Category Archives: Popular Culture

Battlestar Galactica at the UN

So say we all: BSG rocks the UN...."The UN is more than a building with fantastic curtains" - Whoopi Goldberg.

So say we all: BSG rocks the UN...."The UN is more than a building with fantastic curtains" - Whoopi Goldberg.

I am just catching up on this one thanks to a post at The Seemless Web (a great blog on law and popular culture I’ve just discovered), but a few weeks ago the UN hosted a forum to celebrate the finale of Battlestar Galactica. Apparently the seats of the general assembly were decked out with name plates for the 12 colonies of Kobol! As Marc Bernardin at PopWatch cutely reports : “Sci Fi turned the United Nations into the Quorum of Twelve. Which may be the third coolest thing I’ve ever seen.” But it’s not as crazy as it sounds, Bernardin continues:

While the idea of the UN hosting a retrospective on Battlestar Galactica might sound a little odd, as the night went on it started to make perfect sense. From the very beginning, BSG has dealt with moral issues — what it means to be human, the rule of law vs. the military might, the arguable merits of armed insurgency — issues which find themselves on the UN’s docket almost every day. As Robert Orr, the Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Planning put it, “You’ve got people thinking about issues that we try and get people thinking about every day.”….

When one of the UN’s representatives talked about how part of their mandate was to safeguard the human rights of everyone, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, and station, Olmos got a little heated. “You never should’ve invited me here,” he said, before blasting the UN for continuing to use race as a term of separation, of division among peoples. His voice rose, steadily, as if years of social activism was coming to a head on this night. Then, directing his attention to the high schoolers [300 in the audience]: “Adults will never be able to stop using the word ‘race’ as a cultural determinant….There is only one race: the human race. SO SAY WE ALL!”

I swear to you, everyone in that chamber shouted it right back at him. Because the Admiral asked us to.

And Mary McDonnell leaned over and gently wiped a tear from Olmos’ cheek.

New State of Play

Helen Mirren and Russell Crowe as the editor and her journalist in State of Play

Helen Mirren and Russell Crowe as the editor and her journalist in State of Play

From this NYT preview, sounds like Kevin McDonald’s two hour movie remake of the BBC series State of Play may have turned out OK. The change from London to Washington and from 2003 to 2008 mean the metaphor of the journalist has also undergone some renovation:

For the newspaper scenes Mr. Macdonald built a newsroom in Culver City, Calif., that is even messier than the real thing. He spent a lot of time at The Washington Post, and hired its metro editor, R. B. Brenner, as an adviser. “My idea was, what if you took the newsroom of ‘All the President’s Men,’ clean and crisp, with that ’70s architecture and bright primary colors, and imagined that it hadn’t been cleaned up in 30 years?” Mr. Macdonald said. “That sort of reflects the difference in how journalists are perceived now.”

He added that he was particularly pleased at the way the movie beefed up the character of Della, a young Scottish reporter played by Kelly Macdonald in the original, and turned her into a blogger (played by Rachel McAdams) who is somewhat at odds with Mr. Crowe’s old-school, shoe-leather character. “You’ve the blogosphere versus the print media,” Mr. Macdonald said. “If ‘All the President’s Men’ was what it was like in 1974, this is the way it is now.”

Charlie Rose Interview with Jon Krakauer

Emile Hirsch plays maverick mystic Chris McCandless in <em>Into the Wild</em>” width=”440″ height=”229″ /><p class=Emile Hirsch plays maverick mystic Chris McCandless in Into the Wild

In this interview Jon Krakauer talks about Christopher McCandless and what drew him to the story of the young man who went “into the wild”. He says he felt a visceral tingle when he first read reports of the hunters who had found the then unidentified body of the young adventurer

And from the original article on which Into the Wild is based:

