Musings

ARTICLES

Baumann, Stokes, Bar, & Caldwell, “Designing in Constellations: Sustaining Participatory Design for Neighborhoods,” Proceedings of 14th Participatory Design Conference, Aarhus, Denmark, August 15, 2016.

Stokes, Baumann, Bar, & Caldwell, “Hybrid Games for Stronger Neighborhoods: Connecting Residents and Urban Objects to Deepen the Sense of Place,” Proceedings of 14th Participatory Design Conference, Aarhus, Denmark, August 15, 2016.

Baumann, “Old Tech and New Spaces: Repurposing Payphones for Community Design,” Proceedings of 21st International Symposium on Electronic Art, Vancouver, Canada, August 16, 2015.

Stokes, Bar, Baumann, & Caldwell, “Payphone Redesign as Neighborhood Planning: Physical Meets Digital City from the Bottom Up,” Journal of Community Informatics, Vol. 10, No. 3, 2014.

Baumann, Stokes, Bar, & Caldwell, “The Leimert Phone Company”, online article and video, Digital Humanities, Public Humanities, NANO, 2014.

Baumann & Dougan, “The Uncertain Future of the World Stage,” online article and video, KCET Departures Series, January 9, 2014.

Baumann, “Designing for Social Justice”, author and live respondent, MediaCommons: A Digital Scholarly Network, April 9, 2013.

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Two Short Sci-Fi Speculations on Augmented and Virtual Reality
5/25/16

These two new short sci fi films reveal the dark, dystopic side of augmented and virtual reality. “Hyper-Reality” shows how AR can expand our world with information overlays while also further entrapping us into a capitalist game of flexible labor. “Uncanny Valley” reveals the ways in which VR immersion can become a tool for exploiting addicted gamers to perform the darkest of tasks.

Don’t get me wrong, I think AR has amazing social potentials and I’ve experienced and worked on awe-inducing VR projects. But often the narratives of both technologies are blindly utopic and mask the darker possibilities of these potentially paradigm-shifting technologies.

It’s up to science fiction (and design fiction) to build scenarios to explore the social implications of “disruptive” technologies. It’s even more exciting to see short (“Hyper-Reality” was also crowd-funded) films, that can quickly speak to an online audience and don’t need a bloated budget (but do need a lot of VFX). Both short films allow audiences to momentarily step inside a potential future and think critically about how to stop such a historical trajectory from becoming a reality.

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Keiichi Matsuda has become a designer/filmmaker to look out for since he first posted his “Augmented (hyper)Reality: Domestic Robocop” video 6 years ago on Vimeo. Since then, he’s posted a number of other short non-narrative videos; many exploring augmented reality implications for the built environment and human perception. Two years ago, he began a kickstarter campaign to raise money for “Hyper-Reality,” which was finally released on May 16, 2016.

“Hyper-Reality” drops us head-first into a chaotic and noisy future of endless distractions. The short film starts with our protagonist, Juliana Restrepo playing a game – setting up the larger metaphor for the gamification of labor and life. Theorists, such as McKenzie Wark (“playbor”), Tiziana Terranova (“free labor”), and Hardt and Negri (“affective labor”), have pointed to the ways in which capital has further expanded to profit off of everyday creative, social, or playful activities. The web has become the perfect medium for centralizing and digitizing our activities, making ephemeral expressions into mineable data.

Matsuda’s film reveals that our current “gig-economy” (think über, airbnb, and freelancing) will only become worse, as citizens scrape by running basic errands for those better-to-do than themselves. Luckily, our AR glass (or implants) will provide colorful avatars and advertisements to distract from such mundane work. At one point, Juliana must restart her AR operating system after a cyber attack. For a brief moment, all of the visual clutter disappears and we see the stark contrast of a bland marketplace. Our techno-lust for entertainment has become our prison.

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Juliana’s day only gets worse as she’s attacked by a cloaked bandit who resets her identity and steals all of her “loyalty” points. Since there seems to be no government protection and her company support system is incompetent and automated, she seeks solace in the Catholic Church. With a final few swipes in the shape of the sign of the cross, she renews her ludic labor; reborn as a Catholic. “Hyper-Reality” ends with a sense of helplessness, even while it playfully points to the ways in which all institutions use rituals as gamic forms of indoctrination.

