oct 07

10/31/2007

WE’RE AT HOME HERE IN DYSTOPIA

‘For the first time in science fiction film, Godard makes the point that in the media landscape of the present day the fantasies of science fiction are as ‘real’ as an office block, an airport or a presidential campaign,” JG Ballard says in a Vertigo article about the very real and indeed, inspired by the movie of its name, Alphaville in Brazil. Ballardian unearthed the 2005 article, and it is one of those things I can’t believe exists/didn’t know about before reading…

 

Located seven miles outside São Paulo, and home to 30,000 of the most wealthy Brazilians (many of whom travel to work in SP via helicopter,) the city is walled in by electrified fences and staffed with over 1,000 privately hired security guards.

“To advertise Alphaville, the company sponsored some episodes of a popular prime-time Brazilian soap opera whose leading male character is an architect. The architect and his mistress visit Alphaville where, according to Brazil’s Gazeta Mercantil, the characters exalt the safety, freedom and planning of the place, comparing it to the neighbourhoods shown in US films.” –

And so … Godard’s film about a city of the future, shot on location in the Paris of the mid-1960s, has endowed not just one but thirty gated communities in Brazil with its name. And reality, having provided fiction with the raw material for its most dystopian scenarios, returns the compliment by materialising them. The back-and-forth between image and reality is dizzying: from CCTV to soap opera, from European art cinema to aspirational Hollywood and back again. Where does the utopian projection end and dystopian reality begin? We might call it, with a certain queasiness, the ‘Alphaville effect’. But surely this is only an accident of naming, a sick joke? Are the ‘Alphas’ paying to inhabit their top-security luxury lock-up only so-called compared to the favela-dwelling ‘Epsilons’?

Just as creepy as its “all-encompassing surveillance system” is the choice of name itself. We are the Alphas of Alphaville. All you non-alphas can go off to Betaville and Gammatown….

Posted by site admin at 2:28 pm | 

HAVE A SAFE FRIGHT

I don’t always dress up for Halloween, but I always overdose on scary movies. Wired has a story today about fright and why we love it – because fear strikes the same area of your brain as pleasure:

 

Experiments on rats have also shown that damaging their amygdalae interferes with their capacity to feel fear, suggesting an overlap between such seemingly opposite emotions as pleasure and fright.

So as the zombie breaks through the door or the murderer leaps from the closet, your amygdala gets juiced just as it would by a home run in the bottom of the ninth, unleashing a brain- and body-energizing cocktail of hormones. But while this is happening, information also travels to your prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for consciously evaluating danger. It tells you that the movie is just a movie…

Why would our brains work this way? It seems it would make more sense to separate the two forms of stimulation. But Kalueff thinks the arrangement is genius.

“If arousal is only pleasant or only unpleasant, that doesn’t make sense. Situations change all the time. What’s pleasant now could be unpleasant tomorrow,” he said. “It’s up to the brain to decide, to the individual to decide, whether it’s danger or pleasure.”

It’s a safe way to experience the unthinkable. One psychologist points out they are most popular with children, as young people are constantly testing their boundries. Another psychiatrist says, “Many therapies are exposure therapies. It allows the individual to gain a sense of mastery over their anxieties, whatever they may be.”

Posted by site admin at 1:13 pm | 

BUILDINGS WITH SCARS

Last week, the Boston Phoenix had an interesting article about the Weather Underground, written, as Cathy Wilkerson’s memoir has just come out.

The West Village townhouse, Wilkerson’s father’s while he vacationed, was a Weatherman meeting place. The group had plans to bomb a military dance in New Jersey, but experiments making explosives went awry, and the blast went off inside. Three members were killed.

Architects Hardy, Holzman, Pfeiffer rebuilt the townhouse with a slanting design drawing attention to its past:

As it turns out, it was hardly an original concept at the time. Deconstructivist Architecture, asThings Magazine notes, gained momentum in the mid-seventies, and has twisted and turned until reflecting our own terror-obsessed world today.

At its worst it is “innovation for innovation’s sake,” but who doesn’t feel a little sad about the fake ruins of Best Products reconstructed into a drab white box?

Best Products Inc had showrooms across the country, but Houston’s “Indeterminate Façade Showroom” (opening in 1975) was the most famous. “One survey found that photographs of James Wines’s Houston building appeared in more books on 20th century architecture than photographs of any other modern structure,” writes Diebold Essen for Magellen’s Log.

He recalls watching customers walk into to the showroom from a parking lot, “Observation: nobody, not one single customer, looked UP. Nobody paid attention to the building. People drove in, parked, got out, went in, bought, came out, left, with never a glance at the extremely indeterminate facade. Even after all these years, I’m still not sure what to make of that universal indifference to one of the few truly–and intentionally–funny buildings in the world.”

A more recent example is deconstructivist architecture is Frank Gehry’s Stata Center at MIT. It looks like a giant broken accordion. Friends of mine that have had classes inside have complained about needing to take an elevator to another elevator to another elevator to get to a certain floor.

I walk past it about once or twice a week, and generally hadn’t thought much of it besides, hmm, that’s a Gehry…that’s not so boring…ok. But once I found myself in the middle of a bunch of parents and kids at some kind of faculty family event. The kids were all looking up at the building somewhat puzzled. I don’t think I’ve ever noticed children noticing buildings, not that I have many opportunities or reasons to, but it was clear they were moved by the lugubrious oddness of the structure. And so they learned there, at MIT, that buildings don’t have to look like rectangles of neatly stacked bricks to serve a function.

I’ve really loved the Stata Center ever since … elevator impracticality and all.

Posted by site admin at 10:54 am | 

10/30/2007

LIVING ALONE AND DYING ALONE

On and off – but mostly on – for the past ten years of my life I have lived alone. By alone, I mean, sure there have been boyfriends that have stayed over, and neighbors down the hall to borrow cups of sugar, but either way there have been a lot of evenings staring at the ceiling and wondering what exactly would happen if for some reason, I didn’t wake up. I don’t think it’s possible not to worry about this if you live alone. I’m often holed up for weeks at a time, leaving maybe for a cup of coffee and croissant, and then back to work again. But what if I were to choke on the croissant? Or what if something weirder and worse occurred? But by far the worst thing is to be sick alone, breathing deeply, coughing violently, wanting desperately to call a friend to fix tea and soup for me – but being far to proud to. Then and especially then, I wonder what would happen if I died.

If you talk to your closest friend even once a week, that is seven days from which you might be missing that people will begin to wonder. The ease of which a person might disappear really doesn’t lessen in relation to one’s web presence. Web identity isn’t necessarily an omnipresence (and the erratic rate of which I update this weblog can attest to this.) We are a generation of workaholics too busy, generally, to respond to anything at a minute’s notice, and thus procrastinate on our nearest and dearest for weeks, sometimes months.

I keep thinking about Sandra Bullock in the underrated 1995 movie, The Net. After hackers delete her identity, she’s left running around trying to prove she exists to a world that was ignorant of her life even when she was on the grid. Her work is done from home, her mother has Alzheimer’s… humiliatingly, the only person she can ask for assistance is some jerk of an ex-lover (I think he was married or something.) It’s like a Kafka tale with all of Dorothy Parker’s snappy bitterness (or at least it seemed in my teenage viewing.)

Recently, I Netflixed A Certain Kind of Death, a documentary about the deceased with no next of kin. What happens to the body? What happens to the estate? It was interesting, and, obviously, depressing to watch State Treasury Dept office workers go about their daily routine telegramming possible contacts, expecting not much, usually ending with an auction. One man’s entire possessions barely net $200. And there was a library of sorts; of metal boxes filled with remains. In the last scene, workers dump out all the boxes and the dust intermingles in a mass burial site. As one person on IMDB writes, “Part of me sees this film as a sweet elegy about death and impermanence. The other part of me sees a film about fascism and genocide because all of the living characters are lower-middle class bureaucrats who exist in a bureaucratic fog. Whether they shuffle papers or crush incinerated bone fragments, there is an alarming detachment masked behind a thin layer of civic obligation.”

Posted by site admin at 9:28 pm | 

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