Thursday, June 27, 2013

Heroes write the History

Nearly a year ago, I wrote a post defining and explaining Nostalgia which largely criticizing the media industry's explicit exploitation of the past. Even in that post, I acknowledged that not all use of 'the past' was Nostalgic, and not necessarily bad. Successful shows like Mad Men (AMC) and Boardwalk Empire (HBO) or movies such as Lincoln (2012) and Charlie Wilson's War (2007) do rely on audience's idealized preconceptions of the past, but not in the same way as Man of Steel (2013) or The Carrie Diaries (The CW). The latter use Nostalgia to tell the same story while the former use History to tell a new one. Revisiting History within the context of New American Mythology reveals shifting perspectives of the past while offering direction to our present lives.








We all know the general story of Lincoln, the Civil War, and Emancipation. In any historical retelling of the story, we know how it's going to end (a bullet, Northern victory, and segregation). So why recreate it- to simply to relive our glory days? No, that's Nostalgia. We use History to help understand present issues, and look to our heroes for guidance. Take the 1988 t.v. miniseries, Gore Vidal's Lincoln.

Skip to: 5:03


 Admittedly, Vidal wanted to illustrate the founding fathers as less than heroic. The television series shocks audiences with a racist Lincoln in order to nudge audiences into considering how far society had come, even from desegregation two decades earlier.  What may have seemed radical ideas in the 60's were just common thought, especially in light of recent confirmation of humans as originating in Africa. The morally questionable honest Abe was not meant to glorify his personality or accomplishments (Nostalgia), but give a new perspective on the past (History).



Spielberg's Lincoln, is much like Vidal's in mannerisms, but he reclaims an untouchable aura of heroics (albeit not to the point of romanticism). What makes this version of History particularly interesting, is the "gritty" politics Spielberg demonstrated. Perhaps our previous idea of the 1860s included a virtuous political system that actually worked. The fact that Lincoln had to wheel and deal not only made History more real, but it also made me feel better about the current state of Washington.




Other Historical fictions in American Mythology today reflect similar sentiments. Instead of the idyllic portraits of great men that we find in textbooks (or even comic books), we see the complex interactions between individuals who live in a morally grey zone. By toning down the rose tint, we can see beyond the nation's grand rise to power and acknowledge that at no point have times really been easy.

HBO's Boardwalk Empire takes place in the roaring twenties, when the 18th Amendment essentially restricted alcohol to a point where bootleggers were working in a free-market system. This allowed them to to collect great wealth, obtain great power, and occasionally accomplish great things. However, the actions various gangsters take to gain or retain their greatness/monopolies follow neither general idea of a 'good' man nor the idealized free-market system.

(A meeting of all the East coast bosses)

The main character, Enoch Thompson (aka Pasty Breadstick in a Bowtie), constantly re-balances his political and economic powers in order to create an image of a great man. In this scene particularly, he decides its better to deny his business partners booze (limit the free market) in exchange for a 'prettier' public face. Rosetti (the angry one) acts in the opposite manner, disregarding Thompson's overall well-being for greed. Audiences know Enoch Thompson as not the most morally sound individual, but at least he has some sense of gentlemanly character. Or not. Which may be the most surprising aspect of the show. Despite wanting to like any one of the characters, audiences must see them as willful participants in a corrupted system that operates under a facade of glamour.

In this way History surpasses Nostalgia in its message to the masses. Instead of longing for yester-year, the former sends a message of 'things can get better'. People can change, circumstances can alter. It's up to the hero to decide whether he or she will give up or move forward.

Que Donald Draper, Mad Men Season 1, Episode 1


Mad Men has largely been about the fall of the All-American hero. Audiences see Don as a flawed individual who hides his despair and vulnerability from the people around him. Throughout the series such deception drive him to act immorally, without regarding his actions as harmful to himself or others. In the above scene, he casually says he does not believe in the tomorrow. We know that this isn't the truth, and not just because we know the bomb didn't go off. He simply fears the past, choosing to ignore the gritty details. If you've watched the latest season, then hopefully you can compare this scene to the final one in the last episode. Don now looks to the past, not in fear of its consequences nor shame of its contents, but with a sense of pride and purpose. That is where he is from. From all that shit, he became...

Donald Fucking Draper
We'd prefer to hide away the dirty bandages and dead bodies of History, but they describe more authentically than the glorified poems written after the battle. Americans want to acknowledge the grime under their heroes' nails, because that's proof that they weren't divinely designated as saviors to society. Is the American Dream not to achieve greatness despite through equal opportunity, no matter your race, creed, gender, orientation, social status, etc? Our heroes must live with flaws in a past which is realistic. Americans look at History not to show off our grandiose rise to power, but to understand that despite whatever shit storm we're going through now, we will not only survive, but emerge [hopefully] as a better society..

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Man Inside the Can : Iron Man 3


Most of the hype surrounding Iron Man 3 (Marvel Studios, 2013) related to Robert Downey Jr.'s transformation into Tony Stark and China's enthusiasm for the American action films. I wasn't following in closely because I assumed it would be another explosion sequel that found some random Middle-Eastern villain to once again put the world at jeopardy and boost Tony Stark's ego. If we were lucky, there'd be a romantic scene and some chuckles.

Hah! Wasn't I surprised. Iron Man 3 is a well-crafted visual novella, complete with character development, plot twists, romance, motivated events, and, most of all, real-life situations that drive the storyline. It has less New American Mythology than most comic-book movies, but it excels at using monomyth to communicate a variety of society's concerns without being too heady or heavy. Good job director/writer Shane Black, writer Drew Pearce, and everyone else involved its making.

If you havn't already, I highly recommend you GO SEE THE MOVIE. Also, it's the only RealD movie I've seen that wasn't distractingly 3D. It enhanced the experience even.

Now, onto the post. I could writer several essays about Iron Man 3, but chose to follow Tony Stark's transformation along the hero epic cycle. I encourage you to think about the socio-political and culture implications of the movie on your own time.

