How Rich I Would Be
October 29, 2008, 11:27 am
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I wish I had a nickel for every person who

  • supported the financial bailout and called people stupid if they didn’t favor it, but never had any real idea what the bailout involved
  • blames the current financial crisis on something they vaguely call “deregulation” but can give no details, can make no argument, and obviously doesn’t know what the hell they are talking about
  • pretended to kinda like John McCain in 2000 in arguments with (R)s (when he was running against Bush) but now calls him evil incarnate
  • claims to be tired of “negative campaigning” and the politics of personal destruction, but wrote approximately 70 bajillion blog posts last month speculating about Sarah Palin’s baby
  • is going to vote for Obama to be our next President primarily because he is cool, and they want to be cool too

Oh, how rich I would be.

Richie Dagger’s Crime
October 28, 2008, 10:55 am
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by the Germs Posies

Indy 4 and CGI

I’ve officially had it with CGI. I really really wanted to like the recent Indiana Jones flick, and on some level I did enjoy it.

The problem was that in virtually every scene, I could not and did not believe that I was watching the characters in a real place. Take a look at this shot. It’s supposed to be taking place outside, next to an ‘Area 51′ warehouse, in the middle of Nevada. Yet look at how the actors are lit. Are they outside? Look at the fricking sky. Is that real?

The other three Indy flicks surely weren’t “realistic”, but they all felt at least somewhat grounded in real places. When Indy was walking through the jungle, I believed that was a real jungle. Outside shots in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull are so awash in flashy photoshop lighting effects, “beautiful” skies, and hyper-realistic colors that it’s downright distracting.

The effect is eerie and unsettling at times. I wonder if maybe CGI backgrounds/effects have reached a point analogous to the uncanny valley for robots: so good that the ‘realism’ is unsettling because it’s still ‘off’. CGI didn’t bother me so much 10 years ago. It didn’t bother me in the first couple Star Wars prequels; I thought it was pretty neat. But now CGI is so good that they can do anything with it. And so they do, to the point where backgrounds can be painted with any amount of detail and color and “effect” desired.

Another way to look at it is that CGI in movies has reached the point that matte painting techniques and elaborately-painted sets/backgrounds had reached in, say, the ’50s. You watch an old ’50s movie, say East of Eden or early Hitchcock or musicals like Oklahoma, and scenes where the actors are supposed to be outside are obviously taking place on a set. Perhaps in a “beautiful sunset” scene the actors will so obviously be standing in front of a giant painting with fake “beautiful” orange-and-pink colors on it. You let it slide because that’s part of watching a classic. But it does make a movie feel dated. Coppola used such techniques for The Outsiders, but that’s a case in point, because it was clearly a conscious move designed to highlight the period piece.

CGI technology can do more flashy things than a static painted background obviously, but it still looks as fundamentally fake as those sets and giant backgrounds. So, as with The Outsiders, it’s almost as if CGI technology makes a movie seem more dated now and places it squarely out of the contemporary. Instead of seeming timeless like the other Indys, Indy 4 felt like the sort of outdated exploitation flick to which these films are supposed to be homages. I won’t say it ruined the movie because hey, it’s still Indy, but it was distracting.

The ironic thing is that the story, acting, and action were all fine. I really would have liked it a lot more if they’d just filmed things in real locations and not used so much CGI.

The New Monarchism

The recent films 28 Days Later, its sequel 28 Weeks Later, the “Firefly” film Serenity and I Am Legend with Will Smith all involve humans converted into frenzied murderous demons due to a man-made virus – usually a virus created with noble intentions. In Weeks and Legend, the hero(s) must give their lives to protect a “special” individual whose blood may hold the key to humanity’s salvation; in Serenity the sacrifices are (less convincingly) necessary so that truth can out. In all cases not only are the demons trying to stop the heroes, but the heroes are up against the establishment as well. Similar setups can be found in many recent films, good and bad, from Children of Men to Ultraviolet.

Why does this theme of the demon virus and the special savior keep popping up, and what are all these movies really about?

Seems to me most of them are about the failure of ‘liberalism’ (in the American sense), i.e. the failure of social democracy – and also, more surprisingly, a longing for monarchy.

A certain stripe of horror/disaster/apocalyptic/exploitation film serves to play upon some widespread yet unstated fear, a fear that cannot or does not find its expression via “respectable” outlets. It’s not politically correct to make a straightforward movie about the threat of commies, but who will object if you make Invasion of the Body Snatchers? ’70s teen slasher films were about the dangers of casual sex and free love: teens have sex, then get killed. The subtext, which could not be stated in progressive company but could be woven into a cheesy movie, being that teens who have sex are sluts and deserve what they get.

What happens in a demon-virus movie? Who are the monsters? The monsters are other people. And not just some evil or colluding subset of other people, either: basically, it’s all other people (except the protagonists). The message is pretty clear: people are monsters and will come after you and claw at you and not stop until they are dead. But, how did those people – regular, faceless people – all get to be monsters? Usually it’s like this: the government is working on some project, something that they think will do a lot of good (say, cure cancer), and something goes horribly wrong.

The well-intentioned government program ends up going awry and turning people into monsters.

This sounds like every far-right caricature of their view of every liberal government project, does it not?

This is not to say that the people who write and make these films are actually far-righties who have such a view of liberal government programs. Probably, most of the people involved in making these films (as with all films) are well to the left of the political spectrum and probably would not even recognize this subtext of their films. (Some of them, e.g. Serenity director Joss Whedon, probably even think the critique they are levelling is pro-left and anti-right.) Nevertheless, these films appear designed to tap into that fear, the fear that liberal social projects will inevitably backfire and have disastrous unintended consequences.

This brings us to the Solution in all these films. The Solution is miraculously finding the Special Savior whose very existence will save humanity. Usually, there is something special about his/her blood (“immunity to the virus”, for example). Once this is learned/exposited, the heroes spend the rest of the movie trying to keep the Special Savior alive, and may give up their lives in doing so. But it will be worth it, because the Special Savior – often, tellingly, his/her actual bloodline – is important.

This, of course, is a metaphor. The Special Savior is, essentially, royalty and must henceforth be treated as such. And why not? Since liberalism/socialism doesn’t work, it’s only natural to turn back to the most widespread pre-liberal system: monarchy. “Monarchy is what will save us”, these films seem to say, and their third acts are mostly concerned with the of one thing: a celebration and glorification of self-sacrifice for the sake of the new royalty.

One may object that the savior storyline is more obviously and straightforwardly just a Christ/messiah parallel, and that is clearly true. But let’s not forget what the messiah prophecy was about: it was about a special child who would be born, who would be a king to lead the Jews and save them. The fact that these movies make use of a messiah storyline buttresses my point that they are pro-monarchist, rather than refutes it. Particularly since it is the physical aspects of the messiah (the kid’s blood in 28 Weeks Later, the woman’s random ability to conceive in Children of Men, etc.) rather than any metaphysical claims to being born under a special sign or being the ‘son of God’. The stories here are far more close parallels of the monarchist aspects of the messiah prophecy than they are of the religious/metaphysical ones.

The cynic in me would say that these stories have their most natural appeal for disillusioned liberals, liberals who have (deep down) lost faith in the potential of their ‘progressive’ projects for doing good. Stripped of this faith, all that is left is the naked desire to be celebrated as nobility. As saviors. If not because of the great social projects they produce (which they now realize are doomed), simply because of who they are. Their “blood”, i.e. their intrinsic specialness.

Because just as the demon-virus storyline allows people to confront their fears of social projects gone wrong, the savior resolution allows them to indulge their fantasy of being saviors. Which is, after all, the central fantasy behind the appeal of ‘liberalism’, for so very many.

A Certain Girl
October 25, 2008, 5:07 pm
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by Warren Zevon

There’s a certain girl I’ve been in love with
a long, long time
(What’s her name?)
I can’t tell ya. (Aww)

It’s So Cool That Obama Will Win Cuz He’s Cool
October 24, 2008, 11:48 pm
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Ezra Klein seconds my point that a large part of the appeal of Obama, and a major reason why he appears likely to win, is because he is “cool”.

That’s what our modern politics are like: being “cool” and “cool”ness in general is important.

As far as I can tell, Ezra Klein, professional blog commentator, seems to think that’s pretty neat.

A Shane
October 23, 2008, 12:17 am
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My 4-year-old apparently still has a way to go with the concept of greater than/less than. She says she is bigger than her little brother, I say I am too, and she says “no, I’m bigger than him”. Apparently the term ‘greater than’ mistakenly denotes, in her mind, ‘is the next-biggest’. Thus every object only gets assigned a unique thing that is ‘bigger than’ it. If she’s the one bigger than her brother, then I can’t be. (I’m bigger than her mother, you see.)

Another way to say this is that she still needs to assimilate the concept of transitivity into her mental definition of inequality.

That’ll come in due time, but what amused me was her explanation for why she didn’t want to accept that Y>X and Z>Y meant Z>X:

“Because if two kids are both bigger than another kid, then that’s a shane.”


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