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Archive for September, 2012

Yesterday I had the opportunity to see Benh Zeitlin’s recently released, acclaimed and excellent Beasts of the southern wild. The film follows the life of Hushpuppy, a six year-old girl, in The Bathtub, a fictional island based in Louisiana and subject to seasonal flooding.  Here’s the trailer:

Since having recently watched again Taika Waititi’s Boy (2010), focussing on the life of an eleven year-old in east coast New Zealand in the eighties and unexpected the return of his dad, I was struck yesterday with the many similarities the two films shared. (Before I continue, note that this post will necessarily discuss important plot points, for which reason you may want to leave until you have seen both the films, but you could probably read it without having seen the films too). Here’s the trailer for Boy if you haven’t managed to get around to seeing it yet, which you most definitely unequivocally should:

Both films blend a generally realist approach with elements of childhood fantasy/perspective; both films contrast the failures of not-wholly-incompetent fathers and other men in the community with socially strong female characters; and both Boy and Hushpuppy more or less attempt to fill the parental role of responsibility and independence in society under the shadow of  their fathers’ failures and mothers’ absences. In Boy we learn that Boy’s mother died in childbirth. Boy’s younger brother feels some responsibility for this, and the two go often to visit her in the cementary. The absence of Hushpuppy’s mother in Beasts is treated with a little more ambiguity. Hushpuppy’s father, Wink, tells her that her mother left their home some time ago.

Though in both films the mother is absent physically, an ideal form of her is present in the minds of her children and partners. Hushpuppy draws pictures of her mother and symbolises her with a basketball top from whom she receives motherly affirmations in conversation. Both Alamein (Boy’s father) and Wink recall their love for and the beauty of the mothers. Here the theme can be extended: The mother is absent, yet not only in relation to her children, but to her partner, as a companion.

Boy’s absence of mother and, to an extent, father is counteracted through his relation to his aunty (whom he sees as a kind of hero in driving the school bus, acting as postwoman for the town, and running a shop) and loving grandmother (on his father’s side) who takes care of Boy, his brother and some other children in the community. His aunty steps in to protect him when his father returns angry. A similar figure to the aunty in Beasts is Miss Bathsheba, a hardened island dweller who acts as a teacher for the children and demonstrates the seriousness of their situation, checking up on a neglected Wink, providing her medicine for her sick father, and independently confronting three men in the community for actions that could mean the end of them all. Contrast these figures with Alamein, who ostensibly returns to Boy and Rocky after so many years, but is actually in need of money, the two other members of his gang, Crazy horses, who can only be understood comically, along with the brief run-in with some angry pot dealers. In Beasts, Wink spends his time drinking, disappears for days at a time, directs bursts of anger toward his daughter and doesn’t allow her to cry.

Wink rouses his daughter to a show of strength

A further contrast exists between the incompetency of male adults and the promise of male children. In Boy, though women effectively run the community, it is boys and young men that Alamein wants to recruit to his gang. They are seen as the ones with leadership potential, the ones who hold promise, but somehow something gets lost on the way there. In Beasts, Wink dresses his daughter as boys would be dressed in the community; uses words like ‘girl’, ‘sissy’ and ‘pussy’ pejoratively to steer her away from what the community understands as feminine; and enjoins her to arm wrestling, breaking crabs with her hands and refraining from crying. Masculinity holds promise in its childhood form but when males come of age in the communities, they flee from their roles and their female counterparts pick up the pieces.

The absent mother in these two films is an important theme in a society coming to terms with its patriarchal foundations and lack of gender equality. This is in no way an attempt at some ultra-conservative polemic against or undermining of an increasingly feminist society. But what if this is feminism inverted? The struggle is not opposed to feminism, but is in the same boat as an important gender issue. Masculinity has too become weakness. For example, consider the likes of male suicide rates (380 in 2010 against 142 female) and boys struggling in school (also). Yet go further. Is it taboo to say there is a masculine struggle not just in disproportionate suicides and education performance but in cases where men are the cause of other struggles? The men in the films tend towards neglect, alcohol and drug abuse, and inconsistent emotional responses to their children. Surely something is not right if a large number of young men are ending their lives? Something is also not right then if men are neglecting their responsibilities to family. It remains important to consider the needs of the primary victims. However, in a sense, these fathers have also become victims, of the pressures of life and their own failures.

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“I can tell you the license plate numbers of all six cars outside. I can tell you that our waitress is left-handed and the guy sitting up at the counter weighs two hundred fifteen pounds and knows how to handle himself. I know the best place to look for a gun is the cab or the gray truck outside, and at this altitude, I can run flat out for a half mile before my hands start shaking. Now why would I know that? How can I know that and not know who I am?” — Jason Bourne.

* * *

Throughout the years in primary school we made our way through different text types. I remember haiku. My glasses are cool, my glasses are very cool, my glasses are dumb. I remember capitalising on exclamation marks in narrative writing. I remember a good friend’s poem that rhymed ‘number-twoer’ with ‘sooner’. One year we did diaries. I think it was every day we just had silent writing time to write about real life things in an almost real diary. It’s reality was compromised because if you wrote about girls that you liked then you’d have to accept sharing it with peers and the teacher. But you could write about other things.

As I grew older, the idea of a diary made perrenial returns in my personal life. In early high school I tried the whole write-about-the-girl thing and grew increasingly frustrated when I couldn’t find a nice sounding word to describe blonde hair. ‘Tussock’ regrettably sufficed. In my post high school years it was a kind of predecessor to this blog, a coming-to-terms with my new faith and the infinite possibilities and inconsistencies this brought to surface ex abstracto.

Pretty attractive.

Throughout my limited experiments with the medium of diary/journal, I continually realised one limit, which I now have the language to express: Authenticity. Because the self is expressed in a foreign medium, it is necessarily distorted. Thus in high school, rather than providing the object of adolescent desire, true feeling was slaked through my lack of words. The medium of representation differs from that which is represented. So even in the most ideal situation, an external kind of machine which could read all your inner thoughts, desires, motivations, etc, and represent them objectively in a diary would fail. The diary would represent that person but it wouldn’t be that person. The perfect form of representation, then, is not representation at all but the person in its complete authentic selfhood.

Someone can write a book about Justin Bieber and earn some dosh. But Justin Bieber sees himself from the inside; no doubt he can write a better book. There are two Biebers here. There is the Bieber who sings, records and hangs out with Usher, and there is the Bieber who actually experiences himself doing these things. This latter Bieber writes a book. But Bieber ultimately fails even if he writes no book. In his internal monologue he fails: The Bieber who reflects is one and the same with the material Bieber. Thought is at once the medium for representation of the material self and a part of the material self.

In the case of Jason Bourne, his struggle for identity is especially interesting: Though the material, actual Bourne remains, the conscious-reflective Bourne has been displaced and replaced by an incomplete version of itself. This is a metaphor for the diary: The self that wants to know itself is already itself and somehow already knows itself. Something is lost in reflection. The same self which attempts to scrutinise its own motivations, “Why did I take up faith?”, is participating in a motivation as it writes, thus presupposing a zero-level impenetrable base which falsely enables it to represent its false self.

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Today is my thirty-first day without eating meat, bar the accidental marshmallows I ate a few weeks ago out of ignorance.What follows on this is three short reflections:

What?
Mixed emotions have accompanied my ‘breaking the news’ to friends and family. Nana was aghast. Most people ask firstly, why? So this is a good place to start. I don’t know if I know myself well enough to give a straight answer, however. The people doing the asking are in some cases more qualified to explain to me than I to them. There’s probably a multiplicity of reasons, but the multiplicity cannot even be summed up as some holistic singular reason against non-reasons. If I’m being pretentious or deceptive or attemptedly, failingly mysterious then think again. Because an interrogation of motives is always most closely viewed from the point of view of those who own the motives then this allows for an infinity of re-readings of the motives. Acknowledging the complexity of the issue doesn’t remove it either. Deciding on becoming a vegetarian, like love and Banjo Kazooie, transcends language.

The light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming slaugher-train
Lent last year was a kind of dress rehearsal. I gave it a go. But I forgot my lines. I laughed on stage. It would have been good if someone ‘lent’ me a hand, etc. Working at an Indian restaurant during the time I was awarded a Lamb Tikka Masala in accordance with some poor takeawayer’s failure to collect it. This was during Lent. On my way home I decided to freeze it for afterwards. Light. Home. Two more weeks: The end of the tunnel. Freeze it I did not, however. I started on the sauce. But I ended not where I had started. Every truant piece of slaughtered innocence found its way to my facial orifice as I sucked off all remaining sauce. Please admire the self-deception this required. That was it. I called up my good friend, Truth. “Hey bro, yeah, I finished the sauce”. He nodded. He told me what I knew. So I ate up the sauce-sucked, once-suckled, semi-carcass. Lent was over. And this is the failure of being vegetarian (or anything at all): You eat the sauce that surrounds the meat, and in doing so, eat the meat. It is an approximation, not an absolute.

Blessed are the pure in heart
‘Vegetarian’ is a socially-recognised category. I’m still figuring out how much exactly it is a betrayal to Christian values to do things according to what other people think. But the ‘according to what other people think’ doesn’t initiate vegetarianism, it only consolidates it, though it may have also some part to play in the former. Compare becoming a vegetarian to studying Mandarin. You can either be a vegetarian, which is in the vernacular for many, or a studier-of-Mandarin, which is no doubt interesting to many, yet it fails as a category. Another hidden category, the deceiver vegetarian, is alluring. You get the bonus of interesting responses from people who think you eat grass as well as spending rainy lonely afternoons in a cupboard actually eating fried cows, who actually eat grass. But the social-category, vegetarian as an identity, should do enough to secure against your own duplicity. It is the authentic feeling of telling someone you don’t eat cow, and in truth living up to that which helps maintain your living up to it.

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Recently I’ve been given to daydreaming. The most decadent fantasy involves my current self inhabiting my body ten to fifteen years ago. My current Pokemon knowledge to then Pokemon knowledge is like comparing Pavarotti to Justin Bieber. I was however, no Bieber. What is more, imagine the nicknames I could have given them! What follows then is a list of Pokemon from the first 150 whose base stats are 469 (Pidgeot) or above, and nicknames according to  their status respectively as Light (protector/redeemer attributes), Nature (particular/character attributes) and Dark (destroyer/deceiver attributes — clearly the most interesting and most appropriate for assembling a competitive team):

Pidgeot confronts Charizard  on tax evasion

Pidgeot confronts Charizard on tax evasion

Pidgeot: Gwaihir, Luftwaffe, Crossbow

Clefable: Elysium, Pixie, Fallen

Kingler: Knight, Mr Krabs, Massacre

Dewgong: Saint, Frostbite, Torpedo

Raichu: Freedom, Cheese, Hangman

Victreebel: Tomorrow, Venus, Savage

Vileplume: Epiphany, Lunar, Alcatraz

Electrode: Genesis, Nucleus, Abaddon

Hypno: Faith, Paradox, Chaos

Golem: Castle, The Rock, Sisyphus

Rhydon: Liberty, Safari, Eschaton

Weezing: Utopia, Jumentous, Yolo

Tauros late for the wedding in "Four Weddings and a Funeral"

Tauros late for the wedding in “Four Weddings and a Funeral”

Tauros: Anima, Tempest, Animus

Kangaskhan: Grace, Skippy, Forsaken

Electabuzz: Vital, Tiger, Scorpion

Alakazam: Nirvana, Socrates, Endgame

Slowbro: Wisdom, Sinker, Styx

Nidoqueen: Esperance, Bella, Jezebel

Nidoking: Soul, Rex, Bowser

Kabutops: Victory, Touché, Katana

Omastar: Friend, Oyster, Arbalest

Magmar: Votive, Grill, Furnace

Scyther: Nimbus, Oddjob, Machete

Muk: Pure, σκύβαλον, Egesta

Gengar and Haunter check out the ladies

Gengar and Haunter on a hot day

Gengar: Martyr, Sable, Purgatory

Pinsir: Halo, Ivory, Vice

Poliwrath: Righteous, Knuckles, Smackdown

Golduck: Glory, Sapphire, Capone

Rapidash: Shadowfax, Pegasus, Kelpie

Machamp: Justice, Beats, Judgement

Ninetales: Promise, Lupus, Anubis

Tentacruel: Elect, Jell-o, Mephisto

Aerodactyl: Ether, Concord, Reaper

Starmie: Rainbows, Galaxy, Death Star

Exeggutor: Absolve, Poached, Mortal

Venusaur: Elixir, Whiplash, Nox

An antiques dealer contemplates the best way to prepare Cloyster for dinner

An antiques dealer contemplates the best way to prepare Cloyster for dinner

Cloyster: Shield, Walnuts, Phantom

Flareon: El Dorado, Bite Me, Consecrate

Vaporeon: Eternity, Pearl, Abrogate

Jolteon: Shepherd, Foxy, Castrate

Blastoise: Sentinel, Slug Gun, Capital

Charizard: Phoenix, Spitfire, Legion

Lapras: Avalon, Nessie, Requiem

Gyarados: Paladin, Volvagia, Tsunami

Snorlax: Epitome, Flesh, Sheol

Arcanine: Aslan, Hound, Cerberus

Articuno: Spirit, Sub Zero, Void

Moltres: Eros, Vulcan, Tartarus

Zapdos flashes some Sunday strollers

Zapdos flashes some Sunday strollers

Zapdos: Light, Supernova, Thanatos

Mew: Panacea, Pneuma, Fate

Dragonite: Seraph, Millennia, Charon

Mewtwo: Swansong, Zeitgeist, Apocalypse

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