Tag Archives: Arts

W. Somerset Maugham, A Writer’s Notebook, 1940:

“Fundamentally man is not a rational animal. It is this that makes fiction so difficult to write; for the reader, or the spectator of a play, demands, at all events today, that he should behave as if he were. We feel dissatisfied when the persons of a story do not act from motives that we accept as sufficient. We expect their behavior to be rational, and if it isn’t we say: “But people don’t act like that.” Our demand for probability grows more and more stringent. We balk at coincidence and accident. We expect the characters that are presented to us invariably to behave like themselves.

The behaviour of the persons in Othello, of Othello himself principally, but to a less extent of almost everyone in the play, is wildly irrational. The critics have turned themselves inside out to show that it isn’t. In vain. They would have done better to accept it as a grand example of the fundamental irrationality of man. I am quite ready to believe that contemporary theatre-goers saw nothing improbable in the behaviour of any of the characters.”

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Charles Schulz / "Mad Men" / Radio Lab

"But in the mid-1950s a large part of [Schulz's] public consisted of good, plain people who felt guilty at being discontented in an epoch of unprecedented prosperity. Peanuts struck a chord with those who had thought they had everything they wanted only to discover that they didn't, and needed an acceptably gentle reminder of this insight."

— David Michaelis, Schulz and Peanuts pg 342.

Mad Men begins at the dawn of the sixties but the same dynamic is in play. Today the existential anxiety is coming from the unprecedented level of possibilities the connected world promises to offer (or should that be threatens to offer), as discussed in the first part of WNYC's Radio Lab latest program "Choice" with it description of new college grads frozen into inaction from fear of making decisions — each decision taken represents an elimination of some tantalizing (and now lost) hypothetical opportunity.

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Just saying

The lyrics of “Comedy Tonight,” the opening number in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” make up a five-minute master class in the elements of farce.

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Sunrise by Shannon Hurley remixed

We spent all afternoon remixing a song on ccMixter using Garage Band which was fun. Garage Band’s not that intuitive though. We couldn’t do a lot of things — which is probably for the best, because it kept our band’s version simple. Not that we created any original samples, we grabbed everything from Creative Commons. Here’s the license. Another thing we would never ever been able to experience in the pre-digital age.

Here’s the original:

And here’s our version: A Simple Sunrise.mp3

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Stuff I hate (part 2 of a series)


A for instance: After Goodfellas, The Last Temptation of Christ, Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, King of Comedy, and more, Scorcese gets a directing Oscar(TM) for a tedious and ridiculous self-parody “The Departed” with featured an embarrassing performance by Jackie “The Joker” Nicholson, denouement of bullets-to-the-head that is executed (excuse the pun) seemingly without the slightest awareness of its own absurdity.

So that two things I hate. Awards (because they are often for something else — which will be the case if Chabon wins the Hugo this year) and “The Departed.”

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Fred Rogers is the man!

From Larry Lessig’s Free Culture:

[A] court in California had held that the VCR could be banned because it was a copyright-infringing technology: It enabled consumers to copy films without the permission of the copyright owner. No doubt there were uses of the technology that were legal: Fred Rogers, aka “Mr. Rogers,” for example, had testified in that case that he wanted people to feel free to tape /Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood/.

“Some public stations, as well as commercial stations, program the “Neighborhood” at hours when some children cannot use it. I think that it’s a real service to families to be able to record such programs and show them at appropriate times. I have always felt that with the advent of all of this new technology that allows people to tape the “Neighborhood” off-the-air, and I’m speaking for the “Neighborhood” because that’s what I produce, that they then become much more active in the programming of their family’s television life. Very frankly, I am opposed to people being programmed by others. My whole approach in broadcasting has always been “You are an important person just the way you are. You can make healthy decisions.” Maybe I’m going on too long, but I just feel that anything that allows a person to be more active in the control of his or her life, in a healthy way, is important.” [23]

23. /Sony Corporation of America/ v. /Universal City Studios, Inc.,/ 464 U.S. 417, 455 fn. 27 (1984). Rogers never changed his view about the VCR. See James Lardner, /Fast Forward: Hollywood, the Japanese, and the Onslaught of the VCR/ (New York: W. W. Norton, 1987), 270-71.

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Err … this is supposed to be Kara Thrace …

Not EVEN close, I know, but I like the colors anyway – they sort of match this blog’s colors. I have this box of pastels and a 99¢ sketchpad left over from an exercise (but that’s another story).

Christmas Eve, I came across the supplies which were resting under a stack of books and mags I plan to sell some time. I noticed them when I added this month’s Wired to the stack, so thought I’d see what would come of playing around with these materials in the Silent Night, I made drew sketch from a small Katee Sackhoff-as-Starbuck publicity shot alongside a minor rant by a Wired staffer that BSG will not be back until April. Happy Holidays anyway, skiffy lovers!
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Better than average editing

Youtube has no shortage of old movie clips mashed with Queen’s “We Will Rock You”, but this one really works, the ape make-up makes it easy to match up the lyrics. I especially like the single shot of Dr. Zaius — a grumpy old orangutan perturbed by all the rockin’.

