Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Shifting down to the kids

Two current TV series, one back for its second series, the other probably embarking on its only series, illustrate one of the most controversial arguments in Digimodernism. In chapter five I assert - at nothing like the length and in nothing like the detail that the theme requires - that "popular culture", such a favourite of postmodernism and of postmodern criticism, has been supplanted by a dominant children's entertainment which does not correlate to any extant sense of "popular". This has very different meanings in the various contexts where it is found, nor is it an entirely negative development.
Merlin (BBC) is an enjoyably mystical/nonsensical/Potterish re-telling of the Arthurian sagas for the digimodernist age. It's packed with CGI and earnestness (in place of irony), and it reshapes the inherited narrative structures in one very striking way. The sorceror Merlin himself is no longer the bearded, wrinkly, ancient oldster whose literary descendents include Gandalf and Dumbledore. Instead, he's about 19 years old (above left). Consequently, he doesn't transfer the baby Arthur from his threatened father King Uther to a foster home, but is Arthur's exact contemporary, and is obliged to protect the once and future monarch from a status of uneasy peer/rival. Reducing Merlin to one third of his usual age, the show keeps Uther alive and difficult, while Merlin, far from being the finished magical article, is still at conjuring school under the tutelage of a tetchy oldster. Guinevere is also Merlin's age, as are most of the peripheral characters, so that, as an ensemble, the cast resembles a pop group like Hear'Say, complete with token nods to racial inclusiveness. The assumption here is, I think - and this is not a thought that would have occurred to the makers of children's entertainment forty years ago - that child-friendly entertainment must be focused on semi-children and on juvenile issues (getting on with teachers and Dad etc.). It's supposedly for families, but Mary Poppins it ain't.
The execrable Trinity (ITV2, above right), on the other hand, is essentially what you would get if you made a class of comprehensive school fifteen-year-olds watch Brideshead Revisited and then had them write a TV show about a black kid starting at a posh college. He is relentlessly patronized and bullied and humiliated by a group called the Dandelion Club who are vaguely based on David Cameron's Bullingdon Club, and who are equipped with ludicrous dialogue endlessly adumbrating their class superiority. All they appear to do all day is saturate the world around them with their snobbery. The entire college is basically run by this clique of arrogant beaux, who effortlessly bend the Dean and the Warden and the Council to its will (they are guaranteed their degrees and have no need to work [!]). Filmed in a school, Dulwich College, the locale for this tomfoolery doesn't look anything like a university, and nobody behaves remotely like people who have been through higher education. Super-privileged students at Oxbridge, I know for a fact, just ignore those they socially despise; they don't seek them out and strut ostentatiously around them. Equally, the only colleges controlled by their students figure in the narcissitic dreams of particularly immature teenagers. And yet these days almost 50% of the English go to university; half the population will therefore be immediately aware that Trinity offers a laughably unreal image of higher education. The show's makers, tellingly, don't seem to care about this; instead, they have chosen to construct HE as what you might imagine it is before you go there, because they assume that their audience must be under 18.
The primary goal of both shows seem to be to gain the attention of children, either by throwing them and their concerns up on to the screen regardless of the source material, or by consciously inventing worlds which correspond, no matter how risibly, to their limited prejudices. Actors over 30 appear as parents or teachers whose only wish is to impose boring and petty restrictions on the glamorous stars, which the latter nevertheless easily get round. Of the two, it is Trinity that is more radical, because - scheduled at 10 pm and filled with sex and violent death - it is not in fact sold as "children's entertainment". Most people would probably file it under "popular culture". Narratologically it's primarily the former, because the latter has largely become the former.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Tings Things

