Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Reflecting on Howl: Language and Image

When I first read Howl, I had quite a hard time understanding what Ginsberg was trying to get across to the audience. But after watching the film, I feel like I have a much better understanding of him as a person and what he was sharing in his poems. Originally, like many others, I did not see the literary merit in his poems. I can’t say that I completely understand his poetry but I can at least acknowledge his style of poetry. In the movie, he acknowledges the trouble that most people have with understanding his type of poetry: “The problem when it comes to literature is this. There are many writers who have preconceived ideas about what literature is supposed to be but their ideas seem to preclude everything that makes them most interesting in casual conversation. Because they think they’re going to write something that sounds like they’ve read before instead of what sounds like them or comes from their own life.

What happens when you make a distinction between what you tell your friends and what you tell your muse? The trick is to break down that distinction. To approach your muse as frankly as you would talk to yourself or to your friends.”

Most of our initial reactions to his poetry is that it is far too vulgar. However, it seems necessary. As an individual, he grew up at a time that homosexuality was portrayed as a sickness (at least much less accepted then than now). His experiences seem to really influence his style of writing. He couldn’t express the way that he felt explicitly so he would turn to his poetry in order to express his emotions. This is where he reveals himself to the world that he is gay. Throughout the movie, this actually is quite apparent with the amount of times that he speaks about it as well as all the animations that were portrayed. Other than the explicit mentions, there were more subtle images of penises throughout the animations. Around the 30th minute of the film there were trees that were growing that ultimately took on the form of a penis as well as the shooting star that seemed to visualize one as well.

Although his poetry is quite vulgar and repeatedly mentions the image of penises, his message is often misinterpreted. Ginsberg informs us that “the poem is misinterpreted as promotion of homosexuality. Actually, it’s more like promotion of frankness about any subject.” I appreciate how he tries to break the distinction between his muse and his friends. This gives his poetry a more genuine feeling to it since he tries to give his audience a portrayal of who he truly is rather than euphemizing himself through words. I really enjoyed this film since it gave a better understanding of this poet, especially since it was quite difficult to understand his style of writing.


Monday, November 29, 2010

X-Men: Referencing the Battle of Alcatraz

X-Men: The Last Stand was a movie that was supposed to represent the guards versus the inmates. The mutant resistant were the inmates and the guards were the few mutants who were trying to protect the people. Everything went into chaos when the resistance tried to destroy Alcatraz. This fight can be thought of as the Battle of Alcatraz, the largest prisoner escape that went wrong on Alcatraz. The battle went on for 3 days and was the bloodiest Alcatraz has seen it. When looking back on this escape attempt, how the guards were outnumbered and taken by surprise until the Marines showed up, it can relate to X-Men. The mutant resistance wanted to destroy the vaccine that would get rid of the mutant gene. With the resistance storming Alcatraz that represented
the inmates taking control of weapons and taking control for the first part of the siege. Then once the the guards and the mutants helping the government came, that represents the guards realizing what has happened and them fight back. This plot line is not a very strong one, in my opinion but it makes a good action flick. Referring back to Alcatraz, they chose a good spot for a final battle, trying to represent the Battle of Alcatraz, was a smart idea.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Women Scorned: The Position of Women in X-Men

Perhaps at a glance you might think that in X-men: The Last Stand, women are finally given some credit as capable figures, movers and shakers. Phoenix is the most powerful of the Mutants, Storm is the new headmaster of Xavier’s school, and female Mutants generally can get things done just as well as the males. But you can also see that a significant part of their portrayal involves proneness to unplanned emotional impetus and to the influence of male leads.

Jean Grey is completely emotionally unstable; whenever anything makes her upset she goes on a destructive rampage. She ends up disintegrating her beloved boyfriend, immediately tries to have sex with another guy, and asks him to kill her when he says no. She disintegrates her mentor and joins forces with her ideological adversary, and ends up needing that other guy to go ahead and help her suicide. Not the strongest of
characters after all.

When Mystique gets abandoned by the man she’s devoted herself to, she goes and gets arrested by her ideological enemies just so she can betray him. Cunning Magneto anticipates this reaction and outsmarts her.

Even Storm, seemingly the most authoritative of the women in this film, acts largely on a reactionary basis. Her initial plans for the school she inherited were to close it, since she didn’t feel confident without Xavier. Only because a needy youth serendipitously walked in right at decision time did she decide not to just give up.

Females on the battlefield, at least, seem to be equally competent as their male counterparts (not to mention present at all) – a big step up from being a worried pregnant fiancĂ© who isn’t even present in the action. Kitty beat blockheaded Juggernaut and saved the little kid!


Monday, November 22, 2010

Frenemies: Magneto and Charles Xavier

While watching X-Men III The Last Stand the relationship between Magneto and Charles Xavier was what I found most intriguing about the film. Once old colleges, they fought for mutant rights and programs for mutant education. They worked as a team recruiting mutants from all over the country offering acceptance and shelter from the one sided view of mutants in the general society. But eventually Magnetos’ values shifted after slow success following Charles’ ideals to help mutants. Magneto believed that mutants should band together and fight violently for their rights. Although they are enemies they share great respect for one another. Xavier and Magneto are striving for the same goal yet taking different paths. The two would never directly murder one another as their history has intertwined so thoroughly that killing the other would be killing a part of themselves. Each also has gained invaluable perspective, knowledge, and insight from one another.

As Jean Grey AKA the phoenix is levitating Charles, about to what seems like evaporate him in this apocalyptic scenery Magneto is watching on in terror. He cannot believe what he is seeing and at one point a look of regret comes over his face of what he has unleashed. Right before Xavier is killed Magneto bursts out an urgent cry “Charrlleesss!!” and then he’s gone.

“Charles Xavier did more for mutants than you’ll ever know; my single greatest regret is that he had to die for our dream to live.” – Magneto


"Unto our climatures and countrymen" : Hamlet on Alcatraz:

This Saturday I went to watch Hamlet on Alcatraz, the weather was nice up to the point of the ferry ride. That is when the chilling wind started to blow. Once we landed we were greeted by more freezing winds, the trees appeared to be mad which served the scene quite adequately (the ghostly figures were appearing). It appeared that throughout the play, the environment was another actor in the scenes since it enhanced the mood of the play and it made the production more dramatic.

The rain began to pour down on us when Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were introduced. After a couple more scenes we went inside. We were in for quite a while that we did not realize how drastically the weather had changed. When we were outside for the last outdoor scene (I do not remember which one) the weather was terrible. From the moment I stepped outside the entire surrounding landscape had disappeared, it was hidden by
the fog, it was as if we were in the middle of the ocean. We were taken somewhere for a scene and all that I could here were the crashing waves on the rocks and the thunder. The rain was pouring hard on us and the wind was so strong it literally pushed us and there were times when I moved solely because of the wind’s will, not mine. There was also lightening that illuminated the area, just enough to see the people around us. Finally, we were led back in.

The next scene was where Hamlet confronted his mother. Then the ghost of his father appeared, he was hidden behind some opaque windows. His appearance was illuminated by the lightening, making the scene creepy. Then at the moment when Hamlet struck Polonius there was raging thunder. The thunder, rain, lightening, and winds continued onto the final scene where most of the characters died. The audience, I included, were overcome by the special effects offered by the climate. It definitely made the scenes more vivid.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

X-Men: Parallels between Mutants and American Indians

There are quite a few parallels to notice between the mutants of the X-men universe and the American Indians. They are both repressed minorities fighting for the rights and status of their respective constituencies, at odds with government stances of intolerance and even termination/assimilation. Whether Indians are Americans / Mutants are Humans is controversial, and causes cognitive dissonance. In X-men, there is a governmental “Department of Mutant Affairs” whose role is to manage the policies and relationships with Mutants, but whose actual influence is seemingly not so strong. We see the various groupings of people in Like a Hurricane reincarnate as Mutants too. There are the those that try to serve their kin by joining the BIA/ DMA, trying to affect change from inside the government; there are AIM / Magneto’s vigilante-militant group that takes over places like Alcatraz, and strongly opposes the government’s handling of their affairs; and generally there are the Indians/Mutants that feel distant from the rest of the country and live off in their own communities.


X Men: A Unique Portrayal of Alcatraz

Looking past the action scenes that are expected in an X men movie, the main thing that jumped out at me throughout the course of this movie is the portrayal of Alcatraz. Although the island plays a lesser role in the movie when compared to other films we have watched, it serves a unique purpose contrary to that of its former role in history: “This site, which once was a famous prison, will now be the source of freedom for all mutants who choose it.” Previously home to the most dangerous criminals in our society, Alcatraz was now the site of a highly sophisticated lab. It is at this lab that a pharmaceutical company used a mutant to create a “cure” for the mutant X-gene.

They chose to create Worthington lab on Alcatraz because it was the safest location they could find. Now, instead of using its location to prevent criminals from escaping, Alcatraz is now perfectly situated to prevent the much-regarded cure of this disease from getting out to the public. Because of its highly potent and supposedly irreversible power, the medicine must be safely kept in the hands of those who created it. Like the prisoners who were formerly kept in cramped cells, if the medicine were to get out, it could pose a great danger to society. For this reason, the limited accessibility of Alcatraz makes it the perfect venue to safeguard this important medicine.

