Archives for category: television

Judy Trammell, the choreographer of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, and Kelli McGonigle Finglass, the director, mesmerize me as champions of the Texas avatar of femme performance.

Choreographer Trammell (L) and director Finglass, both former DCCs, judge auditions for Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Now the texts on this, as I’m sure you all know, are the three Scholz sisters’ memoir of their time on the cheering squad (’78-’85), and the Channelview, TX tale of tiger mom Wanda Holloway, who was convicted in 1991 of plotting a murder-for-hire of Verna Heath, the mother of Shanna Holloway’s greatest rival for the cheering squad, Amber Heath.

The Scholz sisters’ mama taught them how to dress, a terrifying process in which bags and shoes must match and hair must be high — a mean girls’ Texas aesthetic whose persistence can be sussed today by seeing Finglass in her orange sheath or the terrifying female VP of the Cowboys, Charlotte Jones Anderson (daughter of the owner), who looks like a ravening, Stanford-educated ferret in poufy little Prada dresses.

Mean girls doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Trammell was a DCC from ’80-’84, and Finglass from ’84-’89. I figure they’re both in their 50s, and I am always thinking about what makes an Old Babe and what Old Babes do and wear. I think Finglass is and Trammell isn’t. What made Finglass a babe — her smile — still makes her one today, as mean a pimp as she is. (For the smile, check out the GIF third from the top, left, for the pimpin’ watch CMT’s show.) Trammell’s hair — and you know that hair whippin’ energy takes the place of jiggle on the DCC — is the same do she was whippin’ in the ’80s, very long and prematurely blonde. Even the black girls on the squad have long whippy dos. I am trying to deconstruct the Trammell/Finglass eyeliner — completely surrounding the eye with a black line after 50 is an aesthetic choice of the kind I deemed some time ago, deciding to be an old woman who paints, with Louise Nevelson as the Old Babe Who Paints avatar. The paint becomes your face, instead of your face being your face.

Sculptor Louise Nevelson

Iris Apfel, who is the captain of the Old Babes team, sometimes paints and also is a polychrome old babe, one trope of how to dress as an Old Babe. Please note use of I.M. Pei glasses as eyeliner.

Iris Apfel, captain of the Old Babes team. She replaces Princess Lilian of Sweden, who died in March and evinced an entirely different style. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Princess_Lilian,_Duchess_of_Halland

Here we see Apfel, painted, hustling her own line of MAC cosmetics. Note there is nothing natural about the colors, such that the paint once again becomes your face.

I am trying to deconstruct Trammell’s hair — it’s the 2013 version of her 1980’s do, which Finglass has most cleverly left behind. Her hair in the 80s was the biggest poufiest and poodly-est of all, and now it’s cool MILF hair. As Trammell’s is not. I have to think about it some more. I wonder if Trammell thinks of whippy hair as part of her dance costume?

Judy Trammell, ca. 1980s

The makeover editions of the aspiring cheerleaders, in which Finglass supervises their haircuts and teaches what not to wear, has to be one of my greatest drag learning experiences, as if the Scholz sisters’ mama had survived into the 21st century to teach us all how to get closer to God with our hair.
http://www.cmt.com/videos/dallas-cowboys-cheerleaders-805-appearance-counts/1714824/full-episode.jhtml

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Tressie McMillan Cottom in her epic post on the Miley Cyrus MTV awards performance has got down to the stasis point in all the gasbaggery around that performance. My old friend Karen DeWitt has posted on Facebook today betraying a freshly shocked outrage at the unreasoning persistence of racism, as she contemplated incarceration and arrest rates for black men in the U.S..

I felt the same, shocked that I could be this old and still have my world rocked by Ms. Cottom’s piece relating her personal experience in college town bars with twerking frat boys and girls soliciting a threesome with her (and not her black date), as a matter of course. She relates to the black women whose asses Cyrus was slapping in her MTV performance.

Recovering somewhat from the shock of Cottom’s incandescent racist experience, I have two discreditable responses.

One is only slightly neener neener. With the Trayvon Martin verdict, the Crunk Feminist Collective raised, quite properly, the issue of white feminists’ responsibility for the all-female jury verdict. I accept this responsibility. I also see where those white women on the jury are patsies of a racist sytem. I also see there is a point where free people can stand up and say no to unjust law — that is, indeed, part of what a trial by jury system is for. (I still believe a trial by jury of your peers is one of humankind’s greatest inventions, if not number one. And, please, perfection is the enemy of the good.)

I also see, where the defense of the Hutus in the Rwanda genocide quickly reverted to blaming the French for setting up a society in which Tsutsis were considered smarter and prettier, that I am doing the same for the patsy jury verdict. There is a point where the perp needs to be told, you did the crime. Not the French. With the big round black women dancing in the Cyrus performance? Girlfriend, you were out there shakin’ it for the man.

Second, I want to declare, once and for all, how stupid all the twinkie feminists are for inventing the protest against slut-shaming. There’s no slut like a crone slut, and I am going to tell you what it is.

