Stop point!

Let this blog entry serve as a visual marker that no more extra credit film reviews or blog entries can be accepted for credit past Wednesday, December 15th at 11:15am.

However, do feel free to use this space to extend discussion past the timeline of our course!

All the best,
Michelle

The Stepford Wives (2004)

The Stepford Wives Trailor

What does it take to become a Stepford wife, a woman perfect beyond belief? Ask the Stepford husbands, who've created every wife to perfection in Stepford, in a very modern comedy thriller called The Stepford Wives. The movie is about Joanna Eberhart, a president of a TV Network, who suffers a nervous breakdown and moved with her husband, Walter, from Manhattan to Stepford, Connecticut. Once there, she makes good friends with a jewish write named Bobbie. Bobbie and Joanna start to realize that everything in the town, especially the women are perfect. The women are beautiful, always put together, great cooks, and of course a wild stallion in the bedroom. Soon, Joanna and Bobbie's husbands start to get clued in on what is happening in the town through a group of husbands controlling and, of course, "making" their wives. The two husbands start to become interested. I thought this was a great movie showing the high standards that society puts on women. In the movie, there is an "ideal" women, which seems to be white, blond, skinny, big breasted, and a great lover, or in other words, a so called "trophy wife". Women are strong and independent people, and in this movie, all that is taken away from the women. For example: Joanna was a president of a huge TV network. She was wildly successful and, consequently, she made a majority of the money. Her husband, Walter, had a problem with this. He gives off a vibe in the movie, during that scene, that women are supposed to be homemakers and men have to bring home the bacon. This is a typical view in society. Men are supposed to be the strong, able- bodied people who make the majority of the money and take care of their wives, while the women stay home, take care of the kids, cook, clean, and give absolutely breath taking sex. Is this reality? This is absolutely not a reality. Women are unique in looks, cooking skills, sexual abilities, cleaning abilities, and parenting abilities. Men also vary in these skills. Are women held to the standard that we know and are experts in all the things listed above? Is society releasing that stereotype? Are men the dominant leaders in the family? Is society trying to perfect women by releasing this "female ideal" and offering plastic surgery, cosmetics, diet pills, and hair dyes? The reason why I thought this was a good movie is that it brings up all of the stereotypes of what a perfect woman is and smashes it into a million little pieces with thanks to Walter. In the end, you find out Walter never changed his wife into a Stepford wife. At the end you also find out that Claire Wellington was the "stepford wife" who created all these stereotypes. Is one person, thing, or media outlet responsible? Or is it everyone's problem that these stereotypes are created and bash independence and uniqueness? Who needs to be the ones to fix it? Is it a community effort or a solo effort?

Second Skin Review- Extra Credit

Second Skin is a documentary that follows gamers who play MMO games. The documentary follows the gamers through-out their daily lives to show how the game has effected them. The documentary offered both the positives and negatives of the gaming world.
In the beginning a group of men is followed. These men became best friends through the MMO they play. They ended up moving in together and because of their gaming they are like a family. The documentary follows them and what their daily lives look like. The next set of people the documentary follows are couples that have started dating because of the game. The couples state that their dating relationship was started similar to how any online line dating site would be. Many of these couples of been together for an adequate period of time and many of them are living together. The documentary then follows a couple where the woman is pregnant with twins and who is also a very understanding wife when it comes to her husband's gaming. The documentary follows the couple up until the babies are born.
All of these gamers spend hours playing their game of choice. The documentary gave a statistic saying that at least 11 hours per day are spent playing an online game and about 171 days out of the year are spent from start to finish playing the game. The game is a huge time commitment. The documentary offers the positives and the negatives of what the online gaming has created for these people. Many of these people find a sense of belonging because of gaming. These gamers say they easily get caught up in the mundane activities of everyday life of waking up, going to work, coming back from work, and doing housework. These games offer a sense that these people can escape the real world momentarily. The lecture we watched in class explains these issues a little further. The speaker stated that online games offer gamers a sense of belonging and make them feel like they can accomplish important things. When life bogs them down with situations that are difficult to solve and people start to second guess their capabilities, they can look to gaming as an outlet where they know they can solve difficult tasks. Also, for people with social anxiety or feel like they don't fit in with most people in real life, these people can find a variety of people in the online gaming world that they are able to make strong connections with.
The gaming world also has a lot of negative downfalls to it. The documentary states that 1 out of 5 gamers actually say they live in a virtual world. Also, many of these gamers have lost touch with their real life because they are too caught up in playing the game. Many people that the documentary follows have lost their jobs and have lost their friends in real life because they chose the game over everything. The man whose wife is about to have twins is actually scheduling his time with the babies around his gaming. This is a little pathetic and it is obvious to see that the priorities of these people are a little mixed up. Online gaming can also be addicting and pretty soon people are spending days straight on the computer and the only time they stop is because they physically aren't able to play the game anymore.
This documentary can tie in with the argument of feminism as well. Female gamers can feel empowered by these virtual worlds but they can be scrutinized against as well. One of the creators of an online game describes a situation where gaming can be positive for girls. The example was that if a heavy set girl that has been scrutinized against her entire life has to live in a small town. There is no chance for the girl to get out of the small town because she has to take care of her mother. Online games can offer a sense of escape where this same woman can chose the body and features she wants to have. To me, this may be liberating for some, but degrading at the same time. Society is creating these ideals where these types of women are being scrutinized against in real life. Gaming is an escape from their reality when these women should not have to feel like they need to escape in the first place. Another issue with feminism is when the creators of the games or men get to chose the women they want to have in their games. These women characters normally end up looking like a "Dolly Parton" with a huge test and the rest of the body is very petite. Laura Croft from Tombraider is a great example of what women characters normally end up looking like. These characters all enforce the ideal that society has created even more which is degrading to women in real life.

EC Film: Troubled Waters

When Troubled Waters premiered at the U I missed it (it sold out!), so I was excited to see it available online. Nevertheless, I didn't get around to watching it until yesterday when I decided to use it for an extra credit blog post. I'm glad I finally watched it. The film centers around issues that I already know a bit about generally, but not so much specifically (as in, I knew agriculture polluted waterways, but I hadn't learned about any specific stories).

The focus of the film was industrial agriculture and how runoff from farmlands damages bodies of water; the Mississippi River, Lake Pepin, and the gulf coast were discussed primarily. Essentially, modern agriculture uses immense amounts of synthetic fertilizer, which ends up in local waterways. The fertilizer travels downstream, polluting as it goes, and ends up in the gulf coast, contributing to a massive "dead zone." Dead zones are places where marine life can no longer exist - sediment with fertilizer leads to algal blooms, which die and deplete the area of oxygen. This has had an impact not only on the organisms who used to call the area home, but also on the lives of locals who relied on fishing to make a living. Additionally, the film discussed erosion, depletion of soil fertility, and various, more sustainable alternatives.

As fascinating as the film is by content alone, its release was controversial; for a while the U contemplated not releasing it at all. You can read the full story here. The official reason for pulling the film was that it needed further "scientific review" to ensure its objectivity and scientific accuracy. However, the film had already been reviewed by a number of scientists the previous year. The fact that the person who pulled the film is married to someone in big agriculture further throws that claim into doubt (although they have both denied that claim).

The entire debacle brings up issues of power. I watched the film keeping this in mind and on the lookout for bias. As far as I could tell, however, it was objective and scientific. It didn't name names even when it clearly could have, and it stuck to facts. It didn't even pander to our emotions, as many recent environmentalist films have. It was political, however, as it was critical of the Farm Bill and governmental support of monocropping. This issue of power (we have to ask, who has the ability to restrict something like this, and what are their motives?) is reminiscent of both the "epistemologies of ignorance" article and the unit on democratic science. More and more people are becoming aware of problems within modern agriculture, but many people still do not understand fully its disastrous outcomes. I really liked the final segment, in which possible solutions are given. Farmers who are commit to more sustainable farming by doing things like planting perennial grasses, rotating crops and bringing animals back to the fields are wonderful, inspiring examples of fair, democratic science. Monocropping generates profits, but it destroys the environment. Farmers should not have to choose between profit and ethics, so we really cannot blame farmers who plant those much discussed endless miles of corn. We need to ask why certain practices, like monocropping, are rewarded and we need to think about how to change that.

The film ends optimistically with "we all breathe the same air and drink the same water," so we all have a stake in how farming is performed. Our aim should be to "leave a better planet," and, in this case, that means questioning the way we farm and figuring out how to do it better.

Extra Credit: Second Skin analysis

Second Skin is a documentary that follows the lives of avid gamers, and explores how the game affects each individual's life. The documentary mainly explores the lives of three individuals. Each individual has been heavily impacted in some way, and the documentary suggests that in all three situations the person has an addiction. One gamer, for example, has lost nearly everything due to his obsession.

What I found to be the most prominent problem that all three individuals faced throughout the documentary was the inability to separate this virtual gaming reality from the physical reality they are forced to live in. The documentary brought to light how unaccepted these cyborg bodies are in the physical reality. For example, gamer Dan loses his money, home, and family due to his gaming obsession. Eventually, however, he stops gaming through intense therapy and regains his life back. His conclusion about gaming? "The only way to live a good life is to quite gaming altogether."

What I find disturbing about this is that Dan was forced to quit his love for virtual gaming since it seems he could only function in reality if he abstained from playing them. Unlike the video we watched about the woman video game creator, he was unable to translate ideas and relationships from gaming into a positive gain to translate into physical reality.

Similarly, we see a gamer who's parental duties are often challenged by his obsession with gaming. Throughout the documentary, he seems to always want to create more time for gaming rather than taking care of his newborn. Again, the skills he is using to game are not translating into any sort of applicable traits to bring into his physical reality.

Essentially what I gained from the Second Skin documentary is that a cyborg body unable to translate skills gained through technology into skills used in physical technology will be quickly categorized in the physical reality. To really prove this point, we see the third gamer who met his current girlfriend through the gaming network. Unlike the other two gamers, this gamer is able to apply this newly formed virtual relationship into a physical reality relationship. He and his virtual/physical girlfriend can share their love for gaming, without it tearing them apart. Hence, the only successful cyborg body was one that translated virtual reality into physical reality.

Second Skin Film Review

When we are born into this world, we never get to choose the characteristics or the family we are born into. The famous saying is that "you get what you get." For the lucky few they are born with the genes and family wealth that most of us only dream about. But for most of us, we are not special and must work harder to achieve what others are born with. This is not the case when you are talking about the world of online gaming or the virtual world. In the game you and everyone else start at the same level, giving everyone the same odds of succeeding. Granted there are cheaters out there who try to take shortcut by using gold-farmers and power levelers, however in games hard-work surpasses wealth.
The virtual world is the one place where money is not the most powerful commodity. This is one of many reasons why a person could be drawn into the virtual world. You could become the most power avatar in the game, and all you will have to do is put in the hours. Also in the virtual world, with power comes respect and friendship. This all come easier when you are able to control what someone else sees. Having the power to control what people see you as, you and manipulate what people think of you. They are able to remove the barriers of discrimination and prejudice, allowing people to act freely and as their true selves, or even to be someone they are not. The virtual world is a place where people are allowed to restart and control their lives.
The virtual world has become something more than just a game, but rather an online society, with its own laws, currencies, and purpose. Many people turn to these virtual realities in in order to run away from problems of reality because like Jane McGonigal on TED suggested, gamers know the purpose of the game is achievable and that they are not working hard for no apparent reason. Gamers can attain these goals because when playing these games, they have a more positive outlook and know they will receive instant gratification. In games, you are able to reach the maximum level and goal of the games in months' time versus decades in real life. By having these goals and quests, it removes all the ambiguity like in real life. This type of virtual reality brings us both closer and further away from our humanity. Towards end of the film, a couple of disabled people were allowed to "live through reality" via stimulated virtual realities. The stimulation created an imitation of the real world that disabled people were limited to. These gamers feel as if they have been liberated from their bodies and as if they were able to live a normal life through the virtual worlds. Virtual realities also caused some gamers to further themselves from reality. For instance, one gamer named Dan. He spend 14-16 hours days playing games, which overall left him around an hour to do miscellaneous things like eat, bathroom break, and etc. He lost almost everything in his life including his job, relationship, his home and almost his life. After a while he realized he had did not have anything outside of the virtual world; therefore he became very depressed. But, after sometime he was able to get himself together and realized how much of a waste of time games have been.
All this shows is that we need to embrace technologies, but also at the same time be aware of what is happening around us (Haraway 155). Technologies allow us to partake in another stimulated world which may bring us closer or further away from humanity. People may see it as liberation from humanity and create an artificial imitation of the real world, or for other may see it as destruction to humanity. Many people turn to virtual worlds because we have created a reality that people feel unsafe in.

