Thursday, December 8, 2011

Movie Review: Hugo (Cabret)

Movie Review: Hugo Cabret

There's a tightrope a director must walk when producing a children's movie. The most finely crafted films for children will have storylines, dialogue, etc, to keep the parents who have taken their children along to see it.  On the other hand, because the children will more than likely wind up chasing each other down the isles of the theatre, there's this need to keep children entertained in a children's movie. Mind you that  this is an increasingly difficult thing to do. What used to keep children occupied, say, Star Wars in the 1980's, would bore kids to death now.  And I've seen it happen, trying to show children the first movie (episode 4, you know) of the series, and seeing that it rapidly lost their attention. Even kid's movies now have computer pixelation, fast moving scenes to keep the ADHD in all of us glued to the screen. Chase scenes, that sort of thing. The master film storyteller must intertwine the undertones of a fantastic story while keeping elements of flashy gimmicks to attract adults and children alike.

Hugo is a movie about children, made from a children's book, but for the most part,  The appropriate audience is adults. This was clearly not what Scorsese wanted, although as his specialty is in grown-up movies, it might be that he couldn't help himself.  He had to craft a magnificent movie into something that children would watch and be entertained by.  That, unfortunately, doesn't work very often. It's important when making a movie to know your audience. In this case, it was the child within the adult, not the adult or the child that would like the movie.  If you want to see movies like this, I would recommend Secondhand Lions , Cinema Paradiso, and Where the Wild Things Are.

Hugo is based on a book by Brian Selznick, who combines illustrations and words together to form a story. Often the setting and some actions are based on the drawings instead of written words.  The illustrations of Paris, establishing the setting of the clock system inside the main train depot, is expertly done without using words at all. I've never understood reading Terry Brook's Shanara series where he describes every setting, every tree in the forest, which becomes very time consuming. But Selznick dispenses with those pages of words and relies on pictures. This translates into the first minute or so of film where the imagery of crowds of people bustling in the station is brought to life with the 3D imagery. It reminds me of the painting by Seurat, Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte where the depth of people is created by the height of the characters in the painting.  The 3D mastery of the clock innards is also amazing, along with the trains and the steam coming from the stacks. Very well done.  Scorsese did not rely on cheap parlor tricks but instead enhanced the magic of the film by adding those effects. This was my first experience with 3D film, glasses and all. I really had to get used to it, and from what I saw of the trailers prior to, it is an effect wasted on useless computer animated films whose sole design is to get parents to pay $10 to see a film that would normally only cost them $5.

The big flaw in the movie, and Orson Scott Card details this in his review of the movie, is that Scorsese, like Shakespeare, uses comedic relief to attract the attention of the masses (children). Yet unlike the bawdy nurse in Romeo & Juliet, the slapstick French policeman, the flower woman, the fat bachelor who is always bitten by his crushes' dog, are more irritating than entertaining. And while the chase scenes are necessary, I suppose, they are laboriously done and meant only to entertain children who have probably forgotten the movie quite before that. I almost want to take the movie and edit out the parts that irritate me, much like most people want to do with Zar Zar Binks in episode 1 of Star Wars. I think deleting about 30 minutes of the film would make it much better to the audience it clearly is intended for.

As for the rest, the film rest squarely on the shoulders of Asa Butterfield, who is best known for his role in the TV series Merlin. He has just been cast as Ender in OSC's Ender's Game, and I agree with Card that he is an excellent actor to fill the role. If you look at the YA cover of the Card novel, it even looks like him, so it's a great fit.

The movie deals with Hugo Cabret's father and his discovery of an Automaton in the attic of the museum where he works. He and Hugo set out to fix it, but in the mean time, his father dies in a fire. The fixing of the machine drives Hugo forward throughout the movie, as if some finality would be resolved, some justice to be reached upon the completion of the machine. Yet, like so many other circumstances, it is the journey in which he repairs the machine that opens up the world to him.  Very well done movie in this respect.  I get the feeling that Card was ultimately disappointed in the movie because he had read the book beforehand. I have not as of yet, and it suits me to leave it there, to remember the fantasy of the movie rather than of the book. At least this once, the images on the screen are more appropriate than words and pictures in a book.

A final note. There is nothing better than watching a film in the theatre where you are the only one in the audience. I've done that four times, and thoroughly enjoyed it every time. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


I recently took a walk through my neighborhood, with my trusty walking stick in hand, just for exercise, and because moving keeps me from being cranky.  Anyway... I noticed that everyone was out mowing their lawns, or blowing leaves from the front yard, constantly maintaining the outside of the houses.  My main thought was why would anyone want to have something that large to take care of.  I'll admit it, I'm lazy.  I don't want leaves to rake and grass to mow and ivy to cut off the house side.  I've always said that I would be perfectly happy living in a small apartment, or an out of the way fishing shack.  I remember driving down 212 on the way to Milledgeville seeing a log cabin type house right next to Lake Sinclair, and I thought that would be the best place to live, out of the way of the world (well, it was next to the highway), and next to a lake.  Just give me a broadband line to the Internet and I'd be all set.  Or another "house" I remember seeing... I was jumping on the trampoline with a friend of mine in Milledgeville, off in the middle of nowhere, and next to the trampoline was a small trailer/house that couldn't have been more than a bed, a table, a kitchen and bathroom, all in the same room, it seems like.  Probably no bigger than my bedroom. I asked Marcus what that was, and he said that someone lived there.  I'd be happy there, as little as it was to take care of.

And all these houses, spread out everywhere in my neighborhood, with all that work that goes into it, wouldn't people be just as happy in apartments? Wouldn't Le Corbusier have loved to make the housing for an entire city, leaving the land to be used for leisure, education, preservation, natural living? Or people living in those places underground, with the same intents for the land.  I'm not an environmentalist, by any means, but I see the construction of new buildings and houses and Publix shopping centers (that in a later blog) and I get depressed.  All that wonderful forest land being toward down just so we can put up another box.  It's not worth it.  Why don't we let the forests be, and be a world that lives with the world that we have been put on.  I mean, Earth is our "Home," for the most universal meaning of the word.  It's where we live, and keeping the natural beauty of this planet is very important.  I mean, we could take everyone in my neighborhood, put them in a tall building, both above and below ground, give them wonderful apartment spaces for the cost of the houses they currently live in, and return that space to the trees and animals.  I mean a huge building, with fireproof protectors since I know that every apartment building in Atlanta seems to catch on fire.  And below ground would be the commercial section much like the Metro area in Washington DC, and away from the building would be a school and church, partnered with the outside world.  I know I've said these things in other blogs (click on the label for Le Corbusier at the end of this blog).

So what is "home?"  Why should the people want to own houses?  I know that Locke used (paraphrased) the idea of "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Property" (see,_liberty_and_the_pursuit_of_happiness for the evolution from Locke's statement to the Declaration of Independence), and the stacks of people living in shanties in London and in Europe was far different from the wide open spaces that the colonists found when they came here to America.  Here, owning a piece of that vast country became everyone's dream. To have a house, to have the freedom and privacy, it was engrained into the very core of living in the United States. And to live in a country where the government couldn't take that freedom or privacy away from its citizens, that's where "home" becomes very important.  Democracy allows for the houses to be built, for the dreams to be realized, and without this, the walls won't keep anyone, be it the mobs or tribal kings, the governments or the terrorists, the churches and the kings, from entering and taking at will.

(Look up Winslow Homer's paintings for ones like this at the right. He painted rustic American and Carribean scenes during the late 1800's when urbanization drove people into the cities and away from the small towns, but also at a time when Manifest Destiny drove people west throughout the Plains and into the West.  It reminds me of the Oklahoma Land Run in 1889, when settlers sought out land to build their own houses and farms.  I participated in a mock land run at my Elementary School in 1987 before I moved to Georgia.)

