If you’ve ever wanted to test out how you’d fare in the post-apocalypse, Joss Whedon is here with the case that Mitt Romney is the candidate for you!
I feel like in the zombie apocalypse, Bain Capital would probably survive to restructure the remaining human sanctuaries. Can’t you just see the Governor from The Walking Dead calling for help in making his crackdown on Woodbury, Georgia more effective? Even zombie hordes can’t stop private equity.
Over at The Atlantic, I took a look at NBC’s reboot of The Munsters, Mockingbird Lane, and beyond that, the question of what monsters are for and whether they can have any actual impact when they’ve become ubiquitous:
So if we aren’t supposed to be frightened of the Munsters, what are they for? Mockingbird Lane has stripped away the working-class symbolism of The Munsters, which at the time was meant as more direct commentary on a kind of family sitcom that doesn’t quite exist anymore, replaced by self-aware, upper-middle-class juggernauts like ABC’s Modern Family. Herman no longer works at a funeral home, or even seems to work at all, and Lily’s so ethereal—she appears in clouds of smoke and wears designer frocks weaved for her by friendly spiders—it’s hard to imagine her starting up even so posh a business as a beauty parlor. Grandpa may disdain the neighbors, but that’s just because they’re human and not for any more-revealing reason. Marilyn, the sole member of the family who doesn’t exhibit any monstrous traits, is presented more as a chipper agent of the Munsters’ interests than, as she was in the original, someone whose values and sense of self turned out very differently than they might have otherwise had she grown up in a fully human family. There’s no real sense of darkness Marilyn is either drawn to or has to conceal from the world at large: Everything happening around her is too brightly lit and flip in tone for the show to communicate any sense of danger.
If every person, every anxiety, every repressive impulse, is monstrous, then it’s awfully hard to distinguish what should actually be frightening, what’s actually momentous, what actually requires a major battle.
It’s difficult to write about Cloud Atlas, the sweeping adaptation of David Mitchell’s 2004 nesting doll of a novel, by Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachowski, and Tom Tykwer, if only because it’s doing so many different things, telling stories that range from the slave trade to multiple post-apocalypses, testing the limits of how big an independent movie can be and still be viable, and exploring the power of reincarnation and liberation movements. I don’t really think that Cloud Atlas works–it’s simultaneously too much, and too little–but while its characters are reaching for better lives, there’s a lot in Cloud Atlas that suggests what a better movie-going landscape might look like.
To summarize briefly: a core group of actors and a huge band of extras act out six core stories. The movie begins with a lawyer traveling home from a slave plantation on a ship where he’s being poisoned by a venal doctor and forming a friendship with a runaway slave, continues on to a 1930s love affair between a young scientist and composer that’s conducted mostly by letter as the composer seeks to write his masterpiece, into the seventies where the young scientist, now old, will help an investigative journalist go after an oil company that plans to sabotage the movement towards nuclear energy, into the present, where a publisher deals with a difficult author and his ultimate entombment in an old age home, on to Neo-Seoul, a city more than a hundred years in the future where cloned “fabricants” serve consumers born through normal biological means, and on to an island in an indeterminate but even more distant, and even more thoroughly post-apocalytic future. The actors, Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Hugo Weaving, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent, Ben Whishaw, and James D’Arcy, among others, switch races and genders, portraying souls who move from existence to existence. If the plot and tracking the characters is complicated, the ideas that animate Cloud Atlas are even more complex.
To a certain extent, Cloud Atlas is a deeply religious movie in search of a theology, and its incoherence about what the interconnectedness between its characters actually means or what their cycles of reincarnations are working towards can make the film feel more squishy than moving. One of the most interesting and effective facets of the movie, if not the main one, is how cultural fragments gain meaning and power over time and in new settings. In our present, aging publisher Timothy Cavendish’s (Broadbent) huffy declaration to a nursing home attendant that “I will not be subject to criminal abuse,” sounds petty and overblown. That same scene, recreated in a movie recounting that man’s life, gains a grandeur and patina: the nursing home isn’t an antiseptic prison but a red velvet-draped lounge, and the person speaking the words isn’t Jim Broadbent in a snit but Tom Hanks mustering all the dignity available to him.
