Archive for the 'Pop Culture' Category
March 3rd, 2014 by Wil
I’ve mentioned lately my suspicions that the idea of authorship might be dying out. I don’t think that people will no longer create art or writings but that the concept of attaching one’s name to the final work will decline. (Indeed, my understand is this is how much of European music was written in the pre-baroque era—you didn’t know the composer.)
This theme arises in an interesting article about “creepy pasta.” Creepy Pastas are short scary stories spread across the internet via “cut and paste.” As the article notes, because of this method, the author’s name often fades while the story survives.
What motivates the authors of all this stuff? Ego must play its part, but it’s interesting that the criterion for ‘success’ is a kind of oblivion for the creator. A winning copypasta is one that’s copied and pasted — one that gets circulated and shared, blending into urban myth, FOAFlore, netlore. The role of the author is not to be remembered down the ages; it is to disappear. In this respect, creepypasta appears to brush aside 250 years of authorial gothic, weird and horror fiction, returning shudder-making to its cultural roots. With its rituals and shared experiences, it seems more social than artistic. Scary stories, after all, serve social purposes: they help us to learn which fears are widely held and which are idiosyncratic, defining us as societies and delineating us as individuals.
January 9th, 2014 by Wil
I’m a big fan of the comics and graphic novels of Daniel Clowes; have been for 20 years. (His compendium Lout Rampage is one of the funniest and possibly most profound works I’ve ever seen.) As a result of my Clowes-philia, I was interested in this story: Shia LaBeouf admits Daniel Clowes’ uncredited work was ‘inspiration’.
Actor Shia LaBeouf posted the short film he directed and screened at Cannes, “HowardCantour.com,” online Monday. The short stars Jim Gaffigan as a unhappy film critic who opts for a harsh critique of one of his heroes for reasons that are more personal than artistic.
Hours after the posting, comic book fans began noticing that the work bore a significant resemblance to Daniel Clowes’ 2007 piece “Justin M. Damiano.” Not only was it the same idea — unhappy film critic — LaBeouf’s film opened with a voice-over that is a word-for-word match with Clowes’ text…
You might recall LaBeouf as the waste of carbon that starred in such travesties as the Transformers movies and the last Indianna Jones (which I actually didn’t think was as bad as many people did.) He’s one of these actors Hollywood tries to convince you is a person of talent until it’s painfully apparent he is not. (Remember Josh Harnett?)
Not only did LaBeouf “borrow” Clowes work, he doesn’t really seem very apologetic. He’s tweeted:
10:42 p.m.: “In my excitement and naiveté as an amateur filmmaker, I got lost in the creative process and neglected to follow proper accreditation”
10:42 p.m.: “I was truly moved by his piece of work & I knew that it would make a poignant & relevant short. I apologize to all who assumed I wrote it.”
Right… what idiots people were assuming LaBeouf actually wrote the film.
I do consider, however, the following. LaBeouf is really of the first generation that grew up in a “content is free” culture. In this culture, if you want to own a song you go online and download it. If you want a picture of a cat for your web site, you find one and click ‘save as’. You happily create mash ups of other people’s work. That’s just how it’s done.
I’ve been thinking about this unavoidable evolution of the creative process and I want to write about it more here. My thoughts might surprise you.
Having said that, LaBeouf is clearly being a douche. I’d like to say I will now boycott his work but I probably wouldn’t have seen it anyway.
January 1st, 2014 by Wil
I’ve mentioned my conflicted feelings about the strange Bob Brozman situation. Brozman was a great acoustic guitar player who killed himself this past year. Laudatory eulogies came flowing forth from the web until allegations that Brozman was a child molester came out.
Last night I was listening to a Brozman track called “Short’s Man Vindication” in which he bemoaned his small stature. I couldn’t help but be reminded on a L.A. Times article on pedophilia I commented on.
Researchers have also determined that pedophiles are nearly an inch shorter on average than non-pedophiles and lag behind the average IQ by 10 points — discoveries that are consistent with developmental problems, whether before birth or in childhood.
Am I implying that all short people are pedophiles? Hardly (I would guess the number is more like 50%.) But I can’t help wonder if maybe Randy Newman was on to something.
December 23rd, 2013 by Wil
Al Goldstein, publisher of famous porn mag “Screw” died recently. He had an epic life arc; at one point he was a millionaire from “Screw”, but…
By the mid-2000s, Goldstein was homeless. He once got a job as a restaurant greeter, only to lose it when the management discovered he was sleeping on the premises.
Even in that period he reveled in irreverent humor. In 2005, when he worked at a New York deli, he told the Washington Post, “I’ve gone from broads to bagels.” But there was also the ever-present anger. “Anyone who wishes ill on me should feel vindicated,” he told the New York Times in 2004, “because my life has turned into a total horror.”
What brought the duke of porn down? The ubiquitous availability of porn once the internet appeared. I wonder if that is a sign of things to come for other industries —music, books, movies—that find their content becoming more and more digitized?
I discussed Al’s strange, public access talk show “Midnight Blue” a while back.
The general focus of the show was interviews, usually with female porn stars, though eventually non-porn guests like O.J. Simpson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gilbert Gottfried and Debbie Harry made appearances. Al’s primary interest was that of sexual technique; he would often throw out provocative, curse laden queries along the lines of “How do you like your pussy licked?” or “Is there anything wrong with me fucking a chick with my nose?” The porn royalty sat in the hot seat—too jaded to be shocked at Al’s questions—and offered serious answers. (One of my favorite “MB” moments occurred when Al asked Carol Connors, the “forgotten actress of Deep Throat” (and mother of current mainstream film actress Thora Birch!) whether she would ever perform bestiality. “No,” Carol demurred, “But I love animals!”)
November 21st, 2013 by Wil
I’ve just started reading a book that I’ve mentioned being interested in: Jaron Lanier’s “You Are Not a Gadget.” The book is something of a condemnation of aspects of modern Internet culture, made all the more damning by the fact that Lanier is technologist who played a role the development of the web. Many of the “pro-Internet” views he takes on belong to good friends of his.
One argument he makes is that eccentricity—the expression of unique behaviors and ideas—is being removed from modern culture. Part of this is because of the mob-like nature of Internet comments sections. As I have noticed, in many Internet forums a consensus view often develops among the participants. Those who express opinions different from this view are either mocked or ignored (as I have been until I gave up on opinion forums.) People tow the party line and are not exposed to ideas that may challenge their views. And, as has been well commented on, people gravitate towards blogs and sites that correspond to their world view, further isolating their thought processes.
(Related to this: I once argued that the fluid communication the web enables makes one realize just how hard it is to be unique.)
Lanier also sees individuality taking a hit on social networking sites like Facebook. In the mid 90s people defined themselves on the web via home pages, many of which were housed on now deceased hosting site geocities. I remember these pages and you probably do too. They were often amateurish in design and usually had god-awful background tiles that made text unreadable. But they had personality. It was hard to confuse one person’s home page for another’s. The same is not true with Facebook—most people’s pages look basically the same. (Yes, you get your own header but that’s not much.)
Now the fact that everyone’s Facebook pages look similar is hardly the greatest calamity facing society. But I get Lanier’s point. It’s one more chip away from the idea of individuality, of personality. The Internet is not encouraging individuation, but a borg-like assimilation into a mono culture. I predict this will cause the death of all humanity within 20 years.
September 12th, 2013 by Wil
Though it’s long, this Daily Beast article arguing that the Millennial generation is to the left of even the Democratic Party makes sense to me. Its core argument is that Millennials came of age in a decade of unending economic insecurity and, as a result, expect the hand of government to address this.
The article also makes an interesting point I can relate to psychology and brain science. (I’m sure everyone is excited by that.)
For Mannheim, generations were born from historical disruption. As he argued—and later scholars have confirmed—people are disproportionately influenced by events that occur between their late teens and mid-twenties. During that period—between the time they leave their parents’ home and the time they create a stable home of their own—individuals are most prone to change cities, religions, political parties, brands of toothpaste. After that, lifestyles and attitudes calcify. For Mannheim, what defined a generation was the particular slice of history people experienced during those plastic years. A generation had no set length. A new one could emerge “every year, every thirty, every hundred.” What mattered was whether the events people experienced while at their most malleable were sufficiently different from those experienced by people older or younger than themselves.
