Monday, June 29, 2009

mark hedges on america's corporate culture

I highly recommend reading the article "The Truth Alone Will Not Set You Free" by Mark Hedges, regarding the destruction and replacement of American culture with mass, corporate culture ("junk culture") and the repercussions of this shift. Below are some highlights.

The most important struggle will be to wrest the organs of communication from corporations that use mass media to demonize movements of social change and empower proto-fascist movements such as the Christian right.

American culture—or cultures, for we once had distinct regional cultures—was systematically destroyed in the 20th century by corporations. These corporations used mass communication, as well as an understanding of the human subconscious, to turn consumption into an inner compulsion. Old values of thrift, regional identity that had its own iconography, aesthetic expression and history, diverse immigrant traditions, self-sufficiency, a press that was decentralized to provide citizens with a voice in their communities were all destroyed to create mass, corporate culture. New desires and habits were implanted by corporate advertisers to replace the old. Individual frustrations and discontents could be solved, corporate culture assured us, through the wonders of consumerism and cultural homogenization. American culture, or cultures, was replaced with junk culture and junk politics. And now, standing on the ash heap, we survey the ruins. The very slogans of advertising and mass culture have become the idiom of common expression, robbing us of the language to make sense of the destruction. We confuse the manufactured commodity culture with American culture.

The emergence of corporate and government public relations, which drew on the studies of mass psychology by Sigmund Freud and others after World War I, found its bible in Walter Lippmann’s book “Public Opinion,” a manual for the power elite’s shaping of popular sentiments. Lippmann argued that the key to leadership in the modern age would depend on the ability to manipulate “symbols which assemble emotions after they have been detached from their ideas.” The public mind could be mastered, he wrote, through an “intensification of feeling and a degradation of significance.”

The modern world, as Kafka predicted, has become a world where the irrational has become rational, where lies become true. And facts alone will be powerless to thwart the mendacity spun out through billions of dollars in corporate advertising, lobbying and control of traditional sources of information. We will have to descend into the world of the forgotten, to write, photograph, paint, sing, act, blog, video and film with anger and honesty that have been blunted by the parameters of traditional journalism.

“Read ‘The Gettysburg Address,’ ” [Stuart] Ewen [author of “Captains of Consciousness: Advertising and the Social Roots of the Consumer Culture” and “PR: A Social History of Spin”] said. “Read Frederick Douglass’ autobiography or his newspaper. Read ‘The Communist Manifesto.’ Read Darwin’s ‘Descent of Man.’ All of these things are filled with an understanding that communicating ideas and producing forms of public communication that empower people, rather than disempowering people, relies on an integrated understanding of who the public is and what it might be. We have a lot to learn from the history of rhetoric. We need to think about where we are going. We need to think about what 21st century pamphleteering might be. We need to think about the ways in which the rediscovery of rhetoric—not lying, but rhetoric in its more conventional sense—can affect what we do.

conan o'brien: triumph visits bonnaroo

Thursday, June 25, 2009

michael jackson

Michael Jackson, August 29, 1958 – June 25, 2009

Sunday, June 21, 2009

epic win: buffy vs. edward, "what? are you twelve?"

From Jonathan McIntosh of Rebellious Pixels comes this brilliantly edited pop culture piece. He says of his work:

In this remixed narrative Edward Cullen from the Twilight series meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s an example of transformative storytelling serving as a visual critique of Edward’s character and generally creepy behavior. Seen through Buffy’s eyes some of the more patriarchal gender roles and sexist Hollywood tropes embedded in the Twilight saga are exposed in hilarious ways.

