Saturday, January 17, 2009

Video Game Controversy - Modern Warfare 2

By Daniel Ring

You begin in darkness, all you hear is the clicking of loading guns, and the quiet humming of an elevator. “Remember, no Russian,” says the leader of the group as the cramped space you are stood in fades into view. Seconds later, you hear the ping of the elevator, the doors open and you step out into a crowded Russian airport. Turning to a long line of people next to you, you open fire, slaughtering hundreds instantly. As the innocent people try to flee, you shoot them in the back. A horrific scene, but this is not real -- this is a video game.

The game is Activision’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, one of the most popular games of the decade, and perhaps one of the most important. The “shoot-em-up” genre defines American video game culture, many of the best games of recent times have been part of this genre, though it is only this latest installment in the Call of Duty series that actually touches on the morality of such games. The game is trying to make the player think about their actions, and give a new perspective to a scenario that most only hear about in the news.

Looking deeper into the story behind the level, it’s clear that there are massive political undertones to the whole scenario. You are a CIA agent, posing as a Russian militant who is supposed to be posing as an American terrorist. The guns you are firing on people with -- M240s and M4A1s -- are weapons used by the American military. This isn’t the only part of the game that may be emotionally evocative for the American player; the plot jumps between different characters so later you fight in an invaded Washington, the Capitol building crumbling in the background and in the last few levels of the game you fight against Americans.

Obviously, this game has come under a lot of fire for including the controversial content that it does, it is clearly labelled with an “Mature” rating. The player is even given the option to skip the airport level within the game.

Being a very recent form of entertainment, video games still have a lot to accomplish. People still regard them as entertainment for children. This stigma, fueled by news groups such as Fox News, has meant that video-games have been under a lot of fire for promoting violence and desensitizing our youth. It is also incorrect -- the Entertainment Software Association website states that, “the average game player is 35 years old and has been playing games for 12 years.”

Despite the age restrictions that can be placed on consoles, developers are the first to be blamed for the exposure of children to the adult content of their games. The truth is that people just don’t take games seriously -- they wouldn’t allow their thirteen year old to watch a Tarantino movie, the same rule applies to video games -- and until such a time as people realize this, games will continue to be demonized by the media.

Célia Faussart of Les Nubians Gives Journalism Students a High-Spirited Interview

By Jessica Bakeman

When Célia Faussart asks to kindly excuse her French, she means it. Literally. And she adds a squealy giggle.

Faussart, one-half of the Grammy-nominated duo Les Nubians, gave a high-spirited “Frenglish” interview to a journalism class at Plattsburgh State Oct. 19, and answered student-fielded questions as if she were simply singing. She even let out a few, “la la las.”

Though her work with her sister, Helene, in Les Nubians brought her recognition and fame, Faussart is now working on a solo project: Paris@Night.

“Ah! My Paris@Night, my little French cabaret!” she squeals at the mention of the performance.

The show, with monthly performances at the Zinc Bar in New York City, mixes music, comedy and images, a union of European “ope-eer-ah” and cabaret, she said. The production, in which Faussart uses the stage name Blue Nefertiti, gives audiences a taste of what it means to be “Afro-pean.”

“Blue Nefertiti is the perfect name because I like to link Europe and Africa,” she said. “I like to link the past to the present to the future.”

Born in Paris to a French father and Cameroonian mother, Faussart experiences daily the cultural mix tape of being French, black, and living in Brooklyn.

“I only try to follow my expectations of how to be a great human being first, then to be black,” she said of being held to different cultural standards of race.

Les Nubians’ repertoire demonstrates a fusion of Faussart’s musical interests: classical, jazz, tribal and hip hop.

“I’m from that generation — the hip-hop generation,” she said. “Hip hop helped us have a strong spine.”

Faussart’s vast roster of musical influences includes Miriam Makeba, Joao Gilberto, Celia Cruz, Mozart, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye.

The mellow tunes feature poetry recitation, French and English lyrics, and have a consistent, echo-y, almost angelic sound.

Faussart’s success with her sister was made sweeter by the fact that her artistic partner was family.

“Working with my sister is great, beautiful, blessed,” she said. “We argue, we argue, we ‘ar-guuue,’ but it doesn’t stay because we are sisters.”

She said they help to ground each other, no matter what country a tour might take them to.

“Traveling as family — going throughout the world — is special because you don’t lose who you are, your center,” she said. “If one of us loses it, then the other can say, ‘oh, you’re trippin’.’”

In a 2005 interview with NPR, Faussart said it was part of the “plan” that the music she made with Les Nubians could open Americans up to music of other cultures. Now 10 years after the hit album, “Princess Nubiennes,” she reflects on the realization of that dream.

She said she is not sure that her music changed Americans, or that they were simply finally ready to “open their minds and there we were with Les Nubians.”
She said it’s probably a little bit of both.

Helene is not the only family that keeps her grounded. Her kids; Jamaal, 10 and Makeda, 8, were born in France, and they have now been living with their mother in Brooklyn for two years. Faussart said they did not speak any English upon arrival, and their command of the language is now better than hers. She plopped them in an English-speaking school right away.

“For four months, they didn’t really say a thing,” she said.

She and her children are now settled in Brooklyn, giving Faussart time to develop her solo project, for which she has big dreams.

