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Good Old-Fashioned Wholesome Fun With Search Engine Terms #8

December 20, 2013 Leave a comment

Back by total lack of demand, it’s nobody’s favourite search engine term aggregation mockery post! Picked out ten good ones this time for your conspicuous dearth of enjoyment.

why does walter in the big lebowski like structure so much

Because the world’s gone crazy and he’s the only one around here who gives a shit about the rules?

did allen iverson use physical prowess

That is a subtly important element of success in athletic competition, I would say.

norway bitches

The new Jay-Z/Kanye West single, built on a fiendishly catchy hardanger fiddle sample.

who in arcade fire is a mormon

I tells ya, that Donny Osmond is everywhere.

what farm in bob caygeon did tragically hip played

This one neither dispels the persistent stereotype of Hip fans as barely-literate hoser proles nor the lingering belief that the band’s famous ballad is actually about a guy named Bob Caygeon in whose body astronomical cohesion is achievable.

film about a psychopath killer meeting a girl at a bar and having a one night stand at her apartment singing “daisy i think i’m crazy”

Good pitch, friend. Did New Line Cinema option it?

will there be a second lone ranger movie

I’m not certain that you fully appreciate how these things function, friend.

meth prices how many seasons in breaking bad

I think he/she snuck in everything after the first two words just to throw off the cops.

ideological home of hockey

*whistle* That’ll be five minutes in the box for unsportsmanlike psychoanalytic deconstruction!

cloning rosslangager

I think one is enough, honestly. Maybe more than enough.

The People vs. George Lucas: Centralized Creative Control and Collective Cultural “Ownership”

November 25, 2013 3 comments

In the annals of fandom, there are Star Wars nerds and there is everyone else, in diminishing scope of impact and importance. The object of their impassioned mixed affection and frustration is more commercially successful and culturally penetrating than Star Trek, The Lord of the Rings, Doctor Who, Alien, James Bond, or any other major film-based subculture. Even the deeply-rooted superhero comics milieu that pre-dates all geek film properties doesn’t quite measure up to Star Wars geek culture.

Since it inspires such focused devotion from its acolytes, the creative influence of George Lucas’s original space-fantasy trilogy is also unparalleled in contemporary American culture, sparking not only homemade internet creations like Troops or Star Wars Gangsta Rap or the brilliant Star Wars Uncut project (about which more in a moment) but also corporate-funded products from the likes of artists as diverse as Kevin Smith, Seth McFarlane, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, and J.J. Abrams (whose longtime open fandom finally got him the dream gig of directing the new Star Wars sequel trilogy for Disney beginning in 2015).

But the fandom is not uniformly of the positive variety. Indeed, as is pointed out in an insightful soundbite in the course of Alexandre O. Philippe’s comprehensive documentary examination of the Star Wars fanbase’s alternately worshipful and spiteful relationship to the universe’s steward Lucas, it is often a badge of honour for fans of a certain product to be able to prove the intensity of their devotion to that product by openly hating it. Star Wars fandom is nothing if not consensus-based; once an opinion gains intertia among the base, it’s nigh-on impossible to keep it from becoming almost universally accepted.

This would seem to be an appropriate tendency considering the nature of the core formative experience of Star Wars fans. As profound as the shared experience of the original trilogy is for fans who first saw it as children, they all basically experienced it in the same way. Every film is ideally open to audience interpretation, but the notable thing about Star Wars as a cultural phenomenon is the lack of variance of interpretation among its legion of fans. They tend to love the same things about Lucas’ creation, and so they mostly hate the same things about it as well.