Augmented Reality could be a device for expanding our cognitive possibilities, overlaying additional computational sensing and networked information. But, as the film argues, it will more likely be a space for advertisers, businesses and private property to sneak into every corner of our senses.

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“Uncanny Valley” is made by the VFX and animation studio 3DAR in Buenos Aires. Their portfolio usually includes colorful animations, live performances, and advertisements. This film appears to be their first serious foray into live action, working with writer/director Federico Heller.

The film at first glance appears to be a beautiful but basic story about gaming addiction. With seamless visual effects, the film slides between the virtual gaming world and the drab, dilapidated slums of the addicts’ real lives. It uses interviews to give it a real-world investigative documentary feel – mixing genres and perspectives in the process.

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The virtual war game world is beautifully rendered and appears to come straight from a science fiction concept art painting. But while the viewer becomes lost in the surreal action sequence of the gamers’ collective hallucination, the central protagonist wanders off the edges of the frame. He begins to test the boundaries of the virtual world.

Ultimately, he finds that the virtual fiction is overlaid upon a real-world combat zone. Their special forces mission is actually controlling military robots attacking a village – in what appears to be the Middle East. The film goes from chastising video game addiction to revealing VR’s capability of creating detached and exploited killers.

The film reveals a system of crowd-sourced drone warfare. Once the future is full of PTSD ridden drone pilots and an angry public, the military must find new nefarious and obscured means for their bidding. “Playbor” is utilized to perform the most inhumane tasks by hiding it under a fantastical game surface.

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In both cases, these films offer a dystopic moral fable to disrupt our unquestioning obsession with disruptive technology.

Science fiction’s power is in its ability to imagine “what-if” scenarios that telescope threads of our world into the future. Often with feature films, those initial provocations become lost under the generic weight of the central narrative. “The Matrix” becomes a love story, “Blade Runner” becomes a detective story, “Elysium” becomes an action-hero story, etc. The quest for closure often limits the initial expansive and eye-opening introductions. The initial and imagination-inducing establishing shot of the fictional world becomes lost in the minutiae of individual characters and genre tropes.

Short science fiction films offer a form to focus on the “what-if” question and leave the rest to the audience’s imagination. The audience gets a sliver of the world – its aesthetic, its social system, its economic logic – and is then left to ponder its provocation. In both cases, these films offer a dystopic moral fable to disrupt our unquestioning obsession with disruptive technology. In short, they break the spell of our enchantment.

The next step is to create not just dystopic but alt-utopic science fiction, that models alternative socio-technical systems. Systems that are inclusive, sustainable, and speak to desires outside of the dominant western, neoliberal conceptions of techno-culture. That’s the truly radical imaginative gesture.

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Museum of Jurassic Technology
12/3/12

I’ve always wanted to go here and it was great to finally have an excuse to just do it. The museum is amazing in just how intricately conceived and constructed it is. Some of the peculiar objects and the holographic glass plates were really beautiful. But probably the most elaborate spectacle were the histories themselves. Mixing fact and fiction, the museum kept making you question what was real and how could we believe it. In a way it’s a counter museum that just constantly forces us to question how history is written and what sort of tropes, display techniques, language, and methodologies are used to convince us about reality. The museum helps to break the aura of scientific knowledge and objectivist reality. We have to realize the role of the subjective observer, researcher, institutional directors, and private collectors that all define this process. We have to always remain skeptical about truth claims even though rigorously constructed, especially if we stop to think about the insane scientific hypotheses of the late turn of the 20th century. Some of the ideas proposed in the museum themselves were poetic and provocative, such as the “Theory of Forgetting and the Problem of Memory”, but they were all part of the larger playful game that museum was proposing. The playful prompt of the museum was so effective that I often found myself overly analyzing what was purposeful and what was coincidental. For example, at one station the audio phones weren’t working and I thought, hmm…maybe this is a statement on the inability of knowing history or it’s emphasizing the “lack” that’s inherently built into the archive. Though it was probably just a technical mistake, the museum seemed open to such pranks and ruses in their speculative and comical history of western science.

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Stanley Kubrick at LACMA
11/18/12

“2001..is basically a visual, nonverbal experience. It avoids intellectual verbalization and reaches the viewer’s subconscious in a way that is essentially poetic and philosophic. The film thus becomes a subjective experience which hits the viewer at an inner level of consciousness, just as music does, or painting.” –Stanley Kubrick

The exhibit was inspiring and eye opening in shedding light on the complex and idiosyncratic process of Kubrick’s filmmaking method. Kubrick is obsessive with certain stories and ideas that he continually reworks until he’s ready or until “society is ready” such as “Eyes Wide Shut” (1999) which he had been interested in since the 1970s when he read the book. This notion of waiting for society to be ready is especially fascinating in thinking about film as a popular media so directly tied to finance and the will of others. Where literature and music appear to allow more immediate representation of the changing world, in terms of perceptions, morals, and philosophies, cinema (especially big-budget films) always appear to lag a decade or more behind. So Kubrick’s film are striking in how influential they are on society and artist generations afterwards. Some of the directors influenced by his style range from P.T. Anderson, David Lynch, and Gaspar Noé to Scorsese, Tarantino, and Woody Allen. What makes his works so powerful is not just Kubrick’s own style but also his dialogue or direct partnership with cutting edge artists and designers of his time. “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968) for example was co-written by Arthur C. Clarke and also showcases work by famous contemporary fashion, interior, and hardware designers who were given the task of imagining what the future would look like. The potency of his influence can have negative effects such as the alleged “Clockwork Orange Murderer” that caused the filmed to be pulled from distribution in the UK for over 25 years. Yet his work essentially acts as a mirror to the contemporary imagination and reflects upon the aesthetic fascinations and social issues often unrepresentable in big budget cinema.

Repercussion Exhibit at USC
Gabriel Peters-Lazaro video documentation
11/15/12

This exhibit helped highlight and reinforce the role of play in constructing socially meaningful and academically informed art work. Nonny De La Pena’s “Hunger” virtual reality game presents a new immersive model of documentary in which the audio is based on actual event but the environment is rendered digitally and explorable. The VR goggles combined with the audio create a living environment in which you are able to explore with your body, turning your head to view the space. The physical intensity of the piece causes a strong sense of empathy for the characters while making you reflect on how you would react if you were in the scene and then possibly in a larger social context. Adam Sulzdorf-Liszkiewicz and his team at RUST LTD created “Bullet Hell”, “80 Minutes”, and “Assent”. Each of the games are playful and often conceptual interrogations of video game conventions and assumptions. “80 Minutes” based on a scene from Hitchcock’s “Rope” (1948) is an endurance piece of trying to entertain your pixelated guests to distract them from the dead body in the other room. But in order to win you have to play for 80mins thus critiquing or exploring the separation between embodied time vs diegetic time in video games. “Bullet Hell” allows you to take on the position of a bullet as it slowly spins towards a man’s head in order to subvert the role of violence in many games. “Assent” then is a beautiful digitally rendered game that takes place in a darken and seemingly endless space of M.C. Esheresque stairwells climbing to the sky. In order to move forward you must rely on bright bouncing lights coming down the stairs well. Yet the very thing that you rely on the progress also knocks you off the stairwell back towards the beginning. Because the game begins with a phone next to a 1929 Stock Market crash headline, it contextualizes this debilitating progress within the socio-economic woes of history. Thus the abstract movements become a larger reflection on the failures of capital or maybe general post-Enlightenment assumptions.

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Garnett Hertz on “Critical Making” at USC
11/9/12

Garnet Hertz’s talk focused around his artistic practice and his new DIY journal “Critical Making”. What was so inspiring about his talk was the balance between playful uses of technology (often obsolete) combined with his critical cultural studies perspective. His project Cockroach Controlled Mobile Robot [2004] literally places a cockroach onto the directional controller of a robot so that as the cockroach tries to run in a certain direction it moves the robot. He said the use of cockroach shows the visceral elements of actually making art and physical objects that relate to your research rather than just relying on academic articles and papers. Nonetheless that critical academic perspective is necessary to complement his practice and create a more socially and culturally aware understanding of technology. The “Critical Making” journal itself was a collaborative project based on a conversation he and Mitch Altman (the “Hacking Grandpa of the Maker’s Community”) had in response to Maker Faire’s recent funding from the military. So in respond Hertz contacted other critical makers, theorists, artists, and engineers to create political conscious alternatives to Maker magazine and other more commercially oriented publications.

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Film Emulsion as a Body
10/29/12

‘Scratches on film are like scars on the skin, they tell the story of where your body has been’ -Paraphrasing David Gatten

What was most fascinating about David Gatten was his interest in the materiality of 16mm. Some of his most beautiful works were the What the Water Said series in which he didn’t even use a camera or microphone. Rather he made a “documentary” about the ocean by putting his filmstock into a crab cage and dragging it into the sea. The chemical reactions of the sea water mixed with all the scratches of rocks, shells, and sea creatures created the lines of movement and color. The visual effects were absolutely beautiful, producing images that resembled at times abstract expressionist paintings to complex cellular automata animations.

The other central theme of his work was text/image, which was most compelling in the Journal and Remarks film about visiting the Galapagos islands while reading Darwin’s book of the same name. In the film you get the idea that Gatten is directed by the book as a type of guide to what animal life to look for. Yet to us the quick cuts make it impossible to fully read the text. Rather the images of the island, the beach, the crashing waves all overwhelm us with a more sensuous immediacy. So even though the book haunts his experience of the island, the most powerful elements he reveals to us are the images that help frame his imagination of the animal life.

So in general it was a very interesting cinematic experience. The emphasis on 16mm as a body that records it’s own story onto the physical emulsion was especially inspiring in an age of digital dominance.

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Going to the Panorama “Attraction”
10/24/12

Samantha Gorman, Hao Gu, Nonny De la Pena, and I all went to the Valaslavasay Panorama with Holly Willis’ class on October 24.

Here we’re enjoying the immersive panorama of an arctic tundra, stylized on an attraction from long before Universal Studios and Disney land. The mixture of 2d painting, 3d sculpture, and audio was pretty effective at creating an immersive landscape that helped you imagine what the world must be like in the icy depths of the north pole. The image of the north pole itself (an obsession of the age of exploration) was not unwittingly the chosen theme for a medium of total and unframed vision, as both represent overarching assumptions about the role of knowledge during the Enlightenment.

The painter of the panorama gave us a great history lesson about the tradition of panorama and about all of the amazing performances and films they host at the theater in addition to their panorama.

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German Expressionism at the LACMA
10/20/12

The Expressionist exhibit’s central film highlights were “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” (1920) and “Metropolis” (1927). Both films represent the uncanny experimentation of that moment in artistic history. “Dr. Caligari” used exaggerated and painted mise-en-scene to create a visceral external representation of character’s interior psychological state. Metropolis presented a future city in which multi-leveled highways and architecture hierarchies reinforce a highly stratified class society of the future (and a killer robot). The film was extremely complicated and visionary for the time, even if it’s moral message of social harmony seems simplistic and tied to christian mythology. At least in term of cinema history German expressionism (and Fritz Lang) played a huge role in post-WWII Hollywood and Film Noir. But even narratively, Dr. Caligari’s use of an unreliable narrator which completely flips the script at the end is something that hasn’t been utilized on a widespread manner until the “mind-puzzle” films of the late 90s/2000s. The modernist arts of Expressionism, Dadaism, Surrealism, Constructivism, etc. then were even more influential in thinking about art, language, consciousness, politics, etc. It’s difficult to conceptualize what lead to such a creative explosion but it’s most likely fueled by the frustration after World War I as the pinnacle of the Enlightenment manifested into a horrific war that mindlessly sacrificed a whole generation. Nevertheless the exhibit reminded me of just how important the European Avant-Garde was in establishing contemporary art’s social criticism and formal experimentation.

