- They're also bookends in that "Witch" at least begins as very much a female fantasy episode--the outcast gets to become the head cheerleader--while "Teacher's Pet" at least begins as a male fantasy episode in the "Hot For Teacher" vein. Of course, both ultimately subvert those expectations.
- "Witch" plays an interesting card in allowing the audience to know about the body switching well before our heroes do. Still, Buffy's "Amy?" to the body switched teenager really plays nicely.
- Gellar gets to have some fun as Buffy under the vengance spell, with "You're my Xander-shaped friend!" being a particular high point, rather than her standard "I'm the slayer!" tone.
- Xander's daydream in the cold open for "Teacher's Pet" is brilliant, with the increasing absurdity capped by him "kissing you like you've never been kissed before, and nailing the solo!"
- "Teacher's Pet" is very much Xander's episode. Sure, Buffy ultimately saves the day, but this is about Xander learning a lesson about keeping his libido in control.
- The final third of "Teacher's Pet" really suffers from the show's limited FX budget, in that they're careful to almost never show the she-mantis, and when they do, you're struck less by how frightening the creature is than by the fact that it looks like a paper-mache project from an elementary student.
- In both instances, we have a somewhat silly "final shot twist" ending, which feels tacked on, almost as if there was a "be more like 'X-Files'" note given by the WB.
Saturday, September 1, 2007
Friday, August 31, 2007
- "A sequence of chime-like musical notes which are in the key of C and sound the notes G, E, C" for "broadcasting of television programs."
- A song for "entertainment services in nature of basketball exhibitions."
- "Six musical notes played in a fast tempo, D, C Sharp, D, D, C Sharp, D" for "production and distribution of television and radio entertainment and sports programs."
- A sound you will recognize for "entertainment services in the nature of an animated television series."
- "Two tones in increasing pitch, playing the musical note D followed by the musical note F, just above D, which is then followed by another sequence of two tones in increasing pitch, playing the musical note F-sharp followed by the musical note G, just above F-sharp, which is then followed by a sequence of two tones in increasing pitch, playing the musical note G followed by the musical note A, just above G" for "entertainment services, namely, personalized and interactive entertainment services in the nature of providing personalized television programming, and interactive television programming and games, and entertainment information, namely, an online guide to personalized and interactive television programming."
My question, and I've been beating this horse for half my life now, is who stole from whom? Bob Marley (1:30-1:45 for the relevant bridge) from the Banana Splits, or the Banana Splits from Bob Marley?
The runaway hit chapbook of the late 1600s and early 1700s was Mary Rowlandson’s narrative of her three-month captivity among the Wampanoag Indians, titled (significantly) The Sovereignty and Goodness of God. First published in 1682, it went through 31 editions and sold thousands of copies. As the title suggests, Rowlandson intended her narrative as a demonstration of God's power to rescue afflicted believers. At the same time, though, she offers rather gory descriptions of Indian attacks and keeps the reader wondering if she'll be able to resist her captors' advances. Did readers gobble up captivity narratives for their moral lessons, or for their exciting accounts of violence and sexual danger?
By the late 1700s, American middle-class readers were clamoring for novels, not just chapbooks, and publishers were happy to oblige. And despite the concerns raised in pamphlets like “Novel Reading, a Case of Female Depravity,” women were often the prime target audience, especially for sentimental novels of seduction and betrayal, modeled on the popular works of the English novelist Samuel Richardson. By far the biggest American success along these lines was Susanna Rowson’s Charlotte Temple: A Tale of Truth, published in 1794. Rowson's 15-year-old heroine ignores parental warnings about protecting her virtue and is seduced by a dastardly soldier; she winds up pregnant and penniless in New York, where she dies in childbirth, just as her grieving father finally locates her. As with Rowlandson, though, it's hard to figure out why Rowson's book became such a huge success (indeed, the most popular American novel until Uncle Tom's Cabin). Did readers focus on the novel's didactic messages of faith, chastity, and obedience? Or did they thrill instead to the titillating tale of a good girl gone bad?
This conflict between moralism and sensationalism recurs throughout pop-culture history, as does the difficulty of separating producers' and authors' intention from consumers' reception. I imagine you all could come up with other examples of pop-culture products that exhibit these same tensions.
