Trash Pension

In an attempt to get over my teenage phase of being angry at everything in lieu of not having a real personality, I make a conscious effort these days to reserve my bile until I really need it. The problem is I don’t always know what is and isn’t worth getting angry about.

A little while ago I told you about the advertising biker ninjas that are rife in Korea, even though what they are doing is tantamount to drive-by littering. I want to talk about something far more insidious and nowhere near as cool.

There’s a generation of South Koreans who grew-up through the hardships of the immediate post-war period, but were too old to build careers by the time the ’80s economic miracle could help their children. Pensions and social support seem to be lacking, because everywhere I go, I see the middle-aged and elderly packing up recycling, working in convenience stores, and doing work generally suited to those much younger and less desperate than they are.

Something that always enraged me when I first came here was seeing people walking around street corners with satchels full of glossy A6 flyers, taking out a few at a time and chucking them on the street. I recently moved closer into the heart of my city, and I now see it every night; streets slathered with ads for whatever new bar or noraebang that won’t survive three months before replaced by an identical establishment. At first, the lapsed environmentalist in me wanted to smack these people in the face. At best, this is advertising to drunk people. At worst, it’s the most bare-faced form of littering and disrespect to the Earth you could commit.

Now, though, I can see it for what it is, simply one step in a self-perpetuating network of paid chores that keeps the elderly on some kind of (barely) living wage. I leave work around 9pm and watch these guys sling reams of dead trees on the roads. Then, next morning as I walk to work, I watch old women sweep them up into bags and sort it amongst the rest of the trash and recycling. And so one hand washes the other, I guess.

But who should I be angry at? Should I be angry at someone? As a bleeding-heart Bevanite myself, it breaks my heart to see people who can’t even right their own posture have to sweep up after each other to get by, and I want to know who is responsible for making them do such damaging work and who in government is failing them. When people ask me why I’m here, I often say it’s so I can watch a recently developed country evolve firsthand. It’s unique, it’s fascinating, but it’s also sometimes disgusting.

Twin Peaks (1990-2017) – Fandom, Experimental Culture, and Artistic Relevance

Some thoughts on fandom, experimental culture, the artistic relevance of Twin Peaks (1990-1991), and how these relate to the new Twin Peaks (2017).

Quick background, I swear it’s relevant: I’m in my 20s. Twin Peaks had long since ended by the time I was born. I didn’t see the original series until 2012, having seen several of Lynch’s other films. I asked my mother, who is no Lynch fan by a long shot, if she watched it when it was originally on. She said that she didn’t really enjoy watching it for what it was, but she wished that it was rerun from time to time.

I have similar feelings for several landmark albums in experimental music. Let’s say Bitches Brew, or Kid A. I listen to them every once in a blue moon because I feel they take me outside of my comfort zone, and I feel I learn something new with each successive listen, but I rarely put them on for fun or background music. They’re more attempts to discover how these things influenced other things that I actually do enjoy. Little artistic pilgrimages, I guess; that’s their value to me. Twin Peaks might have served a similar purpose for manyviewers that originally watched it.

That, of course, is just a subjective and anecdotal thought, but it got me thinking. I doubt that the majority of the people that made up the original series’ viewership are making up a comparable proportion of that for the new series (who are much closer to my age). The latter are also the people most vocal about how little they feel the new episodes so far have in common with the previous series.

I think this little phenomenon is a kind of “inherited nostalgia” – when the fanbase of a long-running or dormant property gains a younger following that outnumbers its original audience. It happens a lot with movies and videogames. I wonder how many people who enjoyed the original Alien when it came out find common ground with the younger fans half their age who feel the more recent sequels don’t do it justice.

Don’t misunderstand, it would make no sense for someone my age to suggest ‘original’ fans of something have more worthwhile opinions just because they experienced firsthand the culture that the originals were made in. But when creators/cast/developers/etc. are reunited for another bash (especially to the extent and scale that Twin Peaks is going), surely their original intentions remain inextricably linked to the new material, or else they’d try making something new entirely? (Alright, I’m being naive. There’s always money to be made, too, but if anything was definitely not going to be a reliably bankable cash cow, it was probably Twin Peaks – and if that was the ill-conceived intention behind this, they really needed to be making stronger plays toward that very nostalgia).

Famously, the 1992 Twin Peaks movie, Fire Walk With Me, was critically panned at the time. It was much darker in tone and graphic in content the TV show, alienating fans. It has since gained a devoted following as its own horror film, rather than a worthwhile expansion of the Twin Peaks canon – which is what fans at the time really wanted.

