Tag Archives: Media

Link Dump: #49

You know a horror cliché that I just love? When animals hiss at people who they just know are going to transform into monsters. Kitties, especially, seem to have a sixth kitty sense about these things. For example: the kitty above, hissing and clawing at Henry Hull just before he changes into Werewolf of London‘s titular lycanthrope. Keep at it, awesome kitty! And now, links:

  • The reliably excellent Roderick Heath of Ferdy on Films writes about MST3K’s Manos: The Hands of Fate episode.
  • Jonathan Rosenbaum objects to Pauline Kael’s Raising Kane while the New Yorker picks five essential Kael reviews.
  • Mark Harris names three stupid Oscar rules. (And when it comes to stupid, inconsistent, counterproductive Oscar rules, this is just the tip of the iceberg.)
  • If you want to read the text of the frivolous Drive lawsuit, you can do so here. It actually reads more like a bad essay out of Film History 101. Highlights include the following:

“Virtually no film critics described in any detail, if even mentioned, the allegorical nature of DRIVE, despite the importance of allegory in DRIVE. This is for inexplicable reasons.”

Well, we have a clear winner out of the past week’s search terms, and it’s “betty boops pussy on fire.” Yeahhh.

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Celebrity, Identity, and Perfect Blue

Before we lost Satoshi Kon, and before he had made a dreamscape spy movie, a yuletide comedy/drama about homeless people, a postmodern masterpiece of TV anime, and a meta-cinematic fantasia about Japanese film history… before all that, he made a tight little psychological thriller called Perfect Blue (1997). The film’s style has been compared to those of Hitchcock, Argento, and de Palma, and while it shares their interests in obsession, subjectivity, and nail-biting suspense, deep down it’s pure Kon. His is a world where self-definition is all-important, and where our identities can be shaped by the images that surround us.

This is the crisis that threatens to destroy Mimarin, a Japanese pop star who tries her hand at serious acting with a small role on a TV crime drama. Her fans aren’t happy with this change in career, and they’re encouraged by a website called “Mima’s Room” that purports to record her every thought and move; together, this fan backlash and invasive website shatter Mima’s confidence and rip away any veil of privacy that she may have had. But while her privacy disappears, she’s still secluded, made emotionally and verbally inert by all the traumas she’s undergoing. Then the murders start…

Perfect Blue is one of the tragically few animated horror movies. Thankfully, it’s also an extraordinarily good one. Even though it’s Kon’s first feature film, it shows a director fully in control of his medium and his ideas. Every scene is bursting with subtext, whether it’s about the relationship between fans and celebrities or the media’s impact on female body image. Kon also demonstrates a talent, crucial to later films like Millennium Actress and Paprika, for mixing Mima’s subjective experience and loosening grasp on real life with the film’s literal reality. This nonstop ambiguity comes fully into play during the film’s big final revelation – one which took me by surprise, and upended my assumptions about all the preceding events. (I won’t give it away in writing, but if you’re really curious, an out-of-context visual spoiler is here.)

This is also a very creepy, very violent movie, combining Repulsion-style internal horror with extremely graphic slasher-style killings. But the killings are never gratuitous or contextless, as they feed into or build off of Mima’s own traumas. Her bloodthirsty stalker, like the rest of his obsessive ilk, feels that Mima owes him something for all his loyalty. When she insists on continuing her career the way she wants, he decides she’s a fake and has to die. It’s particularly telling that this decision follows Mima’s participation in a brutal televised rape scene – one that, according to her online doppelgänger, she didn’t want to make in the first place. Due to her association with a sexual act, she has been tainted and now she’s no longer the same Mima. The girlish illusion in a pink dress has been shattered.

This is one of the movie’s most eloquent, well-developed points: the male fans want ownership of their pop star’s sexuality. They have a picture of her in their minds and it must be maintained. (This is relevant across a wide spectrum of celebrities; think about all the singers and actresses whose personal lives have been distorted for publicity’s sake to mesh with their onscreen appearances.) And all the slut-shaming that Mima receives for doing the rape scene worsens her fears. As the movie goes on, the slender and fleet-footed vision of who she used to be, complete with pink ribbon and tutu, comes to dominate her life. In a great scene, the fake (or real?) Mima skips freely down a hallway, unburdened by gravity; meanwhile, the real (or fake?) Mima gasps for breath and struggles to keep up.

This is the issue that Perfect Blue dramatizes so ably in horror form: for her adoring public, the real Mima is a fake. She’s not demure, graceful, or pretty enough; she has her own opinions and desires. She has a weight and realness to her that prevent her from bouncing down a rainy street like her eternally smiling double. But this double, this duplicated image, is the only version of her that can satisfy the fans, and this fact obliterates her self-esteem, as well as her sanity. The process of being a celebrity, of forging the illusions that define music and TV, blur her very notions of who she is. If you’ve seen any of his other movies, you know: Satoshi Kon was the perfect director to take on those problems in Perfect Blue.

I’ll close with a fun illustration of Kon’s debt to American slasher movies. By chance, I happened to recognize a shot that had been quoted from the obscure, gory film The Toolbox Murders (1978). Directed by Dennis Donnelly, it stars Cameron Mitchell as a handyman who perpetrates of the titular murders. It’s a pretty ugly, misogynistic piece of work, with a suitably batshit ending, but at least Kon found it inspiration. Feast your eyes:

Coincidence?

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Filed under Body, Cinema, Media, Sexuality

Sex is SCARY!!

I am here in PA with Ashley, so while we may be busy together and unable to write, when we do it shall contain the full force of both of our creative wellsprings. (PS: it’s fucking awesome.)

And so, in addition to a number of wholesome, fun activities together (kissing, watching movies, eating) we have been watching a number of MST3K videos together on YouTube. Now, although my face is all leaking and itchy for some reason, making me disoriented and uncomfortable, I’ve been trying to form & express coherent thoughts – and now I’m going to try this in blog form. Because of course, as I was telling Ashley yesterday, the analysis never ends. The words “media studies” on my CAMS major t-shirt mean studying media: i.e., every single form of communication since the beginning of history is up for grabs. Movies, yes, and the Internet, TV, radio, pamphlets, skywriting, tattoos, posters, messages engraved on satellites, smoke signals, cave paintings – they’re all media.

"Teen Talk"

This also includes a flyer we were reading entitled “Teen Talk” distributed by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Office of Population Affairs, which details the Department’s opinions on teenage sexuality; although it’s an ephemeral piece of informational literature, it’s nonetheless worth analyzing on a number of levels: the style and content of the flyer can show us, for example, what the U.S. government (as of 2003-2005) wants to tell the youth of the nation, and how they think they can best get these ideas across.

To be honest, its existence as a product of organizations within organizations, under the banner of the federal government, has kind of an Orwellian vibe to me – as if it was being produced by Pornosec within the Ministry of Truth or something. And you can know that someone with a talent for graphic design and a supposed eye for what appeals to kids these days was hired, at some point, to put this together, probably to arrange the pre-written script into a presentable format. We see a bunch of totally typical-looking kids – really carefully typical-looking, that is, engineered to be your ordinary, ethnically diverse group of sexually confused, inquisitive teenagers – presumably asking questions like, “Should I have sex now or wait?” The information is written like a pseudo-FAQ: no one’s really asking them “What should I know if I decide not to have sex?”, but dammit, the question’s going to be answered; it’s also interesting how the phrase “Decisions about sex may be the most
important decisions you’ll ever make, so think before you act” is placed at the top of the page, in quotations, as if citing some great youth educator, but without attribution – so it’s really just another message from the great, amorphous, and apparently reliable “Office of Population Affairs,” which wants you to know that “You Are More Than Just a Body.”

I’m not condemning the flyer’s messages or anything. Young people are stupid and them having less sex would probably be a good thing. But Ashley and I both noticed its resemblance to the hilarious exploitation masterpiece Sex Madness (1938), whose climax involves an otherwise innocent woman blinding her husband and killing her baby, if I recall right, with her secret shame, syphilis. “STDs can be painful,” the flyer explains with a typical penchant for bolds and italics as emphasis devices. “They can make it impossible to have a baby. Some are incurable, and some may even cause death.” DEATH! INCURABLE! NO BABIES! It’s pretty damn sensationalistic; it goes for the “educate through shock value” approach. And what better way to scare kids away from sex than the by using the hellfire-and-brimstone of human sexuality, the STD.

(We’ve been talking about the terminology used, and Wikipedia helpfully explains: venereal disease, of course, is the more outdated term coming from Venus, the Roman goddess of love; STD describes a disease – i.e., symptoms are being exhibited; and STI just means an infection, that the infecting agent is present in your body even if the disease hasn’t exhibited itself yet, so it’s more inclusive.)

