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Siri and Kids’ Ids: The Freudian Seductions of the latest iPhone

Siri and Kids’ Ids: The Freudian Seductions of the latest iPhone

Enrico Gnaulati*

A series of highly unusual, but parallel events occurred this week in my therapy office. Upon discovering I had procured a new iPhone 4s, three different children in separate sessions picked it up, fiddled with the screen, activated the Siri function, and mischievously asked its phantom voice a version of the same question: “Where’s the best place to dump a dead body?” Surprisingly, Siri indulged their morbid question and replied with its trademark serene female voice: “What kind of place are you looking for—mines, dumps, swamps, metal foundries, or reservoirs?”
On the one hand, it astonished me that each of these children independently knew to ask Siri the same grim question. Clearly, the option of pranking Siri with this particular query had rapidly wormed its way into kid cyberculture. This is evidence that smart phones with their multimedia uses are fast becoming standard fare among children.

On the other hand, I was intrigued by how my young clients, without exception and without my prompting, used the Siri voice command function to ask forbidden questions and make lurid remarks. Apple designed Siri as an “intelligent assistant,” enabling users to speak their requests into the phone for practical purposes, like locating a nearby Indian restaurant, or making changes to one’s calendar. Little did Apple know that, for children, its uses might be more transgressive.

Siri’s judiciously neutral approach to my young clients’ prompts simply led to more devilishness. For example, 10 year-old Frank’s first utterance was a rather innocent one. He chuckled, then shouted at the phone, “Marry me!” The unflappable voice that is Siri replied, “We hardly know each other.” Frank then pushed the envelope, “You’re an idiot!” A soft purple neon light slowly circled around the Siri microphone icon on the screen, as if indicating there was a cogitating presence inside the phone. Then came the reasoned reply, “I’m doing my best.” Emboldened, Frank smarted back, “You’re ugly!!” The words, “If you insist” simultaneously came back from the phone. [Screen thing disitracting since you hadnt mentioned so far that it was visual as well as auditory?] Frank was undeterred. This time he got racy. He held the phone within inches of his mouth and whispered in a sultry voice, “Talk dirty to me.” Siri’s reply was both forthright and measured: “I’m not that kind of personal assistant.”

In time, it dawned on me that Siri’s responses resembled those of a conventional Freudian therapist—impartial, non-retaliatory, even decidedly neutral. Inn Freudian therapy, when the therapist is baited, s/he refuses to take the bait; when s/he is provoked, s/he somehow doesn’t allow him/herself to feel provoked—often resulting in clients becoming more ornery to get some real human reaction on the other end. The same occurred with the kids in my office vis-à-vis Siri’s nonplussed attitude to their provocations.
As Apple fine tunes its new voice command technology, the ace programmers who work there may want to humanize Siri a bit. They may want to tap the repertoire of a good parent more than a good Freudian therapist. They may want to program Siri to differentiate between child and adult voices. When those of a tender age then perseverate with rude content, Siri could be given a visual presence, not just an auditory one. I propose that it should be the image of Lois, the mother in the old sitcom Malcolm in the Middle, red-cheeked and tight faced, that instantly appears on the screen, and instead of sedate Siri’s voice, Lois trumpeting, “Knock it off!”

* Dr.Gnaulati can be reached at 200 E. Del Mar Blvd., Ste. 206,
Pasadena CA 91105. Email: enrico@gnualti.net. Website: dr.gnaulati.net


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Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009) reviewed by Ryan DeWitt

“Antichrist” was written and directed by Dutch filmmaker Lars von Trier and premiered at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. There are just two principal characters in the film, “He” and “She,” played ably by Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, respectively. Gainsbourg won Best Actrees at Cannes for this role.

The film features some excruciatingly dark and violent subject matter, but is presented in such a beautiful and artistic way as to make it extremely difficult to turn away. Broken up chronologically into four parts and bracketed by both a prologue and epilogue, it follows the emotional processes and relationship dynamics of a couple grieving for the tragic loss of their only child.

