Summer Media – Antenna Responses to Media and Culture Thu, 30 Mar 2017 23:48:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Summer Media: Wet and Wild Amusements Mon, 06 Sep 2010 15:07:27 +0000 Summer can be a great time for media; movie theaters feature big budget summer blockbusters, longer days lend themselves to DVD binging and catching up on television series we may have missed during the year, and hot summer afternoons can be spent in air conditioned arcades. But perhaps the best part of the summer media experience is being able to partake in our favorite media and franchises outdoors. Summer is the time for drive in theaters, rooftop movies under the stars, outdoor concerts,  and amusement parks.

The festivals and amusement parks that dominate the summer months can contribute to what sets summers apart because of the carnivalesque pleasures they provide, set apart from daily life. A Labor Day weekend trip to Noah’s Ark Water Park  in the Wisconsin Dells reminded me of just how important a role amusement parks play in both the commercial value of summer (to both media franchises and tourist economies) and its often important role as a carnivalesque release valve in a labor intense society. While the franchise is an obvious part of a lot of summer entertainment, most evident in the sequels and franchise video games that are released, it is becoming an increasingly big part of other parts of summer that I nostalgically fantasized were more bucolic or carnivalesque.

It is possible to look at the carnival as detailed by Bakthin less as an instance of real subversion and more as a release valve for the tensions built up in every day life. When I walked into Noah’s Ark to be greeted by the sound of high pitched screams, it seemed that I was seeing this part of carnival in action. Release seemed to be the order of the day, as even the tamest rides and attractions evoked screams along with laughter.

As I too began to brave these behemoths, screaming at steep drops, practically drowning as water shot at my face as I rode the Black Anaconda, I wanted to chalk up my enjoyment of this park up to the carnivalesque. The rides invited me to relinquish control, to experience the catharsis of fear and relief, to scream in public without the injunction to remain calm. The park allows its patrons to relinquish many of their every day constraints. They are invited to: lose control of their bodies, make spectacles of their emotions through screams and laughter, and be allowed to look ridiculous in these public spaces, all in the service of pleasure.  I wanted to think of this park experience as an example of a more classical kind of popular culture modeled on the carnival … then I came face to face with Sponge Bob.

He was several stories tall, adorning a building to announce the park’s 4D Sponge Bob Square Pants Movie. Suddenly, I noticed that Sponge Bob was everywhere. His face appeared in the gift shop, on lunch boxes at the snack stands, and on t-shirts on the patrons. The idea of an amusement park getting in bed with a media franchise is certainly not novel, indeed this country’s most famous parks were founded on just such a partnership. However, franchise figures have rarely been a huge part of more local theme parks that may be associated with more nostalgic ideas about community entertainment.

Sponge Bob’s presence at Noah’s Ark was neither an anomaly nor an inevitability, but rather an important part of the experience of carnivalesque pleasure that summer amusement parks and festivals can provide. Sponge Bob became the most obvious embodiment of the complex matrices of commerce, labor, leisure, and pleasure that underlie much of the summer entertainment industry. The Sponge Bob Square Pants 4D Movie functioned as a marketing tool for the water park in an attempt to capitalize on the franchise success, the film (which is shown at many theme parks simultaneously) gives Nickelodeon an opportunity to reinforce and extend the Sponge Bob Square Pants brand, and the licensed products at the gift shop and snack stand are beneficial to both parties.

I was initially tempted to see Sponge Bob as an interloper into the more “authentic” community-centered cultural experience I believed I was having, but it became clear quickly that his function was more complicated than that. The involvement of the Sponge Bob franchise at the water park threw into more distinct relief the importance that commercial interests have in this location of summer culture; it made the reality of the presence of commerce amongst the pleasures of the carnivalesque inescapable. It also did not negate, and in fact may have extended, the more carnivalesque pleasures. Theme park patrons could use Sponge Bob as a bridge between the pleasures that they experienced there and something that is part of their everyday life.  The insides of those Sponge Bob lunch boxes may go on to carry in them the foods featured during Sponge Bob’s commercial breaks but they may also bring with them the memory of what it felt like to let go and scream. For someone who is about to return in earnest to the business of teaching about, writing about, and thinking about media, this reminder that pleasure, commerce, and community experience is wrapped up together in many texts — this living example of the complexity of media literacy — was just the thing that I needed as I left the carnival of summer behind.


