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Seagalogy

Setting the opening scenes on Oscar night 1983 adds a sort of realistic texture to the movie, putting the characters into the same historical and cultural type context that we live in... but I think there's also a little subtext here--I don't think it is a stretch to guess that the writers chose Oscar night 1983 as a way of comparing Mason Storm's violent retribution to Gandhi's non-violent protest. Mason never finds out about Gandhi winning the Oscars, but his friend at the police stations does, and cheers for Ben Kingsley's win shortly before being shot dead. This seems to indicate that pacifism can only go so far, that we are dealing with violent people and that at some point you need to decide that enough is enough and bring violent retribution to your enemies the way Mason Storm does. You can't just let people walk all over you--you need to take them to the blood bank, it says.

The only real weakness I can find in this argument is that Gandhi is an actual historical figure who really did use non-violent protests to bring independence to India, and in turn inspired other movements across the world, including the one that ended segregation in the United states. Mason Storm, on the other hand, is a fictional character and still was only able to get revenge on a couple of people. I'm sure it made him feel better to say stuff like, "That's for my wife. Fuck you and die," but I still think Gandhi's method has a better track record, in my opinion. I mean I could be wrong. I'm not though.

Still, the movie is great.


--From Seagalogy, by Vern.

Out of a vague curiosity and desire to read something different, I picked up Seagalogy, a study of the ass-kicking films of Steven Seagal, and I really can't justify it more than that.

I don't know what I expected with the book, but so far, I'm finding it pretty funny. It's almost like a parody of pop culture criticism, wherein people write thesis' and huge articles about the importance of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dr Who, and do it in that tone that suggests that they really want their obsessions to be taken seriously, and to be seen as important. That's always bugged me, simply because, really, they're not. The subtext is often thin, the themes one note, the final product dodgy, and so on and so forth; but in Seagalogy, Vern acknowledges that Seagal's films aren't art, and even as he goes through making a theory that the films have a correlation to Seagal's life, and represent his own interests, he does it without any seriousness, without that pitiful whine that often comes through in pop culture criticism. Vern simply doesn't care. You understand that he loves Seagal's films for what they are, and has a theory about them that he wants you to dig, but there's a good sense of just not giving a fuck if you take it or not, at least at this stage of reading the book.

But mostly, it's funny, and I've surprised myself and stopped reading Lydia Millet's new book--and I fucking love Millet--to read this.

(crossposted)

Comments

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catsparx
Nov. 17th, 2008 12:14 am (UTC)
I don't get the prejudice against taking television seriously as an art form. Why can a novel or a poem or a movie song be important but a TV show not?
benpeek
Nov. 17th, 2008 12:20 am (UTC)
they can be.

a lot of pop culture writing on TV, however, focus' on what is essential soap opera TV, and the majority of it is just crap. pop culture criticism will let you get away with giving anything a slight bit of social importance, but like novels and poems and films, not all TV shows are created equal.
catsparx
Nov. 17th, 2008 12:25 am (UTC)
I reckon there's an important place for crap in cultural studies, because people like it on mass. *Because* they so often choose it over other products deemed more worthy.
benpeek
Nov. 17th, 2008 12:35 am (UTC)
a lot of people like junk food, but that doesn't mean its well made. it just means it is cheap and easily accessible.
catsparx
Nov. 17th, 2008 12:42 am (UTC)
ah yes, the old junk food comparison... seriously though, when you dismiss Buffy and Who as culturally worthless, might you not be exhibiting personal prejudice? Isn't it better to leave your own taste at the door when making evaluations about cultural relevance? This issue came up last night after Rob and I watched a movie, Terry Gilliam's Tideland, which we thought was pretty interesting, yet turns out to have been widely panned by critics, many of them rating the film as a complete zero. The film has many morally uncomfortable moments, yet is well shot, well acted, etc etc. How can it score a zero? I suspect the answer lies in personal taste and I expect better from so called professional reviewers.
benpeek
Nov. 17th, 2008 01:05 am (UTC)
well, i haven't seen TIDELAND so i can't really say anything about it. gilliam has, though, never done too well by critics.

As for personal taste, no, not really. i don't mind buffy. don't like dr who, but i don't mind buffy. the truth is, however, that it's a very uneven show. there are good moments, but they are vastly outnumbered by the bad ones, once that are made for a variety of reasons (actors leave, budget, and simple bad writing and bad acting). you want to give it some revelance to culture, go right head--but there are shows that are better, and more consistent, and more interesting in their themes (DEADWOOD'S concern of mapping out the rise of modern american culture, for example).

to me, that whole argument that 'a lot of people like it so its important' just fits nicely into what i consider a general dumbing down of material around us. it probably wouldn't be so strong if the 'experts' on lit and films and TV and whatever weren't so uniformally boring, and if school didn't teach you with the blandest, non-offensive shit they could find; but to me, the rise of these pop culture critics and their popularity are no unconnected with the anti-intellectualism that often strikes are criticism of literature. no doubt you'll disagree, but it's where i sit, and i don't mind saying it and having the conversations round it. better than having no conversation at all.
catsparx
Nov. 17th, 2008 02:03 am (UTC)
Yes, conversation is a good thing.

I reckon that the things eras get remembered for might not be the things they consider to be their own most important cultural attributes at the time.
strangedave
Nov. 17th, 2008 02:50 am (UTC)
Yeah, some material is critically more interesting to talk about, and ultimately most of us do it simply because of interest, so any greater justification than that is unnecessary. Once you start talking about theme, though, you've already started to get a bit inconsistent -- if there is material that is interesting because of theme, then there is going to be material that is interesting because of its theme despite its flaws as fiction, be it badly acted or inconsistently written of whatever. And ultimately, what themes are interesting and what aren't is a matter of taste -- I love Deadwood, but ultimately I find American navel gazing about the origins of its culture usually leaves me a bit cold, whereas some Buffy themes, like the modern re-evaluation/reinvention of family, are things that interest me enough to read other non-fiction about them, so Buffy critical stuff does it for me, while Deadwood critical stuff, much as I love Deadwood as drama, isn't something I'd seek out. Maybe it interests me a little more now I've become a bit more interested in early Australian history.


Anyway, carry the idea that something can be interesting due to theme while flawed as fiction to its logical extreme, and you end up at the academic study of reality TV. It amounts to academics studying culture of the community, rather than academics studying the culture of a small elite community. Nothing wrong with that.

Of course, if you want to study literature, rather than culture, that is a different thing. If you want to talk about writing, choose something that is well written. But that is a different thing.
benpeek
Nov. 17th, 2008 08:27 am (UTC)
yeah, true. i mean, literature, culture, different things, and we're just bashing it round as the same here for no good reason, so it's worth saying.
benpeek
Nov. 17th, 2008 01:16 am (UTC)
also, as an aside, i was telling you what a cool book SEAGALOGY was, which is about as culturally a trash topic as you could get. i merely pointed out the different tones in it and a lot of other pop culture criticism--so if anyone allowed themselves to be sidetracked by their own prejudice, it wasn't me here ;p

catsparx
Nov. 17th, 2008 02:00 am (UTC)
Hey, you're not gonna get any argument outta me about the validity of a book about Steven Segal!
strangedave
Nov. 17th, 2008 02:52 am (UTC)
Well, you could read it as the books tone seeming to fit your own prejudices about pop culture criticism, and that being the thing you felt most important to mention about it.
benpeek
Nov. 17th, 2008 08:23 am (UTC)
no, not really. the book's tone is one that suggests that it just doesn't care if you dig it or not, but it's clear the guy loves his topic, and he's doing what i often think pop culture criticism does: give unimportant texts importance.

but, y'know, he makes it work. might not work as a whole--a few chapters are just 'this happens in this movie', for example--but i'll see by the end.
strangedave
Nov. 17th, 2008 02:20 am (UTC)
Exactly -- as a subject for academic study, there is a pretty good case that mediocre fiction read (or viewed) by millions is far more important than great fiction read by hundreds.

And the case against pop culture seems to pretty much come down to 'fuck the proles, I'd rather be elitist than relevant'.
benpeek
Nov. 17th, 2008 08:26 am (UTC)
don't you think it's sad that mediocre fiction is more important? i mean, it's pretty sad, really, that millions get into some piece of shit than something cool, and i think it's actually more of a statement about the anti intellectualism that exists in our culture, and the poor way in which literature is taught now...

but mostly, great fiction should be talked about. it should be shown to people. it should excite you. it should inspire cool things.
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