November 2008
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Month November 2008

Fragments for 2008-11-30

  • Some time or other I gonna learn about shops and sundays. #

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Fragments for 2008-11-29

  • Revisiting the prose of Dorothy Parker. #

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Fragments for 2008-11-28

  • Like the man said quite some time ago: “Don’t think twice, it’s all right.” #
  • Beethoven’s Rondo a capriccio in G major, o. 129 kicks off the day with gusto. #
  • Putting my life on hold for the next 3 hours: Watching the restored version of “Quo Vadis” (1951) by Mervyn LeRoy. #

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Fragments for 2008-11-23

  • Shelley on sunday: Rise like lions after slumber in unvanquishable number, shake your chains to earth like dew … ye are many they are few. #

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Fragments for 2008-11-22

  • The day starts with Bach und Gubaidulina. JSB great as ever, Gubaidulina still takes some getting used to, though. #
  • Sure Cavafy is right: Ephialtis will appear and the Medes will break through, but until then it’s our game to lose. #

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Fragments for 2008-11-21

  • @pascal @metaman Glasperlenspiel is true. But this had the opposite effect on me. I even dug out an old copy of Hesse’s gaming manifesto. #

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Social Media and Political Activism

It’s been quite a while since I returned from the conference “Social Web – Towards Networked Protest Politics?” in Siegen. So it seems high time for a little roundup.

The topic of the conference was the influence which different forms and uses of Social Media have on the practice of political activists. The papers covered an extensive range of theoretical and practical approaches to this question. A comprehensive account of the presentations can be found on netzpolitik (day 1, day 2).

The talk I enjoyed most was given by Richard Rogers. In his talk Rogers examined methodological questions regarding the research practices in online spaces. Rogers emphasized the necessity to develop research designs that take the nature of online interactions into account. A simple adoption of offline research practices would possibly lead to a distortion between research and reality. A short account of Rogers’ talk can be found on irevolution.

In the afternoon of the first conference day I shared a panel with Myra von Ondarza who talked about “The Euroblogosphere: Advent of a Social Movement or Source for Expert Information”, Christina Neumeyer and Celina Raffl who presented their research on “Facebook for Protest? Assessing the Potential of Social Software for Political Activism Exemplified on the FARC Countermovement” and Azi Lev-On who held a presentation on “Social Movements and the Web 2.0 Phenomenon: Conceptual Links”. An account of these presentations can be found on irevolution.

During this panel I presented the paper “Twittering Activists: The Uses of Twitter for Political Activism“.

In this paper I argue that Twitter has quite unintentionally become an useful tool for political activists. What started out as a hedonistic tool for self-expression has developed into a tool which influences public opinion and helps with the organization of small groups. In this paper I use four examples of the effects of Twitter usage during late 2007 and early 2008 to illustrate this point.

The examples are the reactions in the Twitterverse to the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the Twittering during the Sarah Lacy Mark Zuckerberg interview at the 2008 SXSW, the use of Twitter during the San Diego wildfires in October 2007 and the get-out-of-jail Twittering by James Karl Buck. In my eyes these examples clearly show four different types of possibilities for political activists:

1. Twittering facilitates the fast distribution of information to a local or global community of interest.

2. The use of Twitter-Feeds can be a powerful open backchannel to actively monitor and comment on current events.

3. The use of Twitter can be an efficient way to organize and coordinate small groups for collective action and protests.

4. The use of Twitter can establish a remote presence for a group of activists.

This Wordle word cloud should give you a short impression of the paper.

The conference was a very pleasant experience. The talks were interesting and provided many new perspectives for further reading and research. And the really interesting conversations happened, as always, during the coffee breaks and lunches. I want to thank the organizing team Sigrid Baringhorst, Veronika Kneip, Annegret März and Johanna Niesyto for the invitation to the conference and for their organizing efforts and skills.

Fragments for 2008-11-20

  • Halfway through Crowd Surfing by Martin Thomas and @DavidBrain : pragmatic discussion of social media from a marketing perspective. #
  • This is going to be great: http://www.europeana.eu/portal/ Could be slow right now, but definitely check it out! #

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Not quite so Magic Flute

Quite some time ago I visited a screening of Kenneth Branagh’s movie version of The Magic Flute. The visuals of the movie were great and the music as always great fun. Unfortunately there was trouble with the projection and so the aspect ratio was slightly screwed. But those are the delights of independent movie houses. Although the movie was made in 2006 it has been quite as hassle to see it in Germany. It toured for almost two years through different festivals until it received a limited release in Germany. So the troubles with the aspect ratio didn’t bother me that much, since it was great to finally see the movie.

