Wednesday, October 26, 2011

fish in a barrel

I just caught the trailer for this abomination:

Tower Heist is a comedy about a bunch of disgruntled hotel employees who were scammed by their Wall Street businessman tenant and decide to avenge themselves by robbing his penthouse. It stars a group of rich actors pretending to be average Joes & Janes while simultaneously lining their pockets with the cash of said Joes & Janes, and it's distributed by Universal Pictures, a company largely owned by a corporation famous for having paid zero in taxes last year. So basically the film is disguised as something that sides with (or at least tries to tap into) populist anger but which actually helps to deflate the anger, monetizes it, and then redistributes it upwards to the very Wall Street villains the audience is meant to root against.

Universal originally planned to release Tower Heist via parent company Comcast's video on demand service three weeks after opening it in theaters but decided against the idea after several theater chains threatened to boycott the film if Universal went through with the plan. The cost of ordering the film on demand was going to be a head-scratching $59.99. (Surely this must have been an homage to one of William Castle's gimmicks, the idea behind it being that the audience of Tower Heist would have actually been defrauded, thereby giving them the feeling of having been one of the characters in the movie.)

william castle, skeleton, gimmick, house on haunted hill, the tingler

Also from the trailer:

"We're not criminals. We don't know how to steal."
"Don't worry, I know someone who does."
Cut to: Black Man (Eddie Murphy).

It sure is funny(?) that the trailer for a film in which the villain is supposed to be a rich white man who stole everyone's money still cuts to an imprisoned black man when the image of a "thief" is to be evoked.

* * *

While I'm on the subject, I'm sure I'm not the only one to have noticed how uncreative and condescending movie titles have become (I know this isn't anything new, but aren't they getting worse?). The major studios seem to have arrived at a formula where the stupidest movies (ie, the ones aimed at the largest possible audience) are given titles in which the sole purpose is to sum up exactly what the film is about in as few words as possible. Take a moment to actually consider the fact that, out of every conceivable possibility, the aforementioned film was named Tower Heist.

Here are a few other examples:

Dolphin Tale (cute pun!)
Hot Tub Time Machine (I guess this title is supposed to be funny?)
Vampires Suck (another pun!)
Night at the Museum
Horrible Bosses
Cars 2 (Roman numerals are confusing)
Bad Teacher
Battle: Los Angeles
The Fighter
And Killer Elite, a film about elite hitmen starring Robert De Niro as "Hunter." Unfortunately the much simpler and even more to the point "Hitman" couldn't be used because it was already taken four other times -- five if you count The Hitman. And make sure not to confuse Killer Elite (2011) with The Killer Elite (1975). (Killer Elite is based on a novel called The Feather Men, which, in terms of telling the audience exactly what the movie is about in just two words, would have been downright confusing. The Killer Elite is based on a novel called Monkey in the Middle, a title that is clearly unusable because of the word "monkey" (which is only permitted for horror films and comedies), and because it uses the letter "y" (which is sometimes a vowel but no one really understands why).

The precious titles that follow are an even more advanced demonstration of this mentality:

Fast & Furious
Monsters vs. Aliens
Aliens vs. Predator
Cowboys & Aliens

(Keep all of this in mind when you find out the title for Clint Eastwood's newest film starring Leonardo DiCaprio as J. Edgar Hoover.)

It's only a matter of time before we see trailers for the movies Explosions & Cleavage and Guns & Gore. But, unfortunately, even those titles will sound creative compared to their culmination:

Action & Adventure
Action & Adventure 2
Action & Adventure 3
Action & Adventure 4
Ad Nauseam
Suspense 2
Horror Film 6
Action & Adventure 5
Ad Nauseam 2

* * *

It's only in this context that one can make (some) sense of the Michigan woman who recently decided to sue the distributor of Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive (2011) because the film didn't feature enough... driving! It "bore very little similarity to a chase, or race action film," she said. If the film is called Drive, according to the formula, it had better have a hell of a lot of driving in it! Viewers, accustomed to movies being summed up (or represented literally) by their title, have now started to sue for false advertising when this is not the case(!) What else can be said?

drive, movie poster, woman sues, ryan gosling, scorpion jacket, refn

* * *

Probably the most famous (semi-)recent example of dumbing down a title is Harry Potter. Fearing that American children wouldn't want to read a book with the word "philosopher" on the cover (and ensuring that they never would), the publisher of Harry Potter changed the title of Rowling's first book to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, even though "philosopher's stone" refers to something very specific. As a result, the publishing company played their own role in a kind of alchemy: the turning of American children into future illiterates.

