The Cult of Glenn Gould

 

As many of you can tell, I’ve been blogging a lot about music lately. I have always had thoughts and Ideas about music and I always considered that eventually I would come to speak my views or embed them in unsystematic places through other discussions, such as my commentary blog pieces on Adorno.

 

However I thought I might just try and address some of the thoughts and issues directly. With that in mind I thought I would write about my favourite Musician: Glenn Gould, and try to articulate some of the things I find interesting about the pianist-broadcaster. Part of the reason I felt it important to talk about Glenn Gould is because part of his insight will, I suspect continually be referred to if I continue to write on issues musical. Gould is as a pianist, as influential to me as say Kant is as a philosopher.


Why I like Glenn Gould 

 

Glenn Gould is one of my all time favourite musicians. I say musician and not concert pianist. Gould composed works in his own time which have been of little recognition, Gould also had very deep thoughts on music history. Glenn Gould worked with Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in producing programming that engaged with the public about music, in the way that the likes of Carl Sagan or Richard Dawkins did for science, or Marcus deSautoy for Mathematics today. I consider Gould not just as a performer, but someone who was a performer with a composer’s mentality, someone with ideological views on music, its direction and its history. Gould was someone who lived in the age that transitioned the end of classical music as we know it and saw the emergence of popular music styles which took the place of the big composers.

 

Gould is a divisive figure, many have a dislike for him for giving the impression that’s okay to play the piano with poor pedagogy, or while humming, using an inappropriately low chair. On the other hand, it is the eccentricity of the man that I love. It is the out of this world nature of his personality, that also reflects the other-worldiness of the composers that he favoured: Bach and Schoenberg. I will consider the many different dimensions of Glenn Gould and have some closing reflections on the ‘cult’ of Glenn Gould.

 

Who is Glenn Gould? 

 

Gould the performer 

 

One of the things I am attracted to about Glenn Gould are his performances. The way that Gould makes 18th Century J.S. Bach come alive in a way that gives it a distinct freshness. Gould’s interpretation of the Brandenburg Concerto is considered a benchmark, and Gould’s career can be book-ended by his early recording and his late recording of the very same piece

 

One thing I find particularly interesting about Gould is the choice he made for his recordings. Gould avoided Romanticism a great deal, and expressed a certain Baroque-ness in all of the pieces he recorded. Gould’s choices in music reflects a lineage, from Bach to Schoenberg, from Rhineland old to Rhineland recent. There are however some choice exceptions to Gould’s work: his interpretation of Mozart leaves much to be desired, and the choice of recording Scriabin leaves me unsure of what to think. I am particularly surprised at some of the Richard Strauss lieder recorded by Gould.

 

Gould the ideologue 

 

Gould nailed his colours to the mast about many issues. Perhaps bold enough to say that Mozart ‘died too late’ as a form of disapproval of the latter’s later work. Gould was a pianist who was known more for their voice than his hands. Gould was very vocal on his feelings for Bach and Schoenberg and many of the ideological baggage that he carried has chimed a lot with my own musical upbringing and influences. In a way Gould is a natural extension of my musical worldview. I particularly like the way that Gould conflates or expands (depending on how you see it) the role and position of what a concert pianist should be. Should a pianist play, or contribute to a conversation about music and what music means?

 

Gould the Studio Musician/perfectionist 

 

Glenn Gould famously refused to be part of the concert scene and chose not to engage in live performing. Gould had distinct reservations about the way in which music is performed to an audience, and the way that the distinction was made between performer and audience. Gould was then led to taking a more studio oriented approach to performing and propagating his music. There are amazing videos out on youtube showing the ways in which Gould had been involved in the studio process of making music, not just in terms of playing the piano, but in the post-production stages of mixing audio and cutting tape. I’ve lately been working in some home studios with very fancy software like Digital Audio Workstations, but I am astonished at an age where cutting up a recording and splicing with other takes literally involved cutting tape! Gould was a perfectionist of the classical music variety, in an age where the studio was emerging. Gould made himself a recording artist from a performer, and this is something very telling about the status of musicianship today and the scope of what musicianship involves.

