Final Assignment Westworld

The TV show Westworld in set sometime in the technologically advanced distant feature and asks some of the ethical questions one could encounter in the future and also today. The main topic the show is the age of posthumanism. Posthmanism has several branches, but the show mainly deals with the idea of possible artificial intelligence takeover of humanity. The show is set in an amusement park called Westworld where there are manufactured androids closely resembling human beings and animals. The secondary topic the show deals with is morality and human cruelty. The android inhabitants of the Westworld, called hosts are there to entertain human visitors. The androids are incapable of harming the humans, however the human visitors are allowed to harm and harass and commit the evillest torture to the hosts in the name of entertainment. Are the host to rebel in order to protect themselves, is the takeover of artificial intelligence justified? The topics of posthumanism and ethics ask the inhabitants of the Westworld to question the nature of their world and at the same time the show asks us, the viewers to questions the nature of our current world.

The Westworld is set in an amusement park featuring the beautiful Castle Velley, Utah scenery. However, in actuality it might not be located in Castle Valley, Utah, it might not be located in the United Sates, and might not even be located on Earth. The show is set in the distant future, where robots closely resembling humans are created with ease. It wouldn’t be too far of a stretch, considering the advancement of the technology, to think that the whole park in not on Earth but completely manufactured elsewhere in our galaxy. Character Lee asks Theresa, the director of quality assurance: “When do you get to rotate home again?” Hinting that Westworld is far away from where Theresa lives. She has to live at the Westworld facility during the time she is working there. Lastly, the park is called the west – World, signifying that it’s possibly a world of it’s own.

The opening of Westworld provides an insight into some of the themes in the TV series. Right away we are clued into the advancement of technology, that humans and animals are artificially made. Nothing is really what it seems, and somebody is pulling all the strings. During the opening sequence we see a sun rising over the horizon of hills. A second later we realize that what seemed to be a Sun over the horizon, it’s a machine projecting light over the ribs of the horse’s body. We also see that eyes are manufactured almost to hint at the fact that what you perceive and see is also a manufactured illusion. Everything in the opening credits is black and white, but that might also hint at the illusion of black and white, things are actually much more complicated in reality. We also see a string being drawn on a piano. We see strings being drawn on a human and on an animal. Fibers of the human beings and animals a created by a machine. Humans and animals are manufactured. Even a gun is created by a machine and handed to the manufactured human. Not only is the human manufactured but it is also controlled. Even love making is somehow manufactured or altered and controlled, hinting that even emotions are manufactured. The repeating theme of strings signifies that everybody’s stings are being pulled and controlled. It shows manipulation and control over the manufactured humans/androids. You are left with the question, who is pulling the strings?

At first the androids seem completely oblivious to their situation. During the first scene we are introduced to the host Dolores. Dolores is the first ever host of the park who has been updated many times. Hence the first episode is called The Original. She is naked and seems to be badly abused and has bruises on her face. She is told that she is in a dream and if she wants to wake up, she has to answer the questions correctly. She is being lied to. In reality, this is the real world and what Dolores gets to wake up to, is manufactured and programmed reality. She is asked by one of the programmers, Bernard: “Have you ever questioned the nature of your reality?” Bernard is testing her to see if she is aware, is she self aware? Who she is? Is she aware that she is an android slave to humans? Is she aware that she is manufactured? Is she aware that the world she lives in is a completely fake? We as viewers get to ask ourselves the same question as Dolores. Dolores answers: “No.” She says she chooses to see the beauty in the world. She believes there is an order to this world and a purpose.

As the show progresses we see what happened previously to Dolores and see why there is a need for the android to be self-aware and to rebel, as Dolores is being treated unethically. One of the park visitors, the man in black, has killed her father and her lover, and then raped her. The man in black says, “I have been coming here for 30 years and you still don’t remember me.” This means that over the 30 years this man has been continuously raping Dolores and coming to the park to abuse the androids. Dolores mentions how her father told her that: “We are all born new into this world.” Meaning, when an android goes to sleep their memory is erased. As the cruel scene of Dolores getting raped is unraveling, Bernard asks her: “What if I told you that you cannot hurt the newcomers and they can do anything they want to you? Would the things I would you change the way you think about the newcomers?” Again, Dolores, as if she is oblivious says: “No.” She still cares for them. We also have to remember that if she does not answer the questions correctly she does not get to “wake up” meaning she gets put into storage. We can also question why is Bernard revealing to Dolores that park visitor can do whatever they want to them? Is Bernard trying to actually wake up Dolores to reality?

As the show moves forward we see more examples of a possible rebellion and a hint of who is pulling the strings. In the next part of the episode we see Bernard admiring how one of the androids has a beautiful reverie. The new update has been rolled out from Ford, the original founder and programmer. He explains that a reverie is a micro expression that allows the android to tie it to a memory. Bernard says that even though androids are purged, the memories are still there waiting to be activated. Soon after, we see scenes of androids “malfunctioning”. We see scenes of them not acting according the premade script. The sheriff experiences a glitch and gets stuck in a stutter. Walter who is one of the bandit hosts, who’s script is to die in every gun fight, does not die. We can see him drinking milk and the milk seeps through his stomach, showing that he is shot but as he is an android he does not die from gunshot wounds. Walter says “Not going to die this time, Arnold.” We wonder who is Arnold. Is Arnold along with Ford one of the people controlling the Westworld?

