Tuesday, December 14, 2010

wrap up

For reasons not to be believed, my internet has been down for the past 18 hours or so. Go figure.

It's been fun. I feel like I learned a lot in this class and certainly appreciated the class discussions. Inspired me to watch more movies and look more closely at the texts I read and how i analyze them. Mostly it's made me want to look more closely at how things connect with each other- how can I read one author through the eyes of another? What would one philosopher say of another one's particular theory? Good stuff all around.

The only thing I'm miffed at is the complete and gross glossing over we did of Fahrenheit 451. There is a book, people. Read it. Don't watch the film. And if you do watch the film, hopefully you'll get a chance to talk about it in a meaningful manner.

The best part?
A young Bo Derek
Makes the class exceptional, really.
Until next time.

A little something on Foucault

Here, in all it's glory- a final essay that is perhaps too shot on Michel Foucault.

Foucault: Prisons, Sexuality, Modern Society
            Michel Foucault, the French philosopher and cultural theorist who wrote The History of Sexuality and other works, was a radical thinker and very influential to society today. He was an advocate of discourse and its reductive power, and he spent a great deal of time discussing the normalization of society. He argued that when a subject is discussed, the subject itself becomes normalized and accepted. He also talked about something called “The Perverse Implantation,” which posits that the more a subject is talked about, the more it can become a subconscious desire, which goes a long way in explaining the amount of corruption in churches. Foucault’s philosophies and ideas fit in with the concept of radical romance. His views on modern society help explain the fixation on romance and the individual’s perception of it.
            How society perceives romance has been greatly influenced by what can be called the “Hollywood ending.” Romance is when a man and a woman live “happily ever after” and leave behind their hardships to pursue a new life that is not only emotionally rich, but sexually fulfilling. Society has, for better or worse, been mechanized to believe that this is how a relationship should go, and woe unto the couple that strays from that path. Naturally, there is nothing wrong with wanting an exciting and positive relationship. People want to believe that they will stay with their partner and support them, learning more about themselves and maybe even becoming a better human being in the process. Foucault might argue that the film industry is trying to reach a specific end when it keeps creating romantic movies where this is the end that is reached. He may even argue that back in the earliest days of film, some bigshot saw that the film industry is an institution that can be used as a way to keep society mechanized. Much like schools and prisons, film can be a tool that keeps society controlled and docile.
            The film industry has been used politically before, and to terrifying levels of effectiveness. Any sort of media can be used for propaganda. This can be both positive and negative. Film can be beautiful art, and it can be universally shared with the power of the internet and its far-reaching applications.
            All this is to say that no matter what, for better or worse, society lives in an increasingly connected age. Cultures are shared at the speed of the internet, authors can be translated into any language and distributed worldwide. Whether this leads to different cultures coming together and learning about each other to positive effect or global whitewashing remains to be seen. Disparity can lead to strife, as history has shown, but it can also lead to growth. Foucault’s views on normalization point to the efficiency that comes out of it, not simply the negatives. His cold and calculated view on the efficiency of normalization could lead to some becoming frustrated for him not having a simple, cut-and-dry point of view.
            Economist-philosopher Karl Marx states his case plainly: the mechanization of society is not only dangerous because it creates class conflict, but it actually takes the passion out of the average citizens’ life. No radical romance for the Free Trade enthusiast. He credits feudal society as giving common men and women goals and passion to work towards them. In a normalized society where selfish profit is the only goal, there is no room (in Marx’s mind) for love of your fellow man and certainly no room to have a passionate and loving relationship. Apparently post-industrial society capitalists are cold, selfish celibates.
            Foucault advocates can argue that society has been institutionalized to believe in personalized, radical romance. As has been stated, the film industry is an institution with an uncommon level of power, particularly in American society. It is highly probable that children in this generation have been raised watching Disney films and their depictions of prince charmings and beautiful princesses, daring adventures and passionate reunions. Such escapades are read about daily and mooned over in many mediums, even fine art and music. It has become an expectation of this generation to be swept off their feet in romance, and to not be satisfied until they are. Perhaps this has something to do with the nation’s high divorce rate, with the rate being something like half of all young married couples getting divorced within a year or two. The young couple does not feel the burst of romance, the surge of music, the flock of bluebirds building a wedding dress out of spider silk and fallen leaves, and becomes disgruntled that the reality may not be so much like a fairy tale. It is impossible to say that romance is some kind of formal institution run by a state, but perhaps it has seeped into the subconscious of the United States over generations.
            Ultimately, Foucault has a cold, if moderately accurate view of how society functions. Society wants to form groups and will respond to a strong leading impulse, particularly if the rewards outweigh the costs. In institutionalizing the concept of radical romance, society learns to accept it and then acts on it when the timing is correct. 

Monday, December 13, 2010

Oh What An Age We Live In

I thought our class discussion about digital culture and the way it has changed our interaction with each other was very interesting. It raises some issues that could only be dealt with in our generation.

Is an online relationship a "real" relationship? Conventional wisdom says "No, of course not"- but after a girl in our class talked about meeting her husband online and coming to love him through there, I wondered. I used to get incredibly irritated at friends on Myspace who would change their relationship status all the time. Occasionally it felt like they had made it public for a reason, as a way of grabbing attention from the rest of the internet- "Look! I'm single and depressed about it!" or "Hey! I'm in a relationship and I need some congratulatory affirmation!" This still happens on Facebook, and I still find it irritating. It's just a fact of life at this point, I suppose.

A month or so ago a girl I knew at a different college was killed in a car accident. I found out about it via Facebook and it was one of the most surreal experiences I've had. If I hadn't had a profile I don't think I would have found out. I didn't get a phone call or any other form of communication- I just noticed people updating their statuses with condolences and messages of well-wishing. It was chilling. We live in a wired world, where not only do we receive updates on the most mundane aspects of life (thank you, twitter) but we can even hear about something as tragic as a death. All within the space of a few minutes.

I'm still divided on whether instantaneous information is a positive or negative. Of course being able to hear about something like a fire or flood or other national disaster is good to have information about sooner rather than later, so that people can be in a position to help or keep people safe. But what has it done to our attention spans? What little patience we have is stretched to the breaking point if a load screen takes longer than 15 seconds. It could be the way we're raised- it could be me personally. I'm more apt, though, to blame the internet (if I'm playing the blame game at all. and why shouldn't I? it's my blog). There was an article in the New York Times recently that ties in rather nicely to all this.

I have no qualms about living in the age that I do now. I love where I am, the people I am near. I love that I can email my friend who lives in Hawaii at my own convenience, and that he can respond in a leisurely fashion. I love that I can shop online, find out directions to things, watch my favorite shows via Netflix Instant Streaming. I am always hesitant, however, to say how amazing the internet is and what a positive affect it has had on our lives.

I love how Barker talks about participation in the web community. Things like viral videos help build suspense for films that don't have a budget, and I love the bit about how the Arctic Monkeys got their momentum built solely through building their fanbase on the internet until they were recognizable. The potential for community is amazing and astounding and I am always impressed when I hear about the positive impact the internet can have. Hey, being able to write blogs instead of physically handing in papers is a huge step forward, in my mind. Wouldn't be possible all that long ago.

It was, however, made us perhaps more self-centered. How many friends on my Facebook? How many views on my Deviantart? How many clicks on my Youtube video? I believe the group who presented this stuff in class was on to something when they said one reason people join online community sites like Myspace or Facebook is for selfish reasons, or at least to get attention for themselves in some way. Not that everyone within a social network is inherently self-centered or looking for attention. People just want to know that they have a platform, that they have a place to be listened to. Social networking provides a medium for people to measure just such a thing.

Read: Game Over: Press Start to Continue. It's a book about the birth of Nintendo. It's unofficial, but still very informative and a great read for anyone who wants to know about how video games became such an enormous industry in America.
Listen: Anything by the Arctic Monkeys.
Watch: The Social Network. Apparently it's a pretty harsh look at how social networking developed and it's impact.

American Psycho- getting it right

While American Psycho may be a highly stylized and perhaps even unrealistic view of a serial killer and how he relates to the world, it does raise some interesting and volatile questions that merit investigation. It's a strange little film but it does (in my mind) what good art should: use the medium (be it film, music, the stage or the page) to evoke questions and inspire discussion among the viewers.

The movie raises questions about everything from the (very American) focus on upward mobility and socioeconomics to points on welfare and the world's obsession with porn and the twisted ways we relate to each other.

There are actually people like this. Not US, of course. We forward-thinking college students would never DREAM of forcing our views on others.

The quirkiness of this movie focuses mainly on Christian Bale's character, a serial killer who believes that the human race is selfish and focused on making as much money as possible before they die. Get you can, and figure out a way to enjoy life before you kick the bucket. The film is most certainly postmodern. It is so highly stylized that a viewer is always a little on the outside of whatever is happening with the characters. Bale's characters' voice-overs help with that. We can never be fully involved with the characters because we are constantly being pushed to a view them from a distance. We are never inside the killer's head- we get his perspective of the world and are left to draw our own conclusions. In our Barker book (page 200 in the chapter "Enter Postmodernism"... I'm still not entirely certain how to cite the damn thing), there are a few bullet points on postmodern structure:
  • a sense of the fragmentary, ambiguous and uncertain nature of living
  • an awareness of the centrality of contingency
  • a recognition of cultural difference
  • an acceleration in the pace of living
American Psycho falls squarely into this category. The movie itself is fragmented, Bale's character is ambiguous in his relation to others, and everyone else in the movie is uncertain how to get ahead- is it getting a superior business card, eating at the most expensive restaurant, schmoozing with the wife of a rival? There are even a few comments on cultural difference. In the memorable scene where Bale's character kills a homeless man and his dog, He berates the man for not getting a job and contributing to the rest of society. The man is not "normal" in our killer's mind, and perhaps that's a strong enough motivation to murder him.

I feel that postmodernism is one of this film's greatest strengths. Without the postmodernist structure, we wouldn't have directors like the Coen Brothers, Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino. Authors like Mark Danielewski (who wrote the terrifyingly excellent House of Leaves). We live in a society that will phrase most things with an ironic sneer, and sarcasm has become the normative way of talking. This movie takes a little slice of this and projects it into the mind of madman with a warped view of how to take care of business while still living in a way that keeps his motivations hidden from the people around him.

Haven't we all had moments of wanting to wipe the smirk off of someone's face? Who doesn't want to feel smug and satisfied while a rival or enemy squirms? It's just that most of us won't do it with a fireman's axe.

we all know what's coming next
Read: House of Leaves. The best example of a postmodern novel I can think. It's a book that turns what a novel can be on it's ear and is absolutely gripping from start to finish.
Listen: "It's Hip to be Square" by Huey Lewis and the News. Yup.
Watch: There are plenty of shows that fall under the category of "postmodern" but the best is probably 30 Rock. A comedy that isn't self-referential, sarcastic, fast-paced, and even fourth-wall breaking. Not to mention well-written and absolutely hilarious.


    [Before this gets rolling: yes, this is a month and a half after Halloween. I thought I'd posted it, but it turns out it was under "drafts" and so now it's showing up in December. So there's that.]

    I don't have a whole lot to say on the subject of radical romance and Halloween, but it does inspire a story that JUST MIGHT have to do with gender relations and how we view relationships and all those delicious tidbits.

    A few days before Halloween, a girl asked me out at my work. Something I was completely not expecting. I was pleased and excited (obviously!) but it did make me think of this class. Is that sad? Maybe.

    It brought into perspective the traditional role of relationships. The man asks the woman out, he pays for the date, it goes from there. We talked about this later in class and it led to an interesting discussion- in the society that we live in today, what is expected of a guy who wants to ask out a girl? Should anything be expected, really?

    The girls in our class seemed pretty adamant about the importance of independence. They were all comfortable with the idea of themselves paying for their half of the date and all were open to the idea of asking out a guy if they felt like it. The guys seemed more divided on the issue; most of them were (or seemed to be, at least in my mind) somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of a women asking them out. Perhaps it's because men are used to having power; if we were viewing dating through the lens of Karl Marx, we would say that men, as the more powerful upper class, are confused and intimidated when the proletariat woman-class starts to organize and propose a whole new way of viewing dating and asking out men. Join the revolution! Overthrow the capitalist, self-serving men and usher in a new era of equality and peace...

    Karl says: Peace out, ladies

    It could happen.

    All of this is to say I had a lovely Halloween, thank you. I ended making dinner for the lady in question (I paid for the ingredients and cooked the food, so I guess it all equals out in the end, right?) and we quite enjoyed ourselves. You could say we even bucked the societal norm because we didn't go out and party or even wear costumes. Just dinner and sparkling conversation.

    Read: Marx's Communist Manifesto. Or at least some excerpts to get an idea of oppression and class struggle. Apparently it's a big deal.
    Listen: Oingo Boingo. That's kind of like Halloween music, right?
    Watch: A Nightmare on Elm Street. The original one. It's a little late at this point, but hey, it's a classic.

    Fuck Buddies and Life on Mars

    In that "great 90s sitcom about nothing" Seinfeld, Elaine and Jerry are friends who used to be in a relationship. In one particular episode in the first season of the show, they decide to hook up and see if they can have sex and still be friends without all of the messiness that goes on within a relationship. By the end of the episode they realize they cannot. Even with the strict rules they set in place (no sleeping over after sex, no phone calls the next day, no kissing goodnight), they find themselves falling into "relationship status" again and decide to just remain friends after all.

    Is it possible to have the seemingly mythical "fuck buddy" that we see in the movies or hear about on TV? Is it something we should pursue in the interest of breaking down taboos about sex and love?

    This explains everything, really.

    Foucault would argue that as a race, humanity has already talked sex down to a simple subject that anybody can talk about. Since we have turned sex into discourse that can be discussed in school and in books or even courts of law, how much of a step is it to have it as a casual thing?

    As a culture, the United States isn't sure if it's a freewheeling, open-minded society where sex is simple, easy and nothing to focus too much about (as evidenced in our film and television) or if it's a Puritan battleground where every cuss word and bathing suit on the screen, radio or printed page is worthy of scrutinization and ranting about to the conservative media. Foucault, being European (and perhaps more open-minded in his view of how sexuality), notes that societies have historically been conservative towards sexuality and how open individuals should be with sharing it. Since the civilized world came into being, sex has more or less been a hot-button issue in regards to how younger generations view it

    Gender Bending in "The Laramie Project"

    For those not in the know, The Laramie Project is a play written by Moises Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Project about a homosexual boy named Matthew Shepard who was chained to a fence and beaten to death by two other teenagers in Laramie, Wyoming. This was an event that actually happened. The play is not so much a dramatization of events as it is a collection of interviews divided into short scenes and performed by an ensemble cast. Each cast member takes on a character or characters from Laramie and recounts their experience of the events that took place in 1996.

    I recently saw California State Universiry, Fullerton's production of Laramie and I was surprised and blown away by what they did with the production. For me, the main thing about the play is that there cannot be a whole lot of "acting" going on. It would be a disservice to the people of the town and take away from the power of the events that happen. The actors must simply state the facts, recount their experiences, and really live within their characters to the best of their ability. This is an incredibly difficult play to do justice to, since there isn't really an arc and there isn't much character development- in my opinion the play is a comment on society and our homophobic tendencies and man's intrinsically violent nature.

    All this being said- the thing that really stuck out to me was the amount of gender swapping going on within the cast and the characters being played. Men played women, women played men, one man even played a lesbian mama who told it like it is. At first this really turned me off and pulled me out of the play- how can these actors say they are honestly portraying these real men and women if they aren't even playing the right genders?- but after a while I stopped and thought about it. I realized the director was making a comment and a powerful one at that.

    Maybe this is a little heavy-handed. As a society, what if we looked past gender, sexual orientation, age and race? Would there be hate? I venture to say maybe not. We live in a global society. My generation is the first fully wired generation. If someone told me "Hey Cameron, it's wrong to tie gay people to a fence and beat them to death," I would have said, "No shit" and kept on walking. The fact  of the matter is, this play was premiered in the year 2000. This wasn't something that happened 100 years ago that we can shake our heads at. 1996. That's the year that Matthew was killed.

    As our Feminafesto-writing friend Anne Waldman would say: "I propose a utopian creative field where we are defined by our energy, not our gender." This has beautiful implications. Not just for a creative field, but a straight up utopia. Wouldn't that be nice? I breathe easier just thinking about it.

    I wrote this mainly to say how impressed I was that the gender-swapping by the cast really worked on a deeper level than I would have expected from a college production. The actors did justice to the play and told the story that needed to be told. That's really the goal of drama isn't it?