Sunday, June 29, 2008


Talking to an Austrian coworker at the Landmark today got me thinking about childhood, toys, and growing up in general. There really isn't anything like cartoons. And I'm not talking about Pixar. I mean pre-CGI, Rudolph circa 1970-type stuff. I was raised on adorable Soviet moralizing tales, so artful and intelligent that they made me detest Barney and Sesame Street. No American craft can compete.

No kid will understand the smarts behind Wall-E or Ratatouille until much later, and Snow White is plain boring. Mr. Rogers, though he means well, is just too slow, and Barney is plain stupid. Instead, I was raised on the Swedish Karlsson-on-the-Roof, a portly funny-looking dude with a red propeller strapped on his back. I had the audiotapes and would listen to the stories all day.

Here's a youtube clip I found of the first 10 minutes of the show:

There's also Cheburashka, comprising the heart and soul of every true Soviet ex-Patriot kid:

Isn't he cute?

I was given the DVDs of this guy for my 18th birthday. I also bought a bona fide toy Cheburashka in St. Petersburg when I was 16 and burst into tears. The thing about Cheburashka is that he, or it (it doesn't really have a sex...) is its own species, one-of-a-kind, who isn't accepted by society because, well, he's a little weird looking and doesn't fit in. So the show/toy becomes all about the dilemma of finding friends who will accept you as you are. It's sweet, although there's more than a little bit of Soviet propaganda. But who doesn't love that?

I was also touched by this '50s-era stop-action animation:

I didn't watch it when I was a kid, but it's genius, and I nearly cried watching it. Can lambchop, cool as he was, ever achieve the same thing? I think not.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Les Quatre Cents Coups

It is unbelievable to think that this is François Truffaut's very first film, virtually launching French cinema's Nouvelle Vague. There are very few things to say about this movie that haven't already been said multiple times in pretentious French classes, other than it is simply amazing. The New Yorker came out with an article a while ago on Godard and Truffaut; apparently Les Quatre Cents Coups, the 400 Blows in English, is autobiographical. The main character, a so-called delinquent who watches movies instead of attending class, hated by all authority figures-- parents, teachers, strangers-- for reasons unknown, is based on Truffaut's troubled childhood. The kid's friend might be representative of long-time pal Godard, who came from the other side of the fence: an overly privileged lifestyle that he detests and ultimately rejects.

Landmark Theatres is obsessed with Godard. There are posters of his movies everywhere on the one on Clark and Diversey. I haven't seen any Godard yet, but what could really be better than this perfection? It's almost painful to watch little Jean-Pierre Leaud. And the music! And the cinematography! Those Frenchies sure know how to make good movies, huh? Note to self: when in Paris, indulge in cinema.

NU Commencement

I didn't have a great seat, and it was raining up until the National Anthem, but unlike even my NU friends I had the opportunity to go to the 150th commencement. Big stuff. Big enough for the mayor of the great city of Chicago, Richard M. Daley.

Now, I'm not the biggest fan of Mr. Daley. A shoe-in for mayor because of Daley version 1, corrupt to the core, with the ugliest accent this side of Lake Michigan. When I talked to a several NU seniors a few weeks ago, the vast majority were against Daley being the commencement speaker. For one, he isn't an alumnus. Mr. Daley, the quintessential C-student from DePaul, did not live up to suburban standards. Also, Daley's the mayor of CHICAGO, not the little suburb of Evanston, Illinois. However much Northwestern plays up its Chicago-ness to undergraduates, few students venture often into the great unknown that is The Windy City, aside from the few natives that go there. Daley's also known for being a horrid public speaker, and disconnected with academia as a whole.

But to much surprise, Daley was actually... interesting. He spoke well, aside from minor screw-ups. Hooray for speechwriters, who could make even the uneloquent Daley seem like a near-Obama (not really) !

Daley's speech could be summed up in two parts: 1. the Olympic bid, 2. Public service. The first was dull. Yes, we all want the Olympics. Yes, Chicago is amazing. Enough! We'll see come Copenhagen 2009. Besides, all this emphasis on Chicago being a "green" city makes me want to puke. Chicago doesn't even have a recycling program. However, Daley's discussion on public service was remarkably interesting. It's always a good idea to knock sense into preppy suburbanites from Winnetka and Des Plaines by shouting (not literally), "hey, there's a whole other world out there, and if this $200,000 education isn't to help the rest of us and save the planet, then by god, for what reason were you put on this earth?" Be ashamed, econ majors. Be very ashamed.

