The Canadian Club











{October 31, 2009}   I’m too sexy for this holiday

sexy_pirate_hat

You know, Dave, I’m glad you asked.  In fact, I have been brimming with impotent rage — to quote a coinage — since about a week or two ago, when I realized that there would be this holiday at the end of the month.  Fortunately, I have found some succor in this brilliant series of articles in my old, beloved and much missed Washington City Paper.  It sort of gets straight to the heart of the matter. And I have been meaning to treat at length my displeasure here on our blog, and yet kept running up against the wall of other people‘s expectations.  As if!  Can’t I just keep the stipend and you wake me up in six years and tell me if I’ve won anything?

In any case, I think the worst of it came it last Sunday when I read this Op-Ed piece in the Times.  At first, I was surprised to see Peter Mayle alive.  I guess it must be that wonderful French red wine, fermented on the time-worn clichés of French villagers and their shocked bewilderment at AngloSaxon customs.  I would have to guess that the startling success of his Year in Provence series has likely shaped an entire generation or two of gatekeepers.  But honestly, did we need one more frackin’ article about how Halloween is catching on in continental Europe?  Can we stop congratulating ourselves on the continuing victories of the British Empire?  Does the New York Times have to open its pages to every writer coming out with a book? (Fortunately, the answer to that, is no, it doesn’t.)

OK.  The coffee only begins to kick in around mid-way through my second rant.  I’ll try to focus, forthwith.

In answer to your question, it should be pretty clear that any adult celebration of Halloween is taking the joke too far.  The only time it isn’t is when the adults in question invite me to their party.  Then, they are granted a momentary reprieve.  But the first time someone walks in the door wearing lingerie as a costume, count me out.

The Meaning of Lila

You grew up in the Valley, so you might have had an entirely different experience — but I don’t recall the fact of life whereby being an adult meant making up occasions to strip down to one’s underwear until our college years.  In addition to the misnomered Pimps and Hos parties (I hear they were giving that shit-my-pants away!) and the uniquely well thought-out stagings of poorly thought-out plays, there were the Halloween parties that became increasingly indistinguishable from the aforementioned Pimps and Hos parties.  Given this context, then, it is difficult for me to tell whether Halloween began to take on its current lupanaresque dimension in the early 90s, or whether my parents had just shielded me from it during my delicate childhood and adolescent years.  (Thanks, Mom!)

Speaking of these latter, I think it should be noted that perhaps my current distaste for the holiday also stems from the extent to which I thought it was rad during a couple of years of high school.  Believe me, had you been there, you would also want to distance yourself from that phase of life.  Now, however, listening over and over to Samhain (with a little Coven thrown in — remember how you hated that album?) via the Youtube for about the last twelve hours, I am beginning to feel quite tenderly toward that period of credence in the coolness of wearing black leather, kohl eyeliner, and chicken blood.  Perhaps, also, the inability to take that aesthetic fully seriously combined with the distaste it elicited in me for skimpy, bunny-eared costumes, protected me throughout college from succumbing to any unfortunate entanglements with the ladies.

Now, I envy your being able to approach this holiday from a parent’s perspective, as it seems that the holiday shoud cater to the 4 to 13-year-old crowd almost exclusively.  After that, really, what else is it but glorified paganism?  Still, you are faced with this problem, expressed so succinctly over the past week by Luann, of what to hand out to trick-or-treaters in this era of health-counscious paranoia.

Luann

Can candy still be a viable way to treat kids?  I have to ask that question or else I’ll end up wearing down my enamel by crunching tubes of Spree.  So, what’ll it be, Dave?  Are you handing out old children’s books?

Now, as you have noted, given that I have actually been invited someplace for the first time in about seven years, I am obliged to do some costume thing.  Unfortunately, when I moved, I left behind the disparate elements of the home-made glam rocker costume that won me 25 bucks when I was waiting tables.  And I still hold as a firm principle that never should one be forced to shell out more than ten bucks for a costume.  Which leaves me with few options at this late date.  I have alternatively passed through my mind taping balloons and fake vomit in strategic places and going as “sexy balloon boy”; also just getting blue greasepaint (We all know how much I love face-painting!) and going as Grouchy Smurf — but then I worry that I might be confused with Vishnu, which would be blasphemous.  So, digging through my possessions that could turn an OK costume, I have found a green salwar kameez and a pasthun hat.  Understanding fully that this is not a costume, I thought of taking along the acoustic guitar that SMP recuperated from my childhood home and calling myself Cat Stevens/Yusuf.  So:  Thumbs Up?  Thumbs Down?  Whaddya say?

