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Saturday, August 20, 2011

This Week's Media Highlights

Music
Neil Byrne - a very sexy Irish singer, now one of the singers in Celtic Thunder. He's been involved with Celtic Thunder already as a musician and back-vocals, and obviously plays several instruments very well. His 4-track debut album, Sensitive Souls, was released in 2010, and he has been busily making more music since then. I do wish his debut album had been longer. His music videos for "Sadie Jones and I" and at least one other song are available on youtube and elsewhere and are well worth watching. "Sadie Jones and I" and the song on this video recorded with Declan O'Donoghue are both quite catchy and addictive.

Film
Now that Netflix has it available streaming, I finally got my sister to watch The Secret of Moonacre. This is a fantasy film, starring Ioan Gryffydd as the uncle and new guardian of a newly orphaned girl. Unicorns, magical curses, and a family feud set the stage for the girl's quest to save the valley of Moonacre. It is family-friendly, and has plenty of moralizing, about pride and forgiveness, greed, and respecting the gifts of nature, but these morals are couched tolerably well in a beautifully rendered fairy story. The good guys aren't all good, the bad guys aren't all bad, and the orphaned fairy princess is not a helpless damsel-in-distress. Add in Ioan Gryffydd and this is definitely a great fantasy film.

Books
Language in the British Isles, edited by David Britain. This book is great fun for any anglophile with a penchant for British accents. I'm sure there are other books out there that lay out British accents in systematic form, but this book is actually readable and enjoyable without a linguistics degree. I doubt I could reproduce a thick Scottish brogue just from reading a book, but armed with a book like this I might at least know what to listen for to be less inaccurate with my own phony accents.

Cyber Chiefs: Autonomy and Authority in Online Tribes, by Mathieu O'Neil. Any book about the Internet is bound to be a bit outdated after 2 years, and this one is no exception, but while it might need updating soon, the basic arguments are pretty sound. This author is looking at the patterns of authority and power within online groups, and uses several case studies including wikipedia. He examines different forms of authority that occur online, and the interactions between offline and online authority, along with the extent to which decentralized authority works out. After one read-through I am not exactly convinced of any of his particular arguments- much of what he says seems pretty commonplace, for one thing, and maybe an author who grew up with Internet would come up with different, more sophisticated analysis in some places. Still, understanding how people interact in virtual spaces might shed some more light on human nature in general, and this book is a good starting place for thinking about some of the issues in this area.
Link

Friday, August 5, 2011

obsession and the lonely planet

My sister would attest that I am obsessed about Celtic Thunder and its current and former members, and for what she sees of me she is fully justified in her estimation.
I don't consider myself obsessed, though. I would love it if the people I hang out with in my own town were musicians performing Celtic music and covers along the styles of the Celtic Thunder singers, or singing in a more classical style along the lines of Josh Groban and Rhydian Roberts. Indeed, to the extent that the people I know are musicians and performing stuff I like, I am happy to be a local fan. Unfortunately no one I know actually performs in the styles that dominate my CD collection. And, I am not content with just listening to complete strangers singing, if my friends aren't able or inclined to sing to my specifications. I need to feel as if I at least somewhat know the people whose voices fill in the silent gaps in my days.

All this, I think, represents part of why it is increasingly necessary for singers to have a web presence, with facebook statuses they actually write themselves, and photos, videos or whatever else might help to create a virtual image of these people for complete strangers. It is not just a matter of providing fodder for the helplessly obsessed, though all my favorite artists have plenty of these fans. In a world where our longest conversations most days are with the people who sell us our cups of coffee or take our Taco Bell orders, we need some way to reconnect with people in meaningful ways. I consider the folks at my Taco Bell to be my friends, sort of, but if they switch jobs I am unlikely to ever see them again. I don't know their names, and I am sure most of them don't know mine. Granted, Josh Groban, Rhydian Roberts, Paul Byrom, Keith Harkin, etc., do not know my name and know absolutely nothing about me, but at least I know something substantial about these people.

It is certainly a one-sided relationship, but then again some of my romances have been almost as one sided by the time they ended. I know Josh Groban's dog's name, and have seen the pictures he posted of his dog, his residence, etc. But, I am certainly not a 'Grobanite', just someone who can sing along to all the songs on his albums, at least the ones in English. I know how old Rhydian is, and what he did professionally before he got onto X-Factor, and I rather enjoy listening to him singing in Welsh, which means I watch a lot of him on youTube, including his rare video blogs. I've seen a lot of solo videos from the Celtic Thunder guys, as well- Paul, Keith, Ryan and Neil- and know all sorts of random trivia about all the guys in that group. But, I am no groupie, and never could be. All of the guys I've mentioned are quite attractive, a fact I appreciate, but I can never lose sight of the fact that to them I am a complete stranger. But all this extra knowledge about these men coalesces in my mind into some semblance of real people I could interact with. They are far more real in that sense than the images I have of many of my facebook friends, even though at some point I have actually interacted with all of my facebook friends in person.

The real question I have is to what extent such virtual, one-sided interactions are replacing real in-person interactions. Given the prevalence of blogs, twitter, facebook, texting, etc., do people still hang out and talk with friends frequently? Are those conversations we do have meaningful? Do the people we barely know, who read our blogs or follow our tweets, know more about who we really are than the folks we see face-to-face? Is virtual communication an addition to the social lives we and previous generations enjoyed, or is the virtual world replacing all or part of our real lives?