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Game of Thrones: “Winter Is Coming” for Catelyn and Jon Snow

[ 28 ] September 25, 2012 |

(This is another one of those visual rhetoric posts that’s born of this upcoming course … which now has its own website that’s only a demo at the moment so don’t judge.)

To recap: in the first post, I demonstrated how Van Patten turned Will into a sympathetic character. In the second post, I established that the scenes in Winterfell that weren’t in the novel were designed to establish a perspective on Will’s coming execution that’s focalized through Bran, but which also introduces the audience to the larger Stark family dynamics. (I also, as Julia Grey pointed out, inadvertantly indicated how Arya’s character would develop over the course of the season. I’ll let Julia’s analysis carry the weight of that interpretative thread for now and return to it when it comes to fore later.) Before I can yoke those arguments together, though, it would behoove us to see what happens when Bran steps off-stage, as it were, beginning with the announcement of Will’s capture:

Games of thrones - winter is coming00270

Those smiles are residual: for one of the only time in the series, Ned and Catelyn have watched Arya and Bran engaging in what we might call “play.” She hits his target and he’s encouraged by his brothers, bastard and true, as well as his parents, to take off after her:

Read more…

Football as a metaphor for corporate incompetence

[ 19 ] September 25, 2012 |

Paul and Erik are both wrong. Tonight’s “football game” is evidence that the “scabs” aren’t scabs at all, but secret agents, union referees who’ve infiltrated the replacement ranks determined to prove that trained officials are required to preserve the integrity of the game.

Now let us all sing the hymn of the “replacement” referees, which must be sung according the directions and goes something like this:

There is a flag on the play,
There is a flag on the play,
There is a flag on the play,
The previous play is under review.

There is a flag on the play,
There is a flag on the play,
There is a flag on the play,
The previous play is under review.


It’s like watching the banks fail all over again.

MLA Job Leaks

[ 50 ] September 24, 2012 |

The main site can be found here. Please “Like” the Facebook page (and share with like-minded friends) if you find the site’s manifesto compelling (which you should):

  • We believe access to the jobs list should be available to all prospective faculty members, not just those with financial means.
  • We believe that a policy that publishes the list “openly” only occasionally, and gives full access to others who pay, isn’t really open.
  • We believe that the profession is better served by being transparent and accessible.
  • We believe that if other professional academic organizations can distribute their lists freely, than so can the MLA. (The MLA should be a leader, not a follower.) (American Historical Association and American Mathematical Society are both free.)
  • We believe that a policy which requires individuals to choose between paying and restricted access hurts the most disadvantaged of our community.
  • We believe that all those who are part of the MLA community should help address this problem and distribute the job list, however and whenever possible.

Every time I have this dream I want to kill myself.

[ 6 ] September 21, 2012 |

Thank you Louie for the reminder:


Louie and lynch


My nightmare typically ends there. But this one?

Games of thrones - winter is coming00244

Lynch wants to start the interview. Lynch will not stop yelling. There is no one in that chair.

Start the interview.

Lynch will not stop yelling. There is no one in that chair.

Lynch will not stop yelling. Start the interview. There is no one in that chair.

Start the interview.

Start the interview.

Start the interview.

There is no one in that chair.

Game of Thrones: “Winter Is Coming” for Bran

[ 110 ] September 21, 2012 |

(This is another one of those visual rhetoric posts that’s born of this upcoming course.)

In the previous post we established that the director of “Winter Is Coming,” Tim Van Patten, went to great lengths to transform Will into a sympathetic character. He can choose immediate death at the cold hands of the white walker or run back to Winterfell and face immediate death for having deserted his post on the wall. He chose the latter, which in terms of prolonging his life was the correct choice, but eventually his decision caught up with him:

Games of thrones - winter is coming00131

As hinted in the previous post, this shot is almost a graphic match that straddles the opening credits. Will’s forlorn face as he decides to run to this death rather than face the other resembles, in a compositional sense, this medium long shot of his capture. The difference is one of scale, and it’s an understandable one, as the previous medium close-up highlighted his pained indecision, whereas this medium long shot diminishes him to the “proper” height of one about to be beheaded.

But as I noted in the previous post, Will is but a directorial tool—a means to a sympathy-creating ends. The deep focus in the shot above emphasizes the fact that despite the fact that Will’s in the middle of an open field, he’s surrounded and escape is impossible. Unlike when he was north of the wall and the danger was effectively hidden in plain sight and shallow focus, south of the wall, easily spotted threats arrive from all directions. Hence, the look of resignation on Will’s face. Not that Will matters.

