John Oliver On Our Nuclear Arsenal

 

The above video is seriously funny and completely horrifying.  John Oliver does a piece on our nuclear arsenal.  Oliver’s first season has been consistently great.  He is another comedian using comedy to speak truth to power.  

One thing I’ll personally get out of this video:  If I ever have a poorly attended show, at least I can say that there are more people at my show than at the nuclear arsenal hearings!  

Tip of the hat to my Dad for sending this my way.  

 

Danny DeVito’s Contract – It’s Always Sunny

Danny DeVito’s Contract – It’s Always Sunny in P…: http://youtu.be/cEFPZWK4ElE

I thought I would post the above link for those of you stuck in the doldrums of the office this afternoon.  The above clip is an extra from the show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.   It is the funniest show on television right now, and Danny DeVito may be the funniest actor working in the medium.  I wanted to post one of my favorite scenes ever, when Danny DeVito does cocaine in Columbia,  but it was not available.  Whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul, the cast of It’s Always Sunny find new lows that keep me smiling.

The Mystery of Twin Peaks

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One of the most wonderful universes that you can get lost in is Twin Peaks.  It takes you into the mystery of the world.  It’s strange, but not any stranger than real life.  It’s just that the strangeness of real life is heightened so that it is brought to the forefront.  One of the things that David Lynch does so well is to create strong emotions.  He knows that emotions are abstract, you can’t explain sadness or pain or happiness so much as you can feel it.  Through abstract visuals and sound design he creates cinema of intense feeling.  

The trick to what he does is that he often allows you to feel two different emotions at the same time. The end of Fire Walk With Me, the movie that takes place in the Twin Peaks universe, is one of the most horrifying sequences I have ever seen in film.  It is also beautiful.  The fact that it is beautiful doesn’t make it any less horrific to watch.  In fact in might make it more so, because it opens you up emotionally to it in a way that no straight horror movie or documentary ever could.  David Lynch isn’t afraid to make you feel uncomfortable, but you never ever get the sense he is trying to shock you just for the sake of it.  

The TV show Twin Peaks is a combination of different genres.  There are characters that could have come out of a film noir and there are characters that could have come out of a soap opera.  These more traditional genre elements are laced with episodes of the surreal and uncanny.  At the core of Twin Peaks is a murder mystery.  However, the TV show especially also features many moments of light comedy.  It is again the fact that it is combining different elements that make it so unique.  

But I think one thing that truly makes Twin Peaks special is that in watching it, we not only recognize feelings and emotions from reality, but the show somehow heightens the viewers reality as well.  When we enter the woods after seeing the show we may notice how dark and mysterious they are in ways we might not have payed attention to.  Entering a diner we may notice details and the behavior of people in ways in which we didn’t before.  Twin Peaks is great entertainment, but it is also something more.  It is a fictional world that makes us aware of the mysteries in our own.  

The Danger of Too Much TV

I just read a quote the other day, and I believe it to be by Werner Herzog, that “Those that read gain the world, and those that watch TV lose it.”  (I am currently in a van with limited Internet service so I have no way to check the source.)  Today while in the hotel breakfast room the local news was on.  I overheard the local yokel anchors, or cue card reading Ken and Barbie dolls as I like to call them, reported that Mitt Romney might run for president again, they were building a waterslide in the area.  After that the Ken and Barbie dolls feigned mock surprise at legalized weed in Washington State.  “Jesus Christ,” I thought, “this shit is fucking depressing.” 

Last night on I took a beautiful brilliant ferry ride across Lake Michigan.  After awhile it got to cold and windy on the upper deck.  Downstairs, before I was able to escape into my headphones, I heard a clip from Fox News where Bill O’Reilly and some other faceless stooge talked about how President Obama might be the worst American President ever.  Really?  Worse than Herbert Hoover and George W. Bush?  Even if you don’t like Obama certainly you can comb the annals of American History and find several presidents whose use or misuse of power make Obama look like an ancient sage. 

You often hear that this is the golden age of television.  In terms of the long form drama this is definitely a time where there are many worthy and intelligent shows.  Comedy is also not restricted by so many puritanical rules, and therefore there are several really great programs in this form as well. 

However, overall TV remains a place of soul stealing degradation.   It so often plays to the lowest common denominator,  champions meaningless consumerism, and beats the drums for mindless patriotism and barbaric foreign policy.  When it is not doing any of that it takes full use of the culture wars and keeps us divided and ignorant.  The jury is still out, as far as I am concerned, as to whether this is just the inevitable result of the free market or purposeful manipulation by the powers that be.   Someone like Rupert Murdock is actually doing both.  He is fulfilling a demand of the market and furthering his political and economic interests at the same time. 

I can’t help but feel that if more people read and less people watched TV, that we would be a more enlightened and intelligent nation.  Maybe this is just wishful thinking. 

