College is For Dorks

Friday — April 2nd, 2010

College is For Dorks

Social Media

As I predicted in this story, Twitter is taking over the world and turning everyone into mindless internet zombies. Now I’ve got proof!

Most of my friends use twitter on a casual basis, including myself (plug: here’s my twitter feed) but I do have a few friends that claim to hate it. It seems like for a lot of people, having a strong opinion about social media is important, so the act of hating it, simply because it’s so widespread, is a way of… I don’t know, showing inner strength, or something. It’s also easy to write off social media as a symbol of decadent American consumerism, or a growing sense of entitlement, or a misplaced notion of extreme narcissism. While there’s a case for all of that (I personally think such arguments are overblown, but thats just me) I found this video particularly fascinating:

Now, the end of the video gives a link to the source for all their statistics. I didn’t go through and try to verify them all, but if these numbers are true, then… holy cow. Also, I don’t know how much these numbers are being adjusted for things like spam bots, and the like. Even with all that factored in, this is pretty interesting stuff. Although I think it’s less about “social media” and more about the internet in general. I think social media is one of many important by-products that the internet brings along with it. The idea of being permanently connected to vast sources of user-driven content gives us a change in how society works — social media is but one aspect of that, and I think there will be more such consequences of the internet that haven’t yet shown themselves.

I obviously find this kind of stuff fascinating, but I’m interested to hear what you guys think.

Hidden Images

Let’s be grateful I had the sense to end this conversation here, as, after the final panel, this conversation devolved into two hooded figures arguing about whether a halfling bard could win in a fight against… well, anything.

I didn’t notice this until after posting the strip, but I intended the two hooded guys to be facing each other, the guy on the right has his back to us… but depending on how you look at it, he could be facing us, because of how I drew the shadows. Obviously I meant this as an intentional optical illusion to challenge and entertain your mind, and it’s totally intentional. I’m just that good.

The Real Society

The Organization that Bob is talking about here totally exists for real. The college I went to had a real Albino squirrel that lived there, named “Thelonius.” I even saw the majestic creature myself a few times. During my stay there, an organization rose up to help spread word about the Thelonius, who was rumored to give good luck on test exams. I’m not making any of this up, by the way, this isn’t a bit or anything.

Since then, I’ve heard Thelonius has passed on, but there is a new Albino Squirrel gracing the campus. I’ve also heard stories of lots of different albino squirrels running around various campuses around the country, granting good luck to test-takers everywhere, and I believe the society exists in several chapters on many campuses.

This storyline is dedicated to Thelonius, rest in peace buddy! And thanks for the A in economics!

Smallville: The Most Brilliant Show on TV?

I did something I thought I’d never do. I watched a new episode of Smallville this week… and it made me realize that this show is far more genius than anyone is giving it credit for. Let me tell you why, but first, a little background:

When Smallville first started, I was a total fan. I bought the first 3 seasons on DVD, because I loved the clever treatment of Superman’s origins, and waited eagerly for the moment when Clark would finally accept his destiny. And then there was the horror that was season 4. I could analyze why that was the downfall of the show, but thats a different conversation for a different day. Instead, I wanted to talk about what brought me around to giving it another shot, which was this week’s two hour special event: “Absolute Justice.”

First, I was amazed by how much the show had changed since I left. Only two regular cast members I remembered were still in the opening credits, and the show had a completely different setting and premise than the Smallville I remember. I was back in familiar territory though, when I saw the mediocre special effects and atrocious acting I was used to seeing on the show. However, the greatness that is Geoff Johns had written a pretty damn cool script, and even though it was filled with superhero cliches, they were fun, and it was cool to see some old school DC comics, full costume, ridiculous over-the-top super hero action. I liked the sense of history that everything had, it made the cast seem like their actions were more important, like they were part of a bigger tapestry of a larger universe, which is something I don’t remember the show ever really doing before this.

