Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Review of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World Part I: Everyone Falls Away, From You

[Warning: the following essay contains spoilers of the film Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, as well as the comic series on which it was based on. I also want to apologize for the tardiness of this paper, but its been a bit trying to get back into serious writing after more than a year of not producing anything original. I will try to stick to the update schedule more rigorously in the future, and all in all, this is a case of better late than never, I hope.]

I recently had the pleasure of seeing the film Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, based on a popular comic book series. While I have been hoping to see a different film, Inception, the nearest and most accessible theater no longer carried it. However, several of my friends had already seen the film and given it positive reviews; professional film critics by and large agreed that the film was well worth the expenditure as well.[1]

However, the film has yet to perform as financially well as studio executives had hoped. The film cost an estimated $60 million and only grossed $10 million on its opening weekend; in the less than two months since then it has only grossed $31 total in the US. (Ticket sales in the UK were less than £5 million as of September 12.)[2] Within hours, news stories began floating around the web of how the film was a flop and how that would affect director Edgar Wright’s career. A Google search for “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World flop” returns with 62,800 results; the first page has articles and forum posts from major geek media outlets such as Game Spot, Ain’t It Cool? News, and the Alt Film Guide.

Suffice it to say that there is more news on the financial failure of the film than the film itself. The film deserves a fair shake – the immediate labeling of the film as a flop helped, I think, to create a self-fulfilling prophecy about the movie itself. But there is more to the film than its finances that I would like to discuss because the film itself struck a chord with me that I hadn’t felt with any other film that I had seen in a theater in some time (granted that is an incredibly small number). As such, I will be discussing three topics in particular, in the following order:

1. An apologia of Michael Cera’s performance, against those who claim that casting Cera was a bad move that led to audience alienation.

2. The cinematic quality of the film, and its attempt to merge movie, comic book, videogame, and music into one holistic experience.

3. And finally, what is philosophically significant about the financial “failure” of the film and the film itself.

Each part will be its own blog post in order to keep it readable in a blog format; I hope to update throughout the week, and be done by Thursday. So, without further hesitation, I am a philosopher for hire and I’m here to critique the critiques and make you think about stuff and stuff.

Reading through the critiques of why Scott Pilgrim flopped, common trends appeared. In particular, there is one criticism that was quite prevalent and stands out to me for special consideration. Many of the articles online argued that casting Michael Cera in the lead, titular role led was a mistake, one which led to audience alienation; the common phrasing tended to be along the lines of “People are tired of seeing Cera play the same 20-something, hipster douche bag.”

Granted Cera certainly has engaged in that role fitting that stereotype before, but I must protest the assumption that that is what each of his characters are. His most famous role as George Michael Bluth on the television series Arrested Development certainly was not a hipster, nor anywhere close to it; nor was his character in Superbad or in Juno, the two most successful films he’s been in. Even his more hipster-esque roles, such as in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, have only really been hipster by association: Nick may dress like a hipster and be in an indie band, but his primary focus is not on dressing or acting cool, and he even intentionally leaves the scene to pursue something greater than a band or a fashion sense (i.e., his budding romance with Norah).

It is true that all of Cera’s characters have artificial similarities to them, but then again so does Robert De Niro, who even during his comedic turn in Meet the Parents, was simply turning his traditional stoic “hard ass” performance into the straight man contra Ben Stiller’s slapstick. And while Scott Pilgrim is certainly a hipster, and Cera certainly plays him as one, there’s more to his performance as Pilgrim than simply wearing t-shirts purchased from Value Village or Good Will with ironic catchphrases on them. In several ways, Cera’s performance is perhaps his best yet, and draws on his past performances while still crafting a character that stands apart from all prior ones.

