I used to watch the Discovery Channel a lot for all the educational science shows, but now they seem so dumbed down. Maybe it's just that I was dumb when I used to watch those shows. Today there was a show on supermassive blackholes which they dramatized beyond belief -- ominous orchestral music, computer simulated explosions, and dark, foreboding narration. I guess the idea is that playing to people's fears of imminent destruction will increase ratings. Oh no! It turns out that Andromeda will collide with our galaxy in 3 billion years! I better start stocking the fallout shelter; it's going to get a little hot once the gamma rays get to us.
The show right after the blackhole one was something about the comet that will destroy earth any minute now. After that quality program is probably one on killer bees, ebola, meteors, global warming, or spontaneous human combustion. (personally, I live in fear of spontaneous combustion...but it doesn't stop me from eating lots of baked beans)
Oh well. So much for the Discovery Channel. I guess I'll just have to read a book if I want to learn anything. Now, if only I knew how to read....
The Future is Not Set
This morning I dreamt of a bleak world. In this world, protest was permitted only if the message was approved by a higher authority. Protesters attending a sanctioned rally were given a choice of signs from a large pile to carry. Any differing message was prohibited. But the scary thing about it was that the protesters didn't think twice about this absurd requirement. They dutifully lined up to receive their manufactured signs of protest. And since they were given numerous choices of the message they proclaimed, they didn't notice the serious censorship to which they were subjected. And because this form of protest was all they ever knew, they didn't believe that their government was behind the message control. Maybe there were corporations and organizations that were officially in charge of leading the protests in order to detach the government from the process. The message control worked so well because the people were never told what they couldn't protest -- those issues were simply swept aside, out of view. How can you protest something you know nothing about? Instead, you're given a choice of a wide variety of meaningless issues to argue about. It's displaced, diverted anger on a huge scale. "Oh, you're upset with the government? Well, come down to the rally where you can protest to your heart's content. In fact, we'll lead the chanting. We'll provide the message; you provide the anger. Don't say we never did anything for you."
What is more frightening is that my dream is not as far-fetched as it should be. We live in a country where we must ask for permission if we want to organize in public. We need permits to march, and when we march, we're corralled by police away from the public. We have designated "protest zones". During Bush's presidential campaign and at his speeches, campaign organizers prepared signs for attendees to hold -- signs seemingly hand-written by the average joe. Clear Channel, the largest radio monopoly and billboard advertising company staged many of the "support the troops" rallies and Dixie Chicks bashing events held across the country. The radio and TV talk show hosts receive daily "talking points" straight from the White House. It's no coincidence that they all preach the exact same message. Even college campuses, bastions of critical thinking, are seeing an influx of corporate message control. Neoconservatives who worship Reagan and Coulter are attempting to bring their message of stagnant thinking, big business, and perpetual war to impressionable college kids. The titans of conservative thinking make speeches at colleges exhorting the budding fascists to "look cool" and lay off the racist remarks in order to recruit more Sheepublicans. They are trained in the art of dismissing arguments outright in favor of sticking to the party line.
But I don't want to sound like Chicken Little. After all, we still have outlets to present our point of view, right? Well, for how long? I can type all I want, but if Comcast decides to block web servers again (as they did a couple years ago when the Code Red worm spread across the Internet), it'll be more difficult to get the word out. Television and cable networks refuse to air commercials which deal with controversial issues. Meanwhile, I see no shortage of exciting Army, Navy, and Marine recruitment commercials on TV and the big screen. All three cable news networks quickly eliminated any programs that would've presented a differing opinion on the war. Dissent was and is effectively squelched. We're told the war is over now; let's move on to other things. Forget about the death and destruction we've caused, the oil we'll steal, the government contract corruption, and the anarchy in Afghanistan and Iraq. And especially, forget that we haven't found any of the weapons we said were an imminent threat to our survival. After all, we removed a brutal dictator. Isn't that good enough? (and nevermind that he and his sons are still alive and probably in Iraq) Oh, and do forget about the rotten economy, the record deficit, the corporate criminals, and the climbing unemployment rate.