The consensus opinion can be summed up thusly: the first Star Wars film in 1977 (now referred to as Episode IV: A New Hope) was a revelatory experience to those who saw it in theatres (especially if they were young boys), the rest of the so-called “original trilogy” (comprising Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back and Episode VI: Return of the Jedi) satisfactorily completed the saga (to some extent), and fans filled the void left by the absence of further sequels by purchasing mountains of official merchandise. With accelerating advances in computer-generated imagery, Lucas elected to first re-release “special editions” of the existing films with re-mastered sound and image and a series of CG additions (which did not always go over well) and then to return to the Star Wars universe he created and profited from with a prequel trilogy, beginning with Episode I: The Phantom Menace in 1999. Greatly anticipated by longtime Star Wars fans, the prequels were critically panned and savaged by the Original Trilogy generation for dozens of egregious missteps at the least and for violating their childhood dreams at worst. Though they did get better and it’s possible that children might have enjoyed them, the prequels were a forceful end of innocence for older Star Wars fans, a rupture of the charmed relationship between the universe’s creator and his cohort of lifelong devotees.

The People vs. George Lucas, despite fandom’s will to consensus and the film’s courtroom-ish title, does not cling to a single perspective or argument concerning the sometimes antagonistic trajectories that fans and creator take to Star Wars. Just because most fans of Star Wars have the same basic experience with the films (the ones they liked and the ones they didn’t), that doesn’t mean that they cope with that experience similarly. Not every fan goes the “George Lucas raped my childhood” route, although that deplorable catchphrase is mentioned, along with other similarly-pitched analogies to child and domestic abuse that betray the callous insensitivity of a largely homosocial fanbase. Just as much blame is apportioned to fan expectations and to the passage of time, and there are appearances by relative apologists for Lucas’s errors, or at least by devil’s advocates who agree that he blew it but don’t agree that he owes the fans a pound of flesh for doing so.

But George Lucas does absorb some shots. It wouldn’t be an accurate portrait of this ongoing relationship if he didn’t. The usual complaints are dutifully dragged out and discussed, scanning like an accounting of artistic atrocities for Star Wars geeks and like an indecipherable code to the uninitiated: Greedo Shoots First, the Star Wars Christmas special, midichlorians, Vader’s “Nooooo!” at the end of Revenge of the Sith, and, of course, Jar Jar Binks. Theories are offered for the turning of the space worm, most convincingly Lucas’s insistence on total creative control over his work after his pre-Star Wars run-ins with interfering Hollywood studios, which has led to a creative isolation that has left him out of touch with not only the expectations and tastes of his fans but of the larger culture as well.

The most interesting aspect of the love-hate conflict, as I have examined in the past, is the question of ownership of Star Wars as a cultural object, as a cinematic mythos, and what Lucas’s additions and alterations to the popular text jive with fandom’s engagement with and understanding of it. Legal copyright dictates that Star Wars belongs to Lucas (or, now, to Disney; the documentary feels incomplete with the subsequent sale of rights and the promise of new Star Wars films constantly in one’s head). He may do with it as he pleases, even if what he does changes the terms of his fans’ emotional investment in the product, not to mention its constructed meanings.

The fans do have a voice, though, a role in the continued construction of the Star Wars myth. The documentary is quite enjoyable as a flood of (sometimes witty, sometimes just petulant) opinions on the ins and outs of that myth; the section detailing the elation and then deflation that characterized the fan reception of The Phantom Menace says nearly all that needs be said about that painful turning point in the fandom’s history (it doesn’t say nearly enough about the film’s old-fashioned and offensive racial stereotyping, I think, but judge for yourself; video is below). But The People vs. George Lucas is at its best when it shines its spotlight on the participatory culture of Star Wars fandom, typified most clearly by the deluge of internet videos expanding, critiquing, and parodying the canonical material. The aforementioned Star Wars Uncut is the most consistently employed example, particularly being utilized by Philippe to fill visual gaps left by the expensive-to-license clips from the Star Wars films.

