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Musings on first love

I’m juggling my calendar, planning the fall, astonished how all deadlines seem to pile on top of each other. Is it that I’m drawn to those points in time that seem so beautifully rounded: the first of a month, the fifteenth? Or just that when projects are planned, October 15th seems so far away that planning three events around it seems perfectly managable? I don’t know, I just know that it will work itself out.

I have no excuse, however, for weighing my calendar down with a trip to London to attend Power to the Pixel’s cross-media forum in the days leading up to this ominous deadline. Well, I have one  excuse – and it’s good: it will be an interesting and highly relevant event. Time will be made (Just have to locate the factory that manufactures it).

Among the things I force myself to forego  is the Göteborg Book Fair, which seems highly irrelevant. I don’t work in the book business, after all. Or paper industry, or how you want to put it.

This is how I think about the fair, anyway, which puzzles me when I write it down: How did literature get irrelevant for someone working with cross-media? How can I be this backward in my thinking, when iPads and Kindles are making literature part of  the ‘screen based industries’. The book is no less of a mass medium than tv or film, no less “no longer analogue”, no less 3D, if you allow for the multiple dimensions of the mind. It’s the low tech production methods and the established format that tricks me into thinking that experiencing a book is less of a media experience than watching a film or playing a game.

I’m not sure this matters. I am sure it’s going to change. “Screenbased content” will include literature. Literature will change when liberated from paper. It’s going to be confusing, annoying and fun. To figure out what’s goint to happen, shouldn’t I go where the content people are, in stead of attending my 54th seminar with the buzzword people without answers? You might recognize this as a rhetorical question, as in my experience, the Book Fair will be filled with other narrow minds sporting t-shirts with THE BOOK IS NOT DEAD, multiple exclamation marks – they are in the paper industry and have indeed missed the whole point.

But more than this, I get a bit emotional by my own narrow mind because these days, I feel like a cheater. Books were my first love. Without books, I would never have understood that the world was a bigger place then the pothole where I grew up. I would never have decided to become an author, later redefined to journalist with the help of practically minded parents, redefined to “media somethingsomething” by University.

My early defining moments were led on or accompanied by literature, and I still define myself as a “book person”. You see, I buy a lot of books, I just have no time to read them, because of the films and tv-series and games that pile up and seem so relevant to what I do. I peek at the pile of paperbound experiences that are not about what I do, but about who I am, because alone in a book, you can’t shy away from that meeting. And that experience will never change, whatever platform it’s on.

I don’t have to go to the Göteborg Book Fair to love books. Or to read. But in all the talks of new distribution models and platforms and criss-cross-trans-mashup, it’s important to remember the power in a universe that comes to life and invites you in with just a little ink on paper.  If that’s not an invitation to get interactive, I don’t know what is.

Office conundrum

Next week, my lease for my borrowed office is up and I’m looking at a possible new place together with some lovely people. The only thing is, I’m not sure I’m an office kinda gal.

Control over ones physical surroundings is important, and the main reason I won’t be staying on where I am now is lack thereof. I like it quiet. I like good coffee. I like being able to work in clothes that should never leave the house. I might have found the perfect office at home, then.

At the same time, though I have no trouble with the efficiency issues or ‘keeping work and leisure separate’ that seem to worry many, I hate the mess. There are papers and books and to do lists and inspirational peppy notes that tend to get on my nerves. Everywhere.

So I probably need a really cosy office. Or a bigger home.

Dare to share

The brilliant Eirik Solheim shares his and Public Service Broadcaster NRKs thoughts on BitTorrent distribution and the future of Public Service:

  • “To inform, educate and entertain”, is how the first general director of the BBC, John Reith defined public service broadcasting back in 1929. That definition still works very well. But what if we could ask him today? The internet has democratized distribution. Technical progression has democratized production. This gives us possibilities that was unavailable for Mr. Reith. Sharing and participation combined with an abundance and freedom of choice impossible to imagine in his time.

Below, a screen shot from the seven hour long, real time production Bergensbanen (the trainride from Bergen to Oslo) that NRK let it’s users download and edit to their hearts content.

