Archive for March, 2012

Music and Lyrics; I Like Pop Music, but I Cannot Stand Pop Lyrics

Taylor Swift’s powerful song of unrequited love, and the pain it brings to those that experience it, You Belong With Me, to this day remains one of my least favourite songs. The first article I ever wrote for TheByteDaily was a poorly worded deconstruction of the song that ended because I was left ill and fatigued at the lyrics, and because, had I continued writing another poorly placed word, I would have never created more articles. My original problems with the song still remain, and while I’ve grown to be able to handle listening to the piece when it’s played in supermarkets, malls, shops, and other public locations, I’m still entirely unable to listen to it without cringing a little. The problem isn’t so much the music that accompanies the piece because, quite frankly, I can deal with the rhythm and tempo, and I’m rather fond of the introductory acoustics. My resentment lies within the lyrics of the piece; the actual words that Swift chose to include bring me to my knees whenever I hear them, simply because they’re so poorly chosen and put together.

It’s not just Taylor Swift that has this problem, since many other “Young” artists have a similar dilemma; their music is catchy, and is very “Pop,” even if the genre they try to appeal to isn’t. I enjoyed listening to Selena Gomez when she first arrived on the Disney scene, and while she wasn’t my number one choice in quality, I didn’t mind hearing Miley Cyrus on the radio, or in stores when her music played. The keyword here being “Music,” because, quite frankly, no matter how good the tune of a piece might have been, the aforementioned artists couldn’t string together a series of words to form a coherent sentence if all of their Grammy and Teen Choice Awards nominations were being held hostage and, therefore, depended on it. Hilariously, the reason that their music is catchy and “Pop” is the same reason that ruins their songs entirely: the lyrics are dreadful.

Of course, it’s wrong of me to blindly attack the Disney artists for their poor lyrics, because a similar problem is evident in their non-Disney affiliated peers, and counterparts (though finding such an ensemble becomes more and more difficult as time moves forward). I’ve repeatedly spoken about my dislike for certain Bruno Mars pieces, despite my adoration for the artist’s voice. In a very strange way, he reminds me of a young Streisand; perhaps not so much his vocal range or his ability to dramatically tear apart gender roles, and certainly not his ability to enchant and entrance viewers and audiences alike, but certainly because his music speaks to me in an oddly similar way. That being said, I still think that Grenade is one of the worst songs ever written, even though it gets stuck in my head every time I have the misfortune of hearing it.

In stark contrast to the lyrics of the aforementioned Pop artists is a certain Beyonce Knowles single from her I am…Sasha Fierce album.

The piece, If I Were a Boy, is a lyrical representation of a girl’s broken heart that discusses the merits and demerits of being a woman, especially when it comes to the double standards that are used to judge males and females on their behaviour. Throughout the song, Beyonce’ discusses how, should she have been born male, her actions and choices would be the antithesis to the almost lewd behaviour that many males deem the norm. The song is told from the point-of-view of a girl with a broken heart at the hands of an adulterous male who may be her husband, or boyfriend (or even a close male friend who has lost her trust) and is an incredibly powerful piece to listen to. Within the span of its introductory minute, the song deals with gender issues including public appearance, adhering to social norms, and existing within preconceived social conventions. If my words indicate any bias towards Beyonce, allow me to quell the speculation: I truly think that Beyonce is one of the most powerful artists to exist (whether female, or male), and I genuinely believe that she will continue to be so.

Interestingly, the accompanying music video provides a visual representation to bring the music together. Starring Knowles as a female police officer, and NFL player Eddie Goines as her loving husband, the video works with all of the stereotypes and social paradigms that exist within the realm of a misbehaving spouse, except that the genders are reversed. While normally one would expect the man to be the cheater, and the woman the one cheated on, the video shows Beyonce as the adulterous spouse. Until the climax of the video where the role reversal is revealed and the cheater unmasked, the viewer watches as Beyonce flirts with her coworkers, ignores phone calls from her husband, ignores him at breakfast as he dotes on her, and so forth. Obviously, the song’s message is made incredibly clear for any listener who couldn’t discern the theme from the lyrics alone. In every sense of the word, the music video is a short film, and while there is little dialogue present, the lyrics fill the gaps almost perfectly.

Compared to the previously discussed Pop artists whose lyrics can be summed up as catchy and almost insulting to any listener, Beyonce’s words have meaning and substance. They resonate with the listener and provide a story with all the necessary elements to entertain their audience, and they strongly deliver. I’m not saying that If I Were A Boy is Beyonce’s best song, because it isn’t, but it’s definitely a good song, with strong lyrics and equally strong music to back it all up. It remains catchy, but is also hauntingly poetic, and while it can’t be denied that it is just another tiresome love song, it’s a fantastic tiresome love song. It’s because of this that my point isn’t “I dislike Pop music,” because I love Pop music. Ironically, I almost have to like Pop music specifically because it’s Popular. If I didn’t like Pop, it wouldn’t be Pop so much as Unpop, and the radio wouldn’t spend so much time trying to hammer in the point that I should be listening.

