There is a Great Deal to read on the Internet

by zunguzungu

Toy Story 3 and labor:

Of course the toys aren’t really toys, they are allegorical figurines that we are supposed to read human meanings into, but I want to try to be literal for a moment. There is one irrefutable truth that we learn through the films about the toys’ psychology, one trait that all of them except a pair of scarred deviants – Stinky Pete and Lotso – have in common: what they like best is to be played with by children. But it so happens that at those times they are limp and inanimate; as is the case whenever they are in the presence of people, their spark abandons them, their eyes become vacant – a point that is further underscored in Toy Story 3 by the otherwise extraordinary capacity for expression of those eyes. So what the toys derive the most pleasure from is also what flicks their off switch, reverting them to the base status of mass produced consumer objects: every Sheriff Woody, every Buzz Lightyear totally identical to any other, therefore totally interchangeable, Andy’s marker-pen branding notwithstanding.

There are shades here of Thomas’ oft-repeated wish to become a ‘very useful engine’, or the ghastly compliance of Collodi’sPinocchio as reinvented by Walt Disney (on which more in a future instalment). But there also shades of the happy worker who – as you might recall – also cultivated elaborate illusions of individuality and irreplaceability, whilst appearing, or wishing to appear, to take pleasure in the performance of its stated function.

What the Toy Story trilogy is about, then, alongside more overt themes like the end of childhood, is instrumentality, or the human use of human beings: so not only labour and property relations and various notions regarding the role and duties of the individual within society, but also who is allowed to be happy, and how, and for how long. Mediated as it is by the most emotionally charged of commodity fetishes, our childhood toys – at least until somebody comes up with a visually and narratively satisfactory way to anthropomorphise Apple-branded gadgets – it’s a treatment that could hardly fail to brood over the alienation and the inexorable churn of it all, whereby things and people are declared outdated before they are ready to move on, outmoded whilst they still have the energy, the capacity and the desire to contribute.

In the “there is always more to read/view” file, this paragraph about a Belgian film festival, reminded me that I don’t really know anything about modern film:

The annual Brussels event helped me find my way through modern cinema. There I saw my first Kiarostami (Where is My Friend’s Home?), my first Tarr (Perdition), my first Hou (Summer at Grandpa’s), my first Oliveira (No; or, the Vainglory of the Commander), my first Sokurov (The Second Circle), my first Hirokazu (Maborosi), my first Panahi (The Mirror), my first Jia (Xiao Wu). The Cinematek’s talent-spotters were quick to find many of the most important filmmakers of the 1980s and 1990s, and I’ll be forever grateful for their acumen. After I saw these films and many others here, my ideas about cinema got more cogent and complicated. My life got better, too.

Ludic Despair writes a cogent genre history of the “talking car story” en route to describing some terrible old pulp novel he read (and no one else has in decades), because that’s what he does:

…Then there is Knight Rider, but here it was never entirely clear if “Kit” was actually a sentient being or if he was just a really well programmed computer forced to banter with David Hasselhoff—but I suppose that is a question we will all be asking with increasing frequency in the dark Terminator days that lie ahead.

To recap: talking car stories are for morons.  So imagine my surprise after being tricked into reading a talking car story that is actually pretty good: The Four Day Weekend by George Henry Smith (Belmont 1965).  If you’re wondering how a person can be “tricked” into reading a book, then clearly you are not familiar with how pulp covers worked at mid-century.  As the FTC has no jurisdiction over commercial artwork, pulp publishers have enjoyed a long history of simply lying about what is actually between the covers.  For example, if you will examine this particular cover closely, you will note that it depicts a heroic man, trailed by a slightly less heroic but still very attractive woman, fleeing from some ungodly array of futuristic fighting machines.  X-wing-like fighters strafe them from above.  Another guy appears to be floating in the background, suggesting all of this takes place in the zero-gravity of space or perhaps an exotic far-flung planet.  But The Four Day Weekend is about none of this; instead, it about talking cars that try to take over the world.

