Having just finished the new season of Twin Peaks, I was caught again in a classic question about cinema: what is it about? Being a narrative dork, my instinctive answer is that cinema is about storytelling. Where once we sat around fires and sang each other heroic epics, or passed on ghost stories at the dinner table, now we watch movies or television.
I freely admit that I privilege narrative over other purposes of cinema, but the risk is that I miss other functions of cinema, like the artistry of composition. Perhaps again revealing my biases and predilections, I am quite fine for a short film or digital media piece to contain absolutely no narrative, but just be beautiful, but that’s because short films and digital media isn’t real cinema. Narrative is king.
Twin Peaks invites a challenge to that view. The narrative takes a back seat to the aesthetic and ideas, challenging the audience to overcome its perceived need for closure, coherence, and completeness. But, again, we are in the area of television (or, perhaps, episodic cinema). Is the fascination with Twin Peaks more that it’s quirky in contrast with ‘real’ cinema/television? It’s nice for a treat, but we really want the substantive stuff?
I tried to test this out by looking at two mainstream movies that prioritised aesthetic over substance… but I suspect I chose poorly. What follows, gentle reader, is a blog post that wasn’t what I intended to write when I watched these two films. What follows is the ravings of a man driven half insane by visions that no mortal man should ever see, visions strange and unnatural, visions of demons that haunt the minds of others deep in the void that exists behind their eyes whose incessant chants call to the Old Gods who, not dead, are long in sleep and whom we dare not wake lest they return to the world of men.
I watched The Neon Demon and Jem & the Holograms and I regret it so much.
Comparatively few people in Australia will ever walk into a museum or art gallery. This is the cornerstone to the argument that taxpayers should not be forced to subsidise what is, essentially, an elite activity. And going to see the Hokusai and Dior exhibitions at the National Gallery of Victoria somewhat reinforces that view that our cultural industries are servicing a very privileged sector of the community.
On this point, I don’t just mean an observation on the sort of people who were attending the exhibition (although it’s true both exhibitions were crowded predominately with Baby Boomers), but also an observation on the way that information is presented to the audience. The exhibitions perform back to the audience a statement about themselves.
It’s scary to be conservative during the marriage debate in Australia, Internet. At any time, without warning, somebody could jump out of the bushes and cover us with glitter. It’s a horrifying thought and I live in constant fear.
And the ridicule! I dare not express any opinion that contradicts the completely unreasonable belief that people ought not to be subject to discrimination on the basis of race, gender, or sexual orientation. If a doctor expresses the belief that gay patients should be subject to conversion therapy, who knows what the Left might do? Perhaps they might report this act to the authorities for being a breach of professional standards? Who can know?
Clearly, every conservative now lives in fear of ridicule and humiliation. It’s completely unfair. It’s completely unbalanced. Sure, the Left lives in fear that we will literally kill them — either by running them down with cars or by stripping them of healthcare and food — but there can be no justification for political discrimination.
The Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Peter Dutton, commented this week that refugee lawyers are ‘unAustralian’. Of course, as night follows day, there was the expected backlash. How dare the Minister make these comments? Rule of Law! There’s nothing more Australian than being a lawyer! Laws are Australian.
For me, the surprise was how tone-deaf the response to the Minister has been. Lawyers and legal groups have all tut-tutted with censorious rhetoric without understanding the enormity of the puzzle behind Dutton’s comments: society does not trust lawyers.
There is no way to adequately capture the joy of watching War of the Planet of the Apes. It is a film which plays expertly with the audience’s expectations, deftly swapping between genre of film without ever breaking faith with the viewer. It tackles complex themes competently, and brings enough comedic relief to prevent the film from becoming overwhelmingly bleak.
More importantly, it is a brave film. In an age where we are struggling with our narratives about war and conflict, War of the Planet of the Apes shows how cinema can contribute meaningfully to our public debates.
There are worse James Bond movies. Much worse. But does that mean that Atomic Blonde was good?
In exchange for getting privileged access to information and power, public servants give up a range of rights. This should not come as a surprise. I’ve written about this issue before with regard to the Federal Court case of Banerji v Bowles, in which a public servant’s unhinged behaviour on Twitter was not found to be protected political speech.
Today’s announcement that the government has issued more restrictive advice about appropriate behaviour for public servants on social media has reignited this debate. Of course, most of the debate is just media beat up because the new guideline is not all that novel, but there are some broader discussions that are worth considering.
‘It is better that ten guilty persons escape than one innocent suffer’
– William Blackstone (1765).
‘It is better 100 guilty Persons should escape than that one innocent Person should suffer’
– Benjamin Franklin (1785)
There is a lot of discussion about the failings (actual or perceived) of the criminal justice system to punish appropriately a white man who killed an Indigenous boy by chasing him down with a car. Already, there are the usual bunch of liberal weenies who want to talk about the presumption of innocence and how he was entitled to a fair trial and that the prosecution clearly did not prove its case.
The problem is that the 10:1 ratio or the 100:1 ratio isn’t colourblind, genderblind, or classblind. The presumption of innocence is clearly skewed in favour of wealthy white guys and against Indigenous kids.
If we are going to be serious about protecting the presumption of innocence, we need to have some serious explanation when situations arise where the system appears to fail those who want justice. It is not good enough to say to grieving families: ‘Trust us, justice is very fair even though it seems white people can mow down your children and escape punishment, and black kids can’t steal an apple without risking being sent to a juvenile detention centre. Trust us, justice is very fair even though it seems a person arrested for protesting outside the court might serve a longer time in jail than the person who killed an Indigenous kid.’
It is not good enough to rely on trite slogans from the 1700s to explain away what seem like manifest injustices.
It might be a career-limiting move to opine too much about research bureaucracy when you’re doing your level best to punch into an academic career, but danger is the spice of life and these hot takes aren’t going to pepper themselves.
Over on The Research Whisperer, Tseen Khoo has raised a puzzle about the impact of university metrics on the way that researchers undertake their work stating that she doesn’t need money to do her research. Meanwhile, on the LSE Review of Books, Derek Dunne talks about the historical relationship between bureaucracy and research (with bureaucracy being a form of social control). They are both interesting pieces, strongly flavoured by personal experience and anecdote, but I’m not sure that they completely grasp the puzzle at hand.
Anyway, because s 80.2B of the Criminal Code is real, I am definitely not advocating violence. Violence should never be advocated because we are a tolerant liberal society and tolerant liberal societies make it an offence to advocate violence. Don’t do it. I’m certainly not doing it.
But what is violence? I thought about nerding out on this question but, really, I just want to talk about one thing. One horrible thing. One unforgivable thing.