Jon Snow returns from Gaza and has this to say to all viewers, media makers and citizens.
Jon Snow returns from Gaza and has this to say to all viewers, media makers and citizens.
Joe has been described as a ‘return to form’ for Nicolas Cage. Though most critics are praising his acting chops, it can also be understood as an acknowledgement of his ability to ‘do crazy’ terrifyingly well. Cage’s latest foray into crazy is certainly one of substance, and, luckily, every one of the leading performances here follows suit. With equally skilled direction, much of this unique and rattling picture hits the mark dead on; perhaps, then, it’s the basis of the novel that predated it that stunts this otherwise complex story of masculinity in crisis.
The film can confidently claim its success as a mainstream picture, carefully toeing a line between box-office thriller and arthouse meditation, allowing for widely appreciable receipt which I don’t doubt it will get. It is more complex than its trailer betrays; though its the spine that allows for wider exploration, at its centre it is not about Joe being a father figure to an abused boy (Gary, played by an exceptional Tye Sheridan,) and/or very occasionally shot at, which is what lured most people in. The essence of the film is an examination of whether vices and violence preclude one from being a ‘good person’. Joe’s tendency to violence is the focus of this conflict between good-or-not, and his vices facilitate both his restraint and his violence. The foregrounding of prostitution, alcoholism and smoking, however, present ambiguous messages to the audience, and a series of morality-chicken-and-morality-egg considerations.
The big question at its heart is one of good, evil and human nature; how and why, and indeed, is Joe a good man? Will Gary be?
I’m assuming it was purposeful that the eponymous character was constantly in conflict with the audience; Joe’s behaviour bounces between repulsive, parental and adolescent. Without any comic relief it was difficult to feel identification with someone so inconsistent; though, of course, it rang true. The parallel between Joe and Gary was made explicit initially, but generally left alone throughout to allow for an assumed connection between them, and a comment on neglect, abuse and the cause and effect of both in adulthood. The ties to class here were interesting; the film is centered entirely on working and under-class characters, and very much focused on the ravages of alcoholism and poverty within their lives. The characters who did not drink (at least on-screen) were happy and friendly in the main, with a great sense of camaraderie, compassion and connection as a community. These were incredibly interesting characters, who could certainly have given the film even more depth. Unfortunately, there was no attempt at a wider comment on the economic situation or history of anyone; this was not a radically-minded film, but one which, as usual, seemed to leave most of the characters’ traits, behaviours and habitats to be assumed as an innate part of their ‘bad’ character.
Ultimately, the film is about what it means to ‘be a man’, and it’s as layered, frustrating and contradictory as that sounds. Thematically, Joe is intriguing; an archetypal story of good and evil, implicitly reflecting on class and identity and surreptitiously providing insight into the human self and our beliefs about those selves. Though, once again, an essentialist ideology about ‘being a man’ pervades this work; Joe does not challenge prevailing stereotypes about masculinity, but rather resigns itself to them. It provides more insight into the chronic clichés of classical characterization than it does into humanity or our potential to challenge the failures of those clichés.
For all the complexity and nuance, stereotypes of masculinity are glaringly present. Though the connection between them is implied, it is unclear whether we are supposed to understand Joe as having an abusive upbringing similar to Gary’s. Without allusion to it, Joe’s obsession with violence and protection of the innocent (which, naturally, includes women, as long as they will have sex with him) appears to come from his oh-so-manliness; one so tied to his base desires as a human that in order not to kill someone a brothel pit-stop, facilitated by his dog killing their guard dog so he can get in for a quick blow-job, is necessary, before he can finally soothe his roaring male-ness under the weight of a tank of whiskey and a few beers.
He then proceeds to let a first-time-drunk Gary drive him around. Granted, there is a mild comedy and a deep tenderness to the boys’ road trip to find Joe’s dog (who, incidentally, is female…) and in the context of their connection as damaged children, it works. The derailment of Joe as a father figure is successfully implied, and in addition he loses his endearing nature and it almost signals his end; not only in the narrative but also as a champion-able protagonist.
