Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Porco Rosso 2: What's a Pig?

What then do we make of the fact that the protagonist in Porco Rosso is an anthropomorphic pig? We might say that, well, it’s symbolic, it’s a metaphor.

Of what?

Let’s review the opening scene, which I discussed in my opening post. Even before we see the protagonist’s head, before we know he’s a pig, Miyazaki leads us to believe that his protagonist is lazy – sleeping on the beach in mid-day – and slovenly – cigarette butts, etc, lying around. In short, that he’s piggish, as that notion is understood. When we see that, yes, he IS a pig, well . . . just what are we being told? We’ve already seen that he’s piggish. We don’t need to see a pig’s head in order to know that. We know it from his attitude and actions. But perhaps the appearance provides an account of that behavior: he’s piggish because he’s a pig. It betrays the protagonist's essence.

Later on in the film he’s chatting with Curtis in the bar of the Hotel Adriano. Here’s a bit of that conversation:
Porco Rosso: That's the plane that beat an Italian boat at the Schneider cup, two years running.

Curtis: It's not only fast, it's good in aerial combat. I hear that a pig named Porco Rosso has quite a reputation around here.

Porco Rosso: If you make a deal with the air pirates, watch your tail, young'un. They're a bunch of penniless cheapskates. They stink 'cause they don't bathe.

Curtis: Yea... that's for sure.*
Now we have Pigman criticizing others for a failure to bathe. Given the conventional implications of piggishness, that would seem to be a bit hypocritical, no? Yet, while the pirates overhear the remark and bridle at it, there’s no suggestion that Pigman stinks. He appears to be well-groomed, and even a bit of a dandy, with a white scarf around over his flight suit. Maybe he isn’t such a pig after all.

The fact is, as Tim Perper pointed out to me in private discussion some years ago, Pagot does not, in fact, act like a pig in this film. Yes, as Patrick Drazen has explored in “Sex and the Single Pig: Desire and Flight in Porco Rosso” (Mechademia 2, pp. 189-199, 2007), Pagot has a reputation as a rake, and there’s no reason to believe that he doesn’t deserve that reputation. But we don’t see him womanizing in this film. In particular, he refuses to respond to Fio’s overtures, however tentative they might have been. The Pagot we see in this film is a brave, resourceful, and courteous man. Not a pig at all.

Peer Review

Not a Good Idea

Monday, November 29, 2010

Porco Rosso 1 Meta: conventions, worlds, roles

I’ve got two comments that are ‘meta’ to yesterday’s post on Porco Rosso.

Funny Animals, NOT

Somewhere near the middle of that post I observed that, while talking animals are a convention often used in cartoons, the fact that Marco Pagot appears to be a talking pig cannot be attributed to that particular convention. Miyazaki is doing something else in Porco Rosso and is not calling on that convention. He’s just calling on the normal license of story tellers to include fantasy elements in their stories.

That seemed obvious to me when I drafted it and it remains obvious in retrospect. I note here that that observation didn’t occur to me until I drafted it yesterday, and that despite the fact that I’ve been thinking about this film off and on over several years and had written perhaps 20 or 30 pages of notes and correspondence prior to writing that post.

Why’d it take me so much time and effort to arrive at something so obvious? Perhaps it’s because I simply don’t think of Miyazaki in the context of thinking about “Three Little Pigs” or Porky the Pig. They’re different worlds. As such it simply didn’t occur to me to deny the convention of one world (funny animal cartoons) in the course of thinking about a film in a different world (Miyazaki features). Whatever the reason, I do think it useful to have made the connection and thus to have pointed out that different conventions apply to Porco Rosso.

Imaginative Worlds

My other comment is a bit obscure. It has to do with thinking about fictive worlds, which is common enough. That is to say, it’s common to think about the characteristics of the world invoked in this or that narrative. In doing so we separate the world from the particular narrative and ask: What kinds of things exist in this world? What kinds of actions and events can take place? I’ve done a post doing just that kind of thing for the worlds in most of Miyazaki’s feature-length anime.

I think that can be misleading. In the case of Porco Rosso it led me to ask whether or not it would be possible to have other pigmen in this world, or perhaps donkeymen or foxwomen. Yes, the story we’ve got has only one such creature; but could the imaginative world in fact admit of others? To be sure, I didn’t mention such questions in that post, but I asked them of myself as I was thinking about this film. And I had the sense that somehow they’re beside the point.

This anomalous person, this Marco Pagot slash Porco Rosso, exists not simply as a character in some imaginative world floating around in the imaginative ether, waiting for us to tell tales about it. That person exists specifically as a creature of the tale Miyazaki has crafted about him. As I emphasized in yesterday’s post, that person is THE PROTAGONIST in this story and his anomalous nature is as much a function of that role as it is of the imaginative world. Though the two things can be teased apart analytically – the world, the role – one cannot understand the creature (Marco Pagot slash Porco Rosso) except in the conjunction of the world AND the narrative.

Just why that is so I attribute to the mostly invisible and unknown machinery through which we tell and understand such stories.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Porco Rosso 1: Pig as Protagonist

porco cockpit

Recently I’ve been doing a good deal of thinking about the films of Hayao Miyazaki, re-watching them too, time and again. In the large I’ve been thinking how each film involves its own assemblage of naturalistic and fantasy elements. In some films the naturalistic seems to be a pendant on the fantastic, think of Spirited Away or Howl’s Moving Castle. In others it’s the reverse, Kiki’s Delivery Service or the film I want to examine now, Porco Rosso, that is to say, The Crimson Pig.

The film’s central conceit is that the protagonist, Marco Pagot, is a man who, at some point in his life, became a pig. That is how he appears in the film. That, and a closely associated aerial parade of dead fighter-pilots in their planes are the only fantastic elements in the film. There are no elixirs and potions, no spells, no semi-divine and / or supernatural creatures, nor giant insects, no dream worlds, no flying about on brooms, none of that. Just a man who looks like a pig, and his memory of those dead pilots, their planes streaming upward. The memory takes but a minute or two on screen, but the porcine visage, that’s constant, from beginning to end.

Given any of Miyazaki’s films one might wonder what would happen if the fantasy elements were eliminated. Do that to Spirited Away and the film all but disappears. Eliminate the fantasy from Porco Rosso and most of the film remains, so much so that one might wonder whether those those two fantasy elements serve any compelling purpose.

I assume they do, but nonetheless find myself compelled to ask: Why a pig? What does Miyazaki accomplish through that conceit that he could not otherwise accomplish? While I find the film compelling in immediate experience, I don’t know how, upon reflection, to rationalize the protagonist’s porcine head.

Isn’t it symbolic?

Isn’t everything?

