Dear Readers,

I now consider this blog to be my Juvenelia. Have fun perusing the archives, and find me at my new haunt, here.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Slate on Yeats on the Sopranos

Slate's literary darlin' Meghan O'Rourke discusses the meaning of Yeats' "The Second Coming" on the Sopranos--something that was thoroughly chewed over in the blogosphere a ways back. Still a worthwhile read for those who can't get enough Sops-talk. Holla.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

She'll Shake Us All Night Long


Seriously, readership. What are your plans for the night of July 21st, AKA Deathly Hallows night? I plan to read for an hour or two after my midnight trip to the Upper West Side B&N party, wake up the next morning and head to Ft. Tryon Park or thegreat lawn with a blanket, Harry, and my loved ones.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Jane Austen, Feisty Lovah?


In which I discuss the desecration of my literary idols.

I dragged my companionable lad to Waitress t'other night as payback for sitting through Fracture (actually, we both were happy to see both, I just like to make gender role jokes, hahaha), a sometimes-enlightened sometimes-strange, sometimes-flawed movie which is the subject of a later post.

But I had to first and foremost blog about the trailers, which were horrifying beyond a doubt. Yes, the one-two punch of previews for A Mighty Heart (which actually brought me close to hysterical tears in three minutes) and Becoming Jane (which filled me with spinster-esque righteousness) had me in a big ole' mess before the actual movie started playing.

Here's my beef with Becoming Jane (see the trailer for yourself and decide whether you agree). Why do we have to make Jane Austen's life story hinge around a man? She was a writer with several published novels to her name by the time she was middle-aged--something many women (ahem, self included) would die for today. Sure, her books are romances in some sense, but they were also about keen social observation viewed through a practical and self-removed lens. So why for heavn's sakes do they portray her and some studmuffin walking through the woods and looking like they're going to get it on amongst the birches? Jane A is all about sex--but the repressed kind. I ain't seeing no repression in this trailer.

In the world of Jane-ites, I hover between those indignant keepers of the flame, the JANSA crew, and the bosom-heaving sorority sisters who think Pride and Prejudice will teach them how to catch a man (yes, they exist). I don't get indignant about sexed-up film versions of Austen--I'm all for 'em. Jane A. writes about pregnancies, seductions, and elopements, and attraction in her discreet way.
And I don't really care about scripts that take liberties with her books--if you've read this blog, you know I think Ang Lee's S&S reverses some of Austen's premises but makes a damn fine crowd-pleasing, thoughftul, and briliant movie out of it.

But I would really like to see a biopic of J.A. be something other than a re-hash of Shakespeare in Love and/or a rehash of Pride and Prejudice. Because she's just a fucking fascinating (and mysterious) figure in history--there's a reason her books are so open to interpretation. So why not treat her life as more than a two-bit, hollywoodized romance?

My ideal biopic would:

1-be somewhat feminist in that J.A's life brings to light lots of interesting stuff about women's roles
2-pay credit to J.A's wit and powers of unobserved observation
3-not feature a pouting, dashing, dress-dragging through the woods gosh-darnit spunky heroine
4-not be a heavy-breathing inducing cliche designed to pander to J.A's fan-club of YA/Romance writers
5-pride itself on its subtlety and merit a second viewing and
6-Be funny. The love story in Shakespeare in Love was a bit cliched and hackneyed, but what saved that movie was its full wealth of wit. It was a hilarious romp of literary in-jokes.

I don't think it's going to happen. But of course I'm going to see the movie.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Are reality TV shows sexist, or just stupid?

I've never really been a super huge reality TV fan ... but I didn't really know why they irked me so much until last night, when, while flipping past The Real World: Vegas, I heard myself suddenly saying "I just think those shows propagate horrible stereotypes about women and minorities!"

And then I was like, huh, is that really why I hate them? Maybe I'm just over-reacting and my disagreements are more aesthetic. Being a TV snob is decidedly against the rules of Egalitarian Bookworming.

I mean, sure we all know that the extreme shows, particularly the ones where ten girls fight for the right to date one guy, are pretty awful and inapproriate and every "ist" in the book. But is that what the whole genre is all about?

I tend to think so.

I really believe that (again, from the reality TV I've seen, which is limited) hysterical, bratty, bellicose women of various creeds and backgrounds are often front and center of all the plotlines and memorable moments on these shows. It's the women who punch, kick, scream and cry hysterically.I feel like they could all be subtitled "watch some hypersexed [real] women compete with each other and then one of them has a nervous breakdown!" And this is all done while they're wearing skimpy outfits. So as a result of our society's fixation on female sexuality and female bodies and the range of emotions the women on the shows can show, their exploits are always more of a focus than their compadres'.