I digress, however, because my point isn’t that I dislike Pop music; my point is that I dislike Pop lyrics, compared to the very catchy music that forms the tunes to some absolutely abysmal lyrics. Therein, incidentally lies the problem: the songs are written to be catchy, and it’s very rare that well chosen lyrics form catchy songs, especially when left in the hands of money hungry recording studios trying their best to brand and franchise another artist that, without the Disney label, would simply be in school studying basic algebra like every other student their age.

At one point, I considered mentioning that the typical song is now three minutes and 30 seconds long, and not very many good stories can be told in such a short time, but then I realized that the length of a composition has nothing to do with it’s ability to bring tears to the eyes of its listeners. At two minutes and 57 seconds, for example, Etta James’ At Last still manages to bring a teary whisper to my eyes in the short time it has to do so. It’s certainly no eight minute Stairway to Heaven or even a 26 minute long Shine On You Crazy Diamond, pieces with lengths that rival those of television shorts and programs, respectively, but it still gets the job done. A wonderful story is weaved in a short time, with strong lyrics to make a strong point.

It’s not that music is getting worse, because it’s not. On an astounding level that mirrors the direction the film industry has taken, music has evolved to suit two markets: the niche that is was original designed for, and everyone else. If an artist hopes to succeed, they have to make sure their work is good, because otherwise, they’ll be discussed and absolutely shredded within the public domain in opinion pieces such as this one. Yes, drivel still manages to float to the surface, and yes, it’s given some time to be analyzed further, but the truly good productions continue to be the ones that grab the attention of the public. The truly good artists are the one’s whose lyrics are well written, and it’s these artists that generally do well overall.

I suppose I have little to complain about since, given enough time, the bad artists will disappear, and their work will be nothing more than a small stain on an otherwise impeccable table clothe of Music History, but, until then, I really do wish that every recording artist would be scrutinized with the same fine-toothed comb that allows the genuinely “Good” artists to survive.

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

A Friday With Jane Goodall (TheByteWeek Issue 9)

My Fridays are quite conventional; my weekends begin by seeing a movie, spending time with friends, perhaps, eating out, going on a date or, on certain, less enjoyable Fridays, spending an evening working at the Ringk. In this regard, my Fridays are enjoyable. This Friday, I met Dr. Jane Goodall.

No, seriously, the Dr. Jane Goodall, and I’ve been retelling my experience by putting great emphasis on the “The” in the sentence. This Friday, I met THE Dr. Jane Goodall. Granted, saying that I met Dr. Goodall is a bit of a fallacy, since I didn’t technically meet her. Instead, I had an opportunity to attend a short lecture delivered by the world’s foremost experts on chimpanzees at David Suzuki Secondary School, a relatively new facility in the city of Brampton, Ontario, Canada. The lecture was an introduction to Dr. Goodall’s Roots and Shoots program, and was both an apology and a rallying call for the action of the future generation. Strong emphasis was placed on the “Stand up and take action” principle, and while various anecdotal examples were provided, some involving stray cats, others involving the educational standards of Tanzanian high schools, the main focus of the lecture was on the individual.

Specifically, by taking action for a cause that one believes in, it is possible for that one to accomplish, and achieve, their goals. Dr. Goodall’s examples stemmed from her own upbringing, in addition to the knowledge and wisdom she gained by studying chimpanzees in Tanzania, and by spending time with now-deceased Louis Leakey, still one of the worlds most well known archaeologists and anthropological minds. Born to a relatively low income family in London, England, 6 years before World War 2 broke out, Goodall attributes much of her personality to her mother. She repeatedly stated in her lecture that, without her mother’s guidance and encouragement towards her natural and scientific interests, she wouldn’t have become the expert she is today. As the lecture continued, she detailed her early years as a Phd. student at Cambridge University, and how, despite being almost sure of the sentient nature of the chimpanzees she had spent years studying, her hypotheses was continuously rejected and attacked by the professors she worked with.

Dr. Goodall made quick reference to the sentience of both humans and chimpanzees, and the knowledge and/or acceptance of the species’ morality by stating that “I do believe that [chimpanzees] are aware of death. A mother treats her child differently when the child is ill and when it has died.” Dr. Goodall also mentioned that, regardless of what her professors stated, she believes that personality and emotion exists in all species and “Anyone who’s had a pet can attest that they act differently when you’re around.” Interestingly, during the question and answer session held after the lecture, my inquiry had to do with the sentience and intelligence of chimpanzees and whether, if they were capable of learning a human language, our closest cousins would achieve the same level of sentience as us. As I’ve noticed often happens, I didn’t get to ask my question, though I didn’t dwell on this fact for very long.

The lecture was succinct, and as she left the large gym that doubled as her amphitheatre the power of her words were made relatively clear as soon as she was replaced by the Executive Vice-something-or-other of the Roots and Shoots Branch of Canada. While Dr. Goodall denounced the various multinational corporations that have spent time damaging the world, her replacement directed us to a movie theatre. While Dr. Goodall apologized to the students in the gymnasium for the world they have been left by their inept and unwise elders, her replacement directed us to a website. While Dr. Goodall made it clear that she understood that future generations have seemingly impossible work to accomplish to genuinely fix their planet, her replacement told us to take a more active stand.

