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Angry Men and All-Female Ghostbusters

The arrogance is what gets me. They call it “bad filmmaking” as though including women is some sort of cinematographic error and the thousands of people who worked on the film are all terrible at their jobs. They say it’s “pandering” as though Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon are totally unpopular and disliked. They say it’s “insulting” as though the studio executives personally decided to ruin these idiots’ lives.

Read the full response on Medium.

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The Problem with Jean Twenge

I remember Jean Twenge’s book Generation Me, in which she asserted that younger Gen X/Millennials were the most narcissistic generation in history. I’m still astounded that someone with her credentials would make such an inane, unfounded, insulting, and borderline ableist assessment. In this book, she points to things such as online chat and participation trophies as “evidence” that millennials are self-absorbed brats. As countless millennials have pointed out, millennials did not give the trophies to themselves! And clearly, Twenge is a Luddite.

Narcissists occur in every generation, plain and simple.

Read the original response on Medium.

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Chamber Horror: A New Film Subgenre

Chamber theatre is a style of theatrical production in which there is typically little to no set (and any set pieces are moved by performers as part of the show), and the emphasis is on the text and character development rather than on theatrics and special effects. One of the best known examples is the chamber drama 12 Angry Men, in which all of the action occurs within a single room where jurors deliberate over a man’s fate. Naturally, this format evolved into film, where small-scale, low-budget films emphasized dialogue and character dynamics — usually, tension and conflict—over big and showy cinema.
Small-scale and low-budget? Sounds perfect for horror filmmakers! I jest, of course… there are some high-budget chamber horror films, as I’ll discuss below. Yet the chamber style empowers the horror genre to tap into its philosophical roots: what does it mean to be human? what does it mean to be good … or evil?

Read my analysis of chamber horror films on Medium.

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The Persistent Role of Superstition

In Michael Shermer’s groundbreaking book Why People Believe Weird Things, he explores different realms of superstitious beliefs as they connect to religion or conspiracy. Shermer points out that these beliefs prevail because they support ideologies that in turn connect to power systems.

So, superstitious rituals usually hinge on concepts of self-identity and place in society. After all, many such rituals, such as knocking on wood, are far removed from their Celtic origins. Rather, they’re a mild form of performance art, a means of expressing one’s status and conscientiousness, as well as demonstrating social graces. After all, it’s rude to not say “bless you” after someone sneezes.

Read the full version of this post on Medium.

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TV’s Quirkiest Villains

We all look to Disney movies for the villains we love to hate, such as Hades or Scar, and we’ve been blown away by some of TV’s complex antagonists, such as The Handmaid’s Tale’s Serena Joy or half the characters in Game of Thrones. Yet some of the best TV villains are the ones who aren’t particularly tortured or ambiguous, but the ones who are clearly bad news, but adorable anyways.

Read my list on Medium.

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How Women Feel on Labor Day

As we prepare for barbecues, pool parties, or Hurricane Dorian, many mothers are finishing up the potato salad, getting the kids dressed, checking flashlight batteries, or doing laundry before the power goes out. Their lists of domestic tasks have doubled or even tripled in the face of a holiday–hurricane twofer.

Although Labor Day is ostensibly about “real” labor and “real” jobs, it’s also a day forged through other types of labor: domestic and emotional. Every holiday requires event planning, homemaking, and getting people together. And unfortunately, the burden of this labor tends to fall on women.

Before the men chime in with wails that they do in fact do housework, let me explain: it’s not that you don’t do it. It’s that women do it more often.

Read the full piece on Medium.

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The Singular “They”

As a writer and editor, I’m so glad that the singular “they” is becoming more accepted, for all the reasons you list and because it’s just. Damn. Easier. It’s taken some effort to convince my senior editor that it’s okay to use, and even more effort to convince my mother, who reads a lot of my stuff.

View the original, and what I was responding to, on Medium.

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Does the Media Control Our Minds?

Science fiction has long explored, and warned of, our obsession with media and its power to control our thoughts. As propaganda efforts successfully encouraged complacency among citizens of Nazi-led Germany, as countless Americans today willfully consume fake news, these concerns seem justified. Even Black Mirror has done its part to control our behavior, making some of us (ahem) sit for hours to finish the episode “Bandersnatch.” It appears that we’re simply unwitting sheep dragged along by the crook of mass media.

But does propaganda really motivate people to do things they wouldn’t normally do? Can people really not tell the difference between reality television and reality? Do violent video games cause shooting sprees? Can someone be programmed with a musical trigger to assassinate someone? Are we being controlled by social media?

Let’s find out.

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Ethnography Photography of the Wild West [PHOTOBLOG]


Check out this gallery of photographs by photojournalist Timothy O’Sullivan, who documented the interactions among settlers and Native Americans in the Old West. O’Sullivan’s ethnographic style and eye for detail are impressive, and most importantly, he made an important effect to be authentic:

O’Sullivan was famous for not trying to romanticise the native American plight or way of life in his photographs and instead of asking them to wear tribal dress was happy to photograph them wearing denim jeans.

Image from Dailymail.co.uk
via The American West as you’ve never seen it before: Amazing 19th century pictures show the landscape as it was chartered for the first time | Mail Online.

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Cultural Exchange through the Movies (LINK)

Americans may feel privileged to have such access to films and television. Indeed, we’ve reached (perhaps even surpassed) a saturation point in entertainment media. What we forget is that audiovisual media is a major cultural conduit—or rather a network of connective fibers that generate and shape our social consciousness—and its immersive qualities are well suited to cultural exchange. A few months ago, I attended a screening on campus of a film about HIV, filmed and produced by the Datoga in partnership with anthropologists. The film is particularly ethnographic in a grassroots sort of way, in that its target audience elected its own informants, those the community deemed trustworthy, and used prevailing cultural symbols and expressions to communicate the often Western-centric rhetoric of HIV/AIDS awareness. (The film is here.) The idea of a shared cultural consciousness permeating its works was a hallmark of Straussian structuralist anthropology, but in a post-postmodernist age, the understanding of the lattice effect of structure, ritual, symbol, and ethos has proved particularly fruitful in applied visual anthropology. While the Datoga project was an example of applied visual ethnography, with an explicit educational purpose, a recent NYTimes article discussed the approach from a different standpoint: culturally applied filmmaking.

What [the Iraqi filmmakers] definitely don’t have at home is a film industry, something being addressed, at least to a degree, by the nonprofit International Film Exchange. The exchange brought the students over from Baghdad where, several weeks before, the filmmaker Bill Megalos of Los Angeles had conducted a 10-day workshop on storytelling and editing. The exchange is devoted primarily to cultural give and take and international understanding. But in the case of the Iraqis, it may help create a base of knowledgeable filmmakers, a “crew” as the young men themselves called it. Since the economic sanctions imposed after the first gulf war, making films in Iraq has become all but impossible.

“It was my family business,” said the bearish Salam S. Mazeel, 35, whose mother was a sound designer, and who wants to be a cinematographer like his father. “But in the ’90s, everything stopped. We go to the hard times. No money, no hope.”

After his father died, his mother quit the business to raise her children; there was no cinema anyway. “That’s how it was,” Mr. Mazeel said. “Now, maybe something is different and we come to America and there are a few things in our minds. Like how to apply American rules to Iraqi movies.”

The article goes on to discuss how Iraqi films could take a cue from Hollywood movies and move away from the previous emphasis on style that European cinema demonstrates:

Years ago, Iraqi filmmakers would regularly attend VGIK, the Moscow film school; Iraqi film was influenced far more by European than American cinema. In Los Angeles, the Iraqi visitors were being advised by almost everyone to make their stories clear, to emphasize narrative over style.

That’s an interesting thing, considering the woefully incomplete or slapdash plots seen in much Hollywood fare. But truth be told, the expressionistic, avant-garde philosophy, seen in Soviet cinema and developed in later German and French films, has been relegated to the indie circuit in the U.S., the fortress of solitude for disillusioned American film buffs. The interest in plot in the United States derives partly from the well-made tradition that was popular in Britain and the U.S. around the same time the film industry was developing, and partly, I believe, from a capitalist ethos. But that’s a topic for another blog.

What’s intriguing about Megalos’ workshop for Iraqi filmmakers is its prescriptive purpose. It is a shade of the cultural imperialism the U.S. holds around the world. Are our films successful overseas because of their effective narratives, as the article suggests? Or because of the corollary economic influence? And films are products, as we know. Moreover, after congratulating ourselves on bringing democracy and peace to Iraq (at least for a moment or two), it seems an echo to claim artistic benefits to them as well.

However, the infusion of the Iraqi filmmakers’ films with their distinctive ethos, under the auspices of Hollywood economic,  political, and aesthetic structures, is not only the product, but the method, of cultural exchange. It is a new kind of ethnographic filmmaking, in which the individuals’ culture is writ large through collaborative works, nestled within a historical portrait of fluctuating, overlapping sociocultural conditions. It is why films are of interest to anthropologists, and why anthropologists continue to use films to communicate ideas. It is probably clear to the International Film Exchange; thanks to the U.S.’s economic power, Hollywood has the tools of the trade to empower all filmmaking cultures, with the end goal being understanding of humanity, not imperialism.

 

Related: Activist Filmmaking