Creative Destruction

June 13, 2017

Assault by AMC Dolby Cinema

Filed under: Art,Content-lite,Media Analysis,Popular Culture — Brutus @ 11:18 pm
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For a variety of reasons, I go to see movies in the theater only a handful of times any given year. The reasons are unimportant (and obvious) and I recognize that, by eschewing the theater, I’m giving up the crowd experience. Still, I relented recently and went to see a movie at a new AMC Dolby Cinema, which I didn’t even know exists. The first thing to appreciate was that is was a pretty big room, which used to be standard when cinema was first getting established in the 1920s but gave way sometime in the 1970s to multiplex theaters able to show more than one title at a time in little shoebox compartments with limited seating. Spaciousness was a welcome throwback. The theater also had oversized, powered, leather recliners rather than cloth, fold-down seats with shared armrests. The recliners were quite comfortable but also quite unnecessary (except for now typical Americans unable to fit their fat asses in what used to be a standard seat). These characteristics are shared with AMC Prime theaters that dress up the movie-going experience and charge accordingly. Indeed, AMC now offers several types of premium cinema, including RealD 3D, Imax, Dine-In, and BigD.

Aside I: A friend only just reported on her recent trip to the drive-in theater, a dated cinema experience that is somewhat degraded unenhanced yet retains its nostalgic charm for those of us old enough to remember as kids the shabby chic of bringing one’s own pillows, blankets, popcorn, and drinks to a double feature and sprawling out on the hood and/or roof of the car (e.g., the family station wagon). My friend actually brought her dog to the drive-in and said she remembered and sorta missed the last call on dollar hot dogs at 11 PM that used to find all the kids madly, gleefully rushing the concession stand before food ran out.

What really surprised me, however, was how the Dolby Cinema experience turned into a visual, auditory, and kinesthetic assault. True, I was watching Wonder Woman (sorry, no review), which is set in WWI and features lots of gunfire and munitions explosions in addition to the usual invincible superhero punchfest, so I suppose the point is partly to be immersed in the environment, a cinematic stab at verisimilitude. But the immediacy of all the wham-bam, rock ’em-sock ’em action made me feel more like a participant in a theater of war than a viewer. The term shell shock (a/k/a battle fatigue a/k/a combat neurosis) refers to the traumatized disorientation one experiences in moments of high stress and overwhelming sensory input; it applies here. Even the promo before the trailers and feature, offered to demonstrate the theater’s capabilities themselves, was off-putting because of unnecessary and overweening volume and impact. Unless I’m mistaken, the seats even have built-in subwoofers to rattle theatergoers from below when loud, concussive events occur, which is often because, well, filmmakers love their spectacle as much as audiences do.

Aside II: One real-life lesson to be gleaned from WWI, or the Great War as it was called before WWII, went well beyond the simplistic truism that war is hell. It was that civility (read: civilization) had failed and human progress was a chimera. Technical progress, however, had made WWI uglier in many respects than previous warfare. It was an entirely new sort of horror. Fun fact: there are numerous districts in France, known collectively as Le Zone Rouge, where no one is allowed to live because of all the unexploded ordnance (1oo years later!). Wonder Woman ends up having it both ways: acknowledging the horrific nature of war on the one hand yet valorizing and romanticizing personal sacrifice and eventual victory on the other. Worse, perhaps, it establishes that there’s always another enemy in the wings (otherwise, how could there be sequels?), so keep fighting. And for the average viewer, uniformed German antagonists are easily mistakable for Nazis of the subsequent world war, a historical gloss I’m guessing no one minds … because … Nazis.

So here’s my problem with AMC’s Dolby Cinema: why settle for routine or standard theater experience when it can be amped up to the point of offense? Similarly, why be content with the tame and fleeting though reliable beauty of a sunset when one can enjoy a widescreen, hyperreal view of cinematic worlds that don’t actually exist? Why settle for the subtle, old-timey charm of the carousel (painted horses, dizzying twirling, and calliope music) when instead one can strap in and get knocked sideways by roller coasters so extreme that riders leave wobbly and crying at the end? (Never mind the risk of being stranded on the tracks for hours, injured, or even killed by a malfunction.) Or why bother attending a quaint symphonic band concert in the park or an orchestral performance in the concert hall when instead one can go to Lollapalooza and see/hear/experience six bands in the same cacophonous space grinding it out at ear-splitting volume, along with laser light shows and flash-pot explosions for the sheer sake of goosing one’s senses? Coming soon are VR goggles that trick the wearer’s nervous system into accepting they are actually in the virtual game space, often first-person shooters depicting killing bugs or aliens or criminals without compunction. Our arts and entertainments have truly gotten out of hand.

If those criticisms don’t register, consider my post more than a decade ago on the Paradox of the Sybarite and Catatonic, which argues that our senses are so overwhelmed by modern life that we’re essentially numb from overstimulation. Similarly, let me reuse this Nietzsche quote (used before here) to suggest that on an aesthetic level, we’re not being served well in display and execution of refined taste so much as being whomped over the head and dragged willingly? through ordeals:

… our ears have become increasingly intellectual. Thus we can now endure much greater volume, much greater ‘noise’, because we are much better trained than our forefathers were to listen for the reason in it. All our senses have in fact become somewhat dulled because we always inquire after the reason, what ‘it means’, and no longer for what ‘it is’ … our ear has become coarsened. Furthermore, the ugly side of the world, originally inimical to the senses, has been won over for music … Similarly, some painters have made the eye more intellectual, and have gone far beyond what was previously called a joy in form and colour. Here, too, that side of the world originally considered ugly has been conquered by artistic understanding. What is the consequence of this? The more the eye and ear are capable of thought, the more they reach that boundary line where they become asensual. Joy is transferred to the brain; the sense organs themselves become dull and weak. More and more, the symbolic replaces that which exists … the vast majority, which each year is becoming ever more incapable of understanding meaning, even in the sensual form of ugliness … is therefore learning to reach out with increasing pleasure for that which is intrinsically ugly and repulsive, that is, the basely sensual. [italics not in original]

May 1, 2014

Conspiracy with a Dose of Sarcasm

Filed under: Content-lite,Humor,Media Analysis,Popular Culture — Brutus @ 11:36 pm

One the blogs I read and contribute to recently blew up over the subject of conspiracy theories. Among the arguments was the following video:

Skeptic.com purports to promote rational and scientific thinking through the use of humor, but I must admit its approach is not my cup of tea. I have seen several other videos featuring the character Mr. Deity and thought then the tone was high-handed despite the humor (more like sarcasm and ridicule). Whether I agree (or disagree) with the viewpoint presented is quite beside the point.

