My deal with “Her”

I want to start this post by very clearly stating that I like Scarlett Johansson. A lot. I appreciate her immensely as an actor, and she has hardly ever been in a movie that I didn’t like (Match Point and Ghost World are favorites, though).

I saw Spike Jonze’s new movie “Her” last week, and there is no doubt that the movie has stuck with me. It isn’t often that you see a movie that is essentially a love story, where the attention to scenographic detail is so large you feel like you could watch the sets and the outfits by themselves just for the sheer inventiveness. The something or other post 2020 setting is impeccable, and it brings an incredible amount of depth to the movie, because it makes us realize that since this isn’t exactly contemporary, it can also be slightly different in other way, for example the way people relate to each other.

Unless you’ve been living under a cultural rock, you know what this movie is about, and this post won’t contain massive spoilers. A guy falls in love with his new operating system (OS). What sets this new system apart is that it is able to learn very quickly from experience things like what is funny, what is socially acceptable etc. This is an extremely interesting idea with enormous subversive potential. Can you imagine that? Falling in love with a voice. It is then, a “person” that exists in your mind and has no physical manifestation meaning no gender identifiers, no race, no clothing to signal wealth or poverty, no body that is fat or skinny.

Her2013PosterJohansson has a very characteristic voice, and it has definitely been no secret to audiences that she was voicing the OS. Thus I knew that she would be the voice when I went to the theatre, but my somewhat non-internet savvy friend did not, but still recognized it immediately (which, if you knew her, you would know was a testament to how memorable it is). It is somewhat raspy, definitely very sexy and intimate.

All these things are fine except for the fact that it made a great-ish movie out of something that could have been fantastic (yet probably more difficult).

Let me explain: Scarlett Johansson has a body. Maybe you can go so far as to say that she has one of the most famous bodies in the world. This lessened my experience, seeing as I did not fully understand what was actually going on in the protagonist’s mind, how staggering it must be, how groundbreaking, to actually fall in love with something that cannot be grasped. Because to me, the OS was just Scarlett Johansson inside a box. I would never “spend” imagination on imagining her as looking different than I already know she does, so I didn’t get to join Theodore (played by Joaquin Phoenix) in using his imagination to create this person in his mind. A task which to me is the most revolutionizing in the movie. People have phonesex, skypesex, sexting etc, but it is all rounded out by the fact that they know that somewhere, out there, there is a flesh and blood body. Actually, a person having online sex with a stranger somehow knows less than we did; they have to imagine a vision of the person themselves. I didn’t have to do that in Her. Every time I heard her voice, I saw Johansson in front of me, vividly. Theodore didn’t.

It took away from the movie for me. It made it less different, less imaginatively demanding from the audience. It made what could have been a female protagonist that stepped outside borders of normative beauty ideals as, well, just another movie where a guy falls in love with Scarlett Johansson (I’m being harsh now, it retains its edge but why so much sugar on the spoon with the medicine?)

 

Why Lena Dunham’s nudity matters

 When I get up in the morning the first thing I do is get dressed. Right now, I’m living in a kind of dorm, and when I get out of my room, there is a possibility that I might meet someone. Getting dressed seems natural. Being naked seems to be a conscious and provocative choice (even though it’s how I sleep over here. NY heating is a mess). My getting dressed is in a way an invisible act. I do it alone, before my day has started properly. I don’t interact with anyone, might put on some music.

When a boyfriend is sleeping beside you, those few minutes of non-time suddenly become actual time. A time for planning the day, talking, getting ready together. Either way though, if you’ve slept naked you’re naked at a point, out of bed.

In an episode of Girls (Dead Inside, s. 3 ep. 4), we witnessed exactly this. Hannah getting out of bed, bare breasted, getting dressed. The scene was entirely asexual. And although there have been a lot of scenes like it in Girls before, it really got me thinking about how entrenched we are in the thought that the naked body is sexual, and how tired and potentially dangerous this trope is.

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When looking at the scene in Girls, it would be hugely inappropriate to have an “Oh yeah, tits!!!” reaction. It would be sexualizing a person who is not ‘in on it’. Not participating in a sexual act. It would mean that there was no way for a woman to be naked without being sexual, that the female body in and of itself, has sexual connotations even when her mind does not.

