Samstag, 10. September 2011

Aldous Huxley: Brave New World

Brave New World Part I 

Brave New World was Aldous Huxley´s fifth novel, written in 1931, and was ranked fifth in the list of the 100 Best English-language novels by the Modern Library in 1999. As I myself read the book, I can only recommend it and it´s almost unbelievable to me that this book was written in 1931. 
In this book, Huxley portray`s a futuristic society. On the surface, it appears as a perfectly structured, pacifistic, seemingly happy society ( as almost every single member of it proclaims "everybody´s happy now!").  But from the very beginning the reader notices that there is something wrong. As Huxley is a very satirical writer, he reveals the pillars and morals of the society in a hilarious tone. He begins with the description of a laboratory, where humans are produced in a way, that reminds the modern reader of in vitro fertilization, which today is not uncommon in western society. However, in the Brave New World, embryos are not only fertilized, but also born and educated in the laboratory. "Viviparous Reproduction", literally having sex and getting a woman pregnant, seems obscene to the people in the Brave New World.  
Yet sexual activity is strongly supported, even in early years. As nobody has family relations, strong emotional bonding is forbidden. Promiscuity ( to have various partners to have sex with) is asked for by the state. The idea that sexuality of children was considered as "wrong" in the past (more or less our present) seems unbelievable and laughable. Nevertheless, women are firmly instructed to perform contraception when they have sex. They have so called "melthusian belts" with contraceptive equipment. If you think about it, this really seems very sophisticated, above all if you take into account the time in which this novel was written: In the 1920s and 1930s, when Huxley lived, abortion and contraception were strongly condemned by the general public. Contraception could be practiced only secretly by women. Sexuality of children seemed (seems?) also as obscene and was strictly condemned by the parents. 
The importance of leading monogamous relationships, marriage starting a family and having children, were morals that played an even larger role at the time Huxley wrote this book than they do today, though they have already been questioned then. 
The Birthrates are controlled by the state in order to prevent overpopulation. 
As you are produced in the laboratory, your skills, mindset and looks are also predefined. This way, a caste system is created. The types go from Alpha to Epsilon. They also receive different education depending on the role they shall later play in society. In order to prevent jealousy causing an upheavel the types get hypnopoedia. Hypnopoedia is a fictional way of mind control and conditioning modeled after the pavlovian process (in reality, as I found out, people cannot be conditioned to these extremes, I will explain later on). 
As you read on, this utopia gets visited by a "Savage", John, who was viviparously born and raised in the wasteland in a village of indigenous people that live separately from the World State. Tourists from the World State can make controlled visits to the villages. As a result of a natural catastrophe a woman from the BNW gets stuck there and bears viviparously (!) a child, John. As his mother´s morals differ from the morals of the indigenous people, he is considered as an outsider. His mother is considered as whore. When he gets the chance to visit the World State, where he hopes to fit in, he is at first euphoric. 
At first glance, he loves the society his mother was born in, though that soon changes. 
He is a huge fan of Shakespeare and there is this theory about the title of the book: 

Miranda's speech in Shakespeare's The Tempest, Act V, Scene I:O wonder!How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world! That has such people in it!This line itself is ironic; Miranda was raised for most of her life on an isolated island. When she sees other people for the first time, she is understandably overcome with excitement, and utters, among other praise, the famous line above. However, what she is actually observing is not men acting in a refined or civilized manner, but rather drunken sailors staggering off the wreckage of their ship. Huxley employs the same irony when the "savage" John refers to what he sees as a "brave new world."(Source: Wiki)

Next: Drugs, Brave New World, and so on. 

Donnerstag, 8. September 2011

Thoughts about Japan

On March 11 this year a magnitude 9.0 earthquake occured off the japanese coast. It triggered a 40 metres high tsunami-wave, which damaged 3 nuclear power plants in Fukushima. everyone in a radius of 50 miles around the plants got evacuated. The overall cost could exceed US$300 billion, making it the most expensive natural disaster on record. 

