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- Based on the available evidence, #BlackCrowes fans are mostly Italian, German, and Dutch. 8 hours ago
- Joining two dozen similarly pathetic die-hard Black Crowes fans as I line up hours ahead of time at the @ParadisoAdam. 8 hours ago
- .@amuredda @flmfrkcentral @themanfrowns "And *that's* why you never leave your family in a tornado." #ManofSteel #ArrestedDevelopment 1 day ago
- .@amuredda @flmfrkcentral @themanfrowns The last time I left my dad in a tornado, it totally pissed him off. #ManofSteel 1 day ago
- @jessnevins @gerrycanavan @flmfrkcentral Yes, or perhaps Zack Snyder thought it would look cool. #hisonlymotivation #ever 1 day ago
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This week, I finally watched to the end last year’s popular documentary The Queen of Versailles, which had been sitting on my to-watch shelf for far too long. While I had initially been drawn to it by its fun, snappy trailer, the impression it left also removed any sense of urgency in watching it: I assumed it would be a fast-paced freak show done in a mode similar to MTV’s My Super Sweet Sixteen, simultaneously satirizing and glorifying the most outrageous excesses of the filthy rich. Productions such as this tend to foster the kind of structural disavowal that typifies capitalist ideology: mocking the excesses of the extremely wealthy while taking a superior attitude that makes the spectator a non-complicit voyeur of their actions. Such productions celebrate and even mythologize capitalism by allowing the viewer to imagine that he/she would never stoop to such ridiculous behavior if endowed with equal riches.
But my viewing experience of The Queen of Versailles turned out very differently. What initially seemed like a freak show about skeezy “time-share tycoon” David Siegel and his abundantly procreative trophy wife Jackie slowly but surely transforms itself into a systematic dissection of what Marx famously described as the internal contradictions of capital accumulation. Continue reading
Since I recently discovered that a video recording of my big Kubrick interview existed online, I’ve been googling my own name more frequently. And this morning, I was sort of stunned to find that Pat Mills, creator of legendary British comics publication 2000 AD, had blogged about Capitalist Superheroes. He talks about the book briefly in his latest blog post, stating that ”it was good to see this book once again delineate how these costumed crusaders have a questionable and unwholesome role in society. They are so much more than a harmless power fantasy designed for our entertainment: in reality a disguise and an endorsement for much that is wrong on our planet.” He then proceeds to cite in full several passages from the book that he liked particularly. Many thanks to Pat for the nice words, which couldn’t have come from a more flattering source!
I used a few clips from last year’s superhero blockbuster The Avengers to illustrate the lecture I gave at the Capitalist Superheroes book launch last week, mostly because it has become the superhero film most commonly associated with ‘the Obama age,’ as well as one that very clearly illustrates the extent to which the 9/11 attacks remain so central to America’s 21st-century mythology. I screened the one scene in the film that isn’t lit, framed, and staged like a hyper-expensive Buffy episode, relating the celebrated long, swooping shot to Susan Sontag’s definition of fascist aesthetics:
Fascist aesthetics … flow from (and justify) a preoccupation with situations of control, submissive behavior, and extravagant effort; they exalt two seemingly opposite states, egomania and servitude. The fascist dramaturgy centers on the orgiastic transactions between mighty forces and their puppets. Its choreography alternates between ceaseless motion and a congealed, static, ‘virile’ posing. Fascist art glorifies surrender; it exalts mindlessness: it glamorizes death.
Visual effects company ILM has now released a short video showing how these scenes were actually created, and how the New York we see in the film is actually a digital model of the city (as if that weren’t already fairly obvious).
Watching the short video also reminded me of a passage from my own book, about the sense of total artifice that has come to dominate cinematic representations of New York, from the chapter about the utopian/dystopian urban environments of Spider-Man and The Dark Knight:
The point here is not that the footage of Times Square in this scene constitutes an artificial representation of an actual location. It is rather that Times Square in its remodeling and rebranding has been defined as fundamentally artificial, and that the garish, balloon-filled amusement park pictured in the film does not represent the location so much as it provides a specific articu- lation of it. In a Baudrillardian sense, this image of a “hyperreal” Times Square comes to (re)define our understanding of the “real” Times Square, thereby making the reproduction superior to the original — about which one might now legitimately ask whether it even exists at all outside of this overdetermined phantasmal image.
