In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

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  1. Free Reads -- Reality TV
  2. Aesthetic Impacts of Population Dynamics
  3. Terminology Alert
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  5. Ghost Pen
  6. Too Pooped to Pop?
  7. DVD Journal: "Thunder Road"
  8. Free Views -- Stop-Action Webographs
  9. Tacit Knowledge -- Lit vs. Genre fiction
  10. I Am a Bad Film Buff

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Saturday, January 25, 2003

Free Reads -- Reality TV
Friedrich -- A fascinating piece by Bill Carter in the New York Times today about how the success of reality TV is changing the economic basis of the TV business. Sample passage: Not only will reality shows continue to flood network's schedules next fall, but television executives are also predicting such developments as an end to the traditional television season. Instead of the time-honored formula of introducing shows en masse in September and ending them in May, broadcast networks want to stagger the shows' debuts and banish repeats from the schedule almost entirely. There could also be fewer orders for dramas and comedies, with a resulting shrinking of jobs for Hollywood writers and actors. And, perhaps most significant, executives are preparing for a fundamental rewriting of the economic model underpinning network programming Carter's piece is readable here. I'm reminded of some art thoughts I've been chewing over for the last few years. They go roughly along these lines: OK, there have been many basic changes in technology and organization, as well as thought patterns, as digital technology takes over. Old structures are being turned into databases; everything's being turned into databases. What seems to follow is that structures collapse. They pancake. This has been much noted in business. But what might be the equivalent in the arts? Well, during this period in book publishing, there have been a lot of memoirs, as well as ever more focus on books you can use. In movies, even as the Hollywood spectaculars have grown more Photoshopped and audience-survey-sensitive, the indie cinema's movies are often puzzlingly flat in affect; they have no lift, no traditional art exhilaration. Kids in their manners generally have become more impatient, and cut-to-it-now abrupt. A lot of the newer, younger gallery art is scrawly and autobiographical, as well as conceptual. When I watch a reality-TV show like "The FBI Files," I'm registering something funny; it's like watching "Dragnet" -- except, of course, that it isn't fictional. But the tone is similar, and it engages the same part of me that used to be engaged by a fictional TV show like "Dragnet." The web seems to promote a kind of cut-to-the-quick-of-it mindset even where pornography is concerned. Amateur porn, indie porn, and peeping porn seem to predominate over old-fashioned story-based porn. The discussions we've had on 2Blowhards about the pros and cons of digital-video imagery often seem to come back to the fact that digital-video imagery doesn't have the density of traditional movie imagery. It's flat -- it seems to have all the information and none of the poetry. As digital technology (and the kinds of mind and behavior patterns that accompany it) invades more and more of our lives, it seems to chew up the fiction, the poetry, the analog elements and transform them into endlessly branching databases -- what's left is all wiring and connections, and nothing in the way of what used to be thought of as substance. Perhaps what this means is that part of what's... posted by Michael at January 25, 2003 | perma-link | (8) comments