What looked intentionally ridiculous the first time around to those of us sitting in a movie theater seems magical in its recreation to Sonmi-451 (Bae) and Yoona-939 (Xun Zhou), two cloned women for whom the movie is their first glimpse of life outside the cafe they were grown to provide labor for. And when Yoona-939 spits those same words at a customer at the cafe who is pretending to ejaculate on her body, they achieve the power Cavendish meant them to have in the fist place.
Sonmi-451 and Yoona-939, born into slave labor, limited to service, and destined for a future in which they’re recycled as meat, are genuinely oppressed in a way that and by means of technology Cavendish couldn’t possibly imagine. Asserting their humanity takes courage he never could have mustered. But this silly, selfish little man gave Yoona-939 the words she needed to demand decent treatment. Even the smallest, flimsiest artifacts can be objects of right power in the right circumstances, when they encounter the people who need them most. Read more
From the pros to college to high school, football players across the country have donned pink uniform accessories (and sometimes even pink uniforms) to honor Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In the National Football League, players are required to wear pink accessories for the first week of October, and the gloves, towels, and wristbands are optional for the remainder of the month. Most of the gear is then auctioned off to raise money for breast cancer programs.
A Corbin High School football player is upset because he was disciplined for wearing pink gloves on the field and using a pink towel during a recent game.
School officials say pink gloves go against their uniform policy.
“My best friend’s mother died. She had cancer,” said sophomore Austin O’Neill, the starting cornerback for the Corbin Redhounds.
O’Neill didn’t wear pink because he wanted to look cool or show off. He wore it because he wanted to highlight the terrible effect breast cancer had on the life of his best friend’s mother. And because he wore the gloves (and because the school punished him for it), his personal story is getting out in a way it otherwise wouldn’t have. The NFL can learn from that. There are countless stories like O’Neill’s in the NFL too, like that of Larry Fitzgerald, the Arizona Cardinals’ wide receiver who lost his mother to breast cancer and started a foundation to fight it.
But the average fan tuning in on Sunday afternoons won’t hear stories like Fitzgerald or O’Neill’s. Fields are flooded with pink gear, pink ribbons, and even pink penalty flags. But all of that serves as one big dose of ambiguity, since for the average fan, the meaning of “awareness” is unclear. So too, is how much money the campaign generates for awareness, prevention, and research. I watch football every Sunday, but until I dug around the NFL’s pink web site and found quotes from NFL officials in other news stories, I had no idea what specifically the NFL’s campaign was meant to achieve or how it was doing it. To be honest, I’m still not quite sure.
The pink campaigns also seem to paper over what exactly we need to be aware of. The disease itself, after all, is well known. What we need to be aware of is the fact that mammograms are hard to get for uninsured women, that cheap providers like Planned Parenthood are being shut down, that for all the “awareness” we see, there still isn’t a cure and there is still a long way to go in the fight to find one. Seeing pink gloves and pink towels on a football field isn’t enough to make any of that clear.
The NFL deserves credit for highlighting and fighting the disease. But it could afford some clarity in its mission to help the American Cancer Society provide breast cancer screenings in underserved areas (again, a fact that isn’t clear to the average viewer) and its overall fight against the disease. It could afford even more clarity in how much money it donates to research and prevention, and why it doesn’t donate more. The league runs advertisements throughout the year highlighting its charity work with United Way, but while it has public service announcements from players like Fitzgerald on its web site, similar ads about what its breast cancer campaign is doing don’t seem to exist.
Breast cancer “awareness” is important, but it’s also ambiguous. By using players who have been personally affected, who are wearing pink because it means something personal and not just because it’s cool or required, to clarify and publicize its mission, the NFL could go a long way in making the campaign more effective — and more aware — than it already is.
Whatever you think of Lena Dunham, or the actual efficacy of the playful voter turnout ad she cut for President Obama in which she compares voting for the first time to losing your virginity—which, if you’re a civics nerd, may be a more valid comparison than even she intended—it really is kind of amazing to watch Erik Erikson lament that “If you need any further proof we live in a fallen world destined for hell fire, consider the number of people who have no problem with the President of the United States, via a campaign ad, ridiculing virgins and comparing sex to voting.” Or to see Minnesota Republican deputy chairman Kelly Fenton declare that the ad is proof that President Obama and Vladimir Putin share Satan as an adviser. Not to mention the sadly predictable comments raining down on Dunham’s appearance and weight.
