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Kat vs. Culture: Chapter 6

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

– John 11:25-26

Part XIV: Springcore

Illuminated by the cautious April sun, Amsterdam emerges as a city overcome with whimsy, a delicate pastiche of association. The cyclists, with their newly straightened backs, are no longer objects of rain-soaked pity. In a sunnier landscape, they become an aspirational symbol of laidback pragmatism, a restrained yet seductive take on the freedom of motorcycle gangs complete with their own looks and customs. The parks, which for the past 3 months have been little more than unsightly heaps of shrubbery, have a restored sense of vitality. Their raison d’étre once again sweetly apparent in each blooming tree reflected in every dog walker’s eyes. Even the bricks, adorned with fresh graffiti paint, seem to breath in the air every once in a while.  

It is all in this Medieval village of a modern city. Small boats, tied at the side, gently wobbling along with the rhythm of the canals, overlooked by firmly parked Renaults. The former beckoning to reverse time and surrender to the everyday drama of routine as it is witnessed in Bruegel’s oil paintings, promising all the joys of simplicity which can be discovered from a birds-eye view. The latter: a cynical reminder of the state of affairs, a fantasy so crudely dispelled within its own frame.

This is the Billy Joel rendition of ‘What a Wonderful World’, Armstrong’s husk replaced with a crystal clear tenor. It underscores everything from the middle-aged woman in chunky heel boots gardening tiny plots of greenery in front of her as-seen-on-tv house to the senior citizens cruising down pedestrian paths on mobility scooters with the dignified air of kings. A wonderful and almost fabricated world stretches out as far as the eye can see. It is not the kind of joy you get drunk on, any attempt at exaltation disturbs the peace. But it is there for the taking: behind a pair of sunglasses, on a bench overlooking the water, naming each duck as they waddle into the horizon.

 

Part XV: Let’s Just Quickly Talk Agenda

I thought that the most surprising thing about this particular morning was that I had actually woken up to go to my lecture. That was not the case.

During the lecturer’s discussion of the camera lenses’ ability to objectively capture reality and, subsequently, ways in which reality can be framed, a picture of Donald Trump came up on the screen. The lecturer gestured to the image of Trump and said:

 

“So, you shoot someone from below, sadly this is a camera shooting but uh, you shoot someone from below, this magnifies this guy’s sense of power, of who he is.”

 

Now… speaking as someone who was in the US during the 2016 election, I should really be desensitized to fantasies of Trump’s assassination. However, I must admit, I was slightly taken aback.

If this had been a joke whispered among students, I wouldn’t have batted an eye. But this was a joke made by the man speaking from the podium, a joke so seamlessly delivered that I am inclined to think it was prepared, a joke that needlessly diverted attention from the subject matter to emphasize the personal beliefs of the professor.

 

So what’s my point?

 

I am not advocating for the inclusion of a positive spin on the Trump Presidency. The problem I have is with the nonchalant delivery of such statements, as if there is no possibility of any disagreement. I’m sure that there is an academic avenue to discuss whether Trump should be impeached, or put to death execution style. However, stating it as a given during a lecture that is not inherently political is arrogant, dismissive and inappropriate.

And most damning of all, it’s counter-productive. In America, comments like these give way to the right’s narrative of liberal brainwashing at universities. They contribute to creating unnecessary media hype in lieu of actual criticism, focusing attention on ‘culture wars’ rather than policy. Rampant assumptions of unanimous agreement bolstered the silent majorities that got Trump elected and swayed the Brexit referendum. Beyond just the American and British loonies, comments like these are also dangerously dismissive of the rising right-wing populist movements throughout Europe, which should not be taken lightly. Overall, I think that comments like these undercut the ends they supposedly serve. A civically-minded individual is not just one who can repeat the sentiment that ‘Trump is Bad™’, but one that knows the reasons behind that assertion. We’re already reading Foucault, we’ll get the power stuff eventually, there really is no need to ram it down harder.

 

 

Part XVI: Simulacrum, Interrupted

If you walk through Dam Square, rain or shine, you will see an individual in an off-brand Mickey Mouse suit making the rounds. Lovingly nicknamed Ratty Mike, I have come to appreciate this singular presence from afar.

At first I thought it was just nostalgia. After all, Ratty Mike has all the energy of a man trying to sell you his mixtape on Ocean Drive, a vibe that I have sorely missed since leaving Miami. However, I have come to realize that it is something beyond that, something far deeper that has drawn me to this character.

Let me set the scene: R. Mike does not stand on a pedestal like the skull-masked silhouettes who have found dignity in their resemblance to statues. Mike isn’t just something to look at, there is a yearning for connection extended through each dirty white-gloved gesture. Sometimes, Mike is dancing around like the most carefree kid at a Bar-mitzvah. At other times, Mike is sullenly sitting on a crate, one gloved hand holding up the massive head and the other lethargically warding off pigeons. One day, Mike was nowhere to be seen, and I truly felt the full extent of the unexpected absence.

There is not a single inkling of immersion, the repeated encounters only serve as imperatives to construct the backstory, to see beyond the mask. In this sense, the purchase of the off-brand Mickey Mouse suit embeds itself into the narrative as a radically life-changing decision. There was a time before Ratty Mike’s emergence onto the scene, a gap just begging to be filled. This moment could have its own montage: starting from the idea’s conception to the exchange of the 50 or so euros at the cashier desk, all culminating towards those triumphant first steps in fresh black mouse slippers.

If only the narrative stopped there, but it goes on. And suddenly, you are not so detached anymore. Suddenly, you know far more than you ever wanted to. You can hear the intrusive sound of the morning alarm, you can imagine the drudgery of once again encasing your body in that stuffy synthetic, and you can feel the exhaustion and relief when it’s finally time to unzip the uniform. As the mouse suit slides off of your body, you can already taste the cardboard -flavored dread of doing it all over tomorrow. And yet, through all of this, the human face underneath the mask remains obscured. Somehow, imagining the person inside proves to be too painful of a thought experiment.

 

~intermission~

 

There is an existential truth to Mike, a facade that is almost completely erased by virtue of its plush exaggeration. The pitch black eye holes scream: “This is what you wanted, right? Cheap entertainment. This is what you come here for”, while the stitched-on cartoon smile reassures each passerby that this demand is happily fulfilled. If Disneyland had not been, as Baudrillard so eloquently put it, “a deterrence machine set up in order to rejuvenate in reverse the fiction of the real”, then we would not have Mike; an assertion of the real made possible by the mythology of the fiction. Ratty Mike’s shortcomings made apparent through instant recognition of the referent. The entrails of the fantasy splattered all over the cobblestones of Dam Square. As such, ‘the costume’, too ill-fitting to be a viable disguise or illusion, becomes just as vulnerable as nudity.

And there it is, the discomforting gospel of Ratty Mike on Dam Square:

There is no Magic Kingdom, there is no Minnie Mouse, there is no happily-ever-after. There are only tourists and their children, there are only pigeons and the occasional pictures, there are only beads of sweat and a constant search for distraction. Day-in, Day-out.

This Month On-Screen

Festivals and Exhibitions

 

Exhibition Eye “A tale of hidden histories”

A group of artists from different countries all over the world has come together to create an interesting exhibition in which photographs, videos, projections and sounds are used as a way to uncover and learn new things about our past. With different stories that take place all over the world they try to investigate the construction of stories and how they change when told in a different context by a different person. Like this, they want to uncover the subjectivity of history and the weaknesses of the human mind as the responsible one of sharing this history.

The world focus on different conflict areas all over the world: the places where truth and imagination become intertwined. How are wars represented in the media? Can the stories of a war be retold and shown to the world? And what is the artists role in this? These questions form the base for many, often unknown stories about for example the Second World War or the Cold War, but also more recent conflicts, such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The exhibition lasts until the 16th of May and is also linked to the movies shown in the accompanying film programme ShellShock, about which I have already talked in the previous newsletter. More information about all the specific artists participating can be found on the website of the Eye.

What to Watch?

Blockbuster of the Month: Avengers: Endgame

The Marvel movie of the year, it might even be the biggest Marvel movie ever. This movie is meant to be the endpoint of the years of work Marvel put into building the universe. Every Marvel movie that has been made in the past 10 years has been a piece of the whole overlapping story. The movie is the second part of the Avengers: Infinity War. Dozens of heroes from all the different stories combine forces to try to defeat Thanos. For every Marvel fan this will be the one movie they have to watch this year.

Release date: 24-04-19

Surprise of the Month: Love, Death & Robots

Netflix did it again, they came with a new fresh concept to change the game. It is an animated series about the three themes in the title: Love, Death & Robots. Every single episode is actually an animated short story, so no episode is connected to the other ones. Every episode is animated by a different animator, which gives every episode a complete different vibe. When watching the series you get a fresh vibe every episode. This series really shows what animation has to offer and I would recommend this to everyone.

Released on Netflix

Hockney x Van Gogh in the Van Gogh Museum

This exhibition is not directly media related, but is however really worth a visit. The Van Gogh museum might not sound like the most exciting way to spend a free afternoon, but by combining Van Goghs works with those of Hockney, the old paintings can be seen in a new light and interpreted in a different manner than before. Both artists find their inspiration in nature and experimented with bright colours and perspectives. It is very interesting to consider that Hockneys works are generally larger than those of Van Gogh. But by staging the exhibition in an interesting way, the museum has succeeded in giving both the artist an equal importance.

To visit the Van Gogh museum, you have to reserve a time slot online. I would recommend going outside of the weekends to avoid tourists.

Netflix Newest: Our Planet

David Attenborough is back and as good as always. We know what to expect from a David Attenborough project and it never disappoints. Combine this with the budget that Netflix can provide and you get a masterpiece like Our Planet. Our Planet is nature documentary series that focuses on diversity of the inhabitants around the earth. We go from the Arctic wilderness to the jungles of Africa. It is visually stunning and at times close to pure beauty. I would recommend this series to everyone who just wants to sit down and enjoy.

Released on Netflix

Golden Oldie: The Lion King (1994)

I want to discuss the classic The Lion King to honour the new live action adaptation of The Lion King that is coming up. The Lion King might be the best children's movie of all time, it is also widely considered to be a classic. It is a story about a young lion named Simba growing up to be the leader of his people. He loses everything after he traumatically loses his father and blames himself for it. It is a beautiful story about growing up, responsibilities and revenge that has a lesson for everyone. This is a film everyone should show to their kids and that everyone should watch once in a while.

Foam “I can make you feel good” exhibition

Starting the 19th of April, the Foam will host the first solo exhibition of American upcoming talent Tyler Mitchell. He became famous with two photographs he made of Beyonce, which reached the covers of several magazines. Since that moment, he has changed and started working on creating his own style. Mitchell describes his pictures as representing black utopia, as they depict young coloured people against backgrounds that feature very bright, candy-like colours. In the pictures, the people appear happy and relaxed. According to the artist, this is in stark contrast with the reality of coloured people. On top of the photographs, the exhibition also premieres two video installations. In this videos, Mitchells experiments with feelings of childhood and happiness of people of colour.

The exhibition lasts until the 5th of June.

© Off-Screen

www.uva.nl