Monday, September 29, 2008

Traister/Pailin


Another superb piece by Rebecca Traister on Sarah Pailin in Salon.

Traister's other contributions can be found here and here.

One of the most incisive voices to emerge during this campaign.

Dexter 3.1

As wonderful as it was to have our favorite heroic serial killer back last evening on Showtime, the episode, "Our Father," will not go down as one of its greatest hits.

Having Dexter kill someone unexpectedly, the brother of Miguel Prado, the cover-boy Assistant DA (Jimmy Smits): promising. Having Rita and Dex fucking like bunnies: erotic. Having Rita pregnant (as revealed in the final moment): could be a shark jumping narrative development.

But then Season Two did not start strong either. I retain my faith in Dexter.

TWoP Recaplet

Holbrooke on Leadership Styles of the Candidates

Ambassador Richard Holbrooke compares the style of the two candidates in a discerning piece.

Ruin

A letter writer to Salon's advice columnist Cary Tennis ("Since You Asked") inquires (emphasis mine):

My reaction to [Sarah Palin], and the way the Republican Party threw her in our faces, and the pandering and hypocrisy that was behind their decision to do so, was immediate, visceral, and indeed, vicious. I have crossed every line I believed should never be crossed in public discourse -- I have criticized not only her policies and her record, but her hair, her personal style, her accent, her abilities as a mother, etc. I've also begun to suffer personally and professionally. I bore my friends with my constant tirades against her, and am constantly distracted from my work by my need to continually update myself on the latest criticism, and indeed, ridicule, of her. In my hatred for her, I have begun to hate myself.

I don't want this woman ruining my life before she even gets a chance to ruin our country. How do I stop? Is there a self-help group for this?

A "Hater"*

*As Sarah Palin calls all those who disagree with her (New York Times, Sunday, Sept. 14, 2008)

Down the Tubes

During my two years in the UK I was fond of saying that the decision about whether or not to return to the US was essentially a choice between living in a country (the UK) already practiced at no longer being a superpower or one (the US) not even close to accepting its decline.

A British perspective on our demise.

Like a Rock


Chris Rock was already in the news last week after calling out Bill Clinton for his tepid support of Obama.

Some of what Rock said on Letterman was actually from "Chris Rock: Don't Blame the Messenger," his new HBO special, airing this week, taped (and edited together) from performances in New York, London, and Johannesburg.

Rock's rants on race, sex, work are (as usual) over-the-top of over-the-top profane, but he's at his best when (mostly in the first 30 minutes) he's contemplating politics: insisting that McCain doesn't give a fuck about the future because he won't be here for it; observing that the geriatric POTUS candidate "named his nurse as his Vice-President"; wondering if the Secret Service is prepared for a black First Lady who may well be threatening to kill her husband on a regular basis; belittling McCain's POW origin myth--the black community has more than a few members who, like McCain, got caught and tends to admire instead those who get away.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

McCain's Temper

McCain loses his cool during an MIA hearing in the 1990s.

Reality as Parody

In a previous post I talked about Philip Roth's 1960 prediction that reality would one day become too strange to exaggerate.

On last night's Saturday Night Live's recreation of the Couric/Palin interview, SNL's writers chose to have Tiny Fey sometimes just use the VP nominee's actual words without embellishment. Palin is herself a caricature, needing little hyperbole to be parodied.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Palin by Coates

A must-read provocative piece on Palin, race, and gender by Ta-Nehisi Coates on the Atlantic Monthly website.

Not Looking at Obama

You cannot go on "seeing through" things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. It is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden beyond it is opaque. How if you saw through the garden too? . . . If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To "see through" all things is the same as not to see.
C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man


McCain's almost total refusal to even look at Obama in last night's debate was telling indeed.

Talking Points Memo quotes a reader's observation concerning the not-looking:


I think people really are missing the point about McCain's failure to look at Obama. McCain was afraid of Obama. It was really clear--look at how much McCain blinked in the first half hour. I study monkey behavior--low ranking monkeys don't look at high ranking monkeys. In a physical, instinctive sense, Obama owned McCain tonight and I think the instant polling reflects that.


(Josh Marshall would later acknowledge that the anonymous poster was indeed "a researcher on social cognition and behavior in primates.")

On MSNBC, a Republican Congresswoman (didn't catch her name), asked by Nora O'Donnell about the slight, suggested, incredibly, that if McCain had looked at his opponent he would have "seen right through him" anyway, since he was so far beneath the great and all powerful McCain. What condescension! What would Lewis have said?

David Frum observed in NRO that "The worst mistake in any fight is to under-estimate your opponent's abilities. Look what happened to the people who under-estimated Reagan. If conservatives are to have any hope in the coming weeks, we should wake up to the fact that we face in Barack Obama a formidable man, who appeals to something important and deep in the American electorate" (emphasis mine).

Clearly, the hopeless McCain doesn't agree.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The First Debate

Watching the spinmeisters and pundits post-debate. My head is spinning. I have cognitive dissonance vertigo. I find it beyond belief that some are saying McCain won this debate. This was a clear victory for Obama on a night McCain was supposed to, and desperately need to, win--if you ask me.

"Are You There God? It's Me, Dean Winchester"

I didn't expect a lot from this episode with a Judy Blume-meets-Eric Kripke title, but it was a solid B even a B+. Dean, Sam, and Bobby investigate the murder of several other hunters by the malicious spirits of individuals they failed to save and then must defend themselves against their own "Witnesses."