It did make me feel a little guilty. I'm an English major, and don't really plan to use my command of Strunk and White's Elements of Style or my appreciation of George Eliot to help the underprivileged. But then again, I'm poor. So it's ok. Right? Right.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Philosophy of Punk: Review

With every new friendship we college kids are thrown headfirst into subculture after subculture. And it's fascinating. Before this summer I knew little about punk, except for what my resentment of Hot Topic told me. No worries, I still hate liberty spikes and Rancid and will forever refuse to dye my hair. But when a book is offered, I pick up and read (excuse my St. Augustine), and I read Craig O'Hara's "The Philosophy of Punk: More Than Noise" with great interest, amusement, and more than just a grain of salt. As a friend told me yesterday, "Punk itself is a blazing contradiction." Contradiction indeed.

For one, Craig O'Hara was himself a member of a punk band. Thus, every statement assumes punk to be the one-and-only subculture, the only place were real people gather, the only place where a voice is heard. There was simply no criticism. What the world needs is an in-depth Hunter S. Thompson-style research of urban subcultures, and once I hit my twenties in two-ish months I'm hell-bent on doing just that. O'Hara, though amassing an extremely large collection of "punk" photos, left me slightly angry, with even more questions.

For one, often O'Hara was outright wrong. Take page 34: "Also influencing the later Punk movement was the type of dress the Futurists chose. Futurists meant to take their anti-art message to the streets by wearing outrageous clothes, earrings, and makeup." DISAGREE. I may be nitpicking, but I'm an art minor, so forgive me, but the futurists were 1. not anti-art, just questioning its nature (that was Dada), and 2. were enormous proponents of industrialism and capitalism, two things completely counterintuitive to punk philosophy.

More questions about "Philosophy of Punk":

1. Punk emphasizes "Direct Change" and "Direct Action," like that famous ALF group that rescues animals from labs, something O'Hara actually mentioned. In actuality though, most punk "direct action" is barbarism and destruction that changes nothing. One could graffiti a fur factory, but will it stop the killing of animals? The only way to enforce change is to talk to the enemy on his/her own level, bureaucratic-style. If punk is about societal progression and revolution, why is it so nihilistic?

2. Take this quote, from page 38: "

When people who want only to be unique or different from the rest of society adopt the Punk look, they succeed in appearing different from the norm. This is a fairly meaningless step. For someone to attempt individuality and become themselves "requires an honest, often painful look inside yourself, asking tough questions like: Who am I? What do I want from life? What should I want? What should I do? Ultimately this process will no doubt make you refuse to conform to many of society's rules and expectations..." (Positive Force Handout)

No, no, and no. One can't honestly believe that the majority of "true" punks all simultaneously came to the realization that punk music is awesome, that anarchy is the way to go, and destruction the way to get there-- that green mohawks are the epitome of individuality, that we should fuck Mozart and the Beatles and listen to music only good for its political message. Now don't get me wrong-- some punk rock is good music, too. But regardless of its old political views, punk IS a "scene," it IS fashion-conscious, and it DOES include a certain mob mentality, regardless of its so-called claims at individuality.

3. There is really no clear argument in the book against nonviolent protest, except that it isn't hardcore enough. But history has shown that nonviolent protest leads to societal progress far more often than Fanon-esque violence. However much I dislike Isaiah Berlin, I'll give him at least this much credit.

Take this hilarious quote from pages 78-79 on an anti-war protest, something that truly epitomizes this book's style:

The process of coalition building may sometimes result in a broad based protest addressing a number of issues which can be shown as interrelated. In this case, it seemed merely to water down the message of the protest. In order to not offend any of the groups present (except the communist group who was offensive in their ridiculous vocal support for Iraq), the message of the protest became "Bring Our Troops Home Now!" While not meaning to devalue human life, many Punks went on to adopt the more poignant slogan "Fuck the troops."

Poignant? How about juvenile? Sure, I may probably have done the same thing at the time (obscenities are always fun), but fun is not the issue here. The point of the protest is not to devalue troops; one of my good friends is a Marine, and even personal attachments aside, "Fuck the troops" seems simply stupid at an anti-war protest.

4. Why anarchy? Why not communism? How about democratic socialism? Why this obsession over Noam Chomsky, amazing though he might be? Why not Leon Trotsky? Or Che Guevara? Or even Bakunin, who seemed the logical solution?

5. Punk stands for extreme individualism. But so does capitalism. In Adam Curtis's eye-opening (and very cool) BBC video series "Century of the Self," he explains how psychological study, self-interest, and self-obsession became the cornerstones of our insanely consumerist society. Clearly punk is anti-consumerist, but if it ignores community ideas, and refuses to form what Hannah Arendt called the long-lost "public" realm, then everything it stands for is lost to self-obsession. If punk is so anti-nationalistic and anti-American, isn't extreme individualism the lifeblood of our economy? What punk wants is what Isaiah Berlin wanted America to be: full of Negative Liberty, liberty to do what one wants when one wants, without the restriction of government. But is this freedom?

6. And, the obvious one: how can individuals conform to the same fashion trends? Nonconformists, in stating themselves to be nonconformists, become conformists, too. Why fishnets? Why tattoos? Why piercings? Colored hair? Liberty spikes and mohawks? Doc Martens or Converse? Cargo or camo?

Until these are answered, I remain unconvinced. What I need is to veer into the punk subculture without getting my face punched for dressing like the indie New Yorker I've become. There's a concert July 31st I'm itching to go to. I'll sneak in a notepad for quotes and everything.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Film and Surrealism

There really isn't anything like a difficult movie that makes me really understand how truly little I know about film-making. I was skeptical about watching El Topo at first; what is representational surrealism without the influence of Dali? I expected the usual: phallic imagery, ants, thin-legged elephants. It's surprising how easily Alejandro Jodorowsky avoided typical surrealist clichés.

I also expected relative boredom. Does anyone seem to watch this film without massive amounts of weed? Answer: no, and I am in short (a.k.a. lacking) supply. But I attempted watching a surrealist film sober, and strangely enough, was captivated throughout. That in itself means that there are things in this movie so variously interpretable that it keeps you guessing. For example, why is it called, "the mole?" What does the movie say about fatherhood? Is it sexist? Is there even a message at all?

And must surrealism be "interpreted" in the first place? I'll say no. Who cares what Magritte's lion means in "Homesickness" (1940), or Dali's infamous ants? I'm not saying to disregard allegory. "El Topo" is all allegory, but is infinitely vast. Is it a spiritual journey? A biblical allegory? A statement about the human condition? A portrayal of essential human archetypes? Or just a freakishly cool Western on an acid trip? Maybe, maybe not. But really it doesn't matter. Beauty-- now beauty's the thing.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Webcomic Love

From Nothing Nice to Say, several years ago:

Did I mention how much of a nerd I am?

Monday, June 9, 2008


So I'm attempting this new thing called blogging professionally, which, contrary to my old friends xanga and livejournal, will contain somewhat fewer obscenities, more coherent (I can only hope) rants, and probably more pretentiousness.

Which I will half-heartedly attempt to avoid.

Also, I'm trying out this whole using-your-name-as-user-ID thing, which seems strangely like branding. -Hello world, I am Julia Alekseyeva. -Hello world, I am the indubitable Harold Bloom. -I am Richard Rodriguez.

And so on and so forth.

Speaking of Richard Rodriguez, there was an amazing article by him in the January Harper's, which I read today, because as always I am 6 months behind in my magazine subscriptions:

I forgot how much I loved his writing style, something between news journalism and stream-of-thought diary entries.
"There is no sentimentality to this encounter. Sentimentality is an expenditure of moisture. The Bedouin's beseeching eyes are dry; they are the practice of centuries. He sits down a short distance away from us while we contemplate the monastery. He looks into the distance, and, as he does so, he becomes the desert."

Also in the same Harper's is one of my new favorite poems. I envy this woman's talent more than anything right now. There's a simplicity here that I can't quite emulate no matter how hard I try:

I Met a Seducer
by Grace Paley

One day a seducer met a seducer
now said one what do we do
fly into each other's arms said
the other ugh said one they turned
stood back to back one
looked over one's shoulder smiled
shyly other turned seconds
too late made a lovelier
shy smile oh my dear said other
my own dear said one