Posts Tagged ‘culture’

Unusual Badges of Honor

14 November 2011

Dear J-

One thing I’ll tell you about the few photography blogs I read is that equipment is a fungible asset at best. The first question that they ask is what you took that picture with, and you end up forever branded with that appelation — that (system) guy — or (noted photographer), who takes pictures in (genre) with a (system). That leads to photographic equipment envy and/or the pursuit of something unusual for the sake of being unusual. Konica Hexar. Film snob. Medium format. How many times have you heard a particular camera described as a cult camera, in much the same way that cult classic cinema is discussed?

One of the blogs I used to follow and have since stopped showed off cameras of photographers this guy would meet on th e street, but there was a specific pecking order: only film cameras, unless they were Leicas, in which case anything goes. Part of me wants to get back into the world of medium format for that same reason: credibility and pretension. Look what I have to deal with. The more enlightened out there realize that the camera is just a tool — an interchangeable tool — that let’s you capture a slice of the world around you in your specific vision. If that happens to include the characteristics of the tool you’re using, then it’s a valid tool to use.

Most of us would like to take photgraphs that most accurately reflect the way the world is around us; there are a few who do have the ability to envision the way that art filters would affect the end product, but for me that’s usually some happy accident when that turns out well. I sometimes feel like we’re in a game of one-upsmanship to see who cmes up with the most unusual way to caputre the world around us. I remind myself that I still have a medium format camera, albeit one with poor frame registration (those Koni-Omegas were known for the fragility of their film wind mechanisms) and I keep laughing at the notion of free time I seem fixated on lately.



National Myths

13 October 2011

Dear J-

Censorship in America is a funny thing; I remember the spate of horror movies in the 80s where violence wasn’t necessarily condoned but each butcher-like splatter of gore was dissected and celebrated in magazines like Fangoria while mentions of sex were fairly taboo: Angel Heart nearly earned the kiss-of-death X rating just from the notoriety of a Cosby Kid in a sex scene. As a nation we’re fixated on Puritan notions of sex (keep the dirty bits under covers) and romantic vigilante notions of violence (who else could have come up with Batman, a character who uses his wealth to exact revenge on criminals?).

So it’s perhaps not surprising to keep hearing about the mythological silent stoic cowboy, refugee from tall tales and romanticized views of the West, Spartan in his lifestyle, ascetic ini his celibacy, and of course deadly with a gun at thousands of yards. That’s the myth we keep telling ourselves is true. Whole legions of men grow up steeped in cowboy culture, calling out flinty self-reliance and an implacable acceptance of no assistance. My way. No help. My wits against nature/the government/cattle rustlers/Indians/buffalo/the elements.

Thing is that we take all kinds of help from everywhere. There are whole mega-retail palaces devoted to the art of catching and killing animals for sport, not sustenance and serious survival; despite the paranoia that seems to infect the Boy Scout-trained always-be-prepared — zombie holocaust, thermonuclear war, apocalyptic governmental collapse, chaos and anarchy — I wonder how much of it is fueled by our national mythologies and reinforcement of those mores through media.


Walter Read

5 March 2010

Dear J-

I’m reading a lot more lately, even if it is unfathomably fluffy stuff like Percy Jackson and Harry Potter; not sure if it’s inspired more by wanting to relive my youth or having to, given that our bedtime jobs are for me to read books and theVet to sing songs together with figgy. I woke up a little early so that I could finish The Last Olympian, in fact; despite me writing it off as being relatively unoriginal (Greek myth-based universe where the gods have survived and, unsurprisingly, continued to create more and more demigod children with the rest of us mortals), the books were a fun read and interesting enough to keep kids turning pages.

It’s got me thinking about the differences betwen cultural icons; in our Judo-Christian world, the God is a distant power, influencing everything, perfect, and yet relatively unknown, at least in comparison to the Greek gods, who loved to sport with humans and who wore their warts with some pride — jealousy and discord were never far from any Olympian gathering. God, it’s said, makes man in His image, and yet it seems we’ve made our stories in our image instead. The polyglot of United States citizens means that we’ve at least got a passing familiarity with many different influences, even if Greek gods underpin much of Western culture.

On the van yesterday one of our riders pointed out to me that the picture our company had chosen to represent the current Year of the Tiger was terrible: it was cartoony, but the mouth was hanging wide-open. It’s like the prohibition on certain gifts (no knives as wedding presents, for instance, as it represents severing a bond) or numbers (four is unlucky, as it’s a close homonym to the verb “to die” in Chinese which is why you don’t see too many cameras with four by itself in the numbering scheme); it is inauspicious to depict a tiger ready to pounce. There is still so much to learn about everything; we can only come to a better understanding of ourselves and our fellow citizens by keeping an open mind.


Soul Sister

3 March 2010

Dear J-

There are some days that I wake up full of ideas and suggestions, and unfortunately, more days that I get up with some song in my brain on endless repeat (Train’s Soul Sister has me missing Mister Mister, Broken Wings and Tina Matthews) driving all rational thought from my head. We have two particular bits of infamy in the local scene; again the UCSD situation rears its head (one symbol of intimdation — a noose — might be construed as a mistake, despite the mealy-mouthed convenient apology issued, but two means a trend, and not a joking one) and Chelsea King, whose disappearance appears to have come to a tragic conclusion.

