Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Pornosophy: Moby-Dick vs The Humpty Dance, An Essay in Comparative Nonsense

etching of Joseph O. Eaton’s portrait of Herman Melville 
“Call me Ishmael”is the famous opening line of Melville’s Moby-Dick.  “My name is Humpty” is a defining moment in Digital Underground’s Humpty Dance. The syntactical parallel is not without significance since both works of art are inured in phallic imagery. What better symbol of phallic worship than a novel titled Moby-Dick about a big white whale. Similarly when Shock G cries “I once got busy in a Burger King bathroom,” he is making no secret about the fact that he enjoys employing his penis. He enjoys employing it so much that he will do so even in inappropriate situations. Ahab might also said to indulging in edgy behavior in the pursuit of his obsession, in that he puts not only his life, but the lives of his crew in danger as he gives chase to the whale. Maybe he doesn’t go so far as Humpty Hump when it comes to being caught with his pants down. However he certainly goes after Moby in nature’s bathroom, the ocean, where his vaunted whale resides. It’s important to remember that Melville and Digital Underground are storytellers at heart. The phallus is both an object of worship as well as narrative device to the extent that both are intent on telling a whale of a tale. It should also be noted that that in terms of classical dream interpretation, the whale is a symbol of snot. When children are reprimanded for picking their noses, their parents or teachers attempt to embarrass them by asking if they have caught a whale. And in the famous "Humpty Dance" video, Humpty Hump's overly large nose has a whale like capacity for mucus. The nose lays like a dark cloud over the rest of the video, to the extent that it threatens to unleash its contents on his crowd of admirers.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Chris Ofili: Night and Day

The Holy Virgin Mary by Chris Ofili (1996)
There’s a lot of good shit in Chris Ofili: Night and Day currently on exhibit at the New Museum. Not the selfies of shit that are popping up on iPhones these days, but dung. Ofili is quoted as saying this about “The Holy Virgin Mary" (1996) whose profane Madonna includes inlays of assholes along with the infamous fecal matter: “As an alter boy, I was confused by the idea of the holy Virgin Mary giving birth to a young boy. Now when I go to the National Gallery and see paintings of the Virgin Mary, I see how sexually charged they are.” Ofili comments thusly about another centerpiece of the show, “Shithead,” a piece of dung with teeth, topped with bits of his own hair: “They’d look at me. They’d look at the shit. They look at me. Then it would get to them. So it was a cycle of looking in which they put me together with shit and created an image from those two.” The show is titled “night and day” since some of the paintings are so conceived that the color of a face will change from black to white depending on the perspective of the viewer. Ofili grew up in England and his parents were born in Nigeria. Race is one of his subjects. Blaxploitation and hip hop are elements of some other works. Big Daddy Kane’s song “Pimpin’Ain’t Easy" is reflected in an Oflili artwork of the same name from l997 which also hearkens back to the Notorious B.I.G lines, "Pimpin’ ain’t easy but it sure is fun.” But what’s almost disconcerting is the profound religiosity which infects all of the work. “The Adoration of Captain Shit and the Legend of the Black Star” is the title of yet another painting. Ofili partakes of a tradition of transgressive Christianity that goes back to Dostoevsky’s The Grand Inquisitor, to Graham Greene’s fugitive priest in The Power and the Glory and to the damnation that infects the saintly fallen creatures in Pasolini’s films. Then Mayor Rudy Guiliani took offense at "The Holy Virgin Mary” when is was shown at the Brooklyn Museum in l999 and tried to have it removed. In another age, Ofili would have been burned at the stake.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Spoiler Alert!

In case you haven’t noticed, the campaign for the movie of Fifty Shades of Grey has already begun, in anticipation of a Valentine’s Day release.  Many of those who go to the movie will have read the book. But will the movie version have A HAPPY ENDING? Everyone has their own kink. In the Freudian model, human behavior is driven by subliminal motivations that the plucky protagonists of most romance novels would have little access to. Indeed in Plato’s allegory of the cave, reality is only a shadow. So what if it turns out that in the movie version of Fifty Shades, the prospect of a totally submissive woman, naked, blindfolded and bound—however tantalizing that sounds—turns out to be far from what Grey is after. It only causes early onset ED or even PE (premature ejaculation). Let’s say that Grey’s real desire is to be yelled at in a non-sexual way that leads to the kind of humiliation that's not exciting for him or his lover. What if Grey has an unconscious urge to be nagged to death by a harridan? Now this type of scenario would create some problems in terms of the script. A movie is a different kettle of fish than a book and you're not going to have your HAPPY ENDING, you must find something uplifting in its place. Those filmgoers who read the book are going to be disappointed if there isn’t some kind of pay off. Romance is romance, love is love and sex is sex. If your going to film Fifty Shades of Grey like an episode of The Honeymooners with Grey as a blustering loud mouth who is always walking away with his tail between his legs, then you still have to figure out a way to give the popcorn crunching, soda slurping sex crazed audience what it wants--whatever that is.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Interview Redux

Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg should turn their talents to taking aim at the good guys like like Ai Weiwei or even Michael Moore, just to demonstrate to Kim Jong-un what democracy is all about. Can you imagine a scene where Michael Moore is captured coming upon some injustice in the automotive industry (Roger and Me) and gleefully commenting to his producer how the expose is going to fatten his wallet? Imagine Ai Weiwei provoking cops and then getting all the girls. Imagine an orgy in his Beijing studio with posters of his famous Fuck Off exhibit plastered across the walls. There are so many historic figures who would be ripe for parody from Gandhi, who was supposed to have tested his ability to control his desires, by sleeping next to naked young girls, (“Thrill of the chaste: The truth about Gandhi’s sex life,” The Independent, 4/7/10). Show him failing the test. And what about Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King and the Buddha? Turns out Buddha mind is dirty and that all along the Buddha has been undressing adherents in his head. In piece entitled “The Zen Predator of the Upper East Side,” (The Atlantic, 12/14), Mark Oppenheimer showed how life can easily mirror art in this very respect. What happens when good guys who don’t do things like hiring hackers to shut down major industries in their adversary's countries, get pissed? On a micro level take a look at the countroversy which occurred many years ago when the a writer for Lingua Franca actually pulled one on the editor of the more edgy Social Text, in the form of producing a nonsense paper that got accepted for publication. One would suppose that the deconstructionist crowd at Social Text didn’t like being the laughing stock. However, there were no death threats and no bookstores refused to carry the magazines. If anything the controversy probably drove up sales for two otherwise moribund publications one of which (Lingua Franca) no longer even exists.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Rome Journal XIV The Fall of Rome

Edward Gibbon by Sir Joshua Reynolds
The experience of being in Rome is that of descending into a wormhole that leads to antiquity. It’s not just the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Baths of Caracalla. It’s every courtyard, balustrade, archway and balcony that connects you to the past. Sometimes it feels the set of some movie which has been restored for tourists to 20th Century Fox’s back lot. You almost have to be awakened to the fact that you’re not witnessing a rehearsal and that you're on the equivalent of a walking dig. Two thousand years later when Imperial America has long fallen, will the new inhabitants of New York still be living their normal lives in the shadow of the kinds of monumentality evidenced by the Altare della Patria (often described as the "wedding cake") that runs from Rome’s Piazza Venezia to the Capitoline Hill? London, Athens, Paris all have their precincts of pastness. In Peking you visit the Forbidden City, in St. Petersberg, the Hermitage. You read about the library that Alexandria once had. But the prospect of Rome is daunting. Historians write about the ascendancy of the Ottoman Empire centuries later. We know the facts, but seeing how resplendent Rome is and how much of it remains, one still marvels that this empire could have been eradicated? Aristotle defined tragedy as the fall of a great man. But what about a civilization? What form of theater would the philosopher have given to describe the end of an entity like Rome which once emanated the illusion of imperturbability? What will be the swan song of Imperial America or of the earth when it’s vaporized by an expanding sun? Gibbon wrote The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. But beyond raw history, is there a play or poem which could create a dramatic arc, which could create a metaphor for such destruction?