Don’t Like: How Everything Is Totally Shitty Right Now

May 6, 2010

Everything is totally shitty right now. This is worth acknowledging.

You may have noticed I’ve been posting subjects of pretty much only stuff I like for the last year or so.  Part of this stems from a desire to be optimistic and not just resort to the ease of snark.  At one point I went back and skimmed all my posts and I realized just how easily I fell into inane belittling and mean-spirted-ness. Not overtly so, I’m not one of those bloggers who just unleashes pure venom against everyone and everything… just more than I’d like. It was mostly surprising because I don’t believe that to be part of my nature.

But it’s hard to deny that there’s a lot not to like right now.

For example: The gulf coast is now engrossed in one of the worst ecological disasters ever. For those thinking I’m about to crow on about environmentalism, there is in fact a larger human tragedy to this. The gulf coast fishing industry is now hampered once again. Maybe even effectively killed. The magnitude of the damage will have ramifications for years and it will cost the local gulf economy untold millions. Think this is exaggeration? The Exxon Valdez spill wasn’t a fourth the amount of oil spilled here and they are still feeling the effects 20 years later. I visited New Orleans just a week and a half ago and cannot tell you how much I love that city. And now to think that as they were just getting back on their feet after Katrina, all may be undone.

But there’s a lot more than just this. Horrible storms have flooded Tennessee’s great cities. Arizona just made racial profiling not only legal, but an active policy. Oklahoma legislature just made it okay for doctors to withhold information from patients. Britain may be in the midst of actively overthrowing their party in a special election. Cuba had their worst sugar harvest in over a century (this will be a bigger deal than you think). Oh yeah and Greece is going broke and effectively destroying the worldwide economy in the process. They’re not happy about trying to deal with it either.

I understand the impulse to politicize all these stories. Please. Don’t.(1)  Just take them at a human level.  Yes, there are always tales of something going horribly wrong somewhere in the world, but what’s striking about the climate right now is that all of these problems are of incredible magnitude. They’re the kind of stories that could dominate front page headlines for weeks and since they’re happening all at once our magnet-ball media doesn’t even know how to construct a uniform narritive. People need to be caring, but really there’s almost too much to address. So let’s just notice how extreme these situations are are… pretend they were happening directly to you. For some of you, maybe they even are.

These problems are not distant. They are immediate. They are American. They are all the kind of problems that we usually respond to with the kind of self-sustaining vigor that defines us.(2)

We just can’t seem to keep track of them all.

1 – It’s really hard not to politicize them, especially as Fox News continues to spit insidious conjecture about almost all of these subjects; including Michael Brown’s claim that the Obama administration wanted the oil spill to happen and did little to shut it down. Not only is that radically unsubstantiated, but it’s the kind of claim reserved for nutty 9/11 conspirators.  I’m not going to say that it can’t be put on television. That’s fine. I’m just saying you’re ethically bound to standards when you put this kind of information under the guise of “news.” It’s Fox’s fundamental flaw. Not that they are conservative, but that they undermine their own credibility with this kind of haphazard nonsense.  In fact, most of my favorite sources of information tend to lean conservative and I like them because they help me think about a problem in a different sort of context. Meanwhile, I have to out ignore fox news  in order to just get through the fucking day.

2 – and possibly our bullish-ness.


I Write a Dumb Blog…

January 23, 2010

I write a dumb blog. The syntax of this statement is purposefully atrocious, but I embrace the grammatical horror with the same warmth that I embrace the concept of this blog itself. You see, even though I may want to be a writer, this blog does exemplify the merits (or even highlight the goals) of that desire. It instead serves a completely different function in my life: I tend to write compulsively, with constant ebb and flow throughout my day of work, emailing friends, or arguing sports, or posting lame observations. And rarely, if ever, is it because I want to tell people things. It is because the mere act is wholly satisfying. There is conversation going on constantly inside my head, one that seems of grave importance, but usually being about nothing more superfluous than surprising aptness of certain films or the lacking qualities of certain people. But if I do not share these things, they are somehow lost. An argument inside my head is nowhere for it to live. It should breath. It should be expressed and crafted. And maybe if it is lucky it should be ever so lucky as to be read by a single eyeball; because inherently the passing thoughts and notions inside one’s head are horribly lonesome things.

It’s not an alien notion. It is why people with absolutely no writing talent blog in various forms and why they share the most menial and useless details of their lives. The motive is not different from the most eloquent thoughts an essays of some of our great writers. When they think, or wonder, or develop a passing material fancy then one simply wants to feel like someone is coming with them. This is not to say this exercise is sad or pathetic, but just ultimately necessary. We tend to chastise those who share every detail of their lives as conversely having “no life” or probably lacking someone to share it with, but I find that to be a false appraisal. I have a wonderful significant other with which I share my life and hope to til the end of our days, but quite honestly, if I were to assault her with the daily pointless musings on “stuff” that pass through my head with alarming regularity, she would have long since obtained, loaded, and fired a shotgun directly into my person. And it would be wholly justified. Our significant others are there to enjoy the wonderful quiet and happy moments of our lives, not to listen to our needless crap, be our punching bags, or let us blow off steam. They are to be cherished. And so I write a dumb blog to bring people through the inherently lonesome and terrifying journey of trying to figure “stuff” out. Which I admit, makes it all the more strange that most of my arguments and theories are wholly declarative in nature. If I was really wondering or entertaining notions my blog would be far more nebulous and obtuse. It often reflects a cocksuredness that is completely absent from my actual mental dialogue. And such is a function of my own limitations.

And they are limited. I truly consider the quality of this blog to be substandard. I often rush out posts with one menial edit simply because it makes no sense spending infinite amounts of time crafting some thoughts that are wholly disposable. Which is not to say the thought or reasoning behind them is invalid, or that I’m not proud of some posts (the feminism one is rambling but I actually thing stands as pretty insightful. It certainly gets the most attention and emails to me). But I wholly assure you that all my best work sits in the litany of unfinished drafts that seem to outnumber the posts I already have on here. Mega Part 2’s that were promised, detailed analysis of tax policies, and the logical fallacies of a sub-standard health care system. It’s all my best work, yet all hopelessly half done and untimely (posts with some perceptive 2008 election coverage anyone?).

But the ultimate point is this: this blog is going to change. It’s going to become even more obtuse and superfluous. But only because I’ve already started, and going to start  another blog which will be far more serious and professional in its aims.

The first blog which has already started is called www.foodilikeandfoodidontlike.wordpress.com and it evaluates food, restaurants, and culinary philosophy with far more seriousness than is often found in there. I hope to make it informative and fun, but wholly admit it’s core audience will be foodies and those with mild food curiosity.

The second blog is going to something else entirely. Devoid of gimmick or pomp, there will be actual, serious journalism comprised of interviews, profiles, and long form non-trivial essays. And I’m determined to make it actually good.

I will continue to post on stuffilike for sure. And I hope it will be entertaining. For example, I’m currently planning a long reoccurring series about sexual icons of yesterday and today and why there has to be a way to talk about them with an apt social and totally-non-sexist context.

So why talk about this? Is it really important to announce a paradigm shift in philosophy for a stupid blog? Well sort of, because this blog is surprisingly popular. Not mega popular “did you hear about it on so and so?” kind of of way, but in the way that I have a decent amount of actual readers who are not my family (or even friends!) and hundreds of people coming in the form of float-in-traffic every day (side-note: the search engine terms people use to find this blog are absolutely fucking hilarious). And I really do appreciate those who take the time to read. I truly do.

So I just wanted to give a heads up. Hope to keep seeing you.

Thanks to all,

Mike


Don’t Like: The New York Post’s Decision To Post Erin Andrews Spy Video Pictures and Including A Distasteful Cartoon As Well

July 23, 2009

(note: this is not page with the picture… I’m not going to do that)

Ragging on a rag like The New York Post (eh, get it?) seems like a waste of time. It’s a nonsense paper, with a nonsense agenda, designed to make money, and it does. Fine.

I’m also not here to get political. That would be pointless. Dismissing a sensationalist paper for it’s politics completely misses the point as they are inherently designed to piss people off or go the extra step out of bounds on a given angle (politically speaking of course). Does it potentially have a negative effect? Sure. Do I like that so many people read it? No. It’s just doesn’t make sense to rail against this because it’s an inherent reality of the mud slinging business. And most of their gossip rag stuff is completely trashy, but appropriately trashy in the larger sense. In other words it’s exactly the kind of nonsense you’d expect to find in any magazine like that.