A slut does not do femme performance. She does not kiss other women in bars for frat boys or Joe Francis himself. She does not ask the only black woman in the bar to leave her date and come twerk with Miss Anne’s creepy boyfriend. A slut does not go all Mrs. Grundy and shake her finger at people for slut-shaming — every libertarian who calls herself a slut has a secret sociopathic and anti-social agenda which is not feminist. Trust me.

A slut — and do not ask me how I know this — is a gourmet. She simply does not give a shit what other people think, and she is never on camera. It’s not a secret vice, it’s just of no concern to a slut that other people know about it through photographs, video, performance. I repeat, there is no femme performance (or butch or whatever) in being a slut. To call people critiquing Cyrus’ performance slut-shamers is just about the stupidest, and most proscriptive, prune-lipped use of “feminism” I’ve ever heard of. There is not an authentic, unmediated bone in Miley Cyrus’ body, except perhaps the Molly’d-out stoner one, and to accuse people of slut-shaming a completely commodified capitalist tool is approaching abomination.

The real issue is what fake sluts are doing to black women. Cut it the fuck out.

http://tressiemc.com/2013/08/27/when-your-brown-body-is-a-white-wonderland/

Five straight skinny reasons why *The Wire* is revolutionary, and TV’s best-ever show.

1.) Real People
As with British and Australian films and TV (as well as Euro, Persian, Chinese and world film and TV, which I don’t watch a lot of), the cast looks like real people. Many of them are. It’s not that many of them are black, which they are, it is that the white people and the black people all look like real people, not Meg Ryan’s post-surgery lips. As Liz Taylor used to say, “There are no real tits in Hollywood any more.”

There are in *The Wire*, and it is thrilling to see. No orthodontia. No nose jobs. No videogenic lipstick of a coral shade only seen in nature on blow up dolls. The diversity of peoples’ teeth, noses, skin textures, hands is beautiful to see. Sonia Sohn’s epithelial folds are almost as titanic a thing of beauty to regard as James Gandolfini’s eyes. The sets are natural colors too. Trees, water, blood, ruins.

2.) No Heroes
There is no star system. There are no heroes. The Hollywood/derriere garde/Aristotelian heroic system in which the story is the story of one handsome young guy does not exist in *The Wire*. They kill a protagonist off every season. The one you really love. McNulty, who is less the protagonist than the linking device, is far less attractive a hero than his creators believe (there is a lot of macho shit going on in the writing, a point to which I shall return.) And there is a reason the macho shits have the confidence to do that. And it’s not just in the ensemble player system.

3.) Real Life Mimesis
It is mimesis. Simon and Burns created the stories out of real life, with which, as a reporter and a homicide detective-turned-middle-school teacher, respectively, they were fairly familiar.

You know, of course, that Hollywood scriptwriters are all old Poonies. That is, they wrote for the Harvard Lampoon before they all got jobs writing for the Simpsons.

Cambridge to Hollywood. Not a circuit famous for the intrusion of anything but ideas, some of them wholesome, but quickly forgotten. Hollywood writers don’t know anything. They make stuff up. It’s called diegesis, as I’m sure you recall, which means basically narrative.

Simons is instinctually clear on the difference between making shit up and being a good writer. He also puts his finger on what keeps old reporters from ever really being able to let go of – let’s just call it, The Game. It’s why people who are paying attention to real life, and writing mimesis, will come up with a killa new protagonist – D’Angelo, Stringer, Frank Sobotka, Michael and the lost boys – every season, because they’re all out there. In the city. The major reason Simon’s new effort Treme is a flop is because he doesn’t know that city, and is falling back on tropes and stereotypes. And diegesis, like a Hollywood guy.

“God is not a second-rate novelist,” Simon says. “God knows what he’s doing, and if you just take what actually happened and marry it to where you want to go, it’s better than if you thought of it yourself.”
http://sepinwall.blogspot.com/2006/08/wire-money-for-something.html

4.) The Back Channel Economy Is Ruthlessly Capitalist
The sharpest political lesson is not we’re all together in The Game. Many people I respect argue this, eliding the point that ruthless capitalism is an I.Q. test for the underclass, apropos a season four episode in which a hopper repeats state senator Clay Davis’ line about taking the money of people who are giving it, and the disgraced police major Bunny Colvin says goodbye to his superiors in the same terms Stringer Bell faces down his executioners. The egalitarianism of The Game, in which the good guys and the bad guys share values is a good point and an interesting one. The political smarm of the idea that sexist black thugs are capitalists just like Nice People is more easily felt when one recalls that Spielberg dedicated “Schindler’s List”, in which the capitalist saves Jews, to his dead capitalist mentor, Steve Ross.

