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he never even set up his 401k

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Shit. In the office pool, I had “Video will be announcement of his resignation from the Bush administration due to the fact that he was unable to make ends meet on a mere $168,000 per annum.”

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September 7, 2007 at 9:31 pm

Posted in teevee


with 11 comments

I know I’m just being dim about this, but I’ve never been able to understand the "no loitering" stuff w/r/t film / tv crews. Is there really a law? Or is this the usual NYPD bullshit, where they threaten under just about any circumstances, to "hold you for 24 hours without charge. We can do that, asshole."

What a great situationist law it would be to render it legal to loiter wherever you like during filmings of any sort. Make it illegal for crews to intimidate pedestrians etc. I guarantee the result would be better movies / tv shows. In fact, this might be my first quasi-answer to the question that I posed here.

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July 3, 2007 at 10:48 pm

Posted in teevee

this thing of ours

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In the wake of the Sopranos finale, I must have sifted through a hundred web launched interpretations of what the final scene… Hey, it’s not everyday that a scholar of modernism with a formalist bent is able to feel like the field of his expertise has made it onto the heavy rotation list of the scroll running across the bottom of the screen that is culture. Of course the interpretations were largely rubbish, an index of poor literary training and the persistence of the very attitudes that modernist Entfremdung effects were aimed at slapping. Occasionally you could find a surprisingly sharp reading from an unlikely corner – the Star-Ledger reader who can barely spell who nonetheless writes something sharp about that fade to black.

Many readings fell in between the two poles. One very memorable one was Wax Banks’s effort, which went for a big kill, only to stumble on its own evidence. He saw

Tony and Carmela as a dark ethnic undereducated mirrorworld Bill & Hillary – the physiques, the complicity-in-adultery, the complex negotiated (and negotiable) attitudes toward social welfare, the calculated united-front marriage, the mysterious deaths of friends and coworkers (I kid). The finale’s final scene made that nasty little parallel clearer than ever before.

You can go check out the evidence issue on the site if you like. But whatever it’s problems, and however frustrated I was with the interpretation as an over-reading at first, the idea has stuck with me over the last week. After all, it’s no wonder that a serious show like this one, bent on a quasi-Balzacian analysis of American culture and political economy (actually… I think the last few episodes made it abundantly clear that it was more Flaubertian than Balzac-inspired, and gloriously so…), that found its start in January 1999 would be preoccupied with Clinton and Clintonism. It starts with schizophrenic relationship of both Tony and Bill to their backward backgrounds – they can’t stop diving back into it, can’t stock speaking the patois, but fit in on the golf course better than the BBQ hut or the sausage shop. That McMansion that Tony drives up (distinctly up, right) to in the opening credit sequence may well be the long-term result of Reaganite policy changes in the 80s, but it was during the Clinton administration that they truly started to fill every acre of rural space left in northern NJ. And of course it goes deeper than that: the more-than-complicit relationship to violence and exploitation that comes of a deathstruggle to simply stay on, no matter what the price. The constant threat that Tony will lose his spot at the top (as well as, in his case, his life) formed the operative tension of the show, right down to the last scene. And like Tony, Clinton never knew whether the killing shot would come from the other family or from someone in his own outfit.

Above all else, the Sopranos from the very start was a show that presented itself as a workplace fiction that couldn’t stop going home to check on the wife and kids. Or it was a family-centered sitcom that couldn’t help but bring the issue of where the money for all the SUVs and Ivy-League educations home. Of course, it wasn’t either – it was both at once. And I don’t need to tell you, however you feel about Clinton, that the mould for this conceit was cast during the sinister and stupid era of the Clintons, whose marriage was the driving political issue of my late adolescence and early adulthood. And true to form, if GWB’s initial campaigning and presidency borrowed heavily from the born-again playbook (where alcoholism + refound salvation = a higher approval among key, dry constituencies than if he had never hit the bottle, never fallen, in the first place), it was the language of therapy, marriage counselling, recovery and relapse that Bill and Hillary both drew on so cynically and so effectively in order to slide by the nets set by their worst antagonists – themselves. (In one of the last episodes, Tony’s shrink’s own shrink and mentor warn her that sociopaths tend not to benefit from therapy, at least not in the intended way. Rather, they learn to use the lessons of therapy as rhetorical tools in order to become all the more effective at the game of socio-pathology… Could it get any clearer than that?)

