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Issue 5, 2015

Introverts

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News

  • Your Flat Will Remain Shit

  • Canta’s Golden Age of Offensiveness

  • Inbred English Beneficiary to Visit Wellington

  • McProtest

  • Victoria Strives to Aid Vanuatu

  • Features

  • handup

    This One Weird Trick Will Get You Better Grades

    According to Section 1.3 of Victoria’s Assessment Handbook, assessments should “provide an accurate and consistent measure of student performance”. It’s a cute idea, that we are examined by machines focusing only on what matters. It is also, of course, a myth.

    by

  • charlote

    Stop, Collaborate and Listen

    – SPONSORED – Initially the atmosphere in the jury room was chaotic. After spending four days hearing different sides of a story with no clear answer, we couldn’t leave until we’d made a decision. The people with dominant personalities were stifling any opportunity for the more softly spoken to talk. One told us all that […]

    by

  • alone

    On Living Alone

    This year I optimistically ventured into the world of living alone. My first three weeks of this new lifestyle, in what I dub my “Bachelor Sanitary Pad”, has been a rich and sometimes unexpected learning experience.

    by

  • whale

    Lessons From the 52-Hertz Whale

    – SPONSORED – In 1989, an oceanographic institute working for the US Navy detected a whale call that was unlike any other recorded in history. The call resonated at 52 hertz, far above the range of any other whale in that area, believed to be emanating from one whale in the Pacific. A blue whale’s […]

    by

  • handup

    This One Weird Trick Will Get You Better Grades

    According to Section 1.3 of Victoria’s Assessment Handbook, assessments should “provide an accurate and consistent measure of student performance”. It’s a cute idea, that we are examined by machines focusing only on what matters. It is also, of course, a myth.

    by

  • charlote

    Stop, Collaborate and Listen

    – SPONSORED – Initially the atmosphere in the jury room was chaotic. After spending four days hearing different sides of a story with no clear answer, we couldn’t leave until we’d made a decision. The people with dominant personalities were stifling any opportunity for the more softly spoken to talk. One told us all that […]

    by

  • alone

    On Living Alone

    This year I optimistically ventured into the world of living alone. My first three weeks of this new lifestyle, in what I dub my “Bachelor Sanitary Pad”, has been a rich and sometimes unexpected learning experience.

    by

  • whale

    Lessons From the 52-Hertz Whale

    – SPONSORED – In 1989, an oceanographic institute working for the US Navy detected a whale call that was unlike any other recorded in history. The call resonated at 52 hertz, far above the range of any other whale in that area, believed to be emanating from one whale in the Pacific. A blue whale’s […]

    by

  • Arts and Science

  • I Had a Really Nice Nap in a Cuba St Parking Space

    Whenever something that is taboo becomes temporarily un-tabooed, there is a special sort of gratification that comes from it. Staying up late as a child on New Year’s Eve, accidental shoplifting (maybe), or—as seen last week in Wellington—napping in public. If like me you have napped in public, whether it be in a library, hotel lobby, park bench, a display bed in Farmer’s, you’ll understand the unavoidable feeling that you shouldn’t be sleeping. The public dozer always sneakily tries to be discreet. But why? Everyone gets tired, rest is important, and when we’re sleepy we’re often not at home. For these reasons, I was extremely excited to see what seemed like a weekday mirage—a welcoming bed in a parking space along Cuba Street.

    This installation of a white bed attended by three white-clothed figures was the effort of the Emotion Time Collective who, after exhibiting together previously, came together again to contribute to this year’s Parking Day. Parking Day took place on 11 March, as part of an annual event that sees parking spaces in cities across the world replacing parked cars with experimental and often interactive creative spaces. This year in Wellington there were 17 different installations across the CBD, including a space completely filled with 80 road cones, a giant pillow and people eating cookies and milk in old-timey clothes.

