mikeyzjames

Just another WordPress.com site

Month: January, 2012

Day 27 – Research Paper Topic Selection

My clas is now moving into the final assignment of the quarter, the Research Paper. The first step of this project is to select a topic. I waited for my class to hand in their selections before I decided on mine, although I could have predicted that noone would select my topic as well.

I have chosen to write about soccer’s popularity in the United States. Although it is called “the World’s game”, soccer seems to only be relevant in the US during the World Cup. Why doesn’t America embrace soccer? Why does the rest of the world connect to it so strongly?

I selected this topic because I am a soccer fanatic. Although I enjoy most sports, soccer is the one I am most passionate about. But being an American makes it more difficult to stay engaged with the game. I’m interested in looking into socio-historical reasons to help explain why the United States has “refused” to embrace the game to the degree that Europe, Africa, and South America have. I’m also interested in looking at how the soccer fanbase is growing in America, especially in regards to a few MLS teams.This topic is very debatable. Many Americans argue that soccer isn’t popular because it is low scoring. Some say that it is because it is an “immigrant’s game.” Many others argue that soccer simply hasn’t embedded itself as fully into the American way of life as it has in Europe, Africa, and South America. While the differing points of view may not be overly contentious, there is definitely no unified argument.The topic is definitely big enough to warrant a 7-9 page paper. There are a number of different ways to approach my topic. I’m particularly interested in looking at the history of the game and how it integrated itself into European daily life. I’m also interested in comparing soccer’s style of play with the most popular American sports to see if there is maybe an answer there. Although, like most fandoms, soccer clubs can have an almost religious atmosphere around them, the topic will not rely on morality or religion.I have already found a number of significant articles discussing the topic from a variety of angles. Many articles that don’t necessarily discuss soccer’s popularity in America will still be useful because they address fandom in other settings. There are also a number of books written on the topic that will be useful.

Day 26 – Research Paper Notes

Research Paper Components

Framing – p. 277

This is the lens through which you present your issue. Framing narrows down your topic to the area you want to cover and presents the stakes. Framing occurs early in the essay, generally within the first paragraphs.

Thesis

Clearly presents your main idea. If I only read your thesis, I would know what stance you would be taking on your topic. Consider using “should (not)” and “because” to help flesh out your thesis. Example: The death penalty “should” be outlawed “because” it risks killing innocent people, it does not deter crime, and it costs states billions of dollars.

A Readable Plan – p. 269, 279

The readable plan is the spine and structure of your essay. This is the work you do to connect your main points together so that the reader is always clear about where they are in the argument, why they are there, and how the pieces all related together. Initially, the readable plan begins with the thesis sentence and follows with a forecast of what arguments will be addressed. It continues through the use of strong topic sentences that guide the writing/reading. These topic sentences, and the paragraphs themselves, should stay consistent in key terms so that arguments are always clear. BE EXPLICIT

Support – p.268

A research paper cannot simply be an outline of main arguments. Those arguments must be supported with well-reasoned argument and strong evidence. Evidence should be used when declarative statements are not universally known to be true. A citation is not needed to explain that Lincoln is the capital of Nebraska; it is needed to say that Lincoln has a population of X. Next, the sources must be reliable. If you have even the slightest hesitation about the source, you should generally avoid it. If you can only find one source that says something, you might want to reconsider it.

Counter-Arguments – p.268, 279

A well-reasoned research paper should be well-rounded. It must address the significant arguments against your position. This can take many forms. Sometimes, you just flat out destroy the other side’s arguments. In other cases, you might have to concede the opposition’s point while also explaining why you are still right. The presentation of Counter-Arguments is tricky. First, you must present their argument fairly and completely. Second, you must answer their argument. Sometimes students simply present the opposition’s position without answering it. Counter-arguments should also be presented as such. Make it clear that you are presenting a position you don’t agree with. For example, “Death penalty advocate John Bonbaum aruges X.” “Some opponents will say Y.”

Requirements your Essay Should Fulfill

History

Before you begin specifically addressing arguments for or against your position, you must first establish the history of the topic. How long has the issue been around? What significant developments have occurred? Have there been any significant laws passed in regards to the law? Have there been any significant events that have affected the perception of the issue? To convince us of your position, you must first prove that you are an expert on the topic.

Significance and Harms

Is the issue you are talking about important? Does it have wideranging implications? Does it affect many people? Does it affect a principle which is universally important? If the issue is not handled or addressed in the manner you support, what are the risks? What is at stake?

Solution

In the clearest way possible, present just exactly how the Harms can be prevented. This should generally take the form of a Thesis statement, but might be explained more later, with specific details.

Reasons

Just like arguments need evidence, Solutions need Reasons. These are your main points of support.

 

Day 25 – Film #4: Crazy, Stupid, Love

Yes, I mainly rented Crazy, Stupid, Love by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa because I was having a bad day.  And yes, I picked the movie because I knew Ryan Gosling would make me happier. And yes, both my wife and I have the Gos as our desktop backgrounds. And yes, I know that my fascination doesn’t just border on weird, but crosses over into full blown creeper status. So what. I don’t care.

