Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The NEA's Excellent HERadventure [Updated]

    During my politically formative years, the National Endowment for the Arts was a frequent target of derision from conservatives and Republicans for the unnecessary and often ridiculous use of tax dollars.    Along with the Department of Education and public broadcasting, it was high on the list of government boondoggles to get the axe once conservatives held the purse strings.  Somehow, that day never came.  With the resurgence of interest in cutting government spending now that the country has had four trillion dollar plus annual deficits in a row, the NEA might start to feel the heat again, especially in light of the story below.

    Last spring, the National Endowment for the Arts announced its 2012 grant recipients.  The vigilance of conservatives must indeed have slipped, because other than a brief mention by Pennsylvania Congressman Joe Pitts, the following seems to have gone by virtually unnoticed:
Spelman College (aka Digital Moving Image Salon)
Atlanta, GA
To support HERadventure, a multi-episode, augmented reality computer game. Targeted to young women ages 18-25, HERadventure's story focuses on a young female superhero sent to Earth to save her own planet from devastation because of climate changes caused by social issues impacting women and girls. The game will be designed to be accessible online, on mobile platforms, Facebook, and Twitter and is designed and led by filmmaker and digital media artist Ayoka Chenzira with a team of artists.
    The description defies parody.  $100,000 of taxpayer money is going to help develop a video game about a female alien sent to earth to rescue her own planet (sorry, I just can't paraphrase this - must quote) "from devastation because of climate changes caused by social issues impacting women and girls."  Fortunately, we are not left to fill in the details for ourselves.  A fuller description is available on the website of Spelman College:
The backstory of HERadventure begins when HER, a warrior woman and inhabitant of Earth’s sister planet, comes to Earth to investigate why it is causing her native planet to freeze and slowly die. HER discovers that the auras of Earth’s women are diminishing. Consequently, Earth and other parts of the universe are negatively impacted. HER enlists a corps of “superheroes in training” (HERadventure users) to take meaningful action and offer solutions to issues such as negative self-esteem, discrimination, eating disorders, and depression, which are causing women’s auras to suffer. These issues are dealt with through visual metaphors in a 3-D environment. HERadventure users “teleport” through various levels of the gaming experience by using social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, with a goal of helping the superhero save her planet and ultimately serve as catalysts for positive change in the virtual and real world.
    An article from the college's electronic newsletter Inside Spelman goes even further:
 What would happen if the societal issues affecting women put other planets at risk? Well, of course, HER, a Black female superhero, would swoop in with a plan to save the universe. HER is central to HERadventure, a science fiction-based, multimedia platform project that interweaves virtual worlds, digital  and social media to create a gaming and storytelling experience. HERadventure not only entertains but tackles social issues that permeate the daily reality of many women.
    Although it is the smorgasbord of politically correct elements that makes this project entertaining to write about, the bottom line is that the government has taken $100,000 from the taxpayers and given it to someone to develop a video game.  It is one thing to argue that tax dollars should be used to prop up art forms that may be suffering from popular neglect (opera, painting, ballet, symphony orchestras) but have earned the right to be preserved for cultural and historical reasons if for nothing else.  But a video game?  Does America need government sponsored video games?  Even those that purport to be "art"?  Cannot our free marketplace of ideas even be trusted with that minor task?

    As the Inside Spelman article goes on to note:
HERadventure is scheduled for release on International Women’s Day on March 8, 2013. However, that is only the beginning. The transmedia, interactive story of HERadventure will be made up of several interconnected projects including a film that will engage film directors from around the world.
    Mark your calendars for March 8th.  We paid $100,000 for it.  We might as well see if we got our money's worth.

UPDATE: In a remarkable coincidence, this story at IndieWire.com just showed up this morning:

Filmmaker Ayoka Chenzira Launches HERadventure Sci-Fi Multimedia Project To Empower Women 
JANUARY 10, 2013 11:27 AM 
As the conversation continues on the dearth of black representation in sci-fi cinema, I receive an email with this announcement.
When she's not partnering up with acclaimed best-selling author Pearl Cleage to bring her novels to the screen, in what has been dubbed The Pearl Cleage Film Project, filmmaker and professor Ayoka Chenzira is developing an innovative sci-fi multimedia (film, gaming, social media) project called HERadventure.
I'll be interviewing her in a little bit about both her teaming with Cleage as well as on this newly-announced HERadventure project.
     The full story is at the link.

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