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  1. What To Do About the Shrubbery?
  2. Bernard Lewis Agrees With Me
  3. Netflix Again
  4. Media Bliss vs. White Borders

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Saturday, June 5, 2004

What To Do About the Shrubbery?
How do media images affect our erotic responses and demands? Ahhh, let us not be fools, version #1: We're in charge. We know perfectly well that media images are made-up, fake, fantasy. And we enjoy them -- or don't enjoy them -- as such. In fact, while gabbing recently with some younger guys I happened to say that I find the Pam Anderson, all-silicone 24/7 look unappealing. My young chums laughed and said that they like the look. They know that the hair, the boobs, and the lips are all fake; and they know perfectly well that for an image to achieve such vinyl flawlessness Photoshop has to be taxed to the max. But they just dig the results. As far as they're concerned, enjoying such an image has about as much significance as killing a time in front of the Cartoon Network, or playing with a videogame. Ahhh, let us not be fools, version #2: Who do we think we're kidding? Peer pressure is a formidable force, our imaginations and souls get imprinted on in ways we don't expect, and popular culture is a dynamic and immense force dedicated to reaching deep inside and having its way with our very beings. My own feeling is that both these responses have a lot going for them. If, on the one hand, I'd never be caught arguing that our actions and responses are determined by our experiences with popular culture, on the other hand it seems absurd to maintain that our responses and experiences aren't conditioned by them. After all, if these images aren't having something of an effect, why is the culture so devoted to generating them? Which are nothing but some minor musings prompted by a letter to a underground newspaper's sex columnist, found via Daze Reader, here. A teenage girl writes in with a question: should she keep her pubic hair or shave it off? She's in a quandary because she doesn't want to do the nude-pudenda thing, yet potential boyfriends are telling her that they find bushy girl-crotches a turn-off. The sex columnist delivers some sympathy, and advises the girl to compromise with a landing-strip-style pubic 'do. (The exchange can be read here.) Not a question that ever perplexed the '70s generation, of course. But while scanning porn sites, I've learned that what '70s people considered a normal bush has become a fetish style-thing of its own, known as "hairy." There are guys cruising the web who are on the look-out for "hairy" images, just as there are others on the lookout for boot-licking or bondage imagery. How bizarre that what was once thought of as natural has rematerialized as another option on the cyberworld's infinite menu of styles. Randall Parker does a lot of substantial thinking about how compare/contrast opportunities affect our conceptions of what's desirable here.... posted by Michael at June 5, 2004 | perma-link | (6) comments

Bernard Lewis Agrees With Me
When I spent a backpacking month in Morocco in the early '70s, the thing that surprised me most was how obsessed everyday Moroccans were with Israel. I was amazed by how much of Morocco's mental energy the topic of Israel (and its nefariousness) seemed to consume. After all, here the Moroccans were, leading miserable lives. And there was Israel, nearly 2000 miles off in the distance and, really, such a little-bitty thing. (Israel is barely larger than New Jersey.) I couldn't discern any connection at all between the daily fates of Moroccans and the existence of Israel. Yet as far as many Moroccans seemed concerned, Israel was the source of everything evil in their lives. How to explain why their preoccupation with Israel should be so whackily out of proportion with Israel's actual importance in their lives? Avoiding all questions here but the one about the (to my mind absurd) magnitude of the obsession, I found myself thinking along these lines: Well, conditions here in Morocco are pretty rotten and not getting much better. Officials seem corrupt, as well as unable to manage anything resembling a modern state. Hmm: how convenient Israel's existence is for Morocco's leaders, really. With Israel around, Morocco's leaders get to have 1) something to distract their subjects' attention with, and 2) a devil figure to blame all difficulties on. Even I -- as naive a teen as any other -- found myself thinking, hmm, in fact Morocco's leaders really need Israel. It seemed to me that the last thing an Arab ruler would really want to do would be to destroy Israel. Without it, how would he retain his hold over his people? Thinking along these lines, I was surprised to find myself pitying the Palestinians, who now appeared to me to be dupes of their fellow Arabs. Why? Well, if Arab leaders really weren't serious about destroying Israel, then it seemed clear that Arab leaders were in fact using the Palestinians, and doing so ultra-cynically. Evidence of the devil's nefariousness is needed, after all, and the Palestinians' frustrations provide that. It seemed likely to me that Arab leaders, far from caring about the Palestinians, were happy to sacrifice them -- casting them as suffering puppets in a stage-managed play whose point had nothing to do with the liberation of "Palestine" and everything to do with perpetuating the rule of corrupt elites. I don't submit any of these thoughts as serious political argument, by the way. I relate them as examples of the rails a visit to Morocco made my mind run along. It's striking how dramatically a visit to the mideast can affect your thought processes; here I was, a mid-American know-nothing, yet even so I was reading tea leaves and looking back over my shoulder. So I confess that I was tickled to read the following passage from an Atlantic Unbound q&a with the mideastern scholar Bernard Lewis, who (kinda-sorta) confirms my teenaged hunch: You mention that the reason that the Arab-Israeli conflict... posted by Michael at June 5, 2004 | perma-link | (5) comments

Thursday, June 3, 2004

Netflix Again
I was an early joiner of Netflix -- who could resist the pitch? But I was an early quitter too. Good service, but I found their collection, despite the sheer number of titles, a drag. A film buff for more than 30 years, I've seen nearly all the squaresville movies I'm interested in seeing. I needed quirkier offerings to pick through than Netflix was providing. (Nice thing about movie history: since it only goes back a little over 100 years, you can become a competent and knowledgeable film buff in only a couple of years of watching and reading. Sad thing about movie history: since it only goes back a little over 100 years, it runs out on you pretty fast.) An example: I worship a half-dozen of the films of William Wyler as sumptuous examples of the Hollywood-studio thing at its finest. (Try this one here, or this one here.) I'm willing to bet that artsfans a few hundred years hence will look back at 20th century Hollywood as a Golden Age every bit the equivalent of the Italian Renaissance; if I'm right, I'm also willing to bet that Wyler will rank in their minds with Raphael. But will I ever get around to watching Wyler's earnest, three-hour-long, returning-from-WWII drama "The Best Years of Our Lives"? Unlikely. Although some filmbuff friends maintain that it's a great movie, my will-to-watch gives out on me when I start to reach for "Best Years." No, at this point in my filmbuff life, I'm looking for weirder, spicier, more exotic pleasures; my interest in conventional film history is about 98% exhausted. So, after tiring myself out trying and failing to unearth tantalizing treats at Netflix, I gave up my membership and returned to traipsing over to Kim's Underground in the East Village. Still, the convenience of renting movies via the Web ... the chance to keep DVDs around for weeks without late fees ... I signed back up a few weeks ago. The good news: Netflix's collection is much deeper today than it was back in the early years. It's still pretty square, but pockets of the peculiar and the weird have accumulated. The collection is now well-stocked with Japanese horror films, for example, as well as with Italian giallo thrillers (Argento, Fulci, etc). Bollywood musicals are easy to find; Claude Chabrol's movies aren't in short supply; and History Channel-type documentaries are plentiful. I've bagged two films so far that I'm especially looking forward to. One is Searching for Debra Winger (here), a documentary directed by the actress Rosanna Arquette that's apparently about how unfair the movie business is to actresses d'un certain age. Haven't watched it yet, but I'm looking forward to lots of self-indulgent, narcissistic actress-babble about youth, sex, showbiz, aging, etc. What a thrill to find this disc; the Wife and I, who have been dying to see this film ever since we first heard about it, had pretty much given up hope. As far as I'm aware, the movie... posted by Michael at June 3, 2004 | perma-link | (17) comments

Tuesday, June 1, 2004

Media Bliss vs. White Borders
I treated myself to a computer break over the long weekend because I've found that ambitious, day-after-day computer use can cause brainstrain. My mind was feeling like a heap of burnt-out cinders. Why should this be? When I first noticed the phenomenon of computer burn-out, I thought it must be a function of staring at awful CRT computer screens. But even though they've been replaced by higher-quality LCD screens, my brain cells still get fried. Does this have to do with the weightlessness of cyberlife? With its disconnectedness from the physical world? With the way computer space is so vast, and seems to consist of right angles, tree-structures, and databases? I wonder sometimes about the consequences of digital efficiency. Does it really enable us to get that much more out of ourselves? Perhaps what it really does is to encourage us to burn up what we have to offer more quickly than we otherwise would. Hence the feeling of having a headful of cinders. Or perhaps this is all just a rant about the way electronics affect l'il ol' me? Thanks to my break I'm feeling refreshed and ready for further blogging. A little stumped with this posting, frankly. I had a good time collecting the ads I present here -- I'm pleased to have noticed the minitrends I've noticed. But I'm not sure what to make of them. I toyed for a few minutes with the idea of using these trendlets to illustrate Camille Paglia's contention that the history of Western art is best understood as a quarrel between the Dionysian impulse and the Apollonian impulse -- it's the Romantic thing vs. the Classic thing, over and over again. Paglia made a good, basic, and necessary point, and I for one am happy thinking that people who quarrel with it just don't get Western art. If the two ad-trends I point out here don't illustrate her argument, I don't know what use they are. At the very least, in the spirit of good blogging citizenship, I was hoping to turn up info about when the second volume of Paglia's book "Sexual Personae" will be published. Alas, no such luck. She's been working on the book forever, and (as far as I can tell) several times has even announced that she's on the verge of finishing it. But I see nothing online confirming that she's in fact completed the book. I did think this Wikipedia entry on Paglia here was awfully good, though. So apologies for a substance-free posting, and here's hoping you'll enjoy the eye candy. On to the pix. What I've noticed is the amusing coexistence of two different styles. First up is the cyber-Dionysian. Looking at these images and layouts, the voices in my brain mutter something like this: "Photoshop is the new crack! Whee: I'm happy, or I am so long as the goodies keep on showering down on me. Psychedelia! Black-light posters! Tiny ideas wildly overproduced! Overstuffed colors, and objects and lettering so full of... posted by Michael at June 1, 2004 | perma-link | (8) comments