Paul A. Crutcher

Paul A. Crutcher

An English professor at UALR, I teach, research, and love all things pop culture.

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    Latest Articles

    Latest Topics

    1

    Humanizing the Inmates in Orange is the New Black

    *Orange is the New Black* released its latest season this month, and it struck me the way the program continues one trend — to humanize and rationalize the criminality of the inmates. Like Piper, who is written as a hapless entrant to the Litchfield Pen., it seems as if each inmate is offered a flashback account of poverty, racism, LGBTQ bigotry, and bad luck that result in incarceration. In this season, explicitly focused on the inhuman treatment of the inmates and the dehumanizing treatment of Poussey’s death, this narrative choice is especially potent. Yet, there’s also the occasional lapse in the narrative — like when instead of killing and dismembering a hitman-guard an inmate enslaves another or dreams of eating human flesh. How effective is the humanizing narrative in this season and cumulatively in *OITNB*? Is the narrative goal for viewers to understand the prison system to be horrid, in part because the inmates are mostly undeserving of incarceration?

    • I too found the message to also be a little inconsistent. Were they still trying to be sympathetic? Were their terrible actions on (mostly) innocent people justifiable in the writer's eyes? (especially considering how many of the inmates never cared about Poussey) Still, it was refreshing to see a darker, more complex OitNB. The series was starting to get cartoonish. Every inmate was a victim of circumstance (even if they did something terrible it was always somebody else's fault), while every guard and person outside the prison were villains. It just added a level of realism that when these people were put in charge of the prison, they were no better (amd in a lot of cases worse) than the guards they hated (it might also be a good idea to use the Stanford Prison Experiment as a parallel). – AGMacdonald 1 week ago
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    2

    Abandoning the Arts

    The arts and music are the first programs cut from US public school curricula amidst current vitriolic cultural and policy debates. With STEM focus, charter secondary schools often do not include arts and music. (I’m concerned schools would cut literature, too, if savvy teachers were not able to link it to literacy.) Anecdotal and alarmist rhetoric argues that the result is an apathetic, tech-centered generation, devoid of creativity. With art and music leaving formal schooling, the response seems to be that art and music will be produced out of a well of intrinsic passion and sustained through the same. Museums of all sort in the US are struggling with dropping attendance. The arts and letters in higher education are widely derided as worthless and are also facing cuts and dropping enrollments. What is the role of K-12 education, then, if anything, in exposing young people to, nurturing, and developing aesthetic sensibilities and skills? If we as a culture and society abandon K-12 arts and music education, as we are, what effects can we attribute to that decision (e.g., declining museum patronage)?

    • Utilitarianism at its worst. Why can't we have both??? – Munjeera 2 weeks ago
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    • This is a really awesome and relevant topic. As someone in music therapy, I see how dangerous cutting back on the arts can be. Art and music is in our human nature. Music is one of the most complex things our brain engages in. It develops the mind faster and encourages discipline. Out of all the disciplines I have studies, music has not only given me a new skill, but has helped me become disciplined and dedicated. I think when music is taught poorly in schools it is just as bad as cutting it. – birdienumnum17 2 weeks ago
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    2

    In defense of the structuring of American Horror Story?

    Matt Sautman’s recent article on the popular and strange FX series "American Horror Story" and its new sixth season, Roanoke, prompted me to again pose a reasonable question about the program. Mostly, from a narrative standpoint, I’ve not heard or read any persuasive argument for what makes the series good.

    I suppose part of it is contemporary and topical – horror, in the form of ghosts and zombies and whatnot, is a saleable cultural commodity today. But what I don’t understand is how the program works narratively. I appreciated the first season, which seemed straightforward by comparison, to what followed and what we’re seeing today in Roanoke. Asylum, Coven, Hotel, and Freak Show introduce a complex cacophony of characters, motivations, conflicts, and arcs. Some of the best and most acclaimed TV introduces a full cast and varying conflicts, but the seasons of The Wire or Girls or The Sopranos or Breaking Bad don’t push such radical variance in the characters and dynamics.

    I wanted very much to enjoy Asylum. But, as an example of the sort of narrative problem in each season I’m describing, Asylum layers horror on horror on horror on horror ad nauseam. As I wrote before, you get an old asylum (sufficiently disturbing), layer on a set of Catholic nuns (again, sufficiently disturbing), layer on demonic/Satanic possession of a kid (right), layer on a transfer of that possession to one of the junior nuns (terribly disturbing), layer on a Nazi eugenics doctor in hiding (um), layer on that the Nazi is breeding scifi monsters and interacting with aliens (what?), layer on an interracial couple and alien abduction (…), layer on a serial killer who decorates his home with human remains (wait), and so on. Add, of course, that the show tries to keep you invested in roughly the same number of characters as the number of the episodes in the season.

    Again, I don’t see that Coven, Hotel, Freak Show, or Roanoke did anything all that differently, from a narrative convention. Sautman can use it as a pop culture vehicle to critique racial politics in the US, but I would like someone to address the program and its structure, its coherence. I mean it seems as if the writers choose a setting and then have the team brainstorm everything horrible that might occur in that setting, even if those horrible things might not fit the genre evoked by the setting (e.g., devil-possessed nuns and Nazis and

      3

      Narrative Contentiousness in "American Horror Story"

      The sometimes-acclaimed and popular FX TV series "American Horror Story" recently opened its fifth season, Hotel. It has many of the hallmarks of doing TV right, and yet my experience tells me that, like HBO’s "True Detective" or any number of vaguely mysterious contemporary shows, "American Horror Story" (AHS) is often adamantly defended by viewers who cannot entirely pinpoint why it’s good.