Cera’s performance as Pilgrim relies on two of his past roles: George Michael Bluth from Arrested Development and Nick O’Leary from Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. But even as he draws on these roles for guidance, they are twisted and turned into a much darker rendition (I hesitate to use the word parody here as the film is not an examination of those other works, but instead an exploration of the world set forth by the comic book). For instance, Scott Pilgrim is not a likable character: he is a flake, a slacker, he “mooches” off his friends, and treats the majority of his commitments and relationships as matters of convenience – when they stop being convenient, he stops caring. There are some moments, however, when we realize that Pilgrim is more than just an immature young adult. In his own way he realizes that his relationship with Knives Chau is unhealthy – note his reluctance to engage sexually with Knives, even at the very innocent level of kissing; it is Knives who initiates her first kiss, planting a peck on Scott’s lips before his concert. Compared this to the first night of dating Ramona, where he ends up in her bed (though they don’t have sex). Scott’s balancing act of Knives and Ramona is similar to Cera’s previous performance as George Michael, who must balance his relationship with Ann “Bland” Veal and his cousin Maeby Fünke. But whereas George Michael attempts to cover up his feelings for Maeby with a relationship, Scott takes a dramatically different approach. George Michael is hesitant and stumbling, relying on the women in his romantic life to make the first move; Scott, however, approaches Ramona at the first available opportunity, and deliberately seeks her out despite his previous set back at his friend’s party. Whereas George Michael hides his attraction to Maeby, writing a series of love letters that will never be sent, Scott immediately pens a song and plays it for Ramona despite its flaws. In a way, Scott is George Michael’s id, unbridled and free to pursue any romantic relationship whatever the pitfalls and dangers may be. Perhaps the key difference is that George Michael knew from the start that pursuit of his preferred relationship would have severe consequences; the internal conflict he deals with eventually forces him to abandon the entire situation in the last episode of the series. Scott doesn’t lack this knowledge, but instead lacks a critical understanding of it. He knows that dating both Knives and Ramona is wrong, not only because of social censure from his friends and family, but also because he feels no romantic connection to Knives after he meets Ramona (if he even had romantic feelings for Knives to begin with). The entire film in a way becomes a critical lens for Pilgrim to understand his own feelings and desires, and to recognize his past mistakes; his apology to his former girlfriends Kim Pine, Knives, and Ramona at the end and the fact that the power of love isn’t strong enough to defeat Gideon without the power of self respect show that Scott has to first understand his own role in the failure of his relationships before he can actually have a decent one himself.

Part of this lack of critical understanding is because of Scott’s previous failed relationship with Natalie V. “Envy” Adams (played exceptionally well by Brie Larson). Here we see Cera drawing on his role of Nick O’Leary, but again, bending the particulars into a much darker yet still comedic performance in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. In Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Cera plays the male titular role, who has recently been dumped by his girlfriend Tris (Alexis Dziena), for whom he still pines; in struggling to understand the end of his relationship he makes a series of mix CDs, including original music and album cover art. But whereas Nick is depressed (the film opens with him leaving an elaborate and lengthy voice mail message to Tris) and obsessive, Scott is the radical opposite – he is manic and paranoid, seeking to avoid Natalie/Envy at every possibility. Nick doesn’t understand why his relationship with Tris ended; Scott believes he does (that his hair was getting too shaggy for Natalie/Envy), and compensates for this perceived flaw at every turn (often in a comedic fashion). In fact, the last scar to be healed, the last obstacle to be removed before he can attempt to have an honest relationship is this flaw; it takes Knives to cut away his fear of having shaggy hair so that he can fully pursue Ramona. Here Cera is in full form, his performance giving us a tantalizing view of the psychosis that drives Scott forward through one rebound after another and why his attempt to date Ramona can be more than just another rebound. In particular, his regret at awkwardly (and perhaps in the fashion of a Freudian slip, having just fought one) saying “lesbians” instead of “love” is at once, in spite of and because of the humor of the situation, both subtle and powerful. Again, we see that it takes a full progression of his character: in order to successfully realize his love of Ramona, he has to realize his own potential, not merely the relationship’s. He has to stop being in love with being in love, and must accept the possibility of failure and hurt, a possibility that he hadn’t considered in his last serious relationship (with Natalie/Envy), which left him defenseless against the angst of it ending (and thus causing his mania-paranoia).

