Tag Archives: criticism

Magic and Loss

Magic and Loss: The Internet as ArtMagic and Loss: The Internet as Art by Virginia Heffernan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I decided to read this after hearing the author on the Recode Media podcast and reading some of her shorter pieces in the Times over the years. There’s a lot to think about in Magic & Loss – I enjoyed the lucid language and often insightful commentary. The homage to the death of the telephone was wonderful, and the quick take on ‘science’ writing in the mainstream media was funny – but there were also a share of flimsy moments (did she really just try to summarize a billion photographs on Flickr by talking about the style of two users?) I found myself occasionally waiting for more substantive technical discussion (maybe I’m conditioned to expect it in any writing about the internet) but I guess the ‘internet as art’ premise doesn’t leave room for grubby engineering stuff. Unfortunately, the end of the book veered into esoteric academia. It’s impressive to see someone versed as equally in obscure Youtube clips as they are in Wittgenstein, but wrapping the book’s closing chapters in personal academic history (something about Tweeting to a physics professor?) left me feeling disconnected. I may eventually give this book another try, but next time I’ll go for the text (instead of the audiobook) so I can pause and follow up on the many arcane references.

on Netflix Instant Programming, vol. 1 – “Zeitgeist”

The amount of video available to watch instantly on the Netflix streaming service is impressive. Much of it is perfectly entertaining, some is very informative documentary filmmaking, and bits are awful and forgotten creations hanging off the cliff of relevancy.

In this first volume of reviewing what’s out there, I watched the Zeitgeist movie.

Zeitgeist was first mentioned to me in 2007 by a classmate. I thought it sounded interesting but didn’t bother watching until I noticed its availability on Netflix.


The first part of the movie discusses religion and I found it to be a generally objective and inoffensive report. ┬áDevout Christians are sure to take issue with the presentation of Jesus as a continuation in the “Sun God” myth, but as someone who has never strictly followed any religion, I didn’t immediately reject this suggestion.

When the film steers into 9/11 conspiracies in part two, however, my credulity evaporated. This isn’t because I have done my own research to discredit any of the analysis presented in the narrative. It’s because watching the film shift topics so dramatically gave me the sense that I was being “had.”

It’s fairly common for magicians to begin with a sleight of hand – a small, unrelated trick in the opening act to build credibility and disguise the efforts of a larger, harder to believe counterfeit to follow. Did you see me pull the bunny from the hat? Of course, now you’ll believe that I can chop this beautiful woman in half! Or, in the case of Zeitgeist: Did I get you to believe that Jesus is a myth? Great, now I’m going to explain how 9/11 was a hoax!

The cheap enactment of this regularly deployed tactic gave me little confidence in the claims made about the September 11 disaster – that a plane didn’t hit the Pentagon, that the WTC towers collapsed due to controlled demolition, and that the U.S. Government was privy to information that could have prevented human loss.

Some of the eyewitness accounts recorded by the media during the event do open up interpretations askance from the near universally accepted story that the towers collapsed due to heat damage from jet-fuel fires. Interviewees report hearing ground and basement level explosions before the crashes, and engineers claim they designed the buildings to sustain jetliner impact. However in part three, the film itself suggests these media reports can’t be trusted, as the narrator claims the mass media is simply a puppet of the ‘invisible government’.

As the film changes course again in part three, to uncover the hidden realities of the Federal Reserve system, I found my interest piqued but my frame of reference missing. Surely whatever ideas presented are concepts on the fringe of the mainstream, but I simply don’t know enough about economics and monetary policy to believe or disbelieve in the film’s thesis.

Like corroded pennies fallen into the bottom of my car’s cupholder, I guess some of the ideas in this film have value, but what are old dirty coins really worth, anyway?