Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Introducing my new celebrity crush. Sorry Mark Ruffalo, you have been my main celeb crush since 2004, but there's a new kid in town now: Colin Hanks.

Pros: He looks like Jemaine Clement.
Cons: He is Tom Hanks's son.

(Don't you think there is a little touch of the Adam Brodys or Mark Ronsons to him as well?)

He promises to be the saving grace of the new House Bunny film coming out here at the end of September. House Bunny comes from the writing team who brought us Legally Blonde, and looks like it's going to cover a lot of that same postfeminist ground. I am always a sucker for the seriose cat who plays the love interest in this genre of films about bubbly blonde heroines who interfere in the lives of people around them: call it the Mr Knightley Effect. Anyway, Colin Hanks plays the Mr Knightley character in House Bunny.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

On the new 'manga' avatars. Sweeping blogs and social networks, they are! You can do yourself up as a cartoon character on this website, although the result doesn't look especially 'manga' to me. Virginia has been the early adopter here - it's been fascinating to see how the manga avatars spread through her networks to her Twitter friends, then through Sophie to the Oz Lit blogosphere. Now Laura has done one and challenged others to do themselves too!

I first did one on my birthday but never received it because I had it sent to my 'social networking' email address that I never check, and when I just checked now, it hadn't arrived. So I just did one up now.

There is a real art to making it look like the person. It's superficially easy to pick the right colour scheme, hairstyle, clothes and accessories, etc, but the challenge is picking the right interplay of features: are the eyes the right shape, the right size compared to the nose, and sitting in the right proportions? These manga avatars remind me of the Wii avatar, the Mii - when Jeremy got his Wii, his housemate John did up many Miis for all their friends. Some of them had uncanny resemblances (especially Helen), but then John is an animator by profession so this was his visual language.

I'm not sure I will use this avatar as an actual avatar, although its innocuousness makes it more attractive for that purpose. Yesterday I was going back through my MySpazz profile pics and was kind of uncomfortable with how many of them were faceless shots of various parts of my body. Back then I liked that because it was more anonymous, but given that Facebook is much more public (and the blurring of the personal and professional is more complete), I wouldn't want some of those pics to be the online representation of me.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

More thoughts on the shitness of Australian music video. I have often wondered about why Australian pop and R&B music videos (especially those set in clubs) always come out looking shit and awkward compared to the glossy look and feel of American and British mainstream pop and R&B videos. I've thought about this a lot, particularly when it comes to the oeuvres of Guy Sebastian and J-Wess, had this discussion with other people and we've brought up issues of lower budgets in Australia, the smaller market size not fostering a large enough pop/R&B culture, etc.

But now I think some more about it, Australian music videos of this sort are just too naturalistic when what the form demands is artifice and stylisation. Naturalism works better for rock and acoustic music videos where all you really need is to see the musician doing their thing, but pop and R&B demand either high-concept videos or a super-performative singer who is capable of being a singer, dancer and actor. Sadly, many Australians are only singers.

Actually, I think the video for 'Pictures' by Sneaky Sound System is actually one of the best Australian pop/R&B videos because its concept is stylised and well executed. Also, I actually really like this song, although I deliberately made up incorrect lyrics including: "Lycra, like a sneaker in my left eye", "I've got lots of peaches in my hat, you'd better not save your mum for later" and "Oh, Skippy on fire". My favourite wrong lyric, though, comes in the second verse: "You can bite, and no one will do a wee".

Anyway. I was watching the video for Ricki-Lee's excellent song 'Can't Touch It' - such a great exception to the shitness of most Australian R&B songs - and yet the video is terrible in that typically Australian way, from the hokey acting from the beanie-clad (and vaguely Enrique Inglesias-meets-Colin-Farrell-looking; perhaps it's just the saggy beanie) 'love interest' to the awkward dancing.

And I think it's because it's not stylised enough. Ricki-Lee is a wonderful singer; there's a throaty quality to her voice that I really like. But she doesn't have the theatrical presence or the kinetic dancing ability of the singer to whom obvious comparisons invite themselves... the mighty Beyoncé. Here is my favourite Beyoncé video ever, 'Get Me Bodied'. (Embedding has been disabled for this video.) It's a good contrast to the Ricki-Lee video because it has a similar narrative: the girls' night out in a club.