    I, like many others, was drawn to Emotion Time’s parking spot in particular at first purely by visuals. A monochromatic bright white bed in the middle of Cuba Street is not particularly inconspicuous and as I neared the parking space, I was bemused to see a person sleeping in the bed. My first thought was “aw, lucky them”, and when I learnt that anyone could have a snooze, I was immediately interested. I was given a pre-nap form to fill out, which included questions on how tired I was (I’m always tired), how long I wanted to nap for (20 minutes max), and what I wanted to listen to as I dozed (I picked “rain on a tent”).

    As I waited for the current napper to finish napping, I chatted (quietly) with the artists. The premise of the project was simple—the play on replacing parked cars with parked people, the guise of therapeutic pseudo-science, a general awareness for rest in the city. As they described these ideas, they noted the discrepancy between the public’s requests for verbal explanations and the redundancy of the requests, since those who chose to nap would instantly understand the project.

    Soon it was my turn for a nap and I eagerly took my shoes and glasses off and climbed into the freshly made bed, which was even comfier than it looked (it looked really really comfy). I was given earphones, and as I put them on the sounds of Cuba Street were nicely replaced with Rain On Tent-like sounds. Next to go was my sight, with the help of a soft white eyemask. I buried myself under the soft sheets and relaxed, which—given the foot-traffic heavy location—was surprisingly easy. With a warm sheets and a light breeze, I felt more like I was on a cloud than lower Cuba, and I quickly settled into a doze.

    When my allocated nap was over I reluctantly left the bed, in a refreshed state. I was the fourteenth napper of the day, and the next napper was already waiting to rest. I thanked the artists and as I left the parking space I remained in a bit of a daze, still smiling from my public nap, a pleasure that felt almost post-coital. As I walked further away with a perhaps slightly creepy facial expression, I couldn’t help but think that each and every person I passed could really do with a public nap as well.

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  • Women’s Literature, Brought to You by Baileys

    In the world of books, awards and the nominees carry as much weight as those in the entertainment industry. Entertainment has the Oscars, Golden Globes, and either the BAFTAs or MTV Movie Awards, depending on your level of seriousness, as signs of quality. The book world has The Man Booker, the Costa Awards, and the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. Like most awards, they are flawed and carry Eurocentric agendas. The first of the holy trinity, the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, released its longlist of nominees recently, and boasts a stronghold of significant authors.

    Amid the current climate of heightened feminist consciousness, the announcement was an opportunity to re-establish the importance of the award, admitting that across the board “we are nowhere we should be” when considering the literary recognition of female authors. The Baileys Women’s Award for Fiction is an act to remedy that. The chair of the judges, Shami Chakrabarti, emphasizes the need for this award, proclaiming “we need to celebrate stories by women, for women, as just one more way to redress gender injustice”.

    The prize, more commonly known as the Orange Prize, was established in 1996 with ambitions to improve the literary recognition of female authors. Prompted after the 1991 Man Booker shortlist failed to include a single female author, several authors including Kate Mosse established the prize in search of greater female literary recognition. The award was originally going to be sponsored by Mitsubishi in 1994, but their support was withdrawn when the award incited controversy due to its sexist ambitions (duh). So Orange emerged, and over the last 20 years it has been rebranded according to changes in sponsorship. Baileys is the current sponsor, its support for the prize the latest in a line of gendered marketing strategies.

    In its twenty-year run the award has provided incredible authors with the success and acclaim they deserve. The list of previous winners includes the likes of Ali Smith, A. M. Homes, Ann Patchett, Lionel Shriver, Zadie Smith, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, everyone’s favourite Beyoncé loop (but seriously she’s also a great novelist). Despite the very impressive list of contemporary authors this prize has recognised, none of these authors has won a Man Booker, which creates a slightly difficult dialogue between the two prizes.

    The lineup of books for the 2015 longlist includes several popular novels. Elizabeth Healey’s Costa award winning debut novel Elizabeth is Missing is a hybrid of genre: a bit of crime, and not quite literary fictions, and the central character is an Alzheimer sufferer. Sarah Waters’ historical novel The Paying Guests is set in the 1920s and explores the changes to the social structure in the post-World War One era. Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven is an apocalyptic novel, which imagines the aftermath of a crippling new strand of flu. Anne Tyler’s Spool of Thread is her twentieth novel, and takes on the minutiae of a family in a subtle and deceptive way. Ali Smith’s How to Be Both is a book of two parts, one set in the 1960s and the other in the renaissance period. The shortlist is released in April, and the winner is announced in June.

