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...]

Outlanders, Young Fathers, & None Masters: Best Albums and TV Shows of 2015

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We live in an era when the music industry is long since "dead" (slain by Napster, and its remains desecrated by YouTube and Spotify), while TV is in crisis too: the broadcast networks have shed viewers for years, and now even the big cable companies realize they're in deep trouble, attacked on all sides by Hulu and Google Fiber. Yet for fans of music and TV, times have almost never been better -- at least in the sense of having a super-abundance of (often very good) options. Yes, for every Mad Men or Broad City there are ten Real Housewives of Plano, Texas and competitive nose-hair shows. (Though Schnozz Master was actually pretty good this year.) And your cousin has a web series that's … [Read more...]

Confessions of a Middle-Aged Millennial

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Occasionally, when I’m speaking to a class of 100 18-year-olds, I make the mistake of referring to them as millennials. Then it occurs to me: these people might not even be millennials at all. Their first memories are of 9/11, if even that. (It used to be that students’ first memories were of the OJ trial or the bombing at the Atlanta Olympics. Time passes). They weren’t old enough to vote when Barack Obama was first elected. In short, they are very far from the same age cohort I’m in. Of course, the peculiarly American obsession with generations is, as Henry Ford might have said, bunk. We obsess over generations the way we obsess over decades, as if either one was a self-evidently … [Read more...]

Will and Grace and Cam and Laverne: The Power of LGBT Characters in Pop Culture

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Joe Biden once famously said that Will and Grace “did more to educate the American public [about gay rights] than almost anything anybody's ever done so far.” While some may have dismissed the statement as a typical, off-the-cuff Bidenism, others understood the implicit premise: that the (relatively) positive portrayal of gay characters on programs such as Will and Grace (1998-2006) and Modern Family (2009-present) helped get Americans used to the idea of LGBT people as good, ordinary friends, parents, and neighbors. But can popular culture have such a direct effect on popular opinion? Given the Supreme Court’s groundbreaking decisions in Lawrence (2003) and Obergefell (2015), it’s a … [Read more...]

Dog Days Classics: Tolkien and Martin in Love and War

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By the time I gave up on finishing The Lord of the Rings, I like to think that I had outlasted a good portion of those who try. It was early on in The Return of the King, the third book of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy series, when the cumulative weight of the sheer number of pages, the chapters full of elf poetry, and the walking—God, the endless walking—finally beat me down. My middle-school-aged brain, prompted by nothing in particular, told me that I was done. This was unexpected. I had cruised through The Hobbit, a compact fairy tale that was divided into neat little easily digestible episodes. It was fast-paced, exciting and, though ostensibly a children’s book, contained hints … [Read more...]

The Tragicomedy of Postindustrial Labor

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Why do we play the shell game of the so-called "knowledge economy"? The reasons are many, and few of them are quite so intentional as a long con. Since the 1960s, scientists and other intellectuals have warmed to the idea of an information society because it flatters their own sense of personal importance. Intellectual property interests have found this rhetoric useful in their quest for state sanction against technologies of reproduction. Meanwhile, the incorporation of information technology into all forms of production and services has lent prestige to intellectual property and its power, creating new conveniences and advances of productivity (particularly in the 1990s) that cannot be … [Read more...]

If Quotes from True Detective Were Motivational Posters

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Rust Cohle, the dyspeptic protagonist of HBO's True Detective, made both nihilism and logorrhea cool again in 2014, as a great episode of Radiolab recently made clear.  If you need a little splash of pessimism to get through your morning coffee, these motivational posters might just be your cup of tea.  Is that a mixed metaphor?  It's all one ghetto, man. … [Read more...]

Ten of the Greatest Books on Media History

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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...]

The Sad Decline of The Daily Show

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With Stephen Colbert departing for CBS to replace David Letterman in 2015, I’d like to preemptively ring the death knell for the great hour of Swiftian satire that Comedy Central gave us Monday through Thursday for nearly the past decade. The Daily Show (TDS) with Jon Stewart, of course, will be sticking around, but it’s becoming increasingly timeworn, even uninteresting. Conservative critics of the show predicted it would lose its poignancy with the election of President Obama and Stewart’s chief bête noire, the Bush administration, out of power. And while they seemed to have a point initially--Jon Stewart seemed to have a hard time finding his footing after the first Obama … [Read more...]

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