Turns out, Crazy, Stupid, Love is a pretty fantastic romantic comedy in its own right. When dealing with these formulaic genre films, my appreciation usually rests on the film’s ability to be somewhat creative, to hopefully play with my expectations. Just make it fresh, please. What this film does right is it starts with a basic trope, man’s wife cheats on him and asks for a divorce, and spins it into something unexpected and real.

Cal Weaver (Steve Carrell) has been with his wife (Julianne Moore) since middle school, so when she abruptly announces that she has cheated on him with David Lindhagen!!! (Kevin Bacon) from work, his life goes into a tail-spin. He throws himself from moving cars and drinks away his misery night-after-night at a trendy nightclub. Here, his constant moaning and ordering of vodka cranberries catches the attention of devilish ladies man Jacob (Ryan Gosling). Jacob, having a kind soul, but really just growing tired of Cal’s mood killing aura, decides to save him. He designs Cal a new, hip wardrobe and teaches him the art of seducing women, which Cal proceeds to do 9 times.

The general expectation with this type of film is for Cal to come into contact with the true love of his life, someone who will appreciate how kind, charming, and loving he can be, outside of the bar scene. But once this person realizes what he has been doing, their relationship will be thrown into flux until Cal can prove to them who he “really is”. Likewise, Cal will teach Jacob the vanity and vacuousness of his past life, and he will be reformed. The film, in a certain sense, does follow this path. But not in the way we’d expect.

First, Cal can never quite get over his marriage ending. Although we want to hate his wife, we never quite can, because it seems clear that Cal’s part in the marriage has become robotic. He’s stopped doing the little things. Certainly, this doesn’t excuse her actions, but Cal recognizes that he has perhaps been a better father than husband. So instead of trying to move on, he tries to regain what he has lost. And when she finds out what he has been up to, she becomes furious. Again, it is a refreshing take on the basic rom-com because it feels so real. She has no real right to be mad. As Cal explains, he didn’t sleep with those women to get back at her, he did it to get over her. But no woman on Earth would be able to casually accept his rampant womanizing. The irrationality of the characters is exactly how we as human’s act. Love is crazy and stupid and it doesn’t follow predictable or even rational rules.

Second, it gets weird. There is a whole sub-plot involving Cal’s son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) and his undying love for his babysitter, Jessica (Analeigh Tipton). She’s too old for him, she claims, although she herself is hopelessly in love with Cal. This results in a cringe-inducing episode over nude photographs that ends in a weird exchange that is both creepy and sweet. If I know one thing about myself, its that I love it when things get awkward.

And then there is the Gos himself. He is this generation’s James Dean. He has this weird aura around him where he just commands a screen. This is a pretty straigh-forward role, but he manages to be both cool, scuzzy, charming, and sweet all at the same time. His chemistry with Emma Stone is great and they both have excellent comedic timing. Their night spent talking, joking, drinking, talking, cuddling, and more talking was so good. The filmmakers played off the sexual tension in a way that was both hilarious and refreshing.

Crazy, Stupid, Love hits all the requirements I have for a romantic comedy. And the scenery ain’t so bad either.

 

Day 24.5 – Research Notes

1)  What is a research paper?

  • Presents info. from various sources in a concrete format. Intro -> Body -> Conclusion. Undisputable.
  • Factual, non-biased essay about one subject. Present both sides. No stance.
  • Analysis over a specific topic. Breaking it down. Depth.
  • Data driven analysis of a subject. Compile information.
  • Empirical (measurable, provable) data to objectively present both sides of an issue.
  • Thesis driven, on an arguable topic, supported with viable research, convincing logic, and thorough coverage.

2) What makes a good research paper topic?

  • A debatable topic.
  • Lots of information. Needs awareness. Popculture. Pick something interesting and relevant to you.
  • Reseachable. Can’t be based purely on personal or purely philosophical.
  • Readable, interesting. People should care about it.
  • Relevance, universality, easily interpreted across the ages. Timeless. Connectable to larger themes.

3) What qualifies as good research?

  • Reliable – unbiased (reputable – amount of publishing, affiliation, traceable)
  • Sources
  • Multiple sources. Source understandability.
  • Statistics. Enhances the topic. Unique sources.
  • Variety from different types of publications.
  • No plagiarism.

4) What components are necessary in the research paper to make it convincing?

  • Several drafts. Clarity of thoughts. Logical transitions. Lots of support to the thesis.
  • Solid logic. Link to the thesis. Cited research.
  • Presents flaws in both arguments.
  • Present both sides.
  • Evidence.
  • Understandable.
  • Grammar. Punctuation. Spelling.
  • Genuinely believe what you are saying.

Day 24 – Children of Men Final

One subtle way that Alfonso Cuarón’s 2006 film Children of Men fills in the history of post-apocalyptic, infertile Britain is through the background use of advertising, and in particular, pharmaceutical advertising. Three drugs in particular are both discussed and advertised throughout the film: Quietus, a suicide drug, Bliss, an anti-depressant, and Niagra, a male erectile dysfunction pill. Each, in their own way, helps Cuarón paint a picture of future Britain, but in particular, Quietus reveals the true despair of the infertile future. Through Quietus and the more abstract discussion and presentation of disease and treatment, Children of Men critiques the modern use of and reliance on pharmaceuticals and pharmaceutical advertising.

