Paul Gilroy on Ali G

I really should stay up to date on my email.  There was an extended discussion of Borat on the Media Anthropology Network’s mailing list last November, and part of what came up was this article by Paul Gilroy analyzing Sacha Baron Cohen’s previous film, Ali G in Da House.  And there was a long discussion of Big Brother that just ended.  Dammit, this was all good stuff.  Okay, I’m definitely going to participate in the new e-seminar about Urban Larssen’s working paper, “Imagining a World of Free Expression in the Making: Romania and Global Media Development.”

Battlestar Galactica 2010

Get Your War On

So, Adama didn’t nuke the planet after all.  I’m having trouble remembering other parts of last Sunday’s episode, though, since I almost dozed off a couple of times.

I don’t think it’s because the episode itself was boring, since the parts I recall seemed fairly exciting — Cylons getting blowed up, gunshot wounds to the head, and a scene where Apollo and Anders almost gave in to the sexual tension between them (this one I may have hallucinated while I was half-conscious).

I suspect I was still somewhat tired from skiing the day before and pleasantly groggy from my pork chop dinner, but I think my inattention also had to do with being in a different place and time to watch Battlestar Galactica.  This is the first time I’ve watched this show on Sunday instead of Saturday and in my old house instead of my place in Halifax.  It didn’t quite feel right, and the experience made me consider just how much context is responsible for Galactica‘s success.

Consider, for instance, that there is a new animated series of Star Trek being considered for production by whatever company it is that makes Star Trek.  The third comment points out that the original Star Trek drew upon dewy-eyed 60s optimism in its story-telling.  Star Trek failed and was cancelled in its first incarnation, but became popular in its movie version.  I think this was due partly to the difference between 1966 and 1979, the year the first movie came out.  In 1966, the United States was steadily losing its war in Vietnam, and Star Trek‘s optimism must have seemed like some cruel joke to a country dealing with major military defeats for the first time in its recent history.  In 1979, the Vietnam War was already finished for most Americans, and perhaps Star Trek: The Motion Picture was a nice distraction from the reality of corrupt presidents, dead leaders, and empty spots at the dinner table.

I’m sure we can all think of other tv shows or movies that, no matter how excellent, just didn’t catch on for some reason.  The Al Pacino movie Scarface, for instance, was a flop when it was first released, but it’s now considered a classic today, with its digital re-release celebrated by numerous film critics.  The reverse also holds true: classic Saturday Night Live skits like Jim Belushi’s samurai deli falls flat among people of my generation, the phrase “pile of dog crap” being bandied about at times.  The present is different from the past, and stories that were popular yesterday are not necessarily popular today.  But what, then, of Battlestar Galactica and its examination of the so-called War on Terror?  What of Battlestar Galactica‘s prospects for popularity among future generations of viewers?

Let us pretend that it is possible to win the War on Terror, or conversely (and perish the thought), it is possible to lose that same war (victory not necessarily being the objective of either “side”).  Let us pretend that it is now years, decades later, and we have achieved the status quo ante bellum, and the War on Terror is as distant as the Falklands War.  Would Battlestar Galactica still be considered brilliant by those who’d never seen it before?

I can easily imagine that it would be seen as too dark by future viewers who’d never been disgusted by graphic images of actual torture or had to helplessly read about monstrous crimes being perpetuated in their name many distant miles away.  In fact, Galactica might be seen as an unwelcome reminder of a past better buried, or perhaps even as a sign of the sickness of the society that it was produced in — after all, Galactica is meant as entertainment, and what is entertaining about reproducing images of terror?

The greater fear, of course, is that Battlestar Galactica will still be relevant twenty years from now.  If satire is meant to serve as a warning, then does that mean that Galactica‘s creators would like nothing more than to be a historical curiosity in the future?

I’m reminded of Weapons of Choice, a science fiction novel I read a few months back.  In it, a naval task force from twenty years in the future accidentally time travel back to the Second World War.  This means that the crews on board the ships have lived through twenty years of the War on Terror.  The future presented is grim, with summary executions of prisoners being conducted by the US military immediately after battle, and with American citizens living in a heavily militarized society.  Setting aside the author’s Tom Clancy-esque fascination with the machinery of war, the book’s portrayal of the future seems depressingly probable.

So there you have it, fellow fans of Galactica.  The series will be relevant in the future, or it will not.  A prediction, though: either way, lots of stuff will get blowed up.

Terminus est

Yes, it’s true: Ranma 1/2 has finished its run. Actually, it finished its run in Japan more than ten years ago — I’m referring to the English translations of the manga. I already know how it all ends, having read the fan-made digital translations that have been on the Internet for years, and since I was originally a fan of the animated version, which itself has been done for a while, the end of Viz Comics’ translations doesn’t impact me in any appreciable way. Still, I feel a twinge of nostalgia at the announcement of the series’ end (or rather, felt, since I’ve been meaning to blog about this since I first heard about it in November).

The history of Ranma 1/2 in North America is pretty much the early history of manga and anime in its first non-Asian environment. Apparently, Ranma 1/2 was one of the first manga hits in the US, although as I said, it was really the anime that first captured my attention. I’m willing to bet that other fans followed similar trajectories in their discovery of manga.

You see, I loved the anime. I loved it so much that I finally reached a point where I couldn’t bear to wait for more Ranma episodes to be translated and dubbed in English, so I found a place on the Internet where one could actually download the comic books which the anime was based on. These digital versions of the comic were translated by fans from the original Japanese comics, then the Japanese comics were scanned and the original Japanese dialogue digitally replaced with the English translations. Of course, the fan translators were aware of the copyright violations they were technically committing. They justified their actions by only translating issues of Ranma that Viz, the English-language publisher, still hadn’t gotten around to, and therefore these fan translations weren’t stealing money from Viz at all.

