17 July 2008

Bastard Images, Adopted Words

So last night on Charlie Rose - David Remnick (ed. of The New Yorker) and David Simon (creator of the Wire).

First of all, this whole cartoon cover business, briefly. You know, as a subscriber, I would not have thought twice about that cover ... maybe given it the faintest of chuckles (they still haven't sent it to me yet, btw). But the popmedia uproar raises tougher questions than it asks. A thought experiment courtesy of CNN's Campbell Brown:

Editor of the conservative Weekly Standard: We should put [blah blah blah, something about Madonna and A-Rod] on the cover.
CAMPBELL BROWN: You should put the New Yorker cover on the cover.

I don't watch Anderson Cooper 360 (or the Situation Room or whatever pundit-infested show that is set-designed to look like it takes place IN the internet) expecting to get my mind blown, but there it is. "You should put the New Yorker cover on the cover." And that's what this is really about. Context - the promiscuity and malleability of images let loose. Circulating. Questions of intent, mediation, and reception that are particularly volatile with satire.

I tend to think that suggesting the cover is tasteless and offensive (per the Obama campaign itself) is tantamount to someone quoting this very sentence you are reading in this way: "the cover is tasteless and offensive." (We brings it metatextually, son, what?)

It's the duck AND the rabbit, of course. The beautiful young woman AND the old maid.

The saddest thing, ultimately, about watching people talk about this is the sinking feeling that NONE OF THEM (Blitzer, Bennett, Carville, Obama) are saying anything they really think about it, but rather just positioning themselves with regard to their individual (or party) ends. Even Remnick on Rose was very political about the thing, saying first that what angers him most is the suggestion that "I get it, but these people OUT THERE won't get it" and then going on to make what seemed to be arguements that hinged on that very same point in earnest for much of the remainder of the interview.

As for David Simon - our cantankerous, cynical, arrogant hero - well, he's got this new series on HBO about the Iraq war called "Generation Kill." So he's on Rose preaching about the virtues of verisimilitude in much the same way he spoke about the Wire. But I don't really want to talk too much about Generation Kill. I really want to talk about an interview I heard on the podcast The Sound of Young America with Wire actors Wendell Pierce (Bunk) and Andre Royo (Bubbles). In the interview, Jesse Thorn brought up a quote from Charles S. Dutton in a New York Times Article entitled "Who Gets To Tell a Black Story" about the making of the HBO miniseries "The Corner" that preceded The Wire and is, like the Wire, about life in inner city Baltimore. You might remember Dutton from his starring role as "Roc" on Fox in the early nineties. Dutton is from Baltimore and honed his acting craft during a decade-long prison stint. He worked as a director on The Corner. He and Simon has a rocky relationship:

'I know that David Simon can visit and sit with as many black folks in this city as he wants to,'' Mr. Dutton said one day in late September, standing on a crumbling stretch of sidewalk in the rain. ''They can pay the families to get the stories. They can listen and walk around with dope fiends. They can write about murders, and they still won't know a damn thing about black people. Not this, you know. Not this. I know the pulse of this. I know what people think the minute they walk out them doors. I know what mothers feel when their sons and daughters walk out of the house to go to school. I know what it feels like to kill somebody. I know what it feels like to get shot. I know what it feels like that people be looking to kill me. I don't have to show up as a crime journalist after the fact.''

In the interview, Wendell Pierce, who is as smooth as the detective he plays on the Wire, handled the question of writing and race with aplomb, saying that people need to preserve their ability to be offended so as to keep the debate moving. This is something I've thought about, we've talked about. It's a bucket of syrup for sure. And it certainly does matter who is writing the stories. But one thing I do know is that Simon writes exceptionally sophisticated and human stories and the good has got to outweigh the bad when narrative makes connections across race like that.

