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Friday, June 18, 2021

Culture Corner

The Arts Desk’s weekly pick of movies, TV shows, books and music

Movie: “American Psycho” dir. by Mary Harron (2000)

I think I enjoy “American Psycho” so much because of its hilarious cultural impact on everyone in such different ways. There are, of course, the “film bros” who revere this piece of cinema as an amazing form of an absurdist/surreal/camp (fill in any pretentious film word) horror movie, who have recently taken to the internet exclaiming that “women have discovered American Psycho” as if it was their secret little boys-only movie. This cracks me up because it’s incredible to think that the entire point of this funny movie went so far over so many people’s heads—if you haven’t heard, this movie is a complete satire on toxic (and frail) white masculinity and the increasing consumerism of the ‘80s, written and directed by women. It is such a well-known plot, I don’t think I need to get into any kind of summary of this well-constructed narrative, but there is one scene that I (and most other fans of the film) especially love. That is of course the metaphorical pissing contest when Patrick Bateman (played by Christian Bale, who never fails in scaring me) and his office coworkers compare their newest business cards. Here, Bateman is more affected by not having the coolest typeface or color scheme out of all the men he works so hard to impress than the women he murders. The women in this movie are entirely disregarded by their male counterparts and only really used as methods for the men to compete with one another, because in all honesty, that’s all that truly matters in this male-dominated chauvinistic corporate culture. The ways in which director and writer Mary Harron lets audiences in on the joke might be subliminal, but they are what affirms this as a feminist poke at heterosexual male culture—this includes panning to the bored women’s faces as Bateman rambles on some dull topic and never lingering on the many acts of violence against women. All in all, this is a good movie for when you want something in the fearful realm that you can laugh at, or when you feel the need to hate on men. 

TV Show: “Documentary Now!” (2015-2019)

Do not fear. I am not recommending a cerebral (boring) series about documentaries. This show is instead an incredibly hilarious and witty series about documentaries that have already been made. Created by SNL alumni (and comedy-writing masterminds) Seth Meyers, Fred Armisen and Bill Hader, “Documentary Now!” spoofs some of the most famous documentaries out there—and it’s all on Netflix. The best part is that this show is still insanely hilarious even if you haven’t seen a single documentary in your life, or if you hate that genre of film (but you should give at least a few a try). From the very first episode, it’s clear this show is a piece of art, with Armisen and Hader portraying an extremely eerie and argumentative mother-daughter duo who make the entire “film crew” fear for their lives. It is important to note, that while they have some pretty big guest stars (from Owen Wilson playing a cult leader to Cate Blanchett as a dedicated artist), in a true former SNL cast manner, Armisen and Hader always play the lead roles of these varied mockumentaries. I believe that “Documentary Now!” is one of the most rewatchable shows out there, since it doesn’t matter which episode you start on, and the jokes just never seem to get old. I have tested this theory by forcing a large majority of my friends and family to watch a favorite episode (or five) of mine, and I have laughed every single time. 

Album: “Four” by One Direction (2014)

It is simply a fact of life that one cannot objectively rank One Direction albums from best to worst, since each one is so incredibly different—in that they sound like different bands each time because their management kept reinventing their image to fit what their tween/teen audiences wanted. I am brave enough to say that “Four” might be their album that has best stood the test of time—it is just so versatile, so timeless. This is the album containing the piece of lyrical and musical perfection that is “Fireproof” (if you have yet to hear this song all I can say is you should close this article and get to streaming). There’s a song for every emotion, time of day and most importantly there’s Zayn Malik’s voice. It is true, I was in the peak of my “Directioner” era when this was released, and this is the last 1D album Malik was a part of. This might have an impact on why this album strikes such a chord for me, but there’s just no way around the fact that without Malik something was definitely missing on their next album, and they really let him shine in “Four” (i.e. his angelic high notes in “Clouds” and vocals in “Ready to Run”). Beside my passion for the original 5-member group, “Four” is the One Direction album I thoroughly believe you could play for self-proclaimed non-fans, and not only would they not realize it was a boyband, but many would genuinely enjoy this great flowing, almost indie-pop album. 

Book: “Tar Beach” by Faith Ringgold (1991)

This book is nostalgia in its purest form—for me all I can think of is my mom and a time when I could not read so I would endlessly stare at its beautiful drawings. Yes, you guessed it, this is a children’s book, and yes I recommend everyone take a look at it even if you’re in your 20s. Not only is every single page of this (short) book gorgeous, but the story is so sweet and reminiscent of all the feelings of a perfect childhood summer. Faith Ringgold is a world-renowned artist, and her works bring up hard topics for most to face surrounding her experience as a Black woman in America, while also containing so much beauty and love within them. The illustrations of this book are parts of one of Ringgold’s large-scale quilt artworks that are currently in the Guggenheim museum in New York, made of vibrant paints and masterfully quilted fabrics framed by the text of the story. In this way, I may have slightly cheated on this Culture Corner since this is a piece of art first, and a book second. This work is a political upheaval of gender and racial stereotypes, as well as the perfect uplifting and mystical children’s book. It tells the story of a little girl staring up at the sky, as her family members sit around the table on a hot summer night, imagining herself flying across the city. I could go on for hours about the cultural significance of every inch of this book/artwork/quilt, but the bottom line is that Ringgold successfully created an evocative piece of fine art rooted in what many might deem unimportant and simple themes or narratives of children’s books. “Tar Beach” has something to offer for everyone, from a class of first-graders to art historians at the top institutions of the country—and if that’s not a sign that this is something you should check out, I don’t know what is. 
Written by: Angie Cummings — arts@theaggie.org

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