Make no mistake, Smaug is the star of Peter Jackson’s latest foray into J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth.
Towards the end of their arduous journey to the Lonely Mountain, Bilbo and the Dwarves happen across the burnt out husk of Dale a prosperous town once inhabited by men. Smaug the Magnificent, the last Great Dragon of Middle-Earth, razed it to the ground when he usurped the Kingdom Under the Mountain. This is the physical desolation wrought by Smaug, charred, black and craven. Yet Smaug’s scorched earth policy is secondary when compared to the spiritual and moral desolation felt by the exiled Thorin Oakenshield and the men of Lake-town who live under the shadow of the dragon’s thunderous wings.
These two shows are good illustrations of what does…and doesn’t…work in television.
As 2013 draws to a close and the media are filled with retrospectives on the best of, the worst of, and those between, I find myself reflecting on the television I gave up on in 2013 due to complete lack of imagination on the part of the showrunners, pure terribleness, and other factors. Two new entries for fall particularly stand out for me on this list, illustrations of what does…and doesn’t…work in television.
The Bay Area has a secret, and it’s this: the area is not as liberal as it appears.
California’s Bay Area enjoys a reputation as one of the most liberal regions in the country, a locale infamous for ‘San Francisco values,’ the alleged libertine attitudes of the Castro, the quirky ‘How Berkeley Can You Be?’ parade, and many more things large and small that project an attitude of liberality, heightened consciousness about social issues, and community to the rest of the nation. When the conservative right wants to set its targets on what it sees as the latest sin of the left, its eyes often look to the Bay Area, and the state as a whole has been at the core of a number of controversies ranging from tighter environmental protections to the legalisation of marijuana to marriage equality.
For Almost Human, there is no collapse of humanity followed by attempts to rebuild: this is a look right into the whirling eye of humanity at its worst.
Irritatingly, I find myself deeply enjoying yet another police drama. This whole thing is starting to make me highly suspicious about my supposedly anti-establishment leanings—perhaps pop culture is succeeding too well at indoctrinating me with a love of the police force. Either that, or it dedicates more resources to making police dramas excellent than it does to other programmes, with the exception of the endless reality television splooging about all over US television screens.
Ultimately, Gravity is made for where the money’s at, and that money is no longer stateside.
The planets have realigned and America is no longer at the center of the Hollywood universe. Imaginative outsiders are heading west to mine California gold, and in true Invasion of the Body Snatchers style, foreigners now pull the artistic strings inside the behemoth studio system. Take for example that feat of spectacular special effects and cinematography prowess known as Gravity, an Avatar-rivaling blockbuster helmed by the Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón, which draws a line in the sand, giving us a glimpse into what the future marriage of art and commerce will look like.
Mastodon’s response to criticism shows a sad attempt to retroactively imbue a racist, sexist image with a hipster know-it-all attitude.
U.S. metal band Mastodon found itself embroiled in controversy late last week after they released a limited edition Thanksgiving-themed shirt for sale on their website. The shirt, emblazoned with the band’s name and the words “Happy Thanksgiving,” depicts a scruffy, grinning pilgrim aiming a musket at a scantily-clad Native women, who kneels before him while offering a fully-cooked turkey. Many of the band’s fans were not impressed, and took to Facebook to voice their concerns about the shirt’s artwork. Some fans, such as Native activist Erica Lee, posted further commentary on the shirt’s many issues on Tumblr. Some Native communities on Facebook were also quick to point out the racist and sexist implications of the shirt’s imagery.
“all important stories are minority stories.”
For co-directors Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson, their 13-years-in-the-making “American Promise” may have fulfilled every indie filmmaker’s American Dream. Since winning the Jury Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the doc – which trails this upper-middle-class black couple’s own son Idris and his friend Seun as they learn to navigate the majority white world of NYC’s prestigious Dalton School – has nabbed prize after prize, including the top award at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, and most recently, at the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival. It was there in Hot Springs that I finally got to catch the flick – and, as good luck would have it, moderate a Q&A via Skype with the Brooklyn duo. And since there’s rarely enough time post-screening to adequately address questions in depth, I asked the filmmaking couple for a repeat performance here at Global Comment. (“American Promise” will premiere on PBS in February – but if you simply can’t wait, go to www.americanpromise.org to request a screening near you.)
It is this sort of grassroots organizing that packs a heavyweight punch in the fight for workplace safety.
A year ago, on November 24, 2012, the garment industry’s dirty little safety secret was thrust into the global spotlight: 112 people jumped to their deaths or were burned alive in a fire inside an apparel factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Most were women and girls who worked inside the factory; 1800 more were injured. A follow-up report in the Wall Street Journal in December showed that clothing bearing the Wal-Mart brand Faded Glory was found in the factory after the fire. This suggests the factory had been making clothes destined for the retail giant even after a 2011 safety inspection carried out for a Wal-Mart supplier showed that “exits and stairwells at the factory were blocked, workers were unaware of evacuation routes and the factory lacked some firefighting equipment.” Though it has tried to distance itself from the facility, a WalMart spokesperson had to admit that controlling safety conditions for workers throughout the supply chain was “a challenge.” But now, garment workers are speaking out to demand that their workplaces be made safer.
Already, the implementation of Obamacare has been troubled.
The woeful state of health care in the United States has made the country into something that would be a laughingstock, if the stakes weren’t so high. While most other Western nations have managed to create functional (though by no means perfect) systems for ensuring that residents are connected with health services, the United States flails within a system that primarily benefits private insurers, pharmaceutical companies, and hospital conglomerates. Attempts at reform under the Obama Administration have proved difficult. While residents were never promised single payer healthcare (the most obvious solution to the country’s troubles) to begin with, the actual level of health care reform differs radically from that advertised.
Ahead of the New York revival of The Assassination of Jesse James by The Coward Robert Ford to be shown at The Museum of the Moving Image on December 7th, Mark Farnsworth pays tribute to a masterpiece of modern cinema.
The Western is violence. The Western is death. “Death is the predominant element of the westerner’s world view, death of a certain kind, that is, death understood in a certain way,” states Peter A. French. What kind of death does the westerner seek? Which Homeric end could claim his life? The heroic showdown, the bloody last stand, or the ignominy of being gunned down like a dog in the street?
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