So anyway, Wax Banks is right. It’s there. And how could it not be. Well and good – a more interesting politico-cultural story to allow yourself to spend sometime with than most of what floats to the surface when lit types try to jump the aesthetic / real politics divide nowadays. The stuff of B list conference papers – maybe I’ll write one myself. And not much more. Or so it seemed for a day or two.

And just when I thought it was safe to put the Sopranos to rest for a bit, I get, as it were, pulled back in.

Just too much, this. It’s not really a mystery that the Clintons would watch the show – they are, I imagine, exactly the target demographic: high-performing NYC area pros, middle to late middle age, high income bracket and educational attainment, etc etc. And at this point in the game, where fund-raising is still the predominant issue at hand, the Tony fan is their core demographic as well. No need to finesse the Iowa ethanol-head or the yankee-cranky New Hampshire schoolteacher yet. So it’s a smart ad on that level. (Apparently, the song that they choose as the campaign anthem is some Celine Dion number. I’ll bet if you asked my folks their favorite musical performer, Celine would come out #1. They’ve seen her in concert a bunch of times, and dad, like me, has never missed an episode of the Sopranos…)

But what is a bit baffling and amazing and disgusting all at once is that, despite all that I’ve said, following Wax Banks’s lead, above, the Clintons would nonetheless consent to embrace this conjunction, sit in the diner seats with the fucking Journey song playing in the background. The folks they are impersonating in this ad are, after all, gangsters. Gangsters, yes, with marital problems, who have achieved institutional and financial priority by nefarious means, and all the rest, but in the end gangsters – what are we to make of tbe easy adoption of something that one would think would be the last thing that the Clinton family would get in bed with, given all the stunning connections above between themselves and our friends from Jersey?

And further, if David Chase’s final turn in the show was meant (this is my sense of it anyway) to bring the viewers, so enchanted by the show’s violence, to some sort of sudden awareness of the strange paradox wherein they are horribly disappointed by the fact that their favorite show failed to kill off their favorite character in its final scene – that not only are they gluttons of televisual violence, they have further determined that this guy that they know and love really in some sense deserves to have the contents of his skull splattered all over his wife’s face in an ice cream parlor, Hillary’s ad, in the act of appropriation, sends this whole issue in a totally new direction… In sitting in the booth of the gangster, Hillary and Bill are not simply much informing us of the wide-spread desire to do them harm, but rather the impossibility of doing them harm, the fact that they are free, despite all of the associative sludge that is conjured up by this ad, to do whatever the hell they want to and still pull through. They use the funny but inappropriate ad about being knocked off precisely because they will not be knocked off. They can take the risk of appearing in plain sight only because it is not a risk – they, like the American public, are completely shameless. What is so great about being shameless, of course, is the ability to hide in plain sight. We catch them out precisely because they have chosen to be caught out, to make a game of it, because the stakes are the stakes of a game, and nothing more.

In short, the final fact of the matter, and the fact that we are being slammed with even harder with than we were with the final fade to black of the Sopranos, is the fact that if Hilary wins the 2008 election (as of now, that’s where I’d put my money, unfortunately) and if she serves two terms, the position of American executive will have been shared between two rival families, and two families alone, for a full 28 years. A father and a son, a husband and a wife. This thing of ours indeed And any one want to take odds on the last name of the top candidates in 2016?

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June 21, 2007 at 2:22 am

Posted in america, teevee

as featured on the sopranos last night

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AJ (comfortably clear of his dark preoccupation with “yeets” and the war on terror and the sources of his parents’ wealth) is kicked back on the couch with his underage model girlfriend, cracking up as they watch exactly this:

I imagine what drew Chase’s / the writer’s interest to this clip is the hidden-in-plain-sight nature of the R & T Correspondents Association dinner. The significance of clips like this one (as with Bush’s infamous “Dude, who stole my WMDs” performance) is not of course of the “hey, this is what they’re really like when they’re unguarded on stage” variety. Everyone knows that the material will be taped and disseminated, and this is what informs what’s so horrifically amazing about this material. The dissemination of this stuff – the fact that, seriously, the joke is on you about WMDs, the fact that given the opportunity the head propagandist will smear on black face and hop around the stage – this stuff is meant for distribution, meant to send us a message about what power really means, what it means to have the press in your backpocket, and what it means that you have to (or had to) give Imus a handjob on the air if you wanted to be elected president, or even NJ or CT senator.

