and I quote

march 2011

click for permalink March 22, 2011

The Destruction of Tyre by John MartinI've been collecting these twin images again. It's not like I don't have anything better to do, but maybe I find it strangely meditative, the way some people play Sodoku or shop at Costco. I suppose it's sort of telling that the first thing I did when a friend made an offhand comment in an instant message that Japan had been hit by an earthquake/tsunami was turn to CNN (how's that for brand loyalty?). The first video I clicked showed a massive oil refinery blazing out of control in the dark. "Oh my god, it looks like Hiroshima." My friend politely refrained from correcting my geography.

Coast of Japan (Associated Press)It wasn't the last time I heard the comparison that day. In fact, few reporters seemed able to refrain from comparing the destruction onscreen to something, be it historic, cinematic or metaphorical. One seasoned BBC reporter — usually so adept at adopting the somber tones such events require — couldn't help but observe as he narrated some aerial footage, that container ships were "bobbing around like toys in a bathtub," while a flaming wall of wreckage several meters high sped inland, indiscriminately swallowing buildings, bridges and farmland.

Since then, I've heard Katrina, Hiroshima, Pearl Harbor (really?) and Indonesia evoked to encompass the ruins of Japan's coast. The employees who as we speak are risking their lives trying to prevent the reactor from melting down (if it isn't/hasn't already) have been compared to the fire fighters who courageously doused the Chernobyl reactor with concrete —and kamikaze pilots, which sounds like a hell of a mixed metaphor, borderline racist or at least politically incorrect, so I hope they understand what we mean when we say that. I'm sure they weren't very popular back in their day, with the men on the aircraft carriers or their wives watching newsreels back home, but these days, in the west, "kamikaze" is a term we use with reverence, to convey superhuman courage and an imperturbably cool, badass quality. It's sort of like the way we used to say "ninja," before the corporate world turned it into a job-ad staple, roughly analogous to "programmer" or "sys admin."

This week militarism clearly beat the humanitarian urge into submission on the mainstream news channels, and metaphors were replaced by lurid explosions and night-goggle visions of war (geez, I almost wrote night-Googlevision — which is it again?). But if you listen closely, you can still hear the few wise alarmists, speaking softly underneath the drone of the spokesmodels, advising us to be afraid, be very afraid.

Have we not now just cause to panic, I wondered, as we passed Three Mile Island on the way up the scale to Chernobyl? After that, there's just a blank space waiting for a name.

While we're on the topic of cities wiped off the map, how about The Fall of Atlantis (painting by Monsu Desiderio) and Dresden after WWII...

Atlantis= Dresden

Remember Father Michael Judge, the FDNY chaplain who was killed on 9-11 and carried from the rubble by fire fighters later that day? It doesn't take an agnostic to look at Father Judge (wait, really?) and see Jesus con sus Apostles...

Father Michael Judge=Jesus

The interesting thing about that one is that the visual/symbolic parallel didn't just slide by everyone but me. These days, freeform pattern recognition and word association games are the exclusive pursuits of Glenn Beck and Hollywood's many undiagnosed schizophrenics but post-nine-eleven, there were plenty of people in the media — to say nothing of the crowded commons of our collective unconscious — who spent months in a heightened state of almost synesthetic hyper-awareness, convinced that the End Times were upon us.

Some expressed this sentiment by circulating eerily specific verses attributed to history's second-favorite prophet of doom, Nostradamus (doctored, as it turned out). Others saw Satan's face in the smoking edifice of the North Tower, and still others were so impressed with themselves for spotting this little gem of a visual analogy, they went ahead and slapped it on the cover of Newsweek. Within a year, the image had been immortalized in bronze (the fire fighters should have been so lucky).

Flags of Our Collective UC

Speaking of staged photos and their galvanizing effects on the national spirit, I've always loved this famously fake yet iconic shot of Soviet soldiers hoisting their flag atop the burning Reichstag in Berlin, marking the very instant of the Allies' triumph. When a picture conveys all that this one does, it would take someone utterly devoid of artistic sensibility to deduct points for verité. Also, it's always reminded me of Nightcrawler — who is, interestingly, German.


