Review by Anne Ruggles Gere
Anthony Collamati, Alma College
Ron Brooks, Oklahoma State University
Sarah Arroyo and Bahareh Alaei, Cal State Long Beach
Robert Leston, New York College of Technology
Geoffrey Carter, Saginaw Valley State University
Scot Barnett, Clemson
Alexandra Hidalgo, Purdue University
Jason Helms, Texas Christian University
Walking into the room was more like entering a cocktail party than a typical MLA session. About 25 people were milling around, talking, and looking at the eight screens positioned throughout the room. And beer was being served. Someone tried to announce the session, but it had already begun.
Pinball games were the unifying theme, and Anthony Collamati’s (Alma College) screen featured the title, “What Pinballs Tell Us about Gadgets, Groins, and the Galaxy.” Using a video, two iPads, and an iPhone, Collamati responded to the claim that technology “flattens” humanity by examining responses to human-machine interactions. One iPad demonstrated various ways people interact with machines, such as crawling on the floor to plug in components, getting a drink from a balky vending machine, and answering a cell phone in the snow. The other iPad paired a passage on machine-groin connections from Umberto Eco’s Foucalt’s Pendulum with (my favorite) an Italian comic sketch of a person using the groin to play pinball.
Ron Brooks of Oklahoma State University examined the pleasures of pinball by remediating an article, “The Mechanical Bride of Pinbot.” For the uninitiated, the Mechanical Bride pinball machine was a pornographic pinball machine introduced when pinball machines were becoming eclipsed by video games. Brooks’ video of the Mechanical Bride was accompanied by a wooden pinball machine he made himself, complete with mechanical flippers.
“The Choric Slam Tilt: Unpinning the Table” by Sarah Arroyo and Bahareh Alaei (Cal State Long Beach) drew upon the Greek chora to look at the relationship between invention and the material environment, as well as the inventive force of desire. An evocative video of images conveys how the unpinned space of the pinball machine generates creativity and how words become a means of production. Caine’s Aracade, a video of a child’s cardboard construction, offered a most compelling illustration of the force of the unpinned space.
Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s concept of desire inspired an artistic rendering, “Table without Organs,” by Robert Leston (New York College of Technology). These images evoked three aspects of desire: flow, interruption, and the body without organs. Balls from pinball machines represented the desire to create subjectivity.
Geoffrey Carter (Saginaw Valley State University) offered a visual history of pinball machines, illustrating how Steve Kordeck introduced flippers in 1948, how Roger Sharpe liberated pinball play from the seediness of gambling by demonstrating that it was actually a game of skill, and how artist Python Anghelo created Pinbot and other iconic machines. Those of you who will be attending CCC in Las Vegas may want to visit Tim Arnold’s Pinball Hall of Fame while you are in town.
The relationship between rhetoric and realism, or more specifically, how to account for the otherness of things, was central to Scot Barnett’s (Clemson) project, “Tilting Kiss: An Allegory of Things,” a remediation of a paper he had written previously. Acknowledging that description cannot account for ontology, Barnett claimed that we can catch glimpses of this concept through media. The pervasive theme of the relationship between style and substance was articulated via the rock group Kiss, known for its privileging of surface over substance.
Alexandra Hidalgo (Purdue University) created a documentary, “The Underside of Dracula,” about three men who play pinball together. Examining themes of masculinity and community, Hidalgo found that men often united in a desire to “beat the machine,” an entity that they often gendered as female.
“What If the Who Became the What? Bernard Stiegler Listens to Tommy” was the title of a conference paper that Jason Helms (Texas Christian University) wrote and remediated in Flash. His argument in both texts was that Alexander Galloway, a translator and propagator of Bernard Steigler’s work, misinterprets Steigler’s view of technology.
Who knew that pinball machines could generate such fascinating explorations and discussions?