But watching this episode made me realize something. Something I should have known from the start. And I don’t know why I didn’t realize this sooner:

Smallville is not a show about Clark Kent becoming Superman. It is a story of an alternate reality in which Clark never became Superman. Furthermore, it is an analysis of what happens when a clearly gifted person, with incredible potential, actively rejects that potential, chosing to confine themselves to self-doubt and fear. Ultimately, it is a satire and condemnation of “emo” culture and philosophy.

This is kindof genius. The concept is, to take the most noble of heroes: Superman, and show what happens when he actively choses to deny his obvious calling (so obvious that every other character in the show tells his about it to his face) and purposefully not become a hero. Had the show adhered to the comics (or the spirit of them, atleast), Clark would have become Superman for real somewhere twoards the end of season 4, but instead, the rest of the DC Universe continues to form around him in it’s normal course. What you get, then, is a fully formed Justice League, full form supervillians, the Amanda Waller goverment thing, and the other ancillary heroes, all forming as they normally would, but without the leadership and inspiration of Superman.

By playing Clark as a self-concious, dim-witted emo kid, you get a castrated, emo Superman who is kinda trying to do the right thing, but he’s not smart enough to put two and two together, not that he has time to, with all his whining and moping. This leads to a castrated, emo Justice League that can do some good, but will never live up to the potential we all know it should have. The writers, by beating us over the head repeadely with references to Clark’s “destiny,” reinforce the idea that things are not as they should be, that they would be so much better if only Clark had taken his mantle. It becomes a morality tale that warns against denying your gifts and passions. Essentially, Smallville is an analysis of the harmful nature of the “emo” culture and mindset: set in the DC Universe, where this subversive analysis recieves the maximum amount of contrast against what should be a Universe of noble heroes. It’s a genius concept, and I can’t believe I didn’t see it sooner. The fact that all 9 seasons have lead to this shows brilliant foresight by the creative staff.

I also love that this show is on the WB, which gives it’s message added weight. The WB is king of whiny emo dramas, and by setting Smallville there, it provides a biting satire against the rest of that networks programming. No doubt this is slipped right u nder the networks nose, and they realize they are the target of such brutal satire.

It does seem odd to me that DC would be willing to have it’s most beloved characters subverted so brutally in this way, but I have to give them credit for going with this, it’s a bold move to let your company-owned characters be completely exploited for the sake of making a social point, but I think it’s one worth making, and by subverting the Superman character specifically, gives it a weight it wouldn’t have obtained otherwise.

I do still want to see a regular Superman show to contrast this one, that really does show the real Man of Steel in a positive, noble, truly heroic light. But I guess we’ll have to wait for that.

CD Review: Konfusion by Skalpel 4/5

If you’ve spent any amount of time reading the comic, you’ll know that I’m a huge jazz fan. I’m actually a working jazz musician myself, so the style is something I’m particularly passionate about, and familiar with. That said, I’m normally very much against albums that use jazz recordings as a base for “sampling.” I consider it a crime to take jazz solos out of context, mixing them with overproduced hip hop beats and re sequencing them into a strange form that no longer resembles the original intent of the musicians who played the actual tracks being used. And on the surface, it appears that is exactly what the Polish turntable duo “Skalpel” has done. But, I find myself loving it, and I’ll tell you why:

First of all, the intent of Skalpel’s usage of 60’s and 70’s era polish jazz is different than most “sampler” artists. These guys are jazz fans themselves, and claim to be trying to revive interest in jazz music in Poland, in particular the “cool jazz” spirit of the 60’s and 70’s polish jazz scene. That statement of intent very much interests me. What they’ve created is something that takes old recordings, and re purposes them, repackaging them into fresh compositions that are modern, but still evoke the warmth and richness of classic cool jazz. Instead of using the samples as filler, or as a cheap way to create a stock texture, they’re using the samples in a much more intentional way.

Part of this comes from the fact that Skalpel isn’t adding gigantic, heavily produced modern “beats” with low bass drops and over-compressed drum machine sounds, as is the usual approach in hip hop, and other sample based music. Instead, the beats being added are mostly acoustic drum and bass sounds, with a depth and richness that enhances the original recordings instead of distracting from them. This is so true, that I didn’t notice originally that samples were being used at all. If, on first listen, you had told me that this album was made by a new jazz quartet, and all these were brand new recordings, made exactly as heard, I would have completely believed you. That’s how natural it sounds, and how creative it’s composition is.