I wish that various conspiracies could be laid to rest finally, and maybe the authors at Skeptic.com believe they have done so, but there are significant sociological reasons why belief in conspiracy persists. Most examples I discard as not deserving a decision one way or the other, but a couple I believe because I find the evidence convincing and official narrative unconvincing. Yeah, sometimes I feel silly subscribing to ideas others find bizarre, but then, lots of people believed (and still do) that the rush to war in Iraq was justified by disinformation provided by our own government. I didn’t need hindsight to see through that charade.

September 27, 2013

Apocalyptic Prank

Filed under: Content-lite,Humor,Popular Culture — Brutus @ 1:27 pm

I see from having searched for this ad that LG has a history of pranking people with the realistic quality of its HDTVs, at least when not paying close attention:

I’m unsure whether such shenanigans ought to be deplored or admired. Scaring the bejesus out of people with intrusions into the privacy of the men’s room, disappearing elevators floors, and now an apocalyptic meteor strike during a job interview seems like crossing over the line. If I were subjected to such pranks, I’d be pissed.

July 28, 2011

Upskirt Marilyn

Filed under: Art,Content-lite,Geekery,Popular Culture — Brutus @ 7:12 pm

Been absent for a while. Nothing short and sweet to blog about until now, which is a 26-ft. sculpture of Marilyn Monroe’s famous pose from The Seven Year Itch.

I used to work in that building at 401 N. Michigan Ave. in Chicago. The plaza in front has been rebuilt almost continuously in the last decade and has frequently been the site of large, outdoor sculptures. I happened by there today, but the unveiling apparently took place July 15, 2011.

Far be it from me to impose my aesthetic on anyone else, but I can’t not observe how trashy this is, offering passersby the most garish upskirt photographic opportunity ever. And naturally, tacky Americans are only too happy to oblige.

March 25, 2011

Listening

Filed under: Content-lite,Geekery,Popular Culture — Brutus @ 9:24 am

This is pretty funny: an article on “How to Be a Better Listener” in the Chicago Tribune. In next week’s column, learn how to walk on two legs! But in the meantime, listen up! Here’s the set-up:

Did you know that March is International Listening Awareness Month? According to the International Listening Association (ILA), we only retain about 50 percent of what we hear immediately after we hear it, and only another 20 percent beyond that. So how can we get those percentages to rise?

I suspect the author knows nothing about cognition and makes the usual assumption that increasing those percentages means improved cognition. Well, sorry, that’s not the way perception/memory works. We discard the bulk of immediate perception to make room for new stimuli constantly flowing in. If we didn’t, the tank would overflow and nothing new would get in.

If the article were instead about focusing one’s attention, then maybe there would be something useful in it. She gives five suggestions that mostly amount to the same thing:

  1. Don’t take notes at meetings.
  2. Clear your mind.
  3. Absorb the feedback.
  4. Don’t argue, understand.
  5. Body language is key.

All but the last are about eliminating or reducing distractions by getting out of one’s own head and paying attention to someone else. This is good advice all the time. The last is unnecessary: body language is perceived subliminally. Conscious awareness of it is not generally necessary.

January 16, 2011

Esteem Needs

Filed under: Current Events,Ethics,Navel Gazing,Popular Culture — Brutus @ 1:09 am

I gave a speech a bit over one year ago that cited Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (physiological, security, social, esteem, and self-actualization), though I modified it slightly to conform to needs as we now experience them. Primary attention for many of us who identify with the dominant culture has shifted to esteem needs, which include personal worth, social recognition, and accomplishment. However, those values are frequently distorted by seeking empty and vacuous fame and false social recognition. This is especially prevalent among the young, whose physiological and security needs are typically satisfied by parents. Indeed, the young have difficulty imaging scenarios where those needs aren’t met passively, which is to say effortlessly, though the recognition is dawning on many in their 20s that the living standards enjoyed by their elders are difficult to replicate.

A recent study reported on in USA Today describes the very thing I mentioned in my speech, namely, that esteem needs for today’s youth trump other concerns. They prefer praise over things like sex, alcohol, money, or even a best friend. This comes as no surprise to anyone paying attention, as evidence abounds that an entire generation of people have been encouraged to believe the world revolves around them. Similar charges have been levied on baby boomers, but as narcissism indices show, the parents got nothin’ on the kids.

December 13, 2010

Musical Chairs

Filed under: Content-lite,Popular Culture — Brutus @ 2:10 pm

Like many American cities, Chicago has a “thing” about its parking. It’s very difficult or impossible in some neighborhoods to find an available space, and the Loop is pretty much a no-go zone unless one is willing to pay upwards of $15 per day to park. Those who can do without cars opt for iGo or Zip Cars. And then there is the whole bizarre parking meter scandal. No need to go there.

So I was curious to learn of a website advocating Chair-Free Chicago to address the longstanding tradition of protecting one’s snow-shoveled parking space with lawn chairs, two milk crates and a board, or other similar contraptions. On a purely practical level, defying someone’s marking of territory, however illegal wrong it may be to claim public space, is too risky for most. Property damage is too costly and finding another space is prudent.

Of course, the expectation is that one’s neighbors will behave more like criminals rather than neighbors. There is plenty of evidence for that. So while I can appreciate and even applaud Chair-Free Chicago for its advocacy, neighborly behaviors are a luxury that most people abandoned a long time ago, and appeals to our better natures are mostly for chumps. Ironically, when if things totally melt down and civil unrest becomes widespread, forbearance and a sense of community will be the things we most need.

January 2, 2008

Zero Income

Filed under: Free Speech,Popular Culture — Off Colfax @ 4:42 am

This is well past the point of absurdity.

The industry’s lawyer in the case, Ira Schwartz, argues in a brief filed earlier this month that the MP3 files Howell made on his computer from legally bought CDs are “unauthorized copies” of copyrighted recordings.

Now, Brutus and I have disagreed about the subject of the RIAA many a time on these pages. His points are from the view of a copyright holder, which is very well and good for him. Unfortunately for him, however, the RIAA happens to hold and defend many of the exact same views. Therefore, he often sees my assault on the RIAA to be an assault on his own views.

Nothing could be further from my intent. Brutus is not overcharging his customers for senseless drivel. (Parody can be so similar to the truth these days.) Brutus is not preventing his customers from using the limited rights to music that they have purchased derived via the infamous “Betamax” decision. Brutus is not mandating that a higher percentage of profits from music sales go to the RIAA, under the category of Publishing Royalties, than to the musicians and artists themselves.

This has gone to the point where you can no longer even consider a reductio ad absurdum fallacy, for things have already gone beyond where pure absurdity is commonplace. The demonization of individuals who rip a legally purchased CD simply to place it onto their legally purchased MP3 player is what has placed them beyond the absurd.

There is only one legal response to this strategy:

DO NOT PURCHASE ANY COMPACT DISCS FROM COMPANIES AFFILIATED WITH THE RIAA!

Zero. None. Zippo. Zilch. Nada. Rei. Nol. Ling. And many other words that mean the same as ‘0’.

If you enjoy a specific song by a specific artist, download the inevitable free promotional MP3 from their website and/or MySpace page. If you enjoy a specifc artist, go to their concert and buy their gear. But do not buy the album.

As the above chart supplied by David Byrne and Wired.com shows, only 1% goes to the artist from a given CD purchase. You can personally hand them a quarter on the street and they will make more money from your personal appreciation than they would via your purchase. Naturally, that would be insulting coming from a personal exchange. It would be demeaning. We give homeless people more spare change than that. So at least offer to buy them a beer.

But do it for them, and not for a record company that will turn around and try to make it illegal to move your own legally purchased recording from a physical format to a digital format.

Of course, there’s always Trent Reznor’s advice:

Game on.

September 9, 2007

Smoke Flavoring

Filed under: Navel Gazing,Popular Culture — Brutus @ 5:11 pm

Barbeque is one of those smells, like burning leaves, that immediately triggers olfactory memory and a host of associations. An outdoor public market in Rochester, NY, where I used to live, has a smoke house, and the smell of charred meat created such a sensation that omigod did I want some of that stuff right away. Barbeque isn’t a comfort food exactly, but something about it is so primal and satisfying that I’m always sure to try the ribs or brisket on a menu.

I was in Rochester recently, and although I didn’t go to the public market, I did go to its newest restaurant sensation: Dinosaur Bar B Que. (Franchises also exist in Syracuse and New York City.) Gotta say, it rates full and complete approval on the basis of the sampler I had. That was barbeque done right, the traditional way, in a smoker, without too much sugar in the sauce.

Which brings me to my wider point. Some chemist has figured out how to distill the smoke flavor in a bottle, which is now a typical ingredient in barbeque sauces such as this one. Maybe that’s an OK accomodation for the backyard barbeque enthusiast, but I’ve been to a variety of rib joints and barbeque shacks that use liquid smoke as part of their house sauce. Although liquid smoke may be a distillation of the real thing, boy oh boy does it ever taste artificial when added to bottled sauce. It’s sort of like an orange LifeSaver, which doesn’t really taste orange at all but is some chemical approximation of what an orange tastes like.

Which brings me to an even wider point: at what point should we insist upon authentic experience rather than experiences mediated and distilled through some process? Would you rather be in love or take a pill that gives you the approximate feeling of being in love? Would you be happy to take a virtual vacation or would you rather see and experience the real thing? Or on the flip side, do violent video games (or flight simulators, or drag racing games) stimulate in some of us at least a desire for real life thrills from violent and/or risky behavior?

September 7, 2007

Madeleine L’Engle, RIP

Filed under: Art,Popular Culture — Robert @ 3:18 pm

Madeleine L’Engle, dead at 89. I loved “A Wrinkle in Time” and its followup books. Time to dig them out of the dusty boxes and give them another read. There’s a very brief obituary here; for more, see Wikipedia.

H/T John Scalzi.

July 22, 2007

RIP, Tammy Faye

Filed under: Current Events,Popular Culture — Robert @ 1:24 pm

Tammy Faye Messner has died at 65, from the cancer which has ravaged her for the past few years. She was one of the sweetest and most genuine Christian people in the public eye. God rest her soul and comfort her family.

June 11, 2007

What Was Up With The Parallel Parking?

Filed under: Popular Culture — Robert @ 2:06 pm

First, go look at this to get your mind in the proper recursive frame.

Second, what was the deal with Meadow and the parallel parking scene at the end of the Sopranos finale? I think I actually know. It’s an allegory about the moral arc of the characters, and the decisions they end up making and accepting.
Remember how they were discussing which restaurant to go to? Some other place, vs. the diner-tavern they ended up in?  That’s the decision between good and evil – or at least, abiding by social norms of good, versus rejecting those norms and acting in pure selfishness. Note that the parents decided on the basic path, and informed the kids – who accepted it.

The first to arrive at the restaurant – to accept evil/sociopathy – is Tony. He started on this path at a young age. He thought about getting off of it – about going to the other restaurant – but in the end decided on evil. Arriving quickly thereafter is Carmela, who as Tony’s wife made an occasional show of not knowing what was going on or pretending that her husband was not who he was, but who was the first person in the family after Tony to accept the lifestyle.

Next comes AJ. He kicked his little crybaby feet for a while (what a useless sack) but there’s no way he can feed himself – he’ll take the evil if that means a free ride, as reinforced by his eager embrace of the “development executive” job and the BMW. So much for saving the planet.

Finally comes Meadow. Meadow is the one who put up the most resistance to becoming evil; she wanted to escape her family’s moral orbit and become a pediatrician, possibly the least objectionable job anyone on the Sopranos has ever aspired to. But Meadow is an intellectual, or at least, not a complete moron; she can’t do what AJ does and just knuckle under and let stupidity cover the moral decision she’s making. She has to justify it. She embraces evil by becoming a civil rights attorney; not that this is evil in and of itself, but she’s making herself useful for the family and justifying it to herself with civil rights rhetoric about the oppression faced by Italians. This is symbolized in the final scene by her difficulties parking – she has to go back and forth, back and forth, maneuvering to fit her life decision into a space that really isn’t quite able to take it – but she manages through persistence.

Finally they’re all together – a family that has embraced evil together. The final bell, as others have noted, is an indication of the ambiguity and paranoia that will stalk all the Sopranos for the rest of their days – any stranger is a threat, any new situation a possible ambush. They have their comfort and they will eat – but Tony will always be a hunted animal who can never truly relax again.

That’s my .02 on what it meant, anyway. You are welcome to disagree, but of course, you will be wrong.

May 16, 2007

Avast, Ye Swabs!

Filed under: Economics,Popular Culture — Off Colfax @ 11:26 pm

The music industry’s war against file-sharing has just developed a new front.

Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) today announced it will launch a digital music store later this year offering millions of songs in the DRM-free MP3 format from more than 12,000 record labels. EMI Music’s digital catalog is the latest addition to the store. Every song and album in the Amazon.com digital music store will be available exclusively in the MP3 format without digital rights management (DRM) software. Amazon’s DRM-free MP3s will free customers to play their music on virtually any of their personal devices — including PCs, Macs(TM), iPods(TM), Zunes(TM), Zens(TM) — and to burn songs to CDs for personal use.

Indeed. Without any Digital Rights Management capabilities, EMI is placing into the hands of the public precisely the same file types as could be found on file-sharing systems all throughout this here little series of tubes. And as there are many of us out here who remember Sony BMG’s fateful (and ultimately unprofitable) decision to force the issue with malware hidden on every CD sold, EMI looks to take the popular front and break against the RIAA-allied pack.

And that alone might be enough to convince some people to buy their music online.

What goes unsaid, but not entirely unpondered, is what this means to the iTunes’ limited-DRM music collection and Napster’s full-DRM files. It has constantly been a watchphrase of the free-market economic theory to let the market decide. With this development, there will soon be the chance for the market to fully and completely engage in the decision process.

Good for Amazon and EMI Music, who are performing the economic equivalent of a boarding action on the high seas while the RIAA coalition is still piping “Sweepers, man your brooms.

[Turn Signal: Fiat Lux]

May 15, 2007

Copyright in Transition

Filed under: Criminal Justice,Current Events,Economics,Popular Culture — Brutus @ 12:09 am

The U.S. Copyright Office and the Recording Industry Associate of America (RIAA) are doing exactly what they exist to do: protect and police the intellectual property of their constituencies. This post by Off Colfax a few days ago about the Copyright Review Board’s decision to raise royalty rates precipitously for streaming copyrighted content over the web (usually by commercial and web radio services), as well as stories like this one, do nothing to enhance the perception of the RIAA as a common thug with the support of the Copyright Office. Indeed, it’s gotten so bad that the RIAA recently won a contest (in public perception only) for being the worst company in America.

Naturally, it’s unpopular to lend support to an institution known for threatening lawsuits against college students, 12-year-olds, and grandmothers, or one that seems hellbent on instituting punitive royalty rates. I goofed in my first comment on this subject, as I didn’t get that new royalty rates for streaming content will likely put an end to web radio. (I still don’t understand the motivation behind it.) But unlike a lot of consumers, I’m no novice at intellectual property issues (see here and here). So the usual tropes consumers offer up to rationalize their illegal, infringing behaviors get no quarter with me.

What interests me now is that the entire notion of copyright, with its hundreds of years of support in legal practice, appears to be simply beyond the power of most folks to adequately comprehend. That change of sea means that widespread infringement and grassroots movements to relax or invalidate copyright protections, ironically undertaken at the same time that the U.S. government is seeking to impose stronger IP protections on other governments, probably doom the recording industry to extinction. If the consuming public determines, justly or unjustly, that a particular body of law is invalid and won’t respect it, then that law usually gets changed (or flatly ignored, like speed limits). The precipitating factor, in my view, is the technological simplicity of copying — the very thing copyright prohibits.

Before the photocopy machine and digital media, copying and piracy were far more costly and time consuming. Now, the ease and ubiquity of infringing behaviors have become a sort of death by a thousand cuts, except that it’s millions and billions of cuts. The business model on which the recording industry has been based for about 100 years is now so entirely destabilized and transitional that its very survival is threatened. In that context, it’s perfectly reasonable (if unpopular) for the RIAA to seek recourse through legal means, which includes infringement lawsuits (real and threatened) and resetting royalty rates. But the public’s insistence that new distribution methods and business models must (must!) be developed because, like the newspapers, the industry is already dead but doesn’t yet realize it, will probably win the day eventually. If and when that happens, and the financial incentive for creative work disappears with it (since creative work won’t be protectible), I wonder whether it will be a classic case of getting what you want but then deserving what you eventually get: crap music and crap media.

May 11, 2007

The Day The Music Died

Filed under: Popular Culture — Off Colfax @ 9:08 am

As of now, the day the music dies will be on July 15th, 2007.

I wish that was mere poetic license on my part. Regretfully, it is far too close to being a reality.

The Copyright Review Board, part of the United States Library of Congress, issued their final ruling (Large PDF warning.) on May 1 regarding the increase of royalty rates for music streamed over the internet. For the small internet-only audio streams, the verbose language can be summed up in three words:

You are screwed.

Per-listener per-song per-“channel” fees will be raised for the time beginning Jan 1, 2006, and late fees assessed for failure to pay on time, with a payment due date of Jul 15, 2007. There is no consideration for revenue generated by the stream.

You ask yourself, “So. What does this terse unhelpful legalese mean in the real world?” Glad you asked.

1.FM, one of the top-rated stations in the US, crunched their numbers for this Wired.com comment. With an average of 32 thousand listeners per day, the retroactive bill comes out to approximately $8000 to $12000, including late fees.

Per day. Which sums up to approximately $3.6 million for 2006 alone.

But wait. There is more.

Using both the CRB numbers and Arbitron ratings for the largest listener-base on the web, which is unsurprisingly America OnLine, the Radio And Internet Newsletter crunched numbers a bit more. For November, 2006, alone, the royalty obligation runs at $1.65 million. Translated into a full year, that becomes upwards of $20 million.

But wait. There is more.

Live365 will have to pay $350,000 per month, not including the “per-channel” designation. The prototypical kid in his basement hammering away with tiny revenue streams and 100 listeners will now be paying $6,000 per month in royalty fees. Your favorite terrestrial over-the-air station that streams their broadcast through their website will be paying an additional $1000 per month on top of their contractually established royalty payments. Yes. Even National Public Radio stations. (It is unknown at this time whether MTV’s royalty-free video broadcast agreement will apply to their own multiple-stream stations. If it does not, the per-annum numbers will be on the close order of $100 million.)

And this is on top of the royalty fees already being paid by on-line radio stations across the country.

To gain attention to the cause, many streams went dark for a day last week in order to show to their listeners exactly what will happen when they are faced with ruinous royalty increases and are forced to declare bankruptcy. With this virtual Sword of Damocles hovering over the industry’s head, there is only one avenue of recourse: Congress itself.

Fortunately, they have responded with speed. In the House, Representatives Jay Inslee (D-WA) and Don Manzullo (R-IL) introduced H.R. 2060 (Small PDF warning), the Internet Radio Equality Act, setting internet broadcast royalty rates at 7.5% of revenue or $500, the same rates as paid by Sirius/XM satellite radio channels. In the upper chamber, Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sam Brownback (R-KS) introduced companion legislation. (Bill number unassigned at the time of publication.)

