PROTECT THE GRASS, SAVE THE PEOPLE
(AND THE MONKEYS)
National Geographic, USA
2017, 2 min 16 sec
On and off for nearly half a millennium, rural enforcers have patrolled the perimeter of a 42-square-mile high savanna called the Menz-Guassa Community Conservation Area, or simply, Guassa. Admassu Getaneh, a hired gun and former soldier, is here to make sure that no one steals or ruins the grass. If you want to protect the world’s only grass-eating monkey, saving the grass is a good start. In Guassa, local villagers run the place. A complex communal system determines where livestock grazes, who cuts grass, and when. As a result this landscape one-sixth the size of Nairobi is among East Africa’s healthiest.
I CONTAIN MULTITUDES
Ed Yong, Politics & Prose, Washington, USA
2016, 52 min 13 sec
Once known simply as “germs” and feared as disease-carriers, microorganisms are now known to perform a wide range of beneficial functions in their particular ecosystems; in fact, these life-sustaining organisms far outnumber the pathogens. In his first book, Yong, who covers science for The Atlantic and writes the National Geographic blog, “Not Exactly Rocket Science” gives readers a tour of these microbiomes, one of which is the human body. Inhabited by an astonishing number of microscopic specialists, the human biome could almost be considered a vital organ itself, one which enables our metabolism, regulates our immune system, and even helps determine certain behaviors. As we learn more, research scientists foresee medical treatments based on ecosystem transplants and artisanal bacteria.
HOW WOLVES CHANGE RIVERS
National Geographic, USA
2014, 4 min 33 sec
When wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the United States after being absent nearly 70 years, the most remarkable “trophic cascade” occurred. What is a trophic cascade and how exactly do wolves change rivers? George Monbiot explains in this movie remix.
ANTS & MUTUAL AID
Kropotkin, BBC, Great Britain
4 min 37 sec
A few excerpts from Mutual Aid: A Factor in Evolution.
Ants seem to be evolutionarily much more successful than us due to their social organisation. What is considered as good amongst ants is that which is useful for the preservation of the species and what is considered evil is that what is hurtful for preservation, not for the individual, but fair and good for the whole species.
THE SIMPSONS SWEATSHOP
Banksy, Opening Sequence The Simpsons, Episode 3 Season 22; Fox Networks; Los Angeles, USA
2012, 1 min 43 sec
Banksy blows the lid off Simpsons Sweatshop! Street artist Banksy made his mark on The Simpsons, directing an opening-credit sequence that starts off with graffiti jokes and winds up in a grim Asian animation sweatshop. The last half of the intro, embedded above, plays like a miniature cartoon version of Upton Sinclair’s 1906 meatpacking exposé The Jungle. Apparently, vats of toxic waste, chipped furry critters and an abused unicorn all help keep the Simpsons entertainment factory chugging in the show’s 22nd season.
LES MAÎTRES FOUS
Jean Rouch, France
1955, 27 min 51 sec
Les Maitres fous is about a ceremony performed for the camera by the Hauka, a religious sect that was widespread in West Africa from the 1920s to the 1950s. There were at least 30,000 practicing in the Ghaniain city of Accra in 1954 when Jean Rouch was asked by a small group to film their annual ceremony. During the ritual, which took place on a remote site a few hours drive from the city, the Hauka went into a trance and become possessed with the spirits of their colonial masters, imitating and mocking their behaviour in a grotesque manner. They are also shown speaking in tongues, frothing at the mouth, handling fire, reaching into boiling water without being burned, and eating a dog. The effect is both fascinating and unsettling. Indeed, the colonial authorities were perturbed enough by the scenes portrayed that they banned the film in 1955 and it remains controversial to this day.
Jean Rouch was one of the founders of cinema vérité and a pioneering ethnographer. He was devoted to Africa and spent most of his five decades as a filmmaker documenting the lives of its peoples. Avoiding sentimentality or condescension, he recorded what he saw; always respecting the veracity of the image in relation to the reality filmed and genuinely concerned with the fair treatment of his subjects. Much of Les Maitres fous’s distinctive appeal comes from the juxtaposition between Rouch’s laid-back, objective narration and the sensational imagery of what we are watching. In his commentary he asserts what has become the standard interpretation of the ritual – that it is a parody of the colonial occupation, with the Hauka focusing their disdain for their white masters into exaggerated appropriations of their masters’ ceremonial rites and dress and manners. Some anthropologists have criticised this analysis, arguing that the imitation in the ceremony is a way for the indigenous people to gain rights and status in the colonial society; their adoption of the European customs not so much a form of resistance, more a way to be respected by the Europeans. As the Hauka movement died out soon after the film was shot, we will probably never know for sure the precise meaning of the witnessed ritual.
Whatever its true significance, the scenes captured in Les Maitres fous hold a visceral power that has proved enduringly influential on Western culture. Jean Genet wrote his play The Blacks (1959) in which blacks assume the role of masters, after seeing Rouch’s film, and Peter Brook’s staging of Peter Weiss’s play Marat/Sade (1964) was influenced by the theatricality and spontaneous language of Hauka possession. The ritual’s very ambiguity gives it a universality beyond its immediate time and place. Even the title is open for interpretation – are the Africans the masters of madness in the way they behave or is it the British and their ceremonial displays who are the mad ones? Rouch encourages such speculation as he cuts between a parade ground and the Hauka mimicking the rigid gestures of the Governor and his troops. Les Maitres fous has been called the “greatest anti-colonialist movie ever made,” yet when it was first shown in Paris, there were some who asked that it be destroyed fearing that it confirmed every stereotype held by Westerners about “savages.” Yet however it might be interpreted, the desire of the powerless to break free and overcome their situation through shamanistic ritual is common to all civilizations. As Jean Rouch himself described the Hauka ceremony: “This violent game is only the reflection of our civilization.”
WHO OWNS KAFKA?
Judith Butler, London review of books 2015
56 min, 49 sec
Judith Butler’s lecture looks at the conflicting claims of ownership of Kafka’s original writings, and considers the way states appropriate the works of writers for nationalistic purposes. Read the full lecture here: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v33/n05/judith-b…
The legal battle between the state of Israel and the German literary archive over the question of who owns Kafka’s work has prompted Israeli lawyers to argue that Kafka is an ‘asset of the Jewish people’ and hence, of Israel. At stake is Kafka’s own complex cultural formation as a Prague Jew writing in German who alternately praised and disavowed Zionism. Equally troubling is the assumption that Israel represents the Jewish people and that Kafka might be conceived as an ‘asset.’ Judith Butler proposes a reading of Kafka’s parables that quarrels with both sides of the legal case, seeking recourse to stories and fiction as a way of illuminating the limits of law and the diasporic (and messianic) alternative to Jewish nationalism. Judith Butler is Maxine Elliot Professor in the Department of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley. The lecture was delivered in the BP Lecture Theatre at the British Museum in January 2011 as part of the London Review of Books Winter Lectures series. ABOUT THE LRB Since 1979, the London Review of Books has stood up for the tradition of the literary and intellectual essay in English. Each issue contains up to 15 long reviews and essays by academics, writers and journalists. There are also shorter art and film reviews, as well as poems and a lively letters page. A typical issue moves through political commentary to science or ancient history by way of literary criticism and social anthropology. So, for example, an issue can open with a piece on the rhetoric of war, move on to reassessing the reputation of Pythagoras, follow that with articles on the situation in Iraq, the 19th-century super-rich, Nabokov’s unpublished novel, how saints got to be saints, the life and work of William Empson, and an assessment of the poetry of Alice Oswald.
JOHNSONS HANDCREAM CLIFFHANGER
An Advertising Industry in Panic
1991 0 min 33 sec
The remote control though, didn’t gain any real ground until the 1980s, as previously channel-hopping was limited to just a few networks. By the mid-1980s, however, the vast cable industry and the video recorder had made the remote control a necessity. Being used to targeting their television audiences, the advertising industry became alarmed by the zap-behaviour of TV viewers who were inaugurating a radically different pattern of television usage. Viewers, traditionally sold by the media industry as only statistics for ad revenues, were now suddenly taking control by flipping away from commercials.25
At this point the habit of zapping away from commercials was at epidemic levels, practised by 80 per cent of television viewers. The threat of commercial devastation alarmed the advertising industry.26 The trade press claimed that “advertising as a profession is very much in crisis”.27 In panic, the industry called for “zap-proof” commercials to dampen the power of the serial clickers in avoiding their product.28 Ad agencies clamoured for new research angles to give them a quick handle on the ad-avoiding epidemic.29 Stay-tuned strategies emerged to eliminate channel flipping and hook viewers to the TV set in order to carry them through a commercial break. Ad spots were reduced from 30 seconds to 15 seconds. Time crunching led to “hot switching” to reduce programme breaks, which were moved from programme end to mid-programme. Opening themes were reduced or simply eliminated. Superstars like Michael Jackson and Madonna were recruited for cross-over appearances in ads. Spots masqueraded as regular programming, and product placement was integrated into actual programmes.
No need to zap any more; the network did it for us.30 Dense editing à la MTV, with strong lead-ins and closing cliff-hangers, made sure eyeballs were kept glued to the screen. Comedy Central’s Short Attention Span Theater tacitly encouraged viewers to flip over to other channels, knowing they could rejoin the programme without losing the thread of the show.31 MTV tailored the new viewing habits into an animated series featuring two slackers who were addicted to their zapper: Beavis and Butt-head. Obsessively on the hunt for videos that didn’t suck, they satirized the very act of flipping channels. Critics claimed it was “Sesame Street for psychopaths”, but the programme did succeed in making MTV less prone to zapping by keeping viewers glued to the “idiot box”, as it came to be called.32 Ever savvy about influencing our perception of reality, the political arena followed suit. Case in point was the US invasion of Panama in December 1989: it was carefully planned to occur during The Super Bowl, a “low-zapping event”, assuring that the war would be consumed without much public outcry.
Incongruously, reality itself was about to turn into a zapping zone. Viewers’ zapping behaviour also forced the TV industry to refashion newscasts into accelerated MTV-style info-bits. News broadcasts got structured along the lines of the home shopping channel, with one video programmed after another in a constant rotating flow. CNN adopted similar strategies by repeating newsworthy morsels of infotainment 24/7, so viewers wouldn’t miss anything on their channel-hopping tour. The “drop-in” style allowed zappers to grab a beer from the fridge any time for a double dose of instant gratification.33 Moreover, television turned public space inside out: network executives began to substitute dramas for reality shows, reality for entertainment, and ultimately the viewer for the protagonist, beer still in hand. Reality was literally zapped…
Richard Fleischer, USA
1973, 3 min 21 sec
Soylent Green is an American science fiction film directed by Richard Fleischer starring Charlton Heston and Edward G. Robinson. The film overlays the police procedural and science fiction genres as it depicts the investigation into the murder of a wealthy businessman in a dystopian future suffering from pollution, overpopulation, depleted resources, poverty, dying oceans and a hot climate due to the greenhouse effect. Much of the population survives on processed food rations, including soylent green.
WHAT IS IT LIKE TO BE A BAT?
Thomas Nagel, Give me five
2020, 3 min 18 sec
This episode explore the philosopher Thomas Nagel’s famous paper “What it is lilke to be a bat?” which describes the nature of consciousness and rejects the reductive view of physicalism that consciousness just is the activity of physical systems.