This is just Dean-lightening

So for those of you who don’t know, PBS funds a show on youtube called ideachannel. It features some fantastically out there ideas, usually backed by pretty solid evidence. It’s pretty entertaining to watch, and they just did an episode on Community… so… you know I’m all over that. Anyway, take a look. video after the jump. Continue reading “This is just Dean-lightening”

Any idea what this is? Sherlock Holmes needs your help, O-chem students!

Look, I’m in O-chem, and I recently watched an episode of the show ‘Elementary’ in which Sherlock(!) Holmes(!) gets stumped on a chemical structure which may have implications in a case. Thing is, I’m a second-year chem student, and I recognize most of the structures involved. photo after bump. Continue reading “Any idea what this is? Sherlock Holmes needs your help, O-chem students!”

Just saw the preview teaser for Skins U.S. – I wish I could say I was thrilled.

I just saw the preview teaser for Skins U.S., and I actually, physically, literally cringed. I didn’t stop cringing until I got through to the end. Let me tell you why.

For those of you who don’t know, Skins is an insanely popular British T.V. show televised on the U.K.’s channel E4. It follows the lives of a group of high-school aged teens as they love, hate, party, and all the rest – think Degrassi done by Larry Clark. It’s dark, twisted, fun, and brutally honest in a lot of ways.

I think  one of the problems I have with the American version is that it lacks that brutal, honest feel. It  isn’t that the source material is being almost word for word copied (which is bad enough, in my opinion), or even that they’re dumbing it down all the same for American audiences (the bedspread below is from the U.K. – the new version has some stupid abstract design. BOOOORING) – It’s that the combination of dumbing down, ripping off, and miscasting have dulled the dark, brilliant edge that made this show like nothing else. The cinematography (from what I can tell, which isn’t much,  in all fairness) ain’t much to write home about either.

Original Tony's bedspread - accept no substitutes
Original Tony's bedspread - accept no substitutes

 

The Original Skins Cast - Cute, But Real.
The Original Skins Cast - Cute, But Real.
Skins U.S. - So hot they're ugly
Skins U.S. - So hot they're ugly

And I have it from an online source that the American analog for the gay boy in the series is going to be *sigh* you guessed it, a lesbian. Who -get this- is a cheerleader. *speechlessness ensues*

I think what got me really were the casting choices, though.  I mean, casting a lesbian role instead of a male gay role… well, that pisses me off and it’s exclusionary, but I don’t know that I’d expect any different from a U.S. television company. The problem goes beyond that, though – the guys are hunks, the girls are impossibly thin and pretty, and that alone makes the show uninteresting, both visually and aesthetically. It’s pandering MTV crap.

As a comparison, an American show I really love is Glee (broadcast by Fox, no less. *shudders*) One of the reasons I like Glee is for the specific reason that although the kids are all actually adults, and are very attractive in their own way, the cast as a whole is pretty, i dunno, average looking. They don’t look like they stepped off of a GQ cover. They look real, fer gossake. They look like high-school students.

As far as the American version of Skins, as much as I like(d) the original, I’d rather watch The Office – I’d actually cringe less.

 

Television High School - UR doin it rite.
Television High School - UR doin it rite.

An Open Letter to ABC and Comedy Central

To Whom It May Concern:

This letter is regarding your decisions to let your content broadcast contract lapse with Hulu in favor of broadcasting streaming content on your own websites.

Your companies are smart, tech savvy and moving forward to be on the edge of modern entertainment. You’ve done an admirable job so far of making sure that your income from advertisement stays reasonably steady, and that your content stays available, reducing the draw for illegal download.

All this leaves me with one question: What bonehead tech company did you contract with to assemble your website and stream your videos?

The websites are overdone, cluttered messes. The videos, when they work, have bugs in the interface that make them almost unwatchable – shading into completely unwatchable. Videos and advertisements sometimes don’t stream at all.

Go ahead – check. Ask your viewers what they think. Watch the videos themselves. Go to your own website. I’ll wait.

I don’t download content illegally. I also don’t choose to support badly put together websites. And since I’m not willing to support your network’s website, I’m not going to buy your content on DVD either – which is sad, because I enjoy having a DVD copy of my favorite shows.

You have good shows, but unless you can get your website together or give streaming licenses to the people who know how to do it (i.e. Hulu), you’re going to lose a lot of viewers like me.

With Sincerest Regrets,

Arthur

On Film, the Skinner Box, and Television

I usually leave film and television reviews to the professionals. Generally speaking, they understand the media far better than I do. However, there are a few things I’d like to say – some negative, some positive – on the general subject of how film and television works are made, and what trends seem to be manifesting in the process lately.

First, let’s set some ground rules: I’m not here to promote or deride any particular film or series; I may use a few as examples, but by and large I’m interested in the larger picture – the trends and forces shaping modern film arts.

Second, I may need to bring my readers up to speed on some psychological research that’s been done regarding a similar, but off-tangent, media: video and computer gaming. So let’s get that out of the way now, shall we?

Skinner Boxes and Addictive Gaming

B.F. Skinner was a professor of psychology at Harvard. He was also an inventor, author, and social philosopher. Way back in the 30’s or so, while he was still a graduate student, he created the ‘Operant Conditioning Chamber‘, now commonly referred to by the nickname ‘Skinner Box’.

In brief, the box could be used to experiment in the field of behavior deterrence/reinforcement – using animals as the test subjects, of course.

The methodology was simple: use rewards and punishments in carefully controlled increments and timing to train a test subject into or out of the desired behavior.

