December 11, 2006
It's testament to the overpowering awesomeness of The Wire that despite being a deeply opinionated commentary on social, urban, and economic policy, it's basically beloved by the whole political spectrum. You already know the panoply of lefty bloggers who regularly recommend and rave over the show, but now Cato is recommending it as a stocking stuffer. Meanwhile, my personal Wire-watching group includes lefties, punk rock chefs, and hardcore libertarians. So I think the anecdotal evidence of pan-ideological appeal is ironclad.
Which is a bit odd, given that the creators are, as best I can tell, revolutionary socialists. They loathe the public bureaucracy, but are totally dismissive of the Horatio Alger/personal responsibility tropes. At the close of this season, for instance, the most entrepreneurial of the set, Randy, was enduring a savage beating, the culmination of a long chain of events triggered by his go-getterness. Michael, the closet A student, was running a corner and amassing a body count. Duquan, who'd used a proficiency with computers and a bond with a teacher to pull himself out of total despair, was helping to run Michael's corner. And Namond, the group's total fuck up, was the closest to a happy ending, courtesy of Bunny's old-fashioned paternalism. Every one of the kids who'd taken affirmative steps towards improving their lives had seen their efforts destroyed by circumstance. And the one who'd sought to ruin his life had been (temporarily?) saved by outside intervention.
Yet everyone likes the show. That's possibly because it's a masterful story, expertly told, and exquisitely acted. It may also be because it's little kinder to state intervention than personal initiative. While none of the problems would be solved by charter schools, the public schools aren't making progress either. Indeed, it may be the radical apocalypticism of The Wire's vision that makes it so palatable: By offering absolutely no hope, it evades arguments over solutions.
Update: Radley Balko (in an awesomely titled post) nails me for being unclear about the "revolutionary socialist" thing. I didn't mean that the show demonstrates such an ideology. I literally meant that its creators are revolutionary socialists. A fair array of hints are on display in this interview. A taste:
Thematically, it's about the very simple idea that, in this Postmodern world of ours, human beings—all of us—are worth less. We're worth less every day, despite the fact that some of us are achieving more and more. It's the triumph of capitalism.
That isn't, I think, how most libertarians approach capitalism -- and nor is it how most Democrats do.
November 25, 2005
Country Music Television: The Perfect Holiday Hangover Cure
By Pepper of the Daily Pepper
Over Thanksgiving, I discovered the wonders of CMT - Country Music Television. I'm not a blue-stater making a grand discovery or anything. I used to work at a country music radio station when Garth Brooks was huge, and I see all the new videos when they come out. I'm not a huge fan, but I know my way around the world of country, and not all of it is red-state, Toby Keith crap. (Although much of it is, and Montgomery Gentry, I'm talking to you!)
I don't get CMT on my cable system, but, when I was drunk off Leinenkugels, I found that CMT was perfect viewing for a family of mixed religious beliefs, political beliefs, and sobriety levels.
On Friday, as we ate pita chips and pretzel chunks and recovered from our hangovers with more beer, my whole family was entranced by the original Dukes of Hazzard, which reminded me of how lame the movie redo was. Jessica Simpson is the Tofurky to Catherine Bach's turkey dinner. Seeing Catherine Bach at her peak made my dad praise CMT as "earthy," but I think he had something else in mind.
My favorite CMT show was their "Sexiest Videos of the Year." CMT has a clip-show format taken entirely from VH1 (both are Viacom companies - so VH1 viewers and CMT viewers who think the other group is stupid should know they are watching the same network). As always, a mix of low-level celebs, comedians, and the ubiquitous Joel Stein dish about our favorite videos. It's like Beavis, Butt-Head, and Joel Stein.
Yet again, I received proof of my theory that, despite being the supposed music of the all-American masses, country music is dirty. I've seen many of the sexy music videos at work, but I somehow missed Trace Adkins' "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk" and Dierks Bentley's "Come a Little Closer" in which Mr. Bentley attempts to be the redneck version of Barry White. CMT made the videos even dirtier by hiring Blue-Collar comedian Bill Engvall to count down the videos while he lounged around with the Playboy Bunnies at Hef's Mansion. No matter what, the red-staters and blue-staters in the family had a good ol' time. And who says liberals are brie-eaters who can't have fun and party down with the red-staters?
October 19, 2005
The Colbert Report
I think Dana Stevens gets the trouble with the Colbert Report exactly right:
Watching Colbert stretch his Daily Show character into a half-hour format sparked an impromptu reflection on the work Colbert has cut out for him. Jon Stewart may laugh at everything and everybody, including himself, but for the most part, we don't laugh at him. On the contrary: Stewart is, quite literally, our anchor, the one fixed point of sanity who watches, bemused, as the utter insanity of the day's news (and of his correspondents, who seem to take it all seriously) swirls around him. Stewart is the guy scanning the headlines and pausing to ask, "What the hell is this? What's really going on?" The whole joke of Colbert's persona is that he deliberately avoids asking those questions, or indeed, any questions at all. Stephen Colbert (or "Stephen Colbert," the character he plays) is proudly ignorant, aggressively obtuse—qualities that make him perfectly suited for parodying the new breed of cable-news bloviators. But by its very nature, the position Colbert occupies—the butt of his own show's joke—seems more difficult to sustain than Stewart's role as the eternal observer.
It is much tougher to sustain. What's great about Stewart is..well..Stewart. He seems like our voice in the media. A sane, intelligent, skeptical, well-meaning paladin for the people. We like to watch him because his interviews and humor bring us in on the jokes. Colbert, on the other hand, is the joke, trapped in a self-consciously disagreeable persona for the duration of his program. He's been following the O'Reilly template well, primarily taking on small bore, funny/stupid/outrageous stories, but since he's doing it in order to mock O'Reilly's template, it's a bit hard to watch. After all, if you want to see O'Reilly made fun of, yoou want that because you find the idea of watching his show every night distasteful. Thus, watching a show patterned -- however ironically -- on the No Spin Zone is similarly exhausting.
I really, really, really want to like the Colbert Report. But I'm having trouble doing it.
October 06, 2005
What Happened to Rob?
I've had a couple folks e-mail in to tell me that, contrary my allusion at Tapped yesterday, Sam Seaborne actually won his quixotic campaign in Orange County. My recollection was that he got crushed and we last saw him sobbing into the arms of Toby and Josh, who, on Bartlett's orders, were wresting control of Sam's candidacy from the Big Business apparatchik plotting strategy. But my understanding was that they just helped him shift towards Dean and away from Lieberman on the lefty tone continuum, not that they pulled off the impossible and won the sort of district that requires massive ballot fraud to even dent. E-mails rushing into my inbox, however, are taking the opposite view and assuring me that Rob Lowe was actually shunted off the show and into a cushy congressional seat in a make-believe world where Democrats turn around terrible campaigns in their final days and shred the Orange Curtain.
Is this true? And if so, how fully lame.
September 12, 2005
Hi, My Name Is Earl
Not that I have anything against Jason Lee, but I'm going to have to ask all readers of this blog to boycott his new show "My Name Is Earl". Fact of it is, someone's got to take a stand against the unholy marriage of text advertisements and speaker boxes:
Personally, I'm a fan of Jason Lee and perhaps his new show will rock enough to get me to tune in and/or Tivo it. But I seriously doubt it. Especially after having my page-flipping Sunday evening solitude so entirely disrupted when I came to this ad and turned past it only to jump at the loud sound of Jason's voice coming from straight outta nowhere and telling me "My name is Earl! Do good things and good things will happen to you! It's called Karma!" I quickly ascertained that the voice was not from inside my head but rather inside the page via a small speaker wired to a small pressure sensitive circuit board embedded in it.
Think I'm overreacting? Behold your future:
[W]hen I turned the next page Jason piped up again. "My name is Earl! Do good things and good things will happen to you. It's called Karma!" And again with the next page. And again. After the fourth "My name is Earl" I backtracked to the offending page ripped it out of the mag and then tore the guts out of it (pictured after the jump) to shut good ol' Jason the fuck up[.]
And, as Will Campbell, the intrepid periodical explorer who found the ad, notes, Lee's mechanical message is powered by three micro-cell batteries. Considering Entertainment Weekly, where the ad is running, has a circulation of about 1.6 million, we're talking almost 5 million batteries headed straight for the landfill. Maybe this show should stop worrying about karma and start thinking about Gaea.
June 18, 2005
Misunderestimated on Every Channel
Tiereny's column on TV's "doofus dad" is suprisingly perceptive today. Well worth a pre-father's day read. It is, after all, a pretty interesting TV phenomenon. If the majority of shows presented other demographics the way they present fathers, they wouldn't survive a day. Ignorant blacks? Bitchy, materialistic moms? Moronic, accident-prone dads? The whole set fits, but only the last is widely allowable.
Odd. Maybe white males, as the dominant majority, are secure enough in their power and public image not to mind? Maybe they're the last demographic group safe to infantilize because, as of yet, they haven't protested their portrayals? And is it white males, or do the black-acted sitcoms work off the same format?
Ah, the mysteries of pop cultures. Tierney's answer, which makes sense, is that 3/4ths of sitcom viewers are female, and this is what they like. Maybe. Or maybe it's just that the stereotype works for everyone. Aggrieved women get to laugh at a father worse than their husband. Uncertain fathers get to laugh at a dad who makes them look superb. And confident fathers get to pat themselves on the back for their superb, clearly atypical child-rearing abilities. After all, nothing we all like better than a fairly harmless stereotype that makes us look good -- the soft ego boost of low expectations.
May 19, 2005
Mom and Apple Pie. In Space.
The Air Force believes "we must establish and maintain space superiority," Gen. Lance Lord, who leads the Air Force Space Command, told Congress recently. "Simply put, it's the American way of fighting." Air Force doctrine defines space superiority as "freedom to attack as well as freedom from attack" in space.
No no no. That's the Empire's, or at the least, the Enterprise's way of fighting. So unless America really does transubstantiate into our pop culture, there's nothing Norman Rockwell about a moon bristling with Lockheed-Martin produced weaponry.
Update: Suzanne Nossel makes the great point that nobody, in fact, can attack us from space. Maybe this is some sort of aftershock from Ronald Reagan's obsession with an alien invasion?
April 30, 2005
Speaking of Coupling, which I did in the post below, I'm a bit confused. Now that I've watched most of the second season, what the hell happened to the cliffhanger from the first? You know, the one where Susan breaks up with Steve and then appears in his room demanding he propose? The second season acts like it never happened. Or am I missing something?
April 17, 2005
Thank You NetFlix
So I spent a good chunk of my Saturday blowing through Season 1 of Coupling (the BBC version). That's a really, really, really funny show -- props to those who kept recommending it. But guffawing aside, three questions:
• Did anyone else find the fifth episode, the one where Jeff hits on the absurdly attractive Israeli who can't speak a word of English, completely impossible to get into? It's a general problem for me. I'm willing to suspend my disbelief fairly often, but I somehow can't clear the mental hurdle erected when situational comedies beg me to believe that stunningly attractive girl X is madly attracted to schlumpy, borderline-retarded character Y. I try, but just can't.
For that reason, I think it'd be impossible to watch King of Queens. I've seen it on airplanes and, aside from the not-funny issue, the premise of a fat, irritating, socially-awkward UPS delivery-man marrying, yes, a super hot and put-together woman just doesn't fit. And being unable to buy the foundation of the show makes every episode, which all seem to be about him screwing up, completely unbelievable. If I were him I'd be on best behavior all the time.
• Apparently Jeff leaves the show. Why?
• And what happens with the proposal? Inquiring minds want to know!
February 06, 2005
Gambling is a Virtue (Just Like Bill Bennett Thought)
I won't be watching the Superbowl today. Like Steve Clemons, I just can't get excited about big dudes chasing each other up and down the field. It's weird, I love football -- played it for four years -- but, like with all other sports, I have no interest in watching others do the deed. And since my girlfriend isn't around this weekend, there's nobody present to force me in front of the television (take that, traditional gender roles!). Nevertheless, this is the sort of thing I can get excited about. Over at Duncan's place they're doing some gambling -- if your team loses, you donate to one of the predefined charities. I do realize that you're betting money with no hope of making any, but that's okay, think of it as role-playing for Social Security privatization.