I’m resurrecting a dead feature! In White Noise I collate a playlist of all the songs that I find myself playing on repeat – I’m bringing it back with a more detailed written explanation of the songs, and less of an emo-wankfest vibe. As always a link to the full playlist can be found here.
(Authors Note: This idea comes from a Masters application that I never submitted. It is more of an outline of my argument – I plan on returning at a later date a much more detailed long form approach. I’m particularly keen to see how the idea holds up when the new series is released at the end of this month)
Is there a single show as significant in the canon of English-language televisual drama as David Lynch’s Twin Peaks? A quarter of a century since the release of the feature length Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, the cult series remains relevant within popular culture. It speaks wonders that, despite being born 4 years after the initial run of the show ended in the UK, I have unable to escape references to it in both my social and academic lives; in many ways the “un-missable” event that was Twin Peaks is up there with “who shot JR” and the grunge musical revolution as one of media events through which the 90s is defined. Similarly many outlets are looking towards the release of the third series at the end of this month as the significant cultural event of 2017.
But what is it about Lynch’s work that has allowed it to maintain its relevancy for so long? Whilst there are many reasonable and compelling answers to that question – the writing and score are fantastic for example – I take the view that it comes back to the form and tone of the text. Twin Peaks is a very deliberate piece of post-modern art, and in my opinion it’s enduring legacy stems not only from the post-modern nature of the narrative but how the text exists as a cultural cornerstone in it’s own right within a post-modern world.
(This piece of writing started life as a review of Guardian’s of the Galaxy Vol. 2, but in trying to articulate exactly how I felt about the film I felt like many of the narrative failings are symptomatic across all of Marvel’s newest releases. It contains full spoilers for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2)
In my opinion, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a disappointingly mediocre film. There are numerous failings throughout on a technical level. The cinematography is awful, constantly framed to make the most of the 3D technology but instead sidelines the action and takes you out of the filmic world. Avatar came out eight years ago, stereoscopic 3D is no longer new and this clumsy camera work no longer defensible. Similarly attention has to be drawn to the VFX. Whilst all of the practical effects and set building are consistently brilliant, there are numerous times where I felt that the CGI work lets everything down. This is particularly true of Ego, both the planet and the character played by Kurt Russell; being a celestial compromised entirely of blue light, Ego is almost entirely computer animated, but numerous times I was taken out of the narrative because I felt like the VFX work looked a little janky. I walked out of the cinema this afternoon thinking Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 already looked a little dated and I don’t imagine it will hold up to much scrutiny over time.
Structurally everything the film manages to do well is undone elsewhere within the text. For example, Baby Groot is a wonderful comic character that undercuts the tone through his adorable naivete; it is a marked change from his character in the previous film and it manages to get a laugh every time he appears on screen. The same can not be said of the other comedic foil, Drax, where the humour is not only forced but it built upon the exact same “social awkwardness” from the original film. This joke doesn’t really have legs and therefore just comes across as a lazy rehashing of the previous film. This follows through into the writing – every line of snappy, funny dialogue gets lost when the ultimate moral of the film (it’s a treatise on fatherhood) is so heavy-handed. All deftness in the dialogue is truly lost when Starlord monologues the exact lesson the film is trying to impart. Also particularly grating is the way ’70s references are shoe-horned into the film. In the original they were genuinely funny, and fitted within the narrative as a way for Peter Quill to understand his fantastical surroundings. In GotGv.2 David Hasslehoff appears as himself, for little reason than “just ’cause” – the film takes what made the original so memorable and then fully jumps the shark.
But perhaps the biggest structural problem I had with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is something I’ve noticed across all of Marvel’s most recent releases – I just didn’t care about the villains.
With the release of the Ghost In The Shell remake this month, I decided it was appropriate to revisit the original 1995 anime release. Widely considered a masterpiece, the anime’s exploration of human consciousness in an increasingly technological and interconnected world is just as cutting and as relevant a social commentary two decades later. But why exactly has this film’s message survived so well, when similar ’90s Sci-FI cinema has faded away? Does the anime form of Ghost In The Shell allow to maintain it’s comments on gender and identity better than a live action film exploring similar themes? Science Fiction always must be political – what follows after the break is me trying to explore how animation may enable that.
So 2016 is finally about to fade into, what will hopefully be, a better and brighter 2017. But for all of the bleakness of the past twelve months, it’s been a phenomenal year for pop culture. So I’m choosing to spend the dying gasps of this awful, awful year to remind myself of the very best content that I’ve consumed. What’s the point in being miserable over the past year, when you can celebrate a more positive cultural legacy?
I’m starting with my favourite books released in 2016. I would describe myself as a voracious reader – I graduated with a first class English Literature degree this year after-all – but I am notoriously bad at keeping up with new releases. It’s hard to keep up with current releases when there is literally hundreds of years worth of classics within the canon to read. That being said, 2016 did produce a handful of books interesting enough to pique my interest. Amy Schumer released her surprisingly funny and honest autobiography The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo; I am no fan of her standup, but her written prose is wonderful. There was the literary comeback of Alan Partridge, one of the greatest comic characters in the British canon, with Nomad – a Bill Bryson-esque walking tour of the journey between Norwich and London. There’s something magical about reading through the focalising voice of an absolute tosser. I even kept on top of the more experimental work released this year like Max Porter’s haunting Grief is the Thing With Feathers. If I was mediating this list purely by quality I think I would have to make Grief is the Thing With Feathers my book of the year. But this list is my favourite books of 2016, and surprisingly there were two books I enjoyed more.