Just as the Sopranos was always about forcing us to confront the all too visible sources of wealth that landscapes the green, well-trimmed lawns and lifts the entry-way atriums of the NJ mcmansions, so obvious and insistent from the start that the entirety of culture is bent on making or allowing us to forget it, “MC Rove” crystallizes the political structure that grows in that soil, where we see what we see and we know what we see and we can even say what we see, but that’s it. The screen goes black – there will be no denouement, no final twist. Nothing is slouching towards bethlehem to be born.

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June 11, 2007 at 2:03 pm

Posted in america, teevee

“universal is for everybody” – oprah discovers socialism

with 8 comments

Absolutely amazing moment today on tv. I had heard that Cormac McCarthy was going to be on Oprah to discuss The Road – which seemed like an unlikely and interesting thing to see so I taped the show. But as it turned out, the McCarthy section was by far less interesting than the first segment, which featured Michael Moore discussing his new movie about the American health care situation, Sicko.

The moment when it felt like the ground was giving way beneath my feet comes about 1:30 into this video (which is bound not to last on-line, so get it while the getting’s good)…

(The video is, as I predicted, now gone…)

Here’s a transcript of the exchange in question:


OK this is what I was going to say about the film – that I got it in a way that I hadn’t gotten it before. Now don’t you love when that happens. When you just go “Ooo! I got it!” Because you know the word “socialism” really stirs up…


[Scarily] Socialized Medicine…


Socialized Medicine


[Scarily] Ooo…

O: And then when you showed the example of [how] we have socialized activities in this country. The fire department – we don’t pay for a fire department. We don’t pay for the police department. We don’t pay for public schools.


And it’s universal.


We don’t pay for the library. And it’s universal – universal is for everybody.




And so the very idea of extending that to the care of people is really something that I have to honestly say that I hadn’t thought about it because I’m one of those people, “I got mine,” so I wasn’t thinking about who didn’t have theirs. Really. Right.


And we don’t expect the fire department to turn a profit. It would be an appalling thought, and the reason we don’t is because it’s a life and death issue. Well, health care is a life and death issue.




And that’s why turning a profit has to be removed from the system.

Good Christ, that’s amazing. The slow but distinct re-discovery of what that word, “socialism,” might mean by a figure obviously not associated with words like that. The discovery that we already very much have elements of it all around us, elements that we would never willingly part with. The emergence that a better synonym for “socialism” would be “universality,” rather than “Stalinism” or “gulag” or “bread-lines” that it’s usually equated with, when it’s mentioned at all, in the US. The revelation of the fact that “socialism” in fact provides very simple, but persuasive answers to issues that only at first seem incredibly complex, impossible to repair, and as if natural, inevitable features of our sociopolitical landscape.

In short, I think this little episode renders abundantly clear why exactly socialized medicine is such an important – perhaps the important – issue today in the US. Just as the right has own Overton Window games that they’ve long played with school prayer and vouchers and the like, a nation with a public medical system funded by even a large fractional amount that the US currently spends on health care today would be a nation on its way, I believe, toward a whole branching set of public sector reinvestments.

And it further, Moore’s appearance on Oprah puts to shame ten thousand cute and clever forms of aestheticized intervention – simple, spirited explanation may have set us on a path toward improvement that no act of detournement or deconstruction, no dialectical ruse, nor metatextual abyssalism could accomplish.

This is a sobering, yet inspiring thing to realize, if you’re someone who does what I do for a living.

I’ve really liked Michael Moore for a long time, but he is now officially one of the patron saints of this blog.

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June 5, 2007 at 11:05 pm

socialist melodramaticism

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You’ve heard about what is going on in Venezuela with the tv stations, yes? (The link there is not an endorsement… Too tired to sift through to find a fair report…) But did you notice this?

Radio Caracas’ soap operas such as The Ex and My Cousin Ciela are popular, regularly attracting more than 50 per cent of Venezuelan viewers.

Two opinion polls have shown that more than 70 per cent of Venezuelans, including many of Mr Chávez’s own supporters, are opposed to the decision not to renew the licence. Arturo Sarm-iento, a Caracas businessman who runs Telecaribe, an independent regional television station, and supports the government’s policy, admits the measure will “have a huge political cost”.


A public-service channel, Venezuelan Social Television (Teves), is to replace RCTV. […] Elsewhere in the world, with few exceptions public-service stations have not won a sterling reputation for slick popular programming. Lil Rodriguez, the channel’s new president, hardly encouraged optimism when she announced last week that “we don’t intend to make Teves really boring”.