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Jane Espenson on a certain species of SF & Fantasy, and me in major bitch-mode

Jane Espenson is one of a (far too small) number of good television writers that is actually known by name to (at least a portion) of her audience. She’s written for BS:G, various Joss Whedon enterprises and my favorite fantasy series of all time: The Gilmore Girls.

She’s got a brief article on the New Republic website about “the secret of selling Sci-Fi.”

It strikes me (sorry to say) that this article is dead accurate.

Well, in truth, I found one overreaching statement …

The people who don’t like Harry Potter seem to be the ones who haven’t tried it yet.”

… which I refute by my own experience. I tried it (two whole books). I don’t begrudge anyone their Harry Potter, and if J.K. Rowling ordered me to fly to her estate on my own dime and clean her toilets for the rest of my life I would obey, so great is the debt that any writer today owes her for turning a generation on to the pleasures of reading in this (supposedly) post-literate, ADD age.

I also will add what should go without saying, but since the internet is an ugly, ugly place, can’t. As the great art-forger Elmir (sp?) says in Orson Welles’ F for Fake (I paraphrase): “There should never exist in the world this situation where one person can say what is good and what is bad. Never. Not ever. No.”

But my preference is (most of the time) for another kind of story.

That is why I say I’m sorry Espenson’s assessment of how to write wildly popular entertainment is so very correct. The modern templates are George Lucas’ Campbellian (errr, Joseph Campbellian, that is) Star Wars trilogy squared, and LOTR. If you read more than four books a year (or even four in a lifetime) you most likely can recreate the template yourself: boy (usually a boy) born in obscurity, full of questioning and mysterious longing, discovers he has a special destiny. Along the way, he doesn’t get the girl. The other guy usually does. But the Boy is too busy for love anyway. He is the one. Excuse me. The ONE. Espenson names contemporary examples, the big three: Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, Buffy Summers. She overlooks (maybe another example is redundant) the other ONE, the Neo, the Keanu, from the excreable Matrix movies. Anyway, this ur-story, as J.E. reminds us, appeals to a vastly wider section of the story-hungry than do, say, the ratings challenged series Firefly, BSG, and (though she doesn’t mention it) Farscape.

Farscape, like Firefly is right up my street. People fuck. They break up. They get back together. (They are even attracted to two different people at once! Possibly for the first time in televised SF.) They get richer. They get poor. They are friends. Then they don’t speak for a year. They disappoint one another. They keep secrets. They can’t keep secrets.

Execution matters too of course. I like Buffy because Whedon’s universe is so lively. He upends the old archetypes with unexpected humor and a sense of awareness that like The Worm Ouroboros, the story goes on and on. In an second (?) season episode of Angel, the titular Vampire-with-a-Soul is given a warning that the apocalypse in near. He battles through many layers of hell. Reaching the depths at last, he steps out of an elevator to battle the ultimate evil, only to find himself back on the Santa Monica Pier, crowded with families and young couples walking in the cool evening air, enjoying ice cream while intermingling with (and hardly seeing) L.A.’s homeless. “What happened to the Apocalypse?” Angel asks. “The apocalypse?” responds a Wulfram & Hart senior associate. “Oh yes, I think we did have one scheduled for today.” And then he instructs Angel to just take a good look at the world around him if he wants to find heaven and hell.

Or the late season BtVS episode where Buffy is found locked in a mental institution, her mother apparently alive, her father not absent (for the only time in the series). Is she under a demon’s spell — or, as her doctor insists, has she retreated into a fantasy world of her own? One where she is the Chosen One. Where, in contest after contest the stakes are raised, where she battles stronger and stronger demons each week — even gods. Whedon is smart, and smart enough to believe other people might actually be smart too, so just juice the pump and get out of the way. I’m beginning to see that that is an all too rare quality in a story teller. The willingness to trust the audience, to refuse to condescend, rare in creators, is even rarer in gatekeepers: editors, agents, producers, etc.

So that’s my Buffy Hero-with-a-Thousand-Faces defense. And here’s my Battlestar:Galactica complaint. That show is simply not good. The first season was a bit stronger I felt, but then someone over there decided that they were in possession of something SPECIAL and something IMPORTANT. BS:G is all too often Star Trek with better art direction. Oh, Adama might order Starbuck to kill the captain of the Excelsior Pegasus for the good of the fleet, but never fear, he will rescind the order, he’s the good guy. You can ALWAYS trust your captain, soldier. The writers will then contrive to eliminate said captain in battle. This happens all too frequently, writes jumping in to resolve a conflict they couldn’t bear to sacrifice their characters to resolve. And reset. Roslyn will always be president again, because that is what it says in the show bible. Cancer goes away, politicians rig elections, but then think better of it and give back the stolen votes. I’m sure that happens all the time. Or never once in the history of elections. And characters aren’t really consistent, but blur to justify the plot points of the week. Remember when Roslyn needed Starbuck to return to Caprica for the magic (or not) Arrow of Apollo? She appealed to Starbuck’s deep religous faith. The deep religous faith that is never demonstrated in any episode before or since. Remember how Lee just decided he wanted to die and one point? And then he — I guess — undecided. And remember how the Six model snapped a baby’s neck on Caprica in the pilot episode. She’s a lot nicer now. Snapped a baby’s neck. Now if Dr. House snapped a baby’s neck how many episodes would it take before we could smile at his curmudgeonly antics again? Six’s spine also glowed during sex in the pilot episode which means that there was never a need for half a dozen episodes devoted to Baltar NOT inventing a Cylon detector device. One already exists. Or maybe the twelve colonies hadn’t discovered doggie-style. There’s the whole historically-impossible borrowing of the Greek pantheon (which got switched to the Roman Pantheon at least as far as Zeus becoming Jupiter mid-last season — though not on the closed-captioning, I’m told). That might be explained with the introduction a of really cheesy MOR rock cover of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” which is supposed to be something in the zeitgeist, something that Dylan picked up from the MUSE in our world, and some other songwriter tapped into on Caprica. Well it strikes me as a bunch of new age bullshit, and mostly made up as they have gone along. Also, in SF we really need the following rule: no more than one (and most of the time not even one) of the characters should live in another character’s head, seen by and spoken to by him or her. These may be all little things, but it is by the thousand little things that a story lives or dies. This one has lost me. And they killed Starbuck, changing her character and stealing her strength, and her dignity and her spirit in order to work that into the story, then they brought her back as a spirit guide. It is on to The Bionic Woman for me.

As I say, it’s mostly the non-Hero’s non-journey of no Plan with a capital Pee for me. I like to read working-stiff fantasy. You can keep your Frodos, your Bilbos: significant Hobbits of Destiny. Give me Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser any day and every day of the week: a couple of guys trying to make a dishonest buck, and hoping to avoid getting turned into turtles by the local Wizard-King. Sure, Fritz Leiber is known only to approximately one one-millionth of Tolkien or Lucas fans: but that is their loss, the loss of the millions, the multitudes loss. Not mine.

I know there is a theory the all stories are versions of the Hero’s Journey, but I don’t subscribe to it. It’s too reductive for my purposes. It’s like saying that all women are one woman, which is another thing people say. It has a symmetry easily mistaken for profundity, but it’s just noise. Like those SF con panels where the definition of science fiction is discussed endlessly. One panel eventually settles on the idea that only Hal Clement is true SF, while the panel across the hall discovers that everything ever written by anyone is SF.

I’d pray from Espenson to come back from the Darkside: to not write “The Chosen One” across the top of her notebook before a brainstorming session, but I can’t, because I know a secret. Not the Oprah Secret, there is no THE secret (which is part of the secret). A secret that Fritz Leiber taught me, and Chandler, and Graham Greene, and Shakespeare, Patricia Highsmith, Ruth Rendell, John D. MacDonald, Malamud, and Chekov, Borges, Tolstoy, even Wodehouse, David Milch and Amy Sherman Palladino, and a hundred other names (the varying critical and commercial reputations of these individuals being entirely irrelevant, we know). Namely, that, for story-telling purposes, it’s mostly just people.

Furthermore, no helpful mountain ranges delineate The Light from The Dark, there is no Dark side of the map, in fact there is no accurate map, and no wise old guide exists to dole out cryptic prophecy at the act break. What exists is us, just us, bumping into one another in interesting ways.

Now I will finish with my own overreaching statement: even when you were six, Darth Vader was not really scary. Not the least little bit.

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Update: I’ve decided to close comments now, because of all that spam this post has attracted!

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Monday April 23rd is In’t’l Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day

Jo Walton has come up with an excellent plan in reaction to SFWA office-holder Dr. Hendrix’s self-described “rant” over what he calls webscabs — which under his sweep includes many many professional writers. In short, Walton is inviting members of SFWA and others to participate in IPSTP Day by giving away “professional quality work” online in order to “celebrate our technopeasanthood.” [via Scalzi.]

I will post a new SF story, “Think of A Pink Ship,” under a Creative Commons License of some sort, right here, on Monday April, 23rd.

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Pogue’s faq

Link: Pogue’s Posts – Technology – New York Times Blog.

Q: Are you a Macintosh fanboy?

A: Not exactly; what I really am is an elegance fanboy. I love products whose designers have obviously lain awake nights worrying about elegance, simplicity, and beauty.
That group tends to include Palm, Sonos, TiVo, Research in Motion (of BlackBerry fame), Google usually, and, yes, often enough, Apple.

Believe it or not, even Microsoft seems to have been bit by the beauty bug, if the pre-release versions of Windows Vista are any indication.