So then The Post went along the other day and ran a story on page 1 referencing the now unfolding and infamous Erin Andrews story. If you have not heard, the ESPN sideline reporter was recently filmed with a peephole camera as she was changing in her hotel room. It is a significant offense. Highly illegal. And rotten to the core. Honestly, I did not find that it happened that surprising. Erin Andrews has a vehement, vocal, and often juvenile fan base, stemming from the fact that she is an attractive, capable woman and is a member of the sports world, particularly college sports. That lends itself to a certain kind of attention. She is also a decent sideline reporter (my qualms are more with actually sideline reporting and not her performance itself). The problem with having this kind of celebrity-like admiration is that she also a sideline reporter and NOT a giant celebrity with security and protection and all the like. Honestly, I’ve worried for her safety in a variety of situations.  Sure, she seems tough and no nonsense and all that good stuff; she’s probably perfectly capable of taking care of her self… but still. I worried about, I dunno, something like this.

Most of the major papers have and simply abstained from referencing the story all together… but The Post? They ran an article about her outrage… including a screenshot from the video (a barely censored one).

This is absolutely deplorable.

More than than that it is actually illegal. They are posting a pic which was from an illegally shot video. Admittedly, I do not know the finer points of the law concerning this issue, but I know that that kind of act is illegal and grounds for legal action. The Post have since taken it down on the website version of their paper. But probably more because people are pissed (even within their regular readers). This sentiment is also not to imply that I, or some of the people who complained, are some kind of prude or believe that sexuality has no place in modern media. Who can’t understand why a lot of people would want to see a naked video of someone famous? Particularly an attractive famous person.  It’s just that I recognize the inherent difference of a video obtained through such incredibly dishonest and violating means. Not helping matters is that some people are confusing the release of this video with the “release” of some other famous celebrity videos; they don’t understand what the big deal or difference is and why this video can’t legally be posted.

There isn’t even a comparison. Those videos were released with pre-made deals and financial compensation. It was planned. This video was not.

Which leads to something else The Post happened to do in that edition of the paper. They printed this cartoon.

07222009

There are three possible meanings you can take from this cartoon. The first is that modern corporate/celebrity culture uses sex and personal stuff to sell sell sell. Which would be valid. But that would be giving a lot of credit. See the problem is those 5 blatant ESPN signs, which means the second possible meaning and perhaps most obvious is that ESPN planned or wanted this video to come out. Or is somehow glad. Which is malicious and implies they are a morally bankrupt organization… which I find to be anything but the case for the company. It also completely discounts the fact they’ve been running around like crazy suing websites and LEGITIMATELY trying to shut it down. If anything ESPN has been the one major sports coverage unit that has really, and truly tried to abstain from sexualizing sports. They consider themselves a family network. They really do and seperates themselves from Fox Sports, which has no qualms about doing so (the great irony of this being that Fox sports is 1000 times more likely to have the kind of behavior/viewpoint shown in this cartoon). The third meaning, and most offensive, is that Erin Andrews was in on it. Which if that is the intent, is probably the most heinous, sexist, cynical, violating tone I can think of for a situation like this.

Once again… this is absolutely deplorable.

Yes the cartoon probably falls under free speech and probably has the legal standards to run… but then I have the right under free speech to say this probably should never have seen publication and if I ran a paper it wouldn’t… ever.

This sounds like I’m getting all high and mighty and holier than thou… I know… I’m sorry. True, should I expect anything less from society? Is this really THAT big a deal? I’m not sure. But sometimes I get tired of being cynical. I get tired of just ignoring shitty behavior just because humans are inclined to be shitty sometimes. But every once and awhile it’s okay to call a duck a duck. Their actions are egregious. It deserves to be called out.

In response to the whole affair, ESPN has blacklisted any Post reporters from their coverage and removed their access to any ESPN broadcast. This will have an immediate effect on their coverage and will hopefully hurt them financially.

But for Erin Andrews, in a perfect world, she would sue for posting the picture and defamation of character for the cartoon. She has a legit claim with the picture, but the cartoon claim would be thrown out under free speech. And since the post is part of the News Corp empire the history of two mega corporations suing each other tells us that it would be so bogged down in various stalls and litigation as to be a complete waste of time.

So in the end, ESPN made the right call.

For me, the whole thing has no effect, really.

I will continue to never read The Post.


