Sunday, 30 August 2015

Um, Amy Schumer.




Comedy tends to be used as a platform for social criticism and philosophical challenge in modern society but it is ultimately a form of entertainment and involves communication of the comedian as actor to their audience. The significance of the character a comedian portrays is that it defines and develops the type of relationship a comedian will have with their audience.  Female comedians when engaged in humour, not necessarily just about fecundity (sexual behaviour) are placed in a spectrum of promiscuity that is different from the spectrum a male comedian would be placed into (Foy 703 : 2015), the female comedian is ultimately seen as being more libidinous for engaging in subversive humour.  Some of Amy Schumer’s comedy skits work by portraying the difference between the social expectations of the female engaged in ostensibly libidinous behaviour and the reality, the cognitive dissonance and taboo content of the skit are the source of humour (See cellphone sext skit).

In doing so, by portraying a female somewhat clumsily fulfilling the required social norms contained in the libidinous role the female comedian is negotiating her relationship with her audience in the context of potentially being placed in a high spectrum of promiscuity, which could potentially reduce the empathy the audience has with the character she is portraying. 

According to Windholz (8 : 2015) comediennes such as Joan Rivers, Phyllis Diller and Maria Bamford have developed stage personas characterized by strange, eccentric and abnormal behaviour  that negotiates  their character as different from the perceived role of a woman, in that occupies a more “male” position, that for all its problems of classification, gets described as featuring more aggressive and self depreciative styles of humour (LaCorte 13 : 2015) (Windholz 8 : 2015). Amy Schumer’s more sexually explicit humour tends to get described as adopting the “male gaze”, but I wonder if it's possible that she is simply demonstrating that Laura Mulvey’s “Male Gaze” concept can be used for both genders, in different contexts of power. Actually, after doing the typical google search, which does not represent specialist knowledge, it has already been done, via Bracha Ettinger and ideas of subject object based on a-priori difference but the argument I am making here is that when Amy Schumer adopts a libidinous persona and appropriates the “Male Gaze” she is doing it for the cognitive dissonance and taboo content to create an amusing experience for her audience, competent humour contains an element of play.

There is a definite political dimension to her humour, it is a stage for valid social criticism and in interviews she casts her humour as having a strong autobiographical component, which is interesting, which it is meant to be.  Benamin Windholz (36 : 2015) describes Amy Schumers stage persona as the” attractive unruly woman”, interpreting her in the context of Bakhtin carnivalesque, focusing on her use of body, race and fecundity  as a subversion of the interpretation of the human body in contemporary modern society (Windholz 34 : 2015) and notes her critique or possibly subversion of the trope of the entitled white girl as a way of claiming legitimacy for her voice. I suspect she detects social issues the same way most of us do, it’s not a theoretical approach, in our daily lives we detect the effects of power and the boundaries imposed and consider what it means, it is an approach born from experience and less from theory.

Or a brilliant team of comedy writers, seriously what would I really know?

Bibliography

Foy, Jennifer. (March  2015). Fooling Around : Female Stand-Ups and Sexual Joking. In The Journal of Popular Culture. Volume 48, Issue 4. Page 703.

LaCorte, Steven. (2015). An Examination of Personal Humour Style and Humour Appreciation in Others.  Senior Honors Project  at John Carrol University. Page 13.

Windholz, Benamin. (2014). My Eyes are Up Here. The Comedy of Amy Schumer and the Carnivalesque.  Thesis at Kansas State University,  Senior Colloquium in Communication Studies. Pages 8, 34 & 36.

Monday, 10 August 2015

A poem a day, of New Zealand poets.

Watched a guy at work play "people I know who are poets on this blog", and thus I put this up on my blog like a good little lemming.  It could be a good way to get a subjective sense of New Zealand culture, from colonial British culture to the various cultures that are articulated. Will see how contemporary the various voices articulated are. Given the last entry was December 2014, I won't be holding my breath.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Waterloo. The History of Four Days, Three Armies and Three Battles (2014).


Recently, as my nerd like interests inevitably dictate, I was interested in the uniforms of European soldiers of the 19th century and Bernard Cornwell’s  (2014) “Waterloo :  The History of Four Days, Three Armies and Three Battles”  had interesting  pictures, with paintings that included the one with the horses by Lady Elizabeth Butler (1881), as well as tactical maps with important looking rectangle designs  and quite significantly, being paper back, was at the right price. It reads as a historical documentary with anecdotes derived from letters of the combatants and has tactical and historical considerations discussed by the author, Bernard Cornwell.























As I am a schmlo with no military background or theory, but I did read a translation of Livy’s “The Punic Wars”, part of the Ab Urb Condita Libri in High School and I thus I feel I can give the humble opinion that I found “Waterloo : The History of Four Days, Three Armies and Three Battles ” to be quite enjoyable light reading, with much more solid theoretical basis than most of the episodes of Sharpe (1993 -1997) I saw on TV as a kid, but without the heroic visage of Sean Bean, which of course is a loss. It is probably relevant that Bernard Cornwell wrote the books behind the “Sharpe” (1993 -1997) TV series, which at this time (2015) comprise 16 books. So he probably is an expert on this stuff, and apparently “Waterloo : The History of Four Days, Three Armies and Three Battles ” (2014) was published for the 200th anniversary of that particular battle, on the 18th of June 1815, The Second Treaty of Paris established peace on the 20th of November 1815.  

The Battle of Waterloo has a special place in the British public consciousness, the Duke of Wellington is perceived to be something of a national hero, the British contribution to that battle was significant and historically it was the battle that established the ascendancy of the Seventh Coalition in the Napoleonic wars. The subsequent Congress of Vienna resulted in a diplomatic system (the Concert of Europe) that saw the introduction of a period of relative peace on the European continent, right up to World War One in 1914. Of course this period saw the nation states of the European continent turn their industrialized gaze onto the rest of the world and is associated with a historically unprecedented degree of migration, one where 30 million Europeans traveled to the United States of America and resulted in the modern world we see today.

Waterloo, Morning dispositions page 104 : 2014 Cornwell.

The battle produced military casualties totaling for all combatants around 52,000, 12000 dead  on the battle field and around 40,000 to 50,000 wounded (321 : 2014 Cornwell). It can be estimated at least 30 % of the wounded died in the subsequent months, an estimation made from the British 32nd regiment, which had 28 dead, 146 wounded with 44 of the wounded dying in the following month (322 : 2014 Cornwell). British casualties were around 17000, around 3500 dead, 10200 wounded and 4300 missing. The Prussians whose movements over the course of three days had included a defeat at Ligny, retreat to Wavre and a flanking maneuver  at Waterloo with vicious close quarter alley fighting at Plancenoit against a desperate defence by the French Young Guard, had suffered around 31000 casualties (321 : 2014 Cornwell). Cornwell estimates that around 30000 French soldiers were killed at Waterloo, Wikipedia estimates around 26000 with 7000 captured and approximately 15000 deserting.   The name “The Battle of Waterloo” was decided by the Duke of Wellington, in French history it is known as the Battle of Mont St Jean and in German, showing the political evolution of the Prussian state into Modern Germany, as the Battle of the Belle Alliance, as decided by the Prussian General Blucher.

Over time the Duke of Wellington tended to underplay the role of the Prussians, a combination of his first hand experience of the sacrifice made by his men and the role ascribed to him by a grateful British public that would certainly and understandably lead to a degree of vanity. Bernard Cornwell describes the strategic situation of the battle in a succinct manner, Wellington made his stand because he was assured that the Prussians would be arriving, and the Prussians, under Blucher marched because they knew that Wellington was making a stand, if either did not remain faithful to their promise both would fail. Napoleon was making an assault on Wellington’s position, to break Wellington’s army before the Prussians could arrive (332 : 2014 Cornwell). The timing of the Prussians arrival meant that Napoleon was committed to the Battle and thus did not disengage in an orderly manner to fight another day at better odds.   The victory at Waterloo, was the product of the ability of Wellington and Blucher to coordinate their armies and trust that each army would play their necessary role in the coming battle. 

Bibliography

Cornwell, Bernard. (2014). Waterloo. Published by William Collins. Printed and Bound in Australia by Griffen Press. Pages 104, 321, 322 & 332.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Rick and Morty Series 1 (2013)


Rick and Morty (2013) is a comedy cartoon, written by Dan Harmon & Justin Roiland  that has as its central protagonists a Professor and an assistant that, at least in the pilot episode evokes and plays with the relationship of the characters “Doc Emmet Brown”, as played by Christopher Lloyd and "Marty McFly", as played by Michael J Fox, from the Back to the Future (1985 -onwards) series of movies and associated products. The "Doc Emmet Brown" type character  is called Rick and the “Marty” type character is called Morty. The similarity of the Morty name to Marty is possibly intentional. 

Both characters can be argued to evoke variations of the relationship of Marty & Doc Emmet Brown from the “Back to the Future” series of movies, who are in turn contemporary (1985 -1990) reinterpretations of the classic silver screen Professor and assistant trope, examples of stories featuring this kind of relationship are Doctor Who, Sherlock Holmes and in the relationship of the characters of Walter White & Jessie Pinkman in  Breaking Bad (2008), Dr Bunsen Honeydew & Beaker in the Muppets (1976 -1981) or even to the trope of the mad scientist established with  C.A Rotwang in Metropolis (1927).  Some of the humour derives from the different characteristics of Rick and Morty to the established Professor and assistant trope.

Rick, Morty’s grandfather, is a callous whisky drinking scientist while Morty is an adolescent high school student, ultimately they work as a synergised team, sometimes remarkably unsuccessfully (see episode 6, Rick Potion Number 9) . Rick is played differently from Doc Emmet Brown in a number of ways, the characters speech, despite being a grandfather, sounds like a young man, using contemporary slang, and in play with Doc Emmet Brown's catch phrase of "Great Scott!", Rick consciously adopts a nonsense catch phrase "Wub a luba dub dub", that is never used in an appropriate context. Ricks motivation for having Morty as a side kick is kind of suspect, the pilot episode establishes that Rick may not be a good influence on Morty. As an interesting aside, I was looking through fan art of this show, to see if any had captured the spirit of the show in a summarizing fashion, found art by Obman-Veschestv that seemed to evoke the art style of Gerald Scarf  or Ralph Steadman (political cartoonists). The malign aspects of their relationship is part of the humour and it is elaborately developed in episode 10, ” Close Rick-counters of the Rick Kind’, where it is established that Morty’s brain waves cancel out the “genius” brain waves of Rick, providing a kind of stealth shield, masking them  both from detection.  This is the kind of improvised seeming plot developments that compose the show, but they are sequentially consistent from episode to episode.


Obmann Veschesty's fan art

 As a note, it is unfair to use "fan art" to criticize a cartoon, the art of the cartoon is generally bright and colourful, but my intention is to convey a summary of the impressions Obmann-Veschesty decided to convey. Also, its the internet, go figure, caveat emptor.

Rick and Morty's content appears to be aimed towards an intended audience of adolescents and young adults, regularly using the settings of Marty's High school and Marty's family home.  The plot lines include situations that feature the concepts of jealousy, mediocre patterns of faithfulness, psychological trauma, different forms of love, sexual molestation, gender issues, and also gender issues, political expediency, the absolute destruction of the world through the plot device of a love potion, inter-dimensional universe jumping that leads to increasingly bizarre situations and regular Inception like convoluted plot lines, that can become nonsensical if you're not paying attention. A recurring plot line involves traveling between universes, which function to "raise the stakes" (Grayson 99 : 2013) in the story and create remarkably absurd situations that push the boundaries of comprehension in the short time span of each changing scene (Grayson 99 : 2013). An example of this is in episode 10, ” Close Rick-counters of the Rick Kind’ where the protagonists rapidly jump to a universe where people are sitting on chairs using the telephone to order pizza to another universe where pizzas are using telephones to order people and then rapidly to a universe where chairs are sitting on people eating telephones, yet the protagonists are still functioning within each of the new universes. (As an aside the last episode of Phineas & Ferb, season 4 episode 48 (12th June 2015), The Last Day of Summer used a similar universe time traveling plot line to symbolize the recurring plot structure of the series and examine the influences of the characters lives on each other, it was about providing closure to its audience).

The humour of the series tends to be cynical of tradition and the accepted discourse that functions as the basis for relationships within the idealized Western nuclear family, but then despite their differences the cartoon's family does tend to show cohesion, thus one could argue that it examines the basis for such relationships outside the traditional discourse. Dan Harmon, in an interview with Adweek (Grayson 59 : 2013) describes the underlying situation of the show is where "Science rules supreme, marriages are on the rocks, and things get so chaotic that it does boil down to the petty emotional issues of humanity. And the moral is that we're all pretty insignificant" (Grayson 59 : 2013). Science in the series is a source of hope and adventure, the same aesthetic evoked by the "Doc Emmet Brown" character in the Back to the Future series of movies (1985-onwards), but it is countered by the burden of knowledge, quite often the cartoon uses the character of Morty to demonstrate the concept of trauma and pessimism. The hilariously bleak repercussions for Morty, of Ricks failed love potion in episode 6, Rick Potion Number 9, were conveyed by the absence of sound, to convey the psychological trauma and later episodes reference this. 

To conclude, and this is less than a summary and more an example of the logic of the cartoon, because I am in the end a fan boy, I would like to provide a representative example of its content that does not feature traveling, set in the family home, from episode 2,  LawnMower Dog” where the family dog becomes sentient. The dogs sentience is considered cute at first but backfires when it sees how humans treat dogs and have bred them into stubby legged toys (ie the concept of the toy dog). The cute fluffy white family dog over a series of scenes builds a speech synthesizer and an exoskeleton so it can interact and communicate with the family. This eventually leads to a scene where the dog wakes the family’s daughter, Summer, in the middle of the night and asks ominously, in an calm computerized voice,  that evokes HAL from 2001 Space Odyssey (1968), “Where are my testicles Summer? What happened to my testicles?”.  It gets even more complex from then on.

Season one is at http://www.adultswim.com/videos/rick-and-morty and Season two starts soon.

Obman-Veschestv link to see artwork.

Bibliography

Grayson, Nowark. (2013). Absurd Parody for Night Owls : Understanding Adult Swim's Offensive Content. Thesis at Emory University. Page 59, 60 & 99.  

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Man, the workplace. Probably as far as this goes.
Comedy is hard.

Getting more proficient with the GNU Image Manipulation Program.