Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Release the Hound of Hell!!

Most of you know this already, but for those of you who do not, there is a new addition to our humble family. Her name is Ireland, and terror follows in her wake. Truly. She is a thing to be feared -- in both the sense of her awesome majesty and of her power to kill you in an instant. She is not to be messed with. Granted, she'll do it without barking or growling, and possibly with a lick on the nose. Oh, but those are but a part of her charade. She is evil incarnate. Believe me. She will destroy us all.

That is, once she wakes up from her nap under my desk.

Update: I just cannot resist one final picture. I know, I know. What have I become? But, I cannot help myself.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Local Blogging

It's good to see that the Cincinnati City Council is on the verge of taking one further step to insuring the city maintains its reputation as the Unhip Capital of the Midwest.

Proving yet again that it is a powerhouse of a newspaper, the Enquirer doesn't actually spell out City Councilman Cecil Thomas' plan. Fortunately, Citybeat does:

A person caught in Ohio with less than 100 grams of marijuana is charged with a minor misdemeanor, which entails a $100 ticket. Thomas is proposing an ordinance that would make possession of less than 200 grams a first-degree misdemeanor, with a maximum sentence of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

I'm no pothead. Nor do I sell pot. But I have a really hard time seeing how this is supposed to keep guns off the street, or protect the 'hood. When your shit is threatened, you become a threat. So I was told, in so many words, by a friend who likely sold and used pot. Which is to say, guns would seem more likely as a result of this. Not to mention, of course, it's just another way to appear tough on crime by bloating the jails with poor people.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Maybe I'll Just Call This Movie-Week

If you've not yet seen Caché, I highly recommend you do so. Granted, I had to drive thirty minutes to my town's "other" arthouse cinema, but it was worth it. I was going to write an assessment of it, but Steven Shaviro has done it for me over at his blog.

An excerpt, but the whole thing is fantastic:

We are made to feel guilty and complicitous, while at the same time we are given no way out from this position, and no release even from our own being safe because of the unquestioned privileges that people less fortunate than us do not have. Indeed, we are shielded from consequences because we are, after all, watching a film, this is not happening directly to us in "real life." Despite the fact that "real life" itself is revealed by Caché to be no more (as well as no less) "real" than a video. Which means that, whatever we understand intellectually, on the affective level we end up sharing Georges' self-protective sense of unquestioned privilege, as well as his sense of guilt.

In this way, Caché simultaneously abuses and flatters its audience. And I think that the flattery (rather than the abuse) is the nastiest thing about the film. From a political point of view, after all, guilt is just about the most worthless and useless affect/emotion there is. Nobody has ever questioned their privilege, or even done anything decent, out of guilt. Oh, lots of white people "identify" with "minorities" out of guilt, or give to charity (Live 8, anyone?), or mutter pious platitudes and express their support for "identity politics" of various sorts, which allows them to be self-congratulatory about how radical they are, when in fact they aren't. Indeed, many people of power and privilege positively get off on being made to feel guilty, whether it is the oft-repeated apocryphal story of wealthy CEOs getting release by being abused by a dominatrix, or the more common everyday spectacle of white suburbanites feeling cleansed after getting a good scolding (followed by absolution) from Oprah (or white people with more intellectual/political pretensions getting a good scolding from bell hooks). I do not claim to be exempt from this whole process.

And this is exactly what Caché does to/for its viewers. Or better, it indeed exposes this mechanism of flattery-through-guilt; but without offering any escape from it, and even without quite criticizing or critiquing it. As if that were just the way it is: which indeed, it is. This is what the obvious question about Haneke's own position comes down to. (Is he claiming exemption from the condition that he otherwise shows to be universal among people of privilege? Well, yes and no. That's an evasion, of course, but the evasion itself is the point). What's most powerful about the film is that it not only decrees guilt, but cranks the guilt up to a self-reflexive level: the guilt is reduced or managed by the flattery and privilege that we retain while observing all this; but such a meta-understanding itself creates a new, higher-order sense of guilt, which in turn is cushioned by a new, higher-order sense of self-congratulation as to our superior insight, which in turn is an unquestioned privilege that, when comprehended, leads to a yet-higher-level meta-sense of guilt, and so on ad infinitum. There's complete blockage, no escape from this unending cycle. The experience of the film is one both of self-disgust and of a liberation, through aestheticization, from this self-disgust. The latter is what makes Caché truly insidious. . . .

There's a long shot/long take at the very end of the film, in which -- foregrounded in no way, so it is easy to miss -- amidst a whole crowd of people doing all sorts of things, we see some sort of contact between two of the minor characters . . . that suggests even new levels of complicity and uncertainty. I think that this only reinforces the film's overall coldly delirious deadlock. The more explaining we need to do, the more we are trapped in the film's (and society's) self-reflexive spiral of guilt and privilege. The film offers no way out, because it never breaks with its sense of privilege, no matter how unwarranted it shows that privilege to be. The creepiness of finding oneself under surveillance, the creepiness of seeing a marriage break down into mutual vicious recriminations, is nothing compared to the creepiness of realizing that one still has one's shield of privilege despite these intrusions, and that the facade of bourgeois marriage will survive everything that's going on underneath.

Monday, March 06, 2006

More About Movies

To prove that I'm not just some big cynic for disliking Crash, I thought I'd repost something I wrote for another blog.

