Sunday, March 29, 2009

To Be Good or Not To Be Good?

The character, Shaft, was your typical bad, good guy. He was rough, tough, and impenetrable, but for good. He was not a “hero” or someone that a mother would be comfortable leaving her children with, but ultimately, he was good—he did do the right thing. I think a lot of times we look up to and admire characters like this; characters who have enough backbone to deviate and to cause a little trouble, but are still good enough at heart to ultimately do the right thing. Pop culture thinks it is cool to be bad, but not too bad.
Take the character of the Joker from The Dark Knight. Yes, he’s cool, but in the end, doesn’t he become more of a pitiful object than a cool one? He has no admirable actions, accomplishes no ultimate good, and simply works for his own benefit. When it comes down to it, the Joker is just plain sad. He has no friends, no family, and no one to love or be loved by. I do not see how anyone could aspire to accomplish what the Joker accomplished. Yes, he had money but that meant nothing to him. He burned a huge pyramid of cash—money meant that little to him. The Joker lived a life without meaning and without purpose.
On the other side of things, there’s Batman. At first glance he may not be the coolest character—he could be seen as “too good,” too self-righteous. Who is he to take the law into his own hands? But after a closer look at things, Batman has a dark side and he has struggles. His parents died when he was young and the only woman he has ever truly loved dies. The movie is called “The Dark Knight” for a reason, the whole attitude of the movie and its hero is encased in darkness. Batman’s entire being is struggling with good and bad, right and wrong throughout the entire movie. He is cool, because he is not perfect but ultimately does make the right decisions.
Shaft and Batman both have dark sides but both of them end up working for good. Maybe their means are not always ethical, and they do make wrong decisions. I think that’s part of their cool factor—they are human and they are real. Most viewers are able to relate to them and to their struggles to some degree. Being able to relate is cool.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Pulled In Two Directions

Racism—not an issue that was directly addressed in the movie Shaft, but definitely an ever-present, underlying theme. Several instances and situations really stood out to me: Shaft’s “white man’s” job and “black man’s” attitude, his witty white jokes, and the conflict between the white mob and the black gang were just a few of them. I took Adam Frank’s class on race for Honors Core III, and since then, I’ve been more sensitive to things such as racial jokes and issues—perhaps too sensitive. Nevertheless, that is where my mind went when watching this film.

The main issue, I believe, was that Shaft was continually trying to bridge the gap between his profession and his culture. His coworkers never seemed to be able to trust him. They continually doubted his motives. It seemed like his “brothers” considered him a traitor, and were also unsure of Shaft’s intentions. This was made excruciatingly apparent when in response to something Ben says, Shaft replies, “I ain’t no Judas.” It seemed as if Shaft was considered too “white” for the black gangs to trust, and too “black” for the majority of his coworkers. However, there was one specific interaction with his friend on the police force, Lt. Victor Androzzi. Androzzi tells Shaft that he “is not so black” while holding a black pen to Shaft’s face. Shaft replies with, “You aren’t so white yourself,” and holds a white mug to Androzzi’s face. To me, this was an obvious racial relations situation that was placed in the film to make a statement. Perhaps that we are less of what we think we are and more similar to what we think we are not. That the two colors—black and white—in mankind, are more similar rather than opposites.

Another thing that really stood out to me, was how Shaft was continually making white jokes, especially towards his white coworkers. Granted, they were funny, but I did wonder what the motives or thought processes were behind them. I came up with one solution: he was trying to separate himself. He wanted to differentiate between himself and the white men he worked with. Maybe this was a result of the outcast he had become in the parts of the black society, maybe not. Perhaps Shaft simply desired to be known as separate—as an entity set apart. I believe he attained that. Shaft did distance himself from both “sides”—white and black—but in doing so, I believe he gained respect from both also.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Hippie Kind of Cool

As we watched this week’s film, Easy Rider, there was one particular movie and one particular band that kept coming to mind. Across the Universe was released in 2007, but was based during the same time period of Easy Rider—the late 1960s. Across the Universe is a film based entirely on music by the Beatles. Its story is told through the use of many songs by the Beatles and by members of the Beatles. The film begins showing a young man, Jude, in Liverpool, England. Jude travels to the United States to find his father, who is working on Princeton’s janitorial staff. There, Jude meets Max, the son of a wealthy American family. Jude goes home with Max for Thanksgiving and meets Lucy, Max’s sister. Not long after that, Max drops out of school and he and Jude head to New York City. They find a small apartment to live in. There, they meet Sadie, their landlady who is trying to make it as a singer; Prudence, a young woman who has hitchhiked from Dayton, Ohio; and Jojo, a guitarist. Once Lucy’s boyfriend is killed in Vietnam, she also heads to New York to live with Max and Jude.

This movie is all about the convergence of different people with different lifestyles. The film is laced with references and representatives of huge 1960s icon such as when Ken Kesey and his Electric Kool-Aid make an appearance while Sadie and Jojo are meeting with a prospective manager for their band. There is also a huge “trip” when the group of friends jump into this psychedelic van name “Beyond” and head to an unknown destination. Presumably, they are all on LSD and there is period in the movie where, as a viewer, I was completely thrown off and confused (very similar to how I felt during Easy Rider’s trip scene). What amazes me, is that Easy Rider was filmed during the prime of this counter culture , while Across the Universe was filmed almost forty years later yet I feel like it was pretty much dead-on in its representation of that time period and counter culture. This opinion is only reinforced after watching Easy Rider.

However, I do think the two films had two different purposes. Easy Rider was filmed to bring recognition to the cool aspect of this counter culture and perhaps to combat prejudices that accompanied that lifestyle. It showed the way outsiders viewed Wyatt and Billie and the disapproval and hate their lifestyle brought upon them. While Across the Universe shows the turmoil within that particular counter culture—war protests, the breaking up of families, and the consequences of their actions and decisions; but it was also produced to bring about recognition of that time period as a whole, with emphasis on one particular counter culture of that time. I think it does a good job of showing both the cool and the not-so-cool aspects of the hippie and anti-war era. Since the release of that movie (and perhaps because of it), a new generation of Beatle’s fans has sprung up. The Beatles and the peace sign had always been around, but this film gave my generation a better idea of the feeling and passion behind both of those icons.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

True Freedom

Freedom—that is the one theme is this movie that really struck a cord with me. The two men, Wyatt and Billy, live so freely...or do they? They literally ride across the United States on their motorcycles just to go to Marti Gras, a huge party. Along the way, they have the freedom to stop anywhere they wish. They stay a while here, and a while there, and are still able to make it to New Orleans in time for their party. So what is this freedom that they have? Is it truly freedom?
At first, the viewer may think that it is. Like me, they may even be envious at first. However, after being allowed to see the picture from beginning to end, the viewer will realize that the freedom that Wyatt and Billy indulged in was really more of a search for freedom. They were never able to escape the thoughts of other people. These thoughts, negative or positive, affected all aspects of their life whether good or bad—the thoughts of the people at the farm, the thoughts of the group at the commune, and certainly the thoughts of the “rednecks” at the very end.

The first place they encounter on their cross-country road trip is a peaceful farm. Here, they admire the open spaces and plentiful bounty the family has reaped from their work. Next, they encounter a hitchhiker on the side of the road who leads them to his home, a commune. Here, Wyatt is especially affected by the atmosphere and people (and their ideas). He is greatly influenced by the words of the strange man at the commune. I can’t remember the exact quote, but it was something about when it was right, when the people were right, Wyatt would know. I think those words and that idea stuck with Wyatt through the end of the movie until he says, “We blew it.” Wyatt realized that he had bypassed what he thought of as good, and perhaps he had also bypassed the “right” people in the process. Lastly, they encounter the thoughts of the prejudiced southerners. Perhaps the first encounter speaks the loudest, even thought it was not mentioned in class. They ride up to a hotel in the middle of nowhere. There is absolutely no way that every room is occupied. Yet, when the keeper sees that who Wyatt and Billy are and what they look like, he walks back inside and flips on the “No Vacancy” sign. A foreshadowing of what was to come? I think so.

Wyatt and Billy were naive. They had no idea that the world apart from California would be so intolerant of their lifestyle and choices. Ultimately, the thoughts of others ended up killing both of them. Is this the freedom that we seek? Or was it freedom that they were seeking? I am not convinced that they ever truly found freedom. However, I do think that they had embraced the search for freedom more than anyone else of that era or perhaps even this one.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Confusing Cultures

Last week’s idea of cool was a little foreign to me. I think that particular culture was a before my time. However,there were some aspects I could identify with, such as the quest of continually seeking cool and also how Thomas never stayed still. I do not intentionally shy away from quiet and stillness (in fact, I find myself seeking it whenever I have a chance), but I hardly ever get the chance due to school, soccer, church, family, and friends. Sure, I can grab fifteen minutes naps here and there but those more like teasers than true moments of relaxation.

The television show Greek, is also an example of a “cool” culture that is foreign to me, but does have aspects that I identify with. It is a show that revolves around the Greek system—a system that remains a little vague and foggy to me, even though two of my roommates are involved with it. They come in talking about it, and they attempt to explain, but I think its impossible to completely understand all the underlying rules and regulations—the unspoken and unwritten laws of the Greeks. The television show is the same way. They have all these guidelines and laws that they have to adhere to, all of these unspoken (but you have to know them because if you break one, you become a social outcast for life) laws that they have to follow. They have these social standards, but really fail to meet any other sort of standards like academic or moral. It is ok if you do not make the grades and its “overlooked” if someone cheats on their boyfriend or girlfriend. (At least on the television show) So there are many aspects that I simply do not relate to. However, I can and do see parts of it that I do relate to, like the smaller complications in life. Boy-girl relationship problems, sibling spats, and the relationship between two best friends—these are all things that I can relate to, and these are what keeps me watching the show.

