Monday, December 22, 2008

Disney, that sly devil.

Did you know that when Walt Disney was buying up swamp land in Florida he had to do it in secret? With front companies and fake businessmen? And his people were required to take indirect flights between California and Florida? They had to - like - change planes in Toledo?


Because Walt D. was worried that if the people in Florida got the skinny on the plan, the price of land would shoot up. And we was right, because when word got out, the prices went sky high.

But I just like the idea of business men in Mad Men suits jetting around the country on Pan Am and being all clandestine because they are on a secret Disney mission.

How much fun is that?

I bet that they were always on the lookout for guys from Warner Brothers.

The Alien Books

So I was looking at my books and I was thinking about how when the humanity dies out and the aliens come and start digging around, I hope that they find some of the good books and not just the crap. I got a little worried through because there is so much crap out there compared to how much there is that is truly great. I was lovingly caressing my copy of ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ and saying to it, “I hope that they find you.”

My hope as a writer is always to write one of those books that the aliens should find.

The reality is that the aliens are probably going to find a whole shit-load of Stephen King books (sad for us humanity) but we can HOPE that they find ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’.

I was thinking though, I hope they find ‘One Hundred Years’ and not ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ because – let’s face it – the latter is crap compared to the former.

And that got me thinking about other SPECIFIC things that I hope the aliens find.

For instance, I was wondering what work of Shakespeare’s I would hope the aliens find. The easy answer is HAMLET, but while HAMLET is fun and interesting, it is deeply flawed as a work and isn’t a masterpiece (if you disagree you’re probably in high school, Google: HAMLET, G.B. SHAW). Some people think that LEAR is a seminal work that is successful on every level.

I asked Violet, she has a theater degree after all, and she said two things:

1) She doesn’t think Lear works on every level and …
2) She says that A MIDSUMMER NIGHTS DREAM is the work of Shakespeare’s that she hopes the aliens find because is a play about the good in people and not just the bad. She said that it is a play with no real bad guy and that everyone ends up in love and what is better than that?

How can you not love a girl like that?

So anyway, I am considering putting MIDSUMMER on my list of things for the aliens. I’m not sure what else should go on the list because I’m not really certain how to define the list itself. People will make the standard suggestions: HUCK FINN, ULYSSES, PARADISE LOST, but I don’t know. I’m apt to distrust the standard suggestions. That’s part of why I like Violet’s reasoning for MIDSUMMER.

Anyway, I’m going to give it all some more thought. You should too. We will meet back here with our lists and then we will build ourselves a double-hulled time capsule and we will put a big blinking light on it so that the aliens will be sure to see it.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Final Essay

Alas, this is the last assignment for my Film & Lit Class. I tried to expand on my Response Paper about Orwell and make it more about the way that the formula of fiction is used in Dystopian texts. Enjoy.

How to Tell a Dystopia: How Authors Make the Abstract into the Concrete.

Any dystopian story can be broken down to two basic elements and a simple equation. The elements are opposites – or ay least in opposition – and are also interrelated. Most simply, the elements are these: a controlling society, and a protagonist who is flawed in some fundamentally human of way. The equation is just as simple: controlling society + human protagonist = dystopian exploration of a contemporary society. Virtually every dystopian tale of any note or worth is explained away with this formula, from 1984 to Fahrenheit 451 this formula has been used without fail to tell the Dystopian tale. The reasons for this are not complicated: this formula is both simple and effective.

Simplicity of story is of particular importance in dystopian fiction. Traditionally these are stories of large ideas. The ideas themselves can be complicated and they often ask the reader to confront his or her own preconceived notions of class, social structure, equality, identity, etc. While calling into question everything that the reader believes, it is best to present a plot that is straightforward and engaging. Examples of this abound in all the best fictional dystopian stories. In Orwell’s 1984, Winston finds himself at odds with the totalitarian state. In Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, the fireman Montag wants to read books instead of burn them, in Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Rick Deckard hunts down renegade cyborgs. These are simple and engaging plots that are used like a Christmas tree. A Christmas tree is just a tree until it decorated. It is simple and common, but (in this metaphor) the storyteller hangs large ideas like ornaments, strings it with incisive language, and at its pinnacle (the climax) the storyteller tops it all with some great and glowing revelation about the real world.

