I Read A Book: Debora Halbert’s The State of Copyright: the complex relationship of cultural creation in a globalized world

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by Raizel Liebler

Debora Halbert’s The State of Copyright: the complex relationship of cultural creation in a globalized world is an excellent academic entry to the study of the impact of copyright on our lives.

This is definitely an academic read, but manages to cover a wide swathe of different perspectives, including the power dynamic in defining what is copyrighted and copyrightable, through user-generated content. Halbert relies on a wide variety of different sources, from Rebecca Tushnet to Habermas, to illustrate her points, but perhaps surprisingly, doesn’t actually cite copyright law often. Instead, the book is concerned with how copyright and other intellectual property structures establish political economies of ideas and creativity, through nationalism, treaties, astate of copyright word cloudnd ownership of much in the hands of the few.

Is there anything truly groundbreaking in this book? If you read almost every single new book on copyright (like me), probably not. But that is no reason to not read this book. Halbert is an excellent storyteller, deftly weaving the stories of Aaron Swartz’s attempted liberation of academic scholarship, the globalized origin of the 2010 World Cup theme song, Inuit Native peoples’ symbols into Olympic symbology, and Picasso’s use of African imagery in his art into her overall theme of copyright as a sword used to attack others. This is one of the only sources I’ve found to actually engage with Mark Helprin’s copyright maximalist position (copyright should last forever), finding that like the Author’s Guild, the push behind that viewpoint is to view copyright as no different than any other property right.

This book does an excellent job of both looking backwards to past and present copyright systems and to the issues with both localized and globalized copyright schemes — considering that what can work in one place and for one culture doesn’t necessarily work within another contexts. Halbert is aware of concerns about appropriation, authenticity, and exploitation: “the current state of the law has no method for dealing with a [complex] situation such as this except to assign a single ‘owner’ and protect the ‘rights’ of this owner from others.” She doesn’t shy away from making statements about how making intellectual property piracy into a national security issue makes ownership of rights to something intangible (with a expiration date!) equal to actual injury to people.

Summary: Read this book if you are looking for an important political read of the impact of copyright on the lives of those in the United States and globally. If you are looking for a guide to practical copyright, keep walking. This book would be a great text for teaching about understanding copyright policy (not the law!) for undergrads, grads, and law students, considering the large number of talking points throughout the book — and that each chapter could stand alone.

I Read A Book: Youna Kim’s The Korean Wave: Korean Media Go Global

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by Raizel Liebler

Kim-The-Korean-WaveYouna Kim’s The Korean Wave: Korean Media Go Global (2013) is another excellent addition to the growing corpus of academic books on Korean culture as shared worldwide that are written in English. For a book that is directed to a media studies and cultural studies audience, this is one of the most accessible recent books published on the Korean wave (such as Yasue Kuwahara’s The Korean Wave: Korean Popular Culture in Global Context (2014), Kyung Hyun Kim & Youngmin Choe’s The Korean Popular Culture Reader (2014) and Kim Chang Nam, K-Pop: Roots and Blossoming of Korean Popular Music (2012) reviewed here at TLF!) for a general academic or academic-ish audience.

All of the essays are short — all are under twenty pages — allowing for a quick overview of various issues regarding the cultural and political impact of Korean culture. Of course, each essay has references, allowing for more detailed reading for anyone who is interested. And the introduction is likely the best short referenced response to “so why does this even matter? and why should I care?” about the present and potentially future impact of Korean cultural exporting. This book takes an overall viewpoint to look at the “power” of the Korean wave — both with soft power and a more economic viewpoint. This contrasts with other books that tend to focus on only a few cultural products.

I want to especially highlight essays in this collection that I haven’t seen anything in the other Korean wave collections, like Liew Kai Khiun’s K-pop Dance Trackers and Cover Dancers: Global Cosmopolitanization and Local Spatialization and Kent A. Ono and Jungmin Kwon’s Re-Worlding Culture?: YouTube as a K-pop Interlocutor. These essays delve into how Korean pop is a visual, memetic musical form, one that Western music has stepped away from mostly — and how new sharing technologies like YouTube allow for greater sharing and intensity participatory fandom.

There is are also two essays about the understanding of exported Korean culture by those of Korean heritage outside of Korea — Korean-Americans and East Asians in Europe. These perspectives have not been written about in other Korean wave collections.

Summary: Even if you have read other Korean wave (hallyu) academic essay collections, this book still has more to say. This book gives an interesting take on the influence of Korean culture outside Korea, to both diasporic audiences and to people without a personal connection to Korean culture.

How Becoming a Parent Changed Me as a Fangirl

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By Corrin Bennett – Kill

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I am a sci-fi/fantasy nerd. I have read every book that Isaac Asimov has written (Nightfall is my favorite). I have plowed my way through 10-volume-plus epic fantasy series multiple times (just finished The Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson). I have waited years for the next book and raised my fist to the sky when a certain author of a certain series died of a rare blood disease before finishing a twelve-volume series (How dare he!) I assiduously avoid movie trailers for new movies I want to see so I don’t spoil them for myself, and I squeed like a 10-year-old girl when I learned Game of Thrones was being made by HBO.

So, the last thing in the world I expected when I became pregnant with my first child was any change in my media consumption. Granted, there were some obvious changes that would happen. Seeing a new movie in the theater has become my great white whale, and any Game of Thrones watching happens after bed time. But, my taste, my choices, I figured those would all remain the same. Right?

And then came Ben. Squalling, never sleeping, constantly nursing Ben. From the moment he was born my vision of myself and my place in the world shifted irrevocably. I was no longer Corrin first, I was Ben’s mom. I had not spent my formative years playing house and naming all my future children. Until I was 27, I was not sure I even wanted kids. So I did not really imagine how different motherhood would make me.

If you’ve ever had a life-changing experience, you have an idea of what I’m talking about -something that shakes or shifts your world view and your place in it. I read once of a man describing parenthood as having your heart no longer inside your body, but carried around by your child. It is profoundly disconcerting and took me a good two years to come to accept. It is also pretty miraculous. But I digress. The role of parent now colors every aspect of my life, especially my choices about books, television, and film.

I am currently reading a new sci-fi/fantasy series: the Long Price Quartet by Daniel Abraham. I’m midway through the first book, A Shadow in Summer. So far so good. Not your typical elves and fairies, aliens and hyper-sleep kind of sci-fi/fantasy series. One night I was reading and came to a part in the book where a young pregnant woman who wants her child is going to have it aborted against her will. (I know. Yikes.) She doesn’t know this, but that is the plan. I had to stop reading. I couldn’t bring myself to read through what happens to her. Being pregnant with my second child and experiencing the extraordinarily vivid dreams that have accompanied my pregnancies, I knew that I would dream about what happened if I read it, that I would begin to fear for my own unborn child.

In this past season of Game of Thrones, the most difficult scene for me to watch was when the baby was left alone in the snow for the White Walkers. I could hear the baby’s cry change from upset to frantic and I completely lost it. My thoughts were not about whether we would see a White Walker, but somebody has to go pick up that baby! I am an adult woman and I understand the difference between fiction and real life, but my mommy-feels don’t.

My mom, my older sister and I used to regularly go the movies together. In 1996, when I was 19 and my sister 21, that was Mel Gibson(40-something, pre-crazy Mel Gibson…rowr). The movieRansom was out in the theater, and big sis and I wanted to go see it because 90 minutes of Mr. Gibson. My mom, usually as enthusiastic about that prospect as her daughters, was reluctant. Ransom was an OK thriller-type flick, but it centered around the kidnapping of a little boy and his father’s attempt to ransom him home. My mom couldn’t stomach the idea of sitting through 90 minutes of child-taken-from-parents fear, regardless of it being fiction. “I think of my own kids,” she said. My sister and I scoffed (well, at least I certainly did) at mom’s soft heart and badgered her into going anyway. My 19-year-old self couldn’t understand how a movie would affect her so deeply in that way. The likelihood that anything like that would happen to us was laughably slim. And, after all, it’s a movie! Not a very good one, at that. What’s the big deal? Eighteen years and one and a quarter children later, I understand my mom’s reluctance.

Prior to becoming a parent, I related to the underdog character, the down-on-their-luck but good hearted scamp, and the only depictions that could really rip the tears out of me were daughters estranged from and/or reunited with their fathers. I was Scout, from To Kill a Mockingbird and, man oh man, did I want Atticus to be my dad. I was LeeLee Sobieski from Deep Impact crying as my parents hand me my infant sibling to outrun nature. It was Maverick from Top Gun whom I wept with when Goose died. But now, I am no longer Scout. I am Atticus trying to guide a confused child through difficulty. I’m no longer LeeLee Sobieski. I am her mother, handing over my infant child to my eldest so they can both be safe. (Aside: I recently saw Deep Impact again on cable and sobbed hysterically at that scene.) I am now the parent sacrificing myself for my child. I no longer just relate to parent characters, I place my child into the positions of their child and unconsciously imagine how I would feel if I had to do what they were doing. All sad little boys are my boy. As you can imagine, it makes watching Law & Order: SVU more than a little challenging.

So, I’ll never again watch a film where kidnapping of a child is central to the plot. I may or may not pick up the book I am reading again … maybe after baby #2 is born. Cheesy sci-fi flicks with parents separated from their kids will continue to make me openly weep, and I will just have to live without that much Law & Order: SVU in my life. Of all the sacrifices being a parent has required, this is one I can live with.

I Read A Book: The Geek’s Guide To Dating

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by Keidra Chaney

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Before I start this review, I will admit to a long-standing bias against dating books. Most of them seem to exist to make women specifically feel bad about our dating choices: what we wear, how we act who they choose to date or not date, whether or not we decide to have sex with who we date, blah, blah, blah you name it. And with the ongoing discussion about misogyny in geek culture I saw the Geek’s Guide To Dating and thought “this could be promising”, but also “this could go in a couple of very different directions, content wise.”

So with my biases aside, I did take note of the “Note for the Gal Geek” at the very beginning of the Geek’s Guide To Dating. The note basically says that the book is intended for men and women with a few exceptions for gender-specific language (“skip the section on facial hair”) and the use of the male pronoun throughout the book. Uh… OK.

So here’s the thing, and I’ll get to the actual geek content of the book a little later. While I appreciate the Gal’s Note at the beginning…no, this really is a book with a presumed male audience. Now to author Eric Smith’s credit, there’s plenty of admonishments to not talk down to women, accuse them of being “fake geek girls,” etc. an entire section about the myth of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl and the tendency for geek culture to create unrealistic expectations for women, but again, the entire book really does assume the reader is a (straight) dude, and even with its heart in the right place, play into stereotypes about male vs. female geeks. All of the examples are of male geek culture heroes (Jean Luc Picard, Peter Parker, Mal Reynolds, Tony Stark, etc) There’s a weird kind of “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” gender essentialism in the examples, but in this case it’s “Men do MMORPGs, Women do anime cosplay.”