So now I am going to completely switch gears. I could go on for days about cultures that I do not entirely understand—subcultures and cultures both tend to be definitions of how someone sees them instead of a definition that set-in-concrete. So ultimately, I guess that leads to me not ever being able to completely identify with anyone’s culture but my own, personal one. Honestly, I do not even always understand how my culture influences me and my decisions. I am told that it does, I believe it does, but its kind of like verifying identities in Trigonometry. You know that this equals that, but figuring out the part in-between can be difficult. The culture that surrounds me today baffles me many times over. I do not understand so many aspects of something that is seemingly mine. Like why is it so cool to be a coffee drinker and hang out in local coffee shops? I myself have bought into that trend, but why? There is a website that I find particularly entertaining that kind of laughs at a “white person’s culture” called Stuff White People Like. Many of the things listed are true, but when you thing about it, there is no definite reason why it would be true.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Cool Continents

I do not think our generation has one particular hot spot. We do not have one particular city which is unarguably cooler than another. Maybe it is more of a cool continent for us. But then again, even that can vary. For example, when someone declares that they want to backpack across Europe, the response from peers is typically a varying form of “Wow! That’s cool!” (Words like awesome, sweet, or bad can be substituted for the word cool). Europe, in general, is cool. There are the obvious cities that many will name as their personal favorites: London, Paris, Rome, Berlin, and Dublin are all major tourist attractions. If one mentions that they have been to any of these particular places, then you are automatically granted some degree of worldliness and prestige. However, if you, in fact, have surpassed these tourist attractions and have increased your knowledge of Europe by taking back roads and visiting lesser known cities, then you are truly a person of wonder.

Is Europe the only cool continent? No, I don’t think so. What if someone believes that to indulge so much as to spend months of one’s life strictly for self benefit is inherently selfish and inconsiderate? What if, instead, someone decided to join the Peace Corps and head to a third world country in Africa or South America? I believe that would elicit a very similar response as backpacking did. The Peace Corps is cool. Such a self-sacrificing, passionate attitude is to be greatly admired in my generation. Go save the world because that is cool!

How are both of these outlooks cool? The first is self satisfying, rampant with personal gain, and fun. The second is completely self sacrificing, unselfish, and perhaps miserable at times. What is the connection? Why does this particular generation find both of these things cool? Perhaps it is that the people in both of these categories all belong to a bigger group—a a higher classification, a more elitist society. Most people in our generation are in college (including me). This is cool, but not anywhere near as cool as the two situations mentioned above. College is too normal, too overdone. Everyone goes to college, so how is that cool? However, if you bypass or delay a structured higher education for a more non-traditional type such as a backpacking experience or a learn/work situation like the Peace Corps, then that is cool. Perhaps it’s the edge factor. These people are stepping out of the box, shocking much of the older generations, and by doing so, are gaining this generation’s admiration.

This is cool. In both of these examples, one is able to surprise and shock older generations, and receive nominations of coolness from one’s peers. So maybe it is not a place or a time that makes you cool, but an attitude and mindset of determination and originality.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Cool Love Equals Realistic Love?

My definition of Cool Love is love that has no limits, love that doesn’t fail, and love that is never-ending. Now that I have typed it out, it seems like I have a fairytale version (yet again) of love in my head. I probably do. Most of movies that are out there just reinforce the fanciful notions of love. There are so many to pick from! One of my favorites, Kate and Leopold, is one of the more extreme ones. Here, a handsome British man (complete with the accent) from the year 1876 manages to jump forward into the twenty-first century. There, he meets a girl and they fall madly in love. Of course they hit a few bumps in the road along the way, but it wouldn’t be interesting without some suspense (even though the viewer knows the way it will ultimately end up together). This type of story is told over and over again, is not realistic, and yet is loved by millions of people (mainly females).

Why is this? Why are we attracted to these types of love stories instead of stories like Jules and Jim which are messy and unattractive, but ultimately, more realistic than these fairytales that we all enjoy? I have to admit, I would watch Kate and Leopold over Jules and Jim any day. But why is that? Maybe we all really know that love isn’t easy—maybe it’s not even out there—but the idea of romance and love has been sold to us over and over again as something that only brings joy and happiness. However, in reality, love can be nasty, hard to deal with, and sometimes causes people to do crazy (and not always the good kind of crazy) things—things like driving cars off of bridges.
So what if Jules and Jim presented a more realistic picture of love? Is realistic cool? Not in cinema. People go see movies to escape their lives and to see something unrealistic that will allow them to feel better, to cry, or to be angry as needed. For better or for worse, cinema has become a modern form of therapy. When you are feeling down, grab and Adam Sandler flick! When you need a good cry, go to the nearest romance section near you and pick up P.S. I Love You. I could go on, but the point is, we like unrealistic films because they make us feel better. Something like Jules and Jim just makes you realize how screwed up the world really is sometimes, and that’s no fun.