Friday, August 23, 2013

Conceptual movie making, and beyond

I was looking the other day at some raving comments on Spring Breakers  by English professor and cultural critic Steven Shivaro. He says he found the movie “utterly ravishing” – “so gorgeous as to negate or suspend the uneasiness” he felt about some dubious ideological messages embedded in it. Prof. confesses he was “helplessly & successfully disarmed by Harmony Korine’s relentless audiovisual seduction: the sunsets, the colors, the slow-motion, the breasts, the throbbing but sublimated yearning of the electro score, the intellectual montage that layers Britney over thuggery, and gorgeous beaches over willful stupidity, the heartfelt spirituality of Selena Gomez’s voiceovers.” He takes in “all this as an almost didactic demonstration of the way that, in our neoliberal culture, there is no distinction whatsoever between hedonism and self-help, or between transgression and hypernormativity.”

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Long live debauchery!

Caroline Kitchener describes on the Atlantic web site the gross hazing rituals many female students submit to in order to join the “frattiest eating club” at Princeton (““There Is No Pressure for a Girl to be a Girl”). The club is known for the heavy drinking, and all the accompanying (often naked) shenanigans it encourages; and Ms. Kitchener (herself a Princeton student) says women already outnumber men among the aspiring applicants. What do all these exceptional young women pursue as they apply for membership in a club with somewhat questionable reputation? Apparently, they now want to “join for the debauchery, not in spite of it”; and few look back with any regret. So, why would this kind of debauchery be so attractive, even to stellar female students at Princeton?

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The pursuit of meaningless happiness

Emily Esfahani Smith describes – and interprets – on the Atlantic web site a recent study according to which “people who are happy but have little-to-no sense of meaning in their lives have the same gene expression patterns as people who are enduring chronic adversity” (“Meaning Is Healthier Than Happiness”). The researchers term this kind of physiologically suboptimal, proinflamatory kind of happiness “hedonic,” as it is related mostly to pleasurable self-gratification; and they distinguish it from “eudaimonic well-being,” a more “meaningful” form of happiness derived mostly from being a worthy member of a community and contributing to the well-being of other. All this is nice and kind of inspiring – even if it comes from a designated “conservative” contributor (or content generator) at The Atlantic Monthly. But I am left wondering – is excessive self-indulgence really compatible with the “eudaimonic” happiness posited by positive psychologists?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The end of shame, among other things

Over the weekend, Peter Foster, US editor for The Telegraph, made an anguished pronouncement: “This was the week that the concept of shame finally seemed to die in American public life – as if the basic filters that everyone had assumed separated what is acceptable from unacceptable, had suddenly been removed.” What provoked this striking conclusion? In Mr. Foster’s words, “the low point in the lowest of weeks came when Mr. Weiner dragged his wife in front of the cameras to confess that he'd still been up to his creepy old ‘sexting’ tricks for months after he resigned from Congress in June 2011 vowing ‘never again.’ “