Culture weeknote 2
The latest in a series tracking my weekly cultural intake. Basically, anything goes.
Sunday Feb 6
9:30 A.M. On weekends, the bad news comes late. Unsurprisingly, Frank Rich takes a dim view of American media coverage in Egypt: "Even now we’re more likely to hear speculation about how many cents per gallon the day’s events might cost at the pump than to get an intimate look at the demonstrators’ lives." Oh, America. Why can't you do anything right?
Download The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom, which argues that social media use in totalitarian societies may benefit the regimes more than the people. Frank Rich owes me $9.99.
2:30 P.M. Reading magazines at Penn Station while I wait for the Super Bowl train that will deliver me unto New Jersey. Joan Acocella's New Yorker profile of J. R. Ackerley (and his over-familiar relationship with his dog Tulip) is a sharp contrast, on a sentence construction level, to a piece in Vanity Fair about the filming of Thelma & Louise.
Here's Acocella in The New Yorker:
He knows that there is a measure of comedy in this passion of his for a dog, and that, to observers, the comedy was magnified by the fact—which he reveals only gradually—that Queenie was a nightmare to have around.
See how she tucks in the aside as a way to reveal a surprise, a sort of pow! that ends the sentence? It adds both textural and dramatic effect.
And here's Sheila Weller on screenwriter Callie Khouri in Vanity Fair:
She had, though—after a childhood in Texas and Kentucky as the daughter of a Lebanese-American doctor and a southern belle, and three and a half years at Purdue—studied acting and done a little theater.
This interstitial contains the critical information but its treatment only adds clutter and annoyance, and it interrupts the flow for zero payoff. The whole article reads like a sloppy first draft.
6:30 P.M. An evening in New Jersey. Packers win! Packers win! Even in New Jersey. I eat approximately 4500 Italian meatballs and a billion buffalo chicken hot "wings" the size and shape of golf balls. Those buffalo chickens are my albatross.
Monday Feb 7
7:45 A.M. Hauling it back from the Garden State. Manage to snag a lucky seat on the train and read about L.A. socialite Janet de Cordova in Vanity Fair. She's famous for having been married to Tonight Show producer Fred de Cordova, and also for following her retired maid back to Mexico, where she lived out the rest of her life in this woman's home. I didn't really get it; when a maid retires, is it not implicit that they don't want you tagging along until you happen to die in one of their beds? Bananas. Mark Wahlberg has a much happier tale of the vicissitudes of fame and fortune. I always forget he produces In Treatment. Renaissance man!
9:30 A.M. Sifting through post-game Packers coverage and the Bitch magazine kerfuffle, i.e., how a well-intentioned but strategically lazy YA reading list for feminists goes very, very awry.
11:00 A.M. Attempt to send a sexy Metropolitan Opera e-card of Armida to Roxie in anticipation of her pending first-time visit to the Met. The email is delivered sans sexy image of e-card. Sexy is inappropriate anyway. I just wanted friendly and enthusiastic!
4:00 P.M. Field periodic emails from SarahB at the Drama League's We Love Patti LuPone Gala, where she's working the tables.
6:00 P.M. Enjoy early, unsanctioned Spider-Man reviews, in which spectacle trumps story—and still fails. Surprise!
From Bloomberg.com: "After all this expenditure of talent and money, “Spider- Man” is probably unfixable because too much has gone into making humans fly, which is not what they are good at."
From The Washington Post: "If you're going to spend $65 million and not end up with the best musical of all time, I suppose there's a perverse distinction in being one of the worst."
The other problem with "concept" productions is that you end up expecting to be dazzled and surprised at every turn, so that the opera seems engaging only during special effects moments or dynamic staging (like Robert Lepage's undulating Das Rheingold platform spines) but can quickly become staid and dull when things stop moving or changing.
8:30 P.M. I've Netflixed my way through half of the BBC series Foyle's War over the past few months. It's about a small ragtag band of police detectives in the English coastal town of Hastings during World War II, starring the lovely and amazing Michael Kitchen as internally conflicted Chief Inspector Foyle. (Michael Kitchen probably has an ankle tattoo that reads "Internally Conflicted.")
