This winter the Olympics return to Canada for the first time since the Calgary games of 1988. For many people, the most vivid memories of that Olympiad are the colourful stories of some of the less accomplished athletes, such as British ski jumper Michael “Eddie the Eagle” Edwards and the members of the Jamaican bobsled team. It’s unlikely, though, that there will be any charming underdogs in this year’s Olympiad, as the games become more and more the province of professionals. As audiences and advertising revenues drop, however, will the professionalization of the Games spell their downfall?
Educational games have had a troubled history. At their worst, they have been neither educational nor games; even at their best they have faced scepticism from educators, game designers and especially children. The standard response to being given an educational game – This is supposed to be fun? – might be compared to finding a Brussels sprout at the centre of a Tootsie Pop. Teachers, meanwhile, are rightly concerned that the educational content of these games might be outweighed by the entertainment value. Already loaded down with curriculum that has to be delivered, many educators feel they don’t have the time to spare on anything but direct instruction.
With all the recent attention focused on stories of teenagers charged with distributing child pornography for taking sexually suggestive pictures of themselves, jobs lost due to Facebook and MySpace entries, and libel suits over blog posts, people are justifiably concerned about the permanence of material posted to the Internet. Many a teacher or parent has had to carefully explain to children or teens that whatever they post online might be seen by people other than the intended audience, and might be out there for a very long time.
One of the most famous images of online life is the New Yorker cartoon captioned “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” The cartoon, published in 1993, was hugely influential in fixing an image in the public imagination of the Internet as a place where anonymity reigned. It did not take long for that humorous view of anonymity to take on a darker cast, as parents began to fear that Internet predators would use this invisibility to lure their children in the guise of twelve-year-old girls. It’s instructive, though, to realize just how long ago this cartoon was published, and how much the Internet has changed since then.
Ever since Cronus the Titan tried to swallow his son Zeus, parents have feared being supplanted by their children. (It didn’t take.) But it’s only in the last few generations, as the rate of technological progress has accelerated, that children have grown up in a world significantly different from the one their parents knew, and it’s only very recently that parents have seen their surpass them while they were still in the single digits. Thanks to digital media, the world is changing so rapidly today – consider that five years ago there was no Twitter, ten years ago no Facebook and fifteen years ago no Google – that even those of us who spent our childhoods programming our parents’ VCRs can feel left behind.
Just a short while ago, concern with online predators was so dominant that anyone trying to draw attention to the problem of cyberbullying felt like a voice in the wilderness. In the last few years, though, new research has not only provided a more realistic picture of the risks of online sexual solicitation; but has also raised awareness on the severity of cyberbullying. Unfortunately, all of the media attention that is now focused on cyberbullying runs the risk of making public perceptions on this issue as narrow and inaccurate as they were towards online predation.
Someone encountering the Internet for the first time might be forgiven for assuming it was created specifically for teenagers. Indeed, the Internet could reasonably be said to have been aging backwards since its birth – the domain first of scientists and the military, then of university students in the 1990s and now children and teenagers.
In ancient times the Olympics were a time when all nations – all Greek nations, anyway – would put away their differences and compete in almost every human activity, from poetry to the ferocious, no-holds barred combat sport called pankration. Being the very best that humans could be was seen as the best way to honour the gods of Olympus.
Larry Gonick is a pioneer of non-fiction cartooning; starting with Blood From A Stone: A Cartoon Guide to Tax Reform in 1971, he has made a career out of explaining complicated topics in comic format. In 1978 he published the first issue of The Cartoon History of the Universe as a comic book, starting with the Big Bang and ending with the evolution of humanity. Issues of that series were collected first in 1982 and again in 1990; later two sequels appeared, The Cartoon History of the Universe II and III, and in 2007 the series continued as The Cartoon History of the Modern World. With the second volume of that series, published this fall, Gonick brings his history up to late 2008. Throughout the series Gonick has consistently made history entertaining and approachable as well as accurate (each volume ends with an annotated bibliography) and has shed light on the history of often-neglected parts of the world such as China, India and pre-Columbian America. Among his other works are The Cartoon History of the United States and the Cartoon Guide series, which provide grounding in topics ranging from physics to communication theory to sex; his works have been among the most influential in bringing comics into the classroom.
The most anticipated movie of the year, at least in some circles, is opening on March 6th: Watchmen, the adaptation of the 1986 comic book of the same name. The original, which won a Hugo Award for science fiction and was named one of Time’s top 100 novels of the twentieth century, tells the story of a group of retired superheroes investigating the death of one of their colleagues; the mystery leads the reader through the alternate world their existence has created, in which heroes with cosmic superpowers overawed the Soviet Union and in which Richard Nixon is still president in 1985. Though time will tell how successful the film will turn out to be, the buzz around its launch gives an opportunity to look at comics and how they’re adapted into other media.