Next week: Shakespeare, Stephen Foster, and minstrel shows. Enjoy the holiday weekend; school's out until Wednesday.
Related: Did you know that "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" is, in fact, the same basic music as "Puttin' On The Ritz?"
Thursday, August 30, 2007
OMG, it's also on Google Video. Do give it a shot, no matter what your preconceptions are about silent film.
Still, I have two problems with the film, though I'm going to put the Joey Lauren Adams' Annoying Voice thing to the side and focus on the second: the movie's ending just doesn't work. I don't know that Smith wrote himself into a box from which he couldn't escape or what, but that big confrontation scene at the end just felt contrived and false. For a movie's ending to be satisfactory, it need not be happy, but it does have to feel like the natural conclusion of all that came before.
That very last scene is probably where this story was supposed to end; it just didn't get there the right way. I'm interested in whether anyone out there shares this sentiment, and whether anyone had any ideas on how to rewrite Smith's final act.
- Given how post-modern a lot of Whedon's stuff has been, it's a little bizarre how much monologuing we get from characters. Rather than having the vampires just attack Buffy when she barges in, Buffy is allowed to deliver a monologue about her Slayerdom. It's a sharp contrast to his later, more taciturn, heroes. (Mal Reynolds can talk, but he's more likely to shoot first, ask questions later.) Admittedly, this is subverted when Buffy, a few moments later, gets knocked down by the vampire while monologuing, but still.
- Maybe it's because Whedon didn't direct the pilot, but contrast the somewhat clunky fight scenes here with the glorious fight choreography in Serenity, and you see how much Whedon's grown.
- It's an interesting contrast between this and the Firefly pilot, where (at least in the original two-hour pilot), we're dealing with more than half the characters, including our leads, who already know one another and have a web of relationships that we come into blind. Here, while some of the characters have relationships with one another, there's not a pre-linkage bringing all of them together.
- I don't know if the music on the DVD's is the original, but a lot of the music reads way too "WB" for the show's own good. Similarly, the concept of "The Bronze" seems to be a network way of working in musical performances and pop musical a la Dawson's Creek.
- While the makeup effects on the vampire actors are really good, the "transformation" effects and the intercutting are sloppy, at least by today's standards.
- Wow, Alyson Hannigan is given a series of rather hideous outfits throughout the pilot.
- The Cordelia material here makes Cordelia a not particularly interesting (much less likable) character, and interestingly anticipates Regina George in Mean Girls.
- The Angel plotline is obviously spoiled for me, but I can see how effective the eventual reveal must have been when the time came.
Thoughts? Comments? Stuff I should look forward to? That's what the comments are for.
Thank you Chase Utley; thank you, Clay Condrey and Tom Gordon; thank you, J-Ro and Aaron Rowand; and most of all, thank you Pat Burrell, who for whatever reason does to the Mets what Andrew Toney did to the Celtics. September is going to be fun.
P.S. Want to enjoy some schadenfreude? Read through Mets fans' pitch-by-pitch ecstasy and agony on Game Chatter.
"The band is the band, you know?" Springsteen says. "It's the only place where I really do the thing that I suppose that I'm most known for, which is... it's a peak experience."
... It's no surprise to hear Springsteen employ a car metaphor, with the E Street band as the hotrod, as he looks toward reconvening the band for tour rehearsals.
"First of all, we start playing just to feel the machine again," he says, describing what happens after they initially plug in. "You've gotta drive it a little bit before you push the envelope on it." While Springsteen recorded Magic with the E Street Band, the studio process had them laying down tracks individually; September rehearsals will bring them back together to work up the new material as a unit. "We may run through a few things we know, just to reacquaint ourselves with the sound and the power of the band. How it moves underneath you, and everything. That's sort of the first thing I do, I refit myself into that bucket seat. 'Oh yeah, okay, now I remember...' And that takes all of about 15 minutes."
Check it out. Or, if you live in New York City, stop by Chisholm-Larsson Gallery. On 8th Avenue, if I recall. One of my favorite poster shops with an excellent selection of cool Soviet stuff.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Instead, let us remember him as the man Georgia's Governor honored in 2006, ten years after the Olympic bombing, a private security guard who spotted a suspicious backpack, moved people out of the way, and saved lives: "Mr. Jewell deserves to be remembered as a hero for the actions he performed during the Centennial Olympic Games. He is a model citizen, and the State of Georgia thanks him for his long-standing commitment to law enforcement, both as a security guard during the Olympics and as a sheriff’s deputy in Meriwether County today."