Interestingly, Dr. Goodall said the same three things that her replacement did, though the delivery was different. There was a level of prominence, authority, and genuine emotion in Dr. Goodall’s voice that the Executive Vice-something-or-other simply couldn’t match. Quite frankly, I really do wonder how anyone could have possibly thought that replacing Dr. Jane Goodall was a possible task.

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

-Ek

Follow Up to Kony 2012; The Internet Can Prove a Point, and Just As Easily Annihilate One

It’s been over a week since Invisible Children Inc. released their Kony 2012 video and, since then, the company’s bank accounts have been investigated, their interests re-evaluated, their PR revised, and one of their founders has been caught masturbating in public. At the same time, Mass Effect 3 was released, and a new iPad was announced and subsequently released to, quite frankly, adequate reviews. It seems that many enjoy its ease of use, and overall look and feel, others love it’s resolution, price tag, and processor. Mass Effect 3, on the other hand, has experienced rave reviews from almost every source, though the internet has raised issue with the Deus Ex Machina style ending that some feel undermines the point of the entire franchise’s “Choice” paradigm. There are several conclusions to be drawn from these facts, though chief among them being the power of the internet, and how quickly it can turn on an individual, organization, or idea. That being said, it doesn’t take very much for a group of people to go from aware and active, to aware, disinterested, and passive.

I said it in my first Kony 2012 article, and I must say it again: while an idea lasts forever, it doesn’t take very much for an idea to go from being the foremost to last thing on someone’s mind. All it takes is something that seems more interesting, or more important. What Kony 2012 has proven is that all it takes is a little bad publicity for an entire organization to lose their backing and support, and Invisible Children Inc. had it rough from the get-go.

Almost 16 hours after the Kony 2012 video was released, the internet was abuzz with details regarding the company’s faulty finances, oddly misplaced support, military viewpoint, and, most importantly, the people it’s chosen to target as policy- and culture-makers. Of course, time passed, and more information regarding Kony’s potential actions and position was revealed; several videos detailing interviews with the man where he claims to be acting for the Ugandan people against the corrupt Ugandan government, in addition to reports that he may have died years ago do nothing for the capture Kony movement.

The point seems to be that Invisible Children Inc. is trying their hardest to capture a man who has done, and achieved, nothing in over 4 years for no discernible reason aside from publicity and monetary gain. Granted, this information gathering is absolutely necessary, and before a person jumps on the proverbial bandwagon, they must know what they’re getting themselves into, so the reports that Invisible Children Inc. isn’t as humanitarian as they try to make themselves seem isn’t bad news. It’s just the regular dirty laundry that happens to crop up whenever a large scale organization tries to form a movement that has drastic consequences.

What’s interesting me, however, is the negative feedback that this laundry has produced; within days, supporters of the movement seem to have renounced Kony 2012’s actions, and the internet seems to have formed a faction dedicated to bashing anyone interested in raising their voices. Worse, it seems that groups have formed dedicated to disproving Invisible Children Inc. as an entity, completely disregarding the fact that the organization is trying to capture a war criminal, and an overall negative contribution to human society, instead choosing to focus on the aforementioned dirty laundry.

Yes, Invisible Children Inc. seems to have a spending problem, one that reveals that approximately 16% of its earnings go to in company spending (things like travel costs), and yes, it’s evident that the Ugandan government is just as corrupt and negligent toward its people as Joseph Kony is, and yes, everyone seemed to jump on the bandwagon without thinking about where the bandwagon was leading them, and yes, it’s clear that Invisible Children Inc. has a PR problem considering that their founder was found masturbating in public, but the critics shouldn’t be focusing on the movement, so much as the organization behind the movement. I mentioned this case in the previous article: it’s obvious that any celebrities that involve themselves in certain humanitarian movements are in it for the publicity. It’s wrong for an actor, singer, or writer to claim they are acting selflessly when they are clearly acting for the attention their so-called selflessness will produce. It’s due to this that it’s acceptable to criticize the individual acting for selfish reasons, especially when they have no idea what they’re acting for.

It is, however, unacceptable to attack the movement itself because, regardless of who it’s backers are, the movement seeks to do nothing but good. Granted, how much good any movement can do when it’s backers are selfish and money crazed is negligible at best, but parodying and insulting the actual movement is undeniably wrong. I suppose, in essence, it’s perfectly acceptable to criticize (but not attack) the selfish for trying to gain popularity by attaching their names to important movements. What is unacceptable, however, is attacking the movement for trying to accomplish something in the first place, which seems to be the case with Kony 2012. It seems that the internet has forgotten that the movement is attempting to accomplish some amount of intrinsic good by capturing a man who has brought genuine devastation to an entire country, and has chosen to, instead, blindly attack anyone who has chosen to side with the obviously right choice, regardless of who these people are.

Of course, there is a slightly darker, and more depressing, side to all of this; as quickly as Kony 2012 became a thing, it just as quickly faded into obscurity becoming the punchline for small blogs (I’m sorry, but Jason Russell couldn’t have had his breakdown at a worse time). Worse yet, thanks to the attention it’s received, the appropriate response has been no response at all. I’m not quite sure which is worse, though I’m leaning on the school of thought that believes that ignoring a subject is worse than speaking poorly about it; at least in the latter, the subject is being discussed, instead of being ignored or hidden behind locked doors.

