Movies, Media and Memes: Thoughts by Dr. Deshpande

Shekhar DeshpandeDr. Shekhar Deshpande was born and raised in India where he completed his undergraduate and graduate work in the sciences, and then received a scholarship to study communications in the United States.  He proceeded his studies and received his Ph.D in Communications, and is now a professor and director of the Media and Communications programs at Arcadia University.  With interests in film studies, world cinema, visual culture and cultural studies, we at Loco Magazine knew he would be a very interesting subject, so I decided to interview him about some of his own personal opinions and “favorites.”

Since you have mentioned in class before that you watch a different movie every day, what are some of your favorite movies?

That’s hard to classify. You know, because it’s easy for me to say kinds of films I don’t like, and also, I like different films for different reasons. This is a question that almost always comes up every time you meet somebody, and also these days there is a lot of fashion in terms of giving top ten lists, you know, “Give me your top ten this, your top ten that.” I can tell you some of the films that come to the top of my mind, and I can tell you the films that I absolutely don’t like… I never hesitate talking about films. I watch all kinds of films. I watch James Bond, I watch (The) Bourne (Series), I watch all kinds of stuff that comes from Hollywood, which is mostly mindless, mind-numbing kind of stuff, but I watch it because it’s interesting. Some of the things, I think, are more unintentionally interesting.  They say a lot without wanting to say that, like all James Bond films are like that.  They say a lot about the times and the politics in which they were made although that may not have been their purpose initially. So I watch everything, and in terms of the films that I like, I like films that are generally not mainstream, generally not the films that are purely made for entertainment because they are fluffed. I appreciate them, I enjoy them, but I don’t admire them. But if you’re looking at American films, Charlie Chaplin has had a huge influence on me. City Light, I think, is one of the most fantastic films ever made, probably the best romantic comedy that ever was.  I also like his short film called The Kid. I just finished watching Sherlock Jr., which is a fabulous film about our relationship to cinema. So some of these early guys had a huge influence on me. I like their films a lot; I can see them again and again. And when you watch a lot of films you develop sort of an emotional relationship with the films you really admire. As for the current American directors, I like Jim Jarmusch quite a bit; I like his Ghost Dog quite a lot. I like John Sayles, who wrote a film called Lonestar. He’s really a terrific director. There’s a new director, Ramin Baramin. He’s an Iranian fellow born in South Carolina; he has to be one of the best, brightest stars of American Cinema today. If you go outside of this country, there’s a lot more to like, but one of the films that I always like is a film called Wings of Desire, which is made by a German director called Wim Wenders. It was made into a sequel. The sequel is very diluted and doesn’t have the same impact, and it was unfortunately made into a Hollywood film called City of Angels about Los Angeles.  The whole film is about two angels who come down upon earth in Berlin, the original title is called The Skies Over Berlin, so it’s a lot about history and memory and the city and so on and so forth, but it has to be one of the most wonderful films ever made. There’s no limit to how many times I can watch it. One is Andrei Tarkovsky, Soviet Russian director, [who] made some amazing films. In fact, I don’t think there’s anything of Tarkovsky’s that I don’t like. Tarkovsky’s The Stalker is one of my favorite films. His film called Nostalgia is also one of my favorites. Wenders says the film is dedicated to three cinematic angels from whom he learned a lot, so in many ways in Wenders’ eyes, these guys are amazing filmmakers. They are so important to cinema, and more importantly also, they influenced a generation of filmmakers and filmgoers like myself. So Tarkovsky’s one of them. The second one is a Japanese film director called Yasujirō Ozu, who has also left his imprint on cinema like nobody else in terms of his use of framing, in terms of his using of time, narrative – just remarkable, really remarkable filmmaker.  These are not the sensational kind of car chase films that we have, but very different kind of cinema— cinema that makes you think, makes you relate and understand the image in a different way. The third angel is François Truffaut who made a whole series of films about love and children; particularly some of his films about children are quite striking, truthful at least.  The way I see him was not as much an original as Tarkovsky was, not as much of an original as Ozu was, but still had a huge influence because he thought that a film viewer is a lover of cinema. You have to fall in love to appreciate it, you can’t just watch it.  He had an immense passion for cinema, really, really great passion, one of the founders of the New Wave movement in France  There are quite a few new filmmakers I’ve come to like. I’ve come quite a bit to like this fellow, Léos Carax.  His film is here, now; it is coming to Ambler Theatre, called Holy Motors. It’s unlike anything you’ll ever see, just remarkable.  Then there is a Korean filmmaker called Bong Joon-ho who is out of this world.  A recent film of his is called Mother, and it is about a woman who has a son— she is widowed, single mother— and her son is maybe fifteen, sixteen, and he gets caught in a murder accusation, and she believes that he hasn’t killed anybody. She goes to the end of the world to make sure that she proves him innocent. It’s a striking film, highly recommended.  So those are my favorite films.  I listed the ones that come to my mind now; a week from now, some of the permanent things will stay, Chaplin and Wenders will stay, and Tarkovsky, Ozu, and others will stay, but it might shift.

Do you have a favorite Meme?

Oh goodness. I guess I like the Hillary Clinton one, you know the one with the smartphone. That’s a good one.  I like -who’s our gymnast? McKayla Maroney, right? The whole point is she was not impressed. That was a good one. Obama actually imitated her in the White House.

Have you ever seen the grumpy cat meme?

Oh yeah, I’ve seen that one. Yes, I like that one! Cats rule the Internet. You can’t miss those.

What is your opinion on memes, do you have a strong opinion on them?

Not really. I think they are interesting. What it seems to me, and I could just be wrong, is that people have a lot of free time on their hands.  There’s a meme for everything. Obama introduced the Chief of Staff today, and his previous Chief of Staff has now become the Secretary of Finance, and so the new one is apparently a really shy guy. So they’re all really shy, and Obama is known to be a nerd, in the sense that he knows Star Wars guys and all that. So they’re all supposed to be nerds, and every time they say something, he is so shy that he blushes and looks at his own shoes, so that’s becoming a meme as we speak.  Everybody is becoming shy and looking at his or her own shoes.

Could you talk a little about overusing language like you did in class today, especially in social media, like on twitter we have “favorites”, and how we kind of overuse the word favorite?

We could talk forever about this, but it’s something worrisome. You folks in Loco Mag, your language is a lot better than the language we normally use for conversations, but it’s so worrisome in prospect. When students in this generation (not everybody) use texting, it makes you look for simpler words, makes you look for words that are flat, like “favorite” for example, overused and so on and so forth. There comes a point when language loses it’s meaning but retains it’s function. For example, when I pass somebody in the hallways and say “How are you doing?” I really don’t want to know how they are doing, and neither do they want to answer how they are doing. It’s just something to ask, a way to establish connection. I was in a Catholic school in India for sometime, and there was a Padre there, and every time we would say to him, “Hi Father, how are you doing?” “I don’t know. Do you have time? Sit down, I’ll tell you how I’m doing,” and it was impossible.  Every time you asked him that he would have a witty comeback on it. So basically he used it to break this monotony of function that you use language without meaning anything. That’s what we’ve come down to, which is really sad, and I think that’s what I was saying today that it’s a weapon. Language is very sharp, you can hurt people, you can lift people up. You can do a lot of things with language.

One of our topics is Fall of America’s Sweetheart, so what is your opinion on celebrities like Taylor Swift who go from being our favorite to one of our least favorites?

You know, I think we need to give up this idea of sweethearts. They are completely constructed out of nowhere. America’s Sweetheart is a construction of morning television, I think. It’s like what is on the Wheaties Box. Because we are in the culture of celebrities, and celebrity is a construction.  We manufacture celebrities; we don’t really have any substantial people. The most interesting day, I think in the last week or so, was the day that Lance Armstrong gave an interview to Oprah Winfrey. It was the same day that Muhammad Ali had his birthday. Same day. It just happened like that. And it struck me that— look where we’ve come from. Muhammad Ali who was a real celebrity, a real active guy who’s life means something, his words meant something, and look what we’ve come down to: Lance Armstrong, who’s purely facile, made-up, bumped up celebrity. And he was falling down, and Muhammad Ali was exactly where he was, climbing up higher every day, even though he’s ill in someway. He has a condition, he’s not functioning like the rest of us. So you can see that it’s a dumbing down of our culture basically, so I care less about who the celebrities are.

What is your favorite thing about social media today?

That’s very interesting, I don’t know if I have a favorite thing. In some ways, I’d like to be more involved in it, but there’s only so much I can bring myself to doing. You know, I don’t know what to say at this point whether it is damaging to us or not, but one thing I know for sure, it is radically restructuring our lives, our relationships, about who we are, what we are. I just read a beautiful essay on the web; the idea there was basically saying that in the old days when we fell in love with somebody and the relationship stopped or broke, then the memories and the presence of these people used to fade away from our lives. Like old photographs all lovers and old friends should just disappear, they fade away. They should not be part of your social circles. They know what you’re doing now, whom you’re going out with, and so on and so forth. There’s no kind of moving on. It’s literally a circle. Time doesn’t have any progression anymore. We’re just in the same rut. So if you are 15 you do this and that, and you’re 30 and you’re still going to do this because friends are not going to leave you, they’re not going to die on you, they’re not going to go away. So your employer is going to think that what you did when you were 15 is your present. So the present is permanent. And I think we may feel good now but it is dangerous.  To me, it’s a radical reconstruction of our psyche and consciousness. I don’t see any particularly positive thing in it at this point. If there is some then I’m listening and watching to see.

Another one of our topics is a sarcastic article about our favorite things about winter, but we actually all hate winter, so do you have a favorite or least favorite thing about winter?

One of my best things to wear in winter is my bathrobe at home because it’s the warmest. I can go anywhere; it’s really soft, cushiony. It just feels fantastic; so I can sit on the couch, go to my desk, I can write, I can do anything I want. I wish I could just be in it all day. You know what I mean? Winter is just layers and layers and layers and layers and layer and layers and it’s just not worth it. I’m sure everybody has a similar complaint. That’s the worst, and of course the dry heat. Yeah, that’s awful.  It makes it uncomfortable.

That is all the fascinating insight I got from Dr. Deshpande this time around.  If you are not lucky enough to have or have had Dr. Shekhar Deshpande as a professor and are interested in hearing more, check out his website: http://shekhardeshpande.com/

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