Tuesday, 28 October 2008



Usually I'm not one to share this sort of thing, but...

One of my dogs back home just died. It hasn't sunk in yet. I don't even really think there's any point in saying this, because no one who reads my blog will know what my dogs mean to me. For the most part, no one who hasn't seen me with my dogs will. But, well, there you go. I'm saying it anyway.

I feel like putting a big picture of him up here and being all sentimental about it, but, again, what readership I have will not care, so I won't.

The experience of writing this blog has seriously disillusioned me to writing blogs in general. They're interesting, fun, and possibly intellectual, but...don't try getting companionship through one. It can't translate.

I'll talk to you when I'm less emo.


Sunday, 26 October 2008

Guessing Game--Glove


The other night I was praying, and an image that I thought was particularly apt came to me. It was of me as God's glove. More accurately, I was asking to be God's glove.

Now, if you look at the title, you'll see it's a guessing game. The game is, can you guess what this image means? It's an extended metaphor, of course, so try and think of ways in which Christians might want to act as a glove of God.

It'll likely never catch on as a popular image, but I like it. It would ease my concerns over 'prayer warrior,' which I expressed previously. Though, actually, if we think of it in a C. S. Lewis' theological context, where we are the underground in occupied territory, then 'prayer warrior' makes a lot more sense. Actually, I'm starting to like that... prayer as a weapon against Satan and sin...

(This is all a manifestation of my English-major training: I am obsessed with symbols, narratives, allegories, analogies, and metaphors. It seems my essay-writing skills are not kicking in though: I'm venturing way off topic!)

I'd give the winner something, except that there could be multiple winners. If someone gets one aspect and someone else gets another, then it'd be a mutual win, right? And I can't very well send prizes...hmm... Well, if I like your answer, I'll come up with something.

About Time


I read this on Freakonomics--you can see it on my blogroll, at least until they add another post--and was happy. It's about time the media started lauding institutions. I know, in the words of one of those Penny Arcade guys, that you're supposed to stick it to the man, not stick up for him. However, I think it's getting a little ridiculous just how badly we feel we need to thrash our bureaucracies. There are problems with the systems as they stand, of course. But there are also incredible benefits to them, and there are also better ways of fixing the problems than being negative. Being positive is necessary to identifying how we want to implement change. In order to understand how we would prefer our system--our bureaucracy--to work, we need to be able to identify what we like about the existing systems. Trust me, we need bureaucracy. The massive scale of our interdependence requires it.

And don't listen to people who tell you that we need to cut back on interdependence, that we need to strike out on our own without relying on anyone. That is not the most useless statement I have ever heard; that is the most dangerous statement I have ever heard. I am serious. The extent to which people believe it is enough to make me weep in terror. Interdependence is a fact of life, and if we try to severe these ties of mutual requirement, we will all perish--and in misery, too. It's not a live in pain or die happy sort of choice, but live with whatever attitude you choose or die miserable choice, where the first is (inter)dependence and the last is independence. Until we learn to rely on others and to trust, we will all lose.

But anyway, back to the article I've linked to. I'm happy Freakonomics is doing this. We need to highlight the good. Indicating the bad is also necessary, but we do enough of that. The last paragraph I wrote, in fact, is more than enough. I'm very interested to read what people submit.

In church this morning, the pastor asked (rhetorically) what kind of church our city needs. He's fond of doing this. Someone from the congregation said aloud, "It doesn't need a church, it needs people." (I realize that the grammar is wrong, and that, since he spoke, I can't claim that he "wrote" a comma himself. However, it was a comma-length pause, not a semi-colon pause and a period pause with the end of sentence tone of voice, so I used a comma.) The pastor said that it needs people, yes, people who make up the church, and used 'people' and 'church' interchangeably for a bit before going back to using 'church,' to prevent alienation, I suppose, and because he liked the idea of people but needed to go back to the vocabulary of a church for the purposes of the sermon.

My thing, though, is that what the city needs is a CHURCH. People need structure. I am sorry, but we do. People are awesome; people can accomplish a lot. But people accomplish even more if they are organized, and, in the case of Christian activity, the particular units of organization are called churches. If you want to be really egalitarian, I suppose you can use 'congregation' instead of church. However, I think the word church is fairly apt. The image of a church is much more theologically useful than that of a mass of individuals making decisions in or not in concert. If it is theologically useful and has no real problem on a practice side of things (which it doesn't, contrary to popular belief), then it should be used. The city does need people. The city also needs a church. So, you have fancy--and popular, if the assorted no-church Christian movements are any indication--rhetoric, buddy, but the wrong idea.

Which is to say, Yay, institutions! Because, until Freakonomics, it seems no one else was willing to say it.

EDIT 10:00 the same evening: Upon re-reading this post, I think I'm a bit angry sounding. I may have fallen into the habit of producing vitriol and mistaking it for insight. I hope that I have not, but... my apologies if you thought so. If you are new to my blog, I hope that you don't judge me too harshly on this.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Pirates are ambiguous


They were cool until they turned on the Allies. But I still think pirates are winning.

Friday, 24 October 2008



This is a prelude to another post I want to write sometime, which I intend to entitle ;. Yes, the title will consist entirely of a single punctuation mark. Blogger will then have to deal with that in URL. I am excited to see what genius Blogger produces.

Anyway, it will concern the semi-colon, as is evident. I like semi-colons, and I want to tell you why. However, I have work to do and have to go to class and fun stuff like that, so, in the meantime, you can look at what I wrote on another's Wall and see what directions I might take this.

"You have a problem with semi-colons? Semi-colons rock. They're both commas and colons. They're like mermaids or gryphons or Obama: they defy categorical bounds! They're like the border between Ontario and Quebec, stitching together two seperate but inseperable parts. They're just generally excellent, and the only reason people don't like them is that people are afraid of ambiguity. People are afraid of hermaphrodites, cyborgs, conjoined twins, and semi-colons, all for the same reason."

I don't actually think he had a problem with semi-colons; it was more my lamentable semi-colon usage. By this I mean that I've gotten sloppy and used semi-colons where I oughtn't have. And screw you, Vonnegut, there are plenty of uses for a semi-colon outside of showing that you've been the college!

Monday, 20 October 2008

On Praying for Other People

Last night I did something which I ought to do more often, yet do not: I prayed for other people.

Usually, I approach prayer almost formulaically: I offer repentence and ask for forgivenness, with some thought towards a particular transgression I committed that day, understood as a token of my transgressions as a whole; I offer thanks for at least two things for which I am grateful that I experienced that day; I ask to be an agent of God in the world; I ask for particular things I feel I need the following day, most often patience, strength, dedication, courage, and other forms of self-control. Sometimes I also ask for direction, if I feel particularly lost. Last night, though, I didn't do even one of those things.

