photo manipulation by nacrowe
i remember watching the documentary JIM & ANDY: THE GREAT BEYOND (VICE FILMS, 2017) with a family relative at his house within a year of returning stateside. people had long thought that JIM CARREY had lost his mind based on some "unhinged" interviews he gave in which he questioned the very nature of identity. at best people thought he was attempting to be provocative and at worst, his faculties had devolved to the extent that we were now watching another HOLLYWOOD star in some sort of twisted, psychic free fall in which he had become detached from reality.
this documentary is based on his work in the MILOS FORMAN film MAN ON THE MOON (UNIVERSAL PICTURES, 1999) and the lengths in which he went through to become comedy icon ANDY KAUFMAN. first some background. KAUFMAN was a transgressive comedian who used several outlandish personas that were designed to confront, and ultimately destroy, audience expectations. he would withhold punchlines and gags indefinitely. it almost reminds me how german composer RICHARD WAGNER would utilize leitmotifs in his OPERAS that never resolved, leaving the listener to be more and more enwrapped in the proceedings without a release. KAUFMAN in my opinion was the COMEDY equivalent of such, working on a level that was both juvenile and transcendent. makes total sense that another generational talent in CARREY, a man of many faces himself, would be so intrigued. the footage of the filming showcases CARREY's dedication to being in character, even to the point of speaking with the family of KAUFMAN's in the first person.
it makes sense to me that life as performance art made an impact on how CARREY viewed himself as an individual, even apart from comedy, since in essence we are all performing for each other all the time. but who are we really?
this is where i think CARREY loses people when he talks about their being no individuality and that in essence we all cease to exist. i know my relative fealt that way.
in my mind that was BUDDHISM 101, the idea of ANATMAN or "non-self." there is no soul or unchanging essence that precedes us or follows us into death. the idea of self-hood is a mirage, a biological phenomena that helps us get through our lives but is ultimately a lie. this precept takes root in HINDUISM with the concept of ATMAN, or a self concept, that in some schools is equated with BRAHMAN, or the ultimate reality. its interesting because in the HINDU context, in essence there is also no individuality because we are all in essence an extension, a manifestation of BRAHMAN. any concept of selfhood as being separate from the physical world is a contradiction in terms, by definition you are of this world because it is you.
for me the most interesting nugget in this film is how this idea of a non-self becomes interjected with the acting occupation, where people take on personas for a living. in a sense, any persona is as relevant as any other and, to draw the point home again, we all are engaged in this activity. we all perform according to what the local normative culture requires of us. i personally saw this again and again living overseas when fellow AMERICANS would take on the racial prejudices of the local majority population. it always jarred me but made sense on a certain level, that your sense of self is intertwined with your surrounding context.
the fact that CARREY took this concept to heart doesnt seem crazy at all but a recognition of the false precepts that we all assume are resolute and unyielding when it comes to our sense of identity, yet in actual fact they are all inventions created to help us navigate an uncertain reality,
a fascinating documentary well worth checking out, whether or not you find the humor of CARREY amusing. this film is working on a level far beyond that and i hope it reaches a decent audience, as we are in a downward spiral at the moment based on cults of personality and mass conformity spear-headed by corporate media companies of all political stripes. the message of this film resonates with me far beyond the context of one actor and a film he did in the late 90s.
what doesn't jive with me is CARREY's anti-vaccine horse shit. that's another rant altogether. SMH.
all photos by nacrowe
in december of 2015 i took a trip by myself to CAMBODIA while on winter break from my teaching gig in JAPAN. i was there for over a week and split my time between SIEM REAP and PHNOM PENH. if you are interested in seeing my selected photos from that trip click HERE.
i was very excited to visit the region as i had been interested in the history and culture surrounding BUDDHISM and HINDUISM going back to my high school years when i first took a comparative religions class freshman year.
ANGKOR WAT was an obvious highlight that i'd put on par with visiting THE PYRAMIDS, MACHU PICCU, THE COLISSEUM, GREAT WALL OF CHINA, CHRIST THE REDEEMER STATUE, THE TAJ MAHAL or even SUN STUDIO in MEMPHIS. it is often regarded as the most refined architectural expression of the HINDU concept of MOUNT MERU in the world and seeing it in person met and exceeded the hype surrounding it.
but what made the 12th century expanded structure compelling to me as an english teacher were its endless depictions of deities that seemed perfect for understanding the concept of POST-STRUCTURALISM, something i was teaching at the time due to the IB CURRICULUM my school employed. case in point is BAYON temple, which is at the center of the ANGKOR WAT complex and intriguingly showcases 216 depictions of the boddhisatva AVALOKITESHVARA, meant to depict his infinite compassion in almost kaleidoscopic fashion. it really is something to behold. but knowing the backstory of the structure also clues you in to the fact that the depiction of this boddhisatva was very similar to the MAYAHANA BUDDHIST king that had it built, JAYAVARMAN VII, so its very much understood that people also understood it as a depiction of his omnipresent power. when you are at the upper levels of this temple, it is possible to be surrounded on all sides by these lumbering heads peering outwards from several massive towers. later on when hindus took over the complex they chose instead of scratching out the face (as they had done with smaller depictions throughout the complex), instead choosing to add dots on the foreheads. thus transforming them into SHIVA. when later THERAVADA BUDDHISTS (a more strict sect with no belief in boddhisatvas) took over control they reinterpreted the site as the traditional GAUTAMA BUDDHA.
so summing all that history up into post-structuralism. one signifier: the statue. four concepts signified: AVALOKITESHVARA, JAYAVARMAN VII, SHIVA and GAUTAMA BUDDHA. pretty incredible.
TUOL SLENG GENOCIDE MUSEUM
whereas ANGKOR WAT was a mind-blowing, reassuring experience for what the heights of human creativity and collective cooperation are capable of, sites surrounding PHNOM PENH associate with the brutality of the KHMER ROUGE during the CAMBODIAN GENOCIDE of the late 1970s showcased the opposite, what humankind is capable at its most base and deplorable. it is estimated that 1/4 of the population perished during that campaign of terror. an estimated 1.5-2 million people. teachers, workers, professors and their families. basically anyone that was perceived as a threat to the regime.
now i know some people may find offense to my visiting sites that are associated with war crimes. i get it. my response is that it is our responsibility to understand the past and be a witness to history. too many times in western media atrocities are gleaned over and DISNEY-fied as to not disturb viewers or children. this leads to a distortion viewpoint and ultimately a confirmation bias that inaccurately depicts the reality of world events. i have seen this time and time again and i really feel that it leads to a lack of curiosity and compassion on our part.
so go ahead and think what you will, but visiting the TUOL SLENG GENOCIDE MUSEUM was a visceral experience for me. as a teacher it was astonishing to walk through a former school that was turned into a unnamed torture center, as they had in various other anonymous similar sites throughout the country. POL POT was a teacher by the way. i won't even get into the ways that people were tortured, mostly because it may be misconstrued as celebrating extreme sadism (which i understand) but also i don't think its that interesting a detail. what i did find interesting was the spirit of reconciliation that took place after the war and to this day, my tour guide having lost an uncle to the regime. everywhere you went you met people with relatives, parents, sisters, brothers, friends, etc. that were maimed or killed. much like visiting BOSNIA or speaking with people in KOSOVO during my time as a PEACE CORPS volunteer in ALBANIA, there is something about these experiences were people choose to pull together as a community. they choose to seek common humanity. for me that was the power of visiting CAMBODIA, a beautiful country with a complicated history. one of my top trips ever.
whenever i feel down about the cultural and political tribalism going down right now in the UNITED STATES, i wince at the idea of what is to come but also hopeful that we can muster a collective effort towards reconciliation post-TRUMP regime. if CAMBODIA could heal than so can we.
but man, shit is seriously fucked right now. kids in cages.
artwork by nicholas crowe
as a former english teacher, i could wax poetic indefinitely about the genius of BRAVE NEW WORLD by 20th century british writer ALDOUS HUXLEY. that narrative in particular effectively presents a future scenario where all modes of shared experience and connection (familial, religious, sexual, etc) have been rooted away through technology. especially now in the age of social media i find myself always reaching back to it, as its implications become ever more relevant.
but in my mind his later years are more compelling since he explored eastern concepts (specifically hinduism) and very much made an attempt to present them effectively to the west. along with ALAN WATTS' work presenting zen buddhism, he is one of the earliest to bridge this divide.
check out this interview he did back in 1962. of particular interest are his observations of the metaphysical and psychological richness encapsulated in the image of shiva dancing (starts around 15:10 mark).