Sunday, January 17, 2010

"I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass...and I'm all out of bubble gum"

John Carpenter's They Live (1988) rules in every way. It stars WWF wrestling great, Rowdy Roddy Pipper and is apparently where Shepard Fairey (the "OBEY" artist) got his ideas; which I also think is the most apt example of irony: the OBEY street art is suppose to be criticizing consumerism and capitalist advertising by revealing an image and a command to do something (in this case OBEY whatever is being advertised, through the consumption of commodities and therefore subservience to the "brand"). And what do you know!? Capitalism did what it does best: converts every possible thing, both physical and notional, into a commodity. The OBEY concept is in fact a brand now, sold in stores everywhere-- doing the exact thing it was originally critical of. I think we can all agree that Mr. Fairey succumbed to (read "Sold Out") the great forces of the world in place of his ethics. The dilemma of modern times?
Here's an example clip:

Friday, December 11, 2009

Notes on hierarchy, apathy, and other things

A common argument against establishing any kind of radical or egalitarian societies and lifestyles rests on the painful notion of "hierarchy." Opponents often remark how hierarchy is replete in "nature" (a vague term used by an even vaguer understanding) and therefore humans must be a hierarchical species. Simply put, arguments range from a crude oversimplification of processes (whether it be evolutionary, historical, or ecological) to complete misunderstanding. Even if all biotic phenomena could be "proven" that it operates in strict "hierarchies" (which is largely a projection of our internalized notion of hierarchy, a derivative of our actual social stratification onto other aspects of life), it does not presuppose that humans must function within social hierarchies. Natural evolution has endowed humanity with a complexity that resulted in the capability to alter our environments (sociality or second nature) and capacity for self-awareness (our "apartness" from other natural aspects-- and this "apartness" neither implies dominion nor superiority). Hence, even if hierarchies were ingrained in biological systems, our very ability to fix our social structures around nonhierarchical lines and to consciously reject a hierarchical mentality reveals one of the many fallacies of this argument.

Murray Bookchin in his magnum opus, The Ecology of Freedom: The Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchies notes that terms, such as 'hierarchy' in explaining ecological functions, ". . . are laden with socially charged values. . ." that are ". . . striking commentar[ies] on the extent to which our visions of nature are shaped by self-serving social interests" (92). Furthermore, Bookchin reveals that "What this procedure does accomplish is reinforce human social hierarchies by justifying the command of men and women as innate features of the 'natural order.' Human domination is thereby transcribed into the genetic code as biologically immutable. . ." (92).
Another thing that has been troubling me for some time is apathy expressed towards anything deemed "serious" by people-- especially those I regard as close to me (for the sake of this writing). I understand that in our capitalist culture (capitalism has evolved beyond a mere economic system, it is now an integral element guiding our cultural thoughts, values, modes of expression, relationships, outlooks, etc.), where we are stripped of any real empowering features in our lives-- be it through the inundation of advertisements by corporate entities aimed at creating an unthinking, self-loathing, passive body that consumes products in a misdirected attempt for self-fulfillment; or through our general disempowerment of decision-making in our greater political and social affairs (lack of "self-management" or a public sphere that fosters it)-- that apathy is a rather "normal" or conditioned response. Alienation, detachment, depersonalization, apathy or whatever adjectives occur in response to a bleak and harrowing world, we-- as economically privileged individuals (in terms of the majority of the world)-- merely experience the "least bad" part of it. While others are very realistically struggling across the globe for physical survival (and often times directly related to "our" side's consumptive and endlessly acquisitive society-- for example, nonhuman animals in factory farms or environmental dislocation, as in Coca Cola's depletion and pollution of water in India). By no means am I advocating a strict asceticism, because I believe collective pleasure, beyond simple survival happiness (that is, material necessity) is fundamental in establishing a free society (another topic for another time). But lest I be misunderstood, pleasure through commodities is a mentality produced by our society and not necessarily what pleasure must be regarded as. But I do advocate the recognition that our actions do have consequences and that we need to understand how they impact life apart from our persons. This is where we comeback to the notion of apathy though: whenever I express similar thoughts, I am often derided by people I know as "stupid," "lame," "PC," or even "gay" (implying that being "gay" is a negative and unworthy state). This is obviously a product of our culture, where our interests are reduced to trivial matters, and any conversation expressed beyond this trivia or that is even emotionally charged/confrontational, forces others to revert back to "safe" topics or subvert the subject all together by deriding the speaker. So when people do deride me as a person when I attempt to initiate serious discussions, rather than articulating an argument against what I'm saying, it tends to bother me more than just plain uncaring. Though I feel "amorality" and "apoliticalness" are political stances in themselves that support the dominant economic, political, and social systems; going beyond that to ridicule those attempting to shed some rational light on the world's social deformities, is purely despicable.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Until the Light Takes Us...