I am currently reading Brendan Behan’s Borstal Boy.  It is his account of his time spent in jail and reform school as a young prisoner.  Behan was a vociferous reader.  What strikes me is his empathy for others and his tolerance for those different than himself.  He is serving time because he was caught with I.R.A. bombs in England.  However even at a young age he sees complexity rather than simplicity.  He comments that it is the system of the British Empire that he is against.  He befriends many English prisoners and realizes that some of the Irish that are part of the British Empire and British legal system are some of the worst of the lot.  He judges people as individuals and not based on predetermined catagories.  He even defends Oscar Wilde’s homosexuality to other prisoners, Wilde was a favorite writer of his, at a time when such behavior made one an outcast. 

There seems to be a strong political debate going on about guns in our country right now.  Maybe we need a strong debate about the role of TV in our society, which may be far more dangerous to us as a nation in the long run.

Being a Star is Meaningless

Being a star is meaningless.  I say this because it seems like there are so many stars these days and so few of them have anything resembling real talent.  Stars are created and destroyed by the entertainment industry.  If someone puts up the money to film and promote you, and if you are shameless enough to let the worst side of your nature shine on, you too can possibly be famous. 

That is not to say there are not real stars where talent, looks, and charisma come together.  Even detractors of Elvis would probably admit there was something special about him.  I have seen Morrissey several times and it was almost like seeing a living work of art.  I can’t describe it more than that, but his mere presence was captivating.  And I don’t say that because I am a fan of his music.  I have seen plenty of my heroes in the flesh, but this was something different. 

I am talking about this today because I have been listening to the band Helmet lately.  They are an alternative metal band that was most popular in the 90’s.  I like them for their staccato riffs and their take the paint off the walls noise solos.  Being part of a rhythm section, I appreciate their unique and influential approach to rhythm. 

Every time you read about them there is a comment about the fact that they didn’t find more success because they lacked charisma.  They had short haircuts and dressed like clean cut average joes.  I admit if I were to run across one of them in the streets I wouldn’t recognize them.  Also, if we are being honest, lead singer Page Hamilton had a functionary voice, but not a great one.  However they were a decent band that at the time made their own unique stamp on music.  They clearly were influential in the metal genre. 

But every time I read this comment that they didn’t find more success because of lack of charisma I find it to be more urban legend than reality.  There are so many times when writers are lazy and repeat the same fact over and over because they are cribbing off one another.  I am a firm believer that anyone can be famous if they receive the proper corporate media support.  Our TV channels are littered with the untalented, and quite often uninteresting, famous.   

It is unfortunate how too many of us judge something by how successful it is in the moment.  This band created records that I, and I know others, still listen to.  Meanwhile the superstar highway is clogged with the corpses of those who are now mere trivia questions and whose work no one can remember.  What lasts is the only thing that matters.  All else is just noise. 

Video

John Oliver On Net Neutrality

I mentioned John Oliver’s new show a couple blogs back. This is a really hilarious piece he did on net neutrality. The whole piece is worth watching, however, around 11:20 he makes a plea for people to write the FCC to ask them to protect net neutrality. Here is the link where you can do just that:

http://www.fcc.gov/comments

Just go to that link and there is an option to email them.

I Love the Doctor

I read a lot, but recently I had trouble concentrating on reading.  I was being distracted by a good deal of the technology around me.  One of the many reasons that I feel the 60’s were such an intensely creative time is that people had enough technology to create new things, but not enough to be too distracted.  That could be a bullshit pub theory, but I think there is some truth to it.

Anyway, to get my reading concentration back I decided to dive into a book that was fun.  I figured if I could get the rhythm of reading back I could then jump back into more serious works.  I am an absolutely huge Doctor Who fan and I decided to read Doctor Who: A History.  This approach seems to be working.  If you are struggling to get some books going, start with something you know you will enjoy.

I really can’t begin to express how much I enjoy Doctor Who.  I have watched all of the new episodes and am now making my way slowly through the Classic Doctor Who shows on Netflix.  There is really nothing else like it.  The show began in 1963 and is still going strong today, despite it being off the air from ’89 to 2005 other than one TV movie.  Even during those years there were countless radio programs, novels, spin-offs, etc.  At this point, despite however nerdy it sounds, I am a full blown Whovian.  If I said otherwise I would be in denial!

It’s hard to explain why I love this show so much, but I am going to try to get across some of the reasons.  I love that the show has endless boundaries.  Because the Doctor is a time traveling alien the stories can be anything from funny to scary and take place anywhere in time and space.  One week you could be in Victorian England and the next you could be on some imaginative fictional planet.  The show is filled with both goofy humor and serious moral questions.  That limitless potential makes it consistently fresh and exciting.  It also reflects the power of the human imagination to go anywhere and do anything.

The character of the Doctor is one of the best fictional characters ever written.  He is highly intelligent but also often a complete madman.  This slightly mad quality and his inquisitiveness even in the face of danger, make him a highly entertaining character to watch no matter whom is playing him.  The best thing about him is that he often represents brain over brawn.  Although he is constantly surrounded by violence he only uses it as a last resort.  Even on those occasions when he does have to resort to violence there are almost always unintended consequences.

