Friday, May 20, 2011

I just clicked on my computer to discover sad news: Randy "Mach Man" Savage is dead. He died from a car accident, having had a heart attack then losing control of his car. His wife, Lynn, had minor injuries. From all reports, he was happy, having just celebrated his one year anniversary with his wife. And while Jordan just announced it on this blog, I thought I'd crosspost my blog elegy from my personal blog.

While Hulk Hogan gave wrestling the cross-over appeal in the 1980s to become a global entertainment form, Savage was one of the few wrestlers who kept fans ringside, whether in their homes or at arenas, glued to the action in the ring. He was the technical half of the Superpowers, the man who stole the show the night Hogan slammed Andre in his beautiful match with Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat. He was Shawn Michaels before Shawn Michaels. He made us believe that a little man could take on all of Hulkamania and hence the world.

While Savage was stellar in the ring, he was the champion of the mic, delivering insane promos that bordered on the poetic. He was a wordsmith as much as he was a matsmith. He taught me the importance of the "larger than life," the creative break with reality, the ambition to chase the dragon of inspiration, to bow down before the kingdom of madness. To say he will be missed will be to say we will miss a part of ourselves, the generation whose childhood hero wore cowboy hats, sunglasses, and entered the arena to "Pomp and Circumstance." He lives on as the part of us that's willing to go beyond the realms of possibility, in art and in life, the part of us that's cocky but loveable, the part of us that will do anything for his lover.

And as you knock on the gates of the kingdom of madness, know that you've left behind a legacy in and out of the squared circle. I hope they crown you prince, for you've done your service, paid your dues, shown each of us how to be a little more mad too. Oh yeah.

R.I.P. Randy Savage

Today marks a sad day as I just learned that Randy Poffo a.k.a 'Macho Man' Randy Savage passed away in a car accident due to a heart attack. The accident occurred in the Tampa area, so it has been all over my local news. As a kid, Macho Man was one of my favorite wrestlers due to his eccentric interviews and ridiculous outfits. In the ring, he was a constant source of entertainment and a character I would often find myself using in video games. The flood of Randy Savage posts on my Facebook newsfeed act as a reminder that he was very well-known in pro wrestling and his Slim Jim commercials. I will never forget his catchphrase, "Ooh yea!", nor his entrance to the tune of "Pomp and Circumstance." Later today, I will be walking to Wilson Farms to purchase a Slim Jim in his honor.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Avada Kedavra

We talked a bit about harry Potter at the end of class, and its inspired me to make a blog post about it.

In a world full of spectacular magic and infinite possibilities, there is something eerily simple and final about Avada Kedavra. In just two muttered words and a flash of pale green light, a death eater can permanently end a wizard or muggles life. Wizards and Witches can instantly graft bone, replace spliced flesh, or otherwise cure any of the assortment of odd magical injuries, but the quick death of Avada Kedavra is final. This serves as a dark contrast to sense of power and immortality I had imagined wizards to have as a young muggle reading the books and this always scared me to death. As much as I don't mind seeing Robert Pattinson zapped to death, I have to feel for the guy.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Raise Your Weapon

A few weeks ago, I posted about Foster the People's "Pumped Up Kicks," a song that featured violent lyrics over a chilled out beat. Today, when cruising the internet for some new music, I found this track titled "Raise Your Weapon," by the Deadmau5. I originally thought that the song would simply be gritty and loud, but it starts out with a progressive tone and turns into the grossed out dubstep we all know. This got me thinking about the influence of violence in all types of music. We are used to seeing violent lyrics in hip hop. We rap along with Lil Wayne and The Game as they talk about shooting people and slapping hoes. However, in the past few months, have encountered several songs that don't seem to be simply about gang violence. Artists like Deadmau5 have most likely not encountered the kind of violence that gangster rappers have, but they seem to be infatuated with the idea. Violence in house music is an interesting thing, because house was made for the clubs. Yet, in this song, chorus is simply "Raise Your Weapon" repeated over and over again. We cannot really understand the actual meaning of the lyrics themselves, because they are so ambiguous. We can only listen to the thumping beats while hearing a girl sing about weapons. The mystery behind this (violent?) song keeps me interested.

One of the Best Fight Scenes Ever

This scene is from the movie "Kickass." I first saw it with a couple friends who convinced me to watch it. I originally thought the movie was going to be awful, but after watching it, I realized that it is actually a great film. The movie is reminiscient of Kill Bill, but the movie itself is kind of a satire of violent superhero movies. What is really interesting about the movie is that the superheros, Kickass, Big Daddy, and Hitgirl, have really cheesy outfits and the dialogue is not incredible, while the fight scenes are insanely awesome. Check out the one posted above, its shot in a really cool way and uses some awesome perspectives. The violence in this scene is some of the most stylized that I have ever seen. Its worth watching this movie after finals are over. It's awesome

Monday, May 16, 2011

Bad Lieutenants

Other than sharing the same name and general premise of being about a crooked police officer, the two movies made by Abel Ferrera and Werner Herzog couldn't be more different. Abel Ferrara's is full of dread and nihilism, Herzog's is exuberant and joyfully absurd. While Ferrara themes are existentialist and the tone nihilistic, with the main character played by Harvey Keitel eventually being gunned down for his sins (after begging for forgiveness from a vision of Jesus Christ himself) in the end, Nicolas Cage's character in Herzog's version gets away with everything in a comical scene in the end. All at once, he realizes that his gamble on a sports game paid off, gotten away with murder and corrupt acts, and the gangsters that were trying to kill him are dead.