As Ricki-Lee unfortunately demonstrates, performing in a music video is so much more than smiling, pouting and mastering choreography. I love the way Beyoncé uses her eyes when she performs. It's almost reminiscent of classical Indian dance; the eyes will flick, the head will cock, the neck will arch. Unlike Ricki-Lee's generalised smiling and pouting, Beyoncé's repertoire of gestures seems very precise and deliberate.

As far as the dancing goes, Beyoncé is simply a joy to watch. Her energy reminds me of Tina Turner; that's why they made such a great pair at the 2008 Grammys. And despite her teetering heels, there's a groundedness to the way she moves, a solidity to her legs and particularly her thighs. I love the sequence in which she and her male partner do a kind of boxstep really close to each other, bodies almost intertwined. It relies on absolute coordination. I also love the breathtaking athleticism of the scene where the line of dancers shimmy after Beyoncé on their knees. Also, watch the fat chick go - being a good dancer has nothing to do with the size of your body. It's more about your awareness of how you occupy space.

Most of all I like the way that she, Kelly, Michelle and Solange make these moves look natural and fun, like they'd dance like this on an ordinary night out. Trained dancers always make their social dancing so effortlessly spectacular. The rest of us can just shuffle along or, like me, not dance at all out of embarrassment at how we must look to others.

Months ago I remember reading that the dance call-outs in 'Get Me Bodied' were reminiscent of a New Orleans subgenre of hip-hop (I remember watching video clips of crowds doing bizarre, complex dance moves on cue when an MC shouted out each one) and it was really annoying me that when I came to blog this I couldn't remember what the subgenre was called. Thankfully, I read an Opulent blog post that put me out of my misery - it's called bounce.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Secret Dirt. Last night I was having dinner with friends and I discovered that someone I know is secretly filthy. (I shall protect the guilty...) By 'filthy', I don't mean something like picking your nose and then eating it, or pissing on the bathroom floor. I mean a departure from what we interpret as the norms of personal hygiene.

Sometimes it is socially acceptable, even a form of intimacy with your friends, to 'confess' to some minor transgression of this sort - say, not washing your hair for six weeks. This doesn't reflect badly on you. But people would kind of change their opinion about you if you were to confess to not washing your bedlinen for six weeks, not showering for six weeks, or not cleaning your teeth for six weeks.

Where do these standards come from? Do I really believe that everyone else adheres to baseline standards of cleanliness much higher than my own, hence I must be the grubby one and never breathe a word to anyone for fear of being shamed? Or is everyone making the same assumption? I wonder if there was a completely anonymous internet survey about personal hygiene, what that baseline standard would be. Oh no wait, we're talking nerds here, aren't we.

As Daniel Harris writes in Cute, Quaint, Hungry and Romantic, the aesthetic of cleanness has been developed by an advertising industry that needs to show us its products in action, but is faced with the problem that cleanliness itself has no sensuous qualities; it's the absence of dirtiness. So the industry takes a two-pronged approach: inventing sensuous qualities (such as 'fresh' scents, frothy soap suds and sparkling surfaces), and playing on our fear of things we cannot detect for ourselves: invisible bacteria, or the social stigma of not noticing our own dirtiness.

I do feel paranoid about things like bad breath and body odour, even though I know that they were invented in the early 20th century by advertising agencies hawking soaps and mouthwashes. This is because from time to time I do find someone's breath and body odour disagreeable, and I can't help but wonder if they recoil at me. Of course, this paranoia wrestles with another of my impulses: laziness. That is why it is always reassuring to discover that someone else has their weak points when it comes to personal hygiene.

Friday, August 08, 2008

The Cool Friend. My housemate Marty is moving out to go and live with his friend Ash. I don't especially blame him, because I think of Ash as Marty's Cool Friend. He's charming, self-assured, faintly hip without being a hipster, and very good-looking. When I first met him, I was struck by how much he looks like Arj Barker, which is amusing because Arj Barker plays Dave, the Cool Friend in Flight of the Conchords ("ohhhh, you're a legend Dave!").

(Artist's impression of Marty's new household.)

Of course, the joke in FOTC is that Dave is actually really lame, but the Cool Friend isn't necessarily cool; they're just someone you look up to and take your own cool cues from. You can also have different Cool Friends for different facets of your life. For instance, Shane was my Cool Friend for all things music and fashion-related for years - come back to blogging, dude!

It is kind of sad that we should honour such alpha/beta friendship dichotomies. I have always worried that I am the beta partner in many of my friendships. I also wonder if there'll ever be a point at which I no longer care about being cool. Perhaps my idea of what cool is will change, but not the importance of the quality itself.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Teh Asenshul Reedz: Teh Graet Gatsbeh. Welcome to the first of my romps through the literary canon, as aggregated by Neil Bowers. I have decided not to refer to the titles of the books in normal English in order to prevent cheating tards from cribbing bits out of my reviews for their school and university essays.

This novel is famous for epitomising the decadence of Jazz Age America, the callousness and cruel snobbery at the heart of those glittering parties. But before I read Gatsbeh, I mainly thought of it as a study in moneyed aesthetics: parties, fashion, cars, gorgeous houses. Much as people are drawn to the glamour oozing from Art Deco, I figured they were drawn to a certain melancholy stylishness in the narrative.

Upon finishing the book, my main impression was of an absolutely threadbare narrative. Boy loves girl, girl refuses to leave caddish husband for boy, girl mows down husband's mistress in boy's car, mistress's grief-stricken husband kills boy. Narrator decamps for the Mid-West in disillusionment. I thought, "Fitzgerald, you rogue! There must be a certain devilish alchemy in concocting a seminal generationalist text from such chiffon!"

I bought my copy for $1 from the Don Bosco op-shop on Sydney Road and it's obviously a school text. D. Cumming, the previous owner, hasn't really annotated it much, although at some points he or she has idly run a pen down a centre spread of the book. However, these passages were underlined:
but he had deliberately given Daisy a sense of security; he let her believe that he was a person from much the same strata as herself - that he was fully able to take care of her. As a matter of fact, he had no such facilities - he had no comfortable family standing behind him, and he was (p142)
And this one:
For Daisy was young and her artificial world was redolent of orchids and pleasant, cheerful snobbery and orchestras which set the rhythm of the year, summing up the sadness and suggestiveness of life in new tunes. (p143)
And this:
He stretched out his hand desperately as if to snatch only a wisp of air, to save a fragment of the spot that she had made lovely for him. (p145)
None of these seems particularly crucial or insightful, but they do remind me of the tedious process of underlining my own high school English texts. You're never especially sure how important the passage will come to be in the overall narrative, but it seems important to underline stuff at the time. I remember underlining some inconsequential passage in the first chapter of To Kill A Mockingbird.

If it were up to me, I would have highlighted either of these passages:
"I wouldn't ask too much of her," I ventured. "You can't repeat the past."
"Can't repeat the past?" he cried incredulously. "Why of course you can!"
He talked a lot about the past, and I gathered that he wanted to recover something, some idea of himself, perhaps that had gone into loving Daisy. His life had been confused and disordered since then, but if he could once return to a certain starting place and go over it all slowly, he could find out what that thing was... (106)
As an ambitious, social-climbing teenager, James Gatz had let his rampant imagination create a magnificent new version of himself. Gatsby went on to be precisely as rich and glamorous as his teenage fantasies not for himself, but in order to be the sort of man he believed Daisy wanted. (You can see this in the scene where he leads her through his house, drinking in her reactions, appearing to enjoy his possessions for the first time.)

The tragedy of the book is that Gatsby has placed his entire potential for future happiness in a remembered past - but it's not a shared past. His salvation depends on Daisy's utter commitment to that past, and she destroys him by not realising this.

Of course, at the end you're supposed to despise the Buchanans, Jordan Baker and their old-money ilk for callously abandoning more honest people like Gatsby, the Wilsons and Nick. I came away from the book feeling as though all the characters were disagreeable. As far as class satire goes, it's much more evanescent than Teh Wai We Livz Nao, which I'm also reading.

But I think its lasting influence is down to Fitzgerald's prowess as a stylist. I rather liked the sly satiric eye that Fitzgerald brings to his descriptions of the debauched, moneyed attendees of Gatsby's parties, or the farcical lower-class attendees of Tom's impromptu apartment party. And I enjoyed his portrayal of Nick, the narrator, a snob of a different kind. Plagued with an uncommon degree of politeness and tolerance, he seeks a kind of reciprocal moral honesty that in its way is as quixotic as Gatsby's attempt to relight the fires of the past. But unlike Charles Ryder in Bridz Hed Revizatid, who retains his cringeworthy awe of the aristocracy to the awkwardly Catholic end, he knows the value of dignified scorn. On his final meeting with Tom: "I shook hands with him; it seemed silly not to, for I felt suddenly as though I were talking to a child."

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Current thoughts on attraction. On Friday I went out to lunch with my co-workers. Apropos of nothing, talk turned to whether opposites attract or whether we are attracted to people like ourselves. Katherine had been reading a book on the philosophy of Andy Warhol, in which he writes something to the effect that some people become what they idolise. So when you are attracted to someone, perhaps you are too similar to them; you are really attracted to the aspects of yourself (or the sort of person you want to be) you see in them.

I'd have forgotten about this except that on Saturday night the same topic came up in conversation. I mentioned some dude I was crushing on several years ago and was told: "That's so weird. I just can't imagine you two together; you're too similar." That was curious to hear because as these here blog archives will testify, at the time I agonised that we were too different, our tastes too divergent.

Do tastes matter at all? Are we wasting our time trying to impress people with our knowledge of film, wittily quoting from downloaded episodes of the HBO series du jour, by making them mixtapes showcasing our wonderful taste in music and by sending them YouTube clips of things we find really funny? Perhaps we are attracted to dispositions rather than tastes (which are expressions of dispositions) - cynicism, enthusiasm, intuition, stubbornness, impulsiveness, phlegmatism, etc. Perhaps we might even look for a certain kind of spatiality: a posture, gesture or way of occupying space.

It is a tough issue. I mean, I went looking for self-help books on this topic and I found one by this guy called Bret Easton Ellis. It was called The Rules Of Attraction so that sounded promising but then I was all confused when I read it because it was about disaffected bisexual liberal arts college kids in the '80s and didn't really set down any rules as such. I also found another book called How To Hug* but that turned out to be volume 12 of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

*Also, I actually found this page on the internet.

Teh Asenshul Reedz: adventures in the literary canon. I enjoy the experiential qualities of reading. Time with a book is so indulgently solipsistic; it's time alone with yourself. As Sam Anderson writes in New York magazine:
Real reading is not just hoarding fodder for cocktail chatter, it’s crawling, phrase by phrase, through a text and finding yourself surprised or disappointed or ruined or bored with every other line. This direct connection—the voice that enters your brain and mingles with your own internal voice—is the only way books really matter...
The trouble is that there is such a great amount of cultural capital to be had from reading, and I would be the most pretentious person on earth if I claimed that none of this is important to me and that I only read for my own pleasure. Of course I want to spend my capital (ie, impress people) by talking about what I've read.

This is something with which I struggle. I find book snobbery offputting in much the same way that I was infuriated by Terry Durack proselytising a food canon. Worst of all are those "100 Books" lists produced by newspapers and magazines every so often. You're encouraged to judge yourself against these lists, which creates a shame culture in which you either have to 'confess' to not having tackled some monstrous doorstop like Don Quixote or In Search Of Lost Time or you perfect the social skill of pretending you've read them.

I feel particularly crestfallen when it comes to macking on someone with literature. Back in 2005 I was struggling with the commonsensical idea that couples get together if they 'have things in common' - and surely someone is all the more attractive if you can converse animatedly about how "brilliant, brilliant," certain books are. If you think of your reading as seduction, you then get to transfer all your anxieties over your sexiness onto your reading, where they do not belong. (Other pleasurable experiences ruined for me by anxieties over sexiness: dancing, karaoke, wearing clothes.)

But all this said, I really do want to read more books out of my comfort zone, and I want to set down my thoughts on the books I read. Thus I am instituting a semi-regular blog series entitled Teh Asenshul Reedz, based on this list, which I chose because it's a mashup list of other lists, and also because it's as good (and as bad) as any other. First up is The Great Gatsby, which I happen to have just finished.

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