This also provides insight into whether or not the film really provides a critical edge when it comes to power relations that aren’t between men. The exploration of masculine violence is constant, but reads as more of a fascination than a critical examination of how violence is used. Desperate attempts at retaining unequal power imbalance, an unstable ego, and a facilitation of greed at others’ expense are all present in the film; all complex portrayals of the roots of violence. These subtle hints at the nature of violent relationships are commendable, and remain foregrounded throughout, but the focus of the narrative, and thus its power, remains with the enacters of violence, and not those abused. There is no unease in Joe’s visits to the brothel and the general use of prostitutes, and his relationship with Connie, while illuminating both his gentleness and his rejection of intimacy, results in a pretty flat plot strand. There were numerous females present throughout, though none were developed and all were passive (except the wonderful woman whose birthday it was – we never found out if anyone made her a cake.) All of these gender dynamics could have allowed for a greater determination of what exactly is meant and felt by ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’, and the power relations between the two. The opportunities having been lost, they left only underwritten female characters in their wake and yet another cinematic foregrounding of woman-as-commodity.
The character of Gary was a blank slate, and rightly so; lost but full and played perfectly by Sheridan, his rescue of his sister was a triumphant and satisfying end to his arc, but not hers. It was yet another conflict in message, mired in imbalances that were perhaps lost in favour of the exciting climax shootout. For a film that was so tender, well-played and -directed, the shortcomings of Joe in its themes about masculinity, class and violence were frustrating. Joe’s final showdown with his nemesis could perhaps be read as a comment on the futility of violence, and that if ‘good’ men succumb to it, they will be destroyed, but it also provided a conveniently quick and neat ending. As a comment on masculinity, Joe is not a radically transformative one, and while insightful in many ways regarding the expectations and pressures on young boys to be stereotypically (destructively) masculine, it speaks more about vice and its relationship with violence.
As a meditation on abuse and an exploration of what it means to be a good person, especially what it means to misunderstand and abuse oneself whilst attempting to heal, it is full of contradictory but fascinating messages. And ultimately, these contradictions may ring true as a reflection of the complexity involved in human desire, and the lottery of life. The last line of the film is “Joe was a good man…”. People are not as simple as good and evil, and I hope that audience will come away understanding that; I have faith that this was Joe’s aim.
I was recently asked to write for (very very super cool) new music zine Overblown. Founder Jamie and I discussed what I could write about, and we quickly deliberated that I new very little in the way of solid facts about music theory or history.
So I wrote an article about everything I don’t know about music. And out of it came a hearty piece on fandom.
There’s so much more to say on the topic, but these were my initial thoughts on the magic of beats, rhymes and life. I guess I’ll have to do a few more to cover everything I’m unsure about, and have no concrete knowledge of.
For those unacquainted with Kevin Smith’s second career, the writer/director (known for creating the View Askew-niverse: the Clerks series, Mallrats, Dogma etc.) has taken to building a podcasting network. The ‘Smodcast’ empire houses a total of 34 podcasts at Smodcast.com, some archived and some broadcasting weekly, and incorporates regular characters from Smith’s life; his wife, Jennifer Schwalbach; his daughter Harley (yes Batfans, Harley Quinn); friend, editor and long-time collaborator Scott Mosier; Jason Mewes, who inspired (and plays) the recurring character ‘Jay’ to Smith’s ‘Silent Bob’; Brian Johnson, friend and inspiration for Clerks co-lead character Randall…the list of contributors is long, and they all have interweaving narratives in Smith’s life and work. And the frequent interweaving relationships, stories and anecdotes that arise in the ‘casts – some long, complex and dramatic, and some short, spontaneous, gross, and as unsettling as they are intimate – are one of the Smodcast Network’s particular assets.
Last night’s show (2nd July 2014) was a special, intense, and fortuitous one to attend, and held particular significance for Mewes, Smith and many in the audience. The amount of podcasts that the teams produce is impressive, and having been operating for just over four years, one might think the contributors (or at least Smith, the most prolific) would get a little tired of the format, yet with Smith’s shows revolving around the dynamics of his relationships, opportunities for spiritual uplift and meaning are as rife as those for dick jokes, and this night exploded with both.
There are numerous contributors to the Smodcast Network, but Smith’s broadcast schedule reads:
Monday: Hollywood Babble-On with Ralph Garman
Tuesday: Smodcast with Scott Mosier
Wednesday: Jay & Silent Bob Get Old with Jason Mewes
Thursday: Fatman on Batman (with special guests)
Friday: Plus One with Jennifer Schwalbach
Podcasts hosted by Smith revolve around anecdotes from his grassroots-to-Weinstein career, which is unsurprising since he’s collected plenty of them during his arguably ideal rise to success. He began by taking the huge risk we all want to take: developing and self-funding a passion project, his first and immediate-breakthrough film Clerks; after taking it to a filmmakers market in New York, it got surprisingly quick interest and was accepted by Sundance months later. Since then, he has worked prolifically to mixed reviews, yet almost all his films have achieved an enviable balance of cult and mainstream success. Smith openly and frequently mocks his flops (Cop Out, Jersey Girl), but one cannot deny that Dogma, for instance, and the more recent and sober Red State (which, to the uninitiated, appears to contain no hallmarks of the Askewniverse) are impressive works containing strong political messages. From the guy who brought us Golgothan the Shit Demon and the Fuck Rap.
The reason last night’s show was so special, was that (unbeknownst to most, but not all of the audience) 2nd July 2014 was Jason Mewes’ 4 year anniversary for sobriety after a decade or two of assorted-drug abuse. Jay and Silent Bob Get Old centers usually around lurid drug and sex tales, which in Mewes’ awe-fuelled cadence transmit as genuinely sweet and funny – the foundation for this is that the podcast acts as an intervention for Mewes, who checks in each week with how many sober days he now has and is provided with a regular opportunity to discuss his past and current life. That this usually emerges as stories about shitting himself on a comedown, or an animated reenactment of the previous night’s attempt to make love to his wife whilst she brushes her teeth, is probably a great thing. He appears enormously happy to be constantly connecting with people, and spoke effusively about how much support he gets from listeners and fans as a result of the show. In reference to a gift he’d been given from a Bristol audience member (more on that later), this morning he tweeted:
Thank you everyone for all the kind words! i sincerely appreciate youse all!!!! i eat puss like a NINJA …NOOOTCCCCHHHHH!!!!
What was a genuinely touching evening, interspersed with bro slang and discussions of repulsive sexual acts (the Tea, Crumpets & A Rusty Trumpet being thoughtfully tailored for the British audience in Mewes’ recurring ‘Let Us Fuck’ segment) was the perfect example of why Smith’s work, and the Smodcast Network particularly, has an important yet overlooked place in the digital cultural landscape. Mewes’ casual yet rampant misogynistic outbursts were openly discussed, with Smith happy to acknowledge this. He talked about the dynamic between his characters’ views and his own, and while further discussion about the wider effects of casual words of discrimination wasn’t to follow, Smith and Mewes were game to discuss it without defensiveness, which is rare. While numerous elements of the Askewniverse are frequently crude, gross and apparently pandering to the superficial adolescent laugh, the Smodcast Network has shown its simultaneous dedication to more wholesome and urgent subjects than gross-out comedy. While maintaining its comedic foundation, Smodcast recently aired an interview with Jamie Walton, a former victim of sex trafficking and founder of The Wayne Foundation, a half way house for victims; airs Edumacation, a podcast in which Smith tries to learn something new each week under the tutelage of The Smartest Guy He Knows, Andy McElfresh; and Plus One with his wife Jen Schwalbach, about their experience of married life.
During the Q&A, members of the audience frequently requested hugs, all of which were granted as the discussion went on, and one dedicated listener approached the microphone to acknowledge:
“We knew this was Jay’s 4 year anniversary, and we’ve been on a bit of a journey with him; we got you a present…”
While Smith continued answering audience’s questions, the audience burst into cheers and applause as Mewes hugged the anonymous fan in receipt of his ‘Makes I Laaff’ t-shirt from Beast, a clothing manufacturer instantly recognizable to all Bristolians. While Mewes refused to accept that the t-shirt read anything other than “I Eat Puss Like a Ninja”, I couldn’t help but feel immensely proud of him, and the entire venture.
2.5/3 stars for feminism, 5 stars for genuine love and positive intentions.
It seems like not a day goes by without a dude inventing or creating something for society to hold dear and deeply respect. Here, there and other places, men have been inventing, founding and developing things since…quite a long time. That’s history, bitches. Males have been at the forefront of birthing things for so long; the rugged, handsome backbone of technological progression since the industrial revolution, upon which we have all been enjoying our lengthy, bouncy piggyback toward peak oil and ecological collapse.
Put another way, our cultural lineages, governments and schools have long demanded that kids respect the **** (Latin: mentula), and tame the **** (Latin: cunnus) [see: Magnolia.] Women were also at the forefront of innovation in science, survival and making everyone’s lives more comfortable, of course, while raising children, being oppressed and too emotional to be allowed anything else. Then again, it’s not like they invented anything we like, or use regularly, or that’s made a huge life-or-death impact on human survival. Here are a few (even) lesser reported creations that have, for one reason or another, ended up as male legacies (but which Edison was either too busy ripping people off, or too dead, to take credit for.)
Attributed to: Parker Brothers
Invented by: Lizzie Magie
Back in the day when it was pretty much unheard of for women to be recognized as producers of creative or intellectual worth (specifically the 1800s…ish) Elizabeth ‘Lizzie’ Magie invented a board game called The Landlord’s Game. She was granted a patent, we can only assume begrudgingly, for her invention of a game that exposed the corrupt political economy of property ownership (what she called ‘land-grabbing’.) Magie was a follower of Henry George, a politician who was the main proponent of the ‘land-value tax’; George proposed that while everything that one creates is owned by that person, that which appears in nature is owned collectively. Therefore, land should not be owned by any of the lords.
The Landlord’s Game promoted Georgism and rent controls by demonstrating the monopolization of land via current practices, and the (temporary) inevitable doom of those, bar one, who played. It was designed to teach all those of board-game playing age (which is everyone who’s not either dying or just been born) about the inequalities in the political economy of Capitalist practices. Magie’s game became so popular and widespread (as widespread as any large-ish object could be in the US before planes existed) that it essentially went viral around North East US college campuses and social groups, and those who played it began a process of changing the rules and place names, drawing their own boards to fit their local areas. It wasn’t long before a Mr Charles Darrow saw its potential for commerce, copyrighted his altered version and the game based on Henry George’s principles became one owned by someone other than she who created it, with its purpose being to own as much land as possible in order to bankrupt everyone else. While this proved to be a commercially successful move, we will never know whether Darrow could spell the word ‘irony.’
Darrow sold the game to toy manufacturer Parker Brothers who named it Monopoly, and both parties reaped enormous profits. It’s reported that, to their credit, Parker Brothers met with Elizabeth Magie and paid her $500 for the patent, on the condition that they would also print and distribute the original version of The Landlord’s Game. However, Parker Brothers soon stopped promoting it, and all unsold copies were recalled and destroyed, while Monopoly as we now know it became perhaps the most played board game of all time.
In an interview with the Washington Post Magie had said, in reply to being asked how she felt about receiving only $500 and no royalties, that it was alright with her “if she never made a dime so long as the Henry George single tax idea was spread to the people of the country.” Where’s a hashtag when you need one? #justice4Magie
2. Computer programming
Attributed to: Alan Turing
Really: Ada Lovelace
Because he was an excellent human being who pioneered the physical manifestation of the first working computer – and because most other humans are lazy and like easy consumption of knowledge – everyone attributes the invention of computer science to Alan Turing. Turing’s life was a rich tapestry of groundbreaking innovation, Nazi-outsmarting, and persecution for loving people, and in the future will provide Spielberg with his latest epic ‘Turing: Exquisite Badass.’ While Turing did indeed pioneer the formalisation of algorithms, computer science, and the Turing machine (the first modern computer,) the invention of computer programming had been founded by Ada Lovelace a century earlier. And as history would have it, her name is not now shorthand for “the person who originated our ability to have all knowledge ever at our fingertips”, but for the coercion of a young woman into performing sexual acts on camera, that lots of people continue to watch and fetishise regardless. Though I’m still rooting for Ada ‘women-in-STEM-pioneer-and-historical-feminist-superstar’ Lovelace to catch on soon.
Lovelace had, in 1842-43, written the first proposed computer algorithm for Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, as notes to accompany her translation of a document describing the machine from Italian to English; together, Lovelace and Babbage were the critical forerunners to Turing’s theory and machine. Babbage, a renowned genius and polymath, had been so impressed by her intellectual abilities that he had chosen to work with her rather than other, well-regarded and established scientists of the time. Lovelace would explain the functions of the Analytical Machine in a way that other scientists could understand, and her notes containing the first computer programme were longer than the Italian document itself – she had performed this extra work on the side (whilst raising three children, of course.) She also speculated on the computer’s future ability to create CGI and complex music, while Babbage foresaw it only as a calculator. So we can also attribute all contemporary films, all electronic music and the Travoltify your name generator to her genius.
But, yeah. I hear Deep Throat is awesome too, if you’re into criminal activity.
3. Disappearing bed
Attributed to: William Lawrence Murphy
Really: Sarah E. Goode
This entry in the list may not appear to be as novel or culturally stimulating as some of the others, but considering the historical significance of the life of Sarah E. Goode, it needs noting that this lady-shun is a particularly bitter kick in the mons pubis. Goode was the first African-American woman to hold a US patent, for the Folding Cabinet Bed in 1885. Born into slavery in 1855, Goode gained freedom during the Civil War and quickly went about making history at just 30 years of age. She was then predictably ignored in favour of the white, male William Murphy less than 30 years later, after he added a hinge to the original concept. Now known as a Murphy bed, this patent, in the language of engineering and thievery, mansplains for us the process by which the ‘Great Man theory’ is justified.
Murphy’s 1912 patent was not for the storable ‘disappearing’ bed, but the pivot that allows the bed to attach to a wall at the bottom. It’s also sad to note that Murphy’s inspiration was as much his personal gratification (his genitals in particular) as it was practicality; having a bed which would fold into the wall would allow him to receive a love-interest into his one-room apartment without extending an abhorrent, disgusting invite to his ‘bedroom’, maintaining an undeniably necessary and unquestionably intact moral high ground (before then, presumably, retrieving the bed from the wall. Man’s got game.)
Goode’s motivation was rather more magnanimous; she owned a furniture store in Chicago, and, knowing that her working class customers had little space in their apartments, devised the design for a bed that would fold into a writing desk. Goode masterminded the design by which anyone, including Murphy, could have space to live more comfortably, while enjoying as much or as little moral high ground as they needed whilst being a writing-table richer.
The persistent, boring trope that women can’t do engineering or science or driving – because they don’t have the ‘right’ grey matter for spatial awareness or practicality underneath the avalanche of feminine emotion that is their every waking nightmare – was disproved by Goode’s quiet ingenuity almost a century and a half ago. Every time somebody rails on women for not being macho enough to combine cognition with motor function, I want them to imagine Sarah Goode, who survived slavery to become far more useful than them, staring them in their guilty eyes as she folds her bed neatly away and proceeds to write cheques on top of its casing.
4. Giraffe Bread
Attributed to: Sainsbury’s (kinda)
Really: Lily Robinson (3 and a half)
Tiny genius/child with common sense Lily Robinson was in a Sainsbury’s supermarket one day with (presumably) her legal guardian, and noticed the gaffe to end all gaffes. What is widely known as tiger bread in Europe (and in the US, dutch crunch,) in fact has the distinct pattern of the giraffe. Why it was named tiger bread, nobody knows (someone probably does), but anyway, whoever named it was an idiot. A silly poo-face idiot. Lily knew it, and she knew it well.
In her most serious crayon, Lily wrote to Sainsbury’s who, after immense interest on social media, saw the error of their ways and changed the name of the product to giraffe bread. Lily’s contribution was widely reported, to be fair, but at the time of writing there appears to be no discussion of potential employment, nor did she receive any royalties or compensation for her crucial PR and re-branding work for the company.
