CWC 2015, NZ v SA semi final

That was legitimately one of the most intense and amazing games of cricket I have ever seen. Truly epic.

(Unrelated rambling: I have watched quite a bit of the CWC so far, after discovering it streaming online. The weirdest part is getting British ads, the overwhelming majority of which are for online gambling. Like, seriously.)

 

 

Review: 50 Shades of Grey (2015)

What? No one blinked an eye when I watched The Room.

So anyway. Here is the latest instalment in a series in which I get smashed and watch fascinatingly terrible mainstream movies and write long reviews (see: Sucker Punch, Transformers 2).

50 Shades is an interesting cultural phenomenon. (How does Twilight fan-fiction end up being directed by a Turner prize winner and go on to make half a billion dollars already? This is a question of culture, not film.) In fact, most of what this review will be about is probably culture, rather than the movie, the specifics of which I barely recall. (The smashed methodology is about taking on impressions and hunting deeper truths, not details. :) )

So. 50 Shades. I read the first paragraph of the first book a few years back and found it atrociously written. After finding out it began life as Twilight fan-fiction, I then ignored the whole thing, and had only a vague sense of BDSM about it as it became a phenomenon.

So. The movie. I found a lot of it funny, in the funny-because-it’s-bad way, in the you’re-shitting-me-that’s-how-you’re-playing-this? way, in the oh-my-god-this-dialogue way. That was maybe for the first hour. It also felt like it went on quite a long time.

The film is competently made and shot well. The content is the weak link. Characters, dialogue, story; all lacking. Very little happens. But this is at heart a fantasy (sexual rather than otherwordly.) As such it is about mood, and the accumulation of small details to make it whole.

So what is this movie? It is a journey into the female subconscious, lit up on the big screen for all to see. Of course, we’ve seen the male subconscious at the movies for a while now. How long has 007 been a thing? And action movies. We get that dudes want to be the coolest most bad-ass mofo in whatever the context is, get the girl, kill the baddies, and save the planet. It is stark, infantile and embarrassing, but we have gotten used to it. We barely blink. It’s just the story we tell. (At a baser level, through mainstream pornography, we get a raw and ugly sense of male sexual fantasy.)

So what is most notable here is the entry into mainstream culture of this feminine subconscious. A different flavour of desire.

Why this cultural moment? Here I wonder about the power of demographics; the realisation that women are a substantial audience, and content tailored to them will sell just as well. Our cultural production houses were framed in a one TV per household era. When the man of the house lost control of the TV remote, he lost control of the household’s attention. Now everyone has a computer of their own, and there are more channels of content than anyone can track. Combine this with a few extra billion people and the result is fracturing appeals. There is lots of money to be made in what were once unviable untargetable niches. And half the population is more than niche.

These changes are still underway; they have been underway for the past 25 years or so in media. They have been accelerating in the internet age as more and more voices and experiences can be heard, because more can speak through the democratisation of access to the means of being heard online.

This is one of the first times the female subconscious has come out to party so lustily. So it is raw. And clumsy. And embarrassing.

Baby steps.

So what happens? Girl meets guy. They have Sex. OMG.

Who is this guy? A billionaire. We don’t know why, or how, or what he does. He has a building with his name on it, is very busy and occasionally talks intently into the telephone. He has aspects of class, education and refinement. He dresses well. We are told he is hot. He has crazy wealth and therefore power, and is a total control freak. And, most importantly, he is completely obsessed with this girl he just met, and their relationship is the most important thing in the world of the movie.

Who is this girl? An insecure virginal English lit student. She seems nice. She is the role to be stepped into, so we don’t want too much character intruding.

The lack of characterisation throughout reveals we are dealing with archetypes.

The lack of characterisation succeeds better here than in Twilight. I suspect because 50 Shades is purer fantasy, and somehow less absurd. A surprising sentence to write. (No sparkly vampires FTW!) There is so little context around Anastasia and Grey, whereas Twilight comes burdened with families and school and teenagery and vampires and stupidity. 50 Shades is more naked in every sense. They can just get on with the fucking.

Yes, their relationship as portrayed is pretty fucked. But how can they have a relationship? Neither of them are people, or characters. They are nothing but their roles.

My reading of the film was coloured by watching Beauty and the Beast at the French Film Festival earlier in the day. In essence, they seem the same film, the same archetypes.

The Beast is all powerful (physically, through his bestial nature, and practically, through magic) and controlling, yet cultured and refined (once a noble prince) and desirable, and tragic and messed up in some undefined way (which is the healing he seeks through Belle’s love).

Belle has only her innocence, purity and love; this disarms and redresses the power imbalance as they clash and negotiate. Her power over him grows as his need for her grows, and through love they emerge as equals.

This is a story form we have been telling for a long time. (Beauty and the Beast is a traditional story, going back hundreds of years at least.) And there is wisdom in stories, particularly the ones we tell and retell.

Does the 50 Shades series ultimately follow this arc? Is Grey ultimately healed through the relationship with Anastasia? I haven’t read them, but doubtless someone has.

When you peel away the (gasp) dominant/submissive sex angle, and the kinda fucked relationship they have, is there anything new here that we haven’t known archetypally?

So as a phenomenon this really says more about our cultural moment now, about our need to deal with sex, and the forces it unleashes in us, better, and talk about what we want like a grown up species. The funniest (and possibly most important) scene is the lengthy contract negotiation for consent for various sexual acts.

To that end it is a good thing that this is out there in the mainstream. Because porn. Because rape. Because too often guys and gals can’t talk to each other without being drunk.

That’s about all I have to say, I think.

(One tangent: watching this also makes me aware of how ghettoised we are by our demographics. We buy what is aimed at us, made for us, tailored to our predetermined tastes. We tune out the rest without even considering it. We are well trained. This applies to our consumption of media and stories. Sadly, it distorts us. What the heck is going on elsewhere? How do we know we won’t like something unless we try it? What parts of the conversation are we missing because we don’t even recognise they exist?)

After 50 Shades, we tried watching Enthiran, which turned out to be another fascinating lens to consider 50 Shades through. Enthiran is a Bollywood movie about a robot covered in human flesh a la Terminator, except instead of being a killing machine from the future, he is just the most awesome guy ever now. Another conception of the relationship between the total masculine and the feminine, filtered through another cultural lens. We only got an hour in to this, so not much to add.

 

Short review: Dudes. Get real drunk and see this movie. Treat it like a bad comedy. The female subconscious is giving you some hints about what it wants here. And it’s about much more than the sex.

 

 

internet restriction protocol (or Filters: Part Three)

 

Time and attention are two of the most precious resources we have, and the always on internet is one of the worst things for draining and disrupting those resources. (This is something I have been thinking about for a few years now.)  Most of the great thinkers, innovators and so on of the past had one thing in common – their ability to focus on what they were doing for hours at a time. This type of thinking is crucial to certain types of breakthrough and productive work. (I have a faint terror that the current generation will never even develop this capacity for extended focus.)

So I am embarking upon an internet restriction protocol. This is based on the observations I made a few years ago when I went and lived at the beach without internet, television or phone, and came to town only once a week at which point I checked email etc, and my dissatisfaction with my current experience of online mediated reality.

The protocol is essentially this: I am going to stop checking my email and social media accounts except for one day a week – Fridays. (I will likely check my business email address more regularly.) Within the protocol I am allowed to use the internet consciously, as a tool, in recognition of how embedded it is in life. (eg) internet banking, buying stuff, research, Skypeing. But then get offline once I am done using it as a tool.

The key is to avoid general browsing and mindless clicking on things that leads to more clicking. I like the idea of checking my /mutants list on Twitter once a week for an hour as my information gathering phase.

The goal is to be offline as much as possible; to shift that fundamental practice, to realign my sense ratios, and re-engage more consciously with the world. After spending a week lying under trees at Kiwiburn, I realised again that I don’t miss most of the online world. I acknowledge it is somehow important, but hypothesise that this importance can be successfully and accurately valued within the confines of one day a week.