Without drawing on these previous experiences in Arrested Development and Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Cera’s performance certainly would have suffered and the film as a whole would have flagged underneath such drag. Fortunately, because he takes those prior roles and recasts them in a darker way while still retaining a funny irony about them. Scott may be George Michael’s id unleashed, or Nick’s depressive bipolar opposite, but he never falls from grace enough to become a truly unlikable character. Cera’s performance allows Scott to be wallow in pity without becoming pretentious and to sidestep conflict with his peers and girlfriends without being spineless. In a way, since he is the title star, the film rests on Cera’s shoulders, and without a doubt his performance succeeds at delivering a steady, reliable, and most importantly, enjoyable experience. To casually toss aside seeing this film simply because it contains Cera is unreasonable, especially if one is a fan of the comic series. To not like the film because of Cera’s performance is likewise indefensible aside from taste (for which there is no accounting); his performance was spot on to the character presented in the comics. If anything were true of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, it is that Cera is growing as an actor even if he is playing roles that are superficially similar to one another. It certainly doesn’t hurt that he helped to craft one of the most creative films of the year (of which I will cover more of in the next posting later this week).

1: The two major film aggregation websites, Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, report that the film has received generally positive reviews. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a score of 81% out of 100% based on 212 reviews with an average rating score of 7.5 out of 10; Metacritic claims an average score of 69 out of 100, based on 38 reviews. Both scores were retrieved on September 25, 2010. Full citations will be provided in the bibliography, but websites such as these often update and change, as will most of the online citations that I will provide in the final post of this review.

2: These numbers are all from the Internet Movie Data Base. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0446029/business, retrieved September 25, 2010.

Test, test

I've been having lots of trouble with blogger recently and this is a test to see if I can post content.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The future of this blog

This blog was originally established to detail the (mis)adventures of myself and my best friend Greg Lotze, as we attempted to bring philosophical discourse to the streets and avenues of Portland, OR. Our plan was simple in design: we would bring a large sign, which we achieved with a portable tack board, which would display a specific topic that we would have liked to have addressed, as well as basic information detailing who we were and what we were about. Examples included "Is love real?", "What is reality?", "What is truth?", etc. etc.

This did not materialize for several reasons:

Greg and I disagreed on the exact nature of what it was that we were doing. He believed it to be little better than panhandling. I had hoped to actually create something, a movement similar to the philosophy cafes popularized by Marc Sautet in the early 1990s. I believe that dialogue is the root and core of philosophy, the heart that beats blood to its brains and limbs, and my hope was that we could bring such dialogue to the streets. This leads to the second problem that we encountered: the streets might not give a damn about what we had to say. The few times that we attempted to bring our message to the streets we were hampered by the weather (wind would tear our sheets of paper; it was also late autumn/early winter and thus very chilly, so few people felt like sticking around and chatting), by location (our sign broke a city ordinance in the downtown region, and the side street that we sat on in the Hawthorne district did not have much foot traffic), and perhaps most importantly, by the people themselves. Many people were extremely confused: some thought we wanted jobs (we did/do, but we weren't advertising for them), others thought we were demanding money (we weren't, we asked for donations), and still others had no idea what the hell we were talking about. One person asked us what philosophy was. I have to admit I was a little flabbergasted and my explanation probably came off as much more mystical than I intended as I tried to explain that it was an approach to living that had been developed in ancient times. (Greg explained it much better than I.) There were also people who didn't care about what we had to say; we were subjected to a five minute rant from a gentleman about how his philosophy was "Kill narcs." He also showed us his tattoo of a gun and flower with the aforementioned phrase scrolling around the bottom of the tattoo. One person who talked with us was most likely mentally handicapped and probably just lonely; he was also the only person who ever gave us money ($0.35 if I remember correctly). [1]

So, all in all, due to our disagreements about how to treat the operation and our early failures to really connect with anyone in a way in which we, and especially I, had wished to, we abandoned the project without much consideration.

That's one of the two primary reasons that this blog has been so devoid of content.

The second reason is that for the past year I have been operating under a malaise of sorts. My health, especially my mental health, has been severely challenged by a series of unfortunate events, which have led to several upheavals in my life including job loss, the end of a significant romantic relationship, and the general post collegiate shift all combined to make my life quite miserable. Dealing with any sort of creative exercise was an extreme effort that required willpower that I didn't have on a day-to-day basis, or even moment-to-moment. When inspiration did strike it was often for my Exalted campaign setting, which will most likely never see the light of day because I no longer, and most likely never will again, have access to those books. I don't regret the work that I did do on that, but my players didn't seem to be very interested in the work that I did produce. In fact, they seemed to avoid the wiki that I created for it at Obsidian Portal altogether; I had more interest in it from non-players in the proposed campaign, e.g., friends in other cities, than the actual players showed in it, so the exercise often felt pointless to me even though I now realize that it wasn't.

