intertribal: (peace)
la colonia

  • Chantecaille Kalimantan fragrance is inspired by the intoxicating and lush forests of Borneo, available on the market from September 2010. Intense, sexy and exotic, it features the notes of labdanum, incense and patchouli, merged with benzoin, vanilla and cedar, to illustrate the fragrant wild flora of the island of Borneo.

  • Patchouly Indonesiano is a deep, dark and exotic fragrance. Its entire composition consists of Indonesian patchouli (in the top notes, the heart and the perfume base).

  • Rituel de Java by Cinq Mondes is a Woody Spicy fragrance for men. Rituel de Java was launched in 2008. Top note is eucalyptus; middle notes are cinnamon and woodsy notes; base notes are patchouli and virginia cedar.

  • Borneo 1834 by Serge Lutens is a Oriental Woody fragrance for women and men. Borneo 1834 was launched in 2005. The fragrance features patchouli, white flowers, cardamom, galbanum, french labdanum and cacao.

  • Colonial Club by Jeanne Arthes is a Woody Floral Musk fragrance for men. Top notes are mint and lemon; middle notes are jasmine and fruity notes; base notes are patchouli, musk and cedar.

  • Poivre Colonial is a new fragrance from the Eaux de Toilette collection from Phaedon. The scent has been described as both "prickly and smooth” woody – spicy one. It opens with an explosion of grapefruit, nutmeg and pepper. The heart includes cedar and vetiver, mixed with warm cacao bean. The base is dominated by notes of oak moss and patchouli with blonde woods.

  • The Italian brand of I Coloniali presents their collection Seductive Elixir of 8 fragrant waters in 2012. The collection is inspired by distant countries and offers intense, long-lasting fragrances with various fragrant compositions.

  • Acqua di Genova, Colonia Classica by Acqua di Genova is a Citrus Aromatic fragrance for women and men. Acqua di Genova, Colonia Classica was launched in 1853. Top notes are bergamot, amalfi lemon, orange, rosemary, neroli and lavender; middle notes are jasmine, rose and orange blossom; base notes are patchouli, sandalwood, amber and musk.

  • Agua de Colonia Concentrada Barberia by Alvarez Gomez is a Citrus Aromatic fragrance for women and men. This is a new fragrance. Top notes are lemon, bitter orange, bergamot and ginger; middle notes are rhubarb, labdanum and coriander; base notes are cedar, sandalwood and white musk.

  • Colonia del Sacramento fragrance by Fueguia 1833 belongs to the Destinos collection. “A mix of European detachment with River Plate indolence, this blend combines a restless fragrance of bergamot, orange blossom and lemon.”

intertribal: (pro nails)
My story "Princess Courage" will live at Beneath Ceaseless Skies!  I've known about this for a while (there have been revision requests...) but I wanted to wait until Scott Andrews put it on his latest Recent Acceptances post, because that's when it felt official.  This is the story I mentioned in this post with "White Wedding" and all.  I'm a fan of BCS and rarely write stories that would fit their parameters, so it's exciting.  "Princess Courage" was inspired by my recent contrarian reading of Lord of the Rings and ended up becoming kind of like that movie W. except for William McKinley and except not in our world.

Here are two more songs used in the writing of this story - both by Hole.  As they contributed to the story they're less about gender and more about power in general (in particular invasion/colonialism and leadership/hero worship, but I see that in everything).

You should learn when to go
You should learn how to say no!
When they get what they want, they never want it again
I told you from the start just how this would end
When I get what I want, I never want it again


I'm Miss World, somebody kill me
I'm Miss World, watch me break and watch me burn
No one is listening, my friends
I made my bed, I'll lie in it
I made my bed, I'll die in it

intertribal: (baby got an alibi)
Jon Krakauer has produced an investigative expose of Greg Mortenson and his memoirs about building schools in Afghanistan, Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools (available for free at byliner until April 20th).  Krakauer seems mostly pissed off because the dramatic story was used to solicit donations for the Central Asia Institute - Krakauer gave them $75,000, and Obama gave them $100,000 - and there are now questions about fraudulent financial statements and misuse of CAI funds by Mortenson, as well as falsehoods about how many schools have been built. 

Three Cups of Deceit is pretty short (89 pages).  The first chapter is about inaccuracies in the "creation myth," as Krakauer calls it, about how he found this village that he pledged to build a school in (let's call it dramatic embellishment - what's worse is that he backed out of a promise to build a school in the village he actually went to post-K2, and then accused them of greed in his book for trying to hold him to the promise).  What's most aggravating is that Mortenson apparently portrayed a friendly visit to a Pakistani village where Mortenson was treated like the guest of honor as a Taliban kidnapping.  I mean, if that's so, that's not mixing up dates or locations - it's slandering a whole village of people, mislabeling photos of them as being of their "sworn enemies," etc.  Krakauer writes:
A preponderance of evidence indicates that Mortenson manufactured his account of being kidnapped by the Taliban out of whole cloth, apparently for the same reason he’s invented so many other anecdotes of personal derring-do in his books and public appearances: to inflate the myth of Greg Mortenson, “the astonishing, uplifting story of a real-life Indiana Jones and his remarkable humanitarian campaign in the Taliban’s backyard,” as the back cover of Three Cups of Tea puts it. The likelihood that anyone in the United States would ever discover the truth about what happened in an exceedingly isolated Pakistani village must have seemed infinitesimal to Mortenson.
If that's true, that's gross.  One of the people he's portrayed as a Taliban kidnapper says: "“Years later,” says Naimat Gul, “when I scanned through the book Three Cups Of Tea and read that Greg had been abducted and threatened with guns, I was shocked. Instead of telling the world about our frustration, deprivation, illiteracy, and tradition of hospitality, he invented a false story about being abducted by savages. I do not understand why he did this.”"  Mortenson has implied in reply that those who have contradicted his story are those who "do not want our mission of educating girls to succeed." 

The second chapter is about a lack of communication between Mortenson and the Central Asia Institute's board, lying in the book about turning down raises when he actually got even bigger raises, more making up stories about real people, using CAI "as his personal ATM," and generally being an egomaniac.  Particularly hilarious:
According to one of Mortenson’s friends, when he learned that Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love had bumped Three Cups of Tea from number one down to number two on the New York Times paperback nonfiction list, “Greg was furious. He started buying books like crazy, with the CAI credit card, to try and put Three Cups back on top.”
Krakauer estimates CAI's actual budget to be 50% fundraising and administrative funds, as opposed to the 15% they claim goes to fundraising and administrative funds on their web site (because they count book advertising and charter jets as program funds, not fundraising and administrative funds). 

Then in chapter 3, more lying about places in Afghanistan ("The most troubling irony is that the focal region of Mortenson’s work—the Shia region of Baltistan with its Tibetan-Buddhist heritage—has nothing to do with the war on terror, yet is primarily viewed through this lens in [Three Cups of Tea]."), abandoning schools after the physical building has been built, short of supplies or teacher training ("The statement about students learning five languages is absolutely false, says a CAI staffer, “not even true for a single school.” Most teachers, this staffer also reports, have never received any training from CAI."), simply lying about the existence of some schools, CAI filling in the many holes in their expense accounting, not listening to what the needs of the area are ("Their rationale for ranking clinics above schools, Callahan explains, was the appalling infant mortality rate in the Pamir. As one Kyrgyz elder told him, “If 50 percent of the children die before age five, who is there to educate?”"), driving away talented people at CAI, more lying about actual people, and unforeseen consequences:
The Afghan government provides a teacher who holds classes inside a yurt right in his camp, he pointed out, “so why would our children want to walk all the way down there to go to school, and then have to walk back up at the end of the day? The school is pointless. It’s empty. The border police seem to use it sometimes.”
Defrauding people is one thing - and an important thing, because of the bad name it gives to altruism and the betrayal of people's trust, etc. - but for me, the worst part is the creation of villains and danger, essentially just to make the plot more exciting, and slandering various remote but real people and communities to do so.  And then there's the role Mortenson plays in the greater U.S. narrative. 

