Sunday, February 19, 2017

Buddhist Philosophy and Ghost in the Shell: Studying the Ghost to Forget the Ghost

My colleagues Talia Welsh and Bo Baker asked me to visit their team-taught course Honors 3590: Non-Western Cultures: Zen, Film, and Anime at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. In preparation for this event, I thought I’d write a blog post to collect my thoughts on the film we’ll be discussing, which also happens to be one of my favorites. Note that I am discussing the original 1995 animated film directed by Mamoru Oshii.

“Do you even know who you are?”

– The Major

I’ve honestly never been a huge anime fan, but I’ve loved Ghost in the Shell since I first saw it in the 90’s. First of all, it’s one of the most beautiful anime films out there. The meditative city montages alone are worth the price of admission.

But it’s also one of the most philosophically profound movies out there, anime or otherwise. It gets deep from the first moments. The intro tells us, “the advance of computerization … has not yet wiped out nations and ethnic groups” (Is there a reason to think it will?). There’s also the issue of all those lingering shots of the Major’s body: What’s the line between a problematic male gaze and artistic statements about corporality?

But the deepest issue of all is personal identity. Consider the Major’s post-scuba diving soliloquy.
“There are countless ingredients that make up the human body and mind like all the components that make up me as an individual with my own personality. Sure, I have a face and voice to distinguish myself from others. But my thoughts and memories are unique only to me. And I carry a sense of my own destiny. Each of those things are just a small part of it. I collect information to use in my own way. All of that blends to create a mixture that forms me and gives rise to my conscience. I feel confined, only free to expand myself within boundaries.”
Like anime science fiction more generally, Ghost in the Shell combines modern, computerized themes with ancient philosophical roots. The personal identity questions in the film are asked with the accent of modern computer technology but the deeper grammar is that of Buddhist philosophy.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Serious Humor in Trumpian Times

Melissa McCarthy as Sean Spicer on Saturday Night Live

While Donald Trump himself often comes across as a buffoon, there's nothing particularly funny about Trumpism as a political ideology: it's by and large a bleak, dystopian affair filled with horrific problems that only a superhero/savior can fix.  "I alone can fix it," Trump said during the Republican National Convention.  "This American carnage stops right here and stops right now," he said during his inauguration speech.

There wasn't much humor for people who were detained at airports due to the administration's ill-conceived and possibly unconstitutional travel ban.  Trump's cabinet thus far, which includes controversial members like Rex Tillerson, Jeff Sessions, and Betsy DeVos, is no laughing matter.  And those are just the major points.  It's frankly almost impossible to keep up with the administration's deeds from the nefarious to the bizarre (this website makes a good attempt).

It might seem like there would be precious little levity in these Trumpian times.  Yet in the last few weeks comedy has been made great again.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Recent TV Round Up

I originally intended to write a Best TV of 2016 post.  But now that we're veering toward mid-February 2017, it seemed a bit late for that.  Also, I watched a few new things while I was putting off writing this post.  So I give you: Recent TV Round Up featuring Stranger Things, The Good Place, Westworld, Sense8, and The OA!