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by Rob Horning

8 May 2009

Via Barry Ritholtz comes this chart, depicting trends in consumption in China:

As Ritholtz notes, a similar chart for the U.S. would be somewhat different. Economists who are concerned about global trade imbalances have long wonder when the Chinese consumer will emerge and begin to soak up its share of the world’s output, instead of the Chinese Central Bank stockpiling foreign currencies. This chart seems to suggest that it won’t happen anytime soon. What data like this makes me wonder is how the Chinese experience their own relative prosperity, how the consequences of rampant economic growth are experienced if not in terms of increasing purchasing power and more goods and more choices.

Sometimes the argument is made that the Chinese must save more because the social safety net there is extremely tenuous—they don’t even have the comfort of titles to property and social services are spotty and the bureaucracy presumably needs to be greased with many bribes and that sort of thing. This sort of logic would then be flipped to argue that a low savings rate is proof of a just, confident, and well-functioning society—it’s not a matter of impulsive consumers as the wrongheaded moralists and anachronistic puritans would have you believe. It strikes me as a conundrum of consumerism that the failure to save could be read blithely and myopically as the accomplishment a successful economic equilibrium, as though the fund for future investment to sustain those consumption levels were entirely irrelevant. Consumerism—an economic order based on maximizing consumer spending—must encourage the idea that savings are a kind of “glut,” a residual that proves an inefficient sort of budgeting has taken place somewhere. Personal savings can then feel like a personal failure to find enough stuff to spend one’s earnings on, to be sufficiently full of desires, to make having worked worth it. In a culture in which we are basically compelled to spend to keep the world as we know it going, accruing savings can leave us feeling guilty for not wanting enough. It’s possible that at this point, we would feel too guilty to ever believe that we are satisfied with what we have.

by Rob Horning

8 May 2009

This is not a post about online pornography (though I expect it will attract a lot of comment spam). Rather it’s about this essay by Llewellyn Hinkes, which wonders about the status of fetish objects—he seems to have in mind the phenomenon of being seduced by the tangibility of an object for reasons above and beyond its usefulness—when digitization is making culture more and more virtual.

Having something like this stored digitally, where a single hard drive failure can destroy years of hoarding in an instant, is frightening. It’s as if mother-destroyer can enter your house at any moment, chop off the super-ego, and then throw it in the garbage. For a time, I hoarded gobs and gobs of mp3s of obscure psychedelic music: Japanese-Brazilian lounge albums, avant-garde noise compositions, anything by Gary Wilson. Then one day, I saw it all disappear. I made a stupid mistake when moving files from an external hard drive that cost me my entire music collection. And what frightened me was that it didn’t really mean that much.

I completely relate to this and not because I am also a fan of Gary Wilson. Still, I am trying hard not to be frightened by this new intangibility but to instead revel in it, experience it as liberation, or at least a step toward freeing myself of the hoarding impulses.

by Nick Dinicola

8 May 2009

There’s been news of a survey going around asking if a karma system in the next Grand Theft Auto would make the game more enjoyable. I’ve recently become a bit cynical towards karma systems. It seems that giving the player a moral choice is an ever increasing trend in gaming, but does it really make the game more interesting? It certainly did a few years ago, but since then I fear they’ve become so common that simply giving players a choice between good or evil has lost its emotional punch. Richard Clark on Christ and Pop Culture suggests the next logical step, “What I would like to see instead is for games to present us with these moral choices that have real consequences on the game world and the gameplay, but that don’t have an opinion on whether we did the right thing or not.” I like where he’s going, but I don’t think it’s necessary to abandon the karma system completely. Players still need a set of guiding morals in order to give their choices a weight within the game world. One possible solution is adding more ambiguous choices; this will naturally lead to a karma system that’s less overt, if even there at all. Another possibility is to use story to express the guiding morals, keeping the “karma” but ditching the “system.” (Spoilers abound for both Fallout 3 and GTA IV)

by Bill Gibron

8 May 2009

It’s no secret that most filmmakers have their muses, directors who came before them from whom they draw inspiration and ideas. While some consider it a complimentary homage, others argue that copying another auteur’s style is nothing more than a cynical creative rip-off. Of course, when you do steal, you really should steal from the very best. In the case of videographer turned big screen helmer Benny Boom, there had to have been better references to crib from than the Guy Ritchie catalog. For his first film, the man behind clips for such famous artists as 50 Cent, Nelly, Busta Rhymes and Akon has decided to make his very own version of the UK maverick’s celluloid rocknrolla. Sadly, Next Day Air is nothing more than Lock, Stock, and Two Pot Smoking, F-Bomb Dropping, Hip Hop Barrels.

For Leo, a job working for his mom at a delivery company has its fair share of travails. Not only is his parent constantly after him for dragging a toke or two while on the clock, but he can’t get away with the thieving, conniving things that favored co-worker Eric does. One day, he delivers a massive package to no good criminals Guch and Brody. It turns out the box contains 10 kilos of high grade cocaine. Seeing themselves getting very rich really quick, the duo contacts local drug kingpin (and Brody’s cousin) Shavoo. While they work out some manner of monetary arrangement, however, Mexican gangster Bodega contacts his underling Jesus and asks if he got the blow. When they find out the stuff is MIA, they begin prowling the neighborhood looking for Leo. Too bad they didn’t hunt a little closer - you see, Jesus and his chica Chita live right down the hall from Guch and Brody.

It’s hard to imagine how something like Next Day Air could actually work. It’s too violent and overloaded with gun-toting bravado to be a full blown comedy. On the other hand, it’s so hackneyed and derivative of the Tarantino pool of crime filmmaking that everything eventually drowns. For a director getting his one (and probably, only) shot at making a statement, why would you mimic someone whose already established? Other novice up and comers like Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (the Crank films) take their cues from other forms of media - comic books, video games, and in High Voltage, the DIY dynamic of homemade cinema. With this effort, Boom goes directly to Snatch, steals all the rapid-cutting ADD amplified gimmickry, and then tosses in a ton of F-bombs to keep things “street”. There is no nuance here, no attempt at doing something clever or artistic. Instead, Next Day Air wants to coast on stunts and other attention-getting. All it does is float like a fetid air biscuit.

The actors often appear lost here, reliable talents like Mos Def (as the con jobbing Eric), Mike Epps (so good in Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins) and Donald Faison (Scrubs) reduced to running around limply without a single punchline to provide. There are moments when you see them mouthing lines that you know aren’t funny - and if you look closely, you can tell that they know they’re not funny either. Even worse, the “thriller” element is only exciting to someone who hasn’t spent a long time at their local Cineplex. Between channeling QT, Ritchie, John Woo, and about a dozen other au courant names, you can really tell that this is Blair Cobbs’ first major motion picture script. It reads like something inspired by, not original to. Add in the glaring leaps in logic and rationality (would a person really looking for a package from a ruthless mobster actually let the delivery man go by without a more pointed inquiry?).

There will be those, however, who argue over the “intended” audience for this film, arguing that Boom and Cobbs are simply playing to a demographic that is grossly underserved by the Tinsel Town entertainment factory. They can argue over the success of Tyler Perry and other urban artists and confirm this fact. While that’s all well and good (and this critic has been known to champion Mr. Madea for his soulful gospel-tinged morality plays), this does not excuse accepting any old piece of garbage aimed your way. To assume that audiences of “color” should clamor for this movie simply because it supposedly plays to their particular perceptions is insulting. No matter your ethnic background, Next Day Air is a talentless travesty, a trying torture fest that wants to believe it’s cool and contemporary. And if you think such vile visuals give your community a bad name, you’ll be doubly offended by what you see here.

Indeed, Next Day Air is a sad excuse for something that, as stated before, no one could have properly pulled off. It’s witless and myopic, viewing the entire world as one big Scarface riff waiting, as Tony Montana would say, to get “****ed”. This is not to preclude Mr. Boom for future success, though one only has this overripe rejects as a means of making such a determination. In fact, this could be the kind of calamity that brings the true visionary out of the pure pretender on display here. Until that fateful day, here’s a warning to audiences intrigued by the possibility of another raw, raucous laughfest. Next Day Air is so bereft of anything remotely hilarious that, if you indeed find something worth snickering over during the course of its cramped 90 minute running time, you’ve clearly discovered a facet of the film not offered up on the screen. In a weekend which sees the bow of one of 2009’s best, this is destined to be one of the worst.

by Lewis Beale / Newsday (MCT)

8 May 2009

Forty-three years, six TV series, 10 feature films, numerous video games and hundreds of novels later, Star Trek is still with us. Director J.J. Abrams’ film, opening Friday, is an origins story, in which the young Kirk and Spock meet, fight, bond and eventually take over the running of the Enterprise. Not surprisingly, fans have been salivating over the imminent arrival of Star Trek for at least a Vulcan year.

Not that everything Trek has been a wild success. The films, in particular, have been a wildly mixed bag of sci-fi fun and ponderous, futuristic philosophizing. Here are some of the best and worst…

//Mixed media

TIFF 2017: 'The Shape of Water'

// Notes from the Road

"The Shape of Water comes off as uninformed political correctness, which is more detrimental to its cause than it is progressive.

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