Eavesdropping Media

Superheroine Influence pt1

From She-Ra to Buffy, I have always been attracted to the warrior women archetype in pop culture. I admired their strength, their confidence in the face of danger and their defiance of the social norms. Female superheros provided me with an early example of women defying the standard and taking charge. These ladies were not docile “good girls”. No, these fictional women kicked ass, spoke up, lead teams, and often had really cool superpowers. Most importantly, they were accepted but their peers and even encouraged to continue their fight.

There have always been always plenty of cartoons and shows depicting a male character acting as a leader. And I think our generation was lucky to have grown up in a time when TV offered us a couple shows with female characters doing the same. Possibly without realizing it, the creators of these shows provided many young girls and women with a vision of what could be if we led the charge instead of following the crowd. And this has been a very good thing.

The Superheroines of my Childhood

As a kid in the 80s and 90s, I was exposed to some phenomenal children’s programming. While the presence of female superheros in these shows was still at the time a little bit sparse, there were a few good options available. I sought out those shows that featured strong female characters and every week I would visit these pastel bubble worlds within which they lived.

She-Ra: Princess of Power

“For the honor of Greyskull…I am She-Ra!”

The absolute queen of the 80s cartoon superheroines was She-Ra: Princess of Power. She was a spin-off character of the already successful He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon franchise. But unlike He-Man, her beefy half-brother, She-Ra immediately hit a chord with me.

She-Ra is the appointed leader of the Great Rebellion, a group of good guys fighting to free their homeworld, Etheria, from the evil of Hordak. I mostly remember her flying around on a colorful unicorn/horse, visiting her friends, and fighting the half man, half machine Hordak. She was my absolute favorite cartoon character during my early elementary school years. I loved She-Ra so much in fact, I dressed up as her for Halloween a number of times.

she-RaOne of the interesting things about She-Ra: Princess of Power is that the female characters in the show are truly at the forefront. The women on the show, more so than the men, take authority and responsibility. And it is the women who fight and win the battles against the antagonist. It was the first image I had of a warrior woman on tv, and I am certain this had a profound impact on me. She-Ra was the start of my admiration for this type of female depiction in movies and tv. And since that time, I have repeatedly sought out the powerful female leader archetype in the media I consume.

Jem and the Holograms

“Jem is truly outrageous, truly, truly truly outrageous … “

Jem and the Holograms is pure, unadulterated 80s. All the values and styles of the day are in this show, and seemingly on steroids. Neon pink is used to an extreme and graphics are so synth, you’ll feel your eyes dissolve in their sockets.

But I must say, the pure ridiculousness of the premise and design of this cartoon has keep me fascinated by this show to this day.

The plot of Jem is the following: Jem is a good-hearted millionaire’s daughter named Jerrica by day and a superhero rockstar by night. Early on, she befriends a talking computer called Synergy which her father had built for her. Synergy helps guide Jem to use her magical power for good. With her high-tech earring hologram device (?), Jem can change outfits really quickly and project herself in hologram form all over the place to confuse and distract her enemies. This whole process led to odd plot holes and logical fallacies in the storytelling. But this was not shakespeare, people! It was cotton candy for the soul.

Jem_logo

In each episode, Jem defeats her enemies, the bad girl rocker band The Misfits managed by Eric Raymond (the main villain of the show), by winning singing competitions (I swear there may have been at least one every episode ) or securing record contracts her enemies desperately wanted. Jem/Jerrica also owns The Starlight Foundation, a foster home for girls, which is always in financial trouble. Most of her triumphs somehow benefit the foundation, thus giving Jem a clear moral motivation to rock out for.

The show ran from 1985 to 1988 and was extremely popular. However, when re-watching the show today, its hard to ignore the excessive value placed on celebrity, wealth, consumerism and material goods. Within the lines of the opening song, Jem sings enthusiastically “Glamour and glitter. Fashion and fame… Jem, she’s truly outrageous!”.  All this spilled into their successful merchandizing campaign, which released a whole range of dolls (with different outfits or accessories) connected with the show. That can’t have been good for my impressionable childhood mind.

Jem herself is kind of a bland superhero, but in contrast to the sleazy, immoral and ruthlessly ambitious antagonists the Misfits, Jem comes across as a righteous and triumphant heroine. Plus the show encouraged girls to head up bands, which at the time was actually pretty rare.

Despite the superficiality of the show, it still offered girls a model for leadership that was in its own way cutting edge.

My next post, Superheroine Influence pt2, will be about some of my favorite pop culture superheroines of my teenage years. In the meantime, feel free to let me know a bit about the shows you liked when you were a kid.

Clouds Over Cuba: A New Way to Recount History Online

About a month ago, a friend sent me the link to this documentary www.cloudsovercuba.com about the cuban missile crisis. I was immediately inspired. The doc itself is quite good, but it is the experience of watching it in this format that has really impressed me. It seems I have found a prototype of the type of media I want to be making next.

Take a look if you have time:

This documentary was created for the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library by The Martin Agency and directed by Erich Joiner and Ben Tricklebank at Tool. Running two-hours, this project exists primarily as a full browser video player. It has an interactive timeline and seamless links to additional information along the way. This additional info consists of scans, images, archival audio and video recordings –  all from the JFK institute itself – as well as expert commentaries from historian Sheldon M. Stern, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s son, Sergei, author Eric G. Swedin and professor Timothy McKeown. For more info about the doc, check out this review.

I think that this format has amazing potential for the future of online video and visual storytelling. You could totally use a similar framework with a creative project or a tv show. It encourages people to stay involved and focused on the project, but gives curious people a chance to leave the linear narrative of the doc to learn more about specific themes without losing their place.

While interactive video isn’t really anything all that new, I think what really got me excited is how much more accessible the technology used to build this site has become. This site is built like a website using html5, javascript and css. However it feels almost like an app. It also uses the interactivity subtly, without relying on flashy gimmicks. Transitions between pages is so beautifully seamless (one of the perks of html5) and the pace of the web experience matches the pace of the documentary. The unified design of the page and textures on the video result in an overall product that feels dynamic, yet totally unified.

It seems to be time to re-think video (again). We have all become used to youtube and vimeo as our primary video platforms. But if you think about it, the formats in which the videos are presented remain somewhat standard. You watch the video without really interacting with it, other than leaving comments under the video or by closing the incessant pop ads (on youtube).

But what if you could actually click inside the video, get more info when you wanted. As it stands, when I watch a doc, I often like to find out more about the info being presented, or I want to verify the legitimacy of certain statements. So I tend to open another browser window to do some additional investigation on the side. But this is awkward and distracting. Sometimes I get so caught up with another article I am reading that I lose my place in the doc, or lose interest in the original documentary entirely.

Whats great about this documentary, is that you are expected to dig deeper into the topic. And they make it extremely easy and fun to do it. It encourages interaction and curiosity, yet keeps you on the site, and on topic. But I think we could take this even further.

Imagine the possibilities…

Video Games Galore!

It has been some time since I played a video game religiously. And maybe that is a good thing. But in the last few months, I have learned about a few games that look so cool, I can’t help but want to jump back into to the gaming universe.

The games I am eyeing are ApotheonWatch Dogs, & Assassin’s Creed III. And of course there is the new Sim City set to come out in March, but I have already covered that in a previous post.

While all of these games are different in style and substance, they each look totally amazing in their own right. Here are some more details:

Apotheon

Apotheon is a great looking Ancient Greek themed indie game. Here is the description from the developer, Alientrap:

“Apotheon is a 2D platform action-RPG set on the rich stage of ancient Greek mythology. Along with a large single player campaign in a massive open world Mount Olympus, Apotheon will include online multiplayer with deathmatch and team based game modes.”

A video game designed to look like the art found on Ancient Greek pottery? Brilliant! Add to this the fact that the story is taps into greek mythology, and you have every history buff/video game nerd’s dream game. I am sold.

As you may know, I am a long standing fan ancient history and greek mythology – check out my post about the city of Troy for more on that little obsession – and can’t wait to see the how this Alientrap will be injecting these stories into a video game context. Plus I heard the game play is akin to Zelda, now I am extra psyched! They are expecting to release this on Steam mid 2013. There is no specific release date yet announced.

Thanks to LangStrothGameDesign.co.uk for introducing me to this gem.

Watch Dogs

Next up is a game that was announced by Ubisoft Montreal in June of this year: Watch Dogs. The game is an overt social critique of the prevalence of digital devices in today’s world and our reliance on connected networks to manage and maintain order in our cities. Much of the game play involving a character hacking into the city grid, various telecommunication networks and the mobile devices of the people in the vicinity of the character. It paints a bleak but plausible future reality of urban criminal activity in a connected world. Despite not yet having an announced release date, the franchise looks so promising.

The cityscape is beautiful, I think it is set in an old part of chicago. And I love the look of this trailer, despite all the seeming inevitable shoot-out after minute 7:00.

As a side note, I am always a little disappointed when video game trailers highlight the most violent part of gameplay – I am no fan of gratuitous violence in any medium.

Still the game has potential. It reminds me slightly of L.A. Noire, in its seeming emphasis on story and character development, attention to detail, and the slow pace with which the story unravels but with a way more relevant and seemingly complicated game-scenario.

Assassin’s Creed III

Assassin’s Creed III, another Ubisoft Montreal release, is according to Slate magazine is the “most accessible reconstruction of the Revolutionary War era that’s ever been made“. The Slate article goes on to say that this is due in part to the “painstaking research and astonishing sense of historical responsibility that AC3’s makers poured into the project”. The results according to a few reviews I have seen are supposed to be extraordinary. Check out this ACIII screenshot of colonial Boston city street:

Again, I would prefer a game that was less focused on the first-person hack and slash violence and more focused on the history. Still, it sounds like Ubisoft has done its homework in crafting this title to be quite true to life.  I can’t wait to explore this world.

Looking forward to seeing these titles on the market in the next year. Any other recommendations? Feel free to let me know below!

BriTANick: Two guys and a camera

BriTANick is a little comedy duo originally out of New York. Brian Mcelhaney and Nick Kocher formed the group in 2008 and have been producing hilarious web content every since. My first introduction to their work was their viral Award Winning Movie Trailer video clip, which captures and distills the ridiculousness of famous dramatic trailers so very well. Take a look:

I guess I kinda fell for their brand of comedy on contact. And lucky for me, they have continue to be very prolific online, releasing 30 odd videos in the last 4 years, as well touring a live show. Now these two are in LA, working in the biz. But I hope they get their own show sometime.

Here are a a few of my favorite clips from BriTANick:

The Morning Routine:

Fudge:

Boys Night In (their latest video):

If you want more, check out all their videos at www.Britanick.com – I would recommend you look at A Monologue for Thee and its sequel the A Monologue for Three. Do these guys have talent or what?