My Twitter friend, fellow “superhero academic,” and all-around terrific guy Will Brooker treated me to an advance preview this past week of the forthcoming online comic book project My So-Called Secret Identity, which he co-authors with Suze Shore and Sarah Zaidan. I’m surely not the best person to judge the first issue, which I enjoyed reading a few days ago, mainly because I’m neither an expert on superhero comics nor a big fan of the genre. (My favorite quotation on superhero comics is from Art Spiegelman’s introduction to the City of Glass graphic novel, when he praises David Mazzucchelli’s work on Batman: Year One for the fact that it showed “a grace, economy, and understanding of the form that made the superhero genre almost interesting.” High praise indeed!…)
But since I’ve been known to complain about the depressingly institutionalized sexism and misogyny of the superhero genre now and again, I gladly and wholeheartedly support efforts like this that attempt to do something that should surely be far more common than it is in real life: simply having popular stories exist in which female characters are neither marginal/subordinate characters nor sex objects. The first issue of MSCSI (the acronym that also serves as the new series’ Twitter hashtag) introduces main character Cat Abigail Daniels, who resides in Gloria City, a comic book alternate-universe metropolis where terrorist attacks are more common than usual, and whose superpower is basically that she’s super-smart. Brooker’s writing builds on familiar superhero tropes in a way that makes the reader instantly comfortable with this new environment, while the comic’s female-centric narrative is handled in a matter-of-fact way that mostly just makes one wonder why on earth this type of comic book isn’t more common. I wish My So-Called Secret Identity every success, and look forward to finding out how the story develops in subsequent issues.
Speaking of female-centric popular narratives, this recent TED-Talk by Colin Stokes discusses the lack of female role models in our popular mythology, taking The Wizard of Oz as a productive exception to a general rule that sees women relegated to secondary roles in most popular fantasies. This short but very compelling and perfectly illustrated lecture also connects nicely to this much longer essay on the same topic, which takes Pixar’s generally underrated Brave as a starting point for an in-depth discussion of the importance of strong female characters in popular fiction, not just for girls, but also –and perhaps especially– for boys.
While the Capitalist Superheroes book launch has basically overshadowed everything else in recent weeks, life quite obviously does still go on, and so does research. Having undertaken the effort to rebrand myself as “the zombie guy” in an almost certainly pointless attempt to be perceived as anything other than “the superhero guy,” I am attempting to get at least some academic mileage out of all those hours I have spent reading, watching, and playing various incarnations of The Walking Dead. While trying to finish an article on this franchise as a type of transmedia narrative, I’m also preparing a public lecture for French-Dutch research symposium that will take place this Friday in Amsterdam, again struggling to find something (anything!) at all interesting to say about a TV series I dislike primarily for the way it so scrupulously avoid being about anything at all.
While assembling materials for my lecture, I came across this terrific video essay on transmedia aesthetics in comic book movies, using Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, a film I’ve never truly liked but which for some reason I keep returning to, as a case study. It makes very helpful use of many of the key terms in the transmedia/convergence culture debate, using illuminating examples along the way.
After the whirlwind of the Capitalist Superheroes publication and book launch, I’m trying to get back on top of my long-neglected Medicine blog. The first things I suppose I should add here are the video recordings of my recent public appearances. Firstly, the book launch event, which took place on Wednesday 13 February in Amsterdam, organized by the John Adams Institute. It was an incredible night for me: surprisingly well-attended by a lively and enthusiastic audience, and moderator Juurd Eijsvogel (political reporter for Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad) did a great job with the Q&A.
An older appearance of mine that I discovered online recently is the public interview I conducted with Stanley Kubrick’s widow Christiane and his brother-in-law/executive producer Jan Harlan at the Amsterdam EYE Film Museum in June 2013. It was my first time as an interviewer/moderator, so it’s quite obvious that I end up talking too much. But I’m still proud to have been asked to do this. Since I can’t find a way to embed the video on my own blog, you’ll have to click here to go to its source.