Friday, February 25, 2011

You Can't Talk To A Psycho Like A Normal Human Being

Dear Snide People: When you talk about the American Dream with air quotes and derisive comments you are only demonstrating your own ignorance and misinformation. The American Dream is the concept that you can arrive at Ellis Island with nothing but the clothes on your back and through hard work, perseverance, a firm sense of reality and clear eye on your goal you can pull yourself up to a social standing where you are respected by your peers and able to care for yourself and family with comfort. The American Dream far predates ideas of ‘fame’ in the modern sense through youtube or reality programs. The American Dream even predates the concept of someone being a millionaire—nobody but heads of government had the ability to amass that kind of capital until the late nineteenth century.

The American Dream is almost solely about a land of opportunity where if you demonstrate ability and work ethic, you can be recognized for your achievements. No one will care about your upbringing or past acquaintance with squalor or ignorance. I actually think that this dream is enduring into the twenty-first century. So enduring that my definition probably appears to be far too simple, or even taken for granted by most. Modern America is very far removed from their immigrant forefathers who came from countries where caste and class ruled supreme, and where your position at birth truly dictated your choices. Of course the struggle to pull yourself out of a more obscure, resource-poor area is going to be more intense, I’m just saying that the American Dream promises that it is possible if you want and work for it hard enough.

The American Dream hasn’t been lost by this generation, it has merely been abused by rhetoric so that the definition is almost buried by disdain and smarmy remarks by media and intelligentsia who want to demonstrate their superiority to grasping lower individuals. I repeat: a pop star rocketing to the top of the charts with an inane, manufactured album is not achieving the American Dream. Neither is winning the lottery or becoming the new “It” fashion girl. It’s about an achievement-based society where you are given the chance to work your ass off and keep what you worked for without anybody looking down their nose at your efforts.

Ok, I’m done, that’s been bothering me for years. Those who have been holding back your sarcastic comments may now release your worst.

Alrighty, I’m going out on a limb this year. In an effort to sabotage any later attempt I may make to pretend that I had predicted the outcome of the entire Oscars, I’m putting my guesses/wishes out two days before the event. Note that I have eliminated the categories that I am either apathetic toward or lack knowledge about. Also be aware that I will be making it a personal effort to use the phrase “when I saw it at Sundance” as frequently as possible. Feel free to assume that I will be using my stuffiest tone.

Best Visual Effects: Inception. They made a city fold into a cube. And it was cool.

Best Cinematography: Black Swan. The paranoid space of most of the show was such a fantastic contrast to how they filmed the dance sequences.

Best Art Direction: True Grit. Yup.

Best Song: Toy Story 3’s “We Belong Together.” Any animated film that could make me cry that hard was obviously doing something right, and I think that something was partly Randy Newman.

Best Documentary: Restrepo. I’d be thrilled for Exit through the Gift Shop if by some miracle they won, but I doubt it. I don’t believe the quirky value or what they address about the nature of contemporary art is “deep” enough for The Academy. I saw Restrepo at Sundance last January; not only was it well made, the subject matter was much weightier in ways the self-important Academy likes best.

Best Animated Film: Toy Story 3. As if there was ever any real competition for this one (I’m in the process of founding a non-profit to encourage the Toy Story makers to go and save Bo already).

Best Adapted Screenplay: The Social Network. Aaron Sorkin is a god and should finally be recognized as such. The Cohen brothers are already established deity; they’ll be fine without it. Also they had more fertile material to work with in the first place. Aaron magicked the analytical introspectiveness out of basically nothing.

Best Original Screenplay: Inception. Breaking into Chris Nolan’s brain should be Leo’s ultimate goal.

Best Supporting Actress: Hailee Stanfield from True Grit. I get that she probably won’t win. But she should. Almost as much as Jacki Weaver from Animal Kingdom should, but I know she has even less chance. When I saw her performance at Sundance last year, she was the terrifying character that I carried around in my brain for weeks afterward. There’s something so sinister about grandma-seeming softness disguising a moral code that would make Mussolini blush.

Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale in The Fighter. This is the category where I am blatantly hedging my bets, since he’s swept everything so far. I truly wish John Hawkes in Winter’s Bone would win—when I saw the movie at Sundance it was his intensity and inscrutability that captured my imagination and fascination. Also, the fact that he was able to be that terrifying while being named Teardrop was proof positive of his craft.

Best Actress: Natalie Portman in Black Swan. I’m most likely never going to watch that movie again, but good ol’ Nat completely immersed herself into the madness of that role, it was heartbreaking and stressful to watch.

Best Actor: Colin Firth in The King’s Speech. He. Has. To. Win. I’ve always adored Colin Firth, largely because he has ever been so comfortably Coliny. In contract, this is the role of his lifetime. This is character where he pushed himself to the limits, and I want to celebrate how un-Darcy like he was from the rooftops.

Best Director: Darren Aronofsky of Black Swan. This man’s pysche lives in a dark and thoroughly unwholesome place. I’m genuinely worried about what drives him to take the audience to the emotional places that he does, but I can’t deny the fact that he is successful with every single attempt. So, bravo.

Best Picture: The King’s Speech. I really loved some of the other contenders, but as a complete film I felt like The King’s Speech was not only masterfully executed, it really had a soul. They captured an individual’s struggle and made it a deeply emotional journey for everyone watching. Truly enduring and important filmmaking was happening there. So I want it to win.

I feel like our culture is too preoccupied with our own sense of history. This isn’t peculiar to this century; most time periods that are richest in art and monuments were peopled by civilizations with an acute knowledge of how their own lives might influence their descendents. The problem I see with this particular brand of societal self-awareness is our inability to discern between mundane and truly important and far-reaching decisions.

This issue has been niggling at me with an increasing level of irritation, because I realize that I am a prime example of this problem--trust me, the irony that I'm discussing this on my blog is not lost on me. I feel the same urge to document, display, and decode the minutiae of my life as if my personal feelings about last week’s episode of Community or what color my hair was at my birthday party is somehow significant and hidden with potential nuance and depth. It’s a fairly abhorrent system when everybody is constantly behaving that way. I believe that the fixation on preserving a record of everything, on providing a running commentary for each day, actually inhibits our ability to be fully present.

The sad part is that I’m still going to feel compelled to update my status every day on facebook, even when I know that that very act will only highlight how thoroughly I’m already filtering my reactions and feelings through a historically compact and bloodless mechanism.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Your Legs Feel Like Sandpaper, You Can't Do Anything Right

From 1725 to 1890, the Salon de Paris was the academic organization which selected the subject matter, artistic execution, and categorization of all art that was to be exhibited publicly. In 1863 avant-garde artists rebelled against the Salon de Paris, declaring that the jury of the Salon de Paris was too conservative and inhibited true expression, experimentation, and advancement in the visual arts.

To appease them, Napoleon III established Salon des Refuses, where Jury rejects could be shown to the public and given a shot for recognition. From this stemmed the Impressionists’ independent salons in the 1890s, and since then there has ceased to be any kind of academic or government control over what art could become the next big splash in the western world. In essence, the control of art was removed from the institutionalized few and instead given to the masses.

And look at what a mess has been made of that. I don’t want to blame the masses; I want to blame my very favorite and always deserving punching bag: the press/PR world. The media has successfully disemboweled people of any inherent taste or discernment in the art world. The same people who gave us the blown-out controversy of Pastor Terry Jones and the Quran burning last September, the classy classy folks who prey upon people’s disgruntled feelings and vindictive tendencies in order to get fodder for their next cash-cow scandals, these same Masters of Hysteria and Hounds of Hell-bound Controversy have demolished the simple dream of an artist placing his creations in a gallery and allowing those interested to peruse the work for an image that appeals to them.

I may or may not have watched Exit through the Gift Shop last night, and it could or could not have caused this bitter diatribe on the fate of contemporary art. It shows how pervasively this grasping, leering fa├žade of “being in the know” and the It Crowd has choked off individualism of taste or cognizance of preference. Bah, I banish all of you.