Unfortunately I was not all that taken by this interpretation of Mozart’s Zauberflöte. The movie starts great. Kenneth Branagh and his coauthor Stephen Fry set the action in a fantasy world, highly reminiscent of Europe at the time of the first world war. A meadow Wordsworth used to dream of is pierced by a network of trenches belonging to two opposing armies. Those armies attack each other to the soaring tunes of Mozart’s overture. At the end of this battle Tamino finds himself disoriented on the devastated battlefield. From here on The Magic Flute takes its course.

Kenneth Branagh accompanies the opera with dazzling visuals. He chooses a visual style that keeps reminding that the action is taking place in a heightened reality. This is a logical continuation of Branagh‘s visual work on Love’s Labour’s Lost, where the images were modeled on the pictures of the French artist Fragonard, and As You Like It where Branagh invoked the forrest of Arden with the same approach. Now, in the realm of opera Branagh pulls all the stops. And it works beautifully. “The Magic Flute”? shows Mozart’s “Die Zauberflöte”? in the highly personal images of Kenneth Branagh.

The novelist, actor, director, show master, blogger, twitterer, podcaster and wearer of many other hats Stephen Fry wrote the english libretto for “The Magic Flute”?, and unfortunately here the troubles of the film start. Unfortunately because I greatly admire Fry’s work, especially his movie Bright Young Things, which to me is one of the great movies set in the early 20th century. Fry’s libretto reminds in word choice and mannerisms of the great operettas by Gilbert and Sullivan. At times it feels like one is watching a „Gilbert and Sullivan Go to War“ matinee. While this works for the Papageno scenes it seems quite out of place in the Sarastro scenes. To me in those scenes the movie looses track and its makers consciously seem to choose to ignore the nature of their source material.

Sarastro, in the original libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder, is a high priest. He forces Tamino to undergo three trials to be accepted in Sarastro‘s pseudo-egyptian-free-mason-style cult. Those trials are important because they show Tamino’s spiritual development. He moves away from a worldly frame of mind, as represented by the Queen of the Night towards an enlightened state of spirituality, as represented by Sarastro. Branagh and Fry completely secularize Sarastro. Instead of a high priest, he is a healer and head of an army. His scenes do not take place in a temple of wisdom, but in a Walt Disney version of Cinderella’s castle. Sarastro’s high priests are army officers and the important aria “Marsch der Priester, O Isis und Osiris”? changes completely in character. Instead of invoking the spirit of these ancient egyptian gods in his temple of wisdom, Sarastro stands in a cemetery in front of a multicultural wall of death and sings about the wisdom of his forefathers.

The admittedly highly convoluted and ambiguous spirituality of Mozart’s opera is completely ignored and substituted by a cheap and easy brand of internationalism. Branagh and Fry try to take the easy way out. Instead of confronting the more difficult and possibly controversial side of their material they settle for a candy-store version of Schikaneder’s libretto. This is especially unfortunate because the complete second half of the opera hinges on those spiritual questions. Tamino’s trials loose every meaning if they are not understood as part of a spiritual test of his character. The way Branagh and Fry choose to play it in their version makes those tests part of an ultimately unconvincing quest for a ceasefire between the armies. If you play it like that Tamino‘s toils make little to no sense. While “Die Zauberflöte”? remains highly ambiguous on who is right and who is wrong, on who is good and who is evil, “The Magic Flute”? leaves not doubt: The Queen of the Night is an evil warmonger while the healer Sarastro is a good and caring pacifist, who is forced to fight a war against his will.

While I liked the audacity of the undertaking, bringing Mozart’s opera in Branagh’s dazzling visuals on the screen, in “The Magic Flute”? I missed those elements that in my eyes make “Die Zauberflöte”? such a great work of art. Now it is definitely time to check out Ingmar Bergman‘s production of “Die Zauberflöte”? of 1974. Let‘s see how he deals in his Trollföjten with the same material.

Fragments for 2008-11-19

  • The third series of The Arden Shakespeare is a great piece of editing. One of the few commentaries I know which improves the actual reading. #

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