McCandless’s personality was puzzling in its complexity. He was intensely private but could be convivial and gregarious in the extreme. And despite his overdeveloped social conscience, he was no tight-lipped, perpetually grim do-gooder who frowned on fun. To the contrary, he enjoyed tipping a glass now and then and was an incorrigible ham who would seize any excuse to regale friends and strangers with spirited renditions of Tony Bennett tunes. In college he directed and starred in a witty video parody of Geraldo Rivera opening Al Capone’s vault. And he was a natural salesman: Throughout his youth McCandless launched a series of entrepreneurial schemes (a photocopying service, among others), some of which brought in impressive amounts of cash.Upon graduating from high school, he took the earnings he’d socked away, bought a used Datsun B210, and promptly embarked on the first of his extemporaneous transcontinental odysseys. For half the summer he complied with his parents’ insistence that he phone every three days, but he didn’t check in at all the last couple of weeks and returned just two days before he was due at college, sporting torn clothes, a scruffy beard, and tangled hair and packing a machete and a .30-06 rifle, which he insisted on taking with him to school….McCandless could be generous and caring to a fault, but he had a darker side as well, characterized by monomania, impatience, and unwavering self-absorption, qualities that seemed to intensify throughout his college years. “I saw Chris at a party after his freshman year at Emory,” remembers Eric Hathaway, “and it was obvious that he had changed. He seemed very introverted, almost cold. Social life at Emory revolved around fraternities and sororities, something Chris wanted no part of. And when everybody started going Greek, he kind of pulled back from his old friends and got more heavily into himself.”

Who’s on the Line?

Would a jury convict Jack Bauer?...Justice Antonin Scalia doesn't think so

Would a jury convict Jack Bauer?...Justice Antonin Scalia doesn't think so

From a longer Washingtonpost.com article about TV and movie representation of surveillance:

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who back in June reportedly went to great lengths to defend Jack Bauer. …At a legal conference in Ottawa, responding to another participant who warned against asking, “What would Jack Bauer do?”

Scalia mounted a spirited defense, saying, “Jack Bauer saved Los Angeles. . . . He saved hundreds of thousands of lives.”

The Globe and Mail of Canada reported on the event.

Scalia then apparently hammered at the legal conundrum of prosecuting the likes of Bauer:

“Are you going to convict Jack Bauer? Say that criminal law is against him?”

He asked: “Is any jury going to convict Jack Bauer? I don’t think so.”

Not New York

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I have been thinking a lot about the “apocalytpic cities” section of my thesis. Initial thoughts are to focus on New York, but the whole idea of the multimodal mythic cluster means that New York is every city and every city is New York. Well, that is to say that New York is London, LA, Berlin, Shanghai, Hong Kong and various other nameless apocalyptic cities.

Just been searching out reviews of Children of Men a new adaptation of the P.D. James novel. Directed by Alfonso Cuarón(Y’Tu Mama Tambien and Harry Potter and the Prisoners of Azkaban) it is set in a beautifully dystopic London cityscape. The film is set in a world where New York has been destroyed by an atomic bomb some years earlier so in a sense London becomes the haunted double of the destroyed city.

children-of-men

A number of the reviews criticise – as reviewers love to do – “gaps in the logic” of the film, but given Cuaron’s other films and the bits that I have seen on the trailer I suspect the film has a compelling visual logic – a spatially imagined logic that is played out in the filmic recreation of “London”. A futuristic story is by definition one that will have gaps: the gaps of what has not yet been. The imagined city in such films is the fragile container of such aporia.

Just started today must try to see over the weekend.

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9/11 in a Movie-Made World

Tom Englehardt poses a fascinating set of “what ifs” in an article that traces the “movie-made” world of September 11.

So here was my what-if thought. What if the two hijacked planes, American Flight 11 and United 175, had plunged into those north and south towers at 8:46 and 9:03, killing all aboard, causing extensive damage and significant death tolls, but neither tower had come down? What if, as a Tribune columnist called it, photogenic “scenes of apocalypse” had not been produced? What if, despite two gaping holes and the smoke and flames pouring out of the towers, the imagery had been closer to that of 1993? What if there had been no giant cloud of destruction capable of bringing to mind the look of “the day after,” no images of crumbling towers worthy of Independence Day?

We would surely have had blazing headlines, but would they have commonly had “war” or “infamy” in them, as if we had been attacked by another state? Would the last superpower have gone from “invincible” to “vulnerable” in a split second? Would our newspapers instantly have been writing “before” and “after” editorials, or insisting that this moment was the ultimate “test” of George W. Bush’s until-then languishing presidency? Would we instantaneously have been considering taking what CIA Director George Tenet would soon call “the shackles” off our intelligence agencies and the military? Would we have been reconsidering, as Florida’s Democratic Senator Bob Graham suggested that first day, rescinding the Congressional ban on the assassination of foreign officials and heads of state?…

If it all hadn’t seemed so familiar, wouldn’t we have noticed what was actually new in the attacks of September 11? Wouldn’t more people have been as puzzled as, according to Ron Suskind in his new book The One Percent Doctrine, was one reporter who asked White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, “You don’t declare war against an individual, surely”? Wouldn’t Congress have balked at passing, three days later, an almost totally open-ended resolution granting the President the right to use force not against one nation (Afghanistan) but against “nations,” plural and unnamed?

Peter Manning, in an interview in today’s Australian (not online) promoting his new book, argues that we shouldn’t indulge in grand before and after 9/11 “new world” narratives, he points to other tragedies of much greater proportion such as Rwanda. But the reality is that 9/11 did fracture the world in a new way. The enormity of 9/11 cannot just be measured in the tragedy of the 3000 who died (how can you usefully “measure” 1000s or tens of 1000s of dead people anyway). The enormity of the event is in its production and its image. And as Englehardt points out, that is something radically new and powerfully familiar. Because of our “movie-made” world 9/11 was utterly familiar and totally startling all at the same time and that is the new sensation we are still getting used to even as we watch those towers fall again and again.

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OpinionJournal – Jack Bauer Insurance

Can CIA agents be sued for protecting America with too much vigor?:

Tuesday, September 12, 2006 12:01 a.m. EDT

What would Jack Bauer do? If he worked at the CIA in real life today, the anti-terror hero of Fox’s “24” would apparently be buying insurance in case the ACLU or John Kerry decided to sue or subpoena him for protecting America with too much vigor.

The Washington Post reported yesterday that more CIA counterterrorism officers are signing up for private insurance that would pay for civil judgments and legal costs if they are sued or charged with a crime. These are the agents who interrogated Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah and other jihadis, using what President Bush last week called methods that were legal but “tough.” Those methods succeeded in breaking these men into divulging information that led to the arrest of other al Qaeda bigs, and to the foiling of plots that could have killed thousands.

“ ‘There are a lot of people who think that subpoenas could be coming’ from Congress after the November elections or from federal prosecutors if Democrats capture the White House in 2008,” wrote the Post, quoting a retired intelligence officer close to the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, which conducted the interrogations. This is not paranoia. We reported yesterday how Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat, is blocking Bush nominees simply for having been mentioned in passing in emails about Guantanamo. Some of us also remember the infamous Frank Church hearings of the 1970s that pilloried the CIA and weakened it for decades.

Though the government pays the premiums for this kind of insurance, it is a sorry spectacle that these agents must now fear partisan retribution for having done precisely what the country asked them to do. The story is one more reason Congress should follow through on Mr. Bush’s request to put its stamp of approval on such interrogations, including ex post facto immunity for these CIA officers.

Intelligence is the front line of this anti-jihadi conflict, and the danger from the current political second-guessing is that CIA officers will go back to the FBI’s law enforcement mentality of reading terrorists their Miranda rights that failed the country leading up to 9/11. The country needs Jack Bauer insurance, too.

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Spielbergian meditations

Manohla Dargis’ review of Munich in the New York Times make’s Spielberg’s new film sound much more interesting than other reports that I have read:

“Munich” is as much a meditation on ethics as a political thriller, but it takes nothing away from the film to say that the most adrenaline-spiked part of this genre hybrid involves getaway cars, false papers and the sight of the future Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who pops up during a mission in Lebanon, mowing down terrorists while dressed in a woman’s wig and high heels. In between the cloak, dagger and drag, the telephone bombs and a veritable alphabet soup of intrigue (C.I.A., P.L.O., K.G.B.), the years pass with increasing desperation and the team’s numbers dwindle. Forced into a new kind of exodus, far from the homeland meant to provide justification for their every action, Avner and his men wander the continent that three decades earlier had been the staging ground for the extermination of European Jewry.For these wandering, bickering, argumentative Jews, every safe house and port of call becomes an occasion for yet another discussion about Israel and identity. Nothing if not conversational, “Munich” is organized around three crucial dialogues: Meir’s discussion of vengeance with her advisers, which ends with her declaration that every civilization finds it necessary to negotiate compromises with its own values; a brief discussion between Avner and a Palestinian who predicts Israel’s defeat; and, finally, a bitter encounter between two Israelis who fail to find common ground even in that multicultural utopia known as Brooklyn. With its dead-eye view of Lower Manhattan and the twin towers, this scene makes clear (as if there was any doubt) that Mr. Spielberg is as worried about this country as he is about Israel.