The King of Kong: Addiction or conviction?

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The King of Kong is an interesting but poignant documentary about two rivals who compete in the timeless video game of Donkey Kong. I have to admit before watching the documentary, I had my own preconceived notions about the documentary upon reading the synopsis online. The story show how there are a select group of die hard classic video gamers who devote a better part of their lives to get that perfect high score in classic well known video games. The tale shows how Billy Mitchell achieves the highest score for the game Donkey Kong and a bunch of other classic games and holds the record for many years to come. Then comes the story of Steve Wiebe, who has been laid off from his job as an engineer and wanted to find something interesting to do during his unemployment. Steve Wiebe was a sort of a sad story because he always came up short on success in whatever it is he did be it baseball, music or art. I think this is where he found a new realm of possibilities in video games when he decided to go on a conquest to beat Billy Mitchell's high score in Donkey Kong. Then comes the montage of how Steve spends countless and maybe hundreds of hours devoted to playing Donkey Kong to the point of almost neglecting his duty as a father in his household of four. There is a sense of dualism in this endeavor as Steve could be perceived as having an unhealthy addiction or he could just be seen as having a strong conviction to validate his efforts. During the last two weeks of this course, we have talked a lot about video games and the effects of virtual reality and gaming. I remember watching Jane McGonigal's "Gaming can make a better world" lecture on YouTube and thought about how that could be related to this movie. You could maybe see how Billy Mitchell's desire to be the best has permeated other areas of his life like his job for example but you can also see how gaming has really taken a toll on both Billy and Steve as they endlessly chase each other to get this elusive highest score. Did the Donkey Kong really unlock the real life potential in both these players or did it just made them slaves to this game? I can almost certainly relate to this conquest as I used to be an obsessed video game player during my high school years when I was one of the best players in Street Fighter 2 growing up in my hometown. I have spent hundreds and hundreds of hours at the arcade devoted to this game and beating everyone I thought was worthy of my challenge. At the end of high school I've decided to completely abandon video games altogether after realizing how much time I've sunken into this game and having nothing to show for it in real life. I am somewhat skeptical about the view that video games can really unlock our inner potential in solving real life problems. I believe an epic win in a video game still cannot amount to an epic win in real life like running your first marathon or graduating from college.



