The Stranger edition. Sue that school district's pants off.
So I know that the second episode of Glee has already come and gone, but I couldn't let this premiere pass without saying something... Also, there's a pretty big LOST spoiler in the second paragraph. Consider yourself warned.
It’s a constant question why Glee works. Especially since it doesn’t just work, but has captured the popular imagination both as a new model for TV as a whole and a dependable quote factory (am I the only one whose Facebook page is all Glee quotes on Wednesday morning?). As Alexander Doty over on Flow argues, the long Bruce Springsteen intro at the Emmys really signifies that Glee is the main game in broadcast TV these days. And I don’t think that dominance is without reason; the show seems to have latched on to some balance of sincerity and cynicism that resonates really deeply, and that I haven’t seen successfully imitated anywhere else.
The season premiere really gets at that balance, and at the way that Glee seems to be driven by contradictory impulses, holding them both at the same time. I’m thinking particularly of the awesomely meta- opening gag of the glee club blog and how it both validated and dismissed the show’s instant popularity. It of course doesn’t really make sense within the diegetic world for there to be a blog devoted to the glee club, particularly since the whole point of the episode is that the club’s sense of their own importance isn’t reflected by the world outside, but the moment when Jacob calls Will out on the show’s over-use of Auto-tune is just the kind of fan validation that makes viewers feel especially included in the world of a show.
It’s an interesting take on the fan/text relationship. Usually, fan figures like Jacob work as some kind of audience stand-in, either positive (like Hurley’s inheritance of the island at the end of LOST) or negative (Buffy’s Trio of evil nerds). Here, the show seems to be disavowing its own popularity, or (and I think this is more accurate) owning up to the fact that no amount of popularity will ever be enough. Jacob is more in line with the Warren Mears model of fictional fans, but the moment when Kurt gets slushied right at the end of the opener shows that he’s at least taking the show seriously.
Of course the worst moment for the glee kids is when they do that cover of “New York State of Mind” and no one even pays attention. Even bad attention is better than no attention, particularly for a serial television show. Even after the show has achieved a level of profound cultural resonance, the pilot suggests that we shouldn't kid ourselves--no matter how popular Glee gets, kids who like musicals will still get their lunch money stolen.
Will’s aborted attempt to get on Team Sue seems to speak to this same theme. Sue is by far the strongest and most popular character on the show, which is interesting since she would clearly despise any self-proclaimed Gleek. Getting back to the idea of the fan stand-in, Sue seems to be its opposite number—the show doesn't have a major character who’s a negative fan stand-in because the hostility toward the embarrassingly excessive fan is built in to the character of Sue. Since we see the negative effects of her bullying, the authors align themselves almost completely with the fans: desperate, needy, always wanting more. The show's insistence despite its popularity that glee club is lame seems to reinforce that depiction. When we contrast this with the way LOST positioned its fans, for instance (good when they provided love like Hurley, bad when they wanted answers like Ben), this intense identification becomes even more interesting.
I suppose it’s the meta- nature of Glee that makes this strange axis of identification possible. One of the organizing ideas of the show is that we’re all fans of the music they choose; as embarrassing as it might be to squee over show tunes and Journey, Glee tells us we’re not alone.
When Talking Heads released Fear of Music, they promoted it with a radio ad featuring a vocoded voice saying "Talking heads have a new album out; it's called Fear of Music" over and over and over again.
Does anyone have a copy of this or know where I can find it? And yes, I've tried Youtube. No dice.
Orson Wells' Falstaff-centric adaptation of Shakespeare's history plays (and Merry Wives) is unavailable in the US. Indeed, the only way to get it is to get a region free DVD player and purchase it from Spain. Or you could go to youtube.
Enjoy Here in these two parts, what I'm going to call for now my favorite scene in all of Shakespeare:
by Nicole Beth Wallenbrock
It has been 53 years since “Howl and other poems” was published by City Lights Press, and it has been 13 years since Allen Ginsberg died. Time was due for a film about the obscenity trial surrounding the publication, where the artistic validity of words like “snatch” and “asshole” was called into question. To this extent, Howl is a historical film, using the original trial transcript as dialogue in a courtroom scene which demonstrates the societal constraints, (as well as the publishing confines) in the generation known for its phobias.
