How to Destroy Cities

Heads up, kids. This is going to be spoilery. I’ve been rather flippant with my money spending lately, which is why I have seen both Man of Steel and Pacific Rim at the cinema. Full disclosure: I LOVED PACIFIC RIM. IT WAS SO GOOD AND SO MUCH FUN. On the other hand, I hated Man of Steel. Now, aside from the fact that I saw them almost back-to-back, the films do have something in common that I’ve started to notice in a lot of big budget productions: monumental destruction. Both Man of Steel and Pacific Rim feature the annihilation of entire (heavily populated) cities that the audience is supposed to disregard in favour of… I dunno…plot or something.

GO SEE IT

GO SEE IT

Normally I’m not a fan of that kind of thing. Even in The Avengers (which I loved and saw multiple times), the fact that the final fight scene featured an entire city being flattened and probably a couple of thousand people being wiped out never sat well with me. It’s probably because there’s never any real consequence to these sort of scenes shown in the film. Star Trek: Into Darkness, for example featured a city being totally flattened by a giant spaceship, and then ten seconds spent mourning the death of the people on board. The Avengers featured a gratuitous 20 second montage of people laying wreaths on the wreckage of buildings.

So it is with Man of Steel. I didn’t like the movie for a lot of reasons… many of them based on the fact that we’re apparently supposed to ignore the entire history of Superman and his whole ethos because they wanted to make it less like Superman and more like Batman. (Christopher Nolan is producing…is Superman gritty enough yet? We’ve given him a beard. How ’bout now? We’ve made him choose a life of solitude and deep-sea fishing. IS IT GRITTY YET? IS THERE ANY WAY WE COULD ADD MORE GRIT?)

"Are you finding me gritty enough yet? I grew a beard. How 'bout if this fight takes place at night? Would that make it better? Why don't you like me as much as Batman?

“Are you finding me gritty enough yet? I grew a beard. How ’bout if this fight takes place at night? Would that make it better? Why don’t you like me as much as Batman?

But my main problem lay with the fact everything got flattened. EVERYTHING. First, it was Clark Kent’s home town. Rather than, oh I dunno…taking the fight to space (which he is perfectly capable of doing), he instead tells everyone on the streets of Smallville to “go inside, stay there” so that he can attempt to beat the ever-loving Christ out of a bunch of super-charged, super-angry alien beings. In the process he manages to destroy the entire main street and eventually blow up a gas station, ensuring that anything that didn’t get punched to death caught fire.

Then, since wiping out Smallville isn’t enough to stop General Zod (our villain…I probably should have mentioned that earlier), he continues on with his genius plan to terraform earth so that it becomes a reborn Krypton. The fake science involves plugging two really big things in either side of the earth, getting them to make a dramatic “wump wump wump” noise, something-something-magents and hey-presto! Basically it picks everything up and then drops it, so that that it flattens down and eventually transforms the atmosphere. Superman does pratically nothing to stop this for a really long time. It just kind of happens and the people of Metropolis watch their city crumble before getting pounded into dust themselves.

The only time we’re given any insight into the human impact of the destruction is when we briefly look 3 staff members from the Daily Planet who we don’t really give a fuck about who calmly sit down and wait for death. (Lawrence Fishburne is one of the people, so I think we’re supposed to care, but I couldn’t muster it.) Superman eventually manages to stop the ‘wump wump wump’ machine from doing the thing, but that doesn’t actually stop Zod either. So, amongst the ruins of Metropolis they proceed to have another punching contest to destroy the rest of the city (just in case anything escaped unscathed). Eventually, Superman kills Zod (spoilers) to save four people. No word on why those four people are more important than the tens of thousands of people who were wiped out while the Soops and co. were dicking around elsewhere, but whatever.

And then the movie ends with exactly no acknowledgment of the fact that everyone is dead. It’s not just the fact that Metropolis (clearly a parallel for NYC) is flattened either. As I mentioned before, we’re explicitly shown the machine plugging into either side of the globe… Then it’s never mentioned again. I realise that it’s an America-centric movie, but why even show the fact that Zod’s quest for world domination has global implications if you’re not going to follow through with any of it?

In short, the reason this kind of mass destruction doesn’t work for me, is because we’re only supposed to care about the destruction of the city insofar as it has an impact on the main characters. Superman simultaneously destroys the world and saves it, no one calls him out on the death toll and Metropolis is mysteriously in tact. There are literally no repercussions for Superman making some seriously stupid decisions and thus the audience is supposed to assume that the city was eventually fine and/or that it wasn’t important anway. Considering how directly a lot of these films reference 9/11 imagery in their city-destroying sequences, there’s something inherently disturbing about pushing that sort of chaos to the side in favour of snappy one-liners about drone planes. (Spoiler: they’re not good snappy-oneliners.)

Pacific Rim features similar large scale destruction. It has to – it’s a Godzilla movie. However, Pacific Rim deals with its crumbling cities in a very different way. Unlike your usual disaster film, the action in Pacific Rim takes place in a world that’s become accustomed to being laid low by monsters. Kaiju are coming through a interdimensional portal…and they just keep coming, squishing cities and battling Jaeger robots. An effort is made by humanity to battle to monsters at the source. Several of the fights take place in the middle of the ocean, which is pretty spectacular. As we’re slowly introduced to more of the Jaeger program, it becomes apparent that the main purpose of the program is border patrol – to keep the kaiju away from heavily populated areas and generally just minimise the death toll.

When the city finally becomes the battle ground it’s Hong Kong being destroyed, which is just such a nice step away from a US-centric cinematic vision that it made my soul weirdly happy despite the fact that the Hong Kongwas being flattened in the process. Anyway, as the kaiju hits the coastline an alarm sounds, much like the sort of alarm that rang during air raids in WWII and everyone just very calmly heads underground. Because that’s what this world is. Humans have just kind of adapted to the idea that their home could be wiped out at any minute. They’re not happy about it, but they’ve learned to live with it. At one point a news report flashes up talking about Australians in Sydney rioting over the fact that the Jaeger program was discontinued just days before another kaiju attack. Black markets have sprung up around the sale of kaiju organs. Jaeger pilots are elevated to the status of rockstars and made into collector cards. It’s all just so human. They just kind of get on with life because what else are they going to do?

All throughout the film, it has been subtly implied that people are just soldiering on despite the dramatic heroics happening elsewhere. There’s something really wonderful about that and, more importantly, it means that seeing an entire city being wiped out doesn’t feel meaningless. It feels like, despite the destruction there is potential. And that’s kind of fantastic.

What I’m trying to say is that somewhere, somehow the roles of Man of Steel and Pacific Rim got reverse. Man of Steel is a superhero flick that shows a blatant disregard for human life and wantonly destroys entire cities because it has the budget to do so. To quote a friend of mine, Superman has basically become a pub brawler with super powers. It’s a superhero film that lacks a hero (and a sense of humor). Pacific Rim is a cross between a Western disaster movie and an Eastern monster movie that actually cares about the things it’s wrecking and takes pains to ensure that the audience isn’t going to be distracted from the actual plot by the carnage.

Obviously, this is just a review of the way the these two films treat the scenery. I have a lot of feelings about the characters in Pacific Rim (MAKO MORI! PLEASE MARRY ME!) and also about Idris Elba’s butt in tight pants. In terms of Man of Steel, I have a lot of feelings about Lois Lane (who was pretty great). But they’re stories for another day. Feel free to ask me about my feelings in the comments. I’d love to hear yours.

On another note, I’ve decided to stick to blogging once a week. The blog will now be updated on Fridays only. I figured “quality” over quantity, right? Right? Guys?

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Triple J’s Lukewarmest 100

Oh look! It’s Friday! Got this week all wrapped up like birthday present. To be fair, I didn’t actually write this one. Remember when I co-wrote that blog about shitty Christmas albums with my friend Wes? No? I wouldn’t blame you. It was a while ago. It’s here. Well, Wes has been angry about Triple J for a while now (I know this because  he tells me) and he wrote something and had nowhere to put it. So, because it takes me forever to anything and I still haven’t finished writing my review of Pacific Rim, I said I would put it here for all of you to enjoy. For those international folks who don’t understand what Triple J’s Hottest 100 is go here and it’ll make more sense. Now, without further ado I give you Wesley and his rage:

“Let’s start with an admission: the last time I voted in a Hottest 100 was the Hottest 100 of All Time back in 2009. The results of that countdown forced me to confront something I had long suspected: I no longer connected with our national youth broadcaster or their audience. But why? How could I be so out of touch with the youth of Australia already? When the Hottest 100 of all time was run, I was 21 years old – still, well and truly, in the target demographic of Triple J. What I had voted for was so vastly different from what made the list that I simply stopped participating. Now at 25, we’ve just had the countdown of the Hottest 100 of the past 20 years and I feel even more detached than ever before.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I didn’t vote in the Hottest 100 of the Past 20 Years – not because I no longer identify as a Triple J listener, but because I didn’t feel I could shortlist songs from such a large period of time. Yes, I know I voted for the Hottest 100 of All Time, which, given that it covered the entire history of music, should probably have been a lot harder to narrow down. But, I reread my votes from that poll recently, and while I still love every song on the list, I don’t know that I would vote the same way again. This time around, not only did I not think I could come up with a shortlist that would adequately and appropriately convey my votes for the best songs of the last twenty years, in my experience, voting for your favourites tends to result in disappointment.

This is where it gets tricky.

If you voted, you have probably noticed that, rather than actually picking your favourites, you tend to vote from things that might actually make it onto the final list. You want your songs to make it in the countdown but say, for example, your favourite Radiohead song is Idioteque. Sure, it’s fairly standard for Radiohead fans, but for the greater Triple J community, it’s kind of obscure. So you rethink and you decide ‘Well I want Radiohead to make it, I could live with it being not Idioteque, I’d better vote for Karma Police or Paranoid Android.” Every fan does this and it skews the vote. Some bands have a standout song that will be the popular choice for voting while others might have one or two that are both extremely popular. The result is not a countdown of the best or even the most popular songs of the last 20 years, but a totally predictable list of the most popular bands of the last 20 years.

The format of the annual Hottest 100 is fantastic and, while it doesn’t always provide a definitive list of every individual listener’s favourite songs, it does offer a pretty comprehensive overview of the most popular music over the last year according to Triple J’s listeners. By this theory, if Triple J listeners vote for their favourite songs of the last 20 years, we should get the same sort of results. But unfortunately it just doesn’t work.

In annual Hottest 100s there is usually a good mix of bands and songs, and more often than not, if a band has released a great album, quite a few of their songs make it into the countdown. The system is flawed, and as such, people don’t vote for the best songs, or even their favourite songs. Instead, they go with the popular choice by the bands that either they want to see or they think deserve it. The result is a bland list of songs that everyone knows and everyone expects. Whether you love it or hate it, were you really surprised that Wonderwall was the only song by Oasis to make the list? Or Everlong by Foo Fighters? Or Song 2 by Blur? I’m not even talking about where on the list they were, rather just pointing out that each of these songs was the obvious choice for that band and that all three of these bands, love them or hate them, have released better songs in the last 20 years. Even the thirteen artists who did have multiple entries, were still only represented by, at most, 3 songs that were commercial hits. And in every case these bands have better songs from their catalogues that could have, or should have, made it into the countdown.

Oasis

Looking at the top 10 artists from the countdown – Oasis, The White Stripes, Jeff Buckley, Hilltop Hoods, The Verve, Foo Fighters, The Killers, Powderfinger, Gotye and Queens of the Stone Age (I have included Queens of the Stone Age as Powderfinger had both their entries in the countdown feature in the top 10) – 6 out of 10 of these artists only had one song in the countdown and they rated in the top 11. Two artists, Powderfinger and Gotye, had 2 songs in the countdown that both ranked within the top 15. Jeff Buckley and The Killers had songs further down the list, at 36, 75 and 86 respectively. My point? We voted for the bands, not the songs. We as a community identified, not their best songs, but the songs that we thought other people voting for the same band would choose. We all did the same thing to ensure that the bands we loved would rate a mention.

That is why the broader countdowns don’t work as well as the annual Hottest 100s. The listeners, and even former listeners like myself, put a lot of stock into these lists and we’re constantly being disappointed by the predictability of the whole thing. I think it’s time to take a different approach to countdowns. The annual Hottest 100 lists are fine, but maybe there needs to be something completely different for the bigger events. I remember not being furious at the end of the Hottest 100 Greatest Australian Albums countdown – maybe because it made us think about more than just ‘the songs’, we got to think about how the albums worked on a whole. Perhaps that’s a better format – avoid the songs on the larger time range and think about the albums.

Then again, maybe I’m just getting old.”

Miley Cyrus and the Case of the Faux Lesbians

I am back again. Clearly that whole “writing more regularly again” thing hasn’t taken off. My apologies. I would make some grand statement about getting my shit together, but I would probably just end up disappointing myself and subsequently, you. So, I figure it’s best just to take baby steps.

Anyway… I’ve been spurred into action by Miley Cyrus’ new video. I know I’m not the only one – there’s about 800 amusing critiques floating around online.  I thought I would add my two cents because I’ve spent the last 4 nights in pubs shouting at people about it, and really, that’s why I started this blog. To shout. If you haven’t seen the video, this is it.