Teves is planning to develop its own soap opera based on the lives of Simón Bolívar, Venezuela’s nat-ional hero, and Manuela Sáenz, one of his lovers, but until that is ready viewers will have to make do with a range of cooking, travel, music, opinion and other documentary shows, as well as an opinion programme.

One hell of an article, there waiting for someone to scoot down to Caracas and write, about the emergence of a new sector of socialist mass aesthetic form. I’d for one would love to know what comes of it, and what goes into it…

Here’s the question: say you were a socialist head of state of wherever you currently live, and had decided to pull network X off of the air and replace it with Your Own Social Television Network. What programming would you schedule as not to make it “really boring”? Mine would feature, of course, lots of ads without products, but I’m still thinking about what would provide the filler stuff, the actual shows, that folks would skip over with their TiVos to get back to the publicités

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May 27, 2007 at 7:05 pm

won’t hold together

with 5 comments

1. Today was a good day. The park with my wife and daughter, lunch at a nice place and outside because it’s finally getting warm enough to do that. She had a bit of a tantrum about riding in the stroller from the park to the cafe where we ate, but it subsided. I looked in the bookstore, but there weren’t any magazines or books that I wanted to buy.

2. Later, I watched a hockey game, read a few pages of an advance copy of William Gibson’s Spook Country while my daughter played in the backyard. My wife got home from shopping – bearing hot dogs – and I fired up the grill for the first time this year. Very dad-ish, yes? My daughter has never had a hot dog, and wouldn’t eat one this evening, despite the fact we lathered it in cheese. I think she is thrown by the name. She loves dogs, and periodically would say “ruff-ruff” as we ate them and laugh a bit, but still refuse to eat them.

Whenever I grill hot dogs, I wince at every bite worried that I will encounter a raw spot inside.

3. We watched the Sopranos this evening. I think it was the first good episode of the new and last semi-season. When the jokes work, you get the sense that Chase is writing (whoever is listed in the credits), and that the episode, in turn, will work.

And it did. And in particular, it returned to one of my favorite themes of the show, and a theme very close to my heart. The ambivalence of Tony’s relationship to his son – and his semi-son Christopher – pivots on a deeper ambivalence about masculinity, violence, class transition, and self-improvement. And shame. To put it this way seems very abstract – sounds like guild speak, no? Try it this way instead: Just as he wants Christopher not to be an alcoholic but finds something deeply distasteful and unmanly about his success in not drinking, he would like his own son, Anthony Jr., not to repeat his mistakes, not to go into the “family business” of profitable violence, but can’t help hating his son for his, what, effeminate softness and affluent idleness. He wants, in short, his son to be tough like him without experiencing the situations that make that sort of toughness possible or even necessary.

I grew up with just this sort of mixed message from my own father, and I bear the fruits of it today in spades. I’m not going into to detail, but trust me on this one. (Themes like this, generally not well aired in mass culture, are the reason that this show has a lock on a demographic that is both unusually wide and extremely narrow at once…) It is, I think, an experience that a lot (most? all?) children of men (and women?) who “came from nothing” and “fought their way out of poverty”… and whose children live very different lives – and live in very different neighborhoods – than the one that they have lived.

My father took his first steps to making his (and mine) in the world through violence, though of a different sort that the Sopranos. He was a hockey and football hero from a shit town and from an imploded and very poor family, and likely channeled lots of his own father’s abusiveness into his athletic performance. These skills (this violence) made, in the long run, a successful career path open to him, and it was one that structurally resembles that of the various enforcers and captains on the show… (hint: if my work is strangely preoccupied with labor issues – downsizing, deskilling, intensification, Taylorism – you do the oedipal math to figure out where he ended up…)

4. Things become even more interesting when Anthony Jr.’s invigorating turn to the dark side occurs not through committing an act of violence himself, but through watching (as, of course, do we) someone else perform an act of particularly gruesome violence on another person. The last few episodes have been slightly-preoccupied with the question of who has “popped their cherry,” in terms of ultraviolence, and who hasn’t. Anthony seems to have joined the club – but somehow, now, all it takes is what might be called televisual participation rather than the real thing.

5. After the show, I scroll through the rss reader and come to this. Let it be said I do not recommend clicking through to view the videos. I have a pretty high tolerance – both viscerally and ethically – for viewing this sort of thing, and lord christ has there been a lot of it to view the past several years. Just being honest, I generally find those deeply resistant to viewing this sort of material to be a bit quaint or even hypocritical. I generally back up into a rationalization about the necessity that the impact of violence around the world register – register, perhaps, in particular upon people like me, who write about culture and politics for a living. I have viewed military attacks on civilians, beheadings, and of-course the state run executions of VIPs.

