29 December 2010

A Renewal of Vows

It's been nearly five months since my last published entry.  Since that time I've become a "dissertator", seen a few of my best friends in the world who I'd lost track of, come to understand the nature of the universe, and  adjusted my Netflix membership plan.

As such, I feel a renewed responsibility to account for the world around us (that's right, I can explain it to you... just keep reading).  So it is, I will re-purpose Roman Numeral J as an outlet for not only (though still) an anachronistic chronology of my own life, but also a regular, reliable commentary on the culture and society which impacts said chronology.  Therefore, it is my intention to write substantive, complex, confusing, and constructive criticism and commentary on any (random) collections of cultural artifacts.

My goal, then, is to write on a variety of topics (unfinished entries over the last five months include "Did The Secret cause the Recession?" and "Bitter Salt" {an article about Angelina Jolie's summer blockbuster}.  I'll do this at least once a week for as long as this blog continues.  Which means, the purpose and regularity of this blog will be changing.  I'm never quite sure what it will be about, but it will now be about something (again?).

I think what is most compelling me to this change is something I've noticed during my last year and a half of academic work, namely the idea of the proprietarianship of academic ideas.  At my preliminary exam defense, it was suggested to me that I'd naively misunderstood the thinking of an intellectual hero of mine.  I disagreed, but more so, I was offended by the proprietary way a thinker was being talked about.  Furthermore, in discussing various projects I've been working on over the last couple years I've been told alternately that what I was doing had already been done (or was being done) or that someone else wished they'd done what I was planning to do... it gets me to questioning what the point of all this work is exactly.  So, Roman Numeral J will serve, henceforth as a sort of open source theory.  I welcome all contributors, comments, dialogue.  Let's get to work.

06 August 2010

The Other Guys might be the second most interesting Will Ferrell movie EVER!

I went to a showing of The Other Guys today, which I was actually quite looking forward to. I'm generally in favor of Will Ferrell and Mark Walberg is hilarious. I liked the premise and was hoping (though not expecting) something in the neighborhood of Hot Fuzz. What I found, though, which was entirely unexpected was a coyly intelligent critique both of corporate criminals and of Hollywood (or American mass media more generally) selling us a very specific propaganda which often goes unremarked.

Source: rottentomatoes.com
As the closing credits roll, The Other Guys serves up a bevy of Michael-Moore-y statistics about the recent history of corporate excesses.  This was an embarrassment of under-estimating an audience, but the rest of the film provides a smart critique of bureaucracy, machismo and Hollywood cultural imagining.  This happens blatantly in the "real live" reactions to explosions and (hilariously) in Mark Walberg's ballet expertise, which he mastered to make fun of a neighborhood kid who'd been taking ballet ("You learned ballet, ironically?")  The strongest critique, though, is the parallel to The Untouchables and the history of Al Capone.  For all the big-action excitement, first in the opening sequence with the Rock and Sam Jackson, and later in Mark Walberg's incessant desire for "some action" or constant suspicion of drugs being involved...in everything.

 The real quality of a movie like The Other Guys, or any good comedy, really, is in its realism.  The best jokes are funny because they state real, important truths.  The best comedy is good because it says things that need saying.  This movie is not just good because it satirizes action films, nor because it rightfully critiques corporate criminals.  The movie questions our very enjoyment of the films it pokes fun of not because it thinks they are bad products (they are and they aren't, but that is irrelevant).  Rather, it is the complex relationship that any major motion picture has to the underlying rampant capitalism that is being critiqued that makes this movie worth another look, a closer look.

31 July 2010

No Thing Theory

This morning I abandoned my bike next to a gas station.  I also threw the old sheet i've been sleeping on the last week down a garbage chute.  I'm planning to leave a dying pair of sandals and the toaster I bought when i got here too.  Temporary status is an odd experience... one that I quite like, but i'm not sure i fully understand yet.  To live in a situation which is definitely fleeting is, in some ways, a contradiction.  It doesn't seem like it should be, i mean, we all do things temporarily - take a vacation, go to school, rent an apartmant, i mean even your whole life, right, is a temporary arrangement.  Depending on your persuasion, it might brief layover, one of a sequence of repeating scenes, or the whole shebang, but it's temporal limitations are unavoidable (at least so far).

But to be stably fleeting in this already fleeting existence has been an odd experience over the last several weeks. I've always been a person who likes things - ephemera - objects, but since arriving in Miami none of my stuff (except my books, always always my books) matters much because it's 'miami stuff'. Stuff I will leave behind, or even if i don't, it's stuff I could leave behind.

I'm not sure what this adds up to necessarily, but it seems to me there's some sum worth discovering. Of course there's the cringe-worthy cliché about not letting your things own you or caring more about the people around you than the things around you, but ideas like these are clichés precisely because they are so wildly uninteresting. I'm also not the first to come to this less-than-brilliant conclusion. In the introduction of his recent bookThe Art of Life, Zygmunt Bauman discusses the same phenomenon as it relates to living arrangement and happiness. I've not read it all yet, but his thinking about the state of happiness seems somewhat in line with my own.


I've lost all track of what originally inspired this post, but i know it's something that means a lot to me.  And i'm sure it's terribly important.


10 June 2010

On this date in history...

it seems I was feeling it might be all over.  maybe I was right.

14 April 2010

The Bird Contract

Odd Side-Note: This post was actually written (but evidently not published) in April 2010, but when I went to post it it changed to yesterday's date.  Not sure why this is as typically when I've done this, it posts on the date the post was originally written.  Just an FYI if blogger has changed something and there start appearing oddly timed posts... [Solution Solved!]

Yesterday as i was walking from my parking spot to campus, i watched two male cardinals having a mid-air fight. They were frolicking, swooping, diving - seemed to be having an all-round good spring time together (or at least as much fun as I assume any wild animals have on a given day in an urban environment).

Then, as I watched, the one cardinal (who I've come to think of as 'evil cardinal') chased the other (innocent cardinal) toward the road and he was summarily hit by the windshield of a Toyota Camry.  The erstwhile bird came to rest not 10 feet in front of me.  A few of you may recall that this is not even my first run in with a bird dying at my feet.  Needless to say i was taken aback and the rest of the day had a heavy quality to it, but nothing else really took place, but I am on notice.  One bird tragedy is nothing to get worked up about and a second may just be a coincidence, but were i to find myself present at a third bird massacre I would feel compelled to take action.

10 February 2010

—Right?

When did everybody start saying "—right?" as a response to everything?

Has anyone else noticed this? There came a time (i think) when everyone decided that "right" was the appropriate response to just about anything.

I'm not sure exactly what it is, but suddenly everyone can say "right" after anyone says anything... and it's not just saying "right" it's asking, sort of, "right.

Anyone else noticed this? I thought it'd started just with a couple I'd met (Val & Sean - seriously, where did you get this), but now suddenly i found everyone saying "right?" after most everything i'd said...

Is this new, or just new to me?

17 January 2010

"Building a New Country"

*Note: Obviously, first and foremost, when talking about Haiti today, we need to think first about what we can do to help. Please go to www.clintonbushhaitifund.org or the American Red Cross to help...

In an interview this morning on Meet the Press, Bill Clinton (alongside W.) stated that what our project (or perhaps 'their project') in Haiti really is, is not so much "rebuilding their nation" after this most recent disaster, but more about "building a new nation". This distinction gets washed out in parsing out the term 'nation-building'. Given Haiti's unique history, from its founding, its early isolation, the crippling "debt" it incurred for revolting against French Slavery the idea of the United States imposing on Haiti any kind of political plan for moving forward is at best problematic. I'm not sure Haiti can fit into traditional models of 'development', 'democratizing', or 'nation-building' and attempts to apply cookie-cutter methods have resulted in (and will continue to result in) an undermining (an erosion, I suppose) of what is essentially Haitian.

It seems what's troubling, perhaps moreso in Haiti than elsewhere, is the familiar post-colonial critique of developing determinism, that is, the idea of a developed nation helping a less developed nation become more like the developed nation. With critiques of Haiti's very culture (from both the certifiably insane & purportedly credible) coming swiftly on the heels of unimaginable devastation,

During the interview, Bush was smiling way too much. And he used the word "Scheister"... He said that the advice that he'd pass on to the Obama is to not be discouraged by the fact that you can't always get aid moving quickly.

Meet the Press' historical setup of the U.S.' relationship with Haiti started in 1934, at the end of the U.S. occupation. It then goes on to 1994 when Clinton sent troops in to Haiti to re-instate Jean Bertrand-Aristide to power, skipping over 60 years of intentional ignorance - most of which involved the Pop & Jr. Duvalier regimes, which the US allowed to exist because it generally allowed us to institute our contemporary agricultural bill, which created favorable tariffs (for us, not them, natch) and convinced Haiti that its future was in 1) tourism 2) sugar cane (i.e. rum) 3) coffee or cotton or some crop that the US doesn't want to grow and sell you and heavily inflated prices (i.e. rice).

06 January 2010

Untold Richness: A Knee-Jerk Review of Alan Lomax in Haiti

Even on picking up this 10-disc, 2-book boxed set of the music of Haiti recorded in 1936-7 by folklorist Alan Lomax you are impressed by its weight (both literally and figuratively). The front cover sports the statement "Recordings for the Library of Congress". On the back, a sticker on the shrink wrap is the promise of the box' contents, books, music discs, a map with Lomax' original travel notes, and film footage of their visit.

But as with all good boxed sets, it is in the actual opening and exploring that you get most of your value. The first thing you notice opening the over-sized cigar box is the smell. There is a scent of sweet tobacco (already, unfortunately fading in mine) as if the box had been found and repurposed by Lomax himself and sent straight to you from 1937. The Notebook: Haiti 1936-1937 is attached to the cover, in a separate sleeve. The title is handwritten and the book looks like a bound notebook. It is a collection of letters, notes, and commentaries written by (and to) Lomax during his travels.

The second book contains the liner notes, written by Gage Averill and consists of lyrics (translated and in the original Creole), notes and pictures. A foreword is written by Lomax' daughter (?), Anna Lomax Wood and the entire project is impressively intricate and rigorous. The map (as well as two mini-photos, which seem tossed in as an afterthought) provide an oddly exciting tactility to the experience of listening to the lo-fi recordings.

On the whole, the set is an invitation to a lost time, just a few years after the U.S. Occupation ended (1934), and in being transported, you're also given the opportunity to understand that world thanks to the copious notes and commentaries.