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Mock Syllabus: The Body in Film

In my spare time, I have fun brainstorming how I would teach in the collegiate level. I’ve recently designed a few sketches of syllabi, in particular one course about The Body as a subject in film. There’s a huge swath of content available for such a large subject, and I would obviously need to narrow now the subject and content for an effective course. But for now, here are titles and artists I’d love to teach, each a vision on The Body.

Anything by David Cronenberg

I’d love to teach an entire course of Cronenberg. His oeuvre is rich with variety, from sci-fi classics (The FlyVideodrome) to melodramas (Dead RingersM. Butterfly), to crime thrillers (Eastern PromisesA history of Violence). As the progenitor of body horror, it would be remiss of me to exclude such classics as Scanners or the exquisite Naked Lunch. However, If I’d have to pick one, I would select Dead Ringers. It’s masterful special effects combined with terrific acting by Jeremy Irons (playing a set of twin gynaecologists) makes for a fascinating film. The Bodies explored in this film are that of the twins, their relationship, as well as their relationship to women, a different turn from the more violent outbursts of other body horror classics. It’s also a work that’s relatively obscure as far as Cronenberg goes, with the Criterion Collection version sadly out of print. Regardless, you get double your DV of Iron(s) with this film!

The Thing

Since I’m not picking a Cronenberg horror film, I’d include John Carpenter’s The Thing to the list. Set in the claustrophobic Antarctic American base, the film explores the notion of The Other. It’s production and immaculate detail are also worthy of note, and add to the discussion.

Rosemary’s Baby

The film explores notions of the female body, pregnancy, rape, and the body’s connection to the spiritual. From this film, students could discuss the prevalence of female sexuality and victimhood in horror films.

Freaks

Impossible to ignore, this film was truly ahead of its time in its treatment of spectacle and the disabled body. From here, topics such as disability in film, spectacle, constructed notions of ‘normal bodies’ (what I’d call the tyranny of the normal). Comparisons to contemporaneous films such as Lon Chaney’s The Phantom of the Opera or James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein could further discussion of pre-code and post-code films. And speaking of Frankenstein…

Frankensteins of all kinds

Bride of Frankenstein would be a must for the syllabus, in its exploration of unnatural creations and queer bodies. But the class could spend some time exploring why filmmakers continually revive the concept of Frankenstein. I have not seen Rocky Horror Picture Show yet, but I suspect its treatment of queer sexuality would be another avenue worth exploring.

Akira

Unsurprisingly, the horror genre has dominated this syllabus, but regrettably, so has Hollywood. While Akira animates its own form of body horror, the tensions surrounding Japanese society permeate the screen. Akira brings a distinctly important subject to the class, adolescence. Whether it be the (bodily) fears and desires of these youths, Akira dramatizes them on a larger scale through supernatural powers and larger government plots, all commingling together to form an explosive film.

Musicals

How can we forget musicals, with their portrayals of the human body at its most agile. Films such as Top Hat illustrate the dynamic expression of emotion of the characters, while the more dour Dancer in the Dark takes this notion and explores what it means of a disabled body to express itself through song and dance. Then there are the Busby Berkeley musicals, which treat women as indistinguishable objects, intricately ornate decoration for his set pieces. Hopefully looking at musicals will cause students to examine them in a new light and give them a break from horror titles.

Bonus Book: BodyWorld by Dash Shaw

This imaginary course would be all film for consistency, but I’d love to teach this book. Perhaps I’d offer it as an extra credit assignment.Regardless, its exploration of the boundaries – and permeation – of our bodies and minds is at once beautiful and harrowing. Plus, the entire book is free to read online. Hopefully easy accessibility and the temptation of extra credit would inspire students to read it.

Possible essay questions:

  • One subject we didn’t explore much in class was the trope of the body swap (Freaky Friday, Quantum Leap, etc.) Explore the significance of this trope. What insights do these films display for the viewers?

14 Questions surrounding Bioshock Infinite (so far)

Leigh Alexander made an excellent point in her write up of Bioshock Infinite that the game is full of tears. And she’s not talking about the rips between alternate realities. Here are some the the questions that emerge from them.

  1. Why would black and Irish workers choose to live in Columbia, a city ideologically founded on white supremacy (among other things)?
  2. Is there no way back down to America? We can debate what the better situation would be, early 1900s America or Columbia, but that’s a rabbit hole for another day.
  3. How can a enclosed city, likely with no trade to outside parties, support a large manufacturing district?
  4. Why does no one else use vigors when they seem to be a common commodity advertised everywhere?
  5. Why is there only one church for a whole city full of blindly devoted citizens?
  6. Why is there a cake in the safety deposit box?
  7. Why are there guns and ammo in the trash?
  8. Why doesn’t Booker’s arm rip off every time he grabs a sky line?
  9. Why don’t you use vigors to solve problems more creatively instead of merely aiding in battle (and the very occasional power supply)?
  10. Why does a whole game which has a message of “violence is wrong” require the player to kill hundreds of people?
  11. Why does Elizabeth cut her hair after killing Fitzroy? (Answer: shallow, convinient way to show women are in distress.) 
  12. Why?
  13. Why?
  14. Why can’t this game be better?