Fast forward to the modern day, and it’s not too surprising that the creators of video games are very interested in applying Skinner’s research to game creation: after all, games are now focusing on replay factor and MMO subscriptions, rather than single use purchases. Games like World of Warcraft and Farmville are particularly egregious examples of behavioral modification through Skinnerian reinforcement techniques. For more on  this subject, you can check out the Cracked article here, which does an apt and accurate job of bringing this nasty subject to light.

Movies, the cash cow and art form

Movies recently have started very obviously color-coding their films in order to produce the desired emotion: green for an off-kilter effect (Fight Club, The Matrix), blue for horror (The Ring, Saw), gray and washed out for an apocalyptic, gritty feel (The Book Of Eli, Terminator: Salvation). This has nothing to do with art, and everything to do with creating a recognizable tone that the audience will behaviorally associate with other films they’ve seen in that particular genre. Generally the movies that do this follow the color coding of other, successful, predecessors.

Psychologically speaking, until you sit back and really analyze the film, your responses to the film will tend to be influenced by your feelings about that other film. It’s subtle, and very real science, and allows film-makers to be hap-hazard about cluing the audience in to the plot. All that’s needed is a sketchy outline, and we fill in the painting with our minds.

I’m not saying that there haven’t been beautiful and amazing films released, nor that the only ones worth considering are independent – far from it. I just think it’s a worrying trend towards artistic laziness and Skinnerian plot techniques.

Film is still the mildest offender of the three major moving-picture media (games,TV,movies). And don’t be worried that somehow the studios are going to control your brain – there’s no profit margin. Lol.

the Boob Tube and the Skinner Box
When one sees a character one identifies with rewarded, one tends to feel rewarded themselves. When one sees that character punished, that same identification works to make one feel punished. This can form an addictive cycle, forcing watchers to tune in for every episode in order to feel the rush of reward and punishment. This is most prominently used in daytime soaps like All My Children or Days Of Our Lives, but it’s increasingly common in prime-time television. Everything seems affected, from reality programming like Biggest Loser and Next Food Network Star, through the crime genre like Bones and NCIS, to shows like Glee and The Gates.

In the case of the reality programs, the audience feels attached to the outcome because it could be them up there. In the case of Bones, NCIS, and similar shows, the interactions between major characters often occlude the ostensible premise of the show, and create reward/loss scenarios. In the final two examples, Glee and The Gates, the only seeming purpose of the show is character interaction in a reward/loss paradigm, any reasonable course of action being thrown out the window in favor of cheap drama – to the point of the ridiculous.

Final Summary: Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love the Skinner Box

In the final analysis, these shows and games and movies may indeed be using cheap, contemptible and dirty tricks to get us to watch, play, and pay. The question remains, is that necessarily so bad?

I’ve done some waffling on this: I don’t like it when someone tries to get inside my head and condition me to like things. It’s creepy, and it brings up too many Brave New World connotations for me to be comfortable.

On the other hand, I’m a realist, and it seems to me that as long as there is a competitive entertainment industry, there will be attempts to gain market share by any (legal) means necessary. Is it a good thing? I don’t know. But I know it’s probably here to stay.

My opinion is that it’s only bad when the quality of the medium is reduced to the point of honest bafflement over a show’s popularity – i.e. when most of us are watching it, and not knowing why we watch it, or hating ourselves for doing so. In point of fact, most of the shows, movies and games I’ve mentioned are in and of themselves pretty enjoyable – and would be more so if the creators weren’t so pathetically eager to pull out the stops in a cynical bid for our wallets.

So gimme a pellet, Skinner – I’m ready for my box.

A video I shouldn’t show

I’m posting this video up (even though I probably shouldn’t) for three reasons:

1) It happens to be the funniest review I’ve seen in a loooong time, from one of the best film reviewers on the web. Seriously, I have a huge amount of respect for this guy (Doug Walker, also known as the Nostalgia Critic or That Guy With The Glasses).

Doug Walker, a.k.a. The Nostalgia Critic, Chester A. Bum, That Guy With The Glasses; the only man who could ruin my childhood (and make me enjoy it)
Doug Walker, a.k.a. The Nostalgia Critic, Chester A. Bum, That Guy With The Glasses; the only man who could ruin my childhood (and make me enjoy it)

2) This movie has got to be the worst movie I’ve ever seen. Seriously. Including made for TV. Including Lifetime channel made for TV. Including Freddie Got Fingered, for Chrissakes. This thing is AWFUL. Which only makes the review that much better.

3) This review has been removed from Doug Walker’s site (http://thatguywiththeglasses.com) due to a copyright infringement claim by the creator of the movie – a claim I believe to be fraudulent and dangerously close to perjury. If this movie goes back up, or if Mr. Walker asks me to remove it, I’ll do so ASAP. Until then, I don’t think I can stand idly by and watch this excellence disappear.

To Mr. Walker: I mean it when I say that if you have any sort of problem with this, I’m more than happy to take it down. This is just my way of protesting the bullshit. I don’t want to add to it. ^^

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Ҥ 107. Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use

Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include —

(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;

(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.”

For the Nostalgia Critic’s response to Mr. Wiseau’s tantrum, see this video (http://thatguywiththeglasses.com/videolinks/thatguywiththeglasses/nostalgia-critic/26252-the-tommy-wiseau-show for those who like to enter the address themselves) . . . and check out the rest of his site, too! Doug Walker is one of the reasons I get on the net – He’s irresistably funny, clever, and spot-on in his reviews.

In closing: Mr. Wiseau, get a life.