Today is my 45th birthday. I’ve been tied up most of the day: but, as the great philosopher Ice Cube once said, “It was a good day.”
Meanwhile, two of my favorite people have said things that deserve a response, even though they’ve been widely linked elsewhere.
First up is Penn Jillette’s tribute to the Hummer. I bow to no one in my admiration for Penn and Teller, and I don’t see a lot to argue with in his thesis that “We need to protect other people’s stupid to save freedom for all of us.” But there’s one thing I think he overlooks in this piece. Hummer failed because they didn’t make good cars.
We rented a H2 for the barbecue road trip last year. It was large, it was uncomfortable (it couldn’t even seat five people), it had very little cargo capacity for a vehicle of that size (we couldn’t get a cased AR-15 to lie flat in the back cargo area), the interior was ugly, and on the whole I hated it. I’d like to think that Hummer’s failure is just the market catching up to the fact that they aren’t very good cars, much like the Yugo. (And before you accuse me of being anti-GM, I liked the CTS we rented this year very much; if I had the money, that would go on my short list of cars to consider.) “Protecting other people’s stupid” doesn’t mean that we have to bail out companies that make poor choices.
Secondly, Roger Ebert’s decided to kick the “video games can never be art” ball around again. There are two problems with this:
- Roger is wrong.
- Roger is asking and answering the wrong question.
To point 1, we’ve discussed previously the definition of art (by way of Scott McCloud) as “any human activity that doesn’t grow out of either of our species two basic instincts: survival and reproduction” and the definition of art quoted by Shii:
Art is the word we use when we refer to that creative activity or its result, when images and objects, sights and sounds, drawings and carvings, convey the beauty and splendor of the world, or realize the imagination of the artist, for the purpose of self-expression or the shared enjoyment of its creation.
By either of those two definitions, video games are art: video games don’t grow out of the survival or reproductive instincts, and video games do realize the imagination of the artists for the purpose of self-expression or shared enjoyment. Of those two, I like McCloud’s definition best, as it comes closet to my own joking definition: Art is anything I can point to and say, “That’s art, damn it, art!” (This is, of course, where the “Art, damn it, art! watch” comes from.) Mike, I think, would argue that there has to be an element of intention involved; that is, you have to intend to make art, it can’t just happen by accident. Even granting that addendum, I still don’t see any way to argue that video games are not art.
To point 2, the question Roger really wants to ask is “Can video games be good art?” I’m with Shii on the high art/low art distinction, and I want to avoid using those terms. I think what Roger should be asserting is that video games are not “good art”, and that he’s dubious that they can reach that point. I’m inclined to agree with him that video games haven’t reached the point of “good art” yet. But: I am not a gamer, or an art critic. It might be more honest for both Roger and I to say “I don’t think video games have reached the point of being ‘good art’, but I don’t have the critical tools or the sympathy to be able to appreciate them fully, so I will try to keep an open mind and reserve judgment.”
I don’t think there’s enough history behind video games, or video game criticism, for us to even have evolved a grammar to talk about video games as art. We’ve had hundreds of years to develop ways of talking about and critiquing paintings and sculpture and music; we’ve only had about 25 years to develop ways of talking about and critiquing video games. It seems somehow wrong for Ebert to assert “”No one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great poets, filmmakers, novelists and poets”. A painting is not a poem is not a sculpture is not a symphony; all of these things have different grammars and critical vocabularies. How far were we into the history of painting before La Gioconda became an acknowledged classic?
I think the world of Roger Ebert, as I’ve noted before. But he’s dug himself into a hole here, and should stop digging.
In other news, I haven’t been able to find a LAT reference to this, but the NYT is reporting that the wrongful death suit brought by the family of Notorious B.I.G. has been dismissed. B.I.G’s death, and the lawsuit, are one of the most bizarre crime stories ever, involving possible police corruption by the LAPD, journalistic fraud by the LAT, withholding of evidence by the city of Los Angeles, fraudulent testimony by jailhouse snitches, and of course the whole West Coast/East Coast rap feud. (Edited to add: Here’s the LAT story, but it doesn’t add much.)
Lawrence sends along word of the arrest of 14 members of the Gambino family. Oddly, I see no mention of this on the NYT site. (Edited to add: NYT coverage here.)
But I do see that the Supremes have voted 8-1 (Dianna Ross Alito dissenting) to strike down a federal law banning videos of animal cruelty. I’m not in favor of dogfighting, but this was a bad law; it could have been used against videos of legal hunting, or expose videos showing practices that are legal in other countries, but illegal here. (Indeed, in the case in question, some of the material was filmed in Japan, where dogfighting is legal. Could the producers of The Cove have been prosecuted in this country under this law if someone in Japan pushed hard enough? Does the Pope crap in the woods? Are bears Catholic?) I’m delighted to see that the decision was that lopsided.
Edited to add: See what I get for being out and about all day and not making the blog rounds? Both Patrick and Ken over at Popehat are on the Supreme Court decision like…something that’s on something a lot. Go read those two; they’re really smart and funny, more so than I am.