Thursday, April 30, 2009

Would You Rather Have a Foot-Long Eyelash You Can Never Pluck, or an Earlobe the Size of a Basketball?

I gotta hand it to them. That was a twist. I did not expect Fight Club to end the way it did. But I enjoyed it. Fight Club was the epitome of a cool movie, by all definitions we have established throughout this semester. Unlike last week’s viewing of Reservoir Dogs, I could watch this movie (with all the blood and violence) and cringe, but still enjoy what I was watching.

Fight Club challenged the safe life, the boring life, the self-help life. It shows the stupidity of self-help groups designed to help you accept death. Accept death? Forget that. You should ignore death. By ignoring the one thing that ends your life, you can let your life begin. In this life we are often so caught up with attaining material things that we forget how to live. Our lives become defined by going through the moves at your 9-to-5 job and your window-lined condo. It shows the stupidity ofworrying over petty details. After living the fighting life, the unnamed protagonist must sit through comparably boring office meetings, where one guy is even so caught up with petty material details that he requests a computer icon in “cornflower blue.” First, why is the color of your computer icon even important? Second, what real man knows the color “cornflower blue”? Men only know basic colors: red, blue, yellow, green, orange, black, brown, purple, and pink. The man who knows the color “cornflower blue” is obviously not living. The movie shows this, and shows that the men accepting the cubicle lifestyle are not living either.

Though the movie does satirize the material obsessions of the modern world, I think it also warns against the danger of completely letting go. Through the insanity of Tyler Durden, Fight Club shows that desire for no structure in life whatsoever leads to complete chaos. And chaos has the ability to seep into any crack. It appeals to the working men, the poor men, the rich men, men across states, and even men in law enforcement. However, within the chaos, these men lose their identity. When involved in Project Mayhem, the men have no name. They are just pieces that create one big puzzle of terrorists with the same desire. Only when one dies does he regain his name, as when Bob is killed and the men are told “His name is Robert Paulson.” Robert Paulson gains identity, men the remaining men are still one mass, even chanting in unison, “His name is Robert Paulson. His name is Robert Paulson. His name is Robert Paulson…”

Is losing your identity to chaos better than losing your identity to material possessions? One gives you an identified life of repetition. One gives you an unidentified life of action and spontaneity. It’s like one of those hard “Would you rather?” questions: would you rather live 9-to-5 life where everyone knows who you are, or would you rather live a life where every day is different but you sacrifice your identity to become a figure in a mass or men?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

An Unnecessary Evil

After watching Reservoir Dogs, it is going to be difficult to find something similar in modern media, because quite honestly I have never seen anything like it. It’s not my type of movie, so we will see how well on do on these comparisons.

If the grotesque, unnecessary violence in Reservoir Dogs is what makes it cool, then I must not be cool. This explains why I often don’t like rap music. It’s use of sexually explicit lyrics and curse words to get a violent message across is completely unnecessary to me. If rap music is cool, then I am not. I don’t see the point in singing about violence and “gettin’ it” from a different woman every night. Some examples are: "you need to think about the future before I shoot your ass and dilute your blood with lead from my hollow tips, I'll send you to an early grave" (Outkast); "I tote guns, I make number runs, I give emcees the runs drippin when I throw my clip in the AK, I slay from far away. Everybody hit the DECK" (Notorious BIG); "Grabbed her by the throat, it's murder she wrote. You barely heard a word as she choked. It wasn't nuttin' for her to be smoked, but I slammed her on her back 'til her vertebrae broke" (Eminem).

Even in every day conversation, curse words seem unnecessary to me. You can get your point across just as effectively without cursing as you can with it. Some may argue with me, but this is my opinion. Perhaps this is why I love the eloquent speech found in novels of the 1800s. The characters could be furious, but relay that information in speech without marring the point with useless explicatives. Also, lyrics can express anger and pain with out cursing. In their song “Blue and Yellow”, the lead singer of The Used (a favorite band of mine) expresses his frustration with a situation but unwillingness to leave when he says, “Shoulda done something, but I’ve done it enough. By the way your hands were shaking, rather waste my time with you. Shoulda said something, but I’ve said it enough. By way my words were faded, rather waste some time with you.” Angst, angst, angst…yet not a trace of a cuss word in this song.

