Wednesday, 18 February 2009

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I’d prefer a dumb one, you know, so he’d always be having to get back to us later. It upsets Mary Rosh that Leno and Letterman refuse to mock Obama for using a teleprompter during his press conferences. It infuriates her that Obama wants the White House to install a smart podium: Obama is looking to install a computer screen into the podium so that, according to one Obama advisor, “It would make it easier for the comms guys to pass along information without being obvious about it.” Obama’s aids would put together answers to a large number of possible questions so as soon as a reporter asks a particular question the computer screen would flash talking points to remind Obama how he’s supposed to respond to that question. Why would a President—especially an ostensibly intellectual one—want aides to feed facts and figures to his podium on the sly? Are we witnessing the first step down that slippery slope? I think not. Consider: That is a picture of the actual classroom in which I teach my 8 a.m. class. Notice the podium hulking in the corner? It is made of computers. Know what happens when a student stumps me with a question? I confab with it computers so that I provide the student with an accurate answer. This is not to say that I come to class unprepared. I have done my homework. I come armed with my notes. But sometimes a student still manages to stop me in my tracks. Consider a conversation from this morning: Me: It seems like Nolan shot this with the aid of a steadicam. Student: You mean “with a steadicam.” Me: No, a steadicam is something you attach to a camera. Student: My father works in Hollywood and were he here all anyone in this building would be able to hear was him laughing because you are dumb. At which point I stopped the lecture. Walked to the podium. Searched the internet. Brought up that link. Took me about thirty seconds total—which means that for thirty seconds my class consisted of my students watching me search the internet. You know what would have been nice? If I had a staffer whose job it was to do these searches for me so that the results might appear instantly on my podium computer. I would waste less time and be more accurate. (For the record: I was not out to humiliate the student. I teach them that the cardinal sin of the Age of Information is the easily correctable factual error. The above is an example of me practicing what I preach.) But Rosh and her commenters will have none of it. Their beloved Limbaugh employs a staff to feed him information during his show—but he is not a President. The President is a man who should want for nothing. The man who is President needs a lot. He “needs a cheat sheet.” (As did I on my qualifying exams.) He “needs help in just speaking.” (As did I on my qualifying exams.) He “is our first Affirmative Action President [because] he needs extra...
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More on Watchmen: Dave Gibbon's layout and John Higgin's ink in the age of mechanical reproduction. (A reader reminds me to link to the first post, because "[this one] makes no sense without it." Earlier post today notwithstanding, I have the most considerate readers.) Vance and I have been back-channeling about Watchmen this past week. It occurs to me that there's no sense in wasting my brilliant thoughts on an audience of one (!?!) when I could be sharing them with all the world. Vance agreed. Our first quibble concerns the look of Dave Gibbon's panels. Vance insists the panels looked dated. He's not wrong. But before we discuss some of his limitations, we should attend to Gibbons' strength: layout. Consider these panels again: Gibbons purposely centers the first panel on nothing in order to force the reader to search for the photograph. Your eyes gravitate to the center. Nothing there. So you move them to the portion of the panel which contains actual information: up and to the right. Gibbons draws your attention into the center panel. The strong version of this argument would be that he accomplishes this by aligning the photograph such that your eye is drawn from the center of the panel, through the photograph, then to the text at the top of the center panel like so: The weak version would claim that Gibbons does this through color. The display itself almost functions like a purple arrow (minus the stalk) pointing at the predominantly purple center panel. The blue of Manhattan's jacket would then perform a similar bridging function from the second panel to the third. Note that he also disconnects Manhattan from himself. By centering the center panel on her and the right panel on him, Gibbons puts space (literally) between the man in the picture and the god on Mars. The repetition of the smooth line of Manhattan's right shoulder in both panels makes it seem as if the image skips because someone removed a few frames from the reel. In an issue in which nostalgia is achieved by moving through time and re- or pre-living an event (from the perspective of the narrative present), this slight technical success unobtrusively reinforces the larger theme. You likely noticed the weak and strong versions of my argument can (and do) coexist. Each of the three elements of the text (script, composition, color) augment the other two. Such synergy is rare (and likely a function of Moore's notoriously precise scripts), and in terms of the visual style of the book, sets Watchmen far above its peers. Put differently: Watchmen looks dated in the same way (and for the same reason) a Caravaggio like this one does: it fails to meet the photorealistic standards of a future era. We praise Caravaggio for his sense of composition and use of color. We should extend the same sympathy to Gibbons. The fact that a Caravaggio looks more photorealistic than any panel in Watchmen did not escape my notice. Gibbons and his inker, John Higgins, labored under the substantial material constraints: their lines and colors must...

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