Skip navigation

The James Bond movie Quantum of Solace (2008) was recently released on DVD in Australia. I freakin’ loved it. The fact that I didn’t love it quite as much as Casino Royale (2006) doesn’t make it a bad movie. But try telling that to the critics.

The media’s negative reviews mystify me, especially this one by Roger Ebert who’s usually more insightful. By all means read it for yourself, but in a nutshell, Roger wants his Bond movies to be like the arch, silly fare of yore; using the same logic, a reviewer might pan No Country For Old Men on the grounds that they were in the mood for a comedy that day. Fine for a pub conversation, but is it good enough for a professional review?

As well as unreasonable subjective whines, another recurring theme in critical reviews of Quantum of Solace seems to be Completely Missing The Details, as demonstrated in this credibility-killer from Australia’s Andrew Urban:

…losing the sense of all the unique Bond elements, including James himself, who no longer tosses off darkly comic lines and doesn’t even know what martini he’s drinking.¹

… looks like you need to watch it again more carefully, Andrew. In any case the elements you referred to are one-dimensional, and quite rightly downplayed or subverted in the new film.

While Andrew wanted less substance, at the other pole the affable David Stratton said

… though it’s all very efficient it lacks heart and soul and substance.²

… which suggests he was another reviewer who watched the film while he was making dinner. There are moments of surprising emotional resonance in the movie, not least of all the relationship between Bond and M (here I discreetly avoid a spoiler); certainly it has more “heart and soul and substance” than anything in the series since the ending of 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which you might recall is more-or-less the reason why Roger and Andrew didn’t care for it.

Another recurring review motif is complaints about the film’s title, again surprising from people whose job it is to craft words. A quantum is the smallest possible amount of something; solace is consolation; the story’s about revenge. Not only is it not rocket science, it’s not even physics.

Despite all the evidence that it’s too challenging, Quantum of Solace follows the formula of older Bond movies more closely than the critically lauded Casino Royale did: including the secret global organisation, the string-pulling villain with grotesque henchman, the frequent changes of exotic locale, even a woman’s corpse dipped in coloured goo and left on a hotel bed³. It’s just that Quantum’s leading man isn’t a glib caricature, and it’s all done at a smarter pace than in the past. Perhaps the pace explains why the reviewers are taking so long to catch up.

In any case, reverence for the professional critic is fading as the web makes everyone a reviewer with a global voice. From that we can take some small measure of comfort.

¤

Footnotes:
1. Urban Cinefile. http://www.urbancinefile.com.au/home/view.asp?a=15077&s=Reviews
2. At The Movies. http://www.abc.net.au/atthemovies/txt/s2412223.htm
3. And her name was Strawberry Fields. What more do you want?

__________

In yet another sign of the world economic crisis, the value of the LOL has officially dropped below the : ) benchmark.

The LOL, which stands for “laugh out loud,” originally denoted a strong reaction to humour. The basic smiley, or : ), traditionally denoted a less extreme state: in some cases as little as a courtesy smile or an indication of the user’s own humorous intent.

Data gathered by internet researchers shows that the LOL, or “lol” as it has become known, has now become so devalued it is worth less than the : ).

Experts largely attribute the phenomenon to airheads. “We point the finger at those dopes who punctuate every sentence with ‘lol’,” said Dr Sinter Klaus of the internet group OTOH. “People just over-used it until it had no meaning at all. Didn’t matter whether they were actually laughing, or just making a mildly humourous remark. The way we see it, if you’re not literally laughing out loud, you shouldn’t invoke LOL.”

A man pointed at a graph yesterday, noting that the line was at the top on the left side but near the bottom on the right side, always a conclusive piece of evidence.

The historic reversal in values of the two commodities is partly due to the devaluation of the LOL, but also due to the rise of gaudy graphic smileys replacing the humble text smiley. As the LOL has declined in value, the : ) has simultaneously become more attention-grabbing.

A lol (left) compared with a modern day Xtreem smiley (right), described by this caption (below).

Figure 1: A lol (left) compared with a modern day Xtreem smiley (right), described by this caption (below).

“Faster connections, higher bandwidths, and a generally more awesome intarweb have permitted a proliferation of in-your-face emoticons,” said another person. “They flash, they gurn, they move. And in many cases, these extreme graphic smileys automatically replace boring text smileys as you type them. FTW.”