Last night I prayed instead for individuals and groups, as they came to my mind. Surely I could have thought of others to pray for, but I just let the thoughts come up and I prayed as they came. I prayed for a recently evicted man I meant that night, who had been kicked out of his apartment for allowing a homeless man to take shelter there. I prayed for a girl who said she was trying to resolve thoughts about God. I prayed for someone else who I felt was uneducated about other religious traditions, a problem that I feel is rampant among the Christian community. I prayed for the students of the school I volunteer at, of another school in the city with the Read and Run program, and of my mother's school--and also for the teachers at these schools, whose views of life must be impacted by the financial or emotional poverty of some of their pupils. I prayed for others, too, who gave no particular indication that they needed prayer over the course of yesterday, but that occured to me could use it, even if they didn't ask for it or would be upset if they found out that I had been praying for them. (I here nod to Inara from Firefly--either episode two or the second part of the pilot episode.)

At the end of this prayer I was struck by the serenity in which I rested. Sure, I managed to get antsy and uncomfortable later in the night, obstructing my attempts to sleep, but immediately afterwards the sheer rightness of the experience, the spiritual fulfilment, was overwhelming--and I use this word denotatively. It occured to me that this is what I ought to be doing all the time. I need to integrate this into my nightly prayers. Praying for other people--authentically praying for them--is a necessary part of a Christian lifestyle. It is an act of charity, and a profounder one than the ease of giving it may suggest.

This indicates to me that this is a skill that I need to cultivate. This includes both nightly private prayers and praying aloud for others in those opportunities I have for doing so--not too infrequent, given my weekly participation in a few Christian communities. This involves being publically available for prayer requests, cultivating an image as someone who can provide this service--though not in a bureaucratic or commercial way, despite my word choice. I have occasionally heard members of my Christian communities use the word 'prayer-warrior'; I have always through that there was something both apt and perverse in that phrase. Whether I like the terminology or not, I must become one.

Inversely, I must also make available the opportunities for others to pray for me. If I find others-directed prayer to be liberating, then it seems to make sense that those I encounter might also find others-directed prayer to be liberating. Instead of being vague about my prayer needs, perhaps I ought to be more specific, ought to give someone a real sense of how they can pray for me. Of course, telling someone your prayer needs makes you very vulnerable, and I fear vulnerability almost as much as I fear disappointing people. However, this vulnerability is a fair sacrifice to make, I believe, for giving someone the opportunity to provide this form of charity for you. I can think of bigger sacrifices that have been made in Christian history.

Whether I will maintain these new initiatives is yet to be seen; I am not a very good Christian, to be honest, and often fail to deliver on both Christian-community-expected behaviour and, much more importantly, peronally or Biblically expected behaviour (though I'm not bad at hiding these failures from public sight). This is not to say I do not believe this discovery is true or that I will not continue to believe it is true. It is instead to say that I am as flawed as anyone else, and my revelations do not always impact behaviour, regardless of what Freud may think. Despite what happens, I felt that this experience, this new understanding, is valuable, and worth sharing through this medium, even if only a few people come upon it. Perhaps you already knew this; perhaps prayer is foreign to you, and the effects of it are not something you can yet relate to; perhaps you are new to the game and are exhilerated by some new territory that you could explore. I know that, despite having prayed since I've known how to speak, I am new to the game of prayer. Every time I am asked to pray in public I can feel my amateur status. Whatever your position, whatever my limitations, I hope that this one-sided discussion has in some way illuminated some part of your social or spiritual life.


In a radical framework shift, I want to encourage you to read my blog posts textually, literarily, formally, deconstructively, post-colonially, archetypically, new historically, anthropologically, marxistly, femininely, queer theoretically, heteroglossically. In many ways I have written my blogs with these criticisms in mind, choosing vocabulary specifically to allow you, as readers, to interpret, analyze, and even criticize in a scholarly fashion. This includes otherwise personal, even spiritual, passages such as this. Essentially, I am becoming familiar with the myriad of ways people tease meaning out of texts, and so I am attempting to frame and in some sense control the processes of that teasing, much as people make jokes at themselves to prevent others from teasing them. As a writer, I cannot predict how you will recover that meaning, but I can predict how might, and work with (against?) that.

As anyone who knows me will attest, I think too much about everything, including myself. I hope that, if nothing else, this makes for interesting reading.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

On Dance Clubs

I went to a dance club the other night.

I refrain from using the phrase 'I went clubbing the other night' because that gives connotations of getting inebriated and trying to entice unfamiliar and well-endowed girls to come home with me. Neither happened--that's to say that I did not drink and did not try to seduce anyone--and so I will stick with 'went to a dance club,' which is much more accurate and is freer of these connotations.

I went with a number of friends, and we were largely very innocent about the whole thing. Only a few of us dance on a regular basis. As a rule I do not, but at a housemate's recent birthday party I could either be in the dancing-room (ie. our living room converted into a dance floor) or the drinking-room (ie. our kitchen), and that choice was clear. I find little more boring than sitting around, getting drunk. I couldn't conscienciously be in the dancing room without making some attempt at actually dancing, so through the course of the evening I learned, albiet not very well. So I had a little experience under my belt--little being operative--and therefore had thought that maybe clubbing would not be so bad.

It's funny, how lamentable people are at dancing. Drunk girls cannot dance. They think they can, but they can't. Guys, as a rule, can't either, unless it's lewd, and that doesn't count. And no one is paying any attention to anyone else anyway. And you have to start dancing before you can discover that it is (almost) true when they say that you simply 'move to the beat'; it has nothing to do with pre-established choreography or spectacular feats, but near-random re-combination of a large but finite number of simple movements. Girls do this much better than guys, because they are allowed to move in certain ways that guys are not.

The interesting thing about learning to dance is that people are such bad teachers. Almost without exception people who can dance will tell people who can't dance, "Just move to the beat." There likely is a piece of advice somewhere in the world that is more utterly useless than this, but I have never encountered it. And that is the entirety of most people's choreographical education. No wonder people who cannot dance hate the idea of trying! They have absolutely nothing to go on. What instead works--at the afore-mentioned birthday party I had the luck of such an opportunity--is if someone will dance very simply, with a little, repetitious foot-work and something accompanied with the arms. You replicate this. Then the person does something a little more complicated. You replicate this. Then people around you do several different things that work on the same beat, and you can get a sense of the various possibilities available to you--this footwork, this arm movement, etc. You can mix and match elements. And then you can 'just move to the beat,' because you know some underlying elements of the movement. After this, you can begin to add to your arsenal things that you've seen other people do and things that you've made up, but are not radically dissimilar from existing elements. Experimentation is then a possibility, though I'd caution only experimenting slowly and at a small scale. Otherwise you're in danger of looking like a fool. Some people are fine with embarassing themselves publicly, but most people who do not know how to dance are not.

On another note, I found it quite interesting to try to match movement to music; this is more than just tempo, but also other elements of composition that I do not have the vocabulary to describe.

I must go and work now, but I felt like writing this.

Oh, and another note...

It's funny how the most ravishing black dress that so effectively flatters a girl will render her unremarkable at a club because of the fact that every other girl is wearing a low-cut, short-skirted black dress. Those who wear something more colourful--even if less flattering individually--are more noticeable in that context.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

On Soundtracks

Nothing spears a movie-goer as well as a real and engaging score, one that resounds within the audience's physical bodies, fills the space so well that the hearer is no longer aware that that space exists, is fixated only by the sound and the screen.

