Thursday, June 25, 2009

Fox News Follies

Fox News has a wonderful habit of labelling Republicans as Democrats whenever they do something wrong: I think focusing on Fox is a mistake though, given that the rest of the mainstream media is where I see the problem. Everyone now knows how biased Fox is, except maybe the majority of people still watching it who blindly follow conservative orthodoxy. The problem is the more cloaked conservative bias of the mainstream media. I've mentioned this before, but Pew found in 2000 that while the media is the left of the general public on social issues, they are to the right on economics and foreign affairs. I think we saw that obviously in the buildup to the Iraq War and the 2000 and 2004 elections. Given how bad a campaign McCain ran, it changed to some extent last year -- but while most are arguing the media is having a love affair with Obama, it seems absurd at times how quickly they expect him to fix all the problems in the world, how much they continue to allow conservative voices to frame debates and how quickly they attempted to end the "honeymoon period." The key concern for me is the quick change from a focus on a still faltering economy (where unemployment continues to climb toward 10%) to deficits. True recovery may be a year and a half out and I wonder when and if they will start blaming the crisis on Obama rather than its rightful heirs (Reagan, Clinton and Bush).

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Terminate the Terminator Franchise

Terminator Salvation, the fourth installation in the Terminator series, is a major disappointing, putting the latest Star Trek triumph into even higher esteem. Here the talented, but often morose, Christian Bale takes on the role of John Connor -- the last hope for humanity against Skynet and its complexified, insidious army of Terminators. The film, like so much blockbuster fare these days, suffers from too much attention to pyrotechics, pornographic violence and, often senseless and overly long action sequences. It also suffers from an increasingly common trend in action and superhero films today -- an overly somber tone that ignores the old humor and light-heartedness that once dominated the genres. Instead we are thrown into a dystopian, technophobic world where machines roam the planet attempting to kill off the last humans left after the Skynet induced apocalypse. Clear innuendos to 911 juxtapose with the sort of mystical future, past these films so often invoke (think Mad Max, Matrix when not in the Matrix, etc.). John Connor and the resistance have discovered a new technology that could destroy Skynet and end the war for good. But in a time travel paradox that is hard to fully embrace, he must first save his own father, who was sent from the future to impregnate his mother (Sarah Connor), in the first film. A new character emerges here, Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) to complicate matters further though, a killer from the past whose body and brain have been integrated into a cynbernetic machine, though he appears to maintain those aspects of humanity the film attempts to juxtapose with the machines. He becomes an ally to the humans, but in a somewhat predicable turnabout, is thrown into a moral quandary that tests his allegiance. Arnold makes a camio as well, in a culminating scene that would be suspenseful but for the necessary denouments of films like this. The action scenes are often bracing, the cinematography striking and the ability of director "McG," aka Joseph McGinty Nichol of Charlies Angels "fame," to develop drama and surprise through the camera work, is impressive. But where did the plot go, dude? Where are the truly compelling characters? Why do I care? I found all these questions difficult to answer. In the end, the film was too long, too boring and too overwrought in its attempt toward profundity.

The more interesting question with films like these is whether the narrative structure inflects fears of technology induced terrorism and destruction or a deeper fear that technology has destroyed our humanity. Is the film the latest incarnation of ongoing fears about technology and human destruction that go back to WWII and the cold war? Does it reflect the "culture of fear" sociologist Barry Glassner has catalogued, where our inability to control our lives from outside influences leads to constant, unabiding fear that dismantles the ability to act and intervene in the world? Or is it a deeper critique of the dehumanizing effects of technology like tv, videogames, ipods, cell phones and the like that increasingly dominate our lives and undermine those aspects of ourselves that we take as constitutive to being human? In potentially giving the filmmaker and writers too much credit, one could argue that it is a combination of all three ideas. Humanity has been all but destroyed by the technology they themselves built, but fight on to save themselves from the machines that have mastered their techniques of warfare and duplicity. They, of course, use their own advanced technology in the war, but otherwise live in a sort of prehistoric future that would make a Neo-Luddhite ecstatic. The machine that we find out has been sent to destroy them by playing on their implicit desire to create a unified human defense, maintains aspects of his humanity (even as a convicted killer who is executed in the opening scene) that make him an ally to the humans after all. In the final scene, the machine gives Christian Bale his heart to save him, thus completing the metaphor – we must restore our humanity by dismantling the machines that now control us.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Dialectics of New Media

The Iranian political situation is demonstrating the complex nature of contemporary media, where libratory and repressive dynamics play out side by side. An interesting article in the Wall Street Journal today shows the potentially repressive power of modern media:, given the complex and comprehensive control Iran appears to have over its internal Internet access while reports have detailed the ways in which Twitter and other web-based technology helped to develop and bolster the oppositions revolt against what appears to be a fraudulent election ( As with all countries, control of information is paramount to control of the people. America is certainly not immune, and one can think of the buildup to the Iraq War as a perfect example of controlling information and spreading misinformation with incredible acumen; while the large scale anti-war protests were orchestrated predominantly through the use of new media to challenge mainstream media's silence. The difference, of course, is that American journalists and media are largely complicit through their laziness, ability to be manipulated and bullied and tacit complicity with those in power. In other countries, it is often a question of life and death or access to information and the ability to disseminate it. In any case, Iran is showing the critical importance of media and technology to political action today and the possibilities and perils of relying on it for positive change.