The National Police Agency has confirmed 15,774 deaths, 5,929 injured, and 4,227 people missing across eighteen prefectures.
Of the 13,135 fatalities recovered by 11 April 2011, 12,143 or 92.5% died by drowning. Victims aged 60 or older accounted for 65.2% of the deaths, with 24% of total victims being in their 70s.
I don't remember exactly what i did on that day. Presumably i was suffering through a horrible day at my workplace, hoping for my shift to end so that i could see my girlfriend. I do, however, remember how i reacted to the news:
I did not react at all.
Well at least not on the first day. In fact, it took my around a week to fully realise what had happened there. That's how numb i had become by the trivialities of daily life. 
Japanese (Pop-)Culture had played a large part in my life up to that point. I'm a big fan of Japanese Jazz and Fusion Musicians. As a kid, I admired japanese Animated Shows and (sigh) Manga. And the countless hours i played my Super Nintendo! I thought of all the famous japanese People i knew by name: Akira Jimbo, Issei Noro, Nobuo Uematsu, Shigeru Miyamoto, Koji Kondo, Tetsuo Sakurai, Takashi Miike, Katsuhiro Otomo, Hironobu Sakaguchi, etc etc
I may not be proud of all the times i watched Pokemon or Dragonball instead of doing my Homework. But it doesn't matter how much it may emberass me nowadays, Japan sure as hell has shaped me and made me the Person I am today.

The second thing that crossed my mind was: "Fuck, now I'm never gonna be able to visit Tokyo, cause of all the Radiation!" The way the Japanese were handling the situation was awe-inspiring. People who lost their homes and families shrug their shoulders, fight back their tears and get busy building their destroyed citys all over again!
In a way, it was weird too see all the destruction and the chaos. Japanese culture after World War 2 is crammed with Destruction and Death. Just look at all the Godzilla-Films!  In Fiction, Tokyo gets completely annihilated practically once a week! It seems, they haven't been able to stomach their trauma from the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombings, and now they're facing a similar horrible situation. You really have to feel sorry for these guys, unless you have a heart of stone.
In conclusion, what I'm basically trying to say here, is that, in spite of all their Problems the Japanese are still going strong and i think we can learn a lot from them. And yes, we should pray for them.

AKIRA Review

Recently i was thinking a lot about Japan. More specifically, about all the shit the Japanese had to go through in the last few months. And it just so happens that Akira is one of my favorite animated films.

Now everyone who has seen the movie knows that at the Beginning of the movie this happens:
Thats Tokyo getting annihilated by what seems to be a nuclear bomb. And about 2 hours later we see Neo-Tokyo engulfed in flames while being simultaneously flooded by giant waves.

Destruction is an important theme that runs throughout the movie and the Comicbooks it is based on. Writer and Director Katsuhiro Otomo was of course influenced by his childhood in post-WWII Japan when he began writing and illustrating the story in 1982. Akira was released in cinemas in 1988 and was an important milestone for japanese animation. The Movie Centers around a Group of juvenile Delinquents who live in Neo-Tokyo in the Year 2019. The first 15 Minutes are a blast. We see Kaneda and Tetsuo and their Gang speeding around the City on their motorcycles.
This first chapter does an excellent job with setting the mood for the rest of the movie. It's dark, it's brutal, the animation is stunning and the sheer speed and the music gets you pumped up and unable to sit still! At the end of this incredible chase-scene Tetsuo runs into a strange looking child. And by that i mean, he literally runs into it, which makes his bike explode and leaves him unable to move. The strange child, mysteriously, is unharmed and vanishes, while Tetsuo is hospitalized. And this is when the movie really starts.
What follows are two hours of intense action, wild transformations, weird psychic Powers and some of the best 2D-Animation you'll ever see in your life. Akira is a Story of destruction, violence, coming-of-age, friendship, environmentalism, nuclear warfare, social unrest, revolution,...etc etc etc There is alot in this movie, maybe a bit too much: After I first watched it 10 years ago, i had no idea what just happened. I also had a lot of problems remembering who was who, as there were a lot of different characters and some of them look really similar. Thats why i would recommend reading the Comic first, so the movie won't be confusing.

Anyway, nowadays some of the content in the movie is eerily up-to-date. Especially the Scenes at the Beginng and the End of the Movie make you think of the most recent disasters Japan had to suffer through.
As i said the animation in this film is incredible. Production Values are high all around. What amazes me the most is the fact that they've recorded all dialouge beforehand and then synced the animation to the audio. For the record: that was the first Time a japanese Animation-Studio did that. Because most the time they're lazy bastards.
                                                                  Pictured: Proof
Furhermore what really rocks my socks as hard now as it did the first time i watched the film is the Soundtrack. It's by a group called Geinoh Yamashirogumi and it's a unique blend of progrock, ambient, weird percussion and traditional japanese music. I've never heard music like this in any other movie before or since, but every good musicion gets ripped off at least once in my opinion:
Listen to just the first few minutes of this track from the akira soundtrack:

And now listen to this:
Secret of Mana is on of the most beloved SNES Games and has a beautiful score but this one's a shameless ripoff.
But at least they did just steal a musical idea. Some other Game stole almost everything else.
Well i guess thats enough for today. I wish you all a wonderful time and thanks for reading!

NEXT TIME: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley