Week 7 – Grotesque, Grunge and Art; Karla Cordova

Grunge and grotesque are one in the same in the sense that they both push preconceived boundaries of what society deems normal and do so in a dark, rusty, dirty and bloody way. When I think of grunge, I think of rock stars with dirty hair, raspy voices, rebellious attitudes and unconventional fashion choices. When examining grunge artists’ sound, lyrics, aesthetics, and artwork, it is quite evident that grotesque is synonymous to grunge.

An element of grotesque is its potential to make people feel uncomfortable and disturbed, and grunge serves the same purpose. While grunge was and still is popular today, it was never really accepted by traditionalists or conservatives. In fact, grunge (just like something grotesque) made these types of people uncomfortable and disturbed. Beyond sound and aesthetic, one could argue that it is the movement of grunge to distort social norms that “disturbed” conservatives the most. Grunge served as musical activism for feminism, LGBTQ, and other discriminated groups and did so in a grotesque way.

When looking at Kurt Cobain’s artwork, one could assume that another element of grotesque is the inside parts of the human body – particularly flesh, blood, mucus, and bones. This same element shows up in Alice In Chains’ music video of Them Bones, which shows snippets of the birth of a baby, blood and all. The lyrics read “I feel so alone / Gonna end up a big old pile of them bones,” further adding a grotesque element of darkness by illustrating a sense of mortality.

Cindy Sherman shows a grunge vibe throughout her artwork, both aesthetically and symbolically.

cindey sherman

The picture above screams grunge to me for several reasons. The first element that I found relational to grunge was the messy hair and makeup; but as I continued to assess the photograph, I could see signs of abuse (due to bruises on her body) and dispute against conventional beauty and femininity. The fact that this photograph was in partnership with a fashion designer is even more powerful, due to the industry’s habit of projecting glamour, sex, and wealth. This is just one of many photographs of Sherman’s dark, risque, and symbolic photographs in which Sherman raises important questions about the portrayal of women in society, the same way grunge music does – by pushing the boundaries and making others feel uncomfortable.

 

Cinema Project – revised; Karla Cordova

 

Metropolis, a 1927 fantasy, science-fiction film directed by Fritz Lang, tells the story of a privileged son, Freder, who discovers the prevalent segregation of the upper and lower class led by his powerful industrialist father, Joh Fredersen. After discovering a hidden underground of taxed workers, Freder’s reactions result in conflict between Mary – an infatuation of Freder’s – and his father. Ninety years later, the film is still relevant to America’s Culture today due to its underlying themes of facism, segregation and the future. These themes will be examined through the lenses of gender, culture, and boundaries.

The film was written in 1924 by Lang’s wife, The von Harbou and produced by Erich Pommer. The cast included Alfred Abel (Joh Fredersen), Gustav Fröhlich (Freder Fredersen), Rudolf Klein-Rogge (C.A. Rotwang – the Inventor), Brigitte Helm (Mary). The film had its premiere at the Ufa-Palast am Zoo in Berlin on 10 January 1927, but was then halted to allow for the shortening of the film in August of 1927. While the film had mixed reviews, the common theme with critics appeared to be that the production of the movie was too expensive, too confusing, and misguided in its approach regarding the cultural impact of technology. Despite these reviews, the film managed to win a variety of awards, including the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards’ Restoration of the Year, OFTA Film Hall of Fame’s Motion Picture Award, and New York Film Critics Circle Awards’ Special Award.

Metropolis has influenced American Culture in many ways, including film, fashion, technology, and industrialization. Metropolis’ visuals and architectural designs served as inspiration for the creation of iconic films, such as Star Wars and Charlie Chaplin. Maria’s android ensemble also influenced fashion in a major way; showing up in music videos and photographs of iconic pop stars like Madonna and Lady Gaga. Equally relevant in the film is technology’s role in society. While a nearly humane avatar like Mary has yet to exist, robots have come to life in the form drones, “Siri,” and other automated systems. Lastly, USHistory.org calls the 1920s a “culmination of fifty years of rapid American industrialization.” (The Decade That Roared, unknown date). This advancement in industrialization is highly present and influential in Metropolis’ script and production of the film (i.e. The New Tower of Babel, Fredersen’s headquarters in Metropolis). Furthermore, according to Anton Kaes (author of Shell Shock Cinema: Weimar Culture and the Wounds of War) the industrialization and mass production aspect of the film can also be linked to the First World War and the culture of the Weimar Republic in Germany, both of which played a large role in the war (Kaes, 2009).

A major noticeable similarity between Metropolis and today’s world is the leadership style of Fredersen to that of our current president, Donald Trump. Much like Fredersen, Trump lacks a sense of accountability and remorse. In the film, Fredersen was weakened but never fully harmed or punished for his biased actions. Like Fredersen, Donald Trump has yet to be held accountable for most of his bigoted and prejudiced actions. Another comparison is both leaders’ lack of empathy for workers’ health and safety. Donald Trump’s approach to healthcare fails to take the lower class’ livelihood into consideration, much like Fredersen’s dismissal of the city’s overworked and mistreated workers. Ethics also plays a large role in the decision-making process of both leaders. It appears both Fredersen and Trump are willing to do whatever it takes to make and save money, even if it’s at the expense of other people’s well being. Lastly, Frederson hiding the underground scene from the public – including his son – parallels to Donald Trump’s secrecy towards the public, including his very private tax information and, most recently, his evident conspiracy with Russian authorities.

Mary’s character – both humane and robotic – have also heavily influenced American Culture. As Freder’s target of infatuation, Mary was introduced to the audience as someone with an angelic essence, a love for children, and a biblical name, leaving to question whether she was purposely linked to Virgin Mary. However, although Mary appeared graceful and kind, she also had a fearless rebellion against authoritative men. This rebellion can also be compared to that of courageous women throughout history, such as Rosa Parks and Rosie the Riveter. Further, Machine Mary’s flirty dancing and somewhat sassy attitude can also relate to American Culture in the 1920s – or the Roaring Twenties – where “Flappers” emerged and appeared to be more daring and sexually free. According to a post titled The Roaring Twenties, written by San Diego State University student Jordan Rosenberg, the 19th Amendment gave women a sense of empowerment to take control of their own lives, which began a widespread sexual liberation movement for young women, known as the age of the flapper (Rosenberg, 2015). This sexual liberation and sense of empowerement was clearly present throughout Machine Mary’s flirty and sassy approach.

It is also important to note that women were gaining ground in the labor force during Depression and after the 19th Amendment. According to Celebrity Culture and the American Dream: Stardom and Social Mobility, married women working for wages increased 13% from 1920 to 1940 (Sternheimer, p. 91, 2011). Because of the increase of opportunities for women in the 1920s, one could assume that Mary’s character was an accurate depiction of American culture in the 1920s, where women were becoming more than just a wife or a pretty face without a voice, rather instead a women who fight for they believe in and can stand on their own two feet.

Another relevant character in the film is Freder, who ends up being the heart of the story, which is the “Mediator Between Head and Hands.” Freder was the unifier, which is something our great country lacks at the moment, due to the highly controversial election of 2017. Last year’s election created a big divide between classes, or –  in this case – political parties. All in all, America is experiencing a pivotal shift in society, and thus is in desperate need of a Freder, someone or something that gives hope, has empathy and brings people together; in other words, America is in desperate need of a mediator of the head and the hands.

References:

Metropolis. By Thea Von Harbou. Dir. Fritz Lang. Prod. Giorgio Moroder. Perf. Brigitte Helm and Gustav Fröhlich. Cinecom International Films, 1984. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yqlOK05vFLE

Metropolis (1927) Awards. IMDB. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0017136/awards

Sternheimer, Karen. Celebrity Culture and the American Dream: Stardom and Social Mobility. Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

Rosenberg, Jordan. Essay Topic- The Roaring Twenties. Hack Into History. 19 March 2015. Retrieved from: https://hackintohistory.org/2015/03/19/essay-topic-the-roaring-twenties/

Featured Photo: METROPOLIS (1927) by Nostra.October 10, 2012. http://www.myfilmviews.com/2012/10/10/metropolis-1927/

“The Decade That Roared.” Ushistory.org, Independence Hall Association, http://www.ushistory.org/us/46.asp.
Kaes, Anton (2009). Shell Shock Cinema: Weimar Culture and the Wounds of War. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

 

The Republic of Rock (Part I: San Francisco)

In The Republic of Rock: Music and Citizenship in the Sixties Counterculture, Author Michael J. Kramer explores the cultural rebellion and historical development of the 1960s in San Francisco through the lens of rock music. When comparing rock music to the U.S. military, Kramer suggests that rock music had a much more positive impact on professional, educational, entertainment and artistic developments. Further, Kramer considers that rock music an integral, revolutionary component of American culture, stating that rock music “sustained a hyper-charged interplay of identity and community, personal experience and public participation, self-expression and collective scrutiny, cultural exploration and political engagement” (Kindle Locations 151-154).

In Part 1 of his book, Kramer uses historical events and movements to support his thesis regarding the impact of rock music in American culture and democracy.

Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters

In Chapter 1, Kramer introduces Ken Kesey, a former novelist who believed that psychedelic drugs could be used as a tool for enlightenment. After deciding to turn away from his career in writing, Kesey and his friends began to explore interpersonal group communications in both their art and their partying, which increasingly became one and the same (Kindle Locations 646-648).

By 1964, Kesey’s privately held social experiments became a contributing puzzle piece  of psychedelic rock. Through loud music, light shows, psychedelic poster art, intense communion between performers and audiences, and other hallucinogens, Kesey and The Pranksters’ events soon turned into somewhat religious experiences for the attendees, stimulating joy, personal meaning and citizenship.

While the experimental parties (called Acid Tests) were fun and lively, they were also deeply rooted in politics and social construct. According to Kramer, the events became collective attempts to reshape the meaning and boundaries of collectivity itself. Attendees found themselves trying to understand the American ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness within the setting of Cold War American power, abundance, and, more ominously, the ever-growing shadow of the escalating war in Vietnam. (Kindle Locations 683-687).

The infamous Acid Tests revolutionized rock music and brought citizenship imbalance to light, exploring the problematic ideologies of American exceptionalism, racism, and sexism.

Rock Broadcasting and Hip Capitalism

Even more significant to counterculture was KMPX, one of the first “underground rock” radio shows. According to Kramer, KMPX became the site of a struggle over the stakes of citizenship in the growing counterculture of the Bay Area (Kindle Locations 1265-1268).

In 1967, KMPX, a previously “hip” radio station, in very poor financial shape, resulting in very low wages for the staff. The show, then _ was brought to life when Larry Miller, a disk jockey that worked from midnight to 6am. Miller left behind KMPX’s pop hits formula and started playing rock and roll music in cohesive and transitionally appealing sets. Miller’s approach was so commerically successful that program manager Tom Donahue started rearranging the daytime setlists to compliment Millers setlist.

By the spring of 1968, KPMX’s had multiplied its income by 500%. Despite the success, however, KMPX failed to raise the wages of its staff, even those who were largely responsible for the growth and success of the station. This led to a staff strike led by disc jockeys, engineers, salesmen, and even the program director where they demanded better wages and working conditions, and they also to acquire greater artistic freedom and creative control.

The staff’s longing for community, individuality, and creative expression was shattered by egotism and commercialism, thus leading to a revolt towards hip capitalism.

The Wild West Music Festival of 1969

In Chapter 3, Kramer remembers the almost existing Wild West Music Festival of 1969, which was poorly funded and ultimately canceled.

