Some Sunday morning reading


Grab your cup of coffee and mull on the following:

Interesting account of the controversy surrounding the videogame Super Columbine Massacre, which offers social commentary through satire in game form. For many, it hits too hard & close to tragedy, even though it intends to critique the culture of violence that it has been accused of exploiting. More interesting is the discussion of how the Slamdance festival disqualified the game from its competition, leading to a debate on the social responsibilities & possibilities of games vs. other media.

Garry Shandling is back… sort of. The good news is that he’s bringing The Larry Sanders Show to DVD in April (beyond a meager selection of first season episodes that was released in the first wave of TV-on-DVD). The bad news is that it’s still just a selection of episodes rather than the complete collection. Instead, Shandling is filling the set with a series of interviews documenting his own anxieties and remorse about how he treated his costars – while such features might reek of self-indulgent naval gazing, we must remember that the show itself elevated self-indulgent naval gazing to an art form. So these may be the first DVD extras I know of that attempt to use the behind-the-scenes form to mirror the themes of the program – and knowing Shandling, the interviews might actually be staged performances designed to satirize celebrity neuroses & self-indulgence! Bottom line – Larry Sanders is a brilliant and important show that needs to be seen & preserved in whatever form is available.

My favorite television critic is Salon‘s Heather Havrilesky, who both has great taste and a winningly excessive writing style. Today she offers an overview of recent sitcoms in the form of a pain chart. I have little to add to her account, except to agree that Knights of Prosperity has potential – the pilot was fabulous, subsequent episodes have been hit and miss, but it’s still among the better sitcoms on at the moment, trailing only The Office, Scrubs, My Name is Earl, 30 Rock, Weeds, and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – and that In Case of Emergency is quite painful indeed. I’ve missed the others she mentions, and have yet to watch Extras, which I have no doubt is not at all painful.

Finally, I was dismayed to read about my colleagues in Middlebury’s History department deciding to ban Wikipedia as a source for students. I could go on and on about the various ways that I disagree with this decision, but for now, let’s just say that I’m planning to mount a debate on campus with a History professor to openly discuss the issues and turn the decision into a “teachable moment.” (More on this in The Chronicle as well…)

Update: a couple of more things to read if you so care to. One year ago at this time, I was in deep withdrawal from Word of Warcraft, the world’s most popular game/virtual reality. I was a pretty hardcore player from August to December of 2005, immersing myself in the game world and allowing it to occupy much more of my time than should be recommended for someone trying to hold down a job and a family. So on New Years I went cold turkey, canceling my account & effectively killing my characters whom I’d put so much effort into. Anyway, if you want to know what’s the big deal about WoW that consumes the lives of some 8 million players, but don’t want to dedicate your own life to the task, I recommend reading through Seth Schiesel’s journal of his WoW immersion in the New York Times, as I think it accurately describes the flavor of WoW life & its appeals. I’m curious, though, if people who’ve never stepped virtual foot in Azeroth understand his commentary, as it throws around some insider jargon.

And if your media interests run to the more conventional “virtual” worlds of television, check out this nice interview with Elana Levine, an old grad school friend, about her new book, Wallowing in Sex: The New Sexual Culture of 1970s Television. And obviously buy Elana’s book while you’re at it!

2 Responses to “Some Sunday morning reading”

  1. Great Sunday links and comments, Jason. I don’t know how you do it; I certainly can’t, and I have 33% less children than you do!

    The Wikipedia link has an interesting running debate, whose broad strokes are already familiar to anyone dealing with Wikipedia. My $0.02 is that there hasn’t been enough thought (and certainly not enough pedagogical application) about the changing nature of knowledge production. Too often, the anti-Wikipedia crowd seemingly wants to take research methods back to circa 1980 (“look it up in the card catalog!”), while elements of the pro-Wikipedia crowd overvalue the expedient over the accurate.

    I’m having a discussion about Web 2.0 practices and values in general in one of my classes tomorrow, which I’m sure will raise some of these issues (hopefully productively…).

  2. 2 Jonathan Gray

    First time I’ve checked back in a while, Jason, and nice selection.

    I saw Knights of Prosperity back at the Museum of TV and Radio in September, and unless they’ve changed it, I must give an “errr?” in response. Funny premise yes, but characters from How to Write an Offensive Stereotype 101, no? The saucy Latina, the cigar-smoking heavy African American, the irate taxi-driver South Asian with superlong name, and the working class white buffoon.

    On another note, I finally played on a Wii the other day, and have the sore right arm to prove it. But walking home from my friend’s place, I realized that moral panics surrounding Wii games could go through the roof — imagine Super Columbine Massacre with interactive Wii control! I know what Mrs. Lieberman’s getting Joe for his birthday…

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