Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Posts Tagged ‘retrofuturism

The Sadness(es) of BACK TO THE FUTURE

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Longtime readers will know I have a very soft spot for Back to the Future, a series of films I have adored since I was a child and now internalized to a degree that is perhaps unwise. So it’s something of a mixed bag to have lived too long and made it to October 21, 2015, both in the obvious sense that we never got our hover cars and also in the more abstractly philosophically sense that this is the last day depicted in the series, and thus we are now definitely and irrefutably living in that weird space of sadness after the future itself.

We’re doing a small Back to the Future event tonight on campus where I plan (of course) to talk a little bit about the familiar problems posed when you start to overthink the nominally happy end of the movie: the very big problem of the briefly glimpsed Second Marty, who travels into 1955 totally unequipped to replicate the events we’d just witnessed, as well as the longer-term problem of our Marty, Marty 1, who is the last survivor of an obviated timeline and thus surrounded for the rest of his life by the uncanny duplicates of the people he once loved but with whom he now shares no memories or any genuine connection.

But I also want to talk about the original script a little bit, which I find a really fascinating document. Most people know that in the original script the time machine is a refrigerator — changed so that kids wouldn’t climb into them hoping to travel in time — and that the lightning strike is the blast from an atomic test (the two together forming an image that stuck with Spielberg long enough for him to use it to ruin Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). But there’s some other really amazing stuff in there too. The thing is shot through with fears about oil depletion and the end of progress: it’s the subject of a lecture at Marty’s high school in the beginning of the script and something he keeps trying to ask the people of the 1950s about later, to no effect. That sort of science fictional nostalgia for a future that no longer seems possible is really a major theme in the original script, which is reduced to jokes about UFOs and “all the fallout from the atomic wars” in the produced film — the sense that the zany Jetsons future of technological world-transformation we once collectively looked forward to has been lost and the only one left for us is a much more depressive vision of imminent deprivation and catastrophe. (In this sense any eventual 2000s-era “dark, gritty reboot” would actually just be a return to the themes of the original script.)

But something weird happens at the end. In the original script Marty is the co-creator of time travel when he accidentally spills some Coca-Cola on the time device; Coke’s unique chemical formula turns out to contain tremendous energy inside it, easily providing the 1.21 gigawatts necessary to power the Flux Capacitor. Marty’s trip to the past ultimately tips Doc off to Coke’s unknown energistic property, and so when Marty returns to the future at the end of the film he isn’t hopping into a very similar timeline where he just happens to have grown up rich instead of poor, but into an incredible retrofuturistic world of free energy and robot servants and flying cars — precisely the cartoonishly optimistic milieu that is relocated to 2015 for the gag at the end (and later, the sequel). (Doc’s pouring of the half-empty soda can into Mr. Fusion at the end of the film is, I think, the last remaining trace of this original idea.)

In this way “Back to the Future” was actually originally a pun: Marty goes not just back to his future but back to the future, the good future we were supposed to get, instead of the lousy one we actually did…

Written by gerrycanavan

October 21, 2015 at 11:07 am

Ain’t No Sunday Like an MLA Sunday Links

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* In case you missed them: the syllabi for my spring classes, which start tomorrow.

* Meanwhile MLA saves its best panel for last: 759. Guilty Pleasures: Late Capitalism and Mere Genre. Today at 1:45!

On March 11-12, 2015, the Humanities Division at Essex County College will host its Spring 2015 Conference, “Speculative Humanities: Steampunk to Afrofuturism.” This two-day conference offers space for writers, musicians, artists, and academicians to explore, expand upon, and rethink the implications of speculative humanities. This year’s conference will feature a special emphasis on the life, work, and influence of Octavia E. Butler.

* #MLA: An Economist’s Critique of Job Market for English Ph.D.s.

* The MLA should give Jonathan Goodwin a Lifetime Achievement Award for this post about midcentury MLA job ads. Check out his Twitter feed for more.

* Really, though, huge shoutout to all the literary critics heading home today.

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* #FreeCommunityCollege. Did Obama Just Introduce a ‘Public Option’ for Higher Education? Angus is happy. Who Has a Stake in Obama’s Free Community-College Plan? Of course, it’s a Republican plan. And there’s a catch. Or two.

Contingent Faculty and #FreeCommunityCollege.

$18 billion in job training = lots of trained unemployed people.

* The logic of the increment.

