Archive for June, 2006
I haven’t seen Click. I certainly don’t intend to, because I can’t stand Adam Sandler, and, from the trailer I saw, the plot looks like a re-hash of Bruce Almighty. (Which isn’t surprising actually, since I’ve just learned that the two movies were written by the same people.)
But here’s an interesting article by Caryn James of the NY Times (she’s also the one who wrote the article analyzing the recent “religious” trend in movies that I referenced last month). She discusses how Click and other movies like it spend the entire film making something look desirable to the audience, and then, in a slapdash attempt at a moral, hastily explain that this something doesn’t really pay off.
I haven’t seen many of the films she mentions here (except Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which she singles out as a film that doesn’t tack on a unbelievable moral), so I can’t say much about them. It’s something that has always bothered me about Disney-esque teen movies, which preach “be yourself” ad nauseam at the same time that, in order to be “herself,” the heroine has to straighten her naturally curly hair, lose her glasses, and stop using so many big words. I’m thinking The Princess Diaries here, but there are plenty of other examples–and not just for teens. From what I’ve heard, The Princess Diaries‘ star Anne Hathaway undergoes a similar transformation once again in The Devil Wears Prada.
And then there’s my favorite sentence from the article: “more and more comedies are punishing their characters’ ambition and success even when that successful life is portrayed as desirable.” Ah, the joy of capitalist schizophrenia.
Here’s my question, though: how new do you think this double-message trend is? If it’s only surfaced recently, why? What has brought it about?
P.S. Thanks to “K” for calling the James article to my attention!
June 30th, 2006
I am dying of laughter. This article title has to be one of the funniest online display errors I’ve ever seen (click on the thumbnail to enlarge the image).
I thought that having a period got rid of men, but it turns out it’s the other way around. Live and learn.
June 24th, 2006
So many of you already know that I’m the only child raised in the 1980s who didn’t see Star Wars. Any of them. And you know that the reason I didn’t see Star Wars was that my parents thought it was New Age-y and anti-communist. (Not that they forbade me from seeing it or anything—they just made it sound uninteresting. Which it is.) I cannot count the number of people who have informed me that Lucas did not intend the “Evil Empire” to refer to the USSR, but rather to Nazi Germany or even the imperialist US (I buy that argument for Revenge of the Sith, but not necessarily for the early ones). Blah blah.
But here’s Adam Roberts of The Valve (yes, that’s right—he of the “Taking the Hobbits to Isengard” analysis) agreeing with my instinct that the Jedi are not only annoying but also fascist! Hurrah! I am vindicated! Adam Roberts is fast becoming one of my favorite people. (You do have to scroll down to the paragraph after the extended Suzy Rice quote to get to the most interesting bit–the rest is about the font choice for the logo.)
Of course, the difficulty is that you could critique many world religions-as-practiced for being fascist in the same sense that the Jedi are. Extra emphasis on the as practiced, though. Ideally, Christianity not only participates in the messiness of incarnate life but also does not seek to control others through state means (if you’re up for a dense and difficult read, check out John Howard Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus, which elaborates on this latter principle—it’s brilliant and inspiring, if you’re willing to wade through all the references to various German theologians). Ideally. However, the messiness of incarnate human life also means that people, being people, mess things up.
June 22nd, 2006
Okay, okay, I give in. “K” has been agitating for a post devoted to samples of my pitiful attempts at photographing birds in Hawaii last month. Here is proof of my ineptitude–or perhaps proof that I am indeed as insane as you all have been suspecting.
Click on the thumbnail images to view the larger photos.
First, of all, we have the rump of the common myna bird, which is kind of the Hawaiian equivalent of the starling. The uncooperative avian subject is photographed next to one of the oddities of residential beach-town Kailua: neon plastic Slow Children. Apparently the Slow Children have a tendency to escape, though, because they’re always chained to something.
Next we have the bottom of the endangered Hawaiian moorhen. The photo background is cropped, but that’s honestly as much as I got of the bird.
A wild mother hen teaches her chicks the trick of all birdies everywhere: turn around at the sight of a human with a camera.
Okay, this one isn’t actually a bird bottom, but it is an awful picture of a red-crested cardinal. The photographer, as usual, had trouble holding still.
