Quote of the Week

A brilliant epigram by Warren Ellis (from his Bad Signal email list):
“If you believe that your thoughts originate inside your brain — do you also believe that television shows are made inside your television set?”

A brilliant epigram by Warren Ellis (from his Bad Signal email list):
“If you believe that your thoughts originate inside your brain — do you also believe that television shows are made inside your television set?”

Genetically Modified Crops

I don’t usually put links without my own extended commentary into this blog, but this time I couldn’t resist. Warren Ellis has a wonderful rant about fanatic protesters against genetically modified food.

I don’t usually put links without my own extended commentary into this blog, but this time I couldn’t resist. Warren Ellis has a wonderful rant about fanatic protesters against genetically modified food.

The Apprentice

I watched the first episode tonight of The Apprentice, Mark Burnett’s new reality show. It really is Survivor in the corporate boardroom, with Manhattan as the island that the losers are booted off of. The show is insufferable, and some sort of masterpiece, for the way it epitomizes everything that is most sick about American society, from the idealization of “teamwork” among people who are just waiting to stab one another in the back, to the inane business-speak that permeates any understanding of activity and character, to the way the 16 contestants grovel before Donald Trump as they seek to curry his favor, to the way Trump himself eats it up and takes it as simply being his due, to the nouveau riche vulgarity of Trump’s apartment (I can just imagine the scorn with which the old rich would regard its collection of fake Italian Renaissance artifacts), about which Trump expansively explains that “this is what it’s all about”, to the gender stereotypes running rampant throughout the show (the initial contestants are 8 men and 8 women, they are divided into teams by gender, and the women seem to be showing their business acumen by competing as to who can wear the shortest skirts and the highest heels), to the conclusion in which the evidently Jewish man is the one whom Trump decides to (as it were) banish from the island first (I don’t think this is a coincidence)

I watched the first episode tonight of The Apprentice, Mark Burnett’s new reality show. It really is Survivor in the corporate boardroom, with Manhattan as the island that the losers are booted off of. The show is insufferable, and some sort of masterpiece, for the way it epitomizes everything that is most sick about American society, from the idealization of “teamwork” among people who are just waiting to stab one another in the back, to the inane business-speak that permeates any understanding of activity and character, to the way the 16 contestants grovel before Donald Trump as they seek to curry his favor, to the way Trump himself eats it up and takes it as simply being his due, to the nouveau riche vulgarity of Trump’s apartment (I can just imagine the scorn with which the old rich would regard its collection of fake Italian Renaissance artifacts), about which Trump expansively explains that “this is what it’s all about”, to the gender stereotypes running rampant throughout the show (the initial contestants are 8 men and 8 women, they are divided into teams by gender, and the women seem to be showing their business acumen by competing as to who can wear the shortest skirts and the highest heels), to the conclusion in which the evidently Jewish man is the one whom Trump decides to (as it were) banish from the island first (I don’t think this is a coincidence)

Teletubbies

I watch Teletubbies now and again with Adah (who is now 15 months old), but I have to admit I like it more than she does. I think it’s the most brilliant kids’ TV show that I have ever seen (or at least, that I have ever seen as an adult). Teletubbies is pure bliss.The show has a formal elegance rare for TV: a minimalism as rigorous as those of early Philip Glass or late Samuel Beckett.