As time passes more androids seem to wake up. Peter who is Dolores’s father wakes up after he has been updated and also finds a picture of a woman in a Times Square, filled with many screens. A scene that is not available in the Westworld. Peter freaks out as he is now able to access his memories and he wants to warn his daughter, as she has been abused over the ages. Peter says to Dolores whilst he is crying: “Violent delights have violent ends.” He is aware that Dolores has been abused by the visitors. That people come the Westworld to torture and kill androids for pleasure. Peter is saying that the way the violence against the android has to end by returned violence from the androids. When Peter is pulled for questioning by Ford the following dialogue happens: “Ford: What is your itinerary? Peter: To meet my maker. F: What do you want to say to your maker? P: By my most mechanical and dirty hand (chuckles), I shall have such revenges on you both. You do not know where you are, do you? You are in a prison for you own sins.”Peter shows complete awareness of what is happening in reality. Ford on the other hand reassures people that this is just an excerpt from Shakespeare as one of Peter’s previous roles was a professor. It seems as though Ford is purposely waking up the hosts with his updates.

Bernard might be also one of the hosts. As there are more host acting aware, Bernard goes up to Ford to talk to him about the new updates. He says that there is a problem with the reveries that have been added. To which Ford answers “Mistakes, is the word you are too embarrassed to use. You ought to be. You are a product from about a million of them.” Ford here hints that Bernard is also made, programmed like the rest of the hosts. Bernard unlike the other humans, has sympathy for the hosts. He is the only one advocating that the guards do no shoot them and goes along with them when there seems to be a problem in order to make sure the hosts do not get killed. Bernard also is seemingly trying to wake up Dolores. Lastly, Bernard whispers something to Dolores’s father, Peter before he is put to storage which in turn makes Peter cry. Bernard, unlike humans treats the host humanely.

In the last scene after Dolores is questioned, now by Ashely, she again answers the question as in the beginning of the show, in her speech she shows little awareness. However, we are given a clue that she might be much more aware that we, the viewers and the humans running Westworld are lead to believe. In the first scene we see Dolores motionless. We see a fly that walk over her face and she does absolutely nothing. She does not seem irritated by the fly what so ever. The fly even walks over her opened eye and it gives us sense of her being lifeless and dead. We see a repeated theme of a fly throughout the first episode. When the sheriff has a glitch he also does nothing about the fly on his face. When Teddy has to be a tour guide to people to find sex workers and has to sit outside while they pleasure themselves, he also has a fly on his face and does nothing about it. During the last scene we see Dolores, stating on the steps of her home. A fly lands on her neck, and like a human she swaps at the fly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Choose a Device Assignment

When Facebook first came out in 2004, I was reluctant to join. To me, Facebook looked like MySpace but only unconstomizable and devoid of any artistic expression. White pages with some text and a blue tab on top with words Facebook, it was just a poorly designed website. Few years later, at the pressure of my cousin, who mentioned that nobody will take me seriously if I do not have a Facebook account, I begrudgingly joined.

Today, I still dislike Facebook, but now I have an addictive relationship with it. Before I can even think up a thought, my hands are automatically typing the word Facebook on their own. Given that I have typed that word up for a decade several times a day. At first it was interesting because I could find friends from first grade that I lost touch with, almost a feeling of getting in touch with my childhood. But then they have all grown up like I have and they have their likes and dislikes, and sometimes you regret ever finding those friends you lost touch with. After all, you did lose touch for a reason. And there is that fact that I immigrated from Serbia to United States, and I do like the occasional chat with a former best friend that I cannot see in person. Maybe they are online right now, I should check. I have a break between classes, I should check Facebook and Instagram, you know just to kill time or find out what is happening.

I am doing homework and need to take a break, I check Facebook. Two hours later I am deep down in the rabbits’ hole of Facebook still checking for news. Like a well-trained Pavlov’s dog, I check Facebook many times a day.

Recently I talked to a guy that was one of the editors, and they had many, for MSN website. He said he lost his job because nobody really reads the news any longer. Majority of the articles on websites like MSN and Yahoo are not written by humans. Bots collect information from websites and generate articles. Humans no longer even check the grammar or spelling of the bot generated article because, in the words of this guy: “Nobody reads them anyways. People get their news from Facebook.” After that, I thought to myself in what kind of a world we live in where people do not read the news. Then a moment of shame comes over me and I realize that I like others get my news on Facebook.

There is something to be said about conditioning and the complete automatic response to check Facebook. Likes produce happiness. I remember checking Facebook after I post a photo and likes just keep coming, how exciting. Now, I could care less about Facebook. Now, it has become a chore. As an artist you ought to have a strong online profile and utilize the social media and post on Instagram and Facebook, and Snapchat, and Twitter, and Tumblr, and all the other platforms. However, at this point I have been conditioned to check every day that I do it constantly, even though no satisfaction come of it and I am not posting any of my artworks, I am just checking. Other users perpetuate this. One time I did not check Facebook for several days, in efforts to interrupt this useless habit, and I missed an important message. Even though this person had my direct cell phone, and my e-mail, and viber, they have chosen to send me a message on Facebook. Somedays, I think I ought to shut down my profile, but my friend, who is a successful graphic designer, says you must have a Facebook profile for people to take you seriously.

