I’m taking off now for a mini-vacation — there will be a few posts tomorrow and weekend TV recaps will be back up and running on Tuesday, and my responses to email may be a little pokey. In my absence, be excellent to each other in comments, have a great Labor Day weekend.
There’s something heartbreaking about watching Seth and Martha try to figure out how to make a life together, building it on the foundations of honor and not much else. “Certain things I said yesterday, I regret,” Seth tells her the morning after her arrival in town in the midst of his slugout with Al Swearengen over whether his affair with Alma is distracting him from his duties as sheriff. “I’ll be grateful if you’ll not rely on them. Representations I’ve made of letters I’ve written. I didn’t.” Martha, who was quick to play along with his deception, even as it bewildered her, tells him with painful composure: “I hold my deepest gratitude, Mr. Bullock, for what will let us live as we are now.” Later, they have a veiled discussion about whether or not to have sex before they begin their day after Seth fell asleep before they could go to bed the night before. “I would enjoy to converse in the stillness at the end of the day like that,” Martha says. Anna Gunn is just so tremendous in this role, and there’s something remarkably compelling and vulnerable about watching her in this profoundly alien situation, torn between duty and sexual excitement. I think we’ve all thought through arranged marriages, but a situation like this, a marriage of convenience tinged with the forbidden—Seth, after all, has married his brother’s wife—feels just as alien and distant. “Tonight, after dinner, I will have two cups of coffee, and I will not fall asleep,” Seth promises her. Duty, but not entirely an unpleasant one.
While Martha and Seth are profoundly controlled, Trixie and Sol are beyond the boiling point. I really have to say that Paula Malcomson’s embodiment of Trixie is one of the finest sustained television performances I’ve ever seen as an actress, and I hope that appearing in The Hunger games does nothing but wonderful things for her. She is magnificent, and maybe never moreso than in these episodes, where she’s taking steps towards furthering her relationship with Sol and her education, though not without profound ambivalence. “I wonder, would you teach me how to do accounts?” she asks Sol. “I’ll pay you, or you can take it out in cunt.” Her resistance to the idea that Sol could want her for himself, and even if she does, her reluctance to let him, is fascinating and nuanced. There’s a certain amount of clarity about only being wanted for one thing, and a terror of being wanted for something ephemeral that can’t be assigned a clear erotic geography. It does help that she’s making this decision against the backdrop of Al’s impending kidney stone operation, which is impressively gruesome. Ian McShane’s acting out of his agony is so fearsome that I felt actual physical discomfort watching it. And as Trixie explains to Jane while they’re out for a drink, “Far is it goes, he also brought the cripple from that orphanage. Don’t buy that bullshit about the 9-cent trick.” We can understand why Trixie cries in Sol’s arms that “I can’t stay. But it’d be smart to stay and fuckin’ learn to calculate interest.” This is not some simple choice between Al and Sol, between prostitution and non-sex work, between a man who beats her and a man who treasures her. There are merits to both lives.
And there’s the beginning of something between Alma and Whitney Ellsworth, her growing more confident, he advising her. “I’d like to buy Mr. Farnum’s hotel,” she tells him with malicious glee on their way back from the claim, “To renovate and make it my residence…[there are no other options] that would offer the finer pleasures of putting Mr. Farnum in the thoroughfare.” And while Ellsworth gets the impulse, he tells her”I guess most of us are lucky to be too broke to act on those kinds of ideas.” While he checks her more reckless impulses, he isn’t afraid to run off Hearst’s stalking horse, Mr. Wolcott (who feels like a false note to me, too much of a cartoon villain) or to suggest to Alma that she go head to head with E.B. when he’s trying, yet again, to get her to walk away from her claim even if not to sell it to him.
But the partnership that isn’t working particularly well for me is Joanie and Maddie. Some of it is clearly that it’s tied up with Wolcott, who feels to me like a stock Law & Order villain of some noxious variety. But I think it’s also that with Maddie in the picture, Joanie’s move to open her own business just seems to put her in the shadow of yet another powerful partner; I’d almost be more interested in her depressed with Cy than with a spark that seems continuously to be put under a bushel. When Wolcott tells her “A tiny corner of operation for such an amusing mind. I promise as I sojourn here to bring you stories from the world of men,” I feel a certain amount of regret that we’re not seeing Joanie out on the streets, mixing it up with Charlie Utter, and building a life.
