I know I said we’d do The Yiddish Policeman’s Union next, but would folks be up for doing Neal Stephenson’s Remade instead and Yiddish Policemen’s Union after? I’d really like to read Reamde with all of you. Let me know what you think. If folks are generally OK with this, I’ll post an initial assignment for Reamde on Monday and we’ll get talking on Friday.
This post contains spoilers through the end of William Gibson’s Neuromancer.
Ah, the peril of Kindle indexes without page numbers. I didn’t realize how close we were to the end of the novel when I picked our section break last time. But Molly’s “Ruby Tuesday”-like departure does get me thinking about the character. Are the residents of Babylon correct? Is Molly something more than human, Steppin’ Razor, who brings “a scourge on Babylon, sister, on its darkest heart”? And if so, can a deity be a Manic Pixie Dream Girl?
Molly is deliberately opaque about her past, and while the story about how she got her enhancements is undeniably traumatic, it reveals much more about the society she lives in than about Molly herself. As she tells Case:
“Surgeons went way in, that trip. Tricky. They must have disturbed the cut-out chip. I came up. I was into this routine with a customer. . . .” She dug her fingers deep in the foam. “Senator, he was. Knew his fat face right away. We were both covered with blood. We weren’t alone. She was all . . .” She tugged at the temperfoam. “Dead. And that fat prick, he was saying, ‘What’s wrong. What’s wrong?’ ’Cause we weren’t finished yet. . . .” She began to shake. “So I guess I gave the Senator what he really wanted, you know?” The shaking stopped. She released the foam and ran her fingers back through her dark hair. “The house put a contract out on me. I had to hide for a while.”
The totally unsubstantiated rumor that Idris Elba could be the next James Bond (really, discussion of the True Fact that he would be awesome at it) is back! I think it’s true that Elba, particularly after his amazing turn on Luther, has demonstrated that he has the chops to succeed Daniel Craig. For me, Craig’s main accomplishment, particularly in Casino Royale, was to define Bond who can take a tremendous amount of punishment as well as dish it out, and someone who has tremendous emotional vulnerabilities that he keeps mostly very well-disguised.
And beyond that, I think there’d be some real power, especially for American audiences, in a black Bond. It’s not like we don’t have black cops, black soldiers, and black spies. The Craig movies even gave Bond a black American counterpart, though Jeffrey Wright has very little time on-screen. But given the way our dialogues around black men and violence have failed to evolve; our widespread comfort with the state-sanctioned killing of black men, whether by the police or as part of an execution process; the way our pop culture depictions of black men overwhelmingly show them committing illegal acts violence rather than legitimized ones; I think there would be something significant about a depiction of a black cultural icon who has a license not just to protect people, but a license to kill, and not in self-defense.
Ta-Nehisi suggests that hip-hop doesn’t deal with romantic love particularly well. I agree there are fewer hip-hop ballads than I’d like, but in a way, the genre’s very good and nuanced about responsibility, failure, and compromise. So for Ta-Nehisi’s birthday, here are 10 great tracks from the genre about romantic love.
1. Cee-Lo Green, “All Day Love Affair.” Cee-Lo’s always had the lover-man thing going on, but this makes domesticity look about as blissful as it can get. “I would gladly walk you home but you’re already here,” is as sexy a statement of commitment as there is.
2. Mary J. Blige, “Flying Away.” Perfect flip side to Cee-Lo. I’d actually love to see these two duet.
3. Jay-Z, “Lost One.” I think Beyonce’s generally considered to have gotten the better of the songs that came out of her temporary breakup with her now-husband with “Irreplaceable,” but that Jay-Z teamed up with Chrisette Michele gets him mad points. Also the fact that the song’s a statement of respect of Bey for chasing her career for a while. “But she loves her work more than she does me / And honestly, at twenty-three / I would probably love my work more than I did she / So we, ain’t we / It’s me, and her / ‘Cause what she prefers over me, is work / And that’s, where we, differ /So I have to give her / Free, time, even if it hurts / So breathe, mami, it’s deserved / You’ve been put on this earth to be / All you can be,” is a pretty awesome statement of respect for working women. Because romance is about building a solid, broad-based foundation for both partners to succeed.
This post contains spoilers through the Sept. 29 episode of Community.
