JJ Abrams’ Mystery Box Playing Cards… Collectibles? Snake Oil?


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I got very very excited about this one as my first thought was that maybe this would be a new card game, designed from the ground up.

I was thinking a unique set of rules, with maybe the cards as a set of ‘game’ prompts, with themes, characters, actions, events, outcomes… something like what Jeff Watson created for his PhD Dissertation, Reality Ends Here.

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In Jeff Watson’s collaborative media-making game, the cards act as prompts to collaborative creative multi-media productions, staged on the campus of USC:

Reality is a collaborative media-making game for 10 or more players. It is not a single-sitting game, but rather a long-term experience. Depending on how you want to run it, a “season” of Reality can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months or longer. It is not a game like Monopoly or Senet or Tag or Mario Kart. If anything, it’s more like a miniature sporting league, where the sport involves media-making, socializing, strategy, and team-building, and where the teams are impermanent, forming and dissolving on a project-by-project basis.”

JJ Abrams’ Mystery Cards, however, appear to be just that – ordinary playing with layers of collectible packaging.

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As Abrams’ TED Talk Mystery Box famously defined, sometimes you don’t want to know what’s inside the box because what you imagined was infinitely more exciting. The cards, pointedly, come wrapped & sealed so you have to decide whether to violate the packaging & reveal the deck within

Abrams has given hard core fans the opportunity to now buy their own mystery box, with 12 decks for the substantial cost of $149 US.

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Even though Abrams is shunting $1 per deck to 826 National, a literacy initiated started by Dave Eggers in San Francisco (which I love), I can’t see myself rushing to buy the deck or the box.

There is no mystery, rather what we might think of as a simulation/simulacra of mystery, given that there is no creative value in the cards themselves.  I was really hoping for something much more engaging like the brand new futurist object generating card game I played yesterday, The Thing from the Future.

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Designed by Jeff Watson and Stuart Candy, The Situation Lab OCAD University, for an event co-hosted with New York’s Extrapolation Factory, this card game, designed as a set of prompts, was a highly creative, engaging collaborative experience.

At the end of the day, we had generated hundreds if not thousands of future scenarios and possible objects, and created a selection of physical objects which are now available in a vending machine from the future at OCAD University.

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That’s mine in the top centre, the red one…

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In contrast, Abrams’ Mystery cards are all package, faux mystery, and, honestly? very polished snake oil. Not buying here

Hacking Reality: The Harry Potter Alliance is Catching Fire


Just found this online & I’m loving that The Harry Potter Alliance is hacking the media spin on the latest Hunger Games: Catching Fire film. Great example of a fan created transmedia extension!

My Sept. post critiqued the Cover Girl marketing campaign as it was ramping up

http://transmediacamp101.com/2013/09/07/patti-smith-katniss-everdeen-kenneth-cole-where-is-our-counter-culture-revolution-today/

The Colbert Report: The Most Cunning ARG You’ve Never Heard Of


I’ve been thinking about this for months, years in fact, watching The Colbert Report. Launched on October 17, 2005, satirist Stephen Colbert’s portrayal of Stephen Colbert, right-wing pundit (an homage to Bill O’Reilly), and know-it-all Wikipedia editing expert, is so seamless that the ‘performance’ of his faux character is almost forgotten. Search him online (forget Wikipedia today folks!) and it is virtually impossible to find interviews with the ‘real’ Colbert. Think back to his appearance at the White House Correspondents Dinner 2006, billed as a Special Edition of The Colbert Report, where he delivered a masterpiece parody of the George Bush era and what he termed the “No Fact Zone.” Now, with his ongoing shaming of the Federal Election Committee (FEC) and the absurdities or criminalities of Super PACs in the US electoral process, he’s done a flurry of interviews this past week, again in character, with George Stephanopoulos and Ted Koppel. In each of these interviews, the extremism of his character is marked by some absurd proposal or claim that foregrounds the artifice of his performance. Watch his exchange with Stephanopoulos here:

http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/OTUS/stephen-colbert-runs-president-talkss-geo….

