We'll take it anyway we can get it. Remember?
Stare at it for a long, long time.
"The United States is the only developed nation without a visual literacy curriculum in its public education program."
paraphrased from Douglas Rushkoff's Coercion
"As a tool of practical propaganda, the games don’t make much sense. They lack that essential quality of the totalitarian spectacle: ideological coherence. You don’t demoralize and dehumanize a subject people by turning them into celebrities and coaching them on how to craft an appealing persona for a mass audience. (“Think of yourself among friends,” Katniss’s media handler urges.) Are the games a disciplinary measure or an extreme sporting event? A beauty pageant or an exercise in despotic terror? Given that the winning tribute’s district is “showered with prizes, largely consisting of food,” why isn’t it the poorer, hungrier districts that pool their resources to train Career Tributes, instead of the wealthier ones? And the practice of carrying off a population’s innocent children and commanding their parents to watch them be slaughtered for entertainment—wouldn’t that do more to provoke a rebellion than to head one off?"
- from Laura Miller's New Yorker review of Hunger Games
Cake and eat it 'satire:' HG blends North American death-cult with Reality Television
The satire begins on crowded mass-transit platforms, quiet Starbucks, everywhere YA fiction overtakes the bestseller lists as literacy rates in the U.S. drops. A nation of shrinking vocabularies and comprehension skills turns to easy-to-read hormonal-adrenal potboilers to pass increasingly shorter alone time.
Girlpower Clockwork Orange! The convergence of YA (see: Potter & Twilight) and 'dystopian' (even more perverse is the 'post-apocalyptic' label, see: 1984) is the high octane thrills of the numbingly slight Hunger Games. Sold to children as a romantic fever dream of survival and marketed to their adult counterparts as dystopian epic with satirical nuances, HG is the ultimate in JHS fiction, it hits all the notes on the scale in order of appearance, cleverly with a heroine trained to hit bullseye after bullsye (she's more than just a metaphor for the author Suzanne Collins, she is her, 'a girl in peril in a world gone-mad' writing a short novel that hits every mark). The Gary Ross who questioned nostalgia in Pleasantville then succumbed to it in Seabiscuit now combines both talents to expertly build the feel-good film of the year in which children kill each other for adult technocult sport. Saddled with a predetermined heroine and an array of scenery chewing actors who make time filling-out tired archetypes, Ross hides in the orgy of showmanship, the lure of fame and riches, equating himself with the flailing Gamemaker Seneca Crane (like Ross he bows to pressure to reinvigorate the Games at his own expense). Where's Ross's bowl of berries? Instead he'll be vetted with Lionsgate options.
Film (and book) spends time introducing character names that sound like a chronological history of corporate branding written by a linguaphobe (Ceaser Flickerman...??). There's boy conflicts ('do I kill him or love him? or both?') father-like conflicts, partner conflicts, vanity conflicts, and mortality conflicts all driven into a violent, cluttered, endlessly shaky television endgame, originated by Collins, a former Nickelodeon writer, expert at ratcheting up ratings while playing remote headgames with young channel-surfing souls. The tragedy is neither she nor Ross can come up with anything more horrifying than TV itself. Deus ex machinas provided endlessly, some appear as mutations named to follow conventions set up by Rowling's slightly less perverse Potterisms (tracker-jackers, is it a candy or a hallucination inducing wasp?). Its greatest achievement is that it can fool anyone in the waiting line: all age groups while pretending it's a limp satire to one, a romance to another. Where does the book end and the film begin? It doesn't. The most cynical film ever made for an audience of children, it identifies them first with the somberly shown easily slaughtered, then orchestrates a brutal endgame pas de deux (Most Dangerous Game meets Battle Royale with an onscreen us/them technophobia/technophilia audience conflict). Only answerable by REAL satire. Second unit direction by the master of the shaky-cam, Steven Soderbergh, adding fluid punch to the arena action. Got a rave in The Economist, as expected, since their reviewer was undisciplined, like many others, blind to the film's microcosmic High School social order that stands in for the macrocosmic Panem, she merely uploaded written Katniss's inner monologue onto a largely silent filmed Katniss.
