Numerous months ago now, when I was moving into a new room in our
house, which entailed a massive sort out of shit, I stumbled upon
something awesome. No we didn't find some ridiculously ugly antique
which is actually worth a shitload of money, in fact this item isn't
probably worth that much, but to me its worth a lot. It's something
which I wished I'd had and thought about buying, but knowing nothing
about this particular object or the hobby attached to it I decided it
might be a frivolous waste of my money, kinda like my buying a £300
guitar was; especially in these times of economic hardship. However
this discovery has saved me the money...
See, amidst my growing love for the old, I've developed a slight obsession for vintage items. But it's really quite a mish-mash of different eras and things that I like; I love art deco architecture and design, especially the huge wooden dressing tables and chests they would have back then, along with the visual art and posters. I also love furniture from the 1960s, especially chairs! Amongst the growing list of things I wish I'd studied and become, chair designer is one of them (woodwork was my favourite lesson). I don't quite know what it is about chairs that I especially love, but the iconic ones by Eams & Breur just grab me ... my future house is going to be filled with chairs. I can't get enough of 1950s and 60s stuff; the wiggle dresses of the 50s or mini go-go shift dresses of the 60s, little trinkets and the Bakelite phones etc, although I think I want one of these phones when I can get one.
Anyway, getting off track a bit here, amongst this wish list of items what I really wanted was an old school camera. One like David Hemmings has when he's running around in Blow Up, failing to do a thing about the murder he's captured on film cause he's too busy shagging Jane Birkin & going to freaky parties in castles (or is that last bit La Dolce Vita ... it's all blur). If you haven't see it, I've just spoilt you on it but here's a little visual so you know what I'm talking about... Sexy!
as I said, it's probably not worth loads, but it's in good nick, and
comes with an over the shoulder carrying case, an extra zoom lens and a
separate flash bulb you attach to the top. I got so excited about this
I spent the next few hours prancing around pretending I was Hemmings or
some kind of David Bailey type that I overlooked the fact I have no
clue how to work it, and know sod all about photography.
Now as seemingly everyone will attest to the same, I've always wished to learn photography, or at least get better at it and be able to take arty, poncy shots of breaking waves and shit. So this find has thrown up the prime opportunity, overnight I have acquired an awesome non-digital, proper film SLR camera, now to just learn about photography. I have managed to find a manual online of what all the buttons and dials do, so really I want to get a little guide book to how all the things like shutter speed and light affect the shots.
It's actually quite
nice and nostalgic to find something that is a throwback to how things
used to be done. The digital camera has become so ubiquitous now, its
funny having to learn how to fit a film, and in a way I feel it is
better that you don't have 8GB of memory to take hundreds of shots -
with this you only have 35 shots before your film is up. It's both
limiting yet oddly liberating at the same time; in the sense that it
liberates you from the shackles of dependency upon digital means and
complacency to good shot making that this engenders in photographers.
The nostalgia it creates is comforting, kind of like going back to
watching VHS or playing an old mix tape, that you'd sat for three hours
listening to the top 40 on the radio to record the best songs;
frantically scrabbling to cut it right so you didn't get any of the
annoying radio sound bite or adverts trampling over the ends and then
minutely writing the track listing out on the back cover. Aah those
were the days!
I have not been disappointed, as Generation Kill contains all the elements of The Wire that made it the epic and compelling show that it was. As with The Wire, Generation Kill starts out by throwing you right into the proverbial shit... no intros as to the premise of the show, the situation or the characters. It's a whirlwind of a whistle stop tour through all the players within the battalion.. people barking names, usually confusing nicknames and their ranks left right and centre so that you have no clue who or what anyone is talking about. Knowing the names and rankings/hierarchy of the characters is vital to knowing what the fuck is going on... just as it was vital to know the hierarchy of the police dept. and gangs in The Wire. It is also hyper realistic, as was The Wire, and soon you'll be immersed in the marine's slang as well as their technical and military speak; you'll know what ROE's are and when to step off.
And so you follow the journey of the young marines, mainly of the four that the reporter rides with (one being Ziggy's character - Cpl. Person seen here giving his expert view on why the US are in Iraq), through there different missions and trials. It's safe to say that Simon has painted the military war in Iraq in a similar way to the war on drugs in Baltimore; ultimately it's the institutions themselves, bureaucracy and incompetent chain of command that fuck things up and is the downfall of the men on the ground trying to win a war. As with the homicide dept. in The Wire, the marine unit contains highly trained men ready to do their job properly, and then there are the incompetent dicks within the command who constantly follow protocol and orders, even when it's counterproductive. Then there are the plain psychotic idiots who shouldn't be allowed to go near a gun like Captain America, who freaks out at the slightest sign of combat firing off rounds of ammo into empty cars and shouting like a maniac at everything ... which happens to be hilarious when watched, but disconcerting when you realise that he's based on a real life marine. However, it lacks the element of the homicide detectives who just couldn't give a fuck... here the marines are gagging for military action like Cpl. Trombley who displays a disturbing psycho streak to his views and actions.
There are some incidents and scenes which bring home the gravity of the mistakes than can be made and the frustration of a lack of strategy. The best scene so far for me has been at the start of episode five, where the unit were calmly doing recon on a small hamlet filled with women and children, which out of nowhere gets blown to shit after an aerial assault, which no one called in. Though as you can see from these clips, that whilst GK is a hard hitting and evocative drama about the cluster fuck that has been the Iraq war, it is also perfectly balanced with humour that the characters bring, and some lovely insightful conversations and comments into the way of the world ... yes you guessed it ... just as The Wire did. The similarities in style, writing and direction are plain to see, but then I see no wrong in that, as The Wire has been one of the greatest pieces of drama in... well all of TV.
I still have the last two episodes to watch, but what made me want to write a piece on this is the strange occurrence of a small part of me finding the idea of being a marine on some level appealing! ... I keep dreaming of such things, although I think that is due to the fact I'm watching it before I go to sleep.
Now don't get me wrong in no way am I saying that I would like to become a soldier, join the army or any of that. Or that going to war and killing innocent people appeals to me in any way. In fact the very idea of voluntarily joining an institution that is all about having an elite hierarchy, following orders, kowtowing and sucking ass to anyone higher up in rank, and is well known for being; aged, conservative and of treating new recruits like shit - is well intrinsically abhorrent to me. I actually struggle on most levels to understand why anyone sane would want to have their life run for them? To have their individuality stripped away and join a homogenous mass of men, who quite often do have question marks over their mental stability.
Now see I said above that I struggle on - key word - 'most levels', to understand why people join the army, airforce etc. It used to be a blanket covering 'all levels' of understanding, but then I don't think I'd ever really thought on the subject beyond the fact that I was averse to joining up. However, now that I have thought on it a bit more, there are actually a few of my character traits that fit in quite well with that kind of existence. I like to have goals set, and what better place than in an army where you will always have a mission set for you - and a pretty fucking important ones at that. I also like to be in control of things, although this would only work if I were high up within the chain of command, although on some level it could still work. You see I think the crux of why a life as "GI Jane" may be somewhat appealing to me is the orderliness. To have a mission, a plan, stability and a tangible meaning to your actions has a level of appeal.
I am a creature of orderliness. I love things to be clean, ordered, organised and planned. I think when I was at university I spent most of my essay time procrastinating by making lovely lists of all the books I needed, and all my resources .. hence why I usually had to write two essays in a day. I think the one thing going for the army is that it is an ordered life, everything is set out and neat. Although I think, that I only like to be this way, because I actually have the choice to do unplanned and individual things. To be able to screw with things and mess up the order of life, is a must to wanting order. If order, rules and constraints are placed upon me, then I can't stand it. It goes against my absolute need for independence and control over my own life.
And with that psycho babbling out of the way, I'll stick to my dreaming about being a marine - I think it's the driving a Hummer in those Ziggy sunglasses singing 'Tainted Love' at the top of my lungs, that does it.
Now the art of recommending music to people is no new phenomenon; in the past you would usually rely upon genre specific publications, radio, or a trusted friend with similar tastes, to give you the latest low down on new music, film books etc. However, in these modern times of digital media wizardry, where most people use their computer to procure, store and play all their music, it's no wonder that some clever genius cottoned on to the fact that recommending music to those too lazy to actively search around themselves, could mean big business. So now there are a rash of websites, providing people with not just any old recommendations based upon their lowly, uneducated ear - or poncy, high-brow sneering one - but tailor bloody made to your own wonderful tastes!
And about time too, I hear some people say, after all that computers can do you'd think they can match the fact that some idiot who likes one blonde-generic-pop-bimbo is going to like their slightly skinnier and younger clone too.
So you've now got Apple's so called 'Genius Bar', along with Last.fm and, one other that I've road tested, The Filter. Ignoring the fact that a part of me feels that ones taste in music and film cannot be predicted by a computer or based upon five reviews given of totally unrelated films - I do actually use these things. They are rather helpful in some respects. I am a huge fan of Last.fm, though somewhat biased because the other two are new to me. However, of what I've seen I'd still say Last.fm was ahead by a mile. It works by adding a small application to iTunes or whatever media player you use, and then 'scrobbles' (that would be records, to anyone normal) the tracks you listen to. Simple as! You don't need to do anything else but listen to your music as normal and the more you listen, the more it can build up knowledge of what you will like.
I've downloaded loads of new artists thanks to its recommendations, and have to say they're pretty spot on. Although take your eye off it for one moment and an accidental scrobble of Will Young could seriously damage your overall taste. Also I don't think it's quite sure what to suggest when I've scrobbled a mixture of Huey Lewis & Robert Palmer, Chopin, Slipknot and Dire Straits all in one week.... this is where nothing can trump the human mind.
The Filter is slightly different in that it relies upon a similar application and also your own % ratings of artists and films. Apparently it also combines the two and will deduce something along the lines, that if you listen to a lot of metal you will like horror films. I think The Filter is a good idea, but I find the rating and reviewing a laborious task - and the range of artists limited - and I'd say it's also true that people only really rate artists that they like and know, and are also swayed by what they deem cool to like/hate.
The Genius bar is somewhat negligible to be honest. It obviously recommends songs on that which you haven't already got, and which other users have also bought, like Amazon. To be honest it's clearly a catch up/marketing ploy by Apple to get you to purchase more from the iTunes store.
All three of these sites however rely upon the other users and how many members it has. Last.fm not only goes upon matching up obviously related artists, but also on what other users are listening to in addition to the root artist. So, as with so many things, these sites are only as good as their users.
Merits and drawbacks aside...
I find it a fascinating concept that nowadays, instead of relying upon any number of reviews and critical opinions, thought up by people who may have spent years immersed in a certain genre of music - we now listen to a computer. Instead of weighing up the opinion of people who have actual human ears to hear music, or eyes to see a film, and form an opinion on it, as well as knowing the background and progression of the artist and their work - we now take the advice of a computer. There's something highly disconcerting and a touch Orwellian about the fact that we rely upon highly devised mathematical algorithms to tell us what to listen to and watch.
Numerous things are wrong with this scenario; 1) It highlights a catastrophically huge waste of time, effort and above all money - Peter Gabriel's The Filter has had $8.5million in investment - to think up highly intricate algorithms - so as to be able to see that someone who likes Iggy Pop may also like The Stooges!!
2) To hear Peter Gabriel talk about it, you can't help but get the feeling that in fifty years time we'll be living in a futuristic world where humans and thinking altogether will have become obsolete; instead we'll all be run by computers, with nothing left to do but breathe. Well why not ey?... apparently freedom of choice is a massive burden, especially when we live a "24hr lifestyle". In fact it would seem that not only do these gadgets free us from the total inundation of media the interweb provides us (which, granted is a problem) - but that overall these programmes are better at knowing what you'll like than your own self!
And there's the crux - a somewhat ethical question really - will there come a day when computers are better at making decisions than a human mind. It starts with simple things like deciding upon songs or which route you take in a car - all in a nice calming voice, until they eventually become wiser and they decide that the meatsacks they are helping out are worthless lazy lumps - and they'd be better of without us!
Or maybe I've been reading too much fantasy sci-fi? I mean I live in a world of magical seeds for god's sake...