Jennifer Lopez, actually, really can act. Lila & Eve (2015)

I was watching Netflix with my wife, she turned to a film that seemed like an interesting contemporary Urban Film Noir type about revenge and grief. It co-starred Jennifer Lopez. Here is my take. Lila & Eve (2015).  A+E Studios, ChickFlicks ProductionsI’m not trying to be snarky here, Jennifer Lopez typically hasn’t been known for her acting skills, although by now she is certainly a Hollywood veteran. She has come a very, very, long way from her days as an In Living Color ‘fly-girl’ go-go dancing in a Fox channel comedy variety show. In addition to a music career, Jennifer Lopez has appeared in an extremely wide variety of movies and TV shows over the last two decades.

The question is, however, ‘Can she really act?’ Why ask the question? Well, we know Viola Davis can act, but society usually doesn’t take Jennifer Lopez seriously as an actor, she’s more of a celebrity in the public mind than a thespian. So I’m asking the question here, and I think the answer gets interesting.

Here is something that women are aware of far more than men; beauty and physical attractiveness can sometimes be a curse, or at least a hindrance. Because when everyone judges you by your looks and looks alone they won’t bother to look underneath the surface.Women are ruthlessly judged first and foremost for their physical appearances in our culture. This is a fact, and it has its consequences.

This is particularly true for celebrities, and most particularly celebrities in the movie industry. Their entire lives and work, and indeed worth, are usually  judged by the makeup-mask they put on in the morning, or the $7000 dress they squeeze themselves into, before going out on the town, more to be seen than to actually have an enjoyable time.

Ms. Lopez is no exception. Many of the roles she has been cast in, over more than two decades, have been more of a factor of her pretty face. Now, it is true that the older actresses get the more serious roles that can sometimes get, if those actresses were “movie stars” or if they had the function more of being human images. It is at those times in which is celebrities acting skills are most tested. Because early in their career sometimes there are simply not given, or do not take, material that would seriously test their acting skills.

In Charles Stone III’s film, Lila & Eve (2015), we face this dilemma. Jennifer Lopez plays an extremely dark character. A murderous, and a wrath filled , vengeful one at that. And, with a rather surprising twist, one who ends up actually being more of a phantasm or phantom. Does it work?

Here’s the thing, she pulls off her role extremely well. Convincingly well.

Playing alongside the talented Viola Davis, Jennifer Lopez effectively plays as Davis’s counter-part, friend, revenge buddy, and in a certain sense a bit of an alter ego.

Now, Viola Davis’s character obviously has real depth. But I expected that. What is refreshing is that Jennifer Lopez also bring some depth to her role. She is not acting as a pretty face, go-go dancing, mannequin posing for her looks. Which is what some of her career has required. She’s actually digging into herself and displaying human emotion in a way that I found convincing. Basically I think the actresses like Jennifer Lopez, given more serious roles, can bring out increasingly impressive performances.

Something that happens as we age (and why is it insulting to bring up the very real biological fact of someone’s aging), is that we ourselves acquire more depths and nuances to our characters. Sometimes the older we get, something happens to us. We become really interesting people, sometimes anyway. If we already were interesting people we sometimes become even more interesting.

The problem is that in a culture obsessed with youth, almost criminally obsessed with youth to the point of absolute stupidity, the gifts of aging are sometimes ignored or scored. In particular when these gifts are bestowed upon women. Because in a youth culture obsessively and hyper- focused not just on physical beauty but physically youthful beauty, aging itself is like a sin. And that is just a shame. It means that younger actresses who may be extremely talented at certain roles might be channeled into other less challenging roles simply because of their looks.

To be sure, attractive male actors do face a similar problem, of being typecast due to their looks, but not to the same degree. Brad Pitt, for example, apart from Interview with the Vampire and Seven, and I have to admit Fight Club, was largely typecast in certain roles all through his 20s, 30s, and 40s. It is only now, practically as a geezer his 50s, the he can increasingly break out of the roles these been typecast in.

Actually that was unfair of me. There are actually several examples of Brad Pitt trying to break out of his normal typecasting, but most of them were unconvincing. I always had the feeling that he was just being hired as a pretty boy slapped on an otherwise serious movie. Twelve Monkeys was a serious exception to that rule, I have to admit. And maybe I’ll just have to re-examine that whole example to begin with.