A decade later, when it's even easier for a private figure to become a household name through the rapid delivery and publication system which is the Internet, we should remember Richard Jewell's story and be humble, and be sure, before hitting that 'publish' button.
The veteran director, new to musicals, had fun with the genre, instructing Carol Burnett, as Miss Hannigan, to "play it soused" throughout(which she does quite wittily) and Albert Finney as Daddy Warbucks to affect Huston's own vocal delivery (which he also does quite wittily). And a deep bow to Huston for also showcasing two stage stalwarts -- Ann Reinking, excellent as Grace, Warbucks' executive secretary, and Bernadette Peters, as the vamp Lily St. Regis.... Too bad that Huston couldn't quite convince his almost-son-in-law at the time, Jack Nicholson, to play Rooster Hannigan. He would have been a hoot, although Tim Curry, who ultimately played the role, is perfectly fine - wildly theatrical and juicily evil.
We may have to bring in Judge Brandeis to settle this.
To overgeneralize egregriously, there are two main camps among pop-culture historians. On one side are those led by the late Lawrence Levine, who argued that popular culture is "the folklore of industrial society" -- it's of, by, and for the people. In this view, consumers exert substantial influence over the production, distribution, and reception of popular culture, making choices freely and enthusiastically, sometimes even subverting the interpretive intentions of the "culture industries" in New York and Hollywood. Levine's approach is best captured in his collection of essays, The Unpredictable Past.
To other scholars, however, this picture of popular culture is way too rosy. Historians like the wonderfully named T.J. Jackson Lears--yes, he's named for that T.J. Jackson--insist that consumers' "agency" is feeble at best, and that most of their supposed "choices" are actually made within parameters totally controlled by pop-culture producers. Lears lays out a much more nuanced version of this argument in his history of American advertising, Fables of Abundance.
Again, this is all way too overstated, and there are, of course, plenty of scholars who fall somewhere between Levine and Lears. But this debate highlights some key questions about the nature of popular culture. Does culture merely reflect society, or does it actually shape society? Is popular culture a "mirror" or a "maker"? And these questions in turn make us think more critically about our own pop-culture tastes. Why, exactly, do we like particular pop-culture products? Are our tastes truly independent, or are they influenced by other factors, from family to friends to advertisements?
My first writing assignment asks students to examine these questions by writing a "pop-culture autobiography" -- a 5-6 page paper that offers some critical reflections on their evolving pop-culture tastes, blending personal anecdotes and academic analysis. These papers are always fun to read, especially when a student has one dramatically pivotal pop-culture moment in his or her life: "But then I heard 'Smells Like Teen Spirit,' and my life changed forever...." I highly recommend writing your own pop-culture autobiography. It's an often humbling experience -- particularly if you have to cop to some embarrassing childhood favorites -- but it also helps you see how you've become the consumer you are today.
As of Friday, William Lerach will be the former scariest plaintiffs lawyer in America.What in it is true? Lerach -- probably the most prominent, and at times most influential and among the most innovative, plaintiffs' lawyer in America; a man who prompted a major congressional act intended to knock him down a few pegs, but that ended up only making him richer -- is retiring. What's not true? That he was all that scary. I can understand why he was the bogeyman for boardrooms across America -- a company knew that any drop in its stock price would at first certainly, and later likely, lead to an expensive lawsuit, and that was in large part Lerach's doing. At heart, though, Lerach and his lieutenants were businessmen, eager to exploit market opportunities but just as willing to make rational business deals to settle cases. There are a lot of plaintiffs' securities lawyers who, in an effort to substantiate the resume claim that "I'm better and more aggressive than Bill Lerach," prove themselves capable of rash decisions that drive up litigation costs without resulting in bigger settlements.
Anyway, Lerach is retiring, waiting to see if his firm implodes in his absence, and possibly going to jail. I imagine that somewhere in a high-rise in Chicago, Dan Fischel is preparing to uncork a very fine bottle of wine.