According to Kramer the “non-event” became a crucial moment in the history of the Bay Area counterculture and its engagement with citizenship. Wild West also sheds light on the narrative of rock music festivals and the counterculture as a whole (Kindle Locations 1798-1801).

As the plans for the festival grew bigger and bigger, people started asking how the (free) festival would be financed, and who would be funding it, and how inclusive it would be. This led to tensions between “freedom and control,” which eventually led to countercultural activists deeming the festival an exploitation of hip capitalism. This further minimized funding opportunities and led to the cancellation of the festival.

While the festival never came to life, Kramer finds symbolic power in the short-lived dream that is the Wild West Music Festival; suggesting that it “left tie-dyed swirls wherever it spread.” In fact, it even found its way across the Pacific Ocean, in the midst of the American military intervention in Vietnam.

Conclusion

All in all, The Republic of Rock gives a compelling insight regarding historical events where people used rock music as an outlet and a medium, to express their thoughts on the power imbalance between citizens and institutions – such as the US military. Further, The Republic of Rock outlines the heavy impact that rock music had on the rebellion against the power imbalance between citizens and America’s democratic systems.

Questions

  1. How are the historic events mentioned in The Republic of Rock still relevant in today’s American culture?
  2. What do you think would have happened had the Wild West Festival come about? More importantly what impact do you think it would have had on American culture?
  3. Exactly how did rock music offer a different experience of citizenship than the U.S. military?
  4. In terms of community and expression, how is punk in east LA today (refer to Los Punks) different than rock in San Francisco in the 1960s? How are they the same?

Hack #4: El Corrido De Cesar Chavez – Karla Cordova

As I went over this week’s assignment, I couldn’t help but gravitate towards César Chávez. Listening to his corrido took my right back to my roots, and brought back a warm, familiar feeling of home.

César Chávez was a _, known for his _. Chavez was loved by many, and was often considered a hero and respected leader in his community. An integral part of his community was El Teatro Campesino, which was a musical and theatrical group formed in 1965 intended to support (and celebrate) United Farm Workers.

El Teatro Campesino quickly became an outlet for many farm workers, as they gathered on Friday nights for politically induced music, performances, and stories that were derived from farm workers’ personal experiences in the fields.

“El Corrido de César Chávez” was recorded by El Teatro Campesino and was distributed by the United Farm Workers. The record tells the story of the farmworkers’ journey from Delano to Sacramento, California, in March, 1966. Further, the record expresses the farm workers’ passion and enthusiasm towards the march, along with the deep respect they had for their leader, César Chávez.

Part of the lyrics state,

SPANISH

Ese señor César Chávez,

El es un hombre cabal;

Quería verse cara a cara

Con el gobernador Brown.
Oiga, señor César Chávez,

Su nombre que se pronuncia,

En su pecho usted merece

La Virgen de Guadalupe.

ENGLISH

This gentleman César Chávez,

He is a very whole man;

He wished to see himself

Face to face with Governor Brown.

Listen, César Chávez,

Your name that is pronounced,

On you chest you merit

The Virgin of Guadalupe.

These lyrics, along with others, integrate a lot of religion and faith in the record, alluding in the end that César and the Virgin were going to fight against evil, which was considered to be Governor Brown.

The record is still sung today, and it represents the courage, faith and selflessness that César Chávez gracefully possessed. It is a historically dense record that details the emotions that farm workers carried with them throughout their long, persistent battle with the government.

Overall, the record praises a man whose work and spirit positively impacted the lives of many people, specifically hispanic farm workers.

Sources

http://objectofhistory.org/objects/extendedtour/shorthandledhoe/?order=5

http://www.npr.org/2016/08/02/488428577/cesar-chavez-the-life-behind-a-legacy-of-farm-labor-rights

Image used: 

Teatro-Campesino-protest.jpg

1966: A performance by the activist theatre troupe, Teatro Campesino, during the grape boycott of the late 1960s. Source: Wayne University

Song: