This will be a wide-ranging post containing writing, politics, and hint at writing. If you've come here looking for AV and nothing else, you might want to skip to the last paragraph; this isn't a political blog or a feminist blog, but there are times I touch on both. This is one of them.
There's been some spirited discussion about Anita Sarkeesian's return to producing her Feminist Frequency videos, with an ongoing series on sexism in video games. As a writer I find this branch of feminism interesting because it dissects the role stories play in the creation of culture. As a gamer - and I believe all gamers worthy of the name should feel this way - I appreciate seeing the art form of gaming taken seriously as being worthy of the same sort of scrutiny as literature and film. And as a man, as the father of a young girl, and as a human being I'm saddened that we still live in a world in which women are all too often seen as objects rather than independent actors in their own right.
I'll not rehash Ms. Sarkeesian's arguments here; you should certainly watch the videos for that. There are two interesting side-points that I want to talk about today. The first, and easiest one, is that a writer can sometimes send a message without intending it, and that even the simplest stories do have a message. Consider her take on the coin-op classic Donkey Kong. On the surface, there's not much to that particular story, if there's a story at all; it's an exercise in endlessly climbing the same girders and leaping the same barrels to save the pretty girl from the scary monkey. Sarkeesian makes a very good point, though, that the entire set-up reduces the "pretty girl" to a prize. If Donkey Kong had stolen, say, a bag of gold the story would read exactly the same. This is the point about objectification.
So I read this and thought about it and then, through the perils of YouTube search, came across several reactions. A halfwit with a dead animal on his head. A guy who mistakes critique of the writers of the Donkey Kong video game series with critique of the fictitious characters therein. A slew of angry men doing what they thought Sarkeesian was doing: looking into a camera and complaining. (and no, I'm not linking to any of them. Look around if you want; it's not my intention to drive pageviews for mouth-breathing pre-adolescent dimwits).
What this attitude most reminds me of are the critiques of modern writing from traditionalists like Robert Frost (who likened writing non-formal verse to playing tennis without a net) and Truman Capote (who famously called Kerouac's work mere typing rather than writing). Take a moment to read some Kerouac, or Ginsberg's "Howl".
Back so soon? Take some time.
Read them carefully.
OK. The first thing you notice - at least the first thing I noticed - is the seeming chaos of these works. It really seems as if the early modern poets are just tossing words around. If you try looking a bit more closely, you'll start seeing more. Kerouac seems to be grabbing images at random, but there's an underlying cohesion which hints at much more serious effort and planning than you'd have suspected him of. If you look more closely at Howl's lines you'll find them interspersed with internal rhymes, scraps of meter, and very carefully chosen words. To assume that Ginsberg or Kerouac are just throwing around words and images is the same mistake as assuming that Sarkeesian is just complaining in front of a video camera; it is to only see what is there on the surface without digging underneath and appreciating not only the work that goes into it but also the beauty of the final product.
In UPenn's excellent Modern Poetry class (on the Coursera platform last month and destined to return in September) English professor Al Filreis used the adjective "wrought" for these works; it's a good one. They are made things, built things, carefully considered things. You can throw around adjectives and adverbs in an unedited stream of nonsense, but that wouldn't make you a modern writer any more than Ms. Sarkeesian's detractors are gender-conscious thinkers or, ultimately, thinkers at all.
Which brings us, long-windedly, to what I do in the AV design world. It's easy to look at an AV system, be it a conference room, classroom, or a digital signage system it all looks simple; a TV goes on the wall, speakers go where you can hear them, etc. What I've found is that the more I know, the more there is to know. I've seen plenty of spaces with video, plenty with audio. Not all appear to be designed with the kind of thoughtfulness and care that separates an AV system from a room with AV in it.
Did someone do the math to make sure you could have enough voicelift without feedback?
Did someone do the math to make sure that your display is big enough to read the kind of content it's to be showing?
Did someone make sure that the system fit nicely into the space and fit the users' needs?
Life is like that. Not only are there are relatively few things as simple as they seem at first glance, but things that you don't see and very likely never will see unless you've learned just what to look for make a difference. The slightly longer gooseneck mic do improve the PAG/NAG equations. The carefully planned breaks in meter. The emphasis of one detail over another in developing a theme. Life is complicated. Learn to embrace it, learn to look beneath the surface, and have the courage to know what you don't know.
I'll close with more modernism; experimental writer and poet John Cage took Ginsberg'a carefully-wrought text and manipulated it with an algorithm he called a "mesostic" - sort of an internal acrostic. Here's a brief excerpt of what he came up with.
Even this is harder to do than it may seem! I encountered this during the Modern Poetry MOOC from UPenn, and had the assignment to try it myself. Since it was election time, I went nakedly and shamelessly political. I started with Ruth Lechlitner's 1936 piece "Lines for an Abortionist's Office" and tried to bring it to the present with Akin or Murdock's names after their rather questionable views on women's rights became major news. Neither gave all that interesting a result. Then I tried again with the Akin's poorly-chosen phrase "legitimate rape"