This is the first of two or three posts in which I examine how Miyazaki deploys this central device. In this post I will examine something that is so obvious that it hardly seems worthy of notice, much less analytic commentary, namely the fact the pig is in the protagonist role.

Porco in port

The Protagonist is a Pig

The pig in this film, Marco Pagot, is the protagonist. He’s not a secondary or tertiary character. The other characters exist to fill-out his story, not he to fill theirs.

By way of examining the obviousness of this fact, imagine the same film, but with Pagot appearing human at all times. Instead, some minor character shows up with a pig head, a donkey head, or a chicken head, choose your animal. Imagine that it’s the bank teller, or the boy who pumps the gasoline when Pagot refuels on the way back to his island. We see this minor character with an animal head. No fuss is made about it, and it’s the only animal-headed character.

How would that go over? It seems to me we’d be forced to think of it as a DUMBASS MISTAKE. What else could it possibly be? We have some being acting the role of a human. All of the creatures acting in such roles are ordinary humans, all of them except this one. If that’s not a mistake, then it requires an explanation.

What kind of explanation could possibly work? Perhaps the person really is just a person, but is wearing an deceptively convincing mask. If that’s the case, then the film has to show us that it is a mask, and must somehow account for that mask. Or perhaps the person really is a donkeyman, or maybe even an extraterrestrial donkeyman. That too must be somehow explained. However this anomalous creature is rationalized, the rationalization will threaten to enlarge the character out of minor status into major status or even . . . even the protagonist slot.

All of which is to make the obvious point: If there’s going to be one, and only one, anomalous character in the story, the implicit logic of story construction demands that that character be the protagonist. Further, the story must account for how the protagonist became anomalous.

Cartoons with talking anthropomorphic animals are ubiquitous. No one wonders why the taking creatures are animals. But those cartoons are pervaded by such animals. They are understood as conventions of the imaginative world in those cartoons. As such, they require no account. Porco Rosso is not one of those cartoons. Pagot’s porcine nature thus does not follow from that convention. It requires a different justification.

The Malibu, 24/7



Saturday, November 27, 2010

Behind the Scenes: Disney, Miyazaki, Paley

I’ve been reading around in Hayao Miyazaki’s Starting Point, 1979-1996, a collection of short pieces by and interviews with Miyazaki. Among them is a speech he gave to Japan’s Association of Scenario Writers in August 1994. He observes (p. 103):
So, why don’t we script the film in advance? Well, it’s mainly because this is the way my brain has been trained to work. I’ve tried writing the story out many times before, but even if I think a story works great in text, when we render it in continuity sketches it’s usually unusable. It just doesn’t work, and usually reveals how shallow my original ideas were.
A bit later (p. 104): “In the old days, we always thought getting the sketches first was essential, but the problem is that drawing the continuity sketches seemed to always get behind schedule…” [ellipsis in the original text]. What emerges from this discussion is that Miyazaki and his colleagues start animation before the story has been completely worked out in continuity sketches (that is, story-boarded). “If you keep working, making adjustments here and there, in the process you really develop a much better understanding of the characters you are trying to animate.”

Though Miyazaki doesn’t discuss either the voice acting, the musical scoring, or overall sound design, I assume that that isn’t done until the film is completely animated. Given his “work it out as we go” improvisational process, Miyazaki’s not going to have a speaking script until it’s all done, nor will he know the sound effects required nor the music.

What I find so interesting is that this process is quite different from what I had understood the “classic” process to be, the process that used by Disney, to name an obvious example. In that process full animation would be the last part of the process. Before that could happen a script would be written, characters and settings would be designed, a complete storyboard would be worked out, the actors would voice their parts and the music would be composed and recorded. Then the animators go to work, synching their drawings to the sound where necessary. Of course, things might not quite work out as planned up front, so some revisions might be necessary along the way. But the basic idea is to create a detailed plan – storyboard and sound – before starting to animate. That, I assume, is what Miyazaki had in mind when he asserted that in “the old days” they did the sketches first.

I have assumed that this classical process arose, at least in part, as a way of coordinating the activities of what, in a feature film production, would be a very large team of artists, animators, writers, inkers, actors, and so forth. What Miyazaki found, however, is that it didn’t work for him.

Is this merely a difference between his personal style and Disney’s, for example? We know that Disney stopped drawing in the mid-1920s and thereafter functioned strictly as a director, albeit as a director who demanded control over every detail and often micromanaged his projects into chaos. Miyazaki, however, has always done a great deal of drawing in his projects, often doing most of the story-boarding himself. But it’s not entirely obvious to me how that difference would itself translate into the very different overall management styles, the classic and the Miyazaki.

Underbelly 10: In Process

BruceLabounty802 has some photos of The Underbelly Project in mid-stream. He's posted them as a set on Flickr. Here, for example, you can see Swoon at work.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Underbelly 9: A Documentary in the Works

As some of you know, some folks are making a documentary about public reaction to The Underbelly Project. They spent Sunday afternoon (yesterday) interviewing people at a Chelsea studio. I was among them.

I showed up at 2PM expecting to see, say, a half dozen or more people sitting around waiting to get interviewed. It wasn’t like that. I guess I over-estimated how many people would be interested – through, for what it’s worth, Google’s now giving me upward of 500K hits when I search on “the underbelly project.” It was 200K hits two weeks ago.

In any event, I was the only one there just at that moment to get interviewed. So I got miked up and started talking. While Stephanie was interviewing me, some more folks showed up.

I stuck around for about an hour afterward and listed to four or five more interviews. One woman hadn’t known anything about graffiti and street art until she’d read about Underbelly. Except for one ex-writer from Staten Island, most of people tended to treat it all as graffiti and didn’t recognize street art as a different movement. But then, the Project itself didn’t make any distinction, did it?

From what I heard in that one hour, they’ve got an interesting range of views. Everyone was positive about it.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Animal Passion? Hyacinth Hippo and Ben Ali Gator

This is a slightly revised version of a post from The Valve, Slapstick Onto-logic in Dance of the Hours.
When I watched Fantasia six or seven years ago, this episode, a setting of Dance of the Hours, was hard to take. Frankly, I felt a bit embarrassed to be watching it. It seems so silly, cute, and cloying. But Ward Kimball convinced me to give it a chance. He was one of Disney’s premier animators from the early days and he remarked, in “The Making of Fantasia” (included on the DVD): “Every once in awhile you see something that’s perfect. That was one of them.” If Ward Kimball thought it was perfect, then I figured I should give it a chance.

So I watched it, and watched it, in whole, in segments, stepping through some parts frame-by-frame, and came to appreciate it, even to like it. Really.

