This Hollywood Reporter article is so catty and dreadful that I may just have to watch the Liz and Dick show to see it for myself.
This past 4th I did not cookout, or make a picnic of fried chicken and potato salad, or make the latest viral food fad.
Nor did I join in the melancholy nostalgic elegies for Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry RFD. I will miss him, too, but I can’t say anything more eloquent than what these folks have said. (Ken Levine, NYTimes) The Andy Griffith Show will be a perpetual summertime memory for all of America. (Well, white America, at least.)
I did not watch fireworks or even so much as light sparklers.
I did not read the Declaration of Independence, or any book on how America got invented on July 4th, or even that famous assessment of the American Character by Alexis de Toqueville, “Democracy in America“, which I’ve been meaning to read for some time.
I thought no deep thoughts about our reckless rush into revolt more than two hundred years ago, and how long the odds were against the colonies, and which side I might have taken had I lived in those times.
I watched no parades, nor did I listen to John Phillip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever”, nor did I hunt up my American flag and plant it in my front yard.
Instead I did that other national activity — which is to say I worked.
Yes, The Man needed me on a job site in the deep south, so I spent my day in an air conditioned construction trailer, watching nothing much happen as all the construction workers had been allowed off for the holiday and for an extremely long weekend.
NO no, this is not about politics, but about how the brain works. In a nifty video, replete with canny illustrations, Iain McGilchrist presents information about how our brains work. It turns out that it is divided, but not strictly along the lines of logic on one side and imagination on the other side. McGilchrist explains how our minds allow us to keep sharply focused on tasks while still being able to step back and observe a larger context between ourselves and the world we live in. Then he takes this subject to a deeper, philosophical level:
We pursue happiness and paradoxically it leads to resentment and then unhappiness, and an explosion of mental illness. We seek freedom, and yet we live in a world more monitored by CCTV cameras, [and] which has become dominated by what De Tocqueville called ‘a network of small, complicated rules that cover the surface of life and strangle freedom’. More information; we have it in spades. But we get less able to use it [and] to understand it [and] to be wise.
If you’ve ever wondered why we seem to have become ironically knowing, and why our public discourse seems to be endlessly self-referential, this video explains it.
Video: The Divided Brain
I love watching movies and TV shows, getting lost in art, or listening to music, but despite all the high tech gadgets and gizmos I have for consuming content, neither my big screen TeeVee, nor my surround sound system, nor my car radio, nor my smartphone with the fancy music app provides even half the pleasure of sitting down with a good book.
With this in mind, I was captivated at the news of whimsical and delightful paper sculptures that have been mysteriously appearing in the libraries of Edinburgh. Read all about it here.
Lynn Price, a small press publisher, has recently posted in her blog some truths that I think are lost in all the hype about the internet as a new medium for disseminating entertainment. (See here and here.)
The common wisdom is that the ease of entry into the internet as a broadcasting (or distribution) method has opened the doors to anyone and everyone for entry. This is certainly true. Anyone can start a podcast with only a mic and a Mac. It costs peanuts to make a video and post it up on YouTube. And now with tablets and e-readers, every Tom, Dick, and Harry has discovered their inner author and has long or short form stories available at Amazon or Smashword.
What’s lost in all the gloating about the little guy being able to finally bypass the traditional gatekeepers and at long last opening the floodgates of creativity is any reflection about whether the world is better for it. This would be true only if you believe that the availability of a vast slush-pile of poorly executed crap which previously only editors and media executives could access is a cultural improvement.
As for me, all this “unleashed creativity” on the web has given me a new found respect for the ability of the established media institutions to curate and prune the piles of raw sewage they must have to wade through in order to present even their paltriest works. At least, they get paid to do it; I am extremely reluctant to spend my precious free time trolling through a slush-pile trying to find something worth partaking.
I agree with this post by Mark Evanier, about the Mark Twain award being given to Will Ferrell. I, too, haven’t been all that impressed with his work up to now. Recently, I’ve seen him in roles which have led me to somewhat change my mind about him and concede that perhaps he has more talent than I thought, but that’s insufficient reason for winning an award named after Mark Twain.
I would’ve thought that this award should go to someone who’s had a long career, and who has not only used humor to merely entertain, but done so in a way that is also thought-provoking. Oh, and also was a uniquely American voice. Playing amiable dolts, as Will Farrell seems to mostly do, only reaches the level of light entertainment, and only barely.
Tina Fey, who was given the award last year, may perhaps be slightly more deserving, if only for being the mastermind behind the razor sharp 30 Rock. But even she’s hardly someone that I would think is ready for this award (yet). She’s funny, but no more than, say, Janeane Garofalo, or Roseanne Barr.
I might concede that perhaps someone on the awards committee decided that appealing to a younger demographic is the direction to go in, although I somehow doubt that the title of the award matches this goal. (Try The Ashton Kutcher Award. I bet the youngsters would know who that is.) I’ll also grant that the award seems to be given to someone still living — otherwise I’d wonder why not Groucho Marx, Lucille Ball, Will Rogers, Charles Schultz, or James Thurber. Yet I can think of more deserving humorists and comics who are still among the living: Carol Burnett, Mel Brooks, Dave Barry, Joan Rivers, Gary Trudeau or Scott Adams all come to mind as people who might have better qualifications for this award.
Either the Mark Twain award lives up to its pretensions as something awarded to talent that has reached iconic levels, or it becomes merely another overblown, over-hyped award celebrating pop culture — akin to the VH1 Awards.
If art holds up a mirror to our lives, then I wonder what Spartacus: Blood and Sand is telling me.
A thoughtful viewer might decide to skip this re-telling of the Spartacus story. The 13-episode series aired on cable last year, and received slightly condescending, or even hostile reviews. But I kept hearing a lot of good words about it from ordinary viewers, and finally thought I’d give it a try. The worst that would happen is I’d have to turn it off, but it’s not like I have any personal rule about having to finish whatever I start watching.
Once I got past a somewhat clunky first episode, I was astonished to see a tale that keeps growing in power and depth. Yes, it’s full of glistening half-dressed and nude bodies, with lots of stylized slo-mo fights that show blood spurting and pooling all over – which in my view is a sure recipe for campy schlock. Yet even this works to remind us that life in these times was Hobbesian: “nasty, brutish, and short”. Everybody in this story is looking to get ahead, scrabbling for purchase on a more comfortable life, grubbing for favors from their betters, and lording it over those beneath them. A slave’s lot, at the very bottom, was hopeless indeed.
Since little is known of the real Spartacus, the producers and writers create an imagined story about how this man could’ve come to do what he did. The series takes the story of Spartacus up to the moment he overcomes his owner. We see how he gets taken as a slave, gradually becoming more and more degraded, gets turned into a fighting machine, until we wonder if all humanity will be ground out of him. (A special note of interest is the dialog, which is neither contemporary, nor Shakespearean, but some sort of hybrid mixture, and is especially effective at reminding us that this is a different world than ours, and that different mores apply.)
From what little we know today, Spartacus escaped with a band of 60 -70 gladiators, which grew into an army of 70,000, as more and more slaves escaped to the countryside and joined them. This army kept the legions of Rome at bay for 3 years, while marching up and down the length of the Italian peninsula. It must’ve taken someone with personal charisma, leadership, and tactical skills to accomplish this. Whoever Spartacus was, it seems unlikely he could’ve been an ordinary slave turned bandit. These 13 episodes go a long way towards explaining how it could’ve happened, and why this story still holds our attention even 2,000 years later.
This week SyFy canceled Stargate Universe, and now there is no longer a space based science fiction show anywhere on American TV. (Doctor Who still lives on air, but he’s British import.) I may not have cared much for the franchise, or for the Battlestar Galactica show, but at least they both depicted humans exploring their galactic frontiers.
Of course, science fiction doesn’t have to be space based. The central question of any science fiction story is “what if”. The question of what if aliens lived among us is equally as scifi-ey as what if we could travel in space. What if ancient creatures were cloned so that they could live again? (Check out Jurassic Park.) What if the old gods never went away, and still roamed among us? (Check out Neil Giaman’s American Gods.) What if we all lived in a fascist society, where our every living moment was watched by Big Brother? (Check out George Orwell’s 1984.) What if books were illegal and had to be burned, and instead we all were forced to watch TV? (Check out Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451.)
It would be too easy to bash SyFy for their tame lineup of shows featuring freaks on earth, pro-wrestling, and reality shows chasing after paranormal phantasms, but they’re merely giving their audience what they’ll settle for. They have also proudly announced a new joint venture with Universal to make feature films. That’s “real” movies, which presumably will appear in megaplexes around the nation. No mention is made about what sort of movies they plan to make. Perhaps Mansquito 2 on the big screen is something we can all look forward to. (What if a man and a mosquito were combined?!?! Wouldn’t that be AWESOME!)
In their previous life, when SyFy was just the Scifi Channel, they used to do promo spots featuring “if” in “scifi”, but now that no longer works for them. “Yf” just sounds fey and stupid.
Good science fiction, like any other great dramatic work, is both immediately entertaining, and and also universal in that it stands up well over time. But really good science fiction also shows us our future. H.G. Wells predicted the atom bomb, and transplants. Jules Verne predicted submarines and the trip to the moon. Star Trek’s “cloaking device” is on its way to reality, as is its replicator. Unfortunately, we now seem to have lost our nerve and our imagination, and almost all scifi in any media has been reduced to freakish superheroes and doltish villains.
|Max Headroom. Not a freakish hero nor doltish villain, but surprisingly prescient.|
Twenty some years ago one television show predicted what things would come to. Max Headroom, despite the title character’s smart-alec ubiquity at the time, showed us a world dominated by mega-media-conglomerates, blip-verts, a black market for body parts, blanks (people off the grid), and some sort of proto-interconnectivity of digital devices remarkably like the internet we know today.
To quote Blank Reg (a cyberpunk character from the show):
“Welcome to Big Time television, all day, every day, making tomorrow seem like yesterday. And remember when we said there was no future? Well, this is it.”
Max Headroom: The Complete Series is available from Shout!Factory.
I guess a detective show featuring two charming and low-key losers trying to turn their lives around while scratching out a living sniffing out secrets in a beach side town was not what American viewers wanted to watch. Instead, the unvarying parade of earnest cop shows, featuring handsome young people and gruesome special effects having to do with startling and outlandish murders, will continue unabated. (I weep for you, America. I guess you’ll never figure out the difference between a dumb show and a smart show.)
At least the series had a self-contained story arc, and an ending that was fitting, not like The Riches, who were left forever frozen, in a seemingly insolvable jam. So if Terriers ever becomes available on DVD, go take a look at it.