Archive for December, 2011

Persepolis (TheByteScene Review)

3.5 Marxist-Comic-Books out of 4

Marjane Satrapi is an Iranian artist, woman, and thinker, and I must make it abundantly clear that the previous statement was not meant to discredit or demean her. Instead, the aforementioned statement must be used as a distinguishing factor for an individual such as herself, especially considering her history, and background. Her graphic novel series, Persepolis, details her life starting at the age of nine, until the age of 24 when she decides to leave Iran for France.

The details are quite intricate; Satrapi and her family were victims of almost every contemporary revolution experienced by Iran. The installation of the Shahs, the Western attempts to control Iranian oil, the vicious attacks by Saddam Hussein, and the subsequent intervention of America are all political backdrops that serve to only benefit the coming of age story within the pages of her black and white production. Interestingly enough, while the art style is rudimentary and basic, the writing reflects a far greater understanding and comprehension of a philosophically and politically unstable word that it would first let on.

Satrapi discusses her personal experiences in quick snippets for each time period and event, never spending too much time reflecting on any one topic, asking the reader to acknowledge and analyze the implications of each situation. A scene that comes to mind details Satrapi’s early experience with faith (from the first novel), where she considers becoming a prophet when she grows up. Quite some time is spent analyzing this plot point, and showcasing the inner war that occurs within Satrapi. The reader is forced to understand her inner conflict, and the difficulties she faces from those around her. It’s quickly revealed that her parents believe that she is isn’t ill or deluded, but merely expressing a simple childhood desire. Her school officials reprobate her for having foolish, impossible, and sacrilegious dreams. She remains unconvinced, and a stubborn determination manifests itself with nightly talks to a bearded figure in white (Satrapi’s childhood representation of God).

Satrapi ages, and as her character grows, so too does the turmoil within Iran; it’s at this point that her messianic dreams end. Her nightly chats with the Almighty conclude, and her beliefs shift toward politics, revolution, and the doctrine of philosophers and great thinkers. Its clear that Satrapi rejects the ideals placed upon her country by the so-called “Revolutionaries” that constantly make their precense known and it’s clear that she greatly disagrees with their principles. Her family’s defiance only further serves to accentuates the novels’ themes of freedom in a similar way; Satrapi, both as a child and adult, attends parties almost once a week; she drinks, and smokes (as do her parents) and she listens to Rock and Roll and Punk music as a sign of rebellion.

It’s interesting to behold Persepolis reveal the true side of political upheaval, the kind that cannot be gathered or determined by watching newsreels, the kind that can can only be identified by having lived through similar moments. Despite the fact that Satrapi’s family constantly lives in fear of persecution, they continue to act defiantly and maintain the lifestyles they held before the revolution. They throw parties, they listen to loud music, they protest in the streets, they challenge their governments.

Satrapi and her family yearns for freedom, but most importantly, they yearn for a country where their leaders do not condemn their people for wanting the basic rights that the Western world has come to very rarely appreciate. This comparison between Eastern and Western values isn’t truly made present until the conclusion of the first novel, and the introduction of the second (and final) one.

Sent to Vienna by her parents for a better education Satrapi finds friends in a small group of Anarchists. She learns that they are nothing more than teenagers desiring to rebel against the definitions of society and her tryst with her new-found friends ends as soon as it begins. Her experiences with her school friends make her wary, and her fears of abandoning her Eastern values in favour of more open Western ones become clear and she stays with a friend after being told to leave her Hostel by racist nuns. Her ability to voice such fears in short sentences and even briefer images is remarkable; once again, Satrapi doesn’t dwell on any individual experience and speeds past them like a parent would their child; not enough that it terrifies them, but just enough that it makes an impact.

In fact, it’s this speed of delivery that truly makes the novels worth reading; they contain so much detail and information, that even though finishing one book only took me an hour, I’m still analyzing the pages (and I finished reading the books two weeks ago). Whether it’s due to a personal fault, or a literary achievement is yet to be determined, though it can safely be said that Satrapi is more than capable of condensing strong philosophical ideas within a series of two or three pictures, and one or two succinct sentences.

Of course, Satrapi’s story is one that involves her coming of age, and even though she experiences several near death scenarios over the course of the entire first novel and half of the second, Satrapi doesn’t truly mature until the conclusion of her story. She returns to Iran after being stuck on Austrian streets for two months (having lived a homeless life), attends and graduates from a top Iranian Design College, gets married and subsequently divorced (three years later), and only achieves a state of maturity once she decides to travel to France. Her decision to finally leave Iran is interesting, as the departure mirrors that of the first novel, though with a single difference: it is her choice.