But even so, the book overall is entertainingly written, and absolutely packed with multi-genre geek references – comics, video games, sci-fi- and it will likely resonate with the late-teens to early 20′s dude geek crowd it was intended for, and helpful in terms of putting them at easy about basic date interaction and socialization. What is universal advice, even beyond geekdom, is the the idea of “hey get your shit together when you go on a date, groom yourself and amp up the manners.” There’s a strong gaming theme throughout the book, the reader is referred to as “Player One” to give you an idea of what the tone of the book is.

Interestingly, as a music geek, it was rather surprising that for all of the “geek types” referenced in the book (math, history, computers, comics, Apple/PC, social media, gaming, TV/Film) music was not mentioned at all. Are music geeks not considered to be “real geeks?” Are they considered to be cooler than “real geeks?” I assure you, they are not. Additionally, the dating inspiration playlist was filled with songs that I SWEAR TO YOU I don’t understand why they are geek anthems. WHY do geeks love Dragonforce so damn much? Can someone please tell me? Cause I’m a geek, and love metal, but… shrug

In reading The Geek’s Guide To Dating what really struck me is that geek culture still has a long way to go when it comes to media that really captures the diversity of this audience. It’s still very homogenous, and geared around a specific worldview, even with the best of intentions. But I think of websites like The Mary Sue, Black Girl Nerds, etc. and I figure we’re getting a bit closer. Even so, I would love to see this diversity reflected in mainstream geek culture a little more explicitly, considering that geek culture is pop culture these days.

Summary: Entertainingly written, but falls prey to a lot of gender stereotyping, despite good intentions

I Read a Book: The Fan Fiction Studies Reader

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By Keidra Chaney

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The Fan Fiction Studies Reader, an anthology of influential academic literature in the field of fan studies, is edited by Karen Hellekson and Kristin Busse, the co-editors of the independent academic journal Transformative Works and Cultures, from the Organization of Transformative Works, which promotes the academic study of fan culture and fan works.

For those already familiar with the academic study of participatory fan culture, many of the selections here will be familiar: Henry Jenkins’ landmark Textual Poachers, a chapter of Camille Bacon-Smith’s book Enterprising Women, Francesca Coppa’s Writing Bodies in Space: Media Fan Fiction as Theoretical Performance. The reader is split into several components: “Fan Fiction as Literature” covers much of the same ground as Fic: Why Fanfiction Is Taking Over the World (previously reviewed here); gender and sexuality within fandom is approached in the “Fan Fiction and Feminism” section, the social dynamics of fan communities is explored in the “Fan Communities and Affect” section. the performative aspects of fan creation are tackled in the “Fan Creativity and Performance” section.

There’s some notable omissions, however. Specifically, the importance of anime and manga fandom and fanworks and its collective impact on fan communities. The editors acknowledge that the reader is selective in its focus:

“We have [...] chosen to restrict our collection to transformative written works of Western media texts in order to provide a cogent history of one particular strand of fan studies research that has been prolific and influential to both fan and media studies.”

While I understand that one anthology can’t cover everything, it’s hard to overstate the impact of anime and manga on Western fan communities and particularly pre-social media online culture. It’s the entry point to fan culture for many, particularly those who came of age online. To not have that element of fandom explored seems quite shortsighted for an anthology meant to build a theoretical foundation for fan studies, but perhaps an anthology that focuses on global fan communities is the next step to address this. Additionally, I have also noticed generally a lack of academic writing on race, ethnicity, and fan-writing communities, but I suspect this may be connected more so to the medium; more visual fan works like fan-art and cosplay have explored issues of race-bending and representation more explicitly. Still, there’s way more to explore here, and I would love to see a book on fan studies that integrates globalization, culture and race issues into its narrative, rather than siloing these issues off.

Henry Jenkins’ Textual Poachers is now 22 years old, meaning academic study of fandom as a concept is now well past its infancy. Mass media has certainly changed quite a bit has changed in that time,and what it means to participate within fandom and to study fandom has changed as well.Fan studies, while not exactly widespread in academic circles, is much more accepted as a discipline and field of study, even as pop culture studies remains the Rodney Dangerfield of critical studies. Even 2004 seems worlds away in the short but eventful history of fan studies; this was a time before social media made it possible for fans to collective dissect television shows in real-time before the widespread popularity of blogging, memes, and viral content online normalized the concept of audiences as media producers; before fanfic-writers turned pro like Cassandra Clare and E.L. James brought a certain level of acceptance (if not respectability) to the idea of fanfiction as a jumping-off point for original fiction; an age where the idea of media owners courting fan activity rather than suppressing it seemed preposterous – and quite notably before geek fandom (sci-fi, fantasy, comics) evolved from subculture to the mainstream. Much of this early fandom/online cultural history is in danger of being erased in broader discussions of online culture and community, either intentionally and unintentionally by corporate media owners and brands, or by pop culture critic and writers who may not be aware of that this history even exists.

The Fan Fiction Studies Reader is valuable in a number of ways, as a foundational text within classrooms teaching fan studies or media studies, for academics planning to build upon the previous thinking within the multidisciplinary study of fandom, and as a historical document of fan culture for critics and journalists that write about such issues.

Summary: A valuable text for aca-fans, media studies teachers, and professional/armchair media studies critics.

TLF Broadway Chat!

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Amanda LaPergola and Keidra Chaney

A couple of months ago, Keidra and Amanda got together and shared notes about our recent Broadway experiences. It quickly moved on to other topics like stunt casting and Hollywood-izing of live theater, the atrocious Spiderman musical, Sailor Moon, and more. In honor of tonight’s Audra McDonald Tony Awards, we are sharing this special chat with you today.

Keidra: What play did you see?

Amanda: I saw “All The Way”, or as it is often listed, “Bryan Cranston in ‘All The Way’”. Because Bryan Cranston is in it.

