ambivalent imbroglio home
May 09, 2006

Cognitive Dissonance Doesn't Even Begin to Cover This

So have you heard the one about the Michael Moore hata who has been begging for money to pay server costs to keep his blog going so he can continue to hate on Michael Moore? Yeah, and did you hear why he can't pay his own server bills? Because his wife is ill and they can't afford to pay her medical bills b/c their insurance is screwing them around! He writes:

I’m fairly broke, and my wife has been in the hospital way too often in the last month. They raised the cost of our health insurance by about $1500 a year and this year our mortgage increased as well. Now Donna needs tests that aren’t covered by the insurance.

Yeah. And what is Michael Moore's next film about? Well, it's tentatively called “Sicko” and it's a documentary about the failings of the U.S. health care and insurance industries. In February Moore asked for people to tell their health care horror stories:

So, if you'd like me to know what you've been through with your insurance company, or what it's been like to have no insurance at all, or how the hospitals and doctors wouldn't treat you (or if they did, how they sent you into poverty trying to pay their crazy bills) ...if you have been abused in any way by this sick, greedy, grubby system and it has caused you or your loved ones great sorrow and pain, let me know.

So just to be clear, Michael Moore is making a movie about how our health care and insurance system ruins people's lives and this major Moore hata is begging for money to continue bashing Moore—money he doesn't have b/c the health care and insurance system has ruined his life.

What's the matter with Kansas? Nothing much—it's just cutting off its nose to spite its face.

Posted 08:35 AM | Comments (46) | TrackBack

May 03, 2005

TV Daze

Paper writing is hard. Watching tv is easy. Which do you think I've been doing?

But seriously, I've had some serious catching up to do with the idiot box (not that I was really deprived during the semester, but...), and thanks to the wonders of Tivo I've been able to stay on the edge of my seat with all of my favorite shows, including:

The Amazing Race: It's wrong how much I want Rob and Amber to win. They're sort of evil and ruthless, but they have so much fun doing what they do and they're so nice to each other and just so damn good at the whole business that it's hard not to root for them. Still, their competition is tough and also hard not to root for, mostly. For example, it was sad to see Meredith and Gretchen (the oldest couple to ever make it this far) last on the map tonight; they totally deserved to win. They did the incredible thing of taking longer than anyone to do almost everything, yet still they stayed in the race week after week. Uchenna and Joyce also deserve to win—happy, earnest, nice people who have worked well as a team and played completely above board the whole time. Plus, Joyce sacrificed her hair to win, so that's worth something. (Although, I really think she looked great after the hair came off—not that she didn't before, just that it didn't seem like a huge sacrifice, aesthetically-speaking, to me. I'm sure I'd feel differently if I was a woman and I had as much beautiful hair as she did....) Finally, Ron and Kelly. What's to say? As L. says, they were clearly set up to be America's Sweethearts (the beauty queen and the former P.O.W. in Iraq), but instead they've turned into America's Breakhearts. Overall I feel sorry for Kelly b/c Ron so consistently takes his stress out on her and it's awful. Kelly can be annoying, too, but how is she supposed to respond? So yeah, Ron's the bad guy there, I think. It's too bad. If they win it will be a little sad just because they are so clearly destined to not be together, whereas the other two remaining teams pretty clearly are. Not that the goal of the race is to reward the happiest couple, but...

America's Next Top Model (ANTM) 4; Yeah, I watch. You wanna make something of it? L. got me into it and at first I resisted, but then I kept catching the end and wondering why one woman was going rather than the others and I just got sucked in. This season I was miffed from the beginning that they dumped Brita so early, and then Rebecca and then Tiffany. I mean, who am I to judge? But Brita didn't even get a chance, Rebecca got knocked for why? And Tiffany, well, I thought she was really going somewhere for a while. Whatever. At this point my money's on Naima, but since I have no money, I'm not risking much by saying that. I'd guess maybe Brittany has a pretty good shot, too, but it seems inevitable that Michelle and Keenyah are going to be taking bows soon. Christina? Dude, who knew botox could take a woman so far?

Survivor: Palau: What a crazy season—one tribe never won a single immunity challenge. I was sad last week to see Stephanie voted off, but not surprised. Going into last week's show I thought I woudl be more disappointed if she got the axe, but after watching how she played the situation (or at least how they edited how she played it), I didn't have much sympathy for her. She needed to push a lotharder if she was going to make a power play against Tom, but instead she just “planted the seed” and hoped her sistahs would have the sense to play to win. It's getting old watching “strong” men run the tribes until the end, even if women do win in the end. Wouldn't it have been great if Stephanie would have pulled off a coup and picked off Tom, Ian, and Greg, one by one? That would have put the remaining women in places 1-4; now they're likely to go 4-7. Of course, at some point I imagine the three remaining men are going to turn on each other, and they're going to try to take a woman with them in the hopes they can dominate the challenges against her, and then that woman will win in the final vote. At least, that's the way it generally seems to go. Why do I even watch this show? Oh yeah, it's so much better than writing papers.

Oh, I've also managed to watch three more movies in the last couple of days (yeah, I am working hard):

  • Sideways: Great show. I see now why it got so much buzz. Of course, I'm a sucker for any story about a failed or failing outcast writer, but the juxtaposition of the archetypal loser with the guy who seems to have it all but is really the losingest loser of all, well, it was very well done. Once L. told me why I recognized Virginia Madsen all I could think whenever she was on was “candyman candyman candyman,” but other than that, this was a keeper.
  • Code 46: Oh man. What an awful awful movie. There's a reason you've never heard of it, so just forget I mentioned it. Once again I got suckered by the sci-fi premise, which was actually fairly interesting. The future world was well-designed in many ways, with its own language melange, good scenes and logical technical advances like viruses that can make you more empathetic, or make you immune to bacteria, etc. But the actual love affair between Tim Robbins and Samantha Morton? No. And the plot? Implausible doesn't even begin to describe it. Come on people! How about a little internal consistency here?
  • Starsky and Hutch: It was on HBO, ok? Exactly what you'd expect from Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson. Exactly.
I really am going to write this paper. Really. Tomorrow. And no, my name is not Scarlet.

Posted 11:08 PM | Comments (6)

April 30, 2005

Movie Daze

I've watched many movies in the last few days as part of finals decompression and just generally because I haven't had the energy or focus to do much else. Here's what I've seen recently:

  • Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle: See it. Funny funny funny, combined with some biting social commentary mainly having to do w/racism, xenophobia, and various social stereotypes, plus more funny funny funny.
  • Hotel Rwanda: Another must-see, if you haven't already. Don Cheadle is awesome. This movie is the opposite of funny. It's a blinding indictment of global politics, and especially the “Western world.” And it's happened/happening again in Darfur.
  • The Final Cut: Possibly the worst movie ever. Do not see this. Trust me. The concept might have been good, but the execution? No.
  • Garden State: Loved it. Sweet, funny, awkward, but definitely time well spent.
While three out of four were pretty good, I'm still feeling a little movied-out now. I was thinking about seeing that hitchhiker's movie, but maybe it will have to wait until the paper is done. If you've seen it, what do you think? Great, good, ok, or awful? Should I wait for DVD?

Posted 10:34 PM | Comments (6)

November 19, 2004

Friday Question: Movie Double Dip?

Do you ever double dip at the movie theater? By that I mean, after you've seen one movie, do you ever exit that movie and slip quietly into another that's just about to begin in the same multiplex? When you pay $10 to see a movie, do you feel justified in seeing two? Anonymous responses welcome, of course. I'm just curious. I don't feel any qualms about this myself b/c I feel I've paid for about a thousand extra movie screenings in all the exorbitant movie tickets I've purchased, but apparently some people are very opposed to the double dipping. Where do you stand on this burning issue? ;-)

Posted 08:19 AM | Comments (10)

October 22, 2004

Progressive Peliculas

Cool thing to do this weekend in D.C.: Attend a free screening of a progressive documentary at the Provisions Documentary Film Series. Neato. [link via DCist]

Posted 09:08 AM

September 19, 2004

Silver City

Saw Silver City Friday night. Salon‘s comments were pretty dead on:
Sayles has basically been making the same picture for, like, umpty-five years now. I’ve gotten used to it; I even kind of like it. It‘s a picture in which some fine and well-intentioned actors stand in front of a scenic background, knees locked, and deliver a monologue about America. Sometimes it’s a pretty good monologue about America. And once you get used to the movie‘s creaking plot, its aw-shucks ragtag heroes and sniggering, black-hatted villains, and once the general boringness of the filmmaking stops bothering you, the Sayles film can crank itself up to a certain power.
I, of course, liked it, because I’m admittedly part of the choir. The scenic backgrounds of Colorado were nice, and some of the actors did a great job. Tim Roth‘s character also delivers a nice little monologue about how the mainstream media interacts with independent media and bloggers. Basically, he says, the independents uncover a big story and write something about it, but the mainstream won’t touch it until there‘s a mountain of supporting evidence so that the story just can’t be ignored anymore, and then they‘ll publish a one-paragraph teaser on page 6 about “rumors and allegations,” and then the politicians or corporations or whoever is involved will have to deny the rumors and allegations, and that’s when the story finally hits the front pages of the mainstream media: “X denies rumors!” Is that what happened with the “CBS memos”? Is that how CBS got burned? Maybe it didn‘t float the one-paragraph teaser before it went public, and then it got creamed by the righteous indignation of the right. But watching “Silver City” and seeing what’s happening w/the whole CBS memos thing—it‘s all so ridiculous. If CBS got these documents and shared them with the public, why should we crucify CBS if they turn out to be fakes? If they’re fakes, the next question is: Do they reflect reality, despite being fake? And another question: Who faked them, and why? (That‘s being asked now.) The point is, we shouldn’t punish the media for reporting information they find. Yes, we should ask them to verify as best they can the information they find, but shouldn‘t we encourage sharing more information, not less? If we set up a standard where the only thing the media can “report” is what’s already well-proven to be “true,” then we‘ll get what we have today, which is a media that does little beyond reading press releases. Not good.