And, this is my other issue.  My personal opinion is that Krakauer is right to call Mortenson's central argument - that increasing secular education in places like Afghanistan will discourage and eliminate terrorism - "uncomplicated."  It's part of a package of basic liberal common sense, and goes along with the health clinics mentioned above.  Everybody agrees that education and healthcare are good antidotes to the "primitivity" of terrorism.  And hey, education and healthcare can't hurt, from a basic standard of living perspective.  Then some people add economic development and other people add democracy and suddenly what cures terrorism is for "them" to be more like "us."  Which... seems kind of circular.  Education doesn't stop the U.S. from bombing weddings, doesn't close Guantanamo Bay, doesn't cut small arms supplies from Militant A to help fight Militant B.  But those are things that Mortenson's argument allow us not to think about.  Although I don't agree with Mark Juergensmeyer that secularism has created terrorism, he does have a much more nuanced understanding of terrorism-in-society, and his book is a decent antidote to this line of thought.  This facet of liberalism doesn't seem to have changed since the Dutch were trying to justify colonizing Indonesia with the Ethical Policy.  And basically, I just don't think it's enough.  Saying off-handedly that "oh, education will solve it" basically implies that properly-educated people are above this foolish behavior and there's no need to look at the behavior any deeper, because it'll just die out on its own when we hit them over the head with our logic hard enough.  Again... I don't buy it. 

I think this is particularly important:
“The way I’ve always understood Greg,” Callahan reflects, “is that he’s a symptom of Afghanistan. Things are so bad that everybody’s desperate for even one good-news story. And Greg is it. Everything else might be completely fucked up over there, but here’s a guy who’s persuaded the world that he’s making a difference and doing things right,” Mortenson’s tale “functioned as a palliative,” Callahan suggests. It soothed the national conscience. Greg may have used smoke and mirrors to generate the hope he offered, but the illusion made people feel good about themselves, so nobody was in a hurry to look behind the curtain. Although it doesn’t excuse his dishonesty, Mortenson was merely selling what the public was eager to buy.
intertribal: (Default)
I need to get this new PJ Harvey, Let England Shake.  I actually have Niall Harrison to thank for looking up this song in particular, because he said on Adam Roberts' blog that it was "quite creepy."  I love it though.  It's almost Death in June-like.  The first lyrics I caught (on the iTunes sample) were "How is our glorious country sown?  Not with wheat and corn," and I was like, thank you!

How is our glorious country plowed?
Not by iron plows
Our lands is plowed by tanks and feet,
Feet marching

Oh, America!
Oh, England!
How is our glorious country sown?
Not with wheat and corn.
How is our glorious land bestowed?

What is the glorious fruit of our land?
Its fruit is deformed children.
What is the glorious fruit of our land?
Its fruit is orphaned children.
intertribal: (ich will)
From The Guardian:

Twelve American soldiers face charges over a secret "kill team" that allegedly blew up and shot Afghan civilians at random and collected their fingers as trophies.

Five of the soldiers are charged with murdering three Afghan men who were allegedly killed for sport in separate attacks this year. Seven others are accused of covering up the killings and assaulting a recruit who exposed the murders when he reported other abuses, including members of the unit smoking hashish stolen from civilians.

In one of the most serious accusations of war crimes to emerge from the Afghan conflict, the killings are alleged to have been carried out by members of a Stryker infantry brigade based in Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan.

According to investigators and legal documents, discussion of killing Afghan civilians began after the arrival of Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs at forward operating base Ramrod last November. Other soldiers told the army's criminal investigation command that Gibbs boasted of the things he got away with while serving in Iraq and said how easy it would be to "toss a grenade at someone and kill them".

Investigators said Gibbs, 25, hatched a plan with another soldier, Jeremy Morlock, 22, and other members of the unit to form a "kill team". While on patrol over the following months they allegedly killed at least three Afghan civilians. According to the charge sheet, the first target was Gul Mudin, who was killed "by means of throwing a fragmentary grenade at him and shooting him with a rifle", when the patrol entered the village of La Mohammed Kalay in January.

Morlock and another soldier, Andrew Holmes, were on guard at the edge of a poppy field when Mudin emerged and stopped on the other side of a wall from the soldiers. Gibbs allegedly handed Morlock a grenade who armed it and dropped it over the wall next to the Afghan and dived for cover. Holmes, 19, then allegedly fired over the wall.

Later in the day, Morlock is alleged to have told Holmes that the killing was for fun and threatened him if he told anyone.

The second victim, Marach Agha, was shot and killed the following month. Gibbs is alleged to have shot him and placed a Kalashnikov next to the body to justify the killing. In May Mullah Adadhdad was killed after being shot and attacked with a grenade.

The Army Times reported that a least one of the soldiers collected the fingers of the victims as souvenirs and that some of them posed for photographs with the bodies.

Five soldiers – Gibbs, Morlock, Holmes, Michael Wagnon and Adam Winfield – are accused of murder and aggravated assault among other charges. All of the soldiers have denied the charges. They face the death penalty or life in prison if convicted.

The killings came to light in May after the army began investigating a brutal assault on a soldier who told superiors that members of his unit were smoking hashish. The Army Times reported that members of the unit regularly smoked the drug on duty and sometimes stole it from civilians.

The soldier, who was straight out of basic training and has not been named, said he witnessed the smoking of hashish and drinking of smuggled alcohol but initially did not report it out of loyalty to his comrades. But when he returned from an assignment at an army headquarters and discovered soldiers using the shipping container in which he was billeted to smoke hashish he reported it.

Two days later members of his platoon, including Gibbs and Morlock, accused him of "snitching", gave him a beating and told him to keep his mouth shut. The soldier reported the beating and threats to his officers and then told investigators what he knew of the "kill team".

None of this, of course, should come as any surprise (look up any colonial conflict - I'd suggest the Algerian War).  I'd just like to take a second and ask how you would feel if these were the people who had taken control of your neighborhood, ostensibly for your own good. 

I can't imagine why they hate us. 
intertribal: (oops)
Apparently my new hobby is analyzing what international action movies have to say about foreign policy - and whether their word should be trusted.  In terms of Taken, for example, just run away.  Far, far away.  The Losers is irrelevant.  The A-Team is okay, although quite fantastical.

The Expendables is actually remarkably accurate.  The gist is "an American is always behind everything," and by "American" we mean a CIA agent.  Thus we actually have CIA agents backing puppet dictators in sad little Latin American republics so that they can get rich off coca - clearly "director" Sylvester Stallone read up on the United Fruit Company and perhaps Manuel Noriega.  Of course, the movie is at minor pains to make sure we understand that the CIA itself does not condone such undemocratic behavior - that the Big Bad was a CIA agent gone rogue, gone bad, gone greedy, and the CIA's now trying to clean up his mess.  Just ignore this disclaimer bit, and you will have the basic idea of Stephen Kinzer's Overthrow.  We even have some exaggerated waterboarding (done by the CIA). 

None of this is made all that complicated or nuanced - the mercenary heroes don't think barely at all about their role in the system (they're too worried about having lost their souls), the evil (rogue) CIA agent is just like, "I am greedy, greed is good," and... that's about it.  There's some blather about patriotism, but it's the poor little Latin Americans that have this patriotism, not the Americans.  I think I could count on one hand the number of times the American flag makes an appearance in this movie. 