Some commentators see the devaluation as an inevitable consequence of the unfair demands social networking places on time-poor participants. “People who supply inanities to internet forums don’t have time to waste,” said a teenage girl. “The L and O keys are adjacent. It’s therefore much quicker to type a lol [sic.] than to type a smiley, especially since you’d have to hold down the shift key to get the mouth part. And the eyes. When your time is precious, this kind of shortcut becomes a significant factor.”

“Look at this,” said Dr Klaus, holding up a picture of a smiley rolling its eyes.

Industry pundits are now closely monitoring the fortunes of the ROFL against the ROFLMAO.

¤

__________

Hungry Jack’s (the Australian version of Burger King) is advertising Dark Knight themed kids’ meals. The TV ads begin with the call “Look, kids!”, and go on to display the tacky Batman toys consumers get with the “meal”.

They also display an M rating icon, because in Australia the movie The Dark Knight is classified M for “frequent action violence” — meaning kids aren’t supposed to watch it.¹ In accordance with classification guidelines, the big M appears prominently in the Hungry Jack’s ad; but in accordance with human nature, it is ignored like the elephant in the room.
The M classification marking

You have to admire the dumb optimism of Hungry Jack’s as they try to entice children with images of plastic crap tenuously linked to a movie children aren’t allowed to see.

Traditional wisdom² tells advertisers that a new comic book related movie is an excuse to market to children, and so reflex kicks in as if Pavlov had rung his bell. (A similar reflex applies at Christma$.) But these days, comics and their related films are mostly aimed at twentysomethings, and to a lesser extent, to middle aged former child readers.³ So a new Batman movie should have prompted the giving away of black mouse pads with chicken baguettes, not cheap toys with kids’ meals. But this is quite a cognitive leap to expect marketers to make.

At the very least they could have had the Batman toy make an authentic bone-breaking sound when you swing its fist.

Hungry Jack’s also offers a Dark Knight themed product to adult consumers. It’s a burger called the Dark Whopper. Seriously. Is that a sly dirty joke on the part of Hungry Jack’s and/or its ad agency? Are the Dark Whopper, and the tie-in toys for an M rated movie, meant to be ironic? Your guess is as good as mine.

¤

Footnotes:
1. Australian Government Attorney-General’s Department: Classification categories and markings. “The M category is recommended for mature audiences. A mature perspective is required to view this material. The content is of a moderate impact.” Curiously, the official description of the all-ages G classification includes “Some of these films and computer games contain content that would be of no interest to children.”
2. The word “wisdom” is used here in a non-standard way.
3. Comic book characters like Spider-Man and Batman are published in mainstream titles for today’s adult readership, and also in alternative versions for young readers. (I think that’s arse-about, but don’t get me started.) By convention, the young readers’ editions are often denoted by the use of the word “adventures” in the title: The Batman Adventures, Marvel Adventures Spider-Man, etc. Additionally, in Australia the vast majority of mainstream comic titles are sold exclusively through specialist comic shops, rather than in their former home, newsagencies.

__________

Depending on your tolerance for toilet humour, this is either a gem, or the last thing you’ll read on this blog.

The Australian Government’s Department of Health & Ageing maintains a National Public Toilet Map at http://www.toiletmap.gov.au/ . You can search for a convenient convenience by postcode, address, nearby landmark or map reference. Or you can just browse. I swear to you, there is a “Browse” button.

Presumably when you’re busting for the toilet, you can still spare the time to find an internet connection.

The Public Toilet Map website is professional and thorough. Kudos to whoever’s behind it (no pun). A lot of higher-profile websites could take a leaf from its book, or tear off a sheet; for example, Vodafone Australia’s ugly, broken and misspelled website, which should by rights be added to the map.

And of course, there are people to whom this is far from a laughing matter. There are worlds within worlds.

But getting back to the toilet humour, here are my favourite elements of the National Public Toilet Map:

1. The site invites to you “Visit other sites about continence”. I didn’t, but thanks. I wonder if it’s part of a web ring?