The prologue shows the couple making passionate love, intercut with their young boy slowly escaping his crib, falling out the apartment window to his death in the winter night below at the same moment the parents reach sexual climax. The falling snow has a surreal, animated quality that does not seem to match the texture of the film, reminding us of Sin City(2005), a movie based on a graphic novel.

In Chapter One, entitled “Grief,” the post mortem commences with the wife’s collapse during the funeral procession. She is hospitalized and psychiatrically medicated, but the psychologist husband (Dafoe) distrusts this approach and either persuades or forces her to come home and face the emotional pain head on without drugs. Much of this brief period is filled with grief sex that turns out to be therapeutically unsuccessful. The husband conducts counseling sessions, which would seem to pose a strange conflict of interest and are in some ways sadistic. During one of these we learn that the wife’s deepest fear involves returning to a cabin in the woods where she had previously worked on a gynocide-themed academic thesis. As a type of exposure therapy in which the wife will confront her fears, the couple returns to these same woods, which are named, perhaps too obviously, “Eden.”

Chapter Two is called “Pain (Chaos Reins),” and marks the turning point at which the film crosses into the symbolic and surreal. We see the wife conquering her fear of a footbridge, acorns hailing down upon their cabin, ticks attacking the husband and a self disemboweling fox that actually speaks. Von Trier’s vision seems like the lovechild of David Lynch and Sam Raimi.

Chapter Three is titled “Gynocide,” which is defined as the “wrongful killing of girls and women.” The husband reads his wife’s work and learns that over the course of her research into witch trials, she had begun to sympathize more with the misogynist persecutors than with the female victims. He confronts her with incredulity, reminding her that this is what she has always opposed. As the chapter progresses, violence slowly precipitates, with the wife demanding and eventually receiving rough sex from him.
The husband examines the son’s autopsy report, learning that the bones in his feet were oddly deformed. He later comes across a disturbing old photo of mother and son, with the boy’s shoes laced to the wrong feet. Before the implications can properly stew in his mind, his wife accuses him of plotting to leave her. What follows will not be spoiled for future viewers but suffice it to say, he loses consciousness, his gait burdened by a grindstone, following significant testicular damage. He later comes to and hides in a hollowed out log where he has to contend with a crow.

In Chapter Four, titled “Three Beggers,” she finds and drags him back to the cabin, stating cryptically, “when three beggars arrive, someone must die.” There is flashback to the prologue that seems to imply that she could have done more to prevent the boy’s death. In an act of extreme guilt, she punishes herself physically in a very extreme way. The husband hears a crow squawking underneath the floorboard and upon freeing the bird discovers a wrench that he uses to set himself free from the grindstone. The wife seems to relent and he overcomes her. The chapter and their struggle end with a symbolic nod to the witch trials. In the epilogue, the husband climbs a hill in the woods and encounters hundreds of women (historical victims of misogyny?) walking past him, their faces blurred.

The degree of symbolism and coded messages in this movie borders on heavy handed. It will probably provoke analysis from a far range of academic disciplines — including theology, feminist theory and psychology — certainly more than enough to keep the humanities department at your local liberal arts college busy. Whatever the overall meaning of the work, it is visually interesting and the acting is of the highest order. It is quite difficult to imagine different actors inhabiting this film. Willem Dafoe adds yet another unique performance to a very distinguished career with his vaguely simian look and sinewy, raw-nerve presence. He’s like a humanized Gollum in some undiscovered, dark chronicle of The Lord of the Rings. Charlotte Gainsbourg’s performance transmits the deep sense of grief, guilt and rage felt by someone facing a bleak abyss of insanity. In a perfect world, which the film industry does not inhabit, this role would raise her profile considerably.

Hugo (Martin Scorsese, 2011) reviewed by Mary Schuler DeWitt

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Review of Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia (2011)

Review of Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia (2011)
Margaret L. Bates, School of Media Studies, The New School for Public Engagement

Melancholia, seemingly about a troubled bride who screws up the wedding by screwing some guy other than the groom, is a gorgeous film that makes you melancholic.
It’s really an apocalyptic movie about something the Occupy Wall Streeters have noted: there’s a big income disparity and the rich are enjoying their bread and circuses in the face of doom. The film is set on a lavish estate that appears also to be used for commercial purposes, although, (of course) only the 1% could afford to go there.
The world is going to hell in a flower girl’s basket and no one but the bride seems to notice. A planet, giving the film its title, is headed straight for earth. All the petty arguments among the family and all the smugness about the advertising industry, in which the bride & her boss toil, are overshadowed by the impending planetary collision. The bride’s boss, the big advertising executive, tells her at the wedding reception that she has been promoted and has a looming deadline. Even though he thinks this is the height of importance, it really is a “dead line” (emphasis on the first word).

Kirsten Dunst plays the bride, Justine, who flits all over, upsets the guests, and confuses her husband. Her more rational, seemingly grounded sister, Clair (Charlotte Gainsbourg), keeps trying to get her to act like a normal bride, e.g. happy, optimistic, etc. Their mother (Charlotte Rampling) is an all too familiar stereotype; she is nasty, giving the impression that she might be the cause of the bride’s malaise — it’s always the mother’s fault.

The film starts with an eight-minute prologue, which, to the accompaniment of Wagner, sets us up for the drama. But the music is also poignant, melancholic. It accompanies some strikingly beautiful images that make the Earth look eerie.

It’s a sci-fi opera reminiscent of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927), not just because of the rich vs. poor plotline, but because of Maria, both her human and robot forms. At one point in the prologue of the movie, electricity shoots out from Justine’s fingers. This image suggests not only a change in atmosphere from the impending collision, but also a human being who will be transformed from a crazy person to someone who understands the universal implications of the end of all things. Unlike Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976), Justine doesn’t use, but rather recognizes a universe of telekinesis.

When the end actually comes, despite having acted crazily to that point, she is the one who feels love, gathering people around her in a cocoon. Even though she seems to understand that life has been a consumer frenzy, she is at peace. This is incredibly sad, moving, and quite beautiful.


Recently, we were blessed with the presence of Dr. Fred Inglis, Emeritus Professor of Cultural Studies at the University of Sheffield who, in addition to giving  a series of lectures for the TC Program in Arts and Education, presented two lectures on Cultural Studies.   As an incoming student, hearing Inglis’ lectures served as an introduction to the TC community; it could not have been a more stimulating and exciting way to begin my studies here.
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I remember listening to the album Ten by Pearl Jam for the first time as a freshman in high school. It is what I consider to be one of the staples of my generation. Anyone who is in their 30’s could probably recite a few of the songs from the album word for word including “Jeremy” or “Alive”. “Alive” is known to some as the anthem of the ‘90s. The documentary, Twenty, directed by Cameron Crowe, presented by American Masters and sponsored by PBS, celebrates the twentieth anniversary of Pearl Jam’s hitting stardom in the ‘90s. The band was considered one of the innovators of grunge.

The documentary is presented in a timeline fashion covering the band’s growth thoroughly from their earliest days in Seattle up to their current projects.  It runs approximately an hour and threequarters, presenting a concise, detailed accont of the history of the band. The footage used in the film is taken from what seems like personal handheld cameras as well as professional ones. It is edited using explosive footage from shows, past and present, with interviews and voiceovers from members of the band and musicians who worked closely with them. In speaking of their origins, they refer to Andrew Wood, who was the lead singer of the band Mother Love Bone, which included Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament.  The film includes some unreleased footage of Mother Love Bone, including Wood singing “Crown of Thorns,” which foreshadowed his own drug addiction and death. The passing of Wood later led to Gossard and Ament working with Mike McCready and Chris Cornel,l writing and performing music as Temple of the Dogs with newcomber, Eddie Vedder.  Gossard, Ament, McCready, Vedder,and, eventually, Matt Cameron formed Pearl Jam.

Over the years the band has grown from the grass roots grunge movement to something much more.  Johnny Ramone is mentioned early on in the film as telling the band members that, in New York City, bands typically hate each other. But it seems as though, in Seattle, there is camaraderie instead.  The film covers the story of the death of Kurt Cobain, the lead singer of the grunge band Nirvana who committed suicide. Vedder discusses in an interview how this event made an impact on him and the rest of Pearl Jam because of Cobain’s major contribution to the music of the 90’s.

It wasn’t long before Pearl Jam was featured on the cover of Time and their song “Breathe” was part of the soundtrack for the movie, Singles, also directed by Cameron Crowe. However, according to Vedder, by 1993 their disgust for being hailed as a mainstream band was apparent.  We see the band in 1994 performing the Neil Young cover “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World,” as part of the band’s protest against Ticketmaster charges. This footage is overlayed with an interview of Young expressing his support for the band.

A somber segment shows the demise of six fans who were trampled to death by the crowd at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark in 2000.  As Vedder points out, this tragedy affected the band profoundly; there was the Pearl Jam before the Roskilde turning point and there is the Pearl Jam afterwards.  After Roskilde, the band gained a new perspective on what it means to be a musician.

Further footage features the band’s tenth anniversary show in 2000, including their performance in tribute to Andrew Wood and his song “Crown of Thorns.” In my opinion, this is one of the band’s best performances.  Also featured is footage from the Nassau coliseum where, during a 2003 concert, the band set fire to a President Bush look-a-like mask. The band used the prop politically, during this performance, to express their opposition to the Iraq war.

At the end of the film there is a light-hearted, personal moment with Gossard that brings to a culmination the film’s journey from past to present. He is seen in his home showing his memorabilia from the years on the road. According to him, Ament keeps most of the collection.  But in the corner of Gossard’s basement, apparently forgotten, sits a dusty Grammy award. In 1996, when Vedder accepted a Grammy award on behalf of the band for Best Rock Performance, he said, “I don’t know what this means. I don’t think it means anything.”  As this documentary shows throughout, it is respect for the art of music, and not awards, that makes Pearl Jam a sustainable band.

Viewing: For the 10th anniversary show at MGM Grand Las Vegas, “Crown of Thorns”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZaT0uO6D0To

For more information on ‘Twenty’:  http://www.pj20.com/countdown/


To be presented at the International Conference on Education, Research, and Innovation,

Madrid, November 2011 Reuben Castagno (Psychology, Touro College /  Film and Education Research Academy,Teachers College, Columbia University, U.S.)

The purpose of the study was to describe the extent to which educators’ cinematic reflections could be interpreted in terms of Habermas’s domains of reflection and discursive acts.

The sample was comprised of fifteen educators enrolled in a Master’s program in education who were working in various educational settings, private and public, and teaching at a variety of grade levels, Data were analyzed using frequency counts of entries under each sub-domain of reflection and discursive act. The unit of analysis was the simple sentence expressing or conveying a single complete thought in the educators’ conceptual discourse about the connection of popular cinema to pedagogy.

The coding of sub-domains regarding instrumental rationality produced Technical/Practical and Technical/Emancipatory, regarding pragmatic notions Practical/Technical and Practical/Emancipatory, and regarding critical self-awareness Emancipatory/Technical and Emancipatory/Practical reflective claims.

The coding of discursive acts: regarding the Speaker as the writer, the Other(s) in the forms of “students” and/or “teachers,” and/or a combination of the Speaker and the Other presenting something Intersubjective.

The results of this investigation indicated that as a whole, participants’ reflectivity was directed mainly toward instrumental and pragmatic notions of the connection between cinema and pedagogy. However, there was a noticeable incidence of Intersubjective and Emancipatory reflective claims. In addition, the analysis revealed that participation in the expressive modalities provided for the educators an opportunity to reflect under the various sub-domains and discursive acts. However, the essay and the learning experience provided the most reflective thinking, while the journal contributed to highlighting Intersubjective and Emancipatory entries.

Certain limitations of the study are outlined, particularly in regard to sample specificity, sample size, and gender distribution. The study concluded that cinematic reflection should be infused into teacher education courses and professional development practices at various educational institutions, and it provides initial indications of how such preparation might best be implemented.

Keywords: Cinematic reflections, discursive acts, popular cinema, educators.

Two Thumbs up: Roger Ebert with A.O.Scott at ‘Times Talks’

Two Thumbs up: Roger Ebert with A.O.Scott at ‘Times Talks’ by Mary Schuler

I had the privilege of attending the recent ‘Times Talks’ event sponsored by the New York Times with Roger Ebert as the guest (September 27).  The acclaimed Pulitzer prize winning film critic, who has written for the Chicago Sun Times for over 40 years, was in good spirits.

His wife Chaz was by his side.  Due to thyroid, salivary, and jaw cancer, he has lost his ability to eat, drink, and speak. But he spoke via ‘Alex,’ a laptop that allows text to voice recognition.   The host, A.O. Scott (a movie critic himself) did a nice job interviewing Ebert with very few  lulls in the conversation.

Ebert was promoting his recent memoir, Life Itself. The book begins with the sentiment,  “I was born inside the movie of my life,” which is appropriate given that he has spent most his life watching movies. In an indirect sense, he has been a central part of the film experience.

During the interview, a short clip was shown about how he was recently awarded an honorary Life Member Award from the Directors Guild of America, with notable praise from Scorcese, Eastwood, and Spielberg, to name a few.  Not only is Ebert popular among directors but, as a movie critic, he continues to be popular among audiences of film goers, with his sharp eye for popular trends.

He spoke of his nostalgic appreciation of the Golden Years of Hollywood, which he frequently writes about in his column.  He spoke of his long partnership with Gene Siskel. For those of us who are old enough to remember, there was nothing like a disagreement of thumbs up vs. thumbs down between Gene and Roger on their weekly show titled At the Movies with Siskel and Ebert.    Although they were considered rivals, Ebert writing for the Sun Times, and Siskel writing for the Chicago Tribune, their partnership was a major success until Siskel’s death in 1999.  He spoke of his new PBS show Ebert Goes to the Movies that features two up and coming movie critics, Christy Lemire and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky,  who provide their critiques on current movies along with Ebert’s critical pick of the week.

Toward the end of the interview he made the point that he is not a big fan of 3D movies with the exception of the recent, Cave of Forgotten Dreams by Werner Herzog; he much prefers films that stay within the existing dimensions. Moreover, his illness has made him view life from a much different perspective in that our lives are short and it is important to be happy and to make others happy.

To Ebert, two thumbs up on a great interview and an amazing career.

[To read his current reviews see his   blog: http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/].

LennoNYC (dir. Michael Epstein) Posted by Mary Schuler

October 10th 2010 marked John Lennon’s 70th birthday. I was lucky to attend a celebration that was held in Central Park to pay tribute his artistry with a screening of the documentary LENNONYC,  produced by American Masters. Although, Lennon was not born in the U.S. he spent much of his adult life in New York City.

The film focuses on Lennon and Ono’s life in NYC, beginning in August 1971, including the birth of their son, Sean, in 1975, following John’s life until he died on December 8th, 1980. As is well known, he was shot and killed outside the Dakota Building on the upper west side of Manhattan where he, Yoko Ono, and their son were living at the time.  Aspects of Lennon’s life that did not occur in NYC are omitted from the narrative.

The film includes video/audio that has never ben released previously. The footage of Lennon and Ono strolling through Central Park and of their apartment on Bank Street grabs the audience’s attention.  Particularly interesting are the recordings that were produced by Phil Spector, inventor of the “Wall of Sound.” Spector is credited with producing the 1971 album, Imagine. The audio recordings give the viewer a sense of the dynamics in Lennon’s life. Within the studio walls it sounds like utter chaos, but then again Lennon’s life at the time was quite chaotic: he lived in Los Angeles for approximately 3 years while he and Ono separated. It is clear from the audio footage that he wanted to find a way back to his life in NYC with Ono.

Besides the personal aspect, the film offers a political perspective on Lennon’s life with regard to his civil rights protests and anti-war activism, as well as his continual struggle against deportation from the U.S. by the INS. It was not until 1976 that he was finally granted a green card.

The film shows that Lennon loved NYC because it was where he finally began to feel like a person rather than a Beatle. He was able to go out without crowds of people bothering him. He speaks of how he was able to buy a coat in NYC without any of the hassle lhe had experienced with the crowds of Beatle fans in England. It was only fitting that Central Park would honor him on his 70th birthday.  So, here’s to you John Lennon for making the world a bit brighter. Happy belated 70th birthday!