I don’t know how else to address this other than to go through scene by scene and pick out all the things that annoy me about it. This might be a long post…

The video starts off with this:

I wish you would stop.

I wish you would stop.

Apparently it’s fashionable to have coloured helvetica text over your music video now. Anyway, that’s Miley chopping off one of those parole issue ankle bracelets, which I assume is meant to signify the fact that she’s going to continue in her quest to leave behind that whole Hannah Montana thing, since she’s never actually been to prison. I thought that whole Can’t Be Tamed-look-at-me-I’m-in-a-corset thing was supposed to be her leaving Disney behind, but apparently it’s a case of “Why stop there when you can have fake lesbianism and twerking in your video?” And so on with the horrible show we go.

2

Oh look! Product placement.

She spends 90% of the video making this face.

She spends 90% of the video making this face.

While mumbling something about ‘fucking the haters’ or some other stupid catch phrase that white people use to pretend they’re above valid criticism, Miley dons a grill. If you think that’s bad, it only goes down hill from there with the addition of twerking and various other little hip-hop references to prove just how “real” this new version of Miley (Miley 2.0) is.

4

Oh look! More product placement! Then, suddenly:

5

I don’t know about you but my first thoughts on seeing this were:

  1. Gross
  2. Damien Hirst must be hella short on cash, because that is the only explanation for this sort of tom-foolery.

7

But then someone pretended to cut their fingers off for reasons that are beyond me and I just figured that I’d give up on trying to figure out whatever art-pop violence the video’s director thought would dirty up Miley’s image a bit and let it wash over me. I was a lot more comfortable after that…

8…well…vaguely more comfortable anyway. For some reason this badly animated face kept popping up and there’s very little that makes me more uncomfortable than badly animated faces…

9

As soon as this happened I immediately said “NO” but it happened anyway.

…except maybe white girls trying to twerk. I was hoping that maybe Miley had learned her lesson from the last badly done twerking video, but apparently not. She’s at it again and she still hasn’t mastered it, but this time she’s paid some real life actual black women to authenticate her experience and look enthusiastic while she just sort of awkwardly jiggles a bit and grabs their asses every now and then.

11

So there’s that. I’m not really qualified to say anything beyond “that’s not twerking and I’m fairly certain those women are laughing at her as they should be” but for an interesting discussion of cultural appropriation in relation to this video, you should click this link.

Anyway, things take another turn for the weird when Miley appears in a pool with duct taped nipples making out with Barbie.

13

And like… I guess that’s fine. Weird, but you know…some people marry bridges. Except then it becomes a foreshadowing of more fake lesbian shenanigans as she proceeds to slow motion wrestle some girls on a kitchen floor and make the universal sign for getting down between the lady legs.

15

I do not believe you have any experience doing that young lady, nor do I think you would be any good at it.

She humps on just about every girl in the place and says some more things about loving whoever you want. She stops short of actually kissing any women though, because while it’s fashionable to name-check queer kids in your songs, you’ve gotta pull up before you go all Katy Perry on this shit and actually use queerness as a marketing tool. I do not feel that sentence adequately portrayed the amount of sarcasm I wanted it to… whatever. For those of you that missed it: I was implying that Miley Cyrus is using queerness as a marketing tool, she’s just stopped short of “kissing a girl and liking it.”

"Oops. I'm touching another girl...is it hot yet? Are you taking me seriously yet? Guys?"

“Oops. I’m touching another girl…is it hot yet? Are you taking me seriously yet? Guys?”

So yeah…then it all just kind of winds down to her sitting on a roof watching the sunrise. Cos that’s what hip, young rich kids who don’t have to work 9-5 do, I guess. Oh! And she makes this face at the end:

21

Cos she’s ‘gangster’ or something.

I think the video was Miley trying to prove that she’s edgy. I think it failed. I think she probably needs to have a good long hard look at herself and realise that name-checking drug use and queerness in your songs and videos is not going to make anyone take you seriously. It just means assholes like me are gonna write blogs calling you out on being a dick. Having said that, in the name of full disclosure, if Miley ever decides that it isn’t a marketing ploy and she is all about the vagina, then her and her dykey haircut (that I definitely had first) are always more than welcome to call me. But she’s not allowed to ‘twerk’.

Oh..and some guy rubs bread on himself. But, I mean, we've all been there so no judgement.

Oh..and some guy rubs bread on himself. But, I mean, we’ve all been there so no judgement.

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