Monday, September 29, 2008

★ Digging Deeper

★ Digging Deeper: "

The high concept of Apple’s long-running ‘Get a Mac’ TV campaign is that the characters portrayed by John Hodgman and Justin Long are personified computers. It’s right there in the opening lines of every ad in the series: ‘Hello, I’m a Mac.’ ‘And I’m a PC.’ Hodgman is not ‘Windows’; Long is not Mac OS X. They are not representative or average PC/Mac users. They are computers.

They’re not dressed as computers, they’re dressed as people. It’s postmodernism taken to a very silly and profoundly unserious commercial end.

But the concept reflects the actual business that Apple is in. Apple does not sell operating systems. They sell computers. Microsoft does not sell computers; they sell operating systems. (Apple’s boxed $129 versions of Mac OS X are just upgrades; they only work on computers that Apple has already sold.) Apple and Microsoft are undeniably engaged in one of the longest running and most interesting rivalries in business history, but it is very odd in that it is an orthogonal rivalry. Apple’s direct competition isn’t Microsoft but instead PC makers who sell computers running Windows.

This is not a minor semantic point. There is no argument that the single most distinguishing difference between a Mac and a PC is the OS. The genius in the conceit of Apple’s ads is that they acknowledge this without making Windows the target. They do so by diminishing Windows. Windows is just one element of what it is that makes PC (the character) who he is. The ads are neutral, sometimes even deferential, towards Microsoft. Vista is mocked, but several of the spots have emphasized how Microsoft Office works just great on a Mac. In at least one of the ads, Long’s Mac character even makes it a point that he can run Windows just as well as PC can, via Boot Camp.

The framing of Apple’s ads is not about either/or. Not a choice between two rival products, like Democrat/Republican, Chevy/Ford, Coke/Pepsi. The framing instead is special vs. regular. Not Coke vs. Pepsi but Coke vs. ‘soda’.

Windows is not the Mac’s rival or competitor. It is the omnipresent homogenizer that weighs PC down.

It doesn’t matter whether that is actually true. The point is that this is the role Apple has reduced Windows to in this advertising campaign. Windows is regular. The default. The norm. Mac OS X and the software that runs on it is special. It is something that the Mac can never lose and which the PC can never have.

And so what makes Microsoft’s new ‘I’m a PC’ commercials so jaw-droppingly bad is that they’re not countering Apple’s message, but instead they’re reinforcing it. That the spots themselves jump between dozens of different people who ‘are’ PCs, that the spots make a point of emphasizing that there are a billion Windows-running PCs worldwide, this only emphasizes that ‘PC’ is not a brand name but a generic.

Microsoft’s new ads emphasize the same message as Apple’s: that the Mac is the one and only brand-name computer in the world.


(Via Daring Fireball.)

Apple’s Aluminum Keyboard: not user-serviceable

Apple’s Aluminum Keyboard: not user-serviceable: "dsc03724scaled.JPG

Ever thought of trying to dismantle one of Apple's industrial-looking metal keyboards? Don't.


(Via Boing Boing Gadgets.)

Microsoft’s ‘I’m a PC’ Ads

Microsoft’s ‘I’m a PC’ Ads: "

Pathetic. So sad. This campaign (which feels utterly unconnected to the Seinfeld spots) might as well be titled ‘Please stop making fun of Windows, Apple.’


(Via Daring Fireball.)

Framing the Candidates (Part Three): The Daily Show Parodies

Framing the Candidates (Part Three): The Daily Show Parodies: "

Over the past two posts, I've suggested ways educators could use the campaign bio videos produced for the two national conventions as a way of encouraging civic literacy. I've suggested that they are powerful examples of the different ways that the parties 'frame' their candidates and platforms. The focus on personal biography brings to the surface what linguist George Lakoff calls the GOP's 'Strict Father' and the Democrat's 'Nurturing Parent' models, both of which see the family as a microcosm for the way a president will relate to the nation. I've also suggested that the videos surrounding the Vice-Presidential candidates help to broaden the appeal by bringing in aspects of the other party's 'frame' so as to speak to swing voters.

Today, I want to turn my attention to the parodies of these videos produced for The Daily Show. I've long argued that one of the program's greatest functions is to educate us to reflect critically on the discourse of news and politics, especially to focus attention on how issues get 'framed' by commentators, how stories get handled by networks, and in this case, how the campaigns construct representations of candidates. As we laugh at its comedy, we learn to look at the 'serious news' from a different angle.

In this case, we might see the parody videos as representing the 'return of the repressed.' That is, these videos include the elements the parties themselves could never feature, because they reintroduce gaps or contradictions in the candidate's personas or elements which would play badly in the heartland of the country. At the same time, the parodies are deft at capturing some of the conventions ( in terms of narrative structure, rhetorical framing, and audiovisual style) of the campaign bio as a genre. And, as with the Photoshop parodies of Palin I focused on the other week, these parody videos also use a language drawn from popular culture to help us make sense of a political process that is often insular in its use of specialized language.

