Arnold Newman's Photos...And Some Photos Thereof

Image Credit: Photo from Arnold Newman Exhibit, Harry Ransom Center, taken by author; protected under Fair Use.

On February 12th, the traveling exhibition Arnold Newman: Masterclass began a four-month stop at UT’s esteemed Harry Ransom Center.  As Newman was a prolific photographer with a strong belief in the instructional potential of photographs, the chance to see his life’s work first-hand was nothing short of spine-tingling to those of us with an unusually strong interest in visual culture and artifacts, especially when they have pedagogical implications!  (Pretty dorky, I know.)

Violent Encounters

image of Kevin Ware's teammates' reaction to his gruesome leg injury during 2013 March Madness.

Louisville Cardinal players react to Kevin Ware's leg injury during March Madness.  Image Credit: Yahoo Sports

I’ll admit, I stayed up way past my bedtime last night listening to the Boston police scanner, following as closely as I could the developments in the Boston Marathon bombing.  In the wee hours of this morning, I thought about documenting the dozens of news items (as well as widespread speculation across message boards and social media) to take a tally of how much of the information proliferating in the uncertainty of Friday morning would be disproved by Friday afternoon. 

As I began the project, it soon proved futile—there was far too much information and I ran into (as I might have anticipated) problems discerning journalistic fact from fiction right from the get go.  It was only when I stopped documenting and trying to quantify the evidence that I began to think about the relationship between violence and speculative practice and assemble a quite different archive.  [GORE WARNING: the images beyond this cut are NSFW and may shock and disturb some viewers.  Discretion is advised.]

Surface and Appearance in "Accidental Racist," Part 2

Image Credit: plus.google.com

At the end of my last post I promised to examine Brad Paisley and LL Cool J's controversial duet "Accidental Racist" in light of Paisley's 2011 "Camouflage" homage. This follow-up post offers that analysis as well as some context from Paisley's pop-country contemporaries and a recent national dialogue about race.

Bob Dylan on Contemporary Literature

A few weeks ago a 2001 press conference with Bob Dylan emerged on youtube. Dylan, usually cagey and recalcitrant with reporters, is unusually earnest in the interview. He says a lot about his career and his Love and Theft album, which he was promoting at the time. You can check out a clip above, and the interview’s other five segments can be found on youtube. The reason I choose to bring this to the attention of the blog is that in the interview Dylan makes some interesting comments about the state of literature in America, and in particular some comments about how digital media is affecting the ways we feel. The comments, which I’ll outline below, are particularly relevant after yesterday’s massacre at the Boston Marathon, but I’ll leave that connection to your own reflections – we’ve all seen coverage of that tragedy, and I don’t want to add to the noise. As the version of Bob Dylan who appeared on the day of that interview might suggest, this post isn’t a work of art and thus I have no business telling you how to feel.

Sure, Your eBook Looks Neat, But Can It Prop Open Your Door, Decorate Your Shelves, or Swat A Fly?

Above: An example of books serving in Ancillary Capacity #422: "The To-Do List"

In his book, “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable,” Nassim Nicholas Taleb unapologetically and only somewhat jokingly points out some of the “superficial” benefits of the printed book versus the e-reader:

[I have realized] the foolishness of thinking that books are there to be read and could be replaced by electronic files.  Think of the spate of functional redundancies provided by books.  You cannot impress your neighbors with electronic files.  You cannot prop up your ego with electronic files…Objects seem to have invisible but significant auxiliary functions that we are not aware of consciously, but that allow them to thrive- and on occasion, as with decorator books, the auxiliary function becomes the principal one.  (Taleb at 319)

While the ability to impress your friends with your lofty collection might not be seen as a terribly compelling argument in the print/e-book debate, implicit in what he says is an acknowledgment of a separate, secondary (or tertiary, and so on) “meaning” that books can have that is entirely detached from the words written therein.  Books, precisely because they are physical, tangible objects, lend themselves to a connection with the reader on multiple levels.

“Memeing” Silence—the Gif and Silent Film, Part 2

A tumblr user asks who the actor who appears in a gif is in a post to his followers.