To me the sharpest political point is not, perhaps, that the back channel economy, The Game, systeme D, is as resistant to the reform efforts of people like Stringer Bell and D’Angelo Barksdale as mainstream politics and economics. It is that the back channel economy is just as ruthless a capitalist system to all who do not conform to the macho shit norm as the mainstream economy. In other words, all the macho shits are playing on a level field and the rest of us can suck eggs.
http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/10/28/black_market_global_economy

5.) Cynicism As a Full Employment Mandate for Reporters
I disagree with Simon’s politics, which seem to be that The City is failing because its institutions, including the back channel economy, are incapable of reform, due to the self interest of people like the master politician, the spider seemingly at the center of the web, the police commissioner Ervin Burrell.  The image of a truly powerful black man in Burrell and his performance has gone under-appreciated. I appreciate it. And I disagree with Simon’s apparent politic that no politics can or will save the city, and that only individual action, like Cutty’s, can make a difference in anyone’s life. I reiterate here that Cutty is a character invented by George Pelecanos, not Simon and Burns, to relieve the cataclysm of entropy Simon so enjoys depicting.

The cynicism is pretty much one of self –interest. A broken city is a reporter’s full employment mandate, and a self-fulfilling prophecy. I have to think some more about the fallacies of cynicism; one of them is bullying. RIP, Hitchens.
http://amphibian7.blogspot.com/2007/09/fallacy-of-cynicism.html

There’s great confusion about what the role of the press in a democracy is. The majority of Americans in a recent poll think the role of the press is as a consumer watchdog. Pew regularly surveys people for their views of the press, and their results are always heartening.

Another scholar stipulates that the news in any country is shaped by four social imperatives: the role of the news in a democracy; the corporate structure of news production; the entertainment imperative of news; and the political behavior of news entities in the United States.
http://faculty.uml.edu/sgallagher/culturalcon.htm

For the sake of clarity, I would like to define the news as the founding fathers saw it — an instrument of knowing so important to the democracy that journalism is the only industry mentioned in the U.S. Constitution.

Jefferson defined the news very simply. He said, “The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

This is the prize on which, as stories get shorter and shorter, and newspapers disappear, we need to keep our eyes. I’ve previously referred to this as the League of Women Voters value-neutral policy paper model of journalism.

As I am concerned here to define 21st century journalism, without proscribing it, I’d like to stick as close to the original, rather juridical definition of it, as the instrument of an informed electorate bent, pretty much, on revolution, with the truth and nothing else as their legal defense.

One of the many things that people don’t understand about newspaper journalism is how legal standards of evidence — will this stand up in court? — are deployed during the editing of every story that is published.  (Television news is different.) And, given the law’s long history of being argued and re-invented, I think its “interactive” standards of evidence are as close to justice as human beings are going to get. So we have journalism as the peoples’ instrument of knowing, and its bona fide practice based on legal standards of evidence.

Today I’m going to start to examine and review the ideas of two internet entrepeneurs about what the news is. LOL Cats founder Ben Huh has a “re-imagined” news startup, Circa, scheduled for launch this summer.
http://blog.cir.ca/

Huh is promising to re-invent news for the internet. Schell Games CEO Jesse Schell has interesting ideas about the “gamification” of the news and its interactivity (the whole subject of “citizen journalism” – unpaid content provision, Wiki researchers, the HuffPo’s uncompensated bloggers, and curated comment falls under the “gamification” rubric) .

I am taking their thoughts as typical — however unfair that may be — of the definitions that millennial entrepeneurs with agency have for news in the 21st century. It can’t represent the confusion millenials have about what news is, or their significantly good ideas about it. Hopefully the analysis of  Huh’s and Schell’s ideas will serve as the caveat emptor on their ideas, the warning that the majority of Americans thinks the news should be.

Young people think Jon Stewart is the news, that the mashup, hip-hop soundbite, satirical pastiche of events served up by Stewart – the latest in a series of television comedians, from Carson’s monologue through Saturday Night Live’s weekend news update – is what the news is.

They’re not wrong.

But they’re not right either, and I would argue that if making fun of the news alienates voters, which I suspect it does, a correction needs to be made. Comedians need to start registering ten young people to vote for every political joke they tell on national television. Hopefully having a government that represents the comedians’ constituency would put the comedians out of business.

http://pewresearch.org/pubs/829/the-daily-show-journalism-satire-or-just-laughs

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/17/arts/television/17kaku.html?pagewanted=all

But to bite the news, as the comedians would have it, requires a certain kind of news story. I was recently asked to write a 300-word story a week for the electronic newsletter of a public access television station.  I told the millennial editor in charge I had no access to 300-word stories. She was convinced a 300-word story was the précis of a 1500-word one, or a 13,000 word one (I chose that figure in honor of Norman Lewis, whose 1969 multi-thousand word story, “Genocide in Brazil”, was the longest ever published by the London Sunday Times. It resulted in the founding of Survival International and was later published as The Missionaries: God Against the Indians. You see where this is headed.)

Norman Lewis, journalist, author of The Missionaries: God Against the Indians, and a long-form news story, “Genocide in Brazil”, which helped found Survival International.

The young editor was entirely uninterested in,  and non-comprehending of,  the conceptual parameters of the 300-word story.

It is the crux of 21st century journalism.

News is not the promotion of your music video,  your comedy routine, or any other kind of advocacy. Still, Jon Stewart, Seth Myers, Johnny Carson, every comedian whose daily bread was political commentary is biting the 300-word story – and never the 15,000-word Pulitzer Prize winning series on violence in the Philadelphia public schools.

Among other things, the 300-word story needs to be about someone we all recognize. There is no space to describe and introduce anybody.  For the same reason, this well-known person needs to be in an instantly recognizable setting,  making a gesture – a soundbite isn’t as good – within the context of his celebrity and environment that is also instantly recognizable.  From this instantly comprehensible vignette, the comedians start their riff. Or apply, if you will, their meta political critique.

The perfect 300-word story — a recognizable person making a recognizable gesture —  is the crux of journalism for the 21st century.  (P. S. If Britney can make it through 2007, you can make it through today.)

The 300-word story requires access to celebrities doing stuff.  The medium — 300 words — ensures that celebrity news will probably be the cockroach, or the PVC shopping bag with a biological half-life of 500,000 years, that survives us all.

The only people who can produce 300-word stories are beat reporters – one reason I’m mesmerized by the TMZ paparazzi and their dubious, but incredibly hotttt, SUV enterprise journalism. I don’t blame Britney for falling for Adnan Ghalib. The great chronicler of Britney’s meltdown, Vanessa Grigoriadis in Rolling Stone, didn’t either:  Ghalib winds up begging Grigoriades to be gentle with the mentally unstable superstar.

The 300-word story is the medium for the 21st century. Our problem is that it is the message too, and that long-form print journalism which ends genocide, or, like the  Philadelphia Inquirer series which recently won the Pulitzer Prize for uncovering violence in the public schools, will disappear. Hip-hop soundbite news, the Afro pomo homo pastiche, is the only one which can compete for our internet attention. Our problem is how to package the 50,000 word story in three hundred, or 140 Tweet characters, for such information consumers as Joe Weisenthal, the finance blogger. A recent, 2,887-word profile of Weisenthal suggests him as my prototypical 21st century news consumer . He wakes up at 3:50 a.m. in his apartment just north of the Financial District in New York City and Tweets  What did I miss?
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/13/magazine/joe-weisenthal-vs-the-24-hour-news-cycle.html?pagewanted=all

To summarize the points of reference in the discussion of 21st century journalism, and to make a critical point: how to write the 300-word story, especially for television news, is no big secret. In 1965 they were telling us that the secret of writing a three-minute news story for television was to say what the story was you were about to tell, to say, now I’m telling you the story, and then to say, this is the story I just told you.

This is the story I just told you:

  1. As space for journalism decreases,  confusion about all its roles must be stripped away, and it is up to journalists to make this clear to their consumers.
  2. The role of journalism as government  and institution watchdog, meeting juridical standards of evidence, is the only prize we can afford to keep our eyes on. (Questions of monetization of internet news and truth police fall under this rubric.)
  3. LOL cats founder Ben Huh and Schell Games CEO Jesse Schell will be our models of millennial internet entrepeneurs defining news for the 21st century. They have the power, the motive, the opportunity. Do they have any clue? (The queer theory observation that the founders of TMZ and Gawker both are gay men fearlessly proselytizing gender equality and outing allegedly gay celebs, along with the gossip, the snark, the aggregated news, the curated comments,  falls under this rubric.)
  4. Joe Weisenthal, the 24/7 news vacuum, is our model consumer. (That the rush of megalo information, not just the surfing, is the medium of the 21st century news, and that Internet finance itself as well as finance journalism has created and valorized it, and will skew click-counting journalism values toward capitalism and the white boys, falls under this rubric.)

Joe Weisenthal, finance blogger, our typical 21st century journalism consumer. By Marvin Orellana for The New York Times.

Tomorrow:  Analysis of Ben Huh and Jesse Schell concepts of journalism

http://www.niemanlab.org/2012/05/cheezburgers-ben-huh-says-news-organizations-should-think-like-teenagers-if-they-want-to-survive/
http://www.niemanlab.org/2012/05/super-mario-cub-reporter-jesse-schell-on-what-the-game-industry-could-teach-the-news-industry/

In the 1970s, Sander Vanocur told me something I’ve been thinking about ever since. The political satire in Johnny Carson’s monologue, he said, defined the heartland issues.

So it came as no surprise to me that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are a primary source of news for the young. The people whose knickers get in a twist around that haven’t been paying attention, first of all, to many things about journalism, beginning with the fact that the New Journalism (invented at Esquire magazine in the 1960s), now half a century old, imparted new information about what was then the counterculture in a new way. Talese’ story on Frank Sinatra is considered the first wave of all the dreary j-school classes of what I now think they call creative non-fiction?
http://www.esquire.com/features/ESQ1003-OCT_SINATRA_rev_

Host Jon Stewart in the studio of The Daily Sh...

Host Jon Stewart in the studio of The Daily Show in 2004 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Don’t go to j school, was the advice the old reporter gave me when I set out for college. Study philosophy, history, phys ed, pottery. You can learn journalism in six weeks. So can its consumers, and so they do.

People whose knickers get into a twist about Stewart and Colbert being peoples’ primary source of news may or may not be professors of journalism, stuffed shirts, or white boys with a vested interest in the circle-jerk method of covering politics, of which Politico is the successful internet avatar. I think we know who the wedgie ones are:

Venise Wagner, associate chair of the journalism department at San Francisco State University, argues with her students over whether “The Daily Show” is real journalism. They think it is; she tells them it isn’t, explaining that journalism involves not just conveying information but also following a set of standards that includes verification, accuracy and balance.

But she says “The Daily Show” does manage to make information relevant in a way that traditional news organizations often do not, and freedom from “balance” shapes its success. “‘The Daily Show’ doesn’t have to worry about balance. They don’t have to worry about accuracy, even. They can just sort of get at the essence of something, so it gives them much more latitude to play around with the information, to make it more engaging,” Wagner says.
http://www.ajr.org/article.asp?id=4329

I have no stats on this, but my nose for news tells me the boys-on-the-bus coverage is alienating to voters, and assists the unscrupulous right in its 40 year mission to keep voter turnout low, so they can win, by defining single issues like abortion or same-sex marriage as political matters, which they’re not. I submit to you not that women know better, but that what real political coverage is, is what the League of Women Voters does. The League of Women Voters writes non-partisan policy papers delineating issues without prejudice. I am not familiar enough with their work to say whether or not they add a one-sentence value neutral assessment of what place this issue takes in bona fide conservative (not party) philosophy, and in bona fide liberal philosophy. I suspect they avoid this. I think respectful attention to non-partisan political philosophy is central to the democracy, to political issues, and to what people want to know about the news.

The parsing of the political news for its real meaning is what Stewart and Colbert do. This is what political coverage of 21st century news should be doing, League of Women Voters issues analysis in a cellphone screen-sized format. Naturally Stewart and Colbert parse stories with LULZ value, and this is the bias of their news coverage. I learned from the hordes of people of every color watching Jerry Springer that yeah, people like freaks, geeks, and catfights. But they are absolute junkies for adjudication. The developmental psychiatrist Kohlberg based an entire sexist male template on little boys’ penchant for adjudication — you could say it was arguing over whether or not the ball was inside or outside.

Adjudication is a spectator sport.

Concentration camp survivors say the observation of injustice, of all the things one can suffer in extremity, is extremity’s most corrosive experiece. Primo Levi writes, in The Reawakening, of what has been called metaphysical guilt:

…the shame a just man experiences…at another man’s crime; the feeling of guilt that such a crime should exist, that it should have been introduced irrevocably into the world of things that exist, and that his will for good should have proved too weak or null, and should not have prevailed in defense.

Having our noses rubbed in the shameless injustice of politics as practiced for the cameras and for Politico, for the jockeying social aspirations and tin soldier power plays of editors from Wauchula, causes the metaphysical guilt which keeps us from voting.

In any case, adjudication seems nearly instinctual, and the feral, thug-life version of it still forms the way newspapers, online and elsewhere, still cover politics. The competition between politicians is of no interest to us. We like competitive sports — I am noting the importance of soccer players and fandom in the Islamist Algerian wars and in the Egyptian spring uprising — we like freaks and geeks, but covering politics like sports keeps us away from the polls and empowers the heartlessly cynical new right puppetmeisters of the racist hegemony of the last 40 years. One old hippie I know says he doesn’t even think they’re racist. They just use it as a tactic. I respect a racist more.

The New Journalism method of covering these political issues would be to find somebody whose story illustrates the problem, and do a profile of that person. So what you’d have is not a horserace story about the cross-talk between loathsome selfish ideologues shutting down the government on the specious Grover Norquist no-taxes pledge, but, rather, a talk with Grover. A discussion about the tactics one guy uses every day to be powerful enough to single-handedly close down the U.S. government. Grover is the beat, all the rest of those people are ants on his melon.

Grover Norquist at a political conference in O...

Grover Norquist at a political conference in Orlando, Florida. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You say Grover doesn’t talk to the media? I refer you to the Talese Sinatra story, a masterpiece of how to write a story about somebody who won’t talk to you. The political journalism lesson of Watergate that everyone seems to have forgotten is that the White House news does not exist at the White House.

Newspapers get all caught up in that basically because provincial editors want to be invited to the White House correspondents’ dinner and check out Lindsay Lohan’s, or Tim Geithner’s,  tits.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/27/AR2009042700891_pf.html

To have One’s Own Reporter at the White House is the mark of the publisher’s influence either on national policy or society; the reporter is not so secretly viewed as being the publisher’s lobbyist. And the game is on,  the game of political journalism in which news coverage is seen both as a prize and a critique. It leads to such perfectly logical apotheoses as the politician John Edwards’ consulting the actor Sean Penn and movie director Paul Haggis on how to spin his bimbo eruption. That essential rats-in-a-bottle perversion of politics was the other lesson of Watergate, in All the President’s Men — that Washington was Hollywood and Hollywood was Washington.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/longterm/movies/features/dcmovies/postinfilm.htm

So, how to cover politics for the 21st century is no secret. The tools have been here for 50 years, whether you call it the New Journalism, Johnny Carson’s monologue, or the Jon Stewart effect.

End political journalism as we know it. It is literally destroying our world.

1.

Mad Men. I don’t know how widely spread the Tony Soprano trope now is, but Weiner, the writer and producer of Mad Men, and a writer on The Sopranos, has reproduced it trope for trope in Mad Men. Ie., a protagonist engaged in a brutal and immoral business is also a sensitive family man and hero.  (See also Breaking Bad and The Wire, the third and fourth contenders for best TV show of the last 25 years.)

I’m noticing how psychiatry, which was the key to Tony’s sensitive family man and hero stuff, is being used here by Weiner — to analyze his Barbie wife, and to repress, as when he tells Peggy Olsson (is that Superman’s sidekick’s sister?), that Peggy’s accouchement and breakdown never happened.

I think this project, which delectates (as did the Sopranos) on very bad behavior by a whole group of men, is, like the Sopranos, a defense of Hollywood and corporate frat boy values. What’s shocking, when you think about it, is the number of movie tropes that are deployed, even as they are deployed very, very well. I don’t think there’s a single original idea or line in the whole production — maybe, just maybe, the costumes and sets are the real deal. I am thinking of the outfit Peggy wears on the date with the truck driver — those purple floral lapels were a masterpiece.

The Barbie wife, shooting pigeons, seducing the tow truck guy — is an especially insidious trope well exploited — let’s just cut to the chase — by Spielberg in the Schindler’s List wet t shirt scene, which may be the most repulsive iteration of the trope since the beginning of time.

Sardou, the author of the play on which Tosca was based, was asked what to do when the audience of his jaded fin de siecle Parisians grew bored. Torture the women,, he said. The whole icy blonde Grace Kelly trope — the gripping Hitchcock iteration — is based on this insight of Sardou. Spielberg’s ouevre is especially guilty of the sadist/sex connection, and it is pernicious.

Eggs Sardou as served at Brennan’s.

That Barbie wife has herself a Thelma and Louise moment, and then a Holly Golightly moment — just adds to the strange sense that this is all collaged and parroted by a kid who spent too much time watching TV. (Zadie Smith!!!)

The sense of looking at the lamination of capture-computer-animated actors is a trope too — apparently there’s a new app on your Iphone called Hipstamatic which takes photographs with fake sprockets and hyped Polaroid colors to achieve the effect of photographs taken with celluloid.

And the idea that this laminate world is the only one in which a naturally gorgeous actress like Christina Hendricks — a redhead, not an icy blonde — with the rococo shape could get work just makes the whole enterprise even worse.

Why cannot there be original work on television? And wtf is this lamination thing?

Plus, it’s like Twin Peaks, Gatsby, My Sister Eileen, Kiss Me Guido meets The Office, except with really serious mindfucking as the job.

2.

Treme. More frat boys. Some black. Lacks the specificity, the entire Dickensian/Zola sweep of the city and all its stories that The Wire had, and is lost in the (strangely square and sentimental) music. I attribute this to the  late David Mills and his romance with music. Musicians? Dude. Are frat boys.

The main thing I like is somebody saying, naw, just playing the music in New Orleans is the important thing. The Cubans are like that — music just is what one does.

But the music portrayed at stupefying note-for-note lengths in Treme again, has that strange formaldehyde-enbalmed, Hipstermatic feel to it I was complaining about in re Mad Men. And Wendell Pierce’s character is so completely unmusical — nothing about who he is except the king of dawgs is portrayed —  so flat as almost to be limbic — that it seems to be saying that being a musician is about scoring. Here’s a black guy name of Antoine Batiste, which is a whole television series in its ownself, that Treme seems not to be covering. (I hate the whole Antoine story arc, and Pierce is such a fine and intelligent actor, I miss him.)

I do love Clarke Peters and I dote upon his bowlegs. I love the Indian thing. But I think it’s not well portrayed; I think the thread on the real musicians trying to get their gigs (why is the only drug addict a white Dutch carpetbagger asshole? Give me a break) is strangely wonkish and boring. The Southern gothic aristo Davis McAlary, also strangely wonkish and boring, thread makes me FF in pain, although a glimpse of the artist formerly known as Elizabeth Ashley, all false teeth and fais do-do Tennessee Williams, made me want to cry.

John Goodman is overacting like a mamma jamma. He also looks on the verge of death. The failure of imagination entailed in making the Goodman character into David-Simon-auteur-as-boring-old-one-shot-fart character a YouTube Cassandra makes me wince.

It’s all musician polemic and no music and no Cajuns and apparently no real New Orleans black people plots, no real music, no real musician stories, no conflict except with buffoonish and faceless acts of God. There’s no worthy opponents here, as The Wire had in spades,  from Omar to the mayor of Baltimore himself, just faceless FEMA bureaucrats and George W. Bush. Too easy, not Big Easy.

Big Easy the movie had rockin’ music, btw, as well as the real racial/corruption scenario: still listening to the magnificent Claude Jeter, coal miner, reverend, and the best singer ever, and the Swan Silvertones’ Saviour, Pass Me Not which they had on their soundtrack. You should be too.