Posted 09:39 AM

September 10, 2004

More Coolness This Weekend

In D.C. this weekend? Check out the D.C. Labor Film Festival at the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring. I'm thinking "Take Out" (tomorrow at 3:15) looks pretty good, as do some of the others, but they're all $8.50/each, so I'm thinking I won't be seeing more than one or two.

Posted 10:54 AM

July 25, 2004

Bistro Med & The Bourne Supremacy

Bistro Med: We didn't make eat at Pizzeria Paradiso because the wait was too long; instead, we went next door to Bistro Med. L. and I shared an appetizer of "Cigar Borek," which was little flutes of pan-fried phyllo dough filled with a feta-like substance. Good, not great. I also had the BMT Salad—balsamic vinaigrette/basil, fresh mozzarella, and tossed greens (it also featured roasted red peppers). Quite good, though perhaps not quite large enough to serve as a satisfying main course. Overall, it was good, but it didn't make such a great impression I'm in any hurry to go back.

The Bourne Supremacy: If you like action films, and especially if you liked "The Bourne Identity," I'm betting you'll like "The Bourne Supremacy." The film is intricately plotted so that the action fits neatly into the advancing story, rather than just being action for action's sake, as in too many films like this. It's a little predictable by about halfway through, and I don't think Damon does as well in this one as he did in the first—he somehow doesn't seem nearly as tortured and pained as he did last time, even though his character has every reason to be. Also, it's too bad Franka Potente doesn't have a bigger role. But those are minor complaints.

As good as it was, "The Bourne Supremacy" is still a movie you could probably wait to see on DVD. It would make a great Friday or Saturday night brain vacation this fall or winter.

I saw the film at the Georgetown Loews Cineplex, an easy two block walk from Pizzeria Paradiso and Bistro Med. The theater was huge, sold out, and overheated. Also, the sound was not working properly for all but about 10 minutes of the movie—instead of satisfyingly overpowering surround sound, we had to strain to hear even the action sequences because it seemed like the sound was only coming out of a couple of speakers behind the screen. Very disappointing. Next time I'll ask for a refund.

Posted 03:36 PM | Comments (2)

July 17, 2004

Pathological Pursuit of Profit

After reading the book a couple of weeks ago, we saw the documentary film version of The Corporation last night. Of the two, I recommend the book. It's a quick read, very accessible, and it's packed with terrific nuggets of information. By comparison the movie seemed overly long, depressing, and at times downright boring. To be fair, I'm probably being harsh on the movie both because I've read the book and because I had such high hopes. After reading the book, I hoped the movie would be a pithy, riveting, incisive distillation of the book, a highly accessible and even entertaining vehicle that would carry the book's main message—corporations are, by definition, anti-democratic and antisocial—to a wide popular audience. And while the movie is great and I highly recommend it, I fear it's a little too much on the spinach side of cinema to really reach or convince large numbers of people.

The filmmakers have provided an excellent summary of the movie so you can get the gist of what it's about if it's not coming to your area. (It's only in very limited release right now.) The movie is long almost by necessity; the negative effects of the modern corporation reach so many aspects of the world and of society that even at over two hours long the movie could only skim the surface of a few of them. Because it was so packed with information, it's hard to pick out highlights. Still, one scene stands out in my memory as a compelling reason to pay attention to the issue of the pathological pursuit of profit that is the sole reason for the corporation's existence. That reason comes from Ray Anderson, the Chairman of Interface, Inc. (a carpet company). He compares our current situation to the early stages of human flight where people would stand on the edge of a cliff with some wings strapped to their backs and jump off, hoping they could fly. If the cliff was high enough, the jumper might initially think he was flying, but really he was just in freefall, rushing to his death. According to Anderson, the world is in just such a position today, except we're all the jumper, and when we gave corporations the rights of a person we jumped off a huge cliff. Our wings are the corporate/capitalist system that we think is flying, but really we're in freefall. It's easy to think we're still flying because the cliff was so high, but some people can see farther ahead and they see the ground rushing up to meet us and they know we're plummeting to our destruction. Those are the people (like the makers of this film) who are shouting warnings and working to wake people up to the fact that the corporate takeover of life on earth is not sustainable. In fact, the pathological pursuit of profit is rushing us headlong to the end of life as we know it.

I guess I'm a sucker for extended metaphors.

But like I said, the book is better than the movie. It covers much the same ground, but adds more depth, such as describing how the dominant position of the corporation in society has created an entirely new kind of person:

"The corporation has essentially replaced the church in terms of who you are," says Edison Schools financier Michael Moe. It wants the same thing as the church, he says: "obedient constituents that . . . pay [their] dues and follow the rules." Human nature is neither static nor universal. It tends to reflect the social orders people inhabit. Throughout history, dominant institutions have established roles and identities for their subjects that meshed with their own institutional natures, needs and interests: God-fearing subjects for the church, lords and serfs for feudal orders, citizens for democratic governments (134).

And what kind of subjects does the corporation want? Subjects like itself: "purely self-interested, incapable of concern for others, amoral, and without conscience" (134). Sounds a lot like those Enron traders caught on tape (also here), doesn't it?

The book also contains a great indictment of one of the darling little ploys of business— "deregulation":

Deregulation . . . rests on the suspect premise that corporations will respect social and environmental interests without being compelled by government to do so. No one would seriously suggest that individuals should regulate themselves, that laws against murder, assault, and theft are unnecessary because people are socially responsible. Yet oddly, we are asked to believe that corporate persons—institutional psychopaths who lack any sense of moral conviction and who have the power and motivation to cause harm and devastation in the world—should be left free to govern themselves (110-111).

Corporations further argue that they should be free to govern themselves because they're already just helpless pawns in the hands of the all-powerful control of "the market." They say, "don't regulate us; the market will tell us what we can and can't do because if we behave badly then people won't buy our stuff." And while this sounds very nice and many people are taken in by it, it's really an argument for selling democracy to the highest bidder.

One premise of democracy is that, as citizens, all people are equal, at least within the political sphere. Everyone has one vote, regardless of his or her wealth or social position, and that means, in relation to corporations, that every citizen has an equal say about how these powerful entities must behave. Moving regulation of corporations from government to the market immunizes them to the effects of citizens' participation in the political process and leaves their control to an institution where one dollar—not one person—equals one vote. "At least in democracy each person is formally equally," says political economist Elaine Bernard, executive director of the Trade Union Program at Harvard University. "The humblest citizen, the most prestigious citizen still only has one vote. But when we move that power over to the marketplace, the humblest and the wealthiest are totally asymmetrical. And one has such immense power that they can literally crush the other completely and utterly and fully. So that's one of the reasons historically we've always felt the need to regulate markets." (145-6).

Something to think about the next time the FCC tries to decrease regulations on media ownership, for example.

Both the book and the movie end with gestures of hope that active citizens who care and are paying attention have some ability to take their society and the world back from corporation control, and return it to citizen control. And that's really the bottom line of these pieces: Corporations are, by definition and by law, antisocial. They have become frighteningly powerful. However, they are not unstoppable, and we are not helpless against them. I hope that last part is true, because if we're rushing headlong to disaster, the ground seems to be getting closer everyday.

Posted 12:10 PM | Comments (5)

July 05, 2004

Spiderman 2: Being Steady

Editor's Note: This post was written July 5, but because of Internet access problems, it did not actually go online until July 12.

We're part of history! We contributed to the record-setting opening-weekend of "Spiderman 2"! I feel so good about that. It might be the best thing I have ever achieved. Even though, to be honest, I didn't really contribute, since L's dad was generous enough to buy my ticket, and since we didn't really, technically, go on opening weekend. We went on Monday the 5th—was that still part of opening weekend?

Anyhoo, it was better than I expected. If you enjoyed the first, I bet you'll enjoy (or enjoyed, since by now you've probably already seen it) this one. You get lots of neat special effects w/Spidey flying through the streets of Gotham City or wherever he is, some kisses w/the girl, several fights w/the bad guys, and a pretty spectacular subway scene that should put you on the edge of your seat.

