Category Archives: Culture Critique
Since seeing Arcade Fire perform “Wake Up” with David Bowie a few years back, they have continued to be my favorite band. Their EP “Funeral” is one of the best composed albums I have ever heard for many reasons. They recently released “The Suburbs” which won a Grammy this year – so I picked it up at Best Buy (old school, I know). Actually have been listening to it in my car for the last week and a half now.
(1) Listening through once it was a beautiful album with a lot of energy in explosive points. Track 15 blew me away.
(2) I listened to track 15 and 1 over and over again.
(3) I realized I was going to kill 15 (The Sprawl 2, Mountains Beyond Mountains) so I relistened to whole album. Amazing.
(4) Tracks 1-4 Rehaunt me. Absolutely poetic and the second round of listening through is better now that I’ve started looking through the lyrics.
This video from youtube is actually a Preview for a 30 minute short film based on the album “The Suburbs”. I just watched it and found myself realizing how real the images feel. The suburbs they show look just like my neighborhood in South Carolina (though the shots are from California probably). The crisis at the end with the police, sirens, and disturbed tranquility happened right in my neighborhood recently and I remember kids on their bikes just watching.
There is a reason this album won a Grammy. Make sure to read the lyrics. I will be watching this short film when I can. Blew me away.
“Scenes from the Suburbs” Info:
ARCADE FIRE PRESENTS A MJZ PRODUCTION OF
A SHORT FILM BY SPIKE JONZE “SCENES FROM ‘THE SUBURBS’”
BASED ON THE ALBUM ”THE SUBURBS” BY ARCADE FIRE
STARRING SIENNA BLAW, SAM DILLON, ZOE GRAHAM, ZEKE JARMON, PAUL PLUYMEN & ASHLIN WILLIAMSON
MUSIC BY ARCADE FIRE
CONCEPT ARTIST MARCEL DZAMA
COSTUMES BY RENATA MORALES & CAROLINE KARLEN
CASTING BY VICKY BOONE
PRODUCTION DESIGNER ELLIOTT HOSTETTER
EDITOR JEFF BUCHANAN
DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY GREIG FRASER
EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS ARCADE FIRE & SCOTT RODGER
PRODUCED BY VINCENT LANDAY
WRITTEN BY SPIKE JONZE, WILL BUTLER & WIN BUTLER
DIRECTED BY SPIKE JONZE
TOTAL RUNNING TIME: 30 MINUTES, COLOR
Superman Returns was faithful to the film version of Superman in many ways, but it just didn’t pull contemporary viewers into the experience the way Batman Begins or The Dark Knight have. Even the new Star Trek reboot comes to mind. A little more rock and roll and a bit more faithfulness to the original comics would have been nice.
In a great move, the part of Martha Kent, the adoptive mother of Kal El aka Clark Kent, will be played by Diane Lane. Initially my reaction is that she is beautiful, and really conveys the smile of Martha that Annette O’Toole originally portrayed in the WB series Smallville. I am looking forward to seeing how they portray the woman of deep conviction whose story is essential for the development of Superman being Human in all the good ways and not the bad.
In many early comics, the Kent family is associated with the Methodist faith, which is a Christian group that puts a high value on Social Justice and taking Jesus serious when he tells us to care for the poor and needy. This certainly is in line with Superman’s need to bring Justice to the people of Earth but also his ability to step back when he is offered praise and adoration towards deification.
Looking forward to the developments of this film. The writing and character development will be crucial. Crosses fingers.
See People Article Here.
An ancient conversation between Anthropos and Bios, two friends who like to have conversations over a good meal.
ANTHROPOS: This lamb is wonderful.
BIOS: I’m so glad you like it.
ANTHROPOS: Yes, now you were saying – something about your life.
BIOS: Of course, I was wondering about how you live yours. What is your philosophy of life.
ANTHROPOS: I try to live as best I can. I try not to hurt other people as much as possible, I enjoy myself. I believe in ultimate freedom.
BIOS: What do you mean by ultimate freedom?
