Friday, September 15, 1995

Naked Clothing

When I was a kid I used to think there was a monster in the closet. I'd turn off the light and it would all seem to start writhing and I thought the clothes were getting ready to fuse together, turn into something hideous, and get me. So far that hasn't happened...

When all is said and done, clothes have no power in themselves: the power is the power we give them. I have a kid in middle school, and to me that's the most obvious example: the incredible pressure the kids feel to dress a certain way, wear a certain kind of tennis shoe. It isn't the shoe that has the power: it's the other kids, or the perception of one kid that the other kids are going to judge them a certain way. A nerd looks like this, a jock looks like that. Makes it easy to know somebody: just like spotting airplanes. Clothes are a form of a form of language -- vocabulary we wear. Clothes are self-expression. At the same time, they're group identification.

Part of our wearable vocabulary involves identifying yourself with a certain group. My power suit means I'm a powerful businessman; my blow-dried haircut means I'm an evangelist, whatever. Street gangs do this very consciously and, in certain places, the wrong jacket can get you killed.What you wear shows who you belong to, what you're loyal to,where you're from. One year, long hair is a sign of rebellion, the next year it's short hair, a bald head, a mohawk, pink hair. (Like any language, the vocabulary is always changing.) Every statement creates an equal and opposite anti-statement: which is how designers and clothing makers keep selling clothes. It's kind of silly to wonder if high fashion should be taken seriously because it's already taken seriousl. There's a lot of money in it--just as there's a lot of money in low fashion.

The art world should take it seriously, because fashion represents a paradigm--which I happen to think is a destructive one--that new is good, old is bad, period.Clothes go out of style. Do paintings go out of style? When we look at a painting are we seeing it for what it is--or are we thinking in terms of "what's hot...what's not?" Is it possible these days not to think in those terms?

There's also the fact that clothes and high fashion cost a great deal of money: on a planet where a lot of people are sick and starving, what percentage of our planetary resources should go to clothes? Is there something to be said--on amoral basis--for dressing simply? Probably. People should have the right to dress to the nines if they want. It's a question of status, and as Tom Wolfe likes to point out, human beings are wired for status. You can't fight it.

People should also have the right to opt out, if they want--to wear simple, functional clothes and not be judged for that--whether to save the planet, or just because it's too much trouble coordinating your outfits.I think whole cultures have done have done this: from the Puritans to the Mennonites, to the Communist Chinese--and of course the people on top always wind up wearing better uniforms. I could also say that people should have the right to wear weird clothes and not be judged--but people who wear weird clothes want to be judged, just so they can say hey, don't judge me.

The whole thing is full of contradiction.

Monday, September 11, 1995

Top Ten Reasons Why Advertising is the Work of Satan and Turning Us All Into Drooling Morons

1) Critical thinking? I call that stinking thinking! Advertising sez "unplug your brain and buy what we tell you." Just do it!

2) Attention teachers! Tired of swimming upstream and teaching your students how to think? We know you are! There you are in front of the mob--with no fancy graphics, effects and camera angles to keep the little brain dead bastards interested. Take heart! We'll sell you edutainment packets. Your students can learn the scientific method--comparing the thickness of Ragu and Prego!

3) Businesses competing on the basis of advertising and marketing--not on who has the best product or service.

4) Unscrewable pooches--that's right! You can't screw these pooches, from Windows 95 to some godawful stinker of a movie, because we freaking well advertise with you, and if you don't say something nice about us, we pull the ad. We want advertorial--we want "ink or air" for our ad--and if you can't say something nice...don't say it at all!
Somebody shoot that messenger...

5) Target marketing--direct to the frontal lobe! There's nothing like creating a new group to sell new stuff--or more of the old stuff that you've creatively repackaged. Flush all cultural consensus down the toilet and think of yourself as: a biker: a rightwing Christian, a lesbian radical hang-glider...etc. Magazines and electronic media targeted to YOUR group will tell you exactly what to think, buy, wear and do. It's easy!

6) Old is bad--new is good. Gotta sell the new stuff--and that includes ideas! We know this means all the good titles go out of print and the megabookstores choke up with offal--but that's progress!