So, I went and saw Brokeback Mountain the other day. I mean, why not. I figured, what self-respecting otherwise heterosexual academic doesn't have one or two, or a dozen, 'conference buddies'?

Actually, I went in with a very bad attitude. Cynical, one might say. Surely, I thought, this is just the "liberal" version of the Passion of the Christ [ed. In hindsight, maybe this was Crash]. That is, the movie we liberals are supposed to support, even if its rubbish. Even though we know its rubbish. (Because, let's not be mistaken, the story of Jesus getting the shit kicked out of him wasn't particularly interesting either.) My thought was that the homosexual cowboy thing, while not entirely contrived, because I'm sure it happened often enough back in the cowboy days, was mostly just to jar our expectations of either homosexuals or cowboys, a jolt made all the more explicit by the juxtaposition of their bourgeois heterosexual relationships, with the intention of making us all better, more accepting individuals.

Now, does the movie do this? Yeah. Undoubtedly. And yet -- and perhaps this is why I resist being finally identified as a cynic, because I do not think our critiques can ever stop there, but rather we must go through cynicism, in order that we might find something more, for lack of a better time, human -- Brokeback Mountain is more. A common assessment is that the movie is heartbreaking. And it is. Devastatingly, in fact. Relationships, and not just the homosexual one, are delicately portrayed in all their human, and thus often dissatisfying and uncomfortable, complexity.

Last year, the supposed celebration of monogamy in March of the Penguin was hailed as the mark of true family families. Fuck those cute penguins, though. The family values of Brokeback Mountain are the family values I know. Granted, I've not (yet) known anybody who had a gay lover while being married, but I've known plenty of people who loved their kids but didn't know how to show it until just nearly the kid didn't want that love anymore. I know people who love being together, as a couple or a community, but don't actually love one another. And I know a helluva lot about loving people I cannot have, either because of either internal or external pressures (or a mixture of both). The movie, more than a celebration of tolerance, is a celebration of love as frailty.

In love we do not simply make ourselves stronger, or more truly ourselves; indeed, if we become ourselves at all in love, and I think we do, we do so only in weakness and brokenness. (Is this, I wonder, some bastardized Gnostic notion of love?) Perhaps this is why in most long-term relationships there are periods of forgetfulness, or even flat denials that "I don't love you anymore." And perhaps those relationships that last are those that do not so much remember the past, or beckon its return, but actually find a certain, maybe but momentary, sublime awareness and acceptance that the person I love now is not, and cannot be, the same person I fell in love with.

I don't know that it should've won Best Picture. Correction: I don't care which movie wins Best Picture. Just saying ... I'm not hating on Crash for the reasons a lot of you might be thinking.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

On Crash

Maybe I'm obtuse. Maybe I'm just not racially sensitive enough. Maybe I for some reason just miss the fine art of making movies. But I really do not get the fuss over this movie. Didn't get it when I saw it several months ago; and do not get it now, as I watch the cast and crew celebrate their Oscar win. Far too easy a moral ... far too lazy a story. Shrug.

Friday, March 03, 2006

You Really Can't Believe Me. Honestly, I Make a Lot of Stuff Up

Let me preface this by saying something unequivocal and untainted by qualification: I really don't like kids. Okay, having said that, let me equivocate and add a couple of qualifications. (1) I really don't like kids that make me realize how much I hate the idea of ever having any; (2) I really don't like kids that stare at me while I'm eating; and (3) I really don't like kids that don't like me.

By and large, nobody thinks it's a good idea that I ever be a parent. While the jury is still out in the minds of many whether K. would make a good parent, with most being won over by how much she genuinely seems to like most kids, a good 90% of friends polled are simply horrified at the thought of me being a father. (This was confirmed in a conversation with two such friends last night.)

This has got me thinking, though. Is "proving people wrong" a valid reason for trying to have a kid? I mean ... isn't that just as valid as, "oops, I guess that forgotten pill was a big deal"? I mean, sure, women have the biological-clock thing going for them. But, really, biology? A natural urge to be a mother? If that's all you have in your motivation bag, then don't come talking to me about the "miracle" of childbirth -- at that point, your child is as natural as a turd.

Now, before I'm attacked by the legion of mothers who undoubtedly read this blog, I'm not comparing anybody's child to a piece of crap. Near as I can remember, none of your kids have stared at me while I'm eating; and most have no reason to hate me, but certainly every reason to be happily oblivious to my existence. No ... my point is simply that everybody has an underlying motivation for wanting to have a baby. This talk of biological need to have a child, to breed, is far too animalistic and primal for me to think anybody actually believes it on the level of biology alone. I won't begin to speculate as to what the "real" reasons are, or to what degree they may or may not be valid. (Not only am I not in a position to assess that, I don't particularly care.) Furthermore, my point is that maybe "proving people wrong" isn't such a bad reason to want to have kids. I mean, relative to other reasons, I have to think it has as much validity.

Before you inquire whether I've just learned that K. is pregnant, I'll stop you in your tracks and say, "Hell to the no!" Nor am I all that interested in proving any of you people wrong anytime soon. But someday, who knows, maybe I'll be able to sit a son or daughter down on my knee and tell them the story of how Papa made her out a love borne by spite. And we will laugh at one another, and then at others, and then at you.