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK

Nitpicking; One Step Forward In A Three Step Intellectual Cycle To Distinguish Between General and Genuine Negativity

There are three steps that every aspect of human civilization adheres to; this hereby named “Intellectual” cycle, involves the understanding of a topic, its deconstruction and, finally, the reconstruction of something new or old, based on the the prior two steps. In terms of accomplishing anything, the first two steps are incredibly easy to achieve; understanding something and breaking it down to its core tenements is simple and straightforward. Using those same core tenements to actually create something new that exceeds the expectations of the prior two steps, actually reconstructing something from its core parts, is by far the most difficult thing to do.

Under any circumstance, whether it involves creating life, a novel, a movie, a song, or a psychological theory based on early Freudian teachings that doesn’t dwell on human sexuality, actually using one’s knowledge to create something is, for some people, almost impossible. The difficulties lie not only in overcoming one’s imagination and actively using it to determine their goals, but to also overcome the obstacles set up by those around the creator. In the most basic of terms, after an individual has overcome their own flaws, they must then overcome the flaws and difficulties set up by the people around them. The common words of failure “It’ll never work,” “It’s impossible,” “It’s never been done before,” “Trust me, I know it can’t be done” are relatively minor when heard in reference to something, but even more powerful once applied to a more personal level.

As children growing up within the Canadian school system, my fellow students and I were frequently told about a teaching in child psychology that discussed the effects of positive and negative words on an individual’s psyche and development. In essence, the theory discussed the long lasting effects of good and bad things people say about us; words with a positive connotation “I know you can do it,” “You are capable and more than adept,” and even “I believe in you” would have a shorter lasting effect than their polar opposites. “You can’t do it,” for example, would stay in a person’s mind longer than “You can do it” for the obvious reason that the human mind has a hard time dealing with adversity. Notice that I use the word mind, and not brain, because I speak from a purely psychological and not neurological perspective; being told that one is incapable has a longer lasting effect than being told that one is capable because of a neurological reason, though that would only serve to explain the psychological one. This theory was often referred to as the 10:1 principle, in that it would take 10 good things to override a single bad action.

Of course, the logic is sound and the reasoning behind the theory is even more so because it’s absolutely true that the hurtful words last longer than the kind words, even if there is only a single hurtful word. Quite frankly, I’ve come to enjoy criticism, not because of any reason, but because it helps me understand those around me, and the expectations certain pieces of work demand. Mind, criticism is not a negative thing, and it’s only hurtful when it stops being criticism; it’s very easy to say something is terrible, though stating why something is terrible is a far more appropriate direction to take. After all, distinguishing between general negativity and genuine negativity is the only way one can hope to understand something and, more importantly, reconstruct something from this understanding.

The difference between the two pillars is minute, as it only takes a lack of distinguished reason for a genuinely negative comment to become general. For a more detailed understanding, allow me to use Transformers 3; saying that the aforementioned movie was dreadful is an example of general negativity. Notice the distinct lack of any distinguishing reason for my opinion; I didn’t discuss it’s flaws in acting, plot, or even its ability to take away the fun from a fight involving giant robots from space, because that would be genuine negativity. Therefore, as mentioned earlier, Transformers 3 is a dreadful movie because of it’s flaws in acting, plot, and even its ability to take away the fun from a fight involving giant robots from space.

Interestingly enough, for some, the latter statement would merely be one designed to point out already existing flaws that can be disregarded. The meticulous details analyzed and brought up are merely meticulous details, and to anyone who went to have their bran lobotomized by Michael Bay’s third travesty, they are trivial and almost insignificant. In short, I’d be nitpicking if I spent time trying to point out the flaws within the movie because it’s a bad movie anyway, and specifically discussing why it’s a bad movie would be a pointless and trivial endeavour.

I, however, absolutely and utterly disagree with the notion that nitpicking is useless to the intellectual cycle (because it’s technically part of the Understanding stage) specifically because nitpicking is one of the only ways that true progress can be made with anything; assuming, of course, that a long term solution is being analyzed, instead of a short term one designed to fail within a few applications, but has only been designed as a short term solution to a long term solution.

Nitpicking, named because it involves meticulously finding and removing nits from an individuals clothes, hair, and so forth, is not trivial, and furthermore, is not pointless. Nitpicking, in essence, is a meticulous attention to detail that can only be respected and thought of in a positive light. In short, nitpicking is the miniscule attention to detail that every human being should strive to achieve exactly because it’s one step closer to the colloquial level of “Perfection” that may try to embrace (regardless of how impossible it is to be “Perfect”). Nitpicking is vital, because it really does form the difference between general and genuine negativity; it’s the difference between hurting someone, and criticizing them. It’s the difference between saying something cruel, with no thought behind it, and saying something that can lead to the betterment of an intellectual property, or human being. Nitpicking, in summation, is editing, and understanding so the intellectual cycle can continue forward, past understanding and deconstruction and towards reconstruction and creation (from an absolutely universal level).