 

Gould the firebrand/anti-conservative 

 

Gould is a figure who is inherently disagreeable to some, or may I even say many. This is a fundamental aspect of what makes anyone a firebrand. There is a story of Glenn Gould meeting another notable musician (and musical intellectual) who found Gould’s interpretation disagreeable, but noteworthy enough to deserve engagement. That musician was Leonard Bernstein, someone who I also have great admiration for as a musician and a composer (and no I’m not so big a fan of West Side Story).

 

Gould held strong opinions, from Romanticism to Modernism; Bach to recording methods. Gould remained a distinct face and one who ruffled feathers by his distinctness and presentation. Glenn Gould was not just an eccentric and a passionate person of the world of classsical music, but was distinclty a person of 20th century sensibilities as well, doing things that other classical performers would not do. Like this!

 

Gould the broadcaster 

 

Glenn Gould’s greatest legacy may very well be not in his playing, but the efforts he made to educate the public in music and culture. Very similar to Leonard Bernstein, Gould made entertaining material from discussing the history of music, discussing style and reaching audiences through CBC broadcasts in an accessible fashion. We speak of the public intellectual like a rare breed of broadcaster these days. We also normally think of such intellectuals for science, mathematics or even history and philosophy –  but …whither music? The Unanswered Question.

I particularly enjoyed the ways in which Gould would parody the pretentiousness of the world of classical music by the various fake characters that he would perform, and at the same time embody in all seriousness the very kind of persons that he would lampoon. Such a strange and contradictory state of affairs it is to be Glenn Gould. It is with greatness that one can both parody experimental composers and music critics, and both be an advocate of Serialism in all seriousness as well as having very strong views on issues musical. This contrast between the serious and playful/funny Gould is something that any public intellectual can learn from. Gould contains great comedy as well as seriousness. As evidenced from things such as hisso you want to write a fugue’. A fugue about writing a fugue. Talk about parody as a form of art.

Gould the ‘bad example’

Gould is, lets face it, a bad example to emulate as a pianist. Gould does a lot of things ‘badly’, pedagogically speaking. The chair he sits on is too low, Gould strikes with an overhand that is too dominant; humming is not desirable plus the movements are far too eccentric. Of course when it comes to virtuosi they are a law unto themselves. Like performers like Louis Armstrong, their eccentricities are evident of their skill, but not things for mortals to emulate.

Gould’s in wider historical cultural context

Glenn Gould was born in an age where notable composers wrote notable works, but then composers became less notable and their works less notable still. We think of composers more now as institutionalised figures from the universities who studied composition, or jobbing composers who work in film or commissions. This kind of historical situation gives less of a scope or an opportunity in my view, for the kind of classical music we may have envisaged of earlier centuries, or perhaps the whole notion of a classical music is an anacrhonism in itself. Gould acknowledged that there was a world outside of the classical, there was music outside of the world of R. Strauss and Hindemith. In that way I see Gould as a transitional character in the grand scheme of things. One who engaged with a changing world, where things like television and radio media are innovative ways of engaging with the public, and that engaging with the public is a social good. It’s a vastly different world from the old masters. Although to a lesser extent than Bernstein, Gould did make an effort to bridge these worlds together in a way where he seemed to both belong to them and be apart from them.

Conclusion: The Cult of Glenn Gould

Glenn Gould has something of a cult of personality about him. Gould’s eccentricities and his views are a package deal. I refer to Gould’s following as a cult in that fewer people these days are familiar with his work and fewer people still remember what he represents. As I am getting more engaged with music I find some inspiration from Glenn Gould, not just as a musician and as someone with a stylistic outlook, but as someone who talked about these things rather than just doing it, and as someone who shows the potential of being a public intellectual about music. That, and few other people in the old world of music make me laugh as much as him.