On the other hand, while the women who are chosen for these shows are often crazy, disturbed, manipulative, whatever, the men are too. In fact, there are always a nice pack of egotistical, self-involved chauvinist white men doing their stupid white men stuff in every reality TV situation I can think of (except for Beauty and the Geek, for which I have a massive soft spot). It's just that they aren't an oppressed group, and on some level society doesn't truly condemn their assholeish behavior, even if the show pretends to. I always feel as though viewers are going to leave the finale of a series like RW being like, you know "bitches is crazy!" while very few of them will say their final impression is that "god, men are such pigs."

But in a sea of norm-reinforcing pop culture, is this really worth being inflamed about in particular? Maybe reality TV just makes everyone look bad. Maybe the sterotypes pushed onward by these shows are no worse than the race and gender roles that the sitcoms before them upheld. But somehow I feel that beneath it all, there is a strong part of reality-TV culture that's all about watching members of oppressed groups fall apart and make fools of themselves.

So, fans of Flavor of Love, Real World, Bachelor and their ilk: tell me what you think. Are these shows just mindless entertainment that viewers don't take seriously? Are they exploitative? Or are they both entertaining and exploitative, which is always a possibility?

Are they equal-opportunity denigrating or do they target the downtrodden in our society? Help out a pop-culture lover who wants to be enlightened and tell me whether you think my hunch is right.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Nostalgia Trip: Girl With a Pearl Earring


I just tuned into this on IFC while finishing some work. I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed this film (and book) as a commentary on the Power of Art. The story of Grite and her entry into the world of Vermeer shows just how the realm of the sublime aesthetic experience can illuminate our ordinary lives and fill them with new understanding--and also reveal the wretchedness of our prosaic existence and make us dicontent.

Colin Firth is in top form as the brooding, ambitious, clog-wearing, painter Vermeer, Scarlett Johansen is better than usual playing a starstruck maid and portrait subject, and it's interesting to See Cillian Murphy as the strapping, vital butcher's son Peter (although he's too pretty for the part) instead of the wild-eyed, simpering psychopaths he's been attracted to playing recently.

The film's soundtrack is incredible and the cinematography is gorgeously evocative of Vermeers' work. It's almost like watching a 2-hour painting, which is all fine and dandy with me. But such a film is not for the action-addicted among us; the ration of screen time to words spoken is as low as it goes.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Al Gore on the Daily Show...

I have never seen him so cogent, relaxed, funny, and wise. This man should be our president! Wait, he actually should be our president. Oh, dear.

My boy Al also made a (in his words) "highfalutin" metaphor that I had to share-- in medieval times [and Shakespearean plays, NB] the court jester was often the only one who could speak truth to power without "getting his head chopped off." Similarly, sez Al, Stewart and Colbert offer us true news in the guise of entertainment, while the cable pundits feed us empty, fact-free entertainment in the guise of news. It's positively Orwellian.

Video clips:

part 1

part 2

The Perils of So-Called Objective Journalism

From yesterday's tres bizarre Times review of the new Creation Museum in Kentucky:

Highlights are mine:
"For the skeptic the wonder is at a strange universe shaped by elaborate arguments, strong convictions and intermittent invocations of scientific principle. For the believer, it seems, this museum provides a kind of relief: Finally the world is being shown as it really is, without the distortions of secularism and natural selection."'
It's this obsession with an "one the one hand, on the other hand" kind of mentality that leads the NEW YORK FUCKING TIMES to include the phrase "the distortions of secularism and natural selection" in a piece of criticism (not even a bloody news story). And the "it seems" is just an incredibly weak attempt to distance the writer from the journalistic atrocity he's about to commit.

Oh, and this crap about "the believer." Okay, I may come from the East Coast liberal secular elite, but I've spent my fair share of time travelling and interacting with people not of my creed. I've met tons of people who consider themselves believers, but not one of them, not ONE of them, doesn't fucking believe in natural selection.
"A reproduction of a childhood fantasy in which dinosaurs are friends of inquisitive youngsters? The kind of fantasy that doesn’t care that human beings and these pre-fossilized thunder-lizards are usually thought to have been separated by millions of years?"
"Usually thought," or SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN?

An article like this must make bona fide scientists want to deface that shiny new Times Corp. building with a vat of homemade laboratory acid.

