Friday, January 22, 2021

I suspect...

 There is still beauty in the world. But I suspect that many aren't looking for it where it is. You can find superficial versions of it all over the place of course, but the deeper kind is elsewhere. I think people may look in the wrong place for meaning, as well. But of course all this is just a suggestion.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Can stop the music

 You can get both the facts and some context at this fine article, but to recap: 

The musician Ariel Pink has built up a fandom with his retro, kind of shoegaze-y style. For years he's been releasing records through the small Brooklyn-based indie label Mexican Summer. 

But no more! He flew to Washington recently to show support for (now ex) President Donald Trump and happened to be in town when the storming of the capital happened. By his own account he was napping in his hotel room when it happened. And indeed no one's made any credible accusation that he was involved, even if the presence of an indie music star might account for why half the intruders seemed to be dressed for an Of Montreal show. 

But whether he did anything that would, in other times, be considered wrong seems to be beside the point. He lost his contract with Mexican Summer because he declared an unacceptable political alliance at the wrong time. There are, granted, other accusations from an ex-girlfriend, but given the timing they don't really hold water as a motivating factor. 

What this incident brings home is that independence only seems to go so far. The buying of music in physical formats is a wisp of its formal self. People find what they like through streaming services like Spotify and platforms like Bandcamp. Distributors want to build a loyal audience, but it's hard to do just by releasing tasty platters. Merch like t-shirts and tote bags―both of which Mexican Summer sells―are part of an the overall mystique. What this means is that even small record companies become lifestyle brands as much as anything. And that might encourage a certain conformity in not upsetting the consumer.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Old favorites


Popped into my head for some reason or another.

From what I now know of the Pythons, the idea of an argument clinic probably grew pretty organically out of their dynamic. Don't know how much abuse there was. Hopefully not too much.

Also, Palin's character is very right. It wasn't nearly five minutes before Cleese rang the bell. Maybe two.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Another non-YouTube video coming up

 I was very impressed by this stop motion short. All black and white, with the feel of an old documentary reel, it makes good use of ice cubes. The exact narrative I'd find hard to describe, but there seems to be an implication that species boundaries aren't as stable as we think. Somewhat ominous, but in a pretty way, and vice versa.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

The actual madness of virtual crowds

 Being human and fallible and having at least a toe in the water of the autism spectrum―mixed metaphor, I know―I've been known to miss or misinterpret social cues. Yet I get the big one, which is that other people exist. They aren't just bundles of stimuli that amuse or annoy me. They have their own subjective worlds, their own ways of thinking and feeling.

One byproduct of people being physically separated by government policy and brand new social conventions is that this gets forgotten much of the time. You become aware of people who may live far away from you, but you know them as words on a screen, a thumbnail picture, maybe some kind of video if they or someone else provide it. So it's easier to reduce them to one thing they've said or done, especially if it's something you hate. And with no presence or awareness of another person who can feel and be hurt, there's less disincentive to act hurtfully towards them. I often suspect that some activists know this and like it, that they've long thought that compassion and empathy are reactionary forces and that putting them aside will allow for actions that will improve the world in the long run. But is that a ride you want to get on?

And then one day it hit me. Something of real consequence was happening. We were at the start of a great renaissance of public shaming. After a lull of almost 180 years ( public punishments were phased out in 1837 in the United Kingdom and 1839 in the United States), it was back in a big way. When we deployed shame, we were utilizing an immensely powerful tool. It was coercive, borderless, and increasing in speed and influence. Hierarchies were being leveled out. The silenced were getting a voice. It was like the democratization of justice. And so I made a decision. The next time a great modern shaming unfolded against some significant wrongdoer―the next time citizen justice prevailed in a dramatic and righteous way―I would leap into the middle of it. I'd investigate it close up and chronicle how efficient it was in righting wrongs.

Jon Ronson's book So You've Been Publicly Shamed came out in 2015, approximately a half decade ago but a time that in some ways feels an eon away. But in it you can see an awareness dawning on Ronson of what's coming over the horizon. 

One of his first subjects is Jonah Lehrer. I've read Lehrer's book How We Decide but I probably wouldn't have given him much personal thought in most circumstances. In the course of writing another book, Imagine: How Creativity Works, Lehrer quoted Bob Dylan saying things that he might not have actually, you know, said. In Ronson's book, another journalist catches him out in a sequence that somewhat recalls the movie Shattered Glass. Recriminations follow, contracts are canceled. In trying to recover, Lehrer delivers a public speech on mistakes. His sponsors place a large screen behind him, displaying Twitter comments in real time. If you're guessing it devolves into an electronic theatre of cruelty, you're quite right.

There's also Julie Sacco, a publicity consultant who, about to depart on vacation to Africa, tweeted "Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding, I'm white." A kneeslapper that leaves my knee unslapped, to be sure, but it's not hard to dig beneath the surface at what she was actually trying to do. The comedians Sarah Silverman and Amy Schumer climbed to prominence doing this sort of humor, exposing prejudice by stating it baldly and blithely. They've largely phased out those jokes, after learning firsthand and otherwise that social mores have changed. Sacco got hit head-on with those changes, and among other things lost their jobs. 

These are both cases of people with status and position losing it, which in some cases means that the person can live to fight another day, building their image back up. But mob justice doesn't just come for the rich and famous. Nor does it require in all cases the person to have actually done what they're accused of. In the past few days a retired firefighter was tarred in social media for throwing a fire extinguisher during the MAGA riot of January 6, despite his being home halfway across the country at the time. Society is creating new sins for the thrill of punishing them, and this is something we need to be able to name and recognize if it's to be fought. 

For further reading, two insightful essays from the past couple of days by Bari Weiss and Alana Newhouse.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

One last Hitch


Throughout his last years, Alfred Hitchcock stoked tentative plans for a final film, The Short Night. Concerning the hunt for a double agent, it was doomed by a decline in both his health and that of his wife Alma. This might not have been a great loss. While the thought of his illustrious career at least technically continuing into the 1980s is enticing, the Cold War wasn't one of his best subjects. (Torn Curtain is kind of a snooze, for one.)

So Family Plot stands as Hitch's last roll of the dice. It's a contrasting work with its predecessor, the London-based horror thriller Frenzy. That film dealt with violence, dysfunction, and a weirdly asexual kind of sexual assault in a fallen world. It revisited the stomping grounds of his earliest films, but the title also suggested it was a cousin of Psycho. Only with a less likable killer and a hero who was also not-too-sweet.

Family Plot has a different tenor. It's lighter and more relaxed, despite the presence of some sinister schemes. The story brings in grand old mystery touchstones like fake psychics, rare jewels, lost heirs, secret passages. In giving his audience what they wanted, Hitchcock entertained the idea that what they wanted might be a surreal mishmash of Agatha Christie book covers. It sounds like I'm making fun, but it actually is rather entrancing to watch. 

It's been reported that he wanted Jack Nicholson to play the main villain, Arthur Adamson, but that Nicholson was still in the midst of Cuckoo's nest when they were to start filming. As is often the case, it's hard to determine whether this is true. In the event, William Devane is more restrained in the role, but fun to watch in his own way.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

This is both rock and roll AND genocide!

 Meant to do a longer blog post tonight, and knew what it was going to be about. Got tied up elsewhere, though, so I need to put it off. Later in the week, pinky swear.

I do want to point out a couple of good five year deathiversary essays on Bowie, here and here. The second is especially interesting because it really delves into the Orwellian roots of his 1974 album Diamond Dogs. DD is a humid stab at dystopian storytelling, and critics back then were somewhat leery of it. But, well, you can't please everyone, and you don't have to.