However, the film aims to be much more than a courtroom drama. Faux interviews with Allen Ginsburg, played by James Franco, intertwine with the trial as well as with a black and white sequence of Ginsburg reading the poem before a captivated slightly interacial, jug-drinking, group of beats. In this way, the poem’s text enters into and recedes from a slight but apparent narrative at the courthouse. Animated sequences of Howl are what push the boundaries of film and poetry, and it is in these moments that the poem Howl dominates the celluloid.
Whether you like the film Howl or not, is then largely dependent on whether or not you like the animation style of Eric Drooker, who is the artistic director for the CGI depictions of Allen Ginsberg’s understanding of the world. Drooker, is perhaps a perfect choice for the film, politically radical and drawn to human suffering, he once illustrated a book of Ginsberg poems, and penned several graphic novels including “Flood”. Yet, the scrawny nude figures often pictured in sexual positions, enforce a limited interpretation of a vast text. The images pull the spectator away from the still jarring words read with intensity and rhythm by Franco in his best Ginsberg. The larger question remains, is it possible to express poetry visually? And the even larger question, can images depict words?
James Franco, a pretty blond, who here wears a dark beard and hair, looks much more like Ginsburg when wearing black plastic spectacles. Selective lights and angles help disguise Franco’s beauty and a constant cigarette also aids in the attempted reincarnation. However, the spectator must be able to forget the actor’s previous roles to buy his interpretation. It is an imitation, as Franco worked with recordings of Ginsburg’s interviews and readings, and Franco remains on the surface-level of the iconoclast.
Which reminds me of my one piece of literary dating advice: Ladies, never date a man who says he's a huge Michel Houllebecq fan.
I find myself oddly fascinated by Houllebecq. The man is an amazing prose stylist, but god damn is Platform evil. It's kinda like if Eminem only did the songs where he used hate speech or talked about raping and murdering women. And it's quite odd that someone as bright as Houllebecq thinks that because he asked a prostitute in Thailand in broken English whether or not she liked being a prostitute and she said yes he is an expert on whether or not there is exploitation in the sex industry in Southeast Asia, as he claims in the interview.
We're reading a really great and inspiring guide to creative nonfiction writing in my first year MFA workshop. It's called Tell It Slant, and it's full of useful advice, writing prompts, examples, reading lists and sensible, vividly written prose. Which was why I was somewhat surprised to run into the following opining from Brenda Miller & Suzanne Paola on page 146:
While essays can be organized many ways-- through topic, chronology or passage of time-- organization through image and metaphor has become much more common. Clustering thoughts through images and loose associations (and metaphors are, at the most basic level, associations) seems fundamnetal to the way the human mind works. You may mentally jump from a look at a leaky faucet to a memory of watching the 1970s TV show "Charlie's Angels" because of the name of the actress Farrah Fawcett. You may then glide effortlessly from that thought to a sense memory of the powdered hot chocolate with marshmellows your mother made for you on weeknights while you watched television. As we grow more aware of and sophisticated about the way human consciousness operates, it makes sense that our literature will come closer to these basic thought rhythms.
This strikes me as completely wrong on a whole bunch of different levels and to advocate an abdication of the writer's most basic job, which is to create in their writing a structure which conveys meaning to the reader or audience. Organizing your essay in the seemingly free-associative way discussed above will not do this. That is what we do in our first drafts. As we revise and improve, however, we drill down and reorganize in ways that may not be linear, but at least pull the reader towards the end and then reward them with a meaningful reading experience.
I've read essays that follow their author's minds down down down the neural pathways, that mimic the associative ways human consciousness work. They're boring when they're not bewildering because the different components don't resonate in a way that is meaningful to anyone other than their authors. It's telling that the example that follows this paragraph does not actually do what they're advocating here, but rather uses images to foreshadow an event in a narrative that progresses chronologically.
Over the next paragraph, they talk about investigating images without worrying about story as a way of unlocking them, which seems to be perfectly fine advice. I just worry about a world in which more and more work is being organized around chains of associative images as opposed to things like... you know... plot.