You would not believe how many Familiar British Faces show up in these BBC miniseries. Guest stars for tonight's episode include Dr. Harrison from Cranford, as well as Dame Harriet Walter's late love Peter Blythe and Dame Harriet Walter's Law & Order: UK costar Bill Paterson. Turns out life is constantly throwing unexpected Dame Harriet Walter festivals. Attend, attend!
Now the kids who were kids when the Western canon went on trial and received summary justice are working the levers of culture. They are the editors and the reviewers and the arts writers and the ones who interview the novelists and the poets (to the degree that anyone interviews the poets). Though the arts interest them, though they read this and they read that—there is one thing that makes them very nervous indeed about what they do. They are not comfortable with judgments of quality. They are not at ease with "the whole evaluation thing."
I absolutely have this problem. Apart from going back to college and starting over, I do not know how to solve it.
11:00 P.M. Rereading Clouds of Witness: Lord Peter races to save his dum-dum brother Gerald from the gallows, when really his only offense is adultery. Still: you do the crime, you do the time, brother.
Tuesday Feb 8
6:30 A.M. More Arts Reviews. I'm not sure this is the book that's going to save me.
7:30 A.M. News on the iPad: BBC America, Slate, NY Times.
7:00 P.M. Meet my running team. We run three miles back and forth on the 72nd Street Transverse in 20 degrees of terrible wind. I'm lucky to leave with my face.
9:00 P.M. Rerun of Martin Sheen on the Graham Norton Show. He proudly displays his student I.D. card from the National University of Ireland, Galway, which he attended for a full semester in 2006. It reads "Ramon Estevez." Everything about him is adorable. He tells Graham Norton that the best thing about marriage is the sheer joy you get from being with the person you married. Sadly, I can't think of many couples who would say that.
10:00 P.M. Parenthood. This show is having a really solid season, and Lauren Graham just gets stronger and stronger. I used to be put off by her "dramatic turns" on Gilmore Girls, because she was such an unnatural crier. Here she cries all the time and totally nails it! Maybe Alexis Bledel brought out the fake crier in her, who knows. And here comes John Corbett as her ex-husband Seth. He does not look like a Seth. I shall continue to know him as Chris in the Morning, thank you.
Wednesday Feb 9
7:30 A.M. News on the iPad.
11:30 A.M. The problem with remaking Prime Suspect: everything. Can you imagine this series on NBC? A network that had to farm outFriday Night Lights to DirecTV in order to make it financially viable? It's the running theme of the week: commercial interests piss on quality.
More of the same, regarding the AOL/Huffington Post merger:
The results pretty much conform to the old maxim that you get what you pay for; the best Patch journalism almost invariably is being done by experienced journalists who do the work out of idealism or desperation. What happens when that pool of exploitable surplus labor dries up — as it will with time — is anybody's guess, but the smart money would bet on something that isn't pretty.
That's borne out by a memo from AOL Chief Executive Officer Tim Armstrong on where his company's journalism is going. It's fairly chilling reading, ordering the company's editors to evaluate all future stories on the basis of "traffic potential, revenue potential, edit quality and turnaround time." All stories, it stressed, are to be evaluated according to their "profitability consideration." All AOL's journalistic employees will be required to produce "five to 10 stories per day."
Note all the things that come before the quality of the work or its contribution to the public interest and you've arrived at an essential difference between journalism and content. It may start with exploiting reporters and editors, but it inevitably ends up exploiting its audience.
12:00 P.M. That said, you probably don't want a job in the arts.
2:30 P.M. Ordered tickets for War Horse and Arcadia. I'm not at all wild about the artwork for Arcadia; it looks like one of those pamphlets they hand out at funerals. Is that the intention? Must read before I go.
5:30 P.M. I DVR Coach every day on WLNY. In today's episode, Hayden and Luther do something stupid, and I laugh and laugh and laugh. Is this quality? What is it doing to my brain? I have no answers, I just like Coach.
