Monday, June 30, 2008

weird science

More on Wall-E's special robot friend:

Eve is a male fantasy.  "Male fantasy" is one of those terms whose meanings have become less and less precise as the result of too-specific associations (just as "racism" has become so attached to the racism of a particular group that we sometimes think it reasonable to use a term like "reverse racism" [which really only ought to make sense if we accept that one race is superior to another, right?]; just as "I'm ambivalent" has come to be roughly synonymous with "Meh," meaning "I don't like it too much," when of course in fact it most literally means "I have mixed feelings" [although there's no particular reason why the feelings have to be mixed] and is fairly well synonymous with the idiomatic "torn" and suggests a kind of non-totalitarian version of "doublethink"...meaning arguably the opposite of "so-so" insofar as the valence in it has everything to do with strength): yes, a chauvinistic or hypersexualized caricature of a woman is a kind of male fantasy, but just as not all racism is explicitly disparaging (many people would argue passionately [and incorrectly] that it isn't racist to say that black people are really good at music and sports or that Asian people are really good at Math and Science), not all male fantasies are explicitly demeaning.  Indeed, many male fantasies put women not down in the dirt but up on a pedestal...

And the reason why male fantasies are problematic in stories not advertising themselves as male fantasy (no one, I think, would bother to complain about the "male fantasy" in a letter to the Penthouse Forum) (and of course this is also going to be the reason why racism is never OK even if it expresses itself as a compliment ["What, I just said they're good dancers!"]) is that they are, if not necessarily dehumanizing, then at least unconducive to any real kind of human sympathy.

Dehumanizing, human sympathy...going to have find different words, here, to talk about Eve.  (Or maybe not: all of these movies rely heavily on the pathetic fallacy, and although these robots do have personalities "in the real world," to some extent we're making the leap as audience members...treating these robots not with the respect appropriate for a nicely advanced artificial-intelligence program but with the affection we generally reserve for human beings or for pets [and pets, too, of course, we humanize, as Pynchon points out in Mason & Dixon: "Once, the only reason Men kept Dogs was for food.  Noting that among Men no crime was quite so abhorr'd as eating the flesh of another human, Dog quickly learn'd to act as human as possible..."].)

So here's the thing about Eve.  (Could have called this post "All About Eve."  Also could have called it "Tickle Your Rear."  It's a free country.)

Eve is great to look at (not in an explicitly sexual way, but still); she can be reasonably cute in the way she behaves; and she's a bad-ass in a way that appeals both to the four-year-old boy (ka-POW!!! BLAMMO!!!) and to the man in which that boy resides like a pearl in an oyster. The pearl appreciates the explosions; the oyster gets off on getting slapped around and called names, maybe some candlewax.  To be clear, though, I'm not just talking about nerds and fetishists: America's porno-Puritanism does prize attitude and tends to make its sex symbols somewhat untouchable—whether it's primarily to enhance the final conquest or to build punishment into the sinner's pleasure I can't say.

But is Eve a real character?  Do we watch Wall-E and identify with her, really?  Wall-E wants to hold her hand, Wall-E slowly wins her heart...but what's her personality?  The closest we come to really seeing things from her perspective are the times when [MINOR SPOILER ALERT] we think Wall-E might be hurt (and her concern is just an extension of the audience's) and the time when she finally realizes how much he cares about her—but in neither case does she really transcend the love-interest role: in other words, her feelings about her "man" are themselves part of the male fantasy.

Giving a woman a big blaster does not guarantee that she's more than a sex object.

I liked Wall-E, and I don't mind male fantasies.  But it's an interesting problem, innit?—the fully realized female character in a world still heavily dominated by the male sexual perspective.


...or do I have that wrong?  Maybe male fantasies are also female fantasies in that what's really stimulating for women is reportedly "not the gender of the actor, but the degree of sensuality"...

Sunday, June 29, 2008

fembot

I. Mmmmmm, robots.

(a) I Wanna Party on Your iPod

OK, so nobody agreed with me on this, but as I was sitting on the Metro-North one day in let's say January 2003, looking at my new (still spankin') iPod, thinking about how amazing the design was [side note: as amazing as the iPhone and iPod Touch are (and they are fucking amazing—even my grandmother, who memorably declared herself incapable of even beginning to understand the gameplay of Pac-Man, was able to recognize how impressive the iPhone's touch-screen technology is), I think there's something lost in the move to high-quality, glass-framed graphics from the deliberately super-old-school text-only screen...which incidentally brings us back to Wall-E (oh, you didn't know we were talking about Wall-E?) because one of my favorite parts of the whole damned thing—which damned thing I liked overall quite well, by the way—was the eight-bit graphics in the end credits, Pixar paying tribute to its in some ways just-as-amazing forefathers]...

But I haven't gotten to the subject of that sentence, yet, so let's start over:

2003, lookin' at the iPod...  Right: so I was trying to put my finger on what made the design so amazing (because let's be clear, as with so many other Apple products, design was central to the iPod's success—design, aesthetic and functional, the functional part being what gets forgotten so often in discussions of style, often specifically in debates about Apple, also in discussions of Obama, whose critics often forget that being "just" inspirational or popular is pretty durn far from meaninglessness in a democratic-style government, and who as a matter of fact has been compared, not without some sense, to Apple—but here I'm going to lose the sentence again, so let's knuckle down here and get focused)...

...and this concept just rolled clumsily on into my head (sort of like Wall-E) [note: this is the idea that no one agreed with] [note: I was not on drugs]: the iPod on a wall or a sculpture-pedestal in an gallery or contemporary-art museum—this, just to be clear, in an alternate universe [note: this blog will not be all about alternate universes] wherein the iPod does not actually exist, so we're talking about not "found art" or readymades, but something someone made as a fresh new image...although, sure, why not readymades, too? readymades works just as well—the iPod as a piece of super-conceptual, 70–90% abstract art, and you walk over to see what it's called, and it's called "Vagina #24."

See what I'm talking about?  Turn off the super-rational 1:1 correspondence part of your brain, get abstract with your bad self, look at the iPod (particularly the 2002 iPod, picture above [I trust]) and assert to yourself, experimentally, that this is an expressionistic dream-world abstract representation of a vulva.

I AM RIGHT ABOUT THIS.

So: why is Eve so fuckin' hot?  (Because another thing I'm right about is that, to refigure a Chris Rock formulation here, I'm not saying it makes sense that Wall-E is so desperate to hold the hand of a fuckin' fern-seeking missile...but I understand.)  Eve is so fuckin' hot because SHE IS AN iPOD.

["Refigure a..."  Checked the Oxford American Dictionaries through my Mac dictionary widget (yes, I do want to have sex with Apple), didn't find "refigure"!  Checked the OED online (no, I do not have a subscription, I am just a hacker like Matthew Broderick in Ferris Bueller's WarGames) and found that it is a word, it just basically hasn't been used in 150 years.  I record this fascinating story because it's the bizarre side-effect of having been an English major: all too often I pull out some word that it turns out basically isn't a word anymore but just showed up in Chaucer, Shakespeare, or Milton—as did "refigure."  TOTALLY TUBULAR!!!]

(b) Sex–aesthetics

What is the difference between sexual attraction and excitement about a dazzlingly cool piece of technology?

Discuss.

To come (maybe): II. The robot gaze.  Tune in next week...!

[I have not proofread this post because it is just too important that I get it out into the universe as soon as possible.  I am sure you agree.]

Friday, June 27, 2008

factoids

1. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: best and worst movie ever
Is it even a movie?  Does it count?  It's one of the few movies that, if somebody argued passionately for how great it was and somebody else argued passionately for how terrible it was, each would probably have me nodding in total agreement.  Did I hear somewhere (Goonies DVD commentary?) that Ke Huy Quan basically quit Hollywood because he was just being used as a cute little Chinese stereotype?  Or is 13 just the expiration date for cute little Chinese sterotypes?  Doesn't matter: in 1984 [note: this blog will have nothing to do with the '80s] I was six years old, and I thought Ke Huy Quan was fucking cool.  After Temple of Doom I needed a Yankees hat.  [Actually, that reveals less about Ke Huy Quan than it does about me: I care so little about sports that the only reason I ever got a baseball cap was because Short Round wore one.]  He was the 1984 equivalent of, I don't know, Sam Rockwell?  If Sam Rockwell put on a Yankees hat, I'd probably buy another one.  Has Sam Rockwell put on a Yankees hat?  DON'T TELL ME, I DON'T CARE.

2. A couple of things that piss me off.
(a) People who step onto the subway in New York and just stop in the door and stand there like, "OK, I'm on the train now, we can go," as if no one else might want to get on.  You know when you try to get on the train and the door is packed like rush hour in Hell, and you look around and it's fucking empty inside?—like 20 people are crammed into the little space by the door because no one wants to step into the car?  Why don't people want to step into the car?  Are they afraid they won't be able to make it off at their stop?  I doubt it: half the folks who plant themselves in the door are fuckin' tough guys in their 20s and 30s—not that they can't be full of anxiety.  I mean, hold it, of course they're full of anxiety!  That's why they're tough guys!  News flash / insight: tough guys are invariably insecure babies.  So, OK, right, moving on—  People need to get on and off of the subway!  Why do you think that it's OK for you to block the door if there are other places to be?  Is it your special spot?  God, people are stupid.
(b) Relatedly, don't you love it when you're driving and you try to pass somebody, usually someone riding in the passing lane when no one is around for miles, and that person speeds up because he doesn't want you to pass?  I don't even have anything to say about this, it's so stupid.
(c) People are stupid!
(d) But what really fucking pisses me off is when I'm stupid.  And when I catch myself being stupid, I get mean.
(e) Blogs.  I mean, what the fuck?

3. Oh, right, so...
Why was Ke Huy Quan so cool?  Am I the only one who thought he was fucking cool?  I mean, I was six.  One thing is, he loves Indy but eschews the typical little-kid role of son: surely an orphan, Short Round never betrays any particular vulnerability—certainly less than the misogynist cartoon character that is Willy—and he may imitate Indy's actions, but he also talks back to Indy, shouts at him, not like an angry kid but like an equal.  What's cooler to a six-year-old boy than an only slightly older-looking kid who hangs out with Indiana Jones and gets into shouting matches with him?

But now I'm starting to bore even myself.