Bobby (Jim Beaver), more and more a redneck Watcher extraordinaire, who even has a To-Live-For supernatural panic room, makes the initial discovery of the nature of their adversaries, and Castiel completes the picture, informing Dean that their "Rising" is one of 66 signs of the coming apocalypse. Lilith, we learn, is engineering THE END, breaking all the seals (locks) holding very bad things--the last of which will be Lucifer himself.

22 episodes a season and 66 seals to be undone. Does this mean Kripke and Company have envisioned a beautifully symmetricalypse three season arc?

Television Without Pity Recaplet

The Other Palin

The UK's candidate. Thanks to Janet and Kim.

Pop Culture to the Rescue

Once more, pop culture--The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, The View, Chris Rock, Letterman, YouTube (again and again), now The Dark Knight--shows itself to be the most acute critic of the mess that is America.

McCain's Future Stunts

As predicted by Slate.

Some only slightly less improbable than what we have already seen.

Over forty years ago Philip Roth observed (in "Writing American Fiction" [1960]) that "American reality" "stupefies, . . . sickens, . . . infuriates, . . . and finally . . . is even a kind of embarrassment to one’s meager imagination. The actuality is continually outdoing our talents, and the culture tosses up figures almost daily that are the envy of any novelist," Even the "daily newspapers," he writes, "fill us with wonder and awe (is it possible, is it happening?), also with sickness and despair." [Roth's prescient observation was the inspiration for a keynote address I gave in 2007 in Portugal.]

Satire (like Slate's hilarious list) faces a formidable challenge in the current campaign.

Jon and Stephen/Barack and Michelle

Bush Then and Now

Once more the fabulous Daily Show interns actually commit journalism the networks wouldn't dream of.

Others commented that the lamest of duck's address to the nation on September 24th was reminiscent of his Terrify-Us-in-Preparation-for-War-on-Terror speech of March 17, 2003, but only the Daily Show actually showed us the astonishing similarities (about 1 minute in):

Mediums

In the Katie Couric interview, Sarah Palin responded to a question about why she only recently acquired a passport with the following:

I'm not one of those who maybe came from a background of, you know, kids who perhaps graduate college and their parents give them a passport and give them a backpack and say go off and travel the world.

No, I've worked all my life. In fact, I usually had two jobs all my life until I had kids. I was not a part of, I guess, that culture. The way that I have understood the world is through education, through books, through mediums that have provided me a lot of perspective on the world.


Well . . . That education (at at least five colleges in five years) evidently did not include the actual plural of "medium," which is, of course, "media" not "mediums." (Does she know the famously difficult plural of "moose"?)

But then again, perhaps she was speaking correctly. Since we know she consorts with minsters who believe in exorcizing witches, perhaps "mediums" have played a pivotal role in her education.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Rachel Maddow



"I greet you at beginning of a great career." Emerson welcoming Walt Whitman to the House of Poetry. All of us who watch television news welcoming Air America host Rachel Maddow to coverage of the 2008 presidential campaign. Her own, new show on MSNBC is a breath of fresh air indeed.

The McCain Campaign In Graphics

Graphically true!

Heard on The Colbert Report (on the Day McCain Suspended His Campaign)

"McCain once famously said he would rather lose an election than lose a war. Now he has gone the extra step of saying he would rather lose an election than win an election."

"How dare they will have" (in response to Treasury Secretary Paulson's inexplicable insistence that part of the blame lies with "future administrations").

Lazarus Rising

Castiel: "Good things do happen, Dean."
Dean: "Not in my experience."


At this point last year, I had seen Supernatural perhaps once and didn't much care for what I saw.

Then, at last fall's Buffy Hereafter conference in Istanbul the brilliant Stacey Abbott brought it up in conversation as we made our way to a ferry that would cross the Bosporus and take us back and forth from Europe to Asia in the space of an hour. She couldn't believe I wasn't watching. So I plunged into the series, immediately buying Season 1 on DVD. I was hooked--hooked like I had not been since Buffy. Within two weeks I had watched 1 and 2 and began downloading 3 from ITunes. I was once a disbeliever, but Eric Kripke [pictured] is my master now. He may well prove to be a television genius on a par with Joss Whedon.

Season Four's premiere was excellent. The eponymous Lazarus, Dean, made it out of Hell (we didn't really think he would stay dead anymore than we thought Buffy would remain among the deceased at the end of Season Five). (Bobby, Jim Beaver, was so dubious, he threw holy water in the older Winchester's boy's face.) That it was an angel of sorts who hauled him back into his mortal body--that I didn't see coming. (Angels seem everywhere in my reading/viewing these days: first Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy, then Angels in America; now Supernatural. It's testing my atheist's faith.) S4's arc looks to be truly apocalyptic--in the words of Buffy's Anya in Season Seven, "this apocalypse is going to actually be, you know, apocalyptic." TWoP's recaplet title: "The Hardy Boys: Now On A Mission From God!"

Now I am the Supernatural proselytizer. Now I am trying to convince those not watching of the error of their ways. (Rhonda, you know who I am talking to!)

Bailing

Andy Borowitz on the real "bail out."

Quick Study



"I served with quick studies. I knew quick studies. Quick studies were a friend of mine. Sarah Palin: you're no quick study."
--Hilzoy after seeing the Katie Couric interview

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Fringe Benefits?

After three episodes, the much tauted Fringe is leaving me cold. The by-the-numbers conspiracy is so far boring, the characters (with the exception of Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble) don't interest me. The astonishingly similar first three outings have all blurred into one in my memory.

If this doesn't improve--radically--I will be deleting my "Record Entire Series" instructions to my DVR.

Dexter Returns


David Bianculli reviews the new season of Dexter.

Palin Protected from Witches



And if this had been Obama.

OMG. Just when I thought this mess couldn't get any stranger.

Blink Revisted

An Andrew Sullivan correspondent considers life on the blink.

See also.

Life

Minutes ago I finished watching (on DVD) Season One of NBC's Life.

What a terrific series. I missed it entirely in London during its strike-truncated freshman outing. Charley Crews is TV's first Zen detective since Twin Peaks' Agent Cooper, and Damian Lewis is beguiling in the role.

It will be interesting to see how they pull off its narratologically intriguing combination of crime-of-the-week police drama and multi-season arc (as Charley tries to solve the mystery of the murder and set-up which sent him to prison for life).

Yet another series to add to my regular viewing habits. Good thing I now have a DVR!

Thanks, Hillary, for recommending Life.

Heroes 3.1 and 3.2


I am not alone in being disappointed by Heroes' strike-shortened second season. (Even Tim Kring apologized for its muddled beginning.) About the time Veronica Mars arrived, its sophomore year did improve somewhat.

This week's two part return was certainly epic enough, with its tour de force scenes (Sylar slices off the top of Clare's skull), significant deaths (poor Toby), the introduction of scads of new characters (mostly villains), shocking revelations (Mrs. Petrelli is the mother of . . . ? ? ?), but some of the flaws were reprised as well: Mohinder's pompous, precious voice-overs, a too-foregrounded-self-satisfaction with its own awesomeness, a refusal to let anyone die (Nathan, Linderman, Nikki--all alive again in some form).

As I have often said in the past, Heroes doesn't seem to be a "long haul" show. I remain unconvinced that it's a keeper.

Read TWoP's summaries of "The Second Coming" and "The Butterfly Effect."

Bill Clinton, You're Dead to Me

After watching in the past week a man I once admired and supported (and defended) make the rounds of Letterman (where Chris Rock brilliantly deconstructed him), The Daily Show, and The View (where he praised Sarah Palin and incredibly insisted “You can’t tell someone else that the ground on which they make their voting decision is irrational”), I want to make it official here, now, on this 24th day of September, 2008: Bill Clinton is dead to me.

Rome wasn't bankrupted in a day . . .

The Colbert Report's "The Word" has been consistently brilliant since the show's debut. For the uninitiated, in this segment the faux right-wing pundit Colbert bloviates on a topic in the news while, in the right hand window of a split screen, Stephen's subconscious talks back to him, constantly subverting his clueless rants. A 2006 "Word" acknowledges the Freudian nature of the feature's split personality:



Last night's "Ohmygodsocietyiscollapsing . . ." on the the Wall Street meltdown was one of the masterpieces of the form:



I especially liked the revelation of a redacted memo entitled "Banking Industry Determined to Strike within the US."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Dear Governor Palin: Why So Afraid Of The Fourth Estate?

Megan's hilarious piece on jezebel.com.

Sermon on the Hellmouth (or Tampa)



Back in August I gave an invited sermon at the Tampa, Florida Unitarian Universalist Church: "'I think I was in heaven': Joss Whedon's Atheist Faith."

You can have a look at the Power Point I used here.

My thanks to Suzie Siegel for inviting me and Grant Wilson and Diana Stevens for letting me share their home (and Prius) during my visit.

Monday, September 22, 2008

"If anyone could make Christian theocracy smell like apple pie . . ."

"If anyone could make Christian theocracy smell like apple pie, Sarah Palin could."
--Sam Harris in Newsweek

Sam Harris' meditation on the Guv.

Barack and The West Wing

My title refers to the television show not the actual 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. location.

Maureen Dowd has the report.

Dummying Down the Debates

Today comes the What the Fuck news that the upcoming VP debates have been restructured so as not to unduly tax Sarah Palin's unprepared brain.

Postscript: Mudflats comments thus:

"So, when the McCain team decided upon the terms of the debate, a debate in which any future candidate worth his/her salt should be able to participate, it obviously never occurred to them that their actual pick would be completely and utterly unprepared and unqualified. At this point, they are basically saying, “We know she’s going to lose, but we want her to lose less catastrophically. And we don’t really care that the American people will never get to see the woman who we want to be a heartbeat away from the highest office in the land engage in actual conversation, or be called out for her lack of knowledge. Allowing the debate to continue as is, would be far worse for us than being called out for giving head starts to ignorant people, and grading the debate on a curve.”

They’d rather she have more time to spit out the talking points, then have to defend her own qualifications. They just came right out and said it! Our little hothouse flower will be protected. Quick, add another circle of barbed wire, and dig a deeper level in that subterranean, undisclosed location…Sarah’s coming. But is she Ready to Lead?"

The Emmy Awards

One of the worst ever. The perverse, continued absurdity of nominations for Boston Legal, James Spader, and William Shatner, the complete neglect of superb television like The Wire--these would be bad enough. But failing to honor Michael Emerson as Ben on Lost was enough to make me pull my hair out.

Great to see Tommy Smothers as radical as ever, though.

Heather Havrilesky nails it in Salon.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Egg-Nog and the Primal Scene


Egg-Nog season is still months away, but allow me to record an autobiographical reflection here (anyone who knows me has no doubt heard the tale).

I have one brother, Dennis, three years older than me. We are both baby boomers, Den born in 1946, me in 1949, but our Virgo birthdays were only one day apart (I arrived on August 27; my brother on August 28).

My brother and I are about as different as two siblings can be, but our three years apart/one day apart arrivals in this world must have had similar conceptions. (All this occurred to me under the influence of pot one night many years ago.)

You see, nine months back from August 27th/28th is, of course, Christmas. And Christmas was the only time my dear father ever drank. Rum in his egg-nog. Both my brother and I are, it would seem, rum-induced/inspired productions. Nog Boomers.

Jim Beaver


As long as I am praising supporting thespians, I must take a moment to extol Jim Beaver.

It was as the decent-amid-the-squalor Ellsworth on Deadwood that I first became conscious of this unequaled character actor. John from Cincinnati (another Milch series) came and went before we were able to get up on its board, but Beaver was again superb as Vietnam Joe. Now he contributes mightily as older, wiser hunter Bobby Singer on Supernatural.

Beaver gets the M. Emmet Walsh award for continuing superior contributions in a non-starring role.

From the Whedonverses to Madison Avenue



For those of who have spent a good amount of time in the Whedonverses, Christina Hendricks (Saffron in Firefly) and Vincent Kartheiser (Connor, Angel's son in Angel) were familiar faces when Mad Men debuted in 2007. Hendricks had won raves as a grifter who seduces Mal into a faux marriage and later leaves him naked. Kartheiser, however, was hardly a fan favorite (even before he slept with Cordelia) and gave us one of the most annoying characters of any Joss Whedon show.

But on Mad Man, where they play, respectively, smarmy, clueless, nearly despicable young account executive Pete Campbell and voluptuous secretarial pool dominatrix Joan Holloway, they are both beyond brilliant.

"Sarah Palin's Alaskanomics"

Michael Kinsley's revealing piece from Time can be found here.

A Poetry Reading, University of Florida, 1975





[from the top: McClure, Ginsberg, Snyder, Odum]

I am setting the Way Back Machine for 1975. A much publicized event at the University of Florida would bring some major figures from the Beat Movement--Gary Snyder, Allen Ginsberg, Michael McClure--to campus to honor the great ecologist (and U of F faculty member) Howard T. Odum.

It was a fascinating week. I was teaching U of F's first-ever course on Native American Literature, and Snyder, who had made himself available for classroom visits, came to talk to my students. It was a wonderful 50 minutes, and Snyder struck me, as he had when I first saw him in Saint Cloud, Minnesota three years before, as just about the most fully-actualized human being I had ever met. (I should note that this was my LSD period, and I was attentive to such things.)

But the highlight of the week was a poetry reading to be held in a natural amphitheater around a small pond in the heart of the campus. For events such as these, a platform/stage was laid across the water, and Snyder, McClure, and Ginsberg would read from a podium placed upon it to the assembled multitude. A crowd of several hundred filled the outdoor theatre-in-the-round. (A couple of years later I remember hearing Norman Mailer and Hunter Thompson--who pleaded with the crowd to bring him any good drugs they had--read in the same location.)

The reading would have been memorable in its own right (Snyder is the greatest reader of his own poetry I have ever heard in person)--even without the heckler. Wandering through the audience a very, very drunk guy in his twenties continued to harangue the poets on the pond. It seemed he wanted to be included on the program--wanted to read his poetry.

Finally, Snyder, who was acting as MC for the evening, took the mike and, in an effort to quiet heckler (where was security?) offered to let him read one poem if that would shut him up. He accepted the offer and made an anything-but-straight-line for the stage over the pond.

The aspiring poet took the podium and pulled a large manuscript of his poetry out of his backpack (the size of the tome brought a moan from the audience) and threw it on podium. As he announced to the hostile crowd "I want to read you my first poem, "Getting a Blow Job," he leaned forward, seeking to steady himself, on the podium, and it tumbled, the manuscript with it, into the pond.

With barely a moment's hesitation, Gary Snyder, in what seems now over thirty years later a surreal moment, leaped down into the shallow pond and retrieved the manuscript. Soon after security arrived and hauled the drunk off, and the reading commenced without further incident.

Hannity Interview with Palin as Infomercial

Several commentators this week spoke of Hannity's fluff interview of the Guv as an infomercial. Only The Daily Show demonstrated why (the relevant part of the video is toward the end).

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Circular Talk Express (Screen Capture from The Daily Show)

Barack Obama in 2005


Like most Americans, I first became aware of Barack Obama in 2004 when he keynoted the DNC.

But, oddly enough, I began thinking he was someone special after his "Not My Job" apppearance on NPR's always hilarious Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me on August 6th, 2005. Listen to it here. (Scroll down the page to the "Not My Job" link.)

Suffice it to say, he is much less spontaneous, much less natural these days.

Angels in America


It's embarrassing to confess, but today I finished watching Tony Kushner's Angels in America--for the first time. I have no explanation of why I had never seen it (or read it) before, but suffice it to say that I feel sufficiently guilty now. The prospect of teaching an HBO course in the near future was the impetus that brought be to buy it on DVD. A superb piece of work. I was especially impressed by Jeffrey Wright (as Belize), Weeds' Justin Kirk (as Prior Water) and Mary-Louise Parker (Harper Pitt), and Al Pacino (as Roy Cohn).

