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by Omar Kholeif

30 Jul 2009

We live in an epoch of collective pessimism. Today’s youth, raised on falsely idealistic capitalist dreams have grown into a mass of self-possessed, hypochondriacs—afraid that the cancer of the world will spell their demise. OK, perhaps this is a slight exaggeration, but there still exists a certain grain of truth to this belief. As an active member of this very generation, I often find that there is a unanimous despondency amongst those around me. Small, personal traumas are elevated to magnanimous status, disavowing the historical context surrounding other members of our cohort, and our elders. The reasoning behind this is simple. We were promised the world, only to find that our parents had destroyed it with their greed. Of course, it is this very same ‘greed’ that has driven us into a state of chaos, and has made us unwilling to accept the more modest options available to us.

Whilst contemplating the melodrama surrounding young adult culture, I was compelled to return to one of my favorite pieces of autobiography, Susana Kaysen’s Girl, Interrupted. As many will already know, Kaysen’s seminal memoir released in 1993 became a best seller in the late 1990s after it was adapted into a Columbia motion picture starring Winona Ryder, and the now infamous Oscar-winner, Angelina Jolie.

The tale begins with an 18-year old Kaysen, just out of high school, being diagnosed with ‘Borderline Personality Disorder’. This judgment led Kaysen to an 18-month stint at the McLean mental hospital, which was notorious for housing many well-known figures and celebrities, including Sylvia Plath. Before, I divulge any deeper into the story or its subtext, it is worth considering the book’s tension between conformity and mental illness. Here, Kaysen is relegated to the outskirts of society, not so much because she was ‘mentally ill’, but rather, because she was unwilling to engage with the norms of capitalist society, desiring instead to lead the life of a writer. As expected, her parents, teachers and her analyst find this notion preposterous, concluding that she must be the subject of some significant malfunction.

With this consideration in tow, it is easy to see why youth culture can often be found crumbling at its seams. Capitalist society precludes conformity, and anyone who wishes to exist out with these bounds is in turn, considered delirious. He/She is subsequently left with very few options, but to manifest this anarchy through the vice of depression. The irony of course is that consumer society also acts as a double-edged sword. Those in society, who work their way up through the traditional hierarchy (graduating from law, business school and the like), may very soon find themselves wading through the erogenous ‘depression’ zone, when they realize that they can no longer keep up with their material desires.

Indeed, consumer society is driven by continuous ‘want’, but once the desire to ‘want’ subsists; the candidate may find that there is little else to ‘live for’. Equally dangerous is the despairing helplessness that can take place after a capitalist culture’s economic breakdown. An individual who exists in a consistently elevated middle-class will certainly find him or herself, incapable of functioning if the economy were to reduce them to a lower echelon in the hierarchy. It is no surprise then that the business centers of London and Tokyo are rife with as much suicide and ‘mental illness’, as those less affluent expanses of mainstream civilization.

This view of conventional culture is echoed throughout Girl, Interrupted. Kaysen uses sparse, documentary-like prose to study the characters in the enclosed institution around her, unmasking their motives through unabashed analysis. Let us consider the author’s representation of schizophrenic mental patient, Polly for instance. Polly has been sectioned because she had attempted to burn herself alive. But instead of portraying the young Polly as a helpless hermit, Kaysen chooses to emphasize her courage. She notes how Polly simply wanted to burn her troubled past away – and in a sense she emboldens her spirit. As a child of the post-grunge period, it is natural for me to draw parallels between this characterization and the youth who sought to reclaim self-harm as a viable means of expression. In high school, teenage girls and boys claimed it as ‘right’, and perhaps also had the misfortune of turning this very act into a form of ‘designer torture’.

This notion persists again with the author’s depictions of both Georgina and Lisa in the story. Lisa’s categorization especially, is marked by an exhilarating and untamed charm that could be compared to the likes of Jack Nicholson and his band of tormented Hollywood-era aficionados. This isn’t to say that her examination is entirely glamorous. The prose that expounds upon Daisy’s character, a sociopathic young girl addicted to laxatives is far more critical, for example. Instead of associating her with the wafer-thin poster children of the era, Kaysen delineates her life with a sense of unspectacular anguish.

Certainly, some will argue that the author had little intention in ‘commenting’ on or drawing such grand comparative analysis; after all, all of these portraits are based on real, living people. However, the word ‘based’ is the key to our understanding here. Like any writer in any medium, the work of the author will always to some extent be an ‘imagined’ reality. As such, I believe that each of these characters exists out with the realm of real life, and in its place serves as an allegory to greater social tensions at play in the conformist capitalist milieu.