By Isaac Butler
I'm happy to bring you a far more insightful critic than Alessandra Stanley, Das Racist's Himanshu Suri:
A week ago I was interviewed by an Indian blog and I spoke about the increased visibility of South Asians in American pop culture citing Jay Sean and NBC’s Thursday comedy line-up specifically. Prior to tonight’s airing of Outsourced, the only South Asians NBC’s Thursday lineup included were Mindy Kaling, Aziz Ansari, Danny Pudi, and Maulik Pancholy. That was enough. We were happy. We were content with these four actors we could laugh with and not at. None of these characters were the punchlines of racially insensitive humor. Maulik Pancholy, better known as whatever Jack Donaghy’s assistant’s name is on the show, was kind of an easy target for jokes but none of them had to do with his race. For me, increased visibility meant less talentless tools can progress in the arts solely by virtue of American racism (read: their being Indian, different, exotic) and that people were beginning to see us for more than our food and labor. Literally three days later Outsourced, a show about work that’s 30% Indian food jokes, airs and we’re back at square one. Besides, what 20-something, college-educated American professional who would head to India before looking for a new job hasn’t ever had Indian food? At one point the main character identifies a dish as “yellow and green stuff”. You know that’s Saag Paneer dude.
Spoiler ahead in this very brief post...
I really, really hope that the writers and directors of Mad Men understand that cutting back on hard liquor is not the same as going sober. It is very unclear from the episode "The Summer Man" that they get this. I'm hoping it's Don's delusion and not theirs. Hollywood and Television have trouble with redemption plot lines in general. They're very good at showing people's descent, but then all it takes is Robin WIlliams hugging you and saying "it's not your fault" over and over again to cure you. I'm really hoping that's not where they're going with the final few episodes of this season. That is all. Also, voice over diary entries? Really?
Skip it. Will Arnett is, as ever, an awesome refugee from Planet Weirdo, and the interplay between him and his crazy neighbor is fun, but this show has no idea what it wants to be—the absurd bits are funny, but feel like they’re stretching, and the straight bits are just cloying.
I’m wondering if they’re trying to take a page from Glee in this weird mash-up of earnestness and absurdity—it’s possible, but the sitcom isn’t nearly as suitable a generic container for this kind of attempt as the musical. Because of the interruptive nature of the musical numbers, the jarring shifts in tone in Glee don’t detract too much from the show’s overall goals. Here, though, we go from a treacly reunion scene between Steven Wilde (Arnett) and Emmy Kadubic (Keri Russell), complete with an intrusive violin score, to Arnett panting over a huge humanitarian plaque he’s made for himself. Whether it’s Russell’s lack of screwball flair or the constant spot-on expository voice-over by her character’s daughter, Puddle (Stefania Owen), the effect is weirdly old-fashioned. As much as the characters are self-consciously ridiculous, we’re also supposed to be invested in Steven’s redemption. I’m not sure this show can hold both these goals at once.
The thing that makes Glee so exciting is the feeling that we’ve never seen anything quite like it on TV—and this was the same thing that Running Wilde’s real predecessor Arrested Development accomplished as well. If they dial up the absurdity or make the “straight” bits more believable, Running Wilde might feel new, but right now it’s just kind of a mess.
By Isaac Butler
Someday we will stop being surprised by her, by the great confidence and even greater voice that comes out of a woman who seems so small, so young. We’ll stop being shocked by her ability to smoothly transition in and out of head voice, from primal screaming into James Brown through Michael Jackson into Prince and Big Boi. We’ll expect rather than marvel at her ability to cut a mean motherfucker of a rug while rapping at a fast pace and embrace genre after genre like each is just another beautiful coat in a never ending closet.
For now, however, let us savor this moment, this newcomer exploding on the scene much the way her signature pompadour explodes off her scalp and into the future. With only one EP and one full length to her name, Janelle Monae emerged from the start with a vision of her art that it takes whole careers for other artists to discover. It’s not just the sci-fi concept—Janelle Monae plays both herself and her genetic descendent, an android named Cyndi Mayweather who has come back in time to save humanity by persuading us not to enslave or fear the robots we will eventually create—it’s the omnivorous digestion of other genres. Janelle Monae is the music of an age where the old walls of musical taste come crashing down. She is the inevitable, welcome outcome of our new mashup age.
The pint-sized musical superhero’s stage show is not quite up to her talents, however. While her three piece (made up of members of her Wondaland Arts Society collective/record label) could certainly cook, nearly every song was dominated by extensive album-recreating backup tracks. This is a mistake, no doubt borne out of economic realities (she was, after all, the opening act) and the tightly controlled sci-fi aesthetic of the album. No matter, when Monae reaches the point where she can afford a large backup band a la Sharon Jones, she should take it and rearrange her songs for that purpose. Letterman already showed us exactly how spectacular that could be:
Additionally, Monae clearly has some fledgling ideas for what she wants her stage show to be, but no director to help her conceptualize and realize them. As a result, several songs simply feature a few back up dancers wandering in clothed body stockings and masks and half-assing their way through some unchoreographed dance moves. While the image of a woman in a nun’s outfit and a woman in a burka getting down has a certain appeal, the ideas aren’t well thought out enough or shaped to stick. First EP highlight “Sincerely, Jane” for example, was beautifully sung, but marred by six backup dancers menacing Monae in slow motion as zombies.
When the focus is on Monae-- and when First Avenue’s lighting guy bothered to illuminate her, which was roughly 50% of the time—the show is thrilling. Her rendition of “Smile” transforms the old standard into a duet for herself and electric guitar and brought tears to my eyes. During “Come Alive”, she sailed into the audience for a dance-and-sing-a-long that had the largely high school aged crowd going crazy, just as the song commands. When she glided across the stage on one foot during “Tightrope”, the moment was as stunning as it was simple.
Her stage show, in other words, is aspirational. It hints to you what she could be capable of given enough money, time and staff. It’s a vision of what will hopefully come for her over the next couple of years, during which with any luck she will have also ditched “Of Montreal”, who work so hard and so fruitlessly on their recent albums to achieve the level of stylistic synthesis and conceptual ambition that she makes look so easy. Given that even in its more rote moments brought on by those backing tracks and some unfortunate feedback issues that clearly got to her over the course of the set Monae still rocks it and raps it and grooves it and croons it better than many of her peers, her career will hopefully bring us a live show that fully realizes her potential.
The going line on serials is that “it’s about the characters.” Especially at the inevitable moment when the anticipated ending doesn’t deliver the relief or “payoff” its audience had hoped for, authors usually reply that it was always about the characters, anyway. How I Met Your Mother is maybe the best example of this character-based mode of seriality. Ostensibly, the story is moving toward a pretty specific resolution: Ted meets the mother. But if you watch the show, it's probably not because you care about the final chapter—instead, it’s because you buy the relationships and you want to spend time with this specific group of friends. The story jumps around in time, and there are callbacks to earlier moments, but they never really add up to anything bigger than themselves. Since the endgame isn’t particularly compelling, the journey becomes more exciting for its own sake. This isn’t all good, though—when the show does get around to moving the “master narrative” forward, it often feels forced, or like it’s taking our attention away from something we’d rather be thinking about.
All of this musing on HIMYM is my extremely roundabout way of getting to its opposite number on the serial spectrum: The Event, which I finally got around to watching today on Hulu. The plot is so twisty, particularly with no less than ten title cards indicating how the story is jumping around in time, that I didn’t even have time to think about whether I bought any of the characters or not; as soon as I started to think about a character, the story had jumped to the next one. As near as I can figure it, the story focuses on a group of people whose lives get derailed by some vast conspiracy, possibly featuring Kerry Weaver as an Alien Queen (but maybe that's just my desire talking). This makes for a fun puzzle—both trying to figure out the titular Event and attempting to discern the show’s different narrative influences. LOST and 24 are the names that are getting thrown around the most, but I see The X-Files just as much, particularly in the size and scope of the conspiracy that seems to be behind the story. (Didn’t it turn out to be good aliens vs. bad aliens?)
It’s the way the series plays with time that holds the most promise for how long it might continue to be fun before inevitably burning out. Serials are structured around gaps—particularly the gap between installments, but also the conceptual gap between different plot threads, etc. The Event feels like it’s all gaps, so in some ways it’s the perfect serial. At the same time, without characters to keep me rooted to a story, I’m not sure how long I can keep going with this before it floats off into the ether of my DVR. For now, though, kick-ass twists in the final act like the swirly blue energy ball that apparently EATS A PLANE are more than enough to keep me coming back for more.
By John Bradley
It's raining: right now someone somewhere is doing something stupid. It's raining: a flannel shirt hibernating in a plastic grocery bag slowly uncoils. It's raining: I'm only telling you this so I don't have to tell you something worse. It's raining: the walking woman in the black leather coat goes about her routine as if it's not raining. It's raining: first I think it's a list, then a curse, then a prayer one says when tasting fear. It's raining: on the mossy roof, the musky leaves, the unrepentant cigarette filters by the curb. It's raining: the moon's foggy fingers seep through every chamber. It's raining: I consider and reconsider the possible angles for making love with you in the pantry. It's raining: every droplet is cause and effect and at the same time neither cause nor effect. It's raining: into the scalding water in mom's spaghetti pot, dad pours some baking powder and soaks his foot. It's raining: he doesn't even have to say, "Don't tell your mother." It's raining: I can't remember if I already told you this. But whether I did or didn't, it's raining. A piece of nwspaper under the back porch bleeds into black soil. It's raining: the ant reservoirs finally begin to fill. This morning I don't have to swallow anything except this. It's raining.
Speaking of indie tv... there's a new online documentary tv show about the lives and work of New York based performing artist. It's called "Made Here". Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch check it out! You might note that one of its episodes heavily features the wonderful and talented Jess Barbagallo of MilkMilkLemonade fame.
They're having a shindig in each of the five boroughs to screen and talk about the show. Here's the info for the latest one:
In keeping with the MADE HERE mission of hosting an event in each of the five boroughs of NYC, this screening & discussion will be at CAVE Arts Space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn on Tuesday, September 28, 2010 from 6:30pm to 8:30pm (58 Grand Street, between Kent and Wythe). The event will be a screening of three episodes of the MADE HERE series on technology in the performing arts and a public discussion. The event will be moderated by Andy Horwitz, the founder of Culturebot.org and a Curator at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council.
Featured artists in the Technology episodes include: Moe Angelos (Theater Artist), Jess Barbagallo (Theater Artist), Anne Bogart (Artistic Director, SITI Company), Toni Dove (Media Artist), Melanie Joseph (Artistic Producer/Founder, The Foundry Theater), Taylor Mac (Theater Artist), Paul D. Miller (a/k/a DJ Spooky – Writer/Artist/Composer), Vernon Reid (Musician/Composer/Multimedia Artist), Charlie Todd (Founder, Improv Everywhere), and Marianne Weems (Artistic Director, The Builders Association).
Sounds like a party.
So the AV Club has started covering the New York Television festival, in the hopes of elevating the medium. Watching all these premieres, I've been struck by the way that, despite the way that a zillion cable channels have radically opened up the kinds of stories that can get told on TV, there's no working independent television model. Stuff like this came out of the writer's strike, which makes me think that incredible things could happen if TV writers and producers could do things outside of the studio model.
So it's worth checking this stuff out--the wave of the future, and all that...
By Isaac Butler
From today's NYTimes:
The Republican strategy “makes sense in terms of politics and polls,” Mr. Obama said, an acknowledgment that the electorate is divided and that many swing districts are hostile. “It just doesn’t make sense in terms of actually making people’s lives better.
Today, a landmark legislative achievement that democrats have been pursuing for over half a century goes into effect. Over the next ten years, at least when it comes to health care, the government will be actively working to make people's lives better. Is the bill perfect? No. There are many, many places where it needs to be improved and fixed. But focusing on that obscures how much good Obama and the Democrats have done by passing it. For example, as of today, insurers can no longer discriminate against kids with preexisting conditions, can no longer deny you health insurance because of clerical errors on your paperwork, and cannot impose lifetime caps on the benefits they pay out to you. Children will be able to be covered by their parent's health insurance until they are 26.
That's pretty great. And over the next few years we will get to near universal coverage. Part of the problem with the grueling health care battle is that progressives had to give up a lot and in the short term get nothing. Now we start getting. This is good.
From her review of "Outsourced":
At this point, Indian phone banks are something of a worn-out punch line, but “Outsourced” tries to build a bigger story around the opening joke. And that’s liberating. South Asians are no longer an exotic minority that needs to be sheltered from comic stereotypes; for one thing, there is no easily recognized stereotype. The Indians, Pakistanis and other characters with roots on the subcontinent vary widely — and it’s hard to think of a show that doesn’t have one.
I almost don't think a response to this is really needed, it's so self-evidently absurd. I agree with her that more and more shows and movies are featuring South Asians (although a recent off-Broadway show that called for a South Asian actor cast a dark skinned jew from Florida in the role) but the idea that there are no stereotypes of South Asians and that suddenly it's all good because of the occasional casting of brown skinned people is ridiculous.