The American Dream.... for everyone to own a home.  Forgive me if I think people took that too literally.  We all had to own a home, no matter what it took, or what legislation had to be brought forward for the banks to give everyone a loan to own a home.  Obviously, that didn't work.  And now there are a bunch of empty houses all over the place while those that were living in them are now stacked up in apartments, if they're lucky, or living in the basements of their parents, or worse.  All because they thought that the absolute necessary thing for them to do was to own a house.  And I've heard my brother talking about houses he's been in, to answer false alarm calls on security systems, huge houses where all they have are a couch and a TV (flat screen, of course), and a bed in the bedroom because they can afford nothing else, other than the cable and the utilities and the mortgage payment which is ridiculously high.  And this is their dream.  And people "occupy" the banks in New York City and elsewhere demanding that the banks "give" them homes, which makes no sense, because such things have to be earned and owned.  A dream is not an entitlement, not a right, not something to be handed out to every soul on this earth.  The people who designed the papers by which we govern this country gave us the right to pursue that dream, not necessarily that we would find it.  Property is not the goal to that dream, just part of it, because the true dream is that of freedom.  And that is something that a house cannot give you, not by a long shot.  In fact, a lot of people will find that owning a house is the very opposite, a jail, a nightmare, not something that gives freedom. 

Freedom transforms the inside of the mind, breaks down the walls that keep us locked into ourselves.  Owning a house, being able to do whatever you want inside that house, that is truly freedom, I guess.  But if doing so causes more trouble than it's worth, is it truly freedom?  To me, give me a one room shack someplace and leave me to my own devices, and I'll be free.  Give me a corner of this world, and, given a good book and the Internet as my playground, I shall be more at peace with my surroundings than those who live in mansions.  And further, give me the freedom to do what I wish in that space, to come and go as necessary, without question or critique, and it will be bliss.  For the American Dream, I think, is not the actual property that you own, but the state of mind that you are in when there. 

A friend of mine asked me what "Home" is.  What was "home" to me.  It took me no time at all to answer that home was in my apartment in Milledgeville, for the 6 months I lived there.  That was a time when I had total freedom to do whatever I wanted.  I worked at the grocery store, drove to the park and took walks around the lake, went to Lake Sinclair and swam, stayed up at night watching TV and made it ice cold in the summer and dry and warm in the winter.  I washed my dishes, cleaned my house, did my laundry, all the things I was supposed to do.  My apartment was always clean, and I had pride in it.  Because it was mine.  Not that I owned it, but that I could truly be myself, without any masks or restrictions.  "Home" is a state of mind. 

I would also say that home is where you are most comfortable.  I would say that, for a time, Borders was home, during the time that Jeremiah was our GM (and I know people will disagree with me on that), but I felt as if I could be myself almost completely there, and I was happy working like a well oiled machine.  You know that feeling when you watch Star Trek: TNG when everyone is clicking, and you feel that it would be a perfect working environment?  That's what I felt like there.  There were no parts of the machine that were off, rusting away.  That is Home.  It's the place you go to where you don't want to be anyplace else,  and would be content to be there for all eternity.  Home is as close to Heaven on Earth as you can get.  But the one thing I learned from all the places I've been, is that Home is a transient state.  Home can never stay in one place for very long.  After 6 months, I had to move out of my apartment.  After 6 months, Jeremiah moved back to Maine and was replaced with the bankruptcy of the company and other managers that didn't work out as well. 

Home is, for some people, a place where there are other people.  As Billy Joel sang, "Wherever we're together, that's my home." And for others, like me, I'm perfectly at home when I'm alone.  Freedom comes in solitude, for there is no society or government to define the rules, only those

that reside in the mind.  Self-regulation becomes that which defines walls.  My grandmother always says that "Home is where, when you go there, they have to take you in."  In a land of solitude, there is no one to keep you out. Would that I be Thoreau sometime in my life, and live in a cabin where I wouldn't have to see anyone for days, even as my mind wanders about the universe.  I will not deny that people need each other, and I certainly do need the people in my life, those at work or here on the Internet, but for true "Home-ness," for true freedom, that is done alone.  Or, I guess, with someone that you love.  Yes.  I think Billy Joel talked about that in his song.  Because Love goes with Home in a very personal way.  A home is shared by two when they can be together and still be free, when the walls are knocked down between the two.  The threshold becomes crossed then, and two homes become one, to mix some cliches. 

So that is what Home is.  It's Freedom.  It's a state of mind.  It's being alone and unencumbered by the world.  It's finding someone to share that freedom with you, without prejudgements or opinions, and living, beside the fire and in front of the screen, and being content.  Yes, home is a place where you can be content, and, as fleeting as that is, hopefully, everyone can find a place they call home, for it will sustain them through all their journeys. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Economy and My Sleeping Shorts

I'm gonna talk about my shorts.  Now, before you all run away screaming, there's actually a point to this.  So, I took my sleeping shorts out of the dryer and realized that the elastic was getting all frayed and raggedy.  They're actually cotton shorts I got from Wal-Mart in Milledgeville, probably around 1995, Pro-Spirit brand, 100% cotton.  But since they're 16 years old, and I haven't stayed the same weight all those years, they've gotten worn out (trust me, there's a reason to all this).  So I decided to go to the local Wal-Mart and find a new pair of shorts just like the ones I have. 

Problem. There isn't any.  Things have changed since 1995.  Briefly:

  • All except one brand only sells athletic shorts in Polyester or some form of microfiber.  I want cotton! The one I found, which was the right fabric...
  • Was also way too long.  Fashion has changed since the 1990's, and changed a bunch since the 80's.  I don't even know why they call them shorts any more.  If I wore those they'd go down well past my knees, I might as well wear sweatpants.  
Now, before you all get an image of me wearing shorts in public, let me assure you, these are simply for lounging around the house in.  Maybe you'd be lucky enough to see me mowing the lawn in them (which would never happen, since I don't, as a rule, "mow the lawn."
  • It's also October 15th, and most stores have stopped selling shorts except for those long, polyester basketball shorts that are silly looking.  Go back and look at NBA games from the late 1980's.  They didn't have any problem wearing shorter shorts to play hoops.  And these were the masters of the game.  Michael Jordan, Larry Byrd....etc..., and if they are proud enough of their legs to show them off on TV to millions of people, then there must not be much wrong with them.  But that gets to the next section of this blog.
So I went to Goodwill, and they've put up their shorts for the season.  I thought, maybe a sporting good store would have some good, comfortable, shorter shorts.  Running shorts or something.  Even getting past the fabric, I had another problem...
  • I'm fat. They don't sell running shorts (ones that are created to not be fashionable) in a 46 waist.  It doesn't exist in a mainstream clothing store.
Tried everywhere in Conyers, and found nothing but long, annoying polyester shorts that would be uncomfortable for me to wear. So I went online and found what I was looking for.  Hanes carries Lounge shorts (Kohl's did too, long ago), that would work.  But they are carried during the summer, so I'll wait till Springtime to find them.  Online they are available, but expensive ($20.00 for one pair, they're 2-packs at Wallyworld. 

I also found that people in Europe are far less affected by fashion and capitalism (more on that in a minute) than we are, and most sports dictate a soccer (futbol) style short to play in.  Great, but it's still Adidas style polyester.  But Rugby, in the old world, uses 100% cotton shorts that are of the right length.  They even have pockets!!  So that's what I've decided to get, once I get money and a job and stuff.  Yes, I just wrote a whole blog on my shorts.  Live with it.  And there's a reason for it too.  Because I found some interesting things while looking in the clothing stores that relate to the economy, to fashion, and to the whole state of things.

I was in Belk's, looking for a shirt to do interviews in, one that I can wear I tie with, and I noticed that there were a ton of short-sleeved dress shirts in all different colors.  I've ranted many times about the insane fashion of wearing long sleeve shirts in the middle of summer in Georgia. So now they've gotten fashionable again.  Sigh... and now I don't need them cause I don't have a job, or money.  But I wondered, what would make short sleeved shirts now in vogue?  And short women's shorts (I don't get that, either, well, I do, but that's another article I've probably already written), and the sudden popularity of "skinnyjeans."  Okay, so guys can wear skinnyjeans that leave nothing to the imagination, but shorts must be long and baggy?  Again, another blog).  It has to do, I think, with the amount of material it takes to make each item of clothing.

The recession has made every company find ways to cut costs, from the incredible shrinking ice cream container to the cheapening of fabric around the letter jackets I see at the Heritage High School football games.  I mean, seriously, it's just imitation leather now.  The trick for the fashion industry is to save money any way they can, from lessening the metal accessories on high-end jeans to reducing the length of sleeves.  If companies can convince the working man that short sleeve shirts are more fashionable (by using intriguing color combinations with matching ties), and then charge them the same, they are saving money in the long run.  My mom watches HSN quite a bit, and all they have are capri pants now, not the full length ones, because they save money by shortening the pant's length. 

