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Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Stage Monkeys

     The Stage Monkeys is an improvisational comedy group that performs every other Thursday night at the University of Southern Mississippi.  These performers are truly hilarious, and the shows, from 7-9 p.m., are always entertaining.  
     The performing group is made up of students from the university, and the only costumes worn are bright orange t-shirts to distinguish the members from the audience, which at times, is more important than it might at first seem.  The shows are always audience-interactive, with the host constructing games around audience suggestions.  Sometimes, members even distribute themselves among the audience members, and games are then played with the audience as important part.  
     The games the monkeys play are almost like Mad Lib puzzles come to life.  For example, in one game, three guests, each with a distinct quirk, arrive one-by-one to a party thrown by a fourth monkey, the host in this game.  To determine each guest's quirk, the host of the show asks the audience for suggestions with prompts like, "What is this monkey obsessed with?" while the host of the party is out of the room.  The host must then guess the particular quirk of each of his guests while the guests themselves drop subtle, funny hints.  
     It is astonishing and impressive how quickly some of the monkeys can make their guesses while being witty and funny the entire time.  

World Civilization Film Series

     This semester, the History Department at the University of Southern Mississippi has put on a film series.  Every Wednesday at 6:30 in room 108 of the Liberal Arts Building, a history-related film has been shown for several weeks.  All of the films this semester deal with the theme of technology.
     Throughout most of the first film, Agora, the female protagonist Hypatia acts and is treated as an equal among men.  She works as a highly respected philosopher in the library of Alexandria, and she is very close to her students, at times referring to them as her brothers.  She even serves as an advisor and friend to a politically powerful former student, who she once rejected as a suitor.  She is a free thinker and dares to reject well-established theories and substitute her own.  She even has male slaves who wait on her and assist her.  Additionally, she refuses to conform to the standards of her society; she does not convert to Christianity, and she does not marry or feel compelled to marry and bear children.  Her presence throughout the film serves as an overt reminder of the powerful capabilities of woman.
     Another notable film was Kingdom of Heaven. Although the opening scene of Kingdom of Heaven involves the burial of a woman, there is a noticeable absence of other female characters throughout the rest of the film, with the exceptions of the Princess of Jerusalem, Sibylla, and the sister of Saladin, the Muslim leader.  The fact that the film focuses primarily on male characters illustrates the male dominance and prominence during the Crusades. 
     Finally, the Japanese film Gojira, set in 1954, portrays the fear of nuclear radiation as a physical monster.  Following the atomic bombing of Japan, Gojira provided an outlet for expressing fear and coping with nuclear disaster for the Japanese people.  Throughout the film, the main female character is portrayed as an obedient daughter and submissive women to all of the men in her life.
     All of the movies shown so far have provided valuable insight into the lives of those in the past, especially women, and how technology has shaped each person.

USM's Science Cafe: Digital Art Authentication

     As part of the Science Cafe series, the University of Southern Mississippi presented a lecture by Dr. Jan Siesling, director of USM's Museum of Art, that discussed digital art authentication.  This lecture was held in the Starbucks of Cook Library, and as an added bonus, offered discounted drinks and free snacks. 
   Dr. Siesling opened the Science Cafe presentation by relating that the first painting he ever bought turned out to be a fake.  He said that he spent a night believing his investment could possibly be worth a million dollars.  However, he soon learned that he had paid for a fake.
     Now, as an expert on the works of Vincent van Gogh, Dr. Siesling said that he can tell the difference between an authentic painting and a fake within minutes.  He believes his ability is the result of much face time with the works themselves.  The NOVA video that was shown on this topic presents another method that can now be used to authenticate works of art using a statistical modeling approach.  NOVA commissioned an art restoration expert to try to replicate one of van Gogh's paintings, and using this statistical modeling software, three separate institutions were able to identify it as a fake among other authentic paintings from van Gogh.
     Dr. Sielsing came to the conclusion that the abundance of fake paintings that exist has caused the small number of originals to be in higher demand and retain a higher value.  He says this is because the public believes in signatures, which stems from our medieval veneration of relics.  Because approximately one-third of all the art in the world's museums is fake, Dr. Siesling's advice for procuring authentic art is to simply buy from the artist.  Dr. Siesling concluded that humans value art, not because it decorates our walls, but because we are human, and humans make art.