It's funny that this article would pop up now, just weeks after I scoffed at the jacket of a Transmorphers DVD, thinking to myself, "Man, what a obvious rip off. Who the heck would buy this in the first place? Whoever made this should have just promptly deposited it directly into the trash after production."

I work in retail part-time. We sell CDs and DVDs and, more importantly, we give people cash for the used CDs and DVDs they bring us. So, I guess it isn't any great surprise that such an item would make its way across the counter. In fact, countless other mockbusters might have come through previously, but a) I was either not paying attention or b) they weren't so flagrant.

Although the mockbuster tag sounds like it refers to the Scary Movie franchise (and others like it), Rolf Potts' explanation of this burgeoning (is it?) genre (is it?) is that they are "cheaply produced straight-to-DVD films with names like Transmorphers and The Da Vinci Treasure — created with the clear intention of trading in on the notoriety of theatrical films. ... These films are deliberately released on DVD just as their blockbuster namesakes hit the big screen, thus creating a niche market based on simple consumer confusion." It's dishonest and just a little brilliant.

But what about the people who aren't fooled by the slightly distorted titles but buy them anyway? I mean, these movies seem like just the type of cinema that even B movie buffs would dismiss. And yet, I can imagine a consumer considering the price of a movie ticket to go see Snakes on a Plane, comparing it to the cost of renting or buying a cheaply made knockoff (Snakes on a Train) and coming to the conclusion that he won't be missing anything by opting for the on the ground version.

And would he be wrong? The only major difference in the badness of those two titles would be the star power of the former. But whether you are watching Samuel L. Jackson in a bad movie or Joe Schmo in a bad movie, it's still a bad movie.

Animation couldn't be more appropriately named in Don Hertzfeldt's case. He does exactly that. He creates curious beings and animates them, gives them life, and then swiftly leads them to their demise. Unlike the violence that descends upon other animated characters, Hertzfeldt's characters die, presumably because what is happening to the character is more important than the character itself. The fuzzballs, the humanoid bananas, the aliens, the indistinct people have no identifying traits, no personalities.

In fact, Hertzfeldt's characters are more akin to lab rats than they are to Mickey Mouse. They are simply set down in a stark landscape with nothing more than their quickly developing deformities and maladies to entertain themselves. They stare blankly into the distance or at one another until something happens, typically something terrible, unforseen, unforseeable. They are guinea pigs, made to be burned, crushed, beaten and torn apart simply to see what reactions are exhibited, what humor can be gotten out of their fantastic pain.

Perhaps Hertzfeldt takes so much painstaking care in creating them because it allays the guilt of their destruction. Or perhaps they are destroyed precisely because the power inherent in that action is inversely equal to the power of creation, thereby maintaining some kind of co(s)mic equilibrium.

Whatever the case, Don Hertzfeldt and his suffering creations rule.

Recalling Malcolm McDowell as Alex DeLarge, the haunting portrait of the 1914 Mayakovsky has an unsettling, eerie, charged power to it. Almereyda says the later portraits taken by Aleksandr Rodchenko "display a kind of proto-punk ferocity," but I would argue that all that ferocity is in the former, ready to burst from beneath that ascot at any moment (I could not find an image online that would stand in for the one I refer to, so, to understand fully, you may just have to buy yourself a copy).

His finery belies his absolute rage. He looks like a leader of the disaffected. As though he might incite a riot and then lean back in a stiff chair to watch everything be dashed to pieces, howling with delight. "Russian Futurists were enraptured by city life, by machine-age energy and speed, and they matched a hunger for new forms with a well-publicized contempt for artistic tradition, for contrived sentiment, for bourgeois complacency and decorum," Almereyda says. It sounds beautiful, completely savage and entirely dangerous.

It's hard to believe then, looking back, that Mayakovsky could have had any great bearing on such a movement as a poet. Or that there would have been a "link in Mayakovsky's mind, between printed matter and high-stakes consequences, between language and action." In a time when just about anyone anywhere can publish himself on the internet (The Believer Reader), it's almost preposterous that writing could have such an effect. Perhaps the effect continues in countries with oppressive, suppressive, censorial governments. But here, I doubt anyone even knows who our Poet Laureate is (Charles Simic), or that we even have one.

