Celebrity/Stardom – Antenna http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu Responses to Media and Culture Thu, 30 Mar 2017 23:48:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.5 Kim Gordon’s Self-Fashioning http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2015/03/09/kim-gordons-self-fashioning/ Mon, 09 Mar 2015 14:55:51 +0000 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/?p=25720 Kim GordonIn her memoir, Girl in a Band (Dey Street Books, 2015), Kim Gordon recalls a photo shoot with photographer Michael Lavine for Daydream Nation, her band Sonic Youth’s 1988 breakthrough album. “‘Do you want to look cool, or do you want to look attractive?’ Michael asked me, as if the two were mutually exclusive. The silver paint; glitter-dabbed, faded cutout jeans; and crop top with the sheer jeweled panel marked a turning point for me and my look. I decided I didn’t want to just look cool, or just look rock and roll: I wanted to look more girl” (161).

This quote supports the conviction that girlhood and its artefacts are resources for feminist media production and critique. It’s a foundational argument advanced by Angela McRobbie, Mary Celeste Kearney, and other feminist scholars who work within cultural studies, a discipline that investigates the ambivalent politics of everyday life through subjects’ engagement with popular media. Alongside figures like Kathleen Hanna and Wendy Mullin, Gordon’s reclamation of girlhood and girlishness speaks to her connections with riot grrrl and third-wave feminism, movements that deconstructed visual signifiers attached to various feminine archetypes—the flapper’s bejeweled accessories, the housewife’s shirtwaist dress, the Girl Scout’s jumper, the mod’s miniskirt—to question womanhood’s regulations.


As a musician, Gordon challenged rock’s hegemonic masculinity as the unassumingly female and deliberately “feminine” presence within Sonic Youth’s all-male line-up. For one, her deadpan singing and conceptual songwriting frequently voiced women’s concerns about anorexia, harassment, mother-daughter relations, essentialism, commodification, and desire’s sharp edges. Gordon, born on the West Coast to an academic family and bestowed with an art-school education, shares these traits with Pet Shop Boys’ frontman Neil Tennant, who used the grammar of disco to illuminate the politics of the closet for upper-middle-class Englishmen during the AIDS epidemic only to be accused of “just” talking over a beat. As a result, Gordon fought for legitimacy, first through her parenthetical approach to playing bass and later by shredding with guitarists Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore, two players of a connotatively male instrument that she once memorably described in a tour diary as “thunderfoxes in the throes of self-love and combat.” Finally, her relationship with Moore frequently served as evidence that feminism preserved marriages between creative professionals.

Plenty of attention has already been paid toward Gordon and Moore’s divorce and its impact on Sonic Youth’s demise, which Girl uses as a framing device. Gordon writes about the disillusion with withering, Didion-eseque brevity as “just another cliché of middle-aged relationship failure—a male midlife crisis, another woman, a double life” during an account of the band’s final concert at the 2011 SWU Music and Arts Festival that opens the book (3). She concludes by detailing the prolonged betrayal of Moore’s affair, deep, fresh reserves of anger lacerating her prose as she recalls announcing the separation to their daughter, Coco, at the beginning of her senior year of high school.

A recurring theme in Gordon’s memoir is her frustration with the cycle of questions she has been asked throughout her career. One informs its title (as in: “what’s it like to be a girl in a band?”). Another—variations on “can women have it all?”—haunted Gordon as journalists fixated on their normative impressions of her identities as a wife and mother. Focusing on the end of her marriage and band would seem to be the root for more oft-repeated, dead-end questions to a woman who continues to make music and art. Therefore, it’s notable that in the middle of Girl, Gordon observes that X-Girl, a skater-themed clothing line she ran with Daisy Von Furth in the mid-90s, “gave me far more notoriety than Sonic Youth ever did” (199).


Vulture’s Lindsay Zoladz observes that Gordon’s oblique approach to songwriting informs her storytelling as a memoirist. As a result, Gordon does not elaborate upon her foray into women’s apparel, nor contextualize it alongside her subsequent collections with Urban Outfitters and Surface to Air. She also tethers X-Girl to familial obligations—she was pregnant throughout its first year of production, she used the money she made from selling it to Japanese company B’s International to purchase her family’s home in Northampton.

However, part of Gordon’s contribution to rock music—what makes her the “Jet Set” in Sonic Youth’s 1994 album, Experimental Jet Set Trash and No Star—is her attention to womanly self-fashioning. The frisson between gender performance and pop culture’s absorption into everyday life is central to Gordon’s image, a point Pitchfork contributor Molly Beauchemin makes in her piece on female rock musicians’ Instagram profiles. It’s how the X-Girl logo appeared on DJ Tanner’s long-sleeve t-shirt in a late-season Full House episode, and why I recognized it from reading Seventeen before I could identify the opening chords to “Kool Thing” or Gordon’s menacing whisper.

Thus, Girl presents a question: why might fashion design matter to recording industry professionals? Ever the bricoleur, Gordon decorates her prose with collages of various style icons—Jane Birkin’s louche bohemianism, Françoise Hardy’s urban coquettishness, her mother’s post-Beat utilitarianism, the clean lines of prep school attire she hated as a teenager but revised with mod’s graphic impact and punk’s lean androgyny for X-Girl. Such references bear some resemblance to what Caitlin Yunuen Lewis describes in her star study of Sofia Coppola as “cool postfeminism,” a cultural phenomenon where articulations of “white femininity’s ideals have become ironic and marketable, as have its ‘darker’ opposites, the sexual and moral transgressions that were once most threatening to it” (195). At the very least, it offers a term to describe how Gordon applies and discards certain ethnic sartorial traditions or uses “tranny” to describe designer Patricia Field’s aesthetic. But Gordon’s quotations read as influences in the same way musicians talk about their favorite records and gear. At least they could, if Gordon were asked to discuss her interest in fashion and music as mutually constitutive outlets for creative expression. By elliptically recalling her life’s events, she raises such questions for others to ask.


Kollecting Kim K. Skills: Kardashianized Celebrity in Kim Kardashian: Hollywood http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2014/07/25/kollecting-kim-k-skills-kardashianized-celebrity-in-kim-kardashian-hollywood/ http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2014/07/25/kollecting-kim-k-skills-kardashianized-celebrity-in-kim-kardashian-hollywood/#comments Fri, 25 Jul 2014 13:30:38 +0000 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/?p=24299 Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, the celebrity legitimizes her image while also propagating her brand by redefining fame as an accumulation of skills.]]> “In order to win at life, you need some Kim K skills, period.” – Kanye West

In a recent GQ interview, Kanye West attributes new wife Kim Kardashian with teaching him to better manage his celebrity. However, analogous with popular discourses defining the couple as shallow and fame-obsessed, West’s verbiage ultimately doesn’t say anything. West never defines “Kim K. skills” as more than some kind of intangible communication skills, but expects that the interviewer, and subsequently the general public, will know exactly what he means. Though only mentioned peripherally by West, Kim K. skills are, however, delineated in the new mobile game Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. Through the game, Kardashian legitimizes her celebrity while also propagating her brand by redefining fame in her image – as the accumulation of “Kim K. skills.”