As I was writing recaps last night, AV Club editor and Friend of the Blog Todd VanDerWerff tweeted, “As I finish up writing out this Community review, it strikes me that @AlyssaRosenberg probably loved that A-plot.” He is absolutely correct that the prospect of an epic game of Model United Nations that turns into a speculative fiction two-Earths scenario settled by a multidimensional invasion designed by Abed is pretty much the definition of up my alley. But while I thought this was a fine episode of Community, I didn’t think it was a great one, once again concerned with recapitulating old issues — namely, Jeff and Annie’s mutual attraction, and Annie’s issues with success. I actually think both of these characters are fruitful territory and I have some hopes we’ll see something happen with the former, but the latter is handicapped by the fact that the show can’t actually let Annie do what a recovering successful person in her situation would do and transfer to another school.
Increasingly, one thing that bothers me about the show is the way it privileges different kinds of enthusiasm. I appreciate Abed’s pop culture enthusiasm — he is, after all, a stand-in for those of us who are the most passionate fans of the show. And I liked the moment where Professor Cligoris (the always welcome Martin Starr) declared with a little shiver of delight that he’d have to stay all night designing rules for an extra-complicated Model U.N. match. But I think there’s actually something really distasteful about the way the show treats activism as if it’s not just a lesser concern than, say, fandom, but actively stupid. I recognize that some campus activism (selling racially-priced cupcakes, chaining yourselves to things out of sheer cussedness) can be pretty silly. But not all college political engagement is stupid. And the show has treated politically aware students as if they’re all frauds from the earliest episodes of the show, whether it’s Annie and Shirley getting the details of protest all wrong (by Britta’s standards) in some of their first days of school in their eagerness to have an authentic college experience; to Annie and Britta’s mudwrestling match; to tonight’s showdown between Britta and Chang.
Their symbiosis was very funny, from Chang’s declaring that the handcuffs he’s carrying as a campus security guard are “just for sex,” to Britta’s bridge-too-far rant, to the other guard’s nostalgic remembrance of college radicals past. “She incited a riot at the WTO. Got choked until she passed out. By a real cop, with a real billy club. Sometimes I wonder, you know?” he sighs. “What are you waiting for? Go show that hippie how the world really works.” But it would land a lot harder if the show was clear that it’s Britta’s approach tor radicalism that’s hilarious rather than political engagement in college.
The bridge is yours.
-Star Wars-horror movie poster mashups.
-The movies Marvel is working on after The Avengers.
-Yup, bankers are still jerks, at least on television.
-Reports from the Man of Steel set.
Yesterday, The Onion caught a tremendous amount of flack for tweeting, as a kickoff to a longer Twitter narrative related to a story about a hostage-taking scenario in Congress (riffing, of course, on the debt ceiling debate), “BREAKING: Witnesses reporting screams and gunfire heard inside Capitol building.” The publication followed that tweet almost immediately with another that was a clear joke, “BREAKING: Capitol building being evacuated. 12 children held hostage by group of armed congressmen. #CongressHostage,” but the initial tweet had already been dramatically amplified beyond the account’s followers and had people questioning whether real violence was underway.
So did The Onion go too far with the first tweet? It’s an interesting question that’s the result of a collision with two sets of norms: first, The Onion expecting that everyone will know that anything comes out under the publication’s name is a joke; second is the assumption that in the case of grave tragedy, everyone breaks character to respond to it. The latter norm is, I think, stronger, and in the age of Twitter, we haven’t really accounted for the few exceptions to that rule. I can’t think of a single situation where The Onion’s broken character. I mean, they did the September 11 attacks brilliantly, but they did them by digging deep and getting back to the core of what had made the site great, and pulling approximately no punches. This story about a Muslim kid getting bullied on the playground is heartbreakingly predictive and really damning, as was this savaging of commercial exploitation of the attacks.
So in a way, I appreciate The Onion’s resolute willingness to go a little too far in the service of what was a fairly sharp story. But I think they should have included a link to the actual story. If you’re playing by a slightly tweaked set of rules from everyone else, it doesn’t hurt to reaffirm that, especially when touching on sensitive ground in a medium that encourages misinterpretation and often loses context in the process.
I’m somewhat anxious about the turn that Raising Hope has taken this season into incredibly broad humor, but this article and watching Deadwood made me think about how much I like Garret Dillahunt. He’s a wide-ranging actor, but he’s also very good at doing something pretty difficult: making sympathetic characters who aren’t very smart.
