Amoeblog

Thor: The Dark(er) World (2013)

Posted by Charles Reece, November 10, 2013 11:23am | Post a Comment
thor dark world poster doaly

If you'll recall, the first Thor film stirred up controversy by casting Idris Elba, a black man, as the character of Heimdall, the door man to Asgard -- not because the first black Asgardian is a door man, but only because Norse Gods are Aryan and thus presumed to be white. (I doubt it would've been the white power advocates objecting had Jarvis been made a black man, rather than A.I., in The Avengers and Iron Man.) The sequel, The Dark World, defiantly expands his role, having a lot more people, gods and various mythical beings enter Asgard, thereby keeping Helmdall busier than if he worked for a hotel in a 30s screwball comedy. The filmmakers also give the racist complainers even more whatfor by casting a lot of the Asgardian warriors as black (and one Japanese). See all those black dudes punching something or other in the background, or kneeling to the greatest of all Asgardians, Thor (played by Chris Hemsworth, a white man), after he proves his mettle in battle? I can imagine the decision made at the meeting: "this will really fuck with those white power assholes!" This is post-racial Hollywood, so I guess it doesn't matter that the servant is still black, just like Rochester, and the master who, like Mr. Benny, makes all the major decisions, is still blue-eyed and white. Perhaps simply applying black faces onto white mythology isn't the best approach to solving problems in representation.

The Dark World does actually bring up an interesting problem about representation in fantasy on film (sigh, DCP). One of the main evil dark elves, Akrim (the second in command), is played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, a black man. Keeping with the film's racial sensitivity, he's the first major character to sacrifice himself for the cause. He doesn't exactly die, but instead transforms into a giant mutant elf, Kurse, with the actor subsequently completely covered in prosthetics and, I suspect, often rendered digitally (at least, in the battles). My question is does he still count as black representation? Too bad for the actual actor, but the answer seems to be 'yes,' since (1) in the fictional narrative of a novel, simply assigning a character as black (like Rue in Hunger Games) is enough to make them black, (2) a black character in a cartoon is an example of black representation (Green Lantern in Justice League), so why not this digital creation who clearly starts off as a black man? and, relatedly, (3) if the digital creation Gollum continues to be white, because of who he was as Sméagol, a white hobbit, the same rationale applies to the black elf becoming a mutant. (Not that any of this was probably thought about during pre-production.) 

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Cold Storage: A Hazy Recollection of My Sick Days

Posted by Charles Reece, November 14, 2010 11:55pm | Post a Comment
I've had a horrible cold, and when I'm sick I lie around, sleep through DVDs and aimlessly look about the Web for things to entertain me. Here's some stuff that occupied my time:

"A hero to most," including me, I guess:


Ideological analysis as occasionally practiced on this blog can be tricky. One thing I don't like about so called culture studies (if I can make a blanket statement about a blanket term) is that while it's helped open the possibility of thinking seriously about pop culture, the aesthetic content of its subjects is often lost.  Notions of evaluation are either dismissed or ignored, treated as if they're otiose and old-fashioned. Contrariwise, I'd suggest that even if, in their respective times, both Frank Sinatra and Katy Perry served parallel functions in Ideological State Apparatuses, one shouldn't reduce them to the same level of aesthetic quality. There's something about art, even popular art, that's not reducible to the Culture Industry. Some commodities are constructed better than others. Now, usually I feel like I'm bungling my way through the history of ideas obtained from half-read books which I don't quite understand or explain properly, but when re-reading an old discussion I participated in a few years back, I actually (now from a distance) agree with the thought I was attempting to formulate. So, for posterity, here 'tis: 

Elvis was far more successful at doing rock & roll than his black predecessors. That's in large part because of the cultural context -- racism, in particular -- and how it shaped the music industry's expectations of what would sell and what wouldn't to a "mass" (read: white people with some disposable income) audience. Acknowledging (or analyzing) such reasons as his whiteness and male beauty shouldn't be a substitute for his very real and obvious talent. It wasn't merely because his music came in a readily digestible package (though it did), nor merely because he was more "iconic" or "mythic" than Big Mama Thornton (which is just another way of stating he was more easily commodified than a fat black woman in the 50s). The culture industry was what it was, but Elvis was what he was, too. [...] Lomax could've recorded Elvis on a porch in the hills and that talent would still be there.
-- from a thread on a comic book messboard in 2007

In other words, Chuck D was wrong to reduce Elvis' appeal to racism only. I had a lot of fun reading that discussion again. It's the kind of saltatory debate that could happen only after geeks began forming subcultures on message boards. Maybe it's just me, but with blogs now having taken over, you don't quite get the same level of wild rancor in tête-à-têtes between rival geek ideologues.

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Youth Is Revoltin': The Valley of the Bees (1968) & Logan's Run (1976)

Posted by Charles Reece, January 17, 2010 06:36pm | Post a Comment

Ondřej begins Frantisek Vlácil and Vladimír Körner's The Valley of the Bees as a teenager jealous of his ogrish father, Lord of Vlkov (Zdeněk Kryzánek), who's just married Lenora. She's Ondřej's age, and he clearly has a crush on her, expressing his anger by giving his stepmother a basket of flowers with a bunch of crippled bats at the bottom. She freaks out, to which the father responds by picking up his son and throwing him against a stone wall. Fearing that his son might die, and to assuage his guilt, the Lord promises his son to God if the Almighty will spare Ondřej. He survives, and is sent to the North to become a warrior monk under the tutelage of Armin (Czech heartthrob Jan Kačer) in the Order of St. Mary of Jerusalem, the local equivalent of the Knights Templar. 

The Order functions for Armin like contemporary Gospel music does for its male performers, as a repressive sublimation of homosexual inclinations. He's a true believer who warns Ondřej (now played by Petr Čepek) to not give in to the materialist temptations of the Pagan world, telling him what became of some of their brothers not properly committed: "Some knights were mercenaries, and did not seek salvation. Instead they sought beautiful women and riches, only to drink their own urine in the desert, cursing God and their mothers." That is, "suffering is the way to God." Or, in a sort of Pascalian wager -- this being the Middle Ages -- you're going to suffer, so it might as well be for a higher purpose. The only joy allowed here is jouissance, taking pleasure in the pain of monastic denial. Ondřej has his doubt, feeling only his balls getting cold in the water in which he lies with Armin.

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America Gets a Post-Racial: The Legacy of Lee Atwater

Posted by Charles Reece, August 30, 2009 10:03am | Post a Comment
The latest issue of The London Review of Books has an excellent essay, "What Matters," by Walter Benn Michaels (author of The Trouble with Diversity). In analyzing the recent arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Michaels answers my fellow blogger Eric's question of "who's black?" with another, more telling question: "who's poor?." To wit:

Gates, as one of his Harvard colleagues said, is ‘a famous, wealthy and important black man’, a point Gates himself tried to make to the arresting officer – the way he put it was: ‘You don’t know who you’re messing with.’ But, despite the helpful hint, the cop failed to recognise an essential truth about neoliberal America: it’s no longer enough to kowtow to rich white people; now you have to kowtow to rich black people too.

[...]

In the US, one of the great uses of racism was (and is) to induce poor white people to feel a crucial and entirely specious fellowship with rich white people; one of the great uses of anti-racism is to make poor black people feel a crucial and equally specious fellowship with rich black people. Furthermore, in the form of the celebration of ‘identity’ and ‘ethnic diversity’, it seeks to create a bond between poor black people and rich white ones. So the African-American woman who cleans my office is supposed to feel not so bad about the fact that I make almost ten times as much money as she does because she can be confident that I’m not racist or sexist and that I respect her culture. And she’s also supposed to feel pride because the dean of our college, who makes much more than ten times what she does, is African-American, like her. And since the chancellor of our university, who makes more than 15 times what she does, is not only African-American but a woman too (the fruits of both anti-racism and anti-sexism!), she can feel doubly good about her.

In the words of our first "post-racial" president's speechwriters, it's the economy, stupid (or, rather, the racially stupid economy -- even its staunchest proponents this side of Ayn Rand will tell you that capitalism is amoral). As the harbinger of racial peace through commercial success, a prescient Arsenio Hall managed to signify our current climate through one particular performance that bridged the old racial divide in popular culture, that of the poor black's blues and the poor white's country:

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Hegemonic Fantasies Make Me Feel Like an American, Part II: Iron Man

Posted by Charles Reece, May 4, 2008 08:48pm | Post a Comment
Just look at all that merchandising and sequel potential!

I have a special relation to the Iron Man comic; it was my first.  Due to Uncle Skeeter giving me issue 52 as a Christmas present, I developed a lifelong obsession with the graphic narrative form (i.e., it made me a comics nerd, but never this nerdy).  Despite the ablative effects of my high school years, in which I temporarily replaced my adolescent recreational addiction with one of a more illicit kind, I still remember that comic, due to a picture of me clutching it by a Christmas tree.  So, I guess it's a combination of nostalgia, the (more often than not) sobriety of adulthood and the promise of no Ben Affleck that keeps me going back to shitty Hollywood adaptations of superhero comics I rarely read these days.  Thankfully, Iron Man the movie is pretty good.

Even without narcotics, the Iron Man comic is pretty forgettable.  I only remember a few of his villains: The Mandarin, a Fu Manchu ripoff who wore a specially powered ring on each of his fingers; the Unicorn, a technological foe who shot repulsor beams from his forehead; the Viet Cong, dreaded communists who envied his capitalist knowhow and freedom (aka surplus leisure time); and the bottle, which took something like a 120 issues before it became a problem.  Mainstream entertainment isn't allowed to mock other nationalities anymore -- at least not explicitly -- so the Mandarin was out as a villain for the movie.  However, fearing foreign ideologies is still in fashion.  Only problem is that communists make better capitalists than classic liberals do these days, so Red-baiting wouldn't hold much cachet.  Ang Lee's The Hulk demonstrated that most people don't go to see superhero films for an analysis of domestic problems, so alcoholism will have to wait for a subplot in the turgid third installment.  And a guy who shoots beams from his forehead would probably look pretty stupid on the big screen, giving the screenwriters and production designers migraines trying to come up with some phony explanation for why his head doesn't snap back when he fires. 

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