Category Archives: Pop Culture

Only slightly less morally repugnant than serial killers

In movies, writers are only slightly less morally repugnant than serial killers (unless the writer is a serial killer). According to Hollywood, writers are either parasites (Deconstructing Harry, Barton Fink, Capote, Misery); perverts (The Squid and the Whale, Adaptation, Wonder Boys, American Splendor); addicts (Permanent Midnight, Barfly, Leaving Las Vegas, Sideways), or sociopaths (La Piscine, Deathtrap, The Shining). They have monstrous egos and tiny, wizened hearts. Their moral compasses are permanently cracked; their personal relationships are cynically contrived to produce “experience,” which they feed to the insatiable maw of their craft. They are creatively constipated. They practice poor personal hygiene. They are not lovely to look at. It almost goes without saying that they are almost always male.

Jennie Yabroff

Real Things

[The] Volkswagen Jetta ad in which the cut-out bodies of Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor “dance” “in the back seat” of a Jetta … comes from about the 5:45 point in this performance that Kelly and O’Connor did on a TV special, where you’ll see much of what you see in the ad. All they did was remove all the context.

That’s the funny thing about Gene Kelly, and really all the big dance scenes of the time — they were all context. … Dancing in movies in this era was largely about where you were, and about touching real things. Other people, of course, but also feet on the floor, feet in the water, umbrella in hand, hat rack as partner, and by the way, if you want to defy gravity, you’ll have to turn the room.

… something seems tone-deaf and disrespectful about removing everything that affected the physics of the dancing, from the floor to the chairs, replacing the music so they’re interpreting something entirely different, and concluding that you can still get an expression of these two men’s talents as long as you have their floating, context-free figures moving as they did in 1960.

Linda Holmes

This analysis reminded me of Albert Borgmann’s focal things and practices.

Thin on story … thick with introspection

The [new Great Gatsby] film won’t come close the power of the novel, but not simply because Gatsby is a book, and, as the cliché insists, the Book is Always Better Than The Movie. Film versions of Fitzgerald’s masterwork inevitably fail because of the kind of novel Gatsby is—frankly thin on story, but incredibly thick with introspection, thoughts unspoken, intricately woven metaphor, and long, dazzling descriptions of otherwise mundane things like sunsets, front lawns and angry wives that are only special because of how the narrator describes them.

Not every book is better than the movie, after all. … [Fight Club and The Godfather] made such good movies because their plots are visual and action-packed. Gatsby‘s plot isn’t. … The novel’s genius is in how Fitzgerald can invest mere tabloid fodder with some sort of epic grandeur. He delves deeply into his character’s thoughts, Nick’s semi-omnipotent narration describing motives and sensations that simply don’t translate well to the screen.

Movies, for all their scope and power, and for all the CGI/3D technological whiz-bangery, have never been any good at expressing human thought.

Hampton Stevens

This is something I’ve often thought about / discussed before. How I often enjoy movies (or TV series) based on books I didn’t like (or know I wouldn’t like, based on past experience). And of course part of it is that good actors turn stock characters into nuanced ones  and similarly, that good cinematography can turn bland descriptions of place into stunning visuals. But part of it is also this, i.e. that some material is more suited to film than books and some material is more suited to books than film. Anyhow, what I was wondering is if this can be related to ebooks vs. pbooks. As in ebooks are perhaps more suited to plot-based reads, books where the story is more important than the writing (how the story is told). Books where you can be a little distracted and it doesn’t really matter. And correspondingly, pbooks are perhaps more suited to character-based reads, books where how the story is told is more important than the plot. Books that require undivided attention, where all the benefits of ebooks and ereaders would not actually be beneficial. As in, the pbook is better suited for this kind of reading than any ebook (with accompanying distractions) because this kind of book was developed for the pbook. Whereas the plot-based story has been around forever and is easily transferable from one medium to the next—but is perhaps best-suited to media other than the pbook.

Further, while plot-based stories have universal appeal (I don’t mean that everyone likes every story, but that everyone likes some plot-based stories), writing-based stories do not. Writing-based stories have always had a smaller audience. It’s a niche market.

So I think one of the reasons the “death of the book” argument seems to go round and round in circles is that you have two groups of readers and two groups of writers who think they’re discussing the same thing, but really aren’t. When every story was packaged in a pbook, they were all booklovers and it was all good. But now, with choice of medium, the divisions start to create this content/format clash. For example, I think this is why you get people saying stuff like content is what matters; format is irrelevant. By “content” they’re thinking of the story, the plot, which could be told in any medium. But to a writer/reader who leans toward writing-based stories, this makes no sense. To them, of course it’s important where the words appear on the page, what typeface is used, whether Britishisms have been Americanized, etc. Because it’s about the writing… as an art, I guess. As opposed to a craft. Yes, I guess you could think of it like that: art vs. craft.

I tried to start a discussion about this at TC once but it didn’t go so well. I think I was misunderstood. It’s not about one style being better than the other. They’re different. One has a wider appeal; one has a narrower appeal. But there are always going to be plot-driven stories that appeal to those who generally like character-driven ones and vice versa. Just like classical music vs. pop. Or modern art vs. Etsy crafts. Both have their merits and it is totally possible to find both appealing (but probably for different reasons). Both require skill, but different kinds of skills.

If you think about modern art, for example, when people look at a piece, they often say, “I could have done that.” But that’s the key: they didn’t. The execution of the piece may not have required a great deal of skill, but the skill is in the idea, the concept, the meaning of the piece. On the other hand, a craft might not have a “big idea” behind it, but it can nevertheless require a lot of technical skill to execute. The artist needs to continually be coming up with new ideas (i.e. “wow, where did that come from?” ideas). The crafter needs to be able to replicate (or riff off) successful pieces. They’re different, but (done well) neither are easy.

I think you have to start from that point, that both kinds of story can be good (and also: both can be terrible) in order to even have a discussion where people are actually listening to each other and not just shouting that the other is elitist or dumb or covering their ears and going, “lalala I can’t hear you.”


[W]e need a witness to our lives.  There’s a billion people on the planet.  What does any one life really mean?  But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything — the good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things.  All of it, all the time, everyday.  You’re saying, ‘Your life will not go unnoticed, because I will notice it.  Your life will not go unwitnessed, because I will be your witness.’

—from Shall We Dance

See also.

I’ll comment on yours if you comment on mine

As a concept [relatability] grew valuable, and could be attached to modes of engagement–whether artistic, socio-cultural, or political–that were previously uninterested in relating to their audience in any conscious way. The memoir boom was built on this idea, as is much of chick lit, reality TV and of course the blogoscenti. With the dawn of the internet and its attendant traffic in user-generated, confessional minutiae—and I’ll comment on yours if you comment on mine—an ascendant cultural irregularity found the medium to turn its message into a malignancy. …

The most dangerous thing about relatability is the way it is often presented (and accepted) as a reasonable facsimile of or substitute for truth. This, I worry, may handicap our culture so violently that recovery, if it comes at all, will be generations in the reckoning; if in the meantime we lose our appetite for the real thing we are pretty much doomed. The pursuit of truth is a basic human instinct, and guides our engagement with ourselves, with art, and with other human beings; the scourge of relatability—and its sweetheart deal with another basic instinct, adaptation—puts all three relationships at risk.

Michelle Orange