Friday, March 31, 2006

Pseudo much?

I went to pick up a friend of mine at Paddington recently. A few minutes into the conversation I almost greedily asked her what she thought of this blog- to which she replied, it was good in a pseudo intellectual kind of way (not quoting here). In my vocabulary, pseudo is really not a good word. Its the kind of word we used for people we thought tried to act smarter than they were- by talking about things they really didn't know/ feel about. But this wasn't me. I have said so, and I will again-- the way life goes, you come across things, views, information-- and the process of digestion is something I enjoy. I raise questions in my mind. I don't consider anything I have to say as pseudo but a process. Also, its my exercise in writing.

But I could be wrong, of course. Maybe my incessant babble is difficult for academicians or people totally averse to academics to understand. I really do appreciate everyone who told me I'm on the right track-- but in this case, none of that was helping. I couldn't stop wondering if I was talking for the sake of it. But the other side of my brain told me not to doubt, again, for the sake of it.

The amazing part of it is that we often stop, or stop long enough to doubt ourselves, because of fleeting words by someone else. Its the insecurity in us. Its the reality (which dawns too late at times) that not everyone can agree with us, but we need to agree with ourselves. If I'm sure, I should remain sure. I should budge because I feel the need, not because someone else might.

I sat at this keyboard for a long time staring at the typed words, wondering... Should this be a post or a draft in my email (that's where I was typing). But what sealed the deal for me was this: this is MY blog. It's really a part of me at 22. I love the media. I love politics, religion, and other things that influence and are influenced by it. I love questioning where it is all going.. where we already are. And thats the end of all the self reflection that will happen on this site. But I needed it. And so I did. How about that? I made progress from the start of this post to the end!!

Monday, March 27, 2006

the blind men and the elephant

I haven't really been able to wrap my head around cultural studies. I took a course at McGill- and I admit I didn't pay as much attention as I should have because we had rehearsals for the Vagina Monologues on at the time, and I was largely distracted. But the question comes back ever so often-- exactly what (and why) is cultural studies?

So you take pieces of literature (or art) and put them into a cultural context, the culture of that time, the culture of this. Roland Barthes dealt with this-- 'the myth'-- the ideology we prescribe to objects. Now, some of the most fascinating conversations regarding prescribing cultural context to objects in our midst have taken place on the forums of this great website called 'Television Without Pity'. I found it quite accidentally a few years ago and frequently lurk around the boards. It mainly deals with television shows (you name, its there) but the conversations go far beyond mere plot points or casting. They read INTO the meaning of some of the better television shows- case and point, Buffy. I understood a few things about fandom and the makings of a cult through this forum- While the show tries to be 'moral', the demand is that it remain true to its story. A lot rides on poetic justice-- a character can be good, evil, grey; but the end should fit. Whedon gave a twist at some junctures- that death can be sudden, and sometimes it has no meaning. Where does this fit?

Now take Dracula; Franco Moretti's capitalist reading of him. Now, this is what the man says-- if Dracula represents capitalism, his vampire nature represents his need for consumption and threatens individual liberty. (It goes on). A Freudian analysis says [what else?] that Dracula signifies the 'Return of the Repressed'. Sex is punished in this reading- which is why Lucy, who cannot wait for her wedding day to come- dies in an unusual way, a sexual way indeed, after she has already become one of the undead.

But what I can't understand is how we can make these cultural interpretations when it was not Stoker's intention. He might just say, 'What? You are reading all this WRONG. Its just a story about a vampire!'

Now all these thoughts came to me while watching Secret of my Success. [IMDB it if you haven't seen it.] I wondered if Michael J Fox's uncle would stand for (evil) corporate America-- wasn't this movie made in the 1980's? Would it be Reganomics? And what about the young, upcoming exec's? Do they stand for a more liberal economic theory? Expansion? About the workers? Not about big business. Would this make sense? Is this a cultural analysis right here? But how can we be sure we are right?

The thing is, I don't understand- is it really possible to ascribe culture to a piece of art- a movie, a book? So it becomes a symbol- a 'myth'. Is this that elusive myth, which Joseph Campbell calls 'collective dreams'. Together, we take in something. Together, we try and discover the same meaning. We have cults- Buffy, Donnie Darko--- we have literature. Can we ever reach a conclusion? We try, and a part of this is cultural studies. Its a process.

I suppose that is the key. A common understanding of the events and art that shape our past and present. Can we all look at something and agree? Can we understand why a certain story IS. At any given time, why would my story be the way it is? Were there larger, cultural, factors at work-- even if I didn't know it. Did my culture influence me, making my work a 'symbol' of its time?

Thats the question isn't it.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

the historian

Last night I read a book called ‘The Historian’ by Elizabeth Kostova. All 704 pages. In one sitting. Of course, it did involve dinner followed by a late night snack around 3am but I was done by 6am.

Now I’d urge whoever has the time or is looking for a good book to read to go out and get this one. I was actually at Sainsbury getting groceries when I went to the book section as I always do and started looking at titles. I never really buy the fiction there- it’s more the Candice Bundshell variety. I saw ‘Dracula’ written on the back (and everyone knows about my fascination with vampire lore). And it passed the litmus test: I open any given chapter and start reading. If I want to continue- well, it passes. And boy, did I want to continue!

The story involves a daughter finding out about how her father (and mother--- and later grand father) was involved in searching for Dracula, and she gets caught up in the action too. It unfolds through letters, running in parallel, from Prof Rossi to her father, from her father to her, and her own story. But written from a historian POV this book added a very interesting facet to the reading experience: not only does it take the reader through a historical journey through Europe (awakening the travel bug within!) but it delves into the search for Dracula through historical documents which this family of historians chases all over the world. The imagery in this book is fascinating.

A historical adventure is the best kind in my opinion. While the threads are tied with imagination most of the time, it opens up gates into so much of our past that we didn’t know! It is also an exercise in ‘connect the dots’; something we take for granted because our high-school history textbooks come to us connected! This book highlights the process that historians go through, and by all accounts- especially if you are looking for Dracula, this can be a thrilling chase.

A night well spent I must say.

***

In my room in Delhi one wall was filled with books. Sometimes I'd open one and find either my mothers name or my fathers, with a city and a year. I'd wonder where they bought it, a book shop? A street sale? And now every time I buy a book, adding my name and the city and year I picked it up in, I wonder if decades from now, someone else will hazard a guess, "Why did she pick this up? What was she thinking? Did she like it?"

Even if a book isn't about history, it just carries so much history with it.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

*ties that bind*

I was doing some research on Google and I came across this article that spelt out four different scenarios of how Google could grow. One of them talked about how Google could launch Google TV. It said that since Google already knows its users likes and dislikes, advertisements could be based on what you already like. Nothing could sound worse to me. Although advertisements can sometimes be annoying but its great that we can see totally random ads about things we don't even think about. If everything is 'tailor made' to our choices, it means the system assumes that we are static. How will anyone discover new likes, dislikes, if the information we are given is limited to certain subjects? And what if this spreads to other things- what if the television you watch is tailor made for you? Like TiVO. Chance disappears. You won't ever accidentally catch something on TV. No "I caught this crazy/interesting/disturbing movie on TV last night" or "I saw this wierd ad about the wierdest thing!".

It made me think of this poem by Philip Larkin which I'd read in high-school. Its called 'The Whitsun Weddings'. The poet is in this train, watching people on the station and in the train. As he describes the view he keeps saying 'we saw this, we saw that'. What always struck me that because they were in the same train together at the same time, those people shared a moment in their lives, this railway journey- this "frail traveling coincidence". The same can be said of television. It unites us; we share these common experiences that we can talk about- it connects us. We share moments in a way which is different from actually being at the same place at the same time.

And so I'd like to share something with you. A joke. A hopefully funny moment in your life too. This is something I read on the Internet posted by someone on a forum:

"I submitted a request to my local library to hold a book and audiobook for me as all copies were checked out.

The book? Getting things done: The art of stress-free productivity.

The irony? All three copies of the audiobook and two of the three copies of the book are overdue."

Hee.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

play?

ACT I
During my political communication seminar, I started doodling..

The pen hovers over the paper with disjointed thoughts hovering still. I gaze out of the window. Fiction? HUH. The morning? The weather? A smile? [I think of Louis "Shall we begin like David Copperfield? I am born, I grow up."] Where do I start? Is it even possible that I have lost my imagination. But I can imagine- I can see a future I want, but it comes in emotions. Happy. Busy. Comfortable. Loved. And in love.

But what about the clouds? I stop. So if it isn't politics or religion, all that I can come up with is the cloud and the weather. And that might be because I'm looking out of the window! That makes me laugh. At least I can see what I'm looking at.

ACT II
It makes me angry.

You say we (the youth) won't be involved in politics but you forget that all you teach us is that it's tainted. I do blame academic disciplines. You don't remember that there can be beauty in power play- this game of snakes and ladders. Jarred; Yes. Faulty; Yes.... But if we are to have our own expectations reduced before we even begin our lives, we can never imagine.

It is so easy to watch television. But one must never forget the importance of music. Play. Listen. Let the thoughts form: let them flow. Visual images are the strongest but second to the images you construct in your mind.

I thought about magic the other day. Can I believe in magic? Did I ever? My favourite genre of TV is Sci-Fi. So it makes me think that I do WANT to believe. What about the magic in everyday life? Happy thoughts are like magic. They make you smile, they transform you, give you hope and joy- and there needn't be a reason. The magic of it all is reason enough.

ACT III
I look up. The seminar is still continuing. My mind starts racing.

We're talking about Fukuyama's 'End of History'. Basically what the guy said was that once all countries move towards a liberal democracy history will 'end' in the sense that there will be no more ideological evolution to be had because it is, in a sense, a perfect government.

Really? Liberal Democracy and the Media. Isn't that the hot topic all the time anyway? So if we believe the Emasculation thesis, that this steady diet of cynicism is disillusioning the voters, then we must wonder about the state of this so-called 'perfect' system of goverment. Or perhaps, following the Democratisation thesis, all advances especially related to communication technologies, the media and politics, are a legitimate way to enlighten the masses. Although they might still be catching on to the game. Don't forget, Television isn't that old. It was first used in American politics in a big way in the 1960s. Of course people need time to adjust.
Once everyone understands how the race is run, they'll know what to watch out for. And we get better everyday.

I realise something. I suck at fiction. DUH.

CURTAIN

Watch in slow motion

There was this tiny article about Isaac Hayes, the man who gave voice to the Chef in South Park leaving the cartoon because an episode made fun of the Church of Scientology, of which he is a member.

From BBC:

Co-creator Stone said Hayes would be released from his contract and had the best wishes of the South Park team.
Stone said: "In 10 years and over 150 episodes of South Park, Isaac never had a problem with the show making fun of Christians, Muslim, Mormons or Jews.
"He got a sudden case of religious sensitivity when it was his religion featured on the show."

So this got me thinking about this Open Forum I'd attended a while ago- on the Danish Cartoons and a conversation that followed. At dinner soon after, a few glasses of wine down, I turned to my friend Adil to ask him about his views on the reaction to the cartoons. At the forum most of the panelists had condemed the cartoons for hurting Muslim sensibilities, especially given the volatile situation we live in. I asked Adil what he thought of my question-- weren't the cartoons highlighting extremist Muslim violence; something that happened again when the news of the cartoon spread over the world? He considered this vulgarity worse than invading Iraq or anything else that has taken place in the recent past- but he lamented that the 'West' will never understand how serious this is because the reaction from much of the Muslim world seems to be the same for everything. I had not considered this before.

When Steven Barnett, one of the panelists mentioned satirical attacks on religion, such as South Park and Christianity, Woody Allen and Judaism, in the same way these cartoons should be taken in stride. Not everyone can see things in the way you do, and one must make allowances like that. A girl got up and said something to the effect 'but we don't WANT to make fun of the Prophet, why do you want to push us on this?'

So you can understand why the South Park blurb caught my attention.

FYI: For anyone interested in writing for television, Jane Espenson has this great blog where you get some insight into the writing process. Plus, she's great so have a look.

Another thing, for some reason I read Kane and Abel again (after a long time although since I first discovered it this must be the 100th time or more!) The moment when William Kane, after impulsively going to this Chapel in England, demanding to be maried, giving a donation to cut through the red tape, demanding the ceremony NOW turns to Kate and says (paraphrasing) 'Darling, this might be a stupid thing to ask at this point, but will you marry me?

The Priest says 'Good Heavens! You mean you haven't even asked her?'

That moment. Makes. Me. Smile! :)