Saturday, August 29, 2009

O Anthropology, Where Art Thou?

Set in Mississippi in 1937 the Coen brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou? is a contemporary retelling of Homer’s The Odyssey that has Ulysses, Delmar and Pete escape from a prison work camp in order to quest for the treasure that Ulysses had buried after robbing an armoured car. This film was indeed made for the purpose of mass consumption and is art who Morphy and Perkins define as “associated with bodies of knowledge, technologies and representational practices that provide insights into the whole life world of a society” (2006: 2). The film uses ‘traditional’ or ‘old timey’ bluegrass, gospel and blues in its’ soundtrack help to provide both lyrical and textural support for the historical and cultural aspects of the rural south in the depression era United States. This is used both as background and as a performance by a character in order to validate a sense of authenticity to their character and suggest the “cultural heritage of ‘the South’ is itself constantly evolving and constantly new” (Chadwell 2004: 3). This assigning of “qualitative values to properties of the material world” is how Morphy defines aesthetics and ideas of power, class, race, gender, economic practices and religious beliefs are all represented (1994: 7). The benefits of film are obvious, its’ dynamic nature is a better format for a range of representations rather than the static forms of sculpture or painting. The emergence and explosion of visual global mass media in the form of television, video and film have meant that artists now have a greater dynamic canvas in a which a plethora of representations can be not only embodied, but interact.

The film negotiates power relationships through its’ use of music. Even in the early days of recorded music in the southern United States a certain level of authenticity was attached to ‘old timey’ and bluegrass players, seen as a rejection of an emerging mass culture which threatened their own, regardless of their actual background or where their music originated (Chadwell 2004). The association of music being ‘old timey’ suggests nostalgia and heritage however this construct is flawed due to the fact that “technological progress was part and parcel of the professionalisation and popularisation of country music” with over five hundred radio stations transmitting in the South from the 1920s” (Gonzalez 2003: 102). Conversely, ideas of mechanical reproduction were utilised by ethnomusicologists like Alan and John Lomax allowing them to document, study and preserve American folk history (Gonzalez 2003).

O Brother, Where Art Thou? gives an insight into social relations during the time with there being limited acceptance of the growing black minority. Our protagonists, being convicts, have more in common with African Americans than their ‘cleaner’ living counterparts, something which Content refers to this as “the natural solidarity of universal brother hood” that “arises out of shared suffering” (2001: 44). Yet still there is a sense of prejudice when they initially meet a blind, black oracle who’s predictions of the future are scoffed at by Ulysses who says, “How does he know? He’s a negro…and an old man!” An indication that race would be somewhere on the same level as senility as a basis for deriding someone’s opinion. The oracle also exclaims that he has no name which illustrates the administrative practice of the time of rural blacks not registering births. The use of traditional bluegrass, gospel and blues songs also give us lyrics for interpretation. The performance of ‘Po Lazarus’, a tale of a black fugitive who is hunted down and killed by a deputy, by the black chain gang at the beginning of the film is a typical ‘work song’, used by the oppressed black minority of the time as a form of rebellion. A certain authenticity is given to the ‘old timey’ music being propagated in the film, a music supposedly representative of white values and culture however, as Chadwell notes, “the discourse authenticating this music as ‘old time’ manages to elide the connections between African American and White Southern cultures” (2004: 3). He also points out the irony in which “authenticity is invoked by cultures actively engaged in erasing or avoiding their actual roots” (2004: 4). During the film the trio attempt to record (with the help of black bluesman Tommy Johnson) a song for a radio station for monetary gain, something they are only able to achieve once they conform that they are indeed white and are willing to perform something ‘old timey’.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? also gives us clues regarding (assumed) gender relations during this point in history. Strang explains that “gendered categories of material culture and gendered social identities and roles are ubiquitous: there is no culture in which they cannot be observed” (1992: 77). Upon finding his ex-wife, who is now due to remarry, Ulysses objects and refers to himself as ‘paterfamilias’ indicating that males are the head of family units. The film also seems to be male gendered, our protagonists are all male, the lead female is objectified as a ‘wife’ or someone who needs male support in order to survive. Ulysses quest for treasure itself can be seen as him fulfilling the role of the contemporary hunter-gatherer whilst Penelope desire for a mate that is “bona fide” is a maternal wish for a honest, stable provider that is committed to raising a family.