In its original setting, Dance of the Hours was a ballet within an opera, Amilcare Ponchielli's La Gioconda; that is to say, it was a play within a play. This music was a bit long in tooth by the late 30s and ripe for parody. Disney's basic conceit is to have ungainly animals dance the roles normally taken by graceful ballet dancers. Beyond this, as I have argued in an exchange with Michael Barrier (animation historian and Disney biographer), these animals have a hard time keeping in role.

And that leads to the issue I want to examine: Just where is baseline reality in this segment? What’s a role and what’s reality? Just what is being staged, and by whom?

Dance of the Hours Framed

As its title suggests, Ponchielli's ballet depicts the succession of the hours of the day. Disney picks up on that and divides the ballet into five segments: 1) ostriches, early morning; 2) hippopotami, mid-day, 3) elephants, dusk, 4) alligators, night, and 5) finale, night. The climax of the sequence occurs in the second half of the fourth segment, when Ben Ali Gator woos Hyacinth Hippo - who'd been introduced in the second segment and was sleeping on a chaise longue during the third segment. (Note that these names never appear in the film itself; they are names used by the production staff.) The wooing is at once absurd and dramatically intense, set to a sustained crescendo in the strings that bespeaks consummation. This is followed by a moment in which Ben proudly presents Hyacinth in a promenade:


It was somewhere in this sequence that, on one occasion, I said to myself: “They're not acting! They're for real!” For what it's worth, that's the observation that prompted me to think seriously about Dance of the Hours. This promenade gives way to several turns, which then give way to the finale, when everyone is back on stage in furious zigzagging motion.

When Dance opens we see the doors to a large room, the doors open, and the camera zooms through (perhaps) a hallway to face a stage with lowered curtains in front. The curtains rise and we see an ostrich awakening and beginning to dance. Clearly we're looking at something happening on a stage. But, as we will see shortly, we leave the stage near the end of this first segment and go out of doors, where the action remains into the finale. Two thirds of the way through the finale it suddenly becomes obvious that we are watching something take place on stage. As the music comes to an end, the camera zooms back so that we see the entire stage, with dancers arranged in a final tableau, and keeps zooming back until we are outside the hall, looking at the doors, which then fall off their hinges.

So, this five-section drama begins on-stage and ends on-stage. In between it is out of doors, in the “real world.” Except that it is not - by which I do not mean that it is all a cartoon. That is obvious. What is not obvious is just how this cartoon works.

Look back at the previous frame grab. This action is taking place outdoors. Ben and Hyacinth are on walkway with grass in front of them and behind them. But they also appear to have a spotlight shining directly down upon them, for their shadows are directly beneath them. Nowhere in this garden do we see lights up on poles, much less strung out over open spaces. But if we imagine this promenade to be taking place on stage, then the light is readily interpretable as standard stage lighting. Thus, on the simplest interpretation of the visual cues before us, this space is ambiguous, it is both outdoors and onstage.

Let's look at that ambiguity. Even as the cartoon presents us with a line of foreground action where animal dancers have difficulty staying in role, it also presents us with a distinction between being onstage and being in reality. It then proceeds to elide that distinction.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Sex, Identity, and Social Space on the Web

A couple of days ago I posted about sexy photos publicly posted on Flickr. One thing I neglected to say is that most of these photos are posted under pseudonyms and a good many do not show a person’s face. They are thus more or less anonymous images. I have no way of knowing, of course, whether or to what extent these people share these images with people they know in real life. Sharing such images with people you know, however, IS quite different from sharing them with the anonymous public at large.

That’s what I want to explore a bit: what images we reveal on the web, under what circumstances, and to whom.

I note that this is a special case of playing different roles in different social ‘spaces.’ We do it all the time. We act one way at work, another way at the school board meeting, another way at the family reunion, and still another way in the privacy of our own homes. These various roles generally are not completely discontinuous.

The internet has given us another space in which we can create yet other roles. This general issue has, of course, been subject to considerable discussion and investigation over the last 15 to 20 years. Privacy has always been an issue and so has community. I take it as given that online communities need not be a means of escaping from life, but that they can function to extend and enhance our lives. I certainly don’t want to rehash all of these arguments here but that’s the general ball park I want to play in.

I want to look at three online spaces: 1) the Flickr space, which I previously contrasted with 2) the pornography space, and 3) a private online community. My discussion will be relatively quick and simple. I’m not going for detail or subtlety, just a quick characterization.

Flickr vs. Pornography Space

Let’s start with the first two. Flickr is a social networking space where photographs are the medium of interaction. I rather suspect it started as a place to display photographs and only later became a networking space – in fact, I suspect that it still is more of a display space than an interaction space. But it IS an interaction space, even if much of the interaction is relatively minimal – designating someone as a contact, friend, or family; picking a photo as a favorite; commenting on a photograph. There are also provisions for discussions associated with opt-in groups of photographs.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Blue Skies




Virtual Underbelly

SmallWorlds is a 3D virtual worlds space. One of the folks there, Kota Phillips, has created a virtual Underbelly Project:
I've been wanting to create a graffiti art space for the past year.
The NY Underbelly Project with all it's controversy and attempt to regrasp the original intent and experience of street art is a wonderful inspiration.

So I'm checking to see if there are artists out there who would want to participate in this.

This is what i propose:
To make it more fun and Underbelly-like the artists would paint in the actual space, in the dark. They would bring their own canvas (up to 3 or 4), pick their area of the "subway" and work at their convenience over the next few weeks. Graffiti art only please.
And here's some virtual underbelly pieces by Hallusinosis Dreams.

And so it grows. Where will it end, this underbelly?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

World Building: Hayao Miyazaki

This is reprinted from The Valve, 2006. Neither Howl's Moving Castle nor Ponyo had been released at the time and I'd not yet seen The Castle of Cagliostro.
I'm vaguely and generally interested in the ontology, if you will, of fictional worlds. Not ontology in any direct philosophical sense, where one worries about the nature of ultimate reality and the relationship between fictions and the real world. Rather, more in the sense that ontology has come to have in cognitive science and computer science: What kinds of things exist in the world, what are its laws?

Realistic fiction offers an ontology that is (supposed to be) congruent with the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology, mind, and society. I supposed I ought to add the caveat “as they are locally understood,” but I wish to bracket that for awhile. Yes, it's a necessary qualification. But I'm in a down and dirty intellectual mood at the moment and so can't yet be bothered with cultural complications.

But not all fiction is realistic. Much fiction contains beings and events that defy various laws of mundane reality. Though it is easy and convenient to think of mundane reality as a baseline condition and other realities as elaborations upon or deviations from such reality, I suspect that any dispassionate survey of fiction in all its forms will lead us to the conclusion that the realistic is but one mode among many, adopted at certain times and places under certain circumstances. Something like that.