Guessing and gushing a little

This year, I won’t just shake my head and exclaim: Of course! when the Emmys are handed out. No, I will venture a guess for myself, in what seems to be a very close race in several categories of the nominations.

So, here are my guesses for the top six:

OUTSTANDING DRAMA
Nominated: Lost, True Blood, Breaking Bad, Dexter, Mad Men, The Good Wife.
Guessing:
Breaking Bad, warming up with the prize for best male lead in 2009, this underrated show is in for more.
Here’s hoping: Mad Men. I can’t get enough of it. Making costume drama interesting and providing more laughs than several of the shows in the outstanding comedy category, I’m not done singing its praise.
Will eat my hat:
if True Blood is awarded. Struggling to like this pretentious, campy bloodfiest. And I like vampires and silly plots…

OUTSTANDING COMEDY
Nominated: 30 Rock, The Office, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Nurse Jackie, Modern Family, Glee.
Guessing: Glee has received both popular and critical acclaim, and several Emmy-nominations. And they deserve this one.
Here’s hoping: Modern Family! Great actors, fun and original stories and just so incredibly well done.
Will eat my hat: if Curb Your Enthusiasm wins. The only show of the above that’s not among my personal favourites. Never got it.

LEAD ACTOR IN DRAMA
Nominated:
Hugh Laurie (House), Matthew Fox (Lost), Michael C. Hall (Dexter), Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights), Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Jon Hamm (Mad Men).
Guessing:
Michael C. Hall continues to draw me into this often very silly show with his creepy portrail of a likable serial killer.
Here’s hoping:
Michael C. Hall. Because you deserve it.
Will eat my hat: No. No hat eating here. All fine men, if you ask me!  

LEAD ACTOR IN COMEDY
Nominated:
Alec Baldwin (30 Rock), Steve Carell (The Office) as well as Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory), Larry David (Curb Your Enthusiasm), Matt Morrison (Glee), Tony Shalhoub (Monk).
Guessing: Matt Morrison, because he’s swanky and straight and because Glee feels so bright and shiny new, though it’s not, really.
Here’s hoping:
Steve Carell. The reason the US remake of The Office for once superceded the British was not only because writers found new and surprising storylines. It is also due to Carell managing to make his character, Michael Scott, to be endearing and horrible at the same time, never failing to disappoint, just when you start to believe in him. For six seasons. 
Will eat my hat:
Larry David? So confused.
Shamefully admitting:
Never saw Monk. Shame on me. On my to do-list, for sure.

LEAD ACTRESS IN DRAMA
Nominated:
Mariska Hargitay (Law & Order: SVU), Glenn Close (Damages), Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer), Julianna Margulies (The Good Wife), Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights), January Jones (Mad Men)
Guessing: January Jones. Because drinking wine in the afternoon and neglecting ones kids is harder than it looks.
Here’s hoping:
Julianna Marguiles. Because she was great in E.R. and it’s not her fault TGW is boring.
Shamefully admitting: Besides Mad Men, all of these shows are either among my ‘to be watched when on a desert island’ or ‘already rejected’, so this category has me very bored indeed.

LEAD ACTRESS IN COMEDY
Nominated:
Lea Michele (Glee), Julia Louis-Dreyfus (The New Adventures of Old Christine), Tina Fey (30 Rock), Edie Falco (Nurse Jackie), Toni Collette (The United States of Tara), Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation).
Guessing: Toni Collette. Because the Emmys might be like the Oscar, awarding portrails of disability. And because she’s incredible. Here, there, everywhere.
Here’s hoping: Edie Falco. Though Nurse Jackie is in a bit of a rut, Edie makes it impossible to stop watching this junkie nurse determined to destroy her life.
Will eat my hat: if anyone ever again says that women can’t be funny. All of the nominated deserve this prize. Makes predicting this category feel silly, really.

Analyze this!

I just finalized working on a very cool project, an educational resource on American television drama (in Norwegian) for high school students in Norway, commissioned by Film&Kino, featuring a brief television history and the analysis of Grey’s Anatomy, The West Wing, The Sopranos and True Blood.

I’m fascinated by televisions grittiness: lack of artistic status and unavoidable link to reality. Actors get pregnant or die, affecting storylines. Terrorist attacks or tsunamis affect our interpretation of drama that seems both to foresee and comment on the times we live in.

