Tag Archives: USC

Pop Conference Bound

The annual EMP Pop conference of people taking music way seriously comes to LA for the first time this week. I’m on a morning panel at the Thursday pre-conference, Work It:  Gender, Race, and Sexuality in Pop Professions. I’m also moderating a panel at the conference itself at UCLA, on Sunday at 4:15. Besides me, there are lots of smart, interesting people involved: Seymour Stein, Daphne Brooks, Greil Marcus, Dan Charnas, Alice Echols, Josh Kun, Oliver Wang, Randall Roberts, Ann Powers, Daphne Carr, Gayle Wald, etc. Oh, and some guys named Moby and Raphael Saadiq.

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Just Call Me Teach

McDonnellJenkins_300p.ashxFellow SJ student Jonathan Arkin wrote a lovely article about my appointment at Loyola Marymount for the USC School of Communication and Journalism online newsletter. The quotes from Henry Jenkins make me blush. It’s been an intense but incredibly productive year. I went back to school in order to teach, and that’s what I’m going to do. Isn’t it amazing when plans work?

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Lautner's Freedom of Structure

During my Great Houses of Los Angeles course with Victor Regnier, I discovered the architecture of John Lautner. Maybe I like the guy because he’s a Yooper. But his buildings are truly amazing: freedom of structure. Here’s the paper I wrote.

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Shepard Fairey Talks About Art, Obama and the AP

Being the poster child (so to speak) for street urchins’/artists’ fight against the Man has not  dampened Shepard Fairey’s sense of humor, much. At his Visions and Voices conversation with Annenberg School professor Sarah Benet-Weiser November 4, the creator of the most widely seen piece of art in recent history — the Barack Obama Hope poster — was not afraid to crack jokes at the expense of the Associated Press, his corporate combatant in an increasingly nasty legal battle that’s testing the parameters of copyright law. When a Fairey handler tried to tamp down the artist’s response to a question about the mutual AP suits, he pointed out that anyone could find the points about fair use that he was trying to make: “You can go on Google, like I did to get the image.” The crowd chuckled warmly at the jester’s mask of guilelessness.

Being the next Napster-like leader in the new media war against old media has made Fairey a bit of a rock star. Fans showed up to the overbooked Annenberg Auditorium clutching posters and conspiracy theories, like so many badges of subversion. Relaxed in an armchair with his chiseled profile, like the overgrown skater boi he is, Fairey both ate up and deflected the attention. He was funnily and charmingly self-aware. “I might be at the tail end of the hipster cycle now,” he said, after having spent about an hour discussing slides showing his evolution from the sticker mania of Andre the Giant and Obey through his anti-Bush Constructivist propaganda to the thoroughly and unapologetically un-ironic 2008 campaign posters.

Fairey did get a bit tongue-tied when he tried to explain why he lied about his original source for the Obama posters, the subject of his litigation battle with the AP. As political as his work can be, there’s always been a certain moral ambiguity in its tactics — some would say that ambiguity is another word for hypocrisy. But there still can’t seem to be little doubt that, as he argued, the Hope poster meet the criteria for fair use. Certainly, it seems very Goliath/NARAS-like for the MSM to be picking on a punk rocker from South Carolina in this way. They’re making Fairey a martyred spokesperson; his Annenberg appearance showed that given the right jury, he could easily persuade them of his righteousness. Plus, he makes some pretty damn good art. If he didn’t, no one would bother messing with him.

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Critics Talk Shop

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Laser Sound

SCA lobbyHere’s what I learned at graduate school yesterday: The sounds that the dinosaurs make in Jurassic Park are a composite of different real animal cries. The sound of lasers shooting in Star Wars is a manipulation of the noise a bal peen hammer makes when hitting a tight cable. Terminator 2 is a landmark film in terms of sound design.

It was actually the most fun and in some ways most inspiring day I’ve had at USC yet. I attended a microseminar in the brand-new fancy Cinema Arts building as part of my duties as an Annenberg fellow. The seminar – on Sound Design, led by William Whittington – was not my first choice, and I have to admit I wasn’t expecting much. Whittington’s book Sound Design & Science Fiction has quickly become a seminal text in the field, but I was afraid this was going to be nerd city.

Actually, Whittington’s the kind of movie fanatic whose love of the genre is infectious. He plied us with clips from Pixar and Apocalypse Now, and I realized this is one of the best things about the Specialized Journalism MA: We get to take courses in other schools, including the storied film school, where figures like Lucas and Spielberg still occasionally roam the halls. I can see the movie industry sucking me in … It’s gotta pay more than journalism.

Much of the seminar was devoted to the six students from three schools – film, Annenberg, and engineering – getting to know each other. That was cool too. We’re planning to meet again later this fall, to go see an IMAX movie. And I’m getting paid to do this!

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Golden, or Gilded, Age?

Coming from the world of actually making, or trying to make, a living in journalism, to the world of talking and thinking about journalism, there’s — surprise, surprise! — a huge disconnect. The faculty here at Annenberg are gung ho about new media and the state of journalism. At the graduate school welcoming presentation yesterday, ours was even referred to as “a golden age.”

If so, where’s the gold? I agree that information technology is creating an explosion of new opportunities. But I don’t see how most of these opportunities are going to be monetized. That huge failure in the system — coupled with the overall recession — means that I know a number of talented, experienced journalists, who have worked very hard to be skilled reporters and writers and to utilize the latest digital tools, who are scratching for chicken feed right now. I’ve also worked for one of those new digital media, and seen it crash and burn. Is this a golden, or a gilded, age?

I do, actually, love this technological revolution, or whatever it is. Blogs follow in my favorite American journalistic traditions, from the pamphlets of Paine to the penny press to fanzines. And I’m happy to be surrounded by others who are excited about this change, instead of hearing the constant bitter grumblings of the newsroom.

But the disconnect between the two spheres troubles me. I spent two decades out of academia because I wanted to be in the real world, not the ivory tower. Thinkers must connect with doers or their thoughts are just dreams. I like happy dreams — they’re much better than waking nightmares. But I don’t want to walk around with a deluded smile.

Former Annenberg dean Geoffrey Cowan is teaching what may be one of the most important courses here, on entrepreneurial journalism. It would probably behoove me, all of us, to take it. Except that I know that I’m a much better writer than I am a businessperson or self-promoter. The problem with journalism these days is maybe you have to be all three.

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