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Keidra: I saw “Raisin in the Sun” or DENZEL. It was, I believe technically the second day of previews so there still were some issues, I think, with chemistry.

Amanda: Ah, interesting. I think “Bryan Cranston: The Musical” was well into its run by the time I saw it.

Keidra: I felt like there were times that the actors were trying to feel their way around each other, especially Sophie Okonedo and Denzel. They are supposed to be husband and wife and it felt like she was a bit intimidated.

Amanda: I can say that, having experienced previews as an actor, there is still a lot of gelling and things coming together both artistically and technically that make for a less focused, though interesting experience as an audience member.

Keidra: Do you think previews are helpful in that respect?

Amanda: I think that productions definitely need the preview period to get a feel for the actual run. When you’re rehearsing a play, nine times out of ten, you’re doing so in this studio space, or a church basement, or someone’s living room. You’re not onstage, making choices and exploring the character and relationships in the space you will actually be performing in. A period of adjustment is required.

Keidra: That makes sense, and you’re able to gauge audience response and get a feel for the crowd. I enjoyed the show, but I came out wishing I could see it again later in the run,

Amanda: I remember that’s why there was so much controversy when a critic posted a review of “Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark” while it was still in previews. The show was not ready, it needed to time adjust, to feel things out, to find what works and what won’t work. Of course, it turned out that nothing worked, so…

Keidra: Hoooo boy.

Amanda: Yeah. That show.

Keidra: I kinda wish I had been able to see it, it seemed like a hot mess from the very beginning though I feel like there were so many crazy expectations with it, too

Amanda: I had a friend who was an usher during the beginning of its run. She has stories.

Keidra: Oh, I bet! I feel like geek culture in general is so crazy critical it probably never had much of a chance

Amanda: There were crazy expectations, and geek culture was, is, and always will be extremely critical, but that show, if I may put it delicately, was an abortion.

Keidra: Did you get to see it?

Amanda: Nope. I never did. A part of me is sorry that I never did, but that show made me angry in so many ways. The excess, the casual disregard for performer safety, the fact that the creative team didn’t really seem to know Spiderman or what made him appealing… Mostly, I just get angry because I feel that “Spiderman” was a symptom of everything that is going wrong with Broadway today.

Keidra: Yes! It seemed like a production created by a marketing team.

Amanda: Oh man, now the angry theater nerd is coming out of me.

Keidra: Yes! Yes!!! Release your anger!!

Amanda: Broadway shows are being made and marketed the same way that blockbuster movies are being made and marketed: to cater to an international audience. Broadway shows, with some exceptions, fall into three categories: jukebox musicals, blockbuster musicals, star vehicles. ”Spiderman” does not necessarily fall into any of those categories, but the branding, the marketing, it was all there.

Keidra: I thought of Spiderman as kind of a weird Frankenstein of a musical; the “pop culture event” musical.

Amanda: Yes, Frankenstein is a good word for it.

Keidra: Had it not been a disaster there would have been a whole bunch of bullshit musicals in the same vein. Like “Pokemon: The Musical.”

Amanda: Isn’t there already a Pokemon musical? I feel like Japan would be all over that shit.

Keidra: Ooooh maybe there is? See I could see Japan doing it right, because they had that Sailor Moon stage show back in the day that was pretty goddamn awesome.

Amanda: I fucking love those Sailor Moon shows!

Keidra: YAAAAAAAAS!

Amanda: That’s what, I think, the Spiderman musical was trying to emulate, actually. It wanted to become the Sailor Moon musical of the West. And it did not. It failed. So hard.

Keidra: Ah… perhaps! It totally didn’t come across that way at all from what little I saw and heard.

Amanda: Oh, you mean how the writers made up villains and a character called “Arachne” and changed the way Uncle Ben died?

Keidra: UGHHHHH! I totally purged that from my memory! Just a total lack of respect for fans and audience members. Blech.

Amanda: Indeed. Like I said, the creators of this show just saw Spiderman as a brand and did not understand what made the character so popular and iconic to begin with. Also, I think that Julie Taymor might have Shyamalaned as a director.

Keidra: I am borrowing that.

Amanda: I give you my blessing! Anyway, the life and death of the Spiderman musical is classic Greek tragedy: warnings were ignored, hubris was rampant, and in the end, people suffered. Also, a fuckton of money was spent.

Keidra: I feel like in big budget Broadway and film in particular, branding comes before ideas every damn time.

Amanda: Dude, yes. Another symptom of that is “star” casting.

Keidra: YES! I love Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella as a musical and I really wanted to see it but not with all the stunt casting.

Amanda: Holy hell, that is stunt casting without a net! Remember “Sound of Music: Live” and how Carrie Underwood was utterly destroyed by Audra MacDonald?

Keidra: Brought the girl to TEARS

Amanda: Imagine that happening to poor Carly Rae Jepsen on a nightly basis.

Keidra: Yes. Totally out of her league. Even Raisin in The Sun was positioned as DENZEL rather than a revival of the play, and that bugged me a bit, though who doesn’t love him?

Amanda: It’s interesting to note that Raisin has had only two Broadway revivals since its original run, and both times they were crazy star-casted. P. Diddy played Denzel’s role in the last revival.

Keidra: I wish you could see me shaking my head.

Amanda: Although, that production also had Phylicia Rashad and Audra Motherfucking McDonald, who both won Tony’s for that show, so the sum of its parts and all that? I didn’t see that production, but something worked.

Keidra: I wish I had seen it. I actually heard Diddy wasn’t awful.