Special Needs

An extraordinarily brave piece by Harper's John R, MacArthur on Sarah's Palin's political use of her Down syndrome baby.

Confabulum's Honest Take on McCain's Dishonesty

An insightfully honest response from a "snarky," "postmodern conservative," James Poulos.

I found this reader response (from "Steve") of interest as well:

For those of us who supported McCain in 2000 this has been brutal. I vote for a candidate because of what I hope they will do after they are elected, not just for the sake of having them elected. The Orwellian tactic of the Big Lie may work and win the election. I see nothing but chaos ahead if it works. This will be true not just for this term, but in every election that follows. Why would any politician tell the truth again?"


Indeed.

McCain's Greatest [Worst] Hits

Buzzfeed provides a handy compendium of the negativist McCain ads.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

TV v the Movies


In an article several years back, Entertainment Weekly offered a variety of reasons "Why TV is Better Than the Movies." According to my notes, these were key to their argument:

1. Women thrive on TV
2. We care more about TV characters.
3. TV does better with drama.
4. In TV, the writer rules.
5. TV is more fun to talk about.
6. TV deals with mature themes more maturely.
7. TV is more convenient.
8. TV does better with less money.
9. On TV, you can change the channel.

Now James Wolcott in Vanity Fair weighs in and also comes down on the side of the small screen. As does Devin Gordon in Newsweek.

McCain Goes Ironic



Borowitz at his best.

Todd

The first extensive piece on the "first dude" I have seen (Mike Madden in Salon).

He is being touted as a union guy, but he earns $100,000 a year!

Resentment (Tom Tomorrow)

The Essential Sopranos Reader



The reader reports are in, and all three recommend that the University Press of Kentucky publish The Essential Sopranos Reader in its Essential Readers in Contemporary Media and Culture series.

The book will comprise the best essays from last May's Sopranos Wake at Fordham University in New York. I am editing it with Douglas Howard and Paul Levinson.

This will be my third Sopranos book, covering the HBO masterpiece's entire run.

We will be making decisions about the essays to be included over the next month.

The Habit of Lies

Is there anything they won't lie about? Jake Tapper reports.

Tragedy/Farce

Richard Cohen's excellent column today--coming from a former McCain admirer--is superb. Marx's famous observation on history gives Cohen his conclusion.

Going After Your Opponent's Strength

In the Karl Rove playbook, going after your opponent's greatest strength is a key factor in the game plan.

So Jonathan Rauch imagines the next reductio ad absurdum phase in the campaign.

"A Night to Remember"


The title of this week's Mad Men evoked a book (and film) about the Titanic disaster, and though no one died in the course of it (the title actually refers to a church event Peggy is doing pro bono work publicizing AND a dinner party, complete with Heineken, Betty is hosting), the episode was full of shipwrecks: Joan's failed attempt, in her work with Harry in the new television division, to "pull a Peggy" and become something more than a secretary; Peggy's increasingly bizarre state of denial (kudos to Elizabeth Moss for that unflattering bathtub scene), and last but not least Betty's marriage (kudos to January Jones for playing "not beautiful"). With Almodovarian gusto, Television Without Pity called its recaplet "Women on the Verge of Kicking Some Ass." It was indeed a showcase for Mad Men's extraordinary actresses, but it remains to be seen whether any posteriors will be booted.

In "A Night to Remember's" opening shot, Betty Draper (having learned last week that Don is screwing around on her) rides her equestrienne steed fiercely as the camera cuts back and forth between the horse and her determined countenance. Though she is not quite so ecstatically out of control as this rider--

Ariel

Stasis in darkness.
Then the substanceless blue
Pour of tor and distances.

God's lioness,
How one we grow,
Pivot of heels and knees! ---The furrow

Splits and passes, sister to
The brown arc
Of the neck I cannot catch,

Nigger-eye
Berries cast dark
Hooks ---

Black sweet blood mouthfuls,
Shadows.
Something else

Hauls me through air ---
Thighs, hair;
Flakes from my heels.

White
Godiva, I unpeel ---
Dead hands, dead stringencies.

And now I
Foam to wheat, a glitter of seas.
The child's cry

Melts in the wall.
And I
Am the arrow,

The dew that flies,
Suicidal, at one with the drive
Into the red

Eye, the cauldron of morning.


--I couldn't help but think that the year is 1962 and that only one year later "Ariel's" author Sylvia Plath would kill herself in London.

Blink Blink Blink

Several commentators on the Charlie Gibson-Sarah Palin interview have already noted the Guv's obsession with the word "blink." But only The Daily Show succeeded in demonstrating how Palin's blinklessness was yet another perpetuation of the Bush legacy.



As Jon quipped last evening: "Sarah Palin doesn't need to know what the Bush Doctrine is -- she is the Bush Doctrine."

Sunday, September 14, 2008

David Foster Wallace (1962-2008)




The news today that David Foster Wallace has committed suicide is sad indeed.

Though I must confess I never got around to reading his magnum opus, Infinite Jest, his essay "David Lynch Keeps His Head" in A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again is one of the most extraordinary pieces I have ever read.