I just find it really interesting how the government tries to reach young people. And, more often than not, they end up leaning toward puritanical Sex and Reefer Madness-like extremes, because apparently subtlety just doesn’t work when you’re trying to get into the heads of the young. And besides, it’s just really fun to overanalyze whatever’s available. It makes stays in medical waiting rooms far more entertaining. Why, for example, do they capitalize specific letters? “DON’T BE FOOLED into thinking most teenagers are having
sex.” Capitalization for emphasis IS SUCH A HANDY TOOL. Just so long as you know how and why to use it. Also, why are so many of the headings capitalized like titles – “What Should I Know About Pressure?” Doesn’t look a title to me; I think “What should I know about pressure?” would be way more effective to preserving the illusion of these being actual questions asked by teenagers. So, all that said, on the surface you might just say, “It’s a fucking flyer about teen sexuality. Nothing to analyze there.” But I, obviously, beg to differ.

I was going to continue this post by discussing MST3K, but in the midst of research, I got very distracted – so I’m going to write a whole post about it later on.

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Life is strange and getting stranger all the time

Human life is a queer phenomenon. It’s just really fucking weird. It’s just… God, how we all go through and not come out on the other end utterly stark raving mad is beyond me! It’s just so strange, all of it. So, OK, I’m supposed to be writing an 8-page paper analyzing the 1964 Japanese horror film Onibaba (a fascinating endeavor I wish I’d started earlier) and I read this fantastic xkcd strip and something just clicked where I just went, What the fuck! Life is strange! And it made me think something I often think, about how we get so absorbed in the moment, in whatever we’re doing (or worse yet, have to do) now, and we forget to put everything in context. We are but new, additional people doing the same things, more or less, that everyone’s done for all time. Happening over and over again. Time marches on. Ashley and I discussed a lot today, and went through a lot of emotions, and one idea i started thinking about was – just the idea of giving yourself some distance, some detachment, and looking at all the bullshit being thrown at you every second of your life and going, What the fuck! Life is strange! It’s just incomprehensible. It’s just unbelievable.

And I’m reminded now of this blog entry from Amanda Palmer that we read the other day. The crux of it? Art is important. It’s not just that, well, if we’ve got some food and shelter and mass-produced comforts that mean we don’t have to worry about infant mortality – well, then, maybe we’ll write some poems and paint some pretty pictures. No: art is an essential part of coping with life on earth. How could we get along without it? Apparently Socrates once said that “The unexamined life is not worth living.” And all these beautiful art forms we have (and are constantly adding) are different lenses we can use to examine our lives. See them in different ways. Peer into our own souls by borrowing someone else’s looking-glass. Tell stories to pass the hours and make those hours worth something (I’m just now finishing up a class on storytelling, after all). I have something, somewhere, that I wrote about superheroes that I want to repost at a later date. It was about how superhero comics are a valid, interesting medium and art form, and its medium-specific attributes – for example, due to the length of its publication and number of authors. Comic books are just more stories. They can be about anything. Often they’re about superhumans having all kinds of outlandish adventures. What’s so unusual or unacceptable about that? The Greeks, the Aztecs, the Vikings, the Hindus – they did it millennia ago and their stories have been used as the basis of great art ever since. Hell, what’s the Iliad or the Ramayana but the ancient analogue of X-Men and Justice League? Sure, I’m exaggerating and oversimplifying, but I’m making a point. We’ve told crazy stories about fictional people for as long as anyone can remember. It’s not going anywhere. Gilgamesh, Samson, Achilles, all those epic heroes – their stories are a necessary part of building up human civilizations and cultures. So I think I’ll write a blog featuring that essay I wrote at some point.

Anyway, life is strange. It’s inexplicable, it’s confusing, and it’s frightening. It’s frequently absurd. It’s usually unfair. To be honest, I don’t really get it. But I feel compelled to talk about it endlessly. And if we’re already prisoners of something, I see no reason to imprison ourselves further within boxes of close-mindedness, of convention, of tradition, of needless, endless labor. I want to be as free as I can, within the constraints of my mortal existence, and I refuse to lock myself within the jail cell called “everyone’s expectations.” I was contemplating this the other day, and I wanted to write about it: the expectations that everyone imposes on us. They assume we want to become wealthy, obtain money, marry, settle down, have children, own a house, own two cars, have pets… have everything everyone else wants for themselves. Presumably we can and want to become rich and famous. Who are “we”? I don’t know. Us human beings trapped within this little ring of existence, this plane dominated by the value sets I’m laying out. You are not allowed to lay out your own future, say the voices. Use one we’ve already drawn up. These futures are so pretty and we’ve been telling you from birth to follow this path. It’s like, you know, the Game of Life. Everyone follows the same path and everyone ends up the same place: dead and alone. No matter how much money or how many children they have. One of the more interesting, insightful parts of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, I think, was a line from Benjamin’s last will: “I will go out of this world the same way I came in, alone and with nothing.” It’s more or less true (and a sadder fact than the movie ends up admitting). It reminds me of this brilliant, depressing Mark Newgarden comic:

"We all die alone"

© Mark Newgarden

We all die alone. Even hillbillies. Hey, what better way to deal with despair than stare it in the eye and laugh? But my point is that I’m sick of being expected to follow this path, that path, take the road less traveled by or more traveled by or whatever. I’m also sick of the world being set up so that there are a finite number of roads to travel. But enough of this wearisome traveling metaphor. My point is that I want to set out for the territories à la Huck Finn, whether these territories – the ends of charted space – are physical, metaphysical, ideological, cultural, what have you. I want to set out for them and fulfill my dream, in high school, of ending up “on the cutting edge of something” within the next few years. I don’t know what I want my lifestyle to be. Watch some movies, eat enough to stay alive, don’t freeze to death, read every once in a while… what more can you ask for? Love someone. Create something. Even if it’s just an origami flower (I wish I could make those). Or a sketch of a stick figure getting eaten by something big and unspeakably evil. See, I’m giving myself ideas!

At this point in my life, naïve or not, these are the points I keep repeating: Love someone. Create something beautiful. Hell, leave the world a better place than you found it! Apply that old campfire adage to the your presence in the world as a whole. Don’t be an agent of change for its own purposes; do it to make something better for someone, no matter how small the difference. I’ve been looking for a quote lately. I think maybe an activist or journalist said it. I don’t recall it exactly, but this was the gist of it: Give comfort to the hurt, and hurt the comfortable. Basically, if someone is complacent and settled and totally in acceptance of everything, well, upset them a little! But if someone is all tangled up and confused and out of balance, then give them solace. I like to take this thought into account. And God, I want to know what the actual quote is. I really want to get involved in alternative media. This is something that’s so, so important to me. It’s not just that I have an egomaniacal urge to let the world know my every thought. I want to try to introduce and spread alternative viewpoints, suggestions that maybe there are paths we haven’t quite charted yet. It’s just depressing to look at the mainstream media and see so much utter shit, in theaters and bookstores and on radios and televisions. So we need other voices (possibly in other rooms) to let us know about all the other options out there. This is what I believe. I may be wrong, but at least I believe it.

So life is strange. So this is my 3 am why-aren’t-I-writing-my-paper blog that vaguely ponders the meaning of life and then lets me go back to my frenzied little personal hamster wheel. I don’t know. Just take a step back and gaze down on all the emotions suspended in the air around you like clouds of smoke. Glance around at the tiny lengths of thread connecting you to every other human being with whom you’ve ever interacted. You may go into and out of this world alone, but here and now is your chance to be with someone else and do selfless, pure good in their life. Don’t fuck it up.

I
               will go out of this world the same
               way I came in, alone and with
               nothing.

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Misspent hours late at night

It’s almost 3 am. I have to finish My Man Godfrey tonight (at least, for my cinematic conscience’s sake). I am fucked. Bed, sleep – I’ve complained about this bullshit before. For us poor people who happen to find it most convenient and natural to stay up really late, wake up at midday, and start our day then, the world basically has a message: “Fuck you.” Because it sadly doesn’t work that way, at least if we want to interact with others (that’s okay, I’ll pass) or visit businesses or take classes. It’s the last one that does it for me. Sure, some places have “night classes,” but Carleton doesn’t offer a 16a where I can head on over to Scoville at 2 am for a lecture. Although that’d be awesome. They really should start offering extra sections where they append “noctural” to the class names. If only. I guess it’d be problematic for some of the professors who live outside of Northfield. But it’s even more problematic for me! Me!!!!

There’s another topic to discuss: self-obsession. I must’ve been in, oh, 6th or 7th grade, when one of my classmates made an observation: Isn’t it natural to be self-centered to some degree? Sure, it’s good to think of others, but in the end, whose well-being determines how we feel or how our lives go or whether we live or die? Ours. Mine. At a certain point, with apologies to Spock, the needs of the one must outweight the needs of the few… or the many. (I have been, and always will be, your friend. Live long and prosper… Kirk! God, it’s been too since I’ve seen Star Trek II.) I don’t really believe in selfishness as a virtue, as every single oversimplification I’ve read of Ayn Rand’s philosophy has said she does. I’m just saying that at some level, it’s plausible and understandable to be selfish. It comes very, very naturally to us. And nature, as K-Hep says in The African Queen, “is what we were put on this earth to rise above.” Of course, she gets attacked by leeches and later tries to blow up a U-Boat, so you decide. (Another movie I haven’t seen in way too long. Aww, Robert Morley dies at the beginning! That’s so sad.) And after all, doesn’t murder come naturally, as a natural extension of selfishness? Exaggerated caveman example: “Ug want rock. You take rock. Ug strangle you and take back rock.” I wonder if any cavemen really were named Ug. And if so, did they speak in stilted English? That’d be hilarious if it was true. At least we know one caveman was named Thag. Thag Simmons, to be precise.

I’ve never read any of Jean Auel’s books. (She wrote Clan of the Cave Bear, set in caveman times, in case you’re wondering where this digression came from.) I wonder if they’re any good? I think I remember seeing them at book sales being sold as cheap paperbacks – the kind that don’t look like they’ll be good. See, I do judge a book by its cover. Because if it’s got a tacky, unoriginal, stupid-looking cover, I’ve never heard of it, and if we combine that information with the title, well, that can help determine whether or not I want to buy it. This is at book sales (or thrift stores, or other situations that contain large amounts of cheap books) I’ve talking about. In book stores, we use a whole different set of rationales. But when it comes down to it, looking for good books when you’ve got hundreds to choose from is like finding a diamond in a trash pile. Except unlike diamonds, books are worth something. (Whole ‘nother blog right there.) You have to sift through legions of shit: romance novels, cookie-cutter crime novels, bad ’80s sci-fi books, most spy novels, recent best-sellers, books that look like recent best-sellers (they suck too)… but every so often, you’ll find it. It requires a trained eye, but gaze at enough book covers and you’ll know. It has a certain aura to it that screams out, “I’m not shit!” It’s often well-designed. Sometimes it’s not. But it’ll either have some word that sticks out, or an author you know, or a picture that even by itself is really damn good, or maybe it’ll have those glorious telltale signs of age. You know, a layer of dust, yellowed pages, pages sticking out or torn, and if the front page is there, you can check the copyright date. 1930, 1920, 1895, and on backwards through printing history – you can find real treasures just by sharpening your eyes (potentially on some kind of eye grindstone?). And that’s how to build a library. Though if you don’t have book sales to go to, you’re just fucked. Just like a guy who’s not in bed yet and has class in 7 hours. Same type of fucked. Except yours is way more severe.

Speaking of poor transitions, I could not resist posting this to the blog:

This is one of the trailers for David Cronenberg’s 1983 maybe-masterpiece Videodrome, a film much-beloved of Internet morons who love seeing brain tumors spitting blood, but which is nonetheless very interesting to watch. And it’s a movie that makes the viewer think about the idea of watching, too (unless said viewer is the same 16-year-old gore-fixated would-be cineaste). Since watching Videodrome, I’ve embarked on a wacky trip up Toronto way [NOTE: I have never actually been to Toronto] trying to figure out Cronenberg’s role in the history of horror and film. He’s a master of something; whether or not that “something” should make him proud is anyone’s guess. His films aren’t always brimming with intelligence, but they do often have the same kind of curiosity expressed by the young twins at the beginning of Dead Ringers. You can visualize Cronenberg as a little kid trying to decipher what genitals are for.

I once wrote out a sentence that more or less summed up the themes of his career; I think it had words like these: venereal scientist psychic experiment sexual fluids explosion vagina. Despite adapting William S. Burroughs, Stephen King, J.G. Ballard, and others at times, he’s remarkably consistent both in theme and form. The Howard Shore scores help, too. All of his movies, I think, seem to take place in or around this quasi-mythical vision of Toronto he has (a city I’ve never been to, though I think I’d like to, and I’ve lived only a few hundred miles south of it for most of my life). It’s a city where things tend to go wrong – like the world of the Marvel alternate continuity Ruins? Except it’s that on a daily basis. The city itself contains mostly lots of dim, bland apartments and for-rent warehouses; a short drive out of town you get to the deserted rural areas containing a few farmhouses and potential hide-outs (especially when on the run from the forces of God knows what). One message Cronenberg seems to be getting across is this: Watch out for what human beings can and will do if you give them the slightest power. Especially if genitals are involved. And so, Videodrome fits pretty well along these schematics, and adds some interesting twists.

We’ve got the pathetic, ugly loner, Max Renn, who makes a deal with the devil that allows him to watch lots of kinky snuff porn. Except it’s mutating his brain (or something?), there’s virtual reality involved, a character based on Marshall McLuhan – and with that, also lots of media studies wanking material. Man, I should watch that again. Especially in the early ’80s, with the Internet just a chronological hop, skip, and jump away, that’s an interesting cultural moment in which to be pondering the evolution of media beyond TV and video. Brian O’Blivion is just a great name; what can I say? Funny names really float my boat. Or whatever phrase is appropriate. It’s 3:30 am. I need sleep. Death to Videodrome. Long live the new flesh. Oh, and Debbie Harry’s in it, too. Is she really blond? Oh, I guess she is. Toward the end, the movie kind of devolves into not-making-sense territory – maybe it’s been too long, but I still have no idea who made Videodrome radiation, why, or what they were trying to do with it. But I guess for me, the movie’s ultimate draw is its appeal to me as a connoisseur of culture that’s underground and keeps on digging. Whatever’s on broadcast TV at 3:30 am on a random weekday. Holy shit, I could totally go to the lounge right now and find out. Hold that thought. Sleep can wait; this is a fucking media experiment!

Well, the results of that experiment were a lot less interesting than they used to be back when I was 14 or so. Basically, flipping down through the channels, I saw infomercial, infomercial, stupid late-night talk show, infomercial, ad, news, news, PBS special on eastern European genocide. Maybe I didn’t check through as closely as I might have if I’d had a remote and there hadn’t been that girl from my one class sitting on the couch. Maybe I’ll try it again more rigorously on another date. But that doesn’t take away from my point: stranger things make it to the airwaves after the watershed (i.e., that time when kids are supposed to go to bed and almost anything goes). I’ve found this is true for radio, too. Back in the day, I got such a thrill out of sneaking over to the TV at 3-4 am, making sure to mute it the second the light switched on, and seeing just what I could find. Usually it was anime I was looking for. But sometimes there could be odd western cartoons nobody cared to publicize, or shows about the paranormal. Every Saturday night at midnight, I would watch Horror Incorporated, a local show run by first Jacob Esau (as Count Dracula) and then Thom Lange (as Uncle Ghoulie) and his compatriots. I should look them up and see what they’re all up to now. Try to make some connections? It’s never too early/late. Except at 3:45 am. It’s too late then. Sad.

My point is, I can totally sympathize with Max Renn’s fascination when he sees the bootlegged TV signal that for all he knows could be broadcasting from anywhere – and really, anytime, too. Not that I’m all for authentic violence as entertainment – what I’m talking about is the sensation of perceiving something that very, very few other people are perceiving. Watching a broadcast and saying to yourself, How many other people could possibly be watching this right now? (Or for that matter, what percentage are stoned?) Like it or not, television has warped my mind, much like Videodrome radiation. Starting when I was little, I always felt a pang of regret and loss, for example, whenever the timeslot shifted over and instead of being some entertaining, meaningful program, instead there was an infomercial, or a sports show. And you know, when I watch or listen to some broadcast that could be from anywhere or anytime, that doesn’t seem tethered down by the constraints of, oh, ratings or immediacy or topicality – that’s when I feel a sensation even akin to love. I used to listen to Imagination Theater, this radio show that broadcast on some random AM station on, hmm, every Friday or Saturday night? They’d play radio dramas, and sometimes it’d be Sherlock Holmes, other times it’d be various random mysteries or tales of the supernatural, and sometimes paranormal investigation dramas. And – well, looking it up, apparently it was broadcast on 830 AM, WCCO, a frequency I already associated with my grandparents’ house, because when I woke up after sleeping over there and walked downstairs, I would be greeted by a radio blaring their jingle: “People you know, WCC – O.” These are 4 letters likely familiar to many suburban Minnesotans. God, it’s almost 4 am, and now I’m thinking notalgically back to my childhood? I’m just screwed. Maybe I’ll spend the next 6 hours until class starts writing the blog to end all blogs.

Or maybe I’ll end this blog now. That sounds beneficial to my health and sanity (but who cares about those?). Perhaps I’ll resume writing about my emotional experiences with media in the near future. Because these issues are important to me. These are parts of the reasons I want to get involved in studying and producing media, communicating with other human beings, exchanging messages – I want to learn about exploitation films, Tijuana Bibles, border blasters, and tightening media regulations. I want to learn about the men and women who undermined the government’s authority to tell them what they could say and how they had to say it – and God willing, I want to join their ranks someday. You are what you’re told. So listen carefully.

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Gazing into the frantic melange

Where to start? Where to start ever? It’s all cyclical anyway. “a last a loved a long the… riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s” and so on. Today I had one of those moments of enlightenment where I saw the world as being chaotic, jumbled, confusing, and incoherent. I had two sources prodding me to write today: the experience of watching the disappointing History Channel show UFO Hunters, and reading Chris Turner’s intriguing tome Planet Simpson. Now, I’m slightly drowsy, so this might all come out entirely incoherent, but that’s the way I like it. My thoughts (more or less):

Turner’s book makes me think about questions and problems that repeatedly come back to plague me, inevitably, as facts of life in the part of time and space I happen to occupy. I want to live life as a creative person and none of us has a choice about when we’re born. And beyond that, it’s thrilling to live in an age where… well, all this shit happens. Let’s confront some of these facts-of-new-life: for one thing, in 2009+, I think that media studies (i.e., my field of study) is the place to be. Lot of reasons for this. One is that, well, we people of this new age that’s dawning tend to learn, process, think, and understand our world and our selves through media.

When we were born roughly 20 + or – years ago, the Internet was just gradually coming into being. It had not yet insinuated itself into the technological mainstream. In 2009, I don’t know if a day has passed in college that I haven’t used the Internet or a computer. It’s fucking invaded every aspect of our lives. But we can’t escape. The world has permanently changed; it’s different now. Maybe we’re headed to a technological singularity. Maybe people can study this from a computer science, political science, sociology, or history standpoint. Me? I look at it in terms of media. So I feel like I’m in the right place, intellectually. When I was interviewed for the yearbook in my senior year of high school, I said that in 5 years I saw myself “on the cutting edge of something.” I have 3 more years to accomplish this goal. I, like everyone else, have this unquenchable thirst to do something new. But it’s a brave new world we’re inhabiting, of our own (collective) design. And it’s hard to wrap your head around. One thing I know for sure? I need to watch the other 2 movies in Godfrey Reggio’s Qatsi trilogy. Koyaanisqatsi is a masterpiece of coming to grips with our strange breed of modernity. Trying to reconcile the natural world and our place as part of it with the synthetic nature of computing technology. (Why am I saying this? I’m not going to break any new ground, probably. But at least I’m coming to grips with all this shit for myself.)

Considering this topic, I thought of a few major subtopics: the Industrial Revolution (which has been on my mind a lot recently for some reason). Postmodernity. Globalization. And again, the Internet. I have no real interest in being on the cutting edge of anything really high-tech. I just want to light out for the territories like Huck Finn, wherever these territories are, and then seek out new life and new civilizations, like Capts. Kirk & Picard. When did the Industrial Revolution take place? Mid-to-late 19th century, if high school history textbooks are to be believed? Think of everything that’s changed since then. My beloved movies? All of them are post-Industrial Revolution. I was thinking about this: mass. The masses. “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” – Henry David Thoreau. Mass production, mass-marketing, mass media, mass murder. The approach to large quantities of human beings, lumped together as a “mass” – prior to the 19th century, human beings couldn’t be economically targeted by corporations as if with heat-seeking missiles. Now they sure as hell can.

And consider another subtopic that plays into my media obsession: visions of the future. Futurology, and Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock, which I once owned 3-4 copies of in different colors but only read small bits of (collectibility of intellectual material? Oh, brother…), and The Jetsons, which I watched an episode of earlier today: “Viva Las Venus” was far from the show’s peak, but at the same time, I think it illuminates something about the phoniness of the show’s futuristic visions. I joked about how someone should point out how the Jetsons’ world is really an Orwellian dystopia. George and Jane drop off the kids from the upper atmosphere down to their relatives in the United States (which is never shown). In this far-future world, the “ground” of earth is never once shown or trod upon. Has mankind forgotten how to walk? It’s an unrealistic vision – George’s car seems to be powered by about as like a source as Fred Flinstone’s feet; there is no energy crisis in the Jetsons’ world, but the ability to freely move about the solar system – as long as you stay within two lanes, apparently. Why are there highways in outer space? The Jetsons wasn’t big on answering such obvious questions. It relied heavily on the suspension of both disbelief and natural curiosity. I’m not saying it wasn’t a good show; it was just as entertaining as any 1960s cartoon sitcom, I guess. But I think how Hanna-Barbera viewed the world to come reveals something about all of our expectations. Especially since, if you ask someone about a cultural representation of the future, they’re just as likely to say “The Jetsons,” as anything. They think of the motorized treadmills that serve as George’s every sidewalk, and of course of Rosie, the sassy robot maid. Sassy? A little sour taste of humanity to give us something to sympathize with. Robot? Technology, wave of the future, sentient AI – glory of glories. And maid? Even amidst the suspended space-bound platforms that form the Jetsons’ humble abode, someone must be condemned to a life of servitude. Otherwise, no work would get done. Rosie’s just another one of the wonders of technology. Consider that: she’s a wonder of the machine age, yet she must be a she, and endowed with a personality. And what of HAL and that computer from the movie Demon Seed? Apparently we just have to give humanoid speech patterns to our machinery. So, what does The Jetsons teach us? God, I have no idea; maybe that the people of the 1960s wanted to see their lifestyles transplanted into a glittery, slightly easier World of Tomorrow where they still have to slave for The Man (Mr. Spacely) and suffer through empty bourgeois lives (that’s you, George Jetson), but at least they had mechanized sidewalks. Thank God for that.

What was I even talking about? I was contemplating whether the Industrial Revolution led to the advent of advertising as we know it. The large corporations, after all, naturally view the large media that were born as, if nothing else, an excellent way to transmit messages about their product. Thus commercials were born. Think of the word commercial – it’s one of those funny little adjectives-turned-nouns. Do I doth dissect too much, probing into the deeper meanings of words as if that’ll tell us something about the broader world? Sure. Sure as hell I do. But if there’s anything my time in college so far has taught me, it’s that one essential piece of (over)analysis, to produce any meaningful results, is close reading (or viewing, depending). All I’m doing is some close reading of the language we speak now. As I was: commercials. Noun form of the adjective “commercial.” Which means? Pertaining to commerce. So a commercial is some tidbit relating to commerce. Commerce… Commerce Blvd. was the name of the main road through Mound, where I sadly hail from. Towns like to encourage commerce. Commerce, trade, exchange, the busyness of business. The point is? Commercials are inherently trying to sell you shit. One way or another, every single commercial must at its heart be saying: INSERT $$$. It’s a pretty fundamental message. All my talk about the Industrial Revolution makes me think of anarcho-primitivist, mathematician, and murderous terrorist Ted Kaczynski, whom you may know better as the Unabomber, whose infamous manifesto had something or other to do with the Industrial Revolution. I, however, do not advocate mailing bombs to people. Hand delivery gives it that personal feel. (Black humor? Yes. Advocating terrorism? Not quite. Insensitivity to victims? Ask again later.)

I guess my big point is one that, as I said earlier, has plagued me and plagues all of us. Dilemma: I want to create [something beautiful for others to enjoy]; however, living in the year AD 2009, it feels like it’s all been done already over and over and over again. Our output now is reduced to copies-of-copies-of-copies. And worse yet, everyone’s an artist (everyone’s a superhero; everyone’s a Captain Kirk) so we’re all simultaneously trying to unearth that last New Idea in a big frenzied struggle that plays out over all media – television, film, music, books, and of course as always, the motherfucking Internet. There’s Google. Wikipedia. YouTube. The websites no one can live without because they’re so damn universal and they alter our perception of reality – any image or knowledge is a few keystrokes away. But that’s another blog (self-restraint?). Hell, this fucking blog itself is an example. I’m repeating myself and countless others all trying to puzzle out the nature of the media in a rapidly-changing, insane, technomaniacal world torn from the pages of William Gibson (or maybe I’d say that, if I’d ever read any of his work); it’s just all kind of, well, like gazing up at the sky and stumbling backwards and getting dizzy. How am I any different than anyone else; how can I assert my identity? It’s harder to do when all culture and knowledge is thrown together in a frantic virtual melange that turns every string of art or education into one worldwide pastiche. And imagine if you will that as of now, no children will be born who have not heard of the Internet, or likely even used it on a regular basis. Is this good? Bad? Neutral? How the hell should I know? I’m just trying to get a vague idea of what the fuck is going on.

A concluding note: I listened to Nena’s 99 Red Balloons after linking to it, and it reminded me that German women have sexy voices, especially when singing. And I think of Marlene Dietrich, and Nina Hagen, the Germanic influence (via Grass, Brecht, Weill, et al) on Amanda Palmer, and the beautiful, self-possessed Franka Potente from Lola rennt (potentially a postmodern masterpiece itself, and very relevant to this discussion). Falling in love again, wha am I to do? I can’t help it…

(I didn’t get a chance to write about UFO Hunters. Maybe later. This was a fun entry to write. But as always I bite off more than I can chew. I’ll try to correct this in the future.)

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