To focus this discussion I am going to concentrate on the films of Hayao Miyazaki. And, truth be told, I would be perfectly happy to confine the discussion to those films as I find them exceedingly rich. I started thinking about this problem while asking a very specific question about one of those films, Porco Rosso: Why a pig? Early in my foray into anime I read a paragraph about this film that said that, except for the fact that the protagonist is a pig, it is more realistic than most of Miyazaki's films. By contrast, the line on Spirited Away, which won the 2002 Academic Award for best animated film, is that it is fantasy gone riot. So there you have it, from almost realistic to fantasy squared.

Though I have considered trying to arrange Miyazaki's films on a continuum from Porco Rosso to Spirited Away, I haven't made any serious attempt to do so. What I have done is written a relatively brief paragraph or three about each film and provided a phrase characterizing its ontological style. The descriptions will be more meaningful if you've seen the films, but should be somewhat intelligible even if you haven't. (Summaries and dialogue transcriptions are available on the web.)

Though, as indicated above, I recognize the limitations of treating mundane reality (as recognized in the 19th century European novel) as a baseline, I have, in practice, found it convenient to assume such a baseline. This runs into trouble with the first film I consider, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, which is set in some exotic world. Exotic though it is, the world of that film nonetheless seems to recognize a distinction between the mundane and the extraordinary, which is associated with princess Nausicaä. As a cognitivist, one of the questions that confronts me, then, is: How is it that we recognize such a distinction when the world as a whole is strange?

None of Miyazaki's other films seems to posit such an exotic world. All the rest seem earth-based. What is interesting is that from Nausicaä through Porco Rosso Miyazaki seems to be positing a base world of some type, but then allowing highly focused deviations from, or, if you will, extensions to that base world. But two of his most recent three films - Mononoke, and Spirited, (I do not characterize Howl's Moving Castle as I do not have it at hand, though I saw it when it was in theatrical release) - don't seem to be quite like that.

In Mononoke there doesn't seem to be a focused extension. Conversely, in Spirited the “extension” swamps the film; that alters the dynamic between the baseline reality and the extension.

Ultimately I would like to arrive at some characterization of the relationship between the film's basic ontology and its thematic concerns. This is obvious enough in Nausicaä and Mononoke, where Miyazaki's ecological concerns are well served by worlds in which animals can marshal effective resistance against human encroachment. But this goes a bit beyond my immediate concerns.



Nina Paley is the creator of Mimi & Eunice and is unleashing them on the world under a copyleft license.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Naked Flickr Sex Erotic Bodies

I’ve been told that the internet floats on a sea of pornography. That there is pornography there, I know. About the ratio of porn to non-porn traffic, I don’t know, though I’m prepared to believe there’s a lot of porn, if not quite enough to float the rest.

But this isn’t about porn. Or, more precisely, it’s not about the sexual and erotic images, still and moving, which are for sale on the internet. It’s about images which are available free, many of which would be considered pornographic, but not necessarily all. These images are on Flickr, a social networking site based on photographs. You put your photos there so others can see them. And you look at other peoples photos according to your interests.

Flickr Naked

I joined Flickr in 2006 so I could post photos of graffiti. As I photographed other subjects, I posted them as well. But it wasn’t until a year or so ago that I realized that Flickr also had photos of naked people, some of them engaging in sexual activity. Anyone can see these photos; you don’t even be a member of Flickr. To be sure, Flickr has ways of restricting photos and there are nude, sexual, and erotic photos that are restricted. But I haven’t seen any of them. I’m just talking about the ones anyone can see – though, of course, you must be old enough, or be willing to misrepresent your age.

My basic impression of these photos is of the enormous variety. Youthful, middle age, old; varying degrees of dress; various postures; solo, couples, and more; hetero, gay, lesbian; good looking, plain, unattractive; color, black and white; technically excellent, mediocre, poor; attentive to composition, indifferent to it. Various in those and other ways.

And then there’s the matter of motivation and intention: Why are these people taking these photos and putting them on public display? I assume there are various answers to that question, but I don’t know off hand what they are. Why, for example, would a man take a snapshot of his erect penis laid over a dollar bill and covering much of it? Who’s he want to see it? What’s he expect them to think? Is he looking for feedback?

Lots of people are. This is, after all, a social networking site. You can comment on the pictures, and some people explicitly ask for comments; some even ask for dirty comments. Not only that, but you can make notes on the picture surface. You draw a rectangle around part of the photo and make some comment. Some photos have 5, 10, 20, or more notes on them, most about strategic bits of anatomy and what the annotator thinks about or would like to do with / to that bit of anatomy.

Artistic Nudes

But let’s consider a specific example. I’m not going to put the photo here because doing so would impact THIS blog in a way that I can’t control. And it’s not obvious that the photographer and model would let me do so – though I suppose I could ask. Yes, the photo is where anyone on the internet can see it, so why should it make any difference if I post it here? Well, on Flickr they’re among friends. They have some kind of relationship going with people who comment on photos there – this particular photo has over 20 comments, but it has been viewed over 1600 times (what do the anonymous viewers think?). If I were to post it here, well, this is a different place, different bunch of people, and I’m using the photo for a purpose quite different from what the photographer and model intended. In any event, you don’t really need to see the photo. A description is good enough for my purposes.

Let’s call the photographer David and the model Denise – not the screen names they actually use. David is not a professional photographer. According to his profile he’s a middle aged tradesman who took up photography a few years ago. He’s quite serious about photography and has photographed a wide variety of subjects. He’s taken many photographs of Denise, with nude and partially nude photos in the minority. She’s the only model he’s photographed in the nude. I’m guessing, though I don’t know this, that they’re lovers.

Gravity Begets Levity


Nina Paley is the creator of Mimi & Eunice and is unleashing them on the world under a copyleft license.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Art and Money

In 2009 Robert Hughes, the art critic, released The Mona Lisa Curse, a documentary about the commoditization of high end art over the last half century or so. He starts by telling of the 1963 visit that the Mona Lisa took to America, with people lining up to catch a seconds-long glimpse of it: “They didn’t come to look at the Mona Lisa. They came in order to have seen it. There is a crucial distinction, since one is reality of experience and the other one is simply phantom. In America the Mona Lisa turned into its own facsimile.” The artistry didn’t matter. All that mattered was having seen the famous object.

From there, Hughes argues, it’s downhill. Art became an investment and the artistry itself no longer mattered. What mattered is that the objects were visible, famous, and desired. As long as the desire increased, there was money to be made the traditional way: buy low, sell high.

