sleeping alone and starting out early

an occasional blog on culture, education, new media, and the social revolution. soon to be moved from http://jennamcwilliams.blogspot.com.

Archive for the ‘television’ Category

ice cold hands taking hold of me: planning for the Supernatural season finale

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on May 7, 2010

Next Thursday, May 13, at 9:00 ET, the season finale of Supernatural will air. I cannot tell you how excited I am about this. I’ve spent a lot of time pretending like I don’t care about Supernatural, just in case they find out and decide to cancel it on me as they like to do every time they learn about something I love.

But this is one of the best shows on broadcast television right now, and what thrills me most of all is thinking about how much this show has evolved. In the early days, it really was a show about a pair of ghost-hunting brothers who chased supernatural beings around. It didn’t even appear to be particularly courageous in those early days. The first time Dean Winchester died, back in season 2, he asked the reaper who had come to claim him what death was like. “Oh no,” she said. “No spoilers.” You figure, yeah, nobody wants to touch that one.

I shake my head and laugh in disbelief at 2006 me who thought Supernatural would take the safe road. Since then, we’ve seen heaven. We’ve seen hell. We’ve seen angels and demons and we’ve learned God’s backstory.

And you guys, this isn’t even the neatest thing about Supernatural.

The neatest thing is the evolution of the relationship between the Winchester brothers. They really did have hopes and plans for their lives, and everything got railroaded by a series of events that were out of their control. They hate each other for it, and they love each other desperately. And they squabble, and they nag, and they fight the hounds of hell to save each other, and they act as if they understand each other perfectly, even if they can’t see each other clearly. It’s beautiful and tragic and true to the dysfunction of life.

I wish I could embed an example here, but CW, the channel that airs Supernatural, has found a way to keep most clipes unembeddable. Instead, I’ll show you three clips that I can embed here: The promo that aired before ths season began, featuring Ralph Stanley’s song “O Death,” followed by the trailer for the season finale, also featuring Ralph Stanley’s song. Then the last clip is a music video that aired at the end of an episode this season. I’m including it because it makes me happy.

And here’s the music video.

Posted in awesome, beauty, creativity, fannish, television | 1 Comment »

clinging to lampposts: a video remix project

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on April 14, 2010

A few weeks ago, as my colleague Christian Briggs and I were creating our poetry presentation for Ignite Bloomington, I got myself inspired by creating this remix project of some key figures in the literature and media studies movements.

Though I am not a constructionist, I do find that I can find great personal meaning by engaging with new technologies that allow me to work with, reflect on, and making public both wonderful and powerful ideas.

Here, I’m working with scraps of contemporary popular culture, which I’ve lined up in a way that I hope calls into question how we think about social movements, information circulation, and tools for communication.

Posted in creativity, culture, Doctor Who, literature, television, writing | Leave a Comment »

my mom gets on CNN

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on April 12, 2010

I recently published a post about my mom, Janet McWilliams, who has been fighting an excessively high water bill and has had a great deal of trouble getting local officials to respond to her attempts to communicate about the bill. After months of trying to communicate with township officials about her bill, she got tired of getting stonewalled and turned to local news media.

A letter to the editor of the local newspaper led to an article in the same newspaper, which led to a television interview with local news affiliate WDIV, which led to distribution across multiple national networks, including MSNBC and CNN. The video below ran on local stations, and clips from this video have been running on CNN’s Headline News for the last two days.

Despite the media attention, my mom hasn’t heard a thing from her local officials, who were also apparently contacted by the various media outlets and were not available for comment. I’ve also contacted several local and state officials about the issue and haven’t heard back. I’ll let you know if anyone does manage to get a response from those folks, but don’t hold your breath.

For now, enjoy my mom’s moment in the sun!