Phrases in parenthesis that may not make sense refer to the hero epic cycle.


**Spoilers Beyond This Point**
That being said, the post assumes you've seen the movie.



The traumatized Tony Stark has lost the public cool he exudes in previous films; he does not go out to bask in the glory of his victory, nor does he gloat about it to his friends. An aloof hermit that can barely maintain his relationship with Pepper Potts, Stark pours himself into the 'hobby' of creating more suits. The charm and humor remain within him, but with a considerably more defensive flair.

Something is wrong with our ultra-cool super-hero. Much like Django Unchained, the director Shane Black eases audiences into the hero's perspective, rather than blatantly giving a name to whats going on. In doing so, the stigma and assumptions often attached to PTSD becomes less of focus, allowing audiences to better understand the character's struggle, not his disease. So while Pepper, Happy, and Col. Rhodes keep pressing Tony to pay attention to other matters, the audience sees how it's not as easy as "getting over it."



"Getting over it," is what drives the plot. In order to re-assimilate into culture and reconnect with loved ones, Tony Stark must redefine himself as a man, not a man-in-a-can. 

Tony Stark's identity is closely tied to the Iron Man suit, but unlike the suit he can, and nearly did, die. Shaken, he puts his efforts into making suits of all kinds. Of course, multiplying the number of suits does not help his situation, but drives him further away from society and loved ones. In the first Iron Man, Stark rockets over to Afghanistan to take out some low-level baddies just because. Now, when a mysterious explosion occurs and a maniacal terrorist claims there will be more, Stark seems to just panic and retreat even further into his fortress. (Refusal of the Call) This is where the testing of the hero comes in. The 'forces that be' remove Tony from the safety of familiar territory into a place where he is more vulnerable, but closer to his true identity.

The attack at the Chinese Theater first awakens Stark to action. Rather than going out and actually killing Mandarin however, he retreats into his Malibu mansion/Tower and relies on it/his suit to protect him and Pepper.  The second test, the attack on the mansion, forces Stark to mobilize. He encases Pepper in his suit, knowing it better protects her if she's in it than if he was in it covering her. Once he gets the suit back, its unreliability forces him to use brainpower over tech-weaponry. It also puts him dangerously close to death. Luckily J.A.R.V.I.S. (the Supernatural Aid) kicks in and saves Stark. At this moment, Stark crosses the threshold and begins his journey.



Largely without a suit, a supernatural aid, or any connection with his known world, Stark really is in a mystical land. With the help of a regular human kid, he uses good old fashioned sleuthing to find out whodunnit and howdunnit. Yes, JARVIS pinpoints the Mandarin's location, but it's Stark who creates a low-tech non-defensive arsenal to infiltrate the palace (Belly of the Whale). Here, Stark not only solves the mystery, but finds the solution to his psycological problem (the Boon): he doesn't need the suit to be a hero. In the conversation between Maya and Stark (The Meeting with the Goddess), Stark himself voices the knowledge that will free him from his trauma: he needs to hold onto his "Moral Psychology" and not forget why he started this Super-Hero thing. It's not about the theatrics or fame. Just as Killian doesn't need a cape to be a villain, Stark doesn't need the suit to be a hero.

Of course, Stark must return to his world with this knowledge in order to save himself. Killian hinders this psychological return when shows Pepper in pain and when he kills Maya (Apotheosis), creating a sense of helplessness/loss of identity that is necessary for his eventual rebirth.

The rest of the movie is Stark rebuilding himself has Iron Man. His escape from the palace involves faulty Mark 42, that keeps him from blasting off into heroics allowing him to slow down and think through a plan. The Barrel of Monkeys scene allows Stark to continue towards Pepper, while saving innocent people in a decidedly heroic fashion, regaining his confidence. In addition, the suit's destruction at the end of the scene shows the suit's vulnerabilities, while alerting the audience to Stark's strengthened psyche.

Reach out, he can't do it alone.


In the final fight sequence, Stark calls all the suits to action while he focuses on saving Pepper. Didn't quite catch the gravity of that? The suits act as offensive weapons while Stark plays a defensive role of saving the thing he loves most (opposite of what happened at the Malibu mansion). (Col. Rhodes doesn't get a suit for the same reason- he must make his way to the president and escape all with a defensive mentality.) When Stark does jump in a suit, his plans to use it tend to fail: He can't lift the debris off Pepper without killing her; Killian traps Stark in it; After slicing of Killian's arm with the suit, the whole floor caves in; The point where a suit would be most useful, Stark can't get one because all of them are fighting and therefore he can't run to or reach Pepper in time; The suit becomes a hindrance during the fight sequence with Killian. Even when Stark finally lets go of the armor by encasing Killian, he doesn't win, just creates a big explosion. The suit is not a hero.

It takes Pepper's rebirth and near second death for Stark to finally remember what it is to be a hero. The suit attacks Pepper, exactly the opposite of what Stark designed it to do. Pepper, in complete bad-ass fashion, takes down the suit, then uses it to destroy Killian, saving Stark,  and becomes the hero.

She was already a hero.

What does that mean exactly? Tony Stark doesn't need the suit. He needs Pepper (i.e. human relationships); she is a force more powerful than machine. Without her, and the other people he cares for, he would not be Iron Man; he would be a deranged engineer without a moral psycology. Being a super-hero isn't about the indestructible "false-faces" that the public sees, but defending what you believe in.

Stark destroys his fleet of autonomous suits not just to make Pepper happy, but because he realizes that he, a human being, is Iron Man not the suits. He is not a 'god' whose identity is tied to a super-persona. Unlike Thor or Capt. America, he is a vulnerable, flawed individual. Stark no longer fears his mortality, but understands it as an integral part of his self that brings him closer to the people in his life, and thereby makes his heroics more meaningful. What's more, the people around him recognize his vulnerability, know he can't do it all, and are still willing to say "I got you." They don't expect him to be a super-hero/god, but a man.