I’m not particularly impressed by the apology issued by the student in question, which basically claims ignorance of the symbolism of a noose — quit acting uppity or it’s you next — and that it was made as a joke. You don’t put a joke on public display, and you generally don’t forget about it, either. I do appreciate that the student would take responsibility for their action, and I’m not sure what else can be done at this point. That said, the introduction and escalation — seriously, putting a Klan hood on Dr. Seuss? — speaks volumes about what those kids on kampus campus are learning, or not learning. It’s bad judgment followed by terrible decisions; there’s really not much more the administration can do short of closing the campus. Everyone must forgive; no one can forget.

I look at the massive search conducted for Chelsea King and wonder if there might have been a connection to the disappearance of another young girl last year, Amber Dubois; had the same effort be conducted on her part, would the suspect have been in custody earlier? Would we have had to talk about remote jogging trails and the promise of young people? It’s all hindsight, and it doesn’t change anything today; the would-haves of the world would fill the universe. The world I remember had me and my brother running around outdoors for hours and days without supervision and without consequence, but those days are as irrelevant as Mister Mister lately.


Nostradomus Junior

24 February 2010

Dear J-

Every modern society has its vision of a future, whether it’s a dystopia (if you read sci-fi based in the 1950s and 60s, it’s a post-apocalyptic wasteland — see Bradbury and Walter Miller; later on it progresed to an uninvitingly violent and increasingly mechanized socity — Gilliam’s Brazil, Scott’s Blade Runner, Cameron’s Terminator, works by Neal Stephenson and William Gibson) or utopian, replete with flying cars and jet-age inspired fashions like The Jetsons. It’s less important that we dream of the future than how those dreams change given our current situation.

For instance, it’s understandable that the age of the Atom unleashed extreme insecurity and pessimism; here we had planet-destroying weapons and the lack of good sense not to use them. Thus at the same time we were digging bomb shelters and stocking up on canned goods we had our fictioneers plotting out our course once the few survivors emerged. In the 80s, when it seemed that robots had become ascendant and computers were growing ever more intelligent, we feared how technology would disconnect and supplant us; our nightmares gave rise to some of our most iconic fictions, just as Frankenstein and Dracula fed our fears of the unknown but advancing scientific and medical knowledge of their time. On the other hand, folks like Gene Roddenberry thought we could overcome our differences and so extrapolated the space program into a sort of interstellar Boy Scouting policy..

So what’s in store for our future? Based on the current crop of anxieties — deadly Toyotas, mutating viruses, economic fears — we might be thinking of the collapse of society through inequalities and pestilence; on the other hand with the political atmosphere of Tea Parties and large programs, perhaps an overbalanced pyramid of faceless bureaucracy and endless red tape. If I could have predicted anything, though, I’d have hit the lottery long ago and would be writing from some place like Kauai instead; we will eventually leave the nest and expand into space, if we ever get over this cripplying two-party system (how many questions in your life have yes or no answers, and explain to me how having only two parties is any different); the state of the medical art will continue to amaze, and our world will grow smaller, not larger, with technology linking our lives.


Business Classy

24 September 2008

Dear J-

There’s nothing quite as American as assessing blame; we delude ourselves into thinking that it’s a human trait, but it’s so ingrained in our culture that we just assume everyone else works the same way.  When we call for the presidential candidates to assume the mantle of leadership by finding someone to blame for the financial crisis, we forget what good leaders do:  instead of pointing the finger, they lift their hands and direct the recovery.

Leadership has more to do with taking action and being involved, being intimately familiar with what your team does and how they do it.  So while it’s fun — for a few hours — to point the finger at greedy CEOs and unscrupulous lenders, ultimately it does nothing to resolve the problem (how about this, if your company has screwed up badly enough to receive a government bailout, the folks responsible for business direction forfeit their last ten years pay as restitution?).  Yet we don’t have to accept a hasty plan, as we’ve accepted rushed decisions after last-minute decisions with little time to blink.

Who stands to benefit from the way the bailout is structured?  There are alternate proposals that deserve reasonable consideration; we do not have to accept the first blank check that comes across our plate.  Do you still believe in an unfettered business class?  With the opportunity for real reform, we still stand to lose at this; we still run the risk that the tenets of business first and always will carry the day.  Remember this:  if the failure of the company is spectacular enough to roil the economy, why did we let the company get that big and important in the first place?  When did private business interests start to trump the greater good?


Cold Water on Your Back

5 November 2006

I must have really been homesick those two years in Boston. That’s all I can excuse myself for.


All the same, I really enjoyed grade school. You got crayons, glue, pencils, and a notebook in September. You listened to stories after lunch. You wondered what was on top of the roof, over the fire escape, past the fences, behind the bushes, under the slides, inside the teacher’s lounge. I personally had a huge fear of being in the sunlight with the bloodstones present. As my friend described it, it would suck the blood right out of your body, much as lab reports and midterms were to do in a few years.