Friday, July 31, 2015

Singles Going Steady

PopMatters has launched a new feature this week called "Singles Going Steady" and I've decided to participate, dipping my toes back into music writing.

I've got blurbies on today's singles by

Duran Duran ft. Janelle Monae

Josh Ritter

and The Chills

Personable- "Snore"

aka M Geddes Gendras

Verbal Kent feat Freddie Gibbs- "Suitcase Switch"

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Is It Impossible to Make an Anti-War on Women Film?

Reading this dialogue between Mark Fisher and Amber Jacobs on Black Swan, originally published in Film Quarterly, and can't help thinking that I agree with both sides of the argument.  On the one hand, I, like Mark, originally saw the film and accepted its artifice, found it deeply moving, and thought it to be a deeply feminist film in the ways it portrayed women's bodies as this battleground for male design/male pleasure.  The body horror aspects- particularly the quasi-foot-binding- were particularly striking and have stuck with me through the years, even though I've only watched the film one other time since seeing it in the theaters. However, to Jacobs's point, the way the film presents itself as a film about the way women are pitted against one another does not leave room for departure, and entrenches the film in the rules and stereotypes it seems to be critiquing.  This makes it a horror film about, by, and within patriarchy, even if one considers the negativity of the angles it focuses on to frame it more against than for.

It makes me think about the old adage (attributed to Truffaut) about how you can never truly make an anti-war film, because every film about war must reinforce the notion that war is exciting and thrilling.  In a similar way, I wonder if you can ever make a film about the limitations of patriarchy, particularly as a male storyteller, without affirming its allegedly innate authority.   Natalie Portman's Nina in Black Swan is a character that is completely invested in the patriarchal model of womanhood, and certainly women who are meek, overwhelmed, and unstable (I'd stop short of saying "hysterical" as Jacobs suggests- I think she's drawn a touch more three-dimensionally than that) do exist.  One of the reasons I found the film compelling was because it contained a protagonist you don't often see on the screen.  But can you choose a protagonist like this, whose entire value system is defined within the horror of patriarchy, without making said central figure become an allegorical emblem of womanhood?

 In Black Swan, I believe Mila Kunis's Lily was designed to be a foil to this, but all of what we know of Lily is told from Nina's decidedly skewed perspective.  Nina believes Lily is after her role, because that seems to the rules of engagement, but there are several moments in which Lily couldn't seem to care less.  Nina sees in Lily her own expiration date, but she also desires the way in which Lily may just be free of concern about the patriarchal rules- that is, if this isn't just an act, an elaborate ruse to sneak her way into Nina's ballet shoes.  The film doesn't let us see Lily in just one way though.  It makes us want to believe the best since Nina is clearly crazy, but also makes us complicit in the lie that all women are catty and manipulative at their core.

Entrepreneurial Spirit


"The saintly Alan recently gave a talk to newspaper editors in the US. He spoke passionately about the miracles of the market, the wonders bought by consumer choice and so on. He also gave some examples: the Internet, computers, information processing, lasers, satellites, transistors.28 It's an interesting list: these are textbook examples of creativity and production in the public sector. In the case of the Internet, for thirty years it was designed, developed, and funded primarily in the public sector, mostly the Pentagon, then the National Science Foundation, that's most of the hardware, the software, new ideas, technology and so on. In just the last couple of years it has been handed over to people like Bill Gates who, at least, you have to admire for his honesty: he attributes his success to his ability to 'embrace and extend' the ideas of others, commonly others in the public sector.29 In the case of the Internet, consumer choice was close to zero, and during the crucial development stages the same is true of computers, information processing, and all the rest, unless by 'consumer' you mean the government; that is, public subsidy.
"In fact, of all the examples that Greenspan gives, the only one that rises maybe to the level of a joke is transistors, and they are an interesting case. Transistors, in fact, were developed in a private laboratory - Bell Telephone Laboratories of AT&T - which also made major contributions to solar cells, radio astronomy, information theory, and lots of other important things. But what is the role of markets and consumer choice in that? Well again, it turns out, zero. AT&T was a government supported monopoly, so there was no consumer choice, and as a monopoly they could charge high prices: in effect, a tax on the public which they could use for institutions like Bell Laboratories where they could do all of this work. So again, it's publicly subsidised. As if to demonstrate the point, as soon as the industry was deregulated Bell Labs went out of existence, because the public wasn't paying for it any more: its successors work mostly on short-term applied projects. But that's only the beginning of the story. True, Bell Labs invented transistors, but they used wartime technology which, again, was publicly subsidised and state-initiated. Furthermore there was nobody to buy transistors at that time, because they were very expensive to produce.
"So, for ten years the government was the major procurer, particularly for high-performance transistors. In 1958 the Bell Telephone supplier, Western Electric, was producing hundreds of thousands of these, but solely for military applications. Government procurement provided entrepreneurial initiatives and guided the development of the technology, which could then be disseminated to industry. That's 'consumer choice' and the 'miracle of the market' in the one case that you can even look at without ridicule. And in fact that story generalises, even the most ignorant economist must know this. The dynamic sectors of the economy rely crucially on massive public subsidy, innovation and creativity; the examples that Greenspan gave are mostly some of the most dramatic cases of this. It's a revealing set of choices. A lot of this is masked as defence, but that's not all, the same is true in biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and so on.
Naturally, business is delighted with all of this: the public pays the costs, assumes the risks (a kind of 'socialism for the rich'); and profit and power are privatised -- that's really existing market theory. It goes back for centuries, but it is dramatically true now.
"Particular cases make it even more dramatic. Take the leader of the conservative revolution in Congress, Newt Gingrich. He is a fount of very impressive rhetoric about the work ethic, and getting off the cycle of dependency, how seven-year-old children have to learn responsibility and that sort of thing. But, year after year, he holds the championship in bringing home federal subsidies to his rich constituents, in a sector of Georgia where the economy is even more dependent on federal subsidies than in most places.30 His favourite cash-cow is Lockheed-Martin. There is a two-hundred-dollar annual Lockheed-Martin tax per capita in the US"

- Noam Chomsky, Power in the Global Area, 1998

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

No Cars Go

"The DEA program collects data about vehicle movements, including time, direction and location, from high-tech cameras placed strategically on major highways. Many devices also record visual images of drivers and passengers, which are sometimes clear enough for investigators to confirm identities, according to DEA documents and people familiar with the program.

The documents show that the DEA also uses license-plate readers operated by state, local and federal law-enforcement agencies to feed into its own network and create a far-reaching, constantly updating database of electronic eyes scanning traffic on the roads to steer police toward suspects.

The law-enforcement scanners are different from those used to collect tolls.

By 2011, the DEA had about 100 cameras feeding into the database, the documents show. On Interstate 95 in New Jersey, license-plate readers feed data to the DEA—giving law-enforcement personnel around the country the ability to search for a suspect vehicle on one of the country’s busiest highways. One undated internal document shows the program also gathers data from license-plate readers in Florida and Georgia.

“Any database that collects detailed location information about Americans not suspected of crimes raises very serious privacy questions,’’ said Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the ACLU. “It’s unconscionable that technology with such far-reaching potential would be deployed in such secrecy. People might disagree about exactly how we should use such powerful surveillance technologies, but it should be democratically decided, it shouldn’t be done in secret.’’

- Devlin Barrett, U.S. Spies on Millions of Drivers, Wall Street Journal

Against Slow Cinema

"So my overall sense is that the Contemplative Cinema Canon doesn’t even give us a very good sense of what’s most interesting and most powerful in contemporary international art cinema today. But I think there’s more. Great works of art can be created in profoundly retrograde styles, and almost completely detached from contemporary concerns. And I think the best works of the Contemplative Cinema Canon may in fact be described in such a way. But I still think that, even at its best, Slow-Cinema-As-Default-International-Style is profoundly nostalgic and regressive — and I think that this is a bad thing. It’s a way of simulating older cinematic styles, and giving them a new appearance of  life (or more precisely, a new zombified life-in-death), as a way of flattering classicist cinephiles, and of simply ignoring everything that has happened, socially, politically, and technologically, in the last 30 years. It’s a way of saying No to mainstream Hollywood’s current fast-edit, post-continuity, highly digital style, simply by pretending that it doesn’t even exist. And I agree with Nick James that this simply isn’t enough."- Steven Shaviro, Slow Cinema vs Fast Cinema

Nearly every art/indie film I watch these days is so fucking dull, you guys.  Nearly as bad as the superhero films.  Above, a great example- the infinitely dull Somewhere directed by Sofia Copolla, which was followed up by the far "faster" and incredibly superior, prescient and entertaining The Bling Ring.

Dreamcrusher- "Youth Problem"