The movie flirts a little w/being unconventional in the sense of depriving Spidey of his powers for a while and even making it seem like he might not get the girl. Of course, these are only flirtations; being a Spiderman movie it must obviously conform to Hollywood's expectations, but it also has the added burden of having to conform to comic book expectations. I guess in mainstream comic books as in Hollywood, the hero gets the girl. I'm guessing b/c I don't know much about comic books.

"Spiderman 2" (w/its stunningly boring and unimaginative title) was also conventional in its message. Spidey spends the first bit laboring under the idea that he has to be a superhero at the expense of everything else in his life. Then, when that doesn't work (and when he seems to be losing his super powers, anyway) he abandons being a superhero completely and tries to become just a regular guy. The mad scientist suggests his loss of powers is because he's keeping love bottled up inside and that's tying him all up in knots, hence the lost powers. Of course, this extreme doesn't work so well either b/c the city begins to fall apart w/out Spiderman around to keep crime in check and also b/c Aunt May gives Spidey a lecture about how sometimes "we have to stay steady to do what's right, even if it means giving up our dreams." Spidey's dream is, of course, Mary Jane Watson, but when her life is threatened, he realizes he has to be Spiderman, even if it means losing her to another guy (an astronaut!?). So Spidey returns, kicks ass steadily, and gives up his dream by telling MJ they can never be together b/c his enemies would always try to kill her. Here's where the movie could have been good: Leave us w/a broken-hearted Spidey, choosing to battle evil above all else, and a broken-hearted MJ getting married off to a nice astronaut. Have the two of them—Spidey and MJ—pining away from each other. Leave the audience gasping in disbelief and disappointment. Then, in Spiderman 3, give us a torrid illicit love affair between the two of them as they live their secret lives with each other. Wouldn't that be great?

Maybe not. And no way it's going to happen in a blockbuster. The only thing I'm really wondering about at the end is whether Aunt May's spiel is really the "message" of the film. Sure, Spidey repeats the "stay steady to do the right thing even if it means giving up your dreams speech" to the villain to make him do the right thing (as L said, this is an action flick where in order to save the day, all the the hero ends up having to do is give the villain a good talking to), but is that really what works for Spidey, or is it just some happy medium? Is this an "if you love someone, set them free" movie? Or is this an "all things in moderation" movie?

Or is this a Hollywood blockbuster with mixed messages to guarantee a happy ending?

Doesn't matter. It does well as a blockbuster, but I still wish it had a better title.

Posted 05:09 PM | Comments (2)

June 29, 2004

The American President

I can't believe I just watched this movie. It must've been Annette Benning that kept me watching, because it certainly wasn't Michael Douglas. Way back in the early 1990s — the summer of "Shining Through" and "Basic Instinct," I think — I got fed up with Michael Douglas because he always plays the same character and it's generally a character I don't like. But maybe it wasn't Benning. Maybe it was Aaron Sorkin's writing. He can be trite and cloyingly romantic, but he's certainly hit on a winning formula with the idea of a U.S. President who learns that the way to be President is to stand up for what he really believes and to fight the fights that need to be fought, rather than only the fights he can win. People eat that up. You'd think a real life candidate would get the hint.

Watching this movie, as well as old "West Wing" reruns (for which Sorkin is also responsible) makes me wish people in the first few months of 2004 would have confused the fantasy world of movies and television with the reality of a real presidential campaign just a little more. Maybe then we'd have a real candidate to vote for instead of Kerry. Maybe then people wouldn't have been so afraid to vote for someone who stood up for what he believed in. I submit that Howard Dean was a candidate that would fight the fights that needed to be fought, but I'm afraid Kerry's only going to fight the fights he thinks he can win. I still hope I'm wrong about Kerry, but if I'm not, there's still going to be a huge market for Sorkin's fantasy presidents.

Posted 09:42 PM | Comments (9)

June 26, 2004

We Sure Do Need Some Water*

We saw "Fahrenheit 9/11" last night and it was ... a great film! (I know you're all shocked that I liked it. You can pick your jaws up off the floor now.) In many ways, typical Moore. In at least one way, not quite so typical—he wasn't in it that much (except as narrator and commentator throughout, of course). After seeing it, one thing seems certain: The barrage of pundits speaking out against the film (and Moore personally) in the last 1-2 weeks were designed to do one thing: Make people decide in advance they don't want to see the film. I say that because I think almost anyone who sees this movie—all but the most Republican partisans—will have to think very very seriously about voting for Bush this November. You may find much to quibble with in the film, but its most damning underlying argument is pretty unassailable. Therefore, the Republicans' best hope to reduce the damage the film might do to Bush's chances is just to go all out to try to keep people from seeing it at all. And I'm not talking censorship. The strategy is to make those who haven't seen the film think Moore is a crazed lunatic and perhaps a traitor, and to make the film seem like one big fat lie.

There's just one problem with that, Moore's not crazy, and, while the film's analysis of recent history might be hyperbolic or facile at times, in its biggest theme, it does not lie. Despite that, the "don't see it!" strategy may be working. One of my co-workers yesterday declared she has no desire to see the film because Moore's a crazy liar, and at least one other person I know (who is a dedicated Fox "news" watcher) has decided he won't be seeing it either, for the same reason.

<snark> It's a good thing people make up their own minds in this country, don't you think? </snark>

I don't want to spoil the film for those who haven't seen it yet, although I'm not sure I could even if I wanted to; if you've been following any coverage of it, you know what it's about already. It seemed to have a prologue and two parts. The prologue how Bush was appointed president by the Supreme Court after thousands of voters were disenfranchised in Florida. Part one is about September 11, 2001 and the immediate response to it—the fact that leading up to it the Bush administration seemed not very interested in Bin Laden or Al Quaeda or terrorism, the fact that Bush just sat in a schoolroom in in Florida for seven minutes after he was told that America was "under attack" (Moore's critics seem to really dislike what he does with this), the fact that the Bush administration helped 142 Saudi Arabian nationals—including many members of the Bin Laden family—leave the country on charter flights w/out being asked any questions, etc. (Moore's also been challenged on this, since the 9/11 Commission said that, in hindsight, it looks like none of the Saudis who were allowed to leave were likely terrorists or anything. This misses the point, which is simply: Why were these people, of all people, given special treatment? No one is saying they were terrorists, only that it was improper to give them any advantages over anyone else at that time.)

There's a lot packed into the first half of the movie, including interesting little details about the deep connections between the Bush family and Saudi Arabian oil bigshots and royalty. I'm sure Moore's critics are busily explaining away all those little details in their arguments that they all add up to nothing. The big point here was not incredibly clear to me. It's definitely not that Saudi Arabians are secretly running U.S. foreign and domestic policy or anything like that. Part one simply points out that there's deep ties between the Bush family (and others in the Bush administration), and Saudi interests, and that there's big money involved, and that that Saudi interests have received very good treatment from the U.S. for some time.

Part two was, for me, more effective. Part two is more about the buildup to Bush's invasion and occupation of Iraq, all the lies that went into getting Americans and the world to buy that debacle, who is getting rich off the war (e.g., the Carlyle Group and Halliburton) and who is paying the price for Bush's lies. I'm sure many people are trying, but just can't imagine how anyone could argue that Moore is wrong here. The companies and people profiting from the war can't deny that they're doing so. They can argue that "somebody's gotta do it," but that's no excuse; no one would have had to do it if Bush hadn't invaded in the first place. Also, how can Bush and Co. defend the fact that ten times more taxpayer dollars go to a private Halliburton-employed truck driver than to a member of the U.S. armed forces who's basically doing the same job? I don't see the defense, the logic, the argument. The war was unnecessary, and now it's created countless opportunities for corporations to steal from American taxpayers with the blessing and active assistance of the U.S. government. Hooray.

And that's Moore's biggest and strongest argument, as I see it: The big losers in the America created by the Bush administration are those with the least to begin with—the poor and marginalized Americans who are losing social services because so much of the federal budget has to go to Iraq, and who are losing their lives because they are the people who make up the vast majority of the U.S. armed forces. It's not a fun message. In fact, it's very very sad. But it's true.

And in this respect, I 'd argue that "Fahrenheit 9/11" is a great film. I disagree with Moore's critics, those who try to dismiss him as a lunatic who "rewrites history" or reduces it to simple a black/white binaries. In "Fahrenheit 9/11" and "Bowling for Columbine," Moore attempts to connect current American problems of poverty, racism, and other social inequalities with American history in an attempt to understand -- and to help viewers understand -- how we might have come to where we find ourselves today. No, he can't resist the facile jab here and there that tends to reduce his larger analysis to a simple theory of cause and effect. For example, in "BFC" he says that the NRA was founded the same day the KKK was officially disbanded. This implies that the NRA is just a front for the KKK -- he never says that in "BFC," but he juxtaposes those two facts in a way that makes suggests the connection and encourages viewers to make it for themselves. Is something like this mere coincidence? Perhaps. And if so, if there's nothing to it, then Moore comes off looking like he's reducing a complex history to a bunch of simple comparisons, connecting things that just aren't connected. But his larger points don't depend on such coincidences; instead, they're based on a reading of the factual record that is not usually flattering to the wealthy and powerful in the U.S., but which is, nevertheless, true.

That's my take, anyway. As always, I look forward to hearing what others think.

See also:

* The title of this post responds to one of the song's on the soundtrack to "Fahrenheit 9/11." The soundtrack is great, by the way—a brilliant use of popular music as social satire.

Posted 07:46 PM | Comments (11)

June 24, 2004

Attack Mode: Engaged

It looks like Christopher Hitchens is trying to lead the charge against "Fahrenheit 9/11", another movie with its own (unofficial) blog. Hitchens brazenly displays one of the fundamental disagreements between the left and the right in America today. The left says the world is complicated, and there's no simple "good v. evil" or any other binary, but complex spectra of interleaved causes and effects. The right says no, it's good or evil, black or white, either or:

Either the Saudis run U.S. policy (through family ties or overwhelming economic interest), or they do not. As allies and patrons of the Taliban regime, they either opposed Bush's removal of it, or they did not. (They opposed the removal, all right: They wouldn't even let Tony Blair land his own plane on their soil at the time of the operation.) Either we sent too many troops, or were wrong to send any at all—the latter was Moore's view as late as 2002—or we sent too few.

Oops! Excuse me, Mr. Hitchens, but I'm afraid that last binary got a little mangled—you've suggested there are more than two options and that just cannot be!

To be fair, it's possible to argue that Moore's worldview is no more complex or nuanced than the one Hitchens describes (also: I think Hitchens is just playing the role of sensational provocateur here, a role with which he's apparently familiar). According to the Washington Post:

In this latest movie Moore has been praised for having matured as a filmmaker, but his worldview hasn't changed much since "Roger and Me" -- history can be explained by tracing connections between rich people and their friends.

That may not be wholly inaccurate as far as what Moore thinks. It also wouldn't be wholly untrue. But whatever.

Apparently the movie had its U.S. premier last night at the Uptown, here in D.C. L. and I have tickets to a Friday showing, so I'll have a better idea of what to make of it after that.

See also:

Posted 05:20 AM | Comments (5)

June 22, 2004

Control Room

L and I saw "Control Room" the other night at E Street Cinema. If you haven't heard of it, the Washington Post review should cover the basics.

I can't decide what was best about the film, but among my favorite segments were:

  • Bush demanding that any American POWs must be treated with the same respect and dignity with which the U.S. is treating the Iraqi prisoners. Um, yeah.
  • Rumsfeld talking about how truth has a way of getting out, regardless of the lies leaders might tell. Say it again, Rummy!
  • When CentCom told the room of reporters that American troops had been giving decks of cards showing the pictures and names of the 55 "most wanted" Iraqis. The press didn't have anything to say except, "Do you have any decks for us?" They cried like babies because the U.S. military wasn't giving them decks of Iraqi "most wanted" cards, and mostly it was just because they all knew their stories would sell so much better if they had those images. Were the reporters clamoring for a better story so that they could better serve the propaganda interests of the U.S., or were they simply trying to get better ratings with more sensational images? Hard to tell.

The film's most serious suggestion is that, 1) the U.S. intentionally bombed Al Jazeera's office in Baghdad, killing one of its reporters; and 2) that bombing was orchestrated to prevent/discourage Al Jazeera from being on the scene for the big spectacle of the statue of Saddam being pulled down. Al Jazeera's offices were bombed a day before the statute was pulled down, which meant that Al Jazeera didn't have any crews on the ground to cover it; therefore, it was easier for the U.S. to manipulate the images of that spectacle to ensure that it came across the "right" way on tv. There's little doubt in my mind about #1 (the U.S. intentionally bombed Al Jazeera), and #2 seems very probable.

Other upcoming documentaries to look forward to:
Fahrenheit 9/11 (6/25)
The Hunting of the President (6/25)
The Corporation (not sure when it's coming, but soon; interesting review here)

See also: Morgan Spurlock Supersized Me

Posted 06:47 AM | Comments (1)

June 04, 2004

Fahrenheit 9/11 coming June 25th

Mark your calendars for June 25th, the opening night for "Fahrenheit 9/11." See the trailer now. (Thanks to Screaming Bean for the heads up.)

It's just coincidence that George Tenent resigned on the same day that this film's trailer went online, right? And those two events couldn't possibly relate in any way to the fact that G.W. Bush has begun consulting attorneys about the unmasking of Valerie Plame, right?

Somewhat related anecdote: While L. and I were biking down around the Mall last Saturday (the day of the big WWII Memorial dedication), we saw a younger guy (late 20s, maybe?) wearing a t-shirt with a big photo of George Bush on the front and big letters reading "Terrorist in Chief." The guy was being heckled by some older men (in their 50s-60s, I'd guess) who were yelling at him saying the shirt was disrespectful. The hecklers were right in one sense — the t-shirt does not show respect for Bush. But the hecklers may be wrong in another since because by showing disrespect for Bush the t-shirt arguably shows respect for the U.S. Constitution and general American ideals of democracy and justice. As energy spatula helpfully explained in these comments, for many veterans (and others, I'm sure), support for the president comes down to a matter of faith:

My grandfather is old-school...he believes in the government and in following orders. He doesn't think the CinC would send us to war without a just reason. Both of them say that it's hard to express to other people what it is that makes you want to serve your country...and I agree. I often have people ask me how I could have joined/served/stayed in the military...for all the reasons you mentioned. And, without overusing a tired cliche, I don't know if I can describe it. You just believe that ultimately you're doing something that's right for America...

I understand that and share the sentiment to some extent — in many ways lots of things in life come down to matters of faith. However, it seems there's a point at which faith becomes blind, and beyond that point I fear it often does more harm than good. I doubt a film like "Fahrenheit 9/11" will convert blind faith into more critical faith for many viewers; the blindly faithful likely won't want to see it, or if they do they'll just be looking for ways to discredit or dismiss the film. And there's sure to be plenty of material in the film to criticize. The point is not that Moore is telling us the unvarnished truth while Bush and Co. are telling nothing but lies. The point is that we owe it to ourselves, our country, the world, to be critical of the stories we're being told, and not to accept those stories blindly. I'm looking forward to "Fahrenheit 9/11" for what it will add to the pool of stories from which Americans decide where to place their faith.

Posted 05:22 AM

May 30, 2004

Morgan Spurlock Supersized Me

I saw "Supersize Me" last night. Loved it. In some ways, it sort of seemed like Fast Food Nation lite, but if it's taking some of the core bits of that book's message to a larger audience, then that's fine with me.*

I have no deep thoughts on the film, but it was incredible to see how shocked the medical professionals involved were when they saw how destructive McDonald's food was to Spurlock's body. It certainly should make viewers think again before condemning the lawsuits charging fast food corporations with some culpability for the skyrocketing health care costs related to massive consumption of fast food. Speaking of which, the movie features an interview with GW's very own John Banzhaf, one of the leaders in the legal attack on fast food. He takes a lot of flack, and he'll probably take more now that everyone's seen him eating a meal at McD's with Spurlock. (It also probably wouldn't hurt if he cleaned up his office, but that's another story.)

In addition to the scene where Spurlock pukes after eating a Quarter Pounder with Cheese Supersize Meal, another highlight was the slimy lawyer interview (not Banzhaf; I don't remember his name).

"Why are you suing the fast food companies?" Spurlock asked.

The attorney gives him a shit-eating grin like, "you want me to lie?" and says: "You mean, you want some reason other than financial compensation? You want some higher moral purpose here?" The camera cuts away.

It's really no wonder people hate lawyers...

* Note: If you haven't yet read Fast Food Nation, I can't recommend it highly enough. It's not only about how bad fast food is for us, but it's also about how the fast-food model has revolutionized (for the worse) agricultural production and decimated traditional agricultural labor markets. It touches on how these developments affect many other areas of life, including education and international relations. It's a great, great book.

Posted 12:15 PM

May 24, 2004

The Temperature at Which Conservatives Burn?

Congratulations to Michael Moore:

Moore's documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11," a passionate, well-constructed indictment of the Bush Administration's foreign and domestic policies, won the Palme d'Or, or top prize, at the 57th Cannes Film Festival.

I haven't looked around, but I'll bet the howling on conservative websites right now and in the coming days would drown out D.C.'s infestation of locusts. I guess that would mean the conservatives are drowning out their own roar—ha!

In other Cannes news, another film I'm eager to see is "Tarnation," which may be the most highly-acclaimed feature-length film made entirely with iMovie. If that wasn't amazing enough, it's total budget was only $218.32, and the filmmaker, Jonathan Caouette made it on his boyfriend's iMac—he didn't even use his own machine!

Tarnation may be the first feature-length film edited entirely on iMovie, and it cost $218.32 in videotape and materials. Despite its low budget, the film has already earned a high profile. Both John Cameron Mitchell, the actor and director of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and independent film maverick Gus Van Sant have signed on as executive producers.

Appropriately enough, the film's auteur is blogging his experience of the film's positive reception.

Posted 07:49 PM | Comments (1)

June 13, 2003

Enter the Matrix

Posting may be blippy until I finish playing "Enter the Matrix." This is the first "modern" game I've ever played, and it's pretty damned addictive. My last real quality time w/any sort of console game was "Sonic the Hedgehog" on the Sega Genesis system. I think that was in about 1995 and it was a couple of years old then, so this is a major leap in game playing. What Do I Know had an amusing post a while back about how addictive these things can be; I thought he was kidding. Now it looks like I might have to do what he did and expel the thing from my house if I ever want to get anything done.

Of course, I think a big part of the appeal is just that this game is related to the Matrix franchise, which as you know, I'm obsessed with. You may have heard that the game features about an hour of new footage that wasn't in "Reloaded" but which is supposed to fill in holes and add detail to what is in the movie. Those are some of the best parts, and it's fun to play knowing that you might be rewarded w/more movie footage just around the next corner. Yes, some of it seems redundant and none if it thus far has been earth shattering, but two scenes stand out. In the first, a grizzled old man laughs maniacally at Niobe (played in the movie by Jada Pinkett-Smith and one of the main characters of "Enter the Matrix") just as she's about to jack out of the matrix. The man keeps repeating "72 hours," and when Niobe asks what he's talking about, all he'll say is "that's how long the last Zion lasted: 72 hours" (followed by more maniacal laughter). Is this important to the greater story arch of the three films? Maybe. Maybe not.

The other notable scene is a duplication of the scene from "Reloaded" when Persephone (the Merovingian's wife/girlfriend/lover) forces Neo to kiss her like he means it. In the game, Persephone forces Niobe to do the same thing. I guess the W Brothers figured gamers would dig some hot girl-on-girl action? But why duplicate scenes like this? (There's also a lot of similarities between a lot of the scenes w/the Keymaster in both the game on the movie, except in the game the characters interacting w/the Keymaster are Niobe and Ghost instead of Neo, Trinity, and Morpheous.)

Ok, so that's much more than you ever wanted to know about a video game, but in semi-related news, apparently Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) recently pulled jury duty. And in the same surreal vein, Egypt has banned "Reloaded". I guess they don't know the revolution will not be cinematized.

Posted 02:30 PM | Comments (13)

May 21, 2003

Still Reloading 2

Sure there are other, more important things going on, but I'm too preoccupied with the tasks of getting rid of all my worldly possessions and moving to think seriously about serious stuff. (Do you feel safer? How about now? Yeah, me neither.)

So did you hear about that new movie? I think it's called "The Matrix Reloaded" or something like that. Gtexts was not impressed, but he offers a link to Useless Matrix Trivia by Melissa Maerz. Somehow I'm not surprised that a serial murderer dug "The Matrix"; as Snoopy says (long story): "If you remain calm, you just don't have all the facts." However, I wish someone would have told Mr. Boyd that killing people is never an appropriate way to express your lack of, um, calm...

Gtexts also notes that some hackers approve of Trinity's skilz, while others scoff. Meanwhile, DG says Ebert got "Reloaded" right. I, too, enjoyed Ebert's review, and recommend it. Still, I can't see how Ebert can claim that "Reloaded" promotes Neo to a "Christ figure in training" -- the film explicitly demotes Neo from that position. ("The One was never meant to end anything. It was just another system of control." Translation: religion, prophecy, faith = systems of control, not solutions to Zion's problems.) But still, Ebert concludes w/a clever little allusion:

Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time tells the story of a cosmologist whose speech is interrupted by a little old lady who informs him that the universe rests on the back of a turtle. "Ah, yes, madame," the scientist replies, "but what does the turtle rest on?" The old lady shoots back: "You can't trick me, young man. It's nothing but turtles, turtles, turtles, all the way down."


Posted 11:23 AM | Comments (2)

May 19, 2003

Still Reloading

Professor Yin has a few good posts on "The Matrix" (also here) and "Reloaded." He seems primarily concerned with technical and plot questions, and he has a lot of good ones. But hey, it's sci-fi, I'm obviously willing to give it some serious "suspension of disbelief." The films are certainly more fun that way.

Professor Yin also points to this collection of essays about the first film and various strands of philosophy. Just FYI.

Tom Tomorrow jumps smartly on the Matrix bandwagon with his latest comic: The Republican Matrix:

What should we do today, fellas? Any damn thing we want, George.
(Calling all Democrats: Find your freaking Neo, and do it fast. Which reminds me of something L. said about "Reloaded" —what Neo and everyone else in Zion need to realize is that they have more power than they think, if only they would assert it. This could not be more true for the Dems.)

And don't miss Salon's review of "Reloaded"—it's definitely one of the better reviews of the film. It suggests another reason many people are disappointed in "Reloaded":

It's a sadder, wiser, more grown-up movie than its predecessor. It was made, one might almost say, for a sadder, wiser, more grown-up world.

Yeah, or it may just be a cool kung-fu movie. But then, what is Cornel West doing there?

Reached by telephone in his office in Princeton, Dr. West said that he and the Wachowski brothers had come together in "acknowledging the full-fledged and complex humanity of black people, which is a relatively new idea in Hollywood given pervasive racist stereotypes." And, indeed, "The Matrix Reloaded" gives prominent roles and screen time to African-American stars like Laurence Fishburne and Jada Pinkett Smith. A more tantalizing connection seems to be Dr. West's notion of the jazz freedom fighter that concludes his book "Race Matters." He writes: "I use the term `jazz' here not so much as a term for a musical art form as for a mode of being in the world, an improvisational mode of protean, fluid and flexible dispositions toward reality suspicious of `either/or viewpoints.' "

This seems to jibe with the direction that Neo, the character played by Mr. Reeves, is taking, as he discovers that the world of the Matrix is not operating by fixed rules but is something more permeable and uncertain. Dr. West also pointed out that "the second Matrix movie actually critiques the idea of the first. It's suspicious of salvation narratives. It's deeply anti-dogmatic. The critics haven't figured that out yet, but the scholars will get to it."

Hmmm, really? Oh, and one more thing from Dr. West:

He has some advice for the audiences going to see the movie: "You've got to look beneath the special effects."  

See, I'm just following doctor's orders. ;-)

Posted 10:14 PM


I know I said I was matrixed out, but this is good: Rick Klau suggests that Commander Locke's character refers to John Locke, the 17th century (Enlightenment) philosopher known for his beliefs in empiricism (all knowledge comes to us through experience) and the tabula rasa (idea that humans begin life as blank slates and then acquire knowledge through experience). Locke is known for many other things (social contract, natural rights and natural law, what else?), but I'm not sure if any of them have any connection to Cmdr. Locke's character in "Reloaded." However, empiricism would explain why Cmdr. Locke simply does not believe in "the prophesy" that Morpheus lives by. The fact that Locke's defense plan fails so miserably suggests the film is being critical of empiricism. Maybe. I don't know. I'm just thinking out loud with all this, you know.

(DG wonders whether "the movie was really deep or if people are making too much out of it." This is a good question, and one we should ask of any book, movie, or other cultural production. Is Ulysses really deep or have people made too much out of it? The thing is, cultural products become "great" or "classic" or influential by nothing more than consensus—a critical mass simply agrees that they're great, and so they are. I think the Matrix films are great; perhaps if enough other people agree, the films will become "canonical" (or classic or whatever you want to call it) and their smart allusions and social commentary will become common knowledge. Worse things could happen.)

Posted 11:59 AM | Comments (1)

May 18, 2003

Reloaded Rehashed

If you just can't get enough off "Reloaded," Rotten Tomatoes has a lively forum devoted to the movie. There's a lot of junk in there, but also a few provocative theories and comments. Highlights include:

A transcript of Neo's conversation w/the Architect. (How did they get that? Someone must have had a recorder of some kind in the theater, which isn't a bad idea, actually....)

Various theories about the film—high signal to noise ratio. A major controversy seems to focus on whether Zion is a "matrix within the matrix." People are going nuts about this.

I didn't think I'd be saying this so soon, but I'm about Matrixed to the max, right now. "Hey, it just sounds to me like you need to unplug, man. You know, get some R and R." Yeah, that's it.

Posted 11:03 PM

May 17, 2003


The following are some thoughts after seeing "Reloaded" a second time. I've tried to recall the major plot scenes and explain their significance as I understand it. Yes, there are spoilers. If you haven't seen it, don't click for "more."

First, I think one of the best things we learn from "Reloaded" is that the messianic plot is a red herring. As Neo says after his talk w/the Architect: "The One was never meant to end anything. It was just another system of control." Take that, Mr. Thank God. (No offense to believers among us; regardless of wether its a system of control, religion certainly serves important functions in many societies and lives.)

Another thing I learned from this film is that most reviews of it are worthless. Very few people can say many smart things about a movie after seeing it only once. All you get are first impressions, and w/a move like "Reloaded," it's hard to trust those.

The major scenes in terms of plot are:

Neo and the Counsellor on the engineering level of Zion: The counsellor says that this is how people are: We don't care how things work, so long as they work. This is what makes the matrix possible; as Cipher said in the first film, "ignorance is bliss." Hence, the Counsellor seems to suggest that even in Zion people are half asleep. The counsellor also asks, "What is control?" His point seems to be that the struggle w/which Neo should be concerned is not that of man vs. machine (it wasn't in the first film, either, despite what reviewers said); Neo must realize that there is a man/machine symbiosis at work. Perhaps. But the Counsellor is definitely playing on the threads about choice and human agency that come up again in the scene w/the Merovingian (and elsewhere). These themes are also important to his examples of things he doesn't understand, such as the water filtration system in Zion. The Counsellor says he doesn't understand the means, but he does understand the ends of these things. (To use the Merovingian's terms, he has the why.) The Counsellor hopes he'll learn the end (or goal/purpose) of Neo's power, even if he never understands its means. Thus, "Reloaded" is a quest film: Neo's quest for purpose. (What's it all for!?)

Morpheus' speech to the people of Zion: He's not afraid because he remembers where he's come from. Hence, Morpheus is lecturing about the importance of history. This echoes Frederic Jameson's "prime directive" to "always historicize." (However, since Morpheus' vision is later questioned—he believed in the prophecy, and that seems like it was a mistake—this scene might be meant in a Baudrillardian, post-historical, post-Marxist sense. Yes, history is important, but even that is not enough anymore.)

Link and Zee: A plot hole appears in the scene w/Link and Zee as Zee explains why she fears the Neb—it took two of her brothers, Tank and Dozer. We know what happened to Dozer from the first film: Cipher killed him. But what happened to Tank? Perhaps this is explained by the animated short, "Final Flight of the Osiris," which also supposedly explains how Neo gets a certain letter. "Osiris" apparently premiered in March before screenings of a movie called "Dreamcatcher." (This fairly detailed review doesn't mention anything about Tank.) Did anyone see it?

The Oracle: We learn that she is a program. (Does this ruin the metaphor of taking the red pill? In other words, does it mean that taking the red pill is just breaking through to a different layer of deception and control? I think Yes, but that doesn't ruin the metaphor because the red pill level is more enlightened (and therefore more empowered) than the blue pill level.) She tells us that people have to work together to get anything done (hence, the Nietzschean superman thing is out). And we also learn that all the world's anomalies (ghosts, angels, vampires, werewolves, etc.) are the system trying to assimilate programs gone awry. Agent Smith is such a program. (Real world parallel: Think how corporations use things like MTV to co-opt and commodify counter culture. In the '90s we got "alternative" music and that seemed rebellious and a little anarchic until it got into heavy rotation on MTV and "alternative" bands started selling millions of records: "alternative" was a program gone awry, but it was quickly assimilated. The counterculture of the 1960s is another vivid example—it threatened the status quo for a while, but was quickly co-opted and commodified—Flower Power is packaged and sold by Nike and Coca Cola. Now we have "tenured radicals" and other baby boomer demographics to which the system targets specific messages and commodities. I'm sure you could cite many more examples of this.) Finally, the Oracle tells us what all men with power want: More power. (Is she suggesting that power always leads to nihilism?)

Agent Smith: The scene where Neo battles a hundred Agent Smiths serves at least two purposes. First, it's a cool action scene. Yay. But more important, it explains what's happened to Smith: He's unplugged, no longer an agent of the system, but now without purpose because as he says, there is no purpose other than slavery to the system—there's no escape. He has become a nihilist—the archetypal nihilist, in fact. He has no reason for doing anything, except to satisfy his desire to do it. It's all about me, me, me, and me, too. But just as the messianic plot is a red herring, so too, is Agent Smith's nihilism—it doesn't get him anywhere or do anyone any good. The people he converts to his nihilism (by turning them into copies of himself) also only cause trouble. It's also important to note that Agent Smith tries to make a connection between himself and Neo, and in a way they are similar: Like Smith, Neo sees no definite purpose to his actions. The difference is that Neo still hopes and searches for purpose, while Smith has given up.

Lock and the Counsel: This scene (featuring two big lines by Cornel West) suggests that Zion is duplicating the control of the matrix. Lock says he wishes he could understand the counsel's choice, but the counsel says he does not need to understand to obey. This is true of the matrix, as well. An interesting side note: Niobe identifies herself as Captain of the Logos. She's Captain of the Word. This signals the film's concern w/language, or as Foucault would say, discourse.

The Merovingian: (What does it mean?) At the beginning of the scene, Neo says there's something strange about the code of the building and everything—it doesn't look right. Although he doesn't know it, this is because the code is old: They've entered an old, outdated, or early version of the Matrix here. The Merovingian is a program gone awry and he's somehow kept a bunch of old programs with him. Notably, all the old code characters have European accents—it's the "old world," after all. (Note also that the way the Merovingian praises French kind of gives the finger to all those "freedom fries" French-bashing Americans who see the film, doesn't it?) The Merovingian says many important things, one of which is that choice is an illusion created by people with power, for those without power. He also explains that "Why" is power. This is Foucauldian in that Foucault deconstructed the cliche that "knowledge is power" by showing that knowledge is not an absolute, but rather a social construct. A certain piece of information is only considered "knowledge" because we agree that it is. Therefore, it is not enough to know Fact A, we must also know why Fact A is important, otherwise our knowing has no power attached to it. This is the dilemma of Morpheus, Neo and Trinity: They know that they're supposed to be doing things, but they don't know why; therefore, they are powerless. (Tangent: Think for a moment about the "War on Terror"—it's action w/out reason, it has no why—it does not understand what it's fighting or what its ultimate goal is. Not effective. I haven't read it yet, but I'll bet that's what Baudrillard says in this book.) So perhaps the Merovingian is another caution against nihilism—our actions must be reasonable. I don't know what to say about all the cause and effect stuff in this scene, except that perhaps it has something to do w/a critique of teleological thinking. Anyone?

The Architect: The architect debunks the messianic plot and explains more about the origin of the matrix and the fact that it required a woman (another program, actually, who may or may not have been the Oracle) to figure out how to make it palatable to humans. As L. explains it via poststructuralism: The original matrix relied upon coercive power—it forced everyone to do as it required. The revised matrix includes the illusion of choice, so it functions via productive power—it produces cooperative subjects by giving them the illusion that they're producing themselves by making a choice (that isn't actually a choice). (But if this is the case, then doesn't that mean Zion is also a program? Yes, I think so, which explains how/why Neo is able to stop the sentinels near the end of "Reloaded." We'll see.)

[Aside: The concepts of coercive vs. productive power are also helpful in understanding why terrorism (and specifically 9-11) doesn't work. L. could explain this better than I can, but I'll take a stab at it: The people who crashed the planes into the WTC and the Pentagon were using spectacle and physical force to try to change the system of western capitalism with which they find fault. We immediately recognized the spectacle; however, the western world rejected this violence—we rejected "the program" because it didn't offer us a choice. Instead, the system (western capitalism) assimilated the violence of 9-11 by giving it a new meaning ("they hate us because we're free") and using it to justify wars against the system's enemies. And the system of western capitalism does this by flooding us with the illusion of choice: "Should I buy the white one or the pink one?" "Should I vote for tweedle-dee or tweedle-dum?"]

The Architect also explains the "remainder," the 1% who won't accept the program even when given the choice. These people instead choose Zion (once they learn about it). Again, this seems to be a false choice; Zion seems to be just another program, another facet of the matrix. Still, the concept of the remainder gives us an explanation for why some people are searching ("It's the question that drives you.You know the question, just as I did."), while others are perfectly content to live in the matrix. L. helpfully pointed out the similarities between "Reloaded"'s use of the remainder and the way Baudrillard writes about it in Simulacra and Simulation. Baudrillard writes:

Who can say if the remainder of the social is the residue of the nonsocialized, or if it is not the social itself that is the remainder, the gigantic waste product ... of what else? Of a process, which even if it were to completely disappear and had no name except the social would nevertheless only be its remainder. The residue can be completely at the level of the real. When a system has absorbed everything, when one has added everything up, when nothing remains, the entire sum turns to the remainder and becomes the remainder. (144)

Does this give us some clue about "Revolutions"? Perhaps. But it does seem that we are reaching a point like this in our own world. Note the degradation of the public sphere—education, health care, all social services—as budgets get slashed. We think instrumentally in terms of profit and loss; social services don't fit into that equation very well, and so are peripheral, a remainder. In fact all of the social world—our interactions w/family and friends, our entertainment, any "free" time we have—is a remainder. The system is work, productivity, profit, the economy, etc. Everything else is just left over, extraneous matter that the system would eliminate if it could figure out how to do so. (If you doubt this, ask yourself if your employer would eliminate coffee breaks and lunch hours if he/she could get away with it. All the employers I've ever had certainly would.)

Finally, the Architect sets up a choice for Neo—either be the savior of humanity, or choose love and be responsible for the death of all humans. But even as he poses these options, the Architect seems to know what Neo will do, meaning that this again seems like only an illusion of choice. This is one of the major questions for "Revolutions": Did Neo just do exactly as expected/programmed? Or did he somehow surprise the system? The Architect also notes that hope is both the greatest strength and the greatest weakness of humans. It's the greatest strength because, no matter how bad things get, we keep hoping they'll get better and that we can contribute to that improvement. Hope is our greatest weakness because it acts as a screen for so much of the "evil" in the world—we see bad things happening but refuse to believe they can be as bad as they seem because our hope clouds our judgment. ("Gee, it sure looks like this war on Iraq is going to be a bad thing, but I hope I'm wrong; I guess I'll just trust my government and hope that it's doing the right thing.")

After the Architect: Neo explains that the One was never meant to end anything. (Note: As many people have noted, "Neo" is an anagram of "one," but that, too, seems like a red herring. "Neo" is also a prefix meaning "recent or new," and in "Revolutions" we see that Neo is not "the one," but he is nevertheless something new. Neo-poststructural, perhaps?)

Morpheus is shocked to learn that "the prophecy" may have been a lie. Morpheus is a teleological thinker—he uses "ultimate purpose or design as a means of explaining phenomena." This has served him well up to this point, just as it served humanity well until the 20th century. However, for many people the death of god meant the end of teleologies and grand narratives. Yet, that leaves the question: What do we put in their place? That is a question Morpheus will have to deal w/in "Revolutions"—how is he going to understand his world if the framework he's always depended on is suddenly proven invalid?

So what does "Revolutions" hold? If, we follow L.'s reading, the two films have thus far stuck closely to poststructuralist lines; however, the problem w/poststructuralism is that it hasn't really figured out what to do now that god is dead and there's no getting outside of power. The trailer for "Revolutions" (which comes on after about 6-8 minutes of credits, if you stick around patiently) doesn't offer too many clues, but it does seem to bring it down to a battle between Neo and "him." This will be less than satisfying for many reasons, but I'll reserve judgment until I see it in November. (It will be out the 5th or the 7th. I'm thinking 7th since the 5th is a Wednesday.)

One more thing about the reviews and the bullk of the discussion I've seen about both Matrix films: There's lots of talk about philosophy and religious "mumbo jumbo," but very few people (outside of academia) talk about Foucault, Baudrillard, or any of the other huge linguists, cultural critics, and critical theorists who inform these films (for example, Saussure and Derrida are two thinkers without whom these films simply wouldn't be possible). Nonetheless, as important as religion and philosophy are to these films, they ultimately seem to serve as background to these other, more obscure structures of thought. The fact that so few people talk about linguistics, structuralism, poststructuralism, etc., is evidence of the problem of the Humanities in the 21st century—no one understands what academics in these fields are doing, and too few academics take the time or make the effort to bring their ideas to a wider audience. This is one of the great accomplishments of the Matrix films: They attempt to translate complex and obscure ideas into something millions of movie-goers can access. Millions of people want to see these movies, and they do see them, and think about them, and talk about them. The experience—the viewing and thinking and talking—may not change much for the vast majority of them, but at least the Wachowski brothers are trying.

My friend J. also pointed out that it's somewhat ironic that someone decided to attach the "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" trailer to "Reloaded." As the terminator himself says in that trailer, he is an obsolete technology. I mean, the Matrix films do the struggle between man and machines so much better than terminator ever did. Except for the fact that the trailer is being shown w/"Reloaded," there's no reason sci-fi/cyberpunk stories have to fit together, but I suppose the terminator series could be something like a precursor of "The Matrix"—the battles that took place before the machines gained the ability to capture and "program" humans. The terminator series appears to function on a metaphor of coercive, or modern, power (force and violence), while the matrix series is concerned with productive, or postmodern, power (the control comes from within the subject being controlled). Yubbledew also functions on a coercive metaphor, while his advisers (e.g., Karl Rove) seem to understand productive power quite well. But I'll leave that to another day...

Posted 10:51 AM | Comments (3)


Books on which The Matrix was based, according to "The Matrix Revisted" dvd:

Laurence Fishburn on "The Matrix":

I've said to a lot of people that a movie this smart—it's amazing that it got made because it is so smart.

Posted 10:49 AM

May 16, 2003

Times 6?

"Reloaded" was awesome, but I'm going to see it again tonight before I say too much more. Don't believe the reviews that say it's all flash and no dash. Think poststructualism (and here), Baudrillard (and also specifically his chapter in Simulacra and Simulation on "The Remainder" and his more recent book, Impossible Exchange ), Nietzsche (particularly his ideas of the superman (and here) and nihilism (and here)), and Foucault who said:

My role - and that is too emphatic a word - is to show people that they are much freer than they feel, that people accept as truth, as evidence, some themes which have been built up at a certain movement during history, and that this so-called evidence can be criticized and destroyed. To change something in the minds of people - that’s the role of an intellectual. (Martin et al. 1988:10)

Foucault permeates both matrix films. Without giving away too much, I think it's safe to say that "Reloaded" shows us that there is no "outside" to the matrix; yet, it also suggests that resistance to the matrix is not futile—a better world is possible. In some ways, the series is becoming a pop-culture, video textbook of poststructural theory—with kung-fu! How can that not rock?

Ed note: Many of the connections mentioned above come directly from L., the brilliant woman in my life who knows poststructuralism and marxism like most people know their own names. She specifically mentioned Baudrillard's chapter on the "remainder" and his book, Impossible Exchange. She also made the connection between Neo's "superman thing" and Nietzsche's superman. Finally, the Foucauldian analysis of the inside/outside of the matrix (and what the film is saying about that) is all her. I've tried in vain since I met her to get her to write things like this down and try to get them published—or at least start a weblog for it (she almost never sees a movie w/out walking away w/a brilliant critique)—but to no avail. I'll keep trying....

Posted 09:32 AM

May 14, 2003


Tomorrow is the day. Or, if you're in a major media market, today is the day. As Salon puts it:

Four years of waiting are finally over for "Matrix" fans. This Thursday will mark the simultaneous release of "The Matrix Reloaded," the first of two sequels set to hit movie screens this year, and "Enter the Matrix," a companion video game. The second wave will arrive on June 3, with the release of a DVD titled "The Animatrix," containing a series of nine animated film shorts set in the world of the Matrix. The DVD of "Reloaded" is expected to follow in late October, clearing the way for the release of "The Matrix Revolutions," the third and final installment of the "Matrix" saga, in early November.

But while the press goes googy over the onslaught of Matrix merchandise, it not surprisingly has very little to say about what—besides guns and kung-fu—makes "The Matrix" such a brilliant cultural artifact. I was going to point out a big windy rant to explain what I mean by that, but instead I'll just point you to Jane Dark's Reloaded Questions, which says most of what I wanted to say. After running through a list of the many allusions that comprise the world of "The Matrix"—i.e.: messianism, gnosticism, metaphysical and existential conundrums— Dark says all of those are neat, but not quite the point. Instead, it's all about power (in all senses of the word):

When I asked Laurence Fishburne, who plays Morpheus, if he followed the first flick's philosophy, he announced he'd mused plenty in his life about "all that, you know, spiritual fucking voodoo fucking mumbo jumbo kind of shit." He said this in his Othello-goes-drinking voice, tinged with the gentle irony of someone who has actually gazed long and hard at his navel and come out the other side. For him, the religious reading wasn't the film's hard core. As he put it, "The idea that machines are using us for batteries is pretty fucking severe."

Marx thought so, though in his matrix the master class of machines was just called the master class, the enslaved humans just the workers, and battery power was called labor. Same shit, different name (though not very different: Matrix is just Marxist avant la lettre s).

This is the dystopia on offer in The Matrix. The war between intelligent machines and humans is a sci-fi cliché, no less than hey-this-could-all-be-a-simulation. What the Brothers got is that the masters of reality don't want to destroy us. They want us jacked directly into the economy, stupid, and they want it 24-7. The concept of "the matrix" might stand for abstractions like "ideology" or "the spectacle," but it resembles more concretely the endgame of millennial merger mania—what happens when all the corporations of the world become one seamless super-entity within which you labor, eat, make love, pay rent ( The Truman Show offered a different version of the same surmise). The evolution from Warner Bros. to AOL Time Warner required only a few years of corporate copulation. From AOL Time Warner to the matrix—it's just a kiss away.

Dark obviously took the red pill. I'm guessing "Reloaded" will confirm the accuracy of Dark's reading of "The Matrix"—at least I hope it does.

Spoiler Alert: Near the end of her article, Dark also gives a few little details about "Reloaded," so if you haven't seen it yet and want to do so w/out any spoilage, skip the last couple of paragraphs of Dark's piece.

Posted 05:54 PM

May 05, 2003

Monday's Quick Picks

The Matrix Reloaded: As Agent Smith says through clenched teeth just before he chases Neo down for the shootout at the OK Corral (ok, in a subway station, actually) near the end of "The Matrix": "They're not out yet," but the sequels are coming soon, so it's not too early to start getting obsessively prepared. Try "The Matrix—It's Harry Potter with guns" for one quick take on why the original film has been so popular. (IMO, the article is right that "The Matrix" is not ultimately about man vs. machine, but Neo's not an "early-adopter," either. You see:

The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy.

Pick a "system," any system, that's what "The Matrix" is about. That's at least part of why it's so popular—you can plug in your favorite bogeymen. Try: Capitalism and/or Globalization. I'll say more about that another time.)

For more (and better) "Matrix" preparation, try something from this list, or, if you're feeling abstract and adventurous, this list. And if you want to be my best friend, please buy me this. ;-)

William Gibson on Blogging: Sticking w/the sci-fi/cyberpunk theme, this interview w/Gibson discusses his experience blogging and why he's giving it up.

Politicans with blogs: Gary Hart has a weblog. I wonder if he'll get any comments from Donna Rice. It seems he doesn't care; he appears nearly ready to run for President again in 2004. ???

The Complete Bushisms: Sorry, I couldn't resist. These always make me laugh but sometimes the laughter verges on tears when I realize: a) our President cannot form sentences, and b) he also either refuses to correct himself or doesn't recognize when he needs to. My favorite at the moment:

"The war on terror involves Saddam Hussein because of the nature of Saddam Hussein, the history of Saddam Hussein, and his willingness to terrorize himself."—Grand Rapids, Mich., Jan. 29, 2003

Yubbledew's World is Mean: In "A mean-spirited America" Jill Nelson argues it's mean to spend millions making sure we squeeze every dime from the poorest taxpayers. She's right, but who cares? What's important is that we eliminate all taxes on stock dividends! Let's help the people who need it most!

Speaking of hypocrisy: We were, weren't we? Why does the party that used to preach the virtues of balanced budgets now seem to think record deficits are no problem? [Link via Cooped Up.]

Looting Ws of MD? While the U.S. has been battling to keep the U.N. out of Iraq (gee, I thought that was Saddam Hussein's job), no one's been doing anything to secure known sources of possible nuclear, biological and chemical materials in Iraq. Um, doesn't this look kind of bad? It's enough to make you think some people aren't bothered by all this looting and the possibility that terrorists get bad stuff. I mean, as long as the threat is credible, we can wage all the wars we want, right? And man, what could be better for a re-election campaign than being at war!? Think of all the aircraft carrier photo ops!

What if the Democrats Held A Debate: and no one cared? It's hard to care when you can't see it because your local ABC affiliate decided not to show it!

A Better Windoze Browser? Since I don't view the web through Windoze (except on public terminals at school and in libraries, where IE is the only option), I don't know how Mozilla works w/Windoze boxes. Has anyone tried it? How about "Firebird"? (Firebird is apparently a variant of Mozilla, like Camino is for Mac.) Just curious. What I can say is this: If you haven't tried tabbed browsing, you really should. Popup blocking is also a wonderful thing. YMMV.

Posted 08:44 AM

April 13, 2003

Fahrenheit 911

FYI: Michael Moore's next movie sounds like it'll be incredible—incredibly good, or incredibly bad; it sounds like his goal is to force an extreme response. According to Frank Rich (as republished on Moore's own site):

His next film, titled "Fahrenheit 911," is scheduled for release in the two months before Election Day. It tells "in part the story of twin errant sons of different oilmen," he says, and will stir together the pre-9/11 intersection of Bush and bin Laden family business interests when both had ties to the Carlyle Group. Such connections "may mean nothing," Mr. Moore concedes. But then he recalls Jane Mayer's article in the November 2001 New Yorker about the private Saudi jet that the Bush administration permitted to fly 24 members of the bin Laden family out of the country after 9/11, before they could be questioned in detail by the F.B.I. "Here's one question I want to pose," he says. "What if on the day after Oklahoma City, Bill Clinton, suddenly worried about the safety of the McVeigh family up in Buffalo, allowed a jet to pick them all up and take them out of the country, not to return?" You can already fantasize how Mr. Moore, once he is turned away from the White House, might travel to Kennebunkport to pursue the first President Bush in retirement much as he did Charlton Heston in "Bowling for Columbine."

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble...

Posted 04:41 PM

January 28, 2003

LOTR Luddism?

Here's a morsel for the casual LOTR fans out there. I know there are countless Lord of the Rings fans, and I know from a few of my friends that a lot of you have spent obscene amounts of time amassing almost unfathomable amounts of information about Tolkien, Middle Earth, hobbits, etc. If you have read the Silmarillion, this probably won't be news to you so please don't flame my ignorance, but... For those of you who, like me, read the books years ago and have been enjoying the movies in a pretty casual wayas in, so casual you're never really sure when the films depart from the books and your ignorance doesn't really bother youyou might enjoy The Engineer Guy's short discussion of the role of technology in the books. Now why would a trilogy that demonizes technology and celebrates the simple agrarian life have so much appeal in a world of smart bombs and modern bureaucratic systems of surveillance and control (hello TIA)? Hmm... I wonder. (Note: The TIA program has a new logo. What a shame! The logo was the best part of the whole concept! Oh well. You can still see the old one here.)

Posted 09:39 AM

August 14, 2002

Fear of "Signs"

To those of you who have seen and liked "Signs," please explain.

****** Potential Spoilers Below *******

My girlfriend and I saw "Signs" last night and we both thought it was about the most offensive, racist and xenophobic piece of sentimental propaganda to come out of Hollywood since... well, maybe since "Birth of A Nation." That might be an exaggeration, but I'm serious here— this movie was downright scary, and quadruply so when you think that it was a box-office winner this past weekend and yet there's no national outcry over the film's repulsive message. What is that message? Well, you tell me, because as my girlfriend and I cringed and guffawed at a show that everyone around us seemed gripped by, we gradually began to think we'd lost our minds.

The movie we saw looked like it was going to be a sort of campy parody of those who are terrified by "outsiders" (i.e., people of national and ethnic origin other than the U.S.) and the prospect of some force (i.e., terrorism, Al Qaeda) invading and destroying our peaceful and wholesome U.S. lives. The whole thing with the Doctor/wife-killer being the only non-white person in the show was such an obvious and racist decision on the part of the film's makers, that we just assumed that they were going to do something with the second half of the show to mock American racism and xenophobia. But no, it only got worse because the Doctor/wife-killer turns out to be a nice guy -- it's just that he couldn't help being bad because "it was meant to be." Translation: U.S. minorities aren't bad people, but they'll fuck up your life anyway because they just can't help it -- it's meant to be.

(I've since learned that the writer/director himself, M. Night Shyamalan, plays the Doctor/wife-killer, but that only adds to the bizarre horror at such a plot/characterization choice. The pseudo-"bad guy" in the film is a person of color, while all other major characters are white. This was an intentional choice. Why was this choice made?)

Then there's the whole "believe" thing. At first, judging from the whole scene on the couch where the Joaquin Pheonix character is begging Mel Gibson's character to give him some hope, this "spiritual" thread also looked like it was going to parody people who are saying we should do nothing about the problems in the world except pray and believe in a higher power so that if the shit hits the fan we'll see it as a "sign" of hope instead of becoming hopeless. That's what we thought, but no -- in the end, the movie reinforces this hokey "don't worry, be happy (and pray and believe)" message w/Pheonix lecturing Gibson in what is perhaps, save the bad aliens, the most unconvincing turn of bad acting in the whole film.

Finally, the "aliens" turn out to be terrorists (of course!), and since they're "aliens" we should feel free to just "swing away" at them if we don't like them or if we feel threatened by them. Translation in context of current events: It's ok for us to declare people "hostile combatants" and take away all their rights because they're not people, they're hostile combatants (didn't you get the memo?). It's also ok for the U.S. to bomb the shit out of (swing away at) anyone who seems even remotely threatening to anything we even remotely want or have an interest in.

Oh yeah, and when Gibson puts on the clerical collar at the end, I just burst out laughing -- it was so, so, so awful and predictable and unconvincing and... ugh! Needless to say, we got some disturbed looks moments later when the lights went up; apparently everyone else bought it.

Ok, so we left the theater thinking we were crazy, baffled that we hadn't heard anything about this awfulness before we saw the film. (Salon and Ebert both liked it, and neither said anything about it being racist/xenophobic, or campy.) So in order to maintain some sanity and find an explanation for this, here's what I'm hoping: Shyamalan originally wrote the parody that this movie flirts with being. Note that the aliens turn out to look like and do exactly what everyone in the movie fears the most, making it seem like the aliens are a product of the characters' imaginations -- thus, the movie attempts to mock xenophobia (at least in parts). Note also the campy, cartoony aliens who can be overcome just by splashing some water on them -- we can't be meant to take this at all seriously, right? So the movie was originally a super-parody of American xenophobia and racism, but then 9-11 happened and the studio (Disney, isn't it?) told Shyamalan he couldn't do a movie like that. So Shyamalan revised the script, built up the "believe, it was meant to be" thing, and the studio bought it. So now Shyamalan laughs bitterly all the way to the bank as U.S. audiences flock to this movie that only confirms their racism and xenophobia.

If you've seen this movie: Am I crazy, or what? How is this film not awful, offensive, and scary in a much more real way than little green men and UFOs will ever be?

Posted 11:48 AM | Comments (4)

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