My only other thought, in keeping with the true spirit of the holiday goes something like this:



ghost

I’ve been thinking about Halloween, Russ.  Back when I was teaching the young ‘uns at Miss Miniver’s Finishing School, it was more or less assumed that all of the teachers would wear festive attire on Halloween.  Not wanting to be a stick-in-the-mud, I would always do a little something, but generally it would be along the lines of orange and black clothing.  Or striped witchy tights.  Some teachers, though, would go completely nuts, wearing, like, crazy ax-murderer outfits or huge get-ups that made them completely unrecognizable.

I had mixed feelings about this situation, as I do now.  This guy tends to take the view that all forms of celebration, including Halloween and Christmas, are for little babies — but not for really little babies because they don’t know any better so why bother?  (I’m still trying to pin him down on all of this, but from what I have been able to piece together from his various rants, there is a brief window between the ages of four and five during which modest celebrations are appropriate.)  I admit, I am somewhat sympathetic to his perspective:  there is definitely a tone of voice in which certain adults say, “Halloween is my favorite holiday,” that freaks me out a little.  And as I said, I could never quite bring myself to spend weeks on a costume that the Miss Miniver’s girls would just mock behind my back anyway.  But I certainly don’t begrudge adults the right to put on costumes for a party that won’t be attended by children, and I genuinely love that a couple of our neighbors go really crazy decorating for the local kids.

I can’t quite put my finger on when I find grown-ups Taking the Joke Too Far, Halloween Style kind of charming, and when I find it a bit sad/creepy/desperate.  I know that I get a little obsessed with these threading-the-needle questions (romantic letters = rad!  amateur musician writing woman a mushy song = vomit!) but, you know, whatever.  I get obsessed with everything that I don’t forget within thirty seconds, but somehow, you still tolerate me.

So I ask you, Russ:  what are you gonna be this year?  I’m going to be Person Answering the Door with a Bowl of Candy.



{October 30, 2009}   I feel it coming together

hollywood-sign-address1

Hmm.  Those are some good ideas you’ve thrown out there, Russ, but I’m not sure that they would pass muster under the Academic Integrity Guidelines at Overlord Academy — which state, uh, something about how you can’t submit the same work for two classes, blah blah blah.  I wasn’t really paying much attention at that meeting, to be honest.  But seeing as how you already have to read Stendahl for your job, isn’t that, like, totally no fair?  Why don’t we both set out to do some long, quasi-conceptual sweatshirt project so that I can be the one who gets to coast on my already-established interests?

Actually, since I was thinking that a movie deal would have to involve some kind of personal conflict and redemption arc, there may be cinema gold to be found here in this little disagreement over what kind of wizards we should be.  So how about this:  a movie based on a book based on a blog about what we should be blogging about!  I know, right?  Kind of like Adaptation, or some other movie that probably came out after I stopped watching movies.

So that’s a little too risky, you say?  Well, then, I’ve got other ideas, and plenty of them.  The more conventional story arcs  involve either a buddy theme (I’d say a road trip, but hasn’t that been done to death?) or a quirky Facebook/Twitter/whatever-era rom com thingie.  I realize I’d have to be a secondary character in the rom com, since, dedicated as I am to this undertaking, I’m not quite ready to abandon my spouse and kid in pursuit of even an inevitable and ultra-lucrative book/movie deal.  In fact, I might even prefer being a snappy sidekick or wingman character.  The only question is, am I more this type or this type?

That was a trick question, of course, since everybody knows I am both those people rolled into one.

Anyway, the more I think about it, the more certain I am that if our blogging experience helps you find True Love with your own MPDG, our path to fame and fortune will be a smooth one.  Also, you know how obsessed I am with internet dating, so maybe that could figure into the mix somehow.  Oooh, oooh, I know, I know!  We set up some situation where, like, you have an internet dating profile and I somehow, like, pick the girls?  Or something?  And it somehow has to do with our blog?  I’m a little fuzzy on the details, and maybe it’s just the old-fashioneds talking, but I have this gut feeling that this could work.  Maybe as a reality show?

God, we’re amazing when we put our heads together.  That expensive education of ours really paid off, Russ.

Am I right or am I right?



{October 29, 2009}   On Clarity of Purpose

Big Nate

The small but important lesson Nate teaches us in this comic strip is that, to get anything in this life, you need to figure out which wizard you are. Well, Dave, which wizard are we?

