Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Shining, Get Out, and Us.

The Shining is a unique horror film; it is so widely understood as having subtext not usually associated with the Horror genre that a documentary titled Room 237 explores both acknowledged and ridiculed theories of subtextual content. The most well-known and acknowledged subtext is that The Shining is a commentary on the Native American genocide. While for over a decade that context was ridiculed as well, it is now considered obvious.

Also some people do not view The Shining as scary, even if they admit to its superbly cinematic construction, and interesting and oblique subtext(s). If one is not in the mood to receive The Shining as a horror film, it can be laughable; that does not diminish its greatness nor ability to horrify when in the “right mood,” nor its success of communicating ideas beyond the surface narrative. The relevance of The Shining will become clear as I discuss Jordan Peele's Us, but Us is best understood with an underpinning of Get Out, his previous film.

In the first few seconds of Get Out, in the first few lines of dialog, a character says, “It's like a fucking hedge maze out here.” I assert that no well-read filmmaker (and Peele is certainly cinematically well-read) would reference a hedge maze without the deliberate intention of invoking The Shining; the hedge maze is uniquely iconic to that film.

Us is a vastly different movie from Get Out, but maintains a lineage with the first movie, and continues the lineage from The Shining. The most obvious linkage with Get Out, because it is entirely separate from either the text or any subtexts of Us, is when a Frisbee lands on a spotted towel on the beach. It is given visual importance but is entirely unexplained, until one remembers the significance of Bingo cards in Get Out.

And while one might dismiss a line of dialog in Us which says, “Get out!” because it is a valid line of plot-necessary dialog, one would be less justified dismissing “Get Out” painted on the trees to either side of the mirror funhouse. Of further interest is that the mirror funhouse is renamed “Merlin's Forest” in subsequent scenes, but in the first scene it is “The Shaman's Vision Quest”, which due to lineage we can appropriately infer refers to The Shining. As other articles have posited, it can refer to many other and equally compelling ideas.

In the Shaman's realm, we hear something vague about spiders over the speaker. "Itsy-bitsy spider" is whistled. Spiders appear later (a toy tarantula with a live spider beneath it), as does a web-like crack in glass, and one might be reminded of Chief Seattle's quote: “This we know the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.” It would be well to come back to this paragraph after reading the end of this blog.

Peele's mise en scene is meticulous. Every painting, child's toy, book, or drawing (and literally every other prop) has a utility beyond set dressing. The baseball bat used as a weapon is the RX 9000, indeed a curative prescription. The ambulance toy used to block a door open mirrors the ambulance the in which the family ultimately escapes. The videotapes flanking the TV in an early shot include C.H.U.D. (Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers), The Man With Two Brains, and Nightmare on Elm Street. The direct analogy with CHUD needs no explanation. In a movie all about mirroring and doppelgangers, TMWTB is equally obvious. And when a character describes her cold metal toys cutting her fingers, Freddy Krueger's glove of revenge is a useful image. Absolutely every element of every frame has import, to a degree rarely found in even the most erudite art house film.

These multitudinous references are not merely gimmicks or games; they illuminate and then support powerful subtexts. But first: Subtexts are completely different from text. To use The Shining to illustrate: The text is that a man goes crazy and attempts to murder his family, and this holds together narratively. The subtext of Native American genocide is something like, “Colonial America (specifically white people) murdered almost everyone in North America (specifically Native Americans).” This does not hold together narratively; no white person murders a Native American. It is suggested by signs and symbols and must be inferred. A river of blood pouring from an elevator did not happen during the Trail of Tears, but that does not mean it is erroneous to suggest perhaps that is one valid interpretation of that elevator scene. In subtexts, direct linear correlation is not necessary or even desired. So when it appears that one subtext of Us is a discussion of American slavery, it does not hinder the subtext that nobody in the film is actually a slave as described in US history.

But before investigating the slavery subtext, let's look at another subtext, more illustrative of the actual text. Doppelgangers are out to murder their “originals.” In horror movies, death is very often deserved, a retribution or punishment or karma. In the simplest incarnation, kids who participate in drugs or premarital sex or who otherwise “sin” are killed. But what have the originals in Us done wrong? One subtextual possibility revolves around materialism. Our protagonist family is well-off; we are shown immediately that they drive a Mercedes-Benz, they have a summer home, and they've just purchased a boat, the quintessential American icon of economic prosperity. However, they are unsatisfied, “spoiled” in a direct quote from the father, even as he is invested in keeping up with his neighbor's prosperity.

