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Who Should be the next Doctor?
In one of the all too rare lighter moments of the last few weeks, I had great fun chatting with Cassie McCullagh and Jason Di Rosso on Radio National’s The List programme about who should replace Matt Smith now that it’s been announced he’ll be leaving Doctor Who during this year’s Christmas special.
In the short 5 minute segment we weigh the possibility of a female Doctor, discuss the increasing US obsession with Doctor Who and finally I reveal my controversial choice for favourite Doctor (you’ll have to listen if you if you want to find out Who!).
The programme airs on Radio National Australia at 5.30 Friday, 7 June or you can listen online here.
National Teaching Award!
At an amazing ceremony and dinner at the National Gallery in Canberra tonight I was surprised, flattered and delighted to receive an Australian Award for University Teaching in the Humanities and Arts. This is a huge honour, and I’m extremely grateful to have my approaches to learning and teaching acknowledged in this manner. That said, I’m incredibly conscious that no one teaches in a vacuum, and in Internet Communications I am but one cog in a very complex and well-maintained machine, so this award is at least as much testimony to all of our team at Curtin University as it is to me.
Most importantly, though, I wanted to publicly thank the students who offered their thoughts and feedback about my teaching. We live in an era where students get asked to fill in an awfully large number of feedback forms, surveys and evaluations, so adding even one more thing to that pile is a big ask. So, THANK YOU to all of my students, current and past, whose kind words led to this award.
I’d also like to think that this award is a reminder that despite the huge media attention being paid to MOOCs and so forth, quality online education has been available and refined over more than a decade, and our Internet Communications program is one such example. I truly hope that as this next generation of online learning matures, close attention will be paid to successful examples already available! Successful learning and teaching is, after all, built on understanding the successes and failures of the past.
And then there were four …
Em and I are delighted to share the news of the birth of our son, and Henry’s little brother, Thomas Frederick who arrived in the world last week. After a somewhat dramatic entrance into the world, both Em and Tom are doing well, and Henry seems fascinated by his very cute but very small little brother. Em and I are, as you might imagine, besotted.
Needless to say, blogging and anything not family related will be somewhere between slow and non-existent for some time. I’m not back at work until late January, so I apologize in advance for any communication delays. I’m going to be enjoying some time just being a dad and a husband!
[This photograph is © All rights reserved, and is an exception to the Creative Commons license otherwise covering this blog.]
Performing Animals: Synthespians, Primates and Cinematic Sympathy
Having let this blog become more link digests than anything else, I promised myself I’d write a bit more about my research activities, so with that in mind, I’m looking down a new research path and thought I’d share my very first thoughts. As usual, it has taken a deadline to galvanise any writing, but the Call for Papers for the Green Planets: Ecology and Science Fiction sounded enticing so, below is the chapter abstract I submitted today. (There’s no guarentee it’ll be accepted, of course, but this chapter will get written one way or another as it has definitely fired my imagination). Feedback or thoughts are welcome, of course!
Performing Animals: Synthespians, Primates and Cinematic Sympathy
Virtual actors, or synthespians (‘synthetic thespians’), simultaneously expand what ‘acting’ actually entails whilst also asking film viewers to sympathise with often non-human entities in contexts which strive for verisimilitude. Initial industry responses to synthespians centred on fears that unpaid virtual actors could replace human beings but Dan North argues that rather than making actors superfluous, synthespians actually illustrate ‘an interdependence between the human and the machine, the digital and the analogue, the real and the simulated’ (2008, p. 183). The performance capture technologies behind synthespians facilitate a complex symbiosis between the visceral, physical performance of actors and the informatic and computational artistry of cutting edge digital media. While scholarly attention has been paid to virtual actors portraying fictional creatures or aliens – such as Jar Jar Binks in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999), Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001, 2002, 2003) or the Na’vi in Avatar (2009) – this chapter instead examines synthespians who are performing (as) animals.
Focusing on Kong from Peter Jackson’s King Kong (2005) and Caesar from Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), both of whom are performed by actor Andy Serkis and the special effects team at WETA Digital, this chapter will argue that primate synthespians complicate and challenge the boundaries between people and animals, between natural and technological, and between the computational and ecological (amongst others). To provide historical and cultural context, I will draw on antecedents from the Kong and Planet of the Apes franchises as well as contemporary texts, such as the documentary Project Nim (2011) which details a 1970s experiment scrutinising the nature/nurture divide in which a chimpanzee was raised as a human child. The strong critical and commercial success of Rise of the Planet of the Apes suggests audiences can readily sympathise with a primate protagonist, while Barbara Creed has similarly argued that Jackson’s Kong is ‘a screen animal who holds our sympathies throughout the film’ (2009, p. 191). Indeed, recognising its role in promoting animal rights, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has actually given Rise of the Planet of the Apes their official approval. Ultimately, this chapter will explore the way these films generate sympathetic digital primates, the inherent contradictions in provoking sympathy by replacing animals with actors performing animals, and how these films and audience reactions may serve as a focal point for broader consideration of the relationships between people, primates, nature and technology.
Creed, B. (2009). Darwin’s Screens: Evolutionary Aesthetics, Time and Sexual Display in the Cinema. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.
North, D. (2008). Performing Illusions: Cinema, Special Effects and the Virtual Actor. London & New York: Wallflower Press.
[Image Source: The Hollywood Reporter]
Lego: Dads don’t play with toddlers?
Let me start be saying I love Lego and our 2-year old loves his Duplo (the bigger Lego blocks aimed at toddlers). I was excited to hear Lego had created and released an online Duplo space, with games and interactions. Sounds like a perfect safe space to share with Mr2. However, I was incredibly disappointed when I turned up, only to discover that someone at Lego seems to have entirely forgotten that Dad’s exist …
“Hello Moms!” really? This is very disappointing for a dad. And for equality in general.
Lego, please lift your game: I want to be able to enjoy this space with my son, and enjoying many, many hours of Lego and Duplo together.
Please donate: http://www.redcross.org.nz/
The Pangalactic Interwebs Podcast
After minimal deliberation and driven entirely by our own folly, my colleague Helen Merrick and I have started a new podcast that we’re rather geekily calling The Pangalactic Interwebs. We’re trying to mix a few thoughts about online culture with some other thoughts and opinions about science fiction and pretty much anything else that takes our fancy. We’re cautiously calling our schedule irregular, but we’re hoping to do a new podcast every two or three weeks. The first episode of the Pangalactic Interwebs has just been posted, so if you’re interested, please have a listen. If you like what you hear, please consider subscribing!
[Image by Colleen AF Venable; CC BY SA]