2. There’s also a link inviting you to “Visit our Help section for assistance”. The mind boggles.

3. If you find a public toilet that’s not listed, you can add it to the database by clicking a link labelled “Suggest a toilet”. This leads to an online form that concludes with a button labelled “Suggest Toilet”: possibly my favourite internet button ever.
suggest_toilet1

4. There’s a section called “My Toilet Map”. When you mouse over the link, the pop-up tip says “Save your favourite toilets, searches and plans”.

5. There’s a public toilet newsletter you can subscribe to. I signed up on behalf of a mate.

¤

__________

The Sydney Sun-Herald of April 15 reports that an Australian actor is asking for donations to the total of US$200,000, which he will use to buy himself a ticket on a Virgin Galactic flight into space.¹

The actor is Gyton Grantley, from the soap Home and Away. Note that in Australia, appearing in Home And Away does qualify one to be called an actor.

The space flights are intended to have a duration of two and a half hours.

The Sun-Herald article says “people around the world can donate $1 each to the cause via a PayPal system or by depositing money into a bank account set up for the venture.” What it doesn’t explain is why.

Forgive me, but this rankles my sense of justice. It seems to me that there are much more deserving uses for one dollar, never mind 200,000.

But in the age of Paris clones, cookie-cutter Emos and Jackass imitators, a significant sector of the public will make choices based on how meaningless, stupid or nihilistic they are. So he’s in with a chance.

Wait, you say. The gentleman has every right to be cheeky and self-serving. Correct; and so too, I have every right to draw attention to it.

You might think that this is a stunt to raise money for charity. But the actor says, “This isn’t a joke or a scam, I am serious…”¹ He really will use the money to buy a ticket on a space ride.

The scheme’s website, http://www.sendguytospace.com, says:

By helping Gy you will also be helping many sick children. As well as 10 percent of the ticket price, all excess money donated will be given to the Starllight [sic.] Foundation. An Australian foundation helping bring joy to sick children.

This means that if he raises a million dollars, US$820,000 will go to charity, and he’ll spend US$180,000 on frivolity. And if he only raises US$200,001, then it’s US$21,001 to charity, the rest to play. Which figure do you think is more likely to be reached?

In fairness, good on him for offering 10% of your money to charity.

The website’s disclaimer says:

The funds donated are for the dominate [sic.] purpose of funding my ticket to space. However if by 30th of June 2008 I am unable to raise sufficient funds to purchase a ticket, and do not have adequate funds to pay the shortfall myself, I will donate the funds to the Starlight Foundation.

The bottom line is that this “cause” might raise money for charity, but first it’s gonna raise money for Gyton Grantley.

Full marks to the fella for having a go, and bonus points for bare-faced cheek.

Perhaps Send Gy To Space was inspired by 2005’s famous One Red Paperclip enterprise, in which a clever kid used the internet, and public goodwill, to make incrementally more profitable exchanges, beginning with a red paperclip and ending with a small house. (See oneredpaperclip.blogspot.com/.)

The difference is that the Paperclip guy bartered things that were of value to the people who helped him along the way, whereas Gyton Grantley is simply begging. And he doesn’t even offer to play guitar, sing or perform any traditional busker service. He’s just sitting on the footpath of the information superhighway, with his virtual hat upturned for your e-charity.

You see, Mr Grantley is based in Sydney, New South Wales, and under NSW law begging money from strangers is not an offence. Buskers, however, are required to have a permit. Perhaps a separate arrangement could be made with PayPal to facilitate donations to buy Gy a busking permit, or at least a permit to operate a silly name.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favour of natural selection, and it’s okay by me for clever people to profit from fools. But the public has limited reserves of tolerance for appeals to charity, and I think this audacious and relatively novel scheme would be better used to raise money for something that’s actually worthwhile.

So, are you feeling charitable enough to donate a trifling US$1 to a so-called cause? Are another 199,999 people feeling the same way? If so, here are a few things that US$200,000 would be better spent on:

• The Salvation Army
• Cancer research
• Drug education & rehab programs
• Equipment for your local hospital
• Food parcels for drought-affected communities
• Mass sponsorship of third world towns
• My early retirement

Or you could just send one bloke to space for a couple of hours, at Virgin Galactic’s profit.

¤

References:
1. Angela Cuming: To reach for stars, actor needs cash. The Sun-Herald, Sydney, April 15 2007, p21.

__________

Part of my course in Communication and Media asks me to consider the Australian version of the “reality TV” show, Big Brother: something I’ve so far assiduously avoided doing.

The course specifically asks, Do you think that watching the [Big Brother] house on television can portray reality? Whose reality is this? When you think about the Australian ‘mass’ viewing population, do you think a majority of them would relate to the program? How do you feel about the use of SMS or telephoning to vote out contestants?

Ignoring the fact that either the word “watching” or the word “portray” has been used inappropriately, it seems pretty clear that the question expects the answer “yes”.

So yes, Big Brother can portray reality; but only a specific reality, the reality of a limited set of circumstances.

distorts the reality

The footage that makes up the show is selected from a larger pool of available footage, and edited on the basis of its predicted appeal to a mass viewing audience. It therefore cannot portray the reality of life in the Big Brother house, because it is incomplete. What is included is emphasised; what is omitted is suppressed. This unavoidably distorts the reality of life in the house.

Indeed, participants in the house occasionally claim that the footage presented has cast them in a misleading light. Last season, a gathering of friends of housemates reportedly claimed that “Big Brother … consistently misrepresented their loved ones, showing only their most antagonising aspects.”¹ Also during the 2006 season, evicted housemate Michael argued on-air that he’d been misrepresented: “Michael knew he hadn’t kissed David so he was trying to explain to [host Gretel Killeen] that as all the media were asking him about the ‘kiss,’ it must mean that BB had depicted the moment in such a way.”²

core audience

The footage does however portray reality for a core sector of the audience. This is the sector that most closely corresponds with, or at least identifies with, the traits and values on display in the footage. Examples of such traits and values include a certain age group, a certain mode of dress and grooming, certain patterns of speech and behaviour, and allegedly a certain level of intellectual sophistication. It’s important to note that it is not necessary for the target audience to possess the traits and values displayed; they need only aspire to those traits and values for the show to resonate with them.

It’s a matter for conjecture whether the Big Brother footage reflects the values of this core audience, or whether it shapes those values. Presumably elements of both are at work.

majority

I don’t believe a majority of the Australian mass viewing population would relate to the program. It is a niche program, albeit a popular and/or well publicised niche program. It focuses strongly on a certain type, or demographic; which holds the advantage that it appeals powerfully to this demographic, but also holds the disadvantage that viewers who do not identify with its well-defined demographic are unlikely to relate to it: for example, viewers outside the age group it represents, or outside the culture it represents.

Certainly Big Brother is frequently referenced in mainstream media, but a rough ad hoc survey suggests that those references — whether from viewers or industry commentators — are divided equally between approval and disapproval, and even those who support the program for its voyeuristic or salacious appeal do not necessarily relate to it. This suggests that the program’s shared meaning extends, ironically, to those who disagree with it.

On the other hand, a significant number of those who dislike the program might still be able to relate to some aspect of it. It is pitched to the lowest common denominator, to which, by definition, the majority is able to relate. Who’s to say where the subsets intersect?

SMS voting

Big Brother’s use of SMS or telephone voting has positive aspects beyond that of revenue generation for the program. The voting process increases viewer involvement, and because this involvement (purportedly) changes the content of the program, it engenders a greater shared meaning than that enjoyed by most television programs, on which feedback has less effect.

The use of SMS or telephone voting invites negative criticism on the grounds that a small number of voters can, by voting many times, have a disproportionate influence on the outcome of the vote. Personally I feel this in fact accurately reflects aggregate support for the candidates: a viewer who cares enough to vote a hundred times, and pays to do so each time, is passionate, and arguably deserves a hundred times the influence of someone who only cared enough to vote once. However, it should be noted that I can afford to take a cavalier approach to the issue, because I don’t care enough to vote at all.

A more noteworthy criticism of the voting system is that those with higher disposable incomes can afford to lodge more votes than those with lower funding at their disposal. But as the question explicitly asks how I feel, I once again admit to indifference. Also, I would challenge the assumption that the subset of wealthier viewers cannot be an otherwise representative cross-section of viewers. Nor is it necessarily true that any candidate will appeal more strongly to wealthy viewers than to not-so-wealthy viewers.

