Forum for the course  BAD SCENARIO led by Jerome Waag and part of the PICKPOCKET ALMANACK curated by Joseph del Pesco and commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in the spring of 2010.

pickpocket-badscenario-blog

Any situation can be read as a scenario—a play in which we perform scripted  behaviors—be it in a restaurant, at an art opening or in the privacy of our own bedrooms. But who writes this stuff? How does our cultural environment, and particularly film and video, influence our understanding of personal freedom? And finally, if behavior is political, what is an unscripted life? Taking our queues from a series of 60’s counterculture movies which push the boundaries of social interaction we will assess present situations, investigate some attempts at rewrites and possibly do a little scripting of our own.

 

Honest liar

The suspension of disbelief or how to get your attention

Jamy Ian Swiss is getting your attention

 

The culture of paranoia

Tracing the Breakdown of the Conservative Ascendancy

Christopher Lasch’s celebrated The Culture of Narcissism (1979), a compendium of social and personality pathologies of the age, was actually a snapshot of the dysfunctions of the end of an era, the era of American liberalism. In the era of American conservatism that followed, ushered in by the elections of 1980, paranoia assumed the role that narcissism had played in the liberal era. Paranoia replaced narcissism in terms of the cultural and personality potentials tapped by the historical period, as well as providing a model for late-era excesses and dysfunctions.

Lawrence Rosenthal, Visiting Research Sociologist and Executive Director, Center for the Comparative Study of Right-Wing Movements, University of California, Berkeley.

Themroc

Watching Themroc is a very visceral experience, a full length movie full of grunts and no discernible dialogue. It feature a blue collar worker braking the front wall of his apartment in a sort of proletarian Anarchitecture gesture and regressing to a very primitive life style which includes sleeping with his own sister and roasting and eating a cop. Made in 1973 it precedes Conical Intersect, the Matta-Clark project for the Paris Biennale by two years and together they blast a hole in the old Paris through which one can see looming the angular and shiny structures of the coming gentrification.

– As we were watching ‘Themroc’ last night, I was reminded of this link:
http://www.chinasmack.com/2010/pictures/brother-power-naked-chinese-man-vs-modern-society.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed: chinaSMACK chinaSMACK
from ChinaSmack, a website that appears to be an aggregator of news from China translated into English (maybe by the blog’s writers – ‘Mop members’?). There’s also a fair amount of commentary on internet life for Chinese and diaspora members – the glossary is worth checking out.
Looks like the battle against modernity never ends.
AE

– Such an amazing movie last night. The counter-culture revolt taken to extremes, back to the inchoate and visceral. And then, as the credits rolled, Jerome serving delicious slices of roast pork on herb slab. It was not only delicious but a very clever denouement …bringing some of the flavor of the movie to life. Fuel for the great discussion afterward.
JdP
– Sorry I had to leave. I wanted to know what everyone thought transgressive art is? I think of the Yes Men and Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir as obvious examples. Whose work falls under the transgressive label? Packard Jennings?

Have we decided to go to the Armory?

Also, there are a couple of other films (made in the 70’s) that have been recommended to me, lighter fare though. I am going to try to find DVDs of them: *The Magic Christian* and *Holy Mountain.*

Best,

Allegra

– Allegra,
I love this question (what is transgressive art), and I think that movie we just watched engages ideas about transgression in an interesting way. I was left feeling like we did watch something that essentially diagrammed transgression within a given apartment complex (and Paris in general, during the montage at the end), and yet, I saw the families who participated in the transgression living, not over the edge, but within it (between the walls leading to the common spaces inside the building and the broken wall leading to the courtyard).
This connects to a discussion that was begun earlier this year at a Red 76 event I attended at Triple Base Gallery about the margin and the center – it seems like transgression crosses accepted lines, sometimes defining new margins, but I wonder whether, in cases like the movie Themroc, transgression results in somewhat static/utopian examples (lasting for just the ninety minutes of a film’s length), or what I would think is a polar opposite – a tending toward new norms? And then what does that mean for the margins? That they are areas defined by repeated redefinition and change, maybe. I don’t think Themroc wiil ever be the new norm, but perhaps that is why the parting shot of the walled-in family was so interesting to me, with the woman’s arms waving from behind the cinderblocks. It seems to me that this is something like what we ask from a commonly accepted idea of society – that it holds us – but maybe it could hold us in a more flexible way (if we weren’t too wild, some would probably add!).
As for transgressive art, I agree that the Yes Men and Packard Jennings make work that could be considered transgressive, especially Packard’s work that Helena mentioned last night – the booklets instructing how to wreak havoc in 9-5 jobs and shopping complexes. And I wonder whether someone like Steve Lambert could be considered a bridge, someone who recommends vigorous work within existing systems for lightly transgressive ends – although I think his priority is critique rather than out and out dismissal or destruction. Perhaps transgression involves the taking down of a system, and critique involves its continual editing? And how does this compare to our conversation about judgment and criticism? I’m not sure yet but I am thinking about it.


AE

Sweet movie

Sweet Movie, full of unenlighted lunacy, is not really a film at all. It is a social disease.

– Jay Cocks, 1975

– I would like to comment further on /Sweet Movie/ on the layers I responded to the most. I do not see it as transgressive, even by 1970’s standards. Maybe the regressive “therapy” scene at the end might be very 1970’s. It is obviously highly influenced by the adult film industry, but has its own Cold War narrative about the competition between the East and the West, uncommon in the porn industry but nevertheless male-centered sexual fantasies acted out. According to the film, under capitalist societies, women are more abused, exploited and humiliated, very little of which I found humorous, much of it adolescent, and all crudely portrayed. Under the communist system, women seem
to have more power. The male diligently pursues the woman (he, a mere sailor, she, a commander? Class issues?), where “equality” reigns and the woman is in a seductress role, at least vis-a-vis boys, but to little effect. But, again, ultimately, it is for male pleasure, though I liked the sugar scene. In reality, both East and West can be puritanical, and it has little to do with the differing economic systems.

If this film were made by a woman, I believe it would be very differently done and probably more transgressive (certainly in terms of who has the power) for the 1970’s and alas, still now. I found nothing particularly stimulating. Each to his or her own. I also do not experience the US as sexually repressed (tho we never defined terms and it would be interesting to discuss a vision of an unrepressed society). Particularly in the Bay Area, you can find anything that might appeal to you. Many adult films are made in this area. I believe we should go to the Armory (tours are open to the public) and talk to those filmmakers. Would their storylines etc. be transgressive? I am sure they see the US as sexually repressed too.

Also, I would like to say something about critism and judgment. I do not think there is any difference between them. There are all kinds and approaches to criticism and all kinds of judgment. Art used to have a moral imperative to it, and ultimately any work will proclaim that what it is expressing or raising as an issue is important or should be considered important by others outside the artist. That is a judgment.

Allegra

– Thanks for your thoughts Allegra…I’m adding my 2 cents that I’d been mulling over since the movie and the conversation you and I had before watching it. (For everyone else’s benefit…Allegra and I had a conversation about whether we live in a sexually repressed culture, how the big dirty word “feminism” relates to this topic and whether it has any relevance now.)

First I want to address the issue of criticism vs. judgement. It is interesting in that we are all, always making decisions/judgements that legitimize or discredit one idea/perspective/culture over another. Sometimes these decisions seem innocent and unrelated to politics…and more about personal taste. But ultimately taste is about so much more than “distanced aesthetics” when it gets played out vis a vis the dominant culture/paradigm etc. The shutting down of any dialogue or kind of representation because it is deemed inappropriate, distasteful, or threatening ultimately serves a political end, whether it is our intention or not.

I think that there exists (maybe even more so now) a pressing need to represent these graphic subjects- sexual, political, psychological- because despite all of the changes brought on by years of radical feminism and queer politics, there remains an intense culture of repression. If this is less so in the practical work-world where someone of a minority group may have some chance at being hired at a job that never would have been available to them 30 years ago, there remains an underground/unconscious? thread of repressive politic simply in what is deemed “natural” or legitimate in our culture (= the hierarchy of taste which i think has some puritan shame/fear-based origin). Sweet Movie resides in the historical trajectory of experimental film but also literature, where writers such as Genet, Nabokov, Reage and de Sade challenged societal sexual taboo in order to reveal constrictions made to appear as “the natural order of things”. In some recent reading I came across this idea on Foucault’s project of sexuality: He shows that the formation of a discourse around sexuality in the 18th and 19th centuries was NOT a repression of sexual activity as might have been thought. Rather it was a deliberate liberation of sex within the framework of marriage and hereto-normative sexual practices. I find it very interesting that there was (is) a cultural force at work not to shut down the imperative to have sex, BUT directing which kind of sex/sexual behavior/appetite was (is) acceptable/legitimate. This kind of judgement in the guise of “good taste”, morality or even feminism boils down to a censoring of ones individual impulses, desire and imagination. It seems to me, that this level of very personal censorship (otherwise known as shaming) is the first step in attempting to get some/body/ to tow the “party” line. Eventually, as a target of this sort of censure, one internalizes the control and becomes their own chastity belt! I imagine that this was a concern that preoccupied Makavejev and seems very present in the decisions he made in the movie.

