Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Summer Television: MI-5
I haven't watched much television this summer-- due to a generally busy time and teaching an evening course, but also due to the overall lack of anything worthwhile to watch. One new show that I have been enjoying, however, is the British spy series currently airing on A&E, MI-5.

I tuned into it last week vaguely intrigued at best and found that it's actually quite clever (and not just in a: things said with a British accent sometimes just sound more clever kind of a way). It's certainly much grittier than, say, "Alias" (which I also enjoy, but in a totally different way). It also embeds the actions of its heroes in a somehwat cynical even perhaps critical take on the government they work for-- in a way that we'd never see on "Alias," "24," or certainly the dreadful "The Agency." There have been a few off moments so far-- an overly cutesy twist at the end of the first episode, in particular. And I'm still trying to work out what I think about the characters, most of whom have only been rather thinly drawn at this point (but seem to have potential).

So, I recommend it, if you're looking for something to watch. I should warn, though, that my standards are possibly a little low right now because it's been soooo long since I've found a new show that I like and with two of my favorites getting canceled last year (Buffy and Farscape) and with abandoning some other shows last season (West Wing most notably) I've been looking for something to fill those slots. Or else I'd have to do something dreadful like, you know, write my dissertation . . .

Thursday, July 24, 2003

Star Trek: Enterprise- Can it be fixed? Last season the ratings for Star Trek continued to decline-- but they're still trying to "fix" it. I wonder, though if it is fixable at this point. I'm a bit skeptical, to say the least.

The current plan, discussed in this San Jose Mercury article, is to have a military/action oriented season, focused on one mission/war. As someone who tends to be drawn to serial based television, I find this intriguing. If the story arc is actually carefully planned out and they're not just winging it as they go it could allow for some new stors of stories, for ST. This tendency was one of the things that I tended to enjoy most about DS9.

But as someone who's also generally drawn to very character-based television writing, this doesn't bode well for what I'd like to see. I watched "Enterprise" half-heartedly its first season, and pretty much gave up on it over the second season (who would have imagined that I'd just stop watching a new ST series?). I have caught some of the second season this summer, though, during this re-run time. "Enterprise" has many problems-- a feeling of "been there, done that" and lack of freshness in the storytelling, a loss of the sense of speculation or exploration or even science fiction, but also most of the characters are (to me) duller than dirt. I just can't care about any of them and there seems to have been close to no intersting development of most of these characters since teh show's debut. So, going this more action-packed route doesn't to me seem to be addressing the key problems. However, I'm also presumably not a member of the young male demographic that they keep trying to get, so . . .

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

House passes bill rolling back some of the recent FCC dereg
And it passed by a pretty impressive number. This bill only rolls back some of the recent round of deregulation (the raising of the 35% cap), not the tv/newspaper cross-ownership among other things. And there's a veto threat (although the current numbers are way over 2/3). But still, a little good news. Reuters article

Monday, July 14, 2003

Growing Awareness about Media Deregulation, etc.
For the last couple of years I've been teaching a sociology course on mass comm, which I've entitled Media/Culture/Power. Each quarter, I begin the course with a focus on the overall structure of the media industries in terms of horizontal/vertical integration, conglomeration, effects of deregulation, etc. At the beginning of this current summer quarter, while getting this lecture ready again, I was thinking about what's changed since the last time I taught the course.

In one sense, things on this front have become much more depressing in the year since I last taught this class, with the June 2 FCC deregulation. However, at the same time, things have become much more exciting, with the growing activism around this issue. I certainly didn't imagine 1 year ago that there would be anywhere near the kind of organized outcry against the deregulation that we saw in the weeks running up to the June 2nd ruling (even more surprising and heartening is how this has translated into movement in the House/Senate, although it's not quite clear how that's all going to shake out, ultimately).

A recent Pew study demonstrates that these ideas may be spreading a bit beyond activists to a wider community as well, which is exciting. When people learn about the rules, they don't support them. Of course, we still have a long way to go to get enough people to know about these rules-- but more people report being aware of this than I would have guessed.

"Public awareness of the new media ownership rules, which are currently being challenged in Congress, has grown significantly. Nearly half of Americans (48%) say they have heard a lot (12%) or a little (36%) about the issue. In February, only about a quarter of the public (26%) knew even a little about the plan.

People who are most familiar with the FCC plan have an overwhelmingly negative opinion of it. By roughly ten-to-one (70%-6%), those who have heard a lot about the rules change say its impact will be negative, not positive."
Now, the same survey finds more Americans tuning into Fox News and a 2-1 ratio of those who suspect a liberal rather than conservative bias in the news media. But, I guess I'm in a glass half full mood this morning and choose to focus on the more upbeat side.
AP/Yahoo summary: Public More Wary of Media Ownership Rules; Summary of Findings from Pew; via Poynter Convergence Chaser

Sunday, July 13, 2003

Film theory's hard; it must be bad!
Today's LA. Times magazine has an article about the film studies department here at UCSB, Lights, Camera, Action. Marxism, Semiotics, Narratology.. It's quite a rant. Much of it is a diatribe against the use of jargon and any kind of theory connected to France. Anything involving big words is treated as laughable, at best, apparently. Theory itself seems to be rather suspect. And the fact that the author's daughter received a C in her film theory course is apparently the driving force behind this whole article.