I just hope someday we live in a world where Dunham and company can someday extol the virtues of having your first time with a great guy or girl. Someone who might have something to say about that is Lesley Gore, who after years of making teen pop songs about heterosexual romance in 2004 revealed that she’d been with her partner since the early 1980s.
I don’t know if it’s scarier to be fighting the same battles that were on the table in the 1960s, or the fact that we still don’t have a national Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Either way, the prospect of losing ground on either women’s issues or gay rights in this election is pretty horrifying. For those of us who see the potential for concrete losses in our future, it’s not so unreasonable to see the person who will guide the country for the next four years as just as important as the first person you have awkward, first-time sex with.
As Deadline notes, there’s a huge untapped potential to get more viewers watching streaming programming:
The research firm says that in September, 3.1M unique users streamed TV Everywhere programming at AT&T, Cox, Comcast (Xfinity), Verizon, Cablevision (Optimum), Time Warner Cable, and Dish Network. That comes to just 5.1% of the roughly 60M customers who could have accessed TV Everywhere videos at those companies. The data suggest “relatively weak TV Everywhere awareness among cable, DBS and telco video subs, most likely due to the lack of any serious marketing campaigns to promote the product,” analyst Tony Lenoir says. It also means the services have a long way to go to catch up to other streaming video providers. For example, Hulu had 21.3M unique users in September, while Netflix had 16.2M.
I actually think this could be a critical way to get customers to be quite loyal to cable. The streaming landscape is a deeply confusing place right now: on Hulu alone, NBC puts up everything the day after it airs, Fox delays episodes unless you’re a Hulu plus subscriber, and CBS holds everything on its own site, which has an unbelievably terrible proprietary streaming player. Then, there’s HBO GO, which is a stand-alone service to HBO subscribers, but that is slightly unreliable. And Showtime is working with cable providers to have Showtime Anytime service work through their streaming players. Netflix gets new seasons of things at uneven rates. That’s confusing even for an obsessive consumer like me. If RCN developed a streaming service that made all content available on a consistent basis, with extremely high-quality visuals and fast-loading streaming, that alone would make me affirmatively loyal to the company for the first time in my career as an adult cable consumer. And I bet it would be a real value ad for people who don’t spend ten hours a day watching television and movies.
This post discusses plot points from the October 25 episode of Parks and Recreation.
I got to see this episode of Parks and Recreation last week, which gave me a chance to go back and watch “The Master Plan,” the episode where Leslie met Ben when he first arrived in Pawnee as a state auditor. I’d remembered the basics of their inauspicious introduction: Ben arrived just in time to interrupt Leslie’s chance to fight for her department’s budget, and with the ominous news that she might even have to cut jobs. What I’d forgotten was how quickly he found himself compelled to reach out to her, and how well he read Leslie, even when she was angry at him. “Do you want a beer?” he came into her office to ask her. “You look like you could use a beer.”
Almost three seasons later, I cried at my desk watching Ben go down on his knee in the house Leslie thought she’d have to give up to let him pursue his dreams. “What are you doing?” Leslie asked him, overwhelmed. “I’m thinking about my future,” Ben told her. His touching proposal elicited some of the absolute best acting Amy Poehler and Adam Scott have done during Parks and Recreation‘s impressive run, but it was more than Leslie telling Ben ” I need another second, please. I need to remember every little thing about how perfect my life is right now, at this exact moment,” as she glanced around the empty house, that brought me to tears. Leslie and Ben are one of the most unusual couples on television, and they represent an archetype that touches me deeply: a pair where the man consistently makes sacrifices to help the woman in his life achieve everything she’s capable of, and where their relationship doesn’t always call for the woman to make symmetrical sacrifices.
Almost from their first meeting, Ben’s been deeply concerned with Leslie’s happiness. In their second episode together, he paid to keep her prized Freddie Spaghetti concert going even in the face of looming cuts to the department. When the exposure of their relationship threatened Leslie’s campaign for City Council, Ben sacrificed his job so she could keep hers and continue her run unimpeded by scandal. He devoted himself to running her campaign. And now, even with the great, amoral Jennifer telling Ben “There aren’t a lot of people that can manage a campaign. But you, Ben Wyatt, are one of them,” Ben is choosing Leslie. Read more
The rumors that Idris Elba will follow Daniel Craig as the next James Bond come and go, but they’re back again. I’m obviously in favor of this potential development on the grounds that Idris Elba is awesome (though I also think you could make great cases for David Oyelowo or Chiwetel Ejiofor) and it would give me an excuse to make a lot of “Able was I, ere I saw Elba” jokes. But there are a lot of reasons that it would be great to have a black Bond, and Elba in particular, beyond his simple excellence as an actor:
1. It would clarify that Bond is a rotating identity: James Bond is sort of like that other venerable British pop cultural institution, the Doctor. He’s been around for decades, he’s played by a rotating cast of actors, and there’s not the most rigorous continuity between incarnations, particularly between the old-school ones and the re-imagined version. But unlike the Doctor, Bond doesn’t have a clear means of passing the torch. A black Bond would be a clear break with tradition. The franchise could either nod at what this means for James Bond as an identity unmoored from a single man’s identity (it would explain why M likes Daniel Craig’s Bond more than Pierce Brosnan’s), or come up with a mythology for passing it on to the next man. Either way, this would permanently open up the franchise to different kinds of men, allowing for some experimentation in styles within the basic elements of Bond-dom.
2. It would be a nice reminder white guys aren’t the only people who can be hypercompetent national icons: It’s not as if Will Smith hasn’t been saving American bacon for a long time. But it’s one thing for a black man to be the unexpected savior of the world and for him to be anointed as the best a nation has to offer. It’s past time.
3. It would give Elba a chance to play a lover, as well as a fighter: I’ve written about this before in the context of Luther, but given how good Elba is at playing sensual, passionate, or nailing the contours of a difficult marriage, it’s too bad that so many of his roles have steered him away from being romantic or sexual and strictly towards the commission of a great deal of very stylish violence. Bond girls (or in Eva Green’s case, Bond Women) are an inherent part of the package. It would be lovely to have Elba in particular and a prominent black actor in general get a chance to play one of the world’s most famous seducers in a context where it’s evidence of his awesomeness, rather than a showcase for suspect stereotypes about black men and sexuality.
4. It might encourage the franchise to think more creatively about other elements of the Bond formula: Casino Royale worked so well because it upended almost every element of the excess that marked the Brosnan years: the villain was pegged to actual geopolitical realities, the decisive action sequences went down in a polite casino private room rather than on a grand tableaux, the violence was personal and painful rather than flashy and fake, the woman in question’s brain mattered as much as her breasts. Craig’s helped bring the franchise part of the way into the future. Maybe a black Bond would augur even further exploration of the limits of the formula.
5. It would be interesting to see a slightly older Bond: Daniel Craig remains under contract as Bond for a while, and I’ve seen some suggestions that Elba couldn’t take the role until he turns 46. Part of what was fun about Craig in Casino Royale was that the movie was an origin story about how a callow, confident young spy lost something and gained mastery as a result. It would be fascinating to see a movie that’s self-consciously about a great fighter and great lover entering the period of his decline, sort of a Casanova In Bolzano for the action world.
The important line is actually one before the catchy burn on older, male, Republican legislators who don’t trust women: “I wish we could have an honest and respectful dialogue about these complicated issues, but it seems like we can’t, right now.” For me, that’s part of what’s been frustrating and frightening about this latest round of statements by politicians on women’s bodily autonomy and functions. This isn’t a conversation, and the people on both sides of it have wildly different assumptions. The idea that I’m supposed to trust someone who doesn’t even understand how my body functions, much less how I might react intellectually or emotionally to trauma, to make decisions on my behalf is so frightening and rage-inducing it’s an immobilizing experience. As someone who is inclined to niceness, to sticking with reason even against all odds, Fey’s issuing permission slip to abandon courtesies that aren’t being extended to women, to call crazy crazy, and standing up for the idea that being driven nuts by this stuff isn’t a sign of oversensitivity. It’s a rational reaction to being treated with condescension and threatened with a substantive deprival of rights that are dear to me, whether it’s my ability to have an abortion if necessary or to get easy, affordable coverage to contraception. Waves like the recent one of anti-woman we’ve been caught in can be immobilizing. Fey’s speech is a reminder that to save yourself, you have to keep swimming.
