Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

Thinking About Where the Wild Things Are

Principle 1: There are so many ways this movie could have been done badly.

Principle 2: The movie was not at all what I expected, and if it had been, would have been some form of principle 1, primarily because I lack the requisite amount of creativity to imagine something that didn’t fall into one of the Full House–like scenarios I and many other people secretly hoped it would. Instead, it took some real thinking, at least to backtrack from my initial expectations and go where the filmmakers were taking me instead.

Principle 3: The criticisms of the movie I have come across are almost entirely to blame on unreflective responses to Principle 2; that is, they wanted the mediocre, sugary, sentimental pandering they have come to expect from much of Hollywood, and they got a work of subtlety and depth.

Principle 4: The trailers led everyone (including me) astray, implying tear-jerking poignancy when in fact the movie was completely unsentimental (and no less rich for that).

Principle 5: The movie stayed unwaveringly true to the themes of the book by Maurice Sendak, but even surpassed the book in metaphorical and psychological sophistication. (E.g.: [1] The Wild Things Max encounters, while still representative of his various emotions, are fully rounded characters rather than parabolic types and as such are capable of generating serious and moving conflicts and encounters with Max [rather than pat moral lessons], which I think reinforces the strong Freudian imagery of both the film and the book; in other words, the characters convey traits that, while still technically part of Max’s imagination or psyche, are completely unknown to and unexplored by him. [Incidentally, I found out recently that the psychoanalytic themes in the book are quite intentional—Sendak spent years in therapy—and the book has even been called a “psychoanalytic parable.”] [2] Max is only able to tame the Wild Things through deception and facade—eventually it becomes clear that he has only fooled them [himself] with his “kingship”—and he must deal with the consequences. [3] The dysfunction in Max’s life—and, by extension, in his imagination—is serious and real. It hovers at the corner of the movie, and when it breaks in, it is a little terrifying. While he is only a child, Max is “out of control” [a phrase that recurs at key moments in both the “real world” and in Max’s imagination], as are the giant carnivorous beasts he encounters in his imagination. Max, and the viewer, is genuinely afraid. There are both good and bad implications to the “heartwarming” line “I’ll eat you up I love you so.”)

Principle 6: Jacques Lacan sums it all up: “When we learn to make symbols, we also learn to separate from our ambient childhood world of objects and achieve an independent selfhood that is experienced as loss. That lack can never be filled, and all human desire circulates around it, yearning to hark back to the lost unity.” Though this could be taken pejoratively, I don’t think it needs to be.


A Humorous Anecdote, Plus A Short and Hopefully Not too Preachy Observation About Television, Or, How to Be Counter-Cultural and Completely Baffle People at the Same Time

At work this afternoon, I received the following in an email from Jess:

An AT&T salesman just came to our door:
Salesman: Are you currently with AT&T, ma’am?
Jess: Yes.
Salesman: Phone, TV, Internet?
Jess: Yes. Well, phone and internet. We don’t have TV.
Salesman: Oh. So who do you have your TV service with?
Jess: No one. We don’t have TV at all.
Salesman: You don’t…no TV? No Basic? Did you get the converter box? *looks of bewilderment, astonishment, what-century-are-you-living-in*
Jess: Nope, we don’t watch TV.
Salesman: Well, I’m gonna get you TV.
Jess: I don’t want TV.
Salesman: You don’t wa…?! *shakes head, leaves*

Way to go, my love! The only thing I would have done differently is hand him a copy of Amusing Ourselves to Death, by Neil Postman.

This brought to mind another experience/observation I had/made the other day. I saw an advertisement for a Lexus with televisions built into the back of the driver’s seat and passenger’s seat. I have also noticed as of late the near ubiquity of televisions in supermarkets. So now we can watch television at home (usually in almost every room in the house), watch television in the car, and watch television at the supermarket while we shop. Even if we need to stop for gas, there are more and more televisions at the pump.

There is a word for this, I think. It is called addiction.

We Interrupt This Blast of Nonposts to Bring You A Testy Conservative Rant

I know better than to base my opinion on editorials with summaries that say things like, “the pope deserves no credence when he distorts scientific findings about the value of condoms in slowing the spread of the AIDS virus” (from where else), so when I saw those very words in my daily headlines email I did what I usually do when major (liberal) media outlets cover the latest supposedly inflammatory words from the current (conservative) pope: Ignore. And then I assume that somebody will provide me with the context or perspective lacking in the sputtering, apoplectic screed with which I was originally confronted.

It turns out this time around that that “somebody” was the Harvard School of Public Health, specifically Edward C. Green, a senior research fellow there.

