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Friday, Jun 15, 2007
Spook: Adventures in the Afterlife  by Mary Roach W. W. Norton July 2007, 228 pages, £14.99

Spook: Adventures in the Afterlife
by Mary Roach
W. W. Norton
July 2007, 228 pages, £14.99


From the number of atheist polemics hitting the bookstands in recent months, you could be forgiven for thinking we are entering a new era of scepticism and rationality. Yet in spite of the arguments emanating from scientific and philosophical corners, millions of people worldwide continue to hold to religious and spiritual beliefs that seemingly defy reason.


Author of the bestselling Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers and self-confessed sceptic Mary Roach has entered into the debate with a review of the scientific evidence for what happens to her stiffs after they pass away. In a highly entertaining journey through the creepy, the wacky and the downright deceitful, Roach tackles reincarnation, ectoplasm, ghosts and whether the human soul has a weight.


Except for the reincarnation chapter, most of the “afterlives” explored are from Western traditions, predominantly 19th century-style spiritualism. This is probably wise, because Roach’s writing sometimes veers into a kind of superior sneer at the sheer silliness of it all. While it’s funny to read, it could have left her open to accusations of cultural insensitivity. It is much simpler to stick to widely disregarded beliefs held by only a small number. This is also a weakness, however. A large percentage of believers in an afterlife belong to major religions such as Christianity and Islam, which are barely covered in Roach’s examination.


Strangely enough, despite the lack of any unambiguous evidence and her strong pre-disposition to unbelief, Roach ultimately finds some room for a possible afterlife. There is no light-bulb moment, no Damascus Road experience, but the conclusion of the book seems to leave open the possibility that there are more things in Heaven and Earth than were dreamt of in the author’s imaginings. Perhaps this is the small gap between reason and wonder that religious people have usually called “faith”.


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Friday, Jun 15, 2007
Jane, June/July 2007, 155 pages, $3.99

Jane, June/July 2007, 155 pages, $3.99


What kind of women’s magazine skips out on dieting, forgets ab workouts, and leaves makeup by the side of the road? Jane does, and that’s exactly why I like it. There are no unrealistic guarantees (“lose five pounds in THREE HOURS!”), nor any “embarrassing stories” sections, which, let’s face it, we never really read anyway. What Jane does have is an uncanny knack for writing about things that women truly care about.


Take the interview with Zooey Deschanel, for instance. Not your average celebrity, she avoids gossip in favor of her Hello Kitty bike, and forgoes tabloid publicity for vintage scarves. And she’s absolutely adorable.


“She can sing, dance, act, and knit you a sweater,” says Casey Affleck, one of Deschanel’s costars in an upcoming film. “I can’t figure out her Kryptonite.”


 


Tagged as: jane, magazines, women
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Thursday, Jun 14, 2007

A recent Economist post reports on Will Wilkinson’s rebuttal to the familiar thesis put forward by Benjamin Barber in a new book, Consumed. Barber, following Galbraith’s general idea in The Affluent Society, argues that consumer society requires the manufacture of false needs and a populace desperately fixated on trivialities and frivolity and the immediate satisfaction of shallow desires—convenience for its own sake. In his response, Wilkinson, the post notes,


theorised that on the veldt, we developed strong collective preferences in order to enforce the solidarity necessary for survival.  Those preferences were “thick”—binding, and enforceable by those around you.  The farther we get from those small communities, both demographically and economically, the more we are free to develop our own preferences.  Those preferences are “thin”—less strongly reinforced—but they are in some sense authentically ours in the way that “thick” preferences never can be.


Not surprisingly, the Economist writer draws the conservative lesson from this that the allure of the “thick preference” world needs to be acknowledged in order to make the defense of consumerism stronger—


it concedes that something has been lost in moving away from tight communities with binding norms.  There was something unique and joyful about that kind of community.  My grandfather died surrounded by friends and family, bathed in a network of social relations impossible to replicate in this day of economic, social, and geographic mobility.


A defense of consumerist dynamism must start with a gesture of respect toward the lost world of stable social roles and conformity and the palpable ability of a community to keep its members in line in part through the rigorous control of the availability of material culture. Then one can argue that consumerism takes the repression away and allows people to explore their true individuality.


Those small communities were brutal to many of their members.  The outliers in taste, intelligence, or almost any other metric except beauty and charm, could be brutally punished for their deviance.  People worked harder at their friendships, because ties gone wrong in a small town are hard to bear; but they had to work harder at their friendships, because they were less likely to be compatible.


But I would take away a different lesson, that the critique of consumerism can’t look backward to a lost totality, a lost community, a golden age that precedes the vulgarities of MTV and the 24-hour news cycle. This is the conservative solution to the trap that postmodernity springs on us in a consumer society: the erosion of the ability to experience authenticity and the injunction to discover who we “really” are through various shopping-oriented quests for a comfortable lifestyle. A progressive critique would have to look forward, away from the lost conformist community and the dispersed conformity of lifestyle seeking in varied but formally identical niches. Hence the viability of a critique of consumerism that centers on the sheer ecological destruction boundless consumption wreaks (i.e.a new solidarity necessary for survival) , but this needs to be complemented with a critique of the postmodern subject, of the supposed problem of identity that prevents self-realization from becoming beside the point.


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Thursday, Jun 14, 2007


Maybe it’s the pounding heat. It could be the lackluster offerings at the local Cineplex. It might even be the initial salvo in mainstream moviemaking’s ultimate demise – at least, in the manner as we presently know it now. Yet is seems that as 2007 stumbles along, the entertainment options available to the public are getting less and less impressive. Just look at the choices arriving on your favorite pay cable service. While Cinemax finally steps up and delivers on its popcorn movie promise, the rest of the titles are tried and true attempts to capitalize on certain waning genres. Indeed, unless you wander beyond the scope of the premium movie networks, the midyear malaise will probably hit you too. Being adventurous and thinking outside the idiot box may be the only way to avoid the Summer’s sameness. For those who are brave of heart and stout of constitution, here’s what you can look forward to on 16 June:


Premiere Pick
Superman Returns


It’s all Bryan Singer’s fault. In fact, that’s not fair. Actually, it’s the fault of frothing fanboys who have, somehow, turned this journeyman director into some kind of blockbuster god. Thanks to his earnest, if not completely successful take on the entire X-Men mythos (including bringing their superhero wardrobe up to contemporary snuff), he was handed the prized pig of comic book franchises – the revamp of the waning Superman series. At first, it seemed like he had the proper perspective for the project. He ignored all the recent graphic novel hoopla and went right back to the original films. But when his casting was revealed – Brandon Who as the Man of Steel? Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane?  - it appeared the bloom was finally off this ridiculous rose. Indeed it was. While fairly effective in capturing the grandeur of the hero, the rest of the narrative lumbered along like a drunken door mouse. The small screen is the perfect place for his otherwise underperforming project. (16 June, Cinemax, 10PM EST)

Additional Choices
Ice Age 2: Meltdown


Some like to point to Shrek as the moment that CGI started cannibalizing itself. In fact, it got a great deal of help from this incredibly lame Prehistoric kiddie fodder. Highly profitable the first time around, this money mandated sequel is even more cloying and uncomfortable. With jokes that consistently fall flat and a lack of anything new or inventive, this is the perfect definition of empty calorie eye candy. (16 June, HBO, 8PM EST)

Pulse (2006)


Kairo remains one of Asian horror’s few masterpieces, an apocalyptic tale that argues the value of human life over the lure of technology. This Americanized remake robs the narrative of all its ambiguity, and instead gives us baffling backstory, overly complex explanations, and lots of ghoulish specters stalking the cast. Parts remain faithful to the original, but overall, it’s a less than successful translation. (16 June, Starz, 9PM EST)


Waiting


Ever wonder if those stories about snot in your salad and purposely overdone meat have merit? Well, this serio-comic look at the life of a waiter/waitress wants to combine said insights with a Clerks-like level of humor. It fails in both capacities. It’s too dumb to be daring, too nasty to be knowing. Still, slackers unable to find real careers may see something of themselves in this otherwise gratuitous groaner. (16 June, Showtime, 9PM EST)

Indie Pick
Primer


When PopMatters published an article on the ‘Death of Serious Science Fiction’, critics complained feverishly that this film, more than any other, failed to get a mention as a post-millennial example of stalwart speculation. Of course, there are reasons for such exclusion, including general critical consensus (intriguing but confusing), the film’s lower than average profile (it was made for $7K after all) and lack of more universal themes (some consider it an engineering lesson on crack). Still, SE&L strives to bring light to the otherwise dark domain of cinematic scholarship, and so we pick this film as our Indie item of the week. A few reviewers stress that multiple sittings are required to decipher the lengthy last act, so it’s clearly TiVo time people. Maybe after a screening or two, its inherent value will be unveiled. Maybe. (18 June, IFC, 9PM EST)

Additional Choices
B Monkey


While it’s not the greatest movie in the world – Heck, we here at SE&L barely remember what it’s about – it does contain one element worth considering: Asia Argento. Incredibly sexy in a smoldering sort of way, she turns almost any role she plays into an experiment in the erotic. So what if this is just your standard ‘nerd meets bad girl/hijinx ensue’ storyline. With Ms. A in the lead role, we’re there. (17 June, IFC, 10:45PM EST)

R Point


It’s the Korean take on J-Horror with a little war and remembrance thrown in for good measure. A group of soldiers on patrol in Vietnam are sent to an abandoned manor to locate a missing platoon. Of course, they discover the reason for the previous unit’s sudden disappearance. Seems the local area is inundated with uneasy spirits, and they want their vengeance on anyone living – including our unwitting cadets. (17 June, Sundance Channel, 12AM EST)

Following


Right after his effective short film, Doodlebug, the man who would soon helm the brilliant Memento, Batman Begins, and The Prestige, crafted his first feature. It remains a nice little low budget gem, the story of a writer who follows random people to gather material for his work. Naturally, he runs across a character, in this case, a thief, who is willing to show him more than he may want to know. (19 June, Sundance Channel, 12:50AM EST)

Outsider Option
How to Frame a Figg


By the time this project – based on a story proposed by the star – landed in Don Knotts’ lap, his days as a comedic icon were beginning to wane. After the slam bang success of The Andy Griffith Show (five years – five Emmys) and a string of successful solo films (The Incredible Mr. Limpet, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, The Love God? ) this political pseudo-satire just didn’t have the same creative kick. As a bookkeeper unwittingly caught up in City Hall corruption, Knotts still gives good fluster. But the changing cultural tide of the ‘70s was far removed from the more innocent days of the early ‘60s, and the actor was seen as a presence whose time had passed. Still, his undeniable talent continues to show through in what remains a nice footnote to Knotts’ more potent parts. If you can get past the cornball conservatism and arch approach, you’ll really enjoy this minor movie. (17 June, Drive-In Classics Canada, 2:30PM EST)

Additional Choices
The Conqueror Worm


Vincent Prince as a touring witch hunter, selling his services as prosecutor to the highest bidder. Sounds spectacular, right? Well, unlike the next two films in this section, this is an effort that actually delivers on its promise. Thanks to the actor’s amazing performance – he practically oozes evil onscreen – we are completely swept up in this period piece. Michael Reeves’ amazing work behind the camera also adds to the creep-showboating. (15 June, TCM Underground, 2AM EST)

John Carpernter’s Vampires


The title alone had horror fans foaming at the mouth. Would their favorite dread director, responsible for such major macabre classics as Halloween, The Thing and Prince of Darkness actually deliver on the promise of a post-modern Wild West take on the neck-biter genre, complete with James Woods in the role of ghoul hunter? Sadly, the answer was a big fat no. It remains a black mark on a career seemingly drowning in same. (19 June, ThrillerMax, 8:10PM EST)

Minnie and Moskowitz


John Cassavetes was on a role after the critical accomplishments of Faces and Husbands. But he somehow lost his way on this goofy drama romance involving a relationship between a museum curator and a slightly off balance parking lot attendant. There will be those who appreciate his gonzo approach to moviemaking, but this is not one of the independent auteur’s best. More of a curio than anything else. (20 June, Indieplex, 2:50PM EST)

 


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Thursday, Jun 14, 2007
by PopMatters Staff

Life can be a bitch at times, and in those moments of angst, you just want to throw it up ‘cause you’re totally f*&ked anyway, right? Love, sex, parents, authority—the teenage years are the pinnacle of undeniable passions, first loves, lasting regrets, and uncontrollable emotions.


PopMatters.com and Spring Awakening want to know your #1 song from your teenage years.  What tune hit that right chord and spoke true to your every emotion? 


Submit the artist and track name with a brief explanation of why this tune rocked your teenage years and you will be eligible to win a Spring Awakening cast album with music and lyrics by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater and a voucher for two tickets to the Broadway production.


Simply post your choice here in the comments, include your e-mail address (it won’t be displayed to readers, we simply need it to contact the winner), and tell us about the songs that soundtracked your teenage life and you’ll be eligible to win.


Here’s a few examples:
Aerosmith: “Cryin’”
Nirvana: “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
Boyz II Men: “I’ll Make Love to You”
Beck: “Loser”
Blind Melon: “No Rain”


PopMatters feature on Spring Awakening


“Bitch of Living”



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