In the end though, the most honest examination occurs when the author holds the mirror up to herself. Whilst recounting her suicide attempt, and her comparatively sheepish desire to damage her physical exterior, Kaysen is able to unravel a debate that challenges the reader to think about the tension between freedom (mental and physical), and the captivity that we are all subjected to by consenting to civil society.

by Zane Austin Grant

29 Jul 2009

When 125,000 people converged last weekend for the 40th San Diego Comic-Con to meet those who shared an interest comics and comics related media, I expected chaos.  I was warned about how crowded this year would be, and that traffic would be backed up for hours on I-5 South.  Another friend warned me about a man who would be dressed as the Hulk and randomly tackle attendees, but not be reprimanded because he was just being his character.  On top of these random assaults, there would be so many people that we could hardly move.  It was nothing like that.

After a quick two hour drive, Brea Grant and I went to the IDW Publishing booth to do a signing for our forthcoming series.  Everyone there was extraordinarily nice, especially given that most were working all day at the convention, starting at 5:00am.  Since our 1920’s zombie comic doesn’t come out until early next year, we made limited edition CDs, with lo-fi songs we wrote that retell the stories of seven horror movies from the narrative perspective of characters in the films, to sign and trade.  People were really friendly and traded everything from dances to push-ups to a drawing of Brea fighting zombies with a speech bubble that said, “Zane I know you are my brother, but when the zombies attack, I will trip you.” 

As we looked around for old friends and comics stars, continuing our trading and shopping spree, the rest of the weekend became dizzying.  I traded Jason Shawn Alexander (Abe Sapien, Empty Zone) for a shirt with a zombie eating a dog and picked up a signed copy of Dark Horse Comics re-invention of the Creepy series.  He took the time to say we were weird for making such a CD.  Becky Cloonan (Demo, American Virgin) traded us some beautiful limited prints and books.  Jimmy Aquino (Comic News Insider) traded a copy of Fat Chunk Vol. 2, an edited collection of zombie comic short stories, a few of which he penned.  Derek Kirk Kim (Same Difference and Other Stories) traded us a copy of Lowbright, and the list goes on and on.

by PopMatters Staff

29 Jul 2009

The Mountain Goats
The Life of the World to Come
(4AD)
Releasing: 6 October (US)

SONG LIST
01 1 Samuel 15:23
02 Psalms 40:2
03 Genesis 3:23
04 Philippians 3:20-21
05 Hebrews 11:40
06 Genesis 30:3
07 Romans 10:9
08 1 John 4:16
09 Matthew 25:21
10 Deuteronomy 2:10
11 Isaiah 45:23
12 Ezekiel 7 and the Permanent Efficacy of Grace

The Mountain Goats
“Genesis 3:23” [MP3]
     

by Jason Gross

29 Jul 2009

If you’re a music and writing nut, you’ve no doubt combed through Jonah Weiner’s Spinning in the Grave article at Slate about the recent ongoing death of music mags. It’s a good, thoughtful article (disclaimer: he used to edit me at Blender), but it’s also incomplete, missing out on some fundamentals of why these magazines are crashing and burning.

Mulling over print-based magazines’ demise has been going on for years now, with some thoughtful pieces popping up recently. Culled as an except from his book Say Everything, Scott Rosenberg’s How Blogs Changed Everything (Salon) talks about how blogs not only reshaped the whole media landscape, but also how they’re akin to phone technology in their reach, influence and social capacity. One point that comes up briefly there, and is worth exploring more is that blogs are part of Web 2.0 media. In other words, instead of the static pages that dotted the early web landscape, they’re interactive with the user.

The whole idea of an interactive web is passe because we’re so immersed in it now, but when you think about it, it’s really a big break from the old model. It’s not just the way that users can participate in it, but the way that it’s constantly updated, even by the second (which you rarely saw in the early days of the web). Print media is closer to the old web model and for that reason, maybe more than any other, it’s dying out now.

by PopMatters Staff

29 Jul 2009

We’re big fans of Florence & the Machine’s debut Lungs, giving the album a 9. Emily Tartanella recently said, “Florence & the Machine deliver a stunning debut in the wake of overwhelming expectations.” Jamie T. recently remixed “Rabbit Heart” and gave it some heavier beats.

Florence & the Machine
“Rabbit Heart” (Jamie T.‘s Lionheart remix) [MP3]
     

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