Stark's Return (to the realm of mortality)




I welcome your comments below.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Don't be Oblivious: The Obvious Myth in Oblivion


[This post has spoilers.

Really quickly, where did Spring go? We've started the Summer Blockbuster season, and I havn't posted in over a month! Mostly because there wasn't much interesting going on. Besides the ends of several comedy TV series... ]

Okay, who though Oblivion (Universal Pictures, 2013) was going to be another weird Tom Cruise movie? I certainly did. Cruise is generally not an actor I follow, because I associate him with the 80s and 90s (and Scientology). Really that's not fair. His career doesn't have the normal dips and turns as other action movie stars; he's consistently made three star and above quality films since the start of his career, and the only year 21st century he didn't have a movie coming out was 2009, which is kind of excusable since he had two movies come out in 2008.

When I heard Oblivion was "actually really good," I was skeptical. Through a coin-toss I saw it instead of The Place Behind the Pines. Good choice. It contains a lot of New American Mythology themes and motifs. The following is a quick rundown of these. I thought the plot was fairly obvious, but if you're wanting to keep the movie's plot twists a surprise, don't continue to read, particularly the ones marked with ***. They're all kind of spoilers though.

Basically, I've highlighted how Oblivion uses the motifs in New American Mythology. The terms are not literal representations, but act more as metaphors. Brush up on the terminology by clicking on "Lexicon" above. Use this post as a way to better understand the Myth, and how it influences our culture.






Astronaut - Jack Harper, the main character, lives in isolation with his work and love partner, Victoria. He repairs drones which guard saltwater collectors. The saltwater will be converted into energy for humanity's exodus to Titan. Jack uses his high and low-tech know how to keep the drones running and protect the human race. ***We find out Jack Harper was actually an astronaut in his previous life. He and a crew were going to Titan to assess if human could live there; when their mission changes he chooses to pursue the danger alone (with Victoria) rather then put the rest of his crew in danger. Jack's final sacrifice at the movie's end, solidifies his mythological Astronaut status.

Cowboy - Jack acts directly against his orders multiple times, mostly on gut reactions. His collection of various human objects connects him to his true human self. His "lonesome" rides in the helicopter and fondness for his motorcycle are not unlike a man in the desert on a horse


***Zombie - Jack's previous incarnations followed orders, blindly killing off most of humanity. It sounds like they traveled in hordes, acting senselessly en mass. Victoria remains a Zombie, blindly following her programing to her demise, despite the evidence in front of her. Also, Jack dies and 'comes back to life' through Tech 52 in order to live happily ever after.


Illumination! 

Black - Of course Morgan Freeman plays the Black god (of war)! In this narrative, Malcolm Beech leads humanity's last stand. Not only does he come up with the strategy for taking down TET, he's the one who sees Jack as the key to their salvation and shows him the Road to self-discovery. ***His death marks the end of the war, a passing of an era. With his and Jack's death, the world can be reborn.

Girl - Victoria tries to break away from the 'system' that holds her, but in the end she cannot side with Jack. She finds the small plant he gives her abhorrent, because it may ruin their chances of going to Titan with the rest of humanity. Really, it shows her lack of humanity and her assimilation into the TET's false reality.

Amazon - Julia, a 'Russian' cosmonaut, is only an Amazon when compared to Victoria. Overall she's a weak female character, but does hold important knowledge that allows Jack to free his mind, proving herself not to be a threat to Jack and superior to Victoria.


Scavs in the concept art from the unpublished (non-existent) graphic novel Oblivion was based on.
Illustration by  AndrĂ©e Wallin
 

Aliens - The Scav are Jack's main threat. They attack the drones, but without any real purpose. Victoria ponders why they would try to destroy the drones, why they would send an off-world signal, and why they are there at all. They are irrational, threatening creatures. (Or are they...?)

The West - Jack's excursions in the the wastelands gives him the freedom to explore the world around him without the rules of the Sky Tower. He can fix drones with gum, pick up curious objects, and wear a Yankee cap, all of which don't follow protocol. The potential run into the dangerous Scavs doesn't deter him from the potential of finding something new. Additionally, his (Rocky Mountain) retreat is an eden free from TET's (society's) prying eyes.




***Space - TET, which exists in space, is Jack and Victoria's source of information, their salvation (to Titan), their creation (via cloning), and their destruction (drones). On the flip side of the coin, Jack must enter TET's realm in order to save humanity, recreate himself, and destroy the threat.

***The City - TET supposedly holds most of the human race, waiting on a few techs to return before blasting off into Space. However, it turns out to be the lack of humanity rather than its salvation. TET programs Jack and Victoria to despise the past human life. Victoria especially follows TET's orders, fearing she'll lose her spot to Titan while not realizing she's lost her humanity.

Nostalgia - Jack's fascination with artifacts and history goes beyond topical interest. He collects small items and arranges them lovingly in his cottage. They remind him of the past glory of humanity, whereas Victoria sees them as radioactive remenants of war.

***The Road - After meeting Morgan Freeman's character, Jack must take a journey of self discovery. He starts out on a bike and drives to the Empire State building, where he finds his other half. He then returns to the Sky Tower, where he must destroy his past beliefs/self. Then, he goes through an hazardous journey across the radiation zone and meets his true self. This journey gives him the strength and conviction to save humanity.
 
 ***The Tower - 1) TET, a tower in the sky, supposedly awaits to deliver humanity to Titan and save all of mankind. However, we find out that it's not the salvation of mankind, but its destruction. This technological entity that Jack and Victoria believe holds the entire world has destroyed it. 2) The Empire State Building holds the key to Jack's humanity; his memories of the tower remain, and it's where his memories return to him. Before his memories return, the tower signifies the destruction of his past, and (literally) signals for its return. 3) The Sky-Tower (home-base) protects Jack and Victoria from Scavs and radiation. It's how they can live in such a hostile environment. However it also shelters them from the truth, preventing Victoria particularly from reconnecting to her original self.

