Designing and Apartment like a Disney Legend

28 09 2014

I’ve got it! I’ve got a new design theme for my future studio apartment when I move out of the flophouse I currently live in (with roommates, ick). It’s going to be a 1950s fantasy world! ‘It’s the Cold War after all!’ Mary Blair - It's A Small WorldSince I work for a furniture company that sells Mid-century Modern furniture and home accessories, and I get a 30% discount on all purchases, I decided to forgo the Art Deco theme I had in mind for a Mid-century Modern one. Art Deco is my favourite interior design and architecture style, but it’s just too hard to find practical furniture, like convertible sofas, to pull off the Hollywood Regency look in a studio apartment.

The middle of the twentieth century was an awful time for urban planning—everything was about cars and highways, and tearing down old neighbourhoods to replace them with parking lots, strip malls, and suburban tract houses—but the interior design and architecture styles in themselves were really cool. Think Jetsons, Star Trek, the Dick van Dyke Show, EPSON scanner imageand the It’s A Small World ride at Disneyland—anything that seemed cool and modern in the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s, but which is considered retro nowadays. I’ve decided the ‘It’s A Small World’ 1950s Disney fantasy world is the look I’m going for, but it isn’t going to be a tacky carnival. It is going to be sleek and contemporary with a few nods here and there to that era in the decorative arts. Old 1950s record albums. Old cars. Old children’s story books. That is the look I am going to shove in your face when you come to visit my pad. And just imagine it at Christmas, with multi-coloured Christmas lights and retro glass tree ornaments reflecting pink and purple hues off white surfaces!

The artist behind the concept work for Disney’s ‘Small World’ ride was Mary Blair. Not only did she design the set and animatronic characters for our most beloved theme park ride, but she also illustrated the backgrounds for feature-length Disney animated films such as Cinderella, Peter Pan, and Alice in Wonderland. Mary Blair IIA pioneer among women in the world of animation, which was and still is dominated by men, she created some of the most memorable animated landscapes of the twentieth century, and anyone who has read a Little Golden Book based on a Disney film has probably enjoyed her magical artwork without realising who she was. So I have decided to take her as my inspiration. It is the perfect marriage of the retrofuturistic Space Age of Tomorrowland (as embodied by Star Trek and The Jetsons) with the mystical, magical world of Fantasyland, all using the tropes, motifs, and design elements of Mid-Century Modern art. I should add that Blair was not just a children’s animator, but also created remarkably evocative adult watercolours featuring the themes and landscapes of America during the early to middle twentieth century.

Anyway, here are the bare bones of my design scheme. I’ve decided to go with a sleek, contemporary, gravel-grey convertible sofa called the Tratus, by the Danish company Innovation. It comes with or without arms, but I am going with arms because I like the ‘complete’ sofa look. I also like the matte, dark grey legs and frame base. Tratus Convertible Sofa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am going to get matching chairs for either side of the sofa, in order to create a relatively symmetrical look, and also so I can convert the sofa into a queen size in case some queen ends up in my bed after a night of drunken debauchery. These chairs are made in the same matching grey, although only a picture of the yellow version is available. Tratus Chair

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To these I plan to add a kidney-shaped coffee table with a white, powder-coated, tempered-glass top and lacquered, steel-framed base. There will be matching end tables on either side of the sofa. Appropriate table and floor lamps will be included. Maybe a lava lamp. Hmm. Yes, a lava lamp. Cerise-coloured. Azalea Coffee Table               Azalea End Table

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OK, let’s talk about art. Since I am drawing inspiration from Mary Blair, I have to have some affordable prints of hers to display on my walls. Just enough to conjure up the idea of Mid-Century Modern Disney fantasy world, yet subtle enough to be sophisticated. So here are the prints I have selected below. This one:

Mary Blair - Cinderella VI

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And this one:

 Mary Blair - Cinderella II

 

 

 

 

 

 

And this one: Mary Blair - Cinderella                   And this one: Mary Blair - Cinderella V                 And this one: Mary Blair - Cinderella IV                 And this one: Mary Blair - Alice in Wonderland                 And this one: Mary Blair - Alice in Wonderland II                   And this one: Mary Blair - Peter Pan III                     And this one: Mary Blair - Weird               And this one: Mary Blair - Headless Horseman                   As you can see, I’m going for the dark Disney look in my Mid-Century Modern flat. I shan’t have anything less. My main goal is to create a darkly retrospective atmosphere with a hint of Mid-century fantasy married with a little bit of retrofuturistic science-fiction. The furniture I showed is neutral—grey and cubical, or elliptic and white. The furniture serves as a device to show off the more carnivalesque prints I intend to put on my walls. What do you think? Can I pull off this Mid-century Modern, Disneyland fantasy look?