So, what are we supposed to talk about? Laci Peterson, Jessica Lynch, American Idol, Michael Jackson, SARS, the terrorist threat of the day: anything to keep us in a state of fear or apathy (preferably both). And if you're looking for a scapegoat, a place to vent your frustrations, look no further than Hollywood and public school teachers. Blame it on Clinton; blame it on a lack of religion; blame it on the rain. But whatever you do, don't blame it on the government. That's unpatriotic, blasphemous, communist-terrorist-talk.
The other day I caught a brief bit of a morning show on CNN which was talking about the Matrix Reloaded. Time Warner, the studio which released the Matrix, owns CNN. The spot was an interview with some "expert" of some sort. They discussed whether the Matrix teaches the wrong lesson by condoning violence and whether it leads people to violent behavior. Well, surprise, surprise, the expert dispelled those fears. In years past, we would've seen anchors talking about the link between violent movies and violent behavior, but now that the the news and entertainment outlets are owned by the same gigantic companies, any suggestion of a link is batted down as absurd. And the news producers don't feel a need to inform the audience that their parent company owns the movie studio which creates the violent film (not to mention the record company that might produce violent music) because they don't consider cable news as real news. It's all opinion, we're told, and the viewer is free to accept or reject it. It's just a coincidence that you won't find a differing opinion anywhere else. There is no longer any line between journalism and commentary. News coverage is now somewhat like sports coverage, where you have one guy explaining what is happening and another "color commentator" sitting next to him, interjecting with his opinion. Except now, more than ever, we're seeing the color commentator take both roles simultaneously. This trend, my friends, is bad news for journalism.
I might've strayed from my dream story, but the title here is "the future is not set" (stolen from The Terminator). The point is that we should never become cynical, apathetic pawns. Never give up! While I can't say exactly how to turn around from the slippery slope we're heading down, I know that we can't just give in to inertia. Those who hold power would like everyone to agree with them, but failing that, they would rather have apathy than dissent. You can be as apathetic as possible, but eventually it'll catch up to you. Eventually, some policy or issue will directly affect your life, and then what will you do? By that time, it may be too late for change.
Don't tread on me!
La Vida Aburrida
I think I'm now an official employee at the Eagle Tribune rather than a consultant. I have to say that even though my job is frustrating at times because of silly political things or dealing with odd personalities, there hasn't been a day when I've dreaded going to work. The way I see it, if you're not physically exerting yourself at work, then you have it pretty easy. The only muscle I put to use at work is my brain, but I (and my belly) can't say that I like the situation. Yeah, some days I'm busy and get headaches, but even then, it's still not tiring. I don't know what my coworkers are complaining about. How hard is it to type on a computer all day?
I remind myself regularly that I don't want to pound on computers forever. Call it pie-in-the-sky idealism, but my life is not my own. Managing and programming the Tribune's computers won't help people who need help or teach anyone anything useful. In fact, I'm indirectly contributing to the Tribune's biased reporting and corporate control of information. And there's nothing I can do to change what goes on in the newsroom.
I could run for office, but only liars, crooks, or the über-wealthy win elections. Maybe I could join the Red Cross, but I'm not qualified. The Peacecorps is also out of the question since I don't have a degree. Like I've said before, my goal is to do photojournalism and make a difference. I wish I could've asked Andre Lambertson (whom I met in New Orleans) more about documentary photography, inspiration, motivation, etc. He was doing a story for Rolling Stone on the homeless kids who find shelter in New Orleans, but I haven't seen it yet. I'll bet his motivation isn't money or fame. Anyway, that's what I want to do, eventually. And I won't put that goal on the back burner indefinitely. (do I sound like a broken record?)
The point I started out with was that my job is comparatively easy and boring. When I get out of work, I don't have a lot of time to make up for my lack of movement at work. Hopefully as the days grow longer, I can get to work earlier and have enough time to do other stuff later. Not that I'd have anything to do.
I'm ashamed to admit that I saw American Idol just now (hey, I was strapped to the chair by terrorists, forced to watch...). Besides the fact that the show sucks, why is there so much vibrato? It's like a competition for the most outrageous vibrato and note-bending performance. Didn't these contestants ever listen to Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, Bill Withers or the Temptations or pretty much any good singer? (Whitney Houston doesn't count) Those guys sang it straight, but powerfully. Singers who bend their notes all over the place are probably just struggling to find the pitch. It's a poor excuse for ear training.
