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Network TV (2010) is an interactive map which displays the intertextual and intratextual references within and around the iconic television show, The Simpsons. Although its final shape is an information visualization, it was constructed according to game-like principles: certain self-imposed rules governed how far references could extend to other references, but the “performance” of the piece (the process of shaping it as a finished object) emerged organically within these constraints. In interacting with the piece, the user can toggle between the zoom and the holistic point of view in order to experience both specific relationships and the cacophony of the rhizome. What emerges is an experience which embodies what Umberto Eco calls “the multiplication of the media,” as well as an unexpected relationship between internet surfing and channel surfing, information overload on TV and information overload on the web.
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The Little Rascals (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kSEY9WBDErI)
Mickey Rooney (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tm74WPLxALk)
Bill Withers (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HaVXfHZv50Y&feature=related)
Yogi Bear (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0g8FLSGRYW0)
Kim Basinger (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XfZM4n1SCjU&feature=related)
Helen of Troy (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dlrviJ_lplk&feature=related)
Although many of our readings and class discussions this semester have talked quite extensively about the ways in which digital technologies have led to an explosion in appropriation-based creativity, it wasn’t until reading Bound by Law that I felt like I had a more rigorous understanding of the legal implications of such practices. Beyond its entertaining, comic book format, I truly appreciated the sense of balance that it brought to its argumentation. While the news media often conflates appropriation with piracy, and “copyleft” activists often petition as if they want to abolish copyright altogether, Bound by Law seemed to point out both the vital protections that copyright can give to artists and the limitations to the public sphere and future creativity that can result if such protection spirals out of control. So while this excerpt (quite rightly) focuses a large part of its energies on the ways in which the latter scenario has become a reality, I was glad to see the authors temper their argument, rallying for limitations on copyright law without forgetting its original intent.
In addition to Bound by Law’s success at navigating a moderate path, I found many of its anecdotes surrounding copyright in documentary film to be particularly troubling. Indeed, if we live in a culture full of branded materials, how can one document and critique that culture if every branded object must be paid for, licensed, approved, and apparently even renewed once that license has expired? How can the typical documentary filmmaker (most often, a starving artist par excellence) afford to fund her film if she must pay both astronomical archival footage fees as well as $10,000 for every 4 ½ seconds of a television show playing in the background of a scene? (The fact that the show referenced was The Simpsons is particularly unsettling, given the content of my project). Even beyond the inherent difficulty of funding projects under such restrictions, I found the authors’ framing of this dilemma even more unsettling: what is the place of free speech if we simply “give copyright holders a veto over history?” I guess if artists can just keep in Bound by Law’s useful typology of ways to contest copyright protection – from various claims to fair use (parody, critique, scholarship) to the tiered licensing structure of Larry Lessig’s Creative Commons – they will at the very least have some way to defend their appropriative practices against censorship or monetary exploitation.
In film studies they make you slog through pages and pages of Baudrillard and Jameson, but I wish they had just assigned this essay as our quick-and-dirty intro to postmodern thinking. It’s way shorter, more readable, and certainly more fun to read. There are also some interesting contradictions that Eco points in relation to questions of historical memory and authorship that sort of get drowned out in Jameson and Baudrillard’s more nihilistic ramblings.
For instance, I loved the way that Eco described mass media pastiche as a paradox in which an impulse to both “genealogy” and “no memory” can co-exist at the same time. In Jameson, pastiche as “blank parody” is assumed to be synonymous with historical amnesia; signs detach from their historical referents and float in this murky soup of slippage, loss of meaning, and un-originality. But one man’s “slippage” is another man’s “appropriation” – if pastiche has indeed become our cultural vernacular (even more so in recent years given the rise of desktop production tools), then doesn’t that mean that we actually have a greater sense of historical memory and consciousness than ever before? I’m not quite sure if this paradox of having “too much” and “too little” historical memory all at the same time is particular to our contemporary moment (as Henry Jenkins notes, all creativity is appropriation – from Homer remixing Greek myths, to Picasso remixing African art), but perhaps with the rise of postmodernism and digital technologies, the speed at which this appropriation and dissemination takes place has brought us to greater awareness. Indeed, if meaning as intention has been decentered into a constellation of influences in excess of the traditional feedback loop between artist and viewer that earlier theorists have said constitutes meaning, what is the place of artistry and original genius in an environment in which these ideas have been totally demystified? In Eco’s essay there is a sense of ambiguity in relation to this question that I find totally poignant – the liberating destruction of elitism and the carefully policed boundaries between Art and mass culture, but also a sense of nostalgia for the lost original, as well as the purely oppositional position that such originality in Art once held as an alternative to the culture industry.
I’m so glad that Stephanie pointed out in her post that Borges’ story was based on Inception, because after reading that comment I felt like I had a much deeper understanding of Borges’ work. In particular, in thinking about how the two works inform each other, I think there are some really interesting comments being made in both on different perceptions, layerings, and manipulations of time. In Borges’ story, he talks about time within dreams and memory; time as experienced by non-human entities at different scales (“planets” and “vegetables”); and even time as experienced with the foresight that you are going to die. I loved these insights because they underlined how time is always mediated and delimited by your positionality and how such experiences can fundamentally differ from our typical conceptions of a linearly unfolding reality (or in Borges’ words, the “less rewarding” path of a “single iron stairway”). It’s almost as if Borges is directly quoting new media theory when he writes about the possibility of parallel universes - for instance, those “hundreds of deaths,” those multiple potentials of the inevitable, that the protagonist’s replays obsessively over in his head throughout the course of the story.
All of this speculation leads to some pretty interesting and fundamental questions about our perceptions of time: for instance, if these other layers of time and experience exist for us as human beings, can we really say that the linearly unfolding time of “physical reality” is any more “real” than the perhaps more non-linear reality of our desires? Conversely, what about the temporal viewpoint of a vegetable or a planet - if you are the latter, than time is certainly much different to you than if you are a bee in a courtyard or a zooming electron or a human being. So if Borges’ Hladik can finish his novel in the time that it takes for a bullet to reach his forehead, and indeed if the characters of Christopher Nolan’s Inception can save the world in the time it takes for a car to fall off of a bridge, perhaps there is something to be said about the expanding of consciousness beyond the limits of our everyday, “human perceptions” of time (or I guess, what passes for this admittedly essentialist category at a particular time). In these mere instances are hidden vast (and “secret”) temporalities, mediated and in many ways made possible by the technologies of film and fiction. To follow, then, what I think is perhaps most interesting about Borges’ piece is the way that we might also view this malleability of temporal perception in the context of new media and how these technologies make possible an ability to pause, protract, mold, replay, and redo time into a number of novel configurations.
1) “Grand Taxonomy of Rap Names”
2) “Sync Lost” => Visualizing movements in music.
After some “soul searching” and quite a few hours of hard work over the past few days, I feel like I finally have a project which marries many of the themes and interface tropes that I have been interested in exploring throughout the duration of this course. This decisiveness comes after some meta-reflection on my indecisiveness and dissatisfaction with my previous project ideas up to this point, as I’ve gradually come to realize that rather than randomly shifting from one topic to another, there is actually something like a conceptual through line to my progression. For instance, with my original LA freeways project, I feel like I was most interested in the relationship between networks and visual complexity and how the concept of the freeway as a real world “link” might be mobilized as a focal point. With my rumination on targets, I was also interested in the visual complexity of mapped data (i.e. the Wikileaks map), but was also interested in the concept of “zooming in” – a desire to overcome the position of objective detachment that comes in reducing the world to data, however functional or beautiful it may seem. With my final project idea (and to be sure, it is most definitely my final project idea), I am able to toggle between both the zoom and the holistic point of view, the rhizome and the specific node, without the sense of loss that comes in sacrificing one point of view for the other. This comes in my use of the free software Prezi, which unlike my somewhat traumatizing experience with Adobe Flex, is stable enough not to change its coding schema halfway through the semester. It is also very easy-to-use and is embeddable within a Dreamweaver-created HTML page.
My basic idea for this project is to map the networks of intertextual and intratextual references within the iconic television show The Simpsons – hence, the pun on “TV networks” in the title. I will do this by constructing the network relationships manually in Prezi’s canvas and then use the application to create zoomable “paths” through the network. Although I’ve worked with a similar idea before (I mapped the references for one episode of The Simpsons, South Park, and Family Guy for another class), my idea here is significantly different on a number of levels. On the most fundamental level, I want to complete the project on a much larger scope and focus on just one show – just this weekend, I’ve mapped 20 episodes and have hopes to complete 40-50 (maybe more?) by the end of the semester. In creating the project, I have also employed a new happening-like element to it, in which certain rules or constraints govern my construction of the piece, but its actual “performance” (my process of shaping it as a finished object at the end of the semester) will largely be up for grabs. [Right now my main constraint is that I can only extend a child-node two association before it has to be linked back to another parent- (episode) node. I placed this constraint on my practice so that a) the structure’s main linking association would be based primarily in the show; and b) so that it would not proliferate itself indefinitely. ] I will also include clips from the episodes which will play on cue when you zoom into them, though I am not quite sure if I want there to also be videos playing for the subordinate, reference nodes, as this might be too overwhelming to build and to navigate through.
Ultimately, I am comfortable with this new project idea because I think it starts from a simple conceptual basis to expand recursively into visually complex and meaningful forms. On a purely visual basis, I like the idea of having the nodes be assemblages of television sets at different scales, as it reminds me a bit of a Nam June Paik installation. On the conceptual side, I am excited that just from this simple set of rules, and starting from just a couple episodes, my work this weekend has already begun to open the project up into an expansive space that the user can explore at their own pace and at their own scale. I also feel that if I can continue to complete roughly 2 episodes per day, I will definitely be ready to upload to the server on time.
Finally, here are some issues I would like to discuss with you in class tomorrow:
- I am playing with the idea of having television sets tune into “static” whenever a particular path ends.
- I am playing with the idea of the size of the television set being meaningful – like displaying a larger node if it is referenced by more Simpsons episodes.
- Have to address the problem of using a bitmapped “link” between nodes vs. a vector graphic “link” between nodes. The link now looks ugly and pixelated.
- Having different colors for links, and having these colors represent something in particular?
***Also, I will be able to demo some of the paths and video embedded tomorrow.
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