Arts & DesignCapitalismEssays

Rebooting RoboCop

Comparing 2014 with 1987

As someone who grew up with Paul Verhoeven’s original 1987 RoboCop, I can’t help but feel the dystopic and critical social commentary of the movie was lost in its reboot. What was once a critical and distopic film exploring the dangers of unchecked corporate power has become a soft endorsement of corporate warfare. Yet, some elements of the remake do provide useful insights into our changing social politics that are worth considering. The evolution of RoboCop reveals how both capitalism and imperialism have changed and deepened their hold on our cultural imaginary in less than pleasant ways.

There are basically four key sets of players in the original story: Omni Consumer Products or OmniCorp (OCP), the mega corporation which builds RoboCop, runs the Detroit police force and plans to construct a corporate utopia called “Delta City” in the ruins of old Detroit; Alex Murphy, the Detroit cop who becomes RoboCop; the police department run by OCP; and crime boss Clarence Boddicker, who is in cahoots with OCP executive Dick Jones,  The connections among these players were central to the original story. …

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Arts & DesignEssays

Film and Myth

Analyzing Gravity and All is Lost with some Captain Phillips

Two films frequently cited together on the best films lists for 2013 were Gravity and All is Lost. As many reviewers noted, the films featured isolated individuals up against the cold, impersonal forces of the universe — the dark void of outer space for Sandra Bullock in Gravity and the dark depths of the Indian Ocean for Robert Redford in All is Lost. Less noted was a crucial difference between the two films: Sandra Bullock survives and Robert Redford dies. Intrinsically connected to these outcomes is another difference: Gravity is the story of a woman; All is Lost is the story of a man. Through examining this difference we can learn how contemporary film achieves its effects through mobilizing unconscious mythic and archetypal images, especially those concerning gender.

In both films the main character is faced with the ultimate existential crisis: imminent death. In both films the characters are resourceful and draw on considerable inner resources in their struggle to survive. In both films the essence of the struggle lies in the characters’ efforts to connect with other human beings. …

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Arts & DesignEssays

Tiny Instruments Hit a Profound Chord

Multicultual creativity in the city of Wrocław

Last summer I was fortunate to be among the faculty of the Democracy & Diversity Institute in Wrocław, Poland, organized by Transregional Center for Democratic Studies (TCDS). Friendships were forged, ideas were tested, and disciplinary lines constructively crossed, all of which I’d been prepared for and had been looking forward to experiencing as the sole faculty member from Parsons among colleagues from the New School for Social Research.

What I hadn’t expected was that I’d develop a deep affection for the music of toy pianos. Specifically the toy pianos played by Małe Instrumenty (Small Instruments), a band started in 2006 by Paweł Romańczuk with Marcin Ożóg, Tomasz Orszulak, Jędrzej Kuziela and Maciej Bączyk.

Yes, toy pianos. Including a plastic Barbie piano, which, Paweł explained, has a very good sound, in contrast to their sole Communist-era piano called Precision whose keys emitted static…

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Arts & DesignCapitalismEssays

Snyder and Orr Suckerpunch the Arts in Michigan

In a nifty move right out of the Reagan Revolution playbook, the governor of Michigan and his hand picked bankruptcy fixer finally revealed their plan for monetizing the art collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts. The plan is brilliant in its simplicity and in its political nuance.

After months of hinting that the art in the museum was “on the table” for a liquidation that would generate cash to offset Detroit’s many debt obligations, the lords of the bankruptcy relented and “saved” the museum. Their idea basically runs like this: Art is worth money (they got an appraisal to prove it). People who like art have money. Thus, why not present the museum with a bill that would equate to the appraised value of its precious art and let the museum tap its rich friends across America for contributions that would pay the tab and keep the paintings on the Institute’s walls.

How perfect! How painless! How noble! This is the ideal “public/private partnership” we are always hearing about! …

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Arts & DesignEssays

Jan Sawka: The Power of the Not So Powerless

The following lecture was prepared for delivery at the symposium “Jan Sawka: The Artist’s Role in Changing the World” presented by The Paul Robeson Galleries, Gallery Aferro and the Newark Arts Council, Saturday, November 16, 2013, in conjunction with the exhibition at the Gallery Aferro, “Reflections on Everyman: the work of Jan Sawka.”

I have crossed paths with Jan Sawka three times, although only one of these times did we meet.

It was at a low moment in Polish history, the early 80s. It was in his small apartment on 58th street in Manhattan, in very cramped living quarters, with Sawka, constantly working, drawing and painting, even while the family entertained guests. In the midst of the domestic, he created his own world, responding to life’s public and private absurdities, and tragedies, with his imagination and craft. The intensity of the moment, during the weeks after the declaration of martial law in Poland, the repression of the first nationwide popular social movement in the former Soviet bloc, a labor movement of workers moving against the workers’ state, …

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