Tuesday, April 21, 2009

CSA: The Confederate States of America

This movie was simply brilliant. When the menu first appeared I admit I was skeptical and not quite sure what to expect. When that first commercial came on however I realized what kind of a movie they were aiming for and that it was definitely going to be an experience. That quote by George Bernard Shaw was perfect for this film, "If you are going to tell the truth, you better make them laugh: or they'll kill you." This movie, at least to me, paints an all too real picture of what would have happened and almost did in some ways if the south won the civil war.

It is the perfect mix of offensive and humorous content. I think when you tell a joke about something offensive the best reaction is to have half the audience laugh and the other half gasp in shock...and then have them exchange roles. If they can all realize it is offensive, shocking, and still funny then you succeeded. That is one problem we have today, we are way too uptight. Some really horrible things happen and have happened in history. Whether you want to admit it or not there are plenty of people who can take these horrible things and make them funny. What is so wrong in essence of turning pain into humor. That is my position on what it is more people should do. It is therapeutic. I can't help but think of the South Park episode when a certain amount of time has passed, i think it was twenty years, and now aids has finally become funny.

The subject matter and overall scary realism to the documentary parts made the ridiculous, and also sadly true in some parts, commercials to balance it out. When you have a black face Lincoln being led around by Harriet Tubman and a British black face butler named Poppsy trying to downplay his British accent and put on a black slave one how can you not laugh. The Jewish reservation on Long Island was another thing that slipped in that was hilarious. The way they talked seriously about these things are what helped to really sell the joke.

CSA reminded me very much of Idiocracy because of the scary realism in it. When I saw Idiocracy I immediately thought, "Oh crap. This very likely could happen." I think it might not have worked but seeing the material in Idiocracy through the same format as CSA would be very interesting. The last thing I'll mention is how I loved that they kept the #1 top selling item online as porn and slaves as #2...Even with slaves our country is still obsessed with sex.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Pain, Performativity, Performance

I found Ryan Claycomb's lecture to be fascinating, especially the concept of identity. This started with the idea that we are made of the series of stories we tell or think about ourselves. He said that most might find that remark unsettling but for some strange reason it made perfect sense to me and didn't disturb me at all. Then again I a writer and a firm believer of Mel Brooks' quote, "Every human being has hundreds of separate people living under his skin. The talent of a writer is his ability to give them their separate names, identities, personalities and have them relate to other characters living with him."

This quote came to mind during the lecture and made me realize why I wasn't surprised that I found so much of the identity concept interesting. Another such idea was that there is no authentic self just different characters or selves that we take on in different situations. This is actually similar to something I was learning in my Psychology class about the idea of congruence. Where a person is psychologically healthier the more the different sides of themselves, real self/ideal self/ feared self/ social self etc., are consistent or similar. Ideally one should be the same person no matter who they are around. However most of us act differently around friends, parents, and teachers.

The other part that really interested me was Antonio Demasio's three tiers of identity the proto-identity, core identity, and meta-identity. People in general fascinate me, which is probably why I keep taking random psychology or sociology courses. I like to see why people do what they do and who they are. While I have had the idea of people h acing different identities and "masks" that they were, it was interesting to see it sorted out like that and elaborated on.

One thing that stuck out especially was the mention of someone who had a PHD in both Math and English or Literature. Those two subjects take two different sides of the brain and I was extremely surprised that one person could achieve that level in both. I know people that are in school for math and computer programming and those in school for writing and English. Both people seem to be lacking in their opposite field; math majors misspeak or say the wrong things and English majors take minutes to add numbers. That is why I find it so strange and remarkable that one person could have a PHD in both.

Art Lecture

At Mark Snyder's lecture I was happy to hear that other people had my inclination towards annoyance at the art world. For a while now I have always hated the way that anything can and sometimes is considered art regardless of skill, talent, or effort. I know that since I have not studied art I wouldn't understand certain styles or the subtle meanings of paintings, but I still can't help but think a painting of a soup can is stupid and so is a print of someone's face. I just feel that art should be more than that. I'll say right now that I do in fact despise Andy Warhol. I'm not a fan of art in general but the thing I have problems with is not art itself but the art world. This is mainly because of the difficulty in defining what exactly art is.

Other people brought this up also. One person, using the definition of art presented, compared it to a little kid eating worms as the same form of display to a particular audience. It was met with the acceptance that it is very hard to define art. I remember being at an art museum and noticing that there was a section with spin art in it. That really solidified my position against the art world. When spin art is in a museum and considered art I give up on the art world. I admit that it is not the only art form with the same problem. Music and even the field I intend to go into film both have the same problem where plenty of that which is presented to people is terrible and not worthy of being called art but because some pretentious people call it that it is seen as such.

Enough of ranting. An interesting thing was mentioned that brought up another annoyance of mine having nothing to do with art. A black woman artist, whose name i cannot recall, made many paintings dealing with oppression and such. When it was revealed that she was from an upper middle class family people claimed that because she was privileged she didn't have the right to deal with oppression. I love the way people see the world sometimes. All black people regardless of actual race or ethnicity are oppressed and were directly hurt by slavery, unless of course they have money. Then they weren't and are posing if they claim the same heritage as those less fortunate.

Representations of 9/11

Aimee Pozorski's lecture on representations of 9/11 brought up a lot of thought provoking ideas about the way people view and react to literature and art depicting that day. The two main images talked about were the "falling man" and a painting I cannot remember the name of. The painting was seen as too beautiful or too polished to portray the event. That was a common idea that 9/11 art couldn't deal with aesthetics because it can't make us feel better. The idea is that it has to be raw, gritty, and emotional. Making the painting beautiful somehow lessens the meaning or in some way dishonors the actuality of that day. There is also the idea that by making a representation of 9/11 that is beautiful and is open to interpretation it takes away from what happened where simple testimony and actual pictures are the only true view of what happened. It seems the truth is more important than art.

I think the reason that people are so obsessed with the truth when it comes to 9/11 is because it is an event that is highly obscured in mystery. Even today, so many years after, we still don't know for certain exactly what happened that day. There are so many discrepancies and differing claims about that day that there is no way to be 100% sure what exactly happens. In general it seems Americans tend to be against art about tragedies that happen on our soil or that involve our citizens. I don't think many people would disagree that the "American" attitude has an overt sense of pride that may be the reason for this. In the painting the two men portraying the twin towers are blindfolded. I think that is another part that people dislike. The idea that we as a country could have been blind or naive.

I liked the painting it was interesting and had a lot of possible interpretations dealing with naivety or innocence and possibly being blind and pride. The falling man brought up similar interpretations of what is essentially a picture of a man jumping to his death. As a society we have a severe aversion to the topic of suicide. We see suicide as horrible and something that should never be done. Other cultures see it as acceptable and even righteous in certain situations. This brought up the idea of why it is said he looks like he is flying and falling not jumping. It seems we try to say anything except that he jumped out of a burning building. I think there is nothing wrong with that personally. If I had to chose between burning to death or jumping to my death I would chose the latter. I would imagine burning would be a horrible way to go and I find no shame in that choice. Suicide in other cultures is thought highly of if done for an honorable purpose.

The other interesting correlation was that of the myth of Icarus. The story of Icarus flying too close to the sun and melting his wings causing him to fall. This story can correlate to both the falling man image and the painting. In my opinion it seems to fit perfectly as the idea that America naively flew too close to the sun got too proud and were unprepared for and unaware of the threats to our country until that day when they were shattered.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Desire and Celestina

This lecture was very interesting and shed new light and a different perspective on desire, love, and what it means to be human. The idea of desire for an image being traced back to the myth of Narcissus was strange and a little difficult to fully understand at first but then made perfect sense especially when talking about love. When we are involved with someone we really do create an image of them in our heads that is idealized and a perfect fantasy. In the beginning of a relationship we tend to have a blindfold on and start to see only the image in our heads and not the real person. We ignore the other person’s flaws and generally think they are more attractive than anyone in the beginning.

It is interesting and not surprising that by doing this we in a sense doom ourselves because it is impossible for a person to live up to such an image and over time we start to see their flaws and imperfections. Sometimes in the beginning we are not completely ignorant to the real person and completely obsessed with the image and in those cases the love may last. In general it is important and necessary to always remember that we as people are flawed and imperfect creatures. Because while lust may cause us to fall for an image and lead to tragedy when the real thing cannot measure up, so too can pride make us blind to our own flaws and lead to the same fate.

The other interesting idea was that of a fundamental lacking that gives us a sense of who we are. Human nature is desire and the lack thereof. We always have this incomplete feeling where there is always something else to strive for that we do not have. Something will always be the answer, make us complete, and motivate us. However this happiness is fleeting and we are left with a residual disappointment.

One question this brought lecture brought to my mind is which is more shallow our love today or their love back then, which tended to be more of lust. Part of me doesn’t think there is as much of a difference as we like to think. Lust is still deeply connected with love today. I don’t think you can truly love someone else in that way without being physically attracted to them in some way, essentially lust. We tend to look at their relationships being based on status and think we are above that. We still use status as a means of determining long term relationships. We will let lust control us to first be with someone but ultimately their status and how it compliments ours is what determines if it was a fling or “true love”.

Harold and Maude

Before watching this movie I had only heard a short summary about young Harold who is rich and obsessed with death being forever changed after meeting an older woman at a funeral. Now I knew that this was a comedy and from what I have seen a comedy involving a funeral can either be really good or really bad. In this case it was great. The movie was perfect chaos, not that it wasn’t well planned it was but with some many vastly different characters, places, and incidents if one thing didn’t fit or wasn’t performed just right the movie would have fallen apart. When dealing with as many diverse topics and going beyond ridiculousness this movie manages to bring it all home with an uplifting message.

I admit when Maude was first introduced I had a short moment of apprehension at the more than significant age difference between the two characters. I knew going into it that there was a substantial age gap but I wasn’t quite prepared for Harold to be 19 and Maude to be turning 80. I was told this movie was one of those that either someone loves it or hates it. After watching it I can understand that because not everyone appreciates that kind of random and morbid humor, especially not to the frequency and extent it occurs.

Trying to pinpoint the exact message or moral is hard because there are surprisingly so many. Whether it is not to take yourself so seriously all the time, live life to the fullest, get over your problems because there is always someone out there worse off than you, or even the most basic one of simply be yourself. At the end I wasn’t sure if Harold was in the car when it went over the cliff or not. I had heard that some found the movie depressing and others inspiring. With both of those reactions there was no telling what was going to happen because he could have killed himself and it could have ended there on a very depressing note, but because the general message of the film was still there some could still find it inspiring. I am glad it ended the way it did because it perfectly hit home the moral with Harold playing that Cat Stevens’ song on the Banjo and dancing alone on this hill/cliff unembarrassed and seemingly happy.

I think even though it is not explicitly stated Harold does understand in the end why Maude did it. It seems to me to be the reason he didn’t go over the edge with his car. The only intermittent scene between him finding out Maude is dead and the car going over the cliff is him driving around. The way I see it driving around upset and angry Harold ultimately understands that things are better this way and he needs to take what he has learned and experience, move on, be happy, and especially live life. That last one is the most important because even though it seemed like Harold was living life I think he was more living vicariously through her. Ever since he “died” the first time Harold seemed to be afraid to live. Even with Maude he still needed her to live like her. It wasn’t until Maude killed herself and made him be alone that Harold was able to get over his fear and actually live life.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

"Rape is Funny"

When I had first heard that rape jokes were a problem I had no idea how prevalent these jokes were. Now that I am thinking about it I realize just how many there are. I never really thought about prison rape jokes, child molester/priest jokes, and general rape jokes as being in the same category, it just never occurred to me. It makes sense but I find it interesting and odd that prison rape jokes are common because we see them as deserving or as "other" than us so it is acceptable. However, in that vain why are priest and child molester jokes common as well? When you think about it these are sometimes the most serious kinds of rape because they are against defenseless children and yet we find jokes about it funny.

I remembered watching the South Park episode and thinking it was pretty funny but not one of their best. Knowing now where those rape scenes came from I can see how much worse those scenes are and how truly offensive them may seem. Before I had thought that because of the sheer ridiculousness of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg raping Indiana Jones, a fictional character, it wasn't that bad, now I understand how having seen the scenes they use this episode can appear in a whole other light.

I think everyone can agree about rape being a special class of crime where there is no good reason or excuse for it, unlike murder or theft. If you are starving to death and you steal food it is understandable. Just as if someone tries to kill you or kills your family it is understandable for you to kill them, not excusable or acceptable just understandable. I never thought about rape in prison as being something that we could put a stop to. I think that is because our society bombards us with the idea that it always happens and they deserve it. Regardless of personal feelings about prisoners deserving to be raped, I personally don't think they do albeit except for drastic and few exceptions i.e. (child) rapists. An eye opening comment was, if we can't stop rape in a place where people are gated in and there are guards with guns walking around, how can we do it in the open outside world? That really made me think.

To a degree I think over usage of jokes like these do desensitize us somewhat. Someone mentioned they overheard a guy talking about raping a girl to "put her in her place". When I heard that I was actually shocked and thrown by that. I tend to believe myself to be fairly cynical and generally see the bad in people but that still surprised me. One of the more gray area things discussed I think was the concept of a man and woman both getting drunk to have sex and where that fits in the discussion of rape. This led to people who actively intoxicate themselves to do things they wouldn't while sober or try to match someone else's level of intoxication so they don't feel like they are raping them. I think it is important to discuss these things and society's portrayal of rape in general, especially on a college campus where all types of these situations arise constantly whether black, white, or shades of gray.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Requiem for a Dream

I had never seen this movie in it's entirety before and had only caught bits and pieces, but you really have to see it from beginning to end to truly appreciate it. Instantly I recognized and remembered that score that is so iconic and widely used. The visuals, music, and innovative use of rapid cuts are only some of the things that make this film amazing. The use of plot and characters is fearless as they show how much addiction, of all kinds, can ensnare even the seemingly "normal" people and drag them down to a level of depravity, desperation, and desolation. This is something that is rarely seen because it doesn't have much commercial appeal and causes extremely deep emotions and reactions.

One thing I found interesting is that while it never glorified drug use and showed what it can do to people it didn't take it to the extreme of destroying everyone around you, it just so happened that everyone around the main character(s) were deeply involved in their own addictions. The way drugs were not the only addiction the characters had nor the most influential one was deep and intriguing. The mother Sarah went from being addicted to television to being addicted to pills; however both were simply ways of escaping her insufferable loneliness. At the same time ironically her son was starting to get over his addiction, to a small degree, by using it as a business and making money to feed his other addiction, trying to make money and money equals happiness. Here is where the son begins to rise above his drug addiction in fulfillment of his other addiction while his mother begins to slip out of her television addiction into her drug one. If the two simply had one longer conversation they might have been able to help each other. If Harold had actually brought his girlfriend over and had dinner with his mother maybe they could have saved each other...but this isn't that kind of movie.

That is what we expect and what we want because as much as we love seeing people downward spiral we also want to see them rise above it, whether alone or with help. Addiction tends to be used as an escape but it is only an escape from an outer hell leading to a worse inner one. Every character in this film has their own dream or goal and by resorting to bad means of getting it they end up perverting their original dream until it is so bad they get what they want and realize what they have done. The mother and son end up in similar states, even though they took different paths of the direct and indirect. I would say I don't think the mother is as much to blame for her predicament because she didn't know what the pills were when she started taking them, but when you think about it none of them "really" knew what they were getting into when they first started most likely.

I can honestly say I can't think of any other movie that truly has no silver lining or glimpse of hope at all and that is impressive and remarkable. From a writer's point of view it is hard to write something like that. To have characters that come to a point where there is absolutely nothing left for them and there doesn't seem to be any lower they can go. This movie is the epitome of downward spiraling and hitting rock bottom in the most brilliant and beautiful way imaginable.