The following passage from my essay on Twin Peaks in Glen Creeber's 50 Key Television Programmes gives a feel for his extraordinary acumen (Wallace's words are in bold):

Dreamy (it was lushly scored by Angelo Badalamenti), cinematic (rather than televisual) and slow paced, Twin Peaks accentuated its subtext, indulged in extreme violence, emotional excess, disturbing sexuality, uncanny dream sequences, controversial subject matter and was ever reliant on ‘a particular kind of irony where the very macabre and the very mundane combine in such a way as to reveal the former’s perpetual containment in the latter’ (Wallace, 1997: 161). As such, it demanded complete attention to its convoluted narrative from television viewers only too accustomed to distraction. Indeed, David Foster Wallace has described with great precision the distinctive characteristics of Lynch’s style as a filmmaker. For Wallace, the term ‘Lynchian’ denotes (ibid):

…the absence of linearity and narrative logic, the heavy multivalence of the symbolism, the glazed opacity of the characters’ faces, the weird ponderous quality of the dialogue, the regular deployment of grotesques as figurants, the precise, painterly way scenes are staged and lit, and the over lush, possibly voyeuristic way that violence, deviance, and general hideousness are depicted.




A fine remembrance on Huffington Post by John Seery.

McCain-Pailin



Saw this on DailyKos. Brilliant likenesses, don't you think?

Lipstick on a Pig

"John McCain says he's about change too, and so I guess his whole angle is, 'Watch out George Bush -- except for economic policy, health care policy, tax policy, education policy, foreign policy and Karl Rove-style politics -- we're really going to shake things up in Washington.' That's not change. That's just calling something the same thing something different. You know you can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig. You know you can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper called change, it's still going to stink after eight years. We've had enough of the same old thing."—Barack Obama


When Obama made the above statement this week, the right went ballistic, running an ad accusing the Democrat of insulting Sarah Palin—leaping to the conclusion that Palin was the pig of Obama’s metaphor.

As a professional (I am an English professor after all) allow me to parse this for you. First, we need to understand the nature of metaphor and, in particular, the two components of a metaphor: the “tenor” and the “vehicle.”

Wikipedia offers a good account in its article on metaphor:

“The metaphor, according to I. A. Richards in The Philosophy of Rhetoric (1936), consists of two parts: the tenor and vehicle. The tenor is the subject to which attributes are ascribed. The vehicle is the subject from which the attributes are borrowed. Other writers employ the general terms ground and figure to denote what Richards identifies as the tenor and vehicle. Consider: All the world's a stage:-

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances; — (Shakespeare, As You Like It, 2.7)


This well-known quotation is a good example of a metaphor. In this example, 'the world' is compared to a stage, the aim being to describe the world by taking well-known attributes from the stage. In this case, the world is the tenor and the stage is the vehicle. 'Men and women' are a secondary tenor and 'players' is the vehicle for this secondary tenor.”


So, in the basic, all-purpose metaphor of "putting lipstick on a pig," the “pig” stands generally for whatever is being artificially enhanced/made to seem different from what it is, and “lipstick” is the fakery/articial enhancement. The entire unlikely process (on All Things Considered this week, Robert Siegel actually had a farmer attempt the literal act) then becomes the vehicle (the known component) in a metaphoric depiction of a chosen condemned act of subterfuge.

When McCain himself suggested a few years ago that new Democratic suggestions regarding health care reform were simply taking Hillary Clinton’s efforts in Bill Clinton’s first term and putting lipstick on them, he was using the metaphor in normal fashion.

In the Obama speech, the pig = standard Republican policies and politics. The lipstick = McCain/Palin’s new, post RNC recreation as the candidates of change. To suggest, as the absurdly outraged forces of the right did (one conservative radio talk show host labeled Obama a "sexist pig"), that Obama’s “pig” was in fact Sarah Pailin misunderstands the metaphor and indeed the nature of metaphor; by such illogic, McCain’s “pig” in the health care comment would be Hillary Clinton and not the policy she was was advocating.

Talking with David Letterman this week, Obama astutely observed that if (if) he had been evoking Palin in his comment, she in fact would have been the lipstick affixed to the pig of McCain’s old policies and campaign.



We have long known that the right is no good at humor (as any viewers of Joel Surnow’s disastrous Half Hour News Hour can attest). It would seem they are no good at metaphor either.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Palin the Book Banner

Since I am clearly suffering from what the despicable John Fund (on last night's Real Time) calls Palin Obsession Syndrome, allow me to note that the Guv's insistence to Charlie Gibson that the story about her attempt to ban books from the Wasilla Public Library was an "old wives' tale" was yet another lie.

The End of Buffy on NPR



When Buffy ended (May 2003), Rhonda Wilcox, James South, and I were on All Things Considered. It's archived here.

I was also on Talk of the Nation.

I post the link here for the record.

Critiquing Charlie Gibson

Jack Shafer takes apart Gibson's lame performance in the second segment of the Sarah Palin interview.

Perhaps Sean Hannity will be tougher on her in her next round?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Andrew Sullivan


My brilliant wife was reading Andrew Sullivan long before I was. I found him troubling, disconcerting, when I actually dipped into his Daily Dish or saw him as a guest on Bill Maher's Real Time. As he turned against Bush and the Iraq War, he came more and more to seem a thinker I could embrace. When, earlier this year he announced his full support for Obama, I found both his position and his arguments compelling and reassuring (when I went to London, briefly reversing Andrew's own expatriation, in September 2006, I had told all who would listen that Barack Obama would be the next President of the United States).

For the last month--especially for the last two weeks, since McCain named Palin his running mate--The Daily Dish has become my port in a storm. Andrew's is a voice of great clarity and integrity and honor (honour?) as we all struggle for sanity in the last two months of this presidential campaign. We can never thank him enough.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Reaper (correction)

In an earlier e-mail I said I would be watching Reaper this fall. Not gonna happen. Not coming back until 2009.

For more on Reaper, go here.

Trouble in the Dollhouse

Distressing news from TVBizWire this morning:

TVBizWire

September 11, 2008 4:40 AM
Production Stops on Whedon's 'Dollhouse'
TVWeek

Fox has temporarily halted production on Joss Whedon's upcoming series "Dollhouse," and sources tell TelevisionWeek, that some network executives are concerned about the creative direction of the series. Officially, Fox says the break is an opportunity for Whedon, who is both writing and directing episodes of the series, to make the show better, but sources say there are questions about whether its characters are likable and whether the plot is too hard to follow, according to TVWeek. The program will resume filming on Sept. 25, the network says.
—Sergio Ibarra


This after similarly distressing news back in July:

(FROM THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER) - Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon is shooting a new prequel episode for his upcoming Fox series Dollhouse that will serve as the show's pilot. Whedon says he decided on the reshoot after meeting with Fox executives who were concerned about the accessibility of the previously-planned first episode. The series, which is set to debut in January, is Whedon's first new show since Fox canceled Firefly in 2003. Whedon told THR his previous experience with Fox played a role in his decision to reshoot the Dollhouse pilot. "I get their perspective, I get my perspective, these are not stupid people [at the network], and I decided I needed to make a preemptive strike," he said. "I wasn't going to entrench around my art. It is very fluid — the creation of a television show. So I said that I know a way to satisfy everyone."

Dollhouse is about a group of young adults who are programmed with "personality packages" before being dispatched on assignments. (The Dollhouse refers to the memory-erasing lab where the dolls stay after each mission.) Eliza Dushku stars as Echo, a mysterious agent with no identity except for the personalities imprinted on her and then deleted by her employer depending on the wishes and needs of wealthy clients. Tahmoh Penikett (Battlestar Galactica) will play Paul Smith, an FBI agent who's got his sights on the Dollhouse operation — and on Echo. Fran Kranz (Welcome to the Captain) assumes the role of Topher Brink, a gifted, not-to-be-trusted programmer in charge of imprinting the dolls. Australian actress Dichen Lachman has been cast as Sierra, a doll who seeks a friendship with Echo, while Enver Gjokaj (a guest star on The Unit) is Victor, another doll and Echo ally. The show has a seven-episode order from Fox. (Hollywood Reporter)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

True Blood

Battling a cold/the flu today, I don't have the energy to write about the premiere episode of True Blood, so I will just offer my friend David Bianculli's fine piece from Fresh Air (with which I pretty much concur).

You can listen to it here.

Best lines are Bianculli's close:

"But what chance do you have to love one another 'till death do you part,' when loving a vampire means it's death at the start?

True Blood explores that question, and others, in a show that builds slowly but surely. Stay with it for a few episodes, and you'll be craving your weekly dose of True Blood.

It's not going to replace The Sopranos — but as a synthetic substitute, it'll do for now."

Fringe

Not love at first sight (by contrast, I was hooked on Lost in 30 seconds). For all its far-out-ness, it seemed quite derivative, with Altered States and X-Files (without the character chemistry) as ancestor texts. Looks to be indebted to the latter in following its successful amalgam of a mythology arc with stand-alone (monster/fringe phenomenon-of-the-week) episodes. For all its state-of-the-art FX (the melting face of the pilot in the tease was disgustingly amazing) and movie-quality chase scenes, Fringe's initial offering seemed boring.

Entertainment Weekly quotes J. J. Abrams' opinion that upcoming episodes are actually stronger than the unorthodox pilot (which ran over 90 minutes). Let's hope.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

TV I am Watching

Fall 2008 American television I plan to be watching (and writing about here):

True Blood
Pushing Daisies
Dexter
Mad Men
Fringe
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
Supernatural
The Office
Reaper
Chuck
Californication
Prison Break
Dirty Sexy Money
Grey's Anatomy
Bones
Life on Mars
Little Britain
(US)

McCain's Horrid Smile

Finally somebody is trying to do something about it. The Onion has the story.

What We are All Thinking

The director of Anchorman says it in Huffington Post.

A Fundamentalist is a Fundamentalist

Juan Cole weighs in on Palin's religious views in Salon.

Rothko, A Blue Cadillac, Lost Cookies


This week's Mad Men, "The Gold Violin" (read a recaplet here on TWoP) was yet another strong episode in an extraordinary sophomore season. In a wonderfully self-referential moment, Bartram Cooper chides the hapless Harry that he "didn't make him head of television just to lower his attention span." Mad Men demands a stronger attention span--and pays higher rewards--than any show on television.

Bartram's new Mark Rothko abstract expressionist painting (not unlike the one above) and a mutual interest in Ken's new eponymous short story, leads to a first date between the "The Golden Wheel's" author and Sal (made awkward by the presence of the latter's seen-for-the-first-time wife, Kitty). The arrival of the 1960s is hinted at in the development of a new promotion for coffee designed especially for independent young people. Joan and Jane clash after the office madam fires the new girl. Don gets invited into the inner inner circle (tuxedos will be required). Futuristic developments like disposable diapers and product placement make their first appearance.

In a flirtatious phone conversation with Betty, Jimmy Barrett invites the Drapers () to attend a party celebrating the purchase of 39 episodes of Grin and Barrett. (How in god's name did network television ever turn out that many episodes? Today's 22 seems impossible enough.) But the caustic comedian's real motive is to suggest that Mrs. Draper retaliate for Don's affair with Bobbie by stepping out with him. Rebuked, he then castigates his cuckolder. On the way home in the new, now-seething-with-repression Caddy, Betty loses her cookies in the most surprising projectile vomiting since Adriana LaCerva exploded all over that FBI table.

In a flashback during Don's first flirtation with the blue Coupe deVille--a memory which causes him to flee the showroom, he recalls an encounter with a woman during a previously unknown past stint as a car salesman--a woman who knows he is "not Don Draper," presumably because she knew the real one who was killed during the Korean War. Let me go out on a limb here and predict that they we have not seen the last of her and that we will learn (perhaps by season's end) that Don killed her to maintain his secret identity.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Liquid Metal

Tonight's Season Two debut episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles ("Samson and Delilah") didn't miss a beat from Season One's finale. In dealing with Cameron's reversion to Kill-John Connor-Mode, we finally caught a glimpse of how John will become the kind of man who could be the savior of the human race, and the possibility that his bodyguard cyborg might exhibit some new capabilities (have we ever heard a terminator profess love, as she does for John when trying to convince him not to end her), is indeed intriguing. And the final revelation--that the creepy Catherine Weaver (Shirley Manson) is in fact a liquid metal terminator--hints at major developments to come. This series keeps getting better.

Debating Palin

In Slate, Dahlia Litwick offers sound advice to Joe Biden on how to debate Sarah Palin.

The fulcrum of her argument:

"I just want to state here what you will be unable to say out loud at the debate: That by every obvious metric—experience, knowledge base, decades of public service, policy experience, understanding of the world—Palin is an unserious candidate for the vice presidency of the United States. And as any college debater will tell you, it's far harder to beat a clumsy opponent than a good one. (That's why you do better in your judiciary committee hearings with John Roberts than with Alberto Gonzales.) But if you even hint that Sarah Palin may be opining on the Israel-Palestinian peace process with something Piper pulled off Wikipedia that morning, you will look like a snotty professor lecturing an undergrad. And if you look like a snotty professor, you will come across as a sexist bully."

Democracy


In an MSNBC spot that ran during the recent D/RNC's, Chuck Todd opines that what he loves about democracy is that everyone--from the latest American citizen, to the uneducated, to the true sophisticate--gets only one vote.

Elitist that I am, this is precisely what I don't like about democracy. I stand with Mark Twain, who wondered about the logic of letting "Tom, Dick, and Harry" have as much clout in the election as our greatest iconoclast.

The news this morning tells us that McCain/Palin--a man who finished (proudly) in the bottom five in his class at the Naval Academy and a U Idaho grad who attended at least five schools in pursuit of her degree--have now pulled ahead in the polls and could well end up in the White House.

When Adlai Stevenson was told (after a speech) that he had the "vote of every thinking American," he replied that "It's not enough. I need a majority." How undemocratic! (Stevenson lost twice to General Eisenhower.)

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Rich on Palin

Frank Rich's column on the RNC today is a must read.

This telling observation will stay in my head for a long time: "We still don’t know a lot about Palin except that she’s better at delivering a speech than McCain and that she defends her own pregnant daughter’s right to privacy even as she would have the government intrude to police the reproductive choices of all other women."

The Daily Show and The Colbert Report at the RNC

Throughout the "W" era, Comedy Central's The Daily Show and The Colbert Report (2005-) have been for me and many Americans a salvation. No matter how depressing American reality has become, the Monday through Thursday satire and parody of the "fake journalism" these two shows offered helped keep me sane.

Last week's Republican National Convention brought out the best in both DS and CR. Whether depicting Fred Thompson and Joe Leiberman as Foghorn Leghorn and Droopy Dog or staking out Larry Craig's favorite toilet stall at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport or unveiling the latest entries in CR's "Make McCain Exciting Green Screen Challenge" or Colbert's anxious wait for instructions on what to say about Sarah Palin on his "emergency talking points fax," both shows were uproariously funny. And once again they showed themselves to be better at journalism than the pros.

Will CNN or MSNBC or FOX (!) ever give us any reportage as probing as DS's hypocrisy-demonstrating fake McCain bio



or its exposes of the absurd contradictions of Dick Morris and Karl Rove, or cataloguing what John McCain doesn't know, Comedy Central once again proves itself to be the most trusted name in news.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Shallow of Self

Of all the bullshit spread thick during the RNC this past week, none comes near the moment in the intro to McCain's acceptance speech when Fred "Foghorn Leghorn" (thanks Daily Show) Thompson intoned that the Republican candidate for POTUS had, thanks to his time in the Hanoi Hilton, "long ago put behind him the shallow of self."

A maverick, a reformer, a war hero--that we knew. But the man who returned from Vietnam to ditch his first wife for a millionaress and who now has an indeterminate number of homes--a Buddhistic transcendent being? Who knew?