I’m going to take a beat and step away from the hair-pulling frustration to talk about one of my longest living loves: Anne Decatur “Poe” Danielewski. Poe has been one of my touchstone music artists ever since Daisy Krakowiak introduced me to her eleven years ago. Poe grew up in Provo, was an incredibly angry oppressed female rocker in the mid-90s with her first album, and in her second she exhibited an achingly eloquent full set of daddy-never-understood-me issues. She’s pretty much everything that is good and pissed off in this world.

And yes, eleven years is a long time to stay excited about only two CDs and about 25 songs, but hey, it could be worse. I could be thinking that Avril Lavigne is legit. At which point you’d all be forced to leave me in a room paneled in bad pop art rip-offs and pipe in mediocre local whiny bands until I promised to behave myself in a more circumspect fashion. But that isn’t necessary, because I know what company I keep, and my friends Fiona, Joan, Bjork, Janis, and the ever present, ever fabulous Poe would never let me down.

I’ve come up with a very fragmented theorem about friendship. Jason and I were talking the other day about levels of intimacy in relationships—strictly platonic ones—and I think that one of the key frustrations many people have (I’m going to keep this discussion to single people, because it’s the only first-hand experience I have) is linked to their mistaken idea of the permanency of friendships. I’m not talking about dramatic circumstances with people turning crazy overnight and deciding to put Nair in your shampoo instead of going to the movies, I’m talking about the impermanence of intimacy levels in friendship. Because in the end there are always two people involved, and people are inconstant in their commitments and how much they wish to open up.

It’s like there are a million planes of familiarity within a friendship, starting with the surface and moving on down as confidences are shared and favors are given and taken more freely. I believe that friction within friendships starts when one party bumps another up a few planes back toward the surface end. Because everyone is out there thinking that intimacy levels are like staked-out territory in the Wild West—once it’s been seen and mapped out and claimed once, it’s there forever, you can mine away at your leisure or run off to another ranch for six months and come back and it’ll still be there. When in reality I think it’s more like trying to set up a claim on a wet patch of beach and fending off the sand getting pulled back into the surf by putting your hands up as barriers—there are far too many dimensional ways that everything can slip back to where it originated.

So when one person is having a bad week or an anti-social moment or a shift in priorities, the other is left infuriated by this withdrawal but without the vocabulary to express the frustration because the basic understanding of how friendships work doesn’t operate in the reality of vacillating behaviors, it’s constructed in an ideal world of cemented landmarks on the road to deepest friendship. I don’t know if that made any sense, I’m going to have to tweak this some more, I’ve just been musing on the true impossibility of bringing two people together in any kind of fortressed battlement of deep friendship—one of them can always desert their post without malice and still bring ruin to the whole operation. I’d like to think that if people got a better perspective of how changeable all of this is, there’d be better communication and fewer feelings of betrayal: it’s so infrequently intentional, this separation, but it’s even less frequently fully understood.

I don’t know why I’ve been thinking about this, I guess it has something to do with my preoccupation with the fact that I’m the Bad Guy in somebody’s story. Ok, let’s not kid ourselves, probably many more than one somebody. But that realization is still just a few years old, and it’s a painful one to accept for a control freak like me who wants to be able to dictate that everyone understand the method and motivation for my actions, and when those still make me look like the Bad Guy then they should also take into account my larger life situation at the time, and when that still doesn’t justify it then the wronged party should just assume that I feel really really bad about it and leave it at that.

See? My expectations are ridiculous and even more absurd when you hear my own woe-is-me-for-once-he-wronged-me-greatly tales. It’s at these moments that I just take a deep deep breath, consider holding it forever, and finally exhale with the momentary acceptance that there are some people who won’t like me and I can let that go, followed immediately by another attack of nerves as my controlling nature bucks against the idea of surrendering to bad opinion.

In the end I’ve found that a cocktail of Poe’s “Beautiful Girl,” “Dolphin,” and “That Day” keeps the craziness at bay just as competently as anything else.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Terrible Shrew

Continuing on my nerdy self-obsession with blog stats, I’ve noticed that in the last three years of blogos-ity I have had a very disappointing turnout in January postage. I’m trying to determine if this is in reaction to cold weather making me hibernate, my commitment to avoid reflections of last year or goals for the next, or my personal fixation on my own birthday that consumes the majority of my emotional quota and mental fortitude. The not so sneaking suspicion is that the latter carries the brunt of the blame.