I must mention that, despite the attention Invisible Children Inc. has received, I continue to maintain my position on the capture of Joseph Kony. On a very basic level, it would send a message to those who would consider genocide and intolerance an appropriate response to any political quarrel. It would prove, once again, that evil can be quantified, and that it cannot be justified, only brought to justice. On a very grand level, it would prove that collectively standing up and trying to do something good about something bad can accomplish something, especially since the Kony 2012 movement has guidelines that it’s trying to adhere to.

Unlike the Occupy movement, Kony 2012 knows what it wants, and how to get it, and if there’s one thing the internet can do, it’s prove a point.

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

Project X (TheByteScene Review)

This film is unrated

The party deserves 4 clearly-self-destructive-stars out of 4

This isn’t a movie. Certainly, it has all the qualities that would produce the components necessary to call it a movie, but its difficult to call Project X a movie. Even as a documentary, it fails entirely, as very little of it contains anything close to resembling a documentary. Yes, there’s a camera documenting the events that occur throughout the film, and there’s a clear message that’s being delivered, but Project X is also impossible to classify as a documentary. Instead, Project X is a party. In fact, its an awesome party, and once the audience realizes that they aren’t meant to enjoy the film as a film, they can start enjoying the party.

Annoyingly, the party tries to maintain its film origins. It has characters, a basic plot, and cinematography. It has editing, and sound effects, cut together so an audience can make sense of it all. It even has conflict, and a romantic subplot, to appeal to the more distinguished viewers. These features, however, only take away from the party. The characters are catalysts for the events portrayed on screen, and while there is motivation and dialogue, its all poor, cliche’, and adequately written. The film components take away from the party, and if a viewer tries to focus on the movie, like I did for half of the film, they’ll be sorely disappointed.

Its impossible to view Project X as anything more than what it advertises: the best party ever. I don’t want to say a viewer needs to rid themselves of their brain at the door, because that won’t help at all. Instead, viewers need to think and constantly remind themselves that they can’t look at the movie as a movie. They need to remind themselves that they’re watching the events of a party unfold. There have been many, many party movies. There have been comedies, romances, and an abundant amount of horrors, but Project X isn’t one of those films.

Its a series of events that devolves into absolute madness and interestingly, these events are to be expected. Nothing that happens in this film is unexpected. The three main male characters set themselves up for the results they produce, and while a scene has them asking “What happened,” they should know that they did this, and that they are entirely responsible for everything that happened. I’m not saying that they should have known better, which they should have, I’m saying that they shouldn’t have been so surprised that the ex-military drug dealer they spoke to early on returns with a vengeance. It was bound to happen.

Of course, that’s one more problem with looking at Project X as a movie; because of the found footage structure, expertly put together by a character named Dax (who remains the most interesting), and because of the nature of the production, movie elements make it resemble a bad rap video. Music is added at certain intervals to accentuate the events portrayed, and because of this, the film actually spends most of the party scenes resembling a music video.

Other, more intimate moments, where the actors are sharing screen time, are shot in traditional styles, though more stylistic elements are present. It’s clear that film cameras aren’t being used, and that only the techniques are being incorporated, though as mentioned earlier, these scenes only take away from the party since the plot they attempt to create is faulty. A romantic subplot is added to the film for no other possible reason than the main character needing some redeemable quality. Apart from these scenes, the party is shot by flip cams, cell phone cameras, and a single film camera held by an almost always offscreen character named Dax.

Dax must be discussed again, as his presence is, perhaps, the most interesting. He is onscreen twice, once during the beginning and once during the end, though he is ever present, recording everything he sees as nothing more than an observer. Even during the most volatile and pivotal plot moments, he does not intervene. Even during scenes where his input could save the lives of other characters, he doesn’t intervene. Dax truly embodies the audience. He only views, and even though he knows he should do something, he doesn’t. His complacency is both frightening and admirable, as he maintains his conviction as a recorder until the end of the film.

Other characters are tropes, and considering that it’s a single high school party, I’m not disappointed. The party lasts a single night, and considering that only three or four characters were really truly affected, it’s unsurprising that they didn’t change. However, the footage makes a very strong point that is almost entirely ignored: regardless of what they may be doing, these students, these characters, these tropes, are kids. It’s not stressed, and only a few scenes ever hint at anything more, but the characters we see on screen really are just kids, trying their best to fit in and be popular.

It’s an almost Hughes like moment when the popular girl is turned down by the main character so he can chase his romantic foil. She’s left alone, in a seemingly empty room being filmed by another character hiding in the closet. She seems sad, empty, longing for attention, and that’s all she gets before a lewd joke is made, and the party continues. I truly wonder what the footage could’ve been if more attention was paid to the film, and the not the party.

Regardless, Project X is an adequate film. There is little substances to anything that happens, and even the most critical of moments are just moments. There is little resonance from the audience, and I found that I was only concerned when everything was going wrong. Even then, I wasn’t concerned for the characters so much as the plot. That being said, I can’t deny it, it was an absolutely amazing party.

