Tuesday, April 18, 2006

I Screen, You Screen

Speaking of mass culture in the digital age, it's also worth marking a milestone in how traditional audiovisual broadcast media, like television, are adapting to the increasingly widespread practices of Internet reception. For example, the category of "Interactive Media" has at last been added to Emmy Awards.

Last week, the New York Times covered the nominees that had been picked. Certainly the gender politics isn't any more edgy than what the networks currently offer, and in many ways it is less so. The honorees included webtoons like It's Jerry Time, produced by a brother-brother duo. In their webisodes, powerful women are shown as threatening and emasculating, such as the love interest in Karate Date. Another example of Emmy-nominated web programming glamorizes Sophie Chase, a tank-top wearing female detective.

From the NYT story I also learned about the uncanny MTV web-based show, Stand In, which puts celebrities in the front of university classrooms to teach for the day. Like many web-based shows, the program is sponsored by the U.S. Army.

As someone who visits college classrooms on a regular basis and observes many teaching styles in higher education, I don't think any of these celebrities should be planning to quit their day jobs any time soon. Bill Gates didn't really "teach" the Introduction to Computer Programming class at the University of Wisconsin; instead, he participated in light Q and A that included chatting about his favoring video game. Was he afraid of revealing any Microsoft trade secrets? George Clinton at the Berklee School of Music wasn't much better, although he did at least participate in a jam session. Madonna was certainly a more pedagogical practitioner in a lecture hall at Hunter College, although she had far too structured a lesson plan: too much speechifying behind a lectern, but at least she knew to ask the students questions. She also seemed worried about a student who wasn't showing up for class and willing to give advice to one who needed to get his prerequisites in perspective. (Shimon Peres was also more speechmaker than instructor at NYU, although he at least gave students practice at being journalists.) Most of them seemed to have not prepared for the classroom session, which is always a grievous error of arrogance.

Maybe teaching is more like acting than I realize, since Natalie Portman wasn't bad in front of a Columbia class, but mostly because she actually tried to lead a discussion with concrete subject matter in the form of research that related to the assigned reading and the syllabus. Yet I kept wanting her to use the blackboard right behind her! At least Marilyn Manson at Temple used the board; plus he knew how to get students' attention, albeit with a cheezy prop (a bottle of absinthe). I'd probably give best marks to Snoop Dogg, who certainly raised the energy level as a coach at USC and tried to educate his charges about specific plays.

Strangely Stand In has deleted John Kerry from their roster of celebrity instructors, although John McCain is still available for high-profile distance learning.

The problem with the Emmy nominees is that none of them seem to be as good as the web-based programming I have found just randomly URL surfing on Google Video and You Tube: the cockroach-controlled robot developed by a colleague at UCI, the Curry N Rice Girl rap song about arranged marriage, prisoners' inventions, and many other web-based wonders. Even the recent New York Times article about videos of people watching videos of other people, "People Who Watch People: Lost in an Online Hall of Mirrors," seems to describe more entertaining fare than the Emmy offerings.

The network's attempts at retooling are clearly being done in response to declining TV viewing as the tube increasingly competes with the family desktop as the hearth at which entertainment and information flickers. The rising perception that television-watching is becoming an onerous form of cultural labor is perhaps most typified by the interactive "Make me watch TV" blog.

This cultural transformation isn't without its ironies, since the same people purchasing giant HD plasmavision systems can be lured away by tiny low-definition images on cell phones or iPods. My favorite example: a stadium-sized screen on a desktop sized display.

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Blogger João said...

I think like you

9:25 AM  

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