Like: Overblown Opening Day/Week Baseball “Stories”

April 9, 2009

OH MY GOD! CC SABATHIA SUCKS! NEW YORK HAS WASTED 190 MILLION! TEXIERA CAN’T HANDLE THE PRESSURE! THE RED SOX ARE BETTER THAN THE RAYS THEY BEAT THEM 5-3! ELLSBURY CAN’T HIT ANYMORE!

Saying opening day results are prone to hyperbole is like saying I am using a simile right now.

Really,we shouldn’t we be better than this? But hyperbole sells papers and I even seen legit people at least addressing the issue of “well, you want to get off to a good start.” For the fans, yeah sure, whatever. But statistically speaking CC Sabathia has had many awful starts to his seasons. Last year especially and then he got it going on. Texiera is also another notoriously slow starter and yet no one seems to pay attention to these trends.

The fact of the matter is whatever seeming deduction that has come out of the last two days will be supplanted by another one once the week is out. And then another one by the end of the month. Trends will layer themselves and start to define a larger context. That’s baseball. It’s a law of averages, not the recent singular moment. Every guy goes 0-5. Every guy puts together a decent streak. The singular stuff only seems to matter in the post-season.  There’s about 160 games left so let’s wait and see how everyone shapes up.

Just started watching the Red Sox game now. Lester strikes out ANOTHER! CY YOUNG HERE HE COMES!


Like: Generation Kill

April 8, 2009

gk13

So I went back and finally finished/re-watched all of Generation Kill.

… Amazing.

For those unaware, Generation Kill (GK)is an HBO miniseries about the invasion of Iraq from the perspective of the 1st marine recon unit (which for the purposes of that war, was basically a marine battalion in Humvees). It was made by David Simon and Ed Burns, the geniuses responsible for the greatest television show of all-time: The Wire. For those who tire of the ham-fisted Iraq politicization  and fictions, GK is about as far from that as you can get. Yes, GK is very much of The Wire formula/sensibility, but the wonderful thing about The Wire formula/sensibility is that is it is inherently designed to mimic the truths and forms of the subject itself. GK does not approach the war and Iraq from an ideological and didactic standpoint, it approaches truths through character. Look, I’m not going to say that Generation Kill is definitive truth or anything that grandiose, but it might be as close as you can get because it approaches its subject from a journalistic standpoint. There is no true intention of GK except to supplement the experience for those who were not there. It simply tries to deal openly and honestly about the condition of singular moments and not to make something accessible, but to make something of the experience that rang true to the marines on the ground. And to be sure what they did was authentic, they had an actual marine in the writing room at all times, as well as original writer  Evan Wright.

Getting to the matter of character: Generation Kill was originally a book written by Evan Wright who was doing an article for Rolling Stone. He ended up riding point Humvee in 1st recon and writing about his experiences. He is represented as a character in the miniseries too (which sort of makes GK is a basically a factual recreation if you will).  And Evan really makes no attempts to prognosticate, but rather to assimilate into the population. He is not really a character in the singular sense, but our observer, like Ishmael in Moby Dick.

The two central figures Wright observes are the two men in the front of said point Humvee: the first is the driver, Cpl. Josh Ray Person,  played by James Ransone (Ziggy from The Wire season 2!). Much like Ziggy, Ray’s entire existence is a force of nature; he is 100% pure black humor. As a recon marine, Ray frequently stares into void of potential death and the reality of killing other human beings, but he only finds inherent irony and silliness. It’s one part coping mechanism and one part destiny: Ray’s predisposition makes him a Marine through and through, it is almost as if it was the only thing he can do. He wants combat. He wants action. He’s also somehow endearing as hell (being funny often helps in that regard), despite completely typifying the titular “Generation Kill.” But that’s the real rub of the title, much like Ray, it is laced with irony. But in truth it is  Sgt. Brad “Iceman” Colbert, played by Alexander Skarsgaard (son of stellan!), who is the most amazing part of GK and the proverbial anchor of the series. Brad brings a deeply parental nature to his team; he leads by example with a serious demeanor, but so much boils under his surface: reservations, contempt at inept officers, rage, fear, and happiness.  It is such an introspective performance; a man who’s has all the reason in the world to be grandiose (considering the grandiose setting and events) and thus has to be muted in order to cope. Alexander/brad is a compassionately brooding figure; also a massive figure, towering above most others (notably: Alexander was a former Swedish marine). To use my favorite saying: he is just stupid good in the role. Really, make no mistake, this is the stuff leading men are made of.  It’s no surprise Kenneth Branaugh is basically going nuts trying to get marvel to sign off his casting of Alexander as motherfucking THOR (it’s perfect).