Maureen, the Bunny who is supposed to be our entre into The Playboy Club in the show of the same name, is hard to sympathize with not because she’s bought into a false idea of liberation (though, the whole my-long-lost-dad-will-see-me-on-the-cover-of-Playboy-and-get-in-touch thing is pretty false), but because she’s really, really dumb. She leaves her blood-stained Bunny uniform poorly concealed under her bed in a Playboy-owned dorm. She keeps the key to the club owned by the man she killed in self-defense. She doesn’t seem to understand that hanging out in her underwear with a man one of her coworkers is dating might not be interpreted as a good-faith attempt not to flirt with the dude. All of her problems are self-created. And the plot doesn’t exist and move forward without Maureen making transparently dreadful decisions. That’s a recipe for disaster and perpetual infuriation.
But Dillahunt is kind of a genius at portraying characters who are, well, not that, but who don’t seem repellently stupid. Jack McCall is an obnoxious, thin-skinned sot, but in Deadwood, you can sort of see why Wild Bill Hickock needles him so much. Hickock has everything, but he’s not happy about it, and he’s not blowing it gleefully: he’s bitter, and obnoxious. McCall has nothing but the power to mess with Hickock, not even the power to resist doing it.
This post contains spoilers through the Sept. 29 episode of Parks and Recreation.
As someone who has spent a lot of time reporting on things governments do and the people who do them, I am constantly surprised by the way Parks and Recreation manages to find specific functions for the various departments it covers and make them slightly, and delightfully surreal. Also, the way it manages to take on various tropes of female behavior and make them incredibly funny.
In this first category is what Leslie describes as “Budgetary thunderdome!” an annual staredown between the various Pawnee departments. “So make lists of why other departments suck, and I’ll get our secret weapon.” As a perfect example of the marvelous dynamic between Leslie and Ron, Leslie’s looking forward to turning Ron into a weapon by targeting his libertarianism at agencies other than their own. Except the arrival of Tammy One is getting in the way of her careful plans. “You love arguing against government spending!” Leslie wails when she finds Ron tamed and shaved, a plot twist that could only come after the discovery of how funny Nick Offerman looks when some of his facial hair is surprisingly removed. I have to say, though, the fact that Tammy One is conducting a totally fake IRS audit of Ron as a way to get back into his life — and more importantly into his gold stashes — makes them seem like an even more perfect odd couple than Ron and Leslie, who clearly should be his work wife until the end of time.
So, it looks like in their ongoing quest to shut down The Playboy Club, the Parents Television Council may have overstated the number of advertisers who are pulling out of NBC’s period drama. Kraft and P.F. Chang’s confirmed to AdWeek that they haven’t dropped their advertising contracts with the show — instead, they just had episodic ad buys. I still think the chances of the show vanishing from airwaves soon are relatively high — the already low ratings dropped by a million for the second episode. But I don’t really think it’ll be over morality concerns. The show isn’t actually sexy enough to ruffle feathers.
They fill out this survey that DC Comics has asked Nielsen to do for them about whether or not the New 52 has fulfilled its mission. As one retailer the Mary Sue quotes says, “As they made clear from the beginning, their goal was to expand the market by appealing to new/lapsed readers. They believe this has happened, but now they’d like feedback from the fanbase and comic shop retailers about where to go next.” Our discussions here have been awesome, and enlightening for me. You should share them with DC, as a reminder of what they say about making assumptions.
Via io9, Forbes has an interesting piece about David Maisel, the former Marvel executive who helped engineer the DNA that animates the current crop of superhero movies, and his turn to video game movies, asking if he can mainstream them in the same way.
I hope this is the case. I’m continuing to play my very pokey way through Portal, but given how low my skill level is and how long it’s taking me, it’s going to be ages before I’m remotely ready to play something like World of Warcraft or Halo in a way that would actually allow me to enjoy it and get something out of it. But I’m incredibly interested in the mythologies of those worlds, Halo in particular, to the extent that I’ve actually considered buying some of the novels set in that universe (if anyone’s read them, give a holler and let me know if they’re good). And I’d love an alternate path into them. Because I mean, seriously: theocratic aliens? A souped-up United Nations? A futuristic Africa? This stuff is so right up my alley it hurts.
