Cultural Round Up: February

So, that month went fast. Oh wait, that’s because it is short. Still managed to jam a few things in though and here are the highlights

Books

This month I went from the seduction of short chapters to the reality of no chapters, and found that counterproductively, both make it really hard to put a book down. Just one more short chapter section…. Or maybe it was just the compelling nature of what I was reading.

The Resurrectionist James Bradley As mentioned last month, finished it at the beginning of the month and found it engaging reading from start to finish. Absolutely worth reading if you are brave enough to explore the moral ambivalence within us all.

Wyrd Sisters Terry Pratchett Strange though it is to admit, this was my first foray into the Discworld. I wondered at first whether I might have been too old to start – some of the humour at the beginning seemed very contrived to me, like a poor mean’s Douglas Adams. But I did begin reading Douglas Adams at 13, so, as I said, perhaps it left that impression because I was a bit old. But, the book did grow on me and I quite enjoyed it in the end. I also read it in no time flat, and sandwiched between the darkness of The Resurrectionist and The Road it was a bit of disposable light relief. Nothing life changing, but not every book has to be like that.

The Road Cormac McCarthy In another first foray into an author, this book was more in the life changing category. OK, that is a bit over the top, but this was an absolutely compelling book. Compelling, haunting, emotional, I wanted to keep reading but I really feared and dreaded how it might end. The images were so real and so vividly conjured with a sparsity of language that was impressive. For a book in which so little happens, the tension never leaves one.

It did, of course, also make me think that my post apocalyptic planning should figure in more guns.

Movies

So this month I didn’t actually make it to the cinema. Blame the small children, the work and the general social busy-ness. But did manage to watch a few DVDs.

Idiocracy So the partner was lent this, and I was sceptical, but then I saw it included in one of i09 (I believe)’s reviews of best sci fi of the decade or something similar (which, unfortunately, currently eludes me) so I figured it must have something interesting. It has a clever an entertaining premise – that which was so memorably articulated in Flagpole Sitter by Harvey Danger – that only stupid people are breeding, examining the idea of what the world would become like if this was allowed to continue unchecked. It was reasonably well executed, and you have to like any film which has laugh-out-loud moment, which Idiocracy definitely has. There is this whole fabulous scene around a sports drink which has been marketed to water grass – “but it has electrolytes” “but what are they” “electrolytes are what plants need” etc which is a fabulous satire on the whole way marketing slogans are used and repeated until they become truth. For what is essentially a one-joke film, it carries it off well, but ultimately a comedy film about idiots does have its limitations.

Zombie Strippers and Dod Sno It is our want, from time to time, to engage in a bit of a zombie fest, usually in the company of friends. This month saw just one of these events. First up was Zombie Strippers featuring legendary porn star Jenna Jameson in a (sort of) cross over movie. It must be said that, at first, it could not much be discerned from a porn with respect to its fairly ordinary script and extremely wooden acting. And then we found Jenna reading Nietzsche. Which didn’t entirely manage to lift the film completely, but did add an additional oddness to the whole undertaking. We started to figure that a drop out philosophy grad student might have written the script. The philosophical concepts in it were used correctly, it was just odd. You don’t often get a army-grunt-shooting-type using the word “ontological” in any context, let alone a correct one. It still didn’t explain why the crowd found the zombie strippers quite so compelling, even when totally decayed, and one can’t get over the idea that even Robert Englund was slumming it to appear in this one, but did add to the (be)amusement factor.

We followed with the Norwegian Dod Sno (Dead Snow, in case you couldn’t guess) which had it all: chainsaws, lost treasure, spooky old guys, murdered lovers, outdoor toilets,  and NAZI ZOMBIES! Very much a traditional group-of-friends-in–the-wilderness zombie flick (and it even acknowledged this itself is a nice piece of referentialism) it didn’t really offer anything particularly new to the genre, but was a pretty entertaining and as-plausible-as-it-gets unchallenging piece of entertainment.

Television

Torchwood Children of Earth (spoiler alert – skip over it if you want to remain in the dark)

This had promise. Interesting ideas and premises which could have taken us in a number of directions. And the first couple of episodes were good – watching Jack come back to life was painfully gripping. But, but, but, it was all spoilt by two woefully appalling concluding episodes.

Could Ianto’s death be any more turgidly melodramatic? And the premise any more ridiculous? I can’t believe for a moment that Jack and Ianto would have gone to all the effort to get in there only to challenge the alien with a couple of pop guns and some defiant rhetoric. Going to shout at the 456? It just wasn’t a credible plan, and not at all a Captain Jack plan. Jack was smarter than that. There were plot holes, total credibility gaps – the PM ordering the Secretary to sacrifice his children was just laughably ludicrous, and the Secretary’s reaction to that order was equally ridiculous and illogical. And what was it striving so valiantly to critique? The morality was all messed up and unclear. In the end Jack did just what the government was going to do – sacrifice a small number in order to save a large number, though the sacrifice was sort-of his. Also, I resented the sidelining of Gwen from the denouement into some pointless baby-sitting. But I’ll stop now. Except to say, all the stuff which was interesting about the original 3 parts was completely frittered away in the final two episodes in one of the greatest sci fi disappointments I have ever encountered.

The Wire Season 2 Again, started last month, finished in February. Very very good, and with the final episode again highlighting the Sisyphean nature of the task of the police: there is no end, no defeat of the adversary in the war on drugs, there are always replacements. It does leave you wondering what does it all mean and why do they go one. What would happen if it was all left unchecked – anything worse? The first two episodes of season three also goes somewhat to these ideas, which are really very challenging in a police show, questioning as they do the entire basis of our approach to law and order in an implicit way. I can’t wait to watch every episode.

Music

The Hazards of Love The Decemberists Having seen The Decemberists at the Big Day Out we have been spending a lot of time listening to their latest album, The Hazards of Love. And when I say a lot, I do mean it. I think the very fact that it stands up to several hours on repeat and many many plays over the course of the month stands testament to its excellence. The Rake is a brilliant and haunting song, and I find myself singing “the wanting comes in waves” all the time. Highly recommended.

Dub Dub Goose Taking small boys to check out a new cafe, we heard ourselves grooving along to some very cool reggae-funk-brassy background music. My 7 year old was bold enough to ask what it was, and so we have been introduced to Dub Dub Goose who we inevitably googled on our return home. Very fun, very funky – am looking forward to hearing more of their work and hopefully catch them playing locally at some time. At least I brung up small boys to like interesting music!

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There’s something hot about Captain Jack

It is clearly undeniable that Captain Jack Harkness of Torchwood and Doctor Who fame is hot. Really, really hot. And he has an amazing smile. But I don’t think the full erotic hotness of him completely struck me until watching the first episode of season 2. And the kissing of James Marsters. Suddenly many things became clear to me – like what’s the deal with men and lesbians…ah, ok, I get it now.

To avoid this disintergrating into some kind of tortured fan rant about hot guys, perhaps I should try a slightly more analytical approach. Thought though that I needed to get all that off my chest first.

Torchwood is a celebration of the polymorphously perverse nature of humans. In it, the various Torchwood members sleep with and/or love each other, people and aliens of the same gender, of different genders, of different races, from different times and who are partially robotic. Interchangeably.  Without hierarchies or normative behaviours. And pretty much without stigmas or judgement (except when the action is kept secret and potentially deadly to fellows). Captain Jack is the king of the polymorphously perverse; constantly sexual and clearly without differentiation. I think I would find working with him a mite distracting. when Captain John arrives on the scene, he is an even more extreme version of Captain Jack. John’s polymorphouse perverse nature is reinforced as he is about to die – as he is driven at great speed to the rift, handcuffed to Gwen, he takes the time to admire the scenery – in particular commenting on the sexual allure of those he spots. After one expression of admiration, Gwen dryly notes “that’s a poodle” but Captain John is undaunted. Species, gender, race – all are irrelevant.

Of course, there is a lot going on in the first episode of Season 2. The choice of James Masters to play Captain John, complete with his Spike accent and (pre-chip) attitude, are clearly pointing us to an embedded, extra-diegetic understanding of the character. We all know instantly what to expect, because this is Spike returned to us, minus the blond hair. Even the period costuming reminds us instantly he is of another time, and the super-strength – well, that was also Spike. The referencing continues as Captain Jack and Captain John have that rather moving kiss, then start knocking down each other, and the building. The contrast of hero and villain, the property destruction from sexual tension, all lead us back to Spike and Buffy. What this also does, however, is reference the links between sex and danger which has always been part of the representation of vampires. Drawing on the vampire analogy provides another level of textual referentialism, and we can be pretty sure this is all going to end badly.

Which clearly it does. With kissing as a weapon. But what is interesting over all about Torchwood (up to this point) is that the sexual and the perverse are not inevitably bad, though they sometimes are. And sometimes they are even redemptive, like the erotically charged encounter between Captain Jack and his namesake during season 1. Having only just commenced watching Season 2, I will be interested to see how these themes continue to develop.