Archive for December, 2009
I’ve been arguing with anyone who comes close to me that Avatar is not a five-star movie, or even a four-star movie. It is, as Time Out New York (but not the rest of the critical world, apparently) asserts, a three-star movie.
For sure, the visuals are fantastic. Cameron has re-invented a part of filmmaking. It is one of the defining movies of the decade.
But that doesn’t cover for the fact that it has a trite and cliche-ridden story with stodgy schoolyard analogies, brazen caricatures, wooden actors and a disappointing ending.
But, no, some people won’t listen. “It’s the best film ever ever,” they practically say.
My question to the Avatar-is-five-star crew is: what if someone next does a film that captures the same visual (almost visceral) experience that Avatar has, but couples it with a story that is even slightly more complex than a tiddly wink? If Avatar gets five stars, it’s impossible to improve on, right?
So it’s nice to find some affirmation of my views on one my new favourite internet web sites on the World Wide Web: The Awl. I quote their contributor:
the really worst thing is the ham-fistedness of Avatar’s alternate history. Okay, so this time the Native Americans are able to throw off the European oppressor. Note well, however, that l’homme sauvage, for all the purity of his Native Wisdom, is still quite helpless without a white man to show him what the hell to do. So what if this “hero” “goes native,” just like in Dances With Wolves? (Even as he goes about gathering “the horse people of the plains” to assist him.) It still takes a white man to tame the really BIG dragon, and to outfox the enemy.
He will also take the “best” woman, the noblest, the highest born, the smartest, whose token resistance will dwindle its sorry way from faux-contempt to near-drooling adoration in a matter of days. Her former man will die, and her father will, too; her whole civilization will lie in ruins. She will pretty much get down on her knees to thank this white man, anyway
I heard James Cameron tell MTV that he’s bringing to the cinema films he wished he had when he was a 14-year-old. That figures.
Imagine someone says to you: “I’ll pay you $1,000 a month to do this one thing. As a result of doing this one thing, your social life might be affected a little, but as well as getting the money, you’ll also feel better about yourself, you’ll stay in shape, and you’ll be more productive.”
Framed in such positive terms, it seems like a no-brainer. But then consider what that one thing is: not drinking.
Well, that’s what I’ve been doing for all of December, much to the disgust of many friends, and — to be fair — with the support of many other friends.
I mean, seriously, 30 days of not touching alcohol should not be lauded as a special feat. But my life in Hong Kong too frequently features alcohol as a strong player, and it’s surprisingly difficult to wean myself off it. But I’m glad I have.
I’ve so far lasted a meagre three weeks. In that time, I reckon I’ve saved at least $1,000, and I’m a lot trimmer. I haven’t had a hangover, and I’ve been sleeping more and better, which means I’ve been more frequently in a good mood, and a good deal more productive. These are very significant factors in contributing to my overall happiness.
I’m determined to use this month as a bridge to a life in which I’m less reliant on alcohol to have a good time. I’ve found that I can still have a lot of fun going out with friends without having to involve booze. And while I miss the sociality of drinking, I don’t really miss the taste or the actual act of it, and I certainly don’t miss the negative effects that follow.
I figure that if I can switch to a more moderate regime, then I can better enjoy my life, extend my life (or at least improve the chances of extending it), get more things done, and save money.
Of course, on the flip side, you could argue that social drinking is an investment: that the $1,000 a month, the weight gain, the more volatile moods, the hangovers, the lethargy, the negative health effects are all worth it in the name of strengthening friendships, making new friends, getting the confidence to talk to people you wouldn’t otherwise approach, and say things you’d otherwise be scared to say, and to generally just have a rollicking good time.
That’s a strong argument, too, but for now I’m going to give the other one a chance. And I’m happy with the way it’s paying off.
Time off from drinking has freed up more time to re-commit to projects I’ve been putting on the back-burner in recent months. That means you’ll start seeing more of me over at Asia Sentinel in the months ahead (though it might not be under my real name).
Last week, I got the ball rolling again with a story about Hong Kong’s jazz community (not to be confused with a scene). Here’s a snip:
Hong Kong’s jazz community suffers from the same plight as the city’s fledgling indie rock music. There is only a scant support structure for the community, meaning the positive contributions from the likes of Peel Fresco are built on only a shaky foundation.
Few radio programs — let alone stations — play jazz music. There’s little in the way of jazz education, save for a few private schools, and the only top-class international acts coming into city in recent years have been playing on big stages for government-funded concerts at City Hall or the Cultural Centre as part of the Arts Festival or the Leisure and Cultural Services Department’s annual Jazz Up series. Gone are the days when local musicians could get up close to their role models in a dingy club
I can never understand people who call themselves environmentalists but reject the idea of wind farms on account of aesthetics. To me, wind farms are things of beauty, because they are a sign of environmental progress, and of humans learning to harness — rather than exploit — their natural environment.