What did this happen? I don’t know. But I have a guess about one factor: the amount of money available to spend on high-end art increased more rapidly than the supply.

As Nicholas Kristof has reported in a recent op-ed: “The richest 1 percent of Americans now take home almost 24 percent of income, up from almost 9 percent in 1976.” That’s almost a three-fold increase. That money is not going to be spent on basic living. That money is going to be invested or be spent on luxuries. High end art counts as one or the other, or both.

For the purposes of argument, then, let’s assert that over the last forty years or so, the amount of money available for buying high end art has increased roughly three-fold. What about the supply of art? The Old Masters are all dead, as are many Modern Masters. They can’t produce more works, so the supply of works from them is fixed. If you throw more money at them, all that can happen is that the prices go up.

The supply of product from living artists is not fixed. But I rather doubt that tripling the number of high-end works is as simple as recruiting more artists to the task, or having individual artists produce more works – not that those are easily done. For the works have to be ‘certified’ and ‘branded,’ and that requires a network of dealers, museums, experts, and collectors. It’s not going to be easy to ramp up the creation of certified works in order to keep pace with available money.

The net result, then, is that the prices of individual works will climb rapidly, rapidly enough that art begins to look like a reliable investment. As that happens, art becomes attractive to people who are more interested in investment, and perhaps a bit of art-world celebrity, than in the art itself.

And so art has been converted into a commodity, one that value of which depends on visibility and desire, not on intrinsic quality. Pickled shark anyone?

ADDENDUM, 17Nov10: If you go here you’ll find a table of Bachelor’s degrees conferred in the USA between 1970-71 and 2007-08. Down at the bottom there’s a line for visual and performing arts. Number of degrees conferred in 70-71: 30,394. Number conferred in 07-08: 87,703. That’s almost a three-fold increase over that period. Since there’s no breakdown, there’s no way to tell how many of those were in fine arts, but the overall trend is at least consistent the need to supply more ‘fine’ art  to meet increased demand imposed by more money being available.

This table shows Master’s degrees in the visual and performing arts. 1970-71: 6.675. 2007-08: 14,164. That’s not a three-fold increase, but it’s more than doubling.
For similar remarks, see the conclusion of my post on Graffiti, Signaling, Evolution, and Art.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Mamie Van Doren, Beyond the Bombshell

Somehow, I don’t remember just how, I ended up on Mamie Van Doren’s website last evening. Mamie Van Doren – I haven’t thought about her in years, years – and now I’m looking at at a photograph of a going-on-eighty blond bombshell who doesn’t look a day over prime middle age. That photo’s followed by a soft-focus B & W photo where we can see a naked breast. Down a bit further, she’s a vintner, and quotes Nietzsche and Stan Brakhage.


I’m interested.

The website itself looks like a homebrew site from the last millennium and it turns out, according to this article in Salon, that that’s pretty what it is. Van Doren herself created it and updates it. I didn’t learn that ‘till this morning’s sleuthing, but last evening the combination of the va va voom photos and the homebrew look drew me in.

It’s like a real human being lives here.

And what a being!

She was a Movie Star and Sex Goddess in the 50s and 60s (Wikipedia entry). I may have seen some of her movies – though I have no specific memories – and I’m sure I’ve seen her on TV at one time or another. Now I know, from her blog, that she supported Hillary Clinton in the 2008 cycle and shifted to Obama when he got the nod:
Last May I wrote with some heat that I thought that America was incapable of electing a person of color to the highest office in the land. I am happy to have been proven wrong about that. President elect Obama has made a profound impression on the American psyche. … I wrote that heated blog post out of bitter disappointment that Hillary Clinton had lost her bid in the primaries for the presidency. Now that Hillary has been picked as the Secretary of State, it appears that things may be looking up in the world of diplomacy.
I wonder what she thinks these days?

But I digress, that’s her blog. Let’s get back to her website. It’s full of photos, both current and vintage and everything in between. Lots of memorabilia. An account of her tours of Vietnam during the war. A filmography. What you’d expect from a star.

There’s a page called “Bedtime Stories.” Among others: Tony Curtis, Jack Palance, Steve McQueen, Elvis Presley, Tom Jones, Burt Reynolds, Henry Kissinger, Nicky Hilton, Rock Hudson. Van Doren tells what there is to tell and, when the time comes, includes enough detail to tell how many bases were rounded, and in what style, but not much more. Some of men never made it to home plate – at least one didn’t even make it to first base, or perhaps second. That’s her sex life, some of it. Of her love life, nary a word. None of our business.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Underbelly 8: How Teach the Mystery and the Beauty?

I continue to read the web about and to think about The Underbelly Project. Basically, I don’t know what to make of it, and perhaps that’s the point. I don’t know.

My initial reaction, on reading the NYTimes article and seeing the photos was: COOL! I wanna see it! The article made it clear, of course, that I couldn’t see it – not for me the adventure of sneaking into a hidden space likely to be guarded by police by the time I get there. The article also indicated the contradiction inherent in framing the project as a protest against the absorption of the street into the gallery and then broadcasting the hidden art to the world. I read about that, nodded OK and moved on, propelled by the basic coolness of what Workhorse, PAC, and all the others had done.

And my sense of that coolness was rooted in the time and effort I’ve put into photographing graffiti over the past four years, mostly in a small area in Jersey City. As I said in an earlier post, I know what it’s like to encounter graffiti in a dark enclosed space. That experience is very real, very compelling to me. I felt like I was an explorer in an exotic land, perhaps the first ever to visit those ruins. And the experience certainly was real and compelling to the curators, Workhorse and PAC, and, I would imagine, to all the artists who participated.

The problem, of course, is that The Underbelly Project doesn’t make that experience available to others. It is hidden and inaccessible. It is in accessible mostly because it is illegal to go onto the property and, secondarily, because access is physically awkward. To be sure, Workhorse and PAC took steps to see that no one actually knew where the place was, but, as we’ve seen, that didn’t last long – a matter I’ll return to at the end.

Let’s set that aside for a moment and imagine, instead, that Workhorse and PAC were funded by a billionaire – make it a mysterious billionaire – who’d arranged to buy the site and to fit it out so access was easier. Now what? It all depends. But much of the mystery would be gone, even if the interior space remained much as it is. And if twenty or thirty or more people go in there at a time, well then, still more mystery is gone. Now it’s become a somewhat funky museum, or, horror of horrors! a sophisticated fun house.

It would seem, then, that the experience can’t be domesticated. It has to be wild. Not guns blazing in Afghanistan wild, or even let’s go rafting down the Colorado River wild, but somehow wild. The thing is, that’s how art itself is supposed to be, no? Wouldn’t the art on the walls do that? I don’t know, I’ve not seen it, only photos.

