Category Archives: English

Norwegian graphic novel wrongly rejected by App Store for being “extremely racist”

I’ve been covering the App Store censorship story for some time in this blog, but it took a Norwegian victim for it to gain traction in our local main-stream media. The comic “Wakan Unwanted” by Lars S. Nygård and Seth Piper, distributed by Oxicomics, was rejected by Apple’s App Store for being ‘extremely racist’.

What was missing in the general press coverage was an independent assessment of the actual comic. Few things annoy me more than discussions that begin with “I haven’t read the work in question, but…” So when the illustrator (Piper) offered me the chance to read “Wakan Unwanted”, I took him up on his offer. And frankly, I can’t see where the App Store bureaucrats are coming from.

“Wakan Unwanted” is the story of the wanderings of a black protagonist through a steampunkish, alternate-history American West. The tagline “It’s December 1870. The adventures of the last black man in America are about to begin” says it all, really. The story is brutal and the language crass, but no more so than your typical spaghetti western. The main character is portrayed in a heroic light. While some might take offense at the back story of an African-American genocide, there are enough decent white people to go around.

As far as I can tell, the only thing that could have triggered the accusation of racism is the frequent use of the “n” word. If this is the case, the reasoning is disingenious indeed. While the word is deeply offensive when used in a current setting, there is no denying that it is part of our history and literature. It is certainly defensible to use the word in a graphic novel set in the American West in 1870s, even more so when the general tone of the work is evidently non-racist.

The imagery in Wakan Unwanted is not racist by any reasonable standard.

In Norway, accusations of racism are no small matter. Public statements that denigrate people on the basis of skin colour can potentially land you in jail for three years. The writer and illustrator are not comfortable with being labeled racists (and by extension criminals) by a global corporation, and in the Anakata Comics blog Lars writes:

We strongly believe that the folks over at Apple are misreading Wakan Unwanted. We have sent them some more background materials as well as an outline of where the story is going. Hopefully, this will clear things up.We strongly believe that the folks over at Apple are misreading Wakan Unwanted. We have sent them some more background materials as well as an outline of where the story is going. Hopefully, this will clear things up.

Let’s hope it will. But to me, this case is yet another reminder of the fix Apple has gotten itself into by including the infamous clause 3.3.12 in its iPhone SDK Agreement. By granting itself über-editorial power, Apple is condemned to repeat mistakes like this in its quest to rid the App Store of  “obscene, pornographic, offensive or defamatory content or materials of any kind”.

The loss to the content producers affected is obvious. But ultimately, Apple also stands to lose. If not money, then credibility and reputation in its core “creative classes” market. Say what you will about censorship, but hip or cool it is not.

Review: “Blogging” by Jill Walker Rettberg

Surely I’m not alone among Norwegian bloggers in regarding Jill Walker Rettberg as our local “mother blogger” – by her own account she started blogging in October 2000. For years she has been a leading researcher in the field of online social media, and she is frequently invited to comment on these issues in main-stream media. Therefore, I was looking forward to reading her recently published book Blogging, and pleasantly surprised when I received a review copy in the mail some time ago.

The aim of this book aims to give the reader a deep and wide overview of blogging as a genre, its history and relation to other genres and media, both on- and offline. Walker starts by defining the term, and then explains in detail how and why blogs such as Dooce.com and Kottke.org are typical examples of the genre. She puts the blog genre in its proper historical perspective, and goes on to show the similiarities and distinctions between blogs and other social networks.

Citizen journalism, as represented by Salam Pax and students who blogged their reactions to the Virginia Tech massacre, is well covered, as is commercial blogging in its various shapes and forms. There is also a very interesting (especially to someone with a background in the natural sciences) chapter on the narrative aspect of blogging, with subchapters on blogging a self-exploration and the distinction between fact and fiction.

The text is written in a light and engaging manner, with many fascinating tidbits of information. I did not know, for instance, that the playwright Bertolt Brecht described a vision of radio very similar to podcasting in 1932. And the concept of the The Gutenberg Parenthesis was a real eye-opener. The idea is that blogs and other social media are taking us back to the state that existed before the dominance of printed text, when teaching and entertainment was mainly oral and therefore dialogic.

All in all, Walker Rettberg covers an impressive amount of territory in a mere 176 pages. If there is one aspect of blogging I miss, it would be the connection between newspapers and blogs we find in Scandinavia. Here, a large segment of the blogging community uses the services provided by Verdens Gang, Norway’s largest newspaper and most popular website, at vgb.no. My impression is that this close relationship does influence the choice of subjects, as well as the comment and linking practices of many of the bloggers there.

Twingly, a commercial trackback service used by an increasing number of online newspapers, is part and parcel of the same phenomenon. The trackback pings are integrated with the newspaper story, allowing the blogger to give her or his perspective. When pinging newspapers with Twingly, I’ve also found that journalists use the service to engage in dialogue by commenting in my blog. Although local to Scandinavia, newspaper blogs and Twingly are interesting examples of mainstream media trying to connect with the blogging community.

This is only a minor complaint, however. “Blogging” puts a genre that is so often ignored or ridiculed as “pajama media”, on a firm academic footing without inundating the reader with academic terminology. I warmly recommend it to anyone affected by the explosive growth of web-based media, including parents, journalists and – perhaps most importantly – teachers. From now on, this book should be on the reading list of every teacher’s training academy.

HOWTO: Get a T61 with Ubuntu to work with most projectors

Ever since I switching from a IBM Thinkpad T40 with a screen resolution of 1024×768, to a Lenovo Thinkpad T61 with a 1440×900 screen and NVidia graphics card, I’ve had problems with external projectors. Whether I’ve booted up the default OS, Ubuntu 8.04, or Windows XP, the projector usually shows a squashed wide-screen image or just part of an image. The laptop’s 16:9 screen just seemed terminally incompatible with every 4:3 projector out there.

But recently I stumbled upon a simple solution that so far has worked with every projector and external screen I’ve connected to the VGA port. Here it is, in three steps:

  1. If it isn’t already on, boot up you computer and log in.
  2. Connect the cable to the projector/external screen. That’s right: wait until you are logged in, do not connect the cable before you boot up.
  3. Restart X server, and log in again. To restart X in Ubuntu, just press Ctrl-Alt-Backspace.

By restarting X you will shut down Firefox, Openoffice and other applications that depend on the graphical subsystem. But most of Linux will be untouched, which means that the process should just take a few seconds. Anyway, in my experience it is far more predictable than running the projector application that launches in Windows XP when you press Fn-F5, and faster than using the NVidia application.

There might be a zeroth step here: My T61 is normally connected to an external 1680×1050 monitor, via the VGA port on a docking station. This meant that I initially had to use the NVidia X server Preferences application (normally found in System/Administration/NVidia X Server Settings or started by typing sudo nvidia-settings in a terminal window) to create a dual screen setup.

If you run this while an external monitor or projector is connected, you will see it listed along with the laptop screen when you press X Server Display Configuration. In the menu under the screen layout window, press “Configure” and choose “Separate X screen”, set the resolution to Auto and save the X Configuration file. With this setup as you standard xorg.conf file, the NVidia card seems to detect any new screens and change the resolution accordingly when you restart X.