A-to the-men. I will never, ever forgive Twilight author Stephanie Meyer for describing her whiney, helpless, and devotionally dependent protagonist (who she mistakenly refers to as a heroine -- not the same thing) to the greatest literary heroine readers have ever known, Elizabeth Bennett. If anything, the video above just proves how progressive Joss Whedon has been with his heroines, and how Twilight has set women back centuries.

john hodgman: revenge of the nerds

Via Throwing Things: John Hodgman was the keynote speaker at the Radio & TV Correspondents' Dinner, where his primary topic was that of bridging the gap between nerds and jocks. Whereas the previous presidency was made up of jocks, our new presidency is comprised of nerds. Hodgman described our president -- "with a Spock-ish calm and gangly frame" -- as the man who is bringing an emphasis on science and objective reality back into our nation. He adds, "There is even talk of some states decriminalizing evolution."

At the 8:25 mark, Hodgman questions the president's "nerd credentials" through a series of slides, and at the 9:29 mark, Obama throws up the Vulcan salute without hesitation.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

film news: june 2009

• Cinematical has this to say about the upcoming Cold Souls, which has perhaps one of the creepier posters I've seen in a while: "Paul Giamatti [stars] as an actor (appropriately named Paul Giamatti) who decides he wants to put some of his soul in storage in order to help better tackle a new role. [...] Cold Souls is a beautifully shot film, and it also becomes more than a little bit moving, as Giamatti struggles with a question we've all asked ourselves: Is it possible to remove the burden of our soul without taking away the benefit of it? Is it the very weight we struggle under that makes us strong? Deep questions, but Cold Souls is also funny; there are fast, laugh-out-loud gags like Giamatti's compensation anxiety over the small size of his extracted soul ("It looks like a chickpea!") or the Russian trophy wife obsessed with getting an American actor's extracted soul so she can implant it and do better Soap Opera work."

• Tim Burton's artwork will be featured at MoMA. The show will include more than 700 pieces: paintings, drawings, storyboards, maquettes, puppets and other work created or designed by Burton.

• I Watch Stuff has the poster for Ice Age 3 and makes a notable observation: the squirrel character's face is very phallic (twig and berries and all) as he ogles the eyelash-batting female squirrel. Now if only this poster were in 3D...

• Via The Movie Blog, Natalie Portman has joined Darren Aronofsky's film Black Swan, about "a veteran ballerina (Portman) who finds herself locked in a competitive situation with a rival dancer, with the stakes and twists increasing as the dancers approach a big performance. But it’s unclear whether the rival is a supernatural apparition or if the protagonist is simply having delusions."

• Cinematical's James Rocchi has a positive Sundance review of Moon, the "smart science fiction" thriller starring Sam Rockwell.

• While we're on the topic of science fiction, here's an awesome timeline by Dan Meth detailing when the movies were made (to the left of the vertical line) and how far into the future they take place (to the right of the vertical line). Click to enlarge.

• Surprise, surprise. The Hangover is getting a sequel. Why should Hollywood have any original ideas when they can capitalize off a previous success? It seems like any box office success will automatically get a sequel.

• Speaking of remakes, Film School Rejects lists 20 films from the 80s that aren't being remade. Hallelujah.

• Here's a current debate regarding female protagonists in films: Cinematical responds to Linda Holmes' request for better female leads. Holmes begs Pixar to have a female lead that isn't a princess, and Monika Bartyzel at Cinematical begs people to realize that this isn't a political issue. Holmes makes the case that "little Russell, in Up, is Asian-American, right? And that's not a big plot point; presumably, he just is because there's no particular reason he shouldn't be. You don't need him to be, but you don't need him not to be, either. It's not politics; it's just seeing the whole big world." Bartyzel agrees: "Look, women aren't flukes. We love, we hate, we learn, we fight. We go to movies. We want diversity in our interests just like everyone else. We want to see films with females in the lead roles where the characterization isn't seeped in cliche. [...] And we'd like to express our desires without having it fall into a political discussion, without our reasonable desire thrown off as a feminist rant or bit of political correctness."

• Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis, and Hugo Weaving are all confirmed for Guillermo del Toro's The Hobbit.

Filmoculous sent me to with the question, "Which sci-fi movie should I watch?" The method of finding a suggestion is quite entertaining.