On one hand this is hardly news – it’s well known that a person’s (or generation’s) character is largely defined by the culture of their late teens to mid-twenties. I, for example, will always be defined by and partial to the music of Guns-n-Roses, Nirvana (even if I’m not a fan) and movies like “Die Hard” or “Pulp Fiction.” The article is simply carrying idea this over to politics, making the claim that political events that occur in your teen/twenty-something years have a stronger effect than political events that occur earlier or later. (This makes sense. Whenever I hear people older than me ranting about Reagan I think, “Jesus, get over it!”)
But there’s an interesting question here: Why? Why are our tastes and politics defined by experiences in our teens and twenties? I would argue it’s because that is a period when our brain is primed to most richly experience life. At that point our brains have become sharpened in the sense that we’ve learned much of what we need to become adults, but we still have an active emotional system (the somewhat controversial limbic system.) We are thinking and reasoning better than we ever have, but we are also enjoying the emotional depth of life in ways we will likely lose in coming years. Because of these brain changes, life is exciting and thus the events of those years – personal, cultural, historical and political events – have a pronounced effect on us. As a result, when we get older and jaded and tired, we don’t fully appreciate how the current teen/twentysomething generation is reacting to events.
August 16th, 2013 by Wil
Sky News reports: Facebook Linked To Unhappiness
The number one social networking site is strongly associated with declines in well-being, psychologists claim.
Scientists found the more time people spent on Facebook over a two-week period, the worse they subsequently felt.
In contrast, talking to friends on the phone or meeting them in person led to greater levels of happiness.
Study leader Dr Ethan Kross, from the University of Michigan in the US, said: “On the surface, Facebook provides an invaluable resource for fulfilling the basic human need for social connection.
“But rather than enhance well-being, we found that Facebook use predicts the opposite result – it undermines it.”
In think we’ve all felt this. You get on Facebook and view a flurry of posts from people telling you how great their lives are, how their dreams are being fulfilled, how they’ve found love and respect. As a result, you are forced to contemplate your disappointments and lack of fulfillment. You begin screaming at the screen: “Fuck you whores! You cocksuckers! I’ll kill you! I’ll kill you all…!” and they drag you out of the Starbucks.
But there’s an interesting point in this study I’d like to contemplate. Hearing your friends blather on Facebook about their achievement is depressing but it appears this is not case when hearing the same on the phone or in person. Why would this be?
I’d suspect it has something to do with the one way communication that Facebook offers. Essentially it’s a virtual soapbox – I get up and yell my point at those beneath me. (They can, of course, reply in comments, but those comments are not on equal footing as the original post.) Facebook is about talking down to people. In person, or even on the phone, you are on more equal footing; there’s much more give and take. As result, I suspect we feel like we can better take vicarious pleasure in someone’s good news. When our conversational partner talks about a “win” (say, they just got a new job) we feel connected to that win, part of the team. On Facebook there’s a great distance between us, because that person is not really talking to us specifically but all of their Facebook friends.
Frankly, I think phone and in-person communication have their own flaws – especially when they involve one person blathering on about their own thoughts while paying little attention to the other people involved (e.g. a lot like Facebook.) But they’re certainly more equal forms of communication.
I like the word “blather.”
August 8th, 2013 by Wil
Though I spend a lot of time following brain news, I somehow missed this announcement when it first went around. Scientists have discovered a neuron that fires when a person sees pictures of Jennifer Aniston!
In brain surgery, patients are often kept fully conscious, even when they have a probe implanted in their heads. Brains don’t hurt when they’re open, and this is standard procedure; the doctor needs to map the area where there’s going to be surgery, the patient needs to answer the doctor’s questions.
Fried asked his patients if they wouldn’t mind doing a little exploratory science while on the operating table, and a bunch of them said yes.
