the reappearance of childhood

In a bid to bring even more revenue to its American theme parks, the Disney corporation asked famed photographer Annie Leibovitz to recreate emblematic scenes from various animated films with a myriad of celebrities “playing” different characters.

Argh. This is where my cynicism comes into a mortal battle with my deep romanticism. This is worse than Valentine’s Day, a day that commodifies romantic love, but a day I nevertheless appreciate as a celebration of romantic love. No, this is my ideological principles on the commodification of fantasy, on the forced American nuclear family values Disney placed on otherwise colloquial and communal stories, and on the disdain of always making everything more “real” at the sacrifice of more abstract art (and animation definitely has that, with the way it constantly plays with impossible physics – which is why I’ll always prefer cel animation to computers, but that’s for a different rant); anyway, it’s all these academic principles on the way I want the world to be coming into clash with my ENTIRE CHILDHOOD. I love Disney. I grew up on this shit. Yes, of course I see the problems in many of the fairy tales (or rather, the adaptations of the fairy tales): girls shouldn’t wait for their prince charming, children shouldn’t loathe themselves, and friends shouldn’t be forgotten after the wedding ceremony. But when Dumbo learns to fly, when Prince Phillip fights Maleficent as a dragon, when Pinocchio turns into a real boy, there is a plethora of magic in those films. And I don’t want to say you should look past their ideological problems – quite the contrary – but I don’t think those problems preclude an enjoyment of the films, the stories, and the artistry as a whole.

So all this was going through my mind when I heard Leibovitz was hired to shoot real pictures of animated characters and settings. “It’s all for the commercialism,” I thought. “Disneyland tickets have jumped 50% higher than they were 15 years ago. Maybe they should cut ticket prices if they want more customers, instead of investing a huge amount of money in this star-studded advertising campaign. Hasn’t the Disney corporation worked hard enough as it is to associate childhood dreaming with Disney theme parks? Hasn’t the Disney empire spanned far enough?”

Then I saw the picture of Julianne Moore as Ariel:

Annie Leibovitz makes Julianne Moore the Little Mermaid.

I think that’s really pretty.

“The Little Mermaid” isn’t even one of my favorites – in fact, I’ll go so far as to say it’s one of my least favorites (minus the music, that’s good). But this picture took my breath away. Yeah, it’s real people, but it’s so ethereal, so composited, that in no way could it ever exist in this world. And for that, I can’t say no to it.

I highly recommend checking the rest of the pictures out here. There are 10 in all, my favorites being “Alice in Wonderland”, “Snow White”, “Peter Pan” (Tina Fey is Tinkerbell!), and “The Little Mermaid”.

What can I say, the inner child beats the inner adult every time.

Published in: on April 29, 2008 at 6:47 pm  Comments (3)  
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the mythical “I”

If you’ve been driving around Los Angeles recently, or probably anywhere for that matter, you have no doubt seen the huge billboards that read, CAMERON VS ASHTON. And they have a little sliver that reveals the eyes of both movie stars Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher. It’s an ad campaign for WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS, a surely shitty Hollywood rom-com (that’s insider speak for romantic comedy – get in the know!), but I found the billboard to be somewhat interesting. Not interesting in the SARAH MARSHALL kind of way, which was actually more obnoxious to me than anything – not only does it sort of indulge and validate by its mere existence (with its spray-paint, home-made design) that immature desire to tear down the person who broke up with you, but there’s supposed to be a comma between “My mom always hated you” and “Sarah Marshall” to separate the name as a direct address. I’m not fucking around here. Without that comma, the sentence doesn’t make grammatical sense. Seriously, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read screenplays where the dialogue runs together like a herd of rampaging elephants slamming into a brick wall. “Take this woman” has a whole different meaning than, “Take this, woman.” Come on, people! Take some pride in your writing!

