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One year since I described the challenges I was going through getting past my depression, a lot has changed. Some stuff hasn’t. Again I'm sitting in the Perth Virgin Lounge, tapping away at some black Apple keys. They’ve renovated the lounge, though. Different laptop, too.
Most of the time I no longer want to crawl into a hole and hide. It still happens; at my own birthday party it got to midnight and I just sat in a room in the dark, all social energy dispensed and frittered away. I couldn’t be snapped out of it. I slept, waking energised and ready to do things, but still.
Recovery... It has taken time to regain the trust in many of my relationships, trust which took many years to build and establish and only a few painful months to eradicate. Time to get into a routine which keeps me out of my own head. Time to figure out what worked and what didn't. Running helped a lot until I destroyed my knee. Now it’s riding.
Time, too, was needed to return to work in anything like the capacity I enjoyed previously. It feels a little like rebuilding your life, only instead of hunting for that first job or apartment, you're fighting to keep them. And keep yourself clean, fed, presentable. Present.
I wish my short-term memory would return to its proper function and intensity, but a combination of age and medication is keeping that one well away from me. I write a lot of lists now. I have to look at what day is pressed out of the back of my pills blister pack. Wondered why they'd put it there, at first.
Just remembered that I need to take it today… whoops.
I have a lot of reminders and alerts on my phone. Partially they are there to give me specific clues about what to do, but partially they help to establish a routine. Routine has become important. Changes to it are sometimes difficult for me to bear, but maybe that’s always been the case. I don't honestly recall.
This sounds like a long list of complaints. It isn’t. These are minor grievances in a life otherwise now filled with happiness, laughter, love, and energy. To try and pretend I haven’t been very lucky in my relationships and my support is to deny the reality I encounter every day.
There are times, several times, where a sliver of the prior darkness reaches out and caresses my heart, an icy and hollow touch no matter the season. Where it feels like someone uninstalled my basic interaction programming and I can barely make sense of concerned faces around me through the use of my remaining subroutines.
I talk to people, now, thinking I can bring myself into a different space. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t, but at least these are passing phases instead of weeks or months. Or, looking back, perhaps years. There remains The Fear, of course, that I will continue to struggle with my mental health for the remainder of my life. Probably I will.
There will be lapses, setbacks, days where even breathing seems like too much work. Hopefully they are few and far between. The recovery is not done yet; it is a life long project, an intensely real performance piece about being happy and fulfilled, and the struggle to achieve it.
I think, though, that the struggle has become about proving The Fear wrong; proving that I can be happy and fulfilled, that I am stronger than the disease which beat me on points in the last round. I hope so. Time doesn’t feel like an eternity stretching forward, with only different signposts marking the way. Instead it feels like a conveyor, rushing oh so very quickly towards me while I desperately flail to make headway.
There is so little time and just so much to do and see.
Discussions I’ve had or seen around the 13th of November terrorist attacks on Paris eventually arrive at the same point: “Where is the recognition for the other recent victims of terrorism?” or “What about Beirut?” or “Where was the outcry about Boko Haram?" or "Remember when that MSF Hospital in Kunduz was bombed?"
Apparently nothing short of total compassionate victory will do. Demonstrating your compassion through the nomination of significant horrors in the world is the de facto strategy; the more obscure, tragic, and numerous the casualties, the more treasured a place it holds in the total compassionate war playbook. As though by acknowledging other victims (or that most favoured nation of Internet activism, ‘creating awareness’) your grief is more authentic, more real, than everyone else's.
The Paris attacks affect us in a way these other tragedies, no less tragic on their own, do not. The cognitive distance is less and the strangeness is heightened. Paris the symbol, its visibility and its prominence, is key to understanding why the night of the 13th of November feels different to the night of the 12th of November.
I'd like to set aside race as an issue here, if only because I’m horribly unqualified to discuss it, but it cannot be ignored; the disproportionate response is informed by undoubtedly racist attitudes. We undoubtedly see the Parisian victims differently to those in Lebanon, Iraq, Bangladesh. The question is not whether our response, or lack thereof, to these attacks is racist; the question we need to answer is whether we can acknowledge the horror and grief of these attacks, stand strong against those who perpetrate them, and be compassionate and supportive to their victims.
The question is whether we can chew gum and walk at the same time.
Terror and its maleficent works need symbols in order to function; they are asymmetrical assaults designed to goad a response and deliver a message. Much as the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center required their symbol of American capitalism to be destroyed, they are also inextricably linked to it. Horrific as they were in their own right, they were also designed to become iconic, memorable shorthand for an idea. Terrible as it may be, they are likely to become the iconic image of the early 21st century.
We are foolish to view these attacks in any sort of different light. In its attempt to distract from real and serious losses of territory and military strength, Daesh have assaulted a deeply symbolic part of their enemy.
Paris holds a special place in the western imagination. The city of lights, love, food, and culture has been a beacon of civilisation for hundreds of years. France, more broadly, is perhaps one of the central melting pots of western ideology; the French Revolution cemented the idea of republicanism and representative democracy, while the Declaration of the Rights of Man set out some of the rights we now take for granted in civil society. We have visited it, or loved it from afar, for a very long time.
The history of the English speaking world is deeply linked to France in terms of culture, language, and philosophy. Many of us can probably speak enough French to say bonjour, merci, au revouir. We might be lucky enough to eat croissants on the regular. We may even be lucky enough to understand existentialism, Marcel Duchamp, French new-wave cinema, or to have fallen in love with Les Fabuleux Destin d’Amelie Poulain, The Closet, The Three Musketeers, Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot, The Triplets of Belleville, or twelve little girls in two straight lines.
In the output of our popular culture, how many times has the United States rescued France from the tyranny of Nazism?
An attack on the symbols of this culture is an assault on our culture. We feel it in a different way. We understand it differently.
Perhaps more than any other terror organisation since Nazi Germany, Daesh have understood and manipulated the power of symbols to craft a narrative around their despicable movement. You can probably recall the Daesh flag as easily as you can the swastika, but it’s deeper than mere graphics. Understand that this group is also reliant on the propagation of these symbols in order to maintain and bolster its support.
The declaration of a caliphate is a symbol. The use of a black flag is a symbol with a long and powerful history. The torture, murder, beheadings, and horrific practices are symbols. Their use of social media focuses on symbolic rather than factual communication, bypassing language and cultural barriers through reversion to brutal and universal imagery.
In order to combat this imagery, we need to see it for what it is: designed and distributed memes of fear, a dark and twisted reflection of doge, big success, and salad fingers. Their power comes from their ease of communication and the immediacy of their absorption into a narrative which has been building and fomenting since the religious wars of the first millennium.
It is designed to create fear and alienation. It is working.
Our fear is driving our politicians into a pandering frenzy of ever more authoritarian solutions. Identity cards. Mass deportation. The denial of sanctuary. Protests against mosques. Violence towards Muslims. The anger and fractious displays of disharmony and racism at protests across the country. The casual discussion around ‘all those Muslims’ at the water cooler in the office, as if we could summarise the collective will and desires of over a billion people in a single sentence so lacking in imagination, compassion, and sympathy that you wonder whether your colleague has been secretly reading cue cards for all your other interactions.
These are the responses of fear.
We need to meet this fear with clear hearts, open minds, and welcome arms. That means not prosecuting others grief; we should instead use that grief as a tool through which we can understand and extend the liberty, equality, and fraternity to which France has pledged itself.
I miss the constant reminder that I am connected to you. You may be thousands of miles away, but you’re atoms and molecules and I’m atoms and molecules, and the distance between us is really minute compare to our perception that we are so separate and we are so distant from one another.
I miss the constant visual reminder, because visually everything blended together.
What we see so clearly defines our perception of reality, and when you see boundaries and you look at edges, and everything is separate, then you see everything as separate. But when you don’t focus on the boundaries and everything blends together, then that elevates inside your perception of what is, and what is your relationship, to everything that is beyond you.
We define and construct our reality. The distinction between one part of that reality and another is purely a function of our neurobiology; the way in which our brain works. To think things are exactly as we perceive them is to fall into the same trap Descartes so famously sought to separate us from.
Our world is in thrall to a tyranny of familiarity and contempt, bred from the desire to systematise and privelege a singular point of view.
I dunno. Fuck it. Let’s all just watch I ❤️ Huckabees again.
Let us imagine a number of men in chains, and all condemned to death, where some are killed each day in the sight of the others, and those who remain see their own fate in that of their fellows, and wait their turn, looking at each other sorrowfully and without hope.
It is an image of the condition of men.
— Blaise Pascal
Maybe you did not know the actual name of that weird, kind of nameless uncertain feeling thats been gnawing you at 2 in the morning for about four years now, but that’s it, that’s the name; dark euphoria. Dark euphoria is the general cultural sensibility of the decade of the twenty-teens.
We’re in an era of frenetic global networking, in a culture drifting sideways, sliding on the black ice into a cultural and political twilight.
— Bruce Sterling, “Oh! What A Feeling!”, Webstock, 2013
Walking around DARK MOFO, the Hobart chill penetrating aching muscle and bone, struck by the scale and audacity on display. Bass Bath shudders the warehouse landscape around it, eight 2100 horsepower subwoofers linked to a strobing, evocative light show housed inside an industrial scale cool room. Anthony McCall’s Solid Light Works floating tantalisingly close to reality. In the distance a gigantic beam of light curves towards space, an inscrutable message hidden in the staccato flicker, pulses illuminating the clouds pinned motionless against the sea of stars.
Feeling this has all happened before. Attempts at scale and grandeur conjure a façade designed to avoid the sparse landscape of ideas remaining in public. Realising nothing here requires an understanding or interest in art. Show up, stand in you assigned place, let the experience wash over you. Maybe this is a good thing?
Everyone pauses to look at their pocket glass, the FOMO overriding the MOFO as the shadows creep into a silky, frozen blackness, woodsmoke mixing with fogged breath to create a teary haze. The Fire Organ roars into life, a percussive melody ripped from Mad Max, screaming gouts of fire trained against the firmament. A DARK MOFO volunteer tells everyone to stand back because it might get hot.
Marina Abramović jokes about not having any balls, and then segues into a discussion on the role of art and the human spirit. Between sardonic questions, David Walsh stares for too long at his glowing rectangle. A multi-millionaire gambler and gallery owner, the gravity which has caused this gloaming constellation to gather at the edge of the world.
No one wants to talk politics.
The art is for everyone and therefore is for no one; it is base humanism brought to the level of public spectacle, signifying everything and nothing. It asks you to turn your gaze inward, to improve yourself and then hopefully improve everyone else once you’re done. Atomised and fractured, the individual is reduced to individual experiences in a sea of identical individuals.
