Category Archives: Pop Culture

The implications of an all-online entertainment future

Great post by Kevin Kelly on why the future of entertainment (and more!) will involve renting rather than owning, but having access to anything at any time.

This is key: “The chief holdup to full-scale conversion from ownership to omni-access is the issue of modification and control. In traditional property regimes only owners have the right to modify or control the use of the property. The right of modification is not transferred in rental, leasing, or licensing agreements.”

We have yet to deal with the legal (and cultural) ramifications of an entertainment world where everything is pure information rather than a physical object, and where you pay to access the information but not to own it. Those ramifications deserve an article or book of their own.

What is that thing on Beyonce’s hand?

Saturday Night Live had one of its stronger episodes of the season this weekend — further proof that Paul Rudd makes anything awesome. But forget the comedy (and Justin Timberlake’s awesome cameos).

What the heck is Beyonce wearing in her new video (and live performances, apparently) of Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)? It’s some kind of silvery metal glove-claw. You can get pretty good glimpses of it at :45 to :50 and 1:50 to 2:00 in the video:

cm-capture-1

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Best paragraph of the day: T-Pain and superheroes

From Nathan Rabin’s latest My Year of Flops entry — a double feature on The Phantom and The Shadow:

We live in the age of superheroes. And T-Pain. If you were to remove superheroes and T-Pain from pop culture, the world as we know it would devolve into madness and anarchy. Society would crumble. Incidentally, I’m listening to/reviewing the new T-Pain CD as I write this, so I apologize if my various roles at The A.V. Club bleed together. That’s why I’d like to humbly propose a new superhero franchise about a musician who stumbles upon a voice distorter laced with gamma rays, which gives him the magical ability to bang drunken skanks at will, secure half-priced lap-dances, wear ridiculous hats without shame or self-consciousness, and telekinetically convince rappers and singers who really should know better that their songs are fatally incomplete without his signature brand of creepy digital harmonizing.

Three reasons why the Beatles video game could disappoint

I love the Beatles, and I love video games. So I suppose I should be overjoyed that there’s going to be a Rock Band-but-not-called-Rock Band music video game featuring the fabulous foursome.

Sure, it’ll be fun to shred to Taxman and show off my terrible John Lennon impression. But there are three issues that could keep this game from being bigger than Jesus.

First, not all of the great Beatles songs are suited to virtual rock. Just on a quick glance, the game will probably have to leave out Eleanor Rigby, Yesterday, Blackbird, A Day in the Life, Strawberry Fields Forever, Penny Lane, Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds, All You Need Is Love, Hey Jude, Let It Be. Songs like Norwegian Wood and You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away would have to be separated from the full-band songs (unless you want your drummer and bassist to just sit there for three minutes).

True, there are dozens of guitar-heavy songs that will make it, but that will make for a decidedly uneven overview of the group — unlike, say, Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, which can leave out Janie’s Got a Gun and Amazing and still give a pretty good idea of what the band sounds like.

Many of the earlier songs that do have guitars feature a fairly quiet, jangly acoustic guitar that would get drowned out by wannabe Ringos smacking the game’s plastic “drums”: Help (the verses), Eight Days a Week, Can’t Buy Me Love, to name a few.

That leads to the second potential problem: without a decent remastering, many of the songs could sound terrible. Take 1964 production values pumped through standard TV speakers and combine them with the clicking “strum” of fake guitars, the aforementioned loud drums, and inevitably too-loud singers, and it’ll be hard to hear the parts to many of the pre-Rubber Soul songs.

The reports on the forthcoming game are based on a vague conference call, during which the subject of remastering was rather conspicuously unaddressed. So maybe Paul, Ringo, Yoko, Gloria Harrison, and Apple Ltd. will get their collective act together before the end of 2009, and the Beatles catalog will finally be remastered and re-released first online and then via the video game. But I’m not going to get my hopes up.

The game could be fun even with a somewhat-circumscribed track list and less-than-stellar sound. But the whole effort could fizzle if it focuses on the guitars and forgets about the harmonies.

There are many reasons to love the Beatles. The complex-but-beautiful melodies. The deeper-than-they-seem lyrics (well, maybe not “love, love me do”). The innovative production. For me, the most exciting aspect of the band is their exuberance, their sheer joy of playing — something that infuses pretty much all of their recordings, no matter how much they were fighting outside (or inside) the studio. And nothing is more exuberant than their effortless, intricate harmonies: the falsetto “If there’s anything I could dooo!” in From Me to You; the call-and-response backups on Soldier of Love; the pristine overdubs on And Your Bird Can Sing.

