…Because Giant Monsters Make Everything Better

After an absence of a few weeks, I have returned!  Be sure to check out all the apologies and other exciting things I posted earlier today.  To come back with a bang, here’s a short piece I wrote on the history, influence, and significance of Godzilla!  Enjoy!

Godzilla, the giant lizard-monster famous for terrorizing Japan, has survived in media for over 50 years and continues to be an icon of Japanese culture.  Since Godzilla’s not-so-humble beginning in the 1954 film “Gojira” (the Japanese name for Godzilla), the monster has been in movies set in several countries––each time used to allegorically showcase their fears.  Today Godzilla (and other giant monsters that spawned from the original’s success such as Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah) is known worldwide, but the spirit of Godzilla and the monster genre it created remain purely Japanese.
The behemoth originally represented the threat of nuclear war in the wake of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  The United States swiftly created a Godzilla film of its own, disregarding the original plot, but nonetheless Godzilla became popular in America.  Godzilla’s American popularity continued as other monsters swept through Japanese cinema: Movies like “King Kong vs Godzilla,” “Mothra vs Godzilla,” and “Godzilla vs the Thing” introduced new monsters that turned Godzilla into somewhat of a hero.  Instead of being a metaphor for Japanese fears, the monster itself began defending the nation from terrorists, pollution, invading aliens, and their giant monster representations.  To the observer, the change of Godzilla’s role in the movies shows that it had been completely absorbed and became a true icon.
As much as Americans ate up the Godzilla franchise, the concept is completely Japanese.  Japan produced something successful because everyone could relate to it.  In 1954 the threat of nuclear war was very real for Japan, and other countries had fears of their own.  Whether it’s demolishing the Tokyo Tower or crushing waves of U.S. troops, Godzilla is the embodiment of fear on a national level.  Japan’s interpretation of that fear gave the nation massive amounts of soft power as Godzilla infiltrated the movie theaters around the world.  The influence the monster had––its movies, action figures, collectables––was so immense that the original film spawned more than 20 sequels, companions, and spin-offs.  Though Godzilla may have lost its original metaphor for nuclear war, it exists today as a slate to which any fear could be applied, and an international icon that preserves an important piece of Japanese history.

Intro to my San Diego Experience

Last summer my family and I vacationed in San Diego, California.  We live in Maine, so the beach is nothing new, but the west coast atmosphere was so much different.  For example, we don’t have signs that designate areas for surfing and swimming.  Some people surf in Maine, but it’s not nearly as popular as it is in California!  (If you swim in the winter you’re insane…)

I took SO MANY pictures on our trip!  I’m going to post some of my favorites here semi-regularly (does that sounds nice?).  I think I managed to capture the attitude of the city and its people: relaxed, cool, urban, cultured, and innovative.  I was blown away; I can say with confidence that it is my absolute favorite city.  Sorry, Portland 😉

A.T. 40 Snapshot (or, We’re Doomed)

Turn on your radio and listen to any “hit music” station and what do you hear?  Songs about sex, songs about alcohol, songs about drugs, songs about clubs, songs about sex, songs about depression, songs about sex…

And people wonder why so many young people are so nuts?!?!? (I can say that; I’m young.)  Music has proven on many occasions that it has a profound influence on culture.  It reflects what’s going on in people’s minds, and acts as a time capsule for anyone wanting to look back to see what life was all about “back in the day.”

Well, to see exactly what percentage of American pop music contains bad content, I listened to the top 20 songs in America according to the American Top 40 on January 8, 2011.  I scanned the lyrics for profanity as well as alcohol and sexual references.  Here’s what I came up with:

Let’s analyze this.

All the non-white areas of the pie represent songs whose lyrics reference sex or alcohol or use profanity.  Sex comes in first by quite a bit.  Interestingly, there weren’t any songs that had alcohol references that weren’t paired with at least one sexual reference or swear.  I think it’s pretty safe to conclude that implies that getting drunk either leads to sex or situations that would make one want to curse.