Kim’s avatar demonstrates the first Kim K. skill in the game’s initial sequence: charm is the key to everything. She charms you into reopening a boutique so she may outfit herself for an upcoming event. Your only option is to help Kim, which is rewarded when she invites you to the event. As you progress through the game, charm becomes a form of currency. You cannot connect with new people outside your current celebrity rank unless you use your hard-to-come-by K Stars to charm them. Whenever you choose “charm” as an action, your relationship grows stronger, which increases your celebrity.

Charming people to like you underscores another Kim K. skill: perceived relationships are paramount in achieving fame. Charm gets you into Kim’s event, but it’s your association with Kim that makes the paparazzi care. As a result, Kim sets you up with a manager and a publicist to help you work towards A-List stardom. Your relationships with these intermediaries are static, but they give you opportunities to improve your public personae. Other in-game relationships, however, are necessary to level up. Bars and clubs are populated with people of varying celebrity rank who can increase your celebrity. Whether you choose to network with or date new contacts, relationships are only cultivated in professional capacities.

Kim K. - Dating Level Up

Your network can join you at personal appearances, and dates happen in public to be seen and subsequently tweeted about. The game allows players to integrate their real-life networks, as you can interact with your friends’ avatars.  Even negative relationships gain fame. When a celebutant expresses jealousy over your relationship with Kim, she sparks a feud that establishes your Twitter following.

In addition to social currencies, the way to celebrity is through accumulating stuff. Kardashian herself comes from wealth, and the association between money and fame is integral to game play. Though the game itself is free to download and play, it becomes quickly apparent that advancing is easier by investing real money. Various reviews have reported how easy it is to spend real money on the game. The types of currency are in-game dollars, energy points, and K Stars. You earn money from constant modeling gigs and paid appearances. Energy is needed to do anything, and is easily expended causing you to wait until it’s replenished or trade precious K Stars for more. K Stars only come from leveling up or from in-app purchases.

Kim K - K Star Store

The dollars one earns are inadequate to keep up with Kim. Players increase their celebrity status with new outfits, homes, cars, and buying gifts to improve relationships, but most lifestyle enhancers can only be purchased with K Stars.

Kim K - Kim K. Clothes Store

Although many items have high price tags, acquiring them creates momentary relief before anxiety sets in again about what else you need to augment your celebrity lifestyle. And, as mentioned, K Stars also act as social currency.

The most ubiquitous Kim K. skill throughout the game is the power of personal branding. Kardashian’s brand is everywhere: the revamped Hollywood sign; each Kardash boutique interior mimics its DASH counterpart; the K Stars.


Kim herself is the most important brand and celebrity signifier. She is your entry point into the celebrity game/game-play and her approval makes you worthy of attention. The game reinforces the celebrity system and Kim’s position in it, both of which depend on hierarchies to establish their value. Likewise, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood addresses the specific dichotomy informing reality TV celebrity personae: that stars need to be approachable and authentic to attract viewers, but ultimately need to remain separate to be special. Celebrity reinforces capitalism because celebrities constantly remind regular people of what they don’t have and should want. In the game, you need virtual and real money for the Tribeca loft and new Louboutins to project a celebrity lifestyle despite whether or not you can afford it.

Even when you get to the A-list, you still need to accumulate fans to increase your ranking. Curiously enough, Kim Kardashian is not a rankable celebrity. Players don’t compete with her, as she is above the celebrity system because her celebrity is established. Kardashian is the definitive arbiter of Kim K. skills, and ultimately unreachable in her version of celebrity.


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On Kale, Transmedia, and Winning GISHWHES http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2014/05/23/on-kale-transmedia-and-winning-gishwhes/ http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2014/05/23/on-kale-transmedia-and-winning-gishwhes/#comments Fri, 23 May 2014 13:00:01 +0000 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/?p=24080 Saturday_Viking_boat_25_smallerHave you ever had a life experience you never expected? One that makes you step back and ask: how did I get here? That was me, for basically the whole weekend of the winning team’s reward trip for GISHWHES: the Greatest Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen. A few choice moments: rising up into the air in a sea plane with half of my teammates, or sitting around a waterside bonfire with our team plus Misha Collins and the other organizers of GISHWHES — these are now cherished memories that in part I can’t quite believe happened, and yet that I’m having a tough time coming back down from. It was made even better that I was there with a strange mix: my five month old son, my BFF, and a group of teammates who had never before met in person but who together had created innumerable strange things (like team uniforms made from kale) in the name of the scavenger hunt that brought us together.GISHWHES Item 137

GISHWHES is a dada-istic experience of creative mayhem coordinated by actor/genius Misha Collins and his very talented/visionary collaborators, including the mysterious Miss Jean Louis Alexander, who communicates to gishwhesian participants primarily in poetic email missives. You may know Collins as the actor who plays the angel Castiel in the CW series, Supernatural, or you may know him as his satiric Twitter persona, @mishacollins. I discovered Collins through Supernatural, and have followed his various online projects avidly (his twitter, the charity Random Acts, the web series Divine and Cooking Fast and Fresh With West, even Stonehenge Apocalypse), but it was with GISHWHES that I felt most clearly the invitation to participate and create.

I’ve participated in GISHWHES for all three years, for the last two with my now-winning team, Vatican Cameos. The team that wins GISHWHES each year is rewarded with a weekend trip and visit with Misha Collins. For the first year (in 2011), this meant eating pasta with Misha in Rome; the second winning team (2012) spent the night with Misha in a haunted castle; for our year/team (2013), we went to Vancouver, rode on a Viking boat, and flew on a sea plane to an island retreat where we held a séance/bonfire and conjured up some local car salesmen.

Long before I could have fathomed I might be on a GISHWHES winning team, I wrote that GISHWHES models the potential for “transmedia creative authorship” that “finds its engine in the collective coordination and agency of all involved.” I’ve also written about the sense of the intimate collective created by thoughtfully designed transmedia projects — a sense of community facilitated by interaction across coordinated yet open-ended digital fronts. GISHWHES sees the intimate collective and raises it an inappropriate public, in which individuals, families, and team members shed all sense of shame and go out and create silly, provocative, and/or insane public art, later to be shared across online networks. GISHWHES takes the fannish/digital ethos of playful creativity and experimentation and, importantly, awareness of community and our place in it and responsibility to it and enacts it in the world, resulting in images like the ones that pepper this post.

