Sunday, 15 January 2012

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“Not suffering like starving 19th-century Norwegian immigrants” That, according to Victor David Hanson, is the contemporary version of “the good life.” From a man who compulsively reminds anyone in earshot that “for 20 years I taught classics,” defining “the good life” as the absence of suffering is surprising. I always thought it had something to do with one of those Greek words Hanson loves so much—but I only studied classics for a couple semesters as an undergraduate and am probably misremembering. That said, Hanson’s certainly correct about one thing: no one suffers quite as poignantly as white people. It’s no coincidence that his first complaint about people who complain about class is: Meanwhile we see the “poor” near rioting over buying the first few pairs of Michael Jordan $200 sneakers[.] His argument is entirely about class. Consider the impoverished people at one of those near-riots: Not a single one of them looks to be a starving Norwegian. That’s because Hanson is talking about class here: In the car today, I heard the usual con ads on the radio. Got problems with the IRS? No problem, we can renegotiate that away. Too much credit card borrowing? No problem, we can settle it at half what you owe … Lately I heard ads from the Department of Agriculture, reminding me that if I belong to some such minority group, I can sue if I felt I was discriminated against. Class: My point again is not to object to magnanimity, but to object mightily to those who slander a system that is more egalitarian and generous than any in civilization’s history. Race-based quotas help as well. What do they help? They help poor people acquire what Hanson calls “the simulacra of equality.” Here’s the actual example he uses to “prove” that the simulacra of equality is a good thing: I also say simulacra because few in Selma vacation in Tuscany. But sitting in front of a big-screen TV, with some Italian music on, while watching Rick Steves (with TV sound off) touring Florence seems not all that different from the 28-hour hassle of flying to rural Italy. The former is free; the latter “rich” people alone afford. Sitting in front of a television isn’t all that different from going to Italy? The mind reels. Hanson’s new definition of “the good life” entails not starving and not having to deal with the hassle of flying overseas. So if you see someone in expensive sneakers who’s neither starving nor vacationing overseas and you still think that class exists in America, you’re probably one of those people trying to “get tenure by writing obscure, clever little essays that few read on insidious class differences.” And if you’re one of those people, your mother’s most likely a Mexican.
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Follow that thought! (Yet another one of those posts.) The opening credit sequence in Fight Club is a nifty little reverse-literalization of a common directorial device for representing thought on screen. The technique typically works in the manner it does at the end of the film's first scene. Start with a medium close-up of a face: Note that the narrator indicates that he's had a revelation. The camera supports his claim by zooming into a close-up: Then into an extreme close-up: By zooming in on his face, David Fincher indicates that the audience is about to enter his mind. It's as if the camera's going to continue through his eyes and into his memory, which is why—as is the case here—such zooms are so often followed by a flashback: Call it an abuse of frontality—that feature of a frame that allows the audience to drink deeply of a character's eyes and acquire sympathy with or knowledge of what lies behind them—but it's really just an arbitrary convention. There's no logical reason zooming in on a face should signal the beginning of a flashback. But it frequently does. What's interesting about the opening title sequence of Fight Club is that it reverses the convention. Via CGI, the audience sees an idea—represented by an electric flash of blue light—form: The idea then travels around the brain: Until it punctures the skin on Edward Norton's forehead: And travels down the barrel of the gun Brad Pitt's holding in Norton's mouth before stopping at the sights: At which point Fincher racks the focus and provides the audience with an extreme close-up of Norton's face: Instead of zooming into an extreme close-up to flash back to a memory, Fincher opens the film by following a thought from its origin to an extreme close-up. Meaning that the title sequence and first scene work in tandem—thought-goes-out-to-camera and thought-goes-in-from-camera—to bookend that opening scene. Is this in any way significant or just Fincher being fancy to be fancy? Considering that the tandem of the opening sequence and the first scene structurely suggests that this is all in Edward Norton's head, I'm tempted to argue the former. That said, the signal that weaves through the opening credits is an untranslated thought: it can be any neuronal transmission relevant to Norton's current predicament. The audience can only infer its content from its timing, which means it could be, to name but two examples, Norton's decision to stick the gun in his mouth or the fear of what he'll do with it once there. In short, Fincher's credit sequence undermines the logic of the very convention he employs to transition from the first scene to the flashback.

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