Last night I listened to the Ting Tings' album We Started Nothing. Released just over a year ago, it's a bit of enjoyable pop fluff most notable for the remarkable "That's Not My Name", which reached number one in Britain. To my ears it sounds like a retread of angular 80s pop, with New Order, among others, as one of its creditors; the very title of the album seems to admit the belatedness of this form of music, its lateness in the day of its genre, while also perhaps acknowledging the lack of socio-cultural importance that rock and pop now has to contend with. Despite this, the structure of "That's Not My Name" strikes me as interesting. Five minutes long, the song very gradually constructs itself before the listener: the first couple of minutes are unexceptional, spiky pop fizz, then element after element is added to the mix, and then elements are taken away from it, so that listening to it is like watching something be assembled and then dismantled before your eyes. It would be a stretch to call this an example of onwardness in music. But there is a sense of listening not just to people playing music, but to them actually inventing it; and as a result the overall musical identity of the piece, just like its lyric which obsesses negatively about personal identity, is muddied.

Monday, 28 September 2009

No, not "Postpostmodernism"

A review has appeared in the the latest issue of New Left Review of Nicolas Bourriaud's book The Radicant, where the Frenchman argues that art has shifted towards the new paradigm of the "altermodern". The review's not freely available, but here it is in brief:

I so dislike the word (widespread on the Internet and even consecrated by its own Wikipedia page) which the reviewer uses, with a question mark, as his title: "postpostmodernism". Very obviously, it's ugly as sin. Worse, it's highly misleading, since it implicitly defines what comes after postmodernism in terms determined by postmodernism, i.e. it reinforces the authority of that which it is supposedly tracing the overthrow. "Postmodernism" sees itself in linear terms as that which comes after modernism, a contention which it assumes and never demonstrates, although various objections could be levelled at this piece of intellectual and cultural historiography, e.g. that something distinctive and important happened between high modernism (c. 1920) and high postmodernism (early 1970s on), or that philosophically postmodernism positions itself more as a form of counter-modernism, as a naysayer, than as its successor.

"Postpostmodernism" perpetuates this error by implying that we are due to have more of pretty much the same thing. As coincidence would have it, this unimaginativeness reflects the shortcomings of Bourriaud's theory, which simply prunes back and reissues postmodernism for the 21st century (though admittedly he is using some rather uninteresting work as the jumping-off point for his thoughts about contemporary art). "PoMo" insists by definition on coming-after, on its posteriority, its successor state; "PoPoMo" supposes that something will come after "PoMo" which insists on its doubly coming-after, its reiterated posteriority, its successor state to a successor state.

This is neither true nor plausible. Whatever the merits of the theory of digimodernism, the cultural dominant which succeeds postmodernism will stand by itself; it will be marked by a level of conceptual autonomy. Its definition will not be created, either directly or indirectly, under the aegis of the definition of postmodernism. Postmodernism, then, will really be over; it will be over when we no longer need its limits and tendencies to define what comes after it.

Friday, 11 September 2009


Sally Potter's new film Rage looks absolutely fascinating. Here's a newspaper story about it:

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Digimodernism and the book (again)

From yesterday's Guardian:

If you disagree with a point in Po Bronson's new book about parenting, NurtureShock, then don't bother returning it or giving it a one-star review on Amazon: you can tell Bronson directly, thanks to an online experiment that will allow readers to add their own footnotes to the pages of a digital version of the book.
As of next week, readers of Bronson and Ashley Merryman's NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children, will be able to go online and make notes on three chapters of the book. Covering the topics of why 98% of children lie, why too much praise for children is a bad idea, and how important an extra hour of sleep is, the three chapters will be posted on, and, where readers will be able to highlight sections of the text, and add their own footnotes to their selections.
"I'm interested in building community around books, facilitating discussion. This is an experiment to see what happens," said novelist and journalist Bronson, whose book, NurtureShock, was published in the US last week by Twelve, an imprint of Hachette Book Group USA, with UK publication lined up for next year. "Our book already has 70 pages of sources, and 7,000 words of footnotes, that we've put in there."
Caroline Vanderlip, chief executive of SharedBook, the American company enabling the exercise, agreed with Bronson. "We believe that the community can enrich the original, similar to how footnotes or marginalia have enriched books for years," she said. "The difference here is that it's collaborative annotation, rather than from one source."
Interested collaborators will then be able to buy a PDF of the three chapters complete with their new footnotes. "We think the level of comments could be as engaging as the original," said Vanderlip. "Because our system supports annotation in a very detailed, contextual way, we have found that users do not abuse the system. But we have the means to delete anything that might be offensive." Bronson said he saw the project as having a "'wisdom of crowds'/Wikipedia-like community moderation".
Philip Jones, managing editor of, said that publishers were all looking at ways of making books "more communal". "It's the whole idea of having a conversation around a book, no longer reading in isolation and building a community of readers," he said. "[The Bronson experiment is] another innovation from publishers who are seeking ways to reach out to readers in the digital age. It works for Amazon who have created a whole new platform for getting feedback on books in their comments. There is nowhere else you can get that feedback, and I know authors use it."
At Penguin, digital publisher Jeremy Ettinghausen said that readers were increasingly "wanting to discuss and comment and tag things, and as an initiative which allows people to indulge that, this is welcome". "I'm looking forward to a version when people can read the same book at the same time and all comment together," he said. "We are always thinking about how we can develop communities around particular books or categories, and there will be a time when we'll be able to integrate those communities and conversations with content."
"Enhanced ebooks will almost certainly be the way forward, and as the quality of ereaders improves, there will be a multitude of ways in which we can do this," added Hodder & Stoughton's Isobel Akenhead, pointing to "director's cut" editions of books – with commentary from the author about why and how the text might have changed, as well as user commentaries, which she said would work particularly well for reference books such as recipe books.

Friday, 4 September 2009

The "digi-novel" and digimodernism

This is fascinating:

'Digi-novel' combines book, movie and website
Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Is it a book? Is it a movie? Is it a website? Actually it's all three.
Anthony Zuiker, creator of the "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" U.S. television series, is releasing what he calls a "digi-novel" combining all three media -- and giving a jolt to traditional book publishing.
Zuiker has created "Level 26," a crime novel that also invites readers to log on to a website about every 20 pages using a special code to watch a "cyber-bridge" -- a three-minute film clip tied to the story.
Starting next Tuesday, readers can buy the book, visit the website, log in to watch the "cyber-bridges," read, discuss and contribute to the story.
"Just doing one thing great is not going to sustain business," he said. "The future of business in terms of entertainment will have to be the convergence of different mediums. So we did that -- publishing, movies and a website."
He said he did not believe the digi-novel would ever replace traditional publishing, but said the business did need a shot in the arm.
"They need content creators like myself to come in the industry and say, 'Hey, let's try things this way,'" he said.
Zuiker put together a 60-page outline for the novel, which was written by Duane Swierczynski, and wrote and directed the "cyber-bridges." He said the book could be read without watching the "cyber-bridges."
Zuiker said the United States was infatuated with technology and it had become such a permanent part of people's lives that more entertainment choices were needed.
Increasingly, people are reading books on electronic readers like's Kindle and Sony Corp's Reader.
Those devices don't play videos, so "Level 26" readers still need to log on to the Internet on a different device. Apple Inc is said to be developing a touchscreen tablet, which some analysts envision as a multimedia device that could play videos.
Zuiker said people's attention span was becoming shorter and shorter and that it was important to give people more options on how they consumed entertainment and books.
"Every TV show in the next five, 10 years will have a comprehensive microsite or website that continue the experience beyond the one-hour television to keep engaging viewers 24/7," he said. "Just watching television for one specific hour a week ... that's not going to be a sustainable model going forward."
"I wanted to bring all the best in publishing, in a motion picture, in a website and converge all three into one experience," he said.
"And when the book finished and the bridges finished, I wanted the experience to continue online and in a social community."
Zuiker said he came up with the idea for the "digi-novel" during a three-month TV writers strike in 2007/08.