GISHWES Item 20 Although GISHWHES is rooted in embodied as well as digital engagement, I wasn’t prepared for what it felt like to be united with my team and with the GISHWHES creators in person as we were taken on an extravagant and crazy journey through Vancouver. My past work has almost always at least indirectly argued that the relationships we build online can be substantive and nuanced, and every bit as “real” as in person relationships. I almost felt this belief challenged by the experience of meeting my full team and the GISHWHES crew in person. But if we were just a bunch of strangers who hadn’t had this past digital history, meeting together wouldn’t have had the power it did.GISHWHES Item 23

I’ve also always held that as scholars and fans, we congregate around the star “text” rather than the person, and I’ve stayed away from interviewing the figures I study. I’ve written an entire essay on Misha Collins, and at the time it would have felt anathema to me to consider interviewing him; that would have been for a different methodology, a different project. (Since then, I’d already begun to chip away at this assertion in my experience with a press pass at LeakyCon and the access that it gave to producers and actors of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.) I found this assumption of mine, too, challenged fundamentally by my experience in Vancouver. Misha seemed excited to talk to me about the thought processes behind his Twitter persona and his various transmedia endeavors, and I found myself very much wanting to have that conversation, to integrate his perspective on star texts and branding and the power of limits in digital creativity, to see how what he had to say, or better yet, our dialogue, would change the picture I had created.

Our experience of winning GISHWHES was a rare one and one that very few will be lucky enough to have. But it drove home to me something that I think is at the heart of GISHWHES as a whole and a reason for its growing success: GISHWHES unites our virtual and real worlds, our online and in person social networks, and overturns our assumptions about both. Now I feel the loss of seeing my team in person but look forward to the digital and embodied mayhem we will create this August, when we gish again.


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#SCMS14: Klout & The ‘Influence’ Economy http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2014/03/28/scms14-klout-the-influence-economy/ Fri, 28 Mar 2014 13:32:15 +0000 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/?p=23889 Klout (1)Last week I attended my first SCMS Conference and had a wonderful time meeting fellow scholars and witnessing the future of our discipline. While I had several conversations with people in panels, lobbies, and various establishments across Seattle, I quickly realized there was a second conversation occurring on the Twitter backchannel centered around #SCMS14. A standard feature of many academic conferences, the official conference hashtag provides a secondary site for scholarly engagement and discussion as well as another method for networking, only this time through digital media. My recent research interests have begun to focus on the ways people present and promote themselves on social media like Twitter, and #SCMS14 provides a unique vantage for the increasing role our social media identities play in our professional lives. The idea of not just having a social media presence but an influential one as being crucial to one’s career is still a young concept, but one worth further exploration.

For proof of the perceived importance of such a concept as digital social influence, one need look no further than Klout. The website/app uses analytics drawn from a user’s various social media profiles (like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) to award the user a “Klout Score,” a numerical value between 1-100 that supposedly ranks one’s online social ‘influence.’ The Klout Score is based on multiple variables that can be summarized into three categories: True Reach, Amplification Probability, and Network. True Reach relates to the number of people your posts are reaching and how ‘engaged’ that audience is with your posts. Amplification is based on the type of engagement: how likely a post will be “Liked,” reposted, or replied to. Finally, the Network score looks at how influential your engaged audience is and boosts or lowers your score depending. In other words, you have to have influential friends if you want to be influential yourself!

Such metrics sound important to any business or company operating a social media account, and make no doubt that Klout offers business-appropriate analytic tools as well. But the concept of quantifying something as ephemeral and personal as ‘influence’ seems like more of digital media’s ‘softwarization’ of our everyday lives. Klout can be seen as yet another example of what David Berry refers to as lifestreaming, the growing use of self-monitoring technologies leading to a more “quantified self.” By quantifying something as fleeting (yet important) as online influence, several real-world behaviors are at stake.

xkcdKloutIf you’ve read this far and are wondering, “Who the hell would want or care about a Klout Score,” you aren’t the only one. Articles and online comics have already begun questioning the idea of a quantifiable metric for social influence and what purpose it serves other than to somehow feed a narcissistic ego. But the allure of big data might sway some companies, as being able to prove social influence could be seen as a big help in getting a job in any blogging, marketing, or online publishing field. And none of this yet looks at Klout’s own business model, which sees businesses like McDonald’s, Sony, Red Bull, Revlon, Chevy, and more offering Perks to users with high enough Klout scores in relevant social categories. The attainment of Perks doesn’t require the earner to promote the product, but the hope is that such corporate goodwill influences the user to spread the good word of the folks at (Insert Company Here).

In other words, now everyone can become a celebrity! Just as stars are given free clothes, cars, and more simply because they are frequently seen, now everyone can get that treatment if they have enough (‘important’) people following them and engaging with them on a frequent basis. By attempting to establish an ‘influence’ economy, Klout begins to blur the line between celebrity and the everyday, where celebrity isn’t a separated social class but a process one can work towards. Being ‘Internet Famous’ is no longer seen as a lower status to ‘real-life’ fame. The two are blurring together, making it less likely to be one without the other.

This all brings us back to all us academics following and contributing to #SCMS14. I returned home from Seattle expecting my engagement during the conference would drastically boost my Klout Score from my middling 50 (I swear it’s for research!), but alas, I was denied. Now I’m not blaming all of you folks for not being influential enough to make my engagements with you count for more. What I am proposing is that we spend more time reflecting on the purpose behind and impact of our online social engagements. We might not be interested in becoming ‘Internet Famous’ or growing our Klout Score to earn some great Perks from Samsung, but we ought to be concerned about how our actions are being perceived and the type of personas we are crafting. Relatedly, we also need to be mindful and cautious of quantifying ourselves when the prospect is becoming so easy. If there is anywhere we should be thinking qualitatively, it is in our social interactions. My fear is the more we spend time putting ourselves onto digital platforms, the more we seem interested in putting digital platforms onto ourselves.

Note: Talk about timing! The day this post was saved to go live, Klout was purchased by Lithium for $200 million. Make of this what you will, but this only adds support to the idea of quantifiable online influence.


Accessing Beyoncé http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2013/12/31/accessing-beyonce/ http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2013/12/31/accessing-beyonce/#comments Tue, 31 Dec 2013 13:41:40 +0000 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/?p=23262 Beyoncé and will again, regardless of how she chooses to distribute them.]]> Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at 7.39.13 AM“Why does music have to be the center of the thing? What can’t lifestyle be the center and music be part of the presentation?”

Brian Eno raised these questions in an interview for Time-Life’s 1995 documentary series The History of Rock and Roll. In the final installment, “Up From the Underground,” Eno’s comment is framed as a defense of Madonna, who was criticized for prioritizing image over music as though they were mutually exclusive. Eno, like Madonna, recognized music video’s potential for creative expression and refused to dismiss it as a commercial, artistically craven medium.

I remembered Eno’s comment upon viewing Beyoncé’s self-titled fifth album for a few reasons. First, much like History, I anticipate media scholars clipping Mrs. Carter’s video album for lecture. While watching “Pretty Hurts,” directed by long-time collaborator Melina Matsoukas, I imagined how its images of competitive female beauty would be used to illustrate concepts like ideology, semiotics, intersectionality, appropriation, and post-feminism. But after reflecting upon the album and the endless discourse it provoked, I was also surprised by how, in some ways, Beyoncé felt like a media product from an earlier time.


The video album takes its name from two culturally obsolescent formats. It harkens back to the late 80s and early 90s, when videogenic pop acts released compilations to curry favor with the home video market and rental chains. The video album transferred to CD-ROM and DVD. However, by the second half of the 2000s, streaming sites like YouTube and Vimeo contributed to the video album’s ossification. In 2011, British recording artist PJ Harvey released a DVD of short films Seamus Murphy directed to accompany Let England Shake. Videos for the album’s twelve songs can also be viewed on YouTube.

I don’t bring this up to suggest that Beyoncé is out of touch any more than I intend to follow Camille Paglia’s example and unfavorably compare a younger female pop star of color against the Material Girl. Rather, I find it fascinating that Beyoncé harnessed the commercial and cultural potential of a largely abandoned format. First, I’m compelled by Beyoncé’s control over access to the album. Because I am so accustomed to using YouTube, I assumed I would be able to watch all of the clips through the artist’s VEVO channel upon its mid-December release. Only “Drunk in Love” and “XO” were available on YouTube three days after Beyoncé‘s debut. Beyoncé’s control aligns with reports that she meticulously archives photographs of herself and scholarly interpretation of the artist’s curated Tumblr presence. I would have to buy the album on iTunes—a service to which I don’t currently subscribe—in order to get the full experience. Luckily, a friend in the field invited me over for a laptop screening during a holiday trip to Chicago.

But prior to my December 23 viewing of Beyoncé—ten days upon its release and therefore a lifetime ago on the Internet—I was already well-acquainted with the album. Certainly, there was quite a bit of trade discourse and political commentary documenting the album’s distribution through iTunes and Wal-Mart, as well as lively debate about power, cultural hybridity, feminism’s racial politics, and black radicalism. I also saw several GIFs and memes built from or referencing individual scenes. After its release, I chatted with fellow contributor Myles McNutt, who argued that a video album allowed Beyoncé to circumvent radio airplay with an album, like its predecessor 4, that is musically adventurous but bereft of obvious hits. While this raises the question as to whether GIFs equate with singles rotation and chart rankings, Beyoncé can now afford to wave away such metrics.

Beyonce Wal-Mart

I’ve avoided addressing the album’s content by focusing on its distribution model. But the visual elements and the collaborations between singer and directors allow the album to cohere. Beyoncé is an artist who fixates on the gendered and racialized contradictions embedded in the labor of beauty, pleasure, marriage, and autonomy. “Pretty Hurts” is as much a thesis statement for Beyoncé as it is for the singer’s career. I’m partial to the red-light disco of “Blow”. “XO” is undeniable, with a chorus that my screening companion said was designed for Olympics promos. I’m curious about her co-optation of Houston’s Third Ward in “Pretty Hurts” and “No Angel,” as I associate her more closely with Bellaire. “Haunted” simultaneously recalls videos for Madonna’s “Justify My Love” and Massive Attack’s “Karmacoma“, while several others fondly reminded me of America’s Next Top Model challenges. I’m intrigued by how the singer was able to integrate video shoots into her touring schedule. I’m fascinated by “Flawless,” a track that fashions a song out of a trap beat, post-feminist swagger, and sampled work from Nigerian poet Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Pretty Hurts

Beyoncé’s dominant narrative is that she doesn’t make mistakes. She can withstand blame over the Super Bowl power outage, accusation over lip syncing, and offense over sampling footage from the Challenger disaster. She was able to drop an album without it getting leaked or scooped. This is nearly impossible, yet consistent with a pop star who simultaneously wants us to focus on her work but make it all look effortless. Earlier this year HBO released her documentary, Life Is But a Dream. I was most intrigued when the film allowed us a brief glimpse into her process, including tense backstage moments between Beyoncé’s creative director Frank Gatson Jr. and her dancers.

But this was also a year when footage surfaced of the singer enduring harassment from male fans at concerts, which is an intersectional concern. Miley Cyrus got to slap burlesque dancer Amazon Ashley’s backside at the VMAs. Beyoncé got her bottom slapped by an audience member at a show in Denmark, even though she had the authority to eject him. Beyoncé situates itself at the intersection of various overlapping, contradictory, constructed, hybrid identities and visualizes them through collaboration. Perhaps it was initially met with surprise, but I anticipate we’ll return to these themes with Beyoncé, regardless of how she chooses to package and distribute them.


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Conflicted Coverage: ESPN and Johnny Manziel http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2013/09/05/what-espns-conflicted-coverage-of-johnny-manziel-says-about-sports-media-and-celebrity/ Thu, 05 Sep 2013 14:28:19 +0000 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/?p=21573 What’s good for ESPN is good for the game” ~ Rece Davis

Manziel MoneyCollege football kicked off this weekend, and it should come as no surprise that one of the biggest stories surrounded Johnny Manziel. The Texas A&M quarterback rose to national prominence last year with a terrific season, winning the Heisman trophy, and garnering the nickname “Johnny Football.” Returning after a Heisman-season is enough to put one squarely in the media’s lens, but Manziel’s off-the-field summer activities made him a much bigger target.

At the beginning of August, ESPN’s Outside the Lines reported the NCAA was investigating whether Manziel was paid for signing hundreds of autographs, citing two witnesses and multiple other sources. NCAA bylaw states student-athletes cannot use their names or likenesses for commercial gain. More and more sources came forward, including an autograph broker claiming he paid Manziel $7,500. Finally, in late August just days before the season began, the NCAA revealed the results of their investigation: they found no evidence of Manziel receiving payment. However, Manziel would be suspend for the first half of Texas A&M’s opener against Rice this past Saturday for violating the ‘spirit’ of the rule. Many questioned the odd decision and the message it sent, some wondering if he got off too easy.

ESPN played up the controversy as they hyped the opening weekend. This promo video from ESPN writer Wright Thompson shows how the network presented Manziel as a superstar celebrity, emphasizing his off-field personality more than his athletic achievements:

After the game, ESPN got exactly what they wanted: not just a great athletic performance but fuel for the fire of Manziel’s cult of personality. Although Manziel had a great game, this was almost entirely overshadowed by his antics on the field, including autograph and money-based taunting and a personal foul for unsportsmanlike conduct. To be clear, this post is not interested in Manziel’s sportsmanship, eligibility, guilt, or otherwise. What is fascinating about this story is how it was reported and discussed on ESPN immediately afterward, and what that reveals about the nature of celebrity, sports, and media representation.

A quick game recap featured on both ESPN’s website and SportsCenter broadcasts introduced Manziel as the “biggest villain in college football.” When the recap reached the unsportsmanlike conduct call, the reporter said, “I suppose when you win the Heisman trophy, you can do things like that,” although he was quick to add, in a somewhat parodic manner, “but it’s just not becoming of a champion.” In other words the quick-style reporting of the incident did not question Manziel’s actions, and even went so far as to play up the antagonistic behavior.

This reporting is in contrast to several analysts’ takes on the situation, including one from Jesse Palmer calling Manziel’s antics “inexcusable.” After reiterating the ways in which Manziel is viewed as a villain (referencing Heisman jealousy and fraternizing with LeBron James), Palmer shifts focus to Manziel’s performance saying, “Now on the field, I love what Johnny Manziel did today.” Here we see the ways in which ESPN (and several fans) are attempting to both celebrate Manziel’s athletic accomplishments while acknowledging and criticizing his personal presentation.

Davis, Holtz, and May

Davis, Holtz, and May

However, a segment featuring two of the networks stalwart college football analysts, Mark May and Lou Holtz, alongside host Rece Davis pulled back the curtain on how ESPN decides to deal with Manziel as both athlete and celebrity. When discussing Manziel’s taunting, Davis claims, “One of the reasons we love Johnny on the field is because he’s flamboyant, he’s reckless, he takes chances… but there’s a line and he’s got to find that boundary and stay behind it.” When Davis says “we,” he might as well be saying “We here at ESPN,” as he is acknowledging the antics of Manziel are what makes him the celebrity figure he is; loved or hated, it gets a reaction from viewers and gives people a reason to watch ESPN.

After Davis continues to play Manziel’s advocate, claiming Manziel made these gestures last year, May and Holtz immediately argue that Manziel has indeed gone too far with Holtz saying, “I don’t think it’s good for the game… It think it’s good for ESPN, but I don’t think it’s good for the game.” Davis immediately responds by saying, “Well what’s good for ESPN is good for the game,” though he barely gets the last word out as he appears to realize what he is saying. In that brief, unfiltered moment, Rece Davis reveals exactly the position ESPN is in; they are a business who’s role is not to support ‘the game’ as an abstract concept, but to profit alongside the NCAA through stars like Johnny Manziel. (Student-athletes’ inability to make money off their own names/likenesses, of course, makes this problematic).

Rece Davis is absolutely right, from ESPN’s perspective, as Manziel’s antics will only drive more viewers to the screen. By creating the persona of Manziel as the villain or heel, ESPN can engage viewers on a more emotional level, giving people another reason to tune it. This is ESPN creating a narrative to further engage their audience. Just like Breaking Bad or professional wrestling, the desire to see justice prevail and villains punished pulls us in deeper and keeps us watching. They are stuck in the middle between glamorizing and promoting the natural celebrity of Manziel while at the same time criticizing the very actions which make him a celebrity in the first place. ESPN wants it both ways. When it comes to showmanship vs. sportsmanship, ESPN are enablers, wagging their finger with one hand and patting the back with the other. It becomes easy to forget that at the center of all of this is a 20 year-old kid from Tyler, Texas named Johnny.


Let’s talk about search: Some lessons from building Lantern http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2013/08/14/lets-talk-about-search-some-lessons-from-building-lantern/ http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2013/08/14/lets-talk-about-search-some-lessons-from-building-lantern/#comments Wed, 14 Aug 2013 18:32:09 +0000 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/?p=21355 This week, LanteScreen Shot 2013-08-14 at 1.27.58 PMrn reached its first wide public.

Lantern is a search and visualization platform for the Media History Digital Library (MHDL), an open access digitization initiative that I lead with David Pierce. The project was in development for two years, and teams from the MHDL and UW-Madison Department of Communication Arts collaborated to bring version 1.0 online toward the end of July. After a whole bunch of testing, we decided that the platform could indeed withstand the scrutiny of the blogosphere. It’s been a pleasure to see that we were right. We’re grateful for supportive posts from Indiewire and David Bordwell and web traffic surpassing anything we’ve experienced before.

I will leave it in the capable and eloquent hands of David Bordwell to explain what the searchability of the MHDL’s 800,000 pages of books and magazines offers to film and broadcasting historians. In this Antenna post, I wanted to more broadly touch on how the search process works. I will address visualization more fully in another post or essay.

We run searches online all the time. Most of us are inclined to focus on the end results rather than the algorithms and design choices take us there. Cultural studies scholars such as Alexander Halavais have offered critical commentary on search engines, but it wasn’t until I began developing Lantern in 2011 that I bothered to peek under the hood of a search engine for myself. Here are five lessons I learned about search that I hope will prove useful to you too the next time you search Lantern or see a query box online.

1. The collection of content you are searching matters a lot.

It would have been great if the first time Carl Hagenmaier, Wendy Hagenmaier, and I sat down to add fulltext search capability to the MHDL’s collections we had been 100% successful. Instead, it took a two year journey of starts, stops, and reboots to get there. But in other ways, it’s a really good thing that we initially failed. If we had been successful in the Fall of 2011, users would have only been able to search a roughly 100,000 page collection comprised primarily of The Film Daily, Photoplay, and Business Screen. Don’t get me wrong, those are great publications. And we now have many more volumes of Photoplay and The Film Daily than we did back then. But over the last two years, our collections have boomed in breadth and diversity along with size and depth. Thanks to our partnerships with the Library of Congress Packard Campus, Museum of Modern Art Library, Niles Essasany Silent Film Museum, Domitor, and others, we have added a tremendous number of magazines, broadcasting, early cinema journals, and books. In 2011, a search for “Jimmy Stewart” would have probably resulted in some hits from the fan magazine Photoplay (our Film Daily volumes at that time didn’t go past 1930). Today, the Lantern query “Jimmy Stewart” yields 407 matching page hits. Take a look at the top 10 results ranked by relevancy. Sure enough, 5 of the top 10 results come from Photoplay. But there are also matching pages from Radio and TV Mirror, Independent Exhibitors Film Bulletin, and International Projectionist — all sources that a James Stewart biographer probably would not think to look. And who would guess that International Projectionist would refer to the star with the casual “Jimmy”? These sorts of discoveries are already possible within Lantern, and as the content collection further expands, there will only be more of them.

2. Always remember, you are searching an index, not the actual content.

This point is an important caveat to the first point. Content matters, but it is only discoverable through an index, which is itself dependent upon the available data and metadata. A search index is a lot like the index at the back of a book — it stores information in a special way that helps you find what you are looking for quickly. A search engine index, like the open source Solr index that Lantern uses, takes a document and blows it apart into lots of small bits so that a computer can quickly search it. Solr comes loaded with the search algorithms that do most of the mathematical heavy lifting. But as developers, we still had to decide exactly what metadata to capture and how to index it. In my “Working Theory” essay co-written with Carl and Wendy, I’ve described how MARC records offered insufficient metadata for the search experience our users wanted. In this post, I want to emphasize is that if something isn’t in the index, and if the index doesn’t play nicely with the search algorithms, then you won’t have a happy search experience. Lesson #3 should make this point more clear.