Friday, January 24, 2003

Aesthetic Impacts of Population Dynamics
Michael According to the Wall Street Journal of January 24, falling birth rates around the world may lead to the global population topping off at around 9 billion in 2050 and dropping to around 8.5 billion by 2075. Granted 9 billion people is still 50% more than we have today, but it’s a whole lot less than the 12 billion that was the estimated peak 10 years ago. The reasons for this shift are varied, although clearly the largest one (other, possibly, than the impact of governmental population control in China) is the desire and increasing ability of women to limit the number of their pregnancies. My question—given this blog’s continuing interest in evolutionary biology—is how this squares with the desire to perpetuate one’s genes. The best explanations I could come up with are these: (1) in poor societies having too many children involves a high a risk for women of dying in childbirth, which negatively impacts the likelihood of their children growing to adulthood and reproducing; (2) in urban environments, children cannot contribute to their own upkeep, so excessive numbers of children again reduces the economic resources available to support them to reproductive adulthood. Ergo, in both cases, women are limiting the number of their children to increase the odds of their children’s eventual reproductive success. (Along the way, it’s also less wear and tear on mom.) The interesting difference between the theories is that in the first situation (which seems to reflect a rural environment), men’s and women’s interests are not aligned—the men would press for more children than the women would want. Whereas, under the second (or urban) theory, men’s and women’s interests are far more aligned, as long as men feel compelled to economically provide for their children. If they don’t feel so compelled, of course, we have another mismatch, in which women limit fertility and men seek out multiple partners. I wonder if this dynamic explains the shift in art from the Venus de Willendorf—who is loaded with symbols of fertility, including actually being pregnant, to today, when the most desirable woman is the one who obviously hasn’t had her quota of children yet? Venus de Willendorf; Venus de Victoria's Secret What a Difference 10 Millenia or So Makes! Have you read discussions on this topic by a recognized sociobiologist? Cheers, Friedrich P.S. Women may find it amusing to note that in the era of the Venus de Willendorf, being fat was obviously considered deeply erotic (although practically no women got enough to eat to appear this ripe), while today very few women are as thin as the above model (who is, however, probably about as skinny as everyone was in the Paleolithic--excess calories being hard to come by). In short, ladies, you just can't win.... posted by Friedrich at January 24, 2003 | perma-link | (11) comments

Terminology Alert
Friedrich -- I love following developments in movie technology. Everything's at such an in-between state these days: half-film, half-digital, and often in unpredictable ways. You might make tests on a digi-still camera, have a TV monitor on the set, shoot on film, edit and colorize on computer, and then press a DVD to show it to someone before you return it to film, for instance. It's fun to follow the technical language as it tries to keep up with developments too. I notice in a new issue of ICG Magazine (the publication of the cinematographers' guild) that companies advertising high-end motion picture cameras no longer call them "movie cameras." Now they're "image acquisition systems." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 24, 2003 | perma-link | (0) comments

Blog Surfing
Friedrich -- * The scarily-smart Aaron Haspel (here) and the equally-scarily-smart Jim Ryan (here) are having an enlightening exchange about the proper use of slippery-slope-style arguments. Aaron, a poetry buff worth attending to, has also begun treating us to an occasional series of first-rate postings on "how to read a poem." Jim Ryan is still putting off his long-awaited posting on the political thinking of John Kekes. Email Jim and tell him to get his act together! * The scarily-smart (and scarily-entertaining) Brian Micklethwait, of Samizdata fame, has finally, after much inexcusable foot-dragging, got Brian's Cultureblog up and running. It's already wonderful, and it's readable here. * Polly Frost, of Notes from the Velvet Crypt (here), is back posting after a few weeks away, during which she produced a workshop of a comic play she wrote. Its subject: a young woman's love affair with her cell phone. Nifty! * On Banana Oil, his new movieblog (here), Michael Hamet confesses that he has watched "Singin' in the Rain" oh, maybe about a hundred and seven times. * Alice Bachini, the Libertarian Parent in the Countryside (here), continues to get my vote for the blogosphere's "most winning voice," an apparently inimitable combination of whimsy and acuteness. * I've never properly pointed out Mike Snider on Poetry (here), so I'm doing so now. Mike's blog is the best, most down-to-earth way I know of to ease yourself into the contempo poetry scene. Some damn good poems, too, from Mike himself. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 24, 2003 | perma-link | (1) comments

Ghost Pen
Friedrich -- Another impossible-to-describe Web-art doohickey. It's a pen. It kinda floats. You control it with your mouse. You can actually draw with it. It's too bizarre, and too cool. Play with it here. Link thanks to Andrea Harris, here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 24, 2003 | perma-link | (3) comments