To my surprise, the new series feels far more like FWWM than the original show. At times, I feel like I’m watching a multi-part Mulholland Drive sequel featuring occasional role reprisals from TP cast. Fans of the old TV show enjoy its huge cast of idiosyncratic characters and the surprisingly cosy atmosphere, despite its grim subject matter. I would say anyone could watch a first-season episode and find at least a few characters that they have a strong reaction to. What draws new fans is its economy of narrative and character development, something that the new series is making a point to completely avoid.

The new episodes, so far, revel in stilted character interaction, with takes so long and atmospheres so airless that there is less suspense; more just outright dread. Most strikingly, the sweeping melodramatic Angelo Badalmenti musical numbers that formed so much of the original’s emotional backbone is not only largely missing, but replaced by nothing. At the same time, it is completely reliant on the viewer’s understanding and interest of the previous series, or else nothing makes any sense (well, insofar as anything in TP ever made sense). I’ve never seen anything simultaneously build its world while keep so much of it at arm’s length. It’s fascinating.

The original Twin Peaks was an experimental groundbreaker for TV drama. Those discussions normally revolve around its filmic production qualities, unusual approach to character development, or most obviously, the surrealism. Arguably, its work was done as soon as it went off the air (or even the moment we found out who Laura Palmer’s killer was, which led to a comparatively directionless second season). 25 years of its influence later, there is no reason for it to return other than to wrap up its narrative loose ends. So, in the face of constant comparison to the original, it is running in the other direction – by being stubbornly un-Twin Peaksy. Not everyone is on board with that, but most of them have had the luxury of enjoying (or growing up with) the things that the original has influenced. It is still mindblowing that the original even got made at the time that it did, at a time when it was on a network competing with Cheers for the same timeslot – let alone that we are getting more a quarter-century down the line. In this era of the HBO-megabudget, TP seems unwilling to either be completely original or pandering fanservice, and that’s probably the best line it could have taken to remain artistically relevant.

My final thought is this. How entitled is a fanbase to a sequel/revival/reboot being what they want it to be? In TP‘s case, mitation of the original atmosphere would be pointless, and what we’ve gotten so far is as unlike the original as that show was to anything else in the early ’90s. Those people tuned in weekly to try to make sense of a then-unique narrative style that everyone was talking about, or just to enjoy an atmosphere that nothing else on TV was coming close to offering. Now, a sizeable portion of the fanbase are doing the opposite thing, streaming it on-demand and wondering when it is going to closer resemble that weird show the way they liked it. However it wraps up, it’s pleasingly unpredictable so far. Isn’t that what we all really liked about Twin Peaks?

Future Prospects

Dammit, this ice isn’t icy enough. I bought two of the biggest bags that the mart has, but the moment you shove your hands in them, even after the less demanding conjures from this module, they just evaporate. Cooldown’s gonna take at least 15 minutes, and I can’t exactly type up coursework while your hands are still hot enough to melt plastic. So I can’t use my phone, either.

It’s when I take breathers like this I let myself dwell too much on the many lectures dad gave me before I graduated high school.

‘You’re thinking about today, not the future. There’s just no money in the elementals anymore.’
‘What, you wanna end up doing landscaping for the government like your mom’s dad? Worked him to death, that did. Literally.’
‘Go on, then. As your father, I have the responsibility to support the decisions you take, but it don’t mean I have to be proud of them.’

These demoralising little soundbites loop with greater frequency as exam time looms closer. I beat myself up into submission via my dad until I knuckle down and do something. It’s the only way I can revise when blowing shit up loses its lustre. More than anything, though, I just never want to admit that, God forbid, maybe he kinda sorta has a point in a way?

I used to think it was a generational thing. Like, you get a job, have kids, get old and suddenly you forget how cool it is that whoah! Some people can make fire out of fucking nothing! But then college application time came around and even my closest and dumbest friends have been having these great life-affirming changes of heart about what discipline they’re going to take, no matter how unsuited to them it is. Take Toby last week:

‘Well, y’know, I’m probably gonna go into projection for my major.’

‘What the hell are you talking about, Toby? You’ve been straight fulgurkinetic since fourth grade.’

‘Projection’s all just mental imagery, how hard can it be, you just gotta study.’

‘Yeah, that’s just why we both do elementals. We suck at studying. Elementals are at least 80% practice and practicals.’

‘But what am I gonna do in ten years, huh? There’s too many electric users and too few jobs. Screw government hire, too. They’d only make me power backup or stick me in the military.’

