Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas. Look at this awesome website!

And so, it's 2am. Christmas Eve morning. Blustery here. The wind almost sounded like rain. I turned on my phone to check the weather. Next thing I knew I was surfing the news. Course there's nothing going on in the wee hours of Christmas morning, so this was among the first stories in my "news" aggregator: http://cardboardboxoffice.com. I cannot seem to create a hyperlink with this app so you'll just have to copy and paste it into a browser yourself. It is a link to a blog made by a couple who like to recreate scenes from their favorite movies  using cardboard props made from boxes leftover from their recent international relocation. They post photos of said recreations, starring themselves and their baby. Not sure what the heck I'm talking about? Take a look for yourself. It's damn adorable.

This website raises all kinds of questions (how do they do this how long does it take what gave them the idea) but mostly I'm just wondering, why am I not this cool???

Thursday, September 19, 2013

why jonathan franzen doesn't like apple computers

About half way through our family vacation this summer, we got into the habit of watching one movie every night. This was in Costa Rica, where free wifi in hotels seems to be a given as long as you stay in hotels within a certain price range (it's possible it's a given in other hotels outside our price range but that I wouldn't know). My partner streamed the movies onto her Ipad and my daughter held the Ipad in her lap. We snuggled up together on the bed, my partner on one side, I on the other. It was a very cozy way to watch movies. The first movie we watched was the 1991 flick City Slickers, which I had not seen for many years.

Assuming that you've seen this movie, you might remember the conversation where Curly the crazy trailhead tells Billy Crystal's character Mitch that there's just ONE THING in life that matters? Curly holds up his gloved hand and with raised finger indicates that there's only "one thing," and Mitch cracks some joke about how the "one thing" is Curly's finger and Curly gives him that look like "you're such a moronic jackass I can't believe it" and  then he says that the only thing in life that matters is one thing.

I've been thinking about that one thing quite a bit, since we watched that movie in Costa Rica. It's a silly movie, so maybe this makes me kind of a silly person. but ...you know. I have one thing issues. I worry about a lot of stupid crap.

There's an article that was just published in the Guardian by Jonathan Franzen. I have never read anything Franzen has written until today. I understand that he wrote a book that made a splash a few years ago, but I can't remember the name of it at the moment. I have avoided this book for reasons I do not really know.

This very long article is called What's Wrong With the Modern World. I've been reading it between trips to the bathroom and on the way to and from my car, and at other times when I find myself walking for more than 10 seconds at a stretch. This is the only time I can really take to read during the day.

Just reading this article I started to dislike Jonathan Franzen a little. He's very intellectual and elitist. there's a word that starts with "pre" that I can't quite think of at the moment.

This article by Jonathan Franzen focuses on the works by an old writer named Kraus, whom I have never heard of, but who is apparently intentionally difficult to understand in his writing style. I'll admit I just skimmed the passages by Kraus because I'm busy and it's hard to really delve into someone who intentionally writes that way when you're walking to the bathroom that's only 20 feet from your office.

Kraus (in the early part of the 20th c) wrote a lot about the degradation of society, and Franzen draws a lot of connections between Kraus' issues/fears and Franzen's own issues/fears. And somewhere in there, Franzen pretty much says that what's wrong with the world can be summed up in our obsession with Apple computers. That we like form over substance. We like what's "cool." We like the slick design of macs, we like the way macs look and we like the way we look with one in our hands. And in fact, we just want to be cool period. But "cool" is meaningless.

Franzen raises all kinds of issues with Facebook and blogs and Twitter and modern technology. He says that the Internet is full of shit and we spend a huge majority of our time surfing the Internet, which is full of corporate shit and empty content. So we ourselves are more empty because of it.

I pretty much agree with 90% of what Franzen had to say, and I have thought about all these things myself. But I kind of thought Franzen sounded like an intellectual, elitist, judgmental pompous jackass while he was saying it. Pretentious (that's the word I was looking for earlier).

JF: so what if Salman Rushdie has a twitter account? so does the American Red Cross. So what? they can put it to good use. and frankly, Twitter did play a big role in the Arab Spring and just because the majority of people use twitter in trivial ways doesn't mean that no respectable person or organization could use Twitter as a useful platform for spreading important messages or meaningful thoughts... and another point: apple computers work better than PCs. That's why we like them. Really--apples have form AND function. It's not just the sleek design...it's that apple computers are better than PCs. I used to buy a new laptop every two years, but I'm writing this on a macbook that's 6+ years old and it just. keeps. going. I like macs because I've learned better.

I don't know if my one thing is my family, or art, or reading, or beer, or comfort or nature, or if I have one thing. If there is one thing. But there should be. (I was kidding about the beer...I know that's not the one thing). THere should be a clear set of priorities--one or two things--that really take precedence over other things. One of Franzen's points, and I agree with him, is that I shouldn't bury my face in my Iphone all day. I should read real books, value real content and ignore cheap content. And Curly's point is that I should focus on the real priorities and ignore the rest of the crap out there. And there's a lot of crap out there.

Maybe one of the little ironies I'd like to point out is that I spent all day with my face glued to my Iphone, reading Franzen's article, a little bit at a time.

Friday, September 6, 2013

sea change, Turin Brakes

I used to be a pandora addict, but at my new job I'm in an office with my boss and another co-worker, so I'm more careful about my use of space, and I really don't listen to Pandora as much anymore. My favorite station is the Mumford and Sons station (oooh doggies I love Mumford and Sons). This song, Sea Change by Turin Brakes, comes up sometimes on that station. I have never heard of Turin Brakes except in this one context, but this song catches my attention every time I hear it, so I just watched the music video this morning.
It's really captivating. You have to watch:

Ok. The use of toy soldiers. Why?? why choose toy soldiers over real soldiers? probably for budget reasons. But I wouldn't have it any other way. The use of toy soldiers is good for the following reasons:

a. It's a little weird--kind of like watching Gumby--so it makes me really actually want to watch it. I'm hooked to the screen for 4 minutes.

b. Besides the fact that this is made with toy soldiers, everything else seems fairly conventional--it's a typical injured-and-maybe-dying-war-hero-agonizes-over-past-deeds-and-losses set up. He's laying in the bed and he's thinking about the things that have led him to this day. It's so formulaic that you can really imagine an actual live-action figure laying there in the bed, going through the same thing. It creates this vivid picture in my head. I think to myself, this is just a stand-in for a real person. And then I can impose the image of the real person over the image of the toy soldier.

c. You have to wonder what the use of toy soldiers symbolizes here. As I already mentioned, I think it was probably a budget choice, but I still ask myself, what does it mean? to use toy soldiers? You could go a lot of directions with this question. You could say something about boys playing with toy soldiers and romanticizing war. or maybe the toy soldiers show how removed we are from the actual wars that take place in far away places, not on American soil... (I have family members who have served in armed conflict but am not close to anyone who is currently serving anywhere, so even though I listen to the news and form opinions about our involvment in conflicts over seas, it all seems very distant to me). You could also use the argument that using toy soldiers makes this mini drama seem more like art and less like life. The little pretend explosions LOOK PRETEND. It's all pretend. And you can view all these intricate details--the expressions carefully painted on the faces of the dolls, the carefully constructed miniature architecture--for what it is. An art project. A cinematic experience. Not real. But still, that radioactive maw in the side of that building looks very threatening and says something very bad about what that soldier lying in that bed in that hospital is going through, will go through. So you connect back to the life and death issues that this art symbolizes. In other words, there are many layers to this piece.

