Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Wrong Influence of Violence

Recently there has been an influx in drug related killings in Mexico, where often innocent civilians and police officers are sprayed down with AK-47s. On March 7th 2011, 18 people were killed in the city Culiacan, which was the result of a feud between the Zetas and Gulf cartels. Because of the institutionalized corruption, there is usually very little the police force can or will do in terms of retaliation or bringing justice. The four major cartels, known as the Zetas, Juarez, Beltran Leyva, and Arellano Felix, control everything from the towns to the provinces. As for the economy, these gangs probably inject more money into the economy than the government. For reasons such as that, these gangs are tolerated by the masses because they pervade all levels of society.

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

The Deep Web

Child pornography, snuff films (videos of real murder or torture), assassins for hire, government secrets, organ trade, underground fight clubs where men literally fight each other (and sometimes even animals!) to the death. With connections with the right people and some computer savvy, these are some of the things you can find on the deep internet. The deep internet, being any kind of information on the internet that is not accessible by normal means like search engines, constitutes many times more information than the regular internet. Most of this it innocuous, like library information or academic databases, but a portion of it is highly illegal material that cannot be hosted on the regular internet without swift prosecution. It isn't exactly that difficult to access either. I won't post how to do it, but a quick Google search will tell you exactly how to do it relatively anonymously (no program can guarantee true anonymousness however). Once you have access, though many sites you'll need some kind of password or reference by a current member to access, you'd still be able to have access to a smorgasbord of illegal material without too much effort.

It would be easy to dismiss this material as being made and viewed exclusively by truly sick and depraved people. But the more I read about the deep web, the more tempted I am to take a peek myself and see whats out there. It's an irrational and utterly self-destructive impulse since even the smallest chance of being caught and ruining the rest of my life is terrifying, but its still a powerful impulse nonetheless. Even knowing that I would regret seeing some of the extremely disturbing material I might stumble upon doesn't completely stop it. It's a strange impulse that I and many others share and an impulse that can't be easily explained. It's like the phenomenon of people slowing down in their cars to get a closer look at a car accident. Not only does it seem like we are naturally wired to have a curiosity or maybe even hunger for violence, but it seems that people can enjoy violence for its own sake, with or without any context, since the violent images that one might stumble on in the deep web certainly do not have any context like portrayed violence in movies or even organized sports. The dark web, concealed in plain view in the regular internet that we use everyday, reveals the dark side of human nature from both the participants who create it and the viewers who look at it.

Go Away Snookie

So Im not sure if any one knew this but Snookie made her WWE debut not too long ago. When I first read this I just laughed, thinking it was a joke. She is legit like four feet tall. But then I saw a video of it and it sort of made me sad. Why is WWE doing this? I already had a hard enough time watching wrestling, and once I finally started to like it, this happens. Watch this clip just to see what I mean.
I guess she is trying but I am sure this is just a publicity stunt to promote Jersey Shore. I just dont understand why WWE would want her to make an appearance. I know they aren't trying to say that their wrestling is "real" or that the story lines are true, but adding Snookie to your cast really is not a good way to boost your credibility.
I may be biased just because Im not really a fan of Snookie. She makes 30,000 dollars an episode and requires 10,000 dollars as an appearance fee......what does she do again?
I dont want this to turn into a post about Snookie so I'll get back to wrestling.
Now Im sure her debut got a lot of people to watch the show since I'm sure a lot of wrestling fans were wondering why Snookie was there and probably hoping she would get body slammed. But in reality, this is just WWE and Snookie using each other to promote their own shows. It was actually a pretty good idea, although that wont stop me from hating on WWE for allowing her inside the ring.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Genocide and Human Rights

As I was thinking recently about the possibility of a war in Libya, it made me reflect upon the past historical times in which there has been mass human rights abuses by the government in places like Bosnia, Kosovo, and Darfur. But, one of the most tragic and infamous cases was the genocide that occurred in Rwanda in 1994.

I believe that one of the best depictions of what occurred here is through the movie Hotel Rwanda. Take a look at the trailer below.