The black guy butchered "Imagine" with his silly vibrato. Then, the white kid from North Carolina ruined "Bridge Over Troubled Water" (I actually like that song) by turning it into a show tune. Plus, he sang it lower than Garfunkle's castrato rendition -- taking the easy way out. Someone should dope slap those guys.
But it doesn't matter what I say. "America" will choose their next idol and then forget all about him in 3 weeks when the next reality show starts. It's the ultimate marketing gimmick: get millions of people to tune in to an inane TV show, making a killing on advertising. Then, once the stars rise to the top (like turds in a jiffy john), you've got a guaranteed hit single or possibly a hit album to market to the millions of fans you've created during the build-up to the dramatic, poorly-sung finale! I bet FOX makes a ridiculous amount of money from that show without having to spend much. Whoever invented the idea for the show should be nominated for the Evil Marketing Award for Manufacturing Crappy Content.
Changing the channel, there's a new reality show about 10 models who live together and compete for a modeling contract. Is it sweeps month every month? The premise might be stupid, but these models sure are easy on the eyes! heh.
Meaningful Movie: An Oxymoron?
Lots of geeks and others are talking about the philosophical and religious issues that The Matrix movies have introduced, and frankly, those people are looking as goofy as the guys who prescribe to the "Jedi" religion or can speak Klingon and Elvish. Although there are some interesting questions raised in the Matrix films, they are really mostly style over substance. Topics like causality and objectivity provide thoughtful tangents, but they're spoiled by such ridiculous lines as "You never truly know someone until you fight them." The writers seem to have taken an introductory philosophy course and maybe memorized a few definitions. But The Matrix Reloaded's value isn't in its philosophy but rather its explosions, nifty special effects, and high intensity action.
Koyaanisqatsi (a Hopi word meaning "life out of balance" or "crazy life"), on the other hand, deals with the melding of technology and nature without resorting to a single backflip or elaborate fight scene. In fact, there isn't any dialog or plot, either. I just bought Koyaanisqatsi today on DVD since I had heard a bit about it (it's the first in a trilogy which began in 1983 and ended in 2002: Powaqqatsi and Naqoyqatsi are the other two). If you like Baraka, you'll probably enjoy the qatsi trilogy (I haven't seen the other two yet). Since there isn't any plot or narration, it's hard to explain what the movie is "about", and that's a good thing. There's a lot of room for personal interpretation. The interview with director Godfrey Reggio on the DVD provides some insightful commentary. One thing that struck me was his quote -- similar to Socrates' quote, "The unexamined life is not worth living" -- which, paraphrased, was "the unquestioned life is nothing more than a religious state." The unquestioned part which he referred to is the "technological foreground" -- the technology that runs our lives but is taken for granted. In other words, have we become a culture that worships technology? Are we toiling away like worker bees, interacting with each other but isolated at the same time? Have we become slaves to the machines we worship? I think the director's answer is yes, but he doesn't have to come right out and say it. One of the more blatant metaphors in the film is a scene of a hot dog factory with thousands of hot dogs streaming down little channels in some machine. Two inspectors diligently throw out some of the wieners and maintain the efficient flow of mass produced meat byproducts. Cut to the next scene where time lapse photography shows thousands of people rushing up escalators, off to somewhere important, no doubt. But the power of the film lies in the questions you ask yourself: "Why is the smoke surrounding that dump truck? What are all these empty apartment buildings? What does it all mean?" And there are no distractions to prevent you from asking those questions. There are no car chases (though there's a lot of time lapse photography of traffic) or romantic interludes to stray away from the central issue, whatever it is. Nearly every frame in the film, taken individually, would be a stunning photograph. The dedication that went in to its production is breathtaking.
One critic called Koyaanisqatsi "one of the greatest films ever made", and even though I'm not a fan of "best ever" lists, I wouldn't object to his claim. Concerning fundamental questions about man's relationship to nature and technology, Koyaanisqatsi is about as good as any movie is going to approach. Then, considering there isn't any plot or dialog, the effort is even more impressive.