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Monthly Cultural Round Up: April

This month our household Party Season kicked into full swing, and there was less time for the culture all round. I also started reading quite a long book mid-month. So this will be a much shorter round up for the month.

Books

The Stone God Awakens Philip Jose Farmer This was a book I found lurking on our bookshelves but we can’t work out where it came from. Deciding to give some older science fiction a go (this was originally published in 1970), I figured it was worth a read, particularly as it was relatively short. Disappointingly, while there were a number of interesting ideas and an interesting premise, the book didn’t really get beyond this mish mash of ideas and narrative styles and aims. The central character, Ulysses Singing Bear, was quite hard to understand or empathise with – his whole matter-of-factness about waking up so far into the future in a world so completely transformed was a little hard to credit and exactly why he did what he did a bit confusing. There is also an odd moral skew to the book – the hero is frequently willing to torture creatures to death, and while these creatures are not human, they are definitely sentient. This seems to provoke absolutely no discussion or moral debate. Choosing to have the central character as an indigenous North American would have, you would have thought, allowed some sort of consideration of how people are viewed and what makes up humanity or equality or something, bit no. Mostly it means he can shoot arrows. The final disappointment of the book is that there really is no conclusion or resolution. The book just ends and it isn’t clear what might happen in the future. It is almost as if the author just got bored and couldn’t be bothered going on. Overall, not a book I would recommend in any way.

Movies

How to Train Your Dragon Eagerly anticipated by both children and adults alike, the film did not disappoint. I don’t think it was quite in the category of earth-shattering or absolutely amazing, but it was clever and funny and well scripted and the dragons were beautiful. As I had the 3 year old with me, we saw it in 2D only, but I can imagine that the flying scenes would have been excellent in a 3D viewing. I do wonder why it is that vikings so regularly have Scottish accents and how it is that the children sound American in contrast…but that is a minor quibble. Anyway, a fun way to spend an afternoon, and I imagine it is one we will watch a thousand times on DVD in the future. I also loved Astrid.

Television

Dollhouse Season 1 I finally finished watching season one of Dollhouse this month. while I haven’t found it as compelling as other Whedon shows, it has its moments and I certainly felt that when there was a greater focus on the intra-Dollhouse activities and the background stories of the characters it was a lot more interesting that the early mission-of-the-week format. I still think its weakest link is Dushku herself: while she is a very attractive actor in many ways, she lacks range and she was always at her best when playing herself, or a close analog of herself. Actually, it is funny that it is not the background of Caroline herself which is so interesting as that of the Dollhouse itself and of its staff. I thought the final two episodes played the twists quite nicely and were actually pretty clever. And the moral dilemmas and concepts behind the show are fascinating and thought-provoking. Can one contract oneself into slavery? What is slavery? Where does agency lie? On the DVD version it was also interesting to see the un-aired episode set in the future. This was clearly made as a just-in-case, an opportunity to actually wrap things up should the series not be renewed, replacing the final double episode which was screened. Got to love an apocalypse.

The Wire Season 3 While we still have three episodes to go, the most interesting part of this season is the exploration of the notion of de-criminalisation and harm-mitigation as the most effective way of dealing with the problems caused by the drug trade. The first two seasons left us with a clear sense that, no matter what arrests were made, the trade went on relentlessly. In this season we see a solution posed, a way of acknowledging that this fight may never be won, but there are ways to minimise the damage. There is also a fantastic speech which articulates the problem of conceptualising the fight against drugs as a “war” and how this approach itself perpetuates the problem. Once again, another excellent contribution to television, demonstrating exactly how thoughtful a medium it can be.

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