Write down your fears and burn them in an Indonesian effigy and feel an odd sense of release, but don’t talk about the waking nightmare that has become reality. Listen to an artist dismiss the power of art itself. Have a transcendent experience alone, the hairs on the back of your neck standing to attention, an ancient link awoken by serendipitous interaction.
Everything is awesome and terrible all at once, a Primer-like cycle of realities. Dark euphoria fills the body and overtakes the mind.
So many things in this world are wrong—from the violence, people still chopping of each other’s heads, to poverty, the planet is dying, you name it. The newspaper is always full of bad news.
And, what are we doing? We are sitting in our comfortable chairs and we are looking at this world, and we criticise how this should be done and how that should be done, and how this change should be made or that the president should go away and we should get another one.
But we are never looking into ourselves. What we, on a personal level, can do to change something. And that’s what is all important.
So for me, I really wanted to see how I could change my consciousness about things. By changing my consciousness I could influence others and I could see how we can do something better.
So its really important for an artist not to just reflect on how society looks today, because we know how it is today, it’s really important [to know] what is the solution, and how we can actually lift the human spirit. Because it is very easy to put the human spirit down.
How to lift the human spirit? How to find some way that you can get in touch with your own self, and what you can do in your own private way to contribute to change in the world. Because it’s not something that is just personal—it’s a huge work that we do, collectively, together.
This is so hard to do because we never really look in ourselves, and that’s all we have to do. So my proposition at MONA, like this simple exam we have in counting rice—it’s a simple exercise, what the hell should I count rice for?—but if you do it, you see how you can actually conduct this experiment in your own life, and how you can take that discipline into your own life, and how you can contribute to some kind of change.
— Marina Abramovic, 2015
I eat meat (and foie gras) but many of the chefs in this video come off looking smug, petulant, and idiotic. I believe I've said this before, but I think in 50 years time, the idea of people eating animals will be widely viewed as wrong and barbaric, akin to how many feel about fur and animal testing now.
—Jason Kottke (my emphasis added)
Writing on the production of foie gras over at his eponymous website, Jason Kottke gives us a classic example of unexamined thinking. Why say that you think future generations will judge you as "barbaric" and continue to engage in that exact behaviour?
It's probably a question best answered by Jason himself, but it's not like the information isn't out there. It's more that we've dismissed the evidence of why this is a damaging and harmful lifestlye choice. Yes, I'm aware that for some it isn't a choice, but for the majority of people in the Western world, it would be radically easy to not eat meat.
So why, then, do we reject vegetarianism, veganism, or even a reduced meat intake?
First thing we do is shoot the messenger; dirty, unwashed, animal loving hippies trying in a desperately earnest fashion to change our minds, too easily dismissed by the broad swathe of society for whom carnivorous behaviour is an integral part of their lives. Even the writer of the above linked article feels a little bit that way.
The second thing we do is argue against the evidence presented; that its a small, isolated number of cases that don't represent the reality or the ideal of meat production. This is just like the farmers in the video Kottke linked to.
And thirdly, I think we find it difficult to estimate the impact individual decisions have on a broader scale, especially when the cost of meat is just so low.
I’m wary of simplification; the complex cannot be reduced to the simple without removing an element of truth. Mark Manson's The Four Stages of Life presents neat ideas.
Each stage represents a reshuffling of one’s life priorities. It’s for this reason that when one transitions from one stage to another, one will often experience a fallout in one’s friendships and relationships. If you were Stage Two and all of your friends were Stage Two, and suddenly you settle down, commit and get to work on Stage Three, yet your friends are still Stage Two, there will be a fundamental disconnect between your values and theirs that will be difficult to overcome.
Stages are a useful and easy tool for breaking down the complex into the simple. The desire for taxonomy is strong, and the need for validation through checkmarks against a list is equally powerful. But I can't help but think that assessing and measuring your life through an external framework is dangerous and misguided.
I'm loathe to paraphrase Richard Dawkins on the internet, he's right about there being no "first human". Creating stages means an artifical simplification of existing conditions. This reductionist thought means that everything appears more simple than it actually is.
The idea that you can make life understandable, and your place within it, is nothing but a seductive fallacy.
Read this first. Then come back and read the below.
Contemporary conformism is inherently conservative, and yet presents itself as progressive.
It is a commercially focused and materialistic ideology. It is reliant on progressives to do the leading, hard work in order for its products to be viable, due to its position as as secondary or tertiary cultural front.
It is the cultural formation of the Blair-ist, Obama-ist, Rudd-ist economically conservative, socially liberal third way politics so heavily adopted by the Today show and its ilk. It is an ideology driven by symbols, not actions, while implicitly endorses mass market production.
It is not an aesthetic. It is not any one group, although it is reliant on trend following designers, artists, programmers, writers, and thinkers. It is the ideology of the avant grade stripped of its radicalism and foundational thinking and packaged as a way of increasing capital gains.
It is arguing that “being gay is not a choice”, rather than arguing that even as a choice it is still perfectly fine. It is the unexamined, unquestioning life which doesn’t know that it is unquestioning and unexamined. It is as old as Socrates and as young as the herd mentality it despises.
It is making apologies for capitalistic doctrine while attempting to eschew and distance itself from it. It is the stress yawn of the middle class. It is New Girl.