Still Treme is better than anything else on television, though the material is oddly thin. I love the look of the post- apocalypse city, of the ruins, the waterline mold as the opening credits, Goodman standing at the empty waterfront and pointing out the truncated footbridge which had led to one of the  great old 19th century landmark buildings sunk ‘neath the waves forever, that whole Blade Runner visual of the pan-Asian food trucks beside the gigantic concrete sewer pipes, of the mummy under the canoe, Daymo’s body on the shelf in the refrigerated truck (that whole two-ep MAX narrative arc was stretched out for at least eight episodes, so much so that a really good story became a pain in the ass because you figured it out 15 seconds into ep 1). Simon is good at that, and I like it. I think the deal is, David Simon based every single character in The Wire on somebody he met or heard of in 25 years of covering Baltimore. And he cannot create a character, only describe real ones.

The wimmin. Strong black wimmin. Strong blue collar white chicks. Yeah, whatever. The story seems to be about fat Antoine gettin’ gigs and gettin’ laid. There’s a whole narrative arc based on I lost my ‘bone.

Not interested, frat boy.

3.

Michael Holroyd announces, with the publication of his biography of the bodice-ripper romance between Vita Sackville-West and Violet Trefusis, that he is retiring from writing. A recent NYT book review has this gracious farewell by Toni Bentley in her review of A Book of Secrets:

Holroyd will be 76 on Aug. 27, having survived several years of aggressive cancer treatment that has left him, he says, “ludicrously pragmatic.” “Now, as in a film,” he writes toward the end, “I can bring back the characters who occupy the pages of this, my last book.” And so he announces, with infinite poise and quiet humility, his retirement. Our loss.

“This has been my exit from myself,” Holroyd has said of his life’s work as a biographer. “I seek invisibility,” he writes, “behind the subjects I am trying to bring alive on the page.” But in this he fails miserably: his heart and humor bounce in vibrant rays off every hot-blooded, lovelorn, crazy, jealous and joyous woman — and what enlightened being would have any woman be otherwise? — in his book. Through his “exit” Holroyd is well found.

“A Book of Secrets” is a book of magic, a sleight of hand by a master conjurer singing his swan song, sweetly, softly, with piercing wit and overwhelming compassion, his poetry in prose evoking a time past, with all its outrageous obsessions, its illegal passions, its melancholy perfume. It is the scent, I believe, of violets that rises from these intoxicating pages.

Holroyd likes this poem by Violet Trefusis, a woman he elevates from feisty sidekick to contender:

My heart was more disgraceful, more alone And more courageous than the world has known. O passer-by my heart was like your own.

And in this final offering, this small book bursting with the tremendous generosity of its author, one feels that courage. Sir Michael, I curtsy before you. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/07/books/review/a-book-of-secrets-by-michael-holroyd-book-review.html?scp=2&sq=holroyd&st=cse

Biographers are very interesting cats. Biography seems to be the only thing I am able to read these days, except for 19th century novels.

I am interested, as anybody of my vintage is, in Holroyd’s concentration on Bloomsbury (he is the biographer of Strachey; Strachey is the icon-smashing biographer and probably Bloomsbury’s central character, with Virginia Woolf, his former fiancee, and Keynes and Grant, his former boyfriends). Why, in the 40 years since I wrote, for the great metropolitan daily newspaper, of the incredible surge of feminist interest in V. Woolf, no one has thought to write the love story of Vita and Violet — one of Bloomsbury’s most notorious liaisons — I do not know.  What I do know is that Vita Sackville West would not have become the central hero/ine of queer romance literature were it not for the limelight accorded her by  the gold-dust touch of her lover, Virginia Woolf. The other contemporary gossip here is that Camilla Parker Bowles is, like Violet Trefusis, a descendant of the beautiful, randy Mrs. Keppel, Edward VII’s last mistress.

Mrs. Keppel, mother of Violet Trefusis, ancestrix of The Parker Bowles, mistress of Edward VII.

Vita was connected to Bloomsbury forever by her love affair with Virginia Woolf. Her androgyny (and her ducal connections) inspired Woolf, long before Olivia Butler made it “science fiction”,  to write Woolf’s shape-changing, sex-morphing, magic realist “biography”, Orlando, which was essentially the story of Vita, with a Vita and Violet chapter, and Vita’s ducal forebears, in the form of young Orlando, who lived for 500 years and changed sexes as necessary.

Orlando is a wonderful, rich book, much more profound than its gotten credit for — its form-conferring sci-fi, magic realist and queer biography chops notwithstanding. It has been totally unexploited for the Vita and Violet material until now. I don’t understand why nobody treats it seriously (beauty of surface, one reason, Woolf herself criticized herself for; the sexuality (in a writer notorious for being allegedly frigid); and in its treatment of time/history/eternity, always a huge interest of Woolf’s, picked up in her posthumous novel, Between the Acts).

Biography may be Bloomsbury’s most influential and sophisticated contribution to the 20th century. Woolf’s father, Leslie Stephen, the original godless Bohemian, became in 1882 the official cartographer of the British canon when he was named editor of the Dictionary of National Biography. Virginia, on whose education he spent no money, grew up reading his books instead of going to school. Her second brush with biographers was editing her parents’ love letters for Sir Leslie’s biographer, who refused to believe her father had viciously sexist temper tantrums. Her third brush with biography was with the homosexual Lytton Strachey, who probably fell in love with Virginia’s older brother Thoby at Cambridge. (The young Stephens all looked —  I think it was Strachey who said it first —  like Greek slaves; Thoby among the most beautiful and dead at 26.)

Thoby Stephen, 1880-1906, the lacuna around whom Bloomsbury, and two of Virginia Woolf’s novels, were formed.

Thoby’s early death made his Cambridge friends friends of his sisters for life, and these formed the nucleus of Bloomsbury. Thoby’s death in 1906, of typhoid, may be the most influential and least-known literary event in 20th century history. It inspired the modernity of the lacuna — no “plot”, no “character” — in at least two books of Virginia’s — Jacob’s Room, and the thrillingly abstract and yet autobiographical The Waves. How Thoby’s death affected Strachey, I do not know but plan to discover by reading Holroyd’s bio, on which the silly fag hag tragedy movie Carrington was based.

In any case, Strachey was the atomic bombardier of biography. In 1918, Strachey published Eminent Victorians which changed biography forever. Every iconoclastic trick Christopher Hitchens performs on Mother Theresa et al, Strachey performed first on personalities of enduring substance and influence — Cardinal Manning (Oxbridge convert/politician), Florence NIghtingale (the lady with the lamp), Thomas Arnold (Rugby, the school) and General Gordon (Opium Wars, Africanist, Khartoum), heroes of Victorian hegemony.

Cardinal Manning, by Watts.

The New Journalism doubtless owes a huge debt to (and I’m guessing here) the very intelligent Tom Wolfe’s reading of Strachey, and the adoption of the famous Strachey voice, which had as much to do with Lytton’s enormous family of siblings — like Virginia’s, part Anglo-Indian colonialists — and their famous drawl as it did with Lytton’s own Cambridge Apostle-inflected high camp candor. (G.E. Moore, the fin de siecle Cambridge philo, whosePrincipia Ethicawas recently chosen as one of the 20th century’s most influential books, had something to do with the directness of the voice. But the queerness was all Lytton.)

 I’d be interested to trace the influence of Eminent Victorians on Virginia Woolf’s own writing — she was both competitive and very loving with the man she called her Old Serpent. He dedicated his next, and much less good, biography, of Victoria herself, to Virginia. As I recall, she criticized it in the same terms she criticized the work of other Bloomsberries —  as if it were “a luncheon party at Gordon Square”. And indeed, the aural and conversational beauty of both Woolf’s and Strachey’s rhetoric and dialogue is notable.

The fourth connection of Virginia Woolf to the enormous subject of 20th century biography writing — think about how memoirs of abused children have taken over the best seller list — is her own magnificent foray into the genre, Orlando, and the much more troubled effort she made at the end of her life with the biography of the artist Roger Fry. These have, I think,  just begun to be influential. Holroyd’s popularizing queerness touch should do for Orlando what his biography of Strachey did for Carrington — Carrington being Strachey’s devoted fag hag, who killed herself after his death.  The classic women-who-lust-for-gay-men piece to date is the biography — by the incandescent Hilton Als — of Dorothy Dean, gentle and sad, in The Women.

The fifth and probably most infuential connection of Woolf to biography is her foundation, with others of the Bloomsbury circle, of the Memoir Club — designed to get their alcoholic friend, Desmond MacCarthy, to stop expending his energy on magnificent conversation and ephemeral journalism, and to begin to write books. I have written about the Memoir Club,  and its ethical infuence, its powerful amity for atheists, as well as its influence in producing memoir by their rich and powerful, queer, lifelong stalwart friend, Keynes, here.

There’s also a connection in the whole early 20th century language of seduction used by Vita and  Violet in their love letters — only Violet’s are preserved — used to great effect by Holroyd. The gypsy sheik cross-dressing rhetoric is used, as I have written elsewhere, in the Lost Generation Lesbian poetry of my own Aunt Cherie. It was creepy to read it written much less well, but with equal passion, by the daughter of the King’s mistress, and to think it was the way all the queer girls talked to each other in 1925. Another ducal connection, so essential to the bodice-ripping genre.

In their letters, Vita was “Mitya,” and Violet was the lush “Lushka”: “My poor Mitya, they’ve taken you and they’ve burnt your caravan. . . . They’ve pulled down your sleeves and buttoned up your collar! They’ve forced you to sleep beneath a self-respecting roof with no chinks to let the stars through. . . . Come away, Mitya, come away. . . . I’ll wait for you at the crossroads. . . . Ah, Beloved!”

And you wonder why 21st century fictions are so moronic.

Michael Holroyd, biographer in the iconoclastic Bloomsbury tradition of Lytton Strachey.

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