popular culture

Friday Nerd Blogging: Winter is Coming to #ISA2015

by on 2015-01-23- 2 Comments

More information about the genesis of this panel here. Paper abstracts here.
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Thursday Linkage

by on 2014-05-08- Leave a reply

Editor's note: this post first appeared on my personal blog.

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Wednesday Linkage

by on 2014-04-30- 3 Comments

Editor's note: this post originally appeared on my personal blog. It contains some links to posts that appeared here at the Duck.
1. An interview with
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Tuesday Linkage

by on 2014-04-22- Leave a reply

Editor's note: this post previously appeared on my personal blog. I've been doing links posts on Tuesdays over there for a while now, so I guess I might as well start cross-listing them.

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Friday Nerd Blogging: Galactica (Not) Actual and the Sci-Fi / Sci-Fact / Globalization Intertext

by on 2013-08-30- 1 Comment


The Chinese state media could perhaps be forgiven for mistaking  fictional Battlestar Galactica blueprints for future US fleet schematics this week, given this.
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Popular Culture Can Crowd Out International Relations

by on 2013-08-27- 1 Comment

Daniel Drezner writes that Meghan McCain's proposition that attention paid to Miley Cyrus can crowd out attention paid to Syria is bunk.

With all due regard to Drezner, let me debunk the bunk claim---or, at least, show that the "Twerking Kills" hypothesis is plausible:

This paper studies the influence of mass media on U. S. government response to approximately 5,000 natural disasters occurring between 1968 and 2002. These disasters took nearly 63,000 lives and affected 125 million people per year. We show that U. S. relief depends on whether the disaster occurs at the same time as other newsworthy events, such as the Olympic Games, which are obviously unrelated to need. We argue that the only plausible explanation of this is that relief decisions are driven by news coverage of disasters and that the other newsworthy material crowds out this news coverage.

That's the abstract to an important paper by Eisensee and Stromberg.

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More Papers, Please: Video Games and International Studies

by on 2013-08-15- 18 Comments

In our conclusion to Kiersey and Neumann's Battlestar Galatica and International Relations, Peter Henne and I lament the relative lack of interest among cultural-turn international-relations scholars in video games. Our case rests on a comparison of the number of people who have played franchises such as Halo and Mass Effect to those who have watched the re-imagined BSG.

But the downside to neglect isn't simply about the size of audience and consequent real-world significance. Non-gamers may not know it, but recent years have seen a wave of experimentation in video games driven by the rise of independent developers. Sure, much of the work has been, at best, incremental and, at worst, hackneyed, but the overall trend has pushed gaming into something more recognizable to non-gamers as artistic expression.
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Beyond Robopocalypticism

by on 2013-08-09- 5 Comments

Media1In all the media frenzy over “killer robots,” Terminator imagery comes up a lot. So do references to Battlestar Galactica. So does a specific scene from Robocop, soon to be remade to resonate with public fears of domestic drones.

These iconic narratives invoke a recurrent theme in American science fiction about lethal robot malfunctions or uprisings against their human creators. So prevalent is this theme in anti-killer-robot media coverage that some have argued concern over autonomous weapons is a product of science fiction itself: Hollywood is apparently to blame for priming the public with an unfounded fear of killer machines. For example Joshua Foust writes:

"Why is there such concern? Part of the reason, arguably, is cultural. American science fiction, in particular, has made clear that autonomous robot are deadly. From the Terminator franchise, the original and the remake of Battlestar Galactica, to the Matrix trilogy, the clear thrust of popular science fiction is that making machines functional without human input will be the downfall of humanity. It is under this sci-fi 'understanding' of technology that some object to autonomous weaponry."

