If I could time travel I’d go back to the moment where presumably Rick Rubin, in the name of Kanye’s fucked up idea of minimalism, decided to ‘reduce’ the screams in “Black Skinhead” just so I could stop that shit.
The “Skinhead” premiered at SNL is fitted out with loads of blown-out details: the way Kanye drives his vocal into the red, kissing the mic to explode his voice; those wide-eyed yelps that sound like his trademark ‘HANH!?’ transmuted by Munch (1:28 is a particularly good one); the way the bridge, after that kettle-boil chorus, spikes those blunt end rhymes - Down! Now! Now! Down! jabbing like Batman fight scene intertitles - with a desolate reverb that sounds like the aural equivalent of Kurtz’ thousand-yard stare. It’s messy, desperate and exciting to listen to.
On the Yeezus version that’s all gone, as if a decision was made to go for a cleaner vocal. In the bridge that vocal gets compartmentalised, produced. Those vital exclamation marks get turned into take-or-leave ad-libs, little processed samples; Rap Genius scans them in parentheses, which sums up the castrating effect pretty well. Listening to it now doesn’t conjure up the same existential nightmare of black skin, white masks, and melting clocks spread across empty deserts. Instead I see him cracking jokes between takes. I see Rubin sitting behind him looking genial, beatific like a barefooted Buddah in the sunshine at Shangri-La. It sounds like something that might’ve been recorded on the same day as Kim’s baby shower. I see a Louis V changing bag and cuddly toy wrapped up in the corner of the studio.
When my wife and I were first dating, we’d talk on the phone constantly, the way that new lovers often do. She lived on the south side of Chicago and I was up on the north side and I kept crazy hours at work, and so we’d connect by phone when we couldn’t connect in person. And those conversations would range the way those conversations always do: hopes, dreams, work, laundry.
I was working one of those ridiculous long nights we often had during production of Punk Planet, the magazine I ran back then, and I was idly chatting with my girlfriend on the phone about a story we were working on about Iraq. This was back probably in 1999, when the crippling sanctions on Iraq since the first Iraq war had mostly been forgotten and we were one of the few news organizations (if you could even call us that) still trying to keep that story alive. This was thanks mainly to the work of a single guy, Jeff Guntzel, who would send us dispatches from the country when he’d travel there with the activist group he was a part of. He’d also occasionally call us from a business center in Baghdad—his voice a raspy whisper through the amount of static and noise on the line.
I was working on the layouts for one of Jeff’s stories and was excited to tell this girl I was trying to impress more about it. But, as those young love conversations do, we moved off-topic pretty quickly, jumping from one topic to the next. I don’t remember much about those conversations now, but I still remember the distinct click the phone made when we switched from talking about the Iraq story to discussing her misadventures at the local laundromat earlier that evening.
That click became a regular occurrence on our office line—popping up as you’d move towards or away from more politically charged topics—and was followed not long after by intractable problems with our office phone line. Occasionally you’d pick up the phone and, instead of a dial tone, you’d get the digital static of a modem; other times you’d pick up and there’d be a few moments of silence followed by a click and a dial tone. Mid-conversation you’d sometimes find your voice beginning to echo, then snap back into normality. And of course, sometimes the phone would stop working entirely, and a bewildered customer service representative would mutter words about things being “flagged” before putting me on hold. The line would usually start working quickly after those service calls.
Finally, after an extended period of bad dial-tones and calls getting cut off, the line just entirely went dead. A particularly dogged technician came to the office. He spent time in our space, time in his truck, time up on a pole. If I remember right, he even drove to one of the main switches near us. Finally he came back, looking completely bewildered and said, “I really don’t know what to tell you. It’s almost as if your line goes somewhere else before it comes to us.”
This was before September 11. This was before the PATRIOT Act. This was before Bush was elected and Obama after him. This was, obviously, almost a decade and a half before this week’s revelations of governmental phone metadata collection and the NSA’s PRISM project. We were a tiny magazine—at the time, our readership probably hovered somewhere around 10,000. And yet there was this technician telling me what I’d already deeply suspected: Our line was going somewhere else.
I wish I could say I was outraged by the NSA PRISM project, by the collection of cellphone metadata, by any of it. I am disturbed by all of it, disappointed for sure, but outrage would imply that my worldview was shattered. But the world I’ve lived in for a long time is the world we’ve all been plunged into with the revelations this week. My worldview that things might be different than they are went away a long time ago, broken by the clicks that came up through the line as two young lovers shared their secrets over the phone.
'[groans]' always makes me laugh a lot.
Like The Godfather, Part II — part of a series which might or might not have inspired Arrested Development in the first place, if this excellent video essay is to be believed – season four of AD manages to be true to the spirit of the original while tinkering with its structure, rhythm, and themes. It’s very different from yet artistically equal to the show’s first three seasons — not in spite of all the production limitations placed on it by the actors’ scheduling commitments and paycheck requirements, but because Hurwitz & Co. embraced those very same limitations, and let form follow function. In his wonderful piece about season four, Time’s James Poniewozik writes that when Hurwitz worked for Fox, he “… made genius of necessity. Restrained by content standards, he wrote a kind of poetry of innuendo.” I think he’s making genius of necessity here, too, but it’s a different sort of necessity, and it has resulted in a different sort of poetry — not one of innuendo, but clever nonetheless, and possessed of much darker shadings than he could show us in the first few seasons.
Was beginning to drift toward the ‘really bad' conclusion on S4's set-up after starting to watch AD from the top - it’s so short and zippy and economical! - but this is a very good, unapologetic and necessary argument for the opposite. To the extent that it makes me think Hurtwitz would’ve done it this way, the made-for-Netflix way, even if it wasn’t for the schedule commitment limitations.
De Rossi, who has been very honest about her struggles with eating disorders early in her career, now must deal with a new kind of pressure from critics and audiences: staying youthful and beautiful while also “aging gracefully.” That her appearance has been cited as a reason why the fourth season of Arrested Development isn’t as good as the previous three, suggesting her face is so distracting that it’s impossible for anyone to laugh at Mitch Hurwitz’s jokes, is more disheartening that the notion that she’s succumbed to pressure and had any sort of plastic surgery.
I’ll fully admit to being distracted by de Rossi’s face at first and during my first viewing of AD. I tried to shrug off the scrutiny I gave it by saying that everyone else had changed less, that she was in a sweet spot, age-wise, where the time gradient just would have the most effect, etc. It rather pains me to admit that I spent more than a few minutes trying to figure out how exactly her face had changed, though I 1) never went so far as compare with the aid of google image search or, 2) published any thoughts in any public form including a newspaper, facebook, or cuneiform tablet.
I think the best of us can fail, and I’m definitely not the best of us. The other day, I asked Jesse Thorn on Twitter why Nellie McKay was the only performer at his upcoming music festival whom he described as “beautiful”. The line-up, he replied on his podcast the next week, included such estimable performers as John Roderick and John Darnielle, but McKay just was the only beautiful person performing. Fair enough, I suppose.
The — if this is what it is — de Rossi controversy just again goes to show the (obvious obvious) truth that categorical thinking shapes the empirical stuff of observation to an extent that far surpasses our ability to empirically validate categorical observations. By which I mean that the most ‘honest’ or ‘well intentioned’ observations are still conditioned by an even greater rule, which you may not have signed off on or explicitly attempted to validate. And that, further, making supposedly honest observations tend to reinforce the categoricals behind them, making them even more a part of the way society (or stuff) ‘just seems to be’.
It’s all connected.
I haven’t got much to say explicitly about the show’s content. You’ve heard all about it on twitter: It’s OK/gets better after episode four/GOB’s episodes are best! etc But the form of the show is something that seems quite interesting to me after my first watch, so I’m just gonna share some notes. I scribbled most of this down on post-its or blurted it out in tweets while watching it straight from launch after 3 hours sleep, so they’re provisional to the say the least but maybe interesting.
It’s pretty much spoiler-free talk about how the show works rather than what it is, but I’ll stick it after the jump for slowcoaches.
