Day of the Future 2013

Today is Zukunftstag (“Future Day” or “Day of the Future”) here in Germany. On this day, 5th graders go to a place of work (a corporation, a bank, a hospital, a factory, police department, etc.) instead of going to school. Today, my ten-year-old son (a.k.a. DrZombie999) came with me to the university to see what it’s like to work here. I showed him what kinds of things we do here everyday: you know, the usual things like playing video games, goofing around, and surfing YouTube…

But then we decided to get serious, and we put together the video above. Having built the world you see in the popular game Minecraft, DrZombie999 takes us on a little guided tour, which we then saved as a screencast video, edited with nonlinear editing software (where he learned how to add transitions, effects, music, etc.), posted to a brand new YouTube account, and blogged here to get the word out.

DrZombie999 promises that this is only the first in an ongoing series of videos, and he asks viewers to vote for what they’d like to see him build next (from the Lord of the Rings universe). Please leave a comment on his YouTube site if you’ve got an idea! He’ll only be taking votes for one month (until May 25, 2013)!

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Imagining Media Change — Symposium Poster

Symposium - Imagining Media Change - poster

[UPDATE: See here for the complete symposium program and abstracts.]

Recently, I posted the description for the symposium on “Imagining Media Change” that we’re organizing this June, with keynote speakers Jussi Parikka and Wanda Strauven — part of this semester’s larger series of events. Now I am proud to present the poster for the symposium (designed by Ilka Brasch and Svenja Fehlhaber), which includes an overview of the schedule and speakers. A more detailed schedule, including the titles of talks, will be made available soon.

Conspiracies and Surveillance — In Media Res Theme Week

Caméra de vidéo-surveillance avec sa torche infra-rouge

Over at the media commons site in media res, what promises to be a great theme week on “Conspiracies and Surveillance” has just gotten underway. All of the contributions sound exciting, and among them is one by our very own Felix Brinker, who’s up tomorrow (Tuesday, April 9) with a piece on the “logics of conspiracy” in American TV series. (And in case you missed it, make sure you check out the longer text on the topic that Felix allowed me to post here recently.)

Here’s the full lineup for the in media res theme week:

Monday, April 8, 2013 – Jason Derby (Georgia State University) presents: Scandalous Conspiracies: Making Sense of Popular Scandal Through Conspiracy

Tuesday, April 9, 2013 – Felix Brinker (Leibniz University of Hannover, Germany) presents: Contemporary American Prime-Time Television Serials and the Logics of Conspiracy

Wednesday, April 10, 2013 – Meagan Winkelman (University of Oregon) presents: Sexuality and Agency in Pop Star Conspiracy Theories

Thursday, April 11, 2013 – Perin Gurel (University of Notre Dame) presents: Transnational Conspiracy Theories and Vernacular Visual Cultures: Political Islam in Turkey and America

Friday, April 12, 2013 – Jack Bratich (Rutgers University) presents: Millions of Americans Believe Conspiracy Theories Exist

Each day’s contribution, consisting of a video clip of up to three minutes accompanied by a short essay of 300-350 words, is designed to serve as a conversation starter aimed at involving a broad audience in discussion of key topics relating to the topic of “Conspiracies and Surveillance.”

Please check out all the contributions as they go live here, and consider joining the discussion (to participate, you will need to register at in media res).

Flash Gordon (1936): “Imagining Media Change” — Screening #1

flash-gordon-crabbe

On April 17, 2013, we will be screening the serial Flash Gordon (1936), the first installment in this semester’s film series “Imagining Media Change.” (See here for a flyer with more details about our film series and related events, and here for a description of the symposium that forms the conceptual centerpiece.) In this context, science fiction (and sci-fi film, in particular) presents itself as a central vehicle for “imagining media change” in the 20th and 21st centuries — as a medium for conceiving the future, and in this way negotiating the changes characterising the present. Looked at in retrospect, early sci-fi films like Flash Gordon therefore also form a natural site for a media-archaeological investigation of past changes and their parallel histories and relations to our own ongoing efforts to negotiate the transition to a digital mediascape.

The screening (6:00pm on Wednesday, April 17, in room 615, Conti-Hochhaus) is free and open to all, so spread the word to anyone who might be interested in joining us.

Counterpoint: Game of Thrones, Narrative, and Affect

The Internets are all abuzz still following the kickoff this past Sunday of the third season of HBO’s flagship series Game of Thrones. There was a great deal of online anticipation in the weeks, days, and hours leading up to the season premiere, fed in part by a set of trailers (above, as well as here and here, for example) that circulated on Youtube, in the twitterverse, and beyond. And following the actual airing of the show, records were allegedly set for the most illegal downloads of a television episode, while discussions, analyses, and reviews continue to proliferate across fan sites, blogs, and news media.

(As a preliminary note to those who are either weary of reading such pieces or who are avoiding them due to spoilers — fear not: this post is neither concerned directly with the latest episode, nor will I give away anything that could ruin it for anyone who hasn’t seen it.)

Instead, I wanted to take the opportunity to comment on an aspect of the series that I’ve been thinking about (and which I recently wrote about in the more general terms of serial complexity and affect theory as applied to contemporary television). Specifically, Game of Thrones derives much of its momentum, I think, from an interplay between a continuing, complex narrative (in Jason Mittell’s sense of “narrative complexity”) and relatively discontinuous, punctuating moments of affective appeal — a directly corporeal, often visceral, sort of appeal that constitutes momentary “lines of flight” from the story’s ongoing line of development. Like much of HBO’s serial fare, these moments of affect often concern violent and/or sexualized body images which, while not completely devoid of narrative relevance, also exhibit a sort of surplus value as images. In other words, they not only serve the representational functions of depicting significant events and contributing meaningfully to characterization, etc.; over and above that, they also assert a strong presentational and extra- or para-narrational facet, the function of which is to engage the viewer’s body more than his or her interpreting, cognizing brain. Such body images — for example, in narratively gratuitous sex scenes, images of painful injury, torture, or beheading — resonate with the viewer’s own bodily sensibilities, serving to titillate or to arouse a sense of physical vulnerability, anguish, panic, or disgust.

Seen from afar (so to speak), in the overall context of a television series like Game of Thrones, the interplay between narrative development and these moments of bodily affectivity results in what I have described as a “contrapuntal” relation between the two: narrative continuity is punctuated, interrupted by body images that exceed any dramatic motivation, thus constituting more or less insular, episodic forms in the midst of the serial stream; but these islands of affect are (at least potentially) themselves elements in a serial progression that exists in parallel to that of the narrative (and following a very different temporal logic). Repetition and variation of body spectacles can thus be just as important as narrative suspense as a means of ensuring viewer attachment over the course of long serial arcs.

SerialBodies12.012

Of course, some series are more successful than others in their employment of such contrapuntal seriality, and there are certainly a wide variety of styles and modes of implementing the counterpoint. Some series are anything but discreet as they shift gears between narrative and body-based affective appeals (and in this regard, they resemble musicals or pornographic films as they move from one more or less self-enclosed “number” to the next). And certainly, some of this can be seen in Game of Thrones, but my overall impression of the series is that it works with a relatively tight integration of affective and corporeally self-reflexive appeals into the informationally complex storyworld and the unfolding tale of rival houses, subtle intrigue, and uncertain outcomes.

A particularly poignant example of contrapuntal integration is provided by episode 7 of season 1, “You Win or You Die,” where we see the following conversation between Jamie and Tywin Lannister:

Set in any other situation, this conversation — which neatly exemplifies the informational complexity of the series — would have a completely different impact. Sarah Hughes, writing in The Guardian‘s TV & Radio Blog, sees the “skinning and disembowelling [of] a deer” here as a “heavy-handed bit of symbolism given the deer is the sign of [rival] House Baratheon,” and I think she’s right to see the visual component of the scene enacting a layer of complexity beyond the content of the verbal. It’s not only a symbolic dimension, though, that is here overlaid upon the Lannisters’ discourse; in addition, I suggest, a dimension of visceral and dermic appeal spreads itself out as the very milieu within which the characters’ words sound out materially. The innards of the deer are more than just a sign: they are matter, and their material image transmits an affective force, establishing a material relation with our own viscera. The forceful separation of the animal’s skin from its muscles emphasizes, moreover, both the stubborn durability and the ultimate finitude of the organic body, arousing a diffuse affective awareness of the corporeal basis upon which our discursive subjectivities are erected. And all the while, royal politics are being discussed in detailed, lofty, and eloquent language. The scene conveys a sense of the unconscious drives that lend momentum to conscious pursuits and political “plots,” conveys a sense of the base and physical “will to power” animating social conflict. And it communicates this “message” by way of a tight contrapuntal integration of narrative information and bodily affect, thus self-reflexively exemplifying the series’ own larger strategy of instrumentalizing affect, infusing the complex (at times, overly complex) narrative with an appeal to animal nature, and in this way crafting a form of serial complexity that partakes equally of the discursive and affective.

International Conference: “Popular Seriality”


International Conference: “Popular Seriality”
June 6-8, 2013 // University of Göttingen

Above, the preliminary program for the upcoming conference of the seriality research group that several of my colleagues and I are involved with.

Most readers of this blog will already be familiar with the seriality group, but in case you’re not: The Research Unit “Popular Seriality—Aesthetics and Practice,” funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG), brings together 15 researchers from the fields of American Studies, German Philology, Cultural Anthropology/European Ethnology, Empirical Cultural Studies, and Media Studies. Since 201o, six sub-projects have been investigating a narrative format that has become a defining feature of popular aesthetics: the series. The Research Unit addresses questions concerning the wide distribution and broad appeal of series since the 19th century and asks which new narrative formats have emerged through serialization. Further questions are: How do series influence the way we perceive and structure social reality? How are serial characters revised when they undergo one or more media shifts? How can we explain the progressively shrinking boundaries between producers and recipients in long running series? Which transformations in the field of cultural distinctions are produced by complex serial narratives, which are increasingly embedded in highbrow lifestyles and canonization practices?

From June 6 to 8, 2013, towards the end of the first funding period, the Research Unit will hold an International Conference in Göttingen. Talks will be given by members of the Research Unit and well-known researchers in the field of popular seriality. Among the scholars presenting at the conference are Sudeep Dasgupta, Jared Gardner, Julika Griem, Scott Higgins, Judith Keilbach, Lothar Mikos, Sean O’Sullivan, Patricia Okker, Irmela Schneider, Sabine Sielke, Ben Singer, William Uricchio, Constantine Verevis, Tanja Weber und Christian Junklewitz. Jason Mittell will give the keynote lecture.

For more information about the research unit, and to stay up to date on the conference and other activities, please refer to the group’s homepage: http://popularseriality.uni-goettingen.de/