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

Melancholia (TheByteScene Review)

4-Horribly-miscast-rogue-planets-that-would-only-end-life-on-Earth-and-not-the-planet-itself out of 4

Leaving the MOMA theatre after watching this film for the first time, I tried to explain to a critic why the film’s science was wildly inaccurate. Using basic logic regarding how gravity works, and how large masses react when they’re near each other, I said that Melancholia, the large planet that’s seemingly destined to collide with Earth in Lars Von Trier’s latest creation, should have taken out most of the farthest planets in our Solar System before even coming close to approaching Earth. My companion took my work for it, and as I ended my brief lecture, we returned to discussing the merits and demerits of the movie we had just seen. We both agreed that, while the science may have been wonky (at best), it was still a film worth watching.

A few nights ago, the subject of Melancholia opened itself, though with slightly differing results. This time, the science was understood, though the opinion was that Melancholia wouldn’t have hit any of the planets in out Solar System, going so far as to say that it would barely hit Earth. It was agreed, however, that the rogue planet would have made Earth nigh unlivable, assuming that every organism on the planet (except for a few very notable exceptions) wasn’t eliminated in the process. It was late in the evening, and neither of us were willing to produce calculations to prove our points (or look up the Encyclopedia Britannica for evidence) so the science was left alone, and the analysis of the film from an artistic point-of-view continued. Incidentally, the film’s merits were also disagreed on, and this time the conclusion was that the film was not worth watching. I maintained my position on the former.

I suppose the point of this needless exposition is that Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia is grossly inaccurate from a scientific standpoint, and should anyone attempt to watch the movie with a keen eye for physics, chemistry, and biology (and all of their deviations), they will be sorely disappointed. Ironically, while the massive blue planet Melancholia is one of the film’s chief players, its role is horribly miscast as the bringer of the Earth’s destruction since it’s really only the bringer of life’s destruction, though I do digress. The film is scientifically inaccurate, but I loved it to the point of saying that it is my new favourite film (a distinction, of sorts); the plot is brilliant, the characters are well developed, their motivations are clear, the tensions are reasonable, and the reactions are mesmerizing. I’d talk about editing, sounds, and special effects, but apart from the planet actually crashing into Earth, there aren’t any; sound’s even more of a conundrum, as the only score the movie has is a single suite lifted from Richard Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde.

Apart from these minor edits, that occur during the beginning and end of the film (the beginning of the film is, quite literally, the end of both the planet and the film, which explains why I’ve entirely ruined the plot), so the audience knows what’s to occur. As viewers of the film, the information is presented immediately: the world is going to end, and this is how these characters are to react. That is, in essence, the point of the film, to watch the breakdown of these characters as each scene unfolds, and to try to understand what could motivate them to act in such a way. What’s interesting is that psychological illness is present throughout the entire film, and the origins of these possibilities are never discussed. Kirsten Dunst’s character, the younger of two sisters, Justine is to be betrothed during the film’s first part, yet it’s evident that this is, in no way, an appropriate action.

There’s a feeling of instability that floats around Justine, and all the secondary characters, including her mother, father, boss, potential coworker, and fiance (and future husband) only contribute to that. It’s clear that each character suffers from equal amounts of instability, but Justine’s is the most important; everyone wants Justine to be happy and, as such, everyone strives to make her happy. Ironically, and in one of the most blatant ways, they only make things worse; her parents are divorced and her father has a penchant for fruitless affairs with dramatically younger women (who somehow share the same name as his youngest daughter), her mother is a sardonic alcoholic whose views on love are both opposing and, presumably, inspired by her ex-husband’s personality, and her boss is seemingly hell bent on extracting a single line for an advertising campaign. Not to mention Justine’s older sister is frail and weak, who seems to both relish and despise her role in the former’s life, while her fiance is weak-willed and cowardly. The mere act of delivering a wedding toast renders him almost speechless, and its clear that his reasons for being with Justine are almost nonexistent. It’s not a matter of there being no love, its a matter of there being nothing at all.

Melancholia seems to work on this state of nothingness; it’s obvious that something is horribly wrong with every character, but there’s really nothing there at all. Justine suffers from mental instability, but there’s nothing to work with, even when she experiences a drought of depression in the second (and final) part of the film. At this point, Claire, the older, takes centre stage, and Melancholia as the planet (and not the term) becomes an emphasis. It’s revealed to the audience that Claire’s husband is an astrobuff, and while he may or may not have connections to the scientific community, he is independently wealthy. Kiefer Sutherland’s portrayal of John is interesting; it’s clear that he loves his wife, but can’t stand her family. During the film’s first half, he attempts to throw his mother-in-law out of the wedding reception for being a bigger nuisance than her youngest daughter. It’s perhaps the only scene in the film that’s both hilarious and heart-breaking, let alone humourous. John is, also, the only character who breaks the monochromatic nothingness by having something; he is confident, intelligent, and brimming with presence. Again, he loves wife, but can’t stand her family, and while he objects to having Justine stay in the home he shares with his wife and son, he accepts it as an “Only for the moment” event.

I suppose the most important character is Melancholia itself, though it’s difficult to classify it as the protagonist; it’s clear that Justine’s choices affect the film, and the film does revolve around her and her needs. This doesn’t change the fact that Justine’s personality changes as Melancholia approaches its perilous destination. As The End approaches, Justine shows signs of growth and healthy; she was introduced as being unstable, broke down off-screen, remained broken, and as Melancholia comes closer to Earth, she fixes herself. Justine is remarkable to watch, since the second part of the film has her in an even weaker and frailer position than her older sister; she can barely walk without the aid of anyone else, and is bedridden for what seems to be days, if not weeks. She does, in every sense of the word, get better, and while her psychology is still fragmented and beyond regular limits, she becomes a pillar of stability for both Claire, John, and their son.

However, science becomes an issue at this point; John and his son track Melancholia’s path while Claire surfs the internet for fringe sites warning of impending doom. John and his son disagree, and the film’s second part has the husband comforting his wife repeatedly, which makes his death, and her eventual breakdown all the more exhausting to experience. The audience knows what will happen, and if one were to miss the first ten minutes, they’d know what should happen regardless. It’s a planet almost twice the size of Earth that’s supposedly going to veer around the blue marble but never touch it.

At one point, it will to be about the size of Earth, from our night’s sky. This planet isn’t expected to damage anything. Instead, it will, once again, pass by harmlessly, doing nothing but producing “Strange weather conditions.” The expectations are ghastly, and the fact that the accepted belief is that nothing will happen is difficult to rationally accept. However, yet again, science isn’t the focal point, and even though one will find themselves trying to understand why the physicists on Melancholia’s Earth would ever think in certain ways, disbelief has to be suspended when watching science poke its head.

Regardless of these scientific shortcomings, I loved the movie for what it was: a breakdown of the human psyche in every sense of the word. The characters made this film, and while Melancholia’s name only appeared as reference in the film’s credits, it truly does take centre stage as one of the cast.

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

Joseph Kony; The Devastating Results of Acquiescence and Moral Procrastination

I know who Joseph Kony is. In fact, I’ve known about Kony for years now, and it’s all thanks to a bit of sleep deprivation, and an interest in the compound with the highest rating on the Mohs Scale of hardness, the diamond. Staying up one night, for currently inconceivable reasons, I began doing what I always do when it’s late in the evening and I’m unwilling to sleep, I searched Wikipedia for any topic that came to mind. I settled on the diamond and began reading, first for it’s chemical properties, then its social importance, its economic evolution, and, finally, its role in African geopolitics. Conflict diamonds lead me to conflict in Africa, so on and so forth, until I reached Uganda, Idi Amin, the Lord’s Resistance Army, and Joseph Kony.

At the time, I gave little thought to the man as he seemed to simply be one more evil man in a world filled with evil men and their empires. His actions seemed horrific and his participation in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, and the Central African Republic seemed even more so, but, in terms of his actions, he seemed to be nothing more than a dark blot on the landscape of human morality. I suppose, when it comes down to it, I wasn’t surprised that a human like Kony existed. I ended my late night, went to sleep, and very rarely gave thought to his actions again.

Until yesterday, when I watched the Kony 2012 video, Kony rarely came to mind when I thought about Ugandan politics, and his existence wasn’t even the worst thing I could think of when it came to Africa. Apartheid, racial tensions, conflict diamonds, famine, and AIDS (just to name a few) have always been at the forefront of my mind when African suffering has been brought up, and Kony barely registered on the spectrum of terrible events that Africa (as a continent, home of human beings, and the cradle of all human life) has experienced. Certainly, in terms of world calamities, his actions barely register, and in terms of political interest, his existence barely resonated.

The truth of the matter is that Africa has suffered deeply, at the hands of its own people, and by the involvement of Western civilizations, not to mention foreign input in general. It’s difficult to state that any major good has come from the involvement of developed nations in Africa, so the desire to increase military action in Uganda, which is exactly what Invisible Children Inc. (the NGO behind the Kony 2012 movement) desires. An increase in foreign involvement, with the audacity of choosing artists, celebrities, and politicians from Canada and America no less, is how Invisible Children Inc. plans on capturing Joseph Kony. They hope that, by increasing attention to their cause, they will be able to fulfil their goals of increasing military involvement in Uganda.

I can understand their point of view, since all peace-talks with Kony have ended with no result, and I can even understand their desire for increased military action. It’s evident that the only result that could possibly be derived must come from an active standpoint, as simple mediation has been proven again and again to be unreliable. It’s been proven that reasoning with Kony yields no result, so the only option present to those behind the Kony 2012 campaign is increased military intervention to find a man who has eluded capture for years. A man who has devastated Uganda, and parts of Central Africa for over 20 years.

In fact, despite being a strong pacifist, I agree with Invisible Children entirely, though that’s only because I know that there is no other choice. This is just one more fact that must be accepted: when it comes to finding men like Kony; twisted, evil men, whose ambitions are difficult to understand, whose allegiance cannot be acquired, and whose actions only serve to fuel a hate filled purpose, action and not words, are the only option. I read about Kony and the LRA in 2006, when most thought that he was either dead or dying, and I did nothing. I read about him and his actions in 2008, when most thought that the LRA could be reasoned with, and I still did nothing. Then I watched a video yesterday, and I realized the danger of inaction, because Kony is exactly what happens when humans do not act; evil men, whose purposes are sinister, convoluted, twisted, and deeply rooted in their own unstable psychology live and continue to perform evil actions, while good people die in the name of meaningless empires and futile conflicts.

Quite frankly, it becomes a matter of procrastination; a matter of putting off what must be done to carry out other actions that we deem equally important at the time, when we really should be acting. Of course, it’s not a matter of evil triumphing because of good men failing to act, it’s a matter of evil triumphing because of good men failing to act when the time to act is before them. I always disagreed with the Burke quote; evil doesn’t triumph when good men fail to act, evil triumphs when men fail to act when their chance is right in front of them.

Some may see this article as jumping on the Kony bandwagon, and the fact is that I am jumping on the bandwagon, as should everyone else, because the time to join the bandwagon is now. The time to act is now. The time to raise awareness, and try to accomplish something is now. I hate admitting it, but an idea can, and will, be eliminated given enough time. All it takes is a person replacing an original idea with something different, something else, something that is more preoccupying, and the spark that created an original thought is extinguished. Yes, it will always be there, but no, a perfect chance to act may never appear again.

Of course, the policy makers and culture makers should know this by now. Celebrities have often been accused of acting only when everyone else is acting; they’ve often been accused of choosing to give thought to mass devastation when that devastation has become popular. That was the chief accusation of the Save Darfur Movement, and the chief accusation of the Artists for Haiti movement, and it will no doubt be one of the many accusations released once the Kony 2012 movement gains momentum (assuming that it does at all). However, it cannot be denied that the involvement of celebrities helped increase the awareness of the problem. Of course, that was an earthquake, meaning the internet helped spread information even more, but the involvement of (and let’s not mince words here) popular individuals did nothing but benefit the cause.

I’m sure that the involvement of certain individuals was strategic, and I’ve no doubt that such involvement was done to better the career and public images of these individuals, but the point is that they were able to accomplish something by jumping on the collective bandwagon. It’s wrong to attack those who find interest in popular subjects (within obvious restrictions), specifically because of the fact that something must be popular before it can accomplish anything. I don’t mean this in the celebrated sense of the term “popular,” but in the literal sense, in that something must have the attention of many before it can produce any results (Jason Russell understands this fact quite clearly). The aforementioned video was proof of this; up until yesterday, I had no idea that any movement of any kind was taking place, and while I knew about Kony’s existence, I didn’t have very much information on exactly what people intended to do with him.

I suppose that’s the most important point to draw from all of this, especially from the Kony 2012 movement: regardless of what the topic may be, the action of an individual or group of individuals is often more than enough to create resonance. Now, of all times, this is becoming a widely accepted fact; the internet is capable of producing results that would have normally taken months by regular word-of-mouth efforts in a matter of days or, quite often, in a matter of hours. That being said, the internet’s ideas are also prone to quick deterioration, which only serves to emphasize the point that timing is just as important as action.

Evil triumphs when good men fail to act, but evil triumphs faster when good men fail to act given the opportunities they have been provided. Evil triumphs when good men give into acquiescence and procrastination instead of action. Evil triumphs when good men sit down and do nothing, instead of standing up and doing something, instead of doing anything, instead of trying to accomplish something, and instead of trying to achieve anything. I do believe that Kony will be captured. I do believe that it will take time. I do believe that the Kony 2012 movement has a chance, and I do believe that the movement should be given more than just a few minutes.

All I can hope for is Kony’s life, not his death, so he can see the kingdom he has built himself, and the adoring citizens who he once dream would call his name in joy stand up, raise their voices, and call his name in pure defiance.

All I can hope is the message of his life resonating, accomplishing far more than what the movement could have possibly expected. All I can hope for is action.

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, criticize, and most importantly, ACT. Always look on the BYTE side of life.

-EK

Understanding Philosophy; The Limitless Boundaries of An In-Absolute Answer

When trying to discuss the concept behind a subject, whether it be literal or figurative, it’s always best to start with the basics; in a sense, it’s best to start simple and expand, instead of jumping in with little foresight to the topic at hand. Interestingly, I’ve somehow made it a point to constantly avoid the simple (and initial) points, and opt instead to begin with the complexities. It saves some time, and it makes the overall debate in my mind proceed with a greater sense of ease. That being said, when talking about something as complex, grand, and convoluted as philosophy, there’s a need to point out the fact that philosophy is actually a two part study. On one hand, philosophy is the study of ideas and opinions expressed by a single individual, or by a collective who all believe in the same thing. On the other, it’s also the study of these philosophers, and their lives, in order to better understand the philosophy they produce, and the philosophy they adhere to.

Of course, philosophy is an extensive topic, and trying to simplify it to a core set of tenets does very little, especially when the point is to create a debate, or an argument fulled purely by opinion. Despite this fact, I cannot continue without stating the most obvious, true, and often disregarded fact that philosophy is a matter of opinion, a fluid concept, and the basis for almost every human aspect. Hilariously, philosophy is also a plausible explanation for most sciences; after all, understanding quantum physics requires a knowledge or science, mathematics, and philosophy. Of course, it’s not just quantum physics, but (and I do truly mean) everything else as well. In this way, the three points that I’ve mentioned up until now effectively argue themselves: philosophy is the study of ideas and opinions, the study of the teachers and students of these ideas, and a plausible explanation for everything.