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10 Reasons Why America Sucks and Europe Rocks

6 06 2013

1)      Food

America:

America Food

Europe:

Europe Food II

2)      Health

America:

Overweight Mother and Daughter

Europe:

Europe Health

3)      Education

America:

America Education

Europe:

Europe Education

4)      Transportation

America:

America Transport

Europe:

Europe Public Transport II

5)      Walkability

America:

America Walkability II

Europe:

Europe Walkability

6)      Urban Landscape

America:

Houston suburbs

Europe:

Europe Urban Landscape Cityscape

7)      Fashion

America:

America Fashion

Europe:

Europe Fashion

8)      Music

America:

America Music Country Cowboy Hat

Europe:

Style: "fever ray 2"

9)      Nightlife

America:

America Nightlife

Europe:

Europe Nightlife

10)  World-view

America:

America World-View

Europe:

Europe World-View





Hillary Clinton, Gay Rights, and Cultural Relativism

12 12 2011

I’m not a cultural relativist. Sometimes customs are culturally relative, and sometimes, quite frankly, they are not. I don’t believe that sexism, racism, child abuse, animal abuse, rape, torture, murder, or homophobia are excusable depending on cultural context, because in each context these atrocities share the traits of hatred, violence, and exploitation committed against a sentient being. Let me get this caveat out of the way first: on some issues we are in no place to judge the practises of other cultures, and on other issues we most certainly are. In return, these other cultures are allowed to judge us on our faults. With that out of the way, LGBT rights are not an imperialist vision; they are a humanist one.

Given my wariness of cultural relativism, I was elated by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s amazing speech at the United Nations in Geneva. In her speech, Clinton declares that the Obama administration will defend LGBT rights as a part of its human rights and foreign policy, and that the President will command all government agencies operating overseas to defend LGBT rights through various diplomatic strategies. She makes several points about how and why the world community should end persecution of LGBT people: first, LGBT rights are human rights; second, homosexuality exists in all cultures; third, religious and cultural beliefs do not justify persecution of LGBT people; fourth, the world must confront persecution of LGBT people, not dismiss it; and fifth, we must employ practical means to obtain equality for LGBT people. All of these points are interesting and relevant, but the most provocative to me are the second and third points, which challenge the cultural relativism cited to defend persecution of LGBT people.

In her second point, Clinton challenges the assumption that homosexuality and LGBT rights are purely Western, imperialist conceptions being foisted on non-Western cultures. This is simply not true, Clinton shows, because homosexuality exists in every culture, and homophobia is a problem in every culture. It is, in other words, a human condition, and creating artificial cultural barriers to LGBT liberation would do a disservice to LGBT people:

Some seem to believe [homosexuality] is a Western phenomenon, and therefore people outside the West have grounds to reject it. Well, in reality, gay people are born into and belong to every society in the world. They are all ages, all races, all faiths; they are doctors and teachers, farmers and bankers, soldiers and athletes; and whether we know it, or whether we acknowledge it, they are our family, our friends, and our neighbours.

And just in case anybody insists there are no examples of efforts to advance LGBT rights in non-Western cultures, Clinton deftly turns the tables:

Being gay is not a Western invention; it is a human reality. And protecting the human rights of all people, gay or straight, is not something that only Western governments do. South Africa’s constitution, written in the aftermath of Apartheid, protects the equality of all citizens, including gay people. In Colombia and Argentina, the rights of gays are also legally protected. In Nepal, the supreme court has ruled that equal rights apply to LGBT citizens. The government of Mongolia has committed to pursue new legislation that will tackle anti-gay discrimination.

Clinton has obviously done her fact-checking (which is to be granted, given that she is America’s chief diplomat): heteronormative sexualities, if not exactly ubiquitous, are well-distributed among the world’s cultures, hence LGBT rights are a relevant concern to all of the world’s cultures. It is now common knowledge among well-informed people that homosexuality, bisexuality, transsexuality, and intersexuality are not the product of a particular culture; they are a product of living organisms in general, from shellfish to human beings. It seems absurd, then, to say that these sexualities are the luxurious fad of one particular society (the West) of one particular species of animal (homo sapiens), hence it seems absurd to suggest that LGBT rights are relevant only to that society or species.

In her third point, Clinton criticises the notion that cultural or religious beliefs somehow justify persecution of LGBT people, and roundly dashes it to pieces. (I exaggerate, but still, she could have, and she probably would have if representatives of countries like Uganda, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Afghanistan weren’t present.) She does this by comparing LGBT rights to the rights of other persecuted peoples. Specifically, she draws an analogy between crimes against LGBT people and crimes against women, both of which derive from patriarchal hegemony:

[The justification for persecuting LGBT people] is not unlike the justification offered for violent practices towards women like honor killings, widow burning, or female genital mutilation. Some people still defend those practices as part of a cultural tradition. But violence toward women isn’t cultural; it’s criminal. Likewise with slavery, what was once justified as sanctioned by God is now properly reviled as an unconscionable violation of human rights.

