Posts Tagged New York Times
By people, I mean film critics. They don’t seem to understand that superhero movies are based on comic books.
In Iron Man 3, Tony Stark won an impressive victory over a fire-breathing Aldrich Killian, but according to certain critics, he destroyed American culture in the process.
The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis said the film exploited imagery of terrorism for cheap thrills, without addressing any of the issues behind that imagery, and said that releasing the film so soon after the Boston Marathon bombing shows that Hollywood is out of touch with the real world.
NPR’s Linda Holmes criticized Tony himself, lamenting that his egotism, wealth, and use of technology to cocoon himself make him the “new Captain America.” Steve Rogers doesn’t use remote controlled drones to fight his battles, right?
I’m not saying that Iron Man 3 deserves critical praise, in fact quite the opposite. For movies like this, being faithful to the comic books that form the source material is as important as artistic merit.
While writers and directors do have to make certain decisions about how to transform a comic book character into a movie character, or even about which comic books to make movies of, critics still need to stop treating the resulting movies as if they materialized from thin air.
Certain things about Iron Man simply can’t be changed, like the fact that he’s a rich white guy, or that his arch enemy is a guy called The Mandarin, or that he fights people. Without those elements, the cinematic Iron Man might be more nuanced, but he wouldn’t be Iron Man.
Iron Man and most of his colleagues predate the movie craze that is enriching their owners, and many of the political issues they are now accused of exploiting. When Iron Man debuted in 1963, Osama bin Laden was six, and America was in the middle of the Cold War.
People seem to be aware of this. In “The Amazing Spider-Man and the Modern Comic Book Movie,” a dialogue with Dargis, the Times’ A.O. Scott notes that “our superheroes have been around for a very long time.”
Of course, superheroes are capable of changing with the times. Tony fought Soviet-themed villains like the Crimson Dynamo when they were still relevant, and The Mandarin has gradually shifted from an old school megalomaniacal villain into a terrorist.
Still, there are certain things that cannot be changed. In the same article on the “Modern Comic Book Movie,” Dargis acknowledges that superheroes predate the movies that depict them, and claims that is he problem.
“The world has moved on — there’s an African-American man in the Oval Office, a woman is the secretary of state — but the movie superhero remains stuck in a pre-feminist, pre-civil rights logic that dictates that a bunch of white dudes, as in “The Avengers,” will save the world for the grateful multiracial, multicultural multitudes. What a bunch of super-nonsense,” she says.
A team of white guys saving the world does seem inappropriate in our post-feminist, post-civil rights world, but this isn’t just any team of white guys, it’s the Avengers. They resonate because of who they are, not because they are white and male.
Superheroes are popular because people like them. They like the idea of them, and more importantly, they like specific characters like Iron Man and Captain America. That’s why, when a movie that does them justice (no pun intended) appears, they turn out in droves.
While it’s not impossible for a superhero movie to have an important message, or to meaningfully engage with important issues, that is all secondary to the “superhero” part of it.
If you’re looking for cultural critiques, Iron Man 3 is not the movie for you. If you want to see Iron Man in a movie, it is.
Today the New York Times Company announced that it is putting its New England Media Group, which includes the Boston Globe, Worcester (MA) Telegram & Gazette, and other related properties, up for sale.
Since the Internet became a thing, it seems like everything something bad or unusual happens to a newspaper prophecies of doom fill the air. While this definitely puts the fate of the Globe and Telegram & Gazette up in the air, it’s not like a newspaper has never been sold before.
The sale is definitely news but, it’s easy to forget that speculation is not news. These papers’ fates are obviously less stable than they were yesterday, but that doesn’t mean they, or print journalism in general, are finished.
Apparently, the robots are coming for our jobs. On the cover of the January 2013 issue of Wired is a story about how robots already have the capability to do human work. The robot takeover is even endorsed by Jimmy Fallon.
It’s easy to speculate about whether Wired’s Kevin Kelly is right or not, because none of this has actually happened yet. What’s really interesting to consider is what human life will be like when robots start doing all of the work.
A Life of Leisure
Let’s start out with a relatively positive side effect. If humans get pushed out of jobs that require a lot of manual labor they could, in theory, be moved up to supervisory or white collar-type jobs that require less actual work. The factory of the future could have robot workers and human managers.
That means more people will have more spare time, which could be wonderful for both individuals and society. After all, who doesn’t want more time to do something that isn’t their job. More people could become less specialized, because they would have the time to pursue hobbies and budding talents. They could get a chance to read Crime & Punishment, or to think of an excuse to not read Crime & Punishment.