Posted in awesome, journalism, television | Leave a Comment »

@danieltosh really knows how to work a crowd

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on August 20, 2009

Regular readers of this blog know what a fan I am of comedian Daniel Tosh and his new show, Tosh.0. My love is simple and pure: The show culls the most humiliating moments from millions of online videos, and Tosh exercises the most exacting wit in elaborating on the humiliation.

Here’s something else Tosh does well: cultivating his twitter presence. He livetweets during his show each week, responding to viewer questions and proddings, and during and in between he uses twitter not like many celebrities do but exactly like normal people do.

Recently, he posted a twitpic of his summer haircut:

I’m fairly certain he’s making fun of twitpic users here, with the wood-paneled cabinets, the slightly tilted head, the direct, semi-flirty eye contact. But, see, he’s not just making fun of twitpic; he’s also using it with sincerity, for exactly the purpose god vested it with.

Here’s what his livetweets look like:

And here’s a sample of toshtweets during his off hours:

You guys, this is a comic who’s in full command of his medium. It’s a bonus for me that his medium happens to be the internet, of which I am a fairly big fan.

If you’re interested, the show’s on Thursday night at 10 PM Eastern Time on Comedy Central.

Posted in awesome, creativity, humor, television, Twitter | Leave a Comment »

blogging burns more calories than watching tv or sleeping

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on August 10, 2009

I recently went nearly completely offline for ten full days as I packed and moved from Boston to Indiana, having the unbelievable good fortune along the way to witness the first minutes in the life of my brand new niece, Morgan Brianna DeGeer. During this time, I only found the time and connectivity to publish two blog entries, post four tweets, and enter five Facebook status updates.

Being offline was hard but not impossible, thank god; I halfway expected to suffer from serious irritability and sudden fits of rage and sadness. What I missed most was my daily morning routine of waking up, reaching over to the passenger side of my bed, and grabbing hold of my laptop. This is a routine I’ll be glad to get back to.

And I’m not alone, according to a recent New York Times article that describes an increasingly typical A.M. routine:

This is morning in America in the Internet age. After six to eight hours of network deprivation — also known as sleep — people are increasingly waking up and lunging for cellphones and laptops, sometimes even before swinging their legs to the floor and tending to more biologically urgent activities.

Some people–including some interviewed for the NYTimes article–may decry this new trend as unnatural, antisocial, or unhealthy. I can’t speak for the experience of others, but for myself, I disagree with this analysis. (And here I risk being part of what another New York Times article calls a potentially problematic anti-print media “drumbeat.” “This drumbeat,” Michael Sokolove writes in the piece about the faltering of Philadelphia’s major newspapers,

a relentless declaration that print is doomed, may be a problem in and of itself, making it easy to cast anyone who wants to save print as a Luddite.)

Perhaps “lunging” for cellphones and laptops before emptying your bladder might be considered unhealthy, but only if you think of the lunging as on par with waking up and reaching for the TV remote. Watching television, after all, is the ultimate passive activity, burning a mere 68 calories an hour (to the 46 calories burned per hour of dead sleep). But for a lot of people, opening a laptop is practically the diametric opposite of turning on the tv: Instead of watching something someone else made, they get to make something for themselves and others, to build something new out of nearly endless buckets of clay that get replenished by the day, the hour, the minute.

In a previous career trajectory, I was a newly minted poet freshly emerged from an M.F.A. program. Most mornings, I woke up early, flipped open a notebook, and wrote. That activity seems to me now to be innately self-contained and self-absorbed, existing as it did in an intentional vacuum. I don’t know how many calories blogging burns per hour, but I know it generates both light and heat for me and, I hope, for other people who land here. It’s why I haven’t yet been swayed by accusations that blogging, tweeting, and working with social networks are a vain, self-centered and self-aggrandizing acts: When leveraged in the most interesting ways, these media platforms become not only the materials molded out of clay but the raw materials from which others may build their own designs.

Oh, and here’s a pic of my new niece. I swear she is exactly as gorgeous as this photo suggests.

