april 07




With the aviator specs and wavy hair, this photo of Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro of Osaka University and his robot double looks like a still from an early Cronenberg film:

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Sometime ago, I wondered why more people don’t print fake cash, since no one really knows what a $20 bill looks like anyway. Turns out, Bank of America can’t tell the difference either, and has been caught issuing a counterfeit note from an ATM machine.

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Today’s feature in The American highlights Korea’s thriving film culture, now in a precarious place due to Old Boy’s alleged influence on Cho Seung-Hui.

Unfortunately the author of that piece did not further explain the change in policies in the 80s that accounts for their flourishing local film industry. A dizzying number of great films have come out of Korea in the past twenty years. In 1988, military leader Roh Tae-woo enacted a new constitution easing political censorship, meanwhile regulations on the industry were relaxed. For example, independent productions were illegal up until 1984. As a result, Korean artists took to film like a sixteen-year-olds to car keys.

In 2001, the local market share topped 50% and it steadily rose in the years since. However, last month, Variety pointed out the local market is declining for a number of reasons. And the recent controversy over the Virgina Tech shooting isn’t going to help. Lets hope the country is wise enough not to impede its progress with new regulations on its film industry

Old Boy, after all, represents Korean film about as much as Pulp Fiction represents American film. But that’s not to say it has no merit. I agree with Henry Jenkins’s point:

A news story in the New York Times describes Old Boy as an obscure cult film which appeals primarily to those who are interested in excessive violence. In fact, Old Boy has emerged as one of the most important films in the recent Korean film revival, one which has won awards from film festivals and has been playing in art houses across the country. While the film includes some of the most disturbing violence I’ve seen on screen in some time, that’s precisely the point: the violence is meant to be disturbing. We watch the main character’s slow descent into his own personal hell and then as he seeks to right wrongs that have been committed against him, we see him pushed into more and more violence himself. The filmmaker doesn’t glorify the violence: he’s horrified by it; he’s using it to push past our own reserves and to get us to engage in issues of oppression and social aggression from a fresh perspective. I have always been struck by the fact that moral reformers rarely take aim at mundane and banal representations of violence though formulaic violence is pervasive in our culture. Almost always, they go after works that are acclaimed elsewhere as art – the works of Martin Scorsese or Quintin Tarantino, say – precisely because these works manage to get under their skin. For some of us, this provocation gets us thinking more deeply about the moral consequences of violence where-as others condemn the works themselves, unable to process the idea that a work might provoke us to reflect about the violence that it represents.

Think about how many college kids get together, order pizza, and watch A Clockwork Orange. And how many murderous rampages have resulted from that?


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I just returned from Europe (Madrid, Barcelona, and Paris) so expect some Flickr albums once I catch up on a mountain of email I’ve neglected over the past two weeks. One of the highlights was seeing an exhibit on Samuel Beckett at the Pompidou Centre. It is always interesting to me which writers have a following of visual artists, musicians, or other non-literary creatives. Ballard, for one, seems much more admired by architects than by fellow writers. The legacy that Lewis Carroll has left merits its own Wikipedia entry. Beckett, likewise, has a fanbase from Bruce Nauman to Philip Glass. His stark short sentences easily translate into any language, and seem timeless, existing in a realm of his own. He is also an icon as much as Marilyn Monroe, appearing tirelessly stern and out-of-place in every photo from his youth to old age:


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Artist and novelist Robert Marshall has an incredible article in Salon on the “dark legacy of Carlos Castaneda.” Although he disappeared from public eye in 1973, Castaneda continued to promote Tensegrity, his closest followers created workshops and instructional videos that continue to this day. But his innocuous reputation needs reexamination:

At the heart of Castaneda’s movement was a group of intensely devoted women, all of whom were or had been his lovers. They were known as the witches, and two of them, Florinda Donner-Grau and Taisha Abelar, vanished the day after Castaneda’s death, along with Cleargreen president Amalia Marquez and Tensegrity instructor Kylie Lundahl. A few weeks later, Patricia Partin, Castaneda’s adopted daughter as well as his lover, also disappeared. In February 2006, a skeleton found in Death Valley, Calif., was identified through DNA analysis as Partin’s.

Some former Castaneda associates suspect the missing women committed suicide. They cite remarks the women made shortly before vanishing, and point to Castaneda’s frequent discussion of suicide in private group meetings. Achieving transcendence through a death nobly chosen, they maintain, had long been central to his teachings….

