Paranoia, They Destroy Ya: Death Sentence vs. The Brave One, or Jodie Foster's Continuing Relevance to the Presidency

Posted by Charles Reece, February 8, 2008 12:50pm | Post a Comment
Given Hillary Clinton’s history of backing neo-liberal economic policies and war-making by the United States and its allies, her advocacy of women’s rights overseas within what is widely seen outside this country as an imperialist context could actually set back indigenous feminist movements in the same a way that the Bush administration’s “democracy-promotion” agenda has been a serious setback to popular struggles for freedom and democracy.  -- Stephen Zunes, Sexism, the Women’s Vote and Hillary Clinton’s Foreign Policy
These promises of morality, protection, and recognition of harm are false promises. The criminal justice apparatus is about order and its reproduction, and about maintaining the existing hierarchy of status and privilege, and only incidentally about crime or morality or the safety of individual citizens and their communities. It operates most effectively at
the level of the symbolic, by naming individual offenders as morally defective, and using them as scapegoats, and only incidentally as a useful tool for community security, although at times it is the only and the most appropriate social institution available. -- Diane L. Martin, Retributivism Revisited: A Reconsideration of Feminist Criminal Law Reform Strategies

At a time when Spider-Man still had some aesthetic worth, being drawn by the great Steve Ditko, New York was on its way to becoming a dangerous city, giving the super-powered vigilante something to do, presumedly on a daily basis.  However, looking at the crime stats for NYC in 1965, one finds that only 3% of its inhabitants experienced any sort of crime for that year.  With a population of 18 million, it's no wonder that there was rarely a cop around as the Vulture was flying off with his ill-gotten loot.  Now, if you're one lone webslinger, even with the aid of your trusty spider-sense, it ain't very likely that you'll be fortunate enough to come across a crime as it's occurring even on a monthly basis, much less a daily one.  Thus, we have one of the central absurd conceits of the vigilante sub-genre (with radiated powers or merely a stock of ammo): always being in the right place at the right time.

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When Critics Attack! Cloverfield as the Battleground for the Horror Genre

Posted by Charles Reece, January 26, 2008 01:51pm | Post a Comment
As to those in the World Trade Center . . .
Well, really. Let's get a grip here, shall we? True enough, they were civilians of a sort. But innocent? Gimme a break. They formed a technocratic corps at the very heart of America's global financial empire – the "mighty engine of profit" to which the military dimension of U.S. policy has always been enslaved – and they did so both willingly and knowingly. Recourse to "ignorance" – a derivative, after all, of the word "ignore" – counts as less than an excuse among this relatively well-educated elite. To the extent that any of them were unaware of the costs and consequences to others of what they were involved in – and in many cases excelling at – it was because of their absolute refusal to see. More likely, it was because they were too busy braying, incessantly and self-importantly, into their cell phones, arranging power lunches and stock transactions, each of which translated, conveniently out of sight, mind and smelling distance, into the starved and rotting flesh of infants. If there was a better, more effective, or in fact any other way of visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers, I'd really be interested in hearing about it. 
--  Ward Churchill, Some People Push Back

Cloverfield is fantasy. The movie is meant to be entertainment — to give people the sort of thrill I had as a kid watching monster movies. I hadn't seen anything that felt that way for many years. I felt like there had to be a way to do a monster movie that's updated and fresh. So we came up with the YouTube-ification of things, the ubiquity of video cameras, cell phones with cameras. The age of self-documentation felt like a wonderful prism through which to look at the monster movie. Our take is what if the absolutely preposterous would happen? How terrifying would that be? The video camera, we all have access to; there's a certain odd and eerie intimacy that goes along with those videos. Our take is a classic B monster movie done in a way that makes it feel very real and relevant, allowing it to be simultaneously spectacular and incredibly intimate.
  -- J. J. Abrams

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A Great American Next-Door Neighbor: Mr. Conservative, Goldwater on Goldwater (2006)

Posted by Charles Reece, January 16, 2008 02:57pm | Post a Comment
Now, I'm liberal, but to a degree
I want ev'rybody to be free
But if you think that I'll let Barry Goldwater
Move in next door and marry my daughter
You must think I'm crazy!
I wouldn't let him do it for all the farms in Cuba.
-- Bob Dylan, I Shall Be Free, No. 10
Back when I was living in Detroit, I had a philosopher friend who was as smart as they come, but as bugfuck crazy a right-winger as they come (well, the right-wing can get pretty goddamn insane, so maybe I exaggerate a bit for rhetorical effect, but he was a good deal nutty, regardless).  He was an atheist with a militant libertarian streak whose silver tongue could convince you of the rational basis for just about any right-wing position if you didn't have every 't' crossed and 'i' dotted in your own arguments.  Over drinks, we'd see who could one-up each other in our beliefs of how many freedoms a person should be permited.  I'll save our conclusions for the faint/pc of heart, but suffice it to say that his ideas for what should be socially permissible (at least, by law) might make the most ardent ACLU attorney blush.  On social issues, having his view in ascendancy in the political world would only make for what I would consider a much better society.  But, then again, he'd also proclaim his admiration for dipshits like Jesse Helms. 

To this day, I find it odd that such libertarians tend to side with right-wing extremists while holding civil views much more in line with my own.  I suppose it comes down to some radical belief in states' rights -- as if a state is any less bureaucratically unfair to its citizens than the federal government -- and seeing businesses as individuals possessing the same rights as, well, actual individuals.  That last belief tends to ignore the long history of businesses being prime real estate where those in power freely piss on the rights of those not in power.  The former tends to tie the more radicalized libertarians, at least, with certain egregious unreconstructed Southern apolegetics regarding the Civil War (as the recent brouhaha over Republican candidate, Ron Paul, demonstrates [1]).

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Pacifying the Inner Man-Child: New Study on Violent Film Effects

Posted by Charles Reece, January 14, 2008 11:40am | Post a Comment
In the short run, if you take away violent movies, you’re going to increase violent crime.   -- Gordon Dahl



Entering into the contentious world of media effects, economists Gordon Dahl and Stefano DellaVigna have found, contrary to the typical social psychological paradigm, that violent crime rates actually dropped during the periods when popular violent movies were released.  Like the majority of economists, they apply the assumption of rational choice theory to movie viewing where the violent-movie audience chooses it over other possibilities, such as going to a bar and getting drunk, slamming their long-necks into someone else's face and/or mauling his girlfriend.  The researchers note that it's not only during the opening weekend that the crime rate drops, but there's no compensatory rise in the following weeks.  In other words, a true reduction of crime occurs (within the short-term sense).

Having had to wade through a bunch of articles on violent media effects in my social psychology classes back in school and as a fairly non-aggressive guy raised on Bronson and Eastwood flicks (thanks, Dad, God rest your soul), I'm pretty skeptical of what's passed for the established consensus of social psychology.  The majority of it tends to rest on fairly artificial procedures where children (as the subjects typically are) watch stuff like Road Runner cartoons or the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers and then act out what they saw in playtime situations.  Just as kids who pretend to cook Play-Doh aren't by that act alone likely to have a propensity for being great chefs, these subjects don't seem any more likely to be really violent adults.  And, in fact, the longitudinal studies of long-term effects of violent media are the least consistent  (statistically reliable) aspect of the media-effects paradigm.  I shot a lot of Indians and massacred even more aliens as a child, but I'm about as far from being sympathetic to our imperialist past as one can get, nor would my first inclination upon being visited by beings from another planet be "get the nukes." 

Art! What Is It Good For? More on The Lives of Others Vis a Vis Clockwork Orange

Posted by Charles Reece, January 10, 2008 09:44pm | Post a Comment
Regarding what I wrote about the the transformative power of music in THE LIVES OF OTHERS being a lie, a pal of mine, K, suggested the possible counter-example of the Nazi being moved by piano music in Polanski's THE PIANIST.  I still haven't seen that film due to its starring Adrian Brody, but I suppose if a digitized giant ape can get me to put aside my aversion for 2 and half hours, the name 'Polanski' ought to, as well, even if it's later Polanski.   So maybe I'll get around to that film at some later date. 

A film that does approach what I was talking about from a truer perspective than Donnersmarck's is Kubrick's CLOCKWORK ORANGE.  The film was based on Burgess's novel, which was a rejection of the panglossian futurism of B. F. Skinner's behaviorism, most notably his sci-fi novel, WALDEN TWO, where the happiness of individuals is derived from the outside-in, every aspect of culture being a stimulus which, if functioning properly, keeps the whole community flowing along in prosperity, promoting the desired actions/"responses" -- the providence of which is defined by the organizers.  Things like art have value insofar as they help shape the "proper" behavior, value being defined top-down.  If that strikes you as totalitarian, that's because it is.  And Kubrick's film is an all-out satirical attack against the reifying tendency of the bureaucratically minded whereby value obtains as a place within the system, never for the thing itself.

Contrary to the story Donnersmarck tells of the incommensurability of violence and art, the love of both happily co-exist in CLOCKWORK ORANGE's protagonist Alex.  As it was with Lenin, he loves smashing heads, but unlike with Lenin, he does so to the accompaniment of Beethoven.  It's not until Alex undergoes reconditioning at the Ludovico lab that Beethoven becomes associated with nonviolence.  Getting a dose of some noxious serum while being forced to watch acts of violence and hearing Beethoven's Ninth Symphony results in just the sort of transformative effect Donnersmarck associates with art.  Donnersmarck might argue that his Stasi Captain gives up his ideology in favor of the intrinsic qualities of the piano piece he hears while spying through headphones, whereas the effects of the Ninth on Alex are due to its extrinsic associations with negative stimuli (via Pavlovian, not Skinnerian, conditioning, but the point remains the same).  This potential distinction, however, rests on the shaky notion that such music has ideological content internal to its nature as art-object, rather than associated with it as a social object.

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