Now, I won't say that I never find film studies and film theory to be a bit frustrating. There are moments when I do find some of the jargon to be tedious and there are definitely moments when I want them to ground more of their theories in some kind of systematic observation. (While I'm so often alienated from much of the work in my own discipline, I often find myself wanting people in other disciplines to be more sociological! It's probably not fair of me, but there you are . . .).

But, I was quite disappointed in this article, it's snide and dismissive tone, and the knee-jerk anti-theory, anti-intellectualism.

Roger Ebert, a critic who I tend to enjoy, had this to day in the article:
"Film theory has nothing to do with film. Students presumably hope to find out something about film, and all they will find out is an occult and arcane language designed only for the purpose of excluding those who have not mastered it and giving academic rewards to those who have. No one with any literacy, taste or intelligence would want to teach these courses, so the bona fide definition of people teaching them are people who are incapable of teaching anything else."

"No one with any literacy, taste or intelligence?" That certainly doesn't describe the very smart, and actually quite grounded, professors that I know in the film department.

Crooked Timber
Getting caught up on some blog reading, I started reading the new-ish blog, Crooked Timber and I can tell that it's going to be regular reading for me. It looks to have a very interesting mix of posters/editors and topics covered. Part academic, part politics, part random musings. Exactly my cup of tea. Who knows, maybe some day I'll get more than 2 readers to my own blog and end up in their blog roll. The sociology sublist is quite pathetically small. (The patheticness reflecting the relative absence of blogging sociologists, not anything about their selection procedures).

Saturday, July 12, 2003

Rock 101
In this month's The New Yorker there's an article about a recent academic conference on popular music. Now, I freely admit my total blindspot when it comes to music. Unlike with many other forms of media culture, I'm almost totally lacking in cultural capital (including pop-cultural capital) when it comes to music-- either just as a fan or as a scholar or anything in between. But, I'm always interested to see how cultural studies, cultural sociology, etc. get seen/interpreted in the wider world, so I found the article intriguing on that ground. There are perhaps a few dismissive comments that are a little too easy strewn about in the article, but overall it's not bad. (Though perhaps someone with greater investment in this particular area may disagree). The New Yorker: Rock 101

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

Gaming as a social activity; and hey, women game too!
There's a new study out from the Pew Internet Project about gaming and college students. Findings include understanding computer gaming as a social activity, connected to building friendships, etc. This reflects my experience with gaming-- especially when I was in college--which was always explicitly social. I played computer games with people (actual, physical people there in the flesh).

There was an interesting finding on the gender front: Women play games. That of course didn't surprise me and I was glad to see it. More surprising, though: more women than men reported playing online or computer games! However, the women were more likely to be playing things like solitaire, etc., rather than the sorts of things that usually pop to my mind when I think of gaming (RPGs, action, strategy, etc.) which makes this finding less surprisng than it intially seemed.

BBC article Pew Report Summary

Monday, July 07, 2003

NPR station goes Clear Channel??
Okay, so I didn't think that I was particularly naive about public radio and NPR's status as corporate/commercially funded radio these days. But this article in the LA Times, KUSC sees no evil in alliance (free reg required), managed to surprise me.

In a move skeptics might call a deal with the devil, but those involved see as a match made in heaven, public radio station KUSC today is announcing a partnership with the nation's largest radio company, Clear Channel Communications.

I sympathize, of course, with their money woes. But outsourcing to Clear Channel of all possible sources?

If we can stand one more post about the FCC ruling . . .

The official version of the new media ownership rules from the 6/2 FCC deregulation are now available online at the FCC website. (word file). I haven't had time to do much more than glance at them yet-- but the justifications used for this ruling are a bit nauseating. I particularly enjoyed the sections that basically said: "We received half a million comments opposed to this decision. Here's why we just don't care . . . " This also caught my eye:

A generation ago, only science fiction writers dreamed of satellite-delivered television, cable was little more than a means of delivering broadcast signals to remote locations, and the seeds of the Internet were just being planted in a Department of Defense project. Today, hundreds of channels of video programming are available in every market in the country and, via the Internet, Americans can access virtually any information, anywhere, on any topic.

I hate to see two things I love-- science fiction and the Internet-- being used to justify this sort of action. The Internet has enabled many amazing things. It does not, however, mean that we have no need to worry about the access to broadcasting. And if we're going to be drawing some sort of parallels between the current mediascape and sf predictions, I think it's more from the dystopic tradition that we should be drawing.

On a related note, Bob McChesney's group at is encouraging everyone to call thier congresspeople to repeal this FCC ruling. Click here to find out if your representatives have gotten on board yet. In CA, Boxer is a cosponsor, Feinstein is not (nor is my House Rep, Lois Capps).