Last night I went to see the new and-- as far as I know-- only documentary to ever seriously delve into the Norwegian Black Metal Zeitgeist, Until the Light Takes Us. One of the luxuries of living in New York is to get to experience movies long before the rest of the country (and depending on other fiscal factors of distribution and mainstream accessibility, films may never even play in most areas, unless they're noted "artistic" hubs). More notably, the theatre where we saw the film, Cinema Village, is the only place in the country currently screening this movie. It's unfortunate that I didn't see it Friday or Saturday night though because following the screenings was a Q & A session with first-time filmmakers Aaron Aites and Audrey Ewell, which would have probably provided some valuable insight. According to the film's website, both Aites and Ewell moved to Norway for several years to establish closer relationships with and gain a better understanding of the film's subjects. To me this is a relatively impressive endeavor exemplifying their dedication to help develop the film by revolving their lives around it and not vice versa. It is evident that what gave the film its thrust, rather than its flop, is this rare "intimacy" that other "part-time" documentarians might have never exposed.

(Before I continue I'll let you know that I was consuming alcohol while watching the movie so my recollection may not be as sharp as I hope. Without further ado. . . )

Simply put, I did enjoy this film. It was shot very well (in both interviews with people and landscapes), the soundtrack and sound design was impeccable and set the mood perfectly (in juxtaposition with the subject matter). The narrative was carried by two rather oddly charismatic characters, Fenriz and Varg Vikernes, who are extremely important figures within the black metal scene as "founders," so to speak, of the genre and culture. Another attribute of the film that attracted my respect was the fact that a very little amount of video and other types of documentation of black metal at the time probably exists, and with the lack-thereof, seems difficult to develop a well rounded story as say, a documentary on Prince. The film also had a number of comedic moments dispersed throughout that had the entire theatre laughing (except the really black metal people in the crowd), and revealing some of the absurdities of black metal (I mean, who-- besides highly delusional individuals-- takes this thing seriously?).

With that said, if I didn't already have some grasp on the backstories presented in the movie or with black metal in general, I probably would have been lost at moments. The film did not elucidate or even exhibit a cursory "history" of the scene, but expected the audience to cull a narrative out of the haphazard personal stories. It seemed as if the filmmakers did not wish to reveal too much at first about some of the people involved and their histories and interconnections, with fear that it would ruin the climactic effect by presenting it too early on in the film. Consequently, the beginning of the film trudged but started gaining momentum about 20-30 minutes through when they began establishing some plot with the suicides, murders, and church burnings. By employing this method, the movie sacrificed clarity of some subjects early on and potentially alienated audience members unfamiliar with the scene.

The highest point of interest was with Vikernes story and how he wound-up in prison (which, by the way, Norwegian maximum security prison looks like a college dorm room, equipped with computer and all. So if you're ever interested in going to jail for a while I suggest breaking the law in Norway). Vikernes recounted the incident of murdering another famous black metal demigod, Euronymous. As he recalled the event, Vikernes, like paranoids do, felt that Euronymous was attempting to kill him first for various reasons (even though Euronymous awoke in the middle of the night to let him in the house, unarmed). He wasn't too certain when Euronymous was planning on killing him, just that he heard he was. The more and more he talked, the more and more you listened in disbelief that this guy is actually claiming self-defense. I'm not doubting that Vikernes believed that Euronymous was going to kill him, eventually, but that didn't seem like the reality of the case based on his testimony in the film. Like I mentioned above, Vikernes seems like a highly delusional individual mixed with a lot of paranoia. Furthermore, the filmmakers never seemed to reference that Vikernes is a Neo-Nazi; they only used his vaguely anti-commercialism and anti-Christianity rants to explain some of his ideology.

The conclusion I drew from the experience is an important one: no matter how utterly ridiculous something may seem (i.e. black metal), never doubt that people will do everything in their power to play dress-up and act out the infantile ideas while sometimes committing horrendous crimes.

PS: Harmony Korine's cameo is awesome.

Sunday, December 6, 2009