The most prominent drug in Children of Men is the suicide pill Quietus. It is seen in advertisements, discussed by Theo (Clive Owen) and Jasper (Michael Caine), and even used twice, once to kill rats by Jasper and once to actually kill Jasper’s wife Janice (Philippa Urquhart) as his compound is raided by the Fishes.  The television advertisement for Quietus appears when Theo’s TV turns on to wake him one morning. It shows a man walking stoically into the sunrise as the tagline “I am free to decide my own destiny” echoes through the speakers. While at Jasper’s, Theo opens a Quietus box and reads the included instructions. Quietus, he reads, is 100% effective and it is also being given out freely by the government. For Cuarón, Quietus serves two functions. First, it symbolizes the general despair that is overwhelming humanity nearly two decades after the last human was born. The world is in chaos, and even “safe” Britain is over-crowded, polluted, noisy, and dangerous. In such depressing circumstances, death is seen as a peaceful, quiet way to escape. More significantly, Cuarón makes Quietus a government sponsored, distributed, and endorsed drug. It isn’t simply passively allowed; it is encouraged and even promoted. From the government’s perspective, dwindling resources and significant crowding have put extreme strain on the country. Large-scale suicide frees up resources and makes security and maintenance easier.

Cuarón’s use of pharmaceutical advertising is effective and seamless because it is rooted in the types of drug ads that have become ubiquitous within the last 20 years. The commercial for Quietus seen when Theo wakes up is based on modern pharmaceutical advertisements. It features a solitary man, out of context, looking into the sunset. Like many ads, this commercial does not explicitly discuss what the drug does, but rather focuses on more abstract concepts like personal choice, freedom, and peace. Although we know Quietus is a suicide pill based on Theo and Jasper’s discussion, the ad could just as easily be for Cialis, which also emphasizes personal freedom, choice, and happiness.

But Quietus offers a false freedom. At its core, Children of Men offers hope in a hopeless world and Kee’s baby is a symbol of that possible “Tomorrow”. Although there seems to be little worth fighting for, the people that surround her are so committed to that hope that they are willing to die, and as a result, they become martyrs for humanity. Quietus, on the other hand, offers death as a escape. It serves no cause in the betterment of humanity, but instead grants people a release from the difficulties of life.

What is even more troubling for Cuarón is that this option is being advertised by the government. Propaganda plays a large role in the film and we frequently see a relation between Cause (a sign urging Britons to report illegal immigrants) and Effect (illegal immigrants being transported in cages to the ghetto of Bexhill). Thus, we can assume that the Quietus advertising, in conjunction with the increasing terror and fear, has led many people to choose this option. Each unnecessary suicide diminishes the hope for human survival.

Cuarón bases this connection on the modern use of pharmaceutical advertising. Today, pharmaceutical companies spend over $20 billion annually in drug promotion, including nearly $5 billion in Direct-to-Consumer advertising (Campbell). These advertisements urge consumers to ask their doctor “whether the drug is right for them.” As a result, a study published in CMAJ found that patients with significant exposure to pharmaceutical advertising were more likely to request new medications, more likely to request medications that they had seen advertised, and ultimately 17 times more likely to receive new medications from their doctors than those who do not ask for them (Mintzes, et al). In short, pharmaceutical advertising results in more patients using the advertised drugs.

For the real world, Cuarón seems to be critiquing our increased reliance on both pharmaceuticals themselves and advertising’s ability to influence human decisions. It is important that he has chosen drugs that are generally qualified as “lifestyle” drugs that treat non-fatal diseases and problems (Woodard). Obviously, in a world with little hope of survival, it seems clear that drugs that treat things like high cholesterol, heart disease, or cancer would be less important. The drugs advertised in the film address short-term quality of life or even grant a permanent end to an immediate problem. Most importantly, the drugs don’t find cures to causes, but solutions to effects. The drugs do not actually address the living conditions that make life unbearable for the citizens of 2027 Britain, instead, they make those conditions acceptable. For Theo and those who help Kee, the goal of getting her to the Tomorrow is to offer some hope at curing the root cause of humanity’s problems. Instead of finding ways to manage the despair, the government should be finding ways to solve the problems.

In addition to critiquing the use of pharmaceuticals to cure effects rather than causes, Quietus also addresses the more general abuse of pharmaceuticals in our own world. In 2008, over 20,000 people died as a result of prescription drug overdoses. Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has claimed that this represents a new epidemic in the United States (Roberts). Quietus simply cuts out the middlemen and makes death assured. It also plays with the now clichéd list of side-effects associated with most pharmaceutical ads. Now, the worst side-effect, death, is the goal, and it is 100% guaranteed.

Cuarón is not completely anti-pharmaceutical, or even completely anti-Quietus (Jasper giving Janice the drug is actually seen as a beautiful, loving, and graceful choice). But he is clearly skeptical of the industry. For example, although the film never reveals what has caused the massive infertility of humanity, Cuarón may see a connection between the increased use of pharmaceuticals for non-life threatening problems and the problems of reproduction. We see one instance of the potential harms of pharmaceuticals while Theo sits hooded in the Fishes interrogation cell. A newspaper visible on the wall claims that some drugs that attempted to treat the infertility actually led to death in users. In addition to the use of Quietus, Cuarón is consistently making connections between pills and death.9999 Perhaps the increased reliance on pharmaceuticals in the late 20th and early 21st centuries affected humanity’s ability to reproduce as well.