And now you’re beginning to see how and why I’m tying my brain in knots when I try think through this. No matter how I start thinking it through, I always end up stepping all over myself.

Out on the web I find various reactions. Some people just think it’s cool. A few of those have even made their way there. Some have come back with photos. Others have gotten arrested.

There are others for whom the only thing that matters is that the project involved a lot of trespassing over a long period of time. It’s trash. Lock ‘em up.

And then there’s the graffiti writers who are pissed at the so-called hipsters invading their turf. This particular beef is not new. It’s been around as long as street art has been getting up on walls next to graffiti. So The Underbelly Project is just another occasion to exercise this particular resentment.

One thought the writers have is that the curators shouldn’t have blabbed. They should have just done it and kept quiet. After all, the writers have their secret spots, and they don’t broadcast the locations to the world. Why can’t these hipsters do likewise?

But: could this project have been done on this basis? 

Monday, November 8, 2010

Underbelly 7: Host18 Speaks


Host18 is skeptical about the underbelly:
My beef with this project isn’t that they painted some shit in a tunnel and put it online for everyone to see, shit, you’re looking at my website where I do nearly the same thing. What is so wack about this is abortion is that it claims to be doing something brand new. I have been in plenty of tunnels in this city and I can tell you that people have been painting in them for 30 plus years. The fact that you have out-of-towners exploiting something that is held close to the heart by the people who did and still do participate in what these johnny-come-latelys are ultimately using as a marketing ploy is a kick in the balls.

host tenz.jpg
Host18 Tenz

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Graffiti on the IP Tip

Here's a link sent to me by Nina Paley, a very simple bit of graffiti clearly marked with copyleft.

Thanks, Nina!

Underbelly 6: The Experience

There is meaning, expressed in words. And there is experience, which is just that, experience. How do we convey experience from one person to another? Art, you say.

Yes, art.

Here are some words about art.


So, you’re in a strange place. It’s isolated and dark. You don’t know what’s there. You’re on edge. And then you see a creepy-looking figure sitting against the wall. What do you do?

Matt Troy is one of the people who went into The Underbelly Project after it had been sealed up. He went with some police and transit officials (see comment near bottom) and he took some photos, including this one, showing a Mark Jenkins sculpture huddled in front of a Con piece. He remarked that when “vandal squad cops ran into this they drew there wepons and told it to freeze not knowing it was a dummy.” RJ at Vandalog had a similar experience: “Damn you Mark Jenkins! You can’t put a sculpture like that at the end of a darkened hall. I thought it was a person!”

Luna Park (Street Art Photographer)
Stepping into the station was like stepping into a space outside of time. Utterly devoid of light, there was no way to mark the passage of time except for the occasional dull roar of a train in the distance. I had only a flashlight to light my way, yet it only barely cut into the inky blackness of the station. The air was cool and damp. My every step kicked up swirls of the rail dust that blanketed every surface. If it hadn’t been for the reassuring presence of familiar art adorning the walls, I might have quickly succumb to the illusion that I’d arrived amidst the remnants of a forgotten city.
PAC and Workhourse (the curators)

PAC was introduced to the station by an urban explorer, that is, someone seeks out obscure and hidden places in urban environments. He kept coming back to it (from the NYTimes):
The place was pitch black, but standing with a powerful flashlight on a platform, PAC said, he had been able to make out a landscape of several more platforms, each lined with rows of columns, alternating with sunken track beds. The station, about the size of a football field, had clearly never been completed: no track had been laid in those beds, no escalators or staircases met the gaping holes in the platforms, and there was no electricity.

“I would hang out here for hours,” PAC said, enjoying “the solitude of being underground” and the architecture.
PAC introduced Workhorse to the space, and they began planning and dreaming.
But Workhorse said: “There is a certain type of person that the urban art movement has bred that enjoys the adventure as much as the art. Where else do you see a creative person risking themselves legally, financially, physically and creatively?”

In recent years, he said, as the vogue for street art has led to “anything that could possibly appreciate in value being ripped off the street by those looking to cash in,” the old sense of adventure and punk-rock energy has faded. The change isn’t all bad, he said: the runaway market for stars like Banksy has had a nice trickle-down effect for artists like him. But he said he feels strongly that something fundamental has been lost.

PAC and Workhorse saw the Underbelly Project as a way to recapture that feeling and evade the whims of the marketplace. Workhorse called it “an eternal show without a crowd.” (He waved away the idea that there might be something perverse about creating art that normally revels in visibility for an audience of just a few. “We just see it as art, not street art,” he said, adding he had never felt a need to take all his drawings, for example, “and shove them in someone’s face.”)
Us, You and Me

We have to be content with photographs, some videos, and some words. We’re never going down there.

But then that’s how we know most of the art that we know, though photos, perhaps videos, and verbal commentary. The number of people who’ve seen photos of the Mona Lisa is quite large, in the 100s of millions, if not a billion or more. The number who’ve actually seen the painting is rather smaller. And then number who’ve really seen it, smaller still. For one doesn’t really see such a thing by walking past it at an exhibition or even pausing for a minute or three in an art gallery.

So, when we read of The Underbelly Project, and see the photos and videos, what experiences of our own do we call on?

And then there's the arrest experience.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Fantasia Framed: Home Base and Experiential Time

Most of my posts about Disney’s Fantasia have involved analyzing specific episodes to reveal themes and structural features that are not at all obvious. This post is quite different. I’m going to talk about something that’s so obvious that it hardly seems worth comment: the overall organization of the film.

That organization is simple. The film is based on eight different compositions which are presented one after the other in a concert format. The first half of the concert opens with Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor and ends with Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring; the second half opens with Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony and ends with Schubert’s Ave Maria. What’s to say?

First, it’s almost that simple, but not quite. Disney doesn’t simply move from one episode to the next. Rather, he precedes each episode with a little introductory chat by Deems Taylor, a well-known music critic at the time. Let’s think of those chats as Home Base. Thus the film becomes a series of excursions to and from Home Base. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the film.

As originally screened, Fantasia had neither title credits nor concluding credits. The information ordinarily conveyed through those means was instead placed in a printed program a copy of which was given to each member of the theater audience. When the curtains parted to reveal the screen, the initial image was that of an empty stage set with risers, chairs, music stands, and a podium. It’s really quite dramatic and ‘stagy.’

1 empty stage

As musicians take the stage the we see them in silhouette and see their shadows projected against the stage’s rear wall. The effect is recognizably similar to what one would see in a concert hall, but not quite the same. That is to say, Disney does not project an image of what one would see in a real performance, such as one might see on a televised concert or in a concert movie (e.g. the film Ingmar Bergman did of Mozart’s Magic Flute).

1a musicians in shiloutte

Once the musicians have all taken their places Deems Taylor enters and takes his place at stage center in front of a music stand (image at left below). Taylor was a composer and well-known music critic who served as a master of ceremonies. Before each selection he gives a brief introduction, saying something about the music and about the animation. Same visual, same voice.

3 full taylor

Friday, November 5, 2010

Another Arch, Spot the Graffiti


Location, Location, Location

Start Where You Are

Nina Paley is the creator of Mimi & Eunice and is unleashing them on the world under a copyleft license.

Underbelly 5: Trends

Here's a graph from Google Trends showing interest in "the underbelly project":

Note that the numbers are scaled, not absolute. The maximum number of searches on "the underbelly project" took place on 1 Nov. So that value was scaled to 100. The the values are then relative to that.

The trend so far is obvious. There was maximum interest the day after the story was published in The New York Times and The Sunday Times. Interest has been going down since then.

Note, however, this is different from the "hits" I've been noting in earlier posts. Those hits count webpages that have the phrase ("the underbelly project") on them. That number is cumulative and has been growing over time. At the moment it seems to have leveled off at around 68,000, where it was Wednesday evening. That leveling-off would seem to indicate that interest has peaked. Those who want to say something have pretty much said it.

It looks like the first phase of this story is over. What'll happen next? If something like this had been done 25 years ago, would it have made The New York Times?

ADDENDUM: Whoops! I spoke too soon. Now (8:44 AM) Google's giving me 82,000 hits, 14,000 more than 15 minutes ago.

ADDENDUM, 7:42 PM: Google's back to roughly 68K hits. I've noticed this kind of instability before. Don't really know what's going on.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Underbelly 4: Mystery vs. Crap

Last evening I made some notes for today’s post on The Underbelly Project and, as I went to sleep, I thought my way through a draft. The general theme was Underbelly-as-socio-cultural engine. What’s the engine do, where’s it get its energy, where’s it going? – stuff like that.

I woke up this morning and THAT piece had dissolved. It’s not that I’d forgotten what I wanted to say, but that what I’d wanted to say had dissolved into more general reflections about where’s the world headed and how do we change the direction, something I’ve been thinking about a lot, for a long time.

flanking movement.jpg
Note: None of these photos were taken in The Underbelly Project.

Somewhere in there the phrase “tipping point” popped up. A cliché, yes. Could this project be a tipping point? In what? How would we know? More graffiti and street art, in more places? Perhaps that’s what’s ahead. If so, any reason to attribute an upswing to the Underbelly? Dunno. When Picasso painted women with faces like African masks, he wanted to change the imagery that gets painted, framed, and hung on walls. Is the Underbelly about imagery? Or about where the imagery goes? Both?


It’s certainly about commercialization and commodification. Of street art, or art in general? Is it mostly about the forces that make Banksys worth six-figures? Does the critique extend to Damien Hirst gulling mega-rich money-magicians for mega-bucks on pickled sharks and diamond-encrusted skulls? And then there’s that Modigliani that just sold for $69,000,000. I understand that the painting is a wonder. But I don’t understand the sale price at all. That price is not just about the painting, it’s about the whole world in which that painting exists. And if THAT’s the target, well, you see how my thinking dissolves into where’s the world headed and how do we change the direction.


Meanwhile, there’s the art itself, which only a few have seen and will ever see. For the rest of us it’s the photos and the ideas. Whatever those ideas are. Whatever ideas we conjure up, individually and collectively.

I know that reproductions are inadequate representations of originals. And when the originals span a wall, even worse. Scale matters. And when those originals are in a space that’s large, dark, and deserted? Whoa! How can looking at photos on the screen or, perhaps one day, between the pages of a book, how can that be anything like the experience of art looming up on you as you walk the Underbelly?

That context is HUGE. The place of encounter is central to graffiti and street art. It’s environmental art. Photos that crop out the context make the art unintelligible.

gold conviction.jpg

I’ve not seen the Underbelly art, likely never will. Though I’ve ridden the subway often enough, I’ve not walked the tunnels. But I have walked tunnels, and seen art in space dark enough that you don’t know what the colors are. Really.

How do you mobilize that experience against the worshipers of diamond-encrusted skulls?

Is THAT what this is about?

Mystery vs. everything else.


As of 6PM today the Google hit count was 68,800, only marginally larger than yesterday's 65,000.

All the photos were taken in tunnels in Jersey City, two rivers and an island west of The Underbelly Project.

Up with People

Nina Paley is the creator of Mimi & Eunice and is unleashing them on the world under a copyleft license.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

3/4 Moon


Underbelly 3: The Frenzy Continues

The verdict on this project, it seems to me, is something that we will  work out over the next few weeks, months, or perhaps years or, who knows? even longer.

Google now gives me about 65,000 hits for “the underbelly project” vs. 35,000 hits 24 hours ago. Will we be at 95K in another 24 hours?

Some photos have cropped up (w/ comments here) depicting the damage done by some vandals, though I’ve not read anyone commenting on the irony of the vandals being vandalized. I suppose that’s mostly because the comments I’ve read are by people who, by and large, approve of, or at least are intrigued by the project. At some level they accept the baseline premise of the project and so view the defacing of the work as vandalism, pure and simple.

The vandalism seems to be grafsters vs. hipsters (the street artists). And that, of course, is one of the interesting things about The Underbelly Project. It includes work from the graffiti world and the street art world, worlds that have a somewhat testy relationship. I’ve seen a fair number of comments expressing grafster resentment of street artists, but relatively little so far in the opposite direction. FWIW, while I have no reason to believe I’ve been sampling comments in a random way, I’ve certainly not taken pains to seek out sites that would favor grafsters. Mostly I read sites that come near the top of Google searches.

A number of people have been intrigued by the idea of a trove of art hidden away in the earth where no one can see it. And as many, if not more, have said that, now that the word’s out, the site will be found directly. And they’ve been right. The sight HAS been found, and vandalized.

What I’m wondering is why Watchman and PAC ever thought, as they apparently did, that the site would remain hidden once its existence was made known and photos available. Didn’t they realize that lots of people know Hidden New York fairly well and that some of them would surely find the site? Of course, they also knew that the site was pristine despite having been abandoned for decades. If no one had marked it before they found it, what reason did they have to believe they’d seek it out AFTER they’d populated it with hidden art?

And, if they hadn’t broken the news to The New York Times, The Sunday Times (in the UK), and a few insider photographers, perhaps the project site would have remained hidden. But they broke the story, and the world came to know. Once the world knew, really, it was inevitable that someone would find the site. There just aren’t that many places in New York where one can hide a subway station.

