November CommQuote

In honor of recent election and looking forward to the upcoming Inaugural speech, a fascinating article from provides this month’s quote.  The whole article is as interesting as this blurb (guarantee) and our own Kathleen Hall Jamieson chimes in as well. The article is titled A Brief History of the Teleprompter: How a makeshift show business memory aid became the centerpiece of modern political campaigning, by Joseph Stromberg,, October 23, 2012.

“Perhaps more than any other technological advance—more than the touch-screen voting booth, the automated campaign phone call or even the slick TV attack ad—the teleprompter continues to define our political age.
The device started out in 1948 as a roll of butcher paper rigged up inside half of a suitcase. Actor Fred Barton Jr., a Broadway veteran, was nervous. “For those that had been either in theater or the movies, the transition to television was difficult, because there was a much greater need for memorizing lines,” says Christopher Sterling, a media historian at George Washington University. “At the time, there was a lot more live television, which many people today tend to forget.” Instead of memorizing the same batch of lines over the course of months, Barton was now expected to memorize new lines on a weekly or even daily basis. Cue cards were sometimes used, but relying on unsteady stagehands to flip between them could sometimes cause catastrophic delays.
Barton went to Irving Kahn, a vice president at 20th Century Fox studios, with the idea of connecting cue cards in a motorized scroll, so he could rely on prompts without risking an on-screen blunder. Kahn brought in his employee Hubert Schlafly, an electrical engineer and director of television research, and asked him if it could be done. “I said it was a piece of cake,” Mr. Schlafly told the Stamford Advocate in 2008. Using half of a suitcase as an outer shell for his new device, he rigged up a series of belts, pulleys and a motor to turn a scroll of butcher paper that displayed an actor’s lines in half-inch letters. The paper was turned gradually, as controlled by a stagehand, while the words were read.
On April 21, 1949, Schlalfly submitted a patent application for his “television prompting apparatus,” and in the tradition of offstage “prompters” who had been relied upon to feed forgotten lines to actors, he called his device the TelePrompTer. When the application was approved, the New York Times noted that it “coaches television actors into letter-perfect delivery of their lines and permits news commentators to simulate prodigious feats of memory.” It may have seemed unlikely at the time, but a new political age was born.”


October CommQuote

In an article that explores why young people (defined as 21 to 34- year-olds) are not buying houses and cars the way they used to  (The Cheapest Generation, by Derek Thompson and Jordan Weissmann, The Atlantic, September 2012) I was surprised by this smartphone “theory.”

Subaru’s publicist Doug O’Reilly told us, “The Millennial wants to tell people not just ‘I’ve made it,’ but also ‘I’m a tech person.’ ” Smartphones compete against cars for young people’s big-ticket dollars, since the cost of a good phone and data plan can exceed $1,000 a year. But they also provide some of the same psychic benefits—opening new vistas and carrying us far from the physical space in which we reside. “You no longer need to feel connected to your friends with a car when you have this technology that’s so ubiquitous, it transcends time and space,” Connelly said. in other words, mobile technology has empowered more than just car-sharing. It has empowered friendships that can be maintained from a distance. The upshot could be a continuing shift from automobiles to mobile technology, and a big reduction in spending.”

September CommQuote

Thomas Doherty writing in the September 21, 2012 Chronicle Review, coins a new term, Arc TV, don’t know if it will stick, but there it is.

“Long top dog in the media hierarchy, the Hollywood feature film—the star-studded best in show that garnered the respectful monographs, the critical cachet, and a secure place on the university curriculum—is being challenged by the lure of long-form, episodic television. Let’s call the breed Arc TV, a moniker that underscores the dramatic curvature of the finely crafted, adult-minded serials built around arcs of interconnected action unfolding over the life span of the series. Shows like Mad Men, Breaking BadDownton Abbey, Homeland, Dexter, Boardwalk Empire, and Game of Thrones—the highest-profile entrees in a gourmet menu of premium programming—are where the talent, the prestige, and the cultural buzz now swirl. Fess up: Are you more jazzed about the release of the new Abraham Lincoln biopic by Steven Spielberg or the season premiere of Homeland (September 30, 10 p.m., on Showtime)? The lineup hasn’t quite yet dethroned the theatrical feature film as the preferred canvas for moving-image artistry, but Hollywood moviemakers are watching their backs.”