The Uncut project, if you’re unfamiliar, is the brainchild of Casey Pugh, who split A New Hope into 473 15-second segments and put out a call for fans from around the world to craft and submit the scenes to be cut into a fan-made version of the film. It’s remix culture at its simplest, its most surprising, and its most epic. Uncut has everything from amateur camcorder video shot in garages and backyards to sophisticated animation sequences to scenes recreated using cats, alcohol bottles, paper bags, and ferrets as “actors”. It’s a supreme collaborative act of defamiliarization, alternately endearing, impressive, hilarious, and surreal. Nearly everyone with even one eye on pop culture knows A New Hope quite well, yet in this version you never know precisely what’s coming next. And if a certain segment doesn’t work for you, you’re mere seconds from the start (and the end) of the next. It shares A New Hope‘s expert construction and approximates its fresh-eyed creativity as well as anything under the title of Star Wars can, at this juncture, be expected to.

Now, of course, we can expect to come at Star Wars with something resembling fresh eyes again, thanks to J.J. Abrams, Disney, and George Lucas’s not inconsiderable greed. As was tangentially mentioned, The People vs. George Lucas might be comprehensive in its examination of three decades of fraught fandom and shifting cultural profiles, but it was completed before the most recent twist in the tale, which casts many of the theories presented about Lucas’s perspective and his relationship to his intergalactic creation in a very different light, if it doesn’t contradict them entirely. Involved in the new films as a creative consultant only, Lucas has nonetheless claimed to exercise guru-like control over the boundaries of his universe, telling the filmmakers that his creation spawned what they can and can’t do and still hold a claim to Star Wars. Even as his world-famous cinematic invention passes largely out of his hands, Lucas won’t entirely relinquish his grip on it. It’s obvious that the opinionated Star Wars geeks of The People vs. George Lucas would nod knowingly at this latest development. Just George being George, after all.

Categories: Culture, Film, Internet, Reviews

@Sidslang’s Best of Twitter #7

October 2, 2013 1 comment

@AccidentalP

Twitter accounts that aggregate based on themes are an underappreciated feature of the platform’s creative landscape. Usually the domain of programmed bots (Red Scare Bot is a good one, a parodic McCarthyite that leaps on any use of the words “socialism” or “communism”), there are nonetheless occasional curated accounts draw on existing tweets in order to construct some sort of running satiric commentary on one or more of Twitter’s multitude of parallel discourses.

This brings us to @AccidentalP, which searches Twitter and beyond (with some recommendations, suggestions, and frequent photo submissions from faithful followers) for discursive instances that suggest, in even the subtlest way, the predilections of Steve Coogan’s popular farcical English broadcaster, Alan Partridge. The focus of several television series and movies (including the recent Alpha Papa), Coogan’s Partridge is a cluelessly unctuous TV and radio personality (strongly suggesting the BBC’s legendarily sycophantic Terry Wogan) from Norfolk with plastered-on hair and smile. Although the Partridge character is largely an unknown quantity on this side of the Atlantic, it has proven resilient in its appeal in Britain, where the multi-talented Coogan has struggled to escape its shadow.

 Possessed of a dimly-justified confidence in his own interestingness and in the value of his blandly middle-of-the-road on-air opinions and observations, Partridge’s endurance as a comedic character likely has much to do with the consistent applicability of this persistent satirical model to changing cultural circumstances. @AccidentalP collects and retweets examples of this species of rhetoric, accompanied by the #AccidentalPartidge hashtag (or, more succintly, #AP, when limited character counts are of the essence). To be Accidental Partridged is to be implicitly criticized for indulging in insipid mainstream recirculation of clichés and lazy tropes that rise (or sink) to a comedic nature. Examples can be based on any aspect of everyday life, but those emphasizing any traditional descriptor of prototypical, square Britishness are particular favourites.

Though the account is not officially affiliated with the Partridge character, being selected for @AccidentalP retweets constitutes a fan-maintained continuation of the ongoing satiric project of Coogan’s iconic creation. This sort of interaction online between an entertainment product and its collaborative fanbase is always of some critical interest, particularly when the result is as consistently sharp and funny as @AccidentalP manages to be.

Representative Tweet:

Categories: Hilarity, Internet, Television

Good Old-Fashioned Wholesome Fun With Search Engine Terms #7

September 19, 2013 Leave a comment

Time for more headscratchers from the realm of search engine entries that directed websurfers to this blogspace. Done it before, will do it again. Go with eleven terms this time. Have at it.

bear man detective

I’m picturing a series of hardboiled detective novels featuring a grizzled grizzly gumshoe who solves crimes and mysteries entirely by catching salmon, rifling through garbage, and mauling anyone who crosses its path. So, basically, Maltese Falcon-era Humphrey Bogart only 8 feet tall and covered in fur. Kind of like this (a print by Portland artist Ryan Berkley):grizzly-bear-ryan-berkleyAmazing.

was trayvon martin good grades

The implication of this search is just too rich, especially with the crap grammar. But I can’t enjoy it all that much because an unarmed kid was shot dead by a pocket fascist who then walked. So.

rabid oxfordians

They do occasionally foam at the mouth during debates, but that might simply be due to retainers and/or lacklustre NHS dental care.

cancel us election during war

America is already permanently at war, guys. If Bush and Cheney didn’t find a way to cancel democracy, I doubt anyone will.

belgium shithole

From my own experience it is not a shithole, but I can make no definitive claim either way about the Walloon region, so let’s not be too categorical in contradicting the statement.

what party belongs of allpresidentof america

Beg pardon? Was your English teacher a charter member of the Tea Party, perchance?

blasphemous david beckham

I know he played for Manchester United and Real Madrid and that’s a middle finger to goodness and the righteous path, but cut the dude some slack, man.

what’s pedantic in brave new world

Wouldn’t answering that question with any degree of accuracy be inescapably pedantic in and of itself?

where can i find copy of symbol legend for disney’s little fluttering friends quilt

I did not understand any of that which followed “copy of”, but I can assure you that you must have taken a wrong turn somewhere between Pinterest and Epcot Center.

when is foreshadowing used in the devil in the white city

Um… before the shadow?

god is a badass

Pshaw. Vishnu could totally take him with three arms tied behind his back.

@Sidslang’s Best of Twitter #6

August 20, 2013 Leave a comment

@Schama_ebooks & @zizek_ebooks

One of Twitter’s underappreciated glories is that it manufactures its own ephemeral context, moment by moment. Those who expend their 140 characters establishing where they’ve been, what they’ve been doing, and how they’re feeling about it are missing the point, or one very specific part of the point, of the medium. Twitter is not a rolling Facebook status update with arbitrary limitations of brevity. Whatever you write on Twitter, it is there to be seen, enjoyed or not enjoyed, for that minute fraction of time, fading with time but (with the archive in full effect) never vanishing.

It’s a discursive realm ideally adapted to what might flippantly be entitled “randomness”, and what we might with a bit more consideration call bursts of semi-public out-of-context rhetoric. Twitter shows its own hand; is the word “wit” not nestled snugly in the midst of its name, after all? With the mass spread of the format, the wit at the soul of its brevity has been diminished. But it’s still there if you know where to look, and doesn’t need to be contextualized by the latest pop cultural or current events happenings, either. It doesn’t even need to be intended for the medium by its original utterers.

One of Twitter’s earliest phenomenons demonstrated this privileging of serendipitous non-sequiturs, and two of its best academically-tilted typify its effect. @Horse_ebooks became a widely-followed account when its gnomic and often fragmentary tweets (drawn from equine literature) gained fans for their bizarre and seemingly accidental wisdom or simple quirky unintended comedy. A proliferation of similar “ebooks” accounts has followed, on every conceivable subject and theme.

