Tag Archives: titanic

Asserting freedom in the face of bullshit

Fucking bullshit.

I feel like there are many lifestyles being practiced in this country at this time that will soon be outmoded and abandoned. I say this from the vantage point of west suburban Minnesota. Sitting in a library. Hearing people converse loudly.

Fuck it all.

The Rules of the Game (1939)

I was thinking about Jean Renoir – one of the greatest of directors – and how his work seems to focus on social interactions and relationships. Whether class barriers, romance, families, the individual’s place in society, always focusing on the ties between people. It’s a thought. Renoir, as shown by his performance as Octave in Rules of the Game, was a large and boisterous fellow. His films have a joie de vivre; they see value in forging ahead and trying to make it past all the upheavals and turmoil happening in the world. In the end, happiness can be achieved, like the formation of a family unit amidst the greatest difficulty at the end of The Grand Illusion, or the cyclical return present in the imagery of The River. I like how his films embrace life and enjoy themselves and their own beauty. I started watching The Southerner this morning, and that’s what started this trail of thought.

Futility. That was the title of the Morgan Robertson novel that presaged, in great detail, the sinking of the Titanic by 14 years. I know very little about the book but the title seems to suggest that building a transportatinal behemoth like that is futile, because it’s all going to be destroyed anyway. And the sun will eventually blossom into a red giant and burn away all the oceans of the world so no ships can travel, leaving behind a big salty desert covering this warm little chunk of dirt and moisture we call earth. Here we are, tossed back and forth in a neverending clash of happy and sad, purpose and pointlessness, struggling to build something from who we are and what we do, only to have it crumble like a sand castle at high tide. Here I exist as one person among many, wandering sleepily in the June sun, with ideas and traditions built from centuries of human life tumbling around in my head.

Last night I read a depressingly accurate article in the Onion. Maybe I should start reading news that doesn’t satirize the bleak emptiness of my life and the lives of everyone around me. Or maybe this can somehow spur me to action. We do fucking spend our lives in front of boxes and it’s depressing. But, well, is it so wrong if said box is showing me a Jean Renoir movie which I can then analyze in the context of my field of study (film history) and life in general? Movies are there for us to learn from, after all. But nonetheless… these are depressing truths. That a vacant glow from state-of-the-art machinery can occupy so much of our visual attention. I want to escape. I also think I want to become an anti-corporate activist. Idealistic or not, I feel like this big category I call “corporate bullshit” is the cause behind so many problems for just about everyone. Something is rotten as fuck in the state of Denmark, as Shakespeare would say. Hail back to the days of the muckrakers – Upton Sinclair, Lincoln Steffens, Ida Tarbell, and so on – exposing late 19th century corporations for what they were: faceless, soulless aggregations of wealth and power, both economic and political, dancing like puppets under the control of a few greedy fuckers. Greed like this, and our susceptibility to it and everything that follows, can be blamed for the pollution of our minds, souls, and planet; I just want to stop consuming and stop buying. I want to drop the fuck out of the system altogether.


I guess I’m just really fucking bored with whatever this framework has to offer. The problem is that it’s nearly impossible to escape. It’s like a question of whether you’re going to be a Morlock or an Eloi – nonparticipation is not an option. Wherever you live, you’re under somebody’s domain, and it’s perfectly likely there’s a McDonalds within driving distance. And cars, too. Goddamn cars, another object of my ire. And why, you may ask, is it McDonalds, Disney, Wal-Mart, etc. that are being perpetually complained about as the primary corporate transgressors, well: these are some of the most obvious, unavoidable, advertising-heavy corporations throwing their cheap shit out there (often in collaboration) and goading you, the consumer, to pay for it. They’re enormous octopi wedging their fat tentacles into every niche the world has to offer. Well, fuck them. And of course that’s just empty talk, because what can I do? On my own, not a whole hell of a lot. Maybe I’ll reach out and try to find local anti-corporate organizations someday.

In any case, I’m sick of all the bullshit of the world. I want to discover and embrace real, genuine, meaningful, passionate art, not just manufactured shit churned out by an unfeeling system. God, how many times am I going to voice this desire via this blog? I need to get my stream of consciousness, well, a little concentrated. On something. Only I don’t know what. I need to find a different lifestyle to lead. Next year I’m staying at college over the summer, dammit. Any Ivory Tower is preferable to this valley of ashes.

Valerie Solanas (1936-1988)

One person I just keep returning to in my mind over and over is Valerie Solanas, the woman who founded SCUM (the Society for Cutting Up Men) and shot Andy Warhol in 1968. I guess she’s just one of those people who’s too weird, unusual, and interesting for me not to fixate on. And she wrote a manifesto. As I was discussing the other day, she wasn’t enslav’d by another Man’s system, she did not Reason & Compare. Her business was to Create, dammit. Most of my knowledge about Solanas comes from Mary Harron’s 1996 film I Shot Andy Warhol, although I know biopics are always loosely based and fuck around with what actually happened. Nonetheless, from what I’ve read, the movie seems to have captured the general spirit of Solanas’s life, if not its letter. The point is that she was an extremist. She did not Reason, Compare, or fuck around: she took action. Maybe shooting Warhol didn’t further her goals at all. Maybe it really hurt Warhol, a great artist in his own right (though that doesn’t worsen her crime or anything; people can be killed painfully and horribly, artists or not). I grant this and as I’ve said, I don’t condone or encourage violence. Violence sucks. Fuck violence; I’m a quasi-pacifist. But that doesn’t limit my fascination with Solanas. She studied psychology in Maryland, worked frequently as a prostitute, got involved in the Warhol Factory. She supported forming an all-female society. Now naturally I don’t endorse her version of radical misandry as a practical solution to the world’s problems, but it’s something, it’s an idea, and it’s uncompromising. Solanas’s whole manifesto can be read here; I have yet to read it in its entirety myself, but plan to in the near future. I think manifestos are good. Laying out what exactly you plan to accomplish and what course you’ll to take in order to accomplish it. And Solanas is such a great mix of attributes and values – a rebel in terms of politics, gender ideology, class, a historical figure, an artist herself (author of the willfully obscene play Up Your Ass). Would she be pissed off to see some white male student living 20+ years after her death gazing wistfully at her historical visage, puzzling over her actions and ideas? I wouldn’t be surprised.

Finally: one topic I find my main perpetually returning to, which I will probably continue to discuss in the future: neurochemicals. All the molecules and compounds and chains of whatever flitting around your brain, from gland to organ through the blood stream, being produced endlessly to trigger the various parts of your brain to act this way or that. One reason I’m glad I’ve taken so many intro psychology courses is that they taught me a little bit about neurochemicals. All those neurotransmitters – dopamine, serotonin, endorphins, adrenaline, melatonin, good old acetylcholine – modifying the signals fired off from one neuron to the next, subtly altering your mood, attitudes, behavior, thoughts, anything. And all of this is happening inside you, all the time, and when it goes wrong… well, OK, when you break an arm or leg, when your liver or kidney stops working, it sucks and it’s your body backfiring, but there’s always something you can do about it, right? And it’s just a part of your body. You can live with 1 arm or 1 kidney.

But your brain? That’s where you are localized. The you you call you, your self and identity, your consciousness and subjectivity, however you conceive of it, whatever your theory of the mind’s processes are, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s all inside your brain, cradled in your skull, working away and with a whole body around to carry and protect it. That’s some fucking important hardware between all those synapses and neural connections. It basically is who you are, what you think, and what you do. And so, neurochemicals: they make you sad, and glad, and bad. They make you desire, whether for food or drugs or orgasms or TV or video games or gambling. It’s all a matter of some chemicals transferring from one cell to another in your brain. That’s all pleasure is, after all. Some happy little chemicals get moved around and voil√†, you’re happy. Pain works the same way. So when the system gets fucked up in one way or another? Well, that’s when some serious problems can start. Which can make you have sensory perceptions out of nowhere, or feel emotions for no bloody reason. This really is just right out of Psych 110; it’s nothing that groundbreaking. But I find it plays a big role in informing my thinking about emotions and behavior. Many, many times I’ve cried, “Goddamn neurochemistry!” It’s not like you can blame it for just anything. But nonetheless, being at the mercy of some malfunctioning brain chemicals is painful, depriving you of control over your own life, and also a basic part of most lives being lived on this planet.

And here we are. Under the heel of a million different frustrating, oppressive forces, with the freedom sucked out of us like marrow from our bones. And we just have to make the best of it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cinema, Media, Personal, Politics, Sexuality

The eternal conflict of money and art

So here I am yet again sitting in the Westonka library using a free, government-provided computer and writing away. I don’t really have an agenda today but I didn’t want this blog to get dusty, after all. For that would be sad. It’s noisy and dull in here, surrounded by people going about their weary lives. I think pretty frequently about the interaction between art and commerce. Inevitably, we seem to live in a world where we must have money in order to eat, be clothed, have a roof over our heads, etc. – even have money in order to keep producing art. It’s a necessary evil that’s pretty much dogged all cultures since the beginning of time, whether Imhotep needed the Pharaoh’s patronage, or Michelangelo battled with the Pope, or Mozart had arguments with Emperor Joseph, or whatever the case. The moral has been: artists need to create art, but artists need money. Well, fuck.

One reason for me to contemplate this eternal struggle is my interest in film. Unlike writing, for example, film is a medium heavy in physical necessities, whether you’re talking people, equipment, sets, location shooting, the film itself, everything. Filmmaking has always been expensive, an investment on the part of someone who has the money to invest. The result is that while anyone can write a novel by scrawling down all their inner desires and dreams, committing anything and everything to paper, with no regard for who or what will end up reading it, a film is considered a failure by its producers if it fails to obtain an audience and high returns. This often leads to sacrificing what a few people want (say, the personal vision of the artist[s]) for what many people want – the millions, the unwashed masses. If you can’t reach them, well, your movie’s a flop. This creates the tension between art and entertainment, between highbrow and mainstream, between Persona and Transformers 2, to use a random example.

This problem, like oh so many, is created by money. If filmmakers didn’t have to worry about recouping what was spent on production, they could make whatever the hell they wanted. They could go in any direction, untethered to the needs or desires of the public. This is what avant-garde or experimental filmmakers tend to do – since they don’t need anyone to go and see their movie, they don’t have to worry if it sells. Of course, they also can’t spend as much on it, unless they have a wealthy patron who likes their style.

(Am I overgeneralizing? Fuck yes. Will I look back years later on this post, as well as the rest, and go, Wow, what was I thinking? Probably. But hell, I’m writing to write and maybe try to say something. I’m slightly educated, but far from fully. I see what I can see, and comment on it as I feel appropriate. If that’s not up to your standards, well, fuck you, I guess.)

So I try to let this knowledge of the tension between the commercial and the artistic inform my criticism and analysis. You can’t satisfy everyone, and if you try to, your product is likely to suck. After all, as I remind myself whenever I worry that people aren’t as stupid as I say they are, Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer’s Meet the Spartans was the top-grossing film in the nation for a short time in 2008. By all accounts, a dreadful, worthless, and pathetic attempt at a film, and yet statistically the most favored film in American theaters for a week. It’s times like these when I wish I knew anything about economics.

My point is that commercially successful films can certainly be good – take last year’s The Dark Knight as a perfect example – but by and large in order to reach across demographics and into the wallets of as many Americans as possible, you have to have something shiny, bland, and simple. Like Titanic: two pretty leads fall in love across class barriers (isn’t it romantic?), the ship sinks in a loud, visually stunning display, somebody dies (aww, sad!), and we get all the automatically generated pathos we can handle. James Cameron, you’ve done it again.

So I think it’s always good, especially when looking over received wisdom like the “greatest movies ever,” to consider money as a factor – was the movie made that way to be good, or was it made that way to attract lots & lots of viewers? This is nothing new. I think it’s revelatory that Thomas Edison, Wizard of Menlo Park and all, was more interested in the moneymaking capabilities of film than the artistic. In fact, I believe he was reluctant to switch from simple peepholes to projection, because then more than one person could watch at once, and where’s the money in that? This is a big issue in all of the arts, but I think it’s just always interesting to think about. Maybe in the future I’ll come up with further, deeper commentary about it.

The bleak imagery of Sue Coe

© Sue Coe, presumably

I think blogs are prettier when they have images in them, so here’s an image: during the spring, I checked out but was never able to finish the book X by comics artist Sue Coe, who apparently collaborated with Art Spiegelman. If you can track the book down, it juxtaposes the Civil Rights movement and the speeches of Malcolm X with poems about the treatment of animals and the struggle of the poor in a warring, wealth-dominated nation. It’s pretty disturbing, especially with Coe’s pestilently expressionistic illustrations.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cinema, Media