Category Archives: Media Studies

A Quick Note About Thanksgiving

I have much to be thankful for this year, but instead of going on about who or what I’m thankful for, I want to extend a proposal to you. Ignoring the fact that this is about Christmas for a moment, “Thankful Heart” from A Muppet Christmas Carol is the most beautiful song about the act of thanksgiving ever recorded. Michael Caine’s “dulcet” (this is his first time singing on camera) tones epitomize the joy of brotherly love and grateful expression perfectly.

Like Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” itself, the song is universal regardless of time of year or religion – thanks to Muppet composer Paul Williams’ lyrics. I always play this song on loop starting right about now through to the New Year to remind myself how beautiful life is when viewed through a thankful heart. Please give it a watch, a careful listen, and consider the message that Dickens first wrote about and Williams wants you to take away.

“Life is like a journey
Who knows when it ends?
If you need to know
The measure of a man
You simply count his friends”

Peace my brothers and a very Happy thanksgiving 🙂

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Designed to Fail: Pokemon Fandom Produces Culture

[This article was originally published on March 25, 2014 at Hidden Baltimore. It is co-written by Mary Metelski.]

Chris Betts, 21, and his roommates walked around Towson’s CVS Pharmacy late on a Sunday night, not seeking out a pack of cigarettes, but a pack of children’s sidewalk chalk.

They headed to Towson University’s Freedom Square, hoping to create a work of art capable of viral Internet distribution.

After hearing about “Twitch Plays Pokemon Red,” an Internet-based live stream that allowed a massive number of players to simultaneously control one character, Betts was enthralled by the potential inherent in the platform.

“It was more than just this novelty of a bunch of people fervently mashing commands into a game from my childhood,” Betts said. “There was this whole culture behind it. It was exciting, hilarious and altogether just this fascinating thing to me from that point onward.” Continue reading Designed to Fail: Pokemon Fandom Produces Culture

Don Jon and Depictions of Gender in Mass Media

[Originally written for a Media Critique class in October 2013].

Don Jon is an interesting movie in that it exhibits a male perspective so rarely seen in films. Joseph Gordon Levitt as the film’s writer, director, and star clearly wants to make a statement about his view of modern masculinity, going so far as to take on the larger-than-life persona of the ultra-masculine, Italian American title character Jon. The audience is told right up front that Jon cares about only a few things in life: his body, his car, his pad, his church, his family, his guys, his girls, and his porn. In fact, the audience is reinforced in this idea because we see Jon doing nothing else.

His day to day consists of working out, living materialistically, and vehemently pursuing women, whether real or virtual. The heart of this story therefore comes from Jon’s transformation into a man who can view women as equals, as opposed to sexual objects to conquer. While I believe this view has been expressed in other media, I found Don Jon to be unique in that Levitt’s honest male-perspective tackles our most modern depictions of gender. Continue reading Don Jon and Depictions of Gender in Mass Media

Exhibits of the New Sincerity and Mass Audience Appeal

The following essay served as my final paper in History of Digital Media at Towson University:

The New Sincerity is a bourgeoning philosophy devised to combat the pessimism and cynicism found in post-modernism and the popular culture of the twentieth century. A variety of alternative philosophies have also come to light, including post-post-modernism and metamodernism, but in my opinion, the New Sincerity has more compelling arguments for a uniquely modern mode of philosophical thought. Whereas postmodernism focuses on the loss of meaning in the signifier and the hybridization of ideas, the New Sincerity focuses on authenticity and sincerity in one’s ideas. In the twenty-first century pop culture mediums of film, television, music, animation, and internet-based media, we can see this idea becoming increasingly apparent. However, we can trace these ideals to as early as Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood in the 1960’s and compare them to their modern depiction in Adventure Time, introduced in 2008.

Freelance journalist and educator John Fitzgerald states that the New Sincerity’s emphasis on sincerity and authenticity creates opportunities for discussions of morality in modern American society (28). Whereas post-modernism was marked by decades of cynicism, degrees of pessimism, and detached irony, the New Sincerity seeks to resolve those issues for a new generation. The popular culture of today is rife with depictions of changing morals in the arenas of music, television, literature, and film, dealing with topics of family values, religion, patriotism, and self-esteem (Fitzgerald 4).

Continue reading Exhibits of the New Sincerity and Mass Audience Appeal

Fears, Dreams and Self-Examination

Most nights when I try to sleep, I’ll end up rolling around in bed, staring at the ceiling. After enough time has passed and my mind begins to wander, I find myself thinking about how vulnerable people are when they sleep. One of my more rational fears is that of alien abductions. Psychologists and neurologists can attribute alien abduction stories to sleep paralysis and other sleep disorders, but that doesn’t stop the fact that there is an infinitesimal chance there is life on other planets. And because there are infinitesimal opportunities for alien existence, there is an infinitesimal chance they are traveling the universe by now. Given these clear statistics, I have no qualms in saying that I fear aliens climbing in my windows and snatching my people up.

I’m describing my fears to you to attempt to get at a larger, more universal idea. What are people TRULY scared of? Yes, I realize that most people are not scared of being abducted by aliens, but in some people this translates to being kidnapped or mugged. All of these are examples of being vulnerable or losing control in a situation.

I once listened to a podcast interview with John Carpenter (the link is dead at the moment, but hopefully it comes back up), the director of Halloween and The Thing, where he talks about why his films are so beloved among horror aficionados. Carpenter noted that all great horror films feature two types of universal fear: fear of losing control and fear of the unknown. When you consider Halloween, the viewer quickly sees these two fears realized. Laurie has lost control of the situation; Michael has intruded into the house and she has no chance of saving the children she was tasked with babysitting. On top of that, Michael is a masked killer who seemingly materialized from nowhere. These two fears are crystallized onscreen in what has become revered as one of the greatest horror films of all time.

Continue reading Fears, Dreams and Self-Examination

Truth in Art (Yeah, I’m Going There)

Towards the end of this semester, I had made up my mind that advertising wasn’t for me. Sure, it’s a viable career path, it’s something I personally feel that I’m good at, and it definitely interests me in a lot of ways. However, when I look at current trends in advertising, I see that a lot of the creativity I love about advertising is beginning to fall away. The basis of advertising, to sell, has always reigned supreme and it is increasingly destroying advertising as an art form and platform for discussion. When I think about my favorite advertisements, there is an element to them aesthetically or story wise that sets them apart as being REAL and HONEST.

I love the scene in Mad Men where they discuss Volkswagen’s Lemon ad because it speaks to this subject so well. The men discuss the flaws of the ad, its humor value, and whether or not it actually “sells” the car, all of which lead Don to conclude that the ad works. Why? Because it leads to discussion. In my mind, that is what good art does. It prompts the viewer to ask questions and participate in debate.

Continue reading Truth in Art (Yeah, I’m Going There)

Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe

The following is a speech I gave introducing the category of “Documentary” at LKT’s Halfway There Festival at Towson University:

In 1980, at the premiere of documentarian Errol Morris’s first film Gates of Heaven, director Werner Herzog boiled and ate his shoe in front of a live audience. What would prompt a man to eat his own shoe, you ask? Herzog himself explains the logic behind the decision, “It should be an encouragement to all of you who want to make films and are just too scared to start… and who haven’t got the guts.”

Allow me to take a step back and explain. Herzog had noticed Morris’s incredible ability to find story material and to interpret it. The man was a genius who had yet to realize his full potential. We’re talking about the guy who went on to make The Thin Blue Line and Fog of War. In order to encourage him to get ANY film made, Herzog offered to Morris that if he could ever complete a single film, he would eat his shoes.

Continue reading Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe