Archive for April 2007
Anthony Lane, who hates everything, hates Spider-Man 3. It’s not like you won’t see it anyway.
If “Spider-Man 3” is a shambles, that’s because it makes the rules up as it goes along. By the end, for instance, Sandman has become the size of an office block, each swinging fist as big as a truck, his personality reduced to brutishness. I half expected him to come after Spider-Man and Mary Jane carrying a gigantic bucket and spade. By what criterion did he grow so mountainous? Is he like a Transformer, or more like a genie? The fact is that if the fantastical is to flourish it must lay down the conditions of its magic and abide by them; otherwise, we feel cheated. (Tolkien knew this better than anyone.) Some viewers will take the New Goblin, whose name sounds like a small-circulation poetry magazine, to be a vessel of unnatural forces, while others will see him, when he fires up his rocket-powered skateboard, as a rich kid with too many toys. That’s the problem with this third installment of the franchise: not that it’s running out of ideas, or lifting them too slavishly from the original comic, but that it lunges at them with an infantile lack of grace, throwing money at one special effect after another and praying—or calculating—that some of them will fly.
On the heels of the massive success of the Buffy Season Eight comic, Joss Whedon will be putting out a twelve-issue miniseries of the storyline for the planned sixth season of Angel. I’m actually more excited about this than I am about Buffy Season Eight. It’s a good time to be a huge nerd.
Lenin’s Tomb has a lengthy review of Mark Ames’s Going Postal prompted by the Virginia Tech shootings. What he writes doesn’t actually seem to have much to do with what happened in Virginia, based on what we’ve heard about it so far—but it does begin to explain why events like Columbine and workplace shootings happen.
As has been repeatedly pointed out, no successful profile of a typical school shooter has yet been devised. Good students, bad students, wealthy ones, poor ones, ones from stable familes, others from broken homes… there’s no archetype. This is because, as Ames puts it, “It isn’t the office or schoolyard shooters who need to be profiled – they can’t be. It is the workplaces and schools that need to be profiled”. Now, this bit is rather crucial. I quote verbatim from his list of characteristics to watch for:
complaints about bullying go unpunished by an administration that supports the cruel social structure;
antiseptic corridors and overhead fluourescent lights reminiscent of a mid-sized airports;
rampant moral hypocrisy that promotes the most two-faced, mean, and shallow students to the top of the pecking order; and
maximally stressed parents push their kids to achieve higher and higher scores.
The second point, to avoid misunderstanding, is serious. The dispiriting, uglified surroundings provide an important experiential backdrop for the bullying and hypocrisy and stress. But of course, the main points here are the competitive social structure and the parents’ eagerness to ensure children succeed within it. The school is a training ground for the workplace, inculcating the kind of discipline and habits that one will be constant throughout one’s life. Most waking hours, at least five days a week, will be spent in competition with one’s peers, and the assholes will always rise to the top if they weren’t there to begin with. Bullying will be overlooked or tacitly condoned by people who sympathise with the bullies and find it difficult to manage their subordinates without them. They call it ‘hazing’, apparently, and its often meted out in a formal fashion along socioeconomic lines, sometimes by sororities and fraternities. It’s defended as a bit of fun, or as a means to inculcate respect: on the contrary, it is often quite serious and generates fear and mistrust. Aside from the formal ‘hazing’, there are asshole teachers who will emotionally humiliate students in the name of discipline, and the usual ritual drudgery and idiocy that goes on the minutiae. Many of the most miserable, demeaning things that can happen at work can happen at school, and anyone who remembers their school years knows that it seems to matter a great deal more at that age, and it seems to last forever, even if its only a few years.
That this is an experience with at least some widespread purchase is evident in the subterranean sympathy for the mass murderers. The support of some young people wasn’t restricted to Klebold and Karris. When Andy Williams, a lower middle class student attending an upper class college in the fading Republican town of Santee, decided to wipe out many of his classmates, within weeks there were attempted and actual ‘copycat’ massacres. So far from the Pump Up the Volume fantasy, these kids don’t solve all their problems by learning to express themselves through pirate radio stations, and sincerely talking through all of their problems. They implode or explode. The implication of the phrase ‘copycat’ is that people really want to be like the hick serial killers and destroy their own lives in the process, so that someone who doesn’t matter will say they were cool. That’s a cheap and lazy excuse for analysis. But, precisely as the slave revolts in the workplace often involve explicit or implicit reference to previous revolts, the example of others provides an interpretive framework, and a ‘way forward’.
Openly gay, experimental filmmaker Todd Haynes burst upon the scene two years after his graduation from Brown University with his now-infamous 43-minute cult treasure “Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story” (1987). Seizing upon the inspired gimmick of using Barbie and Ken dolls to sympathetically recount the story of the pop star’s death from anorexia, he spent months making miniature dishes, chairs, costumes, Kleenex and Ex-Lax boxes, and Carpenters’ records to create the film’s intricate, doll-size mise-en-scene. The result was both audacious and accomplished as the dolls seemingly ceased to be dolls leaving the audience weeping for the tragic singer.
Banned in the United States, but apparently not on Google Video:
For a depressive like myself it’s the Golden Age of Culture:
Some kind of dark alien parasite seems to be taking over vast swathes of the entertainment realm. Previously sunny and harmless areas of pop culture are gradually being cast into shadow, as if a giant pair of Ray-Bans is being lowered over the world. We’ve got dark sitcoms, dark reality TV, dark comedies, dark thrillers, dark genres of music, ultra-darker-than-black horror movies, and when a masked black-metal group from Finland wins the Eurovision Song Contest, it’s surely time to sound the dark alarm?
Via blucarbnpinwheel, always a ray of sunshine.
I had a surprisingly productive day, so here come some unexpected pre-Monday posts. First up: an amusing list of contronyms, words that are self-antonyms. (Thanks Steve)
Lighting one candle
with another candle
this spring evening.
No more posts from me until Monday.
R. Vu sends some thoughts on Go vs. chess from Deleuze and Guattari:
Let us take a limited example and compare the war machine and the State apparatus in the context of the theory of games. Let us take chess and Go, from the standpoint of the game pieces, the relations between the pieces and the space involved. Chess is a game of State, or of the court: the emperor of China played it. Chess pieces are coded; they have an internal nature and intrinsic properties from which their movements, situations, and confrontations derive. They have qualities; a knight remains a knight, a pawn a pawn, a bishop a bishop. Each is like a subject of the statement endowed with a relative power, and these relative powers combine in a subject of enunciation, that is, the chess player or the game?s form of interiority. Go pieces, in contrast, are pellets, disks, simple arithmetic units, and have only an anonymous, collective, or third-person function: “It” makes a move. “It” could be a man, a woman, a louse, an elephant. Go pieces are elements of a nonsubjectified machine assemblage with no intrinsic properties, only situational ones. Thus the relations are very different in the two cases. Within their milieu of interiority, chess pieces entertain biunivocal relations with one another, and with the adversary?s pieces: their functioning is structural. On the other hand, a Go piece has only a milieu of exteriority, or extrinsic relations with nebulas or constellations as bordering, encircling, shattering. All by itself, a Go piece can destroy an entire constellation synchronically; a chess piece cannot (or can do so diachronically only). Chess is indeed a war, but an institutionalized, regulated, coded war, with a front, a rear, battles. But what is proper to Go is war without battle lines, with neither confrontation nor retreat, without battles even: pure strategy, whereas chess is a semiology.
—A Thousand Plateaus, 352
If you’re uninitiated, you can learn to play Go at the Interactive Way to Go, or here at Sensei’s Library; you’d be a fool not to. I’m on the International Go Server using PandaEgg from time to time, though not as often as I would like—email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for my handle.
I stole this from Tim W.’s Facebook page. That guy loves James Joyce more than anyone.
“As an artist I am against every state. Of course I must recognize it, since indeed in all my dealings I come into contact with its institutions. The state is concentric, man is eccentric. Thence arises an eternal struggle. The monk, the bachelor, and the anarchist are in the same category. Naturally I cant approve of the act of the revolutionary who tosses a bomb in a theatre to destroy the king and his children. On the other hand, have those states behaved any better which have drowned the world in a blood-bath?” -Joyce, letter of 1918
Part of the JayIsGames “Grow” competition, Jelly Fusion is a nice way to procrastinate when you’ve still got two papers you have no interest in finishing. The “Eureka!” feeling you get after you’ve figured out level 2 is well worth the time it takes to do it.