Back to awaiting the arrival of the radioactive cloud currently wafting across the Pacific ocean towards this coast...


click for permalink March 05, 2011

2011 dressesSo naturally, I watched what everyone is calling the most boring, predictable, lowest-rated blah blah blah Oscars ever... most of it anyway. I didn't think it was that bad, but maybe that was due to the company. My mother and I watched the whole thing together on Skype, starting with the red carpet. For this, she had to turn her second computer to CTV, so we could watch the same celebrities arrive at the same time. When the show actually started, I was able to painlessly locate a live feed on something called U-stream and we enjoyed a veritable orgy of multitasking; watching, gossiping, remembering and not remembering and then googling — and quibbling over whose turn it was to google — then over whether or not it was really something we needed to know.

About an hour in, the feed I was watching cut out unceremoniously (pun, sadly, intended). I had a hell of a time finding another, but not for lack of flailing around and finding a number of very loud and annoying red herrings (with my multiple tasks being funneled through a single volume control, my sporadic warnings rarely came in time for my mother to adjust her headset before I launched what would inevitably be yet another blaring L'Oreal haircolor commercial or J-Lo shaving her... you know). Then there were the multiple morons ostensibly streaming the show from their phones, pointing them towards their televisions at a weird angle from behind a 50 gallon aquarium (or worse, from their iPhones), all with no sound. (Don't they have credit card numbers they could be stealing or something?)

2011After 45 minutes of this and lots of swearing, I found a perfect feed from someone in London (also on U-stream), which had just started up since I lost the first one. The host made some comment about how he should be sleeping but he just had to watch them live, and something about how he would keep streaming the show until they cut him off "like they were doing with everyone else." But they didn't, and as the credits rolled, all the viewers who had bothered to log in so they could chat thanked him and cheered wildly or the keyboard equivalent thereof. It was quite a nice little communal moment, like when the plane touches down and there's that weird smattering of applause.

2011The only thing that sucked was that I ended up having to log off of Skype for the final 15 minutes of the broadcast because, for whatever reason (that surely has nothing to do with satellite relays and copper wires tunneling under the Atlantic and across two mountain ranges), the supplier of my contraband signal was a good five minutes behind the TV version and my mother kept saying, "ooh, that's a bad dress — are you seeing that?" or "Okay, who is that? What was he in? Come on, you know." Sadly I didn't. So I had to call her back after it was over.

2007After that, I serendipitously discovered something called Newsweek's Oscar Roundtables which they've now made available on youtube. They're quite fantastic, if you like watching an amazingly random handful of the best actors of the day shoot the shit with each other on the topics of film, their past performances, each other's performances, movies they love, movies they hate and occasionally (and awesomely) people they probably hate but can't usually dis (Michael Bay, etcetera).

You can watch playlists of every year since 2007 on Newsweek's Youtube channel or read the transcripts:

  • 20102007 with Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Leonardo DiCaprio, Helen Mirren, Penelope Cruz and Forest Whitaker (transcript)
  • 2008 with George Clooney, Angelina Jolie, Daniel Day-Lewis, Ellen Page, James McAvoy and Marion Cotillard (transcript)
  • 2009 with Robert Downey Jr., Anne Hathaway, Sally Hawkins, Frank Langella, Brad Pitt and Mickey Rourke (transcript)
  • 2010 with Morgan Freeman, Sandra Bullock, Jeff Bridges, Woody Harrelson, Gabourey Sidibe, and Carey Mulligan (transcript unavailable)
  • 2011 with Nicole Kidman, James Franco, Natalie Portman, Colin Firth, Michelle Williams and Anette Bening (transcript)

While we're on celebrity gossip...

The latest post by The Last Psychiatrist finds Charlie Sheen on the proverbial couch... Speaking of Last, I don't know why this should surprise me but Quora (right, what?) has an entry called Who is "The Last Psychiatrist"? wherein several more-dedicated-than-me fans of TLP are posting their annotated speculations about his age, location, current or historical occupation (consensus seems to be that he's semi-retired, probably recently), employer/institution and, although I always took these as foregone conclusions, race and gender. I haven't missed a biweekly post in the last four years and I've never found anything in his writing to suggest either a female or minority identity, but the citations are interesting, especially those referencing posts from before I discovered him in 2006 or 7. (I could tell you exactly when it was, but that was on a different computer, so the information is there but it's like a brain in a jar gathering dust at the bottom of a box and growing increasingly obsolete with each passing day.)

Which brings me to this, and I couldn't have planned a better segue if I tried. Wake Up, Geek Culture. Time to Die by Patton Oswalt, is one of the greatest articles I've read this year.