That was it? (Ergo Proxy: A commentary)

Lil Meyer dressed in black pointing her gun at the camera while standing in the stairwell of a decrepit apartment building

Seriously, that was it? I can’t believe I watched all 23 episodes of Ergo Proxy and by the end I was still waiting for the story to start. “Underwhelmed” would be the best word to describe my feelings.

All right, that’s unfair. The series was pretty interesting in the beginning and had great potential at successfully combining philosophical ruminations with narrative cohesion, like The Matrix. By the end, though, it turned into a mishmash of disjointed plot points pasted together with pretty visuals. Which isn’t to say that it was bad, exactly, but how could they have spent so much money on the visual effects and still not manage to make a satisfying climax for the story? Remember the structure of the three act play, people: Introduction, Rising Action, Climax, and Denouement. Yes, those four parts fit into three acts.

Anyway, in case you’re still reading and have no idea what I’m talking about, Ergo Proxy is a Japanese cartoon show, or anime, that delves into themes of continuity, memory, and the meaning of life while depicting its story with a cyberpunk-inflected aesthetics.

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Norwegian Wood

Haruki Murakami’s novel Norwegian Wood has been made into a film and has premiered at the 67th Venice International Film Festival.

It looks rather like another tragic romance story, which I suppose is understandable. I hadn’t realized it when reading the novel, but a lot of what happens is internal. If you were to simply list the things that happened then the book would seem like an above-average love story. Look at the plot: guy goes off to university and is torn between his feelings for his dead friend’s girlfriend and a new girl who excites and challenges him. I sincerely hope the director manages to capture the air of quiet strangeness that’s always to be found in one of Haruki Murakami’s stories.

Treasures of the past

The Eternals

I have a dorky hobby.  Actually, I have several, but the one relevant to today is my hobby involving anthropology.  You see, for the last few years I’ve been compiling a list of all works of fiction where anthropologists appear as characters.  I’ve got almost three hundred books, movies, and tv shows, as well as a handful of comic books and video games and one play.  I plan on eventually putting them all on a wiki so that anyone can contribute, but for now, I want to highlight a forty year old comic book from this list: The Eternals, volume 1, issue 6, from sometime in the sixties.  I tried not to make fun of the campiness of the comic since it’s pretty much shooting fish in a barrell, but I couldn’t contain myself in a few places.

Thena of the Eternals

Anyway, there are apparently three different species of humans — regular Homo sapiens sapiens, plus the Eternals and the Deviants, antediluvian superhuman peoples living in hiding for millenia.  Which is nice and all, but apparently the space gods are coming, and, well . . .

 

 

 

 

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Paul Gilroy on Ali G

I really should stay up to date on my email.  There was an extended discussion of Borat on the Media Anthropology Network’s mailing list last November, and part of what came up was this article by Paul Gilroy analyzing Sacha Baron Cohen’s previous film, Ali G in Da House.  And there was a long discussion of Big Brother that just ended.  Dammit, this was all good stuff.  Okay, I’m definitely going to participate in the new e-seminar about Urban Larssen’s working paper, “Imagining a World of Free Expression in the Making: Romania and Global Media Development.”

Battlestar Galactica 2010

Get Your War On

So, Adama didn’t nuke the planet after all.  I’m having trouble remembering other parts of last Sunday’s episode, though, since I almost dozed off a couple of times.

I don’t think it’s because the episode itself was boring, since the parts I recall seemed fairly exciting — Cylons getting blowed up, gunshot wounds to the head, and a scene where Apollo and Anders almost gave in to the sexual tension between them (this one I may have hallucinated while I was half-conscious).

I suspect I was still somewhat tired from skiing the day before and pleasantly groggy from my pork chop dinner, but I think my inattention also had to do with being in a different place and time to watch Battlestar Galactica.  This is the first time I’ve watched this show on Sunday instead of Saturday and in my old house instead of my place in Halifax.  It didn’t quite feel right, and the experience made me consider just how much context is responsible for Galactica‘s success.

Consider, for instance, that there is a new animated series of Star Trek being considered for production by whatever company it is that makes Star Trek.  The third comment points out that the original Star Trek drew upon dewy-eyed 60s optimism in its story-telling.  Star Trek failed and was cancelled in its first incarnation, but became popular in its movie version.  I think this was due partly to the difference between 1966 and 1979, the year the first movie came out.  In 1966, the United States was steadily losing its war in Vietnam, and Star Trek‘s optimism must have seemed like some cruel joke to a country dealing with major military defeats for the first time in its recent history.  In 1979, the Vietnam War was already finished for most Americans, and perhaps Star Trek: The Motion Picture was a nice distraction from the reality of corrupt presidents, dead leaders, and empty spots at the dinner table.

I’m sure we can all think of other tv shows or movies that, no matter how excellent, just didn’t catch on for some reason.  The Al Pacino movie Scarface, for instance, was a flop when it was first released, but it’s now considered a classic today, with its digital re-release celebrated by numerous film critics.  The reverse also holds true: classic Saturday Night Live skits like Jim Belushi’s samurai deli falls flat among people of my generation, the phrase “pile of dog crap” being bandied about at times.  The present is different from the past, and stories that were popular yesterday are not necessarily popular today.  But what, then, of Battlestar Galactica and its examination of the so-called War on Terror?  What of Battlestar Galactica‘s prospects for popularity among future generations of viewers?

Let us pretend that it is possible to win the War on Terror, or conversely (and perish the thought), it is possible to lose that same war (victory not necessarily being the objective of either “side”).  Let us pretend that it is now years, decades later, and we have achieved the status quo ante bellum, and the War on Terror is as distant as the Falklands War.  Would Battlestar Galactica still be considered brilliant by those who’d never seen it before?

I can easily imagine that it would be seen as too dark by future viewers who’d never been disgusted by graphic images of actual torture or had to helplessly read about monstrous crimes being perpetuated in their name many distant miles away.  In fact, Galactica might be seen as an unwelcome reminder of a past better buried, or perhaps even as a sign of the sickness of the society that it was produced in — after all, Galactica is meant as entertainment, and what is entertaining about reproducing images of terror?

The greater fear, of course, is that Battlestar Galactica will still be relevant twenty years from now.  If satire is meant to serve as a warning, then does that mean that Galactica‘s creators would like nothing more than to be a historical curiosity in the future?

I’m reminded of Weapons of Choice, a science fiction novel I read a few months back.  In it, a naval task force from twenty years in the future accidentally time travel back to the Second World War.  This means that the crews on board the ships have lived through twenty years of the War on Terror.  The future presented is grim, with summary executions of prisoners being conducted by the US military immediately after battle, and with American citizens living in a heavily militarized society.  Setting aside the author’s Tom Clancy-esque fascination with the machinery of war, the book’s portrayal of the future seems depressingly probable.

So there you have it, fellow fans of Galactica.  The series will be relevant in the future, or it will not.  A prediction, though: either way, lots of stuff will get blowed up.

Terminus est

Yes, it’s true: Ranma 1/2 has finished its run. Actually, it finished its run in Japan more than ten years ago — I’m referring to the English translations of the manga. I already know how it all ends, having read the fan-made digital translations that have been on the Internet for years, and since I was originally a fan of the animated version, which itself has been done for a while, the end of Viz Comics’ translations doesn’t impact me in any appreciable way. Still, I feel a twinge of nostalgia at the announcement of the series’ end (or rather, felt, since I’ve been meaning to blog about this since I first heard about it in November).

The history of Ranma 1/2 in North America is pretty much the early history of manga and anime in its first non-Asian environment. Apparently, Ranma 1/2 was one of the first manga hits in the US, although as I said, it was really the anime that first captured my attention. I’m willing to bet that other fans followed similar trajectories in their discovery of manga.

You see, I loved the anime. I loved it so much that I finally reached a point where I couldn’t bear to wait for more Ranma episodes to be translated and dubbed in English, so I found a place on the Internet where one could actually download the comic books which the anime was based on. These digital versions of the comic were translated by fans from the original Japanese comics, then the Japanese comics were scanned and the original Japanese dialogue digitally replaced with the English translations. Of course, the fan translators were aware of the copyright violations they were technically committing. They justified their actions by only translating issues of Ranma that Viz, the English-language publisher, still hadn’t gotten around to, and therefore these fan translations weren’t stealing money from Viz at all.

To my knowledge, this project was the first instance of what is now called scanlation, which is the production of fan-made digital translations of Japanese comics, although I’m seeing more Korean comics now and some Chinese ones, plus a handful of French bandes dessinees. Normally, scanlators only work on series that aren’t being published yet in English, and should a publisher pick up a scanlated series, the scanlators are expected to desist in their work. A publisher could charge scanlators with copyright violations, but they choose not to do so if the proper forms are observed by the scanlators. After all, a manga reader has no reason to spend money on a completely unknown series, and scanlations allow that reader to sample the wares before buying. Publishers are well-aware that turning a blind eye to scanlations and filesharing actually increases sales for their translated comics (the reverse of what opponents of filesharing claim). It’s thanks to scanlations that I’ve been introduced to manga like Eden and Welcome to the NHK!, the former being a series I intend to buy and already on my Amazon wish list.

As you should note, then, the Internet has been instrumental in the expansion of fandom, especially Ranma fandom in this case — I still remember getting tapes of the series from a friend of mine. Before scanlations caught on, which pretty much means before affordable scanners and high-speed Internet arrived, online fans of manga apparently used text translations of the comics that were released by other fans online. They’d buy Japanese versions of the comics and switch back and forth between the comic and the printed translation. It all sounds quite tedious, which is why I’m glad I never had to deal with such an unwieldy system.

Still, I haven’t explained what Ranma 1/2 is itself about. What kind of series could have aroused such passion in my young self, such devotion that even now, more than half a decade after I’d last encountered any version of the series, I should still rhapsodize about it? That’s kind of a long story, one which deserves to be explored in its own post, but definitely a topic I’ll revisit.

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Goodbye Edublogs

Let’s see other people. Actually, I’ll see other people and you can just cry as I walk away or something. That’s right, I’m finally moving to a new site. The lucky winner is Anthroblogs for their non-annoying spamless hosting solutions, plus there’s that whole anthropologist ghetto they’ve got going. It only took me an entire month to accomplish the move. Thanks go to John Norvell for letting me join his merry band.

Actually, I’m still not done with the move. I want to migrate all of my posts at the very least and I’m screwing around right now with Perl scripts to do just that. Let me tell you, it’s not simple at all, especially for someone who used to play Tetris back in programming class in high school (six years ago, I might add). I’ll probably have to move comments manually which will add another layer of frustration to this bastard of an undertaking. If anyone is better than me at Perl, I’d be glad to accept their help.

I’m also trying to finish a chapter of my thesis to include as a writing sample in grad school applications, so I might not have the new blog set up the way I want until the new year. Until then, don’t mind the exposed wires and wet paint as you follow me — into the future!

Here’s what you can expect to see over there:

Cavite (the movie)

I learned of this movie from The Wily Filipino. Got to say, I wasn’t impressed. I already rented Suicide Girls on his recommendation and found it a bit “wtf?”, although there is a Clockwork Orange-y rape scene in Suicide Girls that is eerily beautiful. One more strike, though, and I’ll just have to say that The Wily Filipino and I have divergent tastes in movies .

CORRECTION: It was actually Suicide Club.  Suicide Girls is the porn website where the models all have tattoos and piercings.  And no, I’m not a subscriber (sin is a financially taxing endeavour).

The plot centres around a 2nd generation Filipino American in the Philippines whose family is being held hostage and who is forced to do all kinds of illegal things by the bad guy who relays all his instructions by cellphone. Yes, just like that one cellphone hostage movie that was out recently which I never plan on seeing. Oh, and he has to do all his running around in the province of Cavite.

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Cavite (the movie)

Cavite.jpg

I learned of this movie from The Wily Filipino.  Got to say, I wasn’t impressed.  I already rented Suicide Girls on his recommendation and found it a bit “wtf?”, although there is a Clockwork Orange-y rape scene in Suicide Girls that is eerily beautiful.  One more strike, though, and I’ll just have to say that The Wily Filipino and I have divergent tastes in movies .

CORRECTION: It was actually Suicide Club. Suicide Girls is the porn website where the models all have tattoos and piercings. And no, I’m not a subscriber (sin is a financially taxing endeavour).

The plot of Cavite centres around a 2nd generation Filipino American in the Philippines whose family is being held hostage and who is forced to do all kinds of illegal things by the bad guy who relays all his instructions by cellphone.  Yes, just like that one cellphone hostage movie that was out recently which I never plan on seeing.  Oh, and he has to do all his running around in the province of Cavite.

I grew up partly in Cavite, but that has nothing to do with my dislike of the film.  Rather, it’s clear to me that I’m not the target audience.  The movie is obviously set up with 2nd generation Filipinos in mind, since the whole thing is about the anxieties of the 2nd generation in regards to their Filipino identity.

The first thing that didn’t fly with me was the language.  I speak Tagalog well enough, and to me, the menacing voice on the phone issuing Tagalog commands didn’t sound menacing at all.  In fact, the guy sounded like a complete tool.  It was hard to take his threats seriously since he actually has more of a comedian’s voice.  I kept expecting cellphone guy to start cracking toilet humour jokes.  Not only that, but it seems rather odd to me that Adam, the main character, should understand Tagalog, since his family is supposedly from Mindanao and I would expect him to be more fluent in Chavacano or other more regionally-appropriate languages.

In fact, language is one of the things that 2nd generation Filipinos have an ambivalent relationship with.  Obviously, Adam has passive fluency in Tagalog so that the story is able to take place, but he also talks almost entirely in English because he’s “not comfortable with the language [Tagalog]”, just like many 2nd generation Filipinos.  Quite a few don’t understand any Filipino languages at all, what with their parents wanting them to assimilate completely.  That, or they’re embarrassed by their parents’ languages and make an effort to speak entirely in English.

In this case, the menacing voice on the phone represents the Filipino-ness that 2nd generation Filipinos (the kind that would watch this kind of movie) want but don’t quite feel they’re worthy of.  The voice is the inadequacy that 2nd generation Filipinos feel towards being Filipino, that they’re not really authentically Filipino if they can’t speak Tagalog, have never been to the Philippines, can’t eat balut, and all sorts of other things.

In fact, the movie is all about gaining this elusive authentic Filipino character.  Cavite begins by forcing Adam to confront the poverty and material deprivation in the Philippines (what could be more authentic than the poor?) and he is then forced to participate in other “authentically” Filipino experiences such as watching a cock fight, drinking soda out of a plastic bag, and eating an unhatched duck egg.  In fact, the scene with the balut is significant because watching foreigners recoil at the thought of eating balut is one of the pastimes Filipinos engage in with outsiders.  Having eaten the balut, Adam has proven that he is really Filipino.  The taunts of the voice on the cellphone are merely the prickings of his guilt at not being Filipino enough.

So this movie is actually about discovering one’s identity, and not just any identity, but ethnic identity.  Therefore, it’s about discovering what one always already is, or so the proponents of ethnicity will claim.  Still, the journey of ethnic discovery parallels the journey of the tourist in many ways.  Both centre on finding the authentic among foreign Others, particularly savage Others (the poor, the non-white, and the non-Western).  Second generation travellers might argue that they’re different from tourists, that tourists only see the surface, the superficial, but we have penetrated this wall of inscrutability and have beheld the true faces of the Filipinos.  In fact, we have always been Filipino, so there was never a wall there in the first place.  But the desire for the authentic still marks both journeys.

The search for authenticity is of course not politically neutral.  Second generation Filipinos look to the Philippines as a source of identity because they cannot find it in their home countries.  That is, the search for inclusion within the Philippine imaginary is contingent on the exclusion that 2nd generation Filipinos experience in their lives outside the Philippines.  Identification is always a political act, and a diasporic imaginary, as James Clifford put it, can be seen as making the best of a bad situation.

Which is all well and good, but the political goals of 2nd generation Filipinos don’t speak to me at all.  Cavite didn’t resonate with me because it showed me nothing that I hadn’t already seen before.  Rabid dogs on the street?  Floating mountains of garbage in the rivers?  Squatter children bathing outdoors?  Ho hum, how very boring.  Adam is shocked, but I sit and wait for the movie to start.  By the time it ends, I realize those scenes were the point.  And there’s nothing more boring than watching a movie that was made for someone else.  I wish I’d just gotten Superman Returns.

Zizek zizek bo bizek, me mi mo mizek, Zizek!

I’m currently working on applications for funding and schools and crap.  I don’t have time to think about this blog, so changing hosts will have to wait until next week.  Late next week, in all probability.  Sorry, I actually have a couple of drafts I was saving to post on the new blog, so stick around and you’ll eventually see them.  In the meantime, have some Zizek.

By that I mean that I just saw the documentary on the philosopher Slavoj Zizek, titled Zizek!  I can only comment on the superficial stuff since I don’t have time for deep reflection.

First, I liked the film.  It only gives a very broad presentation of Zizek’s ideas, but you’d have to read him to really get him anyway.  The documentary was entertaining, just don’t expect to anything too, too deep.  I think it was pretty much a necessity for the movie to explore Zizek more than his work, otherwise it would be a glorified Powerpoint presentation of his ideas.  Second, Zizek is a rather engaging speaker.  He’s very animated when he talks and keeps waving his hands around.  By the end of each of his public talks he’s always dripping in sweat.  Third, Zizek has seen Armageddon (the movie, not the end times).  He’s also seen (and liked?) Hero, the Jet Li film, the politics of which always stuck in my craw — the filmmakers might as well have just addressed the audience directly and said, “So you see, this shows that unity is preferable to human rights and that therefore Taiwan should submit to China.”  Fourth, he types with one finger (not even two-fingered hunt and peck, just one).  Fifth, he keeps his clothes in his kitchen cupboards.  Sixth, my supervisor apparently knows him personally.  He’d once given a talk at King’s College, which is part of my own school, Dalhousie University, and she told me that he’d forgotten to pack clothes when he came over.  I know, how can anyone forget that?

So in conclusion, Zizek! — good to watch if you’re not paying for it.  Another excellent way to put off work for an hour.