Culture postsSunday July 15, 2012
Making the Dish, and a Portrait of the Artist as a Stand-Up Comedian
Andrew Sullivan's blog, The Dish, linked to mine today, which is very, very cool, particularly considering how often I've read him and quoted him. I figure I still owe him about 499 posts to make up the difference. I'll get cracking.
Sullivan was interested in a post of mine from last week comparing American comedian Louis C.K. with French author Marcel Proust, both of whom, 100 years apart, talked about how technology that was once considered amazing (the phone and smartphone), each became, very quickly, a subject for complaint. For this, Proust called us “spoilt children.” Louis C.K. is a bit more florid, calling us “the shittiest generation of piece-of-shit assholes that ever fucking lived.” Proustian.
I came across the Proust quote in Alain de Botton's book, “How Proust Can Change Your Life,” which is particularly good in the early chapters, particularly Chapter 3, “How to Take Your Time.” That, of course, is another piece of advice from Louis C.K.: “Give it a second,” etc.
I'm not surprised, by the way, that there's this connection between the early 20th-century French author and the early 21st-century American stand-up comedian. In de Botton's book, Proust is quoted as saying that artists are...
...creatures who talk of precisely the things one shouldn't mention.
And that's what the best stand-up comedians are, too. They stand before us and tell us uncomfortable truths to make us laugh. If it's done poorly and without empathy, you get Daniel Tosh earlier this week or Michael Richards a few years back. If it's done well, you get Louis C.K., Ricky Gervais, Chris Rock, Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor.
“Take your time” vs. “Give it a second”
IMDb's Trivial Problem
On IMDb.com, if you have someone writing your bio for you, as someone named Larry-115 apparently did for Paris Hilton, then on your credits page you'll have a link reading “See full bio,” which will lead you to, in this case, Larry-115's bio of Ms. Hilton and all relevant material, such as nicknames, height and “That's hot.”
If you don't, as acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Jafaar Panahi doesn't, you'll simply have a link reading “See more trivia.”
As a result, Paris Hilton's pampered, celebrity life is considered “a bio,” while Panahi's arrest and conviction by Iranian authorities, which has been protested worldwide by every filmmaker and filmmaking body, as well as heads of state, is considered “trivia.”
A micro example of a macro problem. Two macro problems, actually: automation isn't concerned with nomenclature; and modern culture has turned on its head what is significant and what is trivial.
Sharing a Birthday with Hannibal Lector
Thanks to FlavorWire's infographic on the birthdays of famous (and not-so-famous) fictional characters, I know now I share a birthday with Hannibal Lector. We'll be serving fava beans, a nice chianti, and... not sure what kind of meat yet. No worries, though. Our butcher gets the freshest cuts.
Via the same infographic: my father gets MacGyver, which is so wrong (the show is schlock and Dad can hardly change a lightbulb), my Mom gets Jean-Luc Picard (whom I'm sure she's never heard of), while Patricia, poor Patricia, hardly a sci-fi fan, winds up with lesser sci-fi: Daniel Jackson of “Stargate SG-1.” Even *I* don't know who that is.
Nephews Jordy and Ryan share days with, respectively, Dr. Watson and Captain America. (That's more like it!) Grown-up nephew Casey gets Martin Riggs of “Lethal Weapon.” My sister Karen? Rick Peterson, “East Enders.” (Got nothing.) My brother Chris probably gets the best birthday companion: The King of Earth from “Time Stranger Kyoto.” I don't know who that is but it sounds impressive.
Time for the birthday cake, Clarice.
Black History Month Linkage
I have no profound thoughts on black history month, the shortest month of the year, other than to hope that someday it won't be necessary.
In the meantime, lamely, I offer past articles that touch on some of the issues this month touches on:
- A 2003 Seattle Times review of Library of Congress' epic, two-volume, two-thousand-page tome, “Reporting Civil Rights: American Journalism: 1941-1972,” which gives us the history before it's history, and before it's been sweetened and commodified and forgotten. One of the more important books you can read about the civil rights movement.
- A 1998 Seattle Times review of David Halberstam's “The Children,” which focuses on the Nashville sit-in kids, including future U.S. Congressman John Lewis and future DC Mayor Marion Berry.
- A 1997 personal review of Jules Tygiel's seminal book, “Baseball's Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and his legacy.”
- A short, personal review of Henry Louis Gates' “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man.”
- A 2008 personal review of Barack Obama's “Dreams From My Father.”
- A 2005 MSNBC article on actor Jeffrey Wright.
- A 2006 MSNBC analysis of the career of director Spike Lee.
- A 2007 MSNBC paean to Morgan Freeman.
- A 2008 MSNBC dissection of the secret to Tyler Perry's success.
In “Reporting Civil Rights,” Russell Baker reminds us that by the time Dr. King spoke, “huge portions of the crowd had drifted out of earshot,” while civil-rights worker Michael Thelwell details how the Kennedy administration turned the March into something “too sweet, too contrived, and its spirit too amiable to represent anything of the bitterness that had brought the people there.”
Fifty Years Later, The Hamster Wheel Answers Philip Roth
“The American writer in the middle of the 20th century has his hands full in trying to understand, describe, and then make credible much of American reality. It stupefies, it sickens, it infuriates, and finally it is an embarrassment to one's own meager imagination. The actuality is constantly outdoing our talents, and the culture tosses up figures almost daily that are the envy of any novelist.”
Philip Roth wrote that in his essay “Writing American Fiction” back in the early 1960s, and only the most blinkered among us would think that things haven't gotten worse. Our current national talents haven't outdone the writers of that period (Roth, Mailer, Baldwin, Capote), while the figures our culture tosses up have only gotten more ridiculous. Roth's examples include Charles Van Doren, Roy Cohn, David Schine and Dwight David Eisenhower, while our current culture tosses up (but not out, never out) Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, Kim Kardashian, Michael Jackson, Michele Bachmann, “The Situation,” Herman Cain, Rick Perry or just, fuck, really anyone running for the 2012 presidential nomination on the GOP ticket. Dwight David Eisenhower is a mountain of sanity in comparison. Put it this way: What Roth rejected as ridiculous? That's what we yearn for.
No one I know has figured out how to properly deal with this gap between reality and the unimaginably idiotic and surreal characters who dominate our culture.
A brilliant solution. Roth suggested such a solution back in the early 1960s but we were too blind to see it:
“Whatever else the television debates produced in me, I should point out, as a literary curiosity, they also produced professional envy. All the machinations over make-up and rebuttal time, all the business over whether Mr. Nixon should look at Mr. Kennedy when he replied, or should look away—all of it was so beside the point, so fantastic, so weird and astonishing, that I found myself beginning to wish I had invented it. But then, of course, one need not have been a fiction writer to wish that someone had invented it, and that it was not real and with us.”
Question: What current American figure do you wish was merely a brilliant satiric character from Sasha Baron Cohen?
Question II: When our current crazies talk their crazy talk, shouldn't we treat them as “The Hamster Wheel,” an Australian comedy show dealing with the media, treated Lord Monckton? As a proper joke? As a Sasha Baron Cohen character?
Again: brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.