Posted in blogging, creativity, Facebook, journalism, participatory culture, social media, television, Twitter | Leave a Comment »

luddites hate jetskis

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on July 18, 2009

Today my sister and I almost missed the opening scene of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince because she misread her watch. I don’t wear a watch, see, and she wears an old-fashioned analog wristwatch so it was her job to keep track of time.

As our timekeepers get increasingly digital, it appears, we have a tendency toward being less capable of quickly interpreting analog time markers. So at 1:00, she thought her watch said noon. She caught her error five minutes before the show was scheduled to start and thanks to our ability to bustle when required and theaters’ tendency to start movies much later than scheduled, we got there with enough spare time for me to get my popcorn and for my sister to settle her smuggled-in candy on her lap before the previews started rolling.

The argument that relying on technologies makes us dumber is not a new one; Plato kinda started it by opposing writing because he believed that it would

introduce forgetfulness into the soul of those who learn it: they will not practice using their memory because they will put their trust in writing, which is external and depends on signs that belong to others, instead of trying to remember from the inside, completely on their own. You have not discovered a potion for remembering, but for reminding; you provide your students with the appearance of wisdom, not with its reality. Your invention will enable them to hear many things without being properly taught, and they will imagine that they have came to know much while for the most part they will know nothing. And they will be difficult to get along with, since they will merely appear to be wise instead of really being so.

It was downhill from there, of course; and it may be that we hit bottom, at least in terms of networked technologies, with Nicholas Carr’s June/July 2008 Atlantic piece, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”

In considering the changes to his own orientation toward text (he’s less able to read lengthy articles or books; he gets fidgety when he tries to focus on one text for an extended period of time), he writes:

The advantages of having immediate access to such an incredibly rich store of information are many, and they’ve been widely described and duly applauded. “The perfect recall of silicon memory,” Wired’s Clive Thompson has written, “can be an enormous boon to thinking.” But that boon comes at a price. As the media theorist Marshall McLuhan pointed out in the 1960s, media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.

In fact, in drafting this post I zipped along the surface of multiple different texts, from Plato’s Phaedrus to Carr’s piece on Google to Jamais Cascio’s response piece in this month’s Atlantic, “Get Smarter.” (It argues that technologies and pharmacology can help boost our intelligence.) I may not know what swims beneath the surface of any of these pieces, but I am familiar enough with all of them to use my spare cognitive energy and time to craft a blogpost that links the three. And I did it by typing (without watching the keys) at a rate of approximately 100 words per minute. I employed some basic html code, some of which I know by heart and some of which I keep on an electronic clipboard. I was able to publish it immediately, to the delight or dismay or general apathy of my intended reading public. I could (and, if you’re reading this, probably did) direct traffic to this post via Twitter, Facebook, or any number of other blogs.

God knows I could have spent the time reading Plato’s Phaedrus in its entirety, and I’m not disputing that I would have been enriched by the experience. But you can’t argue that what I did with my time instead (synthesizing, devising an argument, increasing familiarity with html basics, crafting the argument with an intended public in mind, then circulating it among that intended audience) was not an enriching experience.

Back to the jet ski metaphor: Comedian and philosopher Daniel Tosh argues that it’s impossible not to be unhappy on a jetski. “You ever seen a sad person on a waverunner? Have you? Seriously, have you?…Try to frown on a waverunner.”

Watch the clip till the end. He talks about how people smile as they hit the pier–and they hit the pier because you’re supposed to hit the gas to turn–“it goes against natural instinct,” he says. Well, maybe at first, but once you get the hang of it, I imagine you learn how to use the gas in ways that keep you from hitting the pier. It’s just that most of us hit the pier once and once is enough: we stick to dry land, which is safer but far less fun.

Okay, I’ll confess: This entire post is really just a plug for Daniel Tosh’s amazing new show, Tosh.0. It airs Thursdays at 10:00 P.M. ET (9:00 Pacific) on Comedy Central, and it may be the funniest half-hour show I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Even so, it might get canceled because of low viewership. Please just give it a try. I guarantee you’ll laugh out loud at least once or your money back.