And about that little bit of anti-colonial patriotism that blossoms in the Latin American republic?  Well, the Americans quickly stomp it out.  The mercenary heroes don't know why these fools don't just leave their fucked up country.  The corrupt puppet dictator makes a turn for the better at the climax of the movie, when he tries to make the (rogue) CIA agent take the money back and leave the country.  He tells his idealistic, patriotic daughter that "you are who I was supposed to be," and he goes to his balcony to shout to the only people in the vicinity, his bored and confused soldiers, about his mistakes and his greed and "this American disease" that has infected their country.  He asks for his people's forgiveness and vows to stomp out the foreign invaders - and then gets shot off the balcony by the CIA agent still inside his room.  There's a definite under-current of the death of idealism, and perhaps any kind of moral passion, or even values, going on here - even though the heroes make it out, they don't seem to have returned to much except throwing knives at walls.  Kind of a downer, if you think about it.

So good going, Expendables.  That was more than I expected.
intertribal: (grim reaper)
From Richard Seymour (Lenin's Tomb), "A community of heroes":
Roosevelt et al contended that to save America, a new frontier was needed: by waging wars of expansion, always with the fondest motives, always with civilisation and Christian virtue in mind, Americans would be impressed by their collective power and would "come to see themselves, as they had done in the Civil War, the Indian Wars, and in the colonization of new land, as a community of heroes engaged in a struggle upon which the future of humanity depended." Well, if that isn't American imperialist ideology to a tee. The firefighter, policeman, intrepid reporter, blue-collar bum, incorruptible union activist, brave American soldier - heroism is the supreme imperialist virtue (even if its application is cowardly, corrupt, venal, brutal, and in general as unlikely to inspire admiration as any form of human conduct).
In the comments somebody mentioned "tough trucks (heroic trucks)".  Like so:

intertribal: (can't look)
Everything good about the Twilight movies goes away in Twilight Eclipse.

Remember those nice little action montages set to Thom Yorke's "Hearing Damage" or the nice little emo sequences set to Lykke Li's "Possibility"?  Gone.  The soundtrack - which, having downloaded it, I know continues to be good - is barely used (they have freakin' Florence and the Machine and don't use it, people).  We just get the generic "score" instead.  And while the action is okay for a teenage vampire movie, the cinematographic flair that made Twilight and New Moon pleasant viewing experiences has been replaced by choppy, rigid scenes with no emotional or artistic texture.  I blame the new director, David Slade, who seems to be trying to make Twilight as generic and simple as possible.  And honestly, I can watch the stuff in the next two paragraphs with a little teeth-grinding if at least the presentation gives me something

The classism-infused love triangle between vampire, human, and werewolf becomes downright intolerable in Eclipse.  I became thankful for the sloppy flashbacks into some of the vampires' early lives just because it meant a cut away from Edward, Bella, and Jacob.  Edward's control-freak-ness goes up a notch in this one, Bella just kind of wanders around looking far more vapid and hapless and dolled up than she did in New Moon, and Jacob is totally masochistically deluded.  Jacob and Edward argue about what's best for Bella incessantly, while Bella either sleeps or says "hey stop" or shoves her fists in her hoodie, looking totally ineffectual.  Bella herself seems totally unable to have a conversation, so maybe I don't blame them, but the entire movie basically depends on all the good vampires and the werewolves risking their lives to protect Bella and why?  At the very end Bella finally gives us some semblance of a sense of self when she explains why she wants to become a vampire, but geez, too little too late.  Bella's previously awesome dad Charlie is reduced to one-liners and hee-hawing about teen sex.  Bella's friends are non-existent.  Maybe this is all supposed to represent her having to say goodbye to her friends and family by becoming a vampire.  Of course, Edward's family continues to consist of boring statues.  None of the villains are scary or convincing or... much of anything.  The Volturi, who I actually thought were pretty ok in New Moon, serve no purpose here, and I actually cringed at Dakota Fanning's delivery a couple times.  All the acting and dialogue is on par with a bad network sitcom.

Then there's the ARRGH social dynamics.  Given the historical record of vampires and werewolves in Washington, I am totally on the werewolves' side.  History: aristocratic (very WHITE) vampire shows up in the 1800s or whatever and kills two or three Indian women.  Werewolves kill the vampire.  The one vampire.  Aristocratic (very WHITE) female vampire shows up to avenge his death by killing the ENTIRE Indian village.  Yes, welcome to the history of the fucking world, thank you so much for showing this to us while at the same time telling us that vampires are awesome, Twilight.  Not only are vampires a symbol of race/class privilege, they're now imperialists as well.  How fantastic.  I cannot wait for Breaking Dawn. 

P.S. My friend, a Twilight fan, really liked this movie, and hated New Moon.  So, FWIW.
intertribal: (can't look)
Fantasy fans frustrate me sometimes.

Alison Flood (who I often disagree with) writes at The Guardian about her experience reading Conan stories and how turned off she is by the way different races are described, and the way women are described, and the way intersectionality brings the two together into a horrible union: The more lily-white a woman's skin, the more prized she is, says Flood.  So she wonders: "Is it ridiculous to criticise Robert E Howard's enjoyably pulpy Conan stories for their 1930s attitudes to women and race?"

The resounding response to this question: of course it is!  (And of course Flood responds to all this hysterical defensiveness of Conan with "but I really did enjoy a lot of it, I swear!  I promise!"  Ugh.)

- so what...take it in context. Do you critique sub-Saharan African or Oriental literature for its focus on particular races?
personally, as soon as you say Oriental you are docked like 1,000 points in my book.
- attempting to over-analyse them is the wrong way to approach them.
- its like dissing Harlequin romance novels for heaving breasts, wimpy heroines saved by manly men, and schmaltz writing.* Conan was always the romance novels for teenage boys.
- Oh, on the matter of political correctness or whatever you want to call it, I don't think it's all that bad. It's reconstructed, perhaps, and there's some stuff sitting between noble savage paternalism and popular xenophobia, but they are by no means Nazi screeds or something. I'm a pretty wishy-washy PC sort of a guy, but I don't see that as a big failing in the Conan stories, particularly if you consider the times and - more so - the men's adventure writing genre.
- No, you couldn't get away with writing like that today but so what? They're still good tales. The racism jarred? Just as well you didn't read the Del Ray editions which are the definitive texts, unlike your edition which was based on texts edited in the 1970's to make them more politically correct.

Man, it is SO AWESOME when "politically correct" is used like this.  Geez, thinking that women who are not porcelain white can be attractive is so PC, geez.  Gosh, if we were just BEING HONEST... /sarcasm

I get "taking things in context."  I really do.  I let a lot of classic lit take a pass because of this, and because there are redeeming values in the book.  Obviously I am a fan of the Mythos (though one of the lovely things about that is that it is constantly reinvented today without Lovecraft's B.S.), but that doesn't mean I just say "so what" to Lovecraft's racism (and hey, what interesting implications for horror as it pertains to changing social values, eh?).  Heart of Darkness is one of my all-time favorite books, although I also think that Achebe's criticisms of the way it depicts Africans are totally valid.  I have never read Conan and I don't want to (because epic barbarianism is not my genre), but I suspect if I did I would probably think it was funny in a pathetic way, remember that it is a product of its time, put it back on the shelf, and point and laugh at people who read it.  This isn't even about Conan.  You can replace Conan with any number of things that now come with the warning, "product of its time."