Obama and Mother Africa

In subtle and not so subtle ways, the official Obama video engulfed the candidate in America, excluding anything exotic in his background, stressing his mother's side of the family to the exclusion of his father's, stressing Kansas and not Kenya. Here, Africa speaks back, asserting itself again and again as the central frame for understanding Obama, 'the earthly son of a goat herder from darkest Africa and an anthropologist from whitest Wichita.' The video uses images and music from The Lion King to continually return us to 'Mother Africa' -- and in the process, to make fun of the often mythic language the Obama campaign uses to describe his candidate. A key moment in his biography here is his trip to Kenya during which he has a 'vision' of a Goat who guides him to run for the state senate. Obama's African background has been a large part of his international appeal with some suggesting that he may be uniquely situated to restore America's image in the developing world because he is seen as 'one of them.' Yet it is an idea that can not be spoken in an American context where Republicans often ridicule Democratic concern with international reputation, one of several meanings of their theme of 'putting the country first.'

We also see a parody of the idea of 'predestination,' which as we've seen is played more seriously in the McCain campaign biography's suggestion that he escaped death because God had bigger plans for him. Here, this idea is pushed to its logical extremes with the birth of Obama seen as a cosmic event that will set right the rift between the continents created during the Earth's formation 180 Million Years Ago. We are told, 'a child is born, destined to heal that rift.' Or as the title of the video suggests, in a reference to Jerry McGuire, 'He Completes Us.' The Obama campaign often deploys his mixed race background to bring together contradictory views of America. Obama, according to this logic, can embody the 'American Promise' because he contains within his family background so many different parts of a multicultural nation. As the narrator tells us, 'he was black and white, Christian and Muslim, land mammal and sea creature.' The idea that an early childhood experience might foreshadow later political philosophies is ridiculed here with the suggestion that in working at Baskin-Robbins, he 'united an astonishing 31 flavors of ice cream.' And there are later images of blacks and whites, Arabs and Jews, even cats and dogs, embracing, as he delivers his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

And of course, running throughout the video, there's a spoof of the excesses surrounding praise for Obama's rhetorical prowese. 'Every time Barrack Obama speaks, an angel has an orgasm,' we are told, alongside promises that he will 'unite the world' and that 'change is coming.' The narrator is unable to contain his excitement about Obama's speeches, lapsing into profanity which can't make it onto the air, in his enthusiasm.

John McCain: 'Reformed Maverick'

The Daily Show's spoof of the McCain video works amplifies certain tendencies within the Republican framing, especially the desire to depict McCain's youth as one of rebellion against authorities (here transformed into the ongoing motif of Marlon Brando which runs through the video) and acknowledges elements that might be repressed in the official videos (such as his involvement in the Keating scandal or his shifts on many major issues.) The video reminds us that the candidate many Democrats knew and admired in the 2000 election is a very different person than the candidate who is being presented this time around, suggested by the way the video divides his life into 'The Wild Years, 1936-2006' and 'Abandoning Everything He's Always Stood For, 2006-Present.' As the video explains, 'if John McCain was going to be president, something would have to give.'

The closing moments of the video illustrate something The Daily Show does very well -- raiding the news archive for footage that sheds light on recent statements by political leaders, often catching them in overt contradictions. It's a pity more mainstream news programs don't do the same because such juxtapositions can be deeply illuminating about what's going on in American politics.

There is a fair amount going on here designed to parody the hypermasculine imagery surrounding the candidate's official self-representation. His military career is framed in terms of recurring images of failure (which sometimes gets reframed as rebellion). So, we are told, 'Everyone assumed this son and grandson of admirals would be a star at the Naval Academy. He showed 'em.' The slow pan down the list of his graduating class, showing McCain at 894, makes fun at the way old documents and family photographs are used to authenticate ideological assertions. McCain is depicted as fighting back 'against The Man' by crashing five Navy airplanes, while his fellow servicemen are described as 'pussies' for keeping them in the air.

The video treads lightly around his POW experiences, certainly hard targets for humor, but then, it makes fun of the fact that these experiences insulate him from criticism, seeing this 'inoculation against all future political attacks' as one of the many awards he was given in recognition of his service, alongside the Purple Heart and a 'hotter, richer wife.' The video also suggests his wife's wealth has also 'insulated' him from the harsh realities of everyday lives. Here, the POW is seen as 'decorating and redecorating the rooms of ten different imaginary houses,' a reference to a recent moment when he was unable to answer a reporter's question about how many homes he owned.

Media Literacy advocates have long argued that as we study a piece of media content, we should ask our students to reflect on what it doesn't show or say, what's missing from this picture. The Daily Show parodies give us a great resource for doing just this, asking students why the official campaigns would not use such framings to represent their candidates and looking at what gets left out of the official videos.

I hope I've inspired some of you to take these materials into your classrooms. I'd love to find out what happens when and if you do so. Drop us a line and share your experiences.


(Via Confessions of an Aca/Fan: The Official Weblog of Henry Jenkins.)

Framing the Candidates (Part Two): The Vice Presidential Videos

Framing the Candidates (Part Two): The Vice Presidential Videos: "

Last time, I introduced George Lakoff's argument that the two major American political parties adopt different frames, based on images of parenthood and the family, for understanding the political process: the Strict Father paradigm associated with Republicans and the Nurturing Parent paradigm associated with the Democrats. I applied these two frames to looking more closely at the videos shown at the two party conventions to introduce Obama and McCain to the voters. If anything, the models fit too easily onto those videos, reflecting the degree to which Lakoff has not simply described the rhetoric of the two parties, but perhaps helped to shape them. Both groups knew what they were doing in constructing videos which would appeal more solidly to their bases. And my hunch is that both sides read Lakoff as they sat down to produce the videos.