I understand there are a lot of challenges to making these good movies. There are big complex continuities that have to be dealt with, high special effects costs that will have to be made back by bigger sales at lower prices. But it would be nice for folks to figure out video game movies, and for some day, for the funding for a Neill Blomkamp Halo movie to hold together. Big mythologies that start in books, like Harry Potter, generally end up in game space sooner or later, even if it’s only to give players the option to explore the world rather than to extend the core narrative. I’d love to see that dynamic work in the opposite direction, too. These are big, powerful stories if they’re leaching into the collective imagination of even those of us who are terrible at video games.
It would be delightful to dismiss Frank Miller’s dreadful new graphic novel, Holy Terror, as a simple but significant misfire by a once-talented artist. But the viciously Islamophobic sentiments and sexualization of torture that permeate the book aren’t fringe beliefs that we can ignore because they have no chance of taking hold. Instead, variants of these sentiments have guided American foreign policy and domestic sentiments in disastrous directions and fuel a wide-ranging industry.
To be clear, even without its noxious politics, Holy Terror wouldn’t be a good book. Much of the story takes place on a rainy night, and the cross-hatching meant to indicate the storm adds a muddy quality to the images. The images of bodies may not reach Rob Liefeld levels of offensiveness, but only because they lack any of the specificity to be distinct, much less disgustingly sexist, though an early image of our purported heroine Natalie’s rear end is about as specific as things get. When she and the Fixer, ostensibly her enemy, her occasional lover, and in the course of the book, her soulmate, have sex on a roof, they’re an indistinct black mass. The story operates on a level of assertion rather than demonstration. For a story about a terrorist attack, it’s deeply dull.
When it’s not downright disgusting. Miller’s clearly working from a framework that assumes that on September 11, everything changes. Our Natalie, a sneak thief, finds the experience of getting a nail through the leg from a bomb packed with them clarifying:
They knew where to hit us. They knew exactly where to hit us. All my life, there’s been something wrong. Something missing. A sense that everything I’m seeing around me isn’t entirely true. That this seemingly orderly world of laws and logic and reason is nothing but a shroud, a chimera. A mask. But every once in a long while, the mask falls away. Every once in a long while, the whole world makes perfect sense. The world reveals itself. I am at peace. And at war.
For the second time this year, Russia drew unwanted worldwide scrutiny recently when Brazilian soccer player Roberto Carlos had a banana thrown at him by fans during a league match, prompting the superstar defender to walk off the field in tears. Carlos even said he considered retiring rather than continue to deal with such racist taunts, which have proven to be anything but isolated incidents in Russia.
Though stories of racism in sports are depressingly common, the episodes in Russia bear particular importance because they were selected to host the 2018 World Cup. Similarly, the 2022 World Cup was handed to Qatar, a country whose treatment of women and gays have left many uncomfortable.
Which leads us to the question: should we be awarding the World Cup to countries with less-than-stellar records on women’s and minority rights?
The bridge is yours.
-George Harrison’s son looks a lot like him.
-We’re getting a futuristic Jungle Book because why not?
-Kurtzman and Orci go socially conscious.
-Still trying to decide how I feel about Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close:
The awesome Feminist Frequency presents the latest in their Tropes vs. Women series, a look at Straw Feminists in popular culture, characters whose feminism is presented as so extreme or irrational that their presentation discredits feminists and feminism:
Getting so upset over a name feels silly sometimes, but if you can get people to reject membership in a group, you’re a step closer to getting them to not make more substantive gestures of membership, like, say, donating time and money to Planned Parenthood. Of course, it doesn’t help that awesome feminist creators may put strong women on screen, or situations that explore the systematic oppression of women, but neglect to (or carefully avoid to) name feminism for what it is. Correct me if I’m wrong, but does anyone ever explicitly label themselves a feminist or call sexism by its name in Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Though I will say, hearing Anya, talking through her wedding vows, declare that “I, Anya, promise to… love you, to cherish you, to honor you, but not to obey you, of course, because that’s anachronistic and misogynistic and who do you think you are, like a sea captain or something?” is awesome.
Gavin Polone has a great, but I think, incomplete piece up in Vulture on network (and to a certain extent cable) television’s absolute aversion to the use of the word “fuck,” especially given everything else they allow:
Whom are we protecting by not allowing fuck on broadcast and basic cable TV? I love the word fuck. Words with hard consonants are so much superior to other words. And what does fuck mean, anyway? Sometimes it is a synonym for darn; sometimes it is used in a phrase like “fuck you” (and I don’t really even know what that means, I just know it’s aggressive and useful when driving in Los Angeles); and sometimes it’s used as a verb to mean copulating. But even in that last context, it is far less evocative of a visual image than what I had heard on 2 Broke Girls or the nation’s favorite comedy, Two and a Half Men.