Michael

#AMDG , or On the Jesuit Pope

We are living in an age of so many unprecedented things it is too much of an effort to keep track of them all. I thought I would care to mention one unprecedented thing of significance to us, and that is the announcement of a Jesuit Pope, the first ever Jesuit Pope.

 

There are lots of different things I could address about the most recently appointed head of the Catholic Church: the fact that he is from Latin America; the issue of liberation theology, or the other issues that many in the public and the Church congregation which to have the new Pope address, such as celebacy, scandals in the Church or the role of women. I’m going to do the side-stepping thing of not discussing them for the purposes of this post, and only talk about two issues specifically. Firstly – the question of ‘Why Francis I as a papal name?’ and secondly What significance is there to a Jesuit Pope?. It should go without saying that this is a speculative exploration in the exercise of writing this piece.

 

Why Francis? 

 

When I heard that the Pope was named Francis the First. I immediately thought of one Saint. Unlike most of the commentators around the Vatican and in Catholic media, I considered Francis to take after Saint Francis Xavier, who is the patron saint of Goa, known for introducing Catholicism to India and Japan and one of the first Jesuits. We at Noumenal Realm considered it interesting that we have a particularly different relationships to Francis Xavier. For I consider him as one of the founders of the Society of Jesus foremost, while Michael considers Xavier as the missionary who brought Catholic Christianity to parts of Asia.

 

Many commentators likened the name to an association with Francis of Assisi, better known for love of animals and nature. The question of what’s in a name is a significant one – as one is a missionary going to the edges of the known world spreading values, and the other has more of a conscientious connotation. Perhaps it is like me always to overplay the Jesuit connection with everything!

 

A Jesuit Pope 

 

Ah the Jesuits, they live in poverty and obedience to the Pope. The Jesuits are sometimes called ‘God’s Marines’ due to their militaristic nature. The Jesuits have placed themselves in many educational institutions and have taken a large part in mission work historically. I grew up with tales of Jesuit adventure and the very real perils that they faced in their work, including beheadings. I also have memories of the Jesuits claiming that they had their own personal views about homosexuality and women being inducted to the priesthood, but must always submit whatever personal views they had to the authority of the Pope. I always saw that as freethinking within limitations. I also respected such freethought from what appears to be a very authoritarian order.

 

I’ll always have a bit of a rational blind spot about the Jesuits, as they made me who I am in very large ways: inspiring my interest in Classics, Theology and Systematic thinking. The Jesuits also taught me that you should live by ideals, which included adhering to them. One of the things that has been coming out about Francis I is the way that he enacts poverty to his real life. The way that Francis I takes austerity in his own living conditions and behaviour, dress and actions is embarrassing the status quo of how things are done and have been done in the Vatican. No more custom red shoes, no more elaborate stoles and no more popemobile? This is a Christianity that I was grown up to believe in, not one of rock-star like entourages and fancy clothes, but one where a concern with the poor means identifying with the poor in how one lives, eats, dresses and travels.

 

Living with a minimum, without too much extravagance, and dressing for simplicity was the way that I was taught by Jesuits, and the ideal that I saw Jesuits live by. I was told about how Jesuit teachers had a ‘common pot’ where they put their wages, which were used for things like food, personal travel and clothing expenses. Even my dress sense has been influenced by the Jesuits. Smart, but universal. Simple and utilitarian. Try not to be too flashy. Try dressing to be adaptable. Wear black.

 

The Jesuits live with orders to have obedience to the Pope, does that make a Jesuit Pope a contradiction? How is it that an individual Jesuit can have complete obedience to himself? This reminds me of that old saying from Meister Eckhart: Can God make a stone so big that he could not carry it?

 

Perhaps I am being more deferential than I should. It is also the case that there are many critical avenues that people wish to address the papacy. I choose just for this post to focus on the Jesuit angle, because if he’s anything like the Jesuits who taught me, there is definitely space for reform.

 

I suppose all one can do is keep eyes open. It’s also amusing to see #AMDG trending on twitter!

