Open Thread for July 10, 2009

Here in the northeast, it’s a beautiful, warm, sunny day.

On the Michael Jackson media fustercluck front, the taxpayers of Los Angeles paid a million and a half dollars to bankroll a gaudy spectacle where celebrity attention-whores could prove themselves to be at best fair-weather friends and at worst cynical opportunists.

On the movie front, right-thinking, modern, sensitive, cultured folk are shocked—shocked!—to discover that a movie mocking gay people in order to mock homophobia is, it turns out, mocking gay people after all.

Oh, and Harry Potter will make a mint.

What’s on your mind? It’s the open thread.

23 Comments on “Open Thread for July 10, 2009”

  1. mlawski #

    Yo, loyal readers of my Lost posts: I watched eight episodes over the past week and a half (season 2 episodes 9 through 16) and I have no idea what to write about them. The episodes didn’t seem to have a thematic through line, plus it’s sometimes difficult to overthink a story when you still have no idea what is going on.

    So I come to you. Does anyone have a topic for overthinking for me? Any Lost-related questions you want me to attempt to answer? If so, write a comment here or send me an e-mail. But do it soon; I need to write the post by Sunday night! As usual, if you’re posting a comment here, try not to be too spoilery.

     
  2. Trevor #

    “Bruno” looks a bit suspect to me, though I’m interested in seeing it. It’s kinda like, with “Borat,” discovering an indie band that hasn’t had any notice from the mainstream press, but by the time of “Bruno” they’re working on their major-label debut, teenage girls have overtaken out-of-work twentysomethings as their main fanbase, and they’re appearing on Jay Leno’s show and the lead singer is marrying an actress. The fun isn’t just the same anymore (there’s still some positive things to say, it’s just that now everyone is in on the thing that you thought was special because only you and a small fan base really appreciated it).

     
  3. Gab #

    I have family living in California, and they’re all pretty pissed that their state, already with so many dept problems, is footing the bill for the MJ security. Why don’t they make his estate pay for it? Is that even possible?

    I found this awesome fake Green Lantern trailer through an article on cinematical.com this morning- it reminded me a lot of that Thundercats one on another post a while back. Very, very well-done. It reinforces my belief that there should be a “Best Trailer” category in a lot of those award ceremonies/lists/whatever.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_hTiRnqnvDs

    AL FRANKEN FINALLY GOT SWORN IN. (Ahem, sorry.)

    Speaking of Harry Potter, did you know that 1) Rupert Grint, the guy playing Ron, has swine flu; and 2) Emma Watson, a.k.a. Hermione, is a Chanel model, having replaced Keira Knightly? Yeah. Crazy.

    I can’t really think of much pop culture stuff from the week, since nobody is talking about anything apart from Micheal Jackson in some way, shape, or form.

     
  4. Matthew Belinkie #

    @Shana – You might want to write about whether you consider Lost to be a satisfying, worthwhile TV-watching experience. I never wanted to get into the show, because it always seemed frustrating to me. The hardcore fans were kept in a constant state of perplexity, with a lot of their enjoyment hinging on the idea that The Answers Are Coming. In other words, every episode of Lost is only as good as the yet-to-be-produced final episode. If the big explanation of all the mysteries isn’t satisfying, then the entire series will have been a waste. I mean, finding a polar bear on the island is only cool if someday, we understand exactly why it was there. Right?

    Let me ask you this – let’s say that when Lost ends, it’s a complete disappointment that doesn’t even come close to explaining all the mysterious events of the series. Are you STILL glad you watched it all?

     
  5. mlawski #

    @Belinkie: Actually, my third post was basically about that. I was getting a little frustrated at the end of the first season, what with the lack of solid answers and all. For whatever reason, the beginning of the second season renewed my energy, because we did get one big answer (which, of course, led to more questions) and, more importantly, some new characters to add some freshness to the mix.

    In case you don’t want to read my third Lost post and spoil things for yourself, my answer came down to, “In my ideal world, the show would actually answer some of the main questions early on — like by the third season.” Because, to me, the crazy mysteries aren’t my main reason for watching the show. At some point I had to say to myself, “Okay, there are polar bears. I don’t particularly care why anymore. I accept that they are there.”

    The mysteries are fine, but I prefer plot, conflict, character development — you know, the fun stuff that makes non-mystery shows fun. The example I gave was Burn Notice. When I first started watching, I quickly began to think, “I bet the writers don’t even know who burned Michael. They’re just dragging on the mystery because otherwise there would be no show.” But then we found out who burned Michael, and the show got even better. Now we don’t have to focus on the mystery of who burned Michael; we can focus on his day-to-day exploits and his character development. What’s he going to do next?

    I’m hoping at some point soon, Lost reveals the answers to some of its main mysteries so I can focus on the characters more. Like: “Aha, now we know why there are polar bears there! What are the characters going to do with this information?” If that doesn’t happen, yeah, I might burn out on Lost. But, at the moment, I (mostly) like the show for what it is.

     
  6. perich #

    the taxpayers of Los Angeles paid a million and a half dollars to bankroll a gaudy spectacle

    I have a hard time pitying L.A. here.

    Consider the cultural spectacle that Michael Jackson was between 1980 and 1989. Consider how many millions of people he inspired to come to Hollywood to pursue any sort of performance career – dancing, singing, choreography, what have you. Consider the literal trillions that those flocking wannabes must have provided in tax revenue – sales tax, income tax, property tax, etc.

    L.A. has already taken more than their fair share of tax revenue from Michael Jackson’s existence. Claiming that his funeral “cost” them money is bad accounting.

     
  7. Lucas #

    Am I the only one who listens to the podcast every week, but cannot bring myself to read through even one article? I periodically muster up enough determination to visit the site, I see a title or a photoshopped picture that catches my interest, but then, as soon as I start reading, I lose any will to continue. I don’t know if it is the poor writing, the pedantry, or just that the humor doesn’t come through as well through the written word as it does through the podcast. This is not a diss, as I really, really like the podcast and it makes me literally LOL all the time; I am just trying to figure out why I have such a strong aversion to every article I have read here.

     
  8. Gab #

    @Perich: Well, I guess blame the whole state on the debt problems, then- all of that revenue MJ brought in, and then some, is gone. So should they now charge his estate, after squandering the money he helped produce, too? Well, I’m not sure about that. It’s hard, since the whole memorial wasn’t a state-run thing, after all- it wasn’t entitled something like, “California’s Tribute to Michael Jackson,” or anything. The event itself was a private function, but it was policed by state-paid employees. Maybe the Jackson family couldn’t afford Blackwater or something…

    This is just me throwing stuff out there, but I’m wondering about the possibility that the Jackson family will be able to turn Neverland into a Graceland kind of deal by suing to get Michael buried there (since it’s illegal at the moment, and I don’t think the “neighbors” are big on the idea). If they win, the state should get some of the revenue until the bill is paid, if the estate doesn’t pay for it somehow (like through his own catalogue, not necessarily the Beatles stuff) (and the Beatles stuff, btw, is supposedly going back to Sir Paul) before the place opens.

     
  9. Saint #

    I think episode 10 touches on some really delicate themes for Lost: the role of race in a show set on a tropical island. The show is conspicuously racially diverse, but still seems to perpetuate traditional Western ideas of the white man bringing technology, civilization and God to the heathen savage wilderness of the equatorial jungle.

    The show is a kind of sci-fi mystery that happens to take place on an island, yes. Also, it is a Robinson Crusoe/Gilligan’s Island-style narrative that privileges the perspective of white shipwrecked foreigners on a so-called “uninhabited island.” More than once, we see the white characters get sophisticated, long-term, recurring narratives while the rest of the cast are used symbolically or for emotional effect, and then rarely (if ever) heard from again.

    Eko seeks salvation from a Christian god, brought to his home by white colonists, and his entire life struggle seems to be for the benefit of learning something about Charlie, rather than creating a new character for the audience to care about.

    SPOILER ALERT
    (remove x to see spoiler)

    Compare the xdxexaxtxhxsx of Eko and Charlie for a clear outline of exactly who the writers really care about.

     
  10. Gab #

    @Saint:

    KIND OF LOST SPOILER-EE

    Well, Saint, in defense of the writers: The difference there is one actor asked for it to happen and the other didn’t. So the first had to be kind of rushed into the script against the writers’ original intent for the character. And going off of that, the writers coincidentally had problems with two of their other minority cast members, one because they kept changing their mind about whether they actually wanted to be on the show or not, and the other because they were getting arrested for DUIs.

    And Hurley and Sayid, two very different characters, are both minorities, as are Sun and Jin. Granted, at about this point in the series, Sayid is the character with the most plot-driving influence, but I think that the other three get more clout/impact as the series continues.

     
  11. Saint #

    SPOILER

    When is there ever an excuse for poor writing on a show that is capable of excellent writing? A character get the fate that the writers think he or she deserves, which (I believe) reflects the ability of the writers to create stories that are compelling to them.

    An inability to write a variety of stories (or a long, complicated story) for a particular kind of character either means:

    A. The writers don’t think audiences want the minority characters to take up a bunch of airtime,

    B. The writers can’t imagine the kind of things that minority characters hope or fear for,

    C. The writers prefer to write about characters they personally care more about (possibly because they have an easier time relating to white people like Jack, Locke and Sawyer)

    D. The producers have an easier time selling white lead actors to advertisers, so the writers have to feature them more prominently,

    E. On a show that is propelled by both convoluted narrative and a romance angle, interpersonal relationships are vital to keeping the plot interesting, which means that white actors are going to be coupled with white actors for both sex and violence,

    E.i. On a similar note, a show that uses the psychological anxiety of family relationships to heighten stakes is going to need to hire white fathers for white sons, white sisters for white brothers, etc. Since the minority characters are already marginalized, they don’t get enough long-term narrative capital to justify meeting the entire extended family (at least for more than one episode). Look at Mr. Eko’s family: do we get a multiple episode arc where we learn that his family is part of the larger conspiracy of the island’s terrible secret? Or do we get one episode where we are both introduced to his brother and see his brother killed, so that there is never hope that Mr. Eko’s family will ever matter to the larger plot?

    This goes along the lines of that great article from a while ago about strong female characters (I forgot who wrote that, sorry). It doesn’t matter that Mr. Eko is a fascinating character who seeks and arguably obtains salvation. We don’t end racism by making minor characters noble. We end racism by making racially diverse characters that the audience can identify with (good or bad), so that race becomes less important than honestly connecting with a character’s humanity.

    That’s why I think Cliff Huxtable and the villain in Serenity are more interesting than Blade or the “character” Common played in Terminator Salvation. The creation of believable, sophisticated humanity is the difference.

     
  12. Gab #

    @Saint:

    SPOILERS

    Don’t get me wrong, I was not saying that the way Eko was written out of the show is excusable, I just don’t think his being a minority had anything to do with it. Again, the actor asked to be written off of the series, so they sort of pulled it out in a flash. No, that doesn’t excuse crappy writing in a show that has already proven itself capable of more, but I don’t think it was his race that was the issue in that particular instance- it was simply how the writers aren’t good under close-deadline-pressure.

    Take the tiny arch involving that young couple that gets buried alive. The writers stuck them in, poorly, as an experiment at the last minute, figured out that audiences hated them because they were written so badly, and then wrote them out really fast and also pretty poorly. There are other examples, but whenever forces outside the internal plot started to drive how the show was written, the results were always bad, whether there were minorities involved or not. That’s crappy, that says the writers need to get better, but it doesn’t have anything to do with deficiency in skill in writing minority characters- it has to do with their deficiency in skill in writing *in general*.

    And I do want to emphasize that I really believe the minority characters that are still there later in the series get more of what you crave, a “believable, sophisticated humanity.” I do see your point and agree that at this stage (season 2), the characters with the most background and thus potential to provide other characters via flashback/flash-forward are white. But Sayid, Hurley, and Sun and Jin get a lot more later, and I feel like it gets a bit more even. No, not completely, but closer, at least.

    But, I’ll admit that maybe I just want to give the writers the benefit of the doubt because of the circumstances of why Eko, Ana Lucia, and Michael were written out. Because they left due to actor problems, not plot arcs, we (and the writers) don’t know precisely where their characters would have gone; and I guess I like to think they would have gone to interesting, humanizing, well-developed places.

    Or, perhaps I’m just not cynical enough at times and try to make excuses where they aren’t warranted (which I guess evens out with when I have absolutely no faith whatsoever…?).

    Another example (and he has been discussed on the podcast for this site) of a minority character written as a regular character is the kid from _Up_.

     
  13. fenzel #

    @lucas

    The podcast is a pretty different animal from the articles, and I see why people might like one more than the other. Interestingly enough, the articles are a lot more popular than the podcast. There are a lot of reasons that might be the case, so take that with a grain of salt.

    In our private (and public) discussions, I often tell the other writers that if people on the Internet aren’t railing against you, you’re not doing it right. The only reason nobody would dislike what you wrote or posted would be if nobody read it.

    That said, we still take complaints and feedback seriously.

    My guesses for why what people like about the podcasts may not be in the posts?

    - the posts aren’t that funny. The tone we strike on the site is deliberate (trying to nail our brand and find our niche audiences), and, especially in the last six months or so, we’ve steered away from light-hearted, funny posts. The funny stuff just doesn’t get as many readers, as many links, or as much positive feedback. There are a lot of jokes and there’s a lot of humor in the posts, but they’re not meant to be funny in the same way the podcast is meant to be funny.

    - people have a higher standard for editorial polish than they do for focus or clarity in recordings. We have tried a few times to beef up our editorial support for our articles, but since we don’t make a profit doing this, it’s hard to justify that sort of formal process and time commitments. While we have professional writers and editors writing for the site (myself included), we aren’t dedicating professional-level time and resources to it, because we all have other jobs and stuff.

    Meanwhile, our podcast recording quality is decent enough, and since there’s only one a week, it actually goes through a little editing and cleanup every single time. It doesn’t matter that it isn’t impeccable, because people don’t expect much more than we provide from podcasts in general – which, frankly, I think is a black mark on the institution of podcasts in general.

    - as many of us as are experienced writers, most of us (myself included) are more experienced as performers. We have a lot of actors and musicians and such, people who like to play onstage. So that’s a factor. You’ll note we talk about performing arts a lot more than prose or poetry. I think that’s a factor – it certainly is in my own work.

    - our articles are generally too long or too formal in style for mass-market internet writing. Again, this is deliberate, but we shouldn’t pretend it comes without a cost.

    - conversational writing (like comment threads and message boards) is very different from more prosaic writing, and the Internet is better suited for the former than the latter. I suspect there are a lot of people out there, maybe you’re one of them, maybe you’re not, who think they ought to like reading prose on the Internet more than you do. I know that at least 80% of what I read on the internet is conversational and directly engages its audience in an interactive way. Our articles don’t do that; our podcast does. I think that might just be more fun.

    - since many of us are old friends, we have more practice bantering with each other for our amusement than writing high-concept Internet artilces.

    - we have a clearer and stronger idea about what our audience wants from our podcast, because while we do get more feedback overall on the articles, it isn’t as specific or actionable. We try to follow it, but I think we’re less certain what the right track may be.

    - we make our articles too didactic, formal and impersonal and need to figure out how to give them more of a human touch without turning this into just another fanboy (or fangirl) blog. That is really hard to do.

    Those are my ideas off the top of my head. Reactions? Thoughts? Agree/disagree with me or lucas?

    Please note, I thumb-typed this comment on my g-1 keyboard while on an amtrak train, so I apologize if it isn’t pulitzer-quality writing itself ;)

     
  14. fenzel #

    Oh, also, a lot of us have sarcastic, snarky senses of humor that can come off as endearing in recordings and just plain mean or angry in articles. I know I tend to go on tears when I write that read as more hostile and less good-natured than they are meant to be at the time. This, more than anything else, is just about improving my command of my writing and finding my voice with greater sure-footedness.