Anyone in tune with the Twitter scene follows a few of these at least. My two personal favourites feature excerpts from two of academia’s most prominent and peculiar public voices. @zizek_ebooks posts snatches of the thoughts of philosopher and cultural critic Slavoj Žižek, he of the voluble, lisping Slovenian accent, salt-and-pepper beard, and Lacanian-Marxist intellectual trolling. Despite the ebooks suffix, most of these tweets seem to be drawn from his lectures, television appearances, and films, The Pervert’s Guide To Cinema and The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology. Although Žižek is a fascinating communicator of ideas (whatever you think of the ideas themselves), being fed his observations absent the arguments that they are a part of is a whole different kind of experience that is rewarding and funny in its own right (even if the postings tend to happen in overwhelming spurts, obviously released in gaps of the custodian’s free time). Certain rhetorical usages recur (“My God”, “Eat this garbage”, “You turn into monkeys”), revealing go-to phrases preferred by Žižek in public speech that might otherwise has slipped by unnoticed, but the dislocated, non-sequiturial nature of the tweets matches the thinker’s own message of deconstruction, as well as amplifying the peculiarity of the stand-alone phrases.

A similar practice animates @Schama_ebooks, although the account tweeting out snatches of verbose narration from the television documentaries of the British historian Simon Schama has its own particular appeal as well. This appeal is also Schama’s, grounded in his habit of expressing relatively straightforward and widely-accepted interpretations of historical events in language of over-the-top vocabulatory eloquence. Although the less-followed account has not produced as much material as the prolific @zizek_ebooks, it evokes Schama’s rhetorical turns much more vividly. The background of the account homepage, a screen still of Schama with a (accidental?) couplet of ridiculous quasi-poetry (“human existence” is rhymed with “luminescence”) sums up his choice of verbiage succinctly, but the archive of “quiescent marital urges” and “throngs of unwashed cavaliers” makes it clearer what the account is about. Both of these ebooks prisms of public intellectual quotations rip words and arguments out of their chosen contexts to be placed in Twitter’s own “random” context, and wring humour out of them while preserving the rhetorical kernels of their unique set of expressions. Who says this medium is limited in its discursive scope?

Representative Tweets:

@Sidslang’s Best of Twitter #5

Further suggestions for maximing appreciation of the realms of hashtags and RTs. Past recommendations: #1, #2, #3, #4. @Sidslang can be tracked here.

@SamuelPepys

So much of the public discourse concerning Twitter prefigures it as some sort of unprecedented new style of communication, but it has its clear precedents. I previously discussed the epistolary storytelling lineage of brilliant Oilers-centric parody of @SHorcov, but @SamuelPepys makes a much more obvious connection in the history of letters. Pepys was an English naval administrator of the Restoration era best-know for the detailed and amusing daily diary he kept as a young man in the 1660s, one of the key sources for information about life in the period and an inadvertent classic of literature.

The Twitter feed is connected to a blog run by Phil Gyford that posts a full entry of Pepys’ diary every day, and briefer snatches of it find their way into tweets. Though the content is not original, its use in the Twitter medium shows us how little has really changed in the chronicling of daily activities through written word in 350 years. Just as the lion’s share of tweets by most users of the platform from celebrities to regular folks surely concern what they’re doing, where they’re going, and who they’re doing it with, Pepys’ feed transposes his similar diaristic recording of quotidian comings and goings to the fresh medium. In this way, the distinctions of centuries of social and cultural history can vanish in under 140 characters.

Representative Tweet:

 

Categories: History, Internet, Navel-Gazing

Good Old-Fashioned Wholesome Fun with Search Engine Terms #6

June 3, 2013 1 comment

Time flies when you’re blogging excessively. It’s been a whole four months since the last post reproducing and larking on the oddest recent search terms that directed web surfers to this humble space, so we’re about due to for another installment. Past posts of this sort: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5.

lebron james violin

Playing the violin is probably the one thing LeBron James cannot do. Well, that and choose a team to sign with in a way that won’t alienate most of the world.

nbc condescending olympic coverage

The first result in the search is the NBC website: Proudly Condescending to Olympics-Watching Rubes Since 1988!

who is the subaltern in the hunger games

Now you’re asking the right question, kids. The answer is: pretty much everyone who isn’t played by Donald Sutherland.

