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Whorin'

Behold, the latest and greatest Wasted Words episode. It's the Waiting for Godot of drunken podcasts. http://tinyurl.com/32yx59x

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zdover
Jun. 24th, 2010 11:03 am (UTC)
Your Onion A.V. Club article, "Are We Really in a Cultural Golden Age?"
I read your Onion A.V. Club article with interest and some dismay, and I wanted to ask its author a question that had formed in my mind and quickly become pressing. So I was delighted when it turned out that the Leonard Pierce who had written it was also ludickid from livejournal, whom the trusted solipsiae had nagged me into friending several months back.

The thrust of the article, if I haven't misunderstood it, is that we must nurture the flame of culture and make certain that it doesn't go out. What will make it go out? Our indifference to the good aspects of culture, born of our false belief that there is nothing in culture worth supporting with our attention and time (and, I assume, money). Those who deny that we are in a cultural golden age are doing so because they ignore the aspects of the culture that make the present a golden age. And they ignore those aspects because their richer, fuller personal lives, dominated by family concerns, distract them from the parts of culture that they were exposed to when they were younger and unburdened with the blessings of rich family life. There are only so many hours in the day, and those hours could be filled with experimental films and graphic novels in the early days of their incipient careers. College students are also more likely, goes the argument, to spend their time hunting down the really worthwhile things in culture that would make a cultural consumer judge his or her era to be a golden one.

The problem with the article is that, though it deals in general claims, it doesn't provide very much evidence to back up those claims. There's a still of Daniel Plainview from P.T. Anderson's 2007 film There Will Be Blood at the top of the screen, but other than that, there's not a lot of examples.

I think that television is certainly in a golden age just now. "The Sopranos" showed that audiences would be willing to sit still for novelistic television featuring a cast of hundreds. "The Wire" showed that a Zola-style exposé could have broad critical appeal, even if the exposé only found an audience on DVD. "Mad Men," though initially uncertain of what it wanted to do with its characters, has become the richest storytelling on television, the writing so deep and the acting so subtle that it is able to tell stories through nothing more than the wordless body language of two characters sharing the screen. "Six Feet Under" examined grief and death and the adolescent search for identity with all its shameful and embarrassing aspects, and had the courage to end its arc in a thematically appropriate and devastating way. "30 Rock" is probably the smartest and funniest 30-minute live-action major network television show in the history of television.

Even lesser shows, like the unrealistic "The West Wing" and the stupid-people-who-think-they're-smart-think-smart-people-talk-like-this "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" are more entertaining than a lot of the stuff that has been on television. But can this stuff really hold a candle to "The Twilight Zone"? Is it really more compelling than "Night Gallery"? Is it really more absorbing than "Roots"?
zdover
Jun. 24th, 2010 11:03 am (UTC)
The modern era of television is dominated by HBO, which allows its shows' creators the freedom to explore characters with psychological depth, and doesn't require that every character snap at his fellows with Lenny Brisco cynicism or Gregory House snarkiness. In recent years, AMC has entered the field of television shows with psychological depth with the aforementioned "Mad Men" and the only-now-mentioned "Breaking Bad," which may be the only show in the history of television in which a main character has credibly manifested a keen understanding of a field of knowledge requiring years of study.

But though we live in an era in which we have television producers willing to show us psychologically-credible characters, there is an enormous amount of absolute shit on television, and shit of a kind that a person forty years ago would probably not have imagined possible. There has also been an explosion of Gordon Ramsay/Weakest Link-style shows on television, shows that thrive on parading human weakness in front of us and then rudely berating it, for no educational purpose whatsoever. These shows aim to exploit weakness and presumably appeal to some sadistic viewer who wants to believe himself superior to the televised berated person.

There are reality shows like "Jersey Shore," whose purpose are utterly mystifying to anyone with even the slightest bit of discernment and refinement. These shows are populated with odious cretins whose company makes us dumber. And these shows are ubiquitous.

Television news is such absolute shit that the term no longer refers to anything. Where is the news nowadays? It's not on television. It's only in the journalism of Jeremy Scahill and Matt Taibbi and Moe Tkacik and Naomi Klein. And that kind of journalism is nothing new, so it can't be said that we're living in a golden age of it. An earlier age had David Halberstam and Seymour Hersh, and an even earlier age had Izzy Stone, and an even earlier age had Ida Tarbell. Today Fox News leads from its dystopian-future fascist propaganda office, and CNN follows lamely behind, trying to carve off viewers with holographic gimmicks and celebrity gossip. This is in no way a golden age for television news. This is the most shameful and prostituted age of television news, an age when journalists on television are nothing but PR shills for the parent companies of their networks or channels.

So that's part of what I have to say about television.
zdover
Jun. 24th, 2010 11:13 am (UTC)
When it comes to movies, I don't really know how anyone can credibly claim that we live in a more interesting or vital era than the 1970s. There have been fantastic movies (all of P.T. Anderson's movies, for instance, are great, and the Coen brothers almost never make a bad movie). But there hasn't been the kind of cultural innovation in movies in the past couple of decades that there was in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s. I know that this kind of cultural innovation can't be held to be the lone factor in determining which era is aesthetically richer than the other, but it is certainly the key factor in what made the moves of the 1960s and 1970s more dynamic and richer than what had come before.

There have been movies recently that are interesting even though they're not universally acclaimed (regardless of whether you think he's a misogynist or a plagiarist or a child, all of the movies of Quentin Tarantino fall into this category, and seem to generate impassioned discussion).

But there are also a lot of movies that are just shit (just about anything that Vince Vaughn is in, for instance). Dozens of complete shit romantic comedies are made every year, each with no personality and each utterly forgettable and interchangeable and cynical in its conception.

Where's the list of movies in the past decade that justifies the claim that we are living in a cultural golden age?

I don't feel comfortable outright denying that we are in fact living in a cultural golden age, but I find it hard to accept reflexively. My mind immediately asks "Wait a minute... has there been a movie in the past ten years as important as The Godfather? I ask this as someone who drove 250 miles to see There Will Be Blood, and saw it five times during its theatrical run, and I say this as someone who saw No Country For Old Men four times during its theatrical run. I'm not saying it out of idle contrarianism.
zdover
Jun. 24th, 2010 11:21 am (UTC)
Finally, the popular music that is available now through the radio and television is absolute shit. Maybe that's the fault of the distribution system, and there's really an ocean of fantastic music available despite my complete ignorance of it.

I'm not even a very big Beatles fan, and I feel completely confident in saying that nothing recorded in the past ten years can even think of getting in the ring with The Beatles' work.

Please, please give me a list of recent music that makes you think that we live in a musical golden age. I would weep to learn that I am just extremely ignorant.

inb4, I love the Scissor Sisters.
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ludickid
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Leonard Pierce is a freelance writer wandering around Texas with no sleep or sense of direction. If you give him money he will write something for you. If you are nice to him he may come to your house and get drunk.

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