A lot has been said recently about the distinct possibility that people hate this blog, that, perhaps, we may be taking this joke too far, and that our audience is quite solidly 70% Dave and Russ.  I believe it’s important, then, to briefly discuss our goals in beginning this blog:

  1. It is our solemn intent to get a book contract for an elaborated version of the content of this blog by December 2010.
  2. The movie deal should follow shortly and The Canadian Club:  The Movie should appear on screens for the summer blockbuster season of 2013.

I don’t think this could be any clearer.  And remember, reader, if you do not read this blog, you are letting Tucker Max win.

Now, it has come to my attention that most book-deal-achieving blogs have one commonality: A Gimmick.  Tucker Max has a penis.  Cake Wrecks talks pretty consistently about cakes that are wrecked. Stuff White People Like talks pretty consistently about that stuff that white people apparently like. Some chick cooks a lot — like once a day.  Another chick asks people to send her lists that you have made.

Now, you’re saying to yourself, “That’s a nice exposition, Russ, but where’s your gimmick?”  What’s the single-minded theme behind this blog that will keep me riveted to your pixels?”

So, I’ve been scratching my brain, trying to figure out what will push us over the cusp of fame and fortune (if cusp fame and fortune do have), and I’ve come up with the following idea.  Bear with me:

So, two pals, Dave and Russ, feeling stuck in boring careers about which they are quite passionate, watch Mad Men.  Suddenly, they realize that the Mad Men season is over, and they wonder what will fill their lives with drama and exquisite aesthetics until Mad Men Season 4.  Russ stumbles upon his old, timeworn copy of Stendhal’s La Chartreuse de Parme.  Hmm — he says to himself — does anybody really take the time to read Stendhal anymore?  He then sends Dave a message over Facebook saying, basically, “Hmm, does anybody really take the time to read Stendhal anymore?” Dave replies back, “You know, I think I’ve told you this before, but I really barely ever read anymore except the same battered, dusty classics I read growing up.  So, yeah, actually, I just cracked open The Red and the Black the other day.”

All of a sudden, it comes to them.  They have to take a year just reading the complete works of Stendhal (including his history of Italian painting) and describe the specific Stendhalien emotions that beset them each day.  A couple of months into their experiment, their feeling of empowerment becomes so magical, that Stendhal’s ghost appears to Russ.  “Russ,” Stendhal says, “You have to help me find the reincarnated soul of my very last romance…”  Thus begins an exciting adventure across France and Italie, where Dave and Russ accompany the ghost of Marie-Henri Beyle on a journey that reveals to them life’s mysteries and helps a dead French author find love and fame one last, bittersweet time.

So, tell us, reader, is that what you want to read on this blog? Is that the kind of wizardry it’ll take to get you to pay attention to us?



{October 28, 2009}   On taking the joke too far

steve5

So it’s come to this already, eh?  Yesterday was hella lame, friends — we know.

In our defense, all this chatter can be hard to sustain.  In much the same way that spending an entire weekend consuming nothing but beer and cider donuts can seem like an amusing idea on Friday morning, but totally vomitorius by, well, a little later on Friday morning, writing a blog for no good reason is in practice not exactly what it is in theory.  Which is to say that we’re sort of busy and lazy and everything always takes longer than you think it’s going to.  And Russ and I — it’s OK that I’m telling them this, right, Russ? — sometimes have issues with biting off more than we can chew.  Eyes being bigger than stomachs.

In addition to the beer and cider donuts weekend — during which (I’m gonna go a little crazy here and pretend that someone might be reading this who doesn’t already know this story) Russ and I decided for some inexplicable reason that it would be Totally Rad to celebrate the completion of our undergraduate theses with (you guessed it) a weekend of nothing but beer and cider donuts, which Russ actually went out and bought, but then Dave was already ill after one meal and had to bow out, which made Russ get mad at him and then iirc we had a bunch of donuts on our hands — there was also some dumb intermural basketball thing we got really excited about but bailed on, and that time we bought all that stuff for a picnic at the end of the semester but everyone had already gone back home.  There was the mixed schnitzel platter for two incident in Vienna.  And also, apparently, Russ’s marriage (just for the record, I wasn’t a big fan of that joke).  And our podcast, which died on the vine because we couldn’t stay focused long enough to talk about one thing.  Which I know will come as a shock to anyone reading this right now.  I could go on and on, obviously.

So sometimes, taking the joke too far is completely awesome and fun and fulfilling — like our band was — and sometimes it’s just disappointing and embarrassing, like, um, a bunch of other stuff was.  Russ is a little more extroverted than I am, so I’m not sure that he is quite as equivocating as I am about these things. It’s a pretty universal feeling, though, that ambivalent longing for wacky excess, and I think it has lot to do with why so many Olds tend to get soooo nostalgic about college.  The chance to behave stupidly over and over again with relatively little blowback has its appeal, doesn’t it?  Especially now, with the grown-up world crashing in on us in various ways.  It’s nice to imagine that there was a time when we got to act like total idiots all the time without embarrassment or consequence, even though that time didn’t really exist at all.

None of which is to say that I view this blog as one big joke gone too far — or, if it is one big joke gone too far, that I think it’s the bad kind of joke gone too far.  Really, I think I just wanted to talk about beer and donuts.



{October 27, 2009}   Your feedback is important

A quick question on my way out (because our future overlords need someone to teach them all about proper rhinestoning technique if they’re going to be well rounded grown-ups.)

So.  I’ve heard a couple of complaints that this blog is, “like, so whatever,” in the sense that it’s hard to follow and who has time to read all those hyperlinks anyway?  I’d estimate that our goals with this little endeavor break down roughly as follows:  70% = Russ and Dave amusing themselves/each other; 20% = Russ and Dave trying/failing to amuse 3 or 4 friends; 9% = trying to impress the chicks and 1% = I wonder what the Japanese person who was looking for information about Brendan Fraser thought when he/she found us?

Does that breakdown say terrible things about us?



{October 27, 2009}   While we’re on the subject…


{October 26, 2009}   Me hate myself

Bizarro1

Holy frackin’ crop, Russ.  I guess I should have expected that the hate crush issue would set you off, but geez!  So, um, can I just state for the record?  That the opinions expressed by Russ?  Are, you know, not necessarily those of Dave?

k thx.

I do agree with you that those Jezebel girls fracked up the concept of the crush and its beautiful antithesis.  But I think that they got close, which is why it’s all so maddening.

Take the crush.  The “seeing my best self reflected in your eyes” experience is a real romantic phenomenon, but doesn’t that come later?  Crushes exist completely independent from any relationship that you might have with the other person.  Because he/she has to know you exist before he/she can make you feel sparkling and witty and Peter O’Toole-ish.  Unless you’re totally crazy.

The hate crush, though — maybe a little trickier?  I think you’re right that it’s about what you fear others may see in you, but can you really draw a clear distinction between that and what you genuinely dislike or need to suppress in yourself?  How is your loathing of the beret-wearing Bizarro Russ really different from hating something in yourself that could sprout into beret wearing if you weren’t careful?  I don’t think it really is.

But that, imho, gets at what they’ve got wrong about the hate crush.  How is it a bad thing to use your vision of someone — however cartoonish and ungenerous — to try and figure out what you don’t want to be like?  I would argue that it can be really, really great to realize — with or without the dry heaving — that you don’t want to be the kind of girl who’d fall for that kind of guy, or the kind of guy who’d be into that kind of book, or the kind of guy who’d make that kind of art, or the kind of girl who’d post that kind of picture?



{October 26, 2009}   You’re no Einstein, Baby!

real_genius

In regards to your earlier post about the diminishing returns on your cultural IQ, I think reader pjs (Pyjamas?) made an important point:

What is stupid is thinking that liking movies is a worthwhile way to be smart.

I believe that this gets to the root of the rot that is eating away at our meritocracy.  We have this belief that watching things makes one smarter.  However, as recently attested to in this important piece in the Times covering refunds offered by Disney for its Baby Einstein videos, this is not ever so:

“We see it as an acknowledgment by the leading baby video company that baby videos are not educational, and we hope other baby media companies will follow suit by offering refunds,” said Susan Linn, director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

You know what they say:  What doesn’t work at ten months, doesn’t work any better at thirty years!  I think this is a massive concession that media consumption is a poor substitute for actual smarts.  Lucky for us, actual smarts is measured by attending an awesome undergraduate institution of higher education — whether small liberal arts college or Ivy League.

This criteria is really what counts as far as whether your bound copy of other people’s To Do Lists gets published or thrown in the trash.  This is what counts when editors go looking for strippers — er, burlesque dancers — to write memoirs about the seedy underbelly of something or other.  It lets you wear hats that would otherwise be offensively garish, and, most importantly, it really pushes you over that tenuous line between saying something stupid and saying something ironic.

The great thing about the undergraduate degree is that, once procured, it can never be taken away.  Thus, no matter how few movies or — yes, pjs — Eagles games you watch, you are always entitled to be heard out and respected.  If not, what would be the point of us blogging?  So, no Dave.  Your smart card will never be revoked.  Not now, not ever.  So cancel the Netflix account and get to work on those sweaters!

[NDLR:  In the interest of other pressing obligations, many hyperlinks have been temporarily left out, feel free to imagine them.]



Just something on my mind…



Luann

Check out Luann and Tiffany.  Does Luann have a hate crush on Tiffany?  Probably. Does Luann hate herself? Go figure. Is this hilarious? Yes.

Are hate crushes for reals? Whatever!

Whoever is selling the hate crush meme should go stick her head out the nearest window and vomit. That’s what she makes me want to do.  But I didn’t make it that far…  Blech.

Oops!

Oops!

Not for the first time and definitely not for the last, I’m totally with you on this one, Dave.  Do these people have any clue what they’re talking about?  The hate crush marketeers have the emotional finesse of “I love my fiancee, but I’m not in love with him.”  To quote again what you brought up:

If a crush is about seeing the best version of yourself as you envision it, a “hate crush” is about the worst.

Two things.  One, I have not heard that BS about you hate in others what you don’t like about yourself since — like — fourth frickin’ grade!  Two, must we explain everything through the prism of narcissism?  I think we’ve spoken before about the odd and subtle generational disconnect between us and the Jezebel crowd, namely manifested in matters of sentiment — where there is, on the part of a latter, a certain tendency to take themselves waaaaaay too seriously and to, in general, dismiss nuance and casuistic. Is it because they have been brought up on wonky non-fiction and the Internet?  I won’t speculate.  All I can say is — again — if these chicks read anything like Stendhal we would not be having this conversation. I mean, not only did they get the hate part wrong — put they even fracked up the much more traditional concept of the crush.

Yeah, I give up, folks:  I really hate the fact that I’m a wannabe fetish model.  I’m extremely insecure about how I look in leather.  I fear, at times, that my love of hip radical European Marxists militias who kill people combined with my healthy, thoughtful skepticism of affirmative action, may not necessarily express a coherent weltanschauung.  You’re right. It’s all about me.

Look at Luann.  Yeah.  Up there.  At the top of this post.  Does she hate Tiffany because she hates the superficial broad in herself?  No, she hates Tiffany, because she’s a stuck-up, preening, lousy lady who is acting all possessive of the Australian exchange student and — worse than that, she looks enough like Luann, that this latter worries that people will associate blond cartoon characters with a fracked up sense of community service.  Her position, then, is two-fold:  1) It is a proud, confident disassociation with the superficial similarities shared with Tiffany, while at the same time 2) a strict sense of moral censure best expressed with the word “scoff.”

Like, a lot of the people I hate are people who resemble me — say, picture a slightly shorter Peter O’Toole (when young, of course) with a nose for fresh bread and fine truffles and a certain ability to speak French and other languages, not least while talking about the weather in fine metaphoric terms that beget dreamy expressions in the eyes of the ladies.  Well, so, you take that kind of person: Lovable, right?  But then, say he learned his French in Quebec, drinks fine wine instead of manhattans, thinks Arcade Fire rocks, and thinks that Obama compromised liberal ideals when he let Van Jones go.  And throw in a few carrots and chicks in the mix.  This, my friends, is the perfect recipe for a hate crush:  Again, not the incarnation of your worst faults but, rather, everything ersatz and pretentious that one fears could potentially be associated to your charming person and everything morally wrong that occurs in your vicinity.

Now it would be nice to pathologize and to remedy our capacity for moral censure.  But then who would be there to do such a tough job?  Do we just let these stupid poseurs hang around with a bunch of carrots and chicks without pointing and laughing?

Hate is fun!  Hate is cathartic.  And it keeps giving.

Oh, and a couple more points, Dave.  There was no like, and, thus, no dry-heave-inducing epiphany.  Just another joke gone too far.  That’s my official version, and I’m sticking to it.  Also, I think there is something odd about the fact that I don’t Google stalk my friends.  I thing you’re right that that should be the exception, not the rule.  Whatever.





{October 25, 2009}   I don’t want to get over you

bummers title

mailbox bummer

Don’t you hate it when a meme shows up that almost really, really resonates with you, but seems to fall just short of the mark in some way?  That comes maddeningly close to describing some defining experience?  Close enough that you feel like you’re kind of stuck with the term?

What could I be talking about, Russ?  Well, I’ll tell you.  It’s thehate crush.”

Your symptoms
You are obsessed with this person who really bothers you.  You can’t help but read her blog on Facebook/ Twitter. When you run into her, and sometimes you look for opportunities to run into her, your pulse races. You can hear your heartbeat pounding in your head.  You pray for her downfall and plot to outshine her.

Here’s more.

It is true, these relationships have much of the unpleasant intensity of a crush, the element of obsession, the need to bring it up at all times – and, most important, next to nothing to do with the object thereof. A “hate crush” is about you, about projections and insecurities. If a crush is about seeing the best version of yourself as you envision it, a “hate crush” is about the worst. I know many a friend – male and female – who’s fallen prey to the classic scenario, such feelings about an ex’s new partner, something social networking, Twitter and Google help exactly not at all. It becomes a reciprocal relationship – comparing themselves to pictures and interests and resumes and musical tastes. One cliched quote can provide an unwholesome sense of validation, even as it feeds the mania. And as in many a crush, they don’t always know you exist.

You and I, Russ, we’ve had our share of obsessive preoccupations with people that we didn’t like.  Or people that we possibly kind of liked and kind of didn’t like at the same time.  And people that we pretended to like, or not to like, because it seemed really funny.  And people that we used to like but stopped liking — often in a moment of dry-heave-inducing epiphany.  I like to think, in fact, that you and I have turned this kind of negative devotion into an art form.

But all the descriptions I’ve read seem to miss something elemental about the hate crush, at least as I’ve experienced it.  There is so much giddy fun to be had in, oh, I dunno, obsessively researching your bff’s hateful wife on Google and emailing the choicest links to your mutual friends.  And there seems to be an implicit assumption in these articles that any kind of obsession is inherently unhealthy and destructive — when in fact, I think that my hate crushes are fun, and possibly even cathartic.

Then again, I find it disturbing when people tell me they don’t Google stalk their friends.  My god, people, are you not human?  Don’t you have any curiosity at all?



{October 24, 2009}   Kudos

kudos_bar

Kudos, Dave! Kudos, Russ’s Mom!  Good points all round!  Especially that one about Brendan Fraser being in GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra — and I thought it was subversive genius because of this guy

In any case, I have to run to — as they say — “Pick up Mrs. Horner.”  I’ll check back with y’all in the PM.
Luann



{October 24, 2009}   Oh, and another thing…

Hazmat-team

Quickly, before I don the suit and start on some pre-houseguest cleanup.

Russ’s mom, in typically succinct fashion, got straight to the heart of of the Lars Von Trier issue when she said “He stinks.”  I know that people have made the argument, as you alluded to, that the over-the-top martyrdom theme in his work can be interpreted as a feminist critique, rather than mere over-aestheticized, European-style misogyny.  Certainly, I’ve winced when I’ve heard people say that they can’t stand Mad Men because they don’t like seeing the racism and misogyny (really, I’ve heard this!).  But you can make the same claim about anything, can’t you?  Is the Saw series a brilliantly subversive critique of movie violence?  Is G.I. Joe:  The Rise of Cobra actually pure genius (I suspect yes, but that’s probably based on my weird, undying love for this guy).  Do we just make the distinction based on whether the director is European, as you suggested in your Brown Bunny comparison?  That might be the key, actually:  this is sly art, this is drivel.  This is vile, this is darkly clever.  You know what I mean, Russ.

So are movie critics just blinded by their infatuation with Fronch fries, Fronch dressing and Puroo?



vomit

OK, given that I could barely make it through that New York Magazine piece, I’m probably not the best person to turn to on this one.  I mean — actually, no, I really have nothing to say.  Unless you’re asking what stance toward Lars Von Trier would be the most amusingly perverse, in which case I say, Go!  See it!  Manifestos aside, this film seems so antithetical to your Perfect School aesthetic (motto:  Nothing Messy, Nothing Ugly) that I am kind of intrigued by the idea of your managing to work liking it into your general world view.  Also, Charlotte Gainsbourg is just so adorable.

Wait, that might not be a plus here.

Now I have something else to say, but it’s only tangentially related, and it’s this.  Somehow I have stopped caring about movies, or about almost any other form of culture except for television.  Certainly, it has something to do with this guy and my inability to leave the house, but I feel like it’s a larger problem.  I barely read anymore, and when I do it’s some rag, or some “great novel” that I’ve already read 5 times.  I rarely get out to the sweatshirt expos, unless it’s to see a friend’s work, and I can’t be bothered to watch a real movie from Netflix.  At what point in this gradual decline towards total cultural illiteracy do I just throw in the towel and accept that it’s time to give up my chair at the smarty-pants’ table?  How long can one coast on being someone who used to know things about movies and books?  Does this happen to all parents, and if so, is it permanent?

Gentle Reader?  Am I stupid yet?

Insert sad caption here.

Insert sad caption here.