As always, it’s a matter of opinion (and this next paragraph is bad opining) because there are those who disagree with the aforementioned view on nitpicking. Nitpicking, to many, is not a form of good editing or good thinking, but is merely designed to point out minor, almost inherent flaws that would exist within something anyway. It’s not the difference between general and genuine negativity and is, instead, a form of general negativity. To some, nitpicking is pointing out flaws within something good for a purely negative reason; it’s to be hurtful, not logical or intellectual.

Quite frankly, I can’t agree with this point of view because humans must continue to nitpick the minor details, and we must continue to strive to pay attention to every meticulous detail. Otherwise, there would be no point, especially if everything is done for the big picture, because the big picture doesn’t take into account individual intellectualism, but merely a crass generalization that even Spock’s utilitarian line regarding the good of the many cannot justify.

In short, even if one views nitpicking from nothing more than a utilitarian point-of-view, there can be no doubt that the meticulous attention to detail that it provides produces benefits that far outweighs the hindrances of merely looking at a faulty big picture.

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-Ek

My Ideas; With Help From Lazlo Bane and Bill Lawrence

Since the blog’s inception, there have been a set of rules I’ve been trying my hardest to adhere to. The chief of which being to never begin an article with “Since the blog’s inception;” the second, far more important rule is that I never mention how long it’s been since the last article, first because it’s bad writing, and, second, because my imaginary audience is more than capable of determining how long it’s been by following the rules set out by basic addition (and a generous understanding of how the Gregorian calendar’s inner workings). That being said, because I’ve already broken the first rule, I might as well break the second rule (but only to serve as an explanation, and a compliment to the destruction of the primary rule); it’s been about 11 days since I last wrote an article, and I wasn’t on hiatus.

No, really, I wasn’t on hiatus and my reason for not writing it wasn’t even the fact that I didn’t have enough time to (because I did). I simply didn’t have any strong ideas to work with. Now that I reread that last sentence, however, even that fact isn’t true, because I did have ideas; very many, very strong, and (ultimately) very poorly planned out ideas. Interestingly enough, today’s dilemma isn’t so much that my introduction is weak, but that I don’t have an introduction at all, let alone a following series of paragraphs to go along with the original introduction. Suffice it to say, I didn’t have very many well fleshed out ideas; instead, I had a few notes written here and there about reviews I’d like to write, and general observations I’d like to include – all in all, certainly nothing substantial, and even less to work with.

Quickly moving forward, however, I spent the last month-and-a-half watching a television program that’s already over 10 years old. For the past month-and-a-half, I spent almost 2 hours a day watching Bill Lawrence’s Scrubs, a medical comedy/drama about doctors working at a teaching hospital. The main plot follows Jonathan “JD” Dorian, a newly hired medical intern and his time at Sacred Heart Teaching Hospital (a fictional hospital that’s later demolished to serve as the med school in the spin-off 9th season), and the absurdities that he encounters not only with his patients, but also with his coworkers, the people that we call our doctors and nurses.

Suffice it to say, the doctors hate being doctors (but they love being called doctors and saving lives), the patients are more-or-less cardboard cutouts of various angels and demons (but are always well acted by the show’s wide cast of supporting characters), and the tone of the series shifts frequently. Some episodes are funny on a spleen-rupturing level, while others are heartwarming in a way that actually makes its viewers feel (quite literally) warm and mushy on the inside. Interestingly enough, it’s this clear and evident split between humour and drama that drew so much heavy criticism to the show. Good art (whether literary, visual, or musical) should be able to combine all of its elements into a single fluid entity. Contrarily, Scrubs had a habit of balancing the humour and comedy of a situation a pin point; a single exhalation could have brought the entire show down. It’s quite interesting to note that even the worst episodes were absolute pleasures to watch.

Despite the criticism, I absolutely loved the show (take my opinion with a grain of salt, of course) and it’s become my favourite television program of either the past, or the present (the future is such a touchy subject these days, I find), and I absolutely recommend Scrubs, regardless of the shortcomings it faces in later seasons. For a moment, however, allow me to return to my original point and briefly mention the irony of spending two hours a day (on weekends, sometimes more; quite often more) watching a show where the main plot always revolves around people’s lives on the line; it seems quite absurd that I’d be unable to expand on any of the ideas brought up within the realm of the show.