The genius of the schtick of Billionaires for Bush, a media campaign and street theater group that came into being during President George W. Bush’s administration, was that they turned subtext into text. Most people who are possessed of a billion or more dollars would not actually be caught saying something like “For much of the 20th century, democratic notions like ‘opportunity for all’ and ‘public services’ dominated American public policy, seriously threatening the privileges of wealth all Billionaires depend on.” Though to be fair, there are always people like Gina Rinehart, the Australian mining heiress who sallied forth earlier this year to declare: “If you’re jealous of those with more money, don’t just sit there and complain. Do something to make more money yourself — spend less time drinking or smoking and socialising, and more time working.” But those moments when the facade drops, and people with ugly ideas or worldviews say or act on what they actually believe about people less fortunate them, are rare, and revealing.
Such it apparently was at Jessica Biel and Justin Timberlake’s wedding, which apparently featured this video, obtained by Gawker’s John Cook made for them by Justin Huchel, a Los Angeles realtor, in which Huchel asks people who appear to be in such dire economic straights as to be homeless, to pretend to be friends of the couple and to send them congratulations on their wedding, which was held in Italy. There’s no way I can think of to read this video that isn’t horrifying. Is it meant to be mocking the people who appear in it for believing they’re friends with, or have an emotional connection to the famous couple? Is it a riff on the idea that Biel and Timberlake would lower themselves to friendship with people who are poor, intoxicated, or mentally ill? Is it simply that the idea that the juxtaposition of very poor people with the lavish setting of the wedding is uproarious? And this is before we get to the questions of whether the people in the video are actually indigent, and if so, were they paid, and if not, why Huchel thought it was hilarious to pay people to play homeless?
Huchel’s attorney, Michael J. Saltz, sent a takedown notice to Cook, telling him that “Mr. Huchel made a video to be used and exhibited privately at Justin Timberlake’s wedding as a private joke without Mr. Timberlake’s knowledge.” It’s a nice attempt to protect his more famous friend, but it doesn’t actually help all that much. What does it say about Timberlake that Huchel thinks he’s the kind of person who would find this video funny, and not just funny, but funny as part of a celebration of his wedding?
I don’t pretend to know Timberlake, Biel, or Huchel’s hearts. I don’t begrudge them what sounds like it was a pretty fun week-long wedding celebration in Italy (though I have All The Thoughts on Biel’s pink wedding dress). And I have no problem with rich people spending their money on silly things. But unlike a lot of extremely rich people, who can get away with being cheerfully and publicly horrible a la Rinehart, both Timberlake and Biel’s careers depend on people finding them generally endearing, and on audiences developing enough of an attachment to both of them to buy their products. This incident is ugly, but it’s a useful reminder that there’s a gap between the personas both of them sell us, and who they actually are. And that if your subtext would be awfully awkward if it were to turn into text, that maybe it’s time to reevaluate some of your private values.
After Donald Trump’s Joker-esque stunt yesterday promising to donate $5 million to charity if President Obama released his college transcript and passprt, Trump went on Piers Morgan’s CNN show to explain himself. Given that Trump gave Morgan his first claim to American fame when Morgan won the first edition of Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice show, it wasn’t a particularly challenging interview.
But Morgan’s deficiencies as a journalist aren’t limited to his friendship with the Donald: Piers’ 9 PM hour has been a ratings mess and a trainwreck, a perfect storm of substanceless, venal chatter glued together by Morgan’s uncanny ability to make everything about him. But to understand the five biggest problems in Morgan’s approach to journalism, you have to see him in the act:
1. Piers Morgan Interviews An Empty Chair
Morgan booked Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin shortly after the infamous “legitimate rape” comments, only for Akin to cancel at the last minute. Morgan’s response was to lecture an empty chair — before Clint Eastwood made it cool:
While it’s admittedly amusing, the rant is a perfect example of how Morgan makes everything about Piers. The host notably does not lecture the chair about either its limited understanding of the human reproductive systems or the misogynist underpinnings of the idea of sorting rapes by their supposed “legitimacy.” Instead, the issue is Akin inconveniencing Morgan; the congressman cancelled at “the last possible minute,” making him a “gutless little twerp.” Even in his follow-up interview with Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Morgan shies away from the substantive issues raised, asking Schakowsky “[Akin] bailed on us. What do you think is going on here?”
2. Piers Morgan Interviews An Empty Chair…Again
While technically this interview with another GOP Senate candidate, Christine “I am not a witch” O’Donnell, didn’t involve an physically empty chair, it might as well have. After asking O’Donnell a series of questions about the witch comments and her, er, idiosyncratic views about masturbation, he asks her about marriage equality and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. When she declines to address either issue, Morgan harangues her, prompting O’Donnell to get up and leave while he continues to ask her questions:
This interview illustrates Morgan’s incredibly frustrating habit of being on the right side of an argument, but prosecuting it in nearly the most counterproductive fashion imaginable. If Morgan wanted to have a substantive exchange with an anti-equality advocate, O’Donnell might not have been the smartest guest to book, and it’s hard to see what value comes from haranguing her on the issue. Indeed, Morgan’s has a noxious habit of treating LGBT issues as a cudgel with which to beat his guests rather than a critical rights campaign. His interview with Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) is not a genuine attempt to point out the deficiencies in her worldview, but rather a referendum on whether or not she’s “judgmental.” Of course she’s judgmental! But she’ll never say that, and making the debate about Bachmann’s personality and rhetoric rather than policy isn’t telling us anything we don’t know or making a single viewer more supportive of LGBT rights than they were before.
3. Piers Morgan Loses A Debate To A 9/11 Truther
Speaking of Morgan’s argumentative acumen…
In this segment, Morgan invites former Governor Jesse Ventura (I-MN) onto his show with the express intent of debating his crackpot theories about 9/11. Usually, the purpose of such an exercise on a major cable channel would be an epic debunking, as otherwise the host is simply broadcasting insane ideas to a wider audience. Unfortunately, Morgan isn’t prepared to do that — he simply asserts over an over again that Ventura’s claims are madness, ridiculous, or irrational, which is, needless to say, totally unpersuasive. This problem isn’t limited to Morgan’s interviews with conspiracy theorists – he repeatedly approaches argument as a contest of who can say “no, you’re wrong!” more, an approach to discourse that ends up being somewhat less than enlightening.
4. Piers Morgan Degrades An Already Frivolous Story Into A Parody of Frivolity
It’s not a problem that Morgan often interviews celebrities on somewhat fluffy issues — such interviews can be very and interesting and he did, after all, inherit his timeslot from Larry King. But it’s one thing to cover less important stories, and another thing entirely to degrade the quality of journalism even on frivolous issues:
Here Morgan interviews Casey Anthony’s lawyer about a conversation that Morgan had with Anthony, supervised by the lawyer, in which he generally allows Anthony’s lawyer to expound on his client’s behalf without the faintest challenge (see the full interview if you don’t believe me). The problem here isn’t that he’s covering Casey Anthony; I’m not Aaron Sorkin. Rather, it’s the inane topics of conversation like Anthony’s purported weight gain and reading list that drags down an already gossipy story.
5. Piers Morgan And The Phone Hacking Scandal
Finally, we arrive at the most important issue on the list – Morgan’s utter shamelessness in using his program to cover his ass on an issue that seriously threatens his own credibility. Morgan worked as an editor at several Rupert Murdoch papers in the UK during the time period in which, according to an investigation last year, Murdoch employees routinely hacked private voicemails to get scoops. CNN failed to publicly probe its new hire’s connections to the issue when it broke (he was a former News of the World editor, the paper most heavily implicated in the investigation) despite suggestive evidence from his own book that Morgan was involved in phone hacking. Morgan, for his part, did a series of segments sympathetic to Rupert Murdoch’s line, including this fawning (unembeddable) interview with another former Murdoch employee.
As evidence continues to mount that Morgan was involved in phone hacking, including allegations in the past few days that another paper helmed by Morgan was involved, the importance of Morgan giving an honest public accounting of his past grows exponentially. His seeming inability to come clean creates a credibility problem that dwarfs the other concerns with his show.
Up and coming rapper Angel Haze took the instrumentals from Eminem’s efforts to exorcise his relationship with his mother, “Cleaning Out My Closet,” and laid down an account of sexual abuse she suffered as a child. The track’s been getting passed around a lot recently, and for good reason:
The physical details of the assaults and the way they were discussed in her community are horrific, and the song is powerfully emotionally precise, describing how Haze starved herself to avoid appearing attractive to everyone, and suggesting that she pursued relationships with women rather than men because her terror of male sexual attention was so deep-seated. “It happened so often he was getting particular,” she says of her abuser’s escalation. And I’m hard-pressed to think of a more concise explanation of what it means to come to terms with yourself in the wake of trauma than Haze’s line: “I’m sane, I’m not insane, but not the same as before.”
It’s rare songs like this that use hip-hop as a powerful confessional vehicle for women that make it disconcerting to listen to “White Dress,” Kanye West’s track for The Man With The Iron Fists, that began circulating around the same time as “Cleaning Out My Closet.” It’s ostensibly a song about a couple’s wedding, flashing back to their meeting—which includes Kanye letting her know that even though he met her in the club he still thought about wifing her, because obviously girls who wear form-fitting clothing aren’t normally marriage material, or something:
But in the first verse, there’s an unnerving line that’s meant to be sweet but that actually makes me, uneasily, think more of sex by surprise than a romantic seduction: “Just a satin gown, you asleep with no make-up / I’m just tryna be inside you ‘fore you wake up.” It says a lot that Angel Haze has to say the details of her own sexual assault are disgusting, an apology for recounting them even in a confessional song, but something like this Kanye verse is presented like it’s utterly innocuous.
Ken Burns looks to be having one heck of a fall in between The Dust Bowl, which airs on PBS in November and is excellent, and The Central Park Five, which examines the railroading of five young men in the so-called Central Park jogger rape and assault case, and which Burns directed with his daughter Sarah:
I was struck by the moment in the trailer when former New York City Mayor Ed Koch—the attack happened in April of his final year in office—said “Central Park was holy. It was the crime of the century.” If something holy is profaned, the people who profaned it must be monsters. And some of the easiest people it is to transmute into monsters, the so-called “wolfpack” who attacked Trisha Meili, are young men of color. That’s an awful kind of magic, born out of emotional needs that often spring from dark places, rather than any particular desire for the truth.
Given that the DC Metro system can’t turn down advertising just because they contain ideas the organization or its leaders find distasteful—which, for the record, is a state of affairs I approve of—this is probably the best possible solution to the problem of what to do with prominent Islamophobe Pamela Geller’s nasty ads which suggest that Israel is civilized and the Muslim world is decidedly not:
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority said it is adding a line of text distancing itself from all new “viewpoint” ads that reads: “This is a paid advertisement sponsored by [sponsor].The advertising space is a designated public forum and does not imply WMATA’s endorsement of any views express.”
The agency was urged to add a disclaimer to a set of ads that went up earlier this month that opponents said equated Muslims with savages. The agency started to add the disclaimers to all new noncommerical ads last week as the controversy grew, with counter ads and counter-counter ads.
“Metro advertising space is deemed a public forum by the courts, and the ads you see on buses, trains, and in stations comply with existing guidelines and are protected by the First Amendment,” General Manager Richard Sarles wrote in an internal memo. “However, we want to make sure customers know we don’t endorse any of these messages.”
It’s worth noting that WMATA ads, for those of you who don’t live in Washington, are a great expression of the bizarro world that is our city’s dominant industry. You’ll see entire stations covered in military hardware or lobbying campaigns—the Capitol South Metro, which is the dominant stop on the Hill, gets particularly saturated—in addition to universities targeting the kind of kids who intern in Washington with ads telling them that they can be fifteen different kinds of wonk. But Gellar’s ads set a new standard in ugliness and crassness. I’m glad they inspired WMATA to point out that while the system may be obligated to take almost everyone’s money, that Metro is on board with every sentiment that gets splashed on subway cars and station’s walls. And in an environment of unusually heightened political and lobbying competition, there’s something appealing about the idea that the new disclaimers will mark all the other opinion ads that come along in Gellar’s wake. Washington may be the site of heated political contests, but its leading industry isn’t the sum total of the region.
As Clint Eastwood appearances in politically charged content go, I’d rate this American Crossroads ad substantially above Eastwood’s meandering, bizarre rant to an empty chair at the Republican National Convention and somewhere below the “Halftime in America” spot he cut for Chrysler that aired during this year’s Super Bowl:
Part of it is just that the production values on the “Halftime in America” spot are much more attractive: better lighting, the more dramatic shot of Eastwood in the tunnel, the facade still standing even though the building behind it has been gutted, a diverse array of contemplative faces.
It’s also just much easier to make platitudes sound uplifting than specific but not-very-well substantiated claims about President Obama’s record. It’s easier to sell a car than it is to sell Mitt Romney at this stage in the game.
