The Artist in American History

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Latest Podcast Episodes

01 - Videogame History: E.T. on the Atari 2600
16 Mar 2017 @ 12:04 pm

E.T. by Atari is widely regarded as one of the worst videogames ever created. Based upon the wildly popular film Steven Spielberg, it was made in under six weeks by a single developer working on hardware that was, by 1982 standards, utterly archaic. The Atari 2600, the console on which the game was released, had just 128 bytes of RAM – not 128Kb of Ram, but 128 bytes. Building the game on such notoriously underpowered hardware at such ridiculously short notice was a catastrophe. $20 million had been spent by Atari on acquiring the license, but only a few thousand dollars were invested into the actual development of the game which was shipped in vast numbers. At least four million copies of E.T. were manufactured and though the game was initially a commercial success, selling upwards of one and a half million copies, it left a vast inventory unsold which Atari eventually shipped to a landfill site in Mexico and buried. The burial of hundreds of thousands of unsold E.T. cartridges was bad enough, but the game’s quality was so notoriously poor that the real damage was caused by the copies which were actually sold. The game found its way into a million and a half homes in time for Christmas, 1982 and, in so doing, helped to sour the American public’s taste in videogames, proving that a well-loved brand was no guarantee of quality. E.T., alongside several other notoriously bad Atari 2600 games from that same era, was an advertisement for why people should not want to play videogames and, in 1983, the market for computer games in the United States collapsed. To be sure, Atari was not the only company responsible for the market crash, but it was a massive contributor. By 1985 the value of videogame sales in the United States had declined from several billion dollars to perhaps one hundred million as consumers across the country lost trust and interest in the medium. E.T., for all its hype and initial success, practically destroyed a medium which had been growing massively since its explosion into American homes in the 1970s. E.T. was the anti-Pong. Other than a footnote in pop culture and business history, then, where does all of this leave the notoriously bad E.T? Is it as bad as its reputation would have us believe; is it really the worst videogame ever made? The simple answer to that question is no. In spite of the fact that it was rushed to market and that it is marred by some terrible design choices, Atari’s E.T. possess degree of charm, particularly when its six week production cycle is taken into account. Granted, one must sometimes look deep to uncover it whilst forgiving some pretty significant flaws, as a piece of retro Americana it carries appeal. The gameplay revolves around E.T.’s quest to assemble the phone that will allow him to ‘phone home’. In order to accomplish this, the titular character is able to move around a type low resolution quasi-open world. Players are forced to go in no one particular direction though there is little variety and little to see wherever they do go. As the player explores the world, such as it is, they find themselves chased by government agents, though the real threat faced by players is the game’s extremely buggy nature. The map is littered with pits, wherein the pieces of the phone are to be found, but falling into such craters is as much a matter of chance as it is a matter of design. Once in a pit, players must extend E.T.’s neck to ascend upwards but might well find that they become snared in a pit-loop, immediately falling back into the same hole from which they have emerged. Sometimes these loops can be broken, often they cannot...

Da Vinci's Spraycan - A Beginners Guide to Street Art
21 Feb 2017 @ 10:42 am

How to appreciate street art - a beginners guide to the underworld. Join Dr. Reid as he explores a secret street art gallery somewhere in Scotland. The abandoned factory has had its interior covered in graffiti, tags, and illicit wall murals. It is a monument to vandalism - and the ability of art to speak truth to power.

Election Special! The Trump Effect
3 Nov 2016 @ 10:03 am

In this special episode Dr. Reid travels to New York to speak to ordinary Americans about their reaction to Donald Trump's divisive rise.  The resultant short film, co-directed by Brett Sanders and shot by the pair's history students, provides an insight into how the people of New York feel about the sudden and dramatic rise of one of the city's most controversial sons.  Aftermath: A Portrait of a Nation Divided was directed by Brett Sanders and Darren R. Reid for Red Something Films.

Guardians of the Forest: The Magna Carta and Colonial America
1 Jul 2016 @ 12:10 pm

The Artist in American History is back with a special post-Brexit episode which deconstructs British and English claims to founding global democracy through the creation of the Magna Carta.  Rather than seeing that document as the basis of English democracy, this podcast instead looks at how the spirit of 1215 was betrayed in colonial North America - and how it was maintained by Native Americans even in the face of growing English antipathy for its values.

The Politics of Star Wars
31 Dec 2015 @ 04:30 am

In this episode, Dr. Reid examines the rich politics which underpinned the original Star Wars film.  From the importance to the guerrilla fighters in the post-Vietnam era through to contemporary warnings of empires built upon technological advantages, Star Wars, in spite of the seeming simplicity of its depictions of good and evil, had much to say about America and its place in the world.

The Present State of the Future
16 Oct 2015 @ 04:44 am

Explore the meaning of science fiction as a means of uncovering difficult truths about world history and the human experience.  This episode uses the recent film Chappie to ask questions about how one of the most easily dismissed genres is able to speak truth about the present by posing scenarios about our future.

Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and the Suicidal Clowns of New York
29 Aug 2015 @ 11:47 am

Video Podcast + Trailer. Looking for Charlie; Or, Why Do Clowns Kill Themselves is the new feature length documentary from historians Darren R. Reid and Brett Sanders. It explores the thin line between happiness and despair among comedy legends from the early twentieth century. This video podcast provides an arresting first look into the new documentary and its story of love, laughter, hopelessness, and suicide.

Unfrozen - Gender and the Disney Princess
15 Jan 2015 @ 04:00 am

Lecture by Dr. Darren R. Reid reflecting on the ways Disney have attempted to adapt their princesses to move away from out dated gender stereotypes.

Why is 'Redskins' Racist - The History Behind the Controversy
28 Aug 2014 @ 04:04 am

In this lecture we examine the history behind the name 'Redskins', looking at the history of race and racism in order to lay bare what, exactly, is so problematic with that label.  This lecture ties the history of race into the current controversy surrounding the 'Washington Redskins', focusing upon its discriminatory name and logo.

Folk Music of the Civil War: Hard Times Come Again
3 Aug 2014 @ 03:24 am

Bad food makes great music - in this mini-lecture Dr. Reid examines the role played by folk music in the American Civil War by examining the case study of 'Hard Times Come Again No More' and how that song was transformed for a lament about poverty into a cry for good food for the Union army.