Welcome, dear, readers, to popular culture without a definite end.
Damn, it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, right? Over a year and a half, if I remember correctly! Since that time I decided to go on a vision quest, traveling the world in search for fights, for love, and for meaning. I danced the tango in Argentina, meditated with lamas in the Himalayas, traipsed the dreamtime with the Aborigines and even stomped with an absolute lack of patience through the London Underground, before I got the message – POP CULTURE DESTRUCTION! A group of rowdy youths lead by Teodor’s anarchist sister took over Schlock towers, and they want to bring the squamous entity known as SCHLOCK MAGAZINE back to rude life! And who am I to refuse the call?
My name is Marco and welcome to POP CULTURE DESTRUCTION. Yes! Hi!
We’re living in one hell of a time, aren’t we? If you’re in want for an attempt at an explanation as to why the world is as it is right now – and by goodness don’t we all – there’s worse ways to do so than going through the films of one Adam Curtis. His body of work revolves around the same theme, namely the examination of latter half of the 20th century, and Hypernormalisation is possibly his best yet. Set a couple of hours aside, be prepared for crushing helplessness, and watch it. If you’ve already done so, then by all means watch it again.
So, the Oscars happened, huh? I didn’t bother watching the ceremony, something I regret ever-so-slightly after learning how it involved a real-life reenactment of the awards cock-up from the third season of Bojack Horseman, since the presenters first named La La Land Best Film, before realising the actual winner was Moonlight. I haven’t watched either of those films, although I should check Moonlight out since it does feature the always excellent Mahershala Ali, who actually won a nice statuette on the night. Also a winner of a statuette is Suicide Squad, something which delights me to no end.
Talk of the Oscars got me thinking – what were my best films of 2016? The lazy answer would have been that all films were actually shit, and as such there were no favourites, but that’s, well, a lie. My favourite film of 2016 is possibly The Wailing, an incredible tour de force of genre, stylistic and thematic shifts, all wrapped around a tight and gorgeously shot core. There’s also Elle, Paul Verhoeven’s return to excellence as coupled with Isabelle Huppert’s tremendous performance (the year’s best, by far). Hunt for the Wilderpeople was one of the most fun times I’ve had watching a film in literal years. I was surprised by how much I liked Kimi no Na Wa (aka Your Name), despite its being about my twin dislikes of anime highschool romance and body-swapping nonsense. Shin Godzilla was a fantastic stylistic and thematic opposite to the Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla about a plucky group of nerds, outcasts and bureaucrats saving Japan. No movie had man-on-man violence as good as that in Kill Zone 2 (aka SPL II: A Time for Consequences). And last, but not least, both theatrical and extended cuts of Batman vs Superman managed to capture the baffling weirdness of superhero comics while making a film that was both genuinely great and upsetting to the goddamn nerds.
So 2016 had good films after all. Who’d have guessed?
The Young Pope! The hot HBO show about the hot pope who fucks! Except no, he doesn’t fuck and it was actually really, really good? I wasn’t too impressed with Paolo Sorrentino’s post-Il Divo films, but this series captured the best of the director’s stylistic weirdness while actually having something to say about religion, power, and the relationship between the two. Go watch, I’ll wait. And maybe before that watch how good that opening is.
Speaking of television, one of my favourite TV things from 2016 was Documentary Now‘s send off of David Gelb’s work. For those not in the know, Gelb directed Jiro Dreams of Sushi and that Chef’s Table show one can find on the Netflix. Now I actually like media based around food more than most people, but since Gelb’s work is really ripe for some mockery Juan Likes Rice & Chicken is an absolute gem.
Currently good chunk of my spare time is occupied with what’s already one of my Games of 2017 – Yakuza 0. I’ve something of a weird relationship with the Yakuza games – while the series is clearly made for me, what with its being about large men destroying each other, in Japan, I never got to play any of them until this latest title (to hit the West), a prequel set in the 1980s. And yes, it’s excellent, and I’ll maybe write something about it once I’m done with it. But I honest have no idea when that’ll happen, since I plan to stay in the neighbourhoods of Kamurocho and Sotenbori a while longer.
Speaking of videogames, I’m needlessly excited this week since I went ahead and preordered a Nintendo Switch. It’ll be the first time I’ll actually get a games console on launch day! The main reason I went ahead I made such an investment is, perhaps obviously, Breath of the Wild. Come on, look at that. Tell me how it doesn’t clown all over any other attempt at open world games from recent years! Actually I wan’t too impressed by Nintendo’s presentation of the console back in January, but then they ended the damn thing with this trailer and I was all whelp, I going to have to cough up the cash for this damn thing at its priciest, aren’t I? Thank you, poor impulse control!
A couple of months back I bought a couple of things off likable Swedish comics publisher Peow Studio. Starting from left to right, the first is Wrecked Hearts, a volume with a couple of science fiction romance stories done by Mathilde Kitteh and Luca Olivari in the shoujo mould. The second is Croix Point, which is a prequel to The World, a comic about Wizzards (correct spelling, that) leading armies of little dudes. Very reminiscent of GBA classic Advance Wars, this. A thing about Peow is just how nice their books are, even in pure physical object terms. Like how Croix Point comes in a little box complete with fun little pin (you can damn well bet that doggo has a firm place on my blazer’s lapel), or how Wrecked Hearts replicates the physical manga format as well as the art style. PCD approved!
Grails might have released their newest album, Chalis Hymnal, a couple of months back, but I only got around to listening to it now. I like it a great deal, since it combines post rock noodlings, jazzy overtones and electronic elements without songs going on for skeleton-crushing lengths.
And now Robert Pisani tells us all about he has gone done and read back late last year in a section I will call DESTRUCTION BOOKS. Because, shut up, I am imaginative like that. I’m told the man reads a lot of things, unlike yours truly. I just read comics, because I have no time for all those dumb words. Take it away, Bob!
December was a month full of death, war, destruction and a talking squirrel. Maybe in real life that happened too but I’m talking about what I read last month. Since I go through quite a few books a month I encounter some awesome ones and some stinkers on the way. I was quite lucky cause the good ones outnumbered the bad.
For some weird reason, the first two weeks of December began with books based on genocides, hardly a topic for Christmastime but anyway. It kicked off with Naomi Benaron’s Running the Rift, which is about a boy who wants to represent his country in the Olympics, however there are problems. Mainly because the book takes place in Rwanda during the mid-90’s when Tutsi and Hutu tribes were slaughtering each other. It’s a heartbreaking book but the writing reminded me of some slightly better than average TV drama.
If that wasn’t enough the next book was Sara Novic’s Girl at War, which focuses on the Sarajevo/Bosnia/Croatia conflict of the early 90’s. This time the book is seen from the point of view of a Croatian girl who manages to escape the war and live in the US, only to return to her homeland and face her past. A harrowing read but a page turner.
Then just because I am a masochist I picked up Xiaolu Guo’s I am China, which is about the political persecutions which occurred in China during the late 80’s. This one was different than the previous two as the book takes place in London with a translator receiving a diary and a stack of letters from two youths who managed to escape persecution. More than heartbreaking this was an interesting fusion of literary style with some political and feminist aspects, not to mention the problem of cultures trying to adapt. It’s great.
Then to lighten things up, I read Antoine de Saint-Eupery’s The Little Prince, just to feel that inner warmth and to be reminded that this world is not total trash heap of evil. What can I say about The Little Prince? It’s got an infectious feel good vibe without ever descending in some gloopy saccharine preachy diatribe. The story of a pilot of a prince who goes on a journey of self-revelation still has not lost the magnetic quality and if The Little Prince doesn’t make you smile then you officially have a worm infested walnut for a heart.
That worked and then I delved back into the dark dank world of Graham Swift’s Waterland, a murky tale of murder and incest in the fens. Need I say more? Read it, be creeped out and then take a good long shower cause you’re going feel pretty dirty after reading it.
Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which I didn’t like and thought, was overrated and boring. Although at the time it was controversial (I guess mentioning menstruation in 1943 was a shocker) it still manages to coat everything with this irritating goody two shoes casing.
The last two reads consisted of Elizabeth Mckenzie’s The Portable Veblen, a quirky story of squirrels, modern life, marriage and tons of trivia. Ever wanted to know about snow globes? Or the different words for squirrel? Or maybe you’ve exhausted your supply of indie films like Francis Ha or Submarine? Then this little charming (and I’m not being sarcastic here) book will satisfy your needs.
The last novel of 2016 that I thought was great was by Indonesia’s (oooh I’m such a global reader) Eka Kurniawan’s Man Tiger. It’s about a man you inherits a spiritual female white tiger (yes those are important details) from his grandfather and it emerges from his body when pissed off – a kind of Bruce Banner/Hulk situation. The thing is the guy unleashes the beast and commits a murder. The rest of the book traces the motives behind the killing and you end up with a pretty messed up family saga. I couldn’t put this down but I admit that the translation felt clunky, but the plot was too warped for me to DNF (that’s did not finish in book parlance)
Unfortunately I can’t like everything and there were a couple of stinkers this month. Both of them were total surprises has I had high expectations for both.
One was Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story. In theory I should adore this book. It’s a dystopian novel about a technology obsessed society. The book alternates between loveable misfit Lenny, who just cannot cope with the new values that are cropping up and the Eunice, a product of this society. Although they don’t fall in love both characters have a sort of parasitic relationship. Really though this book is Shteyngart’s way of telling us to hold back a bit with computers.
Sounds great right? Well I actually liked the Eunice chapters but the Lenny ones are a slog. All it consists of is technological term after term being dumped on you and Lenny’s Woody Allen neurotic ramblings become irritating after a while – halfway through I just gave up.
That was December – for January I’ve got three pretentious and fat tomes ready to read and to inflict on you. Happy new year!
And that’s all for POP CULTURE DESTRUCTION for March. Until the next one, I suggest reading this again? Or going through the archives? I don’t know, it’s your life. Who am I to tell you how to live it? Sheesh.
Marco Attard, 2017