7) Politicians are products. Like him or not, McGinniss was right, after all. Remember when "The Selling of the President 1968" was a shocker? Ah, sweet youth...

8) Beefed-up production values mean...no bottom rungs on the ladder! Have fun with your 'zines and homevideo--yer not even showing up on the radar, kids! Alternative music? We'll find a way to turn any "alternative" you come up with into something to package and sell; from rock, to punk, to grunge, to rap--welcome to the machine, babe! (The disk can sound raw...but it better be studio quality!) Mags mean 4-color glossy, slick and squeaky...forget the writing...it's the photography...the look! When it comes to movies, let's see how much we can spend, blowing up the bubble, South Sea style. Can you say Imax? And, of course, somebody has to pay for this...

9) You do! Every namebrand product has a bullshit subsidy tax; and what they're really paying for is the right to put their bullshit in YOUR brain!

10) This is Maggie's Farm, and neither am I out of it. While the avant garde argues about this fine point or that...we're busy stringing the barbed wire through the country of your soul. Painters, writers, filmmakers, cartoonists, voice character actors, musicians, live actors...how much of your time, how much of your brain is spent pushing somebody's bullshit...how little spent doing what you're really supposed to do? When you do your real stuff you're stealing the time...ain't you? Get back to work and SELL, boy. We ain't paying you to do your own thing here.

Saturday, September 9, 1995

Hey, kid. You want some eye candy?

OK. A few thoughts on the cult of storytelling on film. "Film is a storytelling medium." "It's all about stories." Bullshit.

Yeah, movies can tell stories. But that's only one thing film can do. Film is the Swiss Army knife of media formats.

Much of the appeal of movies has nothing to do with stories. It's just fun to look at interesting stuff move around: people running, cars, beautiful bodies, balls flying through the air, faces, landscapes: the movement of objects in space. Even a static shot of a face isn't really static: you see changes of light, expression...small subtle movements.

Anybody who's ever held a movie or video camera knows it's just fun to look at stuff moving around, to get it on film, story be damned...

Movement of story is to movement of object in space what libretto is to musical score. That stuff moving around should be subordinated to story--but the stuff you're watching should not be dull for chrissakes.

Analogous to a musical score, there's rhythm, movement, and pace to the flow of images. The basic movement: rising action. Within that arc: smaller sub-movements of tension and release: the church lady principle of keeping them in their seats.

Which brings us what to leave out.

Which brings us to A Clockwork Orange, a brilliant book, a brilliant movie. But consider what Kubrick left out...in the first third alone, up to the point where Alex has a falling out with his Droogs.

Gone is the fellow getting a glimpse of Bog and babbling glossolalia (and getting his foot stabbed) in the milkbar; the old ptitsas, booze-bribed for an alibi ("nice lads...God bless 'em"); the shop-crasting scene, the crystallo-veck whose books are razdrezzed, zoobies smashed outside the library; the scene where the Durango '95 gets dunked; the ride home where they rip up the seats on the train. Good stuff. Like the dunking scene:

"We yeckated back townwards, my brothers, but just ouside, not far from what they called the Industrial Canal, we viddied the fuel needle had like collapsed, like our own ha ha ha needles had, and the auto was coughing kashl kashl kashl. Not to worry overmuch, though, because a rail station kept flashing blue--on off on off--just near. The point was whether to leave the auto to be sobiratted by the rozzes or, us feeling like in a hate and murder mood, to give it a fair tolchock into the starry waters for a nice heavy loud plesk before the death of the evening. The later we decided on, so we got out and, the brakes off, all four tolchocked it to the edge fo the filthy water that was like treacle mixed with human hole products, then one good horrorshow tolchock and in she went. We had to dash back for fear of the filth splashing on our platties, but splussshhhh and glolp she went, down and loveley. "Farewell, old droog," called Georgie, and Dim obliged with a clowny great gugg--"Huh huh huh huh."

Cinematic, tight, would've made a great scene. Yet Kubrick goes directly from the writer and wife getting savaged by the droogs to the droogs returning to the milkbar.

Why?

Go back to the opening.