Summer Media: American Pickers, Pawn Stars, and Shows About Stuff Sat, 28 Aug 2010 18:01:16 +0000

During the past few weeks, after reading about them in the press and being urged by friends, I finally got around to watching American Pickers and Pawn Stars, a pair of History documentary reality TV series based around the business of buying and selling antiques and collectibles. Both shows are part of a virtual explosion of reality series airing new episodes this summer. Predictably, though, much of this programming is designed to replicate successful themes and formats. For instance, American Pickers and Pawn Stars combine the BBC’s and PBS’s long-running Antiques Roadshow collectibles appraisal format with the spectacle, humor, and adventurous spirit of the many extreme and/or bizarre jobs reality series, ranging from Deadliest Catch and Ice Road Truckers to American Choppers and Miami Ink/LA Ink. (Other recent collecting-themed reality series like A&E’s Hoarders focus on compulsive behavior, and thus more closely resemble the various human freak show-style reality shows.)

Pawn Stars was the first of this pair to reach the air, debuting back in July 2009. Already in its third season, the series centers around the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas, owned and operated by three generations of the Harrison family. The setup is simple: customers bring in items to sell or pawn, the staff appraises them and/or calls in an expert to do so, and then they haggle over the price. The emphasis is on unique artifacts – vintage toys, weapons, Word War II memorabilia, rare coins, et al (as opposed to more commonly pawned items like jewelry or electronics) – and during the appraisal process some historical knowledge is always revealed. Americans Pickers, which only premiered in January but is already in its second season, follows a similar format, except rather than have the customers come to them, the show’s protagonists, Iowans Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz (pictured above), go to the customers. Travelling the country, the Pickers – named that because, unlike an antique dealer in a shop, they scrounge through junk heaps and people’s homes to “pick” out rare items that they then resell to dealers or collectors – spend most of their time on back roads and farms. Indeed, both shows seem very calculated in their attempts to cultivate blue-collar appeal: they’re set in middle America; the Pawn Stars and Pickers mainly purchase everyday and pop culture type objects; and the guys even look like average Joes (they all ride motorcycles, to boot).

The two shows have been ratings successes. When it debuted in January, American Pickers had the most-watched History series premiere since Ice Road Truckers in 2007. Back in June, the Monday night block of Pawn Stars and Pickers attracted the History network’s largest audience ever. But the shows haven’t been without controversy either, especially Pickers. Just do a little Googling and you’ll quickly find viewers reviling Mike and Frank for taking advantage of the elderly and others who have saved these collectibles for a lifetime but have little to no idea about their monetary value. Those within the antiques community, including none other than John Fiske, have also taken issue with the duo’s ethics and their role in buttressing the public perception of antique dealers as rogues and thieves. (Pawn Stars seems to escape these criticisms because the owners are always the ones bringing the objects to the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop looking for a payday.)

While those are intriguing points to consider, I find it particularly interesting that these shows about antiques and collectibles are emerging and prospering during a period of economic recession. The value of the objects featured in the shows frequently run into the thousands and even tens-of-thousands of dollars, and it seems hard to believe that there are many people out there actively buying up such high-priced collectibles right now. Indeed, the Pawn Stars and the Pickers are middle men in all of this; the collectors who purchase this stuff from the pawn shop and the Antiques Archaeology store are never seen, even though we are assured that they are out there. Nevertheless, I believe the audience interest in these shows is driven less by a desire to be a collector and buy these collectibles than it is to sell them. At a time when so many Americans are losing money and cutting back, it is reassuring to see that our junk really might be gold.

Indeed, the type of collectibles featured in these shows does not resemble what most people think of when they think of antiques. That is, these are not Tiffany lamps, Fabergé eggs, or Chippendale furniture, but rather motorcycles, toys and games, folk art, tools, advertising signs, and other industrial and mass-produced goods primarily from the recent past. In other words, these are the type of things that most average Americans or their families either own, at some point owned, or very well could own and not even know it (who knows what grandma has stashed away in the attic?!). Shows like Pawn Stars and Pickers give us hope that all the stuff we’ve been collecting and saving might actually have more than sentimental value, and might help get us through these tough times. I doubt I’m the only one who has dug through the basement late on a Monday night, thinking, “Hey, I have one of those!”


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Summer Media: The Scott Pilgrim Comics Series Thu, 05 Aug 2010 14:00:54 +0000

Bryan Lee O’Malley’s indie comedy/action/romance series Scott Pilgrim has cultivated a rabid fanbase quick to shove the first book into the hands of any non-comics reader expressing even the vaguest interest in the medium. As they should. Because it’s glorious. Get in on the action before Universal’s film adaptation arrives this month.

