Sunday, September 14, 2014

Anime Parodies of "Liberty Leading the People"

One of the most dramatic, heroic, and beloved paintings is Eugene Delacroix's famous painting, Liberty Leading the People.  Different anime artists have made parodies of it:


Delacroix's original painting

Friday, September 12, 2014

Clowns Are Evil

There's an odd societal disconnect: Most children are put off by, or actually afraid of clowns; and yet they are frequently featured in entertainment settings such as circuses and street corners.  Specifically, an English survey of 250 children between four and sixteen found that most disliked or feared clowns.  There's even a term for fear of clowns: coulrophobia.  There's even a web site for people who hate clowns:  

In our dysphemistic time, one of the few non-offensive put-downs is to describe someone as a clown; and that's not flattery!  

I'll have to admit that I was afraid of them as a child; even now my feeling toward clowns or mimes is of the "thanks, but no thanks" kind.  Even nowadays, I lower the blinds when I shower lest a clown peek in . . . .  

An article in the Smithsonian described 19th century portrayers of clowns as sad and sinister.  In the opera, Il Pagliacci a clown is even portrayed as murderous!  Now why don't the N.O.P.D. simply arrest guys for dressing like clowns?  And then there was the example of John Wayne Gacy, a clown and mass murderer from earlier times!

Obviously, children are not burdened with this negative history regarding clowns; they seem to give a gut reaction of dislike of them.  This is possibly an example of the uncanny valley effect.  This involves a revulsion that occurs when human features on a person or object look like and move similar to, but not exactly like a natural human being.  Wax figures, lifelike models, and other examples that are close to, but not exactly the same as, cause this type of response in some people.  We implicitly form schema regarding how people should look and act.  On the other hand, people are sometimes socialized otherwise.  Clowns and mimes would fit into this paradigm.  And I learned one kind of prudence at an early age: stay away from guys wearing makeup!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Post-Viet Nam Pessimism in a Soft Rock Song

It's been sometimes said that when it comes to rock music, the listener should focus on the beat, as opposed to the lyrics.  Indeed, this is often because the lyrics are so trite and provide a scaffolding for the song, like some of the really silly plots of operas.

I recently looked into the lyrics of one soft rock song that I like for its arrangement, and this is how I interpreted it:

The singer/narrator begins by describing to a woman how a bauble is displayed to advantage against her skin; and that he would like to engage in outdoors, nocturnal coitus with her while under starlight in a desert setting.  Sounds sexy, yet slightly salacious if they're not married or even long acquainted.

The singer feels that he might come to know her in the Biblical sense, whether as his lover or as his friend with benefits.  But something makes him uneasy about it all: this might be simply a one night stand, and no more easy sex afterwards.  But that's alright: he doesn't have unrealistic expectations about it all.  He's already standing on the ground, and will take what he can get.  At least she's likely to be an acceptable sexual partner.

Well, it's hardly a love song, but maybe it's a musical reflection of that era of confusion in the American psyche.  The 70's were a musical era with its dark side in lyrics: American women were scorned, people were crossing deserts with nameless horses, a woman plaintively declared that "It's too late, baby," a singer waxed maudlin over one of the Carolinas, men moaning about cakes left out in the rain, a guy dying, a woman inviting another to reside with her in a graveyard (I think), all of the Windy City dying, a weird one about American Pies (kind of pie unnamed) and so on.

Is this only in this song; or does this reflect a more general malaise of that time?  This song was released over 40 years ago, during the latter days of Viet Nam war.  Maybe that has something to do with it.  Or maybe it is symptomatic of the Nixonian era.  

But the joy of love, the romantic ideal, the constancy of true hearts is not found in the lyrics.  Was this the course of love in the 1970's?  It must have been a sad time.  On the other hand, maybe the infectious beat provided a complex sense of optimism despite the lyrics.  Well, at least I can deconstruct the song and sound very profound while doing so.  

A peaceful, easy feeling without complications.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Crazy Chester and The Prophetess Madeline Stage a Flash Mob

To protest peacefully is a bygone grace in America nowadays, as the unfortunate recent events of unruly mobs protesting civic or police misconduct.  This sort of thing troubled our pair of New Orleans equine actuaries, and they decided to set things right; but in a law-abiding way.  They decided to stage a march on City Hall; or maybe the Courts.

Madeline, the mystic of the two, came to the conclusion through prayer and her humor that both should be targets for their efforts. And that the best way to protest civic misconduct was through a mass prayer for good government!  Crazy Chester, the more down-to-Earth one, thought that this could call for organizing a flash mob that would spontaneously appear before those dens of iniquity and express their collective disappointment and call for them to change their wicked ways.  Since it's New Orleans, Chester thought it would get a wider response if the mob was in costume and accompanied with a jazz band.  All in the spirit of fun, of course.  Wearing Mardi Gras beads were optional.

So Chester called some people he knew.  As did Madeline.  They invited all to come in costume to a Funeral with Music* for Good Government, and to bring a an implement easily found in a hardware or grocery store that would best symbolize this desire to clean up things.  Nearly 700 people massed in front of City Hall!  This was unexpected; so they called out the police and wondered if they needed the State Police too.

On the day the flash mob assembled, it was led by the jazz band playing that old standby, "A Closer Walk With Thee"; and all were carrying toilet brushes!  Chester and Madeline could be off the wall at times, but the officers from the Third Precinct could not complain that this gathering was disorderly.  They even offered to clean the jakes at City Hall as well as the Augean Stable there!  Well, Madeline kissed her boyfriend Officer Pete; and Crazy Chester gave an honorary toilet brush to the Sergeant.  He later carried it when he patrolled Bourbon Street on Friday night.

In our country there is a problem of protest fatigue.  It's hard to make the national news when you protest something: too much competition and the same old routines.  But the toilet brushes put a welcome kick to a story that might have not gotten news coverage otherwise.

*A jazz funeral.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

When Did Snarkiness Become Acceptable?

"Come listen, my men, while I tell you again
The five unmistakable marks
So that you might know, wherever you go
The warranted genuine snarks."
-- Lewis Carroll (The Hunting of the Snark)

Lewis Carroll expounds on these: a meager and hollow taste, a habit of getting up late, slowness in taking a jest, a fondness for bathing machines, and ambition.  If we can take this as representative of 19th century thoughts on snarkiness, how did the present day meaning come about?  And why is it now okay to be snarky nowadays?

Possibly the meager and hollow taste cited by Carroll resulted in the person becoming sharply critical, cutting, or snide.  The snarks, by not understanding something, feels threatened by its existence.  God knows, however, why anyone should feel threatened by Hello Kitty!

First of all, let us ask when and where snarkiness or snarky remarks are acceptable.  Sermons and funeral orations are not accredited occasions for snarky comments.  Sometimes the social situation calls for people to play it straight.  And a politician seeking office should strategically not try to be too clever.  Read my words: Americans admire smartness, but not cleverness.  To be seen as clever is to be smart and up to something!

Also, who can be snarky?  Typically, newspaper or television critics or reviewers are allowed to be clever.  To them, and to the readers, their reviews are as much a tour de force of being clever as a simple imparting of information.  Was the Times restaurant critic awarded the chef's ears and tail for the devastating review of that Times Square restaurant, much like a toreador who dispached El Toro in style would be awarded the bull's ears and tails?  Anyway, critics, like newspaper columnists, are not to be taken very seriously.

High schoolers can be snarky.  Sorry, people, but it's a function of the setting.  After all, high schoolers have to go to school, and the power is in the hands of the teachers and principals!  A little bit of under the breath snarkiness serves to counter the sense of being in a P.O.W. camp, even with the periodic roll calls and substandard cuisine.  Being snarky is often an attribute of the powerless.  After all, do the real movers and shakers make much in the way of snarky remarks?

My theory is that snarkiness can be a manifestation of the Tall Poppy Syndrome: the social tendency to cut the prominent and powerful down to size.  It can be manifested in how a lame duck President is treated.  The high school students gain satisfaction from ridiculing the teacher or principal.  The talentless or unventuresome movie or food critic snipes at the noted moviemaker or chef.  The bon mot becomes their reason for being.  

However, it is at a cost in some cases.  Jon Stewart's or Stephen Colbert's snarkiness on the Comedy Network render few to take them seriously.  In that way, they are the victims of their own jokes.  

Thursday, September 4, 2014

On Nude Pictures and Garbage Cans

No doubt you've seen the stories about several actresses and models having nude pictures hacked from their iCloud accounts.  In all likelihood these stories have garnered more readership than the continuing drama of ISIS, Ukraine, Gaza, and the first weekend of college football.  There's something twisted in our national psyche that requires this sort of obsession.  However, all nude (or nekkid) pictures are not equal.  I doubt that, should actress Hortense Gurtz's* iCloud be hacked and all her naughty parts revealed to the world, there would be hardly a peep in the media.  No, the two persons most named include the currently most favored actress and the best-loved supermodel!

First of all, let me state unequivocally that those who hacked those accounts are despicable; not to mention the on-line sites that published them.  And I'll unequivocally state that those who seek out and view those intrusions are part of the problem.  There's a lot of blame and douchiness to parcel out.  

But . . . . whoa!  This sort of thing happened before.  I remember when a relatively dumb, not very well-liked celebrity's sex tape came out despite her lack of intent or willingness, there was nothing of the same degree of indignation but rather an implicit invitation on the part of the media to join in the feeding frenzy!  Okay, I can get it.  I'm sure that if nude pictures of Sarah Palin were somehow revealed, the NYT, the WaPo, and the L.A. Times would be quite willing to share this noteworthy visual information!

But in the way the recent nude pictures story was covered, there was a certain amount of hypocrisy in the national media coverage: they deliciously mentioned specific names, inevitably two very prominent ones in particular!  Was there not some media self-interest in mentioning those names?  Sure.  Those names in particular make the story more newsworthy, its likelihood of being read, particularly on-line.  And by mentioning the more noted victims by name, they contribute to the bozofest that naturally ensued! 

Consider how another crime was covered: if a non-celebrity woman was raped, a newspaper with class** would not mention the victim by name or elaborate on the gory details.  There would be some grace in trying to spare the victim from further, unnecessary grief.  Plus, the crime is the story, not the victim!  

In short, the media sources that mention those victims by name are secondarily part of the problem!   I deliberately avoided mentioning any actual victims' names in writing this.  Maybe that is what should be done by the big newspapers and other media sources!  Right?  You betcha!

Turing from nude pictures to garbage can diving, I recently read an article in The Atlantic regarding a literary camp follower writing on the content of the garbage of a major 20th century writer.  Well, there's an element of creepiness to this, I think.  But the article included a tidbit that the author disposed of some honorary degrees granted him as well as a few other things.***  Maybe his wife simply told him that he needed to downsize his souvenirs, especially those from minor colleges, and keep only those from BCS-eligible institutions.  Well, the creepiness extends to the magazine as well!  

A personal note.  I was told that TAs should shred any proofs of exams before disposing them in the garbage, as some ethically dubious students may go through your can in order to find them.  My first thought was that I threw away an old bra the week before!

More seriously, shred anything sensitive before putting it in your garbage.  Privacy violators may look in the oddest places!  
*I hope there is no one that actually has this awful name!
**Possibly an oxymoron.
***I confess to knowing now more about his garbage than his books.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Myths of Pop Psychology

"A little learning is a dangerous thing.  
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring, 
Where shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, 
And drinking largely sobers us again." 
- Alexander Pope, Essay on Criticism

Pop psychology, as opposed to the Real Deal, has a few myths to sustain it.  Well, a little mythology can be a good thing in some cases: look at the typical governmental budget!  Anyway, here's pop psychology's contribution of noise in the realm of lucid thought:

1.  Human beings are basically good.  (We have Jean-Jacques Rousseau to blame for this.  Not that Thomas Hobbes' pessimistic view of human nature is any more valid.)

2.  You cannot have too much self-esteem.  (Traipse off into the realm of unreality where no man or woman has ever gone before.  You too can be a Kardashian.)

3.  You shouldn't judge anyone.  (Yeah, even ax-murderers or child-molesters?)

4.  You cannot love others until you love yourself.  (Actually, the opposite is more likely to be true.)

5.  All guilt is bad.  (The concepts of sin, responsibility, or accountability are quaint notions accordingly.)

6.  It's better to express anger than to keep it in.  (In fact, expressing anger or listening routinely to angry messages tends to increase anger.)

7.  It's better to be extraverted than introverted.  (Either fall within the realm of normal behavior.  Extremes, such as found with the histrionic personality disorder or the schizoid personality disorder are not normal.)

8.  You should refrain from having inhibitions.  (Would that even involve doing naked twerking on the courthouse lawn?)

9.  The full moon causes craziness and crime.  (Just a folk belief; but it did give rise to the word lunatic.)

10.  Opposites attract.  (This is more a story line in movies than in reality.  I do not expect to hit it off with Taliban Johnny or ISIS Walter.)

11.  The insanity defense is often used by criminals to avoid execution or being sent to prison.   (Actually, this is seldom claimed, much less successfully used.  It may seem to be more common because of the prominence of some cases in which this is successfully claimed.)

12.  Some people have clairvoyance, precognition, or psychokinesis.  (Is the Law of Conservation of Energy suspended on holidays or for left handers?)