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Indie Cade 2012
10/10/12

IndieCade was a great experience for realizing the potentials of game dynamics. This year’s award went to Unmanned, a poetic narrative game about the complex experience and ethics of being a US military drone pilot. The fact that such a politically conscious game won the highest award proves the festival can still remain progressive despite the heavy influence of corporate sponsorship. USC’s own Reality Ends Here, which was designed by Jeff Watson, Simon Wiscombe, and Tracy Fullerton, won the “Impact Award”. The game is a large scale card-based game that sparks massive collaborative media projects in a class (like 501) for incoming SCA undergraduates.

Renga was definitely one of the highlights of the night games, as a hundred players all used laser pointers to collectively construct space ships in a large-scale strategy game. The festival was an excellent opportunity not just for experiencing independent/experimental games but also meeting the developers behind them. I think it was especially rewarding for all those students that volunteered and were able to build really important relationships with the “avant-garde” of the game community. It’ll be interesting to see how the festival grows in the upcoming years as “play” and “gamification” become increasingly important in both the academic and public realm.

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Processing sketches

This is Cinerama
10/2/12

“This is Cinerama!” claims narrator and producer Lowell Thomas, as the small black and white frame opened up to the massive panoramic screen of a roller coaster ride so real your stomach turns and head spins in the nauseating movements. But before we jumped into this experiential and visceral novelty of cinema, with it’s three 35mm projections and spatialized surround sound, Thomas took us on a little history through protocinematic arts. He claims that the history of art has always been about movement and that since the cave paintings, artist have been trying to make their work come to life. Then he goes through the development of daguerreotypes, the magic latern, Porter’s “Great Train Robbery”, and then stopping at “talkies” which we should all be familiar with by then (Sept. 30, 1952). The history lesson was a grand narrative of the trajectory of cinematic arts, one that inevitably ends with the Cinerama, because normal cinema is a “keyhole into the world” where Cinerama is a “new medium” of complete human vision and hearing. So had Cinerama finally achieved Bazin’s “total cinema” in which the weight of the world and human experience can be truly captured and re-projected? In many ways the cinema did create a more embodied sense of space through sound and through a deeper peripheral vision, as could be felt during the church choir scene. But what was missing in this total exposure of space was the very elements of narrative that drive the affective power of cinema. Story is a synthesis, a manipulated structure placed onto the chaos of existence in order to create meaning, patterns, and associations. The “total cinema” of Cinerama was a robotic and disinterested gaze that favored no element over another except possibly form, symmetry, and depth. There were no close ups of faces, hands, gestures, and pauses to bring the world closer and order it into the details that catalyze our imagination. One of the more effective elements was actually when the source of the sound was not directly visible or derived from the diegetic world, such as during the tour of Venice. The grand orchestral accompaniment of the scene was not part of the city and thus I found myself projecting an imagined orchestra into the theater space, guiding us through the silent film. Of course the power of this projection derived from the seven-track directional sound system that created that sense of space, but what made it meaningful is the play of space, the non-literal elements, which is the exact criticism that Arnheim lauded at sound film. I think a lot more could have been down with playful experiments with sound and visuals to really make us reflect on our sensory experiences and embodied existence, rather than reaffirm the obvious. So though “This is Cinerama” brought very exclusive spaces (Bull fighting, Opera, a candid Vienna’s Boy’s Choir, etc) into the more accessible and popular realm of the film theater, it was still done in such a literal manner that it sucked out any romanticism that might have festered in the audiences’ minds and rather replaced it with a World’s Fair technological novelty. This was the first Cinerama film made (and the only that I saw) but the issue seemed that the novelty couldn’t be sustained unless it was to have a greater formal experimentation or a more nuanced story structure, which is probably what has lead to a more traditional documentary and sometimes narrative screening of the IMAX today. So though I came in with all the dreams of experiencing an Antonioni-esque existential reflection on the nature of space, I came away with a rather unexcited technological history lesson. But ah what could have been of Cinerama!

