Symbolism of Popular Culture

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Cool 2 page essay here that might be of interest:

Symbolism of Popular Culture

For example, suppose a macro-pattern defined by film genre and a sequence progression in this pattern from introverted, feminine genres such as horror films to extraverted, masculine genres such as westerns. Given this scenario, the chances of a great western film becoming successful in a dominant horror context might be less likely than a mediocre horror film.

Questions like this led us to speculate if there might be other factors at work outside of the conscious efforts of sophisticated Madison Avenue advertising firms to make products different from the rest. Might the most successful products be so not because they stood out but rather because they fit into the times. Perhaps our most successful products made connections rather than cut connections. We wondered if these connections might be somewhat unconscious ones to vague (but real) things like the "spirit of the times" or the "zeitgeist" of the period.

I could see how this might be the case, given that so much research goes into branding and marketing products in ways that resonate with people on both conscious and subconscious levels. Whereas someone may have conscious thought processes like "Buy item A because it is cheaper" or "Buy item B because it is more expensive, and more expensive things are usually better quality", on a wholly unconscious level they may be drawn to a certain product based on motivators they don't fully understand.

Posted by Jonah Dempcy at 5:13 AM 39 comments  

Classic Coca Cola Ads

These classic ads have something eerie about them. There are many ways to analyze them-- from the subliminal sexual symbolism to esoteric and occult symbolism.

Look at how set up these shots are! I don't think it's just meaningless aesthetics, there is obviously a lot of thought put into staging these ads. I'm not sure what it means, but here's a little pattern recognition of some of the things I notice.

The bride/groom picture has a yin/yang, duality feel. The black male and white female shapes form an X. There is a similar X made in the image above where a woman has her arms crossed, grabbing the two Cokes. As for the duality, it is a common theme expressed in this and other advertisements, and a favorite subject of occult societies such as the Freemasons. Black and white checkerboards or motifs are especially common.

The Halloween-themed advertisement above is quite strange. It has the two Cokes like twin towers framing the shot. The woman's hands are in a mudra, a hand gesture which forms either the letter M or perhaps a pyramid if you look at the negative space.

That's it for now, feel free to post your own interpretations in the comments.

Posted by Jonah Dempcy at 4:56 AM 5 comments  

Cosmic Blueprints

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Darwin’s theory of evolution is incomplete; evolution by random mutation is a slow and precarious process. The leafy Sea dragon evolved into a seaweed shape for protective camouflage, to look a bit like seaweed might increase conspicuousness and be dangerous.

Leafy Sea dragon Phycodurus eques (on the left) and Seaweed (on the right).
With kind permission from Jeffrey Jeffords (Copyright),

The Indonesian-mimic-octopus is an even more unlikely creature of random mutation. Perhaps unsurprisingly undocumented until 1998 it transmogrifies into at least 17 different life forms. On meeting an enemy it metamorphoses into a creature unpalatable to that predator.

Mimic octopus as a flounder.
Photo with kind permission from (copyright)

Mimic octopus as a poisonous sea snake (sea snake above)
Photo with kind permission from (copyright)

Mimic octopus as a crinoid.
Photo with kind permission from (copyright)

Mimic octopus as a sea star (left)… as a mantis shrimp (right)...
and finally as himself (below).
© Thaumoctopus mimicus Norman & Hochberg, 2005
With kind permission from © Ken Knezick

Statistically Darwinian-evolution cannot be the only mechanism operating such a phantasmagorical and intelligent series of transmogrifications. It is as if all living things have a library of patterns or blueprints that they can access when needed.

I'm reminded of Deleuze & Guatarri's evolution through affiliation, rather than filiation. It seems to fit the idea of convergent evolution. Definition from above source: In evolutionary biology, convergent evolution is when organisms not closely related independently evolve similar traits as a result of having to adapt to similar environments or ecological niches. In cultural evolution, convergent evolution is the development of similar cultural adaptations to similar environmental conditions by different peoples with different ancestral cultures.

Monolith Mind Map

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

This isn't actually a mind map (though that would be cool!). Just a little brainstorm/snippet grab bag on 2001: A Space Odyssey ...

From Wikipedia:

Monoliths are advanced machines built by an unseen extraterrestrial species that appear in Arthur C. Clarke's Space Odyssey series of novels and films.

During the series, four monoliths are discovered in the solar system by humans and it is revealed that thousands if not more were created throughout the solar system, although none are seen. The subsequent response of the characters to their discovery drives the plot of the series. It also influences the fictional history of the series, particularly by encouraging humankind to progress with technological development and space travel.

The first monolith appears in the beginning of the story, set in prehistoric times. It is discovered by a group of hominids, and somehow triggers a considerable shift in evolution, starting with the ability to use tools.

The monolith appearing is an auspicious event. It only occurs during times of planetary alignment-- if you notice, in 2001: A Space Odyssey, every time the monolith is encountered there is a celestial alignment of some sort. When it is discovered on the moon, we see a solar eclipse with the earth blocking the sun, as seen from the moon. Beautiful, and stunning given the technology available at the time.

The Singularity, Artificial Intelligence and Cosmic Consciousness

Artificial intelligence is a theme of 2001, as it introduced probably the most familiar and most-imitated AI of all time, HAL 9000.

HAL's iconic camera eye.
HAL's iconic camera eye

HAL, which is rotated one letter off from IBM (ostensibly an unintentional coincidence), is found to be self-aware and deviating from its pre-programmed script. HAL sneakily begins killing off crew members until "he" is famously disconnected in a scene which is both touching and frightening. HAL sings a children's song he learned when he was "growing up" and being taught to speak. As he "dies", the song gets slower and more slurred until it stops entirely. A touching and altogether haunting moment.