 

Destre

Goodbye Google Reader

In my opinion I think there’s a direct relationship between the discovery of Google Reader and my emergence as a blogger through WordPress. I used Google Reader as a way of collating news, where before I would follow websites individually and constantly have lots of bookmarks.

 

As you might know. Google is shutting down Reader in a few months. I’m very sad. Google Reader is by no understatement, a big part of my life. I find out jobs through RSS feeds, I get podcasts, read news, philosophy blogs, find out about journal articles, watch videos and even follow comedy blogs like wtfpictureisunrelated. The centralisation of my internet browsing in a single place was a great innovation for me. I even made APIs to do things like link it to a mobile phone app, so that when I star a story it will be sent to my phone so I could read it on the train. I’m going to miss GReader and I’m not understating by saying it has been a big part of my modern life.

 

So now what shall I do? I have been reading a couple of ‘here are some alternatives’-type pieces. I might trial other RSS readers, I might separate my podcasts from blogs – get a podcatcher and then use another program for RSS reading. To be honest I feel kind of lost without GReader. That is the impact of a brand’s presence, and Google’s ubiquity. On the other hand I am not entitled to complain as Google Reader was basically a free service. I think the moral of GReader’s closure is that you really can have iconic brands and presence in the internet and social media age. Maybe one day people will be all hipster if they say: ‘I was around during Google Reader’ or ‘I was using it before it was cool’. One of the other things I didn’t realise is how so many other people use it in largely similar ways to me.

 

I just hope they don’t close down Evernote, then my life is seriously borked!

Michael

On being part of a musical ensemble (and my sudden interest in Faure)

It used to be back in the day when I practiced and learned pieces as a Piano soloist, that I’d be interested in the intensive pianistic writings and performances pieces by the likes of Chopin, Rachmaninov and Liszt. You know, the showoffy type of music that exhibited ‘big fat chords’, rich harmonies and shimmeringly fast melody lines.

Lately as an ensemble performer I have found working with a group of musicians with differing musical interests is a conversation. Trying to put forward your ideas, trying to be open to others and having that very important but polite conversation about disagreeing.

One of my friends, an actor by trade and training, likes to suggest crooner songs and early jazz. Another friend, interested in the early 20th Century, Jazz and a trumpet player, is in broad agreement with this cultural tendency and this gathers influence. I am not so familiar with Jazz (despite my former piano teacher being a former Jazz musician), and I quite enjoy learning about the new chords, enhancing my chord vocabulary and stretching myself to new styles.

One of the things that has surprised me is the way I have been drawn to chamber music  and composers who I normally wouldn’t consider. Working with the piano makes one think mostly or almost completely of the pianists-composers like Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin. It’s always important to remember that there were non-pianist specialising composers as well, and not all classical music is defined by that one instrument.

I’ve lately been drawn to Gabriel Faure. Faure has a beauty and darkness, a gentility and subtlety to it that communicates beauties of the human condition. Faure is also technically interesting because he is said to write his piano work like an organist. There is a philosophical distinction that I learned from my logic lecturer, Finn Spicer years ago, the difference between ‘being hard to do’ and ‘being tricky’. Faure’s works as I have come across them have been tricky, I’ve had to do some hard thinking about fingerings and stylistic considerations.

I think many of his popularly known works show beauty: the Sicilienne (which I want to try on Bb Clarinet, but I’m also playing as accompanist), the song ‘Apres un reve’ (After a Dream), which I wish to perform with cellist. There is the wonderful ‘Cantique de Jean Racine’ which I once performed as a bassist at Westminster Cathedral (which I have fuzzy memories of now). Lately one piece in particular has taken me, has enamoured me, has dared to look me into the dark abyss, which is the Opus 24 Elegie, which I aim to one day play as an accompanist.

Lately it has been a great joy to perform as part of an ensemble, not just with long time friends (where I feel the shared feeling of love shows in our playing), but also the way that performing as a musician forms a powerful medium. I often like to think of myself as a person of few words, despite the fact that I go on and on and on when I’m blogging on here about a variety of topics, there is nothing I can say that is more profound and complete than the expression of music. There is a beautiful ambiguity sometimes in music, and at other times, or even simultaneously, a great degree of specificity. The C-minor introduction asserting the tonic in the Op 24. Elegie is definitely a C-minor tonic (specificity), but what it expresses is so powerful and can also mean many different things to many people -representing many different mental objects in the same sonic experience.

