(Visual) Notes on Culture
A recent National Endowment for the Humanities report
confirms what I have suspected for a long time - pleasure reading is down, book ownership is down, and childhood access to books is down. Even parents with "proper" education do not own books or provide them for their children. This New York Times article
links these precipitous declines with poorer performance on reading tests by students in middle and high schools.
I've always been a defender of multiple literacies. In order to find success, happiness, and perspective in the contemporary world, I've long felt that proficiency in and with a number of discourses/languages was key to a fulfilling life. It is not just a mix of "high" (Cervantes, Mozart, Matthew Arnold, and Benvenuto Cellini) and "low" (Billie Piper, James Patterson, Korn, and Thomas Kinkade), but an ability to deftly maneuver between the two. Naturally, this means less time for many of the old ways of "getting" literacy...less time for attending concerts, going to museums (and even amusement parks), reading the newspaper cover-to-cover, and, yes, even for reading.
One of the most useful works on the subject is Richard Hoggart's The Uses of Literacy
(initial publication 1957). Hoggart wanted to examine what people of all different sorts - especially people of the working classes - "knew." That is, Hoggart was interested in how people occupied themselves, what cultural emblems they used to define one another, and what made for "authentic" culture versus inauthentic, crassly commercial culture. Hoggart finds some value in the multiple literacies that we all have.
One literacy that specifically interests me but that has perhaps yielded the scary reports by the NEH is the "video game literacy." Knowing how to navigate interactive (largely narrative) entertainments is part and parcel to being an informed 10-30 something. However, the study explains that the main decline in reading literacy is for middle and high school students. Granted, there are a number of pressures on one's time at that age, not the least of which are relationships, sports, after-school clubs, drugs and alcohol, etc. Certainly, video games are part of that complex matrix which steals time away from enriching pleasure-reading.
Thus, my call to arms - increase the literary value of literary video games! What does this mean? It certainly does not mean to suggest that all video games should be rendered literary. There is little room for an Oscar Wilde puzzler. My problem - one that has stewed for a long time - is with dialog/reading heavy games (mainly of the RPG variety, but also of other genres) which subject the player to awful, cliched, sub-literate stories, terrible translation, and utter one dimensionality. I don't want to name names here. But the call is either for our youth to budget in that important time for reading (and for parents to do their best to make books available for their kids) or for our other media, the other sites of literacy, to become more traditionally literate.
is pretty much reconstituted after several months of limbo (lost files + server woes = frustration). Bobby has been beefing up the site for a while but I just had the chance to start writing for it, which will become a more general pursuit, time permitting.
Anyway, I wrote this article on the Castlevania game series.
THE MODEST PROPOSAL
I would like to announce the coming-to-fruition of what has long lingered as an unrealized "pet project" - The Modest Proposal.
Born out of collective will and a devotion to multi-disciplinary reading, TMP hopes to intellectually engage the general reader in areas of contemporary interest.
Enjoy our send-up to the lively art of the book review, read our opinion essay, and keep checking the blog (it will really "heat up" once the steamer gets going)!
Outsider Art you can Wear
There is a wild and woolly world of specialist t-shirt presses on the internet. Any/all tastes are catered to...for example, Threadless
manages the DIY vogue, the more commercialized 80s Tees
is a brash nostalgia merchant, and Rotten Cotton
hits the Goth crowd with blood, guts, gore, and skimpy models. However, the real champion right now (as far as I am concerned) is Strange Vice
, a wonderfully small press dedicated to amazing shirts for film buffs.
Having eschewed buying tee shirts for over a year, I feel that it is high time to make an investment. I don't care for branding any more. I don't feel all that passionate about any bands currently touring and selling merch. I'd rather not only wear black tee shirts (the prangs of fascism prick my spine). My solution? Look for t shirts with the logos of obsolete video companies. I still hunt for movies at least twice a month. Though I'm waist-deep in DVDs as is, I hold a special place on my living room floor for obscure VHS. Recent purchases include REMOTE CONTROL (1987), MCVICAR (1980), PRAYER OF THE ROLLERBOYS (1991) and SHATTER (1974). These awful companies - with names like Vestron Video, MEDIA, Cannon, IVE and Avid Entertainment - released some of the best (truly) and most of the worst (double plus truly) of the 80s and early 90s. Rotten Cotton sells a Cannon Shirt. But Strange Vice has Vestron, MEDIA, Lightning Video (ugh), Regal Video, and so many other bygone losers. As if this were not enough, they also have shirts pertaining to such great films as EL TOPO, AGUIRRE WRATH OF GOD, THE SEVENTH SEAL, and BLACK SUNDAY. Their specialty is Italian genres, especially Spag. Westerns, crime films, and the spectrum of horror.
Next time you see me, I'll be in my MEDIA shirt.