The truth of the matter is that I cannot say that I learned nothing from Scrubs and it’s even more difficult for me to say that I hadn’t thought about discussing some of the universal themes that are brought up. In my defence, I ried my hardest to isolate the single most important theme to the show and one can only imagine how difficult it was to do that considering that every episode analyzes relationships, stress, human health, life (and it’s nuances), death (and it’s absolute qualities), the pointlessness of war, the difficulty of maintaining a religious outlook in an increasingly nonreligious world, the difficult of maintaining a belief in anything in an environment where losing life occurs every few hours, the importance of family and friends, and (of course) Hugh Jackman’s failings as an actor, singer, songwriter, and over all human being.

I really can’t say that I learned nothing from Scrubs because every minute I spent watching the show, I was forced to think about common day schools of thought, and how meaningless certain outlooks can become to the people who are forced to pick between sacrificing the life of another human being, sacrificing their careers, and sacrificing their sanity (doctors are far more than walking diagnostics textbooks; they are still human, after all). Interestingly enough, while listing off every idea I gathered by watching Scrubs, I found a central point that was evident in every piece of the show’s dogma: No one can do it all on their on, after all, one is no superman.

Those words are part of the slighted edited chorus of the show’s opening theme (Superman by Lazlo Bane). In the most direct way possible (it’s often outright stated by the characters), no matter what the circumstances are, no matter who the person is, and no matter where they may exist, it is absolutely impossible for any human being to tackle the nuances of existence on their own (and, therefore, without the help of those around them). Whether this defence against loneliness stems from basic acquaintanceship, to a more intricate friendship, or even a sophisticated romantic relationship, human beings require companionship to be able to acknowledge their existences (anyone who states otherwise is either Psychotic, Sociopathic, or Lying).

Within the realm of the show, the childish, immature (and apparently fantastic doctor) JD is repeatedly unable to go a single day without spending time with his best friend (and equally immature yet fantastic) Christopher “Turk” Turk. Furthermore, he constantly tries to gain the approval of his self proclaimed mentor Percival “Perry” Ulysses Cox (Yes, his middle name is really Ulysses), all the while struggling to acquire the respect of Turk’s wife Carla Turk (Ne’ Espinosa), and the love of a wild string of girls (culminating, in a horribly written, yet adorable to watch romance and subsequent marriage to Elliot Reid, a neurotic doctor who later moves into private practice as the show progress).

Quickly let the fact that these characters are all based on real people sink in. Then let the fact that all doctors, no matter how skilled and talented in whichever specialty they choose, are human and, more-or-less, prone to just as many fits of rage, heartache, fear, depression, joy, and passion as the average human (One finds a funny feeling once they find out that the fictional JD is based on a close med student friend of Bill Lawrence).

Returning to the prior point, the show’s main character is repeatedly told by all of his coworkers that it is impossible to succeed as a doctor (and a human being) without the help of the people that surround him. Even the cold and emotionally damaged Dr. Cox (who is the most terrifying human conceivable, but best doctor imaginable) is incapable of doing any good in his convoluted mess of a work place without the unknown aid of the hospital’s hated (and later adored) Chief of Medicine, Robert “Bob” Kelso.

In fact, on the topic of the insane Dr. Cox, he later falls back in love with his Ex-Wife, Jordan Sullivan, has two children with her (Jennifer Dylan “JD” and Jack “Jackie” Cox) and spends the rest of the series dolloping out relationship advice to the show’s characters, all the while enjoying the love, adoration, and attention shown to him by his family. Suffice it to say, even the most difficult of characters (to be taken literally, in the context of the show, and proverbially, in the context of human nature) needs other people to function.

The main question finally becomes, how does this all relate to my original point regarding my ideas? It’s quite simple really, ideas are some of the most powerful concepts in the universe (quite literally, at that). They are bullet-proof, flame-retardant, water-proof, hazard-proof, and death-proof. The only thing that can defeat an idea is another idea, and even then, only until another idea replaces the first. There is no circumstance where an idea is weak and there are no bad ideas, only bad people, and there are no stupid ideas, only foolish people. In that regard, there are two things that remain in a human being when all else is lost: hope for an idea for a better future, and an idea to get out of the mess that forced them to think up these ideas in the first place.

It is absolutely impossible to not have an idea, especially when one finds themselves saying “I have no idea.” I, for example, always had ideas, but what I didn’t have was an easy way of projecting them in a literary manner. Incidentally enough, I’ve also been spending more and more time revealing my thoughts and feelings to people around me, and I’ve also come to accept that there is no way I can do anything entirely on my own, without some help or support (in every sense of these words) from my friends, family, and the people around me. That being said, it also helps to open up my thoughts and ideas to myself, and that’s why I’ve once again started planning out all of my article ideas in the note book I carry around with me everywhere I go. After all, how else am I going to write 3 page articles about my ideas without first accepting that I can’t close myself off from other ideas?

After all, I can’t do it all on my own; because I know, I’m no Superman.

As always, this has been your Admin the Avid Blogger; comment, criticize, and subscribe, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK