Author Archives: Peter yu

Just Some Thoughts on Mulvey

According to Laura Mulvey, the movies of the classic Hollywood era are made for the male gaze. The female characters in these movies are reduced to objects which the male audience could enjoy looking at. This trend has not died off since the publication of her essay, many movies nowadays still uses female characters as “eye candies” for the male audience to look at. However, I think there is also a large degree of male objectification in the entertainment industry nowadays, which balances off the female objectification. Men show much more skin and are much more sexually appealing in contemporary movies than in the movies of the classic Hollywood era. Just think of all the actions movies or romantic movies where the man takes off his shirt to show off his six pack or whatever. This is clearly meant to impress the ladies among the audiences, and perhaps to also add motivation for the guys to go to the gym. The increase of male objectification is likely due to women having more buying power in the contemporary society. Back in the classic Hollywood era, men were the majority of the workforce while women generally stayed at home. This meant that the men had financial power and the ability to consume cultural products. Movies are meant to make money after all, so to suit the taste of the men who have the money, women became objectified in movies. In the contemporary society, women are just as prominent in the workforce as men are. The financial power of women is similar to men, if not superior. After all, women generally buy more than men. To suit the taste of the largely women based consumers nowadays, men became objectified too. I believe that such objectification is very natural. Men generally want women, and women generally want men, and both sexes enjoy looking at the beautiful members of the other sex. So it is natural to use men to attract female consumers and use women to attract male consumers. Objectification of a particular sex would only become a problem when it is used in a degrading sense.

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The Heart of Darkness…In Us

Between Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now, I find Heart of Darkness infinitely more disturbing than Apocalypse Now. The reason is simple. Apocalypse Now is a movie about war, or perhaps in the words of Coppola himself: “It is war.” War is horrible, that is a universal fact. When we think of war, we expect to find gruesome murders, horrific deeds, and utter madness. There is no surprise when we see that in the movie, after all, what do you expect in war?

Heart of Darkness on the other hand, shows the horror of human nature without war. Sure, the worst of mankind is brought out by war, however, even in times of peace, and prosperity, humans are capable of terrible things. Heart of Darkness shows us that we cannot just attribute our horrible deeds to war, it is ultimately humans that orchestrates all the terrors of war. Humans are terrible, not war. This revelation is exactly what I admire in Heart of Darkness, it forces us to gaze inside our heart and see the immense darkness that shrouds it. It shows us the consequences of Kurtz’s exposure to this darkness–insanity. Insanity for Kurtz is an escape, he cannot face the horror of the realization of his own nature, so he chose to run away from it into the realm of insanity. Insanity relieves us of all morals, all judgements, and all ego, so we can act out the most cruel and horrible part of our nature without guilt. Heart of Darkness is a great novel which explores the worst of mankind, and the effect it can have on us when we witness it. It puts into question the so called progress made by Europeans. To Conrad, the civilization of Europe is only a flicker in the darkness, and by no means the light which his contemporaries saw Europe as. No matter how civilized Europe or the entire mankind gets, the inner longing for the primeval ages will never fade, and the brutality and cruelty of human nature will persist.

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The Uncanny as a Product of Evolution

Freud concludes the “uncanny” to be a “species of the familiar”, he states that the feeling of uncanny is invoked when something familiar to us but has been repressed resurfaces again. He uses many examples of infantile complexes to explain this theory, contributing uncanny feelings produced by the “double” to childhood imaginations of multiple selves and the fear of losing the eye to the castration complex. (wait, fear of losing the eye isn’t the uncanny though, what are you doing Freud?) Anyway, it seems that some of Freud’s ideas don’t really add up, and he seems to have incomplete analysis of his examples, namely “the Sandman”. So I’m going to share some of my thoughts on what is the nature of the “uncanny”.

I believe the feeling of uncanny is in fact rooted in our development as a species. To demonstrate this, I will bring forward a point by Ernst Jentsch which Freud rejects. Jentsch contributes the feeling of uncanniness to intellectual uncertainty. I believe this is an explanation of the uncanny that most people would agree with since it does seem true if we reflect the times we feel uncanny. The reason for this is based in our evolution. Human beings have adopted many traits to help them survive, fear is one of them, and it allows us to avoid potential danger. There are many things that could pose a danger to us, but the most prominent and most tangible must have been the fear of predators. If is often too late for us to be afraid when the predator is right in front of us, therefore, we became fearful of anything that could hint to an approaching predator, such as sounds, smells and other things. Over time we must have also realized that darkness hides predators from our senses, notably sight, so we adopted the fear of darkness, because we don’t know if a predators could be hiding in the darkness or not. The feeling of uncanny is a manifestation or reminder of this fear in a not so fearful situation. Take the case of the “double” for example, we are not really scared by seeing a double of ourselves, however, It does make us feel at unease because it creates intellectual uncertainty about whether the double is real or not and more importantly whether it would pose a threat to our well being. This reminds us of the fear of predators in the darkness where there is also intellectual uncertainty.

However, this evolutionary theory seems inadequate in explaining the uncanny feeling we get with extraordinary coincidences. When what we are thinking manifests themselves in our lives, especially multiple times or in close proximity, we become extremely uncanny. I think this has to do with the breaking of natural laws. We are used to living in a world where “mind over matter” is purely fiction, if something happens that seems to defy this law, then we are placed in a state of intellectual uncertainty. We feel temporarily unsure of whether “mind over matter” is purely fiction or not and more importantly whether we are really the masters of our lives. We would feel that a higher power is controlling us like puppets, and this creates a sense of helplessness in us which is manifested in the form of uncanniness. This form of uncanny cannot be adequately explained by the evolutionary theory, since the idea of a higher power controlling us doesn’t not contribute to survival, therefore we can’t explain why we could feel uncanny about it. So I guess my theory has some flaws too. Well feel free to make some comments on how you think this can be resolved, or your own theory of what the uncanny is.


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What if, we all misunderstood Blake

Songs of Innocence and of Experience was not popular when it was first printed. Well technically it wasn’t mass produced due to difficulty with reproducing the images. But from the limited attention Blake’s other works received, it seems that not many people in Blake’s time viewed him as the great English poet he is today. So here is the question, why was Blake not considered great then but is now? The obvious answer would be to say that Blake was “ahead of his time”, his ideas were so advanced that the future generation found it more relevant than the generation he was with. But what if this is not true? What I am about to say is purely conjecture, and not to be taken seriously, however, I just want to point out the possibility that maybe we all misunderstood Blake.

It is impossible to know what the author of any work of art really meant by producing it. Unless we ask them of course, but even then we don’t really know the exact thoughts and feelings the author felt when he/she made a work of art. This creates a problem, because there is no way to correctly interpret the meaning of a work of art, therefore the standard of measuring the artistic value of works of art become purely subjective. What is great art to one could be a vulgar piece to another. And a piece of art one generation find boring could be extremely compelling to another. Here we can see the problem with Blake, what if the reason he is valued in the present generation is because we gave his poems unintended interpretations based on our society? And because his poems seems to express the feelings of the people in the present generation, we assume that it was intended by him?

One of the greatest abilities humans have is drawing connections between unrelated things. Words have connotations, colours have meanings, and pretty much everything could be a symbol for something else. The ability of humans to draw connection between pretty much everything is fantastic. I read a joke about an English teacher once, the English teacher is analyzing a novel, and he/she starts to talk about the meaning behind a certain blue curtain in a book. Apparently, blue symbolizes the deep depression the character feels. But upon asking the author, the author simply said that “well, the curtain is blue…” Humans love to add meanings to meaningless things, so what if Blake doesn’t really have any particular meanings when he wrote Songs of Innocence and of Experience? What if we are just interpreting his poetry from a modern perspective and forcing upon it modern meanings?

Blake is a member of the Romantic Movement. Romanticism seems to favour emotion over reason. Romantic writers like Rousseau have said that they have sudden violent bursts of emotions that give them ideas and help them write things. Could it be that Blake was in a similar situation? He felt a violent emotion overcoming him and had to let it out by writing poems. Perhaps he didn’t even knew or thought about what he was writing, he simply wrote his poems and felt that they were good enough to be published.

It seems that great works often have a lot of ambiguity in their comprehension. Perhaps that is the reason they are great, not because their literary value or theme, it’s the ambiguity in their comprehension that makes them great. They can be interpreted by countless generations each with an interpretation that fits their time. And the interpretation doesn’t seem to be complete for all the generation that tries to interpret it. People love to obsess themselves with things they don’t understand. So the more ambiguous something is, the harder they are to understand, the more artistic value they seem to have. This is especially true with paintings, I feel some of the paintings that are considered great are just the artist doing random things. Like seriously, what is a piece of paper being splashed with paint supposed to mean anything?

Overall, I just want to say that maybe, maybe, we all misunderstood Blake, maybe he didn’t really have the meanings we interpreted in his poems, perhaps we just think too much as humans. Of course I won’t say that I just have no idea what he or Hopkins is talking about…

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Is Fear the Source of All Evil?

According to Hobbes, the state of nature for mankind is a state of constant warfare, where everyone fights against each other in order to survive. Therefore, it is necessary to set up a society where everybody agrees to a contract that limits their freedom but gives them protection. Hobbes’ view on mankind is a very low one, but we must admit that we do have qualities that make us that way. However, I believe that at any rate, basic human nature is good, and not in any way relating to the savage beast described by Hobbes. What makes us savage creatures that live in constant warfare is the human instinct called fear.

A toddler who has never seen a lion or a tiger would have no fear of it. We know this because of stories about babies who are raised by such animals. The idea of fear is not in our nature, it slowly comes into our minds as we age and learn about the dangers of this world. We are taught to not speak to strangers and not open doors for strangers, lest that they be bad and harm us. These teachings create suspicion in our minds. Since we are told all the time that other people could potentially harm us, we come to see people as potential enemies, and we treat them with suspicion. We do not openly express our fear, but we also don’t open ourselves completely to others either. This is what created the state of warfare that Hobbes described. Because of the hostility all people were taught to see in one another, there is no way for anybody to be sure that he/she is safe, unless of course he actively “removes” what he/she deems threatening, and by doing so he/she becomes threatening to others.

There is a way which we can overcome this fear which has been implanted in our minds; it is through interaction and familiarity. If we assume that people are basically good, once we are no longer plague by the fear that others might harm us, we will be able to see more clearly the true nature of mankind. Only then can we trust others and make friends. Interactions are the best ways to clear up our fear. Interactions allow us to understand the thoughts of one another, by listening to another person’s words as well as sharing your own; we are creating a bond between us and them. This is the key towards empathy, which is thinking from someone else’s perspective. Once we have empathy, we would realize that others are living in the same fear as we are. With this realization, we could disperse our fears towards that person and show him/her that there is no need to have fear. When both sides drop their fear, friendship, and in some cases love will develop, this is the redeeming quality of mankind that disproves Hobbes’ view. When people are with their friends, they are not in a state of warfare; instead they are in a state of cooperation. No one is working for their appetites only; they are working for the good of the whole. Security and safety is guaranteed just as in a society. However, since a group of friends is not a society; it means that society is not the only way for people to live in security.

However, at large, the group of friends will still be in war with other, similar groups, which means that the human population at large is still in a state of war. This seems to point out that society is still necessary. But in fact, even if societies are established, this state of warfare is still not eliminated, for each society would still be at war with one another as they fear each other’s power. This means that true peace will never be established on a large scale, as long as the idea of fear in being taught to us (and it must be taught for our self protection). The best we can establish are small, partial peace between groups of friends, in tribes, and in a society.

So, is fear the source of all our evil?

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Prospero’s Forgiveness

Prospero’s Books places a lot of emphasis on the control Prospero has over the rest of the characters. Using Prospero to narrate all of the characters lines, the audience are given a feeling that everything is being staged by him. He is in control of the story, and the characters are merely his pawns, acting out his wishes. Towards the end however, Prospero seems to give up control over the other characters and they finally speak in their own voices.

The crucial point where this happens is the very beginning of act 5 scene 1, where Ariel speaks to Prospero about the present conditions of all his enemies. Ariel speaks the line “Your charm so strongly works’em that if you now beheld them, your affections would become tender.” (17-19 act 5 scene 1) This line is repeated several times and it’s the first time Ariel speaks in his own voice. From this point on, all of the characters starts to speak in their own voices. But why this line? What is so special that happens here which made Prospero decide to let the characters speak for themselves? The answer is probably quite obvious. One of the most obvious themes of The Tempest is forgiveness and reconciliation and it can be said that it is at this point, Prospero decides to not pursue revenge but rather forgive his brother.  He replies to Ariel “And mine shall. Hast thou… be kindlier moved than thou art?” (20-24 act 5 scene 1). The movie emphasizes Ariel’s line and suggests that Ariel’s words moved Prospero and helped him make the decision about forgiving his brother. However, it is not very believable that someone like Prospero, would be dissuaded from revenge so easily, by one single sentence from his servant. There must be other more obscure reasons why Prospero decides to forgive when he has the power to take revenge.

The marriage between Miranda and Ferdinand could be a possible explanation for Prospero’s behaviour. After all, love can dissolve all hatred. But let’s not forget, Miranda and Ferdinand’s meeting was staged by Prospero, he was the one who brought Ferdinand to Miranda. Therefore it seems that their marriage is within Prospero’s calculation, and all of it happened before Prospero decides to forgive his enemies. This would suggest that Prospero already forgave his enemies at the very beginning of the play. If so, what is the meaning of the exchange between Prospero and Ariel? If Prospero already forgave his brother, why did he act like he was moved by Ariel? These are questions we will never be able to fully answer, but here is my speculation.

Prospero was only pretending to be moved by Ariel. While the movie seems to highlight Ariel’s influence on Prospero’s decision, the play itself does not do that. It could well be that Prospero already decided to forgive his brother and he was only pretending that Ariel’s words moved him. This would mean that Prospero had this in mind already when he started the tempest. He will make his brother and his enemies suffer, but in the end he will play the good person and forgive. If this is indeed what Prospero thought, then it would shine new light on his character as a clever politician. The idea that The Tempest has political implications was brought up in the lecture. It has been suggested before that Prospero is a political figure, he lost his kingdom due to his love for books, and he is bend on getting his kingdom back using magic he learned from those books. He does it by putting his enemies at his mercy, then play the good guy by helping and forgiving them. He is attacking them through their sense of guilt, and making them willingly give back what they took away from him. The marriage between Miranda and Ferdinand is just a tool for him to build a relationship with the king of Naples, therefore strengthening his rule in Milan. This interpretation would turn the story from a fairy tale to a political story, where the character of Prospero is not acting according to his good will but out of deep calculation.

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No Freedom In the Kallipolis, No Problemo!

Who needs freedom when we have law and order? This seems to be Plato’s argument throughout Republic. For proposing such an argument, Plato’s been bashed and trashed and smashed many times by modern day philosophers. Some people say he’s a coward who hides behind idealism; while other say he is responsible for creating totalitarianism. So why do we still read his works? Well, in my opinion, Plato’s got a pretty good grasp of humanity, and this is why we still read him.

Plato spends most of the book explaining the kallipolis, and ideal city where there is an almost absolute control over its citizen’s lives. They are to be given to the state as children, be educated according to the state and placed into their “roles” in society. There will be three classes, soldiers, workers, and the elite rulers. The first thing I thought when I saw his class system is that “wow, this is totally the system of our society in a nutshell.” Why? Well, can’t our society be divided by the same way? We have workers/merchants, soldiers, and an elite ruling class, don’t we? I know this is democracy but let’s be honest, we don’t rule, the prime minister and his cabinet and advisors do all the ruling. They are the “philosopher kings” in Plato’s republic, who decides what to do with the economy, pass laws, and declare war on other nations. I personally can never recall when was the last time the government came to me for advice, even if they did, it clearly didn’t matter to them. (Referendum fails? No problem, pass law anyways.). Well, to be honest, my advice will probably screw up the country really bad. But isn’t this what Plato says about the average individual (working class), they don’t have what it takes to rule, so it’s better to leave it with the elite class (politicians). So let’s admit it, our society totally resembles Plato’s kallipolis.

We are all used to freedom. This is one of the things Canada pride itself upon. But, if we think about it, who the heck needs it? We all need food right? And clothing, and shelter, other than that, nothing is necessary. So sorry freedom, but we really don’t absolutely need you… it would be nice to have you though, but without you, life goes on just fine. Does China have as much freedom as Canada? Obviously not. But does that mean in China, people are not as happy as they are in Canada? Well they are, but not because of the lack of freedom, it’s mainly because of poverty (in the countryside and among low skill workers), and pollution, as well as just having too many people. Rarely do Chinese people say that China is not as good as Canada because it doesn’t have as much freedom (except for the rich maybe), as an immigrant from China, I understand the reason why people want to leave China for Canada. Canada has better education system, better environment, less people, more civilized people, and on the bottom of the list, IT HAS FREEDOM! Yeah! But we would have come here without you buddy…

Since freedom isn’t a necessity, people will only want it when they have all the necessities, and more importantly the idea for freedom (how can people want something they don’t even know about?). This means that the people living in Plato’s Kallipolis will live happily since they have the necessities but no idea of what freedom is. Again, I just want to say that many of the things in life are not necessities, but due to our ever-growing greed, (or can we call it greed? Isn’t it just nature?) every time we get something, we will want something else immediately, and the thing we want will seem to be a necessity to us. Freedom is one of those things, if we don’t have all the necessities, if we can’t guarantee all of our meals, if we have to work hard all day just to make ends meet, we won’t give a shit whether we have freedom or not.

The following is not directly about Republic.

One of the problems I have with the way people use democracy, communism, totalitarianism is that these words are given different connotations. In my opinion, words like these should not have pre-determined connotations. Communism as well as totalitarianism or even dictatorship, has the potential to create great society as well as great countries. It is not idealistic at all to think so, for example China can be seen as a totalitarian country that is doing quite well, while Iraq is struggling with its newly acquired system of democracy, had it remained under Saddam’s dictatorship. We probably won’t be getting this ISIS crap right now… communism, dictatorship, and totalitarianism all have their unique perks, but I’m not saying that Canada should turn to dictatorship right now, NO! Countries such as Canada is probably the happiest under democracy, but we should never assume, just as the US has assumed that “democracy > everything”. Some countries works under dictatorship, or communism, or totalitarianism, messing up other people’s countries just because they have a different political system is simple idiotic.

Alright, sorry for bashing you, USA, I still love you because of MacDonald’s…



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