He doesn’t. He’s but a means to an end, and that end is the introduction of the rigorously structured points of view present in the novel. This episode, “Winter Is Coming,” translates nine chapters of Game of Thrones from the page to the screen. Ignoring, for the moment, Daenerys I and II, which cover happenings an ocean away, the episode must introduce the perspectives presented in Bran I, Catelyn I, Eddard I, Jon I, Catelyn II and Bran II. Without going full-Rashomon, how can Van Patten accomplish this? By introducing their internal thoughts and feelings via their reactions to Poor Will’s unfortunate fate. The shot above follows some of the riders to an establishing shot of Winterfell:

Games of thrones - winter is coming00137

Without knowing anything else about what’s going on here, what has Van Patten communicated? Unlike the inhumanely scaled wall presented in the Prologue, this castle is imposing but clearly of human design and repair. It’s also clearly a castle, which creates in the audience the expectation that they’ll be meeting the groomers and smithies and kitchen wards. Of course not: if Van Patten had cut to a crack in the castle wall large enough for someone half-starved to slip through, that might be the case, but he cut to a majestic extreme long shot of a castle lording over its domain, so of course we’re about to be introduced to royalty:

Games of thrones - winter is coming00139

Or people with pretentions of royalty. That’s Bran—of Bran I and Bran II—along with his half-brother Jon Snow and the next Lord of Winterfell, Robb Stark. (Who I initially mistook for Theon Greyjoy, because I need glasses, but which is an interesting mistake.) Snow and Stark will eventually have chapters of their own, but at this point Van Patten is more interested in introducing Bran’s perspective because that’s who narrates the chapters in the novel. That said, the introductory image of Bran is telling: Jon Snow, the Lord’s bastard son, dominates the center of the frame with what I’d call a pedagogical calm. He’s instructing the Lord’s legitimate heir, Bran, in the niceties of hitting what one aims at, and Bran’s clearly trying to impress him. Bran and Robb flank Jon, but because the movement in the shot belongs to Bran, Robb’s position is akin to not insignificant backdrop, but backdrop nonetheless. From this shot, then, it’s apparent that Bran wants to impress Jon and isn’t unaware of Robb, which is just as it is in the novel.

Only it isn’t.

Read more…

The perils of writing about politics on Facebook

[ 91 ] September 21, 2012 |

After reading the two posts I wrote yesterday evening, SOMEONE FROM HIGH SCHOOL decided that he’d had enough, but instead of just quietly cutting me adrift he decided he wanted to have the last word.

SOMEONE FROM HIGH SCHOOL: I want you to know I’m blocking you, asshole. Every time you write about how much you love Romney you prove you hate America and the troops. I just wanted to be the man who manned up and said FUCK YOU to your face.

SEK: I think you meant “Obama.”


SEK: You already said that.


SEK: Didn’t you block me?


SEK: Would you like me to tell you how to block me?

Read more…

Anyone wanna pay me $1,000,000 to produce a video of Obama choking on a matzo ball?

[ 69 ] September 20, 2012 |

All I had to do was dither around the site to which I’d already linked to find evidence that my prediction about the next two months is correct. Because as it turns out I somehow missed this:

Breitbart News is doubling its reward—to $100,000—for one of the missing pieces of Barack Obama’s past, which may be the key to understanding his collapsing Middle East policy: the “Khalidi tape,” a video kept under wraps by the Los Angeles Times since April 2008.

The Khalidi tape shows Obama at a 2003 farewell party for radical Palestinian academic and activist Rashid Khalidi, and reportedly features vitriolic anti-Israel rhetoric …

The ties between Obama and Khalidi are deep, going back to the days when Obama served on the board of the Woods Fund with former terrorist Bill Ayers, and provided funds for Khalidi’s Arab American Action Network …

Given Obama’s muted response to the attacks on U.S. embassies and troops throughout the Middle East today; his refusal to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu next week; his eagerness to sacrifice Americans’ free speech rights in fruitless gestures of appeasement; and his belated but effusive support for the now-radicalized Arab Spring, it is worth examining the roots of his misguided foreign policy.

The Khalidi tape may provide the key.

I’m pleased to introduce you to The New New Stupid, son of The New Stupid, inevitable father to the host of Newer Stupids due to arrive in the next two months. When FOX decided to blanket itself in that 1998 video of Obama discussing taxation as an anodyne form of redistributing wealth, all I could think was that someone in management thought tit-for-tat the most effective strategy to counter the release of the Romney video.* If they have videos, I imagined management saying, we will too. Put aside the fact that FOX claims to be an independent news organization and focus on the fact that executives at FOX believe that “video” is a unit, and that the only way to counter one unit of “video” is with another.