Seth McFarlane’s atrocious song at last year’s Oscars “We saw your boobs”, also engenders this. [watch if you want to get in a bad mood]

It is the idea that a body is a reservoir of sexual potential decided outside it, by people looking at it. That, in effect, what I want to do or what I am thinking about at that particular point in time really doesn’t matter, because boobs.

This is rape culture.

Let me state this plainly. This is not a handy little pamphlet about how you should not be attracted or want to have sex with people. You should. Sex is terrific. However, you should make yourself a mental note that the object of your desire is not a part of it. This is your thing. This exists in your brain, and if you want to externalize it, it will require conversation in order to find out if the other person wants to be part of it. If they don’t, that might be hurtful and a disappointment to you. But they do not belong to you just because they fostered sexual thoughts in your mind.

This idea of fostering by nudity or just possessing a body leads me back to the Girls example. If I am able to foster a sexual idea in a person’s mind by just existing, just standing there, the way I was born – thinking about something boring like a gif or why I can never seem to manage to cook fucking pasta – we have a problem.

It is of the outmost essence that we desexualize the female (and male) body. Sex is a thing of the mind that manifests itself with the body (mostly), simply because that is how everything I do manifests itself in this world. Attraction is in the mind. Love is in the mind.

Casting the body in itself as possessing revelatory secrets about a person means that I everyday, by just dressing in my room, send out sentiments. And I don’t. I also have boobs when I cry. I am also naked when I take a shower at the gym. My body doesn’t mean a thing. It is a shell. I look at it everyday and I can assure you that it is boring as hell.

Parts of life that contain nudity but are asexual have a strong and important signal value, because they diversify the meaning of the naked body (or, ideally, empties it of meaning).
And holy shit do we need that.

Communicating well-being

Kate or die

from the amazing comic http://kateordiecomics.com/ , we see that buying something for yourself can make you feel happy and better than you did before. Things do not fix everything. But they can lift your spirits.

Since the advent of capitalism, communications have been based on a one-sided approach: creating a lack in a person that cannot be fixed by anything other than the consumption of a particular product. This inherent lack has, both fortunately and unfortunately, been so internalized in consumers that it has now created fertile grounds for communication that can build on another foundation: that of hope and positive investment in the self. So many people feel bad about themselves. I think it’s time they start feeling better.

Due to new, overwhelming possibilities of interaction between consumers, a firm can make its contribution by participating and building platforms where the practice of consumption is encouraged by connoting the brand with positive associations. Instead of telling women that we can make them skinny, we help them understand that they can be part of a movement that, while still participating in commerce, tries to eradicate body shaming. We can tell young kids that anti-bullying and the fight against marginalization is not mutually exclusive with big companies.

There is room for loving yourself.

Not all products or treatments have to be sold to people by making them feel that they are worthless without it. By turning this notion on its head, we could be giving people the strength to believe that they already have worth; a powerful instigator to experiment with new products and find joy in things like cosmetics and clothing. We should stop constituting products as objects filling a human void. Start changing the discourse of consumption towards the constructive and accepting is important and possible. People don’t have to feel bad in order to buy.

Using social media, consumer contact and ground-breaking modes of communication, I want to find out what we can do with it.

To boot, here is an example of exactly what I’m a talking about: http://www.xojane.com/clothes/cute-workout-clothes

In today’s “added to list of things I (will, in the future) feel bad about (not doing)”

I promise to update my blog while I’m in New York for the next six months. There might be pictures and very little text. Or there might be a lot of text and very few pictures. Either way, both you and I will feel hugely disappointed and wish that I had just abandoned the project in the first place when we reach June. I’m already sorry.

To make up for it, here is a picture of me when I started trying to save up for this trip back in 1996.

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After looking up the Gold Rush I thought it sounded like a career path built for me.

Sex and the pissed off feminists

This girls in the first season, ready to show us what our lives were, and how we could deal with it.

I’ll start off with the: “yadda yadda, I’m sorry I haven’t posted in a long time, I’ve been a) busy, b) drunk, c) lazy, d) hating the entire internet and everything that it stands for, e) all of the above” But now, finally, something has angered me for the last goddamn time: Women who complain that sex and the city projects the female sex as only existing for the purpose of meeting men, and that the women in the show come off as superficial.