Image Credit: Deeras23

In my previous post, I outlined DeCordova’s arguments about the emergence of a discourse on acting in the early 20th century, and the contributions that discourse made to modern conceptions of celebrity, beginning in silent film.  In this post, I’d like to translate those arguments into a discussion of 21st century media and attempt to outline a discourse on “gifing,” and what that can tell us about the intersections of gifs and celebrity in the 21st century public sphere.

Surface and Appearance in "Accidental Racist," Part 1

Image Credit: Mark Humphrey, AP

The media reacted volubly to Brad Paisley's song "Accidental Racist," a ballad on his newly released "Wheelhouse" album that openly tackles the problem of racism.  Staging a dialogue between Paisley and rapper LL Cool J, the song imagines the tense process of "remembering and forgetting" slavery, as one critic put it, from highly stereotyped white and black perspectives. Many voices from the blogosphere last week, including Stewart and Harris from Jezebel and Slate, fumed at the song's presentation of racial history and relations, while others viewed it as simply a provocative song characteristic of Paisley's other work. That it was selected by the NYTimes.com for one of the online "Room for Debate" forums is, perhaps, an indication of how ripe the song's lyrics are for critique and how generative they are of competing rhetorics.

Here I will consider how controversial lyrics from "Accidental Racist" alongside resonant verses from Paisley and other mainstream country artists foreground surfaces and appearances--clothing, physique, and color, for instance--to talk about identity, race, and social perceptions.

Maybe the Only Way to Fly: With Wi-Fi

Southwest Airlines

(Image credit: Southwest Airlines)

I found myself in an odd place a few nights ago: I was flying at 40,000 feet from Chicago to Austin in a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737, and I was listening to this season’s first night of Major League Baseball. How did I do this, you might ask. Nope, didn’t leave my cell phone’s 3G on. I purchased Southwest’s in-flight Wi-Fi for the price of $8, and at 1 mbps I was set to go. You wouldn’t believe how much I enjoyed the flight. It was pure fun. Much of this must have had something to do with the fact that ever since 9/11 I’d associated air travel with inconvenience. I’d even assumed that in-flight Wi-Fi would be unwieldy. For, previously I’d heard that Southwest’s in-flight Wi-Fi hovered around 1 mbps, and being a literature guy even way back in high school when we covered such things in my computer science class (which means that I’d spend those nights reading Lord of the Rings rather than about bandwidth in my computer science textbook), this seemed like an inordinately small amount of bandwidth. Hence my elation when the sounds of summer were back and I was enjoying Major League Baseball by the time the beverage cart came around, with no bandwidth problems to speak of.

What's so original about "original series"?

Image Credit: screenshot capture of NYTimes.com

This was one of the ads on my NYTimes.com edition today. Upon first glance it appears to be a simple ad for an e-book by Amy Harmon called Asperger Love, but the New York Times masthead and the words "Byliner Original" suggest that the Asperger Love is an in-house publication. And that's just what it is: an "e-single" written by a NYTimes journalist, packaged for Kindle, iBooks, and Nook, and hosted on a partner site, Byliner.com.

Renovating Austin: New Homes In Old Neighborhoods

Austin Home

(Image credit: Jay Voss)

There’s an odd thing happening in Austin’s older neighborhoods: people are moving in, tearing down whatever 1930s homes they find on their lots, and in these spaces constructing decidedly modern dwellings. The subsequent structure stands out on its block like you wouldn’t believe. There’s such a disparity between the neighborhood’s older ranch homes and these new structures of corrugated metal and cantilevered edges. It’s a contrast between the standout and the ubiquitous, and the standout wins the eye every time. To make things more interesting: the locals I’ve asked hate these new structures, while those of us who’ve moved here recently tend to find them more inviting. I’m not sure where I stand on the issue. Although I see and understand the detriment one might perceive in continuity’s disruption, isn’t such materialistic continuity exactly what Austinites are constantly going out of their way to subvert? What gives? Aren’t we all supposed to applaud when something immaterial keeps Austin weird? Coming at the issue from a different angle, I’m a fairly serious student of architecture, and so for me it’s always refreshing to see tasteful structures going up (no matter what the situation, really). To this end I think architecture in its purist form encourages balance and harmony, and building a mansion amidst cottages (just for irony’s sake, I guess) is arrogant and misguided.

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