Sep 8, 2017

Weekend Reads: Japan Needs Ninjas, DuckTales & Family, Google’s Evil(?), Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker & more

Also: Netflix and Facebook know a lot about you, revisiting U2’s POP, finding God in the eclipse, Trump’s effect on American Christianity, and nostalgic web design.

Ninja
A rare and precious breed, indeed

We are truly living in dire days. Case in point: Japan has a ninja shortage in light of the upcoming 2020 Olympics. “Since these are stunt performers, one of the biggest issues causing the ninja shortage isn’t a lack of training, but, according to the Nippon Television segment, the actors’ salary. It’s reportedly hard to make a living only doing ninja shows.”

Even Christianity Today is singing the praises of the recent DuckTales reboot. “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. In a small, silly, cartoonish way, the characters of DuckTales have already begun to show shadows of the ‘greater love’ that Jesus commends to his disciples. Manifestations of such a love are the real heart of the show, beyond clever bird puns or animation style — or even an amazing theme song.”

Defenders
Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, Daredevil & Luke Cage

With series like Defenders, Netflix is learning a lot about their audience. “The Defenders provides Netflix with a unique case study. Instead of merely allowing it to find out if someone who likes, say, House of Cards also will like Daredevil… it tells them which of the people who landed on Daredevil because of House of Cards will make the jump to The Defenders. Yellin’s wife enjoyed Jessica Jones because she likes female protagonists. Will that apply to a show where her beloved character is part of an ensemble?”

Like many, I tend to ignore/overlook U2’s Pop album. John Graeber challenges that behavior. “If The Joshua Tree is about marching confidently into a broken world with the boldness of one’s faith, POP is about that faith’s fragility amidst the noise, confusion, and chaos that come when you realize your ideology isn’t going to change the world. POP demands nuance in a world that provides none.”

Eclipse
A once-in-a-lifetime experience

The recent eclipse is a good reminder of that both nature and God ought to be feared (in a good way). “My Facebook feed is never short of Instagram photos by my believing friends of rainbows and sunsets and storm clouds and meadows. In one sense, this is as it should be. Yet these photos, while elegant, too often appear stylized, streamlined, safe. And no one who has meditated thoroughly on God’s creation… can be wholly comfortable with this kind of Instagram Nature. From storms to earthquakes to (you guessed it) eclipses, we can never quite look at the cosmos free from fear. And this too is as it should be.”

Trump is changing American Christianity, and not for the better. “For nearly half a century, evangelicals have sought to influence the direction of the country and its laws through politics. But Trump has forced them to embrace a pragmatism that could damage the gospel around the world, and force many Christians to rethink their religious identities and affiliations.”

Google
Is Google capable of not being evil?

Google’s motto is “Don’t be evil.” However, the search giant has certainly exercised their power in questionable ways. “Google started out as a company dedicated to ensuring the best access to information possible, but as it’s grown into one of the largest and most profitable companies in the world, its priorities have changed. Even as it fights against ordinary people who want their personal histories removed from the web, the company has an incentive to suppress information about itself.”

Facebook knows more about you and your family then you may ever know (and they’ll probably never tell you how or why). “Now, when I look at my friend recommendations, I’m unnerved not just by seeing the names of the people I know offline, but by all the seeming strangers on the list. How many of them are truly strangers, I wonder — and how many are connected to me in ways I’m unaware of. They are not people I know, but are they people I should know?”

Stalker - Andrei Tarkovsky
Traveling deeper into the Zone

Jeffrey Overstreet finds additional layers of resonance in Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker. “There is a lot going on in Stalker; you just have to engage, to ask questions about what’s happening. If a scene shows you some passengers on a train just watching the countryside pass by for several minutes, ask yourself about everything: the sound of the tracks rattling under the train, the strangely hypnotic quality of the rhythm, the reason why the camera is zooming so tightly on the characters’ heads instead of bringing the scenery into sharp focus. I frequently pushed the ‘Pause’ button this time, rewinding scenes so that I could pay attention to the specificity of the screenplay after finding myself distracted by the sound design and visual composition. It’s rare, that sense that a movie is so spacious that you can focus on new things every time.”

Nostalgia can affect people in powerful ways, even nostalgia in web design. “[T]hat feeling of ‘connectedness’ is what we should be striving for, and we can do this by telling stories through visual design and using imagery that visitors can relate to. While a superficial offer/discount might grab the user’s attention momentarily, digging deeper into the audience’s emotional core and establishing a more genuine, heartfelt connection is more effective overall.”

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