This entry linked to Wikispaces page (munich)

Project Deep Impact

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The NASA Deep Impact mission which has exploded a probe into an orbiting comet has released a series of impressive images. The mission named after the 1998 film has again blurred the line between popular science and popular culture. Everyone seems excited and impressed but not that clear what its all about. The pop science site Red Nova’s report is headlined: “NASA cheers probes direct hit on comet”.

It sounded like science fiction – NASA scientists used a space probe to chase down a speeding comet 83 million miles away and slammed it into the frozen ball of dirty ice and debris in a mission to learn how the solar system was formed.

The unmanned probe of the Deep Impact mission collided with Tempel 1, a pickle-shaped comet half the size of Manhattan, late Sunday as thousands of people across the country fixed their eyes to the southwestern sky for a glimpse.

The impact at 10:52 p.m. PDT was cause for celebration not only to scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, but also for the more than 10,000 people camped out at Hawaii’s Waikiki Beach to watch it on a giant movie screen.

“It’s almost like one of those science fiction movies,” said Steve Lin, a Honolulu physician.

The cosmic smash-up did not significantly alter the comet’s orbit around the sun and NASA said the experiment does not pose any danger to Earth – unlike the scary comet headed for Earth in the 1998 movie, “Deep Impact.”

So much for the spectacle, and the science…

Rough images by the mothership that released the probe on its suicide mission 24 hours earlier showed a bright white flash from the comet upon impact, which hurled a cloud of debris into space. When the dust settles, scientists hope to peek inside the comet’s frozen core – a composite of ice and rock left over from the early solar system.

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War of the Worlds

With the Australian media preview of War of the Worlds last night SMH film writer Gary Maddox has an intriguing little piece in today’s paper. It’s not really a review, it’s not really a comment piece, it’s a short reflection on post 9/11 culture and the new film:

Panicking crowds fleeing down streets. Buildings collapsing. A coat of grey dust on Tom Cruise’s face. A crashed passenger jet. And the first thought when the explosions and killing starts: is it a terrorist attack?….

Other War of the Worlds adaptations tapped into fears about Nazis and the Soviets. While remembering the past, Spielberg has tapped into the new fears about terrorist attacks.

The strength of the movie is the resonances with other wars on humanity, including the Holocaust and Hiroshima. Spielberg is reminding us there have been many threats over the generations, but humanity can survive.

It’s not the first time this connection has been made. In fact Spielberg has been drawing people’s attention to it in many of his publicity interviews. He seems most articulate in this interview with the Chicago Sun Times:

“In my mind, there is that image of everyone fleeing from Manhattan across the bridge after the Sept. 11 attack,” Spielberg says. “That’s a searing image that will never leave our minds.

”This movie is also about people being attacked for no reason. They don’t know why they’re being attacked. We certainly went to great lengths in the movie not to explain any reason for these attackers.“

His screen writer David Koepp says in the same piece that although the reference was explicit they worked hard to make sure the politics were not:

”Certainly, there are a lot of political undertones and overtones,“ Koepp says. ”But we tried consciously to never lead with the politics. That’s a guaranteed way to make a piece of crap.

“The political tones of this movie will emerge for themselves. In the ’50s, ‘War of the Worlds’ was, ‘My God, the commies are coming to get us.’ Now it’s about fear of terrorism. In other parts of the world, the new movie will be fear of American invasion. It will be clearly about the Iraq war for them,” says the screenwriter.

Koepp and Spielberg also makes some interesting comments about the visual and plotting choices that were made:

Spielberg was clear about what film he wanted to make with “War of the Worlds” and what film he refused to do. The rules included: No U.S. landmarks in flames, no beating up on New York City, and no politicians, scientists or generals leading the way to victory. There would also be no shots of world capitals.

There could be airplanes crashing into houses, alien tripods sending a ferry boat the way of the Titanic and dead bodies floating sadly down a river and seen through the eyes of a child (Fanning), who comes across the horrifying site in the woods.

I’ll wait to see how successfully he avoided some of those easy cliches – or rather if he did what others he replaced them with – the frustrating thing about Spielberg is that he is a bleeding heart liberal with an overtly American mythical view of family and nation. His rule about no generals/scientists leading the way to victory will undoubtedly be matched by a parable about the heroic little guy protecting his family. Of course neither point of view really comes to terms with the complex issues of individual and communal agency in the face of disaster.

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Billy Jack Is Ready to Fight the Good Fight Again – New York Times

In a fascinating interview with the New York Times Tom Laughlin and Delores Taylor, the husband and wife team that brought us Billy Jack – the classic outsider hero of the 60s/70s – says they are going to make a new film. They are looking at combining the film with political activism around the Iraq war:

“We despise both political parties, really loathe them,” he said. (“We” might be Mr. Laughlin and his alter ego, or it might include his wife, Delores Taylor, who played Billy Jack’s pacifist partner, Jean; but one doesn’t interrupt the man lightly.)

“We the people have no representative of any kind,” he continued. “It’s now the multinationals. They’ve taken over. It’s no different than the 70’s, but it’s gotten worse. And if you use words like ‘impeachment’ or ‘fascist’ you’re a nut on a soapbox.”

So Mr. Laughlin and Ms. Taylor are planning to bring their characters back to the big screen with a new $12 million sequel, raising money from individuals just as they did to make their films three decades ago.

In this new film, they say, they will take on social scourges like drugs, and power players like the religious right. They say they will also outline a way to end the current war and launch a political campaign for a third-party presidential candidate.

They have already formed a 527 nonprofit committee with the aim of ending the war, and say they will run full-page ads in major newspapers beginning next month explaining their plan to withdraw from Iraq. (Money raised for that committee is separate from the film project.)

There is a sense that they are “Billy Jack” lots of talk about thier triumph outside the studio system and Taylor concludes:

“This is something we have to do. We don’t know if it will be successful, but we’re committed. We have to do it. Just like ‘Billy Jack.’ ”

Robert Sklar, professor of cinema studies at New York University notes the seminal importance of the Billy Jack films both in terms of the genre and in terms of the self-releasing model:

“He was the model for Rambo, for ‘Walking Tall,’ When you think of what ‘Rocky’ meant for the culture – Laughlin was ahead of all that. He represented the indomitable outsider, and he was the first one in that era. It was also true in the sense in which he fought to make the film, and fought to get it distributed with this terrific idea of self-releasing.”

We see here an early example of fusion between outsider hero character and outsider hero actor coming together as a political and business statement. A model that has been developed very differently by Arnold Schwazenneger and Mel Gibson.

Bush and Star Wars

Word from Cannes is that the final installment in the Star Wars saga: Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith is making the links between the Empire and the Empire.

The last episode rounding out the seminal sci-fi saga Star Wars screened at the Cannes film festival today, capping a six-part series that remains a major part of popular culture – and delivering a galactic jab to US President George W Bush….

Reaction at advance screenings was effusive, with festival-goers, critics and journalists at Cannes applauding at the moment the infamous Darth Vader came into being. But there were also murmurs at the parallels being drawn between Bush’s administration and the birth of the space opera’s evil Empire.

Baddies’ dialogue about bloodshed and despicable acts being needed to bring “peace and stability” to the movie’s universe, mainly through a fabricated war, set the scene. And then came the zinger, with the protagonist, Anakin Skywalker, saying just before becoming Darth Vader: “You are either with me – or you are my enemy.”

To the Cannes audience, often sympathetic to anti-Bush messages in cinema as last year’s triumph here of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 attested, that immediately recalled Bush’s 2001 ultimatum, “You’re either with us or against us in the fight against terror.”