Schrödinger’s Lost

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So, a bunch of TED talks are now on Netflix. So I watched a bunch. Now, I am fairly ambivalent towards TED. I like the idea of disseminating what may be challenging or revolutionary ideas in ways that are easily understandable. But then what of the unbelievably expensive price tag for showing up?[i] And they give people like Jamie Oliver, Bono and Bill Clinton lots of money.  Anyway, I like hearing people sentimentally talk about outer space. So I watched those. I watched the ones about robots. Cause I like robots. I also decided to watch a talk by J.J. Abrams.  Abrams is probably best known for his involvement with TV shows like Alcatraz, Felicity, Alias, Fringe and Lost. He is also now helming the revamped Star Trek franchise. He also wrote Regarding Henry. Abrams’ TED talk, which he called, “The Mystery Box,” is about the importance of mystery in culture.

His talk is centred around a single prop—a box of magic tricks Abrams bought when he was a kid from a store that he fondly recalls. Now, and this is important, he has never opened this box. He, like his audience, has no idea what is in the magic box. And this is what I think is at the core of his talk, even if, Abrams doesn’t know this. Because his job as a writer/director/executive-producer is to “open the box.” As a creator it is his job is to reach the conclusions of the worlds he creates. As he acknowledges, Abrams fetishizes this unopened box so much because of its potentiality. The best magic track in the world could be inside. A trick that could marvel the world. Not knowing what is in the box is more exciting than opening it. What is inside will always disappoint us. It might be a joybuzzer. Or rattlesnake eggs.[ii] Or a deck of marked cards. Or Murlynd’s Spoon. Which brings me to Lost, a show that I have begun watching. This is a show with an incredibly strong fan base that almost universally agrees that the show ultimately disappointed them. There are debates about when the show jumped, but no debates that it did jump.
Continuing the box analogy, which I will refer to as Schrödinger’s Lost, its fans were disappointed when the box was opened. The elaborate mythology that is laid out in the first couple of seasons is undone. Schrödinger’s cat refers to the idea that until we open a theoretical box with a theoretical cat inside, we don’t know whether the cat is alive or dead. Or, in other words, it is both alive and dead until we know which one is “true.”And in the case of Schrödinger’s Lost, until we watch past the first season, Lost is both potentially good and bad.
As far as I am concernd, Lost unravelled fairly quickly. There are things about even the first season that frustrate me, even if some of my quibles are minor. For instance, these people have the worst survival skills. Now, I know next to nothing about the great outdoors let alone mysterious islands. But I’ve at least seen the first couple seasons of Survivor. These “lost” people love to bury things. Clothes? Bury’em. Supplies? Bury’em. Anything? Bury that too. They really hate to recycle. Heroin, a potential anesthetic? No way, leave it alone. “Maybe we should bury it Jack?” Circumnavigate the island? No way, not even out of boredom. Anyway, I really enjoyed watching the first season. Like, a lot. Similiar to watching Game of Thrones the first time around I could not help but marvel at what TV looks like when you spend a lot of money. And, as far as what seemed to be Lost‘s plot holes, they didn’t bother me. The first season moved at a pace that any problems were in the rear view before I cared too much. But the second season stopped asking questions and starting answering them in the form of nonsensical questions.
At the same time, Lost wasn’t cancelled in the way that a Twin Peaks was. Its commercial success forced Lost to go on. No questions unanswered. No blaze of glory. Rather, we know how Lost ends and we hate how it ends. Now, in defense of Abrams, no one has ever managed to open the box in a way that works. Not since Lewis Carroll stole the ending that’s writing was inevitable has a writer been able to satisfactorily show us the inside of the box. For example, the first half of a Charlie Kaufman penned film is always better than the last half. His movies raise questions they are, it seems to me, ultimately unable to satisfactorily answer. The only exception I can think of in recent memory is Fincher’s The Game. So while we, as watchers of Lost, may be disappointed with the ending we should also realize that we could only be disappointed. Lost may have become terrible, and it did, but how couldn’t it have? What ending wouldn’t have been disappointing? My answer is none. And maybe this shouldn’t take away from the first season.[iii] Did I mention that J.J. Abrams wrote Regarding Henry?

[i] I know you can watch the videos for free because I just did.

[ii] This was one of my favourite tricks when I was a kid.

[iii] I also really like the first half of the second season.

 

Five Things I Like, You Might Like Them Too #10

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1. The Dead Island Trailer

2. The moment in “The Boxer” when the lyrics switch from first-person to third-person narration

3. How 90s Penelope Ann Miller really is

4. Everything about this video—the clothes (those are the biggest front pockets I have ever seen), the fact that no one seems to care that these guys are dancing (in what is clearly not a street), the “doorway choreography” and the minute and a half mark when Mick Jagger, thirsty from all his dancing (not to mention running on the spot), picks up a (random?) can of Diet Coke(?)

5. Hal Ashby

My Week Trying to Watch this Movie

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So, I just finished watching My Week with Marilyn. Now, I should start by saying that when British cinema is good, it’s really good. Films like If…, Sexy Beast, My Beautiful Laundrette, The Third Man, the films of Powell and Pressburger are wonderful. So is the work of British expatriate directors. British Hitchcock is as good as American Hitchcock. Anyway, that’s my attempt at disclaimer. Now, when British film is bad, it is not so much bad as it is boring. And I like boring things. I love Barry Lyndon…which is very long. Same with Reds. And I publically admit to loving Heaven’s Gate. So I can appreciate slow pace. But my brain is just wired to find something like the collected works of Sir Evelyn Victorian or My Week with Marilyn boring. Which is why it took me a week to watch this movie. Anyway, that’s not the main reason I didn’t like the movie. Rather, the movie is part of ever-increasing group of historical-biographical films that are told in a way that I don’t like. My Week with Marilyn is based on a couple of books written by Colin Clark. Clark, who was Lawrence Olivier’s[i] assistant for a while, is in awe of Monroe. He wrote these two books based on his experience of a week he spent with Marilyn Monroe.[ii] Anyway, films like My Week with Marilyn, Julie & Julia, and Bobby, etc. insert the point of view that we, as audiences, are expected to have in relation to celebrity—namely, we are supposed to at least think about it a lot if not worship it. Probably the first film I remember watching that used this framing was Velvet Goldmine, a very-semi fictional account of glam-rocker Brian Slade.[iii] That film is told from the perspective of a young Christian Bale, back when he basically had one accent, playing a journalist seeking to unravel what happened to this mysterious rock star he grew up emulating. These films are all told from the perspective of people in awe of fame. Now, I don’t read celebrity gossip. There are many reasons why. I value privacy. I don’t think that being famous qualifies you as an expert. You can’t really know a stranger. I don’t care what’s in your purse. I am busy.[iv] Anyway, I am not even close to being the first person to acknowledge this, but an increasing amount of people are famous for being famous. Being famous isn’t the reason I want to know about you, it’s because you wrote Blood on the Tracks. I already know what it is like to like David Bowie–because I do. I don’t learn anything more from watching Velvet Goldmine. These celebrity worshipping film mimic the viewpoints of people so much that they are actually more about these “ordinary people”[v]than the people we were/I am interested in. And I think part of what is going on here is the desire to tell interesting stories in interesting ways. But stick to the source material. Bob Dylan led an interesting enough life without having a million actors play him. You don’t need to make Robert Zimmerman’s life interesting–he already did the job for you.


[i] One of the things I did learn about the film is that he was actually just plain, old “Larry.”

[ii] I actually appreciate literal titles. I think this comes from spending most of my life in academia where people don’t use literal titles enough.

[iii] David Bowie.

[iv] Watching TV and playing videogames.

[v] “Look at those assholes over there–ordinary fucking people.”

Why You Shouldn’t Care How much Money John Carter Made

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John Carter just bombed.[i] People have been writing about this a lot this past week. A lot. One of the reasons given for audiences’ mild reaction is that people are unfamiliar with the character. And that is true. I am mostly a nerd,[ii] love Conan, and yet I had never heard of this John Carter guy until this movie went into preproduction. The lack of a widely recognized character was also one of the reasons given for the failure of the Green Lantern film. However, at the same time popular media and audiences assert their hatred of the lack of originality in Hollywood. Which one is it? That audiences hate seeing remakes, sequels and adaptations, reflective of the lack of originality in Hollywood? Or that we only want to see things we have already seen or read, about characters we are already familiar with?

An article posted by the LA Times actually lists one of the causes of John Carter’s financial failure being the “dissonance” created by the film’s setting, Mars. Apparently audiences, aware of the fact that no one lives on Mars, just can’t believe the film’s story. That is, before they actually saw the film. I guess we must be thinking, “This story, which I am told I know nothing about…oh wait, I do know it takes place on Mars. Hey, that’s impossible—Mars?  Isn’t there only like water or something there?” So while on one hand we are supposed to believe we don’t want to see this movie because of what we do know, that there are no monsters and people on Mars, on the other hand that we don’t want to see Carter because of what we don’t know, which is everything. Other than these two insights being mutually incompatible they point to the simple fact that in the hundred or so years since the birth of cinema people don’t really know exactly why some films bomb and some are successes. Cutthroat Island, which I believe is still the least successful film of all time, “proved” that people just don’t want to see pirate movies. At least that was what critics thought in 1995 until less than ten years later one of the most successful contemporary franchises was born, based on a ride, featuring a lot of pirates. Avatar could have been the least successful film of all time until it was one of the most successful. Same with Titanic. And in both cases critics didn’t really know which one was going to happen. 3D was a joke for the longest time until it was the next  big thing.[iii] Even Netflix with its now defunct algorithm contest doesn’t always get it right. It does a better job recommending movies and TV shows to me than a grapefruit or Armond White[iv] but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that, “Netflix just really…gets me.”

The LA Times article, “Why John Carter Tanked Big Time: Disney Spectacular Joins Heaven’s Gate, Ishtar and Howard the Duck in Moviedom’s Gutter” echoes longstanding opinions about contemporary film that are now accepted as fact.  Every time a movie becomes a financial failure there is a mad rush to meet copy deadlines to be the first writer to make a pun on either Heaven’s Gate or Ishtar.  Oh, oh, let me try. IshmarsEleven’s Gate (because there are 11 volumes in the original novels)? Damn, I’m just not good at this. Edgar Rice Burroughstar?  I’m just waiting for someone to refer to this as John Cartergate and then struggle to make clear that they are referencing Watergate and not Heaven’s Gate. Now, those three films have nothing in common except they are often used in the same sentence. The NY Times also invoked the dreaded Ishtar with the heading—“ Ishtar Lands on Mars.” I remember reading once that Elaine May, Ishtar’s director, said that if everyone who claims to hate the movie actually saw it, it would have been a success. Anyway, referring to these three movies in the same sentence obfuscates not only the fact that the reasons these movies underperformed at the box office are very different but also the question: what does how much money a movie made have anything to do with how much I like it?

Heaven’s Gate is actually one of my favourite films. Narratively, I feel the film is quite strong although sometimes boring in that there is little use of spectacle. I have thought for many years that the film’s reputation, as not only encapsulating the megalomania of the movie brats but the driving force behind changes in the studio system, hides the real reason companies looked  away from directors like Cimino and Bogdanovich and turned to directors like Spielberg. As Peter Biskand convincingly argues, the late 70s was not only the birth of the Blockbuster but also the beginnings of the formula film.  The success of Steven Spielberg led to the Bruckheimers, Bays and Ratners of the Hollywood machine—filmmakers able to produce a product carefully designed to appeal to an undifferentiated market. Relying on stereotypes such as—women don’t like action movies—the 1980s saw the rise of the formula picture. Women don’t like action? No problem, tack on a love story and Kelly McGillis. Movie too serious? Add a cute dog. People like dogs. Movie not funny enough? What about a sidekick? Sidekicks are hilarious. Not so coincidently, this time also signalled the cementing of the sequel as a driving formula for success.  Anyway, Ishtar is genuinely funny and not only has both Hoffman and Beatty but also the vastly underrated Charles Grodin. However, the two actors are cast against character type with Beatty playing the loser and Hoffman the ladies’ man, challenging audience expectation of these men’s star personas. Dustin Hoffman explaining to Warren Beaty how to pull women is funny, right? And Warren Beatty has always challenged his audience. I mean, he directed Reds? And the last film in the trinity of fail, Howard the Duck? Ok. That movie is a genuine piece of crap. I remember the first time I watched that movie thinking that it was perfect—perfect in the sense that you couldn’t make one change to Howard the Duck that wouldn’t make it better.

Film critics like to think they are responding to trends, merely observing things, but they create trends. Even some of the writers of the articles critical of John Carter admit that the film never had a chance because of popular attitudes about the film before it was released. But they are the ones who created those opinions. It’s like when media pundits complain about someone being overexposed whilst they are the ones doing the overexposure. John Stewart has practically made a career pointing out the irony of media pundits and politicians referring to themselves in the third person. What all of these films, John Carter, Ishtar, Heaven’s Gate, etc. have in common is that their failure was entirely based on how the media framed these films before their release. These movies were “bad” before anyone knew whether they were bad.

The commentaries on John Carter also reflects on “tentpole strategies”—a term that describes managerial strategy more than filmmaking. One of the concerns is that these tentpoles, films that serve as a locus for spinoffs and other related media, don’t always work. The Avengers, to be released very soon, will show just how much tentpole strategies can work. The Avengers is going to make lots of money employing a similar strategy intended in the marketing of John Carter. Besides, what do I care how much more money rich people are likely to receive? I just want to see some good movies.

The NY Times article focuses on Andrew Stanton, Carter’s director, saying that he had too much control, was inexperienced with live action, etc. I’m glad Stanton, better known as one of the driving creative forces at Pixar, tried to bring the sensibilities that make Pixar films so good. In fact, Pixar boasts a stronger record than maybe any filmmaking company in history. The author writes:

If Mr. Stanton has any comfort, it may be that he keeps good company in the trophy-movie-gone-wrong hall of fame. Baz Luhrmann is there for “Australia,” along with George Lucas for “Howard the Duck” and Michael Cimino for “Heaven’s Gate.” And, of course, Mr. Hoffman and Mr. Beatty for “Ishtar.”

