Destroyed Phantasmagorias in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Inglourious Basterds

 Note: contains spoilers for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Inglorious Basterds 

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Hello viz. readers, it’s good to be back! In my last post (way back in 2013), I remarked upon the similarity between characters Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) and Shoshanna Dreyfus in Inglorious Basterds (2009). Though Catching Fire runs through a gamut of stylistic epochs, Katniss’s home in District 12 has an intentionally Hooverville 1930’s aesthetic, placing it in roughly the same period as Tarantino’s Nazi revenge flick Inglorious Basterds. Similarly, both characters are separated from their families by totalitarian regimes. Finally, both heroines are placed in a position to be simultaneously savvy yet reluctant centers of those same totalitarian regimes’ entertainment spectacles – which is what I want to talk about in this post.

Beyonce's ***Flawless Feminism

Beyonce confronting the camera in video

Image Credit: Screenshot from "***Flawless" video

I’m so glad to be back on viz again after some time away, especially as having to write posts again gives me the chance to discuss Beyoncé Knowles’s newest record, Beyoncé, which was released without any press or preview in late December as a “visual album.” The album has 14 songs and 17 videos included in it. While critics had things to say about Jay-Z’s verse on “Drunk in Love” and the remixed audio from the 1986 Challenger disaster in “XO,” the most noticeable song was “***Flawless,” which features an excerpt from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk on feminism. Paste Magazine’s review of the album noted the album’s feminist thematics, which others have discussed as well. Since I’d like to add to this conversation about Beyoncé’s feminism, I thought I’d take up how Beyoncé’s visuals, especially in “***Flawless,” depict those concerns.

The Visual Scandal of Freeing the Nipple

Image Credit: Huffington Post

In 2005, the artist Jill Coccaro was arrested in New York for exposing her breasts in public. In 2012, Jessica Krisgsman was arrested in New York for topless sunbathing in a park. In 1992, New York courts ruled that banning female toplessness in public violated equal protection clauses and, as a result, it became legal for women to bare their breasts in the state. Apparently, the memo about the legal rights of topless women is still in circulation. Social activist and actress Lina Esco is slated to release her film Free the Nipple in June of this year. The movie will explore American cultural discomfort with the alleged “lewdness” and “indecency” of women going topless. Esco has written several fantastic Huffington Post progress reportsfor her project, chronicling the struggles she has faced in the composition of her movie , struggles like police involvement during filming and battling social media networks that have banned her accounts for putting up pictures of partially nude women. Esco also beautifully captures her own bafflement about what she sees as bizarre standards of American morality, asking why “acts of baroque violence, killing, brutalization and death are infinitely more tolerated by the FCC and the MPAA, who regulate all films and TV shows in the US.” Shooting a film about breasts has proven more difficult that shooting a film about, well, shooting. The Free the Nipple campaign has attracted the attention, and largely benefited from the patronage, of celebrities like Miley Cyrus, whose December tweet on New York toplessness laws generated quite a bit of internet buzz. Her tweet was accompanied by a photo of her flashing the camera, breasts colorfully covered with photoshopped hearts.

Can We Measure the Expansion of a City by Its Landscaping?

Changing Downtown Austin

(Image Credit: KXAN Austin)

It’s great to be back on viz. after a semester away. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Perhaps the most noticeable thing in Austin upon my return is the city’s insane rate of expansion. When one moves about town and looks at buildings, every few blocks or so there’s a new set of high rise apartments (or whatever) going in. Nowhere are the roads being widened to account for the new residents. Rush hour is literally a bunch of metallic, CO2-emitting rivers, and all this negates (at least for me) most pretences Austin makes towards modernity. I heard somewhere that 20,000 people are moving to Austin each month, although I have no idea if that’s really the case – the statistic can make one feel like they live cattle market. But to be fair, most up-and-coming cities can have that feel. Traffic rant aside, if Austin’s powers at be aren’t adjusting roadways to account for new residents, I wonder how smaller entities (such as neighborhoods, private residents, and institutions) are altering their own urban environments to account for the change. In some cases, perhaps, maybe a few brilliant environments that were designed 20 years ago are still healthy, despite all the change. In other cases, perhaps the city is designing new parks and gardens to address future public needs. I am going to try and dedicate all my viz. posts for the coming semester to landscape design in Austin. It might prove valuable, as I’m not sure these things are being catalogued anywhere else.

Texans Getting Campy

Lt. Governor David Dewhurst in cowboy attire

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Hey y'all, in case you haven't heard, we're electing a new Lt. Governor this year here in the great state of Texas.  With four Texas Republicans competing for the position, a campaign is taking shape to see who can be the cowboy-iest candidate of 2014.  With a fight like that, you might expect to see some campaign ads that border on self-parody.  And what, my friends, do you get when sincerity fails?  Well, of course, a whole lot of camp!

Fashion Misfires: The Hunger Games II.

Vogue cover December 2013

Image: author's own, photo of December 2013 cover of Vogue

To round out the fall 2013 season of viz, I follow up on Suss’s latest post re: the Hunger Games and the rhetoric of fashion. As Suss makes clear, the new film Catching Fire portrays style in the districts as Depression-drab-chic (to put it generously). Which is all kinds of problematic. In the continuing buzz surrounding the movie's release, however, I've noticed that it's the outrageous outfits of the Capitol dwellers that capture the most media and corporate attention.

The Great Depression, WWII, and “The Hunger Games”

Contains some spoilers for The Hunger Games, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and Inglorious Basterds

Image credit: "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?

Consuming Images of Black Friday

 A line of people wait outside of Best Buy for the store to open 

Image Credit: Huffington Post


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.

The Winter Garden Photograph and the Nine-Hundred Dollar iPhone Photo

Image credit (from left to right): and

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.

One-Dimensional Issues and Characters In Orange Is the New Black

 Pennsatucky from Orange Is the New Black

  Image credit: Orange Is the New Black Wiki


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.

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