Contains some spoilers for The Hunger Games, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and Inglorious Basterds
Image credit: chacha.com "how to dress like Katniss Everdeen"
In The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the newly released adaptation of the sequel to Suzanne Collins’ novel and 2012 film The Hunger Games, President Snow’s cronies set out to torture and intimidate the citizens of the 12 districts. Their first step is to destroy one of the people’s few sources of pleasure, and hope-- the black markets. Soldiers clad like storm troopers file into the town eliciting screams and looks of terror, upturning chests of drawers, smashing picture frames, and attacking everyone in their path. As the camera pans the rubble, one notices a certain patina to the wood and the family photographs:they’re all roughly from the 1930s. Which begs the question, just how far into the future does The Hunger Games take place?
This past Thanksgiving/Black Friday combo gave me some time to reflect on (read: be befuddled about) some of the paradoxical impulses these distinctly American holidays encourage. On Thanksgiving day, as I finished cobbling together the world's simplest casserole to take over to a friend's, my partner was snoring the next room, trying to catch a few proverbial Z's before heading in to work for a midnight shift. I muttered my frustrations into gravy that stubbornly insisted on being lumpy, desperately trying to mobilize holiday vibes and feel thankful about the jobs my partner and I are lucky to have. No dice, though. The fact that someone I love had to miss out on dinner with friends in order to be awake for a middle-of-the-night work day made me all sorts of spiteful. Increasingly, more and more people are in this terrible boat.
Image credit (from left to right): theuglyvolvo.com and the-space-in-between.com
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and tonight is the first night of Chanukah, holidays which, for most, are all about being with family. Even in the absence of family–whether you’re making phone calls, or talking on Skype—there’s no escaping the nostalgia of the holiday season. The farther one’s family members migrate for school or career, the more important it becomes to make the pilgrimage back to that original “place” that the family once was. Maybe Austin’s recent cold snap has me in a sentimental mood, but as the Thanksgiving and Chanukah double-hitter arrives this week, the main purpose of the holidays seems to be to create an emotional snapshot of how things were, but won’t ever be again.
Remember when I said there weren't many things about Orange Is the New Black that made me cringe? Well, I recollected one. The show's ability to construct multi-dimensional, psychologically complex, believably flawed characters is one of its primary successes. One of its primary problems, however, manifests when the show occasionally forgets just how well it does create dynamic characters.
One of my favorite things about yoga class is when the instructor, Iva, talks about how the various poses transform the inside of the body. In butterfly pose, she tells you about the rejuvenation of your spleen, kidney, and stomach meridians (i.e. channels of energy that run through the body according to Ayurveda). When you find yourself in a handstand, and it feels for a few seconds like floating, it’s probably because it’s one of the only times your organs get to hang upside down and all the blood in your body can recirculate. Twisting, as many a hungover yogi will know, detoxifies your body and wrings out your organs. Yoga instructors say these same things over and over, and after practicing for awhile, it’s hard not to believe them.
In my last post I wrote about viral internet photo collections of people from around the world with their possessions. Perhaps because of these photos, or perhaps because of a general cultural zeitgeist, another much older genre of ethnographic portraiture has been receiving renewed attention on the web: portraiture of “tribespeople” from around the world. The most prominent series in the revival of this genre seems to be Before They Pass Away,a long-term project from British-born photographer Jimmy Nelson.
Given my fascination with what's visually acceptable and what's considered outré or even repulsive about women's bodies, I'm personally shocked that I haven't yet made time to talk about Orange Is the New Black, a semi-new Netflix Original Series. Season 1 appeared en masse on July 11, and I, for one, lost a few days of my life greedily devouring every single hour-long episode. The premise at first gave me pause. An upper-middle-class white woman, Piper Chapman, is incarcerated years after the fact for helping an old girlfriend smuggle drug money across some international borders. Trials and tribulations for her ensue in a women's prison. I was a bit concerned that the show would make light of its own topic and elide very real health, safety and human rights issues facing minority women serving time. However, I was pleasantly surprised at the thoughtful, sympathetic way with which the show attempts to deal with sociopolitical issues. The cycle of poverty, drug use and LGBQT discrimination all get decent airtime, and, though I'm a bit removed from the experience, I can't recall many particular moments that made me cringe (though I do plan on using a later post to discuss the show's treatment of abortion).
I've struggled this week to come up with a topic for viz. It isn't easy to generate new, engaging content week after week. But I was scrolling through various social media platforms this morning, and checking the news, and it was all business as usual until I came across the image above of the first mass grave dug this week in the Philippines for victims of Typhoon Haiyana.
In a time when it's easier and faster than ever to be informed about events across the globe, and when we confront images daily of places we will never visit or perhaps imagine on our own, I'm struck by how little I've seen from the Philippines this week. It's been a busy week, certainly, and a variety of local news stories (plus that "what-would-I-say" bot) have taken clear precedence on my Facebook feed. Still, I can't help but wonder if my limited encounter with images from this most recent weather disaster is a sign of something other than info glut.
Olympic fencer Shin A-Lam of South Korea remains in the arena to contest an unfavorable ruling without the expected stoicism. Image credit: Korea Bang
What does it mean to document loss? What is its rhetorical function? Rhetoric of Celebrity student Iva Kinnaird assembles an archive of defeat from several Olympic games, tracing the intersections of celebrity and sportsmanship. The documentation of loss, she asserts, commodifies defeat and makes it available for public consumption. The result is a strange rhetorical landscape where the lines between winning and losing become less easy to determine.
I’ve been seeing a growing trend on the internet for the past year or so: sites like Buzzfeed and Bored Panda advertising series like Gabriele Galimberte’s Toy Stories a.k.a. “Children from Around the World with Their Favorite Toys,” or, another popular one, “Families from around the World with a Month’s Worth of Food.” What is the source of our cultural compulsion to view these massive collections of human possessions? Moreover, why do we like to see all of the peoples of every nation juxtaposed alongside one another? Visual Rhetoric is not only the study of individual signs, images, and symbols, but also of the messages that images impart as a collective. In the era of the internet list and the online photo gallery, images are often presented in groups to form a broader thesis. So what exactly is the thesis behind these “People from around the World Holding X” or “Doing Y”?
In looking at these catalogues of humanity writ large, I’m reminded of an exhibit which made its debut long before the era of viral internet photo collections: Edward Steichen’s The Family of Man.