      I lost AHS at some point during its second season, Asylum. I tried the third, Coven. I recently picked the show back up to test out the fourth season, Freak Show, as it arrived on Netflix streaming. While I enjoyed Freak Show more than I have any of the seasons following the first, it suffered from the same messy narrative hodgepodge that defined the others (and perhaps defines Hotel). How is it that so many elements and character arcs work? In Asylum, you layer horror atop horror, for instance, when it certainly seems the series would be more coherent and powerful with one or two.

      From memory, in that second season, you get an old asylum (sufficiently disturbing), layer on a set of Catholic nuns (again, sufficiently disturbing), layer on demonic/Satanic possession of a kid (right), layer on a transfer of that possession to one of the junior nuns (terribly disturbing), layer on a Nazi eugenics doctor in hiding (um), layer on that the Nazi is breeding scifi monsters and interacting with aliens (what?), layer on an interracial couple and alien abduction (…), layer on a serial killer who decorates his home with human remains (wait), and so on. Add, of course, that the show tries to keep you invested in roughly the same number of characters as the number of the episodes in the season.

      How does it work? I don’t think it does. Can the skeptics be convinced? Should they?

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        Latest Comments

        Paul A. Crutcher

        Thanks IndiLeigh. I’m not sure why the games don’t give more control to the players. In one of the Battlefield games, we could rent servers, for instance, and toggle any number of settings to host the sorts of games we wanted to play. Ignoring the P2P setup, it’s hard to understand why players can’t toggle to only join games in *For Honor* with Level 1 AI bots, or why we can’t play Dominion without gear stats, or why we can’t choose to play only with a team of Vikings or without any Shinobis. Specific and clear standards and metrics for ranking skill would be excellent, which Ubisoft could provide, but I would prefer more player control, as that mitigates the problems with skill and difficulty.

        For Honor? Problems in the Rhetoric of Skill in Games
        Paul A. Crutcher

        Agreed. At the same time, it’s clear when a low-level player doesn’t exploit server lag or anything and decimates a team of high-level opponents (or low-levels ruining AI teams) that it’s not all about gear stats.

        For Honor? Problems in the Rhetoric of Skill in Games
        Paul A. Crutcher

        Thanks Mxvec. In a 2v2 mode called “Brawl,” I was message-bombed by a player on the other team because my teammate and I double-teamed him after his teammate died. He asked why, and I wondered what the game suggested that would prompt us not to do just that. He won — demolishing us easily — but showed the problems you and I described. Layers and layers of play problems and reasons why competitive multiplayer just doesn’t work on *For Honor.*

        For Honor? Problems in the Rhetoric of Skill in Games
        Paul A. Crutcher

        Good point ruzz. Part of *For Honor’s* skill dynamic is against AI, though, and the argument about skill and difficulty remains in single-player games.

        For Honor? Problems in the Rhetoric of Skill in Games
        Paul A. Crutcher

        Thorogood’s essay arguing connections between Prometheus and Pygmalion and *Ex Machina* is exceptional, and a rarity unfortunately in almost all pop culture writing today. Here, Thorogood grounds an interpretation and argument in canons of myth, literature, and culture, which should be lauded. I teach Shelley’s 1818 *Frankenstein,* and have paired it with *Ex Machina* for many of the reasons Thorogood details. Kudos for the articulation, then.

        Too often, though, the argument is ignored, unread, or misunderstood, and comments work to contest or support superficial points rather than the argument. As Thorogood suggests, Shelley and her literary contemporaries were engaged with a scientific era that questioned divinity inherently, by seeking animus, and the ethics of pursuing scientific query without orientation toward outcomes (and, yes, potentially the divine) are ominous. I imagine Shelley’s Frankenstein might have quoted Oppenheimer (et al.) and that Ava might have read and quoted Milton. Again, excellent contribution to the site.

        Ex Machina, Frankenstein and Modern Deities
        Paul A. Crutcher

        Smart addition. Thanks for the comment Ayannal.

        Like many fighting games, clunky or not For Honor is complex. Would be fine if the game acknowledged that time played isn’t equivalent to skill. Overwatch and, generally, multiplayer PVP help.

        For Honor? Problems in the Rhetoric of Skill in Games
        Paul A. Crutcher

        Exactly the problem. “Git gud” is too simplistic and contributes to a vitriol in the gamer rhetoric.

        For Honor? Problems in the Rhetoric of Skill in Games
        Paul A. Crutcher

        Power: Good point. The problem I see is that even if we have the move lists and can understand character (and opponent) patterns, we may not be capable of being fast or dexterous enough to play at high levels (e.g., against Level 3 bots). The Peacekeeper’s 3-hit stab effect after a guard break, for instance, shows up in the forums as one such example. The timing for the second and third hits requires a fair amount of precision, and many gamers seem frustrated by the fact that they cannot use that move efficiently. I can do it (and the Centurion’s similar move) sporadically in practice and low-stress duels, but not consistently in competitive modes or against crazy-fast Level 2 and Level 3 attackers or AI.

        For Honor? Problems in the Rhetoric of Skill in Games