Archive for April, 2007

Angela Davis 4.16.07

April 20, 2007

Angela Davis 4.16.07

This Monday, April 16th, Professor Angela Davis addressed Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA on the topic of the Prison Industrial Complex (P.I.C.). Like always, Davis was most adept at drawing connections: she began the night by recognizing the Virginia Tech tragedy, whilst noting the fear-based demands for increased insecurity that are already being made. Following from the definition outlined in her excellent primer Are Prisons Obsolete?, she defined the P.I.C. as the proposition that the proliferation of prisons in the United States is not linked to crime, but rather social and economic factors. In turn, she touched on everything from the numbers of blacks and latinos in prison, to the workings of the global economy, to how the treatment of transgender prisoners reveals prisons as gendering processes.

I really do hope to touch on this topic in a future post, particularly since the Washington State legislature will likely pass a prison reform bill soon. In the meantime, I’ll post the syllabus for the class I taught last year that is based around the above-mentioned book by Professor Davis. Let me know what you think!

The Prison Industrial Complex & Beyond
(Fairhaven College, Fall 2006)

Podunk Punk Rock: Where Oppurtunity Lives

April 17, 2007

The Ky-Ky Chronicles

Punks and would-be punkers the world over know “Longview” as the name of Green Day’s song “about boredom, masturbation and dope.” But some punks know Longview as something else: home. And at last, the Longview, WA, punk community has its own Studs Terkel in the likes of Kyle “Ky-Ky” Crawford, veteran zinester of Frailed Roots fame (“a zine that contains personal content” – The Western Front ) . Kyle’s always been a talented writer, but this time he’s given the words over to his friends in his first crack at oral history, resulting in So Longview: A Collection of interviews celebrating and critiquing a NW punk community.

Kyle’s talents carry over very nicely. While some topics in So Longview don’t stray too far from those of the Green Day song (boredom, masturbation, dope… okay, no masturbation), with Kyle’s prompting the interviews get more thoughtful. Ruminations on boredom and beer drinking mix with queries on queerness, gender, non-conformity and the responsibilities of growing up. Kyle had some clear themes in mind when he was asking his interview questions and finding people to talk to, or maybe he’s just a slick editor; whatever the case, he talks to folks in all phases of the punk life, of all classes, of all genders. For every three or four punks crashing on couches and getting by on shit healthcare, another one or two go to college to be a lawyer or a Democrat. For every punk who takes non-conformity to a new level of political activism, another enters the military. For every punk challenging white people’s racism, another is making movie “jokes” about killing hookers. The ugly contradictions are there, but its obvious Kyle wants us to see them.

Kyle now spends most of his days in Bellingham, WA, which is how I know him, but he’s got a special place in his heart for his hometown, which is another way I know him: we’ve shared countless moments recalling our small town lives, sharing how race, class, and rock ‘n roll shaped our mindsets. Often, we’ve shared frustrations at the political pointlessness of punk rock, while we’ve marveled at its ability to unleash total creativity and give meaning to young people amidst the even greater pointlessness of podunk living.The conclusion Kyle has come to – and to which So Longview is a beautiful testament – is that any place, and any punk community, is ultimately the worth of the people involved.

My only misgiving with So Longview is that, in some ways, these interviews really could be from any place. While there’s a reference to a bridge here, or a Chuck E. Cheese there, everything that makes Longview unique as a place has to be read between the lines. Maybe a map would have helped, or a longer intro. Cuz Kyle and I might have similar long, hard thoughts about our small town childhoods, but size is about all our towns have in common. I grew up in a swanky suburb tied at the hip to Seattle, while Longview is a working-class manufacturing town with more of an identity of its own. Sure, Bothell punks had locales for drinking, doping, and rocking – like, say, the woods behind Safeway – but that was mostly because none of us could get our asses to Seattle, and now that we’re grown up (some), nobody I know lives in Bothell any longer. From reading So Longview, it sounds like more folks stay put in Longview for longer.

Shit, even Kyle’s mailing address is still in Longview (though shhh… don’t tell anybody this, but I think its his parents’ house). Write to him ASAP to snag a copy of this zine – reading it beats listening to Green Day any day.

KYLE
136 Tanglewood Dr.
Longview, WA 98632

Or e-mail him at kjcelement [at] yahoo.com .

Falling Rock, Following Rock

April 16, 2007

Rock Hudson falls and I want to fall with him.

Until this moment, he has been caring and carefree Ron Kirby: more than your common gardener, a wise tender of trees . Two first names makes the Man, and a Man at that, an outwardly heterosexual Henry David, a Thoreau without a complex. Henry David takes a wife. But 1950s America can’t handle a Man so in touch with all that heaven allows (or so this film would have us believe, anyway). So High Society whispers and suddenly the fiance has had second thoughts.

Time has passed. Ron’s love has now returned to him, but he’s off on the hunt and she can’t find him. As she drives off, Ron gets desperate – he calls her name, and the camera captures Kirby against the sky as if to emphasize his vulnerability. Poor Kirby’s even holding a dead pheasant in one hand, a now useless rifle in the other. He can take flight away, but he can’t take flight himself.

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So Rock falls, and he falls hard.

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Now the loving can truly begin.

Maybe its my self-doubts, maybe I wish sometimes I could just fall off a cliff too. Or maybe I’ve got a new thing for Rock Hudson, or just simpering strongmen in general. Whatever it is, this bravura moment – literally, its over-the-top! – in Douglas Sirk’s 1955 melodrama-rama All That Heaven Allows, which I just watched for the first time this week, is easily one of my favorite film moments of all time. It made me exclaim aloud – “Oh no!!!” – right into my partner’s ear. It’s been a few days, however, and I thankfully think her ear drums have healed.

There is certainly more Rock in my future. I watched Written On the Wind last night, in which Rock plays another Man of Nature – well, a man of peasant stock anyway – with two first names: Mitch Wayne. Wind wasn’t nearly as winning as All That – Sirk never does anything like push Rock off a cliff, though a certain special moment between a sulking Robert Stack and an enthusiastic youngster bouncing on a trick pony is worth looking out for.

Family Circus takes the yucks to Iraq

April 6, 2007

Imperialism on the funny pages…

Imperialism, imperialism, everywhere imperialism… even in the funny pages. Thanks to mom for sending me this.

Poopie

April 2, 2007

Tantrums!

Isamu: A mess, isn’t it?
Minoru: Fun, isn’t it?

I’m not too familiar with the renowned Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu; all I know about him and his film’s I’ve accrued from watching his Tokyo Story (or at least the 3/4 of it I stayed awake for), and essentially hearing rumors about how he’s made something like 70 films, all of which are incredibly similar in style. Tonight I watched Good Morning (1959), and it certainly fit the rumors about the repetition of style. Not only is this a talkie, color remake of an earlier silent film by him; like Tokyo Story it is filmed completely in still, unmoving camera shots that will move closer for a close up, but never pan, or swivel. But I suspect the sparseness of the style serves to isolate the emotions of the story, which I felt is what happened with Tokyo Story and may be one reason why Ozu is so renowned.

The emotions or feelings at the center of Good Morning are bound up in childhood. In a sense, it’s really just a story about two young boys and their struggle to watch television despite the wishes of their parents. The stillness of the camera emphasizes the rigid walls of the buildings and structures, making the the boys’ neighborhood seem like a labyrinth (I guess Ozu’s known for his interiors – thank god he lived in an age before Trading Spaces). The camera is also placed low to the floor, which – intentionally or not – further emphasizes the boys’ point of view (oddly enough, this works especially in scenes where the boys aren’t even around). These things are apparently typical of Ozu, but they’re especially suited for documenting childhood.

All that and a great many charming fart jokes make for a film that can rightly be called “whimsical” and yet never carries any of the contrivances usually associated with that phrase. Cuteness can be grating, but Good Morning is a guilt-free pleasantry. There’s something smarter in the movie going on too: the very title of the film comes from a rant by one boy about the superficial pleasantries of adults, such as cheap greetings like “Good Morning,” a point well taken when Ozu shows us the economic struggles of the neighborhood fathers or the endless gossip of the housewives. This even as the same boy throws a terrible tantrum over not having access to the most superficial pleasantry of them all: television. In Good Morning, wisdom is clearly a collective effort by all ages, even if it remains within the conventional confines of the family unit.

Plus, the fact that the final image – and the last joke – are scatalogical leaves open the splendid possibility that Ozu’s use of poop might be a subtle critique of enforced family harmony. Not likely, but one can dream…