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2009 Is Over — Again

Monday, December 28, 2009
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This year is over again, for the first time, every time.  Someone pointed out that there shouldn’t be any decade-end best-of lists yet because the decade isn’t over until next year is over.  That person is correct.  So we’ve all just been wasting our time.  Shame.

Did I encounter anything enormously exciting or relatively ground-breaking this year?  Exciting, yes; ground-breaking, don’t think so.  The things I did really like were more backwards looking than not, though that seems to actually be a bit of a trend right now (so trendy, I am), and the things that all the ‘experts’ said were the best were things that I usually just found okay.

In reality, there’s really no need to do this post at all, because I have nothing all that interesting to point out, but it’s became a year-end tradition so it’s gotta happen.

And I’ve extended that intro just enough to get me past the bottom of the sexy-legs-walking-into-the-new-year picture so that the post formats itself properly, so I think I’m finally ready to begin.

Three 6 Mafia @ Luxy, New Year’s Eve

I’m actually going to start this by going back to the final day of last year/first day of this year; yes, this turned out to be my first entertainment experience of 2009, and it turned out to be mightily embarrassing.  Remember a while back some unknown rap group won an Oscar and everybody joked about it for a day-and-a-half and then no one ever heard from them again?  Ever wonder what happens to ‘musicians’ like that four or five years down the line?  They come to Taipei for Luxy’s year-end party.

It could have been okay, of course — no reason they couldn’t have put on a good show.  Except that it was totally, completely, blatantly apparent that the sole reason they were there was to try and get laid.  During their whole set they would spend at least five minutes between each song (obviously way too much downtime between songs at a show — makes the listener lose interest reeeeeeal quick) scanning the crowd and then trying to pull the most attractive Taiwanese girls they saw up on stage to ‘dance’ with them (you can see something of this in the above video); so while that was obvious and lame, it actually got kinda funny when a bunch of — ahem — rotund, not-attractive white girls jumped up and started — ahem — flaunting their assets.  There was a moment where you could literally see a bitter, soul-crushed disappointment written all over the face of one of the ‘Mafia’ that was actually quite hilarious in its patheticness.  By half-way through the set, a good chunk of the main-room had vacated to the smaller, electronic music room, the first time I’d ever seen the big room so empty.

So my point?  They sucked.

Reactions from India and the Indian Diaspora to Slumdog Millionaire

I didn’t see this movie until this year, after it had won Best Picture; while I thought it was decent, what I actually found more interesting was the criticism directed at it in regards to the above title, which can be found here.

While most Western and some Indian critics gave positive reviews to the film (the Indian critics pointed out how it really is quite similar to any run-of-the-mill Bollywood movie), many others in India and the Indian diaspora panned it, but only some of them for good reasons.  Salmon Rushdie, for example, criticized it as having “a patently ridiculous conceit”:

I have problems with the story line . . . it just couldn’t happen. I’m not averse to magic realism but there has to be a level of plausibility, and I felt there were three or four moments in the film where the storyline breached that rule . . . [also] an Indian film director making a movie about New York low-life and saying that he had done so because he knew nothing about New York and had indeed never been there . . . would have been torn limb from limb by critical opinion. But for a first world director to say that about the third world is considered praiseworthy, an indication of his artistic daring. The double standards of post-colonial attitudes have not yet wholly faded away.

Now, the last part of Rushdie’s statement there is untrue, since Lars von Trier has been doing exactly that for years and doing just fine for himself, and I believe that the younger generations are actually long out of the shadow of post-colonialism, so that’s not a good example to try and use; but for the rest of it, whether you agree or disagree with his argument, at least he’s trying to back it up with critical analysis about magical realism.

But some of the criticism fell exactly into that decades-outmoded tripe about post-colonialism and ‘the white man telling us how to see ourselves.’  Professor Vrinda Nabar, the former chair of English at the University of Mumbai:

. . . the film ignores the ‘complexity’ of Mumbai as a city in which sensitivity coexists with despair, commitment with indifference, activism with inaction, and humanism with the inhumane.

Guess what professor . . . that could describe any city on the planet.  And it was only a two-hour movie — what do you want?

This one’s probably the dumbest; what a shock it comes from someone living in Canada (we’ve been raised on post-colonialism like mother’s milk for the last twenty or thirty years) — Professor Mitu Sengupta, Department of Politics & Public Administration at Ryerson University:

In the end, Slumdog presents a profoundly dehumanizing view of the poor, with all its troubling political implications. Since there are no internal resources, and none capable of constructive voice or action, all ‘solutions’ must arrive externally. After a harrowing life in an anarchic wilderness, salvation finally comes to Jamal in the form of an imported quiz-show, which he succeeds in thanks only to ‘destiny.’ Must other unfortunates, like the stoic Jamal, patiently await their own destinies of rescue by a foreign hand? While this self-billed ‘feel good movie of the year’ may help us ‘feel good’ that we are among the lucky ones on earth, it delivers a patronizing, colonial and ultimately sham statement on social justice for those who are not.

Complete old-fashioned, backwards, anachronistic, unoriginal tripe.  You couldn’t find something more directly from an essay on post-colonialism written thirty years ago if you tried.  The ‘Internet Generation’ does not think this way; today, everything is local and so everything is fair game and not many things actually feel ‘foreign’ anymore.  And of course aid for the poor has to come externally — the fact that the vehicle for that in the movie was an ‘imported quiz-show’ was just for fantastic and entertainment purposes.  While that made the film somewhat silly, it’s certainly not ‘patronizing,’ and again, how is that different from many Bollywood films?  Grow up, people.

Ip Man

It’s a name — family name ‘Ip,’ one syllable (葉), given name ‘Man’ (問), and he looks like a nice enough fellow:

You might not expect that this guy was a martial arts master, and was famously the one who taught Bruce Lee.  Basically, what made him unique was that he was the first to teach the gong-fu style of Wing Chun (which I guess back at that time was somewhat secretive) openly; and when you’re this unique, you know it’s only a matter of time before they make a broody movie about you staring Donnie Yen.

I liked the movie, if only because it was made to be ‘realistic’ and not just a carbon-copy Wuxia film like so many others.  It does, however, suffer a little bit from the problem that most (if not all) Chinese/Hong Kong films do nowadays: rampant government censorship means that everything must be overtly pro-Chinese, pro-family and pro-brotherhood.

The film takes place during the early 1940s, when China was occupied by Japanese forces, and there’s that same-old China vs. Japan undercurrent throughout the film that you see in many other (political) areas (though, again, it’s not really an undercurrent — probably should say and ‘overcurrent’).  So when we get to the final showdown between Ip Man, with his Chinese gong-fu, versus the Japanese guy with his karate, there’s no doubt who’s going to win, but the way in which it goes down is a little laughable.  That being said, I remember there actually was a bit of introspection involved in the form of things like Chinese collaborators with the Japanese occupation forces, and how that played out; it’s something like this that does in fact give this movie more balance than others I’ve seen, and why I can recommend it.  Here’s the trailer:

iTunes U

iTunes University is the greatest thing since university.  Free podcasts of real lectures from anywhere in the world.  Free knowledge about anything you want, from philosophy, to political science, to astronomy.  It’s been the only thing keeping me sane on those long train and bus rides back and forth to Hsinchu twice a week.  Some of them are even a series of video podcasts; the best one is from this guy (stop it after 15 secs):

Okay, I know what you must be thinking after 15 secs . . . what’s with that shirt?  Well, it’s from 1996.  Also — this guy looks boring as shit.  But he’s not (it’s like he’s Joss Whedon’s long-lost brother); and, once you get to the classroom portion of this video, and then get pulled into the series as a whole, you find that he’s massively entertaining and instructive in the way that only a really good teacher is.  The topic itself, Classical Mythology, is something I’d always been interested in but had thought of as too daunting and time consuming to really get into, but this has made it quite easy, and I can now easily name the Twelve Olympian gods, know the differences between them, and look for katabasis myths in everything from religion (which is quite heavily loaded with them) to comic books (also quite heavily loaded with them).  What’s a katabasis myth?  Well, of course I’m going to say download the lecture series and find out for yourself.  Of course I’m going to say that.