The one that got away . . . a white-rumped shama. Does its rump look white to you? Bird nomenclature never ceases to puzzle me.
But, finally, victory! A more obliging shama posed for me later on. And it didn’t turn around at the last minute!
There. I think it’s safe to say that I have yet to develop the skills of a nature photographer.
June 20th, 2006
Porpoise and I have become great fans of the 1980s BBC shows “Yes, Minister” and “Yes, Prime Minister,” both comedies about the battles of intrigue between bumbling politician Jim Hacker and wily civil servant Sir Humphrey Appleby (played by the excellent Nigel Hawthorne). We even watched a few episodes over our honeymoon. We’re always amazed (particularly in “Yes, Prime Minister,” which often features foreign policy issues) how a show from 20 years ago can still be so spot-on relevant today.
We’re about halfway through all the episodes of “Yes, Prime Minister” now, and this afternoon we watched an episode which was stunningly appropriate for today, this particular day, June 18, 2006. You see, today the Episcopal Church (USA) is electing a new Presiding Bishop to replace Frank Griswold, and on “The Bishop’s Gambit,” Jim Hacker has to appoint a new bishop for the diocese of Bury St. Edmunds.
For some examples of the amazing timeliness of the episode, I give you various lines of dialogue from “The Bishop’s Gambit” (though you really should watch the episode, as I can’t capture the exquisite timing of the actors’ delivery):
[Sir Humphrey explains to Hacker that the Church is seeking a candidate to maintain balance. Hacker inquires about what sort of balance.]
Humphrey: The bench of bishops should have a proper balance between those who believe in God and those who don’t.
[In the ensuing conversation, Humphrey explains to Hacker what it means when the Church says that their preferred candidate is a "modernist."]
Humphrey: In the Church of England the word Modernist is code for non-believer.
Hacker: An atheist?
Humphrey: Oh no, Prime Minister. An atheist clergyman couldn’t continue to draw his stipend. So when they stop believing in God they call themselves modernists.
Hacker: How can the Church of England recommend an atheist as Bishop of Bury St. Edmunds?
Humphrey: Very easily. The Church of England is primarily a social organization, not a religious one.
Ha! So true, even in the Episcopal Church here.
[Humphrey proceeds to explain that it's hard to argue with the Church's choice, because of the practice of apostolic succession. Hacker asks what that means. Humphrey explains that, after Judas' demise, the apostles got the Holy Spirit to appoint his replacement.]
Hacker: And how did the Holy Ghost make his will known?
Humphrey: By lot.
Hacker: [something along the lines of] Can’t we get the Holy Ghost to do the same thing now?
Humphrey: We cannot leave the appointment of Bishops to the Holy Ghost, because no one is confident that the Holy Ghost would understand what makes a good Church of England bishop.
Hoot! So lovely and cynical, and so accurate about church politics in most mainline Protestant denominations.
Now I don’t know anything about the seven candidates up for the Presiding Bishop election today, though I’m tempted to say none of them can be any worse than His Arrogance Frank Griswold. But I’m afraid they’ll prove me wrong. Because, you see, the only delegates allowed to vote for the Presiding Bishop are bishops, and most bishops have studied theology, rather than serving actual parishes.
And, as we know from “Yes, Prime Minister,” “theology is a device for helping agnostics to stay within the Church of England.”
June 18th, 2006
I have met with strangeness this morning. And I hope it’s not because I just woke up that I find it hilarious.
First, check out this YouTube dance mix of notorious lines from The Lord of the Rings movies.
Then, you have no option but to read the metrical analysis of this little ditty posted on The Valve, a site devoted to literary criticsm.
Oh my. I think I may need a while to recover my breath.
Spon-DEE! (That’s irony.)
June 18th, 2006
I have two somewhat unrelated topics for today’s blog entry: (1) the new Animal Planet “reality” show “Meerkat Manor” and (2) the even stranger territorial behavior of fellow residents in our townhome association.
First of all, the meerkats. As much as I love animals—actually, because I love animals—I’m becoming increasingly intolerant of animal documentaries. They seem to be becoming even more anthropomorphic than they used to be, and they thrive on stuffing their programs with as many threats as possible to their cute little protagonists’ existence. Mink and I have already discussed the pornographic titillation involved in animal documentaries, but “Meerkat Manor” is honestly one of the worst I’ve seen.