Alright, I rantingly digress*. Back to Cameron and Ashton. What strikes me as interesting about the ad campaign is not just the focus on the stars superseding that of their characters – that shit’s been around for centuries (in fact, the only current realm of advertising that focuses exclusively on characters is that for animated films). Rather, it’s the idea of these two stars, or rather star personas, going against each other as if we won’t be watching a contrived plot with fabricated characters enacting premeditated behavior. No, we’re watching Cameron Diaz spar with Ashton Kutcher. Live. In the flesh.

It’s an interesting statement on the audience’s at least partial desire to feel like the work of fiction is, temporarily, a potential fact; that this faulty, (purportedly) humorous but ultimately passionate relationship that Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz will be getting themselves into on screen may have actually happened to the actors themselves, and that the film crew was just lucky enough to catch it. I’m not talking about cinema verite/documentary style – that’s a totally different animal more reserved for “heavier” fare, where the filmmakers want the audience to believe that what they’re watching is actually happening. No, this is almost the opposite: it’s the audience hoping that the escapist fantasy they’re watching has actually come true for someone… and potentially might come true for them by extension.

It’s that sort of displaced, wishful thinking that makes the “I” in a novel work: the idea that perhaps “I” doesn’t just refer to the central character, but the author as well. That, perhaps, this story really did happen to the man/woman behind the pen. That, perhaps, these stories we tell ourselves really are a physical part of this world.

And, of course, they are. Stories are the way we make sense of our surroundings. They not only give us alternate points of view on both mundane and seminal moments in life, but they also allow us, through the help of an avatar, to experience and purge emotions that might otherwise be unhealthy to act upon. We not only want to believe that the character is actually the author, but by extension we want to believe the character is us. While we do need to know that the work is a contained fiction in order to leave our emotions in the theater (since we don’t sacrifice goats after plays anymore), we also want to believe that we are not the only flesh-and-blood person who has felt these things. For, in the end, isn’t all fiction just a form of emotional autobiography?

Dennis Potter tackles this concept in his television miniseries masterpiece “The Singing Detective”. It’s not only about an author who imagines himself as the lead character in his book, thereby having his real life coexist with his fantasy life, but it has a meta-side to it in that this author character suffers from the same rare disease that Potter himself suffered from: psoriatic arthropathy, a disease in which the body loses all control of temperature and the skin breaks out into rashes, burns, and flakes. In giving his character this identical disease, Potter essentially challenged his audience to consider, “perhaps this is an autobiography cloaked in a fiction. Perhaps this is truly who Dennis Potter is. And if so, perhaps I’m not alone in these feelings that I’m relating to on screen.”

It’s interesting – though not surprising – that, despite the example above, this type of connection in visual dramatic media happens more often with the stars themselves; despite what anybody says about the “auteur” theory, it’s more difficult for an audience to accurately and immediately identify the author of a film/television show/theater play than the author of a novel. It’s why the star system worked – and still works – so well, and why Julia Roberts can continually play slight variations on her star persona. (Because who here knows what she’s like at home?)

Anyway, all that said, there is no fucking way I’m seeing VEGAS. If at least part of me is going to believe that I’m watching real people go through real experiences, I at least want to like the people I’m watching. And who wants to identify with Cameron, Ashton, and that situation, anyway?

*rantingly” is not a real word. I made it up.

Published in: on April 25, 2008 at 11:51 pm  Comments (2)  

the politics of saying hello

This comes from my old Myspace blog, dated 9.15.2006. I was in grad school at the time, hence the outdated references to campus and classes.

So now that school has officially started, I find myself running into several people I spoke with last year in one capacity or another (shared a class, taught their class, asked a question of, etc), and I find myself wanting to say hi, wanting to recognize our temporary but still existent connection. And yet when I search for that eye contact, people seem more comfortable drifting into their previous anonymity. I’d say at least 90% of the time the other person will hang their head, pretend to read or talk on the phone, or just find something more interesting in the direction opposite me. I don’t blame them, necessarily. It just makes me sad that sometimes a simple hello in passing, a simple acknowledgement of the existence of people outside my personal social sphere, is too much to ask.