Too Pooped to Pop?
Friedrich -- The 1950s ... [March of Time music here] ... Era of repression ... Shiny surfaces concealing massive frustration ... Women kept in their places ... Well, maybe. But maybe not, at least so far as making the beast with two backs is concerned. A new study from The Kinsey Institute suggests that outgoing, achievement-oriented, uninhibited new-millennium women are having less sex than those unfortunate, uptight '50s housewives enjoyed. The BBC report is here -- followed by entertaining collection of comments from readers, opinionating and telling their own tales. I'd feel perversely triumphant about this if only the report weren't coming from Kinsey, whose famous early studies of sex were biased and inaccurate, and led to lots of pointless talk and speculation. The idea that 10-12% of the population is homosexual, for instance, is one we owe to Kinsey. But, hey, maybe they've shaped up and become trustworthy. Link thanks to Daze Reader (here). Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 24, 2003 | perma-link | (1) comments

DVD Journal: "Thunder Road"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- Have you caught any movies lately? The other day, I watched Thunder Road, the Robert Mitchum moonshine-running movie, which I hadn't seen since I was a small kid. Have you seen it lately? It's amazingly interesting, and quite moving. The filmmaking's beyond basic and primitive, but the movie has a real dignity. Easy to see why it was a sensation -- it evidently revived Mitchum's career, and it played for years (years!) in the South, where people felt they'd never seen themselves portrayed so accurately on film. Mitchum was apparently responsible for a lot of this. He was devoted to the movie and its subject matter -- he co-wrote the script, and co-wrote a couple of songs in the movie too. And I'm told he was fanatical about not allowing the hick/hillbilly characters to be made fun of, or cartoon-ified, or put down. He identified, and felt loyalty towards them; though he was born in Connecticut himself, he'd led a layabout, working-class life for years. There was an ethnic loyalty-thing going on too, I seem to remember; he was (I'm pretty sure) of Scotch-Irish descent, which is what most Southern hill people are. There's much more respect shown for the values, preferences, tastes and behaviors of regional people than you're used to in movies, let alone studio movies of that period. And more grown-up, dark emotional values are allowed to be noticed, and to play an active role in setting the action, the scenes and the narrative. Much quirky/awkward/fascinating behavior work by the actors, and by (so it seems) a fair number of locals who were worked into the cast. It's fascinating simply to watch the faces, and to watch these people set their own rhythms. You realize how seldom you run across a movie that allows its characters to be so thoroughly who they are. "Thunder Road" has a lot of what's terrific about Renoir's "The Southerner," minus the genius. Some might say that, in art, the genius (or lack of it) is everything. Lord knows it can count for a lot. But, judging from "Thunder Road," other qualities, such as dignity, patience, and respect, can count for an awful lot too. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 24, 2003 | perma-link | (2) comments

Free Views -- Stop-Action Webographs
Friedrich -- Is it a new art form? An online show of Parisian-street photography by David Crawford -- only they aren't photographs, really. They're like stop-action micro-movies -- three or four frames sequenced, with the sequence repeating over and over, and presented as a kind of individual photograph. Words, as ever, fail me, but the exhibit is worth checking out. It's here. The usual slow-connection warning pertains here... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 24, 2003 | perma-link | (1) comments

