Thursday, June 21, 2012

Realms: The City

[Sorry if the Realms: Space was too historical. I'll try to keep my enthusiasm contained in this post. Perhaps I'll redo Space in the future.]


On the flip side of the Space Realm, lies The City. It represents the reaction against Space. If you look at the four reasons American's love space, and consider the reactions to them, you'll better understand how The City came to be.

1.Romantiscism & NeoGothicism: Reaction against rationality. Belief in the supernatural. Heightened emotions. The skepticism/fear of modernity and science.2. Consumerism: Manifest Destiny viewed not as exploration, but as ownership of everything. Industrial Revolution.
3. Social Competition in the 50s on: Americans waged their own "Space" Race with their neighbors.  
4.  Space morphed into a sacred realm, our Earthly limitations became more apparent to us.

So how do these four things transfer to The City and not just 'The Post-Apocalyptic World'? When did you last see zombies originating from nature/The West? No, it's always the man and modernity to blame. Read on my friends.

AMC, The Walking Dead, 2010
Yes. The Walking Dead, love it. Look at this picture. What is happening? I'll tell you what. The brave, solitary, naive Cowboy Adam, I mean Rick, heads down the road away from The West to The City. 'Enlightened' people attempted to flee the city, but unfortunately it was too late.

Rick heads to the city of Atlanta from whatever suburb he came from in order to find answers. Specifically, he goes to the Center for Disease Control to find out how the zombies came to be, and how to cure them. Spoilers: He does not find answers in The City, only more destruction. Dare I say it? 'God' has abandoned humanity, leaving them to fight for survival. Rick, in turn, abandons The City to find his salvation elsewhere.

(Season two, you'll note, takes place in a southern gothic version of The West.)

Warner Bro. Pictures, I am Legend (2007)

This clip opens one of the many film adaptations of a novel by the same name. I couldn't help noticing the similarities to both the WALL-E intro and Walking Dead. Coincidence? Perhaps.

The director introduces the audience to The City as nature/The West reclaims it. Will Smith's roaring Mustang lets us know that landscape isn't completely void of humans. Dr. Neville hunts with man's best friend, like our ancestors used to. Humanity lives! But it doesn't thrive. Not only does the protagonist live in isolation, but he struggles to survive. Even with a hotrod and sniper rifle, the doctor cannot catch a mere deer. The scene following the opening shows Neville refraining from killing a lion with cubs, seceding his American/human 'right' as the apex predator/consumer instead assuming the nature/God given role of meek, flawed, and repentant. But that's about the Astronaut, not The City. My bad. 

The City reflects a similar sentiment however. Billboards and Logos flood the scene and act more than mere product placements. Like the Mustang they symbolize humanity's inadequacy in the face of nature/God. The Hyatt is not a home any more than McDonald's is a meal. However, The director/writer does not damn humanity in its entirety. Neville struggles with his supreme guilt/sin in creating the zombie-virus and his martyr-like repentance of finding a cure for it. Similarly, clues in the scene let us know not everything humans create is bad. The fact that it takes place in New York City highlights human achievements of Sky Scrapers and Broadway. The City in I Am Legend questions the American Dream and the conflicting ideals it represents.

Just as poster "God Still Loves Us" (1:25) makes Neville question his role in the world, The City makes the audience question their's.

You might be seeing a trend here. The City is actually The West (you'll note so is Space). But here's one that might not seem so 'Zombie' to you but is so clearly in The City.

Fanta "Chase" Commercial, More Fanta, Less Serious Campaign (2011) 

Just a group of people chasing a guy with a Fanta in an urban area. No big deal right? Just change that 'group of people' to 'hoard of zombies' and BOOM! Horror!

My point: Zombie movies usually take place in a Post-Apocalyptic world, not during the zombiepocalypse. The City exists as the source of zombies. Kids chasing each other for a Fanta instead of 1) buying one, 2) trying to earn money so they can buy one, 3) caring about better things than Fanta: the zombiepocalypse starts here. The hoard doesn't think about what they can do to better their lives or humanity. If this were The West, they would know it takes work to live well. If it were Space, they would already be living for their own/humanity's betterment. Look at the campaign title, More Fanta, Less Serious. Just let your worries wash down with the carbonated citric acid...

Interacting with Zombie related media reveals that the fall of humans isn't actually humanity over-reaching itself. God does not rain down wrath and make everyone pop out of existence. No, the Zombiepocalypse results from the fall of the belief in humanity. It's humankind giving up on itself. 

The ones who survive, the Astronauts and Cowboys, still believe in themselves and somethinganything, is worth fighting for.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Pixar's Waste Allocator Load Lifter Earth Class

Pixar's Brave comes out next week, and I can hardly wait. I cry with excitement whenever I see the trailer, really. Pixar's innovations, commitment to story, and cultural insights make it the best movie company out there. A few years ago I had to write an analytical paperon WALL-E, which seemed silly at the time. Now, well, you've seen the blog.

So to kick off the countdown to Brave's opening, I'm posting my essay.


    The film WALL-E is not the typical children's summer blockbuster. Yes, it includes giant robots, forces of good and bad, and the ubiquitous solution of coming together to solve a problem. The film grossed $63 million USD in its first weekend, and won the 2008 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature (IMDb, WALL-E). WALL-E went up against the hilariously motivating Kung-Fu Panda and the unabashedly cute Bolt. All three movies arguably pushed the boundaries of animation and were generally well received. A tale about a robot who goes into space for love, finds adventure on a lost cruise-ship, and returns home as the hero with a girl does not seem all that enthralling. What has made children, parents, and the academy praise WALL-E is the film's moral critiques on contemporary society. Director Andrew Stanton demonstrates the repercussions of a consumer lifestyle with a visual eloquence any audience can understand. He critiques consumerism throughout the film, but not quite as impressively or consisly than at the beginning. In the first five minutes of WALL-E, Stanton presents his argument clearly and believably without any sacrifice to plot.

WALL-E opens with Jerry Herman's "Put on your Sunday Clothes," an uplifting song that celebrates all the wonders "out there". To the music, Stanton sets images of generic space that navigate toward Earth. He introduces viewers to the globe not as the beautiful blue planet, but instead as a dull gray and ocher sphere surrounded by space debris. Diving past the Earth's choked atmosphere he presents a desolate planet full of still wind-turbines and sedate nuclear power-plants. The singer ironically declares that he will find "adventure in the evening air" as the camera pans through a particularly smoggy area and reveals a city. (Stanton, 0:00:00 - 0:01:09)

Obviously, Stanton is not meandering toward his argument; he presents the problem within the first minute of the film. Even before offering an explanation (which comes after a few minutes more), Stanton explicitly states that there is too much waste for Earth to handle. The alternative energy sources stand unused, trash crowding them on all sides (0:00:45). Piles of refuse ominously tower over skyscrapers (0:00:55). These visuals suggest no amount of ingenuity can offset or compensate for consumerism's inherent ability to create waste.

Juxtaposed to the visuals, "Put on your Sunday Clothes" does not simply offer ironic ambient noise- it clarifies that consumerism is to blame. "Put on your Sunday Cothes" comes from the popular musical, Hello, Dolly which takes place at the turn of the 19th centuary when consumerism was just blossoming (IMDb, Hello, Dolly!). Essentially, the song suggests that there is always something better "out there," whether that be a "slick town," "dime cigars," or "lights... bright as stars." Combining these lyrics with WALL-E 's camera zooming from the "out there" of space onto Earth's surface forces viewers to look at the repercussions of the hero's consumerist mentality.

To enhance this understanding, Stanton introduces subtle wind inn ambiance and begins to turn the song's volume down. As the camera begins to settle on the city viewers realize that WALL-E is not simply a two hour escape from modernity. The audio and visual techniques emphasize isolation and desolation while triggering feelings of guilt and fear. Stanton devotes ten full seconds of this emptiness to linger in an uncomfortable limbo. Then, he gives us a reprieve; WALL-E meanders on screen, playing "Put on your Sunday Clothes." (Stanton, 0:01:09-0:01:22)

Stanton does not introduce his hero in a way that fully alleviates the audience from the movie's first minute. He introduces him from a distant, high angle. Viewers cannot really make out what WALL-E is, just a moving square among vast towers of trash. "Put on your Sunday Clothes" distinctly plays from WALL-E, but its a distorted recording that plays desolately. (0:01:23 - 0:01:40) WALL-E is a robot alone in the world, vulnarable to it's emptiness. The music WALL-E listens to establishes him as a friendly and human-like entity. Naturally, the audience empathizes with WALL-E and cling to him as a symbol of life, hope, goodwill, and happiness.

Stanton continues to build WALL-E and the viewer's relationship. The audience sees that WALL-E compresses trash and stacks it, surely a futile task (0:01:41-0:02:43). However, his willingness to continue on even without a higher authority truly inspires. From the robot and the audience's relationship Stanton recreates hypocritical consumerist situation. Lovable and relate-able WALL-E was created to clean up after people. Should the audience accept his programmed purpose as the only outcome? Or indulge in his greater purpose that, if they are truthful, causes guilt? Someone, or something, always must clean up the mess. It's up to WALL-E to better the planet. Yet, WALL-E's human characteristics, his curiosity, pet roach, large eyes and infectious cheerfulness, makes viewers question the ethics of consumerism. There is no "out there" that makes everything bad disappear.

By now, Stanton has spent nearly three minutes of Pixar animation convincing young hearts that consumerism does terrible things to the planet and to people. The youth may easily swallow his argument and accept it without question. More sophisticated audiences, however, quickly break down emotions and discredit any argument without facts. To prevent this, Stanton creates an prophetic explanation that attempts to suspend disbelief.

WALL-E, finished with his day's work, returns to home on a path that recounts Earth's last inhabited days. First, Stanton personifies consumerism with shots of a monsterous "BnL Ultrastore," a one-storied, bright-colored facade recalling Target, Wal-Mart, CostCo or any other cooperate super-center. Even the name references real-life Wal-Mart SuperCenters or SuperTargets. Next, the camera cuts to "BnL Gas," a petrol station with dozens of pumps, connecting consumerism to natural resources. WALL-E treds over "BnL Currencey" while passing the "BnL Bank," hints that every facet of monetary life connects to consumerism. The next camera pan shows advertisments covering a street not unlike New York Times Square. A newspaper headlines "Too Much Trash; Earth Covered," building Stantons reasoning against consumerism. The photo on the paper shows the BnL CEO giving Nixon hand-gestures and infront of a presidential seal, tieing consumerism into the government and it's lobby system. Stanton cements BnL as a consumerist effigy when he reveals its full name, "Buy N Large." (0:02:54 - 0:03:19)

WALL-E's opening culminates in a series of advertisements that not only provide a explaination of where all the people are, but furnishes Stanton's audience with the perceived pinnacle of consumerism. The camera uses one clean pan-through that shows each screen pop up. The first screen fills with debris and cheerily shouts "too much garbage in our face?" The second shows a cruise like space ship above earth and touts "plenty of space out in space." The third screen shows the "BnL Starliners leaving each day" while several doe-eyed WALL-Es "clean up while you're away" on the fourth screen. (0:04:14 - 0:04:24) The effect shows a consumerist thought-process: presentation of a problem, an escape from the problem, and a solution to the problem that does not effect the individual. A final, large screen shows the "jewel of the BnL fleet, the Axiom" and all its animities (0:04:28-0:05:00). It's a space cruise: the posh thing to do, where everything you could possibly want is provided for you. And of course, its better "out there." It is the apex of consumerism.

From here Stanton develops his character and creates a wholesome plot that has sold millions of tickets, toys, and trinkets. Real world ironies aside, WALL-E accomplishes a feat that few mass-media even attempt. Addressing contemporary issues puts all those involved at risk, and doing it successfully requires great talent. Stanton tactfully and tastefully presents consumerism as a problem at the movie's beginning to quickly state his argument. It sets the tone for the movie's entirety and allows the plot to move forward without needing to address the argument. Throughout the movie, Stanton continues with appeals to emotions, ethics, and logic that touch back with those first five minutes. His message remains approachable without statistics or facts, but maintains an intellectual quality. For the children, a natural curiosity for the world makes WALL-E an easy adventure across the universe and back. For more adult audiences, and for children as they start to mature, WALL-E offers an unobtrusive exploration of the future.

Stanton, Andrew, Dir. WALL·E. Dir. Andrew STanton." Disney, Pixar: 2008, DVD.

"WALL·E." Box Office Mojo., Inc., 2010. Web. <>.

"Hello, Dolly!." Internet Movie Database., Inc., 2010. Web. <>.

"WALL-E - Intro." youtube. Web. 2 Feb 2010. <>

Monday, June 11, 2012

Ground control to Major Minaj

I wasn't sure if I should include this in the Space Realm, but thought it would be biased not to at least explore the possiblity.. Let me know what you think

Nicki Minaj's Starship currents sits at #5 on the Hot 100 Songs list. Aside from its maniac popness and blatant sexual exploitation, what do we see in this video? Liberated individuals free to express themselves in paradise. You may be thinking, hey! that's "the west." Perhaps it is, but conflict does not come down on these island people. They get to "Dance all life*, theres no end it sight" and don't have to pay rent anymore. Wooo! Sounds pretty awesome to me. The super saturated landscape with its random colored smokes and liquids and replicating individuals may not be the pearly gates, but I'm sure a lot of people would like to be on that island with Nicki right now. It's location is otherworldly, and I'll call it some sort of space. It's full of happy, healthy people with no worries. Heaven.

 *"That's our life" was an alternitive lyric, but it always ends in life, not night.

Realms: Space

Asking, "What is space?" is like asking "What is heaven?" The information we have on the actual facts of space are just fragments of facts. Those fragments come down to most of us through institutions that debate the validity and meaning of data in order transform it into some sort of understandable abstraction. It's not even like those fragments make us nod in enlightenment, it makes us want to know more, to want to go and see it for ourselves. All we know about Space are just slivers of the infinite unknown.

That Pale Blue Dot

The American obsession with space was conceived during the enlightenment,  developed with manifest destiny, and matured during the Space Race. Due to the cancellation of several NASA programs, space has morphed into this higher realm. It's important to understand that our Space does not mean the same thing to us as it did several decades ago. Space was not always idealized and it defiantly was not Romanticized as much as it is now. Our previous experiences with it, however, does inform our views on it today.

  1. The enlightenment promoted reason, fact-based approach to our world. The American forefathers, who fought for America's basic ideals, were deists; they did not believe in a God who influenced our daily lives and they believed in scientific facts. Therefore, the space above our heads is not filled with angels or pearly gates, and God does not look down from there at you. 
  2. Our manifest destiny as Americans is to explore the unknown. Since we're built on enlightenment principles, we explore not just for capital gains, but scientific discovery. That's why the government sent Lewis and Clark to explore, not trading companies. The government goes beyond the profits.
  3. The Space Race directly used manifest destiny as a excuse to carry the cold war to space. It was America's right to explore the unknown, not Soviet Russia's. It also gave scientists access to government funding (which was just about inexhaustible).
  4. After the end of the cold war, the threat of being out-smarted waned and American ideals have changed (more on this in the future, its a whole new animal). NASA's budget is a fraction of what it was, and their directive has been completely changed. Essentially, the death of public space exploration.  
The privatization of space exploration means: space is no longer just a source for scientific discovery, space is no longer accessible to everyone, space no longer has a face/identity here on Earth. In a sense, it's more unreal than it ever was because we know so little about it but know that it has so much potential. Space is the new 'great unknown', the place beyond life that holds all the answers, where everything has reason as well as mystery, where everything and nothing exists all at once.

Because space holds this heavenly perception in our minds, it's hard to pinpoint what exactly it is for two reasons. First, American perception of space is currently in flux; we haven't quite redefined it. Second, since it is a heaven/higher realm it's not exactly a place of conflict, and therefore doesn't show up in movies or television. (Note: Foreign planets are not space. i.e. Prometheus did not take place in space at all, but rather in "the west" of another planet) I've found space, or rather references to space, mostly in short narratives (songs and commercials), parts of movies or television shows, and of course documentaries.

Symphony of Science arranges science show clips and autotunes them to make beautiful, catchy songs. Onward to the Edge captures the idea of space so perfectly. The song bases itself on the hard facts of science, but elaborates it with idealism of Neil Degrasse-Tyson. It conveys our romantic idea of space travel as a higher, divine mission not just for power but understanding. Particularly, this song/the lecture acknowledges a limit of human potential. They still believe on pushing past that point, but what will that mean for those who reach beyond the edge? What will they become and will they return?
"When I reach for the edge of the Universe, I do so knowing that along some paths of cosmic discovery, that there are times ... one must be content to love the questions themselves." 

This is not the best commercial, but it illustrates how ad agencies can use space to sell you products, rather than a spaceship. The over-voice' rhetoric has carefully been chosen to align with Almighty: "Inspiration in the details," "a light that welcomes,"  artificial/divine "intelligence," "illuminating the world around you." Even the car's name, "Infiniti," implies it comes from an endless expanse. The visuals obviously show that the car is space (rather than space ship) through the fade out of stars and the moon. Most interestingly, the car drives around a curve, almost nodding toward the city, but leaves it behind in the dark to return to the beyond it came from. This lack of people implies anyone can own the car, and drive off into the unknown.

We'll end on a awesome tone:
WALL-E (2008), and perhaps all of Pixar's films, has some of the best examples of New American Mythology. This scene has the two main characters in space without any sort of protective gear; they are completely in space. As you can see, the robots 'dance' around in complete bliss and happiness. EVE does not fail her purpose life and WALL-E has finally found his.  One of the humans, now awakened to the awe of the universe, stares out at the space in wonder. In her excitement she bumps into one of her fellow travelers and enlightens him as well. The captain researches his cultural background, excited in wonder at simple knowledge. Complete and uncomplicated Love, of course, facilitated all these wondrous revelations in space.