Thursday, April 23, 2009
I apologize for the state of the images. I ran into the deadline and thus they are in various stages of inking. The dialogue for the comic is as follows below:
Sarah’s dad: Hello?
Yes, this is he.
Oh my…I- Thank you for telling me.
No no, thank you for letting me know…
No, I couldn’t tell her.
Sarah: Did somebody find Snowball?!
Sarah’s dad: No…sorry, sweetie. We-we’ll just have to keep looking.
Sarah: I know we’ll find him. He’ll come back.
[Approximately one month later]
Sarah’s dad: Hey come here, I got a present for you Sarah.
Sarah: Really?! What is it?
Sarah’s dad: It’s a robot cat. He can do everything a real cat can do, and he won’t ever run away.
Sarah: I don’t WANT some stupid robot! I just want Snowball back!
Sarah’s dad: Sarah, wait-!
[whirring noise, Robocat’s eyes open and he steps out of the box and looks around]
[meowing from outside]
[The cat hisses at him and jumps off the fence]
Sarah’s dad: Don’t forget to clean your room after school.
Sarah: I won’t.
Sarah [to Robocat]:What are you looking at? You're not even a real cat.
[Robocat hears meowing from outside again]
Sheba: [Speaking in 'cat'] So the strange one can speak after all.
Robocat: Can you tell me how to be a real cat?
Sheba: Can you tell me how to be a robot?
Robocat: Well, no...
Sheba: Then you have your answer
[Voice]: Sheba, din-din!
[Voice]: Why, who's your friend? Why don't you invite him in?
Robocat: Oh no! What should I do?
Sheba: Relax, you'll be fine. Just do as I do.
Granny: You poor thing, you feel so cold!
Granny: I know, I have just the thing. You wait right here.
Granny: I knit this for Sheba, but I think you need it more.
Granny: There we go.
Granny: Much better.
The writing on the box says 'robokatto' in katakana, the Japanese character system for sounds and loan words.
I can't say whether this was somehow subconsciously intentional, but Sarah's outfit reminds me vaguely of the wicked witch from the Wizard of Oz.
Such an article would presumably be about Japanese scientists developing robotic cats for people who can't take care of real ones. There are already some robotic cats on the market, though they are nowhere near as sophisticated as Robocat, obviously. Try searching for 'yume neko smile' on youtube. Be warned however, as those robots are creepy as heck. Apparently animal robots can inhabit the uncanny valley too.
I decided to change Princess' name to Sheba as it was more fitting for her recast role as a sort of wise guide. She reminds me vaguely of the priestess from the Epic of Gilgamesh, bringing Robocat into catkind, as it were.
Robocat is understandably nervous about being rejected again. Luckily for him, Granny's eyesight isn't what it used to be, and she's too nice to be mean to even a robotic cat anyway.
I'd like to note that the sweater is white and fluffy, aluding somewhat to Snowball and page 10.
I think putting Robocat in such an old-timey setting in Granny's house gives a good contrast between him and his surroundings. It also serves to make him more 'normal' in a sense.
Culture, as defined by the American Heritage Dictionary, is the totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought. This is further described as being developed through the development of the intellect through training or education. By definition then, our culture is the cumulative total of all aspects of society that define who we are collectively as a nation, and as a global population. Culture cumulatively encompasses everything in society from the musical and artistic masterpieces to the literary works that define the way we live today to the more contemporary works such as cult-classics and temporary works which define a very particular age in our history based on current fads and trends.
Suicide, a word which carries many negative connotations, is well deserving of the responses it usually generates. By definition, suicide is the intentional taking of one’s own life. However, alternatively, suicide may also be used to describe the self-destruction of one’s own interests. Suicide is the intentional undoing of one’s goals and the destruction of any progress and achievements made. With this in mind, cultural suicide, an idea put forth by Jimmy Corrigan’s author, Chris Ware, is the intentional destruction and undoing of the collective intellectual works of art, behavior, beliefs and social institutions in society. Devaluing of art, moving toward complacency, undermining education, and removing social practices built over the years by our ancestry are all ways which culture can be considered to be devalued or destroyed in this sense. But suicide, is our nation or even our global society as a whole forging these destructive processes within the culture itself, leading to the inevitable devaluing of the institutions that formerly constructed high culture?
To begin to understand how culture can be suicidal, a case should be examined such as that presented in Chris Ware’s, Jimmy Corrigan, in which the common practices, technologies and industries which are the products of modern cultural changes have created a bleak and humdrum society. A prime example of this is presented in a set of postcards highlighting the peak interests in town with vibrant descriptions of the location written on the back of the cards. The word euphemism doesn’t even begin to describe the blurbs on the back of each card and the utter sarcasm is nothing short of laughable. One card in particular details the “history” of the town in which the noble people who colonized the land were viciously attacked by savage Indians who seemed to come from nowhere. The picture’s focus, as it describes, is the rock where a treaty was signed, thus ending the violence and returning peace to the town which would later be renamed after the vicious savages themselves. Unfortunately, as the postcard notes in the disclaimer, the rock is out of sight behind a Dairy Queen, a streetlight and a cutout house floating in a sea of concrete and electrical wires. What is the significance of these descriptions in both images and words and how does this portray our culture as being suicidal?
To expand on the understanding of cultural suicide now, Ware’s images and descriptions can be used to visualize the definition above. While this example focuses mostly on the destruction of education and beliefs, it is an excellent example of how society is deconstructing culture as it grows. Fast food chains, electricity, urban life, and the many other aspects of pop culture which now define a good portion of any of our lives in modern American society are suffocating out the history and even intellectual and educational ideals which led to the creation of these pillars of society. History, as portrayed in the image as the rock where the town’s famous treaty was signed, is no longer even visible through the jungle of the newer aspects of the modernized culture which was built over top. To further emphasize the destructive nature of the resulting amalgamated culture, Ware seems to point out that history itself may even be skewed and misinterpreted as information is obstructed by the newer facets of modern society.
