Painting Analysis – The Treachery of Images – Rene Magritte

pipe2

The translation of the caption is “This is not a pipe.” (Ceci = this; n’est pas = is not; une pipe = a pipe).

One reading of this painting involves just saying that “It’s not a pipe; it’s a picture of a pipe.” But if that’s where you stop, you haven’t given this painting the attention it deserves.

One aspect to notice is how stereotypical the pipe looks. It’s very clearly a tobacco pipe. It’s not as if this is something that sort of looks like a pipe and sort of looks like something else. This is the classic pipe. You could say it’s the Platonic pipe, i.e. the representation of the ideal pipe. If you’ve ever known anyone who smoked a pipe like this, you recognize this from life. But even if that doesn’t apply to you, if you’ve watched movies or TV for a reasonable length of time, you’ve seen this pipe. For example, Detective Sherlock Holmes is one character that filmmakers often depict smoking a traditional pipe.

HolmesPipe

Another aspect that is interesting is how much this looks like an elementary lesson. Think back to elementary school. Either your own or that of your children will do. Think of how flashcards and textbooks show images of objects with obvious captions. Here is a flashcard that teaches children the English word for apples:

apple card

Notice the similarities between the flashcard and Magritte’s painting. The image is vivid and apparent. They are two apples and cannot be seen as anything other than two apples. The caption below is in simple black lettering. There is plenty of white space in the image. There is nothing to distract you from the single image and caption.

Magritte’s painting is a vivid and apparent image. It is one pipe and cannot be seen as anything other than one pipe. The caption below is in simple black lettering (though cursive). There is plenty of white space. There is nothing to distract you from the image and caption.

But can you see how Magritte’s painting is subversive? It’s subtly saying, “You’ve been told all you life this is a pipe, but now I’m telling you it’s not.” It’s saying you have to unlearn the idea that the image of a thing is the same as the thing itself. They’re very different. First off, the image is flat but a real pipe has three dimensions. An image can be weightless (think of a jpeg file). A weightless pipe cannot exist. An image is virtually indestructible. How could I ever destroy the image of a pipe in your mind? An actual pipe can be broken quite easily.

Also notice the perfect tension between the image and the words. The image is telling you “This is a pipe” while the words are telling you “This is not a pipe.” What should a person do when words and images conflict? Should there be a default rule that words trump images? Should there be a default rule that images trump words? Should we assume that where words and images conflict, the message is meaningless and ought to be ignored? This has ramifications far beyond this one painting by a Belgian Surrealist. Don’t the images on TV often conflict with the words broadcast at the same time? Consider how people interpreted the video footage of the Twin Towers on 9/11. The words of the reporters indicated that a plane flew into a skyscraper, causing a catastrophic collapse. Yet many critics claim that the video suggests explosives were detonated at a set time and the plane was either a hologram or a PhotoShop effect. This is not about who is right. It is merely about recognizing that words and images can conflict. That conflict is inevitably confusing because we look to both words and images for information.

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“Aeneas in Adidas” – Original Video

My passion for Ancient Rome led me to write an action story. Here’s the beginning. Aeneas Video: http://t.co/ECBi3er32j via @YouTube

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Architecture and “The Fault in Our Stars”

“The weird thing about houses is that they almost always look like nothing is happening inside of them, even though they contain most of our lives. I wondered if that was sort of the point of architecture.”

John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

This line comes in “The Fault in Our Stars” when the main character Hazel, comes to her boyfriend Gus’s house and he’s arguing loudly with his mom. I thought this line was profound because it seems right to me. As long as a house is well-maintained, the outside gives the impression of peace and serenity. Looking at a symmetrical exterior in fine brick amid a manicured landscape makes me fell calm. And yet, how much peace is there really in our homes? Imagine a technology that matched the exterior of a house to the current mood of its occupants. When they were mad, it would turn red and garish. When they were calm, it might be a pacific blue. When they were in love, it might be a soft pink. It would be cool to have for about a day, but then you would lament the loss of privacy.

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What I Learned from a Surfer

“In every part of the globe it is the same! Hatred, fear and unreasoning hostility have possessed men’s hearts! But the Silver Surfer will have no part of it!” 
“Silver Surfer #1 (1968)” 

What troubles me about the state of the world today is how much hate, fear, and prejudice I see. I like this line because it sums up how I feel. No matter how much hate I see, I will not embrace it. 

(Image courtesy of deviantart’s Kryptonite-Kid).

Silver Surfer Descending

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Change the Culture Vlog4: Is the Internet Trying to Kill God?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1-IxH6GbE1M

Posted in Christianity, Islam, Judaism, religion | 2 Comments

Change the Culture Vlog3 – Learn About Malcolm X

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CeXVopF3X4s

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Heroin and Other Drugs – Change the Culture Vlog 2

heroin image

Video

Description

I talk about the need for reform regarding drugs. I focus on heroin, but the discussion applies to all illegal drugs. I discuss the dangers of prescription painkillers. Use of these pills often leads to drug abuse. Looking at recent news, I mention the tragic passing of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman (“Capote,” “Doubt,” “25th Hour”). Hoffman died in New York City of an apparent overdose. I compare the advantages and disadvantages of twelve-step programs relative to drug legalization. Finally, I invite viewers to comment to continue the discussion.

 

Links

Facts About Heroin

http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/heroin

Overdose of Philip Seymour Hoffman

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/03/movies/philip-seymour-hoffman-actor-dies-at-46.html?_r=0

 

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Change the Culture – Vlog 1

I’m going to transition from blogging in print form to video blogging. I want to explore the possibilities of a video format. I hope it will be more engaging and create fuller discussions. This is an experiment, so I may come back to the print medium, but take a look at this video. I hope that you enjoy seeing me and hearing my voice.

Change the Culture

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Song Analysis “Calling Cards” Neko Case

It used to be much harder to call someone. If you were driving on an interstate highway, it was particularly challenging. You would look for a McDonalds or a gas station, hoping it had a pay phone. If there was a pay phone, you either needed coins or a calling card. Calling cards could be pre-paid in an amount like $5 or $20. Later on, calling cards could be linked to your credit card. And when you did call, you couldn’t be sure that there would be a person to pick up on the other end.

Of course now, it’s ridiculously easy to call someone. You touch a screen and suddenly you’ve connected to another person. I bought my first mobile phone from my friend Milad when we were both college freshmen. That was in 2000 and I was 18. For four years of high school, I relied on pay phones when I needed a ride, which was often. By 17, I was driving so this became less common, but there were times I still got rides, especially when weather conditions made driving difficult.

This song, “Calling Cards” (off the 2013 album, “The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You) by Neko Case expresses nostalgia for the era of pay phones. Interestingly, Maroon 5 made a song called “Pay Phone” around the same time. If you didn’t grow up with pay phones, you might not realize how much a pay phone call meant. A pay phone call then meant something different from what a mobile phone call means now. You knew it took some effort to make the call. There was a bit of desperation in a pay phone call. Of course, virtually everyone had phones at home so a pay phone call might have meant that the person just couldn’t wait to talk to you.

Neko Case is talking about calling another musician. She says, it was good “to hear you in those songs you wrote/ Made me think there was something coming.” It sounds like she was touring at the time because she called from a pay phone. Remember, she’s talking about an era in which we weren’t constantly updating people on our “status.” When people didn’t know how someone was doing, they called someone.

Then there’s there this poignant bit, “Every dial tone, every truck stop, every heartbreak
I love you more.” Presumably, the truck stops are where she is stopping to call. Each point of contact draws her closer to this person. If her relationship is a book, each call is a page. The heartbreaks and disappointments that we choose to share with others makes us better friends and stronger families.

She mentions the satellites that “blew up” the pay phones. She means that mobile phones, linked by connections with satellites, killed the pay phones. She says,

“Even when we’re not together

With our arms around each other

With our faith still in each other.”

It’s a beautiful wish to say that you want to imagine your arms around your loved one, even when you’re not physically together. And you put faith in each other. You trust each other. You speak honestly to each other.

She ends by saying, “I’ve got calling cards from twenty years ago.” Clearly, a 20-year-old calling card isn’t going to let you make calls. But she can’t throw them away. It’s a memento. It’s a souvenir. It reminds her of her past and of her friend as well as the relationship they shared. The melody of the song is gentle and soft. It’s a bit melancholy, but not depressing. Together, the melody and lyrics describe a sweet memory of a time long past.

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Operation Snow White: A Shocking Conspiracy That Really Happened

Operation Snow White: A Shocking Conspiracy That Really Happened

Thousands of members of a mysterious religious group simultaneously infiltrated the U.S. government so that they could influence policies in favor of their religion. It sounds like the pitch for a suspense novel, but it really happened and there are federal court records to prove it.

In 1973, the Church of Scientology (founded by Dianetics author L. Ron Hubbard) began implementing a plan to infiltrate governments around the world so that they could pressure politicians into adopting more favorable policies toward CoS. Their primary target was the U.S. government but the plot extended over 30 different countries and 136  separate agencies, embassies, and consulates. It involved up to 5,000 agents working for CoS. In June 1976, one Scientologist agent, Gerald Wolfe was arrested. The plot, known internally within CoS as “Operation: Snow White” did not end until 1979.

Much of the action of Operation: Snow White  seems tame by today’s standards, but not all of it. It seems many of the agents entered the IRS (Internal Revenue Service, the chief agency in charge of taxation in the U.S.) and pilfered piles of documents. Yet even this seems more suspicious when you realize that, at the time, the IRS was claiming CoS owed millions of dollars in taxes. Also, the conspiracy took a much more sinister turn in November 1974, when the agents bugged a private meeting within the IRS’s D.C. office. They had planted a small device in the conference room the day before the meeting. During the meeting, the audio was transmitted to a car parked in the parking lot of the Smithsonian museum where agents were recording every word that was spoken.

The conspiracy did come to light. The case went to court. Eleven Scientologists were convicted and went to jail for five years, including Mary Sue Hubbard, wife of CoS founder L. Ron Hubbard. A five year sentence seems extremely lenient for such a massive infiltration of the U.S. government. It is quite probable that more than one of these conspirators returned to the CoS after release. Also, the Scientologists got what they wanted. The IRS did grant them tax-exempt status. Hubbard never had to pay them those millions they demanded.

How does this change how you view history? Are you angry at your U.S. history for never covering this intriguing event? It is interesting, but it is also revealing in what it says about the way our world works. It actually is possible for special interests to hijack our government. And even when the people responsible are caught as they were here (for the most part, L. Ron Hubbard himself is an exception), they live on and presumably go right back to doing what they were doing before.

Sources:

http://www.earwolf.com/episode/insane-conspiracies-that-actually-happened/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Snow_White

http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/United_States_v._Hubbard,_493_F.Supp._209_(1979)

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