But Rock Band doesn’t register harmony — only the melody. I haven’t played Rock Band 2 or Guitar Hero World Tour yet, but nothing I’ve read indicates that they’ve added harmonies. SingStar 2, a just-released (in the U.S.) sequel to the PlayStation karaoke series, does have a harmony mode; we’ll see if the others follow suit.

You’d think the brains behind the Beatles game would make sure to build a harmony feature into such a marquee project. But given the seat-of-the-pants announcement and the lack of innovation in the current round of full-band music games, I wouldn’t bet on it.

So, Alex Rigopoulos, if you’re reading this (and I know you’re not) — don’t let me down. Without harmonies, it’s not the Beatles. Simple as that.

A terribly sad thing I never want to hear again

Infinite Jest has been on my bookshelf for about six years. I made it through the first 80 pages two or three times, but never mustered the willpower to plow through the whole thing. I read Broom of the System and Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, also about six years ago, but don’t remember them well other than that some of the short stories in Brief Interviews were depressingly impressive.

So I can’t properly speak to the importance, quality, or influence of David Foster Wallace’s fiction. But, boy, his nonfiction was good.

Some of the essays and articles — okay, all of them — collected in A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again and Consider the Lobster are incredibly pretentious in parts. But Wallace still somehow managed to be one of the most interesting, thoughtful, observant, and absurdly smart writers I’ve ever read.

He took the cliche of cultural essay writing — the discovery of grand meaning in banal American minutia, or in a movie, or in an athlete, or in anything — and repeatedly made it true, through sheer force of intellect, imagination, and accumulated detail. I agree with John Seery: “Already it seems as if some special portal of human intelligence has been closed off.”

After Stephen King and Stephen Hunter, Wallace was probably the biggest influence on my own formative writing and thinking. (In college that influence expressed itself as blatant copycat pieces. I hope by now his influence is more a part of my thought process, and shows up in my writing primarily as purposeful homage, like using the word “tummies” in this post.) And I’m really, really sad that he’s dead.

I wish I could write more of a tribute, but I’d have to reread all his stuff to do it justice. You should just go read those two nonfiction collections (some of the essays in them are available online: a dispatch from the Maine Lobster Festival; an article on Roger Federer; a piece on David Lynch).

Anyway, writing about the suicide of creative-genius heroes sucks. So I’ll just end with the beginning of an appreciation of Elliott Smith I wrote in 2003. Replace the word “musician” with “writer” (and ignore the addiction part, I assume) and the sentiment still holds.

There’s a terrible irony to suicide. In too many cases when overwhelming loneliness and self-loathing ultimately end in death, it turns out that love and appreciation were there in abundance. They just couldn’t get through the barriers built of depression and addiction.

It’s even worse to think about musician suicides: They were unable to accept or process not only the affection of family and friends, but the joy, pleasure and awe they inspired in their many fans.

The truth is, I didn’t just want to be as good a writer as DFW — I wanted to be as smart as he was. But if this is the price of genius, I’m happy never to know what that’s like.

Blarg.

Richard Blais’ Home: The nicest restaurant in America

I usually hate restaurant reviews that spend the first 11 paragraphs talking about decor or service. Sure, tell me if the tables are all cubist shapes that make the food fall in your lap, or if the waiters kick you in the shins each time they bring out a plate. Mostly, though, I just want to know if the food is good.

This, however, is not a review of Home, the Atlanta restaurant featuring Richard Blais from Top Chef Season 4. I’m not qualified to do that, other than to say the food was terrific overall: fresh bursts of cilantro in the rich silken corn soup with lump crab relish; perfectly cooked shrimp over creamy, almost rice-puddingish grits (though I’m not sure I want to know what the “she-crab butter” is that presumably gives the grits their surprising sweetness); do-I-really-want-to-taste-it-okay-I’ll-eat-some-more ranch ice cream. The sour cream pecan cake was kind of dry, but the peaches, cream, and sweet tea ice cream that accompanied it matched the rest of the meal.

No, this is an appreciation of an underrated quality, in chefs as well as our culture at large: being nice.

In fact, Home just might be the nicest restaurant in America. (Ed. Note: I have, surprisingly, not been to every restaurant in America.)

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How can Metal Gear Solid be inscrutable, interminable — and great?

As someone who has more than a passing interest in the maturation of video games, I’ve found some reviews of the would-be blockbuster Metal Gear Solid 4 to be very interesting — and telling.

The reviews of the Playstation 3 game at Slate, Wired’s Game|Life blog, and The Onion A.V. Club (all sites I like and regularly read) are curiously and similarly schizophrenic, alternately criticizing a major part of the game (its story) while praising — well, it’s not exactly clear what’s so great about it. That such praise outweighs the ambivalence in each review shows just how far video games still have to go.

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