As this was set during the great depression economic practices are represented through both the film and through the soundtrack. The opening credits are supported by Harry McClintock’s 1928 version of ‘Big Rock Candy Mountains’, a tale of hobo heaven that describes “a land that’s fair and bright, where the handouts grow on bushes and you sleep out every night” and also “where they hung the jerk that invented work”. Economic hardships felt in this, largely agrarian, environment are also expressed by a desperate need for landowners to hold onto their property. Upon visiting Pete’s relatives the trio find themselves threatened by a young boy who queries “Are you men from the bank?” then later reveals that his father had told him to shoot anyone from the bank. Later on, when questioned over what he was going to do with his share of the treasure, Delmar indicates that he would buy back the family farm from the bank adding “you ain’t no kinda man if you ain’t got no land”. This hardship is also expressed by Tommy Johnson when he sings a version of Skip James’ ‘Hard Time Killing Floor Blues’ which contains the lyrics “And you say you had money, you better be sure, 'Cause these hard times will drive you from door to door”. The Coen’s also use body composition to enunciate class with the more rich and powerful being far larger in girth than our malnourished protagonists. Content adds that “in the lean years of the depression, double chins and big bellies brand these villains as ‘fat cats’” (2001: 46). He also adds that this difference between the “exploiter and the exploited” is far more pronounced than differences in race and gender (46).

Being set in Mississippi, the ‘deep south’, we see religious representation play a major role in O Brother, Where Art Thou?. After escaping from the prison work party Delmar becomes baptized, an act that he sees as comparable to a pardon until he is informed otherwise. The music of O Brother, Where Art Thou? is littered with religious overtones such as ‘Down To The River to Pray’, ‘In The Highways’ and ‘Angel Band’ showing that Christianity was certainly central to their community at the time. Cosmological understandings are also expressed here with a Ku Klux Klan meeting being in opposition to “all the people say that we come descended from monkeys” pointing to a direct belief in creationism and a rejection of theories of evolution. Upon being picked up by the trio Tommy Johnson explains that he was at the crossroads last night where he sold his soul to the devil in exchange for skill in playing the guitar. Both the crossroads and deals with the devil feature in both white and black cultures (as Satan and Papa Legba respectively) with the crossroads being an environment where barriers between the realm of the living and the realm of the dead are blurred (Pearson and McCulloch 2003). The lawman, who is the personification of Satan in O Brother, gives us clues to his otherworldliness when he attempts to hang the trio after they have been pardoned of their crimes by the Governor. The trio protest on the ground that they have been pardoned to which the lawman replies, “the law is a human institution”. They are inexplicably saved by what Cant refers to as “the flood of modernity” (2007: 66).

The Coen brothers film’ O Brother, Where Art Thou? gives us an insight into attitudes toward race, gender, class, religious beliefs and economic practices that existed in the Southern United States during the depression. The film uses music, both diegetic and non-diegetic, as both lyrics as text for interpretation and for a sense of cultural authenticity to give support and validity to the experiences of our protagonists. The fact that our protagonists seem to share more in common with criminals and blacks rather than those of similar social groups and standings speaks more of the “universality of human experience” rather than lines drawn between people on the basis of race, gender (Strang 2005: 2). Cant sums it up best by saying that the Coen’s have “shown us a way in which both geography and history are impregnated with culture in the Deep South of Mississippi during the depression, an area sure inseparable in our minds from the images of the region created by literature, music and film” (2007: 63).


Cant, J. 2007. ‘Homer in Tishimingo: Eclecticism and cultural transformation in the Coen
Brothers’ O Brother Where Art Thou?’, in Comparative American Studies 5 (1): 63-79.

Chadwell, S. 2004. ‘Inventing that “Old-Timey” Style: Southern Authenticity in O
Brother, Where Art Thou?’, Journal of Popular Film & Television 32 (1): 2-9.

Content, R . 2001. Review of O Brother, Where Art Thou? By Rob Content. Film
Quarterly. 55 (1): 41-48.

Gonzalez, E. 2003. ‘The Motif of Music in Joel and Ethan Coen’s O Brother, Where Art
Thou? And Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train, Revue Francaise D’Etudes Americaines 98: 99-110.

Morphy, H. and Perkins, M. (eds). 2006. 'The Anthropology of Art: a reflection on its
history and contemporary practice', in The Anthropology of Art: a reader, Oxford;
Malden, Mass.; Carlton, Vic.: Blackwell. pp 1-32

Morphy, H. 1994. ‘Aesthetics is a Cross-cultural Category’, in J. Weiner (ed) A Debate
Held in the Muriel Stott Centre on 30th October, 1993. John Rylands University Library of Manchester: Group for Debates in Anthropological Theory

Strang, V. 1999. 1999. ‘Familiar Forms: Homologues, Culture and Gender in Northern
Australia’ in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Society, 5 (1): 75-95.

Strang, V. 2005. ‘Common Senses: Water, Sensory Experience and the Generation of
Meaning’, in Journal of Material Culture 10 (1): 93-121.


Coen, Joel and Ethan Coen. O Brother, Where Art Thou? DVD. Touchstone Pictures. 2000.


Various Artists. O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Mercury Records. 2000. Compact Disc.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Anderson Silva Vs. Manny Pacquiao: A Comparison

If you haven't guessed by now, I really get down on contact sports. To a lot of people this is seen as brutish and violent which, to a point, I guess it is. The grim reality that is two men in combat save any weapon but his body and his skill set. The picture is a whole heap grimmer when you consider the idea of a stoppage, that the physical aspect of a game is so great that you can hurt someone so bad that it overwhelms their mental resolve to want to compete. In a game.

What critics of combat sports fail to recognise is that, when it really comes down to it, it's a sport where you couldn't win without the requisite skill set. Sure, you get freaks with such comparative advantage of one aspect or with one skill that they prevail over novice foes (Kimbo Slice, Bob Sapp, Butterbean et al). But these one note players never end up as anything of note and are usually dissected spectacularly by no one in particular. Extraordinary natural gifts are usually offset by some relative weakness that they never bother to fix, for they have never needed to develop the necessary character or well rounded skill set it would take to be considered great.

Coupled with skill set, and in viewing this as a sport rather than just a brutal pursuit, we realise that someone weighing 147 is just not going to beat someone 220. By creating the mystical title of "Pound for Pound" we create an index of skill regardless of size. From the two most popular combat sports, boxing and mixed martial arts, Manny Pacquiao and Anderson Silva have emerged as the generally accepted Pound for Pound Kings.

First, a little (recent) history....

Last weekends UFC 101 featured long time middleweight king Anderson Silva stepping up to face former light-heavy champ Forrest Griffin in only Silva’s second outing at 205. Silva struck gold against Griffin, hurting him with overhand lefts before slipping an onslaught to deliver a precision counter left that cut Forrest down to the stump in just 3 minutes 23 seconds of the opening stanza. Make no buts about it, this was an awesome performance. Silva’s striking and movement was way too much for the powerful yet relatively cumbersome Griffin. This win nullified Silva’s last two performances, which were lacklustre in comparison, and reasserted him as the best pound for pound fighter the sport has to offer.

In May, Manny Pacquiao became the only fighter in boxing history to win titles in six divisions when he blasted Ricky Hatton in two rounds to win a version of the light-welterweight crown. Also considered the best pound for pound fighter in his sport, Pacquiao’s recent opponents read like a list of fighters that one would avoid unless you are looking to make a point. Good thing for us he is.

Although completely different sports, the nature of their wins, and what it meant to their respective codes, were eerily similar. So… the spirit of the time I thought I would throw a little analysis at it to determine who’s accomplishments were greater. Let me note that, both of these fighters will go down as the greatest in this era and we should all feel honoured that we are able to witness the beauty and mastery of what they do. In analysing the two I took into consideration the following factors;

Stepping Up: How difficult it would be to step up a division
Last opponent: The reality of who they fought
Nature of last win: How physically dominant a performance it really was
Development: How they have changed their game

Stepping Up

Silva has been a long time holder of the middleweight crown and made a record 5 defences. His last two bouts had his critics questioning his pound for pound status. He answered big against Griffin where he had to step up 20 pounds to the light-heavyweight limit (205). This is a phenomenal jump in weight however, at 6'2'', Silva is large for a middleweight and therefore has the frame to put the weight on. That said, he didn't look terribly well conditioned against Griffin. Good thing it didn't matter. Silva is one of the only fighters to have wins in three different weight classes (170, 185 and 205). That's a span of 35 pounds.