If you go to Kohl's today, you'll find a considerable lack of big, baggy jeans.  They aren't financially viable anymore. You can still get them at Hot Topics, for a ton of money. And now you're thinking, why doesn't this apply to all the long shorts they still make by the ton? Well, the key to saving money on less fabric is to convince the public that the change of fashion is all the rave.  For guys, for long basketball shorts, they have to reverse the course that they took in the 1990's.  To entice guys to buy shorts-that-weren't-short, they had to put a social stigma on the previous length.  Namely, that if you liked short shorts, you had to be gay.  And Richard Simmons didn't help that out at all.  When the NBA went to longer shorts, and the stigma of being gay if you wore short shorts stuck, they had it made.  Of course, if you look at Pride parades and the like in the various cities, you'll see that the stereotype is partially true. So, to save money on shorts, the textile industry is going to have to persuade everyone that wearing short shorts is perfectly acceptable for all sexualities, genders, and cultures.  This, as you know, will not work.

I, myself, don't care about fashion.  I wore velcro shoes till I was in High School.  I hate how longer shorts hit the back of my knees when I walk.  I hate the feel of those mesh polyester shorts that never keep you cool, and for sleeping, polyester does not work.  So I've got to find short, cotton, shorts to lounge around in.  You may now return to washing your eyes out with soap.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Language of Sex, Part II : Sex and Music

When we talk about communication as it relates to sex, perhaps none is so obvious, nor understated, as the modern use of music in today's world to promote sexual feeling and the social revolutions that surround it.  I return once more to Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind, and there find a treasure trail of information, opinion, insight, into the idea of music as an instrument to communicate sexual ideas, the feelings of pleasure, and on a directly related note, the siren call of the youth in America to use their massive spending power to satisfy that need for pleasure. There is no real way to work with Bloom's essay on Music except to paste it in almost its entirety, from pages 73-81. The first section of the essay shows the importance of music in the classical world, from the position that Plato gave it, to the treatment it received in the Renaissance. The important part of this is the relationship of music to the polar opposite symbols of reason and passion, Apollo and Dionysus. The pendulum, as I have talked about previously, has swung in both directions, from the Classical works of Bach, orderly, with predictability and stately timbre, to the more chaotic measures of Beethoven. But the assumption today is that passion and chaos sells, that the emotions that ride on each drum beat of Katy Perry's "Firework" with all the sexual imagery that that entails, is as appropriate for those listening to Kidz Bop as college age students making out in the dorm rooms.

Bloom's writing is sometimes complex, and I feel sometimes that in one sentence, I completely agree, while in others, I completely disagree. As Bloom's entire work is certainly polarizing, there is rational thought in all of it, While doing research for this blog, I found that the comments surrounding his ideas go from total agreement (see Mark Steyn's article written in 2007, 20 years after Bloom's book was published, to personal attacks that question the validity of his statements based on his Jewish roots or his sexuality. I have blockquoted Bloom's writings, while those with no indention are mine. Any formatting inside the blockquotes are also mine, if applicable.

This is the significance of rock music. I do not suggest that it has any high intellectual sources. But it has risen to its current heights in the education of the young on the ashes of classical music, and in an atmosphere in which there is no intellectual resistance to attempts to tap the rawest passions.

 See, that's what I was talking about... I have no problem with dipping into "raw passions" when it comes to music, or emotion, or whatever.  Just that there are times that music is meant to be experienced on a level where raw passions are brought out, and others, when economists and salesmen use music and it's effects to manipulate an emotional response, usually to purchase something.  And this, too, is not a problem.  That is what capitalism is supposed to do.  And as everyone knows, "Sex sells." Thus, music is used to this effect.

Modern-day rationalists, such as economists, are indifferent to it and what it represents. The irrationalists are all for it. There is no need to fear that "the blond beasts" are going to come forth from the bland souls of our adolescents. But rock music has one appeal only, a barbaric appeal, to sexual desire-not love, not eros, but sexual desire undeveloped and untutored. It acknowledges the first emanations of children's emerging sensuality and addresses them seriously, eliciting them and legitimating them, not as little sprouts that must be carefully tended in order to grow into gorgeous flowers, but as the real thing. Rock gives children, on a silver platter, with all the industry, everything their parents always used to tell them they had to wait for until they grew up and would understand later.

I recall a meeting that my mom once attended with the Mustang Valley Elementary PTA, in which they exposed parents to the lyrics in 80's rock songs. One I remember my mom telling me about was "Bad Boys," you know, the one that they play on Cops... They said it promoted criminality in the listeners.

I read this passage and am reminded of the scene in Brave New World where the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning showed a group of students a garden where children were playing, naked, in various activities, including commercial-driven games and erotic experimentation.  In BNW the idea of sex was a government-approved activity.  Orgies took the place of religious rituals, merely the worship of one's own body. Specifically, the orgy aspect made it a worship of the body of the community, of society as a whole, a pleasure-driven life where the government gave happiness and controlled its citizens that way.  In today's world, it is obviously not the government doing this, but rather the stronger influence of consumerism, of spending money for pleasure, of spending credit for pleasure, all to the benefit of corporate entities.  A better way of life than government controlled citizens (a la 1984) because we do it of our own accord.

If we think of music as being a medium in which we communicate, instead of an art form, then we must look at the lyrics as poetry, as essays, as messages that are being sent to today's children.  Music as a mode of communication is very overlooked in today's visual world.  We criticize the sex and violence in television programs, even in music videos (when they had such things), but dealing with music, I think we often overlook it.  I know I do, mostly because I don't understand it.  I do wonder if words that are said, even when you don't consciously understand them, are interpreted and processed by the brain. Subconsciously, if you will.  Anyway, because of the absolute inundation of music into our lives today, from grocery store Musak to Mp3 files on ipods and ipads and iphones, there is probably very few minutes that go by in silence. I recall the times at Borders when the overhead CD's ended, and, as much as we might not have liked the music, the thought of being in the store without it made us cringe.  Better to have music playing then to deal with our own thoughts.  But I digress again...

Neil Postman, in The Disappearance of Childhood looked at the sheer volume of information that children receive each day and have to process and deal with.  In earlier times, that amount of data was limited, as parents were able to restrict the amount of stimuli children were allowed to take in.  Television had only 3 or 4 channels, and was kept in the living room under observation of the parents.  Or even look before that, before radio and television, only through books were children allowed to have information given to them, usually in the form of children's books or the Bible. In this, parents were able to shelter children from the real world, and the innocence of those children was kept in tact.  Children were allowed to be just that.  And think that, when Postman wrote his book, it was the 1980's, before the Internet and the Mp3 revolution, before Youtube and digital cameras and all the things that allow instantaneous consumption of music, video, news, print, almost anything a child does (or does not) want to consume and process. Pornography is easily available via the internet, for free, sometimes without the child purposefully looking for it.  Music can be easily played via Pandora or Spotify, or Youtube, and the language and messages can be whatever the singer wants, without parental restrictions on what is learned.  A child, as long as they can understand the ideas behind the words used, can process as much information as a parent can.  In terms of data, there is no childhood anymore, past the ability to listen and understand.  Kids don't even have to read anymore to get information, they simply listen and watch. 

Young people know that rock has the beat of sexual intercourse. That is why Ravel's Bolero is the one piece of classical music that is commonly known and liked by them. In alliance with some real art and a lot of pseudo-art, an enormous industry cultivates the taste for the orgiastic state of feeling connected with sex, providing a constant flood of fresh material for voracious appetites. Never was there an art form directed so exclusively to children.

Ministering to and according with the arousing and cathartic music, the lyrics celebrate puppy love as well as polymorphous attractions, and fortify them against traditional ridicule and shame. The words implicitly and explicitly describe bodily acts that satisfy sexual desire and treat them as its only natural and routine culmination for children who do not yet have the slightest imagination of love, marriage or family. This has a much more powerful effect than does pornography on youngsters, who have no need to watch others do grossly what they can so easily do themselves. Voyeurism is for old perverts; active sexual relations are for the young. All they need is encouragement.