No one contributed more to Castaneda’s debunking than Richard de Mille. De Mille, who held a Ph.D. in psychology from USC, was something of a freelance intellectual. In a recent interview, he remarked that because he wasn’t associated with a university, he could tell the story straight. “People in the academy wouldn’t do it,” he remarked. “They’d be embarrassing the establishment.” Specifically the UCLA professors who, according to de Mille, knew it was a hoax from the start. But a hoax that, he said, supported their theories, which de Mille summed up succinctly: “Reality doesn’t exist. It’s all what people say to each other.”

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I! ME! I! ME! (SO, LA, TE…) I! ME! ME! ME!

Hey, anybody got a guitar? I think I just wrote the next single to go platinum!

Hey Hey You You!
You should totally love me.
I am so much better than she is.
Didn’t you see that picture of me on Myspace?
Oh, here’s another great thing about me.
I’m just so hot! (3x)
And by the way I am better than that girl too!
Yay! Yay! Yay!

Some old cranky sexist – Alexander Theroux maybe, or Norman Mailer – once said that only men fall in love, and women fall in love with being loved. Now, that certainly doesn’t apply to everyone, but it might help us understand the current trend toward self-aggrandizing pop songs (“doncha wish your girlfriend was hot like me?”) Goodbye lovesongs, hello musical catfights, where “I” and “you” seem paradoxically reversed. “Now tell me who have you been dreaming of? I and I alone…Maybe I’m perfect for you” sang the heiress, but nowhere is it more apparent than Avril Lavigne’s new single: “Don’t you know what I could do to make you feel alright? Don’t pretend I think you know I’m damn precious.” For Slate, Jody Rosen even asks if she’s become a “Heather”. (To be fair, that guy from The Killers also seems a jealous sort, as most of his songs seem to be about hating other guys.)

This sentiment is also taking book reviews by storm. I mean why bother wasting any space on Rebecca Mead’s “One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding” – even if you are reviewing it for the New York Times. Instead, you can just write about how cool your own wedding was and tell that sorry spinster who wrote the book, she is so totally wrong to think people plan lavish weddings cause the rest of married life will be a drag, “Au contraire, Rebecca — come over some night for homemade ice cream and see! … Hell yeah! I’m the motherfing princess! Hey! Hey! You! You!”

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An interview with eloquent, expected Nobel prize winner by 2030, Bosnian writer Muharem Bazdulj, and a column on whether or not Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition (2002) lets kiddie porn consumers off the hook. Not wanting to defend Ashcroft on anything, I’m pleased to see there may be a way out of the virtual child porn predicament. Hany Farid, a Dartmouth College computer scientist, is developing software than scans things such as light sources and pixels to determine whether photos have been digitally altered or not.

“This is an arms race,” Farid says. “I can already tell you how it’s going to end: We’re going to lose. It’s always going to be easier to create a forgery than detect a forgery. But we’re going to take the power to create forgeries out of the hands of amateurs. We will raise that bar up until you have to be very, very good to do it.”

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Should comic book authors find inspiration in Henry Ford?


Stuart Immonen (via Drawn) weighs in:

I’m by no mean embarrassed by my vocation, but I recognize that it’s a bit esoteric, and generally not well-understood by the layperson. “I draw comics,” tends to elicit a cascade of other questions, most of which require quite a lot of explaining, and by the time you’re done, the person who asked is either overwhelmed or utterly bored. But this time, I was taken aback by the response; All this fellow said was, “So they do all that on computers now?”

Naturally I scoffed– this was pre-internet, almost pre-Photoshop, after all. “No,” I coolly replied, “I use a pencil and paper.”

And for a good long time afterward, that statement defined my M.O. Even now, most of the community of professionals working in the assembly-line method established almost at the birth of comics still work this way. But it would be a considerable oversimplification to say that a pencil and paper have never been the only tools at the artist’s disposal.

Face it, deadlines are murder, especially when they come around every thirty days or so…

Immonen goes on to explain the many methods that make comic book illustrating faster. But these tools make the work better, rather than sloppier. No one wants to read a zoetrope.

Picasso (a macho artist if there ever was one) said, “Bad artists copy. Good artists steal.” I think he was just rephrasing Ecclesiastes: “Of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.”

What would he have done with Photoshop and a Creative Commons photo library, I wonder?


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