It's the responses that really get to me, the "who cares if it has that because I had fun reading it when I was an adolescent boy" thing.  Does that mean they'd give it to their sons?  Probably, yeah.  After all, so what?  Why not?  So Conan lives on, Conan with his lily-white women, Conan who ironically cannot be criticized because he is not to be taken seriously.  Whereas classic lit, which is actually, you know, meaningful and interesting and not the equivalent of a Michael Bay movie with half the intelligence, is constantly called out for its outdated bullshit.  Which is good, interesting, and ultimately necessary, because we are people living TODAY, analyzing it TODAY.  Like my Colonial Encounters class, talking about the way Tin Tin and Babar have been changed over the years, to get rid of the horrific racist cartoons in one and the weird-ass imperialist mindset in the other.  Nobody said let's go out and burn all copies of Rin Tin Tin.  It's saying, "hey, let's talk about this, look at how norms change over time, look at how embedded colonial narratives were, even in ads for detergent and coffee, did any of you pick up on this as kids?"  I wrote a paper on how Peter Pan is an iteration of the Noble Savage myth.  I love Peter Pan, but hey, it was an interesting idea.  Like this awesome thing I found on Victorian Chromatic Anxiety in Jane Eyre (i.e. "Jane's all white")

And some of the comments on that site did engage with what Flood brought up, suggest other works to try, explain things in a more in-depth way, etc, while still liking Conan stories.  There are, of course, Tolkien fights.  Which is fine.  Engagement and discussion, that's what you want!

But when the response to the idea of a discussion of these issues is a defensive "so what"... damn, it makes me want to break stuff.  This is the same thing that people say to defend Enid Blyton, another product of her time - "it doesn't matter, it's just for fun" or "it doesn't matter, it's just for kids"

What the he-ell does that imply, exactly? 

I'm not saying no one is allowed to read Conan or what the hell have you.  You can even read Enid fucking Blyton for all I care - I don't even want to ban Mein Kampf, so far be it for me to try to disallow literature with psycho ideas and norms.  I'm saying this sort of response to criticisms that a book has racist/sexist imagery is really frustrating.  Nasty little tidbits tucked in books - especially books for adolescents, especially books for entertainment - do not mean nothing. 
ETA: As Lindsey says below, media does not in and of itself cause people to be prejudiced - not in the olden days, not now.  If it wasn't a problem in society, it wouldn't be a problem in a book.  Obviously it is a problem in society, however.

* Just to note, I don't let romance novels off this hook either.
intertribal: (if the bible tells you so)
First up, we've got the "no duh" revelation by some guy at the New York Times that American Vietnam War fiction is not, in fact, popular in Vietnam!  Steinglass writes: "It shouldn’t have been so hard to find Vietnamese who could talk about O’Brien. He is, after all, a seminal Ameri­can novelist of the Vietnam War."  Man, Steinglass cracks me up.  Then again, my transformative moment came watching a documentary where this old woman in Vietnam were like, "Why would we hate you (Americans)?  We won the war."  I actually do like quite a few Vietnam stories (my favorite movie is Apocalypse Now), but I'm aware that my American-ness colors that opinion.

Moon Rat, aka Editorial Ass, gets asked about the gender of the main characters of the books she acquires for edits.  Do girls write books with female MCs?  (I don't).  Do girls read books with female MCs?  (I don't).  Kind of interesting to read the comments.  We've got things like "If [the book category is] adult and it's witty, MC's tend to be female" and "don't feel bad about acquiring all female MC's. You're balancing things out--helping readers get over their sexism one protag at a time! ;-)"  and "do you think there is a prejudice regarding women writers writing male protags?"  If so, FUCK.

Speaking of fuck, I really enjoyed this post about obscenities in writing.  In the narrative voice?  In dialogue?  Certain words off-limits?  Loss of "fire power"?  There are a few classist calamities in the comments over yonder ("it's a real turn-off for me, particularly since she seems a well educated and well-brought-up girl", Charles Dickens never swore, etc.).  I've definitely noticed that the profanity in my writing has increased as I've started swearing more.  I was so happy when I relocated the novel to a setting where people would still use my kind of curse words.  Related: [ profile] winterfox's review of Richard Morgan's The Steel Remains.  Related Related: Torque Control's interview with Richard Morgan, where the comments get into a weird tangent about whether "frak" means Battlestar Galactica doesn't have balls or basic realism (I guess Richard Morgan doesn't watch non-premium cable...).

On the other end of the spectrum (maybe), I really wanted this article wondering where all the Christian writers went to be good.  It's kind of... melodramatic in a dull way and doesn't seem to know where it's going.  I wanted an article about Christian themes and Christian representations in books being published today, not which dead writer was exiled by which church and why.  But eh.  I offer it.

And finally, a post from last year by Jim Hines about rape in fiction.  The comments are really, really interesting - and all over the place.  On the one hand we've got "I can't think of an example where rape was handled well," and "I... put the book down, because I read for fun and escapism, and as soon as somebody gets raped, I'm not having fun anymore" [that comment made me :( in real life].  On the other hand we've got "I've read far too many posts on LJ, writer's mailing lists and articles aimed at writers that flat out state there is never a place for sexual assault in a book or story... Many people don't think rape should be part of fiction at all. I worry about that as well. Hiding from an issue and not addressing it as writers or readers isn't going to make it go away."  Guess which one I agree with???  Anyways, if these comments are any indication, I will probably make a lot of enemies halfway through book 2.  And it makes me wonder if I should back off, but I already know I won't.

Title from the opening of "Aisha" by Death In Vegas.  I always think I should introduce myself to my characters that way: "I have a portrait on my wall.  He's a serial killer.  I thought he wouldn't escape - Aisha, he got out."
intertribal: (yes and)
Well, I saw Avatar, but at least it was for free. 

And let me tell you, the animals in that movie were so bad ass.  They do all the leg work - those Navis would be fucked without 'em, let me tell you, and they seemed to come and help the Navis out of the goodness of their hearts - and all they get as a reward is death.  This one Navi loses TWO "pets" in like five minutes.  And it's like, oh, you're bonded with the animal now.  If by bonding you mean rape rite, then yeah, sure, you've "bonded."  And now that you're "bonded" with the animal you share its thoughts.  And by "share its thoughts" you mean "take over its brain and tell it what to do."  

The corporate-soldiers, meanwhile, just look at animals and go "omg monster!" and shoot. 

The animals deserve to take over Pandora and kick all the rest of them dumbasses off.

I do agree with some reviews that have pointed out the worst thing about this movie is Jake Sully's character.  Poor Michelle Rodriguez, bless her heart, has a much better character.  Even Sigourney Weaver's scientist woman is better.  I wish I could say there were good characters among the Navis, but they were all awfully drawn.  They were basically just every-non-white-culture-mashed-into-one-super-exotic-culture, and they weren't anything beyond their rituals and animal control.  They're just culture.  No personalities.  Unless you count "jealousy," because one of them has that. 

The problem with Jake Sully's character isn't that he's clearly struggling to control his Australian accent, but that he becomes the "bridge" between the corporate-soldiers and the Navis.  Why does he become this?  Because he literally takes on the genetic code of the Navi.  So if you can't literally become the Other, then there's just no hope of understanding them as anything but savages.  I think my favorite part of the movie was Michelle Rodriguez pulling away from bombing the Navis, because "I didn't sign up for this."  She's got no avatar.  She just decides, on her own, that she has a moral objection to what's going on and decides to do something about it.  Jake Sully decides to do something about it because he's become one of them and gets to have sex with one of them.  In other words, vested interest, and whatever it's called when you can only be kind to someone because you directly relate to them.  This is pathetic, useless, dishonest conflict resolution.  And okay, I like Everlast's "What It's Like," but when movies use this trope it becomes Wife Swap, and I'm sick of it.  You shouldn't have to physically become another person to keep from blowing them up. 

This only works - and even then only at a, like, 10% level - in movies like Saw.  Where it's like, haha, you played with the lives of others, now your own life will be blasted out of you.  When it's "poetic justice."  And believe me, I am not sold on poetic justice either, but it's better than use-your-new-outlook-on-life-as-a-playground for your own personal fulfillment.  Cuz then you're just a colonist, bada bing bada boom.

And oh, I know, he's our "avatar."  As far as the writing goes, none of the Navi characters have enough substance to be anything but exotic Others, so yeah, getting the audience to relate to the corporate-soldier-world is mission accomplished, bucko.  When the Navis are written as glorified plants, that's what you get.  When Pandora is just a playground, that's what you get.  Your audience will relate to the humanoids whose attributes go beyond RIDES THIS BEAST and HAS MOHAWK. 

From an Arcade Fire song, "Black Mirror": 
"Please show me something that isn't mine - but mine is the only kind that I relate to."

There are many, many other problems with the story, but this is what immediately popped to mind for me.  Ultimately, pretty forgettable and yikes, way way too long.  I didn't think any of the visuals were worth writing home about - good for the moment, but so is black light - they're goddamn CGI, and some of the early scenes of the avatars looked downright sloppy.  Give it an Oscar in technical achievement if you must, but let's not mistake technical achievement for movie, ok? 
intertribal: (she said destroy)
The Daily Nebraskan is UNL's student newspaper. As you can probably expect out of anything in Nebraska, its sports coverage is decent, but everything else is trash. Today I discovered what is, so far, the worst of the worst: Soldiering On: Columnist Shares His Favorite Films of the Post-9/11 Era (the online version has a different, less profoundly lame title). I'm probably taking this article too seriously, but it annoyed me.


So first off, I can believe that there are quintessentially "post-9/11" movies out there (oh, okay, films). It seems like a hefty task for a college movie reviewer, but whatever. And I'm looking at the titles and I'm like, Lord of the Rings is a Post-9/11 Film? What? How? So I scan the blurbs he's written for each of his ten movies and I don't find a whole lot of 9/11 references. I find three, casually thrown in for no reason: "a bleak and dispassionate satire on everything from masculinity to post-9/11 cynicism," "Guillermo del Toro has crafted with 'Pan’s Labyrinth' a post-9/11 'Wizard of Oz'" and "Funny that the movie of the decade – one that best pertains to America’s foreign relations – would be made in France, more than a year before 9/11." Haha, yeah, it is funny that the movie of the decade would be made in France! Oh, wait, that's not surprising at all. The French are really into moviemaking, ya know. But it's definitely funny that the movie of the decade was made in 2000, right? Oh wait, there was a 1 in 10 chance of that being true.

The article is actually just listing his favorite movies of the decade. He just decided to throw in the ol' 9/11 cuz that sounded more intellectual and important, I guess. So he can claim that "cinema soldiers on" - whatever the fuck that means (he doesn't elaborate).

I am of the opinion that using 9/11 as some kind of ~transformative moment~ is really fucking risky, especially when there is no further explanation. The rest of the world certainly did not stop turning on 9/11. Was it a transformative moment in U.S. politics? Possibly, but do not believe for a moment that policy-makers do not know what they are doing when they "evoke 9/11." Pro tip: Not a whole lot changed in U.S. foreign policy. It just got kicked up a notch and paraded in the open. I could be convinced that 9/11 was a transformative moment for America's "psyche," but believe me, that is not what this dumb ass is talking about. This dumb ass is just standing there ringing the 9/11 bell to attract attention. He may as well have brought up Nazis.

Anyway, the logic of using 9/11 instead of "the decade" collapses in on itself in predictable fashion:
This decade will be remembered as the beginning of the post-9/11 artistic world (although its best film was made before 9/11).
That sentence pretty much sums up the idiocy of this article.

Post-Colonial Ranting.

You are perhaps curious about his top movie of the Post-9/11 Era? It is Beau Travail, some movie about the Algerian War. It's probably a good movie, because Claire Denis is a good director, but by crowning this the movie that "best pertains to America's foreign relations," the writer joins the legions of armchair liberals who think they're very clever indeed for discovering The Battle of Algiers after the Pentagon showed it in 2003 and applying it vigorously to the War on Terror, because you know, history matters solely when you can use it to advance your political position. I'm sure Claire Denis was totally giving this movie post-9/11 vibes when she made it in 2000. Hell, I'm sure she couldn't have been making it for any reason other than to provide commentary on U.S. foreign relations! That's why the rest of the world exists, right? To serve as anecdotes that America can learn from? God loves America, indeed.

Bad Language.

His prose, however, is what really screws the piece over. It's a great example of pompous, meaningless, pseudo-academic bullshit writing. You want to scream at him show don't tell! and define your terms! but believe me, people who write this way are very, very proud of their technique. They get to feel smart while simultaneously doing no mental work at all:
  • On Pixar and its "immaculate run of terrific films": "Successful, critically acclaimed family films that combined humor and pathos for a pure and honest human message."
  • On Hurt Locker: "can’t be accused of partisan polarization."
  • On No Country For Old Men: "It’s also funny, in that strangely macabre way all Coen movies are funny and beautifully photographed." NCFOM also contains an ending line that is "among the most haunting in modern cinema."
  • On Children of Men: "an unusually thought-provoking allegorical conceit." Also, Clive Owen's "human gravitas lends 'Children of Men' much its soul."
  • On Brokeback Mountain: "the social obstacles love must perpetually overcome." Also, it's an "exquisite western," FWIW.
  • On Pan's Labyrinth: "Del Toro’s smartest touch is his ambiguous approach to the notion 'Pan’s Labyrinth' is even fantasy at all. It is, in so many ways, a simple testament to the imagination of a child."
  • On There Will Be Blood: "best described simply as a considerable work of art."
  • On LOTR: "The beauty of his composition... is utilized to tell the kind of human story that made its predecessors classics."
Of course, sometimes he doesn't try:
  • On The Dark Knight: "one of those oh-so-rare event movies that actually delivered, and in spades."
  • On Children of Men: "Clive Owen is so good in these types of roles."
He intersperses this with attempts at humor. His cold opener to the article: "Here it is. When next you read 'Moving Pictures,' it will have been more than 10 years since the Y2K bug crippled the world as we know it, leaving billions of innocent people cold and hungry and desperate in unkempt city streets across the globe." That's it. That's the punchline.

The writer is a senior English major, by the way.
intertribal: (readin about it)
Few things make me cringe/laugh more than British pop-literati upholding Enid Blyton as some kind of patron saint.

Let me tell you, I was given EB books as a gift when I was about eight (and they were actually in my dream last night, latest in a series of nightmares!) and I pretty much immediately figured out that they were the most horrible books I had ever read. They're awfully written, for one. Bad dialogue. Poorly paced. Totally uninteresting plots. Her stories can pretty much be summarized by Golly Gee and Goody Goody Gumdrops. You compare the Famous Five and Secret Seven to other British children's literature - like Wonderland and Peter Pan and Wind in the Willows and any and all Kipling and, my God, even Narnia - and it's remarkable how bad they are, just as plain ol' books.

And then there's the whole "social issues" thing. The first thing I noticed was the sexism, the whole "girls stay behind and boys go off to adventure" attitude, done totally straight-faced. Conform to your gender roles, George! But don't be too flirty or you're gonna end up raped like Jo. Then there was the hilariously over the top anti-American British nationalism (if I read that one farmhouse book where the evil Americans are stomping out cigarettes with their feet, I literally become more patriotic - you have to see it to believe it, really). I did learn some things from the books: learned about macaroons and kitchen middens and stilts, for instance. Also learned that British people are noble, and gypsies and "carnies" can't be trusted. I'm okay with some racism and sexism in books written when such views were the norm, but only when there's some kind of redeeming factor. I grew up on British lit, after all. But EB is formulaic claptrap. There is just no reason to put her in any kind of literary canon.

So I rack my brain wondering why, oh why the British defend her so. Whenever anybody talks about removing Blyton from a library (something that hasn't actually happened, but upstanding British newspapers like to feed the rumor-and-fear mill!), it's interpreted as some kind of national insult, as if Blyton represents all that is good and fair about Mother Britain. On the surface this is ridiculous, because why on Earth make Enid Blyton, of all people, your national torchbearer. But that is what EB was all about when it comes down to it - British imperialism, distilled through a very gullible and low-capacity brain. Same kind of pathetic yearning for old non-existent glory that turns Wimbledon into an annual clusterfuck. It can be hard to give up on imperial fantasies, sure. God knows America has not even acknowledged that it ever had them, let alone still does. OTOH, we don't have children's books reveling in our stomping all over the Philippines either. OTOH, we have a long, long ways to go before we move children's books' portrayals of Native Americans beyond "cowboys and Indians."

Like this commenter says: "The world of her characters was just an idyllic landscape where fun things seemed to happen."

Yes - like how the world used to be our playground before those nasty natives decided they wanted to be "independent."

Does Britain have no postcolonial awareness? I'm just asking.

But you know, I guess if The Guardian's readers look back fondly on the days of Pax Britannica and its social mores, that's fine for them. Let the old folks have their Battleship and Bingo while the rest of the world moves on. At least they're not putting people from their former colonies in ghettos (or are they?). What's really sick and sad is that EB is still widely-read in former British colonies, where it was no doubt aggressively pushed - the reason kids in those countries grow up giving their own characters ye olde British names. Makes me thankful that the Dutch didn't install Dutch as Indonesia's national language. I think the Dutch in general need the least therapy as far as colonizer countries go, and the British and French need the most.

I'm not going to encourage my kids to read EB. If they come home with it from the library, I'd let them read it, but quite frankly, I'd want a talk. Just like I would if they brought home the original Rin Tin Tin. Should EB be banned? No - I'm not a supporter of book banning. I think Germany banning Nazi-related anything was a bad idea. I have less of a problem with the U.S. banning The Turner Diaries because it's so instructional, but I still don't think anything should be banned. I think people should be made aware of what all is out there. But I'm not going to weep because BBC didn't give her any exposure. That's not book-banning and it's hardly book-burning. She still sold millions of books to unsuspecting children worldwide. It's just ignoring her. Note that BBC did this because they didn't think EB's books had any literary value - and on this the BBC was absolutely right.
intertribal: (life's a witch)
So I'm looking up cannibalism, as usual, and stumbled upon this gem from wikipedia:

When the whaleship Essex was rammed and sunk by a whale in 1820, the captain opted to sail 3000 miles upwind to Chile rather than 1400 miles downwind to the Marquesas because he had heard the Marquesans were cannibals. Ironically many of the survivors of the shipwreck resorted to cannibalism in order to survive.

The Hits Keep Coming: The abnormally large whale that attacked the Essex "did so while the men were pursuing and killing other members of the whale's pod."

Return of The Hits: Instead of the Marquesas, the captain wanted to try to sail to the Society Islands, "which were further away but were presumed to be safer."

Sometimes The Hits Come Back... Again: The captain survived (by eating his seventeen-year-old cousin, "whom he had sworn to protect"), returned to Nantucket, and was given command of another whaleship, which ran into rocks near Hawaii and sank (again, he survived).  "This ended Pollard's whaling career."
intertribal: (darling little demon)
Lucia sent me this text today: In 1492, Native Americans discovered Christopher Columbus lost at sea.  What a loser!!  Send 2 every1 if u dnt believe n Columbus Day! 

And if not for that, I wouldn't have known it was Columbus Day.  I immediately thought of the first essay I read for Colonial Encounters, "Good Day, Columbus" (from Silencing The Past: Power and the Production of History by Michel-Rolph Trouillot).  I kept my course reader for a reason!  But after work I had pilates, so I'm only getting around to typing it up now, and watch by the time I finish it won't even be Columbus Day anymore [Update: Yeah, it's not.]:

Prologue: For in the monumental efforts of the Portuguese state to catch up with a history now eclipsed by nostalgia, I saw the nostalgia of the entire West for a history that it never lived, its constant longing for a place that exists only in its mind... The West was America, a dream of conquest and rapture... Except that I was in Belem whence Europe's face looked no clearer than that of the Americas... Belem's steady effort to patch up its own silences did not reflect on Portugal alone.  It spoke of the entire West - of Spain, France, and the Netherlands, of Britain, Italy, and the United States - of all those who, like Columbus, had come from behind to displace Portugal in the reshaping of the world.  And as much as I did not like it... its spoke also of me, of all the lands disturbed by their cacophony. 

The West does not exist. I know. I've been there. )
intertribal: (Default)
Oh yeah, I should also say that this old Werner Herzog cult movie is awesome and powerful and pretty much insane.  It's "based on the true story" of Lope de Aguirre, who was himself pretty damn psycho, and in the movie Aguirre is played by Klaus Kinski, who is just as psycho as Werner Herzog, so, yeah.  There was some urban legend about Kinski shooting a crew member and Herzog threatening to shoot himself and Kinski if Kinski walked off the set, which was authentically enough, Peru.

Aguirre, the Wrath of God is about Spanish conquistadores (speaking in German) trekking through the Amazon in search of El Dorado, the city of gold.  They're led by a basically reasonable guy, Ursua, and for no good reason have with them Ursua's mistress, Inez, and Aguirre's daughter, Flores.  There's also a somber monk and a pompous nobleman and a black guy and an "educated" Indian and a whole bunch of slave Indians who are tied together and have to haul Inez and Flores around.  It's a splinter group off a larger group of explorers, which is always a foreboding sign in a Herzog movie, and sure enough things begin to go crazy when Ursua decides they should turn back and Aguirre stabs Ursua, telling the other conquistadores that they need to seek out El Dorado and claim greatness for themselves.  What's more, they should reject Spanish rule and form their own empire!  Yes!  They'll conquer the rest of the Amazon and then sail all the way to Spain and take the Spanish throne too!  Ha ha ha! 

Meanwhile the Indians are shooting poisoned darts at them and they're raiding the Indians back, making the black guy run around because supposedly the Indians are scared of black people, and the pompous nobleman becomes emperor of their new little empire and has his own special outhouse and makes them shove the horse into the water because it's bothering him, and Inez walks off into the jungle, and they all float around on a glorified raft getting fevers, and they see a ship stuck in the trees but the monk says it's a hallucination, and then monkeys overrun the raft and Aguirre has a long monologue with a monkey and needless to say, the expedition ends in disaster, as so many of these colonial expeditions did. 

There's not much I can say because it's a Werner Herzog movie and there's nothing more you need to say, really.  It's a Heart of Darkness kind of movie, except even more psycho and eerie than Heart of Darkness.  You get a real sense of alienation and "fever dream" and the end result is really very hypnotic.  Pretty much exemplifies the insanity and delusion and absurdity and death that went into early colonialism.  So I'll just include the trailer.  It's English dubbed, but you should watch it in German with subtitles, obviously.

You may ask what I'm doing watching 9 if my kind of movie is Aguirre, the Wrath of God, and I would respond: yeah, I don't know either.

district 9

Aug. 16th, 2009 08:08 pm
intertribal: (Default)

I was excited to see District 9 since I first saw the trailer online, months ago.  I tracked down the rest of Neill Blomkamp's stuff - this is his first full-length feature - Alive in Joburg is the short movie that this one is based on.  I recommend it.  Know what you're getting into.  I felt an immediate kinship to this movie, but I can imagine a lot of people will be reading reviews that don't really express what this movie's about.  The Lincoln Journal Star reviewer called it "the best studio picture of the summer" and basically led readers to believe that it's like Transformers, only better.  Thus, the theater was packed when I went.  So let me say from the get-go: this is not Transformers.  At all.

I would say, "if you want Transformers then you can have your fucking Transformers!" but I must resist that urge.  I hope everyone sees District 9, on the off-chance that it will make some people's think about a bunch of moral issues at play in contemporary politics.  And, you know, just in life in general.

The set-up is pretty well gleaned from the trailer: a huge alien ship has become stranded above Johannesburg.  The aliens inside were malnourished.  The South African government decided to set up a humanitarian refugee camp, District 9, for the aliens.  Twenty years later, the aliens are still in the camp (the ship is broken), but South Africans have become tired of living with aliens - especially since District 9 has devolved into an unregulated slum where the aliens trade weapons for cat food and some superstitious gangsters have decided that alien meat will "cure high blood pressure if you boil it, cure diabetes, all diseases".  Overwhelmed, South Africa contracts the job of evicting the aliens from District 9 into a farther-away District 10 (that's even more like a concentration camp) to Multi-National United (a Blackwater look-alike with some Lockheed Martin thrown in).  The son-in-law of the boss, weak-spined Wilkus Van Der Meewe, gets a nepotistic promotion and is put in charge of the eviction process.  While evicting the aliens (armed with a clipboard and some annoying babytalk that quickly becomes "is that your little fucker?" type of language when his authority is even mildly challenged), Wilkus finds a tube of black alien-made fluid - their fuel, in which their DNA is embedded - and accidentally squirts it in his own face.  Vomiting ensues.  Black goo comes out his nose.  An alien scratches his arm and after his wife hurries him to the doctor, the arm emerges from its cast as an alien arm.  Uh-oh.  Meanwhile, an alien bizarrely named Christopher Johnson is trying to get the fuel back and protect his son from MNU security forces by being polite when MNU comes knocking, apologizing for his son throwing some plastic thing at Wilkus. 

Okay, I'm about to regurgitate the whole movie here.  Suffice it to say that this is not Transformers. 

No, this movie is achingly, harrowingly realistic - from MNU, solely interested in making alien weaponry functional (it relies on alien DNA), to the gangsters, who like all post-colonial powermongers want to consume power in order to harness it, to yes, the sympathetic protagonists.  They too are selfish, desperate, willing to make terrible compromises, stunned by pain, stunned by their intrinsic connection to other lifeforms.  The fact that it's set in Johannesburg instead of New York makes it very easy to draw out all the unpleasant bullshit that is guaranteed to happen - and which, in fact, does happen on a smaller scale - if aliens ever were to get stuck on Earth.  Blomkamp didn't pull any of this out of thin air.  The horrible, brutal things humans do to the residents of District 9 - and to each other - is the stuff we do to wild animals, illegal immigrants, terrorism suspects, "civilian bystanders," sick people, poor people, all the fucking time.  I think that's what makes parts of this movie so hard to watch - you're sitting there squirming because what's being thrown at you is all the atrocities you've been taught to accept as "just the way it is," as "necessary" - just like it was necessary to carpet-bomb Cambodia during the Vietnam War.  You know.  NecessarySensible.  Sometimes hard decisions need to be made, and all that bullshit. 

And District 9 pulls no punches in that regard.  It puts you right there in the blood and gore and vomit and shrapnel and tears, the collateral damage that comes along with such "necessary" actions.  There is no hiding here.  There is no looking away.  You must watch your fellow beings destroying each other, getting cut apart or blown apart, threatening each other's children, abandoning each other... and rescuing each other.  There are hard-fought moments of understanding and kindness amid all the ugliness.  But only a few.  For the most part, District 9 adheres to the Catch-22 interpretation of the world: "mobs with clubs were in control everywhere."  It hurts because it's true. 

intertribal: (tristes tropiques)
I've always been a little surprised that I like The Quiet American.  I'm not a fan of Graham Greene's other stuff, for the most part, and a story about a British journalist in Vietnam trying to keep a handle on his much-younger mistress?  It sounds like something I wouldn't like. 

And yet, I do.  I liked it when I first read it this past summer in Surabaya.  I like it now.  I just saw the movie version - and part of it is no doubt that Michael Caine (aka Alfred of Nolan's Batman series) plays the British journalist, Fowler.  It's quite a good movie.  Caine is like, beyond excellent in it.  Totally captures Fowler's cynicism mixed with an old man's idealism, his doubts and wishes to stay "uninvolved," his affection for Phuong and Vietnam and even the American Hero, Pyle (played by Brendan Fraser, of all people!), whom Fowler ultimately sends to his death, for a variety of reasons - his enthusiasm for a "third force" in Vietnam is leading him to directly enable marketplace bombings, the carnage of which he then runs through, looking for photo ops and wiping blood off his pants... and of course, Pyle has managed to get Phuong to leave Fowler for him by offering her what Fowler can't because of his Catholic wife back home: marriage.  Fowler's is a character that a lesser actor - or just a denser actor - could have butchered, but Caine is this perfect mix of bitter and polite, distant and vulnerable, that it works perfectly. 

There's also a lot of really good directing and cinematography involved - I of course nearly cried at the bombed marketplace scene (it's a really affecting scene in the book, too, and the only one that's all that violent overall, considering of course this is pre-American involvement), but the best scenes come shortly after that.  It starts when Fowler has invited Pyle to his apartment under the pretense of asking him to go to dinner.  This is really to give a signal that Pyle is going to be out alone, so that some Communists can "talk" to him - and lthough Fowler's assistant Hinh is the one who finally kills Pyle, it's a graceful touch of the storyline that Hinh does so not at all for Fowler, but because he is - on his own time, in his own self - a Communist sympathizer who sees Pyle's support of the third force a major threat, since the third force plans to blame all their destruction on Communists to undercut their credibility/rapport with the people.  Fowler and Pyle get into a big fight about what proper action in Vietnam is, and what lengths one should take to "save" Vietnam.... from Communism, from itself.  After Pyle says that "but in the long run it will all be worth it," (it meaning the bombs, the deaths) Fowler sends the signal. 

Yet right before Pyle steps out with his jovial, "I'll see you soon, Thomas," Fowler very clearly has a moment of doubt, telling him if some complication arises, to come right back to Fowler's place.  God, Caine played this moment brilliantly.  Of course, Pyle is ambushed and led into a dark alley, and scenes of him running panicked from his attackers are juxtaposed with scenes of Fowler sitting in an outdoor cafe, listening to an American acquaintance, a rabid and heretofore shallow womanizer, sob about his little boy back home, who has polio.  "I don't care if he's a cripple," the acquaintance cries, as Pyle runs straight into Hinh's knife, "I just want him to live!"  The whole thing is just perfectly rendered.  Reading the book I didn't have enough compassion for Pyle, but here I did. 
Aside from The Quiet American being a really satisfying work of fiction, it's of course a fairly astute allegory for this post-WWII period in colonialism - there's Fowler, the Briton at the end of his empire, clinging on to whatever compromises he can make, unwilling to pull out of a territory he's grown emotionally attached to.  And then there's Pyle, the American trying to start his own empire but vowing to do it better, do it cleaner, do it for the good of the people he'll be colonizing, "strong, clear-minded and blind," to quote Michael Gira.  This book about Roosevelt - The Juggler by Kimball - calls this period "late imperial romance," which I think is quite fitting. 