 

 

 

The Matrix Assignment

The quote I want to focus on is at 29 minutes into the film when Morpheus offers the red and the blue pill to Neo: “This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”

The pills themselves represent the shamanistic traditions of taking psychedelics in religious ceremonies. To the shaman the hallucinogenic experience awakens the person from the dream and illusion into the reality. The visionary experience allows the shaman to see things as they really are. The same happens to Neo where he takes a drug in order to truly see the reality.

The color blue is calming to the mind. It is the color of the sky and of the ocean, something you would see in our world currently, but which however, is no longer existing in the post-apocalyptic real world in the film. Blue shows stability, for example a lot of banks and financial institutions choose blue for their logo. The color blue like the matrix, shows a soothing reality. In the matrix things are running along smoothly, people go to work every day and continue with their mundane days oblivious to the truth and reality.

The color red on the other hand, is agitating. Red is harsh, it the color of our blood and of fire, and it signifies passion and creativity. Like the color red, the real world is harsh and merciless and hard to accept. The color red is possibly the only color that is shown as saturated in film when the real world is presented. Right after Neo takes the red pill, we are shown a red pod where Neo and all the rest of humanity are being grown like crops. Our energy is being harvested to power up the machines. The color red symbolizes the harshest of all truths, that our lives havebecome meaningless and no longerour own.

We also see red in the “eyes” color of the machines that attack the Morpheus’ ship, Nebuchadneszzar (the name of the ship is a reference to a king of Babylon that had unusual prophetic dreams), , and their “eyes” are red. This reiterates the idea of seeing which the red pill represents.

Colors are used though out the movie to portray a contain mood and meaning. Another example of the use of the color in the film is the color green. Whenever the characters are in the Matrix it has green lighting or a filter. Everything has a green hue to it. When the lines of code appear, they also are green making us associate the green with the machines. When Neo is arrested by Agent Smith, his file is green. When he pick up the telephone for the first time, it’s also green. Green is also another color that is soothing and calming. It is showing how the Matrix “reality” is run through a filter, it is not real it is altered, it is fake. The green also symbolizes how in the Matrix people are pacified and sedated.

On the opposite side, when characters appear in the real world, it is devoid of any saturated colors. This is to represent the destroyed world that is the actual reality. It is to represent the harshness of it. The fact that it is devoid of colors represents also how the real world is devoid of pleasure and that it lacks joy. The colors used are all cool and dark neutrals.

Lastly, Morpheus, whose name is a reference to a Greek god of dreams, who appears to mortals in their dreams, says: “ . . . take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.” There are many analysis of the Alice in Wonderland, some say that is the political allegory with Wonderland being the symbol of England ruled by the evil queen of hearts. In the film this is reference to the machines, who rule the real world and the Matrix. The machines are cruel to humans as the queen is cruel to her subjects. Like Neo, Alice also imbibes and eats things that alter her reality. Alice is in a dream from which in the end she wakes up. Neo, also wakes up from the illusion and sees the reality, but not before he takes psychedelic substances and also learns how to alter the Matrix “reality”. At the end Neo, is lucid dreaming, meaning he is fully awake in the dream that the Matrix provides to the humans. When Morpheus says “see how deep the rabbit-hole goes” he invites Neo to explore the dream and like the Greek god of dreams, he guides Neo through the dream, and he also gives him skills to awake.

 

References:

Morpheus – The God of Dreams https://www.greekmyths-greekmythology.com/morpheus-the-god-of-dreams/

Morpheus, The Greek God of Dream who delivered the messages from gods to the mortal world http://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends-europe/morpheus-greek-god-dreams-who-delivered-messages-gods-mortal-world-002318

The Matrix Trilogy: Themes, Motifs, Symbols http://www.sparknotes.com/film/matrix/themes/

The Matrix (1999) The Esoteric Analysis https://jaysanalysis.com/2014/01/20/the-matrix-1999-esoteric-analysis/

The Matrix 101 http://thematrix101.com/matrix/meaning.php

Alice in Wonderland ‘s Hidden Messages http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20160527-alice-in-wonderlands-hidden-messages

Nebuchadnezzar https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/nebuchadnezzar/

The Evolution of Alice Criticism – Historical Criticism – Victorian Approach https://www.carleton.edu/departments/ENGL/Alice/CritVict.html

Zion – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zion

Fight Club Assignment

The movie Fight Club deals with many topics. Some of the main topics are anti-consumerism, masculinity and demasculitization, loneliness, nihilism, and one’s identity within the current society. At the beginning of the movie we see the main character, Jack Durden, who is also the narrator of the film, and the state of his current life. He appears to have no social life and to be very lonely. He spends his time doing a job he does not like, and seems to be morally opposed to it. The fact that car manufacturing company who makes cars that kill many people however, does not do a recall on a car because it’s not cost effective. Even people examining the burned car with cremated remains of father and a son, make jokes about it. Right away we see a critique of the consumerist society, where money has more value than a human life.

Jack does not have much meaning within his life. He has a meaningless job, no friends, nor a lover, and he also has insomnia. The insomnia seems to contribute to his feeling of numbness and nihilism and he is never fully awake and never fully experiencing his life. He also seems to be completely numb and emotionless. He performs his job emotionlessly. Also, as he tells the doctor “Hey, I am in pain.” he does so in a dry manner. The doctor says to him to try visiting the testicular cancer men’s group and that is pain. Jack does actually visits this group and is the first time you seem him have any emotions, he actually cries along with the other men.

