Tuesday

Footnote to Bohemia

Watching 'how to be a bohemian' has been quite a revealing look at the origin of some often contradictory views I hold quite dear.

The stories regaled about Eric Gill, however, don't strike me as all that bohemian. A man who takes several lovers, all of whom appear to be exclusive to him, fathers dozens of children, and even has 'affairs' with sisters and daughters - this isn't counter cultural. This is just an extreme form of patriarchy. Men behaving irresponsibly with their penis, regardless of consequence and impact to others, is just the status quo.

Saturday

Cars is the worst

There's been a listicle ranking the Pixar films from worst to best doing the rounds recently, and I was amazed to see that 'cars' was not at the absolute bottom. I hate Cars, I find it a repugnant, small-minded film, because

1: Jeremy Clarkson.
Jeremy Clarkson is in this kids' movie. A racist contrarian, wilfully ignorant to the point of inanity. This film gives him money. 
He has a small part as the main character (a serious wassname)'s bad conscience, the part of the main character that it is easy to blame for his selfishness, and easy to jettison at the end. He's not playing a nasty person though, as much as a motivated and successful agent - exactly what the racing world needs to keep it going.

It's the way that in Cars, he plays a character that's meant to be the embodiment of everything that's wrong in the world, but relative to the cars world, he's not - he's just a normal consequence of their values. So it's not really believable that he's a relatively bad character. However, from my point of view, he does represent everything that's wrong with the world, because being normal in the cars world is awful, as detailed below.

2: focused nostalgia
The worst thing about this film is it's adherence to a very particular sort of nostalgia. This is a racing film that decries the motorway, because of the way it demolished communities that existed on older roads, and what's all this obsession with speed anyway?

Clearly the second point is facetious, the film is entirely based on an obsession with speed and winning and MEN. There's a reason why I love the film Saturday night fever, and it's because it's really an anti-disco film; all of that stuff people love about it, John travolta's dancing, clothes, and dancing, is gone by the end of the story, as the lead character had undergone an arc that has taken him away from his obsession. It has shown disco to be a shallow and lonely place. Not so in Cars, which wants to show us how shallow racing stardom is, but without giving up the excitement of being a racing star! (Ironixclamation)

The bigger point is the nostalgia, specifically for a particular decade when our grandparents were young and drinking malt shakes at the store. It's hard for me to express this because I think it is so painfully ignorant, but I'll try: that was new once, too. There was a time before those roadside towns were built. They were not the apex of human society.

Before cars, we all road horses, but this film doesn't care about that. Before cars, localities were much more important and people walked and bumped into other people and made connections and started conversations, but this film doesn't care about that. It only cares about the specific time period after the construction of Route 66 but before the construction of the road that superseded it. It doesn't mind the fact that Route 66 probably destroyed loads of communities too, or that social change is constant and inevitable, or that of people weren't so hung up on the past they could actually be liberated by transport, rather than being caught up in a role that you think the world owes you. It's such a wierdly fetishised affection for a specific time that its target market will only have seen in Hairspray Days and American Grease.

I say all this, as a particularly anti-car person. I'm no fan of big roads, but I do quite like logically consistent emotions and arguments. That's what's wierd about the film, it's the paradox of the Amish; it's fine with progress up to a point, like jonathon swift declaring that science had gone far enough. It's conservative, not for a raw state, but for a certain level of progress. My point is, you either like progress or you don't. You can't decide after the fact which bits you want to cherry pick and which bits you want to complain about. 

And in a way, all of this is what's wrong with Jeremy Clarkson too; the inconsistency. The reactionary character that only goes as far as it suits this one man. The solipsistic 'what I grew up with is the way things should be' attitude. And as such, Jeremy Clarkson doesn't just have a 2 minute cameo in Cars, but embodies it's entire shitty small-minded unphilosophy. 

3: sausage fest/cars are boring
Yeah. We get that boys like cars, when they're socialised to. We get that women are only ever peripheral characters in Pixar films (until it got complicated with brave). So this all fies together quite well. But like space jam, which as a non-sports fan I found moribund, this just seems to assume you think cars are in themselves fascinating. Point over.

4: If the sheriff hadn't have turned out to be a famous racer too, would McQueen be in the right to dismiss him and be rude?

According to cars, growing as a person is only useful as long as it helps you win the next race. Again, compare this to Saturday night fever; the character goes through his shallow obsession and out the other side. 

In any decent monomyth, when taken out if their comfort zone (1st act),a period of struggle allows a character to grow (2nd act), and thereby defeat whatever challenges them (3rd act). However, Cars demonstrates the weakest possible implementation of the monomyth, as McQueen doesn't overcome the empty heart of his career, he just goes further into it. 

It's meant to be a zen thing, right?  'Sometimes you have to steer away from something to learn control' or something. So a period in a small town, learning folksy ways and having simple fun with idiots, is meant to ground our hero, make him develop empathy, and round him off. It just so happens that none if this actually changes his life. The zen trick is only good for achieving the goals he had before, like yoga and mindfulness being used to make you a better insurance salesman.