In this case, Cuarón has merely expanded upon a widespread belief that humans are overly reliant on drugs to treat non-life threatening illnesses, and as a result, there is an increased risk of drug resistance. For example, the CDC has warned against the overuse of antibiotics in minor infections and especially viral infections (which antibiotics cannot treat). They state, “these drugs have been used so widely and for so long that the infectious organisms the antibiotics are designed to kill have adapted to them, making the drugs less effective. People infected with antimicrobial-resistant organisms are more likely to have longer, more expensive hospital stays, and may be more likely to die as a result of the infection.” They urge for increased prevention strategies in the spread of diseases and proper diagnosing on the part of medical professionals to stop over-medication (“Antibiotic/Antimicrobial Resistance”).

Drug resistance is an increasing problem. Just within the last week, India has reported at least 12 cases of tuberculosis that they say “has become resistant to all the drugs used against the disease” (McKenna). This new form of TB is related to the already difficult to treat MDR-TB which killed nearly 150,000 people last year. For Cuarón and Children of Men, this fact should not come as a surprise. In fact, Jasper references an influenza pandemic in 2007 (the film was released in 2006) that killed Theo and Julian’s child. According to the CDC, influenza is one disease that is becoming increasingly drug-resistant and the general reaction to the “swine flu” highlights the general belief that it is not a question of if, but when such a pandemic occurs.

While the usage of drugs like Bliss, Niagra, and Quietus might not directly lead to resistant forms of disease like influenza or tuberculosis, they are part of a more general reliance on prescriptions to treat effects, not causes. Because little is seen being done to promote the general well-being of the remaining British citizens through basic services like trash pick up or pollution control, it is clear that the government finds it easier and cheaper to distribute anti-depressants, sex drugs, and suicide pills than it is to actually make things better. Clearly, there are bigger issues at stake in Cuarón’s film, but the increased influence of non-necessary pharmaceutical advertising is symptomatic of a more general unwillingness to confront real world problems in a direct, realistic way. For Cuarón, Quietus is not such a far reach from the modern day ads that promise peace, relaxation, and serenity.

Works Cited
“Antibiotic/Antimicrobial Resistance.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. United States Government. 4 October 2011. Web. 10 January 2012.

Campbell, Sheila. “Promotional Spending for Prescription Drugs.” Congressional  Budget Office. United States Government. 2 December 2009. Web. 10 January  2012.

McKenna, Maryn. “India Reports Completely Drug-Resistant TB.” Wired. Wired  Magazine. 9 January 2012. Web. 10 January 2012.

Mintzes, Barbara, Morris Barer, Richard Kravitz, Ken Bassett, Joel Lexchin, Arminée  Kazajian, Robert Evans, Richard Pan, and Stephen Marion. “How Does Direct-to- Consumer Advertising (DTCA) Affect Prescribing? A Survey in Primary Care  Environments with and without Legal DTCA.” CMAJ 169.5 (September 2003):  405-412. Print.

Roberts, John. “Report: Prescription Drug Deaths Skyrocket.” Fox News. Fox News  Network. 1 November 2011. Web. 16 January 2012.

Woodard, Larry. “Pharmaceutical Ads: Good of Bad for Consumers?” ABC News. ABC.  25 February 2010. Web. 10 January 2012.

Day 23 – MLK Day

I haven’t posted because I want my class to be able to easily find my rough draft for their next assignment on Children of Men. (And yes students, it is but a ROUGH draft. I’ve been working dilligently to improve it because there are many aspects I don’t like. You should do the same! If you are completely happy with a rough draft, you will likely be unhappy with your grade.)

But seeing as it is Martin Luther King Day, it seems impossible not to make a passing word to the man, seeing as how important he is to my own class. If you have never read “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” please take the time to do so. While the “I Have a Dream” speech is probably the most famous text associated with King, “Letter” is his true manifesto. It is a beautiful, thoughtful, and powerful piece of rhetoric. As much as I admire the incendiary style of Malcolm X or those associated with the Black Panther Party, Martin Luther King always overwhelms me with how calm and rational he is in his approach. Even when you are hoping that he is going to explode and roast his opponents, he quickly dashes the idea of “opponents” and speaks on the level of love and equality that he promotes. Yes, he takes people to task, but the way he does it is so incredibly admirable.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Day 22 – Children of Men Rough Draft

One subtle way that Alfonso Cuarón’s 2006 film Children of Men fills in the history of post-apocalyptic, infertile Britain is through the background use of advertising, and in particular, pharmaceutical advertising. Three drugs in particular are both discussed and advertised throughout the film: Quietus, a suicide drug, Bliss, an anti-depressant, and Niagra, a male erectile dysfunction pill. Each, in their own way, helps Cuarón paint a picture of future Britain. Through these drugs and the more abstract discussion and presentation of disease and treatment, Children of Men critiques the modern use of and reliance on pharmaceuticals and pharmaceutical advertising.