I found this last paragraph very interesting, as there are so many filter companies that block porn sites from children finding them.  But outside of just curiosity, porn in a visual medium is only accessed by people who aren't able to have sex themselves.  This would include those who are outside cultural aesthetic norms (i.e. ugly people), or those who are forbidden from sexual activities by religious beliefs, etc...  So for teenagers, for example, the thought of watching two adults having sex might actually be revolting.  Now, I'm sure a large part of teenagers (males, at least, I know nothing of the female population), have looked at porn online, but perhaps what makes this stimulating is the idea that it is forbidden by parents, or that it is religiously taboo.  This makes it even more influential.

Now, for that first sentence above. "Rock has the beat of sexual intercourse."  Imagine the percussion of thighs pounding together, or breasts bobbing up and down, of regular heavy breathing, of moans of "yes" and the like... It becomes the same tempo of most rock songs.  My stepdad commented whenever there were teenagers dancing on television, for instance, that they were practicing their "sexual moves." He was very correct on this, whether it is consciously done or not.

We could write a book looking at the lyrics of even the most innocent pop songs, but since I've referenced Kidz Bop 19 on here already, let's take their version of "Dynomite." These are songs deemed safe for children.  The lyrics are the same from the original version sung by Taio Cruz:

We gonna rock this club
We gonna go all night
We gonna light this up
Like it's dynamite.

Note the spelling and whatnot in the lyrics of the Youtube version, but that's another blog.

Even in this chorus, music and dance is equated with sex.  It takes very little imagination to see how most pop songs, even written for children, are filled with sexual innuendos.  Now, that is not to say that a 6 year old is going to understand that.  A 13 year old certainly would, even if it is subconsciously.  For another example, try Aaron Carter's "Bounce," off his second album.

The inevitable corollary of such sexual interest is rebellion against the parental authority that represses it. Selfishness thus becomes indignation and then transforms itself into morality. The sexual revolution must overthrow all the forces of domination, the enemies of nature and happiness. From love comes hate, masquerading as social reform. A worldview is balanced on the sexual fulcrum. What were once unconscious or half-conscious childish resentments become the new Scripture. And then comes the longing for the classless, prejudice-free, conflictless, universal society that necessarily results from liberated consciousness-"We Are the World," a pubescent version of Alle Menschen werden Brueder, the fulfillment of which has been inhibited by the political equivalents of Mom and Dad. These are the three great lyrical themes: sex, hate and a smarmy, hypocritical version of brotherly love. Such polluted sources issue in a muddy stream where only monsters can swim. A glance at the videos that project images on the wall of Plato's cave since MTV took it over suffices to prove this. Hitler's image recurs frequently enough in exciting contexts to give one pause. Nothing noble, sublime, profound, delicate, tasteful or even decent can find a place in such tableaux. There is room only for the intense, changing, crude and immediate, which Tocqueville warned us would be the character of democratic art, combined with a pervasiveness, importance and content beyond Tocqueville's wildest imagination. [Bold emphasis mine]

In my book, I have the bold sentence underline (among others), with the songs "Jeremy" and "Imitation of Life" written outside it.  "Jeremy" is a song that speaks more toward the violence in today's society, but it's applicable to the idea of Plato's cave allegory.  If only Pearl Jam knew how prophetic that video was.  "Imitation of Life," by R.E.M. also deals with Plato's cave, as we are looking at a snap shot of life, moving back and forth, as if on that cave wall.  Although they don't deal with sex and music, I'll put them here, too.


One other thought about this paragraph. Could the 1960's, the protests against the Vietnam War, Woodstock, the whole thing, have been able without the music stimuli that children were able to absorb during that era?  One can argue that it originated from the radios in cars, where kids were able to hear the music that their parents wouldn't let them listen to at home.  Course, this goes back to the beginnings of Rock N' Roll.  Freedom, which comes from the resistance of parental guidance, which transforms into indignation, and into a movement of sometimes vague destinations.  In the end, a movement with numbers such as those in the 1960's, or those, similarly, near Wall Street today, are ultimately helping the corporate and government structures they are fighting against.

 Picture a thirteen-year-old boy sitting in the living room of his family home doing his math assignment while wearing his Walkman headphones or watching MTV. He enjoys the liberties hard won over centuries by the alliance of philosophic genius and political heroism, consecrated by the blood of martyrs; he is provided with comfort and leisure by the most productive economy ever known to mankind; science has penetrated the secrets of nature in order to provide him with the marvelous, lifelike electronic sound and image reproduction he is enjoying. And in what does progress culminate? A pubescent child whose body throbs with orgasmic rhythms; whose feelings are made articulate in hymns to the joys of onanism or the killing of parents; whose ambition is to win fame and wealth in imitating the drag-queen who makes the music. In short, life is made into a nonstop, commercially prepackaged masturbational fantasy.


This description may seem exaggerated, but only because some would prefer to regard it as such. The continuing exposure to rock music is a reality, not one confined to a particular class or type of child. One need only ask first-year university students what music they listen to, how much of it and what it means to them, in order to discover that the phenomenon is universal in America, that it begins in adolescence or a bit before and continues through the college years. It is the youth culture and, as I have so often insisted, there is now no other countervailing nourishment for the spirit. Some of this culture's power comes from the fact that it is so loud. It makes conversation impossible, so that much of friendship must be without the shared speech that Aristotle asserts is the essence of friendship and the only true common ground. With rock, illusions of shared feelings, bodily contact and grunted formulas, which are supposed to contain so much meaning beyond speech, are the basis of association. None of this contradicts going about the business of life, attending classes and doing the assignments for them. But the meaningful inner life is with the music.

I think if I were to get a medical degree, the direction I would go in would be to provide hearing aide devices to future 60 year olds.  How many times have I seen kids walking behind their parents with either their faces stuck inside a Nintendo DS or with earplugs stuck in their ears, connected to an ipod or other such devices.  There is no communication anymore between parents and their children, and one could probably say the same between peers and even friends.  Why bother when your ears are stuffed with rock music? I loved it when customer came up, asked me for a book, with the earplugs still inserted, as if they were listening to their music and expected me just to take them to their book.  And without communication, where is the bonding going to occur? Where are the feelings of love or passion going to grow from, but from the rhythms of music going through their brains? Relationships become only about the percussive messages, and not about actual communication.  It's as if people talked to each other as Bumblebee did in the recent Transformers movies.  Only though radio songs and messages.  A relationship based solely on music, and not through actual communication, is bound to fail, as the people watching the images in the cave can never be friends as they are too busy watching the wall to notice each other.

This phenomenon is both astounding and indigestible, and is hardly noticed, routine and habitual. But it is of historic proportions that a society's best young and their best energies should be so occupied. People of future civilizations will wonder at this and find it as incomprehensible as we do the caste system, witch-burning, harems, cannibalism and gladiatorial combats. It may well be that a society's greatest madness seems normal to itself.

 To re-insert the scene from the Monkee's movie Head: "Pleasure, the inevitable by-product of our civilization (cut scene of a butcher pounding meat)...A new world, whose only preoccupation will be, how to amuse itself. The tragedy of your time, my young friends, is that you may get exactly what you want."

The child I described has parents who have sacrificed to provide him with a good life and who have a great stake in his future happiness. They cannot believe that the musical vocation will contribute very much to that happiness. But there is nothing they can do about it. The family spiritual void has left the field open to rock music, and they cannot possibly forbid their children to listen-to it. It is everywhere; all children listen to it; forbidding it would simply cause them to lose their children's affection and obedience.

This is the psychological result of allowing children to have all the luxuries that the parents never got as they grew up during the Great Depression.  This also prevents the parents from restricting the amount of information that comes to the child, and therefore, opens up children's minds to sex, drugs... see below...Bloom argues that the rise of psychology in the 20th century, especially of Freud, and the philosophy of Nietzche, has eradicated much of the spiritual beliefs being taught to children, especially now.  The idea of Cultural Relativism, which says that very little is wrong or right in this world, which is everywhere in television episodes (which is one reason why I won't watch the new Transformer animated series on television, they've taken the moral absolutes out of everyone.), makes it so that what music children listen to is okay with the parents because they listened to the same as children, and because they can't define any message short of worshiping Satan as evil or wrong.  Parents tend to underestimate the power of music in their children's lives. 