Lacking in The Quiet American is of course Vietnam's say in all of this, but Phuong in my opinion isn't too shabby of a representation of Vietnam, just as Fowler and Pyle are simplified representations of their home countries.  Phuong wants to move to London or America and live like "the royal family, actors and actresses," but she is wary of being left behind as so many of her friends have by their French "beaus."  Meanwhile, her sister, who I can only conclude is supposed to represent Thailand, is scheming to get her married off and secured.  Her actress, Do Thi Hai Yen, did a nice job with her, making Phuong seem much older and wiser and more complicated than either Fowler or Pyle are comfortable admitting*.  At the end Fowler gets his desired divorce (not mentioned in the movie) and stays in Vietnam with Phuong, who doesn't get to go to London but at least isn't abandoned, and they make their way clumsily to a very compromised happy ending.  And it's one that does come across as happy, in the book and in the movie.  Maybe it's because they're both such sympathetic characters.  Maybe it's because you do get the sense they genuinely care about each other, however messy and shitty the postcolonial dynamics of their relationship.  It's a rare story that manages to be simultaneously allegorical about these huge international issues and at the same time treat its characters like individual humans with individual human wants and needs. 

The other thing The Quiet American reminds us of is the fact that "the Vietnam War" was much bigger and began much earlier than the standard American definition, involved a lot more actors and was driven by many, many more motivations than an international Communist conspiracy.  It's the kind of stuff you'd think would be a given after all these years of staring at our metaphoric navel when it comes to "Vietnam," but these are conclusions that most Americans have not reached yet. 

And due to its political complexity, and the way that ties in with the character's personal lives (much better than say, Farewell to Arms, or more horribly, Madame Butterfly / Miss Saigon, a God awful, hegemony-enforcing storyline which I hate with all the fires of Dis, but that's for another day), this is the kind of book that I would recommend high schoolers read.  They can seek out a more thorough novel later.  But I was amused to read in wikipedia that "After its publication in the U.S. in 1956, the novel was widely condemned as anti-American. It was criticized by The New Yorker for portraying Americans as murderers, largely based on one scene in which a bomb explodes in a crowd of people."  And of course this was an understandable reaction, especially in 1956, when most Americans considered themselves far superior, morally, to imperial Europe.  But as Outkast would say, "I know you like to think your shit don't stank, but lean a little bit closer, see, roses really smell like poo."  Then we launched Pax Americana and promptly decided to save Vietnam from "a fate worse than death" (Communism) by literally ripping the skin off Vietnamese people's skin. 

It's fucking frightening that Greene wrote this book in 1955.  And the movie, through an ending montage of headlines (ostensibly written by Fowler) about the ensuing "Vietnam War" as Americans define it, really makes this clear.

*: I make fun of yellow fever as much as anyone else, but Pyle is way worse on that spectrum - he tells Fowler that he's in love with Phuong before he tells Phuong herself - to ask for his permission to take Phuong away to America, because of course she doesn't get a say at all - and when he does tell her he's all, "I've fallen in love with you.  I don't expect you to love me right away, but it'll come in time."  Oh, Pyle.  As you can see, the colonialism imagery in this love triangle is wonderfully pungent. 

Operation Enduring Freedom, anyone?

Also, it's apparently Blogging Against/About Colonialism Week here at my livejournal.
intertribal: (ceremony)
Apparently it was International Blog Against Racism Week last week, and [ profile] genrereviews had this thing about white-washing characters. So this brings us into RaceFail territory, which is basically a bunch of spec fic writers yelling at each other for their views on race and how they use it in their books, and dare I say it, white liberals worrying about how to Write the Other without offending other white liberals. I'm sorry, but there it is.

I have a very tumultuous relationship with race dialogues in fiction.  I'm not even going to get into the whole "right what you know/right what is worldly" debate now.  But I am going to say that I have very little respect for "multicultural books," regardless of whether they're written by a white person or a non-white person. This is not to say books that are about a non-white culture. This is to say books that make a fetish out of culture, race, ethnicity, whatever. These are books that are written as pseudo-cultural-travelogues for white people to read so they feel cultured. It is, to put it mildly, "pimping out your culture for middle-aged white women who want to read about something exotic."  Or in Elizabeth Gilbert's case, pimping out other people's cultures.  Either way, bad.  The plot is always something along the lines of "oh, how will I, a [insert non-Western country]-American/Brit, ever reconcile my modern Western culture of MTV and cellphones with my traditional [other country] culture of [insert an exotic spice] and arranged marriages? woe is me! i, forever torn between two worlds!" "India" books are really big right now. A while back, it was "China." I have a lot of gripes about these books:
- they are excruciatingly shallow
- they almost never involve countries with any significant political history (i.e., it's much rarer to find a "Korea" book, and even if there was a "Korea" book, I'd bet my bottom dollar there would be no commentary on the increasingly strained, uncomfortably close Korean-American diplomatic relationship, seeming to presume that politics and history don't have any manifestation on people's daily lives and self-conceptions, which while perhaps true for some people, is total BULLSHIT in general), automatically reducing any complexities to the tension, and allowing the author to...
- reduce every single goddamn character to their racial background (which is more often than not a big exercise in self-orientalizing), which is the worst thing these books do.

That said, almost all of my favorite books deal, in some way, with cross-cultural exchanges. A Passage to India (E.M. Forster), Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad), Season of Migration to the North (Tayeb Salih), Macho Camacho's Beat (Luis Rafael Sanchez). They just do it way differently - and the main difference is that they have respect for all their characters as human beings, and no character is defined by their race. They all have complete personalities and fucked-up psychologies and their relationship with their culture and other cultures is way more realistic and complicated than the ones offered by the motherfucking multicultural books. They don't sugarcoat the unpleasantness here - and yes, Amy Tan's books sugarcoat. Season of Migration to the North, which I really consider one of the best postcolonial books out there, is about a Sudanese economist sent to the London School of Economics to "make good." Now, if this was a "multicultural" book, he would have a lot of teenaged-level angst issues in his head that he ultimately keeps to himself, probably bring with him a Sudanese wife, and later have arguments with his kids about whether they can abandon Sudanese culture or not. It is not a "multicultural" book - he engages in a dramatic, insane affair with a British woman (also an intellectual) who regularly trashes all the stuff he brought from home, until during one of their fights she basically dares him to stab her and repay the insult the British paid to Sudan, basically "rape Britain back." Which he does. And goes to prison for years. He gets out, goes back to Sudan, marries a Sudanese woman, and then drowns himself in a river. The narrator, who also went to Britain to study (but kept a much lower profile), ultimately finds himself in that same river, wondering whether or not to let himself die. It's very dark but also very point-blank honest about exactly what these issues are all about. It's not about race. It's about humiliation, control, power, masculinity, etc. It's not about the motherfucking saffron. If you watch, these books barely ever go into such bullshit, harmless descriptions of culture. 

Colonialism - say it with me - was a fucking cancer upon the world. Cross-cultural exchanges have a very long and oftentimes very violent, horrible history. Reducing your characters to shallow teenagers wondering about whether to order curry or hamburgers is: a) ultimately dishonest, b) skirting the issues instead of tackling them, such that when people do try to tackle them they're dismissed as "whiners" who "can't let go" of things like colonialism, and c) piss poor literature to top it off. And I think that's why a lot of people hate multicultural literature (of course, some people can't read about people from non-Western countries, but that's a different problem) - it's bad, and it's contrived.  And at its worst, it actually reinforces the old ~cult of the exotic~.  Ouch.

p.s.  A funny story about cross-cultural exchanges in fiction.  When my parents were dating, my mother had to have surgery on a tumor in her thyroid.  Both my parents had read Pramoedya Ananta Toer's "Bumi Manusia" series (we own the whole series in both English and Indonesian), about an Indonesian "kampung boy" who goes off to the West to study.  Apparently at some point the main character's white love interest dies of some illness.  And obviously my dad was also a "kampung boy" who went off to the West to study and met my mom.  So my dad before the surgery was all like, "OMG you remember in Bumi Manusia..." and my mom was like, "why the fuck are you bringing that up now?!"  Anyway.  I should also note that because of all this, A Season of Migration to the North emotionally bludgeoned me.  It bears mention that there is always a way out of the cancer, though it may be rare.
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