Content has been a little light on this blog recently. I’m not taking to life in the actual adult world particularly well. Don’t get me wrong, I actually quite love my job and I’m happy where things have fallen, but time has become a limited resource. Finding a balance hasn’t been easy.
When I have found time to write, I start the piece but never return to actually finish it. I’ve lost the ability to edit at the moment. Over the next few days I’m going to actually publish some of my drafted material. I will get back to my way of publishing once a week, slowly but surely.
But in the mean time: a huge thank you to those of you who have checked my blog regularly over the past few weeks. You patience and commitment is appreciated. You make me want to be a more committed content creator than I am. I won’t let you down.
[This is the title of my undergraduate dissertation. What follows is a little bit about why I wrote it and why I’ve chosen to upload it to this blog. If you just want to read the actual essay click HERE]
“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold”
When I was fifteen years old I read Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas for the first time. I can’t pretend I found it the easiest of reads – I struggled with the temporal and spatial compression throughout the text – but it struck a chord with me. I expected the typical “hippie drug novel”, all free-love and consciousness expansion, but the actual text couldn’t have been more different. Hunter S. Thompson makes an argument for deliberately fucking yourself up on drink and drugs; he presents a beauty to consciously choosing to feel weak and small. I knew wanted to work with this text but didn’t really have an outlet to do so at this time.
Flash forward three years, I’m now 18 and applying to university. My whole life I wanted to study medicine, but due to the severity of my anxiety and physical health I finally realised that I didn’t have the fortitude to make it as a doctor. I go to the University of Southampton to read BA(hons) English Literature & Film Studies instead. Honestly this was exactly what I needed at the time: say what you want about a humanities degree, but Critical Theory forces you to consider your world view. It strengthened my knowledge of the arguments important to me (like feminism) whilst simultaneously introducing me to new ways to interpret society like post-structuralism and post-modernism. Critics like Jameson allowed me to understand how texts like Fear and Loathing… work at a more intrinsic level.
But if postmodernism is the cultural form of late capitalism, why was drug culture always missing from the long form exploration of contemporary society? You could interpret the subculture as an attempt to “opt out” of modern societal discourse. But the black market for illicit drugs is ultimately still a market and thus conforms to socioeconomic capitalist systems. I therefore felt there was an irony within the drug novel that is important to the framework of postmodernism: the ability to opt out of capitalist discourse is an illusion that props the entire system up. Well that’s what I tried to argue with my dissertation, using The Doors of Perception (Aldous Huxley), Trainspotting (Irvine Welsh) and, of course, the Fear and Loathing… books as the key texts.
I know everything I’ve written thus far is self-absorbed and it’s definitely a little bit up myself to make my undergraduate dissertation available online. But my dissertation is the thing I have achieved that I am most proud of; I am not the person I was at fifteen when I first discovered Hunter S. Thompson. This is a document that charts my own personal progress. However the main reason I am uploading this is because it is the best bit of writing I have ever done and, since I’m not sure if I ever will go back and get my MA and PHD, probably the best bit of writing I will ever do. As insignificant as it is, this is my magnum opus. I loved my degree because it was always about interacting and engaging with different ideas; English Literature is always a discussion. So that’s ultimately why I’m making this available online: there’s no discussion to be had when the only copy lives on my shelf.
“To Fathom Hell or Soar Angelic”: The Drug Novel In The Postmodern World
American Horror Story is the television show that I am most critical of. It was never a series that I considered particularly good, but I’ve always enjoyed it; it was our “house show” at university so it was always fun just for the social aspect alone. But I’m very much in the post-uni stage of my life now, I have a salary, rent and a commute, yet I still find time to watch American Horror Story: My Roanoke Nightmare every single week. It is the only series, outside of The Great British Bake Off, that I actively follow instead of waiting for the series to hit VoD and then bingeing. In this respect, it’s arguably my favourite show – but why I do I find myself unable to call it objectively good?
“Moving on, as a concept, is for stupid people, because any sensible person knows grief is a long term project”
It’s perhaps a cliché to describe a book as unlike anything you’ve ever read; it suggests a laziness on the part of the reviewer. But in the example of Max Porter’s Grief Is The Thing With Feathers I’m genuinely struggling to find an adequate point of comparison through which to describe it. Part prose and part poetry, this text tells the simple story of a family after the matriarch dies. This incident is explored through three first person perspectives: the ‘Dad’ who lost his wife; the ‘Boys’ who lost their mother; and a giant ‘Crow’ who has come to help them mourn.
Both sides of the Atlantic we love a sex scandal involving a politician or public figure; after all, the Keith Vaz cocaine fuelled prostitute bender seemed to run for weeks in the British red-tops. But when the figure involved is named Weiner? Well that’s comedy gold so potent it almost doesn’t seem real. It’s a Two Ronnies sketch somehow come to life. It instantly becomes the most important news story at the time and thus demands to be documented.
Whoever wrote this headline deserved a raise.
This is the astonishing real story that Weiner attempts to document. Well to be more accurate it picks up after the scandal: Anthony Weiner, a rising star in the Democrat Party and 7 time congressman, who had to resign in disgrace following a sexting scandal in 2011. This documentary starts in 2013, with Weiner himself inviting the filmmakers into his life because he “doesn’t want to just be a punchline.” He’s running to be mayor of New York City and is co-opting the film as propaganda for both his political career as well as his personal image – he wants to be something more than the bloke with the funny name who sent explicit photos to several women.