When they turn on the television, they will see President Reagan warmly grasping the daintily proffered gloved hand of Michael Jackson and praising him enthusiastically. Better to set the faculty of denial in motion-avoid noticing what the words say, assume the kid will get over it. If he has early sex, that won't get in the way of his having stable relationships later. His drug use will certainly stop at pot. School is providing real values. And popular historicism provides the final salvation: there are new life-styles for new situations, and the older generation is there not to impose its values but to help the younger one to find its own. TV, which compared to music plays a comparatively small role in the formation of young people's character and taste, is a consensus monster-the Right monitors its content for sex, the Left for violence, and many other interested sects for many other things. But the music has hardly been touched, and what efforts have been made are both ineffectual and misguided about the nature and extent of the problem.

The result is nothing less than parents' loss of control over their children's moral education at a time when no one else is seriously concerned with it. This has been achieved by an alliance between the strange young males who have the gift of divining the mob's emergent wishes - our versions of Thrasymachus, Socrates' rhetorical adversary - and the record-company executives, the new robber barons, who mine gold out of rock. They discovered a few years back that children are one of the few groups in the country with considerable disposable income, in the form of allowances. Their parents spend all they have providing for the kids. Appealing to them over their parents' heads, creating a world of delight or them, constitutes one of the richest markets in the postwar world. The rock business is perfect capitalism, supplying to demand and helping to create it. It has all the moral dignity of drug trafficking, but it was so totally new and unexpected that nobody thought to control it, and now it is too late. Progress may be made against cigarette smoking because our absence of standards or our relativism does not extend to matters of bodily health. In all other things the market determines the value. (Yoko Ono is among America's small group of billionaires, along with oil and computer magnates, her late husband having produced and sold a commodity of worth comparable to theirs.) Rock is very big business, bigger than the movies, bigger than professional sports, bigger than television, and this accounts for much of the respectability of the music business. It is difficult to adjust our vision to the changes in the economy and to see what is really important. McDonald's now has more employees than U.S. Steel, and likewise the purveyors of junk food for the soul have supplanted what still seem to be more basic callings.
 This change has been happening for some time. In the late fifties, De Caulle gave Brigitte Bardot one of France's highest honors. I could not understand this, but it turned out that she, along with Peugeot, was France's biggest export item. 

Just as Nixon met with Elvis, or JFK with Marilyn Monroe.  The government knows that Hollywood is a giant supplier of information to the youth of the country, you know, the ones with the highest amount of disposable income, and besides capitalism, that money can also go towards political activism.  Just recently Lady GaGa, whose male counterparts will be discussed later, went to meet President Obama.  These marriages of music and politics are measured tactics to keep the movements of musical social reform in check, allying themselves with the current administration.  That marriage, of politics and entertainment, will become more and more connected, with the result of Brave New World, a government who controls its citizens with pleasure, being the end result.  Perhaps we should have kept the Constitution as "the pursuit of property," and not of "happiness," as, in my opinion, our happiness is not what the government should be dealing with, but rather our safety.  We shall, as Postman says, amuse ourselves to death, or even worse, to slavery. 

As Western nations became more prosperous, leisure, which had been put off for several centuries in favor of the pursuit of property, the means to leisure, finally began to be of primary concern. But, in the meantime, any notion of the serious life of leisure, as well as men's taste and capacity to live it, had disappeared. Leisure became entertainment. The end for which they had labored for so long has turned out to be amusement, a justified conclusion if the means justify the ends. The music business is peculiar only in that it caters almost exclusively to children, treating legally and naturally imperfect human beings as though they were ready to enjoy the final or complete satisfaction. It perhaps thus reveals the nature of all our entertainment and our loss of a clear view of what adulthood or maturity is, and our incapacity to conceive ends. The emptiness of values results in the acceptance of the natural facts as the ends. In this case infantile sexuality is the end, and 1 suspect that, in the absence of other ends, many adults have come to agree that it is.

It is interesting to note that the Left, which prides itself on its critical approach to"late capitalism" and is unrelenting and unsparing in its analysis of our other cultural phenomena, has in general given rock music a free ride. Abstracting from the capitalist element in which it flourishes, they regard it as a people's art, coming from beneath the bourgeoisie's layers of cultural repression. Its antinomianism and its longing for a world without constraint might seem to be the clarion of the proletarian revolution, and Marxists certainly do see that rock music dissolves the beliefs and morals necessary for liberal society and would approve of it for that alone. But the harmony between the young intellectual Left and rock is probably profounder than that. Herbert Marcuse appealed to university students in the sixties with a combination of Marx and Freud. In Eros and Civilization and One Dimensional Man he promised that the overcoming of capitalism and its false consciousness will result in a society where the greatest satisfactions are sexual, of a sort that the bourgeois moralist Freud called polymorphous and infantile. Rock music touches the same chord in the young. Free sexual expression, anarchism, mining the irrational unconscious and giving it free rein are what they have common.//

This strong stimulant, which Nietzsche called Nihiline, was for a very long time, almost fifteen years, epitomized in a single figure, Mick Jagger.

Or, for today's world, Prince, Michael Jackson, Boy George, David Bowie, Marilyn Manson, Adam Lambert, even Justin Bieber, for the younger crowd.

A shrewd, middle-class boy, he played the possessed lower-class demon and teen-aged satyr up until he was forty, with one eye on the mobs of children of both sexes whom he stimulated to a sensual frenzy and the other eye winking at the unerotic, commercially motivated adults who handled the money. In his act he was male and female, heterosexual and homosexual; unencumbered by modesty, he could enter everyone's dreams, promising to do everything with everyone; and, above all, he legitimated drugs, which were the real thrill that parents and policemen inspired to deny his youthful audience. He was beyond the law, moral and political, and thumbed his nose at it. Along with all this, there were nasty little appeals to the suppressed inclinations toward sexism, racism and violence, indulgence in which is not now publicly respectable. Nevertheless, he managed not to appear to contradict the rock ideal of a universal classless society founded on love, with the distinction between brotherly and bodily blurred. He was the hero and the model for countless young persons in universities, as well as elsewhere. I discovered that students who boasted of having no heroes secretly had a passion to be like Mick Jagger, to live his life, have his fame. They were ashamed to admit this in a university, although I am not certain that the reason has anything to do with a higher standard of taste. It is probably that they are not supposed to have heroes. Rock music itself and talking about it with infinite seriousness are perfectly respectable. It has proved to be the ultimate leveler of intellectual snobbism. But it is not respectable to think of it as providing weak and ordinary persons with a fashionable behavior, the imitation of which will make others esteem them and boost their own self-esteem. Unaware and unwillingly, however, Mick Jagger played the role in their lives that Napoleon played in the lives of ordinary young Frenchmen throughout the nineteenth century. Everyone else was so boring and unable to charm youthful passions. Jagger caught on.

In the last couple of years, Jagger has begun to fade. Whether Michael Jackson, Prince or Boy George can take his place is uncertain. They are even weirder than he is, and one wonders what new strata of taste they have discovered. Although each differs from the others, the essential character of musical entertainment is not changing. There is only a constant search for variations on the theme. And this gutter phenomenon is apparently the fulfillment of the promise made by so much psychology and literature that our weak and exhausted Western civilization would find refreshment in the true source, the unconscious, which appeared to the late romantic imagination to be identical to Africa, the dark and unexplored continent. Now all has been explored; light has been cast everywhere; the unconscious has been made conscious, the repressed expressed. And what have we found? Not creative devils, but show business glitz. Mick Jagger tarting it up on the stage is all that we brought back from the voyage to the underworld.

I absolutely love the comparison here at the end to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.  The void that modern philosophy has left in the minds of the intelligent, and is now being filled, even in the minds of the masses, with popular culture and music, is much like the void in the heart of Africa, in the heart of the Congo.  The problem is, instead of finding one's self, when we set out from the riverbanks and head into the unknown, we find other philosophies trying to get our attention.  We find the metaphysical realm calling from the New Age rack, where the Law of Attraction reigns supreme.  We find this need to enter the primordial stages of our Sub-consciousness, much as in the movie (and book) Altered States, where chemicals and stages of isolation were used to hallucinate the main character into some form of primitive man.  But the clear winner is the world of popular culture, which clouds the void with suspension of belief of anything, except for that "We are the World" feeling that gets people to donate money. It provides for the hours of "entertainment" to be on in the background, in the form of TMZ or any of the various "reality" television programing. It brings artificial pleasure to the minds of everyone who would do anything except face the void that is in their own lives.  We have found fame to be the new god, and the more outrageous and spectacular the stunt, the more that fame grows.

