Sunday, February 24, 2013

"And the Oscar for Best PRACTICAL Effects Goes To ..."

We're hours away from the pinnacle of the 2012 Awards Season, and I'll make no bones about being excited -- perpetually, inextricably -- by the Academy Awards.  It's the Super Bowl with sequined dresses, a monster truck rally with orchestral interludes.  It's every good reason to scream at the TV with friends over arbitrary and meaningless decisions.  Like a NASCAR race, I'm half in it for the crashes, like (well) seeing Crash expose the cowardliness and self-satisfaction of the Academy voters who favored that tripe over Brokeback Mountain and Munich (let alone the not-even-nominated A History of Violence).

I don't have any particularly strong feelings about the Oscar contenders this time around, other than a suspicion that Argo will emerge as this year's "safe" choice (by engaging Middle Eastern politics and terrorism without all the baggage of Zero Dark Thirty) -- that is, unless Silver Linings Playbook takes the cake in the same lighthearted spirit that gave the Oscar to Shakespeare in Love over The Thin Red Line and other headier historical dramas.  I do have more to say about whether awards shows such as this, and indeed the entire critical establishment we still rely upon to single out "quality" artworks amongst the rabble, still play a useful role in the era of internet anarchy, where anyone with an internet connection can bypass the cultural gatekeepers of the Analog Age to find an audience.  For the time being, however, I have something far more modest in mind.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

No Need To Be Gun Shy on Video Game Violence

"I think real violence on film is completely acceptable and should be seen. ... When you don't show the consequences it makes it seem like it's okay. I think video games and that stuff should be as violent as possible, but age-appropriate. It should be realistic."- Darren Aronofsky (2009)
 “Apple is treating games as shallow commercial entertainment experiences because they have been taught by game developers that that is what games are.” - Braid developer Jonathan Blow regarding Apple's App censorship policy (2013)

Last week, the Senate took the next tentative, lumbering step towards responding meaningfully to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting by hearing testimony from a wide spectrum of gun control advocates and opponents.  While our government is designed to operate with the response time of the Titanic in iceberg-laden waters, this time around it seems that Congress may actually respond in a meaningful way to gun violence in America, and the momentum has put gun control opponents on the spot in a way they haven't been in possibly decades.

A recurring tactic amongst these opponents is to point a wagging finger at video game violence, starting with the earliest comments of Wayne LaPierre (Executive VP of NRA and presently their most prominent spokesperson) following the massacre and culminating in the recent comments of Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander, who said last week that he thinks "video games [are] a bigger problem than guns" (emphasis added).  Unfortunately, such comments do a significant disservice not only to the real and pressing issue of gun control, but also to the substantive, important conversation we ought to be having about the influence of media and entertainment on our culture -- as well as our propensity to miss opportunities again and again to harness that power constructively.