At the Tower, all is made clear.



 There you go folks. Now stop saying I'm making this shit up! The terms may be outlandish, but sometimes we only notice the extremes.

Comment below!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

My Kind of Feminism

The following essay doesn't quite fall under New American Mythology. I've posted it here for several reasons, first being I don't have another public forum to share it with the world other than through a GoogleDoc. People seem to be skeptical about Google's sharing policies, so I decided to avoid that. The second reason is that 'feminism' has resurfaced in popular culture after what seems like the hiatus during the 2000s. Lastly, it's important that my readers understand what stance I take as a feminist because the term feminist often comes with preconceptions and misconceptions that I may not follow. Many of my posts have come from this feminist perspective, and I hope that my readers will understand those posts better after reading this essay.

Thank you.






The first encounter I remember with the term feminism was in my high-school Environmental Science class. My notes from the class define 'Ecofeminism' as "an ethic (applied philosophy that addresses the moral conduct of people and the environment) which believes that humans need to have a less domineering relationship with nature." The second encounter with the term was in my last year of college during a "Issues and Criticism of Contemporary Art Class." Our class discussed one of the several definitions from our text book, Why is That Art? by Terry Barrett, the main one being "...to be feminist is a political choice, a choice toward action to resist and to change the status quo." I may have been too busy rolling my eyes at the professor to catch all of what 'feminist' art entailed, but that definition did sink in (more so than the one in the back of the book). And, as I do, I mixed it with my previous understanding of the term to come up with something I liked, something I wanted to be.



Astronaut, Cowboys, and Zombie Original Image

My feminism comes down to a single moral: one entity is not superior to another just because a society says so. A very American ideal. Instead, we should base individuals' or items' value on their own merits. Is a tulip better than a dandelion? Yes, you can buy tulips OR No, you can't eat a tulip. They serve different purposes, so why should you automatically say one is better than the other? Because Home Depot sells dandelion herbicide and tulip bulbs? Incorrect, that's just a social construct telling you that one is better than the other because having tulips means you have room in your 18th century garden to grow non-edible plants. Feminism is not about blindly following what other people say, and a feminist questions the status quo. [Note: I did not say feminists take political action every chance they get. You can be a feminist without leaving your couch.]

Such a definition requires me to actively approach situations with skepticism. People often dismiss feminists as 'crazy' women who jump to conclusions (formerly known as 'Man-Eaters'). People of color get the same dismissal by the name of 'Playing the Race Card'. The problem is, when an individual lives in a society where he or she often is treated unfairly, a misunderstanding comes off as inequality. A feminist calling out every situation as an instance of inequality makes people more aware of the frequency of inequality and can give others' the courage to stand up to the inequality they see around them. Without vocal skepticism, Brown vs the Board of Education could not have ignited an entire civil rights movement that ended legal racial segregation.

Which brings me to a component of my feminism that may not be so obvious: Feminism is not solely about women's oppression. I can apply it to issues regarding the environment, race, sexual-orientation, socio-economic class, mental health, age, etc. Hell, I can apply it to the Nielson Rating System. Anytime a society shows unwarranted bias towards a particular group. Magazines, for example, feature more whites than non-whites on their covers, and thereby undervalue people of color. Ebony, and other magazines specifically aimed towards non-whites, does not feature whites on its cover. I do not see Ebony as undervaluing whites, but following a warranted bias to make up for the lack of non-whites in the larger magazine industry. Giving special opportunities to 'the oppressed', whoever 'they' are, may seem unfair, but forcing society to do so may be the only way to provide them equal opportunity.

Magazines that cater to fringe groups:
Ceramics Monthly
(Ceramists), Out (Gay & Lesbians), Ebony (African Americans), VegNews (Vegans), Ms. (Feminist Women)


Let's move on to specifics. It just so happens that I am a woman, and therefore I am more aware of the inequality facing women. The perceived role of women in society particularly irks me.

Now, don't assume that I think every woman should go out and be the breadwinner just because I said 'role of women'. I believe that every individual should choose what they want to do with their life. What a novel idea. If a woman wants to go and make a dozen children while keeping the house clean and going to soccer practice, fine. As long as that is what she wants to do. On the other hand, if she wants to put off having a baby for a few years to make a career that supports her family, then she should have the right to do so, and she should be paid as much as her male peers.

Those are obvious examples. From personal experience, I do not want to hear a so-called feminist male mentor that moving in with my partner to figure out what I'm doing after I graduate means I'm becoming a house-wife. That happened. Twice. Nor do I want the secretary job over the manual labor one, nor do I prefer wine to beer, nor do I want to 'teach' art over being a professional artist, nor do I prefer to keep my mouth shut when I have an opinion. These things make me rage.

It's not even a matter of being treated like a man, but as a human being. Give me choices. Assume that I wish to exert my will. Know that I am capable of learning. Acknowledge my ambition. Realize that I am not just a biological entity.

Yes, I have the ability to grow a baby, and men would like to have the opportunity to jump start that process in me. That is not my sole purpose in life. Does this mean I shouldn't wear lipstick or heels? No. If men can go around using their 'machismo' to get ahead, then I should be able to use my femininity to get ahead. So while the male peer interjects his unrelated opinions in the middle of a conversation, I'll give him smile and eye bat to shut him up and then blatantly ignore him while I finish my conversation. I could be more assertive and outspoken, but really its not me. That's all I want: to be me.