5: it led us to cars 2
Cars 2 isn't a bad story, over all, with a decent enough conspiracy, Eddie Izard, and Michael Caine being a James Bond type. However, the opening has the most offhand sexist treatment of a female character I've seen in a cartoon. The intro runs thus:

McQueen comes back of the old folksy own which is now doing a roaring trade, because he has somehow manipulated the economic system to make that make sense. He spends the day with Mater, doing things like cow tipping (honestly), then goes for a date with his long distance girlfriend. Mater can't take this however, and despite having to be told explicitly not to interupt the date, he comes along as a waiter. McQueen gets to spend 5 minutes with his lady before mater ruins the whole night by calling a talk show in support of McQueen; who is then challenged there and then to a race. He accepts, and has to leave for the foreseeable future, immediately. The girlfriend's reaction? 'Oh well, I've go things to do.' Treated like a doormat, clearly given the signal that his male friends and his hobby are more important than her, and her reaction is 'I'll be waiting right here'. 

She is then replaced in the plot by another lady-car that looks completely the same.

Utter, utter garbage. I had heard this was a bad day for Pixar, but I hadn't realised it was this kind of bad.
[insert pinkie pie "oh, they're THAT kind of off" gif here]

Monday

The Mitchells

I don't normally talk about slebs, but this isn't about the people as much... 

So David Mitchell and Victoria Coren seemed a great match for each other when they got married - the kind of arrangement where you don't know who to be more happy for. 

I was a bit surprised to see Coren becoming Coren Mitchell, it seemed unnecessarily traditional. I was then doubly disappointed to see Mitchell didn't also become Coren Mitchell - triply so, since it was a perfect opportunity to resolve the 'David Mitchell' conundrum, that is, the pause when someone says 'David Mitchell' and you try to work out which one. I think there are two david Mitchells, but there might be more - I don't know how you would know.

As well as simply being a measure of equality, that two people take each others' name, this was a rare case of having a logical incentive to change one person's name, only to change the other 's.

Names are important, both politically and usefully, and they have knock on effects; their daughter is now, because of this set up, an out and out Mitchell. All very traditional, conventional. An opportunity missed to do something more radical.

My personal favourite solution to the name problem is, upon unity, to create a new family name. I think this sums up the  independence from a person's parents that having children/getting married (which ever comes first) brings. Any 'sign of commitment' that a woman shows by taking the man's name is amplified by him doing the same, except that it's a name they have both agreed on that reflects their new life together. It's more creative, more equal, and it creates a new tradition to follow. 

I know people will argue that this makes family trees harder to follow, but that's always been the case for women - it's only traditional hereditary principles, that *not even the royal family* use any more, that have emphasised the male line. This system is more modular.

It might get messy, but not unduly; it would reflect the messiness of real life, instead of simplifying the male descent by erasing the female descent. 

Sunday

Moman

Man is about the 60th most common word in English; woman is about 250th.

Whilst massive evidence for the need for feminism, many would argue that this is on part due to the use of 'man' both as a male term and a gender free term. This, of course, is yet more evidence of male being considered the default.

What i propose, therefore, is not a new word for the general term 'man'. Human should not be the general term; Man, without a suffix, is the perfect term to be gender-free. A gendered term should be a mutated instance of the purer idea of 'man', essentially being another word for 'human'. So if 'man' would mean 'a human (of no, or of unknown, gender), I propose 'moman' as a new word for a male man - or as I think we should call it, a momale. Because otherwise, a female sounds like an exception to the male norm, and a woman sounds like an exception to the man norm. 'Man' and 'male' should not be easier to say than 'woman' and 'female'.

Friday

Marvel and Dc and secret indentures

Here's a hypothesis; the core difference between DC and marvel superheroes is one of identity.

I'm not massively into comics, even less so the American mainstream, but this occurred to me during a conversation with students: you can draw a line between the two camps, broadly along the lines of their identity. DC heroes are heroes first and normal people second.

Take Batman; he doesn't have super powers, but mentally he is batman, with Bruce Wayne being a persona he has to put on to hide who he really is. Superman; he's really Kal-El from the planet krypton. Clark Kent is just a cover story. Wonder Woman, again, magical bdsm demigod princess first, nurse second. Diana Prince is a cover story; she really is Wonder Woman.

You could probably argue that supes is a bit more complex, because he was adopted and might border on a split personality; I would still argue that he is Kal-El first, Clark Kent second. He has to filter out his powers in daily life.

So what about marvel? For comparison, they seem to be normal people who have their superhuman abilities thrust upon them, and while this still makes them a power fantasy, it's a more accessible one for teenagers. Spider-Man is a good example of this; he is Peter Parker, trying to make the best use of the gift/curse he has been given, and fit into the role of a superhero. Captain America, the hulk, they were born as norms and gained powers in the lab as adults. All the X men and the fantastic four feel like people with powers, rather than superheroes. Unlike the comparable batman, Iron Man is a bloke in a suit, not an identity (despite what the unconvincing ending of IM3), and the costume is an extension of iron man's billionaire maverick playboy persona.