Makavejev’s crazy Kenneth Anger-ish collaging of so many abject and boundary pushing images was – and still is – subversive. I wouldn’t describe the movie as pornographic as I don’t think his intention was to sexually excite. But as Sontag’s essay “The Pornographic Imagination” argues, porn, like literature, should be assessed in terms of it’s own narrative structure. Although initially I bristled at some of the images of women being examined and stuffed in suitcases, I think that his representation of these images does not literally translate into his agreement with mistreatment of women. His unflinching portrayal of sexuality, stands as a precursor (albeit male perspective) to the kind of feminism that champions women’s pleasure as powerfully polymorphous. Despite Miss World’s repeated humiliation, she is proactive in following her impulses (sexually with the Spanish/Mexican singer el Macho; and sensually, by taking out the real penis of her fellow commune member and by sliding around in chocolate). Can we see her ‘seduction by chocolate’, or any of her actions as being any more compromised than the behaviors of any of the other characters? The degree of absurdity and tongue-in-cheek humor about all of the extreme conditions in the movie put any misogyny in perspective. Makavejev even takes pot shots at himself as the “author”/director when he shows the cameraman who salivates over Miss World rolling around, and ultimately drowning in chocolate. We are all implicated, as is the cameraman…in being bodies – that love to watch, get titillated, enjoy pleasure, are disgusted by our own bodily functions, are whores in a capitalist machine, are machines in a communist regime, and are human beings full of contradictions.

Mr. Dollars’ mother says it all during the “virginal beauty contest”…
“…there are no metals, no elastic supports, no tranquilizers. Through the guidance of our sensational method, your own body kills the animal. We advocate simple triumph of the will. It is painless and ever so rewarding. No wild dreams. No – no peculiar behavior. Solid health and purposeful direction! […] A network of muscles forms the protective armour around the pelvic region. If not controlled and kept at bay, wild impulses will turn everyone into beastly animals, chaotic natural beings.”

Linda
– In response to Linda’s email, we will have to agree to disagree. Far be it from me to censor anyone’s dialogue or viewing pleasure. I am really not stupid and have no wish to participate in a shaming/fear-based culture, neither do I want to encourage a life-denying and hateful one either. I am also not anti-pornography and merely suggested that Sweet Movie took much from the adult film industry. If nothing else, pornography feeds masturbutory fantasies and thus has a positive function.
I am speaking for myself and others who are not amused by gratuitous violence and sex or abuse of women or crudity. Although some of I what I said can be viewed as a matter of taste, I meant it as a more general criticism of the film. It is not life-affirming, liberatory (is that a word?), or even enlightening.
Comparing the work of Genet, Nabokov, Reage and de Sade with the movie amply illustrates some of my points. I have not read all of these authors or all of their works, but I have seen The Story of O and Lolita, both of which make Sweet Movie in comparison seem like a vaccuous fraternity prank. And, their books, I am sure, have a far more liberatory function than Mahavegev’s movie does and are far more exquisite, subtle, and complex in dealing with the human mind, body and spirit.
Sweet Movie has been called subversive of some dominant paradigm that wishes to maintain some “natural order of things.” I would argue that in San Francisco and other major cities in the US, there is no dominant sexual paradigm/culture, but more a plethora of competing ones. In fact, current realities are in many ways beyond the wildest imaginations of Genet, Nabokov, Reage and de Sade. Raising some conception of a “dominant” paradigm is to raise a straw man that needs to be subverted, but I suggest it is merely in the mind.
I also disagree with any characterization of the film as concerned with female pleasure. Miss World is *not* proactive. She is merely doing what women have done for centuries, when coping with male sexual domination and abuse, trying to exist with what little she is given.
I work with a bunch of pretty amazing people and one of my co-workers saw the West Coast? premiere of the movie in Berkeley where Mahavejev spoke. At the showing he said women in the audience actually threw things at Mahavegev. I would not have participated, but would have been greatly amused by these truly subversive acts, throwing projectiles at the great auteur. You have got to love those old-time feminists. I think younger women today are cowed and fear the unjust criticisms levelled at earlier feminists as anti-sex, anti-men, too masculinized, and bitter, so they fear criticizing what from a woman’s perspective should be criticized.
But then, each to his or her own.
Allegra
– Thanks Allegra and Linda for pulling on the opposite ends of the cord that cuts through Sweet Movie.
Critic or judgement: the former implies, in my judgement, a taking apart, analyzing or dissecting of something when the later assigns a value, as in good, bad or ugly, innocent or guilty; so,I don’t see them as quite the same things, but you can be the judge of that.
Innocence and guilt might be one lens to look at this movie, does it regress far enough to childhood innocence or is it guilty of misogyny, tired stereotypes and mature vulgarity?. I don’t know.
Personally I don’t find anything in this movie so repulsive, expect for the murder of 10 000 polish officers by the soviet army and the subsequent propaganda film made of the excavation by the nazis. The rest of the movie feels allegorical, a play of archetypes and cartoonish cliches living in the realm of the poetic imagination, a space safe enough for the free play of fantasies and experimentation, maybe, we can call it art , if not necessarily artful. I am thinking here of films by Pasolini, for example, who supported the release of Sweet Movie in Italy.
I don’t see the pornographic in it either, there is certainly a lot of nudity but the sex, if always present is never explicit which I think is a requirement for the porn industry. From the two movies we watched in my studio, political and sexual liberation are often close by and the transformation of the social/political body passes through the liberation of the physical body. It’s true that we live in a very sexually permissive culture, in San Francisco anyway, but more generally we also live in a very sexualized culture, which is not the same. This sexualization is more a way of creating tensions then liberation, a tension highly profitable to consumer society and influenced by film and media. The sex in Sweet Movie, I think, points to that but exist in a different place, a place of playfulness and a place where that tension can be released. I like Allegra’s idea of visiting the Armory studios: is the adult film industry where we will find liberated bodies or where they are bound and sold ?
So, is this movie transgressive ? does it cross boundaries ? maybe not … the film had a lot of problem crossing borders, Anna Prucnal, the ship’s captain, was barred from traveling to Poland for 7 years and wasn’t able to attend her mother’s funeral and Makavejev himself was exiled from, then,Yugoslavia; or maybe … the film was produced and shot in three different countries and had an international cast, including Otto Muehl and his commune. Muehl might have, himself, crossed the line and ended up in jail for 7 years. All this to say that this movie danced across a lot of borders. More about Otto Muehl, his commune and “life as the ultimate work of art” in this article
http://www.freewebs.com/vienna-actionists/ottomuehl.htm
http://www.archivesmuehl.org/homeen.html
his films
http://www.ubu.com/film/muehl.html
and the Vienna Actionists
http://www.freewebs.com/vienna-actionists/index.htm
plus a long article on the movie by Lorraine Mortimer
http://archive.sensesofcinema.com/contents/08/47/sweet-movie-mortimer.html

jerome

The glass house

Tired of being thrown around and penniless

even the law didn’t want to know about us

and that’s why we have sunk so deep

The Glass House is a very moving documentary about a center for young women in Teheran, Iran, who are in dire situations due to domestic violence and sexual or drug abuse. This video shows three of the women who are rap singers, a dangerous scenario in present day Iran, as well as a few of the other participants in the film. The center is run by the OMID E MEHR FOUDATION.

– Thanks for the wonderful film suggestion. Really a powerful film that I probably would not have attended on my own. The film explored the complicated ways that social empowerment/lack of power get played out in poverty and gender, especially in relation to the oppressive Iranian government. Have to admit that I know very little about Iran, but the film really transcended the specifics of the nation-state. Kind of amazing that the film was able to get by government minders/censors. Wasn’t able to make it to your screening of I am Curious Yellow, but from what I gather censors, institutions of power, and social norms are definitely on your mind.
Really an amazing film!
best, genevieve


– Genevieve, Thanks for your update on The Glass House – so concise, and it made me revisit this writing I did just after seeing it. I’ve been kicking this around, not wanting to send it because it’s so long, but maybe there’s something there amidst all those words? Somehow it was hard for me to quickly digest the film, and it took an entire re-view to get to the questions that are sticking around for me. Here it is..
* The Glass House depicted in Hamid Rahmanian’s film is Omid e Mehr (translation: Hope for Kindness), a rehabilitation and training house (though more like a safe haven) for girls in Tehran. The center was founded by Marjaneh Halati, a psychoanalyst based in London but who appears in the film frequently enough to make the Omid e Mehr center seem like a second home to her, where she acts as a sort of uber-mother to the 14 – 20 year old girls who take refuge in the center’s programs.*
* The film is shot at close range, with scenes of exceptional emotional/social tension and reveal unfolding around the camera. Sometimes the camera seems to be an invisible part of its surroundings. In group scenes at Omid e Mehr, the girls’ focus – on Halati when she is visiting, and on the business of sorting through their own lives with their caseworkers and counselors – seems to hardly take the camera’s presence into account. Maybe this is a sign of what a safe space they take this place to be?
Other times, the camera acts as a confidante, as in the moments when Mitra, between job training sessions, shares her writing or a drawing of her ideal home (featuring her father and brother banished to the outdoors, and her mother on a burning pyre in the yard. She speaks openly, in stark contrast to her short sentences and quick retorts at her house, where, in a later scene, we see her reading her poetry to her father – he responds by indicating a movie actor’s performance on the television.
In other moments, the camera seems to instigate certain actions – like Halati herself, the camera acts as a mirror, an agent, and a tool through which these girls frame their lives. At several points as Sussan, the oldest of the profiled girls, navigates dating, drugs, and domestic violence, the camera’s presence seems to provoke something – reconciliation between Sussan and her mother; or confession, as the brother of her second ‘provisional husband’ explains why he beat Sussan up – she was using drugs at home and he took responsibility for resolving the situation.
I am interested in this role/nonrole situation of the camera within the film – how does it work to have the terms of a role change frequently within a given script?
* We watched the girls learning to talk about the most shameful parts of their lives at close range and in short episodes, forcing us to feel how variously and distinctly the girls found ways to articulate themselves in the world. In one scene, Mitra accompanies Halati on the bus as she is leaving for London, and delivers a litany of what she predicts will make Halati cry before leaving. Halati replies, this is terrible but it will not make me cry – these are your life experiences.
In other scenes, we get small bits of performance by Nazila, a talented rapper and English student who finally, against her family’s wishes and potential repercussions from the Iranian government, manages to record a song in an underground studio at the end of the film.
We get to see the girls succeeding and failing at expressing themselves – both in their creative approaches to writing, performing, and job-seeking, and in the larger work of the center – creating new avenues for women to find equitable places in Iranian society. The complexity of what the social workers and the girls are able to arrange, by deeply penetrating the fabric of the girls’ lives to reshape and rescript the terms of their interactions with their families and society, pushes discussions of human rights and women’s goals for the future into very personal and creative territory, and from the view we are given in this film, it seems this extreme commitment is what is needed to begin to change women’s roles in Iranian society.
* I was left with a few questions when the film was over – I’ve been intrigued with the discussion of ‘rights’ and ‘hope’ for a long time, and it occurred to me watching this film that ‘rights,’ and women’s rights in Iran, are at certain points an idea so abstract as to be not very useful in some cases, like in the lives of the girls at Omid E Mehr. Since watching the film, I’ve been talking with other women who work with women around self-expression, and it seems like there is something of a natural hierarchy of what must get expressed – most important is the articulation of needs, then rights, then desires (hopes?). This appears to be a re-script that is often used in therapeutic work, and I wonder whether there are inherent dangers in replacing one script (e.g. women as quiet, as servants, as assistants to maintaining a working society) with another (women expressing their needs, their rights, and their wants)? Also, I come upon the question of hope again and again – when does hope stop being a luxury? Is hope a useful term when dealing with the step-by-step rebuilding of lives and societal roles?
* n.b. I recently learned (thanks to Azin Seraj, an artist and Iranian citizen studying with me at UC Berkeley) that women are not allowed to sing in Iranian society. !
* copies of this movie can be acquired for benefit screenings – a few of us have been discussing the possibility of screening The Glass House as a fundraiser here in San Francisco, maybe along the model of the Sunday movie nights we’re having as a part of Bad Scenario… ?
http://payvand.com/news/08/jul/1187.html
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PjXqJl5HVbQ
* Looking forward to the movies coming up,

AE

I Am Curious – Yellow

“I’m not very fond of this sort of moviemaking, which tries to disarm conventional criticism by exploiting formlessness as meaningful itself.” (The New York Times)

I Am Curious comes in two parts, Yellow and Blue for the colors of the swedish flag. Both films were reviewed by Vincent Canby in The New York Times in 1969, Yellow and Blue.

The Heights theater in Houston, TX was destroyed by arson fire for showing the movie.

– There is a lot in this movie. For one thing it caught the spirit of the 60’s, with a definite swedish flavor, as we follow Lena, wading through the politics of the time, in her quest for personal and sexual freedom. One interesting thing, is how the film looks at itself, as we shift from watching a movie to seeing that movie being shot. At times it is hard to tell which is which, a fact being reinforced by Lena’s relationship with both the male lead and the director. There is also an interview with Olof Palme, a pretty leftist politician, who became prime minister and was later assassinated; his interview seems like a moment of clarity in this otherwise chaotic movie. In another segment we see Lena in a quick exchange with Martin Luther King, a conversation created in the editing room. The film borrows also from advertisement , where the narration is interrupted by slogans, one promoting I Am Curious-Blue, and another, a contest to win a trip to Spain. This constant braking of the flow of the film is reminiscent of Bertold Brecht’s epic theater, where the spectator is always brought back form her passive fascination to a more active engagement with the play.
Jerome
– This film became notorious in the US. Barney Rosset , founder of Evergreen Review and the owner of Grove Press, a publishing house involved in several key legal battles to publish banned books, bought the rights to the movie with the intention of using it to fight anti-obscenity laws. The movie was ceased by custom and after a couple court battles it was left to individual cities to allow it to be shown. Grove Press dispatched civil liberties case lawyers to fight the local battles, paying them by giving them a percentage of the revenues. I Am Curious-Yellow became the the highest grossing foreign film in the U.S. for the next 25 years.
Since this movie pretends to mix different layers of reality, from fiction to cinema verite and documentary, it might be a good place to ask again: how does mass media/film influence behavior ? I Am Curious-Yellow was important in changing the cultural and political environment by changing what we considered obscene and widening civil liberties. The representation of sex and maybe, in this case, woman sexuality becomes highly subversive and political enough to go all the way to the supreme court. How are our individual behaviors affected by the transformation of the framework of what can be seen, and read ? What I find interesting is that it is the sexual content in the movie that has had the most important political effect on our daily lives, more than the other issues expressed in it, like non-violence or class differences.
Jerome
– Dear All,
I liked the film, but I am not so sure it influenced sexual behavior on the individual level, if that is what you mean. The courts in this country probably deal with “obsenity” cases every year. I am not convinced the film was made to challenge US standards at the time, but it provided an opportunity to re-examine the standards by which films are censored or not in this country. Maybe that is what Jerome means? I grew up in the 60’s and the film I remember most was /Deep Throat. /It was also reviewed by the Supreme Court.
I think the most significant influence on sexual behavior was the Pill and the desire not to be like our mothers which lead to a desire to have a fulfilled life, including sexually, and not a self-sacrificing life like our mothers lived.
I found it puzzling that some people in our group think that most are conservative sexually now, as compared to the 60’s or earlier. Unless you are virgins and want to wait until you marry to have sex and then move to the suburbs and have 2 1/2 kids and a station wagon (the script prior to the 60’s), I do not see today’s behavior as conservative. The norm (at least I hope so) is very different today. Maybe not “promiscuity” as portrayed in the film, but most in the 60’s were not acolytes of “free love.” That myth was easy to see beyond as seen in the film itself when Lena ends jealous, angry, disappointed and abandoned.
BTW, the significance of Sweden during the 60’s was large among certain people. Women who could afford it went to Sweden to get abortions, since abortion was illegal in this country and legal there.
Allegra

Distortions

RETINAL TRICKS AND COGNITIVE LAPSES

At the Exploratorium

with

THEE OH SEES

Do films distort behavior?

– Well,
I don’t exactly feel prepared to moderate, but I’ll share some fairly raw & subjective impressions and a tangental thought or two.
The Kerry Laitala 3d films were very beautiful. She used Stereolab/Nurse With Wound “Simple Headphone Mind” as the score for the first film. Devine. It’s red & electric blue/ yellow-flamed light evoked an other-worldly carnival, and also reminded me very much of these favorite spacey childhood passtimes (well…we had no TV) : 1) blinking in bright rooms & study the retinal after-image inside my closed eyes. 2) pressing my eyelids & provoke patterns to appear. (yeah, I’m fine) 3) staring experiments w my sister w various distorting effects…all has vanished but her face!
I asked Laitala about her process a bit. She creates what often look like complete abstractions using footage of LED light through a fan-blade. The only process post-production is transfering the film to 3D. She told me these were her first videos after 20 years of film.
I thought of how children instinctively wish to move & become dizzy, and how– it turns out– this is stimulation to the brain’s vestibular system is crucial to healthy development ( don’t have a great reference here, though I went on some fun tangents looking, but I’m thinking of my Early Childhood Ed classes). So it would seem that the seemingly insistent drive to disorient in order to reorient can serve that concrete a developmental function.
Thee Oh Sees were great as usual & treated us to a new song. The Harry Smith films were wonderful. There were his beautifully colored stop-motion paper(?), painted(?) animations with their themes provoking musings on perception, death/cyclic change and regeneration.There were lots of dreamy double- exposure montages. One bit depicting Native American “fancy dancing” made me think about ritual trance danceforms translated to serve other purposes (traditional forms >into tourist entertainment/money making >full circle back into community-building friendly competition). I had recently had a conversation with a bboy dancer friend who cited “fancy dancing” as a break influence. I got curious and found this, anecdotal though it may be:
http://board.rapmusic.com/hip-hop-central/884298-hip-hop-history-pt-1-a.html
A comment from Amanda afterwords, about how her dance background left her wanting to dance as part of the process of learning, dovetailed with and further provoked my musings on perception, neurology & somatic integration.
I find myself thinking of cell renewal and neural plasticity as expressions of hope and possibility. ( I’m a huge Oliver Sacks fan….)
I’ve found several fascinating articles, here’s an abstract of one of I can no longer access. If you’re looking for the script for a bad scenario, It’s the continuous biomedical ethics s**t storm surrounding the definition of life. True, but I’m interested in his thoughts about the relationship between the mind & body.
http://jmp.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/26/5/457
I should have access to journals through CCSF’s library, though & will try that.
SG

Communiqué from an absent future

We live as a dead civilization. We can no longer imagine the good life except as a series of spectacles preselected for our bemusement: a shimmering menu of illusions. Both the full-filled life and our own imagination have been systematically replaced by a set of images more lavish and inhumane then anything we ourselves would conceive, and equally beyond reach. No one believes in such outcomes anymore. (from “On the terminus of student life” by research & destroy)

After the Fall: Communiqués from Occupied California is available as a pdf for download and for viewing on-line by clicking the image below.

After the Fall: Communiqués from Occupied California, published in February 2010, chronicles the events that took place on campuses around california during the fall of 2009. The introduction to this article, “communiqué from an absent future”, describes in terms of a dire scenario, “the poverty of student life”, the present conditions in the UC system. The article goes on to look into the question “who wrote this scenario?” and finally points to an alternative one, “so that we can produce our own lives” one tending toward unscripted territories or “free zones”. As such it is a good model for the way this course wants to look at things. For further readings try “A warning to students of all ages” and “The revolution of everyday life” two scripts by Raoul Vaneigem and also “The ignorant schoolmaster” by Jacques Ranciere

Bring it on !

Lecture by Maud Lavin
Presented as part of CCA’s Graduate Studies Lecture Series
Tuesday, February 23, 2010, 7 pm

Timken Lecture Hall, San Francisco campus

Maud Lavin is currently working on a book about images of women’s lust and aggression in American art and mass culture. Titled Push Comes to Shove: New Images of Aggressive Women, it will be published in fall 2010 by MIT Press.

Her CCA lecture—”Bring It On!”—will explore the new, complex, expansive, and mainly positive representations of feminine aggression in American culture since the 1990s. As mass-cultural examples she will look at the recent wave of women and sports movies, for instance the cheerleading movie Bring It On! and the gymnast movie Stick It. Lavin will also explore the expression of aggression within and from art and activist groups such as Toxic Titties.

Lavin is chair and professor in Visual and Critical Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is the author of Cut with the Kitchen Knife: The Weimar Photomontages of Hannah Hoech and Clean New World: Culture, Politics and Graphic Design, and editor/coauthor of The Business of Holidays and The Oldest We’ve Ever Been. She has received a National Endowment for the Arts Grant and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