Canon Fodder: Denouncing The Classics — The New Yorker
So if Eliot is imperialist and Sainte-Beuve is aristocratic, we need some idea of what makes a classic in a democracy. For that, we could do worse than to turn to Sainte-Beuve’s contemporary Alexis de Tocqueville, who has always seemed to have the new world’s number. In “Democracy in America,” de Tocqueville observed that Americans esteemed the arts and sciences more for their practical applications than for their abstract value—hence the popularity of newspapers, religious treatises, and self-help books. Reading itself was not done for the purposes of something as perversely theoretical as enlarging one’s soul; it needed to have some tangible function in the here and now: “Democratic nations may amuse themselves for a while with considering the productions of nature; but they are excited in reality only by a survey of themselves.”
A look through the Classics section of bookstores—in America or any of the Western democracies—bears out de Tocqueville’s instincts. The offerings are wide-ranging, tilting toward diversity and inclusion. But, more to the point, artistic brilliance is no longer the most important determining factor. What makes a classic today is cultural significance. Authors are anointed not because they are great (although many of them are) but because they are important.
In other words, the current criteria for classics are more a matter of sociology than of aesthetics. That’s why prose-toilers like George Orwell and Aldous Huxley are securely fixed in the canon while masters such as Frank O’Connor and Eudora Welty could easily be left out. “1984” and “Brave New World” are embedded in the weave of language and history, but what does Welty have going for her apart from stylistic perfection? Henry Miller survives—and will continue to survive—because the country once found him shocking enough to censor. (Likewise, D. H. Lawrence might very well be a footnote if not for “Lady Chatterley’s Lover.”) There’s better prose in the average issue of Consumer Reports than in most Upton Sinclair novels, but “The Jungle” triggered actual legislative reform and will therefore last as long as the United States does.
The chorus, which even casual fans may recognize because it is played continually on broadcasts of every Champions League game, is unforgettable: “The champions!” the choir sings, as if paying homage to some sort of heavenly body wearing shinguards.
There was a moment or two, however, in which “the champions” could have been something else. Britten said that other possibilities included “the greatest,” “the finest,” “the most exciting” and, in what he conceded was probably a stretch, “the most significant.”
“In retrospect, some of those would have been a disaster,” he said.
thirteen hundred words on the drag scene in the playstation game ‘final fantasy vii’, supplementary to the immediately precedent post, ‘this post consists of approximately one thousand words on the drag scene in the playstation video game ‘final fantasy vii ‘’
So in a sense FFVII is totally about drag. (In a thousand more relevant senses FFVII is about anything but. I know this. Bear with me.) The game presents Cloud as this sort of self-complete icon of masculine potential (via violence) that’s unfortunately common in the protagonist role in videogame design, in a way that’s only getting worse, still: look at the lead from Devil May Cry, or, worse, God of War. The game then goes out of its way for hours to reveal Cloud as manufacturing this role and this image as a conscious performance; and it starts setting up the narrative moves it will later use to do so in this flashback sequence where the player’s agency as motivator of the narrative is most totally disregarded. It’s surprisingly apt - like, fascinatingly fucking thematically coherent - that before this happens we set ourselves up by granting the player real agency in a scene whose specific idiom is drag: the scene seems peculiarly conscious of how deeply gender performance is embedded in the sort of aesthetics that are going to make the twelve-year-olds of 1997 find it horrendously cool.
The few thousand titles offer a strange mix of books ranging from the pulpy – Danielle Steele’s The Kiss (in Arabic) – to the classic – six copies of David Copperfield – to the canonical – seven copies of Homer’s Odyssey. The Steele book looks pretty well-thumbed but it’s doubtful if anyone has borrowed Homer to pass the time, although some detainees have been there 11 years – longer than it took Odysseus to return to Ithaca via a perilous journey that included more than a spot of waterboarding at the hands of Poseidon.
A glimpse into Guantánamo Bay’s library — Guardian
Nina Martyris striking just the right tone in a piece that could’ve easily ended up reading as an amoral bit of fluff about an extrajudicial detention centre.
The tumblr that it’s about is quite an interesting scroll, though. Which probably says something about Tumblr image blogs being a form particularly good at being amoral.