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June 2009

Heaven and Hell (in a Lift)

Marco Brambilla’s Civilization is a video mural created for the lifts of New York’s Standard Hotel. Assembled from hundreds of loops of found and original footage, the mural depicts an ascent from hell, via purgatory, to heaven (and a less heartening journey for those going down to the lobby). Think Dante’s Divine Comedy, or Hieronymus Bosch with cameos by Princess Leia, General Zod and the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. 

High definition here. Via Coudal

Not So Goode

Thanks to TDK, I finally got to see Mike Judge’s new animated series, The Goode Family, which follows an environmentally obsessive PC household and their ostentatious concerns. Here are the first three episodes.

Goode_Family_2 Given Judge’s previous creation, King of the Hill, there are inevitably some good moments. There’s an amusing scene involving carrier bag anxiety, and the local overpriced whole food store has an electronic display informing customers of the latest ethical shopping practices, which change in real time. And there are odd flashes of demented ingenuity, as when a visiting Freegan uses his own tears as seasoning. Unfortunately, these moments are spaced much too far apart. What we get instead are misfires like this scene, in which the Goodes fret about the correct way to refer to their black neighbour. There’s a joke lurking in there somewhere, but nobody managed to find it. And that’s pretty much the default setting for the first few episodes.

King of the Hill quickly grew beyond Texan small town caricature and, however grotesque its protagonists could be, they felt both plausible and deserving of some empathy. Comedy emerged from character and didn’t depend entirely on stereotypes, knowing references or the weekly plot contrivance. Viewers soon came to share the producers’ obvious affection for the Hills, despite – or because of - Hank’s unwavering squareness and preoccupation with propane. And while Hank was often stuffy, unadventurous and emotionally repressed, he remained above all an honourable man – something of an oddity in modern animation. The rooting of comedy in character and culture – as opposed to politics - also made possible a collision of surrealism and genuine poignancy. Peggy’s need for oversized shoes and her subsequent, unwitting friendship with a transvestite springs to mind or Khan’s off-meds mania and all too brief grill-building genius. Likewise, Bill’s near-constant teetering on the brink of despair – a gag that could only be sustained over 13 years because his innumerable failures were offset with moments of real pathos and humanity.  

In contrast, The Goode Family is laboured and affected, as if built by committee from the outside in, with unlikeable characters and a premise that’s somehow both obvious and thin. There’s no evidence yet that Judge or his writers have any sympathy for the Goodes and their self-inflicted predicament, and it’s not clear whether we’re supposed to see them as victims of their own politics or just unrelenting grotesques. The daughter, Bliss, is presented supposedly as a foil for her dysfunctionally PC mother, but the tension on offer is between preening political concern and preening teenage ennui. Perhaps these are teething troubles and The Goode Family will find its footing and become much funnier and less self-conscious. But if so, it needs to improve a hell of a lot, very quickly. Right now, the protagonists seem more suited as secondary characters in a show about someone else, and the air of contrivance leaves the series feeling almost as fake and unappealing as the pretensions it mocks.

Friday Ephemera

Morphine syrup, asthma cigarettes and cocaine toothache drops. // Red wine powder. // Milky vodka. // Moscow Cat Theatre. (h/t, Coudal) // Search Flickr by colour. // Sixty Symbols. // Geometric sculptures. // The bulbdial clock. // Apocalypse porn. // Mars, seen from orbit. // Robots of yore. // Deco-Gundam fights crime, looks fabulous. // Synaesthesia. // On maths and jellyfish. // Plotline similarities. // The politics of intelligence. // And, via The Thin Man, it’s Ms Liz Brady.


A Boy and his Tuba is a series of improbable cover versions. As the name suggests, all parts of each song are performed with a tuba, with assorted loops, grunts and distortions manipulated live. Here’s New Order’s Blue Monday. Stay with it, it may surprise you.

Hardware enthusiasts may want to watch this behind-the-scenes clip, which explains the mysteries of envelope filters and the importance of gaffer tape.

Via Coudal


Poking about in the archives, I unearthed the second episode of Vanessa Engle’s excellent documentary series, Lefties. Titled Angry Wimmin, the film traces the rise of radical feminism in a grim Britain of the 1970s. As a record of social history it’s interesting stuff. The revolutionary politics of shoes, for instance, is quaintly entertaining, and the subsequent, post-revolutionary fear of being caught shaving armpits or wearing lipstick may also amuse. Around 6 minutes in, there’s a section on “political lesbianism,” i.e. lesbianism as an ideological duty, irrespective of desire. One of the figures interviewed is Julie Bindel, a Guardian commentator whose subtleties of mind include a belief that “[get] men off the streets” is “a fabulous slogan” and “all women know that if we have not been raped, we are lucky.” In the first clip below, Ms Bindel airs the following reminiscence:

What I could never understand – and I did resent – was [heterosexual feminists] going home to men at night. It just seemed such a contradiction. And often I would get very angry when I would challenge them about this, and they would say, “Well, that’s just the way I am. I just don’t fancy women.” Having no understanding at all of the fact that sexuality is a social construct and that we all make choices depending on the way we want to live and the world we want to see.

What’s striking is Bindel’s adamance. It’s not even open to debate. This, presumably, is how she still sees the world. Sexuality simply is a social construct - it’s a fact - and all human beings can reconfigure their desires in accord with ideology. Though the basis for this claim remains somewhat mysterious. Former activist Lisa Power recalls her own, rather different, experience of sexuality by decree:

It was a bit of a pain because there were all these women who suddenly wanted to be lesbians, but they didn’t actually terribly want to sleep with women. But they sort of felt they ought to, to pay their dues.

Here’s part 1:

Watch Angry Wimmin Part One in News  |  View More Free Videos Online at

Continue reading "Uprising" »

Always Aim for the Head

Further to this post on the alleged political subtexts of zombie films, it seems the debate refuses to die.

In The American Prospect, Paul Waldman argues:

[A]t heart, the genre is a progressive one. It’s true that fighting off the zombie horde requires plentiful firearms, no doubt pleasing Second Amendment advocates. And in a zombie movie, government tends to be either ineffectual or completely absent. On the other hand, when the zombie apocalypse comes, capitalism breaks down, too - people aren’t going to be exchanging money for goods and services; they’re just going to break into the hardware store and grab what they need…

But most important, what ensures survival in a zombie story are the progressive ideals of common cause and collective action. A small group of people from varying backgrounds are thrust together and find that they can transcend their differences of age, race, and gender (the typical band of survivors is a veritable United Nations of cultural diversity). They come to understand that if they're going to get out of this with their brains kept securely housed in their skulls and not travelling down some zombie’s gullet, they’ve got to act as though they’re all in it together. Surviving the tide of zombies requires community and mutual responsibility. What could be more progressive than that?

Over at Ace, Mætenloch takes a different view:

Continue reading "Always Aim for the Head" »

Grand Ambitions

Despite that local spot of bother, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad still finds time to share his thoughts on more elevated matters. Press TV, the state-sponsored purveyor of “24/7 truth,” quotes approvingly:

In the democracy of the West, the exalted values and the people are ignored, [whereas] the aspiration and origins of the Islamic Revolution are different from those of other revolutions. Because, in the Islamic Republic that rose from the revolution, the object is the realization of Divine aspirations and the commands of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), and, consequently, the perfection of humanity.

Those with the stomach for it can witness the ongoing perfecting of humanity herehere and here. Apparently, the process is more stick than carrot

Get Them While They’re Soft and Yielding

Zomblog has a new series documenting the quaintly leftwing trappings to be found in leafier parts of Berkeley, California. The first instalment highlights a mosaic made by students of Black Pine Circle School, one of the city’s more exclusive private elementary and middle schools. The mosaic, which runs along the front of the school on Seventh Street, is presumably intended to advertise the values being cultivated inside. It’s the handiwork of children aged 13 and 14.

See if you can spot the curious detail and its surprising prominence.


A closer look reveals an ominous prophesy, in red, bottom left.

Continue reading "Get Them While They’re Soft and Yielding" »

Friday Ephemera

It’s raining tadpoles in Ishikawa prefecture. // Schoolboy versus meteorite. // Sydney panorama. (h/t, Coudal) // The Rorschach alphabet. // Steampunk watches. // The Barbie store, Shanghai. // Hygienic robot hands. // Brown sugar bacon waffles. // A dress made of meat. (h/t, Mr Eugenides) // Beef jerky underpants. // Tactical corsets. // Goat towers. // More Communist monuments. // 40 years ago, hairless apes did something very clever. // Remember the Uniqlo grid? Here’s the Uniqlo calendar. // The baffling adventures of Unko-san, the lucky faecal fairy. // And, via The Thin Man, it’s Señor Coconut

Oh, Bea

Caution: rationalisation in progress.

My politics comes from Marxism and feminism; it’s republican, it’s gay and it’s green… The survival of an honours system clothed in royalism and imperialism is a reproach to New Labour’s craven sentiment about pomp and power… That creates a contradiction in moments like this… You ask yourself the question: how can I accept anything from this horrible imperial regime?

Why, it’s former Communist Party member and all-purpose agitated person, Beatrix Campbell. Sorry, Beatrix Campbell, OBE.