– Hello all, Apologies on the slow update. I was at the Maud Lavin lecture (easy for me as my studio is about 100 feet away.)
I did find it very compelling and yes, very much grounded in the
super-academic world of Visual and Critical Studies, but with a foot
also in pop culture. Lavin used films like “Bring it on” (which I
haven’t actually seen) to discuss how women are positioned in American
culture—specifically the “new, complex, expansive, and mainly positive
representations of feminine aggression in American culture since the
1990s.”
A thread of the conversation that I found particularly interesting
differentiated aggressive women from “women who act like men,” who
Lavin pointed out are screwed over with constricting gender roles too,
and brought up the idea of positive conflict. She talked about being
able to fight, being capable of violence without actually committing
the act, as an important part of turning anger outwards. It certainly
has been my experience that women tend towards turning their aggression
inwards with various flavors of self-harm because outward aggression is
rarely modeled by our mothers etc. and so often condemned.
I wonder what common definitions of positive conflict and agonism
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agonism [1]) are. How do they play out, push
the boundaries of social interaction, rescue us from niceness?
Looking forward to your thoughts,
Sarah
ps. Maud Lavin quote I scribbled down in my notebook: “When you take on
a big issue you become not only an explorer but a propagandist.”
– I wonder if she mentioned Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which fans of the show cite as an important series for the role of the aggressive women heros on television. This from wikipedia:
The character of Buffy was conceived by Joss Whedon as a way of subverting the cliché of “the little blonde girl who goes into a dark alley and gets killed in every horror movie.” Whedon stated “Martha
the Immortal Waitress” was the first incarnation of Buffy in his head,
“the idea of a seemingly insignificant female who in fact turns out to
be extraordinary.” When asked how he came up with the name of “Buffy,”
Whedon states “It was the name that I could think of that I could take
the least seriously. There is no way you could hear the name Buffy and
think, “This is an important person.”
Whedon always intended for the character to become an icon, claiming “I wanted her to be a hero that existed in people’s minds the way Wonder Woman or Spider-Man does, you know? I wanted her to be a doll or an action figure. I wanted Barbie with Kung Fu grip! I wanted her
to enter the mass consciousness and the imaginations of growing kids
because I think she’s a cool character, and that was always the plan.
I wanted Buffy to be a cultural phenomenon, period.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buffy_Summers
JdP
– Also, agonism has been resurfacing (in my life) in readings and among
friends in the last six months or so… so I did a bit of digging for
details and found a couple interesting leads (to add to Sarah’s link)…
From Michel Foucault: “Rather than speaking of an essential antagonism, it would be better to speak of an ‘agonism’—of a
relationship that is at the same time mutual incitement and struggle;
less of a face-to-face confrontation that paralyzes both sides than a
permanent provocation.”
I like the idea of a ‘permanent provocation’
Also from Chantal Mouffe: “An agonism is also a conflict without any rational solution, but a conflict which is going to be played out in a different way because the people who are in conflict see themselves
not as enemies but as adversaries. This means that, while disagreeing,
they accept the legitimacy of the demands of their opponents.”
Here’s a link to the pdf that includes that last quote
http://www.delpesco.com/ChantalMouffe.pdf
Joseph
– Dear Scenarians,
To me, Lavin’s talk seemed a little loosy-goosy theoretically, but raised some interesting ideas. Lavin defined aggression as “the use of force to create change.” It can be used to enforce convention or to exercise power for positive change. She is only looking at direct aggression, not repressed aggression or “passive aggression,” such as gossip and name-calling which traditionally have been used by females as an aggressive tactic.
Lavin also has a positive spin on aggression, alining it with Claire Bishop’s idea of conflict in democracy: aggression as necessary for radical democracy. It is an essential and necessary element that can take many forms, some fearful, while other stir hope. She also links it to the psychological theories of Melanie Klein and Judith (?) Mitchell, particularly those that have to do with sibling rivalry, where individuals learn to both protect their own space and share it, where there is competition for scarce resources like money and parental attention.
Lavin, through these sorts of theoretical underpinnings, looks at the portrayal of female aggression in films and the arts, including female athletic fantasy films, like /Bring It On!/ (about cheerleading competition) and /Bend It Like/ /Beckham/, and the performance art group, Toxic Titties, among others.
The main idea of the talk that informs what I think our class is about is around the question of the relationship between experience and culture. In other words, does art and film/mass media, in this instance the portrayal of female aggression in athletics and other arenas, determine individual behavior, or does experience (like the full funding of, and the consequent increased participation in, athletic programs for girls/women in public schools) lead to portrayals of female athletic aggression/competition in art and film? This was one of the main ideas behind Lavin’s talk in my mind.
Is there interactivity between the two realms and how does art/mass media influence behavior and vice versa?
Allegra Fortunati
– Hello All, Jerome, I wasn’t sure if I should respond to the email OR post on the blog (which I’m not sure how to do yet.)…but posting them is fine! Thanks for the updates! It’s really interesting in hearing from folks who went to Lavin…as this topic relates to my own work a lot and I’m sorry I didn’t get to hear it (had tix to Yoko)…
I’m interested in representations of women and behaviour that pushes against what’s deemed “appropriate” by the culture at large and how stepping out of these accepted roles, one risks becoming marginalized for not being “nice”. Joseph, I love this idea of permanent provocation! Somehow this feels playful/non-judgemental and about subverting expectations…in ways that feel playful and provocative.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about where representation and reality overlap…how fantasy/imagination/representation of something outside the norm can have effects on the viewer (say of a painting) and even one’s own “reality” as the artist/producer of said image etc. (manifesting new “realities” for oneself). This topic seems really rich in terms of the theme around “producing our own lives…tending toward unscripted territories” from the After the Fall: Communiqués from Occupied California (which I just started to read and is an amazing document of the student labor movement in CA recently! thanks Jerome!) On this topic of “re-scripting a bad scenario” (or the transformative power of creativity) I’m obsessed with Elizabeth Grosz’s collection of essay’s that reinterpret Darwin and Deleuze called “chaos, territory, art”. (excerpt attached) She argues that Darwin was really all about sexual selection (excess and beauty for the sake of pleasure/sensation and heightened vibration/experience, not natural selection (beauty serving the utilitarian end of survival). I find her conclusions to be profound in that they propose art/creativity/imagination as the way in which we can remake the world and ourselves. “In this sense art is the way in which shreds of chaos can return in sensation: it is how art returns us to the unlivable from which we came and gives us a premonition of the unlivable power to come.” (p.77) “…art is…about transforming the lived body into an unlivable power, an unleashed force that transforms the body along with the world.” (p.22) “…the capacity to enlarge the universe by enabling its potential to be otherwise…”(p. 24)
Exciting dialog…looking forward to doing it in person!
Best, Linda
http://www.4shared.com/dir/32759349/2e7d35e0/sharing.html
– Hello
Thank you all for the already very rich thread
coming from Maud Lavin’s lecture.
I think Allegra posed the question
in the simpliest terms,
so a couple things come to mind:
– “Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which
to shape it.” the well known quote from Bertold Brecht
– George Gerbner’s Cultivation Theory
which looks at the impact of TV viewing
http://www.cw.utwente.nl/theorieenoverzicht/Theory%20clusters/Media,%20Culture%20and%20Society/Cultivation_Theory-1.doc/
plus The Media Education Foundation
has a lot of video of his work and media critic
http://www.mediaed.org/cgi-bin/commerce.cgi?display=home
– how does agonism relates to movies?
The main structure of movie scenarios is conflict or drama
In “Film Form” Sergei Einsenstein goes even further saying that film language itself is conflicts:
graphic conflict, conflicts of plane, volumes, light, between matter and viewpoint….
in this sense he saw the whole idea of marxist dialectics
embeded in the movie experience
which became a teaching tool (hammer) for the viewers
more on dialectics: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dialectic
and film montage: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet_montage_theory
Back to women boxing
dialectics being dialogue
so maybe there is a way of getting into the ring
and giving it all and hugging at the end of the bout
having lived through the shared experience of mutual incitment and struggle
I think the Sunday movies will be a great time to get into the ring
playfully
and with permanent provocation
see you thursday
jerome
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