    The succinct and tidy name of the Orange Prize was recognisable and garnered respect. Becoming the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction feels like an unfortunate shift, and in the wrong direction. By adding “women’s” to the title, the political agenda comes to the fore, rather than the literary merits of the work selected. The usage of “women’s” also carries implications of its other-ness. It feels pejorative.

    But perhaps we’re moving to a place where the inherent negativity and subjugation of women is losing its force. I hope so. Do we also need to talk about how the most important literary award has the word “Man” in it? Sure it’s from the investment company that sponsors it, but come on. Meanwhile, the sponsor for the Women’s award has moved from being a gender-neutral mobile network, to a creamy alcoholic beverage that is predominantly consumed by females, ushering the same gender specific consumption to befall the literature.

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  • Foxcatcher

    ★★★★

    Foxcatcher is a really interesting movie about the interplay of class, family and friendship within the context of professional wrestling (the rolling on the ground Olympic type, not the cabaret type). It is centred by three fantastic performances from Channing Tatum as Olympic gold medallist Mark Schultz, Mark Ruffalo as his brother “the great” Dave Schultz, also an Olympic gold medallist, and Steve Carell as John E Du Pont, heir of one of America’s richest families. It is based on a true story.

    Du Pont offers to fund Mark’s training at his Foxcatcher farms but Dave is unwilling to uproot his family to join them. Du Pont’s relationship with Mark moves between a friend, a patron and a father. Neither the brooding, anti-social Mark or the self-centred, delusional Du Pont know how to have friends and whenever Du Pont is uncomfortable he lashes out verbally or physically to remind Mark that they are not equals.

    Both Carell and Tatum hide the charisma that usually makes them such engaging actors, while Ruffalo lets his own shine through. Dave is a friendly and well adjusted family man. He’s passionate about wrestling as a sport and his job without being obsessed. Du Pont is jealous of Dave’s natural leadership qualities and his closeness with Mark and so uses Mark’s feelings of inferiority to set them apart. There is an excellent scene early on in the film where Mark and Dave are wrestling and their bodies communicate everything about their relationship. Foxcatcher’s problem lies in its narrative construction. It is paced so oddly that although it is interesting it is not often gripping.

    Du Pont has grown up to view himself as something that he is not: a leader, a talented sportsman, a pillar of the community. He is not any of these things, he is just a very rich man who still has the mindset of a child; he has a tantrum when the tank he orders doesn’t come with a machine gun. The spectre of his mother (Vanessa Redgrave) looms over him. He wants her approval but she considers wrestling a “low” sport, unlike her award-winning equestrian horses. Like Sunset Boulevard’s Norma Desmond, John Du Pont pays people for their company and affection and has people around him to create a fictional life in which he is capable of thinking he is special. Both films end in tragedy.

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  • Still Alice

    ★★★

    It’s easy to see why Sony Pictures scooped up Alice from the Toronto Film Festival. There are two key reasons: their names are Julianne Moore and Alec Baldwin, and they propel along a simple, snappy, and surprisingly un-soppy film about illness, family, and (of course) love. Moore plays Alice Howland, a linguistics professor diagnosed with early onset familial Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a spoiler the film wants you to know about, encouraging viewers to play MD and pick up the faintest traces of Howland’s memory lapses.

    It’s partly due to the intensity of the subject matter that Still Alice feels a little claustrophobic, but the atmosphere also comes from consistently close camera work. Sometimes this is really effective but sometimes all the feels mean we need a bit of breathing space. This isn’t to say the film is overly confronting, rather that it’s often more stylised than it needs to be, especially in the half-hearted flashback scenes.

