Category Archives: popular culture

Stephen Harper as Killer Robot

“Stephen Harper as Killer Robot” is my new article in English Studies in Canada‘s just-published special issue on the automated body.

shaskillbot-screenshotWhile an article about Harper might seem like a political postmortem, the former prime minister’s popular caricature as a robot speaks to widespread fears about the implications of technology for democracy. These alarming implications have been analyzed recently in tech CEO Berit Anderson’s article “The rise of the weaponized AI propaganda machine.” Anderson’s article is a must-read for appreciating the extent to which digital technology now poses a real and present threat to democracy. Anderson’s article sort of picks up — and dives in — where mine leaves off, as a discussion of how that threat has been growing in Canada for some time now.

jffg3

Stencil by “myheadhurtsalot” (https://i.imgur.com/JFfG3.png). My thanks to this Redditor for their permission to reprint their image in my article.

“Stephen Harper as Killer Robot” is currently available online via the Project Muse database, but ESC‘s decent open access policy means the article will be publicly available soon, in 6 months to a year (that’s soonish, for academia). But in the meantime, if you want a copy and can’t access Project Muse, leave a comment below, or send me an e-mail at academicalism[at]gmail[dot]com.

 

 

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Rediscovering The Velvet Underground

Some Apple Music playlists seem bot-made, but its Velvet Underground Essentials is a proper journey, and a masterfully curated introduction for anyone who doesn’t already dig this seminal rock band. (The Velvets are the only hip band I can confidently say I introduced many highschool and undergrad friends to.)

In this playlist — which for some reason made for perfect holiday listening yesterday — the songs are perfectly sequenced (for instance, following “Oh sweet nuthin,” a deeper but critical cut, with “All tomorrow’s parties” is inspired); the versions are judiciously selected (for instance, here’s the proper take of “Sweet Jane,” with the bridge); and if there are some omissions (like “The Murder Mystery” or “Cool it down”) there are more essentials (“Here she comes now”), and even some delightful surprises (how have I never heard “Foggy notion” before?).

I’m sharing a pic of the playlist for those who don’t have Apple Music but can source the tracks otherwise and sequence them this way. For Apple Music users, here is the playlist link.

SF: so many corporate dystopias, so few unions.

A couple of years ago, during a break in a faculty association meeting, my Athabasca U colleague Bob Barnetson and I got to talking science fiction, and he casually observed that for all its depictions of big business, the genre’s oddly lacking in corresponding images of unions. I told Bob there was a paper in his idea, and voilà, in the current issue of TOPIA, Canada’s journal of cultural studies, you can read the interdisciplinary article we co-wrote on the subject: “Resistance is futile: on the under-representation of unions in science fiction.” Here’s the abstract:

“This article surveys science fiction (SF) since 1980, and queries the conspicuous under-representation of recognizable images of unions in popular SF, which includes, in contrast, numerous images and narratives of corporate business. According to theories of unionism, science fiction studies and Mark Fisher’s theory of ‘capitalist realism,’ the co-authors theorize this pattern of under-representation, and, in the process, identify and analyze a very small but diverse body of SF works from this period that do include images of unions, in ways that range from the symptomatic to the radically suggestive.”

We gave 1980 as a start date for our study because that was about when corporate elite rule (a.k.a. neoliberalism) started to take off, and because that’s why tweets like this make sense:

Research is integrally intertwined with teaching, but it’s not as often that we in academia get to link research as closely with service. This collaboration has been one such welcome opportunity. (And it’s involved our students, too: we’re specifically indebted to the insights and references shared by AU alumna and SF author Heather Clitheroe, who’s reminded me I need check out The Expanse for more evidence of unions in SF.)

On a point unrelated to our subject matter, I also like that our article appears in an issue that both a) marks the debut of Dr. Rinaldo Walcott as TOPIA‘s new editor, and b) pays tribute to the great, late Canadian writer Austin Clarke.

Lastly, if you’re interested in the article, but you or your institution don’t subscribe to TOPIA, you can e-mail me at academicalism[at]gmail[dot]com to request a single copy (because Canada’s educational fair dealing provision in copyright law allows for individual sharing like this).

Aside

I made two mistakes last night in watching Julie Taymor’s gorgeous 1999 film version of Shakespeare’s atrocious Titus Andronicus: waiting so long to watch it; & making a drinking game of having a sip every time there’s bloodshed. #BearThouMyHandSweetWenchBetweenThyTeeth #ShakespeareMakesTarantinoLookLikeDisney

New Fronts in the Copyfight, Part 2

Now published, just in time for Fair Dealing Week 2016: Part 2 of New Fronts in the Copyfight, my guest-edited series in Digital Studies/Le champ numérique (DSCN). DSCN is an open access journal in the Digital Humanities. New Fronts in the Copyfight is a series featuring innovative, multidisciplinary directions in critical copyright studies. The new installment includes research articles by Dr Carolyn Guertin (author of Digital Prohibition) on digitally remixed creativity, and by Dr Daniel Downes (author of Interactive Realism and co-editor of Post-Colonial Distances) on a theory of “transproperty.” The installment also includes my review of Rosemary Coombe et al’s Dynamic Fair Dealing (2014), an excellent book, and a timely one, given the fast-approaching review of Canada’s amended copyright act and the copyright implications of the signed but not yet ratified Trans-Pacific Partnership.

New book chapter: “Institutions and Interpellations of the Dubject, the Doubled and Spaced Self”

I’ve got a chapter in Raphael Foshay’s just-published edited collection on Internet culture and politics, The Digital Nexus: Identity, Agency, and Political Engagement.

