Some bite-sized thoughts and reflections on the items I’ve been reading, listening to, or watching this month.
Note: This post contains spoilers for Marvel’s Spider-Man on PS4, the movie Another Round, Hannibal, the movie Late Night, The Mandalorian, Wonder Woman 1984, and Ted Lasso.
What I’m reading for work
An Oral History of Wikipedia: Apparently Wikipedia recently turned 20 which makes me feel old af. In honor of that anniversary, OneZero published this oral history of the site and how it came to be (as well as some of its current and past problems). Reading this made me think a lot about how my teaching about Wikipedia has changed in the 10 years or so that I’ve been an information literacy instructor. I don’t think I ever portrayed the site as the unequivocal evil some professors probably would have liked me to, especially after I found a relatively early study that suggested that Wikipedia’s accuracy at the time was on par with more formally published encyclopedias. But I definitely talked about it as an inappropriate or at least non-scholarly source for research. These days, I’m more apt to tell students that Wikipedia is actually a perfectly appropriate source and that I use it myself all the time…for certain kinds of research. I think they believe me but they’re afraid to say so because what I’m telling them seems to go against what their other professors have told them. I’m not sure an oral history like this would change those professors’ minds but it does make for an interesting read.
What I’m playing for fun
Marvel’s Spider-Man on PS4: After conquering Horizon Zero Dawn, my first open world video game, this past summer, I was eager to find another game that would feel equally immersive and fun. I tried a few before landing on Spider-Man, which I’ve been playing the last few months and just finished last weekend. I’d actually tried to play this game once before but was quickly confused by the open world elements. Like, why was the game asking me to find a bunch of backpacks Peter Parker had stashed around the city but also fight crimes I encountered as I swung among the skyscrapers but also complete the missions that would advance the actual story? Once I’d played through Horizon Zero Dawn, these elements made a lot more sense to me. I did still find the game kind of stressful in a way that Horizon Zero Dawn wasn’t, like when I’d be swinging toward the next mission only to be constantly interrupted by crimes and other tasks I was encountering on the way there. I also never quite got as into the inventory stuff here as I did with Horizon Zero Dawn—the different weapons and outfits that you can equip and skills you can learn as the game goes on and you accumulate more XP. That said, I liked Spider-Man as a character a lot and it was fun to travel around a version of New York City and occasionally spy an Easter Egg that I recognized from the Marvel universe, like all the references to Daredevil. I can’t even tell you how excited I got the first time I encountered Avengers Tower (and then how dizzy when I climbed to the top looking for that stupid backpack…as someone who doesn’t like heights and gets motion sick easily, this game was challenging for reasons that sometimes had nothing to do with the story or the missions). I also liked how many of the optional side tasks that you could complete helped you improve and perfect skills that became important later in the game. (The timed Stealth missions from Taskmaster were my favorite.) Video games are nothing I’m ever going to excel at (I was playing this one in easier than easy mode) but I like playing them for that feeling I get when something clicks into place or I realize that I no longer have to think about something that was hard for me at the beginning. That’s what learning is all about, Charlie Brown. (Also: The end of this game absolutely devastated me.)
What I’m watching for fun
Another Round (available for rent or purchase on Amazon): Hannibal made me love Mads Mikkelsen but it also made me feel weird about loving Mads Mikkelsen because, after all, he was playing a cannibalistic psychopath who murdered a bunch of people in extremely gory and creative ways and didn’t feel bad about it. In this movie, Mikkelsen plays a sort of sad sack high school teacher named Martin who, along with a group of friends, decides to start drinking modest amounts of alcohol every day in order to conduct a “study” to prove the scientific theory that humans’ natural blood alcohol level is .05% below what it should be for optimal performance. As you might suspect from the premise, not all of Martin’s choices in this movie are great, including his and his friends’ ideas about how to conduct valid scholarly research, but overall he’s about as far from Hannibal Lecter as you can probably get so I didn’t feel weird about liking him.(1) I mean, at one point he smiles and it completely caught me off guard because I realized that in three seasons of Hannibal, I apparently had never seen Mads Mikkelsen smile. He also dances, in a lovely moment near the end of the movie that makes the whole thing more than worth it. If you don’t mind subtitles and want to get ahead of the curve when this is inevitably remade into a bad American comedy starring Will Ferrell, this is definitely worth seeking out.
