July 11th, 2005

[REVIEW] La Cage aux Folles

I caught The Birdcage back in the cinemas when it was first released in 1996. I attended guilelessly, this act constituting yet another datum proving that my ability to pass the Turing Test was acquired quite recently. While I caught The Birdcage's 1978 French original, La Cage aux Folles, broadcast on a French-language Canadian television network several years later, I didn't paying close enough attention to the film to catch what was going on. I did tonight.

La Cage aux Folles is a much sharper film than its echo. It is, as dakoopst noted, not a comedy like its American successor, but rather a full-blown social and political satire. Simply put, the movie depicts much sharper divisions in French society than The Birdcage does in American society. Calista Flockhart's Barbara Keeley, prospective wife of Dan Futterman's same-sex-parented Val Goldman is a scion of a vapidly patriotic and Republican senator; Carmen Scarpitta's Louise Charrier, attached to actor Rémi Laurent's sneering Laurent Baldi, comes from an ultraconservative and traditionalist Catholic family closely attached to the ruling political party, the Union des forces morales. It's worth noting that, at the time that the film was made, France was ruled by President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing and his conservative Union pour la Démocratie Française. Here, in fact, it is President Berthier who is caught in flagrante delicto not a Congressman: "Une prostitutée," Charrier says astounded. "Mineure. Et de couleur." La Cage aux Folles is occupied by an implicit and funny critique of French conservatism and its hobbyhorses--for instance, told by his daughter that her love Laurent is one of many children he congratulates Laurent's father, the Italian immigrant Renato, for being properly philoprogenitive and calling his a model family--that is completely absent in The Birdcage. Race, along with religion and natalism, is another topic dealt with in the person of Jacob, the flamboyantly gay Martiniquais butler.

This film is far more vicious than its later, tamer American echo. The Birdcage's characters have their edges filed off; La Cage aux Folles' characters are quite willing to wound one another, and bystanders, in pursuit of their goals. Laurent is willing to hurt his adoptive father in order to ensure that the Charriers will accept him; Renato Baldi is quite willing to lie and manipulate; homophobia actually makes a visible entry. Not to knock The Birdcage as a perfectly adequate comedy, but La Cage aux Folles has an enjoyable bite that I didn't expect. The only fault that I can find with the DVD edition that I viewed tonight was that the subtitles were often inadequately translated; but then, that's also one reason why one should be bilingual.
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    Tatu, "Robot"

[NON BLOG] Practical Semiotics

Saturday night, schizmatic uttered the immortal phrase "beat down by a guy in a Stetson with dip." The other Southerner there understood what he meant. The non-Southerners there, Canadian and non-Canadian alike, required a detailed explanation of this sentence in ANS (Approved Nabokov Style) format. This sentence was easy enough to decode: "beat down" is "beaten up"; "Stetson" refers to the famous hat, and has lower-class connotations; "dip" is "chewing tobacco," and likewise has lower-class connotations. Even so, it required a detailed explanation, not only of the surface translation but of the problem words' deeper cultural associations. Without being immersed in a Southern linguistic environment, I doubt that I could ever acquire the easy familiarity of the Southerners present with this sentence.

The construction of associational networks is a process that is central to intelligence and consciousness, and to sophontcy's epiphenomena of culture and language. Stream-of-consciousness meditations are notoriously difficult to capture, whether in prose or in artificial-intelligence research, but without the ability to make fluid connections between different states of mind an animal would have the same chance of survival in the wild as your average desktop computer. It's crucial to be able to make these connections in the first place, but so is the ability to break into these relatively closed systems, to somehow interrogate the participants on the meaning of their words. It can be done; it was done, on a small scale, last night.

There's a story waiting to be written about this subject.
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    Tatu, "Show Me Love"

[BRIEF NOTE] Can Americans be an ethnic group?

Let's begin with the Wikipedia definition.

An ethnic group is a group of people who identify with one another, or are so identified by others, on the basis of a boundary that distinguishes them from other groups. This boundary may take any of a number of forms -- racial, cultural, linguistic, economic, religious, political -- and may be more or less porous. Because of this boundary, members of an ethnic group are often presumed to be culturally or biologically similar, although this is not in fact necessarily the case.

Another characteristic of ethnic groups is continuity in time, that is, a history and a future as a people. This is achieved through the intergenerational transmission of common language, institutions and traditions. It is important to consider this characteristic of ethnic groups if we are to distinguish them from a group of individuals who share a common characteristic, such as ancestry, in a specific point in time. On the political front, ethnic groups are distinguished from nation-states by the former's lack of sovereignty.

Do Americans constitute a separate ethnonational group, after more than two centuries of independent statehood and almost four centuries of continuous history in their homeland? My inclination is to say that they do. If so, what sort of relationship do they share with other post-British settler cultures, like the English Canadians, the Australians, and the New Zealanders? Do Americans living outside of their homeland form a diaspora?
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    curious curious

[BRIEF NOTE] Newfoundland, a Nation?

For debate: Newfoundland, by virtue of its distinctive culture and its long history of independence, constitutes a fourth nation within Canada alongside English Canada, Québec, and the First Nations.
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    interested in nationalisms