The two characters of Ray and Brad are somewhat antithetical, yet both are excellent examples of good marines. They are responsible and knowledgeable. They care about their fellow marines. They are great in combat and subvert any of their fears. Truly, they seem to have no fear of death. But there is another member of their point Humvee team and his name is Lance Cpl. Harold James Trombly. He is rather easy right off, because he contains so many qualities that define a scumbag, yet every bit of that is mixed with an oozing innocence. His actions infantile and child-like, but not in an insufferable way, but a vulnerable way. He could be grumbling about wanting to kill dogs, but there is an odd, daft sweetness to his manner. Really Trombly is the kind of guy who’s situation in life never really gave him a shot at being “normal.” But Ray and Brad in thier relative maturity, seem to give him guidence. It’s a very interesting relationship.

Meanwhile, there is also Lt. Nathaniel Fick. He is Superior officer to Brad and the great example of a wonderful leader who tries to serve his men and make the best of his middle management position. Taking orders which put your men in danger are exceptionally difficult choices and most of the time Fick was admirable, and sometimes he let the pressure from above get to him and made mistakes (the “petting a burning dog” moment). But what was most respectable about Fick was that he was always honest with is men and never seemed to think of his career first. But as GK takes the wonderful time to show clearly, Fick’s greatest problem is that when he questions orders (often in the absolute critical interest of his men and their safety) he is regarded as a malcontent who undermines his (incompetent) officers. The best example being the time he was penalized for providing a superior officer from killing himself and everyone in their platoon. How dare he! (Forgive the sarcasm)

All of this makes Fick the shining example of leadership against the bevy of dumbass officers that seemed to populate this marine battalion. To GK‘s credit (or sense of earnest), none of these officers seem to be bad people, but are instead good/delicate/well-intentioned men who simply have no competency or leadership abilities.  It happens all the time in all lines of work; people can be promoted for being good at what they do, but often end up being terrible managers.   One officer was so woefully incompetent that if I ever saw the man Captain America was based on (I don’t care if the actor who played him might have been a little over the top), I would punch that motherfucker in the face. As Captain America was represented in GK, he was an officer who’s absolutely fearfulness of warfare itself, complete over-willingness to fire, lack of regard for prisoners, willingness put others in jeopardy, and constant terror of his superiors officers, made him a perfect storm of recklessness and ineptitude. According to Evan’s account of the battalion, Captain America was directly responsible for more of the Battalion’s  injuries than the enemy (the official Marine account would be very different). It’s just unspeakably disgust.  Slightly more forgivable, however, was Cpt. Craig “Encino Man/Hitman” Schwetje. Yes he was incompetent, often putting his men also in jeopardy (a ridiculously decided danger-close bombing scenario which Fick attempted to subvert was solved purely by Encino Man giving the wrong coordinates), but most of his problems stemmed from his juvenile demeanor and alpha-male boyishness. He’s in a middle-school mindset: stupid and eager to please his officers, but at least he seems somewhat well-intentioned.You get the feeling that while unlikely, he could grow into a better leader. Captain America, however, never belonged in a uniform. And unfortunately the structure of the marines officer system all but ensures he’d stay in one for the remainder of the war.

What is then interesting is seeing the man on top, Lt. Colonel A.K.A. “Godfather” (he has a raspy voice), and his leadership of the battalion.  Godfather does not seem like a particularly unreasonable person, but rather a good motivator who will communicates his intent with clarity and serves his superiors rather well. The problem seems to his structural detachment to both the action and his men. He is far enough removed from what is happening that conflicting accounts of Captain America’s incompetence gives him pause, but not enough to demote or discharge him (which again, should happen). This same dynamic works in an opposite capacity when he hears similar grumblings about Lt. Fick from the incompetent officers that he questioned. Now of course to the audience, the two soldiers are night and day when it comes to serving their country and the Marines, but to Godfather, the breakdown of truth in the military ranks renders the two mutually equal in terms of problems. It seems to be a sin to even suggest that, but that’s the problem: the structure of marine command creates difficulties for both the effectual and ineffectual alike. The problems with emotional detachment are played out in a wonderfully in a  scene when an injured Iraqi child (shot by Trombly) is brought by the unit’s doctor and other morally inclined officers to Godfather’s camp so he can get shipped back to a hospital for medical treatment. Godfather proceeds to give them a long list of reasons why that is implausible and exceptionally difficult from their current position, all of which are surprisingly sound reasons… and then, he gives the OK order anyway. It’s a great moment, but one that highlights the problems of detachment. It’s easy to say “no” when you’re on the phone, not watching a child die when you had the power to do something about it… no matter how problematic that something might be.

There is a larger problem still with Godfather’s detachment, one which has political ramifications. Much of his battle plan is designated from politically inclined generals; many of which he is  eager to impress. The recon marines battle plan for the war instantly becomes haphazard, roaming, and purposeless. They hit political targets yet skim around Iraq barely addressing problems, bombing before investigating, and ignoring problems they themselves create. It is incompetence in its purest form, a basic ignorance of the facts on the field in the pursuit of successes determined in Washington. The war in Iraq was a mad dash to Baghdad and everything since has been a matter of picking up the pieces from that destruction. The Marines regularly lament the cluster-fuck of what is occurring when compared to the skillfully executed missions they performed in Afghanistan. This isn’t a political reality. This is a reality of warfare. We see it time and time again in the trials of these recon marines. Were they to stay and handle a situation at hand, the situation could be solved and they could move on in good tactical conscience and good conscience at large. Which is exactly what the tactic became during the surge, you know, the moment where the war turned around and genuinely started to be rebuilt… it just took 4 years for the top brass to figure it out.  Meanwhile, these guys knew it the moment they got into the cities.

Look, the problems of the officer/soldier dynamic is nothing new. TS Elliot perhaps illustrated it best in The Hollowmen as had Coppola in the Apocalypse Now, as had Kubrick in Paths of Glory. But those were, well, artistic representations of a larger truth. They were inherently constructed. Not to get all non-fiction-vs.-fictiony, but what I liked about GK was that the examples of the officer/soldier dynamic are soundly concrete. The examples are factual, yet provide complete metaphorical representation of the larger political problems of the war. We rushed into a Iraq for perhaps unsound reasons, and then then competent, tactical soldiers had to deal with the consequences on the ground.  But of course things are never that cut and dry. Much like The Wire, Simon and Burns always let reality get in the way of any point they may try to make. The best example I can think of and most beautiful moment of the entire series deals with an officer whose name I can’t find (d’oh!) but he was the one complete and total asshole who always gave people crap about the marine dress code. He’s the complete stereotype of the hard-ass how harps on completely unimportant things and chews his men out. He’s in the mold of Lee Emory, almost acting as if that man was his hero. But near the end of the series, after a few marine injuries and some static development leave the Battalion’s morale rather low, the Asshole Dress Code Officer guy goes up to his fellow officer and has the following exchange:

(Paraphrased…)

Asshole Officer: Morale seems pretty low.

Other Officer: Yeah things look rough.

Asshole Officer: Well if things get any worse I can start harping on the dress code again.

[They share a wry smile]

… honestly it made me a bit teary.  It’s a kind of ego-sacrifice that you rarely see in real life. The Asshole Officer was willing to be “the asshole officer” for the greater sake of the men. The character is fully conscious of his effect and it’s wonderful to see, especially when many of the other officers (like Encino Man) are defined by their ego-centrism.   Ultimately, that’s what Simon and Burns have an amazing ability to do. They take some one who would either be a cut and dry asshole and they humanize him without ever dipping into forceful schmaltz (which the moment could have easily been and even slightly reads like in my summary. It wasn’t. It was great).

I think that’s all I have to say…

Generation Kill is amazing.

Endnotes:
-I may be mixing up my use of the word battalion, so anyone please correct me if I’m wrong.


Love: David Foster Wallace

January 23, 2009

David Foster Wallace is my favorite writer.

I say this with a number of addendum: I discovered DFW criminally late in the proceedings. Why no one turned me onto him in the annals of my education is inexorably beyond me (1). I had heard his name throw around a bit with the popular, yet celebrated modern authors, but sorely lacked any real exposure or criticism. It was not until his recent, sudden, and moderately unexpected suicide in which the articles  about his talents were everywhere that I took any notice. I made a mental note to look into his work and subsequently put one under my stack of books I’m reading on the bedside table.  It was not until I came across a link in a Bill “Sports Guy” Simmons column (2) that I sat there with real honest to goodness DFW text.