Attributed to: Edgar Wright & Simon Pegg
Really: Jessica Stevenson, Edgar Wright & Simon Pegg
The Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy is the most idiosyncratically named, critically successful and nerdtastically lovable trilogy to emerge from the British film industry since I have been conscious. In fact, I doubt any other British trilogies exist, and if they do that they’re fit to be researched for the purposes of being mentioned alongside it. Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End lie somewhere between cult favourite and international moving image sensation on the global film smorgasbord, and in the last two decades have surely been the exports of which British people can be most proud. Massive credit for this duly goes to writer/director Edgar Wright, writer/director/lead actor Simon Pegg, and actor Nick Frost who leads the cast alongside him, forever providing the laughs and the heart of the story.
Due to these guys’ industry acclaim, the trilogy’s forerunner, and solidification of the creative team – TV series Spaced – is often attributed as another Pegg/Wright creative effort. Well, yes. But also NO! NO! NO!
Edgar Wright’s now-household name direction brought the writing of co-creators Simon Pegg and Jessica Hynes to life. Hynes (then Stevenson) played the co-lead and wrote 50% of the script, yet the percentage of credit given varies pathetically on an incompetent scale of casually sexist apathy. Spaced is one of the few comedy series in which an equal number of female characters exist, and are as funny and active as their male counterparts. In the height of the consumer backlash against women’s lib, during which buying the right tampons from your own salary = the end of sexism, Daisy Steiner was bringing us the cutting edge of women’s comedy under the clever guise of being ambitious, ambiguous, quite normal, suitably gross and frequently hilarious. That Hynes is not always remembered for her performance, writing skills and characterization is yet another example of society and history wreaking its petty revenge on womankind.
INT. FLAT (NOT BEDSIT) – DAY
The press jumps out of the window, laughing maniacally.
This is nowhere more evident than in the intended and luckily ill-fated McG takeover of Spaced for the US market, dubbed (naturally) McSpaced. Production companies Granada, Wonderland and Warner Bros. teamed up to remake the show for American television; not only did they fail to mention this to anyone involved in the original, but in their press material they noted Wright and Pegg as co-creators, omitting Hynes entirely. It makes me want to drown things.
6. Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)
Attributed to: Baz Luhrmann/Kurt Vonnegut
Really: Mary Schmich
In 1999, director Baz Luhrmann inexplicably (unless you count money as a reason) released Something for Everybody, an album of mash ups of music from his films. One of the songs from the soundtrack of his Romeo & Juliet adaptation, Everybody’s Free by Quindon Tarver, was remixed with Australian voice actor Lee Perry reading a list of sage life advices and suggestions for young people, in as charismatic a solemn voice as is humanly possible. The result, Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen), was wildly popular with its intended market, becoming an instant classic, and now a nostalgia-wringing tool for everyone born between 1975 and 1990.
The face (or cochlea? Lobe?) of this emotive pocket of existential crisis-soothing is now undeniably male, named as Baz Luhrmann’s and audibly Perry’s. However, the lyrics “Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how,” come from a Chicago Times column written by Mary Schmich.
Schmich encourages everyone over the age of 26 to write a graduation speech, to dispense what they consider to be their most pertinent life advice. There seems to be little other reason for her writing this particular column other than she wanted to, and it might help others. And the spiritually-intense among us can be glad, though we might never have known that she did.
Portrayed as an actual commencement address, Schmich’s column had gone viral in the early days of the Internet, when the contagion of viral content was limited to emails called ‘chain emails’ (which usually threatened your life with murder-by-ghosts.) Though no one appears to be able to explain the process of how it came to be so, the speech was wrongly attributed to writer Kurt Vonnegut (in hindsight, probably ghosts.) Luhrmann and his production chums had received the email, and liked the speech so much that they used it verbatim in their remix. They had eventually, after some research, identified Schmich as the author, but rarely is her name mentioned in tandem with the song, which is credited only to Luhrmann, and Quindon Tarver who sings the chorus – omitting also Rozalla, the Zimbabwean artist whose original song Everybody’s Free (To Feel Good) was remixed.
I would have liked to hear Schmich’s, or at least a sage old woman’s, voice reading those words to me. So many wonderful cultural and societal goods have been offered to us by women, and so many men reap the glory and the benefits of them. As society gets ever more equal, and as that equality is simultaneously ever more precarious, we have both the opportunity and obligation to actively remember the women who have created for us.