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 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'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.