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Wednesday, 16 May 2007


Less fussing. More doing.

Friday, 11 May 2007

Wherefore art thou, Mario?

I giggled while watching this. I’m not sure why. (via)

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Friday, 04 May 2007


This morning between midnight and 02:00 Eastern, I saw Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3. 1 The film weaves together storylines from the Spider-Man comic book and graphic novel sagas (both largely unfamiliar to me).2

One story arc in the Spider-Man saga involves an extra-terrestrial symbiote that insinuates itself into one of Peter Parker’s Spider-Man suits. The symbiote magnifies the darker aspects of Parker’s personality and in the film this magnification takes the form of 80s-era Gothic dress and an urban kinaesthetic style which at times is fully within the realm of blackface. Parker’s skin becomes noticeably paler, his hair darker and hung over his eyes. Parker also seems to wear hair-thin strokes of eyeliner on his lower lids. His clothes and appearance are playful references to Robert Smith’s look in the early 80s. However, Parker’s mannerisms and bodily comportment are pure blackface.

He dances with his hips in a manner more characteristic of jazz and swing dance than the upright postures more closely associated with European kinaesthetic forms.3 He swaggers down the street, shooting at the women he passes with a thumb-and-forefinger gun. Parker struts, preens, ogles, and spins, pimpin’ for the pretty mamas of midtown. He thrusts his pelvis in the air, hand up to his head. A black extraterrestrial has darkened Parker’s looks, dress, and style chromatically and racially, and the spectacle is funny (or nauseating) in the way blackface can sometimes be in mainstream media (think, for example, of Dr. Evil’s and Mini-Me’s jailhouse dance routine in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.) But this is the “happy” side of blackface.

In an article currently under review (if those editors will ever get back to me!), I refer to Lisa Nakumara’s analysis of the racialization of computer interfaces in The Matrix Reloaded. Nakamura applies Sander Gilman’s methodology for analyzing race in European painting to study how race is used in the cinematic representation of computer interfaces. Nakamura comments on the docking of the Nebuchadnezzar, where viewers see “a transparent screen, from which [they] peer at the absorbed and enrapt white user, while a marginal black figure who looks in a different direction lingers on its margin” (135). Nakamura reads the representation of virtual interfaces in frames that foreground white actors and relegate non-whites to the edges as “visual anchors of darkness that symbolically [fix] white interface users in real reality versus virtual reality” (134). An entirely different racial logic informs a cinematic technique used in Spider-Man 3 which I will call subliminal blackface horror.

For a film derived from a comic franchise, Spider-Man 3 takes pains to develop the emotional range of the narrative, sometimes with anomalous results.4 In one scene, Harry Osborn emotionally manipulates Parker and Parker abruptly leaves the coffee shop. Parker crosses the street and looks back to Osborn inside. Osborn turns and (in slow motion) gives Parker a leering grin and a disingenuous wink. A truck sweeps from frame right, obscuring Osborn. Once the truck has passed, Osborn is gone and replaced in the screen’s center by a dreadlocked black man in a business suit.5

The audience in this moment is emotionally identified with Parker who has just witnessed his best friend express sadistic pleasure in betraying him. The cinematic frame then erases the perpetrator of the black-hearted act and replaces it with a figure who is literally and racially black. My argument is that the frame swap not only draws upon viewers’ negative associations of blacks to emphasize the anxiety produced by their identification with Parker, but also that the swap forges an unconscious association between (in this scene) betrayal, heartbreak and blackness. In other words, this scene cinematically engenders unconscious racism in its audience.

It will be a few months before I can acquire a copy of this film, which I recall having perhaps half a dozen such scenes where negative emotional outcomes between white characters are immediately followed by frames that have black people at their centers. This is not to say that the representation of blacks (the most prevelant non-whites in the film) in Spider-Man 3 is limited to moments of subliminal blackface horror. There are many scenes in which blacks seem to be portrayed neutrally and even positively. However, my intuition and memory lead me to believe that a significant number of scenes which depict emotional trauma in the film make use of this technique, and I can’t stop wondering what frame-by-frame analyses of the representation of non-whites in the film will reveal. end of article

1 Around 22:00 on Friday, 3 May, IMDB users had rated Spider-Man 3 8.2/10. As of this writing, it has fallen to 7.9/10. I gave it a 5/10.
2 The information in this entry may be flawed as I am writing this only as a placeholder for possible future research regarding the film and other media representations of Spider-Man.
3 In Swinging the Machine: Modernity, Technology, and African American Culture between the World Wars, Joel Dinerstein discusses the African American and West African origins of swing and jazz dance and the characteristics which distinguish them from Anglo-European forms of dance such as the waltz.
4 When the Osborn family servant tells Harry the truth about his father’s death, members of the audience I was among laughed derisively.
5 If I remember correctly.
Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. Dir. Jay Roach. 1999.
The Matrix Reloaded. 2003. Dir. Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski.
Spider-Man 3. 2007. Dir. Sam Raimi.
Works Cited
Dinerstein, Joel. Swinging the Machine: Modernity, Technology, and African American Culture between the World Wars. Amherst, MA: U of Massachusetts P, 2003.
Nakamura, Lisa. The Multiplication of Difference in Post-Millennial Cyberpunk Film: The Visual Culture of Race in the Matrix Trilogy." The Matrix Trilogy: Cyberpunk Reloaded. Ed. Stacy Gillis. London, England: Wallflower, 2005: 126-37

Wednesday, 02 May 2007

A Number for Your Blackbook

This number


is the HD-DVD Processing Key used by AACS (Advanced Access Content System) to decrypt content for HD-DVD playback. A technique which utilizes this number has been implemented in a software program called BackupHDDVD.

My posting this number on this blog is not intended to assist the decryption of HD-DVD content, though I would be thrilled if my making this number available here helps people exercise their fair use rights. Rather, my motivation is after-the-fact and thoroughly pedestrian: the cultivation of solidarity against the attack on free speech conducted by media industries including copyright owners, hardware manufacturers, and the United States Congress (which too often acts as an extension of corporate media interest).

So far, at least one blog has fallen (Spooky Action at a Distance) due to legal threats issued by the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) AACS-LA (Advanced Access Content System Licensing Authority)1 for posting this number, while Digg has halted a campaign of censorship after thousands of users insisted on speaking freely.2

Spread the number if you can. In this early age of the Internet, battles such as this will determine the nature and fate of free speech. Down with media incumbency and up with freedom.

In solidarity,

end of article

UPDATE: a number of excellent articles have been written about the HD-DVD Processing Key, one of the most informative and well-written pieces being Dan Moren’s “Digg users show who’s the boss in Web 2.0 world.”

1 Edited 06:00 (Eastern) on Thursday, 3 May.

2 My original lead is a post on Daringfireball which quotes Digg founder, Kevin Rose:

But now, after seeing hundreds of stories and reading thousands of comments, you’ve made it clear. You’d rather see Digg go down fighting than bow down to a bigger company. We hear you, and effective immediately we won’t delete stories or comments containing the code and will deal with whatever the consequences might be.

If we lose, then what the hell, at least we died trying.

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