MHC Seminar 1, Professor Casey Henry

Author: K Campbell

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It is clear that the gaming industry is overwhelmingly dedicated to violent male characters, despite the potential of video games to create any world imaginable, and it seems that these games result in a more hostile gaming community.

I recently re-watched the  1998 film The Truman Show, in which a man’s life is unknowingly filmed and broadcast to the world with no interruptions. His entire life is built around this show – his town is just a large set, his wife and friends are actors, and, of course, the items he uses are paid product placements. The premise of the film itself raises questions about what constitutes art, and those questions can be turned to current reality TV and its celebrities. The television show that the film is about airs without commercials, so its only revenue comes from scenes like the following, where characters suggest that Truman try a mundane project that is sure to be better than what he had before.

In this clip (up to 0:40), we see a point where the show could be meaningful art – Truman attempts to have a serious conversation with his wife, something that is real to him, and this substance could help viewers reevaluate their own lives, consider new perspectives, have the difficult conversations the’re dreading because if Truman can do it, anyone can. But this potential is undermined by the wife’s refusal to approach this conversation – she is only an actress, unwilling to discuss her show marriage with any seriousness – so she does what she does best, point a product label at the camera and say a slogan with as much conviction as she can muster.

I do think art can be effectively used in advertising, lending beauty to a price tag, but it is common to a failure at this, with advertising and cheap attempts at making money getting in the way of anything meaningful.

Rodin and Michelangelo both portray the human form in great detail, but the contrast is in how this form is depicted. Michelangelo’s figures are graceful, showing the best side of humanity – hopeful images of God and the beauty of the human figure in the nude form. Michelangelo uses bright colors and light to bring out the positivity of life. Rodin’s work is literally darker, as he often used bronze, in contrast to Michelangelo’s preference for marble. His bronze figures, particularly those recreated from his sculpture “The Gates of Hell,” are often twisted awkwardly, folding into themselves, hiding their bodies. Rodin’s work emphasizes biblical suffering, where Michelangelo focuses more on angels and heroes.

The side of New York depicted in Mean Streets is one of masculine hypocrisy. The film opens with its lead character asking God if it’s okay that he repents for his sins in his own way, and moves on to the crimes that this man commits with his friends. They are gruff and violent, insulting and punching each other as often as they can. They call each other “friends” while exchanging money for their gambling and deals for illegal items, but quickly break into a brawl because, after all, they aren’t really fond of each other. The song “Shakey Dog” depicts a similar taste for violence, as the rapper, Ghostface Killah,  and his friend plan to rob a group of drug dealers that trust Ghostface Killah. The saying is true – there is “no honor among thieves.” But, Mean Streets, being in its longer format, is able to depict a happier side of the story of these violent men, showing that there is a degree of camaraderie when they all relax in a bar together.

The structure of the poem “We Real Cool” relates an uncertainty of the identity of these pool players. There is some conflict, or some confusion, in how they are seen by Gwendolyn Brooks or how they see themselves. The rhythm of the poem draws us into the dimly lit, smoky pool hall, and we are immediately told that this is “cool.” These boys have fun in their relaxed lifestyle, no school or work to get up for in the morning, just staying out all night drinking and dancing. Their life is desirable, we think, until the poem ends. “We die soon.” Our perception is flipped, and we see the difficult lifestyle of inner-city kids, a vision in agreement with Bobby Womack’s Harlem. He creates an image of a dangerous place, a ghetto that is difficult to break out of. Womack also comments on the institutional formation of ghettos in the line “The family on the other side of town would catch hell without a ghetto around” – the upper-class inhabitants of Manhattan or any city like New York, look down on the ghettos, but it is their control of government and finances that creates the ghettos. This alternate view of cities, the lower-class and, in Harlem, the black perspective, is present anywhere: “In every city you find the same thing going down, Harlem is the capital of every Ghetto town.”

There’s a distinct feeling to an afternoon in New York, newly in love, sitting across from your lover at a café or next to them on a park bench. It’s poetry in real life – was the poetry inspired by the feeling, or the feeling by the poetry? And there is such beautiful poetry to describe this completeness – “Having a Coke with You is even more fun than going to San Sebastian, Irún, Hendaye, Biarritz, Bayonne… in the warm New York 4 o’clock light we are drifting back and forth between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles,” wrote Frank O’Hara, describing a simple lunch with the man he loves.

Or a poem from the New York City subway:

Its beauty struck me in the late summer, so much so that I felt compelled to write it down, send it as a text to my own newly found partner. “All we want is a metropolis of Sundays, an empire of hand-holding and park benches,” I read, and thought about how we had spent the summer the same way, holding hands on park benches or on picnic blankets, thinking only about the effect we had on each other and ourselves. But the point isn’t the art itself, it’s the person it makes you think about, and Frank O’Hara describes this – “I look at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world.”

Troye Sivan captures the same feeling of lightness,  of infatuation, in “Youth.” He uses the video to depict himself, a young gay man, finding a lover at a party, and the lyrics describe the way that this consumes you – “My youth is yours, run away now and forevermore.”

Or in Grimes’ song “Artangels,” a love letter to a city (Montréal), a theme which we so often see dedicated to New York. We see the power of cities, the way they make us feel, in encouraging these wonderful, over-the-top feelings, and she is also describing that feeling of devotion to another person, of doing anything they want and listening to anything they have to say – “You’re my darling girl, tell me what’s on your mind, tell me anything, anything you feel like… Think I need you and you know the things that I would do…”

But though we don’t need the art when we’ve fallen for another person, though they are all the art we need, we have all this poetry about that feeling, about the artist’s lover. This poetry is best when it’s light, casual, comfortable, like the love affair itself, and we need a way to express that feeling to our lover and to the world. Frank O’Hara says it best as he, in this reading, looks into the camera to say his final line – “What good does all the research of the Impressionists do them when they never got the right person to stand near the tree when the sun sank…  it seems they were all cheated of some marvelous experience which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I’m telling you about it.”