Thursday, January 23, 2003

Tacit Knowledge -- Lit vs. Genre fiction
Friedrich -- As you know, I enjoy collecting bits of tacit knowledge -- those things people know, but that they never quite get around to knowing they know, or maybe never quite get around to writing down. One more such occurs to me. It's a book-publishing thing. Many of the people on the editorial (as opposed to business) side of book publishing ... Well, first off, let me just say this flat out: many of them are women. And most of the rest are gay men. There are very, very few straight guys on the editorial side of book publishing. (Which makes the still-bitter-about-the-excesses-of-feminism part of me want to shout: So if you've got a problem with books and how they're published these days, that means you've got a problem with the work of women and gay guys! You can't pin this one on straight guys! But, you know, I've finally gotten that part of me under pretty good control.) Another thing: many people on the editorial side of book publishing are former English majors. They got into the field because, heck, they loved reading and writing. In the biz, they discover that they have to fill out forms, deal with egos, fight bureaucratic fights, make projections, etc. They have to worry about money, and how books sell. The degradation of it! They can't believe how much energy they're having to put into trash fiction, self-help, romance. What's become of literature? So far, so familiar. What often isn't said is that this phase is often succeeded by another, during which the publishing person finds herself growing friendly with a self-help author, hating the latest hot literary book, noticing the degree of craft and commitment that a mystery writer brings to her novels. And finally she finds herself thinking thoughts like this one: "Gee, you know, most of this contempo 'lit' writing that I'm reading and being paid to promote, and which the media are buzzing about, has almost nothing to do with why I fell in love with books. I loved Dickens and Flaubert, not anorectic little memoiry writing-school collections that go nowhere. In fact, I actively dislike a lot of what passes for contempo lit. In further fact, if I'm to be completely honest, I'm getting more I-love-books pleasure out of the work of some genre writers than I am out of the lit writers that the industry sees as its pride and joy. And to my surprise, there are self-help and bizbook authors who I respect and like more as human beings than I do my lit authors. What's going on here?" It's a very common thing for people who came to the business devoted to a fancy ideal of literature to wake up one day and reflect, Gosh, you know, I've developed a lot more respect for professional writers than I ever thought I would. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 23, 2003 | perma-link | (5) comments

I Am a Bad Film Buff
Friedrich -- I just got back home from a screening of a new Korean picture, a bland pictorial semi-epic biopic about a 19th century painter. (Plot spoilers: he grew up poor, liked booze and sex, lived through some hard times, and died.) That makes, I'm pretty sure, the fourth Korean movie I've seen. Three were pictorial, epic, and bland -- calendar-art movies that left me thinking, Why would anyone want to import that? The fourth was a scrappy, handheld, road-trip bad-boy movie about a couple on the lam who like s&m sex. Thwack! That one I could see importing, but it wasn't really very sexy. Nonetheless, there's a bit of heat and buzz around the Korean cinema these days. Well, another significant development in film-buff-land that's about to pass me by. Four tries is enough; I'm cutting the Korean cinema loose. Dismaying to realize how many such exciting film-buff trends haven't excited me. Am I jaundiced? Stuck in the '70s? Just old? So many Film Comment/Film Quarterly-type movements have left me cold. African movies? I saw a half-a-dozen, and dimly recall that one of them was a bit better than the other five. The Iranian cinema? Kiarostami's something, provided you're in the mood for a something that's slow, ponderous and intellectual. ("Nobel-prize filmmaking" is what The Wife calls it.) Even the Chinese movies, a vogue that lasted for years, did nothing for me. Raise that Boring Red Lantern: I didn't see a one that I enjoyed, not that I was exactly a habitue of the theaters showing those films. But maybe I'm not completely hopeless as a film buff. I did finally become a fan of one new Asian filmmaker -- Edward Yang, whose movies "A Confucian Confusion" and "Yi Yi" I really love. Of course, he's not Chinese, not really. He's Taiwanese and, if I remember right, he went to Stanford. And I'm not sure anyone set him up as part of some "movement." So maybe he doesn't qualify, and maybe I'm not redeemed. How are your film-buff credentials these days? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 23, 2003 | perma-link | (9) comments

