Vegansaurus Double Features! »
Welcome to the first biannual, I mean regular, installment of Vegansaurus Double Features, your ticket (ha, oh man am I off to a good start!) to vegan-interest cinema. “What?!” you might ask. “Here’s a handy FAQ,” I say.
Q: Why movies?
A: Because I ran out of gardening things to talk about and I am a highly respected film critic.
Q: Why vegan?
A: That’s a stupid question.
Q: Why double feature?
A: Because the New Yorker always reviews two movies at once, and Vegansaurus, as is evident, is basically the new New Yorker: lengthy articles, thoughtful detachment from political issues, and bougie ads for weird hats.
OK! Enough with all your silly questions. In this issue, we look at two new amazing documentaries about humankind’s complex relationship with animals and nature.
Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo, the first full-length from biologist-turned-documentarian Jessica Oreck, is a beautiful film that uses Japan’s national obsession with insects as a way to explore larger questions like how we think of ourselves in relation to nature. Don’t let the profundity scare you off: even though this documentary is swarming with insight about haiku, Japanese and Western cultural differences, the urban/nature dichotomy, and the nature of beauty (to name a few!), it’s also incredibly easy on the eyes, featuring inventive cinematography that really captures the wonder of its protagonists–-beetles, larvae, moths, and crickets, especially. And for your ears, there’s an impressive soundtrack of J-pop and experimental Japanese electronic music. All of this is to say: this is a film that works on multiple levels, and one of the best documentaries so far this year. It’s playing RIGHT NOW at the Kabuki in San Francisco through July 15 (Thursday!); I highly recommend it.
I had the chance to see Ms. Oreck present the film in Los Angeles a few months ago, and she had a lot to say about the film. She thinks that Americans have a lot to learn from the Japanese and their perspective on and appreciation of nature, but acknowledges that, as with all societies, there are a lot of contradictions in that relationship. Vegansaurus readers will probably immediately think of The Cove here. What Beetle Queen shows, however, is how “appreciation” of beautiful insects in Japan has led to both an interest in protecting and restoring their natural habitats and the less-benign commodification of all things insect-related. Yeah, it’s cute that Japanese kids play videogames about insects. But commodification has also led to insect collecting of both live and dead bugs, both bought and captured. Japanese pay bundles of yen at large conventions for big beetles to keep as pets, and pinned insect collections are popular hobbies. So, be warned–-for insect lovers, this film isn’t always uplifting.
The tangled relationship between collecting animals and habitat preservation is also at the core of Ghost Bird. Ghost Bird is the long-awaited sequel to Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, starring everyone’s favorite weird-eyed actor Forest Whitaker as a hit man who uses samurai techniques. Just kidding, it’s a documentary on the supposed rediscovery of the fabled ivory-billed woodpecker. But whatever—same difference!
This truly majestic woodpecker, maybe the most stunning bird that has ever lived in the United States, was thought to have become extinct over half a century ago until a kayaker in an Arkansas swamp caught sight of one in 2004. Ghost Bird outlines what turned out to be the most ambitious, and costly, species recovery campaign in history, fueled not only by excited birders, but by the community where the bird was spotted (which experienced booming economic growth from the ensuing tourism), politicians, and research teams from prestigious universities. While the archival footage of the ivory-billed woodpecker alone is worth the price of admission, the story behind its rediscovery unfolds like a satisfying mystery (or, if you’re a dorky birder, maybe the most exciting, cargo-pants-staining mystery you’ve ever seen), full of dubious motivations and shady characters.
It’s a complex tale, to be sure. Especially interesting is that, like Beetle Queen, Ghost Bird show’s how man’s obsession with a beautiful animal has led to both its collection (and, in this case, destruction) as well as prompting preservation efforts. The scientists working on the “case” use drawerfuls of stuffed specimens of the bird to verify sightings-–specimens collected long ago by other scientists and amateur birders because of the bird’s rarity and beauty that, one researcher admits, contributed to the bird’s extinction.
While Ghost Bird isn’t quite the visual spectacle that is Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo, it tells an amazing story. Anyone interested in animals, preservation, and Forrest Whitaker should seek this one out!
Urban farming gets WACKY with Triumph’s rice-growing bra »
I think we’re all supposed to say “oh those WACKY JAPANESE” because nothing says “I’m not actually racist” better than writing about an entire population as a singular entity perpetually obsessed with family honor and tentacle/schoolgirl fantasies. But really, what else will CRAZY JAPAN think up next? Triumph’s rice-growing bra is the perfect gift for the femivore on your list who’s too busy at the club to tend to her backyard rice patties.
