The Paperclip and the Chain

Can you show me where on the paperclip he touched you?

Few cartoon characters are more hated than Clippy, the pesky “assistant” who prowled the mean streets of Microsoft Word in the 1990s.  (“You look like you’re writing a letter.” NO I’M NOT FUCK YOU DUDE.)  Clippy is like the Comic Sans of cartoons.  He’s like the primitive ancestor of Siri cross-bred with the Noid. (By the way, I apologize for gender-stereotyping, but I always assumed Clippy was a guy.  Why this is the case—and why iconic portrayals of later digital assistants like Siri or the operating system in the film Her were presented as female—is a subject for rich speculation.) Anyway, even if Clippy no longer haunts our lives, the paperclip remains part of the iconography of … [Read more...]

New Adventures in Lo-Fi: Bootleg Histories in Lucas Hilderbrand’s “Inherent Vice”

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Scholars in recent years have studied a variety of different media to challenge the ever-present notion of technological determinism, identifying ways that listeners, readers, and viewers shape both the technologies of communication and the creative expression conveyed by them.  Much attention has focused on the possibilities of digital media, such as personal computers and the Internet, to open up new arenas for individual participation through blogs, file-sharing, and online video.  Some studies, such as Lisa Gitelman’s work on the early phonograph, have searched for the origins of a participatory media culture beyond the very recent past; however, much remains to be said about the ways … [Read more...]

OK Go and the Revival of Music Video Culture

Busby Berkeley dreams

It was late on a Friday, and I was hanging out with my parents in Gastonia, NC.  They asked me I had seen the zero-gravity video on the plane. I had indeed seen reports of OK Go’s latest viral clip in my Facebook feed and other online news sources—having seen a few of their quite clever setpieces before I figured the new video would probably have a cool gimmick all its own, but I had not bothered to check it out (much as I heard roiling, boiling controversy about Bey and Kendrick the same week without actually seeing what caused all the ruckus). But it was kind of cool to sit with my mom and stepdad and see them enthused about new music—and more than that, to see an utterly daring, … [Read more...]

Requiem for “The Sports Guy”: Bill Simmons, ESPN, and the Shifting Sports/Cultural Landscape

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When New York Times notifications lit up iPhones on Friday announcing “Bill Simmons is leaving ESPN,” it highlighted how important of a player “The Sport Guys” had become in the journalism and media world. “I’ve decided that I’m not going to renew his contract,” ESPN head honcho John Skipper noted. “We’ve been talking to Bill, and it was clear that we weren’t going to get to the terms, so we were better off focusing on transition.” Skipper, a self-professed friend of Simmons, grabbed hold of the narrative and rode it into the weekend, while his former employee responded with “uncharacteristic silence,” Richard Sandomir quipped in the Times. Skipper’s announcement put an official end to a … [Read more...]

ToM “Besties” of 2014

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Hello there. You are now witnesses to a kind of confrontation between me and these three men. And it ain’t so simple, treasonous crime. No it ain’t so simple and there’s reasons why When Detroit’s Protomartyr released their 2014 album Under Color of Official Right (itself eerily descriptive of public discourse from all sides this year), how could they have known their mix of Wire-like punk dirges would be emblematic of the last 12 months? The year seemed punctuated by rough arguments, sometimes violent confrontations, and the kind of disagreements that as Protomartyr sings, “Ain’t so simple and there’s reasons why.” Yet, our little blog dedicated to engaging these sorts of “conflicts” … [Read more...]

What Our Contributors Have Been Up To

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Each year we ask our contributors to tell us what else they have been writing, publishing, or otherwise working on.  Incredibly, as it turns out, the writers of ToM do not spend all of their time working on material for this site.  In fact, their work has been landing in the esteemed pages of The Nation, Dissent and more, while our friends at the South El Monte Arts Posse's East of East project has been blowing up both at ToM and KCET. Below you will find the latest news from some of our contributors and links to some great pieces.  If you're a ToM contributor and would like to add something to the list, hit us up. Alex's essay "Atlanta's Beltline Meets the Voters," based on a 2012 ToM … [Read more...]

I Listened to the New U2 Album So You Don’t Have to

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I, like millions of other Apple users, woke up to find that Tim Cook had bought me an album. Incredibly, the tech giant had decided to (sort of) download a new U2 record into everyone’s iTunes library for free. The publicity stunt prompted speculation about what the move meant for the music industry—the decline of the album as a format vs. streaming/piracy, and the way U2, whose sales have been declining for years, benefited from Apple's mass distribution in order to promote its more-lucrative tours. Not to mention the fact that, more than a decade after the launch of the iTunes store, it was Apple that seemed to be running the show, not labels or artists. To me, the U2 move called to … [Read more...]

The Fragrance of Sensory Studies

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In a previous post I suggested that a handful of important books (mostly published within the past decade) offer a productive entry into the leading concerns of sensory history. Few have done more to promote that kind of history by way of their role as pioneers in the wider interdisciplinary field of Sensory Studies than two Canada-based scholars – the anthropologist David Howes and cultural historian Constance Classen. They’ve just collaborated on a new hit, Ways of Sensing: Understanding the Senses in Society (2014) that puts us in mind of the relationship between art, history, and the senses. Howes, who directs the ambitious programs of the Centre for Sensory Studies at Concordia … [Read more...]

Ten of the Greatest Books on Media History

Mixtape salesman from owen's VV article

Historians have always had a tough time writing about media. The danger of technological determinism tends to loom over any discussion of technologies such as television or the Internet—the risk of arguing that a particular medium or device causes people to behave or think a certain way. That fear has been present since the earliest days of media studies, when the War of the Worlds and the pioneering audience research of Paul Lazarsfeld and the Bureau of Applied Social Research in the 1930s raised questions about the “effects” that mass media had on people, both as individuals and groups. Meanwhile, the power of Hitler’s megaphone implied that people as a mass were pliant, susceptible to a … [Read more...]

From Better Luck Tomorrow to K-Town: Asian Americans and Los Angeles in 21st Century Media

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[Editor's Note: This piece closes out our  Asian Pacific American Heritage Month coverage.  Be sure to check out our previous posts on Asian American athletics, notably masculinity, femininity, and Asian American basketball in 20th century California here and basketball's role in Filipino and Filipino-American identity here, and the intersection of the Cold War and Asian American citizenship, particularly in how the New Right, anti-communism and the Vietnam War created the diverse demographics of today's Orange county here or how film noir, Cold War ethos, and Asian American sexuality figure prominently in the 1959 L.A. noir classic the "Crimson Kimono" here.] "The problem of this era is … [Read more...]