• And lastly, URLesque has a list of the 10 best recut movie trailers, including When Harry Met Sally and Amelie as horror films, the latter of which is really fantastic ("You can run. She doesn't have to."). Of course, they've included my favorite recut trailer: Sleepless in Seattle as a thriller about an obsessive stalker -- which actually isn't too far from the truth.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Thursday, June 11, 2009

my milk toof, by inhae

Thanks to my friend Jen for passing along quite possibly the cutest website I've ever been to. MY MILK TOOF, by artist Inhae, is a photographic journey of two teeth, Ickle and Lardee, on various adventures (from bathing to playing to going out for a walk). Below is one of the sweeter stories, and the photography is really quite stunning (once you look past the subject matter -- although, in my opinion, the "teef" only elevate the photographs). Look, for example, at Ickle and Lardee with dandelions, Ickle and Lardee looking at the world through 3D-colored glasses, or Lardee's hesitation to bathe. Another particularly well photographed story is of a mellow afternoon; the colors are absolutely beautiful.

"Awww, Planty looks sad."

"Be right back."

"Okay Planty, here's Lardee's prescription for feeling down..."


"A warm milk tea with lots of sugar, just the way Lardee like."


"A warm snuggle with Lardee's soft blanket."

"And three:"

Lardee sings for you."

"Feel better, Planty."

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

if the teacher pops a test, i know i'm in a mess...

Oh. Em. Gee. Mark-Paul Gosselaar appeared on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon as 90s icon Zack Morris. (The acid wash jeans! The white high top sneakers! THAT HAIR!) For years and years, MPG has refused to talk about his Saved by the Bell days -- understandably so, as he was making the transition into other projects (he's currently on TNT's Raising the Bar) -- but, because of Jimmy Fallon's obsession with reuniting the cast of Saved by the Bell, MPG sucked up his pride and took us on a nostalgic journey of utter awesomeness. There are references galore -- Kelly's romance with Jeff! Drug abusing Johnny Dakota! And of course, the Zack Morris phone makes an appearance. And to top it all off, MPG joins the band for a rendition of Zack Attack's "Friends Forever."

The only thing missing was a reference to Jessie Spano's "I'm so excited, I'm so... so... scared" moment. So to make up for it, here's a link to a shirt making that reference.

I think my heart exploded from too much awesome.

Update, 06/11: Star Pulse has an interview with Mark-Paul Gosselaar regarding his frak-tastic stint on Late Night. Topics discussed include MPG forgetting about the move from Indiana to California (from Good Morning, Miss Bliss to Saved by the Bell, respectively); MPG analogizing that Jimmy Fallon's reunion idea is like putting a gun to the cast members' heads (they have to do it now that everyone wants it); and, in a moment of humility, MPG confesses he was nervous during the live broadcast. Aww, TIME IN!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

review: up

Three things to note before I begin my review: (1) Most importantly, I will be discussing the film in full, including spoilers and ruining surprises in the film, so continue reading at your own risk. Or come back and read it after you've seen the movie. (2) Many critics in the blogosphere are claiming that Pixar's Up is the funniest film the company has made to date, but I don't recall crying in Monster's Inc. or Toy Story (though, at times, they did pull at my heart strings). There are indeed humorous parts in the film, but they are not counterbalanced evenly by the somber parts. For the most part, Up is a meditation on grieving and the impermanence of life. But the real, more Up-lifting message of the movie, without any trace of cliché, is that the journey far surpasses the destination. (3) I cried five times during the movie -- FIVE -- and I loved every minute of it. Pixar created a near-perfect film. I would only put WALL-E and Monster's Inc. above it.

Synopsis: Up follows the adventures of grumpy ol' Carl Fredricksen, modeled after Walter Matthau and Spencer Tracy, and stow-away Wilderness Explorer Russell as they head to the (unfortunately) fictional Paradise Falls to fulfill Fredricksen's long-forgotten dream of traveling. Using thousands of helium-inflated balloons, Mr. Fredricksen's house is lifted high into the skies as the primary vehicle for their adventure. Russell and Mr. Fredricksen's already onerous journey is interrupted by Kevin (a female bird, named by Russell), Dug (a dog with a collar enabling his thoughts to be heard -- "Squirrel!"), and Charles Muntz, an explorer and Mr. Fredricksen's childhood hero. After returning from an exploration with the bones of an unknown bird, Muntz was declared a fraud and he disappeared, vowing not to return until he had captured the live bird and redeemed his reputation. Mr. Fredricksen has to choose between saving the meddlesome Russell and his pet Kevin, reaching Paradise Falls before the helium deflates, or helping his childhood hero capture the bird.

The power of silence: For anyone who's been paying attention, Pixar has an unparalleled brilliance in the art of silence. All of their film's preceding shorts are entirely silent -- "Geri's Game" is still my favorite -- and WALL-E took this devotion to storytelling in a lengthier direction. Up also contains an element of silence, and although it's only five minutes long, it is by far the most affecting.

First of all, we are introduced to Carl Fredricksen as a child. The film opens with him watching new reel footage of Charles Muntz's career. Dressed in an aviator hat and goggles and holding a blue balloon, he comes across an abandoned home -- not unlike the old Granville house in It's a Wonderful Life, another home of great symbolic meaning -- where he meets a young and very talkative girl named Ellie. Young Carl is stunned not only by her vivacity but by her shared adoration for Charles Muntz. Not once do we hear Carl talk, which is important because it is the older, grieving Carl with whom the audience is supposed to identify and not the younger, dream-filled child. One night, a blue balloon enters Carl's bedroom window, followed by Ellie and an incomplete scrapbook, waiting to be detailed with great adventures. She makes Carl promise to take her to Paradise Falls -- to cross his heart -- a promise that we soon learn he failed to keep.

What follows is a five minute silent montage of Ellie and Carl's marriage and life together, from painting a mailbox with their handprints to learning that they are unable to have children. They have moved into the old Granville house, as I shall refer to it, and we see them washing windows from opposite sides (her smile becomes a reflection of his), Carl working as a balloon salesman and Ellie as a bird handler, and putting extra coins into a Paradise Falls jar. Other financial obligations force them to repeatedly break the jar, and the dream of visiting Paradise Falls become a faint memory as Ellie grows weaker and dies of old age. After her death, cleaning the windows becomes a reminder of loneliness as Ellie's smile is not there to greet him, and the mailbox with their interlocking handprints becomes a physical reminder of their time together. Carl spends his days in a chair next to Ellie's chair.

Within the first twenty minutes of the movie, I was crying. Not just one tear, but many. And it was the power in the montage's storytelling that kept me emotionally tied to the misunderstood Mr. Fredricksen throughout the movie. He was merely a man who missed his wife, and he refused to change any material thing in her absence. It was only the threat of being moved to a retirement home and the recollection of a cross-your-heart promise that prompted him to do the impossible -- travel to Paradise Falls with the house that he and Ellie made into a home.

The house: Essentially, Up is both a coming of age tale (for Russell) and an unfinished love story (for Carl, who is still dealing with the loss of his wife). Russell, a child of divorce, is the perfect company for Carl as both of them are dealing with the weight of loss -- represented by the house, which both tie to their waists as a means of keeping it from floating away. The house represents family, something that Russell and Carl both feel is lacking in their lives, and the house is a constant physical manifestation of that loss. Only after carrying the burden of the house and becoming friends in the process are either of them able to regain purpose.

The house also, of course, represents Ellie. As her picture hangs on the wall in the living room, Carl often talks to it -- the picture specifically and the house generally -- and it looks to both Russell and the audience as though Carl perceives the house to be his wife. And it is. Every inch of that house contains a reminder of Ellie -- a bird she once painted, her scrapbook of memories, her chair, her picture on the wall, etc. When Carl initially takes flight, he steers his house in the living room where young Ellie pretended to take the reigns of a flying blimp. And the implausibility of a flying house -- by balloons, no less -- is ignored because of what the house represents. The film's use of balloons clearly orchestrates a life-long connection between Ellie and trying to reach for your dreams, but it's also a visual personification of Ellie floating towards the heavens and Carl trying to keep her close to the ground. Carl and Russell eventually reach Paradise Falls, but they are on the wrong side of the canyon and have limited time to take the house to its proper location before the helium in the balloons runs out. The helium, then, becomes a metaphor for time. Just like sand in an hourglass, time is escaping and Carl is constantly reminded of that burden.

This leads me to another point in the movie in which I began to cry: Exasperated and lacking time himself, Muntz lights Carl's house on fire to deter Carl from following him. It wasn't just a house on fire; it was Ellie. Luckily for us, the house does not burn down and Carl is able to place the home in its rightful place. Russell, however, has been kidnapped by Muntz and are floating back to the States with the exotic bird, Kevin, with them. Carl sits down in his chair -- next to Ellie's chair, in the very spot he crossed-his-heart he would take her -- and he can't be at peace because he knows that Russell, who has becomes Carl's new family, needs him. In order to make his house fly again, Carl unloads his house (and thus his baggage, his past), leaving all material items in a heap outside. All save two items, his and Ellie's chairs, which are set upright beside the heap of furniture. Insert waterworks again.

The importance of family: Before Carl discovers that Russell's been kidnapped, he leafs through Ellie's childhood scrapbook. He finds momentos of her married life with Carl, as well as a final note thanking him for their own adventure (life) and then encouraging him to go have his own. I somehow found a way to hold back the tears at this moment, but then Carl goes to the door looking for Russ and finds Dug, who says, "I was hiding under the porch because I love you." And then I began crying. Dug was once an additional burden for Fredricksen, but now he has been accepted as a loving companion who chooses to go on an adventure with Fredricksen even when he wasn't wanted. The familial presence of Dug is only heightened by Kevin, who, as a bird, becomes an extension of Ellie. Ellie was a bird handler and created a wooden bird, one of the many items Carl tries to salvage throughout the narrative, and so it only seems appropriate that he extends his love of Ellie onto Kevin, who becomes a temporary replacement for his wife. At the end of the adventure, Carl has to say goodbye to Kevin and release her back with her family, just as he had to say goodbye to Ellie.

The importance of dreams: One of the many, many morals of this movie is that dreams, whether realized or not, are important and that sometimes we embark on journeys without even realizing it. John Lennon once said, "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans." At one particularly profound moment, we learn why Russell is so intent on receiving his "Help the Elderly" Wilderness Explorer badge. Since his parents' divorce, which is never stated and only alluded to, Russ never sees his father except when he's awarded a new badge. There is an empty spot on Russ's sash -- right over his heart -- where the badge will be placed. He explains to Fredricksen that afterwards, he and his dad would go to an ice cream shop and count the red and blue cars passing by. Fredricksen rolls his eyes in annoyance, but then Russ says, "I know this stuff may seem boring, but it's the boring stuff I remember." This is yet another moment when I began to cry because this, of course, mirrors the earlier montage of Fredricksen remembering the quotidian of his life with Ellie.

At the end of the film, Russ gets his badge, but his father never shows up. Then we hear a familiar grumpy voice pushing through the crowd to pin the badge on Russ's sash. It's Mr. Fredricksen, but instead of the badge, he's pinned a grape soda pop top Ellie had pinned on his lapel when they were children. Once again, Up has illustrated a deep and profound love through the passing of a material object, and I... well, you know what I did. After the ceremony, Russell and Fredricksen go to the curb of the ice cream store and count the red and blue cars passing by. In a quick montage, the film closes with the future adventures of Russ and Fredricksen, two lost persons who found a new family and new dreams to have together.

Russell had the dream to get his Wilderness Explorers badge, which was really an excuse for him to spend time with his absent father, and Fredricksen had the dream to go to Paradise Falls with Ellie. Both of these dreams were important to the individuals who held them, but both were able to see the new adventures right before them.