Thursday, March 31, 2011
When I was traveling in Mexico for spring break, I was on the lookout for these gang members and mass murderers. I was very disappointed. Sure I saw a few police officers and security officers carrying M-16s, but nothing that the media addresses as widespread. Not say it isn’t there but just that I was never in any gunfire running for my life. Nevertheless, this did not stop me from asking questions and one local waiter was willing to spill the beans. After a few coronas and walks down sketchy streets, I asked about the marijuana drug trade. He said that they grow it right up in the mountains, which were in the horizon about 15 miles off. This instantly provoked the question of what prevents others from discovering, stealing, or confiscating it. He responded, “No one fucks with anybody’s weed up there because they do not know exactly who it belongs to, if it’s the mafia, the will blow your head off on the spot.” This was the only way he could describe the retaliation for messing with the mafia’s supply, your head is going to be blown off.
Hearing this from such a first hand account had quite the impact on me compared to a CNBC special. These acts of violence happen frequently and are a common ordeal for the typical citizen, something that I cannot comprehend. I have enough time dealing with Ithaca parking tickets rather than worry about being caught in gunfire or stumbling upon the wrong neck of the woods. It’s a shame that kids in Mexico can’t simply enjoy Lucha libre as there only form of violence.
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Monday, March 28, 2011
If you haven't seen the film "The Last Lions," you should. I'm just going to come out and admit it: I cried.
Sunday, March 27, 2011
I recently had the opportunity to attend Damien Hirst's “Forgotten Promises” exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery in Hong Kong. Hirst is perhaps best known for his piece “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living”, a shark submerged in a tank of formaldehyde. That iconic piece of British art sadly was not on display at the Gagosian. In Hong Kong, Hirst presented his piece entitled For Heaven's Sake for the first time ever. It is a platinum cast of a human baby skull with more than 16,000 diamonds embedded in it. There is something inherently violent about the death of an infant, and celebrating it by adorning it with such excess is macabre, to say the least. Hirst said, "Diamonds are about perfection and clarity and wealth and sex and death and immortality. They are a symbol of everything that's eternal, but then they have a dark side as well." For Heaven’s Sake was a promising introduction to the exhibition, but most of the other pieces in Forgotten Promises are just very detailed renderings of butterflies that he calls the Butterfly Fact Paintings. Hirst wanted to communicate the fragility of life. In an interview with Asia Tatler, he said that we can no longer trust the fleeting nature of photography, and we’ve regressed to trusting paintings to give us the truth again, for painters give images more weight.
As beautiful and precise as those paintings were, I wish I could have seen one of Hirst’s more controversial, grotesque installations, such as what he did in Lever House a few years ago. NYTimes has an article about the exhibition: “Lining the entire lobby will be some 15 medicine cabinets (a past theme for Hirst) filled with thousands of empty boxes and bottles with labels for antidepressants, cough medicine and other drugs. The 30 sheep are lined up in row after row of formaldehyde-filled tanks, evoking docile schoolchildren in a classroom. Submerged in a giant tank 12 feet, or 3.7 meters, tall are two sides of beef, a chair, a chain of sausages, an umbrella and a birdcage with a dead dove.” All of these random but monstrous elements of daily life thrown together in a jumble remind me of the aesthetic of Lara Glenum’s Maximum Gaga. The abject nature of sheep “frozen” in time being placed next to processed meat, the notion of repetition, and the pervasive sense of the grotesque are all evocative of Act II of Max. Gaga, where humans are no different from bovine, submissive machines.
Some of these dictators, as preached by the Muammar Gaddafi, are ready to die rather than step down. For this case it would seem appropriate to fight back and overthrow the ruler at all costs, given the ultimatum. On the other hand, some such as Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen have said there are ready to step down. So why not give him an opportunity? Why would protesters light buildings on fire killing a couple hundred innocent civilians when they could possible evoke the same change without doing so? I am not ridding out the possibility that this man could be a liar but doing things diplomatically does take time and the opportunity to do so.
