around for the season. NBC burnt off that first season, but it’s already received a second season order.

Heroes Reborn was reviewed by Paul Booth and Melanie Kohnen, both of whom were disappointed. Garnering a 2.0/6, third in its timeslot, was great for NBC these days, though hardly superb news.

The Player was reviewed by Myles McNutt. The House lost. With a 1.2/4, moreover, its debts may soon be called in.



Narcos was reviewed, and not favorably, by Kristina Busse (here).



Indian Summers was reviewed by Eleanor Patterson, who will be watching, but not because it’s especially good.



The Bazillion Dollar Club was reviewed by Christopher Cwynar and Jonathan Gray, with neither choosing to invest further.



Suddenly Royal was reviewed by Jonathan Gray, who found it surprisingly interesting.



Public Morals was reviewed by Kristina Busse, who found it adequate but yet another story about white dudes with badges.


Travel Channel

Uncommon Grounds was reviewed by Christopher Cwynar and Alyxandra Vesey, neither of whom found it their cup of tea.



Road Spill was reviewd by Jonathan Gray, who found it preeminently banal.


Sesame Street’s New Landlord Sat, 15 Aug 2015 13:35:11 +0000 got-sesame

With news that HBO has negotiated a five-year deal with Sesame Workshop to broadcast Sesame Street first, and to embargo new episodes elsewhere for nine months (which would then be given free to PBS), the prospective scenarios and jokes write themselves. One envisions a new segment called You Know Nothing, John Snow. A David Milch-penned Ian McShane will now voice Oscar the Grouch, joined by his new apprentice Reek. Lena Dunham will take over Abby Cadabby’s Flying Fairy School, with comically awkward full frontal nudity from all the fairies. We’ve probably all heard that Maria is leaving Sesame Street after 44 years, but rumors have it that she does so in a gruesome “Blue Wedding” scene involving a starving Cookie Monster. Or perhaps she leaves (with Elmo, let’s hope) in a second Sudden Departure in Season 2 of The Leftovers. Today’s word is “guilt,” as introduced by special guest star Robert Durst. Bert and Ernie welcome new roommates Patrick and Frankie. Grover and Big Bird join the guys at Pied Piper. And so forth (such jokes remind me of this classic video).

hbo-takes-on-sesame-street-the-internet-responds-18-photos-8But what are we to make of the deal?

Many are justifiably concerned about access for those without HBO. Sesame Street began with dreams of closing an achievement gap between middle class kids beginning school with good pre-K education, and working class kids without any such education. Thus, moving the show to the emperor of pay cable raises all sorts of concerns. See here for a smart articulation of these concerns. That said, it’s unclear as of yet how much access will be affected: if all kids can still watch later, will Sesame’s planned curriculum work at a discount nine months on? Will Sesame Workshop’s promise to produce more episodes ultimately be a net positive? Watch this space.

hbo-takes-on-sesame-street-the-internet-responds-18-photos-18I’ve also heard plenty of concern being voiced about what this will do to content (see the jokes above). This concern, I believe, is unwarranted. Sure, corporate ownership affects texts, but Sesame Street isn’t a new show trying to find its feet: it’s the most successful, beloved text in American TV history. It has earned the privilege to call its own shots, and surely any deal keeps that agency alive. For what it’s worth, too, HBO doesn’t have ads, whereas PBS does (oh, okay, they’re “sponsors”), so it will actually be easier to watch Sesame Street without any ads on HBO than on PBS. HBO could undoubtedly find ways to screw the show up, but I find this highly unlikely, and if they try, surely Sesame could pack up and go elsewhere.