rape ewok meme

I don’t even want to know what other results this search produced, but I suspect they involve some rather disturbing things being done to Jar Jar Binks.

poofter definition

Oh, behave.

is thrift shop about consumerism

At least as much as it is about the paradox of frugality. And broken keyboards.

is it possible for another king leopold today yahoo answer

Why would you think Yahoo is gonna know that? Anyway, no one else could rock that beard.

what was the last film roger ebert saw

In a terribly cruel bit of irony, it was Spice World.

fanfiction reparation thor

The socioeconomic deprivations suffered throughout history by the Space Vikings constituted a considerable injustice indeed. But how will belated monetary compensation heal such deep wounds, especially when interspersed with passionate and imaginative Thor/Loki sex scenes?

doukhobor leprechaun

If ye allow me to practice me pacifist, spiritualist faith without suffering state persecution or exile, I shall give ye me pot of gold!

why is back to the future college film analysis

The person who typed up this complete thought took my review to task for its criticism of conservative Republican ideology. I think they were just disappointed that there wasn’t anything to plagiarize for their first-year essay.

best asses of the world

Here you go. What great asses. We salute you!

wholesome internet search

I hope this pulled up “Two Girls, One Cup” in the first three pages of results. Most searches will.

Voice of “Authenticity” in the Media: The Strange Case of Charles Ramsey

In the midst of the bizarre and incredible story of the escape of Amanda Berry, Georgina DeJesus, and Michele Knight from 10-year forcible confinement at the hands of the Castro brothers in Cleveland, Ohio, one unlikely player in the saga has grabbed the spotlight. The Castros’ neighbour Charles Ramsey helped Berry and a young girl escape from imprisonment (dropping his Big Mac and kicking in a door to do it) and joined them in calling 911 to summon the police to free the rest of the captives. Hailed as an everyday hero by a media culture that loves to anoint such figures, Ramsey gave a television interview after the event that has already become an internet meme of notable proportions:

Seized upon by the online remix culture almost immediately, Ramsey’s notable catchphrases were macro’ed and his expressive proletarian cadence duly autotuned before you could say, “Hide your kids, hide your wife”. Indeed, Antoine Dodson’s enduring internet meme-fame seems the closest analogue to Ramsey’s, and shares in its shaded outline of doubtful white guilt at the perceived exploitation and mockery of working-class African-American vernacular speech and endemic social problems. There is more than a hint of racial prejudice in the remix reaction to his entertaining interview, certainly; it’s not possible to locate the response entirely in a non-racist context, nor is it prudent to tar all responses with the brush of prejudice.

But there is also a strong underlying note of praise for Ramsey’s “heroism” (a term that Ramsey has waved aside with a modesty born out of circumstances of socio-economic deprivation) that defuses even the most flippant and thoughtless of online racially-tinged jokes. “This man did a fine thing, and he’s hilarious and expressive and breathtakingly honest!” would seem to be a fair summation of the lion’s share of the chatter around his media appearances. His longer and more thoughtful chat with CNN’s Anderson Cooper embedded below displays these qualities away from the madhouse atmosphere of his famous man-on-the-street interview. This is what seems to be grabbing people most about Ramsey, as it does in differing ways in Dodson’s case and in the cases of most of the other viral media clips (which mostly come from the less-filtered quasi-reality of local television news). What’s notable in a media culture of canned responses and cliched euphemisms is how real Ramsey sounds, how authentic he comes across as being.

Or perhaps I should type “real” and “authentic”. I’ve previously considered in this space how these terms have become detached from their prevalent meanings by their use and dissemination as dominant marketing tropes in the discourse of consumer capitalism. From this perspective, it may not really mean anything to say that Charles Ramsey comes across as “authentic”. Even the more precise and less abused adjective “honest” (so often misconstrued as an excuse for the utterance of unfashionable discriminatory opinions, mind you) does not quite serve our purposes, but we have to make do with it nonetheless.