There are several reasons why this sort of argument doesn't make sense, but one of the most important is that it overstates the case about robopocalypticism in American "killer robot" science fiction. In fact, co-existing with the imagery of killer robots run amok is a broad range of far more benign killer robot imagery that no one seems to mind or even think about when worrying over autonomous weapons. Here are five great examples of killer robots filmmakers and TV producers definitely want you to want on your side in a pinch. [BSG SPOILER ALERT]
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Common Errors in Essay Writing, as Demonstrated by Film Critics, Part 1

by on 2013-07-03- 1 Comment

Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post settled on a theme for her extremely negative review of the new "The Lone Ranger" flick. Indeed, one might argue that developing a unifying thread is an important part of short-form writing. It holds everything together and provides the reader with a single, if stylized, takeaway. He basic theme? That The Lone Ranger tries to combine too many different themes, tones, and film elements. It suffers from such a severe case of summer blockbuster-itis that it pushes through mashup, beyond potpourri, and into full-blown incoherence. As she writes:

What’s more, despite its impressively staged set pieces, “The Lone Ranger” can’t survive the epic train wreck resulting from its own tonal clashes, wherein mournful scenes of genocide and stolen immigrant labor are tastelessly juxtaposed with silly slapstick humor, and solemn historic revisionism abuts awkwardly with overblown computer-generated spectacle.

Now, you might ask, "what's so dumb about that?" Why, nothing at all. Except....

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New Podcast: Interview with Patrick James

by on 2013-06-07- 2 Comments

Patrick JamesWell, sort of. I've been getting a surprising number of emails asking for new podcasts. This semester was a killer, and no one else on the team wants to spearhead the effort. I hope to do some more before all hades breaks loose next academic year.

But for now, I should note that my series over at New Books in Science Fiction & Fantasy has reemerged from its own hiatus -- and with a cross-over podcast! In it, I interview USC's Patrick James about his and Abigail E. Ruane's book, The International Relations of Middle-Earth: Learning from the Lord of the Rings.

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Game of Thrones Over-Thinking: Applications from Ethnic Conflict and Civil War

by on 2013-05-07- 1 Comment

What do Arend Lijphart, John McGarry and Tywin Lannister have in common?  Power-sharing!

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Torture as War Victory: My Hugely Unpopular Thesis about the ‘Real’ Agenda of Zero Dark Thirty

by on 2013-02-23- 4 Comments


"This is what winning looks like"

I have to confess, I was late to watch "Zero Dark Thirty" (ODT). I read a handful of reviews and blogs about the movie, had arguments with friends about its message, and even wrote it off completely--all weeks before I bothered to watch it. I wasn't interested in watching another American war movie, nor was I keen to see the lengthy torture scenes I had read about in the reviews. I figured I already knew exactly what the content was (are there every any real surprises in American war movies? and, didn't we all know how this story ended anyway?) and that there was really nothing left to say. BUT, I think there is something left to say about the film.

First, let's all be honest: most of us walked away from this movie saying to ourselves "did I miss something?" What about the film deserved all the Oscar hype, debate, and acclaim? By most standards, this was a classic, boring American war movie. In this case, the lack of plot and acting skills are made up with using violent torture scenes rather than expensive battle scenes. There is no emotional journey, no big moral dilemma that the characters are going through (I'll get to torture soon), little plot twist (again, we all know how it ends after all), and no unique or interesting characters (don't get me started on Jessica Chastain--what exactly about her stone-faced performance warrants an Oscar? perhaps she deserves an award for for 'most consistent blank expression'). So what gives? Is this just another "King's Speech"? Meaning, is this just another big movie that people talk about and get behind, but no one actually can put their finger on what was remotely interesting about it (never mind what was destructive about it)?

So I'm calling it. Not only was this movie soul-less, boring and poorly made, everyone seemed to miss the message (and it is easy enough to do). The real question about ODT is not whether or not it is condoning torture.
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The Lost Jedi Art of Reading Closely

by on 2013-02-17- 1 Comment

I thought, mistakenly, that the Hoth symposium had run its course: Ackerman point, a bunch of us counterpoint both at Danger Room and elsewhere (here at Duck, and, if it's not up yet it will be soon, over at Grand Blog Tarkin), and my tossing a little more fuel on the fire by arguing what I generally take to be a pretty obvious and I thought uncontroversial point: that Star Wars is a story about the struggle between Jedi and Sith about the nature of the Force, with other people and organizations (like the Rebel Alliance, and the Empire itself) getting caught up in the middle of what is, basically, a theological dispute. I thought that was pretty obvious because, well, the Star Wars universe is presented to us as one in which the Force exists and is efficacious, in which some people have Force-sensitivity and others do not, and in which the greatest of galactic events derive their importance from their connection to the Jedi-Sith struggle, whether we are talking about Palpatine's election as Chancellor or Luke's decision to leave Tatooine with Ben Kenobi.

