Geoffrey V. Carter

In the summer of 2012, Victor Vitanza (Clemson University) offered an unique conference opportunity based on an unified-but-yet-to-be-determined theme; he sought eight presenters interested in generating eight multimodal presentation for the 2013 Modern Language Association Convention in Boston. Having collaborated on two of Vitanza’s multimodal panels before -- and after having the good fortune of having the proceedings of both these efforts published in Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy (12.3 & 17.2,) -- I knew that thematically, VV was open to unique themes, even something a kinetic and unpredictable as pinball. I was thrilled when I became the point person for organizing this unconventional panel. For me, an article by Ron Brooks (Oklahomas State University) in the 2011 Enculturation article entitled, “The Mechanical Bride of Pinbot: Redressing the Early McLuhan” suggested itself to numerous inventive starting points. Also, what was uncanny for me at the time -- in addition to just how smart the scholarship was in Brooke’s blending of McLuhan’s Mechanical Bride (1951) with the Bride of Pinbot pinball machine (1991) -- was how Ron's article appeared just a week after I purchased my first pinball machine, The Comet (1986), a game developed by Python Anghelo (more on him below), who was responsible for the aforementioned Bride. If Ron's work was an early indication, there was something potentially productive about bringing the energy of scholarship to the arcade. For this collection, participants from the 2013 conference returned and deepened their efforts. The result is a collection that should prove illustrative for those interested in pre-digital technologies, gaming studies, and the rhetorical intersections of objects and their makers. Perhaps, too, those that simply love playing pinball will enjoy this as well!

Ron was the first to answer my call for a collection of multimodal presentations on the relevance of pinball machines for the teaching of writing and rhetorical invention. Not only was he enthusiastic about the prospect, but in a private email exchange with me he wrote, “In my ideal world, I would actually create a pinball version of the paper I'm presenting there and let people play it.” As you will see in his presentation, he did precisely that, and it was his early belief in the project that got the (silver)ball rolling. In an email dated just a few days after Ron signed on, Anthony Collamati (Alma College) wrote and asked, “I like the idea of working with flippers. What do you have it mind?” To be honest, I really had no idea what might result other than I was impressed how Ron used the artwork and mechanical design of the Bride of Pinbot to reexamine the scholarship of Marshal McLuhan. Jason Helms (Texas Christian University) seemed to intuit at least one version of what was possible when he answered with an idea about using pinball to examine the work of French philosopher Bernard Steigler. So, too, Sarah Arroyo and her graduate students from California State University at Long Beach (Bahareh Alaei and Amy Loy) imagined a set of Deleuzian possibilities, linking playing pinball to desiring production, even though doing so would draw these Californians into Boston’s bitter January cold.

MLArcade Attendee with Ron Brooks's
DIY Pinball

The remaining MLA roster was filled by folks excited about presenting, but perhaps a little less certain about how it might come together. Scot Barnett (Indiana University) was looking forward to the prospect of exploring pinball in relation to recent discussions concerning Object Oriented Ontology, but unlike some of the members of group was a little less certain about his filmmaking prowess. The result is his first attempt at making a short video, and it’s an effort that not only kicks off this collection, not just because of its deft construction, but also because he puts the relevance of pinball squarely into conversation with recent rhetorical turn toward the “rhetoric of things.” On the other end of the spectrum, Alexandra Hidalgo (Michigan State University), whose research centers on documentary filmmaking, was thrilled to have an opportunity for shooting footage, but she was decidedly less sure of the pinball theme. In an email, she admitted that she couldn’t even remember ever playing pinball much less having something to “say” about it. Undaunted, she seized upon the opportunity to film a new pinball club that was emerging in Lafayette, Indiana due to the opening of Main Street Amusements. (Having graduated from Purdue, I was astonished to find that this call for projects had emerged at the same time as this new arcade.) Alexandra’s work takes a critical look at the “masculine underside” of this hobby.

