Archive for April, 2011

12 frames is all it takes

I’m incessantly puzzling over how to depict the exploitation of women without actually re-exploiting them “for the cause.”  How truly does an overly sexualized teenager staring vulnerably into the camera challenge our myths and presuppositions about trafficking in children?  Or how do eroticized action films confront our fantasies and pigeon-hole estimations of femininity?  And then, how do you actually create images of exploitative situations without exploiting the [child] actors involved?

It’s a theme I’ve been contemplating for years now, and my thoughts are in such constant flux and evaluation that I rarely get to actually put “pen to paper” about it.  But today I watched The Click Five and MTV Exit’s new music video for their song “Don’t Let Me Go” and in a flash of brilliance at least one rhetorical construct made sense: twelve frames is all it takes.

Between 2:54 and 2:55 there is a grainy black-and-white flash that says everything: a man pins down and straddles a young girl on a stark white mattress.  The high angle and visual quality of the shot evoke those creepy, voyeuristic hotel security cameras.  Suddenly, in perhaps 12 frames or less, we the viewer are skyrocketed into the bird’s eye view, the simple, clear, gray-scale truth that children are being hurt at the hands of adults who are supposed to protect them.

And it hit my gut.  A four-minute video with pretty tame, allegorical representations of trafficking—and one freezing moment, blink and its gone but forever imprinted on your soul.  For all the complex planning and production and analysis that litters the table of abolition rhetoric, twelve frames was all it took.

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Arrested Development (1)

Somehow I missed one of the greatest shows EVER until this week: I just discovered Arrested Development (thanks to my super-brilliant friends who knew it was a match made in heaven).

Not only do I love Jason Bateman (please please at least see Juno and Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium) but I love TV that asks us to take a good long look at ourselves, individually and corporately.  Implied in the long look is the need for action—some kind of decisive maneuver that either confirms, denies, or changes what we see.

Perhaps it’s too simplistic to look at the Bluth family as a representation of America itself.  I’m sure hundreds of other critics who happily discovered this show before I did have made the correlation.  But as the saying goes, there’s a reason that cliches become cliches.  So, bear with me as I assert  that the Bluth family is in some respect America itself.  Broken, dysfunctional, wealthy, lacking integrity, confused, passionate, maybe even philanthropic at turns—-but basically, it’s a family.  Family is not the kind of thing that you can choose to be a part of, but it does have the “opt in” / “opt out” selection at the bottom of the form.  The world itself conspires to set you in the damn thing: whether it’s the biology that makes you happen because of your parents; whether it’s the complex social psychology that makes you a part of a group that comes together and stays together to help each of its members make its way in the world; or whether it’s the deeply spiritual transaction that suddenly binds you to everyone else on the planet that’s as crazy as you.  You don’t “pick” your family but you decide to participate.

Michael Bluth: Remind me why I'm doing this?

Michael Bluth: Remind me why I'm doing this?

Michael Bluth decides to participate.  And that single action makes him a hero.  In a larger sense, those of us that decide to participate in this (ready for another worn out cliche?) melting pot country are heroes.  Nothing about America should work; but it does.  Limpingly, grotesquely, obliquely, embarrassingly, it does.  The Bluth family survives crisis although we’d really all prefer to see them degraded a bit—but not really, because, of course, there’s a lot a bit of ourselves staring back at us.  The American “family” survives crisis although we’d really all prefer to see us cut down to size a bit—but not really because, of course, we are America.  Maybe that’s what’s so damn heroic about MIchael Bluth: he humbly decides to participate in something that’s obviously a poor reflection on himself for the benefit of all the other people caught up in the mess.

Disclaimer: I’ve only seen three episodes.  My opinions are subject to wild and inconsistent changes—-though I usually pick one interpretation and stick with it.

Brains or Brawn?