Some other interesting observations:

CLUBS: One of the things I noticed while doing my “research” was the preponderance of songs that take place in clubs.  I don’t really know if that’s a bad thing or not, but most of the clubs contained drinkers, girls embarrassing themselves, or (a la Usher) people “mak[ing] love in this club.”  Club=bad.

ANALOGIES TO ADDICTION: Something more disturbing was the words “drug” and “addiction” being used to describe something.  Ke$ha’s “Your Love is My Drug” is NOT the only example of this, although many people seem to be addicted to love.  I think the analogies are supposed to sound passionate, but the only thing that comes to my mind is, “You know you can get help for that.”

So, what does this mean?  This is the music of my generation, so am I supposed to think that my generation is defined by all the junk in pop music?  Maybe, maybe not.  Although many aren’t fans of some of the themes of modern American music, the 21st century has brought on a resurgence of dance/pop that really knows how to get people going.  I say we just roll with it and see what happens.  New music comes out every day!  I’m excited to see how the music industry changes in 2011.  Maybe we’ll discover something more fly than a G6!

http://www.at40.com/top-40/chart/9124

Why I Love Allegories

Allegory |ˈaləˌgôrē|
noun ( pl. -ries)
a story, poem, or picture that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or political one.

Out of all the forms of writing I’ve come to appreciate, my absolute favorite is the allegorical novel/novella. I particularly enjoy pessimistic ones, which might possibly be reason for concern, but I guess I’m one of those people that likes to get freaked out. I love it when everything finally “clicks.” I’ll have finished reading an amazing book, and I’ll suddenly realize, “Hey! The author is telling me that people are generally bad and not even society’s conditioning can change it!” or, “Remind me again why I trust politicians?” or even, “I need to reassess my life because I’ve obviously been living in the dark all this time.” Knowing that you figured out the author’s hidden message feels so awesome!
I actually believe that almost every story is an allegory in some way. It may not be obvious or even significant, but somehow it is. As human beings, even our wildest imaginings are inspired by real things or concepts, so it is impossible to write a fictitious work without any trace of real-world inspiration or personal meaning. That’s how I see it, anyway.
I think the main reason allegories appeal to me so much is that many of them act as prophecies or warnings of possible futures. As I once remarked in an English paper, “we are living in the sequel.” The author of the allegory is almost challenging us to do better than his/her characters did, to prove them wrong…
Cool, right?

Popularity vs Relevancy: Is Net Neutrality Slipping Away?

Is Google not giving us the whole picture?

There is no question that we are in the age of the Internet.  We get our news, listen to music, talk to friends, and SO much more all by sitting down at a computer.  A hot topic in the news these days–one that’s pretty scary to think about–is the possible loss of Net Neutrality.  For those that aren’t familiar with Net Neutrality, it is a law that prohibits the discrimination of any website in any way.  So, basically, big corporation-owned websites can’t have an advantage over personal websites, blogs, etc.  The idea behind the law is to keep the Internet as free (in every sense of the word) as possible.  However, big companies want to tier the Internet so that there are two streams: one fast and controlled by them that you have to pay to use, and one slow.  How will companies accomplish this?  Well, there’s been talk of companies joining up so that by “subscribing” to them you get everything you could want on the Internet–for a price.  For example, CNN could pair up with Time Warner Cable, Verizon Wireless, and Google.  Those that are against Net Neutrality think that corporate “bundles” would be a good thing since they could get all of their services from one vendor, but I’m very skeptical of the super-corporation idea.  I’m well-read in science fiction.  I know how that would end.