Amanda: Me, too. I think he might have benefited from being surrounded by such amazing talent, but acting onstage is not easy even for people who have been doing it for a long time. Despite the wobbliness of the performance you saw (preview shakes and all that) what were your impressions of the acting?

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Keidra: I always love Anika Noni Rose; I thought she was great. LaTanya Richardson Jackson was EXCEPTIONAL.  She replaced Diahann Carroll and I honestly feel like she did a better job than Carroll would have done in the role. She was the right choice. Denzel was good but not exceptional. I feel like he’s getting used to the stage. Also, Walter is a thankless role. I feel like no matter what, I never really like him. He honestly doesn’t get the best moments in that play.

Amanda: Very true. Which sucks because Walter is the catalyst for everything that happens in the show. He is the one who goes on this journey, he is the one who messes up and brings chaos, and he is the one who grows and changes the most.  It’s not poor Walter’s fault that all the women in his family are just fucking amazing.

Keidra: LOL! So true. Like I said, I wish I could see it again at the end of the run. I feel like some things will be worked out.

Amanda: Well, now my interest is piqued. If I can get to the show as it’s winding down I will give you my thoughts.  “All The Way”, by contrast, is not an important part of American Theater history. It’s not a revival of anything. It’s Bryan Cranston being Bryan Cranston being LBJ.

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And that was all me and everyone else in the audience wanted. OMG I’M PART OF THE PROBLEM!

Keidra: How was the crowd, did they seem especially starstruck?

Amanda: They seemed appreciative. I mean, this was a role that was clearly written for a star. It’s not like Walter in “Raisin”, where he is part of the fabric of the show, LBJ is the motherfucking show. LBJ IS THE ONE WHO SHOWS.

Keidra: That’s a tagline!

Amanda: Hell yes it is! I just put at least four more asses in the seats!

Keidra: Let’s get you on the payroll!

Amanda: But anyway, the show begins and ends with LBJ talking to the audience, so it is one of those kinds of shows. Which is weird, because the cast is HUGE. There are twenty people in that show!

Keidra: Wow, so who are the other characters?

Amanda: Everyone in LBJ’s life from 1963 to 1964, up to and including J. Edgar Hoover and Martin Luther King. Not JFK, though. He’s dead before the play even begins. The plot of this show is basically everything LBJ does between the death of Kennedy and his reelection the following year. The first act, actually, feels a lot like “Lincoln”. It pretty much exclusively focuses on the passing of the Civil Rights Bill and all the finagling it took to do that.

Keidra: Lots of monologues, I imagine.

Amanda: Lots of political threats, too. Lines like: “I love you more than my own daddy, but if you get in my way, I’ll crush you” But, also, it takes a look at what groups like the NAACP were doing during the fight, too. So, it was like “Lincoln”, but where black people actually do things! It was kind of refreshing to see the fight for the Civil Rights bill from all angles and not just what all the wise white men did.

Keidra: So does this show count as a “stunt casting” show to you?

Amanda: I do believe that this show was stunt-casted, but in a way that works in the show’s favor. The show, as it is written, is not very strong. It’s too long, too preachy, and the second half is a bit of mess. I actually feel like the show should have ended with the passing of the bill, because that first half has a much more complete feel to it. It is also the kind of the show that would not have made it all the way to Broadway without the benefit of star power…or a seriously loaded producer, but anyway… The strength of this show relies HEAVILY on the strength of its LBJ, and Cranston, in addition to being a recognizable face, gives it that power and charisma that that role needs. Without a strong lead, “All The Way” would collapse like a poorly made flan.

Keidra: So you couldn’t see this production taking off with an unknown.

Amanda: Hell no! It’s not a strong enough play to stand on its own merits. Although, and I will give this show credit, “All The Way” is educational. Someone who comes to see the show just hoping to see Heisenberg on Broadway might learn something about that era of history, so there is some benefit in that. I think Kevin Spacey said something like “If some kid sees me in ‘Richard II’ because he saw me in ‘Superman’ and finds out he likes Shakespeare, then mission accomplished.” Then he launched into a rendition of “My Way”. At least he does in my version of events. I don’t want it to sound like I didn’t enjoy “All The Way”; I enjoyed it immensely. Getting to a Broadway show always feels special, despite my conflicted feelings about Broadway as an institution. And it was great just basking in that Cranston glow.

Amanda LaPergola threw herself into the desperate, pulsating mass of aspiring New York City actor-writers almost ten years ago and looks back on her choices with only minor regrets.  Her shortest held survival job was as a fundraiser for the New York Philharmonic, her tenure coming to a thrilling crescendo when a prospective patroness of the arts cordially invited young Amanda to “go fuck [her]self.”  She will also tell you many stories about that one week she worked at The Patriot.  Amanda is a contributing writer/crayon archivist/Street Fightologist  for The Mary Sue and reviews plays, musicals, and whatever else the kids are doing on stage these days at Theater Is Easy.  She is an active member of the New York City indie theater community, and she hangs out a lot (some might say too much) at The Brick.  She once tried stand-up comedy, but then she stopped.  Tweet her, if you must, @LaPergs.

Barbie Dolls & Frag Dolls: From Barbie to Mortal Kombat and Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat, with a Trip or Two Down Memory Lane

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By Kristin Bezio

I recently picked up two collections of essays on gender and games compiled primarily by and for women. The first, From Barbie to Mortal Kombat, edited by Justine Cassell and Henry Jenkins, was published in 1998. The second, Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat, edited by Yasmin B. Kafai, Carrie Heeter, Jill Denner, and Jennifer Y. Sun, appeared in 2008, ten years later.

I decided to reserve judgment until I’d read the second, because From Barbie really shows its age. The lack of awareness of the complexity of games (which weren’t all that complex in 1998, but which were more complex than I think a lot of the authors gave them credit for), the overwhelming presumption that gamers were primarily children (grade school through high school aged), and the almost single-minded notion that there must be this magical genre of “games for girls” that appears in almost every piece in From Barbie irritated me beyond belief.

compaqIt also made me think about where I was as a gamer in 1998. 1998 was the year I graduated high school (yes, I’m old, but not yet ancient). By then, my family had a computer for fourteen years, and I’d had one in my personal room for at least seven of those years. My first computer was a Compaq portable, with “portable” needing to be taken with a small wheelbarrow of salt. It was the size of carry-on roller-bag with a screen smaller than that on my iPad, glowed green-and-black, had two 8-inch floppy drives, and needed three separate disks to boot to the C-prompt. My dad replaced that one with a 386, which is when the Compaq ceased to be the “family” computer and became mine.

I played kids’ games on the Compaq – Facemaker, the very first LodeRunner, a typing game that must have been something like TyperShark. Once I graduated to the 386 (when my dad got the 486), I was able to add a few more – and in color! Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego?, an updated LodeRunner, King’s Quest, Flight Simulator, Civilization, a collection of themed 3D pinball games, and the webgames that were available on ProdigyOnline (one of them involved a quest in which I was taught by a stag that “thee” and “thou” were informal terms, a fact that came in handy decades later when I became a Shakespeare scholar). I never got the 486 because I went to college, and got my own computer (in 1998). At that point, I picked up Myst and The Seventh Guest.

For a very brief amount of time when I was a kid, we also had an Atari. I played Frogger on that, but I was very, very little, and I don’t really remember much more. What I do remember about my childhood is that my mother had (and still has) an abhorrence for violent games (oops). It wasn’t that – as From Barbie suggests – she thought they were “boys’ games,” and I was a girl; rather, she didn’t want me or my father to play anything that had shooting or violence. That was also the reason we didn’t buy any consoles – so I grew up in the age of Mario without ever having played Mario.

When I was in junior high, the best teacher I ever had taught us social studies and the history of civilizations by having us play the original Sid Meyer’s Civilization. I loved it. I became horribly addicted to it. I spent hours with it on my 386. (As it turns out, that was nothing to the amount of time I would spend on Civ II and Civ III in college.)

In high school, my friends and I would go to a place called Network Underground, where we could pay by the hour to LAN Doom, Quake, Descent (the only one I was even remotely good at), and Duke Nukem. I was terrible at first-person shooters. Terrible. But my lack of skill has nothing at all to do with my gender or exposure to technology in general (I had my own webpage in high school and college); rather, it had to do with the fact that I only played shooters when I was at Network Underground – in other words, it was all about exposure to the specific mechanics of shooters.

That’s where I was in 1998 when From Barbie came out. I was a girl who abhorred the conventional play associated with Barbies (Barbie Fashion Designer would be tantamount to my worst nightmare) – the Barbies I had went to war with one another as often as they had normal lives. I also didn’t like the “normal” Barbie – I had the African American Barbies, Skipper, Courtney, Ken, several off-brand dolls, and whatever else their names really are (I renamed them all about every other day). I also had trucks and Legos (not the kits) and trains and blocks and pretty much anything else my mother could find, except guns or swords. Nothing violent.

Yet despite being a girl, I was into games, and into computer games, yet I would have rather given up on computers altogether than be forced to play any of the games talked about as “girls’ games” in From Barbie. But I reserved judgment and turned to Beyond Barbie, hoping that it would offer a more comprehensive viewpoint.

By 2008 I was a much more hardcore gamer. I’d started playing RPGs in college – first, one of the Harry Potter games, along with Riven and the Civ titles, more shooters, some Super Smash Brothers, more Civ (there was a lot of Civ). Once I hit grad school, I started playing more RPGs online with friends, and then I met my future husband, who got me thoroughly addicted to Team Fortress 2, System Shock 2, Portal, Age of Legends, BioShock, Warcraft III, Call of Duty (several of them), Gears of War, and the Wii.

Eventually, he introduced me to Mass Effect 2, which is the point at which I ceased to be a “follower-gamer” who picked up whatever he played, and became a bit of a BioWare fiend. That game is also the reason that our household has two XBox 360s. I’ve now played games he hasn’t (including part of Borderlands, the Dragon Age games, Contrast, Mass Effect 1, and Continue…?, and he’s of course played some that I haven’t), and I’ve even gotten him to play a few (Dishonored, Tomb Raider).

But by 2008, I was definitely a gamer. Maybe not hardcore, but a gamer. Games were more accessible, more women were playing, and I knew more women who played (our regular group was split down gender lines). So I was therefore expecting Beyond Barbie to have a more mature perspective, to include a complex discussion not only of who is playing and who is designing, but how gender appears in the games themselves.

 

It’s better than From Barbie, I’ll give it that. But it still suffers from one of the things I consider to be a significant problem in gender-and-gaming criticism across the journalistic and academic boards. Put simply, it still assumes that there’s some inherent difference between men and women as gamers, and that if only we can get girls interested in games, that somehow we will be able to create this magical market for “women gamers.”

 

There are several pieces in Beyond Barbie that recognize this, but there still seems to be a continued emphasis on “hooking” girls on gaming through some magical formula that will attract them to the industry. The argument, of course, is that if women are designing games, then those games will be more attractive to women. But in order to get that to happen, we have to first attract women (the number of times the book used the “chicken-and-egg” metaphor was staggering), and attracting women comes back to the same old fallacy.