Now if you’ve never thought about The Colbert Report as a transmedia ARG, pause for a moment. What Colbert has done is promote a fictional character with a subversive agenda across multiple platforms: the TV show, multiple websites (www.colbertnation.com,www.nofactzone.net/, http://www.indecisionforever.com/). What he’s doing definitely stretches the model of the ARG (hey! wait! Is there a single model?). But it’s definitely transmedia & cross-platform and he’s had complete buy-in from his audience:  he’s led an activist rally in the 2010 March to Keep Fear Alive (see its companion website,http://colbertrally.com/), and successfully solicited who knows how much $ through the contributions to his Super PAC that, as he repeatedly points out, he will not have to report on legally for an undetermined period of time. Yet this performance is only now being commented on widely as a performance: ABC news just today ran an article on Who is the Real Stephen Colbert? 

Colbert’s control of his performance and the media’s responses to him has been absolute and to get a sense of how he has created a storyworld in which his character exists as unchallenged, watch his September 2011 interview with Al Gore, who does the unthinkable on live TV by commenting on ‘your character.’ Colbert is clearly aghast and in character, crushes Gore with “finger quotes.” Or watch Colbert’s interview with Frank LuntzOctober 2011 on how to set up his Super PAC focus group and sell the message that Corporations are People Too. Here, Colbert slips into his highly racist Chinese character, Ching Chong Ding Dong, and says: “I’m not responsible for anything my character says.” This moment is genius as it reveals the strategy underlying Colbert’s parodic persona. That he is now raising serious debate in the US as to the validity of Super PACs, generating numerous articles and news reports is an indirect homage to the persuasiveness of his performance over time.

Colbert’s application and appearance before the FEC was a fascinating moment in his ongoing ‘alternate reality performance.’ One, for Colbert, he was surprisingly monosyllabicand undemonstrative, whereas outside the hearing, he was emphatically the satiric pundit. That moment in the hearing however, raised the question of who exactly speaking before the Commission. As, if it was the character, then the legality & authority of the FEC were being mocked & challenged – technically a dicey move – yet watch him immediately after speaking outside to the press. Colbert played that moment ambiguously because he had to, but he also didn’t commit or reveal himself as the real Stephen Colbert.

And, given the specifics of the ruling as to what Viacom and Colbert’s Super PAC, Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, could and could not do, Colbert has neatly circumvented the restrictions on broadcasting outside of his show or network by allowing the net to do the job for him as his Super PAC negative campaign ads can be watched on multiple sites, including YouTube, and as embedded content in multiple news reports (Take that! SOPA!). If you haven’t seen them, catch the latest Super PAC commercials here: Mitt the Ripper and Vote for Herman Cain

Colbert has used his comedic position to introduce new words to the lexicon, ‘truthiness,’ ‘anchor baby,’ and now it’s starting to look like his relentless and inventive challenge to the Super PAC might actually galvanize change. If he’s successful, I can’t wait to see what he tackles next.

You can read the Federal Election Committee’s Advisory Opinion from June 30, 2011 here:

http://www.colbertsuperpac.com/advisory/Advisory-Opinion.pdf

And, if you haven’t been following this, here’s a great recap by Sarah Mimms:

“Federal Election Committee rules on Colbert’s Super PAC application”

by Sarah Mimms, June 30 2011

http://nationaljournal.com/hotline/fec-rules-narrowly-on-colbert-request-20110630

“In filing his initial request for an advisory opinion, Colbert sought to take advantage of an exemption traditionally used to allow media outlets to report and comment on campaigns and endorse candidates without having their work considered “in-kind” political contributions, triggering filing and disclosure requirements with the Federal Election Commission.

The request came down to one essential issue: whether Viacom can legally donate production costs, airtime and use of Colbert’s staff to create ads for the so-called super PAC, to be played both on “The Colbert Report” and as paid advertisements other networks and shows.

The commission said no, ruling that once ads created using Viacom resources were broadcast on other networks, Viacom would have to report them as political contributions.”