Yet, Lakoff also makes the point that independent voters may be torn between conflicting understandings of the family and that all of us have within us some elements of the other model which also shapes our emotions and actions. So, we should be looking for the elements which contradict these dominant frames as offering ways that the campaigns might broaden their appeal. Last time, I discussed, for example, how the McCain video uses images of his mother, even the phrase 'mother's boy,' to soften his tough, military-based persona, and how he was able to use images of personal suffering to express both vulnerability and toughness. We see many more such contradictions -- or appeals across party -- when we look at the videos for the Vice Presidential candidates. Traditional logic is that the VP choice is for charging up your base while the Presidential candidates have to work across party lines. It's easy to see how this works in the two convention speeches. But I would argue that more bridge building takes place in the videos for the VP candidates than for Obama and McCain themselves.

Keep in mind as you watch that these videos are shorter than those for the top of their tickets and that they were produced under many more constraints. In both cases, the VP choices were announced just a few days before the conventions which means the teams would have had to scramble to pull these together, while the candidate's own videos were crafted over weeks and probably in planning from the moment they launched their campaigns.

One thing to look out for in these two videos is the role of the music in shaping how we respond to the still images and spoken words. In the case of the Obama video, the music borrowed heavily from Aaron Copeland to give the video a sense of national grandeur and yet to make it a 'fanfare for the common man.' The McCain video is much more martial in its tone, helping to establish his toughness and military background. Here, the music tracks are in effect reversed. The Biden soundtrack captures a more forceful tone, while the Palin soundtrack is softer, more wistful. Palin's music is being used to soften much tougher images and language, allowing her 'feminine' side to emerge, even as we are trying to reconstruct the 'strict father' model to include the prospect of a 'hockey mom' who is like a 'pitbull' in lipstick.

Biden and the Nuturing Parent Model

The opening story in this video is used to establish Biden's toughness: 'My Dad used the expression, 'You don't measure success on whether or not you get knocked down. It's how quickly you get back up.' Because everybody gets knocked down. The measure is in getting back up. That's the measure of this country. It never failed to get back up.' It's all here -- the appeal to the father who is represented as tough-minded and who demands toughness in his son yet there's also here the extension of that image to represent the country as a whole. In doing so, there is just a hint of Democratic 'nurturing' in the suggestion that 'everybody gets knocked down' and the question of what can be done to insure that everyone gets back up. Is this a test of individual character as the story begins or is it a test of the nation's commitment to its most vulnerable members, as the ending hints?

The most compelling family images here center around Biden as a father: the story of him returning to his son's bedside following the car crash that killed his wife and daughter and 'he never left it.' Here, we see both a suggestion of protection against a harsh world but also the image of nurturing a child who has suffered an emotional loss. There is a strong emphasis throughout the video on the dedication that Biden feels as a father to his children -- taking the train back home from Washington every night, always taking their call -- as expressed through the testimony of his now adult son. And underlying this is the suggestion that Biden will be a dedicated father to the country. These scenes depend on a post-Feminist conception of the father not as a stern patriarch but as a mutual caregiver. And there's that warm, fuzzy shot of Biden craddling his young grandchild in his arms, which gives us a vivid picture of his gentle side.

For me, one of the most interesting rhetorical moment here is Biden's statement: 'When you see the abuse of power, you've got to speak whether it is a parent slapping around a child or a president taking the nation to war that costs lives that wasn't a necessary war. That's an abuse of power.' The move from domestic violence to war, from family to nation, is breathtaking here. We can read the comment as a critique of the stern father model -- suggesting that the stern father may also be an abusive father, may not adequately care for his children, may abuse his authority in demanding respect he has not earned. This passage appeals to Democratic anxieties about the patriarchal logic of the Stern Father model. But it also contains the explicit image of another kind of father who cares enough about those who are suffering to stand up to such bullies and defend the weak. Again, there's just that hint of toughness here which adds some backbone to the images of the nurturing parent. We can also see this as connected with the other image of bullying in the video -- the reference to the ways Biden's classmates tormented him because of his stutter. In this formulation, Biden is someone who has endured pain and humiliation but learned how to stand up to bullies to defend others who might become victims.

Palin and the Strict Father Model

While the 'nurturing parent' paradigm is gender neutral, reflecting the reconfiguration of responsibilities within the family and the kinder, gentler conception of the patriarch that it embodies, the 'strict father' model gets defined along specifically masculine lines. Lakoff takes his inspiration from James Dobson and Focus on the Family, which sees men and women as playing different and complimentary roles within the family and sees the father as the head of the household. So, the construction of Sarah Palin within the terms of this discourse is a fascinating process. Much has been made among the GOP faithful about how she has retained her 'femininity' even as she has broken into the 'good Ol' Boys network,' and the video must somehow suggest this without undercutting the core values the Party wants to attach to their candidates.

This contrast between the models has another implication. While Biden and Obama may stress their partnership, much as husbands and wives are life partners within the nurturing parent model, the Republicans clearly want to subordinate Palin to McCain without undercutting their need to build her up as having the authority and experience to take over from him as president should he die in office. Throughout, she is depicted as a junior version of McCain, as if she was taken from his rib. The opening language of the video, which lists various roles she plays, explicitly mirrors the opening list in the McCain video. McCain, 'the original maverick,' (gee, I thought that was James Garner, the star of the 1950s western series, Maverick.), made an 'astute choice' when he asked her to join him in Washington as his helpmate. And in the end, she's described as 'Alaska's maverick' in contrast with McCain who is 'America's maverick.'

But, as others have noted, Palin is probably the most 'rugged' Republican to be on a national ticket since Teddy Roosevelt, who also happens to be McCain's own role model, and so the video wants to wrap her up with the 'frontier' myth and thus link Alaska to a broader understanding of the American west. Much of this is carried by the persistent images of the great outdoors, which also serve to reinforce the hints here that she's an environmentalist, although the kind that likes to shoot and skin moose as opposed to the 'tree huggers' and 'nature lovers' that Democrats are most often accused of being. Again, we see a form of environmentalism consistent with tough love rather than nurturing. Alaska, here, gains credit for being 'the far corner of America,' where-as if we talked about Obama's Hawaii in such terms, it would be seen as signs that he was 'outside' the American 'mainstream' and lacked 'touch' with 'heartland' values. The frontier myth is particularly strong when the video describes her family's decision to move to Alaska: 'attracted to Alaska by its unlimited promise and an environment suited to outdoor adventure.'

And of course, we can't overlook all of the images here of Palin interacting with service men and women, including the Alaska National Guard, given the emphasis on military backgrounds running through the McCain video. This is another way that Palin gets associated with 'strength' even as we are trying to emphasis her status as an average Mom who goes to PTA meetings. But then it's worth stressing that military images appear far more often in the Biden video than in the Obama video, suggesting the ways that the Vice President is being used to increase the 'toughness' of the Democratic ticket.

's Jesse Walker has written a very cogent critique of Lakoff's model, one which reflects upon how difficult it is to understand groups like Libertarians within the framework that it offers.


(Via Confessions of an Aca/Fan: The Official Weblog of Henry Jenkins.)

Framing the Candidates (Part One): A Closer Look at Campaign Biography Videos

Framing the Candidates (Part One): A Closer Look at Campaign Biography Videos: "

George Lakoff's book, Don't Think About an Elephant, has been one of the most influential arguments about the nature of American politics to emerge in recent years. Lakoff, a linguist, turned his attention to the 'framing' of political discourse. If you want to look more closely at his argument, 'A Man of His Words' is an online excerpt which pulls out most of the ideas that are going to interest us here.

Lakoff argues that the Democrats lose elections even though they often have the facts on their side because the Republicans typically frame the debate. Consider for example the ways McCain has transformed the current energy crisis from one which might deal with the environment or economics or alternative energy to one which rises and falls on the question of off-shore drilling. Or consider the ways that the Republicans have deployed terms like 'maverick' and 'reformer' to distance themselves from the Bush administration. To turn this around, the Democrats need to reinvent themselves -- not by shifting their positions but by altering the frame.

As Lakoff explains, 'Reframing is social change.... Reframing is changing the way the public sees the world. It is changing what counts as common sense.' Much of the early excitement around Obama was that he seemed to offer the most compelling new way to 'reframe' progressive politics and thus offered a way out of failed rhetoric of the past. For some, this is about style over substance or a matter of 'just words,' but Lakoff argues that framing is about a structure of ideas that gets evoked through particular words and phrases but has its own deep logic that shapes how and what we think.

In a simple yet suggestive analysis, Lakoff characterizes progressive and reactionary politics in terms of what he calls the Nurturing Parent and the Strict Father frames. According to the Strict Father model, Lakoff writes, 'the world is a dangerous place, and it always will be, because there is evil out there in the world. ...Children are born bad, in the sense that they just want to do what feels good, not what is right.' The strict father 'dares to discipline' his family and supports a president who will discipline the nation and ultimately, the world. According to the progressive 'nurturing parent' scenario, 'Both parents are equally responsible for raising the children. ...The parents' job is to nurture their children and to raise their children to be nurturers of others.'

Swing voters share aspects of both world views. The goal of politics, Lakoff suggests, is to 'activate your model in the people in the middle' without pushing them into the other camp.

We can see this as almost a reverse of old-style Christian doctrine in which the relation of a husband to his wife or a father to his child is supposed to mirror the relations of God to man. In this case, the family becomes a microcosm through which we can understand the relationship of the president to the nation and the world.

This is consistent with an argument that I put forth in the introduction to The Children's Culture Reader that the Republicans and the Democrats both use the figure of the child as a rhetorical device in talking about their visions for the future of the country, but they understand the family in very different terms. In an analysis of the 1996 GOP and Democratic national conventions, I contrasted Hillary Clinton's deployment of the phrase 'It takes a village to raise a child' with oft-cited Republican images of the family as a 'fort' defending its members against a hostile world.