Finally, I must mention the efforts of Robert Leston (New York College of Technology) and Jody Shipka (University of Maryland). Robert has been a longtime collaborator of mine, and his initial impulse was simply to pass along a working title: “The Wolf to the Gorgar: From Seaside Heights to the Cry for Freedom.” As with many of Robert’s titles, I had no idea what direction it might take him, but I knew I only had to be patient for something wonderful to emerge. The resulting video (“A Table Without Organs”) is one of his most abstract and poetic efforts to date, and it is made extra special as it represents a collaboration with his beautiful and intelligent daughter, Alex. Serving as the collection’s Coda is Jody’s “Quotidian Pin,” an effort that I invited her to submit over a year MLArcade wrapped up. Her work, the only comprised of still portraits rather than a multimedia presentation—documents her effort to capture miniature pinball tables populated by small scale human figures performing everyday tasks. In many ways, Jody’s images capture the spirit of the woodrail pinball machines of the 1940’s as they, too, tend to depict pinball in light of more mundane scenes of city life, local carnivals, ski resorts, and days at the beach. Her fondness for sharing an old-timey aesthetic on Facebook—partly out of her work as a photographer and partly out of her hobby of picking auctions in Maryland—seemed, to me, to be a natural fit for this project. I was delighted she was willing to join us, and her work as she shared the process of her photography helped to generate buzz on social media during the summer of 2014. (Also, as she explains in her narrative, the idea of her joining late was partly a result of her posting a student pinball project that recalled, for me, the artwork of Python Anghelo, for whom, as I will explain momentarily, this collection is dedicated.)

The 2013 reception of our original collection at the MLA Convention is neatly captured in a review by Anne Ruggles Gere (University of Michigan) for the Digital Rhetorical Collaborative. Those wishing to get another view on what this collection explores are invited to visit Ruggles’ review. (She was quite surprised to find scholars taking the study of pinball so seriously!) Suffice to say, I was encouraged by the turn-out and enthusiasm of the participants to seek out publishing opportunity, and it was through discussion with Itineration editors that the current panel-to-gallery-to-webtext was formulated.

Python Anghelo w/ Geof Carter &
Vivienne Jacobs Carter

Before turning to the collection itself, I want to say a word about this collection’s dedication to the memory legendary pinball artist, Python Anghelo. As noted above, a large part of this work's exigency was the uncanny collision between Python's work and Ron’s article. Ron's scholarship collided with my diversionary purchase from academic, The Comet. The more I started to research the story behind the Comet, the more curious I became about Python's story. (The entire story of Python is beyond this introduction, but from his first appearance as a video game designer of Joust to designing Pinball Circus--the most expensive pinball games ever made--Python was, without a doubt, One-in-Million.)

Thus, in my effort to be as thorough as possible in my research, I made an attempt to reach out to Python via a phone number I tracked down through a pinball discussion board. I was surprised to discover that he, too, made a home in Michigan. (He lived near Climax, MI, a town where I used to serve as a Tall Timbers' camp counselor.) Despite leaving a message, my call went unanswered long after the MLArcade wrapped up in Boston.

After meeting him at his art booth and taking some pictures with my daughter, Vivienne, Python told me how appreciative he was in my sharing the elements from the present collection. He wanted to make sure that I would come see him speak at a panel that had been put together by the MPE organizer, John Kosmal. During Python’s introduction (link to his full talk here) he was gracious enough to acknowledge our recent friendship and to share an excerpt from Anthony’s exceptional “What Pinball Tells Us About Gadgets, Groins, and the Galaxy.” (Python was delighted by Anthony’s use of Troppo Forte and asked me for a link to the full episode in a later email.) After the presentation, we walked back to the expo hall and he expressed interest in continuing to talk and to his availing his artwork to this edited collection. It’s unfortunate that in the months that would follow, Python’s cancer would aggressively return, and the only trace of what we hoped to do might now remains in the following email: "I'm back from the Tacoma show. It was grrrreat!!!! Wish you were there! When back from Hawaii, give me a shout and let's collaborate and do something exceptional. I did quite a few book projects of various topics for both academic and literary applications. I'll show them to you when we meet. Have a great, safe, volcanic, and oceanic family vacation, and Aloha to everyone. Love Python."

Python passed away on April 9th, 2014.

In Memory of Python Anghelo (1954-2014)