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I’ve been amiss on my blogging since the summer in just about every way one can be amiss on blogging.  Total absence.  Void.  Lack-thereof.  Certain dramatic changes in life circumstances, followed by an MA paper that refuses to go away, will keep you a little busy, and blogging falls a little down the list of things-to-do.  So, by way of apology, I want to start blogging again, and will do so, first, by sharing with you one of my favorite things: Tarantino films.

Tarantino is one of those directors where, well, you like him or you don’t, and by that I mean you either LOVE him or you HATE him.  I know few people who, if I ask them what they think about Tarantino, they merely shrug shoulders and say “Ehh, he’s okay, I guess.”  I, however, LOVE Tarantino films, and while I don’t like all of his movies equally (I only watch Jackie Brown after enough time has passed for me to forget how ‘blah’ I feel about Jackie Brown), there are some that I quite well love.  Death Proof is one of those.  This won’t be your run-of-the-mill full plot-based movie review–this is me, cleaning my apartment and watching Death Proof, and taking a little pit-stop to share it with you, because I like you (whoever you are).

And I don’t know if what follows will count as spoilers or not, so I’m just going to say SPOILER ALERT!!!!! just so I don’t have to think about it further.

Death Proof is a movie divided neatly in two.  The first half is a group of girls who get run down on the road (read: Tarantino-level massacre) via a lunatic stunt car driver named Stuntman “Icy Hot” Mike in a “death proof” muscle car.  The later half is “Icy Hot” attempting to do the same to a second, unrelated car full of girls, and it ends up. . . differently.  Now, a feminist analysis would be easy in this last part, given the clear Tarantino trope of strong-female-characters-kicking-violent-male-douchebag-ass.  That is not the story I want to tell.

The key part of Death Proof is what makes the fate of the girls in the first car different from the fate of the girls in the second car, under the same circumstances.  In both cases, Stuntman “Icy Hot” Mike claims to have been a stunt driver for television/film, but the implication is that his best days are over.  He is shown having a conversation in a bar about movies and films he has worked in, and none of the younger crowd listening have any knowledge of the movies or tv he mentioned.  Later, when he asks a 20-something girl if she knows how movies film major car crashes, she suggests “C.G.?,” implicitly suggesting that in modern movies computer generated scenes have replaced stunt driving.  Thus, the only real clues we have about Stuntman Mike being a real stuntman are (1) the fact that he seems to believe it himself, (2) he has a stuntman’s ‘death proof’ car, (3) he shows real driving ability, and (4) he does mention his role in things, but truth-be-told they aren’t really verified.  He also has a notable scar running down his face, looking old enough that we can perhaps assume that  its from his stuntman days, rather than his subsequent hobby.

The girls in the first car are “Jungle Julia,” an Austin, TX local DJ, and her friends.  Julia is something of a local celebrity, and she and her friends spend a night of getting high and wasted, as Stuntman Mike easily runs them down.  From the occupation we can assume Mike to have, he attains all the elements needed to pull off vehicular homocide. . . a ‘death proof’ car that allows him to survive any collision he gets into, and the driving skills to make sure the other drivers don’t get off so lucky.

The girls in the second car, however, are themselves associated with movies, too.  Of the four girls in the second car, one is an actress, one a makeup artist, and two are stuntwomen: one who seems to do a lot of stunt driving, and the other general stunts (Note: this character, Zoe, is actually played by Uma Thurman’s Kill Bill stunt double, if memory serves).  The actress, dressed like a cheerleader for her role, allows the characters to get their hands on a valuable muscle car, and the skills of the two stuntwoman–the first’s ability to drive, developed in her profession, with the second’s ability to ‘always land on her feet’ and developed control in doing the nearly physically imposssible, collectively give the girls the skills necessary to out-stunt(wo)man Stuntman Mike.  This is no small detail, either, as Stuntman Mike’s skills as a stuntman and his stuntman’s ‘death proof’ car, spawning the title of the film, are well developed as the means of his method of murder.  Similarly, the occupations of the girls in the film’s second car/second half are well established, focused on, and set up a large portion of their story line.  In fact, without their jobs, no element of their plot-line would make sense–they wouldn’t even know each other were it not for their occupations.

In short, the key difference in the fates of the girls in car one and car two are due, entirely, to the effects of their occupational skill.  Implicitly, this shows the difference that occupational skill development makes in the lives of two otherwise similar groups of women–the first have occupational skill that gives them no practical means to defend themselves against vehicular assault.  The latter have those very skills, and it saves their lives.

So I guess you could say the ‘moral’ of Death Proof is that (if the the development of wide-ranging skills is forbidden due to occupational differences) alienation kills!  Or perhaps, to say the same differently, CAPITALISM PUTS THE “KILLING” in “DESKILLING!!!”

Tarantino, you dirty, foot-fetishist communist, you!

Now that you’ll be thinking of the 1844 Manuscripts every time you see Death Proof, I’ll leave you to it.  Oh, and a review gives stars, right? I’d say 3.5/4.

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Since the last time I’ve posted. . .

Dear Readers,

I miss you, and I (Sincerely) love you.  It has been awhile, right?  Well, I’ve been producing a Masters paper while moving twice, getting divorced, and all sorts of shit.  So here’s the deal.  I’m going to try and do right by you, and stay with all the stuff that matters in the news today, and all the stuff that the future needs.  I’ve changed in this process, and I’m finally settled, so I can actually (gasp!) do what matters.  The new year will mark a brand new stage for the Practical Utopian.  I have much to say, soooo much to critique, and a lot to cover.  But. . . first thing is first.  Loose ends need tied.  This is just a relatively little post to let you know. . . I’ve got your back, though I’ve been absent.  The U.S. has been declared a battleground, wherein we can all (in the US) be arrested for no reason, really, and the world is worse than it was than when I’ve last posted.  But I’ve got your back.  I haven’t forgotten you.  Soon enough, back to business.

The Practical Utopian.

Quick post: Michelle Obama needs to give better advice.

So apparently, Michelle Obama wants Hollywood to film more stuff about military families because of their sacrifices or something like that.

Fuck that.

Hollywood doesn’t need another “Mommy/daddy is so heroic and life is so hard” dramatic two hour patriotic family moment.

Hollywood needs to show the effects of war on the people who die in it.  The carnage of the wars in Iraq/Afghanistan/Libya/Syria.

Hollywood needs to see all the little dead brown kids, and the new oil contracts.

Hollywood needs to show, maybe, all the soldiers Uncle Sam sent to war under the guise of Al Qaeda connections and WMDs and ‘democracy,’ especially those sent home in body bags, and especially after we found out there were neither Al Qaeda connections nor WMDs.  I’ll give you that, if that’s what you mean.

Hollywood needs to show how hard families in America have it, but you spend how much in military contracts? But Medicare is too costly? How about that, Michelle?

You know, I’m neither ‘hating’ on soldiers or their families.  They all suffer from the fact that Uncle Sam sends them into Hell for no moral reason.  They all suffer from what your husband is doing.

 

You know, if you’re so concerned about the plight of military families, I have an idea.

Talk to your husband, and get those families’ mothers and fathers and husbands and wives the fuck out of there.

Movie Review: Super 8

Hi all,

I haven’t done a movie review in some time, so I decided to do another one after having seen J.J. Abrams’ Super 8 today.  I happen to particularly enjoy monster-and-alien movies (people create new species, and I think that’s really creative).  But I’m going to keep this review short, and like my last reviews, this one will be less about stars and more about sociopolitical implications.

The shorthand–this story is about the crash of an Air Force train in Ohio in the late 70’s, which happens to be filmed and observed by a group of kids, themselves in the area filming a zombie movie for a film festival.  Inside the crashed train is. . . GASP! an alien, who *ZOUNDS!* escapes, and strange things happen.  The military comes in, all secret-like, pushing around the town authorities, trying to control the situation while keeping everyone in the dark, failing, and when truth does come out to some parties it turns out there were some dirty State/military secrets involved.  If it sounds formulaic, that’s because this particular film is not, in fact, the most original alien/monster movie I’ve ever seen.  The movie is pretty much a nostalgic romp, and you can count homages to various films in the genre as you go.  Bunch of kids are the first to witness the crash/accident? Check.  Vow of secrecy? Check.  Shady military presence? Check.  Secrets? Check.  Trouble? Check.  Etc., etc., etc, and I’ve certainly given away nothing that wasn’t in the previews or couldn’t be assumed from a basic knowledge of how movies are structured.

That said, unlike most movies, it doesn’t feel like a money-making regurgitation. . . it seems intentional, as though Abrams it trying to invoke memories of the great summer alien blockbusters of yore.  And that seems to match his M.O.–as though he aims to reinvigorate classic Sci-Fi subgenres from mindless regurgitation or obscurity.   Reinvigorated Star Trek? I liked it (except, while I loved Quinto as Spock, I couldn’t help but think “Why would you let Sylar on the ship? HE WILL KILL YOU ALL!!!” *Comment if you get that nerdy reference*  After few interesting monster movies since the 80’s, I appreciated his co-reinvigoration of the genre with Cloverfield (and alongside the film adaptation of Stephen King’s The Mist, which I liked, and the South Korean movie The Host, which was great).  And this? He wasn’t trying to be new or cutting edge here, just. . . good.  And it was good.  I enjoyed it, and I don’t think you’ll regret it if you see it and just expect to enjoy it and let it bring to mind all the old Sci-Fi movies you’ve loved.

That said, in one of the reviews I read from the Atlantic City Weekly:

“One of the more annoying aspects of Super 8 is the one-dimensional nature of the military presence. Even the “men with the key chains,” a group of government types who took E.T., had some compassion for the plight of the people involved. In Super 8, they are just here to represent the worst of human nature, so that the kids can represent the compassionate, likeable side of humanity.”

The review is correct in that the military is presented as a personality-devoid, compassion free force.  But where I disagree is that this portrayal, the military-as-obstacle, the government-as-cruel-shadowy-figure, is largely accurate.  Perhaps the movie was, if anything, too watered down.

We live with the government that has disposed of democratically elected leaders in Guatemala, Chile, Nicaragua, Iran, Venezuela (though it failed) and Honduras, directly or indirectly, and supported numerous dictators.  The U.S. government has performed LSD experiments on its own citizens, sterilized Native and African Americans, used Napalm on Vietnamese villages, and is the only country in the world to have used nuclear weapons on another, and twice at that.  The U.S. ‘perfected’ the most horrific system of slavery the world has known, and was founded on a campaign of genocide that Hitler couldn’t top–and then reinterpreted those travesties as hiccups on the road to freedom, and whitewashed the Founding Fathers as new Jesuses.  Our current government seriously entertains Right Wing social engineering, racist immigration laws, discrimination against GLBTQ folk, secret wars in Libya, Yemen, and Pakistan, torture, indefinite detention, repression of peaceful protesters (how many environmentalist and antiwar activists have been arrested, maced, or had their offices raided).  But who gets strong government protection? Corporations.  We are living under a shadowy, unresponsive government, and benefit from the thinnest veil of pseudodemocracy.  The main problem with the portrayal of the military in Super 8 is that Abrams was going for cheery, memory-lane summer blockbuster–his dark-shadowy military is not one tenth as shady as ours is.  But then again, it took place in 1979; shady? Yes.  Compared to today’s shady? Not as much.  And this is not to say every individual member of the military is some dark murderous sociopath–there are, indeed, good soldiers who are very good people–but they are good because they are good people, despite the military and its training.

That aside in place, I did enjoy the movie, and I’d recommend it.


							

An Open Letter to Vanilla Ice

Dear Mr. Ice,

I recall lines from your magnum opus, Ice Ice Baby, that go as follows:

If there was a problem /

Yo, I’ll solve it. . .