Gamer

Gamer is a movie that revolves around virtual reality. Ken Castle, played by Michael C. Hall, is the creator of a game called Society, which is exactly like the Sims, only played with real people. People can pay money to play the game and control their character, or they can get paid to be controlled. It is possible to control the characters because their brain cells are replaced by nano-cells, allowing them to be controlled by the thoughts of those who play them. Castle then invents a game called Slayers. Death-row inmates battle each other until death, and if a player survives thirty games, he is let free. Kable was doing just that, he and his controller had won twenty-nine games before he escaped out of the game. A resistance group named humanz freed Kable and were fighting against Castle and what he stood for.
I believe that Gamer is a good example of what could happen to society if virtual reality was abused and crossed the line. There are plenty of things that virtual realities could change for the better. For example, we use photo alterations to show the horrors of drug abuse or to visualize your future so you're more apt to save money for retirement. When as a society we decide to accept the control of humans for entertainment, I think that is when we have crossed the line. Although they needed the money and decided to be controlled for that specific reason, you most likely do not know who is controlling you and without that responsibility you could be led to do things you believe to be immoral. The anonymity of the control allows for people to do things they usually would not in public. Throughout a lot of the movie, the people being controlled are wearing little, if any clothing and are usually doing something sexual in the midst of the people all around them. I believe that when people are not held responsible for their actions you usually end up seeing their dark side and it could hurt society to abuse a device such as virtual reality.
Most of the movie shows the games with the death-row inmates. These men have opted to fight in these games rather than serve their sentence. This is a cruel and unusual punshment. If these men had served their sentence, they would most likely die a peaceful, painless death. Instead, for our entertainment, we battle them like a real-life video game and hope that they may beat the system. There is such a separation between the audience and the game, it seems as if they do not realize the inmates are real people.
I believe that Gamer shows that the worst in people can come out when they are no longer responsible for what happens to themselves. When consequences do not need to be accounted for risks are more likely to be taken and bad judgment is made. Although virtual realities can be used for the good of humanity, there are also things about it that could ruin our society. Like most other things we have talked about in the class, meeting in the middle is usually the best decision. Not doing anything too extreme is the most likely way to keep things under control. The same could be said about virtual realities.

Food, Inc

Food, Inc. is a documentary by Robert Kenner which explores not only where the food from the grocery stores comes from, but also who is profiting from the production of these products. Throughout the documentary, Kenner explores how profit and efficiency have become the driving force behind America's food production. His investigation uncovers the ugly side of corporate food production in the beef industry, the chicken industry, and the plant industry. Because of the large amount of genetic engineering and pesticides used on foods today, Kenner also follows the development of new strains of E.coli and how they are contaminating our food sources, causing sickness and death.

Starting with the chicken industry, Kenner explores the role of both unnatural and natural foods found in grocery stores. As we have discussed at length in class, the distinction between what is natural and what is unnatural creates a dualism, where one category is usually favored over the other. However, how is natural in this sense defined? Kenner seems to differentiate between the two by calling all of the foods that are processed unnatural and all of those that are grown organically natural. But how are Americans to distinguish for themselves what is natural and unnatural when they don't even know how their food is grown and processed?

Much of the work being done by large companies to create bigger and better products occurs through the use of steroid supplements and antibiotics. Everyone wants to eat a bigger chicken breast, but what is the cost of this mass production? Farmers who live in poverty and animals that live in hellish conditions. Sanitation in the food industry is grotesque. Chickens and cows are raised in conditions where they have to be given steroids and antibiotics to make them "healthy" enough to be used for food. However, this has not always rid the animals of disease, as can be seen from the increasing number of mutating E. Coli strains that are infecting many of our food sources.

The plant industry, like the animal industry, is being affected by corporations that are trying to maintain their profits by modifying their produce. Kenner talks about the company Mansanto and how Mansanto sells seeds that have been genetically engineered to be Roundup Ready resistant. In class, we were given the chance to learn about Mansanto through Vandana Shiva, who spoke about the problems with Mansanto's products and how they dealt unfairly with the farmers who purchased their seed by only letting them use the seed for one year.

The issue of genetic engineering was a topic that our class also spent a large amount of time discussing. Are GMO's going to help humanity? Do they bring more trouble than they are worth? In Food, Inc, I believe that Kenner is arguing against the use of any type of genetic modification in food. He portrays the farmer that raises his cattle, chickens, and pigs without any type of enhancement drugs as the good guy, while he portrays companies that use genetic engineering as the bad guys.

Kenner also brings to light the difficulty for Americans to stay healthy when eating healthy foods is so expensive. This echoes the writing of Raj Patel in Stuffed and Starved, where he explains that for many people, eating natural and unprocessed foods can be so expensive that they must choose either to eat healthy or pay their bills. It is convenient and cheap for people to order food off of the dollar menu at Burger King or McDonalds, but making a meal takes a trip to the grocery store and money. Because of people's busy lifestyles, they have even less time to eat right and exercise, especially for those who want to stay physically healthy.

