Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Tag: Art

A Judge Judy Think Piece

The internet is often full of aesthetic think pieces. It’s easy to write them–you identify some show or artist that’s captured the attention and the artistic sensibility of your readers, and you make some vague connection between the themes of that art and some current issue. On prestige websites, you can often find writers pumping out think pieces about prestige programs. Often it’s some big critical hit on HBO like Game of Thrones, or an edgy Netflix original series like House of Cards. These are thought to be the important shows, because they’re the shows our social, cultural, and political elite enjoy. Think pieces get lots of clicks, because they make us feel that the stuff we’re watching, reading, or listening to really matters. But do they matter? The most popular Game of Thrones episode was watched by about 8.9 million people. A new season of House of Cards gets seen by about 5 million. Meanwhile, every week, like clockwork, 10 million people watch Judge Judy.

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Fun.gov: How to Make Art Free without Starving the Artists

A few weeks back, pop star Taylor Swift pulled her songs off of Spotify on the grounds that free streaming services don’t compensate artists sufficiently for the value of their social contribution. You know who Taylor Swift is, right? If not, here’s a picture of her to help you out (and get more people to click on links to this piece–for some reason, people really like photos of young female celebrities):

Swift’s argument makes some sense–art certainly adds value to our lives and contributes to our society, and we can’t have art if we’re not willing to pay our artists. The trouble is that these days it’s very easy for people to avoid paying for art over the internet, and there’s no practical means by which laws would be enforced to ensure payment. Going forward, this is going to get exponentially worse, until the entertainment industry is left with a fraction of what it brings in today. Additionally, the age of streaming and downloading introduced a new principle that appeals to many young people–that all citizens, regardless of income, should be able to enjoy art equally in a free society. These two principles conflict. How can artists get paid for their art if their art belongs to society and individual consumers have the means to access the content for free with impunity? I’ve found a way to do it. I call it “Fun.gov”. If you’re a small government type, it’s going to rub you the wrong way at first, but hear me out. This could work.

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Leave Thomas the Tank Engine Alone

A recent article on The Guardian‘s website by one Tracy Van Slyke has stirred up controversy among parents and culture critics as to whether or not Thomas and Friends is a suitable television program for children. Van Slyke slates the show, claiming that it’s authoritarian, sexist, anti-environmentalist, and even racist. Van Slyke says that she is thankful her son “never went through a manic train fascination like so many other children.” I’m 22. I don’t have any children. But Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends  originally came out in the 1980s–unlike so many of the people writing about this show, I remember what it’s like to have “manic train fascination”. I still have the old episodes on VHS, I still have my wooden magnet trains, and once in a great long while, I even get them out and play with them. So here follows a defense of Thomas from someone who knows what it’s like to be a kid who loves Thomas and loves trains.

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Jafar: Agrabah’s Atatürk

Today I’d like to turn to an old theme–the tendency for Disney movies to disparage intellectual villains in favor of physical heroes and apologize for economic and social injustice. Previously, I wrote about how The Lion King, rightly interpreted, is really about Scar’s attempt to liberate the hyenas from a racist lion oligarchy. Today I’d like to do something similar with Aladdinreconstructing the plot so as to render Jafar the hero.

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Breaking Bad and Morality

Once in a while, I like to indulge my interest in fiction and apply political and moral concepts to the world that isn’t. Today, I’d like to have a look at Breaking Bad. Why Breaking Bad? As a fan, I from time to time enjoy perusing the vast amount that is written about the show online. What sticks out to me is that the very same characters can be considered sympathetic, even heroic, by some viewers, while simultaneously receiving scorn and vilification from others–an unusual phenomenon in television. I also find that the justifications reviewers and viewers use for the various sympathies they hold are muddled. So today I’d like to dissect the show and its characters a little, to come to clearer conclusions about which moral principles are in play. Of course, this will entail extensive plot spoilers, so neophyte viewers should steer clear of this piece.

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