    Ditching awful mixed metaphors like that might be a good start ;)

     
  15. stokes #

    @Lucas: I think it’s probably the pedantry.

     
  16. Eric #

    LOST theme:
    Fate vs. Free will. Probably the main theme of the show. For season 2, you can talk about the theme as it relates to the button.

     
  17. mlawski #

    Thanks so much to all the Lost fans who gave me topics for this week. I’m shutting down the suggestion box now so I can finish up the post. If you have any other Lost-related questions or themes, put them in your comments tomorrow when the post is published, and I’ll answer them in the coming weeks. Gracias!

     
  18. Matthew Wrather #

    @stokes

    Then again, it could be the bad writing.

     
  19. Matthew Belinkie #

    Me write bad? That’s unpossible!

     
  20. LA #

    Re: Michael Jackson Memorial.

    The LA police are used to large events. Just the week before was the huge Lakers extravaganza. The government agencies are not there to promote or assist in any of the events. They are there to protect the people and ensure health and safety. They are visible for any protest march, funeral processions, and even Circus parades. Does it cost the city? Sure, but it is a function of a large city. Does the city benefit? Sometimes they do through taxes from hotels, restaurants, etc…. Having lived in the area I appreciate the amazing job that they do in maintaining order. Having been at protest attended mainly by locals, I am thankful for the security even though it does add to my taxes. A city without control would result in ruin.

     
  21. Lucas #

    Thanks for the really detailed response Fenzel. Several of those points were things I hadn’t really thought about. Stokes and Wrather, I realize that I probably came across a little more hostile than I meant to; I didn’t mean that all the articles are written poorly. I thought Fenzel’s point about ya’ll being more involved in the performing arts (improv, etc.) was a good one (also good – the fact that you all have much experience interacting with each other). And yeah, I recognize that the point of the site is to be nuanced about things that don’t deserve such overly detailed critiques, but I think there are ways of going about it that don’t seem pedantic. I sometimes feel like I am reading an essay by an undergrad, wherein they attempt to apply their most recent academic interest (whether sociology or lit crit) to their most recent pop cultural interest. I can remember an article I read quite a while back that tried to use foucault to critique something, and that unlearned name dropping kind of undergrad-y vibe really hit me.
    In fact maybe that’s why I don’t enjoy the site as much as the podcast: in the podcast, I accept that certain things are only going to be touched upon and then only at a surface level. Whereas on the site, I’d like to read something that is less name drop-y with the theories and the figures of importance, and more actual indepth engagement. So yes I agree with Fenzel’s last point that sometimes the articles can be a overly didactic, but the ‘teaching’ that occurs sometimes seems the come out of the cultural theory 101.

    Also I think the overly formal nature of the articles is a problem. I don’t like to read academic writers that are overly formal, so why would I want to read that on my off time? Nietzsche, Foucault, Derrida, Heidegger (sometimes), Merleau-Ponty, etc. are all good examples of engaging writers (from my field) who still pack an intellectual punch. I realize that not everyone can reach their level (I certainly can’t), but I think they provide a better model to try to imitate than, say, Kant, Russel, Husserl, etc.

    I recognize that it is difficult to put out really stellar articles every day of the week. I don’t want to diminish what your site does, as I think it is a really fun and interesting. Please don’t take offense at anything I have said, because I really do enjoy (some, if not all) of what you do.

     
  22. Lucas #

    I just listened to the latest podcast, and I heard ‘pedantic and badly written’ quoted. I’m not sure why, but it just made me feel shocked, and then really bad. It’s probably because I was douchey, and I realized it. Sorry guys. Keep up the good work. P.S. – Fenzel, I just read the super bible smash bros thing, and I really liked that. Humorous, clever, etc. Good job.

     
  23. Matthew Wrather #

    Nah, man — as Stokes has said elsewhere, this is a “safe space” for nitpicking. You can’t please all the people all the time; etc., and we’re just glad you like SOMETHING on the site. Keep listening!

    (Though I have to admit, “undergrad-y vibe” rankles a little bit. I mean, come on. We have a Harvard professor on staff.)