Fame is what brings us to riot after the basketball championship games, to make out in the middle of the Vancouver riots.  To be noticed, to make Karaoke videos of ourselves and put them on Youtube, for all the world to see. The visual and audio world of communication collides, and it makes us feel happy.  "Pleasure, the inevitable by-product," as the tour director said.

Sex is but one avenue which the producers of entertainment, including music, uses to make us happy, to convince us to buy stuff, to use all that disposable capital. Dan Ariely, in his book Predictably Irrational , studied a group of college students and the decisions they make while in an aroused state.  He found that many of the students would make very different decisions while watching a porn tape than they otherwise would have.  If a state of arousal is all that consumers need to change their decisions, then using the subconscious rhythms of music to influence children without actually showing them porn (although a shirtless Taylor Lautner will work just as well), is a great idea to get money from today's youth.

I really do recommend Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind, at least to those who are of conservative mindset, as many of the things he talks about are very relevant to today's education system.  And while the second half of the book is like climbing up a mountain with your teeth, it does reveal how many of the beliefs of today's world come out of the German philosophers from the 1800's.  I doubt I will do any more actual blogs coming from this book, as it's been a while since I read it, but I wanted to finish this blog before I moved on to other, heavier projects. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Strength in America

This weekend, as I sit at home, unemployed, and watch football, a thought comes to me, something that I heard Rush Limbaugh say a week or so ago.  When times are tough, when disaster strikes and the courage of people is tested, it is sports, specifically Football, that we turn to as a method of escape.  When Brett Farve lost his father suddenly, he turned to his Green Bay team and produced what, to me, was the greatest individual performance I have ever seen on that field.  Michael Jordan did the same thing when he was with the Bulls.  And I think there's something more to it than just escape, but first I'll include Rush's transcript of that program:
 RL: Sunday Night Football had their best opening night ratings-wise in 15 years, a series high for Sunday Night Football last night. // Thursday night, the opener was near record highs for NBC on the season opener of the NFL. Tonight the Republicans have a debate up against Monday Night Football, and the game they are going up against is the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins. Now, I'm gonna tell you, there's a reason why these numbers for football are so high. Look, Obama clearly has people hungering for an escape. But television's on every night. And television's not drawing these kinds of numbers every night. But the National Football League is, and I think, A, it's new, it's not a rerun, it's drama, it's unscripted, it's genuine reality TV. Everything on television's fake and fraud and phony now. Even reality TV is scripted.

But sports, whether it be football or baseball, it's unknown, it's drama, and the only people that can screw it up are the announce crews. But in the case of football, what is the thing about football? It is power. It is strength. I believe that watching football is nostalgic for people. I believe that it helps people remember what America is. It helps people remember what America was. There's nothing different about football this year than from last year and in previous years. We have had some rule changes, the number of superstars spread out the league and so forth. I think there's a mad desire to escape from what this country has become, and the horror each and every day of having to live through whatever policy or plan President Obama has for people. There is a genuine unsettledness or worse, and sports has always been an escape, but never more so than now, and in the case of football, power, strength and a nostalgic reminder of what the country is.

 We've lost what was strong in this country.  We see glimpses of it, every now and again, when Captain Scully lands his plane in the Hudson River, or when Seal Team Six takes out Bin Laden deep into Pakistan.  There are times when we are reminded of the things that makes America such a fantastic place to live in.  But I don't think its necessarily heroes that bring us strength.  I mentioned an advertisement a while back,


from Jeep, that I immediately loved, because it had to do with the strength of American workers, building, making. Artists have sculpted that strength, poets have written about it, authors have written words that soak the skin with sweat and desire to see the glowing beam of steel out of the fire and watch it molded into something that we will use. And while there have been magnificent works of mankind made all throughout time and countries, only here in America should those things me made by all of us, with our dreams made real by our drive to succeed. There should be no government to regulate who realizes our dreams, and who must wait in line for meager livings. And yet, there are people who sit atop the skyscrapers which have been constructed from our minds, and they make millions of dollars simply by flicking a switch on a computer, guaranteeing loans that were never there, driving the lot of us bankrupt, whose vices are greed without self-regulation. Or there are people who, instead of using their time and effort into making this country better, would protest outside of buildings in an action that will clearly make no difference other than give the media something to spread throughout the world at how unstable America is. Let the masses linger in the streets and undo the very thing that they are protesting for. Let them go back to their homes, and educate themselves, through colleges and trade centers, to produce something, to make America what it was once so long ago. Walt Whitman:

The butcher-boy puts off his killing-clothes, or sharpens his knife at the stall in the
I loiter enjoying his repartee and his shuffle and breakdown.
Blacksmiths with grimed and hairy chests environ the anvil,
Each has his main-sledge . . . . they are all out . . . . there is a great heat in the fire.

From the cinder-strewed threshold I follow their movements,
The lithe sheer of their waists plays even with their massive arms,
Overhand the hammers roll—overhand so slow—overhand so sure,
They do not hasten, each man hits in his place.

The negro holds firmly the reins of his four horses . . . . the block swags underneath
on its tied-over chain,
The negro that drives the huge dray of the stoneyard . . . . steady and tall he stands
poised on one leg on the stringpiece,
His blue shirt exposes his ample neck and breast and loosens over his hipband,
His glance is calm and commanding . . . . he tosses the slouch of his hat away from
his forehead,
The sun falls on his crispy hair and moustache . . . . falls on the black of his polish'd
and perfect limbs.

I behold the picturesque giant and love him . . . . and I do not stop there,
I go with the team also.

Oxen that rattle the yoke or halt in the shade, what is that you express in your eyes?
It seems to me more than all the print I have read in my life. (from, page 20)

Should strength lie only in the hammer and the frame, in the chrome outlinings of automobiles and the laden steel of tracks on which the trains run across the fields? I doubt that, for the strength that America has also remains in the hearts of its people, in the families that live together, striving to make it one meal to the next. But that too is slipping. When men leave and women neglect and suddenly the children are left to themselves, without the guidance of those that brought them into the world, where is the strength then? We must look to those who have it, those who are seen on the television every night performing acts of sheer will and determination. We see it in the quarterback who defiantly throws the football into the hands of the Wide Receiver even though he knows a Defensive Lineman is coming towards him. (And while were on the subject, that is the job he is paid millions of dollars to do, to provide that semblance of steadfastness in the face of getting knocked unconscious. To complain about the referees afterwards at the press meetings, like Mike Vick has done, and others have mentioned in recent weeks, is the downfall of the sport. It relegates the sport of football to the hideous realm of politicians standing outside the Capitol whining about not getting anything done. Find the clip of then Marshall QB Leftwich being carried down the field as he cannot walk to complete a game winning drive when the season was on the line. Or Tony Romo, just this year, playing with a fractured rib and a punctured lung, to come back and win against the 49ers. People are flocking to NFL games because it provides people with something that the other television shows on now cannot. The reality shows and the sit-coms provide us with weak fathers who would rather drink at bars or be incompetent, or men who would rather double-cross or whine at a camera about how unfair the reality game is. May they get voted out first. The tribe has called, they want warriors. This is why the NFL is so successful every night. It is also why Romo is so criticized when he does the stupid things he often does to lose games.

I see people walking Pit Bulls down the street almost daily, and I wonder, what makes that breed so special above all the other breeds? I've realized that, even accepting the violent behaviors that come with Pit Bulls, and the maulings that are often shown by the media, those dogs are the symbol of strength to a lot of people. We seek strength in everything that we own, in all that we do, we search for those things that we can rely upon. Those things that make us safe at night, no matter how dangerous it might be. A neighborhood gang? A gun in the drawer beside the bed? A Pit Bull sleeping in the hallway? Any of those things might be risky, but all of them provide a certain sense of comfort, knowing that they are there. It is the sense a lover has when the comforting arms of his or her partner are enclosed around them at night. And we would seek for that protection no matter what the cost or risk. To be safe, to find strength in those things around us, that is what America is searching for, and unfortunately, human beings find that strength in exactly the wrong places.