Interview with Teacher X, Part II
Michael-- I'm glad you liked the first half of the interview with Teacher X, a former corporate executive who has switched careers to go into teaching. After some prodding I got him to sit down and discuss his recently completed student teaching stint at an inner city middle school. Here is the second, and final half of his interview: INTERVIEW WITH TEACHER X, Part II Friedrich: Why were all your kids in the 7th and 8th grade if their skills weren’t anywhere near the required level? Didn’t anyone notice that they were seriously behind? Teacher X: I think that the school principals and teachers are perfectly aware that the kids aren’t at their grade level, and not just in math but also in reading and writing (perhaps especially in reading and writing). Why were the kids passed along? So they wouldn’t drive the teachers insane, I think. Is this a covert admission on the part of the administration and teachers that they don’t think these kids will ever be able to handle academic subjects? You won’t get anybody to say that explicitly, but I suspect that’s the case. If you could take these kids, and put them in a different environment, particularly from their earliest years, I think that would make a big difference in the outcome. These kids come from homes and neighborhoods where there are very few people who have graduated from high school, and where almost no one has gone to college. There’s no money that the kids know of to pay for college (there may actually be scholarships, but the kids don’t know how to get those). They know they don’t have the academic performance to get into a college. And in their mind a college education involves learning skills of such abstraction that there’s no way these kids can conceive of ever using them. The best legitimate job that these kids can conceive of is working in a factory with good wages. What’s the morale like among the teachers? The principal was quite upbeat. I couldn’t tell how genuine her enthusiasm was, as I never got to know her personally. The assistant principal seemed to be in a state of depression. She was very far away from education issues—she had a lot of duties in the cafeteria, locating substitute teachers, dealing with discipline problems, etc. She was very put upon and wasn’t too happy, not that I blame her. I didn’t have much interaction with the teachers from the earlier grades. In my interactions with the middle school teachers—the 6th, 7th, and 8th grade teachers—I wouldn’t say that I noticed many real enthusiastic teachers, but none of the them were derelict teachers. They all appeared to take their subject matter seriously, and they had hopes of being successful as they started each new school day. But “Z” school isn’t an easy place to keep your enthusiasm up. Abandon hope, all ye who enter here? Pretty much. Did it bother the teachers that the kids weren’t... posted by Friedrich at January 23, 2003 | perma-link | (3) comments

More Author Interviews
Friedrich -- Another good web resource for fans of long interviews with authors: January magazine's archive, here. Good stuff! Plus, to their credit, a broad range of writers, from lit to self-help to crime -- Kazuo Ishiguro, Clive Barker, and much that falls in-between. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 23, 2003 | perma-link | (0) comments

WTC -- Gaudi's Entry
Friedrich -- A design by Antonio Gaudi has been resurrected by a Boston architect who wants to place it in the competition for the WTC site. You can see a nothing-if-not-striking image -- one that suggests that, like Frank Lloyd Wright, Gaudi too went through a Ming-the-Merciless phase -- here. Link thanks to Jim Ryan at Philosoblog (here), who loves the design. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 23, 2003 | perma-link | (5) comments

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Interview with Teacher X, Part I
Michael— Knowing your interest in education, I forced a friend of mine—a man who spent decades in the corporate world and then decided to become a math teacher—to sit down and discuss his recently completed student teaching stint at an inner city middle school. I also asked him about his experiences during his teacher training education (where he was a straight "A" student.) I found the picture he drew of the gap between what teachers are trained to deliver and the needs of his inner city students to be depressing yet compelling. Here are a few brief quotes: I saw the national standardized test scores—both for math and for other subjects—of a number of my 8th grade students. Most of the scores were below the 15th percentile; the highest scores were in the 30th percentile range. So I was basically dealing with a student population who was in the lowest fifth, nationwide. I am a believer in a lot of paper-and-pencil number play. To a certain extent, there’s grinding involved. I know most kids don’t like that. But if you can somehow give them a reason to successfully grind, their self-confidence builds up with every answer they get correct. The more you play, the better you get, the more confidence you have, the more you like the challenge of trying another math problem. But you have to be good computationally to get that positive feedback. Most kids these days, in any school, have been shortchanged computationally. Because some of his opinions are quite at odds with the orthodoxy of the pedagogy profession (and because he’s still looking for a full-time job), I took the liberty of suppressing some of the details in Teacher X's account. Despite my edits, I think the interview describes a situation with critical implications for both social and educational policy. Check it out. Cheers, Friedrich P.S. My original intent was to use the "Read More" link to access the body of the interview, but I can't seem to figure out how to make that happen. Anyway, until I can figure out how to get this link to work, I present the interview here: INTERVIEW WITH TEACHER X, Part I Friedrich: Teacher X, why don’t you describe the school? Teacher X: “Z” Middle School, and also “Z” Elementary—the same school teaches grades kindergarten through eight—is located right on a major freeway in the center of a large Midwestern city. It is also sandwiched between two other large freeways. The building was built in 1928. It has three stories. The middle school students—the oldest and most difficult to handle students—are kept on the top floor all day. They shift from room to room on that floor. The building is in fairly good repair, although there are some startling gaps—for example, none of the clocks in the hallways work, so there is no official time anywhere in the whole school. The third floor is extremely hot and muggy during the opening month of school. I’d want to open the... posted by Friedrich at January 22, 2003 | perma-link | (2) comments

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Artchat Survival Tips -- "Greatness"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- It's been years since I've enjoyed some of the typical old arguments about art. It's been years since I've enjoyed arguing about the arts period, come to think of it. "Is it art?" "Is it great art?" -- to my mind, at least these days, who cares? Or rather: I prefer to see conversations about art not get hung up on such questions. Do you still enjoy the old freshman-in-college quarrels? Why do I suspect the answer is "No"? I wouldn't for an instant pose as a professional aesthetician. But, as a practical matter, I find that after decades in the arts and media worlds I've developed some survival strategies. A few of them are useful (at least for me) in terms of avoiding dullness and unpleasantness in discussions about the arts. I'm sure you have many such too. What do you say we A) compare notes about these tricks, and B) Pass a few of them along? Hey, we're getting gray and grizzled; it's time for us to enter our wise-and-tiresome phase. So, in that wise-but-tiresome spirit, here's the first such trick that occurs to me. Purely out of laziness, I'm going to assume that the reader in fact wants to avoid overfamiliar art quarrels. Given how ready to rumble many blogsurfers seem to be, that could be a mistake. Even so ... Today's 2Blowhards Artchat Tip for avoiding tedious arguments concerns the "greatness" question. Everyone has stumbled into this morass: "Elvis is greater than Mozart!" "Are you out of your mind?!!!" "But I really love his music. How can you say it isn't great?" "And what right do you have to call it great anyway?" "Harold Bloom says it's great, that's who!" "Well, Greil Marcus blah blah." And then up pops the voice of the Predictable Radical: "Greatness is just a dead-white-male construct anyway..." Snooze-ola. Spare me. Puh-leeze. I'm outta here. But how to handle, and avoid, such moments? Here are my (possibly lame-o) tips and reflections. First, remember that the fact that you love a given work doesn't mean it's great. Second, remember that the fact that a given work is great doesn't mean you have to love it. What is it about "great" anyway? If we're talking about "great" in the sense of "it's part of the canon," then this is simply a consensus opinion that has evolved over time. Lots of smart and informed people have agreed that this is the case -- which doesn't mean that this opinion won't slowly change with the passage of more time, or that there haven't been dissenters. This is art, not science, as we've stressed on this blog several times. It's an ongoing discussion, not a hard and firm body of objective knowledge. (And please, let's for the moment overlook the fuzzy edges of science and the more intricate arguments about the philosophy of science. Art is simply softer than science.) So is "greatness" in the arts meaningless, or completely subjective? And... posted by Michael at January 21, 2003 | perma-link | (12) comments

Appropriation Takes It Up a Notch
Michael— I was quite intrigued to read Jennifer Ordonez’ story in the Wall Street Journal of January 21 about a music producer known as 7 Aurelius. Mr. Aurelius (who started out in life as Marcus Vest) is a hot producer who co-wrote and co-produced songs that were No. 1 on Billboard’s singles chart for 23 weeks in 2002. He is now attempting to cut a $10 million deal with a record company to create his own label, and to raise his profile, has embarked on a publicity campaign featuring, oddly enough, himself. As Ms. Ordonez remarks: Not too long ago, musicians were the stars of the music business. Producers, with rare exceptions, labored behind the scenes. But these days a new breed of producer has learned to spin hit-making acumen into fame, fortune and influence, sometimes rivaling the performer at the microphone. Part of the reason is that the music industry is desperate for hits…producers who consistently please fickle audiences get supersized deals from hit-hungry record companies and often command hundreds of thousands of dollars for a few days work. And a few days is often all it takes. Producers create songs at warp speeds using advanced digital technology. Lots of songs are driven by “beats,” or electronic riffs, and are based on recordings of old hits, interpreted anew in part to avoid having to make certain royalty payments. I had heard of the concept of “appropriation” in the visual arts, but I hadn’t quite realized how far the music industry had taken it: Although Mr. Aurelius is a musician, some of his writing is derivative. He sometimes holes up in the studio and uses other artists’ recordings to help him conceive new songs. On a recent evening, he popped discs by Prince, Phil Collins and Norah Jones into a CD player before settling on “Cherish the Day,” a song by pop vocalist Sade. His fingers moved across the keyboards composing a melody that was similar, but different—the key, he says, to creating hits that will resonate with listeners. Twenty minutes later, it was a “beat.” Maybe someday soon we’ll have discussions of how 7 Aurelius has produced a significant social comment by recycling and “draining the meaning” out of previous pop songs. (Hey, it worked for those visual art guys.) But you kind of wonder if this very trend doesn’t have something to do with the declining fortunes of the music industry these days. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at January 21, 2003 | perma-link | (4) comments

More Mizners
Michael-- I have a question regarding your posting on the architecture of Addison Mizner. Is he any relation to Wilson Mizner, the screenwriter and author of such bon mots as: A fellow who is always declaring he's no fool usually has his suspicions. God help those who do not help themselves. I respect faith, but doubt is what gets you an education. Has it ever struck you that there was a sort of a cultural wave of Mizner-ification in the early decades of the 20th century? Did you ever want to start a revival? Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at January 21, 2003 | perma-link | (4) comments

Monday, January 20, 2003

Tacit Knowledge -- Noise, age, fiction, pop
Friedrich -- As you know, I like folk wisdom, professional knowledge, rules of thumb -- the things people know but often don't get around to expressing, the general rules that can be such a help in getting you into the ballpark. Partly this is me, I'm sure. Partly this is because of the nature of the arts -- a field in which personal responses, quirkiness, feelings and sensations play an important role. Loose rules of thumb are often all there is to go on. Exceptions allowed, of course, for those extremely-formal art forms, such as ballet or the writing and performing of fugues, where correctness and strict technical knowledge play a large role... In any case, in years and years of following the arts, I've talked to a lot of people in the field and scribbled down a few of their rules of thumb. As these rules come back to me, I'll pass them along. Hey, a few came back to me today as I was doing some shopping. Loud noises. Young people like 'em better than old people. Boys like 'em better than girls. People generally start disliking loud noise in their late 20s -- it stops being experienced as exciting and starts being experienced as annoying and painful. Women like fiction more than men do. Many people start losing interest in new pop music in their late 20s. In middle age, many people who read a lot of fiction in their youth turn to nonfiction, especially history. Is any of this backed up by deep, serious sociological studies? Possibly, though I don't know of any. But these are a few of the loose rules that people in the entertainment, culture, and arts biz find useful, and some of the bedrock of common sense on which culture is built. Got any to add? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 20, 2003 | perma-link | (19) comments

TV Alert
Friedrich -- A small pile of goodies from the giant information-and-entertainment cornucopia that is this week’s cable-TV schedule. (All times are EST.) DOCUMENTARIES Taxicab Confessions 2003 (HBO, the midnight between Tuesday and Wednesday; Wednesday at 10 pm). Tiny cameras inside taxicabs tape the indiscreet chatter and misbehavior of passengers. Sleazy? You bet. Fascinating? That too, although if you’re like me you’ll watch one episode and skip the others. Moral qualms can be at least partially allayed by remembering that the people onscreen, taped doing and saying embarrassing and shameful things, have signed forms allowing the footage to be used. The Australian Tennis Open, all week long at many times on ESPN2. The Menendez Brothers: The E! True Hollywood Story (E!, 8 pm Thursday). The case of two rich L.A. brothers who murdered their parents -- another good episode on this well-researched tabloid series. MOVIES Lantana (Cinemax, Wednesday at 8 pm). One of my favorite movies of the past few years: a thoughtful, low-key Australian examination of loss and unease that’s like a smaller and trimmer version of “Short Cuts.” Grown-up, beautifully made, and every bit as satisfying as a good literary novel. Criss Cross (TCM, 8 pm Thursday). Burt Lancaster in a first-rate film noir directed by the much-underrated Robert Siodmak. Tersely expressionistic action that achieves the status of symbolic poetry, as far as I’m concerned. Red Dust, followed by Mogambo (TCM, noon Friday). The first, from 1932, stars Clark Gable and Jean Harlow and is a Victor-Fleming-directed boisterous rubber-plantation comedy-romance; the second, from 1953, is a remake, directed by John Ford, and starring Gable alongside Grace Kelly. Good star-vehicle movies both, and worth comparing. Grace Kelly fans won’t want to miss her in Mogambo, one of her earliest starring roles. The Bicycle Thief (TCM, 4:15 a.m. Saturday morning). In the middle and late ‘40s, some Italian film writers and directors abandoned spectacle, found their stories among real people, and created the style that has became known as Italian neo-realism. Emphasizing simplicity, directness and respect for lives as they’re actually lived, it has been one of the most influential movements in film history. This simple story, about a poor man, his son, and their quest to find a stolen bicycle, is one of the movement’s three or four peaks. Written by Cesare Zavattini and directed by Vittorio De Sica. SHOWS I HAVEN’T SEEN BUT AM LOOKING FORWARD TO: Power, Privilege and Justice (Court TV, Wednesday 10 pm). This episode of the Dominick Dunne true-crime series concerns the case of Alfred Taubman, the Sotheby’s CEO who was convicted (some think unfairly) of conspiracy to manipulate prices. I’m hoping for good glimpses of how the art market works. T.R.: An American Lion (History Channel: part one, Monday 9-11 pm, repeated on Tuesday morning from 1-3 a.m.; part two, Tuesday 9-11 pm, repeated Wednesday morning from 1-3 a.m. The whole package repeated Saturday from 8 till midnight.) Hmmmmm: I want to learn about Teddy Roosevelt -- but a four-hour, heavily-advertised treatment of his... posted by Michael at January 20, 2003 | perma-link | (0) comments

Artfight Update
Friedrich -- I notice that the entertaining fisticuffs that broke out in the comments section a few postings down ("Guest Posting -- Michael L. etc") have spread over to Andrea Harris' blog Spleenville, here. As my grandmother used to say, "That's quite a to-do!" Many thanks to everyone for joining in, by the way. It's heartening, if rather overwhelming, to be reminded of how much many people care about these questions -- let alone how fervently they they hold and express their positions. Who says that juicy discussions about art don't take place anymore? Now: how about Friedrich on the new LA Cathedral? Or me on the LA City Hall and Addison Mizner? Hey, readers: It took Friedrich and me years to 1) Find our way around the box that is Modern Architecture, and 2) Actually come out the other side. Years! And much in the way of (probably wasted) time spent thinking and researching! And where are the comments, I ask you? No one's even left a comment saying something along the lines of, "Gosh, you know, the 2Blowhards have half a point here: the scholars and experts talk about all these weirdo/nightmare glass and steel and concrete boxes and experiments as the only Modern Architecture, and actually there are lots of nifty other kinds of recent buildings, including many that are really attractive and pleasant, that fit in yet add a little something, that I could even dig living in, or working in, or walking by! Cool! Whaddya know: There's a lot more to Modern Architecture than Modernism!" Not one such comment! Sheesh. But not bitter or anything, no sirree, Michael UPDATE: I can't seem to make the link to the Spleenville posting itself work -- the one above is a dud. So, many apologies. But those interested in following this dispute can use this link here to get to Spleenville, and can then do a search on "Blowhard." That'll do ya. Or so I hope. UPDATE #2: Andrea Harris, the queen of Spleenville, has delivered herself of another terrific posting on the topic, readable here.... posted by Michael at January 20, 2003 | perma-link | (3) comments