Monday, June 27, 2011

"hey bunny, watch me pull a tiger out of my hat." "again?"

After re-reading yesterday's post on Tiger & Bunny, I realized I provided more of a plot summary with some commentary than a honest-to-goodness review, you know, with criticism and stuff, of the first 14 episodes. With your indulgence, imma try to correct that now.

Part of what inspired this revisit was this review of the first episode entitled "Tiger and Bunny is an Anime for Old Men that Kids Should Definitely Watch." The basic thrust of the review is that Kotetsu, a veteran hero well above the average age of your typical anime hero, makes for a different kind of story, one with layers rarely explored directly in anime.

That's definitely something novel about the show as a whole. Almost all of the characters are adults except for Dragon Kid, who is very much a teenager. If the inspiring, talented newcomer Barnaby Brooks, Jr. is a nearly ancient and decrepit 24 years old typical anime standards. Sky High, Rock Bison, and Fire Emblem are all men in there mid to late twenties, if not in the 30s along with Kotetsu. Blue Rose lives at home with her parents and is too young to drink as pointed out in an episode but it's not clear exactly how close to 20 she is. Origami Cyclone is recently out of the Hero training academy and probably somewhere between 18 and 20.

There are a couple of other anime I can think of like this, populated mostly by adults rather than relying on teenagers to save the world. Cowboy Bebop, for instance. Jet's already had a career as a seasoned veteran of the ISSF before becoming a bounty hunter. Spike's grown up around the Red Dragon cartel. And Faye is a hundred and something, give or take a few decades, though she's clearly out of high school.

And then there's Ghost in the Shell. Not super talented teens among the ranks of Section 9. Just cyborg veterans Major Kusanagi, Batou, and the experienced but 100% Ishikawa and no super genius kids behind the plot.

Trigun also features a mostly adult cast. Vash grew up from adolescent on the ship to adult on the planet. Wolfwood is a mercenary in it to support an orphanage. And even if they look a little young, Meryl and Milly are both adults. No teens would be needed in the glamorous, planet-saving role of insurance agents.

And, perhaps not unsurprisingly, Cowboy Bebop, Ghost in the Shell, and Trigun are three of my favorite anime.[1] Maybe it's this shared focus on adults with adult problems that has caught my attention in Tiger & Bunny.[2] The adults here aren't just in the background, coaching the ingenue or savant on how to reach their full potential.[3] Kotetsu is actually the focus of the story. He's a man in his 30s, deceased wife, teenage daughter who lives with his mother whom he rarely sees because of his job being a hero.

He's one of the least popular of Hero TV's stars if not the least liked by the public. He's never been a big point getter because he's always more concerned about saving people than doing the things that will award him points to push ahead in the rankings. But he wouldn't mind a little recognition for what he contributes...

He's a contradiction. On the one hand, he's reckless and sloppy, always rushing in to try to save people without thinking things through. This often accounts for the significant damage to property he racks up and which his corporate sponsor has to pay for. Kotetsu doesn't care what it costs because all that matters to him is protecting the innocent. Stern Bild's first NEXT hero Legend inspired Kotetsu to take up the mantle of Wild Tiger to follow in the man's footsteps. Kotetsu's leap first policy often brings him into personal conflicts with the other heroes.

On the other hand, Kotetsu has incredibly keen instincts and reasoning skills. Based on a suspicious face, he figures out where a bomb has likely been placed in a towering skyscraper. That same memory and reasoning of that face brings them into contact with Lunatic, who is hunting down bad guys and killing them. It's Kotetsu's ability to put together disparate bits of information that allows him to figure out that Jake Martinez can read minds and it's his savvy and cunning that devises a plan to beat him by not telling Barnaby the truth.

Kotetsu is often the advisor and the conscience of the group. He counsels Blue Rose, Origami Cyclone, and Dragon Kid. And he's always working through his rocky relationship with Barnaby. Kotetsu is one who will lie about his motives for the sake of protecting others, a quality that the younger (and female) heroes often don't understand until either Rock Bison or Fire Emblem step up to explain the disconnect between Kotetsu's actions and intentions.

We don't know yet how Kotetsu's wife died or why he seems so reluctant to actually visit Kaede. He always makes promises to see her but those promises always seem to be broken and not always by things out of his control. He seems to genuinely love his daughter but can't accept the fact that she's growing up. He often talks to her like she's a much younger child than her physical appearance would indicate. But he fauns over getting her the right presents and hopes that they make her happy. But there's also a sense of sadness there and that he's running away from something.

The teenagers of Tiger & Bunny aren't the saviors of the world or even Bild Stern. Both Blue Rose and Dragon Kid are talented but they aren't on par with the skills of Sky High or Barnaby. And until just recently, Origami Kid has remained in the background, content to show up on screen to advertise his sponsors but definitely not in the heat of action earning points.

Super heroes isn't a genre usually tackled by anime. Tiger & Bunny doesn't do super heroes like Western comics with capes and tights. Besides Blue Rose, Dragon Kid (the women), and Fire Emblem (the gay), all the heroes are all ensconced in powered exosuits. The NEXT may have super powers like X-Men but the Japanese fetish for robots persists. The shells aren't strictly required for their super powers but they do offer superior protection against firearms and nifty gadgets like flight, a timer for Barnaby and Kotetsu's Hundred Power, and such.

As eye candy, Blue Rose is scantily clad, well, at least compared to the protective suits worn by the other heroes. Dragon Kid gets by on a crazy headdress and some vaguely chinoiserie kungfu getup and staff. You know, because she knows kungfu and stuff so she doesn't need a metal suit weighing her down. Fire Emblem wears the most Western super hero costume of all, red tights with a cowl and cape, but for some reason it evokes for me images of a luchadore more than a crimefighter.

It's often Blue Rose who doesn't understand Kotetsu's words or deeds, prompting one of the other male heroes (usually Rock Bison or Fire Emblem) to intercede. I'm not sure if this is meant to say something about women's intuition and stereotypically empathetic nature (it doesn't exist or can't penetrate the honor code of men or she's too young and not mature / sexually developed enough yet to possess such a motherly virtue) or if it's perhaps setting up romantic tension between her and Kotetsu. As I mentioned in the previous post, Dragon Kid is the tomboy who's learning to own her girlishness under the paternal eye of Kotetsu.

Which agains begs the question: why is Kotetsu so removed from his daughter Kaede's life? It's a puzzle, one I firmly believe Tiger & Bunny will unlock as the plot progresses.

Often in anime, it's the teenage characters who have to take on the responsibility of saving the world, a burden that's not theirs but that they accept because they have the power to make the difference. I think his narrative choice stems just as much from audience appeal (shounen and shoujou, after all, are aimed at teens) as it does from the aesthetic of mono no aware in Japanese culture. There is a beauty in things that blossom and then wither quickly. This does not necessarily mean death but often includes innocence, something the teen protagonists lose on their way to saving the world. Grizzled veterans can't lose their innocence again; often they serve as guides to protect the protagonist from as long as possible from the loss and then to help them navigate through it.[4]

Tiger & Bunny doesn't have this loss of innocence or young protector at the core of its plot. Rather, it's a veteran, Kotetsu, a seemingly unremarkable hero on the decline and well past his prime. But what he has to offer is a sometimes cunning mind and a faith in the responsibility and role of heroes that inspires those around him when they take the time to actually listen to the seeming washed-up loser. It's a different kind of anime, maybe a little more mature. Kotetsu is nuanced, complex, frank and sincere while remaining enigmatic and aloof. Rock Bison seems to know quite a bit about him. How? Fire Emblem also understands him. There are questions that future episodes promise to deliver answers to.