He goes on to say that while Arc TV has its television antecedents its “real kinship is literary, not televisual. Like the bulky tomes of Dickens and Dreiser, Trollope and Wharton, the series are thick on character and dense in plot line, spanning generations and tribal networks and crisscrossing the currents of personal life and professional duty. Episode per episode, in milieux that stretch from the ruthless geopolitics of a medieval off-world to the gender dynamics of a post-zombie apocalypse, the tide of action ebbs and flows in a meandering but forward direction, gaining momentum over the course of a season (now likely to be a mere 13 episodes), before congealing and erupting in a go-for-broke season finale.” 
—from Storied TV: Cable Is the New Novel, by Thomas Doherty, The Chronicle Review

August CommQuote

“The basic project of art is always to make the world whole and comprehensible, to restore it to us in all its glory and its occasional nastiness, not through argument but through feeling, ad then to close the gap between you and everything that is not you, and in this way pass from feeling to meaning. It’s not something that committees can do. It’s not a task achieved by groups or by movements. It’s done by individuals, each person mediating in some way between a sense of history and an experience of the world.”

―Robert Hughes, The Shock of the New

July CommQuote

It’s 98 degrees in Philly today, reason enough for July’s CommQuote to be a rock song.  Since Wilco is coming to town in two weeks, let’s call on Kicking Television.  
I’m serious
You’ll seeI’m working on my abs
I’m working on me

Oh, I’m kickin’
Yeah, I’m calm
Oh, I’m kickin’

Stop shopping, even
Stop buying things

I’m kickin’
Yeah, I’m calm
Oh, I’m kickin’

May CommQuote

After eight years the last episode of House will air on May 21. Actor Hugh Laurie  in a guest column for Entertainment Weekly reflects:

House tried to be about something. Most procedural dramas set out merely to comfort the audience with the idea that we live in an ordered, moral universe in which virtue is rewarded and sin is punished; wherever evil takes to the streets, a group of heavily-armed models will be there to chase it, catch it, and expunge it from our nightmares. This is not an entirely accurate representation of the facts.

But House, I believe, grappled with some chewy questions. Is it worth using bad means for good ends? Can an action be good if its motive is bad? Or if its motive is not intentionally good? What is a soul? Is there a God? If there isn’t, what defines a friend, and what will you do for him? We didn’t always express these questions well, by any means, but we tried, and a large number of people around the world seemed to respond to the effort.” –Hugh Laurie, May 18, 2012

April CommQuote

So Goyte, that Belgian-Australian multi-instrumental musician/singer-songwriter with the smash worldwide hit “Somebody That I Used to Know” also has a “media song” that I heard him talk rather   intelligently about with David Dye on a recent World Cafe. The song is his favorite from the album, Making Mirrors.

“State Of The Art”

When the Cotillion arrived
We threw out the television
Model D 575
Has custom flute presets
And Harmony-Plus in addition

Now for an arm and a leg
We get three half-dozen beats to choose from
So now we can pretend
That there’s an orchestra in the loungeroom

I put the Genie Bass on
So my left hand can play the choir
With 16ft Diapason
And Lowrey’s patented Orchestral Symphonizer

Banjo’s great on repeat
The kids want to play but they’ll have to be patient
The wife can’t help tapping her feet
It’s a genuine home entertainment revelation

State, state, state, state of the art
(State of the art)
(Hold the phone, it’s so)
State, state, state, state of the art
(Listen to the difference!)
State, state, state, state of the art
(By use of a computer)
(Oh my God, it’s so)
State, state, state, state of the art

Now we don’t want to go out
When we could spend the night at home with the Cotillion
Invite the neighbours around
Start the bossanova beat and limbo from the living to the kitchen

Enjoy the state of the art
The Magic Swing Piano really is astounding
Now we can’t tell them apart
But these amazing simulations end up sounding even better than the real thing

State, state, state, state of the art
(State of the art)
(Hold the phone, it’s so)
State, state, state, state of the art
(Computer controlled tone colour)
State, state, state, state of the art
(The marriage of music to computers is quite natural)
(Oh my God, it’s so)
State, state, state, state of the art
(It is time to hear the results)

(Hold the phone, it’s so)
(Oh my God, it’s so)