A key to understanding the mythology of Doctor Who is the idea of regeneration.  The Doctor is a Time Lord and instead of dying he regenerates.  What this means is that he takes on a new form with slightly new personality traits, allowing the different actors that have played him to bring something new to the table, but he is always the same character.

One of the things that is interesting in the book is how many things that have now become iconic parts of the show were done for practical reasons or because of mistakes.  The idea of the regeneration was created, much as I assumed it was, to allow for there to be a reason for different actors to play the part.  The Doctor also flies a time machine called the TARDIS.  It looks like a British blue police box and it is much bigger on the inside.  Originally the Doctor’s time machine was meant to blend in with its surroundings.  However, the show was notoriously low budget during the classic run and they realized they didn’t want to build a new TARDIS for every show so they left it as the police box.  One couldn’t imagine the show without it now.

In music people constantly talk about happy accidents.  That is something you do by mistake but ends up being a keeper.  Angus Young’s riff in Thunderstruck was a “happy accident”.  He was messing about in the studio, but now as soon as that riff starts people know what it is instantly as the song is played in countless sporting arenas.  How many things over the years that have become mainstays in our culture have been created without intent?

Who is my favorite Doctor?  In the classic years it is Tom Baker as he brought just the right amount of insanity to the role.  In the new series I started with the 9th Doctor, played by Christopher Eccleston.  I didn’t think anyone could top him, but then I became of fan of David Tennant’s 10th Doctor and after that Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor.  I know I’m not really answering the question, which some of you will deem important, but I really liked all of the actors that played the Doctor on the new series.  If someone would come new to the show I would personally recommend starting with Matt Smith’s Doctor because he has the best beginning episode and the production values are the closest to what modern audiences are used to from a TV show.  But I loved the dark quality that Eccleston brought to the role, and while watching Tennant’s episodes I didn’t think anyone could take over the role from him.  Tennant had some of the best episodes, played the Doctor exceptionally, and had possibly the best companions, but some of the Russell T Davies scripts that took place on present day Earth were a bit silly.

There is so much more I could write about this subject.  If I am coming across like a silly fan, that is because I am.  But I make no apologies, as this series has brought me countless hours of enjoyment.  If you are looking for something that is fun, intelligent, and imaginative, give it a go.  You just mind find yourself spending countless hours aboard the TARDIS.  Dear Lord where does the time go?  At least this time I know.

Arnold Wants to Terminate Climate Change

http://www.sho.com/sho/video/titles/29977/untitled-

This clip is from the Showtime series Years of Living Dangerously.  I posted it as much for the laughter of the last line as anything.  As a child of the 80’s I am a huge fan of Arnold’s action films.  However, it is good to see anyone, especially a Republican, speak out about something that has so many dire consequences for our society.  Whatever you may think of this clip, this series is really outstanding and is worth watching. 

Deadwood and United Fruit

Everything leads back to DeadwoodDeadwood is my favorite TV show of all time.  I believe it is the closest we will get to Shakespeare in our time in terms of dramatic depth and the shows rich verbal complexity.  The show takes place in the illegal town of the same name in the late 19th century.  The show is about how societies organize themselves and also about the bloodier side of free market capitalism.

Today I was reading about how the connections between leaders in our country and the United Fruit company that lead to coup in Guatemala in 1954.  This coup happened because of the revolving door between big business and government.  John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles both represented United Fruit when they worked at the law firm of Sullivan and Cromwell.  When the Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz came to power he wanted to nationalize lands owned by United Fruit.  Arbenz was no communist, he only wanted an economic arrangement that was actually beneficial to his country.  However, the Dulles brothers, because of their long standing relationship to United Fruit, and their views that any kind of nationalistic indigenous behavior was the work of communists, decided to try to overthrow Arbenz government once the Dulles brothers became the Secretary of State and the director of the CIA.

The show Deadwood shows how economic forces shape political reality.  It is dramatic truth that helps one to understand the world at large.  During the second season the titan of industry William Hearst comes to the town.  His role in the town is the primary overreaching conflict of season three.   When he can’t get what he wants by using covert methods of misinformation, coercion, and bribery, he turns to violence.  He employs the Pinkerton detective agency, which in the show could easily stand in for the CIA.  They use violence to crush organizing activity, and eventually kill the person who most stands in the way of his ability to acquire a claim that he desires.

Our country has a history of allowing corporate interests to drive foreign policy decisions.  The incident with United Fruit and Guatemala is just one such incident.  One can look to recent events in Iraq, especially in the aftermath of the initial invasion, to see how companies help shape our policy for their own interests.  Sometimes these policies can even manifest themselves in overt violence.

What really great story telling can do is to relate truths in ways that are easy to comprehend.  Great art can help us to reach universal truths by allowing us to step outside of our current political moment. It can help us interpret the world around us in ways that journalism, which can often be biased and is also often the mere recording of data, cannot do.  If you are looking to understand the world that we inhabit it helps to pay attention to the news, it helps to read history books, but one should never forget the value of art.  Fiction can sometimes be more enlightening than mere fact.