Monday, May 30, 2011

The Digital Revolution: Why 2011 is Like 1984.

On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh.
And you'll see why 1984 won't be like "1984".

But what would it be like after 1984?

After watching and analysing the science fiction films TRON (1982) and its sequel TRON: Legacy (2010) closely for a film report, I really wanted to share my insights with others as it became clear that the films provide interesting social commentary not only of the 1980s but also of recent times. I have decided to focus on the digital revolution for my presentation as it is part of history which attaches itself to the 80s but has not been given a great deal of attention, most likely due to it being a significant aspect of American culture which has continued to evolve since its birth at the beginning of the decade; digital technology to society has become comparable to our daily intake of food and water, and close analysis of it has inevitably slipped away.

To ground my presentation, the debut of Apple's Macintosh computer via a television commercial aired in 1984 really defines what pioneers of the digital revolution set out to do in the 80s. Darting through a dystopian world in which individuality is suppressed (similar to that of George Orwell's 1948 novel 1984), an athletic heroine (a symbolism of superiority, similar to how Apple identifies itself in its more contemporary "I'm a Mac / I'm a PC" advertising campaign) abruptly stops and hurls a sledgehammer at a TV image of Big Brother. This can be perceived as an implied representation of Apple's dominant competitor IBM as this feeds into the capitalist competition of computing during the 80s where a "chip war" was emerging between companies, fighting to create the most powerful technology. The commercial ends with the message "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like 1984."; it is clear that Apple was setting itself up as the voice of the individual in a world of dominant corporations, as this commercial associates the Macintosh with an ideology of empowerment and thus the Mac supplied a vision of the future for combatting conformity and asserting individual - and intellectual - freedom.

Notably, home computers were familiar and desirable during the 80s but were not the most affordable things. They still saw an unpredictable boom from the office to home however with the help of advertising, let alone the entrepreneurism which outsmarted big corporations tapping into this idea of individuality from creator to consumer. The potential power of cyberspace was recognised early on, reinforced by the race towards the best technology in the way of a "chip war" as microprocessor performance was steadily increasing. Interestingly, this potential power was seen to have more negative implications than positive, as anxieties of a future "cyber war" began to emerge. Films about fears over technology, fascism and corporate control over society such as Blade Runner (1982), TRON and WarGames (1983) were released revealing contemporary anxieties about cyberculture while also conveying a sense of corporation hatred. Analysing this fear today - in a time where digital technology is close to peaking - there is a sense that these anxieties were misguided as the perception of computers exceeded their actual potential. For example, in TRON, Dr. Walter Gibbs claims that "computers and programs will start thinking and the people will stop"; this may be incomprehendable today, but it is still an idea ingrained in our consciousness as technology continues to advance. Although the bar for technology was raised very high in the digital era's early years, pioneers are still striving to achieve such artificial intelligence thrity years on.

TRON is a suitable film to analyse in regards to the digital era as it is representative of many concerns associated with it. Being a Disney production and one of the very first films to feature CGI, it may come across as flashy on face value but closer inspection of the film reveals some much deeper meanings. The idea of entering a new digital world in itself carries cultural and political undertones of an advancing society and the tagline of the film reflects this: 'A world inside the computer where man has never been. Never before now.' This echoes the mentality of many when man first walked on the moon; it is as if after going into outer space, attempting to break into the the "inner space" realm of the digital world was the next thing ingrained in the pioneering American consciousness of the 80s. The binary themes of man vs. machine and individual vs. corporation are also explored throughout the plot; the Master Control System - TRON's virtual villain of artificial intelligence - forces computer programmer Flynn to fight in a series of gladiatorial games, representing an oppressive, dystopian virtual system.

Set 20 years in the future, TRON's sequel TRON: Legacy (2010) expands on its predecessor by providing a linear plotline following Flynn's son Sam who hacks his way into the system in an attempt to find his father who is trapped in his own videogame 'Tron' which continues to evolve within the virtual world. CLU - Flynn's clone from the original film - was created in order to help Flynn create a utopian digital world but he turns into a controlling fascist, creating an army to control society. The character TRON is corrupted by CLU but claims "I fight for the users!" towards the end of the film showing that the battle of individual vs. corporation still exists almost thirty years after TRON was released in cinemas. This raises the question of why a sequel has been made now as it is clearly another cautionary vision of the digital world; computer users today are arguably not as free as entrepreneurs of the 80s had intended them to be as the fading promise of a digital revolution from today's big corporations such as Google and YouTube is prevalent. Flynn's final speech is very insightful about the film's meaning as he claims that perfection "is unknowable, it is impossible but it is also right in front of us all the time" suggesting that people should appreciate the simple things in life and not the constant bombardment of technological gadgets; by the end of the film, they become essentially meaningless.

So why is this relevant to the 80s? Considering all of this, placing Apple's Macintosh commercial of 1984 in a modern context is very telling of the digital era both past and present. Ironically, the dystopian world presented before us in the commercial resembles today's reality as the brainwashed people lined up accepting the fascist regime of 1984 resembles the endless queues of conformity outside Apple stores. The message of TRON: Legacy then is this: entrepreneurs of the 80s sold out on the consumers and did not achieve asserting their original values of individuality and intellectual freedom in the long run.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Vietnam memorial was completed in 1982 as an echo for all those that gave their lives for service in Vietnam. What’s equally special about this memorial is that there is no indication of difference or change and that all those that fought in the war were equal, all were soldiers, all were American. In the move ‘We were soldiers’ released in 2002, Mel Gibson’s character ‘Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore’ gives a interesting and touching speech that links with this notion. (

Upon visiting the memorial a few times myself, I find this, along with others throughout the Washington National Mall to be strong, touching and emotional. Whilst walking towards the memorial itself, there are books with the full names of those that served in Vietnam as well as all those that gave their lives for a cause that was under much scrutiny back home in the United States. I find it hard during every visit to walk along the memorial, seeing others doing the same, perhaps with the knowledge of ancestors or loved ones that gave their lives to contribute to the war.

I found this interesting website for the memorial when doing a Google search that is a testament to all those that served and gave their lives while serving.

When thinking of what effects the Vietnam War had on Americans, I feel that the representations are often found in media sources such as film and television however I feel true thoughts can often be found best in lyrics. Just Google Vietnam War music into Google and a whole host of music will appear giving individuals’ perceptions and their views on the war. For the second week running my input will be a song by Metallica in their song ‘Disposable Heroes’ from their 1986 Master of Puppets album. Metallica often keep to a tradition of featuring a war song on every album so this song was no exception. The lyrics echo a soldier’s thoughts, actions and experiences while on the war front. The song bases itself from the soldiers view however during the chorus lyrics we get the impression of the worlds given from his commanding officers. The song goes into detail on the helplessness and dehumanising conditions of war and his feel of lack of worth and meaning. During the chorus we hear the demining words of a second person who we assume is like the “Puppet Master”, “You will do what I say, when I say, back to the front!” and “You will die, when I say” the song represents a wider issue of that of a solider fighting during the Vietnam War. By the end of the song the solder has given up, emotionally and accepts his fate.

Looking over both points of research it’s clear that there was a feel during the 1980’s of moaning towards what had happened during the previous few decades and a sense that these should be remembered.

Vietnam in film.

The Vietnam war appears in many films, both as the focal point of the film, or as a sideline to the main story. My favourite film of all time is a film called Big Fish, in this you travel through the words of the main characters fathers stories, re-living his fantastical life. One of the stories his father tells is of his times in Vietnam, where he parachutes into the main Vietnamese camp to retrieve some documents in order to win the war. I think in this film it portrays the Americans as doing the right thing in the war, the vietnamese soldiers as evil and the vietnamese singers as willing and ready to help an American solider.

I think the way the war is portrayed in films is very important, as for people like myself who weren't alive during the war, it shapes our opinions on it. We'll all remember the depiction of the Vietnam war in Forest Gump (Well i hope you do!) whereas I'm sure not everyone was a clueless as Forest it shows how people fought in the war because they believed it to be right, whereas when they returned home they saw the massive protests that awaited them.

One of my favourite Vietnam war films is apocalypse now, based on a Novel I studied during my A-Level English, The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Although this book was one of the most difficult to read and was written a century before the Vietnam war, despite this Coppola decided to base most of the script on this novel. A novel about travelling through the Congo of Africa with the threat of the ever present 'natives' along the way. The likenesses between the novel and the realities of the Vietnam war fit perfectly and the fears held by the American government are very similar to the fears held by Marlow (the main character) of the Natives.

Remembering Vietnam with the Watchmen

"What happened to the American Dream? It came true! You're lookin' at it." - The Comedian

Depictions of the Vietnam War in mainstream media during the 1980s derived mainly from film and television, but I've decided to focus on the landmark comic book series Watchmen. Written by DC Comics veteran Alan Moore and published during 1986 and 1987, Watchmen depicts an alternate history where superheroes emerged in the 1940s and 1960s, assisting the United States in winning the Vietnam War. With the country edging towards a nuclear war with the Soviet Union, the comics echoed contemporary fears of the time with the added twist of costumed superheroes working for the government.

The Vietnam War was a conflict involving the United States roughly from 1965 to 1975; a conflict which was largely civil between the communists of North Vietnam and the democratic area of South Vietnam. Attempting to prevent another country from becoming a communist nation, the US intervened by sending hundreds of thousands of troops to Vietnam and approximately 58,000 of which did not come home. It is widely considered an unpopular war - one that generated much societal protest on home soil. In reality, it is generally held that the US lost the war as forces were withdrawn at the end of the prolonged conflict and its ally South Vietnam fell to the Communist forces of North Vietnam in 1975. In Watchmen however, the conflict is settled in only two months as President Nixon's dispatch of Dr. Manhattan ensures a US victory by 1971, and Vietnam later becomes the 51st state. Described by Soviets as an "imperialist weapon" within the comic, Dr. Manhattan is perceived by many North Vietnamese as some sort of deity as they expressed their desire to surrender to him personally. As Dr. Milton Glass states in the comic:

"I never said, "The superman exists, and he's American." What I said was,"God exists, and he's American.""

Coming from a comic, Dr. Manhattan's story of how he gained such a godly status is of course elaborate. After an accident involving a nuclear physics experiment, the then Dr. Osterman was taken outside the physical realm and returned with god-like powers including superhuman strength, telekinesis, the ability to teleport himself or others and control over matter. While his military backers branded him as a superhero and shaped him into something lethal - giving him the name "Doctor Manhattan" chosen for its ominous asssociations it would raise in America's enemies - he grew increasingly disinterested in human affairs and became unable to connect with others. Theoretically speaking, it is interesting to consider what would have happened if this was a reality: could Dr. Manhattan really have won the Vietnam War? Probably not. Such super powers as super strength, teleportation, telekinesis and indestructibility would have been irresistible in a standard main-force confrontation, but it is unclear as to whether they would have contributed meaningfully to the strategy that was critical to retaking control of the South Vietnamese countryside in the mid-60s.

Undoubtedly the most significant character in Watchmen, The Comedian (Edward Blake) fought alongside Dr. Manhattan in Vietnam.

"He suits the climate here: the madness, the pointless butchery... as I come to understand Vietnam and what it implies about the human condition, I also realize that few humans will permit themselves such an understanding. Blake's different. He understands perfectly...... and he doesn't care."

Interestingly, he is evil to the core and the only character who has no likable features. One reading of his character can be that his time in Vietnam gave him a governmentally sanctioned way to act without consequence and at one point Blake claims that he is merely teaching the public a lesson about the cruelty of the world by embodying it. The chaos and destruction in which he thrives on sets up The Comedian's biggest joke: the irony that the people Blake inflicts his cruelty upon are in fact the ones from whom he had obtained his license. During the closing days of the war, it is in Vietnam's capital city, Saigon that The Comedian drunkenly shoots a young Vietnamese woman whom he had impregnated during a physical relationship. The woman is hurt and offended by Blake's desire to leave her and the country behind so she attacks him with a smashed bottle, slashing his face. In his anger, he kills her before noting that as a witness, Dr. Manhattan could easily have prevented this murder. In another significant moment, Blake reflects on how "deliberately amoral" Dr. Manhattan is and that the conflict suits him which is a point which he should have also applied to himself. Seeing and doing the worst of things in Vietnam, Blake consequently was completely hardened against such terrible exposure, representing the triumph of evil human nature. However, Blake later saves himself and becomes human after all when he finally breaks down in front of Moloch, shattering the shell that surrounded him for fifty years: "It's all a joke..."

So why is the fictional universe of Watchmen so significant when remembering Vietnam through the 1980s? Dr. Manhattan and The Comedian may be fictional constructions, but like most characters in Watchmen, they represent personality disorder at the hands of US imperialism. The Vietnam War had a devastating effect on humanity, and The Comedian is the direct embodiment of that.

Taken from the faithful 2009 film adaptation of the comics, I'll wrap up with Zack Snyder's masterful opening montage of striking images which features The Comedian assassinating JFK and Dr. Manhattan shaking hands with JFK. It is truly a work of art, connecting Americans on many levels by showing snapshots of American history woven with the characters of Watchmen in an alternate history which creates a strangely patriotic nostalgia. It is fittingly accompanied with what was to become Bob Dylan's Vietnam War protest anthem, for the 'Times They Are A-Changin''...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Reading Culture through memory: the symbol the Helicopter

From the website 'Common which has the slogan ' join the movement for the greater good' which claim to be a non profit, progressive, non partisan citizen organisation made in 1997 by two political activists Craig Brown and Lina Newhouser. This particular article was written by a professor called Robert Jensen from the department of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin Published in 2000.

The article is titled Vietnam war is a study of US crime. The main focus of the article is that the image of the last helicopters taking off the US embassy in Saigon 25 years ago can be seen as such a powerful image of the American defeat, by getting out before the Vietnamese took over from who the americans were supporting, but claims this is wrong. The problem is that American actually won the war. Propaganda is said to be what has covered the winning of the american and been replaced with a loss. the use of propaganda is said to have been used to convince the american people of a lost to obscure the real reason. The reason that American fought fought and lost the war to divert attention to the real facts of the crimes the American soldiers committed. That they did not fight establish democracy but to derail it.

'Fought with one hand tied behind our backs' is said to have been how soldiers described how they fought in the war and that they could be described as being restrained gentleman. But in reality it is the opinion of this article that the soldiers were not as it is said that they use the following methods; saturation bombing of civilian areas, counter-terroism programs that indued political assassinations, routine killings of civilians, and 11.2 million gallons of Agent Orange to destroy crops and ground cover. All of them classified as breaking International laws and being war crimes.

The overall focus and point of the article is to try and get across that the telling of this story that the Americans lost the Vietnam war is the United States continuing to evade the truth about its foreign policy.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial

This website is a dedication to those who died in Vietnam, be they Caucasion, Negroe, Male or female. It honours their lives, and the fact that each and everyone was an individual. There is a todays wall birthdays section, and a todays wall casualties. This website makes them real people, who lived, laughed, loved and died. And in the cases when a photo is shown, I actually felt my heart wrench. There was a section for Women who died in Vietnam, and the first nurse had a photo, she died a month before her 26th birthday, killed by the shrapnel from a rocket. Another nurse Captain Mary Klinker, died when the aircraft she was in crashed whilst evacuating Vietnamese orphans.
It may be that I am from a military family, but I felt a great sense of duty, maybe not for the USA as I am not from there, but I felt a sense of duty towards the greater good. All the logic of hindsight disappears, I feel drawn to joining the military and serving my country, maybe not being a hero, but certainly helping people in a job that is not run of the mill. This makes me think that that is exactly what this website is for, not only to remember, but also to recruit. It instils a sense of patriotism, and with the American flag, it feels like there is no better career plan.
There is no controversy surrounding the war on the website, when in reality there was. In reality they killed on mass, for a cause that they probably had no intimate connection with. But still they fought and died. There are the official numbers of dead, and the categories they fell under, like age, MIA and KIA, which like the photos, they hit home. These names were people, and these people are honoured as heroes, with the 244 men who won the Medal of Honour.

This memorial is well and truly about the commendation of life, rememberance and respect.


Platoon is a very good description of the vietnam war. It depicts American soldiers in distress and dismay at some points while still somehow doing thier duty as a soldier of the United States of America. It is a struggle both in war as well in the emotionality of what the soldiers are going through. For some the the war is all in the thier minds and for this reason some are just not cut out to fight in combat. There are a few characters that do go crazy beacause of what they see while they are stationed in Vietnam. Again, this is a war the America lost. Therefore there were many caualties and wounded soldiers. In Platoon there are also many battle hardened veterans that have already been in the country for some time. There is fine line between doing what is right and wrong and in many instances it is crossed. The main person that does this is Tom Beringers character Sargent Barnes. He menacingly and commonly breaks the GI code and goes against what is hunane. This is where the controversy of the war comes from and in Platoon this is the character and the example that they use to orchestrate this. Platoon is a controversal film because it does a good job of showing what actually happened in Vietnam, or at least something similar to it.

Miss Saigon And The Bui Doi

The Vietnam War is a difficult and touchy subject, even 35 years after it ended. The legacy it has left is not one that could be referred to as a 'proud moment' in American history, but rather more an unwanted disaster that in my personal opinion should not have happened. We haven't really covered the war in any of our modules, which is a shame because it's an extremely interesting subject. I signed up to take an entire module on it in Eau-Claire, but unfortunately it did not run. But I did learn about it in my History class and the opinion of the Americans was an almost resounding 'shouldn't have happened'. The point of this week’s blog is not to give you a history of the war so I've provided this link to the BBC website.

I could talk for many hours about my opinions on the war, but I'm sure you aren’t interested in the ramblings of a mad person, so I will get to the point of my blog this week which is the 1989 musical, Miss Saigon.

Loosely based on Puccini's Madame Butterfly, Miss Saigon is set in the last 3 weeks before the fall of Saigon in 1975. In Act 1, Kim, a 17-year-old orphan is working in a sleazy Saigon bar where she and the other bar girls are raffled off on a nightly basis to the American GI's that habit this bar. Chris and John, two American GI's are there the night Kim starts her job and Chris immediately takes a liking to her. John pay's for Kim so that she and Chris can spend the night together, which they do. Chris then announces to John that he will be spending the rest of his time in Vietnam with Kim and buy's her from her pimp, The Engineer. John warns Chris that the Viet Cong are closing in and they need to get out of there. After Chris and Kim declare their love for each other, the other girls from the club sing traditional Vietnamese wedding songs and Chris and Kim are blessed.

We flash-forward 3 years to 1978 and in Ho Chi Minh City there is a celebration of the third anniversary of the reunification of Vietnam. Kim is in hiding with her little boy Tam, who yes, is Chris's son. Chris however, is on the other side of the world in bed with his wife, Ellen. He is having sleepless nights because of the war and because he believes Kim to be dead. Back in Vietnam, The Engineer has been 're-educated' (brainwashed by the new Vietnamese government and retrained to believe a communist philosophy) and has been hired, to track down Kim. After a standoff between Kim and her cousin Thuy, the new Commissar (who she was promised to at 13 but rejected him in Act 1), she kills him for wanting to kill Tam for being half-American. The Engineer tells Kim that he is now Tam's Uncle and he is their ticket to the US. They set out to Bangkok with the rest of the 'boat people' (name given to refugees).

In Act 2, John now works for an agency that works to find Bui Doi (children of American GI's and Vietnamese mothers) and connect them with their fathers. John tells Chris that Kim is still alive and also about Tam. He suggest that he, Chris and Ellen go to Bangkok and find them. When John finds Kim, he doesn't have the heart to tell him that he's remarried. The Engineer doesn't trust John, and tells Kim to find Chris herself, so she runs off in search of him. She suffers flashbacks of the day Chris left. The South Vietnamese people were trying to break through the gates of the US Embassy and there is a huge helicopter on top of the roof waiting to whisk the GI's away. Minutes later, the Viet Cong finally break through.

Back in 1978, Kim finds Ellen in Chris's hotel room where she begs Ellen to take Tam to America so he can have a better life. When Ellen refuses and says Chris feels the same, Kim flees and tries to find Chris. When John and Chris turn up at the hotel, Ellen tells them what happened but Chris remains adamant that he will stay with Ellen and provide monetary support for Tam, but from the US. Kim lies to The Engineer and tells him they are still going to the US, to his delight and he sings a song called ‘The American Dream’ and sings about how he plans to manipulate it to his gains. When the three Americans show up, the Engineer takes them to see Kim and Tam. When they arrive, Kim tells her son that he should be happy now that he has a father. She says that she cannot go with him but she will always be watching over him. The Engineer brings Tam outside to meet his father, at which point, Kim steps behind a curtain and shoot's herself. She lay's dying in Chris's arms as they share one final kiss before the curtain falls and Kim dies.

Miss Saigon is one of my favourite musicals, not just because of the powerful numbers, but because of the background that it is based upon. It was actually created by French Composer Claude-Michel Schönberg, Tunisian-born Lyricist Alain Boubil and American Lyricist Richard Maltby Jr, so it wasn't too heavily influenced in one direction or another. The inspiration for the story was this photo of a child being taken away from her mother to start a new life in America.

Claude-Michel Schonberg said, “The silence of this woman stunned by her grief was a shout of pain louder than any of the earth’s laments. The child’s tears were the final condemnation of all wars which shatter people who love each other. Behind this particular picture lay a background of years of enquiries and bureaucratic formalities, in order to find the ex-solider from the other side of the world, with whom the woman had shared a brief moment of her life. She knew, as only a mother could, that beyond this departure gate there was both a new life for her daughter and no life at all for her, and that she had willed it. This photograph was for Alain and I, was the start of everything… ”

The main themes of the story are the about the ones who were left behind to suffer the consequences after Saigon fell on April 30th 1975 and those who had to make the ultimate sacrifice. 58,000 American troops were killed during the war and the number of Vietnamese is actually uncalculated. What really choke's me up about the war is not the trauma the American Veteran's have suffered, or how the US Government have failed to look after their own military but the poor children who were fathered by the American GI's and then left without a second thought. The Bui-Doi or 'Dust of Life' are at the heart of Miss Saigon. If it wasn’t for Tam, then Kim could have probably lived with the memory of Chris and as painful as it was, she could have probably moved on. But being left to raise a child that would be rejected by society would be a truly horrific task to handle. What many people don’t realise is that because these poor children were 'half-caste' they were seen as children of the enemy. One of the songs in Miss Saigon is called 'Let Me See His Western Nose'. Because these children were American in appearance, they were rejected by society because so much hatred was geared towards the US in the aftermath of the war. Some were lucky enough to be airlifted out of Vietnam in Operation Babylift, a plan formulated by President Gerald Ford. Some 3,300 Amerasian children and orphans of war were flown to countries like the US, Canada, France and Australia. In 1989 the Amerasian Homecoming Act was implemented meaning that any child born to an American father was allowed to emigrate to the US with members of their immediate family. Exact numbers are unclear, but it is believed that 23,000 Amerasians and 68,000 of their relatives arrived in the US under this act. I would like to say that they were welcomed with opened arms, but alas, this isn't the case.

Shockingly, only 3% of Amerasian immigrants had been successful in actually meeting their fathers. According to a study by Ohio State University, only 76% wanted to meet their father and only 30% knew their fathers names. The reality of the situation was that the fathers did not want to know their illegitimate children. Embarrassment, fear, and memories of a forgotten past were things that kept the children away from knowing true happiness with the father's that could have provided a better life for them. Children born between 1962 and 1975 would have been grown up by the time they emigrated, but because they were shunned in their home countries, they were poorly educated and unable to find jobs. Aside from not able to provide for themselves they also face the barrier of not being able to take part in the naturalisation process because they do not know English, thus rendering them alienated on both sides. Once they were scattered across the US but now much like the Italian, Latino and Jewish communities, you will find them in their own little hub in metropolis type cities where they can speak their native tongue and they can work at low-level paying jobs, trying to live above the poverty line. 'Dust of Life' is meant to bring about connotations of children who have been abandoned and who drift through life without a purpose. Unfortunately, this is exactly what they are.

Of course there are action groups to help these poor people, but the damage has already been done. Boat People SOS (BPSOS) is a group operating out of Virginia that aims to "empower, organize, and equip Vietnamese individuals and communities in their pursuit of liberty and dignity." It is a step in the right direction but 35 years on from the end of the war, we are still reminded of the effects. The 80s was a very poignant decade for films to made about the war. Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July and Full Metal Jacket are just some of the films that were made. Most depictions paint the Americans as the heroes, but if you step back and think for a minute, you have to wonder whether they really are. Of course, Ho Chi Minh needed to be stopped, but at what cost? Despite being produced at the end of the 80s, Miss Saigon was a reminder that Vietnam is not something that is going to be forgotten easily. Through the words of the song and the tragic love story that was almost doomed from the beginning, an audience is reminded that war affects everyone, even the generational gap. And sometimes, you have to make the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good.

The US may have lost the battle, but they won the war. The biggest Nike factory in the world is based in Vietnam. But who work in those factories? The Bui Doi? I'd like for us all just to think about that the next time we're pounding the concrete or pushing ourselves at the gym.

The Vietnam War as portrayed by Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket (1987)

It is interesting to identify the reactions many Americans had to the Vietnam War, a war that began in 1955 and finished 20 years later 1975. Many Americans would have had first hand experience, particularly those Marines who served their country during those years. Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket seems to blur the perceptions and representations of what life amidst the Vietnam War was like.
The article weighs up the real and surreal nature of the film and its own representation of the Vietnam War in general.
We may argue that Full Metal Jacket was a realistic film, in its disturbingly 'real' visual representations of its characters, e.g. the vulnerability shown by the character 'Gomer Pyle' and the rejection of robotic marine values of zero mercy, zero emotion and zero weakness as rejected by Matthew Modine's character 'Joker'. The historical representations of Vietnam at the time can be considered as real, in the use of a little girl as a sniper towards the end of the film. The Viet Cong's ability to control its peasants in support of a communist kingdom. A kingdom that ultimately Western republican powers fronted by Reagan in the 80s sort to destroy.

Yet despite this element of reality, the movie is also unrealistic in Kubrick's directorial style and in his satirical portrayal of Sergeant Hartman, a ruthless, ill-tempered, control freak, the atypical drill Sergeant imitated in various cartoons and reality TV. Kubrick seems to counterbalance the element of comedy with the element of torture and psychological bullying as 'Gomer Pyle' is made the centre of attention and the symbol of the fall guy to all the other recruitments. The article identifies this sense of subjectivity with a close analysis of camera shots, most notably the one in which 'Pyle' is made to stand whilst all his belongings are scattered all over the floor and watch his platoon do push up as penance for not giving 'Pyle' the 'proper motivation'.
The bullying and psychological pressure becomes so intense that it ultimately explodes and Hartman in constructing this 'Monster' becomes the 'Frankenstein', the victim of his own construction.
The impact of the Vietnam War on this particular part of the film is over-emphasised and blown to max, as Hartman conditions his recruits to expect the worst and become hard to it. Private Joker's quote towards the end of the film sums up a general feeling that may have been true to many recruits at that time, 'I'm in a world of shit... yes. But I am alive. And I am not afraid.'
The article ultimately establishes Kubrick's film as both real and surreal; the documentary style camera work set against the surreal nature of its uses as identified in the scene in which the camera shows a point of view shot from a dead soldiers eyes, looking up at the characters who offer various passing comments.

Maya Lin - Vietnam War Memorial

Maya Lin was the 20 year old architect who won a competition to create the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC. She had already designed many buildings including the memorial to the Civil Rights Movement in Montgomery, Alabama. Controversy surrounded the design as soon as it was revealed as many people said it was too simple and "looked like a big black scar on the earth." Lin wanted to make the memorial special so she put the names in chronological order and not alphabetical order so the names weren't lost in a see of the same surname. The article tells of how many people in the 1980s were offended that the architect was an American Chinese student designing a memorial against the biggest American defeat against an Asian country. They thought that it should have been an American who designed it, and not of Asian origin as it was disrespectful to those who fought and died in the War. She was even accused of being a Communist by Conservative politician Pat Buchanan. She defended herself by saying that whatever design she made would cause controversy as it was only 6 years after the War had ended, so all the emotion was still raw and people were bound to criticise her design whatever she did. This shows that maybe the memorial was created too soon after the War as the emotions of the nation were still raw which made the memorial open to criticism.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Will songs today still be that popular?

For this week’s blog I think it’s important to discuss how many of the American musicians and bands that came out of the 80’s era are still going strong today. With the likes of Madonna, Aerosmith, Guns n’ Roses, Bruce Springsteen there is plenty of proof that the music people fell in love with 30 years ago are still fan favourites today and are even loved by a new generation of fans.
I chose Metallica for the first choice as growing up and going through a Metal stage in my life, Metallica were one of those bands, formed well before my lifetime that are still going strong today. When going to see them at a concert I remember thinking to myself, were the fans this crazy about them in their early days in the 80’s? Metallica inspired a younger 13 years old me to pick up and start playing in the drums. Something I’ve continued to love and enjoy to this day and can even still remember how to play many of their songs.
The first song I choose was the Metallica song ‘For whom the bell tolls’. The song is personally important as it was the first Metallica song I listened to and secondly it was the first song I ever learned how to play on drums and even that little 13 year old played the song at a school assembly.

When finding a music video today of something that is similar to Metallica is difficult as it seems that although thrash metal is still popular today, it seems only apparent with aging bands of 80’s era. Today, the music industry seems far more concerned with single artist or music groups rather than instrumental “bands” (ju8st look at the bother blogs) Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean these type of band aren’t around.
Avenged Sevenfold, I believe will still be the minds of metal loves come 30 years, perhaps even with the same type of new generation movement. They carry the same story of Metallica, starting young, having a death within the band, and living the fast lifestyle. They are quoted even to name Metallica as one of their influences, like many rock bands today. I selected another song I learnt to play once to play for a gig and remains one of my favourite by the band.

Cyndi Lauper and Ke$ha

Althouguh she never quite reached the same levels of sucess that were reached by Madonna, Cyndi Lauper is still undeniably a true 80s Icon. Her 1983 hit Girls Just Wanna Have Fun has become perhaps one of the most instantly recognisable songs of all time. Cyndi Lauper also exhibited a frankly ludicrous fashion sense that became a trademark not just for her, but for the decade in general. In many ways Cyndi Lauper encapsulated the image of an 80s popstar as much as Madonna.

My contempory choice is Kesha, or Ke$ha as it is often written. In the way that Lady Gaga and Madonna are often associated, I also think that there are many parralels between Cynid Lauper and Kesha. Both have a kind off over the top, almost comedic fashion sense, and both occupy and slightly more lightweight role in comparison to other stars of their time, those being Madonna and Lady Gaga.

Rick Astley vs Take That

The first song I have chosen for this blog is the infamous Rick Astley's Never Gonna Give You Up.

This song was first released in 1987 and became a worldwide number one hit, it later won Best British Single at the 1988 Brit Awards. Obviously this songs popularity today is largely due to the phenomon known as Rickrolling, whereby someone will trick you into watching the video by pretending that it's something else. This has become such a popular thing to do that on April Fools Day of 2008 several major companies, including YouTube decided to rickroll all of their featured videos for the entire day.

In 2008 Rick Astley won the MTV EMA award for Best Act Ever, as voted by the people. While this song is largely viewed as a joke by many people, the lyrics do still have resonance in todays world. It is about a man telling a girl he loves how he feels about her. He's saying that's he never going to forget her, how he's always going to be there for her, and of course, how he's never going to give her up.

For my second song, I have chosen Patience by Take That.

Released in 2006, Patience is the first song on Take That's comeback album, Beautiful World. As With Rick Astley's song, Patience is all about love, however this time it is love lost. This song also won the Best British Single Award at the 2007 Brit Awards, and was voted The Record of the Year for 2006.

I think that one of the main reasons this song will still be popular in thirty or so years time is that the message of this song never grows old, people will always be losing their loved ones for one reason or another, and this song encapsulates that feeling.

The song I most associate with the 1980s is MC Hammer's "You can't touch this" but despite the parachute pants, cycling shorts, bad hair and unforgettable dance moves, it wasn't released until 1990!

Instead I've chosen another icon in Blondie. Although Blondie came onto the music scene,in the late 1970s, to me, Blondie's "Rapture" and "Heart of Glass" define the 80s. Rapture was released in 1981 as MTV was created and is reportedly one of the first songs to incorparate hip hop. Debbie Harry is visually an icon of the 80s, as a strong female with white blond hair, she was so dominant as a frontwomam, that the rest of the are amost completey forgotten! This is an example of the changing role of women in the 80s in all areas from music, art, film and business an made her a role model for a generation of women.

My song which I feel defines the noughties is Eminem and Rhianna's "love the way you lie". Released in 2010, it demonstrates the "watered down" style of rap music that Eminem pioneered with his much earlier hit "Stan" (featuring Dido) in 2001. While both songs demonstrate the format of music that seems to be dominating the charts today, I feel the collaboration with Rhianna defines the era more.

The format of rap followed by sung chorus has heavily influenced artists and is now the style of rap that dominates the music charts today. In the last year chart topping hits such as Travy McCoy's "Billiannaire" repeated Eminems's winning formula while this weeks' billboard 100 features three songs in the top 20 alone in this format and none that are just rap.

Like the beastie boys, Eminem has succeeded in making rap more accessible to the white masses and this combined with an easier listening style of rap music has ensured that this style firmly has a place in music charts of today.

Although arguably the first "crossover hit" could be attributed to Run DMC and Aerosmith's "walk this way" in 1986, Eminem succeeded in making crossover music the norm.

When Eminem released his first single in this style in 2001, he collaborated with a little known artist whose fame can be directly traced back to the success of "Stan". Now, a decade later, this music style is so mainstream that heavily established artists are regularly collaborating both with Eminem and with each other to achieve a similar sound. Like Lady Gaga being influenced by Madonna, artists for years to come will be influenced by Eminem.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

80's & contemporary music in the future.

I too have chosen Van Halen because I agree with David & I think its just as interesting for us to both post Van Halen in our blogs. I was brought up on a group of 80's & 90's songs of which 'Jump' was one, one of those mix your own cassettes my dad had in the car, Childhood memories.

Van Halen gained worldwide success with their sixth studio Album titled 1984, year of its release also. The song is their most popular hit, & to me 'Jump' is just synonymous of the 80's. David also makes a good point, the "Sex, drugs & rock n' roll" is something that correlates with the 'Less Than Zero' characters. The wacky care-free, laid back, party life style is best linked to Van Halens' lead vocalist David Lee Roth, for being real & not an exaggerated front.

This below is a perfect example of all we are looking at with David Lee Roth, Van Halen & the genre of Hard glomorized 80's rock, complete with Spandex, or tight leather pants & the huge! hair.
My contemporary choice is the Killers & when you were young although there are four or so more hits of their that I will mention.
Formed in 2001, debut album Hot Fuzz in 2004.
Amazon Uk's 3rd best selling artist of the decade.
British Radio station XFM & its viewrs voted Mr. Brightside as best song of the decade.
Rolling Stone magazine's 43rd best album of the decade.
Some of their influence comes from musicians such as New Order, Bruce Springsteen & Oasis.
Due to their sound & with the aid of their music video's, but also due to originating from Las Vegas, the Killers are often classed in a genre of Heartland rock. A sound that comes across as honest but rugged, natural and deep in meaning.
Again a band that I have listened to for years now, started & stayed a mainstream comercial success. Tracks like "Mr. Brightside", "Somebody told me" & "All thses things that Ive done", are played in clubs constantly. Perhaps residual now in 2011 but they have been consumed by a generation & I think will last a couple more yet.

Madonna // Lady Gaga

Madonna, 80s icon par excellence. I mean, c'mon, who hasn't heard one of her songs. Her 80s songs are still known today, and who has never heard of Like a Virgin?!
Not only is the song very 80s sounding, but the video just screams 1980s. Indeed, the hair, the clothes, the crazy dancing... all these things which you can associate to the Eighties are found in her music video.
Now, I'm not very big on the 80s in general, and on the music in particular, but the whole range of instruments and the beats and all just sound 80s to me. And I think that it is because it sounds like an era but at the same time is timeless that the song has lived on.

Lady Gaga has been compared to Madonna many a times. Not only is her recent single Born this Way very similar to previous Madonna songs, but her whole image echoes of the queen of pop.
In the video to her incredibly long song Alejandro, she uses images, like the gun bra, which have been previously used by Madonna. Now, I am not saying she is just a more extreme Madonna, however there are some similarities which cannot be ignored.
The reason I think Lady Gaga will be looked at as representative of our times' music is that she sounds very "now". Okay, her latest song does sound a little old school, but the rest of it is has a very contemporary feel to it. Plus, let's face it, our generation's music is no longer about music itself, it's about music videos. MVs are what help sell these days, so we can no longer dissociate the music from its video. And Lady Gaga is the prime example of the type of videos our generation is all about: extreme and sexualised. In most hit videos, there is at least one sexual image. Our generation has banalized sex and Lady Gaga's videos exemplify this nicely.

Van Halen and 80s Synth driven Arena Rock vs Outkast and the Soul/R&B/funk/rock revival



This weeks blog post fascinated me as I have long been interested in music and looked forward to posting a couple songs that I think some up both the 80s and the current times.
'Jump!' by Van Halen not only is an awesome song but also a song that for me identified the true spirit of 80s pop culture. Crazy hair, Synthesisers and killer air guitar solos in this respect courtesy of Eddie Van Halen. The song as a genre attributes itself to a brand of arena/hard rock with driving synthesisers. It would undoubtedly sound good live as shown in the video although this is a 'mock' live recording. There were I number of songs I could have chosen including Toto's Rosanna a soft rock dynamo that exploded on to the billboard charts in 83 picking up song of the year. Also bearded Texan rockers ZZ Top rolling the mainstream rock charts with their album 'Eliminator' and the full throttle Sharp Dressed Man proving that highway orientated rock was still alive and kicking in 83.
What makes Van Halen's 'Jump' so noticeable is that the song somehow captures the essence of 80s excess and care free attitude of 80s youth, something the 'blank generation' of Less Than Zero needed, if they couldn't find happiness within themselves that had to find it through uplifting songs like these. Though it is somewhat ironic that this is a song stuck to a set period, in post-9/11 times your unlikely to hear it played in America too much.
'I get up, and nothing gets me down'.

The song that strikes me as a pinpoint track to current years is Outkast's 'Hey Ya' written and produced by Andre 3000.
Despite coming out relatively early this century, 2003, it still for me possesses an awesomeness significant to current times. It is a song that I'm sure will played in various clubs and events around the world in years to come. It is catchy, soulful, energetic and also noteworthy to current times in lyrics referring to singer Beyonce and actress Lucy Liu. Interestingly enough the lyrics: 'Shake it like a Polaroid picture' enhanced the sales of Polaroid cameras; the impact music has on digital industry eh?
The song captures the need for love and vibrancy amidst gloomy times, enhanced by the colourful aspect of the video, the mock seriousness of the gansta threatening Andre before he performs and the old style visually enhanced TV screen mimicking a certain 60s emergent genres of soul, R&B, rock and funk which the song ultimately interlinks.
The song and video reaped its rewards, achieving huge success on the 2004 MTV video awards winning Video of the year, Best Special effects and best art direction.
'I say what's cooler than bein' cool?.....'

John Cougar Mellencamp and Eminem

John Cougar Mellencamp- Little Pink Houses 1984

I chose this song because I thought that it defined America as a whole, in both the lyrics and the music video as well. The entire song and video just have America written all over it. Another thing that affected my deiscion on the songs is the music video. I do not think that there could be a better or more patriotic song during the time period than this one that Mellencamp has created. Simply put, the video is America. Everything about the video the images the ideas that surround the video as well are American views and ideals. This song absolutely describes the time period because it has popular American values in almost every sequence of the video. The lyrics top it off as being patriotic and having these values as well. "Aint that America" is in the lyrics, Im not sure there could be a better song that would describe this era.

Eminem- Lose Yourself

This song is the first major hit that Eminem had when he first hit the rap scene, this song will most likely be remembered as one of the songs that was a the best during the time. Maybe it will be considered to be an "oldie", or, an oldie but goodie. Who knows? I do know that people will not forget that this song was made. Perhaps rap will not even exist in that time period and this will be seen as something that people used to listen to rather than a song that changed hip hop. I think it does a good job of telling what the time period could be like because it shows a reletively young man trying to get his life sorted out, and that he is doing so through the help of his up and coming rap career. Which has flourished by now.

Bananrama vs Christina Aguilera

For music to be seen as timeless and something that will be remembered for year to come its got to be well know during it's time, danceable, but also something the is catchy and going to be suck in your head for years to come. My choice for an 80's song that I feel fills all less elements is the song venus by the band bananabrma that was big in its time in 1984. This particular track of there's can be seen on its own as being timeless and still relevant now in 2010 as it can be recognised for the television advert produced by the women razor company named venus that use this song as they sound track on all of their advertisements and has been the way in which television audience recognise this particular brand.

The Christina Aguilera song Dirty will remembered for the next 30 or so year and maybe even after, not just for the song but also for its video. When this video first came out the style in pop was the bubblegum, super clean and innocent girls that left some thing for the imagination. The video was boy meets girl and the songs were all about falling in love and being in love but not this one. This video shows a turn in the trend moving it over to sexy, outrageous, in your face, dirty, hip hop? street, hardly any clothes and as much skin as possible video's started by Christina Aguilera. The concept of the video is under ground girl fighting club were there are dances, women mud wrestling and men and women that are hot, sweaty and under clothes to sell sex appeal to the audience. I think that this will be remember for being outrageous, starting a new trend, but also as Christina has become a well know international superstar both in music and film and will be around for years to come.

Death of the Music Video?

This week's blog task is a bit of a guilty pleasure for me as music of the 1980s and music videos in general have been very influential in my life and shaped many of my interests and ambitions. It's pretty tough for me to choose just one music video from the 1980s as it was an eclectic time for popular culture given the showcasing power of MTV which was bursting with creativity. Every musician was hardwired to fight for the public's attention and iconic songs / videos that personally stick in my mind include Michael Jackson's 'Beat It' (it seems appropriate to mention here how Jackson's 'Bad' was directed by Hollywood great Martin Scorcese - not the greatest Jackson track, but Scorcese's input emphasises the power and potential of the music video), Madonna's 'Like a Prayer' and Cyndi Lauper's 'Time After Time'. Notice how each of these musicians became icons thanks to one thing: image. And it is the moving image deriving from music videos which have solidified these artists as music legends as they mastered the format and turned it into a profitable business. Another common theme among these artists is their association with pop music; the 80s saw the rise of several music genres in America - namely hip-hop and the new wave - but it is of course pop music which dominated the music scene and as contemporary pop culture has shown, reappears.

Peter Gabriel may have performed alongside Phil Collins in British rock group Genesis, but his solo single 'Sledgehammer' spawned a widely popular and influential video worldwide. The animation studio behind Wallace and Gromit created this masterpiece, providing claymation, pixilation, and stop motion animation (my personal favourite) that gave life to images in the song. In 1987, it won countless MTV Video Music Awards and was recently ranked #4 on MTV's '100 Greatest Music Videos Ever Made'. MTV later announced that 'Sledgehammer' is the most played music video in the history of the station, and I recall MTV awesomely (and probably unintentionally) homaging the video through the station's brand image during the 90s. It is no wonder why the video below sparked a lot of creativity in me!

So it is safe to say the advent of the music video had a huge effect on the music industry, then. A decade ago this was certainly still the case as music videos were at the pinnacle of lavishness and saturated television screens everywhere. How did Ja Rule come out of nowhere and suddenly appear in rap videos clearly backed by millions of dollars? Because someone put faith in the moving image, and it worked. Watching the extravagent lifestyles of others was a formula that worked - *I*tunes, *MY*Space, *YOU*tube... *me me me* culture did not exist then. Does that MTV show Cribs even exist anymore? Does anybody care? From the early 2000s, people weren't limited to the confines of MTV broadcasting anymore; there was a channel that catered for everyone's music taste: pop, rock, hip-hop, dance and even the 80s! Yes, the 80s has become a genre in itself. I was a bit of a metalhead as a teen and remember even the most low key of nu-metal bands being backed with an accomplished music video. Everything was visually elaborate, but now these very same bands are lucky to have a video camera in front of them at all. My ambition to make music videos still remains, however. The format is arguably not necessary anymore simply because of today's digital culture, but they will continue to be produced as long as we have contemporary icons, and we do currently have a decent array of them. The likes of Lady GaGa, Rihanna and Katy Perry will continue to feature in videos simply because America is an image saturated culture; who else is gonna' flaunt their stuff on infinte inch plasma screens surrounding the Hard Rock Cafe while you're chomping down your nachos. Saying this, to choose a song that represents today and will resonate in years to come is hard enough, let alone a music video. As posted already, Beyonce's 'Crazy in Love' and Jay-Z feat. Alicia Keys' 'Empire State of Mind' are perfect examples of iconic songs of our generation. They are timeless, and you can't really stick any tag on them other than that. since the mid-2000s, our culture hasn't really been able to be defined by a genre though. We are definitely a tech generation - a generation of choice - and too much at that. I'm not sure whether this is a good or a bad thing, but all I know is I look back on music of the early 2000s more fondly than I do of music now. That's nostalgia for you.

If one genre of music had to be attached to contemporary music today it would have to be electropop. Today's divas release track after track under this style and it has become very popular in America. Interestingly, electropop can trace its origins during the 80s under gay icon Madonna's wing, and with the exception of Rihanna, Lady GaGa, Katy Perry and Kesha are also significant icons of the LGBT scene, but that's a whole different discussion. Worthy of note though.

To sum our generation up, we do have ever-improving technology available to us, but our culture is essentially made up of recycling the old. I've posted a few 80s themed videos on my YouTube account and receive many comments from children describing how much they wish they were an 80s kid. And I thought I was the only one...! The greatest thing about digital technology is that in a strange way we can not just learn but live through past events somehow, and that's not a bad thing at all.

Simon Cowell was famously proven wrong about Jennifer Hudson's talent; after eliminating her in the 2004 season of American Idol, she went on to win an Oscar for her performance in the critically acclaimed film Dreamgirls and later landed a role in the highly anticipated Sex and the City movie, where she lent her vocals too. Released in 2008, her debut single and music video 'Spotlight' demonstrates her talent perfectly, displaying Hudson as a strong, independent woman standing up for herself because of her controlling lover. Not surprisingly she received Grammy award nominations for her vocals as the pulsating nature of the song is hard to resist. There's a plot to the video - something that a lot of contemporary music videos lack - and of course it wouldn't be the same without the Campari product placement which prominently features in the nightclub scenes. Most importantly the song has a timeless feel to it - it's catchy, infectious, and I can imagine it being played on some vintage R&B music channel in decades to come.

Parton and GaGa

I am not an ardent song follower, but the songs I do know have come to my attention and stayed there because of their catchy nature. The 80's was certainly a time where music was catchy, there was the likes of Cyndi Lauper, Blondie, Madonna, and of course my favourite 80's country singer Dolly Parton, she makes big breasts and blond hair fashionable. Her music encapsulates the average working person's day, the people who haven't achieved the American Dream, and yet it still exudes the extravagance of the 80's with her big hair and ordinary outfits that have been made extraordinary. The film in which the song gets its name and is on the soundtrack is about women getting even with the sexist, egotistical boss in a fantasy that in a way comes true.
To me, the song 9 to 5, is about getting over the mundane and making it fun. I think that is what the 80's is all about. Especially the music. I do not remember any song from the 80's that doesn't make me scream and jump around like a five year old and dance like a maniac. Its the fun in my life. The song may be residual in comparison to some other songs that have overtaken it, but I do not believe anyone who says they do not know it.

Now to the now and so to the emergent. I hate Lady Gaga, but there are some of her songs that I love, and dare I say it, I understand, however, I do not understand her fashion sense!
It is true that there are many bad relationships in this day and age, they are common, and our culture today allows us to have as many relationships as we want with as many people as we want, of any gender. Lady GaGa sings of this in a way that is nowhere near as boring as all the songs about how she cheated on him, he is like a drug and all the other cliche songs that circulate nowadays. She, like Dolly Parton, makes the ordinary extraordinary. She wears clothes that are wild and her persona itself is wild. Her personality and her eccentric songs are emergent, there is no way that a character like hers will not be remembered, she is the new Millenium's version of Cyndi Lauper, Madonna and Adam Ant, all thrown into one, with a little bit of controversial meat clothing thrown in for good measure. Her songs are catchy, and I find myself actively seeking to listen to them, and I do hope that I will sing these to my children and embarrass them as they sing and dance to them when they go to their school discos.