Symbolically, HAL associates with the self, which has an air of "otherness", and also because of its circular mandala shape and 'all seeing eye' association. Also, given that HAL is 'everywhere everywhen' on the space ship, the pervading consciousness of HAL 9000 definitely indicates the self to me.

But, given the sterile future environs of 2001 depicted in the eponymous film, HAL's "self" isn't very healthy. The extremely calm, clear, dry manner of speaking is so disaffected it's downright creepy. The sterile environment depicted in the film is perhaps a warning to humanity not to become too overwrought with technology that we lose touch with natural processes, and not to become too dependant on computers and assisted technology. Or it could be seen as a sort of guilt for enslaving computers ... I know it sounds odd, but computers are getting anthropomorphised to a greater extent all the time and it isn't out of the question for someone to feel bad for mistreating their computer.

Megalithic Structures
The monolith associates with megalithic structures such as StoneHenge and the like.

Megalithic structures have been hypothesized to be of alien origin, or at the very least, a product of advanced technology, whatever the source.

Megalithic structures also tie into celestial events, eclipses, alignments and ritual transformation events occuring at auspicious times.

On the origins of the monolith
From Wikipedia ...

The extraterrestrial species that built the monoliths are never described in much detail but some knowledge of their existence is granted to Dave Bowman after he is transported by the stargate to the 'cosmic zoo', as detailed in the novel versions of 2001: A Space Odyssey and 2010: Odyssey Two. The existence of this species is only hypothesized by the rest of humanity but is obvious because the monolith is immediately identified as an artifact of non-human origin.

The extraterrestrial species that built the monoliths achieved Intergalactic travel millions or perhaps billions of years before the present. In the novels, Clarke refers to them as the "Firstborn" as they were quite possibly the first sentient race to achieve widespread interstellar travel. They explored the galaxy with the intent of acquiring knowledge, especially of other intelligent life.

While they discovered that life was very common, they observed that intelligent life was often stunted in its development or died out prematurely and so they set about promoting it. The "Firstborn" were in many ways physically different from humanity, though taken another way they were fundamentally the same, in that they were creatures made of "flesh and blood", and thus like humans they were mortal. However, the evolutionary development projects they began would by their very nature require time spans to complete that were far greater than the lifetimes of their mortal creators. Therefore, the aliens created increasingly complex automated machines to oversee and carry out their projects over long time periods. When they encountered a living world that was favourable for the evolution of intelligence, they left behind monoliths as remote observers that were also capable of taking a variety of actions according to the wishes of their creators. The monoliths are possibly the last remaining (and ultimate) technology they ever devised. One such planet, encountered when it was still quite young, was the Earth, as well as (later) Jupiter and Europa. The aliens left behind three monoliths to observe and enact a very intricate plan to promote the human race (and later the nascent Europans) to pursue technology and space travel.

Eventually, the Firstborn discovered how to ingrain their consciousnesses into computers, and became a race of Thinking Machines. Ultimately, they surpassed even this achievement, and became able to convert their physical forms into a non-corporeal form - omniscient, immortal and capable of traveling at great speed, the Lords of the Galaxy. The Firstborn had abandoned physical form, but their creations, the monoliths, remained, and continued to carry out the experiments they had originally been tasked with.

We see the result of this machine, created by the "Firstborn", after the final encounter with a monolith in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey:

The Star Child looking at the Earth
The Star Child looking at the Earth

A caption reads "Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite”. Dave now encounters the monolith and while coming up to it, he finds himself suddenly traveling through a “Star Gate” across vast distances of space at great speed watching a large variety of strange astronomical phenomena. He eventually finds himself inside a room containing Louis XVI-style decor. He repeatedly sees future versions of himself. Each time this occurs the POV switches to the later Dave. We eventually are brought to an elderly and dying Dave Bowman lying on the bed. At the foot of the bed, a similar monolith appears. It transforms him into a fetus-like being enclosed in a transparent orb of light, the “Star-Child”. The film suddenly returns to space near the Moon and Earth. The Star Child gazes at Earth while floating in space, while we hear "Thus Spake Zarathustra". Thus the film ends in a way that echoes the beginning. [2]

Interestingly, the star child appears somewhat like a grey alien.

One way to look at this is that the film represents the birth of cosmic consciousness, or evolution of the human mind to gain a new level of self awareness.

Interestingly, aliens often appear in dreams as a way of signifying "otherness", or those aspects of the self which the ego does not self-identify with. The reptile appearance can be associated as an archetype of something non-human, along with the plant and insect realms. I forget where I read this, but it has been postulated that the archetypal symbolism behind grey aliens is an image of the conditions humanity is facing right now by giving too much weight to dry, calculating, intellectual, reductionist logic and spending too little time on emotion and more human attributes.

More on HAL
HAL is such an interesting character in the film. Simultaneously one of the most conversational, but also dry and disaffected. Everyone else talks in a monotone, coming across somewhat gruff and insensitive. HAL is simultaneously of genius level intelligence, and also child-like, innocent and naive.

Here's some HAL-trivia (mostly thanks to Wikipedia):

  • In the Stargate:Atlantis Episode, "The Intruder", a similar shot of the iconic HAL Camera, is seen as an alien virus takes control of the Tau'ri Spacecraft Daedalus The virus portrays many of the same characteristics as HAL; most notably, the virus itself is an AI.
  • In the film Independence Day, when David Levinson opens up his laptop onboard the captured alien spaceship, HAL's interface camera is shown and the laptop says in HAL's voice, "Good Morning, Dave".
So, HAL is in good company. Stargate:Atlantis, two charged highly symbolic words, features a throwback to 2001, which features perhaps one of the most well-known and iconic stargate sequences ever put to celluloid. Independence Day, well there is quite a bit about that film going the synchosphere, but I haven't seen it since it came out in the theaters originally, so I won't comment for the time being.