Quentin Tarantino chose to shoot Reservoir Dogs in a 1970s retro style. And it fits. We discussed in class how a new model of a Kia just wouldn’t fit in with the storyline. There are some movies that just require being set during a certain time period. This applies to movie creations of novels, as well. I just can’t imagine Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice being set in 2000. Some movies have attempted to modernize classics. The remake of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet attempted to retell the story in modern times; it wasn’t very well received. Is this because some stories just can’t be translated into modern times? Or is the public so set in its ways that it refuses to welcome any modernization of the good ole classics? Conversely, some movies just couldn’t be set back in any other time but the present.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

So I Don't Pay Attention To Directions...

So this week I fail to look at our syllabus. Guess what? Our first blog assignment is different than usual! In my defense, I wasn't at the beginning of class, so I never heard the verbal reminder. Nevertheless, here I am with my second blog for the day! :D

convertible hybrids gas-guzzling convertibles
green energy nonrenewable resources
mp3s CDs
working out being lazy
college high school
Blackberry Post-Its
purified water tap water
doing homework at 3 AM doing homework on the weekend
traveling the world never leaving your state
confidence arrogance
party hardy study buddy
being an expert being a know-it-all

My lists outline what I find to be cool now, and what used to be cool, but isn't anymore. Trivial things
top the list because that is what a lot of people focus. Because superficial things grab the attention
of the masses, they can be deemed cool. What I notice is that we might be slowly becoming more self-
aware, but that doesn't mean we have stopped becoming superficial. Yes, actors and actresses are taking
a stand for something bigger than themselves, but why are they doing it? To become a humanitarian?
To be a better person? Or to gain more positive attention for what they do, but attention nonetheless?

I've notice that some things that were cool are still cool today; somehow they will be cool forever. Like
music. The cool means by which we enjoy the music of the day are changing, but the base of these means
has stayed the same. Music will always be cool, because it provides a creative outlet for people to express
emotion and others to connect. The current means are just making music more accessible. Where you
cannot fit a Walkman, you can now fit your Ipod. Other trends will always stay cool, like appearances.
The means be which we gain coolness through our appearances is changing, and will continue to change.
But our desire to appear hip and trendy has refused to disappear. Tanning is still in. Only now you can
spray on that beach-baked glow. Skin cancer is out. Cool-looking cars that are good for the environment
are in; cool-looking cars that destroy our environment are out. We still desire to look cool, we just change
the methods of doing so.

Soundtrack to My Life

I’m not into blood and gore. Quite honestly, too much of it makes me sick to my stomach and I don’t want to finish the rest of the movie. Perhaps this is why I did not enjoy Reservoir Dogs.

Please note that I say “enjoy,” not “like.” I liked the movie, yes, in the sense of appreciating the detailed characters and engaging storyline. I liked where Quentin Tarantino was going with this. I did not enjoy watching it unfold. I honestly do not see the need for all the violence. We get that these guys are robbers. Killing is what they do. Is it completely necessary to cut a police officer’s ear off to demonstrate their violence? Is it completely necessary to kill nearly every character off? Is it completely necessary to have so many pools of blood across the warehouse?

Which brings me to another point. I found it incredibly interesting that nearly the entire movie was shot in one location. The warehouse.

Granted, the movie opens in a restaurant, the flashbacks take the viewers to the scene of the crime, and the robbers step outside of the warehouse every now and then. But everything in present time took place at the warehouse, or just outside the doors. Tarantino does a very good job of keeping the viewers interested even though the setting never changes. I would have never thought that a movie that takes place entirely in an empty warehouse could hold my attention. Then again, the vicious storyline took care of that.

The lack of background music in Reservoir Dogs made it unique. In class we came to the conclusion that Tarantino probably decided, “Hey, I really love this song. I’ve always wanted to use it in a movie…let’s put it here.” Kind of like closing your eyes and randomly picking a place to eat from a list of restaurants, so went Tarantino’s method of song selection. We also discussed how lack of a score made the movie tenser. A score usually moves the action along, and can encourage views to feel certain things based upon the emotion within the song. I assure you that audience would be bothered if a fanfare-battlecry song was being played in the background when two characters are falling in love. We have certain expectations for a score depending on the direction the movie is taking us. Because of Reservoir Dogs lack of a score, there lacked an underlying force to tell us how to feel. All we hear is gunshots and natural noises. We, in a way, don’t know what to think, because the music hasn’t told us what to think. For me, the lack of background music made the action more real. I felt like I was in the very warehouse. If I were there in real life, there would be no music in the background, besides the radio. Although I would personally love having a score playing for everything I do. That would be one random soundtrack.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Drag Has Faith in Fashion

Is the drag community becoming more accepted today? Some would say yes, and others would vehemently say no. Personally I believe drag may be becoming accepted in specific industries, but definitely not universally. The fashion industry, in particular, seems to be the most accepting of and offers the most opportunities for those in drag.

Our class discussion took a turn Wednesday night to questioning whether drag was still even around, especially in Arkansas. Apparently it is. And it is in prime-time television. During the discussion I couldn’t stop thinking of one of my favorite shows: America’s Next Top Model. One of the judges, Miss J, is definitely a cross-dresser, but I can’t go as far as to call him (or is it “her”?) a drag queen. In the movie, a drag queen teaches modeling lessons during the day. He teaches how to walk, hold your chin up, and strut your stuff. How ironic. On America’s Next Top Model Miss J is the “diva coach runway extraordinaire,” being the go-so source for everything runway.

During the movie, I also jotted a question down in my notebook. When they mentioned the House of Ninja, all I thought of was Benny Ninja, again from America’s Next Top Model. Is this purely coincidence? Come to find out, Benny is indeed a member of said House. He is the go-to source for anything related to posing, on Top Model, proving again that House members can make it farther than the street balls.

I still don’t believe that the world is accepting of what I will term “hardcore drag.” Hardcore drag is where men dress up in sequins, HUGE wigs, tons of makeup, and heels higher than what I dare to wear (and that’s saying something). See my picture from my previous post for an example. She isn’t hard to miss. Perhaps that drag world in general is just moving away from the hardcore drag, though. And because they are, in a sense, tamed down, they are making it onto television. Miss J can go crazy with certain accessories, but she never looks completely ridiculous. Maybe drag today is accepted, but still not taken seriously. Miss J is a useful resource, but I also think America’s Next Top Model keeps her around for comedic purposes. It’s pretty funny to see a man dressed as a woman strut his stuff better than wannabe models. On Project Runway, there was an episode where the contestants had to design an outfit for a drag queen. And these are the hardcore drag queens. So, they are getting exposure, but then again, what is the applicability of designing a drag queen outfit in the real fashion world.

On Project Runway, there is often a strange twist in the fashion requirements. An episode once required the contestants to design outfits from car parts. Now, as much as I LOVED Korto’s woven seat belt coat, no one would actually wear it out. It was taken seriously for analyzing Korto’s creativity, but not for the fashion value it holds. The same goes for the drag queen episode. They were included as a challenge, not as a serious designer demand.

So, hardcore drag is not as accepted as tamed-down drag, which is definitely not as accepted today as gay culture. Drag queens are sparse on television (though they are present), but almost every modern show has a gay character included. Shows include gays in all seriousness; they play important roles, as friends, such as Calvin on “Greek” or main characters, like Will on “Will and Grace.” Quite honestly, I don’t think drag will ever be taken completely seriously. Men can be attracted to other men and act more or less like a woman. They just can’t dress like one.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

"Drag" Me to the Ball

If you are going to watch Jennie Livingston’s documentary Paris is Burning, I highly recommend reading Michael Cunningham’s “The Slap of Love” before viewing. I am certainly glad I did, not necessarily because it prepared me for the unusual images my eyes would see (although it was good that it did), but because I was not distracted by said images and could focus on the message of the documentary.

What I found incredibly interesting was the social order of the drag society. There are Houses that have certain requirements for membership. Some require a drag queen to win a competition for acceptance. Other just accept you if you ask. For being a lower class, often considered distasteful, the social order is extremely complex. The drag queens are searching for entry into a house so that they may win more balls, so that they may ultimately become a legend and make lots of money. In the documentary, as many times as the queens would say they desired a reputation, they would come back to admit it’s all about the money. But today, what isn’t?

When it comes to reputation, the drag queen balls are the sure-fire way to be named a legend. The House mothers often help their children get ready for the balls, coaching them in how to strut, how to pose, and how to be most “real.” Many times they claim that they just help out because they want their children to be a success. But if you think about it, when a member of the House of Xtravaganza wins a ball, who gets the credit? The drag queen? Yes. But the HOUSE also gains reputation for putting out winners, and who heads the House? The House mother. So, even though the mothers may say their intentions are truly altruistic in a sense, it never can be. If your child wins a ball, you get the reputation because they came from your House.

One of the ways to win a ball is to be crowned most “real.” Ironically, being most real means being able to appear to be something you’re not. Being most “real” is the ability to be most fake. Categories of realness include businessman, student, woman, etc. I found this to be the opposite of what is usually considered cool. If you desire to be “real” in the drag queen world, you desire to be able to blend in. You want to look so much like something, that people wouldn’t know otherwise. If you are a man, you want to look so much like a woman that no one would know. Quite honestly, this is that opposite of what cool is for me. Cool is the ability to stand out, the ability to be some extraordinary that distinguishes you from the group. You have a talent that is desirable because very few have that talent. So by that definition, drag queens attempting to look “real” could never be cool for me, because they are constantly trying to blend in.

Monday, April 13, 2009

I'm Bilingual---in English and Sarcasm

Want to make fun of somebody without directly calling them out? Use satire.

Want to criticize the government for it’s ineffective methods and privatization? Use satire.

Want to reach a mass audience and entertain them while exposing them to your cause? Use satire.

Robocop is a modern satire on the privatization of organizations. I fell in love with the wittiness of satire when I read Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.” I am extremely sarcastic in nature, so it only makes sense that the bitter form of humor found in Swift’s proposal attracted me. In “A Modest Proposal,” to combat the growing poverty in Ireland, Swift encourages poor families to sell their children as food to the rich. He makes a very good argument, noting that no longer would the children be a burden financially or resource-wise. Swift goes to on to explain different methods of cooking the children, depending on their shape, size, and age, and calculates the financial benefits for the readers. Near the end of his proposal, he does list the actual remedies for Ireland’s condition, but condemns them (completely sarcastically, of course). He gets his point across, and the absurdity of his original proposal makes readers legitimately consider the serious remedies at the end. Sarcasm is my second language, and it can sometimes get me in trouble. But if used in the proper form to comment on the state of a nation, an economy, or a certain person, it can be a useful tool in change.

Robocop also attempts to comment on the importance of retaining some sort of humanity, as Robocop desires to find any remnant of who he was before: a picture, a memory, a name.Another robot presented in the movie is ed209, an intimidating and evil robot that runs completely on animal instinct. There is a scene in the movie where ed209 becomes confused and ultimately falls to his demise by a flight of stairs. How ironic that the end of a high-tech machine would be a simple man-made creation.

This reminded me of Orson Welles’s “War of the Worlds.” Aliens attack earth and it seems that there is no hope for the humans. However, what comes to be the aliens’ killer is a pathogenic bacterium, one of the simplest life forms, which they have no immunity to. Despite their advanced technology and extraterrestrial bodies, the smallest life form on the planet proves to be their biggest threat.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Problem with Private Practice

Private business is the future of a nation, correct? Not if those businesses begin to control other aspects of life. The film Robocop is a social commentary on the evils of privatization by large companies. Ideally, we could believe that CEO’s of conglomerates heading this privatization are pure and would keep the company on the straight and narrow, but as Robocop demonstrates, corruption at the top of the ladder is inevitable when profit is involved.

In our discussion last night, we discussed why Robocop’s quest to regain some humanity was important to the storyline. Most argued that it was pointless, but I have to say that I disagree. In a way, I think director Paul Verhoeven was trying to show that a completely loss of humanity could just as destructive. By regaining some sense of who he his, Robocop can be more than a set of predetermined actions. In the movie, another law enforcement robot is juxtaposed to Robocop, and it is large, terrifying, and has this deep, growling, malicious voice. Overall, it is an inhuman creation, and ultimately ends up shooting down an innocent corporation employee due to a “glitch” during a prototype presentation. Never in the movie does Robocop have such a glitch where he targets innocent people; because he chooses to find what remain of his family (even if all that remains is his last name), that search for himself keeps him from becoming a completely unfeeling metallic monster. Perhaps Verhoeven is warning society against a completely robotic future. There will always be a need for a sense of humanity.

Now, I step onto my soapbox. Robocop is divided by “news breaks,” which offer a satire in themselves. The news institution is made to be laughable, over the top, quite ridiculous actually. The discussion ended up being based around how even today the news is becoming more and more liberal, privatized, and how basically they are trying to tell the public what to think. Before I begin to rant, let me legitimize why I think the way I do. I am a Broadcast Journalism and Public Relations double major. I want to be a news anchor. I don’t like when people constantly say that the news is trying to sway what people believe.

Due to the journalism side of my degrees, I’m taught certain things. Aren’t we all? I can understand Robocop’s criticism of the “infotainment” that news has become, and I agree that news networks should focus on delivering unbiased news without weaving in stories about the latest celebrity breakup. But think of it this way. What is the public asking for in their news? The majority of people has a short attention span and get bored with straight news for an hour-long broadcast; they are asking for a mixture of hard and soft news. So don’t go blaming the news industry for giving you infotainment when in fact it is YOU, the public, demanding it.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Escaping the Shadow

In Saturday Night Fever, Tony Manero yearns to escape the streets of Brooklyn, and dancing seems to be his way out. Overcoming a situation is a common theme throughout movies, because most audiences like to root for the underdog. Other movies have characters that do not have to overcome a situation, but rather overcome the shadow of an older sibling. Tony also struggles with this, as his parents constantly remind him how perfect his older priest brother turned out to be. Ironically, Tony’s older brother falls from the faith and removes himself from the priesthood, but up until that point, Tony’s parents could not help but compare their younger son to his achieving elder sibling.

In The Pursuit of Happyness, audiences see one of those difficult situations. Chris Gardner is a salesman who loses everything in a risky investment. After his wife leaves him and he takes custody of their son, Gardner is forced to live on the streets of San Francisco. The entire movie is about Gardner’s quest to find a better life for his son. Hope for a better life comes in the form of a stockbroker position, but Gardner must go through 6 months without pay to even be considered for the job. Like Tony, he realizes that he must escape the streets of San Francisco to have any hope. Tony has skills in dancing that seem to offer his only chance of success. In the movie, Chris Gardner also has a talent that ends up being the doorway to opportunity: his Rubik’s cube skills. Chris impresses a man hiring for the stockbroker internship with his speed at solving the Rubik’s cube, which in turn gets him the internship. For Chris Gardner, getting off the streets relied not in his feet, but in his hands. Not only this, but Gardner tells his son throughout the movie that the boy can grow up to do anything, and to not let anyone tell him otherwise. He is determined to escape his environment, and keep his son from falling back in.

In Saturday Night Fever Tony has an older brother in the priesthood, and his parents think that he poops pearls. Tony finds this frustrating, and with good reason, because nothing he seems to do can live up to what his brother has accomplished. Living up to an over-achieving older sibling can be difficult.

In the TV series “Greek,” Casey Cartwright seems to have it all. She is Rush chair for the Zeta Beta Zeta sorority (“the best on campus”), a winner with boyfriends’ parents, and practically perfect. However, opposite from Tony’s situation, Casey finds it hard to live up to her brother Rusty, a freshman at Cyprus-Rhodes. Rusty is undeniably awkward, cute in a nerdy way, and incredibly smart. In one episode, the Cartwright parents come to visit Rusty for Freshman Parents’ Day. It becomes apparent that the parents favor Rusty because of his smarts, ambition, and mapped out plan for his life. By the end of the episode, though, Rusty ends up sticking for his sister, pointing out her numerous good qualities, and the parents realize that they can’t ask Casey to be Rusty. So, the hardships of living up to another sibling are still a theme today, and happen in real life. Not that I would know: I am that older sibling. My younger brother constantly nags about how he has to live up to the "Anna shadow" in high school. I understand his point of view, but he can’t ask me to be anything less than what I am. And that is an overachiever. :)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

In Defense of Emo

Richard Dyer’s article “In Defense of Disco” attempts to validate disco in the eyes of his readers. Disco was a place where the lines separating race, gender, class, and sexual orientation disappeared. Every one was equal, and you proved your worth through nothing else but the movement of your feet. However, today Disco is an often ridiculed genre. Dyer explains how it is more misunderstood than anything, and how Disco provides insight into human experience.

I feel the same way about the Emo genre. I’ve already admitted to being a closet emo in an earlier post, so you should have seen this coming. Often the emo style and trends are understood to be all about skinny pants, sadness, and slitting wrists. I am out to prove that the Emo genre goes far beyond the shadow of side swept bangs. Thus, I write In Defense of Emo.

For those of you who do not know, “emo” is derived from the word “emotional.” So, the common mental image when one hears the word emo is

that of a sad kid with thick black eyeliner crying and rocking himself in the fetal position with his ear buds blocking out the uncaring world. Am I right?

But the emo genre is misunderstood, and offers a much deeper connection to the music. Dyer opens his article claiming that all his life he liked the wrong music. I can claim the same. Among my peers Classic rock is the worshipped music form, but I generally find it mediocre and old hat. I’ve lived in the South my entire life, so it is expected that the Country vein runs throughout my body.

I’ve never liked the genre, and I still get shocked reactions when I admit so. I prefer to find the small bands, the ones who write lyrics for individual listeners and not mass audiences. I found this in Emo music. I love the fact that these singers wear their hearts on their sleeves, or more appropriately, on their wrists. So Emo is often written off as just one more sad song. But the connections the writers have to their sad lyrics provide a catharsis for its listeners. I believe the reputation stems from the understanding that the lyrics are sad, with a sad ending.

How can this lead to a cleansed, satisfied feeling? Ironically, if you are having a bad day and you listen to a sad song, you connect with the lyrics and that sense of similarity can give you a positive feeling. Someone knows how or what you are feeling and is talented enough to put your thoughts into song. There are plenty of emos (and closet emos like myself) who lead happy lives, but just appreciate the Emo genre for the raw emotions it offers.

No other genre has as successfully portrayed the heartbreak in life. Rock music may have sad ballads, but the rough voice of the singers give a more “disgusted with the situation” feel to the songs. Country singers’ sad songs sound like they are whining. And pop singers lead too perfect lives to write a genuinely sad song. Emo singers have the understanding of pain, but the skill to sing about it without hate and without whining. So the Emo genre is an irreplaceable icon in human experience. Without it, those rainy days could be countered with a peppy song about the perfect car, the perfect boyfriend, and the perfect life. On a day when my life isn’t going so hot, those songs don’t make my situation look any better. They make me want to, well, you know what emo kids do.