I find the same thing when walking down the street. Maybe it was just because people have a different social expectation from kids, but when I was young I always had people say hi back. Now it seems we work so hard to stay within our own bubble. It just feels like we are so disconnected from each other that a simple “Hi” on the street is too much a stretch of our identity. How did this happen?

It made me wonder, though, just what it takes to get to know someone. How much of an interaction is required so that it would be uncomfortable not to say hello? Two conversations? A shared experience? Knowing the other’s name? Of course, the answer is going to vary from individual to individual, but socially there has to be some norm that informs people when to forge connections.

How long does it take to really get to know someone? Two months? Six months? A year? My guess is that it depends on how honest you are with that person, but then that begs the question, what does it take to really get to know someone? Is it just knowing their secrets? Is it being able to predict their reactions to any given situation? Is it a certain amount of shared experiences? I feel I got to know one of my very best friends now within the span of perhaps six months mostly through the divulging of secrets, histories, and some similar emotional experiences. Of course any relationship involves constant discovery, but I would say I got to know him pretty well. Then there are others I’ve known for years and I still don’t know dick about them. And it’s odd, because there are people I’ve gotten to know within the past year that I may not know terribly well in that I myself haven’t shared a significant amount of personal information, but with whom I still feel close primarily due to shared experiences. I suppose knowing someone is all relative, and there are several degrees, but it still gives me pause.

But if you can seriously know someone in roughly six months to a year, how long does it take to fall in love? The two obviously happen concurrently, but falling in love is so much more enveloping, requires so much more intimacy and trust and vulnerability. I had a friend once tell me that two people could not possibly be deeply in love in less than a year. Generally that’s perhaps true, but I once fell deeply in love in less than five months with an intensive combination of shared secrets and experiences.

Perhaps these questions are the wrong questions. It’s not how long, but what it takes. Time will differ from relationship to relationship, but the basic content needs to be there. And there should be nothing wrong with forging different kinds of connections with different people. Not everything needs to be lasting, or deep, or involved. Sometimes, if you’ve talked with someone, it might not be such a bad idea to acknowledge your connection to that person, however fleeting it may have been. So if I see you on the street, don’t look the other way. I know you, you know me, maybe not deeply, maybe not in an important way, but we know the other exists, so let’s give a nod to each other, and say hello.

(note: the following is a response from Hillary Bauman, followed by a response to her response by me, both dated sometime within 2 weeks of the original posting)

Hello… I think people are afraid to show recognition all of the time. If we showed recognition to all of the people we saw each day on campus our life would be consumed with keeping up these relationships. I think not saying hello is a tool for keeping one’s output of energy to a minimum. We once lived in tribes that became villages that became towns that became cities that became the world wide web…so many faces…so little time…it’s an unfortunate part of today’s evolving society. Maybe we will someday have telepathy?

My response:
I totally agree with you in that we have an ever increasing number of communication media, and that we have expanded from tribes to a “global village.” However, that is exactly what I’m trying to get at: the global village may be great for business, but it’s shitty for normal, healthy communication. (I think it was Thoreau who, when told that a man from Buffalo could now talk to a man in Alabama with the use of the telephone, he replied, “But what will they say to each other?”) Local community activity has dropped incredibly in the past 20-30 years (do you know anybody that still gets together regularly for bridge or bowling?), largely due to the fact that we find safety in anonymity, among other reasons. I’m trying to make a call to strengthen local ties, which I believe to be especially important in a time when national and international issues are too greatly overshadowing local issues. And I’m not asking people to acknowledge everyone you see. Just those with whom you have previously shared a common bond. Just a recognition that you are aware of that person’s existence, that we have a shared history. I understand that may be too much to ask for from some, and that’s fine, that’s understandable. But then I think how easy it is for me, and I’m generally a pretty shy person. It’s mostly about getting outside your comfort zone.

Published in: on April 17, 2008 at 8:56 pm  Leave a Comment  

Behold the Power, or UweTube

It can unite. It can divide. It can make you laugh or cry. It can allow even the smallest of voices to be heard by the smallest of audiences. But most importantly, it gives all of us the outlet to be political activists in ways we may never have thought imaginable.

Witness the internet and its quintessential website YouTube in all its populist glory when Uwe Boll breaks his silence concerning the online petition against his films. Should you not be familiar with Mr. Boll and his body of work, consider exercising the democratization of information and look him up on Wikipedia.

Happy Monday.

Published in: on April 14, 2008 at 6:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

So if Hillary is Rocky…

Does she remember that, in the first movie, Rocky still lost to the black guy?

Hillary: “No-no-no! I’m, uh, no, I’m Rocky in Rocky 2! Or Rocky 3! Yeah, Obama is Clubber Lang! He killed Burgess Meredith! That’s what I meant! Was that not clear?”

Just a thought: maybe we shouldn’t be comparing politics to pop culture. But I suppose it’s hard when CNN treats Super Tuesday like it’s a monster truck rally (“Monster Tuesday! All the big hitters! Up to the second results! KABOOM!”), and political strategists like to turn nifty sound-bite phrases like “Obama’s preaching the audacity of nope“. Oh, snap! Politics have always been about theater, I understand. Hell, during the election of 1800, thanks to a fragmented, regional press, it was reported that candidate Thomas Jefferson was FUCKING DEAD. And how can you vote for a dead man, I ask you, John McCain voters? (cheap shot!)

But politics haven’t always been as watered down or treated like entertainment. Don’t we want someone in the office who’s going to elevate our level of thinking, not talk down to us? Shouldn’t we be treating the political process with more respect, and taking it on its own terms? If we constantly try to create a narrative out of it, well, in order for a narrative to work you need conflict, and we end up infusing the whole thing with “fights” that may not (and should not) be there. Clinton and Obama are in the same party, for the love of John. Why does she feel the constant need to take him down, or call herself the underdog, as opposed to just espousing her own ideals? Why does she, or anyone, feel the need to re-create herself as a character as opposed to a candidate? Why do we have such a thirst for narrative in our politics? Is it as simple as that’s what allows us to understand a complicated process? Or is a narrative just the inevitable and unavoidable way we interact with anything shown on television?

By the way, in case you were wondering if Obama responded to this Rocky reference: he did, by reminding the world that Rocky is a MOVIE.

Oh yeah, and do you think Hillary remembers that after losing to the black guy, Rocky kissed a girl? That would make a great ending to her campaign… just as the music swells and the credits roll.

Published in: on April 2, 2008 at 7:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

China celebrates April Fools!

Imagine my shock and awe when I saw this quote in a article this morning:

““To our knowledge, the next plan of the Tibet independence forces is to organize suicide squads to launch violent attacks” around the time of the Olympics, Wu Heping, the Public Security Ministry spokesman, told reporters today in Beijing. He declined to say what measures police are taking to prevent such assaults.” (check out the whole story here. It’s also all over the AP.)

I mean, are we taking this seriously? This, coming from a government who has such a tight control on the press surrounding the Tibetan protests that, after shutting down the country to foreign visitors entirely, it only allowed a relatively small handful of foreign journalists – not including the New York Times – to come and “witness” the “atrocities” that the Tibetans are perpetrating on the Chinese army? Buddhism is the only religion in the world that has not been the source or reason for war or violence. And now the Chinese government is trying to tell us all that monks are jumping on the Jihadist bomber wagon?

Then it hit me – it’s April Fools! Ha-ha, Chinese government! I get it, the jokes on me. Boy, did I suddenly feel like I had egg on my face.

I mean, no way everybody’s gonna treat this like real news. It’s April Fools Day… right?

Hey, wouldn’t Tibetan Suicide Squad make a pretty kick ass band name?

Published in: on April 1, 2008 at 10:35 pm  Leave a Comment