Examining 1999’s Culture Through Its Best Movies

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In college, I had this class where we were supposed to learn about 19th century upper-class British culture by analyzing hundreds of paintings commissioned and hung in wealthy British estates during that time period. Some insights are surface level, like British people loved to hunt foxes. Other potential insights were hotly debated in class, like whether the presentation of women tended towards subservience or maternalism, or both, or neither, etc.

Either way, it was surprisingly fun, and I enjoyed sort of doing it again with Best. Movie. Year. Ever.: How 1999 Blew Up the Big Screen, by Brian Raftery.

The book examines dozens of 1999’s best movies, ranging from entire chapters dedicated to Blair Witch ProjectFight Club, and Sixth Sense, to brief interludes on American Pie, The Mummy, and Varsity Blues, to passing mentions of many more films. Between the stories, Raftery offers his own nuggets of speculations on the cultural, filmmaking, and business trends that caused 1999 to be such an incredible movie year.

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The New Epidemic – My Experience of Losing a Friend to Heroin

Note – This is a true story based on my own experiences and what I’ve heard from the people involved, but for privacy, all of the names have been changed.

I grew up in a “hamlet” (the administrative level below “town”) in the Northeastern US, with a population of just over 3,000. It’s not so much a community as a bunch of scattered homes in the middle of the woods barely connected by two one-lane highways and a network of mostly dirt roads. The closest thing to a “center” it has is a church, middle/elementary school, deli, and gas station on one stretch of road. I attended that school from kindergarten through 8th grade, and graduated from it 13 years ago from a class of 30 students.

So far, 2 of those 30 have died from heroin overdoses, along with one other student from two grades below me, and a dozen individuals from the adjacent school district within the same age range. All were male.

One of those two from my graduating class was Jack, my childhood best friend. He died at age 23.

His death was entirely unexpected to me, but seemingly everyone else in his life knew he had been addicted to heroin for five years. During and after the wake, funeral, and mourning period, I did my best to figure out what happened to him. From a broad sociological standpoint, Jack is a case study in how a white, middle-class teenager with good parents growing up in a fairly affluent place somehow ends up dying from a drug addiction. From a personal standpoint, I just wanted to know how this happened without me knowing about it.

The following is my attempt at putting everything together. I’m going to do my best to not just write another “sad addiction story.” I want to try to find useful take-aways from the experience that have some sort of relevance for how we do/should look at addiction, mental illness, and treatment.

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The Philosophy of Tyler Durden

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I just finished reading Fight Club for the first time in over a decade, so I’m going to break its first rule.

It’s a cliché by this point, but Fight Club really was amazingly prophetic in identifying a few particular social trends/neuroses of the following decades. It was written in 1996, and the more-famous movie came out in 1999, but its core themes were more strongly felt from 2010-today than during the 90s. Some of it is a bit out there, but I think the core themes are still very much alive today.

Here is the philosophy of Fight Club, or at least of Tyler Durden, in a nutshell –

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The Phantom’s Pain – A Metal Gear Solid V Narrative Analysis

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Introduction

“Now do you remember? Who you are? What you were meant to do? I cheated death, thanks to you. And thanks to you I’ve left my mark. You have too – you’ve written your own history. You’re your own man. I’m Big Boss, and you are too… No… He’s the two of us. Together. Where we are today? We built it. This story – this “legend” – it’s ours. We can change the world – and with it, the future. I am you, and you are me. Carry that with you, wherever you go. Thank you… my friend. From here on out, you’re Big Boss.”

– Big Boss

When I first finished Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, like so many other players, I was disappointed. MGSV was supposed to be the “Missing Link” in the Metal Gear canon. It was that game that would reveal the bridge between the heroic Big Boss of MGS 3, Portable Ops, and Peace Walker, and the grand historical villain of Metal Gear 1 and 2. As expressed by numerous launch trailers and Hideo Kojima tweets, MGSV was going to be a tale of Big Boss’s fall into darkness, driven by an insatiable lust for revenge, a consummate anger lit by his enemies which would scorch his soul until nothing was left but a power-hungry mad man who would threaten the world with nuclear war for the sake of his deluded ambitions.

Instead we got an incredibly weird twist which did little more than retcon patch a largely ignored plot hole in one of the least-played Metal Gear games. We found out that the final boss of Metal Gear 1 was not Big Boss, but a body double, who through surgery and hypnotherapy was made into almost an exact copy of the legendary soldier.

Again, like most other players, when I first finished the game I thought this was a neat trick, a typically crazy, convoluted, but seductively entertaining twist from one of my favorite storytellers of all time. But of course… it was also a major let down.

Finding out that I had just played as some random-ass medic from Militaires Sans Fronteres for the last 80 hours instead of the most important character in the entire Metal Gear canon was certainly a mind-fuck, but also left me feeling deflated. What was the point of it all? Why did I just follow some entirely new character for an entire game who has only a minor, tangential connection to the series’ larger plot instead of seeing Big Boss’s moral/psychological/narrative transformation which is at the heart of the entire series and was supposed to be the entire point of Metal Gear Solid V?

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