Breitbart News, so named because it decided to call itself that, literally doubled-down today in an attempt to produce a unit of “video” that will damage Obama’s candidacy more than Romney’s did his. This video, if it exists, will do maximal damage because it’ll introduce Breitbart News readers and FOX viewers to shocking new ideas like “Obama has Muslim sympathies,” “Obama hates Israel” and “Obama pals around with terrorists.” As I noted in my previous post, the problem with this approach is that anyone who’s going to believe that already does, so finding a unit of “video” that can be edited to demonstrate Obama’s long-standing loathing of America and gefilte fish will have absolutely no impact on the election.

Yet it’s incredibly important to conservative “news” outlets to find and disseminate as many of these units as they can between now and November. I would say that I don’t know why, but I know that sucking at the conservative teat requires bona fides and that all these folks need them lest they be forced to leave the house and find a job that doesn’t consist of shaming people who already have one.

*I also thought that “blanket coverage” made for an apt metaphor: FOX management ducked under the covers because thunder had thundered or monsters had crept from beneath the bed or Romney had opened his mouth.

People who only talk to themselves either already are or drive themselves crazy.

[ 53 ] September 20, 2012 |

After the past week and, well, the past twenty-four hours, I think it’s become clear to conservatives that their strategy to install Mitt Romney in the White House has failed. As strategies go, it had its charms: conservatives would only talk and watch and read other conservatives, thereby eliminating the possibility that they might hear or see or read anything that failed to conform to their prejudices. For months, this strategy seemed to be working. They had convinced themselves and each other that Obama, being the worst president in the history of the United States, couldn’t be elected again if the opposition candidate had some appeal to the center. So they chose Mitt Romney.

Unfortunately, Mitt Romney also chose them. He started to appeal to the conservative base in order to acquire what had already been delivered. He was supposed to bring in the centrists, but he and his campaign chose tactics designed to further secure the base. The irony is that his appeals to the base have only angered and alienated it. His “inelegant” iterations of their cherished theories have set the terms of the national debate against conservatives, such that any argument about equitable taxation must begin by discussing the 47 percent instead of job creation. In the war to frame the debate, conservatives now believe, Mitt Romney has unwittingly played the role of Benedict Arnold.

With the former opportunist Romney now considered an extremist, what are the actual extremists to do? If the past week is any indication, they are going to spend the next two months losing their shit to establish their bona fides. Now that they have no reason to appeal to center, or to rational thought generally, we are in for two months of:

Barack Obama has been building a cult of personality reminiscent of fascist leaders. That doesn’t mean he’s a fascist; it doesn’t mean that he’s Hitler or Mussolini or Stalin. But his semiotics and iconography are far more suited for a fascist country than a vibrant republic.

Of course Ben Shapiro has no clue what “semiotics” actually means, but it makes him sound like an authority on something, in this case the “fascist” field of branding. Instead of being annoyed that, from Shepard Fairey forward, the Obama campaign team has simply demonstrated a more sophisticated understanding of contemporary advertising than any of its Republican opponents, Shapiro wants to claim that the use of “iconography” is “far more suited for a fascist country than a vibrant republic.” And it doesn’t matter how many images of the Twin Towers falling or acting Presidents in flight suits you show him, Shapiro will never believe that any other administration has ever used the power of singular images to sway public opinion. It’s only ever been Obama.

This is but the tip of the iceberg.

The knotted fringes of the far right movement no longer have any reason to remain tangled, so as their weak coalitions unravel expect to hear more about every inane and insane theory that’s dogged the administration since before Inauguration Day 2009. I fully expect the next two months will witness some of the most absurd political theater ever to grace the American stage, and I fully expect that while some of it will make me weep for the state of our great republic, quite a bit of it will provide me with an endless hours of entertainment.

Game of Thrones: “Winter Is Coming” for Poor Will

[ 57 ] September 19, 2012 |

(I think it goes without saying that this is another one of those visual rhetoric posts.)

As this is to be the first of many posts breaking down the visual rhetoric of Game of Thrones, I want to tell you either “You’re welcome!” or “I’m sorry!” I need to write them for my class this quarter so they will written. Regular blogging will continue as usual. (See?) Now on to “Winter Is Coming.”

