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Danger is Out There, Not in Here.

Defiance: The Bielski Partisans

Tec, Nechama  (directed by Edward Zwick)

1993, Oxford University Press  (2008, Paramount Vantage)

ISBN 0 195075951

History is a bitch.  So is memory.  And when you get down to it, memory often has to serve as our personal history, and the way that we relate that personal history to others (if we ever do) can reflect in interesting ways on the actions we took during the course of our life.  Tuvia Bielski and his brothers led an otriad comprised of Jews who had escaped the cities of occupied Belorussia during World War II, and managed to keep so many of them safe while also contributing to the undermining of the German forces.  This wasn’t such a weird thing – there are other examples of Jewish otriads and resistances during the Second World War, but the main difference in the Bielski otriad was that Tuvia’s stated aim was to keep people safe, no matter if they could fight or not.

I had read this book before, but not before I’d seen the movie of the same name.  The movie is pretty damn fancy, Daniel Craig plays Tuvia Bielski, which is pretty cool.  The recollections of Tuvia that the survivors of the Bielski otriad made this a pretty good casting choice, at least in my opinion (not in the looks department though – Daniel Craig is, as ever, sans moustache).  There are a few instances in the book where the survivors recollect how inspiring Tuvia was, which seemed to give Daniel Craig a lot of opportunity to do some manly horse riding and gun shooting and frowning.  Plus he seemed to be pretty good with the ladies too – slightly heartless sometimes, but you know, treat ’em mean, keep ’em keen, I guess.  Tuvia was the undisputed leader of the group, but the movie makes quite a bit of the relationships between him and his brothers, Asael (played by Jaime Bell) and Zus (played by Lieb Schrieber – I must have watched too many X-Men movies though, because in my head he’s always going to be Sabretooth).  Particularly the relationship with Zus, who was a bit of a hot-head, and eventually left the group to join up with a different Russian partisan group.

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Welcome to the Dark Ages

It would seem that the Golden Age of the Internet is over.

Well, not over, at least, not yet.  I was gettin’ my drama on a little bit there.  But I figured if a blackout was good enough for Wikipedia, then it’s good enough for me.

There are lots of reasons to rail against the SOPA (Stop Internet Piracy Act) and PIPA (PROTECT IP Act – the PROTECT bit stands for ‘preventing real online threats to economic creativity and thefts’ – it’s the ‘economic creativity’ bit that makes me throw up in my mouth a little bit).  Don’t get me wrong – I think that piracy on a major scale is not only dumb, but robs artists, writers and other creative and innovative types of some material reward for their endevours.   I understand people need to make money.  I really do.  It’s always nice to be able to feed ones family, keep the house warm, all that good shit. But in my view, the current way of doing things has come to the end of its cycle, and we need to develop a new paradigm.  I know I’m a bit of a starry eyed idealist, and to be honest, I think that there is a point to be made about better regulation of the internet.  But not at the expense of freedom of information, at the expense of community supported enterprises like Wikipedia.  What  I’m really quite worried about is the way that governments (not just the US government – it seems like the raison du jour for a lot of Westernised governments at the moment) are weighing in to protect the interests of privately owned companies, and by doing so undermining freedom of information.

If you are a US citizen, you can protest SOPA/PIPA; or hell, you can at least find out more about it.  Here in New Zealand, we have the TPPA (Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement), which I would urge not only all New Zealanders, but also Australians, and everyone from Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. Japan, Canada and Mexico to find out more about too.  There are lots of ways that freedom of information is under threat, and it’s up to us as citizens of the new age to find out about it, get informed and decide what side we want to be on.

Citizens of the new age?  I think a hippy just invaded my brain.  But this shit is really important, so go find out more, go talk to people, and let’s get the knowledge before it’s too late!

“Even if you were a woman, you’d still be an idiot.”

Beautiful Fighting Girl

Tamaki, Saito (Translated by J. Keith Vincent and Dawn Lawson)

University of Minnesota Press, 2011 (English Translated edition)

ISBN: 978 0 8166 5451 2

You know how sometimes, you can like a thing without really knowing why you like it?  And then once you find out some of the theory of why people like these things, it sort of spoils it for you?  Well, all of that didn’t happen with this book.

Ha, had you going for a second there, didn’t I?  But I guess that that’s because I’m not a massive anime and manga fan.  Oh, sure, I like some of it; Princess Mononoke is probably my favourite, but I really haven’t watched enough of it to feel that I should really have a favourite, you know?  I love the style of it, and the freaky culture clash things that crop up – like in Pom Poko, with its masses of references to the shape-shifting abilities ensconced in a racoon’s balls.  Have to confess to loving it from a Western point of view, and also… not keen on Big Robot anime.  But all that didn’t stop me reading this book.

A lot of this book was way out of my depth – there is a lot of discussion, especially in the introduction to the book, about Lacanian psychotherapy techniques (gah?), the intersection between the Real, the Fictionalised Real, and Fiction (double gah?).  Lucky for me, I recently read Violence: six sideways reflections by Slavoj Zizek (yeah, that’s what I do in my spare time… what a nerd), so some of the terms were kind of familiar. I’d imagine if you were a critical studies major or a media studies guru you’d probably get way more out of this book than I did.

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The Shape of Punk to Come

Taking Punk to the Masses: From Nowhere to NevermindTaking punk to the masses: from nowhere to nevermind

McMurray, Jacob

Fantagraphics Books

ISBN: 978 60699 433 7

Taking Punk to the Masses:From Nowhere to Nevermind is the book of an exhibition that the Experience Music Project, which is a pop culture and music museum in Seattle, put on to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s album Nevermind, as you probably could have guessed from the title. So,  it is a look into a very specific line in punk history.  I have to say that I was initially leery as hell of this book, as I am of all books within this genre (is punk history a genre of books?  Whatever, you know what I mean).  But admittedly, I know next to nothing about the beginnings of the punk scene in the US, especially as it relates to bands… well, bands outside of the New York scene.

That was definitely something that I liked about this book.  McMurray has covered some really interesting ground in this… well, its almost more of an exhibition catalogue than anything else.  Fantagraphics only published this first pressing in April 2011, so it’s a really recent volume too.  In the introduction, McMurray mentions that most of the stuff in the exhibition (and the contents of the exhibition are so varied that only the word ‘stuff’ can really cover it – everything from posters and photographs to zines and cassettes to guitars) has come from EMP’s deep archive.  If that’s correct, in the words of Liz Lemon, I want to go to there, because there is some seriously rare and beautiful things in that collection.  My favourite moment was opening a page and seeing a photo, kind of grainy and informal, of a group of women.  They all looked varying degrees of familiarity to me, which is no surprise, because when I looked closer, the picture was of Viv Albertine (The Slits), Debbie Harry (Blondie), Siouxie Sioux (the Banshees), Poly Styrene (XRay Specs), Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders), and Pauline Black (The Selector).  Like, Oh Em Gee, right?  Imagine finding that sucker in a shoebox somewhere.

I guess sometimes the read-ability goes a bit off, but the artifacts are pretty amazing in themselves, and it’s given me a lot to listen to.  The Riot Grrl movement stuff was particularly interesting, though I could have done without all the stuff about how ‘these women influenced thousands to get involved in the movement, blah blah blah’; to me, it just came of as slightly patronising.  I think that Mark Perry did a better job of describing the role of women in the punk scene, though obviously he’s talking about British punk.  There seemed to be a lot more credence given to punk-as-catalyst, you know, punk beginning the new wave movement, punk beginning speed metal, the cross pollination that went on between punk and metal, punk and pop, all of that kind of stuff.  What a lot of writers about punk don’t seem to want to accept is that punk is the basis for a lot of genre music today,  just as metal and reggae and rockabilly influenced punk.  Ahh, it’s all just the circle of life, innit?

I don’t know if I could really recommend this book to anyone but the biggest grunge fan.  I certainly would disappoint rabid Nirvana fans, unless they had the kind of sensibility that it takes to look around the genre of grunge and want to see where it all began, you know?  There are certainly amazing objects which are catalogued in this book, so it makes a great read for a music fan who can’t find their way to Washington to go to the EMP themselves.  However, because it’s such a broadbrush approach, it can be a little vague and… I don’t know, I want to say ill defined, but it’s not that bad.  It’s just kind of a primer session, you know?  Which is not bad in itself, but not really what I was hoping it would be.  If anyone knows of an equivalent to Jon Savage’s book England’s Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock and Beyond about the US scene, let me know in the comments, huh?

Having said all that, they do have a picture of Artis the Spoonman’s spoons.  And surely, that’s worth the price of admission.


NOTE: The title, she is not my own work.  It’s the title of an album by punk band (*groan, or hardcore band, if you want to get pedantic), Refused.  It’s a super-damn-fine album, so go and listen to it right now.