    In making a film to capture the reality of degenerative disease, there’s potential for playing with style if you’re one of those post-classical creatives. Dialogue aside, it’s quite hard to signal an illness with any specificity. Still Alice shows some of Howland’s early episodes of confusion with shallow focus, close ups, and amplified sound: it tells us something is happening for her, but this could be anything from a panic attack to a psychotic episode. The film works best when it keeps it simple: when Howland is verbally expressing what she’s feeling, and when her daughter Lydia (Kristen Stewart) gives her space to do so. It really hits all the discussion points on Alzheimer’s that you want it to, without being the streetside guy rattling the collection bucket in your face.

    I got a sense from this film that the directors knew what they were about when it came to the subject matter, and Google has since informed me that Richard Glatzer passed away just five days ago after fighting ALS. The other director was his husband, Wash Westmoreland, and this adds a really nice dimension to Still Alice, shifting the film’s focus from the perspective of an individual dealing with illness to a family dealing with illness—in the film’s case, one that’s genetically inherited. It avoids angelic victim syndrome and allows for really nice character arcs as they grow and develop together. Of the eclectic bunch of films in their oeuvre, I’m sure both directors are glad that the reflective, understated Still Alice was Glatzer’s final offering.

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  • Chappie

    ★★★½

    Chappie is the story of the first ever sentient robot created in a weapons factory in South Africa. It follows engineer Dion (Dev Patel) as he creates Chappie, the Artificial Intelligence (AI), and then attempts to raise the robot. However, his progress is impeded by his envious colleague Vincent (Hugh Jackman) and Johannesburg gangsters Ninja and Yolandi (the real-life members of rap group Die Antwoord).

    Chappie is overall a great and thoughtful experience, but the problems it does have come from its struggle to create two distinctly opposite experiences within one cohesive package. The film attempts to balance the thought provoking science fiction that Neill Blomkamp has been lauded for, with the overly blockbuster action that he has been criticized for in the past.

    Blomkamp has had success and failures within these two areas. His first film District 9 is perhaps one of the best science fiction films of all time, establishing him as a master of poignant and provocative cultural introspect. His follow up, Elysium, presented somewhat shallow sci-fi, but offered action that was not only superbly executed but also thought provoking.

    Chappie lives in the middle ground of these two experiences. It is possible to recognise the potential the film had to present powerful examples of both action and science fiction, but these two approaches got in each other’s way, preventing either of them to live up to that potential.

    That potential could have led to a masterpiece, and though Chappie certainly is not that, it is still a truly respectable science fiction experience. The film deals with high science concepts of AI, consciousness and human development in interesting and accessible ways. The trade-off to this accessibility is that the science itself is often bafflingly absurd, but this is forgivable given that the film is more interested in communicating concepts and consequences than hard science.

    The development of Chappie offers the most in terms of thought provocation. We see Chappie from his first moment of existence quickly begin to learn and, more importantly, be influenced by his experiences and surroundings. The dichotomy between Dion’s emphasis on ethics and progress and Die Antwoord’s focus on survival in their criminal underworld creates a fascinating environment for Chappie’s character development. In Chappie, the experience of watching an entire childhood happen with the space of days highlights not only how impressionable developing minds are, but also that the human capacity for evil is fostered only by exposure to evil itself.

    More interestingly, and perhaps more concerning, was the film’s depiction of AI. AI is widely considered by many in the scientific world to be the most likely cause of the end of the human race. As such, within entertainment it is typically treated with justified fear and horror. Chappie flies in this face of this perception, instead portraying AI as the next step in the development of the human race. Chappie himself as the first ever AI is in no way a malevolent or evil character, but rather an overwhelmingly lovable and sympathetic one.

    One of the film’s biggest problems, aside from the jumbled approach, was the inconsistency of its performances. In particular Dev Patel and Hugh Jackman gave perhaps the most ineffectual performances of their careers. The saving graces were the performances from Sharlto Copley as Chappie and Yolandi and Ninja as themselves. Copley has played three distinctive characters in each of Blomkamp’s films, proving himself as a superb actor; Chappie may well be his best performance yet. The inclusion of Die Antwoord was a stroke of genius. They brought their unique and well developed characters, aesthetic and audio style to their scenes, creating a more diverse overall experience. Though Chappie isn’t the masterpiece it could have been, it is still a very respectable science fiction film with all the juicy thought fodder you could possibly desire.