As a teacher, I've found that one of the best ways to introduce this important argument to my classes has been to engage in a critical comparison between the official campaign biography videos, shown at the national conventions, and intended to link the candidate's personal narrative with the larger themes of the campaign. Here, we can see very explicit connections between the ways that the two parties understand the family and the nation. These videos are easy to access on the web and bring into your classrooms.

Over my next three posts, I will look more closely at first the videos for the two Presidential candidates, then the bios for the two Vice Presidential candidates, and finally parodies of these videos produced for The Daily Show. I am hoping that this will provide inspiration for educators who might want a way to talk about the campaigns, the differences between the parties, and the role of media in the process.

First, a few general points. Students often react to these videos when they first see them as if they were documentaries, straight forward presentations of the facts of the candidates' lives. If Obama and McCain tell very different stories, it is because they led very different lives. And this is of course partially true. The videos mobilize elements from the candidate's biographies to construct narratives about them which are designed to introduce them to the American people. For many votes, these videos and the acceptance speeches are the first time they are paying attention to these candidates.

Yet, keep in mind the role selectivity plays here -- we can't tell everything about their lives in a short video, so get students to think about what they decide to include and what they leave out of these videos. There's also the question of framing -- what gets said by the candidate, by the people in his or her family, by others, and by the narrator -- which helps us to understand this person in specific ways. And then there's the matter of technique -- what kinds of images do we see, what role does the music play in setting the tone for these stories.

I've found that these videos work best in a classroom setting where I show them side by side so that the students compare the differences in their approach. On one level, there's a well established genre here -- a general framing, followed by childhood experiences, early career, courtship and marriage, education, national service, early political life, fatherhood and family, and launch of the campaign. These similarities make it easy to see the differences in framing at work. If you are pushed for time, as I was in class the other day, you are better off showing the first 2-3 minutes of each, and then getting the discussion started, than showing one through all the way. It is through the comparison that we really understand how these videos deploy melodramatic devices and images of the family to shift how we think about the candidate's relationship to the nation.

Obama and the Nurtering Parent Frame

From start to finish, the Obama video is focused on constructing the ideal image of the nurtering parent who will insure the well being of all Americans. The very opening lines of the video already evoke the image of childhood: 'It is a promise we make to our children that each of us can make what we want from our lives' and the climax of the video comes when we return to that opening statement and build upon it: 'It was a promise his mother made to him and that he intended to keep.' Think about the difference between talking about the 'American promise' and the 'American dream,' and you know a great deal about the ideological differences between the two parties.

The idea of 'empathy' is a central cornerstone of the family as depicted in this video. It emerges most powerfully in the story about Obama's mother urging him to 'imagine standing in that person's shoes. How would that make you feel.' and again, by the end of the video, this concept of empathy becomes a cornerstone of Obama's relationship to the nation, as he describes how he remembers his mother as he travels 'from town to town.' Empathy runs through the list of values Obama tells us that he and Michelle want to pass down to their children: 'hard work, honesty, self-reliance, respect for other people, a sense of empathy, kindness, faith.' And we can see this respect for nurturing and empathy when he talks about the death of his mother, who was 'the beating heart' of their family. Indeed, moments when candidates talk about personal losses of family members and loved ones are often potent appeals to the viewer's own empathy, since many of us feel our common humanity most powerfully through our shared experience of mortality.

And this logic of empathy emerges through the suggestion that Obama knows first hand the suffering and anxieties felt by average Americans: 'I know what it's like not to have a father in the house, to have a mother who's trying to raise kids, work, and get her college education at the same time. I know what it's like to watch grandparent's age, worrying about whether their fixed income is going to be able to cover the bills.'

We can see this last comment as part of a larger strategy in the video to depict Obama's personal narrative as the 'story' of America and his 'search for self' as a quest to better understand the nation that gave him birth. As the narrator explains, 'By discovering his own story, he would come to know what is remarkable about his country.' And this is an outgrowth of the first thing we are told about his mother, that she knew her son was an American 'and he needs to understand what that means.'

This video works hard to combat images of Obama's background as exotic, as outside the mainstream. There is no reference here to Hawaii and only an implicit nod to the fact that he spent part of his life overseas, even though this last detail has been central to the candidate's appeal internationally. The focus is on the most 'heartland' aspects of his family background -- a strong focus on his grandparents who come from Kansas, and their experience of the Depression and World War II. Obama got into trouble for suggesting that some people in rural Pennsylvania were 'bitter,' so the video is careful to say that his grandparents were not 'complainers.' When it comes time to capture his sense of pride in his country, he tells a story about sitting on his grandfather's shoulders and waiving a flag at the return of the astronauts.

The representation here of his marriage might be summed up with the old feminist slogan, 'the personal is the political.' Michelle describes the moment she fell in love with Barrack: watching him deliver a speech in the basement of a community center in which he spells out 'the world as it is' and 'the world as it should be.' This story collapses Obama's hopes for his family and his hopes for his country in a sublime moment of utopian possibilities. Michelle emerges as the ideal arbiter of his political integrity because she can testify that he lives these values through his personal lives.

And the final statement of the 'nurtering parent' model comes when Obama tells us, 'One person's struggle is all of our struggles.' The government becomes a mutual support system that looks after its weakest members in a world which is often unjust. The president's job is to insure that all of his children gets what they need and deserve and that the 'American promise' gets fulfilled and transfered to the next generation.

