Monday, May 30, 2011

Cultural stereotypes mapped out

London-based visual artist Yanko Tsvetkov has designed an intriguing, partly amusing series on international stereotypes. Shown here, for your pleasure. You´re welcome.

Anyone care for a trip to the state of "retired popstars"?

Europe according to Italian view is quite uncomplicated, as shown above.

But so is the Russian idea. Darned it, that land of wackos.

It is quite sad to think of our beautiful world in terms of threats.
Thank heavens they managed to kill that bearded terrorist (!) One fear less to worry about in the mind of a small-city republican. (And yes, I know I´m falling to the exact same abyss of stereotypes, of which I´m writing about. They are hard to shake out of. Truly.)

 Partial views on other cultures are pervasive. No matter how we try to think of ourselves as open-minded and culturally blind, the stereotypes still creep up from the under the stones. Some scientists (see semiotics) even claim that we are all, as human beings, inclined to see things through a particular mindset: the ideological glasses are difficult to notice or completely remove. There is always an incentive to prefer "us" as opposed to "them".  Still, it is sometimes refreshing to have a look at the mirror, and see if some thoughts are truly real or worth upgrading.

Europe according to the American view, as shown above. No visits to the Commie-zone.


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Somewhere in a Golden Cage

Director Sofia Coppola´s fourth exquisite feature, "Somewhere", is a careful and meditated look into the world of hedonism and material opulence. No doubt Coppola is partly describing her own upbringing within one of the royal families of modern cinema, yet she does not make a loud statement. There is no direct judgement or defense for the main character or his actions. We, as audience, are being shown, not told, what the life of a modern highly successful Hollywood movie star is, in all its glory and gloom.

Johnny Marco ( Stephen Dorff) is an accidental winner in this life. Or so it seems. He has it all: money, girls, abundance of free time and a celebrated position as a successful actor. Yet he has stumbled into it almost by accident, not having even really worked for it. The film starts with a lingering vision of a black sports car driving aimlessly back and forth in a desert. Clearly, this is the culmination of life in excess: there is nowhere else to go except back and forth.

The camera moves slowly and dreamlike, almost like enticing us to join the trance that has become Johnny Marco´s life. Most days he spends smoking, drinking, doing drugs and picking up girls. Women throw themselves at him, and he does not seem to recognize them as individuals anymore. For Johnny, desire has become obsolete, as it would require delayed gratification. All his wishes are being met, even before he states them. The world revolves around him, leaving him void of need or aspirations. The emptiness is tangible, and Marco has made a home for himself in a hotel, living the permaholiday life we all seem to crave sometimes.

The dialogue is far and between in this film, and mostly Coppola wants us to think for ourselves. She is careful not to give us any  direct explanations, yet inviting us to look more carefully at the soft images being thrown around the screen.

Before we start completely feeling sorry for the man, an 11-year-old daughter is being shown to us. She lives with her mother, occasionally visiting his child-like father in his bubble of a life. Somehow Cleo (Elle Fanning) has managed to make sense of the life of excess, and clearly enjoys the perks it offers without succumbing into the vacuum of entitlement. She has some life skills, making dinner for his father in the "hotel home" and practicing ice skating during nights. She is a semi-mother to her father at times, an adoring daughter at other times.

The problem with the beautifully shot and aesthetically pleasing film start at this point. What is actually the point of Cleo visiting his father´s life? Is he going to change, and if, for what? Is the message of "children are the only thing that matters in life" deep enough to sustain our interest into the overall story? What does
Marco´s existence and discourse on celebrity has to say about this modern society? Clearly, Coppola has given us a great effort, but it truly leaves us "Somewhere", not showing us enough to start a discussion.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Evolutionary psychology -defense: Or, Can´t help it, it´s in my Blood

Meet Mr. Satoshi Kanazawa. Chances are, you have encountered his clever ideas somewhere, or some of his like-minded fellow, hmm,  scientists. Mr. Kanazawa likes to sow his brilliant thoughts around, so let´s have a look at some of the snappy tidbits circling our mass consciousness these days.

Just because one claims to be a psychologist, even a qualified one, does not really mean a thing. Everyone and their uncle (no pun intended, it just slipped) who has seen a therapist knows this. There are quaks on every field, and the art of playing with your mind is not an exception. Then again, who am I to judge? Few of you might agree with what Satoshi writes, and these slogans seem to go around a lot these days. To the point of using evolutionary slogans as a defense for just about everything. Even so-called "smart people" of the world have seemed to stop questioning this, and base their judgement on statements standing in thin water. (Just think of the East-Finland Court of Appeal) It is almost like trying to win an argument with a die-hard evangelist: everything _just is_ this way, because the Bible says so. There is no rhetoric, no controversy.

But let´s get back to Satoshi and his wonderful little ideas about the world. All these writings can be found here, as in "why Feminism is the anti-Viagra". The guy writes for Psychology today, which I know some of you might hold in high value. Don´t.

