Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Power, Corruption, and Lies

Good morrow world.
I am waking up earlier and earlier as the temperature steadily rises into summer. I forgot how much one can get done in the wee hours. I mean until two years ago I had never slept past 9am. A lot can change in two years as far as the old body clock is concerned. I think I'm going to stick with this retro setting, as I have been more productive.
Aside from temporality and my relationship to it, I had a very interesting evening last night. I was invited by the NY Surf Film Festival to be a judge in the fall and so they gave me some free tickets to see the world premiere of Taylor Steele's Castles in the Sky. The crowd for the screening was a mixture of the surfworld I am familiar with in CA and that business-y, model-y NY crowd who are all over 6ft tall and not so much good looking as they are vacuous. But I haven't met them all, so there still might be a gem among them (personality wise). As for the the film....the camera work was gorgeous and the crew certainly scored fun waves in interesting locales, but something was off. I think I am jaded of the whole white surfer guy goes to "exotic" locale tapes his adventures and a few "natives" doing their "native" thing. In this version they bring another white guy to do the sound and learn the "natives" instruments. In one scene they have a room full of Vietnamese school children sing two songs for them to record. All the while the school teacher is looking at the camera with extreme suspicion, as she should. The whole film has a very exploitive and colonial feel to it. Not to mention all the surfers are white males. There is a tiny narrative element, but it is ever so slight and awful vague. The surfers repeat the sentence, "There was a man who became unstuck in the world....." before the beginning of each new section. I would preferred for it to have said, "There was a white man who had the leisure to dig into his pockets and take a surf trip away from his wife, kids, job, responsibilities. On his trip he saw other cultures and their myriad ways of life and realized how strange it was that they never travel to his land nor do they have the leisure time to do nothing but surf. He wanted to feel grateful for his life, but instead he felt unsatisfied. He questioned his values and his sense of freedom. He no longer wanted to objectify the "exotic." But how to make a surf film and not do so?"
Well something like that would have been nice. Just a little hint that Steele and co. have brains in their noggins and are able to access a somewhat larger picture of the world beyond surfing.
Feeling thus, when the Q&A came about I had to throw some darts. I was a little buzzed and antsy and so asked my question with too much hostility. I asked if they had ever read Orientalism by Edward Said or if they felt at all conscious about the white male centric rape and plunder aspect of their film. Only one out of the five white men had nary a response. It was the "writer" who put forth his prescription for better living in the west: "Go travel and come home changed." Okay all well and good, but changed how? More full of valuable experiences bought with heavy coin on the experience black market? The feel good surfer thing will never cease to baffle me. I do not need them to be angry - I am not angry. I'd just like to see a thoughtful, reflective, critical, meditative, and witty dimension to surf culture. No matter how beautiful the images are without this element surf videos are just lame. Fortunately there are surf films that contain a bit of the necessary edge, but are also honest about their pornographic nature: Jack McCoy's early stuff, Litmus, Glass Love, and the Thomas Campbell films are all much more conscious than this post-Momentum artful jackoff shite.
So I ranted and had the whole theater glaring. But then afterwards I was approached by three people at separate times that really enjoyed my question because they too look for a deeper approach to surfing and the surf lifestyle.
There is so much more I could say on this topic, but I'd really have to sit down and get all of my thoughts out on paper and then organize them into a coherent whole. I love surfing. I could not live without it. But it's not all tea and cakes and we have got to be held accountable for that.

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