Monday, July 28, 2008

Justin Timberlake (yes, that’s what I said)

Okay, so I'm going to gush about some guy that I don't usually care all that much about, but the potential is there for him to become one of the 21st century's greatest entertainers. Personally, I could care less about Justin Timberlake's singing career, his days with NSYNC, his relationship with Brittany Spears. He can dance with Janet or Madonna all he wants. The truly impressive thing about JT is that he does all this so well. Last week, I watched the 2008 Espy Awards, along with my mom, who immediately connected Timberlake with the person who ripped off Janet Jackson's "wardrobe" at the end of halftime at the Superbowl. Well, at least the awards would be good.

The amazing thing about this year's Espys was that the awards were banal, but JT's comedy, his performance, the one-liners as the commercials ended that were perfectly dry and instantly hilarious, stole the show completely. It turned out to be the Justin Timberlake Comedy hour. Even the Hollywood reporters on Headline News were shocked to find out how great of an "entertainer" JT is. It put Jay Leno's monologues to shame, and brought comparisons to such legends as James Dean and Johnny Carson. He's truly a renaissance man, and can do anything he set's his mind to. Further, he's launched his career past the doldrums of his female cohorts on the Mickey Mouse Club, and has kept himself out of all the trouble his friends have gotten themselves into.

I hope that Timberlake sees his performance at the Espys as a starting point for the rest of his life. Once he finishes his teen idol stage, he can become a true celebrity and do whatever he wants. He could light the fire under a night-time talk show, with comedy, skits, interviews, and charm that our current hosts (with the exception of Conan) know little about. He could host a Variety show much as the stars of the 1970's did, but without all the useless Reality show acts that flood the airwaves today. He could continue his singing and performing career far past his boy band friends and join the rock n roll hall of fame as a legend in his time. But it's his torch to pick up, his choice to make. Let's hope he fulfills his potential.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Bad-News Media; Hack N’ Slash Video Games

We Didn't Start the Fire..:

My grandmother came out of her room this morning complaining, as usual, about how bad the world is getting, from politics to natural disasters to celebrity scandals. Course, all she does is watches the news channels (which is understandable, because sometimes the only thing decent on is the news, with all the reality junk on all the time. And as I've said before, the need to have background noise on all the time means you have to have the TV on some channel that has the same thing on it 24/7. Weather, sports, the news. That's why Headline News is so convenient for this. Anyway, so she comes out complaining about the state of the world, and all I can think of is Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire," in which he lists in effective fashion the newsworthy stuff that's gone on since our grandparents were children. And it's very apparent if you listen to those lyrics, or look into history books that the same amount of crap went on back then, but that it wasn't broadcast to everyone in the world within seconds of it happening, via TV or the Internet. Now we get to experience first hand, but with the cool dispassionate smile of the news anchor, the floods, the fires, the murders, the wars, the disease...everything that makes this the certain end times, all digested into one half hour of despair. But things like this were happening back then, too. I wonder how CNN would handle the Teapot Dome scandal now, or what type of human interest story would have been made out of the Pony Express or the atrocities of the Mexican war of the late 1800's. Just because our grandparents and great grandparents didn't know about all the bad stuff doesn't mean it didn't happen. They just didn't have Gretta or Geraldo to report on it all.

And of course I could go into Postman's idea about the visual medium being just as important as the message, or how dispassionate it all becomes, how desensitized we all are to everything that goes on, how it effects today's children, how the constant media coverage only intensifies the need for copycat acts, or the need for attention through the media....etc... but I won't go into all that right now. :)


Hack 'n Slash

I've been playing Ragnarok, an online game from Korea that is similar in methodology to most online games. See a creature, kill it, get XP, see a creature, kill nauseum. This particular game has very relaxing music and a neat 3d style graphic background that sets it apart, and it's been functioning for years that way. I finally have a computer that will handle it. And while I'll play it, for as long as it's free (2 weeks), I don't know if I'll actually pay to play it, for the same reasons I won't play most other video games. There's no story line, no reason I should be emotionally involved with the main character. I guess I'm spoiled with the rich storylines of Final Fantasy III and VII, the Zelda games, and Half-Life. The last being an interesting example of a first person shooter with an engaging story line that makes it stand above Doom and all the other Shoot 'n Kill games. I want to play games where I actually care about what's going on. If I have to waste my life sitting in front of a computer screen playing video games, at least make it worthwhile. I'm also playing Psychonauts right now, and finding it to be much different than what I thought it would be. More about this game later...

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Book Review: _The Raw Shark Texts_ by Steven Hall

The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall. (there are some spoilers here, although just as many as in any reviews on Amazon, so...)

This is not a book about sushi....

At first glance, you flip through the pages and find this section where the pages are blank, and then as you flip, a shark comes out of the page towards you, a shark filled with letters of the book. I thought, "Ok, this is odd." And I really didn't expect too much out of it, since other authors have used tricks of the written page to make up for a lack of coherent plot or character development (see Samuel Delany's Dhalgren, which is tedious and reminds one of a bad drug episode, and that's before the text goes funky.)

I picked up the book because it reminded me of Umberto Eco's The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, where, at the beginning of the tale, a man has come out of a coma to find that he cannot remember the details of his life. An ingenious story, and one that would have really been amazing, had the main character not died in the middle of it.

Steven Hall, however, handles the predicament with more skill than Eco, which is surprising seeing as this is Hall's first novel. The underlying premise is that throughout human development, the world of ideas and communication has spawned the evolution of "data animals." Much like the Digimon of today's cartoons. But these have developed in a manner much like the real animals on Earth, and so by the time of present day man, the Ludovician (shark) is the most advanced creature made up of thoughts and ideas. Each of these animals feed off of the dreams, thoughts, and communications of mankind, from just nibbling on e-mails (and losing them in the data stream, think back when you lost an e-mail, or your research paper suddenly was lost on a floppy disk), to eating memories of human beings (you remember when you lost your keys, and then found them an hour later sitting on your bed?) Eric Sanderson, the main character, has one of these sharks eating on him, and he has to find a way to get rid of it.

there are many other sub-plots and layers in the book, some of which are explained, some are not. The book is definitely a child of the postmodern philosophy, one born of sci-fi suspension and hallucinogenic trips that would be more fit for a part in Kubrick's 2001 or Altered States. But all the while, as it leads you down one strange paper trail after another (literally), everything that happens is within the realm of believability.

One thing I want to point out was the calm and comfort of the first part of the book which is essential to the chaos that ensues. We must all yearn for that state of innocence and paradise, much as Adam did, but like Adam, Eric must have chosen to experience his life as something more than an everyday routine. It was a wonderful part of the book, something I was sorry to see changed as the plot progressed, which was exactly what the author intended.

I personally could have used a little more tying up of loose ends at the end, but I believe that the movie (for he has sold the movie rights to some studio or another) will take that part, at least, and make it all work out. One last thing.... there are parts of the book that really makes me want to visit the Greek Islands. Part travel memoir, part sci-fi book, part taken out of Islands in the Stream by Hemingway (the first part, before he goes to war)., the book was very entertaining, and worth the praise it has received.