Quietus is the most prominent drug featured in the film, and it is used twice during the film, once to kill rodents and eventually to kill Jasper’s (Michael Caine) catatonic wife Janice (Philippa Urquhart). We first see the drug advertised when Theo (Clive Owen) leaves a coffeeshop, as the tagline “You decide when” scrolls across a billboard in the background. A television advertisement for Quietus also appears when Theo’s TV turns on to wake him one morning. It shows a man walking stoically into the sunrise as the tag echoes through the speakers. Finally, while at Jasper’s, Theo opens a Quietus box and reads the included instructions. Quietus, he reads, is 100% effective and it is also being given out freely by the government. For Cuarón, Quietus serves two functions. First, it symbolizes the general despair that is overwhelming humanity nearly two decades after the last human was born. The world is in chaos, and even “safe” Britain is over-crowded, polluted, noisy, and dangerous. In such depressing circumstances, death is seen as a peaceful, quiet way to escape. More significantly, Cuarón makes Quietus a government sponsored, distributed, and endorsed drug. It isn’t simply passively allowed; it is encouraged and even promoted. From the government’s perspective, dwindling resources and significant crowding have put extreme strain on the country. Large-scale suicide frees up resources and makes security and maintenance easier.

Bliss and Niagra are less prominent in the film, but still illustrate the general psyche of 2027 Britain. The Bliss ad is bright and colorful. It shows a smiling woman surrounded by vibrant flowers. Like Quietus, Bliss is governmentally supported, with Theo noting that it is distributed in rations. For those unwilling to use Quietus, Bliss offers a path to some form of happiness. Niagra, for its part, addresses a more primal concern for a world without children. Given the general despair and an aging population, a healthy sex life may need some pharmaceutical help. In conjunction with the prominent warnings that avoiding fertility tests is a crime, it is likely that there is also an added emphasis on attempting to get pregnant, even if it seems unlikely. With its allusion to the famous waterfall, Niagra offers the chance at renewal and, hopefully, rebirth.

Cuarón’s use of pharmaceutical advertising is effective and seamless because it is rooted in the types of drug ads that have become ubiquitous within the last 20 years. Today, pharmaceutical companies spend over $20 billion annually in drug promotion, including nearly $5 billion in Direct-to-Consumer advertising (Campbell). These advertisements urge consumers to ask their doctor “whether the drug is right for them.” As a result, a study published in CMAJ found that patients with significant exposure to pharmaceutical advertising were more likely to request new medications, more likely to request medications that they had seen advertised, and ultimately 17 times more likely to receive new medications from their doctors than those who do not ask for them (Mintzes, et al). In short, pharmaceutical advertising results in more patients using the advertised drugs.

As a result of this fact, Children of Men achieves a dual critique. On the fictional side, it highlights the general callousness of Britain’s endorsement of something like Quietus. Merely allowing the drug to be prescribed is quite different than actively promoting it to the population. Based on the effectiveness of modern pharmaceutical advertising, it seems clear that the Quietus ads would be successful in convincing English citizens to choose suicide. For the real world, Cuarón seems to be critiquing our increased reliance on both pharmaceuticals themselves and advertising’s ability to influence human decisions. It is important that he has chosen drugs that are generally qualified as “lifestyle” drugs that treat non-fatal diseases and problems (Woodard). Obviously, in a world with little hope of survival, it seems clear that drugs that treat things like high cholesterol, heart disease, or cancer would be less important. The drugs advertised are all about increasing short-term quality of life or even granting a permanent end to an immediate problem.

Additionally, because we never find out what has caused the massive infertility of humanity, Cuarón may see a connection between the increased use of pharmaceuticals for non-life threatening problems and the problems of reproduction. While Theo sits hooded in the Fishes interrogation cell, a newspaper visible on the wall even claims that some drugs that attempted to treat the infertility actually led to death in users. Perhaps the increased reliance on pharmaceuticals in the late 20th and early 21st centuries affected humanity’s ability to reproduce as well.

In this case, Cuarón has merely expanded upon a widespread belief that humans are overly reliant on drugs to treat non-life threatening illnesses, and as a result, there is an increased risk of drug resistance. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state “these drugs have been used so widely and for so long that the infectious organisms the antibiotics are designed to kill have adapted to them, making the drugs less effective. People infected with antimicrobial-resistant organisms are more likely to have longer, more expensive hospital stays, and may be more likely to die as a result of the infection.” They urge for increased prevention strategies in the spread of diseases and proper diagnosing on the part of medical professionals to stop over-medication (“Antibiotic/Antimicrobial Resistance”).

Within the last week, India has reported at least 12 cases of tuberculosis that they say “has become resistant to all the drugs used against the disease” (McKenna). This new form of TB is related to the already difficult to treat MDR-TB which killed nearly 150,000 people last year. For Cuarón and Children of Men, this fact should not come as a surprise. In fact, Jasper references an influenza pandemic in 2007 (the film was released in 2006) that killed Theo and Julian’s child. According to the CDC, influenza is one disease that is becoming increasingly drug-resistant and the general reaction to the “swine flu” highlights the general belief that it is not a question of if, but when such a pandemic occurs.

While the usage of drugs like Bliss and Niagra might not directly lead to resistant forms of disease like influenza or tuberculosis, they are part of a more general reliance on prescriptions to treat effects, not causes. Because little is seen being done to promote the general well-being of the remaining British citizens through basic services like trash pick up or pollution control, it is clear that the government finds it easier and cheaper to distribute anti-depressants, sex drugs, and suicide pills than it is to actually make things better. Clearly, there are bigger issues at stake in Cuarón’s film, but the increased influence of non-necessary pharmaceutical advertising is symptomatic of a more general unwillingness to confront real world problems in a direct, realistic way. For Cuarón, Quietus is not such a far reach from the modern day ads that promise peace, relaxation, and serenity.

Works Cited

“Antibiotic/Antimicrobial Resistance.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. United States Government. 4 October 2011. Web. 10 January 2012.

Campbell, Sheila. “Promotional Spending for Prescription Drugs.” CongressionalBudget Office. United States Government. 2 December 2009. Web. 10 January 2012.

McKenna, Maryn. “India Reports Completely Drug-Resistant TB.” Wired. Wired Magazine. 9 January 2012. Web. 10 January 2012.

Mintzes, Barbara, Morris Barer, Richard Kravitz, Ken Bassett, Joel Lexchin, Arminée Kazajian, Robert Evans, Richard Pan, and Stephen Marion. “How Does Direct-to-Consumer Advertising (DTCA) Affect Prescribing? A Survey in Primary Care Environments with and without Legal DTCA.” CMAJ 169.5 (September 2003): 405-412. Print.

Woodard, Larry. “Pharmaceutical Ads: Good of Bad for Consumers?” ABC News. ABC. 25 February 2010. Web. 10 January 2012.

Day 21 – Island Movies

Matt Zoler Seitz at Salon has issued this traditional movie lovers scenario:

You don’t need much of a setup for this one: It’s a Desert Island List of visual media that I’d like to have with me if I were shipwrecked. Here are the rules:

1. This list is composed solely of motion pictures and TV shows. Music, books, paintings and other media are not included. It is assumed that you’ll have an indestructible DVD player with a solar-recharging power source, so let’s not get bogged down in refrigerator logic, mm’kay?

2. You can list 10 feature films, one short and a single, self-contained season of a TV series.

3. NO CHEATING. Every slot on the list must be claimed by a self-contained unit of media. You can put all 15 hours of “Berlin Alexanderplatz” on the list because it’s considered one long film (or if you saw it in Germany, a TV miniseries), but you can’t put “The Godfather” and “The Godfather, Part II” in the same slot because “it counts as one long film” (it doesn’t!). You can’t put 10 seasons of “I Love Lucy” on their, either, or “‘Twin Peaks’ up through the part in Season 2 where we finally find out who killed Laura Palmer.” Part of the fun of this exercise is figuring out what you think you can watch over and over, and what you can live without. Stick to the parameters, otherwise we’ll have human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, and mass hysteria.

These are fun little exercises because you don’t necessarily pick your favorite films or TV shows, but the ones that you can watch for eternity.

Short Film

La Jetée (Chris Marker, 1962)

Frankly, I’m having a hard time coming up with more short films. But this is an awesome, experimental sci-fi film. It is solely composed of photographs, but it still propels an interesting narrative. The photography is beautiful and there is one sequence that is quite stunning. It also inspired 12 Monkeys by Terry Gilliam. Thanks to the Internet, you can watch it now!

Television Season

Seinfeld – Season 4

This was undeniably the hardest thing to choose. My first instinct was Mad Men, but I’m not sure it is something that I would just pop in while trying to crack open a coconut. I think I want comedy here. My next instinct was Arrested Development Season 2, which is my favorite. But then I realized the choice was obvious, Seinfeld. I was taping episodes in 6th grade; it’s a part of me. The only hard part was picking a season, but I’m going to go with Season 4. First, this season has one of the show’s few continuing arcs with Jerry and George trying to sell their pilot to NBC. But it also has many of the most classic episodes: “The Bubble Boy”, “The Contest”, “The Junior Mint”, and “The Implant”. Elaine exposes her nipple via a Christmas card in “The Pick” and the now famous “Not that there is anything wrong with that,” shows up in “The Outing”. You also get a lot of Crazy Joe Davola and some Uncle Leo.

Films

  1. The Big Lebowski (Coen Brothers, 1997). The greatest film ever made.
  2. Gimme Shelter (Maysles Brothers, 1970). The greatest documentary ever made about the greatest rock band of all time. Plus, now I get music!
  3. Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, 2006). This is the movie that will depress me enough that maybe I’ll be glad I’m stranded on a desert island. The best film of the last 10 years. It continually gets better every time I watch it.
  4. Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007). My favorite procedural film. Its weird to say, but this is a film I can always just chill out to. Yes, it is about a serial killer, but its really about the men obsessed with finding the serial killer. The score by David Shire is great and Fincher’s digital cinematography is killer. Great performances too, especially from Jake Gyllenhaal (RDJ too).
  5. Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958). Probably my favorite acting performance of all time by  unparalleled Jimmy Stewart. This movie always bums me out, but in the best way possible. It’s dark, creepy, beautifully photographed, and psychologically bizarre.
  6. Le Cercle Rouge (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1970). Again, this is a movie I can just zone out to. First, I love cerebral crime films. This movie takes its time and has a minimal amount of dialogue. It is slow, methodical, and engaging. There is also just something that I love about 70s 35mm cinematography. It is just so rich and beautiful to look at. Also, Alain Delon, the Gos of the 70s.
  7. Best in Show (Christopher Guest, 2000). To me, this is the funniest movie of all time. The first time I saw it was a revelation. I am in awe of this type of improve. The characters here are so fully realized and it is fantastic to see the actors get into their psyches and reveal the crazy weirdness. (I’m also hoping the DVD extras count, because the deleted scenes for this are stunningly awesome.)
  8. RoboCop (Paul Verhoeven, 1987). When living on an island starts to bum me out, this will pick me right up. Verhoeven is one of my favorite directors because he just goes for it every time. Its over-the-top and ridiculous and endlessly quotable (Get used to it, Wilson!).
  9. Band of Outsiders (Jean-Luc Godard, 1964). Godard is my favorite director of all time and Anna Karina my favorite actress. Mainly, I’m bringing this for the dance scene in the café, one of the most perfect scenes ever put to film.
  10. The French Connection (William Friedkin, 1971). I love Popeye Doyle. I love the cinematography. I love the verve and speed of Friedkin’s direction. “Do you pick your feet in Poughkeepsie?”

What say you?

Day 20 – Film #3: Attack the Block

I’m hard pressed to think of a genre that I love more than alien invasion. Like most kids, I was fascinated by outerspace, and in high school, my friend Rohit and I spent countless hours talking about terraforming asteroids and shooting the human race into the cosmos. I’ve seen Independence Day more times than I can count and I even watched Skyline. For me, man vs. space creature is a premise that is hard to beat, but Joe Cornish manages to make Attack the Block a different, more satisfying entry.

First, he localizes the action to a tiny apartment block in the South London projects. We are saved from the now mandatory global media montage covering the invading hordes. In fact, because the invasion is happening in a derelict part of town, it isn’t ever clear that the outside world even knows what is happening. All of the violence and chaos caused by the invading creatures is blamed on the criminal youth of the area.

Second, he complicates our expected allegiances. Almost every alien disaster movie is really about the ability of humans, through their great courage and resilience, to overcome anything; when we unite, we can even defeat technologically superior hordes intent on using us as batteries. We love about-to-get-engaged, Welcome-ta-Earf Will Smith and nerdy-but-cute-although-weird Jeff Goldblum because they represent the best in us. But Attack the Block works differently. It begins with a group of London youth (4 black, one white) mugging a white woman on a dark street. Having seen the previews, I knew these kids fought the aliens, so I was intrigued to see how Cornish got us around to supporting them.

Obviously, the film is a fairly liberal attempt to nuance the discussion about poverty, ghettoization, and violence in urban settings. Yes, the gang are thugs, but they also live shit lives. Additionally, they’ve been sucked into a culture that seems total. When they were little, the older kids mugged women, and they wanted to fit in. Cornish plays this wonderfully by having two younger kids constantly trying to join this teenage mob, eventually using their own weapons to fight the aliens. It seems an endless cycle. But Cornish doesn’t treat this narrative as total. As the gang arms up to fight the aliens, he brings the mugged woman to their side. The constant tension between her and her muggers really propels the story. They call her “Snitch” and basically tell her to deal with what happened to her. Even when she proves her value to the group, they aren’t necessarily willing to accept her. It is this constant tension between liking and hating the group that made the film interesting to me. On the one hand, they are violent, blind, and stupid, but on other charming, funny, and courageous. Ultimately, they are just kids.

Third, the film perfectly balances humor and horror. One arguably difficult aspect of the film is that the characters speak in thick, dialect heavy English accents. There are times where it is difficult to understand what is being said. But once you adjust, you realize that a lot of really funny shit is being said. This film is hyper-self-aware. There are pop culture references all over the place that delve into video games, music, and even other sci-fi movies and the character interactions are great. Each kid is given enough time to make their mark and even one who spends 90% of the film in a trashcan manages to feel real and true. And this almost non-stop banter is disrupted by moments of intense violence and brutality on the part of the aliens. This is a film made on a budget, so they’ve kept the baddies simple. They basically look like giant gorillas, but with mouths of razor sharp, neon green teeth. They are also almost invisible: they are so dark that there is no contour or depth to their figures. They are more like shadows. Their terror comes primarily through their piercing screams and the blood trail they leave behind. Lizz was terrified and there were some pretty shocking moments.

Finally, there is a basic lesson at play: actions have consequences. Although we side with humanity, the alien attacks aren’t random. They were caused by a very specific choice on the part of the kids. This complicates the traditional alien destruction narrative. Instead of fighting aliens to prove the superiority of mankind, the kids fight the aliens to right a wrong. They risk their lives because they recognize that what they did has endangered the lives of the people they care about. Thus, while the film asks us to reformulate our opinion of violent youths, it also asks these same youths to reevaluate their own actions. It is an interesting twist that treats the alien invasion yarn as an interesting allegory.

Day 19 – Continuity

While most people know that Bruce Wayne is Batman, few people would connect the name Dick Grayson with Batman’s rag-tag partner Robin. Even fewer know that Dick has been Batman for the last two years and even fewer still know that Robin has been helmed by at least 4 different people. This tangle of lore makes getting into comics a surprisingly difficult task. Most stories, depending on the character, are loaded with decades of assumed knowledge. To realize why it is so significant that Batgirl Barbara Gordon is immobilized by fear when a new baddy aims a gun at her stomach, you need to have read Alan Moore’s famous The Killing Joke from 1988. And when a new arc suddenly cures Babs of her paralysis and seemingly wipes away that canonical story, you get angry because of one reason: continuity. Because in comics, continuity is  king (except when it isn’t).