To my knowledge, this project was the first instance of what is now called scanlation, which is the production of fan-made digital translations of Japanese comics, although I’m seeing more Korean comics now and some Chinese ones, plus a handful of French bandes dessinees. Normally, scanlators only work on series that aren’t being published yet in English, and should a publisher pick up a scanlated series, the scanlators are expected to desist in their work. A publisher could charge scanlators with copyright violations, but they choose not to do so if the proper forms are observed by the scanlators. After all, a manga reader has no reason to spend money on a completely unknown series, and scanlations allow that reader to sample the wares before buying. Publishers are well-aware that turning a blind eye to scanlations and filesharing actually increases sales for their translated comics (the reverse of what opponents of filesharing claim). It’s thanks to scanlations that I’ve been introduced to manga like Eden and Welcome to the NHK!, the former being a series I intend to buy and already on my Amazon wish list.

As you should note, then, the Internet has been instrumental in the expansion of fandom, especially Ranma fandom in this case — I still remember getting tapes of the series from a friend of mine. Before scanlations caught on, which pretty much means before affordable scanners and high-speed Internet arrived, online fans of manga apparently used text translations of the comics that were released by other fans online. They’d buy Japanese versions of the comics and switch back and forth between the comic and the printed translation. It all sounds quite tedious, which is why I’m glad I never had to deal with such an unwieldy system.

Still, I haven’t explained what Ranma 1/2 is itself about. What kind of series could have aroused such passion in my young self, such devotion that even now, more than half a decade after I’d last encountered any version of the series, I should still rhapsodize about it? That’s kind of a long story, one which deserves to be explored in its own post, but definitely a topic I’ll revisit.

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Research Assistants wanted for applied research

If I lived in either the US or UK, I’d so apply, especially since I have a thing for applied anthro, but anyway, here’s a heads-up to you Yanks and limeys out there:

Cultural Logic, headed by an anthropologist and a linguist, is a research and consulting firm that works for nonprofit organizations, applying cognitive and social science expertise to improve communications between experts/advocates and the public. Past topics have included global warming, early childhood development, access to health insurance, overfishing, racism, global cooperation, and domestic toxins. (For more information about Cultural Logic, see .

We are currently seeking interviewers in the US and the UK immediately to conduct and transcribe brief (5 minute) phone conversations with members of the general public.

Grad students in anthropology, linguistics or cog sci are especially encouraged to apply.  The current project requires native speakers of American and British English.  Interviewing experience is a plus, but not required. 

Ideally, the research assistant would have a flexible schedule, but could commit to taping 3-6 phone interviews in an afternoon or evening and e-mailing the transcriptions the following day.

The research is underway and assistants are needed immediately.

Compensation is negotiable.

Please email Andrew Brown at <> or call to the US: 1(401)383-6500 for more information.
Andrew J. Brown, Ph.D.

It could be worse

Went skiing on Saturday.  It was the first time I’d gone skiing in two years.  I sucked so bad it was hardly funny.  I lost one of my skis on my first run, which involved me going downhill on my back with my other ski dragging behind me.  That was the only time I lost my skis, so yay for me,  but I didn’t meet my goal of making it through a run without falling.  Still, muscle memory is some good juju.  In the beginning I had to run through a checklist before every run to remind myself of all the stuff you’re supposed to do: lean into turns, snowplow, look where you want to go, etc.  By the end of the day I was starting to do all of this unconsciously.

I looked in the newspaper the next day and apparently there had been an extreme cold warning for Saturday, but it wasn’t really as bad as all that.  My hands went numb several times, but I just took that as a sign to go back inside and warm up.  After all, it’s not a winter sport if you can still feel your fingers.

The “chalet” at the ski hill was rather piss poor, since it’s my opinion that there must be a fireplace for a spot to be called a chalet.  Despite the cold, the runs got really crowded in the afternoon, especially with kids.  Damn those reckless buggers, I almost got hit several times and I saw two snowboarders collide.  On the one hand, I can appreciate that kids and teenagers are supposed to be learning their physical limits, but on the other hand I object to anything that inconveniences me in any way whatsoever.

It’s nice that you can leave your boots in the lodge and be completely confident that they’ll still be there later despite any number of people passing through.  Still, anyone who goes skiing or snowboarding must already have some money, otherwise they wouldn’t be participating in such a bourgeois pastime.  Ski rental and full day pass was only $35.00 for me, so it’s not like skiing is necessarily amazingly expensive (season pass is like $150-200), but admittedly anyone who gets serious about the sport will be spending loads of money on special equipment — not just skis, boots, and poles, but also a proper coat and ski pants, and probably ski mask, gloves, and wick-away underwear and shirt — I wore the wick-away stuff for the first time this Saturday and was impressed at how much less sticky I felt.  Anyone living somewhere cold will have their own coat, gloves, hat (called a tuque here in Canada), and thermal underwear already, but probably a serious skier will want to get the special stuff, since they really do make a difference.

And to top it off, the ski hill was only five to ten minutes away from my house.  My brother said that last season he and his friends went boarding between their classes at the university.  Beyond the parking lot are people’s houses, and it’s kind of cool to look out from the top of the hill and see the winter landscape of suburbia stretching out.  So chalk up one more reason not to hate northern Ontario.