Monday, September 25, 2006


Yeah, fanboys are always an easy target though it's strange that somebody passionately interested in some form of art is considered weird and mindless while somebody following the momentary diversion of sports is considered normal. Though really put like that sort of answers the question, Americans have always been suspicious of art.

This post, though, is fanboyism done right. Though engaged in discussion of just who could wield Mjolnir, it also perceptively breaks down narrative structure and its political aspects. And not just superficial knee-jerk politics either but the real thing, at least as real as you could get from any fiction. Plus it's actually funny. And how much of this could you say about pretty much any mainstream or academic writer?

24, Season 3

Originally I was going to write a probing, imaginative essay about 24 but in the end just had these bits of notes and left it at that. After all, it's only 24, the most politically reprehensible show I've ever liked.

* Interesting how the show gets increasingly less plausible even on its own terms. Starts with a standard-issue terrorist threat then shifts to a daring counter-terrorist scam against organized criminals and then finally ends up against Lex Luthor. Speaking of whom - Saunders’ motives are never really explained; sure he wants to hurt the US and particularly Jack as well but that’s not much different from the first two seasons except that this is all there is. Saunders’ change from good guy to bad is repeatedly brought up but never completely addressed, unless the remark about two years of torture by Bosnians is meant to do so. But why should it? Saunders wants to cause great harm because, uh, well, because he can. And Americans deserve it. That’s why he seems more like a C-movie criminal mastermind who wandered onto the wrong set, sort of Jack Bauer vs. Dr. Mabuse. You particularly see this with Saunders' daughter. At the end he finally gives up rather than see her get killed though he was willing to unleash an unstoppable virus about an hour’s drive from where she lived. (It’s possible to motivate his surrender at the end as having finally realized he was beaten chose the "defend my daughter" reason as a way to save face. Too bad the writers put nothing like this into the completed show.)

* Some of this problem may have been caused by the rushed feeling of the final episodes. It’s almost like they got a few hours away from the end and realized they couldn’t finish the story so they not only sped it all up but just started omitting things. The entire subplot about the spread of the virus is just dropped cold when all it really needed was a line or two about the quarantines appear to be holding. Did Wayne report the murder or just leave the scene? (A deleted scene on the DVD answers this: Just left.) Did only three people survive the hotel? That’s all you see leaving, and we’re not even sure if the others were killed when Michelle was kidnapped.

* doubling: Bauer/Palmer (id/superego or action/thought but can’t take that too far) then Bauer/Saunders

* Reality is kinda irrelevant in 24 but you do wonder whether a husband and wife would be allowed to work together at some place like CTU. You can pass on Kim working there as Jack’s string-pulling. And who would let the wife of a dead agent (Gael) in the command center at any time, let alone during a major crisis? And why would a regional center keep an entire suitcase--a small suitcase but still a suitcase--of suicide tablets? If it’s used for actual field operations then wouldn’t these be distributed under much greater security at the appropriate time? Heck, do actual government counter-terrorist agents even use suicide tablets? Sure LA gangs are supposed to be tough but did they think the tablets would be needed for that? And Nina gives Jack a phone number which he just la di da calls. It’s not clear what he was intending to do but why would he trust her rather than checking the number. Even if it’s implausible that Nina’s backdoor would still be in the computer four years later at least they addressed this with a line about putting it in a section that wouldn’t be updated. You do have to wonder why she never sold that info earlier.

* An example of why the show isn’t real time: At 6:36am Chase is on the roof of CTU then commercial break and at 6:40 he’s about to storm Saunders’s suspected hideout. Nice of Saunders to place his lair across the street from CTU. Honestly, we all grant that it’s not actually “real time” and can excuse this as just a glitch in such a complex story but still....

* I sometimes wonder what the media reports afterward would be like. For Season Two, in the space of two days (we know it was 24 hours but it would appear as two days) there was a bombing at CTU headquarters, the president’s chief of staff (or something) is mysteriously killed (again viewers know why but the outside world wouldn’t), a nuclear bomb goes off, there are riots, the cabinet removes the President from office, there are assorted plane crashes and military actions all around LA and of course scads of dead bodies. How much would be pieced together? Wouldn’t Jack become the most famous man in the country? Would the woman who picked up a hitchhiking Kim while she said goodbye to her father appear in the New York Times or the Weekly World News? In Season Three there's about 800 dead bodies plus whatever the virus caused when it spread outside the hotel, a prison riot, the mysterious deaths of at least two major political figures, scrambled jets (twice), a shootout in a mall and so forth.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Video WatchBlog

How could I have not known about this? I've only had time to skim recent postings yet but it looks like one of those blogs that are worth going back and reading the entire thing. Time to get started....

unfinished reviews of two books

Time to clean out the files:

Eric Weisbard (ed) This is Pop: In Search of the Elusive at Experience Music Project (2004)

I remember when the Experience Music Projects first conference was announced in 2001 (it was actually held in April 2002) that this sounded like a great idea. A meeting of usually separate or at least separately channelled journalists, academics and practicing musicians to discuss and debate shared concerns. From the bits and pieces I heard, it was fairly successful.

This is Pop collects various presentations from the conference, ranging from suggestive and useful to some almost unreadable. Particularly worthwhile are RJ Smith’s history of “Open the Door Richard,” Simon Reynolds on collecting, Tim Quirk’s “Topless at the Arco Arena,” Douglas Wolk on how CD mastering and radio compression can actually change musical styles and Jason Toynbee’s account of how the Wailers were marketed to the rock world. I’m also fascinated by Luc Sante’s musings on the origin of the blues and wish it had more historical data, though I think it’s already wormed its way into my consciousness.

There are a few clunkers. Gayle Wald’s piece on Sister Rosetta Tharpe is intended to put the guitarist/singer in a more critical position in musical history but aside from reading more like the introduction to a book it simply never does this. She piles up assertions on more assertions with little substance to shore everything up. Sleater-Kinney-ite Carrie Brownstein’s piece would never have been accepted if she wasn’t a “name.” Ann Powers piece on unoriginality makes one major error when she claims that when a bland Enya song (redundant yes) became the unofficial anthem for 9/11 grief that the “profound unoriginality was a pathway to relief and a proper response to a time when silence was unbearable yet seemed the only appropriate response.” Left unexamined is the distinct possibility that bad art might actually be damaging, that it might shut off thought or close down emotions. In a way, that’s what she’s arguing: the ridigity and mindless simplicity of this corporate product gave direction to people who needed it. Only she thinks that’s a good thing.


Karen McCosker & Nicholas Albery - A Poem a Day (1994, US edition 1996)

I usually avoid this sort of thing (both popcult anthologies and anything “a day”) but flipping through it in the bookstore thought it seemed reasonably wide-ranging and worth not purchasing but checking out of the library. It is a pretty nice anthology that focuses mainly on accessible short poems. There are some lapses such as the inexplicable inclusion of a poem on a subject in very poor taste and several song lyrics (which are not poems as you would have thought beaten into the ground by now but I suspect in this case somebody thought they were being open-minded by including them). And Tennyson’s “The Eagle” is a stuffed-owl candidate. There’s far too many Gerard Manly Hopkins (thirteen when three would be pushing it) and too many very short excerpts from Shakespeare’s plays. You can—actually should—skip McCosker’s foreward, exactly the kind of nitwitless thing you get from people who’ve read too much poetry in order to enlarge the NPR center of their brain rather than shaking their soul. It was a bad design decision that when a poem goes to a second page to place a repeat of the title almost as if it’s part of the poem. The strangest thing about the book is the notes that often appear at the end of a poem. The brief comments are wildly inconsistent; sometimes offering mini-biographies, sometimes a stab at explication and always nearly feeling totally random. Does it make the slightest bit of difference about Kenneth Patchen’s wife’s maiden name? Why mention the publication date of a William Oldys poem but not the date for most others? Why is Siegfried Sasson’s biography longer than the poem it accompanies? Does it make the slightest bit of difference how many children Francis William Bourdillon had? The little critical engagements are best skipped. The worst example is for Blake’s “Jerusalem” where they claim “The dark satanic mills refer first and foremost to Oxford and Cambridge and the rigidity of classics and mathematics.” Even if there’s some document where Blake wrote this is exactly what he intended it’s simply incorrect within the way the poem actually works.

Clerks II

I was going to be so cutting-edge: Saw this the first show on the first day but then it took nearly two months to post this. Guess the film really does destroy life.


Clerks II (Kevin Smith 2006)

Holy cow, what a disaster. Smith has never been much for smarts or even technical skill but his knack for dialogue, improbable pop-culture surprise and plain old humor has completely deserted him. Clerks II wanders through a heavy-handed sitcom plot and laborious presentation of “characters” before finally hammering in a Message that any viewer got about three minutes into the film. “Friends are kool” and “follow your dreams” are not negligible but having read that you can now safely skip the film.

It probably didn’t help that in preparation for the sequel I watched Clerks a few days earlier. I hadn’t seen it since the original release and it turned out to be better and worse than I remembered. "Better" because as pure filmmaking it was more accomplished and efficient than the clunky indie film of my memory. What I probably considered clumsy acting at the time is actually an appropriate style for geeks who constantly talk and talk then talk some more. "Worse" because it’s so unambiguously weighted toward a moment of Personal Growth that there’s little real drama. What else could you say about a film that has its actual director deliver the moral on screen in his character’s only line of dialogue? And worse also because of the unadulterated misogyny shown towards the “bad girl” that Dante learns to reject. I have no use for pop psychology’s mother/whore idea but Smith seems to have embraced it so completely that it’s not clear why he even bothered to give these two female characters other names.

In some sense, Clerks II is practically just a remake with Dante again torn between a woman everybody knows is bad for him and one that everybody knows is right for him, random events with customers, toenail painting, pointless Jay & Silent Bob, etc. But anybody who’s ever worked retail knows how honest the first film was; the sequel has no ties to any reality, even a comic fantasy reality. It just feels like the cheapest kind of barrel-bottom comedy, the kind of thing that used to fill late-night cable slots like Hot Dog: The Movie and its ilk. The Star Wars dialogue in the first film about workers who died on the Death Star is exactly what you hear from geeks and it wasn’t self-contained but flowed into a customer’s dialogue and on from there so that it tied into the overall weave of the movie. It was interesting in itself and a part of the film both thematically (workers) and structurally. The sequel’s Star Wars vs LOTR is only a mainstream’s idea of geeks, pure cliche. Sure you could say the same about The Simpsons’ Comic Book Guy but all of us fanboys know that there’s some truth to CBG and that the show’s creators clearly like and respect him. Smith is just filling time. Even Jason Mewes delivers only a pale shadow of Jay, helping make the whole film just a sad sad time.