Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Instant Coffee

(So interesting to see the original Twilight Zone featured on Cinesseur's blog.)

After a first failed attempt to watch the entire series a few years ago, I started watching it again on Sunday. I'm only three episodes into the series, but I'm in no hurry. I'm watching so many tv series and have so many others to either watch in their entirety or catch up on that I simply cannot marathon a classic right now. I'll just be a Sunday viewer. Two to four episodes each Sunday should be enough. On Saturdays I have scheduled anime series. But that's another post.

In addition to the first three episodes of The Twilight Zone, I have also re:watched the Mike Wallace interview with Rod Serling, just to remain, once again, in awe and completely baffled.

I cannot believe how easy we (we? I? is it just me?) can forget (or choose to ignore?) how much of the media content we consume is manipulated by advertisers. Watching this interview, one might think the beginnings of television were just some strange beginnings, when an advertiser ("a sponsor") could ask the writers to use "coffee" instead of "tea" because they had to sell their stupid instant coffee, and that stuff like this doesn't happen anymore because, well, that was 1959, this is 2013. Needless to say, stuff like this still happens, except: it's much, much worse and also, no one seems to talk about it anymore. Not like Rod Serling. Not people in the position of Rod Serling, people who are supposed to care about the quality of their content above all else.

(While I was doing research for my dissertation I was appalled by the increasingly effacing line between content and advertising that I noticed in the one women's magazine I was still buying at that time. I gotta admit that up until that point I hadn't realized or really thought of  the extent to which advertisers could influence the content of a magazine. I mean, poor old naive me thought the F word was avoided in these women's magazines simply because they didn't want to scare their readers away. Ha, how silly of me.)

I consume so many media products, and I like to believe I'm an active spectator (for the most part, anyway), yet sometimes I tend to forget this one crucial thing: advertising is evil. It's strangely refreshing to be reminded of the evils of advertising, the evils of television-as-business by a 1959 interview with a tv writer and producer who seems to be as honest as he can be. But if I really want to never forget that (most) media equals evil business, I should have the words of Patrick Le Lay somewhere where I can always see them:  "Ce que nous vendons à Coca-Cola, c'est du temps de cerveau humain disponible."


The Twilight Zone is brought to you tonight by:

(Isn't YouTube the greatest? The instant coffee, Sanka, is around the 2:40 mark, and if you're curious enough, you'll also find a couple of Sanka commercials from 1959.)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

"Good things change a little to adjust to the times"

How I've missed Conor's pure heart.

From Conor's interview for Drowned In Sound:

The album Read Music/Speak Spanish dealt with a number of issues endemic to modern Western society. Why do you think it resonated so strongly among listeners, and are you surprised by how it continues to do so now?

I think it resonates with listeners because it is true. It comes from a true and honest place. I know we are not reinventing the wheel here. It is nothing that hasn't been said before and it will surely be said again but that is because the ideas we were/are singing about come from the same common struggles of all thoughtful, empathetic people living in a modern western capitalist society. The excess, the guilt, the fear, the pride, the idealism, the arguments, the convenience and sheer entertainment of it all, the knowing that while there might not be a better system out there, that does not and cannot excuse all the suffering that this system causes our fellow human beings. I'm not surprised that it still resonates today because the situation is only getting worse. Just look at the growing disparity between the rich and poor worldwide. The senseless never-ending wars all over the world to preserve this paradigm. And I guess that is why it has been so easy for us to fall back into the groove with the band and why we decided to make new songs. There is still a lot to say on the subject.

It was recorded in 2002, in under a week, I think? What are your memories of that time?

It was actually recorded in 2001. About a week after 9/11. It was such a strange turn of events because all the songs had been written prior to the attacks but then it happened and everyone was so freaked out. It seemed the worst time imaginable to be making an album which almost undoubtedly would be perceived as Anti-American. I really did some soul-searching at the time and decided that actually it was the most patriotic thing we could do. Because in my mind the best thing about being an American is the freedom to dissent and to force our government and society to correct course and improve ourselves. Our nation was born out of two of the greatest evils ever perpetrated on this earth, the genocide of the Native Americans and the slavery of the African Americans, but from that we have managed to evolve and become something much better and more humane. That evolution is still taking place. I just want to be a part of that.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Lonerism (4) (Waiting)

J'étais devenue différente, et il m'aurait fallu autour de moi un monde différent : lequel ? Que souhaitais-je au juste ? Je ne savais même pas l'imaginer. Cette passivité me désespérait. Il ne me restait qu'à attendre. Combien de temps ? trois ans, quatre ans ? c'est long quand a dix-huit ans. Et si je les passais en prison, ligotée, je me retrouverais à la sortie toujours aussi seule, sans amour, sans ferveur, sans rien. J'enseignerais la philosophie, en province : à quoi cela m'avancerait-il ? Écrire ? mes essais de Meyrignac ne valaient rien. Si je restais la même, en proie aux même routines, au même ennui, je ne progresserais jamais ; jamais je ne réussirais une oeuvre. Non, pas une lueur nulle part. Pour la première fois de mon existence, je pensais sincèrement qu'il valait mieux être mort que vivant.
- Simone de Beauvoir, Mémoires d'une jeune fille rangée


Nothing to do
Nowhere to go
I wanna be sedated

I am sedated.
I feel sedated.