Thor is obviously an exception to this, but  it's the exception that proves the rule* . On the dc side, green lantern might be an exception, but I don't know anything about him. Grant morrisson's run on animal man is definitely an exception to the style of dc comics, but then I don't think you can count anything that GM does as normal - it was so wierd to have that character arc precisely because dc heroes don't have the crisis of self-confidence that animal man goes through. I think it would have been much less unusual to do that to a marvel character.

I think this is a reason I've always felt drawn to marvel, their heroes always felt cooler, more youthful to me, but now i realise both appeal to different parts of the teen psyche; DC heroes are lofty aliens, who must try to fit in, like social-angsty teenagers from space; marvel heroes gain new abilities and must learn to control them and use them for good, a clear metaphor for teenage metamorphosis.

So,  am I on to something? Or am I hopelessly extrapolating from inadequate experience?



*this is not true. This phrase 'the exception proves the rule' is complete balls, and anyone who uses it unironically should be given a mandatory course in logic and grammar.

Tuesday

a brief history of me streaming music

I really wanted a 400gb mp3 player; I'm glad I never had one.


As a student, of the order of 12 years ago, I received a 256mb flash mp3 player from my brother. You could fit a few ripped albums on there, but it wasn't worth ripping all my cds to use for that; rather what drove me to mp3ise my album collection was the desire to randomise my tracks and make compilations easier to make. 


So it ended up being a pack-horse to listen to freely-downloaded tracks from myspace and record label websites. It seems to have been the way back then that a couple of songs would be downloadable here and there, so I remember having a few Elliot Smith songs, a couple of songs by The Dwarves, an Anaal Nathrakh ditty, some American guitar indie that I've forgotten the names of... individual songs that were listened to probably more than they deserved (at some point I upgraded this to a portable cd player, that I got from argos. It didn't have jog correction so I had to walk with an odd gait and take care over curbs).


What I want to talk about is streaming services; moving through the growth and decay of last.fm and soundcloud, to a situation where I've ended up uploading everything to google music and now just listen to that. Which is like having the original, massive mp3 player, but I have to worry about bandwidth charges.


Pandora came first for me, in terms of being able to tune a radio station to your own tastes, and thereby coming up with unexpected recommendations. I made a station called 'small fingers', that played tracks along the lines of Radiohead's 'treefingers' and John Martin's 'small hours', and fell in love with a Brian Eno track called 'Thursday afternoon'. But they cancelled it in the UK.


Since Peel died, Last.fm has provided me with more reasons to part with cash than any other single institution (possibly excluding acts associated with Ephel Duath and Gorky's Zygotic Mynci). Here's how:
I put 'digital hardcore' in as a tag, and drumcorps came up, who became the new best thing ever, and who I eventually went to an all-nighter in order to see live.
I investigated drumcorps, bought the album 'grist', and heard his remix of Genghis Tron's 'relief'.
I (eventually) bought all three Genghis Tron albums and saw them live on their last tour.
Grist was released through Ad Noiseam, and by listening through a couple of label samplers, I came across Igorr.
I (eventually) bought all four Igorr albums, as well as records by side projects Whourkr and Oxxo Xoox.
I noticed Drumcorps remixes on two remix albums, and bought both AND the works they were remixes of (52 Commercial Road, and Obsidian Kingdom), as well as picking up an ambient album by drumcorps AKA Aaron Spectre. All this from that one link; what would have happened without it?


Another time, I started a 'post-prog' tag radio, and found a track by Kayo Dot that floored me - a 15 minute post-neo-classical epic that ended with the most brutal blastbeat I can recall (or so I inaccurately remember the experience). I've since picked up 4 of their records.


Fall of Efrafa, The Lovely Eggs, Venetian Snares, and probably loads more I've forgotten about have come up just on recommended radio and been accrued. But last.fm doesn't feel right anymore; now it seems to use dodgy youtube videos of varying quality uploaded by anyone, instead of the accurate library it once had.

I got into soundcloud for completely different reasons; it seemed great for keeping up with new tracks, and dumping my own rough mixes, demos, and other unfinished works that would never see a proper release. It started to fulfil the function of that original little MP3 player, of a steady stream of taster tracks from artists I like. 

But then something happened to it; it seemed to become an extension of a social networking site, and users (um, friends) began to re-post other stuff from bands I don't necessarily like. So by including friends' shares in the same stream as artists, with no option to keep them separate, it has completely broken what was once a potentially beatiful website. 

So I've found myself listening to all my music streamed from google music, which seems like a waste of bandwidth, and doesn't help me find new things.

And more recently, I've just been playing things straight from bandcamp, because it's so lovely, helps me keep up with new releases, and good for queueing up wants. Also it's got enough of a recommendation engine under the surface to keep new unexpected things popping up, by linking you to fans with similar tastes, and artist-curated recommendations.

No conclusion, just a current endpoint.