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  • Old School Gems: Crash Bandicoot

    Crash Bash, a somewhat-decent Mario Party clone, was my gentle introduction to the crazy world that is the Naughty Dog-created Crash Bandicoot series, an icon of the fifth generation of consoles and one that helped make the PlayStation the biggest name in the video game world. The little marsupial’s platforming adventures were a great leap forward, especially in terms of graphics: while certainly not the first game to use polygonal 3D, it established the form as the way of the future by way of just looking amazing. Crash’s romps through time, space and everywhere in between were certainly a lot of fun when they were first released, but the question remains: can the franchise’s early efforts still hold up even today?

    The original Crash game, released in 1996, has not aged very well. It was released before the DualShock’s analog controls were even available, so you have to make do with using the D-pad, making movement through the levels feel stiff and unsatisfactory as you fight against the controller to get Crash to move. In an era in which analog sticks are necessary parts of any controller, having stiff controls is unforgivable; you would NOT want to have to use the Xbox 360 controller’s infamous D-pad, and while the PS1’s D-pad is otherwise okay, it’s still a hassle. The graphics, however, look incredible for the era and even today are quite pretty to look at, if you can look past some noticeably polygonal boss characters. If you want to pick up the original Crash, be aware that it can be brutally difficult at times and you cannot save except after completing the bonus levels, but completionists will still love the challenge of collecting every crystal and gem. A good game for its time, but doesn’t really hold up.

    Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back is a massive improvement on the first game. Considering it was released only a year after the first, this was an incredible achievement; turns out all Naughty Dog needed to do is make a slight upgrade to the engine to make the game look and feel amazing. Not only does the game have full DualShock support, making movement feel more fluid and satisfying, it also introduces the Warp Room to the series, allowing you to save at any time. This makes it a decent introduction to the series for younger and/or less experienced gamers, although trial-and-error is still prevalent in the game’s platforming, so be wary. The levels largely stick to the formula established in the first game, consisting of either jungle, snow or water elements, and don’t vary much from this, but there’s enough challenge to keep the player interested.

    However, just a year after Cortex Strikes Back, a miracle happened: a third Crash game in as many years was unveiled! Crash Bandicoot: Warped is the franchise’s pinnacle and it’s not hard to see why, taking everything good about the first two games and cranking it up to 11. The graphics are the best you’ll ever see in a PS1 game, the level design allowing you to take in the visuals while still giving you a challenge. There are very few elements of the trial-and-error gameplay that plagued the first two games so you’ll never feel cheated when you make a mistake; moving feels great as a result. Even the music is fantastic, perfectly capturing the essence of each level and immersing you totally in the madcap world. Warped is, no bullshit, possibly one of the greatest platformers ever made, placing Crash in the top echelon of video game franchises and competing admirably with the likes of Mario and Sonic.

    If you can’t tell, I absolutely love Crash Bandicoot games and I’m very glad I made the choices I did when I encountered that massive shelf of games. Crash Bash introduced me to a vibrant and colourful world that was equal parts joyful and brutal, one which could only have come about in the PlayStation era. While I’m disappointed very little worthwhile has been done with the franchise since Naughty Dog moved on from it, gamers will always have the original games that helped put the PlayStation on the map and made 3D gaming the way of the future.

    OOGA BOOGA.

    by

  • Eat Pray Thug

    ★★★★½

    Indian-American rapper Heems (Himanshu Suri) has just released his first solo album. Prior to Eat Pray Thug, the former third of New York rap trio Das Racist (RIP) had only released two mixtapes: Nehru Jackets in early 2012, and Wild Water Kingdom in November of the same year. Since then Heems has been travelling and touring. He spent a large amount of time in India attempting to reconnect with his heritage, and it was over three days in Mumbai that he wrote and recorded most of the album.