  • In the 2008 Pixar animated film WALL-E, the main villain and starship Axiom's Autopilot "Auto" has a glowing red camera, also WALL-E's pet cockroach is named Hal.

    Related article which goes into some Wall-E stuff (haven't seen the movie myself):

    World Trade Galactic Centre

Miscellaneous HAL links:

Secret Sun post on 2001 (Thanks Dedroidify!)

The Monolith first appears among the ape-men at sunrise.

The Monolith is then shot from below as a truncated pyramid with the ‘all-seeing eye’ of the Sun at it’s peak. Atop the Sun is a crescent Moon.

When the Monolith transmits the piercing signal in the pit at Clavius, the earlier pyramidical motif identifying it with the sun is repeated, only this time the crescent is of the Earth.


What does it all mean?

I don't know, but here's a Gnostic interpretation that's pretty fun:

Alchemical Kubrick - 2001: The Great Work On Film

Reading through many critical reviews of the film I find it amazing that no one understands what is happening. There are some very erudite explanations that do cover parts of the plot, yet no one really gets it. A description in a movie guide calls it a 'science fiction drama about a computer who takes over a spaceship'. This is like saying that the works of art on the ceiling at Sistine Chapel are 'some paintings about the Bible'.
So what is Kubrick's interpretation, then?
In an interview for Rolling Stone magazine, Stanley Kubrick stated, "On the deepest psychological level the film's plot symbolizes the search for God, and it finally postulates what is little less than a scientific definition of God [...] The film revolves around this metaphysical conception and the realistic hardware and the documentary feelings about everything were necessary in order to undermine your built-in resistance to the poetical concept."[6]

Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophical tract Thus Spoke Zarathustra, about the potential of mankind, is directly referenced by the use of Richard Strauss's musical piece of the same name[6]. Nietzsche writes that "man is a bridge between the apes and the Supermen; a laughing stock".[7] In an article in the New York Times, Kubrick gave credence to interpretations of 2001 based on Zarathustra when he said: "Man is the missing link between primitive apes and civilised human beings. Man is really in a very unstable condition."
Another interesting interpretation, the conception allegory:

Some writers describe 2001 as an allegory of human conception, birth and death.

New Zealand journalist Scott MacLeod who sees parallels between the spaceship's journey and the physical act of conception. Thus we have the long, bulb-headed spaceship as a sperm, and the destination planet Jupiter (or the monolith floating near it) as the egg, and the meeting of the two as the trigger for the growth of a new race of man (the "star child"). The lengthy pyrotechnic light show witnessed by David Bowman, which has puzzled many reviewers, is seen by MacLeod as Kubrick's attempt at visually depicting the moment of conception, when the "star child" comes into being.[8]

These sexual themes are further reinforced by the Freudian references and motifs throughout the film. Note the similarity between the names "Dr. Floyd" and Dr. Freud." In the Dr.'s board-room speech he suggests that the truth about the the monolith must be hidden from the public at large due to the hysteria it may cause, and suggests a proper "cover-story" to conceal the seemingly irrational reality of extraterrestrial life. The irrationality of man is central to the works of both Freud and Nietzsche. This theme is perhaps best demonstrated by the final part of the movie in which Stanley Kubrick opted for a much more enigmatic and surreal representation, as though to say such an experience would necessarily be beyond the possibility of literal depiction, and as his comments regarding the ending indicate, may also be beyond rational comprehension but owe their meaning to the visceral experience itself.

Taking the allegory further, MacLeod argues that the final scenes in which Bowman appears to see a rapidly aging version of himself through a "time warp" is actually Bowman witnessing the withering and death of his own species. The old race of man is about to be replaced by the "star child", which was conceived by the meeting of the spaceship and Jupiter. MacLeod also sees irony in man as a creator (of Hal) on the brink of being usurped by his own creation. Thus, by destroying Hal, man symbolically rejects his role as creator and steps back from the brink of his own destruction.[8]

Similarly, in his book, The Making Of Kubrick's 2001, author Jerome Agel puts forward the interpretation that Discovery One represents both a body (with vertebrae) and a sperm cell, with Bowman being the "life" in the cell which is passed on. In this interpretation, Jupiter represents both a female and an ovum.[9]

Another interpretation (Thanks Wikipedia!):

Wheat's triple allegory

An extremely complex three-level allegory is seen by Leonard F. Wheat in his book, Kubrick's 2001: A Triple Allegory. Wheat states that, "Most... misconceptions (of the film) can be traced to a failure to recognize that 2001 is an allegory - a surface story whose characters, events, and other elements symbolically tell a hidden story... In 2001's case, the surface story actually does something unprecedented in film or literature: it embodies three allegories." According to Wheat, the three allegories are:

  1. Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophical tract, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, which is signaled by the use of Richard Strauss's music of the same name. Wheat notes the passage in Zarathustra describing mankind as a rope dancer balanced between an ape and the √úbermensch, and argues that the film as a whole enacts an allegory of that image.
  2. Homer's epic poem The Odyssey, which is signaled in the film's title. Wheat notes, for example, that the name "Bowman" may refer to Odysseus, whose story ends with a demonstration of his prowess as an archer. He also follows earlier scholars in connecting the one-eyed HAL with the Cyclops, and notes that Bowman kills HAL by inserting a small key, just as Odysseus blinds the Cyclops with a stake.[8] Wheat argues that the entire film contains references to almost everything that happens to Odysseus on his travels; for example, he interprets the four spacecraft seen orbiting the Earth immediately after the ape sequence as representing Hera, Athena, Aphrodite and Paris, the protagonists of the Judgment of Paris, which begins the events of Homer's Odyssey.
  3. Arthur C. Clarke's theory of the future symbiosis of man and machine, expanded by Kubrick into what Wheat calls "a spoofy three-evolutionary leaps scenario": ape to man, an abortive leap from man to machine, and a final, successful leap from man to 'Star Child'.[8]