Further, they have failed to help others; Hands Across America did not solve any problems, and as explicitly stated at the end, one character escaped from the underground and “into the light” at the expense of another. Some characters had “sunlight and freedom” while pursuing their materialism, at the expense of an entire group of “others.” This is one view of why they're being punished. There is text that explains this, and subtext that supports it. The set design of the Underground and the behavior of the “shadows” is also reminiscent of Romero's Dawn Of The Dead, which itself contains a subtextual condemnation of American consumer culture. Peele knows his cinema.

There is no textual reference to slavery, but it is illustrated in subtext. There are four legible books on the shelves: two travelogues (one on Mexico, the other maybe on the Philippines) and two on slavery: Roots and The History of Slavery (or something close to that, many clues are fleeting and the bookshelves are not in focus). The chains used to bind characters are icons of slavery. When one character describes the connection between those underground and those above, it can clearly be read as a description of slave/owner dynamics. Does this mean the Shadows are literal slaves? No, and that does not damage the subtextual discussion. Neither does the fact that our main family is Black, and clearly are not implicated in slave ownership; the critique of America and the discussion of slavery is still valid, and can even be seen to dovetail with the materialism subtext. The movie ceases to be a horror movie and becomes a thought experiment on the human condition. Is it possible, that so many years after slavery, that we all are still culpable? If we failed with Hands Across America, is it success that the Shadows have come into the light and performed (one character calls it “performance art”) their own Hands Across America? Who are the monsters? Is it... Us?

There are volumes of additional material to discuss, but one final symbol that may require a unique perspective to decode: In the first ten minutes of the movie there are three Black Flag t-shirts, an obvious symbol due to the repetition, but of what? There is nothing in the movie to suggest a reference to the actual band, or punk music. So what else is invoked by “black flag”? Pirates? Perhaps, because there are sail ships anchored off the Santa Cruz shore, but those may be more appropriately seen as slave ships. What other black flags are there? Perhaps this one, described to me by a Black classmate in 4th grade: “Do you know about the Black flag? Black, red, and green? Black for the color of our skin, red for the color of our blood, and green for the color of the land we will one day take back from our oppressors.” Subtext indeed.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Star Trek Continues

There are several Star Trek fan productions and I have seen quite a few, but by far my favorite is Star Trek Continues.

Here's a YouTube teaser for their third episode:

This episode is a masterpiece, taking what is arguably one of the top five episodes from The Original Series ("Mirror, Mirror") and expanding it in exactly the direction set up back in 1967, while being completely original in its own right. It was a daring move for the actors to go into this alternate universe where they had to move beyond the familiar and well-established characterizations of the "regular" universe, but they carry it off brilliantly.

At the helm and commanding with authority is Vic Mignogna, who both channels and makes his own the legendary persona of Captain Kirk. His additional credits include Executive Producer, Director, Editor, Writer and more, but it is his deft manipulation of the character owned so totally by William Shatner that garners my highest praise. It is truly a pleasure to watch him at work.

While that achievement is most impressive, equally impressive are the efforts of the production designers (the sets are perfect!), cinematographers (whose understanding of the original lighting schemes is beautiful), sound designers (who use the original music and sound effects with perhaps more skill than did The Original Series... wait, did I just say that?), and last but not least the actors, who all bring an obvious love for the source material and the original actors themselves, elevating their efforts far above the other fan productions I've seen. Of course Spock is my favorite Star Trek character of all time, and Todd Haberkorn is easily my favorite Vulcan since Leonard Nimoy (and there have been many pretenders to that throne). I am grateful that Todd got such a large amount of screen time in the latest episode, "Fairest Of Them All".

I cannot summon enough superlatives for Star Trek Continues, and I submit as evidence the fact that each of the three episodes produced so far has provoked an authentic emotional response from me. If you were engaged by the Star Trek Universe, and in particular have a nostalgic fondness for Kirk, Spock, Bones, Uhura, Scotty, Sulu, Chekov, and the rest of the Classic gang, you owe it to yourself to boldly investigate this series.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Victim Of The Modern Age

"The doctors told me it was Pneumonia, but I knew what it was. A victim of the modern age, poor, poor girl." -Mr. Alexander, "A Clockwork Orange"

As I continue trying to define, organize, and consolidate my Web presence I find threads lying about that have reached a disconcerting number.

I cancelled my Facebook account without any problem, but when I tried to cancel my MySpace account, I did not receive the confirmation email and couldn't complete the delete. Upon investigation, I discovered that my Yahoo! email account had stopped forwarding to my Gmail account... and I had over 500 messages sitting there!

I fiddled with the settings for a while, but eventually it looked like Yahoo!Mail had changed and I wouldn't be able to do the forwarding unless I upgraded to their pay service. Well, I wasn't going to do that, so I started clearing out the junk and manually forwarding the important stuff to my Gmail. Along the way I unsubscribed from at least five different newsletters; not that I don't like them, but I sure hadn't missed them...

I HAD missed those order updates... But had I bothered to check why I wasn't getting payment and shipping confirmations? No, because there was already too much to do. The packages arrived and I thought no more of it. But now that I saw what was going on, I had to go to Amazon and update my information. So I had to open my password database where I keep my 20+ different internet accounts and their passwords organized. Safe from hacking? Sure, but let's be real. Nobody's ever stolen a password from me. I FORGET them. And Usernames. And which email account I used to set it up. Etc etc etc.

While I'm at all of this, I go cancel my LiveJournal account, because now I use Blogger. I forgot I even had a LiveJournal. Another thread left untended in the checkered fabric of my cyberquilt. It's embarrassing to have all of one's false starts on public record.

Then after trying to figure out why a Google thingy tied somehow to my Google Account didn't have my profile photo on it (I was able to fix it but don't ask me how I did it, or why it was necessary) I went to check Gmail... and there were all my Yahoo! emails, just like the old days, forwarded as slick as you please.

Why? I don't know. It didn't work when it should and now it's working when it shouldn't.

THEN after typing this and saving it, half the paragraphs came out as gray text on a white background, nearly illegible. Why? I don't know. I spent a minute trying to figure it out, then I just copied the whole thing to a text editor and copied it back. So that was fixed, but then the spaces between the paragraphs were bigger than with previous posts. I had to go into the HTML to fix it. If I wanted to do that I'd code these pages all myself and publish them on my website.

Welcome to the modern age, poor, poor girl.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Google Goggle

Today's title doesn't refer to the amazing Google product "Goggles" which does comparative image mapping; I mean that I am all a-goggle at Google.

I just deactivated my Facebook account, and am actively trying to use Google+ and the rest of the features associated with my Google Account to their fullest potential. It would be easier if I could get my boggling mind around just how many of those features there actually are.

Of course gmail for email, and blogger for this blog, and Picassa for photo management, but I've just stumbled upon Google Friend Connect, through one of my favorite blogs, Strikethru, and now I have to learn about that.

And of course there is work to be done on my website, and the blogging here is awfully sparse, and I don't know how useful Google+ will actually turn out to be... but there's still a lot to learn about it. All of it.

My mind's all a-google...

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Buying My Name

I just bought my domain name:

This is something I've been meaning to do for more than a decade, and I find it mind-boggling that I've gone this long without possessing such an essential component of my identity.

I've nurtured my Internet presence over time, starting with a Yahoo! email account. I quickly started posting comments in forums and reviews on Amazon before stepping up to gmail and all of the associated Google services and apps. Intrigued by all the fancy things the new cell phones could do, I started a Twitter account with which I hardly ever tweet, and intrigued by social networking, I started a MySpace account that I never, ever visit. And let's not forget the YouTube channel, Flickr photo storage, and LinkedIn profile. Then came Facebook, and this blog, and some pictures of me come up if you do an image search on my name, but I had yet to secure the center of my personal Internet webwork.

Tonight I did that. I laid out $83.40 to own my name in cyberspace for one year.

One must own one's name these days. It is not enough to be issued one, to bear a Birth Certificate or have a Driver's License. You must exist on The Web and be found in the search engines. Even better if you can tie it all in to your smartphone so that your digital-id is always at your fingertips and up to date. How wonderful it will be when we can finally just wire it all directly into our nervous system!

But for now there's me in meatspace, and me in cyberspace:

At least for a year. That should be long enough to completely lose my mind.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Google Revolution Was Not Televised

I love Google. But I fear Google.

Google is everything The Technophile Luddite is about. Google is the whole thing in a nutshell, if a comprehensive global information indexing, storage, and retrieval system can fit in a nutshell. It's a bold step to call anything truly comprehensive, but I believe that the definition of "comprehensive" is expanding according to Google's increasing capabilities. If Google Maps was not comprehensive when it merely showed all geopolitical boundaries and paved road systems on the globe, it certainly attained that status when it integrated satellite pictures fine enough to display individual automobiles for much of the surface area of Earth, and expanded the meaning of comprehensive mapping with its street-level photography project.

And that is but one of Google's multitudes of projects, all revolving around collecting, organizing, and storing data. The Internet is a global computer network we are all logging into, and every single thing we do on that network is potentially traceable, with Google at the forefront of Internet user data collection.

Author William Gibson discusses how Google may qualify as an Artificial Intelligence, and just appear so different from representations in popular culture (2001: A Space Odyssey, BladeRunner, etc.) that it goes unrecognized. I find my attraction to this concept more than a little disturbing. Once again my twin sides have to fight it out, Technophile vs Luddite, and so I begrudgingly and lovingly Google everything, while keeping a mistrustful and watchful eye on the deity on my altar: God Google.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Blog Names

Google induced me (seduced me) into starting a blog, and one ignores Google at one's own peril. In fact, it is Google's influence on my life that helped decide the name of this blog. Before I get to that, let me list other blog names I considered:

The Digital Egoist: This was the first one I thought of, because really blogs are ultimately about egoism and self-image. Why do a blog unless one wishes others to look? And why would people look unless there's something worth looking at? So to publish a blog says, "Look at me, I am worth looking at." In the past there were other ways of doing it, from graffiti to making art, or dressing to draw attention, but now the prevalent method is digital. MySpace, FaceBook, blogs, commenting on other people's blogs, etc. However, I feel that most people want to be looked at, are egoists to some degree, so that title lacked a unique viewpoint. I moved on to other ideas:

The Biological Robot Papers: Robots are a fetish of mine, particularly those with AI, and I'm sure I'll blog about that topic eventually. I've always seen lifeforms as biological robots, or robots as mechanical lifeforms, so this appealed to me, but the blog name ideas were flowing and I couldn't stop:

Temporary Permanence: When I first heard of sand painting, a form of art where intricate designs and images are drawn with colored sand, I was aghast. It would blow away! And so it does. I think I heard of it in relation to Zen artists, and the impermanence of the form was part and parcel of the meaning. All is change; nothing is permanent; to strive for permanence is to run against the grain of the Universe. This has special implications in our digital age, where much effort is spent on "archiving" material, on (currently) magnetic media, of all things. Over the years I have found few things that are as volatile as magnetic media. All of our precious data, meticulously preserved on magnetic tape, floppy disks, and hard drives, is immensely vulnerable to corruption and loss. As technology progresses, this may be addressed in some measure, but even stone tablets eventually turn to dust. And speaking of stone tablets:

The Technophile Luddite: I've been writing, non-professionally, off and on for 25 years. Computers dawned during that time, and of them I was highly enamored (especially given my robot fetish, developed in my youngest years). With the advent of desktop word processing, I avidly pursued digital writing, storing everything on the aforementioned magnetic media. Even now I have obsolete files from outdated systems that I can no longer open. I used this electronic tool, the word processor, with much success, but also with much failure. While short stories posed no problem, I could not write anything of significant length.

It was only recently, within the past two years, that I found a solution. At a thrift store, for $3, I purchased a portable, manual typewriter. It was for nostalgia's sake, or possibly so that I could still write in the event of an power outage (I keep candles handy; I also have pen and paper, but I have been typing since 5th grade and it is my native form), but I immediately found that the typewriter demanded I use it. Or perhaps more accurately, my senses demanded I use the typewriter. The audio and tactile response from the machine was positively invigorating. I was an instant addict.

Since then I've accumulated 5 more typewriters, and come close to finishing my first novel. It turns out that the lack of physicality of a computer file (among other things) was keeping me from writing anything over 50 pages or so. I literally could not see what I'd written. If I was copying and pasting something, I would often lose my place scrolling through immense documents, or even forget what it was I'd copied. Typewritten pages can be shuffled and rearranged, mauled and caressed. This is apparently crucial to my process. The difference between looking at a stack of pages and a file name is indescribable.

Eventually, after I re-type my second draft (assuming I finish the first, an assumption I am now confident in making), I will scan the pages into a word processor. I will spellcheck and format and so on, but it will now come at the end of the process, where it belongs. Another factor that kept me from writing on a computer was the ease with which one could change fonts, margins, page numbering, and so on, and often I was doing those things rather than writing.

My job involves being on the Internet all day, using a variety of search engines and browers, and trying to make the most of the rapidly evolving digital landscape (for clients who need their websites marketed, but also for my own edification in the information age). I use Google's search engine extensively, I use their browser, I use Google Wave, I use Google Reader, and I have a gmail account. The influence of Google over my life has been increasing, and while I am not entirely opposed, a part of me wonders if I will find something out down the road, that bears a striking resemblance to the realization I had when I got my manual typewriter: that something had been lost along the way. Something necessary.

I take my computers with a grain of salt now. And I must admit that not only are they necessary and useful, but I enjoy them. They are a dual-edged sword and must be used with caution; and I cannot write a novel with them. But they have a place in my world, and since so do typewriters, my blog is named The Technophile Luddite.