transformers 2 – review

The universe provided the opportunity to see it for free on the big screen, so I did. I never saw the first one. Maybe that matters, but I doubt it.

Now, the movie was insultingly beyond shit. It is indeed remarkable than anyone, even Michael Bay, can make So Much Movie, and still have it suck so much. But this was only to be expected. Given that, the experience of the film is best approached as a document of the cultural psyche – the stories we tell ourselves at the mass myth level are revealing material for psychoanalysis rather than film criticism – and it is on this level that we shall focus.

Given the number of comments about how incomprehensible it is, I didn’t actually have any trouble following the plot, such as it was. In fact, one of its few claims to genius was the scene were John Turturro demands a condensed plot exposition from a giant robot, who duly obliged. Actually, if anything, the film assumes a really high degree of visual literacy, but requires a suspension of narration. What is on screen happening is happening – there is a thimbleful of context and that is enough – the staged emotions and big moments have no real story to link them or give meaning, but they are understandable – they are stylised by the poor acting, direction and story to the point where they are almost as refined a representation as an opera singer performing an aria, and bearing as little connection to the actuality of the experience.

Transformers 2 is a succession of filmic Big Moments – parts of every 80’s action movie thrust together all at once in a breathless rush – with no understanding that big moments exist in a context that gives them meaning and makes them good. From Bay, we get only the Moment. Hyper-real, camera endlessly swooping in or past. As a movie it fails, and as a director, he has failed once more.

So, at the mythic/psychological level, what is revealed behind these big moments?

Transformers 2 can be read as being about the response to the current converging global crises from the male psyche and the current dominant systems of control.

What stands out is the insane hyper-militarism of American culture – a culture, which, for all its misogyny (the less said about the film’s portrayal of the feminine the better – the best moment for a woman comes from a leg-humping robot which acknowledges her sexual power), portrays its men as either completely ineffectual and lost – geek (in the negative sense of geek) heroes, or as soldiers – staunch, dumb and honourable – confronted by forces beyond their power that are remaking the world.

The reliance on military might and hi-tech effectualness is a balm to this ineffective male, providing the means by which masculinity is reclaimed and empowered.

In all this mess, the hero is the one who has certainty – not power, or smarts, or bravery, or anything other than being there – but certainty – belief – in the face of chaos and uncertainty. And this is the underlying message I would read from the cultural psyche. We feel the powers at work remaking the world, feel ourselves teetering on the cusp, and no-one is immune – the usual strengths do not prepare us, our muscle-bound heroes have failed – and what is needed is certainty. Someone who, against all the odds, knows what is going on, and what to do.

And there is this faith that humans somehow have this power, as represented in the quasi mystical revelation granted to Shia LeBouf’s character. This also seems the reason for the bizarre characters given to the robots, who are all given astoundingly awful lame personalities.

Somehow, the human – represented of course by the male throughout – is superior than the massively powerful robots, and even stranger, is sure of it (and even more weirdly, the robots even seem to think so, too). What else is going on with Bumblebee’s weird mechano-homo-eroticism for Shia LeBouf? And the unspeakably embarassing ethnic stereotype comedy robot duo? Optimus Prime plays the noble techno-savage.

These immensely powerful and ancient forces, anthropomorphized, are immature and laughable as children next to us.

This provides fuel for the human faith that we can somehow overcome these forces; while beyond us, they can be mastered. Even when the humans portrayed are so vilely heinous, shallow, pathetic, and absurd as the neurotic ineffectual sex and trivia obsessed goons populating the film. No matter how munted humanity is socially, individually, and interpersonally, somehow we will triumph. We are still the master race.

And that is the myth underlying Transformers 2. This is why this movie is being channelled through the mainstream, why it got however many hundred million dollars to make it.

We (or maybe America) need this reassuring myth.

(I don’t for a second think Michael Bay consciously intended any of this, of course. That is the point of psychoanalysis.)

Whether or not the myth is true is another thing. I think we can do better.

(And frankly, if it was satisfying on the mythic level, the movie would have been better liked, even if it was such a steaming pile of shit. (This, incidentally, is why almost no one liked the Matrix sequels – they were propagating a new myth to which most viewers were not yet receptive. But that is a much longer rant.))

prolapsing your mindshare

Last night I was on the top floor of the Majestic Centre listening to a career corporate dude talking about “mindshare”. Anyhow. Allow me to prolapse your mindshare a little with a quick linkorama.

Kind of awesome and alarming that you can sponsor NZ kids in poverty – guess we made it to the 3rd world. via @someonegetsteve

Excellent new groupblog. Dangerous minds. Which among other things put me onto this insanely great Flickr feed of inexplicable photos:

debbie harry meets andre the giant

For more far out freakery, try the
NZ body art awards

(Naturally, this is in an English paper which some guy in America linked me to.)

Meanwhile, someone is redefining niche product. Diamonds are being made from Michael Jackson’s hair.

If you want some choice pointed ranting, try Jello Biafra’s open letter to Barack Obama. Bound to be interesting.

Finally, how about some robots with guns for light nihilistic entertainment?

maybe day

Dunno how I missed this, but apparently July 23rd was Maybe Day, after Robert Anton Wilson.

(At least, according to the Guardian it is.)

This pleases me.

We are all sparkly vampires

Humans emit light, rhythmically

The human body literally glimmers. The intensity of the light emitted by the body is 1000 times lower than the sensitivity of our naked eyes. Ultraweak photon emission is known as the energy released as light through the changes in energy metabolism. We successfully imaged the diurnal change of this ultraweak photon emission with an improved highly sensitive imaging system using cryogenic charge-coupled device (CCD) camera. We found that the human body directly and rhythmically emits light. The diurnal changes in photon emission might be linked to changes in energy metabolism.

Maybe those hundred year old jailbaiting angsty vamps can stop moping about it now.

Apollo 11 liveblog

This is kinda neat. Re-live – or, in most cases, live – the experience of the moon landing.

To coincide with the 40th anniversary of the landing, New Scientist are running a live-blog of all of the audio that went between the astronauts and earth during the lunar mission and the landing, right now.

Company Denies its Robots Feed on the Dead

Yup. Probably one of the greatest headlines ever, and a wonderfully surreal PR nightmare.

Depending which neck of the interwoods you lurk in, you may have heard of a self-powered battlefield robot that would power itself by ingesting biomass – including dead bodies. (Which made me wonder, what if you’re not dead? And wake up to find a robot has eaten half your leg…)

In any case. The robot’s makers are taking steps to reassure people that they have been misinformed.

RTI’s patent pending robotic system will be able to find, ingest and extract energy from biomass in the environment. Despite the far-reaching reports that this includes “human bodies,” the public can be assured that the engine Cyclone has developed to power the EATR runs on fuel no scarier than twigs, grass clippings and wood chips – small, plant-based items for which RTI’s robotic technology is designed to forage. Desecration of the dead is a war crime under Article 15 of the Geneva Conventions, and is certainly not something sanctioned by DARPA, Cyclone or RTI.

Which I guess is more reassuring than the alternative.


Oh, and, what a difference a sunny day makes, eh?

Ingredients to avoid

For 2trees.

Food ingredients to avoid, according to the card in my pocket that I picked up ages ago from somewhere that probably knew what they were talking about:


102 (Tatrazine) – yellow to orange
133 (Brilliant blue FCF)
141 (Chlorophyl copper complex) – bright green, found in processed food
151 (Brilliant black PN) – found in beverages


249 (Potassium nitrate) found in processed/preserved meats
250/251 (Sodium nitrate) in cheese and processed meats
282 (Calcium propionate) in breads, spreads, jams, chutney, sauces and toppings

Antioxidants: 319, 320, 321.

MSG: 621


951 (Aspartame) and
954 (Saccharin) found in junk foods, including those claiming to be diet or sugar free

Magnesium silicate: 553 (anti-caking agent)

Toxic cosmetic ingredients:

Methyl, propyl, butyl and ethyl Paraben
Diethanolamine (DEA), Triethanolaimne (TEA)
Diazolidinyl Urea, Imidazolidinyl Urea.
Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate
Petrolatum – aka petroleum jelly
Propylene Glycol
PVP/VA Copolymer
Stearalkonium Chloride
Synthetic colours
Synthetic fragrances


Paul the editor needs coffee, and, ideally, chippies, to function at a happy optimum. So during our edit session right now, we just powered through a big bag of chippies. Struck by just how much we powered through them, we looked at the ingredients.

And lo and behold, we discovered flavour enhancers 621 and 635.

621 is monosodium glutamate, MSG. 635 is ribonucleotides (affectionately known as Ribo-rash, for the characteristic rash it causes in the unfortunate.)

Ribonucleitides multiplies the taste impact of MSG by 10-15 times. (Eek!) So you can bet that they are going to co-occur a lot.

And then we just freaked ourselves out for a while looking up all the numbers and the freaky side effects. (Apparently there are bad anti-oxidants, too. I’d thought they were mostly good.) And just how much they are everywhere in food. NZ has comparatively good labelling laws, too, from the sounds of things.

I don’t eat much processed food, and less so junkfood, but yeah. Creepy shit. (In my wallet I have a bit of card with a list of things to watch out for. Guess I should be using it.)

Stewart Brand – 4 environmental heresies

Really interesting talk from Stewart Brand, creator of the Whole Earth Catalogue, back in the day, about his current thinking about the world situation. Ties things together in an interesting way. Absolutely worth 16 minutes of attention.
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Things that stood out:

* recycling nuclear weapons into electricity! Rocking. He seemed to skim over the dangers of multiple nuclear reactors melting down, however. Though: microreactors. Cool.

* slums as drivers of green city innovation. Good to see some discussion of this. Hadn’t thought much about slums since writing Eidolon. Though he correlates cities and opportunities with reducing population growth – Buckminster Fuller tied it to access to electric power.

* climate geoengineering – putting tonnes of sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere can lower global temperature by 1/2 a degree for a billion dollars a year. Like, whoa. Though, yeah, geoengineering is messing with a big complex system, and there will be unpredictable results. (James Lovelock argues that geoengineering is the worst fate that could befall us; much better to stop fucking things up and let nature fix it.)

* Biggest disagreement with his support for geneticically engineered foods. We don’t know enough about the effects and risks (both to humans consuming them, and to nature), and they are not being adequately tested.

And just in general, TED is fabulous resource…

The life cycle of news, and how it interacts with the blogosphere

In this article about tracking the life cycle of news , what struck me was this:

Watching how stories moved between mainstream media and blogs revealed a sharp dip and rise the researchers described as a “heartbeat.” When a story first appears, there is a small rise in activity in both spheres; as mainstream activity increases, the proportion blogs contribute becomes small; but soon the blog activity shoots up, peaking an average of 2.5 hours after the mainstream peak. Almost all stories started in the mainstream. Only 3.5 percent of the stories tracked appeared first dominantly in the blogosphere and then moved to the mainstream.

Which seems an excellent illustration of the old quote [paraphrased] that “mainstream media isn’t necessarily good at telling you what to think, but it is very good at telling you what to think about”. The internet gives us a voice, and, while it is valuable to engage in discussion about issues of the day in our own forums, and interesting things may emerge from those discussions, where are the real sources of novelty coming from? Or rather, how can we amplify the novelty – the issues that are actually important to people that are neglected by the mainstream filter – that must be existing, and get it into the mainstream dialogue?

It would be really interesting to know what the 3.5% of crowd-sourced stories were…

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