Brooks Barnes, the article’s writer, “covers media.” However, most of his articles seem more like business reports to me. In fact, all of the reporting I have read on John Carter is business news. Movie news should be about the things I see in a movie theatre. I don’t care about marketing and I don’t care about how much things cost.[v]

The argument ultimately for the film’s failure is that companies should exert more control of the movies they finance. In other words, companies like Disney should reign in their creative talent. This is a company that once supported efforts to eliminate the “reds” from Hollywood as a thinly veiled attack on unions. That is how much they respect talent. At the risk of invoking cliché, I would rather filmmakers try to make something good and risk failure. We have all watched the creativity of American filmmakers increasingly stymied for the last three decades. At the same time, movies have gotten worse and worse. Related?

I think what is really going on here is that people are tired of movies being so terrible and we just don’t know how to express this. One of the only ways to indicate you don’t want anyone to get elected is to spoil your ballot—and the decline in tickets sales is audiences spoiling our ballots. I would argue, and I think I can make a pretty solid case, that American film has been in slow decline since the 1970s—a decline that rapidly increased in the late 1990s. A couple of years ago the people who run the Oscars decided to actually increase the number of nominees in the “best picture” category. At the same time, there are less and less movies that are best pictures. They are only best in the sense that they are better than The Tourist. Nine movies were nominated as Best Picture this year. Try even naming nine good movies released last year, let alone one that stands anywhere close to a Chinatown, Godfather II or The Conversation—three movies that were actually all released in the same year.  Ricky Gervais merely gave voice to what we were all thinking. If the American film industry is going to spend so much time congratulating itself, maybe they should spend more time working on things worth congratulating. Now, The Green Lantern isn’t the best movie—it had its problems—but is it really worse than Thor? Really? I think the reception of films like John Carter doesn’t reflect a “no vote” for that film but an entire industry increasingly managed by a few media companies interested in cloning Michael Bay. The reason that Bay is so successful is that his films perform equally well regardless of their quality. Some of his films are probably not that bad (The Rock?). Others are just terrible (Transformers 2?). Some are overrated (Transformers?), some are underrated (Pearl Harbor?). But other than the last film I mentioned, regardless of their individual merits, the guy knows how to convince people with less money than he has, to give their money to people with more money than they have. Cutthroat Island is the biggest box office bomb of all time. But that film hardly gets mentioned. Rather, the films that are criticized for failing are criticized because they are some of the few examples of filmmakers making movies and not companies.  Ultimately, the framing of Carter’s failure reflects the ways that we supposed to think that movies should be made. And the way that movies are supposed to be made is with greater managerial oversight. I’ve seen movies made by lawyers and I long for the 1970s.


[i] Apparently–if I ever made 100 million dollars on a weekend I would be happy.

[ii] Totally a nerd.

[iii] It has now gone back to being a joke.

[iv] I actually like Armond White’s writing as cultural criticism, just not as a measure of quality.

[v] That I don’t have to pay for.

When I was Younger People were Older

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So, there’s this series of children’s books about this kid wizard. You’d think that wasn’t special. And, in some ways it isn’t.   A lot of popular books these days are teen fiction, or children’s lit. Popular books often spawn popular sequels. Popular books often become popular movies. And the wizard is a staple of fiction.  As a long term thrower of the polyhedral dice I can safely say, “I love wizards.” But these books are different. I like my wizards throwing fireballs, telling people not to pass or melting people’s brains—not fixing eyeglasses or taking magic trains that operate in the same way as regular trains. Anyway, I don’t hide my disdain for the Harry Potter series. That being said, sometimes I don’t advertise this fact because it is apparently a great crime to not like these books and as soon as you say you don’t like them someone invariably wants you to qualify your opinion. Or, at least they think they do. Once that conversation begins and you say, in my case ad nauseum, why you don’t like them the listener almost immediately wants you to stop talking. Their response is usually, “Well, I love them” or “Well, they’re for children.”[i]  It reminds me of all those Christmas movies that involve kidnapping someone who doesn’t love Christmas more than anything and strapping them down like that scene in Clockwork until they come to the conclusion that not loving Christmas is like hating life. My declaration of not liking Harry Potter means something to its fans that is, it seems, beyond my grasp. Sometime I might put to paper why I don’t like the content of these particular books but not today. Anyway, it is the “for children” label that continues to fascinate me. Textually, they might be for children. The protagonists are kids. The language is fairly simple. The vocabulary is accessible. But these books reach a much wider audience. Now, some might point to the series’ universal appeal. While that may be true, and perhaps shouldn’t be taken for granted as a necessarily positive quality, it doesn’t change the fact that on a fundamental level adults are reading children’s books. Or books for teenagers. Or young adult fiction. Adults don’t just read books about kid wizards. Adults read books about kid vampires. Adults read books about a kid archer. Adults read books about kids on polar bears. And if I read more children’s books I would have more examples.

Reading is almost universally lauded. Reading a book is supposed to be good. Everyone has heard, “it doesn’t matter what you read as long as you read.” And people seem to actually believe this. I’ll go out on a limb here—I don’t think that reading any book is a great thing. Ignoring the tautological logic, the reading of books is lauded for teaching people to read. Wait, I can’t ignore it—of course it does—by definition. Punching lemmings teaches one how to be a great lemming puncher. This doesn’t mean that you should punch anything. Anyway, one of the tacit assumptions of those that triumph reading as a good unto itself relies on another assumption—namely, that reading one book will lead to the reading of a more challenging book. Marvin K. Mooney leads to The Hardy Boys leads to Naked Lunch leads to Gravity’s Rainbow. Or something like that. Most people, I think, have an idea of different reading levels. And not just in terms of narrative content, e.g. that stories about wizards are for kids and stories about the people Anaïs Nin had sex with are for adults, but that, for instance, the use of allusion or metaphor takes a certain level of thought and/or knowledge to understand and, say, chewable books are appreciated on more of a “surface level.”[ii]  Now, ideas of reading levels have been critiqued in their rigidity and use in policing certain ideas and who should have access to information. I’m not saying these things aren’t worthy of debate. Young-adult might mean anyone twelve to eighteen or it might mean something else. However, I am certain that it does not refer to someone who is forty-seven.  I’ve read Gravity’s Rainbow and admit that I constantly felt that there were themes and meanings outside my understanding. As a child, I remember being encouraged to read “above my reading level.” In other words, I felt encouraged to read material that was, for whatever literacy level I had, challenging. And I tried. Some of those stories I enjoyed reading. But even the ones I remember enjoying certainly contained things that went above my head, maybe even considerably. Now, what are the effects of adults consistently reading at a children’s level? It’s better than nothing. And that is probably true. Yet, I still think we take for granted the almost axiomatic declaration that reading anything is awesome. Some books are crap. Some books are good. But I just can’t get behind triumphing the positive cultural influence of the third Twilight book.[iii]  And there might be other effects on so many adults who consistently read at a primary school level.

It often it feels like the literary world we live in consists of people reading a children’s series of books, waiting for the next one to be released while they reread a different children’s book from another series. I remember being made instantly aware the day that either a kid wizard or kid vampire book was released because you would see people carting copies everywhere that day as if this was some of sort of sign that they belonged to the Freemasons or Illuminati. In fact, I remember being in the airport the day the third last Harry Potter book was released and seeing a sea of the dust jackets as dozens of people waiting to go somewhere read that book. Put another way, it seems like a handful of series—again, intended for children or young-adults— have the same type of media oligopoly you see everywhere else. And this shouldn’t be surprising when you think about the centralizing of media amongst a handful of oligopolies you see everywhere else. While the Beatles may have been great, a consensus I prescribe to, the monopoly they had on ears in the 1960s also had an impact on lesser known artists remaining, well, lesser known. In a society that ostensibly values pluralism, like the one I live in, the dominance of such a small group of literary works, regardless of their quality, doesn’t seem like a positive thing. I don’t think anything should be that popular because it also means we are closer to thinking and feeling the same way as each other. And I like difference.  I like dialogue. I think one of the reasons that the Harry Potter fans I meet are often unable to articulate their love of these books is that they are so rarely challenged. They haven’t had to think about it. Debate isn’t just a process of changing opinions, it can also strengthen and affirm the things were already think and feel. The power of popular opinion is that its own popularity becomes its justification. But, anyway, the question I keep thinking about is: What are the effects of adults consuming so much culture aimed at children?

I remember when people thought Huey Lewis was cool. [iv] The surprising thing about this fact isn’t that people thought Huey Lewis was cool, but that anyone listened to records recorded by someone in their mid-thirties who wasn’t already looking back at a twenty year career. And that really young Canadian spreading fever is just one of an increasing number of celebrities who look like they should be playing with Easy Bake Ovens, worrying about their parents’ reaction to their grass stains and saving the marshmallows in their cereal for the end because they are the best part.[v] When I was younger people were older. Reading level aside, what does it mean when the majority of culture watched, read, and listened to, is made for children? Looking back at my experience growing up, at least as far as I have grown up, I don’t think I was at a loss for images of adults, both positive and negative. Movies were about adults. TV shows were about adults. Even G.J. Joes looked old. Look at Dr. Mindbender and tell me that guy isn’t 52. Or Shipwreck’s surely disposition?[vi] That guy is at least 46. Anyway, musicians were older. Fictional characters seemed old enough to possess the careers they possess. The police on television actually looked old enough to be police. That’s why 21 Jumpstreet worked. Because not every fictional police already looked like they were twenty. How will the film remake work, out in theatres soon, when police already look so young? Jonah Hill, the film’s star, is the same age as Sarah Jones, the lead police[vii] in Alcatraz. In the 1980s teen comedy was a sub-genre. Now, all comedies are teen comedies. People just used to be older. Even the people on Thirtysomething looked fortysomething.

Some of reasons behind our Lost Boys culture are clear to me.[viii] Parents viewing habits are determined to a large extent by what their children watch. Going to see a movie is expensive. Companies don’t like to make R-rated movies anymore because making a movie for an undifferentiated audience means selling more tickets. Despite some of the ideals of say, rock or punk, specific to youth, musicians often used to be older, even if only in their twenties, because learning how to perform musical instruments takes time and practise and many contemporary musicians aren’t musicians in the sense that they know how to read music and hit drums, keys, or strings. I wonder if someday the 27 Club might be replaced by the 17 Club. I understand the desire to feel young in the sense that it would be nice if it were easier to shed some weight or not feeling so tired all the time or not wanting quite so many responsibilities. But I don’t really understand the need for adults to find Edward so dreamy.

People worry about the effect on young people watching sexualized images of youth, but what of the effects of adults watching the latest slightly-talented, well-marketed, underage songstress shaking her everything? Who are they bringing with those milkshakes? The common consensus seems to be that “kids these days grow up so fast.” But what about our adults? One of the ways we mature is by watching how the people older than us interact and behave. So, how does one grow up, constantly bombarded by images of children? Sometimes it seems that at the same rate children are maturing, adults are being infantilized. One of the loftier purposes of culture is advancing new ideas and the sharing of as-of-yet unpopular opinion. But what does a fifteen year old really have to say let alone one of T&T’s toddlers? And this only touches upon the visibility of the elderly in my culture, people I haven’t seen since J.B. was solving crimes all up in Cabot Cove and those four ladies in wicker furniture were making me laugh.[ix] Not to say that we can’t learn something from people younger than us but it should not be at the expense of learning from people who have been alive longer than we have.


[i] For whatever reason, they always begin with “well.”

[ii] Because you chew the surface.

[iii] BTW, this is totally the best one.

[iv] Technically, he was hip.

[v] They are the best part.

[vi] One of my favourite things about G.J. Joe is that Shipwreck is clearly Buddusky, Jack Nicholson’s character in Ashby’s The Last Detail.

[vii] In fact, her character is already a homicide detective.

[viii] I’m also aware of the fact that it is often adults that are producing this children’s culture. The people writing these books aren’t teenagers, although that dragon kid was fifteen when he started writing. Record producers and publishers are older too.

[ix] Ignoring all the Betty Davis stuff these days, The Golden Girls is actually still funny.

I Think You Should Watch Ringer

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So I started watching Ringer, a show that marks the return of Sarah Michelle Gellar. In the show, SMG plays two roles—twin sisters. Siobhan is the mean-girl who left the confines of her earlier life for the wealth of the city. Bridget is the addict who stayed. Others on this show include Ioan Gruffudd not doing an American accent, Nestor Carbonell’s eyeliner and a woman who looks like Blossom. People don’t seem to like this show. The reviews on Metacritic are mixed at best. The reasons given include the special effects, the writing, SMG’s acting and how improbable the show is.[i] So far, I really like the show. I want to know what is going to happen and I don’t always know what is going to happen. It is kinda trashy but in a way I love. A dirty, sexy, greasy way like Spartacus: Blood and Sand, well-oiled leather or early James Spader. As far as the effects go, there is one scene on a boat that does look terrible but that doesn’t ruin the show for me. While I am watching Ringer, I believe that SMG is two different people.[ii] I don’t think the show tries to be more than it is. Anyway, I think there is something about the show that people don’t like even if, I think, they don’t know they don’t like it—it is critical of the lives of rich people.

For the past too many years American television or, at least American network television, has been dominated by two types of television show. The first type of show depicts the lives of rich people—either under the moniker of “reality” or fiction. The second type of show depicts the lives of people who serve rich people. Everyone is either a doctor, a lawyer or makes cakes for people who can spend hundreds of dollars on a cake (for instance—doctors or lawyers). Many of these shows purport to depict “reality”—a claim I don’t think anyone can/does take seriously. Is there anyone who believes the “real” in the Real Housewives of …?

Beverly Hills 90210 is the first show, not hosted by Robyn Leach, I can remember watching that was about rich people. As I remember, when the show first aired it was criticized for being unrealistic because it depicted rich people. At the same time another criticism I remember hearing was that the casting of Tori Spelling, a case of nepotism, largely had her pretending to live a life she already had in the real world. Often it feels that what is meant when something is criticised as not being realistic is either that a particular representation a) does not reflect what I perceive the majority of people being like or b) that does not conform to my understanding of what my own life is like. Anyway, the show, an Aaron Spelling production, was about a bunch of rich kids and, sometimes, about their rich parents. However, the thing about 90210, despite the way it is sometimes remembered, was that it was critical of rich kids. The show’s stories were mostly told from the point of view of Brandon and Brenda Walsh, nouveau riche brother and sister recently relocated from Minnesota to California. Brandon and Brenda were the mostly down to earth middle-American kids with good values who felt guilty when they didn’t do what their parents told them to do. In fact, Brandon almost always did the right thing.[iii] That the Walshes were wealthy was something they actually struggled with, rather than struggled because of, unlike all of their peers. Kelly’s mom was an alcoholic. Steve’s mom was more concerned with her career and once even asked her son to manipulate a classmate, David, to scheme her way into a prestigious role. These were the parents of Ellis’s Less Than Zero. They were mostly absentee parents, busy making money to buy their kids’ newest ostentatious toys or, when they were around, they were coked out and ruining their daughter’s fashion show. The only character, at least initially, who did not come from money was Andrea Zuckerman, a character almost universally reviled and noted for appearing to be in her mid-thirties. Significantly, Andrea hid her poorer economic background and less desirable ZIP Code so she could attend the prestigious West Beverly High feeling that this deception was her only chance at a successful future.  90210 was, in fact, a critique of America’s wealthy. Something, at least at the time it aired, a lot of people missed. Debuting in 1990, the success of 90210 was responsible for the creation of a host of inferior clones such as Melrose Place, the only clone to have success comparable to 90210’s. However, as is often the case, the clones failed to reproduce the very quality that made the original popular, or at least unique, in the first place. While 90210, albeit in a soap opera for kids kinda way, actually addressed issues such as rape, HIV/AIDS, suicide and alcoholism most of the other shows were just about the drama caused by a bunch of self-centred, affluent people. Similarly, the current trend of teen dramas about rich kids began with The OC, another show, like 90210, that was critical of the lives of the wealthy. That show was about growing up in Orange County and was told from the perspective of Ryan, a kid from the other side of the tracks/ Chino, and Seth, a nerd who doesn’t fit in and hates living in Orange County. Yet, somehow this show placed Orange County enough in the American cultural consciousness to spawn a show about the lives of a bunch of petty women who spend a lot of money. Defenders of that show and its various clones might claim that in later seasons the show traces how the lives of the housewives change after the global repercussions of 2008 and thus a critical reading of wealth is possible. However, I am doubtful that the producers of the show intended to take that direction with their show and have been merely capitalizing on the 2008 meltdown, one of the failures of capitalism. And frankly I am doubtful that fans of the show actually subscribe to this reading.

On Ringer, Siobhan, the rich sister, is cold, duplicitous and a criminal. Her husband Andrew, from what I’ve seen isn’t a bad person, but at the same time he works too much and doesn’t really know how to be a good person. He works too often, and his relationships suffer. His daughter, given everything, is resentful. We see, once again, how rich parent means absentee parent. SMG’s best movie, at least if you’re me, is Cruel Intentions—a modernization of Valmont/Dangerous Liaisons about spoiled, vapid teenagers with nothing better to do than ruin the lives of nicer people. In that movie we hardly ever see parents. We are told how they are “away.” In the cultural consciousness rich parents are always “away.” Other than SMG’s imposter sister, I wouldn’t want to know any of the other characters. They’re not really likeable and they have more money than I do.


[i] Whenever a TV critic criticizes a show for being “improbable” I like to find out if they like Lost.

[ii] There are momentary lapses when all I hear is Buffy talking.

[iii] This changed in later seasons as well as most of the focus of the earlier seasons.


Welcome to the Dollhouse

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So, I decided today to start watching Dollhouse. As I recall, I’ve done this before. I remember thinking that it lacked Whedoness. It felt like Joss Whedon’s attempt at becoming J.J. Abrams. And since he’s now heading the ultimate project in movie synergy I guess it worked. You now, that superhero movie we’ve seen so many commercials for (commercials like Iron Man 2, Captain American, Thor). Now, despite what I might think about Whedon’s public persona[i], the guy can write.[ii] Perhaps his greatest talent, best displayed on Buffy, is the ability to seamlessly move from eliciting one emotional reaction from his audience to another. His characters always feel like real people. Their relationships with each other always seem genuine. But, as far as I can see, none of that talent made it to Dollhouse. But then again, it seems like Whedon wasn’t involved in the day to day. The show, so far, seems to be an attempt to give people what they want rather than create what they want.  It looks like a lot of network TV. It looks too polished. It is too dramatic. It is full of plot holes. I don’t know why it was cancelled.

Dushku plays Echo, a woman who is promised a new start from some ambiguous past by enrolling in some covert program called the Dollhouse whose agents routinely have their memory wiped and reprogrammed to be the perfect agent for whatever mission they are on. Despite being an illegal covert program everyone seems to know about it. So, maybe I’m not supposed to think it’s covert. One guy even calls the Dollhouse “world famous” so I guess it’s not so covert. Quick sidebar, casting Eliza Dushku as a character specifically required to play different personas may not have been five by five. I suppose since she’s the one who brought the project to Whedon firing her from her own show would be a low blow. As well, this show is now one of many that depict women in their late twenties saving the world. The pilot, for instance, has Dushku playing Miss Penn, a near sighted hostage negotiator with asthma. She wears glasses, cause she thinks she’s nearsighted, and a business suit. She plays a character that is always pretending and I always feel like Dushku is pretending. She looks like she’s wearing her mother’s clothes. Her faking an asthma attack is amazing. She even falls to the ground. I thought everyone who didn’t have asthma at least knew someone with asthma. Anyway, I can’t ever see her not as Faith. Now, in her defense, I haven’t seen her in many things. In True Lies she’s too young for me to connect her to her adult self. I haven’t seen Tru calling. And I only vaguely recall her in Jay and Silent Bob. So, maybe if I was fully versed in her oeuvre I might see the nuance in what she is doing.

Other things I thought about: looking at a computer imaging of a blue brain, someone actually says, “See the blue areas. That’s fear.” Other than Riley, I can’t see anyone in the Whedonverse actually saying this. Wow, that’s fear. In the second episode we are told what tabula rasa means. The second episode reminds me of J.C.V.D.’s Hard Target.[iii] Echo tells her stalker, “You poisoned me and tried to shoot me with arrows.” It is definetly the arrows part that would get me riled up. Everyone on the show is TV good looking which, I have never found good looking.


[i] Try listening to the commentary track on the last episode of Buffy when Whedon thanks people for watching his show.

[ii] I am not including the Firefly theme song.

[iii]  Q: “How does it feel to be hunted.” A: “You tell me.”

A Grand Romantic Gesture on Grey’s Anatomy

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So, watching Private Practise has caused me to start watching Grey’s Anatomy again. Watching Grey’s this time around[i], the show seems better than I remember. Or it could be that I have been watching PP and this show is just better by comparison. I just finished the fourth season of Grey’s which concludes with an amazing scene. Meredith Grey, the “Grey” of the show’s title, has overcome her fear of commitment[ii] and is waiting outside of her boyfriend’s trailer where she has placed on the lawn hundreds of candles to outline the ground floor walls of what might be their dream house. This moment is meant to be a pivotal point in both the relationship of McDreamy, her boyfriend, and Meredith as well as Meredith’s development as a character. This scene has been posted to YouTube several times. This taught my two things. First, fans of the show refer to Meredith and McDreamy as Merder which is kinda creepy. And second, that at least 559 people like this scene.[iii] In fact, some people think that this is one of the best scenes on the show. One person writes that this scene is “probably my favorite grey’s scene ever! :)”. Someone else argues that this “scene still rocks.” Another person feels that this scene is evidence that “derek will always love meredith forever.”[iv]

This is what romance is. At least on TV. Cause in the real world Meredith would not have been able to buy hundreds of candles. She wouldn’t have been able to carry that many cases of candles. She would have had a really hard time perfectly setting up those candles without a crane or some way to gain perspective. How was she able to get such perfect lines? Where did she find all those candles? How did she carry them around? When did she have the time? Let us just say that she found a really good deal. In fact, that is probable given that most stores don’t carry that much stock. So, she would have had to either spend an entire weekend driving around Seattle trying to buy that many candles and glass containers or, more likely, located the manufacturer or whole-sale distributor. Now, let us just say she got a really good deal and was able to buy to each candle and container for a combined price of ten dollars. And it looks to be a few hundred candles. I paused the show and counted about forty candles on one wall alone. Then I got frustrated at the lack of resolution of my TV and gave up. Anyway, someone, the show’s prop master or whoever, knows exactly how much these candles and glass containers cost and how difficult it was to get them because they were the one who had to actually get them. Anyway, I am guessing that Meredith just spent several thousand dollars on this grand romantic gesture. That lasted for a few minutes. I am not against romance. But isn’t this just a waste? What did she do with all those candles and containers when she was done? Did she donate them? Pack them up for when she next needs hundreds of candles or glass containers? I also can’t help but wonder if McDreamy, moments after the camera cut to credits, had to spend the next few hours helping Meredith clean up all that romance. Now, I am by now means the first, or even thousandth, person to point out that media can be responsible for creating unrealistic expectations in people.[v] But, as I watch this scene, this seems excessive even for excess. I can’t help but think that the people who love this scene haven’t really thought this through. Maybe they feel, as it seems so many people do, that thought and reason are somehow antithetical to romance. But how many people, if given a few thousand dollars, would actually spend all that money on candles? And what did Meredith end up doing with all those candles? We never see. But chances are she threw them away. What else would you do with all those candles? So, this romantic gesture is actually tantamount to burning a few thousand dollars and then filling up a landfill. But, if the people on YouTube are right, then this is romance.


[i] A few years back I watched the first few seasons.

[ii] I suspect this is temporary as the show heavily relies on the on again, off again relationship of Meredith and McDreamy.

[iii] Other postings of this scene on YouTube have 292 and 221 people liking it. I don’t know if this means at least 1072 people like this scene or some people think it is so great they had to like it three times.

[iv] “Even after the show is cancelled?” Wow, that is love. Between two people that don’t actually exist.

[v] For instance, it is harder to get accepted to a good school than Saved by the Bell would have one believe.