Author: dbarry

My experience watching La Jetée

I found La Jetée very strange, not so much in the plot as in the presentation. It was more like a narrated slideshow than a movie, having only still images with narration by a singular voice. It also had whispers and sound effects, most notably a heart beat. I’m not sure if I liked this cinematic style. On one hand, it made it feel a lot like a historical documentary, which enhanced the story for me. That progression of old photos strung together by detached narration is something I generally only see in documentaries. On the other hand, I wasn’t really able to immerse myself in it like I would have been if it was a regular film. The sequential photographs weren’t as engaging to me.

Plot-wise, La Jetée reminds me of a Twilight Zone episode. The narration style was especially reminiscent of the Twilight Zone, but also the genre, type of story, and twist ending gave me that association.

Overall, I thought it was interesting and worth watching, but maybe a little too artsy and experimental for my taste.

Power and crisis in Handmaid’s Tale and Contact High

I noticed that Handmaid’s Tale and Contact High both addressed crisis as an opportunity for authoritarian governments to take more power. This can apply to a real or an imagined crisis, too- Contact High refers to a “so-called virus.” Meanwhile, Handmaid’s Tale talks about “freedom from” as an excuse for Gilead’s fascist government.

The state-sanctioned belief in Gilead is that things were much worse for women before, due to the uncontrolled violence against them. Gilead substitutes controlled violence against women and calls it protection from the problems that they would have faced otherwise. By emphasizing the problems that did exist in the country before their regime rose, they are able to justify the absolute power they have taken.

In Contact High, they imply that a virus was the impetus to forbid skin-to-skin contact. Whether or not that virus existed and was a real problem, it’s used as an excuse for imprisoning and abusing people who try to defy the system.

Both works show how emergencies can be used as justification for power-grabs. Then, after an authoritarian regime takes control, they can use the past problems to cause fear and make people reliant on their “protection.” I think this detail is realistic, and makes the messages of the book and the comic more effective.

Race/ethnicity in The Handmaid’s Tale

I liked that The Handmaid’s Tale didn’t treat gender as an isolated axis of oppression, even though it was the main focus of the book. It also addressed the way Gilead treated race and ethnicity, showing that the society was re-using historical justifications for oppression.

In particular, I noticed that there was a mention in the background of the “sons of Ham” being sent to the colonies, in one of the newscasts. Offred wonders about how they’ll move that many people. This shows the use of the historical biblical justification for the enslavement of black people being brought back in this new regime. It’s a small moment in the book, but one that changes how you read it, since it adds the information that all the characters are probably white and definitely non-black.

The book also mentions that Jewish people were either sent to Israel, forcibly converted, or killed. This mirrors the long history of Jewish expulsion, conversion, and genocide.  It was also interesting to me, because it shows that a very particular evangelical sect had taken power- the one that believes that Jesus will return and the rapture will happen only once Israel is populated by Jews. This is a very specific type of antisemitism, and the inclusion of that detail made the world seem a lot more real.

Characterization of Death

I hadn’t read any Sandman comics before this class, but I had heard that they had a really good personification of Death, and I definitely found that to be true. Having only read this volume, Death is already my favorite Sandman character. I like how she seems to be by far the least edgy of the Endless, even though it would have been easy to position Death as the edgiest. She has a really sunny and cheerful disposition, which strikes a nice contrast with Dream’s brooding.

I tend to like psychopomp characters in different media (Death in the Discworld series is a favorite of mine,) and I think it relates to what Gaiman says about wanting Death to be kind. Ultimately, the personification of death as a reassuring, welcoming figure is a sort of wish fulfillment- it’s the fantasy of having someone support us in a moment where we really need it. Sandman‘s Death seems like she would be a good friend to practically anyone, and, in my opinion, that’s what makes her such an effective character.

Male gaze in Calliope

One thing that I was unsure about in Calliope was the interplay between sexualization and horror. It seemed like there was a contradiction between rape as disturbing to audience vs. arousing to the audience. In particular, there are a few panels in which Calliope is shown as a shadowy figure and only her butt is lit, which sort of made me go, “really?” I think this comic is very self-aware about its use of the male gaze, but I’m not sure if that makes it better. Although some of the distortion of Calliope’s body looks unnerving, some of it just seems like they’re trying to angle it to get a “tits and ass” pose. By portraying her in this way, the artists are putting the viewer in the position of the men who are abusing and objectifying her. We’re not seeing through her viewpoint, even in the scenes centered on her asking the other muses for help. She’s still an object to be looked at. This seems contrary to the moral framing of the story, in which enslaving Calliope is obviously shown as evil and the two authors get their comeuppance for it.

What do you think? Is the male gaze necessary or helpful in making the point of the comic? Or does it detract from it by positioning the readers as also creeping on Calliope?

(As an aside, my favorite moment in this story was the rapist’s assertion that he’s a feminist author, followed by a moment of dramatic irony when the woman at the party asks where he gets his ideas. That was too real.)

Borges’s prologue

After learning what’s really happening on the island, I found myself thinking back to and agreeing with Borges’s prologue to the book. I think that a plot like that of The Invention of Morel is both harder to write and more engaging to read than the plots of “realistic” psychological novels, which are often lauded as more deserving of literary attention. A lot of the literature classes I’ve taken have focused on books where very little happens except in the minds of the characters. At the same time, the creative writing classes have warned us to avoid so-called “bathtub stories” – a story in which nothing physically happens as the character, for example, sits in a bathtub and reflects on their life. A lot of literary academia seems to see “bathtub stories” as the ultimate form of art, while deriding more eventful stories as “genre fiction,” or, god forbid, “fantasy.”

Borges rejects the idea that entertaining books are less deep or artistic than books that drag on with barely any plot. Just because a novel is enjoyable to read, it doesn’t mean that it’s pandering to the lowest common denominator, or whatever else literary snobs think of it. The Invention of Morel shows that entertaining novels can be just as meaningful and artful as more “realistic” texts, if not more so.

Working on a virtual world vs. experiencing it

One thing I found interesting in working in Unity was how different the experience was from experiencing a virtual world through a VR rig. Even though the work I did in Unity gave me much more of an ability to shape the environment than any VR that I’ve experienced, I didn’t feel that sense of immersion solely because I was working on a computer screen. It made me think about what the human brain values more in terms of deciding what’s real and what’s not. I would think that interaction with the world around me and the ability to make changes would be more important in classifying an experience as “real” than just seeing something in three dimensions and all around me. But that assumption doesn’t seem to play out when I work on a virtual world on a computer screen versus when I “inhabit” a virtual world through a VR rig. Even when I can’t touch or change anything around me, the VR rig still reads as some level of “real” to me, while working in Unity doesn’t.

Reality of Oz in the book vs. the movie

I found it interesting that the movie made the decision to make Dorothy’s experiences in Oz something that she dreamed. The movie leaves very little room for uncertainty or interpretation on that point. It adds Kansas equivalents of most of the major characters from Oz, and shows the transitions in and out of Oz as Dorothy hitting her head and then waking up. The book, on the other hand, leans strongly towards the interpretation that Oz is a real, albeit fantastical and detached, place and that Dorothy’s experiences there were not a dream. There is room in the book for a dream interpretation, especially with Dorothy falling asleep while her house is in the twister and waking up in Oz, but that’s just one possible interpretation. The book also has an ending where Dorothy appears in Kansas, but not in her house, leaving the possibility open that her house is, in fact, still in Oz. The movie steers the audience towards the dream explanation.

I interpreted Oz as a real, otherworldly place in the book. This is partially because, unlike the movie, the book is part of a series, so we get to see Oz without Dorothy there. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is, for the most part, through the lens of Dorothy’s experiences, but the rest of the series isn’t. Oz exists even when Dorothy isn’t looking at it. If the books had pushed the idea that Oz was Dorothy’s dream, then that would have led to an issue of what happens to characters in dreams when the dreamer wakes up, much like the dilemma in Through The Looking Glass about the Red King’s dream.

By isolating Dorothy’s experience, the movie changes the audience’s interpretation of Oz as its own entity. The changes also probably work better for a screen adaptation. The movie ending would have been much sadder if Dorothy’s parting from her friends wasn’t softened by her reunification with their Kansas equivalents.