It is the middle of the bell curve, and as a result is difficult to define and spot. It is where everything ends up. It is cultural gravity, atomic decay, and entropy rolled into a ball of white teeth and moderately priced cotton. It is the rolling, howling maw which forms the foundation of our cultural and class anxieties. It is ennui.
It is local designers being run by multinational brands. It is vintage wedding photography. It is weddings. It is the sum of all human cultural output and yet it is none of it. It is the long shadow Western imperialism and economic dominance, driven longer by the gradual collapse and atomisation of the global working class.
It is thinking that Fight Club is the greatest movie ever made. It asks no questions and offers no answers. It is invasive and desperate and comfortable and easy all at once. It is driven by the separation between the means of production and the consumption of those products.
It is living a drug free lifestyle while chomping down on anti-depressants and beer at $20 a six pack. It is thinking that you really should do more about the environment. It is accepting that the way things are now is the way they should always be. It is thinking that things tend to get better as time goes on.
It is the base of our desires and needs as tribal, herd focused creatures. It is our willingness to say and do nothing each day. It is the absence of a shadowy cabal leading the world into oblivion, instead replaced by a flock of starlings, each subtly influencing the other until we fly into a wind farm and are chopped to pieces.
My good mate Flick and I went to see Chappie last week and walked away impressed, and yet it’s been consistently rated as Blomkamp’s worst film by far. The following is a back and forth over email, trying to flesh out why that might be, and what it was about the film that we responded to.
Take it away, Flick.
I’ve been thinking a lot why maybe this movie hasn’t been critically well received.
I think it presents quite complex concepts in an easy to digest manner without scaring the shit out of people. Because what it presents is not out of the realm of possibility and not far off. It makes it enjoyable and tries to make it something hopeful, instead of all SHIT! THE MACHINES ARE TAKING OVER.
How is that not a good thing?
You’re right. I’d add that I think there’s a couple of factors at play.
- District 9 hangover. People’s expectations of his films are overblown given the response his first film engendered—it was unexpected, well executed, and original. Chappie isn’t as original, but it is well executed, but you don’t get great points for execution. People have called it Short Circuit meets Robocop, which is stupidly reductive.
- Sci-fi expectations. This, I think, is your argument. Have a look at Automata, which is a shitty, shitty Antonio Banderas vehicle dealing with much the same subject matter; hominid machines which become sentient. It’s bleak, humanity is wiped out, the machines use their intelligence poorly (if at all), and are dependent on humanity for any agency. The Metacritic score is only 4 points lower than Chappie (out of 100)
- Die Antwoord. I’ve seen a bit of chatter about critics being turned off by Die Antwoord, that their acting is atrocious, that they feel “scummy” watching them. (True story. Ugh.)
- World building. I’ve also seen a criticism that, unlike his other films, the world feels small and constrained. My counter is that it implies a lot, and that the dependence on world building in Elysium meant its story was bogged down in exposition.
Hopefully needless to say I disagree with almost all of these points. Chappie 4 lyf.
Yeah, I agree.
People have this tendency to compare to the directors last work, which is completely fine. Like, we all do it, but District 9 and Elysium explored very similar things which were sci-fi enhanced metaphors for Apartheid. Chappie is not that at all; he’s decided to explore something entirely different and not everyone is on board.
Sci-fi is a really difficult genre, and I typically critique it quite harshly because Blade Runner is my favourite film and it’s hard to outdo that. I think a lot of sci-fi gets bloated with explaining tech and then falling apart with continuity and fantastical science that does not exist, then with cheesy dialogue and explosions. What Chappie does is takes the actual possibilities of AI and makes it palatable for the lay man. Sure, there is cheese but it also makes the robot a likeable protagonist that you root for when, most people would be pretty upset if a robot took their job. I would say the transfer of consciousness was a reach but then I considered how a super AI could potentially figure out what a human never has been able to do.
I was worried about Die Antwoord to be honest, thinking that’s quite an odd choice of casting. And at first I was cringing because it just felt forced but over the course of the film I definitely felt they found their own. Yeah, their brand was slammed everywhere and it felt a bit… like product placement and that had me roll my eyes a couple times, also the fact they blasted their own music. But I could overlook it in favour of other more positive elements.
In terms of world building I don’t think he needed to build a world at all. What he did was set it in South Africa, a world he knows so well, a world that already exists, and then added actual plausible technology advancements to it. I’m not really sure what people wanted? They explained why there was a need for these scout robots, they explained how the AI was developed and implemented. Did they want to know why South Africa was so crime ridden? It has been for many, many, many years, it should be no shock.
Sci-Fi is super difficult—its just so hard to find the right balance between building a believable world and letting the characters get on with their stories. Like William Gibson often says, science fiction is really a way of viewing our present, and is never actually about the future. With that in mind, I think Chappie does a good job of capturing our hopes and fears for the future of artificial intelligence.
Blade Runner. Hoo boy, that is a hard film to top. I saw recently that it’s one of the few science fiction films with, y’know, weather. Everywhere else has these perfect noon paintings for their backgrounds—maybe because its easier to do the CGI and have the lighting match. Blomkamp’s South Africa is dusty, crime ridden, hot, and interesting; everywhere they shot felt real and lived in, which can barely be said for anything that came out last year, except for some moments in Interstellar.
I think that Die Antwoord were essential to my enjoyment of the film. Their aesthetic, language, and outlook all created a very different movie from having just another set of gangsters. Inherent in what I’ve seen of Blomkamp’s work to date is this real sense of redemption. That criminality is a construct of the state, and that individual actions require context and intent, rather than strict lawfulness.
It’s worth remembering that he’s a young director with huge expectations. Chappie is only his third feature film. He’s 36 years old, with a hopefully long career ahead of him. I don’t think Chappie is perfect, but it has enough in it for it to be enjoyable.
I think a lot of directors who tackle sci-fi get swept up in, a grand future, with unbelievable technology and then a dystopian feel. Which is only really a small fraction of what it should be. That is why I love Gibson so much; even if you dive into a world like in Neuromancer that at first feels foreign to you, because you don’t understand the jargon, and he doesn’t spend time explaining the tech or the science (which I love), you eventually start comparing and contextualising it in association to the world you know and live in. You begin to understand his tech as adaptations of what already exists and it’s never about that, it’s always about the people and how they interact with it, and how it’s changing interactions within the world we know, for better and worse.
Same can be said for Philip K Dick. Sure many of his short stories take place on other planets but it’s not really about that, it’s more about society and the people, which is where a lot of sci-fi falls flat. But that’s what I think Blomkamp is getting a feel for, I wouldn’t say he’s got it right but he definitely understands that it’s about the people in the world we’re in, not a fake glorified world. Each of his movies have been recognisable, maybe people don’t like being confronted with real poverty and crime on screen but unfortunately that’s the reality.
On that note, I would say Her is a pretty good sci-fi film (though many people didn’t view it as such).
And, yeah, Blade Runner is a high bar to set sci-fi to but it’s there.
Yeah, Die Antwoord made it enjoyable, and I think it’s essential that they were South African and they had that background. Maybe it’s because I know too much about them outside of the film, that made me just roll my eyes a little. And I think a lot of people don’t like to believe that criminality is a problem caused by the system, and not just people being bad for the sake of it, they don’t like being confronted with these issues and Blomkamp constantly shoves it in our face, which is good.
I hope he can do something amazing with Alien, it will be very interesting to see how he tackles what is beloved. I mean Alien and Aliens are very very good movies.
There are only a couple of writers, Gibson among them, that have managed to capture the feeling of the Future for me. It’s hard to put a finger on, but I think it comes down to the idea that the really drastic changes we experience are not technological but social. Imagine for a moment that you could take an Airbus A380 back to when the Wright brothers first invented powered flight—they’d get it. They may not understand exactly how it works, but they would understand that it was a gigantic version of the technology they were working on.
What they wouldn’t understand is the effect of that technology on the society around them. The condensing and eventual evaporation of distance that comes with the ability to reach the other side of the world in 24 hours. The ability for the middle class to travel for leisure. The change in migration patterns this causes. The change in infrastructure and jobs.
These are all unforeseeable consequences built on the back of a technical innovation.
Sci-fi maybe shouldn’t be much different from any other story telling; it should ask “Well, what if this situation happened—how would people react?” The worst of it gets focused on the situations, and not on the reactions. Or the reactions lack context and weight.
I’m actually a little sad that the Hollywood machinery has swallowed Blomkamp up—I’m much more interested in what he’s doing with his original work than in anything set in the Alien universe. If he can bring the best part of Alien and Aliens to the fore, and focus again on what this universe can tell us about the human condition, then I think it will be a success.
He does have a clarity to his story telling that is probably helpful for that context; it seemed like the last two movies in that franchise got a little too convoluted.
Yes, I think sci-fi a lot of the time gets too caught up in the technology and what could be and the imagination. That is cool but it’s a small part of it all I find. For me, why I love it so much is that it’s actually just sociology with science and technology mixed in, in a future that could happen and how people could be. When done well it (for me anyway) makes me look at things and question people’s motives and how it reflects on current society.
In film it’s quite clear they get so carried away with CGI and making things look futuristic. But some of my most favourite more recent sci-fi films are quite low budget and not at all about trying to show off futuristic tech. Like Under The Skin, or Another Earth (one of my favs of the last 10 years), it’s far more about how society is interacting with these changes. Ridley Scott has an understanding of this relationship, and very few more recent directors know how to get it right.
Blomkamp definitely has the potential. I do agree that his more original storytelling is what he should be focusing on but he is a sci-fi enthusiast and he’s been given a huge honour to direct one of the greats. I would be hard pressed to turn something like that down if I’d been offered that. It also might give him more future wiggle room, if it is a success then he might have more freedoms within Hollywood to d the projects he wants, I’m not really sure. But I think for many directors Hollywood is a stifling environment to grow the way you want.
Design is really about solving problems. But how do you know if what you're solving even is the right problem? Or even if its a problem to begin with?
Learning to design is, first of all, learning to see. Designers see more, and more precisely. This is a blessing and a curse—once we have learned to see design, both good and bad, we cannot un-see. The downside is that the more you learn to see, the more you lose your “common” eye, the eye you design for. This can be frustrating for us designers when we work for a customer with a bad eye and strong opinions. But this is no justification for designer arrogance or eye-rolling. Part of our job is to make the invisible visible, to clearly express what we see, feel and do. You can’t expect to sell what you can’t explain.
— Oliver Reichenstein, Learning to See
The eternal issue for designers is how to define the problem they're trying to solve. Go too broad and you won't fix anything, too narrow and you've got the same issue.
Being open to possibilities, listening to people, simply sitting back and observing; these are the real tools we need to be using and developing every day. Better than learning code, or that sweet new version of Photoshop, the ability to clearly and concisely define a problem is crucial.
To top it off, clients aren't to fully understand what their problem is; they may not even know they have one. You'll need to convince them it exists before you can convince them that you've found a way to solve it. Clear, effective thinking and communication are required
So. Start by trying to see. Once you can see, learn to talk. Once you can talk, learn to do.
“Look, the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious. They are default-settings. They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing. And the world will not discourage you from operating on your default-settings, because the world of men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self.”
The meta-narratives I was drilled on at uni always appeared as external forces; understanding them gave you a tool levelling critique of the world and society. Foster-Wallace’s analogy is better. Worshiping these narratives, sinking more of our time and personality into maintaining a tiny pocket of meaning, leaves us unable to see or feel or understand anything that sits outside of our own dogma.
We’re left swimming in an inescapable sea of ideologies, dragged unthinkingly into the blue, wondering what the hell water is.
The Hottest 100 winner is often disappointing, but at least that disappointment comes wrapped in an layer of delicious democracy.
Because of democracy’s middle of the road tendencies, we get winners from vanilla ear worms like Alex Lloyd, the Whitlams, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Chet Faker, and Powderfinger. Twice.
Further, the top ten is the domain of high charting songs. 2013, for instance, saw Daft Punk's Get Lucky at #3, Lorde with Royals at #2, and Vance Joy's forgettable Riptide topping the list out. Royals and Get Lucky both topped the U.S. Billboard chart, while Riptide peaked at 6 on the ARIA charts before going on to win the Hottest 100.
Enter everyone's musical punching bag du jour; Taylor Swift. It's hard to overstate the popularity of her particular flavour of pop-country; the first artist to go platinum this year, profitable enough that she can drop out of Spotify and still earn disgustingly large amounts of money. She’s had two singles top the charts in 2014, and while I dislike her music, there's no doubt that someone out there seriously enjoys it.
That someone includes my wife, her sister, their friends, my brother, his girlfriend. All Hottest 100 voters and Triple J listeners, like many others. It should have been a foregone conclusion, even without the faux feminist social media campaign to get yet another win on the board for the chipper country singer. And that’s when Triple J stepped in and disqualified Swift’s songs, in particular Shake It Off.
Echoing Birdman’s Riggan Thompson, Triple J issued a statement which protests just a little too much.
According to the reasonable voices on the internet, they've managed to bog themselves in the delicious mud of hypocrisy and election rigging usually reserved for malevolent dictators. It's clear that The Hottest 100 has always been open to this kind of gaming, and that Triple J should have had a stronger curatorial hand in the list by limiting it to songs only played by the station. This would thoroughly underline that it’s Triple J’s Hottest 100.
But I think the Hottest 100 at its core has uncomfortable relationship with the culture of the station.
Triple J has been successful in presenting and influencing an alternative culture. It discovers and promotes new bands with a parochial passion usually reserved for football fans, pushing new genres, and allowing generations of listeners to discover and fall in love with new music. As a result it struggles against the encroachment of commercial music within its playlist.
This makes sense; popular songs get voted for. The more popular a song is, the more commercial success its likely to have.
But should Triple J, in presenting and now fighting a rearguard action to preserve an alternative culture, be running popularity contests at all? Due to the vagaries of taste, there’s no way by which they can reasonably disqualify a song simply because they don’t like it. The case study from this year is Sia’s Chandelier, which has ~230 million plays on Spotify at the time of writing. It seems like Sia Furler’s pedigree as struggling ex pat Australian artist allows her entry into the top ten to go unchallenged.
The song is poppy; it takes the same tropes and heavily produced stylings characterised by, for instance, Lady Gaga, and then straps them to Sia Furler’s gigantic vocals. As close a guaranteed success as you’ll see in music, and it was everywhere this year. Triple J are obviously fine with it, having played it a bunch this year. It came in 9th.
So; how much should curatorial concerns override democratic processes and concerns?
As noted, a solution to this pop encroachment would be to limit the eligible songs to those actually played on the station; this would enable the station to maintain aesthetic control over the music which is played, while also allowing the public to have their say. (There’s a reason the Hottest 100 inspires a more passionate response than Pitchfork’s Top 100 Songs list.)
Triple J need to make a call; control the vetting process for tracks in the long-list more closely, or allow interlopers to chart and accept that, yeah, everyone can vote for their favourite track that year.
Oh, and Taylor Swift? Apparently she would’ve finished 12th.
By now, we all know the format; earnestly written placards inserted into poorly shot self-portraits, wedded to an equally well-meaning hashtag. It’s ready for the kind of thoughtless sharing that comes so easily on Twitter and Instagram; share it and your responsibility is done. You’ve raised awareness! Good for you! 👍
As you may have guessed, there’s a but.
The protest (I hesitate to call it that—what about crafternoon project?) sails past an important structural point; no one else really cares about your time except for you and , if you’re lucky enough to have some, your loved ones.
Valuation assumes a market ideology; it is a transactional term which doesn’t match with the self-empowerment ideal presented within these tiny snapshots. I’m sure we agree that people should get paid for their work; but why? Getting paid assumes that the work being done is valuable to someone.
A basic understanding of market economics will tell you that things only have value as far as they are desirable. You’re smart. You get it.
It’s easily forgotten, but design disciplines are crafts. With the notable exception of architecture, very few of the disciplines require a degree for you to practice them. In fact, if you’ve ever used Microsoft’s execrable product Microsoft Word to pick out a font for your report, you’ve done graphic design. Sure, you probably did a shitty job and sailed right past Curlz MT, but you’ve done it.
Picked out a cushion for your couch? That’s interior design. Sketched out a trestle table? I guess that would be industrial design…
Point is, many design disciplines have a very low barrier to entry, and can be practiced by almost anyone. You just might not get paid for it.
This protest appears to be founded on an assumption that because you have a certain set of skills you should get paid to use them. Bullshit. You’ll only get paid as long as those skills are considered to be valuable. Design, as the beautiful henchman of capital, likes to think of itself as bringing value to objects within the market.
That may once have been true; doing a layout for a magazine was once a highly technical and time consuming task. We’ve been able to bang one out in a solid afternoon or two for almost a decade now, maybe longer. I don’t remember because I’m not old enough.
Anyway, lower barriers to entry mean more designers. More designers means easier access to their skills. Easier access means costs will come down, thereby diminishing the amount of money that designers are going to extract from their clients.
Why do you think everybody switched to web design in the late 90s? Because no-one knew how to do it. They probably still don’t, but at least they know how much a website should cost. (Apparently the answer is $10 a month. This website is brought to you by Squarespace, the all-in one digital platform that yada yada you get the joke)
This ease of access to software meant training designers was a lot easier, too. If you listen to the people which say that “design is problem solving” (which I still doubt), then it’s just an application of logic wedded to an aesthetic outcome. This means that all you needed for teaching were a few Macs, an Adobe Suite or two, and the ability to instil mercenary ideals and basic critical skills.
Voila! Designer glut.
I went through design school with a class of 80(?) students. The majority of these students aren’t working as designers; instead, they’re toiling away doing designer-ish jobs, where their design skills are seen as an adjunct to their other role. Usually that means marketing, but could equally be admin assistants, or probably baristas. Definitely baristas.
This is a really long way of getting to my point; your time doesn’t have value, but your skills do. Instead of asking for someone to value your time, find a way to get some valuable skills, and remember that skills are valuable only if they are rare or very highly developed. This is obviously a more challenging repsonse to carry out than simply writing a hashtag to raise awareness, but doing anything properly is hard.
I'm finna bang this bitch the fuck out! /
You betta’—you might wanna record the way you feelin' like history bein' made
The answer is Run The Jewels /
Your question is “What’s popping?”
The opening and closing lines from the first track on Run The Jewel’s Run The Jewels 2 explode out of the speakers, forming a heart racing top and tail which signals their newfound confidence and the bristling attitude that suffuses their sophomore release. It doesn’t really settle down from there. The album is a timely, affecting, and spite fuelled tour de force by way of Brooklyn, black rights, and cunnilingus.
Like Run The Jewels’ first album, the follow up was released as a free download, which is a sad gesture towards the state of the music biz for emerging artists. (You can, and should, buy a copy.) While you might hear “released for free” and immediately substitute it with “piece of shit”, Run the Jewels have put together a second album which shows off and extends their considerable skills.
Killer Mike and El-P perform a high speed tag team across the eleven tracks, pushing and responding to each other. Notable shifts in delivery between the pair, with each attacking beats differently, could come across as disjointed but here manage to sell both as having different perspectives. It’s noticeable on Oh My Darling Don’t Cry, with El-P running a relatively slow opening, followed by Killer Mike’s rapid fire, spittle fuelled fuck boy takedown.
Coupled with a number of standout verses—including a memorable turn from Zack de la Roca on Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck)—the album bristles with anger at every turn. Righteous fury, almost. Given the ongoing political fuckwittery in the United States, you’d think artists would be up in arms, and yet this year alone we’re treated to three (!) more songs about big assess, another one about craving nice things, and one on how haters gon’ hate.
In Run The Jewels’ world, haters not only gon’ hate, haters gon' to use systemic privilege to keep themselves in power. Take it away, Killer Mike:
We overworked, underpaid, and we underprivileged /
They love us, they love us (why?) /
Because we feed the village /
You really made it or just became a prisoner of privilege? /
You willing to share that information that you’ve been given? /
Like who really run this? /
Like who really run that man that say he run this? /
Who who really run that man that say he run this, run run run run this? /
Like who really fund this? /
Like who really fund who say he fund this? /
Like who in the world gon' tell Donald Sterl who to put on the
“you can’t come” list?
In a year of shitty politics, worse economic disparity, and the boil over of years of frustration regarding deaths at the hands of the police, parts of this album almost function as a document of record. What is so special about Run The Jewels 2 is that it doesn’t get weighed down in the political at the expense of the musical—it understands the limits of the medium.
Further, it manages to highlight the ongoing racial divide in a purported post-racial America; El-P raps about hearing helicopters all the time, unable to sleep, while Killer Mike riffs on the horror of the sound of police sirens. Both talk about being on the wrong side of a system designed for someone else.
Run The Jewels 2 deserves to be a classic because, more than any other release this year, it responds to the context of the social and political environment around it.
Like a shot from the past and a nod to the future all in one, Seasons (Waiting on You), the opening song from Future Islands fourth LP, is a case study in how to write pop.
It's got a beat. You can dance to it. It goes off like a rocket in the chorus, and doesn't overstay it's welcome. Coupled with simple lyrics, Seasons… manages a fine balance between cheesy and classic pop, while Samuel Herring’s distinctive vocals help keep it fresh.