For those of you who haven’t read George R.R. Martin’s Games of Thrones, it’s important to note that there are twenty-four characters through whose perspective the narrative is occasionally focalized, meaning that the writers and directors of the television series needed to go full-Rashomon or find another way to imbue each episode with the feel of perspectival diversity. Which makes the decision to open “Winter Is Coming” with the Prologue odd but instructive. On the one hand, beginning where the novel begins is a simple decision: Martin placed the Prologue where he did because he wanted to set the mood for the scenes to come and director Tim Van Patten followed suit. On the other hand, in an episode that can only be 52 minutes long and in which numerous perspectives must be introduced, devoting 11 minutes to the quick end of the short life of Will, the Prologue’s narrator, seems excessive. I’m going to argue otherwise: what the material contained in the Prologue provides the audience is a means of sympathizing with the different perspectives on Will’s life and death, and in so doing begins to recreate the structure of the novel. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. First we need to be introduced to Will:

He’s one of those little black dots on horseback in this extreme long or establishing shot, the purpose of which is establish the scale of the wall by providing us with an identifiable reference and the state of the environment by showing us an unimaginably large wall made of ice and a cover of snow that follows the wall to the vanishing point. Before we even meet Will, then, Van Patten informs us that he is a small man beholden to powers great enough to build and maintain that wall, and that he is likely in peril, because no one who isn’t builds and lives behind a wall like that. Moreover, the contrast between the blue-white snow and the black riders suggests that not only is Will in peril, he’s conspicuously so, which means he’s all the more likely to meet a sad end. And Van Patten’s communicated all of this in a single shot.

Games of thrones - winter is coming00003

He cuts to another establishing shot that works much like the first: in what we’ll call a very long shot, the world is still white and empty of all but some men and trees. This is the classic Russian technique of turning a forest into the cinematic equivalent of a barren desert: the only life visible is either human or snow-coated evergreen. These riders aren’t as tiny as they were in the opening shot, but the scale still makes them appear vulnerable because they’re still dominated by the other elements of the frame. The deep focus suggests that all of the elements in the scene may be of equal importance, which is strange because the only visible elements are the people and the trees. Combined with the relatively high-key lighting, which should allow us to see everything in the scene, the deep focus creates the conflicting impression that we can see everything in the scene, but that there’s something in it that we’re still not seeing. But if it’s there why can’t we see it?

Read more…

Irony joins Parody on the body pile

[ 70 ] September 19, 2012 |

John Nolte at is criticizing David Corn and Mother Jones for releasing “secretly recorded video” that has been “selectively edited.” Nolte even incoporates positive references to James O’Keefe into his criticism. Colonel Mustard goes one step further:

It is impossible for us to know if Romney said something which changed or put the remarks in context.  Romney doesn’t remember the event except for what exists on audio/video.  Maybe in the fullness of the answer, the answer was less “inelegant” than it appears.

It is impossible to know what Romney said during the two minutes the recorder didn’t record. It is possible that in those two minutes he contradicted every word he spoke in all the other ones—that he begged forgiveness for the awful things he said about Americans in all the other ones. That could be the case. It is, of course, highly improbable that Romney shifted tone and content and ideological orientation during these mysterious two minutes, but given we’re talking about Romney, it’s not impossible that he did exactly that.

Honestly, when your best defense is two missing minutes in which, to the best of your speculation, your candidate said the opposite of what he said in the rest of them (and in press conferences since), you might want to put down the bucket and inflate your life jacket, because your little boat is sinking.

UPDATE: The #missingtwominutes hashtag provides some details as to what must have gone on.

Covering the Coverage, Part II

[ 92 ] September 17, 2012 |

In our first installment, we learned that conservatives will just ignore any issue that shines a positive light on Obama. In today’s installment, we learn that conservatives will also ignore any issue that shines a light white-hot-like-the-surface-of-the-sun on Romney:


Hot Air can be commended for engaging in perfunctory damage control, but even those crickets you’re not hearing from conservative circles are shouting out the obvious: if the American public learns that Mitt Romney actually is the caricature of an entitled scion he’s always seemed to be, his odds of winning in November approach astronomic. So what can they do? To refute the tape requires acknowledging its existence. If that happened, some random Republican might stumble upon them and hear that he or she belongs to the wrong America. So conservatives must adopt the only strategy they have left in this polarized media environment: if they don’t write about it, it never happened.

Was it reported on FOX? No? Didn’t happen. Did it feature on the Drudge Report? No? Didn’t happen. Just rinse and repeat from Malkin to WND and everything’s gonna be just fine …

Breaking Bad: “Gliding Over All” I’ve written

[ 1 ] September 17, 2012 |

Someone asked if I’d published the final post in my wrap-up of the mid-season finale and I mentioned that I had—on Saturday evening when 90 percent of our readers aren’t reading. So here’s a convenient wrap-up of my posts on the subject:

I also wrote a post about Walter White and white supremacism but it’s only tangentially related to “Gliding Over All.” So there it is: three posts about a single episode that don’t even begin to do it justice. There may be one more on the horizon, but for now the bulk of my visual rhetoric-related work will consist of readings of the first season of Game of Thrones for my Fall course. I should have the first (of many) posts up tomorrow.

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