Wednesday, September 30, 2009

20 Songs

here are a rotating list of 20 songs ...

"How I Feel" by Wax Tailor

"Yell Fire" by Michael Franti/Spearhead

"Nuh Skin Up Dub" by Keith Hudson and the Soul Syndicate

"Rising Up" by The Roots

"Sincerely Jasper" by Jasper & the Prodigal Sons

"The Stars Are Projectors" by Modest Mouse

"Supermodel-Superficial" by Voodoo Queen

"Sexopolis" by Jean Pierre Mirouze

"Kolory" by Post Regiment

"Let the World Turn" by Death

"Five String Serenade" by Mazzy Star

"Teen Age Riot" by Sonic Youth

"We Can't Make It Here Anymore" by James McMurty

"Supertheory of Everything" by Gogol Bordello

"FuckShitStack" by Reggie Watts

"Ain't no sunshine" by Ladysmith Black Mambazo & Des'ree

"Things You Can Do" by Deltron 3030

"We're Not Alone" by Peeping Tom

"Anything You Like" by Elysian Fields

"Paint It Black" by Rolling Stones

Kate Thorp: Vintage Ads -- Translation, Sex Appeal, and Innuendo

Kate Thorp: Vintage Ads -- Translation, Sex Appeal, and Innuendo

What is Anarchism for You?

(this is my idea of what it is, of course disregarding everything I have read, and the countless splinter groups--defined by me, for myself, and to be discussed with those I associate with...)

my answer: i can imagine a better world ... but it is the idea of multiple collectives coming together with ideas (practical and visionary) and putting them into play (openly) in which they rub against one another, shifting, adapting, learning, ... working together when it suits our needs ... developing a sense of who we are and basing our reputation (something that must be earned--not handed down) as the currency in which we interact with one another... but in any way "collectively" for that situation with those people working for the greater good.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Our Right to Dissent is Under Siege: 2009 Pittsburgh G20 Summit Protests

Our Right to Dissent is Under Siege: Why the Protests in Pittsburgh Are a Victory For Free Speech"

Police Use Painful New Weapon on G20 Protesters

Pray the Devil Back to Hell (USA: Gini Reticker, 2008): Fri. October 2, 7:00—9:00 pm

(Extra credit opportunity for my students)

Pray the Devil Back to Hell

Pray the Devil Back to Hell is a multi award-winning gripping account of a group of brave and visionary women who demanded peace for Liberia, a nation torn to shreds by civil war. The women’s historic, yet unsung achievement finds voice in a narrative
that intersperses contemporary interviews, archival images, and scenes of present-day Liberia together to recount the experiences and memories of the women who were instrumental in bringing lasting peace to their country. It offers moving testimony to the power of regular people to make real change in their worlds.

The story of the role played by the women of Liberia in helping forge a peaceful resolution of the nation’s civil war might have been lost without the documentation
provided by “Pray the Devil Back to Hell”. While conflict and disagreement among people of different faiths often dominate world headlines, “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” details the success of an unlikely interfaith alliance between Muslim and
Christian women in resolving the Liberian conflict.
-— Discussion Guide quotes written by Ellen Livingston,
Teachers College, Columbia University

Discussion to follow; Reception in Art Gallery
Fri. October 2, 7:00—9:00 pm
Lexington Public Library Theatre,
140 East Main St., Lex. KY
Sponsored in partnership with: Lexington’s One World
Films; Central Kentucky Council for Peace & Justice

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Jess Bravin: Sotomayor Issues Challenge to a Century of Corporate Law

Sotomayor Issues Challenge to a Century of Corporate Law
by Jess Bravin
Wall Street Journal

In her maiden Supreme Court appearance last week, Justice Sonia Sotomayor made a provocative comment that probed the foundations of corporate law.

During arguments in a campaign-finance case, the court's majority conservatives seemed persuaded that corporations have broad First Amendment rights and that recent precedents upholding limits on corporate political spending should be overruled.

But Justice Sotomayor suggested the majority might have it all wrong -- and that instead the court should reconsider the 19th century rulings that first afforded corporations the same rights flesh-and-blood people have.

Judges "created corporations as persons, gave birth to corporations as persons," she said. "There could be an argument made that that was the court's error to start with...[imbuing] a creature of state law with human characteristics."

After a confirmation process that revealed little of her legal philosophy, the remark offered an early hint of the direction Justice Sotomayor might want to take the court.

"Progressives who think that corporations already have an unduly large influence on policy in the United States have to feel reassured that this was one of [her] first questions," said Douglas Kendall, president of the liberal Constitutional Accountability Center.

"I don't want to draw too much from one comment," says Todd Gaziano, director of the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation. But it "doesn't give me a lot of confidence that she respects the corporate form and the type of rights that it should be afforded."

For centuries, corporations have been considered beings apart from their human owners, yet sharing with them some attributes, such as the right to make contracts and own property. Originally, corporations were a relatively rare form of organization. The government granted charters to corporations, delineating their specific functions. Their powers were presumed limited to those their charter spelled out.

"A corporation is an artificial being, invisible, intangible," Chief Justice John Marshall wrote in an 1819 case. "It possesses only those properties which the charter of its creation confers upon it."

But as the Industrial Revolution took hold, corporations proliferated and views of their functions began to evolve.

In an 1886 tax dispute between the Southern Pacific Railroad and the state of California, the court reporter quoted Chief Justice Morrison Waite telling attorneys to skip arguments over whether the 14th Amendment's equal-protection clause applied to corporations, because "we are all of opinion that it does."

That seemingly off-hand comment reflected an "impulse to shield business activity from certain government regulation," says David Millon, a law professor at Washington and Lee University.

"A positive way to put it is that the economy is booming, American production is leading the world and the courts want to promote that," Mr. Millon says. Less charitably, "it's all about protecting corporate wealth" from taxes, regulations or other legislative initiatives.

Subsequent opinions expanded corporate rights. In 1928, the court struck down a Pennsylvania tax on transportation corporations because individual taxicab drivers were exempt. Corporations get "the same protection of equal laws that natural persons" have, Justice Pierce Butler wrote.

From the mid-20th century, though, the court has vacillated on how far corporate rights extend. In a 1973 case before a more liberal court, Justice William O. Douglas rejected the Butler opinion as "a relic" that overstepped "the narrow confines of judicial review" by second-guessing the legislature's decision to tax corporations differently than individuals.

Today, it's "just complete confusion" over which rights corporations can claim, says Prof. William Simon of Columbia Law School.

Even conservatives sometimes have been skeptical of corporate rights. Then-Associate Justice William Rehnquist dissented in 1979 from a decision voiding Massachusetts's restriction of corporate political spending on referendums. Since corporations receive special legal and tax benefits, "it might reasonably be concluded that those properties, so beneficial in the economic sphere, pose special dangers in the political sphere," he wrote.

To Read the Rest of the Report

Truthdig: Financial Meltdown 101

Extensive history of the origins of our current economic crisis--great use of the online forum for mapping out complex histories:

Financial Meltdown 101

Truthdig: Dennis vs Goliath

Dennis vs Goliath

Rep. Dennis Kucinich talks about winning a big victory for health care reform, grilling Hank Paulson over the Bank of America-Merrill Lynch merger, and the battle against crony capitalism.

To Listen to the Episode

Tapestry of the Times #16: The Country Gentleman; The New Lost City Ramblers; J.D. Short; Joe Hunter; Bill McAdoo; Lucy Stewart; Clyde "Kindy" Sproat

Tapestry of the Times #16

The lightning-fast fingers of banjo picker Eddie Adcock and The Country Gentlemen, Saint Louis blues from the legendary JD Short, a work-song sung by the inmates of a Texas prison camp, a chant learned in a trance by an Eskimo medicine man, a melody from the mountains of North Sumatra, and much more. Real music, real people, and the stories behind the sounds.

The Country Gentlemen
Album: Country Songs, Old and New
Track: # 7, Turkey Knob
Track: # 1, Roving Gambler

The New Lost City Ramblers
Album: American Moonshine & Prohibition
Track: # 2, Kentucky Bootlegger

J.D. Short
Album: Son House & J.D. Short
Track: # 1, So Much Wine

Joe Hunter
Album: John’s Island, South Carolina: It’s People& Songs
Track: # 9, Have You Ever Been Mistreated

Bill McAdoo
Album: Bill McAdoo Sings with Guitar
Track: # 6, Fare Thee Well

Lucy Stewart
Album: Lucy Stewart: Traditional Singer from Aberdeenshire, Scotland, Vol. 1 - Child Ballads
Track: # 9, The Swan Swims So Bonnie O, The Two Sisters, Child 10

Clyde “Kindy” Sproat
Album: Musics of Hawaii: Anthology of Hawaiian Music, Special Festival Edition
Track: # 9, Latitu

Evaloo – Southampton Island
Album: The Eskimos of Hudson Bay and Alaska
Track: # 7, Before We Came to this Religion

Prisoners at the Ramsey and Retrieve State Farms
Album: Negro Prison Camp Work Songs
Track: # 8, You Got to Hurry

Big Bill Broonzy
Album: Trouble in Mind
Track: # 6, When Will I Get to be Called a Man

Watson, Price, and Howard
Album: The Original Folkways Recordings of Doc Watson and Clarence Ashley
Disc # 1, Track # 24, Daniel Prayed

Doc Watson
Album: The Original Folkways Recordings of Doc Watson and Clarence Ashley
Disc # 1, Track # 2, Sitting on Top of the World

Gondang Hasapi
Album: Music of Indonesia 4: Music of Nias and North Sumatra
Track: # 13, Gondang Si Bunga Jambu

To Listen to the Episode

Radio West: Muses, Madmen and Prophets

Muses, Madmen and Prophets
Doug Fabrizio
Radio West

For much of history, those who heard voices were thought of as having a connection to the supernatural world: Socrates, Moses & Joan of Arc. People still hear voices today, but now it's explained as a trick of the human psyche or as a disease. After his own father struggled with voices, the journalist Daniel Smith set-out to understand the phenomenon. Smith joined Doug to talk about the history, the science and the meaning of auditory hallucinations.

To Listen to the Episode

Belinda Smaill: Documentary investigations and the female porn star

Documentary investigations and the female porn star
by Belinda Smaill
Jump Cut

Since the mid-nineties, documentary filmmakers have become increasingly interested in exploring the world of pornography. This subject matter represents one of the most marketable trends in contemporary documentary, particularly in terms of DVD distribution. These documentaries frequently have an argumentative logic as they investigate pornography's culture and production, creating a “behind the scenes” exposé of the industry and the individuals who work in it. Perhaps more than any other media form, pornography is shaped by and attracts a great deal of strong feeling. A documentary about the pornography industry, or what I term here the pornography documentary, similarly draws upon a range of emotional responses, and I argue that a number of these emotions cohere around the figure of the female porn star. Here I look in particular at three such documentaries: Sex: The Annabelle Chong Story (2000), The Girl Next Door (2000) and Inside Deep Throat (2004).

In their discussion of pornography and ethnography, Christian Hansen, Catherine Needham and Bill Nichols argue,

“Both pornography and ethnography promise something they cannot deliver: the ultimate pleasure of knowing the Other. On this promise of cultural or sexual knowledge they depend, but they are also condemned to do nothing more than make it available for representation” (225).

In other words, as viewers we desire pleasure but will never be pleased entirely (in pornography we extract pleasure but this is never the pleasure that is represented). Similarly, we desire to know but cannot fully appropriate the knowledge that is represented (the knowledge of the cultural other in the case of ethnography). Hansen, Needham and Nichols’ formulation is instructive for a number of reasons. These documentaries contain a representation of women that appeals to the viewer’s desire for knowledge about the other. And this desire is based in pre-existing spectatorial expectations shaped by the aesthetic qualities of documentary and pornography. Yet the pornography documentary emerges at an historical moment when female subjectivity and desire is itself a site of particular fascination and struggle. If these films are organized around the pleasure of knowing the other, and thus engage a narrative desire that works at the intersection of pornography and documentary, how is (heterosexual) female desire, or the female as desiring subject, positioned in the films?

In considering the larger issue of women's fantasy and film, Claire Johnston writes early in second wave feminism,

“In order to counter objectification in the cinema, our collective fantasies must be released: women’s cinema must embody the working through of desire: such an objective demands the use of the entertainment film” (31).

The problem of desire and female subjectivity in film has occupied scholars for some time, yet the terms of this problem have shifted greatly from the 1970s when Johnston was writing. The quest to release collective female fantasies has become complicated by the proliferation of sexual discourses in the contemporary media sphere, and many of these discourses attempt to articulate or explicate female desire. The sphere of popular culture in which pornography documentaries circulate is one that has seen mainstream representations, often fictional, explore what “female sexual agency” might mean, most notably in the much discussed examples of Sex and the City or Bridget Jones’s Diary. This sphere has emphasized female desire and pleasure, yet not necessarily on the terms second wave feminism might intend. Beyond the mainstream other examples have contributed to this revision of sexual agency, including the fiction filmmaking of Jane Campion or Catherine Breillait and the figures of Susie Bright and “post-porn Goddess” Annie Sprinkle.

My question of how female desire is evidenced in different texts stems from my broader interest in locating documentary within an economy of the emotions. For some time documentary scholars have sought to account for the spectatorial experience of pleasure and desire offered by documentary and how this sets it apart from narrative fiction film.[1] I wish to add to these discussions and think through pleasure and desire not only as theoretical constructs but also as embodied emotions and social discourse. In this essay my focus is on the emotions, both agreeable and aversive, that frequently shape the meaning of female corporeality and sexuality. These emotions find a particular focus in the pornography documentary.

I seek to locate the pornography documentary within a terrain that encompasses genre concerns and histories of signification, as well as feminist approaches to representation and sexual politics. More specifically, my discussion focuses in on the figure of the female porn star and how she is produced at the intersection of popular feminism, narratives of female agency, and historically-shaped genre conventions that seek to organize desire. In this sense, my discussion is limited to the problem of how female agency and desire is produced in the pornography documentary text through genre conventions and popular discourse. Questions that pertain to the female viewer and her desiring relation to pornography and the female porn star are significant yet beyond this essay's scope.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

The Brooklyn Paper: Anti-gay Kansans to picket at three shuls and Brooklyn Tech!

Anti-gay Kansans to picket at three shuls and Brooklyn Tech!
By Gersh Kuntzman and Sabrina Jaszi
The Brooklyn Paper


The church’s Web site explained the reason for the rallies.

“Yo what’s up, God haters?” the protest announcement stated. “Why you teach ‘It’s OK to be gay?’ WBC will be on hand to teach the rebels of Brooklyn what good looks like, and you had better behave.”

A church spokeswoman, Shirley Phelps-Roper, said the rallies were not anti-Jewish or anti-gay.

“How about we call it an ‘Obey your God’ rally?” she said. “You Jews and gays have got to put away your false gods, your idols and your filthy way of life.”
Brooklyn Bridge Realty

She added that “God hates the disobient.”

“We picked these weekends because these are the high holidays,” she said. “You Jews broke the covenant with God. The beast is going to bring the nations to march upon Jerusalem. Your houses will be destroyed and your women ravaged. It’s going to make the Holocaust, the Babylonian captivity and the destruction of the Temple look like a tea party.”

To Read the Rest of the Article

Update on the protest and images

Mark Slouka: Dehumanized -- When Math and Science Rule the School

Dehumanized: When math and science rule the school
By Mark Slouka

Many years ago, my fiancée attempted to lend me a bit of respectability by introducing me to my would-be mother-in-law as a future Ph.D. in literature. From Columbia, I added, polishing the apple of my prospects. She wasn’t buying it. “A doctor of philosophy,” she said. “What’re you going to do, open a philosophy store?”

A spear is a spear—it doesn’t have to be original. Unable to come up with a quick response and unwilling to petition for a change of venue, I ducked into low-grade irony. More like a stand, I said. I was thinking of stocking Kafka quotes for the holidays, lines from Yeats for a buck-fifty.

And that was that. I married the girl anyway. It’s only now, recalling our exchange, that I can appreciate the significance—the poetry, really—of our little pas de deux. What we unconsciously acted out, in compressed, almost haiku-like form (A philosophy store?/I will have a stand/sell pieces of Auden at two bits a beat), was the essential drama of American education today.

It’s a play I’ve been following for some time now. It’s about the increasing dominance—scratch that, the unqualified triumph—of a certain way of seeing, of reckoning value. It’s about the victory of whatever can be quantified over everything that can’t. It’s about the quiet retooling of American education into an adjunct of business, an instrument of production.

The play’s almost over. I don’t think it’s a comedy.
state of the union

Then there’s amortization,
the deadliest of all;
of the heart and soul.
—Vladimir Mayakovsky

Despite the determinisms of the day, despite the code-breakers, the wetware specialists, the patient unwinders of the barbed wire of our being, this I feel is true: That we are more nurture than nature; that what we are taught, generally speaking, is what we become; that torturers are made slowly, not minted in the womb. As are those who resist them. I believe that what rules us is less the material world of goods and services than the immaterial one of whims, assumptions, delusions, and lies; that only by studying this world can we hope to shape how it shapes us; that only by attempting to understand what used to be called, in a less embarrassed age, “the human condition” can we hope to make our condition more human, not less.

All of which puts me, and those in the humanities generally, at something of a disadvantage these days. In a visible world, the invisible does not compute; in a corporate culture, hypnotized by quarterly results and profit margins, the gradual sifting of political sentiment is of no value; in a horizontal world of “information” readily convertible to product, the verticality of wisdom has no place. Show me the spreadsheet on skepticism.

To Read the Rest of this Essay

Abbie Boudreau and Scott Bronstein: Male breast cancer patients blame water at Marine base

Male breast cancer patients blame water at Marine base
by Abbie Boudreau and Scott Bronstein

The sick men are Marines, or sons of Marines. All 20 of them were based at or lived at Camp Lejeune, the U.S. Marine Corps' training base in North Carolina, between the 1960s and the 1980s.

They all have had breast cancer, a disease that strikes fewer than 2,000 men in the United States a year, compared with about 200,000 women. Each has had part of his chest removed as part of his treatment, along with chemotherapy, radiation or both.

And they blame their time at Camp Lejeune, where government records show drinking water was contaminated with high levels of toxic chemicals for three decades, for their illnesses.

"We come from all walks of life," said Mike Partain, the son and grandson of Marines, who was born on the base 40 years ago. "And some of us have college degrees, some of us have blue-collar jobs. We are all over the country. And what is our commonality? Our commonality is that we all at some point in our lives drank the water at Camp Lejeune. Go figure."

Starting in 1980, tests showed drinking water at Camp Lejeune had been "highly contaminated" with solvents. Several wells that supplied water to the base were found to have been contaminated in 1984 and 1985, and were promptly taken out of service after the pollutants were found, the Marine Corps told CNN.

Among the chemicals later identified in the drinking water were trichloroethylene, a degreaser; benzene; and the dry cleaning solvent perchloroethylene. Two independent studies have found no link between water contamination and later illnesses, according to the Marine Corps. But the men facing a debilitating and possibly lethal disease don't buy it.

"That's literally unheard of to have 20 men come from the same place, walking on the same dirt, drinking the same water," said Jim Fontella, who was based at the camp in 1966 and 1967. "I mean, there has to be a link there somehow. And they're saying that it couldn't happen."

To Read the Rest of the Report

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Left Field Cinema: Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate (1978)

Misunderstood Modern Cinema: Heaven's Gate
by Mike Dawson
Left Field Cinema

Heaven’s Gate is a western, however is appears unlike any other western you’re ever likely to see. Based on historical events from 1890 Wyoming, a powerful group of land owners known as the association are in the midst of conflict with European immigrants who are trying to forge a life on the American frontier. The judicial system favours the immigrants, and the land owners decide that they must bypass the law in order to rid themselves of these interlopers. Their extreme solution is to create a death list with one-hundred and twenty-five names on it, and then hire a small army of bounty hunters and mercenaries to hunt down every man and woman on the list and kill them. Sheriff James Averill played by Kris Kristofferson comes to town and finds violence on the streets and murder brewing amongst civil unrest, he visits with his prostitute girlfriend Ella Watson played by a very young Issabelle Huppert; his former university friend from Harvard - Billy played by the incredible John Hurt; and a bar owner and prospector John played by Jeff Bridges. Slowly Averill gets a picture of the violently volatile situation and wants to convince Ella to leave before the situation explodes, but Ella is content with her life, she runs a successful brothel, and has everything she could want where she is. Averill isn’t the only one who wants Ella to leave, hired gun Nathan played by Christopher Walken wants to marry Ella and start a life together away from her prostitute occupation. A love triangle is formed with both men wanting the same thing, but neither of them may achieve their goal in the end as it comes to light that Ella’s name is also on the death list and the illegal army begin their march towards the town to kill the majority of the inhabitants.

To Read the Rest of the Analysis

To Listen to the Analysis as a Podcast

Left Field Cinema: Terence Malick's Days of Heaven (1978)

Terence Malick's Days of Heaven
by Mike Dawson
Left Field Cinema

“The Magic Hour” also known as “The Golden Hour” are the two hours of the day when the sun is setting and rising; painting the sky, ground, objects and people with a sort of golden yellow hue, pronouncing shadows as the light hits everything at an angle rather than the blanket of light we usually witness throughout an average day. Softening light and enhancing colours through mother natures own form of diffusion. “The Magic Hour” will improve even a mundane image through what are considered to be idyllic and beautiful lighting conditions. No filmmaker has ever captured the intoxicating beauty of “The Magic Hour” as exceptionally as director Terrance Malick did with cinematographer Nestor Almendros in the 1978 production of Days of Heaven. Malick’s second film before his twenty-year hiatus from film making, but even the stunning beauty of his third film The Thin Red Line can not match the majesty of this most gorgeous of American films. This ranks amongst the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful film ever made. It may be clichéd to describe the imagery as such, but it is no exaggeration to say that every single frame of picture in the film is a potential still you could hang on a wall. Magnificently painterly and extraordinary to look at, but its dream like sensibilities are not limited to imagery and its beauty as a film goes beyond cinematography – it extends to every facet of the film – music, editing, pacing, plotting, and emotions.

To Read the Rest of the Analysis

To Listen to the Podcast of the Analysis

Friday, September 18, 2009

NOFX: The Idiots Are Taking Over (Video by Dominic Flask)

(Courtesy of Ben Parks)

Hillel Italie: Ralph Nader turns to fiction

Novel approach: Ralph Nader turns to fiction
By HILLEL ITALIE, AP National Writer
San Francisco Chronicle

Ralph Nader, the consumer activist and corporate scourge, is saying nice things about the kind of folks you'd expect him to despise.

"Never in America have there been more super-rich people with relatively enlightened views," says Nader, lean and hopeful at age 75, dark eyes aglow as he speaks at the offices of Public Citizen, the progressive research and advocacy group he founded nearly 40 years ago.

"Not all the super-rich are craven greedhounds, dominators and bullies. Some of them take on their counterpart greedhounds, dominators and bullies."

It's as if Glenn Beck had found the bright side of socialism.

Nader hasn't turned conservative and he isn't making this stuff up, although he is, in a way. After decades of speeches, articles, policy papers and policy books attacking corporations and politicians, Nader has turned to fiction.

"Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!" is more than 700 pages, worthy of a billionaire's portfolio, and its heroes are a gang of 70-something plutocrats, from Warren Buffett and Ted Turner to Bill Cosby and Yoko Ono, who conspire to set off a progressive revolution.

The story begins in 2005, not long after Hurricane Katrina. A secret gathering is convened by Buffett at a Maui mountain retreat, where 17 very wealthy people agree to take back the country they think has been betrayed.

They give speeches, write books, organize community action groups. They infiltrate corporate boards of directors, stage demonstrations for the environment and better wages. They start a People's Chamber of Commerce, advocate changing the national anthem to "America the Beautiful" and dream up a politicized parrot, "Patriotic Polly," that becomes a media folk hero.

"Fiction is a way to liberate the imagination," Nader says, "to see what could happen if 17 billionaires and super-rich people really put their minds to it, along with a parrot, and took on the existing business power bloc and the politicians in Washington who serve (it)."

To Read the Rest of the Article

Jon Lewis: Real Sex -- Aesthetics and Economics of Art-House Porn

Real sex: aesthetics and economics of art-house porn
by Jon Lewis
Jump Cut


So let’s ask the obvious question: which is the more obscene: Shortbus or Saw IV ? I think it is an easy question to answer, but one the film industry is disinclined to examine or discuss. Commenting on the writhing bodies in the climactic orgy scene in Shortbus, a character exclaims (speaking as much to the images on screen as to our present cultural predicament):

“It’s just like the 60s, only with less hope.”

It’s a curious pay-off line for such an upbeat film, but nonetheless telling.

To Read the Entire Essay

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

JoAnn Wypijewski: Sexual Healing

Sexual Healing: Carnal Knowledge
By JoAnn Wypijewski
The Nation


As Rachel Maines demonstrates in her delightfully illuminating history The Technology of Orgasm, making patients out of sexually unsatisfied women was good business. The afflicted would neither die nor be cured but required regular massage treatments, weekly, sometimes daily, for an hour or even three. By one 1863 estimate, such therapies accounted for three-quarters of physicians' business, but doctors seem to have got no pleasure out of diddling women. It was, Maines says, "the job nobody wanted." And bringing women off was work, abstracted from sex (i.e., the robust progression from male hard-on to vaginal penetration to male orgasm) and requiring time and skill. With the vibrator, doctors' productivity exploded, as sixty-minute visits shrank to ten, raising more revenue from more patients per day, until the device became so popular and multipurpose (Sears marketed a home vibrator with attachments for beating eggs, churning butter, operating a fan) that the medical profession had worked itself out of a job. Miraculously, the sick were healed as soon as the first vibrator popped up in porno in the 1920s.

Leap across the decades, and this quaint history appears positively progressive in that, willy-nilly, medicalization marched toward putting sexuality into women's hands, into their heads in terms of body knowledge, and into the mix of culture, personal relations and a polymorphous physicality more true to life than biological function alone. The white coats came out again with Masters and Johnson but bumped into a counterculture and an emancipation movement that pushed against their categorizations of normal or not. Every 1970s woman might not have gone to one of Betty Dodson's masturbation workshops; every man certainly was not reborn as an attentive, exploring lover. But nor was everyone straight, in all senses of the word, and the fluidity of sexuality as part of the great mishmash of human experience was in the air-conditioning system of the culture. It was sexual but political, too. Today the cultural air is thick with sex, but the rhetoric of freedom and rights largely serves a commodified notion of sexual satisfaction. The politics has dropped out, and without politics we're all just patients, or potential patients.

How else to explain that a reality as old as god--that the vast majority of women do not climax simply through intercourse--has re-emerged as dysfunction? Or that another grab bag of indicators of dissatisfaction and low desire are renamed as symptoms of hypoactive sexual desire disorder, for which a female Viagra or a testosterone patch or cream or nasal spray must be developed? How to explain that middle-aged women go under the knife for vaginal rejuvenation, basically pussy tightening, and that young women go under the knife for laser labiaplasty, basically genital mutilation, saying they only want to feel pretty, normal, and raise their chances of orgasm through intercourse? How to explain that a doctor like Stuart Meloy of North Carolina, a throwback to charlatans who tried to shock hysterics into health with electric charges, has even one patient to test his Orgasmatron, an electrode threaded up a woman's spinal cord and controlled by a hand-held button that the patient can push (assuming the procedure doesn't paralyze her) to make her clit throb with excitement during intercourse and reach the grail of mutually assured orgasm?

A terrific new documentary, Orgasm Inc., by Liz Canner, addresses those questions in terms of corporate medicine and the creation of need via pseudofeminist incitements to full sexual mastery by Dr. Laura Berman and other shills for the drug industry. Female sexual dysfunction, it turns out, was wholly created by drug companies hoping to make even bigger money off women than they have off men with the comparatively smaller market for erectile dysfunction drugs. That's capitalism; that's its nature. The more obstinate question is why so many people are willing to be its slaves, and whether a resistant politics can grow up to say not just "We want in" to healthcare but "We want out" of the profit system and, on the sex front, out of a medical model that elevates a doctor over "playing doctor" or a more sensual ease with oneself and others.

"So many times I don't think sex is a matter of health," Dr. Leonore Tiefer, a sex therapist and founder of the New View Campaign to challenge the medicalization of sex, told me the other day. "I think it's more like dancing or cooking. Yes, you do it with your body. You dance with your body, too. That doesn't mean there's a department of dance in the medical school. You don't go to the doctor to learn to dance. And in dancing school the waltz class is no more normal than the samba class." You might not be a good dancer by some scale of values. You might not get the steps right, or do steps at all, but even in wheelchairs people learn to move to the music.

To Read the Rest of the Editorial

What Would Jesus Buy? (USA: Rob VanAlkemade, 2007)

What Would Jesus Buy? (USA: Rob VanAlkemade, 2007)

To Watch it Online

Susan Saulny and Emma Grave Fitzsimmons: Governor Begins Effort Toward Cleansing Tainted U. of Illinois Board

Governor Begins Effort Toward Cleansing Tainted U. of Illinois Board
The New York Times

The commission found earlier this month that top officials at the university ran a shadowy two-tier admissions process that favored the children of the wealthy and the well-connected, and that influence was particularly concentrated among the trustees.

The report, scathing in its breadth and detail, said the state’s flagship public institution of higher learning was in a “full-fledged crisis purely of its own making,” due to “crass opportunism” that went back a decade or more.

Favored students, whose names were tracked on an internal list, were sometimes admitted even though they did not meet admission qualifications, and better-qualified candidates were rejected.

To Read the Rest of the Report

Out of the Past - Investigating Film Noir: Alfred Hitchcock's Notorius (1946)

Episode 14: Notorious
Out of the Past: Investigating Film Noir

The question of whether Hitchcock is a noir director remains open. What is certain is that by 1946 noir aesthetics began to inflect every genre from the Holiday picture ("It's a Wonderful Life") to the espionage/thriller film. Like "The Third Man," "Notorious" is best described as the latter, for its political and geographical scope exceed what is typical of noir, and justice is defined and done in unambiguous terms. Nevertheless, at crucial moments a noir camera vision is manifest. More importantly, Hitchcock has his stars play their darkest roles: Bergman is the alcoholic tramp daughter of a convicted Nazi; Grant plays the cold-hearted and sadistic spy who is her only hope.

To Listen to the Episode

Magnus Ullén: Pornography and Its Critical Reception

Pornography and its critical reception: toward a theory of masturbation
by Magnus Ullén
Jump Cut


No one book has been more important for altering the perception of pornography in academia than Linda Williams’s study of the pornographic movie and its history, Hard Core.[8] It appeared at a time when the theoretical discourse about pornography was characterized by impassioned rhetoric rather than well-founded reflections, and it constituted an important first step toward a less judgmental attitude to porn. At the time the book came out, the contemporary debate was concerned with the question of whether or not pornography more or less automatically translated into violation of women. In the face of such assertions, Williams quietly pointed out that the pornographic film can be seen as a genre just like the action movie or the musical, a genre that comes with a history to be studied. The pornographic movie thus can be interpreted and discussed much as any other cultural discourse.

With this book the academic study of pornography was, if not born, then at least established as a field of investigation in its own right. There had been important books prior to Williams’s study, of course, but they were all rather defensive about the nature of their interest in the subject, tacitly accepting the academic preconception of pornography as a somewhat peripheral phenomenon, of merely tangential interest to the study of art, literature, and society.[9] Williams’s book much more successfully positions pornography as one cultural discourse amongst others.

In Hard Core Williams describes cinematic pornography as the joint product of technological innovations and historical contingencies. While the anti-pornography camp of critics like Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon may have a point in stressing that pornography in general tends to express a view of women which is both stereotypical and misogynistic, this adverse social effect does not derive from the nature of porn, Williams insists, but from its historical context. Like other cultural discourses, to a considerable extent pornography reflects its time. Furthermore, like other genres the pornographic movie has a history. And if we consider the films produced for and screened in cinemas during the 1970s in the light of that history, pornography might seem less and not more misogynistic the closer we come to our own present. From this perspective Williams largely defends pornography, arguing not to dismiss films like Deep Throat and The Opening of Misty Beethoven as misogynistic. In her reading, even though these films proceed from gender stereotypes, they also clearly revolve around the problem of female pleasure, and hence contain a utopian dimension almost in spite of themselves. Drawing on Fredric Jameson’s suggestion that a narrative genre may contain an attempt to provide an imaginary resolution to a real social conflict, Williams approaches hardcore as a genre enacting “the solution to the problem of sex through the performance of sex” (147).[10]

While hailed as a pioneering work, Williams’s book has also received important critiques. As Peter Lehman points out in a well-informed article, Williams overemphasizes the importance of narrative in the pornographic film and hereby tacitly elides other important aspects of it.[11] Profiting from the critique, Williams has subsequently revised her original position in a number of articles.[12] She has revised her original argument that pornography is likely to develop into a genre among other genres within mainstream cinema. Rather than being the “classical” era of cinematic pornography, that period between 1972 and 1985 in which pornography was made for full-blown cinematic screening, perhaps better serves as

“a short blip in an otherwise fairly consistent history of more ‘interactive’ engagements between bodies of spectators and machineries or networks of vision — whether the whirring projectors of the stag party, the remote controls of the VCRs, or the ‘mouse’ of interactive games.”[13]

These modifications notwithstanding, her general point of departure remains intact: pornography is a genre like other genres, and can be read and interpreted as such.

This is also very much the central notion of Porn Studies, a hefty volume of some 500 pages which amply demonstrates Williams’s importance to the research in the field. Constance Penley points out in her contribution to the volume,

“If Linda Williams’ breakthrough was to get us to think of pornographic film as film, that is, as a genre that can be compared to other popular genres like the western, the science fiction film, the gangster film, or the musical (porn’s closest kin, she says) and studied with the same analytical tools we take to the study of other films, the next logical step, it seems, would be to consider pornographic film as popular culture” (315).[14]

The essays in the book seem intent upon living up to this proposition. The opening section presents contemporary pornography of different kinds, from the Starr Report on President Clinton to porn on the web; the second applies a queer perspective from a gay and lesbian point of view; the third puts porn in relation to race and class; the fourth — and most sprawling — brings together three rather disparate essays under the heading “Soft Core, Hard Core, and the Pornographic Sublime”; and the last section, finally, relates porn to the avant-garde through readings of Andy Warhol’s Blow Job, and Scott Stark’s NOEMA, a video collage which rhythmically repeats the fleeting moments of unsexiness which are to be found in well-nigh every pornographic film — for instance when the actors change positions — accompanied by Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for strings.”

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Charles Duhigg: Toxic Waters

Toxic Waters: Clean Water Laws Are Neglected, at a Cost in Suffering
The New York Times

Jennifer Hall-Massey knows not to drink the tap water in her home near Charleston, W.Va.

In fact, her entire family tries to avoid any contact with the water. Her youngest son has scabs on his arms, legs and chest where the bathwater — polluted with lead, nickel and other heavy metals — caused painful rashes. Many of his brother’s teeth were capped to replace enamel that was eaten away.

Neighbors apply special lotions after showering because their skin burns. Tests show that their tap water contains arsenic, barium, lead, manganese and other chemicals at concentrations federal regulators say could contribute to cancer and damage the kidneys and nervous system.

“How can we get digital cable and Internet in our homes, but not clean water?” said Mrs. Hall-Massey, a senior accountant at one of the state’s largest banks.

She and her husband, Charles, do not live in some remote corner of Appalachia. Charleston, the state capital, is less than 17 miles from her home.

“How is this still happening today?” she asked.

When Mrs. Hall-Massey and 264 neighbors sued nine nearby coal companies, accusing them of putting dangerous waste into local water supplies, their lawyer did not have to look far for evidence. As required by state law, some of the companies had disclosed in reports to regulators that they were pumping into the ground illegal concentrations of chemicals — the same pollutants that flowed from residents’ taps.

But state regulators never fined or punished those companies for breaking those pollution laws.

This pattern is not limited to West Virginia. Almost four decades ago, Congress passed the Clean Water Act to force polluters to disclose the toxins they dump into waterways and to give regulators the power to fine or jail offenders. States have passed pollution statutes of their own. But in recent years, violations of the Clean Water Act have risen steadily across the nation, an extensive review of water pollution records by The New York Times found.

In the last five years alone, chemical factories, manufacturing plants and other workplaces have violated water pollution laws more than half a million times. The violations range from failing to report emissions to dumping toxins at concentrations regulators say might contribute to cancer, birth defects and other illnesses.

However, the vast majority of those polluters have escaped punishment. State officials have repeatedly ignored obvious illegal dumping, and the Environmental Protection Agency, which can prosecute polluters when states fail to act, has often declined to intervene.

Because it is difficult to determine what causes diseases like cancer, it is impossible to know how many illnesses are the result of water pollution, or contaminants’ role in the health problems of specific individuals.

But concerns over these toxins are great enough that Congress and the E.P.A. regulate more than 100 pollutants through the Clean Water Act and strictly limit 91 chemicals or contaminants in tap water through the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Regulators themselves acknowledge lapses. The new E.P.A. administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, said in an interview that despite many successes since the Clean Water Act was passed in 1972, today the nation’s water does not meet public health goals, and enforcement of water pollution laws is unacceptably low. She added that strengthening water protections is among her top priorities. State regulators say they are doing their best with insufficient resources.

The Times obtained hundreds of thousands of water pollution records through Freedom of Information Act requests to every state and the E.P.A., and compiled a national database of water pollution violations that is more comprehensive than those maintained by states or the E.P.A. (For an interactive version, which can show violations in any community, visit

In addition, The Times interviewed more than 250 state and federal regulators, water-system managers, environmental advocates and scientists.

That research shows that an estimated one in 10 Americans have been exposed to drinking water that contains dangerous chemicals or fails to meet a federal health benchmark in other ways.

Those exposures include carcinogens in the tap water of major American cities and unsafe chemicals in drinking-water wells. Wells, which are not typically regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act, are more likely to contain contaminants than municipal water systems.

Because most of today’s water pollution has no scent or taste, many people who consume dangerous chemicals do not realize it, even after they become sick, researchers say.

To Read the Rest of the Report

Open Source: Philip Gourevitch -- Standard Operating Procedure

Torture, Part 3: the Philip Gourevitch version
Open Source
Host: Christopher Lydon

Once again Smith moved in with the animal. In one picture you see it lunging, ears back, a black blur of muscle and jaw… Smith is in the picture, crouching over the dog, restraining him and urging him on at the same time.

It does not seem possible to amplify the drama of this moment, but the look on AQ’s face does just that. He has the horrified, drawn-back, and quivering expression of a thoroughly blasted soul. It is all there in his eyes, moist and mad with fear, fixed on a mouthful of fangs. What secrets does he have that we want so badly, but are so precious to him that he endures this day after day? The answer in AQ’s case was none. Once again at Abu Ghraib they had the wrong guy, or they had the guy wrong, and when they realized this after several months of dogs and bondage and hooding and noise and sleeplessness and heat and cold and who knows just what other robust counter-resistance techniques, they told him to scram, and closed his case. The pictures of AQ on that night before New Year’s are the last known photographs of our prisoners on the MI block at Abu Ghraib, which seems fitting, because these pictures don’t leave much to the viewer’s imagination, except the obvious question: if you fight terror with terror, how can you tell which is which?
Philip Gourevitch, Standard Operating Procedure.

To Listen to the Conversation

Nicholas de Villiers: Leaving the cinema -- metacinematic cruising in Tsai Ming-liang’s Goodbye, Dragon Inn

Leaving the cinema: metacinematic cruising in Tsai Ming-liang’s Goodbye, Dragon Inn
by Nicholas de Villiers
Jump Cut

"Trick becomes the metaphor for many adventures which are not sexual; the encounter of a glance, a gaze, an idea, an image, ephemeral and forceful association, which consents to dissolve so lightly, a faithless benevolence: a way of not getting stuck in desire, though without evading it; all in all, a kind of wisdom."— Roland Barthes, Preface to Renaud Camus’s Tricks (1979) [Rustle 295]

In his evocative essay “Leaving the Movie Theater,” Roland Barthes proposes a particular way of going to the movies:

“by letting oneself be fascinated twice over, by the image and its surroundings — as if I had two bodies at the same time: a narcissistic body which gazes, lost, into the engulfing mirror, and a perverse body, ready to fetishize not the image but precisely what exceeds it: the texture of the sound, the hall, the darkness, the obscure mass of the other bodies” (Rustle 348).

This urban eroticism in the dark of the movie theater, the bodies sliding down in their seats as if in a bed (346), is crucial as a way to reinsert “queer” eroticism into movie-going. Barthes enjoys the anonymity and availability of the dark mass of the bodies in the movie house in opposition to the foreclosed eroticization of the place in the domestic well-lit scene of the television:

“television doomed us to the Family” (346).

That gay/queer [1] [open endnotes in new window] men in particular have made use of theaters for the purpose of cruising has a long history, which shows up in Midnight Cowboy (1969), Far From Heaven (2002), and in Samuel Delany’s Times Square Red, Times Square Blue. But Barthes’s works suggest that “cruising” might also be thought of as a more general type of experience: the reader’s relation to the text, which at the same time “cruises” him or her (Pleasure 4–6; 27). Tsai Ming-liang’s Goodbye, Dragon Inn (2003) connects both these aspects: the situation of the movie theater as a place of the anonymous multitude cruising each other in the dark, and the drifting relation of the spectator to the cinematic image. Tsai simultaneously provokes fascination and distance, which best captures Barthes’s sense that

“I am hypnotized by a distance; and this distance is not critical (intellectual); it is, one might say, an amorous distance” (Rustle 349).

Both Barthes and Tsai emphasize the place and spatial conditions of the cinema itself (the shadowy box, the “big screen”), but also temporality (both in the sense of “duration” and “history”). They ask: what does it mean to leave or say goodbye to “the cinema”? Barthes clarifies the pun:

“Whenever I hear the word cinema, I can’t help thinking hall, rather than film” (346).

Tsai’s film fits into the longstanding genre of “metacinema” (from Sunset Boulevard [1950] to Scream [1996]), but it also takes on a particular local significance: Tsai’s choice of King Hu’s 1966 Dragon Inn (a.k.a. Dragon Gate Inn) — as the final film screened at a movie theater which is closing its doors indefinitely — indexes the rise and fall of Taiwanese cinema, thereby invoking the industry’s history in a wistful manner. Such a description of the historic place of cinema can also be found in Barthes and Delany, but this is not simply nostalgia for a lost era, as Delany insists (xviii). Instead, it laments the loss of the social contact which movie houses fostered [2] — social contact which is cross-class and queer: thus feared by social conservatives. Like José Muñoz’s discussion of the “Ghosts of Public Sex,” I believe that rather than being simply hopelessly nostalgic, the present is haunted by the virtual potential of queer ways of occupying space, as in parks, public restrooms, arcades, and movie theaters.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Monday, September 14, 2009

Kevin L. Ferguson: Yuppie devil -- Villainy in Kathryn Bigelow’s Blue Steel

Yuppie devil: villainy in Kathryn Bigelow’s Blue Steel
by Kevin L. Ferguson
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“When Mephistopheles shows up wearing a gold Rolex he’s truly a creature for our age.”
— Janet Maslin

Film critic Janet Maslin must call forth the devil himself to explain the curious appeal of the yuppie to late-80s filmgoers. The yuppie devil at the end of the 80s, though, is more a crafty Mephistopheles than a fearsome Lucifer. A sly character with a keen sense for bargain and an eye for economy, this devil wears his gold Rolex in fashionable display and makes his pacts in public. No more magical, smoke-filled entrances, the devil at the end of the 80s confidently takes his seat at the head of the yuppie bargaining table. The devil’s public appearance as a yuppie points up the heartless greed of that decade, and so Mephistopheles’ gold watch indicates not only his proper place at the yuppie’s table, but also the culpability of those seated across from him (with their own Rolexes, Mont Blanc pens, and Ferragamos). Maslin’s article focuses on two films, Internal Affairs (dir. Mike Figgis, U.S., 1990) and Bad Influence (dir. Curtis Hanson, U.S., 1990), to demonstrate this new trend in late-80s Hollywood cinema, where the formerly successful yuppie was conflated with the newly fashionable serial killer to create the hybrid character of the psychotic, villainous yuppie devil.