We open on Alex's face, camera pulling back. The movement is slow, stately, processional--and the music score is, in fact, a dirge. McDowell has no doubt been told to breath in quick shallow breaths, pent up with tension, animal ready to leap. But movement still slow.

Go to scene where they beat up the drunk. Still slow, but starting to speed up. They come walking up, backlit, to where he's lying in the underpass. Unhurried conversation--Alex let's him have his say--then they beat him. Getting faster now. Building to...

Rumble with Billy Boy's Droogs. Again, opens slow--but cuts in to choreographed violence, speeding up to fever pitch as Alex beats Billy Boy to a pulp--

Go to exterior, open road, Droogs on Durango 95 playing hogs of the road. Wild movement, vicious ecstasy...

Go to writers house--"HOME"--a safe space of eyeofstorm quiet before Droogs burst in, beat, rape--

--and after that nasty climax return to milkbar. Droogs enter, moving slowly, "shagged, fagged, fashed" detumescent, burnt-out--then Alex gets one last charge of pleasure as a singer bursts out with "Ode to Joy," setting up Dim to razz her, Alex to cane Dim; and Alex to ultimately fall as the gang's leader.

The story movement establishes the normal pattern of Alex's life (ultraviolence) moving to event that "spins the story around in another direction" as Field would put it. Aside from the story: what we see moving around in space begins slow, accelerates, peaks, slows down at the final milkbar scene.

The film moves from a peak of orgiastic violence to the burnt-out end of the evening at the milkbar. We don't need to see the car going in the water; it doesn't matter how they got the car, how they got rid of the car, how they got to the milkbar, good as these scenes might have been if filmed as written in the original book. Showing the dunked car would have wrecked the movement; from the peak of the rape and beating to the slow-moving endgame at the Korova.

Kubrick is a hard act to follow: director, screenwriter, somebody who knows how to use a camera, somebody who knows how to fine-tune the music score. The screenwriter normally ain't that far up the food chain; but he's a good example of how to do it right, and what to leave out...even when what you're leaving out is very good indeed.

Friday, September 8, 1995

The Beast Who Shouted "Fire" in a Crowded Theater

Free speech is a beautiful concept. Sorta like phlogiston, epicycles, the luminiferous ether, and the ever elusive snipe, you know? Like, what the hell does it even mean? I'll tell you what it means ...

Free speech is free thought misspelled. Thinking is what counts. Both on the part of the one who blabs and the one who listens.

Thinking: that thing that happens before you open your mouth. Thinking: that thing that happens when you consider what the words blasting out of your mouth actually mean. 

Thinking: also defined as what happens in your brain when you listen to somebody else's words and actually think about what they mean.

A beautiful concept. The foundation of democracy. And pretty much a fiction.

Because it almost never fucking happens.

Put it to you this way: the right thinks it's right, the left thinks it's right: each side is a twisted, funhouse mirror image of the other in which the other side sees its own foulness.

In life, unlike baseball, you gotta make up the rules as you go along, the game changes, you die, ain't no rule book.

Naive Aristotelian that I am, I'll start by defining terms.

Truth and Beauty Time

Lawd knows it ain't easy. Freedom of speech is a shit-dipped, pungee stick minefield.

Like everybody else, I want to be liked, I want to entertain...I know what to say that will probably go over.

Believe in freedom of speech, but truth is there are lots of yappers out there who should really shut the ffff up: as in--make sure brain is in gear before moving mouth. It's easy to recognize the bullshit...when it's on the other side.

Joe Leftwinger turns on TV set, surfs, stops at the Rush Limbaugh show to get a nice charge of outrage. Limbaugh opens his mouth: fetid evil gushes out like Exorcist Brand pea soup. Ah...Christ...did you see...that bastard.

But Dennis Miller pulls the same rhetorical trick and it's HAHAHA...LOVE IT! THAT'S GREAT! HAHHAHAHAHA!

I have a friend with a bumper sticker that says: EAT THE RICH.

Hahahahaha! That's great! Love it!

But what if the bumper sticker said: KILL THE N=WORDS.

Well that's different...

It's bad to hate people because of their skin color, it's OK to hate people because of their class.