The bald dude behind him with the shades probably has his own meme by now, too.

And there is a guileless honesty to Ramsey’s view of the strange events that he finds himself a part of that many appear to find highly refreshing in a popular discourse marked by linguistic obfuscation and diversionary statements. Most noted is his forthright statement at the end of his initial interview about race relations: “I knew something was wrong when a pretty little white girl ran into a black man’s arms. Dead giveaway!” The (white) reporter responds to some inner warning (or to his producer’s voice in his earpiece) and cuts the discussion short at that moment, confirming that this assessment of racial issues, of the inability of fellow humans to see beyond outward prejudices except in moments of great stress and trauma, cuts a little too close to the bone.

But Ramsey’s growing share of televised appearances is full of such quotidian observations, such (perish the diminishing term) homespun folk wisdom. His writerly details about the inoffensive appearance of his deeply disturbed criminal neighbour (that stuff about ribs and salsa music and cleaning his motorcycle) and his own stated haunted feelings about the knowledge of what troubling horrors unfolded right next door to him encapsulate the emotional impact of the story more succinctly and powerfully than any number of expansive journalism-school adjectives could do.

And at the end of his interview below with Cooper, Ramsey holds up his paycheque and states unapologetically how lucky he is to have a job and income in a country where this sort of thing happens to his fellow citizens mere feet from his porch. It may not be as supremely meme-able as any of his more-famous catchphrases from his more emotional initial interview. But this momentary emphasis on America’s fundamental narrative of the tenuousness of economic survival, even in the face of the monstrous violations of the abduction, confinement, and rape case at hand, is a penetrating instance of direct commentary. The memory of Charles Ramsey’s role in this current-affairs crime story will fade, and the internet memes will recede into the rearview mirror. But if not only what he says but how he says it resonates with enough people, the media culture need not be poorer for his being a part of it.

The Boston Marathon Bombings and the Authoritarian Impulse in America

April 21, 2013 Leave a comment

Since Monday afternoon, when two bombs went off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing 3 people and injuring 183 more, one of America’s great cities and the whole nation and much of the world beyond has been fixated on the unfolding aftermath of what can only be labeled a terrorist attack. As details about the methods of the act and eventually information about the suspects trickled in over the course of the week, it fed not a sense of healing and calm but an edgy mass anxiety tinged with the sting of popular mourning. It certainly could not help that another mid-week large-scale disaster, the deadly explosion of a fertilizer plant near West, Texas, added to the tragic public mood.

This low simmer of unease rolled rapidly into a violent boil of renewed, sustained terror late Thursday night. Late that night and into the early morning hours of Friday, the recently-revealed bombing suspects (and brothers) Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev shot and killed a MIT campus police officer, engaged in a major gun-and-explosives battle with police that left the elder Tamerlan dead, and touched off a tense, overwhelming city-wide manhunt that saw all of Boston locked down and, by 9 pm on Friday, the younger Dzhokhar arrested by the authorities. All of this was reported breathlessly by both traditional television as well as online media, minute-by-minute.

It was fascinating to watch events unfold and reactions unfold with them on real time on social media. The online community was both more timely in disseminating and interpreting the deluge of information on the day of the bombing and of the manhunt than the old media (even cable news, where usual reliable mainstay CNN did not precisely cover itself in glory) and less responsible and certain in this dissemination. Nothing new and exciting emerged about the relative current affairs potential (and pitfalls) of web communities like Twitter or Reddit that we did not basically know before, and if anything was revealed it was how well certain hoary old media giants have adapted to the new formats as opposed to others (the Boston Globe’s Twitter feed was indispensible; their reports were far out ahead of other outlets, and usually proven right in the end).

Beyond the standard analysis of media coverage, however, the events of this past week in the Boston area carried grimmer implications for the American political and social order. The overwhelming force of the ever-growing national-security-complex-enabled police state was out in full force in Boston, as a major U.S. city was completely locked down for the better part of a day due to a single teenager with a gun (who turned out to be grievously injured and sheltering in a boat in someone’s backyard all that time). Coming at the end of a week in which major new gun-control legislation was defeated in Congress, the applicability of the situation to these events was not lost on gun-control advocates.

Nor was the heavy-handed invocation of public safety measures as an excuse to curb constitutional freedoms (of Boston-metropolitan residents as well as of Chechen-descended, Kyrgyzstan-born American citizen Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was not read his Miranda rights despite a Department of Justice indication that criminal courts will handle his case) in the name of security lost on civil liberties defenders, of which Glenn Greenwald is the most imperiously vocal. It isn’t simply that constitutional rights or the rule of law are suspended in the face of terrorism (domestic though it may be) and a resulting atmosphere of fear. Nor is it that a vindictive jingoism (the bullheaded “USA” chant erupted in the streets when the living suspect’s capture went public) and xenophobic persecution (a Muslim woman and her child were bullied in public in the city’s suburbs in response to the events) are the most fundamental reactions to any threat in post-War-on-Terror-era America (to say nothing of geographical ignorance; many angry “Real Americans” wanted military action against the Czech Republic once the suspects’ ethnic backgrounds were made public, mistaking the Central European democracy for Central Asian Russian breakaway state Chechnya).

What the Boston Marathon bombings, the hunt for its suspects, and the undercurrent of authoritarianism of the entire exercise has shown is that America has changed deeply in the decade-plus since the 9/11. Or, perhaps, certain darker, more oppressive elements in its national character have simply come out more strongly and inevitably than before. How the justice system and the wider public approaches the denouement of these events will go a long way towards suggesting whether or not the authoritarian impulse is ascendant in American life, or if a civil society can still be reconciled with widespread anxiety over terrorist threats.

@Sidslang’s Best of Twitter #4

February 23, 2013 1 comment

More recommended Twitter feeds for your consideration and consumption. Previous iterations: the first, second, third. @Sidslang can be examined and judged and found wanting here.

@TheBig_Sam

Parody accounts have populated Twitter like a multiplying brood of satiric spiders, but the true champs of the form leap off from the parodic target’s stereotyped qualities into inventive brilliance. Witness, therefore, an exhibit of this craft at its highest level with this parody feed focusing on English Premier League football manager Sam Allardyce. Currently helming West Ham United, the voluble Allardyce (nicknamed “Big Sam” for his physical size as well as expansive personality) is as well-known for his lusty, outspoken public image as he is for his managing prowess, which has mostly been burned away on second-tier clubs.

@TheBig_Sam, though infrequently updated, leaps off from this base on flights of inspired and often explicit creative riffing on not only current developments for his club or in the game, but also in the world at large. His discourse is rather Brit-centric, understandably, and an outsider to the island’s culture often required a quick Google search or two to gain the measure of the references. But the effort is ever rewarded; once you’re all caught up, it’s ripping stuff.

Multi-tweet bursts detailing with comically-reimagined figures that “Big Sam” encounters are true highlights. Scroll through the tweet archive for his befriending of Swansea’s Danish manager Michael Laudrup on February 3rd (they share a Toblerone after a game between their clubs, and Laudrup invites his counterpart over to his place to “watch ‘The Passion of the Christ’ and have some Mai Tais”) or West Ham player Matty Taylor telling him on December 7th of last year that he found a bird that closely resembled a disappeared rock star.

To be truthful, the completely inspired litany of tweets about prominent British Conservative politician Michael Heseltine from today (Feb. 22, 2013) forced my hand on this point of recommendation, it must be said. Proceeding from an off-colour quip about South African amputee runner Oscar Pistorius’ artificial legs to a nighttime stroll with Heseltine during which “Big Sam” watched Heseltine “hold the moon in his hands, and orchestrate the stars”, it’s a perfect distillation of @TheBig_Sam’s imaginative, crude, and killer comic method.

Representative Tweet: