Lazy Sunday, Lazy Monday, Lazy Muncie

As I’m busy writing an essay this evening, I’ll leave you with some videos from the past. Here’s the SNL skit Lazy Sunday. It’s loaded from the NBC site, so it takes awhile to load.

[vodpod id=Video.5864398&w=425&h=350&fv=]

Here’s the response video Lazy Monday.

Here’s the response video Lazy Muncie.

The interesting thing about these videos is how they speak to local cultural values, while still referring to those in the preceding videos. They’re an early example of YouTube’s response feature, and show how fan participation can work in a convergence culture.

Interesting note: These response videos in particular are made by people working in the film industry. Lazy Monday includes Sam FriedlanderMark Feuerstein, and Adam Stein, while Lazy Muncie includes Chris Cox and Kirby Heyborne.

Lazy Muncie in particular plays up the concept that these are just “regular guys” making these videos, but Chris Cox actually lived in LA for the previous 12 years, and made the trip back to Indiana for the weekend shoot.

Contempt of Parliament

I’ve got two major essays that I’m trying to write, so I’ll try and keep this somewhat brief. Today, the Canadian Government (or should that be the Harper Government?) fell, after a non-confidence vote in the House of Commons about the recent committee findings of a contempt of Parliament issue.

I am cautiously optimistic. I’m actually quite surprised that the 40th Parliament lasted the 2.5 years that it has. Traditionally, minority governments in Canada have been extremely short lived.

Whether things will turn out any different than what we have right now, or if Canada falls deeper into Harperland will be seen over the next several weeks. Sadly, I expect the political vitriol to fly, and have serious doubts about cooler heads prevailing.

Some of the issues I would like to see brought to the forefront of the election campaigns include some of the following:

  • Public accountability. Sadly, Harper ran on this in the 2004 election, but his government has been more secretive and restrictive than other recent governments.
  • Reform for health transfer taxes. Our healthcare system is hurting, and the provincial governments are unable to bear the costs on their own.
  • A strong focus on debating actual issues, rather than a descent into the madness of attack ads.

Unfortunately, I believe the Conservatives will continue their tactics of demonizing the opposition parties. The Liberals and NDP will likely follow suit. It’s been proven that attack ads are effective.

It would have been nice to have seen the opposition parties vote in solemn silence to topple the government, rather than express their glee at finally forcing an election. This was a historic vote, and I think it would have sent a strong message to Canadians if they could keep their emotions in check. Their behaviour during the vote just fuels the claims that they’re opportunistically seeking power.

In the meantime, we wait for Stephen Harper to meet with Governor General David Johnston tomorrow morning, in order to receive our election date. At least Harper didn’t ask to prorogue Parliament again.

GG David Johnston

I recently reviewed the book Harperland, which others might find informative in understanding some of the changes made in Canadian politics in the past several years.  Also, leading up to the toppling of the Government was the Bev Oda/Kairos affair, which in my opinion, shows the lack of respect the Conservatives have for Parliament, and for Canadians.

Convergence Culture and Fan Fiction

So I’ve been reading Henry Jenkins’ book Convergence Culture, which talks a great deal about new forms of interaction with media. One chapter, Why Heather Can Write: Media Literacy and the Harry Potter Wars caused me a bit of trouble. This chapter practically evangelizes fan fiction as a legitimate form of writing, with the strong implication that it can and will lead to commercial writing contracts.

I somewhat understand where Jenkins is going with this. It’s exploring areas of a franchise which are otherwise left alone by the original author. Fan fiction allows the audience to participate, to deepen their connection to the works in question.

Let’s talk early web media. Back in 1997, a 10 minute short film called Troops effectively accomplished what Jenkins is discussing in this chapter. The  film has Imperial Stormtroopers from Star Wars out on a domestic disturbance call at the Lars farm seen in A New Hope.

Vader and Stormtroopers at Ad Astra

To my knowledge, Troops really started the whole short films launched on the internet. While fan movies had been made in the past, they were not shared as extensively, and did not have the same capacity for collective enjoyment.

Troops was embraced by the fan community, and was even recognized by Lucasfilm with the Pioneer Award at the 2002 Star Wars Fan Film Awards. Since directing the film, Kevin Rubio has been working as a freelance writer, and has even written an episode of the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated TV series.

Is film more receptive to fan participation? Perhaps George Lucas is more receptive to this type of collective intelligence? Lucas did have the foresight to maintain the merchandising rights to Star Wars, so this may be part of his goals for a larger media empire.

There is an ever-growing Star Wars fans who own their own Stormtrooper costumes, such as the above photo which I took at the 2009 Ad-Astra science fiction convention. The 501st Legion epitomizes many of the convergence tactics that Jenkins discusses, and makes numerous appearances at fan conventions, as well as charitable events. From what I can gather, they have a relatively good relationship with Lucasfilm’s Fan Relations department.

The 501st testimonal page includes a quote from Steve Sansweet, Lucasfilm Content Manager and Head of Fan Relations saying that “e consider the members of the 501st part of the extended Lucasfilm family. They have fun and share a sense of community, while at the same time bringing joy to a lot of people.”

How does this fit in with novel and short story writing? Copyright law is in general fairly unambiguous, in that fan fiction firmly crosses that invisible line that marks out a publisher’s rights. While some franchises, such as the Harry Potter universe have a thriving fan community, under the implicit approval of Rowling, most publishers and the authors they represent actively discourage fan fiction. The above link notes that Anne Rice, Anne McCaffrey and Raymond Feist have in the past asked fanfiction.net to remove derivative works.

How then should fan fiction be judged? Is it a valid attempt at engaging with an author’s world, or is it something which has the potential to damage audience perception of a work?

Kindle for Academics

Currently, no ebook reader appears to completely solve my needs. Some come close in some areas, while still making things unnecessarily complicated in the final steps of the solution.

Ulysses notes

Some ebook readers, such as the Kobo, quickly fail to solve my needs. The standalone Kobo ereader provides no means for text entry, having only a D-pad toggle. My first need for an ereader is to highlight and take notes on the text.

While there appears to be some support for these annotation features on the iPad Kobo app, they don’t appear to sync across the cloud. Their desktop app, for example, provides no annotation features at all.

The Amazon Kindle has more strict Digital Rights Management (DRM), which restricts some forms of access to the text, such as in 2009 when Amazon deleted George Orwell novels, including 1984, from all Kindle devices. This is a level of control I’m uncomfortable with a large corporation to have. The opportunities for abuse are evident, as Amazon has shown in January of 2010, by pulling all books published by subsidiaries of Macmillan, including SF publisher Tor, from the Amazon store. This was done as part of a power play on digital rights sales, such as Kindle books, but it involved pulling all print editions as well.

Amazon’s Kindle has a multi-platform triple-threat. In addition to their portable ereader devices, they provide a desktop reading solution, as well as other mobile devices such as the Apple iPad. While Kindle is available for BlackBerry, like many other things Amazon has to offer, this isn’t available in Canada.

While I haven’t used the Kindle ereader hardware, I have used both their desktop reader, and the iPad version. Both of these offer highlighting and text annotations, which sync wirelessly with each other. They also maintain your reading position between the two applications. This is unfortunately only the first part of the solution.

The important part is where Amazon fails. Once you have selected portions of the text, and made annotations on the go, students need to access this text. Amazon sometimes allows these “clippings” — as they refer to the selections — to be exported via their web interface. Note the qualifying word of sometimes. Each book in their system apparently has some undefined, undocumented limit as to how much of the text can be exported in this manner. Some books have a hard limit of no exported text. While I can understand the publisher’s desire to stop people from copying the book, this is not helpful for students in the least.

Sadly, copyright tends to actually be more restrictive for academics in Canada. Concordia University has a helpful comparison between fair dealing (in Canada) versus fair use (in the United States). The restrictions in clipping length may be analogous to the lack of definition of the term “substantial” in the Copyright Act (s.3). As this term is undefined in the Act, publishers may decide on a more restrictive definition than commonly accepted.

The web interface that Amazon uses is also difficult to use. In an ideal world, I would be able to select my highlighted sections from the desktop app, and have them copied in proper citation format, including an entry for my works cited list.

Another problem when dealing with the Kindle is directly related to citations. Amazon has standardized on a “location” number to reference text in a book, rather than the term “page”. The thought on their part is that at different zoom levels, pagination will change, making page references unstable.

Amazon has lately started to remedy this problem, by including page numbers which presumably link back to a print edition of a book. While I see this change on the iPad, my desktop application only provides Location information. In either case, I still have to manually type the quoted text into my essay. How is this more convenient than just using a print book again?

What’s the solution? It’s been tempting to run screenshots through OCR software, except that I’d still have to proofread the text for corrections. I guess what really bothers me is that this is something that would likely be easier than what Amazon is doing now, and not just for students.

Bad Commercials: I Keep Hearing It Twice

I’ve been irritated by commercials before in the past, but over the past year, I’ve become better at analyzing why certain commercials annoy me.

The most recent commercial to raise my ire is one for Rogers TV. Since the primary radio station I listen to is 570 News, which is owned by Rogers, this gets played far too often. Here is a transcribed version of the commercial, between “Roger” and “Bill”. An audio version could at one time be found here.

Welcome to Rogers Tech Talk, I’m Roger and I was just telling Bill that Rogers has the most HD programming.

The most HD programming?

Plus you get a free Rogers HD box.

A free Rogers HD Box?

When you trade in your satellite receiver.

When you trade in your satellite receiver?

Yup.

Are you sure about this?

I keep hearing it twice, so I’m convinced.

I keep hearing it twice, so I’m convinced too!

Well then, switch today and trade your satellite receiver for a free Rogers HD box. Visit a Rogers Plus store or an authorized dealer. Conditions apply.

While it is true that repetition is one of the most common elements of effective advertising, it is best used with care. In this commercial, there are 166 total words, of which roughly 40 words are repeated phrases. The commercial draws undue attention to this repetition, using the repeated phrases as a reason why the audience should buy into the message.

In The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation, Chaïm Perelman argues that “the simplest figures for increasing the feeling of presence are those depending on repetition” (174, emphasis his). By presence, Perelman refers to the parts of an argument on which the audience is intended to focus, by bringing that element to the forefront of the speech.

In essence, the key elements of the commercial are as follows:

A) Rogers has the most HD programming.

B) You get a free HD box when you trade in your satellite receiver.

C) Visit a Rogers Plus store or an authorized dealer to sign up.

D) Conditions apply.

Using the terminology of Stephen Toulmin, elements A and B are unbacked warrants, leading to the claim of C, but with a rebuttal of D. The commercial is trying to suggest that elements A and B are sufficient to induce the audience to accept C.

This commercial utterly fails to provide any supporting evidence for these warrants. Instead, the commercial suggests to the audience that sheer repetition of these warrants should be sufficient.

As Perelman notes, “the weaker the arguments seem to be, the greater the doubt raised by the mere fact of arguing in favor of a thesis, for the thesis will appear to depend on these arguments” (480). One of the key elements of this commercial which irritates me is the suggestion that since these statements have been repeated, that I should be convinced that this is a great deal.

This use of repetition only serves to highlight the weakness of their argument for me, and suggests a strong sense of disregard for the intelligence of the listening audience. If this commercial is intended to persuade people, I’m insulted.

If the purpose of the commercial is instead to remind the audience that if they trade in their satellite receiver, that they can get a free HD box, it’s slightly less offensive. I’m aware that commercials can work at different levels, and not all of them are intended to work as a direct sale. As Lavidge and Steiner note, “the ultimate function is to help produce sales. But all advertising is not, should not, and cannot be designed to produce immediate purchases on the part of all who are exposed to it”. They further provide a series of seven steps in advertising which lead towards an eventual sale.

In a sense, I can see how this commercial could provide support to Lavidge and Steiner’s theory, the rhetorical effects used seem insulting to myself. They’re really quite weak in the three elements of Aristotle’s rhetorical modes of persuasion: ethos, logos, and pathos.

In my view, the argument starts with a lack of ethos: As a commercial advertisement, there is a vested interest in the outcome. While there is an attempt to speak from a position of authority (“Roger” from “Rogers Tech Talk”), it really lacks authenticity. The logos, or logic of the argument is admittedly weak. Finally, there is no real sense of an emotional appeal. If anything, I feel negative emotions based on my reception of the arguments.

Adding to the problem, at least for myself, is that this commercial is played on a heavy rotation. It’s not uncommon for it to be played in consecutive commercial breaks, intensifying my sense of outrage.

Is this an effective advertisement? I have now spent time and effort responding to it, although in a negative way. Does this reinforce the intended message?

Daylight Savings Time

The DST Time change has effectively sapped me of all energy this week. I have lots of things to blog about, but they’re likely not going to happen this week. It’s 11:20PM, and I still have another 30 pages of reading yet tonight. Fun times. Seriously, who thought it was a good idea to skip ahead an hour? I’m in the middle of a building all day long anyways. For all it matters to me, it could start getting light at noon for all I can tell.

Despite my lack of sleep, my daughter’s new room is almost fully painted, and looks really nice. Photos will be forthcoming, to blind you with pink and purple. I’ll freely admit that I haven’t done much of the painting, mostly the stuff higher up against the ceiling, but the end result is looking spectacular.

Breakfast

Tonight I saw the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s for the first time. The images of Audrey Hepburn in this film have been icons in Hollywood ever since, and I think that I can understand some of this.

The movie speaks to the American Dream, where one can aspire to reach the upper social circles despite one’s humble origins. More importantly, it is a clear representation of the romantic ideal, at least from Hollywood’s perspective. The male lead is a newly published novelist, and pursues a relationship with an eccentric socialite, who appears to be seeking money.

The ending is predictable, they end up together, as Hepburn’s character learns to accept her vulnerability. The basic plot of the movie may have cliched elements, but the movie is beautifully executed, save one major exception.

The portrayal of Mickey Rooney’s caricature of the asian neighbour upstairs is overdone, well past the point of racism. While it may not have been the recognized intent of the producers to do so, I cringed every time he was on screen. I fail to see adequate reason for this to be done the way it was. It may have been intended for comedic effect, and it may have been viewed as such when the film was released, but it brings a dark stain to an otherwise excellent film.

I think the most confusing thing about this casting choice is that it doesn’t really fit the tone of the rest of the film. Even if one was oblivious to the racism in this portrayal,the intended comedy really doesn’t mix well with the romantic plot. In the end, this was an ultimately disappointing element to an otherwise classic film.