The angle and pitch of the cinematography, the contrast of shadow and glare, the rasp of the hero's beard or the slope of a heroine's cheek--these are all strong incitements, do not get me wrong. The spartan poetry of a good script, the crimson stirring of a pre-battle speech--these are all rewarding. But one of the quickest, dirtiest, most relentless way of winning the audience is a soundtrack that does what it ought and does it without reserve.

I listen to soundtracks. They rarely have lyrics to get in the way, which I originally thought meant I could better study with them. This is not true. I cannot read for English courses with music in the background, because soundtracks are specifically designed to be overwhelming. The score buries the prose. If I try to write with music on, that music seeps into my writing; my writing cannot work without the music driving it; my writing cannot stand alone. (That being said, I wonder what you make of this writing, which must have been influenced by a few different songs. Maybe I'm wrong?)

I bring this up because I was scanning pages into my computer, reading a book about the music of writing, and how to be a good 'composer of words,' when a song from the movie Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End came on. I was immediately driven to anticipation. I could almost feel the sway of the ship, the tang of sea-salt air, the cool heat of a tropical coast, and the deep pulsing excitement of the exotic. I recalled first seeing that movie in theatres, the hysterical glee of first watching it, the rabid intensity with which I anticipated the second film. The success of those movies, I am sure, comes not just from the acting, the brilliantly convoluted script, the stunning visual effects, or the aesthetic supremacy of pirates, but the tidal power of the score. That soundtrack can pull your body into Tortuga, can release all of the pent-up desire for the sea, can deliver to you a taste of that exoticism which you will but only sample.

The score's power is evident in some of the biggest blockbusters we have today: Lord of the Rings, King Kong, Spider-Man (you may not be able to hum the music, but listen to it sometime; it's pretty good), Troy, Gladiator. Think also of the older collossi, such as Star Wars, James Bond, or Indiana Jones. Where would Vader be without his Imperial March? Indiana without his plucky theme? Bond without his suave swing?

Now, not-so-good movies can fail to profit from incredible music, such as the third installment of the Harry Potter films ("Hedwig's Theme" is Williams at perhaps his least characteristic, at yet it's one of his best later works, I think). Meanwhile, excellent films can falter thanks to an unremarkable score, such as The Golden Compass, which had only the Gypsy Theme to stand out--if they worked with and developed that strain more, I think they would have had more success. We can only see what they'll produce for The Subtle Knife, I suppose.

Computer games are getting on board, now (though maybe I'll want to save this for my other, neglected blog). They always have been, of course, but the hype and availability of computer game soundtracks is increasing. If you've ever heard the mercilessly epic music of World of Warcraft, you'll know what I mean. Fans of the classicly gritty Doom-clone Duke Nukem 3D will be able to attest to how the intro music to this gem could stir the blood. My favourite, though, is the introductory music of the under-appreciated RTS Majesty. I am sure the emotional charge that I get when I hear this music is fueled by the nostalgic quality of the game, but the sound itself is engaging. I'm going to see if I can link the music into my blog somewhere; if I can, listen to it and you'll see what I mean.

Now, I have no skill in music criticism. I know what a staff is; I get caesura to some extent, thanks to my giddiness about sonnets; I know the 'hold me' joke; I understand that jazz is different; I know that percussing on the counter-beat adds that extra edge. But music theory is something I haven't explored with any organization or direction. I'd like to, but, with linguistics, I have little external motivation and therefore can chicken out whenever it gets challenging--which it does immediately. All I can go on is my natural artistic abilities. So I can't tell you what makes a good soundtrack, but I can sure tell you how it makes you feel.

"True Love's First Kiss" from Shrek just came on Window's Media Player. This one is so beautiful. It builds, builds, explodes in majesty, and then lowers you with such delicacy, followed by gradually increasing and perfectly controlled swells, bringing you gently to rest at the end, with just a hint of more to come, ending on the paradox of satisfied anticipation... ah...


I should go work now. I've been meaning to write this for a while, but just now was moved to do so by the resounding awesomeness of the Pirates soundtrack.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Piracy (and it's on the high seas, too)

A third post on a single day! Wowza!

I have yet more news to share.

In the on-going war between pirates and ninjas, our parrot-toting sea-dogs have wrested yet another significant victory: they apparently still exist, and their numbers are growing.

They are not yet forming pirating societies, granted. They are not yet flying the Jolly Roger. They don't shiver timbers, walk planks, or bury chests of gold on desert isles. There are no pirate empires, as in Imperial China, or sexy piratesses, as in colonial Ireland. But what were once small groups of men who occassionally stole stuff while at sea are becoming actual crews, complete with organization, written pirate codexes, bonding time at sea, hostage-taking, and alliegiances. If things continue at this rate, we may get what's being called a pirate polity on our hands.

By 'our hands' I actually mean off the coast of Somalia. And I do fully realize that this isn't actually 'cool,' but likely a serious problem for the country with lethal consequences. I should not be excited by this. At all.

But, they're pirates. There's an excellent line in Peter Pan that nicely sums up this dilemma, but I've sadly forgotten it. It has something to do, however, with one of the boys having always secretly wanted to be a pirate. However, when he's informed that being a pirate necessarily involves saying, "Down with the king," he cries, "Long live the king!" and sentences himself to horrid death at the hands of the pirate crew. He doesn't die, of course, but is instead rescued by Peter Pan and takes part in the battle that ensues, but that's not the point--what is, is that every little boy, and probably little girls, too, these days, has at some point wanted to be a pirate, and this desire lingers in us still despite the fact that we know piracy involves all sorts of moral trangressions that are frequently quite awful. My, we are perverse critters. (Of course, some would say our fascination with pirates is that we can enact transgressions vicariously through their villiany. That they were democratic and had life insurance seems to undermine that, somewhat. I don't know what to make of this theory. It likely has some grain of truth.)

Anyway, here's the source for my information. How interesting Freakonomics can be, eh?
I shamelessly stole the photo from http://blogs.ipswitch.com/archives/2005/08/in_canada_36_pe.html. If you want to know who owns it, ask him.

Student Vote

OK, OK, I posted ten minutes ago, and I know what I'm going to say is outdated, but...

I just looked at Rick Mercer's blog and saw this. I thought it was absolutely crucial that I link it for you. Crucial. Because it's Mercer near his best, and Mercer at his middlings is pretty darn good. And it's about students. And the Canadian election. And really about politicians and students and democracy in general. And it's funny.

In my excitement, it seems my grammatical faculties degraded. Sorry.

But you really should read the post.

Here, I'll post it again, just in case: http://www.rickmercer.com/blog/index.cfm/2008/10/7/Spite--The-Most-Powerful-of-Motivators

Octopus, Craft Shows, and Nautical Nonsense

I don't usually go for kitschy crafts, but I suppose there's something about constructing something undeniably cute out of tentacles and a strange green colour that is appeallinig to all demographics--or at least whatever bizarre demographic I fit into.

If you want to know what I'm talking about, go to this link: http://aliciapolicia.blogspot.com/2008/04/octopolly.html. I found this site through Blogs of Note and spent some time looking through back posts (as in back issues; I may have just made this word up). Suddenly this amazing, adorable, tentacled girl appears, and I'm just smitten. At this point I really encourage you to use the link, because otherwise it sounds like I sport some very strange fetishes. Not that I have anything against people with strange fetishes, but, you know... You could also look at the picture to the left, I suppose.

