Amazon’s Literary Machine

Back in 2011, there was one tech news story I was completely enthralled by. In August of that year, a law firm filed an anti-trust lawsuit against Apple, alleging that they conspired with four of the Big Five book publishers against Amazon and their Kindle Marketplace because Kindle ebooks were too cheap at $9.99 for new releases. After the unveiling of the iPad and Apple’s iBooks platform in 2010, many balked at Apple’s $14.99 price point compared to Amazon’s ebook pricing, believing that no one would actually buy ebooks for the iPad at a higher markup. Unbeknownst to anyone, Steve Jobs was actively communicating with the Big Five publishers, advising them to threaten to pull their books from the Kindle unless Amazon hiked the price up to Apple’s price point. To a younger version of myself, the conflict was enthralling because it was a concrete, real-life example of how industries actively colluded in order to extract more profit from consumers, and it served as a stepping stone in my own developing economic and political consciousness. I was rooting for Amazon, because I felt they were the little guys who just wanted to bring affordable reading to the masses, and the mean old publishers who couldn’t adjust to changing consumption habits were bullies. I couldn’t have been more wrong.Read More »

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Rebooting Empire: Unpacking the Baggage of “Tomb Raider”

During the first gameplay trailer for Shadow of the Tomb Raider, the latest installment in the rebooted Tomb Raider franchise, the swashbuckling exploration and globe-trekking the series has been synonymous with is left on the shelf in favor of a darker, more mature tone. In the trailer, various characters place a lot of blame on Lara Croft, our archaeological protagonist, for unleashing a ‘cleansing’ in Central America when she takes a Mayan artifact from its resting place to protect it from more nefarious looters. When I initially saw this trailer, I was somewhat impressed this was the narrative they were going to adopt, one where the inherently imperialistic goals of a “tomb raider” are questioned and criticized, a narrative that would hopefully complicate Lara’s profession and provide some personal growth to the character. Unfortunately, based on some newer marketing materials, some of the core criticisms of the Tomb Raider character can still be made, leading me to be wary of the team’s ability to tell the story they presented in their initial pitch. Given the release of this new game in a couple of weeks, and the fact that the Tomb Raider reboot turns five years old, I decided to revisit 2013’s Tomb Raider (via the Playstation 4’s Definitive Edition re-release) in order to analyze how the rebooted series contends with the imperialist baggage of the original games.Read More »

Just What You Needed: More Unsolicited Podcast Recommendations

I cannot wait until 20 years from now, when sociologists will have a clear idea of what social conditions produced the boom of podcasts we are currently subjected to. Is it because of the continued use of unproductive office environments and work schedules? Is it because of commutes that stretch out into infinity? Can we blame Marc Maron for this somehow? No matter the cause, podcasts as a medium are approaching a critical mass, which means there’s a lot of great content out there… amongst the infinitely more numerous average-to-terrible shows. As someone who listens to a lot of podcasts (I wash a lot of dishes okay?), I have come bearing pre-separated wheat that I picked from the auditory chaff.Read More »

The Promise of Freire for Practical Teachers

In America, the varied interests steering the craft of public education can make teachers feel like they are threading the needle. On the one hand, teachers are responsible to teach a state-prescribed (or in the case of Common Core, federally issued) curriculum with a lot of necessary skills and information required to make students college-ready by the time they leave high school. On the other hand, education has a truly liberatory potential that will give students the perspective to materially alter their living conditions for the better, if the skills of critical thinking and reflection are given time to blossom and grow. For an already overworked profession, teachers can struggle to find the space for this latter goal of education when the former takes up so much space through sheer quantity of content and the high stakes attached to their assessment. So, for teachers, they need to find practical methods to teach essential critical thinking skills, without occupying too much space in lesson plans otherwise devoted to mandated content knowledge. Thankfully, the rich tradition of radical education can provide us with insight in order to make space for the education that will give children the chance to shape and mold the world for the better.Read More »

The Case for Book Juggling

‘Book people’ are very particular about their reading habits. This shouldn’t come as a surprise considering how ‘people who read’ are a widely varied segment of the population, but the stereotypical depiction of a bookish person offers up voracious readers who can read an entire tome in one sitting, or someone who has a very regimented backlog of books to read. These people exist, but I think the predominant trait that exists in ‘book people’ is a very superstitious belief in their own habits and traditions surrounding reading, rather than a cartoonish commitment to order. People who read a lot can have their special scrap of paper they use as a bookmark, their special backlog stack sitting on the floor of their room, method of marking passages they like, or other ritual associated with the act of reading that can border on the absurd to an outside observer (or completely blasphemous to a fellow ‘book person’). Because of this culture of superstition in the bookish realm, I wanted to outline a particular reading habit I have practiced for the past couple of years, in order to give other ‘book people’ more insight into their own reading rituals and different perspective on the act of reading.Read More »

Heartaches by the Number: Fallout’s Future Post-New Vegas

In a long interview with the Guardian about the future of Bethesda, executive producer and subject of various memes Todd Howard recently reflected on one of the publisher’s most acclaimed products: Fallout: New Vegas. The game remains as the only mainline Fallout entry that has not been developed by Bethesda Game Studios since they bought the series’ license from Interplay in 2007, with development being helmed by Obsidian Entertainment, the studio founded by former members of Black Isle Studios, the original developer of Fallout 2. The game was widely acclaimed at release for taking Bethesda’s (buggy) open-world technology and combining it with the writing talent and attention to detail that made the worlds of the original games so compelling. When asked about the possibility of a similar kind of collaboration with their intellectual property, where an external developer uses their tools and worlds to make spin-off games, Howard shot the idea down definitively, citing the fact that “our company is so big, it’s always better to keep stuff internal.” He delivers some praise for the game (“I thought the Obsidian guys did a fabulous job”), but to many, Howard is confirming that Fallout’s deteriorating canon will be firmly in the grasp of Bethesda’s writers, a fact that will never stop bumming out some of Fallout’s most dedicated fans.Read More »

Stream Or Die Dude: Netflix’s Biggest Confrontation Yet

At the beginning of this fiscal year, Netflix announced that they were looking to release about 700 original series on their platform in 2018, an undertaking projected to cost over $8 billion. While a lot of these “Netflix Original Series” are continuations of their existing shows (like Bojack Horseman) or the acquisition of the exclusive rights to ‘air’ foreign shows in the United States (like Kantaro: The Sweet Tooth Salaryman or Babylon Berlin), the 700 number is no less impressive or intimidating to the average streaming scroller. The sheer number of available choices for streaming serialized entertainment is something that was unimaginable in the era of DVD boxsets, when the analysis of television as an art form exploded, forming our current critical landscape. We live in an era of choices, options, and filled niches, but why does this supposed renaissance feel so shaky in spite of its meteoric growth?Read More »