3. Search algorithms are designed for breadth and scale, so don’t ask them to search in depth

Open source search algorithms are better at searching 2 million short documents, each containing 500 words of text, than at searching 500 very long documents containing 200,000 words each. I learned this lesson the hard way. At the Media History Digital Library, we scan magazines that have been collected and bound together into volumes. So in our early experiments with Lantern, we turned every volume into a discrete XML file with metadata fields for title, creator, date, etc., plus the metadata field “body” where we pasted all the text from the scanned work. Big mistake. Some of the “body” fields had half a million words! After indexing these XML documents, our search speed was dreadfully slow and, worse yet, the results were inaccurate or only partially accurate. In some cases, the search algorithms would find a few hits within a particular work and then time out without searching the full document. The solution — beautifully scripted in Python by Andy Myers — was to turn every page inside a volume into its own XML document, then index all 800,000 MHDL pages as unique documents. This is the only way we can deliver the fast, accurate search results that you want. But we also recognize that it risks de-contextualizing the single page from the larger work. We believe the “Read in Context” option and the catalog descriptions offer partial answers to this challenge of preserving context, and we’re working on developing additional methods too.

4. Good OCR matters for searchability, but OCR isn’t the whole story

You don’t need OCR (optical character recognition) to search a blog or docx Word file. Those textual works were born digital; a computer can clearly see whether that was an “a” or “o” that the author typed. In contrast, Moving Picture World, Radio Mirror, and the MHDL’s other books and magazines were born in the print age. In order to make them machine readable, we need to run optical character recognition — a process that occurs on the Internet Archive’s servers using Abbyy Fine Reader. Abbyy has to make a lot of guesses about particular words and characters. We tend to scan works that are in good condition at a high resolution, and this leads to Abbyy making better guesses and the MHDL having high quality OCR. Nevertheless, the OCR isn’t perfect, and the imperfections are immediately visible in a snippet like this one from a 1930 volume of Film Daily: “Bette Davis, stage actress, has been signed by Carl Taemmle. Jr.” The snippet should say “Carl Laemmle, Jr.” That is the Universal executive listed on the page, and I wish our database model enabled users to log in and fix these blemishes (hopefully, we’ll get to this point in 2014). But — you may have guessed there was a but coming — our search algorithms use some probabilistic guessing and “stemming,” which splinters individual words and allows your query to search for related words (for instance, returning “reissue” and “reissuing” for a “reissue” query. The aggressiveness of stemming and probabilistic word guessing (aka “fuzzyness”) is something that developers can boost or turn down. I’m still trying to flavor Lantern’s stew just right. The big takeaway point, though, is that you’ll quickly notice the OCR quality, but there are other hidden processes going on shaping your results.

5. The search experience has become increasingly visual.

As my colleague Jeremy Morris pointed out to me during one of our food cart lunches outside the UW Library, the search experience has become highly visual. Googling a restaurant now renders a map within the results page. Proquest queries now return icons that display the format of the work — article, book, etc. — but not an image of the actual work. I’d like to think Lantern’s results view one-ups Proquest. We display a full color thumbnail of the matching page in the results view, not simply an icon. The thumbnail communicates a tremendous amount of information very efficiently. You quickly get a sense about whether the page is an advertisement or news story, whether it comes from a glossy fan magazine or a trade paper published in broadsheet layout. Even before you read the highlighted text snippet, you get some impression of the page and source. The thumbnails also help compensate for the lack of our metadata’s granularity. We haven’t had the resources to generate metadata on the level of individual magazine issues, pages, or articles (it’s here that Proquest one-ups us). By exposing the thumbnail page image, though, you visually glean some essential information from the source. Plus, the thumbnails showcase one of the strengths of the MHDL collection: the colorful, photo rich, and graphically interesting nature of the historic magazines.

Ok, now it’s your turn to think algorithmically. When you search for a movie star and sort by relevancy, why is it that the most visually rich pages — often featuring a large photo — tend to rank the highest?

The answer is that those pages tend to have relatively few words. If there are only eight words on a portrait page from The New Movie Magazine and two of them are “Joan Crawford,” then her name occupies a far higher word frequency-to-page percentage than a page from Variety that is jam packed with over 1,000 words of text, including a story announcing Joan Crawford’s next picture.

Should I tweak the relevancy algorithm so that image-heavy pages aren’t listed so high? Should I ascribe greater relevancy to certain canonical sources, like Photoplay and Variety, rather than magazines outside the canon, like New Movie and Hollywood Filmograph? Or should we weight things the other way around — try to nudge users toward under-utilized sources? I would be curious to know what Antenna readers and Lantern users think.

There are advantages and disadvantages no matter what you choose. The best approach, as I see it, may just to be to let the ranking algorithm run as is and use forums like this one to make their workings more transparent.


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On Wearing Two Badges: Indifference and Discomfort of a Scholar Fan (LeakyCon Portland) http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2013/07/31/on-wearing-two-badges-indifference-and-discomfort-of-a-scholar-fan-leakycon-portland/ Wed, 31 Jul 2013 13:00:48 +0000 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/?p=21016 LeakyConPortland Multipost Tag

This is the second of a seven-part series about the 4th LeakyCon convention held in Portland Oregon June 27-30, 2013.  Part I and the rest of the series can be found here.


LeakyCon should have been a paradise for me.  As a Ph.D student interested in industry/consumer relationships, the chance to attend a convention unified by Harry Potter(!) that celebrates reading, writing, creation, and general enthusiasm for nerdy girl culture seemed like the perfect place to explore my own fandom and experiment with fan ethnographies.

lindsay_two_badges_leakycon_editedDespite the anticipation leading up to Portland, I found myself, initially, surprisingly indifferent about the experience.  As I attended panels and walked the exhibit room, I felt out of place.  LeakyCon created a world within the Oregon Convention Center that constantly went out of its way to remind me that loving nerdy things was awesome, being nerdy was awesome, I was awesome, everyone around me was awesome, and we would all become lifelong friends for sharing this awesome experience.  So why didn’t I feel awesome?

As part of this project, I acquired a press badge in addition to my attendee one.  In a space marked by collecting ribbons to exhibit one’s fan identities, I was marked as both a fan and an academic. At first, this seemed inconsequential.  Wearing these two badges articulated my identity at LeakyCon as much as wearing Hogwarts robes expressed the identities of con attendees.  Yet, I felt serious reservations about my place at LeakyCon because my academic interest and training made me an interloper and because I wasn’t a big enough fan.  The burdens of both badges made me feel that I wore neither of them well. Through my unease, epistemological questions plagued me: As an academic, can one accurately describe fans, fandoms, and conventions without being a fan?  As a fan, can one keep enough distance to provide an accurate assessment of other fans?  Does that type of academic work constitute an act of fandom or tarnish the worlds that fans create with one another?