[Originally posted on my 1001tales.posterous.com January 18, 2012 - I believe in multiple archives]

Why The Hunger Games is not Harry Potter, & Why We Should Care


Warning: Spoilers – lots & lots of Spoilers from the Trilogy. Don’t read if you don’t want to know

Have you read The Hunger Games? the full series? been on the Facebook Capitol PN or District pages lately? Dipped into the Twitter feed #LookYourBest?

If you have, you may have noticed something really odd. If you’ve read the first book (now in theaters near you & soon to be released in IMAX!), then you know that Katniss Everdeen volunteers to be a tribute to save her sister, Prim, from certain death.

In the first novel, we see the poverty of District 12, learn about the uprising of the 12 Districts against the Capitol, the ensuing annihilation of District 13, the brutal subjugation of the remaining 12 Districts and the founding of the Hunger Games as a reminder of the destruction that rebellion & civil war lead to.

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In The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins’ story exemplifies what I have come to see as the moral core of children’s literature, which I have taught roughly twice a year for 10 years now. The power & the truth of children’s lit lies in the valuing of a child’s pov, which in the ‘real’ world, we adults view as immature, naive, ignorant, etc etc, in contrast to the more mature, nuanced & complex understanding adults have as a result of experience and more time spent on earth.

The moral core of good children’s lit is the absolute assertion of the value of the individual relationship against arguments of sacrificing one or many for the greater good. You see this in Huckleberry Finn, where Huck cannot betray the immediacy of his friendship with Jim, even though he believes helping a runaway slave is wrong & will land him in hell. It’s there in The Golden Compass where Lyra always commits to helping those who are being victimized, and she consistently positions herself against the adults in power who kill the weak for the greater good: the children at Bolvangar, Roger… Philip Pullman makes this contrast explicit in Mrs. Coulter’s and Lord Asriel’s complete lack of empathy for those they torture & use respectively.

This moral core is fundamental to Rowling’s Harry Potter series, as Harry, Hermione, Ron & Dumbledore’s Army consistently chose to fight Voldemort’s totalitarian regime. And most importantly, what Rowling makes absolutely clear is that her characters assert their love for one another, and that those bonds exist as an aspect of identity and community that are worth self-sacrifice, as Harry shows us in the final book, but never the sacrifice of others as symbolic or token substitutes.

So, if you’ve only read The Hunger Games, the first novel seems to hew closely to this model. The Hunger Games are an annual sacrifice of two youths for the greater good, Katniss’ volunteering for her sister is a self-sacrifice that saves her sister from experiencing a horrible death played out as spectacle for the entertainment of the Capitol and which the Districts are obligated to witness.

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And here’s where the novel starts to become tricky – Katniss’ preparation for the Games by her team of stylists is both glamourous and an enactment of the power of the state on the body of the subjugated. As Collins repeatedly tells us, Tributes are often sent into the Opening Ceremonies in stylized nakedness and as Katniss is waxed and groomed, she is grateful that her team stops short of radical body modification. The novel tenuously balances Katniss’ resistant pov on her transformation into the most beautiful girl at the Games and the seductiveness of luxury that is the central focus of the Twitter hashtag, #LookYourBest and the messaging of the Facebook Capitol and District pages.

Here’s where the disjunction between the novel(s), the marketing, and the reception start to get really strange. If you’ve read the Trilogy, then you know SPOILER! that Katniss takes on the role of figurehead leader of the revolution of the Districts against the Capitol, that she is manipulated by the leader of District 13 (not dead after all), by Abernathy, by Cinna, that Prim is killed in an unconscionable attack on the children of the Capitol, and that Karniss becomes a morphling (morphine) addict who is repeatedly being medicalized against her will, spending what seem to be numerous stretches in opiate induced unconsciousness.

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That Lionsgate has made identification with the Capitol and the vacuous, privileged, style & spectacle obsessed residents of the Capitol the focal point for fans of the series is an unbelievable misstep in terms of what the series depicts as the evil at the heart of what America has become. So if you’ve read the series, images such as these are weighted with the problematic identifications we are asked to make – to President Snow, to the Capitol inhabitants who enjoy watching youth being maimed & destroyed.

In the screen shot below from The Capitol Facebook Page, the invitation to wear a white rose to ‘honor President Snow’ is distinctly problematic, given the sadistic inventiveness of the torture enacted in the Games & the violence that follows the uprisings.