This was in a VH1 promo playing just as I was reading the excerpt above. I'm not listening to music while reading anymore, though. This was just a 20-minute exception while I was waiting for a movie to start.

This movie:

We Don't Live Here Anymore

"An idle life cannot be pure."

Like a stake through my heart.

(What old movie is this quote from anyway? It sounds so familiar.)

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Reveeenge! (Notes on 'Django Unchained')


Oh, Django Tarantino, you big troublemaker.

There are so very few movies about slavery that I think people had too many expectations from this one. Criticizing Tarantino for not telling the story of slavery right is pretty pointless. This isn't the story of slavery. It's not even a story of slavery. It's merely the story of a slave, just as the title announces it.

Also pointless: criticizing the lack of historical accuracy. It's essential that we, the viewers, are aware of that lack of historical accuracy, and I certainly appreciate the larger context offered by some African-American critics (because the truth is, I barely know anything about the history of slavery in America). With Inglorious Basterds, Tarantino established that he doesn't give a fuck about historical accuracy. I understand how that can be frustrating for some, but I also understand how this historical inaccuracy is vital for his revenge plots.

The criticism of exceptionalism: completely valid. And yet: westerns are about one hero, about one exceptional man (sometimes about one exceptional woman). So in the end: do we agree with Spike Lee, that the mere choice of the genre is offensive, or do we agree that the genre doesn't allow the depiction of a mass revolt, of a mass liberation and therefore exceptionalism is acceptable in this particular case? I'm a little lost here.

It would have been hypocritical of Tarantino not to use the N-word. In this particular context, I think it's a non-problem. Its excessive use is bound to make people feel either offended or at least uncomfortable. It is ironic, though, that in this case, Tarantino sort of brings into discussion historical accuracy to justify the excessive use of the N-word: "Personally, I find [the criticism] ridiculous. Because it would be one thing if people were out there saying 'You use it much more excessively in this movie than it was used in 1858 in Mississippi.' Well, nobody's saying that. And if you're not saying that, you're simply saying I should be lying. I should be watering it down. I should be making it more easy to digest. No, I don't want it to be easy to digest. I want it to be a big, gigantic boulder, jagged pill, and you have no water." (source: The Root, via The Ed Show, via New Black Man) But yeah, I agree: he shouldn't make it easy to digest.

And he really doesn't make it easy to digest. In terms of violence, I knew exactly what to expect. I had read the leaked script, after all. And yet it still took me by surprise. With Tarantino, there's always this feeling that he enjoys violence, the spectacle of violence, a little too much. In this particular case, I don't think he should have toned it down, but it did make me reconsider the excessive violence towards women in Death Proof. I'm having serious second thoughts about that one. I guess I'll just have to re:watch it.

Should a white director even dare to make a film that has anything to do with Black history / life? Hell yeah. The problem isn't this. The problem is that there are too few movies, especially mainstream movies, made by Black directors, just as there are too few (mainstream) movies made by women. The problem isn't with Tarantino. The problem is with the system. If Tarantino has an original script about a slave and wants to shoot it, I don't see what the problem is (especially because he doesn't come across as the type of white male director who doesn't recognize his own privilege; later edit: okay, forget I said that). But if a studio buys a script about a slave / slavery and doesn't even consider hiring an African-American director, than yes, that really is a problem.

The mocking of the KKK was, as expected, absolutely hilarious.

I liked the dynamic between Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) and Candie (DiCaprio). In Stephen's death I read a criticism of the happy, sassy Black servant that Hollywood has accustomed us to. (I was actually surprised to find such an old stereotype in Lee Daniels's Paperboy, which goes to show that the director's skin color doesn't necessarily ensure a stereotype-free movie.)

Can you believe DiCaprio has now been in two westerns?

I think for the first time, the soundtrack of a Tarantino movie hasn't quite worked for me.

It is my humble and quite uninformed opinion that from the point of view of racial representations, Django Unchained has a lot more redemptive qualities than Lincoln.

The one thing (about which I have no doubts) that does bother me about Django Unchained is the representation of women. Or should I say: the underrepresentation of women? He's done such a good job until now, offering big parts to women, I don't understand why he would stop now.

Despite its problems, despite its shortcomings, the great thing about Django Unchained is that it generated so many discussions on racial representations. A few links, only three actually, to texts I've managed to read so far:

+ Black Audiences, White Stars, and 'Django Unchained' by Ishmael Reed
+ 'Django Unchained': A Postracial Epic? by Hillary Crosley
+ Quentin Tarantino creates an exceptional slave by Salamishah Tillet