Elsewhere, February 4, 2011

Star Trek: TNG Crew
The crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC-1701-D

I have a lot of fondness for Star Trek: The Next Generation but even so, I agree with nearly every single one of these ten things to hate about the series. For example:

By the 24th Century, interpersonal conflict was a thing of the past in Gene Rodenberry’s mind… which makes for some appallingly dull viewing, when all of the regular cast is just one big happy family, getting along except for when one or more of them gets possessed by some alien that, more likely than not, was just looking for understanding all along. TNG is an amazingly therapist-friendly show, refusing to cast blame in almost any direction, which probably would make for a utopian society in which to live, but not one to set a drama in.

Supposedly, Roddenberry forbade the show’s writers from giving any of the characters any significant flaws or failings. However, flaws and failings are at the heart of good drama. Which is why series like Firefly and the Battlestar Galactica remake are far more interesting and rewarding.

Michael Chabon recently finished up a gig blogging for Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic, and offers up this interesting comparison of novelist time and blogger time:

Novelist time is reptile time; novelists tend to be ruminant and brooding, nursers of ancient grievances, second-guessers, Tuesday afternoon quarterbacks, retrospectators, endlessly, like slumping hitters, studying the film of their old whiffs. You find novelists going over and over the same ground in their novels… configuring and reconfiguring the same little set of preoccupations, haunted by missed opportunities. That may be because getting a novel written, or a bunch of novels, means that you are going to miss a lot of opportunities, and so missing them is something you have to be not only willing but also equipped by genes and temperament to do. Blogging, I think, is largely about seizing opportunities, about pouncing, about grabbing hold of hours, events, days and nights as they are happening, sizing them up and putting them into play with language, like a juggler catching and working into his flow whatever the audience has in its pockets.

I’d like to think that the optimal location is somewhere in-between the two. The immediacy of blogging is certainly a great blessing, but it can also be a curse, resulting in content that’s of less-than-passing interest even only after a few days. I’d like to be posting content that will be of interest and value months and even years down the road.

My Filmwell colleague Alissa Wilkinson has written an outstanding and thoughtful review of Nancy Pearcey’s latest, Saving Leonardo:

This is precisely what made me so uncomfortable as I read the book: the feeling that in so emphatically stating the truth, Pearcey was leaving little room for thoughtful disagreement or the knowledge that those who hold different views are often incredibly intelligent, compassionate, thoughtful people who care about the world and desire to lead significant lives. They are not simply misled away from a Christian worldview by secular ideas. They are not stupid, or insufficient. And I am not more intelligent or worthy than they are because of the way I look at the world.

Instead, for many in the “secular” world, the church has simply failed to show them a picture of a good life, a good society, that they see as worth their time. While Pearcey mentions this, she spends too much time on pointing out wrong ideas and too little time observing that the church’s embodiment of the Bible’s teachings has been insufficient.

Ironically, this imbalance between ideas and embodiment in Saving Leonardo may even constitute its own fact/value split. I’m sure that Pearcey knows and recognizes this danger, but the book’s presentation may subtly undermine its pleas for compassion and self-examination — especially among a less discerning audience.

As someone who spends a lot of time generating online content, the news that Google has recently updated its algorithms to make life harder for spammers and so-called “content farms” is welcome news indeed.

In a move that internet content creators have been dreaming about for years, web search giant Google has moved to crack down on spammy and derivative content that has been largely copied from other sources on the web and which somehow manages to bubble higher in results than the original.

Anyone who’s ever written a word on the internet and seen it ripped off and posted elsewhere will appreciate this move.

On the other hand, companies who traffic in low-quality content in the hope that by littering the internet with search-driven mediocrity they’ll generate enough advertising revenue to be a going concern, should be concerned.

Matt Cutts has more on Google’s algorithm changes:

As “pure webspam” has decreased over time, attention has shifted instead to “content farms,” which are sites with shallow or low-quality content. In 2010, we launched two major algorithmic changes focused on low-quality sites. Nonetheless, we hear the feedback from the web loud and clear: people are asking for even stronger action on content farms and sites that consist primarily of spammy or low-quality content. We take pride in Google search and strive to make each and every search perfect. The fact is that we’re not perfect, and combined with users’ skyrocketing expectations of Google, these imperfections get magnified in perception. However, we can and should do better.

And finally, from the world of Google, the search engine giant claims that they have evidence that Microsft’s Bing is copying their search results:

Google has run a sting operation that it says proves Bing has been watching what people search for on Google, the sites they select from Google’s results, then uses that information to improve Bing’s own search listings. Bing doesn’t deny this.

As a result of the apparent monitoring, Bing’s relevancy is potentially improving (or getting worse) on the back of Google’s own work. Google likens it to the digital equivalent of Bing leaning over during an exam and copying off of Google’s test.

Not surprisingly, Microsoft has denied any wrongdoing.