Looking at these movies side by side, we can see that both have distinct visions of what life is like and whether redemption is truly possible. Ferrera is overwhelmed by angst and sees each vile act a person commits eventually coming around back to them, whether through karma or through the weight of guilt. Herzog sees life being all a game in the end. What does it matter if you do vile things all your life, as long as you are okay with it and get away with it?

One mesmerizing scene captures the tone and point of view of Herzog's version perfectly. After a gang shootout, Nicolas Cage's character instructs his gang to shoot them again after they are dead, because "his soul is still dancing". We then see a breakdancer (surely only visible to Nicolas Cage's crazy character) dancing around the room. Life or death, what's the difference anyways?

Jason Bourne

The Bourne movies are interesting because Jason Bourne doesn't fight for his country or any particular cause but instead solely for his own survival. He is forced into an impossible situation; he is hunted down by the CIA all the while having amnesia and not knowing anything about himself except his extensive military training which he is forced to use to survive. Jason Bourne goes to impressive lengths to avoid conflict whenever he can, but when he does finally have to fight the action is exhilarating. There is no slow motion and usually no music during the fight scenes, all we hear is the exaggerated sound effects and grunts. The violent scenes in the movies are swift and in the latter two filmed with a shaky camera and disorienting editing which puts us straight into the thick of battle. Watching Bourne singlehandedly disarm and take down armies of agents and using his smarts and his incredible martial arts skills is amazing to watch.

My favorite fight scene is his with Desh in The Bourne Ultimatum. Unlike some other action movies, which take a more stylized approach to violence, we truly get the sense that these men are actually fighting for their lives and will do anything, including using whatever household objects they can find around them, to survive.

The Bourne series is also very different from many other action movies in that Jason Bourne is constantly weighed down by guilt for killing other people. In The Bourne Supremacy and Ultimatum, we see that he goes to great lengths just to get the chance to apologize to the daughter of one of the people he was assigned to kill. Throughout both movies, we see him constantly expressing grief and psychological torment for the things that he did in his past life as a hired assassin and also for the lives he has to take now to survive.


Have you ever dreamt of waking up in the middle of a medical procedure? Sounds like a horror movie. Apparently it does happen. According to Wikipedia (which, most serious scholars know, is the most reliable source of information), Anesthesia awareness occurs around 0.1 – 0.2% in operations in US alone, annually – that’s approx. 20,000 t0 40,000 patients out of 20 million. Of cases known, it has been reported around 42% actually feel the pain during the operation, 70% experience psychological implications and 94% experience panic and anxiety.

“Awake” is a film that revolves around this very subject.
I have not watched the film myself, but from reading summaries and watching the trailer, I’m rather intrigued. (Not merely because of Hayden Christensen/Jessica Alba).
From the little information I’ve gathered, “Trust” is a major motif in this particular narrative.

When it comes to doctors, we really can’t escape from the idea of “Trust”. We trust them by placing our health, body and potentially our lives in their hands. But why? Why do we trust them? Because – well, they got through 4 years of college and another 4 for med school. Heck, they are the crème de la crème of your graduating class. (The pre-laws/pre everything else are great too) They should really know their stuff. Our common sense tells us that we could. Because they are professionals. I would argue in today’s science driven world, there is an element of blind trust when it comes to medical professionals. We trust them to the point that we don’t even question their authority. And with this given authority, comes power, and power with status (and of course, money will follow). The heartbreaking truth is, some professionals abuse this trust, and thus stories like “Doctor charged with sexual assault” or "Doctor-administers-HCl-acid-to-kid-instead-of-antibiotics" make headlines.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston

The Ali-Liston II (1965) fight is perhaps one of the most controversial, anticipated and watched matches in boxing. The match is a mystery in its self - It is boxing’s Bermuda triangle. Questions still remain unanswered. No one really saw the “phantom punch” that brought Liston down. Was the punch even a genuine knockout punch? Did Liston really bet against himself to “take a dive” to repay the mafia? Or was he actually afraid of the Ali’s Nation of Islam extremists? But we know one thing for sure: Muhammad Ali won that fateful day.

On a different note:

In today’s commercialized world, you can even wear your own little piece of sporting history. Ali’s laser eyes most certainly gives the fight of the century a whimsical spin. Is Ali happy? Exhilarated? Victorious? Exasperated? Angry? Who knows? His performance was so spectacular on May 25th 1965 - he’s Godzilla.

If you dig this, you could call this your own for $24.

Counter Strike Meets Osama's Hideout

An Independent developer who goes by the name, Fletch, created and released a new add -on level to Counter Strike: Source. The map is based on photographs of Osama’s Pakistan hideout.

According to the New York Timesseveral thousand people have downloaded the new level since it became available over the weekend

Players could choose from a variety of missions – from rescuing hostages to killing the “terrorist boss”. Despite apparent criticisms, the game received an overall rating of 8.3/10 on (the game could also be downloaded there)

In response, Fletch defended his creation by saying: "I can see how people would think it is in bad tastes, but honestly if that's your opinion you may as well protest the whole game (as well as many others)"

Other recent video games releases also incorporated similar material. An example being “Kuma war II”; this game also allows players to participate in the raid – not only as a US Navy SEAL, but also as an Al Qaeda Guard protecting Bin Laden.

Scary Stories

This is image is taken from the book Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz. The book (one of three in the series) is a collection of horror stories and urban myths that have been adapted by Schwartz, and are fairly creepy. However, what sets these books apart are the horrific bits of black and white illustration throughout, provided by Luis Erique, Daniel Urena, and Stephen Gammell. Although marketed to children mainly, the pictures are far more terrifying than even most adults are comfortable with. I know they creeped me out whenever I read them as a kid.

Many of the pictures are surreal, and much more grotesque than the stories they accompany. For instance, there is one story of
a woman who adopts a stray dog from Mexico, only to later discover that it is an enormous, diseased rat. Although this is creepy by itself, the illustration of the rat is soul-scarring. There's no way that the thing portrayed by the picture could possibly be mistaken for a dog. It looks more like a monster than a rat, even:

However, the unsettling surrealism of the images exaggerates the horror. It's effective, but I'm curious about the thought process that led up to the creation of these books, which were sold side-by-side with Goosebumps books like The Blob That Ate Everyone and Egg Monsters From Mars. The difference between pulp-horror like Goosebumps and truly disturbing books like the Scary Stories series is startling. Still, both series were successful, showing that there is room for a lot of variety in the horror genre.

Girlie Slumber Party (with Michelle Rodriguez)

Embedding on this video was disabled by the provider, so follow the link:

From CollegeHumor is a satirical and wonderfully edited three-minute dramatic clip where a cliche pillow fight turns ludicrously bloody and violent. Built from the point of view of two peeping toms, the short takes a traditional setup and takes it to its logical extreme. Mock violence gives way to over-the-top bloody physical damage, so extreme it is funny. Air swishes, smacks, heavy thuds, breaking glass, and dramatic trash talking make up the soundtrack.

Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All

Tyler, The Creator is becoming one of Hip Hop’s (and the internet’s) biggest sensations. Tyler is the frontman of Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (also known as OFWGKTA or simply ‘Odd Future’) and has 2 solo albums. His voice sounds like a blend of Lloyd Banks and Bizzare (of D12 fame.) His flow mixes the lunacy of Slim Shady, the vocal “characters” of Biggie, and the wordplay of Lil Wayne. As described in one video on Funny or Die (about OFWGKTA,) “They’re awesome! They’re like…Nikki Minaj…with dicks. And they’re awesome.”

Tyler’s recent rise to fame has a lot to owe to Twitter. His account (@fucktyler) has over 200,000 followers, and his personality on twitter has become an extension of his music. His tweets, in which he capitalizes every word, are eccentric, uncensored, and unique. He’s got over 10,000 tweets, but here are some of his most recent:

“Sick As Fuck. Fuck.”

Taking A Shit. I'm Sick As Fuck. My Back Hurts. Fuck.”

“I Feel Like A Fucking Piece Of Shit Fuck.”

“Toronto, Help Me Out. I Feel Like I'm Dying, So, Please, Tonight, Wild The Fuck Out, Mosh, Break Shit, To Make This Easier On Me. Swag”

Violence plays a big part in the content of his lyrics. Like Eminem, his songs feature rape, torture, dead, and suicide. Tyler seems very self-aware, appearing in funny videos, and even referencing his lyrical content in his songs. In his song ‘Seven’ off his first album Bastard, Tyler says, “As you can probably tell from listening to this record, I was…I was probably angry…probably on my period. I didn’t mean to offend anyone…Alright, I’m lying.”

Tyler is pretty talented; he makes his own beats, album covers, and conceptualizes his own videos. Check out this gem:

Iron Maidens

The Iron Maiden is a torture device which consists of a case large enough to hold a standing human. The door to the case can be closed and latched with the person inside, and a small hole at face level allows the torturer to interrogate the victim. The torture is provided by the numerous spikes inside the case and attached to the door of the case, which all pierce the victim when the door is shut. Because the spikes remain in the wounds, the victim bleeds very slowly and can last for days while inside. It was used heavily in the Middle Ages to punish religious heretics. It is well known today, as an example of the barbaric cruelty of medieval Europe.

Or at least, that's the story. In reality, it is believed that the Iron Maiden was never used during the Middle Ages, and in fact didn't even exist during that time. Its history was written largely by Johann Philipp Siebenkees, a German philosopher, in the 1700's. There has never been any evidence of an actual Iron Maiden that dates to earlier than the late 1800's. It's widely believed that the story of the Iron Maiden is a hoax, and although Iron Maidens do exist and may have been used from time to time since their popularization, they are not an authentic medieval torture device.

The Iron Maiden's grisly and dramatic nature has helped it to become an icon in popular culture. We are both attracted and repulsed by extreme torture, and this helps hoaxes which tap into our fears and fascinations to become widespread.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Mad Max: Beyond the Leviathan

The Mad Max series, beginning with a seminal 1979 Australian post-apocalyptic western/action movie, was revolutionary, controversial, violent and hugely significant. The first Mad Max introduced Mel Gibson as an actor, was banned in two countries, polarized critics, and kick-started Australian cinema as well as the now common post-apocalyptic genre. It also held the record for highest cost-to-profit ratio (until the Blair Witch Project) and is now considered one of the best movies of all time, despite being derided for its incomprehensible violence at the time of its release. Its influence on the film world is immense, particularly after its more successful sequel Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. These films helped to define the post-apocalyptic genre as worlds of free-roaming gangs, lawlessness, scavenged goods and technology marked by only the scarcest trappings of civil society. The series also made an impact on other areas of violent cinema (such as horror; Saw's gripping premise of deciding between cutting through an ankle or a chain was used in Mad Max first).

As a brief overview, Mad Max begins as a cop in a decaying world. After witnessing the failure of his corrupt law force to prevent the gangs from inflicting harm on others, he defects and takes vengeance on the gangs himself with the help of his supercharged Pursuit Special. In the sequels, he roves the wasteland and acts as an agent of good in the cruel and vicious world.

Mad Max establishes that without the rule of law, other people are to be feared. It also plays heavily on bondage and S&M themes, which demonstrate that only individuals who possess fearsome personal power can succeed, and they do so by enslaving and humiliating others. The series also, as it develops from a world which is simply lawless to a full-on apocalyptic landscape, demonstrates an agreement with Hobbesian principles of the inherently cruel and evil nature of society in the absence of a strong government and enforced social contract.

The World's Earliest Joke

Many prehistoric (and some extant) hunters and warriors made use of the spear-thrower to increase the efficiency of their weapon.  This particular example was found in a Paleolithic cache in a cave in Mas d'Azil, France.  At the end of the thrower where the spear sits, an ibex is seen crouching, and, well, relieving himself.  Apparently, this humor was appreciated by the Paleolithic hunters of the Pyrenees mountains, as a number of similar weapons have been found (some more are included in the sketching).  Even in early times, man had the ability to treat a solemn topic, the killing of other animals, including humans, with the levitas of a modern comedian.

Fire and the Beauty of Destruction

Der gefesselte Prometheus by Jacob Jordaens, ca. 1640

As punishment for stealing fire and gifting it to mortals, Zeus had Prometheus bound to a rock while a great eagle ate his liver each day only to have it grow back again for the next.  Little did Prometheus know what a powerful and destructive force he had gifted to mankind.  Our dance with fire extends far back into our history: the estimates for the earliest definitive evidence of control of fire by a member of the genus Homo range from 0.2 to 1.7 million years ago.  Fire is a tool that defines us as humans, no other animals can control it as we do, although our close relatives, the chimpanzees, understand wildfires well enough to monitor them and to safely guide their movements.  However, humans are unique in their ability to use fire to cook food, create warmth and protection, and to shape their environment.

As a student of plant ecology, the role of fire in shaping plant communities has fascinated me.  Contrary to the impression one may get from learning about fire ecology solely from "Smokey the Bear" PSAs, pyrogenic plant communities exist all over the world; to my knowledge on every continent except perhaps Antarctica.  That is not to say that you should wantonly toss matches out of your window while touring the pine barrens here in the northeast, for the intensity and frequency of fires needs to be controlled for the maintenance of certain plant communities, and some more than others require for this to be quite the delicate balancing act.  However, certain species require fire in order to prevent being out competed by less fire tolerant species.  In the pine barrens, for example, without fire the barrens will proceed through seral stages, eventually resulting in a (probably oak-hickory) climax forest.  Without periodically burned habitats in which to grow and reproduce, these fire dependent plant species would go extinct.  These pyrogenic plant communities are not at all rare either, look at this map of prescribed burn intervals across the continental United States:

Many plants have evolved traits that not only allow them to survive through or reproduce after a fire, but some actually can encourage the fires that sustain their existence.  The Australian plant genus Eucalyptus is especially notorious for its flammability: the concentration of volatile oils such as Eucalyptol in vegetative parts is high enough in some species as to make the plants literally explosive.  Plants that display fire-mediated serotiny, where seeds are only released after fire, can only reproduce after a fire; in the United States, this trait is especially common among conifers such as the pines.  The evolution of many of these fire dependent plants has been to a large part encouraged and guided by the use of fire by man.  

This should make Smokey cringe - An Australian Aboriginal fire stick

Man recognized quite early on this power fire held for shaping the environment.  Many of the grassland and other pyrogenic plant communities around the world were spread and evolved under the pressure of regular burning by indigenous societies.  Many early hunter-gatherers were effectively ecosystem engineers: they recognized that fire could be used to clear forest and create open grasslands which were perfect for hunting, and they used fires to guide the movements of animals into these open areas.  Later, tropical agriculturists recognized the utility in using fire to clear dense tropical vegetation and release plant nutrients into the soil, pioneering the swidden or 'slash-and-burn' systems of agriculture.  The Australian Aborigines are especially renown for their use of fire, living as so called domiculturists - in a way domesticating their environment with management tools, such as fire, in order to increase the availability of edible plants to gather and game to hunt.

Wildfires are reported in media outlets often solely in negative terms: ie. in quantities of human life lost or economic damage.  But never does one hear of the role fire plays in sustaining life.  Without periodic destruction by burning, many beautiful and diverse ecosystems would decline, slowly being succeeded by fire intolerant communities.  Besides, many of the horrors of wildfires are only a result of human ignorance of the intrinsic reliance on fire of so much of the world's flora: when one builds a human settlement in the middle of Eucalyptus forests and suppresses fires while fuel loads build up, what can one expect but the occurrence of colossal wildfires such as the Black Saturday Bushfires in Victoria, Australia?  Wildfires are not necessarily something to be feared, unless you have been so unwise as to make your residence amidst a fire-prone region.  Instead, fire's ability to create life should be fully embraced.  We should learn from our relatives, the chimpanzees, who do not panic at the sight of fire, but calmly observe its effects and evade its destructive path.

Final Blog Post: My Experience in ENGL 2890

When I first saw the course description online last year, I immediately jumped at this class. As an ILR major, I'm forced to satisfy an "advanced writing" requirement, and there was no way I was taking some boring class like Workers and Migration or something random like that. I wanted to take a class that examined popular culture and allowed to to analyze violence in our society. One thing I've learned is that violence is everywhere, no matter how hard we try to escape from it, it will always be present in our lives.
When the class first started, I was a little turned-off by the Blood Meridian unit because I wasn't too interested in old Westerns. Alas, I found that I truly enjoyed the book, and I became excited for what was to come in the class. Watching Kill Bill, professional wrestling, and Buffy has taught me that our country excels in creating mainstream violence. We are a society that loves to see someone get hurt, as bad as that sounds, it is true.
My favorite unit by far was our classes study of Hip-Hop music. For the first time in my college experience, I truly enjoyed coming to class and discussing the violence in music. Studying Tupac and Eminem was riveting, and I found myself spending countless hours after class on Mondays/Wednesdays reading about these men online. I even watched 8 Mile one day after the discussion on Marshall Mathers/Eminem.
All in all, this class taught me a lot about our society in general and how we deal with violence in the media. Thanks a lot to Christopher for designing a truly interesting and discussion-enabling course at Cornell.

Terrorism in Israel: The Unheard Stories

Just because buses aren't being blown up on the daily in Jerusalem does not mean that Palestinian terrorists have stopped their disgusting killing sprees in Israel. CNN and The Associated Press frequently point out that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not as violent as it was just 5 years ago, but I beg to differ. In March 2011, two masked Palestinian terrorists snuck into Rabbi Udi Fogel's home in the Itamar settlement of Israel's West Bank. While Udi and his three-month-old baby Hadas lay asleep in bed, the terrorists slit their throats. When Udi's wife Ruth came out of the bathroom, she too was murdered. Next, these cowardly Palestinian terrorists went into the shared bedroom of Yoav (age 11) and Elad (age 4) and stabbed both directly in the heart as they slept. Perhaps the most effected victim was 12-year old daugther Tamar, who returned home from a youth-movement activity two hours after the crime took place to discover her parent's and sibling's bloodied bodies. We don't hear about disgusting crimes like this in America. The only things we hear about are bombings in the major cities. There are still men lurking in the dark, killing families as they sleep, and setting the peace process back years. Slashing open necks and piercing hearts, on purpose, over many minutes, is more sinister and deranged, more direct and personal, than shooting from afar or even self-detonating. The Israeli government is genuinely working hard on peace negotiations with Palestine, but Israel cannot be expected to talk peace when its citizens are under threat of terror attacks such as this.

The Most Famous Low-Speed Chase Ever

In my opinion, this is where O.J. Simpson first messed up. If you're SO innocent, why would you lead the police on a chase when they are attempting to arrest you? A truly innocent man accepts the arrest, and has his lawyer get him out on bail so he can prove his innocence. O.J. Simpson has to realize that the American Judicial system preaches the notion of "Innocent until proven Guilty." By running away from the cops, Simpson is waving his right of innocence and essentially telling the American viewing public: "I'm guilty and I need to run away from this or else I'm gonna be serving life in jail." Seriously, this guy was a professional athlete, he has to know that people watched his every move. Did he really think he could flee away in his now infamous White Bronco without news-copters getting the footage and streaming it live for all of America to see? O.J. Simpson was guilty as hell, and it is so sad that he wasn't convicted and sentenced to life in prison back in 1995. This initial run from the cops is what made me believe that O.J. was definitely guilty right off the bat.

Wrongfully Convicted: The Marty Tankleff Story

In September of 1988, two years before I was born, a gruesome murder shocked the small beachfront community that I grew up in. Marty Tankleff, a 19 year-old high school senior at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School was convicted and sentenced to 50 years-to life in prison for the stabbing death of his parents. My grandmother was Marty's guidance counselor at Vandermeulen High, and was also close friends with Arlene and Seymour Tankleff, the victims. The story was sensationalized throughout Long Island; it was believed that Marty murdered his parents to collect on their life insurance because he didn't want to drive the "shitty Mercedes," that his parents bought him for his 18th birthday. My grandma could not believe that this reasoning was widely believed. People believed Marty was this stuck-up, spoiled brat from Port Jeff who disgustingly killed his parents because he wasn't satisfied with his birthday gift. Over time, details came out, and it was clear that Marty was innocent. I had heard about this story from a young age, and my grandmother always preached that Marty was the nicest, most normal kid in high school. When his conviction was finally vacated, Marty came over to my grandmother's house for dinner. I couldn't believe that a man who spent 17 years in prison could be so normal. This guy was like anyone else out there, but he received a terrible draw in life. It's great to see Marty Tankleff, a truly innocent man, roam the streets and socialize again like he deserves to.

Welcome to Hotel626

Earlier posts on scary hotels stroked a ready chord with me. Last summer, my friends and I made a temporary "home theatre" setup, and decided to play hotel 626 on it.

Released on Halloween back in 2009, Hotel 626 is an online first person point and click flash game brought to us by Doritos; as a marketing gimmick created in honour of the resurrection of the brand’s two “undead” flavours: Black Pepper Jack and Smoking Cheddar BBQ. The game itself has nothing to do with Doritos. Or cornchips. Or cheese...but nonetheless, Hotel626 is a beautifully crafted game by the geniuses from Goodby, Silversein & Partners and B-reel, visualizing your darkest hotel nightmares on your very own computer screen.

As one enters the website, the site prompts you to “check in” – where you enter your personal information and grant the game access to your mic and webcam (although none of the information is mandatory besides your DOB.) To really send a chill down your spine, the developers rendered impeccable graphics, composed haunting melodies, and what’s more - it’s interactive.

If you’re bold enough, Ladies and Gentlemen: your rooms are ready.

Have a great stay.

The hotel is only open from 6pm to 6am.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Good for You Little Chinese Wrestler Kid

So Ive been looking for something to post about for a couple days and I just could not find anything. And then just a few minutes ago I found it. It was exactly what I was looking for. Now watch.

We have talked a lot about pro wrestling in this class, which is why I thought this would be a good video to talk about. We have had to combat the stereotype that pro wrestling is fake and how no one really gets hurt, but we have seen that this is not true. In American pro wrestling people can die or get seriously hurt when trying to perform some moves. However, this video just takes it to a whole other level. I would have to say this little kid weighs maybe 90 pounds on a good day and yet we are to believe that he can throw these grown men around and make them scream out in pain. Although this seems absurd, you do have to give the little guy credit. He is doing backflips all over the place and seems to have a good grasp of the different techniques used to make his fights seem almost believable. I know that when I saw this I immediately thought that all the people in the crowd were stupid for even watching but when you see all of the other wrestlers you see that it is much more focused on being a show and just entertaining than being a legit wrestling match. This is exactly what the WWE does. A great example would be Rey Mysterio. He is billed at 5'6"and 175 pounds, which makes no sense since he is wrestling against guys who are about a foot taller than him and yet he can still win. So when you realize that the WWE does the same thing as this chinese wrestling match, it does not seem so crazy.

Kids With Guns

Through our study of violence in the media and in art, we came to the conclusion that violence has a gender bias towards men. From time to time, we have heroines like Buffy who are up to par with her male counterparts in terms of being an agent of violence, but she remains the exception and not the rule. Likewise violence has an age bias. When we think of soldiers, we think of adult males in uniforms. We don't picture kids with guns. In traditional media we try to spare the pre-pubescent from violence as much as possible to preserve the archetype of innocence and potential. The simple thought of kids being consumed by adult-world violence can leave a bad taste in one's mouth. I would like to avoid talking about the religion and politics of kids with guns, and rather talk about the impressions we as viewers have of this.

A recent New York Times article spoke of a Neo-Nazi home in suburbia California, where a ten year old boy shot and killed his father with a handgun. He is now being charged with murder. What is the proper reaction to this? My gut tells me that the kid accidentally shot his father after stumbling upon the handgun's hiding place. After all, the boy is described as a pleasant inquisitive youth. No real character flaws there. Others will argue that growing up in an aggressively racist and openly violent home would have turned the child into a monster (though the journalist describes the victim as a good father). Overall, many react to young violence by blaming an external factor, believing that children will only resort to violence when pushed to their limits. Never mind how calculating children can be and for a second forget bullying in school. Kids don't have motives...or do they?

On a brighter note:

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Day of Wrath

The Last Judgement by Hans Memling, 1466-1473

As you all know, all of the time you have spent preparing for finals and writing papers about Buffy in the past week has been for naught, as per a prediction by Christian radio host Harold Camping that says that the Rapture will occur on May 21, just after you'll get your grades back.  On this day, God's elect will be taken up to heaven while we sinners will be cast into eternal flame.  I refuse to prostrate myself in prayer in preparation for this day; instead I will throw up my horns and celebrate the coming of the final judgement with a marathon of apocalyptic themed music.

W. A. Mozart - "Dies Irae" from The Requiem Mass in D Minor

For a time, it was trendy for classical composers to create their own variations on the Catholic Requiem Mass.  This period saw the creation of some of the heaviest music ever written.  My personal favorite is Mozart's Requiem Mass in D minor, featuring an absolutely pummeling rendition of the thirteenth century Latin hymn, Dies Irae.  This is powerful music, even when heard so long after the decline of the power of the Catholic Church.

Bathory - "Dies Irae" from Blood Fire Death (1988)

The Requiem Masses of Mozart et al. detail a final triumph of good over evil.  Bathory's 1988 black metal epic Blood Fire Death inverts this, telling of the sacking of heaven by Satan's forces through leitmotifs of evil.  After "The Golden Walls of Heaven" are stormed, all Hell breaks loose as everything sacred in this world and above it is desecrated in the most unholy of ways.  Eventually, Christ, the bastard son of heaven, meets his own Day of Wrath in the album's seventh track, "Dies Irae".  Quorthon's hoarse shouts tell all of mankind that they are doomed to spend eternity in the flames of Hell, but not to fear this fact but to revel in it, for through death, one receives eternal life.

Massacra - "Final Holocaust" from Final Holocaust (1990)

The renditions of "Dies Irae" from Mozart and Bathory tell us contrasting versions of what will come on the Day of Wrath.  On Final Holocaust, however, Massacra provides us a soundtrack to play during the apocalypse.  Through speeding microsymphonies of nihilistic destruction, Massacra's magnum opus is mesmerizing in its darkness and aggression.  "Final Holocaust" offers a look into the post-apocalyptic world, with lyrics telling of a religiously-inspired collective suicide while tremolo power chords and racing drums assemble a joyous celebration of this destruction.

When judgement day comes in the following weeks, I will be prepared, armed with some of the darkest and heaviest music ever written to fend off God's angels of death.  And when this prediction of doom blows over, as do all apocalyptic forecasts, I will have to wait until December 21, 2012 for another chance to revel in the impending destruction of the world.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Wrap It Up

So I decided for my last blog post that I would just sum up what I thought of the course and what we covered over the semester. Corny, I know, but I could not think of anything else.

When I read the course description I was like "I have to take this class!" Everything seemed too good to be true so I thought there was going to be some kind of catch. Perhaps a 20+ page essay? Or maybe the professor is a jerk. I also came into the class a couple classes late so I had to catch up on 180 pgs. of Blood Meridian and an essay and a citation for Blood Meridian and a blog post and a blackboard post. That sucked. But then I looked at the blog and saw a youtube video of "Monster" by Kanye West and then I realized maybe things were not going to be so bad at all.
After catching up the course became even more fun. Although we had papers to write and had to be responsible for two post every week it did not seem like much because the subjects were genuinely interesting. Learning about the different manifestations of violence in the media and what role it plays in each of our lives (in different ways) was more insightful than I probably thought it could have been. Now it seems like violence is the 21st century's preferred mode of expression. There seems to be an endless amount of ways that violence can be used to convey a message. There also seems to be an endless amount of ways that violence can shape the way we see the world around us.
Overall I had a great time taking this class. Class discussions were always fun thanks to the class's participation and the engaging nature of the topics. This class has made me look at the media I am exposed to very, very differently and I think I'm the better for it. So thanks to Prof. Lirette and to the class for making this class awesome.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

L.A. Noire: The Gangster Era from a Cop's Perspective

As I've been watching the NBA Playoffs, a new video game called L.A. Noire has appeared in several commercials. The ads are unique in that they are shown in a film-like manner, which leaves the viewer a little confused as to how the player integrates into the plot. Interestingly, the game is actually going to appear at the Tribeca Film Festival. Upon further research, I found that the gameplay is centered around the life of a LAPD officer as he fights crime, progresses through the ranks, and attempts to make-up for the violence he inflicted as a soldier in WWII.

As a fan of The Godfather, the gangster era has always interested me and this game captures the street life in a very realistic way. I look forward to playing the game when it debuts and expect nothing but the best from Rockstar Games, the developer and publisher of L.A. Noire. Rather than being the gangster, it will be interesting to control the violence through detective work in Los Angeles. Violence against violence in a Grand Theft Auto-esque gameplay can only produce hours of un.

Monday, May 9, 2011

One Shot

Earlier this semester, many of us had the pleasure of experiencing the excellent cinematography of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode entitled "The Body." During the opening scene, Buffy comes home to find her lifeless mother sprawled on the couch and through a fifteen minute uninterrupted take, we witness every distraught feeling that Buffy does. Through a long-take we are engrossed into the scene and vicariously experience her emotions shifts from denial, to disgust, to panic, and to breakdown. By using a single moving camera, the long take allows viewers to feel like they are present in the scene and witnessing the action through their own eyes. This creates a powerful effect that can enhance emotionally rich and exciting scenes, where constant switching of view-points (of cameras) is unnecessary and even a hindrance to the experience.

This technique was successfully employed in the 2005 martial arts film The Protector, staring Muai Thai boxer Tony Jaa, and directed by Prachya Pinkaew. The following is a four minute long scene shot with a single camera with zero editing. Get ready; it will blow your mind:

Notice the similarities this scene has with professional wrestling. The absence of editing requires every fight to be performed flawlessly to suspend the audience's disbelief. The actors must be highly trained and ready to fulfill their choreographed job while selling their injuries to the audience. They are ready to be thrown into walls and off thirty foot ledges to engage and capture the audience's attention and appreciation. Botched long takes are physically, emotionally, and financially taxing as in pro wrestling. Should Tony Jaa botch a throw or kick he could seriously injure an actor. For instance, the moment he throws one henchman off the third story ledge is reminiscent of when the Undertaker threw Mankind off of the top of the cage during the 1998 Hell in a Cell match. When Mankind hit the floor, some viewers including the Undertaker thought he was dead. Now imagine that happening to the guy who was tossed off the ledge. When deciding whether or not to shoot a long take, Pinkaew had to consider the costs of repairing the set's many damaged railings, windows, and ceramic sinks. A botched long take does not have the luxury of editing to minimize costs of repairs and retakes.

Ultimately there is a huge risk looking an action scene looking fake, as in professional wrestling, when using a long take. Nevertheless the power to amaze the audience has influenced celebrated directors like Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese to embrace the long take in their own action movies.

Osama and New Age Dependencies on Technology

As we all know Facebook and Twitter have been a huge part of our lives. We all saw the impact these sources of social media had on Egypt, Libya and Osama. Recently, I attended Fareed Zakaria’s speech on his book, The Post American World, in which he spoke highly on the overall influential impact these outlets for social media. He talked about their immense impact on our future as a nation and as mankind, in general. We have to look at exactly how far we have come with this technology. Not even thirty years ago, we were stuck in the seemingly ‘Dark Ages’ of the internet and could only view photos if they were on the Television or in person. This drastic change in technologies has created a whole new need for our generation- this need is the necessity for instant visual stimulation. As soon as Osama was killed, one of the main arguments made was the need to release the photo of ‘The Body’ (Buffy plug). We want to have an accurate visual depiction of exactly what went down. We see evidence of this in the Counter Strike post earlier and also in the fact that Osama’s death has sparked preemptive ideas on the movie.

In this article it states that “Filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow and producer-screenwriter Mark Boal -- whose gritty Iraq war-on-terror film "The Hurt Locker" won six 2009 Academy Awards, including for best picture and director and screenplay -- plan to start shooting the suspense action thriller this summer.” I read that article only days after his death and it says “a ton” of movies similar to this will be attempted. I mean how dependent are we on visuals today that dozens of movies are being put into the works only moments after the man’s gruesome death. The sources of the internet, Facebook, Twitter, iPhones, and every other technological gadget we all own have made us all yearn for better visual stimulation in day to day life. Have we become too dependent on technology for information? Have we become obsessed with visualizations of gruesome materials? Or is this just what we as a generation has come to expect in our lives?