The first day of the con, for example, consisted of a series of “meet-ups”.  In planning which of these to attend, I instinctively approached the schedule as a reporter, but methodological and ethical questions soon arose. Should I attend this con as a fan and try to experience it for myself?  Or should I collect information as an ethnographer to understand the world around me?  The easy solution seemed to be both.  However, bridging the gap between academic and fan, participant and observer proved difficult. By not being a true participant, how could I fully understand and communicate the fan experience? Moreover, I felt guilty for intruding on spaces intended for people with genuine commonalities, concerned that I could negatively affect their con experiences.

With these insecurities in mind, I decided to shift gears and try the con as fan.  However, I quickly felt inadequate. Although Harry Potter unifies LeakyCon, Rowling’s world also serves as a common space for creating more specific micro-communities based on other fandoms I did not share, such as Dr. Who, Sherlock, and the Starkids. Although my fannish love of Harry Potter and academic interests brought me to the conference, I was only really excited for the panels about my current obsession – The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (LBD).

Lindsay Picture 1

In addition to not sharing most of these fandoms, I don’t share in many of the fan practices that would bring one to a convention in the first place.  Although I am interested in community as an extension of individual fandom, it’s not something I seek out myself:  I don’t know the acronyms, the references, or how to use Tumblr.  My fan love is largely isolated and off-line.  I don’t want fan-fictions that expand the world or to post gifs representing moments I love most.  The world of the text itself is enough for me.  However, it was not enough at LeakyCon.  My lack of extratextual currency made me feel ambivalent about the experience and I disliked feeling distanced from those around me.

Frustrated with my indifference, I decided to do something I have never cared to do otherwise: I bought an LBD poster and got in the autograph line.  Although this experience did not erase the divide completely removing my academic badge helped me enjoy more of the con as an attendee.  I felt part of the community because I did something fans did and connected with my own fandom and friend community.  However, my best experiences of the con are hard to document in academically worthwhile ways because they are far from academic; reconnecting with my childhood best friend who attended the con, chatting with Mary Kate Wiles (who plays Lyd-dee-ah in LBD), and the impromptu singing of the theme to The Fresh Prince of Bel Air along with half the cast of LBD, two Glee Warblers, and a Starkid on the train to the hotel.

These experiences led me to an epiphany.  One of the most striking aspects of LeakyCon was how, by virtue of their youth, the attendees defined the space as one of identity exploration. I realized that I had that in common with them, because the con represented an important moment in my own becoming, as someone who is currently negotiating my new identity as a scholar-fan.  In fact, struggling to bridge the gaps between the badges is what I have always done in my life. I’m the only academic in a blue-collar family, one of the few television students in my department, and the lone scholar at my industry internship.

Lindsay Picture 3

Upon further reflection, the distance I felt from the conference theme of celebrating one’s “authentic” identity as a result of my position between these two worlds was not, in fact, inauthentic at all.  I think I need to adjust my expectations and recognize that perhaps this discomfort in trying to resolve being a fan and academic doesn’t make me less of either.  I hope that acknowledging this divide for what it is will, instead,  make me a truer, dare I say more authentic researcher and fan, without compromising too much of what makes each of these identities so awesome.

For more on LeakyCon 2013, read:

– Part one (“Where the Fangirls Are“)
– Part three (“Fans and Stars and Starkids“)
– Part four (“From LGBT to GSM: Gender and Sexual Identity among LeakyCon’s Queer Youth“)
– Part five (“Inspiring Fans at LeakyCon Portland“)
– Part six (“Redefining the Performance of Masculinity“)
– Part seven (“Embracing Fan Creativity in Transmedia Storytelling“)


What Are You Missing? Apr 28 – May 11 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2013/05/12/what-are-you-missing-apr-28-may-11/ Sun, 12 May 2013 13:05:45 +0000 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/?p=19866 WAYM-Iron Man 3Ten (or more) media industry news items you might have missed recently:

1) This installment starts with news that that I’m sure no one missed. Iron Man 3 made its worldwide debut, but all eyes were on China, which put up a respectable $21.5 million on opening day. In North America, our $68.3 million opening day brought IR3 within striking distance of a half-billion dollar box office after less than two weeks of release. Keeping all of that in mind, can you really blame RDJ?  But life’s not all about the Benjamins, friends. Apparently, Tony Stark is doing good business (“business”?) among pirates, who elevated IR3 to #3 on TorrentFreak’s list of the most illegally downloaded films. Haven’t seen the movie yet? Here are some other ways to enjoy the atmosphere: becoming Iron Man, keeping up with Robert Downey, Jr., on Sina Weibo, or basking in RDJ’s charisma.

2) Speculation about NeXtBox – can we make this a thing? – is picking up ahead of a launch event set for May 21. Exact details about the release date, price, and specs are yet to be revealed, but as I get on in years, I find what matters most is that I be allowed — encouraged even — to play alone. What do we know about NeXtBox? Well, apparently it supports a projector system capable of making you wish that you didn’t have so much furniture. Don’t invest in a blank wall yet, however; Illumiroom may not be ready for Microsoft’s next-gen rollout. If you’re not on Team Microsoft, there’s always the PS4 to look forward to.

3) The future is arriving at the speed of time, and next-gen gaming systems are just the start. San Francisco played host last week to the first NeuroGaming Conference and Expo, where “ineluctable modality” was just a string of cool-sounding syllables. Commercial potential for games that track player heart rate, brain waves, pupil dilation, and a host of other physiological data is still slight, but Google Glass may help start-ups find a direction. We all saw Strange Days, right? Less pie-in-the-sky are developments in controller design. Thalmic Labs’ Myo promises “effortless interaction,” bringing us all one step closer to living out our childhood fantasies or five steps closer to saying, “Remember when…?” Also, this exists.

4) Let’s pretend this is a surprise. Google Glass is coming, presumably for people more interesting than myself, and some of the source code has been released, so developers have been put on notice. What are the possibilities? Where to start: wink-based photography, making Vine videos, making and uploading YouTube videos, ARG gaming (a covert valorization of early adoption?), Facebooking, and updating your software. But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows; get a head start on worrying about surveillance, privacy, basic social interactions, keeping expectations realistic, and not looking like a jerk. And you don’t have to be excited about the tech itself to enjoy the ad campaign. White Men Wearing Google Glass has made a game of tracking down the instrument’s target demographic. So far, though, I’m most concerned about a different set of would-be users. Finally, I’m going on record. Google Glass is still only playing second-fiddle. The Large Hadron Collider (or any particle accelerator) exists; for the rest of us, there’s Google Glass.

5) First, some context: The Syrian Electronic Army has been around the digital block a few times, becoming something of a nuisance for high-profile critics of the Assad regime. The group’s latest target was The Onion Twitter account, where it posted a number of pro-Assad and anti-Semitic tweets just because they couldn’t take a joke. The Onion responded as you’d expect: one news story poking humor at the hack and another announcing tighter security. (When connectivity is a weapon, I feel compelled to point out that feelings of levity should be brief. See the end of the WaPo story for evidence.)

6) How are things at DreamWorks? Awesomeness abounds.  It’s overflowing even, so they’ve sent some to China. But is ‘awesome’ for DreamWorks ‘awesome’ for everyone? It may be for a selection of YouTube content providers. Subscription channels are coming. Big Bird may be involved, but WWE isn’t biting (for now?).  As much as things change, other things remain the same…unless this happens. That would be a fairly significant development.

7) Netflix’s streaming service lost almost 1,000 titles on May 1. Users and the media took to calling the event Streamageddon, but I was partial to Apocaflix. Netflix (see, it’s right there in the name!) has begun testing new layouts, which makes me wonder if Facebook has conditioned us to complain. Then again, Netflix has its competitors to think about, and they do seem to be cropping up. If the market gets tight, there’s always money in the banana stand.

8) A smattering of stories about trademarks and copyrights… Instagram has the dubious honor of having its name informally tacked to recent British copyright legislation. Do you think Warner Bros. performed a “diligent search” before being sued for its unauthorized use of Keyboard Cat and Nyan Cat? Barry Diller is calling broadcasters’ bluffs over Aereo, and Fox is doing its best Shredder impression, claiming the court battles are just beginning. For what it’s worth, Aereo is taking steps to keep that from being the case. Also, who has the heart to argue with Harper Lee? If Gregory Peck were still around, I bet he’d get involved.

9) What’s killing cinema? Steven Soderbergh has the answer. “[F]ive and a half hours of mayhem,” you say? It sounds so Shakespearean, but I expect it signifies more than nothing. Don’t worry about Soderbergh, though, he’s got a Plan B, available for your enjoyment here.

10) What else is there to talk about? Rest in peace, George Jones, Deanna Durbin, and Ray Harryhausen. In case you’re unfamiliar with any of them, here’s the greatest country song of all time (by some accounts), an appreciation and analysis of fan appreciation for Durbin, and a primer on Harryhausen’s work. (The pay wall won’t block the videos, so click on through!) Ender’s Game is on the way. To my father’s great shame, I’ve never read it. As for Mr. Card, he depresses me too much to make a joke. Star Wars day happened. Nielsen says welcome to the family. And get ready for some AIP remakes!

11) What?! That’s right. ELEVEN! One extra for the art and science that caught my eye. Here’s a stop-motion movie using atoms as pixels, meaning there’s at least one digital format with resolution superior to 35mm film. Roger probably would have stood his ground on this one. I know people who actively change the typeface of their handwriting every few years. Earth driving is easy. The mysteries of the cosmos are out there to be discovered, but don’t forget that people can be pretty gosh darn cool, too.


The Power of Women’s Voices in The Great Gatsby http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2013/05/09/the-power-of-womens-voices-in-the-great-gatsby/ http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2013/05/09/the-power-of-womens-voices-in-the-great-gatsby/#comments Thu, 09 May 2013 13:00:41 +0000 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/?p=19805 the-great-gatsby-movie“[T]here was an excitement in her voice that men who had cared for her found difficult to forget: a singing compulsion, a whispered ‘Listen,’ a promise that she had done gay, exciting things just a while since and that there were gay, exciting things hovering in the next hour.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

If his classic novel, The Great Gatsby, is any indication, F. Scott Fitzgerald loved the sound of a woman’s voice. The book, upon which Baz Luhrmann’s upcoming film adaptation is based, is like a textual serenade to a thrilling and unique feminine voice that rings out like “a wild tonic in the rain.” Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby will hit theaters this Friday, with Tobey Maguire voicing Fitzgerald’s masculine narrator and Leonardo DiCaprio portraying the mysterious Jay Gatsby. Fitzgerald’s intriguing feminine voice – which belongs to Daisy Buchanan – will be embodied by Carey Mulligan. Gatsby’s promotional materials indicate that Mulligan’s performance will offer the nuanced physical performance demanded by the role – but if Gatsby’s trailers are any indication, Daisy’s voice will have some impressive help from the film’s soundtrack. Her voice carried little influence or power in Fitzgerald’s day – in an age in which “the best thing a girl can be in this world [is] a beautiful little fool” – but Gatsby’s soundtrack artfully blends Fitzgerald’s 1920s female voices with a cast of contemporary female musical powerhouses, who insistently reclaim Daisy’s silenced perspective.

In an effort that delayed the film’s release substantially, Luhrmann recruited Jay-Z to compile an impressive array of top artists. The most impressive among them are women, performers who intimately express the timeless emotional appeal of Fitzgerald’s Daisy. Beyoncé’s collaboration with André 3000, an eerie rendition of Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black,” is an unsettling confession of compulsive loyalty to an unfaithful partner. The vulnerable honesty of Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful” begs for reassurance that love can outlast youth. And Florence + the Machine’s intensely powerful “Over the Love” nods to Daisy’s gendered social restrictions, channeling the frustration of a woman “borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

On the surface, these songs may not strike a feminist chord. In many ways, they speak to the powerlessness of Fitzgerald’s jazz age women. But while Lana Del Rey, Florence Welch, and Beyoncé, like Daisy, have incredibly memorable voices, their performances are also overflowing with generations of hard-won power. Welch’s voice has been called “hauntingly powerful” and “too loud for the room,” pointing to the brick wall of sound she pushes from her adept Lungs. She describes her music as “something overwhelming and all-encompassing that fills you up,” putting her right at home alongside female mogul Queen Beyoncé’s authoritative style. And while Lana Del Rey’s tender contribution to the musical compilation is more subdued, her industry prowess earned her featured billing. Setting her apart from other contributors, Warner Brothers’ “Soundtrack Sampler” features a still image of Del Rey’s name in the bold, graphic lettering of the film’s title screen.

Regardless of whether these musicians should be considered feminist or not, these songstresses’ massive voices bubble up under the story’s surface, threatening to overturn the masculine narrator’s perspective in favor of Daisy’s lilting voice. Some of the film’s trailers even seem to take on Daisy’s point of view, layering Carey Mulligan’s beautifully nuanced facial reactions to the violence she both witnesses and perpetrates over contemporary female performers’ driving vocals. Daisy’s voice may not have had much power in the jazz age, but with singers like Beyoncé, Welch, and Del Rey to offer their vocal prowess to the character, Daisy’s perspective takes on a whole new meaning for feminism. United with these musicians’ vocal power, Daisy becomes an illustration of where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going.

Fitzgerald describes Daisy’s as “the kind of voice that the ear follows up and down, as if each speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again.” I like to imagine the woman whose lilting speech compelled him to craft such a lovely phrase, but like so many women – both historical and contemporary – her voice has been silenced. In performances that truly speak to the power of a musical message, Florence Welch, Beyoncé, and Lana Del Rey have taken up her cause. Together, they remind us of the hope in a powerfully insistent voice. They remind us that some voices are forever silent. And, most importantly, they remind us that our voices – and media soundtracks – can be important feminist tools as we “beat on, boats against the current.”


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