LA’s Linguistic Landscape
9/20/12

The only way to escape the overwhelming power of one’s own language is to live in a metropolis, to live in a neighborhood of another’s language. As I sit and read, surrounded by conversation in Arabic and Spanish music blasting from my neighbors window, I feel focused and undistracted. Hip-hop is the worst in that ever passing car calls my attention to the lyrics, the declarative and sometimes dialogical nature speaks to me, pierces through the city of sounds like my mother’s face in a crowded airport terminal. I have to actively listen to understand Spanish so even if it calls to me more than Arabic, I still feel an ambivalent sense of comfort and distance. The power of language in advertisements or in passing conversations speaks to overwhelming cognitive use and general time spent interpreting, analyzing, and searching for words. Only when riding my bicycle do I feel attuned to my other senses, but even then my experience is mediated by my iPod headphones turned low to hear the traffic. How to escape language and experience the words as pure sensations can only be found in exploring the domains of others.

Occupy Today?
9/4/12

In contemplating my own research agenda, I was hoping to discuss the ways in which community is structured around technologies, inspired by a reading by Pingree and Gitelman, in which the discuss the diverse and obsolete technologies and the communities that are formed around them. In looking at the current state of Occupy and the dissipating interest in the general public, it’s difficult to imagine how quickly the momentum of such a seemingly powerful protest movement and general experiment in democratic participation could evaporate. There are no major positive changes in our social and political reality. There were superficial social changes from Obama “supporting” gay marriage and passing a bill to help a limited number of immigrant students, yet for the most part the situation is continuously volatile. 1) It’s possible that the current election cycle is sucking up political attention towards the basic mechanizations of the two party system, which has caused people to realign or re-situate themselves in their past, pacified practices; 2) It’s possible that people expected a much larger structural upheaval or “regime change” as perceived in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia; 3)It’s possible that sustained attention and commitment to any ongoing political movement is impossible due to a general schizophrenia or ADD in our population; 4)This later fact combined with the overwhelmingly complex mechanizations of society and capital that seems impenetrably specialized; 5)What was stimulating to initial participants was the consensus-building and direct participation which eventually became too cumbersome or on the other end begin to break down and form leadership around affinity groups and committees. The hope is that the radicalization of so much of the population will remain a growing “virus” so to speak with the imaginations and political consciousness of the population. If anything it’s make very explicit the systematic failures that underline our economic structure while rallying around an argument of fairness against the illusion of meritocracy, most notably with the 99% moniker. In some ways the fear is that this has only loosely been co-opted by the Obama machine in separating himself from the corporate elitism of the Romney campaign, though his position was equally as focused on social stratification (or class war under the language of Fox news, etc) before Occupy came into existence. It was interesting actually to think back on the debates around tax increases/reliefs around the time leading up to OWS.

Positive elements about the Occupy movement could also be the strengthening or formation of new activist networks, where often Occupy attempts to build relationships with Union, Illegal Labor, Women’s rights groups, etc, some of which was already in existence while others are forming new networks. The ideal hope is that it continues to spread along the base or social lining, taking deeper route. But how again to create such a force, such a momentum. Maybe it will not come again in the form of Occupy, that ideal has already been lived through the mobilizations and buzzings of populations moving as fast as their twitter feeds and ustreams would allow to connect and then respond. The new movement may not be so “vague” as a centralized protests but rather the ticking time bomb of multiple networks now primed and their positions/demands concretized after a year plus of dialogues, critical reflections, and networking.
How does my own research go about to solve this problem? I cannot sit alone and read loosely the data of online media sources. I should also converse with those still active and participating. What are the next steps?

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My Street
9/1/12

There’s about a 20 degree temperature difference between Fountain Ave and Santa Monica Blvd. Fountain feels cool and crisp with it’s 2 lane no nonsense; with it’s shadows cast from small trees and porch rooms hiding old sleeping couples on plastic beach chairs. In contrast, Santa Monica is a wide endless boulevard of heat producing shops. Electronic shops, car body shops, bakeries, and taquerias. It feels oppressive, inescapable, orange, and yellow hues emanating from grey concrete. It’s splits the neighborhood in half opening up to the sun and rotting in it’s heat.