My dad, an atmospheric physicist, effectively expresses a similar point in a blog post that decries New Zealand’s Environment Court’s decision to reject a proposed wind farm in a stark and empty part of Central Otago (where my parents live).
since the Lammermoors [in Central Otago] are virtually uninhabited and untouched by the trappings of tourism, and abundantly windy, I would have thought it a prime candidate for harnessing wind-energy. Sure it will look different from its present state – for the few who ever go there – but will it necessarily be worse? It may well become a tourist attraction in its own right. And if you want to see what it used to be like, just look in another direction.
NB: The photo of the Lammermoors above is taken from the website of photographer David Wall, who likely in no way endorses this post. Sorry Mr Wall, if you want me to remove this photo, I’ll happily do so.
I love the stoush between Google and news publishers (ie, Rupert Murdoch and few others). I strongly favour Google’s position — that they’re sending valuable traffic to newspapers that otherwise would struggle to get it — but I can see why Murdoch is being curmudgeonly about it (to improve his negotiating position), and I’m enjoying the battle.
I’m especially interested in this at the moment because I’ve been reading Ken Auletta’s excellent contemporary history of Google, Googled: The End of the World As We Know It.
This morning I read a piece from that book that aptly quoted a study about Huxley’s Brave New World. I underlined the quote as a keeper, in part because I think the rate of change that the digital era brings necessitates a refresher course in how we view our personal lives, choices and privacy, but also because it partly exemplifies that state of insidious thought control seen under the Bush Administration and today’s China (in which the populace tend to be content, as long as they don’t know how much they don’t know):
“Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. [In 1984] Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think… Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism”
Passivity and egoism. I can’t think of a more apt characterisation of the mainstream media during the Bush Administration circa 2001-2006. Not that it can be said that was tied to too much information — more a cynical manipulation and distortion of information that was sometimes manufactured to meet the Administration’s ends. But the control attained was one of self-censorship and self-monitoring: it was un-American to not support the war in Iraq; if you didn’t wear a lapel pin bearing the American flag, you were of questionable patriotism. The way to happiness was to enjoy the benefits of American aggression (cheap gas; always-on electricity; abundant food) without questioning the machine that delivered them. Brave New World.
That way of life contributed to an intellectual laziness to which much of America still seems to be slave (hello Glenn Beck and disciples). And now we have digital technologies that make everything easy — so easy, in fact, that you sometimes might as well just switch off your brain (hello in-car GPS units). After quoting that passage about Huxley, Auletta goes on to list some of the functions of today’s mobile devices: they can play music, movies, games; unlock cars; function as ID; act as universal remotes. He could have listed a lot more.
These are all grand things, and I intend to fully take advantage of them once I finally get a smartphone. But much of the content delivered through these functions will have to be monetised, and probably the most effective way of doing that is to sell advertising that relies on behaviourial targetting; advertising that digs out info from our searching history, our location, our digital habits, and what we’ve used the mobile device for in the past. A lot of people will be comfortable with this — I admit, I am to a large extent — but it does take us closer to that world in which, as long as everything is made easy for us, we don’t question the machine. How many steps away is that from reducing us to individuals of “passivity and egoism”?
And now, back to the start. As much as I love Google and admire and support their efforts to make all the world’s information easily available, it’s a little disconcerting to see them now leading the charge to deliver minutely targeted advertising to individuals, as CEO Eric Schmidt does in an editorial published, ironically, in Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal (which is behind a paywall) a couple of days ago.
Schmidt envisions a world where advertisements are delivered to a mobile device according to very specific and current personal criteria:
“these ads are not static pitches for products I’d never use. Like the news I am reading, the ads are tailored just for me. Advertisers are willing to shell out a lot of money for this targeting.”
He shows his hand there. While he’s trumpeting how useful this new technology will be for publishers, it’s also very clear that Google will be a major beneficiary from — and provider of — such technology. And Google, with all its access to personal data, is already one of the world’s most powerful companies, with plenty of room for growth.
Later in his editorial, Schmidt says:
“The acceleration in mobile phone sophistication and ownership offers tremendous potential. As more of these phones become connected to the Internet, they are becoming reading devices, delivering stories, business reviews and ads. These phones know where you are and can provide geographically relevant information. There will be more news, more comment, more opportunities for debate in the future, not less.”
Fair enough. I trust him for now. Google haven’t yet done anything evil. And I know we’re a few steps away from the Brave New World — but I also can’t help but think we’re also taking a few steps towards it.