No word on if the bra is lined (or removable) because that shit’s going to get nasty at some point during your rice’s 110-day growing cycle. But don’t worry, if you lose patience with your miracle of edible life, rice-patty bra can double as an iPad stand for your/my instant Netflix addiction. Which reminds me, it’s probably time to queue up Idiocracy again, because if we’ve found a way to sexualize urban homesteading, “Adult Tax Returns” and “Extra Big-Ass Fries” can’t be too far off.
Herbivore Boys and Carnivore Girls!? Japan, you so crazy! »
The Japanese are famous for always coming up with the hottest and most obscure technology, but now they’ve expanded to re-appropriating terms. Enter the herbivores, or grass-eating boys: the Eastern response to our concept of metrosexuality.[Ed.: Love how the Japanese just take a concept and run with it! Hey America, you like suicide? Guess what, we do it in a group in the middle of a field and it’s a political statement, OKAY?! Or something like that. Also, GOD I love a broad cultural stereotypes, they are THE BEST.]
These are the 20- to 30-something men who are less aggressive, who resist the rigid prescription of a hardline education and the high-pressure business world and who profess a love for things that aren’t considered entirely masculine.
According to an article on NPR today, these self-professed herbivores are also responsible for the country’s lackluster economy and declining birthrate.
In short, young Japanese men are - whether consciously or not - rebelling against the stressful lifestyles set forth by their successful businessmen fathers, and instead prioritizing family and friends over monetary success and romantic conquest.
Now, it’s NPR, so I’m not going to call bullshit, but can we all agree that it might be a bit of a leap to draw this conclusion? Just disregard the fact that the term herbivore associates declining masculine attributes with people who don’t eat meat (remember: eating steak makes you awesome, eating vegetables makes you a pussy). But at the very least, here are a few things to think about:
First, the issue of the economy. Maybe it’s just simple math. The world markets have been in a recession for more than a year, and the natural response is to cut back. Eat out less and cook at home. Cut back on excess expenses. Are the consumer habits of herbivores directly linked to a decline in the country’s money flow? Or is everyone scaling back?
Second, the birthrate. The aging Japanese population and the self-inforced family planning that is demonstrative of the country might be something to worry about, but then again, the Japanese embody a traditional homogenous culture that has thrived for centuries, despite its staunch view toward incorporating outsiders into its borders or its bloodline.
Admittedly, a declining birth rate is something to worry about, but the United States is also showing signs of a declining birth rate. Again, a sign of the times, and an apropos scenario, given the inevitable aging of the Baby Boomers.
Which means you can’t say that herbivores (defined as 60 percent of men in their 20s and 30s) are responsible for less dollars and less babies circulating in Japan. It just feels a bit like attributing a problem to an anomaly in the population.
The article also fails to look at the positive things than can result in more Japanese men adopting the herbivore lifestyle. For example, what about the alarmingly-high suicide rate in Japan, which is often linked to professional men driven to succeed?If ridiculous performance expectations aren’t impressed upon men, the chances of failure decrease, and what you have is a happier, well-balanced individual who derives pleasure from the little things in life and isn’t forced to repress that. Maybe this step toward redefining values and ideas of what constitutes success is actually beneficial for the country. I’m no expert, but it’s something to think about.
Not only that, but I can identify with the converse, the “carnivore girls” - I’m educated, I’m (relatively) successful, and when I’m certain of what I want, I go after it and don’t take no for an answer. It’s gender politics. Maybe this shift in attitude is mixing up the idea of gender roles, but I would like to think that for every herbivore boy out there who decides not to make the first move, there is a carnivore girl out there who is going to put the moves on. Babies will still happen, but maybe the rules of how they happen have been tweaked a bit.
At the very least, I have a cool line for the Thanksgiving dinner table.
“Oh I’m a vegan when it comes to my eating habits, but my sexual appetite is voraciously omnivorous.”
Natalye just started graduate school studying creative writing, which means that she no longer has a social life, and her drinking has increased exponentially. She has a shiny but relatively useless college degree in journalism and music, and does freelance work, sometimes writing about indie music in Oakland. When she has down time, she’s usually sleeping, but rides her road bike when she can and makes both a killer vegan pizza and the most amazing mixtapes ever. Her updates are private, but you can follow her on Twitter and she’ll probably accept your request if you’re cute enough.