May 09, 2005

Blog Portfolio 3

Now that the semester is almost over, I give you my final Blog Portfolio for Media Aesthetics:

Alias Presentation, Part 1 and Part 2: In these blogs I outline my final presentation for my term paper. In the first blog I give some background information about the aesthetic structure of the show and its key themes, then in the second blog show how these themes are maintained or changed through the different mediums the show incorporates.

Reflections on Student Readings: In this blog, I responded to the articles Amanda, Anne, Denisha, and I exchanged to prepare for our presentations, as well as the selection Dr. Jerz gave us from Aesthetics in the Natural Environment.

Perception of Female Beauty and How It Is Portrayed in the Media: I used this blog as a supplement to my Second Informal Presentation. I went more in depth with my subject and attempted to make my connections stronger.

Blog Portfolio 2: A Compilation of my work from Thoreau to Utopian Entrepreneur.

Blog Portfolio 1: A Compilation of my work from Pygmalian to Aesthetic Realism.

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May 03, 2005

Alias Presentation Part 2

Now that I've given you some background on certain aspects of Alias, I will show you how those aspects are maintained or changed through the different mediums Alias incorporates.

The Prequel Novels: These novels for young adults focus heavily on the complexity of relationships in Sydney's life. The second novel, A Secret Life, deals with Sydney's first mission and the budding romance between Sydney and Noah Hicks, a character who appears in the television show for only two episodes. The development of this relationship, however, shows Sydney to be weak, unsure, and vlunerable, as opposed to the strong and powerful woman seen in the show:

"What is it?" He voice came out a whisper. The way he was looking at her... And then, just as she'd known he would, Noah reached out and took her into his arms. She stiffened as he pulled her tight to his body, but the way his lips brushed against her ear did strange things to her pulse. "Can you hear me?" he breathed, so low it was almost like hearing his thoughts. His breath was warm against her neck. His mouth nuzzled her ear. Her heart pounded out of control as his hand ran up into her auburn wig. "Yes," she forced out somehow. He pulled her even closer. "Our room's bugged. Somebody's made us."

In this excerpt, one can clearly see how weak Sydney is in comparison to Noah. Her judgement was impared because she let her emotional side get the better of her; Noah was always cool, doing what needed to be done to protect them against the bug. When Noah appears in the TV show, it is Sydney, not Noah, who is superior. When he asks her to run away with him, it is Sydney who thinks rationally and turns down his offer. Although the aim of these novels is to fill in the unknown elements of Sydney's past, based on this excerpt, their canonical value should be questioned.

Although, like the television show, the missions in the prequel novels intertwine Sydney's public life with her private life, the missions in A Secret Life do so only to get Noah and Sydney closer. The mission itself means nothing in the larger scheme of things except as a catalyst for Sydney and Noah's relationship.

Because each novel addresses a different element of Sydney's past, the serial aspect of the show is maintained. However, the format of the novels is very linear, not once utilizing the flashback/flashforward technique so prevalent in the TV show.

Fan-Fiction: Unlike the prequel novels, a main theme of Alias fan-fiction is the strength and power of women. The second article I had the class read explained thatthe majority of fan-fiction is "slash," or focused on Male/Male relationships because "writing about two men avoids the built in inequality of the romance formula, in which dominance and submission are invaiably the respective roles of men and women" (qtd. in Somogyi 399). What I found interesting about Alias fan-fic is that the majority of the relationships are heterosexual, and the most popular slash fic is between Sydney and Lauren (see "strong women" Alias Presentation Part 1). I likened this to the Janeway/Chakotay fan-fic that Somogyi discusses because, like Janeway, Sydney is an extremely strong female character. In addition to romantic relationships, Alias fan-fiction deals heavily with familial relationships as well as adversarial relationships. This is due to the importance the show places on these relationships in Sydney's life. Alias fan-fics also deal heavily with "the unknown" elements of the Alias world, most notably the Rambaldi mystery and the mystery surrounding Irina's (Sydney's mother) life and motives.

Both the fan-fiction and prequel novels attempt to fill in the unknown/mysterious elements of the show while exploring relationships that the show didn't have time for or didn't want to explore. Each are examples of serial storytelling, although the fan-fiction is more so because single chapters of a story are released alone. What the fan-fiction does that the novels don't do, however, is maintain the non-linear storytelling aspect of the show. Many of the fan-fics try and emulate this structure of the television show by starting their stories with a mission near the end of their story. Although this is successful, the nature of fiction leaves the action sequences in both the fan-fics and the novels something to be desired.