This onslaught of violence seems to be an unstoppable avalanche, inflicting a heard like mentality that spreads to everyone within a close radius. Moreover, it also reminds me of the atmosphere of wrestling. Watching a match for two minutes does not make anyone a believer, but being immersed in it for a couple hours, with other characters and the audience going along with wrestlers, does tend to make the non-believers believers for at least a brief moment of time. I too find myself caught up in this dramatic show; only because everything I watch believes in it also. The masses have the ability to make violence appear as a temporary solution just as WWE can make the wrestling matches seem real with a crowd of supporting cast members and an audience that throws popcorn and drinks at the heels.
Animal Kingdom looks rather epic. I personally find the trailer pretty effective. Because:
1. The shot of grandma saying, “You’ve done some bad things sweetie” is particularly haunting.
2. The slow, retro Air supply song aestheticizes the violence and action shown subsequently, giving the trailer an undeniably sad yet poetically thrilling quality.
I’ve watched the critically acclaimed Animal Kingdom not knowing it is based on a real life celebrity criminal family. For a Hollywood Crime/Thriller, the plot seems almost typical for its genre, but knowing the story is half true, quarter true, or even remotely true makes this film even more alluring.
Judy Moran. 66 years old. Recognizable by her blow-dried blonde hair and designer gear. Also happens to be the matriarch of “Melbourne’s (Australia) most notorious criminal family.”
For those of you who are interested in the story behind this woman, you can check out her outrageously cinematic life from Wikipedia [link] or alternatively, you can buy her autobiography.
In short, she recently alarmed the public with her infamous connection with the murder of her brother in law, Des “Tuppence” Moran. He was shot 7 times in the head/upper torso inside a café in Melbourne in broad daylight. This might sound too strenuous for a 66-year-old grandma. Allow me to clarity: Judy was not charged with pulling the trigger, but allegedly orchestrated the murder. She apparently congratulated the gunman by “patting him on the back” when Des Moran was confirmed dead. She ordered that he also remove the clothes and murder weapon, so she could "dispose of them". These items were later discovered that evening by a police officer in a safe behind a bookshelf at her house.
According to a very reliable source (internet),
“Moran apparently commemorates her dead relatives with potted roses in her garden, and sometimes speaks to them over a cup of coffee.”
Dramatic? I certainly think so. Her life is certainly made for the movies. Her semimetal moments are just as thrilling as the deaths around her. And indeed, hints of Moron could be seen in Jackie Weaver’s character in Animal Kingdom (Janine “Smurf” Cody); whom the Australian actress played with such persuasion that she picked up a myriad of awards and nominations.
With Judy publishing an autobiography and walking around Melbourne with her designer shades, stilettos, and posse; it makes one wonder why nobody thought of arresting this notoriously stylish matriarch before.
Saturday, March 26, 2011
After watching the wrestling video packages this past week, and often laughing at the ridiculous antics of professional wrestlers. I was prompted to meditate on the relationships between sport, courage, victory and honor. Buried somewhere deep in our social consciousness, we hearken to the images of Greek Olympians or of Myron’s Discbolus, or Lysippos' Apoxyomenos; where we elevated sport to something almost divine. They depict athletes as pseudo-divine beings, not only representing the peak condition of the human body, but also the epitome the ideals associated and represented by sport, such as fairness and determination.
In a way, professional wrestling makes reference to this. Not only do professional wrestlers have bodies that represent a level of fitness nearly as high as humanly achievable, but the "good" characters, also known as faces do indeed embody the their ability to live up to lofty moral and ethical standards, echoing John Cena's continual reminders that "courage, hustle and respect" should be held in the highest esteem. On the other hand, as seen in the video of Randy Savage's first fight, "heels" who embody the antithesis of faces and their ideals live up to completely different standards. Opponents are not respected, fights are cowardly, and cheap shots are taken at every opportunity.
This immediately called to mind the antics of professional soccer players today. In the past 10 years, the game has evolved so that players hit the ground even with the slightest touch from the defenders. And perhaps even when the injury was inflicted on the legs, players have a tendency to clutch their faces in an attempt to sell the injury to the referee.
Not only does this make for frustrating stoppages in play where they're unneeded, it also desensitizes officials to actual fouls, endangering the integrity of the game. As an avid soccer fan myself, I find much of this behavior baffling and restating, and deleterious to the quality of the game. While it’s clear that players are simply doing all that they can to win the game, the question is where should we draw the line? If it’s true today as it was in the past-athletes are role models, shouldn't they also be help up to more rigorous moral and ethical jurisdictions?
The Great Wave off Kanagawa is a piece of artwork created by the Japanese artist Hokusai sometime between 1830 and 1833. The original is 10" by 15" and is, amazingly, a woodblock print. The process is as follows: the artist creates a painting, a wood worker carves over the image like tracing paper, and then the wood would be stamped on paper.
As a piece in the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fufi, the image depicts the iconic mountain in the background of a monstrous wave threatening twenty-three cowering fisherman. The wave is surreal with its foam talons clutching at the hunkering fishermen. Foam flies in globules as big as a head. At first glance it is difficult to tell the mountain from the wave. They share the same shapes and colors. Perhaps that is a technique to subtly illustrate that the wave is as big as a mountain.
The fearful fisherman all have the same face of skull-like absence. I believe the uniformity of the faces is to focus attention on the danger of the wave rather than the differences between the fisherman. At this moment in their lives, all else is equal in the face of nature's indifferent brutality.
I have had a print of The Great Wave hanging in my bedroom for a year now, and the recent disaster in Japan reminded me of the nation's vulnerability to tectonic activity and how that has been a part of their culture for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
For the comments: what is your favorite artistic depiction of a natural disaster?
Death - Scream Bloody Gore (1987)
Suckerpunch tells the story of a girl who is framed by her stepfather for the murder of her mother and stepsister and institutionalized in a mental facility where she is doomed to receive a lobotomy. Before her terminal treatment, she learns to delve into her imagination and create a fantasy parallel universe where she can be the hero and save her fellow female inmates from their nightmarish situation (a videogame fantasy in many respects). At a first look, the movie appears to have everything one would desire in an action movie: guns, dragons, robots, Nazis, zeppelins, and gorgeous girls (in their twenties despite their schoolgirl looks). For a thirteen year-old, this movie is perfect, but for an adult the action is insufficient to make up for a lack of blood. For example in one fantasy, Babydoll, the protagonist, needs to steal a map from a Nazi courier before he makes his escape on a zeppelin. Standing between her and the map is an army of Nazi infantry, and killing them would be sufficient in an R-rated movie. In an PG-13 movie however they are not living bleeding people, they are undead. "Brought back to life by German engineers and doctors and powered by steam. So don't feel bad about killing them," says Scott Glen playing the good-guy general, before he proceeds to head shot a couple of Nazi Zombies with his sniper rifle. Instead of blood, injured German spew steam from their wounds which is interesting, but ultimately not satisfying. These Germans are also incapable of harming the girls. No matter how hard they hit, the girls bounce back up and hit twice as hard without even a bruise or scrape on them. A steam-punk's wet dream perhaps, but to an audience expecting to be drawn in by Sin City-like violence the movie feels superficial.
All in all, the movie contained enough violence for a PG rating, like The Chronicles of Narnia. The rating of PG-13 was mostly attributed to the dark and suggestive themes. Had Zach Snyder been willing to go for the for the full R rating, I feel that the movie could have been a greater success by adding a little blood. Blood is a powerful image in movies and the lack of it in the most pivotal moments of the movie makes the characters look dry and empty. Without blood, we might as well be watching barbie dolls fighting in a PG-13 Team America.
Friday, March 25, 2011
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Thursday, March 17, 2011
Blazing Saddles is one of the greatest farcical, satirical pieces ever created. It rivals only with the best like Monty Python and Caddyshack. Throughout this blog we have dissected different forms of satirical pieces. Natalie Portman’s ‘Natalie’s Rap’, South Park episodes, Weird Al’s ‘Amish Paradise’ and other agents have become notorious for poking fun at their respective industries. The satire and comedy in this movie is set on an over-the-top (almost too much) tone that makes Blazing Saddles an instant Mel Brooks Classic. Take a look at this one scene from the movie when the state procurer, Hedley Lamar, lists off his desired types of scoundrels for his army and then interviews them in the desert.
The reason I chose this scene in the movie is to show the stereotypes associate with the violent groups of history. Just in this one scene (set in the 1874 Wild West mind you) we see the typification of gun-slinging Mexican ‘bandits’, Nazi Germans, ‘cross-burning’ Klu Klux Klan members, Indian ‘agents’, cowboys, greasers, and men on camels. No group was spared in the stereotyping here. By incorporating these violent agents (in a stereotype) Brooks showed us a more complex aspect of human nature…the nature to judge.
When we think of someone (anyone) in Germany, our minds almost immediately revert to some of the atrocities done by the Nazi people. When we read Blood Meridian, we cannot help but despise the Indian ‘savages’. These types of stereotypes are exposed in an overt fashion by Brooks and he does this ‘over stereotyping’ to make fun of the situation. He creates many scenes of different violent militias from across the world to show us the humor in his story. However, underlying this humor is the sad fact that people still misconceive cultural and societal perceptions off of these (often false) stereotypes.
Regardless of the stereotyping depicted in Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles the sheer comedy that runs throughout the film will have the audience laughing uncontrollably. However, some may disagree with the over-generalization of violent groups in the film and a correlation with their ethnicities/hertitage. They may look at these ‘jokes’ as a way of reinforcing or backing up the stereotypes themselves. So what do you think?; did Brooks do anything wrong by incorporating these images? Or was it simply all fun in games and a hilarious way to get some laughs?
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
As you all probably have seen by now, a UCLA student named Alexandra Wallace's supposedly "non-political and non-racist" rant on youtube. Racism in no way is really funny (although, I must admit hesitantly, I do laugh at my fair share of racist jokes). Moving on, Wallace's video has sparked so much outrage and media coverage that I just read an article about her on the NY Times. What's so surprising is not only the media coverage, but the severe backlash that she has gotten usually also in the form of violent, sarcastic/humorous, threats. Watch this video below to get a better sense of what I mean.
We all know the history behind racism and its volatile relationship with violence. The Rodney King riots were sparked directly as a result of police violence against a black motorist. Malcom X and Martin Luther King Jr. not only had to combat police brutality, but mob brutality from American society. When issues as serious as race arise, there always seems to be some sort of violence that ensues. Despite the fact that Wallace stated the most ridiculous, racist, and tasteless comments (she even mentioned the tsunami/earthquakes in Japan), I think she deserves a second chance. She is already feeling the painful consequences of her actions from the media, those who have watched her video, and her peers at UCLA. Hopefully the outrage against her comments don't spark into violent acts.
Sunday, March 13, 2011
This blog seems to have taken a turn for the grotesque. It seems like an appropriate time to review Patrick Suskind’s German horror novel Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. Set in 18th century France in the fascinating world of perfume making, it tells the story of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, a man born without a scent of his own. The deranged protagonist is one of the most compelling and unique villains I have ever encountered, and that includes Judge Holden in Blood Meridian. Everybody who meets Grenouille hates him because they cannot trust someone who has no scent; and in turn, he loathes the scent of society. As a young child, he becomes intoxicated with the scent of a young girl. He resolves to bottle her scent and turn it into the most beautiful perfume ever made. However, as soon as he kills her in an attempt to capture her essence, the elusive scent goes away. For the rest of his life, he embarks on a serial killing spree of 25 beautiful virgins, and he bottles their scent in order to enact his final revenge against those who have wronged him. Powered by hatred and disgust for humankind, and his own genius for creating perfume, Grenouille . The novel is in grotesque territory the whole way through, but it almost becomes unreadable in the last quarter. The ending involves a savage, disgusting twist that involves Grenouille’s own suicide and consumption by a horde of frenzied criminals.
The 2006 movie has been described on pajiba.com as “perverse whimsy” and a wasted opportunity to connect with the audience, so I’d advise against watching it unless you want to experience a “kinky fairy tale set in a violent, brutish world”. Perfume offers an interesting, highly surreal approach to the motives of serial killers, but its potential is wasted by the successive twists towards the end of the book. It’s just too much. There is just the right amount of perverse violence that achieves a spine chilling effect on the audience, and Suskind unfortunately goes overboard with his scentless demon.
As we touch base on “rap”, I feel it’s probably appropriate to dedicate my post on the subject. On Weds, we briefly discussed that there are perhaps no famous “non- African American” rappers around. Somehow, my thoughts gravitated towards Natalie Portman’s SNL skit a few years back. Portman is not a rapper, but nonetheless, she is famous after all. (I’m sure most people have seen it due to the popularity of the show, but the short is hilarious in its own right. I’m embedding it here just for kicks). In the digital short, she portrays herself as an angry gangsta rapper – reminiscent of mainstream artistes like 50 cent or Eminem - which presents a rather refreshing image from this particular Harvard grad. For me personally, visualizing Portman rapping, swearing AND violently smashing objects were unthinkable before this video. Who would've thought Queen Amidala of the Galactic Republic could do such a thing?
But if you think about it - if this wasn’t endorsed by SNL, people just might take this seriously.
On a completely different note, Natalie’s Rapping is really not bad at all.
Saturday, March 12, 2011
Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler showcases the sheer physical brutality of wrestling despite the fact that it is staged. In one particularly gruesome scene (one that I wasn't able to find on Youtube sorry), Randy "The Ram" takes turns using a real stapler gun with a fellow wrestler on each other. The dives they take and the chairs and other objects they use to hit each other clearly do very real damage to the amateur wrestlers portrayed in this movie. Mickey Rourke, the actor who plays "The Ram", before filming had very little respect for professional wrestling because of his background as a boxer but quickly after training for the movie he stated that wrestling is just as or maybe even more dangerous than professional boxing. Many of the old retired wrestlers today are banged up physically with many problems and lasting damage from their careers.
The movie also delves deeply into the culture of wrestling. Wrestlers, despite their public animosity towards each other through playing roles like babyface (the good guy) or the heel (the bad guy), have for the most part a great deal of camaraderie with each other and are good friends with each other in private. They plan the bouts together, they commend each other's performances afterwards, and they even share steroids together. Beneath the violence on display in their matches is an obvious respect and caring for each other.
At first I bit into her butt with the intention of munching right through, but it’s impossible! Human skin is so thick. I ended up with a sore jaw, although I managed to leave some teeth marks. I ended up swallowing the clitoris and some pubes without chewing on it because she had her period then and the smell was just horrendous. But it was the first moment that I actually felt a sort of sexual pleasure in eating her, as if my inner body was on fire. Also, you know how beef or whale meat has a sort of beastly smell to it? Human meat is odorless. I actually believe that human meat is the tastiest of all meats. It doesn’t have any of that gamey animal smell. When I ate some more a couple of days later, just before I got arrested, the meat had become sweeter and it tasted great. The meat on the soles of her feet smelled bad, though, and didn’t taste very nice. The neck was the best. The meat tastes more delicate as you move up the body, especially above the torso. Her tongue was delicious as well. I took it out of her mouth and chewed on it raw. Neither the neck nor the tongue has much meat on it, though, so if you really want to feast, you should eat the thighs. Source
The desire to eat people becomes so intense around June, when women start wearing less and showing more skin. Just today, I saw a girl with a really nice derrière on my way to the train station. When I see things like that, I think about wanting to eat someone again before I die. So yes, I do still harbor these desires, and I specifically want to eat a Japanese woman this time. I think either sukiyaki or shabu shabu [lightly boiled thin slices] is the best way to go in order to really savor the natural flavor of the meat. Can you please call for people who would willingly be eaten by me in your magazine? There’s one condition, though: They have to be young, beautiful women. Source
Britney Spears arrives in South Park in the midst of extreme obsession. In classic South Park style, the adults behave like children and the children are the ones to ask questions. The first part of the episode shows the town's adults obsessed with Britney Spears and harassing her to an extreme. A botched suicide attempt leaves her with almost no head and the townspeople become excited over "Britney's new no-top-of-the-head look!" The boys are confused by the older generation's commitment despite overlooking the fact that she has no head.
As usual, the plot takes a turn and the boys discover that Britney Spears is being prepared for human sacrifice to ensure a bountiful corn harvest. The adults explain that in a modern civilized society it is better to drive the victims to suicide rather than stoning them to death, which is what happens. Near the end of the episode:
Paparazzo 8: Look, kid, throughout history people have found it necessary to engage in... human sacrifice.
Bob Summers: In ancient times, humans would commonly pick one lovely girl, adorn her with jewels, treat her like a goddess, and then... watch her die.
Paparazzo 9: We like to think we're more civilized now, but the truth is our lust for torture and death is no different than it was in gladidator times.
Paparazzo 10: Only difference is that now we like to watch people put to death through magazines and photographs.
Canadian Paparazzo: It's a damn shame too. Old ways were bettah. Used to be we just picked someone by lottery and then stoned them to death.
Woman: Stonin' to death was too violent. Rather have the sacrifice kill itself.
Kyle: You mean everyone has been wanting Britney Spears to kill herself?
Man: Britney was chosen a long time ago, to be built up and adored, and then sacrificed. For harvest.
The episode ends with the townspeople in South Park's supermarket. The residents comment on the good corn harvest as Miley Cyrus appears on the TV news. Ominously, Randy Marsh comments on how next year's harvest will be even better.
People have not lost any of their bloodlust just because in this century they have cars, cell phones, and Netflix. South Park is famous for poking insightful fun at topics in American culture, especially if they are surrounded by hypocrisy. They do not argue that Americans should take the high moral ground and stop coming together to mercilessly mock the same person. They argue that it should be called what it is, a modern human sacrifice.
Friday, March 11, 2011
I have always found society’s preoccupation with and response to violence and death involving celebrities intriguing. There is certain a sufficient amount of drama in any average Joe or Jane’s life, but what makes violence perpetrated against other humans (who by chance happen to be more popular) so compelling?
Recently, through our short forays into understanding Tupac, we got a glimpse into the man’s incredible paranoia and insecurity. Chock full of prophesies of his own death and the violence prevalent in his own personal life, Tupac’s albums were critical and commercial successes. Additionally, the theatricality and controversial manner of his death and that of fellow rapper Biggie Smalls has fueled such a continued obsession with these two figures that their own mythology has been developed in the contemporary consciousness. It’s also enduring even today rappers still mention their names with reverence even as the 15-year anniversary of Tupac’s death approaches. Off the top of my head, I can cite the (possibly) violent deaths of Amelia Earhart, Marilyn Monroe, and Princess Diana as having incited a maelstrom of controversy and buzz. Perhaps in modern culture, we’re given so much access into the private lives of others that we begin to grow attached to them or even believe that in some way, there is a chance that we can live vicariously through them. All of this, of course were some of the thoughts I harbored before watching the following video.
What I found slightly disturbing were the comments this video prompted. While the violence and death depicted in this scene are obviously fake, the hatred directed at a particular character’s on screen death seemed genuine. Even the title of the video file makes clear what the poster intends for the viewer- the acceptance of this particular death as something worth celebrating. While that statement was probably a sensationalistic over generalization, it does indeed seem that should Bieber actually perish, that many would be satisfied with it. I can accept that civilization has been constructed in a way that we respect mortality and celebrate the destruction of enemies and the triumphs of heroes, but my question is why is reveling in the death of this particular celebrity so easy and widespread?
Perhaps it’s just my tendency to exaggerate-may be it’s ok to laugh and celebrate his on screen demise because it is what it precisely is…fake, staged, and harmless. In that case, can anyone enlighten me on the boundary that delineates the perception of violence as innocuous from violence and death that occurs in say Iraq, and can anyone inform me the presence or absence of what qualities of violence allow for it to be acceptable to solicit laughs instead of shock and horror?