ANTHROPOS: Ultimate Freedom, of course. I feel that everyone has a right to be exactly as they wish to be. We are all made a certain way and no other person has the right to impose any sort of unchosen life on us.
BIOS: So each person is a free agent, of sovereign will, who should be whatever they wish to be.
ANTHROPOS: Exactly – the destiny of the individual belongs to the individual. We are who we are.
BIOS: I see. I have a nephew who is now 6 years old. Would you allow me to apply your wonderful idea to his life?
ANTHROPOS: Certainly. How odd though.
BIOS: Indulge me like with your wonderful lamb.
ANTHROPOS: Of course. (Laughs)
BIOS: My nephew is a wonderful child. He just began being tutored and has shown a great desire to learn. His curiosity for machinery and anything that moves such as elephants and horses, well, they fascinate him.
ANTHROPOS: He should be encouraged to become an engineer!
BIOS: Of course he should. But then there are times when he becomes quite impossible. His mood can change even while playing with him when he suddenly becomes a grump. He will no longer play, he will no longer answer questions, and his attitude towards his mother becomes rude and antagonistic.
ANTHROPOS: Well, a quick pat on the…
BIOS: (interrupting) But – you did say that humans should have Ultimate Freedom. No?
ANTHROPOS: It seems a bit silly when applied to a child.
BIOS: Then perhaps you could add an amendment to this, giving room for the wily nature of childhood.
ANTHROPOS: Yes, children are different than older people.
BIOS: Why is that?
ANTHROPOS: Well, they are still developing. Becoming…people.
BIOS: So they are exempt from the Ultimate Freedom principle.
ANTHROPOS: Children would have to be. But I hate to make that concession. Romantically I want to believe that we are all born to be who we are born to be. It feels wrong to say otherwise.
BIOS: But being true to our nature, there is a time of molding that occurs. When we look at a child, even physically, we see that we are not born complete into adulthood. Muscles have to grow, bones have to lengthen, vocal chords have to be tried for a time and the brain itself becomes larger. Certainly, there is a time of growth and molding. We are not completely born to be what we are meant to be physically.
ANTHROPOS: That is true.
BIOS: And consider the education we give our children. They do not automatically know how to do math. Nor can they automatically read. And only in the nurture of adults guiding them do we learn what they are good and not good in proficiency at. Even then we have to tell them their strengths and weaknesses, helping them to shore up and work on the weak points and to encourage them in their strengths for the purposes of self esteem.
ANTHROPOS: You are right. Up until a point, we are growing.
BIOS: And – we are not completely free. Imagine a child wandering wherever they would like. How often have you seen a child nearly hit by a wild horse in the broadways of our metropolis. If our caretakers did not enforce a simple rule, to hold an adult’s hand when standing near the streets, our news would often be much more tragic.
ANTHROPOS: Of course it would. I do see your point Bios. Children need rules and guidance to grow correctly. So I would like to amend my original statement. It was too broad.
BIOS: I see. So if I may, you would like to say something like, “If one has completely become an adult, they deserve Ultimate Freedom to be whatever and however they choose to be.”
ANTHROPOS: If, they do not harm another!
BIOS: Yes! I remember you bringing that up earlier. But like the child who needs guidance from an adult hand, isn’t that also a rule? I appreciate your desire to simplify the entire lawcode to one simple phrase, but imagine how complicated that one phrase can become. “Don’t harm another” becomes, once violated, “Do not hit your spouse in anger,” and “Do not burn your neighbor’s house down.”
ANTHROPOS: But if no one did any wrong, there would not need to be any law at all!
BIOS: But do people do wrong to one another?
ANTHROPOS: Yes they do, but it is not necessary.
BIOS: No evil is. It just exists when we do it. And laws are made as we violate what we did not previously know would harm another.
ANTHROPOS: Bios, I am stirred so much that I don’t know what to think right now. I only know that I wish to hold onto this ideal.
BIOS: Ultimate Freedom! I too desire this ideal my friend. I wish what is wrong is not to be done. But so long as people do wrong to others, there will be laws and the desire to make things right again.
ANTHROPOS: Justice in other words.
BIOS: Yes. Justice, or the seeking to make things right again. A balancing.