My wife and I were regular users of Hulu, primarily so that we could watch network television programming (we ditched our cable television earlier last year). Over time, we’ve noticed a gradual degradation in Hulu’s service, e.g., episodes taking longer and longer to appear on Hulu’s site. And it doesn’t look like anything is going to change for the better any time soon, as TV executives appear to be losing confidence in Hulu’s value:

So Hulu’s in trouble. But is becoming a live television portal online really the answer? Of course not. Whatever allure watching television live had — with the exception of sports and certain “event programs” — died out with the advent of DVR. It’s also hard to see how video on demand would be a compelling offering to a generation weaned on iTunes, Amazon On Demand, and their cable providers.

Companies and products usually evolve to meet the demands of their users. Hulu, though, is like a bonzai tree that the networks keep trimming until there’s nothing left but stump. What started as a way to keep YouTube from yanking all that ad revenue has outlived its purpose for the people writing the checks. And turning it into another cable provider will be the best way to kill it off entirely.

Jeffrey Overstreet continues to track the ongoing lies and distortions from Movieguide. It’s unfortunate that Ted Baehr et al. are seen by the mainstream media as a prominent Christian perspective when it comes to film.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I received yet another in a series of testimonials for former employees of Movieguide. Their former employees keep lining up to talk about Movieguide’s unethical practices, and the distorted information that is “reported to the industry” by Ted Baehr.

I really, really wish the proposed 3D remake of John Woo’s The Killer wouldn’t happen. Not even John Woo’s blessing can save this idea. If you don’t have Chow Yun-Fat, it’s not The Killer, simple as that.

Essential Entertainment will be repping the film at the European Film Market next month in Berlin, as they will be looking for buyers worldwide. We would imagine that if interest is low, it won’t get off the ground but considering the bunch of relative unknowns attached, the budget on this is likely going to be small. And with Woo giving the project his blessing (and receiving producer’s credit) we could see it getting the financing that will get it off the ground. We think this is a fairly dumb idea — hell, we’d rather Woo just post-convert “The Killer” into 3D rather than remake it in what will most likely be an inferior version. How do you replace Chow Yun-Fat? Answer: you don’t.

The Super Bowl is right around the corner, and that means new ads. However, one ad you won’t see is a Doritos ad that recreates Communion with chips and pop, and The Other Journal explores its significance:

In the ad, Feed the Flock, a production company Media Wave Productions, portray an ailing parish with mounting bills and declining numbers. To remedy the situation, the pastor prays and receives the auditory sign of chips crunching and a pop bottle opening. Being so enlightened he begins offering Doritos and Pepsi Max in a ritualistic meal. Some have claimed that there are subtle clues that this meal is not Holy Communion, but this commercial is meant for the Super Bowl. Subtlety is not what most people are expecting. Understandably many were upset. Most of the voices were Roman Catholic, but Anglicans, Lutherans and others could easily have voiced their protest. At any rate the protest was significant enough to pull the ad from the competition. It will not be aired. This move is not surprising.

What is interesting about the whole situation is that this ad is a reversal of the typical Christ-culture debate. There are plenty of ways that the Church, in its very broad sense of many traditions, has engaged culture, using the tools and means available so that culture is in many ways embraced. Every tradition has ways that it engages and uses culture. But here, in an attempt to peddle its wares, the culture has embraced Christ, or at least the Church. Sort of.

Christ and Pop Culture’s very own David Dunham recently acquired an Xbox 360, and has found the importance of stories in video games:

…taking time to consider carefully what games I play has brought me to consider carefully a host of related issues. I can’t play Dante’s Inferno and feel comfortable with the images and the actions the game calls me to take (like, for example, killing deformed babies). I love acting as Batman and rescuing Arkham Asylum. And I feel the eeriness of Bioshock along with its characters. These stories make me ask questions about parenting, about redemption, second chances, oppression, heroism, and a host of other ideas that I dont’ take enough time to consider in my day-to-day comings and goings. It’s not that gaming itself has done this for me. It is the compelling story lines and gameplay, much of which has changed the face of gaming.

Andy Whitman dives into the world of Allo Darlin, Talulah Gosh, Tender Trap, Heavenly, and other “twee” artists:

Other than a few recent albums I’ve had to review, I’ve been blissfully unaware of newly released music for the past few months. That’s because I’ve been caught up in exploring the musical genre that goes by the unfortunate name of Twee. The dictionary defines the term as “affectedly or excessively dainty, delicate, cute, or quaint.” Yep, it is that. Supremely catchy, too.


The truth is, I had already been sorta signed up for a while. The best-known exponents of the genre – UK and Scandinavian dweebs Belle and Sebastian, Camera Obscura, Kings of Convenience, and The Clientele – were already well known to me. They were bookish, a little shy and socially awkward, and supremely melodic, traits that serve bookish music fans perfectly well. But I had never really explored the genre in depth.

Elsewhere: A collection of interesting links and articles that I’ve come across in the last week or so. Follow me on Twitter for more of the same.

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