Enjoying Art on a Budget

As somebody who consumes a lot of art and media, I can tell you first-hand that it’s financially frustrating. I’ll hear about a book that I want to read, or an album that just came out, or a new video game that is stunning, and I always have to come to the same conclusion: I can’t have it all. This is easily attested to by the many lists on my phone of things I would love to get, and also by all the items saved for later in my Amazon shopping cart. Perhaps it’s something unique to me, but I doubt it; I think anybody who enjoys art wants something physical that can serve as a reminder of how great a work of art was. In this way, art is inherently nostalgic, and that’s a quality that I greatly appreciate, being a sentimental person myself. For example, the first video game I ever remember playing was Pokemon Sapphire on my brother’s GameBoy Advance; I absolutely loved it even though I had no idea what was going on (to be honest, I’m pretty sure I was stuck in Mauville the whole time because I didn’t know how to progress).

It was a combination of the style, the game-play, and the interesting Pokemon that kept me entertained, but more importantly, the game came to represent a simple time in my life. Eventually the game was sold, as it became obsolete in the face of iPods and iPhones, and I gradually forgot about it. Then a year or so ago I started to feel nostalgic about the simplicity of the GameBoy; it didn’t need internet, the battery lasted for days, it wasn’t cluttered with apps and social media, and it was a reminder of one of my first great experiences with art. Needless to say, I ended up finding and buying a used GameBoy and started collecting the Pokemon games, which eventually led to buying a used DS Lite for the nostalgia of playing Pokemon Diamond and Platinum. However, the cost was adding up, and I started to realize that I had forgotten the point entirely; I never wanted all of the games, I just wanted the one that was sentimental to me.

I learned a lot from that experience, but most importantly that art can be appreciated and enjoyed in small quantities. When I thoroughly enjoy a work of art, I no longer try to buy everything related to it, instead I focus on the one thing that I loved about it and try to find something that will represent that in a nostalgic way. As a result, I have a little bit from everything: the seventh book of One Punch Man (the style of the fight scenes in this book are especially impressive), the first volume of One Piece, a deck of tarot cards, and a poster from the anime Akira, just to name a few. Each of these things I would love to indulge in, but I’m glad I haven’t; it is essentially quality over quantity, which is perfect for somebody like me who already enjoys so much art to begin with. And as far as cost goes, I can appreciate a work of art without having to waste money; for example, if I wanted to own every manga from Akira, it would run me about $170, when instead I can appreciate it and remember how much I enjoyed it with a $15 poster. Obviously this is just my personal philosophy, and some people might think it’s outrageous to only own one book from a series. I can’t say they’re entirely wrong, and in a perfect world I would want the whole series too, but realistically this is what works for me. So consider this an alternative way of thinking about and appreciating art; perhaps you can find the same value in this philosophy as I do.

(Image Credits: Google Images)

Experiencing Cold Weather and Cancelled Classes

“Stay inside,” my mother said. A few hours after the phone call, I would be doing the exact opposite.

On Tuesday, the call for school to be closed was deafening. There had already been an order made by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer that declared Michigan in a state of emergency due to predicted sub-zero temperatures. Throughout the day, universities across the Midwest cancelled Wednesday’s classes in anticipation for the dangerously cold weather. Even MSU suspended classes for only the 7th time in history. For U of M students, pages such as “Overheard at Umich” and “UMich Memes for Wolverteens” were teeming with memes and comments made by students across campus asking for no school. In addition, students created a petition to cancel classes that reached over 13,000 signatures in a matter of days.

Fortunately, classes were indeed cancelled and the campus “issued an emergency reduction in operations” until 7 a.m. Friday. For middle and high school students across Michigan, snow days are a fairly common occurrence across Michigan. For college students, on the other hand, a snow day is a rarity. So what does one do when it’s so cold classes are cancelled?

For many students, the two days of cancelled classes provided time to study or relax. There was still work to be done for courses, and a day or two stuck inside provided optimal time to catch up or get ahead on schoolwork. The Wednesday and Thursday off also gave students some time to sleep in and recuperate. When not filled with people studying, the dormitory lounges were frequently filled with students watching movies, playing games, or simply hanging out. For me, the two days with no classes provided an opportunity to do all of these things. There was time to do some work without feeling stressed, and I enjoyed sleeping in. Yet, in addition to these things, I ventured outside the safety of my dormitory and into the bitter cold.

Now, this wasn’t a “I’m going to disregard any warnings because I can” decision. On Wednesday, the Michigan Theater played Your Name as part of the “Icons of Anime Film Series” sponsored by the UM Center for Japanese Studies. The screening was originally sold out and going to take place at the State Theater, but due to popular demand was moved to the Michigan Theater. This discovery, in addition to prior commitments being cancelled due to the weather, resulted in a quick decision to have a night out.