Unlike the typical teenage anime hero, Kotetsu is a man with a past, secrets, and regrets. He doesn't have his whole future rising before him. He is in the twilight of his super hero days. Wild Tiger is a man holding on for dear life to the present, to a world that seems simple with bad guys and good guys and saving people as the only important goal. But at the same time he seems to realize there is much more to life, to friends, to family. Confronting that adventure doesn't look to be the one he's comfortable embarking on. Things from past lurk darkly somewhere, trailing the Tiger. Splinters of something dark are hinted at. And it may just be Bunny, no teenage savior himself, who plucks those splinters from Tiger's paw and redeems the old man not only in his own eyes but also those of the people of Bild Stern who have largely overlooked this tireless champion.

Probably after he sacrifices himself to save the city.

Sorry I haven't said more about the quality of the animation, which is overall high.

[1] Another anime that focuses mostly on adults with adult problems is Eureka Seven, even though Eureka and Thurston, two of the main characters, are teens. I like it but it's definitely got that whole WTF this plot makes no damn sense / where did this bizarre shit come from angle / techno-spiritual babble that too often ruins the conclusion of an otherwise good series. But space surfers piloting giant mecha? It's like Point Break meets Evangelion in more ways than one.
[2] Note: just because the plot is all about teens doesn't mean I don't like it. Not quite in this vein, but Akira is amazing. I also enjoy Yu Yu Hakusho, Bleach, and Naruto.
[3] Seriously, I'm not even going to list all the series I've seen with this as the theme. Most recently, Aquarion featured it.
[4] A topic worth exploring is the difference between the teenage heroes of anime and their counterparts in contemporary Western Young Adult Fiction such as Harry Potter, Twilight, or whatever godawful series birthed I Am Number Four.

top 5 for the week of 27 june 2011

1. warpaint - ashes to ashes

2. washed out - amor fati

3. blouse - shadow

4. vertiver - can't you tell

5. gang of four - damaged goods

Sunday, June 26, 2011

tiger & bunny: redux

About two months ago, I commented on the first episode of an anime I was watching on Hulu called Tiger and Bunny. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to keep up with it on Hulu because apparently Hulu doesn't carry the right license to stream the show to the UK.[1] Thankfully, I've managed to find a number of UK sites that carry it.

A word about the broadcast. It looks like Viz Media has a license to re-broadcast the show in the States right after it's shown in Japan. What that means, practically, is that most websites the newest episode of Tiger & Bunny available for streaming on Saturday with subtitles. It's an interesting experiment in bringing current anime to the rest of the world quickly. Tiger & Bunny, a show about the super heroes of Bild Stern who competed for points to be crowned King of Heroes, seems both an odd choice and yet timely, what with the huge popularity of movies based on American comic book licenses in recent years (Spider-Man, Batman, X-Men, Thor...)

FYI... there are tons of anime as well as movie and tv shows available to stream for free through youtube. Tiger & Bunny, however, is not one of them.

I've made it up to episode 14. If it's going to be a one season and done series, that means I'm just over half-way through (26 episodes total). But the show has just cleared it's first major story arc so now seems as good a time as any to revisit and review it.

Before, I said the team-up of Tiger and Bunny as the first NEXT crime-fighting duo presented elements of the buddy cop genre. That's not entirely true. Whereas the veteran cop is usually by the books and perhaps a little bit surly, both Wild Tiger (Kotetsu, the veteran) and his rookie parter Barnaby Brooks, Jr. (Bunny) have moments of the recklessness element that usually defines the rookie partner trope of this genre. Wild Tiger is generally reckless, always sticking his neck out to save people, which he sees as the one and only purpose of being a hero, disregarding the property damage he inflicts or the toes of his fellow heroes he may step on. Barnaby is more reserved, focused and the number two point getter behind King of Heroes Sky High as the next season of Hero TV progresses.

Barnaby can be set off, however, by his single-minded drive to hunt down the man who killed his parents. This drive is the reason he alone among the heroes has chosen to publicly reveal his face and identity to the public. He has taken his father's name so that when he finds the murdered, his father will symbolically be there extracting justice.

Barnaby witnessed the fiery murder of his parents when he was a child but cannot remember the face of the killer. However, the image of a tattoo has been seared into his memory. A super rich billionaire loner (Batman, anybody) with only his nanny to look after him (::kaff, kaff:: Alfred), Barnaby has taken it upon himself to sift through information to find a lead. A man with a similar tattoo turns up, revealing the name Ouroboros, which Barnaby takes to be the name of the organization behind his parents' murder.

Several episodes were devoted to exploring the backstories of some of the other heroes. For instance, in "Fear is Often Greater than the Danger," the beautiful ice queen Blue Rose decides to quit being a hero to pursue her desire to be a singer full time. She has been performing secretly out of costume in a lounge. But a lecture by Kotetsu brings her back to heroing and she swoops in at the last minute to save the heroes from an inferno.

In "Fire is a Good Servant but a Bad Master," Tiger and Bunny team-up with Fire Emblem to clear him of murder charges. Another NEXT has been killing criminals with fire powers that point to Fire Emblem. Fire Emblem is unique among the heroes not only because he doesn't have a corporate sponsor, he is actually the CEO of the company behind Fire Emblem, but he is openly and flamboyantly gay. Yes, the flamer character is flaming. But this doesn't seem to be mean-spirited, just the source of some rather silly humor. In a later episode when he is dispatched with Blue Rose and Dragon Kid to save the city, he talks about "girl power" and seems confused when Blue Rose responds that only two of them are girls.

Gay and ambiguously gendered characters are quite popular in anime and manga. No, I'm not just talking about the long-haired pretty boys, either. Because of the lack of religious sin and other cultural forces, homosexuality is not condemned like it is in the West. Notice I didn't say it's more accepted. But this topic is fodder for another entire blog post. If you're interested in the topic, let me know in the comments.

Investigating the fiery murders with Fire Emblem introduces the anti-hero Lunatic, a masked vigilante who shoots fiery bolts from a crossbow. He criticizes the justice delivered by the point-collecting stars of Hero TV. Certain hints seem to indicate that he is a certain long-haired judge Yuri Petrov seen hanging around the offices but as of episode 14, Lunatic's identity has not been positively revealed.

Lunatic figures into a few episodes as he murders various criminals, leading Barnaby, Kotetsu, and others to believe he works for Ouroboros and is eliminating loose ends, possibly people who could lead Barnaby to his parents' killer.

"There is Always a Next Time" delves into the past of Origami Cyclone, a sort of ninja-esque NEXT whose powers have never been shown. He is mostly known for just showing up in the background at most TV encounters and working very hard to make an appearance on Hero TV. Notably, he is the only NEXT to collect fewer points than Kotetsu.

Kotetsu, Barnaby, and the Origami Cyclone have been dispatched to a training academy for NEXT to prepare them to be the next generation of heroes of Bild Stern and the next generation of stars for Hero TV. When Kotetsu's class wants him to judge their abilities and let them know if they have what it takes to be heroes, he manages to politely encourage them even though most of them have powers more useless than Cypher, Skin, and Beak.[2] Origami Cyclone then asks Kotetsu to judge his power, which is the very Mystique-like power to copy appearances. Kotetsu encourages him by saying that he was chosen to become a Hero because there is something only he can do (starting to catch a theme yet).

