Thursday, April 22, 2010
Sunday, April 11, 2010
Suffering from the Human Condition
Thursday, April 8, 2010
Let's Watch A Girl Get Beaten To Death. This is not my blog, but I don’t have a blog, or a space, and I’d like to be heard for a bit.
Last month seventeen year old Dua Khalil was pulled into a crowd of young men, some of them (the instigators) family, who then kicked and stoned her to death. This is an example of the breath-taking oxymoron “honor killing”, in which a family member (almost always female) is murdered for some religious or ethical transgression. Dua Khalil, who was of the Yazidi faith, had been seen in the company of a Sunni Muslim, and possibly suspected of having married him or converted. That she was torturously murdered for this is not, in fact, a particularly uncommon story. But now you can watch the action up close on CNN. Because as the girl was on the ground trying to get up, her face nothing but red, the few in the group of more than twenty men who were not busy kicking her and hurling stones at her were filming the event with their camera-phones.
There were security officers standing outside the area doing nothing, but the footage of the murder was taken – by more than one phone – from the front row. Which means whoever shot it did so not to record the horror of the event, but to commemorate it. To share it. Because it was cool.
I could start a rant about the level to which we have become desensitized to violence, about the evils of the voyeuristic digital world in which everything is shown and everything is game, but honestly, it’s been said. And I certainly have no jingoistic cultural agenda. I like to think that in America this would be considered unbearably appalling, that Kitty Genovese is still remembered, that we are more evolved. But coincidentally, right before I stumbled on this vid I watched the trailer for “Captivity”.
A few of you may know that I took public exception to the billboard campaign for this film, which showed a concise narrative of the kidnapping, torture and murder of a sexy young woman. I wanted to see if the film was perhaps more substantial (especially given the fact that it was directed by “The Killing Fields” Roland Joffe) than the exploitive ad campaign had painted it. The trailer resembles nothing so much as the CNN story on Dua Khalil. Pretty much all you learn is that Elisha Cuthbert is beautiful, then kidnapped, inventively, repeatedly and horrifically tortured, and that the first thing she screams is “I’m sorry”.
What is wrong with women?
I mean wrong. Physically. Spiritually. Something unnatural, something destructive, something that needs to be corrected.
How did more than half the people in the world come out incorrectly? I have spent a good part of my life trying to do that math, and I’m no closer to a viable equation. And I have yet to find a culture that doesn’t buy into it. Women’s inferiority – in fact, their malevolence -- is as ingrained in American popular culture as it is anywhere they’re sporting burkhas. I find it in movies, I hear it in the jokes of colleagues, I see it plastered on billboards, and not just the ones for horror movies. Women are weak. Women are manipulative. Women are somehow morally unfinished. (Objectification: another tangential rant avoided.) And the logical extension of this line of thinking is that women are, at the very least, expendable.
I try to think how we got here. The theory I developed in college (shared by many I’m sure) is one I have yet to beat: Womb Envy. Biology: women are generally smaller and weaker than men. But they’re also much tougher. Put simply, men are strong enough to overpower a woman and propagate. Women are tough enough to have and nurture children, with or without the aid of a man. Oh, and they’ve also got the equipment to do that, to be part of the life cycle, to create and bond in a way no man ever really will. Somewhere a long time ago a bunch of men got together and said, “If all we do is hunt and gather, let’s make hunting and gathering the awesomest achievement, and let’s make childbirth kinda weak and shameful.” It’s a rather silly simplification, but I believe on a mass, unconscious level, it’s entirely true. How else to explain the fact that cultures who would die to eradicate each other have always agreed on one issue? That every popular religion puts restrictions on women’s behavior that are practically untenable? That the act of being a free, attractive, self-assertive woman is punishable by torture and death? In the case of this upcoming torture-porn, fictional. In the case of Dua Khalil, mundanely, unthinkably real. And both available for your viewing pleasure.
It’s safe to say that I’ve snapped. That something broke, like one of those robots you can conquer with a logical conundrum. All my life I’ve looked at this faulty equation, trying to understand, and I’ve shorted out. I don’t pretend to be a great guy; I know really really well about objectification, trust me. And I’m not for a second going down the “women are saints” route – that just leads to more stone-throwing (and occasional Joan-burning). I just think there is the staggering imbalance in the world that we all just take for granted. If we were all told the sky was evil, or at best a little embarrassing, and we ought not look at it, wouldn’t that tradition eventually fall apart? (I was going to use ‘trees’ as my example, but at the rate we’re getting rid of them I’m pretty sure we really do think they’re evil. See how all rants become one?)
Now those of you who frequent this site are, in my wildly biased opinion, fairly evolved. You may hear nothing new here. You may be way ahead of me. But I can’t contain my despair, for Dua Khalil, for humanity, for the world we’re shaping. Those of you who have followed the link I set up know that it doesn’t bring you to a video of a murder. It brings you to a place of sanity, of people who have never stopped asking the question of what is wrong with this world and have set about trying to change the answer. Because it’s no longer enough to be a decent person. It’s no longer enough to shake our heads and make concerned grimaces at the news. True enlightened activism is the only thing that can save humanity from itself. I’ve always had a bent towards apocalyptic fiction, and I’m beginning to understand why. I look and I see the earth in flames. Her face was nothing but red.
All I ask is this: Do something. Try something. Speaking out, showing up, writing a letter, a check, a strongly worded e-mail. Pick a cause – there are few unworthy ones. And nudge yourself past the brink of tacit support to action. Once a month, once a year, or just once. If you can’t think of what to do, there is this handy link. Even just learning enough about a subject so you can speak against an opponent eloquently makes you an unusual personage. Start with that. Any one of you would have cried out, would have intervened, had you been in that crowd in Bashiqa. Well thanks to digital technology, you’re all in it now.
I have never had any faith in humanity. But I will give us props on this: if we can evolve, invent and theorize our way into the technologically magical, culturally diverse and artistically magnificent race we are and still get people to buy the idiotic idea that half of us are inferior, we’re pretty amazing. Let our next sleight of hand be to make that myth disappear.
The sky isn’t evil. Try looking up.
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
The Global Canvas
Tagged with: new media, art, internet
“The One Million Masterpiece”
Recent global art projects have had a common goal in mind: to unite societies world-wide by using diversity as our strength opposed to our weakness. The One Million Masterpiece is the largest of these, an online collective of nearly 30,000 artists spanning 174 countries. Each member is responsible for designing one square of many that will eventually be arranged together in a grid-like massive art piece. The intent is to paint a portrait of what life is like in our modern society using aspects of each unique contributor. In addition to generating a sense of community, the online collective’s greater purpose lies in collecting millions of dollars in donations to benefit several charitable causes. “Urban Dialogues” is a website that is similar in nature. It functions as a showcase for photographs of streets in many different cities that have been combined with digital art work through the use of Adobe Photoshop.
The flash mob video site, Improv Everywhere, began as a comedy troupe that dedicated themselves to creating improvised musical theatre-type moments in the unlikeliest of public places. I couldn’t think of a better way to expose mainstream society to performance art. In previous “missions,” they’ve sung about their love for lunch in the lobby of Trump Tower, thrown surprise wedding receptions for strangers in city parks and composed a symphony of cell phone ringtones from knapsacks left with a baggage check clerk. Founded in August 2001 by Charlie Todd of New York City, the troupe’s antics have been documented through over a hundred online videos, involving tens of thousands of performers. A separate website has now been set up to institute one of these ensembles in every major city around the world.
The 1 Second Film
How does one moment of worldwide unity sound to you? Award-winning animator Nirvan Mullick will devote literally one second of screen time to this very cause, in what he refers to as the “world’s biggest shortest film.” The 1 second film project uses 12 giant real world paintings to fill the frames of a single second of animation. Anyone that contributes towards the finances of this project will find their name listed in the hour-long list of production credits that follow the film. If you’re like me, this may be the first time you’ll be interested in watching a movie’s credits. A number of celebrities and filmmakers have gotten involved, ranging from the likes of Kevin Bacon, to Stephen Colbert, to Spike Jonze. All profits from the production are to be donated to the Global Fund for Women, a grant-making organization that supports women’s rights, which also happens to be the theme of this (very) short film. It is a great example of how the Internet has allowed the world to come together for a (albeit brief) moment to support a single cause that will in turn benefit people on a global scale (even if that means having our names in film credits next to Tom Green’s).
Monday, March 15, 2010
DIY - TV
New media and the changing film industry
Gone are the days when your favorite TV show would have to be viewed at a certain time and day of the week. You no longer have to get your ass off your comfy couch to see movies in the theatre or rent them from the video store. In fact, the way that media is accessed has changed so rapidly in the past few years that you can now watch TV without even having a TV! Whoa. Yes, using your computer, laptop, iPhone, iPod or whatever other new gadgets are out there, you can now watch your favourite show, movie, or hear the song you want, absolutely anywhere and anytime.
But that's not the only way in which new media is empowering the masses. In today’s marketplace, anybody can also be a creator or a star. Forget enrolling in film school, taking acting classes, or even getting an agent, you just need access to the Internet. Homemade videos, parodies, and independently-produced short films can now be distributed and marketed by the individual that made it, for better or for worse. Yes, for every borderline new media offspring like the Chicago-based “mumblecore” movement — low budget films about, well, nothing — there are truly paradigm-shifting phenomenons emerging every day.
In 2007, actress Felicia Day (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) found herself struggling to find work in the midst of an economic recession, and decided if she couldn’t find a role to play, then she’d create one herself. She rallied together a few friends and produced her own 10-minute TV pilot entitled The Guild. She put it online, and continued to produce a few more episodes while self-marketing on social networking sites, such as Twitter. After cleverly adding an option on her website for fans of the series to donate proceeds to the production, she earned enough to not only produce the rest of The Guild’s first season, but a second, and now a third.
But Day didn’t stop there. She later stumbled across what became likely her most effective marketing tool: a clever tongue-in-cheek music video that accompanies her online gamer-inspired series, “Do You Wanna Date My Avatar?” The video features Day dressed as a World of Warcraft-styled princess backed by an ensemble of similarly dressed gamers (think nerd-minions singing in “Dungeons and Dragons” attire, and you’ll get the picture). It was uploaded directly to YouTube and the mp3 made available for download on iTunes. No one could have predicted that the video would soon rack up over five million views (and counting) and become the No. 1 downloaded song in the world.
Of course, Felicia Day couldn’t become an online sensation like she did without Hollywood taking notice. The single, as well as episodes of her online series, are now being sold on Xbox Live, which subsidizes her production costs alongside donations, income from iTunes, and so on. The success has led to roles in the recent FOX network series Dollhouse and the incredibly popular Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, an Internet-specific creation which surprisingly won an Emmy award without having ever aired on TV. Felicia day may not be “rolling in riches” per se, but she is acting in her dream project, and most importantly, maintains total creative control over the series. Yes, she’s managed all this success while steering completely clear of inhuman network executives, archaic content restrictions, and even continues to own all rights to the series.
As consumers of media, what this all means is that we get as close to a “creatively pure” product as we’ll ever get; where what we see is completely dictated and delivered by the artist. And, Felicia Day’s story is but one example of how filmmakers and other creative types are finding new ways to create content and distribute it to us across a multitude of platforms. Laptop filmmakers are using new media to get their stories told and productions financed. Likewise, musicians, artists, comedians, and “American Idol” wannabes are popping up all over sites like YouTube.com, still hoping to “get noticed” by major studios and talent agencies. In the wake of the self-produced new media revolution, however, the reality is that they may no longer need to.