On Monday, I asked what the impact would be if the Supreme Court a) takes a case accusing SyFy of stealing an idea for a television show and b) rules that the network had implicitly created a contract between itself and the people pitching a show. Copyright lawyer Michael Salerno explains that it’ll likely lead to more specific contracts, rather than easier entry into the business for people who aren’t established but have original ideas:
The Court can’t allow for ideas to be copyrightable or a numebr of writers will just submit any number of rather generic scripts and then sue the pants off of networks that develop similar shows. Can you imagine a writer being able to have a copyright in an idea like “six friends live in New York and have their love lives intertwine”? There goes just about every 30-minute sitcom ever. If the writers win on a contract basis (which is MUCH more likely), studios will just create more specific contracts that state any screenplay submitted is either a) a work for hire whose copyright resides in the studio, or b) that the network reserves the right to develop a series based on the idea within the script without remuneration for the writers. Tough terms, to be sure, but that is what will likely happen.
And Rhys Boyd-Farrell suggests that among the things that could get included in such contracts is a requirement that disputes be settled by arbitrartion rather that the courts, something that’s been a significant trend in employment and contract law in any case.
Zack Stentz suggests that it could also bring about changes that, in addition to helping avoid idea-stealing claims, would be total catnip for nerdy television critics like yours truly:
I think if this brings about any changes, it will be to force the studios and networks to more carefully document their development process. I don’t know what the facts are in this case, but simultaneous creation does happen all the time. When we meet with producers or studios and they pitch us ideas, we’re always really careful to say “that sounds great, but unfortunately we’re already working on an idea like that and we don’t want to step on it.” If NBCU already had a paranormal investigator idea in the works, they should have documented it somewhere and told these people when they came to pitch them.
I may be a little burned out by origin stories for characters, but I do like a good origin story for a piece of art.
The 2012 Republican presidential field may not have a lot of advocates of public support for the arts or arts education. But it does have a lot of folks who harbor rock-star dreams. So it seems appropriate to evaluate how hard they rock out. We may not know who our next president is for another fourteen months and change, but we can crown a new Republican Idol today.
Candidate: Rep. Thaddeus McCotter
Band: Two, the Second Amendments, composed of members of Congress, and the Screaming Lemurs, which
Period Active: Present
Rebel Factor: Low. Playing the New Hampshire Young Republican Lobster Bake and Straw Poll’s good work if you can get it, but it’s not the Cavern Club. This is establishment rock at its finest.
Candidate: Former U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman
Period Active: Late 1970s
Rebel Factor: Moderate. Huntsman did drop out of high school in his senior year to pursue his dreams of rock superstardom. But the risk factor for that kind of thing’s a lot lower when your father is a billionaire.
Candidate: Texas Gov. Rick Perry
Band: ZZ Top, with whom Perry once played
Period Active: 2003, a single concert where Perry sat in on “La Grange,” a song about what the band apparently believes to be the best little whorehouse in Texas.
Rebel Factor: Low-moderate. Perry reportedly wore a kind of strange jumpsuit on stage, though photographic evidence suggets a kind of dorky button-down. Either way, Billy Gibbons is domesticated enough to have a recurring role on Bones, so taking the stage with him is not much of a risk.
Winner: Jon Huntsman. We would totally listen to Captain Beefheart with him in his “ugliest green Ford Econoline van you could ever imagine.” And if anyone has an actual Wizard recording (or video of Perry with ZZ Top), we’ll pay you in ice cold beer for it.
Thanks so much to everyone who came out last night! There’s been some interested in a contact sheet so that folks can get in touch with each other. So if you came and want to keep the good times rolling, email me your contact information and commenter handle at AlyssaObserves [at] Gmail, and I’ll put together a Google Doc I’ll share with participants.
-Why aren’t you watching The Hour yet?