Seasons change /
And I tried hard just to soften you /
And seasons change /
And I've grown tired of trying to change for you
Other singers may treat these couplets without the heart beating earnest of Herring, and it wouldn't work. At its heart, this is the key to the success of previous Arcade Fire instant classics, We Used To Wait and Afterlife. Win Butler plays the lyrics with a straight bat, which allows us to bypass their mundanity; We Used To Wait is literally a song about the mail.
As it breaks, the summer will wake /
But the winter will wash what is left of the taste /
As it breaks, the summer will warm /
But the winter will crave what is gone /
Will crave what has all gone away
William Cashion on bass manages to construct a neat driving hook, reminiscent of cleaner version of the Magic Numbers Take A Chance, or even the Bobby Fuller Four's (actual classic) Let Her Dance. Crucially, Future Islands are confident enough to let the bass take the lead throughout, while allowing Gerrit Welmers's keys to set the tone. The relatively stripped back effect this gives to the verses means that the "fuck yeah" inducing chorus punches above its four-to-the-floor material.
It's an effective technique, and one that Miley Cyrus attempted to employ in her fairly execrable Wrecking Ball, and subsequently inverted by Haim to good effect in their cover of the same song. The reason it falls down for Cyrus is due in no small part to the technically proficient but emotionally devoid singing throughout the rest of the song, and is further hampered by the lack of variation. Where Wrecking Ball relies on orchestral and vocal backing to sell Cyrus as anything more than an autotuned robot, Seasons… lets Herring's vocals do all the emotional legwork.
Future Islands almost pick up where Chairlift left off in early 2012’s I Belong In Your Arms (and, yes, that's the Japanese version), creating a slice of pure pop that succeeds because of its slight idiosyncrasies. It's an instant classic, if only for having helped bring the below gif into the world.
I am depressed.
More precisely, I've been told, I have bipolar type II tendencies. The disorder definition describes a long term oscillation between moments of mania and depression, with more frequent bouts of depression than mania.
My limited and failure ridden attempts at therapy and drugs have failed to unearth an origin story for it. I get sad about that, and feel guilty for not having a profound reason, some finite moment of horror, from which my depression springs unabated and abundant. Actually, that’s not quite true—I feel like society expects you to have a single, defining reason for being mentally ill. Every time you have a conversation with someone, they ask “What’s changed? Did something happen?”
Maybe they think if there’s a single reason for it you can have an ‘aha!’ moment and that everything will be fine. Pop therapy. And while the sentiment comes from a genuine and supportive place, it is driven by the hope of an easy fix.
That hope is as a false as El Dorado.
An analogy I’ve been using for this latest bout is to compare it to climate change (yup). I describe it as an overall trend; you’re going to have polar vortices of feeling good, but the trend line points towards an increase in frequency and intensity of feeling terrible. I’m lucky to have a partner and family and friends who’ve called me on it before it’s gotten too bad. We’re committed to keeping it to an average rise of 2º Celsius above year 2000 averages.
Like climate change, depression is not an easy fix, and it’s not something that you can point to a single solution for. One time I had a psychologist tell me to go for more walks, and not much else. Three months later I was sitting in the shower and very seriously studying a pair of scissors.
Which is not to blame the psychologist—it is to blame the deeply embedded ideology of Mental Illness™. The idea that anything but an aha! moment could resolve how I felt was anathema to me, and I mistakenly rejected it out of hand. This kind of thinking runs surprisingly deep and is difficult to shake; even if you do shake it, you’re only replacing it with another set of ideologies.
I’m throwing everything at it this time: therapy, drugs, exercise, diet. That’s something new, I guess.
It’s always strange talking to people about how depression works, feels, and how to tackle it. Particularly if they haven’t experienced it themselves. Someone recently described it to me as a horrible, aggressive monster. If only.
The challenge with depression is recognising it. And not in a talking to people about it or writing about it or seeking professional help kind of way. No, the challenge is in recognising that I am, in fact, depressed. Why? Because that depressive mode is always with me.
It whispers sweet, saddening nothings when I’m talking to friends. It sits there, subtly changing the way I think, talk, react, emote. Even when I don’t have depression, the tendency is there. Things are just a little bit worse for me most of the time. It’s not there occasionally, like an unwanted houseguest that won’t leave after dinner. It is a constant companion, a weight to carry from moment to moment. The longer I have to carry it, the harder it is to be normal.
There are moments where I want nothing more than to give in to it. Giving up to it, curling into a ball on the couch, fixated painfully on the wall in front of me—in those moments it feels … not good, but like a kind of relief. In those moments it’s all I want—all I’m capable of. I catch myself saying things like “sometimes it’s good to feel horribly sad. That’s healthy.”
How to describe it, then? It is me and I am it. To change it, to get rid of it, is to change who I am. This is what makes treating it and overcoming it so difficult. At what point does the depression stop and I begin?
Those last three paragraphs; that’s depression. A newer psychologist characterised depression as a lack of hope, which rings true for me. While I’m not yet hopeful, I’m determined this time for things to go differently.
I’ll finish with two things. The first being; if you are depressed, feeling low, flat, or anxious, please seek help. I know that every part of this disease (and it is a disease) is likely to be telling you to give up and give in, but believe me when I say that you are not alone in it, and that it will be easier to live with if you share how you feel with those around you. Do speak to a doctor about treatment.
The second is a comic strip. Enjoy.