Another Fake News Scandal?

May 30th, 2006 | researchmaterial

Federal authorities are investigating dozens of American television stations for broadcasting items produced by the Bush administration and major corporations, and passing them off as normal news.

Some of the fake news segments talked up success in the war in Iraq, or promoted the companies’ products.

Investigators from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are seeking information about stations across the country after a report produced by a campaign group detailed the extraordinary extent of the use of such items.

The report, by the non-profit group Centre for Media and Democracy, found that over a 10-month period at least 77 television stations were making use of the faux news broadcasts, known as Video News Releases (VNRs). Not one told viewers who had produced the items.

“We know we only had partial access to these VNRs and yet we found 77 stations using them,” said Diana Farsetta, one of the group’s researchers…

(This isn’t the first time, is it? I’m on the run today, but I want to follow up on this tonight…)

Rhetorical Television

May 30th, 2006 | brainjuice, comics talk

There’s a thing that’s sometimes called “rhetorical television”: where someone walks around on screen, basically, and tells you what they think on a given topic. Here’s how I perceive the world, they say, and here’s the history and the evidence to back it up. It’s what we in Britain call Reithian, after Lord Reith of the BBC; the idea that tv can be both compelling and educational. A good recent example is Richard Dawkins’ THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL?, presenting his view that religion is disgusting. It’s not objective television, and it’s not supposed to be. There’s no law that says he has to present the other side, or a (cough) “fair and balanced” coverage of the topic.

You don’t see much of it in comics, for obvious presentational reasons. Scott McCloud’s comics on comics are obviously rhetorical (leading to a parody single called FILIBUSTERING COMICS). There’s Alan Moore and Bill Sienkiewicz’s BROUGHT TO LIGHT, which uses a surreally-imagined CIA operative as the voice, poking through the fourth wall at us as he recounts the secret history of US intelligence according to the Christic Institute (who, people have told me, were not happy with the hypervivid treatment of their research).

I occasionally “went behind the camera” with Spider Jerusalem when he went off on a flight of anecdote and rhetoric, but they were almost all short pieces. I did an entire episode in that style, though, and I’m thinking about digging that story out and going through it again.

Because the lesson of rhetorical television is that a visual narrative does not have to be about conflict or even character, in its commonly understood frame, to be a compelling piece of art.

And I just got interrupted by a phone call and totally lost my train of thought, so…

(Originally written 9 January 2006)

That Small Format

May 30th, 2006 | brainjuice, comics talk

Since I’ve been mentioning it again a few times here and there, people have been asking me what it is about that small, 96pp, Paradox Mystery/manga-ish sized graphic novel format that so fascinates me.

This morning I found the terms that crystallise it.

In talking about the Plantin press of Antwerp, the designer of Bruce Sterling’s recent book SHAPING THINGS said this of the tradition she was following with the work’s design: that the books important enough to want to carry should be small enough to fit in your pocket.

See, that right there is a big part of the manga success — those things go in a coat pocket or in a backpack. It’s why paperbacks were such a revolution: they were cheap and they could be stuffed in a pocket. Dave Gibbons, talking about the later Martha Washington books he did with Frank Miller, talked of his desire to do a “roll it up and stick it in your pocket comic”, which speaks to why that form lasted so long.

Portable culture is crucial to any society in motion. Manga in all its indigenous forms has been a thing built for Japanese commuters. Part of why that style of anthology doesn’t play so well in America is that America’s a culture of private cars, not public transport.

Personally, if I’m going to spend an hour or two on a train, I want something I can stick in my pocket. A paperback book, or a copy of LONE WOLF AND CUB or something similar.

And a comic in that form — here’s just the tiniest bit of heresy — fits next to paperback novels. It doesn’t have to go into a Graphic Novels section. I used to see this occasionally in the late 80s/early 90s. When you can’t rack MAUS next to Garfield, where do you put it? Under S on the regular shelves.

But mostly, it’s a form/ambition thing. You’ve got 90 pages and a perfect portable format. Write something so important that people have to carry it with them – because they can.

(Originally written 14 January 2006)

Ass Wine, Even

May 29th, 2006 | people I know, researchmaterial

Found/shot by Maddie Greene, who adds:

The growing popularity of Australian wines in the U.S. sadly resulted in an implosion fo quality and explosion of crap. This brightly colored label offers just one example of the culturally-charged $10 bottles that flood our markets while the finer wines become harder and harder to locate.

Ambient Comics/Comics As Air

May 29th, 2006 | brainjuice

Imagine there was such a thing as Ambient Fiction. There are very probably lots of examples around. Mind working slightly faster than mind’s traps and editing software tonight.

Works you can dip into and out of, like treatises and long non-fiction works, and still draw complete little micro-experiences from, as you do in ambient music. A flow, or combination of flows, of word and picture that constitutes an ideational visual soundtrack, if you like.

The pure imagining of ambient music was that sound was used as you’d use light. You want constancy from light. You want to be able to ignore it, or drift away from it, but also to be able to focus on it, to study and enjoy it.

Throw away the notion of complex plot. Only the simplest of dramatic engines required — just setting characters, themes and relationships in motion. Creating a string of moments and conversations and sequences that CAN add to a whole, but don’t necessarily HAVE to.

Great for a cheap 100-page print book, probably more feasible for the webcomic, which deals in small chunks often by necessity. But it’d be nicer for the print book — something you drift in and out of, draw inspiration from, savour the evocations it causes. Something you forget you’re reading.

There. Needed to get that out of my head. I’m sure it makes no sense at all, but it’s been bugging me for three days. Now I can use that headspace for more important things, like being pissed off that I’m probably going to have to take my cane with me to Canada next month.

The end. Rattle your jewellery. Bed made of vaginas. Drop of the creature. Let’s away.

– W

(Originally written 31 March 2005. And I did have to take my cane to Canada. And the above may relate in part to something I wrote about Urasawa’s PLUTO the other week, which follows — and, yes, I am using the website to assemble some old thinking:)

Paul Gravett’s original subtitle for his currently-controversial book on manga was “comics as air” — denoting an artform that is pervasive in its country. But it applies to the way the form works on the page, too. Manga isn’t a string of postcards, a row of lights or a drum figure. It’s a warm jet of air, a stream, to be experienced in motion.

I’ve kind of resisted the following definition, because invoking the word “emotion” in narrative always sounds so clueless and fake: but one of the reasons manga never broke in the comics-shop audience in America is that manga values emotional and psychological content over plot, and comics-shop boys are just frighteningly anal about plot.

Manga are emotional comics. They want nothing more than for you to breathe together with them. To conspire with lives.