It was called “Roger Federer as Religious Experience” I was immediately blown away. In an age of prose full of sweeping grandeur, broad/declarative strokes, snark, irony, and cheating conclusions, here was an honest to god observer. He went on to characterize Federer from the most basic sense, as if the reader has never heard of tennis before.  He supported every declaratory statement; non-fiction as arguement or logic. He approached Federerer from a purely scientific level, analyzing just how astounding his hand-eye coordination skills were on human level.  I went on to devour his non-fiction in a thoroughly rapturous nature: Host a non-judgemental/let-their-actions-speak-louder-than-your-opinion piece on conservative talk radio (and if opinions are drawn, they are logically presented and supported),  Consider the Lobster a piece for gourmet magazine that surprisingly surveys the ethics/hysteria of animal food consumption, and The Weasel Twelve Monkeys and The Shrub a fascinating piece after this recent election where we can look upon the political non-chalance of the late 90s, and the subsequent fall of Mccain, or the post-obama American resurgence. They’re all amazing pieces, full of cunning insight dry sense of humor. I was witnessing the perfect observer.

His essays, meanwhile,  remove a bit of the objectivity and delve into well-reasoned humor and guile.  He tries to convince you Kafka is funny. He commentary on Sept 11 as it unfolds and does so from what will later be redined “middle america” in the Bush era. I was nearly moved to tears by his complete and total evisceration of John Updike. Why? Because I hated Updike for years. Me being rather inarticulate in comparison had failed to really grasp why I felt as such, but I certianly knew he was terribly uninteresting which is odd for a such a good writer dealing with an interesting subject. With DFW, it was all clarified before me;  I was estatitc.

As for his fiction, I find myself currently immersed in Infinite Jest, his stab at the Great American Novel and I’m just as moved by his fiction as I am his non-fiction.

Of course, people can look at his writing and make immediate assumptions: a) too complicated. If “brevity is the soul of wit” he must be a dunce cause DFW can take his time with the best of them. The vast array of footnotes and endnotes are daunting and anybody who likes them must be pretentious! Nothing could be more innaccurate. His use of “notes” are often pitch perfect in their capacity to add depth of commentary. Perhaps we’re so use to reading parentheticals (3) that we consider having to look somewhere else for the added little bit to be a pain in the ass. DFW is also incredibly wordy… as in he uses big words. Nothing is more daunting to American readership because we don’t like when things go over our heads. I know I don’t. But I certianly respect it. I’ve looked up more words in reading DFW than I have ever in my life. And if once again, this is all just a matter of laziness and we don’t like looking up words, then I simply try my best to reason it out. It’s an incredible exercize and one we should do more. Not liking DFW for these reasons is understandable, but in my estimation, a self-lie. There are plenty of reasons not to like a writer. Diffuculty is not acceptible.

Especailly because he’s so damn logical. His work is like mathamatic proofs. Which brings us to the the second to last thing you should know about David Foster Wallace: he is a genuis. As in he got the famous “genuis grant” and has IQ off the fucking charts. As much as “genius” is thrown around now (4) he is definitely one of them. If there was a single writer I could pick who qualifies, it’s him. What’s more than all of that is that he outright inspires me.  He is so dedicated to the legitimacy of his words it makes me less haphazard. He clearly finds a simlar delight in analysis, only he rarely falls into callousness (5). Plus his work helps me with my very shitty punctuation. I had been using semicolons not just wrongly, but pretentiously for years. But the inspiration is the key. Why? I have haven’t been really inspired by a writer since high school (6). I had basically moved to strictly on-topic docu-non-fiction and massive research projects. Now I’m back… And I feel forever indebted to DFW. It’s what informs the superlative “favorite author” in such a short amount of time. His impact is that profound when compared to what has preceeded (7).

The very last thing you should know about DFW is that he killed himself.  It’s just so dreadfully unimportant in the larger scheme. He battled clincal depression for years and for most of his life was on meds. But it does not really reflect on his capacity/legacy/influence/importance as a writer. Sure there are flashes of relevence here and there (8), to deny it would be folly, but there could not be a less important characteristic on display. One could even make an uninformed assumption that his meds helped maintain his even tone. I worry because an artists death often overhangs the nature of their work, often for worse.

But once again, that shouldn’t matter. What matters are the things I have taken away from DFW in such a short amount of time. One thing more than all the others:

This is water. This is water.

David Foster Wallace, you will me more than missed.

Endnotes:

1. Maybe it’s because no one reads.

2. I know.

3. which I use too much… see

4. my favorite overuse of genius being for NFL offensive coordinators*

5. I’m not so lucky.

6. I went my entire collegiate career NOT being inspired by a writer… I was an English minor mind you… yeah… consider it a drought.

7. Unlike my favorite filmmaker, who seems to change yearly/weekly.

8. Specifically, his various comments on suicide(s) over the years.

*which may sound like I don’t think football coaches can be geniuses and I hate it. I love football and do think some coaches are DEFINITE football geniuses. I’m simply commenting on the eagerness of media types to laude that title upon young coordinators without much support or understanding of qualifiers themselves.


Don’t Like: Metacritic

October 23, 2008

So here’s what metacritic is if you don’t know: It’s a website that takes reviews (including ones that don’t give any kind of “rating”) and finds the average scores of those ratings and positive/negative sentiments to give the most average and fair score to that film/album/dvd/show/what have you.

Sounds perfectly fair, right?

Except the system has a lot of problems. I don’t know how they put it all together but many of the results are… suspect. I think it may have to do with how each medium approaches its criticism but let’s get specific.

The chief offender is easily, easily, easily music.

Here’s the top 16 for 2008:

1 What Does It All Mean? 1983-2006 Retrospective by Steinski 2008 90
2 London Zoo by The Bug 2008 90
3 Fed by Plush 2008 89
4 For Emma, Forever Ago by Bon Iver 2008 89
5 Dear Science, by TV On The Radio 2008 88
6 Fleet Foxes by Fleet Foxes 2008 87
7 Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! by Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds 2008 87
8 Robyn by Robyn 2008 86
9 Hercules And Love Affair by Hercules And Love Affair 2008 86
10 Fortress by Protest The Hero 2008 86
11 Rook by Shearwater 2008 85
12 Life…The Best Game In Town by Harvey Milk 2008 85
13 Third by Portishead 2008 85
14 Stay Positive by The Hold Steady 2008 85
15 Laulu Laakson Kukista by Paavoharju 2008 85
16 Harps And Angels by Randy Newman 2008 85

Now I like music. A lot. I like a lot of weird shit. I went to metafilter to specifically see if there was anything I didn’t know about which was pretty good. I do this about every 6 months or so. And this time I was like “that’s it, I’ve had it.” The top twelve on this list are pure balls. Seriously I in depth listened to all of them and there wasn’t anything good. The only things I kind of liked were stuff after that and things I already had like Portishead, The Hold Steady. Look, music is ultra super subjective. Moreso than the other mainstream artforms. It just is. And trying to critically rate it all just doesn’t work in the metacritic system. Look across the board,  everything gets the “green light” rating of being good. Unlike the other mediums where getting something in the green is rare. Plus it tends to overskew bad metal bands that get big love from metal magazines. Don’t get me wrong, I likes me some metals but damn Protest the Hero sucks. Bah, it makes me too angry.

Their movie scores are much less offensive, but often your favorite movie can get lost in the shuffle. Strongly mixed critical reactions are often a symbol of brave filmmaking. My favorite film so far this year “Towelhead” rated a 57. Why? Because I imagine it was so hard/uncomfortable for some critics to watch. And that becomes a huge detriment for this intensely brave and well-made movie which is tackling societal taboos and the mixed messages we send young girls. Show me a “universally adored” movie and I’ll show you a Titanic. Yeah, you go back and watch that piece of poop recently? God that was bad.

Oddly enough there is one form of media where metacritic system excels.

Video games?!?!?! Yup. Their culminations of reviews are surprisingly spot on. Universal adortation of video game is easily possible because gamers are such a specific audience. Everyone who goes to a movie doesn’t understand mise en scene. But everyone who plays video games frequently gets the subtleties of game play. So metacritic works so well for my gaming purchases purpose. Just fantastic stuff.

*shit, sorry all. I like TV on the Radio a lot. I should have mentioned that but forgot. I stand by the rest.

**double shit, I like Nick Cave and the bad seeds too.

***i more though the bug, plush, robyn, hercules and the love affair, protest the hero, and shearwater really, really, REALLY sucked.