That all said, this post is not merely to despair in this blog's progress. In fact, what I hope to take from this is actually quite the opposite. This blog failed because of certain factors. I have since removed the majority of those factors - I no longer live in Portland, but have instead relocated to the Washington, D.C. area. I am still looking for full time work, but in a much more casual and relaxed manner than I was before. I've also begun studying for the GREs, and working on applications for graduate programs in philosophy, and while it will be an uphill battle due to my grades; I spent most of my collegiate career with an undiagnosed illness, sleep apnea, which severely impacted my performance as a student, which in turn contributed to some of the mental health issues that I suffer from. My hope is to turn in stellar work in all other areas of the application (GRE scores, letter of intent, writing sample, CV, etc), along with an explanation of my struggle with sleep apnea and my mental health, and that this will help weigh the scales in my favor.

I also now have the chance to not only give myself a second shot at achieving work and scholastic success, but I've also got a second shot at making this blog into something that I'm proud of and will enjoy writing for. As such, I've decided on a much more focused set of topics that the blog will examine. I've come up with a list of topics that this blog will serve to cover:

  • A place where the relationship between philosophy and popular culture, especially indie and pop music, comic books, table top pen and paper role playing games, is examined through critical textual and metatextual analysis. This will include critical reviews of works academic and pop culture oriented.
  • A depository of my thoughts and feelings on, and understanding of, more traditional philosophical works that I am currently reading.
  • A place to ask and provide an evolving answer to the question, "What does it mean to be a professional philosopher?" (This will harken back to the title and original intent of this blog, i.e., what does it mean for philosophy to be for hire?) This will include examining the role of philosophers in the public sphere, both contemporary and historical.
  • A place to document my progress in my graduate school applications.
  • I also hope to use this blog as a means of announcing events, both public and private, that are relevant to the current state of philosophy in the greater metropolitan area of Washington, D.C.

To that end, I'm currently working on a review and analysis of the most recently released film that I've seen, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Other upcoming features will include a deconstructive reading of the comic series Phonogram; essays on Martha Nussbaum's The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy, Frederic Jameson's The Cultural Turn: Selected Writings on the Postmodern, 1983-1998, and Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States; and an essay on Martin Heidegger's views on being and death contra Emmanuel Levinas, as viewed through the realm of pop culture (specifically Dune and somewhat in jest, Top Gun [2]). I also at some point would like to research and articulate a number of points regarding the relationship of philosophy and philosophers to the Holocaust/Shoah/etc., and how that relates to the development of professional philosophy, especially in the United States and postwar Germany.

So, thank you all for your patience and your understanding. My goal is produce one work a week, at least in rough draft form, and have it posted here by Saturday night 11:59 p.m.

With all that said, sapere aude. Dare to know.[3]

1: I am all for providing empathy and sympathy to our fellow human beings, so it wasn't as though we chased him off or anything. However, the setting was not necessarily a good one for discussing philosophy with a mentally ill person, though I do believe such a thing is possible, as I myself have a mental illness that I must cope with.

2: Inspired by, and dedicated to, my good friend Matt Johnson.

3: Many thanks to my fellow students of philosophy and religion at Central Washington University, for their encouragement and support this last year.

Friday, July 23, 2010

My belongings

Due to recent circumstances, I've had to sell or begin selling the majority of my possessions, and mostly likely, by the time I'm through, all I that I will have left are my philosophy books (to many notes to replace; except for my pop culture series ones, those have already been sold), enough clothes to dress comfortably for both winter and summer including professional outfits, and basic hygiene supplies (toothbrush, shaving kit, etc).

If I can afford to carry it around, my rice cooker too. Because that thing is awesome.

