I am a Wikipedia addict

I'm sorry to admit that I am a bit of a Wikipedia addict. Here's what happens: I see a movie preview, or read about something that interests me, and I go to the internet to learn more. Of course, I Google the topic at hand and the first or second entry listed is at Wikipedia. So I click. Now I know that Wikipedia is not the end-all be-all of information, but it is a damn good start. So then I learn way more about a subject than maybe I even wanted to know, and usually have burned up about 2 hours or more on something like the movie, I Am Legend. I look it up, and find out that not only has it been made into a movie before, it is based on the novel I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. You can see from my previous entry, I went to the film, and had high hopes due to the plot summary I read (on Wikipedia) about the book. As I have already discussed, I was sorely disappointed that they did not stick to the point of Matheson's novel. So I felt obligated to read the novel as well, and now, write several blog entires about the film, novel, and my over-all problem as a whole. All because of Wikipedia.

Today, as if we need more examples, I was looking at some of the details of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, and I stumbled onto the fact that the film Children of Men is based on the novel by P. D. James. Ugh. Here we go again...

A Hard Worker by Gina Zucker

Tin House Magazine - Issue 33 - Fantastic Women

Gina Zucker’s A Hard Worker is an excellent example of short fiction at its finest. In the tradition of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Zucker’s future for the women in her story is a bleak one. Certain social conditions exist in the future that restrict women in the story to certain roles. In Atwood’s story we are left to the "Historical Note" section where she tells us what eventually ends up happening, at least to humanity as a whole. Here in Zucker’s story, we are limited in scope to a small moment in the narrator’s life, a realization of exploitation. The beauty of fiction is that through Zucker’s story, we can see in a few short pages the exploitation that occurs, where the narrator has lived an entire life before she realizes the truth of the situation.

The simple-minded narrator, Dolly, lives at Mrs. Robert’s Home for Girls (a brothel). She is a member of a service team and she serves her clients with zest and obedience to earn rewards and privileges. Her “sister” Annique was also left on the doorstep of the home, and the girls are raised with others to specifically serve their clients. While on a service call, Annique and Dolly watch a film clip that has been altered to become extremely visually stimulating, almost to the point of causing orgasm. Obtuse Dolly is not affected at all by the film, and is terrified by what is happening to Annique. Dolly is adamant about how they are not to receive pleasure from their clients, and here is Annique doing just that. Dolly ends up confused and runs out of the room after hurting one of the clients.

Zucker combines her complex concept of visual stimulation via chromatic saturation with her narrator’s limited capacity for understanding to explore several social issues. Are the readers to see this as a bleak future, where women are objects, and pleasure isn’t important, or because of our dubious narrator, to see that pleasure is being explored and defined, even worth scientific experimentation and only these prostituted women are being exploited? Is the situation as dire as it appears to be for humanity, or just for poor Dolly? It would appear that Annique may have been purchased and freed of her circumstances, or she may have been sold into a different kind of experimental slavery. Either way, Dolly is a changed person and it seems obvious that her eyes are being opened to the fact that she is being used and refuses to be used in the future.

Zucker cleverly uses the device of s simple-minded narrator to get around dense scientific jargon that may have cluttered the narrative. She doesn’t have to go into the details of how visual stimulation works in her short fiction world, because she is limited to what the narrator Dolly knows and can understand. Even the name Annique is masterful in that is resembles antique and unique. Is the character an antique, in that she should give up being an individual with wants and desires and give in to her lot in life and serve her clients, or is she unique, in that she can take pleasure from them and has held on to her individuality?

In the story, the Janssen brothers (who are the clients the Dolly and Annique are to service) have altered a film clip, possibly from Jaws, to cause physical arousal after viewing. A tip of the cap here goes to the Wachowski Brothers, and a scene in Matrix Reloaded where The Merovingian causes a woman in the matrix to have an orgasm from eating a slice of digital chocolate cake. This theme does not appear to be too far fetched, as many scientists theorize that virtual pleasure is in the near future, as many consider pleasure to only be a matter of sending certain types of electrical stimulus to the brain.

Personally, for pleasure, I'll take more of Zucker's prose.

I Am Legend... Albiet the Usual One...

I Am Legend , a film review...

In typical Hollywood fashion, a film that took over 15 years to make it to the screen mangles the original story based on I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. Sure, I Am Legend is going to make money at the box office. It is a sci-fi movie staring a graying Will Smith (Independence Day, I Robot) as Robert Neville, I mean profits are almost guaranteed at this point. The theater I was in was packed with young college men, home on break with a pocket full of fresh money from their mommies, and heading to the theater to be followed by the bar. Those guys lucky enough to have dates were in trouble, because obviously they had duped their dates into coming to a “guy” movie.