Scott Pilgrim’s storyworld operates akin to a sort of 8-bit videogame magical realism in which a heartfelt “I love you” gives the protagonist enough experience points to gain the “power of love” achievement bonus . . . and a flaming sword to wield against his enemies. The series, told across six digest-sized graphic novels (starting with Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life in 2004 and culminating in last month’s Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Moment), propels itself forward with a bombastic Ritalin-and-Pixy-Stix mania perfectly at ease with inhabiting the space between Street Fighter and Gilmore Girls. It follows twenty-three year-old slacker hero Scott Pilgrim’s effort to find love, employment, a venue willing to book his band Sex-Bob-Omb more than once, and generally get his act together.  The impetus for change comes when Scott meets and (so very awkwardly) woos oversized mallet-wielding street samurai and delivery girl Ramona V. Flowers. Before he can win her heart, however, Scott must first defeat her seven evil exes in physical combat, which isn’t as unlikely as it seems in a world where your prowess playing beat-‘em-up video games directly translates to your fighting skills in real life, and in which your opponents, once vanquished, burst into a shower of coins familiar to anyone who’s ever played Nintendo games in the 1980s.

O’Malley chooses a deceptively simple style for the series, combining expressive manga-tinged character work with a visual representation of Toronto faithful enough to inspire at least one “Scott Pilgrimage.” His ability to convey the series’ cartoonish action is impressive, but O’Malley’s capacity to capture his cast’s emotional motivations and reactions—subtle and outrageous—is key as they negotiate an ever-increasing spiderweb of interpersonal relations threading in and out of multiple timelines.  Dozens of characters populate O’Malley’s work, both as part of the Toronto scene’s larger social circle and several subcliques (every primary character has his or her own group of friends and rivals), all realized with their own backstories, impulses, and quirks, united only in their penchant towards highly quotable buffyspeak. Indeed, perhaps the most treasured page of the series is the map at the end of the third book (the halfway point) that traces out the top dozen characters’ relationships with each other. It, for instance, reminds us that minor player Julie Powers is on-and-off dating Sex-Bob-Omb frontman Steven Stills, loathes band hanger-oner Young Neil, and wants to re-friend college roommate (and Scott’s ex) Envy Adams now that she’s  famous.

Scott Pilgrim’s status within the canon of comics is assured. Excitement over the movie and the final volume is at a fever pitch. The former, buoyed by a pair of trailers, a series of seven video remixes featuring original music and previously unreleased footage as part of a massive internet marketing campaign, and above all else, director Edgar Wright’s reported obsessive adherence to the source material, has driven fans to extremes of anticipation so great that Wright himself has attempted to temper their excitement. The series currently occupies the six top spots on the New York Times’ Paperback Graphic Novels list, and the final volume ranked #5 overall in Books (topping the Julia Roberts film cover edition of Eat, Pray, Love) and #1 in Comics and Graphic Novels at Amazon on the day of its release. All that said, Scott Pilgrim might very well end up being more of an orphan than progenitor—despite it’s success, few, if any, creators have attempted to replicate its success in either style or content in the half-decade since Oni released the first volume.

To put it simply, there’s absolutely nothing out there like it. Those interested can find a lengthy preview of the first book here.


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Summer Media: My Gallic Season Sat, 17 Jul 2010 16:50:11 +0000 While it should not be surprising to anyone that New Yorkers tend to like their French movies, this summer has afforded a particularly apt opportunity to examine recent trends in the work of our fois gras-loving brothers and sisters across the pond. There is the old, and there is the new. On one side, we have late, great works by two of the founders of the nouvelle vague, Jacques Rivette and Alain Resnais; on the other, upstart whippersnappers Mia Hansen-Löve and Agnes Jaoui offer up their latest for discerning audiences. The dastardly limits of space prevent me from making any coherent arguments or justifications for my flights of fancy, but allow me to proffer some initial thoughts for discussion. Finally, allow for this piece to be an exercise in reviewing—the pithy, incisive form of criticism practiced by those hallowed men and women, past and present, like Bosley Crowther, Vincent Canby, Janet Maslin, V.A. Musetto, David Denby, Anthony Lane, and oh so many more.

Jaoui has always been a tough nut to crack. Her latest, Let it Rain (the original translates as the more evocative, Speak to Me About the Rain), is a comedy of manners that is supposed to illuminate the rampant class divisions in modern France, with an ethnic twist. The only problem is that no character is particularly stimulating or interesting. Not even Jaoui herself, the ostensible protagonist, whose lack of many sympathetic qualities I suppose we’re supposed to read as self-critique. I can’t say that I’m convinced. What’s more, the movie is so blandly filmed without any sparkle to its images that it’s difficult to see the profundity in Jaoui’s wit.

