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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Cinematical Allegory is Alive and Well


So, Angel and I just came back from the movies. As the title link suggests, we went to see Eagle Eye, the latest Hollywood actioner starring Shia LaBoeuf.

Now, before I get to the main topic of this post, I would like to take a couple of moments to talk about the twenty fucking minutes of commercials I had to endure, before they even dimmed the house lights.

Cineplex Odeon Theatres ran commercials for Telus, Fanta, the Quebec Dairy Board, Canadian Tire, Toyota, Stella Artois, Scotiabank, Burger King, MasterCard back to back, interspersed only with a few vague "celebrity interviews" that were nothing more than filler designed to give us a break from the commercials.

Here's the thing: given what we pay for the privilege in sitting in a theatre designed to hold as many people as possible in as small a space as allowed by law and given how overly marked-up the snacks at the concession stand are, given that those advertizers PAID to show those commercials to a more-or-less captive audience, namely us, I feel that we, the viewing public, are owed some sort of compensation. The bloody ticket prices being what they are, I feel that if I am going to be obliged to watch these damn commercials, well, I ought to get a rebate; at the very least you should make the popcorn a hell of a lot cheaper given how little it actually costs to produce.

Now, until something is done to either compensate us for wasting our time with bloody COMMERCIALS, be it removing those damn commercials from the screens or giving us something back in return, I intend to boycott the advertizers whenever possible. Obviously, the Dairy Board has me by the balls, but I intend to avoid using the services or purchasing the products of Telus, Fanta, Canadian Tire, Toyota, Stella Artois, Scotiabank, Burger King, and MasterCard until something is done.

I think you should all do the same.

Now, on with our feature post.

So, while I thoroughly enjoyed Eagle Eye, in spite of some massive plot holes and questionable technological contrivances, I was struck by something, as I watched the film.

Back in the Good Old Days, Hollywood movies were often used as allegorical propaganda, delivering thinly veiled and easily digested messages to the movie-going public. The best examples of this are the original versions of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Thing, which were cautionary tales about the dangers of Communism.

The idea was these mysterious alien pods were insidiously invading, taking over, assimilating and homogenizing everyone into perfect, obediant slaves. Get it?

Well, there were many movies like this in the 50s, 60s, and off and on even into the modern era. Some of them were more subtle than others, some of them so painfully blatant that people walked away from the ham-handedness of the message.

Well, Eagle Eye is an example of this allegory at its best: the film serves as a three-pronged attack on some (definitely) dangerous elements pervasive in America today: The threat posed to individual freedom and civil liberties from a government run amok in the name of national security, the direct and immediate threat posed to Americans by the warrantless wiretapping program, and the naive way people entrust so much private information to very public data networks.

Now, this is as much as I can actually say, without really spoiling the plot of the film. This one does follow the Robert Ludlum Thriller Formula, which I've spoken about before (at this point if you know the formula of which I speak, scroll down to the next paragraph; otherwise, keep reading): The Robert Ludlum Thriller Formula goes like this: Ordinary Man becomes Reluctant Hero placed in Extraordinary Situation. Bystander Woman gets swept up as Events Unfold, Casting Her Lot in with Ordinary Man. Shocking Plot Twists make Ordinary Man and Bystander Woman question Who They Can Trust. Last Minute Race To The Finish makes for Reader Excitement. Book Ends with Ordinary Man and Bystander Woman either Getting Married or Getting Laid.

Now, it is important to note that this movie does not have any maniacal government conspiracy; it really is about the dangers of the untamed and unpredictable technology we put so much faith in. It is, nevertheless, a brilliant movie.

However, the movie is trying very hard to impart the lessons of its themes, almost to the point that I found it distracting. It is an important message, and it is a brilliant window on current history, as it unfolds. I suspect that it will even be the focus of many a lecture, in film classes in the future. What irritates me, however, is that such an important message, such an important indictment of the facts has to be spoon-fed like pablum to an audience that is otherwise oblivious; an audience that will, for the most part, go out of its way to avoid confronting the hard issues.

Why is it that the general public has spent the better part of the last decade closing their eyes to the very real threats to their safety and liberties? Why have so many tried so hard not to question what they've been told? Why have so many turned their backs on everyone who has tried to tell them what's going on? Why is it the only way people will even entertain such notions is when they're disguised in parable, like sticking a dog's pill in a hunk of cheese?

What really frustrates me is that I can't think of any reasonable answer.

Go see Eagle Eye. Hopefully it will open your eyes, and free your mind just a little.



Tuesday, September 09, 2008

On New Laptops

Don't get me wrong, I really love my new laptop. I love its videogame-ready graphics accelerator, its 2GB ram and 160 gb hard drive, multiple USB ports, widescreen and 3 hour battery life.

But, I really wanted a Mac.

And my new machine runs on Windows Vista.

So why didn't I get a Mac?

Well, it all boils down to cost. The price of two of the Acer Aspire laptops I bought (One for me, one for Angel, both tax deductible thanks to CONFRONT Magazine and my writing career) was still less than a new Macbook Pro. Add to that the fact we were given a copy of MS Office 2007 for Windows, it also meant we were saving a king's ransom on software.

Now, the laptop runs perfectly fine, and now that it's set up, it's terriffic. The problem was setting it up.

The usual tedium of first activation of a PC applied: about two hours of automated installation and setup, followed by the real sheer hell. The laptop refused to connect to my home-based wifi network, instead it kept connecting to every other wifi network in the fucking neighbourhood.

Basically, the struggle to get the laptop to connect to my wifi netowrk and not any other network went something like this:

Me: Stop connecting to the other networks.

Computer: But they're better!

Me: I want you to connect to MY network.

Computer: OK! Please restart me to make this network the default network!

Me(After restarting the computer): You're connecting to the other network again!

Computer: This network is better!

Me: IT'S NOT MY FUCKING NETWORK! MY MAIN COMPUTER ISN'T ON THIS NETWORK!

Computer: Okay! Just switch me over to the network you want me to use!

Me: Ok!

Computer: OK! Please restart me to make this network the default network!

Me: You BETTER make it the default network...FUCK! YOU ARE CONNECTING TO THE OTHER NETWORK AGAIN!

Computer: This network is better!

Me: FORGET THAT NETWORK! FORGET THE OTHER NETWORKS! FORGET ALL THE OTHER NETWORKS!

Computer: Okay! Please restart me to make this network the default network!

Me: FINALLY!

Computer: You can't connect to the internet from here!

Me: WHAT? Why...aren't...you...connecting...to...the...fucking...INTERNET?

Computer: You don't have permission on this network to connect to the internet. Here are some other networks! You can connect to the internet using THEM!

Me: GOD DAMMIT! YOU PIECE OF SHIT!

Computer: If you like, I can attempt to repair the wifi connectivity so you can connect to the internet using your default network.

Me: YES! PLEASE!

Computer: There is nothing to repair. This connection is working fine!

Me: For FUCK's sake! No it isn't!

Computer: Yes, it is!

Me: No, it isn't!

Computer: Yes, it is!

Me: NO! IT REALLY ISN'T!

Computer: Would you like to connect to the internet?

Me: Yes! Absolutely!

Computer: You are now on another network and connected to the internet!

Me: YOU SON OF A BITCH! FORGET THAT NETWORK! FORGET EVERY SINGLE NETWORK YOU HAVE!

Computer: Okay!

Me: Now, connect to MY network!

Computer: Your WHAT, now?

Me: My network,

Computer: What network?

Me: THIS network!

Computer: I don't see a network,

Me: It's right there!

Computer: That wi-fi thingie that you have connected to the other, obsolete computer? Is that what you want me to do?

Me: YES! Oh, God, please, YES!

Computer: THIS network over here is better! I'll connect to it, instead!

Me: NOOOOOOOO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! O NOES! NO!

Computer: Okay.

Me:Just...connect...to...my...network...don't...even...LOOK...at...other...networks...

Computer: Even if they're BETTER?

Me: Even if they're better...even if they're the best network you've ever seen, even if the network is a direct pipeline into the greatest most important secrets in all the cosmos, even if the network is hard-wired into the back of God's head...even if the network entices you with shiny things...don't...connect...to...another...network...just...MINE!

Computer: Okay! You're now connected to the network. You're now on the internet! Wasn't that easy?

See, now that that's over with, the computer actually works fine. When I go to the cafe, I can connect to Ile Sans File without problem, when I come back home it connects to the home network...but the setup was such a pain in the ass...SUCH a pain in the ass that I'd rather suffer through a proctological exam than do it again.

The writing is marvellous again; I'm almost through The Darkness and the Stars, I'm slating other projects, I've all my music stored on the laptop...simply dreamy!

But, next time, I want to get a Mac.