I think it’s odd how I’ve come to enjoy Gabriel Faure so much. I thought that the next composer I might be enamoured with would be say, Haydn, or going deeper into Beethoven, or Mahler, following my interest in the likes of Schoenberg, Bach, or the Romantics. There is a moderation to Faure that appeals to me, a gentility that does not always need to go to the extremes of the human condition in the way Schoenberg or many Romantics would.

Michael

Remembering Gary Banham

Coming home last night, I found out through Philos-L that philosopher and prolific tweeter, Gary Banham (whom I also knew as @Kantian3), died earlier this week.

I thought I’d write a post on how I will remember Banham. I have the unusual distinction of coming to know him not through his philosophical publications in journals, or through universities either as a student or through lit searches. I think he found my blog after I was mentioning something about Black Metal, it came through that Banham was also interested in Kant and I discovered his blog ‘Inter-Kant’.

I think it says something of this day and age when philosophers take to twitter that people of intellectual interests can end up following each other and just as easily switch from discussing reading recommendations or puns based on Kant’s terminology, to retweeting current affairs stories or irreverent pictures.

I will miss seeing the constant stream up 140 character tweets from Banham, which ranged from the serious to the mundane to the ‘I’m not quite sure how to react to this’ -type of tweets. I will miss the extremely wide variety of things he would tweet about. Banham was quite a mover in terms of the International and UK Kantian community. Banham was the editor for the Open-Access journal Kant Studies Online. Banham made a lot of promotion for every article that came to the journal.

Perhaps what I will miss the most about Banham will be the the updates from the blog ‘Inter Kant’. Banham combines the great loves in my life – blogging and philosophy with a Kantian angle, in this blog. Many of Banham’s posts were a rolling commentary on texts such as Rawls’ ‘Theory of Justice’, or responding to critical issues in Kant Interpretation. There were other posts in which Banham made himself quite outspoken on the state of philosophy today. I always considered my blog as an inferior version of what Banham did: used blogging as a platform to discuss issues of Kantian philosophy and other things that may take my fancy (but mostly Kant stuff).

I will miss you Gary Banham, @Kantian3, or as your twitter profile describes: ‘Kantian philosopher and girlish Gay man!’. We at Noumenal Realm will miss you, we will remember you fondly.

Michael (on behalf of Noumenal Realm)

Geriaction: Reviewing three recent action films

We at Noumenal Realm have been pining for an excuse to get together, usually this takes form with going to the cinema and then ending up at a dive pub/club or some variant of that. We’ve been looking forward to seeing the following films: Bullet to the Head (dir. Walter Hill, starring: Sly Stallone) ; The Last Stand (dir: Kim Ji-Woon, starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger), and Die Hard 5: Live Free or Die Hard (dir: John Moore, starring: Bruce Willis). After seeing these films, I think the reasonable conclusion to make is that these films are pretty dire. The following post will go into the specificities of this appraisal, as well as address cultural themes within these films.

Geriaction as a genre

There is larger recognition of a sub-genre in action films: namely that of the aging action hero. These films have come to be known as geriation (a portmanteau of geriatric and action). Following the success of films like the Expendables, action films have experienced a cinema revival in that most action films have been oriented to the ‘straight-to-DVD’ (formerly ‘straight-to-video) model.

Action films usually commonly to have starring actors who were a bit off the usual youthful appearance a little bit older. Stallone’s Rambo character was constantly drawn back into combat situations after a career as a soldier; Schwarzenegger’s John Matrix character in Commando also possesses a world-weariness in terms of his refusal to willingly go back into combat. Let’s not forget Danny Glover’s character Murtagh’s catchphrase: ‘I’m too old for this shit!’.

Geriaction is not the veneration of the slightly older action hero, its the veneration for the retirement age variety of action hero. The kind of hero whose age pushes the boundaries of what we assume persons from their mid-fifties onwards would be capable of. Part of me thinks that these films are a cynical vehicle to retain some semblance of a career for those individuals whose physicality and proximity to gun battles were the bread and butter of their acting career, another part of me thinks that this is an interesting perspective on the activity and potential of a baby boomer generation who have taken the spotlight for so long; as well as a sociological commentary on how (mostly men) are physically active later on in life.

Some cynicism

I think its fair to say some comments on gender are appropriate. It’s kind of nice that the action heroes in Bullet to the Head (Bullet), The Last Stand (TLS), or Die Hard 5 don’t follow the cliche of having a romantic dimension to their character. It almost, and I say almost, makes them look like they might not be action heroes of the misogynist and sexist variety of yesteryear. This is a bit of a stretch to argue this case though.

While the protagonists in these films are aged males, aged females are virtually invisible. The most notable women present in these films display obvious attractiveness although their not strongly within the male gaze focus. The most notable women in these films have interesting relationships with the leading actor. In Bullet, the lead female is Stallone’s daughter and a key plot element, who represents the moral compass that is non-existent in Stallone’s Bobo character, athough she does unfortunately form a ‘damsel in distress’ plot moment. The female lead in TLS is an ambitious police deputy who is very career minded and dedicated to her duties, which contrasts to one of the other (male) deputies. It is fair to say that action films in recent years have gone a bit of a way since the crassness of films like Commando or Total Recall in terms of gender. Something should be said of the presence of gender in Jason Statham’s Transporter trilogy, which supposedly tried to create an homosexual protagonist, although this is more of an apocryphal story and non-canonical.

Some remarks on male aging

In Northern nations, it is fair to say that living standards have continually improved, which has led to lots of various health related side effects. One issue is that the improvement of female health has become relevant to issues of contraceptive health, with issues such as the improved viability of pregnancies or contraceptive treatments in ages that were not as physically possible before. There is also an ongoing problem, which has little attention, of how to deal with an aging population, which in turn has implications on wider governmental and social agencies. The UK has a currently running drama-comedy, Derek, which addresses the social issues about the elderly.

Aging is a cultural issue: there has been so much emphasis on youth, where youth is a valuable quantity, that looking young has become an industry for the older. I also suspect that with improved living standards there is an issue of difficulty of how older people find their place in the world. Stallone’s character in Bullet to a large extent does not even acknowledge this issue, although Bullet and Die Hard 5 address aging in terms of parenting adult progeny. The emphasis on Die Hard 5 is McClane’s relationship with his son and trying to repair the damage that was done from being career focussed during his son’s formative years and the negative impact that has had, to some extent Bullet explore this as well to a lesser degree. Its interesting to portray adults as still children to a parent, as well as men taking to parenthood as a large part of their identity.

In TLS, Schwarzenegger’s character is a mentor. Someone who has been there and done that, and has a weariness about the consequences of living a life of action and adventure, balanced with the reality of the terror of an armed dispute and the psychology of being in that situation. As a mentor, Schwarzenegger’s character also attempts to better his charges and lead by example as a role model. In these ways films of the geriaction sort can reveal pathways of the aging male.

Trope: the ever changing villain

One characteristic of Bullet and Die Hard 5 was the ever changing villain. These films had so many double cross-betrayals from the villains that it made one not care about the plot. The plots seem to be overly complicated and underdeveloped. The identity of the ‘true’ villain in Die Hard 5 changed around 3 times at least and by the third time it was kind of obvious who the villain was at the end, with no surprise at the triple/quadruple crossing that has transpired. Bullet to the Head by contrast had a senseless double-cross. The ‘main’ villain happened to be the henchman who happens to be in the big fight (another tropey staple of action films). The main villain (spoiler) was Keegan, Jason Momoa’s character who had very little development except for a few background conversations about his history and mentality.