The Mandalorian on Disney+: Full disclosure: I’ve had a Baby Yoda figurine sitting on my desk for close to a year now but it wasn’t until recently that I actually watched The Mandalorian, after receiving a Disney+ subscription as a Christmas gift. Let me tell you, I don’t have a maternal bone in my body but I would die for this adorable little green alien. Die for him. That said, I thought the series was mostly just okay, which is the way I feel about most Star Wars stuff. My impression may have been damaged a bit by the fact that I watched Wonder Woman 1984 shortly before I started watching The Mandalorian, so the image of Pedro Pascal as a very 1980s sort of comic book villain was very fresh in my mind. But while I did absolutely love the finale of the first season, the rest of it was mostly meh to me. Even the episode with Timothy Olyphant was just okay, which hurts to say because I freaking love Timothy Olyphant (and his argument with Mando about whether the models they were using to plan their battle against a dragon were to scale was absolute gold). As for the final surprise at the end of the second season, well. I read about it beforehand so I knew it was coming. I don’t have a strong opinion about it mostly because I doubt Luke Skywalker is going to be become a regular character on the series now—I feel like this was more of a “surprise appearance” that may be repeated in the future if Mando and Baby Yoda are ever reunited rather than an introduction of a new character. Which is a good thing because I think we can all agree that that CGI was creepy af. Count me among the people who wonders why they couldn’t have just gotten Sebastian Stan (who is presumably still on Disney’s payroll) to put on a Mark Hamill wig and play the part. Oh well. It’ll be interesting to see where the series goes in the future and whether Baby Yoda will still be part of it. If he is, I’m totally there. If not, I’ll probably still be there but, you know. A lot more slowly.
Ted Lasso on AppleTV+: I had no idea how much I needed a show like Ted Lasso in my life right now until I started watching it. I didn’t think I had much interested in a half hour comedy about an American football coach who goes to England to coach professional British football but I was bored, I’d heard good things about the show on some of the entertainment news sites I follow, and Apple extended my free trial to AppleTV+ until July, so I figured what the hell. The first episode didn’t do much to get me excited, so it took me a while to get to the second one but once I did, I ended up binging the whole series in a single weekend, which is something I almost never do. I think what clicked for me was the way this show treats its characters. Recently, I’ve spent a lot of time watching half-hour comedies like Insecure and Cobra Kai which, though great, revolve around putting their characters in uncomfortable or humiliating situations and then watching them make fools of either themselves or other people or both as they try to work their way out (and often fail). Based on its premise, I expected Ted Lasso to be more of the same and the first episode certainly has some moments like this. But over the course of the series it becomes clear that even though this is a funny show, it’s one that respects its characters and takes them seriously. This doesn’t mean that they always make choices that are right or good or that they don’t sometimes make idiots of themselves or other people but at the end of the day, the series treats the people it’s about with a level of warmth that I think has become really rare ever since sitcoms like The Office made cringe comedy a thing. For example, Ted Lasso is very much a Leslie Knope character in spirit but while Parks and Recreation, as full of heart as that show could sometimes be, often made fun of Leslie for her optimism and only occasionally allowed situations to work out in her favor, Ted Lasso as a show never tears Ted Lasso as a character down for being the way he is. It also shows that the optimistic, friendly person he presents to the world sometimes takes work, especially when he’s going through a tough time in his private life. I could go on about this show for a thousand more words (especially the relationships that develop between some of the characters, including Ted and Roy Kent, and Rebecca and Keeley) but suffice to say that this show really delighted me. I’m so glad I have it a second chance.
(1) Oddly, I have the opposite problem with Hugh Dancy, who played Will Graham in Hannibal. So many of his pre-Hannibal roles were as basically harmless pretty boys in romantic comedies and romantic dramas that I now feel weird going back and watching his old movies after having seen him as Will. I even felt weird watching him in a comedy like Late Night where he plays the red herring love interest who turns out (unsurprisingly) to be a douche. Go figure.