Objective journalism does not mean presenting both sides of a story as equally plausible. It means presenting different perspectives and then gleaning out the cold, hard, facts.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Nights of Rain and Stars

What can a gal say about reading mother Maeve? I devoured this treat during the course of a two hour train ride up the mighty Hudson, and I was close to bawling from page five right til the end. The book is about children and parents not understanding each other, channeled through a group of wayward souls who meet up in an island town in Greece. All of our band of travellers have lost touch or quarreled with their parents or kids (or in one case, lover) and put miles and miles of distance between themselves and Home. As they drink tons of greek Ouzo and feast on tomatoes and feta, a tragedy strikes and they all have to confront stuff- like, you know, Life and What It All Means. Simplistic, yes. A cliche, perhaps. But I find something so god damn genuine and touching about Binchy's infinite wisdom and compassion for the whole fucking human race that I lose it every time I read one of her books. She is a wonderful woman and a wise writer. And I look forward to the next time I can get lost in her world of words for a few sacred hours.

Wednesday Afternoon Twin-Blogging

American football in Scotland, folks. It doesn't get realer than this. That's my twin brother Dan, playing for Glasgow where he's getting an MA in Scottish Literature, here seen fighting off the aggression of an evil Merseyside Nighthawk! Or something!

I still wish they would bring it back to the glory days of touch/flag football, but what can you do? At least he's not playing soccer and putting himself at risk of getting mobbed by crazy fans.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Michiko Likes Al Gore's Book!

And well she should. Al is the Man these days, fo' sho.

Basically, Kakutani's review of The Assault on Reason is less a critique and more a concise summary of the book's points, and there's only one (count it, one!) paragraph with negativity. Here are some particular gems, emphases mine comme toujours:
His volume moves beyond its criticisms of the Bush administration to diagnose the ailing condition of America as a participatory democracy — low voter turnout, rampant voter cynicism, an often ill-informed electorate, political campaigns dominated by 30-second television ads, and an increasingly conglomerate-controlled media landscape — and it does so not with the calculated, sound-bite-conscious tone of many political-platform-type books, but with the sort of wonky ardor that made both the book and movie versions of “An Inconvenient Truth” so bluntly effective.

Moreover, Mr. Gore contends, the administration’s penchant for secrecy (keeping everything from the details of its coercive interrogation policy to its National Security Agency surveillance program under wraps) has dismantled the principle of accountability, even as what he calls its “unprecedented and sustained campaign of mass deception” on matters like Iraq has made “true deliberation and meaningful debate by the people virtually impossible

Part civics lesson, part political jeremiad, part philosophical tract, “The Assault on Reason” reveals an angry, impassioned Al Gore — a far cry from the carefully scripted, earth-tone-wearing Al Gore of the 2000 presidential campaign and the programmed “creature of Washington” described in the reporter Bill Turque’s 2000 biography of him, “Inventing Al Gore.”

Maybe so, Michi. But the earth tone crap wasn't so much who Al actumally was (although he did listen to shitty advisors, let's face it), but who the media painted him as, particularly your friend Maureen who said he was "practically lactating" and had a soft sopt for Dubya's manly-man-maniness. It's a good review, but it fails to really take into account and consider the very media culpability that our man Al describes in his tome. Like, maybe it's not just Al who's different, but the way the press is choosing to perceive him.

Incidentally, Al's interview with Diane Sawyer is a perfect example of the MSM (blogger jargon for mainstream media's) inability to get it--she kept asking him about weight loss and the election, etc. But he gave her a wee bit of a drubbing at the interview's close. Via ThinkProgress:

“Listen to your questions,” [Gore] said [to Sawyer]. “You know, the horserace, the cosmetic parts of this — and, look, that’s all understandable and natural. But while we’re focused on, you know, Britney and K-Fed and Anna Nicole Smith and all this stuff, meanwhile, very quietly, our country has been making some very serious mistakes that could be avoided if we, the people, including the news media, are involved in a full and vigorous discussion of what our choices are.”

Thanks, Al. I love you.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Sopranos and Poetry

"Our society is going to the brink of extinction due to male aggression, and so is the Sopranos."-swvl.

I'm loving all the poetic references in the recent eps of the Sopranos... too bad AJ had to drop out of college so we can't get his English teacher talking more than she already has about Wordsworth "The world is too much with us") and Yeats' ("The Second Coming"--appropriate title for this episode).

Last week's Wordsworth's sonnet emphasized a sense of weariness and being overwhelmed by the inhumanity of the industrial age, while the episode focused on AJs growing discontent and sadness with similar aspects of our society. This week, Yeats' apocalyptic lines were about the anti-christ and the end of our age (his belief system is mad complicated, so we won't get into it) while the episode was about the "precipice of an enormous crossroads" (thanks Little Carmine) that both Tony and AJ have reached. AJ tried to bring about his own mini-apolocalypse with a suicide attempt, while Tony is doing what I've been saying he's going to do, which is "suicide by Phil Leotardo"--either way, folks, the Falcon really cannot hear the Falconer.

