Monthly Archives: April 2016

Citizen Four versus Snowden – Who Wins?

It seems like yet another disappointing blow for counter cultural forces, if that’s even a term that applies here, when we learn that a feature film is coming out of Hollywood to fill us in on the “truth” behind the Edward Snowden whistle-blowing episode of recent times. What, and this really is a pressing question, is so wrong with Citizen Four that a Snowden even has to be made? Depending on how you like your conspiracy theory kind of stuff, it’s easy to imagine that O. Stone has done all manner of freaky stuff to ramp up the tension between the NSA and Snowden himself, and then presumably also the Kremlin, given Russia’s role in housing Snowden.

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But what is the overall effect of such profiteering meddling? Will we learn anything more from Stone’s film? Citizen Four seemed a pretty good effort at uncovering, potentially, a whole hornet’s nest of deception and lies and darn right Machiavellian plotting on the part of the NSA and GCHQ, so where does Snowden come in in all of this? If, yet again, we end up with a dumbed-down approach to something that, if true (Snowden’s accusations that the NSA (and GCHQ) has the ability to spy on ALL its citizens), should be investigated by all manner of responsible bodies (but not really sure who or what might fulfill such a role, given the state of governments these days). Perhaps the money that went into making and distributing Snowden may have been better spent spreading the word, and distribution, of Citizen Four. But then again, who’d have made serious money from that? Not Gordon-Levitt, nor Stone, nor Woodley, nor the countless studios involved in production, and on and on and on…


Louis Theroux on Britain’s Favourite Drug: Alcohol

Louis Theroux’s most recent documentary, Drinking to Oblivion, shows Louis in a slightly different light. He’s known for his own particular style of documentary interview technique, where his face cracks a kind of smirk or appears with a sort of nonchalant look on it as he asks questions that seem to be designed to make the viewer squirm. Thinking of the word that best captures Louis’ on-camera persona from the recent past must be… disingenuous. Disingenuous is perhaps how Louis’ old style of interviewing could be seen – snide seems a tad harsh a description, and if you look and listen closely to DtO, where Louis is very well behaved, on the whole, there is still a flash of the old style in there. As Louis visits Peter and his partner at their new rented lodgings, and as Peter explains how he is feeling better after being diagnosed and treated for mental health issues, Louis slips into the conversation, rather uncomfortably, that Peter’s partner was considering leaving him at the height of his last bout of alcohol dependency – “did you know that?” Louis asks Peter. Fortunately, Peter and his partner do seem to have discussed the issue, but had they not, what would such a question have added to the programme? In what way would Peter’s newfound alcohol-free calmness have been affected by such a potential curve ball?

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For much of the rest of the programme Louis is quite tactile with his subjects, and even displays signs of genuine affection towards those he meets, Peter included, but he also falls into a habit that perhaps many members of the public would also fall into when faced with such an uncomfortable position of watching seemingly “together” and intelligent people fall into the trap of alcohol dependency. The habit, here, is of asking the same questions repeatedly: “Are you okay?” “How are you feeling?” This documentary, more than any of Louis’ others that come to mind, shows Louis at a loss for words – how else would you describe the tactic of asking the same banal questions to people who are clearly neither okay, nor feeling terribly well. And perhaps the best example of Louis being at a loss for words is when Aurelie asks him a question about what he thinks about her and her plight. Fair play to Louis for keeping those bits in the documentary and for not having them edited out. Let’s hope the programme goes some way to shedding light on what is a massive problem with Britain’s favourite drug. To back up this statement, here’s a statistic courtesy of Huffpost Lifestyle UK: The NHS estimates that around 9% of adult men in the UK and 4% of UK adult women show signs of alcohol dependence. Truly shocking.


Apple Beachball (Spinning Wait Cursor) Cure

Credit where credit is due. After having suffered through six months of the dreaded spinning wait cursor (multi-coloured beachball thingy), an Apple Genius took full control of the situation at a recent Genius Bar appointment. With a great deal of experience of UK customer service (or lack thereof), a battle to get the thing fixed, without costing me an arm and a leg, was expected. The Genius ran some tests to find out that the hard drive wasn’t working, and much to my surprise and delight, then told me that he’d fix it there and then at no cost to me.