Lana Wachowski’s astonishing, warm, funny speech at a Human Rights Campaign dinner in San Francisco is the best thing I’ve seen in a long time, and I’m glad to see it get passed around so widely today:
One of the things that’s so remarkable about Lana’s address—in addition to its artlessness, the result of her first major stint as a public speaker—is the way it addresses the inadequacy of everything from the gender binary, to our media culture, to the language we use to describe ourselves. She’s supporting HRC’s work even as she’s calling out the limitations of the current conversation about and tools for advancing equality. When she first uses the term “transition” to describe her physical transformation, she notes that “this is a very complicated word for me because of its complicity in a binary gender dynamic that I am not particularly comfortable with.” Lana explains that she has a horror of talk show culture because she can’t stand the idea of dealing with a host “whose sympathy underscores the inherent tragedy of my life as a transgendered person.” Recounting an incident in which her mother rescued her from the abuse of a nun at her Catholic school, Lana says that when her mother asked for an explanation of what happened, Lana explains “I have no real language to describe it…I am unable to understand why she can’t see me” And given the flights of imagination in her movies, Lana explains how difficult it was, as a child, to feel like “I was stupid and a liar because I myself was unable to imagine a world where I would ever fit in.” The world, in so many ways, is not enough. And the tools we have to improve it can only take us so far.
Lana’s explanation of her own approach to her coming-out process is also novel in an era when coming-out stories have become a highly valuable commodity with an established roll-out process. She’s approaching it from an extremely different angle, from the perspective of someone who has carefully guarded all aspects of her life to the extent of doing almost no publicity for her movies with her brother. “I couldn’t find anyone like me in the world and it seemed that my dreams were foreclosed simply because my gender was less typical than others,” she says of her childhood. “If I can be that person for someone else, then the sacrifice of my private civic life may have value.”
I’ve turned into a total and utter Nashville junkie—fights about economic development and race and politics interspersed with singing is my version of network television Nirvana—so I was excited to read Willa Paskin’s interview with the show’s creator, Callie Khouri. There’s a lot of interesting stuff in their conversation, but I wanted to pull out this excerpt, which I found striking:
People who make TV also seem much more comfortable making shows for women than people making movies do.
Because you’re allowed. You’re allowed to make things for women on television and there’s not like … you don’t have to go through the humiliation of having made something directed at women. There it’s just accepted, whereas if it’s a feature, it’s like “So, talk to me about chick flicks.” It’s like … I don’t think you want to hear my opinion about this.
I want to hear your opinion! Even though it’s probably not very nice.
No, it’s not. I just think it’s insulting that if there is something with women in it, it’s relegated to this kind of trash heap. It doesn’t matter what it is, how good it is, if there is emotion in it, it’s immediately going to be talked down to. And I’m obviously irritated by that. Probably all women are. Certainly a lot of women filmmakers are.
I think there’s an extent to which this is true. But there’s also a certain overlap between programming aimed at women and shows that are considered “soapy” and melodramatic, two tones and methods of storytelling that I think tend to be considered less serious. That’s not to be said that soapiness can’t be done badly: putting children in danger, having plots gyrate wildly, and throwing new elements into the mix to generate emotion that a show isn’t earning are bad things that can be done by masculine-coded shows like Sons of Anarchy, too. But I don’t think, for example, that realism is inherently a better tone than well-executed archness or camp, and I’m not entirely sure that’s something that’s reflected in our consensus of what makes for great television.
But I do think in our past decade of television, violence gets more credence than romance (which is part of what makes Homeland‘s mix of the two so fascinating), business and war get taken more seriously than personal revelation. Nashville, I think, works in part because Khouri and her colleagues are using business and politics as tools to put pressure on deeply felt romantic relationships: they’ve added forces that lend a sense of scale to love. I do agree that it’s progress that you don’t have to humiliate a woman on television in order to let her win, and that women, like the awesome leads of Happy Endings, can be delightfully weird without being defeated or in need of reform. But I don’t think that means we’ve entirely won. When we’re at a point where sentiment is as prized as hardness and purely domestic stories are taken as seriously as explorations of public lives (not to mention better roles for women of color and women with bodies that deviate beyond the mean), then I think women’s television will be in a place both with its audience and in terms of critical acclaim that would make me happy.