Joan Didion Documentary

I fell in love with Joan Didion when I read The White Album. Maybe college, or shortly after. She was such a good observer. Wordmaster, yes. But above all, she was courageous. She reached down deep to the center of her being and pulled it out, and allowed everyone to see. The essay in The White Album about migraines. The one about water in California. The one about the Black Panthers, and then one about Doris Lessing. If we look carefully at the treatment of all these diverse subjects, we see her reflecting, shaping.

She continues revealing herself with this documentary on Netflix. She is frail, but her mind is still as sharp as ever. We get glimpses of the comedy and the tragedy of her life as her nephew feeds her questions to continue the dialog between her and the reader. Continually surprising (watch what she thinks about discovering a 5-year old on acid in the Haight (SF) of the 60’s). Yes, she is self-absorbed at times, but she is still observing and showing how she observes and tells it how it is, deep down, not just how it appears.

I have been lax, but am happy to be able to read her most recent 2 books even though they are real downers, about the tragedy and impermanence of life. Almost Buddhist. The title (The Center Will Not Hold) comes from a Yeats poem, The Second Coming (“the centre cannot hold”), which ends with the line about Slouching Towards Bethlehem, the title of the collection of Didion’s essays just before The White Album.

A sad day at school for kissing

During break time, between classes, I like to play interesting videos, mostly with visual content, to get students focused on topics that may come up in one of my classes. Here is the one from this week.

A videographer for WREN Studios paid 20 models to kiss another model on film. Beautiful to look at. Then VICE, a documentary company, did the same thing with normal people. Here is another one, much longer, using people from New York.

Normally, I only show one video between classes. In my Digital Media class, however, this has developed into a good chunk of a lesson on differences between YouTube and TV. I play the first video, and as two questions: 1)What video is this? and 2) How does it make you feel? They jot down notes, some key words, collect their thoughts and then discuss. Question one is intended to devolve into a critical thinking activity, when students want to know what kind of video this is. Who made it? Why did they make it? Who is the intended audience. Today, I had to explain that this first video was a viral video, an immediately very popular video last year. It was billed as a video from a creation agency, and featured 20 strangers kissing. Turns out, though, that the “strangers” are all actors. Wren is a women’s clothing company. This viral video was just a new kind of commercial.

The student reaction was slight discomfort, and in a few cases more than that, when two of the 10 “couples” kissing were gay. Vice Studios, makers of those new style documentaries, did another version, this time with real people, not actors. The same two questions elicited very different answers. One student pointed out that the second video above, by Vice, had more realistic camera work, showing off the reality of the “couples” kissing. But most felt even more uncomfortable, as there were unusual mixes, with a very tall guy and a short woman, mixed races, and people that did not look at all like actors. And some gay people as well. The sentiment I got from the class was that these people were not “normal”.

The third linked video is another about kissing, and I used it to contrast with the first two, in that it was filmed in New York, instead of London, where the second one was filmed. (Not sure where the first one was filmed.) The people recruited for this third were an even more unusual assemblage, but all came as volunteers through word of mouth to help the director with her project.

There was a lot more talking in the third video, and students picked up on the commentary, mostly light banter. Again the same two questions. Why would a director in New York with a Korean name make a video of people kissing. And ask her boyfriend to stand in for one missing volunteer.

Asked whether this kind of video would appear on TV, there was a resounding “no!”, followed by a couple students saying “especially not here in Japan.” We went through some of the reasons why this would only work on YouTube. At the end of class, I asked students to wrap up their thoughts about all three videos in a short post to our online discussion area. And two of these (done off the bat) made me sad.

“I prefer the first video. because, all of them are actors or actress. So, they kissed naturally.”

And the other…”The first video was better than the others. I laughed at first, but gradually  it made me disgusted to watch.”

Intolerance pops up in places I would not have thought. This will be an interesting semester.

Hawaii pictures

Ruka's Wedding

Ruka's Wedding

Maki and Julia had a wonderful time in Hawaii for our niece Ruka’s wedding. They spent 5 days at the Moana Surfrider hotel with Ginger and Anri, in from Colorado. Maki’s sister, her daughter-in-law Jazelle and her son were also enjoying the meet. Ginger rented a van and got people beyond the confines of Waikiki. I’ve only heard a few stories, Julia and Anri fell asleep about 9PM. More later.