Well, indeed:

Imagine that hundreds of black protesters were to descend upon Washington DC and Northern Virginia, just a few miles from the Capitol and White House, armed with AK-47s, assorted handguns, and ammunition. And imagine that some of these protesters–the black protesters–spoke of the need for political revolution, and possibly even armed conflict in the event that laws they didn’t like were enforced by the government. Would these protesters–these black protesters with guns–be seen as brave defenders of the Second Amendment, or would they be viewed by most whites as a danger to the republic? What if they were Arab-Americans? Because, after all, that’s what happened recently when white gun enthusiasts descended upon the nation’s capital, arms in hand, and verbally announced their readiness to make war on the country’s political leaders if the need arose…

To ask any of these questions is to answer them. Protest is only seen as fundamentally American when those who have long had the luxury of seeing themselves as prototypicallyAmerican engage in it. When the dangerous and dark “other” does so, however, it isn’t viewed as normal or natural, let alone patriotic. Which is why Rush Limbaugh could say, this past week,that the Tea Parties are the first time since the Civil War that ordinary, common Americans stood up for their rights: a statement that erases the normalcy and “American-ness” of blacks in the civil rights struggle, not to mention women in the fight for suffrage and equality, working people in the fight for better working conditions, and LGBT folks as they struggle to be treated as full and equal human beings. And this, my friends, is what white privilege is all about. The ability to threaten others, to engage in violent and incendiary rhetoric without consequence, to be viewed as patriotic and normal no matter what you do, and never to be feared and despised as people of color would be, if they tried to get away with half the shit we do, on a daily basis.

On “I hope it isn’t true”:

No one wants to believe that gender-based violence—like sexual assault and domestic abuse—happens. And so, friends hope it’s not true. Neighbors hope it’s not true. Classmates hope it’s not true. Parents hope it’s not true. Football fans hope it’s not true. Liberals hope it’s not true. Anonymous Internet commenters hope it’s not true. People who happen to be attending a wrestling tournament at Seneca Valley High School hope it’s not true. Reporters hope it’s not true: The Frisky’s coverage of the recent domestic abuse allegations against “Family Matters” star Jaleel White included the line, “We certainly hope this report is untrue.”

To draw from one of the few “Lost” principles applicable to sexual assault reporting: Whatever happened, happened. Either a sexual assault occurred, or it didn’t. The only thing “hoping” can influence is whose account is supported after the fact. Commentators have hoped it’s not true for the alleged perpetrator’s sake and for thealleged victim’s sake—as if any amount of hoping could erase a sexual assault—but “hoping” never helps a victim. It only helps an onlooker who doesn’t want to believe that bad things happen—and a perpetrator who benefits from the assumption that they don’t.

Sort of like the Last Airbender:

Vaseline is offering a Facebook app in India that allows users to whiten their profile pictures on the site. Apparently with just a few clicks, brown faces can turn progressively lighter. Think Michael Jackson or Sammy Sosa but faster. Much faster.

Now please don’t think Vaseline is doing this to promote white supremacy in India on purely ideological grounds. There’s profit to be made from a racial hierarchy that places white at the top.

I discovered Zach Dundas much too late during the World Cup, but was still glad to do so:

What the Cup does in microcosm, football does at large. It is the one major sport that raises more questions than it answers, and instills a fatalistic world view in just about all of its followers. Soccer says, what will be, will be—and we have no idea what that is, so you may as well have a Campari and soda and try to enjoy this 0 : 0 stalemate while you still have breath in your lungs. For better or worse, it’s hard to just drop in on soccer, because you’re likely to visit when Nigel De Jong is playing. To really understand the family, you have to crash on the couch forever.

And so it ends—badly, but fittingly, with victory by Spain, the one team in world football that imposes a comprehensive vision on every single match it plays. Like Spain’s style or hate it, right now everyone else is just reacting. As for the Netherlands—I mean, c’mon, dudes. This whining about the referees is just about the last straw. You played a shitty little match and were lucky not to have three players sent off. You trusted to luck and venom, and they served you well, until they didn’t. Take it with some dignity. What will be, will be.