Tosh.0 Thurs, 10pm / 9c
Motorcycle Granny
www.comedycentral.com
Daniel Tosh Miss Teen South Carolina Demi Moore Picture

Posted in collective intelligence, creativity, culture, distributed cognition, humor, joy, movies, television, Twitter | Leave a Comment »

Tosh.0 is my favorite new show

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on June 28, 2009

Why? Because it has included a puke scene in every one of its first four episodes, that’s why.

In case you haven’t been following along on Comedy Central, Tosh.0 is a new show hosted by comedian Daniel Tosh. The main conceit is that Tosh introduces, and comments on, a series of viral videos.

It’s funnier than you think, even if you think the premise is a downright hoot. But you do have to kind of like watching people throwing up, people making idiots of themselves, and goats that sound like humans.

If you do, you also need to think it’s funny when comedians revel in the most humiliating aspects of the human attraction toward spectacle and performance.

If you do, you’ll agree with the Reuters review of Tosh.0 by Dan Carlson, who exclaims that

it succeeds on the strength of host Daniel Tosh, a talented stand-up comedian who isn’t above poking fun at the show’s premise even while gleefully introducing a fresh batch of clips. He’s self-deprecating and quick-witted enough to keep the action breezing right along.

Carlson writes, and I agree, that the best part of the show is the weekly “Web Redemption” segment, in which someone whose humiliation has gone viral gets a chance to come on the show for an opportunity to regain her or his dignity. Guests on this segment have so far included Afro Ninja, Miss South Carolina, the famous tumbling-table star of the video “Scarlett Takes a Tumble,” , and my personal favorite so far, Tyrone Davies, most recently known for his massive puke-puddle on a morning news show. Davies gets his shot at web redemption here:

Tosh.0 Thurs, 10pm / 9c
Web Redemption – Puke Guy
www.comedycentral.com
Daniel Tosh Miss Teen South Carolina Demi Moore Picture

Simple redemption’s not enough for Daniel Tosh, oh no. He has to take it one step farther and take on the “60 minute milk challenge”–drinking a full gallon of milk in under an hour, which everybody knows is physically impossible.

Puke News Kid Does Milk Gallon Challenge – watch more funny videos

Why do I love this show? Mainly because of Tosh himself, who takes such obvious delight in excoriating the self-humiliation drive. If you like his new show, you’ll love his recent stand-up movie, “Daniel Tosh: Completely Serious.” Here’s a teaser:

Posted in awesome, humor, joy, television | Leave a Comment »

just a cool commercial for you

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on June 11, 2009

I’ll go ahead and admit that I know next to nothing about Bing. I’m not going to lie: I actively resist learning about new Microsoft products. I’m an open sourcie all the way (which was why my underwhelmedment over the open source project Google Wave was so disappointing).

You don’t have to have any interest whatsoever in bing, though, to enjoy this commercial. You can just ride the wave and have fun.

Posted in Google, open source, television | 1 Comment »

and then some stuff happened: a technobiography

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on June 7, 2009

Hark ye yet again–the little lower layer. All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks.
–Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

When I started high school in 1991, so few people had email accounts that it’s likely I’d never even heard the term. When I graduated in 1995, I remember being amazed when a friend showed me what his AOL email account could do (what resonated most for me was that if the intended recipient had not yet opened an email, the sender could actually rescind it–unsend the email.) When I started college that fall, I got my own email account and checked it every few days at the single computer in the common room on my floor of the dorm.

Between 1991 and 1995, a massacre of 800,000 Tutsis in Rwanda, and the American government’s decision not to step in, revealed the sinister side of international diplomacy. Clarence Thomas was confirmed as the first African American U.S. Supreme Court Justice, despite (or because of) obscenely conservative views on race and culture and charges of sexual harassment by an employee, Anita Hill. The Anita Hill story broke on NPR first and quickly spread to television and newspapers, though the impetus wasn’t enough to prevent Thomas’s confirmation. Rodney King was beaten in L.A. Timothy McVeigh bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. America’s households were 98% populated with televisions.

I bought my first new computer–an enormous and slow HP Pavilion–in 2000 and connected it to the Internet via dial-up service. When 9/11 happened, I was on my Internet-wired computer at work and was unable to access CNN, the BBC, or any online news site because the Internet traffic crashed servers and overloaded the sites. I had to walk to a local cafe and watch the story unfolding on TV.

In 2001, I did not own–and had no reason to think I would ever own–a laptop computer, a cellphone, a high-definition television, or an mp3 player. Indeed, when I started graduate school in 2002 I was still of the mindset that I would refuse to own a cellphone, at least, for the rest of my life.

“Phones are for my convenience, not other people’s,” I argued, ludditely. “These young people are stuck to their cellphones and I don’t want that to be me.”

In 2003 I went to a counter-protest to commemorate the five year anniversary of the beating death of Matthew Shepard. Fred Phelps and his horde were bringing their signs and sliminess to a University of Wyoming-Colorado State football game, and counterprotesters numbered in the hundreds.

In the first half of 2004 Massachusetts legalized gay marriage. In the second half, George W. Bush beat John Kerry at the polls.

Meanwhile, there were some wars on. We didn’t get as much information as we wanted, but we got enough to know something obscene was happening. A lot of what we learned, despite the Bush administration’s attempt to control information flow, was made available–and then replicable and spreadable and searchable–via the Internet.

In 2005 I got my first laptop, a Dell with wireless capability. I played a lot of Bejeweled on it, and I also used it, when the adjunct instructor thing got too exhausting, to look for a new job. I used it to apply for more than 50 high school teaching positions (nobody wanted me) and half a dozen jobs in higher education.

In 2007 I started working at MIT and very quickly, and in this order, secured the following:

  • a MacBook Pro
  • a Facebook account
  • a cellphone
  • cable TV
  • a twitter account
  • a blog

Somewhere along the way, I came to embrace the participatory practices and cultures enabled by new media technologies and social tools. For me, the news of the last four years is the news of my embrace of the new mindsets and skillsets afforded by new technologies and increasingly valued by our culture at large. (It’s possible, in fact, that culture and I were always ready to embrace these new valued practices, but we were waiting for the technologies to emerge that would enable them.)

In 2008 Barack Obama was elected to the U.S. Presidency. Between 2005 and 2009 a cluster of states legalized gay marriage or some variation thereof, and a cluster of states banned or overturned these laws. The debates over abortion, evolution, and what to teach our kids, and how, continue just as before, at least in content. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue, though access to information about the details of these conflicts has increased. Twitter is big now, in the sense that while not everyone is using it, lots of people care about what’s going on within and as a result of it. Email, not so much–in the sense that while everyone is using it, nobody cares too much about it anymore. Journalism as we’ve traditionally thought of it is in significant crisis; the handwringing over the future of newspapers happens even on Twitter. President Obama has nominated a Latina judge, Sonia Sotomayor, to the U.S. Supreme Court, and she appears to stand on the liberal side of most things.

The story of cultural history is something like this:

“…and then some stuff happened, and we used what we had at our disposal to try to make sense of it.”

The same stuff is happening–at least in the sense that the same topics are still being discussed–but the tools we have to make sense of it are so new, so different from what we’ve ever had, that the only real purpose of comparing the historical iterations of the “stuff” is to highlight how different the social architecture of this world is from that of any version that came before it.

Somewhere in there, in what is perhaps the most telling detail of both my story and our culture’s, I decided to stop capitalizing the word “internet.”

Posted in culture, gay rights, human rights, journalism, MIT, Moby-Dick, new media, participatory culture, President Obama, social justice, television, Twitter | 1 Comment »