It’s always been fascinating to me that “fuck” is verboten while “bitch” isn’t just permitted, it’s used with gusto. Unlike “fuck,” which as Polone points out, can be used in a variety of contexts, and with a variety of intentions, “bitch” has essentially no uses except to degrade people. If a woman is powerful, if she’s mean to someone, if she doesn’t want to have sex with you or the character who is standing in for you, if a woman is in any way non-compliant, she’s not just a bad person, she’s a stupid animal. If a man is weak, or grating, or obstructionist, or available to be dominated, it’s not just that he’s a bad person. It’s that he gets demoted a gender level, and then a species level. “Bitch” is a far more hostile term than “fuck.” The fact that the former’s permitted while the latter’s banned says a mouthful.
The character descriptions for Gavin Hood’s adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s sci-fi classic Ender’s Game are out, and while some of them sound a little emotionally simplistic, they also sound generally true to the book, which is promising.
And they also made me realize that all I want for Christmas* is for Abigail Breslin or Chloe Moretz to play Valentine Wiggin. One of the things that’s been most exciting for me about the past couple of years is realizing what a wonderful, strong group of young actresses we have coming up in the wings. Breslin has grown from an odd little girl in Little Miss Sunshine to a warm, funny young person in movies like Definitely, Maybe and No Reservations. Chloe Moretz is rawer — despite the fact that she’s a year younger than Breslin, she’s taken on slightly older-themed roles like Hit Girl in Kick-Ass and the vampire in Let Me In. And Saoirse Ronan’s proved that she can do both the action thing with Hanna and a more delicate kind of girlhood in The Lovely Bones, which I think was flawed but very interesting and sometimes moving. And they’ve all coming up playing well-developed and defined characters, while also avoiding kiddie romance stuff. All of them, but particularly the first two who I think are a bit more age appropriate, would be wonderful at playing a fiercely concentrated and multi-dimensional young blogger, Tavi with a genius for research and geopolitics rather than fashion and girl culture.
On the other hand, I have no real idea about who should play Ender. Maybe it’s just that the girls have gotten more attention or, in what would be a shocking turn of events, there have been a spate of better roles for women than for men. But it seems like there’s a bit of a gender gap for talent in the mid-teen years. And as much as I love me some Valentine (and would love a stand-alone movie about a light-speed traveling activist historian), a great Ender will be key to making this movie work. A great Peter, too.
*We’ll talk my birthday separately.
I suppose it’s nice that Roman Polanski is expressing contrition for raping Samantha Geimer in his new documentary memoir. But I think that declaring her “a double victim: my victim and a victim of the press,” is perhaps not quite as effective as it could have been. The press doesn’t get involved unless Roman Polanski gives a 13-year-old drugs and alcohol and rapes her. In any case, it’s important to recognize that the reason Polanski can’t come back to the United States and has to circumscribe his travel is not solely because something happened between him and his victim: it’s because something happened between Polanski and the state. Our rule of law does not—and shouldn’t—depend on individual offenders and individual victims making peace. It’s good for her to get some matter of personal peace. But it’s not enough for the rest of us.
My three favorite pieces felt like a fascinating combination of the past, present, and future. Lorna Simpson’s display of gorgeous prints of hairpieces on felt next to phrases like “first impressions count” is simultaneously witty and cutting about the sense that African-American women have to radically transform their hair or hide it altogether. iona rozeal brown’s gorgeous, detailed images combine traditional Japanese portraits with darkened skin, corn rows, and extravagantly painted fingernails to play with how signifiers of black culture have been adopted in Japan. And Wangechi Mutu’s anemone-like collages incorporate eyes, lips, motorcycle wheels, and beads and glitter to suggest something post-human but still engaged with race.
And I’m always happy to see Kehinde Wiley in a show, and I’m glad to see him back in Washington after the hip-hop portraiture show he was a part of at the Smithsonian American Art museum. I could look at his lush, giant “Sleep,” for ages. I just wish the Corcoran had hung it on one wall and Mickalene Thomas’s “Baby I Am Ready Now” alone on the opposite one so the two would be in direct and clear juxtaposition, a man asleep and a woman waiting. It’s a good example of why even if the show isn’t perfectly staged, it’s very much worth seeing.