So he showed them a set of photographs, and he noticed when they came to a picture of Jen, very often a particular neuron would begin to flash, multiple times. When he showed these same patients pictures of Julia Roberts or random (not famous) people, or animals, or places, the neuron was quiet. Back to Jen? Back came the flash. He found this Aniston-specific brain cell in a number of people, and he wondered, what is going on?
A “Halle Berry neuron” was also discovered. A book I’m reading, “Connectome” makes an interesting point about this discovery.
[The] “Halle Berry neuron” was activated by an image of the actress Halle Berry, suggesting that it plays a role in perceiving her. But the neuron was also activated by the written words Halle Berry, indicating that it participates in thinking about her as well. So it seems the “Halle Berry” neuron” represents the abstract idea of Halle Berry…
Mmmm, there’s nothing abstract about Halle Berry and you know what I mean!
July 18th, 2013 by Wil
Last night, I rewatched the movie “Crumb” about famed countercultural artist Robert Crumb and his family. It really is a fascinating study of dysfunctional people and their relationships, as well as a look at how subversive art is viewed by different factions of society.
But I was mainly struck by one thing. Robert and his two siblings, Charles and Max, were all highly gifted artists from a young age. Robert’s son is also a terrific representational artist. Robert’s daughter Sofie – a pre-teen at the time the movie was filmed – is also a great artist. It seems like the Crumb family makes a strong case for there being some kind of “visual artist gene.”
Such a theory leads us back into the whole nature versus nature debate. Are the Crumbs’ artistic talents because of DNA or because of an environment that encouraged artistic development? The case might be made that Robert’s children were simply encouraged to explore art. But Robert and his brothers grew up in an environment run by a tyrannical father and a pill popping mother, neither of whom seemed to have much interest in their children’s development.
But how would an art gene work? That’s very complex of course, but I do think a lot of what makes a good artist is a strong understand of spacial relativism. In essence, if you can look at a face and understand that that person’s nose takes up 20% of the width of their face and you can then render that on the page you have a good head start towards creating representational art. (There’s also years of practice, of course, but this natural talent can only help.) If this sort of spatial ability can be passed via genetics that would explain the Crumb family talent.
An interesting experiment would be to take one of the Crumbs, grind up their brain into a liquid, inject it into a non-talented person and see if that person becomes and artistic genius.
I had actually forgotten that Robert’s brother, Maxon, is an artist. In fact, he does some very interesting work – he’s the most non-representational out of all the artist brothers; his work is vaguely cubist. Here’s a Tumblr blog with a lot of his art.
Here’s Sophie’s Tumblr with art.
May 6th, 2013 by Wil
I’ve been reading an interesting book called “The Age of Insight” by Eric Kandel (a famous neuroscientist who co-hosts Charlie Rose’s Brain series.) In the book, Kandel looks at turn-of-the-century Vienna and the interaction between scientists and artists that took place there. Freud was operating in Vienna at the time and his observations about the unconscious had a big effect on painters and writers of the day who turned from merely representing the physical world to hinting at what was happening “underneath the surface” of their subjects. Artists also integrated the ideas of Darwin into their work.
What strikes me while reading this book is how different the relationship between artists and scientists was back then as compared to today. Now there seems to be this big dividing line between artists and scientists. Scientists are generally mistrusted by artists. (This was perhaps best expressed in the Insane Clown Posse song “Miracles” in which Shaggy 2 Dope rapped, “And I don’t wanna talk to a scientist. Y’all motherfuckers lying, and getting me pissed.”) In general, I think artists tend to feel they work at unveiling a “greater truth” about the human condition, a truth that scientists – with their obsession with diagnostics and numbers – can never approach.
For the most part, I suspect modern artists are full of shit in their views. Much of modern music, whether it be pop or niche, seems largely self-obsessed – a bunch of losers bemoaning their shitty love affairs, or shitty jobs or shitty feces stained life. This stands in stark contrast to the Viennese artists who were attempting to explore themes of the human mind or birth of our species.
What is needed today is a great artist to arise and rejuvenate the connection between science and art. That artist could be me, but most people are too dumb to appreciate my genius.