Alais: The Game for PS2 and XBox: The structure of the game is very similar to the television show. It opens with Sydney getting captured at a mission, then flashes back 72 hours to the beginning of the story and game. The "woman warrior" aspect of the show is also maintained, as the men are secondary to both Sydney and her adversary Anna. In the television show, the development of the other characters is important - they frequently get their own stories, conflicts, and missions. In the game, not only is Sydney's character the only important one, but she is visually the only well-made character. The other characters only interact with Sydney in relation to her mission, and besides her mission there is nothing else. The action sequences are a means to an end and don't affect her private life in any way. A review of the game on PC Gameworld unintentionally addresses this: "Alias embodies everything that the TV series is: Action, stealth, tension, gadgets, costumes, secret missions." In the show, however, the missions and costumes are only secondary to the more complex themes of family, trust, and discovering the truth. These themes are ignored in the game.

Alias Underground for PC and Mac: While the computer game is very similar to the video game, there are some key differences. It doesn't have the complexity of a non-linear story, but the format does seek to emulate the serial aspect of the show. Each mission is released separately, and they follow specific missions seen in the show. Like the game, Sydney is the main character, but there is a Vaughn character that appears in certain missions to work with Sydney. Aside from this, no external relationships are touched on, and certainly none of the tension exists. The "Raid on SD-6" mission is based directly off of "The Box" episodes - the format and tension of the action sequences translates well, but none of the father/daughter tension that is important to the episode is even addressed.

Action Figures: So far there are two series of action figures made for Alias. Both sets have two Sydney figures - one in a powerful and tough outfit such as a business suit or spywear, the other in a sexy yet tough alias. These two figures show the two sides of Sydney's life, keeping each equally important. In each series, the Sydney figures are paired with two men - one good and one bad. The tough Sydney figure is made to look just as powerful as both of these men, if not more so.

I hope this presentation helps gives some needed background into the television show Alias and the different mediums it has accessed to tell its story. Now for the paper...

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Alias Presentation Part 1

Because I realize that the majority of my class is unfamiliar with the subject of my presentation/paper, I will use this presentation as an entry into the basic themes, ideals, and aesthetic structure of the show, as well as discuss how these elements are maintained and changed through the different mediums the show incorporates.

I will begin my presentation by showing the beginning of Episode 13 of the first season of Alias entitled, "The Box, Part 2." This three minute clip quickly explains the premise of the show through the episode-opening voice over:

"My name is Sydney Bristow. Seven years ago I was recruited by a secret branch of the CIA called SD-6. I was sworn to secrecy, but I couldn't keep it from my fiance. And when the head of SD-6 found out, he had him killed. That's when I found out the truth. SD-6 is not part of the CIA. I was working for the very people I thought I was working against. So I went to the only place that could help me bring them down. Now, I'm a double agent for the CIA, where my handler is a man named Michael Vaughn. Only one other person knows the truth about what I do, another double agent inside SD-6, someone I hardly know - my father."

This opening, coupled with the beginning moments of the episode, quickly displays many of the aspects of the show that I wish to analyze...

1. Non-Linear Storytelling: Although the clip I showed did not demonstrate this aspect of the show, most of the episodes follow a non-linear pattern. The show begins near the end, usually with Sydney in a precarious situation, then switches to the past where the audience must then follow the course of events leading up to the initial scene. Many times the show will flash forward multiple times, causing the audience to follow both future and past storylines. An example of this is the pilot episode, where the audience first meets Sydney in a red wig as she's getting tortured. The show then flashes back to Sydney on the UCLA where her boyfriend proposes to her. Just when the audience has forgotten about the initial torture scene, the show flashes forward again, continuing with that storyline. This pattern repeats several times until the past-story meets up with the future-story.

2. Action/Non-Action Blend: Throughout the show, Sydney is constantly finding herself in situations where her public/personal life struggles are often intertwined with her private/spy life. For instance, in the pilot episode, the scenes where Sydney is getting tortured are interspresed with the scenes where she is dealing with the emotional torture of her fiance's murder. In "The Box" episodes, Sydney decides that she wants to quit both the CIA and SD-6 but the action she faces at work makes her decide to stay.

3. Serial Storytelling: Because Alias is a television show, there is a serial aspect of the show. Each episode has its own story arc where Sydney encounters a problem, goes on a mission to solve that problem, then returns home either successful or unsuccessful. Despite this serial aspect, however, the series has many continual story lines that link each episode together. Although Sydney may solve one mystery in each episode, other mysteries remain unsolved for five, six episodes, sometimes entire seasons. Despite the intrinsic serial aspect of the show, it follows a pattern more closely related to soap operas than prime time TV. The the most recent two seasons, this soap opera aspect has been lessened slightly to raise viewership. Although there are continuing storylines, there are less cliffhangers, and the story arc in each episode has become more defined.

4. Complexity of Relationships: One of the important underlying themes in the show is the complexity of not only Sydney's relationships, but the relationships of those around her. For instance, from the very first episode Sydney and her CIA handler Vaughn begin a tension-filled relationship that still isn't resolved in the current, fourth season. The clip I played earlier showed the tension surrounding Sydney's relationship with her father. This tension is only feuled throughout the show as each time they grow closer, something happens to bring them farther apart. Similar relationships exists between Sydney and her mother, between her father and mother, between Sydney and her nemesis Sloane, between her father and Sloane...the list goes on.

5. Investigation of the Unknown: Another key aspect to this show is the quest for truth. Because so many characters have hidden agendas, there is a lot of deceit and betrayal between them. There are also many mysteries in the plot of the show, including uncertainty over past events, and the relevence of the 15th century genius-prophet Milo Rambaldi. Rambaldi is another aspect of the show that ties Sydney's private and professional lives together - the majority of her missions involve collecting either information about Rambaldi or a Rambaldi artifact, while her relationship with her both her mother and sister could hinge upon the answers to his mystery.

6. Strong Women Warriors: The first article I chose for the class to read discussed Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a Transgressive Woman Warrior. I use this article to claim the same about Sydney Bristow, but also show the women warriors surrounding her. Like Buffy, Sydney is a reluctant hero (as seen in "The Box, Part 2"). She is named by Rambaldi as "The Chosen One," and was, as a child, secretly trained by her father to be a spy. The life she leads is part of her, and she excels at it. Although her superior officers are all men, Sydney is not only superior to them in skill, but holds a certain amount of power over them. She is better in combat than her father (a high-ranking officer), Agent Vaughn (her CIA handler), and Agent Dixon (her partner). She holds power over both SD-6 and the CIA because of her elite status as double-agent, and often disobeys their orders and goes on rogue missions if she feels it is necessary. While she has occasionally seen the consequences of this impetuousness, most of the time her judgements were correct and both organizations are in her debt.

Another key woman warrior is Irina Derevko, Sydney's mother. While pretending to be the loving wife and mother Laura Bristow, Irina was actually a KGB operative in disguise, using Jack Bristow (Sydney's father) to gain information about the CIA and its plans. Before turning herself into CIA custody, Irina lived under the alias "The Man," fooling not only the CIA but agencies all over the world. While a prisoner, the information she held gave her power over the CIA, then after her escape she used the information she had learned from the CIA to become more powerful than ever.

Sydney's sister, Nadia, is the best spy in the CIA, next to Sydney. They seem to be evenly matched, both exponentially more talented than any of the men in their lives. Nadia, however, is part of a Rambaldi prophesy that pits Sydney ("The Chosen One") against Nadia ("The Passenger") in a fight to the death. Although she and Sydney are currently alies, there is a threat that this could change at any moment.

Sydney has other nemeses as well - In seasons 1 and 4, Sydney must fight with a Russian Super-spy named Anna Espinosa. Anna is equally matched with Sydney, and her obsession with Rambaldi often has them working against each other in missions. In season 3, it was revealed that Agent Vaughn (Sydney's love interest) married a woman in the government named Lauren. It turns out that, like Irina Derevko, Lauren was a double agent asked to marry Vaughn in order to glean secret information about the CIA. Lauren soon became both a professional and personal adversary, but unlike Anna and Irina, did not have the skills to compete against Sydney.

Now that I've given you some background information, go see how I'm planning to use it...(Alias Presentation, Part 2)

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