There was an interesting monologue at the end of the film: a key plot point of Bullet was that a convoluted conspiracy unfolded that unveiled the manipulation of government contacts to create a building contract, the final fight was at the site of one of these buildings that were to be rebuilt for some kind of gentrification building scheme. Momoa’s character points out how there is a placard celebrating the lifesaving efforts of the fire service to save people from that very building over 100 years ago. Momoa’s character points out how their nobility is ignored and nobody remembers the heroism inside the building as its history and literal foundations will be built over for some political short term social project. The senseless nature of this forgetting to Momoa is what he finds objectionable and becomes important to his moral outlook, which is an attempt at his justification for his senseless betrayal at murdering his employer at the end of the film. The problem is, this aspect of the film is under developed and these themes are only drawn out tenuously.

Trope: ‘I’m getting too old for this shit’

One of the other lazy tropes of the film, which is essential to the geriaction genre, is that the hero of the film is physically old, although they might still be pretty badass and can hold their own in the action, they still have back complaints and other such things associated with aging. When the hero gets hit, it takes them a bit of a while to get back up again, and in a sense this is realistic, in another it represents a little bit of suspending one’s imagination. Action films used to be about suspending the imagination with certain physical feats (such as Rambo’s ability with an explosive tipped arrow, or that bit in Timecop when two bullets hit each other), however the suspending of imagination comes from thinking that a sixty-something year old man is capable of stopping a convoy of criminals crossing the US-Mexico border, or John McClane’s escape from an helicopter crashing into a building.

The aspects of dealing with aging seem not to be a worry for just the old, but signifier of a wider cultural preoccupation with aging and decay for all men. As someone who reads Men’s Health and other magazines, a fair few pages are devoted to products targeting ‘anti-aging’ or ‘preventing hair loss’, and the unfortunate thing is I too buy into the whole cultural worry of aging. Another interesting feature of the geriaction film is that the protagonist cannot single handedly eliminate their main villain, but they must do so with the support of their younger charges. In Bullet, Stallone’s character nearly defeated Momoa’s character except the latter kept coming, then it was only through the help of his young sidekick that he was saved. Die Hard’s McClane and son worked as a pair in a fairly equal partnership in order to defeat their foes, McClane Jnr (played by Jai Courtney) is a physically imposing character who displays just as much, if not more ability to be the action hero to his veteran father.

Trope: The gen Y younger guy

Another aspect which is interesting about these geriaction films is the aspect of the Gen Y younger guy. The Gen Y younger guy is the ‘next generation’ or ‘potential future’ of the protagonist’s moral project. In TLS, a young deputy shows ambition to work in a busier and more dangerous police department and asks the Sheriff for his support in the former’s application. The token Gen Y younger guy in Bullet is officer Kwon (played by Sung Kang), whose youth and post-racial discourse is a large contrast to the antiquated Stallone protagonist, who is awfully prone to politically incorrect (not to mention ethnically incorrect) jibes at his Korean sidekick. Expendables 2 also exhibits the Gen Y younger guy in the sniper character. I think it is interesting how the Gen Y type character is usually second fiddle to the baby boomer protagonist. Almost as if in a commercial and a sociological sense: the younger generation is not given a chance to succeed and is often in the shadow of the baby boomer who will not step down.

Courtney’s McClane Jnr character is portrayed as someone who is not taken as seriously by his father initially, his work diminished as ‘spy shit’ has both humorous and demeaning effect, both to the efforts of a younger generation trying to make it on their own, as well as to anyone outside of that generation who made it in the 80s.

A common feature: a disposable plot

These films, it is fair to say, have exceptionally convoluted plots. It is fairly transparent that these geriaction films are marketed not because of their directors, or even the majority of their casting; but because of the leading actor who is guaranteed to bank at the box office. With the case of Bullet, this was not the case. Apparently the film did worse than ‘Stop or my mom will Shoot!’. It is an utterly cynical thing to put these films out when they display obvious low quality in terms of their storyline and are an obvious vehicle to promote star power. Mark Kermode pointed out how the censorship ratings for Die Hard were potentially manipulated to maximise their audience: create a lower rating to get as many younger people as possible, and then put in the originally more violent scenes on DVD release to maximise an audience on that front.

Political themes – guns, vigilantism, role of the state and individualism

These films had political themes, although it could have just have easily been missed in the otherwise dull plots. The acceptance of possessing arms is quite covertly accepted and taken for granted. There are varying views on the perspective of vigilantism: TLS emphasises the authority of official state agents, but on the other hand points out the importance of taking a stand against what you believe in and reporting wrongdoing. In Bullet, Stallone’s character is repeatedly told that his job as a hitman will not go without consequences from the younger sidekick. There are interesting dynamics between these films about the role of state agents and the individual. Die Hard goes strongly along the individualist line, as in most of the premises of the Die Hard films, McClane’s character is often unassisted by police or military and acts alone to save the day..

Conclusion: Why I will still watch asinine films

These films have discernable themes, tropes and so forth, however it is fair to say that one has to look fairly deeper than the shallow plot to find it. It’s utterly cynical to deride these films, in a sense it is also hypocritical as if a new Die Hard came out in a few years time, I’d probably go and watch it. It’s a cheap thrill and often production companies like Lionsgate know their targeted audiences all too well – not a great film, but I’d see the latest one when it comes out. Oh Geriaction, what’s next?

Sinistre

When the BBC disappoints, and Vice Magazine impresses me

Sometimes people speak of how alternative media such as blogs and less paper based news formats speak to the end of journalism and news media as we know it. Sometimes I wonder if the traditional media are doing it themselves.

As many of you might be aware, yesterday announced the passing of Venezuelan Leader Hugo Chavez. I found out mainly through Twitter. I was actually watching BBC news at the time, where the pressing stories in the first hour were the following stories which seem to be of public importance:

  • Manchester United going out of the Champion’s league after defeat from Real Madrid and contestable referee decision (in fairness Britain is a country that celebrates football so sports news isn’t completely unmerited)
  • Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, informally known in magazines as Wills and Kate, announce gender of their child – erm, so the BBC are quite big on deference, and its true that there is a lot of international public interest (for whatever reason) on this subject – but I would quite prefer this kind of news to be on E!
  • Justin Bieber causes outrage by being 2 hours late to performance – parents demand apology – erm – this was seriously considered headline news for television.

It is for this reason that I normally think about looking at other news networks. Al Jazeera for instance, or RT. I’m a little bit tired, annoyed even, at the level of irrelevance at news stories sometimes. I grant that there are lots of things of public importance that are pretty depressing, like the economy, and all the issues that are related to the economy. However those are of great importance to an informed democracy.

Also a good news agenda should introduce stories that we don’t normally think about. With that in mind I have lately been admiring Vice magazine and their website. In  a sense I am desperately shocked that I would ever have to admit this, but I find that the reportage and breadth of topics addressed by Vice magazine to be very enlightening – Vice magazine are often known for a degree of cynicism, having very unusual and sometimes just gross stories, however they then come up with things like ‘calling out the Thigh Gap phenomenon‘ (warning – contains objectification) or their story on the invisible minority of gay Palestinians. I’m currently part of a blog where one of my jobs is to monitor news stories and report on interesting things, I always am in favour of linking to Vice stories, but the very informal writing style, and gratuitous use of words like ‘fuck’ make me think twice about the audience I want to link this to.

I have to face it. Vice Magazine are doing a great job, I consider them a good news source in a world where the Guardian puts forward transphobic articles and ignorant commentary from people who basically say ‘I told you so!!1′ about the 2008 GFC without too much awareness of that old thing called ‘post hoc ergo procter hoc’, or when the BBC think news about Justin Bieber and a guy who dresses like Batman is proportionally important. Many Vice reports are outright crass and in fairness the publication doesn’t make a reputation for being too serious. However it says a lot when something like Vice can be cutting edge when it comes to having their ears to the ground on social trends.

Sinistre