I, for one, am getting a bit tired of the Hollywood money making vehicle that becomes so bland in the end that it feels like we have seen it twelve times already. I mean isn’t this just like The Postman? Or should I say Hollywood’s version of David Brin’s The Postman? Well, maybe it is a bit closer to 28 Days Later, but hey, there is ALWAYS a utopia out there for all of the survivors, right? Can’t we take a note from George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (he has been doing it since the 60’s) and NOT have a happy ending? Or at least an ending you don’t expect or hope for? I have not read what Matheson thinks about the film yet, but I was hoping for HIS ending. The one where the freaky vampires rule the world, and humanity is altered forever. Needless to say, this is not what happens in the Bob-Marley-Don't-Worry-Be-Happy version that Hollywood has concocted for viewing public. The film has some of the ominous tone and fear that Matheson's novel has, but on the whole, the film and the novel are two completely different experiences.

But is the sugarization of the film industry I Am Legend’s fault? No. This movie was visually stimulating, emotionally moving (a bit), thought provoking (for sure), and over-all worth the ride. The CGI vampires were a bit over-done, but we have even begun to wink our collective eye at this type of animation and nod saying, “it’s okay, we know it’s fake but we like it.” And having nearly wet myself from a fright at one point, I can attest to the validity of such CGI shenanigans.

Will Smith’s interaction with store mannequins, and his loose grip on reality really holds the film together. At one point, Smith’s character Neville holds an assault rifle aimed at one of his mannequin “friends” “Fred”. “Fred” has been moved, obviously by someone or something, and Neville feels betrayed by Fred but at the same time questions whether or not Fred has actually come to life. The range of emotion demonstrated in this scene by Smith is amazing, and probably worth the price of admission alone. Trying to imagine Schwarzenegger in the title role, which he was originally slated for back in the mid-1990s, seems a stretch, and I think Smith was a much wiser and sophisticated choice.

With a relatively simple plot, this movie is one that movie goers can easily wrap their minds around, and delivers everything it promises, even if it is exactly what we expect.

On Patriotism

I am a SUN Magazine subscriber, and the topic for July 2008 is "patriotism". The deadline for this topic was December 1st, 2007, and that has sadly past. But I thought it was such a good story that I wanted to share it with someone, you here you are...

On Patriotism

On the Fourth of July, 1994, I attended a fireworks display at Blakeslee Stadium, at Mankato State University. There were approximately 3500 people in the stadium bleachers and on the football field that evening, many of them fellow college students. People were spreading out blankets and listening to portable radios playing patriotic music. Announcers were on the loud speakers giving fireworks display readiness updates and hawking products. I was watching the activity at the southeastern end of the field where shadowy people were scrambling to get everything connected and in place, when the festive chatter in the crowd turned to dismayed murmurs and boos.

I looked out at midfield and saw some students spreading out what at first I thought was a patriotically colored blanket. But it kept getting bigger, and bigger. As the “blanket” unfolded on the ground, I realized that it was a huge American Flag. In that instant I also knew it had to be the flag that had been stolen from the local Perkins restaurant the previous weekend. The students who had brought the flag began stepping on it, and one student walked to the center and plopped down with a large cooler and began motioning for his friends to sit down. There was about ten of them, and they looked pretty intimidating, and serious. The crowd’s dismay quickly turned to outrage, with people standing up and yelling for the police—only yards away—to do something. “Arrest them! That is stolen property!” a man next to me was yelling. But no one moved. I just kept looking back and forth from the crowd to the students, fearing I was about to see my first riot, and hoping for someone official to stop it before it happened.

The crowd began to part on the other side of the stadium; I thought for sure an out-of-control man was busting his way through the crowd to take care of the situation in his own way. To my surprise it was a woman who was working her way down to the ramp, and then she dropped thought the handrails and onto the field. She stomped toward the students and started shaking her fist and pointing at the flag on the ground. She was obviously livid, and the students were easily intimidated by this mother from the masses and immediately began to move off of the flag. The lone student in the middle refused to get up. The middle-aged woman began to gather the flag in her arms until she had almost all of it, except the small portion the student was still sitting on. With a tug, she got it all, dumping the man onto the grass. The crowd waited. She stomped over to police officers who were standing just yards away, and shoved the flag into the arms of one of them. It was a surreal feeling, and I could almost hear the mosquitoes buzzing it seemed so quiet.

The crowd roared.

People were whistling, and yelling, “Thank you!” and “You ROCK!” We clapped and cheered for that woman until our hands were red and our eyes were wet. We clapped because she did something that no one else did that night. In front of several thousand people she had the courage and patriotism to stand up for something she believed in, and wasn’t willing to let anyone trample on it. Almost fifteen years later, I am still clapping.