Interestingly, Jack is only able to have emotions in a situation of what we perceived as emasculating. The men in this group have lost their testicles and seem to be robbed of their masculinity however they are now able to have show their emotions freely at the support group. Jack keeps attending many different support groups for dying people and ends up meeting Marla who happens to do the same and be a reflection of Jack. He despises her at first as she provides guilt. At this point the character Jack seem to have a split in his personality. The person who has emotions Jack Durden, and his alter ego Tyler Durden who is very masculine and devoid of guilt or shame, presented in a stoic manner. At the beginning of the movie, the narrator says that this whole thing started and has to do with Marla. Marla makes Jack have emotions and is regarded as the enemy through the majority of the movie.

Tyler is everything Jack wishes he could be. Tyler embodies what Jack thinks a man should be like. He starts fights, and seems not to mind the pain, but thrives on it. There is a scene where Tyler lets the owner of the bar beat him up and then whilst laughing grabs the owner and sprays his own blood all over the man whilst begging for rights to have the fights at the bar. Jack himself is not as stoic as Tyler and would probably be afraid to do anything in that situation. Tyler is in a sense Jack’s courage and rage and all the masculine properties.

Tyler, the alterego, starts a fight club and creates an army of lemmings, all obeying him without question. The fight club is a celebration of masculinity, of violence and vigor, and at the same time longing to feel alive. The group starts project Mayhem. The project is meant to destroy the credit card company buildings, and in a utopian kind of manner liberate people from the consumerist society devoid of meaning. The reason the men listen and obey Tyler is because he gives their lives meaning. In the film, the capitalist society is portrayed as emasculating, as men are not able to rule their own lives and do no have meaningful roles in society.

Simulacra and Simulation

To define Simulacra and Simulation, Baudrillard uses one of Borges’ short stories. In the tale the cartographers attempt to make up the map of the Empire so accurate that it ends up covering the whole Empire. Hence, it replaces the Empire and becomes Simulacra of the Empire. The map later deteriorates and stays intact in some places in the dessert and people start thinking that it is a trace of the real Empire, people confuse the leftover bits of the map as the real thing. Baudrillard says that today the Simulation is no longer created based on reality. Today we create our reality based on the Simulacra.

Baudrillard says that we no longer can tell the difference between the Simulacra and reality. Simulacra and the reality no longer co-exist and cannot be compared to each other. As originally the reality preceded the Simulacra, now the Simulacra precedes reality. As the reality is no longer enveloped by imaginary, it is no longer real at all. Our reality is hyperreal, it bears no relation to reality and it is its own pure simulacrum. We live in the age of simulation where all references are removed and replaced by the symbols or simulacra of the real.

Another example of Simulacra given by Baudrillard is that of religious iconography and iconoclasts. The iconoclast destroyed the images and statues that represented God or Saints. The iconoclast were worried that there are so many simulacrums of God that the omnipotence of simulacrums will erase God from consciousness of people and will testify that God has only been only his own simulacrum. Baudrillard says that images have a murderous capacity. They can destroy their own model according to which they were made and become the real themselves.  Baudrillard give four phases of the image:”

  1. It is the reflection of a basic reality.
  2. It masks and perverts a basic reality.
  3. It masks the absence of a basic reality.
  4. It bears no relation to any reality whatever: it is its own pure simulacrum.”

Lastly, Baudrillard talks about our hyperreality and the imaginary world of Disneyland. He says that the crowds are drawn in by the social the microcosm, and the miniaturized and religious worship of the real America. He says Disneyland is there conceal the real fact that it is the “real” America, which is Disneyland. Disneyland is represented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest outside of Disneyland is actually real. However, the real America is hyperreal. He gives Los Angles as a synonym for fake and for hyperreal. The Disneyland is not true or false, but it is used to be the opposite of our hyperreality. It is used as a reference point in order to give meaning to hyperreality and hence make us believe that hyperreality is reality. He also mentions that the debility and infantility of world of Disneyland makes us believe that adults are elsewhere, in the “real” world. It is meant to conceal that childishness is everywhere, particularly among the adults that go to Disneyland to act as children in order to create illusion of their real childishness.

Monster Theory Assignment

Putting aside Cohen’s discussion, what is a monster to you? How would you define the word “monster”? Think of some examples of things or people you consider monstrous and try to identify the traits or qualities that make them monstrous.

A monster to me is a human being that does horrible harm to other human beings or animals for their personal satisfaction or because this behavior is concurrent with their belief system as part of the larger society. Examples of people doing harm for personal satisfaction would be rapists and serial killers. An example of society approved monsters would be soldiers who kill hundreds of people. The society celebrates them, encourages them, and even considers them heroes even though they have taken many lives. The act of taking many lives is what makes them monsters.

Things on the other hand can be monstrous in nature. Things cannot think, but many things are created for the sole purpose of harming or destroying other human beings. Bio weapons created in labs, automatic weapons, missiles, bombs, etc. are all created by humans for the sole purpose of harming others. I would not say that these are monsters, but that humans have gifted them their monstrosity. One could say that the creators, sellers, and users of these devices are monsters.

It is also interesting to mention many diseases that have plagued humanity through-out the ages. We had the black plague and tuberculosis in the past, today we have AIDS and cancer. What is their purpose other than to plague and torture humanity?

What makes one monstrous is lack of empathy, for how could you torture another human being if you have empathy for them. Other traits are connected to one’s belief system, the blatant disregard of the value of human life, or valuing one human life over another based on their nationality, sex, religion, or race, meaning dehumanizing another. Dehumanizing another human being is a way of not feeling empathy for them.

What does Cohen mean when he says that “the monster’s body is a cultural body” (4)? Which of his other theses resonate with you? Which don’t? Look at his last thesis. How are monsters our “children” (20)?

Cohen writes “The monstrous body is pure culture.” The cultural body is all of us. Not as individuals but as a homogenous whole. The culture itself wants to preserve its current beliefs, its homogeneity, and obedience to its rules. Cohen mentions a beheaded vampire, so that they are able to be only the body but not think for themselves, not be an individual. As soon as the societies rules or customs are broken the culture itself evolves. Monsters are where we as a society embody everything that is possibly evolving and changing our current culture which is predominantly ruled by white patriarchy. Monsters are a construct and a projection of our individuality and our differences, and we vilify them in order to eradicate them in efforts to preserve the current culture.

I have resonated with the Thesis IV: The monster Dwells at the Gates of Difference and Thesis V: The Monster Polices the Borders of the Possible. Women through-out the Medieval ages have been represented as monsters and murdered. Even today a woman who is independent and high positioning at a firm is considered masculine and a “bossy bitch”. Women of color who speak up are risking being called the “angry Black woman.”  Cohen writes “The woman who oversteps the boundaries of her gender role risks becoming a Scylla, Weird Sister, Lilith, Bertha Mason, or Gorgon. … Given the recorder of the history of the West have been mainly European and male, women (She) and nonwhites (Them!) have found themselves repeatedly transformed into monsters, whether to validate specific alignment of masculinity and whiteness, or to simply be pushed from its realm of thought.”

In Thesis VII, Cohen says that monsters are our children. He means to say that we have created these monsters, they are our projections, and in essence some of the traits the monsters have are our own. Monsters arise out of our as a society suppression of individuality and the fear of constantly evolving societal roles, rules, and values. He invites us not to dehumanize each other into monsters but to evaluate these “monsters” to gain self-knowledge.

#Postmodernism

Perfume Genius – ‘Queen’

Don’t you know your queen
Whipped
Heaving
Flower bloom at my feet

Don’t you know your queen
Cracked
Peelin’
Riddled with disease
Don’t you know me

No family is safe
When I sashay

Don’t you know your queen
Gleaming
Wrapped in golden leaf
Don’t you know me
Rank
Ragged
Skin sewn on sheets
Casing the barracks
For an ass to break and harness
Into the fold
Marry

No family is safe
When I sashay

The music video for the song Queen by Perfume Genius came out on July 17th 2014. The word Queen refers to the drag queen and the performance art of female impersonation. Men have dressed in drag throughout the ages, often in the theater when women were not allowed to be part of the theater. Men dressing in drag is a separate art form of itself in the postmodern age. One of the main ideas of postmodernity is to question everything and to have a dose of skepticism, and to dissect our preconceived notions. In the video the constrictive modernist ideas of gender, and also our sexuality are questioned.

At the beginning of the video you see a very flamboyant woman resembling a drag queen who stops by and picks us a man on the street who is wearing a gold top and he looks slightly feminine and slightly androgynous. They break into a factory of some sorts and the singer, Mike Hadreas enters into an elevator with piglets, and as the doors close he pick up a piglet in his hand. The doors open again and he exist with a pink monitor instead of piglet in his arm. Also, you can clearly see that he is wearing make-up and has chains around his chest.

Both of the characters enter into an office where there are many birds silhouettes plastered on the wall and also a video of what I assume is Alfred Hickock’s “Birds” is playing on one of the walls. Both of the characters wrestle each other and smash computer monitors.

Next the singers sings “Don’t you know your queen” while he is in the restroom with an Elvis impersonator. This is referring to Elvis being a king and Mike Hadreas being a queen. You have two men represented as couple. Elvis impersonator shows that he has a prosthetic leg and sings “Don’t you know me?” While still in the restroom Hadreas is looking at himself in the mirror and on the opposite side he sees the queen, that we have seen at the beginning of the video. He is seeing himself as queen in the mirror and then as his own reflection back and forth.

In the following scene Hadreas is in a boardroom full of business men eating lobster. He is wearing a suit and heels and he is dancing on top of the table and really looking into the faces of the business men. He gets into a face of one of the businessmen and flexes his arm, a sign of masculinity. The shoving of the food and the walking on the table is a sign of disrespect and a way to stand up to the society’s idea of masculinity. At this point Hadreas has a prominent red lipstick and also slicked hair, a more feminine look. At the head of the table is the queen. This whole scene is a reference to Maya Deren’s surrealist art movie “At Land”. But also the idea that the main character sees himself a queen, as she is constantly present where he is.

At the end of the video the characters kill themselves. Frist the queen jumps and then Hadreas. As they fall they turn into the feathers, a reference from a movie Velvet Goldmine when the main character is shot and falls onto feathers. As they are falling there are cheerleaders at the bottom, they are cheering them on to kill themselves. The cheerleaders are wearing the words free bird on their uniforms. This is reference to the song Free Bird by Lynyard Synyrd. The cheerleaders represent the popular culture and their disapproval of people who do not fit into their notion of gender roles.

Throughout the whole video many ideas and reference from movies are mashed into one piece, one hodge-podge. This is also a postmodern idea where we have many layers and many ideas incorporated into one. Mike Hadreas wrote this song a response to how people viewed him. This Christian notion, also a modernist view, that you are ougth to hide your kids from a drag queen or from a gay man so that they don’t get spoiled. The lyrics “No Family is safe when I sashay” refers to this. It’s postmodernist idea to challenge the modernist views of what is family. In the age of postmodernism our idea of what family is has evolved and is no longer dictated by the Christian church or any other religious institution for that matter.

Assignment 1

In his article “You Say You Want a Devolution?”, Kurt Andersen argues that our cultural landscape has not changed much since the 1980’s. The article was written in 2012. We are experiencing technological and scientific advances however in terms of style, design, fashion, art, music, and entertainment we have stagnated and are repeating fashions of the past. As an example, Anderson mentions a photo from 1985 of Ian Scharager and Steve Rubell, the legendary co-owners of Studio 54. If you saw them strolling down a street in 2012 you would not think of their style as outdated or unfashionable. This is even true today in 2018, if you compare the current pop culture with photos of Scarager and Rubell from 1985, they look like two hipsters from today. You would not look twice at them, they would perfectly blend into the pop culture of today. Anderson also mentions that if you saw somebody from thirty years earlier for example in 1980, if you saw somebody from 1950, they would look absolutely alien and foreign to you, as the style has changed drastically from thirty years back. However, today we are not experiencing such drastic changes in style if we look thirty years back into 1990s.

Anderson attributes this devolution and lack of innovation in style due to the rise of big global corporations like Gap with 1011 stores in US in 2012 (today 3727 stores worldwide), Target with 1750 stores (1829 presently), Starbucks 11 000 ( 27,399 stores worldwide presently), Apple with 245 stores (502 presently), etc. These corporations seek stability and change in style would and can pose economics risks. Therefore, these corporations, that in a sense dictate what is available to the public, also dictate the stagnation in changes in order to preserve economic stability. Anderson adds that paradoxically we are currently living in a society obsessed with style and all of us are amateur stylists, looking for something authentic. I would add that this is also created by the same corporations that give us five minute styles, like H&M. Even though we are sold old styles over and over the idea or the illusion that we are buying new innovative fashion has to be perpetuated in order to maintain the sales and profits. Lastly, Anderson adds that there are so many changes in avenues of technology and science that we are overwhelmed by change and this is why we are stagnating style wise.

I would add that besides the corporations that perpetuate the nostalgic fashions in order to entice the buyer emotionally, there is something to be said of conformism and of globalism. As humans, we are connected digitally more than ever. Fashion trends are becoming homogenous worldwide. What is fashionable in a New York, US is just a fashionable in Belgrade, Serbia, even though they are thousands of miles away from each other. I recently watched a YouTube episode of the Serbian show Talija, and they were interviewing make-up artists and hair stylists. All of the interviewees complained of the fact that most of their clients were not willing to try new innovative styles of make up or haircuts. The only time the clients wanted to experience a new style was when they saw many other people wearing the same style or Kim Kardashian or similar celebrity was endorsing this style. The stylists complained that their clients were afraid to venture out of conformity. I would argue that our digital connectedness (certainly not emotional) now breeds conformity and homogeneity on a global scale instead of breeding innovation and new styles. We are given so many avenues to express ourselves in. However, we are not exercising our rights because of fear of being ostracized, not only by our close communities but globally. Essentially, we are all performing for the eyes of the global community. As there are more avenues to express ourselves at the same time there is more pressure to conform in way more ways than before.

Friday, May 18th 2018, PBS Idea Channel

PBS Idea Channel

What are Ideas, and who gets to have them?

The Idea channel has been around for five years and covers pop culture and philosophical theories. In this video Mike Rugnetta talks about the idea that we are all nomads in the land of ideas. He wants all people to be idea channels themselves in the world. His thought is that we should all be allowed to have complex ideas. His broad definition of ideas is that ideas are all subjects of mental activity that you think with or about. Any thought is an idea. The idea channel covers ideas of a particular type, complex ideas. Complex ideas aren’t obvious or boring, they are complex combination of one or more preexisting ideas.

The idea channel talks about well-known, old and impactful ideas, like love, being, liberty, evil, popularity, violence, religion and others. These concepts frame each episode’s theoretical framework. Philosophers and theorists helps understand these concepts by explaining what they are, how they work, and where they come from. Mike says that theorists aren’t the only people that work with concepts. All people work with concepts. We are all faced with many concepts each day through world events, personal experiences, the media, the entertainment. We can find these big and impactful concepts hiding in unexpected places. By looking for these impactful concepts in media, contemporary art, entertainment, technology, community practices, the seemly mundane every day things, you can make every day more exciting and these seemingly pretentious ideas become useful in your everyday life. You become a more powerful agent of experience and thought in your everyday life.

Rugnetta’s aim has been to present often unexpected relationships between concepts, media properties, or theories from his own observations. The fact that these are his personal observations aids in the ultimate goal of the channel, which is to encourage conversation, to get the audience to talk to Rugnetta and to one another. Because these are personal observations, each of us might have a different observation and ideas and  this can make for an interesting conversation.

Rugnetta says that we all have ideas, because we all have experiences. We all get to have complex ideas, not just the ivory types, the elite, or experts. All of us get to have complex ideas and we should be able to discuss them. However, it’s hard to create a situation where everybody feels welcome to engage is this occasionally difficult material. Two of the challenges are that most philosophers and theorist have been white males, not quite a diverse group, and also how to apply their thought to wide range of subject matters. The history of homogeneity of only certain kind of people get to have complex ideas does not make it easy to convince people that we all get to have complex ideas. Rungetta wants to cover these classic ideas but make them less stern, less homogenous, and more inviting to people of different perspectives and different backgrounds.

One of the solutions to this is the idea of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, that we are all nomads in the land of ideas. These French philosophers are huge inspiration for how Rugnetta treats concepts and complex ideas. In their book A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari say that their book doesn’t contain a slice of one single truth. They ask how would we even know if there is one single truth and even if there was how could a book be able to contain it? They intended the book not be only read but to be used. They wanted the concepts in the book be applied to foreign medium, like painting or politics. They wanted the readers not to get bogged down. Deleuze’s own image for a concept is a tool box. Throughout the book Deleuze and Guattari rapidly shift perspectives, subject matter, disciplines, and styles in order to uncover something about the interconnectedness of the world, the psyche, and the body. They call this rapid theorizing where you don’t build with ideas but use ideas, a nomadic thought.

Nomadic thought has been the model a lot of Ragnetta work and the Idea Channel. In his channel, he uses ideas in unexpected ways, in unconventional ways, rapidly shifting from one idea to another, while preserving some sense of dynamism. He is not building on ideas but instead using them to unlock and open various parts of the world. His hope is that this pursuit becomes less daunting if we worry less about building and perfecting but instead using, exploring, testing. Ideally we all do it together so that we are not alone. We do it in conversation with one another.  Nomadic thought is also one of the principles that encourages people to treat the idea channel like a conversation. Ragnetta reads comments and responds and even incorporates them into the show to promote conversation. He wants the channel to be used in a practical way, not just to be watched as entertainment. Ragnetta hopes that the Idea channel gives us the frame work to strike conversation with others about other media, material, complex ideas and concepts out there in the world.

A Defense of Overthinking Popular Culture

In this episode Mike Rugnetta talks about the idea that pop culture is an abstract location where values are secured and challenged. He states his case as to why are pop culture and overthinking are important. Rugnetta has encountered four common charges against overthinking. First is that the movies are just movies, games are just games, meaning that all you need about the meaning the certain piece of media can be understood from it’s surface level content or whatever broad ideas you associate with it’s medium. Second charge is that going beyond surface level content is “opinion dressed as fact”, meaning the only significance we should look for is that which is objectively verifiable by the person complaining or the viewer.  Third, in the process of uncovering deeper significance one is “reading too far into” a piece of media, meaning the creators don’t won’t you to find unverifiable significance in their work. Therefore, you are bringing the significance to a piece of media instead of finding it. Fourth, why would one bother with esoteric, social and political points that can be found in TV shows, and Internet memes, there are more important things to do like finding a cure for cancer. The Idea channel has been an exercise in challenging and ignoring these arguments.

The Idea channel is based on thinking that nothing is just itself. The social, economic, cultural impact of media is there and it’s very important. Meaning and significance are deeply personal and based on each audience member’s experience and environment, therefore meaning is not objective. Rugnetta has found that a lot of the times the meaning is not intended and it’s unexpected in a piece of work but it is still “part of the work.” Rugnetta refers to Roland Barthes Death of the Author on the complexity of influence. Rugnetta reiterates as in the last episode that looking for meaning is a useful, powerful tool in deepening one’s experience of the world.

Since the Idea channel does cover only certain works of media, these are chosen based on whether they contain theory and as works they do philosophy, they cause people to think deeply about their experiences and surroundings. Gillez Deleuze argued that film was important as both material for and source of philosophical thinking. Steven Mulhall, in his book On Film argues that certain films philosophy in action. Film as philosophizing. Costica Bradatan from magazine Eon argues that philosophers have much to learn from film makers. Jordan Erica Webber wrote about video games as executable thought experiments, in her book Ten Things Books Can Teach Us. Rugnetta argues that all works of media contain philosophical content even if miniscule.

One of the most common places to find works like these is popular culture. Rugnetta’s working definition of popular culture is media and goods that are available to the masses. He defines media as any material communication made by one person or a group made to be consumed by another. Examples are TV, books, YouTube, text massages and even YouTube comments. The goods are another way of looking at media though the lens of commercialism, but also the goods are comprised of products. Examples are make-up, fidget spinners, battery chargers. Masses refer to a broad cross section of demographics.

For many people the divide of popular and non popular culture is the same as the divide between low and high culture. At the beginning of 19th century popular culture was referred to as ill mannered. This is not the case today as there are many popular works that are smart and artful. Today high culture and popular culture mix and borrow from each other. Popular culture is hard to define as within it seemly contradictory things mix like high and low culture, digital and analog, urban and rural, foreign and domestic etc. Rugnetta argues that popular culture is worth overthinking about because popular culture is place where vastly different outlooks gather, interact, and have shared experiences. In the best case scenario pop culture facilities a common language across many boundaries for understating what it’s like to be a human with a unique point of view in the world. Because of this our understating grows, and we learn to respect one another. Pop culture also facilitates conflict over pop culture’s purpose, meaning, impact, etc.

There is one conflict that is always present in the pop culture and that is between the producer, the one in power to create and make statements, and the viewer, who is expected to consume these statements. The producers of popular culture occupy a space of immense power of influence, social, cultural, economic, even moral. The producers decide which stories we gather around. This is how any piece of popular culture does some level of philosophical work. Any piece of popular culture is a statement about the world. Rugnetta argues that overthinking is one of the ways to dismantle and examine the culture that we have been fed by the powerful class of people who produce it. One of the most important cultures to treat this way is pop culture because of its richness, pervasiveness, and influence. The act of dismantling and overthinking is a way for us to use something available to us but which is not fundamentally ours. Overthinking helps us discern what about the popular culture is good, bad, helpful, hurtful, interesting or boring on our own terms. It is important to exercise this right even if we think that the piece of work is boring, or we love it or hate it, it still holds certain values. It is important for us as viewers to exercise our power and show that we are willing and able to do it. Stuart Halls says, pop culture is one place where our values can be secured or challenged. Overthinking popular culture allows us to discern which values we must challenge and which values are worth securing.

Thinking with Others

In the last episode of the Idea Channel, Rugnetta refers to a quote from Donna Haraway’s book “It matters what stories tell stories. It matters what ideas we think other ideas with.” Rungetta says the third and the most important ingredient of the Idea Channel is People. Most notably, the channel does comment responses. Rugnetta wants to make sure the audience has a say in the show. This is a way to include perspectives different from Rugnetta’s and also give him a chance to change his mind. In 2012 they were inspired by Grace Helbig’s “Commenting on Comments.” “The Brian Lehrer Show” from WNYC’s daily morning show where Brian takes calls on often complex topics from whoever decides to call, is another inspiration. Rugnetta listened to this show every morning and wondered whether it could be possible to do the same on YouTube; invite the audience onto your show as part of the show’s premise. Many have made fun of Rugnett’s idea however, he is still in awe as to how the Idea Channel’s audience’s comment section turned out to be the smartest and most thoughtful comment sections, thus proving everyone wrong. Another idea is that the channel used is that people, not the media or technology have agency.  Finally, the catalyst for discussing a particular piece of popular culture have often been fans or detractors have responded to it. The channel focuses on pop culture through its impact on audiences.

The definition of critical thinking is a bit more nuanced than just objective thinking, it also involves people. In 1987 philosophers Michael Scriven and Richard Paul who was the director of research and professional development of National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking (NCECT) have said “Critical Thinking – in being responsive to variable subject matter, issues, and purposes – is incorporated in a family of interwoven modes of thinking, among them: scientific thinking, mathematical thinking, historical thinking, anthropological thinking, economic thinking, moral thinking, and philosophical thinking.” Lynda Elder, the president of the Foundation for Critical Thinking has said in 2007 “Critical thinking is self-guided, self-disciplined thinking which attempts to reason at the highest level of quality in fair-minded way. People who think critically strive to diminish the power of their egocentric and sociocentric tendencies. They work diligently to develop the intellectual virtues of intellectual integrity, intellectual humility, intellectual civility, intellectual empathy, intellectual sense of justice and confidence in reason. They avoid thinking simplistically about complicated issues and strive to appropriately conside the rights and needs of relevant others. They recognize the complexities in developing at thinkers, and commit themselves to a life-long practice toward self-improvement. “

Critical thinking requires you to be aware of yourself, not erase yourself. Critical thinking also means being humble in the face of someone else’s ideas. Critical thinking is a way to inspect, dissect, and examine, but it’s also a way to grow. For Rugnetta critical thinking means having difficult selfless thought about many things, including thinking, which then informs the self.

Mike Rugnetta, because of the Idea Channel and all the conversations the viewers had with Rungetta, grew as a person and the audience members also grew as people. Rungetta says that the audience members grew the most because of the conversations amongst themselves that the Idea Channel facilitated. Even though our culture views emotions as something opposite to critical thinking, Rugnetta argues that empathy is crucial to critical thinking. It is his firm belief that the respect and use of the feelings of others not is only permissible but also required for critical thinking. Which brings us to critical empathy.

According to Todd DeStigter “Critical empathy refers to the process of establishing informed and affective connections with other human being, of thinking and feeling with them at some emotionally, intellectually, and socially significant level.” Peter Elbow in his 2009 paper refers to doubting game and believing game. The doubting game refers to critical thinking as objective and logical thinking. Elbow argues that we should expand this and be welcoming and accepting of all ideas we encounter. “The doubting game is the rhetoric of propositions, while the believing game is the rhetoric of experience.”- Peter Elbow. The Idea Channel uses the believing game in creation of its content. When viewers have said that Dr. Who helped them be a better person in the world, they were believed and out which the episode Doctor Who is Religion, was born. When people said they hated being blamed for every industry being ruined because of their age, they were believed by the Idea Channel team and Why did Millennials Ruin Everything episode was born.

Rungetta leaves us with one last idea, that is that we should think with one another and to listen and believe one another’s experiences. If somebody tells you one piece of culture has impacted them, even in a way you would have never expected, believed them in order to understand them better. He encourages us to pursue intellectual civility and intellectual empathy. This practice will help us learn and grow. Rugnetta says that popular culture is more than just popular culture. Through the ideas that are embedded in pop culture it can help us see and think about the world and it’s where our values are secured or challenged. It’s one the ways we can learn with and about each other.