If you've just stumbled onto this blog, please forgive the appearance; it's still under construction. If I've used one of your photos (found on Google) in a lecture and you don't approve, please write a comment and I'll remove it.

The purpose of this blog is to explain the basics of art and culture to English language learners in secondary school in Slovakia. This is not for profit. If you look to your right, you'll see a long list of topics that I plan to cover. This is a large project that will most likely take years to complete, covering some topics I know little about (like dance), so I will be borrowing heavily from other experts, with their permission, giving credit wherever possible. Please be patient, and, of course, all advice is greatly appreciated.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Biography of Hayao Miyazaki

Hayao Miyazaki (1941-)

ü      Hayao Miyazaki is a Japanese film director, producer, screenwriter, animator, author, and manga artist.

ü      He helped found the famous Studio Ghibli, which has produced many famous anime films, including My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Porco Rosso, Ponyo, Howl’s Moving Castle, Nausicaä, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and his last film, The Wind Rises, released in 2014.

ü      While some of these films, such as Princess Mononoke, include digital technologies and colouring, Miyazaki prefers traditional drawing and watercolours, and has gone back to this practice in his latest films.

ü      Miyazaki has won three Japanese academy awards, two American academy awards (one honorary, and also two nominations), and was nominated for a BAFTA and a Golden Globe. Miyazaki refused to attend the ceremony when Spirited Away won an academy award, because America was bombing Iraq.

ü      Many of Miyazaki's characters and designs are on display at the Studio Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Tokyo.

ü      Miyazaki has also drawn many manga comics, including Puss in Boots, People of the Desert, The Journey of Shuna, and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.

ü      Miyazaki has been critical of the current state of manga in Japan, blaming otaku. Otaku means many things in Japanese, but is used in slang to mean a geek, an obsessed fan of manga, who's out of touch with reality. He says, "Great anime and manga are produced by observing real people in action. That is not the case today because the industry is full of otaku."

ü      Hayao's son, Gorō Miyazaki, is also an anime director, with two films: Tales from Earthsea, and From Up on Poppy Hill.


1.      Most of Miyazaki’s films focus on mankind’s relationship with nature and technology, emphasizing that technology comes at a price. The pollution we produce causes permanent changes to the environment that can make us sick, and has other unforeseeable consequences, which we will have to live with.

2.      His films also focus on the horrors of war, at a level that parents can find acceptable to children, yet without glorifying or glossing over its ugly side.

3.      Many of Miyazaki’s films don’t have a villain. There may be an antagonist, with a different world view than the hero, but they are not all bad, showing that many problems come not from evil, but from ignorance. Many of his characters are misguided, and have the wrong priorities.

4.      Miyazaki creates coming-of-age stories. The heroes are children who must overcome some challenge, solving a problem, and facing stressful emotional situations. Many of these young heroes can fly, or learn to, symbolizing their future potential and the good side of life – that there’s reason for hope.

Personal Life:

Miyazaki was born in Tokyo, and grew up during WWII. His father was an airplane designer and factory owner. As a four-year-old, Hayao remembers his family fleeing an air raid that burned down his town. Although his family survived the war, his mother suffered from spinal tuberculosis, and was bedridden until 1955.

As a child, Miyazaki developed a love of manga, copying his favorite artists. At university, he studied economics and political science, while continuing his interest in drawing.

Miyazaki began working in animation in 1963. In 1965 he married Akemi Ota. They had two sons, Gorō and Keisuke. His first feature film, Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro, was produced in 1979. This was followed by many more, making him famous and well-loved in Japan. But it wasn’t until 1997 that he gained fame in America, when Miramax (owned by Disney) bought and distributed his films, starting with Princess Mononoke. It won a Japanese academy award, and his next film Spirited Away, won academy awards in Japan and the US.

After 50 years of work in animation, Miyazaki has officially retired from the industry, but still plans to continue some smaller projects, including a short film, Boro the Caterpillar, and a new manga series about a samurai warrior.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Sociology and Anthropology, an Introduction

Definitions:  Anthropology is the study of humanity.
                   Sociology is the study of human societies.

As you can imagine, these two subjects are very similar and often overlap. The best way to understand their differences is by examining the questions they ask.

Anthropology (traditionally) asks, "Where did we come from? When did we become truly human? What makes us different from other animals? How do we live? How do we feel? How do we use art, religion, language, and other social constructs to form our sense of identity? What is it we really need?"

The answers to these questions require the study of humanity from its origins to the present, which is why it includes the fields of archaeology, linguistics, and biology. Anthropology also focuses on small, isolated communities of people, often in exotic locations, to examine how their cultures differ from our own. Anthropologists study the religions, stories, myths, traditions, and beliefs of these cultures.

Sociology (traditionally) asks, "How do societies behave? Which factors influence social behaviour and status? Gender? Race? Geography? And what factors influence social problems such as crime, drug abuse, poverty, health, etc? Are there solutions to these problems, and are they getting better or worse over time? And how is technology influencing all this? As a society, what do we really need?"

These are questions that sociologists typically ask of their own culture, rather than others. Sociologists tend to look less at small, isolated groups, and instead focus on large populations - entire countries, divided statistically by race, religion, gender, etc. They're a bit like doctors, examining the health of a nation. Therefore, they focus more on the present, and recent past.

Now here's the problem. Of the two subjects, sociology is more popular. In America, over 1,000 universities teach sociology, compared to only 400 for anthropology. And a big reason why is that anthropology has already answered all of its big questions. Through anthropology, we know that humans came from one point of origin in Africa, that we developed one proto-language, which was the foundation for every language we speak today. We know most of the details of our migration throughout the world, and that we had ancient ancestors, such as Neanderthals, which are now extinct. And, we know that chimpanzees, our closest surviving ancestors, also form social groups and use tools.

So, now that we know this, and all the most exotic cultures have been studied, what's there left to do? The answer has been to move anthropology and sociology closer together. The anthropologists have gone home, to study the West, while sociologists have shifted their methodology to reflect a more anthropological perspective - focusing on the personal stories of people caught up in large, social problems.

Prof. Steven Dillard said, "There is much overlap between Sociology and Anthropology. They certainly employ many similar methods. But I would say that Anthropology focuses at a more personal or community level and that the larger the groups get, the more we are talking about Sociology. However, I think this distinction is not a very good one, and I don't really know if there are any good, well-accepted definitions of the two disciplines.

The sociologist I was talking to told me that she didn't think there was that much difference between anthropology and sociology. I think that people who worry about the distinction are mostly worried about the budget for their department. I think that Liberal Arts Colleges would like nothing more than to be able to combine departments and cut budgets. And the departments themselves desperately want to maintain their viability."

Sunday, January 10, 2016

A Short History of Hollywood

  1. Hollywood, California, began in the 19th century as a humble farming village named Napalera (after a kind of cactus), just seven miles from Los Angeles.
  2. A wealthy businessman moved there from Kansas, and bought 160 acres of land, which he named the Hollywood Ranch. It grew into a town.
  3. The first street in this town was originally called Prospect St., but was later changed to the famous Hollywood Boulevard.
  4. In 1904, Hollywood voted to join Los Angeles, to benefit from their superior aqueducts.
  5. Early filmmaking was severely hampered by Thomas Edison, of New Jersey, who held many patents to film technology, and began many legal battles with would-be filmmakers. This pushed the film industry west to Los Angeles, far from prying eyes. If Edison wanted to send a lawyer to deal with them, they could quickly move their whole production to Mexico. California also had ideal weather for filming outdoors.
  6. The first film studios in and around Hollywood included: Biograph, Selig Polyscope, the Charlie Chaplin Studio. Hollywood soon became known as Tinseltown and Movie Biz City.
  7. The famous HOLLYWOOD sign on Mount Lee, was originally an advertisement for a new housing development, erected in 1923, and originally read HOLLYWOODLAND. The last four letters were taken down in 1943.
  8. From 1927-1948, called the Golden Age of Hollywood, there were five film studios: Paramount, RKO, 20th Century Fox, MGM, and Warner Bros. Each owned its own set of theatres across the nation, and only showed its own films. Actors had to sign exclusive contracts, agreeing to work with just one studio.
  9. In 1948, the Supreme Court ruled that this system was unlawful, and gave actors more freedom.
  10. The Academy Awards ceremony first began in 1929 at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Academy Awards are also known as Oscars, after some librarian's uncle.
  11. In the 1950's these same studios began making programs for television.
  12. The 50's were also infamous for McCarthyism, led by senator Joseph McCarthy, who began the House Committee on Un-American Activities. He feared the threat of communists in America, and targeted Hollywood, forcing hundreds of actors and directors to testify before congress. Some were imprisoned, and hundreds more were blacklisted, forbidden from working in Hollywood again.
  13. Hollywood Boulevard began its Walk of Fame in 1956, adding stars for every famous actor. There are now 2,200 stars along the walk.
  14. The only major film studio still located in Hollywood is Paramount. All the others have relocated to larger studio spaces around LA. However, most companies involved with filmmaking remain in Hollywood: lighting, editing, special effects, props & costumes, etc.
Many famous writers have worked in Hollywood, including: F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Carl Sandburg, and Maya Angelou. Famous directors include Alfred Hitchcock, Walt Disney, and Howard Hughes.

Operation Hollywood Documentary - Notes

Notes on Operation Hollywood: How the Pentagon Shapes & Censors the Movies, by Emilio Pacull

1.      Since most civilians have never been to war, most of what we know about it comes from films.

2.      Hollywood constantly makes war films, covering wars of the past, present, and future. In order to make these films realistic, they often seek help from the military, who act as a technical advisor. They can provide props, uniforms, and video footage of real planes and bombs, etc. They correct dialogue based on military jargon, and make sure the haircuts, etc, are all accurate, to provide greater realism. This can save a film millions of dollars to produce.

3.      It's important to note that the US military has trained millions of personnel over the years, many of whom are retired. Any filmmaker can hire retired soldiers to provide technical support and advice, and this happens all the time. Retired soldiers don't need to censor themselves in any way. So, filmmakers can learn details about real wars and make accurate films, even without the official support of the military. But, it costs much more.

4.      In the late 1920's, the US military opened an office to work with Hollywood. The first film to benefit from military cooperation was Wings in 1927. The military even provided logistics for the film's production.

5.      Hollywood worked most closely with the US military during WWII. Actors entertained soldiers at the front. Directors went to film the various campaigns: John Ford in the Pacific, William Wyler & John Sturges followed aerial combat in Europe, and George Stevens filmed the landing of Normandy on D Day. George Stevens also filmed the Nazi concentration camps.

6.      Certain war films were banned in America, like Let There Be Light (1946) a documentary showing wounded veterans returning from WWII. It was banned until 1980 and the reason the military was able to do this was they were the ones who had produced it, and owned the legal rights to it.

7.      The Longest Day (1962) was another collaboration between the military and Hollywood, pushing the narrative of heroic soldiers in a just war, WWII. Such patriotic films were important to politicians and the military, as America began controversial wars in Asia against communists. People saw real shooting and bombing every day on the news, and wondered when it would end.

8.      Hollywood tried to distance itself from the military during the Vietnam War. As a business, it wanted to make films that would sell, and many Americans were against the war. Still, it produced Patton (1970), MASH (1970), Catch 22 (1970), Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970), and The Green Berets (1968).

9.      But, Hollywood held off on many films that seemed risky at the time, including Platoon and Full Metal Jacket, which weren't made until the 1980's.

10.  The Green Berets was a project started by actor John Wayne. The military gave tons of assistance and props for free. The film was a commercial success, despite being trashed by leading film critics. Roger Ebert put the film on his Ten Most Hated List.

11.  Apocalypse Now (1979), by Francis Ford Coppola, shows a totally different view of the war. It was inspired by Conrad's Heart of Darkness, and received no support from the US military.

12.  Full Metal Jacket (1987) by Stanley Kubrick is infamous for R. Lee Ermey, who played the role of drill sergeant for the new recruits. He was an actual drill sergeant and Vietnam War veteran, and repeated much of what he did in actual troop training.

13.  Full Metal Jacket was very critical of the war and the military, and it's amazing that Kubrick got Ermey, who supports the military, to play in it. Ermey sees his character in a positive light, refusing to recognize his role in warping a cadet into a suicidal state. Ermey saw the role as a major stepping-stone for his career, and is proud he was able to change the script to make his character more benevolent (at least in his mind). Ermey supported the military (still does), but also wanted people to know the truth of marine training and combat.

14.  Hollywood and the military came back together in the 80's to make Top Gun (1988), selling the story of America's new technological superiority. The military loved it.

15.  During the 1st Gulf War in 1990-91, the military continued this Top Gun approach. It was much more careful to monitor and control news footage. Images of dead bodies were replaced with video footage of "smart bombs." There were few films about this war. It was over so fast, there was little dramatic tension.

16.  The Siege (1998) portrayed a series of fictional terrorist attacks in NYC, addressing this threat years before 9/11. Military characters in the film ordered martial law and hindered law enforcement. The military refused any assistance.

According to Dave Robb, a Hollywood journalist

1.      American cinema is formulaic. It revolves around action and war. There's always a good guy and bad guy, and the good guy always wins. It becomes a recruitment tactic for the military to target children.

2.      The military wants to present itself as superior, even invincible. Any war film they collaborate on will have as its central theme that war is the answer.

3.      Any time a film or TV show wants military assistance, the military requires that they get to review the script and demand changes.

Example: In Lassie, one episode contained a military plane crash. Originally, Lassie heard a strange noise before it crashed, and realized the plane was faulty. The military "strongly recommended" the script be changed, so that there was nothing wrong with the plane, in exchange for film footage of a Cesna plane flying. Otherwise, they wouldn't help.

Example: In Windtalkers (2002) there was a scene were an American dentist pulled gold teeth from dead Japanese soldiers. The military, which cooperated with the film, demanded the scene be removed, so the dentist character was erased. The military claimed such behavior was un-marine-like, even though it actually happened.

Example: The film 13 Days (2000), recounts the Cuban Missile Crisis, in which Kennedy and Krushchev nearly started WWIII. There are tape recordings of all top-level discussions between Kennedy and his military advisors, who wanted to go to war. Kennedy rejected their advice, finding a peaceful resolution. Even though the conversations were accurate, word for word, the military wouldn't help with the film, because it made them look bad.

4.      Not only is censorship an issue, but self-censorship. Any filmmaker who wants help from the military will self-censor from the beginning.

5.      The problem with censorship isn't simply about falsifying history. Filmmakers are artists; they change the facts all the time to make a good story. But, when the military is involved in this process, and it shapes how the public views the military, then you get a pro-war population that accepts more and more wars, oblivious to the cost. And then, when a filmmaker actually wants to tell a true story, with all the facts in place, the military should have no influence in stopping that.

According to Pentagon spokesman, Philip M. Strub:

1)      "First of all, when we look at scripts, are we conducting damage control? And the answer is, absolutely. It's not my role here to vilify the armed forces because I'm a believer of the armed forces. I wouldn't be in this job if I didn't. And my colleagues feel the same way. Those who are in the military, obviously, are adherents. Otherwise, they'd vote with their feet and quit. So, we are all very much of the opinion that the military is an institution for the betterment of the United States. So, any picture that is contrary to that fundamental premise is going to be a problem for us."

2)      "Is the American will in favor of our involvement in these pictures? I have no way of knowing because there have never been any surveys. But, I can tell you one thing. Their elected officials are certainly not opposed to it. Because, it's nothing that we keep quiet or secret. We don't advertise it. We don't choose to try to be prominent to gain attention for ourselves. The public affairs world wants to stay behind the camera, not in front of it. But, there's certainly nothing we're hesitant about. We're not ashamed of their relationship, nor have we ever heard any complaints or any requests to modify it from the elected officials of the American public. So, I can only say that, though we may get an occasional letter saying, why did you work on this picture? Why did you work on that TV show? Most of those we didn't! They just think we did."

3)      There are two categories for films the military won't work on. One is a show-stopping premise, like Apocalypse Now or Crimson Tide, when US soldiers do something that real soldiers would never do, like orders to kill a fellow officer.

4)      "Top Gun was a milestone picture because it signified the rehabilitation of the military as acceptable subject matter in a positive context. It showed . . . you could make film that portrayed the military . . . in a positive way and make money, and not become a pariah in Hollywood. It wasn't the first, but the most important picture that symbolized that change in public opinion."

5)      13 Days was too unrealistic to support, in that it portrayed the military as debating against the Kennedy's.

The Pentagon knew and accepted that Pearl Harbor (2001) wouldn't be historically accurate. But, what makes the film acceptable, in his mind, is that it drew attention to the story, and the survivors, more so than the 50th anniversary.

The Walt Disney Company, a History

®    Disney started in 1923 as the Disney Brother's Cartoon Studio, headed by Walt and Roy Disney. Today it's the second biggest mass media conglomerate in the world, second only to Comcast.

®    In 1928, Walt created his most important character, Mickey Mouse, which was an instant hit and launched Disney's career.

®    Mickey Mouse starred in Steamboat Willie that same year, the first animated film with sound. Disney made a dozen short films a year, introducing new characters. These cartoons would appear in theatres before feature presentations. Disney also began printing comics.

®    Mickey was also popular with politicians, especially during WWII. Mickey Mouse was the code word for the allied invasion of Normandy on D-Day. Nazi Germany hated Mickey, which only boosted his popularity more.

®    In 1978 Mickey became the first cartoon character to get a star on Hollywood Boulevard. According to Time Magazine (2008), "Mickey had a 98% awareness rate among children between ages 3-11 worldwide."

®    In 1937, Disney produced the first feature-length animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It was soon followed by such classics as Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Bambi, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and countless others.

®    Walt Disney has the distinction of winning the most Academy Awards (22) and nominations (59) in history. He died in 1966 of lung cancer, age 65.

®    Walt Disney was always trying to find some new form of entertainment. As his business grew, he expanded into many new areas. In 1950 Disney produced its first live-action film, Treasure Island.

®    In 1955 Disney opened its first theme park, Disneyland, in California. There are now 14 Disney theme parks around the world. That same year it began televising its Mickey Mouse Club.

®    Disney also bought the rights to as many story lines as possible, a trend it continues today. Disney now owns Winnie-the-Pooh, Pokemon, Pixar, The Muppets, Marvel Comics, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Lucas Films, including Star Wars and Indiana Jones.

®    In '81, Disney began its Disney's World on Ice skating tours.

®    In '83 the Disney Channel began on basic cable.

®    In '84 Disney began Touchstone Pictures, a new film studio to produce films to more mature audiences. It created Hollywood Pictures in 1990 for the same reason. These studios have produced: Down & Out in Beverly Hills, Pretty Woman, The Dead Poets' Society, The Rock, Con Air, Sister Act, and The Sixth Sense.

®    In '85 Disney began producing television cartoons: The Gummi Bears, Ducktales, and Winnie-the-Pooh.

®    In '86 Disney began a partnership with Ghibli Studios in Japan to show their films in the US.

®    In '87 Disney opened its first retail store.

®    In '88 Disney began making its first videogames. In 2002 it began its most famous game Kingdom Hearts.

®    In '94 Disney began the show Beauty & the Beast on Broadway.

®    In '96 it bought ABC, the American Broadcasting Company.

®    In '98 Disney started its first line of cruise ships.

Disney Controversies:

1. racial stereotypes

Many of Disney's classic films portray stereotypical views of non-white characters. In one cartoon, Mickey Mouse dressed in blackface. The Indians in Peter Pan, the Siamese cats in Lady & The Tramp, and the entire film Song of the South all perpetuate racism. At least one of his Jewish artists claimed Disney said antisemitic things, but also said he owed everything to Disney.

2. Subliminal Messages

Several of Disney's films have hidden, sexual content including nudity, sometimes put in secretly by animators, and sometimes misinterpreted when it's hard to hear what a character is saying. In Aladdin, the main character says, "Come on... good kitty, take off and go...."  But, the tiger growls at the same time, confusing some audiences into hearing, "Good teenagers, take off your clothes." In each and every controversy, Disney has reanimated the film so that there's no sexual content.

Besides this, Disney films sometimes insert hidden images of Mickey Mouse. They've made it a game for people to find as many "hidden Mickeys" as possible.

3. Bullying Pixar

Before buying Pixar, Disney worked as an equal partner in Toy Story and other films. But the partnership wasn't truly equal, because Disney owned the stories and sequel rights to all of Pixar's films, even though Pixar was the one who created and developed all their original stories. All Disney provided was marketing, and then they charged Pixar a distribution fee. Pixar tried to negotiate a fair deal in 2004, led by Steve Jobs, but it fell through, and instead Disney bought it.

4. Handling of Foreign Films
For a while, Disney owned Miramax studios, which became infamous for its treatment of Asian films. Miramax would buy films and never show them. Or, they would re-edit them, cutting out scenes, and changing the subtitles to remove political content, etc. They would completely change the films. Examples include Iron Monkey, Shaolin Soccer, Farewell My Concubine, Fist of Legend, and Hero, which had been lost for years before being found and released thanks to Quentin Tarantino.