I have repeatedly made statements about my problems with HBO programming like Sex And The City and Girls being used as pop cultural propaganda and a glorified tourism ad for New York and the arts snobbery lifestyle that comes with it.
Artists of the world, in any medium, you need to up your game.
The argument that the arts cannot prosper outside of New York is hard to take seriously when one considers the massive achievements by foreign directors in the medium of film alone, Akira Kurosawa, Ozu, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Fernando Arrabal, Guillermo del Toro, Fritz Lang, Ruggero Deodato, Pasolini, Fellini, the list goes on and that’s just non-English speakers.
Literature casts an even wider net of great stories which are unfairly ignored due to their not being translated, but I assure you, in one specific case I think you’ll agree: if William Shakespeare managed to change the English language without so much as a college degree, I doubt he needs New York’s help. Your English teachers are all the publicity he needs.
And as for the poor fools who after reading my dissertation on why New York arts snobbery is overrated, especially those people in my street art lectures considering moving there after graduation… have you not read the news?
Talking to these people it’s like Hurricane Sandy never happened, they’re so naive that they’ll make it that they don’t even look up how tough it is for the underclasses in Harlem who already live there. I am aware of the Australian cultural cringe, but surely considering we have actual health care and a safety net here Sydney and Melbourne look pretty good when compared with America which is downtrodden by recession and misery.
When I was about seventeen I wrote this ridiculous alternate history superhero story where undead ghost Oscar Wilde was mayor of a city of metahumans and he legalised gay marriage.
That same night I had a dream where I was sitting in his library, and Oscar Wilde just sat there, in his big ass antique chair saying nothing, his long hair on display, just laughing at me, like I was a chump. Which I was.
I’m not saying I don’t like gay marriage, or that it’s a bad idea. It’s just that Oscar Wilde thought marriage between men and women was horrible enough, and old school, dead legendary authors don’t fuck around.
Part of what I enjoy about being a writer and photographer is great writers and photographers are the kinds of celebrity that are allowed to grow old, yet the people they write about and photograph are not.
Such is life in a fame obsessed culture where the loss of youth is a crime. Growing up my heroes weren’t teen idols you read about in magazines or the fame junkies you saw on reality TV… I wanted to be like Osamu Tezuka, Daido Moriyama, John Green, The Cinema Snob and Leonard Cohen. John Lennon said never to trust anyone over thirty but I could have sworn when I was a teen I couldn’t confide in anyone under twenty five, at which age people suddenly treated me with some level of human dignity.
I think writing as a medium of expression is more Taoist as an artform than something like film or comics. Until very recently it seemed like words/writing required to have physical form, but now ebook and blogs have made the act of writing formless, free from being a possibly rare or precious physical object and transformed into a post-scarcity, infinitely reproducible idea or story containing ideas.
I like books a lot, graphic novels and art books are fun to read in dead tree format but I can’t help but wonder if I enjoy ebook for prose style books because I can carry the wisdom and trivialities of civilisation together mingled in the same talisman like slab that is my Kindle, which I take wherever I can to where I need to be at any given time.
Same argument could be made for music and mp3s, but we’re not quite there yet with audio files that aren’t compressed to all hell and don’t degrade over time. Ebooks haven’t had this problem nearly as much. A word in printed lettering doesn’t quite decay like a spoken word or a song does in digital form.
Perhaps this is why words on a page were good at saving the oral tradition before tape recorders. Thanks Homer.
When I watch a film by a great French director, it now fills me with a sense of my not needing to be a French director since there are so many French directors to be that for me.
When I saw AKIRA for the first time I wanted to be able to draw and animate like Otomo so badly, all the while forgetting that through Otomo somebody had already given the world its AKIRA - there was utterly no requirement for another.
I try to tell myself this when I am envious of Tezuka and Bakshi’s talents at drawing and animating… but I so often forget as many artists do when they work in mediums that are respected by some but appreciated by so little.
With so few young people reading these days past the age of twenty, the novelist looks on at the hip new young indie film director and his many friends, not knowing that the poet and playwright envy the novelist for people even recognising his profession still exists in living memory.
The photographer likewise looks wistfully at the wizardly gifts of the cartoonist and the animator who seem capable of creating new things from almost nothing while he feels he simply copies down the dead image of someone or something.
