Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Of course Obama is Satan Whether you believe that Mohamen Mehdi Ouazanni, the man portraying Satan in the Hitler Channel’s adaptation of The Bible, looks like President Obama depends on a number of factors, foremost among them your familiarity with people of other races. If, like many white conservatives, the majority of your interaction with people darker than you occurs when you watch the evening news, you see this image and are shocked by the similarity: Just look at his skin! The deep set eyes! The wide nose! His ears aren’t visible but surely they’re identical too! Except they aren’t. This is why I force my students to pay very close attention to the actual frames they’re analyzing instead of relying on an uncritical sense of what’s being represented on screen. To wit: I chose this comparison because it’s the one in which the likeness, such as it is, seems greatest. It’s important to note that it’s from the conservative Newsbusters site, meaning that it’s been selected in order to heighten the featural similarities between them. The President’s lips aren’t always pursed, and choosing an image in which they are creates some features that wouldn’t otherwise be there, but for argument’s sake I’ll pretend this is how the President always looks. We’ll start our comparison with the forehead: not only is Ouazanni’s deeply furrowed, the muscles above his eyebrows are far more defined. Moving down to the glabella — the bit between the eyebrows — Ouazanni’s contains both vertical and horizontal furrows, whereas the President’s is smooth. Both have deep-set eyes, but Ouazanni’s are hooded and appear almost rectangular, whereas the President’s are almond-shaped. Beneath both of their eyes is a pronounced lower eyelid furrow which combines with an intraorbital furrow to create downward facing triangles on their cheeks. In this image, they both also have well-defined nasolabial furrows descending from the tips of their nostril wings out and around their lips to their chins, both of which are squarish. There are significant differences: Ouazanni’s cheeks are sunken, whereas the President’s are puffed; the shape and presentation angle of their nostrils is completely different, etc. In other words, a simple description of the features of their face makes it possible to believe that they look somewhat similar — or that, as many on the right are arguing, Ouazanni looks like an older version the President. Except they don’t. The number of specific features a viewer needs to overlook — or be race-blind to — in order to claim a holistic similarity between the two is just too high.* If you want to see a connection, enough featural similarities exist for you to do so, but only if you make a conscious decision to equate an image of Satan in a hoodie with the President. The number of distinctions you must overlook is equaled by the number your cross-racial identification bias prevents you from seeing. Factor in whatever intuitive model of aging you use to crease the President’s forehead and wrinkle his cheeks and it’s clear...
"Without edits, it's not a film." I'm watching the BBC documentary The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector, and you can too, for free: It's interesting more for the historical anecdotes than the Nancy Grace-style murder-narrative at its core—and I say that before reaching the point where they'll talk about Spector threatening Leonard Cohen, Allen Ginsberg and Bob Dylan with a crossbow over the final mix of "Don't Go Home With Your Hard-on. For example, the notion that Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro's careers could have killed by an injunction, and that only special pleading by John Lennon saved them intrigues me as a film scholar (40:40). But even more interesting is Spector's discussion of "Be My Baby," Brian Wilson and an "edit record" (44:28), which for him means a song that suffers because its seams are showing. "Good Vibrations" isn't a good song because it's got a lot of edits in it, like Pyscho, which is a great film, but an "edit film." Without edits, it's not a film. With edits, it's a great film. But it's not Rebecca, it's not a great story the way Alfred Hitchcock could make a great story. I suppose this would make Rope Spector's favorite Hitchcock film, what with all its invisible edits—or maybe that would make Rope Spector's least favorite Hitchcock film, being that it'd be his most dishonest. Which is another way of saying that Spector seems to believe that a work in which a professional can ascertain the hand of an auteur is less valuable than one in which an amateur can. Because anyone can see the edits in Psycho, whereas it takes a trained eye to find them in Rope. At least that's how I'm reading Spector's aesthetic philosophy here: Wilson's production of "Good Vibrations" is lacking because Spector can hear tracks end or overlap that the average person can't. Except that doesn't make any sense, because he's basically arguing for his own insignificance, i.e. the greatest artists are the ones whose labor is imperceptible to the audience. But this criteria strikes me as counterproductive if you're trying to claim that producers are artists. Just consider this excellent video about the production of The Beach Boy's "Sloop John B." I've queued it up to where Wilson's editorial oversight becomes evident instrument-by-instrument, and I'll admit that it's clearly a highly edited song, but why would that make it less interesting to a producer than one like "Be My Baby," which was recorded in a take, pumped into an echo chamber and transmitted into a studio? Spector seems to be arguing at cross-purposes here, fetishizing the act of capturing a sound in a moment instead of valuing the artistry required to combine various sources in order to match some ideal a composer only hears in his head. To muddy the waters further by introducing another medium, this seems like the equivalent of valuing Dubliners over Ulysses because the artistry is more evident in the latter than the former even though it abounds in both. This...

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