Post World War I, with the economy in collapse and the destruction widespread, the people of Germany looked for a leader to bring them back to European prominence. And while the sudden rise of Hitler is the most extreme example, it is certainly true that hanging onto those with strength, even at the risk of getting hurt, is a very bad idea. The strength should come from within, with ones own hands and minds. We must rely on ourselves to see us through the hard times, so that when the lighter times come, we should be stronger for it. We then will throw the touchdown, or construct the buildings that will tower above cities. Then we will solve the worlds problems, from the mysteries of space travel to the exploration of the tiniest bodies and dimensions. Should we be kept from this, I know of nothing that will keep us from continuing our slide towards mediocrity. When all the courage we can muster is to check our bank accounts every morning and then watch football at night, that's pretty bad. The n our roads would turn to dust, our train tracks rust away, and the buildings that we had once so handily constructed be turned into dust as well, leaving those cherished memories and people to pass away.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Reviews: Books without Plots; House of Blues

 If someone were to recommend a book to you, and tell you it had no plot, you might look at them a bit strangely.  What is a fiction book without the dynamic plot twists, the beginning, middle, and denouement that we so desire?  And believe me, I've read books like that.  Trying to get through a Don Delillo book was enough to give me a nervous breakdown.  But believe me when I say that some of the best books are those that have no plot, because the plot is simply a vehicle to provide philosophy, or a diatribe that would not otherwise be read.  Sorta like this blog.  Take for instance Neal Stephenson's Anathem, reviewed here, which is much like taking Plato and putting him in a science fiction setting.  A marvelous book, but one which is at its best when the plot takes a back seat.  In fact, the end is only non-satisfying because it has to end with plot resolution.

Other wonderful books without plot:

You must read Michael Nesmith's The Long Sandy Hair of Neftoon Zamora. Yes, he is one of the singers of The Monkees, the best one, in my opinion, and yes, his mother invented liquid paper. So he has time to write books and do whatever he wants to do.  The book is as relaxing as his music, as thoughtful and lyrical...well, until the end when a bad guy shows up (symbolizing the epitome of capitalism gone extremely wrong) and the book abruptly ends.  You can read the first 6 chapters of the book here.

The Island by Gary Paulsen reads very much like Thoreau's Walden, and must have been a work of meditation while working on other books like The Hatchet, as the main character basically gets into his boat and wanders around the lake and sees birds and parts of nature and expounds upon them and life.  Sounds extremely boring for a kid's book, but it's wonderful, for those that want that sort of thing.

Also along that same line is the Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, by Reif Larsen, which is philosophical and very relaxing, from the mountains of Idaho to the train ride through the plain states to Chicago.  Then the plot takes over and it seemed like the book just wanted to end.  In my opinion, the book was much better when it meandered around endlessly, much like the travels of the narrator.

I say all this to recommend The Elegance of a Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. Two apartment dwellers, in upper class Paris, a concierge in her 50's, alone, with a phobia about people discovering that she is extremely intelligent,  and discusses in her journal post-modern French philosophy to Japanese films to still-life art.  Intertwined, of course, with a similarly brilliant 12 year old girl who writes journals about the small things in life, determined to find a reason worth living before she kills herself on her 13th birthday.  Amazing work  in the vignettes in each chapter, looking at life in a new way.  There was a review that I read, said that the reviewer's psychologist  recommended this book over taking Prozac.  Don't know if I'd carry it that far, as the ending comes right out of a Lifetime made-for-TV movie, as if Barbery just needed an ending that tied up the pieces.  It would work better if the journals were carried out longer, with the interactions between the characters longer.  It would work well as an online-blog-story.  So I enjoyed the book very much, but only if the plot stayed far back behind the words.  On a personal note, this was the last book I read while eating lunch in the Borders break room.  Now I have to read using my Kobo or a regular book (of which I have multitudes), but I will have to find a way to do it at home.  Too many electronic distractions....must get around that.

Review: Hugh Laurie's album Let Them Talk

Why do all Actors want to be Singers? (or for that matter, why do all Singers want to be Actors?) Turns out, it's because there are quite a few people that have multiple talents.  Go watch Jimmy Fallon's Late Night on NBC (watch the Linoleum peel while Jay Leno's on, it's about the same amount of entertainment).  He can do anything he wants, from singing to playing instruments to dancing...comedy... amazing stuff.  He's about as close to Johnny Carson as you're gonna get these days.  Or Wayne Brady, on Who's Line he did most anything for a laugh. Or Justin Timberlake , but I've discussed him here.

Turns out, Hugh Laurie fits this mold, too.  Originally a British comedian (yes, I know he's British, but he did a comedy routine in Great Britain), his role of Dr. House on House leaves me in stitches, while being perfectly serious.  An anti-hero in the vein of Thomas Covenant in Stephen R. Donaldson's books.  But if you watch the TV show, you see him take down a guitar or play at a piano.  Well, that's him, it's not stunt fingers.  Turns out, he's been a fan of Blues music since he was a little tike, forced to take piano lessons.  The only song he liked playing in the instruction booklet was "Suwanee River."  So now that he has all this fame and fortune, he sought out masters of the Blues genre and they accompany him on different tracks.  You can read reviews online, and you'll find them praising his instrumental talent, but not liking his voice.  I disagree with them, since I've been a fan of folk music like Bob Dylan and David Gray, the nasal voice is something I enjoy.  I agree with Shawn Mullins in his album notes from No. 9, that recording blues and folk should be an instantaneous act, with imperfections included, because without that, it's not real.  It's just professionally made crap that everyone else makes.  But to feel like your in one of the bars in New Orleans, or on the streets listening to a musician that hasn't had a day of voice training in his whole life, where the song comes from emotion and grit, from someplace down in his guts.... that's the real stuff.  That's what this album is.  As usual, I'll add a video from youtube, this time an introduction to his music (probably off of the deluxe edition.)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Angry Birds Vs. Gears of War.

Well, Gears of War 3 came out today.  I saw the commercial for it last night, as well as one called Rage.  To be honest, and I know this will probably send someone into fits, but they look pretty much the same. To be honest, I've never been a big 1st person shooter player, well, except for Half-Life, which was an amazing game! Maybe it was the memories of the time around playing it, in college, usually with friends, etc... and so that got me thinking about the difference between these games, the ones that I like playing (I'm playing now Alice: Madness Returns, the follow up to American McGee's Alice), and the addicting games that are on Facebook or on Android, such as Angry Birds

First off, I don't see the hype in Angry Birds.  I tried playing it once, and found it low key and either really easy or really hard.  There wasn't really anything to keep me playing. No explosions or power-ups to stimulate my ADHD mentality, nor anything brain-bending to keep my brain interested in the game.  I would much rather play a round of Worms: Armageddon where a Holy Hand Grenade or Exploding Sheep can be used as weapons.  And there you have to take into consideration wind speed and angle...etc.... and you can play with friends in multiplayer mode.

I've always thought of video games as being something better done in isolation, strictly a one-player affair.  When my friends were over playing games, I never saw the point, as it didn't allow for any interaction between me and whoever it was that was over.  Imagine the interaction between friends as arrows, and then if we're playing a board game, or something like Basketball outside, the interactions are directly between one person and the other.  But when watching TV or playing Video games, the interaction is with the screen, and so there's no real bonding occurring.  With today's technology, multiplayer games, from one computer to another, from one country to another, is possible, linking people all over the world, and you see the other person as the sniper on the building, or the guy with the giant energy blaster shooting you to smithereens.  The interaction actually goes through the monitor and into the other person.  Friendship is still possible in this way, unlike the more passive approach of just watching someone play a game on one monitor.

Unfortunately, I've never been very good at the games that are popular right now.  My brother can, as a sniper, see that pixel way off in the distance, pick it off, and sure enough, it's another player.  And in the realm of StarCraft, I tend to be more build oriented, more defensive, whereas those that play it with any regularity like attacking and destroying.  It's why I liked Spore so much, until it got to the stages that resembled Warcraft and the like. This probably has something to do with me actually being anti-social.... I just don't like playing such games, where I have to interact with people I've either never seen before, or I end up just being an easy kill and there's no fun in it.