I’ve had it up to here with these same complaints over and over, and I am time and time again shocked at how they always seem to come from

other women. Because the thing is: this is a TV-show about women’s relationships with men. That’s what it’s about, no more no less.

Just because we are not shown every single second of Mirandas court proceedings, or every literary edit Carrie does to her column, doesn’t mean that the writers are suggesting that these women are incapable of doing this. It’s just simply not the theme of the show. Is there a deficit in the amount of shows portraying women doing serious work, taking law degrees etc? Probably, I don’t know. But the name of this show isn’t A well-rounded picture of the 21st century emancipated female and the city. This is about sex, and halleluja for that.

What pisses me off most, though, is the fact that I think the women making these complaints know all this. They just find that a woman who cares a lot about sex and her relations to men by default is unable to do any meaningful work, and be emancipated, happy and calm in her sexuality. This is of course a relay of the constant and dominant male plot that female sexuality and female professionalism and intelligence are reversely correlated. This world view has taken so firm a hold on our society that now women who proclaim themselves feminists denounce women who do any job that relates to sexuality (it doesn’t even have to be a job, the private sphere is enough to get you judged, I’ll tell you that). This is wrong. I can’t even tell you how wrong it is.

I have a right to discuss a man’s penis at a coffee table, just as much as I have a right to get a PhD. I can take part in every crazy-ass fetich in the world, and still go to work every morning and do my job to a tee. The slut-shaming must end.

And now to the complaint that these women are superficial. It is completely true, but listing this as a complaint towards the show makes absolutely now sense. This is not a character driven show. All the girls (and yes, Carrie, too!), and especially the men, are all painful stereotypes. But there is a quaint narrative point to this: this show’s main point is that you are supposed to be able to identify with it. These characters aren’t Dostoevsky-like creations, multilayer masterpieces. And that is the shows great force: that everyone is a little bit Charlotte, a little bit Miranda, a little bit Samantha and finally a sprinkle of Carrie. The discussions these women have over breakfast could just as easily be monologues (actually the narrative tool of Carrie asking a question like “Are we sluts?”, and then discussing it with her friends bears a lot of similarity to a monologue).

You are supposed to squeal that “I’ve been with a guy who did that too!”. But everyone knows that what we see of the brief sexual or culinary encounters with men doesn’t necessarily tell us everything about them. We would never deny that. But this is entertainment, with a splash of social commentary. These aren’t well-rounded characters, but characters created to make a point in a certain situation, be it Charlotte’s right to quit her job, or Samantha’s right to blow her World-Wide Express guy.

Last but not least: of course, there are scenes in the series where these characters show emotional depth and inner conflict. One example would be Mirandas case of “yuppie-guilt” when her success becomes too much for the bartender she is dating. But this, too, I will argue, is a tool to show us the issues of being a person with a difficult and demanding job, and balancing that with relationships. You don’t recognise the character Miranda in this: you recognise yourself.

Utopian

Oh god, so sorry. It really has been a while. I just started studying literature at university, and between one thousand pages a week, obligatory social commitments, and hangovers, I have been busy. I love it though. It’s a strange feeling waking up and being psyched about going to class. I think I’m nauseating my peers.

Anyway, enough with the digressions! This summers I’ve had quite the utopian (or dystopian, whichever way you look at it) focus in my reading. I read 1984 by George Orwell, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (these two are generally taken to be the creme de la creme of zukunft-angsty litterature) and to throw something else in the mix Kallocain by Karin Boye.

First of all, I’ll stress greatly that the focus of my comparisons is longevity. I have the distinct luxury of actually living in what, by these three authors, would be considered the future. It’s like a cooking show – I “cheated a little”. So with that in mind, I thought that, since I am in no way a literary expert, I’ll use what I know. Which is my own time.

I’ll start flat-out by saying that the one which is the most popular, 1984, was in fact my least favorite (look at me being avant-gardy). There are several reasons for this. I’ll start off by saying that obviously, this is a remarkable book, mostly in terms of the amount of imagination, compared to when it was written. But it has severe lacks when being read by a contemporary reader. I’ll list some of them here (since starting university I have come to appreciate lists greatly).

  • Winston’s tedious personality. I’ll just come right out and say it: that is a man of very few dimensions. Besides being extremely self-absorbed, his reactions to his surroundings never even borders on interesting reflection. He thinks exactly as we readers think: “oh no, everyone is being CCTV’d, that is horrible, HOW can someone live like this!?”
  • Sexual suppression. This development of a society suppressing sexual desire and means of self-realisation in order to control people is not something that is used anywhere in the world. One might come up with examples like strict Arabic countries but I must stress that sexual pleasure plays a huge part in Islam – as soon as you are married. Which, although I find it strange, still recognises people’s instinctive need to get down and dirty once in a while. Suppressing this would not control people, it would just make them masturbate a lot.
  • Winston’s relationship with Julia. Actually vaguely reminds me of Twilight. I sensed absolutely no chemistry, and the shared emotion was incredibly limited. Is this due to sexual suppression? Of course. Yet their conversations are totally uninteresting. Finding someone who shares your hate of an oppressive government will of course be freeing to Winston. But to us it is just yet another character who has the same basic reaction to totalitarianism as we do. Zzzzzz…..
  • Big Brother and the internet. I know I am dancing the conga on the grave of a literary classic. And with the PATRIOT act, I certainly heard someone shout Big Brother all over the news. Which is true, with the development of technology, surveillance has become incredibly easy for governments to employ. The things not anticipated by 1984, though, is that it also made for quite a breakthrough in private use of computers and the internet. Do I blame Orwell for not guessing that the internet would exist? Of course not. But in terms of the novel’s historic longevity, thinking that new technology only falls in the hands of the government is a problem that makes the premise of this being our society difficult to swallow. There are no TV screens in our homes, we have largely resisted (even in Denmark, which in the minds of a lot of Americans is bordering on communism) governmental decrees in physical health etc. The Swedish (yes, we wave our flag loud and proud) development of the third way has largely abolished the idea of socialism in the Orwellian sense.
  • Room 101. I’m sorry. But that was so lame. While I applaud the idea of capitalising on a human being’s biggest fear, choosing rats seems almost banal. While I may say that I am terrified of spiders, I am, after all, more terrified of being locked in a room while slowly going mad – which was already happening to Winston.
  • Conclusion: (for you lazy ones). Main characters in the book lack personal depth. In the climactic scene in Room 101, which is supposed to unleash the horror of a totalitarian society while simultaneously showing us how you ultimately destroy and dehumanise a human being, Winston is put in a cage full of rats. I mean COME ON. Also, the way in which this society is constructed is described, yet the elaboration on WHY, exactly, no one resisted in the first place, is lacklustre to say the least. Consider the public outcry over CCTV. Consider the Arab Spring. People don’t stand idly by injustice. Unless they are given DRUGS, which leads me to….

Brave New World!

While being more satiric (and often hilarious), BNW’s deification of the materialistic (Henry Ford as a god, as well as multiple other hints throughout the book), is much more akin to how I see our society today. The idea of completely separating the joy of sex from the actual making of a baby is a stroke of genius that pervades through our lives. Sadly, the notion that third world countries is some sort of side show for us to be amazed and struck by is wide spread. Every year, thousands of young people travel to Africa to get themselves a good sense of poverty, before returning to their own life at home – according to themselves – completely transformed. One can only mourn the fact that ‘going home  to wealth and X-factor’, is not a possibility for actual Africans.

Now this one I really, really like (the French agree!). You know why? I’ll tell you why:

