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Pop Culture Paradoxes

…and now, time for our very first “30POV Reviews” column!
This Month in Fiction (at least in my life)

by omilbury

Some people take fiction seriously.  They believe that a novel should be challenging, stylistically inventive, mind-expanding.  Other people simply want to get lost in a good book.  They want to escape from the drudgery of real life into some other world and leave their brain behind.  Can one love serious fiction and mindless fantasy simultaneously, or is this an irresolvable paradox?
In the last month, I’ve read two novels that sit at opposite ends of the spectrum. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell has serious literary aspirations.  Set amongst a company of Dutch traders in Japan at the close of the 18th century, the novel blends different genres together, from historical fiction to romance to thriller.  Beneath the engaging plot is a study of human communication.  Much attention is given to the confusion of translation, on both a linguistic and cultural level, often leading the reader wondering, “How do any two people ever understand each other?”  It’s an ambitious and wildly successful novel.
I also devoured the 13th and penultimate book of the Wheel of Time series, a fantasy epic that I’ve been reading off and on for almost fifteen years now.  The original author, Robert Jordan, died before he could finish the story (and yes, it’s all one story).  Brandon Sanderson has picked up the ball, and based on Jordan’s careful notes and instructions, is doing an admirable job of finishing the series.  The writing itself is no more than mediocre.  But when I read the WoT, I feel like a child, wide-eyed and naïve, ready to believe whatever I’m told.  It’s a simple pleasure.  Anytime I find myself bored with fiction, I return to the WoT and my excitement for reading is rekindled.
Perhaps the answer simply lies with you, the reader of fiction.  Are you willing to be part of something larger than yourself?  Can you explain why the books you read are important to you?
“Black Swan”: Scary or just Plain  Creepy?

by EmmyEm

SPOILER ALERT!!!  **If you read this review, you probably won’t need to see the movie.**
Last Saturday afternoon, my lovely friend, Kasia, & I hopped on over to the Coolidge Corner Theater to see Black Swan. Neither of us knew much about the movie other than the theme loosely tied to the infamous ballet classic, Swan Lake, and that it was somewhat of a thriller. First and foremost, thriller is putting it lightly.
This movie is scary as shit. Do not let the critics or anyone else fool you.
But the line between actually scary and just plain creepy is a fine one, and this movie doesn’t always know which side it’s on.  Right from the start you like Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) even as she makes you nervous.  Her character is both awkward and endearingly nervous, and we don’t know if she has the confidence to be the Swan Queen.  And, once introduced to her mother (Barbara Hershey) who’s a little en-you-tee-ess nuts, we begin to wonder whether she’s a sweet little girl working hard to be a ballerina, or just an obedient, non-confrontational daughter, particularly since Hershey plays the “mumsie who gave up her dance career to have her daughter and expects payback for what she’s sacrificed” role so well.
Things get more complicated when we’re introduced to the rest of the players–the sessi-sessi understudy, Lily (Mila Kunis), the ballet director, Tomas (Vincent Cassel), and the principal dancer (“Wino” Ryder), and the main conflict of the plot is revealed–the Swan Queen will be both black and white swans this year. DUN DUN DUUUUUUN.
Despite sweet little Nina freaking out (read: destroying) in the dressing room for what seems like no reason and stealing Wino’s lipstick–out-of character actions that are interesting only because Portman is seemingly so innocent–she gets the part & all the other ballerinas hate her, including Wino Ryders who retires to proceed to that near fatal accident that conveniently removes all dispensable character from the screen, but not before getting hammered and telling Nina to suck Thomas’ cock & stuff.
The movie progresses and things get a little weird. For example, Thomas asks Nina to touch herself “there” to prepare for the black swan aspect of the role since she’s frigid. To this, I shouted at the screen “oh I’ll do it pick me pick me hottie man!!” Nina goes all Dyvinls on us during a dream and the camera pans over to her mom asleep in the chair next to the pretty pink twin bed in the room which is decorated from the 1-2-3 Bed section of Target for ages 8-12, including roughly 2 dozen stuffed animals.  When I pointed out to my fellow movie-goer that Nina had been with the company for four years, making her at least 22, Kasia looked appropriately horrified.  Whether or not Nina would “grow up” due to her new “important” part was a sub-par second story line. Just a heads up, ballerinas don’t really mature. It’s kind of like Asian women & Hello Kitty. No matter how old we get, tutus will forever be a part of the wardrobe.
You’ll be glad to know that Nina does finally disobey her mother, with drinking AND drugs and gets down with a girl, making up for that junior year in college which she obviously missed all in one night. So she gets all wasted & comes home to mumsie screaming at her & she’s all “fuck you I’m gonna go do my friend” and pulls Lily into her bedroom where they proceed to get down. This introduces our final sub-par secondary-ish storyline:  is Nina gay or just hallucinatory?  Nina almost sleeps through her first day on stage, showing up just in time to find out that Lily–the same Lily from her bedroom–was able to step in as Swan Queen for a moment. Um, how many drugs did Nina do?
Thomas makes Lily the Swan Queen understudy, a tradition we all know never gets used except for in “Rochelle Rochelle, The Musical” when Bette Midler gets knocked out and Jerry’s crying girlfriend steps into the part. But that’s fiction, and this is real life.  The unraveling and hungover Nina begs Thomas to take Lily off.  The role is taking its toll. People are beginning to notice.  Nina’s mom won’t shut up.  Nina probably needs a glass of water or five.
The movie picks up speed the night before opening.  Nina takes a little trip to the hospital to return Wino’s things that she stole. We then learn that Klepto-girl didn’t stop at the lipstick, rather snatched a bunch of Wino’s belongings, including diamond earrings.  Her answer as to why she would do such a thing?  She just wants to be perfect. Wino’s response? To stab herself in the face with the nail file.  Our response? Oops, I just peed my pants.
Some more stuff happens, making it clear Nina should not be the Swan Queen. However, she rushes into the theater to proclaim she is dancing (gasp!) and to get the hell out of her way. Ironically–if irony can be completely predictable, that is–she falls during the first act.  Cue that bitch, Lily, donning the Black Swan costume in the dressing room.  Begin cat fight, wherein a mirror gets broken, allowing for some scary “is Lily surreal or is Nina crazy” filmwork, and–oh yeah–Nina kills Lily and then shoves her body into the closet before pulling off the best performance of her life.  Yay! Applause! Cheers! Flowers!!  Everyone loves her.  Even Thomas, who she makes out with! Even Lily, who…WAIT. WHAT? Didn’t Nina kill her?  But there’s no body in the closet! And there’s a chunk of glass in Nina’s abdomen. Yeeps!  “Nina, what did you do?” the useless Thomas asks… “I was perfect,” she responds.  Creep-pee.
Except that now we know that pretty much everything we thought was real in the movie was all in sweet little Nina’s head. She was Mayor of Crazitown, population her.  But some aspects were real…right? The jealous between her and Lily…the overbearing mother…Thomas being hot.  Just as this movie can’t keep the line between scary and creepy in sight, true reality versus perceived reality is never really explained.  I guess we should’ve expected that when the whole “black/white” swan thing popped up way back when.
Final Thoughts: With a deranged ballerina at the center, the line between creepy and scary not only doesn’t matter, it probably doesn’t even exist.
How did Kanye know about “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” anyway?

by lee lee

There are five reasons to listen to–nay, buy–Kanye West’s “acclaimed” 2010 release, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”:

  1. There’s no song about Barry Bonds on it.
  2. Everyone else bought one, so should you.
  3. The “mother country’s crotch” is aptly damned.
  4. Nicki Minaj is so much cooler than Taylor Swift.
  5. [insert all of the reasons you like hip-hop in the first place here]

No, seriously.  West’s album has been titled everything from “comeback” to “strange” to “the strangest comeback album,” none of which matters if you love Kanye West as much as I do.  Nor does it matter if you love hip-hop.  I mean, the real hip-hop, not what we’ve been putting up with for the past seven to eight years.
Unlike some of you, I came to hip-hop kinda late.  In fact, I didn’t arrive at the party until just before 50Cent.  And I’ve by no means caught up with all the old schools songs.  I don’t even {really} understand the Tupac/Biggie beef (admit it–it’s a “had to be there” moment!).  But I do know what makes a great song (lyrics that involve more than bangin’ and bumpin’ anyone?).  More importantly, thanks to Kanye West himself, I know what makes a great album.  Namely, anything you didn’t expect when you picked it up.
Like books, albums should have a discernible but not predictable storyline.  And everything about West’s Fantasy fulfills this need.  The first three tracks aren’t just mandatory billboard hits; they establish the album’s mood, comforting yet suspenseful, sort of like a New American interpretation of classic comfort food.  So, we’re feeling good and in comes “All of the Lights” and we feel even better.  If we want it, we can get it for the rest of our lives, oh yeah.  We’re rising, even though we don’t really know the conflict.
If you can be both unprepared and unsurprised for a climax, then that’s what the next two songs, arguably the best on the album, do.  “Monster” is so rife with conflict, I recommend you pull over to the side of the road if you’re listening to this in the car.  Whereas “So Appalled” presents the practical side of violence.  It’s like that sometimes. So ridiculous.
Is it a problem that we’re only halfway through the album and the high point has come and gone? Not in Kanye West land.  He must have had the same writing teacher as I did, and therefore knows that all good plots contain more than one conflict.  The next several tracks are like a related understory, and they’re a needed distraction, up until “Blame Game,” the only place on the album where I see West slipping back into “Barry Bonds” mode.  I skip this track, even though I accept it, like previous throwaway tracks, as West being the asshole version of West.  But “Lost in the World” brings back the magic, winding down the action though not quite resolving any of the dissolution.  Unless you believe that being lost equals being wonderful.
Much has been said about the ending of this album, and I won’t bore you by repeating it all.  I’ll just echo the claims that the 98-second track, “Who Will Survive in America?,” is both the perfect and the oddest choice for a resolution to our story, as much for its nonplussed “golf clap” ending as its unanswered questions (see above-mentioned crotch/freedom metaphor).
Like all good albums, you’ll have to listen to this one again and again to figure it all out.  And like all good stories, you’ll want to.  Be sure and copy the album into your iTunes; this one’s gonna get worn out.

If you’ve enjoyed this edition of 30POV reviews, and would like to be a part, please contact the editor at dear30pov@gmail.com!

2 responses to “Pop Culture Paradoxes”

  1. Avatar disperse says:

    RE: The new Kanye West album
    Yeah, from what I've heard of it, Monster is a great song and, not to blemish lee lee's street cred, I think it is sweet how she mutes certain (violent, misogynistic) lyrics for my benefit.

  2. Avatar The Tailor says:

    Owen: I read Wheel of Time up to about Book 6 or so, and quit because I felt like nothing was happening. I might have to go back to it now.
    Em: Your review actually makes me want to see Black Swan more.
    Lee Lee: I still think Kanye is a dick.

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