I suspect that one day a week is enough to stay informed/connected in terms of email and social media. If anything really important happens I assume someone will call or txt.

I do plan to spend some of the time freed up hanging out with people in meatspace, pursuing a better quality of connection.

I anticipate getting more done in general, writing more in particular, and being happier overall.

I may blog from time to time about the results of this experiment in attention and filtering. I invite anyone else who feels inclined to join in the experiment.

sunday mutants 6-10-14

 

Half the world’s wildlife has died off in the past 40 years.

I don’t even really know where to go from there. That this isn’t screamed on every street corner and causing a shut down of our entire society as we stop and have a hard think about what we are doing tells you that yes we are the bad guys.

As a related one, here is a funding campaign for a doco about the relationship between the Parsi and the vultures which is a fascinating example of our interdependence with nature. When nature dies, we lose too.

* “The largest ever fleet of robotic submarines is setting of from the Isles of Scilly to explore the ocean depths.” – just in case you forgot you were living in the future.

* ISIS selling Iraq’s artifacts on black market

* The Amazon/Hachette battle and politics. Definitely an interesting read for those following this one.

* This is just weird. Scientology and Nation of Islam unite to stop killing in Ferguson?

Though it is pretty hard to imagine Scientology caring about poor clients.

Check out this astounding interview with L Ron Hubbard jr, who details the early days of Scientology, and effectively calls out what works as black magic, and the rest as blackmail and extortion. I can pretty much guarantee it will be the wildest thing you read this week.

* Sexual consent app good2go launches. Definitely interesting, though kinda weird as it logs the yesses and identities…

* Turning down the lights can turn down your emotions.

“Whether you are feeling really good or really bad, emotions are felt more intensely when the ambient lighting is brighter, according to recent research.

Since many decisions are made under strong lighting conditions, turning down the lights may help you make less emotional decisions.”

* An uh-oh moment in the great uncontrolled experiment with our technology and our minds

” For the first time, neuroscientists have found that people who use multiple devices simultaneously have lower gray-matter density in an area of the brain associated with cognitive and emotional control (Loh & Kanai, 2014).”

 

 

film fest 2014

Let’s see if I can remember what I saw this year!

Why Don’t You Play in Hell?

Gleeful bloody mayhem from Japanese maverick Sono Sion. Easily his most fun and accessible film so far that I have seen. Crazed film-makers meet crazed yakuza meet just plain crazy. (Would still recommend Love Exposure over this; similar level of fun, but more wrong and challenging.)

Hard to be a God

Um. A long three hours of black and white Russian incomprehensibility, apparently based on a Strugatsky brothers novel, with a fascinating premise – scientists land on a planet like Earth but 800 years ago, and wait around to observe the Renaissance happen, but it doesn’t. Unfortunately, about half an hour in I gave up on being able to make any sense out of what was happening on screen, which had a lot of incredibly claustrophobic shots with things obscuring the camera, a huge amount of bodily fluids and general disgustingness (in a middle ages way), and a real difficulty in working out who anyone was or what was going on at any point. Sort of glad I have seen it so I don’t have to watch it again. Hard to recommend but certainly remarkable.

Snowpiercer

Good fun action thriller set on a never-stopping train that is the only human life remaining in the world after the world freezes over. Apparently the festival release is longer than the US release, so be careful which one you track down. The version I saw was great.

Jodorowsky’s Dune

Holy shit, see this. A doco about the greatest movie never made. Visionary genius and madman Alejandro Jodorowsky, after making Holy Mountain (aka a movie I love and could write a thesis about) set about adapting Dune (which he had of course not read when he decided to do it). Over two years he assembled the greatest cast, concept artists, and musicians ever to bring the vision to life. Everything was ready and then no one would fund it because it would be the most expensive movie ever and it was a huge weird sci-fi movie before blockbusters existed and before Star Wars had happened; an unmade film with a huge hidden influence. The stories behind the scenes are magnificent and mad, and the whole thing is hugely fun despite ultimately being kinda tragic.

The Congress

Extraordinary mix of live action and animation based on a Stanislaw Lem novel. Robin Wright gives an amazing performance (and allows an amazing harsh script of her life to be rendered) before some wonderfully mindbending and bugfuck animation goes berserk and raises some interesting questions along the way.

Locke

A movie set entirely in a car as a guy drives and talks to people on his hands-free kit on the night his life goes completely to hell. Solid, taut, good.

Timbuktu

Film set in Mali under Islamic jihadist rule. Locals struggle to live their way as crazy proscriptions are placed on their lives. Beautiful locations, simple story, somehow felt more documentary than narrative. Complete otherworldliness. Good stuff.

late july mutants

Now this is kind of mind-blowing: Global wildlife decline driving slave labor, organized crime.

“Global decline of wildlife populations is driving increases in violent conflicts, organized crime and child labor around the world, according to a policy paper led by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.”

Good Amazon: Amazon is making a pilot for a TV show based on Philip K Dick’s The Man in The High Castle.

Bad Amazon: about 900 writers have joined a campaign against Amazon’s treatment of Hachette. This is an interesting flashpoint in the future of publishing.

The times they are a-changing. The editorial board of the New York Times just came out for marijuana reform in America.

“It has been more than 40 years since Congress passed the current ban on marijuana, inflicting great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol.

The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana.”

Oh and also, California passed a bill to legalise complementary currencies.

This one is probably the must-read of the batch, and one I will return to when I have a bit more brain focus: Evgeny Morozov on algorythmic regulation. Kinda the convergence point of smart-everything, big data, and social control.

What’s New In Social Science? EDGE curated, 10 speakers, 6 hours of video,  58000 word PDF, all free, “focusing on the state of the art of what the social sciences have to tell us about human nature”.

Saw the excellent doco “Jodorowsky’s Dune” yesterday, about the greatest movie almost made. In synchronicity, came across this quote about Frank Herbert and Dune:

Frank went on to tell me that much of the premise of Dune — the magic spice (spores) that allowed the bending of space (tripping), the giant worms (maggots digesting mushrooms), the eyes of the Freman (the cerulean blue of Psilocybe mushrooms), the mysticism of the female spiritual warriors, the Bene Gesserits (influenced by tales of Maria Sabina and the sacred mushroom cults of Mexico) — came from his perception of the fungal life cycle, and his imagination was stimulated through his experiences with the use of magic mushrooms.

Buy your own giant plush Ebola Virus toy. No, seriously.

 

 

 

And Earth just had its hottest June ever, boosted by hottest ocean temperatures.

Hmm. That may be enough for an hour and half of trawling, have a few long pieces queued up to read still…

 

restaurant review: Burger King

So it was Friday the 13th and a full moon, and such are the type of unhallowed irregular circumstances under which I countenance breaking my vegetarianism. I was with a client who was eating at Burger King, and in a fit of madness I ordered a meal. (I have not had Burger King in perhaps a decade or more.)

Let us examine it piece by piece.

Cheeseburger:

On reflection, the most terrifying thing about it was that it was prepared fresh; I had to wait for it to be made, and yet it was as it was.

The bread was not like bread. Soft, insubstantial, textural; iconic, appearing as a burger bun, yet not.

The meat was not like meat. It is pretty creepy to think about what it might have been. I am not sure what it tasted like.

Perhaps there was something cheese-like in it. I don’t really recall. It may have been lost among the various sauces, and a gherkin, abundantly smeared through it to give it an approximation of flavour.

The burger was some kind of bizarre facsimile, a simulacra, a degraded copy of what a burger might be. It was a form of material and texture. It was not satisfying.

Fries:

This was by far the easiest portion to consume, a pleasant amalgam of fat and saltiness, wrapped around some kind of easy to chew material. I have eaten potatoes. I am not sure what the chips are made of – a bit like processed potato chippies, which bear a texture and nature far removed from their origin – easy to eat, but curiously empty and unsatisfying. Potatoes have a kind of weight to them: you know when you have eaten potatoes. These lacked that weight.

Sundae:

I know what ice-cream is like. I even know what snow-freeze ice cream is like. I am not sure what this was. An unknowable texture, cold and white, with caramel syrup gunk. Again, a peculiar simulacra of an ice cream sundae. Deeply unsatisfying.

Drinks:

(I very rarely drink soft drinks.) First I tried a Lift. It was odd; I sort of remember what it tasted like, and it is less offensive than many dense syrup concoctions, with its overt lemonyness. Found it useful to attempt to cleanse the palate with, and send down to help dissolve the material previously consumed.

In a particularly foolhardy move I went for a refill, this time going for a Fanta. Wow. Holy fucking shit. Three sips was enough; the third just to confirm what had gone before. Undrinkable, hideous, almost acrid. (Perhaps we can blame the entire Nazi movement on their soft-drink? No, that is too far.) But truly shocking to the palate after a maybe 20 year absence. How can something so full of sugar taste so horrific?

Summary:

On the whole, it was not recognisably food. I felt less overtly ill than I had anticipated, but did not feel great after.

I am left somewhat stunned that this sort of thing is what people pay money to eat. (And I recognise a past incarnation of self that did eat this sort of thing.) It speaks volumes about our culture. Perhaps the Matrix is here, concentric overlapping rings of reality itself. Platonic ideas of food radiate outwards, ever degenerating as we get further from the source. Shadows eating a copy of a copy, fuelling shadow lives.

 

sunday mutants

 

been a while. why not?

*

Thomas Piketty is a French economist who you have probably been hearing about, and if not, you soon will be. His book Capital is making major waves. Link takes you to a pretty useful review of it.

*

Google, encryption, and the future of email.

*

World population growth is declining. Rather, is growing at half the rate it was 40 years ago. Stats on avoiding the overpopulation bomb. Amusing that they pick television ownership as the correlate of fertility reduction. Buckminster Fuller pointed out around 40 years ago that population rates went down as soon as people had access to electric power (as you need less people to do things.)

*

Came across this a couple weeks back: CEO of (wildly successful) Evernote app notes that apps will soon be dead as we move into wearable computing.

*

Huh, just poking around in my bookmarks now. DIY solar water heater for about $30 in materials.

*

Shanghai mall installs bitcoin ATM.

*

Random stat from Bill Gates on Twitter: “In ’81, just 20% of the world lived on $2-$10/day. Today it’s 40%.”

*

Any why not: Montana Senator shoots down drone with rifle in attack ad. Strange days.

Review: The Wind Is Rising

 

Miyazaki’s (alleged) final work. Felt very personal as a film, moreso than his others, with a greater depth and emotional resonance.

Really good. Mature (seems like a weird word to apply, but perhaps less whimsical comes closer), beautiful, daffily romantic. Somewhat dour and dark. Occasional dreamy wonderfulness, but very grounded in reality, with the shadows of war and Japan’s strained history looming over everything.

Essentially seems to argue that being courageous and honourable and following your dreams is the way to go, even though we live in a fucked up world full of awfulness and tragedy; and that precisely because the world is the way it is, that is why we must live, and live well.

Glad I saw it, though I enjoyed it less than several of his others; and I think it is the first of his films that will haunt me a little.

Waitangi Day-ish special cultural appropriation post: The Plunder of Glow Worm Grotto

 

How about this (laughable, terrible) episode of an obscure cartoon from the 1980s which makes remarkable use of “Maori” culture and “New Zealand” as a backdrop. Presenting: M.A.S.K S01E55: The Plunder of Glow Worm Grotto.

YouTube Preview Image

All natives are basically interchangeable, after all.

(Sometimes, despite how much further there is to go, maybe we need to reflect on how far we have come.)

 

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