In "Spare the Rod and Spoil the Child," the mayor of Bild Stern assigns Kotetsu the job of babysitting his child while he and his wife go out of the city. Even though Kotetsu has a daughter, Kaede, and thus has experience with children unlike any of the other heroes, the baby takes a liking to Dragon Kid, a tomboyish Chinese girl with lightning powers. Her parents sent her to Bild Stern to be a hero. The baby and Dragon Kid are kidnapped, and one of the kidnappers states that their parents (she mistakes the baby and Dragon Kid to be siblings) will pay a good ransom because they obviously love their children as revealed by what the flower on the baby's hat means. Dragon Kid takes this language of flowers idea home after she defeats the kidnappers and finds out the flower hair clip her parents gave her means "thinking about you." Going against her tomboyish nature, she finally decides to wear the pin, garnering a compliment from Kotetsu.

The next four episodes are the culmination of the plot. Barnaby finally remembers the face of his parents' killer and tracks him down to a prison in Bild Stern. Before I discuss those episodes, a few brief, overarching comments.

As unpopular with the public as he is, Kotetsu is the heart and soul of the Heroes. Barnaby and Blue Rose don't show him much respect and even Dragon Kid has some unkind things to say about his words and deeds sometimes. However, Rock Bison and Fire Emblem always stick up for him, often pointing out that what Kotetsu says isn't always exactly the truth because he is protecting somebody else or trying to do the right thing.

He is often the one with the right words of encouragement for the other heroes, serving as a mentor to them. He may not earn the points but he lends moral support and often the insight that allows the others to succeed.

And he's much brighter than almost everybody gives him credit for. It's his memory for faces that produces a lead in the Ouroboros subplot. And his ability to connect various bits of information to uncovers Jake Martinez's second power... Now, the close of the story arc.

The heart of Ouroboros leads to Jake Martinez, a mercenary currently in prison. Barnaby is on his way to see him when trouble breaks out in Bild Stern. This trouble also prevents Kotetsu from going home to see his daugher for the first time in an undisclosed length of time. He never takes vacation and every time he tries to make it home, a super-hero crisis happens. How inconvenient!

Mecha have appeared all over the city and starting blowing things up. The heroes are all called in to action and dispatched to various parts of the city to deal with multiple incursions. Kotetsu tells Barnaby to go ahead and go to the prison because he has been waiting his whole life for that confrontation.

The mecha attack, however, is just the opening move and a distraction from the real aim. Ouroboros villain Kriem has sent them out so that she can break her boyfriend Jake Martinez out of prison. Threatening to destroy the city if the mayor doesn't comply with her demands, Bild Stern releases Jake Martinez. The city complies but Origami Cyclone has used his shapeshifting powers to infiltrate the group as a human henchmen.

As villains as wont to do villainy, Jake backs out of the deal and threatens to destroy Bild Stern if the 7 heroes of Hero TV don't battle him in a one-on-one tournament. Origami Cyclone is discovered and injured. With his force field powers, Jake manages to defeat the King of Heroes Sky High, Rock Bison, and Kotetsu easily. Agnes, the producer of Hero TV, hatches a plot to delay the tournament by telling Jake they can get more viewers if he waits until the next day to fight Barnaby rather than doing it late at night. Jake agrees.

In reality, the ploy is meant to buy time so that signal jammers can be placed around the city to block Kriem's control over the stuffed animal bears that pilot the mecha. The next day, Barnaby fights Jake while Fire Emblem, Blue Rose, and Dragon Kid move into position to destroy the disabled mecha when the signal jammers are turned on.

Barnaby can't land a blow and Jake taunts him that it's because he has a second power, something unheard for NEXT. Kotetsu figures out that his power is reading minds and rushes out to tell Barnaby even though Kotetsu is severely injured. Meanwhile, the plot to disable the mecha doesn't work because they have auto-defense instructions and the three heroes have a difficult battle on their hands.

Kotetsu hatches a brilliant scheme that relies on deceiving Barnaby about the true nature of Jake's power so that Jake can't simply read his mind and avoid the attack. Barnaby believes Kotetsu and he manages to defeat the much more powerful Jake Martinez thank's to Kotetsu's plan. Kriem demands the heroes hand the defeated Jake over, believing she still holds the city hostage. In fact, Fire Emblem, Blue Rose, and Dragon Kid have defeated all the mecha.

Jake tries to escape but Kotetsu stops him. Trying to get free, Jake shoots down the helicopter Kriem is flying. She escapes, probably into Hero custody. However, it looks like the copter crashes on Jake. But I'm no sucker. I know how comic books go. Jake is not dead even though all indicators say otherwise. I fully expect him to figure into the endgame of this season or series. Maybe not as the major villain but somehow working for it. And Agnes will probably be involved somehow, too. But I'm starting to have second thoughts about her. She may have just been a red herring.

And that, briefly, is the first 14 episodes of Tiger & Bunny.

One thing I find particularly weird is how much the mayor of Bild Stern resembles a cross between Barack Obama and Tom Dubois from The Boondocks. Not because anime characters that resemble real, famous people is unusual. I just didn't expect the personality of Bild Stern's mayor to be linked to a Barack Obama-esque image by Japanese animators. The mayor, quite simply, is a huge, indecisive coward who cares more about how the public will perceive the outcome of any decision than how it will actually effect the citizens of Bild Stern. I thought Barack Obama was perceived a lot more positively abroad. It's just a little strange but still pretty funny.

So far, no backstory episodes have been devoted to Sky High or Rock Bison. Rock Bison has been revealed to be one of Kotetsu's friends, a drinking buddy, and somebody who knows about his personal life. He is also one of Kotestu's strongest supporters to the other Heroes. Sky High's history will probably be revealed in one of the later episodes since he is the King of Heroes. Seeing what drives him and why he works so hard to be the best will most likely come out as the heroes are pushed to their very limits as the series wraps up and heroes (and main characters) are killed. But that's just my prediction on how things will go. It's based on watching many, many anime series. I wonder what the Vegas odds would say.

So far, I'm really enjoying Tiger & Bunny. It fits in somewhere between the very serious and heavy-handedness of Evangelion or dark like Gunslinger Girl and something much more light-hearted like Case Closed (aka Detective Conan). It's anime super-heroes, a genre I can't think of any other series belonging to. Though it borrows some tropes from other genres (like buddy cop), it still has a lot of anime tropes (ice queen, tomboy, power suits, mecha) and structure as well. I'm looking forward to what next Saturday's episode will bring.

Episode 14 is titled "Love is Blind."

[1] Apparently a VPN would allow me to deceive Hulu as well as network sites like CBS into thinking my IP address was American. I have not opted to do that even though I'm American and dagnabbit I have a right to watch these shows.
[2] Yes, I did just make an X-Men reference.

Monday, June 20, 2011

top 5 for the week of 20 june 2011

I haven't yet created a tube mix for London like I had for riding the rail and subways of Japan. But I haven't added anything new to the iPod so we're grooving on tracks mostly 2 years old or more. But like me, being a little older just means they're aging well. Not like Mick Jagger still pulling super models aging well. Like Brad Pitt turning into Robert Redford aging well. Screw you, Marcellus Wallace. This whine isn't turning into vinegar.