I don’t recall you doing much for social justice after such an impassioned battle cry, but never one to doubt your intentions or nobility, I assume your lack of solving the world’s problems is the result of a mere communication and planning error.  I’m assuming no one gave you a list.  So Mr. Ice, here is a list of problems for you to solve.

(1) Please get us out of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya (without letting Qaddafi win).

(2) Please fix unemployment and create jobs, and eradicate global and domestic poverty.

(3) Please fix our two-party, corporate-funded, winner-take-all anti-democratic ‘democracy.’

(4) Please reverse ecological damage, climate change, and other important components of our ecological crisis.

(5) Please eliminate sexism, homophobia, racism, classism, and ethnic and religious conflict and hatred.

(6) Please establish economic democracy as well as political.

(7) Please save our social programs.  And expand them, so they actually work well.

(8) Please keep Huckabee (or any other Republican) from ever getting elected again.  Last election, Chuck Norris promoted Huckabee, and if Chuck Norris is against democracy, freedom, equality and welfare, consequently puppies, smiling children, rainbows, and flowers, then you’re our only hope (given Bruce Lee is dead, and Charlie Sheen is on tour).

(9) While you’re at it, please keep most Democrats from getting elected, too.  Not all. . . but most of them can go.

(10) I would like no more Ingrid Michaelson or Kimya Dawson songs.  Could you duct-tape them to Rebecca Black’s songwriters for Friday, along with Justin Bieber, and send them into the sun?

(11)  Please help M. Night Shyamalan write more movies like The Sixth Sense and less like Signs.

(12) I would like unlimited Dutch Brothers free coffee.  It isn’t selfish because I would share them.

(13) Please Free Weezy.  Oh, wait, he’s already free? YOU WORK FAST!!

(14) And finally, please end the American Empire, WTO, IMF, and World Bank so other countries can have democracy, too.

I appreciate your cooperation, Mr. Ice, and may many an epic poem be penned in your honor for saving civilization.

Yours Truly,

Me

Morning News Roundup, April 1, 2011

Hi all!

Today’s yet another morning news roundup, but first, today’s news soundtrack:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CD2LRROpph0

New Vietnam(s)

Afghanistan:

President Obama and Congress unanimously agreed to get out of Afghanistan today by this weekend, sources say.  In response to criticisms that the war in Afghanistan was fruitless, and a waste of American lives and tax-payers’ money, Obama retrieved from beneath the podium a “my condolences” card, signed by himself, George W. Bush, all of congress, and Steve Buscemi.

Iraq:

8 years and 11 days after Saddam Hussein and his whole regime quit peacefully following George W. Bush’s “Shock and Awe” campaign, Iraq’s oil wealth has been funneled into green technology so cutting edge, Iraq is now the third richest country in the world.  It’s infant mortality rate has stayed at 0 for the last three years, and it is a thriving, direct, participatory democracy.  For the 2012 elections, the Iraqi people are said to be sending democratic observers to the United States to attempt to secure democratic rule there.

U.S.

Following the cancelling of the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce dismissed congress for recess for the day.  The Chamber proceeded to draft legislation until early in the morning, but did break at about 8:00 to put President Obama and the members of congress to bed.  The new wave of Tea Party candidates snuck out of their bedroom windows at around midnight to toilet-paper the Pentagon.  When asked about the prank, Sarah Palin defended herself: “I just saw this six-sided building from my porch, dontcha-know Joe Six-Pack dontcha-know, and death panels, and yeah.”  After a brief spell of confusion regarding what Sarah Palin actually said, reporters questioned Michelle Bachmann, who proceeded to jump onto the reporter, bite into the microphone, and run away with it.  White House staff are still looking for where on the grounds she buried it.  In other news, following the extension of pure capitalism throughout the U.S. and the globe, unemployment is now at -0.5%.  It has been at a negative unemployment rate for about six months now, with newly created jobs being increasingly promised to newborns.

Have a good day!

Jeff

Morning News Roundup, March 28, 2011

Hi all,

First day of a new quarter for myself, and I can’t think of a better way to start than another News Roundup!

First thing’s first–today’s News Soundtrack:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJDnJ0vXUgw

New Vietnam(s)

Libya:

Libyan rebels captured two oil refineries and a strategic port within a 20 hour push.  The U.S. military have stated that the successes could be pushed back if airstrikes stopped.  Rebels claim to have taken the town of Sirte, the home of Gaddafi.

 

Japan:

Highly contaminated water is escaping one of their damaged reactors, and is quite close to leaking into the ocean.

U.S.

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York set a budget that cuts more than $2 billion in healthcare and education costs, and gives millionaires a tax break, because when Andrew Cuomo sabotages New York’s future, he sabotages it right.  There was a day-long Saturday meeting in Iowa among Republican hopefuls for presidential candidacy, whose biggest source of friction is whether 2012 candidates should focus more on fiscal conservatism, or social conservatism.  Michelle Bachman argued strongly, in effect, that you can’t simply be classist and turn America into a Third World nation through stomping labor, but you have to stomp on women’s rights and the LGBTQ community too, on behalf of your hateful imaginary friend, whose wishes are dictated to you in a really old translated compilation.  [Note: This is not a critique of theism or Christianity, but of the assumption that God is homophobic, classist, and antifeminist.  It’s also not what she literally said. . . just what I think she meant. ]

Today’s another short news day.  Ever notice we don’t get news on Iraq or Afghanistan anymore?  I know Japan, Egypt, Libya, Wisconsin, etc., are all important–but full radio silence from nations we are still in is a little. . . odd.  Just sayin’.

Have a great day!

Reflection: Different movements, same problem.

United We Stand, Divided We Fall

The Right is unified.  Disparate issues, unified front–there are divisions (libertarians versus social conservatives, for example), but when the day is over, class issues unite them, and gender isn’t far behind.

The Left, however, is fragmented.

You have environmentalists, feminists, queer activists, union folks, civil rights and immigrants rights coalitions, anti-war protesters. . . many groups fighting for many causes, each prioritizing their own (in so many cases) and not drawing the connections between them strong enough to really convince the uncommitted why they should integrate new areas of concern.

This fragmentation has served the traditional Right strategy of ‘divide-and-conquer” well.

Towards a Stronger Left

How do we get beyond this for a strong coalition?  How does one become part of a unified movement?

Sexual practices and orientation, abortion rights, the ability to move safely from one country to another, and struggles for control over one’s workplace certainly don’t look like the same type of issue–but at their core, they are diverse threads of a singular political tapestry.

Each of the arenas of social concern and activism that characterize the New Left involve, in essence, one group with power fighting to control the life and activity of another group, that is, to use them instrumentally towards the acquisition of greater power.

Economic Power

Capitalists fight to gain political and intellectual leverage because they want ever-more-power to regulate the opportunities and possibilities for workers.  Control over workers’ labor, and over their ability to be independent from dependence on wage labor (preventing them from, say, going into business for themselves, surviving off their own plot of land, etc) are the primary ways that capitalists gain increased profits.

Their power, money, prestige, and influence are used to fight for a world in which:

(1) At least someone in your family needs to work for some boss for members of the family to survive (guaranteed through the erosion of welfare rights, Social Security, etc, so survival relies on wage labor), and

(2) That boss has increasing control over how they can progressively maximize your productivity and keep you working harder (eroding labor laws and collective bargaining, etc).  They want control over your activity for their benefit.

Gender and Sexuality

Traditional ‘separate sphere’ beliefs regarding ‘women’s place’ posit women’s ‘roles’ in society as (1) being a wife, and (2) mother of the husband’s children, while (3) taking care of the home, and (4) being perfectly sexually available.

Total deference.

These beliefs (which are enforced directly or indirectly) keep women subservient to men, giving men control over women’s activity.

Heteronormativity and homo/bi/queerphobia further leech into these considerations, inasmuch as free sexuality and reproductive autonomy are really harmful to patriarchal family structures.

Patriarchal family structures, grounded on men having control over women, rest on a monopoly of such control–no sexually free women, certainly no women having sex outside legally binding patriarchal marriages, no reproduction rights, and certainly no women in relationships with other women.

Period.

And men with men?  Men are supposed to exhibit and pursue control over women, and to deny all traces of activities or desires associated with women in a hetero-normative patriarchal society–so all non-heterosexual activity is prohibited.

These regulations stem far back, encoded into belief structures when families were the prime locus of production and holders of wealth, and so control over families (and the expansion of families through the prohibition of all sexual activity that didn’t result in babies) was important.

Thus, beliefs formed that chastised men and women for, and outlawed, non-reproductive sexual and relationship freedom, which became the dominant model of the ‘family’ (which, as it just so happens, gives collective power to heterosexual men over women and queer men).   Control over activity, yet again.

Intersectional Complexity

Civil rights issues are clear; racism is admittedly about the dominant racial group trying to control the subordinated racial group.  Anti-immigrant fervor is usually a thinly disguised racism, or a deep-seated fear (about terrorism or something), but either way the design is to control immigrant activity through either keeping them from one place to another or, alternately, to reduce their privileges while here.

Anti-environmental policies and behaviors, too, involve the unconditional domination of human beings (frequently capitalists nowadays) over the environment and all life within it.

In other words, all New Left movements can be unified into a movement of the Now-Left, built around freedom as self-determination, i.e. no group having control over another, but all individuals having control over the conditions of their own existence, living life with an egalitarian autonomy.

Only this is freedom.

Only this is democracy.

And other common factors connect to this notion (well being, sustainability, etc.), but freedom as self-determination could be a unifying guiding light for the movement we need right now, if we are to save what world we have left.

Morning News Roundup, March 26, 2011

Hi all,

It’s time for yet another Morning News Roundup, this time brought to you by. . . coffee! (which doesn’t distinguish it from any other morning, I admit)

First thing’s first–today’s News Soundtrack:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5_swaxOidGU

New Vietnam(s)

Libya:

Rebels seized Ajdabiya on Saturday following yet another night of airstrikes, with Gaddafi’s forces retreating.

Afghanistan:

A NATO airstrike targeting Taliban fighters accidentally killed seven civilians, including three children Friday in the southern province of Helmand.

Other news from the region:

Syria:

Another crackdown in Syria in the city of Sanamin near Daraa killed at least 20 people on Friday.

Yemen:

Big protests on Friday, and it is reported that an arrangement towards a peaceful transition of power could come as early as today, based on an offer by President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down by the end of the year.  But then again, who knows?

Labor News

Britain:

It is expected that up to 300,000 people are expected to protest public sector cuts today.

Mexico:

The Mexican parliament is considering regressive labor reform laws–really bad–and whose details can be found here.

Japan:

Radiation levels are spiking in the seawater near Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

China:

A major Chinese pro-democracy activist, Liu Xianbin, was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Friday for, well, being a democracy activist.

North Korea:

Major food production shortfalls = 6 million hungry.

 

Okay all, there you go, and go forth and have a really good day!

Reflection: The Founding Fathers, or Honesty in the U.S.

Lots of nations have mythologies built around their founders. Hell, Romans believed Rome was founded by two twin brothers, descended from the gods, who were sucked by a she-wolf as children. I think that story needs a fact-check or five, but if you think a nation is great, you’re inclined to think that every part of it is Good, Noble, and Decent, right down to its founding. Had the Nazi’s won WWII, five hundred years later history books would paint them as spreading civilization, freedom, and democracy across the globe.

Like Rome, we have our own foundation myths. Popular mythos is that America was founded on the purest, truest love of freedom and democracy anyone has seen since, well, God. Sure, there were little minor blips, like slavery, but the Founding Fathers meant well. But in real life, this country was, in fact, founded on the most massive (and successful) genocide the world has ever known, among the largest systems of slavery (and perhaps the most brutal) in human history, and originally this country was designed to disallow the vote to women and non-propertied men (and every non-white person, of course). By design. But instead of facing it critically, and seeing things for what they are, why can’t we acknowledge the weaknesses and atrocities of the past, so we can have a bright future?