We artists are all jealous of the practitioners of art forms that seem more trendy or cool, because often we feel alone in our work due to it seeming the world, and high society has forgotten us. We envy not just success in our rivals, but the hip new trends that attract success both financial and social to people.
So I just got linked to this article about Firefly, and since I haven’t seen the show I can only start to piece together why this show is so divisive. Me, I never grew up with Whedon, I grew up with Osamu Tezuka manga reprints and whatever Discworld books Angus and Robertson had when it was still open. Make of that what you will:
In all the discussions I see online about how mainstream media depicts gender, race, sexual orientation, whatever… because so many commenters are focused on defending themselves for being white males or females or non white or non straight… the goal of achieving discussions of real change everybody involved can take away and apply to their lives and works is somewhat lost in an argument over who is even allowed to discuss these ideas at all. When you discount a human of any stripe of providing what may be a well articulated point about something due to their minority or majority status, something’s really lost here. So when we see characters in media, why are we so focused, as a human species about who is feminist, who is sexist and who is allowed to write narrative fiction at all… instead of wondering what it is about the writing of characters who are characters rather than politically charged insults to whatever demographic the character supposedly depicts or doesn’t depict? I spent about two years trying to read posts online and Internet reviewer videos trying to discern how to write effective characters of all genders, and I noticed that the commentators who didn’t yell at their audiences for the crime of being one gender or race or not their gender or race or whatever… made me think far more about how I wrote characters than the bloggers who made worthy points but seemed really hostile to anybody who wasn’t already familiar with the idea being presented.
I’m so glad that female Internet critics like Lindsay Ellis and Sofie Liv can get their ideas out there about what makes effective characters that appeal to everybody to wide demographics beyond a boy or girl core audience.
A common misunderstanding about men watching these kinds of women based media review programs is that they’re “male feminists” who are trying to co-opt the small areas of discussion women have to discuss real problems and “silence” women, when really a lot of the time when I watch these programs, both me and other fans of these female Internet reviewers start to think less of these women as just pretty faces and start to pay attention to genuinely interesting ideas presented by women that give everybody involved to watch their show and take ideas seriously even while they laugh at satirical snark at nostalgic material.
That’s what makes me sad about discussions of media online. The feminism was never the problem with men listening to these arguments, the problem may have been as simple as “Hey, I like listening to these ideas but I’d like it if I didn’t feel as if I’m being yelled at for having a penis even though I’ve never even kissed a girl yet let alone contemplated raping anyone”.
Characters in fiction should really start from trying to create a character versus a strawman or woman to exposit some kind of political filibuster. To explain my point in how vast this problem in figuring out how to depict Africans in your narrative, it’s true that Morgan Freeman and the hero of Hotel Rwanda are great examples of black heroes, you still have to deal with the fact that Idi Amin from The Last King Of Scotland really existed, however loosely adapted from reality he was in that.
For every noble Bruce Lee there’s a heinous Mao Zedong, for every Machete who’s fighting for Mexico there’s still drug cartels that aren’t really representative of what the Mexican character is capable of in terms of achievements. These are historical, rather than outright blanket facts. Also note that in Mao Zedong’s example there is only one of Mao Zedong and millions of other Chinese who share his cultural race but not his supposed genetic evil you see in a lot of Godwin’s Law style arguments.
You can see why there’s a bit of a divide between history’s greatest monsters and people like Morgan Freeman and Bruce Lee. It’s often not that simple either. Often you get people who are just people. And I think regarding your characters as people with specific upbringings and backgrounds, genders… that’s a better approach to writing your characters than just blanket portraying all of them as insane maniacs hell bent on raping everything. See the movie City Of Life And Death for an example of modern Chinese cinema’s most recent great achievements, a Chinese director managed to give humanity back to what many Chinese would normally see as a two dimensional political enemy. And that’s the kind of storytelling that heals old wounds rather than re-opening them. It also has the honour of having a not-white guy save everybody instead of having a white guy in there by default so white people will watch it.
That’s not to say not everyone in the movie has to be not white. Especially when you’re dealing with that one German Nazi guy who considered in his witnessing the Rape of Nanjing that maybe Auschwitz was watered down compared to what he was in the middle of. That’s what’s great about historical adaptations done right.
If there wasn’t a Nazi guy turned rogue who tried to save Chinese people there in real history, it would be Quentin Tarantino level hack job storytelling. But history has this weird way of outdoing Tarantino every now and then in terms of absurdity.
What I’m essentially saying is this: great white hope movies like Driving Miss Daisy are kind of annoying to persons of colour because it involves the idea that the white guy saves everyone. But what if you have a situation where instead of Morgan Freeman driving around this rich old white lady, he is tasked to drive around this white, yet disabled in a wheelchair dude who is rejected by the other rich white guys as weak and useless even if his company’s inventions are helping him survive? What if Morgan Freeman and Guy With Wheelchair suddenly join forces against an ogliarchy driven capitalist system that hates them both, especially in the time a film like Driving Miss Daisy is set? Now your originally great white hope movie becomes a “two guys disadvantaged in different ways stand up to a system that is a dick to both of them for completely different reasons” movie. And I’d watch the shit outta that.
The most perfect example of a movie that features a white guy desperately trying to get the other white guys who are being a dick to an indigenous culture movie I can think of is Cannibal Holocaust. I’m not even kidding. Robert Kerman’s anthropology professor character not only works as the greatest advertisement for ethical social science I’ve ever seen, but he’s an entertaining character who doesn’t have to stand up against a vaguely orthodox system like in a cheap arse Robin Williams cliche movie. Nope.
In Cannibal Holocaust, the white professor dude is respected by the natives not because he’s white, but because he’s the only one in the jungle with his skin colour who remotely tried to empathise with trading and respecting these Amazon tribesmen after these racist fucktard film students raped and pillaged everything they held dear before poor Robert Kerman realises what a shitstorm he’s been drafted into trying to find what’s left of those imperialist shockumentary makers. He has to earn the respect of the villagers every step of the way, and we see this process of cultural exchange visually through the whole movie. This film is infamous for its animal cruelty but I’m sad to admit I love this movie for how it’s the first real portrayal of a white guy professor in the jungle movie that doesn’t end up feeling forced or not true to how people would really react. It is also the gold standard of inspirational teacher trying to reach “these kids” films in my personal regard.
It also shows you an example of how even if you do the whole “white guy first contact with outside tribespeople” plot, you don’t have to fuck it up and make it Pocahontas. You don’t even have to make it within the structure the MPAA typically allows either. You just have to make a good movie, with good characters, no matter what colour or gender they are.
I’m wondering if this generation even has the strength to live up to the ideals of a manifesto. Fuck me, even the guys who started Dogma 95 I hear have begun to use special effects in flagrant disregard for their own movement’s daring rebellion against Hollywood so I hear.
Maybe the world has evolved past the idea of what manifestos are supposed to do. Maybe if artists are really serious about creating visionary work they don’t bother to create rules about what they can or can’t do in their art.
Or maybe we’ve just gotten cynical about having ideals to live up to, because we KNOW we can’t live up to them in the end. But a manifesto isn’t just a rule set for elitist snobs to create their own little exclusive clubs with.
(Okay, a lot of the time that’s how manifestos got started, but in an age where everybody is connected by the Internet but equally divided by it, you just can’t stop some guy in Thailand from downloading your manifesto because he thinks it’s cool even if you said only your cool hipster friends were allowed to live by it. Such things are inevitable in an online era. Accept it)
What I’m saying is, at its core a manifesto is an idea, you may be shocked by this, but you don’t even have to agree with what a manifesto says about an issue. They’re supposed to be provocative, cause that’s what gets the people going. One can always write a manifesto to refute another.
But my manifesto isn’t much in terms of the demand it places on the reader. If it is, I’m sorry and I aimed too high a standard. I probably couldn’t live up to this thing to the letter either, but here goes:
1: Retro chic should be avoided by people who weren’t even alive during the 1980s, I know, I know, I love Instagram and Hipstamatic too, but I’d hope that Gen Y would have a responsibility to document their own era through their own eyes instead of aping 1980s or 1970s aesthetics in their creative work that are so divorced from their own world around them.
The Internet, iPhones, current generation video games with 3D graphics, Blu Ray HD movies and DVD/digital distribution, online Internet reviewers, blogs, Occupy Wall Street and Wikileaks, 3D movies with Real3D glasses, remakes and sequels, hip hop and rap music, international cinema, anime, Pixar CGI animation, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, 4chan - this is only an incomplete list of things Gen Y has grown up with in its own era that is being ignored by some youths in favour of retro chic that denies these things existed in our lives. Make the future remember the way we lived by documenting it the way we saw it with our own eyes. Make art that will annoy the shit out of both older and younger generations to come the way that abnoxious Gen X angst pros like Douglas Coupland did in his books and Kevin Smith did with his films like Clerks, so that the children of tomorrow will be pissed off at our old arses in the position of future power that will frighten and confuse our elderly minds the same way our art will scare the hell out of old people on their last legs now.
2: I know it’s hard to see it out of the bleak, black hole that is the Global Financial Crisis. But out of the creative bankruptcy of Hollywood’s business model will come a future free from remakes and sequels as we know now.
Do not believe that art is dead because all good art is old and we have no power to make good art because the banks stole our money and Hollywood’s too scared to give us what we want but sue single mothers for piracy because it’s easier to make money with lawsuits for these dinosaurs than to fund great classic works that hold up over time.
Old artworks were good because they not only were competently made but created with a vision beyond cheap cash ins. Make art that is good no matter what decade or year it is, timeless rather than tasteless.
That’s all I can really ask with this manifesto, I guess. Join me or don’t, do what you will.
Reading Les Miserables on my Kindle has taught me two things about life:
1: An ex-convict returning from nineteen years of absence, no matter if they’re named Sweeney Todd or not, is bad news for anyone involved. It won’t end well. EVER.
2: Though you may think you are the only man who has ever hated society hardcore enough that it is a part of your everyday routine (hating on society, world, humanity, etc) there probably exists great writers who have hated society even more than you have in your puny youthful lifespan than you could even imagine in a present day economy of scale. Your haterade may be by the gallon, but it cannot match the Old Masters’ haterade for now defunct power structures that they helped haterade out of existence.
I was reading the novel From Blue to Black by Joel Lane, and after careful rereading of certain passages, I realised that no, the main character is not a woman like I had mistakenly perceived, even though me mentions kissing a guy after he’s rocked real hard on the gee-tah. I discovered that this book protagonist was actually gay, and while I normally take this thing easily when I see it coming, this was like one of my old school friends coming out of the closet all over again.
Oh book protagonist, it’s like I don’t even know you anymore… it will take some time for me to grow and accept you for the gay book protagonist who rocks and rolls real hard on the gee-tah that you are, but I as a person must grow with you as a reader.
I think this is less an indication of latent homophobia, as it is a sheer unexpected plot twist. This book protagonist gave you no warning that he was going to randomly start makin’ out with a dude after he’s drunk and sweaty after a big concert, and sometimes, the best surprises in literature come, like a gay man out of the closet, utterly unannounced. I mean, they didn’t even warn you, he was just throwing his blatant-man-love out there.
Maybe we can all learn a lesson from this random, obscure book. It’s all well and good to support people that you are aware of them being gay to begin with, but what, WHAT would YOU do, if a book protagonist suddenly comes out of the closet rocking out with his cock out? Are we so culturally conditioned to assume that all male characters in books written by men are heterosexual unless the book blurb gives us some indication of the protagonist’s orientation? Are we so lulled into a slumber by romantic comedies that we never consider that yes indeed, that dude may well start randomly making out with another dude in about five seconds before you’re given any warning at all?
Are we as heterosexual men so culturally expecting all male characters in fiction to be exactly the same as we are? Because God-damn, there are very few instances in my reading history I can recall that woke me up from my comfort zone when I had to double check that maybe the male protagonist really is making out with another dude. Acceptance should probably extend beyond the PC perimeters of Real Life, since I haven’t read a twist like this in a book in years. In an age when book blurbs are increasingly vague, we have to consider not just what goes ON the book blurb, but what is left for the reader to discover for him or herself, and that includes, among other things, the main character’s unbridled sexuality.
WHAT WOULD YOU DO, IF A BOOK PROTAGONIST CAME OUT TO YOU?