What worries me most is what this means for PBS, and for its other kids shows. Sesame Workshop and (before his death in 2003) Fred Rogers always provided PBS with its very best rhetorical defense, as evident when Mitt Romney’s 2012 suggestion that he’d cut PBS’ funding was popularly translated as Mitt stupidly wanting to “kill Big Bird” (see below). The GOP has long hated PBS, and regrets every tax dollar that goes to it instead of buying nuclear submarines. But they’ve never quite been able to break through the dam that is the public’s love and respect for Big Bird and friends. The dam is now gone. It is now oh-so-easy for a Republican Congress to say, “see, commercial television makes Sesame possible. Game over.” In such a scenario, Sesame Street lives on. But what’s downstream from the dam is everything else on PBS, especially all of its other non-tentpole children’s programming.

romneyI want to temper that concern somewhat, though. As Laurie Ouellette’s brilliant Viewers Like You? does, we can and should criticize PBS from the left, not just from the right. PBS has regularly understood its remit to play programming that commercial television won’t play as a command instead to go even more highbrow, not to serve those consumers and citizens eschewed by advertiser-led programming. Along the way, it’s taken on ads, and often closely resembles that which it was meant to counter-program. When your most prominent non-kids show is a wet dream of British aristocracy sponsored by Viking River Cruises (whose website is currently proud of a “deal” that “only” costs $3762 per person, assuming double occupancy) and Ralph Lauren, your claim to carry the banner of the masses is laughable. PBS has long aspired to be HBO (even before there was an HBO!), so in some senses this custody agreement over Sesame Street shouldn’t seem so odd.

PBS’s greatest offering to American society has come from its kids programming, though, so the concern is still valid, the threat still real. Even PBS’ worst kids shows aspire to educational status. The joke that is “E/I” labeling on commercial television, wherein channels can say that anything with a happy ending is “educational” because “it teaches good morals,” is so deeply cynical, yet I’ve never found PBS cynical in this regard.


Admittedly, PBS’ educational programming isn’t the only game in town. Amazon is doing some great things, with Tumble Leaf and Annedroids, even Creative Galaxy, impressing me considerably. I was also very proud to be part of the Peabody Award jury that acknowledged Disney Junior’s Doc McStuffins for its own work. So I don’t want to overstate: even if Sesame Workshop’s deal with HBO breaks the dam, not every good, educational, important kid’s show stands to be destroyed if PBS disappears or is further commercialized. There are enough inhabitants below that dam, though, that it’s reason to worry.

twitterIt’s easy, then, to get pissed off at Sesame Workshop for this move. Personally, though, I’m inclined to say that after all they’ve done for families with televisions around the world, and after being the dam that held back the GOP’s attack on PBS for so long, it’s hard to argue that they owe us even more. They earned a right to be selfish, to think about how they – not children’s educational programming or public broadcasting writ large – will remain afloat. If there’s someone to be angry at, therefore, it’s still (1) the GOP for forcing this hand; (2) PBS for never truly being what they should’ve been in the first place, and thus for requiring Sesame Workshop and Fred Rogers to protect them from successive rounds of attacks on their funding; and (3) generations of PBS’ well-to-do “viewers like you” for demanding more British period dramas instead of realizing the channel was never meant to be there to satisfy their bourgeois needs.


A final thought on the deal, though, is about what this means for HBO. The jokes with which I began are so easy to pen because HBO’s brand identity and Sesame Street have seemed so distant from each other. HBO has put a lot of time and money into presenting themselves as the choice of discerning upper middle class adults. Indeed, a recent set of ads for HBO GO were clearly pitched at youth who thought themselves old enough for HBO’s parade of violence, sex, and profanity, and at parents hip and wise enough to realize that their kids weren’t kids any more. Thus, as much as the public discussion of this move has understandably focused on what the deal means for Sesame Street and for PBS, it’s interesting to consider this as a major shift in strategy for HBO. With the advent of HBO Now, HBO clearly has aspirations to become a premier streaming service. Netflix has its deal with Disney that will soon reap its greatest rewards; Amazon has its impressive slate of kids shows; and HBO has often had nothing remotely worthwhile for kids (Fraggle Rock ended 28 years ago). So for them to go out and buy the most famous kids show ever sends a loud message that they don’t just want to be for adults anymore. It may tell us that HBO has decided that being a streaming service heavyweight requires kids programming. Perhaps streaming services are the future and lifeblood of kid’s television; indeed, between this deal and Amazon’s interest in creating yet more high quality kids shows, clearly something is going on. But we should still worry about the coming flood that might wash away a great deal of what was PBS at its very best.