Writers — artists of any kind really — are impotent as far as affecting change, never mind broad social movements (except maybe propagandists). Is there nothing left to fight for? Are we too free? Or is American culture so devoid of culture that the few visionaries able to catalyze others are simply preaching to an ever-shrinking choir?

I was quite happily surprised to read this article, not only because I am completely enamoured of Chicago and wouldn't miss an opportunity to learn more about it, but also because I had only two days previous been talking with my friend Luke about his recent trip there.

He was visiting a friend and touring the city and its many museums. He said he had quite enjoyed his time there, but was a bit surprised at just how segregated the city was. And I was a bit surprised at his surprise. I was under the impression that segregation is still everywhere. It may no longer be planned and enforced the way it once was, but it persists. Economic inequality leads to social inequality (I know I'm oversimplifying here. I don't claim to be an expert on any topic).

You can see it clear as day even in a city as small as Providence (roughly 176,000 people spread over 18.5 square miles). I live right on the line of demarcation between the east side's affluent, mostly white neighborhood on the top of the hill and its low-income, mostly black neighborhood on the bottom. And not only are the lines clearly drawn, but they are also moving.

The affluent neighborhoods are spilling over into the impoverished ones in the name of "redevelopment." They aren't looking to enrich or diversify their community. They are "pioneering." Every mill still standing is being renovated and repurposed for the benefit of the rich while waiting lists for the dwindling numbers of affordable housing units grow ever longer. The relatively new whole foods market's closest potential customers are those that live in the projects or in the elderly complex.

And unlike Biss' experience of having a group of boys implore her to not be afraid of them, I have been lead to believe that at least some of the people living on the hill do in fact want people like me to be afraid of them, likely because they are threatened. They don't want to be pushed out of their homes. I've been called names, threatened, have had my windows shot at with beebee guns, bottle rockets and firecrackers pushed through my front door's mail slot. all minor events, sure, but certainly not a welcoming party. But I can't say I blame them.

I'm doubtful that Providence — or any other city in the country — will soon become both more diverse and less segregated. The wide-scale change necessary for that to occur just isn't anywhere on the horizon.

I cannot with any clarity identify the moment when I first became a reader. Becoming an active reader later in high school was an altogether more memorable and personally enlightening moment, but this intellectual and social genesis escapes me.

I do remember one particular instant in which I was struggling with it so intensely that the frustration manifested itself physically as well as mentally (something akin to the hyperactive temper tantrums I used to throw, and which I would later recreate for my brother's amusement by "screaming" internally until my face turned a lovely shade of popped blood vessel). I felt my cheeks growing hotter and beads of fear collecting at my forehead, threatening to unleash torrents of visible stupidity.

My father, Marcel, sat with me on the floor in my bedroom, coaching me through the words, helping me to string together each letter with the letters adjacent, to decipher each syllable into a word, one magical unit of language. I remember that night, that moment, being the most difficult thing I had ever faced and yet I don't remember ever grappling with it again.

I was put in the accelerated reading classes from first grade onward. I was able to read and comprehend more quickly than my classmates. I was confident and proud to read aloud when called upon. Was my linguistic war won in just one battle? Probably not. It is more likely that my memory failed to record subsequent skirmishes. Like the one I had years later while preparing for the school spelling bee.

Again, my father sat with me at the kitchen table with the xeroxed word list, drilling me. I had little or no difficulty with most of the lineup. But when faced with the the word 'colonel,' I could not understand, no matter how much he insisted, how a word could have an 'r' sound without ever coming within three paces of that, the eighteenth letter. I implored Marcel, pleaded with him, that he must have been mistaken. He assured me that, although he could not explain why such a blatant disregard of the rules of the language was possible, no, he knew what he was doing.

He illustrated to me by taking from the cupboard a glass jar of popping corn what the word that I was spelling meant as opposed to the word that I was supposed to be spelling. But since I was not versed in the hierarchy of the military, the explanation was lost on me and so was the word.

I did well enough in the spelling bee to travel to the state competition and there failed, but not due to any encounter with the horrible c-word. And despite being able to spell the word without a second thought now, I still cringe a little when I come across that abomination of pronunciation.

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