Who knows what will happen? The previews make it look like all occasions are about to inform against Tony, to spur someone's dull revenge. In other words, he's about to get turned on. And the stuff about terrorism is obviously meant to parallel the specter of violence, endless revenge, and dread that both we and the characters experience. The episode was truly top-notch, so I'm going to leave my commentary at that.

And now, for your over-analyzing/general edification benefit, here are the two poems.

The World is Too Much With Us
William Wordsworth
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. -Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

The Second Coming
W.B Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert.

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?


Go see this movie, immediately. If you want to see the glowing praise it's getting, read about it here, here and here. It was one of the best, sweetest, simplest movies I've seen in ages. And it reminded me of the best part of my all-too-brief time spent living in Ireland--the spontaneous gatherings, the casual and warm intimacy that never gets too intimate, the tea always pouring and empty bottles accumulating, the celebration of creativity above drive and determination, and the poignant romance that can be found in the meeting of soft green land with endless grey sky.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Okay, we get it, Times. You think Michelle Obama is uppity.

There's something about the way our paper of record covers race and gender issues that makes me throw up in my mouth a little every time. But when they cover both in tandem with their third most uncomfortably-approached category of folks--Democrats-- it gets kind of ugly.

First of all, as all good readers of this blog know, Maureen Dowd recently eviscerated Michelle Obama for not staying home and baking cookies and for being too loud and poking fun at her husband. Maureen topped it off by calling Michelle a "princess"--all of which are pretty durn unacceptable things to say so flippantly about a woman of color (or any ethnicity). It also reeked of self-loathing, not to mention quite a few unpleasant "isms."

I thought I had heard the last of that subject until last night, when a woman I know, who is, politically anyway, your typical left-of-center Manhattanite, said something vaguely about how "aren't people sort of sick of Obama, his wife saying 'oh he's not so great' and putting him down? Isn't that shtick getting a little tired?" I shuddered. Because as far as I'm aware, (and maybe I'm wrong) no one but Maureen has perpetuated this stereotype about Michelle. But Dowdy's throwaway, jokey categorizations are powerful, and have a long ripple effect.

Especially when she's assisted by her buddies at the paper, who ran this supposedly thoughtful piece about Michelle today, which incidentally, linked to Maureen's nasty column on the front page (!!!) There was nothing in the feature, that exactly demonized the woman per se, but the authors made some interesting choices in terms of placement and what quotations to use. The piece starts off with a taste of Michelle Obama's sarcasm, the kind MoDo hates so much:
Rolling her eyes as she pulled a reporter aside, Michelle Obama said [of Barack], “Maybe one day, he will do something to warrant all this attention."
To feminist-leftist-badasses such as m'self, this is not a negative image. It shows that Obama has a strong-minded wife who keeps him real and has a good sense of perspective and humor. But come on, Times, you's playing right in to the conventional wisdom of Barack Obama as inexperienced, and it makes Michelle look as shrewish as Maureen says she is. Futhermore, why are we putting an oft-repeated joke-y anecdote on the first graf of what's supposed to be a serious profile?

If you go back and do a close reading of the first paragraph, it's amazing how the authors use a few words to paint a pretty unoriginal picture: Barack as the naive boy wonder followed by throngs of oohers and ahhers, Michelle as the disgruntled, sardonic wife who longs to wear the pants. You know, it begins to sound a bit like the crap that dogged Hillary back in '92. Isn't the Times supposed to do original reporting, not stuff that parrots what's already being said?

But hold up. What makes the placement even more interesting, is that piece ends with this (ellipses are mine):

At campaign appearances, Mrs. Obama gets approving reviews....When Mrs. Obama mentioned her daughters at an event in New Hampshire, one woman cooed about “bringing laughter back to the White House,” while two retirees whispered that she was the picture of “everyday elegance” in her red sweater set and smooth flip of a hairstyle.

It was the same perfectly calibrated look reflected in a recent cover of Ebony magazine. Seeking to make the couple look as presidential as possible, Harriette Cole, the magazine’s creative director, said stylists at the photo shoot offered Mrs. Obama a strand of West Wing-appropriate pearls.

She had already brought her own.

I repeat: this is at the bottom of a very long profile. Along the way, we've learned that everyone in Michelle's family is scared of her, that she fits in with black audiences (don't get me started on the way the Times talks about the Blacks, 'cause I won't stop), oh and at the verrry end, we learn this small thing about how PEOPLE REALLY LIKE HER AND SHE'S GOOD AT THIS STUFF. Ohhh. I dig that. But by now, half of readers have peeled away, left with that lede burned into their brain. I repeat: interesting.

And incidentally, the first anecdote is the impression Michelle left on a newspaper reporter, that noblest of professions. The last bit is an impression she left on, let's see, normal people. Who vote. Now it all begins to make a bit more sense.

That's the thing about the WP, NYT and LAT. If you read the newsy pieces, you can never quite pinpoint the source of the unpleasantness with which you're left. But it's always about choice--which quotations to use when. Which quotations might have gotten left out. Who gets the passive voice, and so on. Very insidious. You also have to wonder about the ratio of pieces like this one and the one about candidates skeletons-in-closets that are pumped out compared with substantive analysis of their positions on stuff like education. Labor. Health care. You know what, that shit's much less interesting than marital drama and playing up gender and race anxiety. Forget I mentioned it, Bill Keller.

UPDATE: of course, Debra Dickerson of Salon says it even better than I. I guess it's sort of a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation for wives of politicians--which of course reflects how it is for all women. The Times sort of said this of course--sort of, in a way which reinforces the paradigm rather than subverting it.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

More pretty nature.

Fellow-ette, amateur nature photog.

In honor of my Spring Fever.

These pics come from this week's sponsor, the lovely Ft. Tryon Park. Now get outside and play, readers. Or make revolution. Either works for me.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Bad Things That Happened on TV Last Night

1- Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) coming home to find Cathy (Merle Oberon) having sold their primal love down the river for Edgar Linton and his worldly luxuries. (Wuthering Heights, TMC, 8pm)

2-Sam Brownback saying he would force a woman to carry her rapist's spawn to term because in the end if would be better for her. (Republicans Debate, FNC, 9pm) See Digby for great analysis.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Frozen Dessert Roundup

Well, readership, it's that time of year. Temperatures rise, toes get exposed, and fro-yo gets pursued with the zeal that can only come from plucked, tweezed, calorie-deprived armies of women who want something, anything, to induldge in, guilt-free*. They seek spoonful after bland spoonful of imaginary bliss (if we really wanted bliss, we'd hit up the nearest Good Humor truck, but hey.)

My theory about women and frozen yogurt can be summed up in a point-by-point explanation. 1) Ice-cream is "god's" greatest gift to mankind, second only to sex. 2) Ice-cream is "danger" food to many women who fear what it does to their thighs. 3) But fro-yo shares its yummier big sibling's texture, sweetness, and ability to be lingered over. 4) Even better, it can be eaten in huge portions. It's like a long, long, long gum chewing session, except more deliciouser.

Anyway, despite being a feminist who is not blonde, lacks any stick-like limbs, and never works out at Equinox with a trainer named Biff, I am not immune to this trend. I fucking love fro-yo. But I plead innocence because I've always been this way. From pretty much day one of my life, the do-do-do-do-do-do-d0-do-do, of a Mr. Softee truck would make my hair stand on end with excitement.

So of course, of course, I have been sampling the wares. I leave you with a rating of NYC's hippest frigid treats, and their frigid customers.

Pinkberry green tea * *
I was so frikkin excited for this flavor, thinking it would combine my favorite two worlds, but it failed to provide the goods. Too sour, and not green-tea-ish enough.

Pinkberry regular * * *
I'm begining to see what people mean when they say this stuff has crack in it. Even better grade crack than its rivals. That having been said, the place has been sadly discovered. The one near my office was deserted when I first tried it, now there's a ten-plus minute line of irritating yuppies and hollow-eyed prep school girls, which makes the sourness considerably worse.

Tavalon Green tea latte with Boba *
Ewww. The tea was too thick and sweet, and the boba (tapioca pearls) were mad chewy. Despite the cool DJ and minimalist decor, this was a huge bust.

Tasti-D-Lite on average * *
It's artificial tasting, melts faster than the polar ice caps during a typical global warming day, and all the chocolate flavors taste the same.
However, some particularly good flavors
(***) like rasperry cheesecake, apple pie and peanut butter are absolutely yum.

ZaBerry * * * * The overpriced gourmet store has hit the jackpot. Slightly sweeter and cheaper than Pinkberry, ZaBerry's customers are more likely to be sixty year old Jewish men than the collagen-and-spandex set. Which makes it all the sweeter.

Actual ice cream * * * * * Often imitated, but you can't beat the stuff, that's for sure. I can't wait for my first Mr. Softee of the season--not to mention my first Good Humor chocolate eclair. Yum yum yummy.

So indulge yourselves, dear readers. But remember--once it gets like July hot up in this joint, it's going to be too hot for anything except Frozade and H20. So dig the dairy while you can.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Sopranos: Tony Cuts Himself Loose


I don't know about you, readers fair, but my apartment was in mourning last night. We were in mourning for Christopher, whose loss seemed so sudden and cruel, but we were also in mourning for Tony, in mourning for every ounce of Tony's humanity that has saved us from hating him over the past decade or so of the show. As a wise friend of mine said last week, the two are the most similar characters on the show; they both have a deadly mix of vicious brutality and sentimental angst.

There was something deeply uncomfortable going on last week when Christopher, flipping steaks, told Tony,"I thought you of all people would understand... you undertand the human condition." Christopher knows Tony's "weakness" is like his own and Tony can't stand it. And it's ironic that their final moment last night would come moments after Christopher asked the newly aggressive Tony, "whatever happened to 'stop and smell the roses?'"

Here's the rub-- Tony doesn't want to smell the fucking roses anymore. Or cry about the ducks, or the mangled baby seat, or the endless loss of innocence that comprises everyday life, the sad state that AJ bemoans in therapy. T no longer wants to hear that nagging voice telling him that every day is precious. He's had enough with those pesky emotions that complicate his life, that make him sad, that take away his balls when he confronts Phil.

As he tells Melfi in the dream sequence, Christopher was an "emotional drain"(or strain, I forget) on him. T justifies to himself that killing Chrissy means getting rid of a potential rat or traitor or fuckup, but the real reason he did it was to cut himself loose from the vulnerability that Chris shares with him, that Chris was never able to supress quite as well as uncle T. It's the classic literary device of the alter ego. Chris and Tony screwing the same women is a maifestation of their twinned state; they have too similar hangups, they're intimate in too many ways.

As Salon's always insightful Heather H. (who puts those Slate blowhards to shame) writes, "We're being offered a glimpse of just how many layers of self-deceit it takes for the man to get up in the morning, given all of the brutal acts he's committed. Tony feels alienated not only from his own feelings, but from everyone around him as they mourn Christopher's death in earnest."

After Chris' funeral, Tony's wild journey into the unleashed Id of a Vegas peyote trip reveals an utter narcissist unburdened by human emotions--as does his looming confrontation with Phil. His puking is a purge of his past, his grimacing and shouting and vulgar laughter in the casino and the hills are a revelation of a purely animal, purely self-gratifying state of mind. He's winning now at the roulette table, yes, winning in the masculine world he longs to dominate, but we liked him better when he had a little bit of loser, a little bit of Chris, in him.

The question of redemption now rests on AJ's shoulders, and Chase and co. are not making it clear in any way whether the only "son" left is going to enter his dad's world of male aggression and cruelty or leave it in time to save his soul.

Added thought: I keep feeling as if Tony's suffering from a massive onslaught of PTSD, that his morality has been thrown off due to the relentless drumbeat of his memories of brutality and violence that have finally penetrated.

Added thought 2: Tony also thinks he's God at this point-- he feels as if fate has conspired to put Chris' life in his hands, and the casino and mountain scenes reveal the fact that he's replaced his sense of mortality with a false concept of invincibility.

Friday, May 11, 2007

The House of Mirth on Slate's Audio Book Club

I listened to this book chitchat (mp3 here) for a good fifteen minutes yesterday while waiting in my office for a tutee to show up. And I was surprised by how, despite some pretentious allusions to "binaries" (okay, binaries aren't that pretentious) interesting and enjoyable the talk was--particularly the discussion of Lawrence Selden's role as Lily's savior-cum-destroyer. Edith Wharton really loves those paralyzed, almost effeminiate men, doesn't she?

I'm an unbelievably huge fan of the House of Mirth, whose true strength to me is its quality as a re-read and the fact that, as one of the critics said, every time I open it I want Lily to do something different despite my knowledge of her fate, and I always cry at the end.

I also think the Terrence Davies' movie adaptation with Gillian Anderson and Eric Stoltz is even better than Scorcese's stab at Wharton, The Age of Innocence. Here's an interesting interview with Davies in which he talks about the differences between the novels and films. So go Netflix it if you haven't seen it. If you're anything like me, you will weep tears of satisfying bitterness and then rewind to the make-out scenes repeatedly.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

NYT Styles Tackles Forever 21 (my favoritest store!)

What I love about Forever 21, and maybe this is just capitalist self-justifying, is that it reveals triends for exactly what they really are--cheap, silly, throwaway moments. Plus, it's equal-opportunity fashion--it lets gals with limited wallets look as groovy, or more often than not, as utterly ridiculous, as heiresses do.

Whereas trendy clothes at Urban Outfitters and high-end boutiques on Third Avenue might set you back hundreds of bucks, or at least 50, at Forever 21, you can experiment with, say, the recent "pinafore look" (eww, saith I) for 20 bucks or so and then toss the thing on the trash heap when the look goes out.

Today the Times writes an amusing feature about the Forever 21 phenomenon, touching on how chaotic and dirty the NY branches are, and then describing the way designers are fuming that F-21 is ripping off their ideas. Boo-hoo, poor Diane Van Furstenberg. My heart bleeds for thee.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

John Oliver on The Republicandidates at last week's debate...

"They represented all shades of America, from eggshell to bone."

(Colbert later made the same joke, 'xept he said "eggshell to ivory")

Monday, May 07, 2007

The Sopranos' Critique of the American Man

Last night's episode (see Salon for a great recap) was fittingly named Walk Like a Man, and it got me trying to solidify the growing feeling I've had all season that Chase et al. have something really important--and not so good-- to say about American masculinity.

Perhaps I got that distinct impression for the first time last season when the ailing, newly-existential Tony decided to prove he was still tough. He did so by picking a fight with his innocent bodyguard, beating the crap out of him, later staring at himself grimly in the mirror while coughing up blood, and finally throwing money at the poor guy by way of apology. In terms of the world within which Tony moves, he had proved his manliness. But in the grander scheme of things, his actions were so pathetic, bullying, and small that it was embarassing to us viewers. All this talk about being a real man and providing for others--and this is what it boiled down to? Schoolyard behavior. Incidentally, I suspect Chase had our fearless leader's efforts in the Middle East in mind as he sketched out that incident.

Then of course, there was the miserable plotline with poor outed Vito--even as Tony realized that Vito's sexuality had little bearing on his "manliness" (his earning capability and contribution to the family) Phil Leotardo was so disturbed by his cousin's being gay that he brought a large gang of thugs to Vito's hotel room and beat him to death. It was a scene eerily reminiscent of "honor killings" in Pakistan and Iraq, where family members murder rape victims and sexually active women to restore honor and dignity to the family. How different is violent American homophobia from the fundamentalist Islamic views on sexuality that we so decry? And what does "honor" mean in this case, when it's honorable for five men to gang up on one?

This season, the message has been even more explicit. Tony's cruel insistence that his brother-in-law "pop his cherry" by killing someone for the first time was the kick-off. But the apex was surely Phil Leotardo shouting angrily at the black-lipstick wearing, deviant Vito junior--all of ten years old-- commanding him to "BE A FUCKING MAN" after he himself had murdered the boy's father and caused his delinquency. The scene was so miserable and futile it was perversely funny.

Sure, we laughed at the notion that angry exhortations and a five minute talk could cure the kid. But just when we expected the more human Tony to take a different tack with the boy, our tragically imperfect "hero" came in and did the exact same thing. Less sociopathically, perhaps, but the message was the same: Man up, no explanation required. The irony was that neither Tony nor Phil was "man enough" to do the truly gentlemanly, gallant thing, which would be to give Vito's widow the money she needed to move her child away from town, away from trouble.

Finally, in last night's episode, Christopher's sobriety leads the other fellas to doubt his masculinity. Tony chides him for drinking non-alcoholic beer. When Christopher reminds Tony that because T has been to a shrink he understands the human condition and Christopher's "disease", Tony is embarassed. He counters with a nasty remark about how alcoholism isn't really a disease. But he's uncomfortable because he knows what Chris says is true. As swvl pointed out to me in one of our many late Sunday night Sopranos analyses, Chris and Tony are the most human characters on the show, the least in control of the rigid manliness required by their job. But instead of bonding over their shared emotions, Tony distances himself from his nephew. For them to relate over weaknesses would be to truly admit those weaknesses--and on some level would prevent Tony from being able to continue being a "good" boss, at least as is required by mob standards.

Later in "terapy," Tony tells Melfi through clenched teeth that his coming there is all a "jack off," (I think he did the same thing in a previous season), before breaking down in tears about his love and concern for his son. He denies his emotions and feels them violently in rapid succession--of course he hates his feelings, because they are an obstacle on the road to being a perfect man. And yet his suppression of them is impossible. His anger simmers.

Christopher's feeling of abandonment and betrayal, the humiliation he feels when he talks lovingly, drunkenly and sentimentally about his daughter and gets his "balls broken" by Paulie and all the guys, is another tipping point. They have rejected his expression of emotion, and he leaves. We think he is going to turn State's perhaps, abandon the code of masculinity that has abandoned him, but instead he lets the shit flow downhill by shooting a poor shmuck because the guy wouldn't listen when Chris "poured his fucking heart out." Again, the perils of being forced to conceal one's emotions. Again, the taking out of violent impulses on those who are helpless. Similarly, Tony's son AJ's participation in the beating of a deadbeat gambler are a clear result of dad's refusal to contend with his son's depression.

People talk a lot about the absence of father figures on the show, and the importance of father son relationships. I take that theme further and say that whether intended or not, the show eviscerates the entire conceit of father-son relationships as they are constructed by our patriarchal society. Emotionless, competitive relationships between men are a formula for disaster, says Chase, and the ruthless social world of the mob is a microcosm for our nation, our world. Just look at George Bushes Sr. and Jr to understand the damage of constructions of manliness and violence on the world's landscape.

Not a single male character on the show lives up to the men above him, or teaches the men below him without permanently damaging them. In my mind, what Chase is trying to say, is that there is no such thing as "real man" in their and our world, because our conception of manhood is inherently flawed.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Bush-Bashing Roundup: War is Not Pro-Life, the French Don't Suck, etc. etc.

From the Times,
In a two-page letter sent to the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, Mr. Bush said his veto threat would apply to any measures that “allow taxpayer dollars to be used for the destruction of human life.”
Ahahahahahaha. That's a good one! Bush doesn't want us funding murder. Of course not. Those thinking, feeling blobs of cells inside women's bodies have absolutely nothing to do with how our Prez used taxpayer dolars to execute 152 inmates in Texas while he was governor, and how now that he's the "commander guy," he's essentially caused the death of over 3,362 soldiers, and over 65,000 grown men women and children civilians in Iraq.
Republicans: pro-war, pro-death Ahh, the thorny forest of empty rhetoric.

In a similar vein (i.e. the hypocrisy of the right wing), the "kinda sexist but makes good points" Bill Maher slams one out of the park in his analysis of the ineffable French and why on earth it's political suicide to like them. Here are some choice moments.

The American ideas of individuality, religious tolerance and freedom of speech came directly out of the French Enlightenment -- but, shhh, don't tell Alabama. Voltaire wrote "men are born equal" before Jefferson was wise enough to steal it.


Maybe the high [voting] turnout has something to do with the fact that the French candidates are never asked where they stand on evolution, prayer in school, abortion, stem cell research or gay marriage. And if the candidate knows about a character in a book other than Jesus, it's not a drawback.

Thank you Bill Maher. As someone who is both endlessly fascinated and frustrated by La Vie Francaise, it's nice to see someone put our amies across the pond's finer qualities in such nice, down home American terms. Extra bonus points for you for the Voltaire reference!

I Could Kill Adam Nagourney.


The setting was the first Democratic presidential debate of the 2008 campaign, a surprisingly sedate and meandering affair, filled with as many moments of awkward humor as memorable insight into the qualifications of the candidates or the policy differences among them.


The 10 declared Republican presidential candidates met together for the first time here Thursday night in what amounted to a tentative but occasionally vibrant competition to define the party’s ideology and agenda in a post-Bush era.

Emphasis mine.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Kaaterskill Falls and religious nutbags.

I was super excited to read Allegra Goodman's Kaaterskill Falls because I'm a big fan of the "trapped in a crazy religious environment" sub-genre of novel.

However, I like to see the characters in such novels kick at their metaphorical prison walls. And even less than her soul brotha Chaim Potok does, Goodman never gives me the outright rebellion I crave. The craziest her protagonist gets is dancing with another women (at this point, while reading, I was hoping for a full-fledged lesbian affair) and catering a kosher party from a kosher store, which unfortunately is not quite kosher enough for the Rav of her particular Orthodox Jewish sect. What a sin!

At the end of the book, the character's essential faith in her community is broken, and she sees her religious leaders for the earth-bound, manipulative people they are, but there's nothing she can do about it. She's tied to her many, many, many offspring and her husband and her closed community, and so she is left to navigate her future cynically and sadly.

In a way, there's more realism and tragedy in that finale than there would be in an "A Price Above Rubies" style torrid affair, but I just had a hard time not seeing the leaders of the sect--or cult--get any sort of commeuppance at all.

This nitpicking, however is coming from a lapsed reform Jewess who wears her shortest skirts on Saturdays in Washington Heights--the very neighborhood where Goodman's characters all live--just to offend the felt-hatted Yeshiva bucher neighbors and their self-righteous, headscarf and long skirt-wearing wives (ugh, don't get me started!).

So I suppose my views must be taken with a grain of salt--Kosher of course.

The verdict, minus my bias: it's an absorbing realist portrait with refreshingly straightforward prose. And the latter quality certainly has a holiness to it that I can't overlook.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Happy May Day!

Workers, and blossoming trees, of the world, unite.

You know, this the only time of year when Wordsworth pops into my head, like all the time.
Lines like

"It is a beauteous evening, calm and free."

or referring to daffodils:

"Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance."

but unfortunately, when I think about Bush veto-ing the Iraq timeline today, a very different Wordsworth poem comes to mind.

"The world is too much with us, late and soon."

And there's no way to sum up that experience with a picture.