Similar to its past, Alcatraz is again the site of a major battle. Like we saw in The Birdman of Alcatraz, there is an attempted takeover of the island. Magneto and his brotherhood of mutants wish to destroy the lab and the child who helped create the cure for the mutant gene. In viewing their invasion, we are reminded that no matter how impenetrable Alcatraz was considered, it always seems to be the location of major, unanticipated conflicts.


Monday, November 15, 2010

Buckle Your Seatbelts: Opening credits analysis of The Rock

In the opening credits of the film The Rock we see a flurry of images among the names of the star-studded cast of Nicholas cage, Sean Connery, and others. To the untrained viewer this may look like another Michael Bay montage of fiery dramatic imagery simply for the purpose of gearing up the viewer for the thrill ride that is The Rock. But this dramatic imagery does indeed have a purpose.

This purpose being to inform the viewer of General Francis X Hummel’s motivation for taking 81 unsuspecting tourists hostage on the uninhabited island of Alcatraz. As the credits begin we see a grey ominous sky followed by dark figures in a smoke filled room. These first two images present a gloomy yet tension filled mood and set the stage for a tale of regret and sorrow. Next we see marching soldiers folding a flag, indicating that a military man or men have died. One by one we receive bits of information that progressively increase in clarity. In the next frame our protagonist is seen vigorously standing up from a seated position while radio communication concerning the rescue of troops behind enemy lines becomes audible. This indicates the connection between the dead military men and general Hummel, as they were once his troops who are now in some kind of trouble but cannot receive any help due to commands superior to Hummel’s. In addition, General Hummel’s ascension from his seated position foreshadows Hummel’s decision to take a stand for the marines who gave their life during combat

Putting all the pieces together we know now that something unjust happened to military men against the will of General Hummel that resulted in their deaths and now General Hummel plans to take action. This intro gives us some abstract knowledge of the motivations for Hummel’s actions, without giving away too much information. This keeps the viewer buckled in for the ride that is The Rock.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Rock: Overdramatized, but Realistic Representation of Alcatraz?

Many parts of the movie, The Rock (1996), are overdramatized, unrealistic, and fictionalized in order to create a greater appeal to an audience. However, even so, many pieces of this movie portray Alcatraz as the place of incarceration and torture that it is still remembered as today. In the second half of the movie, an FBI team, including convict Mason and biochemist Goodspeed, infiltrate Alcatraz in an attempt to prevent the Marines from launching the VX gas rockets into San Francisco. This leads to misunderstanding and unnecessary shooting, which culminates in the death of everyone on the island, except for Goodspeed, Mason, and the hostages. Although conveyed in an exaggerated manner, several scenes from The Rock draw parallels to the actual conditions of this infamous island.

For example, in the scene when the FBI team gains access into Alcatraz and the Marines and FBI members all have their guns aimed at one another, Commander Anderson says, “You are under oath as United States Marines. Have you forgotten that?” This scene parallels the real-life circumstances at Alcatraz by illustrating how people are driven to insanity, which results in a multitude of unnecessary deaths. Ironically, General Hummel says, “No one has to die here.” However, the FBI team and the Marines begin shooting at one another until the entire FBI team is dead, except for Goodspeed and Mason. This is analogous to how the horrific, injustice conditions of Alcatraz drove inmates to take extreme measures to escape from Alcatraz, which often ended in death or further torture.

In addition, the harsh conditions of Alcatraz drove prisoners to take significant risks because they had nothing to lose, just as at this point, the Marines have nothing to lose no matter what occurs on the island. Near the end of the movie, when the Marines decide that it is time to launch the rockets into San Francisco, Hummel sends the first one off-track so that no one is harmed. However, this causes the other remaining Marines to turn against him, because they argue that they have already come this far so they need to carry out their original plan.

Furthermore, the idea of unpreparedness, which is illustrated in our other texts and movies, seems to be prevalent in the plot of The Rock. Although initially the plan appears sound and carefully thought-out, it ultimately results in a chaotic mess. The idea propelling the takeover of Alcatraz was reasonable, but the actions taken to convey this message were not the best, as also seen in Like a Hurricane.


Monday, November 8, 2010

Alcatraz Reflections: When is a Rock just a Rock?

I actually liked the audio tour, much to my surprise. I was half expecting a propogandish PG-rated happy-place-for-tourists sort of thing, perhaps reminiscent of the photojournal we first read. But they didn’t leave the nitty gritty out (they even discribed the sound of a knife getting stabbed into someone (and then played that sound)), and they a decent amount of interview time and some interesting details that none of the books covered, like the actual quality of the food.

In general, I have a healthy distrust for the whole touristy business, so I’ll share one thing I thought was funny. Upon disembarking, the tour guides reminded us we weren’t allowed to take home rocks from The Rock – they’re pieces of the historic landmark, and not for you to take home as souvenirs to put with all your other rocks. You could, of course, buy them in the gift shop, and for only $8! They even came with their own fancy little plastic enclosures and child safety warnings: “This is not a toy. Not for children under the age of 5. Do not remove from enclosure.” Yes, that’s right parents, be careful not to let your kids ever get their hands on rocks. Or play with them. Also, this is actually not a rock – it’s a souvenir. I wonder if people really buy them.


How does one weigh human life?: The Rock and Humanity

Aside from the outrageous car chases and gun battles particular to all Michael Bay films, I felt that the movie The Rock (1996) also offered some insightful moments on life and the human condition. During the President’s speech toward the end of the movie, he posed the question: “How does one weigh human life?” While this question has divided philosophers throughout the ages, this movie offers an opinion along the lines of not judging a book by its cover.

For example, if we were take Mason (Sean Connery’s character) at face value, we’d see a grimy convict and former inmate of Alcatraz who, at one time possessed the power to blackmail the American government. Any random person on the street would probably say that he deserves to be in prison for the rest of his life. If we were to assess General Hummel in the same fashion, we’d find one of the finest war heroes America has ever seen, receiving multiple purple hearts and the Congressional Medal of Honor.
The point behind these assessments is because their roles are reversed in this film. In The Rock, the war hero is the one terrorizing America, and the lives of millions of people are dependent upon a team of soldiers led by a convict. In one particular scene of the movie, Mason is walking down Broadway, where all the hostages are imprisoned. The hostages are reaching out of their cells towards him, asking for help from this man who, in another circumstance, they would all gladly condemn to their same holding
cells. I think this scene shows that every human being is capable of good, even if his or her reputation speaks otherwise. So while there are several different ways people try to weigh one human life against another, the solution this film proposes is that it shouldn’t be done. Even the best of people are capable of evil, and a hero could be found in the most unlikely of places or circumstances.


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Alcatraz Reflections: Size and Scale

I had previously visited Alcatraz when I was around the age of 5. At the time I had very little knowledge about the island and its purpose, only that it previously housed “bad guys.” At the time I remember thinking of Alcatraz as a huge place. The movies we have watched so far helped to maintain my idea. The films always showed Broadway as being a wide runway and the cell blocks as being very tall. In actuality everything was much more confined. Besides the size, one of the few things that I remember from my initial trip was the recreation yard. I remember thinking it was such a huge area and that the steps along the side were so high up. While my opinion of the size of Alcatraz has changed, the rec yard still stood out to me but for a different reason. When I stepped through the doorway to the rec yard, I was surprised to see a gorgeous view of the San Francisco skyline. I kept thinking how tortuous it would have been to be given that little glimpse of freedom every time you were allowed outside. After that view, descending the stairs into the yard surround by towering, thick concrete walls seemed so overwhelming. It even made me a little claustrophobic and usually confined spaces don’t bother me. I just kept thinking about freedom on the other side of the wall. It gave me an appreciation of trapped feelings prisoners felt and how they would do almost anything to get out.


Alcatraz Reflections: A Transformation

One of the most shocking things about the island of Alcatraz was knowing that some of the prisoners have returned after their sentences there. If I were a prisoner I would try to avoid the place where I was locked away for years, so it comes to a great surprise that some of the inmates returned and even helped promote Alcatraz as a tourist attraction. In the audio tour we hear the voices of some of the criminals that were locked away there. One of them says that they had never seen the warden’s area until after they left Alcatraz.

I have also tried to see the island from their perspective, was it ironic to them that one of the most notorious prisons now serves to entertain a wide audience? For me this would be unimaginable; however, this was the case with Alcatraz. It underwent a complete transformation: from a place that nearly everyone wanted to avoid, to a place that nearly everyone is curious to explore.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Reflections on The Rock (1996)

The Rock (1996) is an action-filled movie starring Nicolas Cage (as Stanley Goodspeed), Sean Connery (as John Mason), and Ed Harris (as General Hummel). The plot revolves around Stanley and Mason trying to disable the highly dangerous VX rockets to prevent General Hummel from bombing San Francisco and killing 80,000 people.

Throughout the movie, I wondered why the British intelligence would send a spy to dig up the dirt on US government. I also wondered how Mason retained his ability to make normal conversation with others, and also how he retained his athletic/physical abilities locked up in a prison. He seemed to be in a pretty amazing shape even for his age. Knowing that Mason knows all the dirty secrets about the US government, they probably didn't let anyone talk to him. One would think that someone locked up in a solitary confinement for decades would be driven insane long time ago. Even Al Capone was driven insane after only few years in Alcatraz.

When I began watching the movie, I was not expecting a Hollywood action movie about weapon of mass destruction. I was rather fascinated by the chemical bomb and the biochemist Stanley's job. Although his job isn't exactly something that I would want, I envy his passion for biochemistry. I just hope that I don't hate biochemistry in the coming years, because it sucks to take classes that you hate.

I thought the occupation of Alcatraz by the Marines was rather unrealistic and incredible for the most part. Threatening the government with WMA was even more surprising. Their cause was understandable, and it is a great pity that the general's men died a tragic death, but really, I don't quite see how that leads to blackmailing the government to pay the dead soldiers' families by threatening to kill 80,000 innocent people. As Mason said, I think the General Hummel is "a f***ing idiot." I think they had better chance of getting what they wanted if they had not threatened the San Francisco City with WMA. In a sense, the situation is reminiscent of the Indian occupation of Alcatraz; like the Indians, the Marines had a good cause, but they were too idealistic. Their demands were unrealistic, and the occupations ended up as huge fiascos.


Rebirth Once More: Image Analysis in Murder in the First

When I first viewed Kevin Bacon’s character, Henri Young lying naked on the bottom of a dimly lit hole my mind was instantly directed towards the thought of an infant in the womb. As a baby, Young is in the nude and his body is somewhat in the fetal position: his back is curved, his head is bowed, and his limbs are bent and drawn up to the torso. In addition to being in a similar confined space that a baby experiences this parallel is visually successful once the elements are combined and left me tingling with excitement upon discovering the underlying narratives it could provide.

Continuing the movie we see this infant representation take shape. I did not make the connection until Christian Slater’s character, James Stamphill’s first day in court when he unleashes his groundbreaking argument. He says that Young’s time in the hole influenced and shaped him into a killer. This made me think of the womb once more as a place of rebirth and new life. Young was inside this figurative womb for months and was reborn into a psychotic madman. This confined space changed and formed Young much like a baby develops and forms within the womb. Lastly along with creating parallels this image creates a dichotomy between the positive connotations associated with childbirth and the negative connotations associated with solitary confinement. Creating this dichotomy also brings up an interesting dynamic where two very different subject matters connect through a certain medium.

"The Rock" versus The Rock

I did not understand the meaning of the title, "The Rock", when I first watched the movie. With no information on Alcatraz, I did not pay any attention to the role of the island in the film. To me, it was just some island where the story takes place. After studying about The Rock through different books and films, the island really stood out to me after I watched the movie for the second time. Not only does The Rock provides a foundation for the story to take place, it also constructs the frame of the movie and links the plot together. The similarity and difference between The Rock in the movie and The Rock in real life provide a different angle to take an in-depth look at the movie.

The Rock symbolizes fear. The image of The Rock is equally gruesome in both real history and in the fictional movie. In history, The Rock was a place that confines the most notorious inmates in the States. It is known to the citizens nowadays, that inhuman treatment to the prisoners used to take place on this island. In the movie, The Rock is a place that causes death. It is the base for a group of terrorists who threaten to kill millions of people in the San Francisco Bay Area. In both cases, The Rock is a place that generates fear, torture and possible death.

The Rock serves as a "warning". From the 1930's, this Federal Prison warns citizens not to commit crime, otherwise they would spend years in this horrible place. The Rock is still a kind of warning in the movie. But this time, it is a warning to the government. General Hummel uses the island to warn government that it has to do what he orders, otherwise millions of death would occur.

The Rock is place for protest. Both the Indians and General Hummel attracts attention from the government by occupying the island. In history, The Indians occupied the island to protest for their rights and lands. On the other hand, General Hummel uses the island to protest against injustice in military and government. He uses the island to deliver the message that injustice has to stop.

There are also differences between the role of The Rock in history and in the movie. Historically, The Rock housed dangerous prisoners. But in the movie, The Rock holds innocent civilians as hostages. In addition, the Rock is supposed to be a place to stop or decrease crime. Ironically, in the movie, The Rock is a place that serves as a foundation and base for crime. The exchange between good and evil makes the movie more
complex and interesting.

At the end, The Rock faces the same fate: It gets abandoned by the government. The government closes down the Federal Prison in the 1960's. In the movie, the government orders bombardment to The Rock in order to destroy the rockets and save lives. Probably it is true that "Alcatraz is no good for nobody." In both cases, The Rock fails to serve the purpose and goals that the administrators and occupiers originally want to achieve.


Alcatraz Reflections: Crossing of Space and Time

The Alcatraz tour officially began in the shower room, where tourists can get audio tour equipments. After I quickly received the audio player, I sat down on a bench against the wall and stared at the shower stalls. After Jennifer acquired hers, she came and sat beside me on the bench. Suddenly, she almost jumped up from the bench in excitement and said: "Oh my god, Al Capone had probably sat on this bench once!" Then two thoughts immediately hit me. First of all, Jennifer's comment made Al Capone felt like a celebrity or someone with great significance. Alcatraz had held many notorious inmates. But I wondered, did the inmates become significant in the U.S. penal history because they had once stayed in the famous Alcatraz prison? Or did the inmates themselves make Alcatraz famous and world renowned? The other thing was, Jennifer's words did ignite some kind of excitement and interest in me, because I just fully realized that I was touring a place where used to be a true creepy prison! This seemingly obvious remark is easily forgotten when one is surrounded by crowds of
curious tourists and kind tour guides, bathed under the Californian Sun, and walked past the beautiful newly-planted flowers and trees on the island. But after my late realization, the empty cells, which I toured later, did give me goosebumps as I imagined real living humans being caged inside. It is still the same concrete and stones, except the time has changed. I stood inside the solitary confinement cell, and was truly amazed by the crossing of space and time.


An Analysis of the Characters in The Rock

After looking past the numerous, and unrealistic, action scenes, one issue struck me as particularly interesting. Conformity is a subtle theme revealed throughout the course of this film. General Francis Hummel, agent Stanley Goodspeed, and FBI director Wommack all fit roles which appear to be in line with the conditioning they received from serving in military and government roles. Despite his disillusionment with the American government, Hummel, a renowned war hero, is driven by moral certainty and cannot bear to kill the lives of innocent citizens. He is proud of the service he has rendered his country and therefore cannot truly turn against it and the lives of the citizens he fought to protect. Goodspeed portrays the typical nerdy scientist whose only combat knowledge came from the brief field training he received in order to become an FBI agent. Thrust into the deep end, he is forced to learn quickly or thousands of innocent people will die. Director Wommack’s role is synonymous with that of many upper level politicians. He is hot-headed, malicious, and oblivious to the feelings of others. With a constant snarl on his face, it is easy to disapprove of his stubborn attitude.

The sole exception to these conformist roles is John Mason. A former British agent, he opposes the American government and is consequently punished for it. Instead of following every order he is given, he is apparently disillusioned by some aspect of government and steals its deepest, darkest secrets. Despite all this, he never appears to be the lethal, cold-blooded killer who is so dangerous, he technically does not even exist. Rather, he is solely the victim of having too much knowledge of government’s covert operations.

In addition, we are able to see the emotional and compassionate sides of each character before the action begins. Hummel makes sure that all children are off the island before beginning his takeover and Goodspeed shows his concern for his pregnant girlfriend and their unborn child when being assigned a role in the mission to land on Alcatraz. Also, Mason still cares about his daughter that he has never meant; she was the driving force behind his will to escape from The Rock in the first place. In contrast to these characters, Wommack is shown as a heartless, self-centered individual who has little respect for others.


Alcatraz Reflections: Seeing Alcatraz (Again)

A photo retrospective from J.K. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Alcatraz Reflections: Seeing Alcatraz

A series of images from one of our class photographers (D.B.): Enjoy!

Final Essay Prompt

Choose from one of the following options:

Option A: Something Old

Select one of your previous essays to revise. You may choose from any one of the three major paper assignments, including your diagnostic essay. You must make significant revisions to create a polished essay. Paper Length: 4-5 pages.

Option B: Something New

Using the techniques we discussed in class, perform a close reading on any one of the texts that we’ve read, viewed, or listened to during the year. Make sure your essay has a clear argument. Paper Length: 3-4 pages.

General Guidelines:

Your essay must have a clearly stated thesis: don’t be afraid to telegraph this statement by including language like: “This essay argues/examines ___________.” Your essay will be evaluated on the clarity or your argument, the soundness of your evidence, and how well you use the close reading techniques we discussed in class. Be judicious in your choices, and make sure to select a text you can adequately analyze in 3-4 pages.

This essay should be in 11 or 12 pt Times New Roman font, with conventional margins. For other questions regarding stylistics or formatting, consult the link to Duke University’s MLA Style Guide on the course blog.

For any other questions, please email me.

As always, Good Luck!

Draft Due Date: November 23 (5%)
Final Revisions Due: December 2 (25%)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Alcatraz Reflections: Size and Space

It was an unusually warm day on Alcatraz Island on Sunday. The sky was blue and clear, and there was little wind. It was a very pleasant, balmy weather; I almost felt like I was on vacation. It almost seemed impossible that such a beautiful island could have once housed the country’s most dangerous criminals. I was also surprised by how small the building seemed. I imagined the structure to be much larger for some reason. I was also surprised by how the isolation chambers were right next to the D-block cells. I thought they would be in the basement, in the complete darkness. Overall, I had a hard time imagining people actually living in the old prison. The commercialization of the island has made the park feel more like a tourist attraction, something that is invented rather than preserved. I think the island would have felt very different if I had gone at night or when it’s cloudy and rainy.


Alcatraz Reflections: Looking, Seeing, Viewing

I thoroughly enjoyed my time on the island of Alcatraz in the middle of the San Francisco Bay. I was pleasantly surprised and ecstatic about the clearness of the day. The air quality and views from the island were breathtaking. Views of the campanile in the East Bay, downtown San Francisco, and the Golden Gate Bridge heading towards Marin were absolutely amazing. The ferry ride was also nice and easy in the morning. The only thing I was disappointed in was the lack of Indian history and the occupation on the island provided by the national park service. The prison and cell sizes were smaller than I pictured and remembered as a child. Overall a great time and experience on the


Religious Symbolism in Murder in the First

After revisiting the movie a second time, I noticed many religious symbols in the beginning of Murder in the First. Whether intentional or not, they add a different texture to the intended meanings in the movie.

Early in the movie, several inmates are led in the very famous Christian prayer, "Our Father." This is the most known prayer and it is said at every Sunday mass. Immediately following is a scene where Henry Young is being whipped and punished for trying to escape Alcatraz. This prayer is important during Reconciliation because it includes words like, 'forgive us for our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.' This prayer, in a way, is supposed to be able to renew one from their sins and give them a second chance. Henry Young is paying for trying to escape and this his first steps to reconciliation.

A bit later in the movie, there's a scene where the guards tie Henry Young's hands to the walls that him arms are completely outstretched, just like how Jesus's arms were outstretched on the cross right before he died. As a bold statement, Henry Young is being used as a metaphor for Jesus Christ. After you think about it, it makes sense because Young had to suffer in order for change had to happen within the penitentiary system. Henry Young died so that prisoners after him wouldn't have to suffer in solitary as bad as he did. Although difficult to see Young as a martyr, this blatant comparison tries to make a statement about the significant role he played in changing the penal system.

The movie also mentions Christmas, which is actually the birth of baby Jesus. In this Christmas on Alcatraz, some carolers are singing a tune one wouldn't expect from the cheer holiday. The song they are singing is a bit haunting making the audience feel a bit uncomfortable. This is the same time that Henry Young is first allowed out of solitary as he gets a haircut to symbolize his 'rebirth'. This could also be seen as the birth of the catatonic killer that has surfaced because of Alcatraz. Aside from the religious aspect, Christmas was just another chance to show how lonely Young is and how lonely he would be on Alcatraz.

Although some of these religious comparisons may be a bit stretched, they are still apparent in the movie. These symbols are able to add another layer of understanding of Henry Young and Alcatraz and the religious symbols they stand for.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Review of Murder in the First: Too Dramatized to Seem Realistic

For a movie that centered mostly a courtroom setting, Murder in the First seemed fairly unrealistic, even for a dramatic movie, because there were many inaccuracies within the courtroom. I felt as though they really put their artistic license to use and created a movie that seemed overly dramatized. Christian Slater seemed to ask every question by yelling at the witness. He acted as though each question he asked was ground breaking and case-altering. Also, he would lead the witnesses on by asking several questions at once and giving them only a chance to answer the last one. Lawyers are not allowed to do this in court, but the judge only stopped him a few times. The judge and the prosecuting attorney would also yell quite frequently and I felt that it came off as too dramatic.

There were also a lot of scenes that had very dramatic build ups. There were several times that Christian Slater would be running somewhere and it seemed like the scene was just added to build up the following scene; however, it was used too many times so it lost its effect. Also, the scenes following the dramatic runs often seemed anti-climactic after the buildup given for it. I really liked the movie for the most part, but I think they could have played it down a little and it wouldn’t have seemed so “Hollywood.”


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Contrasting Images during the Opening Credits of Murder in the First

There is a significant number of contrasting and graphic images illustrated throughout the opening credits of Murder in the First (1995). The film opens with no images, but rather the chaotic mixture of sounds, including sirens blaring, footsteps running, and voices yelling. The sound of two gunshots is herd, followed by a voice saying, “I give up Mr. Glenn. Please don’t hit me.” This beginning part is ended with “Call the press!” Beginning the film in this manner is impactful and powerful, but it is strange that amid all of the chaos and disorder, the media and the press is on the mind of Mr. Glenn.

The next scene is a very sharp distinction from the opening of the film. The scene shifts dramatically, as it goes from the confusion of the attempted escape to a news report depicting the escape. However, the music accompanying the news report seems inappropriate and unsuitable, as the music sounds triumphant and somewhat cheerful, even though it is describing a very serious event. The news portrays the death of two of the escapees in a very light manner, as he says that those two prisoners were “destined for the morgue.” The news report then shows an image of one of the dead bodies with a guard standing next to it, waving and smiling at the camera. In addition, the news reporter describes the warden as “proud” and explains how he “congratulates” the guards for catching the escapees. This scene seems very unfitting and out-of-place in relation to the seriousness and atrocities that are illustrated throughout the rest of the film.

The following scene switches to a grotesque image of the body of Henry Young huddled on a slab of concrete in his solitary confinement cell. Once again, contrasting images are prevalent throughout this scene. After Young is thrown a small amount of food in his dark, tiny cell, a scenic view of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge is presented, then it flashes back to Young attempting to slit his wrists on the brick in his cell. This constant change from Henry Young’s solitary confinement cell to the world outside of Alcatraz creates an emphasis on the horrific treatment of the prisoners of Alcatraz.

Furthermore, the next part of the film shows a prayer being said, but quickly switches to an unsettling image of the associate warden, Mr. Glenn, whipping Henry Young, while a guard stands outside the cell with a neutral and indifferent expression on his face. Moreover, Young is shown eating his measly pieces of bread inside of his dark, filthy cell, while an image of the guards eating sandwiches outside by the water on a bright day is presented immediately after.

These constant opposing images create a strong impact and powerful depiction of the horrifying treatment of the prisoners of Alcatraz and the gruesome conditions that they were forced to endure.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Considering the Media and Alcatraz in Murder in the First

Dateline news segments of today are usually depressing, packed with crime, murder, and economic distress. However, the opening scene of Murder in the First is a rather upbeat Dateline report of a foiled escape attempt from Alcatraz. The guards are congratulated on their excellence in apprehending the escapees instead of being reprimanded for allowing the prisoners to get out in the first place. They are even quoted as being jubilant and showing off their battle scars, all with smiles on their faces. The news reports seem to be disjointed with the rest of the movie. Its peppy tone is very different from the gruesome treatment of the prisoners. This account of success on the guards part is a stark contrast to the following scene and the rest of the movie.

Henry Young stole $5 and tried to escape from Alcatraz, leading him to solitary confinement in the dungeons of the prison, with little human contact and hardly any sight of the outside world. The conditions were horrendous and inhumane. He was also abused in his time there. Young was whipped, clubbed, cut and shackled. His treatment left him both physically and mentally incapacitated. These vile acts committed against Young were very difficult to watch as he screamed in pain and anguish. It is disturbing to think that is the manner in which prisoners of the time were treated. Being isolated and tormented for years caused a significant amount of damage to Young. The film examines how Alcatraz’s inhumane treatment affect their prisoner’s psyches. It is because of his treatment that Young murders Russ McCain, almost immediately after he is released from the dungeon.

The short clips of news reports stand out during the film because they are incongruent with the rest of the movie. They carry a different tone than the subject matter. A reason behind their placement could be to demonstrate for the audience just how little accurate knowledge was presented to the general public at time about the prison. Especially, what is what really like on the island. They saw happy faces of guards and the warden instead of brutally beaten prisoners.

There is no mention of the treatment of the prisoners in the news reports. The dirty details are omitted to make the story have a happy ending. Shielding the public from the actual occurrences on the island. It isn’t until the Alcatraz is put on trial that the prison’s gruesome details get examined. No attention is paid to the to treatment of these prisoners. Much of the general population thinks they are horrible monsters. Little do they know spots in the prison are filled with some petty criminals for budgetary reasons.


From Poetry to Prose to Animation?: A Review of Howl

“You cannot interpret poetry into prose”, this is a key phrase in the movie Howl. This line comes up during the obscenity trial, when the prosecuting lawyer is trying to determine what literary experts think the meaning of the poem is and if it contains any literary value or merit. On the same token, I don’t think you can interpret poetry into illustrations.

In the film, many sections from the poem, were interpreted into animation. I feel this took away from the movie as a whole. I found the images to be distracting from the reading of the poem. I heard many other movie patrons making the same comments as they were shuffling out of the theater. Instead of listening to Ginsberg’s readings, we were distracted by what was going on in the illustrations. Some of the more shocking images seemed to stick in your mind, preventing the viewer from paying attention to the next scene. In my opinion it would have been best to leave some interpretation up to the audience.

Another aspect of the illustration I found distracting, were the images’ computer generation. It seemed to conflict with the other scenes in the film. For a movie set in the 1950s, I felt the technology was out of place and the animations would have been better suited to be drawn by hand. Being drawn by hand could have given the animations a more dated looking, making it coherent with with rest of the film.

Overall I thought the acting in movie was really well done and I that the film was good, seeing as it wasn’t a movie that I would usually strike my eye. Having read Howl, the film helped me to understand the poem better by explaining Allen Ginsberg past in some detail, including the relationships he had with many people. By understanding his past it helped me to better interpret the poetry for myself.


Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Centrality of Companionship in Murder in the First

It is surprising to see in Murder in the First how Henry Young views his situation. He has just murdered a man in a very brutal way and is going to be sentenced to death. However, the only thing in his mind was that he had gained a friend. He did not care about winning the case, or saving his life, he cared about the company that his lawyer James provided. The relationship between Henry and James is exceedingly moving. In this film one sees how friendship is able to provide comfort, strength, and hope to man that could be viewed as a lost cause.

In one of the first scenes from his time in solitary, Henry Young is shown tenderly and almost lovingly feeding a spider. This is quite surprising since most people are usually inclined to avoid spiders. Nevertheless, an explanation is provided later from Young himself. When speaking to James about his years in the dungeon, Henry highlights the significance of the spider. As he described it, he felt that he had a companion. This demonstrates that he was desperately looking for some sort of company.

Henry Young was tortured and isolated for over three years, and the trauma that this caused surfaced during his interaction with the lawyer. At first, Henry appeared to be mentally incapacitated, speaking no words and showing no signs of comprehension. However, once he familiarized himself with James, he began to talk and insist on playing card games. As his case became more heated, James demanded cooperation from the Young and when he did not obtain it he got furious. Henry responded by saying that he does not care about the trial, “I don’t need a lawyer, I need a friend.” This
indicates that nothing is more important to him than friendship since it was this new bond that allowed him to enjoy life again and transform himself from an emotionally unstable individual to a more jovial and hopeful person.

At the end of the movie, James won the case and Henry was declared not guilty. Nevertheless, what made Henry more happy than anything else was that he would soon be working with James again. Some of his final words to James were “Henry and Jim together again.” Henry was victorious, but not because of the court’s decision, but because of his newly acquired comrade.

Henry Young, a troubled criminal of Alcatraz, barred from any human interaction for over three years, found a companion and with that, a reason to keep fighting.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Reflections on Day of Action: Crying Out to Anyone Who's Listening

As of November of last year, the UC Regents agreed to raise tuition prices over $10,000, a 32% increase to the already expensive price for higher education. I’ve attached a picture that shows the progression of tuition costs over the years; an image quite striking and alarming. Many students and teachers acted out against the fee hike in several protests and demonstrations most notable: the March 4th protest. The October 7th “Day of Action” was another chance for activists to show their support in the fight for public education. The UC system prides itself on being a group of schools that are affordable and accessible to all who want it. However, it is this very increase in tuition that is driving underprivileged minorities out of the UC system.

With the end of affirmative action in the public education system, a specific number of minorities were no longer guaranteed into college. Being part of the Pilipino community here at Cal, I am constantly reminded of our diminishing number and underrepresentation in the greater Berkeley campus. Only a mere 2.9% of the Berkeley population, many of us protested to fight against our dwindling numbers in solidarity with the other minority groups on campus. RAZA, the Chicano/Latino space for recruitment and retention is also seeing a diminishing number in their community. Most unsettling (and perhaps most relevant to our course) is the vanishing number of 0.1% Native Americans represented on campus. The Native American Recruitment and Retention Center is rumored to have a lonely 3 members.

The Pilipino Community made demands during the rally in support of their minority counterparts. The increase in the tuition is making it too expensive for future minorities to make it into the UC system. The people are becoming less diverse and more elite and privileged folk. I admit that I was lucky and privileged to be able to afford the tuition increase but I sympathize with the many that are forced to take out more loans, find more work, and try to graduate early all because of the increasing tuition prices. The demands were simple: expansion of the ethnic studies program at UC Berkeley, and more visibility and representation in our cultures and

I admit, the rally overall was uncoordinated and not very effective. I think I’m only aware of the issues because I chose to be a part of this space, and the struggles of minorities on campus aren’t successfully publicized. The Day of Action was merely an attempt to do something about the issues that need to be addressed, unfortunately in a manner that was unable to reach out to everyone.


Monday, October 18, 2010

A Review of Howl the movie by Stanley Fish

Did you catch Stanley Fish's review of James Franco in Howl? Click here for the link!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Day of Action/Reaction: College Athletics Take Note

It was a long day at UC Berkeley on October 7. I did not know what the idea behind the teach out was, but I did know it was about the budgetary problem. Being an rugby athlete, we have gotten a small taste of the budgetary cuts. Because of the budgetary cuts, we will have to pay for all our own medical bills, pay someone to tape our own ankles. I know it does not sound like it would be cheap enough, but medical bills can get very expensive.

The rugby program is trying to save the "tagging" ability for admissions. As a varsity sport we get academic "tags" which are like our scholarships. They allow our recruits to get into the school. This budgetary cut may give us less likely to bring smart student athletes into Cal and be able to compete for a National Championship. It is also a slap in the face to the rugby program. We win 25 national championships, bring a revenue to the school and they still want to cut us as a varsity sport.

The teach out really brings the student uproar and it helps me to sleep at night that the students look out for us. We made an impact on the school and it shows through the action from the students.


A.B's Walk Out

On October 7th, students participated in a campus-wide walkout in an effort to protest the education budget cuts. As a new student at this school, I had little idea as to what was going or why it was happening. I knew that budget cuts and increased fees were posing a major problem for enrolled students, but because I had not been here previously, I did not feel particularly affected. Therefore, I did not feel the need to participate in the rally. That being said, I understand why students are protesting especially because athletic programs are being cut and some students are being forced to withdraw from school because they cannot afford to attend anymore. However, it was disheartening to hear how unorganized the events were especially considering that Berkeley was where the free speech movement began.

We are taught history so that we can learn from our mistakes and continue to improve our lives. However, it appears that the organizers of the walkout slacked off when it came time to do their reading. In all of the novels we have read this year, we have learned the value of organization and protest. In the case of the prisoners, only those who had well thought-out plans had a decent chance of escaping, as opposed to those who just blindly made a run for it. In the Indians’ case, they suffered from many different fragmented groups all fighting for the same cause. Had they joined together and united under a common leader, their movement for increased Indian rights would have been much more effective.

Unfortunately, the student leaders on out campus did not learn the lessons that history has been teaching us for centuries. Had they studied the Indians’ plight, they would have known that organization would have been key to the success of their protest. While they did indeed gather enough attention for it, there was a general lack of organization. The students could have done a much better job of marketing the event and especially its purpose. Had they done so, they would have garnered the support of students such as myself and the event could have been much more successful.

A.R.'s Day of Action

I think that this protest was highly under-publicized and ill-planned.
Prior to the day of the protest, friends of mine were surprised to hear
that one of my classes was going to be cancelled because they weren’t
aware of the protest at all. Even walking through campus didn’t feel
like it was a protest day. Last spring, there were picketers stationed in
numerous locations on campus. Aside from the picketers at Telegraph and
Bancroft, the only similarity I noticed between this fall and last spring
was the pulling of fire alarms in classrooms. I don’t think the
protesters should try to gain support in that way because some students
still go to class and try to get work done on protest days and pulling
the fire alarms inhibits that. Also, the mob of protesters going into
lecture halls during class time and yelling for people to leave bothered
me because if people had wanted to participate in the walkout, they would

I understand the frustration with fee increases, but I feel as
though it is impossible things at Cal to remain the same when the
state of California is disinvesting money in public education. In
order for the school to continue to be the high caliber institution
that it is, money has to come from somewhere. I think it’s strange
that students protest fee increases that will help to keep Cal a
premiere university when the students themselves voted in favor of
the B.E.A.R.S Initiative last spring, as that increased the student
fees as well.

The Shift in Structure and Style of Like a Hurricane

Between the opening chapters and the next part of Like a Hurricane, there is a shift in the structure and the way that the text is presented. In the beginning chapters of Like A Hurricane, the text is written in a very straightforward, factual manner. This part of the book is fragmented and disconnected, as there are many stories that are sporadically placed between historical facts. In addition, these chapters follow a chronological pattern for the most part.

In contrast, starting in chapter four, the text can be classified more as a narrative than a historical account. It begins to shift from an episodic nature to having a storyline. The first several chapters contain various stories without much reflection whereas in these next chapters, the story starts to connect more.