  • Sex, drugs, and Rock’n’Roll! Nietzsche once said that ‘Religion is opium of the masses’. You know what’s better at pacifying us that religion? Actual drugs. I can’t imagine anything more perfect for inducing complete political inertia in youth than letting them have as much sex, as many drugs, and as much freedom as they could possibly want. Actually, it’s happening right now. I find the danger of people completely losing interest in anything but their own lives to be a far more imminent threat than people not reacting to totalitarianism in their own country. We have it so good that we don’t notice anything but ourselves.
  • The peripheral characters. Lenina is perfect and interesting. She gives us a fantastic view of how a brain would work in someone who actually likes the dystopian society. Getting a view into a mind like that is, at least to us now, far more interesting than hearing about Winston, who agrees with us. How does a mind adapted to the idea of extreme social determinism work? Is it similar to how a mind, like the mind of your average American republican, can adapt to thinking that social inheritance is ‘fair’? I am baffled by it. Yet, BNW forces us to think about things we take for granted now (people can find our telephone numbers online, a lot of politicians thrive on blatant racism, etc). Are we even much better?
  • Bernard Marx is an asshole. Winston, with a personality flat as a pancake, is strongly contrasted by Bernard Marx, who goes through a lot of personal stuff, transforms, and becomes the über-monster of the materialistic society: the person addicted to fame without being addicted to personal accomplishments.
  • The Savage. The role of the savage is a brilliant way to create an outsiders view on society without ending up with an angry, bitter person like Winston. The savage, having heard raving tales of a place that is eerily close to our society, is struck by the completely shallow world he enters. Based only on joy and feeble, fleeting desires. The scene in which his mother dies is heartbreaking, and really shows the grittiest side of human suffering, and it forces you to ask yourself: is this book right? Would we be better off never experiencing this, but trading it in for never having true attachment. One wonders.
  • The Last Speech by Mustapha Mond: This is what we lacked in 1984. An explanation for how this happened. And why it keeps happening.

I am, in short, far more scared by human desire than by human fear. Far more scared by passivity through lack of will to act, than through lack of ability. The last, after all, can be eradicated, as we have seen this very spring.

Lastly, I’ll give an honorary mention to Kallocain, which really impressed me. Here we have a ‘Reverse-Bernard Marx’, with a person who first relishes the totalitarian society, then realises its destructive effects. This is a strong reversal, and an interesting character development. The plot of the book is genius, and I can strongly recommend it. For anything, to hear a woman’s perspective for 5 consecutive minutes in the history of utopian literature.

So long, brethren, I have work to do!

 

 

Tragedies

There is no doubt that to most Scandinavians, be it Swedes, Danes or Norwegians, summer ’11, will carry a distinctly sad batch of emotions. While we are all trying to make sense of what happened (which is, of course, impossible), I can say nothing other than this summer, I have been very proud to be Scandinavian. We do not fight violence with more violence. We fight violence with freedom, love, and democracy. There will be no crusade setting out from our shores, there will be no hate, there will be no unnecessary dead at the hands of our soldiers.
We are free, democratic people, and we show now that we will continue to be.
While the American reaction of trying to pair a country (or a religion) together with arbitrary acts of mad men seem more understandable to us now, we will not succumb to this most banal human reflex. This was not a Christian act, although the perpetrator multiple times described himself as such. This reminds us to keep apart fundamentalism, and the acts done in its name, and peaceful belief. There will always be people with anger, violence, and contempt in their hearts, what ideology they subscribe to seems to be almost random.
We must remember, and criticize ourselves for how we treat Muslim believers. As soon as the news that this was a white, Norwegian man came out, psychologists were immediately summoned.
“What was his childhood like?”
I don’t remember anyone ever asking this question about a Muslim terrorist. It is easy to write someone off because we don’t understand them, like we have done with Muslims who “hate us” for more than a decade now. I hope this will make people think that “this man has as much to do with my beliefs, as a any Muslim has to do with Muhammed Atta”.

And last, but not least. Between January and June of this year, 1145 children in Kongo-Kinshasa have died of measles. 115000 are currently very ill, and many more will die. 78 people died in a plane crash in Morocco today. 3,7 million people (a third of the entire population) in Somalia are currently suffering from the worst famine in 60 years. Many of them will also die.

My thoughts go out, not only to the hundreds of family members and other loved ones of the killed in Norway, but to people who are dying everywhere. This summer we came to know what it’s like when so many people die at the same time, the number is almost impossible to understand. So many lives, not even lived. But we are fortunate, because we are strong. Our countries are built on love, on understanding, and that will continue to be their foundation. Let us today and tommorrow remember the places where tragedies like this are the rule, not the exception.
Let us mourn the people who died too early this summer.