This brings to memory something Christopher Hitchens once said in an interview:

" ... They'll say, “Don't use the word 'Promethean.'” Actually, that happened recently. I used the word 'Promethean' and the [magazine editors] said, “Take that out because people won't know what Promethean means.” I said, “Maybe they won't. I'll cut it out if you give me another synonym for it. You give the words that would stand in for it and I'll change it.” “There doesn't seem to be one,” they said. “No, there isn't, is there?” You either know what “Promethean” means or you don't. If you do, it saves you about 50 words. And if you don't, then you can look it up! So I said, “No. I'm going to keep it, because it's an important word and it's actually not condescending to Americans in the least. You have to condescend far more by finding the 50-word substitute. No, I won't change it. Fuck you. And I don't mean to publish in your magazine, either, for that matter.” I'm reading this review, and I happen to remember – I forget what the review was of – but they mentioned Tolstoy. This sentence said, “This is reminiscent of the 19th Century Russian novelist Count Leo Tolstoy.” Now, clearly, the author [of the review] had not written this. But someone had thought, “Not all our readers know who Tolstoy is. We better tell them.” This is ridiculous! If you don't know who he is, that doesn't tell you any more than what you don't know. [...] “Homer's Iliad, based on Homer's The Iliad.” “The 19th Century Russian novelist…” It's insulting, the people who do that. It completely broke the rhythm of the writer's sentence. Whatever he had, it's completely undone by shoving all this crap in. It's yet another case of one thinking, 'What are they taking me for? Do they think I'm a moron?'"

* * *

And now the moment you've all been waiting for:


Sunday, October 16, 2011


"All imaginative and creative acts, being eternal, go to build up a permanent structure, ... above time, and, when this structure is finished, [...] its scaffolding will be knocked away and man will live in it. [...] Nothing that the heroes, martyrs, prophets and poets of the past have done for it has been wasted; no anonymous and unrecognized contribution to it has been overlooked. In it is conserved all the good man has done, and in it is completed all that he hoped and intended to do." --Northrop Frye, Fearful Symmetry: A Study of William Blake


Imagine for a moment that a group of people got together and somehow managed to open a portal to an alternate reality. Imagine also that those who opened the portal made the alternate reality available to everyone.

Hard work and determination were required in order to keep the portal open, and those who opened it did their best to nourish it even if they weren't always sure how to do so (the portal was mysterious, almost unfathomable).

Tourists and the media came to look at the portal. Some of them pointed at it and said that it was underwhelming, pointless, or even silly. And some of them -- the media especially -- couldn't even see the portal. Sure, they thought they could see it, thought they could make out some idea of what the portal was, but they saw it only through the bodies and faces of those who had opened it, as well as those who had come to help nourish it.

Others who were seemingly sympathetic to the idea of alternate realities found the portal interesting, yet they couldn't seem to stop themselves from pointing at the mysterious vortex with a puzzled look. "What is the goal of this portal?" They would ask. "What are those who opened it trying to achieve?" It never once occurred to them that the portal was an achievement unto itself.


It's no wonder the media keep insisting that Occupy Wall Street is unorganized. How else could a leaderless community be viewed within a system that has dismissed such a possibility?
adj. 1. lacking a leader; as, a leaderless mob running riot in the streets.
The Occupiers at Liberty Plaza/Zuccotti Park have their own kitchen, their own medical, media, and legal centers, their own general store and library, their own art shows and displays, their own work groups and scheduled daily events, their own form of government called the General Assembly (click to watch an excellent mini-documentary), and even their own treasury which recently allocated $3,000 to purchase cleaning supplies that were then used in a highly successful (all-volunteer) clean up effort. Yet the Occupation is continuously said to be unorganized.

The majority are having trouble seeing this movement for what it is largely because they're trapped in a paradigm that says "nothing exists except for that which we already know." To give the Occupy movement the credit it deserves would be to acknowledge the existence of a secret door -- one that has been sitting under our rug all along -- and the current ideology is unable to permit that because the concept of a door that leads to a world outside of itself is impossible. By trying to parse some simplified meaning from the Occupation movement, people are missing the whole point.

The "door to Wonderland" that inspired Lewis Carroll. The Liddell
sisters were not allowed to enter the Cathedral Garden (pictured).

As a Pakistani cab driver said in a (live streamed) conversation with some Occupiers (paraphrasing): "It's a new world now. The world started with the church, then it started again with the politicians, and now it has started with the public. People. That's it. The Public has to be everything. This is a new creation."

The implication of such a view is precisely what's meant by the slogan OCCUPY EVERYTHING!

* * *

"In April 2011, the Chinese government prohibited on TV and films and in novels all stories that contain alternate reality or time travel. This is a good sign for China. It means that people still dream about alternatives, so you have to prohibit this dream. Here we don't think of prohibition. Because the ruling system has even suppressed our capacity to dream. Look at the movies that we see all the time. It's easy to imagine the end of the world. An asteroid destroying all life and so on. But you cannot imagine the end of capitalism." --Zizek (from his speech in Liberty Plaza/Zuccotti Park)

Los (by William Blake), creator of consciousness and Golgonooza (the city of imagination).

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Cops of the Rich

Inspired by recent events, my friend Sarah B. refashioned the lyrics to Phil Ochs' "Cops of the World" to fit the police response to the Occupy Wall Street movement.

First, two quick things.

It's hardly a secret by now that J.P. Morgan Chase donated $4.6 million to the NYC Police foundation, but for anyone who hasn't heard about this I've placed a short interview excerpt in the comments section that highlights its importance. (Along with setting a frightening precedent, it seems very likely that this donation -- at the very least -- influenced a certain police action directly related to Occupy Wall Street. And of course it also relates to Sarah's lyrics in a major way.)

Second, for those who aren't already familiar with Ochs (one of the all-time great folk singers), or for those who simply want a reminder, here is his original song (followed by Sarah's reworked lyrics):

Cops of the World (1966)

* * *

Cops of the Rich

Come get out of the way, boys

Quick get out of the way

You'd better watch what you say, boys

Better watch what you say

We've roped you in corners and sprayed you with mace

And tied up your hands to expose your whole face

We are arrest you and tell you that YOU'RE the disgrace

Cuz we're the Cops of the Rich, boys

We're the Cops of the Rich

occupy wall street, mace, police

We pick and choose as we please, boys

Pick and choose as we please

You'd best get down on your knees, boys

Best get down on your knees

We shackle you up if you're part of a plot

We'll shackle you up even if you are not

Your guilt and your rights just don't matter a lot

Cuz we're the Cops of the Rich, boys

We're the Cops of the Rich


We'll meet you with shields in a line, boys

Meet you with shields in a line

The status quo is just fine, boys

Status quo is just fine

We've got to protect the executives' pay

No matter they flushed all our pensions away

Just stop making trouble and do as they say!

Cuz we're the Cops of the Rich, boys

We're the Cops of the Rich


Dump the tents in a pile, boys

Dump the tents in a pile

We'll change the rules all the while, boys

Change the rules all the while

We're confident that your resistance won't last

But still, if it does, you will all be harassed

The public we serve is the public we gas

Cuz we're the Cops of the Rich, boys

We're the Cops of the Rich

occupy wall street, police, brooklyn bridge, mass arrests

We have the Law on our side, boys

Laws are made for our side

Come in our van for a ride, boys

Step in and go for a ride

Stop your complaining that we act too rough

We don't need to catch you in illegal stuff

You're young and you're here and for now that's enough

Cuz we're the Cops of the Rich, boys

We're the Cops of the Rich


Here's a club in the back, boys

Here's a club in the back

You could use a good smack, boys

You could use a good smack

We'll target the ladies and rough them up too

We bloody your noses and cause you to bruise

If only YOU'D stop all the violence YOU do!

Cuz we're the Cops of the Rich, boys

We're the Cops of the Rich

occupy wall street, police, grope

They bankrupted your son, boys

Bankrupted your son

All in the name of good fun, boys

They sure had a lot of good fun!

They own all the money, oh say can you see

And maybe some day they will give some to me

So, like it or not, that is how it will be

Cuz we're the Cops of the Rich, boys

We're the Cops of the Rich



occupy wall street police arrest

occupy wall st police

occupy wall street police

Friday, October 07, 2011

Occupy Wall Street: some photos and impressions

None of the pictures that follow are very good or particularly interesting, but they give some sense of things from a personal perspective. My camera was acting up and eventually stopped working altogether (from rain, I assume; it's better now), and by the time of the march -- which I mention first -- it was no longer functioning.

Had I been quicker on the draw I could have snapped a great photo of a tall, handsome man in a well fitting suit standing motionless with the leash of his small dog in hand while the dog urinated on a pile of garbage. It might not sound that great, but to me it was an image of perfect symbolism. Another missed opportunity involved a man in a suit getting his shoes shined with an expression on his face that would be impossible to describe (my friend and I both laughed when we saw it). To give some indication I'd say he was expressing simultaneous contempt, embarrassment, and horror, but words don't do it justice. Rather I think what we saw was the birth of some as of yet unclassified emotional state.

Anyway, here's a brief recap from when I went up to Zuccotti Park with two friends (Monday, October 3rd).

* * *

Zuccotti Park, occupy wall street, liberty plaza
Zuccotti Park, occupy wall street, liberty plaza
Zuccotti Park, occupy wall street, liberty plaza
Zuccotti Park, occupy wall street, liberty plaza

Between 5:30 and 6:00 we marched through the financial district of New York City, forcing some streets to close temporarily and keeping some cars and cabs waiting. Though our numbers were in the hundreds and not the thousands, it was satisfying if for no other reason than we were a nuisance, a small plug in the flow of the city. (Certainly this is why, aside from the more obvious reasons (real and symbolic), it makes perfect sense to march through that particular part of the city -- pressure through inconvenience.)

At one point an expensively dressed woman turned to a police officer as she was trying to get through the crowd (more accurately, as she was waiting for the crowd to pass) and asked, with utter annoyance, "Could you make them go home this week?"

Someone else, a man with a thick New York accent standing outside a restaurant smoking, said to his friend with complete contempt, "The dregs of society," as we passed.

Another man, as the chant "WE! ARE! THE 99%!" made its way along, yelled from a doorway, "I! AM! THE 1%!" But the strange thing about this man -- at least judging from the company around him as well as the way he acted, dressed, and spoke -- was that he was almost certainly not part of the 1%. He struck me more as someone who was simply trying to be antagonistic for the sake of it, or perhaps someone with no real understanding of what being the top 1% really means and therefore deluded himself into thinking he was part of it.

Some of the march was a little bizarre -- bizarre in the sense that we passed some very nice restaurants filled with dressy people drinking wine and chatting to one another, and some of them were looking away on purpose (our presence -- loud chanting and banging drums -- could not be missed). Other people in the area -- waitstaff, residents, various workers -- gathered by their building's front door (or peaked out), taking pictures when we walked by as if the circus had just arrived in town.

When we approached the Post Office a heavyset woman employee inside had a big smile on her face and was pumping her fists in the air, dancing to the rhythm of the drumming. Another worker -- a man with a short beard (or perhaps just a mustache) -- was applauding with a look of respect and thankfulness on his face while standing behind the counter. The other workers were looking up and smiling, though they seemed to be concentrating more on getting things done (or at least pretending to). It was very nice to see this after experiencing the other, more negative reactions. (At least some people get it, I thought.)

A little later I smiled again when I noticed a street vendor giving the peace sign to us and smiling as we passed, though I cynically wondered after the fact if his reaction was sincere or just an attempt to grab some quick business.

* * *

Zuccotti Park, occupy wall street, liberty plaza, crass, punks
zuccotti park, occupy wall street, liberty plaza, tents, sleeping
zuccotti park, occupy wall street, liberty plaza, tents, sleeping, occupy wall st

The camp itself seemed to be well run.

zuccotti park, occupy wall street, liberty plaza, schedule, events
zuccotti park, occupy wall street, liberty plaza, wash, laundry

A couple of people were peeling various kinds of fruit when we arrived, and shortly thereafter a big bowl of tasty looking fruit salad was placed on the table. (People were alerted to its presence by a guy who yelled, well, "FRUIT SALAD!") No restrictions were put on who could eat what; the food was placed on the table when ready and up for grabs to occupiers and tourists alike.

zuccotti park, occupy wall street, liberty plaza, tents, sleeping, food, table

* * *

Here is a map of the park taken from The Occupied Wall Street Journal (which I will scan shortly if no good copies make their way online) [update: HERE ]:

zuccotti park, occupy wall street, liberty plaza, map, occupied wall street journal

* * *

Early on I noticed some commotion and a small crowd, so I made my way towards it. A disheveled man was holding a sign that read "Nazi Bankers Wall Street", and he was going on a long (endless) rant about Jews and Wall Street and all kinds of other ridiculous anti-Semitic nonsense. I'm sure that pretty much everyone -- if not everyone -- was only standing there listening to him because it was such a spectacle. A few people yelled that they didn't want to hear his racism, but the man persisted. Others were laughing. And there was lots of media there, which fueled him more. My immediate reaction was to see this as an illustration of one of the inherent dangers in forming a group that's generally accepting and all inclusive (he could do real damage if not kept in check), but people there had their own way of dealing with it:

zuccotti park, occupy wall street, liberty plaza, vendors, capitalism, anti-semitism, anti-semitic

The two people holding disapproving signs followed him around for awhile, and eventually I never saw the man again.

But before he disappeared, another guy came up to him and started yelling in his face:

"The people on Wall Street are not Jews! They people on Wall Street are white Anglo-Saxon Protestants! Got it?!? We don't want your hate here! This is not about race, religion or color!"

The irony was too funny.

* * *


Along the outskirts of the park sit a band of vendors peddling their wares.

zuccotti park, occupy wall street, liberty plaza, vendors, capitalism

For all I know they might very well park themselves there for most of the year, but of course it's much more likely they were in those spots to take advantage of the occupation and the publicity it was generating.

zuccotti park, occupy wall street, liberty plaza, vendors, capitalism

It struck me as parasitic behavior at worst, opportunistic at best. But at the same time, I can't really blame them too much. It's smart business (I doubt being a vendor is easy or particularly lucrative).

* * *

A couple of places in Zuccotti Park are covered with various signs the protesters have made. The signs sit on the ground all day on display (as information and decoration), and when the marches take place, everyone grabs their sign (or a sign) and carries it with them. When they return, the signs are placed back in the designated space. (Most of them are made on the back of pizza boxes.)

zuccotti park, occupy wall street, liberty plaza, signs, occupy wall st

The occupied area is never totally abandoned. During the march I went on, some people stayed behind to, I imagine, "hold the area" -- i.e., keep watch over it / keep the attention and spectacle aspect of the occupation alive (a group played drums at the camp the entire time we were gone). Many of the people who went on the march were people who came just to join in for the day, which illustrates part of the importance of the occupation itself: holding a public space where people can come and join whenever they have the opportunity. It's something constant and on-going, and a great place for organizing.

zuccotti park, occupy wall street, liberty plaza, signs
zuccotti park, occupy wall street, liberty plaza, signs
zuccotti park, occupy wall street, liberty plaza