Not that I expect someone to jump down my throat (what an odd expression) about dissing kitschy crafts, but in case someone does, I'd like to pre-empt them. I spent what seemed at the time to be a lot of my childhood at craft shows. In case you don't know what a craft-show is, imagine an annual or semi-annual flea market (or farmer's market or trade fair, if you're more familiar with those) where assorted vendors can sell handicrafts that they make. There's usually a variety of merchandise--my parents originally sold Femo (sp?) jewellery but then moved almost entirely into woodcrafts of the planter, garden stake, bird-feeder, and seasonal decoration variety. My brother and I, in a few of the smaller events, had a table where we sold Christmas ornaments, wooden puzzles, and home-made chocolates. When we were abroad, especially in the US, we would often visit craft shows so that my parents could get ideas to use in Ontario, since they tried to avoid using designs of people circulating the same market; not everyone, incidentally, held the same moral code that they did. During our frequences of craft shows, my brother and I would often hang out in the van or in the trailer (if we brought one, as we often did when selling at larger events) reading, writing, horsing around, and generally staving off boredom. At least once, however, we would go around and see what was all available at a craft show, and sometimes there would be something which would interest one or the other of us. The point of all of this is that kitschy crafts, and non-kitschy crafts, were a formative part of my childhood. They partly defined how I understood employment, how I undertook amusing myself, how I measured seasonal cycles, how I conceived of artistic expression, and how I spent money and engaged in consumer-tourism. I may not decorate with woodcrafts a lot, but you will usually see in the sorts of useless items I bring to school with me a sense of the craft-shows I grew up in.

A while back--just before I left Fort McMurray--I may have mentioned that I was nostalgia-tripping. This is something I have been thinking about a lot lately.

Finally, I want to vent a little about a book I read for class by E. A. Poe, called The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. If the title seems somewhat drawn out and inclusive of irrelevant details, it may be symptomatic of the aimlessness of the work as a whole. In class we determined that it's largely a case of an author screwing with us; I think Poe is trying to figure out how little plot he can include in a book with it still remaining a 'narrative.' He's also trying to figure out how many unrelated 'events'--and here we're stretching the definition of event--he can string together without any real connective tissue, by merit of agentless drifting and spontaneous decision-making. To top it off, the editor of the edition has some mad scheme about hidden allegories Poe is making in the text, something to do with mirroring, Christ-figure revelation, and Poe's love of his mother and brother. The whole reading rests upon similarity in word-choice between select passages in the first chapter and the last half of the book, with some strange relation between albatrosses and penguins. If this seems unlikely and ridiculous to you, that's because it is. The editor is on crack--metaphorically more than literally, though I suppose I can't know that he isn't literally on crack as well. I didn't actually read the introduction he wrote, mind you, but instead surmised this from the assorted endnotes he gives. These endnotes also like to point out where Poe "almost certainly" got the information he included, which seemed far fetched to me and largley irrelevant. For instance, the editor placed an endnote after the word "spermaceti," and I assumed this note would tell us what a spermaceti was, but instead explained which nautical texts Poe lifted his nautical knowledge. Fortunately, I know that spermaceti is neither a pasta nor a reproductive organ but instead a sperm whale, and has I not known this I could have determined it from the fact that cetology is the study of whales, and thus sperm-a-ceti is likely a sperm whale. However, I really doubt your average reader, even of Poe, would have this information. A good editor would include that gloss. This editor chose not to.

Pym, while enjoyable in a masochistic sort of way, is the textual equivalent to LCD, especially at the mind-numbingly improbable end, where water is gelatinous and stratified, and albatrosses migrate out of a top-less spray of sea-foam... and then things implode from there.

Well, that's an insight into the mind of English Clergyman today. I suppose I left out the fascination and speculation on the Canadian Federal Election, and the similar events south of the border. But I can save all of that for later. I'll write a review of it another day.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Good News

Kitten has a home! Yay!

Monday, 13 October 2008

The Thanksgiving Kitten

It's Thanksgiving this weekend, and I went home to celebrate it.

On Saturday, my Mom, my brother, and I went to the dump to drop some stuff off. On the way back, my brother asked if we could take a quick drive through the local swamp. We did, and it was a good thing, too. Half-way through the bush, from the grass on the side of the road there peeked a little fuzzy black face. We stopped and discovered a kitten who had been abandoned. She was quite weak and dehydrated, but friendly.
We took her into the car and drove to the nearest convenience store, where we purchased canned cat food and water. She loved the canned cat food, that's for sure. We then took her to a friend with a barn full of cats, hoping he could take her. No luck, however, as no one was home. So we took her back to our house. Mom would gladly have kept her, but for the fact that we already have two large dogs who would probably thank us very kindly for the meal, can we please have another? For the rest of Saturday we had to lock the kitten in assorted rooms of the house with a kitty litter box, a dish of water, some cat food, and an old pillow.

My brother and I sent various on-line pleas for adoption on behalf of the little kitten. That night, the kitten slept on my brother's bed up in our attic bedroom.
On Sunday, the kitten wouldn't eat. When we got back home from our day's activities (maybe the subject of another post), we worried over the cat, checked on-line to see if we got any replies (none), and noticed that she was sniffling. Eventually we got a hold of the friend with the barn, who happens to be studying to be a vet tech. We arranged to take the kitten over there to have a penicillin shot. At about the same time, my brother's girlfriend's housemate said he might be able to adopt the kitten. After feeding her water with an eye-dropper, we drove the kitten over to the friend's place, where he administered the needle. We talked for a while, during which time we determined that she needed a week's worth of penicillin. Therefore, instead of depositing the little girl directly off to the adopter on Monday (today), Mom would keep the little girl for a week so our friend could continue giving penicillin.

This morning we got up early, went to the friend's place for another shot, and then drove to my school city again, where I am now typing. The little kitten rode with us, and was forced to endure more feeding through an eye-dropper. On arriving at my house, my brother let her play in the grass across the street, during which time she ate again. My brother went in to use the washroom, and my Mom, housemate, and I watched as the kitten tried to chase a squirrel. They left shortly after that, and here I am typing this account of the Thanksgiving kitten.
So far we've come up with a few different names for her, though I suppose whoever adopts her will name her for real. Liccorice, shaman, magic, and bayou were all suggested: liccorice and magic because she is black; shaman and bayou because she comes from the swamp.
I wondered what ought to be done with people who dump cats off in the wild when they don't want them any more. We've had a cat before who we received that way--she was never quite normal. Our second cat came over from the neighbour's, and they received him in a bag with the rest of his litter--he was a little runt tomcat at the time. My mother said she figures they are city people who think that animals will instictively survive in the wild, even if they're raised by humans in a house. You'd have to be pretty stunned to think that, but I don't know. I don't like holding grudges against people I've never met for a mistake--however horrible--they've made. If I had to come up with a vendetta, though, (and I thought about it for half an hour after finding the little one), I think I'd have the idiot dropped off about equidistance between Fort McMurray and Churchill. I'm not one hundred percent sure on this one, but I figure it would be a pretty long walk from there to anywhere you might be able to get help, and I'd say you could easily meet a bear, a pack of wolves, or a territorial moose first...and that's even if you knew which direction to walk in. That, I think, would be an appropriate way of dealing with offenders. But, as I said, no grudges.
I do hope that everything goes well for little Liccorice, or whomever. I can tell you we consider the possibility to Someone guided us to go through the swamp that afternoon and find the little furball, because otherwise she'd not have made the night. Regardless, I can tell you that I was thankful this Thanksgiving for finding the kitten and being able to save this one life.

God bless,

English Clergyman

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Running and Reading


As I wrote earlier today, I went to Running and Reading--as a coach, that is. If you're unfamiliar with the program, it involves going to high-needs schools and coaching a program whereby students from grades 2-6 (grade 1 being introduced after Christmas) spend about one hour preparing for a 5k marathon and one hour reading and eating a healthy snack.

I joined sort of on the spur of the moment and I wasn't sure how well I would enjoy it. I felt that I ought to be involved in this particular program, but I wasn't sure that I wanted to be. That worry was largely appeased today. I had a lot of fun, and felt much healthier than I have all week. Granted, I felt miserable shortly afterwards, but, what can you expect? I'm not much of a runner and I can hardly breathe with this head-cold.

There are some obvious problem children there, the antics of which I will not get into. There are also some children who show serious problems in reading--either in ability or inclination--and I think that this is something we can work on. We will see how it goes.

Wish me luck!

Dawkins Moment II


In my notebook, I have this note:

"p. 206 - spends less time on memes than I expected; makes no mention of the criticism that it is an oversimplification, but I can see the allure of meme theory. I'm not a sociologist, though, & it does seem like meme theory is an attempt to make sociological phenomenon explainable by Darwinian natural selection, whether it works or not."

In case you didn't know, Dawkins coined the term 'meme' and and fleshed the idea out. The Dawkins Delusion suggests that meme theory actually adds nothing to the field of sociology, which already had tools perfectly capable of doing the explanatory work of the meme. Does anyone know what the field of sociology makes of meme theory?

To Directory

New Experiences

You know, I've never had a head-cold like this one. My face is all plugged up and it actually hurts. Apparently that happens when your sinuses get blocked up. I hadn't known. And it's giving me a headache, too. It's not like I'm unfamiliar with headaches, but to have one so intimately connected to a head-cold--well, that actually makes a lot of sense.

I'm going to resist talking any more about my head-cold, because I don't want to turn this blog into one of those whine-fests that are apparently very frequent on-line. Instead, I'm going to try to stick with 'new experiences.'

Retreat, which I recently mentioned, counts as one of these new experiences. Partly as a result of retreat, I now seem to be more completely part of the Navs in-group, and that makes me happier than it likely ought. I'm used to being part of group formation; I'm not used to being integrated into an already-existing group. So I suppose that counts as a new experience. Also at Navs this week, I had squash prepared in such a way that I enjoyed it. That certainly counts as a new experience. (On a side note, the person who made it wasn't so happy with it--she had no brown sugar or butter, so was forced to use honey and margerine. Perhaps this is why I liked it, and she did not.)

Interestingly, feeling part of the in-group prompted me to approach someone who was most certainly not part of the in-group and socialize with them. Being graced with acceptance, I felt moved to offer it to someone else. I wish people felt that way more often, especially in highschool. This isn't necessarily a new experience--I did a fair amount of approaching and accepting people who seemed to me to be unaccepted while I was at retreat--but it is part of a more generally recent trend.

I'm going to go to Running and Reading program today as a coach (provided they don't send me home as a source of contagion). This will be a new experience.

One thing that is not a new experience is that I'm unsure of who I should vote for it the upcoming election. Everyone seems to have some decent ideas, and those who have the best-sounding ideas mix those in with some of the worst-sounding ideas (for instance, why does Jack think it's such a good idea to pull out of Afghanistan before 2011? and why does the Green Party want to develop the opium trade? and why does Harper want to cut from the arts?). What's new is the universally applicable nature of the mix-up. I don't think I've heard of platforms with such heterogenous quality before.


Less on the topic of new experiences, I watched a full episode of Life last night. I am starting to really enjoy that show.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

King Kong Essay

I'm hesitant to include such a long essay (15 pages as I submitted it) on this blog; however, I am sufficiently interested in it, and am sufficiently proud of it, that I will. It's my first real foray into film criticism, and was submitted to a Literary Criticism course I took, where we studied the means of analyzing literature--a departure from most English classes, which instead study particular genres and time periods of literature, taking the means for granted. Anyway, there's a bibliography at the end, if you're interested in the readings this comes from. The essay is about audience identification with the gorilla in King Kong and what this means for our understanding of man/woman and human/animal dichotomies.

Identifying with the Other:
Mulvey and Achebe in Light of King Kong

Peter Jackson’s King Kong begins with shots of monkeys, and then other exotic animals, in a zoo. The grey and brown colours of the enclosures themselves, the run-down appearance of the buildings, the leafless and twisted trees, and the matte-like New York cityscape background ties the zoo’s inmates to the poor shanty-town denizens nearby in the following frames. This animal-human conflation appears repeatedly in the film; unlike similar movies, there is little discovery of the bestial nature within the human soul, but instead the discovery of a human soul within at least one animal. Through Skull Island’s creation as a radical other in a manner strongly reminiscent of Heart of Darkness as explored by Chinua Achebe in his “An Image of Africa,” and the confirmation of human male dominance through the protagonist’s gaze, in the manner described by Laura Mulvey in “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” King Kong at first confirms the conventional hierarchies the audience expects. The intervention of the ape Kong, however, and the film techniques and narrative details that portray Kong’s interaction with the heroine Ann Darrow forces the audience to identify with a non-human animal as though he were a typical male protagonist. While the first third of Peter Jackson’s King Kong reinforces the other-ness of a Congo-like atmosphere and the human male dominance through gaze, as the film progresses, growing identification with the gorilla Kong collapses the othering initiated in the beginning of the film.

For the first hour and a half of King Kong, the film constructs Skull Island and its inhabitants as ‘other’ in ways similar to those Chinua Achebe describes when discussing Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in “An Image of Africa.” It is quite possible that these were deliberate choices on the part of Peter Jackson, who placed Conrad’s novel repeatedly and prominently in the film, including multiple dialogue sequences in which characters talk about the book. However, this could instead be an allusion to similar themes in both Heart of Darkness and King Kong, specifically dangerous environment and daring adventure. Regardless of authorial intent, Skull Island becomes a clone of the Congo, or at least Achebe’s articulation of Conrad’s Congo. According to “An Image of Africa,” novels such as Heart of Darkness represent Africa as an other because of “the desire—one might indeed say the need—in Western psychology to set Africa up as a foil to Europe, as a place of negations at once remote and vaguely familiar, in comparison with which Europe’s own state of spiritual grace will be manifest” (Achebe, 1784). Thus Africa is constructed to be different—“remote”—but also containing latent similarities, by comparison with which the colonizing European can examine his own existence. Elsewhere, Achebe describes this relationship as the following: “Africa is to Europe as the picture is to Dorian Gray—a carrier on to whom the master unloads his physical and moral deformities so that he may go forward, erect and immaculate” (1793). Achebe outlines a few ways that Conrad accomplishes this. First, as Achebe quotes F. R. Leavis’ observation, Conrad is obsessed with the “inexpressible and incomprehensive mystery” (1785) of Africa. Achebe quotes such adjectives as “implacable,” “inscrutable,” “incomprehensible.” Second, Conrad animalizes the African people, going so far as to deny them language and reducing them to grunts (1787-1788) and “frenzy” (1788). Third, in spite the differences, Conrad worries about a lurking “kinship” between the Africans and the Europeans, noting the existence of a distant but shared ancestor (1789). In Heart of Darkness, according to Achebe, Conrad uses mysteriousness, lack of language, frenzy, and common origins to construct the Congo as an other, or a warped mirror with which Europe can examine itself.

King Kong echoes the techniques used by Conrad in the creation of an other. In the film, the other is not the Congo—though there is a striking similarity between the word ‘Congo’ and the name ‘Kong’—but Skull Island, uncharted in the Indian Ocean. Its uncharted nature indicates both its mystery and its lack of language—it cannot be expressed on a map. The island itself is never seen in its entirety; instead it is happened upon in fog and occluded by a great wall on the coast (King Kong, 51:45-52:19). As the characters explore the cluttered and angled ruins on Skull Island’s coast, the camera moves both left-to-right and bottom-to-top, so that the many layers of foreground, background, and middle ground move over each other at different angles and speeds, creating an effect of confusion and frenzy (56:00-56:07). The confusion and frenzy is heightened by the quick-moving and fragmented shots, distorted sound, and the frequent lack of focus used in both the crew’s initial exploration of the ruins, prior to first meeting the native people, and their battle with the native people (56:52-57:10; 59:30-1:01:22). The sacrificial ritual of Skull Island’s denizens is marked by convulsing bodies, unseeing eyes, whooping chants, and jumbled bodies cluttering the frame (1:05:51-1:06-44). The denizens of Skull Island act with the frenzy and chaos Achebe notes in Conrad’s Congo. Thus Skull Island operates as an ‘other,’ similar to Achebe’s understanding of the Congo in Heart of Darkness.

As it constructs Skull Island as an other, the film also portrays Kong as an other in the first hour and a half. Until his first visible appearance at 1:10:10, Kong is a mysterious figure, contained in legends as “a creature, neither beast nor man, but something monstrous” (39:03-39:07), an undecipherable smudge on the map (45:02), carvings in rocks (51:03), and a roar from behind the wall (59:08-59:15). Ostensibly to create suspense, this mysteriousness also helps generate a sense of ‘other.’ When Kong appears from the forest in 1:10:10, he is mainly obscured by dust and low under-lighting, emphasizing his hands, hairiness, size, and shoulders, and by connection his animal nature (1:10:10-1:11:52). Kong, like the other of the Congo, cannot be articulated: when Jack asks Carl what he saw, Carl cannot answer (1:12:22-1:12:36), and Captain Englehorn wonders, “What in God’s name was that?” (1:11:05-1:11:07). Kong, then, by connection with the frenzy and chaos of the native peoples, and in his own obscured animal incomprehensibility, acts as an other from which Jack must rescue Ann.

As the film upholds colonial conventions in the first third of the film by creating Skull Island and Kong as ‘others’ against which the crew of the Venture can define themselves, the film also upholds patriarchal conventions of masculine gaze. Laura Mulvey, in “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” develops a model to explain how films satisfy the visual pleasures of looking and being looked at, using psychoanalytical methods. Mulvey examines two forms of pleasure: scopophilia, or the pleasure of erotic looking, and a narcissistic pleasure which “comes from identification with the image seen” (Mulvey, 2186). One necessitates separation from the object seen on the screen, while the other necessitates connection with the object. In a patriarchal society, male viewers separate from—and thereby control—the female objects and connect with the male protagonist (2187). The male protagonist, in fact, becomes a manifestation of the more powerful “ego ideal” of Lacan’s mirror stage (2185). By associating with the male protagonist who eventually ‘gets the girl,’ the audience also experiences this possession and control vicariously (2188). However, the female always, in Lacan’s and therefore Mulvey’s model, signifies castration, and therefore castration anxiety must be combated for the pleasure to succeed. There are two ways, according to Mulvey, that male viewers deactivate the threat of castration:

preoccupation with the re-enactment of the original trauma (investigating the woman, demystifying her mystery), counterbalanced by the devaluation, punishment or saving of the guilty object (an avenue typified by the concerns of the film noir); or else complete disavowal of castration by the substitution of a fetish so that it becomes reassuring rather than dangerous (hence overvaluation, the cult of the female star) (2188).

Mulvey calls the first stratagem “sadistic” and well-adapted to narrative (2188). Thus Mulvey’s model of patriarchal looking in film is defined by the audience’s erotic gaze at the heroine as a sexual object, identification with the male protagonist—who gazes at the woman—as an ideal self, and the punishment or rescuing of the female object to reduce castration anxiety.
As the first third of King Kong reinforces the colonial ‘other,’ it also conforms to Mulvey’s model, where Ann is the female object and Jack is male protagonist. Even before meeting Jack, Ann practices before a mirror so that she can impress Jack Driscol when she does meet him (King Kong, 28:10-28:28). While much of her practicing involves what she intends to say, her use of a mirror indicates her concern with how she appears to him; her selection of the dress she wears later for the occasion (28:55-28:56) corroborates this. Ann’s actions therefore indicate that she is concerned with becoming an object of visual pleasure to Jack Driscol. Her efforts clearly succeed; she is an object of visual pleasure to both Jack and the audience. When they meet in the ship’s corridor, Ann stumbles and recovers (34:16-20): as she does this, the frame switches from a portrait view of her face to a shot of her legs from below and behind (34:19). Immediately after this switch, Jack comments, “Good legs” (34:21); Jack corrects himself, saying he meant “sea legs” (34:25), but then says that her legs are also visually nice (34:29-34:30). While the viewer is watching Ann’s legs, Jack indicates that he is as well. Shortly after this conversation, Ann performs for Carl Denham and the film crew, subject to their collective masculine gazes in a form-fitting, low-cut dress (35:29-36:06). However, when Jack appears at Carl’s side, Ann switches from a general performance to one specified towards Jack, looking directly at him and breaking out of the character she is supposed to play (36:06-36:41). During this personal performance, the frame and Jack’s gaze onto Ann conflate, so that Ann is looking at the audience as she is looking at Jack (36:19-36:26). Therefore the audience, because of camera angles and costumes, identifies with Jack as the male protagonist gazing on the female object as exclusive possessor. This gazing relationship is consummated later (42:08), but the identification with Jack and his possession of Ann begin with the initial looking.
According to Mulvey’s model, the film follows the voyeuristic, sadistic model. It may or may not be relevant that Ann, in the film, never becomes the star she dreams of being. It is relevant, however, that the native islanders capture and sacrifice—“punish”—Ann (1:05:19-1:11:11), and that she seems to require rescuing by Jack and the crew—first from the islanders, and then from Kong. Thus King Kong begins by filling the gaze conventions expected by the audience of a Hollywood movie.
For the first hour and a half of the film, King Kong adheres to Achebe’s description of colonial othering through mysteriousness, lack of language, and frenzy, while simultaneously following Mulvey’s model of visual pleasure through identification with a male protagonist gazing on a female object who requires rescuing. This creates clear hierarchies of European-North American over Skull Island, male over female, with Kong acting as the rival ‘other’ to the hero, Jack, and as menacer of Ann, the heroine and object of audience voyeuristic gaze. These relationships, however, are challenged in the remainder of the film, which breaks out of Achebe’s and Mulvey’s models.
During Ann’s captivity to Kong, the film shifts from depicting the gorilla entirely as a monster or animal to depicting him as a male protagonist. Just as Ann presented herself to Jack as an object for him to watch, she also does this for Kong. Her first presentation is an attempt to placate an angry Kong after her failed escape from him (1:32:00-1:34:17), while the second is to cheer him up while he appears to be sulking because she again attempted to leave him (1:58:59-1:59:34). In the first scene, the camera often looks down at Ann from an upwards angle; in one case, Ann’s eyes follow the camera as though the camera is Kong (1:32:32-1:32:33). In the second scene, she performs again; this time, her much of her performance is made with her back to Kong, probably in an attempt to get his attention by ignoring him (1:59:07-1:59:19); because the camera is focused on Ann with Kong in the background, she is effectively performing to the audience, meaning that the audience is supplying what she wishes to receive from Kong. A few shots later (159:22-1:15:25), the audience views her from approximately Kong’s point of view, as she turns to make her performance directly to him. The effect of each scene, then, is that while Ann is performing for Kong, she is also performing for the audience. Kong reacts to her first performance with laughter (1:32:41-1:32:45), and the release of tension invites the audience to laugh as well—conflating Kong’s and the audience’s reactions. During these scenes, Ann’s performance is not strictly of an attractive or erotic nature—she is enacting routines from comedic theatre. However, in the first scene, the frequent exposure of her bare legs (1:33:53; 1:33-59) and shoulders (1:34:12) during Kong’s preferred part of the performance—where he pushes her over—indicate that she remains an erotic object to the audience while she remains an object to be controlled by Kong. In the second scene, her performance fails to please Kong, and she eventually switches to his desired activity: watching the sunset (2:00:02). She then steps into his hand (2:01:08-2:01:23), willingly becoming his possession in the ways that Mulvey observes are typical of the hero-heroine relationship. Thus the interactions of looking and being looked at that occur between Ann and Kong are exactly those of Mulvey’s model of scopophilia.
Kong’s looking at Ann is specifically the voyeuristic/sadistic version of scopophilia Mulvey discusses. At the same time that Jack is heading out to rescue Ann from the giant gorilla, Kong is rescuing her from Skull Island’s carnivorous animals (1:40:05-1:50:30). As is conventional, Ann moves through this process from a generalized sexuality, open to the myriad male consumers seeking her, to a specific sexuality exclusive to her rescuer—in this case, Kong. Revealing costuming and invasive camera angles (1:40:48-49; 1:42:45; 1:43:00-1:43:07) pervades her flight from monitor lizards and dinosaurs without Kong’s aid (1:40:05-1:44:13). Once he arrives, the camera focuses less on her and more on the battle between Kong and the tyrannosaurids (1:44:14-1:50:30); when she is shown, she is often covered by Kong’s fist or foot (1:44:39-1:44:46). At the fight’s end, she backs under his body, choosing to accept his protection and rescue (1:49:25-1:49:31). Thus Kong enacts the rescuing or forgiving convention of the voyeuristic model, and Ann enacts the movement from generalized to specific sexuality. Kong, then, is the male protagonist with which, during Ann’s stay with him, the audience identifies as an ideal self.
Identification with a character as an ideal self would seem to necessitate that that character is not constructed as an other. If the identification with Kong succeeds for the audience, this would result in the destruction of the othering established in the beginning of the film. This depends on each individual viewer’s response, but the film uses camera angle and emotional manipulation to promote an identification with Kong. As previously noted, Kong’s laughter provokes the audience’s laughter. During his rampage in New York, the music is fast, the lighting is highly contrasted, the movement is quick, the background noise is harsh and invasive, and the scenes change rapidly, making the audience feel Kong’s frenzy and agitation (2:31:10-2:35:17); when Ann appears and calms him (2:35:33), the music slows, the lighting becomes muted and diffuse, the background noise fades, and the scenes linger on single, slow-moving subjects (2:35:33-2:39:57). Thus, beyond the narrative establishing Kong as the male protagonist, the editing and directorial choices encourage the viewers to associate their human reactions with Kong’s reactions—laughter, defensiveness, tranquility—breaking down the distinction between the ‘savage’ gorilla other and the ‘civilized’ human self. During these sequences, particularly those after the initial chaos in New York, Jack, the other male protagonist, is hardly present, strengthening Kong’s claim on the audience’s identification. Kong is more than a “distant kin,” in Conrad’s sense, but an alternate protagonist, and this disallows the audience to simply categorize him as an other.
As King Kong goes some way to breaking down the othering of its eponymous gorilla, it does make some attempt at breaking down the other of Skull Island itself. This does not extend as far as making the native islanders more civilized; indeed, they disappear entirely after their monstrous sacrifice, losing any chance at redemption. Rather, Kong’s interaction with New York City renders it strikingly similar to Skull Island. Kong converts the steel girders of a construction project into the trees and vines of his home island (2:40:15-2:40-29), uses the rooftops like he uses cliff tops and plateaus (2:40:30-2:41:12), and takes refuge on the ledges on the Empire State Building as though the building was a mountain of his home (2:41:12-2:43:33). In one respect, the city consciously imitates Skull Island: Carl Denham reenacts the sacrifice of the native islanders as a spectacle for the New York elite (2:26:59-2:27:53). Skull Island itself, with its ruins hidden beneath foliage, has a sense of a distant kinship to New York in “its own forgotten darkness” (Achebe, 1785); Kong’s interaction with the city, however, makes explicit the similarities, and, by experiencing Kong’s perspective of the metropolis, the audience witnesses the destruction of the difference between New York City and Skull Island.
Despite the conflation of the human audience and the gorilla protagonist, however, the film does not transform Kong into a human. This would invalidate his status as an other, but it would not destroy the connection between other and different. Rather, King Kong emphasizes that Kong is an animal. In his moments of tenderness or joy with Ann—laughing at her routine or spinning on the ice with her—he appears most human. In his moments of triumph immediately after rescuing her, he is undeniably a gorilla, beating his chest and roaring, exposing his large teeth and acting ‘savage’ and wild (King Kong, 1:50:17-1:50:29; 2:46:12-2:46:17; 2:47:46-2:47:46; 2:52:08-2:52:39). While the audience may also experience the flush of success and enact their own success rituals—grinning, cheering, pumping the air—Kong’s is radically different from a human’s. Further, body language and facial expression carry the interaction between Ann and Kong quite a distance, but these are their only means of communication. Kong is without spoken language, and certain scenes emphasize his “inscrutability.” While Ann and Kong sit together on the Empire State Building, she tries to convey to him that she thinks the sunrise is “Beautiful” (2:42:07). Kong, however, does not respond, and likely does not understand what she is doing. The audience is left to guess what the gorilla is thinking, allowing the audience to feel sympathy, but leaving a gap between the audience’s identity and Kong’s. These details emphasize the differences between the audience and the gorilla, while other techniques—camera angles, emotion manipulation, and narrative elements—reinforce the identification. This contradiction creates a tension in the audience between treatment of Kong as an animal deserving fear or at most love and sympathy, and identification with Kong as an ideal other. Therefore King Kong’s subversion of the system of other created at the beginning of the film is not simply performed by glossing over differences, but by forcing the audience to understand their identification with a character who is radically different.
The category of other relies on the combination of separateness, difference, and residual similarity. King Kong implodes this category by directing the audience to identify with a character who the film initially constructs as an other. The narrative structure places Kong in the same position as a human male protagonist, emotional manipulation ensures that the audience often feels the same emotions Kong is portrayed to feel, and his interaction with New York city emphasizes the commonalities between the metropolis and Skull Island’s jungle; these techniques make the similarities not residual but fundamental and explicit. The emotional manipulation, combined with the use of camera angles to place the audience in Kong’s point of view, encourages identification with Kong and therefore breaks down the separation, while extended and frequent sequences that show him acting like a gorilla—which he is—simultaneously emphasize difference. By identifying the audience with Kong through the mechanisms Mulvey outlines, King Kong erodes the othering of Kong and the category of other itself.
As King Kong complicates the othering described by Achebe, it also makes headway into complicating the reduction of female characters to objects, albeit not as extensively or successfully. While Ann throughout the film remains an object of erotic pleasure, a damsel to be rescued, and a motivating figure more than an active player, she also commands gazes of her own; almost all of the male gazes toward Ann are reciprocated by her gaze towards the protagonist, and as much camera time is spent showing how she sees them as is spent showing how they see her. When Ann meets Jack in the ship’s corridor, he is shirtless and through the previous indications that Ann would be interested in him—her preparation before her mirror—presented as a possible object of visual desire for her (34:16-35:26). During the filming that appears immediately afterwards in the narrative, where he looks at her performance, Ann looks back at him; in fact, her gaze onto him is shown before his gaze onto her (36:10-36:31), giving her gaze primacy. The hero-heroine dynamic, then, is not one of unreciprocated gazing.
While Ann’s relationship with Jack contains mutual looking, her interaction with Kong is also defined by her gazing at him for extended periods of time. At the top of the mountain on Skull Island, while Kong watches the sun set, what time she does not spend trying to attract Kong’s attention she spends gazing at him (1:58:26-1:58:55; 1:59:35-1:59:47; 2:00:21-2:01:16). It is here that she first tries to communicate to him that the sunset is “Beautiful” (2:00:23-2:00:38); however, since she is indicating him with her eyes and her chest with her hand, it remains unclear whether she is actually giving the sunset, Kong, or herself this label as an object of visual pleasure. This ambiguity results in all three taking this role. The techniques of this sequence are then repeated at the climax atop the Empire State Building. The camera shots alternate between neutral shots of both, Kong’s point of view as he gazes at Ann, and her point of view as she gazes at him (2:42:13-2:43:32). As Kong is dying, the camera views the two from behind Ann; from the audience’s point of view, the back of her head overlaps his left eye, while the direction of Kong’s right eye indicates that he is looking at Ann (2:54:2-2:54:30). Although the audience sees Kong looking at Ann, the audience is looking more from her point of view than from his. Finally, between Kong’s death and Jack’s arrival, Ann is alone and the audience has no male protagonist with whom they can identify (2:54:44-2:55:24); instead, she is the focus. These scenes strengthen the audience’s identification not with a male protagonist but with the heroine. While Mulvey’s model still undoubtedly plays a role in King Kong and other films, it is limited in its ability to explain all elements of audience identification and character sexuality.
King Kong, then, begins with the conventional depiction of an othered location and people, as discussed in Chinua Achebe’s “An Image of Africa,” and establishes typical relationships of gazing between a male protagonist and a female object of visual pleasure, as discussed in Laura Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” As the film progresses, however, the techniques Mulvey describes are used to destroy the separation between audience and other despite the clear differences Achebe notes, shattering the category of other within the film’s context. Further, Ann’s role and the portrayal of her gazing at Kong also challenges Mulvey’s model’s efficacy in explaining the relationship dynamics between characters. Achebe’s othering and Mulvey’s objectification certainly operate in this film and in others, but the narrative, editorial, and directorial choices in King Kong encourage audience identification with a human man, a human woman, and a male gorilla. Perhaps this plural identification will persist in other forms of narrative cinema and print literature, and perhaps it will move outside of fiction, through the audience’s continued plural identifications in their daily lives.