Each lecture is about 40 mins, and there are 38 of them, so obviously this is a time-consuming procedure (I’m only about half-way through myself), but well worth it.

Music

Apparently I don’t know from music.  To me, there is one, and only one, blatantly, blatantly obvious choice for the best album of the year.  Manners by Passion Pit.

Okay, I know that Sleepyhead first appeared on last year’s EP Chunk of Change, but it’s on Manners too, and it’s by far my favourite song of this year (and many other years), so I threw it here first.  I still literally get chills up my spine at that moment, about 27 secs in, when the really low-end beat and clapping comes in, and it feels like the whole planet is vibrating within a perfect, sexy groove; and while many people have complained about his singing, to me, going that high, using that range, provides a massively strong and powerful contrast between the vocals and music, something that most musicians don’t actually dare or think of to do.

As for Manners itself, there’s no filler — all eleven songs are fantastic, though The Reeling stands out.

There was a point during the summer where I listened to this album non-stop, and only after a couple of weeks did I start mixing in other albums between listens.  I still listen to it about twice-a-week.  Sure, it’s very ’80s, but I just absolutely love it, and I don’t know how anyone could not love it — I actually thought, “ha, I’ll finally have pegged something that Pitchfork says.”  When the year-end best list came out, I casually strolled over to the number one entry, 100% fully confident to see Manners there, and was honestly floored to find it was Animal Collective‘s Merriweather Post Pavillion.

Really?  I mean, this album is okay, but to me it’s very forced and constructed, and it doesn’t have a lot of energy.  And, the song My Girls, which they laud as the best song of the year too, even lyrically, is to me so banal that aside from the little hook in the chorus it would be pretty forgettable:

But the words:

I don’t mean to seem like I
Care about material things,
Like a social status,
I just want
Four walls and adobe slats
For my girls

I really must shake my head.  If the supposed ‘best alternative musicians’ of the year are singing about their kids and getting mortgages, what’s going to be left for Taylor Swift to pop on about when she turns 25?  And the way that he squishes the word ‘status’ into one syllable, so that it sounds like ‘stats,’ still really irritates me every time I hear it.

So that was a disappointment, and I went searching for Manners . . . can’t be far away.  Hmm — Phoenix at eight; well, that album is okay too, but mostly pretty straight-forward jangle pop, nothing special.  Fever Ray at nine — haven’t had a chance to listen to it yet, but I love The Knife, so I assume this deserves to be there, Yeah Yeah Yeah‘s at twelve, should be higher, but where the fuck is Passion — 34???  Unbelievable.  So yeah, according to the ‘cool people’ I still don’t know shit; but then, the ‘cool people’ are now doing reports for ABC News, being introduced by 55-year-old anchors who have no idea what they’re talking about, reviewing albums by highlighting which of the artist’s songs has previously been used in a lite-beer commercial.

So maybe they don’t know from cool anymore, either (btw, the new Dodos sounds kinda shit).

Okay, I’m done ranting.

2010.  The Year The World Looked Nothing Like The Movie of the Same Name.

Thrilling.
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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Wednesday, December 30, 2009 12:15 pm

    Here’s another recommendation:

    Washed Out

  2. tgjkennedy permalink
    Wednesday, January 13, 2010 2:51 pm

    Was the lite-beer commercial a reference to the Dodos? Because I love that commercial. Haven’t heard their new stuff though… still fixated on Visiter.

    • Friday, January 15, 2010 1:16 am

      But remember the days when you lost all credibility by selling out?

      Oh, good old times . . .

  3. Wednesday, January 20, 2010 9:11 pm

    Just found out I share a birthday with Mr. Man. And Jimmy Carter.

    That’s an interesting mix.

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