Continuity is the grand idea that, in at least Marvel and DC, one large story is being told through each issue released. In this way, comics are the written, superhero version of soap operas. Characters last seen 40 years ago can return, and all the bad shit they did before they left is still remembered. Noone forgets, least of all the fans. But continuity works on several different levels. The most basic level is that each story for an individual character builds off the previous stories of that character. If Batman is seen bleeding and dying in a gutter at the end of issue #3, issue #4 better resolve the bleeding and dying. This is a level of continuity everyone who watches TV is familiar with. A show like Dexter tells one overarching story during a season. It becomes a little more complicated in comics because many characters have hundreds if not thousands of episodes in their past that people expect to be honored. Now, comics become unique in the fact that each title within a line like DC is expected to share a history with all the other books in the line. So, if Gotham is nuked in an issue of Nightwing, it isn’t cool for it to be fine in an issue of Batman. What happens to Gotham in one should happen to Gotham in another. This would be the equivalent of each NBC show sharing one universe. While arguably this could be happening now, we never see the intersection of a murder on Law & Order with a day at Greendale in Community. In comics, these stories overlap all the time.

This presents a number of interesting facets. On the one hand, it rewards long-time readers for their time and money. It feels good when a story you read 5 years ago ties in with a story you are reading today (granted, I haven’t been reading that long, but theoretically….). It also gives weight to what happens within the individual issues. If Wolverine really dies in his solo title, it means you won’t be seeing him in the team-based X-Men titles. The shared universe also allows that death to be explored from a number of different angles from a number of different perspectives. As a reader, you get to see many different writers interpreting a single event’s ramifications. And sometimes the strictures of continuity have forced writers to move characters into unforeseen and interesting places, like a paralyzed Batgirl Barbara Gordon becoming wheelchair-bound Oracle.

But on the other hand, the emphasis on continuity can also become a daunting burden for writers. How do you tell fresh, unique stories while staying true to the thousands of stories that came before? How do you make a Joker/Batman showdown interesting when they’ve already battled hundreds of times? When you aren’t writing Avengers, how do you accommodate the things that are happening to Tony Stark there into Invincible Iron Man?

And sometimes continuity gets so messy that it just has to be reset. Prior to the DC relaunch, the most famous of these do-overs was Crisis on Infinite Earths, which sought to simplify the multiverse and clean up complicated character histories while eliminating other characters altogether. Generally, it was a success, and DC moved forward in a rather unified fashion (for a time). For its part, Marvel, always less interested in the grand continuity, created the Ultimate Universe, which sees variations and plays on main-line characters. In its newest incarnation with only 3 main titles, X-Men, Spider-Man, and Ultimates share one large story. Something may be hinted at in one that is explained in the other, and the smaller size of the line makes Editorial control easier. Marvel has also created the MAX line which allows for more graphic content and stands outside of normal continuity. And some stories just don’t fit anywhere. Often, these are released as stand-alone graphic novels like Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns or are given line imprints like Elseworlds.

As a new reader and someone who only really cares about continuity to the extent that it helps me understand what I’m reading, DC’s relaunch brought out a whole wave of annoying fandom that highlights the strange place continuity places publishers and creatives in. More than anything, it seems like fans (and Grant Morrison) care about this shared, historical Universe and creators realize that fans care about this shared, historical Universe. For that purpose, I assume that staying within continuity is much like following the guidelines and procedures of any job. You fill out the required paperwork, you stay within the lines, and you can expect people to be happy. Of course, this is a grand reduction of what these artists do, but you certainly get a sense from many interviews with creatives that continuity is more a curse than a cure.

But for fans, old stories carry ridiculous weight and you frequently read people asking asinine questions like, “Does The Killing Joke still count?” The assumption was that if the stories “didn’t count” (weren’t in continuity) they were pointless. As the old 52 came to a close many asked what the point of reading the August books was, as most of the stories “wouldn’t matter” in the new Universe. It is a weird readership logic that I still can’t wrap my head around. It is as if these people would rather receive a monthly flow-chart of plot developments instead of actual artistic productions. If the answer to the initial question was “No,” how would it really change things? Would you suddenly not like The Killing Joke? Would it nullify the pleasure and entertainment you had when you first read it through?  Can you really not understand a new story if you are asked to forget a prior one?

Perhaps I am simply underestimating a subculture that has attempted to isolate itself within a new world. In the end, the goal of continuity is not literary, but historical. It is an attempt to create a real history for a fake world, and if you are going to maintain the illusion, you have to at least ensure that this world follows tangible, predictable rules. This also makes sense in a community that follows characters over artists and writers. Again, this contradicts my own background in film and literature. I watch and read things because I like the directors, actors, and writers involved, not because of the characters or, many times, the plot. But for comic book fans that read every Green Lantern or Spider-Man book, regardless of who is creating it, it is the accumulated momentum of the story that matters, and maybe there is some honor in that kind of dedication.

%d bloggers like this: