Amoeblog

COULD SOMEONE DIRECT ME TO THE CROSSROAD?

Posted by Charles Reece, February 8, 2009 09:44pm | Post a Comment
I went down to the crossroad
fell down on my knees
I went down to the crossroad
fell down on my knees
Asked the lord above "Have mercy now
save poor Bob if you please"
-- Robert Johnson, "Cross Road Blues"
Corporate-manufactured popular music aka The Mainstream is like a ninja, everywhere and yet hidden to me. The best place to hide from my ears is on the radio, out in the open. Thus, out of curiosity, I caught a bit of the Grammy Awards tonight. (It's still on as I write this: Smokey Robinson is currently teaming up with Jamie Foxx).  Here's something that I saw:
I've never been a fan of Stevie Wonder. In fact, I hold him responsible for the moribund course R&B has been on since he first appeared -- all that meaningless vocal gyration that's called winning on American Idol.  Just when I thought his music couldn't get any less soulful, he surprised me with the above. That's little Stevie performing with Generation Next's version of the Hanson Brothers. I'm guessing the Jonas Brothers are some spin off from a NIckelodeon or Disney Channel show.  Why is it that the more famous and successful a star gets, the more likely he or she has no concern for artistic integrity? I can understand why some up and coming bar band would be willing to sell one of their songs to an ad agency, but a rich artist who doesn't need the money? Hell, a Grammy appearance probably doesn't even pay, rather it's about exposure -- as if Stevie fucking Wonder needed exposure!  Anyway, his appearance reminded me of an old essay by John Densmore, drummer for The Doors.  He wrote:
Apple Computer called on a Tuesday--they already had the audacity to spend money to cut "When the Music's Over" into an ad for their new cube computer software. They want to air it the next weekend, and will give us a million and a half dollars! A MILLION AND A HALF DOLLARS! Apple is a pretty hip company...we use computers.... Dammit! Why did Jim (Morrison) have to have such integrity?

I'm pretty clear that we shouldn't do it. We don't need the money. But I get such pressure from one particular bandmate (the one who wears glasses and plays keyboards).

Continue reading...

Marxist Tales 3: Falling Stars, or When Art Imitates Art

Posted by Charles Reece, January 5, 2009 11:00pm | Post a Comment

Madonna falling in Rio back in December got me to thinking, naturally enough, about Mulholland Dr.'s use of "Llorando," Rebekah Del Rio's Spanish cover of "Crying." There's a lot of gravitas to gravity -- with one slip, the reality of artifice can be exposed. At the club Silencio, when the character of Del Rio (played by Del Rio) falls, but her singing continues, David Lynch is playing around with Bertolt Brecht's epic theater and his notion of estrangement. By having the work remind the audience of the layer of representation intervening between them and the emotions they're experiencing, Brecht hoped to create a more politico-rationally engaged experience -- that is, one of empathy, not sympathy (the former being of intellectual understanding, not the latter's identification).


However, Lynch turns estrangement on its ear by using lip-synching as the emotional crux of his film. If you'll remember, the scene occurs at the point where the fugue world of Betty is fracturing, and the reality of Diane is seeping in. Diane had killed her lover, Camilla, out of jealousy, replacing her in the dream with the amnesiac Rita. Of course Rita can't remember who she is, because she's a manifestation of Diane's oneiric state, a displacement of Camilla, with all the bad stuff repressed. As Rita, she's a ghost, pure desideratum, or Diane's objective (objectified) correlative of the real deal. (In fact, the same applies to Betty; she's Diane's idealized self.) Just as the illusion of the film's representational quality is most exposed (Lynch's "eye of the duck" scene), Betty and Rita begin sobbing -- and (provided the Silencio sequence works properly) the audience along with them.


Lynch has the audience identifying with his characters' experience of the distancing effect. The more one becomes cognitively aware of what's going on (say, knowing what's coming next in the narrative through repeated viewings), the more the emotive impact of the scene. The two dream projections, Betty and Rita, are doppelgängers of Diane, and (through identification) reflections of our own contemporary existence in what Guy Debord called the society of the spectacle. We all exist as objectified projections of others while projecting our own images on them in return. The rub is that often what we desire and who we believe ourselves to be are thoroughly mediated by spectacle (our own images are no more our own than the other's image of us). Being made aware of specular (representational) mediation as Brechtian theater attempted hardly solves the contemporary dilemma between what's real and what's merely manufactured. Awareness of artifice is no longer sufficient to counterprogram mass desire (if it ever was), since a lip-synching existence has become an object of dreams. Gravity's truth hasn't hurt the fanbase of the following stars, any more than that of Madonna's.

Beyoncé


Shakira


K-ci & JoJo

The show goes on independently of the stars, just like a perpetual motion machine. Increasingly, we're less likely to feel shame at the antics of Milli Vanilli, instead dreaming of getting such a choice gig. What's really most prized, the face or the voice behind the face? Beyoncé can actually sing, but that's not really why she's famous. Her voice is a phony justification for her star image. The what's-their-names behind Milli Vanilli could sing, too, but fat lot of good that does them now. In other words, "hips don't lie."

Anyone under 60 probably has some level of sophistication regarding the construction of images, but this generalized awareness can lead many to be skeptical of an image's falsity. Living in an age where the medium is the message creates a parity between the real and illusion, making such a determination an agnostic guessing game of which is which. Consider that there was much debate on YouTube as to whether WWE impresario Vince McMahon was really hurt during the obviously staged destruction of the set around him:


As professional wrestlers will tell you in these supposedly sophisticated times, just because wrestling is pure commodity, staged for our entertainment, doesn't mean that they don't really get hurt. These wrestlers acknowledge the truth in Lynch's film: artifice is painful, regardless of whether we know it's false. Aware of the image people have of him, Pauly Shore pulled an Andy Kaufman-esque stunt playing into the mass desire of wanting to see him get punched:


Clearly, Shore was inspired by the internet infamy achieved by Glen Danzig when his macho image got neutered:


Whereas Danzig was probably embarrassed, Shore's intent was, like Madonna's voice in Rio, just to keep his fading stardom continuing as long as possible -- that is, regardless of whether he looked like a coward or a wimp. Being seen is the desire, 'as what' is irrelevant. (The strategy can work.) That's why we can see former Guns 'N Roses drummer Steven Adler sucking on a bong, crying about how Slash hasn't called him on Celebrity Rehab. And it's why some dumb fucker on Cheaters or COPS will sign a release form. When the dream being bought and sold is nothing more than cheap spectacle, devoid of content, where does that leave us? Somewhere in the precarious space of this young actress playing Helen Keller:


Feeling sadness at Diane's awakening to the role she's been playing out in her slumber demonstrates that there's something very real in her identification with images. Del Rio's falling begins to ground Diane's imaginary weightless existence with the moral ramifications of the choices she made in pursuit of the fantasy. Here, Lynch uses the identification with fiction in its most enlightened sense, to reflect our current state of being. As a dialectic between mass media and identity, eventually the desired spectacle will trip over reality. To borrow an analogy from Plato, we can either lift the stick out of the water to see that it's not actually bent, or we can continue to leave it there.

Parts I and II.

Jean-Claude Van Damme, Critical Darling: The Mythopoiesis of JCVD (2008)

Posted by Charles Reece, November 22, 2008 07:18pm | Post a Comment
The white meat is on the run
and the dark meat is far too done
and the milkman left me a note yesterday
get out of this town by noon
you're coming on way too soon
and besides that we never liked you anyway.
-- "Sweet Revenge" by John Prine (with a nod to Hunter S. Thompson) 
 

Who'dathunk it, but the Muscles from Brussels has finally starred in a film that's been getting some good critical response. JCVD is an attempt to explore the heart and mind of Jean-Claude Varenberg, the man behind the dissipating Van Damme legend. Director and co-writer Mabrouk El Mechri might've called the film I'm Not There had the title not already been taken. It's a pomo-biopic trying for more versimiltude than Being John Malcovich, but any honesty in the film is more of an accidental byproduct of the essential cluelessness of its eponymous star than the result of actual introspection. 'Tis the the age of schadenfreude, and that's why I went to see this film. As Dostoevsky said, we love "the disgrace of the righteous man," only Van Damme ain't righteous, just famous. As he admits in the movie, he's just a commodity, who's benefited greatly from being so. The film asks us to care about the toy that starts feeling suffocated by its packaging. The resulting drama, however, comes closer to a VH1 special about a boy band member deciding he's a real artist. If you were crying along with Dave Mustaine in Some Kind of Monster or get choked up reguarly watching Oprah give shit away to bourgeois housewives, then JCVD might be something other than comedy relief. This is a date movie for WWE fans.

But I came to bury Jean-Claude, not praise him. Unfortunately, JCVD spends too much time on its plot, rather than the philosophy of the man (e.g., "To me, life is... you open the shutters, you see the dogs outside, you look left, you look right, in, what, a second and a half? And that's a life." -- osu!). As JC, he's taking time off from Hollywood in his native hometown, where he mistakenly gets blamed for a post office robbery despite his being one of the victims. His supposed friends in Hollywood and the powers that be almost take it for granted that he's to blame, but his true fans stick behind him. The armed robbers make him continue with the illusion if he wants to keep the hostages alive. No wonder Jean-Claude was willing to take the piss out of himself to resurrect his career. With satire like this, who needs critical praise? The definitive answer has been given to WWJD, anything that helps. And it seems to be working; despite the noxious narcissism, many have found the faith. Surely, Oprah's delivering a virgin birth will arrive before everything comes to a screeching halt in 2012 (to be released in 2009, under the direction of Roland Emmerich). However, for ye of little faith, the only thing really intentionally funny is the teaser trailer:
 

I suppose there's an academic thesis somewhere on the fact that Jean-Claude plays a simulacrum of himself, JC, but the latter turns out to have more depth than the real thing. If you ever wanted to see him cry while performing a soliloquy, now's your chance. Evidently, he -- or the specular JC, as constituted by the writers -- feels really bad about his earning so much for churning out pap in a world where people just as talented don't make squat (JC can't quite bring himself to say, "more talented"). Yep, he's learned a thing or two over the years (namely, to produce tears on demand). I don't think I'm giving away too much to say JC lives in the end. As he's being held at gunpoint by one of the criminals with the gendarmerie all around, he experiences his Last Temptation: a dream of rolling under the gunman and taking him out, then standing up and flexing his muscles to his cheering acolytes. But the older and wiser JC resists the lure of popularity, and instead elbows the criminal, merely to fall to the ground. He's subsequently arrested as a suspect, with few of his fans knowing that he sacrificed his reputation in order to keep the hostages alive. JC gives and he gives and he gives. Pop martyrdom and religious allegory -- where have you gone Marty Scorsese?

MEMORABLE MOMENTS FROM WHEN JEAN-CLAUDE WAS JUST A MAN

Van Damme vs. Chuck Zito


"My father taught me how to fight when I was 5," says Zito (who would later pick up five martial-arts black belts). But his most memorable knockout was not in the ring. It came in 1998 in the Scores strip club, when tough-guy movie star Jean-Claude Van Damme cursed out Zito publicly. Zito responded with a straight right and a left hook, screaming, "This ain't the movies! This is the street, and I own the street!"