1. postal service - clark gable

2. of Montreal - suffer for fashion

3. the magnetic fields - absolutely cuckoo

4. deerhoof - the perfect me

5. blonde redhead - the dress

Sunday, June 19, 2011

i don't speak english, i speak american

Here's the shell of an idea that occurred to me this week. I was having trouble communicating to a couple of British people at the Centre for Social Justice talk that I wanted the info packet they distributed to guests who had come to hear the presentation on the Slavery in the UK policy review. They had absolutely no idea what I was talking about and didn't seem to grasp even the concept of a packet of papers prepared in advance to be given to people invited to the talk. I tried explaining it to them but they kept coming back to a media packet which would actually be a press release, which, as not a member of the press, would do me no good.

I obviously didn't have the right words to express what I wanted. But the difference, I think, is that in America, after a brief dialogue, the other person would get a sense of what I wanted even if I was using the wrong words. Not here. Two people kept coming back to a media packet when I told them I wanted the paperwork they handed out to NGOs and other guests so that I could take the information back to my organization. But it just didn't click. It's like we were speaking a completely different language.

Which, after about 4 weeks in London, I'm coming to see is the truth. It's not just that Americans and Brits have different words for things. Here's a few, some of which you may be familiar with:

  • queue - get in line
  • lift - elevator 
  • fag - cigarette (pretty hilarious the first time I heard somebody say "that fag in his mouth makes him look so cool")
  • football - soccer
  • vest - tank top
  • waistcoat - vest
  • proper - typical

The verb "table" means exactly the opposite in America as it does here. At a meeting with some MPs, I was a little shocked when the assembled charitable organizations (that's what they call a non-profit) wanted to "table" all of the suggestions being made that the MPs seemed very amenable to. "Why would they want to set aside for later all the issues they are getting traction on?" And then it dawned on me that "table" in England means something akin to "lay your cards on the table;" i.e. they wanted to press those issues with the MPs.

But it's not this different vocabulary that's at the heart of what I'm talking about. It's both more subtle and larger than that. The English spoken in England isn't as dynamic as American English. English English seems to give more deference to history, tradition, and the influence of a stratified and non-permeable class structure. It feels sometimes like I've been transported to the mid twentieth century, a sort of Southern Yankee in King Arthur's Court. Edmund Burke's praise of tradition and inheritance as the structure of society also seems in some way to structure the language here.

And this lack of dynamism in the language, I think, also explains the lack of English innovation. I don't want to dive too deeply into Sausserean linguistics or Derrida here, but the fact that the network of English English doesn't seem as dextrous at inventing new words to fill gaps or needs (in expression, understanding), opening up possibility through new chains of signifiers, seems fundamentally tied to England not positioning itself as a global leader in emerging technologies such as computers, personal electronics, and such. The language is too staid, set in its ways of expressing, to give way to innovation.[1] This is more than just retaining u's and e's in words (colour, judgement).

Most people would attribute these differences to the amorphous catch-all of "culture" and cultural differences. Language is itself an aspect of culture and, I think, determines culture. Your language obviously limits, both as open circuits and closed doors, what you can say. But it also limits what you can think. Think about it. How much of your thinking is done with language and how much of it is pictures unconnected to language?[2]

The one other language that I can think of that's as dynamic as American English, probably moreso, is Japanese. Need a new word? Just smoosh two or more words together. And there's a whole category for onomatopoeia words and expressions because they are so prevalent in Japanese.[3] It's difficult to argue that Japan hasn't been one of the most innovative countries of the 20th century. And they love gadgets, especially gadgets attached to technology they already have whether or not the new gadget adds anything particularly useful. Heck, blueprints for fictional mecha are almost as detailed and complex as for an actual Merlin engine.

The takeaway (that's American, meaning "key point," not British, meaning "food to go") is that languages that are more flexible and dynamic seems more adept at making technological innovations because the openness of the language. Just as new words or expressions are readily invented to address needs and gaps, changes (technological mostly) are imagined because of possibility, the breaking away from what is to what could be, structures the language and thus the thinking of the language community.

Or so I say & think...

[1] Although English has no body like l'Académie française to officially determine what is and is not orthodox English. [2] Blah blah signifier blah blah blah signified blah blah blah referent.
[3] There's an idea that gets posed from time to time in linguistics about the number of words that Eskimos have for "snow" and how it effects the way they think about the world. The number of Japanese words for "rain" is worthy of generating the same sort of mental calisthenics.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

nazis nazis everywhere

What's up with Nazis in the news recently?

A recent study found evidence that anti-Semitism may be a deeply engrained social value in some European communities. The methodology was fairly simple. They looked at evidence for medieval hostility to Jews in towns, e.g. blaming them for the Plague and killing them in so called Black Death Pogroms, and looked to see if the same community also strongly supported the Nazi party in terms of votes cast. The researchers indeed found a correlation when they compared similarly situated cities who did not have medieval Black Death Pogroms; those cities had a much smaller share of votes for the Nazis. The findings are both interesting and deeply disturbing. If attitudes towards Jews changed so little over such a long period of time, the possibility for social change in cities with a history of anti-Semitism seems bleak. And, indeed, tentative evidence indicates this might be the case. In 2009, in one of the towns surveyed that had a medieval history of anti-Semitism and high support for the Nazis, nearly half the votes cast were for the conservative Christian Social Union party which has a strong anti-immigrant platform. The researchers plan a follow-up study to determine if, indeed, anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudice are indeed still strong in similar cities today.

And then we have Lars von Trier confessing to be a Nazi. No, that's not me twisting his words or even soundbyting him out of context. He actually says he's a Nazi. But it doesn't seem to be hateful; more of a tasteless joke that he can't dig himself out of. Kirsten Dunst is obviously uncomfortable throughout. The Danish director was banned from the Cannes film festival for his remarks and has apologized profusely.

Monday, June 13, 2011

top 5 for the week of 13 june 2011

A collection of songs on an old playlist made to soothe how achy I was feeling trying to get into a relationship. They seem to be just as good describing how I feel about getting out of it. Except the VU song. That one was just for fun.

1. yeah yeah yeahs - maps

2. the strokes - alone, together

3. the national - baby, we'll be fine

4. the national - without permission

5. the velvet underground - i can't stand it

Saturday, June 11, 2011

sucker punch

dir. Zack Snyder
starring Emily Browning (Babydoll), Abbie Cornish (Sweet Pea), Jena Malone (Rocket), Vanessa Hudgens (Blondie), Jamie Chung (Amber), Carla Gugino (Dr. Gorski)

Finally, my review of Sucker Punch.

Oh, Sucker Punch. You should have been so much better than you were. But I've been around the block enough times on the back of this pony before. When I was an undergrad, Baise Moi was supposed to be this big female empowerment film. Turned out to just be unsimulated sex and unsophisticated violence masquerading as something thought-provoking, new porn for the MTV age. Sucker Punch aims a little higher.

Sucker Punch is a visually stunning movie. The color palette, costumes, settings and special effects are all top notch. Zach Snyder's eye didn't fail on that front. Unfortunately, that's not enough to really carry a movie, especially one that tries to go all Cerebro on you.

The film operates on three levels of reality, but without the utter mindfuck of confusion that was Christopher Nolan's Inception. Rather, the three levels are clearly delineated and easy to follow not only because of setting and plot but also because of obvious visual clues. Babydoll is committed to a psych hospital by her stepfather who wants to hush her up and steal her inheritance. He pays one of the orderlies, Blue, to lobotomize her to make sure that happens.

