Looking at the history of the future

It’s always fun to take a look back at what people in the past thought the future we are living in now would look like.

For example, here’s a segment CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite did in 1967 for a series he did called The 21st Century predicting what a home office might look like in 2001:

And here’s an article from the Pew Research Center on what experts in 1982 at the Institute for the Future think tank thought our information technology would look like in 1998.

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PewDiePie Rules YouTube

Felix Kjellberg is the most famous person on the planet you’ve never heard of.  At least if you are older than 40 and don’t have young people in the house.  Kjellberg is the first person in YouTube history to have more than 10 billion views.  Yes, that’s billion with a b.  He’s had more views than Psy with his K-pop Gangnam Style, more views than Justin Bieber, more views than Kanye and Kim.

Name not ringing a bell? Perhaps because he goes online by the handle PewDiePie.  He’s a twenty-something from Sweden who is known for his video game play-with-me videos that have him laughing, screaming, and cowering in fear during the scary parts of video games.

NOTE: NSFW language in video

Kjellberg started out as a student at a prestigious Swedish university, but he left school to sell hot dogs and make gaming videos.  Needless to say, his parents were not initially excited about his choice. What initially drew viewers was what Rolling Stone called his “legendary cowardice” displayed through “screaming, running and cursing at the first sign of danger” while playing through horror games.  Once he started attracting audiences that numbered in the tens of thousands, however, his parents relented and accepted that he might be onto something.

Where does his online name come from? Pew – that’s the sound laser guns make in video games (Pew, pew, pew!). Die – that’s what happens to you when you are hit by a laser blast going “pew, pew pew” in a video game. And Pie, because… well, I got nothing. (In case you didn’t already know – PewDiePie rhymes all the way through with “cutie pie.)

Caitlin Dewey, writing for the Washington Post, says that authenticity is what seems to set Kjellberg apart from other YouTube stars. “He comes across as 100-percent authentic. Watching a PewDiePie video is like listening to a friend; not a super witty or insightful friend, generally, but a friend who is consistently fun to hang out with.”

“YouTube breaks the barrier between the audience and the creator,” Kjellberg told the entertainment industry journal Variety. “They feel a connection to the one they’re watching.” Fridays with PewDiePie videos are full of antics and game plays that are requested by fans – much as radio stations used to take requests.  His fans are known as the Bros and his signoff is the display of the brofist.

In addition to being a YouTube sensation, Kjellberg is a popular guest on conventional TV, having played video games with Conan O’Brien and chatted with the Late Show’s Stephen Colbert. Unlike some other TV hosts, Colbert recognizes the importance of YouTube stars, joking during the interview “I want to thank the internet for allowing their emperor to be here for the evening.”  Kjellberg has also authored the bestselling This Book Loves You, a collection of parodies of inspirational quotes.

While Kjellberg has been mocked by critics, he says he’s clearly doing something people like.  “It seems silly,” Kjellberg tells Rolling Stone. “Your job is to play games? You make money from that? It’s ridiculous. But the more you know about it, and the more you get to know me, the more you understand that it’s actually a hard thing to do, and not a lot of people would be able to do it.” Kjellberg reportedly earned $12 million in 2015.

People watching other people play video games is one of the fastest growing trends in media use. According to a 2015 study, approximately 30 percent of American adults sometimes or frequently watch videos or live streams of video game content.  Back in 2014, thousands of people would watch a fish named Grayson “play” Pokemon, triggering actions by swimming through different sections of his tank.  At the same time, Amazon paid almost $1 billion to buy video game video streaming service Twitch.  While Twitch gets referred to as “gamer’s ESPN,” it might actually be the other way around – because Twitch attracts a far bigger audience than ESPN – As many as 100 million viewers per month watching an average of more than 90 minutes of gameplay per day.  Twitch’s web site attracts viewership approaching that of Google, Netflix, Google and Apple.

Kjellberg now is creating a multichannel YouTube network in association with Disney’s Maker Studios. PewDiePie will be pooling efforts with a number of other social media stars including CutiePieMarzia, Kwebbelkp, and EmmaBlackery. In addition to creating content and drawing in advertising, the new network, Revelmode, will also work at rasing money for social causes such as Save the Children and Charity: Water. AdWeek has compared Kjellberg with radio shock jock Howard Stern, who created his own satellite radio networks after he left doing a popular broadcast radio.

It can be difficult figuring out how YouTube fits in with broadcast, satellite/cable, and the streaming services when it comes to video programing, but the Television Academy, which hands out the Emmy Awards, has now created several classes of awards for short form videos, like those PewDiePie produces.  To be eligible, the series needs to have at least six episodes that average under 15 minutes each. Previously, short-form online videos were eligible for fan-voted Webby or Streamy awards.

“These category changes reflect the boarder opportunities that emerging networks and distribution platforms, such as Maker Studios, Fullscreen, Crackle, AwesomenessTV, YouTube Red, Adult Swim and others, are seizing in choosing innovative formats that  enable our television community to share stories in novel and entertaining ways,” said TV Academy chairman and CEO Bruce Rosenblum.

Creators like PewDiePie are a central part of a rapidly changing media world.  He connects directly with his fans through social media, he sends out most of his programming through new channels like YouTube but still uses legacy media like television and books, and he connects on a global level. PewDiePie started as an independent video performer and he now works with one of the biggest media corporations in the world.

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Smart Analysis on Brussels Attacks from Joshua Hersh

We’ve had round the clock news about the bombings in Brussels over the last few days, but some of the sharpest reporting I’ve seen has come from freelancer Joshua Hersh’s Twitter feed.  I’m to post several of his tweets from earlier this week.  Strongly urge you to follow what he’s been writing.

Here’s the story he wrote in December of 2015 about the problem of terrorism in Belgium.

(And for those of you wondering – yes, Joshua is the son of award-winning journalists Seymour Hersh, but he’s a great journalist in his own right.)


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Everyone’s Gone to the Bollywood Movies

NOTE: I wanted to update some of my Bollywood materials and examples, so here is a fresh post with some old and some new material.

I generally show the following clip from Bollywood musical Mohabbatein in class as a way to get across the idea of what the masala or “spice” movies are like. (Though you don’t really need them, you can turn on English subtitles if you like.)

The masala movies feature several musical numbers, a strong male hero, a coy heroine, and an obvious villain. The movies have as many as ten separate storylines—in contrast to American movies, which typically tell one or two stories.

One reason for the musical numbers in Indian films is that they help break through language barriers. India alone has more than twenty-five languages. Anupam Sharma, who works in the Indian movie industry, says that Bollywood movies touch people throughout the world: “Because of the distances and different dialects in India, music is the universal language.”

When it comes to romance and sex, Bollywood films tend to be far more conservative than American films. “India is still clinging on to its social values, which explains Bollywood’s success everywhere but in America,” said Priya Joshi, an Indian cinema scholar. “Bollywood films don’t have any kissing in them or tend not to. Warner Bros. used to make movies like this in the past. . . . If it’s ready to return to its roots, then it’s ready for Bollywood.”

Bollywood films have had a big influence on American films (and Western films in general).  You can see this through a wide range of examples – I’ll give you just a few:

Scott Pilgrim v. the World – The battle with the first evil ex.

Moulin Rouge – Silly Love Songs

(Moulin Rouge is essentially a Bollywood movie made in the West with Western stars)

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

(MI:GP features Bollywood star Anil Kapoor)

Slumdog Millionaire

And then there is Slumdog Millionaire, which is British director Danny Boyle’s tribute to Bollywood that closes with a  large scale dance number.

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The Original Cat Video … from 1894!

You all no doubt think you are of the “cat video” generation. You think your generation invented the short video of cute cats doing cute things. But you are wrong!

Thomas Edison’s studios shot the first cat video back in 1894! I present to you… Boxing Cats!


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Of News, News Sites, and Chicken Sandwiches

Daily Wire Headline

Updated 2/24/16, 9:05 a.m.

There’s been a bit of a hullabaloo on the University of Nebraska at Kearney campus for the last week or so over what restaurants students would like to see come to the student union.  There was a student poll that included  Chick-fil-A in the list of choices.  After the survey found that lots of students like the company’s chicken sandwiches, the university was reminded that Chick-fil-A’s ownership has not always been particularly friendly to the LGBT community. (Not the restaurants themselves – just ownership.) So a second survey was done, this time with the chicken-choice being the newer chain Raising Cane’s. Not surprisingly, this choice was also popular. Contrary to claims that have been made in stories from a variety of web sites, the university has yet to make a decision about which restaurant to invite to come to campus.

So that brings us the topic at hand.

Stories that claim to be about UNK “banning” Chick-Fil-A from campus have been posted to several web sites. These stories then get shared all over social media.  And so the story has gone national, a university PR person has been mocked as a “spokes-dude,” and lots of people from around the country who have never been to Kearney have weighed in on the “scandal.”

The story first broke on The Daily Wire, a conservative news site operated by Ben Shapiro, who is a writer/editor for conservative news site Breitbart.com.  Under a headline of “Chick-Fil-A Banned From The University of Nebraska Because CEO Supports Traditional Marriage”, the story then spread across Facebook and Twitter.  The Daily Wire’s stated goal is to “unmask leftists in the media for who they are, destroy their credibility with the American public, and devastate their funding bases.

A second story appeared a day or two later on FoxNews.com as an opinion piece by commentator Todd Starnes. In the middle of the story is a promo calling readers to “Click Here to join Todd’s American Dispatch – a must-read for Conservative Patriots!”  This is the story that refers to UNK’s PR professional as a “spokes-dude.”

Todd Starne’s article links to another one at Campus Reform that carries the headline “UNK refuses to bring Chick-fil-A to campus over CEO’s marriage views.” Campus Reform gives as its mission: “As a watchdog to the nation’s higher education system, Campus Reform exposes bias and abuse on the nation’s college campuses.

Campus Reform is a web site run by The Leadership Institute, which has as its mission: “The Leadership Institute’s mission is to increase the number and effectiveness of conservative activists and leaders in the public policy process.”

So where are we seeing this story play out? Of course there are stories in the local paper, The Kearney Hub. Stories that are accurate and give a fair look at what’s actually happening. There’s a mocking opinion piece on FoxNews.com that is more concerned with making a point about conservative chicken sandwiches than giving an understanding of the facts.  And there are stories about the controversy on activist web sites that have the goal of advancing a conservative agenda.

In closing, here are a few tweets from local reporter Josh Moody who has done a good job of accurately reporting the conflict:





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Questions Worth Asking (Maybe)

And finally…

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The Good News and Bad News on Student News Consumption

Student news sources

I asked my media literacy students this morning where they go for news.  And the results look pretty good to me.  Lots of local TV news and local newspapers. A number of them watch the Today Show (who knew the kids were watching legacy media?).   And a predictable number get there news through Facebook – but their Facebook feeds generally include a number of respected news providers.

So that’s the good news.

The bad news?

I asked how many of them had paid attention to the news yesterday? (A standard kind of question for getting at real, rather than ideal, behavior.)

Their response?

4 out of 23 students raised their hands.

Not particularly surprising/alarming of college students approaching mid-term time, but it does raise an important issue – regardless of where you go for the news, you have to pay attention to it before the source matters.

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Go See Coen Bros. Movie “Hail, Caesar”!

Went to see Hail, Caeser! the latest movie from the Coen Brothers last night.

Here’s my take on it:

  • It is a wack job of a movie.  But I mean that in a good way.  There is almost no way to summarize what it is except for perhaps Woody Allen and Mel Brooks have a love child.
  • It references a huge number of old movies, many of which I’m sure I didn’t catch.  But here several that I noticed being referenced:
    • Singing in the Rain
    • Sunset Boulevard
    • Ben Hur
    • The Front
    • Any of a number of Esther Williams films.
    • On The Town
    • The Bad and the Beautiful
    • Iron Man 3 (Yes, this is a relatively current movie, but the house overlooking the ocean is a dead ringer for Tony Stark’s house.)
    • Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (Not really, but Dead Men quotes actual footage from a large number of vintage black and white movies.)

If you love vintage movies and wacky comedies, you need to see this.  And see it in a theater. Don’t wait for the video.  Go ahead – Deadpool will wait.

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Fastnachts for Shrove Tuesday

Today is the day before Ash Wednesday, which means that if you are in New Orleans or similar parts, you will be celebrating Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras implies many things, including those we won’t talk go into detail about here. But you can get a somewhat sanitized peek here from the New Orleans Times-Picayune

But if you live up in Pennsylvania Dutch country (which is of course referring to the Pennsylvania Deutche or Germans), you will be celebrating Shrove Tuesday with fastnachts.  What are fastnachts you may ask? An uniformed person will tell you they are donuts.  A fanatic might refer to them as “little bites of heaven fried in lard.”  But mostly they are a tasty treat before things get serious with Lent.

Fastnachts from St. James Lutheran ChurchMy friend Matthew Riegel used to fry them on the steps of the Lutheran Student Center at West Virginia University, till the challenges of cold weather drove him inside to cook them in the chapel’s basement.  But now that he is a bishop, he is visiting St. James Lutheran Church in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for his annual fix.

My friend novelist Holly Jacobs lives in near Lake Erie in Pennsylvania, and I really regret I’m not in her delivery area to receive a box of her triangular goodies!

Fastnachts from Holly Jacobs

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