People often say that they are too busy to follow important news stories or political issues closely, but with machine assistance, we could have a more educated body politic. The Internet has, if nothing else, made massive amounts of information available. Sorting through it takes time, though.
Pop Culture Meltdown
In the Wired article, Kelly suggests that most displaced workers will become entrepreneurs or artists, starting small companies making custom wares and turning the global economy into Kickstarter writ large.
If that does happen, popular culture may become obsolete. It’s already happening in a way: Nearly everyone in the United States knew “Gangnam Style” before most American record executives had even heard of Psy.
If popular culture is basically a conversation between produces and consumers of media, then a robot economy could give them a hi-def connection. People won’t need to rely on media giants for entertainment, because small organizations (or even individual artists) will be readily available to produce media that are fine-tuned to each person’s specific tastes.
Never having to listen to Brittany Spears again sounds like a good deal, but it could have a negative affect. Pop culture is a bonding mechanism for a large population; its lowest-common-denominator aesthetic reminds us that there are certain basic things that we all enjoy.
Without it, we run the risk of cultural echolalia. If we don’t need to acknowledge what we don’t like, it’s hard to get a read on what other people are thinking. It would also make it hard to discover something new, because we’d have to make a determined effort to leave our comfort zones.
Every Man (and Woman) an Island
If the implosion of pop culture means having less in common with the people around us, then having a robotic workforce also means having less people around us. If robots become store clerks or waiters or repair-bots (Kelly says robot therapists and teachers are even possible), we’ll be spending a lot less time around people.
Of course, that is already sort of happening in the form of social media. Most people have even given up on phone conversations and text instead. Even dating has fallen into the digital realm.
I’m very thankful for the communication social media allows, but I don’t think it can replace a physical meeting. It’s great to be able to talk to a friend in another state or another country instantly, but I can’t imagine pulling that trick off with someone I’ve never met.
The same goes for online dating. I’ve given two sites a try and, personally, I think the Internet takes all of the romance out of romance. I spend the time combing through profiles like I’m a Human Resources director; a very unfulfilling experience. I’m not alone either: in a recent “Room for Debate” piece in the New York Times, a group of experts concluded that online dating is no replacement for the real thing.
So how else will we meet people when most of our daily interactions are with robots?
Some might say that robots will just eliminate the tedious and annoying human interactions from our lives, but that’s a bit of a slippery slope. It’s impossible to eliminate everything unpleasant, irritating, or intimidating from human interactions, because we are who we are. We are as scary, annoying, and boring as we are loving, captivating, and interesting. Maybe that’s why the robots seem like such an attractive replacement.
Newsweek’s handlers made this decision for very sound reasons. The magazine was hemorrhaging money, and a digital version will allow it to reach the same readers without the confinement of a weekly publication cycle. It will also be subscription-only, so the shareholders will actually make more money than before.
No one should be surprised that Newsweek will not be available hot off the press for very long; digital is here to stay. A few years ago, the rise of digital news was seen as the death knell of newspapers and magazines. As a college journalist full of spunk, moxie, and a bit of anachronism, I was not ready to accept what some people called “progress.”
That apocalyptic scenario is no longer valid. The New York Times proved that people will pay for online content, and thus showed that print media could upload itself to the interwebs intact. Other papers are following the Times’ example, and news sites like the Huffington Post and Daily Beast (which ate Newsweek) are also popular.
The world really has changed, but I’m still not comfortable with it. I write for a news site(and this blog), and like it just fine, but can’t there be room for both print and digital media?
Scanning the comments on different versions of the Newsweek story, I found one bit of false astuteness about how communication evolved from cave paintings to the Gutenberg press, and that digital media is the next logical step. That really underestimates the impact paper has had on human civilization.
Putting something down on paper means people can take it with them, and keep it to themselves. The printing press may have made mass production of paper reading material possible, but it was not a paradigm shift on the same level as taking information off cave walls and out of people’s heads to put it on dead trees.
Compared to that, digital isn’t that impressive. It really just makes things more convenient and increases profits for the people that produce media. That’s very important, but let’s not romanticize it.
On second thought, it might not be a good idea to romanticize Newsweek either. It may have been publishing since 1933, but this is the magazine that called Obama the first gay president, after all. The takeaway is that a major title has gone all digital.
So Newsweek is a magazine that has lost its way, and the Internet may save it. The only opposition seems to be grounded in sentimentality: the feel of a page in one’s hands, or the permanence of having important events recorded in ink.
That kind of stuff never plays well in boardrooms or the homes of people who can afford iPads. In the span of a few years, digital media has gone from being a fantasy, to a threat, to a sensible business decision. That might be the most unsettling thing of all.
Watching last night’s post-debate coverage, I noticed that moderator Candy Crowley came in for criticism along with the two candidates. Despite her job title, Crowley’s performance was a part of the media circus trying to glean some meaning from what went down in that Hofstra University auditorium. I like that, and I think people should take it a little further.
I’m not saying that the moderator should be a factor in determining which candidate wins a debate, I think that should be based solely on the facts. We have enough subjectivity in our debate coverage already, and that’s why I think consumers of media should scrutinize the people that produce it.
The starkly different roles played by Jim Lehrer and Martha Raddatz in their respective debates started this fire, and legitimately so. Lehrer failed to ask specific questions, and couldn’t even get Mitt Romney to answer the non-specific questions that Republicans love. Raddatz, on the other hand, kept both Joe Biden and Paul Ryan in line, and forced them to give specifics instead of talking points. Which do you think was more informative?
Now it’s time to take things a step further. We should not only rate a moderator’s performance, but the news organizations that cover politics.
It has to be consumers of media that do this; having news organizations rate each other would be akin to releasing Cthulhu and having him define objectivity. Rather, this should be done informally, preferably on an individual basis.
This more about thinking about what we need to know than judging or punishing people’s stupidity. We simply need to ask ourselves: What do I need to know to make an informed decision in this election? Be specific (you’re talking to yourself, after all) and don’t couch it in terms of pre-existing narratives. Just be honest.
The follow-up is obvious: Is the source of my information, be it a news network, paper, or website, answering my questions.
A candidate’s job is to get elected, the media’s job is to inform the electorate. Said electorate should not have to suffer through ignorance if a candidate misses an opportunity to draw blood in the debate arena. The media needs to tell people what candidates aren’t telling them, and put everything in context.
If you watched CNN, MSNBC, or Fox, or read the New York Times or Huffington Post, on debate night and still don’t know what’s going on remember: you have a choice.
I just read a very interesting article in the New York Times’ online edition about Canadian cars, which seems to affirm Canada’s status as the 51st State.
Before 1965, when Canada and the United States eliminated cross-border tariffs, American car companies would make knock-offs of their own models in Canada. This allowed Ford, General Motors and Chrysler to avoid paying import fees of up to 35 percent.
Most of the cars were made from combinations of U.S.-built models. Ford would drop a Mercury body onto a Ford chassis to create a Monarch, or add a different grille to a Falcon to create a Frontenac.
Usually, when car companies create models for different markets, they are radically different, owing to geographical considerations or buyer tastes. That’s why Ford’s European models (Capri, Sierra, Scorpion, etc.) never really caught on here, and the same goes for most of the products from General Motors’ German Opel and British Vauxhall divisions.
Since Canada is very similar to the U.S., the Canadian cars were almost identical to American ones. The main difference was a lower price point, since average Canadian income in the ‘60s was much lower than in the States.
Most of this Canadian-branding silliness ended after 1965, but the idea of a Canadian-specific model didn’t die with the opening of borders.
Honda has sold versions of its Civic as luxury Acuras in Canada since the 1990s. The sixth, seventh, and eight generation Civics were sold as the Acura 1.6 EL, 1.7 EL, and CSX, respectively.
Honda obviously thought its Canadian customers were morons, because the EL and CSX look almost identical to their non-luxury siblings.The Acuras got different front end styling and upgraded interiors, but that’s about it.
Like their Ameircan forebears, the Canadian Acuras were built on the cheap for a market that, admittedly, isn’t an automotive powerhouse.
Still, these cars offer an interesting possibility. The sport compact enthusiasts who customize Honda products love JDM, or Japanese Domestic Market, style. The point of JDM is to customize a Japanese import with parts from the home market, making a humble Civic or Nissan 240SX into en exotic, sophisticated ride.
With so few Acura ELs and CSXs around, the next step is obvious: CDM. Soon tuners could be grabbing magazine covers by turning their Civics in CSXs, importing all the necessary parts from the Great White North. They’ll swoon over factory-correct “1.7 EL” badging and headlights like they’re Holy Grails.
Car customizers love to get anal about their vehicles; CDM just seems like the next logical step. Maybe it’s time Canada got some respect.