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Collins also makes clear that Katniss’ final choice [SPOILERS!] of killing President Coin (no accidental name here) is an act to protect the future, where the shooting of President Snow would have avenged the past. This is explicit in the contrast between Katniss and her best friend/erstwhile boyfriend, Gale, who chooses a different path, designing death traps that intentionally sacrifice the innocent for the greater good. The fact that she and he can never know for sure if his strategem killed Prim and the hundreds of Capitol children she had rushed to help is a deciding factor in Katniss (finally) choosing Peeta (which we don’t see in the novel).

What is most difficult about the series & where it is distinctly NOT Harry Potter, is that Katniss’ story, told in first-person, is the story of a teenager suffering acutely from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder without relief. The first-person voice is strategic as it means that Katniss is initially ignorant of how she is being manipulated by both sides, President Snow & District 13 leader, Coin. What it means though is that we experience Katniss’ world & story from within an extremely traumatized psyche. Unlike Rowling’s series, Katniss has no community, no network of friends, and bluntly, there is no joy in the series, which the Harry Potter series has in abundance with the affirmation of friendships and love, and the delight and wonder of the magical world. In contrast, Katniss is repeatedly betrayed by those she trusts, trauma is inflicted on her repeatedly, in the first games, then the 75th Games, where all surviving Victors compete against each other. Finnick & Annie’s wedding in The Mockingjay is a brief moment of relief and yet, Katniss is superficially engaged and Collins then kills Finnick.

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Why then is this a series that speaks to its audience now?? It’s not just the parallels between the novel’s dystopic vision of a future America and the polarization and activism that has sprung up around the Occupy movement and its language of the 1% and 99%. And to be frank, this critique seems to be completely missing from the engagement Lionsgate invites and the role-playing fans engage in dressing up as Effie or playing tributes on the various online games.

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What no one to my knowledge has flagged are the parallels between Katniss’ acute experience of PTSD (one could add Peeta, Haymitch, & all the other victors here, with the nightmares, the constant fear of attack), the descriptions of her physically traumatized body with the extensive burn scarring and the parallels to the phenomenon of PTSD in American military personnel returning from Iraq & Afghanistan. Here too, Peeta’s loss of a leg resonates, even though he has been fitted with a high-tech prosthesis. As a Canadian, not living in a country militarized to the degree that the US is now, I have to ask if the dystopic vision of The Hunger Games series is a mediation of what seems from across the border to be an awareness of the challenge of reintegrating the severely traumatized veterans of the War on Terror.

Nicholas Kristoff has reported that for every American soldier’s death in Afghanistan and Iraq, 25 military veterans commit suicide (TWENTY-FIVE), one every 80 minutes. That is an astonishing, devastating phenomenon. In this context, I cannot but read The Hunger Games series as a reflection on and mediation of the scarred bodies and psyches of those who return who, like Katniss or Haymitch, are barely able to connect back to an everyday life of normalicy. Collins gives us a snapshot of the future, Katniss & Peeta in the future with children, yet Katniss is clearly still scarred, not surprisingly.

So when my 13 year old daughter tells me that she loves The Hunger Games and that on reading The Mockingjay for the second time that she started crying on the first page & didn’t stop until the end, I’m not surprised. The degree of violence, victimization and brutalization surpasses that of Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, Kimberley Pierce’s Stop Loss, or even Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter (yup, I’m going that far). The sadism enacted in the series  matches or surpasses the details of Charles Taylor’s regime that have hit the news this week.

There may be some parallels between Collins’ series and Rowling’s, but they are absolutely not the same in tone or experience. It might be time to start asking why this series resonates now, what fans are responding to, and what is actually being critiqued in the novels. Having read the series, how Lionsgate is going to adapt the following two novels for a PG-13 audience is beyond me as the current marketing of the film through its ARG extensions firmly positions the audience in the role of those who oppress and torture. Good luck, Lionsgate.

Nicholas Kristoff’s article here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/15/opinion/sunday/kristof-a-veterans-death-the-nations-shame.html