McCain and the Strict Father Model

If the Obama video sets up issues of nurtering and empathy from its first images, suggested by the long panning shots across American faces and a voiceover about the 'American Promise,' the McCain video opens with us staring directly into the face of the candidate as a young naval officer, trying to read his character and understand the relationship of this national service to the 'mission' ahead. The opening narration starts with descriptions of him as 'a warrior, a soldier, a naval aviator, a Pow,' before pulling us down to the family -- 'a father, a son, a husband', then into his political career. And then we get that surprising moment when he is called 'a mother's boy,' one suggestion of softness amid a series of hypermasculine sounds, images, and terms. My students suggested that the reference to the mother helps him deal with issues of age and mortality, yet it also seems part of a strategy to manage the negative associations which many independents and Democrats may feel towards the repeated references to his toughness throughout the video.

Strength of character and conviction, coupled with physical toughness as proven through war, are the central virtues ascribed to McCain by the video and they are introduced here once again through the narrative of his family. As suggested by the gender specificity of the 'Strict father' construction, the family here, except for the references to the mother, is represented almost entirely through patriarchal bloodlines -- again a contrast to the absent father and strong mother image in the Obama video. We learn about his grandfather who died the day he returned from World War II; we learn about his father who ordered the carpet bombing of a country where his son was held captive, even as he waited at the border hoping for his return. When we see him with his son in the opening series of shots, he is standing alone with his offspring on the side of a mountain. Fatherhood is an extension of manhood and it gets expressed through discipline and competition more than through images of cuddling and craddling.

The critical moments here, of course, deal with his Vietnam war experience which require a recognition of vulnerability and weakness even as the larger narrative centers around his toughness and will power. Consider this key description: 'Critically injured, his wounds never properly addressed, for the next five and a half years, John was tortured and dragged from one filthy prison to another, violently ill, often in solitary confinement, he survived through the faith he learned from his father and grandfather, the faith that there was more to life than self.'

So, again, we see the passing down of civic virtue through male bloodlines as a central motif in this video. There's no question that the video constructs these experiences as a form of martyrdom out of which a national leader emerged: 'The constant torture and isolation could have produced a bitter, broken man. Instead he came back to America with a smile -- with joy and optimism. He chose to spend his life serving the country he loved.' or consider the phrase, 'he chose to spend four more years in Hell.' Or the ways the video depicts his role in the normalization of relations with Vietnam -- 'Five and a half years in their hell and he chose to go back because it was healing for America. That's country first.' Note this is one of the few places where metaphors of 'caring' or 'healing' surface in the video and it is specifically in relation to the pain of wartime. A more complex metaphor emerges as Fred Thompson reads aloud a passage from McCain's autobiography about 'living in a box' and ends with 'when you've lived in a box, your life is about keeping others from having to endure that box.'

This toughness and individualism carries over into the discussions of national policy. McCain doesn't believe that the country should care for each of its members but rather he has 'a faith in the American people's ability to chart their own course.' He is 'committed to protect the American people but a ferocious opponent of pork barrel spending and would do most anything to keep taxes low and keep our money in our pockets.' What is implied by that contrast between 'protecting' the public and 'pork barrel spending' and 'higher taxes'? There is a clear sense that as a stern father he will give us what we really need but protect us from our own baser urges and desires.

While the Obama video distributed its points across a range of different voices, including a large number of women, the McCain video tends to rely on a voice of God narrator who speaks the unquestioned truth about this man and on comments from McCain himself. All of this creates a more authoritarian/authoritative structure where truth comes from above, rather than emerging from listening to diverse voices, and reflects this notion of stern responsibility rather than nurturing.

This centralized discourse is consistent with the videos focus on experience and its tendency to read McCain as 'superior' to others -- 'no one cherishes the American dream more,' for example, but also no candidate has had his experiences in public service. There is an underlying suggestion here of predestination -- 'McCain's life was somehow sparred -- perhaps he had more to do.' In this case, the hint is that he is fulfilling God's plan for him and for the country. This issue of predestination resurfaces near the end when the video repurposes some of the core themes of the Obama campaign, including some that McCain has criticized and turns them around, 'What a life, what a faith, what a family! What good fortune that America will chose this leader at precisely this time. The stars are aligned. Change will come. But change must be safety, prosperity, optimism, and peace. The change will come from strength -- from a man who found his strength in a tiny dank cell thousands of miles from home.'

There's so much more that we could say about both of these videos and that's the point. They are great resources for teaching young people to reflect critically on the ways the campaigns are being 'framed.' Next time, I will look more closely at the Vice Presidential videos.


(Via Confessions of an Aca/Fan: The Official Weblog of Henry Jenkins.)

Fake Disney movie trailer for the Sarah Palin story

Fake Disney movie trailer for the Sarah Palin story: "

Stefan says: 'Sarah Palin as Disney comedy character. How do they produce something this good this quickly?' Sarah Palin: Head of Skate


(Via Boing Boing.)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Print Your Own Money

Print Your Own Money: "Everyone seems to want to know about the economy these days, so we may as well go there. It's as great an example as any of a program that not only got out of control, but became so prevalent - so accepted - that we came to take it for granted. We think of the economy and its rules as given circumstances, when they are actually constructions.

In brief, the money we use is just one kind of money. Invented in the Renaissance, and protected with laws banning other kinds of money, it has very particular biases that lead to almost inevitable outcomes.

I just finished a book (more on that later in the week), where I make the case that our highly corporatized society was really forged during the Renaissance. Aristocrats were losing power just as a new merchant class was gaining it. So they made a series of deals through which merchants' companies were granted monopoly charters from the monarchs in return for a sweet cut of the proceeds. Merchants got to lock in their status as newly rich, while monarchs stopped their own descent. Merchants supported the monarchs whose charters granted them exclusive access to new territories or industries, and monarchs got to do colonial expansion once-removed.

The invention of centralized, national currency was meant to support all this. Where localities had previously been free to mint their own currency based on the crops they had grown, now they were forced to borrow money from a central bank. This allowed the issuer of currency - the crown - to extract value from every transaction. Anyone who wanted to buy anything from anyone else had to run it through the central authority - coin of the realm - one way or the other.

This engendered competition for money, which was now a scarce currency issued at interest, instead of a local currency as abundant as the year's crop. Moreover, any business wanting to borrow money for equipment or development had to pay back several times what they had borrowed. This meant bankruptcy was built into the currency system. If a business borrows $100,000, for example, they'll have to pay back $300,000 by the time the loan is due. Where does that money come from? Someone else who borrowed.

Meanwhile, local currencies had the opposite bias of centralized currency. Local currencies lost value over time. They were really just receipts on the amount of grain that farmer had brought to the grain store. Since some of that grain was lost to rats or water, and since the grain store had to be paid, money devalued each year. This meant the money was biased towards being spent. That's why reinvestment in infrastructure as a percent of total revenue was so high in the late Middle Ages. It's why they built those cathedrals. They were local efforts, by people looking to invest their abundant wealth into real assets for their communities' future. (Cathedrals were built to attract pilgrims and tourism.)

Unlike local currencies, centralized currencies were biased towards retaining their value over time. Capitalism (in addition to being a lot of other things) is the way people get rich simply for being rich. Capital becomes the most important component in the capital/labor/resources equation. Since the purpose of the Renaissance innovations was to keep the currently wealthy wealthy, the currency was biased to favor those who had it - and could mete it out at high interest rates to those who needed it for their transactions.

What we witnessed over the past decades has been the necessary endgame of the scenario.

Today, in essence, the central bank lends money to a federal bank, which loans it to a regional bank, and so on, each bank paying interest to the bank above, and charging more to the one below. By the time the person or business who needs the money gets it, they're paying an awful lot of interest - so much, that it amounts to a drag on their ability to do business. The speculative economy, rather than fueling the real economy, drags it down.

The only way for banks - who run such an economy - to make more money is to lend more out. So they looked for more borrowers, as well as more places to park their cash. As a result, the things you and I depend on in the real world became investment vehicles. Homes, oil, name it. So the costs of all these things went up not because of any real laws of supply and demand, but because they had become new classes of investment.

As for finding new borrowers, well, that's why Bush kept talking about 'home ownership' as the right of every American, why lending standards were lowered and, of course, why bankruptcy for individuals was made so much harder. They wanted to lend more money, but didn't have any more qualified borrowers. By changing bankruptcy laws, they meant to make it impossible for borrowers to cry uncle. (This was a 150-million-dollar lobbying effort by the credit industry, over the course of an entire decade.)

Eventually, the tension between the speculative economy and the real economy simply had to become too great. Lending money, in itself, doesn't actually produce anything. On the contrary, it strains those few who are still attempting to produce things. It's what turned so many companies into balance-sheet-driven outsourcing operations. Only so many bankers and investors can be supported by industry and homeownership.

We're not really watching an entire economy fail. We're watching a particular program fail. Only because it's not sandboxed like a bad plug-in in Google's Chrome browser, the resource leak sucks money from everywhere.

If we can adopt what we Boingers might call the 'Happy Mutant Approach' to this crisis, however, this is not an entirely hopeless situation. Yes, corporations may lose the ability to keep us employed as the banking investment they depend on to operate dries up. But this corporate activity was always extractive in nature, getting (or, historically, forcing) people to buy mass-produced, and nationally distributed food and other goods that were once produced locally.

The collapse of centrally controlled commerce and currency simply creates an opportunity for local commerce and currency to revive. For people to learn to work and live together on a human, local scale - as the original free market advocate, Adam Smith, actually suggested. Admittedly, this would be a painful transition for many - but it's better than maintaining dependence on a fiscal system designed from the start to turn people and communities into extractable corporate assets. (Think about that the next time you're called up to 'human resources.')

Whether or not we've had time to fully embrace the Craft/Maker/cyberpunk/Boing ethos, our ability to provide for ourselves and one another directly, locally, even socially instead of entirely through centralized commerce, will determine how well we can navigate the near future.

For starters, check out the LETS system and other complementary currencies for how to make your own currency, Bernard Latier's book The Future of Money free online, and Local Harvest for Community Sponsored Agriculture opportunities near you.

Money can be just as open source as any other operating system. It used to be.

(Douglas Rushkoff is a guestblogger)


(Via Clippings.)

"Dark Flow" Outside Observable Universe

"Dark Flow" Outside Observable Universe: "DynaSoar writes 'NASA astrophysicists have discovered what they claim is something outside the observable universe exerting an effect on the observable. The material is pulling clusters of galaxies towards a region of space known not to contain sufficient matter to create the effect. They can only speculate on what the material is and how space might differ there: 'In these regions, space-time might be very different, and likely doesn't contain stars and galaxies (which only formed because of the particular density pattern of mass in our bubble). It could include giant, massive structures much larger than anything in our own observable universe. These structures are what researchers suspect are tugging on the galaxy clusters, causing the dark flow.''

Read more of this story at Slashdot.


(Via Clippings.)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Microsoft’s “I’m a PC” Ads - made on a Mac

Microsoft’s “I’m a PC” Ads - made on a Mac: "200809191544.jpg

Image by LuisDS via Flickr

LuisDS looked at the metadata on the video for Microsoft's new 'I'm a PC' commercial and learned that it was made on Mac using Adobe Creative Suite 3. Link


(Via Boing Boing.)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

28 wacky TV/movie neighbors

28 wacky TV/movie neighbors: "With Samuel L. Jackson raising hell on ''Lakeview Terrace,'' we peek over other pop-culture fences"

(Via Today's Latest Headlines.)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Power On Self Test: Jedi EcoSaber

heh heh

Power On Self Test: Jedi EcoSaber: "jedi_eco_saber.jpg

You can buy a t-shirt. [via Technabob]

PreviouslyPower On Self Test: Nip and Tuck

Power On Self Test: Aw, Crap.

Power On Self Test: Spin Your Trackball, Sir!

Power On Self Test: Sheep

Power On Self-Test: Cow Sharpener


(Via Boing Boing Gadgets.)

Newly-discovered bizarre ant

I've found these in mah pantz

Newly-discovered bizarre ant: "New Ancient

Scientists have dubbed this newly-discovered ant Martialis heureka, implying that it's so weird it could have come from Mars. Found in the Brazliian rainforest, it has no eyes, and its 'mouth' is like a pair of long forceps. According to University of Texas at Austin evolutionary biologist Christian Rabeling, Martialis heureka is from the oldest ant lineage still living. From Science News:

Its DNA may be even more interesting. Genetic analysis puts the new ant so far from other species that it deserves its own subfamily, Martialinae, Rabeling and his colleagues report in an upcoming Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It’s the first new subfamily described for a living ant since 1923, the discoverers say...

‘The fact that a single ant ‘rediscovered’ in the rainforests of Brazil can tell us so much about the evolution of the ants highlights how little we know about the diversity of life on the planet,’ says (Corrie Moreau, ant specialist at Chicago's Field Museum.)

'Ant 'From Mars'' (ScienceNews)


(Via Boing Boing.)

Disney's 1946 menstruation film


Disney's 1946 menstruation film: "

Here's a fantastically horrible 1946 Disney film about menstruation, 'The Story of Menstruation.'

Your period, according to Disney


(Via Boing Boing.)

Monday, September 8, 2008

T-shirt: "Know Your Spock"

T-shirt: "Know Your Spock": "Knowspocckckck

Make sure you know the difference. The t-shirt is $24.95 from the CBS Store.
Know Your Spock T-shirt (CBS Store, thanks Michael-Anne Rauback!)


(Via Boing Boing.)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

32 Sci-Fi Novels You Should Read | How To Split An Atom

32 Sci-Fi Novels You Should Read | How To Split An Atom: "

How To Split An Atom

Startup Resources
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32 Sci-Fi Novels You Should Read
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By Steve Spalding July 2nd, 2008
Under: Featured

Looking for some new material to add to your science fiction reading list? Below are 32 books that have pushed the boundaries of the genre, inspired generations of thinkers and in some cases have even predicted key aspects of societies development.

Foundation - Isaac Asimov

From Amazon,

Foundation marks the first of a series of tales set so far in the future that Earth is all but forgotten by humans who live throughout the galaxy. Yet all is not well with the Galactic Empire. Its vast size is crippling to it. In particular, the administrative planet, honeycombed and tunneled with offices and staff, is vulnerable to attack or breakdown.

The only person willing to confront this imminent catastrophe is Hari Seldon, a psychohistorian and mathematician. Seldon can scientifically predict the futu"

(Via .)

Juno in Juneau

Juno in Juneau: "

Sarah Palin’s 17-year-old daughter Bristol is five months pregnant. McCain campaign claims he was aware of this before selecting Palin as his VP, despite evidence and rampant speculation that Palin was not seriously vetted. Governor Palin is a strong supporter of abstinence-only sex education.

Tom Eagleton lasted 18 days before withdrawing from the McGovern ticket in 1972. My money says Palin doesn’t last that long.


(Via Daring Fireball.)

Photos of Godzilla on set, circa 1955

Photos of Godzilla on set, circa 1955: "6a00d8341bfb8d53ef00e551ddaf418833-800wi.jpg

Patrick Macias has a couple of rare photographs of the original Godzilla, circa 1954/55, at a photo shoot at Toho Studios in Tokyo.


( Lisa Katayama is a guest blogger.)


(Via Boing Boing.)