So this prosject was a lot of fun, as the four series chosen certainly reflect the decade they were created in. Quality television and drama series relation to reality were the topics for my master thesis back in 1998 and I certainly savoured the chance to get back to the topic. After all, I finished writing that paper at the same time that HBO really got great drama off the ground, later followed by Showtime, AMC and several more Network shows.

Summarize this!
It was also fulfilling to get to do educational material on great tv-drama, as I’ve worked with film education over the years, yearning for that chance to talk about intricate storytelling and character building of a story told spanning seven years, reflecting ones personal development and history in general.

And that’s exactly when – and why – it got incredibly difficult.

It’s really not easy to analyze seven seasons of The West Wing (we’re talking 110 hours of television for this show only) in a way that gives students the impression of the depth of analysis and the cultural impact of the drama that voiced Bush-rage and saw Obama coming. Especially when you can’t take for granted that the characters are known. Or George Bush. Or 9/11. After all, in 2001, a regular Norwegian high school student was seven years old.

The hardest part of analyzing television is that you get blind to both the details of it and to it’s cultural impact. It’s not *a work of art* in the same way as a singular film or book can be held down for dissection. Tv drama is part of life passing by, out attention challenged by tv dinners, family fights and whatever else we happen to be doing at the time.

The fluffier the show, the more important the analysis is thorough. What are saying? How are they saying it? How does it make you feel? And how do the parts of the story relate to the whole universe? Grey’s Anatomy was the only show of the four I hadn’t followed when it aired, so I had to watch five and a half season during three weeks. It was sickening, literally, but the only way you can see what the repetitions and relations mean. To be able to say anyting important about a drama this extensive, you really have to know it intimately.

Cut to the chase
And yet: thorough analysis does not compute with the internet. And I’m willing to let that go, accepting that I’m the dinosaur, accepting my long train of thougt should probably be hacked into tasty morsels and quick  pay-off for easily distracted students.

But, then, that’s when thinking of the students, roaming around on the internet, able to combine my texts with the millions of facts and opinions of others.

Writing educational material, you have to keep the end-user – the student – in mind, while directing the text towards the gate-keeper, the teacher, even the most experimental of them restricted to four walls, 45 minutes and a hefty curriculum. This makes educational material a strange genre indeed. “Hello, dear teacher, here’s how you can make this exciting topic that the students are really interested in, fit into school’s incredible traditional framework”. With a topic  a bit ‘on the side’ of the curriculum (Norwegian students should ‘have a general knowledge of media texts’), you need to rely on the teacher’s own motivation to actually teach it in the first place.

Luckily, I had some teachers give me input in the process. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to solve the challenges above once and for all.The internet’s impact on teaching and the internet’s impact on learning are two different processes indeed. Strangely, the latter seems to be lightyears ahead, and the former the hardest to change.

Am I producing a teaching resource or a learning resource when I make educational material? Yes. And yes. And all I know is that it’s hard to do both at the same time.

Game. Art?

I’m not sure it’s the right question: Are games art?, forcing games to be the latest addition to the long list of expressions having to justify their existence by criteria established by a culture focused on *the work*, and to shy away from the moral pitfalls that television and video has stumbled upon in their turn.

Not that the games industry help matters, by stubbornly insisting that stories don’t matter. A fair point, but not entirely true.

Which is why I get excited when reading this interview with  Tom Bissell and why I promptly ordered his book, Extra Lives, why video games matter.

Again, one is tempted to underline that games matter if nothing else because they are the fastest growing form of popular culture, but Bissells argues that great gameplay and great stories can co-exist. And he elegantly undermines the roar of the dinasaur, Roger Ebert:

The question is not, “Are video games art?” The question is, “Can artists express themselves through the video-game medium?” […] there is little formal agreement about the best approach to assembling a video game. With movies, we pretty much know. You have like a set of editing, cinematographic and performing options. I think those options are just exponentially more numbered for video games right now.

Exactly. The tool box of people with great ideas just got bigger. Wouldn’t it be nice to teach film makers how to play around with them, in stead of playing turf wars?