ANTHROPOS: True, we are always in need of better Justice.
BIOS: Let us leave it there there, and continue to enjoy this lamb while it is still warm.
ANTHROPOS: (Laughs) It really isn’t as good as you have praised it.
BIOS: But is is better than nothing at all, and I am hungry.
ANTHROPOS: Then let us eat.
After reading The Hunger Games and Mockingjay, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to find a good Sci-Fi book that I would enjoy anytime soon. But my book club changed that. This month we are reading Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld. I went into it with a bad attitude, but it has blown up in my face.
What makes this book stand out is that it follows two kids alternating style. One one is a guy named Alek, who is the heir to kingship in Austria, but his father is murdered and war breaks out in the time of WWII. The other is a girl named Deryn, who is a daughter of a balloonist who has passed away. She pretends she is a boy to get into the Royal Air Force and makes a name for herself.
Not only that, but this novel has some neat innovations. It is set historically around WWI, but the world is completely different. Germany builds massive machines like Land Destroyers that move on legs but have the basic designs of a Naval destroyer. Their engineering know how has made a robotic military real. Then there are the Darwinists, like Britain and France, who have used the DNA of the animal kingdom to make creatures that serve mankind. One such vessal is a giant whale like creature filled with Hydrogen like a Zepplin, but made up of so many animal species to maintain an ecosystem that it is barely recognizable. It has everything humans need rigged to it and strapped on so there are bridges, quarters, storage, and of course guns.
The battles between beasts and machines are blazing and action packed. I’m about half way through this book and I’ll do a full review once I am finished. Check it out. Kudos Scot Westerfeld.
In Bluffton, SC there is a large downtown intersection with four stop signs and four entrances. It is a four-way intersection. There are some interesting observations about 4-ways that came up as I drove through it the other day. I noted how they can be extremely dangerous and quite a few things have to happen for them to work properly. First, someone has to care for the public welfare and actually stop at the stop sign. Next, the drivers have to look around and assess the situation. There may be many different cars around. They also have to remember that the first person to the 4-way gets to go first. Then, if two come at the same time, the person on the right gets dibs. But there is one crucial step that often does not happen that slows down these intersections.
Someone has to get beyond assessment and make a decision. I have the feeling some people never stop assessing the situation and just don’t like to leap.
We all tend to know how the intersection works, but if someone does not decide to go – then everyone stalls. I get infuriated when the person that is supposed to go decides to wait. They ruin the system and then there are suddenly multitudes of options available. Essentially – if the first person who should go does not go, then the rules no longer apply. Someone has to decide to go first. But if everyone decides to go first – everyone has to stop to avoid collision.
So the trick is to decide to do the best possible action.
In my case, most people decide not act as the system completely breaks down – I almost always decide to go. I make eye contact with everyone – I note the ambivalence of the crowd – and then I book it. The decision has been made – it has been made by me. I am gone.
I wasn’t always a decision maker. Growing up I remember the comfort of group consensus in a large family, but there are times when no one is stepping up. I have come to believe that Making a Decisions is the beginning of true leadership. A leader is someone who can make a decision and accept all the possible rewards or consequences associated with that decision. A leader makes or breaks a project or a goal or an action based on how well they assess a situation, make a plan, and execute with the hopes of desired results meet or exceed expectations.
I experienced different types of leadership under two High School Youth Pastors I worked with at Grace Chapel in Lexington, MA. I worked with them and I was fascinated by their ability to assess a situation (which means real processed thought based on experience and research, not just knee jerks), allocate resources and personnel to the issue, and work towards the resolution of any problem by continuing to troubleshoot until the desired results were achieved. Creating small groups, meeting with parents, making teaching schedules, allocating interns to projects, retreats, finances, whatever – the leader is like the engine of a greased up machine and I admire that.
Sometimes the world is padded and buffered so that no decisions or expertise is needed, but when you get down to it, you really want to be in a group with a person that can make a decision. We make buttons to cover up complex processes, in order to allow easy access – but if something in that process breaks down you need someone who understands what is behind the button. At the very least you need someone who can make a decision to fix or replace what is causing the issue with the button.
Sometimes that decision maker is you. So sit down and think about the actual mechanism of the decision. Can you do it? Are you willing to take up that responsibility? Where can you make the best decisions and in what way can your plans be carried out the greatest?
Expertise + Resources + Decisions = An executable Plan. Without a Plan, we are all doomed to mediocrity and crashing our cars.
Hollywood,the big three networks ABC, CBS, and NBC alongside major newspapers have lost their grip on the stories that entertain and build our identities. There have always been alternatives like Cable or popular magazines, but the internet has brought about new content providers ranging from College Humor sites, Netflix online distribution, Apple’s iOS itunes/app store, to The Huffington Post (which has so much web traffic and readership that it competes with The New York Times). With so many newcomers and infinite possibilities, any sort of content you wish to get is likely available – legal or not.
Why is this important? Plato once noted that whoever tells the stories controls the world. One reason the United States is such a dominating force in the world is because we have been good story tellers. We don’t just act out for justice and the America way – we tell the story and it gets picked up and told over and over again. Whether people around the world like the influence of America or not, our stories are everywhere. The world box office is a testament to American film telling stories. Those in media realize how much influence they have and monetize it. When America worked to rebuild Europe, in order to fight the communist threat, The Voice of America was established to tell the story of America working with Europe, not against it. It seems that story was somewhat successful and we tend to work together with Europe.
Media is an influence in all our lives and we all respond in different ways. Though many feel that the stories they view, read and listen to do not affect them, this is often not the case. Think about how often the language of a good book, or a quote from a movie comes back to you in a similar circumstance. Or that line from your favorite song, resonating as you drive home, unable to be dislodged from your memory. You are influenced. Each person picks and chooses what they take in as well as how they react to the stories that make them up. Some are in acceptance and consume as much as they can, some are not aware and are passive consumers, and some are resistant and react against culture.
But on the opposite end (not the end user of media but the producer) is the Soup. The Soup is what Walt Mueller describes (paraphrased) as the mass of culture that we all swim though each day. We are constantly translating messages and our brain files them where it needs them to be. Those who make our culture and tell our stories are responsible for this Soup. Some sips we seek out because we see a program we like or a trailer interested us in a movie. Or a video game looked appealing on the shelf so we picked it up and experienced the journey of that story as the main character. But the story itself was told by someone else. It may be a choose your own adventure, but ultimately all the choices were written for us, which means that we don’t choose the overall matrix which we all experience culture within. It just exists. Like the movie Matrix, someone prepared it for us.
Over time, the law of diminishing returns has forced culture producers to move further and further into shocking territory. Shows like Skins and pornographic horror and breaking away from societal norms to produce shock and awe entertainment have become the norm in this Soup. At the one end, we have to be responsible for what we consume. But the producers would be irresponsible if they thought that they had no responsibility at all themselves.
Certainly, good societies thrive on good stories. Heroic tales of good and evil place us in the cosmos and help us form our moral selves. Epic adventure films tend to be based on helping someone or something survive and our instincts are at play as we care about others and seek justice in the best circumstances. In fantasy we wish for how things were in the past golden ages, in sci fi we wish for a better future and in religious stories we find ourselves caught up in the Creator’s hands, loved and able to be restored as good after doing wrong. Inspirational programming such as The Biggest Loser, Extreme Home Makeover, and Undercover CEO all bring out good things.
But more and more, stories seem to be more about ignoring the good and just having a good time. As if everyone is a Monad (a ball) bouncing off everyone else. And they are just trying to entertain themselves until they die and it is “All Good” so long as no one else gets hurt. Entertainment sometimes crosses lines where we are entertained at others expense. Even if the characters are fictional, torture movies grip us in fear and we try to laugh afterwards as if nothing happens. But we just saw torture of a human being. Over time, the Soup of stories can be strewn with nothing but stories of being lazy, doing wrong to others, laughing at others expense, extreme sexuality or intense violence, death and destruction. Eventually this affects a person, and their worldview becomes tainted by it.
There are obviously good stories as well as stories that make us worse for watching. Then there are neutral little stories that inhabit our being and fill in the cracks with silly nonsense and joking around. But as the entertainment complex grows, as producers of entertainment proliferate, I hope that there is thought to the whole that the individuals are creating. Is what you produce mostly Good? Do we even know what Good is anymore? And how do we all project a great story to the world by the multitudes added up to make One Big Story. When we look back on what we tell and consume today, is our story even worth telling?
What stories are most important to you? If you are a producer of media, how can you be responsible in producing your content?
I remember when AOL was king. Dial Tones were ringing in every house, and we heard the famous “You’ve Got Mail” way too much. AOL blasted our retail centers with discs that were good coasters (and were probably used that way more often than installed), but the name meant less and less as their main function (internet provider) began being overtaken by Comcast, Time Warner, and now Mobile Phone Companies and Coffee Houses. AOL did manage to have a portal with Keywords that many still hold onto however, and they are clutching onto the possibility with their cold hands. Thus, the buyout of The Huffington Post, aka Arianna Huffington.
She made a big deal at the Super Bown Dome yesterday when she inked a deal with AOL to buy the online Media provider The Huffington Post (including all the topical news blogs it operates). But the devil is in the details. Arianna made out big, with Huffington getting bought out with $300 million cash, which mostly goes to the board. Not only that, but Arianna will remain in charge of Huffington. So who really bought who? With AOL struggling and shrinking and Huffington growing (from $30 mil profits with hopes to get $100 mil this year), it seems that Huffington has really taken charge of the AOL portal – or they will. Lets hope that AOL doesn’t crunch Huffington down and merely try and force content through their media portals. It would be nice to see some innovation beyond sticking AOL logo on The Huffington Post as well.
At the beginning of this newscast, there are some interesting details:
More details in print at Bloomberg here.
I always track the news from my hometown, and the news always seems to be bittersweet. As in, many articles (if not about burglary) are about things I remember fondly – like Pinkerton Academy where I graduated from in 2001. The home of the Astros. I read this article about my high school, and it was pretty cool. Apparently Derry enrollment is decreasing rapidly, and seeing the trend, the Trustees want to bring in more students from other towns to make up the loss in revenue and stave off the chance that the school would need to cut out programs. I imagine with the new Freshman Center and the Fine Arts Center, which have been built or are being built after I graduated, they need to keep income stable. Makes sense.
So what is crazy? Read to the bottom of the article above. When asking other towns to increase the number of students who can attend Pinkerton, a town official in Hampstead, NH says,
“I hear that 3,100 is where you want to fill it to, but is there any guarantee that in four or five years other trustees wouldn’t like to recruit kids from Saudi Arabia and put it up to 3,400 or 3,500?” asked [person, see article for name], assistant superintendent for Hampstead and Timberlane Regional school districts. “By giving up that cap, is there any protection for the size of the school?”
The last part is normal. The first part, I feel bad saying, is crazy, as in Crazy. Besides the fact that the school has been as big as 3,400 regularly until recently, it doesn’t seem like such an issue. And the comment about Saudi Arabia, besides being xenophobic, has no precedent since Pinkerton traditionally contracts with nearby towns – not Arabic monarchies in the middle east. Lastly, Pinkerton has a history of being a smart institution with amazing foresight that has grown the school greatly. My experience 10 years ago at the school prepared me for any college I wished to attend, and it happens I was over-prepared considering how under-prepared my peers were Freshman year.
So what am I saying? (1) How does a comment like this get inserted into the debate? It is crazy. (2) Why is this comment news? Is this the strongest counterpoint made? Or is the reporter just unable to contact the rational source. I suppose there is crazy news everywhere, but I’m just surprised at how strange things get. Maybe I’ve been away from Derry, NH too long.
Rue, a character from The Hunger Games trilogy sticks with me like no other character since I read “The Catcher in the Rye”. The connection after reading about her is intense. This is her lullaby sung in the way I imagine Rue would have sung it (note of caution, watch out for auto-tuned youtube versions of this lullaby). It is a bit long, but knowing the story, it resonates deeply. If you haven’t read The Hunger Games yet, it is a powerful series.