It is important to remember that there is no point in evaluating dystopian fiction without connecting it to contemporary society and issues the reader recognizes. That is to say, the story and society in which it plays out, must wrap around one another in a way that not only furthers the plot, but also furthers (or furthers subversion of) the ideology of that particular dystopia and it much connect back to the reader’s own world and worldview. This is quite a lot to ask of a plot and of a reader. By keeping the plot simple, the storyteller is able to lay down layer upon layer of deeper meaning without losing the audience. This multi-layered dystopian model of storytelling is exemplified in Orwell’s novel 1984. Orwell employs numerous devices (verbal, aesthetic, ideological, etc.) to induce the reader into a particular position relative to the society being described. In this way, Orwell is in fact doing two things simultaneously; he is rendering dual worlds concurrently. In the first world, Orwell is crafting the society in which Winston (his protagonist and everyman-hero) lives. This first world is (as required by the formula) deceptively simple and immediately engaging; the energy of all citizens is directed toward upholding (ideologically) and supporting (through physical labor) the reining government of Big Brother. In creating this first world (the world of the story), Orwell is using his powers as a writer. He renders a world that is grey and cold and dirty. The duality of Orwell’s writing becomes apparent though in the way that he is clearly seeking to evoke emotional reactions that can be linked to political realities. In the second world that Orwell builds (that of the reader), he is playing upon the reader’s preconceptions and, manipulating the reader in such a way that the emotional becomes tied to the social and political. This is the layering on of meaning, the decoration of the Christmas tree, so to speak.

On the very first page of his book, Orwell works to carefully craft a well-thought-out and fully realized dystopian society, but more than that, he immediately connects the visceral to the political. Ever aware of the importance of even the most subtle of language, the author uses the novel’s first sentence to give the reader his first lesson in the sociopolitical reality that is being creating. Orwell wrote, “It was a bright and cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” (Orwell, 5). The pluralization of clock to clocks lends itself to the idea of a communalization of society. The reference is not to Winston’s specific clock, but to all of the clocks of society, striking at once, as if of a single mind and purpose. Additionally, by referencing time as thirteen, Orwell is able to force the reader into making a cognitive connection between military-time and the society in which Winston lives. This first sentence served Orwell’s dual purpose well in that it established Winston’s world, but also provides the reader with a template for how to think about the novel. By immediately connecting the cold April day with the communal clocks, Orwell has bound these two worlds together. In other words, communization (re: Communism) is cold and lonely. However, look at the simplicity of the sentence from the standpoint of plot alone; it is a simple statement. It is easy and engaging, it very well had to be because of the deeper layers of meaning.

Dick does something slightly different in the opening line of Do Android Dream of Electric Sheep but it is similar in purpose, if more complex in style, “A merry little surge of electricity piped by automatic alarm from the mood organ beside his bed awakened Rick Deckard” (Dick 3). In this sentence Dick immediately lays out the tone of the novel in the way he describes something simple happening in a complex fashion. Essentially, he just explains how Deckard wakes up. Dick is correctly assuming that every reader will be familiar with alarm clocks and with being waken by them. He takes something as simple (though possibly steeped in deeper meaning) as waking up in the morning and complicates it with technology. By doing this Dick is immediately decorating the Christmas tree with an idea that will become central to the novel (and to the dystopia he creates), mainly that technology is affecting the society and the very existence of the human being. This idea is expanded upon in every page that follows and it is eventually given shape in the androids themselves. Dick is asking the question: if technology is affecting human existence, is it also affecting what it means to be human? Additionally, how does society adjust to this new meaning of ‘human’? In this way, Dick connects the simple to the complex and the singular to the collective, or rather, the individual to the society. Clearly Deckard lives in a dystopia where technology (in the form of an alarm clock/mood organ) is used by the society to control the individual (Deckard). Just as the dystopia in which Winston lives is controlled by the communalism of the clocks.
In some similar way, every dystopian story begins with a small commentary on some benign aspect of the society and how it controls the individual. This is the formula given shape. The society exerts control on the individual. It is then important that the individual (the protagonist) be fleshed out so that the reader can bond with them before they come into direct conflict with the society. That dystopian texts tend to focus on an every-man type character is important for reasons that Fredric Jameson points out in his critique of Thomas More’s Utopia, “The citizens of Utopia are grasped as a statistical population; there are no individuals any longer, let alone any existential ‘lived experience’.” (Jameson 39). Though he was examining the utopia texts, Jameson identifies that which is most important in the telling of dystopias, mainly, the human element. Jameson goes on to explain that in utopias, the individual is, “cast in the mode of a kind of anthropological otherness, which never tempts us for one minute to try to imagine ourselves in their place, to project the utopian individual with concrete existential density, even though we already know the details of his or her daily life.” (39)

Here Jameson is almost crying out for the kind of exploration of humanity that is central to dystopian stories. The informed reader is left to wonder, then, would 1984 be as seminal a work of dystopia if it were not for the doomed love story of Winston and Julia? Would Dick’s novel be nearly as effective in evaluating identity and race if it were not grounded in the reality of Deckard’s marriage (remember that Deckard is hunting the androids so that he can afford an artificial animal for his wife)? Here again is the narrative formula at work: controlling society + human protagonist = dystopian exploration of a contemporary society.

