Erik Owomoyela

I write.

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What makes a good monument

Nashville's Parthenon. Photo by Ryan Kaldari, via Wikipedia.

So in 1897, the city of Nashville got a full-scale replica of the Parthenon, because apparently this silly business of every American city calling itself the Athens of Wherever really went to their heads. I’m torn between thinking this is one of those ridiculous things Americans do to affirm a piece of European cultural heritage, like shipping castles across the Atlantic, and thinking it’s actually a really cool idea.

I got to thinking about this as I read a BBC story about the Bamiyan Buddhas, which the Taliban destroyed in 2001 just in case anybody thought they weren’t fanatical enough. Now that the international community has access to the site, there’s a debate about whether to attempt to restore at least one of the figures. And it’s one of those issues that seems to get more complicated the more I think about it.


Sometimes, remakes are good

I’m not sure why people are so fixated on whether The Amazing Spider-Man needed to be made. Alyssa Rosenberg, for instance, begins a terrifically insightful review by declaring, “The only people The Amazing Spider-Man is remotely necessary to is Columbia Pictures, which decided to reboot the franchise shortly after Tobey Maguire finished up his run in the webslinger’s unitard in order to hold on to its rights to the character.”

Which is fair enough, and the fact that we got a broadly similar version of this movie just ten years ago is obviously something of a curiosity. But making some intrinsic judgment about a movie’s necessity feels a little strange, especially when you’re not taking its actual quality into account.

This matters because The Amazing Spider-Man isn’t just good; it’s practically a case study in how a reboot can improve on the original. Which actually seems like a great reason to exist, and a lesson more movies could stand to learn.


The only reason to care about Final Fantasy Versus XIII

By the time I got around to caring about Final Fantasy Versus XIII — sometime after Final Fantasy XIII came out, and I was lamenting how linear the franchise was becoming — it was already pretty clear that the game was probably stuck in development limbo. So I’m not exactly shocked to hear Kotaku reporting that Square Enix has probably decided to just kill the game.

There were plenty of reasons not to be excited about it anyway. What little the developers revealed made it sound like the game would have something very close to a real-world setting, and the main characters were explicitly compared to yakuza. I was mildly interested to see how they pulled that off, but didn’t really expect to like it.

On the other hand, everything else they said about Versus XIII made it sound like it could be a real game-changer.


“Because God put a Texan in charge.”

The best line in Matt Ruff’s The Mirage comes near the end, and it feels kind of shoehorned in. “Arabia in a state of nature, untouched by the dreams of the West,” one character muses. “Now that would be an alternate reality…” It’s an acknowledgement that, even though the world portrayed in the novel is the result of an arbitrary set of guidelines imposed on its inhabitants by an outside force, much the same can be said for the real Middle East.

It’s a particularly self-aware approach to alternate history. I wasn’t sure I’d like it at first, or through most of the book, but I think it paid off in the end. The story knows that it’s set in a fantasy world that was created by an intelligence with a sense of irony, rather than any kind of historical what-if. But even so, it spent a lot of time exploring what a modern Arab superstate might look like, and that tension between realism and irony led to most of my problems with the book.


Yes, humans are the best predators

Yesterday I stopped by Westercon for the quick whirlwind tour. It being Thursday, the programming was fairly light and I occasionally got the feeling that I was the only person there who wasn’t on a panel, but I’m working through one of the most bizarrely busy weeks ever so yesterday was my one chance to check it out.

I think what most surprised me was the dragon panel, which I went into as kind of placeholder since there wasn’t much else in the timeslot, but turned into a really interesting discussion of the philosophical and psychological role of dragons in human literature. Which, probably inevitably, led to the guy who claims that humans aren’t really Earth’s apex predator, because we got to the top of the food chain by “cheating.”

This idea keeps popping up, and it never makes any sense. The fallacy is pretty basic: You can’t cheat when there are no rules.


Aaron Sorkin is telling us yesterday’s news

HBO, "The Newsroom"

I thought about going with “Aaron Sorkin is yesterday’s news,” but that seemed excessively mean. And probably inaccurate.

A recurring subplot in Sorkin’s previous worst show, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, dealt with a character who was developing a TV show about the United Nations, which he was planning to put on HBO because it was too highbrow for the network TV audience — an idea that Amanda Peet’s fake programming director tried to dissuade him of. So it’s probably telling that now, after Studio 60 collapsed under its own baggage and Sorkin himself got to put a show on HBO, his big idea was apparently to make Studio 60 again.

The Newsroom works considerably better than Studio 60 did, largely because it doesn’t have to sell the idea that a fake version of Saturday Night Live is somehow central to the soul of American society. Unfortunately, the show doesn’t seem to have advanced its analysis of the news industry much beyond a few wistful lines about how much better America was when a bunch of old white men told us what to think every night.


Consoles are over (not really)

Ages ago, when Sony released the original, PlayStation 3, I remarked on the snowballing size of their consoles by suggesting that the PlayStation 9 would end up being the size (and shape) of the Jupiter monolith from 2001. Then, because I was on a roll, I predicted that Sony would only build one, and that it would beam the games directly into users’ minds.

All of which means I can claim that I totally called this: Sony Computer Entertainment is buying the cloud gaming provider Gaikai, which might allow it to stream next-gen games to current-gen consoles. I just wish I could decide if I was happy about it.


John Roberts just saved the Supreme Court, maybe

Part of me thinks that if Bush v. Gore didn’t destroy the court’s reputation as an impartial arbiter of the law — as no less an authority than Justice John Paul Stevens warned it might — then probably nothing will. But public approval of the Court has been dropping over the last few years, and a party-line, 5-4 vote against the biggest, most politically charged issue of President Obama’s presidency probably wouldn’t have helped.

And, apparently, that almost happened. The Court’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act came so close to striking down the law’s individual mandate that both CNN and Fox initailly reported that it had. It established a more radical reading of the Commerce Clause — the idea that Congress can regulate industries that do business across state lines — than even the law’s opponents expected a year ago. And yet some deft maneuvering by Chief Justice Roberts managed to soft-pedal the impact of the ruling and turned him into a hero of judicial restraint.


The Dragon Age rut

Sometime during the development of Dragon Age II, the team apparently decided that by far the most interesting part of the expansive fantasy world they’d created was the conflict between mages and templars. It became the central theme of the second game, while most of its tie-in content points to an even stronger focus in the not-yet-officially-announced Dragon Age III. This would have been fine, except they don’t seem to have a clear idea of what to do with this idea.

That’s the central problem with Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker, the full-length animated film that the team produced with FUNimation Entertainment. The movie looks great, and it’s a fine way to waste 90 minutes, but it also highlights the franchise’s unfortunate tendency to take an interesting idea and run it into the ground for lack of a new story to tell.


Dragon stares down Congress?

I spent way too much time trying to come up with a clever dragon title. Even spent a couple seconds thinking about Photoshopping a screenshot from this week’s Game of Thrones. You know, the one with the dragons?


While I was busy not seeing the transit of Venus, apparently Congress was actually seeing the light coming to its senses, sort of, when it comes to the space program. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-VA and the chairman of the House committee that oversees NASA’s budget, has reached a truce over Commercial Crew development program, in which he stops trying to gut the program and NASA agrees to do a bunch of stuff it was probably going to do anyway. The fact that it comes a week after one of the Commercial Crew contractors, SpaceX, successfully sent a spaceship (the Dragon) to resupply the International Space Station, probably isn’t a coincidence.

I’ll take good space news where I can get it, and this seems kind of overdue. Commercial Crew was such an obvious idea that I never really got why it was controversial in the first place. (more…)