Monday, June 08, 2009

Bruce Sterling's "Eighteen Challenges in Contemporary Literature"

SUMMARY: Easily, not the dumbest thing Bruce Sterling has ever written.

Naturally, everything he says applies just as urgently to cartooning and ought to have been on the agenda for MOCCA's Making Good Comics in a New Era panel.

Below are a few of the challenges* that I have comments about:

2. Vernacular means of everyday communication — cellphones, social networks, streaming video — are moving into areas where printed text cannot follow.

Also true for printed text paired sequentially with images. It's also conceptually indistinguishable from Sterling's #14, which is more a corollary than its own independent "challenge." (Who is editing this blog? Was s/he laid off?)

Something to keep in mind with this point is that: until you become a famous graphic novelist (whose very name is a Brand unto itself), film, TV and animation are your mortal enemies in the attention economy marketplace. Like the other losers (e.g. literature, nonfiction writing and the static visual arts) your twin hopes used to be that your production cost was still relatively lower and that the flexible pacing of your medium's consumption afforded audiences the breathing room to digest smarter, and thus more significant and lasting, idears.

Needless to say, the (relative) democratization of the means of video production, as well as the cheapness of digital distribution, have undercut those hopes significantly. Film, TV and animation will always be more expensive, but by much less than they used to be. And further, the public's ability to parse, edit, repost and generally scrutinize moving images has radically improved thanks to these technologies. The "Cool Guys Don't Look At Explosions" musical sketch from the 2009 MTV Movie Awards, should tell us something about the ascendancy of cinema studies in academia and its convergence with homemade YouTube montages. Namely: the shelf life of every genre convention in the moving picture medium has been dramatically reduced. If that's not a recipe for exponential sophistication, than I don't know what is. (However, I would be willing to debate the amount of drag force that a glut of "lowest common denominator" Reality TV, YouTube response videos and the like are effecting on this exponential up tic.)

8. Long tail balkanizes audiences, disrupts means of canon-building and fragments literary reputation.

This is probably the only leg up we have on our rivals in moving images, whose work can "follow the vernacular" as it hightails it (heh) into the universe of cellphones and streaming video. Comics will always be cheaper and can pour themselves into all kinds of niches faster and deeper. Provided, of course, that they can stop trying to appeal to their own limited niche audiences. You know what they are!

18. The Gothic fate of poor slain Poetry is the specter at this dwindling feast.

Okay. So, clearly, this is not a challenge, but an artfully elucidated statement of fact. Can I attribute this to laziness on Sterling's part? A bit of creative license that forces the critical reader to re-evaluate his entire blog post as capital "P" Poetry? And, if the latter, why not use the cooler British spelling, "spectre"?

There's more (#'s 3-7 obviously), but I'm reticent to spend more time on it.

[Link via Wired]

* ("Challenges" sounds like self-help to me—but I realize that it can also sound like some "NASA-grade inspiring," Camelot-era bullshit.)

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