The Hutus and the Tutsis were two ethnic groups that occupied Rwanda. Both speak the same language, live in the same area, and follow similar customs. Yet, Tutsis claimed to be taller and thinner with some even attributing their origins to Ethiopia. Furthemore, when the Belgian colonists arrived in Rwanda in 1916, they furthered the differentiation. They handed out different identification cards and believed that Tutsis were superior to Hutus. This led to years of suppressed frustration and anger and eventually an ethnic war that climaxed in 1994. There were 800,000 people killed over the course of a 100 days. This event has become a major black-eye to the world. It has shown that the UN, the world's largest peacekeeping force is completely ineffective, and that rest of the world was largely apathetic to such occurrences.

As I just reflect upon the genocides and human rights abuses that occurring all over the world today, it frustrates me that there is so much apathy. I personally confess that I was not very moved when I heard about the horrors occurring under Gadhafi's regime at first until I really sat down today to research what was going on. There is just something sad when a dogfighting ring owned by Michael Vick ignites the entire nation in outrage, yet the massacres of people all around the world become largely ignored.

Check out this article read up a little more on what happened.

The Last Lions

If you haven't seen the film "The Last Lions," you should. I'm just going to come out and admit it: I cried.

The film is technically a nature "movie." Narrated by the guy who voiced Mufasa in The Lion King, the film is composed of some ridiculously awesome lion footage pieced into a feature length revenge narrative. The film is a real emotional roller coaster, with intense violence throughout.

Watching the film made me consider the necessity for violence in nature. For many carnivores, survival means killing another creature every time it is hungry. For life, there must be death. Though humans also slaughter animals for consumption, the raw brutality of nature shown in the film reminded me why humane slaughter is better for our livestock.

Without giving away too much of the plot, the film basically chronicles the life of one female lion "Ma Di Tau," which means "mother of lions," as she struggles to hunt for her cubs after being exiled from her land. The footage is incredible, the story is powerful, and the message is unforgettable.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Damien Hirst: Memento Mori

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.  

Will it Ever End?

There seems to be no end to the violence and upheaval in the Middle East, as opposition has now risen in both Yemen and Syria. With the United States, Great Britain and France joining in, the death toll is climbing. It is hard for me to understand how a country can fire and kill its own citizens with such little consideration and how citizens can do the same. But where does a country draw the line between active protesting and aggressive protesting with intentions to inflict harm? Although it comforts me to know that the people of these countries still have some power and the ability to enforce change when needed but is violence always necessary? In a perfect world, everyone could march to the sea in civil disobedience like Gandhi and gain independence. However, is this always going to be a solution? I do not think so.

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.

The Godmother

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.

The real “Janine ‘Smurf’ Cody”

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.

The Deep Web

Child pornography, snuff films (videos of real murder or torture), assassins for hire, government secrets, organ trade, underground fight clubs where men literally fight each other (and sometimes even animals!) to the death. With connections with the right people and some computer savvy, these are some of the things you can find on the deep internet. The deep internet, being any kind of information on the internet that is not accessible by normal means like search engines, constitutes many times more information than the regular internet. Most of this it innocuous, like library information or academic databases, but a portion of it is highly illegal material that cannot be hosted on the regular internet without swift prosecution. It isn't exactly that difficult to access either. I won't post how to do it, but a quick Google search will tell you exactly how to do it relatively anonymously (no program can guarantee true anonymity however). Once you have access, though many sites you'll need some kind of password or reference by a current member to access, you'd still be able to have access to a smorgasbord of illegal material without too much effort.

It would be easy to dismiss this material as being made and viewed exclusively by truly sick and depraved people. But the more I read about the deep web, the more tempted I am to take a peek myself and see whats out there. It's an irrational and utterly self-destructive impulse since even the smallest chance of being caught and ruining the rest of my life is terrifying, but its still a powerful impulse nonetheless. Even knowing that I would regret seeing some of the extremely disturbing material I might stumble upon doesn't completely stop it. It's a strange impulse that I and many others share and an impulse that can't be easily explained. It's like the phenomenon of people slowing down in their cars to get a closer look at a car accident. Not only does it seem like we are naturally wired to have a curiosity or maybe even hunger for violence, but it seems that people can enjoy violence for its own sake, with or without any context, since the violent images that one might stumble on in the deep web certainly do not have any context like portrayed violence in movies or even organized sports. The dark web, concealed in plain view in the regular internet that we use everyday, reveals the dark side of human nature from both the participants who create it and the viewers who look at it.

An account of a hardcore WWE fan

I have a little brother who has been obsessed with WWE for the past 5 years. He first started to watch it simply because he liked watching two men beat each other up until one was declared the victor. Yet, as time progressed, he began to take sides in different arguments portrayed on "Monday Night Raw" or "Friday Night Smackdown" (he follows wrestling religiously, to the point where he watches it 3 times per week). The emotional aspect of the different feuds between wrestlers and the scandals that come up every so often have kept him coming back for more. Now, he basically knows every single detail about almost every single wrestler, and when I ask him about his favorite wrestler he could go on for hours about various matches against different enemies.
Those who say WWE is simply about violence, that the fans only watch it because they have a need to see violent acts, are just wrong. Yes, my brother might have started to watch it because the violence caught his eye, but as he and all of the other crazy fans get more involved, it transcends the level of simple violence. It becomes a staged battle of wills. Fans get emotionally involved rooting for on wrestler to the point where if that wrestler loses a match, the fan feels bad (my brother would be incredibly upset if The Undertaker lost at Wrestlemania). This mass emotional involvement makes the WWE seem more like an epic tale of triumph and defeat rather than a series of mindless violence. In some ways, the WWE is a modern day Greek myth

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Courage, Hustle and Respect?

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

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?

To judge an album by its cover

In the era of music piracy and digital distribution, where songs are becoming single servings separated from the greater context of an album, the art form of the album cover is endangered.  For many musicians, or at least the better ones, an album is not just a means to market a collection of unrelated material that could just as well stand on its own.  Through arrangement of songs around a central theme or themes an album can provide an experience beyond the sum of its parts.  Every part of the presentation of an album contributes to this holistic vision of it.  In this way, album art provides the musician not just with a means to grab a shopper's eye in a record shop, but can serve as a way to solidify or even extend an album's themes.  Some artists put such care into the presentation of their works that their albums and the associated artwork show a parallel progression over time.

Death - Scream Bloody Gore (1987)

Death's 1987 debut is arguably the first true death metal album.  On this primigenic incarnation of the genre, Death offers a primal celebration of violence and mortality.  The deceptively simple, thrashing instrumentation backs harsh, and usually unintelligible growls from vocalist and front man Schuldiner.  The lyrics describe grotesque scenes right out of a B-grade horror film: "Decapitated head licking your cunt / Sucking all the blood from your stump / Intestinal guts taking their hold / Leaving you dead, stiff and cold" opens the title track.  The music alludes to ritualized celebrations of death of the likes of the sacrificial cults of the ancient Aztecs or occult black magic.  The cover art serves perfectly to extend the musical themes of the album.  A ghastly skeletal figure adorned in occult robes oversees his supplicants from a lithic throne.  Just as these figures appear to remain animated through practice of ancient black magic, Death seeks to invoke a visceral response in the viewer through music that is primal in its brutality.  Take note of the band's logo on this release; the inverted cross foreshadowing the ecclesiastical themes of the band's subsequent releases.

Death - Leprosy (1988)
The band's sophomore effort saw a development on the primitive, thrash metal influenced style of their debut.  Musically, the the songs maintain a morbid aesthetic, but have become more structurally and stylistically complex to compliment the evolving musicianship of the band's members.  The lyrical content remains brutally violent, but instead of treating its themes with gory detail worthy of a slasher film, Schuldiner instead espouses more of a philosophical view of the inherently violent and unforgiving nature of the world.  On Forgotten Past, Schuldiner reminds the listener that he comes from a genealogy tainted by bloodshed: "Deep in your mind there is another side / A morbid truth one cannot hide / Unimaginable gore was your past time high / To hear people scream, to watch them die".  To hide from this truth is to deny one's true nature.  Here, Death contends that just as the leper of the album's cover is exiled from his desert village because of his outwardly grotesque appearance, so too does society attempt to cover up its undesirable roots by suppressing expressions of man's primitive nature.

Death - Spiritual Healing (1990)
Death's third album is the final statement by the band in a true death metal styling.  On the cover of the album, a moribund hospital patient is being consecrated by an animated priest.  It is unclear whether the priest is raising his free hand in an expression of a religious rite or to bring it down violently upon the patient's head.  Here, Death questions the ability of our inventions to save the fragments of our moribund society.  The hospital patient, stricken with a terminal illness, is as assured of a brutal death whether the priest is futilely seeking to heal his illness through prayer or to end his life quickly with a swift blow to the skull.  In our decadent modern society, can our morals and religions save us from a fate of certain death?  Death contends that only by abandoning these antiquated value systems can we begin to escape our harsh and brutal existences.  Genetic Reconstruction looks at eugenics as a possible solution to our biological woes, though not one without its own downsides: "Replacing what is real by using technology / Population control, selecting / those who will breed / A specific type of form chosen for the unborn / A mind without emotion / Progressive anatomy".  Is this race of "human machines" truly what we want?  Only through Death can man be freed of the chains of his existence.

Death - Human (1991)
On Human, Death begins to explore progressive metal styled instrumentation.  The heavily thrash-influenced playing of the first three albums is fused with the compositional techniques of progressive rock.  Here, Death confronts the limitations of our moribund fleshy vessels to comprehend objective truths.  The lyrics and instrumentation here take on a psychedelic quality, and this is reflected in the cover art.  We see on the cover images of man and his viscera in various states of disassembly and decay, dissolving or being absorbed by some sort of radiant energy.  The physical bodies of the subjects of the cover art are as dysfunctional and ephemeral as are our contemporary lives.  Death contends that we are too self-absorbed in trivial matters to begin to scratch the surface of reality.  In the end, we can only blame ourselves for the continuation of the cyclical nature of violence and retribution: "Reaching into the minds of those that created / The depression in which they / In which they drowned / their flesh and blood / Lies / So easy to blame the / Everlasting fear on a pathetic attempt / To justify the ending of life". Unless humanity can overcome this "everlasting fear", the fate of our world is to end as one of the Vacant Planets.  Here, the band's logo undergoes significant changes.  Gone is the inverted cross, indicating Schuldiner's attempts to disconnect the image band from any ties to organized religion.

Death - Individual Thought Patterns (1993)
On Individual Thought Patterns, Death sees a continued evolution of its stylistic foray into progressive metal.  The album's themes continue the critical examination of human cognition that was explored on Human.  Death questions the ability of socially sanctioned knowledge structures.  How can we trust what were are told if we do not even know ourselves?  Our blind acceptance of the word of The Philosopher cements our meaningless and moribund fates: "Do you feel what I feel, see what I see, hear what I hear / There is a line you must draw between your dream world and reality / Do you live my life or share the breath I breathe / Lies feed your judgement of others / Behold how the blind lead / each other / The philosopher / You know so much about nothing at all".  Through critical and personal examination of the world we can devise the atomic bomb that can destroy the false beliefs we are spoon fed from birth.

Death - Symbolic (1995)
On Symbolic, Death takes yet another step away from its death metal roots.  Structurally, this music on this album is more akin to progressive rock or NWOBHM.  Lyrically, Schuldiner continues a harsh and critical examination of the normative impulses of modern society.  On Perennial Quest, Schuldiner invites the viewer to join his spiritual quest for truth: "Won't you join me on the perennial quest  / Reaching into the dark, retrieving light / Search for answers on the perennial quest / Where dreams are followed, and time is a test".  Here, Death seems to have lost the structural and thematic direction of its earlier works.  Schuldiner no longer seems as sure in his nihilistic interpretation of society's invisible structures.  The instrumentation often seems campy its attempts to appear technically proficient.  We see here this disorganization in the band's thought in the album cover.  A collage of images from various sources creates a scene that does not seem to lend itself to one interpretation.  Perhaps as Schuldiner's Perennial Quest for truth has led him ultimately to philosophical disorientation, so to has the band's music wandered from its original path.

Death - The Sound of Perseverance (1998)
This album's title is certainly apposite; this is the sound of a band persistent in its desire to bury its musical roots.  This would be the final album from Death before Schuldiner's death from cancer in 2001.  Here, the musical disorganization of the band is even more evident than as seen on Symbolic.  The band seems to be grabbing into the dark for its ideas for riffs and lyrics, just as the figures on the album's cover blindly ascend through the fog towards a cave of unknown nature.  The listener can no longer be sure what is the band's Story to Tell.  As a final nail in the coffin of Death, the closing track on this album is not even an original work, the band instead choosing to cover Judas Priest's Painkiller. 


How to Make a Violent Movie PG-13

Many of you may see the exciting trailer for Suckerpunch, the newest action film from director Zach Snyder, and hope for another 300-like experience. Insane non-stop action, choreographed slow-motion sequences, and gushing blood are all things we have come to expect from the visual director who awed us with 300 and Watchmen. Unfortunately, Suckerpunch lacks the latter component which leaves something to be desired to its adult audience who had grown accustomed to seeing blood to become immersed in the action.

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

Wrestling: Now and Then

I grew up during the 90's era of WWF wrestling when The Rock was still a wrestler. My father's side of the family would watch Monday Night Raw and Smackdown religiously, but somehow I could never get into it. It looked so silly to me that I would just do other things while they were watching it. Although sometimes I did watch the programs with them I hardly paid any attention. I would ask them questions about whether they knew it was fake or that all of their favorite wrestlers were also their favorite actors. What they told me was that they didn't care. What mattered to them was the entertainment that wrestling provided and continues to give them to this day. Who am I to knock them or the millions of people who continue to watch these programs (shoutout to Prof. Lirette) with a relish that will never fade.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

He Took His Job! (south park reference)

So to talk more about wrestling, I never had any sort of appreciation for the sport. I actually didnt even think it was a sport. Every time I saw an event it just seemed like a joke. All the stomping of the floor and all the storylines, it just seemed so scripted. I think an episode from South Park really speaks to how I viewed wrestling.
You can tell from the video that the creators of the show share the same views that I had about wrestling. That its just a soap opera with muscles. However, this portrayal of wrestling doesnt help its public image with anyone who has not been exposed to the sport. But after seeing the clips from wrestling from the 1990s I have a new take on wrestling, at least from the 1990s.
Im not sure if I can put my finger on it but I just feel like the wrestlers back then were putting more into their characters and trying to make a name for themselves. Today everything seems stale. Maybe I just enjoyed the eccentricity of characters like the ultimate warrior who seemed to give his all in every one of his performances.
Of course, I am not the right person to be dissecting wrestling since I have barely watched any but this is just how I feel about the past and present state of wrestling.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Violent Groups Satirized and Stereotyped

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.

“Hedley Lamar Raises an Army”

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

Racism and Violence

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

Bottled Violence

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 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.


So I guess after reading about some of the horrible stuff in the Hunchback of Notre Dame, I decided to take a little look at some Disney movies to see how much violence is actually in them. First off, I do not remember most of those non-slapstick moments from the Hunchback of Notre Dame. I cannot believe my parents actually sat next to me and let the movie continue after those things happened. What were they thinking?
My parents questionable parenting skills aside, I think there is a trend of violence in most Disney movies that seems to be overlooked or unrealized. I know that when I was a kid, I didnt think of death the same way I do now. Besides learning of my own mortality, I didnt comprehend the magnitude of death. This might be an example of object permanence or a lack there of but once a character no longer showed up on the screen, I guess I just forgot about them.
Lets look at the first movie that comes to mind. The Lion King. Not sure if I really need to put a spoiler alert but *Spoiler Alert* OK, so everyone knows Mufasa, Simba's dad, dies. He falls probably three stories and then proceeds to get trampled by a hoard of wildebeest. This is a pretty gruesome way to die when you say it like that. Yet when Simba finds his dad, hes just lying there, as if asleep. I guess what Im trying to say is that Disney movies take adult concepts and dumb them down for kids. They take death and turn it into something that is no longer feared. Death doesnt look so bad when all it does it make you "go to sleep". Of course getting trampled is much bloodier and gruesome, but I guess this is why I should leave the movie making to the pros.
Now that I think about it, a LOT of Disney movies deal with death. It is a very natural thing but should we expose our kids to it so early in life? Who knows? My parents sure didnt mind showing me all those Disney movies, plus some PG-13 movies that I should not have watched. *Spoiler Alert*
Lets see, the mom dies in Finding Nemo, Bambi is a given, Gaston dies in Beauty and the Beast, I could go on and on. Some deaths are used to inspire the protagonist while others are used as a catharsis for the story and I understand that death is a very useful tool in storytelling but is it appropriate for the children? I dont really care and dont really have a stance on this issue, just some food for thought.


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

The Wrestler

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.

Comic vs. Dramatic Violence in The Hunchback of Notre Dame

In children's movies, violence is obviously portrayed very differently than it is in most works intended for adults. Since the main concerns are simple slapstick laughs, and because in works for children it is important to limit serious harm, violence in children's movies is generally very cartoonish and silly, with no serious lasting effects. This is what I would call comic violence, and it is used pretty extensively for easy laughs.

However, occasionally children's movies will use violence for a more dramatic effect. Lots of movies for children feature villains, but since more serious violence is a risk for the younger audience, even villains only rarely threaten serious violence. A few Disney classics do feature serious acts of violence, and these scenes have demonstrated an amazing staying power in our generation's memory: the deaths of Mufasa and Scar in the Lion King, for instance, or Gaston fighting the Beast in Beauty and the Beast. The Hunchback of Notre Dame, although not quite as successful as either of those, is notable for its extensive use of very serious acts of violence with repercussions that last throughout the film.

Here are some examples of non-slapstick violence in Hunchback:
-A fleeing woman is murdered by being thrown onto stone steps
-A prisoner is whipped and screams in pain
-Judge Frollo threatens to drown a baby
-Frollo kills an ant nest, when introducing his plan of genocide
-Frollo tells a bound Esmerelda to either submit to his lust, or be burned at the stake, and he sets her stage on fire when she refuses
-A house is locked with an innocent family inside, and then it is set on fire
-The entire city of Notre Dame is set on fire by Frollo's orders
-Frollo drops off the belltower and into a pit of hellish molten metal with a visible splash

Although there is almost no blood, and only one character is actually killed, this is an extraordinary amount of violence for a children's movie. What's most interesting about Hunchback's dramatic violence is that it is side by side with the comic slapstick violence that is considered perfectly appropriate for a children's movie. In some scenes, armed guards are punchlines (literally), and in others they are serious and deadly threats.

In order to clearly differentiate between the different styles of violence, the movie relies on a few key clues that help to covey the message of the violence. In dramatic scenes, the tension is carried with dramatic religious intonations or with ominous orchestral cues that help the viewer to sense the emotion and weight of the violence. In comedic violence sequences, the music is much more jaunty. Additionally, the physics of the world is bent into comedic form when the violence is non-serious. For the slapstick scenes, people go flying across the screen when hit, or are capable of amazing acrobatic tricks. This contrasts sharply with the more serious scenes, where the characters seem to lose these tricks and instead are punished by arrows or spears and must struggle to survive. The sound effects vary too: for comedy, there are pinball sounds or other goofy noises when people are struck. In the dramatic scenes, these joke sounds are gone.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the violence committed by the villain, Judge Frollo, is never comedic, whereas the heroes frequently commit acts of violence that would kill or incapacitate guards which are mitigated by the comedic nature of the attacks. Even in otherwise dramatic scenes, the heroes always seem to land hits that produce goofy visuals or silly noises to make the violence more acceptable. It's only attacks on Frollo himself, the single developed villain, that are dramatic.

This, in some ways, runs contrary to the examples of violence in movies we've discussed before. In, for example, Kill Bill or Star Wars, the uniformity and non-development of the guards makes it easy to see unmitigated violence committed against them. It's only against well-developed (or even somewhat differentiated) characters, like the Yakuza boy whose mask falls off, that the concept of mercy or a fair fight need apply. In adult films, the undifferentiated mooks are the most abused because their uniformity makes them sub-human and unworthy of consideration. In this children's film, the undifferentiated mass of guards is still a target of violence, but it is always played for comedy, never as a serious source of pain. It's only the differentiated villain that can be fairly targeted by unmitigated violence.

Bulletstorm: Worst Game in the World?

Over this past console generation, video games have been following a big budget trend. Millions of dollars are dumped into developing pretty graphics and a focused style while gameplay is becoming more scripted and cinematic. "Bulletstrom", released Feb, 22 by Epic Games and People Can Fly is a stylized gore feast for the eyes.

What separates "Bulletstorm" from the multitude of other linear action games is the creativity of the extreme violence the user is encouraged to partake in. The developers have implemented a "skillshot" system that rewards the player points based on the creativity of his shot placement and kills. If you shoot someone in the butt, the words "Fire in the Hole"cascade and you get extra points, if you kill multiple enemies in a single explosion, you are awarded with "Gangbang". You are basically awarded for playing with your prey. It almost feels as they want me to play the game as I would have played a shooter such as "Goldeneye" as a kid with my friends after getting out of class; immaturely. Frankly, it's an absolute blast.

"Bulletstorm" never once takes itself seriously and has been applauded for it's humorous, satirical story line and racy dialog. Not all critics have been happy though. The always "fair and balanced" Fox news went on to label "Bulletstorm" as "The Worst Game in the World". According to a resident expert, the tying of violent acts to sexual innuendo in the skillshot system influences children to rape people. Thats right, even in complete absence of any data or scientific studies the bold claim that video games increase chances of rape is made. On contrary, many scientific studies show little to no correlation between real life violence and violence in the virtual world.

Epic Games made no comment when Fox attempted to question them, but released a statement on their own blog shooting down Fox's claim. They also released sales data of "Bulletstorm", ironically revealing a major spike in sales after the controversy. I guess that according to Fox, we are all sadistic rapists in training.

Cannibal Cuisine

Our society likes to make celebrities of criminals, especially of murderers.  The more vile and morbid is the crime, the more salacious is the discourse about it.  Acts of cannibalism become especially notorious.  In contemporary cases of infamous cannibals such as Ed Gein and Jeffrey Dahmer, the media played no small part in generating their notoriety.  Rarely, however, does the public hear an account from the murderer themselves (Even O.J. Simpson's novel If I Did It was canceled).

Issei Sagawa, this time sampling a more socially acceptable dish. Source

In 1981, Japanese student Issei Sagawa was in Paris studying French Literature.  On June 11, he invited his classmate Renée Hartevelt to his apartment under the pretense of dinner and literary conversation.  While she was seated at the table, he shot her through the back of the neck with a rifle, killing her instantly.  He later testified that he fainted after shooting her, and awoke feeling regret but was committed to his plan of eating her.  He began with her buttocks, sampling the flesh both raw and cooked.  He then moved on to her legs and hips, pausing to copulate with the corpse.  For two days, he feasted on the dead body.  He attempted to dump the mutilated body in a suitcase in a lake near his apartment, but was seen in the act and later arrested by French police.

Dinnertime at the Sagawa household.  Source

The case was, from his arrest on, sensationalized in both the French and Japanese media.  In 1985, the popular French Magazine Paris Match obtained and published photos of the aftermath of the murder.  A journalist was arrested and a quarter of a million copies of the magazine were seized as a result. 

A few of the tamer photos which were published in Paris MatchSource

Sagawa's family offered unwavering support for their son and his wealthy father provided a top lawyer for his defense.  After being held for two years without a trial, Sagawa was found legally insane and unfit to stand trial. He was ordered to be held indefinitely in a secure mental institution.  During this time, he was visited by Japanese author Inuhiko Yomota, who returned to Japan with Sagawa's account of the murder in his novel In the Fog, which made bestseller lists in Japan.  Probably because of the publicity of the morbid affair, French authorities decided to extradite Sagawa to Japan.  In Japan, he was checked into a hospital where he was found sane but sexually perverted.  However, the Japanese authorities found it legally impossible to hold him, as the French court did not sent the proper paperwork.  On August 12, 1986, Sagawa checked himself out of the hospital as a free man.

Don't make me hungry. You wouldn't like me when I'm hungry. Source

Instead of being ostracized for his crimes, Sagawa has become a celebrity in Japan.  He is hardly shy about his crime, taking every opportunity possible to talk about it.  His novel In the Fog became a best seller.  He is often invited as a guest speaker and commentator.  In an odd twist of fate, he has served as a food critic for the Japanese magazine Spa.  He appeared in the 1992 exploitation film Uwakizuma: Chijokuzeme (Unfaithful Wife: Shameful Torture) as a sadosexual voyeur.  He has written novels about other infamous Japanese murderers, directed soft-core pornography, made paintings about violent and sexual fantasies, and has inspired numerous films and songs about his life.

 Sagawa with an original painting (left) and a vial of his own semen (right), both of which are for sale. Source

There is no shortage of accounts of the murder from Issei himself:
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
He has proclaimed that he has not renounced his cannibalistic fantasies, even calling for more young, beautiful women to submit themselves to be consumed by him:
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
 Sagawa with a ten-piece artwork puzzle depicting the murder of Renée Hartevelt; each piece, numbered and signed, is for sale. Source

With other cases of cannibalism, the Japanese seem to be just as horrified of the act as most other societies.  In 2008, Tsutomu Miyazaki, "The Otaku Murderer", was executed without protest for killing four young girls, eating parts of their flesh, and sexually molesting their corpses.  However, Sagawa experienced a completely different treatment for his crimes.  Did his willingness to discuss his crimes somehow make them more socially acceptable?  Or, did the vast coverage of the event, in the French and Japanese media as well as Sagawa's own publicization of the event dehumanize the horrors that went down that night in his Parisian apartment?  Whatever caused this seeming acceptance of Sagawa's crimes, one cannot argue that it is not a morbidly fascinating case to read about.

Violence at the Jersey Shore

I love MTV's Jersey Shore, and I am not embarrassed to admit it. If you don't watch the show, you are simply missing out on an hour of awesomeness every Thursday night. Seriously, this show has everything you can ask for: sex, violence, alcohol-induced rages, steroid-induced rages, girls in bikinis. Literally, think of something that you enjoy and I guarantee you will find it in the Jersey Shore. Anyways, as I watched Sammie and Ronnie have yet again another HUGE fight last Thursday, I decided I was going to incorporate this violence into our blog somehow. Coincidentally enough, when I searched "Ronnie and Sammie Jersey Shore Fight," I found this video: a compilation of these two psychopaths fighting with Eminem's "Love the Way You Lie" playing in the background. The video is actually edited quite well, and if Megan Fox wasn't in the real music video, I would actually prefer this one. Back to Ronnie and Sammie though. Sammie Sweetheart, the self-proclaimed "sweetest bitch you'll ever meet" is constantly fighting with her on-again off-again boyfriend Ronnie (who makes Ronnie Coleman look like Michael Cera). MTV is not stupid, they know the more these two fight the more money the show will make. Seriously though, if you haven't seen an actual episode with Ronnie and Sammie fighting you need to go watch one. Crazy stuff happens, Sammie cries hysterically while Ronnie just absolutely rips her apart: he calls her every unflattering name under the sun, he throws her personal possessions (including her bed) out a window, and he even goes through her closet and rips her clothes into pieces. This show is arguably one of the most violent shows on Prime time television, no lie. MTV will continue to feed their prized "guidos" and "guidettes" alcohol and money in an attempt to continue riding the Jersey Shore wave all the way to the bank. If Sammie and Ron were no longer on the show, I don't think I'd watch it anymore. The violence they bring is a nice touch to the program, and I hope it continues.

Britney's New Look

Human sacrifice is a remote topic to most. Modern people realize that human sacrifice has occurred for thousands of years, and still does in some parts of the world, but don't think it relates to modern life in any way. This episode of South Park mocks a celebrity-obsessed culture by explaining it as modern human sacrifice. The full episode is available on the show's website:

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

Death to Justin Bieber?

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?