Friday, May 16, 2014

Loose ends and asides

 The Spectator is , from appearances, not a fan of philosopher -turned-millionaire sophist Alain de Botton,  having recently ran an online squib questioning his intellectual heft, his actual worth to a thinking readership, and his integrity. "Why Alain de Botton is a Moron" is the title, and not a word of hit is a compliment. My favorite line in this piece describes de Botton as an "egghead", the sort of person who can "beat you in a pub quiz" with their eidetic propensity of remembering every detail they've ever read, but who has a personality that is all but lacking in true intellectual force. That is to say that for all the lifetime of reading across a wide swath of literature, art, philosophy, history, the savant doesn't seem to have synthesized anything resembling an interesting interpretation of what they've gorged themselves on. The knowledge seems only to have made the dull even duller, made their inanities even more colossally vapid. Alain de Botton is a business man who has found out that there are larger paychecks for dispensing bumper sticker adages and homilies than there are in reams of abstraction. Which is fine, I suppose, he has the right to make the best living he can from the materials he chose to master. Funny thing is that this article reminds me of the notorious critic John Simon, a polymath of a nasty-assed reviewer who has an enviable erudition that has, none the less, failed to inspire him to a higher level of negative reviewing; his put downs are cheap, vulgar, sarcastic , mean for reasons that are more venal than they are descriptive of art that fails to measure up. Another "egghead", a large set of references to underscore a resolutely idiotic set of responses.

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The Point took on the skeptics who were not so enamored of HBO's "True Detectve" with a  smart defense of the philosophical asides and raspily mumbled disquistions of Detective Rust Cohle on HBO's brilliant series "True Detective". Debate rages as to whether the nihilist outlook he seems to represent are pretentious and not defensible as intellectual concepts, to which this author argues convincingly, I think, that the bleak cosmology Rust is a witness to are in fact, defensible as points of discussion. Beyond that, though, he seems to remind us that "True Detective" is a drama, an inspired work of fiction with a narrative that dwells, physically and psychologically, in dark places, and that fictional characters are allowed to speak with a heightened eloquence.My concern, basically, is in whether the conceit of Lovecraft meets Nietzsche meets James Lee Burke works together as a conceptual mash up. It does, indeed it does.

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The thing about heroin is that it at the end , it turns the user into a cliche many of us in our impressionable (and gullible) youth considered to be romantic, a dead junkie found in an apartment/bathroom/back alley dumpster with a needle in their arm. So much blather has gone on about how artists are so sensitive that they have to alter the way they feel in order to merely exist, that they need to take the edge off because the world and their perceptions of how to put it back together again in art work gets to be too much. I call absolute bullshit and say that a gifted artist dying from a self-administered drug overdose is tragic, yes, but also a very stupid , inglorious way to die. What we have is just another dead junkie who could have lived longer and done the world more good with their creativity. It's time for us to change our thinking on the whole notion of Doomed Genius and Brilliant Wastral; it is time for us to arise from the death trap that is the confessional school of poetry and the sex drugs and rock and roll vibe of the sixties and maintain and insist that YOU DON'T HAVE TO KILL YOURSELF IN ORDER TO VALIDATE YOUR ART and that we can STOP CO SIGNING THE BULLSHIT THAT MAKES IT OKAY TO SPOUT CLICHES, PLATITUDES AND OTHER FATALISTIC BULLSHIT ABOUT THE DYING FOR ONE'S ART. Life is a gift and art makes life worth sticking around for and drugs are, plain and simple, a 24/7 example of bad news made real.

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 Salon has become of the scold of the online left-leaning press, a humorless, neurotically PC collection of gadlfies and nags tut-tutting the ebb and flow of popular culture.  It's one thing to offer cultural criticism that takes on the contradictions and unintended ironies the enclosed words of Hollywood, literature, technology and the like give us; wit, though, self-effacement of a genuine and stylish sort as well, go a long way in getting a readership to finish your articles and respond to your ideas and not your attitude. What's one to do? Stop reading it, I suppose , and cancel my Facebook  endorsement. In a recent  spasm of strained contrariness, writer Alexander Zaitchik announces that the much heralded new "golden age of television" is a hoax and that t TV remains, in essence, the "vast wasteland" that long-ago FCC head Newton    Minnow declared. The remark has  been a cornerstone of the anti-boob tube harangues for decades, but it is instructive to read the full quote, not the snippet"


When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better. But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there for a day without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.

This piece seems to be more about showing us how much nay-saying media criticism the author has read rather than  being a nuanced and plausible debunking  of the claim that ours is a new “golden age” for television drama. The substance of Zaitchik's argument is substantially the same one that has been made against television since the 50s by cultural snobs on the left and the right; it is a technology that exists only to lull us into a state of illusion and accompanying delusion. Beyond the reiteration of the ideas of Marx, Adorn and Chomsky , the article  is by a tweedy bore dismissing television's contents as a whole, generalizing about the medium in general and failing to cite specific arguments about why  dramatic shows fail to live up to their acclaim. In plain fact television drama has vastly, dramatically changed in the last two decades, and a surprising amount of it is of great quality, complexity, style; drama that is worth talking about is the sort of narrative that takes the classic issues of being human , stories inhabited by characters who are  filled with assumptions of how the world should work and how it should respond to human desire and endeavor, and to view, investigate, explore the responses of characters when their agendas aren't met and their expectations result in circumstances they didn't foresee.

There is a splendid, wonderfully balanced complexity in The Wire, Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Top of the Lake, Breaking Bad; the early promise of cable was that the increase of channels across would be the medium in which writers, directors, actors, artists    of all sorts would finally find a place to create quality work. The shows I’ve mentioned are a partial fulfillment, and I think the issue is how to make sure this influx of quality content continues. As it goes, I really don’t know what it is Zaitchik is grousing about besides the  currently  trendy refrain of this being television’s genuine magic period. I dislike herd-thinking as well, but when my complaints are        registered and a sufficient amounts of spleen have been vented, the truth remains the truth, unchanged by festering resentment. In this instance, television has become as good as its fan it has.

 

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