Wheat often uses anagrams as evidence to support his theories. For example, of the name Heywood R. Floyd, he writes "He suggests Helen - Helen of Troy. Wood suggests wooden horse - the Trojan Horse. And oy suggests Troy." Of the remaining letters, he suggests "Y is Spanish for and. R, F, and L, in turn, are in ReFLect." Finally, noting that D can stand for downfall, Wheat concludes that Floyd's name has a hidden meaning: "Helen and Wooden Horse Reflect Troy's Downfall".[8]

Interpretations of the Monolith

As with many elements of the film, the iconic monolith has been subject to countless interpretations, including religious, historical, and evolutionary. To some extent, the very way in which it appears and is presented allows the viewer to project onto it all manner of ideas relating to the film. The Monolith in the movie seems to represent and even trigger epic transitions in the history of human evolution, evolution of man from ape-like beings to beyond infinity, hence the odyssey of mankind.[10][11]

Each time the monolith is shown, man transcends to a different level of cognition, and link the primeval, futuristic and mystic segments of the film:[12]

  1. The first appearance of the monolith occurs at the threshold of the invention of tool and the beginning of language to form groups in order to defend a particular group against another. The first killing in the movie occurs here.
  2. After 4 million years but this time on the Moon. This begins the transition between ape-like man and a time traveler is embedded between the appearances of the monolith. The second killing (Poole) occurs here. After David Bowman disconnects HAL, the killing ceases.
  3. Between Jupiter and beyond. David Bowman transcends through the monolith (represented as time itself) to break down the traditional concept of life and meaning.
  4. Last scene further evolves man as he emerges as an embryo that looks back at earth from which it arose and evolved.

In the most literal narrative sense, as found in the concurrently written novel, the Monolith is a tool, an artifact of an alien civilization. It comes in many sizes and appears in many places, always in the purpose of advancing intelligent life. Arthur C. Clarke has referred to it as "the alien Swiss Army Knife";[13] or as Heywood Floyd speculates in 2010, "an emissary for an intelligence beyond ours. A shape of some kind for something that has no shape."

The fact that the first tool used by the protohumans is a weapon to commit murder is only one of the challenging evolutionary and philosophic questions posed by the film. The tool's link to the present day is made by the famous graphic match from the bone/tool flying into the air, to a satellite containing nuclear weapons orbiting the earth. At the time of the movie's making, the space race was in full swing, and the use of space and technology for war and destruction was seen as a great challenge of the future.[14]

But the use of tools also allowed mankind to survive and flourish over the next 4 million years, at which point the monolith makes its second appearance, this time on the Moon. Upon lunar sunrise, when the monolith is exposed to sunlight for the first time since its placement, it emits a powerful radio signal -- the destination of which becomes Discovery One's mission.

The monolith on the moon greets the sun for the first time in four million years.  It is "calling home" to say, in effect, "they're here!"
The monolith on the moon greets the sun for the first time in four million years. It is "calling home" to say, in effect, "they're here!"

In reading Clarke, or Kubrick's comments, this is the most straightforward of the monolith's appearances. It is "calling home" to say, in effect, "they're here!" Some species visited long ago has not only evolved intelligence, but intelligence sufficient to achieve space travel. Humanity has left its cradle, and is ready for the next step. This is the point of connection with Clarke's earlier short story,The Sentinel, originally cited as the basis for the entire film.

The third time we see a monolith, it is a far larger iteration, floating in space near Jupiter. Silently, Bowman takes a pod out toward the monolith, and disappears into it. As it marks the beginning of the film's most cryptic and psychedelic sequence, interpretations of the last two monolith appearances are as varied as the film's viewers. Is it a "star gate," some giant cosmic router or transporter? Are all of these visions happening inside Bowman's mind? And why does he wind up in some cosmic hotel suite at the end of it?[12]

According to Michael Hollister in his book "Hollyworld", the path beyond the infinite is introduced by the vertical alignment of planets and moons with a perpendicular monolith forming a cross, as if the astronaut is about to become a new savior. Bowman lives out his years alone in a brightly lit neoclassical room that evokes the Age of Enlightenment, decorated with classical art.[15]

As Bowman passes through his life in this neoclassical room, the monolith makes its final appearance: standing at the end of his bed as he approaches death. he raises a finger toward the monolith, a gesture that alludes to the Michelangelo painting of The Creation of Adam, with the monolith representing God.[16]

Interpretations of HAL

One interesting aspect of HAL's plight is that he, as the supposedly perfect computer, actually behaves in the most human fashion of all of the characters. He has reached human intelligence levels, and seems to have developed human traits of paranoia, jealousy and other emotions. By contrast, the human characters act like machines, coolly performing their tasks in a mechanical fashion, whether they are mundane tasks of operating their craft or even under extreme duress as Dave must be following HAL's murder of Frank. For instance, Frank Poole watches a birthday transmission from his parents with what appears to be complete apathy.

Another view is that HAL does not break down at all. HAL is programmed to act perfectly and does so to the degree of exploiting human error to win the chess game and purposely misdiagnosing the AE35 unit in order to kill the humans and remove the only possible sources of error.

Miscellany and trivia:

The Milenium Hilton hotel was built to represent the 2001 monolith. This building was physically right next to the World Trade Center and present during 9/11, ostensibly synching in with stargates (according to Jake Kotze and others).

This could be totally random but both the PS2 and PS3 remind me of the monolith when in their upright form.

On New Years Day 2001, a replica of the Monolith made out of welded steel appeared on a hill in Seattle's Magnuson Park, apparently having been placed there during the night before. It disappeared overnight three days later.[1]

Posted by Jonah Dempcy at 3:26 AM 5 comments  

On Vector Equilibrium and Closest Packing of Spheres

Monday, August 18, 2008

Excerpt from Energetic Architecture:

Closest Packed Spheres and Space-Filling

Like Kepler before him, Fuller was enamored with sphere packing. He generated his vector systems from the closest packing of spheres. Vector lines could be drawn from the center of one sphere to the center of the other. All of the vertices, then, in this closest packed group of unit radius spheres would be found in the center of each sphere at which each vector meets the others. A simple way to visualize this packing formation is to put three spheres close together on the table so that they all touch each other. Where they each touch each other Fuller called "the kissing point of spheres."

Drawing a line from the center point of each sphere to the center points of the others, you will inscribe a vector triangle. But that "system" of vector relationships does not have an inside and an outside. If you place a sphere on top, centered on the three spheres and connect the centers of each of the three to the center of the top one, you will have four vertices -- a tetrahedron -- the simplest "system" with insideness and outsideness. Fuller started with the topology of closest packed spheres to map the vectorial relationships between them. He always worked in three dimensions, never two. Unlike the geometers before him, Fuller did not start with a point, then a line, then a plane to which he then added dimension. He started in the center of the sphere and out in all directions. The lines or vectors represented energy, direction and time.


Isotropic vector matrixes were known and described well before Fuller named them such. Coxeter published a picture of a tetrahedral octet matrix he called "solid tessellation" in a mathematics publication as early as 1939.16b Matila Ghyka, in his interdisciplinary masterwork of 1946, The Geometry of Art and Life showed a similar image called an "isotropic partition of space by four sets of planes" in a section on closest packing and the cuboctahedron.16c Although Fuller was not aware of Coxeter's solid tesselation, there is evidence that he was familiar with Ghyka's. So what was so different about Fuller's isotropic vector matrix? Through it, he introduced this matrix of 60-degree angles as a model of primary coordinate system from which all other systems could be generated. In addition, Fuller attempted to effectively replace the platonic and Archimedean "solids" as vectored "energy systems" and built them with struts with flexible connectors in order to demonstrate how they transform from one shape to another in time.

In a closest packed group of 12 spheres around one, a vector equilibrium can be inscribed. Fuller called his simple vector equilibrium, when made out of flexible hubs and struts, a "jitterbug" because it twisted to exhibit, while in continuous motion, a series of shapes which accommodate and transform into one another. In its most open stage, it is the cuboctahedron. If it is twisted and contracted, it will become an open icosahedron with six struts missing and with one more contraction it will become the octahedron. It can then be folded down further into a tetrahedron and finally to a simple triangle. Then, simply unfold, untwist and the jitterbug pops back to its original shape, the cuboctahedron or, in Fuller’s dynamic system, the Vector Equilibrium.

The key to Fuller's jitterbug was its ability to embody and demonstrate the "motion" and transformation of polyhedral forms. Fuller's jitterbug could be considered the first polyhedral model in more than two thousand years of mathematical and structural exploration that can demonstrate the energy characteristics of expansion and contraction. Because of the natural twist, like the spiral of a nautilus shell which draws its form from the mathematical rules of golden proportion, the jitterbug in motion can move through symmetrical forms which, if omnitriangulated internally, will span the oscillating continuum of symmetrical and asymmetrical form.

Fuller insisted that since there were no straight lines, the lines that emerge from the 90 degree angles of the "ghostly cube" are wave forms resembling straight lines. His cube was merely the outer "case" of a negative and one positive tetrahedron -- the duotet -- which was meant to be seen in motion. An octahedron (the dual of the cube) can be inscribed in the center of the two interpenetrating tetrahedra. Only in this duotet configuration is the cube completely stable with a diagonal edge of one of the tetrahedra at each face. The duotet was known and depicted graphically well before Fuller, however. Pacioli deemed it "raised octahedron" and pictured it in his 1509 treatise, "De Divina Proportione." Leonardo da Vinci called it the "star tetrahedron" and in the 1600s Kepler gave it its more popular title, "stella octangula." In all of its manifestations, two interpenetrating tetrahedra have represented the most important fact about the tetrahedron -- that it is the only regular polyhedron that is its own self-dual with exactly the same number of vertices as faces. Fuller placed his duotet as the energetic corollary to his vector equilibrium and allowed it to replace the cube in his synergetic geometry.

Summer Meme-Watch '08: Cryptids

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Cryptid sightings are up this year, with recent news of quite a few unknown beasties...

Also, these major summer films synch with Cryptids:

  • Hellboy II: The Golden Army has more cryptids than you can shake a stick at.

  • The Dark Knight, notably the biggest summer blockbuster of '08, revolves around Batman, a cryptid name if I ever heard one. Also, synchromystic bloggers have pointed out a joke early on in the film: there is a photo of the famous Patterson-Gimlin bigfoot on the wall of the Gotham Crime Unit, as a potential suspect for the 'real' Batman. (This is a joke becaus the MCU is not making any effort to actually apprehend Batman).

  • The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor features the Yeti (Tibetan bigfoot) and other cryptids.

  • Cloverfield wasn't a summer film as it was released on January 18, 2008, but the main attraction was a huge freaking cryptid terrorizing New York.

Excerpt from a related post on Through the Looking Glass:

The seemingly well coordinated release of "The Dark Knight" and "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" have acted as a MIRROR/LOOKING GLASS [see Goro Adachi's current work on this dramatic development to our current state of existence] and could be at the heart of the doubling effects written about by Jake Kotze and others in relation to HH's, MM's and KK's.

Even the British Telegraph online raises an eyebrow:

"The film is either very timely or very canny in its release date. With the world's eyes on Beijing and the Olympics, the producers have managed to hustle as many elements of Chinese culture and history as possible into the story: feng shui, kung fu, mystical ancient knowledge, the Great Wall, terracotta armies, even noodle soup. I'm only surprised the producers didn't try to rope in Jingjing the panda for a cameo."

