20 February 2008

Political Movies: The Emerging Trend of Politically Motivated Films

With the Academy Awards approaching this weekend, the whole world eagerly waits to see which pictures will be the nights big winners. This year is particularly notable, because never have the films been so richly colorful and politically charged. From Michael Moore's Sicko, a documentary on the United States' faulty health care system to Gone Baby Gone, a tale of corrupt police officers and the loose boundaries of morality, the films are direct responses to what is going on in today's society. One reason for the abundance of these films is most probably an inspiration from the current administration. As a society we are a safe enough distance from the September 11th attacks that we can begin to criticize exactly what truths we hold to be self-evident. There is a growing sentiment in the country that we can no longer blindly follow those that have been chosen to lead us. The films nominated this year ask audiences to think critically about the choices and decisions they make, because they are more important now then they ever have been.

Another reason for this boom is the growing shift between politics and entertainment. In the past, films about war and political conspiracy were controversial, but now filmmakers and activists realize that to spread their message, especially to the youth, they have to think creatively, and submerge these issues in creative mediums. The blog entry "Look On The Dark Side" by Ben Gold criticizes the lax attitude of the American people about torture in the Middle East while reviewing the new film, Taxi to the Dark Side. Also drumming up buzz is the new Sean Penn film, Milk, based on the life and times of Harvey Milk, San Francisco's first gay city supervisor. It was not a subject I knew much about, but in researching it, and reading the article "We Can't Wait for Milk" by Nathaniel R. including quotes from various bloggers and authors, I realized that is it one that is still very relevant to our socio-political climate today. I have left comments on those blogs, which I have provided below, trying to find answers in the film industry's quest for social change.

"Look On The Dark Side"

Thank you, Mr. Gold, for your critique of the film "Taxi to the Dark Side of the Moon". I agree with Mr. Gibney in the sense that many of the issues facing our country are not just political issues, but personal issues as well. As American people we tend to have a superiority complex, and any sort of unjust treatment we practice is chalked up to "national security". We are so concerned with soldier US soldier deaths, but we never consider how many innocent Iraqis were killed at the hands of American soldiers. Those names and those faces never make the newspaper, and it is inspiring to see Gibney try to translate those stories onto film.

As of right now we are under such a dangerous leadership, and it makes you wonder who is the real terrorist in all of this. If we do not get the full story over here, I can only imagine what orders the soldiers must be getting. They enlisted in the armed forces to protect and defend, but on what scale? and to what cost?

It is interesting that the War in Iraq mirrors the Vietnam War in so many ways, but even over 30 years later, we still have not learned from our past mistakes.It is a war for nothing that affects everything. The only thing that I have some contention with is that it is almost unfair to expect so much from the American people, since we want to believe in our leadership so badly. We WANT to believe that they are fighting for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness like it was established so many years ago. As citizens we must take an active role, but as people we want to believe that our appointed leaders are constantly fighting for good.

The film makes you wonder what exactly our reputation is in the rest of the world. I wonder if they fear death at the hands of a tyrannical government the same way we do. I can't help but notice the advertisement for "There Will Be Blood" further up on the page, because it seems almost apropos. There will be blood in this battle with Iraq, there HAS been blood, but at what cost? If anything, this film at the very least will make viewers think critically, and help paint a wider viewpoint of our current political climate. If it makes people ask questions, then it has done its job.

"We Can't Wait for Milk"


I can say that after seeing Into The Wild, I am excited to see Sean Penn and Emile Hirsch working together again. The life of Harvey Milk is such a fascinating story, one that I feel today's generation (which includes myself) has missed out on.

So much attention has been paid to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1970s that it is a nice change of pace to hear about the history of gay rights, which is just as much a part of our American history and framework as is anything else. Milk's life eerily mirrors our current political situation, with people being quieted and stifled simply for speaking out against the current system.

It is also goes to show that a person of a different color, creed, or sexual orientation can hold political office just as well as any former leader. We are deep in a national debate between Obama and Clinton, but when it really comes down to it, the color or the gender or religion has nothing to do with how they will hold office. Sure, their individual experiences will aid in their decision-making, most likely making them more compassionate leaders, but it has nothing to do with their abilities. What we do know, is that their election will bring a positive change to this country, one that will hopefully be read about more in the history books than Milk is now. As Milk said himself, "If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door." Hopefully, whoever wins this current election, will help open one more door.

It's a shame that Milk's assassin received the short sentence that he did, proving that then and even now, gays still have a lot of work to do to be considered equal citizens. There is still a lot of bigotry that exists, but as a straight man of color, I am just existed to see this movie so that it may open the gates of discussion and hopefully bring a more tolerant viewpoint to today's society. It is important to realize that this seemingly political story is deeply embedded in all of our personal histories, and it is time we finally get to see our past, so that we may grow and learn for our future.

10 February 2008

Jack Johnson Leading the Way: The Environmental Initiative in Music and Entertainment

Musician Jack Johnson has most notably been linked to his relaxing fireside melodies and surfer heritage, but now he can add one more attribute to that list: environmental entrepreneur. Last summer, Johnson and his team completed work on a fully solar-powered recording studio they called The Plastic Plant, which housed the complete production of his new album, Sleep Through The Static, released this week. Bamboo stalks create the floorboards and the walls are insulated with recycled blue jeans. During the building process there were no major mishaps or roadblocks. When asked about the productivity of the new studio, the only disparity Johnson (pictured left recording in the studio) could note is that, "it feels nice to use the solar-powered studio, but there’s no difference when you’re inside." The misconception is that converting to a more environmentally friendly lifestyle will be more expensive and time-consuming, but the limited funds of the indie-labeled, simple-living Johnson should help prove otherwise.

So far a relatively small number of entertainment sources have employed eco-friendly efforts, but those who have have seen incredible results already. The Philadelphia Eagles were the first major sports team to start a green initiative back in 2003, introducing solar panels and more trees and shrubbery to their home stadium (among other things), and a spokesperson for environmental organization GreenMark (which has since worked with the Eagles, professional football teams, and similar franchises) recently said that, "“If we do it right, [going green] should not cost any more money than it normally would,” continuing, “We can leverage commercial investments into green events the same way we’re doing elsewhere in sports because there’s a payback in the companies that want to align with us.” Meaning, companies that pay for normal advertising are willing (and probably more likely) to invest in a landmark and innovative idea. There is risk involved since this is setting precedent and no one knows for certain how great the financial reward will be, but there is risk in all aspects of business, and it is better to take that step in a positive direction that will help the environment instead of the negative trend of wasting energy that we have become accustomed to in the American society. Entertainment companies should not look at this change as a detriment, but as an asset since they will produce the same (or even better) quality product for equal or lesser value. As the concept becomes more widespread “Green building materials will become less expensive to produce and last longer,” the GreenMark spokesperson said, thereby essentially creating more bang for their buck.

Following L.E.E.D (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) regulations, creating more eco-friendly studios, stadiums, and venues would not only cost less to build, but less to run and maintain as well. L.E.E.D buildings use less energy and water, and for artists who are continually rushed to finish an album because of the high price of studio time can now begin to breathe a little easier and slow down the recording process. Record companies are already losing money due to illegal file-sharing, so the smart solution would be to cut as many unnecessary expenditures as possible so that the total loss is not as drastic as it has been. Another way to cut cost and benefit the environment is to continually support a transition to digital music as opposed to physical disc production. While it is not a perfect solution, it is easier, more technologically advanced, and cost effective as the price of printing discs and record store overhead are no longer necessary.

In terms of an entertainer's fan base, not only will they not lose fans due to their eco-conversion, but are more likely to gain an increasing number of supporters. On July 7, 2007 Former President Al Gore brought together 150 musical acts for Live Earth (pictured right), a benefit concert to raise awareness about global warming and the energy crisis. The event was broadcast to over 30 million people worldwide through television and online media, so not only was it an opportunity to raise awareness, but it was great promotion for all the artists and bands that participated. It exposed them to various new audiences and presented them as leaders in the global crusade against environmental abuse. While some say the event added to the problem, seeing as many artists took private jets to perform at the concerts, the overall good they were doing i raising awareness far outweighed the effects of their carbon emissions. Entertainment media like television and radio often forget how extremely powerful and persuasive they are. Instead of simply making artists like Justin Timberlake or Gwen Stefani pimp products for companies such as McDonald's or Hewlett-Packard, why not have them take on a fresh initiative while still working with those heavy investors? The New York Times reports that, "'McDonald's has been flailing for years because it's having trouble getting a handle on an authentic story for the company at a time when customers are looking for authenticity,' said David Altschul, president at Character, a consulting company in Portland, Ore., that specializes in creating and reviving brand characters." With the successes of the film An Inconvenient Truth and the aforementioned Live Earth, it would be in McDonald's and other corporation's best interest to join forces with the conservation effort. After the turmoil of the Bush administration, studies have shown that people want change, and it is up to world leaders (which includes entertainment media and other big corporations) to help facilitate those efforts.

In the end, Jack Johnson does not appear to be some tree-hugging health nut, but most likely a smart businessman and a concerned citizen of the world. We have the technology to change the way we use ad produce energy, but it is all a matter of who will take the first steps in the pursuit of change and progress. As Johnson stated, "It’s more just a thing of, 'Why not?' We got this new office, so why not put solar panels on the roof? Why not use recycled blue jeans for the insulation?" It may be difficult in the beginning given our dependence on oil and other carbon burning resources, but in the grand scheme of things it does not take a lot of effort to make a big change that is beneficial for both the on-going pursuit of capitalism and most importantly--Mother Earth.
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