So let's return to Gears of War vs. Angry Birds. Taking the social aspect out of playing a video game for a second, playing either game does basically the same thing neurologically. I've often talked about video games as being a method of escape, much like reading or watching television. It's a stimulation that engages the visual senses (Neil Postman would have a ball with today's technology and how we use it to communicate with one another), engages the emotions, increases adrenaline, gives us the taste for victory that we once had winning the war on actual battlefields. We can play NFL football without actually being athletes, wearing jock straps, getting ourselves injured, or being in front of thousands of fans. But we get the same rush when our pixelated wide receiver runs into the end zone for a touchdown.

So does playing Bejeweled Blitz, for instance, provide the same biological needs as going out and buying Gears of War 3? There are so many games on the Internet now, through, ironically, social media, that are free, stimulating, and more time consuming, than paying $250 dollars for a console, $60 for a game, and then bringing it home. Granted, it is well worth it to play the masterpieces in Video Game Art as they come out. The computer I have now I originally bought so I could play games like Psychonauts, as the older one I had wouldn't even play the games I saw at Big Lots. And it's well worth playing Little Big Planet for the music soundtrack alone. Those experiences are worth it. The game designers are much like filmmakers, writers, or artists, in that the world they create is as much a part of the creative process as Leonardo painting the Mona Lisa, or Schumann composing "Arabesque." Some video games are experiences that can affect one emotionally, or, dare I say it, change a life. This is something that endless hours of Angry Birds can't do, other than adding pounds around the waist.

In the end, it's about how we spend our time. James Taylor wrote, "The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time." Daivd Crosby wrote a song, "Time is the Final Currency." We work and spend our money so that we might enjoy the time we have on Earth. It just depends on how we want to enjoy that time spent. Do we want to fling birds at pigs, or combine 3 of the same jewels, or do we want to engage ourselves in masterpieces of alternate realities? I guess it all depends on how much time we have to play.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

To Think or not to Think.

[Reason] is a faculty that man has to exercise by choice. Thinking is not an automatic function. In any hour and issue of his life, man is free to think or to evade that effort.
Ayn Rand “The Objectivist Ethics,” The Virtue of Selfishness, pg. 20.

I've come to believe that metacognition is what keeps me going.  In other words, thinking on how we think.  Working retail is not so bad when you are seeing in every selection and deselection the thoughts behind each customer. For instance, the squalling kids who just want their parents to buy them something, not out of hunger or desire for the object, but merely for the attention that they get as their parents' hand them the trinket.  Materialism is actually a sign of love.  Or perhaps the children who open up the box or the toy in the middle of the floor and start playing with it, as if it were their own, without realization that what they have isn't theirs to begin with.  Of course, that has nothing to do with ownership, but frankly because they could care less about the object they have in their hands.  It's the idea of material inflation.  The more we have, the less we care about what we have. 

Then there's the customer who must decide what they want by eliminating everything else from sight first hand.  I found a couple of interesting examples one day while working in the kids' section.  The parent kept asking the child, "What do you want? Make up your mind."  The obvious answer to this is, she wants everything.  And when she kept changing her mind, much to the consternation of her mom, she realized it was upsetting her mom, so she kept at it, playing a game of ambivalence just to see if she could.  Pressing her mom's buttons.  Because she truly did want everything.  The only way to ask the question is, "What do you not want?  Because then she is forced to eliminate everything she truly doesn't want and then pick from those remaining.  It sounds really hard, but it's not.... trust me.   Because I see it everyday.  At the grocery store, I would have customers come up to the register with 100's of dollars of groceries, but only have $30.  Therefore they would then decide, having eliminated the rest of the store, what they don'twant from the rest, and keep on filtering out the "No's" until they have reached their financial goal.  It's often the duality of thought that makes the little decisions of life interesting, because what you are really thinking is the exact opposite of what you think you are thinking. 

So when I realized the "duality" of thought is actually quite wonderful to think about, I ran across the Ayn Rand quote above.  Sometimes, in thinking things through, we are actually not thinking at all.  Letting our inhibitions and self-control go.  This can easily be seen in the riots after sporting events, (which I've talked about before), where what they are thinking, what they are truly thinking, and the fact that they are basically not thinking at all, are different.  Take the past riots in London.  They started because of a racial issue in one of London's suburbs, but soon, it became more about the class structure in Great Britain brought about by entitlement spending and a Progressive government that has felt the strain on its budget much like the rest of the world.  In other words, the riots were about the cuts in government hand-outs, although they were supposed to be about police brutality and race.  What actually happened was that the youth of Great Britain wanted to be seen rioting and have fun while getting on YouTube, all the while stealing and taking advantage of lawlessness to attain material things that they would have had to pay money for.  In other words, they weren't thinking at all.  It all went to the subconscious "monster" that Jung talked about, that below the rational thoughts of the human mind there is the base desires of an animal that decrees those desires are above all else.  And those who cannot control their subconscious demons are doomed to act in those manners, and will generally end up in jail, or worse.  

So it came to pass, that after I saw this quote, two stories popped up online to illustrate my point.  I am all for putting media in my blogs when it supports my ideas, and these work wonders.  First, the story in Australia, where a teenager decides to run out in front of a train.  He didn't have anyone with a camera, so being on YouTube wasn't his motive.  He wasn't suicidal, cause he wouldn't have dodged the locomotive. He simply wanted to see if he could do it.  And that isn't thinking at all!  That's not to say that we all haven't done stupid things without thinking (or perhaps with thinking, as he had to time his rush across the tracks to the point where he would almost but not quite get hit by it), and I've done a couple of insane things.   I remember one time I had done something or another, and my dad got really mad and was coming down the hallway.  So I decided to see what would happen if I tripped him.  So I stuck my leg out...and he tripped.  There was no thinking involved in the act, just pure stupidity.... much like touching the base of an iron, or sticking your finger in the car cigarette lighter (both of which I've done).  It's an infantile move, just to experience something, the rush of adrenaline, the heat of the flame, the cold on the tongue as you lick a metal pole ("I double dog dare ya!").  It's what we do.  And as we get older, the desire to do something just to satisfy the curiosity of the subconscious mind, it is replaced by the discipline of conscious thought.  Except..... sometimes that doesn't work.  We go skydiving, or bungee jumping, or we walk across the Oconee River train track bridge just to see if we can do it.

Does the human mind have the ability to think at all?  Are we simply holding back the battering ram of the subconscious mind as it attempts to break down the barriers we've put in it's way?  And when we speak of today's youth, languishing in public schools or in universities, are they just as apt to study for their PhD as visit the bars every night and get themselves killed in car wrecks or wind up vomiting in the public bathrooms in their dorms? Is there any hope for the human race when thinking is not considered "cool?" Public opinion thinking people has probably not been as low as it has today, unless we count the Medieval times when the Lords or the Church kept people under their stern watch. Those that are famous have become stupid on purpose, and those that are intelligent are made fun of.  Look at the sit-coms of today's television.  Those that are intelligent are naturally nerds, probably gay, and social outcasts.  Those that are dumb are so often rich and usually wind up getting their way despite any lack of "smarticals." 

The answer is, I think, "yes."  There are some people in this world who will overcome the outside world and use their minds to become producers and masters.  Makers and Philosophers.  And they will sit atop the towers of the cities and look down on us in pity, perhaps humorously, as Mustapha did in Brave New World, while the primitives are easily manipulated, controlled, by those who would keep them enslaved by contentment in mediocrity.  Take, for instance, the next story below, about a boy who, being only 12, has read books and educated himself about medicine and the like.  As he was watching TV at 2 in the morning, a show about showgirls (probably Real Sex on HBO,) he heard his mom, 9 months pregnant, call for him.  She was giving birth.  I would have froze, called 911, and panicked, but this particular child delivered the baby there in his home, using the information he had read in his studies.  So there is hope, after all, that today's world will not slip into the mindless, unthinking, audience of the flickering TVs that shine lights in strobe effects out the windows. 

There might be a few men or women that will use the mind to progress past the conveniences they have been given and venture forth, and the thoughts will not be of desires alone, but to apply knowledge towards a goal, permanent, miraculous, that will satiate the needs of both conscious and subconscious minds.