I'm fairly torn on the whole thing. While I've been meaning to reduce my belongings, I hadn't initially expected to get this bare bones about it. Some things I'm glad to be getting rid of: I've sold off a ton of books I don't read any more, and I got rid of my DVDs as well. I don't own a TV or DVD player, so it's not a great loss, especially when I can watch them online. Others are harder to get rid of: my little DJ good luck Buddhas, and my Hunter: the Reckoning and Demon: the Fallen books, which took me years to collect and for which I received no where near their value in return. And of course, some items are eliciting both emotions: e.g., the engagement ring that my former partner never accepted.

In order to help deal with the whole thing, I've been trying to think of this as a means to live as an ascetic without necessarily adapting into a whole religious paradigm. Because I love the sense of freedom that I'm gaining with the loss of my things; as someone who hasn't lived in a very stable environment since I was very young, I've tended to move at least twice a year, every year. And as I part with my items, I can recall all the times when I had to pack and move and unpack them. And some of those bastards are just heavy. So, overall, I'm glad to be rid of them, to have relieved myself of the burden they represent, both in terms of limiting my options for travel (can't move all that stuff easily), and for the attachments to people and places that I might not want to remember (e.g., the ring, or a CD from a time when I was more of a whiny, angsty teenager that I can't stand anymore).

I'm fairly familiar with Indian and Chinese concepts of the ascetic, particularly Buddhist ones, but also Hindu and Daoist ones as well. I'm less familiar with Christian asceticism, but I have read Theresa of Avila and some scholarship on early Christian ascetic practices. However, like I said above, I don't necessarily want to wholeheartedly embrace any strictly religious conceptions of asceticism mostly because I don't believe in the majority of religious belief systems as being epistemically, metaphysically, or spiritually true. And for what beliefs I do have at this point in my life, I'm not exactly in a position to just entirely discard everything and live as a monk in nature (my student loans aren't going to pay themselves off, and it would be terribly unethical to saddle my cosigners with that debt).

I was hoping that there is some scholarly work out there that defines a secular asceticism; something that acknowledges the inherent meaningless value of stuff (i.e., the everyday clutter of life that tends to accumulate around us that is neither necessary to live nor essential to defining the human spirit) while not advocating a total removal from the material world and that doesn't require the acceptance of any transcendent metaphysical claims. I don't think that Marxism quite reaches the level I'm talking about here, because of its focus on society and history. Maybe something closer to what Peter Singer advocates for in "Famine, Affluence, and Morality," but without necessarily having to be done for others' benefits (I don't mind if others benefit from my newfound lack of stuff, but that's neither the end or the majority of the means here).

I've already been made aware of some of Max Weber's critiques of asceticism in the modern world, and so maybe what I'm attempting to do is metacritique Weber's position. I don't know. We'll see.

If anyone has any ideas of where to go, whether for places to live or sources to read on secular asceticism, I'd appreciate them.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

What Philosophers Believe

Recently, two philosophers, David Chalmers and David Bourget, conducted a survey to test what philosophers really believed. Over 3000 professional faculty, graduate students, and undergraduate students responded.

Granted, the numbers are somewhat skewed, having favored the Anglo-American analytic tradition much more heavily than the European Continental, Pragmatic, Comparative, etc schools, but it is still quite interesting to see what the percentages boiled down to.

Some of the answers are not very surprising - philosophers overwhelmingly tended to be atheists and realists. Others might surprise you more - such as 41% of philosophers surveyed claiming that there is an objective aesthetic value.

You can see the full result here.

In related news, I fully recommend reading this book, What We Believe, But Cannot Prove. (Apologies for the link to Amazon - it was the best I could find on short notice.) A compilation of dozens of contemporary leading scientists (of both the "hard" and "soft" sciences) and philosophers (of science, mind, and language), it highlights the various ways in which today's top thinkers, theorists, and practitioners of scientific knowledge actually think when they contemplate the structure of the world and the greater universe in which it exists. A fascinating read, most of the essays are short - one page or less, but even then, they are often engaging and engrossing, as well as enlightening about the educated and debated opinions of the top thinkers in the scientific community today.

Happy holidays.