 

At the end of Beyond Barbie came one of the best encapsulations of this idea, from Sheri Garner Ray, herself a game designer. She points out that it isn’t that women don’t like games, it’s that they don’t play them at all: “So how can we say ‘Women don’t like these games’ if they are not even trying them? Something is stopping them at the door” (322). She continues, remarking that “There are all these things that we do for a predominantly male perspective that is uncomfortable for our female players, and they are not going to play something that feels uncomfortable” (322). And that’s the core of the “female gamer” problem: games and gaming communities make women “feel uncomfortable.”

 

Ray has a fantastic example that is worth sharing at length:

I actually have these wonderful photographs of the Calvin Klein underwear models, the guys. I put them up on the screen and I say, “There you go, guys, ready? Give him a sword and send him into Diablo.” Are you ready for that to be your avatar? Every guy in the room wants to crawl under his chair. Now you understand! Now you understand why I’m uncomfortable being given these hypersexualized females to play, to represent me. Because you wouldn’t want these guys representing you. (325)

It’s a simplification of the problem of identity (mis)representation in gaming, certainly, but it still makes the point that women – and other minority voices – don’t avoid gaming because it doesn’t appeal to them. They avoid it because it makes them uncomfortable, either because the avatars are hypersexualized, the female NPCs are constantly victimized, or because the players themselves are made to feel that they don’t belong for a whole host of reasons.

So while Beyond Barbie is definitely more up-to-date and thoughtful than From Barbie, it still mostly feels to me like it’s on a social justice mission rather than seeking to engage in complex criticism. And while I do think that the mission it’s on is a worthy cause, I’m just not sure that it goes about solving the problem in the right ways.

Instead of coming back to the age-old “how to attract women” problem, I think it’s time that we actually talked about what really is happening in games. What is good about games? What is bad about them? What are the things that make women, men, African Americans, gays and lesbians, transpersons, Asians, Latinos, and others uncomfortable about the games and the gamespaces in which they play? How do our games challenge us in good ways? How do they make assumptions that shouldn’t be made?

And once we know what games are doing, then we can talk about what they should do and how to make that happen. And at the same time, if we elevate our conversation about the games, then we start to elevate our conversations about the game community at the same time – because we reflect the content of our games in our fandoms. So if we want to see our fandoms become more inclusive, less hostile, then we need to work on making sure that our games are the same. And before we can make them inclusive, we need to understand what we’re doing wrong – and what we’re already doing right.

‘Proteus, that God of Shapes’: Nick Yee’s Proteus Paradox (2013)

proteus

proteus

By Kristin Bezio

Nick Yee, the mastermind behind the Daedalus Project, mixes pop culture and social psychology in The Proteus Paradox: How Online Games and Virtual Worlds Change Us – And How They Don’t, a study that examines several general social concerns and how they change – or don’t – when engaged with in online games and virtual communities. Yee’s work as a researcher spans both social and technological science, and his facility with games suggests that he is also a frequent denizen of the digital realms he studies.

Yee’s book is a broad sweep across a variety of relationships – love, friendship, leadership – and social concerns – gender, sexuality, identity. He does so with surprising depth given the breadth of the book, and manages to remain both objective and poignant when dealing with politically and socially sensitive topics – such as gender and romance.

These were my two favorite chapters in the book, one for academic reasons, the other because of the amusing (and somewhat sappy) anecdotes recounted of people who met their husband/wife/SO in online gameplay. But maybe that’s just my personal bias showing.

Yee’s discussion of why and how people choose their avatars is interesting, but it consists largely of statistical reporting and contains less analysis and explanation than some of his other sections, especially that on gender, where he manages to sound neither defensive nor preachy (which is amazingly difficult given the often heated nature of the discussion). He points out that there are a certain set of assumptions made about players-presumed-to-be-female, holdovers from the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the player base for most online and even offline games was statistically much more likely to be young and male.

These holdovers – that female players are less experienced, don’t like violence, can’t strategize, and spend less time playing than their male counterparts – are harmful not only to the female players, Yee notes, in a variety of ways, but also to the male players with whom they play. Assumptions of incompetence, in particular, can hurt a Guild or team in cooperative play, and create a general atmosphere of hostility for everyone involved in the exchange.

But what the book ultimately concludes is that despite the utopian rhetoric we bandy about that claims that people can be anything they want online, we as players and members of the gaming community bring all our psychological, social, and political baggage with us, whether we’re wearing avatars that look like us or avatars with wings, green skin, pointy ears, fur, or tusks. We pick up on cues about a player’s origins, gender, sexuality, and age, and we judge them for those cues – whether or not we’re right about them (and certainly we are not right to do so).

The Proteus Effect is the idea that we believe that our IRL (in real life) identity ceases to matter when we cross over the virtual barrier of digital games, but, as a matter of fact, it often matters even more online than it does off. Online we don’t have bodies that can easily communicate our intelligence, our attitudes, our emotions. Online, all we have are the macrocues of names, word choice, voicechat, and IP address, and those can produce highly misleading and potentially harmful stereotypes about our race, gender, sexuality, and age – whether they are correct or not.

We believe ourselves Protean gods, capable of shifting who and what we are at the click of a mouse or press of a controller button, but, Yee argues, we aren’t. We radiate, even in virtual space, our politics, our beliefs, our education, and our social identity in ways we most likely do not even realize. And those cues (mis)lead others into judgments about us – just as they lead us into (mis)judgments about them.