You could say my little critique of a music video here is kind of a silly way to spend my time--I'm over thinking it maybe. But I'll point that the chorus in this song starts off with the lines "if we don't do this, somebody else will" (which feels true about war) but ends with "if we don't do this, nobody else will" (which also feels true...) --and I never would have connected this song to war or paid much attention to the lyrics had I not seen the music video, and I think that deserves consideration.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Jane Gottlieb -> Andy Warhol -> Madeleine L'Engle -> Communism -> Individuality -> Gay Marriage? -> Gottlieb again

So, Jane Gottlieb's prints are on display in the building where I work. The colors are sort of flat and bright and I don't find the subject matter interesting. I'm not even sure what medium was used to create them--I assume they're computer-manipulated and printed on some kind of photograph-quality paper. The subject matter is kind of random but stays within a certain box--a golf course, a cemetery, a famous monument or building. Taxis and cars and houses. You know, man-made things. Things we have created.

They're very Andy Warholish, in a variety of ways. You know what I mean--very empty and decorative, what you might expect to see hanging in a posh hotel or in some expensive apartment overlooking Wall Street.

What is her message? Why does she spend her time on these pieces? Are they supposed to be cheerful, or garish? Are these pieces about finding fantasy in everyday life? About the notable lack of fantasy in every day life? What is she trying to say with this work? How do these color choices support her message?

Actually, her pieces are so reminiscent of Andy Warhol to me, that it's hard to imagine she doesn't have a similar sort of point to make. Something about decorative emptiness and the flattening out of reality and becoming less ourselves and more two-dimensional. Although, Gottlieb portrays it in a way that makes it look like it's supposed to be some happy thing, like the world we live in should be one long music video--neon everywhere! Cars! Rainbow colors! Flat, computer manipulated garbage as far as the eye can see!

And then--oh dear, this is a quote from her website: "I hope...to create images that surprise and intrigue, drawing the viewer into my idyllic vision, ultimately uplifting them with vibrant color and evocative beauty."

So I guess that settles that--she's actually producing art that is like...the opposite of Warhol's work, because if I remember correctly, he was famous for making these grim, scary statements that made his art seem kind of ominous and illustrative of something much larger that was going on culturally at the time.

From his interview with Art News in 1963*:

"Someone said that Brecht wanted everybody to think alike. I want everybody to think alike. But Brecht wanted to do it through Communism, in a way. Russia is doing it under government. It's happening here all by itself without being under a strict government; so if it's working without trying, why can't it work without being Communist? Everybody looks alike and acts alike, and we're getting more and more that way. I think everybody should be a machine. I think everybody should like everybody."

That quote about people becoming machines comes back to me from time to time. Actually, it ties together nicely with the book I'm reading now, A Wrinkle In Time. My daughter is reading this book for school and I am reading it with her, and it turns out that this book is basically about the 1950's/1960's fears about communism. When I started this book, I had no idea what it was about. I guess I knew her books were about science and in some way about religion and the weird gray area where religion and science can hold hands and be friends. But there was obviously a big political and social component to her writing as well. The kids in Wrinkle In Time are on this planet where everyone has submitted to IT, and IT controls their minds and actions and those who don't submit to IT must be reprogrammed and reprocessed in a way that's very mentally painful. It's actually very creepy and dated at the same time.

Why don't I worry about losing my individuality and creativity, whereas in the 1950's and 60's this was obviously something that haunted the minds of normal people? The quote above from Andy Warhol, "Everybody looks alike and acts alike, and we're getting more and more that way," has some small grain of truth but strikes me as the sort of thing someone says to sound profound, but that lacks the nuance that could actually make it true. I am an individual. I don't like all the same crap as everybody else, although I do like some of the same crap, but I am aware of the ways in which I am the same and am different from the people around me. I fall into some categories, and some labels can be applied to me: "democrat" and "gay" and "middle class" are all examples of these. But I'm not like all the gay middle class democrats. For one, I am not pro-choice. I mean, I sort of am pro-choice. I believe abortion clinics should stay open. And I believe abortions should be rare and that for the most part, women should stop having them. I'm also not, like, obsessed with the topic of gay marriage, a very hot topic in the gay community right now that many people feel very strongly about. I think there should be gay marriage, but if the government wants to say I can't get legally married, I don't really care as much as you would think, because I don't care about marriage and even if I did care about marriage, I believe I could be happily married without the government declaring me married.** What does annoy the shit out of me is that the government is taxing me really heavily for the privilege of putting my family on my health insurance because of the no gay marriage thing, and I want my damn $300 a month back***. But that's neither here nor there. To be honest, I don't even really consider myself to be gay so much as flexible, and if my partner died tomorrow, there might be a man that took her place someday (after a long period of grief and you know, drama). Or another woman. Or I might stay single because having a partner isn't everything in life and I'm a busy girl with a lot of hobbies. So, my point is, I'm not like all the gay middle class democrats. I'm just me and I have no fear that I am becoming assimilated by cans of Campbell's soup and billboards that tell me what movies to like.

Back to Jane Gottlieb's pieces; I find myself thinking about them quite a bit, because I walk the halls where they hang. I'm a little disappointed after reading that statement from her website--the one above. "images that surprise and intrigue, drawing the viewer into my idyllic vision, ultimately uplifting them with vibrant color and evocative beauty." bleh. Andy Warhol told a much cooler, more intelligent story with his art.

But I think what you can take away from this post is that one doesn't really need to like art or an artist to affected by that art. It turns out, I have a lot to say and I'm saying it because of Jane Gottlieb's art, and it's art I don't even especially like. I suppose that's the point of any art--whether good or bad, art is supposed to provoke thought.

On a side note, there is one piece she did that I like very much. It's this one, which seems to have been plucked from a dream I had once. In this dream, I was a 19th century middle aged man living in a large house in Romania. Dracula came to my house and would not leave, and the villagers were rioting. My dream had a lot of purple, like this, and a lot of space. This is a space from that dream, I'm certain of it.

* I plucked that quote randomly from this website: http://www.mariabuszek.com/kcai/PoMoSeminar/Readings/WarholIntrvu.pdf, and I take no responsibility for the accuracy of the transcript. I say this because I recently found out that the quote "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy" is not a quote from Benjamin Franklin, it's just a distortion of a quote of his about wine. Or at least, there are websites out there that claim this. And there are websites out there that claim he did say that thing about beer. All bets are off about who said what and what's true and what's not. About everything. I thought for ages that Benjamin Franklin said that thing about beer, about how it's proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. I had this picture in my mind of Benjamin standing in a smoky pub, raising his beer high and, you know, saying the thing about beer. Guys cheering around him and yelling hear-hear! and maybe he buys them all a round. And it turns out, maybe he didn't say this. My point is that information is hard to verify and even things that you know to be true might not be true. So maybe Warhol did or didn't say this thing I am quoting; I'm not going to dig through old issues of Art News just to find out if they said that he did. I just don't have that kind of time.

**I do realize that gay marriage isn't really just about marriage, it's about civil rights. So while I don't care about gay marriage exactly, I do care about inequality, and I realize that gay marriage isn't legal because of inequality. Inequalities shouldn't persist, and so while I don't care about marriage, I'm still supportive of the gay marriage cause. The government shouldn't be able to say that I'm not allowed to get married just because some Christians think that homosexuality is wrong. So that statement about me not caring about the gay marriage cause is sort of misleading.

***Do you hear me, supreme court? this is a huge burden and my family is just like all the other families in all the ways that count--my commitment to them is very real and binding--so if everybody else gets to put their families on their health insurances tax-free, then I should too--my partner and I own a house together and we've lived together for the last 15 years and we have a kid together and this isn't fair, but more than that, it's doing some serious damage to financial situation. If you legalize gay marriage I will marry her because I want them on my health insurance tax free and I'll jump through whatever legal hoops you have established that will allow me to do so.