-Christian Mecham

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Chef’s Culinary Critique of Assimilation and Affirmation

In the United States, children in their primary education are told, often repeatedly, that their nation is the “melting pot” of the world, the place where all cultures come together and are blended into a new, unique mixture. As a peer of mine recently stated, all the flavors added to the melting pot remain to be tasted. The melting pot, however, should not be the analogy of choice when describing the United States—it does not accurately reflect the nature of the mix of cultures in the US nor is it a very flattering one, for the melting pot is a cauldron of one homogenized flavor that masks its individual components, rather than allowing the sweet and sour, the salty and bitter to mingle on the tongue, each flavor in turn adding to the experience, rather than detracting from it. Instead of a pot that melts all things into one glob of viscous matter, America should embrace the kitchen as a whole: each race, nationality, subculture, and ethnicity sending its own chefs with their own dishes and spirits.

It is easy to see why assimilation is such a desirable thing, why the melting pot takes hold so greatly over the American heart. It unifies and solidifies—it brings disparate elements and melts away the unwanted bits (those that can’t melt can be scooped out and thrown away). As an object, the pot is solid, cast-iron. It suits the patriotic ebb and flow of the American ego that sometimes spills over into jingoistic rhetoric. It is tall and wide, just like America itself, but it is also contained within itself though its source of energy is foreign, just as America prides itself on an imaginary self-sufficiency that is made imaginary by its reliance on foreign oil.

The pot fails precisely because it is a singular entity that tries too hard to contain all within it. As any chef can tell you, too many spices will ruin the food. The wrong mixture will smother the flavor or overpower the senses. It takes a balance of a fine palate and understanding to truly craft a delicious dish. And when we extend this metaphor to the reality of race relations in the United States, we see that a prudent hand has not been applied to the mixing of a thousand thousand different ethnicities and cultures. The English have dominated the French, Spanish, and Dutch influences. The western Europeans have made southern Europeans into easily caricatured mobsters and depressed communists of eastern Europe. Whites plucked unheeded from the gardens of west Africa, destroying them in the process and losing trace of where the ingredients came from, but not caring, what with their cavalier attitude towards their human produce. Asians have been made bland and marketed as a soft, narrow-eyed “Oriental” whose meals are finished with fortune cookies, that most American of ethnic treats. The maize of the First Nations is now the corn on the cob of the white man and the Indian has been forced to market a doughy, greasy, sugar coated confection (the ubiquitous Indian fry bread, also known as "elephant ears") that bears the name Columbus gave them while simultaneously mocking the rampant diabetes (the modern smallpox, with its twin brother alcoholism) that inhabits the Rez. The pot no longer operates as a means of making a soup or stew of many ingredients, but instead as the source of fondue—a viscous (slow to move, slow to change) mess that tastes like plastic left in the noonday sun, its burnt offerings crusting over on the side and top. It loses its dynamism that different flavors (ethnicities, races, etc) can bring and instead becomes a homogenized mess that takes forever to clean up and is really only presented at parties where people coo and awe over it with feigned interest. The melting pot, indeed, is not the way to go.

But should we go so as to say that all the ingredients should be sent back to their respective owners, with a note that says “Thanks, but the soiree is cancelled”? Good gravy, no. When the Seneca chief Sagoyewatha, whose double-breasted jacket is called Red, rejected the Christian missionaries of Boston, he retorted that the Great Spirit made his white and red children for different purposes. Maybe. But Sagoyewatha goes too far when he claims that no shared comingling should occur. “[Our young men who study under whites] become discourage and dissipated—despised by the Indians, neglected by the whites, and without value to either—less honest than the former, and perhaps more knavish than the latter….We believe it wrong for you to attempt further to promote your religion among us, or to introduce your arts, manners, habits, and feelings.” (Sagoyewatha 33) It is a fallacy to say that people of different cultures can not peacefully join and stay together—Sagoyewatha is chief of the Seneca, one of the seven tribes of the Iroquois. In China, Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism coexist and dip peacefully within each other’s realms of influence to the point where the priesthood of one faith is readily accepted as priesthood in the others. Turkey, a nation long associated with its Muslim Ottoman rule, seeks entry into the European Union. This is not to say that such interaction is easy—quite the contrary, in fact. But it is also not impossible. Medieval European philosophy certainly would not have flourished in the direction it did if not for the preservation of ancient Greek texts by Arab scholars. International trade would not occur without the mixing of races—to be fair, while the rest of the world learns English, the anglophones learn Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Russian, and a dozen different languages. His Holiness the Fourteenth Dali Lama (a Central Asian) would not maintain a strong friendship with the Archbishop Desmond Tutu (a black South African) if such interaction between peoples was impossible and unwarranted nor would George Harrison (a white Englishman) have collaborated with Ravi Shankar (a Bengali Indian). These examples may be among the more famous, but the fact of the matter is that different cultures can and will influence one another through means peaceful. The meaning of peace here is not merely “non-violent,” but also non-coercive, non-threatening, a willingness to both compromise and debate with passion.

In this spirit of peace, the kitchen becomes the ideal that the pot by itself failed to uphold. In the kitchen, several cooks can work together in harmony, crafting dish after magnificent dish. In the kitchen, the cook can specialize in the regional treat, a national entrée, or an international style. Each person can present their unique contribution—spicy Szechuan peppers in one plate, Indian style curry in another, with spiced German and Italian cold cuts occupying a third while French, Belgian, and Swiss cheeses rest next to fruit from Brazil and the Philippines. For dessert, a bitter-sweet Mexican chocolate sauce with Japanese wasabi flavored ice cream.

The kitchen is the place where races are recognized not as the ingredients of the dish, contained within its cast iron walls of conformity. Rather, the kitchen is the place where races are recognized as cultural and historical constructs, not simply as a biological one. In his work, “On Race and Philosophy,” Lucius T. Outlaw argues that if the act of philosophizing is recognized as a verbal term denoting the practice of thinking by different people at different times in different places on different subjects, then the very act of philosophizing is diverse. As people are drawn towards certain epistemic, metaphysical, and ethical questions (let alone political, logical, aesthetic, etc), philosophizing becomes a universal art of all people. Philosophizing acts as bond between the people of a singular place and time asking one question, the answer which acts as a guardian against the threat of existential angst. Because philosophizing is not restricted to one culture/ethnicity/race/etc, it cannot be truly used as a way of domination of other cultures as an act—philosophizing as a verb is a process in which humans engage one another and their environment. The kitchen is the environment of American thought—it is the place where ideas and thoughts are cooked up, taste tested, and approved or disapproved on their merits as dishes, both artistically (their presentation), pragmatically (the use of ingredients), and practically (their taste). “If biodiversity is thought good for other species and for the global ecosystem, why not for the human species and its biocultural ecosystems?” (Outlaw 67) Just as every other living thing in the world is suited to a particular place and time, so too are humans. But humanity, in its continual act of philosophizing, is not restricted to just one place, one time. Different cultures may, through philosophizing, encounter one another, grow stronger in that meeting and yet let the other survive just as strongly as well. Philosophizing prevents cultural entropy, prevents the victory of angst. In the kitchen, cooking introduces the cooks to each other and their ingredients. It engenders innovation between cooks, between ingredients, between styles.

Anthony Bourdain is no philosopher, in the academic sense of the word—he is a trained and respected chef and host of the popular television show No Reservations on the Travel Channel. But he is a philosophizer—someone who engages in the act of philosophizing. He is an advocate of multiculturalism, if only for the culinary experience, though he rightly notes that culinary practices derive from cultures. To wit, he is fond of pointing out that several dishes of modern haute cuisine originally came from the kitchens of the peasantry and working class. Multiculturalism also allows a chef to experiment not only with the ingredients of a dish, but also in its presentation, learning about and from the aesthetic values of a different culture, a different culinary style. Bourdain correctly points out that a non-assimilatory approach to the kitchen has broadened the culinary styles—as he discusses in both his television shows and books, recent Spanish and Japanese influence has revolutionized how restaurateurs view not only food, but its presentation, its composition, the very way that it is served. Bourdain rails against the assimilation present in the American fast food industry, how it homogenizes our culinary experience, how it stifles change and culture in favor of expediency and mass productivity. Yet he praises the fast food of other nations—such as the Spanish tapas bar, where eaters grab only what they like, taking a little snack as they move to the next location of food. This process, this interaction between consumer and consumed, between peoples, is the culinary equivalent of philosophizing. It is a process by which people accept the many without blending them into the one. It highlights all the ingredients yet combines them into one meal, just as the kitchen does not homogenize the meals. “Who the hell is America if not everybody else? We are—and should be—a big, messy, anarchistic polygot of dialects and accents and different skin tones. Like our kitchens.” (Bourdain 45)

Indeed. Bon appétit.

  • Sagoyewatha. “The Speeches of Sagoyewatha.” The Life and Times of Sa-Go-Ye-Wat-Ha, or Red Jacket. Ed. William L. Stone. Albany, NY: J. Munsell, 1866. 272-76
  • Outlaw, Lucius T. “On Race and Philosophy.” Racism and Philosophy. Ed. Susan E. Babbitt and Sue Campbell. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999. 50-75.
  • Bourdain, Anthony. “Viva Mexico! Viva Ecuador!” The Nasty Bits. New York: Bloomsbury, 2006. 42-46.
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A Chef’s Culinary Critique of Assimilation and Affirmation by Christian Mecham is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.
Who are the Philosophers For Hire?

  • We are: Two unemployed Central Washington University philosophy graduates, with lots of time and no cash.
  • We know: Philosophers and philosophy from Aristotle to Zizek. From Socrates, Plato, Descartes, Kant, and Wittgenstein to Freud, Spivak, Derrida, JS Mill, and Dogen, we are ready to discuss philosophers and their theories with you.
  • We can: Answer basic questions on the history of philosophy, both East and West, as well as cover the five core branches of philosophy: aesthetics, epistemology, ethics, logic, and metaphysics. We are also knowledgeable in a number of specialized topics, including religion, Latin, Russian, and specific philosophical schools of thought.
  • We think: Therefore you pay. We have a suggested donation that can be found at our live events, with varying prices dependent on degree of difficulty in answering and researching the answer.
  • We will: PHILOSOPHIZE FOR MONEY! Entertainment and enlightenment guaranteed.*
* - Enlightenment not actually guaranteed. Sorry, no refunds will be offered. This service is for entertainment purposes only and should not be used as a sole means of living an examined life. All answers should be introspected and examined for logical fallacies by questioner.

As the above indicates, we are two CWU grads who have BAs in philosophy. Together, we are like Voltron: greater than the sum of our parts. We were also both members and leaders of two of CWU's greatest clubs, the award winning GEEC and Philosophy and Religious Studies club. We have since relocated from sleepy Ellensburg to hip Portland to find our way in life. Until our day in the sun comes (which could take awhile, this is Portland after all), we are selling our species being for hard, cold cash. In order to facilitate that goal of living the examined life, we are selling our knowledge to those most in need of it: you. Yes, you.

Everyone has questions, we hope to provide paths to answers and earn a little dough and notoriety along the way.

Our specialties are as follows.

  • Greg Lotze: Utilitarianism, feminism, existentialism, Russian language and philosophy, neo-paganism, logic, psychology, and general geekery. His undergraduate thesis was on feminism, free will, and elective body modification.
  • Christian Mecham: Ancient Asian philosophy, Buddhism, religions of China and India, French philosophy, Latin, Nietzsche, deconstruction, phenomenology, philosophy of music, and pop culture and philosophy. His undergraduate thesis examined the relationship between J. Derrida, M. Foucault, and contemporary alternative rock music.
We also have taken (and passed! with good grades!) courses on subjects such as philosophy of religion, philosophy of mind, ancient Greek philosophy, ethical/moral theory (including contemporary ethical theory and biomedical ethical theory), the problem of the Other, etc etc.

We have also acted as:

  • Philosophy teacher assistants.
  • Professional conference panelists, panel moderators, and presenters.
  • Ethics Bowl team members (well, Christian has, where they won 3rd in Regionals).
  • Published authors (Greg has various works published; Christian is currently in the second and final editing round of CWU's undergraduate research journal).
Christian generally doesn't like to talk about himself in the third person. He is making this an exception to the rule. Greg rarely talks in the third person as well, but if paid to do it, can probably do so in Russian. We also have a Facebook group. Please feel free to join it.

This blog's primary intended purpose is to showcase the writing, logical, and philosophical ability of both Greg and Christian, in order to support their claims that they are serious philosophers, undertaking serious business.

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