{October 23, 2009}   Everything I cannot see

antichrist_xlg

So, I have been telling myself since seeing The Kingdom in two, three hour installments in Brussels in 1995 that I would see the next Lars Von Trier movie every time one came out.  And, for whatever reason… it just never happened.  And now there’s this:

The viewer hovers between genuine shock—whatever your tolerance for on-screen gore, what He and She do to each other’s and their own bodies is sickening to watch—and the eye-rolling resignation one might feel at a teenage son’s gothcore concert. You win, Lars—if I’m the bourgeoisie, consider me épatée.

And also this:

There has already been some debate among critics about whether “Antichrist” is grossly misogynistic or slyly feminist, an argument ultimately as fruitless as the question posed by the movie about the nature of women (see above). That talking fox has given the movie a handy catchphrase — “Chaos reigns!” — but a more apt one is delivered by Ms. Gainsbourg among bouts of howling, sobbing and penis smashing: “None of this is any use at all.”

And yet, there’s something so tempting — like the Devil? — about this new movie.  Could it be that I’m letting my love of Charlotte Gainsbourg overwhelm my judgment here?

So, my question for you, Dave, is:  If you were me, would you go see Antichrist?  And if so, would you strategically walk out?

What’s truly intriguing is that the genital mutilation has caught so much attention that the Brown Bunny-esque exigencies placed upon Defoe and Gainsbourg in the opening sequence have raised few eyebrows.  It’s as if the American movie critic can just shrug and say, “Ah, those Europeans!”



shoes_offAs you suggested, I wanted to address Betty’s letters at some point… But speaking of Mad Men…

My fondest desire has finally come true! Mark Sanford, whose affair captured my imagination for all its literary sturm und drang — the struggle with faith, norms of marriage and power, passionate letters, and heady exoticism — all that I love about French literature, well, he has finally set about to writing.  And, naturally, his first effort, as with all good, up-and-comers, is a book review.

But not just any book review… he discusses his readings of Ayn Rand.  A paean to the objectivist ethos of one Bertram Cooper? Pshaw!

In fact, bearing a similar chaotic ingenuousness to his confessions, the review often falters, holds back from tackling difficult concepts and paves a fairly rustic path with crude cobble-stones.  Reading like a high school essay, Sanford’s piece limits itself for the most part to a commented summary of the key works, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, with some clumsy observations:

What happens, of course, is that the government collapses, and Galt emerges to reorder society along strictly free-market lines. Granted, the plot is farfetched, but that doesn’t mean it’s not enormously influential.

We learn that Sanford came to Rand relatively late:

When I first read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged in the 1980s, I was blown away. Those books portray the power of the free individual in ways I had never thought about before.

In the 1980s, he had already finished college.  There really seems like no excuse to visit with Ayn Rand after the age of 17.  If you aren’t hooked on nerd-revenge fantasies by then, it’s most likely that they don’t apply to you.  One can only imagine that the books were forced upon him by some club at business school, kind of like taking up golf.

In the end, though, the most touching part of Sanford’s review is his final evocation of human frailty:

There is one more major flaw in Rand’s thinking. She believed that man is perfectible—a view she shared with the Soviet collectivists she hated. The geniuses and industrial titans who retire to Galt’s hidden valley create a perfect society based on reason and pure individualism; and Galt himself, in the 57-page speech near the book’s end, explicitly denies the existence of original sin. The idea that man is perfectible has been disproved by 10,000 years of history. Men and women are imperfect, or “fallen,” which is why I believe there is a role for limited government in making sure that my rights end where yours begin.

While the political lesson that Sanford draws from this inheritance of sin appears tacked on out of political convenience, his insistence upon the corruption of our flesh is touching and shows some glimmer of promise should he find someone to actually edit his work.

As I said when the scandal first broke — and it applies even more so, now — I would jump at the chance to ghostwrite Mark Sanford’s memoirs.  Mark, have your people call me.



{October 23, 2009}   I heart boomers

betty draper

What a treat, Russ, to find your posts this morning.