In comparison, Pacquiao weighed 106 pounds in his pro debut and as much as 145 when he faced De La Hoya. His last four fights were fought at 130, 135, 147 and 140 which were all wins and he collected three titles in the process. At 5'6'' and a half, he is about the right height for a lightweight (135 pounds) but has still managed to crush naturally bigger foes which makes things a whole lot more impressive. Pacquiao's span has been 41 pounds.

Advantage: Pacquiao

Although Silva did make the larger marginal leap in weight, Pacquiao did it tough by winning titles on the way.

Last Opponent

Both their opponents could have been separated at birth. Limited but gritty fight dogs who love nothing more than a war. Attrition is their currency and both have been known to end fights covered in, their opponents or their own, sanguinary fluids. Both also have relatively slow hands and can be limited offensively.

Even though he was stopped by Mayweather in a welterweight bout, Hatton was still considered the top fighter at 140. Hatton's chin, however, is suspect at best whilst, the Silva fight aside, Griffin seems to relish in the punishment. Also, Griffin was champion at light-heavy until being dethroned by Rashad Evans in his last bout. The light-heavy division in the UFC is the sports premier division and is stacked with fantastic fighters. In comparison, light-welter in boxing is a good division, but no where near as full as 147.

Advantage: Silva.

Development of fighters

Interestingly enough, both these fighters are southpaws. Pacquiao used to one shot with the left hand but has developed into more a complete fighter with a wide array of punches. He has lost no speed whilst coming up through the weight-classes whilst his power has come up. Trainer Freddie Roach, seems to have maximised Pacquiao's skills

Silva has always seemed well rounded (great Muay Thai skills and a black belt in BJJ) and is remarkably adaptable. Every time someone throws a new wrinkle he seems to have an answer. A creative striker, Silva can throw shots off balance or switch hit from an orthodox stance. His head movement is second to none in the sport. He used to relish in the clinch but, of late, he seems to prefer to counter and move.

Advantage: Pacquiao.

Quick dispatches

Both these two came to the table with a fantastic stoppage. If you haven't seen Pacquiao drop a left hand on Hatton like he stole something then you need to youtube it right now! It was a classic case of both trying to throw but one landing first. On the button.

In contrast, Silva was silky smooth and more deserving of the name 'Sugar' than that dude who got rolled on the undercard of UFC101. Silva used his superior reflexes and head movement to keep Griffin poking at shadows. Overhand lefts rattled Griffin before he was caught wading in, which makes the exchange sound relatively simple but Silva avoided three shots with ease before throwing an innocuous looking left hand. It was like the end of the first Matrix movie where Neo's movements make the agents look like they are moving in slow motion.

Both Griffin and Hatton hit the deck three times. Silva's stoppage was very classy and skilful whilst Pacquiao's was far more brutal and way cleaner.

Advantage: Even


Pacquiao takes it 2-1-1. This is in no means a slight on Silva's accomplishments or me showing bias to boxing but you would have to give Pacquiao the decision.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Opinion: Pacquiao-Cotto

Even though I have already touched on the subject of this fight, with it now a reality, I thought it may deserve more in-depth analysis. I mean, do you take a woman back home with the intention of cuddling and hearing her hopes and dreams? No freaking way, you go in there to turn that thing inside out! So......scheduled for November 14 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Manny Pacquiao and Miguel Cotto will square off in a match between two of the sports biggest stars in it's best division. Both fighters have a huge fan base as Pacquiao has reached demi-god type status in his native Philippines after becoming the first fighter in history to win titles in six divisions whilst Cotto is the current pride of Puerto Rico and carries a lot of clout in New York.

Although classed as a welterweight fight, it is being fought at a catch weight of 145 pounds. This is wrong. Really wrong. If Pacquiao wants to lay claim to being a welterweight champion then he should be fighting at the 147 pound everyone else. What this reduced weight clause really says to the world is that Pacquiao is not prepared to fight real welterweights at their peak condition (or even Shane Mosley at 140). Weak sauce dude, weak sauce. You could argue that he started at 106 pounds and is therefore naturally smaller but, if that is the case, what the H.E double-hockey-sticks are you doing campaigning at welter? It would be like me going to fight a heavyweight and stipulating that they could only use one hand (they would still quick stoppage...Craig's opponent ftw!).

MANNY PACQUIAO (49-3-2, 37 KOs)

Pacquiao's major strength is his speed, which is absolutely blistering and has magnified his power as he has came up through the weight classes without losing any his quickness. He is a whirlwind of activity in that he can fight the last round just as hard as he fought the first.

Pacquiao comes out to throw and his left hand, from his southpaw stance, is dangerous as hell. You only have to watch the footage of him hitting the snooze button on the lovable-but-limited Ricky Hatton to see what it is capable of. Earlier in his career this was all he was looking to land but, under new trainer Freddie Roach (three time Trainer of the Year), he has developed into a complete boxer who can throw the right hook almost as well as the left hand and jab, counter and throw straight shots should the situation call for it. He has also improved in every fight and beat the top guys in every division he has competed in. His wins against Hatton, De La Hoya and Diaz were magnificent displays of dominance. Furthermore, Roach is a superb tactician who was, in no doubt, somewhat responsible for Pacquiao's biggest wins of late.

Defensively, Pacquiao is very good having only been stopped once (when he was struggling to meet the 112 pound flyweight limit) and lost just once in the last ten years. He has excellent head movement and foot speed to boot.

Pacquiao has been known to struggle against counter-punchers. Juan Manual Marquez held him to a draw and a split decision, both of which were debatable. Cotto can be slick and counter punch well but whether he can hang with Pacquiao's speed remains to be seen. Having started his professional career age 16 at 106 pounds, there must also be questions of how he is going to handle a real welter as opposed to a faded De La Hoya. The way to beat Cotto is to put him on the back foot and I don't know if Pacquiao has that kind of strength.

MIGUEL COTTO (34-1, 27 KOs)

Cotto is a precision puncher who viciously works the body before turning out the lights. He throws the straight right like he is trying to knock your head off your shoulders and hits like a sledgehammer when going to the slats. Boxes and moves excellently, the first six rounds of the Margarito bout were fantastic displays in the art of hitting and not being hit. Aggressive as all hell, he brings a lot of pressure and, even if there is only a slight disparity in skill between the fighters, Cotto’s pressure will make it all the more apparent.

He has also faced some of the top fighters the division has to offer in Mosley, Margarito and Clottey. All these fights were tough with Cotto enduring a (probable) glove loading by Margarito and fighting through a nasty cut with Clottey. Both these fighters are huge welterweights who could bounce up to 154 without a problem, which is the reason they could back Cotto up and Pacquiao just doesn’t seem strong enough to do so. Against smaller fighters like Judah (who is more relative in size to Pacquiao), Cotto was far stronger and could exert his will.

The big question that hangs over Cotto is how he will respond to a big test like Pacquiao after his loss to Margarito. Cotto has seemed less confident following this and, when faced with a stern test, he abandons the body attack all together. Why? I mean, your one of the best body punchers in the game and, against Pacquiao, you are gonna need to try and slow him down.

The 145 pound weight limit will be the lightest Cotto has weighed in at for more than three years and he was struggling (and subsequently seemed drained) in his final junior-welter bouts. If he is drained at 145, it is severely going to affect his ability to throw and apply pressure. Cotto wins by applying pressure.

Pacquiao’s work rate may also give Cotto fits as he can throw all night. We have seen Cotto fade late in his three biggest bouts (Mosley, Margarito, Clottey) which will play right into Pacquiao’s favour.


Both fighters come to swing, both have great chins and if Pacquiao wants to trade early it will be to his detriment. Freddie Roach won't let this happen. I still think Pacquiao will start fast but he will look to box and counter until the middle rounds. Cotto can't match Pacquiao's speed and should go the body early, if he can pin him down. This approach will leave him wide-open upstairs. Cotto will be stronger over the first half of the fight with Pacquiao darting in and out with lightning combinations. After six we should see Pacquiao become a whole lot more aggressive and Cotto start to fade. Cotto won’t be able to back up or move out of the way and will start getting caught by left hands only to capitulate inside of 10.