Alien: A critique of heroines in science fiction

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       The rise of modern feminism in the last few decades has produced many great works in the form of literature as well as popular mainstream movies. In this advent many writers and directors have explored different genres to convey their views and critique of the role of women in today's society. Alien is a good example of a movie that explore themes of sexism and gender roles. The protagonist, Ripley, confronts an alien life form which threatens the lives of their crew as they head on their way back to earth. Ripley defies the conventional male heroic figure as she battles the alien amidst the lack of support from her own crew. Despite the movie's central focus on the female protagonists' strive for survival in extreme situations, Alien challenges the perception of the conventional submissive woman by portraying Ripley as a brave and brutal alien slaying heroine.
       Alien's plot is centered around the premise of a female protagonist's survival in an extremely hostile environment. Ripley is one of the two females on the commercial towing vessel Nostromo. Not only does Ripley have to battle the seemingly invincible alien on Nostromo, but she must also accomplish this while being oppressed by her own crew simply because she is female. An example of her being ostracized is when her command to quarantine Kane, Dallas and Lambert in order to prevent an alien from infecting the ship was ignored by their science officer named Ash. He later opens the inner hatch for them to come aboard. Her non-conforming demeanor does not help her either in this situation even though she is the third commanding officer on the ship. On the contrary, Lambert's submissiveness and compliance with the crew still does not prove to be of aid to her own quest for survival and ultimately these traits become her downfall as she is unable to cope with the grim crisis of the alien and the increasing depletion of her crew.
       The continual struggle for power between men and women is prevalent in Alien. Ripley's self preservation plan for the crew is constantly compromised by her own male crew, especially by those with superior rank. Any suggestions made by Ripley are usually ignored even though it is for the benefit of the crew. As aforementioned, her initial suggestion to not let the alien life form on the ship created a disaster. After the alien takes the lives of Dallas and Kane, Ripley being the next commanding officer suggested sticking with Dallas's idea of trapping the alien and destroying it. However this was refuted again by the same crew that agreed with the plan when it was originally made by Dallas. I think what really draws people to Alien especially at the time of its original theatrical release was the fact that Ripley, the sole survivor of the Nostromo was a heroic female figure. Alien worked well with its audience by grabbing their attention with the unexpected heroine thus signifying a change from the typical male hero. Ripley displays a strong female character and with extraordinary self-preserving skills. She is calm and usually very stern in her actions, as she knows how to take charge in daunting situations. This can be seen when Dallas and Kane are both killed by the alien and therefore leaving her with command of her crew. She relies a lot on her gut instincts to react to her situation. At the very end of the movie, she realizes that her self-dependence is the only thing that can guide her out of this ordeal and that she cannot rely on the ship's computer system "Mother". It is all these adversities that propel her to emerge as the sole survivor on the ship.
       Sexism is widely portrayed in Alien through subtle images and comments. Although Ripley's character defies the stereotypical female role, she is often bombarded with sexism remarks from her crew. In the scene where Nostromo lands on a foreign planet to retrieve the alien life form, the ship has troubles and when Ripley tells her crew she is going down to check it out, her crew mate Parker scoffs "What is she going to do down here?". In another scene Ash tries to choke Ripley to death with pornography magazines. This is a subtle message by the film makers how female are viewed as mere sexual objects. Lambert, the only other female character in Alien, is the epitome of all negative female stereotypes. She loses her composure when Dallas and Kane are both killed by the alien while Ripley takes charge.
       Science fiction can be seen as a form of extrapolation of our current times. Despite Alien's setting in the far future, it is still a good depiction of how women are overlooked in their capabilities and contribution to society. The movie constructs an interesting platform to analyze how different societal structure perpetuate the idea of sexism and gender roles. It is the responsibility of its audience to take home this revelation that society can operate on a different level where men and women are treated as equals.

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