It is plainly apparent that Orwell is writing in response to the spread of Communism and his novel is diffusing abstract ideology into concrete reality. Big Brother does not tolerate Winston and Julia’s affair because it is a betrayal to the centrality of purpose and communalism of the society. By connecting the abstraction of Communism to the destruction of love, Orwell makes a statement about Stalinism that is clearer and more effective than if he had analyzed Marxist theory directly. Dick uses the same tactic in his exploration of society. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep was published at the end of the turbulent 1960s and as such, it is somewhat more complex, though only because Dick was hanging more ornaments on his metaphoric Christmas tree. Looking toward the future, though firmly rooted in the issues of the day, Dick dealt with nuclear war, race, identity, and technology but connected them all to the day-to-day banality of earning money.

Both Orwell and Dick made use of the formula in their important works of dystopia for a reason, mainly that it is a simple and effective way to reduce large and abstract ideas to down to familiar realities. In his article, “Orwell on Literature and Society” J.P. O’Flinn asserts, “that the history of the past two hundred years represents the cumulative ability of the written word to sway men’s minds,” (609). No where is this more apparent than in the writings of Orwell and Dick.
It would be easy to categorize these two novels as bold works of simple fiction, but a more clear understanding of how the formula is used and why, has (hopefully been useful. It makes it undeniable that these novels are transcendent works of great purpose that used a formula of fiction to explore the social and political aspects of society in important and relevant ways.

Dick, Philip K.. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. New York: Random House, 1968.
Jameson, Fredric. "The Politics of Utopia". New Left Review Jan-Feb 2004: 35-54.
O'Flinn, J.P.. "Orwell on Literature and Society". College English March 1970: 603-612.
Orwell, George. 1984. New York: Signet Classic, 1950.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

We're all Gonna Die.

This is the coolest/freakist thing I have heard about in a long time. Come this New Year's Eve, they are adding a second to the atomic clock. Why? Oh, no big deal, just because the fricken' Earth is slowling down.

Yeah. Apparently we do not rotate as fast as we once did.

Read it up:
Yeah, we are all gonna die.

Thanks for all the Memories.

Why does no one ever remember all of the good times that we had with the Hindenburg? All the champagne and dancing? Oh, wait …

... oh yeah, I remember now.

Disaster = Employment Opportunity

I just found the coolest fucking company! I am totally going to write a movie about a guy who works for these people. Basically – as I understand it from their website – they figure out how and why things got fucked up and then they tell you how to not fuck up that way again.

Check out the website:

How cool is that? If I was like an engineer or something, this would be my dream job.

One thing that is questionable though: I found this company because on a whim I typed into my browser:

My Baggage

So my girlfriend Violet was giving me shit the other day because I was in one of my moods wherein I complain about problems caused by my own behavior. And so I was saying that I should be DOING more with my life RIGHT NOW! And she said that I would probably get more done if I didn’t spend so much time online looking at backpacks.

That’s not a euphemism.

Basically I like to do this: I assemble fun backpacks-related phrases and then Google Image them. I Google things like ‘Super Awesome Backpacks’ or ‘Backpacks that will make me look skinny’ (I have out of control body issues like you would not believe, but we will get to that at a later date, I’m sure).

Anyway, Violet is a photographer, so when we travel about in the world, we usually do it with a camera, so I am quite often on the hunt for camera bags as well as just bags that make me look skinny.

(Violet is, BTW, very talented and I have no doubt that she will be doing it professionally one day. Alas, professional photography is kind of like writing in that there really is no career path, there is just what-worked-for-the-last-guy. But, like writing, you improve by doing and maybe the sucess is in the doing. Well, Violet is shooting stuff a couple of times a month, so if you need anything done, get her while you can still afford to. Her Flickr is linked on the right. Anyway …)

Now, just so that you know, I never buy any of these bags. I don’t have the cash to afford my tastes, but I am confident that one day I will find ‘The Perfect Bag’ and when that day comes, I will buy that fucker. I will buy the fuck out of it.

Here is one of my favorite bags at the moment:

I know that this one looks kind of dorky, but wait! It is a nice small, rugged pack. It seems like the kind of thing that you can mistreat without having to worry about it (god, I wish that I hiked or something. How much would I love to get mud on a bag like this?). BUT – wait for it – it has a removable camera insert. So it can be a backpack OR a camerabag. Plus, the insert goes in through the backside, so the gear is inaccessible while you are wearing it. Good for traveling (Violet always gets nervous on the subway or in the city with our current bag).

But I guess that all this had a point once … oh yeah.

The point is that Violet is probably right, I’m probably wasting my life with this terrible, terrible addiction.

(I like backpacks, what? On my computer, under FAVORITES, I save all the links to cool bags in a folder called ‘Bag Porn’. Violet suggested the name).

Weather sure is Somethin'

Below is the link to a website with some of the most startling and amazing photos of weather that I have ever seen. It will rock your socks off (Yeah, I guess I am the kind of person who says things like that).

For fun, I looked up the definition of 'weather' because I had never really thought about it before. This is from Merriam-Webster, which I trust:

Middle English weder, from Old English; akin to Old High German wetar weather, Old Church Slavic vetrŭ wind
before 12th century
1: the state of the atmosphere with respect to heat or cold, wetness or dryness, calm or storm, clearness or cloudiness
2: state or vicissitude of life or fortune
3: disagreeable atmospheric conditions: as a: RAIN , STORM b: cold air with dampness

More Marketing Media.

These are super-cool pictures from some guy's Flickr. Here is what I know about him:
A Flickr photo-set by neilk_patel, though there is an interesting question to be had in whether or not be deserves any recognition, because these are clearly bits of marketing. Do I really need more marketing in my life? Do you? And should I give the guy credit because he posted it? Or should I just stop being a jerk and get over it? I guess I will do that.

Cool pictures Neilk!

Wait, Don't Freak Out Yet.

So apparently there are all kinds of animals that have fingerprints. So it is kind of unreasonable of me to get all freaked out by the ‘koalas bears have fingerprints’ thing.

Did everybody else know this? Was I alone out there? Out there in the vast and wide country of Not-knowing-Stuff?

Apparently so.

Koala Bears Have Finger Prints!

That's right folks:


I just heard about it on CashCab and it is freaking me out.
Here is a fun drawing of Downtown Los Angeles.

Here's the artist.

8 Rules for Ensuring Happiness and Survival in Los Angeles

8 Rules for Ensuring Happiness and Survival in Los Angeles
by james bezerra

First, there is no such place as Los Angeles.
Accepting that, the rules laid down herein will help you live there.

Rule #1: There is No Such Place as Los Angeles.
There are those who would have you believe that such a place exists. They will tell you that more than thirteen million people live in its metro area and that it has an economy roughly equal to that of Australia. They will insist that it occupies a specific physical space of nearly 400 square miles. These people will not tell you that it is an ever-shifting transient space bordered by fire, the Pacific Ocean and endless, rocky desert. They will not tell you that the Los Angeles Basin sinks one quarter of an inch every year. They will insist that Los Angeles is a city like any other. They also say that there is weather. These people are trying to sell you something. Do not believe them.
The population of Los Angeles is always one, but there are more than thirteen million Los Angeleses.

Rule #2: You Are Not a Tourist and Nothing Impresses You.
When you arrive in Los Angeles, it will be by way of frustration. You set out for the city with hopes and dreams, some zest, some zeal. By the time you arrive, your clothes are sweaty from the long flight/drive/ocean-crossing. You call your Mom/Grandmother/Lover with artificial, plastic happiness in your voice and say that everything is going great. An hour in the city and you are already an actor.
You stand outside the Target at Santa Monica and La Brea with your bags over your shoulder and all your insecurities clogging your throat. The Santa Monica Mountains are burning tonight, and you watch an orange ribbon of fire consume a mountain, leaving it as black as the sky.
You wander north because it feels right and a man who might be a bum - but is maybe just dirty and deranged - follows close behind you, whispering and swearing. At Hollywood and Highland you stand still in a crush of tourists and sneer. They bumble past you without looking at you. They clutch their trinkets tight. Their eyes are wide, all smacked out on dreams.
Tourists, you think, I am better than them, because I live here.

Rule #3: Everybody Is Better Than Everybody.
There seems to be a hierarchy. You get that impression because no one seems to be impressed by you. Perhaps you haven’t met the right people. You are renting a studio/room/bed and you realize that if you had just rented somewhere else, everyone would love you by now.
You consider getting a tattoo/changing your sexual orientation/going home.
You start occasionally fucking someone you know you will never love. His/Her name is Drew and you say, “There seems to be a hierarchy. I should get a BMW so that I can fit in.”
Drew takes you seriously and considers your idea, because in LA no one ever says an idea is stupid, “Then people would know that you have value as a person and you could be an asshole on the freeway.”
“They are such assholes,” you say.
“Everybody is such an asshole,” Drew says.

Rule #4 You Will Cause Your Own Disillusionment.
You take a job waiting tables/logging tape/doing porno in the Valley because it gives you time to write/go on auditions/work on your music. You move in with Drew for the cheap rent, but secretly you are crushing on Olivia at work. She has tats like a SuicideGirl and sharp, straight scars on her arms from when she was a cutter. She isn’t normally your type, but you start dressing like a Melrose Rockstar just to impress her.
Months go by, Drew can tell there is a problem, but you don’t care. You go to shows with Olivia and finally make out with her back by the bathrooms where the floor is slippery with piss. You go back to her place, it is filthy, but her three roommates are out. She kisses wet and long and with a lot of tongue and her skin is unlike anything you have ever felt. You run your hands down her calves, over her scars. You have never been this turned on. You go down on her for like an hour. She cums hard and you think you’re a god. The fucking is great. You come to understand why damage is so good.
Later, you get caught, because Drew’s cousin/life coach/same-sex ex works at Paramount/RCA/MoCA with Olivia’s cousin/life coach/same-sex ex. Drew screams/hits you/says you’re just like everybody else. You feel worse than you have ever felt before and you realize that you’re not the same person you were when you moved here. You are worse, and you don’t know why.

Rule# 5: Develop a Bitter/Cruel/Cannibalistic Humor
You make it big! At a club/restaurant/The Ivy you meet a producer/agent/director who immediately recognizes your genius. He/She/He-She looks at you like sunlight streams from your eyes. You realize all your dreams.
No you don’t. You’re being made fun of. This is the sort of bitter/cruel/cannibalistic humor you are developing. You have developed it like a callus and it is smothering your heart.

Rule #6 Los Angelinos Are Desperate For Love.
You go out with some friends you barely know/like/recognize as human. You go drinking on the 3rd Street Promenade and blow half your rent. You get all drunk and make out with a stranger who then throws up in the bushes around one of the dinosaur fountains. The two of you stumble down to the beach. You have a condom and when you are done screwing, you realize that a couple of bums have been watching you. You barely even care. You tell the stranger – who is Asian, you see now – about home and all the great friends you have there.
When the stranger ditches you, you call Drew on your cell phone and say that you are so sorry.
“Are you fucking drunk?” Drew asks, still angry.
“No no, nonono,” you say.
“Don’t call me again.”
“But I love you,” you say, dropping the neutron bomb of Los Angeles relationships. You have been here long enough to know that love becomes a different element south of the Grapevine and north of Camp Pendleton. The word has a different atomic weight. Its atoms become charged in some frenzied/frantic/desperate way. Electrons sizzle and find new orbits, free radicals find their homes, resonances become stable, and the atoms redistribute to some durable double-bonded happiness.
The word is a bombshell with a grin. It erases history because it so utterly obliterates it. It levels the playing field by destroying it. Love, in Los Angeles, renders truth meaningless.
“Do you mean it?” Drew asks.
“Yes,” you lie.

Rule #7: Learn to Make Believe.
You agree with everyone when they say that it is a cold day. You do not tell them what a cold day is like back home, because everyone has a back home where it is colder.
“This city,” you tell Drew when you get home, “is a fictional construct that we all have agreed to dream about.” You say things like ‘fictional construct’ now because you have gone back to school so that one day you will get promoted/teach/be able to support your new child.
You cradle the baby in your arms as he/she drifts slowly off to sleep and you say, “You are the only person I have ever met who is from here.”

Rule #8: Clichés (Like Broken Dreams) Are Great, and Encouraged.
You have lived here long enough that you think you like Los Angeles. You have shrugged your shoulders and decided that hot asphalt and cracked concrete is all that makes a city. You ignore the sad, desperate stretches of your existence and focus your memories down to the blissful/cinematic/ephemeral moments of completion/validation/happiness. You make yourself think that freeways are supposed to clog like this and that the air is brown everywhere.
You don’t notice as your life/hopes/dreams become as small as work and your apartment. And you don’t notice as Los Angeles shrinks to the size of your life.
You don’t notice anymore that you live in a place where the shattered slivers of glass bottles intermix in the gutters with the splinters of thirteen million broken dreams.
And you barely even notice anymore that Los Angeles doesn’t really exist, because, by now, you don’t either.