Archives for posts with tag: system d

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

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If like me you are a diehard lover of cities and the sidewalk, where democracy is formed, you’ll love Chop Shop,  now streaming at Netflix. Ebert says it’s one of the best movies of the oughties. I wouldn’t know, but it has many virtues.

The 12-year-old actor Alejandro Polanco celebrates Willets Point, Queens, in the 2007 neo-realist movie, Chop Shop.

First, it is neo-Marxist. Modernity, it is argued, began in public space with the uprooting of the cobblestones people used to throw at the Bastille. And democracy itself was invented in the plazas of Athens, where citizens gathered to vote on civic matters. Willets Point is not a planned city – so far from being planned it overlooks Rikers Island, the nexus of New York City chaos – and has no sewage system or streetlights. It is an organic, Systeme D — the back channel economy in which half the world’s workers now labor — explosion of auto parts and repair shops where there used to be junk yards.  Visually, cinematically, it is the opposite of the planned, organized, civilized city and much more in the realm of the visual chaos Robert Venturi first discovered in Las Vegas, and Rem Koolhaas celebrates in Lagos.

Willets Point is the urban version of the vast parking lot in which most suburban Americans live, and which academic architecture, who fancy themselves the avatars of modernity, are just beginning to address.  It is not the architecture of reassurance symbolized by Disneyland and everything else Hollywood builds into a set.

The suburbs – I suppose Queens could be considered a suburb of Manhattan – are where all the entry level immigrants now live. The outer boroughs are no longer for white people only, and that clash and ascendancy of cultures is what Chop Shop is partly about. Shea Stadium is right there; the kids sneak into baseball games; everyone in the world wants to own an American muscle car and comes to Willets Point to get one.

Second, the  neo-realist story idea arose from reality. No member of the chattering classes has ever laid eyes on Willets Point, Queens. No Spielberg or Bruckheimer has the nerve to emerge from un-air-conditioned space to regard actuality.

The Iranian-American director Ramin Bahrani, guided there by a roadie who’d had his own car chopped there, spent months hanging out in Willets Point.  He didn’t know what his story was going to be. He waited for the neighborhood to tell him. In the visual chaos, he slowly began to see that there were children who lived and worked there.* That children in America live and work in junk yards is something you’d never know unless you just quietly hung around a place, not re-conforming the reality to make it videogenic. Apprehending, I don’t know, reality.

Third, he had no casting director and basically no lines to memorize, only a carefully rehearsed and diligently pre-shot, shot and re-shot improv script. He found the lumniscent young actors who play the orphaned brother and sister himself. Alejandro Polanco and Isamar Gonzales epitomize the lure of British television and movies to me – indeed Bollywood, Australian, Spanish movies and movies everywhere else but America – they are real faces. Uncut, unBotoxed, shining out light the way no Hollywood mask can.

Gonzales and Polanco live in a crawl space above the chop shop.

Polanco looks, walks, speaks, and acts everything that is good about boys of all ages, and the poignancy of his being 12 years old, a little man — sometimes trudging like a tiny pigeon-toed old man —  is the heart of the story of the working child. Gonzales has the more unsympathetic part, more difficult, perhaps to play than the beautiful boy, but her face in the scene in which she embraces her little brother and swings his legs around in a kickball game is one I will never forget. Then there’s the pigeon scene at the end. Oh me.

Gonzales and Polaco kick ball in Chop Shop.

Finally, there are scenes in the movie, notably one in the subway where Polanco and his much shorter sidekick sell candy, in which there are no actors whatever. Every candy buyer in the subway cars – mostly hard-looking young African-American men – is a real New Yorker caught by Bahrani’s hand-held camera. Bahrani says, “That’s the great thing about New Yorkers is, they’ve seen so many cameras they don’t really care. (Laughter) I’m amazed still. Like, that woman who—not even once does she look into the camera, or even care! No one asked any questions, either, like, “Why is there a camera and five people following?” They just bought their candy and went… It’s amazing, you know? Thank you, because that was like New Yorkers; they allow these things to happen.”

http://www.movingimagesource.us/files/dialogues/3/81269_programs_transcript_html_302.htm

Totally open, and totally cool. The new Jerusalem, the city on the hill for which we left so much behind. Run, comrade. The old world is behind you.

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*The NYT has a wonderful piece about the single, lone legal resident of Willets Point, Joseph Ardizzone,of the auto repair ghetto where so much life goes down.

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/17/nyregion/17willets.html?_r=0)

I’ve started reading from its beginning the blog of a young father and artist, who makes his living being one, who is also a big foodie. I’ve known two other fine artists well who also lived to cook, and who were wonderful gardeners. I think it’s the same engagement with materiality rather, I submit, than sensuality. Hmm. Marxist materialism?

I was inspired to read this guy’s blog through Punk Domestics, which concept I’m much interested in. The PD blog is basically about DIY preserving — meat, jam, canning. I was hoping it would have more home-made household cleansers and tips. I am interested to know how it differs from the Gen X peak oil survivalist bunkerites and the competitive tiger moms intent on banning all germs, toxins, and vaccinations from the lives of their autistic children before they give up the SUV. One clue is the punks are urban and arguably exogamous.

Artisanal Brooklyn is strongly implied, with rooftop gardening and urban farming , food coops like Rainbow Grocery run by the grey spikes rather than the grey ponytails, ghetto green guerrillas and communitarian gardens implicated. As opposed to bunkers far away from the scary black people.

An Oakland guerrilla green tells her tale.

I am much concerned about humane meat and am pretty much not reassured by Jamie Oliver’s snuff films, the allegation that that famous empath,  Zuckerberg, kills all his own meat and became a man eating chicken gizzards. Now it is alleged he wants to learn to hunt.

I am not reassured by urban farmers growing turkeys and pigs in their own tiny rowhouse back yards. I am often horrified in the punk/survivalist blogs at the ignorant inhumanity with which domestic animals are treated, exposed to every disease and predator by people who don’t have the money for proper feed, fences, pasture, waste management, and veterinarians. And brag about it. I actually called the humane society in a rural Montana county to sic them on people shamelessly abusing goats. I’m trying to figure out how to do it in France.

I am curious about the punk canning mentality.

This young man now makes his own salami and Edam or Gouda cheese, in the tradition of the hippie generation of chefs like Paul Bertolli, who Italified Chez Panisse,  and the Gen X granny chefs like Mario Batali, Manhattan’s hot chef, whose father retired after 30 years at Boeing to make salami. Punk Domestics had a year-long Charcutepalooza based on Ruhlman’s new meat-curing Bible. These are not your hippie grandpa’s peace-to-all-beings vegetarians. I would suspect their ethics less if they were nicer to their ghetto rowhouse animals, and if they ate more tripe.

I am reassured that Ruhlman et al., if not the punk domestics, have engaged with, and give recipes for, the Marxist materiality of pig’s blood, heads, and ears. It’s not just about the killing, Zuckerberg, or the Ozzy Osbourne machismo of biting the head off  something besides a Whopper. It’s about the dead and respecting every part. It’s about authenticity.

The earliest parts of the young man’s food blog are interestingly concerned with the transformation of leftovers into something else, vegan onion soup into calzones, for example. There was a brief post on the composition and color of the plating of the leftover risotto balls he’d made into arancini. This suggests more an upcycling, hoarding, thrifting, transsubstantiation, magpie, collageur mentality than an actually discriminating palate.

We’ll see. The question is, how much salami do you need in the apocalypse, and whether or not this DIY everything is a full employment mandate scam, as I suspect attachment parenting/breastfeeding the ambulatory is for SAHMs.

I am all about a new profit model and  System D. My father was a big Green, and I grew up composting and recycling and worrying about the archipelagoes of pellets floating on the surface of the Atlantic, which he started talking about  in the 1950s, composed of shit and petroleum emulsified with detergent.

Me, my father, and the ocean. Puerto Rico, ca. 1950.

I am still researching the piece on Edward Espe Brown as the most influential cook of the 20th century. I am encouraged by my research into the source of his recipes — forensic evidence noone else has — that research into the ripoff use of his recipes by Waters, Tower, Katzen and Batali will reveal similar unarguable lines of descent, Waters being the alleged most influential chef of the 20th century, Tower being her main early influence and employee, Katzen being the east coast hippie chef who now serves on Harvard nutrition panels, and Batali the current rage of Manhattan chefs. Like Brown’s,  Katzen’s hippie chef/vegetarian books were and are massive best-sellers. Unlike Brown, she did not sign all her profits over to the Moosewood collective. (Maybe she did. I have to check that out. I bet she didn’t.)

Always been a foodie, worked in a restaurant for a couple of years, avid reader of a wide range of cookbooks. With EEB, I’m getting to the place where it’s all porn and what I eat is simpler. Last night I had cantalope, smoked local Tucumcari Gouda, artisanal sourdough and Costco butter for dinner. (Got to check that out and go for the humane butter.)

So I was very interested to see people I suspect of the punk, straighter edge, food distribution, Gen X Gordon Edgar  and Rainbow Grocery ilk, pace old hippies, featured in the NYT piece on small farmers. Some of them are now former migrant workers who have been taught organic microfarming by awesome organizations like Viva Farms. http://www.vivafarms.org/p/our-farmers.html

And some of them are Lena Dunham dead-end urban job Gen Z refugees, living in an RV without internets and television, doting upon the doggie their rural setting now permits them to keep. They’re 25 and they met in college.

Jenny and Alex Smith, Matthew Ryan Williams for The New York Times.