-Advertising in video games may not be effective.
-Mark Zuckerberg, shockingly, remains influential.
-Stacia L. Brown’s blog is one of the most beautifully written things on the internet.
Commenter Chris Bell offers what I think is a compelling (if not totally convincing) defense of the idea that sports leagues should follow the league of the courts and hand down punishments after athletes have been convicted:
I think what both sports leagues and fans SHOULD do (especially sports leagues) is abide by that same principle because there is a very strong argument to do so. Essentially, I know there is a difference between losing freedom and reputation, but both matter, and a proper method of justice should be universally applied to penalties in both. In a perfect world, this is how it would work.
In some ways, it is harder for me to advocate this argument for fans, because we aren’t necessarily in a great position to figure out all the facts, and have to go off the media and the decisions of the courts, as well as the penalties decided by the commissioner of the sport. But in my mind, the Front Office should defer to the courts, or at least have a much more consistent public procedure for “proving” the athlete guilty. It is too inconsistent at this point, with little oversight and no accountability. It is the same problem I have with the fines for heavy hits, especially ones that, despite being legal, look horrible or cause serious injuries. Most of the punishments given out by the NFL and the NHL in particular seem to be driven by public sentiment, not whether the athlete “deserves” such a punishment.
I think an innocent until proven guilty policy with regard for league-mandated punishments for crimes that don’t endanger players’ abilities to perform their jobs would work under a couple of circumstances. First, as endaround points out in the same thread, there are consistency problems in the penalties that the NFL, for example, has been handing down, particularly since they’re outside what’s been negotiated. So a clear, negotiated framework for penalties that the leagues that are required to adhere to unless they get permission from a neutral panel, and that perhaps trades the promise of not handing down penalties until a court decision or a plea deal for higher overall penalties, seems key. If fans felt like the leagues and teamworks were building frameworks that incorporated a sense of their values, they might have more confidence in league decisions.
Second, I’m still not convinced an innocent-until-proven-guilty policy is necessary for charges about things that actively endanger athletes’ abilities to do their jobs. If you get busted driving drunk or under the influence of drugs, or speeding at 100 miles an hour, or say, accidentally shooting yourself, all things that are both immediately verifiable and demonstrably dangerous, I’m pretty comfortable with the idea that employers have the right to impose immediate penalties on you on the grounds that you’re putting yourself in a position to not be able to perform your job.
I wrote in July that I thought there might be some difficulty making a live-action Captain Planet movie. I didn’t really factor in the possibility that the remake would cast environmentalism as eco-terrorism, but okay!
In all seriousness, there is something unfortunate about the perception that environmentalism inevitably involves extremism or sustained bossyness. Such is the fate of movements that involve people changing their behavior, I guess. It’s harder to get people more excited about innovation than they are annoyed by the idea that their actions contribute to anything bad.
At NPR Linda Holmes has a thoughtful piece on the ethics of watching reality television, and more importantly, a proposed voluntary code of ethics for reality show producers that covers everything from conditions while filming to obligations to appear on reunion shows and speak about the experience. I particularly like the idea of a review board that can order networks to release up to a half hour of uncut footage. And I do think a wage structure should be part of this. But there one item on the list that I’m still trying to decide how I feel about. Holmes’ idea for how to deal with minors:
Minors. Shows agree to use no non-incidental footage of any child under age ten, and to employ an on-set counselor specializing in adolescents to provide care and advice on the well-being of any participant who is a minor.
I’m not sure how I feel about any footage of kids under the age of ten, incidental or not being used on reality television, and I wonder if the role should be higher for incidental footage. I don’t know that kids can really consent to making their own narrative vulnerable like that, even if they create their own for consumption by smaller audiences of their friends, and if the goal’s to be as ethical as possible, I think the genre should stay away from children as much as it can. I don’t think kids should be identifiable to be asked about their parents’ behavior by people who they don’t already know. I understand that there’s legitimate interest in documenting things like child beauty pageants, though I think the intent of something like Toddlers and Tiaras is not actually documentary. And I think any code should be appealable for projects with documented merit, but the standards to get an appeal should be high.