In this essay, I want to reexamine a third film that Maslin mentions briefly, Kathryn Bigelow’s Blue Steel (U.S., 1990). Bigelow’s film is unusual since it simultaneously sustains and critiques the new trope of the yuppie devil. Furthermore, the film generated puzzled responses that allow us to see the ambivalent attitudes late-80s spectators held towards this new kind of yuppie villain. For example, even Maslin, in pointing out how yuppie devil films reveal the dangerous effects of “a decade of relative conscience-free complacency,” nonetheless mirrors this complacency by implicitly accepting the merging of yuppie and psycho tropes:

“When [Blue Steel] assumes that [its villain] automatically has the makings of a psychotic killer, it doesn’t imagine itself to be making any kind of leap.”[2]

The self-evident “obviousness” of Blue Steel’s yuppie devil makes the film worth revisiting since its ideological obviousness hides more complex cultural negotiations in the 1980s between economic power and filmic evil. Finally, since Blue Steel features a female heroine who must face the male yuppie devil, the film further questions the obviousness of assumed gender roles in late-80s imaginings of yuppie lifestyles. I will start by offering a reading of Blue Steel which argues that its yuppie devil was hastily dismissed, but is constructed in a significant visual relationship with that film’s heroine. I will then discuss the rapid transformation between 1984-1989 in U.S. popular culture representations of the yuppie from a success story to a symbol of evil.

As Maslin suggested, yuppie devil films like Blue Steel rely on a shared understanding of what the yuppie would signify to a late-80s audience. In that decade, the yuppie was a new figure in the popular imagination who reiterated an U.S. myth of economic success. The term was coined in 1983 and first popularized in 1984, which publications like Newsweek labeled “The Year of the Yuppie.” The word “yuppie,” which comes from mixing the acronym for “young urban professional” with “hippie” or “preppy,”[3] was initially used as a demographic label to describe Baby Boomers

“aged 29 to 35 who live in metropolitan areas, work in professional or managerial occupations, and have an income of at least $30,000 if they live alone.”[4]

Soon, though, “yuppie” became a pejorative description of a lifestyle, and yuppies were identified with a culture of wealth, conspicuous consumption, and conservative politics. Driving a BMW, working on Wall Street, exercising constantly, living in an expensively renovated loft in a gentrified neighborhood, or purchasing imported tarragon vinaigrette from an upscale gourmet store made one a yuppie. A backlash against the expensive, self-absorbed frivolity of the yuppie’s designer lifestyle quickly set in. By the end of the 1980s, the valueless yuppie lifestyle was a ready signifier for the selfish evil born of capitalism, and villains in films like Blue Steel could rely on this signification to scare audiences.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Margot Mifflin: A Blank Human Canvas

by Margot Mifflin
The Believer

In 2003, the author Shelley Jackson announced that she would publish a 2,095-word short story called “Skin” on participants who agree to be tattooed with randomly assigned words from her text. The tattooees alone will read the story, which will be complete when the last commissioned word is inscribed on its bearer, sometime in the next few years. It will not be published on paper. Jackson asks applicants (she has many more than she can use) to read her novel, The Melancholy of Anatomy, to ensure that they like her writing before committing to a word, because “Skin” is what she calls a “hidden track” (in the pop-music sense) of the book; both explore the relationship between words and the body.

Jackson’s project, commissioned by Cabinet magazine, is a dramatic act of literary deconstruction—it pushes her words off the printed page onto the living body, marrying the reader and the text, the symbol and the narrative, not to mention visual art and fiction. Not surprisingly, her volunteers are both students and professors of literature, as well as artists, graphic designers and typographers. She also has mother-daughter teams, friends who want to become a phrase or a sentence, a private investigator, a zookeeper, and a specialist in glaciers. One participant is a book collector who saw the project as an opportunity to collect a rare manuscript. Another liked the notion of “a text written on bodies and the idea that the text would encounter erasure with death and time.”

Subversive as it is, “Skin” is rooted in a rich tradition of tattoo symbolism in American literature. We have Hawthorne and Melville to thank for drafting the dual designs—one personal and iconic, the other cultural and narrative—that have shaped tattoo imagery in American fiction. The Scarlet Letter (1850) and Moby-Dick (1851), those twin towers of prototypical symbolic lit, were published just as marked bodies began landing on the shores of American consciousness, soon after tattooed oddities and tattoo artists began plying their trade on the East Coast, and immediately before our nation’s first tattooed white woman, Olive Oatman, was released in California after four years’ captivity with Mojave Indians. Oatman was “repatriated” (probably against her will) in 1856 and resurfaced wearing a tribal tattoo on her chin, which riveted the American public.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

This Brave Nation: Carl Pope and Van Jones

This Brave Nation

Teabaggers: Baaahhhh!

Listen to the crowd's reaction to one dissenter in their midst. Here you go America, this is the face of the neo-conservative "revolution" and their tolerance for different opinions/perspectives. At about 4 minutes I can hear teabaggers making sheep noises ... I thought it was appropriate.

Rebecca Scherr: (Not) queering “white vision” in Far from Heaven and Transamerica

(Not) queering “white vision” in Far from Heaven and Transamerica
by Rebecca Scherr
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Todd Haynes’ 2002 award-winning period piece, Far from Heaven, is set in 1957 United States, an era characterized as repressive and conformist. The film juxtaposes the impossibility of consummating heterosexual, black/white interracial romance to the almost, but not quite, impossible step of taking on a homosexual identity. This double tension is personified in the Whitakers, an affluent white couple living in Hartford, Connecticut. In the narrative, Cathy Whitaker falls for the black gardener Raymond Deagan, who tends the family’s yard, while her husband Frank tries but fails to overcome his desire for men. Each scene that depicts either interracial romance or homosexuality doubles back and comments on the other, although these twin themes rarely occupy the same scene visually. Instead, they are tied through match-dissolves, cross-cuts, and inference.

Midway through the film, for example, the Whitakers host their annual company party, and for this social circle whiteness, wealth, and reproductive heterosexuality are the implicit norms. As spectators, we are already well aware of the Whitakers’ struggles with their taboo desires. When one of the party guests declares, in a conversation centered on the topic of school desegregation, that the violence unleashed in response to integration in Little Rock, Arkansas, could never happen in Hartford, his absurd reasoning is as follows:

“There’re no negroes [here]!”

The irony is that all evening he has been served by a black man. The camera pans to this waiter, who clearly hears this remark yet continues to serve the guests. The camera also briefly pans the Whitakers’ black maid, Sybil, also serving the guests. This is but one example of the way the film codes class in racial terms; black characters serve the whites as housekeepers and gardeners, while the wealthy white people treat this service as their inherent right.

Yet not only are race and class difference marked here; much more subtly, homosexuality is the scene’s hidden subtext. The themes of visibility and invisibility invoked in this moment underscore Frank’s narrative. No one at the party would guess that a gay man, indeed one of their very own, mingles among them. Frank, like the black waiters, is simultaneously present and invisible. Thus in this scene relations between visibility and invisibility, public and private, racial difference and homosexuality are meshed on the level of discourse although not on the level of what is actually shown to the viewer. In other words, the apparent focus on racial difference subtly comments on what is not seen or discussed, namely the topic of homosexuality. In this moment, the discourse of racial difference signals homosexuality.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Marilyn Ferdinand: The True Meaning of Pictures: Shelby Lee Adams’ Appalachia (Jennifer Baichwal: 2002)

(Amazing essay on this documentary with a 178 comments/responses to the original essay!!!)

The True Meaning of Pictures: Shelby Lee Adams’ Appalachia (2002)
Director: Jennifer Baichwal
By Marilyn Ferdinand
Ferdy on Films


Anyone who makes pictures, still or moving, and anyone who looks at them create consciously or unconsciously a context for interpreting those images. That context may be as simple as “that’s pretty” or “that’s ugly” based on the image and one’s visceral or instinctual reaction to it. In the case of art photography, which is designed to do more than document reality, more complex contextualization often is required to interpret not only the “text” but the “subtext.” And without those 1,000 words, viewers must rely on their storehouse of information about subjects similar to those depicted by the photographer. This fact is precisely what makes Shelby Lee Adams’ photographs of poor residents of the hollers of the Appalachian Mountains near Hazard, Kentucky, controversial in the larger world.


To Read the Rest of the Essay

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Open Source: Philippe Sands’ Torture Team

Philippe Sands’ Torture Team
Open Source
Host: Christopher Lydon

Who will pay for the illegal abuse of detainees at Guantanamo? If violations of the Geneva Conventions — and specifically of Common Article 3, against torture, cruelty and “outrages upon personal dignity” — are “‘war crimes,’ punishable as federal offenses,” as Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the Hamdan case two years ago, who will prosecute them?

Will Americans and the US government initiate an examination of the record — and of our national conscience? Or are we waiting for a prompt from abroad — waiting, in effect, for Donald Rumsfeld or Antonio Gonzalez to get their version of the Pinochet “tap on the shoulder,” as they’re strolling on a sidewalk in London, Berlin or Mexico City?

Philippe Sands of Torture Team: “…doing nothing is not an option.”

In his book Torture Team and in our conversation, Philippe Sands aims such questions at the top tier of his own legal profession. Who will hold to account the lawyers who gave President Bush the very bad advice that the Geneva rules, the US Army manual on interrogation, and the long tradition against torture (President Lincoln’s order in 1863 was that “military necessity does not admit of cruelty”) did not apply to the Al Qaeda suspects picked up after 9.11? And then: what about the lawyers who gave Donald Rumsfeld a green light to introduce abusive interrogation at Guantanamo in the autumn of 2002?

Torture Team can be read as a fiercely accusatory extension of Jane Mayer’s argument in The New Yorker and her book, The Dark Side, that “but for the lawyers this would not have happened.” Philippe Sands brings to bear an English barrister’s perspective and a generous investment of shoe leather in the US. He interviewed a large cast of principals and credits the marvelous openness of American society for his access to (among others) Rumsfeld’s chief counsel William “Jim” Haynes; the first commanding officer at Guantanamo, Major General Michael Dunlavey and his counsel, Lt. Col. Diane Beaver; the Navy’s General Counsel who blew the whistle on enhanced interrogation, Alberto Mora; the Pentagon’s aggressive Undersecretary for Policy Doug Feith, and the apparently witless chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers. But then he turns scathingly to the judgment that ideology, and lawyers, drove the mission to create something new: a “legal black hole” in which designated persons would be stripped of their humanity and all their rights.

That is precisely what the system of rules that the United States had done so much to put into place after the Second World War was intended to avoid. It comes back to Spencer Tracy in Judgement at Nuremberg: the dignity of even a single human person is what our values are about. There are no legal black holes. The moment you go down that route you undermine the entirety of who it is we believe we are, and what it is we believe we’re doing… I think there was a conscious decision to remove international legal constraints (and U.S. legal constraints — after all, that’s why Guantanamo is outside the US) which would limit the ability of the administration to adopt new techniques of interrogation. The legal black hole was the removal of international constraints on interrogation as part of an ideological drive to increase executive power and remove the shackles of international law. It has failed miserably.
Philippe Sands in conversation with Chris Lydon, September 15, 2008.

The press and popular culture didn’t help us notice what was underway, Sands observes. Notably, the Fox TV hit, 24 (another Jane Mayer subject) was as insidiously wrong about the long-term issues as Judgement at Nuremberg was once eloquently right. Sands also makes you wonder about the elite legal establishment — most particularly Harvard Law School, training ground of principals like Alberto Gonzales and Jim Wright and home base of the inescapable advocate of “torture warrants,” Professor Alan Dershowitz. But the hard focus here is on the legal minds who used a devious process to create a lawless prison (seedbed, not least of Abu Ghraib) that became an even more monstrous symbol of American power out of control.

The choice we don’t have, Philippe Sands argues, is to do nothing about this stain on the American reputation, the American soul.

To Listen to the Conversation

Harry M. Benshoff: Brokering Brokeback Mountain — a local reception study

Brokering Brokeback Mountain — a local reception study
by Harry M. Benshoff
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So I'm curious if you see Brokeback Mountain as the movie that allowed mainstream audiences to have a chance to look at the world a different way (as it seems to be marketed). Or if you felt it treated homosexuality as this horrible addiction that's so dangerous it can lead to someone dying. I can’t make up my mind.
— Scott, former UNT Radio, TV, and Film Major

By almost anyone’s calculations, Brokeback Mountain was the movie event of 2005/2006. Based on a story by Annie Proulx, this “gay cowboy movie” (a misnomer, as I shall argue below) generated considerable box office revenue, multiple interpretations, and a fair amount of controversy, as pundits of every ideological stripe weighed in on its cultural significance. As one of the few popular movies dealing with issues surrounding male homosexual desire and identity, the reception of Brokeback Mountain makes for an interesting case study. Not only does its reception support various concepts of contemporary cultural theory (such as the necessarily negotiated decoding of polysemous, heteroglossic media texts), it also underscores the many interpretive meanings of (male) homosexuality that exist within contemporary culture-at-large. As will be shown, by challenging the ideological foundations of heteronormative patriarchy, Brokeback Mountain generated a large amount of fear, anger, delight, disappointment, and/or moral outrage among diverse groups of filmgoers.

The following analysis also draws upon queer theory, an array of ideas about human sexuality that critiques “normalising ways of knowing and of being.”[2] Queer theory is informed by many of the same poststructuralist and postmodern ideas that shape third wave feminism, postcolonial theory, and other contemporary ways of thinking about the politics, practice, and production of social identities. Like much of that thinking, queer theory postulates that human sexuality is not an essentialized or biological given, but is rather a fluid construct that is shaped by the various discourses within which it is spoken. In its broadest terms, queer theory insists that there is a general overlap between all forms of human sexuality — that there are multifarious human sexualities situated between the essentialist poles of homosexuality and heterosexuality. As such, one of queer theory’s central goals is to deconstruct and complicate Western culture’s illusory straight-gay binary. Other aspects of queer theory investigate the multiple meanings of male homosocial desire and explore its relationship to masculinity, (homo)sexuality, patriarchy, and the so-called “closet” within which homosexual desire has been said to hide.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Larry Knapp: Tony Scott and Domino — Say hello (and goodbye) to the postclassical

Tony Scott and Domino — Say hello (and goodbye) to the postclassical
by Larry Knapp
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Enemy of the State and Spy Game shake the foundations of Scott’s style with tenebrous images and CGI-powered shifts in space and scale motivated by telecommunications and surveillance technology. But it is with Man on Fire and Domino that Scott achieves an inexorable level of authorial expressivity — when the intrusive legacy of Nicholas Roeg, if not Sergei Eisenstein, Stan Brakhage, and Jean-Luc Godard, turns the postclassical into a ferocious assault on an increasingly hapless and anesthetized spectator. No longer content with amplifying the editing and glutting the mise-en-scene, Scott resorts to staccato patterns of concentrated subjectivity to suggest something is tragically wrong with the American psyche.[7] As Scott recounts:

“With Man on Fire I had a rule of thumb — if Denzel thought it, I would see it. For me the movie was about paranoia, betrayal, and redemption, so therefore I wanted to work the inner psyche of Denzel’s mind.”[8]

Scott covers key shots with a 1910 hand-cranked “merry-go-round” camera tellingly nicknamed the “vomit comet.” The hand-cranked camera violates the integrity and stability of the image, allowing Man on Fire to bristle and flicker with the same intensity and instability of its troubled protagonist Creasy (Washington). This overt play on diegetic subjectivity — where Scott disturbs narrative order and duration with concentration cuts, freeze frames, unanticipated musical cues, variable frame speed, and other digressive techniques that foreground his camera work — becomes even more pronounced with Domino, which Scott has described as “heightened realism” and “a ferret on crystal meth.”

With Domino Scott gambles with the borders of commercial cinema (the film begins with the line, “Heads you win, tails you die”), eschewing all of the generic vestiges of Top Gun, transgressing style and thrashing narrative as if with a bludgeon (the first subtitle coyly reads “a true story…sort of”), metastasizing the pixilated Los Angeles of The Last Boy Scout and True Romance into a mad dash through mansions and crackhouses, all trembling with the same manic sense that something is amiss, absent, or just plain crazy. Screenwriter Richard Kelly meant for Domino to be a doomsday scenario of a culture in freefall, in which “everyone gets fucked,” the overarching theme of his own work as a director (Donnie Darko [2001] and Southland Tales [2007]) In addition to Man on Fire’s flashing, pulsating images, Domino features color-reversal film stock and cross-processing to bleed and distort the color palette and loosen the integrity of the film image. Scott shot frequently at 6 frames-per-second with intermittent camera movement to create “toffee trails” that suggest “bounty hunting on speed.” Domino qualifies as the first Tony Scott film that consistently destabilizes narrative order, duration, and frequency.[9]

Scott maintained a standard Aristotelian model of narrative development until Man on Fire, which surrenders to a tempestuous series of overlapping flashbacks, all motivated by Washington’s subjective crisis of faith and self-restraint. Domino adopts Man on Fire’s fractured narration and combines it with what Kelly calls a “TiVo-like” narrative construction that opens with the epilogue, then flashes into what appears to be an in medias res exposition which then shifts to a front-credit sequence that assaults the spectator with a flashforward preview of the film’s characters and motifs. The rest of the film functions as Domino-Vision, shifting back and forth in time and memory as Domino Harvey (Keira Knightley) trades narrative agency with fellow bounty hunters Ed Mosbey (Mickey Rourke), Choco (Edgar Ramirez), Alf (Riz Abbasi), and a panoply of characters that motivate an episodic road trip of the United States on mescaline.

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Vera Dika: An East German Indianerfilm -- the bear in sheep’s clothing

An East German Indianerfilm: the bear in sheep’s clothing
by Vera Dika
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The first time I saw an Indianerfilm, it was introduced to me as being an “East German Western.” As I settled in to watch The Sons of Great Mother Bear (Die Sohne der grossen Barin ), a 1965 film made by DEFA in the now-defunct German Democratic Republic known as the GDR, I kept thinking that this Western was “all wrong.” I am an American, and even as a film scholar, I could not initially process what I was seeing. From my historical and cultural perspective, the Western’s more conventional elements were being displaced in ways I had not previously experienced. For example, The Sons of Great Mother Bear was shot on location in Yugoslavia, giving the landscape an uncharacteristic, “un-Western” look. The language spoken was German with English subtitles. And the U.S. soldiers were played by East German actors, while a Serbian national starred as the lead Indian. In these terms alone the film registered as almost an affront, not only to conventional “American” connotations, but also to the Western itself, a genre Andre Bazin once identified as being “quintessentially” American.[2]

It could be said that The Sons of Great Mother Bear resembled Italian Spaghetti Westerns, especially those of Sergio Leone, films made at around the same time and similarly displacing conventional elements of the genre, especially those of landscape, language, casting, and story. But The Sons of Great Mother Bear was notably different. To begin with, this system of imitation had no intended humor. Instead the film was fashioned almost as blank parody, a copy of the U.S. Western that included culturally and historically resonant German elements with little irony. So when a friend leaned over to me and asked, “Is this a Western?” I almost didn’t know how to reply. The film sidestepped so many of the established guidelines for identifying and defining the Western genre that I felt it crossed the line into its own genre, or at least its own subgenre. But the story of The Sons of Great Mother Bear created the final rupture. On the manifest level, the film inverted the traditional Western story by placing the Indians as heroes against the treacherous Americans who endeavored to inhabit their land and destroy their society.

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Friday, September 11, 2009

Andrea Grunert: Old secrets and a second chance

Old secrets and a second chance
by Andrea Grunert
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A man discovers the body of a dead young Aborigine woman in a river, but instead of reporting his discovery, he and his three friends tie down the corpse to prevent it from drifting away and continue fishing. When they arrive back home, they have to face the incomprehension and criticism of the other members of their community and the grief and anger of the Aborigines, who accuse them of racism. At first glance, Ray Lawrence’s Jindabyne (Australia, 2006) is a film about unforeseen developments which affect the lives of the four men and their families. The disastrous results of their decision represent a challenge to normality and destabilize even more the already dysfunctional human relationships. It is in particular the male protagonist who is forced to examine how he defines himself as a man, a husband and father, and as a member of the community.

Lost hopes and the idea of a second chance

In adapting for the screen Raymond Carver’s short story "So Much Water So Close to Home" (which was also part of Robert Altman’s Short Cuts), Lawrence reflects on sudden decisions and their unexpected consequences in a narrative composed of multiple layers of meaning that deals with love, death, friendship and guilt. Both the literary text and the film focus on social identities, but whereas Carver’s story is located in an U.S. working-class milieu, Lawrence sets his moral tale in an Australian context characterized by the confrontation between the white community and the Aborigines. In doing so, he depicts distinct cultural spaces revealed through frequent images of the landscape — the arid desert, the mountains, and the water — images which punctuate the film.

"Jindabyne" is an Aborigine word for “valley.” Located in New South Wales, it is an isolated spot surrounded by mountains. Not unlike utopian communities, which are often represented as islands, Jindabyne, the town where the protagonists live, is a place that has been given a second chance: the original town was flooded in the early 1960s to make way for a dam. A closed space haunted by the ghosts of an unresolved past, it becomes a metaphor for dystopia. It is, however, the question of a second chance in the lives of the characters which Lawrence retraces in both individual and social terms. The image of the town under the water is used for metonymic ends in a film which, by creating an atmosphere of tension and mystery, brings to the surface old secrets, anxieties and contradictory feelings of guilt and desire.

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Monday, September 07, 2009

Paul A. Schroeder Rodríguez: Migrants and Lovers -- Interculturation in Flowers from Another World

Migrants and lovers: interculturation in Flowers from Another World
by Paul A. Schroeder Rodríguez
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Flores de otro mundo (Flowers from Another World, dir. Icíar Bollaín, Spain, 1999) tells the story of Santa Eulalia, a small Castilian town that is losing many of its jobs and young people to corporate agriculture and the lure of big cities. The older men of the town, desperate to find mates, organize a three-day celebration for prospective single women from all across Spain. The women arrive in a single bus. About half of them are light-skinned Spanish women, while the other half is made up of younger, darker-skinned women from the Dominican Republic.

During a weekend of dancing, eating and drinking, two couples emerge from this get-together: one between Alfonso (Chete Lera), a plant nursery owner, and Marirrosi (Eleana Irureta), an economically independent Basque nurse from Bilbao; and another one between Damián (Luis Tosar), a farmer who tends to his land but also sells his labor-power to other landowners, and Patricia (Lissete Mejía), a Dominican mulatto domestic worker with two small children of her own. A third couple emerges later in the film, between Carmelo (José Sancho), the local building contractor, and Milady (Marilyn Torres), a young, college-educated, and sexually liberated black Cuban woman whom he brings back from one of his trips to the island, not as wife, but as his fiancée. In the end, only Damián and Patricia work things out through a marriage of convenience that reaffirms patriarchal structures of power, while Marirrosi returns to Bilbao and Milady hitchhikes her way out of rural Spain. In a sort of epilogue, the process begins all over again, when another busload of women arrives into town to be subjected to yet another round of legal and emotional transactions.

Flowers from Another World alternates between the celebration of women's economic and sexual liberation through the respective characters of Marirrosi and Milady, and the reaffirmation of patriarchal values through Patricia's incorporation into a nuclear, extended and ultimately, national family. The film sustains the ensuing tension between liberation and dependence through a combination of melodrama and realism, and in the end, resolves that tension in favor of Patricia’s narrative and the values of patriarchy.

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Left Field Cinema: Haxan - Witchcraft Through The Ages

Hidden Classics: Haxan - Witchcraft Through The Ages
by Mike Dawson
Left Field Cinema

Haxan: Witchcraft Through The Ages is a part documentary, part dramatisation about the nature of witch craft, and of those who sought to destroy it. Moving at different stages through the age of man it addresses different notions of the “Witch”, what they were believed to be capable of, and how they operated.

The more interesting areas in the film examine those who would persecute the so-called “witches” through either genuine religious intolerance and fear, or a corrupt patriarchal dominance; relishing the opportunity to stamp out any independent femininity under the guise of hunting for minions of Satan. One particularly impressive section sees a household of woman calling the local monks (or judges in this case) to take an elderly woman away from their home. The old woman is tortured into confessing her witch craft, then subsequently confesses that the woman who implicated her are her fellow witches as well – then naturally all the other woman are executed despite the obvious retaliatory motivation for the deception. The film also examines how the folklore had come to fruition. Still images of various cultures ideas of hell, heaven, and the celestial bodies are presented until the eventual creation of the “Witch” is revealed.

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To Listen to the Podcast

Democracy Now: The “Golden Voice of the Great Southwest” - Legendary Folk Musician, Activist Utah Phillips, 1935-2008

(A special labor day broadcast)

The “Golden Voice of the Great Southwest”: Legendary Folk Musician, Activist Utah Phillips, 1935-2008
Democracy Now
Host: Amy Goodman

Utah Phillips, the legendary folk musician and peace and labor activist, died earlier this year at the age of seventy-three. Over the span of nearly four decades, Utah Phillips worked in what he referred to as “the Trade,” performing tirelessly throughout the United States, Canada and Europe. The son of labor organizers, Phillips was a lifelong member of the Industrial Workers of the World, known as the Wobblies. As a teenager, he ran away from home and started living as a hobo who rode the rails and wrote songs about his experiences. In 1956, he joined the Army and served in the Korean War, an experience he would later refer to as the turning point of his life. In 1968, he ran for the US Senate on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket. For the past twenty-one years he lived in Nevada City, where he started a nationally syndicated folk music radio show. He also helped found the Hospitality House homeless shelter and the Peace and Justice Center.

To Listen to the Interview

Max Blumenthal: Eisenhower's Forgotten Warning and the Threat of Authoritarian Currents in Our Politics

Eisenhower's Forgotten Warning and the Threat of Authoritarian Currents in Our Politics
By Max Blumenthal, The New York Times and AlterNet


“I doubt that citizens like yourself could ever, under our democratic system, be provided with the universal degree of certainty, the confidence in their understanding of our problems, and the clear guidance from higher authority that you believe needed,” Eisenhower wrote on Feb. 10, 1959. “Such unity is not only logical but indeed indispensable in a successful military organization, but in a democracy debate is the breath of life.”

Eisenhower also recommended a short book — “The True Believer” by Eric Hoffer, a self-educated itinerant longshoreman who earned the nickname “the stevedore philosopher.” “Faith in a holy cause,” Hoffer wrote, “is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves.”

Though Eisenhower was criticized for lacking an intellectual framework or even an interest in ideas, he was drawn to Hoffer’s insights. He explained to Biggs that Hoffer “points out that dictatorial systems make one contribution to their people which leads them to tend to support such systems — freedom from the necessity of informing themselves and making up their own minds concerning these tremendous complex and difficult questions.” The authoritarian follower, Eisenhower suggested, desired nothing more than insulation from the pressures of a free society.

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