Generation Zero is a new documentary about the financial crisis. Apparently, it claims that the baby boomers caused the stock market crash in some way that I can’t figure out yet. I haven’t seen it, but it’s stocked with so many mainstream Republican/neo-con types that it makes me suspicious of just how much new information is in it. Based on the trailer, it looks a lot like Zeitgeist for Republicans.

A former U.S. Representative named J.D. Hayworth is challenging John McCain for the GOP senate nomination. The obvious question: Does he have the charisma to take on John McCain? Looking at this video, it’s hard to say. Hayworth doesn’t seem to be an especially charismatic individual, and, in that video, McCain has a certain charm to him. Plus, McCain’s been around for a long time. As John Huston said to Jack Nicholson in the film Chinatown: “Politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.”

But McCain has some charisma issues. At times he seems to have some–or at the very least he seems amiable enough. But watching his debates with Obama, or his acceptance speech at the 2008 Republican convention, he’s downright anti-charismatic. The debates can be explained by the presence of Mr. Charisma himself, but Obama wasn’t at the Republican convention. McCain seems boring and and dry–the worst things a politician can be if he wants to be elected. This Hayworth guy didn’t seem like much, but if the boring, cranky old man McCain shows up, he might have a chance. 

Fascinating interview with James Cameron about Avatar‘s message. He says: “The movie is designed to work as a straightforward adventure and a romance, and if that’s all you want from a movie, that’s fine, but the message isn’t going over people’s heads.”

I doubt this highly. The message is, as so many people have pointed out, not in the least bit original, nor can anyone claim it is even the best execution of this story. I knew how the whole thing would play out the minute I saw the ads. The only reason I saw the thing was to see what the special effects were like. I strongly suspect the same was true of most people.  Furthermore, because of how radical the message is (at times, anyway) I strongly doubt most people fully get it.

Cameron, of course, can’t admit this, even to himself. If he did, it would mean he was simply a shallow magician, not an artist. He is merely making people ooh and ahh over pretty effects. He is in no way advancing any new ideas. 

As for the idea that the movie is about something other than the Iraq war; this is partially true, but partially misleading. It is obvious that the “shock and awe” reference is supposed to evoke Iraq, but it is likewise obvious that I doubt his point about harming the environment relates to the Iraq war. Even if you think the Iraq war was entirely about oil, it’s hard to claim it ruined the pristine beauty of the country, since someone would drill for the stuff anyway. I assume the jungle setting for the story–which Cameron is said to have been thinking about since he was a teenager–is based on the Vietnam war; although no resources were involved in that war as far as I know. 

Actually, for all the talk about environmentalism, the movie’s “message”, such as it is, has little to do with environmentalism. One of the central points about being environmentally friendly is that if you change one part of the ecosystem, it affects the whole planet. But this is not true once you are talking about affecting ecosystems on other planets.

The message of Avatar is not pro-environmentalism, but rather anti-colonialism. (This is, of course, an even older theme.)

As for the is-Avatar-pro-or-anti-military issue, I don’t think Cameron himself knows. I suspect his worldview is such that he can’t decide which is worse: the army or a private corporation. So he makes it a private mercenary army, so as to have it both ways. This, apart from any other considerations, doesn’t work dramatically because he never decides if he’s satirizing gung-ho militarism or private greed. 

He also says that part of the message is “‘Listen to what your leaders are saying. Open your eyes. And understand what the run-up to war is like, so the next time it happens, you can question it.’ “

Alright, nice message. Except that the hero, Jake Sully, doesn’t actually ever question anything. I don’t believe he ever makes any attempt to discuss anything with the villainous Colonel. It would not be productive, of course, because the Colonel is a one-dimensional character; but that is no excuse. If Cameron can’t even write a scenario in which his own message can be put across properly, it means he needs to brush up on his writing.

What Avatar represents is a mish-mash of vague leftist ideas masquerading as a satire. It’s a satire of Iraq when it wants to be, then lurches into being a morality play about the treatment of Native Americans, and from there into something about environmentalism. These issues are different, of course, but what does Cameron care? When Cameron was told the movie “seemed like the story of the Taliban told from the movement’s point of view,”  the article says that Cameron “finds that kind of literalism ‘egregious’ and ‘willfully ignorant of the power of allegorical storytelling.'” 

Actually, it is very cognizant of the power of allegorical storytelling. But because Cameron’s script is wide and its targets constantly changing, he can always say “Well, that bit wasn’t about the Taliban.”

To be continued…

Thanks to Big Hollywood for discussing this interview.

Should they make a movie of the Mass Effect video games

No. As that pro-Mass Effect movie article says: “The relationships Shepard (and in turn, us) forms with his crew take on the audience-friendly tone that defines the best men-on-a-mission movies.”

The only thing I’d change with that assessment is that the tone is better  than the best such movies. We feel more involved in Mass Effect (especially ME 2) than in a movie because we’re doing things. We’re making the tough choices, and deciding which characters are friend or foe. And while you could boil a 20+ hour game down to a two-hour movie, the sidequests are part of what gives RPG’s their depth and richness.Mass Effect isn’t even the best video game when it comes to this, (Try Knights of the Old Republic I & especially II) but it’s better than the movies could be. 

Obama has been making remarks that upset politicians from Nevada with his remarks about Las Vegas

I imagine it will go like this:

Harry Reid: Barack! You don’t talk about Las Vegas like that!

Obama: Harry, you’re the Senate Majority leader, and I love you. But don’t ever take sides with anyone against the Party again. Ever.

Explanation here.

…and yet it’s the highest grossing film of all time. James Cameron is apparently some sort of genius at promoting stuff. I have to say it is a remarkably lame movie, yet somehow he has convinced everyone to go see the thing. He ought to be a marketer, not a filmmaker. 

As I write this, I see Avatar ranks #41 on the IMDb Top 250 movies list. This is insane. It’s one spot ahead of Lawrence of Arabia? Two spots ahead of Terminator 2, which Cameron made before he forgot everything he knew about movie making?

Madness. Madness. (It’s undeservedly ahead of that movie, too.) 

As I have said, almost everyone seems to think the media is against them. However, as far as news media and Journalism is concerned, this charge has been obsolete since, at the latest, 2004. The internet has enabled people to easily access propaganda for any viewpoint they want. This is one argument many people made a few years ago, when there were rumors of a revival of the so-called “Fairness doctrine”. You don’t need any one News source to be unbiased when you have thousands of News sources that cater to various ideological, religious, or whatever persuasions. 

Now, this is true for News sources and journalism. But the argument I would expect (especially from Conservatives.) is that this is only the tip of the iceberg. The argument is this: It’s more than just journalism that is biased, it is all forms of entertainment. For example, witness the Conservative anger at the film “Avatar”.  That entire site exists because conservatives believe that Hollywood is biased heavily against them, with the vast majority of films containing messages and morals that are contrary to their worldview, and, more importantly, brainwash audiences in the same way.

All of this sounds extremely reasonable, (I have not researched it, but I personally suspect that, broadly speaking, movies have a bias that is generally liberal.) I can put my own political commentary on the internet with ease, but I am not, as of this writing, capable of producing a special-effects laden adventure film to advance my views. And really, which would you rather see?

So, if we extend the definition of media to include fiction movies, novels, non-political, non-news television shows, music, stage performances and video games, we may be getting somewhere. After all, if all this is biased against you, what chance do you really have?

Except the internet defeats even that. Think about Big Hollywood again: if you don’t like what you see in any of these entertainment forms, you go there and get to read people who agree, and see what they recommend as good entertainment for the conservative mind.  

Furthermore, I question the idea that people can be brainwashed by simply placing messages like this in entertainment media; I think audiences are not given enough credit by those believe that the mere presence of such biases can persuade them to change political views. 

To be continued…