Much of the album is spent mood setting, as opposed to the usual jazz approach of melody followed by solos. There are some of those elements here, but this album takes the “cool jazz” modal concept further, creating rich beds of music that you can easily lose yourself in. The opening track “Shivers” is a superb example of this albums strategy of combingin beds of sound without losing specific compositional elements. The open fourth voicings in the piano (dig that fender rhodes sound!) combine with a warm, open drums tone, creating a beautiful texture. When the breathy saxophone enters, I’m enthralled.

I’ll admit, this is an odd one for me to like, since I usually hate the concept of using old jazz recordings as samples, and how I usually prefer a more “active” jazz sound, with more dissonance and busier solos. But I can’t deny that this album has me completely entranced. Give it a listen. If you’re not into jazz, this might be a great doorway album for you.

Avatar

It’s not that I hated the movie. It did look stunning, it was a beautiful world, and I’ll give it credit for being the first 3-D movie that didn’t completely beat me over the head with it’s “3-D-ness” if you know what I mean.

The problem is, although it looked amazing, it’s just kindof a sucky movie. It could be that I’m being extra harsh on it, because it hits so many personal pet peeves of mine. It preaches so hard about being anti-technology, anti-military, anti-capitalist… those things kindof bother me, because I love technology, I love the military, and I love capitalism. And it’s ironic to me that a man like Cameron, who uses insane levels of technology to make tons of money of visualizations of war, would be so against all those things.

I just don’t like the whole, “set up a straw man and beat the crap out of him for three hours” approach to characters, which is what Avatar did. It set up certain characters that you were supposed to hate, and made them souless, shells of human beings.

I do a lot of caricature art in my spare time. Caricatures are about taking an element of a person, and exaggerating it to the point of hilarity. So to say that Avatar’s characters are caricatures of human beings is particularly apt. The military general, the scientists, the corporate boss, the aliens… none of them exhibit any of the depth that a real person shows (and I don’t just mean the acting), they are all exaggerations of things, distorted to the point of hilarity. And I do mean hilarity. There were several lines of dialogue that left me wondering how comedy shows were going to parody the movie, since it’d be difficult to exaggerate the characters and the dialogue any further. Especially towards the end, the movie almost became a parody of itself.

Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this approach, after all, most superhero stories, saturday morning cartoons, and other children’s adventure writing uses the same techniques, and I generally like that kindof stuff. I still watch and enjoy episodes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I would expect this kind of exaggerated writing from an old episode of G.I. Joe. But to see it in a movie that I’m expected to take seriously as an adult… thats just kinda sad. Plus, G.I. Joe and the Turltes were about teaching me that I could accomplish things, and how to stop-drop-and roll, and that knowledge is half the battle… but Avatar wasn’t trying to teach any of that stuff, it was trying to teach me that technology, the military, and trying to provide a living for your family are all evil things, and we’d be much better off living in a forest somewhere with very little clothing and no toothbrushes or plumbing.

Ok, I’ll end the rant. Even with all that, it was visually a breathtaking movie, I’ll give it that. It looked amazing, and if somewhere out there there’s some filmmakers who can use those amazing visual techniques to tell a story that has as much depth and subtlety as the visuals… then we’ll really be moving the movie industry forward.

Dallas Comic Con Approacheth!

It’s that time again: Dallas Comic Con is coming!

Be there on January 30-31 for possibly the greatest show ever. It’s your chance to meet some awesome actors, including Adam West (60’s Batman, Family Guy) and Charisma Carpenter (Buffy, Angel). Thats just the beginning.

The artist line up this year is one of the best ever, including heavy-hitter Tim Sale (the marvel “color” series, and all the stuff on the Heroes tv show).

Obviously I’ll be there with books prints, and plenty of copies of my new book “What Planet Is This.”

All the details can be found here.

See ya there!