It is perhaps worth noting that those viewers who waste their time and money by voting excessively for their preferred candidate are probably of lower intelligence than those who vote less zealously; and that the winner will consequently be the candidate least deserving of winning. This however presupposes that all fools will vote for the same candidate. Moreover, it presupposes that one or more of the candidates actually deserves to win.

Ultimately the voting system, like the show itself, is best described in the same terms as Government-run lotteries: a tax on stupidity.

¤

References:
1. Unattributed. Fifteen minutes of fame for Krystal’s best buddy, Bay Post, Moruya, 24 May 2006. Read online version

2. Deb Grunfeld. Tushy, tushy, Gretel, Who magazine’s TV Blog, May 30, 2006.
Read original

__________

11 January 2007: I download and watch the video of Saddam Hussein’s hanging. Supposedly an underground video, tagged with “banned”, it’s hosted by Google, one of the world’s biggest media players.¹

In fairness, Google itself isn’t responsible for the video. The video was uploaded by an anonymous user. Whoever this person is, he or she is Time Magazine’s Person of the Year

As at 16:30 AEST, 14,174,493 people have viewed the footage; I think this is quite a small number given that many of these hits will have been revisits. Or is it too many? Of course, many voyeurs will have sourced the footage elsewhere. 14,174,493 is just Google’s share of the audience.

The execution took place in a small, dark room, with much shouting and garbled Arabic speech. Saddam appears not to speak, appears to be resigned to getting it over with. Certainly there is no ceremony, or none by western standards. In the space of 2½ minutes he’s noosed, dropped and cut down; one might almost say it’s an anticlimax.

The camerawork is, if you’ll excuse the pun, terrible. Poor framing, poor focus of attention, too much motion, and the camera looks away at the crucial moments. At first I thought this gave the lie to Time Magazine’s contention that outsourcing of mass media creation to the individual is the current big thing. Then I remembered that media content standards have dropped correspondingly; to many, this is good enough.

On the other hand, as a rule, what isn’t shown on screen is frequently more evocative than what is shown. Ask any decent horror director. Perhaps this shaky, distracted camera work (or phonework) is intentionally gothic; perhaps a po-mo reference to The Blair Witch Project, an arch commentary on the new media.

Yes, yes… I’m supposed to remember that I’m watching, and discussing, the death of a human being. Since the execution, there has been an outcry against the death penalty itself, never mind its recording as entertainment. But I find it hard to place any more value on Saddam’s life or death than he did on the lives and deaths of the more than 300,000 Iraqis purportedly killed during his regime.³

Was it wrong to video-record Saddam’s execution? The recording arguably provides a public service inasmuch as it forestalls claims that his execution was faked. Right or wrong, it makes little difference to Saddam, for whom all things have become equal.

Was it wrong to download a video of Saddam’s execution? It certainly left me feeling bummed out and in need of a hug. And it makes it hard for me to claim the act of recording was in poor taste. But look, I got a short essay out of it; the muse is priceless. Did 14,174,493 others get similar benefit from watching this sorry thing? Did it at least make them all want a hug? Did it make people around the world reach for each other before they too took the last drop?

If so, how much better off is the world for it?

Google supplies a vox pop rating for each of the videos it hosts. After 14,174,493 views, the execution video has been rated 4 out of 5 stars. I wonder what criteria the voters used. How do you rate a video of an execution?

¤

POSTSCRIPT: AUTOPSY VIDEO

My ex-boss tells me now that there’s a video of Saddam’s autopsy floating about. He expects it’ll be a fake. As he says, “Why would they do an autopsy? [In stoopid voice:] ‘Wow, I wonder how this guy died.’

References:
1. http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7532034279766935521
URL correct at time of writing.
2. Lev Grossman, Time’s Person of the Year: You, Time, New York, December 13 2006. Read online version
3. AP, 61,000 Baghdad residents executed by Saddam: survey, Sydney Morning Herald, December 10 2003. Read online version

__________

You’re reading a blog that sprang from a correspondence course in Communication & Media. Hopefully that excuses the occasional user-unfriendly references to, and terms from, communication theory. For the full story, see the About page, which is Post Zero.

All original content of this website is © copyright the respective writer or artist and may not be reproduced in whole or in part without permission.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.