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A Year of Living Positively-Day 214

Today is Black Friday. I only slept three or four hours. The biggest reason was a pesky and clever mosquito that evaded me all night and succeeded in biting me at least three times, mostly on the fingers. Perhaps I sensed something evil going on, for I discovered that it was Black Friday when I turned on the TV around four o'clock. The news about two horrific developments in global affairs was breaking at that moment. 

One was about a Malaysia Airlines aircraft full with 298 people that inexplicably fell out of the air, crashed in Russia-occupied Ukraine territory and was totally obliterated. One hundred fifty-four passengers were Dutch, and the rest of various citizenships and nationalities. It looks as though it must have been shot down, and the US was quick to declare it the result of the firing of an armed missile. 

The other was Israel's full scale ground invasion of the Gaza strip, ordered by PM Netanyahu himself. It is totally rapacious, vindictive and anti-human. It is too much to bear witness too, so I can only tolerate snippets of the news coverage.

The day was dark and cloudy all day long. There were thundershowers again.

Without even having a second cup of coffee, I left the apartment. I needed to immerse myself in work. I picked up some granola bars and banana milk along the way up the hill to campus and my office there.

I continued making Power Point slides, and began writing quizzes for the graduate TESOL course. I read more of the material and would have made more photocopies had the humidity not been so high that it was choking up the photocopier. I only made copies of a few class handouts before I gave up after the machine chewed up paper about five times. I extended my stay in the office to wait out a heavy downpour then went to the gym.

I have been thinking over an observation about films recent and old. I have been noticing how the voice of characters have changed from one decade to the next in film. There has been a lot of variation and I have been wondering why.

In American films today, mainstream or otherwise, it seems to me that low husky drawling speech is in fashion with respect to men. As for the voices of female characters, they are often flat, low and curt if the character is a serious professional, or airy and broken in the more feminine roles. Of course, there are (too many) times when fits of rage or cries of terror are allowable. 

Compare that to the 30's and 40's with the rapid fire snappy speech of elegantly dressed men and women in suspense and comic films, like the Cary Grant or Clark Gable films. They were stereotypical and melodramatic in their own style. The men's voices were generally pushed up in pitch, while the women's were pushed down in those days. Think of Bogart and Cagney, two men with higher than usual voices.

In the 50's, it was a period of experimentalism and more leeway was granted so that one can perceive the wide variety with the evolution of film genres.  Characters began to get sarcastic and snarky, or coolly critical, and allowed their moments of excitement, even frenzy. Yet, the men still spoke in direct, linear and commanding style, while the women looked on in doubt or anguish, occasionally interjecting with a well placed clever comment. 

Things began to slow down, and film was less dependent on speech as the influence of European styles seeped in. There could be stretches of 15 minutes or more without conversation, and the cinematographer began to indulge in admiring a beautiful melodramatic profile too much. Many such films began so slowly that you wondered if there was going to be any plot, and they often finished with the long drawn out lingering reflection in silence except for the background music. Remember here to eternity? It seemed like the plot took an eternity before it took off. 

Men's voices shot out dialogue in tune to the sped-up mechanized industrialization of the era, and patriarch re-asserted itself, so that dreadful mainstream stereotypes of the helpless, incapable, lounging female with perfectly sculpted hair in pointy tight-fitting garb who kept getting into trouble if they wondered out of the house too long or failed to stand by their men. They could be ultra-feminine feline hussies or demure angelic virgins or spouses, purring, whining or screeching. Think of the 007 flicks, cowboy movies, Doris Day rom-coms and Star Trek. Formula writing and modern Hollywood were in. Dreadful!

Of course there were exceptional voices. Dustin Hoffman, James Dean and Marlon Brando are cited as rebelling against the norm. People let their hair down. Their voices pause, mumble, halt, and engage in high-pitched indignation and disbelief. By the 70s, biting social criticism with its explorations of physical and psychological violence. It was laced with edgy doubt. The Rebel was the norm after "Easy Rider", and anti-heroes appeared occasionally. The angry protagonist burst onto the scene. Rock musicals bit back spitting and hissing. Detective dramas confessed to the bad cop. Remember "Serpico" and "Dirty Harry"? Too much light was shed on social problems, like addictions and the black market. However, women began to show savvy and sometimes refused. Men were allowed to reveal their weaknesses, here and there. In music, a funny thing happened. Remember all those rock bands with high-pitch singing male leads. Strange! Okay, there were admissions and questions about sexual orientation coming to the fore, with Bowie, Queen and Alice. It was hard for women to get a song in edgewise, meanwhile. Think of Heart. It was one of the very few female rock bands to get substantial attention and those women had to be smart and very strong. Their voices had to act like men, though, and high-pitched singing women were not in vogue. Breasts were supposed to be flat.

Well, so on and so on. Rebellion brought in the New Wave and the distorted and often machine-like voices of techno punk and costumes of power shoulder pads, chrome and super-gelled aggressive and freaky hairstyles. Monotones of indifference and screams of rage were heard, unlyrics unsung, techno pump instrumental music pumped out with deathly precision, health denied and excess welcomed.

Then the nineties backlash, with its back-to-nature trends, sensitive guys, and confessed incompetence. A desire to recognize the truth rose again, but it was guarded under the suspicion of inevitable corruption. Renunciation of politics and glam. Long wavy hair and curvy bodies became acceptable. Organic food ruled and smoking was out. Voices got subdued and fashionably  hesitant and unclear, and the deliberately rumpled and carefully disheveled appearance was followed according to postmodern attitudes and expectations. Radio voices were more frequently whispering. Staged modesty asserted itself, as well as well measured disorder. It was all to cover up the glaring inequality between the privileged and underprivileged. 

As for the new decade of the new millennium, it is still hard to step back and see it today, at least for me. I shall have to think on that topic. I think the low voices became more menacing. Characters could be of the underground and darkness and had the duality of being part of the darkness yet resisting against it, like Jack of 24 or the Ghost Rider or the X-Men, and sometimes with the aid of the supernatural, like the vampires and occultists from the Vampire Slayer to Harry Potter. The women are aggressive and defiant. Also, the lines between machine and man became unclear, like in the Transformer movies in which transformation is decline rather than transcendence.

Today the gravelly wise yet cynical and at the same time vulnerable voice is typical. It can be confrontational. It seems to be heard in contemporary action flicks, TV dramas, etc. We have to wait and see how this era shapes up before it can be properly characterized, I guess. 

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