Okay, if Brad Pitt is a crappy example of the principle I’m trying to illustrate I trust that you at least get the bloody point.

The point is that physical attractiveness and beauty can be hindrances to deep acting in some kinds of performances. An old friend of mine once argued that Dustin Hoffman was one of Hollywood’s best actors mainly because he was ugly.

Hoffman is also rather short. So am I, a point that is utterly irrelevant here. In any case, the point’s that Dustin Hoffman is not exactly a sex symbol. Leaving the movie The Graduate out of the equation.

Dustin Hoffman is an exceptionally good actor. So is Forrest Whitaker. So is Philip Seymour Hoffman. None are known as sex symbols. Since people get in a tizzy whenever you call a woman ugly, I will refrain from mentioning any female illustrations of this principle. We males can fall on that sword, it’s chivalry you know. Suffice to say, the three men I mentioned are exceptional actors. Their acting skills are, and in Seymour Hoffman’s case were, at the summit of American acting talent (the British have their own use-cases). It’s likely that such men, and Gene Hackman, early-on had to show amazing ranges as actors because they didn’t have pretty-boy looks to fall back on.

There are examples, of course, of male actors who are both very handsome and exceptionally talented. I don’t think they exhibit a trend. I think they are exceptions.

The gift that aging conveys on female performers is a certain freedom, and ability to step outside of their societally defined roles as simple beauty sex figures, and transcend being a mere sex symbol, and tap into something more universal, a universal humanity.

I argue that society, in some inchoate and diffuse way, typically only really values women if they give us men boners. Everyone knows this, arguing against it only makes one sound guiltier.

I make no value judgment, though. I only observe what seems evident. Society, defined in a sloppy general way, will only let few women fit a category in which they can play roles entirely divorced from their physical attractiveness, either to other women, or to men. In other words, roles divorced from the tendency to evoke viewer boners. Tilda Swinton is an example. She is an outlier. For reasons that should seem obvious. Jodie Foster too, and sits as a bit of an outsider because she never allowed herself, and strenuously resisted throughout her entire career, to be typecast in roles based on her physical beauty. She more or less fought the system the entire way. There are other examples, but they are few and far between, and in each case rather quirky in their own way.

Back to this film, though. In it, both Viola Davis and Jennifer Lopez pulled off good performances. Viola Davis’ performance seemed far more compelling, but she was the primary protagonist. Jennifer Lopez, however, was a secondary protagonist, and didn’t do too bad at all, standing by Viola Davis’ side. In fact, she impressed me enough that I would go out of my way to see a similar film with her in it, in the future.

FIN.

Can Spaces and Serendipity Help Innovation? Something from David Radcliffe of Google

“You can’t schedule innovation, you can’t schedule idea generation.” — David Radcliffe, Google VP of Real Estate & Workplace Services in a CBS This Morning Interview (Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ANgEo40VSE)

The point Radcliffe was making involved Google’s innovative approach to designing collaboration and meeting spaces, on their corporate campuses. It’s a data driven approach but might strike some corporate traditionalists as fuzzy-headed, hippy-dippy, ‘woo-woo’ perhaps.

It most assuredly is not.

Being a massively data-driven company all of Google’s Real Estate design decisions, how its facilities are laid out, how space is apportioned, and so on is based on number crunching and active experimentation trying to get an answer to the question “How do we get our employees to be more productive?” In other words, innovation and idea generation have an unpredictable element to them, almost serendipity you could say. They require massive preparation of course, but they can’t be scheduled.

From the video I link to above, Google seems to be in the business of creating human working environments that allow its employees to produce the most amount of innovative ideas possible. A vast human idea laboratory, perhaps/

Designing workspaces that help facilitate creative innovation needs to take this into account. The video piece I link to above is interesting, and there are some take-home ideas any of us can apply to our own work, whatever it happens to be.

What can you do where you are to better foster your own idea generation and innovation, whether it’s your car, a subway seat, a desk at home, a spacious office, or a broom closet? We have to work with what we have, where we have, but what we do with it can go a long way.

Dispatches from San Francisco, from Baruti M. Kamau at Barutiwa Media

Nigeria, Cincinnati, Atlanta, San Francisco – citizen journalist and entrepreneur Baruti M. Kamau has brought a unique perspective in covering his travels. Writing at Barutiwa.com. these are some of his latest dispatches from San Francisco, exploring its politics, and socioeconomic layout. I hope to share some of his photographs soon on the epidemic of homelessness in San Francisco.

Baruti’s on-going series is titled San Francisco, California: An Island Unto Itself and will explore the truly unique and amazing position this city has. These are three pieces from his on-going project, in which he aims to illustrate from the ground, on the street, the seeming contradictions that define this city of massive wealth, massive poverty, and massive intellectual and technical creativity.

An Interview with Irma Bajar of GABRIELA USA
http://www.barutiwa.com/news/publish/article_886.shtml
“..Irma Bajar is the Chairperson of GABRIELA USA, the overseas chapter of the Philippine-based GABRIELA Philippines. She was born in Hawaii to Filipino parents who migrated to the United States in search of employment. Irma is college educated, and after 10 years of community organizing, she was elected Chairperson of GABRIELA USA in March 2016. In a face-to-face interview with Irma, last month, I asked her what happened in her life that impelled her to become politically active. She said that she was inspired by a film about the 2004 Hacienda Luisita Massacre in which 14 people were killed and more than 120 injured when the Philippine’s military and police units attempted to disperse protesters. The Hacienda Luisita plantation workers were agitating for increased wages, better benefits and land reform…”

 

Exhibit 1: Interview with Violet Vasquez (Video)
www.youtube.com/watch?v=wzZHuE7rO5A
“…This video interview with Violet Vasquez is an exhibit to my report “San Francisco: An Island Unto Itself”. Ms. Vasquez is a young activist attending City College in San Francisco, California. Her major is sociology and political science. In this 22 minute video, Vasquez discuss her opinions on poverty, homelessness and destitution in the San Francisco Bay area….”

 

Minimum Wage Boss Face Vociferous Opposition (Video)
www.youtube.com/watch?v=pMnZWdj2jSg
“..This video news release documents the Friday morning protest in front of City Hall calling for the resignation of San Francisco’s mayor, Ed Lee. Members from AsianAmericanVoters.org staged a counter protest which resulted in more than 300 Chinese Americans participating to show their support for Mayor Ed Lee. On the other side, viewers will see the vociferous opposition to Mayor Ed Lee with the highlight of Oscar Salinas discussing the criminalization of homelessness. The video was written and narrated by Baruti M. Kamau (aka BMK). Furthermore, “Minimum Wage Boss Faces Vociferous Opposition” is an exhibit to the report “San Francisco: An Island Unto Itself” written by Baruti M. Kamau. Visit www.barutiwa.com to see additional photos and video clips concerning the protest and counter protest…”

EOF

A review of Charles Upton’s The Science of the Greater Jihad: Essays in Principial Psychology.

The book-cover of The Science of the Greater Jihad: Essays in Principial Psychology.

Charles Upton’s The Science of the Greater Jihad: Essays in Principial Psychology.

This is a review of a book I think is insightful, and valuable, but that doesn’t yet seem to have caught on with many readers. Charles Upton’s ‘The Science of the Greater Jihad: Essays in Principial Psychology.’  I titled my Amazon review ‘Beyond transpersonal psychology, towards principial psychology. Exploring a science of the self and psyche, based on metaphysics,’  because in a real sense that’s exactly what this book is about.

Charles Upton’s ‘Science of the Greater Jihad,’ seems to be an overlooked or neglected gem in today’s metaphysical and spiritual scene. But it deserves to be read more widely.

I found the book a rare pleasure on two fronts; aesthetically, and intellectually. Aesthetically it’s simply a lovely book. The book cover design, with its theme of spiritual combat, is marked by an elegant simplicity. The physical finish Sophia Perennis chose was lovely in a tactile sense. The book cover has a matte, satin like finish that simply feels better than standard glossy book finishes. All of this, however, is trite of me.
Where Upton’s work really shines is in his treatment of ideas.

This is, foremost, a book about the notion of a operative Sacred Psychology; a science of knowing the self, and of the path that leads from self-transcendence to self-knowledge. In a sense it covers the idea of an inner and spiritual warfare, but it goes much further. It’s informed by Upton’s perspective, as long-time seeker on the Sufi path, as well as a past (but increasingly critical) engagement with the Traditionalist branch of the Perennial Philosophers, and is also coloured by his lifelong work as a poet and practitioner – in a sense – of mythopoeia, and an active yet critical engagement with various contemporary schools of metaphysics.

The book covers grounds from Psychotherapy and Exorcism, to a deeply informed and compassionate critique of Carl Jung, to the place of acesis and struggle, love, and knowledge, in the spiritual path. He covers the psychological aspects of traditional alchemy, examines the notion of evil itself and moral privation from the perspective of gnosis, and relates all of these themes and more to a lucid discussion of a true Spiritual Psychology, a Science of the psyche, a science of the Self, and of the many traps it faces in seeking out a spiritual path.

I think this book it should be necessary reading for anyone whether from a Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or non-Abrahamic Faith background, who is interested in personal struggle to find meaning on the spiritual path. The readers who may feel the most challenged by Upton’s discussions may be adherents of transpersonal or Jungian psychology, or readers coming from the perspective of contemporary new spiritual and metaphysical movements, broadly speaking the New Age. It is these readers whom I would encourage to give the book a fair reading, to at least consider Upton’s words.

Words have emotional and intellectual resonances, shades of meaning, power. The word “Jihad” simply has immensely negative connotation in contemporary Western Societies. I think the choice of the word for this book was apt, not in spite of, but because of its semantic But the doctrine of the “Greater Jihad” in traditional Islamic Esotericism and Spirituality, and even in conventional and normative Shia and Sunni Traditional Islam (outside of the ‘extremist’ non-Salafist/non-Wahhabi streams financed by Gulf Petro-Dollars) concerns inward combat of the self against the inner forces that drag it into the mud of bestial and gross negative tendencies. It has a lot in common with Orthodox Christian (and Catholic to a degree) understandings of Spiritual Warfare.

But where Upton goes from that is territory little examined. But where Upton goes from that is territory little examined. The notion of ‘Spiritual Warfare’ has been covered excessively by many authors of many faith and religious varieties. What Upton tries to do is go beyond the notion of a transpersonal psychology, towards a truly principial psychology, of which Spiritual Warfare, the “Greater Jihad” in Islamic terms, is understood in its place in a wider context.

The artwork on the book cover reflects this, because on the surface it calls to mind distinctly Christian notions of wrestling with the passions, married to the title itself, calling to mind a “Science” and the Islamic notion of the “Greater Jihad.”

I think the book should be read by anyone with an interest in psychology, spirituality, metaphysics, or religion.

More on Charles Upton, his work and writings, can be found at charles-upton.com , and the publisher, www.sophiaperennis.com.

To speak truth, of pleasure and pain, and all the pretty little horses.


A lullaby goes;
Go to sleep, little baby.
And when you wake,
You shall have a cake,
And all the pretty little ponies.

All the pretty little ponies. All the pretty little horses. just go to sleep..

An old friend was chatting with me, while we sat in an old coffee shop. We’re talking about propaganda, we’re talking about people’s desire for simple things to listen to and believe in and hold onto. And he was pointing out to me a fatal flaw of mine, that of overcomplicating the truth.

Why is it that a simple lie may find more currency than a truth expressed in complicated terms?

Pain and pleasure. We avoid what causes pain. And oh, our lives are full of such dull sorrows and pains. And we yearn for those simple pleasures, we work and toil and then go home to our toys. Our drugs. Our booze. Our porn. Our sex. Our food.

Our TV. And it tells us such simple little things.

And then we go to sleep, and this we yearn for intensely.

**

Simple words soothe the mind and soul. Whether they are true or false. Complicated things ache the mind and soul.

Here is a power of persuasion, he or she who can master their words is not necessarily someone who uses pretty words, and high concepts expressed in high terms.

George Orwell and Winston Churchill both pointed out, about effective communication, that simple words penetrate the most.

So, if you want to speak or write truth, do yourself and others a favor and “keep it simple stupid,” as the saying goes.

Don’t get too artsy about it, is it about your ‘self expression‘ or is it about communicating a message?

Of course, a prerequisite is to actually know the truth. Much of the time we think we know the truth, a truth that we are aching and burning to tell the world, but we don’t really know the whole truth, or even an adequate part of it.

**

Sometimes what we think is true or think we know isn’t so. And sometimes, those truths that we think are in our deepest selves, are actually things whispered in our ears while we’re going to sleep..

While dreaming of pretty little horses.

EOF

You don’t need to understand poetry to be moved by it.

pen-fountain-pen-ink-gold-39065I think that many people are not alone in thinking that they can’t understand poetry. I believe lots of people feel that way. There are many people who truly feel and believe that they don’t understand poetry, further that they can’t understand poetry, and that poetry is something best understood by particularly intellectual people.

I believe that nothing can be further from the truth.

Ignoring for a moment the distinction between high poetry and low poetry, it is important to realize that verse and versification have long been part of many cultures and language communities. I think that is also important to realize that poetry, or rather the idea of poetry, is very much a mental construction on top of the bare naked reality of verse itself.

What do I mean by this? Well simply put, verse is part of language. Verse is a way of arranging words. Versification and prosody, rhyme and meter, to whatever degrees they can be found in modern poetry, they are matters of language. Essentially matters of language itself. Prosody evokes things that can be felt, a beat. This can be perceived and felt without any sort of sophisticated intellectual training.

Here’s a proof; ‘Mary had a little lamb it’s fleece was white as snow, and everywhere that Mary went, the lamb was sure to go.

That line of text was metered and it had rhyme to it. I trust that no great heights of intellectual speculation were necessary to understand. It was about a little girl, named Mary, of whom a lamb was quite infatuated. Dig it?

Good.

All things in this world are characterized by heights and lows, and stuff in the middle. So too with poetry. Poetry can ring bells on monasteries on top of Mount Parnassus, rake the coals at the bottom of the valley of Jahannam, and sell breakfast cereal on the telly.

I think that poetry is often presented as something intellectually high, refined and sophisticated. But poetry can really be as simple as ‘Mary had a Little Lamb‘.

While verse and poetry can be separated, and typically are nowadays, the two share a close, more ambiguous relationship which, aforetime, was tighter.

For poetry to have a significant cultural role, it must be authentically part of the culture. High cultures are almost by definition matters of elite, often imperial, patronage and support. This means high cultures obey standards that are artificially maintained; typically reified standards drawn from the basis of some old hoary thing dug out of the closet, quite mummified, and stuffed in full regalia in front of the people.

The maintainers and advocates of ‘high culture’ may seem to over-protest. High culture typically has some sort of basis in the broader culture it is found in. Often, however, the connection is extraneous and non-essential connection. Someone somewhere has to maintain it like a difficult and moody orchid, sensitive and needing constant tending lest the delicate thing keels over pouting and rolling its eyes.

I won’t assert that all high culture is just extraneous to a people’s realities. Far from it. But at a certain point you sometimes seem to have at hand something that was once a bit more living and spunky, but long since extremely refined to the point of the life being sucked out of it.

Do remember, much classical music was at one time pop music. This is something older than the ‘Pops orchestras’ that are part of urban higher cultural establishments in the Anglosphere today. Mozart in his age was a bit of a rock star. So too, Ballet once had copulation as a theme. I’d use the F- word but someone reading this would have a hissy-fit. Ballet, or rather the theatrical dances that eventually became ballet, really could be almost pornographic in theme, once upon a time.

In a word, if you go back two or three hundred years ago, you would see that – in the West anyway – quite a bit of what people believe today to be high culture was part of the lower middle culture of that age.

Let’s leave alone the theme of decadence – and there was a time not so long ago in which many critics believed Tchaikovsky and Wagner were decadent composers, and avoiding an observation I once heard Seyyed Hossein Nasr make, in which he asserted in the middle of class that classical music after Bach had essentially lost a good deal of its higher intellectual grounding, there is a simple fact that humans have a tendency to over-romanticize the past. How we view the arts, poetry included, is part of this.

I’m sympathetic here; being a guy who rarely felt at home in his century much less than his decade. But part of trying to develop a historical consciousness, a feeling for history, is developing the ability to see things of a past age as they were in there mundane glory. Chamber pots, iron and flint fire-starters, plagues, child whores, summary executions in the middle of the street, and all.

That was all a tangent. The question is how did that tangent relate to the question at hand? Well, let’s tie it to the point. In order for poetry to be something alive and vibrant, part a living culture, it has to be something that is not in museums. It has to be something that is inside of people’s hearts and on the tongues. For this to be the case poetry must be understandable by people broadly speaking, not just a recondite erudite few sitting around patting each others’ backs..

This does not mean there is no room for high and difficult poetry. Take Geoffrey Hill, the Oxford poet laureate, or T.S. Eliot, of whom Hill is a contemporary heir. Or take Frederick Seidel. These three people, among others, are certainly near the height of the twentieth century’s formalist and aristocratic poetic establishment. Throw in Ezra Pound as well. Each of these poets is somewhat difficult, challenging, and formalistic. In a word, marked by a type of difficulty that requires some intellectual aptitude to tackle with.

So what. Each of those poets wrote a large amount of verse that simply requires the type of active imaginative faculty that your average teenager has, to navigate. In other words, you don’t have to be an intellectual to read T.S. Eliot, and be struck by his imagery.

I think this is a sign of successful poetry. Even if it seems to be over your head on some level, mainly because everyone around you keeps saying that it is, it can still move you as long as you understand the words.

I think these things can be overcomplicated. If you can understand ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ then you have the tools necessary to apprehend poetry, to feel poetry if you hear it or read it. This is because you have the linguistic tools to viscerally feel poetry, which is what we’re talking about if we use words like ‘move’. Something that moves you does something kinetic to you, like push, shove, punch, caress, engage in frottage with, or kiss you. It’s a matter of the type of movement, and its intensity.

Verse, and most good poetry even ‘free verse’ ends up to some degree using verse-like elements even unconsciously on the poet’s part, uses rhythm and timing in speech. Verse makes you feel things, ‘beats,’ and this is powerful. Rhythm is powerful.

Verse is not equivalent to poetry. But verse and poetry spring from the same mother’s loins, and were probably wrapped around each others’ umbilical cords en utero. If you can feel the effects of verse, then you have the tools to get poetry. Just relax and don’t psych yourself out, thinking that you can’t get it.

End.

Non-Fiction versus fiction in an apocalypse culture, Adam Parfrey, the essay, and the novel.

In the Introduction to the second edition of his anthology, Apocalypse Culture, Adam Parfrey muses as follows;

“..reality has taken on such a dire and phantasmagoric cast that fictionalizing has become superfluous. The essay form has superseded the novel as the vehicle that best suggests the prevailing apocalyptic gestalt, and as the talisman that is most able to repel the onset of paralyzing dread.””
-Adam Parfrey, 1990.

The form of written language best able to convey a sense of, and indeed help make sense of, this age along these lines, would be the non-fiction essay. Some may disagree, it’s a perspective worth considering however. Truly paradigm shattering novels along dystopic lines are rare; 1984, A Clockwork Orange, Brave New World, the crop of current dystopian narratives seem to simply deepen the mood and spit it back at us while we, un-reflexively, watch and scratch our heads over The Hunger Games.

What the essay has that the novel or fictionalized narrative lacks is it’s ability to not be completely reduced to entertainment, and thus to a soporific, inducing dreams, but not waking us. Film fiction narratives, like The Matrix, being partial and useful exceptions that sort of prove the rule.

Where to find the language to express ideas? Indeed what is language in all of this? “All language is at once the ‘sensualization of the idea’ and the ‘idealization of the sensuous’. Language is, therefore, the most distinguishing characteristic of man..” notes C. Nisbet and D. Lemon in their 1892 Everybody’s Writing-Desk Book. Noting further that man can be defined, in quotations, as the speaking animal. A pity they didn’t note the origin of that quote, being the Classical Arabic definition of al-Insan, The Human, as ‘al-Hayawan al-Natiq‘ or the speaking, articulating, animal.

The theme of the Book of Eli, another fictionalized narrative, is interesting here; what obsessed Garry Oldman’s character was obtaining the word. At all costs. The overly biblical cast of the movie might distract a more skeptical viewer from the vital urgency of its core message, which is that the word, language, is all important in either controlling humanity, or saving humanity, Oldman’s character, though a villain, was in a way a flawed and tragic hero, stuck in a particular paradigm that gave him an edge, but only the sliver of an edge, in a world gone mad. It was an edge that he grasped without justice. And hence his undoing.

Words, language, are vital. And though Parfrey wrote those words something like 25 years ago, I think with the increasing popularity of Creative Nonfiction he was onto something.