Not a good sign for the west.
John Derbyshire cracks his keyboard waxing about the intricacies of Saturday Night Fever in the National Review. He negelects to mention the skills of both screenwriter Norman Wexler and director John Badham, instead he explores the socio-economic elements, a taste:
"The second thing that struck me was that this is a movie about the left-hand half of the bell curve. Of the main characters, I would surmise that only Frank Jr. has an IQ over 100. A couple of the others — Bobby C, Doreen — come across as borderline retarded. All the rest are drawn from that big slab to the left of the mean: people with IQs of 80-something or 90-something. These are normal, unreflective working people who did not get much from their formal education, don’t read books, and don’t think in abstractions, or wish to."
A typical 18-24 year old week...
8 Hours: Visiting social networking sites.
8 Hours: Listening to music
7 Hours: Watching full-length television shows.
4 Hours: Watching full-length movies.
4 Hours: Watching video clips (e.g. YouTube)
4 Hours: Instant messaging
Lisa Miller uses Xanax and describes in New York Magazine a culture of fear endlessly popping chemical shields to a key mammalian growth mechanism: anxiety. A must-read for anthropologists, sociologists, and public health thinkers, a quote:
"Xanax and its siblings—Valium, Ativan, Klonopin, and other members of the family of drugs called benzodiazepines—suppress the output of neurotransmitters that interpret fear. They differ from one another in potency and duration; those that enter your brain most quickly (Valium and Xanax) can make you the most high. But all quell the racing heart, spinning thoughts, prickly scalp, and hyperventilation associated with fear’s neurotic cousin, anxiety, and all do it more or less instantly. Prescriptions for benzodiazepines have risen 17 percent since 2006 to nearly 94 million a year; generic Xanax, called alprazolam, has increased 23 percent over the same period, making it the most prescribed psycho-pharmaceutical drug and the eleventh- most prescribed overall, with 46 million prescriptions written in 2010. In their generic forms, Xanax is prescribed more than the sleeping pill Ambien, more than the antidepressant Zoloft. Only drugs for chronic conditions like high blood pressure and high cholesterol do better.
“Benzos,” says Stephen Stahl, chairman of the Neuroscience Education Institute in Carlsbad, California, and a psychiatrist who consults to drug companies, “are the greatest things since Post Toasties. They work well. They’re very cheap. Their effectiveness on anxiety is profound.”
Studio Ghibli follows its masterpiece wallpaper-as-magic Ponyo with the more stably realistic biome of Arriety, where highly fragile microbeings, humbler minature humans, live in secret parts of houses. A dying breed, they are met with a dying boy who falls in love with the updated Tinkerbelle archtype by way of Leia. She wears her sword pinned like a hem, slung like Errol Flynn. Ghibli chooses between girl's fables and boy's. Spirited Away and Howls Magic Castle are female narrated, Ponyo and Arriety are from a boy's perspective. The fantasy styles are directed towards the age group of the lead and seem to always involve a romance across mythic divides. Arriety is the latest masterpiece, a difficult to find house is the setting, hidden in a forest, the place where the ailing boy comes to rest before his operation. Immediately, on arrival, he spots a flash in the grass, a tiny girl, Arriety, a Borrower. They are a metaphoric form of Hobbit, a dwindling number who live in the shadows, under the floorboards (it's slightly like Hugo, at times she must mad dash for her secret entrance to the network of in-the-wall passages) a family: the girl and her parents, who live in a kind of utopian nook, hippie-like. Ghibli films gain their power by continuously referencing the dark sides of human encroachment: as the Borrowers make their way through the human areas at night 'borrowing' things not to be missed (tissue paper and sugar cubes) they must pass through a 'doll's house' that was made for them within the house, which they spurn. By offering the Tinkerbelle-like Arriety a forest-living Borrower suitor who says little and offers them a bite of his cricket leg, they upgrade the fantasy and the myth. Although less visually complex than Ponyo, Arriety is alive with scale weirdness and clever touches (staples become grip tight ladders 'hammered' into wood), the third act is introduced when the housekeeper eloquently named Hara becomes a Kong-like home invader; the best film of the year so far.