“We don’t really do much readin'” (Rant)

Really? Really? Seen Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen earlier and it’s quite astonishing. It’s dismissive of difference in such a strong way, it’s such a strong statement of old discursive hierarchies, that it is often baffling. Ebert has called this movie “the end of an era” (link) but in many worrying ways it seems to be not just a sign of the times but an indicator of the future. Short- not longterm future, hopefully, but still. Today, we Germans were reminded again of the sagacity of having a representative rather than a direct democracy as the Swiss decided to ban the construction of minarets in their country; for a country where a total of four minarets exist, and no significant problems with immigrants, this is kind of a great illustration of what the term ‘Islamophobia’ actually means. Antisemitism of the very virulent kind is rising again, becoming plain and unapologetic. Postfeminism, and plain misogyny have gained prominence again, as well as a kind of resentment against the public representation, the presence of homosexuality. Resentment is the perfect word actually. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is celebratory, but the loud, crass, widescreen mode of this screams defiance. We’re here, we’re not queer, cope with it. Mel Gibson’s work (link to an older review of mine) is hateful, but it’s also passionate, it’s a defense of the tenets and beliefs that underlie his world-view, while Michael Bay’s artistic project is just a stating of that world-view, a clear and lucid depiction of it, but not an actual defense, which make it much worse. The glaring lights and sounds, the epic length of many of his recent movies, all this at best expresses an irritation of not being given his due, of society moving in a way that is not in accord of what he expects to be his. It is this resentment that made the Swiss initiative succeed, it is this resentment that fuels the hate of some British journalists I know, and it is the same resentment that can make Bay’s movies such a sick fun to watch, although they work best the more you share his ideological premises. Just how funny are two robots, depicted in an almost offensively racist way, with black slang (linguistically, I think, partly channeled through Chappelle’s Show, it’s a pop-culturally mediated understanding of deviant language), gold teeth, who “don’t do much readin'”. This is not about racial hate, it’s a cultural indignation, a description of what’s right and what should be right. Bay is reveling in images of scantly clad women, of airplanes, of heroic shots of military men. The dialogue is just the icing on the cake. Words, eh. Bay doesn’t do much reading, but he does understand his world well and in every frame of this movie of his he presents it to us, loud and in color; this understanding is not something he wants to transmit to us, unlike Gibson. He wants us to celebrate this. He wants, no he needs us to take this at face value and applaud it. Its the only way the movie works, when it works at all. And as I said, this is everywhere.

DOLLHOUSE to be renewed

I have been jumping up and down with glee for a few minutes now, metaphorically speaking. Sez the hollywood reporter:

In a stunning move, sources say Fox has renewed Joss Whedon’s “Dollhouse” for next fall.

The official announcement will not be made until Monday at the network’s upfront presentation, but sources confirm a deal has been struck for another 13 episodes. Fox plans to continue the show on Fridays next fall.

“Putting the cauc back in asian”

racebending.com complained about the whitening of the characters of the movie version of Avatar: The Last Airbender.

On December 9th 2008, the lead roles were cast for M Night Shyamalan’s upcoming film The Last Airbender and all of them were originally cast as white actors.

The Nickelodeon show “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” on which this film is based, featured Asian characters in a fantasy setting inspired and informed by a variety of Asian cultures. The characters fight with East Asian martial arts, have Asian features, dress in clothing from Asian cultures, and write with Chinese characters. The cast and setting were a refreshing departure from predominantly white American media, and were a large part of the show’s appeal as well as an inspiration to many Asian American children.

They also (hum) opened a shop at zazzle.com where they reiterated their complaint

Based on the Asian-influenced animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender, the movie has now cast three white actors to play lead, heroic Asian or Inuit characters. The fourth white actor cast as the lead, antagonist role had been hastily recast, thereby effectively contrasting three white heroes – existing in an Asian-based fantasy world – fighting an (overall) evil brown nation. The production made a choice. That choice sent a clear message:
“American Children of Color: You are not good enough to play the hero, even if that hero shares your ethnicity.”

and offered for sale protest t-shirts, that had, for example, the words: “The Last Airbender: Putting the Cauc back in Asian”, which they had to take down due to copyright violations (see account of that here and a few more motifs). I don’t really think that glockgal (?) has reason to complain, it’s quite transparently a trademark issue, and she’s selling shirts, FFS. But the bigger issue, which is well illustrated by looking at who was whitewashed and who not (see link above or picture here) is troubling, especially since it demonstrates how little, as a culture, we’ve learned, how little we’ve internalized instead of just paying lip service to humane thinking. It is quite frustrating that so many discussions on important issues are structurally (and partly also on the level of actual phrases and formulations) identical with discussions that we had 40, 60, 100 or 200 years ago. And, sometimes, as with amazonfail, a public manifestation of the encrusted hate proves to be the last straw.(via boingboing)

Watch this movie!

I just look at the dopeness. But you, it’s like you just look at the wackness, you know?

I’ve just watched The Wackness, which is an extraordinary movie. I suspect the direction and the camera work’s sloppy, but I can’t judge this movie, I’m so enchanted and moved by it. There you go. I’m a sad sappy sucker. And old, so old. But I love this movie.

Hulkatrice: Ramblings on "The United States of Tara" (TV)

[This is only my second attempt at writing about a TV show, so please excuse my clumsiness and/or stupidity]

The new TV show “The United States of Tara” is a huge success, as far as I am concerned. As I type this short piece, I am watching episode three, delighted by every second of it, as I was delighted by every second in the previous episodes. It is a success in every possible way. The writing is delicious, getting so many pitches just right, as when Kate’s husband talks about the “big diff”, or when having a scene involving both T’s 1970’s hipster jargon and Kate’s 2008’s jargon: Diablo “Juno” Cody’s writing is always clear, always on point, but it would not work as well with actors less great than the cast of this show. The acting is the main selling point. Tony Collette is as good as we’ve come to expect of her, but Keir Gilchrist, who plays Tara’s son, is absolutely astonishing. The premise of the show is easily described: Tara Gregson, who works as a painter of nursery room murals, is a mother of two kids and suffers from D.I.D., dissociative identity disorder: she has multiple personalities which she calls ‘the alters’.

So far we’ve encountered three of them: there’s T, a sixteen year old would-be punk, trapped in this middle-aged woman’s body. She can be rude but she’s actually very friendly and warm. The exact opposite is Buck, a male Vietnam vet, who likes to shoot guns and get into a fight. And then there’s Alice, a 1950’s woman, who appears to be a Super-mom, albeit fitted with 1950s ideas of sex (although she is learning) and morality. Tara is married to Max (played by John Corbett, a.k.a. Aidan from SatC), who is (I think) a gardener, and the weakest character of the whole show, so far. He is little more than a prop in this story: very friendly, very patient. He has trouble resisting the sexual advances of the two female alters, but other than that we don’t get much of him except indulgent smiles and sighs. The Gregsons have two kids: a son, Marshall, and a daughter, Brie. Brie’s your typical teenager, rebelling against her parents (T, of course, is exempt from teenager derision). She is blond, pretty and thoroughly unremarkable. Like her father, she is little but a foil to demonstrate the dynamics of Tara and her alters. Marshall is a closet homosexual 14 year old. He is shy and has just fallen in love with what appears to be a homophobic Christian jock. His character is the only one in the family which is interesting even when not interacting with Tara.

At this early point there is little I can say about the show that is less trite than the previous two paragraphs. I will, however, state what fascinates me about the show, maybe that’s more interesting. I read Tara as a sort of anti-Hulk, or a female Hulk. Now, from our embarrassing comic knowledge we all know about Jennifer Susan Walters, a.k.a. She-Hulk. That character, who chose to keep the Hulk shape, is an endless source of discussions about women and power and feminism. You can go to your local MLA archive for more and smarter work on the She-Hulk. Tara is different in many respects. She does not have superpowers, in the sense of super-human powers (yes there are a couple of classic and not so classic characters who share that with her but we’re comparing her to Hulk now) and she does not prefer to stay in her other state(s). She is closer to the original Hulk, the incredible one. Bruce Banner turns into Hulk when he’s angry just as Tara turns into one of her alters when she’s under stress. She cannot control this and she’d rather just be Tara, just as Mr. Banner’d rather stay himself. Her alters, while not equipped with superhuman powers, can be seen as superpowers in the sense that they represent the ‘shortcomings’ of any regular mom.

Alice is a perfect cook, she can talk and soothe mad teachers and suspicious parents and she keep the house in tip-top shape in the most efficient way possible. T covers a different area of trouble: the teenage child. T can effortlessly em- and sympathize with Brie, she knows what the girl is thinking or feeling because she thinks and feels it as well. Buck, finally, represents a third, and largely underrated area of expertise: when a woman ‘needs to be a man’. We encounter Buck for the first time when Tara witnesses Brie’s Goth boyfriend hit her. When Tara tries to confront him, she fails and this triggers Buck’s appearance, who, in the course of this episode, engages the boyfriend in a fistfight, thus ‘defending Brie’s honor’. The alters are also different in appearance from Tara, although just in the way they are dressed and made up. So, having brought up some similarities to the incredible green guy, why’d I call Tara the anti-Hulk?

My reading stems from the standard reading of Hulk, who is generally read as representing the repressed part of the human character, in Freudian terms: the id, yadda, yadda (for smarter comments, again, do consult the MLA). If Hulk is the id, Tara’s alters could be seen as the super-ego. Hulk is a way for Banner to break out of his mold (the genre expression “mild-mannered” has multiple layers, after all), whereas Tara’s alters are a way of breaking into the mold (also, remember Marcuse’s modifications?). They are her way of conforming to the gender expectations, providing three facets of the perfect wife, the roles she is supposed to play; yes, they are clearly essentialist, but then they’re supposed to be, they are, as I said, not fully formed characters, but gender roles, informed by cultural parameters. The way they interact with their environment speaks volumes of the contradictions inherent in such roles.

There is a limit to this, however. Through all the characters and their interaction a simple moral line is threaded, but there is a lot of promise, especially if we look at fields like heteronormativity. Another intriguing tangent of the whole set up is sexuality. There’s not just Freud/Marcuse, as mentioned. Clearly, the extent to which sexuality is foregrounded almost asks for us to include Reich, doesn’t it? Not so far, however, but the potential’s there. All the characters develop a sexual relation of sorts with Max, their bodies, although they all share a body with Tara, appear to have a different sense of body-ness. This includes a wide range, from the different gait of the four characters to Buck’s declaration that his penis had been shot off in ‘Nam. Sadly, there, too, is a limit to the reflection. Health, height, strength and other things are a given. Still, to wrap this pointless blather up: there is a lot of promise in the “United States of Tara”. As it is, it’s enjoyable and fascinating. It could be great but we’ll see about that. It’s worth at least taking a look.

Cronenbergology

Defamer interviewed Cronenberg, here’s his stance on religion

People don’t pay enough attention to the body. My understanding of life is very existential. I think that we are our bodies. There’s nothing else, and when we die, that’s it. No afterlife. I’m very anti-religious because religion tends to disembody you. There’s an emphasis on your spirit, or where you’ll be when your body’s gone, and that’s misleading. I think the world would be a better place if it we admit that’s not the case.

and on the question “Who is weirder, you or David Lynch?”, he said “Oh, Lynch is way weirder than I am. That’s obvious.” Obvious.