I watch Teletubbies now and again with Adah (who is now 15 months old), but I have to admit I love it more than she does. I think it’s the most brilliant kids’ TV show that I have ever seen (or at least, that I have ever seen as an adult).
Teletubbies is pure bliss.The show has a formal elegance rare for TV: a minimalism as rigorous as those of early Philip Glass or late Samuel Beckett. The beginning and end of the show are always the same: the baby-sun rising, and then setting, with the Teletubbies saying hello and goodbye respectively. Once the sun has risen, the Teletubbies run away over the hills; and a voice emanating from one of those tubes that rise out of the ground asks: “Where have the Teletubbies gone?” This enigmatic question is never answered: it is always followed by a series of abstract scenes, with multiple Teletubbies against monochromatic backdrops. There are only four Teletubbies, but they can be “everywhere,” thanks to their multiple instantiations in these abstract scenes.
Other elements are repeated from show to show as well, like the mini-films of children around the world, broadcast through one or another of the Teletubbies’ tubbies; and my favorite, the twice-repeated (sometimes more) “Big Hug” that follows the offscreen narrator’s assurance that “Teletubbies love each other very much.”
I also love the puzzling non-narratives that sometimes happen in the latter part of the show: a piece of Tubby Toast is too big for Tinky Winky, Dipsy, or LaaLaa to eat, but Poe (the smallest) manages to eat it just fine. Or, the meadow is mysteriously turned into a big lake, then just as mysteriously back to a meadow again. Or, LaaLaa plays with her (?) ball inside because it has started to rain; but when the rain ends, she goes outside again. Even when these little stories seem like they are going to turn moralistic or didactic, they don’t, but stop short of having a point (I imagine this to be some Western child’s version of a Zen koan, but I don’t really know anything about Zen). Of course, other times there are no such pseudo-narratives at all; the Teletubbies just dance, or march around, or something.
The Teletubbies themselves intrigue me endlessly: it’s so hard to figure out whether their brightly-colored surfaces are skin/fur, or just costumes they are wearing (the seam on their backs suggests it is just a costume, but somehow it makes sense to me that this would be the form of their actual, pre-genital bodies). LaaLaa and Poe seem to be female, because they are smaller and their voices higher; Tinky Winky seems to be male (and gay, as Jerry Falwell claimed); Dipsy remains mysterious to me in this regard. But infantile or pre-genital gender is a strange sort of concept anyway; one thing that is good about the show is that this strangeness is retained intact (instead of being “normalized” by the absurd tyranny of boys-in-blue and girls-in-pink from the moment of birth).
I’m usually not a fan of minimalist art; but here the infantile content perfectly matches the form.

Buffy

I guess it’s time for me to come out of the closet, as a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Not that I was ever trying to hide it; but most people who know me assume that my favorite show of the last half-decade or so would have to be The Sopranos, about which I only have a ho-hum attitude (I mean, it’s not bad, but I don’t get what the big deal is — I can take it or leave it). Buffy, on the other hand, I find both beautiful and sublime. For one thing, Buffy had the best horror plots of anything on TV besides the early seasons of The X-Files, and the first two years of the great and sadly forgotten Millennium. For another, it provided a welcome alternative to the pallid romanticization of vampires which has gotten awfully old and tired and trite recently, what with Ann Rice and the recent Dracula knock-offs and all the Goth stuff. (I suppose you might call Spike a romanticized vampire, but Spike was punk rock, and not at all Goth or Ann Rice-y).
But what really made Buffy for me – what really makes any TV series work for me, in fact – was the affect and the characters. Affect: the way the feel of alienated adolescence (well, alienated middle-class white adolescence, at least) was transmuted with and by the contamination of monsters; the plot of impossible longing, as epitomized by Buffy’s relationship with Angel, but felt by the other characters as well, certainly by Buffy’s friends, and also, I think, by the vampires and demons; the way the show played between “normality” and marginalization (there’s a big part of Buffy that just wants to be “normal,” i.e. fitting into the paradigms of family and the school pecking order – this is something which of course she isn’t and cannot ever be, but the show got a lot of its power by tracing the line between the desire to conform or belong and the need to reject and rebel, which I think affirms singularity more powerfully than a simple show of unproblematic rebellion ever could.
As for the characters: Buffy is sort of a joke in the movie that preceded the series; but Sarah Michelle Gellar’s portrayal succeeded in splitting the difference between the “hot babe” vapidity that seems to be de rigeur these days for anything that’s supposed to appeal to a teen audience, and a sense of existential displacement that is crucial to the role of the Slayer, and which I’ve never seen anything like, anywhere else. Aside from that: I’ve always adored Willow, in all the transformations of her character, and I can’t help identifying with Giles (call it my academicism, if you must; but I’ll also mention that Anthony Stewart Head and I are almost exactly the same age, having been born just about six weeks apart).
I’ll only add that the reason I’m going on at length about Buffy now is this. During the seven years the show was on, I never managed to watch it regularly; I only caught individual episodes now and again. Now I am systematically working through the entire series on DVD (well, the first four years are out now, year 5 is coming out in December, year 6 in summer 2004.. and I presume year 7 eventually).

I guess it’s time for me to come out of the closet, as a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Not that I was ever trying to hide it; but most people who know me assume that my favorite show of the last half-decade or so would have to be The Sopranos, about which I only have a ho-hum attitude (I mean, it’s not bad, but I don’t get what the big deal is — I can take it or leave it). Buffy, on the other hand, I find both beautiful and sublime. For one thing, Buffy had the best horror plots of anything on TV besides the early seasons of The X-Files, and the first two years of the great and sadly forgotten Millennium. For another, it provided a welcome alternative to the pallid romanticization of vampires which has gotten awfully old and tired and trite recently, what with Ann Rice and the recent Dracula knock-offs and all the Goth stuff. (I suppose you might call Spike a romanticized vampire, but Spike was punk rock, and not at all Goth or Ann Rice-y; even if Drusilla is).
But what really made Buffy for me – what really makes any TV series work for me, in fact – was the affect and the characters. Affect: the way the feel of alienated adolescence (well, alienated middle-class white adolescence, at least) was transmuted with and by the contamination of monsters; the plot of impossible longing, as epitomized by Buffy’s relationship with Angel, but felt by the other characters as well, certainly by Buffy’s friends, and also, I think, by the vampires and demons; the way the show played between “normality” and marginalization (there’s a big part of Buffy that just wants to be “normal,” i.e. fitting into the paradigms of family and the school pecking order – this is something which of course she isn’t and cannot ever be, but the show got a lot of its power by tracing the line between the desire to conform or belong and the need to reject and rebel, which I think affirms singularity more powerfully than a simple show of unproblematic rebellion ever could.
As for the characters: Buffy is sort of a joke in the movie that preceded the series; but Sarah Michelle Gellar’s portrayal succeeded in splitting the difference between the “hot babe” vapidity that seems to be de rigeur these days for anything that’s supposed to appeal to a teen audience, and a sense of existential displacement that is crucial to the role of the Slayer, and which I’ve never seen anything like, anywhere else. Aside from that: I’ve always adored Willow, in all the transformations of her character, and I can’t help identifying with Giles (call it my academicism, if you must; but I’ll also mention that Anthony Stewart Head and I are almost exactly the same age, having been born just about six weeks apart).
I’ll only add that the reason I’m going on at length about Buffy now is this. During the seven years the show was on, I never managed to watch it regularly; I only caught individual episodes now and again. Now I am systematically working through the entire series on DVD (well, the first four years are out now, year 5 is coming out in December, year 6 in summer 2004.. and I presume year 7 eventually).

Queer Eye for the Straight Guy

What can I say, except that I love Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Let’s not even get into the argument over whether the show represents a gain for gay rights, or whether it is yet another offensive exploitation of stereotypes. (It’s both, OK? these things don’t work by an exclusive either/or). What I love is the texture of the show: the way the Fab Five get to trot out their expertise, the general dorkiness of the straight guys being made over, the suggestion that a quick remodel (and a bankroll to pay for it) will altogether change somebody’s life (you can just see the straight guys returning to pre-makeover entropy once the camera is no longer on them), and above all, the snide remarks the Fab Five make as they watch, via live video feed, the results of their endeavors. Despite not being really sleazy and prurient (which is usually a must for reality TV) this show both delights and instructs, which is how the Ancients defined the role of art.

What can I say, except that I love Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Let’s not even get into the argument over whether the show represents a gain for gay rights, or whether it is yet another offensive exploitation of stereotypes. (It’s both, OK? these things don’t work by an exclusive either/or). What I love is the texture of the show: the way the Fab Five get to trot out their expertise, the general dorkiness of the straight guys being made over, the suggestion that a quick remodel (and a bankroll to pay for it) will altogether change somebody’s life (you can just see the straight guys returning to pre-makeover entropy once the camera is no longer on them), and above all, the snide remarks the Fab Five make as they watch, via live video feed, the results of their endeavors. Despite not being really sleazy and prurient (which is usually a must for reality TV) this show both delights and instructs, which is how the Ancients defined the role of art.

RIAA Lawsuits

Well, the other shoe has dropped. The Recording Industry Association of America has announced that it will sue individuals who are engaging in unauthorized file sharing. We can expect hundreds of lawsuits by the end of the summer. Of course, everyone is commenting on this, usually either with outrage or grudging, fatalistic acceptance. I might as well put in my two cents too. Especially since there are certain aspects of this case that have not been sufficiently discussed…

Well, the other shoe has dropped. The Recording Industry Association of America has announced that it will sue individuals who are engaging in unauthorized file sharing. We can expect hundreds of lawsuits by the end of the summer. Of course, everyone is commenting on this, usually either with outrage or grudging, fatalistic acceptance. I might as well put in my two cents too. Especially since there are certain aspects of this case that have not been sufficiently discussed…
Continue reading “RIAA Lawsuits”

Comic Book Metaphysics

A comment on Electrolite responding to a comment on MemeMachineGo about The Matrix: MemeMachineGo says that the metaphysics of The Matrix is overrated, that it cannot bear serious comparison to Philip K. Dick; Electrolite says that to say this is to overrate Dick, who mostly uses epistemological questions “as titillation and decoration,” and that we shouldn’t take these pop entertainments too seriously. Nor should we believe in the inherent “intellectual superiority” of SF novels “to action movies and comic books.” –Now, I agree with this latter point of Electrolite’s; but I also agree with MMG’s dis of The Matrix (at least of the first one; I haven’t seen the new Matrix Reloaded yet). The point is, it’s not a question of genre, but of a certain willingness to go over the top. The Matrix‘s Gnosticism/Baudrillardism, or whatever you want to call it, is far more interesting than, say, the cosmology of Star Wars; but it doesn’t hold a candle to the metaphysical anguish of Dick; nor, for that matter, to the wild inventions of such comix writers as Grant Morrison and Warren Ellis.

A comment on Electrolite responding to a comment on MemeMachineGo about The Matrix: MemeMachineGo says that the metaphysics of The Matrix is overrated, that it cannot bear serious comparison to Philip K. Dick; Electrolite says that to say this is to overrate Dick, who mostly uses epistemological questions “as titillation and decoration,” and that we shouldn’t take these pop entertainments too seriously. Nor should we believe in the inherent “intellectual superiority” of SF novels “to action movies and comic books.” –Now, I agree with this latter point of Electrolite’s; but I also agree with MMG’s dis of The Matrix (at least of the first one; I haven’t seen the new Matrix Reloaded yet). The point is, it’s not a question of genre, but of a certain willingness to go over the top. The Matrix‘s Gnosticism/Baudrillardism, or whatever you want to call it, is far more interesting than, say, the cosmology of Star Wars; but it doesn’t hold a candle to the metaphysical anguish of Dick; nor, for that matter, to the wild inventions of such comix writers as Grant Morrison and Warren Ellis.

Ali G

Last night, I caught Da Ali G. Show on HBO. Brilliant and funny. Ali G. is the alter ego of British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen; he’s the quintessential white suburban gangsta/hiphop wannabe, and he conducts talk-show interviews and performs various stunts. Mostly he does the talk-show thing, asking his guests the most inane, stupid, and off-the-wall irrelevant questions, This is comedy as real-time performance art, in the manner of Andy Kaufman; the guests are “real” people, i.e. celebrities or authorites, and their encounters with Ali G. are unscripted. I was pretty much hysterical with laughter when Ali G. interviewed C. Everett Koop, asking him importunate questions about various body parts–questions about whether the heart could be reprogrammed to have a drum ‘n’ bass beat instead of its usual one-two; or about the growth of the bones and skeletal system, which turned out to be really about having a “boner”; and as a followup to that, Ali asked Koop (doubtless thinking of lots of chintzy horror films): “I know this is something of a generalization, but why are skeletons evil?” Koop struggled throughout to maintain his dignity, though his puzzlement was obvious, as well as his increasing conviction that Ali G. was an idiot. All in all, pop culture post-ironic performance at its finest.

Last night, I caught Da Ali G. Show on HBO. Brilliant and funny. Ali G. is the alter ego of British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen; he’s the quintessential white suburban gangsta/hiphop wannabe, and he conducts talk-show interviews and performs various stunts. Mostly he does the talk-show thing, asking his guests the most inane, stupid, and off-the-wall irrelevant questions, This is comedy as real-time performance art, in the manner of Andy Kaufman; the guests are “real” people, i.e. celebrities or authorites, and their encounters with Ali G. are unscripted. I was pretty much hysterical with laughter when Ali G. interviewed C. Everett Koop, asking him importunate questions about various body parts–questions about whether the heart could be reprogrammed to have a drum ‘n’ bass beat instead of its usual one-two; or about the growth of the bones and skeletal system, which turned out to be really about having a “boner”; and as a followup to that, Ali asked Koop (doubtless thinking of lots of chintzy horror films): “I know this is something of a generalization, but why are skeletons evil?” Koop struggled throughout to maintain his dignity, though his puzzlement was obvious, as well as his increasing conviction that Ali G. was an idiot. All in all, pop culture post-ironic performance at its finest.