They remind me a lot of the permaculture hustlers blog of young Australians I read. They make a living by inviting people to come and learn permaculture on their farm — while paying to farm it.
http://milkwood.net/

Planting freedom is a burgeoning idea, and not just at Viva Farms, which seems to be specializing in training former migrant workers. Black Americans returning to the south and planting Juneteenth emancipation gardens is one thread. Another is the discovery, preservation, and promulgation of nearly waterless vegetable crops and techniques, like pre-Colombian water catchment structures, developed by Native Americans in the southwest and sold as Noah’s ark crops, standing tall and dry against genetically engineered, faraway, water rights war-inspiring, unsustainable agribusiness.
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/14/garden/juneteenth-gardens-planting-the-seeds-of-survival.html?pagewanted=all
http://www.nativeseeds.org/

I keep wondering if I plant the Tohono O’odham garden, will they prosper? I did plant their melons this year and await them with pleasure.
https://nativeseeds.org/index.php/store/992/2/seeds/seed-buckets-and-collections/sc003/P-tohono-oodham-seed-collection
http://www.tonation-nsn.gov/

On the EEB research, one of the key pieces of the puzzle is Sibella Kraus, Alice Waters’ first forager, who was a line cook at Chez Panisse and went on to study agricultural economics and become a food activist.

This is one of the punk, System D, locavore jobs of the future. My father spent his life teaching sustainable fish farming in the Third World. Now it comes down to doing the same in the New World.

Ever since I read this vignette, in 2000, about Bill Gates’ great Eureka, in which he finally ceases to be an entirely white boy, I have been thinking.

Gates looks back with some amusement at his belated realization that access to technological information might not be the answer to the world’s most serious problems. Microsoft was donating computers to poor communities in Africa in the mid-90’s, and during a visit to Johannesburg, Gates went to Soweto where he was proudly shown the town’s single computer. As he took in his surroundings, he recalls, he said to himself: ”Hey, wait a minute — there’s only one electrical outlet in this whole place.’ And yup, they had plugged in that computer, and when I was there, man, that thing was running and everybody was very thankful. But I looked around and thought, Hmm, computers may not be the highest priority in this particular place. I wondered, Who the heck is going to be really using this thing?”
http://www.nytimes.com/2000/04/16/magazine/how-to-give-away-21.8-billion.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

I’ve been collecting a number of pieces of string around this, one being that Gates was so overwhelmed by actually being able to See something among all the invisible men and sockets in Soweto that he missed the picture of Tupac taped to the wall. I imagine the wall to be made of flattened 25-liter cooking oil tins. Maybe the picture is of Diddy or Little Richard or Snoop or Afrika Bambaataa or L’il Kim’s plastic breasts. Maybe it is affixed to the wall with a magnet, or wired to the wall through holes drilled in the tins. Whoever the picture is of, it is not a picture of anything Americans promulgate as American culture. American culture would be the socket they don’t have. The software Gates is trying to sell them.

From that moment, I realized that African Americans are the arbiters of American and thus global popular culture. Just finished reading a book called An Empire  of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood. I await the sequel, about how African Americans — and System D — invented popular culture. And I do believe, as a very old school fan of the O’Jays and their love train, that the hip hop love train energy is what is moving through System D — what the African Francophones call the back channel economy, which now employs half the world’s workers and is the second-largest economy (after ours)  — to save the world. Out of the garbage pile that is Lagos it comes, slouching toward Bethlehem Wall fucking Street.


As usual, the comments on this clip are as important as the clip itself, if not more so.

Now comes this stunning profile of Kuk Harrell, a  black man who is Justin Bieber’s and Rihanna’s vocal producer. He is now my template for culture czar. First thought. It’s all pastiche and technology. Second thought, Romare Bearden is all pastiche and he did it, he sliced up America, Justin Bieber, Bill Gates and Rihanna, listening, as many African American fine artists do, to jazz.

Kuk Harrell, culture arbiter.

Jazz is way too intellectual for me. I suspect it has to do with the heroin-like abstractions of bone-deep existential Cool. I am not cool. I do lurk late though, and so I nearly passed out staring at Bearden’s Tomorrow I May Be Far Away at the National Gallery’s great 2003 retrospective when I saw fragments of wood siding samples pasted into the [entirely modernist] cubist melange. (Was Picasso the first black president?)

I immediately connected them to the collageurs and pastiche masters of African American yard art, in which hub caps are transformed into mandalas and geomancy energy changers, and drive shafts driven into graves into axes mundi. This Bearden did with advertising images he clipped and re-imagined from white Life or black Ebony magazine.

Romare Bearden. Tomorrow I May Be Far Away. 1967

Finally, there’s nothing post-modern about the pastiche. I need to think some more about that. It’s totes modern, and totes Marxist in its deconstruction, or explosion, and synthesis (as Harrell’s biographer puts it) into a Frankensteinian work of cobbled System D art. It’s a total reappropriation by Harrell/Bearden/Frankenstein. I need to think a whole lot more about that, and the interpolation of technology — the mastery of recording technology — with which Harrell mediates, collages, and pastiches a song. You think it’s Bieber? Think again.

For now, hear this. African Americans and Kuk Harrell are your popular cultural arbiters. Nothin’ post-racial about it.

I have to get some more System D and Frenchie philosophy under my belt. I’m still flipping out around the idea that Lacan was a Freudian psychoanalyst. Nothin’ Afro pomo homo about that.

People all over the world? Join hands. Join hands.

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