 

Now, it has recently come to my attention that Google may be neglecting Net Neutrality a little bit.  I’ve noticed that company sites usually appear in the top few hits in a Google search.  In addition, YouTube videos can now be “promoted” by paying a sum of money. (Who owns YouTube?  Oh right, Google does.)  Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve been a supporter of Google for a long time, and I know I can’t full-out accuse them of breaking the law.  BUT I have made these observations that, to me, aren’t in line with the spirit of the Internet.  Check out these videos that show the #1 hit that comes up for each letter of the alphabet with Google Instant:

So, what does this mean?  Firstly, it’s clear that popularity is a factor here.  Sites that get the most hits come up first.  That makes sense, but that means Google searches are now based on popularity instead of relevancy.  Secondly, as you probably saw in the second video, region plays a role in determining the top hits.  I don’t see that as something to be concerned about, because if searches are going to be based on popularity you might as well see what’s popular where you live.  Don’t lose sight of the main issue, though: By seeing the most popular sites first, people are more likely to click on them.  That increases their popularity, reducing the chance of an independent site ever getting discovered.  Also, based on popularity’s standards, there’s no reason why a company can’t pay Google to bump their site up the ranks.  People on YouTube are already doing it.

 

I believe that abolishing Net Neutrality would be a form of censorship.  If this happened, it would affect people’s ability to access information they want.  Curious about the issue of censorship, I (MS) asked a local librarian (BF) what she thought:

MS: What is censorship?

BF: Censorship is an act, by a governing or other authoritative body, of preventing or restricting people’s access to information in any format, in whole or in part, and/or the suppression of free speech as it is constitutionally defined and guaranteed.

MS: How does it affect a library? People?

BF: Censorship can be particularly complex in a library setting, I think, because there are a lot of different ways it can rear its ugly head. This includes things like: Individuals and groups attempting to get books and other resources removed from a library because they find them personally objectionable. The problem here, of course, is that while a person who is offended by a particular library resource is free to pass it over and not check it out, once it is removed from the library, the person who isn’t offended by it and needs/wants the information it provides is out of luck. Most libraries have policies that make clear their selection process for materials and hopefully have in place a clear process for what to do should one of these challenges arise. Depending upon the politics of a community and how supportive people both within the organiation and without are of the library’s mission to provide free and equal access to its patrons, the outcome of these processes can really vary…

…one of the other big issues that I think libraries face in terms of censorship is Internet filtering, which libraries obviously handle in different ways. The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/cipa.html places restrictions on library’s ability to get a cheaper rate for Internet service if they don’t filter, so many do. We public libraries here in Maine are lucky, because the state government supplements money that we lose by not complying with CIPA, so a lot of Maine libraries…don’t filter. Of course, it’s always a tricky wicket, since there is definitely stuff on the Internet that raises cause for concern and at a library… I still feel it is much preferrable to using a computer filter, which by it’s very nature sometimes blocks people from obtaining perfectly legitimate information.
MS: As a librarian, what is your opinion of censorship?
BF: It has no place in a free, democratic society. We have to be prepared to defend free speech in all its forms, even (and probably most importantly) when the view/book/material we’re defending may not reflect our own values.

MS: And…what are your views on Net Neutrality?  Would you compare an Internet without Net Neutrality to a library that doesn’t have censored/banned books?

BF: I am emphatically in favor of continued Net Neutrality. I don’t know if I’d compare a tiered Internet to a library that censors or bans books exactly, but I think that the entire idea of establishing two different streams, one faster for those who can pay and one slower for those who can’t, endangers the principle of equal access/use that at present the Internet largely upholds. And since I suppose a library that censors or bans books also endangers that principle, I guess there is some similarity, but in the case of a library, I feel more like censorship serves to deprive people of their right to information and in the case of a tiered Internet, it seems like the issue is more the limiting of speech for those who are poorer. Both definitely seem fundamentally undemocratic to me, though.

I see Net Neutrality as something that should remain sacrosanct.  We do so much on the Internet.  To have everything we do censored, to be presented with corporate-created false dilemmas, would be undemocratic.  I’m anxious to see how this all plays out…