Babydoll then creates an alternate reality in which Blue is a gangster brothel owner, the therapist (played Slavic and sultry by Carla Gugino) becomes a strip dance instructor, and Babydoll and the other female patients are the sex workers in this sleazy club. The impending lobotomy is re-cast as Babydoll's virginity to be sold to a man called the High Roller.

Babydoll then retreats into another level of fantasy, a world populated by giant samurai statues, WWI steampunk zombies, orcs & dragons, androids on hyper-trains to cities on faraway planets, and the like. In this fantasy-wihtin-a-fantasy, a Wise Man (Scott Glenn) gives her a fetch quest to retrieve 5 items to make her escape from the brothel qua hospital before the bad thing happens. Babydoll then gathers a party of 4 other girls, Rocket, Sweet Pea, Blondie, and Amber, to collect the items and escape.

If this plot sounds very much like a video game, it kind of is. That's one of the main criticisms leveled against Sucker Punch by critics. In itself, the video game plot and action sequences don't bother me so much. It's not like Uwe Boll or the Rock are involved here. The problem is the lack of something more substantial to pull it all together into something you actually care about.

While we're on the topic of critical reception, I didn't really find the film to be misogynistic. Sure, it fails at being a female empowerment fairy tale but I don't think the message here is that objectification of women somehow makes them stronger. Yes, there are lots of young, attractive girls wearing hardly anything as they wade into the midst of dangerous battles and yes, most of the time selling sex like this simply reinforces prevailing social norms that women only matter for their looks. Yes, the film is an adolescent boy's fantasy, akin to Lara Croft, Bayonetta, the Dead or Alive series, and a lot of anime / manga. I agree that the girls are fetishized in the extreme, and threat of sexual violence and rape that pervades the film is disturbing. But where I disagree with the critics is that this, in and of itself, makes Sucker Punch a bad movie.

The flaunting of sexuality has become rampant, not just in entertainment media but in the real, every day world. Women and girls are wearing skimpier and skimpier clothes every season. Women are now on a more equal footing to pursue sex as an end in itself, for pleasure, without (slut) shaming. For good or ill, this is the direction American society is moving. Sucker Punch is very much a contemporary movie in that regards.

One of the problems with the (male) critics slamming Sucker Punch for its "fetishizing" of women is that it recreates in a new form the madonna-whore divide. Unattractive, overweight, and older women are free to explore their sexuality on the big and little screen. This is empowerment. But if the one doing the exploring happens to be young and fit, it's no longer empowerment, it's exploitation. Yes, there's a line to be drawn there but I think most of the critical world draws it with too broad of brush strokes. Being attractive, somewhat counter-intuitively, disqualifies you from actively exploring sexuality. In other words, the pretty girls are getting punished for being pretty.

Ok, back to the review.

Babydoll lays out a plan to get the 4 objects with the help of her companions, the 5th, an undisclosed and unknown item that will require "a great sacrifice," she leaves to be discovered when the time comes during the escape. The girls move from the brothel fantasy into the battle fantasy worlds when Babydoll dances. Each world, representing a mission to collect one of the items, has its own theme.

The first world is a snowy Japanese temple. Babydoll slips into this world alone when she is first forced to dance for Madam Gorski. It is here that the Wise Man gives her a katana, pistol, and a list of the items she needs to escape. Babydoll then battles 3 giant stone samurai. The design for the temple and the stone guardians is superb and the fight scene is well choreographed. It's an over the top summer blockbuster featuring a blonde girl in a burusera uniform.

The next world involves a mission through the trenches of WWI to retrieve a map from German steampunk zombies. Yes, I said steampunk zombies. The costume designs for said zombies as well as the battlefield and zeppelin that functions as the map courier's escape all provide ample eye candy, nevermind the skimpily dressed females. Amber climbs into a steampunk mecha at the beginning of the mission with way too digital a UI for the otherwise steampunk trappings of this setting. Meanwhile, in the brothel world, Rocket has gone off to fetch the map from Blue's office.

The next world is a mashup of fantasy and technology. Babydoll, Sweet Pea, and Rocket drop into the middle of a castle being besieged by orcs to retrieve a pair of gems from a dragon to make fire. Blondie and Amber stay behind in the B52 bomber that delivered them to the battlefield. Slaying a baby dragon to retrieve the jewels angers their mother, who climbs out of the fiery bowels of the castle seeking revenge. There's an exciting chase sequence with the dragon pursuing the plane before the beast is ultimately slain by Babydoll. In the brothel world, Amber has stolen a lighter from her cigar-smoking client who has come to see Babydoll dance.

It's after this sequence that I got pretty annoyed with the film since it became crystal clear that there was no connection between what was happening in the brothel (and I assume the hospital world) and the fantasy fight sequences. No matter who was on the fetch quest to get the item in the real / hospital world, the three principals in the fantasy sequences were always Babydoll (understandable since it's her story - sort of), Sweet Pea, and Rocket. The three blondes. The two dark haired (and "ethnic") girls are almost exclusively relegated to the sidelines and support roles only. The one exception is Blondie's participation in the trench raid in the earlier WWI sequence.

Wouldn't it have made more sense for the girl fetching the item to always be relegated to a support role in the fantasy battles since she's away from Babydoll and engaged in another activity rather than watching her dance? Or to always accompany Babydoll in these second-order fantasy sequences because of her active role in retrieving the item? But neither logical reason to always include or exclude the fetching girl is followed. Instead, the rule is if she's blonde she's going on the adventure and if she's brunette she's not. The lack of a principled reason to explain who's on the strike team gives those sequences an unnecessarily fetish-driven tone.

The last fantasy sequence arises out of the girls trying to steal a knife from the brothel's cook. The girls lock the kitchen door and use an old radio to play music for Babydoll to dance to. Blondie is not present in the kitchen and Amber serves as a lookout.

The blondes are dropped off on a hyper-train barreling down on a city located on a faraway planet. They are to disarm and retrieve the bomb that is being sent to blow up the city. After fighting android sentries in a sequence that reminded me a lot of the very first trailer for FFXIII, they struggle to get the disarmed bomb lifted off the train by their flying transport. Not all of the bolts fixing it to the floor were undone. Unfortunately, that's not the only task the blondes have failed to complete. One of the androids, bisected but not inoperable, manages to restart the bomb and locks the girls out of its countdown. Rocket sacrifices herself to help Sweet Pea, her sister, get off the train. This is paralleled in the brothel world where the cook stabs Rocket instead of Sweet Pea. But the girls do manage to take the knife, the third item on their list.

Getting wind of the plot when he overhears Blondie talking to Gorski, Blue locks Sweet Pea in a closet and shoots Amber and Blondie in the head. He then attempts to rape Babydoll[1] but she manages to stab him with the stolen knife (item 3), gets his key (item 4) and uses it to unlock the door holding Sweet Pea. They use the lighter (item 2) to set a fire in the closet, setting off the fire alarms which unlocks the main door. They then escape through the brothel / hospital using the map (item 1) to get to the outside.

Once outside, Babydoll and Sweet Pea find a group of men gathered near the front gate, making a stealthy escape impossible. Sucker Punch then goes all M. Night Shyamalan. Item 5, the great sacrifice, is Babydoll herself. What a twist! Yes, that's the "sucker punch" of the movie. Babydoll isn't the main character at all. This is actually Sweet Pea's escape story.

Sweet Pea, as I mentioned before, is Rocket's older sister. Unlike the other girls in the brothel / hospital, she didn't have a problem "fitting in" in the outside world. She ran away from home to follow Rocket and look after her. Babydoll, whose own little sister died at the beginning of the film when Babydoll tried to rescue her from their creeper stepfather raping her, realizes she has nothing to escape to but Sweet Pea can go home and lead a normal life. And so Babydoll sacrifices herself, distracting the men so Sweet Pea can slip away and board a bus, driven by the Wise Man, home.

Tying up the loose ends, the High Roller is actually the doctor who will perform Babydoll's lobotomy. He performs the procedure but is disturbed by the look in Babydoll's eyes. He asks Dr. Gorski why she signed off on the procedure, which the therapist denies doing. Blue has forged her signature. The police are called and Blue is arrested and nobody but Sweet Pea lives happily ever after.[2]

Pretty depressing stuff for a movie that's just supposed to be BAY-splosions with fetishized girls in skimpy clothing kicking ass. Snyder has advanced as one interpretation of his film that it is a critique of the way geek culture fetishizes women. Unfortunately, Sucker Punch lacks the requisite subversive elements to qualify as a critique. It doesn't subtly or unabashedly twist its fetishized forms to comment on them. It doesn't hyperbolize those figures to the point of absurdity to undermine them. Instead, it puts them into play without challenging the larger edifice of sexism and sexualization in geek culture and culture at large.

Sadism and sexual violence against women? Check. But most of it may not have even happened except in the mind of Babydoll. What does it mean when the principal character is just "making it up"? And the tables aren't turned on Blue or the cook because of their sexual violence. The cops arrest Blue not because he is brutalizing Babydoll (and possibly brutalized the other girls). He is arrested for forging a signature, in effect manipulating the mechanisms of (masculine) medicine for his own selfish gain. And the stepfather gets away free and clear. He attempted to rape both his stepdaughters, youngest is dead, and the only witness to his crimes and rightful inheritor of the future has been lobotomized by his machinations. The violence against women remains hidden and unpunished.

Female sacrifice? Check. I guess at least it wasn't to save her beloved boyfriend, brother, or father. It's to save other girls: sisters and friends. But for all the gunplay, sword fights, martial arts and acrobatics, the girls can't be heroes through their active deeds alone like men. What makes them significant is their ability to sacrifice. This is a standard trope not only in the West but also in Japanese fiction.[3] Rejecting this trope and giving Babydoll the power to free herself by her own hands or at least dying actively trying to escape would have been one way for Sucker Punch to move from merely a geek fetish film to something more akin to a feminist empowerment fairy tale.

Hot girls, particular blondes, in skimpy clothes. Check, check, and check. Why would you wear those outfits into a warzone? Trinity (the Matrix) kicked ass and wore a mean looking jacket and pants while doing it. This problem is also sometimes referred to as the chainmail bikini. Men can armor up from head to toe in plate but a woman fulfilling the same role wears little more than a bikini top and a thong? This is an area of much contention in the universe of video games, an element of the geek culture Snyder is referring to.

I never thought I'd say this, but I wanted to see more Vanessa Hudgens. Jamie Chung, too.[4] Unlike Babydoll, Sweet Pea, and Rocket, their characters (Blondie and Amber) don't even get the outlines of a backstory as to how or why they've ended up in the hospital. It makes Babydoll's assessment that Sweet Pea is the only one who could integrate back into society hollow and without substance. Really, the only reason they seem to be there is to (1) fill in the mission support roles (mech pilot, airplane pilot) and (2) provide eye candy for those who don't like blondes or have a thing for Asians. That "thing for Asians" and these one dimensional characters are yet more examples of how Snyder panders and plays to the fetishes of geek culture rather than critiquing them.

All of this probably sounds like I disliked Sucker Punch, which I didn't. It was a very flawed movie, definitely not the female empowerment film you're looking for. But it did the pretty pictures well. I <3<3<3 the design of minigun wielding giant samurai, the steampunk zombies, and the orcs. Each setting had a strong and unique visual signature and style. And the use of color throughout the film was fantastic, between the muted b&w & gray backgrounds to the more colorful costumes of the girls. These are things Snyder also did really well in 300 and Watchmen.

Sucker Punch fell down because it couldn't be more than a big budget, reality-hopping Roger Corman sexploitation flick, the kind you would see at a grindhouse double feature.[5] But I don't think this kind of action-er starring pretty girls is ultimately doomed to failure. It's possible to have short skirts, BAY-splosions, and still say something thoughtful and subversive about gender roles. Angelina Jolie's character in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow illustrates a good way how to do it in an otherwise bland movie.[6]

It's not fair to say I disliked Sucker Punch. I liked it ok. But it had a lot of potential to be something more clever, more transgressive, more interesting. I had high expectations for Zach Snyder's pet project. Instead we got pretty girls battling monsters and machines with a fantasy-within-a-fantasy-within-reality narrative structure firmly entrenched within the confines of Western tropes of gender and reflecting unreflectively the sexual fantasies of geek culture.

No, I didn't dislike Sucker Punch. It just disappointed me.

[1] Which would then deprive her of the value for which she is being sold to the High Roller, but these are the escapist fantasies of a girl on the precipice of being lobotomized so illogic can be forgiven.
[2] Why aren't the police called because 3 of the girls are dead? Ok, maybe not Rocket because that may fall into the category of expected mayhem inside a psych ward. But what about Blondie and Amber, who were shot in the head? How do they die in the real / hospital world? Or are they even dead at all? I didn't see them roaming the halls of the hospital after Babydoll's lobotomy. So many questions but they were quite literally disposable characters.
[3] I've briefly dealt with this before in my primer on anime female types, which itself referenced on article on wussy JRPG girls.
[4] See my review of the Hangover 2 for another film I criticize for underutilizing Jamie Chung and playing up to stereotypes about women, specifically Asian women.
[5] Confession: I haven't seen the Tarantino / Rodriguez double feature Grindhouse. But Tarantino is one who can write strong female characters: Mia Wallace, Jackie Brown, the ladies from Kill Bill, even going back to Mallory in Natural Born Killers and Kate Fuller in From Dusk Till Dawn.
[6] Ling Bai's character, on the other hand, drove me crazy in the movie, though perhaps not so much for the character itself as for her penchant to always take roles playing the exotic erotic of one stripe or another. Always. That said, I did fancy her costume and fighting style. She's a comely 44 year old though it's hard to show that here on the blog because her very large nipples seem to have taken lessons from Houdini on how to escape the confines of her clothes.

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Friday, June 10, 2011

the electric ballroom in camden town

Another venue review.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, 8 June 2011.

The Electric Ballroom is located in north London in Camden Town. Camden seems to be where the punks, goths, new wave, and hipsters congregate. Definitely an interesting neighborhood.

The Electric Ballroom is one of the biggest indoor music venues I've ever been to, not counting stadiums like the Frank Erwin Center in Austin or the AT&T Center in San Antonio. I think there was even more floor space than inside the Tabernacle in Atlanta. The Electric Ballroom had security cams as you entered and exited the building and a security guard checking bags. It had a bar at the back of the floor and a huge bar area off to the side. What it didn't have was a whole lot of character inside.

Lining the walls of the foyer were framed concert posters of acts that have previously been through. But unlike say the Tabernacle with its stained glass windows and organ pipes or the graffiti and amateur pop art in Emo's, the Electric Ballroom was pretty bland inside. The walls that surrounded the stage were dark and unadorned. But it did have a nice big floor and, unlike in America, people didn't seem keen on tossing their empty cups and cans on the ground so the concrete remained uncluttered and unsticky throughout the evening.

The Electric Ballroom has a really nice stage. It's huge and elevated. The security barriers are here in London, blocking off the area against the stage so that photographers / bloggers can snap pictures. James Murphy of the now defunct LCD Soundsystem used to say how much he hated those spaces. I'm glad the practice hasn't infiltrated Austin yet, at least not widely. I like to stand as close to the stage as possible.

I didn't catch the name of the first band of the night. They were a simple guitar and drum duo. Kind of interesting. They got a lot of sound out of just the two of them and a couple of tunes were pretty catchy. Fanzine, I didn't like so much. They were just too meh. Two guitarists who both sang, a bass player, and a drummer. They did a great job utilizing the two guitars but the paired vocals just didn't do enough to be interesting. They weren't bad and maybe would sound a lot more catchy on an album.

I went out to see the Pains of Being Pure at Heart again. I caught them earlier this year at the EARL in Atlanta touring behind their new LP 'Belong'. From what I can remember of the 5 April show, they changed up the setlist.

I dunno what it is, but there wasn't a lot of banter from the Pains or from any of the bands for that matter. Is this a UK thing? Kip said a few things, mostly praising Fanzine, whom their on tour with in the UK, or mentioning an appearance earlier in the day on BBC6's Lauren Laverne show. He broke a guitar string during Teenager in Love, which he called their "wussiest song" and talked a little while he re-strung it.

Kip also joked when I fan complained they never play 'Hey Paul' live by saying all their songs sound pretty much like 'Hey Paul.' And apparently somebody named John Marshall was in the crowd because Kip kept asking if that was him shouting things from the crowd. And they received a request to play 'Side Ponytail,' a B side off the 'Come Saturday' single.

Peggy remained silent for most of the show, which was pretty disappointing. Usually she has a few silly bits to chip in. But, as always, she was absolutely adorable.

The encore started with Kip coming back on stage to play 'Contender' solo before being joined by the rest of the band for one last song.

Here's the thing about London. Because the Tube is most people's source of transportation and it shut downs around midnight every night, the show started early (tickets said 7:30, more like 7:50) and there was a hard curfew of 10:30. When the show ended, security pretty much started herding people out the door. They wouldn't even let me stand around for a few moments to send a text.

All in all, cool venue, mostly for the capacity, the stage, and the sound.

Rating: recommended

listen to the new bon iver 'bon iver'

You can stream Bon Iver's upcoming LP 'Bon Iver' for free for a limited time on NPR.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

the hangover 2

I went to see The Hangover 2 yesterday. I haven't seen The Hangover so my opinions of the movie are mostly on its own merits and not how it measures up as a sequel. But I have seen a number of reviews of The Hangover 2, how it compares to the original, and how it falls short both in originality and by making others, the Other in fact, the butt of the jokes this time around.

Stu Price (Ed Helms) is getting married, this time to a nice Thai girl (played by Jamie Chung, who I last saw playing a teenager in Sucker Punch). Her parents want the wedding to be in Thailand so the Wolf Pack re-unites, reluctantly, to make the trip to Thailand. Although Stu wants to avoid a repeat of their Vegas hijinks, unfortunately the crew wake up in a shitty hotel room and are forced to piece together the previous night's insanity in time to save Stu's wedding.

I don't really want to re-cap the plot here. Go see it if you're so inclined. Like I said at the beginning, I can't really tell you how The Hangover 2 stacks up to the original. But I do have a few words about the groupthink of critical reviews.

In case you haven't heard them, the mantra goes something like this. The Hangover was funny because these mostly average guys were the butt of the jokes. Vegas swallowed them up and spit them out. The Hangover 2, on the other hand, is more mean-spirited because it makes other people the butt of the jokes rather than the Wolf Pack.

The scene many critics point to to drive this point home is the one where the Wolf Pack return to a strip club to try to piece together more of last night. As they interview one of the dancers, things go from bad (Stu cheated on his bride-to-be with a Bangkok stripper) to worse when comments are pieced together to reveal that the stripper is actually a shemale. The scene is complete with a full frontal nudity shot of the very busty ladyboy with penis as well as a few other naked ladyboys walking by to reveal that that's this club's stock in trade.

Much is made of the gross out factor by critics, who feel this scene epitomizes the meanness of the sequel's tone. I take a slightly different view. Yes, the penis reveal is played for shock & discomfort value, but there's not really any meanness about it. Stu freaks out but Phil (Bradley Cooper) calms him down by telling him to just forget it. Phil alludes to lots of terrible things he's done that he's just forgotten. And this seems to be enough for Stu to soldier on through the rest of the Maguffin hunt.

Aside: Is it just me, or is Phil pretty much the same character as Vince Vaughn's Beanie Camplbell in Old School? Maybe that should come as no surprise since both were directed by Todd Phillips.

What I think is important here to note is the lack of malice or deep homophobia. Stu isn't angry at the ladyboy who penetrated him; he doesn't shout slanders or slurs at her and references to the incident later in the film lack virulent disgust. And Phil and Allen (Zack Galifianakis) don't attack Stu's identity based on his gender-bending encounter. Sure, it's not a long meditation on trans identity and gender roles, but this is a gross out comedy, not a contender at Sundance. Given the overall tone of the film, I didn't feel this scene was particularly mean-spirited and if anything, more mature about a hetero man and a ladyboy having sex than most of its audience.

But there are two underlying problems with the movie.

First, there's the lack of consequences. Stu was barebacked by the ladyboy stripper but the possibility of STD transmission doesn't even occur. Too serious for a gross out comedy? Sure. But STDs, including HIV, are a major problem in Thailand's sex work industry. Glossing over it feels irresponsible. In fact, the only worry that Stu et al have is his fiancee finding out that he's cheated. Said ethical dilemma, however, evaporates by the end of the film.

Let's briefly return to the Maguffin. From what I understand of the first film, Doug, the groom-to-be, goes missing in the first film and the Wolf Pack must piece together the previous night in order to find him. In The Hangover 2, Teddy (Mason Lee), Stu's fiancee's younger brother, a 16 year old prodigy at Stanford pre-med and cellist, is the missing Maguffin. Joining them for one beer on the beach, Teddy goes missing after losing a finger this time around.

Ok, back to the no consequences problem. Stu, in a moment of clarity, realizes he has a "demon inside" him, one with a penchant for sex workers of all stripes, apparently. After searching for most of 2 days for Teddy, only to find out the person who says he had him was lying, Stu decided to call off the wedding to save his bride-to-be from the evil that men like him do. Then he puts the pieces together to deduce where Teddy is. Emboldened by his flash of memory, Stu reconsiders his plans to end the relationship and the Wolf Pack rush off to save Teddy.

Teddy has lost a finger, basically ending his career as a surgeon and a cellist. But he isn't upset about it at all. Rather, he considers the evening out fondly even though he can't remember most of it. And when Stu and co finally arrive to the wedding late, Stu owns the "demon inside me" realization, presenting to his soon to be father-in-law as proof positive that he isn't the tasteless mushy rice porridge the man compared him to at the rehearsal dinner toast.

Neither the sister or the father, for whom Teddy is his "prized possession," are at all angry that Teddy has lost a finger and, incredulously, neither blame Stu or his buddies for the permanent maiming of the young ingenue. One ridiculous speech garners Lauren's reconfirmation of love and earns the father's respect. They don't even freaking acknowledge the missing finger!!!

As they are prepared to say their vows, Lauren remains steadfast to Stu, saying that she could grow accustomed to the Mike Tyson-esque tribal tattoo on his face. But she wants to switch sides at the altar so she doesn't have to see it.

So, let's see. Ending up in Bangkok 2 days prior to the wedding. Losing and maiming the youngest child. Bareback anal sex with a ladyboy. Routinely getting so wasted with his buddies that he blacks out. None of these things has consequences for Stu. He ends up marrying the docile Asian girl with the blessing of her father in the end. Um, no. Too many loose ends. Maybe Teddy could see losing his finger as a way to escape his father's pressure, giving him the freedom to pursue his own dreams, but said subplot is not developed and still wouldn't explain why the rest of the family is so nonchalant about the whole thing. These unacknowledged and unresolved tensions left me stupefied. Did they even bother to review this script?

My other problem with the movie is how it treats Bangkok and Asians in general. Lauren is the docile Asian girl.[1] She has only a quick flash of anger at Stu's antics that has little effect. As I mentioned above, she's treated as the docile Asian woman in the exotic erotic fashion. The lush tropical environment as the Wolf Pack arrive and start their misadventures at the resort where the wedding is to take place serve as the perfect backdrop for this fetishized female caricature.

Teddy's non-threatening to everybody but Allen, who doesn't want a new face in the Wolf Pack. It's actually Allen's jealous scheme to remove Teddy from the picture for a few hours that launches the debauched evening. But otherwise Teddy's all smiles and accepting of whatever is inflicted upon him, be it by his father or the Wolf Pack. He's also docile.

And then there's the city. "Bangkok has got him now" is a refrain repeated often as the Wolf Pack look for Teddy. Meaning the city's seedy underbelly won't return Teddy. Bangkok is filled with international gangsters (including an amusing cameo by Joe Rogan), ladyboy hookers, plastic bags of Fanta, drug dealing moneys, and other exotica. It's the "Orient," a far off place of forbidden pleasures and untold dangers.

The only people who actually suffer any consequences as a result of the Wolf Pack are Asians. Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) ends up arrested by an undercover Interpol agent (Paul Giamatti) who baited the Wolf Pack to present the gangster with false promises to release Teddy. Teddy loses his finger. All Stu gets is a tattoo on his face and Allen has his head shaved. Even the drug dealing monkey takes a bullet while these 3 guys skate through life avoiding all but the most superficial of negative consequences.

The Wolf Pack wins. But really, do we want these guys to?

[1]Yes, there are pictures of Jamie Chung with a lot less clothes floating around the internet. But I wanted to emphasize that she's a very pretty girl from the neck up. Haven't seen her do a lot of acting, but I thought she was woefully underutilized in Sucker Punch, a movie I intended fully to review when I say it in May. Let me make you a promise. Let me talk about the Electric Ballroom in London and the Pains of Being Pure at Heart show next and then I'll give you my 2 cents on Sucker Punch.

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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

can't buy me love? really? lemme tell you about a website...

Ok, I'm about to go off script and off the rails here. Usually my snarky comments are in reply to some news article or possibly book I've just read. But this time imma turn the camera on me and talk about the ways my assumptions about the world color my view.

I'm no fan of mail order brides or those international "matchmaking" services that connect Western men with women from Asia, Russia, Eastern Europe, or Latin America who are "eager to meet them." I also find the sex tourism that turns into "love" with a native girl less than nice as the way to start a relationship. To a lesser extent, I'm also deeply troubled by marriages emerging out of US soldiers stationed abroad who "fall in love" and decide to marry a local girl.

All 3 of these scenarios emerge, in my opinion, at the intersection of economic exploitation and exotic eroticism. The Other, bound up in notions of Eastern mysticism cum sexuality and feminine subservience, is made more readily available because of, well, brute necessity. Poverty drives many young women into relationships with Western men whom they perceive to offer them a way out of need. (The same factor also drives many young women wittingly or un- into sex work.) In a sense, they exchange their youth and beauty for financial stability. Often, it is older gentlemen who seek out mail order brides or turn a sex holiday into a committed relationship. For some, it may be a way to have a family or find someone to take care of them as they age. Military brides are probably less prone to the latter.

Remember that thesis I never finished? Well, one of the themes that emerged in a number of stories was this notion that Asian women were more feminine than their Western (American, white and sometimes black) counterparts. Many expressed a downright hostility to modern Western feminism (described as "bitchiness" and "uppity") and praised the fetishized object of the narrative for not being "corrupted" by Western ideas of the role of women. Such praises accompanied physical and socio-cultural descriptions emphasizing radical alterity.

However, how much of my repulsion against these types of relationships stems from their economic and racial exploitation and how much it comes from the simple fact that it challenges modern Western ideals of romantic love as the basis of a relationship and marriage? For much of the world's population, the idea of the individual choosing his or her mate based on emotion or an intimate bond is not the norm. It wasn't the norm for much of the history of the West, either. Cementing bonds between two families, healthy offspring, politics, business, and other factors caused parents (or a matchmaker) to pair off two individuals regardless of their preferences. Love would come after the marriage or, if it did not, it wasn't a failure because love wasn't the point of marriage, It was a kinship bond, a blood relation, a way to perpetuate the species and the genetic line.

Romantic love as a notion emerged during the Crusades, as men left behind pitched woo at the wives of men away fighting in the Levant.[1] But it didn't really take hold broadly until the end of the 19th century. Now it's firmly rooted in the narrative of our books and movies and tv sitcoms (ahem, How I Met Your Mother). We even implant the idea into our children at an early age through fairytales and Disney. But it's just that: an idea. It's historically constructed, contingent.

The problem is in disentangling opposition to economic and racial exploitation from the distaste for non-romantic marriages when critiquing mail order brides, sex tourism marriages, and military brides. The latter is simply a value judgment, a preference. Just because a marriage is very much rooted in economic exchange (youth and beauty, devotion for financial support) doesn't mean it's necessarily a bad marriage, contrary to our recent gossip magazine disdain for perceived "gold diggers" of the Anna Nicole Smith / Hef's girlfriends / Trump's revolving door of wives variety. If anything, the coincidence of romantic love and marriage is a recent fiction. Don Draper might even take credit for inventig it as a way to sell nylons and toaster ovens.

[1] Seriously? You expected there to an actual footnote here? Shame on you. This isn't academic writing.

Monday, June 6, 2011

top 5 for the week of 6 june 2011

My good luck in London continues. My iPhone was stolen / stolen last Thursday. Don't know exactly how that happened since it was in the chest pocket of my jacket which was itself in my backpack... But I did manage to finally listen to some music in London. Not new stuff. I hauled out the old 1st gen iPod and listened to some tunes on the tube. Hadn't updated the songs on it since I got my iPhone nearly 2 years ago. These are all songs on my iPod.

1. the national - without permission

2. the ting tings - great dj

3. neon indian - deadbeat summer

4. yeasayer - i remember

5. the rushes - ripping it down

And a bonus song from the Rushes, Will You Won't You.