Narrated by Sean “I wish I could act” Astin, the half-hour episodes always end on a cliff-hanger involving the near-death of some meerkat or another. Will Shakespeare survive his deadly puff adder bite? Well, now that Shakespeare made it through the night, will he starve to death? Will Flower, the dominant female of the clan, be so upset that her daughters had litters of pups (without her permission) that she will kill her own grand-meerkats? You get the idea.
You’d think that the people who watch soap operas wouldn’t be the same people who watch nature shows. But maybe I’m wrong. In “Meerkat Manor,” despite the fact that the footage is taken from a scientific study by Cambridge University, the script constantly assigns human characteristics to its meerkat subjects: (I paraphrase) “The courageous Shakespeare, left behind at the burrow, is watched over by his caring sister Mozart. These two have a very close bond. Mozart’s presence is probably the only thing keeping Shakespeare going at this point.” As if they know that.
Anyway, I’m obviously guilty of a fair amount of anthropomorphizing on a daily basis. I, however, am not making a documentary, so I’m excused. But it’s strange to me that the documentarians think audiences will only be interested in animals if we’re constantly told how much they’re like us. I can see some appeal there, but part of the reason I’m so fascinated by animals is that they’re also very different.
Animals, for example, have a biological advantage to marking and defending their territory, as the meerkat family in “Meerkat Manor” does. Humans do not. And yet certain members of our townhome association are intent upon making sure that children from outside this complex can’t play here. Twice Porpoise has heard a man who lives here (we’ll call him Mr. Defender of the Complex) tell a kid—who, as far as we could tell, was doing no harm—that he couldn’t play in the area in front of our row of townhouses unless he were specifically invited. And get this: he said it was because “those are the rules.” What rules? Where?
Well, yesterday was the second time the child got this lecture, and apparently he went home and told his parents what had happened. Then his mom came over to talk to Mr. Defender of the Complex, and apparently that didn’t work, because the kid’s father soon appeared. Things seem to have escalated, because at one point, Porpoise looked out and saw that there was a policeman arbitrating the dispute, as Mr. Defender waved around a deed, voicing the phrase “private property” quite a few times.
Sheesh. I’ve rarely been so embarrassed to live somewhere. Don’t get me wrong—I love our house, and I certainly never imagined I’d be a homeowner this early in my life. It does sometimes strike me as strange that the house I live in now, with two people and a cat, is larger than the house I grew up in, with three people, two dogs, two cats, and a hamster. But, since Porpoise and I both work primarily from home, and since we’re both independent, persnickety individuals, the extra space helps us out immensely. I just feel guilty at times about having so much private property.
I thought the whole townhome association might actually be a bit of a remedy for that: you know, a sort of communal living. But it’s hard to live communally with people who seem to only care about leaves, mulch, and keeping “those” kids off our property. Especially when they keep “forgetting” to tell us about association meetings.
I saw Mr. Defender pacing the rear perimeter of the complex this morning. After watching the meerkat documentary, I could swear that he was marking his territory. Maybe if I think about my fellow townhome residents as meerkats, I’ll be more charitable towards them.
I should end the post on that cute note, but I’ll just add a little but more, since I recently saw a Lauren Winner article about the spiritual consequences of living in suburbia. The books Winner reviews seem too mild for my taste: I want to see a whole-hearted condemnation of the lifestyle in which I to some degree partake. Ron Sider’s classic Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger is more the harsh scolding I crave. But I’ve always been better at judgment than at actually helping people change. It’s my tendency to further retreat into the privacy of our house—yes, I recognize the irony—rather than to confront my neighbors’ ideas about private property.
Some battles aren’t worth the energy, and this may be one of them. I don’t know yet. We’ll see. And, in the meantime, I won’t be watching any more of “Meerkat Manor.”
June 17th, 2006
Scott Brown of Entertainment Weekly’s PopWatch just managed to do something unheard of: he made Superman sound interesting to me. Check out his summary of theories about Superman: Superman as gay (parallels to recent X-Men conversations), Superman as Jesus, Superman as American Jewish immigrant, Superman as Nietzschean Übermensch, and Superman as American hubris.