“I would love I would love I would ‘looove’ to do a bigger cabaret revue,” she said. “Like a Broadway kind of thing with a lot of dancers. La da da da da…”

Photo credit: Oluwaseye Olusa

Farris Paved Way for Alternative Black Artists

By Jessica Bakeman

While Dionne Farris said today’s music doesn’t give anything to anyone, her contemporaries agree that she gave everything to aspiring and future black artists.

A working musician who has shrunk away from the public eye since her hot hits of the early ’90s, Farris is now performing out of the oppressive arms of music industry standards. Those who worked with her acknowledge her contribution to the music scene, namely her destruction of the expectations on which genres of music black artists should and could produce.

Her genre, she said, is simply music.

“I would let that (categorization) to be up to people who need it,” she said in an interview Oct. 26. “But it’s been put in pop, neo-soul, urban alterative.”

Guitarist Jermaine Rand, who played shows in Atlanta with Farris in the late ’90s, admired this mixing of genres as her successful effort to pave the way for those who followed.

“During the time period there was a very closed-minded perception of what a black artist could do on a record,” Rand said. “The first album she put out had everything from blues music to rock music to soul.”

Rand and former touring bassist for Farris, Sean Michael Ray, agree that artists such as Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu got their shot because of Farris’ bold musical exploration.

“They would not have had careers if it wasn’t for Dionne Farris,” Rand said.

When Farris broke into popular music as a solo artist with the hit single “I Know” off of “Wild Seed Wild Flower,” Rand was intrigued. He said he had never heard anything like it.

“Back in the ’90s you had the whole grunge movement, but as far as what the black artists were doing, it was the typically R ‘n’ B and rap music,” he said.

Tomi Martin, a guitarist who toured with Farris and wrote her song, “Open,” said she is often misplaced in terms of genre based on the styles of those she influenced.

“She opened the door for a lot of African American artists to be different and do something besides R ’n’ B, but it’s unfortunate that she has been put into neo-soul,” he said. “She opened the door for Erykah Badu; she opened the door for India.Arie, but she’s not neo-soul.”

Ray described her music as, "very organic, never really that slick, L.A., polished kind of sound, always a really earthy kind of vibe. It's funky at times; it's rock at times; it's almost folk-y at times. It's a little bit of everything."

Speaking to her versatility, Martin originally wrote the song “Open” with Madonna in mind, and hadn’t anticipated it would work with Farris’ musical style. But, he was wrong.

“She had a certain talent of versatility where she can make things fit,” he said.

Durga McBroom, a black singer who toured with Pink Floyd, said Farris’ style creates a perfect combination.

“Her mix of soul and rock is exactly the kind of sound I aspire to create. Plus she can blow!” she said.

While her touring musicians and fans attribute popular artists’ success to her, Farris doesn’t see herself as any more important than others whose music touched listeners and inspired aspiring musicians.

“I think that we’re all links in the chain of this whole musical history,” she said. “Someone influenced me to become an influence.”

Her look, Martin said, also influenced other musicians to break from status quo. On the cover of her album “Wild Seed Wild Flower,” the caramel colored artist sports a brush cut, an oversized flannel shirt, leather buckled boots and a melancholy expression.

“A lot of people thought she was a boy, sitting on this rocking chair on the cover, but it was just Dionne stripping it down and having you pay attention to her music,” he said. “Her videos were quote unquote white videos, because they had different subject matter; they had different layouts. It wasn’t like it was pretentious, it was just who she was.”

Martin said her videos were revolutionary, as well, as most black artists were played exclusively on BET, with some limited play on MTV. But, Farris — she made VH1. Martin said only classic artists made this channel, and her video got substantial airtime.

Music journalist Christian John Wikane, who interviewed Farris this year for, said Farris is an artist who sets an example for what most artists aspire to be — “an independent musician who brings together a very strong cross section of music listeners.”

He added, “She writes the truth from her experience and isn’t limited by what anyone’s perceptions are of what she should be because she is a black female singer. You’re seeing someone who is living her life’s vocation as an artist.”

Farris said expressing truth is her main motivation as a musician.

“I personally think that music should give people truth in its purest form — not just my truth, your truth — just truth,” she said. “Music should be a source of healing … beauty, power, strength, joy, funkiness, get-down, having-a-good-time, makin’-you-dance.”

Farris has been working consistently as a musician since 1992, and said she was called to this occupation. Her latest record, “Signs of Life,” taps into her spirituality and sense of what music should give others.

“I have to have that mustard seed of faith, that little tiny inkling that the universe has got your back,” she said. “I just had a (relentless) faith about putting that record together.”

She released “Signs of Life” independently online in 2008 on her own label, Free and Clear Records. The tracks appear on her MySpace page. She has already started recording tracks for her next album, which will also be released on the label. Farris maintains her social networking pages to connect with fans.

She added “Savin’ Grace,” a minute-and-a-half demo Martin and Farris did on a whim, to her MySpace page to let her fans know she was working on something new. While the song consists of mainly Martin’s guitar stylings and mumbling on her part, the unfinished track has 10,600 hits.

Listeners flock to New York, where she performs monthly at Joe’s Pub.

"Her fan base (is) still there," said Ray, who played her show there the last two months. He said when she sings her new music, she can hold the mic out to her fans who know every word.

Her fellow musicians advocate strongly for listeners to find Farris again — those who have lost her, that is.

“I really would like some people to rediscover Dionne,” Martin said. “I think people kind of put her on the back burner.”

Photo: Courtesy of Dionne Farris