Sometimes you don’t get a sales pitch. It’s none of your business, it’s reactionary to even ask the question, it’s an assertion of privilege, something’s got to be done and what have you been doing that’s better? Sometimes you get a sales pitch and it’s all about will and not about intellect: everybody has to believe in fairies or Tinkerbell will die. The increments sometimes make no sense. This leads to that leads to what? And what? And then? Why? Or perhaps most frustrating of all, each increment features its own underlying and incommensurable theories about why things happen in the world: in this step, people are motivated by self-interest; in the next step, people are motivated by basic decency; in the next step, people are motivated by fear of punishment. Every increment can’t have its own social theory. That’s when you know that the only purpose is the action itself, not the thing it’s trying to accomplish.

Securitization, risk management, and the new university.

Administrators, Authority, and Accountability.

Militancy, Antagonism, and Power: Rethinking Intellectual Labor, Relocating the University.

As leverage, Silvia Federici outlines the two-part process of demanding a wage for previously uncompensated labor. The first step is recognition, but the ultimate goal is refusal. “To say that we want money for housework” she says, “is the first step towards refusing to do it, because the demand for a wage makes our work visible, which is the most indispensable condition to begin to struggle against it, both in its immediate aspect as housework and its more insidious character as femininity” (Wages Against Housework). Another way to say this is: it is only with the option of refusal that not-publishing is meaningful.

It is clear that “publish or perish” is undergoing a speedup like all other capitalist work. We must all struggle for a re-valorization of living labor. And in the first step against publication’s command over living labor, we agree with Federici, who demands that “From now on we want money for each moment of it, so that we can refuse some of it and eventually all of it” (Wages Against Housework).

* Lessons from Vermont: What does Vermont’s failed single-payer plan tell us about future reform efforts?

* Exclusive: Prosecutor in Serial Goes On the Record.

The U.S. has more jails than colleges. Here’s a map of where those prisoners live.

* Scenes from the class struggle inside the National Radio Quiet Zone.

* Debt collection as autoimmune disease.

Male Senators Banned Women From Senate Pool So They Could Swim Naked. Until 2008.

* Wow. F.B.I. and Justice Dept. Said to Seek Charges for Petraeus.

“It’s clear he hasn’t been very lucky with the ladies the last few months,” West said of his client.

* Nightmare terror attacks in Nigeria using ten-year-old girls as suicide bombers.

* Run, Bernie, run?

* Clocks Are Too Precise (and People Don’t Know What to Do About It).

* Great moments in matte paintings, at io9. I had no idea the warehouse from Raiders was a matte either, though in retrospect of course it was.

New research is first to identify which reserves must not be burned to keep global temperature rise under 2C, including over 90% of US and Australian coal and almost all Canadian tar sands.

* Rave drug shows great promise in treating depression once thought resistant to drug therapy. I hope they found some way to control for the curative effects of glowsticks.

How Wes Anderson’s Cinematographer Shot These 9 Great Scenes.

* Here comes Wet Hot American Summer: The Prequel Series.

* The kids aren’t all right: Millennials Are Less Racially Tolerant Than You Think.

* “Men, what would you be willing to give up to live a couple decades longer?”

* Dad creates drawings based off of quotes from his toddler daughter.

* How LEGO became the Apple of toys.

We Wish These Retrofuturistic Versions Of American Cities Had Come True.

* Every episode of Friends at the same time.

* And exciting loopholes I think we can all believe in: “He was doing research for a film,” said Sherrard. “It’s not a crime; it’s artwork… He’s an intellectual.”

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Written by gerrycanavan

January 11, 2015 at 9:00 am

Posted in Look at what I found on the Internet

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Monday Morning Links

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* CFP: SFRA 2015: The SF We Don’t (Usually) See: Suppressed Histories, Liminal Voices, Emerging Media.

* CFP: Paradoxa: The Futures Industry.

Concerned about the Eaton SF/F archive at UCR.

*Ferguson, Missouri Community Furious After Teen Shot Dead By Police. Family of Michael Brown, Teenager Shot to Death By Ferguson Police, Talks About His Life. Michael Brown remembered as a ‘gentle giant.’ Now, riots.

* 1 Black Man Is Killed Every 28 Hours by Police or Vigilantes: America Is Perpetually at War with Its Own People.

* Meanwhile the NYPD is free to lie with impunity after an illegal chokehold led to Eric Garner’s death.

An officer fired the electric shock device’s darts into the chest of the girl, who weighed 70 pounds, the lawsuit said.

* Black Life, Annotated. Further reading.

* Life as a victim of stalking.

* The Obligation to Know: From FAQ to Feminism 101.

Abstract: In addition to documenting and sharing information geek culture has a complementary norm obliging others to educate themselves on rudimentary topics. This obligation to know is expressed by way of jargon-laden exhortations such as ‘check the FAQ’ (frequently asked questions) and ‘RTFM’ (read the fucking manual). Additionally, the geek lexicon includes designations of the stature of the knower and the extent of what he or she knows (e.g., alpha geek and newbie). Online feminists, especially geek feminists, are similarly beset by naive or disruptive questions and demonstrate and further their geekiness through the deployment of the obligation to know. However, in this community the obligation reflects the increased likelihood of disruptive, or ‘derailing’, questions and a more complex and gendered relationship with stature, as seen in the notions of impostor syndrome, the Unicorn Law, and mansplaining.

* Ursula K. Le Guin talks to Michael Cunningham about genres, gender, and broadening fiction.

What Makes Nigel Richards The Best Scrabble Player On Earth.

* What It’s Like to be a Doctor in a Supermax Prison.

* Teaching The Merchant of Venice in Gaza.

* Inside online communities for non-offending pedophiles.

While emailing with a colleague yesterday, I realized that I had never really written about the so-called “spacecraft cemetery” of the South Pacific, a remote patch of ocean water used as a kind of burial plot for derelict satellites.

* Dispute Between Amazon and Hachette Takes an Orwellian Turn. Amazon Gets Increasingly Nervous. In which Amazon calls you to defend the realm.

* What happens when a female writer asks a question on Twitter about women’s health.

* BREAKING: The NCAA Still Doesn’t Care About Athletes. The lawsuit that could change everything. The NCAA in Turmoil. How the O’Bannon Ruling Could Change College Sports.

“The alternative to partition,” he said, “is a continued U.S.-led effort at nation-building that has not worked for the last four years and, in my view, has no prospect for success. That, Mr. Chairman, is a formula for war without an end.”

World War I, as Paul Fussell famously argued, discredited what Wilfred Owen in a classic poem called “the old lie”: that it is sweet and honorable to die for one’s country. But what it has meant to shift allegiances from nation to “humanity” has changed drastically over the 20th century among those flirting with wider and cosmopolitan sensibilities. Namely, the highest goal shifted from the abolition to the humanization of war.

* Nothing Says “Sorry Our Drones Hit Your Wedding Party” Like $800,000 And Some Guns.

Scenes From COCAL: A Conference for Contingent Faculty Looks to Seize Its Moment.

* Why Does the United States Have 17 Different Intelligence Agencies?

* Why not a three-day work week?

* What was it like to be on Supermarket Sweep?

I was told on numerous occasions that I was going to face a general court martial on six or seven charges. Then word came down from Washington to discharge me quietly. An honourable discharge. Maybe the thinking was that the peace movement didn’t need a martyr.

Yes, the Myers-Briggs test is totally meaningless.

* Elon Musk Reveals Open Source Design for 14,000 Mile-an-Hour Vacuum Tube Railroad.

* So much dBilown the memory hole: Reconsidering the Legacy of Bill Clinton.

Philip K. Dick’s only children’s book finally back in print – with many subtle nods to his most famous SF work. But not in the US!

* Where’s the Diversity, Hollywood? Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blockbusters Overwhelmingly White, Male.

* John Oliver’s Search for New Voices in Late Night.

* The New York Public Library’s hilarious archive of librarians’ harsh children’s book reviews.

* Peter Frase talks Vonnegut’s Player Piano on the Old Mole Variety Hour.

* The A.V. Club is celebrating Clone High.

* Party Like It’s 1999: Japanese Retrofuturism and Chrono Trigger.

* One of the weirdest episodes of Star Trek ever.

* Critical Theory after the Anthropocene.

Tennessee Drug Tests Welfare Applicants, Discovers Less Than One Percent Use Drugs.

Drilling Company Owner Gets 28 Months In Prison For Dumping Fracking Waste Into River. Sad that this would be so shocking.

* The Scott Walker Hypothesis. The Scott Walker Paradox.

* Giant urban sprawl could pave over thousands of acres of forest and agriculture, connecting Raleigh to Atlanta by 2060, if growth continues at its current pace, according to a newly released research paper from the U.S. Geological Survey.

Island In Upstate New York Taken Over By Cats.

* Dream to revolutionize ostrich industry crumbles.

* What could possibly go wrong? Armed Right-Wing Militias Amassing Along Texas Border With State Lawmaker’s Blessing.