14 July 2008

Anthropomorbid - The Charcoal Murders

Did you hear about this? It happened last year in Virunga National Park in the Congo - six mountain gorillas (seven if you count the pregnant one) were murdered execution style in the Congo, to make a political point. One year later now, the reasons for the killings are being explored on a special for the National Geographic Channel, NPR's Fresh Air, and PBS Charlie Rose. [Incidentally, the photojournalist who took the initial pictures and has become the face of the story here, is a sexy, swashbuckling South African guy named Brent Stirton].
[NOTE: Please do not take my word for this. Facts probably not exactly right and this is an infinitely complicated story of power and politics in a region I don't have any pretense of understanding]

Part of the trouble begins with the Rwandan genocide, as Hutu militia groups fled Rwanda for Congo and the Virunga park. Now, apparently, some of these Hutu guys run an illegal charcoal operation, in league with certain corrupt members of the Congolese army and the guy who runs Virunga National Park. Charcoal is a crucial to cooking and heating in the region. When certain Park Rangers caught wind of the goings on and objected, the gorilla executions were a message sent to prospective do-gooders.

The silverback here is Senkwekwe.
Now these are some truly arresting images. I certainly don't want to make light of them - animal cruelty is offensive to us all, but isn't the anthropomorphic quality of these another turn of the screw? You may know that the one true love of my life to this point is Koko, the gorilla who knows sign language (pictured in my gallery right and also here, with pet kitten Smokey): The PBS documentary about Koko is available from the Criterion collection and her paintings, along with buddy Michael's are available here:http://www.koko.org/friends/kokomart_art.koko.html#

Koko facts:
- Attempts were made for Koko to select a mate via videos of potential suitors. She declined Michael because they grew up together.
- Some of Koko's female handlers filed sexual harassment suits due to Koko's constant requests to see people's nipples
- Koko was a fan of Mr. Rogers and when she met him in person, she immediately tried to take off his shoes, as she'd seen him do so many times.

07 July 2008

Last Blog on Earth - Us as Detritus

Last night I saw Pixar's new Wall-E. This week I write the entry for Kevin Brockmeier's Brief History of the Dead for the Encyclopedia of Contemporary Fiction. Roughly four years ago I delivered a presentation on David Markson's Wittgenstein's Mistress to my Introduction to Theory class. Today I revive my blog in earnest. These things are connected; let me tell you how.

You probably have seen or heard about Wall-E, but you may not be familiar with the two novels. Briefly: Brief History of the Dead is split in two - one part set in "The City," an afterlife limbo where people go and 'live' normal lives as long as there are people alive on earth who remember them. When the last person who remembers you dies, you go on to you-don't-know-where. The other part is set in Antartica, where we follow the struggles of Laura Byrd, stranded on a mission for the Coca-Cola Co. and cut off from any other living soul because, it turns out, she is the last living soul (everyone else has bought it via pandemic). Thus, interestingly, everyone in The City knows Laura Byrd one way or another. Wittgenstein's Mistress is about the supposed Last Woman on Earth, who wanders through the Colosseum and the Louvre and WRITES a memoir for no one to read.

Wall-E is the last robot on earth. He collects, compacts, and stacks trash (keeping some trinkets for himself). He knows nothing but this work, but he pines for company, inspired by his prized VHS copy of Hello Dolly! The junkaesthetic is rendered beautifully by the animators. I'll get back to the film, which is great, in a minute, BUT FIRST: What of this LAST ON EARTH thing - it's long been a space for working out the hypotheticals generated by both serious and pop philosophy (from Hobbes to Mad Max) - by subtracting civilization, we can see INTO nature. Wall-E and Brockmeier's Laura and Markson's Kate inhabit an inverted/perverted Eden (a palindrome Eden - Madam I'm Adam - and naturally Wall-E's eventual love interest is EVE) - the myth of what it means to come last. They are also the stranded - like Cruesoe, like Simon and Piggy, Tom Hanks' volleyball, those people on Lost (a show I've never seen but I've read uses "John Locke" and "Rousseau" as character names).

So this post has two folds, outward: 1) What of this LAST ON EARTH thing? What does it mean? What are some other versions (I know I am Legend)?

2). Wall-E is a remarkable 'kids' film. As is much-remarked upon, the majority of it contains no dialogue but the robot is so endearing that you don't miss it at all. Wall-E is postapocalyptic Chaplin and Keaton - a well meaning bumbler pratfalling through life. Speechless, Chaplin's body often ticked and sputtered like a haywire robot ... but it's not just the physicality - like Keaton, Wall-E is heartsick and smitten - wide-eyed, well-intentioned, sexless ... an underdog in love. He is also out of place and outdated. When EVE arrives and later when we see the digidystopia aboard the spaceship AXIOM, where fat humans live in a megastore planet of ubiquitous screens and instant gratification, we see that WALL-E is an analog anamoly, tracking dirt into the grimly pristine future.

The are many nods here to the history of cinema past the silents. We have 2001 present in the red-eyed HAL called AUTO and in the signature tune Thus Spake Zarathustra (that other one as well). One of the more interesting bits, to me, was that there is a contingent of psych ward misfit malfunctioning robots that join WALL-E and EVE's mini-insurgency against the fascist forces of order. The echoes here are of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Cool Hand Luke. And this is the embrace of difference that seems to thread through the best of kid films. A goodhearted liberalism that promises (white lie or not) that we can remake the world. The credit sequence of WALL-E tracks the recivilization of Earth through a history of art from hieroglyph to Van Gogh.

SO I WANT TO KNOW: check the dustbin of your own history. We are made of these narrative artifacts. What are the kids films that meant the most to you then, or now? I go to the Henson hippie mysticism of The Dark Crystal or the folksy musicality of Emmet Otter's Jugband Christmas (those muppets EMOTE), the tender critique of The Secret of NIMH (in which humans are mere voices and body parts, the forces of ignorance). What about the sad center of NEMO, or the you-can-be-anything of BABE. And I was with SHREK's allegory of interspecies romance until she had to be an ogre, too. From when I was a kid there are bits of Bedknobs and Broomsticks, dander from the Aristocats. What else?

29 June 2008

Who I Think You Should Vote For For President

I've given it some thought and I've narrowed it down to two options.

1) Barack Obama

2)When I was 19 or 20 I wrote a poem called "I Wanna Go Outside." It was a poem about a girl. The first line went something like this:

"Image in all the people" sang the blind John Lenin [sic(k)?] as he picked up his hammer and sickle and saw ... that his eyes were mirrors"

This was my solliptical proseurism uncooked and marinating in Colt .45, beguiled by the presto!digitation of the mannered lexical dexterity which echoes here. Autophonetic asphyxiation. Encrypted.

But the code begs the cracking. Like the blah-blah-blog, the insides-out of 21st century journaling. I think I hoped that you could draw a (squiggly) line from Prufrock to Cusack, from peachphobia to letting the box boom ... somehow her eyes would be mirrors but at the same time "the doorway to a thousand churches."

The wineblood sentimentality of THE ONES and TWOS v. the villain math of the ONES and ZEROES. Whether wholes are greater than sums, alls greater than somes.

Wasn't it one of the Greeks who said that sexual union is an attempt at cum union? to die a little death to the TWOS and BE ONE?

Wasn't it more than one of the Greeks who found other passageways, tighter fits, but other fits nonetheless?

So I guess it WOULD be nice if I could touch your body, but do we HAVE to have faith?

William James tells me that Scientific Positivism is the flipside of Positive Thinking ... Heads, your world is an object, and progress will brighten all the corners. The world is out there. Tails, your world is a subject, and you draw the contours. The world is in here.

And this makes me think of recent conversations about THERAPY and ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS and, of course, religious faith generally. This is what James calls "mental hygiene," that living needs a grammar, a mold, a shape, an anchor. He says "Here is the real core of the religious problem: Help! Help!" This is the project: order. Projected Order.

Thus shaken up even before the quantum leap into indeterminacy - Particles and Waves. When he's underwater does he get wet? Or does the water get him instead. Nobody knows.

I just heard an interview with George Carlin in which he said two things - one wise, one a little too mystical for me - but I'm wondering if they're reconcilable. He said he liked people individually, but when they get into groups, they spoil. Put on uniforms and get uniform. But he also said he believes that we're all made of the same stuff, descended from Atom ... so I am You and You are Me and Stop Sign is Me and Raccoon is Me and so I'm not afraid to die. Can he have both one and the other?

While my high school baseball team made its Cinderella run all the way to the State Championship my senior year, I secretly wished hard that we would lose every time out and the season would be over. Because the coach had demoted me from starter to reserve and because he resented that I missed practice to visit colleges and because most of the other guys were assholes anyway. There was an I in TEAM.

Lou Dobbs says America needs Independents. That the hegemony of reds and blues eats the purple people. And I saw Luke Russert say much the same thing. And how can we not listen to him after all he's been through? And in HBO's (really enjoyable so far) series John Adams, our hero grimaces and coughs standing firm against the streams of loyalist and radicals. Think for yourself indeed, but the glare from those stars seems to blur the stripes.

And I know you can listen without talking, but you shouldn't talk without listening. Though that's both complicated and difficult.

01 April 2008

Message in a Bottle

PLUNK! The mellifluid sound of the bottle-born message subsurfaced to resurface and drift into the e-theric ocean. What seamonster there useless as a Eugene Levy-a-thon.[ Teaching Nabokov to glazed pupils redoubles my parapro-pensity toward lexically dextrous solliptical proseurism]. It's notsobad here on ghostofpaper island, but my beard itches and I'm weary of coconut milk. I smoke for signals.

SOOOOOOOO ... the last three posts were not driven well enough into the earthy foundations of e-community. There were no comments. Color me as insecure as a swimsuited tweenager at the public pool, but I'm a puppy who needs scruffscratchin'. Thereby I hereby openly solicit and humbly beg for harmony. Roll call and response like this was black church. The pathetic appeal. All for nought and nought for all.


1). How are you? You look really good, did you lose weight? I don't see you often enough. Stayin' outta trouble? Oh, I was going to ask you about that show you really like / that local sports team / that sports team from where you grew up / that thing that you're really interested in. Tell me about that. You are very interesting to listen to on that subject.

2). Have you ever seen that guy who hangs out in the basement of Lind Hall pretty much every evening ... he kind of looks like he'd be into playing Magic the Gathering and he has a ponytail and black hightops and he just stands at the computer terminal outside 26 and does stuff online for like hours on end ... what's that guys' deal?

3). Do you remember that episode of the Cosby show where they meet Stevie Wonder and he records each Huxtable saying one thing and mixes it into a stupidfresh jam (e.g. Cliff: "Baby," Denise: "I don't know what to say," Theo: "Jam it on the one")? Do you think you could live a properly communicative life if by some hocuspocus you could only speak those very particular phrases?

4). Is Tom Cruise really gay? Travolta, too? Are all Scientologists gay? Did you know Beck and Giovanni Ribisi are Scientologists? Did you ever confuse Scientology with Christian Science? I sure did.

5). Don't you think it would be really stressful to be an airtraffic controller? What's more stressful than that? What about an airtraffic controller, like on the Jetsons, except not at all cartoony so there would be lots of midair crashes and grisly floating corpses? I never realized until some guy on NPR said it but spaceships have no need for our earthly aerodynamism, they might as well be shaped like balls or cubes or anything else.

6). If you could be one of these United States, which one would you be? Or if you could be one of the Ten Commandments?

7). Which could you live without - pizza or justice?

8). Do you think Zeno's paradoxes are mere sophistry or do they reveal something valuable to us about the nature of time?

9). I think it would be really hard to own a mogwai and obey all the rules so there were no gremlins. You can't feed them "after midnight." When, exactly, does "after midnight" turn into the next day? What if I have to drive someone to the airport real early and I want to give Gizmo a muffin crumb or a corn flake?

10). Did you ever stop and think about the circus - like what the circus is if you were free from the contextual situation of growing up knowing about the circus. The circus is fucked up.

11). I feel like I've been talking a lot ... what do you want to talk about?

12). Do you know how you know animals are dumb - 'cause like if they run out into the street and you're driving toward them, they'll run all the way back to the side they came from rather than take the much shorter trip to the other side. One time (for real) there was a bunny in the road in front of me and it ran straight ahead, like trying to outrun my car. Or was it a turtle? Why would there be a turtle in the road?

13). Gorillas are not dumb. Not at all.

14). Did you know that the only guy in ZZ Top who didn't have a huge beard was named Frank Beard? Totally true. Oh, I told you that already? Damn.

15). Who would win in a fight: Optimus Prime or the sinking feeling that you're getting older with every passing second?

16). Did Indians really ever say "How"? But seriously, isn't "Native Americans" just as stupid or even stupider than "Indians" because it just substitutes one Italian explorers cartographical blunder with another Italian explorer's name? Have you ever seen an Indian eat spaghetti? You're lying.

17). I know nobody really asks you "what's your sign?" but if they every ask me I'm going to say "stop" because I like jokes that aren't funny. It's hard to write jokes. Here's the one joke I wrote: "When I was kid, maybe about 8 or 9, me and this neighborhood girl were playing doctor and then, like, my mom walked in so I had to put her spleen back." It's hard to write jokes. If Dave Chapelle hired me to write jokes, I know where I would start ... I just have the concept: Six Degrees of Segregation. Edgy.

18). Did you know the guy who invented the toilet was really named Krapper? And the guy who invented the upper midwest bar peetrough was really named Peripheraldick?
I realize now that that sounds a lot like "Perry Farrell dick," which hasn't been spotted since Lollapalooza '91. Spotted Dick, of course, is a traditional English steamed suet pudding containing dried fruit (usually currants) and chlamydia. Is Perry Farrell like Adam Ant? Is Faye Dunaway like Adam Ant? Is Adamantium what Wolverine's claws are made out of? Don't answer that, it totally is.

19). Did you know there's a kind of electric fish called "Black Ghost Knife"? I challenge you to come up with a cooler name for anything. Anything. When I was a kid I had three fish named Ovenmitt, Roadblock, and Syphilis. Those were cool names. And once in the Bronx in college, we found a teddybear in the road and took it in and named it Sniphilis, the Earl of Rochester (the Earl of Rochester, John Wilmot, was a "bawdy poet" of the 17th century.)

20). Where are you going?

23 March 2008

Around the Back and Between the Legs

The Harlem Globetrotters began as a serious basketball team on the South Side of Chicago in the 1920s. They were called the Harlem Globetrotters (by their "creator," Abe Saperstein) because of Harlem's status as the capital of African-American culture, but did not play their first home game in New York until 1968. In 1948 - a year after Jackie Robinson spike-cleated his way through the color barrier in professional sports - the all-black Globetrotters beat the NBA's premiere franchise, the all-white Minneapolis Lakers. They beat them again in 1949. When black players were drafted into the NBA in the 1950s, the Globetrotters went a new route - around the back and between the legs, sideshowboating to the whistled tune of "Sweet Georgia Brown."

Bloggers and academics alike suggest that the lighter fare of the Globetrotter exhibition is weighted with minstrelsy's complex legacy. Uncle Toms in their Uncle Sam starsandbars uniform.

Wilt Chamberlain played for the Globetrotters. So did baseball Hall of Famer Bob Gibson.

The Globetrotters played for Pope Pius XII in 1951.

They have starred in two feature films, a Saturday morning cartoon, a variety show, and have guested on Gilligan's Island and Scooby Doo.

Honary members of the Globetrotters include: Henry Kissinger, Bob Hope, Nelson Mandela, Pope John Paul, and Jesse Jackson.

From 1962 until the approximate present, the Globetrotters have a win-loss record of 12,594-5.

The term for losing-on-purpose or staging the outcome of a contest is "kayfabe," which apparently is carny slang of undetermined derivation. Professional Wrestling is the most prominent example of kayfabe. The team that is paid to lose to the Globetrotters is the Washington Generals. Louis "Red" Klotz is the founder of the Washington Generals. Klotz is the third shortest player ever to play in the NBA (5'7). He averaged 1.4 PPG for the Baltimore Bullets. After his stint in the NBA, Klotz starred with the ABL's Philadelphia SPHAs (an acronym for South Philadelphia Hebrew Association). In addition to running the Generals, Klotz was the team's pointguard until he was 62 years old and in 1971, at age 50, he hit a jumper at the buzzer to beat the Globetrotters in overtime. Klotz claims the Generals try to win every game.

Apparently, in the 30s and 40s, Jews were charged with the same backdoor praise as African-Americans - that they were intrinsically better ballers than their double-dribbling Gentile neighbors. The writer Paul Gallico said Jews excelled at basketball because "the game places a premium on an alert, scheming mind, flashy trickiness, artful dodging and general smart aleckness." Newly emigrated Jews poured off boats and into the ghettos of eastern cities. Then, as now, basketball was an inner-city game. This certainly sounds familiar: "It was absolutely a way out of the ghetto," said Dave Dabrow, a guard with the original Philadelphia Hebrews. "It was where the young Jewish boy would never have been able to go to college if it wasn't for the amount of basketball playing and for the scholarship." (jewishmag.com)

In the halcyon days of barnstorming basketball, there were all-Jewish teams in addition to all-African-American teams. There was a team called the Cleveland Rosenblums. The Philadelphia SPHAs often matched up with the all-black New York Renaissance. And from the inside, the view was no less skewed. A former SPHA claims the Jewish teams played "a quick-passing running game, as opposed to the bullying and fighting way which was popular other places," while a former member of the NY Rens tells us the SPHAs were a "thinking" team while the Rens relied on "quickness."

This is the ghost of a research paper without the thesis. Certainly vaudeville, sports, and race are all knotted up here. Just gander again at that Washington Generals logo. Initially, I wanted to write on the phenomena of the Generals as a metaphor for somethingimnotsurewhat. Losing perpetually, purposefully, artfully, heroically. A team of straight men. Straw men. Patsies. Dumbstruck, breezed by, dunked on. For a living. And once I found out that the Generals' genesis, Red Klotz seemed an aptly named figurehead for my hasty constellation of ideas. But digging deeper, the history took over and it's too big for me here. The history of American popular culture never fails to be denser and more convoluted than you'd imagine. The. Ball. Is. In. Your. Court.

17 March 2008

Flipped! by Alan Smithee

So last night I watched a two and a half hour documentary about abortion. It's called Lake of Fire. And it was good. But first a note about director Tony Kaye.

Tony Kaye directed the video for Soul Asylum's Runaway Train.

Tony Kaye also directed American History X, which was released a decade ago, but I can assure you its rabble still rouses American college students, as more than a couple of mine provided it as a suggestion for the film we watch during our open final week of class. But Kaye wasn't happy with the film in finished form, claiming that Ed Norton had re-edited it to give himself more screen time ... the director wanted his name removed from the film and replaced with "Alan Smithee." The Director's Guild wouldn't let him.

["Alan Smithee" is the go-to-pseudonym of disgruntled auteurs and it has a rich 40 year history. Among other things, Smithee directed the pilot of MacGyver and "The OJ Simpson Story" and wrote "The Tony Blair Witch Project."]

Lake of Fire steers admirably toward objectivity (you don't need an eerie score or unequal time to make the crazies sound like crazies) and gains a lot from its scope. The pundits range from the deranged to the incomparably erudite (Noam Chomsky) and the footage spans over a decade, so it is extra chilling, for instance, to see interviews with both a doctor and the radical "pro-lifer" who would kill him soon after.


1). The brother of Eric Rudolph - the infamous Olympic bomber and lam-survivor (sort of a Neo-Nazi Christopher McCandless) - sent a videotape of himself severing his own hand with an electric saw to the FBI in order to protest the media coverage of the manhunt for his brother. Eric Rudolph's webpage is kept up and on it, you can read such tracts as "Feminism, by Eric Rudolph" (which sounds funny at first but isn't at all ... ideologically diseased as he is, he isn't stupid ... he's an exhaustive reader and an exhausting writer.)

2). [sadder, more important] Who put the Roe in Roe v. Wade? 'Twas one Norma McCorvey (named in court proceedings as "Jane Roe" for anonymity). Where is she now? Well at a 1994 booksigning for her book "I am Roe," the out-lesbian McCorvey was confronted by born-again pro-life activist Flip Benham. Benham worked his necromancy and now Roe herself works for his anti-abortion coalition Operation Rescue. Her baptism by Benham (pictured above) was televised. She is, of course, no longer gay. She got Flipped.

03 March 2008

The Internet Part I: It's A Sticky Web, And Worldwide

This post is about the internet. It begins with an anecdote about me and a stripper named Pandora. You may have heard this one before:

When we were seniors in college, we drove from New York to New Orleans by way of Graceland and the Waffle House. We spat in the Mississippi. Anyway one night we sat in the back of our first strip club and laughed nervously away from the men who stared hard out of their faces. Then Pandora came on. She came on to "Go! Speed Racer." She looked right at me as she licked her armpit and I kind of made a face like that was a funny thing to do to lick your armpit and then she smiled like yeah I guess it is. I thought that somehow that exchange gave the two of us the color and shape of real 3D humans in a room full of sad bodies sick for disconnection. Naive maybe, but a strip club is a good place not to be used to. I went up to give her the best tip I could afford on the condition that she give me a high five. Which she did.

NOW: On the internet there is a site for hipsters called VBS TV (of which Spike Jonze is "creative director"). And on that site there is a series called "Shot By Kern" which features short videos of former underground filmmaker and current erotic photographer Richard Kern (whose resume includes a Sonic Youth video) shooting naked ladies intercut with interviews of the models. There is a three part interview with porn star Sasha Grey (I won't link to it as I'm not too sure about what Google allows content-wise, but do go if you're interested and don't mind the nudity).

Sasha, who will turn 20 (!) in a couple weeks, is smart, articulate, and ostensibly not horribly damaged by abuse or abandonment. She talks about her love for Godard and Herzog, of forming a union for pornworkers, and clarifies the question of whether she is a "self-proclaimed existentialist." She considers porn work to be a combination of performance art and athletics. On her blog (also on VBS), she signs off with "Lotta Continua," which I had to google to learn means "the struggle continues" and is the name of an Italian radical leftist group. Intrigued, I went to see if she had a wikipedia page which she does. There I learned that she had a 3.8 GPA in high school. On her myspace page, her "top friends" include avant-garde filmmakers Harmony Korine, John Cassavetes, and RW Fassbinder ... as well as the Criterion Collection and Joy Division. Under "Who I'd like to meet" she includes NPR's Terry Gross.

There's a lot of porn on the internet and maybe just maybe I've stumbled across some of it once or twice when I was innocently searching for a recipe on how to cook chicken breast. But it occurs to me that this same crazy massive instrument can be just as much an instrument of subjectification as it is of objectification. Certainly the ratio of body parts to fun facts is skewed to the seedy side, but if I had (hypothetically) looked at Sasha Grey before, I will (hypothetically) never look at her in quite the same way. This is no justification. I understand that being curious about the personalities of naked women doesn't license my own or anyone's contribution to the Male Gaze that X-Rays its way through the outerwear of gender equity. Nothing is undone with high fives or cursory websearching. But soaked as surfers are in images of oppression ... not so bad if expression washes up in a bottle with a message in it.

21 February 2008

Best Actor

How do you know if somebody is good at acting like somebody else who isn't real? That's why actors who play people that were real are constantly being given awards (witness the last three best actors in a row - Forrest Whitaker as Idi Amin, Phil Hoffman as Truman Capote, Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles ... and with the ladies SIX out of the last EIGHT - Helen Mirren as the Queen, Reese Witherspoon as June Carter, Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos, Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf, Julia Roberts as Erin Brockavich, Hilary Swank as Brandon Teena). NOW I know the fact that these were real people doesn't mean that the traits brought to the surface by the actor aren't new to us (I bet you had never seen an Aileen Wuornos impression), but still there's something going on here. [Honorable mention for Cate Blanchett's killer Dylan in I'm Not There and Johnny Depp's Hunter Thompson]

What's more, you know the performance that people often cheer for the loudest are those portrayals of disability, craziness, etc. "Hey, Sean Penn isn't really mentally retarded! That's acting!" (I've never seen that movie, but you know what I mean).

The occasion for this post is a salon.com article about Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood. The article quotes a professional actor puzzled by all the lauding of Day-Lewis: "Weird how so many people confuse 'acting that you can see' with great acting," he says. NOW I'm pulling for DDL on Sunday ... that performance was one of the most stunning, memorable, most enormous things I've ever seen in a film. Perhaps rivaled only by DDL in Gangs of New York. But I think the article might be on to something.

But really, the problem is that I don't truly understand acting. This is something that I've thought about for a while. I mean I have actors and performances that I love and they often coincide with the actors and performances that critics think are great too. And while I'll go in for the BIG performance like the next guy, I can think of a number of counterpoints in smaller movies that blow me away just as much (for example Laura Linney in You Can Count On Me or Ryan Gosling in Half-Nelson). But I've never been sure how to spot bad acting. Anyone can see that Keanu Reeves is programmed to robot through every role with the same monotone and squint. So I solicit not only your opinion on the BIG performances, but what are some BAD ones (preferably bad ones that come from decent movies ... too easy to say Paris Hilton wasn't all that good in "The Hottie and the Nottie.")

16 February 2008

Dolor Bin

Consider these two places: the VFW Hall and the itunes store. One is creaky, brownandyellow, smells like freedom's sweat. The other is virtual. But if it were a real place the itunes store would be spaceage designed. Whitelit.

Maybe some of those veterans from the VFW grew up crewcutted and wanting to be astronauts. Wanting to be spaceage people.

I went to a record show at the VFW. A record show is clutter, collector's clutter in crates and boxes, sheathed, marked, priced. Eyes and hands run over the goods, years of fingerprints get in the grooves, help make the sound you hear on needle contact. To shop for records you have to flip through fast with your index finger. Among the special pressings and the dollar bins, I got some good things but it was taxing. All those old vinylphiles, the vanguards of taste. Looking at what you're looking at.

Last night late I went to the itunes store. It was open and nobody was looking. I could dragnclick research, dragnclick download. I made myself a mix called "Dolor Bin." Garage pop punk soul. Some of my finest work. And gotten with pajamas and beer.

I have one foot in the dollar bin and one foot in the digital ether. I'm a convert to the brave new i-world. All my songs on a pod (how spaceage sounding is that ... a pod?) indexed and organized. Virtually spread out and mobile. When I used to make mix tapes, I'd write the songs on paper and then arrange them. When I do that now on itunes, the work is 90% done already. And you can SHUFFLE. Which is reinvigorating to your catalog ... that song from the back of your head. You didn't know that's what you wanted to hear.

But I won't be hocking the record collection for a googlephone anytime soon. I still want to live in a world made of things. The record is what holds the soul, lest we download those too. I'm like Derek Zoolander in that way (and a few other ways) ... I'm not sure how my songs are "IN" the computer and I might tear it apart looking for them one day.