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Honoring Hilmes: Best. Colleague. Ever. Wed, 06 May 2015 14:00:12 +0000 CENGZVgVEAAozFx

This is the third post in our “Honoring Hilmes” series, celebrating the career and legacy of Michele Hilmes on the occasion of her retirement. 

Post by Jonathan Gray, University of Wisconsin-Madison

I sincerely hope (and expect!) that Michele Hilmes’ retirement will not be a retirement from academia, but since it will be a departure from the Department of Communication Arts, and from the Media and Cultural Studies area of the department, I’d like to comment on her as a colleague.

In doing so, I’d also like to insist that Michele has been the most important person in the cultural life of Media and Cultural Studies (MCS) at UW-Madison.

When I was hired in 2009, I was aware of this being seen as John Fiske’s program in the field at large (even though he’d retired in 2000). For all that he did, as inspirational figure, as translator of high theory, as champion of the popular, as ambassador of cultural studies to the U.S., and (by all accounts) as the guy who’d stay up past midnight discussing Gramsci with grad students in The Red Shed bar, he deserves plenty of kudos. But Michele’s own importance in building up the program and keeping it healthy was made clear when Fiske gave me advice (at the Fiske Matters conference) to follow in his foot-steps and never sit on any departmental committee other than the Graduate Committee. By contrast, Michele has been on almost every single committee in the department, from Graduate to Personnel and Tenure, Budget and Salaries to Awards, Development to Undergraduate, a Self-Study Committee to multiple search committees. She’s been Director of Undergraduate Studies, Director of Graduate Studies, Associate Chair, and Chair. At the university level, she’s chaired the Humanities Division Executive Committee, performed program reviews, been a Women’s Faculty Mentor, chaired the college’s Equity and Diversity Action Committee, and been on the Ethnic Studies Implementation Committee. All of this while performing immense service to the field at large, while sitting on countless dissertation committees, and while publishing at a remarkable rate. She’s always found time, made time, to keep the machine running, to fix it, to reinvent it, and to ensure everyone knows how to work it.

MCS hasn’t just produced an impressive slate of alumni: many of them talk glowingly of their time here. Upon arrival, I was entranced by the energy, the camaraderie, and the commitment to asking all sorts of questions, but being collegial while doing so. I’m convinced that much of this has existed because of Michele. She wasn’t the only one, of course, but she has regularly been the one behind the scenes – serving on yet another handful or five departmental committees – who has upheld it, whose leadership, example, and careful politics have allowed it to continue, to thrive. She hasn’t gotten adequate credit for this, either, precisely because of how well she does it: countless times I’ve seen her walk us away from the edge, and move us in a better, safer, kinder direction, but I’m often the only one who has seen that. She doesn’t crow about her achievements, she doesn’t boast of great victories. She has an amazing ability to care deeply, to think through exactly what the best course of action is, to enact it, and then to brush it off, spare us the need to rehash it, and leave the office as though nothing ever happened.

UW logoShe’s also regularly had to exert this leadership with few comrades-in-arms, or with an ever-changing list of colleagues. Through much of her time at Wisconsin, MCS has been short-staffed, meaning that Michele has regularly needed to walk into department meetings with nothing approaching a majority of the votes naturally on her side; she’s needed to work with others to get things done, to constantly communicate MCS’ needs and to articulate them to others’ needs so that they’re met. She’s had assistance, but each new arrival has been another person she needed to bring on-line. I’m often aware that when she calmly and expertly explains how something works to me, this must be the tenth time she’s delivered such a talk in the last decade, yet she never seems exasperated.

Her other great skill as a colleague, though, and especially as a senior colleague, is that she balances perfectly being there to give advice, to instruct and educate when needed, and to explain what was done in the past and why it was done, with an eagerness to allow each new arrival to put their imprint on things. It would have been easy for Michele to draw lines in the sand, declare that “this is what MCS is, and this is what we do,” and simply require successive waves of junior faculty to fall in line, but instead during my whole time here I’ve seen her excited to help the rest of us work out what we want MCS to be, what we want the department to be.

I’m aware that this is a “gushy” post. It reads like something that perhaps I should just be saying privately to Michele. But I’m saying it publicly in part to pay testament to a remarkable leader who has made this “her” program in the best way possible, and whose credit hasn’t been duly recognized in the field at large. I’m also saying it publicly to insist that collegiality matters. We tend to think of academic ideas and approaches as founding programs (and to this end, Michele has also been a remarkable leader, as evidenced by the number of MCS alumni whose work is historicized with great care), but interpersonal approaches, a culture of kindness and respect, and a commitment to working behind the scenes to keep all the mundane cogs, wheels, and springs working – these are regularly forgotten about. Michele has been a good colleague par excellence.

As you’ll all soon have the chance to listen to, Andrew Bottomley, Jeremy Morris, and Christopher Cwynar recently put together a podcast in Michele’s honor. It includes the voices of approximately 50 scholars and former students worldwide, all of whom glow about her not just as a scholar, but as a colleague, an advisor, a mentor, a friend. Discussions of great programs often privilege masculinized notions of having public academic “fights” and “battles” with “rival” camps, of steely eyed dictatorship and an unwillingness to negotiate, and of loud and proud proclamations of one’s identity from the hilltops. The impact of Michele’s example of another, better way is made clear throughout that podcast.

I have had the distinct privilege in my career to date of working with many truly amazing people. I hope none take offense when I say that even amongst them, Michele Hilmes rises above as the best colleague I could imagine. I’ll miss you dearly, my friend.


The Peabody Awards and Dialogic Declarations of Value Fri, 24 Apr 2015 14:20:31 +0000 peabody-advisory-board

Post by Jonathan Gray, University of Wisconsin, Madison.

This year’s Peabody Awards are “new and improved” in many ways. The awards ceremony will be televised, for one (hosted by Fred Armisen, on Pivot); the screening committees were overhauled to draw on the expertise of media and journalism studies scholars nationally; judging made use of an online streaming platform, thereby giving Board members easier access to everything; and announcements have been spread out over two weeks (to give various winners their due, rather than have them hidden behind the more prominent Entertainment awardees). Less monumentally, it’s my first year on the Board. In this post, I thought I’d reflect a little on the process, especially on what it’s like to be on a Board charged with determining value, for a media and cultural studies scholar when we’re often uncomfortable with declaring value, saying this is “better” than that, or establishing hierarchies of worth.

First, though, it’s worth noting two of the ways in which the Peabodys are different from many other media awards. There are no categories with single winners for each. Ostensibly, everything competes against everything. We seek “excellence on its own terms,” and thus being on the Board means constantly shifting one’s frame of value. Paired with this, to receive an award, an item must ultimately receive a unanimous vote from the Board of seventeen members. This means that all decisions are made following a highly deliberative process, and if even just one member doesn’t vote for something, it won’t win. Rather than simply vote on what one thinks is excellent, therefore, one must communicate that excellence, and convince one’s colleagues on the Board that it is worthy of an award.

It’s this deliberative process with which I fell in love. It’s an impressive Board, marked currently by fellow academics Henry Jenkins, Barbie Zelizer, and the Director Jeffrey Jones, but also by television critics, the curator for the British Film Institute, and past or present journalists, producers, creators, and media execs. Everyone’s used to being listened to in their job, yet we’re all thrown into a room and made to talk it out. Simply dictating that this or that has value is meaningless, as one must instead think carefully about what sort of value something has, and to whom, and then communicate that thoughtfully. Each of us came into the process with our own passions, but one can never assume that those passions are shared by others. This could be a recipe for bland, middle-of-the-road fare, if everyone simply yielded on the most unobjectionable texts. Instead, though, the deliberative process was exhilarating, as everyone seemed to accept that the awards are more meaningful if we try to understand others’ passions and criteria for excellence, and if we found ways to precariously balance them out with each other.


Exciting for me, therefore, were the moments when I found new appreciation for something that on first viewing or listening meant little to me. At times, I’d enter a discussion skeptically, yet either be schooled on why something mattered to people other than me, or – even cooler when it happened – be led into liking it myself. Similarly, it was energizing to sit down and think through some of my passions, and work out how best to communicate their value to others: when we can’t simply pound a fist on the table and insist that something is good dammit, it challenges us to really explore what it is that we love so much about it, why it has value, and why we want others to experience it as do we. The process “stretched” me, both in terms of getting what other people like and why, and getting better what I like and why.

It’s this process that also makes the Peabody Awards quite unique, and that lead to their value to those who win. Walter Cronkite famously quipped that one counts one’s Emmys, but cherishes one’s Peabodys. Indeed, this would be a retort to those who question the point of the whole endeavor. Awards like this can matter, we’re aware: many veteran Board members told me of one-on-one conversations with documentarians, writers, or newscasters at previous awards dinners who’d spoken of how much an award like this means to them. The new mantra is that we award “Stories that Matter” (while being openly reflexive in asking who they matter to, how, and why), and I like the idea of celebrating those who have contributed meaningfully to the public sphere. Just as it’s always a pleasure for me to sit down and write a reference letter for a truly spectacular student or colleague applying for a job, award, or grant, since I want to stop and pay respect to their awesomeness, so too is it refreshing that we find ways to say not just, “your show was engaging, interesting, and/or amusing,” but “your show matters and makes a difference.”

I’m very proud of this year’s slate of winners. It includes things I adored and/or admired before the judging process, such as Inside Amy Schumer, Fargo, Serial, Doc McStuffins, Cosmos, Jane the Virgin, and Last Week Tonight. I gained new obsessions and passions along the way, to State of the Re:Union, The Honorable Woman, Adventure Time, The Americans, Black Mirror, Richard Engel’s reporting, Vice Media’s access and new approach to news, all things Grace Lee Boggs, and many other documentaries, news reports, radio shows, podcasts, websites, and entertainment shows that didn’t get awards but that won me over all the same. And I had confirmed for me why it can be valuable, and transformative, to have discussions and debates about what is worthy of commendation, what is special, what is unique. Media and cultural studies is right to be concerned about singular, monologic declarations of value, but there’s something to be learned from the Peabodys’ mode of deciding upon value dialogically.


Santa’s Lousy Prison Guard: The Elf on the Shelf Tue, 23 Dec 2014 16:06:17 +0000 elfIs the Elf on the Shelf teaching children to enjoy, and submit to, a world of surveillance? A recent article in The Washington Post that’s been doing the rounds in my Facebook feed cites Laura Pinto and Selena Nemorin’s “Who’s the Boss? ‘The Elf on the Shelf and the Normalization of Surveillance” saying yes. They’re wrong.

The knee-jerk response is to say, “oh, c’mon, it’s just a kids’ toy. Ease up.” That is not my response. We absolutely should examine kids’ toy worlds for the meanings they present to children. But The Elf ain’t all that bad.

Pinto and Nemorin sense a panopticon at work, alluding to Jeremy Bentham’s prison design in which a central guard tower looks out at, and can be seen from, each cell that surrounds it in a circle. As they note:

Backlighting in the central tower made it impossible for prisoners to discern whether or not they were being watched. Michel Foucault (1979) saw the panopticon as a perfect symbol of modern surveillance societies: a metaphor for discipline operating through a variety of social and institutional apparatuses that leave the individual on guard, never certain if she is actually being watched, but knowing structures are in place to monitor her movements at all times.

Oddly, though, in the very next paragraph after this definition, they continue:

This was illustrated by Huffington Post writer Wendy Bradford who reported that her children insist on ringing the doorbell before entering their home to make sure that their Elf on the Shelf doll, “Chippey,” is prepared for their arrival, thus underscoring their awareness (and acceptance) of the surveillance apparatus.

Wait a minute. If Bradford’s kids need to ring the doorbell to let Chippey know they’re coming, this tells me they know Chippey can’t see them outside their house, and it tells me they know that Chippey isn’t even likely to see everything they do inside the house. This is nothing like the totalizing surveillance in which the individual is “never certain if she is actually being watched.” Chippey’s a pretty lazy guard, who needs waking up lest he sleep through his entire job.

There’s no backlighting here; we know exactly where the guard is. Certainly, my daughter regularly eludes the gaze of her elf, HoHo. If he’s not in the room, she knows he sees nothing. If she’s outside of the home, he sees nothing. And just like Bradford’s kids who sound like they’re making fun of their lazy, sleepy guard Chippey by telling him to wake up (I think here of a high school social studies teacher of mine who would fall asleep while we were taking exams, and, cruel teenagers that we were, we’d relish the task of waking him up at the end, to mock the man’s ineffectiveness), my daughter sometimes rubs her day’s misdeeds in HoHo’s face, reporting back on what she’s done as though she’s aware of his fecklessness. In short, there’s nothing Benthamite or Foucauldian about this. Chippey’s like the guard in a videogame with bad EI, who has a set routine, and all the player needs to do is learn the routine to learn how to elude his gaze.

santaBut you know what is Foucauldian, with NSA written all over it? A guy who “sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.” Santa’s The Man here, and always has been. Well, okay, before him, or in some families alongside him is an even more sinister deity who plans to put kids in Hell if they’re naughty. When Santa and God are on the scene, and have been for so long, caring about the Elf seems quaint. If the concern is about normalizing surveillance, Chippey the Lazy Elf and his brother HoHo the Feckless are small fry. Sure, these elves sell well, but nothing like Santa, and nothing like God.

Pinto and Sumerin also write:

When children enter the play world of The Elf on the Shelf, they accept a series of practices and rules associated with the larger story. This, of course, is not unique to The Elf on the Shelf. Many children’s games, including board games and video games, require children to participate while following a prescribed set of rules. The difference, however, is that in other games, the child role-plays a character, or the child imagines herself within a play-world of the game, but the role play does not enter the child’s real world as part of the game. As well, in most games, the time of play is delineated (while the game goes on), and the play to which the rules apply typically does not overlap with the child’s real world.

But how do they know what’s accepted or not? First, they forget a key player here: the parent. Parents filter the rules, and change them as they wish. So what if the book says X? The comparison to board games is illustrative here, inasmuch as I’ve never, ever found two families who play Monopoly the same way. The rule book is the same, but everyone domesticates it. So too with the elves. My daughter was welcome to touch HoHo last year, till we found out why that rule exists: he’s cheaply made and falls apart easily. She’s no longer allowed to touch the almost-decapitated HoHo this year, but he serves a limited role. My daughter looks for him when she wakes up, he fills her advent calendar, then he’s pretty much done for the day. I don’t doubt that some parents use him as a minion of evil who disciplines their kid and rules over their house with an iron fist and without mercy, but that’s on the parents in question, and if that’s what they do with their elf, the elf is the least of the child’s problems. If the elf wasn’t their tool of surveillance and discipline, it’d be something else.

In forgetting about parents, Pinto and Sumerin also don’t see the immense prospect for parental play. Most parents I know who have the elf use him more for their amusement. HoHo abseils down walls, he dons a feather boa and chills with Miffy the rabbit, he tried to start a cult last year, which worried Teebo and Wicket W. Warwick greatly (see left, below) until it turned out to be a large-scale literacy program that resulted in all of my daughter’s stuffed toys learning to read (see right, below).


Others are slightly more devious, or outright inappropriate, if deeply funny (just Google: you’ll see worse. The below aren’t mine, for the record).


HoHo isn’t entirely feckless, to be honest, since he serves a role in our house that the Internet suggests he serves in many, many houses: allowing the parents to have a little bit of carnivalesque play in the realm of kid culture. We all need things like the elf, or Louis CK routines to keep us sane. And towards this end, it’s worth considering that the elf does nothing while the kids are awake: he just sits there. He comes alive when the kids are asleep, allowing parents some scope for play and fun. Even if he ends up in a saccharine sweet pose by morning – as with the HoHo scene on the right, above – he may’ve been tested out in other poses before: the HoHo scene on the left was created solely for my wife’s enjoyment.

He’s creepy looking, sure, but that’s an intertextual creepiness: one needs to have seen horror movies in which dolls come alive to worry about the little freak. Kids are unlikely to see more than a rosy-cheeked little white guy.

Indeed, if there’s anything to complain about, it’s not the elf as lazy, ineffectual prison guard, it’s the elf as yet another emblem of white male power. He is a he in the book, but even if you queer the elf, s/he’s still a servant of Santa, The Man. So maybe the ultimate “message” of the elf is that white guys are watching you, checking up on you. Not a fun message but hardly untrue … and all the more reason for us adults to mess with the elf.


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Announcing a New Series: Antenna Kids Tue, 18 Nov 2014 14:30:39 +0000 hair bandFor the rest of this week, Antenna will be kicking off a new, continuing series: Antenna Kids. The charge for the series is simple and broad – to engage critically with media for children.

The idea came very selfishly from my own sense that many Antenna readers and contributors have kids, work with kids, and/or work on kids media, and you might help me engage thoughtfully with the mediated environment that my daughter is moving through or will soon move through. Too much of the received wisdom on kids media comes from hacks and moral panickers, or from the press’ crude readings of complex quantitative studies that non-number-literate journalists over-simplify. So what do those of us in media and cultural studies, or in correlate, neighbor fields have to say instead? What would a feminist media studies scholar who knows her kids’ media recommend I show an almost three year-old? What issues in the aforementioned received wisdom need to be challenged, revisited, replaced? What’s not on my radar that should be; apparently there’s this show called Breaking Bad that I’m told I need to watch at every conference, but what television shows, books, games, films, and more am I not hearing about that might interest, fascinate, and challenge my daughter, and which texts should she and I run away from screaming?

The series began with that selfish idea, but surely the answers to these questions could help many of us, whether as parents, scholars, and/or specialists.

1The posts that follow this one will be the interesting ones, and will give a taste of what the series could do and be. But the series will need more writers, so please let me know at jagray3 at wisc dot edu if you’re interested.

The series will take two forms:

1. traditional blog posts.

2. roundtables. For the latter, we would love to get a whole host of names of interested people who’d be willing to field the occasional short question via email (such as my above one – “what would a feminist media studies scholar who knows her kids’ media recommend I show a three year-old?”), and to type up 100-300 words in response. We can then collate some of these and begin the discussion with a post that hopefully others would contribute to in the comments. The roundtable model acknowledges that some people have no answers, are busy right now, etc., and thus we’d always ask more people than we need to get a post going, so that only some need to reply.

Perhaps the only other parameter to set right now is that by “kids” and “children,” we’re thinking around 0-11. Where we set that end line is fuzzy, partly because we hope to have writers from around the world contribute, and the cultural hingepoints are different in different countries. But we’re interested largely in infancy to the end of elementary school.

We hope the series will be of interest to many of you, and that many of you will write for it.



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