I Read A Book: Yasue Kuwahara’s The Korean Wave: Korean Popular Culture in Global Context

the_korean_wave_Kuwahara

by Raizel Liebler

the_korean_wave_KuwaharaYasue Kuwahara’s The Korean Wave: Korean Popular Culture in Global Context (2014) is an excellent entry in the ever increasing corpus of books in English delving into Korean culture, academically.  Even the cover, PSY in shadow doing his horsey dance, is a nod to how ubiquitous Korean pop culture the the hallyu wave is becoming.

All of the essays in this collection are interesting additions and the scope of coverage varies greatly — from individual shows to globalization of a local industry.

For those seeking cultural studies style essays that consider gender, race/ethnicity, femininity and masculinity, there is The Politics of the Dancing Body: Racialized and Gendered Femininity in Korean Pop by Chuyun Oh, specifically about Girls’ Generation (SNSD); That’s My Man!: Overlapping Masculinities in Korean Popular Music by Crystal S. Anderson about TVXQ; and The S(e)oul of Hip-Hop: Locating Space and Identity in Korean Rap by Myoung-Sun Song about male hip hop and rap artists in today Korea.

But perhaps cultural studies isn’t exactly your thing. How about the political economy of Korean culture? And glocalization — an apt term about the simultaneous production of works to be both global and local? Then Hallyu as a Government Construct: The Korean Wave in the Context of Economic and Social Development by John Walsh; Transformations of Korean Media Industries by the Korean Wave: The Perspective of Glocalization by Hyejung Ju; and A Cultural Imperialistic Homecoming: The Korean Wave Reaches the United States by Sherri L. Ter Molen will pique your interest. I haven’t seen this much writing about the deliberate economic creation of Korean culture for a non-Korean audience in other collections. And these essays lay out how Hollywood pushing to have treaties opening up Korean audiences to their cultural products has led to much more entertainment dollars/won moving in the other direction.

But if you insist on enveloping yourself in Gangnam studies, which you will not find on TLF (see also: Areum Jeong, Horsing Around: Locality and Transnationality in PSY’s “Gangnam Style” (EMP 2013) & Pil Ho Kim, Boomtown Songs on the South of the River: The History and Geography of the ‘Gangnam Style’ Popular Music in South Korea (EMP 2014)), you should read the chapter, ‘Gangnam Style’ as Format: When a Localized Korean Song Meets a Global Audience by Claire Seungeun Lee and Yasue Kuwahara. Honestly, anyone interested in fandom and parody/satire should check out the long list of videos included in a chart in this chapter detailing the wide variety of remakes, takeoffs, and more based on the original video.

Summary: Recommended for those seeking an academic take on the Korean culture industry.

I Read a Book: Mark James Russell’s K-pop Now!: The Korean Music Revolution

kpop-now-cover

kpop-now-coverby Raizel Liebler

One of the first book reviews I wrote for TLF all the way back in 2008 was about Mark James Russell’s earlier book on Korean pop culture, Pop Goes Korea. I still think of that book in the same way I summarized it then, as a “starting point for the average reader looking for a basic understanding of Korean pop culture.” And to show how far Korean culture has moved from then into mainstream English-speaking popularity, my review of Pop Goes Korea was, according to Russell, the “first online review” of the book, serving as a “exciting” “personal milestone” for him. Alas, my days of being cutting-edge in breaking kpop book reviews seem to be long gone, mostly due to the growing breath of coverage. For example, read this great review of K-pop Now on Beyond Hallyu. Or this review on The Korean.

Unlike Pop Goes Korea, where there was minimal focus on music beyond the “making the band” aspects, K-pop Now is all about the music. The shiny, shiny kpop music. I’m just going to put my overall summary of the book here:

Strongly recommended as an entry point for those seeking a basic knowledge of what is going on in the 2013-14 kpop industry. If you are a parent, grandparent, auntie, or friend of someone who has started watching those videos and listening to those songs you don’t understand in Korean, buy them a copy of this book for their birthday! And then buy yourself a copy too!

Most of the book reminded me of the good old days of Metal Edge with pictures of Mark Slaughter and his cat  — for a very specific teen/tween obsessive knowledge type fan. And that is a wonderful glorious fandom stage to be cherished.

But you read TLF reviews for the critique, here it go. The book serves its audience well if it is indeed newcomers to kpop and younger fans. Seeing glossy photos and the birthdays of all of the group members is likely what they are looking for, but attempts to really dive deeper are mentioned, but not fully plunged into. There are mentions of contract disputes and young stars pushed to get plastic surgery, but these threads are dropped. There is discussion of the TVXQ “scandal” in the Kara section, but none in the section for that group. However, in the short segments for each group Russell does take time to discuss how groups such as EXO and the Wonder Girls are marketed differently for different countries.

As someone who likes and appreciates k-pop beyond the well-known groups, I appreciate trying to expand the horizons of newbies to groups that actually play instruments, such as Busker Busker and FT Island. And of course I give all the praise to Russell for including Yoon Mi-Rae (aka Tasha) because she more than anyone else in the book should be recognized for her amazing talents in the American music industry (yes, this is a fangirl moment).

But these inclusions only make the exclusions stand out more — no Epik High. no Tablo. no Drunken Tiger (beyond mention in Yoon Mi-rae’s section). no Dok2. no Phantom. So fine, rap and hiphop isn’t the focus of the book. But no Lee Hyori? (I think her exclusion has been mentioned everywhere!) Or Seven? This proves how young and/or new to kpop the intended audience for this book is.

And finally, to show at least one example of kpop beyond what can be captured in this book, embedded here is the Korean version of the song, MAMA, simultaneously also released in Mandarin, by different halves of the group, EXO. Containing a Gregorian-style chorus, a hard-rocking beat, and the usual dance moves of kpop, this proves there is a lot of weirdness going on even within the box of kpop.

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