Visions of Victoria

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I am quite honored to have a friend like Liance. Unfortunately, it’s tough to write about his first album, Visions of Victoria, precisely because it’s so personal. Everything I’ve seen in this person is laid out bare; how am I to write judiciously? I’ll keep things short for my own sense of journalistic ethic.

The music is low key – synths, drums loops, a trumpet here and there. The music drifts and sways, primarily buoying the lyrics. And it’s the lyrics that I take the most interest in, not only because they show talent and effort and are good, but because they are a clear window to everything that goes on in Liance’s brain – mostly struggles growing from end of adolescence.  There’s a lot to dig into, but I’ll leave that for the listeners to enjoy. Recommended.

Best tracks: “Treading Water,” “Victoria City”

You can listen and buy to Visions of Victoria by Liance here.

Representations of the Oppressed in Bioshock Infinite

Daisy Fitzroy

I recently finished Bioshock Infinite, the first FPS I’ve ever played. Alexius’s excellent post covers most of my qualms and criticisms with the game, so I thought I’d dig a little deeper into how the game presents oppressed minorities.

Infinite‘s first section is its strongest, letting you explore the quaint Americana that is the floating city of Columbia. Like the first Bioshock game, it too is a secluded, enclosed city built around complete devotion to some form of ideological extremism. Whereas Objectivism was the first game’s target, Infinite has a swill of ideas percolating within its domain, from religious devotion to America’s founding fathers and prophet Zachary Comstock, to the black and Irish workers trapped in the ghetto of Finkton, the industrial zone that is their center of exploitation and home.

The player sees the rampant racism flowing through Columbia firsthand, understanding the darkness that runs underneath the pristine whiteness of the city. The game plays sympathetic to these oppressed people, as it displays their plight. The white citizens of Columbia are happy ‘undesirables’ aren’t intruding their beach property. The industrialist Fink pays them in currency only good for his factories own products (incidentally, Walmart made a similar attempt at this a few months ago.) Propaganda is everywhere in the city, warning of the evils of the Vox Populi, a resistance group emerging form the ghettos, led by Daisy Fitzroy.

Unfortunately, by the time the Vox are introduced, the game undoes its critique of Columbia’s utopia through abstract, limp moralizing. Midway through the game the Vox revolt and launch an armed attack against their oppressors, and our protagonist jerkface (who by now has slaughtered a lot of people) poo-poos their efforts to liberate themselves from tyranny. Suddenly the people the game held sympathy for become our new enemies, a new wave of people to kill. Fitzroy, whose barely been in the game, is abruptly villianized, killing Fink. Planning to kill his son next*, she is in turn killed by Elizabeth. With Fitzroy gone, the Vox lose their last strand of identity before becoming merely faceless enemies, just another heap of obstacles to clear.

In conversations between Elizabeth and Booker, the game implies a basic “all violence is bad,” despite our white male protagonist continuing to maim everyone in sight. It negatively framing the Vox’s actions and treads over everything the game has worked for in sympathizing with the oppressed. In all irony, the game ends up portraying these revolutionaries just like the white supremacist propaganda of Columbia.

 

*This DLC Burial at Sea 2 elucidates this, where’s it’s revealed the Lutece’s told Fitzroy that Elizabeth must have the mindset to kill, and thus Fitzroy must threaten Fink’s son to shake Elizabeth to do so. That’s one hell of a retcon.

 

The Illusion of Choice: On “Popular” vs. Mass Art

Originally posted on The Tiger Manifesto:

mainstream-media-monopoly

Commentators and activists with a leftist bent have been raising the alarm over the monopolization of the culture industry for as long as anyone can remember. Neo-liberalized ownership rules and lax regulatory frameworks have allowed a small circle of plutocrats to devour smaller companies left and right. Far too often, these alarms are wedded to the premise that media can be fair or balanced under capitalism if only there are enough small players. Long before the current round of consolidations, the culture industry in capitalist centres made it its business to propagate a desolate, one-dimensional popular culture. What is happening here is just the normal mechanisms of capitalism at work, and we know that “The enormous growth of industry and the remarkably rapid concentration of production in ever-larger enterprises are one of the most characteristic features of capitalism.”¹ Power and wealth concentrate in fewer and fewer hands as the vast majority…

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