Septiembre 26, 2009

An Age of New Narrative Structures and Fearing The Future

Earlier this week Greta and I went to see the new climate change film The Age of Stupid. It's a documentary with a speculative fiction frame around it, and that's what I want to talk about, the form, rather than the content of the film. I've blogged before several times about climate change. You know where I stand on that.

The thing I'd like to note about the film is that the documentary part of it is probably only 3 to 3 1/2 stars. If it had been only that it wouldn't have been a complete failure but it would have been quite a substandard film. The nonfiction portions consist of 6 interweaving stories of 6 people or groups of people, in New Orleans, the UK, India, Africa, Syria, and France. They all are effected somehow or other or have some goals or activities that are somehow resonant with the theme of human-induced climate change. But this resonance is at times, for some of the plotlines, very very tenuous.

We were at a special global premiere screening event that was happening in 400-some theaters around the world, and one thing we saw before the film itself was some interview segments with the Director. She said that in fact they had originally planned the film to be pure documentary, with just these 6 storylines intercutting each other - a structure, she admitted, that they stole from Soderburghs's film "Traffic" (though I can name many films, especially recently, that have a similar structure, so many that I actually feel at least a little underwhelmed these days when a film only has 1 simple narrative!).

But when they had that version done she realized it wasn't going to work, and they came up with this science-fiction framing story that served as a sort of fancy and scary meta-narration: an old guy in 2050 looking at video clips from the early part of the century, wondering where the human race went wrong and why, as the ruined planet seethes and burns outside.

I think this idea works, much better than the straight doc would have. But it's still not quite working like I was hoping. The film is a great attempt at taking up where "An Inconvenient Truth" left off, of being something more compelling and eye-grabbing than that, but something more real and believable than The Day After Tomorrow. But, The Age of Stupid is not a total success. Something about it didn't quite click for me, and in the end, I guess it was still another documentary that pleaded and howled and moaned, and even entertained, but didn't really get over some line, some hilltop of inspiration that would have produced the desired mass activation that the filmmakers were hoping for - or maybe I'm wrong and even now hundreds of thousands of filmgoers are drafting passionate letters to their elected officials, demanding the radical agreement the world needs at Copenhagen this December, and planning thousands of direct actions across the globe and coal plants and mines and oil wells and car factories.

Maybe that's happening. But, I fear not. However, the film is a valiant and extremely intriguing step in the continuing evolution of hybrid fiction/fact works. I hope people continue making climate change films, on all points in that doc-narrative spectrum, and continue fighting to get people off their asses while they continue to explore their craft as moving-picture storytellers.

One final point, a digression into the content of the film even though I said I wouldnt talk about that: one thing I fear is that the film is way TOO scary. Especially the point, which is sort of never returned to but is still there like the 800 pound gorilla in the room, the point where they interview the guy who wrote the book "Six Degrees" (I forget his name), and he says basically that we have till 2015 to limit the global temperature increase to 2 degrees - if we don't do that we will have passed a tipping point from which there is no return and we're basically completely screwed (my wording, but you get the gist).

To me this is dark, dark news. So dark that it almost makes me think, "well, hell with it, there's absolutely no way we can do that, get that much done in that little time, it just can't be done, so if that's true it's hopeless, throw in the towel." And I wondered, how many people left the theater thinking basically the same thing? Did the film go too far and convince people that there's nothing they can do, so why bother? If so, is that reason, justification, for NOT mentioning that dark bit of statistic, that doomsday deadline, leaving out that interview, basically lying and telling people, like they hollowly (for me) do at the end of the film right before the credits "there is just BARELY enough time to do something...."

The film is amazingly low on factual, scientific backing for the claims and warnings it makes, amazingly absent of high-powered scientists, such as that cool dude at NASA whose name I also forget right now. But I hope that Six Degrees writer is wrong, and I hope someone proves him wrong and tells us all soon that we have at least till 2020. Because otherwise, i mean, c'mon - we can't even get a few windmills built cuz of the NIMBY syndrome, how can we possibly save the world in 5 years?

Posted by steev at 07:35 PM | Comments (0)

Septiembre 16, 2009

Taylor Who?

I just, stupidly enough, wasted about 15 minutes trying to figure out what happened with Kanye West. Something he did made even the president of the United States call him a jackass? Hmm. I finally figured it out (amazing how the entertainment media will always assume you know the background, as opposed to real news that is constantly re-explaining everything as if nobody has any more than a 3rd-grade education) and then found a great post by Mike Hale on his New York Times blog where he really summed the whole phenomenon (not just of what Kanye did but more importantly why it's such a big deal) up nicely:

...just the latest manifestation of our addiction to artificial drama, which has grown stronger as the stuff has become more plentiful and cheap, and the shamelessness with which the media now picks at the scabs of any sort of conflict in order to boost ratings.

Posted by steev at 10:41 AM | Comments (2)

Septiembre 07, 2009

Technophilia and Its Discontents

My friend Ryn brought to my attention a very interesting and worthwhile article about the tendencies for social divisions to be duplicated online, concentrating specifically on the class divisions between MySpace and Facebook.
praha june 2007  - 22

I think I have some doubts about some of the author's conclusions, but without seeing her actual numbers and methods, having only the anecdotal examples she gave, I can't argue and will give her the benefit of the doubt that her data supports her points. Certainly, I don't doubt and fully believe the most general points, that
1) different social networking communities are populated by different demographics and are self-segregated, somewhat.
2) technology will not automatically solve the separations and prejudices that exist in the "real" world.

The really interesting thing, to me, is that this has been happening for awhile - these kind of debates and debunkings of popular hype about "new media" were going on starting 14 or 15 years ago when the Web first started taking off, with a flood of rhetoric about the "digital 'revolution'" and the liberatory potential of technology. People were questioning this along various lines, including class and race based analyses. I'd recommend a great anthology called
"Resisting the Virtual Life" and a little later there was a great book
called "Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its Discontents".

A professor of mine at CalArts told me back in 1996 how excited everyone (well, artists and activists, at least) was in the early 70s about the radical and democratic potential of video, but things didn't really pan out how they hoped, so she was a little skeptical about the same sort of talk regarding the web. Basically people have always been scared of, hopeful for, hyping, and debunking new technologies, probably since the wheel and fire, certainly on into film, TV, radio, home computers, etc. I'm glad that some are bringin' the noise on this round, but it's helpful to remember that it's a continuous loop.... and a continuous fight, to make sure that the pernicious effects of any new technology are minimized and the beneficial ones are amplified and widespread...

Posted by steev at 01:01 PM | Comments (0)

Septiembre 03, 2009


Wired Magazine reports that we're all writing more, because of the internet. I've thought about that before. It's quite remarkable, but easy to forget. I've always been someone who writes, not just in school, but for a long time that was rare. Now it's not.

Before the Internet came along, most Americans never wrote anything, ever, that wasn't a school assignment. Unless they got a job that required producing text (like in law, advertising, or media), they'd leave school and virtually never construct a paragraph again.

To me that makes me think, wow, what a bleak life, to never write. So it really is great that people are encouraged to construct paragraphs now - even if the paragraphs are cluelessness comments like
you really want to clean up the border??? put down the water bottles and grab a shovel and rake...Ive got a ranch in three points that needs serious help...but you dont care about my property do you????

Posted by steev at 11:03 AM | Comments (0)