As an added point, I must also mention that the questions that philosophy asks can also be answered through the use of science. Certainly, philosophy is not a science in any sense of the term, and it must be identified as a humanity but, despite this truth, the questions that arise in science can be answered by philosophy, the answers that philosophy produces can be refuted by science, and vice verse, so on and so forth, etc. until oblivion. It’s due to this truth that philosophy and science are exactly the same, while being polar opposites; philosophy connects science by providing unscientific answers to scientific questions.

Does a falling tree make noise if no one is there to hear it? The answer is yes, thanks to the law of conservation of energy, and also no, because sound must be heard for it to exist; philosophers, however, chose not to look at the right answer to the question so much as the implications that the answer poses, in addition to the possible answers. It’s the exact same reason that the “Chicken crossing the road” paradigm is so interesting; the answer is straightforward, but the implications the answer provides are near endless.

In the time I’ve spent trying to understand philosophy, and philosophers, I’ve come to the conclusion that while science’s answers are fact, philosophy’s answers to the same questions can be refuted, denied, challenged, dismissed, rejected, accused, argued, and critiqued to an infinite degree, and even under these circumstances both parties can be wrong. It’s a conclusion that’s led me to believe that understanding philosophy is, quite literally, the most difficult thing any intellectual (and I don’t mean intellectual in the high brow, sipping Chardonnay while discussing the merits of Tolstoy definition) organism can do.

In this sense, understanding philosophy is akin to understanding generations of human evolution, and centuries of revolutionary thought and behaviour. In this sense, one does not understand philosophy by using a straightforward definition. Quite the contrary, one doesn’t take philosophy literally to understand it; the literal, straightforward, defined point-of-view is that of science, not philosophy, and approaching a philosophical inquiry from a scientific point-of-view isn’t wrong so much as redundant. Unlike science, which serves to provide a definitive framework of the existing universe with fact and definition, philosophy attempts to accomplish the same thing, but from a less defined position. I digress, as my original point was the fluid mentality one must assume when engaging in philosophy.

Perhaps the foremost examples of this truth (irony, at its best) is the scene from Star Wars Episode III that sparked the idea for this article. The pivotal scene takes place near the end of the film on the planet of Mustafar, where a completely transformed Darth Vader duels with his once mentor Obi-Wan. As Vader produces his “With me or against me” philosophy (I’m aware that I’m milking my example, yes), Obi-Wan refutes that “Only a Sith deals in absolutes,” essentially stating that only a Sith sees the Universe in terms of Black and White, while neglecting the various shades of Grey that are sparsely spread out. The importance of these words come into play once a person takes Obi-Wan’s words literally, because doing so reveals that his statement is, without a doubt, an absolute.

Obi-Wan’s use of the word “Only” disproves his entire point (if one assumes that his meaning was that only Sith, the sworn enemy of Jedi in the Star Wars Universe, deal, react, and associate themselves with absolutes) since Obi-Wan himself has produced an absolute statement. Therein, interestingly, lies the close association with philosophy and science that I mentioned earlier. It’s the implication of Obi-Wan’s quote that is important, not the statement itself; what he tries to argue is that only a Sith deals in absolutes when faced with “No other choice,” as Anakin Skywalker was faced with before his transformation into Darth Vader (Dark lord of the Sith). Furthermore, Obi-Wan’s quote effectively reduces all Jedi who have ever produced an absolute statement to being nothing more than evil despots bent on conquering the galaxy in an attempt to prove their own philosophies.

Obviously, however, Obi-Wan’s words are not meant to be taken literally, since doing so would have been both redundant, and counter productive to his cause. Obi-Wan’s purpose was to persuade Vader away from the duties of a Dark lord of the Sith and, instead, back to the just ways of the Jedi (whom Vader had, ironically, painstakingly slaughtered, a few scenes ago). The quote is a literary device, meant to provide Vader with a way back to the light side of both the Force, and morality, and while the meaning behind it is equally important, the words are not meant to be taken literally. Therein lies the most vital point that must be derived from philosophy: the words of the wise aren’t meant to be taken literally as rules or restrictions. The words of philosophers, intellectuals, and thinkers must be taken as guidelines for the way an individual can think and can act, specifically because the thoughts of a single person can be be muddled, formatted, and simply changed to suit the point-of-view of anyone else. My opinion is proof of this.

I suppose that philosophy is meant to be taken seriously, but not literally, and while an individual might express a single point-of-view once, their opinion can change, their personality can undergo a rapid evolution (or devolution), and the thoughts they once called their own can become something more, or something entirely different. Human thought evolves, continuously, and while adhering to a core tenet is both admirable and remarkable, the fact remains that one’s philosophy changes and is expected to change as they do. I suppose that, whether the philosophy has to do with a Jedi, a Dark Knight, a Socialist revolutionary, or a citizen of a democracy, it is limitless, and the potential it has can only be speculated. The most anyone can do is try to understand the position, and act based on the data then.

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