6:15 P.M. On the subway, heading downtown for a running clinic, I read about unpopular new schools chancellor Cathie Black in New York mag. No good news here, either.
7:00 P.M. Gait and breathing analysis: I have a limb length discrepancy and breathe too fast. My life is over!
9:30 P.M. Subway. New York mag article on mental health in the military. I don't like crying on the train, but for fuck's sake. Look at what these people go through in our name.
The Army’s own research confirms that drug and alcohol abuse, disciplinary infractions, and criminal activity are increasing among active-duty service members. Most ominously, a growing number of soldiers can’t handle the strains of war at all. Until three years ago, the suicide rate of the Army, the branch with by far the most men and women in this war, was actually lower than the American population’s—a testament to the hardiness of our troops, given that young men with weapons are, at least as a statistical matter, disproportionately prone to suicide. But in 2008, the Army suicide rate surpassed that of the civilian population’s, and the Marines’ surpassed it shortly thereafter. So grim is the problem that this summer, the Army released a remarkably candid suicide report. “If we include accidental death, which frequently is the result of high-risk behavior (e.g., drinking and driving, drug overdose),” it concluded, “we find that less young men and women die in combat than die by their own actions. Simply stated, we are often more dangerous to ourselves than the enemy.”
11:00 P.M. Clouds of Witness. Lord Peter is a little turned on by his brother's wild-wood mistress. I'm a little creeped out.
Thursday Feb 10
7:30 A.M. News on the iPad. I've never seen an episode of American Idol, but I do still have a mid-80s crush on Steven Tyler. I'm a product of my times.
I also enjoyed reading about this goofy midtown club for aging intellectuals who can't agree on whether or not to cut ties with another club in London that won't admit women:
Fans of the Garrick grumbled that politically correct Centurions were waging “cultural imperialism,” by trying to bully the English club into changing its policy. “I have been on the barricades of feminism and civil rights,” a male member said, “but I don’t believe in forcing them to do something they may be slower to do.”
The Garrick Club was founded in 1831; exactly how slow are its members?
I was all ready to get up in arms about this, until I remembered the Dame Harriet Walter Society is ladies only, and that the door to that club ain't cracking open for nobody. So, dear intellectual morons: do whatever stupid things you want.
8:30 A.M. Egypt still in trouble, but NY dickwad resigns. I'd like to think that's progress, but progress would be keeping your shirt on. Oh! and not cheating on your wife, you asshole.
10:00 A.M. New issue of GOOP arrives! I have a weird affinity for Gwyneth that even her Vogue "interviews" can't seem to kill. I don't give a shit what she spends her money on, although I enjoy her weekly missives from Neverland. Today she tells us that you are the river. I disagree: I am the hot dog, but who's counting.
6:30 P.M. Run in the park: 3.5 miles, dragging my limb differential around for the whole world to see.
8:30 P.M. Hart to Hart reunion on the Graham Norton Show. The audience is filled with international female fans, many of whom have every episode of this 30-year-old series memorized. You can just tell they would call the actors "Jonathan" and "Jennifer" to their faces. I don't get this at all: at what point do you not realize what you're watching is fiction? (says a founding member of the Dame Harriet Walter Society). Robert Wagner seems bored. Stefanie Powers knows most of the audience members by name.
9:30 P.M. Parks and Recreation. I'm just gonna say it: too much Tammy.
Friday Feb 11
1:10 P.M. Finally saw The King's Speech. It's a solid, sturdy, charming, utterly conventional film stuffed with great actors giving great performances—aside from which none of it would register above anything Masterpiece Theatre turns out regularly. (You know you're in blah-blah land when the main character, struggling to overcome a speech impediment, actually gives himself an epiphany by shouting "I have a voice!" in the middle of an argument.) I stand by my Americans when I say The Social Network is technically, narratively, emotionally, visually, viscerally, a superior film.
9:30 P.M. More Foyle's War. Foyle almost gets a girlfriend, and the guy who killed Leonard Bast in Howards End makes some very big mistakes.
Saturday Feb 12