Then I chanced (or maybe it was the will of the Force?) to glance at twitter as I was waiting to board a plane, and found this gem from Robert Farley: "The real story in the Star Wars universe is about whatever we find theoretically interesting and relevant." What then ensued was a flurry of thrust-and-parry twitter jabs, a kind of miniature lightsaber duel carried out mainly through 140-character quips (although as Rob pointed out I did break that rule by producing several linked tweets that continued a thought past that limit; whether this is deserving of a penalty or not I leave for the general audience to decide). It was temporarily halted, not as in Episode I by a series of functionally-opaque force fields that impose a break in the action, but by the announcement that we had to turn off electronic devices in preparation for takeoff. Taking the time in fight to gather my thoughts and prepare a reply for posting, here is my contribution to a possible next round.
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What We’re All Missing in the “Zero Dark Thirty” Debate

by on 2013-01-23- 5 Comments

This is a guest post by Peter S. Henne. Peter is a doctoral candidate at Georgetown University. He formerly worked as a national security consultant. His research focuses on terrorism and religious conflict; he has also written on the role of faith in US foreign policy. During 2012-2013 he is a fellow at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia

I appreciated Jeffrey Stacey’s recent post on the debate over “Zero Dark Thirty.” It’s useful to point out what is being obscured by the criticism of the movie’s depiction of torture. But I think his piece missed a broader aspect of the movie, as well as director Katherine Bigelow’s other war, “The Hurt Locker” (which focuses on an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team in Iraq): what it reveals about the civilian-military divide in the United States.

Many critics have praised Bigelow’s work for its artistic value, and its significance for understanding the post-9/11 era. Much of this has to do with her filmmaking skills. But a good amount of praise focused on her ability to faithfully tell the story of contemporary military activities. In The Washington Post, Ann Hornaday exclaims that Bigelow demonstrates early in the film that “she will not turn away from the most unsavory aspects of the history she’s chronicling.” The New York TimesManohla Dargis discusses the movie as “a seamless weave of truth and drama.” Similarly, many praised “The Hurt Locker” for its “authenticity."

At the same time, many critiques of these movies focus on their lack of authenticity. By now, we are all familiar with the attacks on “Zero Dark Thirty” for misrepresenting the role torture played in the hunt for bin Ladin. But similar attacks arose after “The Hurt Locker” came out. The film was full of inaccuracies in its depiction of EOD teams, resulting in the head of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America calling it “disrespectful."

Now, I realize the obvious response is: “it’s a movie.” That’s correct, but if the biggest selling point of a movie—or two—is their faithfulness to reality, and they get that wrong, then we’re all missing something, right? No one worries about inaccuracies in “Apocalypse Now” because of, well, Marlon Brando. But we should worry about inaccuracies in Bigelow’s war movies.

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“Zero Dark Thirty” Debate Needs an Interrogation

by on 2013-01-22- 8 Comments

special ops

Anyone who did not see "Zero Dark Thirty" on its opening night was smart, as it was mayhem in theaters everywhere.  The film shot to #1 at the box office overnight and is there still, for the plain and simple reason that it's a must see (no spoiler alert here because we all know at least a little about eliminating Osama bin Laden).  Zero Dark features a razor sharp screenplay by Mark Boal, top form directing by Kathryn Bigelow, and higher than high stakes drama from start to finish.

This film, however, is sufficiently controversial that there may soon be Congressional hearings about it--Sen. John McCain and Sen. Diane Feinstein had it in their sites by day one.  The charge is that Bigelow and Boal depict torture in a manner that glorifies it, by way of a plot that allegedly portrays the U.S. government/military eliminating OBL only via intelligence gleaned from full on, no holds barred torture.  In my view they are innocent of this charge.  The raging debate over the film is misdirected and could do better to be debating this country's torture legacy rather than a film that deserves serious consideration for a best picture Oscar.

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NBinSFF Cross-Promotion: Interview with Felix Gilman

by on 2013-01-13- Leave a reply

Rise of Ransom City

I completely forgot to flog this at the Duck. I'm sure that disappointed, oh, about zero people. Nonetheless, I persevere. From the write up:

I first learned about Felix Gilman‘s work from the influential academic blog Crooked Timber. I proceeded to read ThundererGears of the City, and Half-Made World and found myself impressed by Gilman’s distinctive settings, themes, and voice. It should surprise no one, in my view, that Thunderer received a nomination for the 2009 Locus Award for Best First Novel and that it also garnered Gilman a nomination for the John W. Campbell Best New Writer Award in both 2009 and 2010.

If you haven't read his novels, they are designed to appeal to social scientists of the sort that form the core of the Duck's readership. 
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A Christmas present: a Forum on Iain M. Banks’ new novel

by on 2012-12-20- 2 Comments


Iain M. Banks, an especial favorite author of mine and someone on whom I've written before, published a new novel earlier this Fall: The Hydrogen Sonata, the latest installment in his ongoing series of novels about The Culture, a post-scarcity pan-human civilization largely controlled by hyper-advanced artificial intelligences called Minds. I invited four other scholars -- Dan Nexon, Iver Neuman, Chris Brown, and Gerard van der Ree -- to write short critical essays on the novel, and sent the package to Iain for his comments. I now have all of the pieces in hand, and over the next few days I'll post them here. Happy holidays. You're welcome.

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Of Sultans and Soap Operas

by on 2012-11-29- 1 Comment

This is a guest post by Peter S. Henne. Peter is a doctoral candidate at Georgetown University. He formerly worked as a national security consultant. His research focuses on terrorism and religious conflict; he has also written on the role of faith in US foreign policy. During 2012-2013 he will be a fellow at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia.

Last December, I was in Doha to attend the UN's Alliance of Civilizations conference. While fighting off jet lag in my apartment--the 13 hour flight is a killer--I saw a commercial for 'Hareem al Sultan' (the Arabic version of the original Turkish name, 'The Magnificent Century'), a racy-looking soap opera on a UAE TV station. The show depicts the life of Suleiman the Magnificent--one of the greatest Ottoman Sultans--focusing specifically on the women in his life. I was a little surprised to see something that would shock my rural PA hometown's sensibilities on Middle Eastern TV, but that was the last I thought of the show.

Until this week, when I saw a report that Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has publicly attacked the show. Erdogan was upset by its depiction of the Sultan--whom he claimed spent more time on horseback than in the palace--and conservative sentiment in Turkey was angered by the show's risque nature.
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Skyfall and Cyberwar: James Bond Enters the Digital Era

by on 2012-11-10- 7 Comments

This is a guest post by Brandon Valeriano of the University of Glasgow. The post contains mild spoilers, so considered yourself forewarned.

Cyberwar is everywhere. I am sure there is some selection bias in my perspective, but I canít read the news without finding another 'cyberwar will be the new 9/11'article. The narrative? Our digital futures are in a precarious balance and threatened by the great cyber powers itching to destroy our lives, finances, and prevent access to the Playstation network through cyber attacks.

Now James Bond is getting in on the fun with Skyfall. In the disastrous first act (at least for me, although the overall movie might be a top five Bond film ever), the villain turns out to be a skilled cyber warrior. He is capable of blowing up buildings with a simple virus and his entire criminal enterprise seems build on his cyber abilities.

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The Politics of the Hunger Games

by on 2012-10-12- 5 Comments

As I've mentioned before, one of the projects that I'm working on now is a book provisionally entitled "The Politics of the Hunger Games." PM and I are overdue in submitting a full proposal to the press. In an earlier post I sketched out some provisional chapter titles. Here I provide a more complete list and a synopsis of the final chapter.

This is definitely a "crowdsourcing" post, so comments are appreciated. Details and spoilers below the fold.

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