‘This from the guy who fucks around with the power grid at parties so girls will talk to him. Get outta here.’

It’s not a totally unrealistic idea. The teachers in our elementary used to think that Toby had a knack for telekinesis, which draws on mental rather than spiritual energy (the latter being less tangible than the former; go figure). The only reason he went down the elemental path with me is because fire and electricity are literally the two coolest things ever when you’re young. We used to go around getting into fights with kids from other schools. The fact that fire can conduct electricity at high enough voltages and compound one another’s destructive force in great, arcing snakes of doom made us badasses… for a few years, anyway. We literally conjured flaming serpents that ‘breathed’ lightning – such are the priorities and aesthetics of 14-year-old boys – but I stand by them. It was cool.

I’d say that Toby himself has changed, and bitch about that instead, but the truth is he hasn’t; he just thinks the same way too many people now think about choosing their discipline. Like going to college is nothing more than a trampoline to greater employment. I may not be a great student, but for eight hours every day, the government loans me bed and board to learn how to make and control fire out of thin air better and hotter than I could the day before. If that isn’t life, then I really don’t know what is, or care for a future where it isn’t. Still, those smug-ass mental-users don’t spend, like, a quarter of their lives in cold baths, and they make more money later on. Bastards.

Buried (2010)

Buried, 2010, Spain/US, 95 mins. Directed by Rodrigo Cortés.

buried

CONTEXT
Here’s something I think about when I’m having one of my less cheerful days – why would anything good ever happen? On the basis of events past, present and predictable, why would it? I mean, look at the mounting evidence:

  • Exhibit A. 2016, all of it
  • Exhibit B. A sentient, sexist tomato just got inaugermentated as President of the US
  • Exhibit C. We’ve all got work on Monday, haven’t we

Nuts to the lot of it. Buried, then, was actually the perfect perspective-giver. I mean, the main character of the movie would have to live with these things, too. But then, he’s also trapped in a box, but I’m not. What I’m saying is, I have times when I forget myself. Then I scramble back onto my white-male-first-world-English-speaking horse and carry on!

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A Street Cat Named Bob (2016)

A Street Cat Named Bob, 2016, UK, 103 mins. Directed by Roger Spottiswoode.

A Street Cat Named Bob

CONTEXT
My Korean friend suggested we see this:
British friend + British movie = yes!
She also really likes cats, so everybody wins. I knew little going in, other than it sounded like a good comfy tonic to the unhealthy string of murder movies I’d been subjecting myself to at home.

Korean cinemas feel like the Wittertainment Code of Conduct has been enforced by law – during trailers you can visibly see the rows in front of you take their phones out and turn them off completely. While they do still sell the noisier snacks (nachos, for the love of God) attendees go to great lengths to inconvenience their fellow cinemagoers as little as possible. Even if it means smacking their noisy child until the crying stops.

Western films are received very soon after their domestic releases, with original dialogue retained and accompanied by Korean subtitles. My Korean is awful, but I do still read enough to be disappointed that the myriad nuances of ‘mate’ are lost with 친구 (chingu – ‘friend’, but generally someone of the same age). Deservedly, they don’t even try with ‘brass monkeys’, just 추워 (chuweo – cold weather), and the sooner we stamp it out of even ironic usage the better.

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Panic Room (2002)

Panic Room, 2002, US, 113 mins. Directed by David Fincher.

Panic Room.png

CONTEXT
Here’s how I watch films these days. I check my backlog of recommendations from friends, reviews and long-ignored required university course viewings and pick something from a genre I’m in the mood for. Rather than continue working my way through the list, I start down the rabbit hole of the movie I just finished. Who directed that? Who was that one actress who was really good? What else in this genre was made around this time? Right now, I’m on a David Fincher kick, and today I’ve ended up with the most unFincher Fincher he’s ever Finchered. Say it aloud, try it. Dude’s surname is the verbal equivalent of cocking a handgun. Fffffin-CHer.

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Se7en (1995)

Se7en, 1995, US, 127 mins. Directed by David Fincher.

seven

CONTEXT
I like to precede my reviews with a little grounding of where my head was at when I went into it. Opinions can’t entirely be divorced from the circumstances in which they were made, just like how no art exists in a vacuum – just dust hahaha! Cut this part

I watched Se7en late at night in my home on a laptop. I live in a fifth-floor apartment in a country whose language I don’t know enough of to adequately phone for help in case anyone wanted to wander in and viciously murder me to death. What I’m getting at is that while I was probably particularly susceptible to its horror elements at the time I watched it, Se七en is still decisively a psych-thriller.

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