While Ware has a very cynical and sarcastic view of the present, there is a very plausible truth which can be taken from these images. Examples may not be as extreme as blatantly destroying historical landmarks for the highly marketed landmarks of fast food chains, but we’re not all that far off. Aside from the obvious connection to the example such as fast food chains littering the streets of every town in this country, even some national parks and historical landmarks, other aspects of mainstream culture are continuing to work against our culture from within. In the past centuries, the advent of electricity, television, and eventually the personal computer has led to the creation of many helpful and noteworthy technologies, but it has also led to the creation of new forms of entertainment and media. One technology which has arguably boomed in the past few decades and worked its way to the top as one of the most influential cultural landmarks of our generation is the video game.
Video games, while not outwardly destructive, are a huge threat to today’s culture as we know it. In its humble origins as text based adventures on a computer screen which eventually led to interactive moving pixels that couldn’t touch the sides of the playing screen, video games have come a long way to become the destructive entity which rips at our culture from the inside. As the years progressed, the possibilities expanded in the realm of video game technology and new genres grew from the developing possibilities. Today, there are more than a dozen mainstream genres, each with its own following and fare share of cult like fan base. Of the many possibilities within the video game realm, let’s look at a small subset of two categories of games which I hold very dear to me – role playing games (RPGs) and shooters (FPS).
The RPG is a powerful and arguably addictive genre video games which involves and immerses the gamer in a new and exciting world, often more engaging than reality, with the general purpose of a quest or some sort of ultimate goal of accomplishment in the player’s alternate persona. As with Ware’s example of fast food and mass commercial culture covering up our history and devaluing landmarks, RPGs attain this type of destructive status in their own right. By disguising reality and creating a new life within a computer game, RPGs remove many societal institutions and create a new set of practices and beliefs within the game which work to enhance the story line. Ranging from anything such as a society which believes in the power and protection of a mystical set of elemental crystals to a society driven by vigilante warfare and magic guided by nine elder gods, RPGs can create any number of situations which mask cultural beliefs with the practices and beliefs that suit its own needs.
The RPG in some cases even goes beyond the level of creating an alternate reality with institutions and beliefs that mask existing cultural values. In the case of Massive Multiplayer Online RPGs (MMORPGs), for the small price of a monthly server subscription fee, gamers can immerse themselves in a fully interactive online world connected with other gamers with similar interests to join in quests and engage in what seems to be daily activities within the world of the game. The most prominent example of this being World of Warcraft, or WoW for short. WoW has grown so large in fact, that it has become, itself, a part of our culture. Many gamers and non-gamers alike will readily recognize the term “WoW” and have no trouble understanding the reference to the game. With recent statistics from the Warcraft servers proclaiming 10 million users, it’s no wonder how this definition has slipped into our vocabulary, and it wouldn’t be surprising to find it added to unabridged dictionaries in the near future as an alternate definition to “wow.” It’s simply mind-boggling that one video game could cause such recognition and become such an integral part of video game culture, and as a result, our culture as a whole.
RPGs such as WoW and other massive yet not online interactive games like the Elder Scrolls and Final Fantasy series are so involved that the games themselves take well over 60 hours or more to complete the main story or quest. The time demands of the typical RPG immerse gamers into the plot for great lengths of time, and if the designers did their jobs, will maintain the attention of the user until the story has been completed at least one time through. With these demands, it’s no surprise that video games have spurred recent studies to look into the psychological effects on gamers within the evolving video game culture. A recent pilot study by Douglas Gentile et al. published in Psychological Science in May 2009 begins to study the effects of such games on the gamers who actively play them. With RPGs such as WoW being only a small subset of the broader question at hand, the study suggests that nearly 1 in 10 gamers is addicted to video games. The study calls into concern that this “video game addiction” is causing social disorders, a drop in intellectual priority and a devaluing of cultural institutions which are being replaced by video game culture. That is to say that school performance is failing, money is consistently squandered and sometimes even stolen to purchase video games and other institutions of recreation, entertainment, and art are consistently ignored to satisfy the need to play. While this is not yet officially classified as a psychological disorder in medical literature, we may very soon find that time demanding RPGs and other games alike are doing more than devaluing other cultural values from within.
Returning to the other prime example of culturally self-destructive video games, FPS games attack a completely different aspect of culture. While RPGs create a new set of institutions and values from which the player engages in an alternate reality masking his own, the FPS often does the same but only to a small degree in most cases. The violence and degree of realism created in more recent games calls into serious question the moral judgment of the player to engage in shooting and killing other characters within a game. While these characters can often be manifested as alien species or demons from the darkest depths of hell on mars, the multiplayer aspect which comes with most FPS games puts two human players against each other in a fight to the death. In essence, the game is training the gamer that it’s alright to kill another person because it’s not actually real. Where must we draw the line though? How far can this devaluing of moral institutions and practices within our culture go before it begins to affect the decisions and outcomes our society lives by every day? This is not to say that a child playing FPS games is going to grow up to be a serial killer, or a heartless being with no concern for the societal values he was born and raised by. However, it does begin the blur the lines between right and wrong as well as socially acceptable and unacceptable, calling into question whether these video games are more helpful as a new cultural form of entertainment or destructive as a deterioration of values and institutions already upheld in the culture which creates them.
Video game culture spreads far beyond that of the addictive, alternate reality which so many young and developing gamers immerse themselves in each year. Video games have become as much a part of mainstream culture as film and music even. Film premiers no longer even come close to the level of devotion and commitment of some gamers on release night. A movie with a cult following will get hundreds of thousands of viewers at opening night midnight showings and untold publicity at the various premiers attended by the stars of the show. Release night on the other hand is a far greater sight to behold. Gamers line up on sidewalks for blocks in a line to drop $60 on one of a limited number of games in the release-day shipment. Some fans can be seen fully garbed like their favorite game character. The person in the front of the line who’s camped out for two days prior to the release is hailed as a god amongst men, and jealousy, rather than pity, is the feeling that circulates the rest of the line. All this commotion is over the chance to merely purchase a video game before anyone else. For the bigger game releases, media coverage of the event intensifies the experience as the first few customers are interviewed. Students often even admit at this point that they plan to skip class until the game has been beaten. From afar, the whole situation seems utterly absurd, but to a cult following gamer, this is the day which has been awaited for the 3 years from game announcement to release.
Larger game releases such as that of Halo 3, the final installment of the FPS trilogy chronicling the epic war between humanity and a collective of alien races, even put on festivities and various publicity stunts for the release to create a truly unique experience in gaming history. Gamers who purchased the game on opening night at Toys R Us in New York City were entertained throughout the evening by acrobatic feats performed by stuntmen dressed as characters from the game. The climax of the evening came when the first gamers were to receive their copy of the game from Master Chief himself and the lines opened storewide to allow others to join in this unique opportunity to simply purchase the game before anyone else. The level of fan devotion at these events is almost unparalleled by any other form of entertainment existing in this modern electronics-based culture we’ve developed. With the increasing popularity of events like this and the incredible cult followings which many games are beginning to develop, it should come as no surprise that video game culture is becoming more mainstream, leaving little room for less appreciated forms of art and entertainment to the new gamer generation.
The question remains, if video games are becoming a mainstream part of our culture, how are they self-destructive and suicidal toward that culture? For gaming culture to become integrated as a daily part of everyday life, it appears that something else is neglected or set aside to facilitate the societal devotion. As a result of video games becoming an integral part of culture, older established art forms are becoming neglected and pushed aside to make room for the hours of devoted playing of video games. If you were to ask any avid gamer the last time he visited a museum or watched a symphony perform in the cultural district, the response is almost guaranteed to be never or too long ago to remember. The theories of Gresham’s Law and whether high culture will be replaced by pop-culture is a completely different argument in and of itself, but concept applies. For video games to become more influential in the end, other cultural elements will be sacrificed to facilitate the addition. As in Ware’s interpretation of cultural suicide, the shift to mass media driven video game culture is beginning to appear as much of a mask to the rest of society and culture as the concrete jungle of fast food and power lines in Jimmy Corrigan.
With video game and electronic stores popping up all over the place, it would be hard not to run into one simply walking around any major city, town, or suburb. In recent years, video game commercials have expanded their audience from gaming specific channels such as G4 to airing commercials during primetime football games on all the major networks. Magazines and advertisements promoting video games and related forms of entertainment are all around us. There has been such an increase in the cultural influence of video games in the past decade that there are now journals which review nothing but the influence of video games on our culture. Studies ranging from the application of a certain symbol in a particular game to the overall growth of gamer culture over the years since the creation of the first computerized games are conducted by psychologists and sociologists alike to measure the effects of such a widespread phenomenon. Game consoles which were once marketed as toys for a younger generation have become as much a part of the older generations as well. An extreme example of this is the implementation of the Nintendo Wii console in many retirement homes and assisted living centers as a feasible alternative to going out and golfing or bowling at the old bowling alley down the road. Will this massive expansion of virtual existence within the depths of a video game develop beyond a simple escape from reality as in an RPG and become an actual replacement for the daily activities we engage in every day? Only time will hold the answers to these and other questions which may come to dominate the field of video game technology and its cultural influences. The look of our suicidal culture may not be as dreary and gray as that which Ware depicts, but it’s certainly heading for a change in which at least some aspects of culture must be figuratively killed to make way for the dominating factors of tomorrow.
Ware, Chris. Jimmy Corrigan. New York: Pantheon, 2003.
American Heritage Dictionary online
Gentile et al. Psychological Science. 20:4 May 2009. from Health Day News.
Games and Culture. 4:2 2009.
An Exposition for the Ages
“I try to use the rules of typography to govern the way that I "draw", which keeps me at a sensible distance from the story as well as being a visual analog to the way we remember and conceptualize the world” -- Chris Ware
The World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 was a highly successful celebration of American culture during the end of the 19th century. Magnificence of new architecture, technology and arts provided a significant American optimism as well as displaying a powerful image of American excellence. Likewise, in the graphic novel Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth, author Chris Ware displays the significance of the World’s Columbian Exchange to one specific character, Jimmy’s great grandfather. Ware purposely uses large portions of frames and pages describing the event and its significance to storyline. Among many reasons Ware included this specific American landmark, the most profound is the symbolic imagery that challenges the reader to understand a deeper meaning through the character of Jimmy Corrigan. This symbolic meaning behind the World’s Columbian Exposition allows us as readers to focus on Jimmy Corrigan in a new sense and have a better understanding of the seemingly dull and simplistic character, Jimmy. America was seen then as the one of the most powerful emerging nations during that era and Chris Ware dares us to use it as metaphor for the current American society and compare how far we have come.
To better understand this expansive idea and get a feel for the significance, some background on the World Columbian Exposition would be useful. Opening to the public on May 1st, 1893, the celebration was held on the 400th year anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World. The city of Chicago beat out other contesting cities in large part due to banker Lyman Gage’s financial prowess, his ability to raise several million dollars in a 24-hour period bested other viable cities including Washington D.C., St. Louis and New York City, winning the privilege to host this influential world’s fair (Bancroft, 1893). When the Exposition opened in Chicago, only 22 years had passed since the devastation of the Chicago fire, in which a three and a half square mile area burned through the heart of city over a short 36-hour period (Society, 2008). The United States as a country had just recently felt the end of a destructive Civil War only 28 years before. During this truly remarkable interval of time the country and Chicago transformed and boomed during the Age of Reconstruction and flowed into a Gilded Age, a time of an enormous population and wealth increase (Bancroft 62). Along with this industrial growth came class conflict and growing concerning regarding this violence. As a solution, America followed in European footsteps and tried to ease tensions and provide some “cultural cement” by turning to the world’s fair. Despite the flaws and failings of first world fair in Philadelphia and growing concern from American’s whether or not this idea would solidify in the states, momentum for a second was building in order to celebrate the upcoming Columbian quadricentennial(Society, 2008).
After Congress voted for and approved the undertaking of the world’s fair in Chicago(Society, 2008), under the guidance of American architect David Burnham and landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmstead the Chicago World’s Fair began to take shape. The process was enormous and the architectural talent displayed was remarkable, buildings such as: Agriculture, Electricity, Horticulture, Machinery Hall, Mines and Mining; to name a few, all made up “the White City”(Bancroft, 1893). Buildings made of white stucco and use of extensive streetlights presented the moniker of a white city. In these buildings exhibits displayed the “culture and civilization” of the time. It was without a doubt a symbol of “emerging American Exceptionalism”.(Nye, 1994).
Aside from that brief history lesson, now imagine a young boy, dreaming of attending this colossal achievement, stepping through the Golden Door of Transportation and immediately filled with awe. This must have been the case for anyone of any age experiencing such a triumph, courtesy of the human fabric.
