Sunday, April 12, 2009

the nature of the collective

This past semester in my Environmental Literature class, we've been talking extensively about human nature and the way humans function in a society and as a community. Science has the ability and the genius to create a brand new age of sustainable technology. Science, however, isn't very good at changing people's minds, changing public perception, changing our deeply-implanted ideologies. The Arts, written, visual, visceral, audible, have that ability. The class has drawn ideas and themes from Freud's Civilization and it's Discontents, Don Delillo's White Noise, Jack Turner's Abstract Wild, Albert Camus' The Plague. Each of these books was chosen not just for its environmental rhetoric (or purposeful lack thereof) but for its commentary on the human condition, the human as a social animal, and the nature of the collective.

It's hard to read the material and participate in the class discussions and still feel hopeful. Most of it leans toward the inherent-flaw-in-our-hard-wiring sentiment, and most of the class can't help but agree. But amazingly, in the face of all these great philosophers and thinkers, I think Kacie Kinzer, a student at NYU, presents the perfect counter-argument. And it's a little robot with a cardboard body and a smiley face drawn on the front with a marker.

Kacie Kinzer created the tweenbot, a miniature cardboard-plated robot who can only move in one direction. Forward. He's dropped in New York City with only his destination and "Help Me!" written on a flag that sticks up from his .5 foot tall body. People have to stop and re-arrange him, help him over curbs and past barriers, and keep him from heading into traffic. Thus far, he's made it to every destination just fine (they've only posted one mission on their website, but an article on Gizmodo makes it sound like they've done this numerous times).

My first reaction to hearing about this was actually one of disgust. Why are people so willing to help this robot and so unwilling to help each other? But maybe that's exactly what's so beautiful about the tweenbot. In a world with so much evidence pointing toward humans being primarily cutthroat and greed-driven, this robot shows that maybe those traits are perhaps learned, and not inborn. We have been taught as humans to treat other humans terribly, without trust and without empathy. This has become our unspoken Ideology. But when faced with a non-human entity in need, we act. We are compassionate. We laugh, and we help. And if that is still there, inside of us, down underneath somewhere, then it is not lost, and we as artists can keep trying to shine our light on it, and we as people can keep trying help it find its way back into our subconscious.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Hipster Musicians, You Have Been One-Upped.

Ever toured the west coast from Canada to Mexico towing your double-bass behind your bike in a rolling coffin-like-contraption? Blind Pilot has, twice. The story was on NPR this morning, and I happened to catch it as I was eating my Eggo waffles. (My last trip to the grocery store I stood in the cereal aisle for 3 or 4 minutes, gradually realizing that I didn't want anything there. I think this is an important step in the living-on-your-own transition. Overcoming food laziness. Branching out. I made eggs a couple mornings ago. Eggs!)

Back to Blind Pilot, their music is really good, or else I probably wouldn't bother blogging about them. My guess is they'll probably gain some moderate fame pretty soon; they're touring with The Decembrists this summer, they've got a lo-fi documentary about their bike tour coming out soon, and bottom line, they sound great. For all I know, everyone else already knows about them. If this is the case, I'd rather not know. It's not very often I'm the one discovering cool bands. Let me have this one.

Also, this is great for me, because I'm finally really starting to get serious about using a bike for most of my transportation, overcoming old fears, trying to find a bike that fits me, and so on, so this is currently making me happy.

You can listen to them on their Myspace page, and here's the trailer for their upcoming documentary:

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


If you're anything like me, you've always wanted a slingshot. Preferably a wooden one, like from Zelda. Your mom maybe bought you one of those wrist-bracing-molded-plastic ones and they were hard to use and hurt your forearm and didn't make you look nearly as badass as you thought.
Well, now you can have one, free of charge, and it doesn't hurt and it DOES look badass! And it's a movie! And it's my good friend Davey's senior thesis.

(And it's not really a slingshot. April Fools.)

A Slingshot Out of the Valley is a beautifully produced documentary about local art in our very own Salt Lake City. It features three specific (and fantastic) artists, but its scope is far broader; it speaks to the way art is functioning in Salt Lake in this 21st Century, and it's spot-on. 
Also, if you like this, make sure to check out another Dada Factory documentary, Afterimage: The Art of 337. It's a full-length film all about the 337 project that's WAY more than worth the 15 dollars.