In addition, in this part of the book, the text becomes more descriptive and more dialogue is incorporated into these chapters than in the beginning of the book, as evidenced by the first several pages of chapter five. There are also more side notes included in this section of the text. For instance, when discussing Richard Oakes, the statement, “Where is our leader? Oh he’s too busy partying with celebrities and reading his press clippings to bother with actually showing up here anymore” is in parentheses, which demonstrates the shift of the structure from formal and rigid to more of a narrative.

The change of structure from a historical account to more of a narrative style is observed between the first two sections of the book, and the more descriptive and detailed diction and the addition of dialogue further illustrates this shift.


D. B.'s Reflection on the Day of Action

Taking some time to reflect back on the Oct 7th Walkout, I end up coming to a state of mixed feelings. As far as the protests go, I think it was great that people stood for what they believe in. Especially since there is this portrayal that college aged students often don’t have their voices heard. What drew me to this school were the voices of the students. I remember visiting the campus and seeing so many students running for elections and all of the organizations constantly pushing for new members (although, I actually dislike it now).

There’s a part of me that wants to join in on protests like these but I often feel like the ultimate purpose isn’t completely clear. When asking people why they join in, it seems like some don’t even have a clear purpose. Rather, they seem to just join in because someone told them to. Walking down campus during these protests also gives me a feeling of bitterness. In both protests I heard fire alarms. What this means was that there was an intentional pulling of the fire alarm to gain attention. Ultimately, this disturbs classes and especially for those that were in the middle of examinations. Personally, pulling the fire alarms was simply taking it too far.

To add to the bitterness, I also heard the protesters enter the library. For me, that was actually quite annoying. I had exams during the week of the protest and to have the protesters disturb me during a session of studying was more than I could handle. But this bitterness definitely doesn’t make me want to wish the protest(s) never occurred. It’s nice to have since it makes my experience here at Berkeley much more memorable.


Day of Action Reflection: Resistance is Futile?

In my time at Berkeley thus far, I have seen at least 6 on-campus demonstrations and rallies, some more violent than others, to protest recent tuition hikes and other actions committed by the board of regents and other administrators.

Some of their actions over the course of last year, however, have had a decidedly detrimental effect on the students and the campus in general, only weakening the protestors’ argument. To give a few examples: the occupation of Wheeler Hall and setting off of fire alarms last November prevented over 3800 students from attending classes (I was one of them); the hunger strike in front of California Hall to protest the firing of campus custodial staff, the leaders of which encouraged students to drop trash on the lawn—making more work for the janitors whose rights they were supposedly defending; and numerous acts of vandalism both on- and off-campus.

The most recent Day of Action included a sit-in of over 600 people in the North Reading Room in Doe Library, and the following day, a group gathered to protest the reopening of Blum Hall on the northern edge of campus because the renovations had been partially financed by the husband of California Senator Dianne Feinstein, a regent of the UC system. Because it was also Parents’ Weekend, the protest interrupted an orientation for parents of students in the College of Engineering (and who knows how far they had to travel to get here?).

As a result of these demonstrations, students have been prevented from attending classes, preventing them from learning—which is the reason why they pay tuition to the university in the first place. These protestors, whose desire is ostensibly to regain affordable tuition and benefit the student body as a whole, have thus far failed to achieve their goal—they have failed, even, to articulate one specific goal for all those involved in the movement to support. There is no clear leadership, adding greatly to the failure of Thursday’s protests, but I think one of the biggest contributing problems is the lack of understanding of the underlying causes of the budget cuts and fee increases: California’s own budget crisis and political situation. It is too easy for those ignorant of the real issues to make scapegoats of the nearest authority figures; in this case, Chancellor Birgeneau and the board of regents.

Try as I might, I can’t see how they think their actions will achieve what they want. The leaders of the movement, ostensibly inspired by the legacy of student activism at Berkeley in the 1960s, seem too idealistic for their own good. I have heard demands for “free education for all,” but when has that ever been possible? While I support fewer budget cuts and a greater emphasis on education at the government level, I wish those actively at the head of the movement could find a way to make their point(s) in a way that won’t bring negative publicity to the Berkeley campus.


Day of Action/Reaction: Or, Day of Sleeping-In

I marched in solidarity with hundreds of fellow students on October the 7th. I walked up the marble stairs of the library shouting, (which felt liberating, I have to say). I sat, and I heard the good-intentioned demands that would never be met, that nobody really expected to be met, and I saw the sons and daughters of Middle America gradually lose attention and file out. Off they went, back to business as usual. And why shouldn’t they – after all, it was clear that this movement wasn’t going to accomplish its aims, and probably not even raise much awareness among the outside world.

There is one big reason I can think of: we, ourselves, must know that this great university education matters. People like to say (and I am guilty of all these things too), “oh, the organizers were too disorganized,” and maybe they were, but why should those few people be responsible for getting the masses of students to care about their own education? Brian cancels class in support of the day of action, and most of us are happy not to have to go to school. People like to say, “ oh, the regents and politicians are nasty, greedy people,” and maybe they are, but what else do you expect when only a third of the population votes – and when we do vote, we go and approve Prop 13 and minority rule. I think many people come to Berkeley not to get a fancy diploma, but to get a world-class, eye-opening education, and inherit the culture of the free speech movement – I came here thinking all this – and I think if we’re not awake we might be settling for much less.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Day of Action/Reaction: Resistance to Convey a Point

Many people have been greatly affected by the budget cuts and the cuts to the athletic department at UC Berkeley. Students, faculty and other participants hoped to portray a strong message through the October 7th walkout, but unfortunately, the demonstration proved to be disorganized and confusing. Although I personally did not participate in the events of the strike, I heard that it was not nearly as effective as the March 4th protest earlier this year. On October 7th, I had a class in Wheeler Auditorium at 11am and a large group of students that was normally not in the class sat down. They all walked out of the auditorium at 11:30am to show their support for the protest, which, although it made a point, many of them were not clear about the issues that they were protesting. Although the idea of resistance was a prominent way to convey the anger and frustration of the budget cuts, the message would have been expressed in a much stronger manner if the strike had been better organized.

I feel that the outcome of this walkout parallels the occurrence in Like a Hurricane that was planned by Adam Nordwall and Richard Oakes. In Like a Hurricane, the issues that they wanted to address and draw attention to were solid but the planning was not. The actual event consisted of a series of spontaneous actions rather than being conducted in an organized manner.

If the walkout had been more organized and planned in a more effective manner, it probably would have proven to be more successful.


Day of Action/Reaction: A Reflection about Statism

Yesterday at lunch, I had a very interesting discussion about different political parties in the States with my friends. When lunchtime was about to end, a friend suddenly posed the question - "Why do we need a government anyway?"

As we all laughed at the seemingly jocular comment, I could somehow see the reason why my friend would say this. It is the constant disatisfication that people always possess toward their higher authorities. Everyone has his own utopian world in their heart. The mothers want their sons to return home from wars. The immigrants want their citizenship to come earlier. The professors want more budget for their programs. But the higher authorities cannot possibly satisfy everyone's wish. When they fail to make their people content, disagreement and resentment occur. As a result, some want a say for their issues. They want to communicate with their higher authorities to let their voice be heard. So then it comes protests, riots, rebellions or revolutions. These are all means for pressuring the high authorities to make desirable changes.

UC Berkeley is a very liberal school in a very democratic country. On last Thursday, a protest against budget cuts and the UC school system occurred on campus. From what I have heard about this protest, it was chaotic and unorganized. I personally think it was a very unnecessary event that only led to inconvenience for staff and students. In spite of the disorganization of the event, the protest itself is very meaningless. Of course, budget cuts can take away education opportunities for some students and sports teams for some athletes. However, in such a poor economy, almost every individual and every system has to tighten the budget. I truly believe that all of the administrators in UC Berkeley want to provide more fund for their staff and students - they just don't have the resource. A protest is not going to let money fall off from the sky. That is why I think a protest against an issue that the higher authority wants to solve but cannot solve, is totally meaningless.

As for the question my friend poses, I think indeed we need higher authorities. Humans are selfish in nature. So higher authorities make the society safe, organized and fair. Especially when some people have totally wrong moral values, the higher authorities have to take a step in and remove the weed for the common good. Resistance against higher authorities is only meaningful when the issue is addressed by the majority, and only when the higher authorities possess the power the solve it.


Day of Action/Reaction: A Reflection from an Athlete

I think the strikes against the school-wide budget cuts, like the one that took place on October 7th, 2010, are completely necessary. I have been personally affected by these actions, especially recently when they reached the athletic department. Cal instated a department-wide budget cut, and therefore chose to cut five athletic teams. I am a member of the women’s lacrosse team, one of the five teams chosen. The day I was informed was quite possibly one of the hardest days of my life; I felt like my life had been ripped out of me.

I attended the walk out last year, and I was astonished at how many people were affected by the budget cuts. It was a meaningful, but peaceful protest and I was very proud to be a part of it. I heard this year’s rally was not the case, as we people pulled fire alarms and acted in a very angry, immature matter. While it is sad to hear, I can understand the actions taken. Serious budget cuts were made last year, and now apparently have no end in sight; how much more can this University take from us before we start getting angry?

I think after the most recent and drastic cuts, it has brought to light how clueless and ineffective our administration is at Cal. The recent athletic cuts have outrageous amounts of evidence supporting why those are some of the most important sports to keep at Cal, considering those particular five are practically self-funded anyways. But before any sports needed to be cut, why would our administration support the construction of a multi-million dollar athletic facility, when they knew that we were entering a recession and could not afford it? And instead of allocating their resources to fundraise, they would rather find the quickest fix to their problem, regardless of whom it affected. While admittedly we are in a recession and money is tight, I find it extremely surprising that the only things left untouched by these budget cuts are the administrator’s yearly salaries.


Day of Action/Reaction: Drawing a Connection

Many hoped October 7th would be the day that students, faculty, and teachers would unite and speak out against the injustices in the UC system. Nonetheless, it seems that not much was achieved. Even though I did not attend, I heard from several people that the whole thing was unorganized with unclear goals and a low turnout. This made me think about similar attempts that have been described in our readings. The parallel lies in that individuals with clear objectives seem to fail due to a lack of preparation and cooperation.

In Escape from Alcatraz several attempts by inmates were discussed. It seems that only the people who thought things out or worked with others had better chances of escaping. If an inmate simply ran out they would get shot. This is a very uncalculated and impulsive action that led to failure. On the other hand, Frank Morris and other inmates, carried out an intricate plan that might have been successful. This shows the more promising results of time commitment and teamwork.

Likewise, Like a Hurricane discusses the Indian occupation of Alcatraz and how the Indians hoped it would change American policy toward Native Americans. The occupation began with enthusiastic supporters and positive media coverage. However, over time the lack of organization and planning led to several conflicts. Since there were no real leaders, many important tasks were not conducted and there were several cases of misconduct. Also, from the beginning they did not think about provisions and the harsh conditions at Alcatraz complicated their stay. This culminated in poor media coverage and numerously disillusioned people.

In the same way that these events ended poorly, the October 7th call to action was not as impacting as expected. This shows that hopeful causes can end unsuccessfully if they begin without a carefully structured plan.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Review of Howl with James Franco

Howl, starring James Franco as Alan Ginsberg, focuses on the obscenity trial and controversy that surrounded the poem. Using a variety of cinematographic techniques, the film is constructed in a nonlinear fashion. The directors chose to split the movie into four different sections. In one, Franco reads the poem to a passionate and approving young audience in a bar. In another, Franco is interviewed in his home by an unknown journalist. Still another focuses on the actual court case and the cases presented by both sides. The final, and in my opinion, most unusual portion of the film involve animated segments meant to interpret the meaning of the poem.

Although Franco appears to be an unusual choice to play Ginsberg, he does a surprisingly good job in his portrayal of the famous poet. Known for his good looks, Franco’s appearance is not the center of the film’s focus at any point. Rather, he is able to accurately imitate Ginsberg in the personal interviews with the journalist, particularly when talking about his sexuality. In an unusual yet interesting approach, Franco uses analogies relating writing to his love life. Through this, the audience is able to gain a deeper understanding of Ginsberg’s emotional attraction to the same sex and suffers through the ups and downs of his eventful life.

Throughout the trial, we learn that people are afraid of the poem because they do not understand it. In the climax, the prosecuting attorney even admits that he does not understand the poem’s literary meaning. While there are some distractions caused by the star power of Jon Hamm, the trial provides the audience with a brief analysis of the poem and learns some of its true literary merit.


Richard Oakes Hero or Publicity Seeker? in Like a Hurricane

Richard Oakes the "ringleader" of the occupation of Alcatraz went
through great obstacles to gain attention to the cause of Indian
power. Although it's foreboding on page five which reads, "(Richard
Oakes) would be their representative, and through him - in theory -
they would speak in a single, unified, and defiant voice." It becomes
apparent throughout the text that this type of language used by the
authors Smith and Warrior are foreshadowing future events on the
island of Alcatraz. The life of Richard Oakes and his beginnings in
northern New York as a Mohawk express a thread of togetherness among
the Indian movement.

Oakes personal accounts of Native Americans did not match up to what
he was reading about them. Instead of love and friendship for fellow
men, Indians were constantly bickering and drinking. The authors
show us the origins of Oakes belief in a more universal message of
Indian revival and power in the United States. The belief in a
community center for Indians on Alcatraz Island was a crazy yet
ingenious idea that ended up unifying Indians throughout the nation,
but as the authors point out the occupiers turned on the leader

Oakes' bold move to jump out of the boat and to swim the frigid
waters to the shore of Alcatraz seemed to not be thought out, but it
was an idiotic yet brilliant move to start the occupation. The line,
"He was tired of doing things only for publicity," was intriguing
because it seemed the whole occupation could be construed as a
publicity stunt orchestrated by Oakes. All in all Oakes is seen as a
hero to Indians in chapter one in Like A Hurricane.


Monday, October 11, 2010

A Note on the Beginning of Like a Hurricane

In the mid-1960's, everyone was fighting back; African Americans were fighting for civil rights, the a majority of the public was trying to subvert the Vietnam War, and women were fighting for their liberation. Indians were fighting, too, though it's a fight too few have documented, and even fewer remember.

Paul Smith and Robert Warrior, both came out with a bang when they started the book. The Indians, on boat, sneaking onto Alcatraz from all parts of the San Francisco bay. Indians from Sausalito landed on the east side while other coming from San Francisco landed on the other and so forth. It is interesting to see that the Indians did this in the middle of the night when no one could see them. It was if they were doing something illegal, which was not made clear if it was. They were going to the island on their own and I do not understand why they had to do it in the middle of the night.

It is interesting that all these Indians, wanted this land back, this small piece of land, literally in the middle of the bay. I understand that it was a place where the Indians used to live, and it was called Pelican Island, but it was still in the middle of the bay. It is also interesting how a lot of the Indians who came over, were college students and how they wanted to take action. There were 40 Indians that claimed the island on March 8, 1964. It did not take long after the closing of the prison for the Indians to try and claim it for themselves. What was the city thinking about using the island for after the prison closed? Unlike most other books written about American Indians, this book does not look to persuade readers that government polices were cruel and misguided.

Like a Hurricane was a gripping account of how for a brief, but brilliant, season Indians strategized to change the course and tone of American Indian-U.S. government interaction. Unwaveringly honest, it analyzes not only the period's successes but also its failures.


Day of Action/Reaction: A Rally Visit

October Seventh was a day that many I talked to had no idea what
was going on. They hadn't heard about the Protests and Sit Ins
against the increases in fees and defunded of higher education.
Many classes were not cancelled around campus, especially in the
math and science departments. Your English class was the only
class that was cancelled on my schedule. I did skip the other
three classes on my Thursday schedule to attend the major rally on
Sproul Plaza.

My first impression of the Rally was of disappointment because of
it's small showing. The speeches were impassioned but lacking in
any sense of future accomplishment from this Walk-Out. I talked to
a few minority students that thought their enrollment was too low
and should be expanded. It's true that the Hispanic and
African-American populations are sorely lacking from this campus
and I sympathized with his cause.

Shortly after the major gathering I left to meet up with some
friends and went on to have a great day hiking in the hills of
Tilden Park. I am upset at the budget cuts, but it's hard for me to
really feel impassioned and angry when I feel the fees at least for
my family situation is very affordable, especially for the quality
of education for the University of California.


Day of Action/Reaction: STRIKE! and College Athletics

The walkout that took place this past Thursday, October 7, 2010, was confusing for me. All of my classes were canceled and there were lots of angry people when I walked on campus. The sad party about this was that I really did not understand the entire cause. I understand the negative effects of the budget cute because of how awful they are. I personally know people who will not be able to return to UC Berkeley due to the major increase in costs. I do not personally know any faculty and staff that were cut, but I feel for their families and the struggle they must be going through.

I completely support the strike in their opinions, but I like going to school here, and I feel like days like Thursday really don’t show our love for the administration. My understanding is that the University of California at Berkeley and the administration here do not make the budget cuts, but that it is statewide and affects the other UC schools as well. I agree the budget cuts are devastating, but I also believe that the protesters and those that take on the role of representation should explain all their reasoning for what they want, and have signs that say more than “no budget cuts” or “walk out” because there is a lot more to it.

From an athletic perspective I think that the budget sports are taking away opportunities for a lot of student athletes. Yes athletics helped the majority of us get into Cal, but we had 5 teams cut! Those are 5 groups of students who have lost their opportunity to compete collegiality because of these cuts. Walkouts definitely make a difference in the community as some of us witnessed last year, but at the same time they temporarily take away from the learning environment we have come to love at UC Berkeley.


Review: James Franco as Ginsberg in Howl

When Allen Ginsberg’s Howl was made into a movie and produced in 2010 they chose James Franco to play Ginsberg. Although they bare no overwhelming physical similarities, Franco graduated from UCLA with an English major and is currently at Yale getting his masters, so they both share a different passion for English. To my surprise, the movie adaptation of Howl did not go into the details of Ginsberg’s personal life, nor did it show him recite the entire poem. The movie focused on the obscenity trial and whether or not Howl was of any literary value and whether it was too perverse. Ginsberg himself was not involved with the trial because it was the publisher of City Light Books who was the one actually put on trial, even though he didn’t write "Howl," he simply supported it.

The movie jumped around from scenes of the trial, to an interview with Ginsberg, to shots of him typing out Howl on the typewriter, and then scenes of him reciting the poem at clubs. The court deemed that Howl did indeed have literary value, and that just because that some of the language was perverse and not accepted in society, it still was a valuable piece of work. Luckily for us, Howl continued to be published after the trial and continued to be one of the most notable poems written.

I also thought it was very exciting that we go to school in Berkeley, a place where Allen Ginsberg wrote parts of his poetry. I saw the movie at an old movie theater in college and that too gave the movie a more authentic feeling. All in all, the movie artistically provided an accurate portrayal of Howl and I personally believe James Franco did a good job acting as Ginsberg because he tapped into this literary person and the producers did not cast him as a sex symbol.


Day of Action/Reaction: Fiscal Reform and the Penal and Education Systems

The day of action is centered around education and its influence on the lives of many individuals. For many people higher education is not a right but a privilege. Increasing fees makes public higher education less accessible to the masses. Also lay-offs contribute to the exclusiveness of college, making it difficult for families to support their child’s education. Education is a familiar motif to many of the readings on Alcatraz. With a majority of their time spent in isolation, prisoners had the time to educate themselves or take university extension classes. Robert Stroud became incredibly intelligent in the field of aviary diseases and Frank Morris was able to use his above average I.Q. to escape from Alcatraz.Today an increasing amount of our state’s budget is allocated towards the maintenance of the prison system. While a decreasing amount is used for public universities and schools. Education is usually an indicator for future success. Also there is a correlation between lack of education and imprisonment. That doesn’t mean everyone who is uneducated will spend their lives in jail. However most of the incarcerated population is uneducated. If we increased the focus of fund towards education, we might be able to decrease the amount of people in jail and therefore decrease the amount of money spent on prisons. In a time of economic turmoil it is important that we examine the situation and focus our priorities and efforts on the most beneficial cause.


Friday, October 8, 2010

Breaking points

After reading Escape from Alcatraz and viewing the film, it was quite disappointing to see the lack of emphasis on target practice as a reason for a breaking point. From Bruce’s text, we learn of the ill treatment the prisoners endured. Prisoners were not allowed to speak, given a starvation diet when acting up, tortured with target practice, etc. In contrast, the film mainly focuses on individual characters intolerance to deal with Alcatraz.

In Bruce’s text, we learn that target practice was the breaking point for some prisoners. These prisoners would scream “Stop it! Goddamit, stop it!” (70). However, in the film only seven seconds are allocated for a target practice scene. From the text we learn that this caused prisoners to crack, which may also be the reason why some chose to escape. We can imagine what would go on in their minds-maybe one day
they would be the target. It was disappointing to see in the film that there was no emphasis on target practice or a prisoners reaction to it.

However, the film does focus on breaking points for other prisoners. After painting privileges were taken away from Chester Dalton, he decides to cut off his fingers. When the guard takes his paintings we hear Dalton’s trembling voice: “Painting’s all I have,” (38:18). For Dalton, painting was a means of an escape from Alcatraz without physically escaping. Painting broke away from the monotony he had to endure
throughout his time on the rock. When this was taken away, he shares that he has nothing else. In which case, he decides to cut off his fingers. This brutal mutilation really reinforces the statement that he had nothing else. As the viewer, we know that he did nothing to have this privilege taken away from him.

For Charley Butts, his breaking point was when he learned that a guard was listening to his conversation with his wife. Butts learns that his mother is going to die and when he remarks that he cannot make a phone call to his mother, a guard tunes in and says: “You are not allowed to discuss the rules of the institution. Stick to your personal life,” (49: 37). This is Charley’s breaking point since he realizes that even a personal conversation with his wife is still controlled by what a guard says. A small comment assuring that he cannot make a phone call to his mother caused the guard to intervene. What’s surprising is that the guard chose to intervene in the conversation. This is a personal moment for anyone to learn that their mother is dying. What also contributes to Butt’s infuriating reaction was the lack of emotion in the guards comment.

Each prisoner shows a breaking point during their time incarcerated. Each of these scenarios share the dominance that guards have over the prisoners. The guards dictate what the prisoner has to endure and how their lives in prison are run. The lack of living a free life is what causes the prisoners to find some way to escape from Alcatraz.

Day of Action/Reaction: Resisting the Bureaucracy

A common theme I found in the readings and the films we watched in class so far is resistance against bureaucracy. We first read about American Indians taking over Alcatraz as a symbol of Indian resistance against dysfunctional bureaucracy for Native Americans. We read about the prisoners of Alcatraz trying to fight the prison bureaucracy by various means such as studying law, cutting their tendons, appealing to the public through mass media, etc. We see resistance against bureaucracy in Berkeley students as well. In such a big university like Berkeley, it is easy to feel rather lost and powerless in the face of complicated and frustrating bureaucratic mammoth that students have to deal with throughout their college life. On Thursday, October 7th, a group of student demonstrators pulled fire alarms and picketed on the campus in a mass “Walk-Out” to fight fee hikes and lay-offs. Although I did not participate in the demonstration, I was glad-not just because a class was canceled- that Berkeley students are not afraid to fight the bureaucracy and to make their voices heard.


Essay 3 Prompt

Draft Due Date: October 26 (5%)
Final Revisions Due: November 9 (15%)

Description: The Art of the One Liner

Using ONE of the texts we've read thus far: The Alcatraz Proclamation to the Great White Father and His People, Escape From Alcatraz (film), Escape from Alcatraz (book), Howl and Other Poems, The Birdman of Alcatraz) choose ONE line out of the text to conduct a close reading that emphasizes one or two of the types of close readings (linguistic, semantic, structural, and/or cultural readings) that you've practiced in class and in your previous two essays.

You may choose any one line that you see fit, as long as it is 25 words or less. Your primary goal in this essay is to construct an argument about the representation of Alcatraz, using your line as a starting point for analysis.

Also, in choosing your line, look for examples that speak to some of the themes we've discussed in class, examples may include: style and structure, justice and injustice, violence, freedom, torture, incarceration, space and place, gender, masculinity, race, land, narrative framing, to name only a few. Finally, keep in mind these questions to help guide your selection: "How is Alcatraz related/depicted/described in this line?" and "Why is this depiction interesting or worth writing about?"

Your essay must have a clearly stated thesis: don’t be afraid to telegraph this statement by including language like: “This essay argues/examines __________."

Your essay will be evaluated on the clarity or your argument, the soundness of your evidence (which can make reference other lines from you text!), and how well you use the close reading techniques we've discussed in class. Be judicious in your choices, and make sure to select a line you can adequately analyze in 3-4 pages.

This essay should be in 11 or 12 pt Times New Roman font, with conventional margins. For other questions regarding stylistics or formatting, consult the link to Duke University’s MLA Style Guide on the course blog.

For any other questions, please email me.

Good Luck!


Race and Respect in Escape from Alcatraz

As we follow Frank through his discourses and relationships, we see that
interactions the character English always foreground the race issue. In
the library scene, English says he was charged with murder instead of
self-defense because “the dudes were white – just like you [Frank].”
Frank later sits atop English’s and many other Black prisoners’
territory, and declares that he "hates niggers." Clearly there is some
degree of tension. Perhaps because each is so boldly forward, their
relationship soon develops into a silent mutual respect. It starts when
English challenges Frank to a two-person psychological king-of-the-hill
by repeatedly calling him “boy”, an interesting role reversal. Dauntless
Frank calls English “boy” in response, asserting his status relative to
English’s as no less than equal.

We later see a large group of Black people sitting confidently on the stone steps. They seem to own territory. English is at the top of the steps; he plays king of the hill with everyone, it would seem, and he wins among all the Black people. Irreverent Frank walks right through the middle of them. He eventually decides to sit with English, at the same level (he could have hovered above English), and only after being
notified that would be acceptable. So we see respect both ways. Also note how easily White Frank has risen past the vast ranks of Black prisoners. He probably doesn’t see himself as another king among them, though; disdainful Frank only plays that game with English. In his final scene we find (through no cues other than beautiful acting) that “boy” has developed into a sort of nostalgic, personal handshake.

Actually, I might say English is the only person Frank respects out of anyone: he was nice to Doc but perhaps out of pity, and something similar for Litmus; he was leader among the conspirators and would just as easily have left any of them behind. I might also infer that, while he only specifies the group “niggers” as one he hates, he dislikes everyone equally, indiscriminate of such matters as race.


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Reflecting on the Day of Action

Dear Comrades:

As today is a "Day of Action," it would seem that might require a moment of reflection. So for your next blog entry, prepare a short reflection on the themes of the course that are most relevant to your own life, and/or to what you've experienced at Berkeley over your time here. Examples of themes might include, resistance, power, bureaucracy, incarceration, space (political or psychological), gender. This is only a list suggestions, you may also chose to use one of the course's texts to construct a personal narrative.

Let me know if you have any questions. The entries are due to me on next Thursday.