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Daily Reads: Capitalist Seduction in ‘Fifty Shades,’ The Fight for Geek Culture’s Soul, and More

Daily Reads: Capitalist Seduction in 'Fifty Shades,' The Fight for Geek Culture's Soul, and More

Criticwire’s Daily Reads brings today’s essential
news stories and critical pieces to you.

1. The Capitalist Seduction of “Fifty Shades.” Everyone is paying attention to the sexual content of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” but far more interesting to BuzzFeed’s Anne Helen Petersen is the film’s capitalistic fantasy of freedom through wealth.

In his “contract,” Grey outlines all the ways in which Ana must be submit to his demands: He’ll control her health, her drinking, her diet, her method of birth control; how many nights they’ll stay together; when and how she’ll respond to his sexual demands; how she’ll be treated if she disobeys him. We’re meant to understand that Ana doesn’t have taste (she can’t dress herself; she drinks cosmos) or means (she drives an old Volkswagen Beetle; her computer is dead), so someone controlling that taste and offering her means, however circumscribed, is something like freedom — freedom from thinking, from deciding, from choosing: all the things that characterize our exhausting and overstimulated existence within capitalism. Here, Grey reproduces the rhetoric espoused by cultures past and present in which submission to patriarchy is figured as emancipation from vanity, worry, and self-consciousness. Every woman should be so lucky as to have someone to tell her how to live her life. It’s not difficult to see how this scenario, however seemingly regressive, morphs into fantasy: Sure, you surrender a modicum of free will, but free will is exhaustingRead more.

2. The Battle for the Soul of Geek Culture. Nerd culture is now popular culture, but it could veer into permanently ugly territory with all of the backlashes against women and other minorities making waves in video games and comic books. Moviepilot’s Alisha Grauso writes about why geekdom is so awful right now.

Understand this: It is not about the “ethics in gaming journalism” smokescreen that Gamergaters like to hide behind. It’s not about “teaching fake geek girls a lesson” that convention harassers claim. It’s not about “faithfulness to the story” as comic book fans say. It’s about fear. There have been hundreds of articles written about each of these separate incidents, the problems in each subset of geek culture, but the poison seed at the heart of all of it is fear. Read more.

3. How Joan Rivers Got That Way. Joan Rivers was always unapologetic, whether she was making Holocaust jokes or using “Fashion Police” to knock other women’s looks or dresses. Emily Nussbaum of The New Yorker wrote about how Rivers’ persona was created through decades of finding that yes, looks did matter when it came to getting ahead in showbiz. 

Rivers took that sexist bogeywoman and made it her own, raging at society from inside the stereotype: she was the Princess who did nothing but call herself ugly. She vomited that news out, mockingly, yearningly, with a shrug or with a finger pointed at the audience. “Arf, arf,” she’d bark, joking that a rapist had asked if they could just be friends. A woman I know used to sneak into the TV room, after her parents fell asleep, for the illicit thrill of seeing another woman call herself flat-chested. If Rivers’s act wasn’t explicitly feminist, it was radical in its own way: she was like a person trapped in a prison, shouting escape routes from her cell. Read more.

4. Terrence Malick’s Cathedrals. Terrence Malick’s films are deeply spiritual, and they often evoke something close to religious feelings even among the non-religious. RogerEbert.com’s Matt Zoller Seitz shared his introduction to the new book “Faith and Spirituality in Masters of World Cinema,” where he wrote about how “Some people make films. Terrence Malick builds cathedrals.”

He’s become increasingly less interested in straightforward linear plotting and more inclined to ruminate, meander, and riff. This tendency manifests itself most strikingly in the way that Malick diminishes his protagonists. He often does this by reminding us that as emotionally overwhelming as life can be while we’re living it, we’re ultimately just intelligent mammals inhabiting the same ecosystem on the same small planet in the same unfathomably vast universe. The tension between the importance of individual desires and the indifference of society and nature fuels every creative choice he makes, and fosters that simultaneous, seemingly contradictory feeling that we’re on the outside and the inside of life at the same time, plagued by feelings of meaninglessness and hopelessness even as love and beauty reassure us that there is a point to everything—that all mysteries will be solved, all secrets revealed, somehow, some way. Read more.

5. Movies That Got Better When They Got Longer. Lana and Andy Wachowski are making a longer cut of “Cloud Atlas,” and while many feel the film is long enough as it is, plenty of other films grew in estimation after getting extended cuts. Bilge Ebiri of Vulture picks 12 notable examples, including this great Sergio Leone film:

“Once Upon a Time in America” (1984). Sergio Leone’s gangster masterpiece, starring Robert De Niro and James Woods as two small-time hoods and best friends whose lives are upended by a mysterious betrayal, was the Italian director’s most ambitious film — a decades-in-the-making labor of love. It premiered at Cannes in a nearly four-hour version, but when it opened in the U.S. later that year, it had been cut down to a disastrous 139 minutes. This reduced version undid the film’s intricate, time-hopping structure and hacked away acres of character development and story. Perhaps understandably, it was a financial disaster. Years later, it was restored to the 229-minute version that had premiered at Cannes, and in recent years, it’s been restored even further, to a 250-minute version closer to the late director’s original wishes. Read more.

6. Why Cinephiles Need to Pay Attention to PBS. 
The PBS anthology doc series “POV” and “Independent Lens” give directors both old and new great opportunities, but it’s slowly dying. Andrew Lapin of The Dissolve says it’s time to watch it before it’s too late.

So what’s the problem? Pick a local public TV station and try tracking down either “POV”
 or “Independent Lens” The shows are a beautiful but threatened species, the white rhinos of TV. PBS recommends that its affiliates schedule the shows on Mondays during prime time, but increasingly, each station has found more valuable properties to air during those timeslots—usually shows with more appeal to the elderly viewers who plunk down dollars at pledge time. Instead, many stations will wait days or weeks, then program the films into ridiculous timeslots, saving prime time for “Antiques Roadshow” reruns and British baking specials. Last year, for example, WETA in Washington, D.C. slotted Frederick Wiseman’s four-hour college-campus dissection “At Berkeley” for a Saturday night at 11 p.m. Meaning that it finished around 3:00 a.m. Grab a Red Bull and saddle up, fans of laboriously paced anthropological studies.  Read more.

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