What a bum deal: Brains or Brawn.  Why does it always have to have the “or” in it?  Why can’t it be both?

my current brain food: Naked Economics, by Charles Wheelan

my current brain food: Naked Economics, by Charles Wheelan

Life example #1 (and the only, since it’s the inspiration for this impetuous post):

I started exercising again this week.  As you may be aware from previous posts, I have a rather tumultuous (yet intriguing and inspiring) relationship with exercise.  I love it; and I loathe it.  It costs me too much.  Most of all, it costs me time.  So, here I stand again: the hour I spent exercising (and the time it takes to shower after, etc, etc) meant that by this evening, I hadn’t blogged yet as planned by my inquisitive Brain.  And my Brawn is sore from a few too many ambitious arrangements with the Bow Flex resistance system.

So, like all good bloggers who are simply sticking to their guns and refusing to be silent even if it means picking something stupid and personal to post about, I decided to rant a little bit about the injustice of the dichotomy, Brains + Brawn.

Bow Flex is sexist: this is the only picture of a woman I found on Google

Bow Flex is sexist: this is the only picture of a woman I found on Google

They both feed each other, Brains and Brawn.  Like a kiss and a squeeze, you can’t have one without the other.  Endorphins make you happy enough to face the abstract world of speculative thought.  And thinking about something More than yourself makes it worth living every moment to the fullest—-even in the dial-pocked face of the treadmill.  So why always the give and take?  Isn’t there enough space in 24 hours for both B&B to get their quality time with you?

Apparently not.

They are too demanding.

So, who do YOU love most?

$ensorship

the MPAA avatar

the MPAA avatar

oyster and pearl

oyster and pearl

The rating system of the Motion Pictures Association of America is far above us. They have discovered the ultimate avatar: the Normal American Parent. Under the guise of this avatar, they crop and edit and cut their way through the discourse of the nation to ensure happy, healthy citizens of us all.

 

Yes, the MPAA shows up on every preview.

Yes, the MPAA shows up on every preview.

This is the bleak (albeit accurate) view of the MPAA and its role in our film culture presented in This Film is Not Yet Rated. Every film that makes it to theatrical audiences must run the gamut of secret voting procedures, obscure objections, blind cuts, and precedent-less appeals. No other organization in the United States (barring our inestimable CIA) could skip away with such egregious power-mongering. While watching it, I became extremely jealous and proud of my college education, in which professors broke through the money-making studio system to bring me films that challenged my perspectives on life, the Universe, and everything. And, while I sat and pondered the truth that money really does make the world go ’round, the world go ’round, and that if there’s money, someone has to stick their hand in it to control the current, I also became increasingly bewildered at the underlying tug-of-war between the Faith and Knowledge.

 

Faith and Knowledge---Life or Death?

Faith and Knowledge---Life or Death?

You see, two clergymen serve on the appeals board of the MPAA film ratings committee. Whether voting members of passive observers (even former committee members couldn’t tell which), their presence harkens back to the long struggle in the church (and America, as a larger encasement of said Church) over the issue of discourse. Should everyone have access to all the knowledge they want?—If yes, ’tis a ‘yes’ sprung from the glorious expectation that knowledge contains powers of improvement [that counterbalance any powers of detriment therein]. Should money determine access to knowledge?—If yes, ’tis a ‘yes’ based on the tired assumption that if you have money, you must have had sense enough to earn it and are therefore able to make good decisions [about your soul]. Should no one have access to all knowledge?—If yes, ’tis a ‘yes’ based on the dismal assumption that knowledge corrupts [just as the absolute power that comes along with it].

Do I choose my tree?

Do I choose my tree?

Does it really all come down to whether you want to be a glorious, tired, or dismal person? I would like to think that somewhere even deeper than the surface eddies of Money and the tugging tides of Faith and Knowledge there is a priceless pearl hidden: Truth. I say ‘pearl,’ of course, intentionally because it never fails to be a profound metaphor: irritation initiating a response that ultimately yields a beautiful, organic unit of Beauty. Perhaps the MPAA is the grain of sand that, for better or worse, will never be ejected from America’s oyster, and maybe we’ll find the Truth about who we are as people, filmmakers, audiences, and parents from the constant reaction to each asinine rating.