You may not agree with everything I've said here, but I sincerely hope you follow my definition of feminism, even if you don't want to call it feminism. Reducing someone or something to one attribute is never a good idea: We are complex organisms living in a complex world. I won't continue to summarize this big concept. Instead, I'll let the most perfectly feminist film do it for me:



The internet is for dialogue. Please Comment.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Welcome to Pluralism



I'm not sure if people quite understand the gravity of this commercial. Society doesn't seem to comprehend the individuals ability to capture "the entire gallery of humanity." "A billion photojournalists" roaming the world is written off as a billion adolescent-minded individuals sexting each other. People tend to forget the news' lack of on-the-ground reporting and reliance on YouTube, Twitter, and other mobile uploads. What's more, society accepts this as a  as a way of establishing the group consciousness/opinion on things. Now, why this is important is because its the signal that the Digital Age has really begun and with it, a new way of seeing life.

The dawn of the Industrial Age wasn't important just because society got trains, but because it was a shift in how society thought (Modernism). As industrialism developed, grew, and morphed into what it was at the end of the 20th Century, Modernism developed, grew, and morphed into what's called Postmodernism. Today the Industrial Age (of America) fades away and Post-Modernist thought is shifting into Pluralism. The term Pluralism hasn't quite found its footing; the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy vaguely defines it as  referring "to the view that there are many of the things in question (concepts, scientific world views, discourses, viewpoints etc.) The issues arising from there being many differ widely from subject area to subject area." I'm using the term as a concept which takes into account its past uses, but also as an entirely new term. [Think, What was Modernism in 1860?]

Because Pluralism is this 'radical' new concept that will continue to change for decades, it'll be easiest to talk about Pluralism by describing how it departs from Postmodernism.* Because this blog is about pop culture, and most people are familiar with pop culture, I'll be using it to help illustrate my points. Here we go.

? ? ?

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy starts its page on Postmodernism as such:
That postmodernism is indefinable is a truism. However, it can be described as a set of critical, strategic and rhetorical practices employing concepts such as difference, repetition, the trace, the simulacrum, and hyperreality to destabilize other concepts such as presence, identity, historical progress, epistemic certainty, and the univocity of meaning.
If that makes you say wtf, watch this:


This 'destabilizing'/'questioning' mentality has been around since the end of McCarthyism, blossomed with the flower children, changed the world with the civil rights movements, became academic with the goths, hung out with youth culture, and started to break down in the 2000s.

In addition, this questioning was aimed towards exploring individualism, history, and purpose through postulations such as 'Who am I?', 'How do I fit into this world?', 'What's the point of it all?' without any real answers. To sum it up in one word: Lost.

Lost is all about the WTFs

As I recall, millions of viewers were outraged/blown-away by the series' vague un-conclusion. They all wanted to know what it meant, where the answers were. They had invested in six seasons just to be left with a giant question mark. But, you see, JJ Abrams is a Postmodernist and never had any answer to begin with. It was all about the questioning.

Pluralists will continue asking questions, but instead of letting them linger like the smell of a unbathed hippie, they will actually try to answer them. Uncertainty will remain, as pluralists ackowledge several viewpoints exists for each question asked, so don't expect the ? to disappear completely.

ABC's Once Upon a Time illustrates this concept with its character background stories which reveal each character's motivations as neither inherently good nor inherently bad. Snow White is equally a dumbass little girl as as a sweet sacrificial woman. Her step-mother is just as much of a protective mother as a vengeful witch. Although the characters have their own conceptions of who is good or evil, the viewers get to see what events made those notions come about, and judge for themselves whether hatred is warranted. What's more, Once Upon a Time investigates the ethical and moral questions of Lost on a wider social level instead of the individual's.

Emma (Blonde): The woman who gave up her baby for adoption and now wants to snatch him away.
Regina (Brunette): Adoptive mother who would do anything to keep the son she raised and loves.
Now who's the baddie?


Lost
What did I do to deserve to be put in this isolation? Here are some things that I did, but why? Is it fate? Is it punishment? Is it salvation? What's the point? wtf? ? ? ? ?

Once Upon a Time
What did I do to deserve to be put in this isolation? Oh yea, I pissed off the evil queen. And she had a rough childhood. That doesn't really excuse her behavior, but maybe we should stop giving her a hard time. After all, we're all in this together. Shouldn't we trust her?

Hierarchy

Modernism was about breaking down hierarchy and rejecting tradition. Postmodernists, in my opinion, focused their efforts on rejecting tradition more than dismantling the hierarchy. Nonrepresentational paintings became high art, but paintings were still considered the highest art form. Women were given the right to vote, but they weren't encouraged to climb the political ladder. Universities opened their doors to anyone that could pay, but only on the notion that having a degree makes one superior to one without a degree. In a sense, Postmodernism was more about equal opportunity, not equality.

The popular media hierarchy placed each media (and genres) on a scale from most to least important to society. I'm not saying that all movies were better than TV shows, but generally  movie premiers were more anticipated than TV, and certainly more money was dumped into movies than TV shows. Looking at the hierarchy ten years ago, we can better understand how movies, television, and print media shaped society's outlook.

I probably ought to have named television comedy as television fairy tales.

You should note that Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Pianist also kept with a clear Good vs Evil hierarchy system, in which Good is always the hero. The reality TV and drama series also relied on the ? of Postmodernism: Reality TV was literally unscripted, and the next move was unknown, and the dramas were all about whodunnit/howtofixit.  Print media were not nearly as influential as they had been 50 years earlier, but they still influenced the movie industry (See: LOTR, HP). Magazines were only important as dumping grounds for information on the other media- people still bought TV Guides. Meanwhile video games remained in its own little bubble; its flirtation with other media was limited to Lara Croft and Pokemon. This 'thing' called the internet was used to send emails and instant messages. MySpace didn't even exist until the following year.

Now if we turn to the media hierarchy of last year:


... we can see its a lot more messy. Things are overlapping, feeding each other, and becoming more blurred overall.

Movies still rank supreme, but endure the same acclaim as quite a few miniseries. We have Game of Thrones, Girls, Newsroom, Downton Abbey, Homeland, and Boardwalk Empire, all of which have caused as much stir within the general public as Argo, The Avengers, or The Dark Knight Rises. If someone said you could watch either Game of Thrones OR Man of Steel, but not both, which would you pick?