Cutting off a woman’s clitoris is universally wrong because it causes unspeakable pain, stress, and health problems for the victim, whether she is from Sweden, Somalia, or Seattle. This is because every person of every culture possesses a common human physiology; the nervous systems of all human beings are basically the same. I suspect every woman feels immense pain when she is mutilated, burnt to death, or stoned to death, despite the cultural situation. And when proponents of cultural relativism cite reasons for their stance, those reasons fall nothing short of pathetic: women shouldn’t be allowed to have sex with men other than their husbands, women shouldn’t be allowed to experience sexual pleasure, or women shouldn’t be allowed to live if their husbands die. Forgive me if I find these justifications more solipsistic than utilitarian, and hence hardly socially beneficial. They’re just the laws of self-serving tyrants who view women as mere incubators. Similarly, every gay person experiences unconscionable pain and horror at being hanged or crushed to death for being gay. Opinions, insecurities, and concerns specific to a culture do not justify violence against women or gay people, because we all share the same basic human physiology despite cultural context. I think this is what Clinton was pointing at.

I won’t mince words. Hillary Clinton is right, and the cultural relativists are wrong. Heteronormative sexuality is found everywhere in the world, and LGBT rights are no more culturally relative than women’s or racial minorities’ rights, because all are products of a common human mental and physical experience. For some reason, though, this is a sensitive topic for many anti-imperialists, who often happen to be from the West. It seems to me that a lot of this cultural relativist dogma stems from white, middle-class people who feel guilty about their colonial heritage, and they spout this disingenuous nonsense about relativism to soothe their own conscience. But think about it. Arguing that women’s or LGBT rights are culturally relative is basically discriminating against women and LGBT people who live in countries, like Iran, which don’t recognise their status, and that isn’t very feminist or pro-gay, is it? It isn’t even very pro-human, as Clinton showed, and I can’t help but respect her for sending such a bold, unapologetic message to countries which still use cultural relativism as a loophole to commit human atrocities. It was truly a satisfying vindication of LGBT rights.





Tomorrow’s World

9 10 2011

I have been waiting for this day for four years, yet somehow it feels like just another release date. I guess I’m showing my age. Erasure have released Tomorrow’s World, named after the British 1980s science documentary series. And I have to say, with the help of Frankmusik, the album is awash in smooth, modern dance sensibility. Well, two-thirds of it, at least. The other third is a little bit more anchored in the soul-gospel balladry which places focus on lead singer Andy Bell’s distinctly bold voice. But, then, his voice soars in the dance tunes, too. The strength of the album is in how Andy’s voice–which sounds particularly strong and stable–glides atop the chic dance grooves.

Consider the track “I Lose Myself”, with its hard, deliberate rhythm and rich, unabashed vocals:

If you ask me, it sounds like a well-polished, modern twist on early New Order. But it hasn’t really been done before; it’s a new kind of fierce dance-pop. (By the way, New Order’s lead singer, Bernard Sumner, is releasing an electronic album soon.)

Now consider the more vulnerable sound of “Be With You”, characterized by an irresistibly loping beat and Andy’s longing, soaring voice:

This is the way ballads should sound: originally conceived to be slow, but re-interpreted as a dance track to inject a throbbing energy which only elevates the soulful vocals.

Then there is “A Whole Lotta Love Run Riot”, the ultimate cynical commentary on the vapidity of British club culture in the 2010s:

This song is like “I Lose Myself” in its intense, driving rhythm, but it is a little bit ironic how it criticizes the banality of modern British dance music while co-opting that same style and creating a much more lush, melodic, tightly-structured, tuneful sound–which is the way dance music should sound anyway.

Finally, we arrive at my favourite track, “Fill Us With Fire”. I like this track in particular because of my spiritual bent. (I believe in something greater than myself, but ultimately what matters is how we treat one another. Indeed, for me, that is the purpose of spirituality.) It is a rumination on the woes of humankind and a plea for rationality and self-reflection. At the same time, it doesn’t sound too didactic. It is truly a treat for the ears and the mind:

Something about this song evokes climbing a ladder. As I listen to the verse, then the bridge, and then, finally, the chorus, it feels as if I am ascending into a higher place. It is one of Erasure’s most divinely contemplative compositions, in my opinion. It is just sublime.

So that is the sound of Erasure circa 2011. The production was done by Frankmusik , a highly talented and emerging electronic dance artist. And we know the name-brand sound ofVince Clarke, a skilled and timeless “tone-smith” who creates the instrumental soundscape of Erasure, not to mention his bandmate Andy Bell, a prominent songwriter and vocalist. I cannot describe to you the amazing talent produced by Mute, which includes artists like Moby and Goldfrapp. Their skils combined, these individuals should make you shit tears of joy. Honestly.