Works Cited

Achebe, Chinua. “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001. 1783-1794.

King Kong. Dir. Peter Jackson. Perf. Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrian Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Colin Hanks, Jamie Bell, and Andy Serkis. DVD. Universal Pictures, 2006.

Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001. 2181-2192.


As did a friend of mine, I just bought new razor blades. By "just," I mean on Wednesday. I haven't actually shaved since then, so this morning was the first time I broke them out. I had forgotten how excellently smooth new blades are. I've been using the same blade for about three months now, and it's been a bit of a pain. If I forgo shaving for even one day, the hairs get long enough that they'll pull when I shave with the worn blade, and that hurts. Also, I have to shave over the same place more than once. My skin is used to it, so it's not as though I irritate it or anything, but it's still a nuisance.

Today, however, was bliss. One stroke was all it needed. Under my chin I shaved twice--one each way--which I always find is necessary, but it was still just about the fastest shave I've had in months. And much more effective. What a beautiful thing, new blades. I cut myself, which was probably inevitable. Theoretically it's worn blades that should be more likely to cut you, but I'm beginning to think that that's no longer the case for me. Not sure why--maybe because the blades are so dull that I'm used to being able to jig them sideways a bit and not cut myself, and now that's not an option? One way or the other, the cut was worth it. What a wonderful experience with which to enter the world.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Slush Pile


I should be brushing my teeth, doing devos, and going to bed, but I saw the Blogs of Note instead. I found this, which made me laugh--remarkable, given my general tired and sinusy situation.

It's a post on the blog Editorial Anonymous.

"Dear EA,
"Have you heard of Authonomy.com from Harper Collins? This seems like a step in the right direction toward eliminating slush. Your thoughts?

"When I first heard of this, I thought it was a terrible idea. Anyone who's read much of the slush pile realizes that the authors in slush piles are a tremendously mixed group. Some of them are good, experienced writers. Some just need more experience. Some are in the wrong field. Some are bad. Some are awful. Some are functionally illiterate and seem to have found a writing implement by accident. Some are crazier than a sackful of squirrels. So the idea of making the slush pile public and asking the people in the slush to determine which manuscripts are worth reading sounded to me like asking the guy with one leg and three fingers about how to use a chain saw. And then I had a look. And d--n me, but it seems to be working. Too soon for a final verdict, I think, but I'm fascinated."

The URL is http://editorialanonymous.blogspot.com/2008/09/authonomy.html for those who want to read more by EA, or read it without my children-friendly alterations.

As if my blog is child-friendly in the first place.
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