Consider the appearance of YETI in the new Mummy film, the "supposed" discovery of BIGFOOT in rural North GEORGIA (Not too far from my homebase here in Athens), and the recent invasion of GEORGIA by the Russians.

Bigfoot rears his head in "The Dark Knight" as well...image borrowed from the kids at the Synchromysticism Forum...lots of ongoing independent research happening there all day long it seems.

Also let's not forget that The Cartoon Network recently started showing ads for a new show called 'Cryptids Are Real.'

Posted by Jonah Dempcy at 3:59 PM 0 comments  

Jungian Analysis of The Dark Knight

Thursday, August 7, 2008

[Note: after writing this, Firefox crashed and Blogger lost what I had written (so much for auto-saving!), so this post may be a bit rough around the edges]

I thought it would be interesting to identify some of the archetypal themes and underlying symbolism behind the Batman film, The Dark Knight.

Jung in 1910.
Jung in 1910.

Here's a re-cap of some of the concepts we'll use in the analysis, excerpted from Wikipedia. Feel free to skip this if you're already familiar with these terms:
Jung described: archetypal events: birth, death, separation from parents, initiation, marriage, the union of opposites etc., archetypal figures: mother, father, child, God, trickster, hero, wise old man, etc., and archetypal motifs: the Apocalypse, the Deluge, the Creation, etc.

The Self
In Jungian theory, the Self is one of the archetypes. It signifies the coherent whole, unified consciousness and unconscious of a person.

There are two centers of the personality. The ego is the center of consciousness, whereas the Self is the center of the total personality, which includes consciousness, the unconscious, and the ego. The Self is both the whole and the center. While the ego is a self-contained little circle off the center contained within the whole, the Self can be understood as the greater circle.[1]

The Anima and the Animus

The Anima and Animus are, in Carl Jung's school of analytical psychology, the unconscious or true inner self of an individual, as opposed to the persona or outer aspect of the personality. In the unconscious of the male, it finds expression as a feminine inner personality: anima; equivalently, in the unconscious of the female, it is expressed as a masculine inner personality: animus.

The anima is one of the most significant autonomous complexes of all. It manifests itself by appearing as figures in dreams as well as by influencing a man's interactions with women and his attitudes toward them, and vice versa for females and the animus. Jung said that confronting one's shadow self is an "apprentice-piece", while confronting one's anima is the masterpiece.

The Shadow
In Jungian psychology, the shadow or "shadow aspect" is a part of the unconscious mind consisting of repressed weaknesses, shortcomings, and instincts. It is one of the three most recognizable archetypes, the others being the anima and animus. "Everyone carries a shadow," Jung wrote, "and the less it is embodied in the individual's conscious life, the blacker and denser it is."

The shadow is prone to project: turning a personal inferiority into a perceived moral deficiency in someone else. Jung writes that if these projections are unrecognized "The projection-making factor (the Shadow archetype) then has a free hand and can realize its object--if it has one--or bring about some other situation characteristic of its power." [3] These projections insulate and cripple individuals by forming an ever thicker fog of illusion between the ego and the real world.

The Persona
The persona is also the mask or appearance one presents to the world. It may appear in dreams under various guises (see Carl Jung and his psychology). Importantly, the persona, used in this sense, is not a pose or some other intentional misrepresentation of the self to others. Rather, it is the self as self-construed, and may change according to situation and context.

Enantiodromia. Literally, "running counter to," referring to the emergence of the unconscious opposite in the course of time. This characteristic phenomenon practically always occurs when an extreme, one-sided tendency dominates conscious life; in time an equally powerful counterposition is built up, which first inhibits the conscious performance and subsequently breaks through the conscious control. ("Definitions," ibid., par. 709)

The grand plan on which the unconscious life of the psyche is constructed is so inaccessible to our understanding that we can never know what evil may not be necessary in order to produce good by enantiodromia, and what good may very possibly lead to evil. ("The Phenomenology of the Spirit in Fairytales", Collected Works 9i, par. 397)

One of the main themes in the movie is duality, especially that of enantiodromia. This concept was famously summarized by Nietzsche in the quote, "Be careful when you fight the monsters, lest you become one." Both Bruce Wayne/Batman and Harvey Dent/Two Face have a "fall from grace" caused by their desire to fight crime.

The fall of man is one of the two major themes finding expression in the contemporary psyche, according to Richard Tarnas, the other being man's conquering of nature through technology. The latter theme could also be summarized as using reason to overcome obstacles in the face of irrationality. Both of these themes have left indelible marks on the collective psyche of humanity for generations, so it's interesting but perhaps not surprising that we see both of these themes expressed strongly in The Dark Knight.

Duality and The Fall of Man
First on the theme of the fall. It is very dualistic, being about inversion, contradiction or paradox, irony (doing something which results in the opposite intended effect), and enantiodromia. For example, stories which have fall symbolism include the story of King Midas and that of Icarus.

In The Dark Knight, both Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent are over-confident and somewhat self-aggrandizing, or egoistic. And, it is certainly ironic that Batman's intent to fight crime caused a new breed of criminal to arise, i.e. The Joker, as well as Harvey Dent's actions to lock up criminals leading to his own demise. Both characters fall as a result of their actions.

On the theme of duality, we can explore some of the ways it is expressed in the film:
  • Bruce Wayne/Batman leads a double life

  • Batman is called "The Dark Knight" while Harvey Dent is "The White Knight"

  • The whole "Two Face" character is entirely about duality: the name, the clothing (half white/half black suit, split down the middle), and so on. Not to mention the constant coin flipping throughout the film (though the coin flipping also has other connotations such as chance, fate etc). Harvey Dent (who later becomes Two-Face) also says the following Nietzschean gem early on in the film: "Those who don't die a hero live to see themselves become the villain."