Beasts of the Southern Wild
8/31/12

Last night I watched Beasts of the Southern Wild. It was a moving, poetic piece about living in the margins, the liminal space of society. The geographic space seemed to be Louisiana or the general gulf region, where the characters lived in a small off-the-grid enclave on the wrong side of the levee on the brink of a major flood. So the film alludes to the racial and cultural issues surrounding Hurricane Katrina while retaining a sense of magical realism and wonder around the characters’ towns and what drives them to reject the safe and modern world on the inland of the levee.

The major themes throughout the movie revolved around family, gender roles/identity, how we legitimize/create world views, and the sense of social disenfranchisement. The central character “Hushpuppy” is a young girl trying to make sense of the world based on her father’s self-destructive lifestyle, her town’s (“The Bath Tub”) romantic relationship to nature, the absence of her mother, and her own sense of independence from all these factors leading her to often wander/wonder alone in her own world.

From the beginning of the film, “Hushpuppy” shows us the audience, the hyper-industrialized and mediated westerner how to find new forms of sensory exploration and knowledge production through listening and touching. As she walks around the loosely scattered animal pens and marshes surrounding her father’s land she picks up chickens, turtles, and other small animals to hear their hearts, listen to their whimpers and try to make sense of their sounds. As human’s grow to become adults they actually loose a lot of their sensitivity to particular sounds, especially within other languages, as a way to create structures of value in endless world of stimulus. The neglect of certain sounds becomes most apparent when hearing other languages, such as south east Asian language speakers trying to differentiate between the english “l/r” or English speakers unable to hear southeast Asian or sub-Saharan African phonemes. At once the feels seem to create a magical or romanticized other world for us to look on longingly as we’ve neglected our senses and attachment to the material world of nature.

Her openness to exploration is even contrasted for her fathers’ seeming repetitive task of endless drinking combined with the occasional chicken grilling which he feeds to “Hushpuppy” by ringing a bell for “feed-time” where she sits with the chickens under his trailer and eats like the rest of the animals that he cares for. She doesn’t appear to feel a sense of neglect but rather accept this as her natural upbringing. This tie of the animal-human is further explicitly emphasized by her teacher who claims that all animals are meat, as they look over a writhing pan of shellfish, including humans. The dichotomy between animals and humans is only really created once the residents of “Bathtub” are forced into a federal shelter after the land is completely flooded and animal life dies. At this point, her ailing father is forced into surgery and “plugged into a wall”. This is his worst nightmare as he’s told Hushpuppy before that if he’s ever really sick he wants to be put out to sea with his boat and burnt so he’ll never have to end up dead plugged to a wall. Nature is constantly referenced as a deadly force but something that man must face head on. In order to prove this point her father goes out with a shotgun and starts shooting the clouds as the initial torrential storms begin to flood their small town. As he claims repeatedly throughout the film, “I have everything under control”. It is the individual who must be strong to survive nature and not wither in the decay of Western medicine and modern abstractions from the wild.

Additionally there is a sense of masculinity applied to the wild and to the strong. Though Hushpuppy is a girl, her father almost exclusively refers to her as a man and makes her say “I’m the man” in multiple acts/tests of strength. The first time in the film she is actually referred to as a female is when another community member is showing her how to pry open a crab with a knife. Her father angrily runs over and pulls the knife away saying she has to “beast it” or rip it open with her hands. Instruments such as these are for the weaker. Throughout the film she reiterates her father’s claims that “no crying” and “crying is for pussies”. She is forced to masculinize herself and deny any emotional sensitivity that might limit her from surviving in nature. Yet her own wonderings and explorations show that she is extremely sensitive. So when she does finally put her father in his boat and burns him, she has become the strong male he wanted her to be. But before he died they both cried together as he ate fried alligator, from a woman that resembles in all mythical and practical purposes her mother, and in that moment of shared tears they mix the “feminine and masculine” and show that Hushpuppy is the unification of the two. Just as she is the unification of nature and humans, her crayon drawings left on everything, so that “in the future scientist will find them and say there was once a Hushpuppy and she lived with her daddy in the Bathtub”.

Processing Sketches