Hansen-Löve, meanwhile, may have a bit more to offer. A bit. Her newest is The Father of My Children, a narrative bifurcation that depicts a movie producer (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) at the end of his financial rope, and then how his family copes with grief. Hansen-Löve is clearly the product of her mentor (now-husband), Olivier Assayas, in the way in which she sensitively depicts the dynamics of a family, and in how she keeps her camera constantly roving, searching and exploring space. However, she doesn’t transcend the sum of her influences. Colleagues have told me that the manner in which each family member copes with death is the true meat of the film, but all I see are cliches re-hashed. Although I will admit that some imagery is quite breathtaking. Her Assayas-isms allow for the film to breathe, but I’d take Summer Hours and Late August, Early September over this any day of the week.

I wouldn’t try to claim that this new generation of Frenchie cinéastes has no purchase on their country’s movie legacy; Assayas, Claire Denis, Serge Bozon, Philippe Garrel, Arnaud Desplechin, and others are all post-New Wavers still making great work. (I am aware that most of these directors are over the age of 50, but I digress.) For the purposes of this New York summer, though, the old guns ruled the day. Exhibit A: Resnais’s best film in god knows how long, Wild Grass. Resnais company players Andrè Dussolier and Sabine Azèma are on hand as potential lovers whose paths continually cross, and the balance of whose passions continually exchange. Forming continuity with Resnais’s favorite new-generation filmmaker,  along with fleshing out his cast, are Desplechin regulars Anne Consigny, Emmanuelle Devos and Mathieu Amalric. Borders between reality and fantasy, especially as to how they relate to desire, quickly dissolve thanks to Resnais’s elegant, balletic editing, using past inserts and slow-motion images of the future to suggest violent, cinematic passions roiling inside Dussolier’s smitten stalker and AzÈma’s flighty dentist. A beautifully systematic color design along with allusive dialogue suggest even further temporal breakdowns, but with an effortless glee that defines a certain strand of late film: the “I can get away with anything, so I will” type. Or perhaps the little girl who just wants to be a cat dreamed the whole thing up. Who knows? Does something so lithely beautiful require such answers? Christopher Nolan had better take note.

Finally, we turn to Rivette. While the Americans are calling his newest Around a Small Mountain, I prefer the original French, translated as 36 Views of Saint Wolf Mountain. It’s Rivette’s shortest film by about 45 minutes, and for a guy who once made a 12 -hour opus, that’s no small thing. There are few directors who know how to capture the texture of space, and Rivette achieves this once again. How is this achieved, you might ask? It’s done via slow tracking shots that examine and reveal new spaces, sound design that makes dialogue and bird songs part of the same landscape, and natural light that has physical weight to it. This is pure filmmaking. The Rivettian thematic tropes are all there too: performance as identity, mysteries that must be unraveled, sheer joy from using performance as play. Jane Birkin, Sergio Castellito, and the rest of the circus troupe seem to be having great fun with what they do. Maybe it’s slight or minor, as a friend said to me over post-screening drinks, but it sure ain’t no “abortion,” as one old woman said as she exited the theater.

No trends, no grand speculations, no in-depth analyses; just some whimsical, subjective ideas from a man who will be sorry to see his Gallic summer end. Here’s to hoping all four of these movies show up outside major metropolitan centers; sadly, I am much less convinced of that little thought.


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Summer Media: Reading Sookie Stackhouse Wed, 14 Jul 2010 00:17:37 +0000 True Blood begins its third season on HBO this summer, but perhaps more fun than catching up on the show's previous seasons is reading the series of novels and short stories on which the show is based. ]]>

Anna Paquin as Sookie Stackhouse

Summer is always a great time to catch up on TV you missed, and both of us have recently binged on the first two seasons of HBO’s True Blood, catching up to current airings of season three. True Blood, despite all of its campiness, has been hailed as “quality television” and become a major force in summer television schedules. Yet, many of the critics who praise it – including Todd Van der Werf  at the L.A. Times – freely admit that they have never read the books it is based on, and don’t intend to do so. Their loss. Summer is a great time for reading, too, and we’ve found Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire Mysteries (aka the Sookie Stackhouse stories) to be fun, sexy, suspenseful, and a totally different experience than True Blood.

The Southern Vampire Mysteries currently include nine serial novels and several interstitial short stories following Sookie, Bill, Eric, Alcide and more. They are usually categorized as “paranormal romance” or “urban fantasy,” both messy genres that mix up romance (or even erotica), supernatural elements, and often some kind of mystery or action plots. These genres are directly aimed at women, offering female protagonists through whose experiences and perceptions the story unfolds. Sookie is just such a protagonist in the books, describing her “disability” of telepathy, musing over her relationships, and agonizing over decisions about how to survive yet another supernatural conflict. In fact, some of critics’ dissatisfaction with Sookie in True Blood may come in part from the way that television has erased a lot of internal character moments in order to show us the action. Sookie’s internal musings about relationships and her deepening involvement in vampire politics just don’t come across as well without her first-person narration.

Dead Until Dark, the first novel in the Southern Vampire Series

It’s also important that Harris calls these her Southern Vampire Mysteries – these books could also be described as “cozy mysteries”, which is certainly  the genre of Harris’ other series (Lily Bard (Shakespeare), Aurora Teagarden, and Harper Connelly). Cozy mysteries feature non-professional women solving crimes – they “just happen” to be there, they are resourceful and charming, and their relationships with neighbors, friends, family and romantic partners are highlighted. These novels – everything from Agatha Christie’s “Miss Marple” books to Diane Mott Davidson’s catering mysteries – focus on character development and fast paced plots, with little explicit sex or violence. Sookie novels do the same (with a little more sex, and a lot more blood). And Sookie novels, like other cozies, are serialized books, allowing readers to follow a likeable character through any number of unlikely adventures, solved cases, and boyfriends. Ending with a cliffhanger – or a preview of the next book – is common, and this structure is replicated well in True Blood. Serialized narrative in novels also activates a bit of a collecting urge, pushing one to read the next and the next, to binge on the novels and enjoy the sense of completeness it brings to see books on a shelf, or to know the whole story. Obviously, this kind of binge is common to serialized television, as well, possibly making serialized novels a uniquely well-suited medium for television adaptation (see also: Dexter, The Vampire Diaries, Rizzoli & Isles, etc.). Television offers the time to visit subplots, character moments, and nuances that film adaptations of books must often gloss over, often turning a single novel into an entire season.

Finally, for those of us from small towns and/or the South, the Sookie Stackhouse novels portray a rural Southern experience that is funny, relatable, and affectionate. Despite the problems and limitations of life in Bon Temps, the portrayal of this world is not condemnatory. As a native of the Mississippi Delta, Harris creates a vision of life in the South that’s neither overly romanticized nor too simplified. No “urban fantasy,” the Sookie novels move to a nearly nostalgic rural Southern environment and challenge it with the supernatural. True Blood may attempt to do the same, but the sense of a small community fades into a collection of high-profile characters, and the accents are terrible (we’re looking at you, Stephen Moyer).

While True Blood at times does cliffhangers well and makes some good additions (extending Lafayette’s presence and introducing Jessica), Harris’ Southern Vampire Mysteries offer a much different serial experience in a wryly lighthearted and suspenseful story world that’s sure to add some fun to your summer.


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Summer Media: Vive le Tour! Wed, 30 Jun 2010 22:48:48 +0000 The Tour de France begins in Holland this Saturday and this year’s event promises to be a thrilling spectacle. This three week cycling stage race will from July 3 to July 25 and will cover more than 3,600KM as it makes its way around France. It will feature all manner of challenges, from long, hot stages across the arid south to time trials to arduous mountain stages across the fabled passes of the Alps and Pyrenees. Of course, the tour is more than what happens on the road. Doping allegations and rivalries add intrigue to the mix; this year, the big rivalry involves Lance Armstrong’s attempt to defeat his former teammate Alberto Contador in the final’s last Tour. Other contenders and hopeful dreamers lurk in bunch, ready to leap out for a scrap of glory when the opportunity presents itself. There is also the country and its people. Wherever the race goes, sponsors and organizers setup fan events and locals and visitors alike crowd the streets and mountain roads to urge the racers on take in the spectacle. When you add it all up, the Tour de France is one of the most unique and compelling events in the realm of professional sport.

Like so many sporting events these days, however, the Tour is also a media event. The competitive drama, intrigue, and the French ambiance have made it an ideal candidate for expanded media coverage. In North America, the post-cancer ascent of Lance Armstrong coincided well with the expansion of the cable realm to facilitate a boost in television coverage. Where ESPN had previously offered a slim highlights package on certain key days, the cable channel Versus (formerly the Outdoor Life Network) has expanded its coverage to include several hours on all race days (and as much as six hours of coverage on key mountain stages). The result is that avid cycling fans can now take in all of the action, provided that they have the right cable package.

Versus’ coverage developed a solid audience in large part due to Lance’s success, but the credit for its ability to hold much of that audience must be given to its leading personalities. While the video footage draws heavily on the standard race feed, the legendary commentary team of Paul Sherwin and Phil Liggett add a particular flavor to the race experience. Former professional cyclists, these two enliven the race as they mix creative expressions, tender banter, and incisive observations about the race and its participants (you can see a collection of Liggett’s endearingly absurd characterizations of events here and hear some of his classic calls here). In fact, a number of these  ‘Liggettisms’ were re-fashioned into poems and published in 2005 to some acclaim. They deliver knowledge and passion in an endearing manner that effectively allows the North American audience to engage with professional cycling.

The footage to which Sherwin and Liggett lend their voices is also unique in professional sports; with the cyclists typically either bunched together in a fast moving pack (the ‘peloton’) or strung out along the course, the video feed is generally comprised of a mix of motorcycle-cam shots and helicopter-cam shots. The former offer close-ups of cyclists – be they grimacing, feuding, or placidly rolling along – while the latter bring France’s diverse range of landscapes into the mix and provide a crucial degree of perspective. The reliance on motorcycle cams makes for great theater in the mountains as the cameras moves through the course, discovering riders who’ve been dropped and catching those who are breaking away. This makes for exciting moments of discovery as one attempts to sort out which of the suffering warriors are ascending to greatness and which are going backwards. The cameras consistently cut from one spot to another in order to follow attacks, collapses, and crashes as they occur in real-time on the course.

This year’s race is a bit of a throwback in tribute to the 1910 edition. There are plenty of traditional flat stages, few mid-mountain stages, and, for the first time since 2004, there will be cobblestone stretches in the route, which are invariably dangerous and unpredictable. There are few mountaintop finishes, but Stage 8’s (July 11) Categorie 1 climb up to Morzine-Avoriaz in the Alps could produce early fireworks. Once the race hits the Pyrenees, Stage 14 (July 19) will see the riders climb the massive ‘Hors Categorie’ Port de Pailheres ascent before they finish at the top of the Categorie 1 Axe-3 Domaines. On Stage 17 (July 22), the riders will mount two Categorie 1 climbs before finishing with the legendary Col du Tourmalet, which could be decisive given that this will be one of the last opportunities for the favorites to sort themselves out. The sprints and time trials also offer their pleasures, but I think that there is nothing quite like the spectacle of suffering involved in a grueling race up one of France’s massive mountain peaks. Stage 10 (July 14) could also prove to be interesting as it features two significant climbs and the French are sure to attack like mad in search of Bastille Day glory.

The Tour is not for everyone, but those who enjoy it can now follow it in myriad ways. Versus provides ample coverage, websites like and offer up tons of commentary and discussion, and there are numerous rider Twitter pages that offer a rare insight in the life of the professional cyclist (see @lancearmstrong for an example of this). I should also add that classic moments and excerpts can be viewed on YouTube, for those who are interested in the race’s storied history (for example, check out this classic attack). Still, nothing compares to watching the action live with Phil and Paul. When the peloton hits the high mountains, you can be sure that I’ll be bounding out of bed before the rooster crows in order to catch all the action. Watching the Tour with the day’s first cup of coffee is one of my most cherished summer media rituals.


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Summer Media: River Monsters Thu, 24 Jun 2010 05:01:48 +0000 As my regular shows swam off to the depths of their summer hiatuses, I found myself a month or so ago trolling aimlessly through channels, fishing for something new to me and somewhat interesting. I would not have imagined that I’d end up with a fishing show, only that fishing could be used in a rather poor metaphor to suggest my lack of ability to find anything (I am, it must be said, the world’s worst fisher. If BP can’t plug their spout, they should release my pheromones into the Gulf, to chase the fish far, far away). But I’ve become a fan of River Monsters on Animal Planet.

Each episode follows host, biologist, and “extreme angler” Jeremy Wade’s quest to catch a river killer surrounded by mystery, or even the semblance of myth. He has gone after piranhas, giant sting rays, river sharks, goliath catfish, gators and crocs, and so forth. For the animal-lovers, have no fear – he catches just to say he has, and to show the camera, not to kill. Though the British Wade is as much a master of understatement and of adventure as is Man vs. Wild’s Bear Grylls, rest assured that no episode sees him sitting down to eat his slain adversary.

As with Man vs. Wild, the show works as a wonderful alibi for travel journalism. His hunt for the massive sting ray takes him into Laotian waters, and sees him chatting with local fishermen, for instance, and other episodes take him to other locales around the world (where he handles himself well — Wade is not the annoying half of an all-models Amazing Race team). A modicum of education is offered at the same time, as we’re given facts about the breeding, eating, and other patterns of various fish. There’s a lot of comedy too, some from the grotesquerie of what he catches, some from the situations in which he finds himself. There’s a lot of mystique and intrigue, as many fish require sleuthing to find, and involve fish tales that keep one in disbelief as to the existence of the creature well into the second half-hour. And it’s just plain amazing to see some of these strange creatures, especially the huge ones. One of them belches and chortles like Jabba the Hutt when pulled out of water, the giant ray gives birth to babies that are well over a foot wide and two feet long, and the bottom feeders always seem to have eyes in the wrong place, Picasso style.

If you watch, you won’t be alone. It’s Animal Planet’s highest rated show, with most episodes garnering between one and two million viewers. And yet while watching it, I find myself once more wondering why animals and American television haven’t been even better friends. Blue Planet and Planet Earth tore up the British ratings, in prime time no less, and it’s perhaps no surprise that River Monsters is a British production. Anyone who sees these shows tends to love them. And animal shows are all the better in a High Def era, especially when they always entail lovely vistas of jungle, wetland, or other impressive landscapes too. So why hasn’t a bold network exec taken a chance on producing something like this for network primetime yet? They must be cheap to make, much less than Jim Belushi’s salary, yet significantly better value. For a television system so enamored with ripping off British ideas, it’s a pity that American network television hasn’t yet produced something like this on its own.

While they wait, though, I’d recommend the show.


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Summer Media: The Drive-in Theater Wed, 16 Jun 2010 06:01:52 +0000 It’s important to remember that “summer media” isn’t always about the media alone, but equally about the experience and the spaces in which we consume and enjoy our media during these balmy and bug filled summer days and nights. There is no doubt that a desirable summer experience, especially on blistering days and humid nights, is taking shelter in the artificially cooled space of the movie theater. Sometimes arbitrarily purchasing a ticket to whatever film may be playing at the time in order to take refuge from the heat, kill a few hours, or catch a film you really wanted to see. When I was younger, I remember the video store, record shop offering a similar sort of pleasure and comfort.

In this post I wanted to espouse the opposite, to advocate for the opportunities to consume media outdoors, namely for the chance to go to the drive-in movie theater. Most drive-ins maintain the seasonal schedule of being open from Memorial Day to Labor Day (end of May-beginning of September) deeming summer the peak time to attend (at least in Northern and Midwestern US states). While the chance to watch films under the stars can be re-created at home with a white sheet and a projector (as my neighbors and I often do on our shared balcony), in parks, and on rooftops, there’s something unique about going to the drive-in, even on bikes! And it’s not just about the blockbuster doubleheader.

Summer at the drive-in in particular is full of high school kids making out in their parents’ cars, the slight smell of engines, grass (sometimes the naughty kind), sweat, and concession stand purchases. So far this summer, movies like Prince of Persia, Robin Hood, The Karate Kid, Going the Distance, Grown Ups, Shrek: The Final Chapter, and Toy Story 3 are scheduled to dominate the screen. Under recognized is that the drive-in is a great place to catch the films you missed in the first run theaters for a cheaper price. Though very few drive-ins maintain the traditional policy of paying per car rather than per person, nevertheless the cost of a ticket buys you two movies for less than the price of one at a multiplex. Additionally, most of these theaters are independently or family owned enterprises, so supporting these local businesses might not be such a bad thing in and of itself. But if the films and the price don’t tempt you, here’s a few other reasons to go forth and patronize your local (or not so local) drive-in while it’s still around.

To start, you’ll be sitting in a piece of history and a dying breed of theater. Though opportunities to watch movies outdoors have expanded in recent years, the outdoor theater as an institution has decreased. Though there seemed to be a resurgence and rescuing of the drive-in during the early 2000’s, the experience of attending a drive-in (beginning in the 1930s and exploding in the 1950s) is steadily decreasing as these theaters continue to be demolished or close their gates each year. Those that suffer this fate are being replaced by mega stores and multiplexes that can take advantage of the large plots of abandoned turf. There’s an unavoidable nostalgia at the drive-in not only for that particular form of theater and experience of movie-going, but also in the glorification of the automobile, the centrality of the radio (though the oldest theaters exclusively used speakers mounted to poles), and the promotion of the night out at the movies as event.

While for some, taking in two varieties of stars simultaneously – the stars of the screen and the sky – might be magical enough. There’s also something intriguing and ethereal about tuning in your radio receiver to a movie soundtrack that’s only accessible at a boundaried geographic location. Additionally, the drive-in coincides with and complicates the trend of “mobile” media, or the act of taking media outside and consuming it on the go, (at the drive-in you’re away from home, but purposefully stationary in a vehicle made for transit). This type of theater offers the patron a unique sort of shared experience – sitting in individual vehicles and watching a shared movie partially echoes Williams’ mobile privatization in some respects. Yet, however you may theoretically interpret the experience there just aren’t too many places within American society that we leave our house and pay a fee in order to be alone, together.