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Within half an hour my MacBook Pro was working like a brand new machine. I’ve had relatively few problems with Apple products, the MacBook problem being by far the worst, and as such have never really had to deal with their customer service departments. Both over the phone and in person, with respect to this particular issue, I can say that it is the most satisfying example of customer care that I have ever experienced as a consumer, and so after moaning about them a few times online I thought it only right to redress the balance.


.02.01 Some Thoughts Whilst Conducting Research at the David Foster Wallace Archive (2016) Whilst Also Coping with a Beach-balling Apple Mac (which is more than just a tad annoying)

Re my last. Here’s a quote from Michael Lewis’ article in Vanity Fair on his book’s surprise success as a film, The Big Short:

"The Big Short" New York Premiere - Outside Arrivals

NEW YORK, NY – NOVEMBER 23: Actor Brad Pitt, writer Michael Lewis, actor Ryan Gosling, chairman and CEO of Paramount Pictures Brad Grey and actor Steve Carell attend the “The Big Short” New York premiere at Ziegfeld Theater on November 23, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)

The behavior of our money people is still treated as a subject for specialists. This is a huge cultural mistake. High finance touches—ruins—the lives of ordinary people in a way that, say, baseball does not, unless you are a Cubs fan. And yet, ordinary people, even those who have been most violated, are never left with a clear sense of how they’ve been touched or by whom. Wall Street, like a clever pervert, is often suspected but seldom understood and never convicted.

It is my hope that Adam McKay’s The Big Short might actually help change this situation. The very material I would have thought would frighten away a movie director McKay embraces. He lucidly explains credit-default swaps and collateralized debt obligations! He captures the essence of the behavior that led to the recent financial catastrophe, and of the main characters of my book—in ways that I suspect will haunt their real-life loved ones. The Big Short is just a movie, but it’s also an invitation, to a huge popular audience, to have a smart and interesting discussion about the place of money and finance in all our lives.

It is an invitation – to keep your wallet/purse open a touch longer so that you can be relieved of just a little bit more money, assuming that you have any to spare following the financial crisis. Are we all now having interesting discussions as Lewis imagines we are? Or is that metaphorical dick blocking our mouths?

Advertisement: “Your misery, sponsored by Heineken.”


.02 Some Thoughts Whilst Conducting Research at the David Foster Wallace Archive (2016) Whilst Also Coping with a Beach-balling Apple Mac (which is more than just a tad annoying)

Here’s a question: How is it that a film like The Big Short can be made without there being a huge backlash of the really-miffed sort from the general viewing public who are presumably paying to be entertained, but who in the very recent past have had their lives affected in the most profound way by the very events that this film depicts? I sat stupefied through the whole thing, wondering if this was the Hollywood equivalent of having someone (here comes a Wallace reference – well, being at the archive and all it feels like the right thing to do) waggle his or her dick (making sure to be inclusive here, as it may be a real or synthetic dick for our purposes) in my face (dick waggling thought courtesy of Brief Interviews, “Signifying Nothing”). I mean, it felt, whilst watching, as if a whole bunch of Hollywood execs, and maybe even Pitt and Carell, et al, and even the author guy, Michael Lewis, had clubbed together to combine their not inconsiderable might in order to produce a huge metaphorical dick with which to smear, repeatedly, across the faces of the viewing public, mine included.

"The Big Short" New York Premiere - Outside Arrivals

NEW YORK, NY – NOVEMBER 23: Actor Brad Pitt, writer Michael Lewis, actor Ryan Gosling, chairman and CEO of Paramount Pictures Brad Grey and actor Steve Carell attend the “The Big Short” New York premiere at Ziegfeld Theater on November 23, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)

And this is entertainment? Being given an explanation of the events that led to the greatest financial meltdown of all time, in a really dumbed-down way just so that we actually understand it, which in itself relies on humour and irony so that we won’t mind being talked down to, and that we might even laugh along at the film’s laughing at us, ironically? Events that have brought about so much pain and misery to millions of people across the globe – we’re supposed to be entertained by this (whilst raising huge sums of money for the actors, producers, distributors, etc., through the process of paying to watch the film)? It makes me wonder what it would take to raise the masses from their slumber, if films such as The Big Short can be made, and can then go on to be a “box office hit,” a vehicle of popular culture filmmaking that taunts its intended audience with a kind of “look-at-you-you-dumb-shits” (pause that doesn’t work with conventional punctuation because I’ve taken liberties with hyphen usage here) “we-even-have-to-explain-your-miserable-lives-to-you-in-the-simplest-of-terms-because-you’ll-pay-to-watch-the-story-of-how-your-lives-got-to-be-so-miserable-whilst-we-rub-our-giant-metaphorical-dick-in-your-face” way. I, for one, want a refund, and although I didn’t exactly pay for the movie (it was provided as a form of “free” entertainment because I’d paid for something else), I will be writing to the film company and demanding that they refund me the cost, whatever that may be.


.01 Some Thoughts Whilst Conducting Research at the David Foster Wallace Archive (2016) Whilst Also Coping with a Beach-balling Apple Mac (which is more than just a tad annoying)

And this one is weirdly topical and very fresh as it discusses an article that is actually quite recent, rather than discussing something that was put out months ago.

The interview with President Obama in The Atlantic begins:

“Friday, August 30, 2013, the day the feckless Barack Obama brought to a premature end America’s reign as the world’s sole indispensable superpower—or, alternatively, the day the sagacious Barack Obama peered into the Middle Eastern abyss and stepped back from the consuming void”

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Feckless is an odd word with which to describe any American leader, given their access to power, both real and imagined. The article continues in an odd tone, in that it is hard to figure out its purpose – just what is the article supposed to make us think of Obama and his time in office? As above, where we have to contend with the deliberate paradox set up by the journalist of whether Obama is feckless or sagacious (because he really can’t be both), the article continues to tread a line somewhere in the middle of viewing Obama as a Spockian genius or as just a complete dick-wad.

Perhaps this is, in part, Obama’s own doing, where his awareness of his own image and of how he will be perceived by future generations, a very real aspect of Obama’s narcissism that comes out in every interview, somehow limits his appeal in the here and now – he’s all about the future, so how the f*** can you judge him today, stupid? Maybe it will take decades to figure out his legacy, but depending on what happens next in American politics, it might not seem all that important after all.


Some Thoughts Whilst Conducting Research at the David Foster Wallace Archive (2016) Whilst Also Coping with a Beach-balling Apple Mac (which is more than just a tad annoying)

The recent Tom Hardy vehicle, Legend, involves an interesting choice where its treatment of Frances Shea’s character is concerned. It seems that the filmmakers really needed a rape scene to be added to the film, because there can be no other possible explanation for its inclusion given that it appeared to jar with the narrative both before and after the point at which it was added, and so, slumped on the floor in her pantyhose, whilst under the influence of a Prozac-like substance to assist with her mental health problems, Frances Shea is raped by her husband, Reggie Kray. Now, we don’t actually see this happen, but we’re treated to familiar tropes that indicate that what is about to happen is a rape: the partially clothed Frances is dragged by her feet so that her legs are open whilst violent blows are issued to ensure compliance, as the camera pans away in order to save us from this terrible act – it’s such a commonplace act in mainstream movies that we don’t really need to see it.

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We could give the filmmakers the benefit of doubt by considering that at this time in the UK, and a lot of other places, that rape within marriage was not indeed a crime, as it was exempted from being so with a special “marital rape exemption” order, and that the filmmakers are making some sort of political commentary on the use of rape in film – but I suspect that that would be too generous. Rather than making a valid comment on the perverseness of the Law at this time, the filmmakers merely seem to be following type, by playing along with the dominant rape culture that likes to see a bit of rape reference in its films. Funnily enough, for anyone wishing to explore the matter further, The Guardian has a piece that not only contradicts the filmmakers’ depiction of Frances’ rape by suggesting that Frances was never subjected to physical violence at the hands of Reggie, and that a major source of antipathy between the married couple was Reggie’s attempt at raping Frances’ brother, Frank. However, attempting to rape your wife’s brother really doesn’t sit well with current rape culture, and so, presumably, the filmmakers thought they’d just stick with what they know best.


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