* But it’s not all bad news: Yellowstone Is Not Erupting And Killing Us All.

Written by gerrycanavan

August 11, 2014 at 8:00 am

Posted in Look at what I found on the Internet

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Sunday Links

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* CFP: Far Eastern Worlds: Racial Representations of Asia in Science Fiction.

* Great research opportunity for people working in SF studies: 2014-15 Le Guin Feminist Science Fiction Fellowship.

* Teachers refuse to administer standardized tests.

* The despair of solitary confinement.

* The Afterlife of the Humanities.

* Transgender Children in Antebellum America.

* The Impossible Dream of Jodorowsky’s Dune.

* The Impossible Dream of a Second Season of The Comeback.

* Erotica Written By An Alien Pretending Not To Be Horrified By The Human Body.

* On the un-witness.

* Great moments in Big Data: Math proves Hollywood shouldn’t be sexist.

* ESPN profiles the cheerleader at the heart of the Raiders wage theft case.

* Scenes from the heroin crisis in Vermont.

* The end of journalism in New Jersey.

Anadarko Agrees To Record $5 Billion Fine For ’85 Years Of Poisoning The Earth.’ Anadarko’s revenues are 14 billion annually, with assets of 52 billion, so it seems clear the fine doesn’t go nearly far enough.

* Women in tech.

How Soviet Artists Imagined Communist Life in Space.

We’ve Found A Hidden Ocean On Enceladus That May Harbor Life.

* Radically unnecessary TV adaptation of perfect film goes to series.

If the first wave provided a machine for fighting misery, and the second wave a machine for fighting boredom, what we now need is a machine for fighting anxiety – and this is something we do not yet have.

* Never say die: Goonies Director Teases Sequel Featuring Original Cast.​

* Kazuo Ishiguro Readies First Novel in 10 Years.

* The world is now largely a population of scared confused people ruled by atavistic sociopaths with no sense of history, ethics, science, beauty, or truth. But then you already knew that.

* If you want a vision of the future, imagine being vaguely disappointed by one Marvel Cinematic Universe film a year, forever.

* And Marquette will send a team to the only sporting event that really matters, the Robot World Cup.

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Tuesday Morning!

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* The kids aren’t all right: on being 29 in 2013.

* Remaking the University: What’s bad for students has been good for Wall Street.  The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that “Student-Loan Securities Stay Hot” even as student default rates climb.  “Demand for the riskiest bunch” of student-loan backed securities sold last week by SLM Corp, formerly known as Sallie Mae, “was 15 times greater than the supply.”  The riskiest securities have the highest yields, but investors don’t have to care, given the special impossibility of defaulting or erasing student loan debt.  Meanwhile, the New York Fed reports that 90-day delinquency rates have risen from 24 to 31 percent since 2008, and that student debt nearly tripled in the last eight years.  When the Fed breaks out the numbers for Intern Nation–graduates of the past eight years–they found that “the delinquency rate jumped to 35% last quarter from 26% in 2008.” Student Debt Is Perfectly Following the Financial Meltdown Script. Whose fault is the big student loan bubble?

But I am fascinated by the contrasting rhetoric between the rapid-boil fervor over MOOCs and the barely simmering apathy for open-access policies, especially at the institutional level.

The implicit assumption of any peer grading arrangement is that students with minimal direction can do what humanities professors get paid to do and I think that’s the fatal flaw of these arrangements.

* Spider Robinson, rape culture apologist. Well.

* TNR rockets back to the top of the worst-things-ever-published sweepstakes.

But there’s a group that should be equally irate about “We Saw Your Boobs”: admirers of bare breasts. Because MacFarlane’s is exactly the type of frat-boy behavior that leads so many American women to keep their breasts hidden from public view for fear of just such humiliation.

FINALLY, SOMEONE SAID IT.

* Male and female authors reviewed, book reviewers, and bylines at major magazines.

* And the groovy socialist world of 1970s Soviet futurism.

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Lots of Thursday Links

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* The unpredictable Republican presidential race has taken another surprising turn as recent numbers show Mongol warlord Genghis Khan seizing the lead in national polls of likely GOP primary voters.

* Santorum leading in Ohio. Obama leading everywhere.

* You had me at hello: Soviet Space Propaganda Posters.

* Part two of Boston Review‘s interview with David Graeber is up.

DJ: In my most cynical days as an academic, I thought of a professorship as the carrot that the establishment offers to make sure that smart people don’t run amok. “Give them a nice little office and a job that’s very stable, and put them in the ivory tower, and they won’t cause any trouble.”

DG: Did you ever read C.B. Macpherson’s theory of the university? It’s similar to that, and it’s actually quite clever. He makes the argument that universities have traditionally fulfilled a kind of court jester role. What is the problem you have if you’re the guy in charge, if you’re a king? It’s that you’re surrounded by yes-men. So there’s nobody there who’s going to tell you if you have a really bad idea. They’ll agree with anything you say. So you need someone who will actually point out when you’re going off the tracks. You’ll also need to make sure that person isn’t taken seriously. So you get a hunchbacked dwarf to tell you a silly rhyme, telling you why your plan is idiotic. And you get to know that your plan is idiotic and think about it, and everybody else says, “OK, hunchbacked dwarf, you talk to the king, that’s fine.” Universities are pretty much the same thing. They’re there to come up with all the reasons why current policies are misguided, why, you know, the current economic systems might not be ideal. They come up with all the alternate perspectives, but they frame it in a way that nobody takes it particularly seriously or can even understand it.

* Life Lessons from The Lion King.

2) The rest of us should be happy to be ruled over by a group of predatory overlords who will devour us whole should we become sick or weak. Someday, eventually, in a vague and symbolic manner, karma will even things up.

3) Physical strength and charm are the defining characteristics for a leader; someone smart is probably just evil anyway. Don’t listen to them.

* The Angel Problem. Via MeFi.

* Ever since I taught The Sheep Look Up last week I see something Brunner predicted in the news nearly every day. Today’s depressing entry: Air Pollution Linked to Cognitive Decline in Women. Now, the dataset was all women, so it’s probably really “air pollution linked to cognitive decline in everyone.” Enjoy your weekend!

…over the past year, the Obama administration has quietly unleashed a multi­agency crackdown on medical cannabis that goes far beyond anything undertaken by George W. Bush. The feds are busting growers who operate in full compliance with state laws, vowing to seize the property of anyone who dares to even rent to legal pot dispensaries, and threatening to imprison state employees responsible for regulating medical marijuana. With more than 100 raids on pot dispensaries during his first three years, Obama is now on pace to exceed Bush’s record for medical-marijuana busts. “There’s no question that Obama’s the worst president on medical marijuana,” says Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. “He’s gone from first to worst.”

* New Jersey expected to approve gay marriage; Christie vows veto.

* “All-male House GOP leadership gets all-male witness panel to agree that all-male Catholic hierarchy should set contraceptives policy.”  More here, here, here…

* The Wisconsin Uprising, One Year Later.

* And the Telegraph profiles the Boss.

He does, however, see cause for optimism. “The Occupy Wall Street movement has been powerful about changing the national conversation. The Tea Party set the conversation for a while but now people are talking about economic equality. That’s a conversation America hasn’t had for 20 years.”

There is also a religious dimension to Springsteen’s latest songs. The album shifts towards the spiritual uplift of gospel music in its rousing finale, evoking Jesus and the risen dead. “I got brainwashed as a child with Catholicism,” joked Springsteen, who says biblical imagery increasingly creeps into his songs almost unbidden. “Its like Al Pacino in The Godfather: I try to get out but they pull you back in! Once a Catholic, always a Catholic.”

Just Another Friday Night in Jersey

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Since we got back I’ve been pretty busy playing catchup, and the blog as usual has suffered—but here are a few links for Friday night.

* Missives from Possible Futures #1: Alternate History Search Results.

* Possible Futures #2: When David Lynch Turned Down Return of the Jedi.

* “Higher education is an interest group like any other, and what it wants is a lot of money from the taxpayer and no oversight of how that money is spent,” said Kevin Carey of the think tank Education Sector. “And they’ve been very successful getting it for a long time.”

* An Open Letter to New Graduate Students.

* Howard Dean wants to explain why he backs a mosque “compromise.” When you’re in a hole…

* Superpatriotic Blackwater founder Erik Prince “needs a break from America”—in a nonextradition country.

* Ten Questions Nobody Ever Asked About George W. Bush.

* Sarah Silverman on her life as a chronic bedwetter.

* Jason Sanford thinks the next trend in science fiction is SciFi Strange. Via io9.

* io9 celebrates the postal stamps of progress.

His heartbroken parents were told he would only live six weeks. But Liam Derbyshire has defied all the odds to make it to 11—despite stopping breathing every time he falls asleep.

* “Jazz” is the best word to use in Hangman. Or it was. Via MetaFilter.

* And you had me at “the CIA’s obsession with LSD in the water supply.”