I was listening to an old “This American Life” the other night. The topic was the influence of television, and while I was listening to Ira Glass describe his unabashed love for The O.C. (which he shamefully calls “trashy”, shortly before admitting that he cried when it went off the air) it occurred to me that there really is no point in trying to hold yourself above it all. Even when a show is universally acknowledged by people to be complete trash, you often find those same people are the first ones breathlessly discussing plot points or recounting the crisis of the latest episode. (Reality TV is a prime example; I can’t believe the number of closet Project Runway fans.)
My question is this: do we need to openly acknowledge that something is trashy in order to give us license to enjoy it? Or shouldn’t we try to understand and love what it is that makes these “trashy” shows so compelling to watch? I realize that when you think like a critic (as I’m far too prone to do) you’re definitely not embracing that side of it enough.
Truth be told, I have less at stake here than you might imagine. I don’t actually have a TV show that I’d be embarrassed to say I’m a fan of. Then again, what can I say — I do have amazing taste.
I’m a little embarrassed to admit how overjoyed I am that Gmail has finally implemented IMAP for iPhone but honestly it’s just so freakin’ sweet to have all your email synced no matter where you read it from! Poor Yahoo – for a brief window of time there I was seriously considering making them my primary email account because only they had true sync. Oh well. Say la vee, as they say.
So Google launched their OpenSocial initiative last week, and despite all the requisite buzz (and uber-ridiculous stock inflation) I’m still not sure I understand what’s going on here. It’s supposed to be a universal API to create apps for all social networks, but watching the intro video did nothing but bring up more questions. Consider this: at one point, Flixster actually gives a demo showing that they’ve used OpenSocial to create a canvas page on a Ning network that recreates the Flixster network. That’s right, they’ve recreated their own network inside someone else’s network. What? What’s the point of this? Who’s the winner here if all you’re doing with this open API is spamming every social network with mini-versions of your own network? It’s kinda like a webtop interface that allows you to use a browser inside of it – mirrors reflecting mirrors. I just don’t get it.
And to top it all off: what are these Google campfire talks? This one looks like it’s been shot on a studio set that’s been somewhat dressed to look like the great outdoors. Are they beginning production designers, or (gasp) might these people actually be camping together?
Today’s edition comes with a bonus story: this evening while riding the muni back from the gym I sat down next to a gentleman rolling an enormous doobie. Despite the absurdity of the moment I admired his chutzpah; his female companion, however, seemed wholly disinterested. I began to doubt his resolve when he kept fiddling with his paper and refused to seal it – maybe he just needed to keep his fingers busy? – but I think he’d commenced licking when I got off.
Spotted today (only on the ride home):
Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card
St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell
Saving Fish From Drowning by Amy Tan
Second Innocence: Rediscovering Joy and Wonder: A Guide to Renewal in Work, Relationships, and Daily Life by John Izzo, Ph.D.
Paul Theroux’s Mr. Bones is a brilliant study of family dynamics. The narrator describes his father as a heartbreakingly kind milquetoast with a dead-end life and an unappeasable wife. When the father turns to a second life as a blackface performer in a minstrel show, the narrator’s queasiness is more than just palpable – it’s gut-wrenching, as he’s both sympathetic to his father’s desperate need for escapism and yet justifiably ashamed of his behavior. Even better, the story doesn’t end with a cop-out insanity plea; the father doesn’t go insane doing it, he does it to keep from going insane. It’s messy, funny, pathetic, and rendered completely true to life – that is, if discovering your own father in blackface could ever be called as such.
Luda and Milena seems like an old trifle of a story. It’s about two old Russian women bent on seducing a man in their ESL class by cooking progressively more and more elaborate dishes to win his stomach and heart. I wish I could say there’s more to this, but that’s pretty much it. It really is short. And the ending seems a bit too pat and throwaway. My guess is that Vapnyar cooked this one up in her mind while cooking for herself – the giveaway is when she describes Luda (or was it Milena? I had trouble telling them apart, though I blame this primarily on my own attention span) trying to learn skills from the Food Channel. This sly reference to one celebrity chef made me smile:
On the third show, the host explained how to make tiramisu, which might have been helpful were it not for the host’s cleavage—so prominent that Luda couldn’t concentrate on the movements of her hands.
I guess those who’ve been making fun of me for my recent Giada obsession will feel vindicated, but I still don´t see it. As far as I’m concerned, she’s the only one I want to learn from.
I realize my last few posts have not only been infrequent but also heavily steeped in the Literary (capital stuffy L), so here’s a nod back to my (other) roots. Stay with me now.
So apparently those lovably bilious writers at Uncov are now attempting to publicly crash Michael Arrington’s TechCrunch 20 conference by asking the real and hard questions, videotaping them and uploading the shenanigans to YouTube. I’ve got similar reservations about the conference itself (that $2,495 ticket price is just ridiculous), but I’m really curious how Uncov is going to evolve the more public their personae become. It’s kind of the fundamental quandary of any critic who gives a bad review to an artist he meets/knows in real life, albeit a million times worse since Uncov rarely gives a positive review of anything: how do you socialize and interact with the very same people you’ve been publicly slamming? And if you’re about to release your own product/work of art, how can you possibly avoid others attacking you in kind?
All I can say is: God bless these “Spare the Air” days. This is actually yesterday’s crop, since this morning I was too engrossed with Keith Ferrazzi’s Never Eat Alone (due today at the library!) to do much surveying.
Mags: SmartMoney, The New Yorker, Newsweek
Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince by J.K. Rowling