“Institutions and interpellations of the dubject, the doubled and spaced self.” The Digital Nexus: Identity, Agency, and Political Engagement. Ed. Raphael Foshay. Edmonton: Athabasca UP, 2016.

At the links you’ll find free, full-text PDF versions of the book and its individual chapters, including mine. (Athabasca University Press is an Open Access scholarly publisher that sells print copies and offers free PDF copies simultaneously.)
Here’s a quick intro to what my article’s about (and what a “dubject” is):

This essay develops the idea of the dubject as a model of remediated subjectivity. It will discuss some theoretical and institutional contexts of the dubject, and then will consider digital manifestations of the dubject with reference to how popular digital applications interpellate the user (see Althusser 1971)—that is, how they impose specific ideological and institutional conditions and limitations on applications and on users’ possibilities for self-representation. This work is an attempt to think digital identity and agency in the context of postcoloniality, as a complement to the more prevalent approach to mediated identity in terms of postmodernity. This work thus builds my larger research project of applying postcolonialist critique to popular culture, particularly that of Canada’s majority white settler society. (128)

Margaret Atwood on McLuhan’s copyright contraband

I’ve just stumbled upon this great anecdote that Margaret Atwood told the Globe & Mail in 2011, about Marshall McLuhan and his first book’s tussle with copyright.

I was one of those people who luckily was able to obtain a copy of The Mechanical Bride, early on. You know that he had to pull off the shelves – do you know this book at all?

He reproduced a lot of ads, from soap companies and cigarette companies and everything. He showed the actual ad, and then he would do an analysis of them. And it is very funny.

But the companies whose ads they were took exception. Copyright issues. And he had to pull the book. But he had them in his cellar and if you had contact you could purchase one out of the back window of Marshall McLuhan’s house – so The Mechanical Bride, a piece of genius.

McLuhan’s work sometimes shows a critical concern with copyright; The Medium is the Massage anticipates and encapsulates more or less the whole argument of Mark Rose’s 1993 book Authors and Owners:

“Authorship” – in the sense we know it today, individual intellectual effort related to the book as an economic commodity – was practically unknown before the advent of print technology. … The invention of print did away with anonymity, fostering ideas of literary fame and the habit of considering intellectual effort as private property. … The rising consumer-oriented culture became concerned with labels of authenticity and protection against theft and piracy. The idea of copyright – “the exclusive right to reproduce, publish, and sell the matter and form of a literary or artistic work” – was born. (122)

This section goes on to theorize photocopying as a democratized, user-driven form of “instant publishing”: Anybody can now become both author and publisher. Take any books on any subject and custom-make your own book by simply xeroxing a chapter from this one, a chapter from that one – instant steal!” (123). McLuhan here presents an image of radical appropriation, of the kind that copyright maximalists like the photocopy royalty-collecting agency Access Copyright (formerly CanCopy) have been invoking to lobby and litigate against fair dealing for years now. This is not to say that McLuhan’s image exemplifies fair dealing, the users’ right in copyright law that allows for certain limited reuse of copyrighted works (see “What is Fair Dealing”): he leaves unclear whether the hypothetical user is assembling just one compilation (which would be more fair), or mass-photocopying multiple copies (which would be less fair); and whether the user is using the compilation non-commercially (more fair) or for sale (less fair).

Since not only The Mechanical Bride but also The Medium is the Massage, War and Peace in the Global Village, and Culture is Our Business made extensive collage use of cut-up print media samples, maybe there is, in Atwood’s suggestive anecdote, a fuller story worth looking into. One wonders if copyright was a legal pretext exploited by the advertisers whose work he reproduced simply to suppress what he had to say about them – what he had to say about postwar advertising wasn’t good. Atwood’s description of McLuhan’s purportedly infringing work as “genius” also related interestingly to her own statements on copyright from around the same time, which tended to side with proponents of the kind of copyright maximalism that would severely curtail not only fair dealing but even the kind of licensed, commercial reuse that made so much of McLuhan’s work possible and so distinctive in the first place (see Knopf; McCutcheon, “It’s unfair”). Were books like The Mechanical Bride and The Medium is the Massage in production today, it’s conceivable that the hefty fees now being asked for permission to reprint song lyrics, poetry lines, and photographs (McCutcheon, “Cento” 92) could prove prohibitive, and prevent them from ever getting to print.

Works Cited

Atwood, Margaret. “Margaret Atwood, uncensored.” The Globe and Mail 29 Apr. 2011. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/editorials/margaret-atwood-uncensored/article578234/?page=all
Knopf, Howard. “To Margaret Atwood: Copyright and Cars cannot conflate.” Excess Copyright 14 Mar. 2011 http://excesscopyright.blogspot.ca/2011/03/to-margaret-atwood-copyright-and-cars.html
McCutcheon, Mark A. “The Cento, Romanticism, and Copyright.” English Studies in Canada 38.2 (2012): 71-101. http://ejournals.library.ualberta.ca/index.php/ESC/article/view/21280/16093
—. “It’s unfair to impugn #cdnpse…” Tweet 7:27 pm, 14 Oct. 2012 https://twitter.com/sonicfiction/status/257668880841973762
McLuhan, Marshall and Jerome Agel. The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects (1967). Berkeley: Gingko, 2001.
Rose, Mark. Authors and Owners: The Invention of Copyright. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1993.
“What is Fair Dealing and how does it relate to copyright?” Library, Simon Fraser U, 4 Mar. 2015 http://www.lib.sfu.ca/faqs/copyright-fair-dealing