What has happened so far, the discovery, the destruction, and the subsequent photos, all that seems inevitable. What happens next, though, doesn’t seem so obvious to me. I assume that Watchman and PAC have some plans to release some documentation of the project. After all, they’ve already provided photographs and videos to the two newspapers. Presumably they have more, most likely much more. Will they release it on their project website for free? Do they have a book in the works, a DVD? Who knows. Will they be identified by the police and MTA and prosecuted?

One line of chat, of course, is that this is all a stunt calculated to create demand for books and limited edition photos and so forth. On this line, the expressed purpose of creating an art exhibit entirely outside the commercial claws of the art world, that’s all just a come-on, a way to hype interest in The Big Reveal. I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt on this. I think they’re sincere in wanting to make a strong statement about art that’s outside the legit gallery world, which they assert on their website and in their remarks to Jasper Rees, the journalist they choose to break their story. I certainly believe that such a statement needs to be made and thus I'm biased on the matter, and I'm certainly not unusual in that regard. At the same time, what’s the point of making such a statement if the World At Large doesn’t know about it? None as far as I can tell. To keep silent is simply to walk away from the world, to refuse any responsibility for that world.

They had no choice but to make plans to get the word out and to do they best they could to control the process. The process is now in motion; it’s out of their hands. But not entirely. They’ve got moves to make. Let’s see what they do.

The verdict on this project, it seems to me, is something that we, the world, will work out over the next few weeks, months, or perhaps even years or, who knows? even longer. That meaning must be negotiated. And the outcome of those negotiations is not at all certain.

ADDENDUM: More photos, some amazing stuff.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Underbelly Project 2

I've been having a little fun following The Underbelly Project on the web. Here's a few notes.

Google Hits

Yesterday evening at, say, 9 PM I googled “the underbelly project” and got somewhere between 1000 and 2000 hits – I didn’t write down an exact number. Earlier today about 8:00 PM I did the same thing and got almost 35,000 hits. What’ll the number be tomorrow? When will the number more or less max out and what will that number be?

And remember, the number of Google hits is just an index of the number of people who decided to take active notice of the project by mentioning on the web. The number of people who’ve heard about the project, whether by reading about it or through word of mouth, is considerably larger.


This is by Kid Zoom, one of the artists in The Underbelly Project. This, obviously, is very much above ground.

Some Comments at the NYTimes

The NYTimes article is currently the second most-emailed article in the paper. It's attracted a few comments (58 so far) and I've excerpted some of them. Read the first two comments with close attention for sociological and anthropological detail. Who are these people and why would they be saying what they’re saying? What are their interests in this work?

Bruiser, Brooklyn, 2 Nov 2010, 11:40 AM:
It makes me sick to see graffiti's last true stronghold be invaded by a bunch of blood sucking tourists and fame seeking toys. Whenever the Times writes about graffiti, I literally cringe. It's always deplorable and hideous. I don't care where 'this reporter' got a college degree from, you are NOT QUALIFIED to write about graffiti and especially not the tunnels. Next time, refer to a real graffiti writer before publishing trash. This project is a total sham. . . . There are good stories to be told about art and graffiti and the tunnels, but this is not one of them. This is a hack attempt by fame seekers going about it the quick, cheap way. . . . RIP NYC, it's all just disneyland now. Big up to all the former contributors to real subway tunnel graffiti.
artloverfinder, New York, 2 Nov 2010, 11:41 AM:
My NYU roommates and I after finding this article today and doing some online research were able to narrow down the actual location to one of two possible open abandoned subway stations; one remains inaccessible so we tried for the accessible one. We got it right. We discovered the art, and it is indeed beautiful, but alas in some parts has even already been destroyed and tagged over by other graffiti "artists." A single chair of the dining set remains. . . . By the time we were finished, we had already helped a freelance photographer and another small crew up, and saw another group headed in as we left. I wouldn't be surprised if this place was mobbed or blocked off in a day or two. We got some great pictures and video. Thanks so much for this wonderful article.
This is a then-unfinished piece by Ceaze, one of the writers in the project.

One reader, Ann from Connecticut, while loving the concept, was worried about the security implications: “They could have been setting bombs.” I can’t say that that exactly worries me, but I do wonder. These folks made a lot of trips down there over an extended period of time, and didn’t get caught. Or was it that they were, in fact, noticed, but no one was worried? Lots of room for paranoid conspiracy theorizing.

Absurdiscus Jonez from West Point, VA, wonders: “. . . where are the sc-fi writers who could use this as a futuristic discovery or a safe haven during a apocalyptic disaster?” I wonder if someone’s pitching this to HBO, perhaps as movie, or perhaps as an ongoing series. Maybe someone in Japan’s working on an anime series about a street art hit squad from the future. Who knows, maybe that’s exactly what they are.

What next?

What’s going to happen with this site? When will we see photos of the trashed state? What’s the MTA going to do? Will Workhorse and PAC cash-in with a book deal? Who knows.


From The Incredibles: “Behold, the Underminer. I am always beneath you, but nothing is beneath me.”

ADDENDUM, 3 Nov: c. 65,000 hits on Google. Here's a set of photos (taken with a phone) that shows some of the trashing that's been done to the work. Comments on the photos.

Passive Protagonists in Early Disney

Commenting on Dumbo in the last of 25 “mosaics” on the film, Mark Mayerson notes:
Having watched this film over an extended period of time, the thing that strikes me most is how the main characters of the early Disney features are so passive and so victimized. Snow White does nothing on her own behalf except decide to become a housekeeper for the dwarfs. Pinocchio takes no positive action until he decides to save Gepetto. Dumbo's only positive action is to fly without the magic feather. Bambi goes with the flow until he fights another stag for Faline.

A character's arc implies growth towards a new viewpoint, but in the early Disney films it's like there's a binary switch that gets hit as the climax approaches. The characters don't grow towards maturity, they achieve it in an instant (and in Snow White's case, not at all). While heroes generally have mentors to guide them, in Dumbo the mentors are just about the whole show.

. . .

This lack of personality, except in the most general terms, may be a reason for the film's success. Dumbo is a blank slate that the audience can write on with their own feelings of victimization. During the depression, there was no shortage of those feelings.

The recurrence of helpless heroes and savvy mentors may say something about Walt Disney himself and may mesh with the zeitgeist of the time. Walt had an older brother who looked out for him and stuck by him as he tried all sorts of questionable schemes and fell victim to a series of predatory businessmen like Charles Mintz, Pat Powers and Harry Cohen. That's practically a blueprint for Pinocchio, and Pinocchio taking responsibility for his actions may correlate to Disney taking ownership of his creations.