Five Things: December 15, 2022

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_ONE

One state is poised to teach media literacy starting in kindergarten | Javeria Salman

What is impressive about New Jersey’s bill is its comprehensiveness, Spikes said. Illinois’ law doesn’t include language about how media literacy should be taught or where it should be taught, whereas New Jersey’s bill spans education from kindergarten through 12th grade, requires the creation of media literacy standards, and includes professional development for teachers. 

Where New Jersey and Illinois both fall short, he added, is in providing monetary support for their programs.

After living here for more than 20 years — continuously since 2007 when I left the Bronx for the fourth time — I’m slowly becoming a New Jersey Stan, something that would likely be a shock to anyone who’s known me since before 2015. Nowhere in the USA has handled the pandemic well, but NJ was arguably better than most states, including the ongoing shitshow in NYC that’s ensured I don’t miss it at all.

The biggest reason we moved to NJ was for better schools, as our neighborhood school in the Bronx was barely decent, and resources for our autistic daughter were far from ideal once she moved out of early intervention services. We chose a reasonably diverse, solidly middle-class town with train service into NYC, and while it presented challenges in other aspects of our lives, it was absolutely the best choice for both of our kids.

IF the funding comes through, this focus on media literacy will be a huge step forward, joining NJ’s other innovative new initiative: “public school students in the Garden State are the first nationwide required to learn about climate change and its impacts on human society.”

Say what you want, New Jersey is pretty good, and I fully embrace the unofficial state motto.

Me, holding a coffee mug with a vision chart design that spells out "Go Fuck Yourself," wearing a "Fuckin' New Jersey" sweatshirt.

__TWO

The Invention of ‘Jaywalking’ | Clive Thompson

“If the auto industry could just lovebomb ‘jaywalking’ into existence, then urbanites’ own anxieties about looking cool would do the rest. You wouldn’t need police to keep pedestrians out of the street if the pedestrians policed themselves. Newspapers helped popularize ‘jaywalker,’ in part because as the 1920s wore on, car advertising had become a gold mine.”

Speaking of media literacy, Thompson’s origin of jaywalking is a fascinating story of how corporations and the media work together to promote disinformation and influence cultural norms. From pitting “urbanites” against their rural counterparts, to letting advertising revenue drive editorial coverage, it’s a case study relevant to everything from politics to sponsored content to sportswashing.

Loosely related, I wrote about my initial experiences with Mastodon, partly because I was seeing so many half-baked takes on it published by media organizations with vested interests in Twitter’s survival — including how many clickbait articles are simply a bunch of embedded tweets — written by pundits whose “influence” will immediately disappear if Twitter continues its slow-motion implosion. #cmonson

___THREE

Representation matters: How a Black manga brand is closing the imagination gap | Jonece Starr Dunigan

After more than a decade in the video game industry as an executive, Jones launched Saturday AM in 2013 to show that diverse manga could be profitable. He felt himself feeling frustrated a little over a year in because none of the creatives he met, including the Black ones, featured a Black character in their work. When he asked them why, he was shocked.

They didn’t want their work to seem “forced” by adding a Black character.

I’ve had a few great conversations with Saturday AM’s Frederick Jones over the past couple of months via the day job, and I’m a legit fan of what he’s doing there. I bought How to Draw Diverse Manga for my heavily manga-influenced artist daughter and was very impressed with it myself, while I enjoyed reading Oblivion Rouge‘s familiar but different take on child soldiers and the Battle Royale / Hunger Games framing.

They’re not just telling the same old stories with race-swapped characters — an increasingly low bar that needs to be retired — but they’re also infusing them with authentic cultural reference points that make even well-worn plots feel fresh. You may know the inspirations, but the stories are new.

As someone who grew up idolizing Boba Fett partly because I could pretend he looked like me under his helmet, and never really connected with the stereotypical Black superheroes of the 70s and 80s, I think Saturday AM’s mission is an important one. Jones isn’t just publishing a diverse range of manga-inspired comics, he’s also mentoring a generation of young creators who will influence the next generation of comics creators and fans, ensuring “diversity” becomes the default rather than the exception.

If they continue to get it right, I suspect we may talk about Saturday AM in the future like we talk about Milestone Media today.

____FOUR

How Manga Took Over My Bookshelf — and the World! | Me

My personal journey with manga over the past two years has been revelatory and rejuvenating, and moderating the “How Manga Took Over The World” webinar for LibraryCon Live earlier this month expanded my appreciation for the medium’s breadth and depth even further. It was the most fun I’ve had at work in many years; so much so, I failed at one of my main objectives: keeping the session under an hour!

I don’t feature my own stuff too often here, preferring to hide references in links you may not click, but every now and then I write or do something I’m really proud of, and this panel discussion about manga with Deb Aoki, Frederick Jones, and Kae Winters is one of my all-time favorites.

If you’re into comics or manga — or you aren’t but want to understand why they’re such a big deal these days — find yourself a comfortable seat, grab your favorite snack or beverage, and play the recording on a big(gish) screen.

I don’t even hate my voice in this one!

_____FIVE

40 years ago, one woman changed the video game industry forever | Mo Mozuch

Little things, like how the scrolling speed of the background changes when you accelerate, were brand-new concepts seen as technical marvels at the time. This is why River Raid won numerous awards and featured Shaw’s name on the box, the first woman in the game industry to receive such a credit. Atari made a sequel without Shaw, River Raid 2, but it fell short of its predecessor’s success. A planned third entry in the series for the SNES was later scrapped, too. They just didn’t have the same magic as Shaw’s original creation. She retired in the early ‘90s, largely due to the success of River Raid.

I remember River Raid — the Atari 2600 was my first gaming system — but I didn’t realize how big a deal it was back then, and I’d certainly never heard of Carol Shaw before reading this article about her in 2022. Similar to Jerry Lawson, the unheralded inventor of the game cartridge recently honored with a posthumous Google Doodle, Shaw’s contributions to the gaming industry fly under the radar, leaving the harmful impression that technology is a white man’s game. Representation matters.

Coincidentally, I finished reading Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow shortly after finishing what I thought was the final draft of this newsletter, noting that I hoped it would stick the landing — and it did!

It’s a novel in which the three main characters are involved in game development, none of whom are white men, and that fact isn’t even a tertiary focus of the story. It’s an excellent read, mixing a fictionalized history of video games with an emotionally engaging character study that joins Matt Ruff’s Fool on the Hill as one of my favorite character-driven novels about creativity ever, which is some of the highest praise I can offer any work of fiction. Highly recommended.


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