But this one stopped me in my tracks. I viewed the first linked video, which seems to be the gruesome aftermath of the whole affair. The second video, I am guessing, is really the first in the sequence – a lot of yelling and not much to see except for tight-packed men’s shoulders. In the third, we finally get what we are here to see. She is quickly pulled, head locked under a man’s arm, into the center of the crowd. A crowd, of course, of men. She is standing, she is screaming, and then she is not. She has been pulled to the ground, or hit by something and then fell.

This is where I turned the video off. I did not want to see her head get crushed by stones. There are, it is terrible to report, a total of 6 videos in the sequence. I can’t even imagine what happens in the next three in the sequence. Or I can very much imagine it, but this time, don’t want to see it. I can’t really explain why this one is different from the others, the ones that I made it all the way through. It is nightmarish.

6. I have nightmares every night. In fact, I think I only have nightmares. I can’t remember having any other sort of dream for the longest time. On some level, I think, I take this as a normal facet of adult-life. It does not, on the surface at least, affect my waking behavior. I am not even particularly troubled by this fact. I am not even sure that I dislike having nightmares. Obviously, the question becomes are these things that I am dreaming actually nightmares at all?

In fact, it wouldn’t at all be fair, but if you were to tell me that you often or even occasionally have dreams that are not nightmares, I would almost automatically think, on some level, that you were a something of a simpleton.

And I now suddenly realize that this is a good explanation of the origin of my particular academic interests. I write about the necessary relationship between fictional form and social disorder. I also, more recently, have been fascinated by texts that attempt to work beyond this seemingly essential relationship.

7. I have posted on these sorts of videos and images before. The dead children during the bombing of lebanon, etc etc. After partially viewing the stoning, I went outside to have a cigarette and thought about what I might write about this one. I can’t remember now what I said about the previous ones. Any angle I might try to take, and the head swims. To politically particularize this is to lose the visceral reality of it, to mine it for an abominable use-value. Not to politicize it is perhaps even more horrible – to see this event, and all the others like it that happen all the time, both in view and out of it, “clickably linked” or not, as ineffably random or simply markers of a depraved and in-actionable “human nature.” I do not know what to say, and so I say this. Which is abominable. I could have remained silent, which is abominable. And, worst of all, perhaps, is to resolve all of this into a clever, safe crux – which is exactly what I am doing right now as I type these words. My own inhumanity chases me at exactly the speed that I type these words now. The more I say, the worse it gets… But to say nothing would be worse. And there’s the crux, the cleverness, the barbarism, the intensified barbarism of the self-conscious critic of snuff again. A knot that only tightens as you type.

8. I wonder how many of you clicked through and viewed the videos, and of those who did, how far you got with them.

9. NB: I provided you with the link, but ordered you not to follow it. I hoped that you wouldn’t see it, yet I advertised its contents. I want you, my reader, to be both humane and hard, aware and not. I want you both inside and outside of the dark chamber at once, don’t I? And then I link you away to distract you from the problem at hand….

Have you followed the link? Which link did you follow? Did you follow it down to the end?

10. I am not sure that this post, in a sense, isn’t above all else a reenactment, a fan-fiction repetition, of Christopher’s situationally-complex paean to l’art d’être un père that he offers, drunk once again, toward the end of tonight’s episode of the Sopranos.

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May 7, 2007 at 12:09 am

Posted in meta, teevee

closed ending

with 3 comments

So, I’m getting ready to do something with the Club Silencio scene in Mulholland Drive, which might just be my favorite moment in film, and I’m looking around to see what’s been said about the scene… And I find this:

Without reference in the screenplay, the surrealistic Silencio sequence was shot in late 1999 as a finale to the original TV-Pilot. The idea around Club Silencio is a results of a deal between Disney’s Touchstone Television and David Lynch. The company contributed 2,5 million dollar more to the Pilot project (to a total budget of 7 million) with the proviso – which Lynch grudgingly accepted – that he shoot extra footage to be used as a “Closed ending.” Disney’s Buena Vista International intended to recoup the company’s money by releasing the longer version as a film in Europe.

That there is one hell of a confluence of the demands of the market and artistic genius… And one hell of a “closed ending.” I wonder what the Disney folks thought?

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January 16, 2007 at 11:39 pm

plugged in / unplugged

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Fantastic series, from simone leuck at the equally fantastic polar inertia, of cuban television sets photographed in their native environment.

Figuring out what to take away from these images is as hard, in a sense, as any of the questions that I’m usually at work on. Or, perhaps, these are in fact illustrations, partial ones of course, of exactly the problems that I am generally at work on.

For one thing, there’s the persistence-despite-apparent-obsolesence of the sets themselves, which, like the famous American cars left over from before the revolution, are metonyms of the temporal situation of the socialist experiment in Cuba.

I tried to watch a little Cuban tv tonight via this site, but I’m pretty sure what I was getting (some sort of travel documentary) wasn’t actually live.

Anyway, it’s hard to articulate what exactly it is about this sort of thing that I find so alluring. The phrase “the aesthetics of publicness” keeps coming to mind – that is perhaps another way to describe what it is that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately…

(For a discussion of pseudonymous blogging and the tendency to circumlocution and half-hintery when it comes to one’s “project,” among other things, see here…)

One other good reminder on polar inertia – a partial transcript of the infamous “kitchen debate” between Khrushchev and Nixon from 1959:

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January 12, 2007 at 12:16 am

Posted in socialism, teevee

possible today?

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Geoff Dyer in Ways of Telling: The Work of John Berger:

The series Ways of Seeing was first broadcast in the Spring of 1972 on BBC2 late in the evening. The audience was small but since the ‘switch-off rate’ was extraordinarily low (i.e. once people began watching they continued till the end), the makers of the series were able to persuade the BBC to broadcast it again at prime time. The influence of the series and the book that Berger wrote after this hesitant start was enormous. Throughout the 1970s it was the key text in art colleges in Britain and in the USA; for many students and teachers alike it represented a turning point in their thinking about art. It opened up for general attention areas of cultural study that are now commonplace – decoding advertisements, for example – but which in 1972 were either virtually unknown or existed only in embryonic stage within the academy. (Many of the ideas of the series had already appeared in articles and essays by Berger: it is the transition to television and best-selling paperback that is important.) Taken together as Peter Fuller has said, the series and the book have had ‘a greater influence than any other art critical project of the last decade’, and probably, I would add of the post-war period.

The world, of course, has changed. And (in terms of my own personal interest in the idea) literature is much less photogenic than art. What are you could to fill the screen with, a Powerpoint presentation of lines of poetry? But still, Berger and his Ways of Seeing represent an instance of popularization without selling out, writing for the market. Can’t help but wonder if a similar sort of endeavor might be possible today, what it would take, what it would cost etc…

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August 15, 2006 at 10:46 pm


with one comment

Of course, even the ad without products has been pressed into service from time to time, and ever more often of late.

There is so much to say about this one. I’m thinking about using a whole bunch of ads this semester when I teach, this one, the ikea lamp. I finally found a utility that allows me to rip them out of youtube and keep them warm and safe on my hard drive…

Anyway, telegraphically: a picture perfect example of the perverse fetishization of banality itself, warm eroticization of the stupid office plant, the breathless building. A smackdab of “love at last sight” – where the “un éclair… puis la nuit” of the exchanged glances rhymes with, really encapsulates, the ever the same / ever new temporality of the rest of the commercial – and is in turn sublimated into the car itself.

Benjamin said, at the end of the Work of Art essay, that mankind’s “self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order.” Here, we’re not quite dealing with the destruction of mankind in the flames of fascism – not quite, and lots of that to be had elsewhere – but there is something to be said about the sexiness of this officespace and this officelife in this ad that of course would be entirely absent in real life.

Compare: Vertov’s Man With a Movie Camera… Which, yes, exposes the apparatus, massifies the everyday life in question, but actually, in a sense, is up to something similar enough to be interesting – save without the product, or almost-product in this case, at the end.

The ELO song, appropriately enough, was featured in the trailer for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, though I can’t remember (ha!) whether it made it into the film itself.