    The influence of the time spent in India is clear; by removing himself from New York Heems allowed himself to reflect on the duality of his existence, having “lived two lives, an Indian one and an American one”. This becomes a preoccupation in the opening track, “Sometimes”, which is boisterous, shifting between lyrical ups and downs to a quivering, intense beat. On it he raps: “how to live life when my life all duality/ this is how I live it man, this is my reality”. Reality for Heems is dual, Indian and American. It is his attempts to reconcile with this identity that makes Eat Pray Thug so interesting.

    This is partly because growing up Indian is not so simple in post-9/11 America. In the second track “So NY”, a shout out to his hip-hop roots, he is in conflict about being “so New York he doesn’t bump Tupac”, but having been also caught in the “white drama” of having to move home because “they kept calling me Osama”. On “So NY” we are witness to Heems’s confusion about his identity. His stance shifts a couple songs later on “Flag Shopping”, where he clearly aligns himself against the white American xenophobia toward people of South Asian origin. Heems, backed into a corner and rapping over a minimal beat and ominous piano riff, uses hip-hop as medium to speak from the margins: “they’re staring at our turbans/ they’re calling them rags/ they’re calling them towels/ they’re calling them diapers/ they’re more like crowns/ let’s strike them like vipers”.

    The aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks are inseparable from life as Indian-American, which Heems explores on this album in a depth not seen on his earlier mixtapes. The satirical “Al Q8a”, and the NYPD-condemning “Suicide by Cop” challenge racial discrimination and policing. The closing track of the album, “Patriot Act”, takes Heems further, exploring the real heartbreak of 9/11. With his voice quavering slightly, he dedicates the closing verse of both the song and the album to the isolation of being seen as another “Osama”; to the anxiety of being branded a “trouble-maker” by “blue uniformed” authorities; and to the fear of losing friends of family through deportation and hate crimes. Throughout the album he uses his voice to convey the devastation that befell communities of non-white US citizens, creating what he describes as “post-9/11 dystopian brown man rap”.

    Yet Eat Pray Thug is not all racial politics. In a recent tweet Heems suggested that the album is concerned with “heartbreak, of the romantic type and the sociopolitical type”. There is a prominent romantic narrative to the album, one that explores the final stages of a flailing relationship. In “Damn, Girl”, an RnB influenced track, Heems sings about a relationship he wants no part of but cannot end, stating, “me, I’m weak you know that” while also trying to tell the (presumably) ex-lover to leave him “the fuck alone”. A soft voiced Heems touches on the euphoria of a reunion on the aptly named “Pop Song (Games)”, with the earlier conflicts being simply “games that all young lovers do”. However it all deflates on the next track “Home” where a miserable Heems raps two short verses over the beautiful production of Blood Orange (Dev Hynes). It is perhaps the standout track of the album. Heems is at his most melancholy, his most reflective and his most insightful. The track is a soliloquy on a love now doomed that lingers and haunts him: “I regret you/ you can say our love was regretful/ you got me, I get you/ if I could I’d forget you/ but I can’t since I left you”.

    During an interview with the New York Times Heems described this album as “the most personal work I’ve ever done”. There is no doubt that it is. His life is the material, with no area untapped. Romance vies with identity for space on the album, while the politics of race and 9/11 loom large. Overall it is well paced with upbeat tracks like “Jawn Cage” and “Hubba Hubba” offering relief from the omnipresent heartbreak. The production is tight with producers ranging from Harry Fraud to Boody B, and lyrically Heems is at his best. Eat Pray Thug is a fantastic album, profoundly moving and full of resilience—definitely worth a listen.

    by

  • About the Author ()

    Salient is a magazine. Salient is a website. Salient is an institution founded in 1938 to cater to the whim and fancy of students of Victoria University. We are partly funded by VUWSA and partly by gold bullion that was discovered under a pile of old Salients from the 40's. Salient welcomes your participation in debate on all the issues that we present to you, and if you're a student of Victoria University then you're more than welcome to drop in and have tea and scones with the contributors of this little rag in our little hideaway that overlooks Wellington.

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