The point ain't what anybody is saying. The point is: what side are you on. Our side good, there side bad, we already know this so...LET THE GAMES BEGIN!

And so the bullshit gets deeper and deeper: that slime from the video (oozing along on your living room floor) tho Zappa was thinking about another bodily fluid. Every side thinks it's right and the great thing is to get angry, ya ya yaghghrh.

And....let's get real honest here: hate is a drug and anger is a rush. But it's gotta be righteous anger, that's the key. That makes it OK! The game is called: NOW I'VE GOT YOU, YOU SON OF A BITCH. The payoff: you get to kick them where it hurts.


Yo...Illinois Nazis. All RIGHT. Rrrrr.....

I am trying to put my finger on this blob of quicksilver. Whathehell is freespeech anyway...excuse me while I strop my razor...

Whatthehell is free speech anyway? 

It's not the talk: it's the ear that hears the talk, the mind that thinks. Freedom of speech doesn't matter if someone doesn't hear and understand what you're saying.

Thinking hurts; it isn't natural. (I've got a kid in middle school, so know what I'm talking about here...)

What's natural is to blindly react. Not to hear what someone's saying, consider it, put your own position on the shelf for awhile. What's natural is to say: this is me, this is my group, this is my identity, these are my interests--is this for me or against me?

For me=good. Against me=bad.

It's not an intellectual issue. It's a territorial issue. 

The reality my side wants is the "free speech" you're allowed.

The reality my side hates is what you can't say. 

When you say it, that's what offends me.

So what the fuck offends you?

FISTS AND NOSES

As Oliver Wendell Holmes, Dr. Zaius, or somebody once said,"The right to swing my fist ends where the other man's nose begins."

Cruel horrible words can be just as hurtful as a fist!

What words punch you in the face?

Don't ask, don't tell!

"My name is Calvin Klein and I want to get close to the youth of today."

Mom's HIV-positive? Don't tell unless she asks.

Feeling kinda cold, said the anarchist. Think I'll light up a flag...

"My name is Catherine McKinnon...would you mind stepping out of that sex booth and answering a few questions?"

"Fuckers still won't publish my book," said the anarchist. 
"Think I'll mail this bomb..."

NOTES GAY LOBBY: TOO MUCH ANDY ROONEY

"Serrano...he's the one after putting the bloody crucifix of our Lord and Savior in the pissjar? I'll crucify the NEA and put them in a jar of urine."

NATIVE AMERICANS AXE TOMAHAWK CHOP

"I didn't fight for my goddamn country so my country could turn around and have people walk on the flag. You walk on that goddamn flag you're gonna have to walk over me."

"Nice day, ain't it? Think I'll put on my Nazi helmet and take a ride through Skokie..."

"...to Asian Americans. Could you sign this petition please? Thank you. Asian parts for Asian Americans. Thank you for signing. No yellowface in "Miss Saigon"...no yellowface in "Miss Saigon"...could you please sign this petition....thank you..."

"...Goddamn cracker Confederate cracker flag on the goddamn state capitol. I don't need to see that shit every day I go to work."

"...the liberal media, and this is absolutely true, Ladies and Gentleman, you won't hear the truth from Sam Donaldson and the rest of them--but you can hear it from me, and that's what drives them crazy. I'm right! Wait a minute....he's not a liberal, and he's on TV...that's not supposed to happen. I love it. But our Fairness in Media Institute cataloged the number of times...and this is absolutely, factually true, ladies and gentleman, that the word "America" was associated with the words crime, fascist, oppressive...and you're not, you will not believe this Ladies and Gentleman, but this is true, this is absolutely..."

AWAY WITH THE MANGER SAYS ACLU

"Heather has how many mommies?" says the Baptist preacher.

"Huckleberry Finn is racist," says the AME preacher.

"A godless...secular humanist doctrine in the textbooks of our children. They're being brainwashed!"

SMITHSONIAN DROPS THE BIG ONE

"...and further contributing to the marginalization of women. These images--images in our textbooks--are brainwashing young women, young boys--into accepting..."

TIME/WARNER BEATS "COP KILLER" RAP: DROPS RAP DIVISION

"And we are very, very sorry...we would like to apologize to our listeners for what...the very negative remarks that our DJ said last night about Santa Claus. This is not the position of our station, not the policy of our station -- we support Santa Claus --we believe that Christmas is a very positive, a very wonderful family institution, and we're very sorry for those remarks, for which so many of you called in to complain. All of you should be pleased to note ... "


BUT IT'S NOT OVER 'TIL THE FROG SINGS.


"... that DJ will not be working with us any more."


Whatever paradigm of free speech we come up with --so what. No one hears.

Think the problem is distinguishing between the content (ideas being expressed) and the impact these have on a particular interest group according to that group's self-defined interests.


What people forget about anger, rage, violence is: it has a quality of righteousness.

The righteousness is what allows you to feel good when you do nasty things.

Let's talk lynching.

My racist pig storytelling, reformed alcoholic, now saved Southern daddy used to talk about the "hanging tree" outside of Franklin Kentucky. Used to be respect for the law, 'cause there was that tree outside of town. You crossed the line--and they'd hang you. Wouldn't think twice.

--Well...why'd they do it on a tree, Father? Wouldn't they build a gallows...have a trial...

--Sometimes there wasn't time son.

And it never occured to me that there might be what you might call a disproportionate sampling of black people on that particular tree.


Trying to put my finger on whathehells wrong...the best I can think of is a lack of good manners and common sense. Most of what's wrong could be solved with a little basic respect and courtesy. Send some of these f****ers back to kindergarten where they can learn such profound truths as: wait until the other person finishes talking before you talk, don't hog the conversation, don't tell lies about people, don't make shit up.


So, forgive me if I sound like Kingsfield on Paper Chase here, but everyone is doing far too much talking and not enough thinking.

Monday, September 4, 1995

Writer's block

Top ten, more or less, reasons for writers' block:

1) What you're writing is a lie. It just ain't true. You're bullshitting, and on some level you know it. There's an inner critic inside your head going "this is shit...what total shit" and, positive thinking, visualization and warm fuzzies aside: sometimes that little guy with the pitchfork is right.

2) You're not the same person you were when you started the story. Hey, ohmygawd, guess what: you're not a snotty adolescent anymore and aren't all that motivated to finish your whiny little buildungsroman (with its whiny, suffering, little adolescent hero). Fact is...you're really starting to hate that guy.

3) Stagefright. If you finish it, somebody might print (or produce it) and a real audience might actually see it....judge it...might not like it...

4) You're more into the role of being a writer than actually writing. This could take one or two forms: you go around telling everybody you're a writer and they believe you because you're clever, glib, and use big words. I.e.; you've already had your payoff.
Or...you're putting all your loved ones through a guilt trip because you can't write. "If only you supported me! If only you loved me...but you don't! That's why I can't get this thing done. I don't get any $%#^ support around here." Your payoff is the guilt points, not the finished work.

5) You're lazy. Nobody talks about construction workers' block...but there you are, you've told everybody "should be done in a couple of months," but it's hard...you're nowhere near being finished...you've had to change things...it goes on and on, your wrists hurt (carpal tunnel syndrome!!!), your butt hurts, your brain hurts, and you just didn't know it was going to be so much work.

6) You aren't making any money at this and (a) something inside you says there ain't no cheese down that particular maze (b) a significant other is wondering how you can park your ass in front of the typewriter with all the bills to pay, all the work there is to do...etc...

7) You're a perfectionist. Every word, every sentence, has to be perfect before you can squeeze it out of your brain onto the page.

8) You don't know what you're doing. Little things like dialog, plot construction, characterization...

9) The most life experience you've had is working retail at Burdines one summer. As in: you've never done anything, gone anywhere, had any fights, had much sex, gotten drunk, taken drugs, volunteered for anything, voted, been in danger, talked to anybody outside of your narrow group, if that; have been living inside the narrow sphere of your own head; don't have much to say because you've been avoiding...gahhhh...that thing called life.

10) Your own imagination is working against you. Getting this thing done is so real to you in your mind that you think you've already done it and are already bored with it.

And...one to grow on....

...you're spending all your time getting drunk, high or having sex...and there's no time to write!!!