But let’s go back to the original editorial. The little summary sentence, it turns out, is an elision and conflation of the first two sentences, the first of which reads, “Pope Benedict XVI has every right to express his opposition to the use of condoms on moral grounds, in accordance with the official stance of the Roman Catholic Church.” (How magnanimous. Here’s my headline in response: “New York Times Gives Pope Permission to Exercise Role as Infallible Magisterium of Roman Catholic Church.”) Then the second sentence reads, “But he deserves no credence when he distorts scientific findings about the value of condoms in slowing the spread of the AIDS virus.” Distorts? Really? Duplicity and willful deception are pretty strong accusations to lay at the feet of one of the world’s most influential moral voices, and a careful and pedigreed scholar to boot. But when somebody not only questions but assumes to be false a central piece of ideological dogma, its defendants naturally can get pretty antsy. To be fair, at almost the end of the editorial, the authors concede, “The best way to avoid transmission of the virus is to abstain from sexual intercourse or have a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected person.” But this is in the middle of an otherwise unceasing torrent defending condom usage as the best way to prevent AIDS.

And then this.

Edward C. Green—a self-professed liberal mind you—steps up to the podium and defends the pope! Here’s a chunk of what he has to say:

Yet, in truth, current empirical evidence supports him.

We liberals who work in the fields of global HIV/AIDS and family planning take terrible professional risks if we side with the pope on a divisive topic such as this. The condom has become a symbol of freedom and — along with contraception — female emancipation, so those who question condom orthodoxy are accused of being against these causes. My comments are only about the question of condoms working to stem the spread of AIDS in Africa’s generalized epidemics — nowhere else.

In 2003, Norman Hearst and Sanny Chen of the University of California conducted a condom effectiveness study for the United Nations’ AIDS program and found no evidence of condoms working as a primary HIV-prevention measure in Africa. UNAIDS quietly disowned the study. (The authors eventually managed to publish their findings in the quarterly Studies in Family Planning.) Since then, major articles in other peer-reviewed journals such as the Lancet, Science and BMJ have confirmed that condoms have not worked as a primary intervention in the population-wide epidemics of Africa. In a 2008 article in Science called “Reassessing HIV Prevention” 10 AIDS experts concluded that “consistent condom use has not reached a sufficiently high level, even after many years of widespread and often aggressive promotion, to produce a measurable slowing of new infections in the generalized epidemics of Sub-Saharan Africa.”

Amazingly enough pope Benedict doesn’t just make stuff up as he goes along! This is something I thought the New York Times would have figured out by now.

Now I know that this is a contentious and complex issue, and I don’t hinge my arguments solely on the latest scientific study (and what this excerpt points out is that clearly many pundits on the other side of the issue don’t either, though they would like to believe they do), which is why this whole argument seldom goes anywhere, because it tends to be cast as progressive, empirical science vs. outmoded moralism. And so it goes.

I Am Buying Gas for Under Two Dollars. Tell Me Why I Should Not Be Happy About This.

Every I repeat every news outlet tells me every single day why I should not be happy that my gas budget has been cut in half since July. (NPR has even told me twice, since they inexplicably played the same news broadcast this afternoon as they did yesterday.) Here is the explanation from the News Media of why I should be upset about affordable gas: It is the sign of a shrinking economy.

Oh horrors!

Well let me tell you something, News Media. This. abstraction. is. not. helpful. to. me.

I still have a job. I am still among the 92.4 percent of the population that does. And as far as I can tell my job is still secure. I have lost money in my retirement fund, but I will not be retiring for, um, let’s see, thirty-eight more years. I’m pretty sure I’ll get my money back by then. But really what it comes down to is that I have at least fifty more dollars to kick around in my budget every month. Boohoo!

I get it, though. I get it. I’m no Pollyanna. I know generally and vaguely how this stuff works on a macro/global scale. I also know that my socioeconomic stratum is not the one hit hardest by these types of things. So forgive me if my critique seems a little bourgeois. But don’t people below me on the economic ladder stand to gain just as much or more than me? And don’t I remember from Econ 101 something about a shrinking economy being a natural and healthy part of a free market economy? Okay, okay. I know what we’re in the middle of is a little more than your garden variety shrinking economy. I’ve read enough of the doomsayers to realize this. But tell me again how lower prices for gas, food, and homes is really actually bad news. This is what seems bourgeois to me. Fifty dollars means a lot more to me than it does to the pundits in Washington.

So until the failing economy actually affects me in a more concrete way than the unexpected-but-welcome surprise of falling prices on necessary commodities, I will not let you kill my joy, News Media. No way. I am going to buy an SUV from one of the failing automakers, fill it up with premium gasoline, fill myself up with Twinkies and YooHoo, and drive that behemoth all over God’s green creation. And then I’m going to park it in the driveway of the foreclosed house I just bought for a song. Because now I can afford to do things like this, and you can’t take that away from me, News Media, no sir, not ever.