Does anybody else walk around or lounge about while purposefully adjusting one’s optic nerves so that you see double vision? It’s my go-to way to deal with fatigue, boredom, and/or a passionate desire to be able to deny having actually seen what was in front of my face—be it a roommate making out with her boyfriend, a bill, awkward people trying to flirt, or faux “impressionist” paintings from local artists of the 20th century. Plausible deniability and the shielding of my retinas from too many searing images is key to my already shaky mental soundness. Although I’m sure I look like a veritable brain trust sitting there with a glassy, unengaged look on my face.

The inevitable Sundance Reflection: (Sorry, I wish I could dispense with this necessity, but the movies this year were just really good, guys. I’ll do what I can to only talk about one of them.) Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles was the documentary we saw. I’m going to do the blanket recommendation while sailing past the synopsis, because I’ve come to discover in the four days since seeing it that that this film is unsynopsisable. I am choosing to make it a personal goal to use that newly invented word at least once a conversation. Suffice to say, the Toynbee Tiles documentary was touching and intriguing and strangely personal in a way that makes you feel almost alien to your fellow viewers. Now, on to the aspect of the film I want to talk about.

The Toynbee Tiles movie made me look at the ideas of advocacy and determination and devotion in a completely new light. Every story that we love about people like Thomas Moore, Galileo, Ghandi, Churchill, Sidney Poitier, Monet, Alexander Graham Bell, Louis Pasteur, Joan of Arc, Susan B Anthony, stories about people with conviction to an ideal that nothing—including the general ridicule and oppression of their peers or authorities—could shake, every story that is a success at least in an historical sense, all of these inspirational moments that are currently getting debased to greeting card levels, they are all indicators of hidden masses—of thousands of other individuals who believed as passionately, persevered as boldly, and ultimately sunk into obscurity. I’m not addressing the validity of these failed ideals or projects; I’m addressing the psychology of what that kind of bone-crushing, nerve-deadening, peel-your-skin-from-your-face agony it must be as an individual to possess so much conviction but only grow old and rust away in tandem with once-iridescent dreams of how the world could be changed. I find that suggestion to be haunting, and I no longer disbelieve or fail to grasp why bright, ambitious minds can be twisted into inconsolable and cankerous madness.

Something that’s been waiting to get off my chest: Stephanie Meyer’s writings are to literature as rap is to contemporary music—except that rap actually has some creative merit. The day that becomes an SAT question, including the qualifier about rap, will be a day of glory, for it will signal that an era of duped, delusional, and degrading women’s roles has been ended. All kidding aside, kids, listen to your very very cool and intelligent Auntie Mary when I tell you that the relationship archetypes present in the Twilight series are genuinely toxic. The female character defines herself almost entirely by her relationships with men, openly admits to not knowing who she is without them, considers herself to be a grey, limp, and wholly unworthy adjunct to her counterpart, subjects herself to a mindset where she is cowed and apologetic for trying to establish friendships outside of her relationship, and on top of all this she has the personality of an uncooked dried-out wrinkly old lima bean. Our heroine of the 21st century, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the age of gender equality and respect. Being thoroughly convinced that you are wholly inferior to your partner as well as helpless to stand on your own two feet isn’t romantic. All of this makes me want to shake my limbs until they flop off as an expression of discomfort.

As for rap, I actually have developed a secret but savory liking for the stuff. But I can’t get around the stereotypes of women either being sexual objects to be dispensed with at will or the malicious and treacherous saboteurs of the male psyche and success. I don’t understand how it came about that such a large percentage of one musical genre decided to shove half of humanity into such one-dimensional interpretations, but in the end I find that I cannot stomach much rap, no matter how much I may love the flow and poetry of it all. So there you have it. Eminem and Stephanie Meyer are joining forces to combat the progression of the American female. Have your lighters ready to burn them bras, ladies, I think Steph is going to be the far more formidable foe.

But wow, I hope it doesn’t result in actual bra burning, I like mine far too much.