Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Read, Listen, Watch: A Couple of Eclectic Recommendations

We all like to recommend things to our friends and family, right? But sometimes they just don’t want to listen, do they? Well, every now and again it seems like that to me, but in any case:

What have you guys been into lately? Consumed any good books or heard any songs you just can’t get over right now? Here are some things that I’ve recently been enjoying that I would highly recommend to anyone! (Well okay, maybe not anyone. But most people.)
And keep in mind that many of these things aren’t per say “new” as I’m just discovering them now, or it has taken me a while to really appreciate them/get through them, etc. And of course my tastes might be a bit different than yours, so take it all with a grain of salt. These are just a couple of things to consider or maybe check out, you know?


Looking for Alaska – John Green
This summer I was on a real John Green kick. I read Looking for Alaska and fell absolutely in love with his fun yet touching style of writing. It’s witty and clever, but not too over the top: easy to get through but not completely without themes or real characters. After I read Looking for Alaska, however, none of his other novels that I read seemed to live up to it. It’s not that the rest aren’t good and I didn’t enjoy them! I just didn’t enjoy them or connect to them quite as much as I did with this story about friendship, broken pasts, love, loss, and questions about life and death.

Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card
I actually read this novel back in the eighth grade, and while I enjoyed it back then, I didn’t really “get it” entirely. It fell back into my radar when I heard that there was going to be a movie adaptation of the novel; from what I could remember, it seemed like this would be a very difficult story to translate to the big screen. After rereading it I stick by this thought that it’s essentially un-filmable, but even more than that, I understood many more of the political and psychological nuances throughout the story. It’s easy to follow, despite being complex on many levels, and the subject of such young, yet violent and adult-like children can be tough to get around, but overall, it’s such a rich story that I can now see why many consider it a science-fiction “classic”.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
Over the summer I also managed to get through four of the novels in this series (I plan on finishing the last two soon), and despite them being quick and outlandish and ridiculous, I absolutely love them. I think it has to do with Douglas Adams’ style of writing. He is so matter-of-fact yet nonsensical at the same time, and it makes for some seriously intriguing passages. The stories themselves don’t have to fully make sense (kind of like any given episode of “Doctor Who”), but it’s the overall British humor and grounding character of Arthur Dent that makes it all the worthwhile. Plus, I was definitely picturing Arthur Dent as Martin Freeman the entire time, which is always enjoyable (but don’t even get me started on the lackluster movie adaptation of the first novel).

The Civil Wars – Barton Hollow
I don’t know what it is about these two musicians, but they work together like pure magic. A musical duo of sweet harmonies and folky, country-esque guitar, I just fell in love with the Civil Wars, and their newest album Barton Hollow is ful of really pretty songs, as well as one incredible upbeat number for which the album is named. Their voices are both brilliant as well as the reminiscing lyrics. And for some strange reason, I can’t help but imagine John Hawkes quietly plucking away some of the melodies in a southern indie film or something like that (but more on him later).
Favourite Tracks: “20 Years,” “Falling,” “Barton Hollow”

LP – Live at EastWest Studios
After going to Edmonton’s Sonic Boom festival for the third time this year, I left with a new love, and that love was LP. I had never heard of her before, but her short set early in the lineup was probably my favourite of the day. With such interesting vocals and the incorporation of my instrument of choice (the ukulele) in her songs, I knew I had to purchase an album of hers as soon as I got home. On iTunes right now she mostly has some singles available, but I decided to purchase her short album, which was predominantly recorded live at EastWest studios. Some might not enjoy live albums as much as music polished in the studio, but trust me, she sounds incredible live and I doubt much refining would even be done in the studio, it sounds so good. I’m sure she will continue to create more great music in the years to come, and I anxiously await that.
Favourite Tracks: “Into the Wild,” “Tokyo Sunrise”


Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005)
In all honesty? I often find Miranda July’s writing and performance pieces to be a bit cloying. But this movie of hers struck me as something else entirely. I decided to give it a shot, and I don’t know what exactly it is about this eclectic collection of characters, --all in different places in their lives, all dealing with different things-- that resonated with me so much, but it did. The style is soft and a little whimsical, but it feels really genuine to me. Lately I’ve been finding that a lot of things that are trying to be really “quirky” or filled with “whimsy” these days come off as a little bit forced. But this film hits just the right balance of being unique in an incredibly honest way. Oh, and as I mentioned before, I just fell in love with John Hawkes in this movie. I mean I’ve already come to recognize him as an incredibly talented actor, but seeing this really sweet and subtle side to his craft was a huge treat for me.

Attack the Block (2011)
A small gang of totally chavy (oh I do hope I used that term correctly) teenagers in Brixton, England… That have to defend their neighborhood from an alien invasion. Yes, yes, I know that synopsis sounds ridiculous, and you know what? It is just that. But it is so enjoyable because of the outlandishness of it all. Also the really authentic sounding language that these kids talk in and the effortlessness of their performances really brings the whole thing together. Hey, it might not be Shakespeare or full of deep themes relating to the human condition, but it is a heck of a lot of fun.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits (2012)
Because what kind of adult doesn’t like the odd animated film? To be honest, I think many children would totally miss a lot of the jokes that go on in this film, especially the slightly naughty ones (oh my!). And yet, it is full of the cheesy messages about friendship and bravery and all those kinds of things that we’ve come to expect from children’s movies. But what makes it so enjoyable is the absurdist and incredibly British humor of it all (which is a statement that also applies to Attack the Block). Also –and this might just be something that I enjoy-- when films meddle about with historical tales without trying to come across as serious or what “actually” happened, it can be a lot of fun. We all remember Inglorious Basterds, right? Okay okay, so it’s not quite like that, it’s actually hard to explain, but it’s a short movie so just give it a shot one day, alright? Martin Freeman and David Tennant do voice work in it too, if that helps to persuade you?

And with that, I shall finish off my list of things I’ve enjoyed lately, though it is by no means an exhaustive list! Just some highlights.
Is there anyone out there that also wants to make some recommendations that people should check out?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Although You May Try, You are Not the Characters You Love: Exploring "Experience Taking"

There’s this new theory circulating called “Experience Taking” which seems to suggest that if you read a book, follow a character on film, etc, and connect with them, you might find yourself developing some of their characteristic attributes. That is to say, the more you like a character, the more you will become like them. Or something like that. (See an article on the study HERE, mainly focused on book-reading.)

I can believe this to an extent: Who is to say that if you like someone’s manner of speaking that you might not try to emulate it? Who is to say that I haven’t taken the Tyrion Lannister route and started wearing my own faults like armor as a way of turning others off hurting me with them? How can I deny that I don’t make facial expressions in a very John Watson-esque manner when people exasperate me?

But on the other hand, who we are fundamentally is not determined by what we see but by our own experiences. We are being shaped by other’s behaviors as children, in our first stages of development, and at this time we can’t really say that any fictional presences have a huge influence on who we are. However it is true that we are also constantly changing and growing throughout our entire lives, and are influenced by those people around us. But is simply seeing how someone acts without interacting with them enough to affect us? Do we not have to engage with them, see their responses towards us and possible try and determine their opinions of us in order to see how alike we are to them or how much we want to try and please them by acting like them? Okay, so that was a mouthful, but in essence, I don't know how accurate we can be in determining how seeing a portrayal of a person can affect us. Firsthand interaction is often far more influential, but to what extent do people who read a book or watch someone's lives believe that they are in fact interacting with someone? 
***(All these questions makes me think that I need to study my Social Psychology a bit more before making any assumptions whatsoever. Regardless:)

And yet, because of this idea that the characters you like are somewhat telling of who you are or who you want to be as a person, I sometimes wonder if people worry about me; I worry because often times, my favorite characters in series are those who are the most psychotic, the most chaotic, the most complex. As you may have seen in my previous posts, I often love villainous characters (in films and television at least) because of the strong performances behind them. But even without those, I often find myself loving the most damaged of characters. I’d hate to call them all “evil,” it’s just that often they come off as the antagonist because of being psychologically erratic or unstable. It’s not because I want to know people like this or even be like this myself, I just find that these characters are often the most fascinating, and that is why I take so strongly to them. Each one has their weak points and strong points, and often have a far more interesting story of their past, present, and even future than the solely righteous or predictably “good” characters. Kind of like in “Six Feet Under”: I definitely wouldn’t say that any of the characters in that show were “likeable” in the least, and yet, I wanted to know more about them because of their imperfections and mistakes, even if I morally disagreed with most of their actions in the first place. It’s not that I want to be them, I just want to know more about them.

Loving Gabriel Grey/Sylar doesn’t make me want to hunt down mutations or desire unnecessarily excessive power. I want to know what has happened to him to make him crave importance and dominance.
Having an affinity for Daryl Dixon does not make me want to become a woods-savvy redneck without a qualm for gruesome violence and erratic behavior. I want to explore his past to see what his relationship to his brother and father were really like, and why he can just brush over something like being lost for days without anyone looking for him like it’s nothing.
Do I want to become an unpredictable “for-hire” criminal because of Jim Moriarty? No, I just want to observe him and his chaotic actions, because it’s somewhat thrilling when you never know what someone might do next.
Just the same as watching Thomas Barrow scheme and plot to become of a higher job rank doesn’t mean I want to be as manipulative as he is. I just want to see what kind of crazy idea could pop into someone’s head after yet another failed one.

And is it concerning that my favorite character in “American Horror Story” is Tate Langdon? Just because I like him more than the others does not mean I want to possess any of his characteristics. I just find him so interesting, especially since all of your questions about him are never fully answered. From a psychological standpoint, he would be an incredibly difficult case, but also a very interesting one. I can’t forgive him for any of the horrible things that he did, so obviously I haven’t “Experience Taken” enough to think that these immoral acts are okay, but I still want to get inside his brain and know why; and it still hurts me to see people hurting when they show compassion and vulnerability to others, which he still manages to do, despite all his faults. And that complexity of humanity is so fascinating to me, why wouldn’t I be taken with such a rich and indefinable personality?

But where am I going with all of this? I suppose in the end, I am wondering how much stock we should put in this “Experience Taking” idea. On the one hand, surrounding yourself with a certain manner of speaking can definitely influence you in some of the phrases you use and such (I mean, who hasn’t picked up a couple of Whovian-isms after 50 years of time-travelling adventures, right? No? Just me, then?). And maybe by immersing ourselves in fictions that deal with certain subjects, types of people, actions, etc, we can become more conditioned towards them and have less of a reaction: see them as less adverse or concerning or shocking or something along those lines. But I’d hold off on saying that fiction can change who we fundamentally are as people. As adults, we should be able to separate fantasy from reality. However, the keyword in that sentence was “should”, and I know some people still have difficulty.

Maybe some more research should be done on this topic, especially considering how the original study was somewhat weak in presentation, at least in my opinion. I don’t know the exact details of course, but it seemed to be missing a couple of variables that could influence results, though really I'd have to look more into it. Either way, this study was very interesting to me, seeing as media and fiction is a large part of our world – especially mine—in this modern age. And even though I might not hold too much creed in regards to the idea of “Experience Taking” as of now, it might be intriguing to see where it goes from here in the years to come.
But what do you think about all of this?