Hopefully, Senator Graham will realize his penultimate error when he authored the Platform Equality and Remedies for Rights Holders in Music Act of 2006, for the PERFORM act has performed beyond all expectations for its beneficiaries and beyond the worst fears of the webcast community.

Please contact your Senators to voice your support and urge the immediate passage of the bill. Contact you Representative to urge them to join the bipartisan list of co-sponsors to H.R. 2060.

In closing, I fear that I must fall back on a previously published work of mine and quote Christian Slater.

Keep the air alive.

April 17, 2007

Depths of Journalistic Integrity

Filed under: Ethics,Popular Culture — Brutus @ 12:57 am

The Washington Post recently published a fairly lengthy article called “Pearls Before Breakfast” that answers a question no one in particular was asking: would subway commuters take better notice of music performed in a subway hallway if the busker were a world-class concert artist? I’m late getting to this topic so there have already been plenty of bloggers offering their two cents. Of those I’ve read, none really speaks to my take on the subject, which is this: what on earth is The Washington Post doing staging its own news so that it can then report on it?

Media critics and laypersons alike have been complaining more bitterly of late that much of what the news media provides is utter garbage. Either reports are full of conjecture rather than fact because the rush to publish requires stories be told before enough time has elapsed to do the necessary legwork or reports are outright lies served up by those in government or business who have an interest in spinning stories to their own purposes and managing the perception of the public. The Post article is an example of manufactured news, and despite the interest it has generated, the article deserves heaps of scorn for being stunt, a staged event, created by an ethically bankrupt institution to provide falsely provocative content.

If the idea of putting a concert artist into the subway to play for tips had been hatched by, say, researchers at the sociology department at the University of Maryland, perhaps it would have been better conceived and more methodologically rigorous. The research paper that came out of it might have offered some worthwhile answers, but again, who is asking the questions? In truth, just as we have political theater, we now also have news theater, which is why in the modern day the media is so self-absorbed in reporting on itself and selling its product through the power of celebrity reporters. Where is the journalistic integrity that would forestall the circus-like salesmanship described above, and where are the voices of reason taking the Post to task over its blunder?

April 12, 2007

Stop! Thief!

Filed under: Popular Culture — Off Colfax @ 11:21 pm

It doesn’t matter what intellectual field you are in. Professor. (Ward Churchill) Columnist. (Ann Coultier) And now artist Todd Goldman.

Plagiarism is wrong. Period. Ad infinitum. Ad astra. Ad nauseum.

And this goes beyond just one isolated incident. Also, this is a man who depends on his notoriety to drive sales. Remember the “Boys Are Stupid” shirt controversy? Same guy.

Refuse to purchase anything produced by David And Goliath.

Talentless hacks depend on the gullibility of the public in order to make a living. So let’s cut his off at the root.

[Turn Signal: Two Lumps. Crossposted: Left Off Colfax]

March 24, 2007

If the RIAA told it like it is

Filed under: Current Events,Popular Culture — Daran @ 11:33 am

University tells RIAA where to get off

Dear University of Nebraska

Your computer network is being used to infringe the copyrights in our music. Our investigations into how this has come about has revealed two principal causes.

1. YOUR decision to set up YOUR computer network to best facilitate YOUR purposes.
2. OUR decision to sell copies of OUR music to untrustworthy people.

We could prevent the infringement by not distributing our music, or by limiting the distribution to people we could trust, but we wouldn’t make much money doing that. In fact, we figure we can make the most money by selling copies to anyone who can pay, and by getting other people (i.e. YOU) to protect US from the negative consequences of OUR decision to do so. You can do this by setting up YOUR computer network to best facilitate OUR purposes, and by doing the investigation necessary to determine which of OUR customers are untrustworthy.

Naturally we don’t intend to pay you for this service, and we think YOU should bear all the costs incurred.

Yours sincerely

RIAA

PS, we want to know who our untrustworthy customers are so we can sue them. We don’t intend to stop selling them copies of our music.

February 15, 2007

Domestic Violence is Funny!

Filed under: Popular Culture — Robert @ 4:13 pm

Man, as much as I hate to climb onto Daran’s bandwagon…check out this two-day comic sequence.

Via Questionable Content, a webcomic that I enjoyed greatly until about three minutes ago. Per the author, this mini-arc is “hysterically funny”.

I’m sure that it would have been equally funny if the beaten partner had been a woman. Right?

January 31, 2007

One Reason Why “Ugly Betty” Is Awesome

Filed under: Popular Culture — Robert @ 4:07 pm

Two words: No Villains

Every story needs conflict; it’s part of the basic template. (Post-modern whingers who would rather throw out the outmoded concept of “story” in favor of some abstract, emotionless, intellectualized word-sneeze, please go away.) That conflict can come from a number of different places; I recall the classic list taught in my English classes was “man vs. man”, “man vs. self”, “man vs. nature”. “Man” in that formulation can actually be any entity or group with which the reader/viewer can reasonably form an emotional/identifying bond. The reader is interested in, roots for, identifies with the protagonist; the reader feels the conflict.

In “Ugly Betty”, however, the creators have taken a daring step – while there are people on the show who behave badly or wrongly, and thus serve as dramatic foils to protagonist Betty, those people aren’t the show’s villains. The villain – the real source of the conflicts – is society’s expectations.

The creators fully accept that the dramatic foils – the non-villains – are fully-fleshed human beings. They act badly because they think they’re doing the right thing, or because they think it’s the only way to get what they want – they are not evil for evil’s sake. What’s more, the creators have taken the considerable risk of aggressively and explicitly showing the psychology and life events that underly the foils’ behavior.

The recent story arc centering around Wilhelmina, Mode’s ur-bitch Creative Director, is a case in point. I already liked the show, and I liked it about five times more after this arc’s completion. The arc starts out with just a few snippets – Wilhelmina is fixing up her office and getting things ready for a special male visitor. I’m not sure if it was deliberate, or just the result of my own sloppy viewing, but the impression was definite that this was a beau coming to call. But when the guy actually shows up, we see that it isn’t a boyfriend – it’s her father, coming to pay her a visit. And it’s established that he’s a prick with just one line (of about three that he delivers): “Still just the Creative Director?” He’s a prick because his daughter – who is obviously totally committed to impressing and pleasing her daddy – has done a tremendous job of climbing the corporate ladder, and it isn’t good enough for him. The viewer is left with a definite heart pang for Willie.

Some shows would give us that, but no more. However, the creators then had Wilhelmina meet and fall for a Texan businessman who visits Mode to explore advertising for his discount women’s fashion stores. He’s a relaxed, casual and caring guy who treats her with respect and kindness – and her hard shell starts to melt. It becomes obvious: she’s hard and cruel not because she needs to be in order to succeed in her career (that just takes brains and work) but because she’s been hurt so many times by people for whom she wasn’t good enough. For Texas Business Guy, she’s good enough the way she is, and he makes it plain – and she starts to relax and enjoy her life. (Until the inevitable sitcom denouement, when TBG’s estranged wife calls him and offers to reconcile, and he goes back to her.) Betrayed and hurt, she resumes her old ways. The viewer is left with a profound sympathy for Wilhelmina, and sorrow for the love that she was denied by her father.

That’s a ballsy move on the part of the show. She’s still the dramatic foil – she’s still the witch queen ruining Betty’s life. But the viewer is denied the emotionally comfortable “she’s such a bitch” dismissal of her humanity, and when we see her acting that way, we know why. The dramatic foil herself is a protagonist in her own life drama, and she has the same conflict as the show’s main character – the world doesn’t think she’s good enough. And it still works – we still root for Betty, still want Wilhelmina to be stymied in her Evil Plans ™ – but we understand that Willie is a person too.

And that makes the dramatic conflict much more effective, because it’s much more real.

January 25, 2007

Doomsday Creeping Closer

Filed under: Current Events,Popular Culture,Science — Brutus @ 11:24 pm

The University of Chicago publishes the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (BAS), which was created in the years just after World War II — 1947 to be precise. Among its other activities, it assesses the risk of annihilation from nuclear war with its most famous piece of rhetoric: the Doomsday Clock, which charts the threat by adjusting the minute hand of the clock figuratively a few minutes toward or back from midnight, which represents a “time’s up” mark. (Oddly, the graphical representations I’ve seen are usually timelines or xy coordinate graphs, not actual clockfaces.) The Doomsday Clock was back in the news a few days ago, when the minute hand was adjusted from 7 minutes to 5 minutes until midnight.

doomsday

What’s interesting about this latest adjustment is that global warming has apparently overtaken nuclear weapons as the greatest threat to civilization. I’ve insisted for years that global warming operates on a geological time scale, making it nearly impossible to predict or observe from within the bubble of our much smaller human timescale, but the phrase is nonetheless used to describe the climate change (warming trend) we are currently experiencing, which occurs on an observable timescale. This is probably the case because climate change is a global effect, even if the warming/cooling trends take thousands of years to fully observe (at least in the past). Warming due to climate change will probably take some years yet to manifest fully — 30 to 50 seem to be typical estimates — and its full fury, or its effect on humankind, will take a bit longer than that as the ecosystem continues its collapse in stages. But there appears to be little doubt that it’s going to happen.

What’s especially curious to me is that it was predicted and warned against long ago, as early as the late 19th century, in fact, when petroleum and other fossil fuels were just beginning to be used in industrial quantities. The mainstream media, in its collective wisdom, has only just recently determined, however, that the story bears telling, as the issue has now reached a level of undeniability and consensus that the public has gotten interested (but not yet motivated to act). I saw one top story of 2006 that says global warming has finally been demonstrated. A little late to the party, I think.

January 8, 2007

Sublimated Hostility

Filed under: International Politics,Popular Culture,War — Brutus @ 5:38 pm

At the Indian-Pakistani Wagah border, a strange example of pageantry has evolved where the border guards put on a chest-thumping, foot-stamping display of sublimated hostility. Personnel appear to be chosen specifically for their impressive height, which is amplified to great effect by the headdresses on their helmets. Michael Palin has a brief YouTube review of the festivities:  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a7HPP_QduWI 
(tried to embed the link but it didn’t display properly)

It’s wishful thinking, of course, to wonder what the world would be like if we could act out our disputes and hostilities ritually the way these guards do. It’s a nice daydream, though.

The significant number of people on hand to witness the boarder closing each day and the bleachers erected on at least one side of the boarder indicate that this has become an institution and a tourist destination.

December 27, 2006

The Calculus of Christmas

Filed under: Content-lite,Economics,Popular Culture — Brutus @ 2:26 pm

Is gift giving primarily a demonstration of warm, fuzzy sentiment for family and others, or is it primarily an economic activity? To judge from the aftermath of Christmas, it’s far more calculated than it is emotional. Most of us are familiar with news reports at the onset of the Christmas season, which trumpet the increase or decrease in spending on the weekend following Thanksgiving over the previous year or years as though that were valuable news. Perhaps the media can be forgiven such a misplaced focus, since there is no way to report a change in public sentiment or mood. Similarly, perhaps the childhood obsession with reporting to friends the Christmas haul is forgivable. I know I did that when I was younger.

Less forgivable is the coldly impersonal discussion of Christmas gift-buying habits such as this one by James Surowiecki in The New Yorker. His utterly charmless analysis concludes that gift cards may be a better choice than a “real” gift at least partly because the cost of a real gift to the giver is often greater than what the recipient would have paid for it — a phenomenon called “deadweight loss.” This is related to the emotional cost of a poorly chosen gift, which almost everyone has experienced on one side of the exchange or another. Although Surowiecki (who is apparently out of touch with the Christmas spirit or the spirit of giving) doesn’t mention children, parents of a typical two-year-old are likely to be familiar with the child’s simple, unbounded elation ripping through wrapping paper and opening boxes, overlooking or oblivious to the gift object inside. It’s hard not to take pleasure in such simple joy, though adults are oblivious if no two-year-old is on hand. Surowiecki’s argument, if Christmas is analyzed purely as economics, also suggests that there is a better return on investment (ROI) for less expensive gifts as compared to more expensive gifts, eliminating the “waste” of deadweight loss. An even better solution is the gift card, which ensures that there is no unwanted gift, since the recipient makes his/her own choices. Taken to its logical conclusion, we will soon all be giving gift cards to each other, which are in effect interest-free loans to merchants, rather than piles of cash. At the end of each Christmas season, we will then be able to calculate our profit/loss based on the value of gift cards purchased and received. Merchants will love it, because in addition to cash cards never redeemed, consumers generally add something over the amount of the gift card to obtain the card’s full value — a phenomenon called “uplift spending.” Kinda makes me all warm and fuzzy inside.

 

December 20, 2006

Bechdel’s “Fun Home” Is Time Magazine’s Book Of The Year

Filed under: Art,LGBT Issues,Popular Culture — Ampersand @ 4:30 pm

The top spot on Time Magazine’s “books of the year” list:

ALISON BECHDEL, FUN HOME
The unlikeliest literary success of 2006 is a stunning memoir about a girl growing up in a small town with her cryptic, perfectionist dad and slowly realizing that a) she is gay and b) he is too. Oh, and it’s a comic book: Bechdel’s breathtakingly smart commentary duets with eloquent line drawings. Forget genre and sexual orientation: this is a masterpiece about two people who live in the same house but different worlds, and their mysterious debts to each other.

I’m thrilled that Fun Home has been a huge success; not only is it a great book, but Alison Bechdel has been an obscure great cartoonist for too many years. I highly, highly recommend buying this book.

Two panels from Alison Bechdel's "Fun Home."

Above: a couple of panels from Fun Home. Picking out a sample of art from Fun Home isn’t easy, because Bechdel isn’t a show-offy cartoonist; she’s all about communicating the story and the moment, and usually she does it in the least obtrusive way possible. I love the two-panel sequence above for how well it communicates the emotional undercurrents; the body language and expressions of two people trying not to have any reaction to what they’re saying are perfect.

In 1999, when The Comics Journal put out a list of the “Top 100 English-Language Comics of the 20th Century,” based on voting by a group of critics, I argued on their message boards that two cartoonists whose works belonged on the list were missing. One was Dave Sim, whose omission was objected to by many, and who was left off the list because voters were split among several different works.

The other was Alison Bechdel, and as far as I know I was the only person to object to her omission. With Fun House, it has hopefully become more obvious to people that Bechdel is a major comics creator.

One reason Bechdel wasn’t on the top 100 list, in my opinion, is sexism. Not sexism as in “the Comics Journal critics hate women.” Rather, I think the critical culture in comics tends to dismiss female-dominated genres as fluff, while male-dominated genres — even extremely fluffy ones, like adventure comic strip and superhero comics — are taken more seriously (and were well-represented on the top 100 list). Before Fun Home, Bechdel’s major work was a soap opera comic strip; the fact that it was soap opera meant that few critics read it seriously (or at all). ((There are a few comic strips with soap elements on the top 100 list – Little Orphan Annie, Thimble Theatre (aka Popeye) and Lil’ Abner. All three are certified classics with male creators and a lot of “adventure” elements.))

I’ve spent today rereading the short stories that Bechdel publishes at the end of each “Dykes To Watch Out For” collection. Pre- Fun Home, these short stories were where Bechdel experimented with long-form comics, and she did a lot of great work with characterization, pacing, and tying together multiple narratives. I hope Bechdel is considering publishing a collection of her “Dykes” short stories; they stand on their own quite well, and publishing them as a group could help make more visible some of Bechdel’s best and least-read works.

Curtsy: Quirkybird.

December 12, 2006

The Definition of Superhero

Filed under: Art,Content-lite,Popular Culture — Ampersand @ 12:58 pm

This post is a total geek-out; non-geeky readers will want to scroll on past this one. Later today, I’ll also post this week’s baby blogging (sorry for being late on it!).

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November 6, 2006

Murderball Meets Jackass

Filed under: Content-lite,Personal Ramblings,Popular Culture — Brutus @ 2:10 am

I rented the movie Murderball recently, which got high praise by most reviewers. The guys featured in the movie are a bit gonzo for me, but they appear to be having a hell of a lot of fun.

I see most movies on DVD these days, which loses the theatrical audience response but offers bonus features and is a lot cheaper. I was intrigued to find among the Murderball extras some material featuring a couple of the guys from the Jackass movies, which I have avoided seeing, interacting with the guys from Murderball. I described the stunts and games I saw to a friend who sees nearly every movie, and he said that the full-length Jackass movies were pretty much the same nonsense.

So imagine my surprise when I found myself laughing out loud (which I rarely do in response to a movie at home — at the theater it’s much easier) at what I saw them doing, things like The Black Eye Game and Wheelchair Jousting. It was so predictably base and senseless, but funny.

My sense of humor runs high and low with very little middle ground. I love subtley and wordplay, but I howl at fart jokes. (I had tears streaming down my cheeks in the theater when I saw Eddie Murphy’s version of The Nutty Professor.) Go figure. So although I won’t exactly be rushing off to see Jackass, I guess it’s fair to say I laugh at that sort of nonsense, at least in the small dose I got in connection with Murderball.

September 27, 2006

I Didn’t Hate Garden State

Filed under: Content-lite,Feminist Issues,Popular Culture — Ampersand @ 12:41 pm

I’m sorry, I didn’t hate Zack Braff’s movie Garden State. It was sweet and wistful and funny. Sure, it wasn’t The Greatest Movie Of All Time, but it certainly didn’t deserve a heaping double-scoop of contempt from Slate.

The Slate article has good laugh lines, but some of its criticisms are bewildering:
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September 15, 2006

The liberals’ culture war

Filed under: Politics,Politics and Elections,Popular Culture — bazzer @ 6:54 pm

The woman who manned the register at the Blue Hill Food Co-op in Maine was a hugely pregnant hippie chick who did not shave under her arms. I knew this because she was wearing overalls… and nothing else. My wife, who is mildly allergic to bees, had just been stung, so we were asking her where we could find a nearby pharmacy.

She scowled for a moment, and then asked us (no kidding!) “Why do you need a pharmacy? You should just menstruate on a piece of tree bark, like I do.” Well okay, she didn’t really add that last sentence, but she might as well have. She mumbled some directions, we thanked her, and then drove for a few miles until we found a strip mall on the side of the highway, anchored by that pernicious blight of the suburban landscape — Wal-Mart.

First of all, let me say that I personally tend to avoid Wal-Mart as much as possible. I find shopping there to be a profoundly unpleasant experience (except for the ICEEs, which are getting harder and harder to find these days.) Still, I would never presume to judge those who do shop at Wal-Mart, as many liberals (including the Co-op girl) clearly do.

Secondly, there’s nothing wrong with the Food Co-op either. Sure, the staff and some of the clientele can be a bit nutty. It’s one of those places where you could probably expect a 10% discount if you say “STOP BUSH’S ILLEGAL WAR IN IRAQ!” at the checkout. But they have a wide variety of stuff you can’t find elsewhere. Much of it is good (fresh local produce, craft-brewed beer and exotic cheeses) and much of it awful (meatless meat, cage-free tofu and homeopathic snake oil) but all of the merchandise there has one thing in common — it was exorbitantly expensive.

See, the Co-op is committed to social justice, paying a “living wage” to its hippies, buying coffee only from the Zapatistas and other such b.s. Still, their curried chicken salad (real chicken — free range, of course) was quite good, and we shopped there often. With our New York salaries, we could afford to. Others, however, can’t.

The pregnant hippie chick and other liberals would, no doubt, prefer that everyone shop at the Co-op — or at the very least avoid shopping at Wal-Mart. Unfortunately, that’s simply not realistic, and the liberals’ animosity towards the nation’s largest retail chain is further evidence that the liberal movement in America has lost touch with working families. The GOP’s rise to power in America came about as the working class began to self-identify as Republicans. Liberals’ obsession with Wal-Mart won’t help them win the NASCAR set back, I’m afraid.

We’ve all heard the lefties’ anti-Wal-Mart shtick before. We also know that it seldom (if ever) stops at criticizing Wal-Mart’s labor practices. More often than not, it goes on to disparage the taste and class of Wal-Mart shoppers themselves. Remember the good old days, when Republicans were the party of the elite?

George Will has a great piece on the Democrats’ bizarre fixation on this American institution, and notes some very interesting facts.

The median household income of Wal-Mart shoppers is under $40,000. Wal-Mart, the most prodigious job-creator in the history of the private sector in this galaxy, has almost as many employees (1.3 million) as the U.S. military has uniformed personnel. A McKinsey company study concluded that Wal-Mart accounted for 13 percent of the nation’s productivity gains in the second half of the 1990s, which probably made Wal-Mart about as important as the Federal Reserve in holding down inflation.By lowering consumer prices, Wal-Mart costs about 50 retail jobs among competitors for every 100 jobs Wal-Mart creates . Wal-Mart and its effects save shoppers more than $200 billion a year, dwarfing such government programs as food stamps ($28.6 billion) and the earned-income tax credit ($34.6 billion).

People who buy their groceries from Wal-Mart — it has one-fifth of the nation’s grocery business — save at least 17 percent. But because unions are strong in many grocery stores trying to compete with Wal-Mart, unions are yanking on the Democratic Party’s leash, demanding laws to force Wal-Mart to pay wages and benefits higher than those that already are high enough to attract 77 times as many applicants than there were jobs at this store.

Whether you like Wal-Mart or not (and again, I don’t) it sure doesn’t sound like the unmitigated evil that John Kerry deemed it in 2004, when he called it “disgraceful” and symbolic of “what’s wrong with America.” So long, party of the working man. Hello, party of effete white liberals.You need look no further than this absurd war against Wal-Mart to understand why the Democrats have repeatedly failed to gain traction in heartland America. It’s another symptom of the same disease that Will summarizes brilliantly in the last paragraph of his column.

When liberals’ presidential nominees consistently fail to carry Kansas, liberals do not rush to read a book titled “What’s the Matter With Liberals’ Nominees?” No, the book they turned into a bestseller is titled “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” Notice a pattern here?

Yes. I do.

September 7, 2006

Please Call And Report This Copyright Thief!

Filed under: LGBT Issues,Popular Culture — Ampersand @ 10:17 am

There’s a good interview with Kirby Dick, director of the indy documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated, in the current issue of Bitch Magazine. The film is about the ratings board of the Motion Picture Association of America – the folks who decide if each film is “G,” “PG,” “R” or “NC-17.”

Three points of interest (including a chance for you to fight crime from your very own home!):
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August 23, 2006

The Eternal Madness of War

Filed under: Content-lite,Personal Ramblings,Popular Culture,War — Brutus @ 3:32 pm

Since Off Colfax posted his encomium to Pump Up the Volume, I’ve been thinking about a similar post on A Bridge on the River Kwai, which I recently saw on DVD. If I ever saw it as a kid, the only lasting impression was of the prisoners marching in columns whistling Col. Bogey’s March (a famous tune most everyone knows even if not by name).

After I got over wondering why Obi-Wan Kenobi was a prisoner of war during WWII, it struck me what a wonderful film it is, full of well-developed character archetypes. The story isn’t especially engaging: British POWs in Japan build a railroad bridge only for it to be blown up on its inaugural crossing. But the way the characters exhibit their particular worldviews and how they interact are the soul of the film.

The Japanese POW camp commander uses force and intimidation to achieve his goals, which doesn’t really work out for him. Although he mentions the Japanese warrior code, Bushido, which is based on determination, honor, loyalty, and dedication, his approach to running the camp is really more fascist. It’s also convenient for the narrative that his staff is mostly incompetent, which ultimately puts the Japanese commander in a bind when he is unable to succeed at building the bridge using his preferred methods.

The British commander, played by Alec Guinness (more familiar to most of us as Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars), exemplifies quintessential British reserve through his principled resistance to force and his impassive and bureaucratic professional management skills. His efficiency and success at building the bridge stand in stark contrast to his utter lack of savvy at the end of the film with respect to military stratagems.

Two other major characters provide contrast to the apparent battle of wills between the two commanders: an American POW (played by William Holden) and a British commando in charge of blowing up the bridge. The American, whose dishonorable behavior is particularly unflattering, is heavily reminiscent of absurd characters from Joseph Heller’s Catch 22. The British commando (hard to believe such a thing existed), like the other British characters, is unflappable and ultimately unwavering in his dedication to duty. One particularly ironic scene occurs when the British commando compels the American to join the raid on the bridge. In most stories, springing such a well-laid trap would be milked for its drama, but the British officer is almost apologetic (though persistent) in responding to each of the American’s weaselly maneuvers.

The voice of reason through all of this is a British military physician, whose main function is to repeatedly call the entire charade into question as madness. It’s madness for the Japanese commander to mistreat POWs as a means of coercion. It’s madness for the British officers to suffer needlessly out of adherence to principle (The Geneva Conventions, interestingly). It’s madness for the British commander to consent to aiding the enemy by building the bridge. (British soldiers had lollygagged until the British officers were released from the sweatbox and set the men about building the bridge as a means of demonstrating British superiority, raising morale, and maintaining British military command structure.) And it’s madness that the British commandos blew up the bridge upon its completion. All in all, a very entertaining window into mid-20th-century warfare and military practice. The contrasts revealed between the characters and the stark irony of the ultimate destruction of the newly built bridge led me to the realization that the objects and practices of war do in fact add up to a strange sort of insanity, something not altogether different from what a circumspect review of our current wars would undoubtedly also reveal.

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