In 2008:  "The best thing for people to do to become happier is to get in touch with their animal nature. Recognize and accept that we are animals. In some ways, in many ways, men are more similar to male chimpanzees or gorillas than to women. Forget what feminists, hippies, and liberals have told you in the last half century.  They are all lies based on political ideology and conviction, not on science. Money, promotions, the corner office, social status, and political power are what make men happy.Spending time with their children is what makes women happy.The best thing to do is to kill all the feminists and hippies and liberals.  Destroy political correctness completely once and for all."

Charming. Let´s see what else he has a sweet opinion on.

In 2011:  "Are all women essentially prostitutes? Yes.  Prostitution is evolutionarily familiar, because mating is evolutionarily familiar and prostitutes (at least the classy ones) are no different from other women, whom men also have to pay – not in cash payments but in dinners and movies, gifts, flowers, chocolates, and motor oil – if they wanted to impress them enough to have sex with them." 

And his latest jewel of a daily thought:  "Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women? There are marked race differences in physical attractiveness among women, but not among men. "

(And here we have a cute pink graph explaining the whole theory, hope it helps!):

"There are many biological and genetic differences between the races. However, such race differences usually exist in equal measure for both men and women. For example, because they have existed much longer in human evolutionary history, Africans have more mutations in their genomes than other races. And the mutation loads significantly decrease physical attractiveness (because physical attractiveness is a measure of genetic and developmental health). But since both black women and black men have higher mutation loads, it cannot explain why only black women are less physically attractive, while black men are, if anything, more attractive"

Just wonderful. I´m sure that he and late Mr.Mengele would have had a lot to talk about.
Cup of tea, some silly theories to ponder on, fireplace in the background... Charming. 


Monday, May 9, 2011

James Bond, Product placement and the not-so innocent Quickie

The old days of moviemaking, when a simple Coke-can might give us a quick innocent flash on the sidelines of the overall story (semi-accidentally) are long gone. These days it is all about the business and cross-promotion.

In "The Social Network" all the computers were conveniently old-school Sony-apparatuses, to boost the sales of the parent company producing the Facebook-epic.  The two "Sex and the City" movies were blatant advertising towards females from beginning to end, much like the tv-series they were based on. "Cast away" was nothing but a long commercial (for which we moviegoers paid!) defending the glory of Fed-ex. "Up in the Air", while still having some artistic value, was basically showing us how cool "American Airlines" is- look, even George Clooney likes to travel with it! In the eyes of the mass public, there is no difference between an actor and his/her character. We buy for a multitude of reasons, and a lot of the choices are anything but rational. Or so they say. They, you might ask?

These days, when actual commercials are easy to miss with TIVO, illegal torrents and just plain growing resistance to direct messages, the (M)ad Men have gotten ever more creative. Believe it or not, there are actual people making a living planning all those wicked marketing moves to be shown on film. Sometimes it is grotesque and obvious, often so subtle and fast that you might blink and miss it. But images are never unintentional. The idea is to plant a seed, make the viewer desire the product and not even realize what hit her/him. At the moment this beast of a business is valued at $ 3 billion.

One of the professionals in the mind game business of today is Norm Marshall, whose official title is "entertainment marketing consultant". Former car salesman has made a living arranging fertile unions between brands and Hollywood, and sees no harm in what he does. But even Marshall admits that there has to be a balance between the creative forces and the marketing forces: "otherwise it is just one big commercial". He himself only watches period movies anymore, due to boredom with contemporary flicks and their constant ads.

And how does this get us to the "Man with a licence to kill"? The production of the next earth-shaking spy thriller was almost halted due to difficulties in arranging financing. But alas, a few calls to quite a few companies, and the budget is back in order. So much so, that practically a third of the overall budget of the next James Bond- classic is coming from product placement. In total that makes a nice $45 million dollars, and with that kind of money, we are sure to see brands names from beginning to end. If you want to pass them, you might as well pass the entire action adventure.

Morgan Spurlock, the ever-curious American filmmaker on the loose, has naturally chosen this sexy topic for his new documentary, "POM Wonderful presents: The Greatest Movie ever sold". In his customary satirical way, he exposes the modus operandi behind the entire business, and manages to sell some visible space in his own film, as well. All in all, he has about 20 brands sponsoring his cultural critique, making one question what his overall goal is in the first place. According to Spurlock, even the first short clips of film were filled with advertisements: Thomas Edison shot the famous train scenes with ads plastered on the sides of the train. Spurlock´s intent is good, yet his idea seems to lack teeth on the actual agenda. These days, the few glimpses of a Coke-can or a  brand name cigarette  are increasingly being upgraded with actual script inserts, making movies (or tv-shows) seem like occasional, well,  plain commercials.(Fast-rewind to previous example on "Cast Away"). Problem does not lie with marketing itself: nowadays it is hard to walk through a street without being offered something. The issue lies within ourselves as a society, and our increasing acceptance to become targets for messages masquerading as innocent cultural texts. Or, does it all really matter? Are we consumers above all else?

Even the genius auteur himself, Mr. David Lynch, is not immune to the allures of commercialism. Besides making brilliant and mind-boggling art films every now and then, he has also ventured into the world of commercials. Perfume, pregnancy tests, cars, game consoles, antacids... Lynch is first to admit he does these for money and access to latest technology. But product placement for him putrefies.