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First posted October 17, 2020
Updated October 29, 2020
PICKS OF THE MONTH
diskurso art magazine's
October 2020 Picks
The full video of "The Right to Vote," the first episode of Whose Vote Counts, Explained, the new Vox Media series on Netflix. [All-access video uploaded to YouTube by Netflix, 28 September 2020]
"The Right to Vote"
(This episode of the series Whose Vote Counts, Explained was launched by Vox Media together with the series' second and third episodes on 29 September 2020 on Netflix Philippines)
WE recommend you watch all three episodes of the whole series, but this first episode of Whose Vote Counts, Explained, delivered via that fittingly-clear-as-always signature Vox manner, is to us the most interesting of the three, mainly for its push on the idea that the United States as the world's best model of democracy should now finally be universally regarded as one of our planet's biggest myths. Sure, unlike such countries as the Philippines, individual outlets of the American free press can hardly be touched at the national level (the reason why America's Republican-leaning elite can only support Fox News as their biggest disseminator of "alternative facts" and won't try to go after any one of those truth-telling institutions of investigative journalism with the intent of closing it). But most other facets of American systems of corruption are really no different from those found in such countries as the Philippines, except that they can be said to be darker versions of those for having radically bigger containers of greed.
If there's something unique with America's corrupted brain, it would have to do with its being in a multicultural nation of immigrants, which is somewhat akin to being in a dormitory consisting of factions of dudes coming from different regions. The availability of the concept of a clear Other in the form of a different race or religion within that dormitory makes that Other concept attractive to the eternal social blame game often inevitable in situations of crisis. And so, the perpetually toxic racism and consequent white supremacism that would make Adolf Hitler beam with pride in his grave lives on in this precarious plutocracy called the United States of America, with no indication of ever letting up or finding a resolution inside our or the next generation's lifetime.
So, in this episode of this enlightening (because well-illustrated) series, the previously-sexist and racist, now mainly racist acts of voter suppression in that country (along with the lying that goes with them) manifest themselves as collectively one of the world's most successful artworks of evil. That is not to say, however, that this continuing xenophobic (should we say neo-Nazi) habit (which is now largely Republican) hasn't its own admirers elsewhere, especially among other countries' leaders-cum-dictators who would be displaying superiority complexes that would equal Donald Trump's party's strongly-conserved shamelessness hiding beneath the skirt of select Christian values. . . .
Of course the second episode of this series―on how money is king in American politics, titled "Can You Buy an Election?"―is just as valuable a watch, but we Filipinos already know about that money stuff as the American legacy in the Philippines' own problematic representative democracy.
Meanwhile, the series' eponymous third episode, on gerrymandering, is also quite educational in its delving into how the practice works for ruling parties.
But, in the end, nothing in these two episodes can compare with the glaring degeneracy of the voter suppression act persistent in the USA as one of the most despicable examples of political as well as moral meanness inside the first world, and it's all happening in full view of the rest of the planet that now looks at America as no more than an erstwhile model.
(Installation art, Public art, Artivism, Process art)
Photos of Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg's In America, / How could this happen... public art installation, with the artist setting up the work in the third photo. [First two photos grabbed from abc7ny.com; the third photo by Sarah L. Voisin grabbed from washingtonpost.com]
In America, / How could this happen...
(First two photos posted with a report on abc7ny.com, 28 October 2020; third photo posted with a report on washingtonpost.com, 23 October 2020)
THIS public art installation by Washington, D.C. artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg may not be as arresting as a Christo piece, but it's not meant to be. The idea would thumb the nose of l'art pour l'art in favor of a concept-cum-token, i.e., it favors something like a protest work (artivist work) that may also, as in this case, work as a fleeting plan (using paper) or germ for a more permanent space for national mourning. Yes, national, as it should be, as national as that monument for America's Vietnam war veterans. Vietnam, yes, as this one's just as humongous a failure as that one that started in the Eisenhower administration and ended during the Ford government, although you could say that this present crisis is a worse disaster for being from simply one man's (and his coterie of people's) idiocy and/or selfishness rather than from an era-defined geopolitical culture.
It could even be argued that what happened with the Trump government was this: it illustrated the weaknesses of the US presidential system that has been putting too much power on its president, to the extent that this system (and ultimately the nation it serves) could open itself to endangerment from the whims of a psychiatric case of a president or a foreign power-compromised one. With that as a background to Firstenberg's protest's wide context, the white flags in her piece as demonstration of number also underlines the concept of plurality against a revolution around one con man as a cult of personality.
The conceptual power of the piece is also in its process, writing all those names on all those flags, planting the flags with equal spacing, and printing numbers that might have to replace what's on that stage that she put up in the middle of the installation.
But it is also in the piece's participatory nature, which invites families to send in names or flags as the death statistics (or new names from undercounting) continue to come in. In fact what motivated Firstenberg to do the project was the idea of "statistics." The protest to the idea of "mere statistics" may have already been carried by that aforementioned political rally stage that she did in the middle of the installation, which already delivers quite a parody with the official-looking lettering type of the project's title printed there and the number of the current dead at the center of it. That number's being dynamic, i.e., meant to change with the changing casualty report, seems to mimic vote counts, which Donald Trump seems to be more concerned with increasing at the moment rather than with the dead count that he has to keep low or stop.
But Firstenberg's stage setup seemed not enough for her. Firstenberg decided to surround that rally stage not with protesters but with a cemetery-like representation of the rising casualty number via white flags that would also carry the victims' names. The flags were planted on the fields of grass of the DC Armory Parade Ground. Now, note that the idea of statistics is inevitable in pandemics and wars. So Firstenberg's intervention using the white flags inserts a more human image that might contrast with the impersonal statistical number of casualties looming large on that middle stage setup. Human, we said, because white is the color that pays tribute to the dead, and the flags are there to grow in number like wild plants while the dynamic impersonal number on the stage background tarp also grows its count like a digital counter.
The visual of the flags would also come out like a sneer, because it as a result appears to have appropriated the KKK look with what came out from the flags' pointed white shapes. With that, it's as though the images were placed there to illustrate a new pointed-white image context, and slapping it as this park's now more sympathetic vision on the face of a president more concerned with taking care of his white nationalist priorities (an originalist Coney Barrett that might back up his public charge rule and a silent support for separate-but-equal arrangements) rather than with an all-too-real pandemic that he continues to dismiss.
The official trailer for Kiss the Ground. [Trailer uploaded 21 August 2020 by Kiss the Ground]
Kiss the Ground
(Released 26 October 2020 on Netflix Philippines)
PRODUCED by supermodel, activist and businesswoman Gisele Bündchen, Kiss the Ground is an argument for regenerative agriculture via the able lens and dramaturgy of Josh Tickell and Rebecca Tickell, and it's on influential Netflix! To clarify what that sentence means, offering the film as "an argument," let it be known that regenerative agriculture is still a controversial approach within the climate change scientific community, at least as regards its claims about carbon dioxide reduction. Probably also because there's the fear within that community that the regeneration argument would be used by the oil and gas industry as an excuse to go on with the unabated extraction of fossil fuel, although we have yet to see an oil drilling company investing heavily in reforestation, regenerative farming, and desertification reversal.
The part where the environmentalist community would not have any beef against regenerative agriculture, however, might be in the area of soil rehabilitation and desertification reversal. So, we can begin there.
Now, it must also be known that the criticism around the issue of regenerative agriculture is not going in one direction only. Mainstream climate change activism is in fact also getting a flak from the regenerative movement for being wrongly focused on carbon emission reduction solely, without putting a premium on that other necessary thing: drawdown. Drawdown is where regeneration comes in heavily. . . . Now, sadly, there's another antagonist to regeneration's efforts, for it seems that the movement's formula has been identified by the pesticides industry of the US, China and India as requiring substantial losses from their niche, and it would seem that it was largely on that demand for sacrifice that these three countries decided to beg off the Paris Agreement, among other lesser reasons.
Starring the farmers and activists behind the regenerative movement, Kiss the Ground conscripted Woody Harrelson to man the narrator's (moderator's) mike, and―to boot―an original song from singer-songwriter and agroforestry farmer Jason Mraz (who also gets to speak about his farm in the film).
To answer some questions about the message of the film, here's the Kiss the Ground world premiere Q&A panel video by the Kiss the Ground account on YouTube, saved after that Q&A's live airing on 23 September. Enjoy and get your measure of it!
(Toys, Sociology of gender, Gender studies)
Embedded Facebook post by Rappler featuring a Grade 1 student's answer to a gender question in elementary school, posted 20 October 2020
"LOOK: This Grade 1 student is untroubled by gender stereotypes"
(Posted on Facebook by Rappler 20 October 2020)
NAH, this one from Rappler already speaks loudly for itself.
The Seeker by Lance Edmands from Topic on Vimeo.
(Uploaded to Vimeo 11 October 2020)
THE Vimeo page with this video of the short documentary film by Lance Edmands notes that The Seeker is "A lyrical portrait of an excommunicated Amish woodworker struggling with spirituality, poverty, and life as an outcast from his strict, insular community." A winner of the Vimeo Staff Pick Award at the Camden International Film Festival, and part of the official selection for the Tribeca Film Festival 2020, Nashville Film Festival 2020, and SF Documentary Festival (DocFest) comptetitions, it's a short story about faith and doubt, Protestant dogma and counter-"Protest". For more information about the short film, click here.
An embedded page from poetryfoundation.org with Louise Glück's poem "Aboriginal Landscape" that was first published in the December 2013 issue of Poetry magazine
The Swedish Academy's awarding the 2020 Nobel Prize for Literature to Louise Glück
(Awarding announced October 8, 2020 by the Swedish Academy)
SO Louise Glück was awarded this year's Nobel Prize for Literature, which is a relief, coming on the heels of last year's controversial bestowal of the honor by the Swedish body to Serbian nationalist Peter Handke (for his novels and plays). A sigh of relief here as well after that 2018 postponement (due to a sexual harassment investigation complaint) of the announcement of who that year's winner was, moving it to 2019. The 2018 winner was finally revealed in October of the following year as Olga Tokarczuk, an anti-nationalist, and it seems that the Academy had succeeded in moving on from that previous year's fracas. If that had any impact at all on the Academy's picking a non-controversial writer for this year, we don't know.
Now, as regards Handke, we understand of course that the novelist-playwright's body of works previous to his Serbian nationalist texts are worthy of high commendation and lasting recognition. But context is everything, we also tend to agree, for we believe the endorsement of the Swedish Academy is regarded by many as having the same weight as any endorsement (or non-endorsement) coming from that other nationalist who goes by the name of Donald Trump (whether it's of a tweet by QAnon or of some institution's pronouncement regarding face masks twisted to serve a demagogic scorecard). And, notably, the Nobel website did include those controversial titles by Handke in their bibliography for the author, which probably inspired Europe's far right.
So, again, this year it's a more peaceful Nobel pick. But, of course, that really wouldn't mean anything to someone who has yet to read a single Glück piece. Therefore, we here in diskurso, as an arts magazine that constantly claims to be more interested in artists' works than in artists' names, would now want to quickly salute the Academy's current selection by endorsing at least a single Glück poem here instead of another abstract rave about the poet. This piece is embedded above, titled "Aboriginal Landscape," and it's a poem on death, in case you want to know before reading. It's quite an apt read for these recent years that saw the rise of death-denying nationalist gods.
(Advertising, Artists' rights)
Three video materials from APRO's CORTA! tv ad series
(Released 30 September 2020 by APRO through Leo Burnett Brazil)
HERE'S APRO and Leo Burnett Brazil's description of this public interest tv ad series of theirs:
"CORTA! (Cut!) – it’s a term frequently used in the audiovisual industry, and now, it’s the name of a powerful new campaign from Leo Burnett Brazil aiming to put an end to the sexual harassment plaguing the industry.
"The campaign is brand-new, having just launched at the end of September; however, its roots date back to 2017. Three years ago, the Brazilian Association of Production of Audiovisual Works (APRO) developed 'Corta!' – the Pact for Anti-Harassment in the Audiovisual Industry. Fast forward to today – with the help of Leo Burnett Tailor Made and in efforts with #MeTooBrazil, an independent arm of its namesake #MeToo movement in the U.S. – the CORTA! Campaign launched to shine a spotlight on this urgent need for a change in industry behavior."
The official trailer for Netflix's David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet. [Trailer uploaded 23 September 2020 by Netflix]
David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet
(Released 4 October 2020, Netflix)
THIS David Attenborough witness statement at the natural historian and broadcaster's late age offers a most frightening threat. The only letdown is it still shifts its gear to a prescription-offering optimism at the end, given that the populations of the world have full knowledge that no government on our planet will take any drastic step to mitigate or reverse the threat until it is too late in the game. But, of course, we understand why the film has to take that prescriptive direction, otherwise it wouldn't make it into any media roster. Also maybe because it's not being directed at impossible governments but to some other realistic audience.
Now, why the pessimism from our side? you'd ask. Well, we all know that all of the governments of the world are driven by big business that often comes into conflict with basic science, and if all of these governments' approach to the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic is an indication of how they would all collectively react to the progress of climate change this late in the day and henceforward, we already know we can't rely on them to make all the urgent steps that'd make a difference. Let us love this documentary for its dark threats, and while we each may want to embrace the available solutions Sir David Attenborough offers towards this mood, we'd do best to be rid of that narration's later optimism and replace it with a revolutionary's more appropriate anger and consequent urgent commitment to plan for each of our village's own survival, especially as the fine people of the 1% seems to be merely aiming for a move to Mars.
The official trailer for The Trial of the Chicago 7. [Trailer uploaded 23 September 2020 by Netflix]
The Trial of the Chicago 7
(Released 16 October 2020, Netflix)
THIS long-delayed Aaron Sorkin-written historical film project started on paper in 2007, but Sorkin actually intended it for Steven Spielberg's directing style. Spielberg begged off the project after the 2007 Writers Guild of America strike, and it wouldn't be until 2018 when the Spielberg-co-founded DreamWorks Pictures would decide to give the script a go at filming, with Sorkin himself assigned to direct his own masterpiece after showing his directing mettle in 2017's Molly's Game. DreamWorks put the film up with Paramount Pictures, Cross Creek Pictures, Marc Platt Productions and Shivhans Pictures, but during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic Paramount Pictures sold the online streaming rights to Netflix. And so here we are.
So the film is mainly about that show trial put up by the until-2016 worst president the United States ever had, Richard Nixon. It is probably the sixth film to be made on this subject. As for that trial, well, it had the obvious intent of convincing the world that there was a kind of antifa movement meaning to overrun government! Oops, . . . did we just confuse Nixon's evil cunning with Trump's vocabulary and fake-news-driven motives? Well, we're not apologizing for dragging out a similarity.
But the film is also, among other things, about judges like Julius Hoffman (played here by Frank Langella) in America's still-problematic justice system and democracy. It's also about a whole lot of other things, including the black power movement and the reasons why there has to be such a thing. True, some poetic license had been invoked to service some chronological drama expected of feature films, but these hardly had any effect on the basic truth about the history of this event. And, yes, some essential elements of this history had to be contained for focus.
Owen Gleiberman of Variety wrote in his review: "Sorkin has structured The Trial of the Chicago 7 ingeniously, so that it's never about just one thing. It's about the theatrical insanity of the war in the courtroom, about how the government would stop at nothing (including flagrant attempts at jury tampering), and about the politics, at once planned and spontaneous, of how the Chicago protests unfolded." Meanwhile, John DeFore of The Hollywood Reporter wrote: "Sorkin has made a movie that's gripping, illuminating and trenchant, as erudite as his best work and always grounded first and foremost in story and character. It's as much about the constitutional American right to protest as it is about justice, which makes it incredibly relevant to where we are today."
Although our own notes here might look like a salute largely to Sorkin (we're fans of his The Newsroom, by the way), that is not our intention, knowledgeable as we are about cinema as a team art requiring a bunch of other geniuses to produce a genius of a final product. But we actually still have a few more words allowed us by our editor for this entry, and we would like to allocate these to Sacha Baron Cohen, who we think stands out in his role as Abbie Hoffman, and to Eddie Redmayne, who took the part of Tom Hayden. We're sure there will be enough time to mention the other names involved in this cinematic achievement in the next Oscars, so, . . .
Text (c) copyright 2020 diskurso art magazine