March CommQuote

From The New Yorkers March 5 “On Television” column, Net Gain:How “The Good Wife” became the first great series about technolog, by .
What has received less notice than the show’s complexity and its bold female characters is its unprecedented emphasis on technology. This season alone, Lockhart Gardner took a case involving the online currency bitcoin; used Twitter to upend British libel laws; handled a military case involving drone warfare; litigated crimes featuring violent video games and a “date rape” app; and dealt with various leaked-image disasters (a corporation fighting a viral video, an Anthony Weiner-like dirty photograph). In one dizzyingly self-reflective story line, a Zuckerbergian entrepreneur sued a Sorkinesque screenwriter; the episode had a confident structural wit, subjecting a writer who defended distorted portrayals to his own distorted portrayal. Over time, such plots have become a dense, provocative dialectic, one that weighs technology’s freedoms against its dangers, with a global sweep and an insider’s nuance. In this quality, “The Good Wife” stands in contrast not merely to other legal shows, with their “The Internet killed him!” plots, but also to the reductive punditry of the mainstream media, so obsessed with whether Twitter is making us stupid. Put bluntly, “The Good Wife” is to the digital debate as “The Wire” is to the drug war.
The series is often at its best when it uses technology as a lens to examine the Florricks’ marriage. Like the Clintons, the Florricks train their teen-agers to be discreet. In one of the season’s most affecting sequences, Alicia tells her children that she is leaving their father—but that they must tell no one. “But Mom, that’s lying, that’s hypocritical,” her daughter, Grace, blurts out. Alicia argues that it’s O.K. to deceive people who want to hurt you—what’s important is that they are honest with each other. “You need to protect us more,” Grace responds, and Alicia bursts into tears. While their mother clings to an older ethic, her children can see that no bright line exists between their private and public lives. This season, Grace is drawn both to a YouTube preacher and to a cheerfully self-exposing video artist (played by an actual YouTube dancer, Anne Marsen); she’s fascinated to meet a girl who feels free to make art so spontaneously, without fear of judgment. Meanwhile, her brother stalks a schoolmate’s Facebook page, collecting oppo research that gets his father elected, a dirty trick that his mother never discovers.

February CommQuote

Our February quote comes from David Foster Wallace’s masterpiece, Infinite Jest. This passage (pp 834-836) calls on the TV series Cheers as a vehicle to express the intriguing concept of the figurant.  Don Gately, former thief and Demerol addict turned AA counselor, is in the hospital with serious injuries which fuel the feverish wraith-visited dream below:
The wraith hefts the can absently and says age twenty-eight seems old enough for Gately to remember U.S. broadcast television’s old network situation comedies of the B.S. ’80s and ’90s, probably. Gately has to smile at the wraith’s cluelessness: Gately’s after all a fucking drug addict, and a drug addict’s second most meaningful relationship is always with his domestic entertainment unit, TV/VCR or HDTP. A drug addict’s maybe the only human species whose own personal vision has a Vertical Hold, for Christ’s sake, he thinks. And Gately, even in recovery, can still summon great verbatim chunks not only of drug-addicted adolescence’s ‘Seinfeld’ and ‘Ren and Stimpy’ and ‘Oo Is ‘E When ‘E’s at ‘Ome’ and ‘Exposed Northerners’ but also the syndicated ‘Bewitched’ and ‘Hazel’ and ubiquitous ‘M*A*S*H’ he grew to monstrous childhood size in front of, and especially the hometown ensemble-casted ‘Cheers!,’ both the late-network version with the stacked brunette and the syndicated older ones with the titless blond, which Gately even after the switch over to InterLace and HDTP dissemination felt like he had a special personal relationship with ‘Cheers!,’ not only because everybody on the show always had a cold foamer in hand, just like in real life, but because Gately’s big childhood claim to recognition had been his eerie resemblance to the huge neckless simian-browed accountant Nom who more or less seemed to live at the bar, and was unkind but not cruel, and drank foamer after foamer without once hitting anybody’s Mom or pitching over sideways and passing out in vomit somebody else had to clean up, and who’d looked — right down to the massive square head and Neanderthal brow and paddle-sized thumbs — eerily like the child D. W. (‘Bim’) Gately, hulking and neckless and shy, riding his broom handle, Sir Osis of Thuliver. And the wraith on the heart monitor looks pensively down at Gately from upside-down and asks does Gately remember the myriad thespian extras on for example his beloved ‘Cheers!,’ not the center-stage Sam and Carla and Nom, but the nameless patrons always at tables, filling out the bar’s crowd, concessions to realism, always relegated to back- and foreground; and always having utterly silent conversations: their faces would animate and mouths move realistically, but without sound; only the name-stars at the bar itself could audibilize. The wraith says these fractional actors, human scenery, could be seen (but not heard) in most pieces of filmed entertainment. And Gately remembers them, the extras in all public scenes, especially like bar and restaurant scenes, or rather remembers how he doesn’t quite remember them, how it never struck his addled mind as in fact surreal that their mouths moved but nothing emerged, and what a miserable fucking bottom-rung job that must be for an actor, to be sort of human furniture, figurants the wraith says they’re called, these surreally mute background presences whose presence really revealed that the camera, like any eye, has a perceptual corner, a triage of who’s important enough to be seen and heard v. just seen. A term from ballet, originally, figurant, the wraith explains. The wraith pushes his glasses up in the vaguely snivelling way of a kid that’s just got slapped around on the playground and says he personally spent the vast bulk of his own former animate life as pretty much a figurant, furniture at the periphery of the very eyes closest to him, it turned out, and that it’s one heck of a crummy way to try to live. Gately, whose increasing self-pity leaves little room or patience for anybody else’s self-pity, tries to lift his left hand and wiggle his pinkie to indicate the world’s smallest viola playing the theme from The Sorrow and the Pity, but even moving his left arm makes him almost faint. And either the wraith is saying or Gately is realizing that you can’t appreciate the dramatic pathos of a figurant until you realize how completely trapped and encaged he is in his mute peripheral status, because like say for example if one of ‘Cheers!’ ‘s bar’s figurants suddenly decided he couldn’t take it any more and stood up and started shouting and gesturing around wildly in a bid for attention and nonperipheral status on the show, Gately realizes, all that would happen is that one of the audibilizing ‘name’ stars of the show would bolt over from stage-center and apply restraints or the Heineken Maneuver or CPR, figuring the silent gesturing figurant was choking on a beer-nut or something, and that then the whole rest of that episode of ‘Cheers!’ would be about jokes about the name star’s life-saving heroics, or else his fuck-up in applying the Heineken Maneuver to somebody who wasn’t choking on a nut. No way for a figurant to win. No possible voice or focus for the encaged figurant. Gately speculates briefly about the suicide statistics for bottom-rung actors. The wraith disappears and then reappears in the chair by the bed’s railing, leaning forward with its chin on its hands on the railing in what Gately’s coming to regard as the classic tell-your-troubles-to-the-trauma-patient-that-can’t-interrupt-or-get-away position. The wraith says that he himself, the wraith, when animate, had dabbled in filmed entertainments, as in making them, cartridges, for Gately’s info to either believe or not, and but in the entertainments the wraith himself made, he says he goddamn bloody well made sure that either the whole entertainment was silent or else if it wasn’t silent that you could bloody well hear every single performer’s voice, no matter how far out on the cinematographic or narrative periphery they were; and that it wasn’t just the self-conscious overlapping dialogue of a poseur like Schwulst or Altman, i.e. it wasn’t just the crafted imitation of aural chaos: it was real life’s real egalitarian babble of figurantless crowds, of the animate world’s real agora, the babble of crowds every member of which was the central and articulate protagonist of his own entertainment. It occurs to Gately he’s never had any sort of dream where somebody says anything like vast bulk, much less agora, which Gately interprets as a kind of expensive sweater. Which was why, the wraith is continuing, the complete unfiguranted egalitarian aural realism was why party-line entertainment-critics always complained that the wraith’s entertainments’ public-area scenes were always incredibly dull and self-conscious and irritating, that they could never hear the really meaningful central narrative conversations for all the unaltered babble of the peripheral crowd, which they assumed the babble(babel) was some self-conscious viewer-hostile heavy-art directorial pose, instead of radical realism.

January CommQuote

We now view computers as prostheses to our bodies, albeit prostheses as dazzling as amulets. We no longer go to a particular place in our homes or offices to “log on” or “dial in” to something called “the Internet” or a “chat room.” Apple helped erode the spatial nature of how we imagined “cyberspace.” We touch devices directly with our oily skin. We manipulate data and images as if there were no lens between them and us. We are embedded in a lattice of devices and digital radio signals. And those devices and signals are embedded in us…

While we praise the products and designs Jobs sold to us, we must remember that the designs themselves hide the real brilliance, and the hard work, that Californian engineers—and Chinese factory workers—put into them.

My 5-year-old daughter can practice her “sight words” on an iPhone app that sits in a folder with her name on it. Yet neither of us gets to glimpse the code that underlies that remarkable piece of software. We can’t begin to imagine the work and skill that went into designing it.

More troubling, I marvel at the thinness and processing power of the iPhone 4S that I ordered this morning. But I rarely interrogate the working conditions in the factories in which the parts for that phone are made. As it turns out, Apple has a troubling record of contracting with factories that have employed children and seen workers poisoned, and others that have seen a spike in worker suicides.

For the sake of those workers, engineers, and ourselves, we should resist any attempt to think of human-built technologies as magical. It’s imperative that we demystify complex information technologies so we remember that they are collections of circuits and machines built by fallible and talented humans. We must remind ourselves that fragile human bodies often get injured or disfigured by the processes that forge the glass and metal components.

 –Siva Vaidhyanathan, Apple, Demystified, The Chronicle Review (October 11, 2011)