  • The Joker says at one point, "You complete me." The Joker also describes their meeting as the meeting of an unstoppable force (the Joker) and an immovable object (Batman). In this sense, they represent chaos vs. order, energy vs. matter, or 2 sides of the same coin to put it another way.
To interpret the fall psychologically, I would say that it generally signifies a moment of transformation that results in a part of the self being rejected, thus creating (or amplifying) the shadow. It can be seen as a split where one seems to be living two lives, the "old" one and the "new" one. The fall in this sense can be seen as a death and rebirth cycle, as well as having a dividing or doubling motif.

Early in the film, Harvey Dent is seen making decisions by flipping a coin. However, when pressed about it by Rachel, he responds that he doesn't leave anything to chance. Later, it is revealed that the coin he has been flipping all along has heads on both sides. Therefore, he always knew the outcome ahead of time.

This, to me, signifies that there was an essential unity, naivete or one-sided view of the world existing in Harvey's character at that point in the film. After his traumatic death/rebirth experience in which he lost his fiance (his "other half") and half of his face in a chemical fire, the coin, too, shows one side blackened.

From this point on, when he flips the coin to decide on whether people live or die, it truly is blind chance. In other words, chaos. By the end of the film, Harvey Dent has completely transformed into Two-Face, and switched from an agent or order to an agent of chaos.

His character experiences many inversions on the macro- and micro-level, another such example being when he first encounters The Joker while recovering in the hospital after his ordeal. Harvey, becoming Two-Face before our very eyes, initially reacts by wanting to kill The Joker, but The Joker instead gives him the gun, carefully keeping it pointed straight at him. At this point, Harvey, now fully present as Two-Face, decides to keep the gun, letting The Joker live.

Batman himself experiences such an inversion at the end of the film, where he takes the blame for Two-Face's murders, thus sullying his own name but keeping the dream of Harvey Dent alive "for the greater good." Batman says that Gotham must never know about Harvey's fall, and it will be said that he died a hero.

According to Nolan, an important theme of the sequel is "escalation", extending the ending of Batman Begins, noting "things having to get worse before they get better". Shades of Nietzsche's dark night of the soul.

Introducing the cast of characters

Bruce Wayne
Even though Batman wears a mask to hide his identity, Bruce Wayne is really the symbolic mask. It is Bruce Wayne who is the ego, masking the greater self that is Batman. If we look at what Bruce/Batman was meant to be in life, we see that his true calling is certainly as Batman, not as a rich, superficial and vapid billionaire. Similarly, the ego can be seen as vapid and superficial in relation to the self, which is the totality of conscious and unconscious aspects of the mind.

Also, although Bruce Wayne's wealth may have been conceptualized out of a juvenile power fantasy, it is certainly not glamorized in the film. His wealth, when touched upon, makes the character seem more distant or unlikable. In this way, the film resonates with an "everyman" attitude that money can't buy happiness, and the important things in life are free.

Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. Panel from Batman #84 (June, 1954), page 24. Bale as the new Batman in Batman Begins (2005).

Batman, being the protagonist and also the icon which embodies the entire franchise, certainly resonates with the self. The bat logo can be seen as a sort of mandala for the self.

I would go a step further to say that Batman is the self after finishing the grail quest (another form of death/rebirth symbolism), and after integrating the shadow. While Bruce Wayne is feeble, uptight and superficial, representing a rather immature, materialistic ego-driven personality, Batman represents the individuated self, having accepted and integrated its negative traits.

Batman isn't simply the shadow, for if it were, he would be all of the negative things that Bruce Wayne rejected from his life. Rather, Batman is the integrated self that has overcome the trials and tribulations on their quest for self discovery. Having quested and matured (as evinced in Batman Begins, 2004) this Batman represents the developed self, which is able to hold the opposites.

We see Bruce struggling with the opposites early in the film after some Batman-imitating vigilantes interfered with a mafia drug deal. He says to Alfred that when he said he wanted to inspire people, he didn't mean for them to take to the streets as vigilantes. Again, the exact opposite of the intended effect has occurred, yet at this stage in the film, Bruce has difficulty accepting it.

Throughout the film, the theme is reinforced that Batman can do what others can't. He can break the rules, such as going to Hong Kong to forcibly extradite a criminal. However, Bruce Wayne continues to struggle with his role. After the death of Rachel, we see Bruce in the early morning hours, obviously depressed, asking Alfred if it is all his fault.

He struggles throughout the film, ultimately coming to a conclusion that he can accept his role. At the end of the film, we see a much more self-assured and confident Batman, fully accepting and embracing his dual nature. Here he says that he will give Gotham the hero it needs, not the one it deserves.

Harvey Dent

Harvey Dent is the archetypal "fairy tale" hero, which humanity's collective pscyhe is now too jaded and cynical to ever accept as anything other than make-believe. Harvey is the "too good to be true" goody two-shoes district attorney who intends to single-handedly bring down the mob in Gotham city. He plays the hero to Batman's antihero.

Psychologically, he can be seen as the naive, undifferentiated self. His theme is unity and simplicity. He flips a double-sided coin but both sides are the same. His character resonates with the mind in a state before it has become cynical and jaded.

In the film, Harvey is initially at odds with Gordon. It seems that Gordon represents the world-weary, cynical, jaded cop while Harvey is the hot-shot rookie. A backstory for Harvey and Gordon is revealed in the film: Before becoming a district attorney, Harvey Dent worked at Internal Affairs and had investigated members of Gordon's unit for corruption.

Cover art for the second printing of Detective Comics #818, by Simone Bianchi.


We've already explored the symbolism of Two-Face quite a bit through discussing Harvey Dent and the rest of the film, but here are a few particular details about his character.

He is reminiscient of Janus, the two-faced god.
In Roman mythology, Janus (or Ianus) was the god of gates, doors, doorways, beginnings, and endings. His most prominent remnants in modern culture are his namesakes: the month of January, which begins the new year, and the janitor, who is a caretaker of doors and halls.

Roman bust of Janus, Vatican.
There is quite a bit more interesting symoblism about Two-Face but alas, it will have to wait until another article. Check Wikipedia for more info.

Rachel Dawes
Being one of the only female characters in the movie, Rachel resonates as an anima symbol. I would say she is similar to Helen of Troy, or anima level 2, according to Jung's categorization. Helen is described as follows:
The second is Helen, in allusion to Helen of Troy in Greek mythology. In this phase, women are viewed as capable of worldly success and of being self-reliant, intelligent and insightful, even if not altogether virtuous.

Gyllenhaal has acknowledged her character is a damsel in distress to an extent, but says Nolan sought ways to empower her character, so "Rachel's really clear about what's important to her and unwilling to compromise her morals

Michael Caine as Alfred.
Michael Caine as Alfred.

Alfred Pennyworth
Alfred is the wise old man. In fact, he's even listed on the Wikipedia page as such. Here's the description from Wikipedia,

This type of character is typically represented as a kind and wise, older father-type figure who uses personal knowledge of people and the world to help tell stories and offer guidance that, in a mystical way, may impress upon his audience a sense of who they are and who they might become, thereby acting as a mentor.

Jung dubbed this character as a senex. This is Latin for old man in general, and in fact, two stock characters of the stage are the senex iratus, an old man who irrationally objects to the love between the younger characters, and the senex amans, an old man foolishly in love with a woman too young for him. Jung's senex, unlike these characters, has grown old graciously. His wisdom is not only in his increased knowledge and judgment, but his knowing that younger people have taken on the role of hero, and that his position has changed to one of mentor.

Alfred in this case is certainly the austere senex, who is far removed from the outside world and has taken on a mentor role, having no active part in Bruce Wayne/Batman's endeavours.

Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox from Batman Begins.
Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox

Lucius Fox
Lucious is another wise old man character who mentors Bruce Wayne/Batman. He is an invaluable resource for providing the armor, weaponry and technology used by Batman.

His name is interesting as Lucius resonates with Lucifer, or light-bringer, and Fox is numerologically 666. (F = 6th letter, O = 15th letter, X = 24th letter).

That being said, I fail to find any connection between "Lucifer 666" and the character portrayed by Morgan Freeman in the film. One very tenuous tie that I can perhaps stretch is that Lucius/Lucifer means "light bringer" and is related to Prometheus, who famously stole the light of knowledge from the Gods. If we look at this light of knowledge as technology, then it perhaps makes sense that Lucius is the "bringer" of light/technology to Batman. But I think that this entire trope is a rather futile effort in making sense of this unusual sidenote.

Disregarding the name Lucius Fox, we can focus on some of the other details of this character. I notice that the character of Lucius started in Batman Begins as a humble worker in the basement at Wayne Enterprises, yet has climbed the ranks to become president. This can be seen psychologically as reaping the rewards of being virtuous and ethical.

It, too, is an inversion -- going from a lowly basement worker to the president of a company.

So, while Lucius Fox has some duality themes, I think he primarily symbolizes ethics and right livelihood. The actor Morgan Freeman (at least to me) just exudes ethics, as does his character in the film, who initially refuses to use a surveillance network of Gotham City on the grounds that it's unethical.

Gary Oldman as James Gordon in Batman Begins (2005)
Gary Oldman as James Gordon

Commissioner Gordon
Gordon is the Everyman. Gordon is symbolic of the average joe, just trying to get by and do the best he can.

The struggle between Gordon and Harvey Dent can be seen as the world-weary and cynical yet wise old man with the bright-faced, optimistic but ultimately naive young man.

Gordon, too, has a death and rebirth in the film, when he fakes his own death during an assassination attempt on the mayor. He is revealed to still be alive later in the film, when he comes to Batman's rescue. In this scene, Batman has just crashed his motorcycle after swerving out of the way to miss The Joker, as he won't break his one rule, which is to never take a life. Just when it seems that The Joker will kill Batman, Gordon comes to the rescue.

Is this telling us that we need to stick to our morals, ethics and beliefs, and have faith in humanity?

Gary Oldman described his character as "incorruptible, virtuous, strong, heroic, but understated".

Heath Ledger as the Joker.  The Joker's scruffy and grungy make-up is intended as a reflection of his "edgy" character. Heath Ledger as the Joker.

The Joker
The Joker certainly embodies the Trickster archetype, though in The Dark Knight he is considerably less playful than in the prior comics, cartoons and films (except, perhaps, the specific somewhat dark envisioning of the Joker that this most recent film is based on).
Hynes and Doty, in Mythical Trickster Figures (1993) state that every trickster has several of the following six traits:[1]
  1. fundamentally ambiguous and anomalous
  2. deceiver and trick-player
  3. shape-shifter
  4. situation-inverter
  5. messenger and imitator of the gods
  6. sacred and lewd bricoleur
The Joker meets all of these criteria, if you think about it. The "shape-shifter" thing can be seen in the various disguises, masks, face paint and even a nurse outfit that The Joker wears during the film. Situation inversion is also a constant thread, where The Joker is able to get out of situations against all odds through trickery (e.g., pretending to be dead and having his "corpse" delivered to a mob boss who wants him dead, only to "come alive" and kill the mobster).

The other criteria fit in as well, but I think that this incarnation of the Trickster is a bit darker than most. Whereas there are many benevolent Trickster archetypes (e.g. Robin Hood), the Joker is certainly a malevolent one.

The Joker also resonates with other archetypal characters, such as Thanatos (aka The Grim Reaper), and Eris (Goddess of Discord). There is such a wealth of symbolism surrounding The Joker that I'll continue this analysis in a post dedicated entirely to this character.

Posted by Jonah Dempcy at 12:19 AM 4 comments