some miscellaneous prose & thoughts

Feb. 12th, 2019 10:05 am
[personal profile] brainwane
On what helps some people decide to attend social gatherings.

On the Short Trek The Escape Artist.

On noticing that I'm trying to read inaccessible fiction.

"Random" (as in the modern slangy sense, e.g., "the Mountain Goats are making an album about D&D? That's random") means: unexpected in a way that I disapprove of, unjustified, and I resent having to make room for this unexpected thing; where do I even file this?!.

The coverage of celebrities (especially actors) and sports that I run into is usually a way into telling stories about labor and power.

Arrested Development loved showing us how its characters clung to the perceived power of names/categories, to make other people see things their way. "It's a satire!" "Illusions, dad!" "Mr. Manager." And, relatedly, mistook fake things for real -- living in the model house, George treating all dolls as though they were people.
[personal profile] brainwane
After I wrote this review of Manikarnika and this tiny review of, among other things, Victoria & Abdul, I started showing Black Panther to my spouse and I was talking with him about it and about Thor: Ragnarok. And I started wondering aloud why Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok, which are about royalty, actually have reasonably interesting things to say about geopolitics, while Captain America: Civil War tries to and is incoherent.

(Do I actually believe everything I say here? Not 100% sure. Iron Man 3 spoiler ahead.) )What I said about Victoria & Abdul and about Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi was: "both of which seem to think the problem with the British oppression of India is that local subjects were deprived of a wholesome, classy, righteous queen (rather than, say, that Indians were deprived of representative democracy)." And I think that message isn't just about the Raj. I mean, representative democracy is cognitively demanding and there are a million ways it's broken and everyone has to keep making decisions. Wouldn't it be nice for someone else to do it for us??

But -- no. We tried that.

[personal profile] yasaman, basically I am waving my hands around not sure whether I'm full of crap, and would particularly welcome your input here!

DISCO realization

Feb. 7th, 2019 05:09 am
[personal profile] brainwane
I was just rereading the Star Trek Encyclopedia I got for my 13th birthday and realized: this season of Star Trek: Discovery has every reason to feature Sybok.

"The Kelburn Brewer"

Feb. 5th, 2019 01:35 pm
[personal profile] brainwane
From 37:14 till about 42:00 of the 1st February episode of Caithream CiĆ¹il is a rockin' instrumental tune with horns and strings. It is so rockin' that I wanted to know more! Despite not knowing Scottish Gaelic, I worked out that the song's "The Kelburn Brewer", and is a collaboration involving Natalie Haas and Alasdair Fraser and closes their CD "Abundance".

"The Kelburn Brewer" as a YouTube track. Gets going around 0:34, then picks up further about a minute in, then increases its jammin'-ness as it goes. Enjoy! And I should listen to more Haas and Fraser.

"Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi"

Feb. 4th, 2019 07:06 am
[personal profile] brainwane
(Capsule review by my spouse at his blog.)

I saw ads for this on Indian TV around Republic Day and thought, cool, sort of Wonder Woman action vibes plus a martial-arts-dance sequence plus anticolonialism! It's a big enough blockbuster that it's showing in some NYC theaters, so I took my spouse plus a couple friends to it the other night.

The friends in question are white, and one of them likes big action movies (we see the MCU together) but is pretty ignorant of history, especially world history. So I prepped them, double-checking that they did know that the British occupied India for basically most of the 19th century, and that we weren't too keen on that. I didn't want to spoil them for the film but I wasn't sure of exactly what events would be covered in the film. So I told them: I'm pretty sure that this film assumes you know that, in 1857, there was a rebellion against British rule. From the fact that India got its independence in 1947, you may infer that this rebellion didn't work out for us. So, British rule depended on a middle management layer of locals, including Indian clerks and Indian soldiers called sepoys.... And I explained the bit about the cartridges.

And we wondered what exposition would happen -- would there be a Star Wars-style info crawl at the start explaining who/what/when/where? Nope! More like, halfway through the movie, you see some soldiers and an onscreen caption reading "Cartridges were sent...." and then, mutiny montage. So I unknowingly guessed THE EXACT RIGHT chunk of history to preload into my friends' heads so they weren't COMPLETELY at sea.

But of course I could see/hear some other messages that they couldn't. Like how Manikarnika was being positioned as a kind of figurative avatar of Kali or Durga. Or the chanting of "Har Har Mahadev" (anodyne English subtitle: "Victory is ours"; actually an invocation to Lord Shiva so specifically Hindu that Hindus yell it during anti-Muslim pogroms and chanted it during Partition violence, and it's super noteworthy when Muslims say it as part of a "communal harmony" initiative). The anti-casteism message (the scene where the villager serves Laximbai milk) is tiny, and the "hey Muslims were a huge part of the mutiny!" message feels practically nonexistent. And yeah that closing where there's an Aum symbol written in fire on the ground (also sort of end-of-Ramayana Sita imagery, as I read it). And the pointed scene where the Queen of Jhansi rescues a calf from being slaughtered (read: only awful barbarians might want to kill and eat cattle!). And all the treason and betrayal by other Indians, and all the "motherland" and "we try peace but we'll fight to defend ourselves" and "honor" and "so awesome to have a chance to be a martyr!" talk. This is a disturbing movie. It has fun bits in it, it has moving bits in it, but I came away distressed.

See, I haven't seen Lagaan* in a while, but in Lagaan, all the Indians work together. All castes, Muslims and Hindus together, women and men together, a guy with a disability turns out to be an amazing pitcher, and so on. Aamir Khan's character shows some leadership and you get a lot of training montages and it's about beating violent coercion with excellence and discipline and cleverness. Manikarnika is not like that. Manikarnika is about the joy of killing British soldiers, about the indivisible pride of the motherland and the people on/from it, and about a vision of Hindu nationalism that has no room for Ambedkar or Gandhi. And this is a huge blockbuster hit in a country that means a lot to me.

I need to read Harleen Singh's The Rani of Jhansi: Gender, History and Fable in India (Cambridge University Press, 2014) or a similar work before I say: this movie is historically inaccurate. And it weirds me out that it's hard for me to find reviews where people talk in depth about what's going on in this movie, politically. Is it all happening in Hindi, which I don't know and can't read? Am I completely misreading it? Is it not even worth explicating because it's so obvious to every Indian sourcelander watching it? (Indian news sources do point out that this seems almost part of a BJP pre-election campaign push.)

I'm worried, you know? Maybe one reason I'm not seeing people talk about this online is because they're afraid of retribution.

* I could swear that one of the British officers in Manikarnika is played by the same guy who played the main villain in Lagaan. IMDb seems to disagree. Maybe it's just similar facial hair.