It couldn’t be something as simple as an unconsciously prophetic sense that these office jobs, they’re not staying forever. A future perfect nostalgia for what only will have been, not be. As I stalk and smoke around the modernist office park where I teach, I am struck intermittently with the strange knowledge that this job can’t possibly last a lifetime. I’m not talking about tenure, not talking about moving on, I mean the humanities itself, the university. I am young to be an assistant professor – I have about 40 years to do before social security kicks in (ha, again! that’s another thing…) There’s no way it will last that long. It, like everything else, will be rationalized, auctioned off, streamlined, offshored, outsourced, rightsized, done away with in the interest of efficiency. I can see myself now with the eyes of the year after next. The phenomenology of precarité, the erosive geology of late-but-not-getting-any-later capitalism. And my business is far more insulated from the vicissitudes of the weather called creative destruction than, say, our office worker’s in the VW ad.

The car, in other words, is not the only thing that is convertible. Things move quickly: ask yourself if they would make the same ad today… Instead, stuff like this, in which a gnawing banality no one even bothers to aestheticize meets with the catastrophic, emptily.

(Confession: my fascination with the first ad, the Bill Briggs one, is probably what led me to buy my own VW. Not a beetle convertible of course – what do you take me for? But a zippy Jetta wagon, turbo and everything.)

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August 4, 2006 at 9:47 am

not normal

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I’ve been thinking quite a bit about images like this one, iconic expressions of our era. The pillar of smoke rising at a distance (we’re often on top of a building? telephoto…) Never humans in the frame, or rarely. Or then there are those of this sort:


Very familiar, right? The neighbors pitching in, the pile of rubble that somehow, minutes ago, was a free-standing structure. The perspectival disorder – is the camera level or the house in the background, on the right?

There’s a temporality implicit in the “standard” set of images we are given after a bomb attack. Something that I’m thinking about – not ready yet.

But for now, a blog that’s worth a thousand photos (via Le Colonel Chabert):

Newest update, it’s 4:26am, Israelis are attacking the city, Saida, from sea. They are targeting the bridge that connects to Saida.

Another really loud bomb. My heart is racing. I can only pretend to be brave.

Everything that is happening now is because Israel is trying to wipe out any trace of Hizballah in Lebanon. In the process of doing all this, they have wiped out our infrastructure. Our roads, bridges, etc., civilian homes, innocent lives.

It’s 4:32am and I have a knot in my stomach. I am praying they don’t hit the electricity. I want my Internet. I think it’s the only thing that will help me stay normal.

Latest update: 9 missile raids into Dahiyeh in the last hour. There are now several parts of Beirut without electricity.

I am praying for the people in Dahiyeh… Another really really loud bomb. I guess that makes it 10 now.

I am angry now. The things that cross your mind… I just set up a new installation last week, now, noone will get to see it.

I was just about ready to launch an international residency program here… Not going to happen now.

Was just planning to start a family… who wants to get pregnant now?

Ladies and gentlemen, I did not want to burden you with the troubles of war but I think it is really important that the world knows what is going on. We are under attack by Israel. It is unjust and unfair. I wonder what the media coverage is like out there.

All this must end. Israel must be stopped. This is so unjust and unfair. Everything we’ve worked on for the past 10 years is gone now. So, so, so unjust and unfair. We had so many cultural events planned for the summer… exhibits… concerts… plays, etc. — all gone.

Dear friends, pray for us. For this madness to end. Pray for the Lebanese people to stick through this together and not lose their cool.

Believe it or not, the sun is beginning to rise and I actually hear birds chirping.

With love,
Zena el-Khalil

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July 14, 2006 at 10:20 pm

Posted in blogs, teevee, war

how to talk to your kids about war

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McCain was just on CNN, doing his tough, sensible guy schtick, and pointing all the arrows toward Syria and Iran. TV right now is a stream of talking heads, anchors, and politicians doing roughly the same.

Just a few of Wolf Blitzer’s references last night during the first two hours of his show.

BLITZER: This hour, breaking news from the Middle East. The crisis there growing more volatile and dangerous by the minute. Israel’s ambassador to the United States is calling a rocket attack on the northern Israeli port city of Haifa a major, major escalation. That’s his words. And he’s warning Iran and Syria that they are playing with fire for supporting Hezbollah militants and that those nations will face consequences.

BLITZER: I want to move onto Iraq, but what I hear you saying is that as the Iranians feel the heat on their nuclear program, they’re reacting by maybe encouraging their allies in Hezbollah or Hamas to take these kinds of actions, sort of to show that they have some muscle as well.

BLITZER: I don’t know if you heard my interview with the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, just now in THE SITUATION ROOM, but he made the point — he was pointing a direct finger at Iran, saying that the Iranians who are under enormous pressure because of their own nuclear program may be using their influence with Hezbollah and Hamas to up the ante elsewhere, to show that they have some influence in that part of the world as well. Do you see Iran and/or Syria involved in this escalating tension?

BLITZER: Rockets fired from Lebanon reach deep into Israel. Israel is blasting right back, pounding hundreds of targets in Lebanon. And still, two Israelis soldiers are missing in Lebanon.

Now Israel fears Hezbollah guerillas could take them to Iran.

BLITZER: We heard in the last hour the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, make a very similar point, that the Iranians are trying to deflect attention from their own nuclear program, the criticism it’s facing by, perhaps, using its influence with Hezbollah and Hamas to change the subject, to show that they have a card as well.

But let me rephrase the question. What can you do, Israel, against Syria and Iran, if, in fact, as you suggest, they are responsible for this situation? Because so far, what we’ve seen are attacks against various Hezbollah targets or other targets in Lebanon.

BLITZER: One of your Israeli colleagues today in Jerusalem suggested that they had indications that the Hezbollah was going to try to transfer those two kidnapped Israeli soldiers to Iran.

Is that true?

BLITZER: This just coming in to CNN from the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, saying this, according to Iranian State Television. “If the Zionist regime commits another stupid move and attacks Syria, this will be considered like attacking the whole Islamic world and this regime will receive a very fierce response.” The Iranian president quoted as saying that in a telephone conversation earlier with the Syrian Bashar al-Assad. The situation clearly heating up.

BLITZER: Now the latest on the escalating situation in the Middle East. Two Israeli soldiers are still missing in Lebanon and Israel fears Hezbollah guerrillas could take them to Iran. Now Iran’s foreign ministry is denying that the Israeli soldiers will be brought there. Also, Israel has now hit the main highway linking Beirut to Damascus.

See what I’m saying? War starts between Israel and Lebanon, and our nightly news is entirely dominated by talk of Iran and to a lesser extent Syria.

Just as, immediately after 9/11 (relatively speaking), the airwaves were engulfed with speculation about whether we should head to Iraq, Israel’s incursion into Lebanon has provoked a torrent of speculation here (in the US, on our cable news channels) about what is to be done about Syria and Iran.

It’s not good. We’ve been here before. The mass media’s self-chosen role seems to be to warm the American populace up, to prepare them for what is to come, to chatter along about things that are not happening now, but will soon, until they become inevitable, preordained, necessary. The media always somehow knows what’s next. We are push polled on a nightly basis by our media, “What do you think about invading Iraq / Iran / Syria?” until we’ve got so much idle talk floating around in our heads that the initial question – how we got to Iran from Israel – Lebanon – has slipped down the memory hole.

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July 14, 2006 at 10:11 am

Posted in distraction, teevee, war

real deal

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Of course, you’ve noticed (if you live in the US) the sudden uptick in terror threats, terror interdictions, victories in the war on terror, fearfully imminent terrorist plots since the start of the summer, and as we head into election season.

What do you think? A little nervous, the media-governmental assemblage, when they’ve realized that it’s no long enough to simply announce a terror threat, but said terror threat needs to be labeled the “real deal.”

Seriously, this time we’re not kidding, not playing. It is a real terror threat, vs. the previous, well, very nearly real ones…


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July 8, 2006 at 1:51 am

Posted in distraction, teevee

foucault / chomsky on larry king

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Now that would be something, eh? Not quite that, but not altogether different either:

Via threequarksdaily:

(The second part of the show is available here…)

Two things.

1) I’d never seen video of Foucault before. Strange. And strange how it changes your sense of someone once you have seen footage.

2) I found myself wondering, as I watched this, if my own work / ideas / findings could be spelled out as succinctly as Chomsky and Foucault do here. That’s not normally how we think (are taught to think) about things in the subfield of “theory.” Can’t just read extracts. Summary doesn’t do justice. There is a point to be made performatively by not reducing to the sound bite. Right? But – oh is it ever obvious, I know – there’s something to this. How many of us could pull it off today?

(Quite possibly I’m just sharing the echoes of what it’s like to draw near the end of (a first draft of???) your first book. Which is my day job, right now. I’m cramping crazily on the last few pages – there’s so much more to be said! Why can’t I stop hiding behind the particulars and just say what it is that I’ve been samizdating all along? Would it even work? Is there a point? Or just hithering thithering ambiguity / complexity?

The next book, I hope, will be simpler….)

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July 6, 2006 at 10:53 pm

Posted in teevee, theory