Personally, I find the last three most interesting. (Superman as Jesus doesn’t do much for me, especially because one of Jesus’ main characteristics is his humility, which isn’t a notable feature of Superman’s—or Clark Kent’s—personality, as far as I can tell).
One of the links from Brown’s post leads to an article describing how Superman’s co-creator Jerry Siegel first drew his inspiration from Nietzsche’s Übermensch, and how this first Superman was “as evil mastermind with advanced mental powers.” That was 1933. Also the year that Hitler came to power. Thus, as Hitler began advancing his own twisted vision of the Übermensch, Siegel and Shuster revised Superman into a force for good. Fascinating.
I don’t know anything about the Superman of comics, but as for the 1978 movie, I can definitely see Superman as American hubris. That whole last bit in which he changes history to get Lois Lane back from the dead? “I didn’t get what I wanted! Therefore, I’m going to spin the entire world around backwards until I can have things my way again.” And what bothered me most was that there were no consequences for breaking the “laws” of how things work, despite Marlon Brando’s dire warnings to the contrary. Porpoise tells me that his may be because the director envisioned Superman and Superman II as one movie, and he says that there actually are consequences for some of Superman’s prideful actions in Superman II. I’m not sure I have the patience to find out.
Anyway, Brown’s post concludes in a way I think we all would approve, given the previous discussions about X-Men: “So who/what is Superman? It seems pretty certain that Superman, like every icon, is all of the above, and more. The test of a good icon is its ability to absorb a multitude of interpretations.”
June 15th, 2006
*Apologies to readers either too young or too old to recognize Ren and Stimpy’s “Log” song.
Imagine my joy today when I saw that Alan Jacobs—skilled essayist, fellow Shetland Sheepdog fan, and all-around delightful person—has just published an essay on the topic of blogs in Books and Culture.
Jacobs relates his own experience reading in the blogosphere, with its attendant thrills and frustrations. The main feature defining blogs, he argues, is their immediacy: they present ideas and news items quickly and then move on. Therefore, he concludes, “Blogs remain great for news: political, technological, artistic, whatever. And they provide a very rich environment in which news (or rather “news”) can be tested and evaluated and revised. . . .But as vehicles for the development of ideas they are woefully deficient and will necessarily remain so unless they develop an architecture that is less bound by the demands of urgency—or unless more smart people refuse the dominant architecture.”
Now, I’m still learning the architecture of the blog genre. Porpoise is continually pointing out that the length of my posts exceeds that of most bloggers’ posts—and I might conclude that my blog readers are an unusual breed, too, since some of you (Ahem, Pop Otter. Ahem, Possum.) write responses even longer than my original posts. In my case, I certainly won’t equate length with depth of idea development. But I have to say that, for me, relative brevity and urgency are the two most appealing differences about blog-writing, as compared to any other kind of writing I do. I have an immediate audience who immediately responds, so I feel like my writing actually impacts people, albeit in miniscule ways. Furthermore, I get to express half-baked ideas that would never make it to paper if I had to back them up with extensive proofs and examples. The evidence may be out there, but if I had to find it, I would lose motivation.
But, on the flip side, I do feel the time pressure Jacobs mentions. What if I only see a movie after everyone else has finished talking about it? It’s as if relevance suddenly has an expiration date.
However, expiration date or not, I enjoy my blog snacks (reading as well as writing). They’re not full meals, but, as I think Jacobs would agree, they fill an important function in the contemporary exchange of information. As Porpoise knows, I like my meals, but I can get awfully grumpy if I have to wait too long in between them. Thus, the instant gratification of snacks.
But I’ll be very happy when I get to feast on the next volume of Jacobs’ essays (If you haven’t read his latest collection, Shaming the Devil, shame on you. Get thee to a library.)
P.S. I should also mention that my blogging experience has been unusually positive so far mostly because I have a small cadre of intelligent, informed, and courteous (if argumentative) readers. I’ve only had one “troll” since I began The Ottery, and since this troll was trying to argue that he was the Messiah (I’m not kidding), I could pretty easily dismiss him.
June 13th, 2006
“Small Bear”–who actually is very fond of cats–told us about this news story from New Jersey. A large orange tabby cat–sans claws–managed to chase a bear up a tree. Twice. Everyone is fine, and nobody got scratched or mauled.
Definitely the best news I’ve heard in a long time.
June 12th, 2006