Video games have replaced print media, giving players the opportunity to experience the heroics on their own terms. The dialogue between movies, television, and games has shifted into a two way street, where the making of one influences the making of the other. With additional non-video games influencing movies, such as GI Joe or Battleship, it's safe to say [Video] Games deserves a place in the media hierarchy. Meanwhile, print media has dropped magazines but embraced comics. Print does not hold as much say as the other media (with perhaps the exceptions of Fifty Shades of Grey or The Hunger Games), and are more notable for their contributions to the higher media. 

The genres are shifting as well. People still watch American Idol and the X Factor, but they are way more concerned about the recent death of a Downton Abbey character than the elimination of singer. We also have literal fairy tales becoming Heroics (Once Upon a Time, Snow White and The Huntsman, Jack the Giant Slayer**, etc).

(Twilight) Book -> Movie- > Fanfiction -> (50 Shades) Book -> Movie
Anything is possible with Pluralism!
And here's a Entertainment Weekly telling you this information.



Pluralism, at this point, has not destroyed the hierarchy, but it definatly has shifted things to more equal ground, largely thanks to the internet. It shows society the potential of a formally inconsequential entity (video-games), warns against dismissing the lone voice on the internet (fanfiction), and gives the hierarchy structure less power overall (Kickstarter). In other aspects of society, Pluralism suggests people confront 'the system' head on; from the radical Occupy Wall Street to the more banal Twitter contributions to the news. The people's opinion is just as important as the expert's analysis. (That's why Wikipedia has become a semi-legitimate source of knowledge.) We don't yet recognize congress as equal to congress or gay marriage equal to straight marriage, but I believe we'll get there sooner rather than later.

Post-Postpostmodernism

If you hang around educated art types, you've probably heard them say Post-Postpostmodernism or postpostpostpostmodernism or postpostpostpostpostpostmodernism and laughed at them because they were trying to be funny. Right? Nope. That's what they call it. It's not a joke. Why keep adding post, why not just make a new word? Because they're Postmodernists that's why. Unable to commit to hard facts they tentatively stick there toes in the water and tell you its a different temperature. There's even a thing as Postmodern Pluralism (as opposed to Post-Postmodern Pluralism). The hanging chads of 'post', to me, represent Postmodernism inability to let go of history.

Postmodernism was all about what baggage you were carrying. Did you use the ultramarine because it used to be reserved for the Virgin Mary's cloak? Oh, you use gunpowder because you're Chinese and that's a part of you ancestry? Your abstract paintings still discuss painting's ability to create movement without moving even though we have things like video? These sculptures are impressive but they're still narrative ceramics pieces so let's ignore them. (Do you see the hierarchy of history here?)

In pop media, we see that movies 'have to be good' just because they star Bruce Willis, Liam Neeson, Tom Cruise, or Denzel Washington. Of course, if you're not that into stars, why not catch Fast & Furious 6, from a series which took its name from a 1955 film. Then you can watch Planes, a spin off of Pixar's Cars and Cars 2. We also have Charlie's Angels, both the movie and television remakes, True Grit, Dark Shadows, any comic book movie, Hawaii Five-O, and so on.


Getting over Postmodernism's attachment to history will probably be the hardest task for Pluralists. Its not as if we'll be ignoring history- Postmodernists have made that impossible. Instead of keeping the past just off center, Pluralists will have to turn their heads away and keep it in the corner of their eye. By doing this, they will have the change to create something new, to adventure into the unknown.

Arguably, Django Unchained represents this transition best. Tarantino used the familiar and dated, format of the western to explore themes of the current black man's hardships. He showed, quite graphically, the history of slavery without explicitly pointing it out as 'a camera pan about slavery'. The scenes of slaves lined up about to be auctioned off was not Spielberg-ian lament for our past, but a matter of fact display of history. Tarantino does not force sympathy onto the audience, but allows them to slip into empathy on their own. Django represents the black man of today, who walks around carrying that history with him; it's not something to be erased or lamented, but something that needs to be acknowledged. Django Unchained did not stick to all the trademarks of westerns, but used them to frame a new perspective of the black American. The use of the western genre allowed the audience to see Django as an American hero-Cowboy, rather than the  angry black man.


So what's the difference between Postmodernism's, Post-Postpostmodernism's, and Pluralism's history? It's the way they use it.

Postmodernists say to themselves, "Ahah! People like X, so if I add a little bit of my own Y here, they'll like XY, and I'll do well."

Post-Postpostmodernists (which are really Postmodernists) come along blabbing, "People love XY, I'm going to add with M, N, P, to get XYM, XYN, or XYP, They'll love it too."  [Yes, these are awful examples. I'm sure good Post-postpostmodernists exist somewhere...]

Pluralists, on the other hand, think, "So people know about A. I'll multiply it with my B and get C, D, or F. Let's see if they like it."

It's time to let go of the past, Postmodernists. Drop the extra baggage of 'posts' and embrace Pluralism.

Conclusion

You can see how answered questions, a destabilized hierarchy, and a looser grip on history relate to one another. By answering your questions, you destabilize the hierarchy of knowledge or power. By taking away the hierarchy you make history (inherited knowledge/power) less of a concern. By not relying on history, you can find the courage to ask the questions that need to be answered.





Obviously, the introspective unanswered questions, the hierarchy, and the use of history will not be the only things that change because of Pluralism. They are the things that are easy to illustrate and easier to see happening in our culture at this moment in time. The Digital Age evolves and mutates so quickly that society can hardly keep up; but if we look close enough we can see a new species of thought form in front of our eyes.