Back to the story of Jimmy Corrigan, unfortunately Jimmy never experiences this; in fact he hardly experiences any happiness or excitement throughout the whole novel. Yet, this expansive series of frames takes place in the heart of his story, his novel. Why? Perhaps it is to parallel his boring and dull life to show contrast by comparing it to such an exquisite time period. However, the symbolism stretches deeper; start for example, at the beginning of the flashbacks of Jimmy’s grandfather. The transition from Jimmy’s story in the present, to Chicago 1893, begins and ends with a house or building, however the architecture and detail is important. Notice how bland and unimpressive the architecture of the house is, or for that matter throughout the whole story in Jimmy’s life. The contrast is obvious while flipping through these pages; Ware’s precise use of detailing on these buildings was not only time consuming but also involved lots of research and study. With that in mind, Ware went to these lengths not to simply impress readers with his skill, but to strike a connection between Jimmy and the reader.
Since the late 19th century, one can argue that American technology has been declining and the peak was the World’s Columbian Exposition. It is true that we develop new electronic gadgets, faster computers or fancy things we don’t necessarily need relatively often. In fact, the “next big thing” in electronics is called the memristor, a microscopic component that can "remember" electrical states even when turned off. Or, try the Electronic Power Transmission which throws electricity a distance of a few feet, without wires or dangers to bystanders (that they know of). Honestly though, can we be surprised? New technological gadgets always fascinate me but I figure it is inevitable that a faster, smaller or more improved version of something new will come out. It is not much of a surprise to me, but instead another “toy”.
In comparison, advances during the late 19th century were monumental. Electricity, for instance, was heavily emphasized at the fair and as a result provided a new identity for modern America. Today, many couldn’t imagine a life without it let alone functioning without it; but a life without the memristor or the EPT seems feasible. "...most of all, the Columbian Exposition was a spectacle for the emerging technology that would power and transform the coming new century--electricity." (Judith Adams, 47). Clearly, this was a time when technology did not seem frightening or overpowering; rather it was a time of celebration. Where we stand now, the range of technology seems vast and we may be impressed, but how significant is it? Obviously, there are beneficial things that we must be grateful for because many of us rely on them. Medical advances keeping us alive longer and keeping us in better health, all very important and useful: Military weapons, nanotechnology, genetic engineering, space flight, household appliances, random widgets, etc. Most are beneficial and useful however, we may become a product of these inventions, getting caught up in these ideas that if we actually step back and look around we have actually hit a plateau. It is easy to say this when looking at something as grand as the Columbian Exposition yet, the argument is valid. Ware cleverly illustrates America being in such a high at the end of the 19th century, but currently we have might be losing that grandeur and American Exceptionilism that we once boasted.
Clearly, an extremely important aspect of the Columbian Exposition was the architecture. It was purposefully significant and spectacular mixing European, Classical and Renaissance styles. The buildings were so large that there were buildings inside buildings and the ostentatious exhibits displayed impressive collections of the newest advances in technology, industry, science, agriculture, and commerce. The Chicago Fair of 1893 was, in fact, a huge classroom, and the 27 million attendees were the students all learning a powerful message- America was the most powerful emerging nation in the world.
I was curious to know what has become of all these exhibits, buildings and structures. Unfortunately, very little remains and ironically the few clues that do remain are simple metal signs marking remains one of the most lavish displays of achievement in American history.(H.H. Van Meter, 1894). It's beyond ironic that the most prolific and spectacular public event of its era would end up in the most banal way possible. Shortly after the World’s Columbian Exposition closed, a railway strike occurred and the result was rioting. Chicago was once again demolished, intentional fires ravished the city leveling almost the entire ‘white city’. In the following years and decades the land was replaced by menial structures. Basically, it became a flat nothing with growing weeds; the Columbian Exposition seemingly had become a memory and slipped into the “dustbin of history”(H.H. Van Meter, 1894). Of course, many of the exhibits and artifacts are currently in museums and the impact is still felt and clearly what happened there did matter. Unfortunately, many people today haven’t experienced something as monumental for their time period as was the Chicago Fair in 1893.
It’s somewhat depressing but highly ironic to realize this, however, this is how history often works, things lost and forgotten. I have to admit, before reading Jimmy Corrigan I had only know brief knowledge of the exposition and I certainly had no idea how vast it truly was. Looking at the very last page of the exposition we see Jimmy’s great grandfather and his father standing atop the “largest building in the world” according to ‘Jimmy’. As they stand there a flash to future reveals that Jimmy’s great grandfather is actually remembering all of this in a dream he is having at an orphanage. We see him getting thrown off this building in his dream, symbolizing his father abandoning him and eventually leaving him by himself. The last line says, “He simply mumbled something dull to me, and stepped aside… I wasn’t really paying attention. So I just stood there watching the sky, and the people below, waiting for him to return. Of course he never did.” I interpret this two ways, obviously the literal abandonment of a father and the imagery our abandonment of the Exposition. The scene culminates with the beauty and accomplishment of the Exposition and the happiness of the young boy all leading us back to the real story of Jimmy Corrigan. Presented with this significant experience, and then bringing us back down to reality. A scary and saddening realization we are faced with indeed, can we ever exceed something so grand?
Chris Ware doesn’t appear to think so, or at least so far. He meant for us to ponder about our own situation and question whether we are living in a time of Jimmy’s great grandfather or in the time of Jimmy. For example, directly after the last frame of the Exposition I discussed (a drawing which exemplifies the massive scale of a structure) he immediately swings us back into the simplicity and lackluster of the present. McDonald’s arches silhouette the backdrop of the next frames, as we become engulfed, once again, in the simplicity of Jimmy Corrigan.
The times we live in now I wouldn’t be surprised if America has gained a stigma of greed, fraud, and mismanagement. This may not be a direct relationship to technology but it is certainly relevant. Ware poses this question through his contrasting images, and the question is plausible. We clearly had a peak in advancement during that era but where America stands now is debatable. From what I gather, our situation is nowhere near as promising as it was in 1893, when the possibilities seemed endless. We surely make advances and great strides but they will most likely never compare to the potential and possibilities displayed at the World’s Columbian Exposition.
Nonetheless, the main point stands; technology will most likely never cease to grow, but as for an impact in everyday life Ware shows us we came a long way, in the wrong direction. Specifically, the postcard page in Jimmy Corrigan is a prime example. Reading those misleading descriptions, then flipping the page to reveal the lackluster buildings and commonplace design seemed comical. However, after thinking about this page, the realization occurred that this is the current state of many of our local towns; in fact this is almost exactly what my town looks like. That consideration made an impression and clearly made me understand Jimmy Corrigan on a different level. Certainly, there is no denying the advances of technology in this century or let alone decade, with the medical advances, improved weaponry or nanotechnologies. Regardless, what should be taken from Ware’s contrasting images throughout his novel is simple; Jimmy Corrigan symbolizes not the decline in technology but the decline in significant impacting inventions. Essentially we can be compared to the character of Jimmy Corrigan, and perhaps we haven’t come that far since the World’s Columbian Exposition.
Ware, Chris. Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth. New York: Pantheon, 2000.
Bancroft, H. H. (1893). The book of the fair; an historical and descriptive presentation of the world’s science, art, and industry, as viewed through the Columbian Exposition at Chicago in 1893. Chicago, San Francisco, The Bancroft Co., 1893.
The Vanishing Fair. H.H. Van Meter, with illustrations by William and Charles Ottman (The Literary Art Company, Chicago, 1894).
The World's Columbian Exposition: Idea, Experience, Aftermath. Julie K. Rose (1996).
The World's Columbian Exposition of 1893. Kristin Standaert, Paul V. Galvin Library Digital History Collection, Illinois Institute of Technology.
H.H. Van Meter, w. i. (1894). The Vanishing Fair. The Literary Art Company, Chicago,.
Nye, D. (1994). American Technological Sublime. 1893: Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press.
Society, C. H. (2008, November 25). Chicago Historical Society. “The World’s Columbian Exposition.” Retrieved on November 25, 2008, at. Retrieved from http://www.chicagohs.org/history/expo.html
an aside , I found a pretty cool link to some virtual simulation and pictures of the World’s Columbian Exposition
Engage, explore, explain, elaborate and evaluate are the five e-words that make up the constructivist teaching model. The idea of ‘constructivism’ is based in the belief that students given the opportunity to construct new knowledge from what they already know, as opposed to simply taking it in, will flourish in the classroom. It is just one type of active learning. Two of its twelve primary premises are that, “learning engages the entire physiology,” and “learning is enhanced by challenge and inhibited by threat.” By focusing on activities that challenge and engage the listener as a whole to teach the technique of active listening, this project results in the student being a more active listener. Below is more theoretical information concerning the teaching technique, as well as a section-by-section description of how it was applied. I have also included a brief synopsis of other techniques that were used in the project, including artistic techniques.
At the beginning of the project, there is a quick attention grabber- it’s meant to set the scene for fun. I chose to start with a very familiar song because once a student feels that he or she can connect with the subject matter, they are more open to new information.
The engage track sets out to find a common ground between the medium and the audience. One of the major challenges to producing this type of media (interactive media without feedback), is that the ‘teacher’ or the CD, will never know whether or not the student gets the answer right. Necessarily, the very beginning activities will lead the student to an inevitable conclusion, purposely drawing on common knowledge. These small successes set the scene for a willing pupil. In this case, students are shown that they can already tell the difference between a variety of instruments and that they can also give name to a familiar series tones. Students learn why they recognize instruments and songs a little bit later.
Throughout the explore track, students combine celebrating their previous success with exploring how they can participate even more. This clapping, nodding, and vocalizing begins to engage the ‘entire physiology’ of the student. It marries celebration with further progress, creating an almost seamless transition between funning and studying.
Explain and elaborate are exactly like what they sound. Here, the seven parameters of sound (wavelength, amplitude, frequency, pitch, timbre, envelope, and phase) are explained, or defined. Students are then given the opportunity to elaborate, through the use of drawing and vocalizing, playing an instrument, a small science experiment, etc. Generally the idea here is that students must ‘dig’ to find some of the answers. This is the challenge. As a listener, you are not given information that you regurgitate to a piece of paper. Rather, you are given a definition and a related activity. It is up to the listener to follow through these activities: in this way the student takes learning into his or her own hands. Of course one can listen to the CD all the way through without stopping, but it is readily apparent that the knowledge comes from participating, rather than listening. Through explain/elaborate, references are made to previous activities. This is done as a kind of proof that the project is centrally focused. When students are asked to construct knowledge, it can often happen in a non-linear way. A very interested student may take the time to explore www.dangerousdecibels.org thoroughly, and even have a family member or friend take the hearing test to compare. This type of student needs to be reminded that all of these parameters fit very closely together.
The evaluate section was by far the hardest to record. As was stated earlier, interactive media in this format cannot give student-specific feedback (with the exception of the hearing test), nor can it take feedback from students. In constructivist learning environments, where the teacher is asking the learner to do just as much work as them, it’s very important to evaluate and celebrate. In a normal classroom setting, evaluation would lead the instructor (or learning assistant) to a set of best practices for those particular students. He or she would accumulate a set of knowledge about how the group best works, how much time they need for research and planning as well as production. Celebration gives the students a ‘day off’, if you will. It’s a chance to look back on all that they’ve learned, and be grateful.
Some of the more general applications of constructivism come in the language surrounding the technique. The teacher uses words that imply student responsibility- explore is the best example. A teacher does not teach an idea, but students explore the idea. It is stressed that teachers must think of themselves as learning assistants, rather than instructors. Instead of asking, “How can I best teach this?” they would instead ask, “How can my students best learn this?” Additionally, open-ended questions are used to encourage thoughtful responses.
Artistic techniques were also applied to the project. All of the ‘explain’ tracks were recorded to the same loop, as were all of the ‘elaborate’ sections, to create a subtle link between the two. Speaking to beats made the necessary talking go much faster, while maintaining a sense of steady movement. It also made the words more memorable, rather than just flat speech to remember; students could remember the beat or cadence to which the words were spoken. This is on par with common mnemonic devices. All “explain” tracks were recorded to the same looped beat, as were “elaborate” tracks. This allows students to make conscious or subconscious connections between the differences of the two portions.
Aural as well as visual styles were kept consistent. Actually, the aural style of the project stemmed from my visual representation of active learning. In active learning I saw growth, for the student and the learning assistant, so I chose a very warm and earthy color palette (and the images of a tree). I also used basic shapes and repetition to give the concept realization journal a simple, aesthetically pleasing appearance. Scanned paper and overlays were used to create texture. The translation of these colors, simplicity, and textures into audio, I feel, is very clear. In fact, I can draw three direct parallels. The colors translate into the different sections. Orange headlines elaboration- the shovel, which signifies more in depth information, is orange as well as the parameters that are listed. The simplicity comes through in the beats to which I speak. They are no more than the first few bars of a song repeated, always a very basic beat. The textures are the extra audio- Kool and the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie” and “Celebrate” are simply fun. They add just a little extra ‘feel-good’ to the project.
Finally, on the artistic spectrum, a complete package, or environment, was created to go along with the lesson. From the moment the student took hold of the gift bag with balloons attached, he knew that at least he would have fun. Because of the nature of the class, I believe that the student may have been intrigued by the project before it was ever seen or held.
Soflege is a technique used by musicians to teach perfect pitch: do re mi fa sol la ti do. The seven parameters of sound are a technique used to critically and actively hear sounds, including music. Music is a cultural technique by which to transmit universal feelings and ideas beyond language. Suspense is a technique by which to heighten interest in a subject that may be predictable and bland in less-suspenseful settings. I could obviously write an infinitely long paper on the inherent techniques in the project. But, here, I will come to an end.
Because of the application of these techniques, both artistic and pedagogic, you the listener were able to construct new knowledge about listening from information you already knew. You decided to participate more deeply because of your basic and immediate success, but also because you were challenged to do so. You are able to walk away from this project with a more thorough understanding of the sounds you hear and how you perceive them because you were physiologically involved in creating and hearing those sounds. Constructivist teaching techniques are effective in this environment.
Though still making works of art, Dadaists claimed that they were producing anti-art. This term meant that the intentions of the works were to reject some or all aspects of art-making. In a broader sense, the Dadaists rejected traditional aesthetics in an aim to produce works that countered traditional art making. Anti-art was achieved in the Dadaist movement in many forms. One form took shape in the idea that everyday objects are art in the same respect that a Michaelangelo painting is a work of art. These objects are called readymades, as the artists did not have to actually have to make art, as art was already existent in the object itself. An example of this idea can be seen in Marcel Duchamp’s work Fountain (1917), in which the artist simply found and displayed a urinal, calling it an artwork. Another form that anti-art took on was that of collage. Collage was used in both word and image forms. Hannah Hoch is most noted for her use of collaging image fragments of women and machinery, exploring the ideals placed upon women.
By combining Danielewski’s untraditional novel House of Leaves and the Dadaist’s untraditional ways of making art, I decided to combine the two. Going through the Danielewski’s text, I located the word house on each of the 529 pages and investigated what words were behind house on the overleaf. Writing these words down as I continued my process, I birthed a new list of words, names, and phrases which were once part of the novel in its entirety. By removing these words from their original context in the novel and placing them within a new context on a piece of paper, I made a new work. It can be said that the words that I wrote down are readymades—I simply found them and gave them new meaning by grouping them together.
The way I did this was taken from a Dada game called “The Exquisite Corpse.” This game was played by a group of people, the first writing down a single word on a sheet of paper. This first word would be seen by the next person in the group who would then write down a word to continue the forming sentence. This second person would then write down a word, folding the top of the paper to cover the first word that was written. Only the second person’s word would be visible. This process would continue all the way down through the group of people until the last person had written a word. The result was a sentence formulated from the multiple consciousnesses of the group. The game got its name from the sentence created from the first time it was played, which was, “The old corpse drinks the new wine.”
The original list I made contains symbols as well as words. I used symbols to signify empty space and nothingness when, during my process of word finding, house only contained a blank space behind it. The symbol I used is [ ]. I felt that the brackets enclosed the emptiness in a manner that the house in Danielewski’s novel encompassed the nothingness inside of it. As a note to myself, I also used other symbols that I placed beside the [ ]s to indicate how house was spelled. Below is a list:
[ ] _ -- house
[ ] | -- HOUSE
[ ] |_ -- House
[ ] / -- HOUSE
[ ] (German) – Haus
I attribute the list as a whole to the Navidson Records as the Navidson Records takes place and revolves around and in the happenings of the house, as the list is comprised solely of words that are contrived from the word house. From this list, I went through and found sentences and sentence fragments that naturally emerged from the order in which they appeared within House of Leaves. Below is a list of the sentences.
Photographers shape the disappearing of brother Tom.
Seattle unsettling, disturbing undertook this [ ] _ clean for idiots and flux.
In fact, beast [ ]_ drilled Eve who the classifieds, through a restless view, nightlight former owners.
Eventually bully herself with a severe scale as Six accompanies. Feng Shui peanut butter replies.
Our tones groans amusement.
I’m taking hours. You’re [ ]_ to kiss blinding light.
D.C. builds shadows.
I was the Holloway daydream body.
Goodman Brown’s [pause] screenplay [ ] _ [ ] _ [ ] _ which is Dark.
The ax she dislodges too late.
A second list of words I came up with by cutting out individual words and symbols from the original list. I then put these in a hat and pulled them out individually to make a new list. This list I attribute to being the work of Zampanò. Zampanò’s work is the original document discussing The Navidson Records. This work, when found by Johhny, is strewn about Zampanò’s apartment, which Johnny later puts together and organizes in his own way. Though from the same original list, the sentences are different. They are as listed below.
[ ]_ unsettling, disturbing [ ]_ dreamed of brother Tom.
Bister-Frieden-Josephson mortifies proud otters.
Rewinding, however, remains immediately himself.
Navidson himself initially estimated Goodman Brown’s Sexual Personae.
Zampanò chose being unblind.
Some letters and everything undertook this fundamental despair.
The third list I made by removing all of the [ ] and it’s variants and putting the remaining words and phrases into a hat. This list I attribute to Johnny’s bastardization of Zampanò’s text. The sentences are as follows:
I’d mark the classified after Karen.
Being blind more than always professors a paper.
To take metal led to a Ketchup pulverizing moments.
Together supertankers and unexpected Sexual Personae begins rewinding peanut butter.
For idiots, nothing necessary fatigues The Reston.
Tom saw her so knowingly undertook this blinding light.
My final step with the words was cutting the remaining phrases into individual words, so all that I had was a pile of individual words. There is no list. I took these words and divided them into different envelopes that I had marked with “nouns,” “verbs,” “prepositions,” and so on. I then formed sentences by drawing these words out individually. This group of words I attribute to being purely Dada, yet it encompasses Zampanò’s and Johnny’s text as well as the Navidson Records, and House of Leaves as a whole. The sentences I created are as follows.
Feng Shui moved together various remains and Karen’s daydream of Bister-Frieden-Josephson.
Rewinding Catholic Schlafrockfetzen described restlessness and disappearing paper.
January will go about unpacking peanut butter despite the unsettling atmosphere.
Everyone in there immediately [k]new, however, they canceled another American suicide.
Home accompanies painful despair and blinding idiots.
Necessary knowledge started being the impossible but ever-present doorway to shadows.
When Mino’s Ketchup dislodges our Sexual beast, we’ll [pause].
Paramedics initially underestimated some tearing in the Architectural Scowls of Danielewski.
One Dadaist work to consider during this process is Marcel Duchamp’s experimental short film titled Anemic Cinema (1926). The black and white film is comprised of what Duchamp calls rotorliefs as well as puns, in French. Rotorliefs is the term that Duchamp gave to his animated drawings, which when placed on a spinning phonograph create the illusion of spinning circles. Though concentric, these circles move at different speeds when on the phonograph, creating an effect akin to a spinning vortex. To the viewer, the spinning circles create a hypnotic trance. The vortexes eventually fade into blackness, with puns, in French, appearing on the viewing plane, creating a similar hypnotic effect. The puns, translated into English and in order as they appear in Anemic Cinema, are as follows:
Baths in coarse tea for beauty marks without too much Ben-Gay.
The child who suckles is a hot-flesh blower and doesn’t like hot-house cauliflower.
If I give you a penny will you give me a pair of scissors?
One demands domestic mosquitoes (half-stock) for the nitrogen cure on the Azur.
Incest or family passion, with too many drawn blows.
Let us dodge the bruises of Eskimos in exquisite words.
Have you already put the marrow of the sword in the stove of the beloved?
Among our articles of lazy hardware, we recommend the faucet.
The aspirant lives in Javel and me I lived in a spiral-shaped abode.
Through the process as a whole, I in essence became Zampanò, Johnny, and ultimately Danielewski through arranging and rearranging texts. I also became a Dadaist, perhaps Marcel Duchamp himself. Through this Dadaist-inspired inspection of House of Leaves, the similarities found were too obvious to pass up and let go to chance. Like House of Leaves in terms of everything being connected and Anemic Cinema as going in circles and creating seemingly meaningless sentences, one thread made my comparison of Dadaism and Danielewski possible: house.
It is certainly neither ironic nor accidental that the above statement comprises Zampano’s very first sentences of House of Leaves. Obviously enough, the idea of “authenticity” or “credibility” is a reoccurring and almost redundant theme in this book, as the reader soon discovers that he is constantly questioning the truthfulness to the words being read.
Zampano’s narrative begins as it investigates the credibility of the Navidson Record by presenting the opinions of critics and experts, all analyzing the veracity of this film. This all may be very interesting to the reader, had we not already been informed by Johnny Truant that the Navidson Record is undeniably, and without a doubt, completely fabricated. By immediately educating the reader of this fact, Danielewski cleverly places the reader in the intended state of mind: we are instantly skeptical of everything we are about to read.
House of Leaves can be seen as a story about a drug-addicted man obsessively piecing together a dismantled narrative, a synopsis of a film documenting the horrors of a mysterious house, or even a combination of the two. What is certain, however, is that House of Leaves is deliberately designed to operate as a film (or a series of photographs, which ultimately comprise a motion picture film). This book repeatedly questions the authenticity of images in film while simultaneously designed to operate as a film; therefore, by combining these two components this book deliberately draws attention to the lack of credibility of House of Leaves itself.
As mentioned, Danielewski has related much of the content of House of Leaves to films, images, and photographs, including the physical book itself. In doing so, the reader is able to become actively involved in the telling of the story and can take control of how various events should be interpreted. For instance, on the inside cover, before the chance is given to read a single word, a pause sign is displayed. The action of turning the page to begin the novel is the very first indication that the reader has not just begun to read a book, they have pressed the hypothetical play button and have become involved in a book comprised of vivid images, photographs, sounds, and emotions. A pause sign is found on the inside back cover as well, symbolizing the end of the experience. Progressing further into the novel proves this first sign of foreshadowing to be appropriate. Similar to the feelings in which a motion picture film provides its viewer, Danielewski’s use of color, space, font, and placement provides the reader with a multi-sensorial experience not typically found in books. Actions and emotions in House of Leaves are presented in a way that transforms simple words on a page to sights, sounds, and sentiments comparable to those found in a film.
To further investigate the film-like nature of this book, one might refer to the interpretation of the dark labyrinth where much of the narrative takes place. An abundance of blank space surrounds small patches of words, using space to suggest time, and therefore allowing the reader to experience the vastness and impossible size of the house in which they travel. The description of slamming doors allows the reader to determine the speed of such and to provide the sound for the action as he turns the excess of pages. Johnny also often speaks directly to the reader, drawing us in to experience the fear and loneliness that saturates his life. This ability to thoroughly involve the readers into the plot is intentional and effective, and as a result we are put in a position in which we are eager to interpret the questionable events that House of Leaves presents.
When the reader has become aware that he is actively engaged in the middle of a twisted plot, the question of the authenticity of what he is experiencing is certain to come into question. As stated in the first sentence of Zampano’s narrative, “authenticity” is the word most likely to stir a debate, and by immediately presenting this controversial word the reader is coaxed to investigate and debate the meaning of “authenticity” and its relationship to this particular work. Danielewski, or Zampano, or Johnny for that matter, consistently go out of their way in attempt to validate the embedded material with credible facts and support. Hundreds of scholars are cited, the majority of whom are completely fictitious. In excessively citing absurd numbers of made-up scholars and critics, these narrators are testing the readers; they are determining if we are able to look past this façade of extreme detail and intelligence and see House of Leaves for what it actually is: a highly unauthentic sequence of thoughts and images. In the attempt to pretend to validate the facts and opinions quoted, Zampano ultimately, and purposefully, draws attention to the lack of credibility that saturates his work.
William J. Mitchell, one of the few people cited by Zampano who actually exists, has ironically written entire books on the lack of authenticity in film and photography. In investigating this credibility he states, “If we cannot find grounds to conclude that a given image is a true record of a real scene or event, we can take the opposite tack and attempt to demonstrate that it could not be a true record. We can look for inconsistencies—play a sophisticated game of ‘What’s wrong with this picture?’”(Mitchell, 31). Should we take Mitchell’s advice, readers of House of Leaves are supplied with an abundance of reasons why this book should not be trusted, as the book is basically presented as a series of images full of inconsistencies. Readers observe many obvious contradictions throughout the book (as Johnny has repeatedly said “fuck it” and fabricated stories to his convenience), that blatantly present the inconsistencies for what they are. However, additional reasons for doubt are often presented more subtly, such as through Zampano’s interpretation of the Navidson Record.
While House of Leaves is designed to read as a series of images, it is quite appropriate that this book is entirely focused on the events comprising a documentary film, The Navidson Record. Johnny immediately informs the readers that the Navidson Record is a complete work of Zampano’s imagination; therefore causing a great question of the authenticity of the description of the images comprising the film. Even if this fact had not been revealed, the reader must also remember that the extensive details of this bizarre documentary are supplied by a blind man. While Zampano does his very best, and perhaps succeeds, to provide the reader with a vivid interpretation of the Navidson Record, the fact that he writes a book on a motion picture film is absurd. According to Louis Giannetti, a college professor of film, “Artistry can never be gauged by subject matter alone. The manner of its presentation—its forms—is the true content of films and photographs” (Giannetti 8). In relation to this critique, because Zampano interprets the images from a movie (in extreme detail) in his writing, he ultimately creates the true content of the Navidson Record. As a blind man who has never actually viewed the scenes of the movie being described, it is obvious to readers that Zampano has an incredible ability to fabricate images and words from the darkness of his world.
While much doubt accompanies Zampano’s ability to effectively relay the happenings of the Navidson Record, it is reasonable to assume that a blind man was purposely chosen by Danielewski to be the interpreter of the images discussed throughout the book. Perhaps because Zampano does not have his eyesight, he understands more than anyone that images cannot be trusted. In Zampano’s case, moving away from sight may be a virtue instead of a handicap—he fully understands the lack of authenticity in images because he cannot see them, and he relays this idea effectively to the readers. The use of a blind man to describe a motion picture film was yet another intentional development of Danielewski: Zampano educates the reader that even if one is unable to see the images presented, they must still be deemed unauthentic unless proven otherwise.
A perfect example of this exists in Zampano’s interpretation of Navy’s photograph of Delial. The readers are lead to believe that we are going to be presented with an actual image, where we can finally judge the authenticity of the photograph for ourselves. However, while quite unsurprisingly, the “see diagram:” leads to more blank space, surrounded by Zampano’s own narrative explaining the scene. In the corresponding footnote the editors reassure the readers with, “Presumably Zampano’s blindness prevented him from providing an actual diagram of the Delial photograph” (Danielewski 421). According to Giannetti, “Visual artists often use “negative space” to create a vacuum in the image. This creates the sense of something missing, something left unsaid” (Giannetti 38). While this can be interpreted quite literally from the description of the Delial photo as the following: the supposed blank space provided by Navidson in the actual photograph purposefully symbolizes “both his presence and influence” in the picture (Danielewski 421). On the contrary, it can also be believed that this negative space left by Zampano informs us that (obviously) there’s a serious authenticity issue in his interpretation of not only the Delial picture but in House of Leaves as a whole. Navidson also addresses the inconsistencies in his own film and images, as this “esteemed photographer” states, “Funny how incompetent images can sometimes be” (Danielewski 344).
To demonstrate even further how House of Leaves operates as a film, and in doing so, highlights its own lack of authenticity and the lack of authenticity of film/images, the conclusion of this novel must be considered. What the readers are left with is a typical Hollywood ending (films of this type which are more carefully considered in previous chapters), in which readers experience a generally satisfying conclusion to the book. Johnny has seemingly restored much of his sanity, and the members of the Navidson family are still alive, though in a less aesthetically-pleasing appearance. According to Giannetti, there is nothing less authentic than a Hollywood happy ending (Giannetti 63). While this ending of House of Leaves is generally the most satisfying to the readers, it leaves us with the question of whether the Navidson Record was actually a documentary or if it was simply always a Hollywood film in disguise. House of Leaves ends with an unlikely Hollywood ending, reminding the readers that the novel they had just read was one full of deception and fabrication.
By surrounding House of Leaves with questions of authenticity and credibility of written and spoken words and images, Danielewski has not only drawn attention to the underlying theme of this book, but has also succeeded in educating the readers. The lack of authenticity in this book is used to indirectly instruct the reader on that very topic, in that we should be wary of information presented to audiences via books, photographs, and film. Had Danielewski wanted to simply create a book about crazy Johnny Truant, or about Navidson and his family, he could have easily succeeded by writing a novel in a traditional writing style. However, because this novel was meant to represent so much more than the framed stories of several characters, the intentional creative formatting of House of Leaves transformed a book into a series of “images” that operated similar to that of a film. By doing so, Danielewski succeeded in addressing the controversial word of “authenticity” in every aspect of his book, as he intentionally and repeatedly draws the reader back to that idea through the use of his film-like format. As a result, House of Leaves effectively compares the credibility of the content of Zampano and Johnny’s words with the credibility of actual images perceived in the film and photography world. According to Danielewski’s content and design of this novel, image has indeed “forsaken its once unimpeachable hold on the truth” (Zampano 3), as is effectively and continuously portrayed in the unique sequence of written images that comprises House of Leaves.
Danielewski, Mark Z. House of Leaves. Pantheon Books: New York. 2000.
Giannetti, Louis. Understanding Movies. Upper Saddle River: New Jersey. 2002.
Mitchell, William J. The Reconfigured Eye: Visual Truth in the Post-Photographic Era. The MIT Press. 1992.