Edited to add: What do you think about Law.com/the Recorder's omission of an apostrophe in the phrase "plaintiffs lawyer"? I think it needs the apostrophe, but the quote that haunted Lerach for years -- something to the effect that "I have the greatest job in the world. I don't have clients," though I couldn't find it in a google search -- suggests otherwise.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
I’ll be posting every couple of days for the next fifteen weeks, giving a brief rundown of the topic for that day’s class, pointing you toward relevant readings and websites, and tossing out some ideas for discussion. There will be no formal grades, but neatness counts. And please remember to turn off your cell phones during class.
For starters, here are the books I’ve assigned this semester.
- Popular Culture in American History, edited by Jim Cullen. A useful collection of scholarly articles about various pop-culture topics, supplemented with relevant primary sources and commentary by Cullen (who’s also written a nice one-volume survey of American pop culture, The Art of Democracy).
- Hollywood’s America: United States History Through Its Films, edited by Steven Mintz and Randy Roberts. A mix of primary and secondary sources covering everything from the earliest nickelodeons to the “yuppie films” of the 1980s.
- Amusing the Million: Coney Island at the Turn of the Century, by John Kasson. Sharply written and provocatively argued study of the pioneering amusement parks and their impact on American society and culture. Beautifully illustrated, too.
- The Adventures of Amos ‘n’ Andy: A Social History of an American Phenomenon, by Melvin Patrick Ely. A remarkably balanced and thoughtful assessment of one of the most controversial and popular radio shows ever.
- Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media, by Susan J. Douglas. An examination of girls and women in baby-boomers’ culture, from Gidget and the Shirelles to Charlie’s Angels and Dynasty. Also the most polarizing book I assign: students either love its mix of academic critique and personal reflection or think it’s strident and self-indulgent.
- Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter, by Steven Johnson. Made a big media splash when it appeared a couple of years ago. Argues that today's pop culture is more cognitively stimulating and mentally engaging than it's ever been before.
Like so many other things, via Deadspin.
Monday, August 27, 2007
- Man, Vanessa Anne Hudgens (though pretty in that non-threatening Disney manner) is almost a black hole of lack of charisma.
- Zac Efron is clearly the new coverboy for Lisa Simpson's favorite magazine. At least as Link he had the winking irony, here, it's almost annoyingly sincere.
- Sharpay and Ryan are far more fun to watch than Gabriella and Troy, even if having Sharpay eagerly join in "We're All In This Together" is more than a little bit of a rejection of her character. It's fairly clear early on that Tisdale is probably the most talented performer on screen, which throws things off balance, and she gets almost all of the adult-targeted jokes (I doubt a whole lot of 12 year olds got the Tony Award/Tony Hawk joke).
- If most material on Broadway were as well choreographed as "Stick To The Status Quo," "Get Cha Head In The Game," and "We're All In This Together," I'd be a happy man.
- Of course, "Stick To The Status Quo" makes little sense from an internal consistency standpoint--people singing a song about why you shouldn't be singing songs! (Related--what high school has a show which is apparently written by the students--book, lyric, and score?)
- While the upbeat songs are incredibly catchy and toe-tapping, the ballads are WAY too generic, with the possible exception of "Start Of Something New," which is helped by the upbeat chorus. The Ryan/Sharpay "bad" version of "What I've Been Looking For" is far better than the "right" version.
It's far from being either great filmmaking or a great musical, but it hits what it aims for almost perfectly, and that's, I think, why it's become a bona fide phenomonon.
Thing Throwers, I ask you to join me in bridging the gap in U.S. America between the map-haves and the map-have-nots, and maybe also South Africa and the Iraq.
Double bonuses: (1) It takes a special person to be so flounderingly inarticulate that TNBC charter member Mario Lopez, a man not known for his algebra skills, has to bite his lip to keep from laughing; (2) Your brutal interrogator: ALOTT5MA fave Aimee Teegaardeen.
Hat tip: Everywhere on the Internet.
Sunday, August 26, 2007
Till death do us part, think pink!
My Open love was probably cemented by Sampras-Corretja 1996, and then by attending for sessions in 1999 and 2001, and I'm hoping for an exciting draw this year. On the women's side, anyway -- the men's circuit is just so Federer-dominated, and there's only so much ridiculous perfection one can stomach. You?