The Hierarchical filing system of Windows 98 vs the Pluralist One-for-All screen of Windows 8
We owe a lot to the Modernists and Postmodernist, many of whom created the tools we use today.  We shouldn't fixate on their ideas, but bounce off them and create our own hard-to-follow declarations. Trying to emulate the past won't make us thrive in the present; we are no longer the society that stares in wonder at tubed paints or fears a communist invasion or blames women for sexuality. Let's shift our focus to the wonders of technology, our unsettling relationship with capitalist China, and the great accomplishments of women.

Pluralism isn't about stopping to ponder why a raven is like writing desk, nor is it about finding your feelings. Those times are over. The recession demands people not wait for something to happen, doing so just make things worse. It's not a time to linger in the dank cave of familiarity. It's a time to shift our perspectives and communicate with each other.


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*While reading this, remember that I'm better versed in the world of Visual Arts than the other liberal arts. I also have my own opinions of what Modernism/Post-Modernism is. If you're using this for your book report instead of doing actual research, don't.  If you're looking for an easy academic comparison go here. Personally, I think it has some things wrong, but that's me.

** I saw Jack the Giant Slayer this weekend. It's not a Heroic Epic; despite the epic battle scenes with deafening sound effects, the ending is clearly that of a status-quo Fairy Tale. (Also, there's not a single person of color in it. Not even in the background.) 

2002 Magazine Circulation
2002 Movies
2002 Television

The internet is for dialogue. Please comment.

Monday, February 18, 2013

And Beyond

In the previous post I discussed AXE's new advertising campaign which utilizes the Astronaut archetype to sell their new product. Essentially, AXE promises that their product will transport the consumer from the real world to the land of mythology, where anything can happen. This is the basis for pretty much all advertising: a Subaru will bring you love; eating McDonald's shows intelligence; drinking Budweiser makes you a part of something greater. These are all things that happen in the hero's journey. I.E. At the end of the quest, Mario gets Princess Peach, Desmond learns the way to the Truth, and, well, Call of Duty soldiers cheer that they survived.

All the heroes go through amazing journeys to accomplish amazing things. They move and shake the world to protect and better it, allowing them to gain happiness, success, and immortality. Society takes note of their actions, and emulate them however they can in the real world. No, they're not literally shooting up the whole plantation house, but they're standing up for themselves and demanding change. Now, most of these heroic acts, whether through buying products, playing a video game character, or watching them in a TV show or movie, are performed by male heroes.

At the end of his Astronaut journey, Pi finds unshakable Faith
Life of Pi, Fox 2000 Pictures, 2012
 I have already gone over the implications of hyper-masculine heroes, as well as the exclusion of girls from movie culture. This post is not an argument for more heroines, but one that explores the implications of male archetypes as a heroes/role models for females. Not in the Freudian sense, which where the male hero would be a father-figure type that she would find sexual attraction to. (After all the friend-zone actually exists.) Is it so hard to conceive a woman identifying with Capt. Jack Sparrow, Batman, or even Simba? Just because society says that Hollywood stars are sexy doesn't mean that women can't learn from their characters' struggles.

Let's take Capt. Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. This Cowboy wants to be free, independent, and rich (in rum), and is very adamant about maintaining these characteristics. On the other hand, Elizabeth Swan, the female protaganist, starts out as a fairly demure dame, who seems rather resigned to marry the stuffy British Navy(?) guy. It's not until she's kidnapped by Sparrow that her heroic attributes appear; she's emulates her captor in order to escape him, and become her own free, independent, and rich (in love) person. So, even if the female viewer is looking to Swan for guidance, she's really looking to Sparrow.

Now, we have a young woman using the techniques of her male heroes in order to get what she wants in life: a free, independent, and rich. She's not above bending the rules, not telling the whole truth, or or drinking her fair share of liquid courage. I mean, that's what Capt. Sparrow did, and perhaps she wants to continue living out her bachelor-ette life in frivolity and fun.

 
Elizabeth Swann manipulates Capt. Jack Sparrow using her sexuality. and targeting his weakness (for rum).
In this clever and piratesque act, she gains control of the rum stash, and proceeds to burn it, thereby saving herself (and the Capt.)
Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, Walt Disney Pictures, 2003  


People, however, don't expect that out of a woman. After all Swan ends up sacrificing this, that, or the other thing in order to be with her have a true love (and a baby). It's the the fairy-tale status-quo happy ending for heroines: meet guy, fall in love, have baby, the end. Meanwhile, Sparrow (and Turner) gets to trapeze the seas and continue to pursue his dream of immortality, as in never ending. American myth/society expects women to eventually end up in the domestic role, never mind what the woman actually wants for herself. We can argue that the women have a biological desire to have children, or just concede that its a sociological pressure.


A Pirate-Woman's Bliss: Where you get to raise a child on your own and see your immortal husband every 10 years.
Puts another twist on Sparrow's "Now Bring me that horizon"
 (Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, after credits scene, 2007)

A 'tomboy' attitude is acceptable to a point; wanting to be a leader, express your opinions, acknowledging a sex-drive, and (heaven forbid) being independent don't sound like inherently bad things for a woman, but when put into action people become off-put. Whether they be the woman's coworker, boss, love interest, or stranger, the masculine personality clashes with expectations and causes friction. Some people reading this are thinking, 'not at all, sounds like an awesome woman to me.' Which is true, but is it because the standard is different for women than it is for men. Exceeding expectations is nice, but that is not the same as being judged differently because people don't expect you to succeed? Do you expect this woman to obtain her happiness, which may or may not include becoming mother or other 'domestic' role?

No one believes in the true female-hero. As Anne-Marie Slaughter discussed in her article Why Women Still Can't Have It All last year, everyone has an opinion about what a woman ought to do in order to be 'feminist', 'proper', or 'realistic'. A man moving in with his girlfriend is considered manly and making a commitment.* Society congratulates him on becoming an adult. Meanwhile the woman is seen as giving up on a career and resigning to a life of homemaking OR as a floozy who can't keep up appearances OR as a poor decision because romance isn't real. A no win situation. A Girl's situation.

I could write a whole post about how Merida didn't fulfill all our expectations.
Brave, Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar Animation Studios, 2012
So while AXE encourages young males to blast into space and enter the world of mythology, young women look on with contempt, while celebrating the woman who will be an iconoclast. She won't be a woman who became an Astronaut hero. Her own aspirations of as an individual will be eclipsed by the larger message. She'll be a woman who infiltrated the male hierarchy, who exceeded the expectations that society put on her.

I don't want readers to get the wrong idea. I support women's rights, promoting gender equality, and showing off its amazing women heroes. What I mean by this post is, women are not seen as equal to men. Even with a male mindset, females have to battle against society's conventions. Society (as a generalization) does not think women capable of residing in the land of mythology. It's a reality that can't be escaped: Women who emulate their masculine heroes may go 'beyond' expectations, but still fall short of reaching infinity.



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* Yes this is a generalized statement. But when was the last time you heard a man criticized for moving in with his girlfriend because 'he needed to go to college' or 'Was being immoral'? I would be a lot less times than if they were directed towards a woman. Please tell me if you think this is unfair. I don't but, hey, maybe I'm a feminist bee.

Monday, February 11, 2013

To Infinity

AXE, the adolescent fragrance line, has taken a note from Redbull. They're sponsoring a private trip to space and using it to advertise their product line, Apollo. However, the 'astronauts' on the trip won't be some daredevil or the CEO; they're holding a competition where contestants must be up-voted. The top ten will then go to space camp, and the two that do best there will strap in and ship out to space.

Both AXE and Redbull produce products largely aimed towards males, and, arguably, towards white males. AXE, obviously, is made for males only, so it makes sense for them to only advertise to males. They do have some commercials featuring non-whites (see below), but they all give about the same message.

 

As in all AXE commercials, the spot implies that using AXE products negates women's sexual selection process, and they will all but lay down and spread their legs for you based on the scent. Effective for a teenage boy. The product supposedly allows the teenager to enter into a fictional realm of happily ever after. It will create an aura around him of sexual worthiness, much like that of the hero of myth.

The new product line, Apollo, takes it one step further. Watch this commerical:



Earlier AXE commercials merely gave ordinary boys (I will not say men) the ability to catch a sexually willing woman without any sort of effort. No clear job, no saying hello, no smile. Divine women would lower their standards for him, just because he smelt good. With the Apollo line, boys don't even have to compete with the handsome, athletic, and productive. It doesn't even the playing field, but gets rid of it with a mask of musk.

I love, love, love these commercials because they are pretty clear evidence of my theories on New American Mythology. "Nothing Beats an Astronaut ... Ever" I mean, come on, that's awesome. It reverses the 'angels fall to earth' scheme to 'we'll send yo to the heavens'. Even the tagline for the space academy competition creates a sense of epic purpose: "Leave a Man. Come back a Hero" Its so beautifully full of New American Mythology.


AXE is using the Astronaut to sell their products to teens who subscribe, subconsiously or not, to the mythology behind the archetype. The Astronaut always wins, the Astronaut is the hero. And its not a phenomenon only AXE has picked up on:


This minute-long origin story implies that all babies (read: the winning sperm) are Astronauts.  They go through an mystical epic journey launching from an eden [West] to the unknown of Space, to arrive here on Earth. How heroic.The fact that the dad 'saves the day' (obscures the truth) and turns on the CD player via voice command serves to reinforce the idea of the fictionalized world as better than reality.

That is to say, the ideas behind Mythology hold a more valuable lesson than those of science. And this is an American truth. You, small boy, were one out of a whole planet, chosen(?) to launch into space and arrive here. You are special. E pluribus unum. Because you did that, you can do so much more, like get any girl to throw herself on you, and all will be well.

Star Trek, 2009
AXE Apollo worked for resident nerd Spock.
How else would he have gotten Uhura over Kirk? Brains? psh.


 It is a much nicer thing to say than: After a lot of maturation, courting, and financial stability, your mother and I did the horizontal mambo, where one of my sperm happened to run into one of your mom's ~400 eggs at the right time, and made it through the crazy thing called gestation without any major mutations or hiccups. One day you can do that too, but only after you figure out how to make your advantages stand out more than your flaws to a woman, then convince her its a good idea to commit to you (or vice versa), and then hope that everything will not be disastrous.

The odds are against us all. We need mythology to give us some direction in our lives, to give us aspirations, to give us examples of what we could do. AXE is tapping into the mythology blurring the line of reality even more. Whoever goes up is not going to be a real astronaut, not in the sense of James Lovell or Buzz Aldrin- they won't be in charge. They will get a simulacra of an experience in which all will be real except for their actual roles as astronauts. But that's not the point. AXE isn't just offering a free ride to space; it's offering an escape from reality.

Plan B: Cosplay!
Found here.


AXE Apollo promises to the males out there that they can, in fact, become the Astronauts they see in the movies. The AXE Apollo campaign will send you to Space, to infinity. Just like Disneyland and Universal Studios, AXE Apollo Space Academy allows you, the person from reality, to enter the realm of mythology. Just a a fashion photo shoot in TeenVogue promises young girls buying such-n-such products will make you more like a 'princess'/heroine, therefore more appealing, and therefore happier, AXE Apollo promises to make boys more of a hero, more appealing, and therefore happier.

Emma Watson in TeenVogue, August 2009
The situation is a bit ridiculous, but, hey, I'm jealous.

The difference in a fashion magazine and a TV commercial, however, is very, very different. In the relevance hierarchy of New American Mythology, print media is always at the bottom AND heroic epic always trumps fairy tales.* If 'nothing beats an Astronaut', where does that leave Ms. Watson? As far as I could tell magic couldn't launch her into space, and those ponies can't pull a carriage10ft, let alone to the moon.

Advertising heroism to only men has multiple implications to both male and female psyche. However, I'll save that rant for the next post: And Beyond



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*Or not. I'm currently working out the new fairy-tale fad.