Despite the wind chill warning, my boyfriend and I left East Quad shortly around 6:45 p.m. Bundled in layers, the brisk walk to Michigan Theater wasn’t that bad. We took pictures of an empty diag with snapchat filters reading -11°F, and made it to the theater to find plenty of other students who had braved the arctic temps. So many, in fact, that the lower section of the theater’s main auditorium was pretty packed. After seeing the movie, which was captivating and breathtakingly beautiful, I could see why.

Since the dining hall would be closed by the time we got back (closing early due to the weather), we also stopped by a restaurant for dinner. The ten-minute walk back to East Quad, while just a few degrees colder at -15°F, was harsher. Thick wool socks were no match for the freezing winds. Literal frost coated my glasses, and ice droplets twinkled on my boyfriend’s eyelashes. We passed by a few people with no hats or scarves and wondered how they were surviving.

Back at the dormitory, hand warmers and blankets were quick to the rescue. It was so cold, however, that there was ice and frost on the inside of the windows. This only magnified the severity of what was happening across the Midwest, and the relief for students that classes were cancelled. Overall, while the night out was enjoyable, you can bet we stayed in on Thursday.

 

Links to further details on information noted in this post:

More information on U of M’s reduced operations.

News on the cold weather and its impact on the Midwest.

The petition calling administration to cancel classes.

Deconstruction Means “Freddy Got Fingered” and “School Days” Are Good, Actually

I grew up being exposed to gross-out comedies, so even though I can’t remember specific movie titles, the opening sequence to “Freddy Got Fingered” feels extremely familiar and tired. It’s almost laughable how lame the movie’s beginning is, and I was concerned this bad movie wasn’t going to reach a level where it was so bad it became good. I’m not surprised that there is debate over whether or not the movie is parody. However, I’m convinced this is intentionally left unanswered because the movie is satire. The man-child cartoonist called Gord who is unfortunately the protagonist of the film put my concerns to rest 30 minutes in, right when he begins to spread pain and suffering on a wider scale in his quest to have his cartoons adapted into a TV show.

Gord (Tom Green) storms an animation studio by force, bypassing security and harassing a secretary in an effort to meet the TV executive who runs the company (Anthony Michael Hall). When informed that the executive is at lunch, the public nuisance goes to the restaurant and harasses diners until he finds the person able to turn his dream into a reality. While this is off-putting to Hall’s character at first, he immediately listens when Gord begins to sell his comics.

Gord being given the chance to pitch his work despite being a terrible writer and a threat to society. Source: IMDB

This is amusing to me only because Gord had a hard time finding the exec after running into many men who look and are dressed like the one from the animation studio. The fact that Hall is just one of many blond-haired, blue-eyed men eating at Movers and Shakers restaurant is transparent criticism of the lack of inclusion in Hollywood and, by extension, powerful institutions in America. The way the TV executive turns away in disgust from Gord’s ridiculously unprofessional proposal but automatically turns around again to give the desperate cartoonist a chance when Gord starts to beg to sell his cartoons suggests that influential people in the media are more open to giving opportunities to some people more than others, even when it is undeserved…

In this scene, Gord is giving up on his cartoons at the same time Green is giving up on his movie. Source: IMDB

Despite his generosity, the TV executive is not blind to how talentless Gord is. He tells the artist that while the art of the comics is good, the stories and humor behind them are awful and would never sell. This pushes Gord over the edge, making him pull out a gun and lament that his characters are losers so he is a loser. He threatens to kill himself right then and there, which is shocking and completely unexpected if not for how this situation would be played straight in a normal comedy movie with the hero getting the job and the girl at the end. It is extremely funny to me how the stepping stone of Gord’s career is when our protagonist declares he needs to die, because this is the most illustrative way possible for Tom Green to scream about how much he clearly hates gross-out comedy movies and explains why the 90 minute run-time is used to push tropes of the genre to their most grotesque and absurd limits in order to make a point.

The infamy of “Freddy Got Fingered” reminds me of the reputation of “School Days”, an anime that I think wasn’t intentionally satire but ended up criticizing the short-comings of harem animes anyway. The formulaic show is based on a video game where a painfully average young man named Makoto suddenly finds himself becoming the most eligible bachelor in his high school after creating a love triangle. The video game has many endings determined by how well you navigate having multiple girlfriends, and the majority of the outcomes are good. However, “School Days” is infamous for its few bad endings that depict the absolute worst possible consequences of someone playing with the affections of a group of people.

Makoto easily guilt-tripping Otome, the third girl he’s cheating on, in order to keep their relationship a (poorly kept) secret. Source: MyAnimeList

The value of this criticism I think is highlighted in the anime when Makoto goes from being too shy to talk to an attractive girl in the first episode to having romantic encounters with three girls in one day by the end of the show. He is warned by his latest conquest, Otome, that problems will arise if the fact he is seeing several women at the same time becomes known. He tells her what he has already told his other girlfriends, that she is as responsible for the delicate situation as he is and that she should just let things happen. The anime adapts the worst possible endings of the game and illustrates that in real life it would take someone to be extremely narcissistic and emotionally abusive to sustain a harem like in anime.

I think these two works were poorly received because fans of these comedy genres weren’t expecting the deconstruction of the tropes they have come to love. The shocking violence and overall bad taste is only believable as the work of professional writers if the intention is to show how ridiculous the cliches expected from viewers are. It is difficult to make a parody or satire of something, especially with film, without being mistaken for the real deal, but as someone who thinks they’re in on the joke I think I have the right to laugh along.

When Product Placement Aspires to Be Art

The Emoji Movie sucks in a depressing way I’ve never seen before. It has all the trappings of children’s animated movies, like bright colors, an annoying comedic sidekick, and a quest filled with challenges along the way, but the weight of all the product placement broke its spirit. It’s sad to see Hollywood care so little about the average moviegoer that they would put together such an original corporate cash grab.

I’ve heard people compare the Emoji Movie to Inside Out because both look at the inner workings of a teenager’s mind, the former through his cellphone and the latter through her psyche. I was reminded of Wreck-it Ralph as well because of how familiar characters from video games were an easy way to make a connection with a young audience, who may not care enough to learn about your movie but will definitely have their eye drawn if they already know and love the characters in it. Those video game characters have star power in their own right. Phone apps, on the other hand, do not.

That’s why the Emoji Movie looked so eerily similar to a Disney animated feature on the outside while not having any emotionally intelligent writing on the inside. It was all a farce to stuff as many apps into the movie’s plot as possible, and most of it was just plain boring. I don’t appreciate the fact that this movie still got made with an A-list cast and everything despite all the laughter it received when production was announced. Hollywood executives believed in it when nobody else did, and the idea that youth today are so addicted to their phones that this movie speaks to a cultural zeitgeist or something makes me sick. I learned in a class that adults were concerned by teenagers in the 1950s for using landlines 24/7 to talk to their friends, so I’m convinced that putting down young people for using technology to deepen their relationships is an age-old sign of fear of change. That doesn’t make the Emoji Movie more timely, though, or universal; just cheap. Unfortunately, I can think of other examples of entertainment that were just vehicles for advertising.

The cast of the worst animated movie I’ve ever seen. Source: The Telegraph

The notorious animated move “Foodfight!” ripped off the Toy Story franchise in 2002 with the plot of food logos coming to life at night in a supermarket. Charlie Sheen starred as a dog detective who has to save the day when a femme fatale voiced by Eva Longoria from a generic brand takes over the store with the help of fellow Nazis(!) from the same company and tries to replace brand-name food products and their logos, i.e. nearly all of the other characters. It’s gross that a movie for little kids is teaching them that cost-effective products that are just as good as the national brands are evil and killing big brands, or big business for the owners of those brands, anyway. Thankfully, the film’s animation was stolen and apparently never re-done, so what looks like its first draft went straight-to-DVD in 2012. This is a decade after the celebrities in it were in their prime, but due to the stupid plot and abundance of sexual innuendo between the canine and the evil woman I doubt many people will hear about it.

Boys can buy from Sanrio, too! Source: next-episode.net

Another example of this genre I can think of is the anime Sanrio Danshi, literally Sanrio Boys in Japanese. This show is about a group of high school boys who all love Sanrio products, like Hello Kitty and friends. The main character, Kota Hasagawa, is embarrassed to have other people know he’s a guy who likes cute stuffed animals until by happy coincidence he meets other boys who are huge fans of Sanrio, too. The show was created by Sanrio itself (who would have guessed?) and I’m bitter that a positive message like men can like delicate things, too, is being used just to market their products. I felt completely pandered to with such a cute concept, and find it interesting that this show has a different view on economics than Foodfight! by showing buying as a positive way to express what you’re like on the inside.

The Emoji Movie is more realistic in that buying only really comes up at the end when the boy who owns the phone tries to get it fixed. Still, it was a waste of my time to watch. I hope the movie industry tries to think more about originality and creativity soon, but seeing how many box-office hits are sequels in franchises, I won’t hold my breath.