Comics, History, TV, Politics and other Things We Used To Take For Granted: dkompare vs. 2011-12

While this blog hasn’t seen anything new for quite a while, I’m still here. It’s been a busy 2011, albeit one that has missed this outlet thus far. A new school year always means a new chance to embark on new projects, or re-embark on old ones. So here we are.

As you can see from the lack of new CSI reviews, my interest in writing granular single-episode criticism more or less vanished. While I certainly respect the diligence of the many critics currently writing in this form, and enjoy reading their work, I’ve found it difficult to maintain engagement at that level. I’m admittedly even finding it difficult to maintain engagement in even watching television (not just CSI) at that pace anymore, let alone writing about it. So what you’l mostly find here instead this year, in the interest of more consistent output, is a wider, big-picture scope.

One of the areas I’m going to address more directly this year is comics. While my film and TV viewing is still in flux, I’ve returned this year to the relative pleasures of “juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or produce an aesthetic response in the viewer,” as Scott McCloud put it in his famous definition in Understanding Comics. More specifically, I’ve returned to the medium’s traditional place on paper. While I’m certainly intrigued by the aesthetic, cultural and industrial possibilities of digital comics, I appreciate the particular, irreplaceable qualities of ink on paper. Just as some insist on the primacy of film as a “big screen” event, I’m still quite attached to actually holding comics in my hands. That said, I’m much less medium-phobic about the written word, which might as well be digital.

My renewed interest in comics is broad, taking in the form in its many iterations. While I considered abandoning superheroes entirely after years of disappointing and redundant mega-events, I’ve decided they’re still a fascinating component of the medium, and popular culture more broadly. Still, “capes” are only a sliver of all that’s out there in comics; imagine if the full extent of television studies was the traditional multi-camera sitcom. We–and I include myself in this admonition–have neglected the range of comics for much too long. The recent Cinema Journal In-Focus essays on comics’ place in media studies reiterated the importance of both broadening and deepening our understanding of the medium. So there will be a major emphasis on comics this year, beginning with some thoughts on the issues brought up in CJ, followed by an examination of DC’s controversial “new 52” reboot of its entire universe.

Beyond comics, I’m continually interested in what I like to call Things We Used to Take For Granted, like cable TV subscriptions, blockbuster movies and pop stars. These and similar practices and concepts have been shifting for quite a while, but I suspect the next 5-10 years will see some significant changes as creators, consumers and industries adapt to new circumstances. To take one example, we cancelled our cable subscription in April, so these four months have been a relative terra incognita for this TV scholar, who’s frankly never gone without it. It’s compelled us to explore alternatives to the expectations that “cable TV” has long promised, a journey I highly recommend (not least of which because it will save you $50-100 a month).

Additionally, lest you think everything’s all new and shiny here, you’ll see a renewed commitment to history. At the risk of sounding too much like those stodgy commenters in articles on digital humanities in the Chronicle of Higher Education, in our rush to do more, faster, and probably with fewer resources, we run the increasing risk of neglecting our histories. In this new era of the thoroughly “digital generation” (born since 1993), my primary concern in this regard is for my students, and particularly the coming generation of media scholars. As I stated in my reflections on the field of media studies at last spring’s SCMS conference, all of us are stewards of scholarship, and of the very idea of higher education. While we should of course continue to explore the ramifications and qualities of “the digital” and new technologies in media and in our lives, we shouldn’t sacrifice our understanding of the past. Sometimes I fear that access to the past will become another one of those Things We Used to Take For Granted, and that we’ll lose it entirely if we’re not careful.

Finally, a word about politics. In case you haven’t noticed yet, these are trying times. They’re certainly the most trying times in my forty-odd years of existence. Moreover, the scope and depth of the issues we face are catastrophically ill-served by what passes for context and understanding in what’s left of the news business (that Thing We Used to Take for Granted as “journalism”). The only thing more disappointing? The deepening inefficacy of the political class, which in this country at least, now runs the gamut from timid corporate apologist on the “left” to bellowing apocalyptic fascist on the “right,” with a grotesque array of slick operators and tea-stained brownshirts in between. The events of the last decade (and particularly of the last three years) have convinced me the problems we face are far, far beyond any party affiliation, nationality, religion, gender, or category of identity. The good news is that the tools to deal with them are right in front of us. So, while you might not expect such commentary from a media scholar’s blog, it’s all connected; indulge me.

So: welcome to 2011-12! I’ll be right back. In the meantime, check out the discussion I had with Alex Juhasz and Jay Bushman about the contentious concept of the “acafan” (i.e., the academic who also self-identifies as a fan…and/or vice versa) over on Henry Jenkins’ blog. I haven’t yet caught up with the other discussions in this ambitious summer series, but I’ll offer some extended thoughts on them here as soon as I do.

"I wear a lanyard now. Lanyards are cool."

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One Response to “Comics, History, TV, Politics and other Things We Used To Take For Granted: dkompare vs. 2011-12”

  1. Mark S Says:

    Great blogpost, Derek, and good to have you back in the blogosphere.

    I’m particularly interested in your comments on comics, especially in relation to digital vs tangible. I was never a comics reader growing up, with the exception of Asterix & Tintin, which never seem to really count. But I have found myself becoming more and more interested in them, especially since I’ve been following media studies (where while I take your point that comics are undertheorised, they seem to be a frequently object of casual discussion). A lack of financial resources means that I have been unable to buy any, however, so I have been trying to engage with them digitally, with absolutely no luck. I do wonder whether a tablet device might be the most similar replication of the paper form.

    I also want to say, as a cultural outsider, that I am looking forward to your engagements with politics. A new take on a politically turbulent time that affects the whole world is particularly welcome!


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