While watching collectively at an indoor movie theater gains you access to reactions by a crowd of people you don’t actually know (which I admittedly love), the privacy of the car allows you to talk to your companion(s) about what you’re watching and interpersonally react to the scenes on the screen without appearing rude. The semi-private, enclosed space of the car allows you to eat or drink whatever you want as odorous as it may be, let your kid go a little wild, bring your pet, answer a phone call (though I don’t recommend it), or spend quality time with your family or a date (without having to worry as much about PDA etiquette in the latter case).

So check out some tips for first timers, find your screen and hit the road!


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Summer Media: Castle Wed, 09 Jun 2010 16:34:19 +0000 Castle.]]> This post is the first in a new column titled Summer Media that Antenna will be running throughout June, July, and August. The dog days of summer are often viewed as a period of stagnation or inactivity for media – people are presumably outdoors and on vacation, not inside watching primetime TV, shopping for DVDs and CDs, or playing games. And yet, the summer season is in many ways defined by media: blockbuster movies, music festivals, theme parks, major sporting events, and so on. The first of the two aims of this column is to highlight some of the new media happening this summer, especially that might which our contributors consider overlooked or under-appreciated for whatever reason. Secondly, for many of us, the summer is when we catch-up on older media that we previously missed. Remember when you were in high school and you were sent home with a summer reading list full of gems like Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and The Great Gatsby – the great literature you might not have been able to get around to during the school year?  Well, the Antenna editors thought it would be fun to put together a summer reading/watching/listening/playing list, full of awesome media you might have otherwise missed.

To that end, in the coming weeks you’ll be treated to posts on current and past TV series, films, games, music, websites… whatever… that we love and don’t want you to overlook.  We consider it a public service – nudging you to check out these media treasures in the same way your high school English teachers nudged you to read the classics on your summer break.

I’m kicking off our Summer Media series with an exhortation to sample the fantastic Castle.  The ABC dramedy procedural stars Nathan Fillion as bestselling thriller author Rick Castle–a twice-married (twice-divorced) New York City playboy with a heart (and a brain, actually).  Castle (much like Fillion) is charming, amusing, clever and boyishly goofy.  In the pilot, Castle has a run-in with steely NYPD detective Kate Beckett (played by Stana Katic) when she’s investigating a murder based on a scene from one of Castle’s books.  Castle, who has just killed off the lead character of his most successful series, finds Beckett irresistible and decides to create a new series based on her.  He pulls strings with his bigwig friends (mayor, chief of police, etc.) and Beckett discovers that she is now required to allow Castle to follow her around.  Adding to the odd-couple pairing at the center of the show are other truly delightful characters, including Beckett’s team and Castle’s eccentric actress mother and precocious teenage daughter.

That’s the plot summary, but no summary can capture the charm that is Castle.  The series is a procedural through and through, but that doesn’t keep it from being interesting.  The cases are always a little bit weird, and the magic is in Beckett discovering that she actually needs Castle’s ability to think outside the box (he’s always wondering how the story should end) to solve them.  And, of course, there’s romantic tension between Castle & Beckett, another element that might land the series firmly in cookie-cutter territory in some audience members’ minds.

But Castle is much more than a will-they-won’t-they procedural, and for me, the real delight is in being reminded of the TV mysteries of my youth.  Castle is reminiscent of Remington Steele, Scarecrow & Mrs. King, and all of the other quirky odd-couple crime-solving series of the 1980s.  This is not surprising, as famed writer and TV producer Stephen J. Cannell (A-Team, Greatest American Hero, Hunter)  is one of the producers of Castle, as well, and he brings his particular sensibility to bear on the series.  The result is a show that feels like a familiar favorite, but with an updated edge.  There’s nothing particularly revelatory about Castle, but if you ask me, therein lies its charm.  It’s a series that will make you laugh, keep you interested, and draw you into the world of the characters.  It’s fun, it’s easy, it’s light, and so far, it’s never failed to make me finish an episode saying, “I just love that show!” in eager anticipation of the next installment.  To my mind, achieving that kind of response is possibly the pinnacle of perfection in a TV series.

If you haven’t already, be sure to check it out this summer.  You can catch up on the first (short, as it was a midseason replacement) season on DVD, and see the last few episodes of season two (and lots of fun behind-the-scenes footage) on Hulu.

It may not be the Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights of television, but Castle is definitely a charming and delightful romp.


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