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« Did I Mention the 12.3% Rate of Return? | Main | Art Joke »

September 03, 2003


Friedrich --

* Florence Fabricant reports (in the NYTimes, here) that enrollment at professional culinary programs has jumped 20-100 percent since 2001.

* "Metrosexuality"? What's that? Felix Salmon explains the term here. I also notice that Felix felt about as enthusiastic (not) about "American Splendor" as I did, here.

* A cab driver once told me that he liked to end his night's work by stopping outside Chippendale's. "Why's that?" I asked. "Because after the show's over, that's where the city's horniest women can be found," he said. "And they've already bought and paid for as many drinks as they're going to need." (He was no metrosexual.) Yahmdallah once had a similar inspiration, and tells the story about his adventure here. A hilarious posting -- not to give anything away, but I suspect that he hasn't repeated the experiment. You have to read past the posting's first paragraph to find the story.

* The Smithsonian presents a compact intro to South Asian art here.

* Should videogames be taught in college? Evan Kirchhoff thinks not, and works up an amusing and persuasive head of steam here.

* People are chatting about movie westerns: Spencer Warren (here), Tim Hulsey (here), and Terry Teachout (here). Why did the Western die out? My own shot at an answer is that it didn't, it just changed its clothes and reemerged as the sci-fi movie. Before you laugh, here's the similarity: both genres (by and large) are peddling the pleasures of action-centered heroic morality tales set in mythical landscapes.

* Samizdata's Michael Jennings supplies a lot of information and perspective as he tries to make sense out of the summer movie season here.

* I noticed a small piece in Chicago Magazine by Randy Minor, who lives in one of Mies van der Rohe's legendary modernist buildings. Despite the building's status, Minor isn't wild about his apartment. Why not? Well, for one thing, those floor-to-ceiling windows are a serious challenge. "My own living habits, however dull, are calculated and self-conscious the minute I walk into my modernist marvel," Minor writes. "The only privacy I have is in a couple of corners in my tiny bathroom and kitchen, where I retreat when I want to be 'alone.'" I couldn't find the piece online, but here's Chicago Magazine's site.

* More than half the residents of Miami-Dade County are now foreign-born, reports Matthew Waite in the St. Petersburg Times here. "Miami-Dade reflects population trends nationally and statewide," writes Waite. "There are now 33-million foreign-born residents in the United States, the Census Bureau reports, a 44 percent increase since 1990."

* You're in bed. You're on the verge of sleep. You're sliding into it, sliding, sliding ... And your body twitches. Writing for Discovery here, Hannah Holmes explains what's known about these dropping-into-sleep twitches, a phenomenon evidently called "myclonic jerk." Link thanks to Edgy, here.

OK, now back to my own thoughts for a few days ...



posted by Michael at September 3, 2003


"He loves Armani, is seen just as often near a catwalk as competing in sport, confesses an adulation for Kylie Minogue, even designs his own jewellery. But he's not gay." This is from a March 11, 2003 article called "The Metrosexual Male." What cracks me up is although they keep talking about how "comfortable" they are just, y'know, taking care of themselves, they keep saying, all the way through the article, that they're "not gay." Yeah---they sound real comfortable.

"Mark Wahlberg's semi-naked appearance for Calvin Klein underwear in the early 1990s is often cited as the beginning of mainstream male vanity. Marketing legend has it that the ad was aimed at a gay market, but straight men took notice"---also from the same article.

Posted by: annette on September 3, 2003 7:03 PM

You're right about sci-fi movies taking the basic plots and settings of Westerns. Still, I think sci-fi is fundamentally very different from Westerns.

A few superficial observations: Sci-fi space epics are about the next frontier; Western horse operas are about the last one. Sci-fi is usually about the future; Westerns are about the past. Sci-fi heroes are younger (Flash Gordon, Luke Skywalker, "Neo" Anderson); Western heroes are older (William S. Hart, Ethan Edwards, Josey Wales). In short, sci-fi inherited the Western's moral base but discarded the elegiac tone.

This is also why I disagree with Spencer Warren's assertion that the sci-fi heroes of contemporary Hollywood reflect our cultural nihilism. To me sci-fi protagonists like Lara Croft (Tomb Raider) seem almost naively affirmative; they represent a limitless human potential, a defiance of facticity, which allows them to leap over trees, fly through the air, and generally perform feats that would kill or cripple any real person. Their unrealistic perfection might lead to audience nihilism eventually, but that doesn't make these characters nihilistic. Quite the contrary.

Posted by: Tim Hulsey on September 3, 2003 9:34 PM

Annette -- I was startled yesterday when I was at the drugstore picking up some shaving creme. Right next the ol' Gillette Foamy was a shelf full of hair-removal products for men -- Nair for Men, things like that, advertising themselves as chest-and-back-hair-removal aids. The hairless, naked male torso -- but not gay. Actually, an awful lot of how male attractiveness is sold in the media these days is quite straightforwardly gay. It's remarkable how unabashed the gay design-and-marketing community is about this; they're very proud of selling what used to be considered gay values to straight guys.

Tim -- What occurs to me as I think about the transition from the Western to the sci-fi movie is that it occurs more or less at the same time that the adult male lost credibility as a hero. It used to be that boys enjoyed imagining themselves as Coop, or Joel McRae, or Duke. Then along came the '60s and '70s, and young guys stopped enjoying imagining themselves as older guys with some dignity and honor (a few exceptions: Eastwood, maybe Paul Newman), and started to prefer imagining themselves as boy-men forever, always facing infinite possibilities. The western (adult male) hero is earthbound and has a past; the sci-fi (boy-man) hero can leave the confines of the earth and explore a fantastic future ... Many of the values remain the same, but the respect for the adult man of honor is dropped.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 3, 2003 10:47 PM

A certain level of self-loathing has been present in American westerns since the end of WWII -- it's part of the post-war impulse toward domesticity which made professional women deeply suspect and unattached men positively perilous. There's plenty of masculine self-loathing in Howard Hawks's _Red River_, not to mention all those Anthony Mann/Jimmy Stewart '50s westerns. John Ford's films of the 1960s even turned John Wayne against his image, either playing his machismo for laughs or presenting it as a seedy and decrepit parody of itself. Don Siegel's 1976 film _The Shootist_ is a particularly sad piece of work, if only for the various ways it emasculates Wayne's aging gunfighter. Yet I don't think any of these films signaled the decline of the Western as a commercially viable form. Indeed, the Western's critical and commercial heyday occurred when the values of the Western hero were presented in their most ambivalent form.

In the late '70s and early '80s, at about the same time the sci-fi All-American Teenager replaced the western's Grizzly Adams, teenagers became America's primary moviegoing audience. I don't think that's a coincidence; indeed, I suspect that most developments in American cinema over the past two decades, for better and for worse, can be traced directly to this basic shift in audience. Teenagers want to see morality-based melodramas, but they don't want to see Westerns per se. The genre just carries too much elegiac baggage for them.

Posted by: Tim Hulsey on September 4, 2003 3:22 AM

MBlowhard--Like "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." What I've been surprised by is how devoted a number of my apparently straight male coworkers are to that show---watch it regularly, single and married, ages 29 to 45. And althought they do the obligatory laughing-at-parts-of-it routine, they then start with "But I do like some of the interior decorating tips, and it does make me realize how bland my wardrobe is..."

Posted by: annette on September 4, 2003 5:19 AM

PS---I also think Evan Kirchhoff's rant is hilarious and insightful.

Posted by: annette on September 4, 2003 9:56 AM

When it comes to this fight about western vs. sci-fi, I got Tim Hulsey's back. For the reasons already discussed and more.

Has the adult male lost credibility as a hero? I'm not sure I follow. Are you talking about a hero worthy of grownups?

For your next trick, why not compare the adult male hero of a typical rap video with the traditional hero of the old west. Rappers tend to idolize the Scarface genre... at least on the surface. Deadwood, Compton - there might be similarities.

Am I the only one on this board who has played grand theft auto? I think so. No way anyone should be teaching this. By the way, a lot of gameplay is similar to shooting pool: one becomes interested in pulling off a certain shot or move and tried over and over again until one gives up, and does it the easy way. This would also be true of Frisbee disc golf or using a hula hoop and there really aren't any ethics involved.

Professor what's his face seems to be following that old hack rule of trying to look youthful and edgy by merely talking about Paris Hilton's trashy ass or whatever he imagines the kids today care about.

By the way, last time I looked, Madden Football games outsold Grand Theft Auto. Football. Just plain football.

Posted by: j.c. on September 4, 2003 4:24 PM

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