First things first.  OMG, OMG, OMG, I totally didn’t make the MPDG connection on Mad Men, but you are so right!  It seems pretty clear that this is not going to end well for Don.  There have been so many signals about her reluctance to conform (running!?!) to the kind of tightly defined expectations of Don’s generation that I’m starting to fear that the show might be headed somewhere silly.  Here’s hoping that Mad Men doesn’t go off the rails.  I think you’re right (but maybe this is just my bias?) that Miss Farrell is acting a part just as much as Don or Joan or any of the other characters, and that she isn’t going to serve as the natural, uncorrupted, boomer-triumphalist fantasy girl.  Or if she is, that won’t necessarily be a good thing.  I guess I sort of agree with the idea that Mad Men is showing us why the 60’s had to happen, but not in the sense that they had to happen for moral reasons, as the dirty hippies would assert.  (It’s sort of stunning, actually, that so many boomers are still stuck on the narrative that they were the Great Liberators who saved us from the Cheesy Fakery of the Eisenhower era.)  Anyway, I think the show is more about examining how all those seeds of discontent were sown long before the boomers decided to save the world than it is about some kind of simplistic generational contrast, don’t you think?

As for Betty Draper… We discussed her character’s evolution a while back, and how the show has once again started to portray her  in a sympathetic light.  I think that they’ve done amazing things with her this season, especially given how cruel the writing in the first few episodes was to her character.  She seemed so petulant and so self-absorbed, didn’t she?  And then, suddenly, we see her in “Souvenir,” capable and clever and completely in her element, and we’re reminded of why she is so miserable. I’m really excited by the idea that she might wind up living a very different life in ten years.

But what is going to happen to my beloved Sal?

sal



{October 23, 2009}   Yo Maggie Siff, call me.

Since I’m probably not going to get any of this done, anyway, I thought I’d start us off.

Manic Pixie Dream Girl ca. 1963

Manic Pixie Dream Girl ca. 1963

Clearly, one of the interesting dynamics that has emerged since mid-season is the apparition of Miss Farrell and her elusive pixie passion romance with Don.  On the one hand, she is the return of Midge: literary, self-consciously bohemian, and at once cynical towards and attracted to Don’s establishment persona.

The difference, however, is that, Don has a greater sense of need and urgency.  Meanwhile, while the times have changed, and the jaded hipness and marginalized revolt of Midge’s beatnik pals has become a blinkered, transformational urge with no respect for formal boundaries.

In this latest episode, The Color Blue — and in previous weeks, as well — we see this urge expressed not just in Miss Farrell’s insistence upon breaking the wall between Don’s public identity and his private affairs, but also in the Brits’ relentless desire to turn Sterling Cooper into more money.  Most obviously, though, is Conrad Hilton’s regular middle of the night phone calls and entreaties for lunar hotel chains.

As Peggy might say, these urges are telephone calls, not Western Union telegrams.  Unlike the latter, Conrad Hilton’s dreams, the push for profits, and the passions of the wispy schoolteacher cannot be framed.

As I think you began to discuss much previously, there is a delicate and complementary push coming from Betty and Miss Farrell.  They are each finding different ways of assuming and redefining womanhood.  Placing Mary McCarthy’s The Group in Betty’s hands shows how her political action and rapport with Henry has awakened her to a sense of self and purpose very different from the Maypole-dancing, blue relativism of Miss Farrell.  For once, Betty is seeking truth.  Can the same be said for Miss Farrell?  She, Don, her brother all seem to be play-acting roles.  Betty is forced into it at the end of The Color Blue, but I would be surprised if that lasts through the season finale.

Moreover, what to make of the traditional manic pixie dream girl and man in need of saving romance in which the writers have now plunged Don? From what I can tell, this is a purposeful and skeptical set up, but how do you think they will get out of it so as to avoid bolstering the cliche?

I think there’s a lot to be said in contradiction to this wretched piece in The Atlantic.  Not only does the writer unfairly and stupidly disparage January Jones and, in fact, the whole character of Betty Draper, but he also, I think, completely misses the boat on this analysis:

Most of the supplemental historical material in the DVD sets focuses on racial and gender issues and progressive politics, including a lengthy paean to the SDS’s gaseous Port Huron Statement. The takeaway is clear, as The Times approvingly quotes an academic who indulges in a rather Whiggish interpretation of history: “The show explains why the ’60s had to happen.”

Honestly, I don’t think there’s one lick of Boomer-triumphalism in the series, at all (and we’ve already discussed how Sally represents the boomer/flower child).  Isn’t Miss Farrell’s notion, that “the color blue” should be relative, that we should see the world through a child’s eyes, damning of a new generation of grown-up children?  It is, at the least, antithetical to Don’s aesthetic and ethic which is in itself a belief in the power to transform oneself.  In the end, as we have noted with Peggy and Sal, Betty is the one who is carrying out this ideal, right?

In any case, these are my initial thoughts, a few days out from watching the episode, how ’bout you?

Oh, also, wasn’t that Kinsey thing just totally trippy?!? Wow!  What do you think his idea was?



et cetera