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In the latest issue of Dissent one can find (in addition to this fine article) this one by Michael Tomasky on television:

Jean Baudrillard turns out to have had it wrong: I say television creates real communities. Friday Night Lights is no false simulacrum. It’s practically as real as real life—a show about high-school football that’s also about race and class and physical handicap and angst and sex (fraught sex between teenagers, mature sex between their parents) and why people fear things they don’t know. When I watch it, and know that millions of others are—and when I visit its Web site or read chat rooms devoted to the show—I become a part of something.

I think Tomasky’s broad point is correct, though I prefer my virtual television-inspired community at an ironic remove—I never visit a show’s website, but I will go to its Television Without Pity site.

But I want to address his narrower point, about the virtues of Friday Night Lights. He’s right about all the things the show is about, and that—with the exception of the crazy stupid homicide plot in season 2—it does a good job being about these things.

Tomasky might have gone a bit further, though. By being a good show about race, sex, disability, football, and fear of the unknown in a small Texas town, it’s also a powerful show about Texas Republicans as real people, and as good people.
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Roger Ebert writes about nourishment without eating and making out without having sex. (Briefly: the former he endures; the latter he adores.)

In the hands of a writer sick with ambition, these subjects might have become the occasion for a meditation on the virtues of discipline; for a writer poisoned by sentiment, they might have become treacly elegy. But Ebert seems these days just to be writing because he really wants to tell you how it is, and it’s very good writing indeed.1


1Which is not to say that I’ve never felt misled by his movie criticism. Not to go too deeply into things, but I would leap to play the dour Siskel to his thumbs up for Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull and Synecdoche, New York.

This video of the Muppets doing Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” seems to have been chased off YouTube by Warners, and I can’t embed it because, according to WordPress, the site hosts NSFW video (unlike YouTube? anyway). But you can see it if you click on that link. It’s a fine example of what made the Muppets great—there’s lots of serious weird in there with the sweet. This is especially true of the Muppet Show pilot (1, 2, 3), sometimes called “Sex and Violence.”

If only the Beatles had accepted Lorne Michaels’s offer.

Ari tells me I’m the last person to notice this, but what the heck: it’s totally obvious that Disney’s Robin Hood is a fable for the modern American right wing, isn’t it? I mean, the Merry Men, these guys who are traditionally English yeomen, are instead depicted and voiced as country music-lovin’, church-goin’ good ol’ boys who just want them some tax rebates. No, really, Andy Devine’s Friar Tuck actually says “tax rebates.”

Want to push this reading untenably further? Notice that Robin Hood and Little John shrug off the idea of running up enormous debt while cutting back taxes. Notice Little John stoutly defends what’s clearly, within the narrative, a foolhardy military adventure as a “great crusade.”

This has been another edition of too-close readings.

Kevin Drum writes,

But look: isn’t secular holiday music something we can all agree on? I mean, it sucks. It really does.

No, we can’t agree on that, you big square Grinch. Top of the list of things I would rather hear than a moany Muzak version of “Adeste Fidelis” is going to include the following, but most of all Mitch Benn’s “True Meaning of Christmas” and other songs, here.

Not to mention

Speaking of period dramas on television, John Rogers recently told me to watch Life on Mars. So I am. And so far it’s really quite good: early Hill Street Blues meets A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (or something).

Anyway, the thing I’m enjoying most is the show’s relentless critique of nostalgia. The main character, a contemporary British detective who finds himself transported back in time to Manchester in 1973, can’t seem to decide if he misses his friends or his cell phone more. When he’s at his most despairing, in the early episodes at least, he focuses on the dearth of creature comforts available to him. Even if you weren’t trained as an environmental historian, the emphasis on material conditions — a lack of central heat, spotty electricity, a studio apartment appointed with a twin bed — is pretty obvious. It’s a healthy reminder that the past, even the recent past — forget the damp and drafty castles of the Middle Ages — was pretty grim.

The point may be that our current age is wondrous, filled with innovations straight out of science fiction, especially in the realm of policing and medicine. Regardless, though I suspect historians are especially cranky about the emptiness of nostalgia, I think the show gets its view of the historical city just right: unlike Mad Men, which makes the early 60s built environment seem awfully appealing — that furniture! that color palette! — Life on Mars suggests that urban life used to suck.

Robert Halford made a compelling point yesterday, which I will rephrase as a question:  given that the absolute best thing that we can say about Roman Polanski’s conduct is that he raped a drugged and drunk thirteen-year-old and that grand jury testimony by design is one-sided, why should we even bother considering it?  What he’s done is bad enough and the jerk should be in prison, runs the argument, and what he might have done is speculative enough, that the prudent thing to do should be to focus on the agreed upon facts lest speculation become a distraction.

I disagree.  While we can’t know what the facts are with a high degree of certainty, I think that knowing what the grand jury testimony said, and that although the victim forgives him, she has not recanted her claims, is highly relevant to how we think about this case.  My reasoning, such as it is, after the jump:
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An xkcd for US historians. After all, why should the math and computer science folks have all the fun?

I look forward to an FDR installment.

While in Boston recently I happened into a pub offering actual English beer on tap—not just Boddingtons, which I’ve seen, but real good stuff like Old Speckled Hen and Fuller’s.

Are there such places elsewhere—possibly, even, in Northern California? It would save a lot of money and environmental damage in transcontinental-plus-transatlantic pub visits.

After reading this, Yglesias’s reviewlet of Funny People, as well as David Denby’s* recent rave, I wish that I could go see the film. Alas, I don’t go to the movies; I have kids. Anyway, it’s this line of Yglesias’s that caught my attention:

It also follows Knocked Up by offering a bracingly conservative vision of family life and obligation. It’s not a point of view I agree with, but it’s well articulated and done so in a way that’s divorced from the hypocrisy and petty moralizing of mainstream social conservatism.

What interests me here, beyond my own pathetic circumstances, is the question of how much more cultural traction conservatism would have if there were more legitimately talented conservative artists. I’m not saying there are none, mind you, but there really seem to be very few that can compete in an unfettered market of ideas, images, and songs with progressives/liberals/weirdos-like-Bjork.

But if there were, what would happen? Would the culture shift noticeably? I’m guessing it would. The easy test, perhaps, is to consider other nations where there are gifted conservative musicians, filmmakers, and authors, whose work captures the public’s fancy. Do such places exist?** And if so, what’s it like there?

* Who I still do not like. And whose opinions I still do not trust. And yet…

** Remember, I’m an Americanist. Which is to say, provincial. And poorly dressed.

. . . BURNING SHIT DOWN, which must be why neither the Los Angeles Times nor Twitter will load.  I admit that watching the social media site come into its own in response to an international crisis makes me wonder whether I ought to be a little less cynical of the political power of new media and the political engagement of the online generati—what?

You have got to be kidding me.

Somewhere in Tehran, an Iranian protester’s desperately punching his jerry-rigged mobile device trying to figure out what the fuck happened to Twitter.

So, now that nobody cares anymore, about that Star Trek movie.
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Those are Fathers and Sons from the Brooks Brothers Father’s Day ad. But don’t you see? Don’t you?

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I can only assume that the proposed return of the Eisenhower-era TV-fold is because of Mad Men. But what a strange way to shape fashion! Although it never would have occurred to Don Draper, it occurs to the ad-men for Brooks Brothers that maybe Americans want to look like the most alienated version of themselves.

That’s what David Simon of The Wire says on Radio 4’s Start the Week, talking about the need for New Deal programs for American inner cities, the impossibility of legalizing drugs, and—briefly—about Katrina’s effect on New Orleans.

This episode also has Antony Beevor on D-Day; it’s a good ’un.

Compiling a three-disc Britpop collection and calling it Common People? Practically de rigeur. Doing same without a single song by Oasis or Blur? Guaranteed to make the hipsters happily adopt swaggering aggro postures.

Yet, though they’ve omitted the two most predictable bands, they’ve picked the more predictable songs for the other bands. These are choices one can understand, though one does want to mention Divine Comedy‘s “National Express” and Stereophonics‘s “I Wouldn’t Believe Your Radio” as perfectly acceptable alternatives.

Still, lots of good stuff there. I guess anyone who cares to, can treat this as a Bérubé-esque Arbitrary but Fun Friday thread. The first person to mention C*ldpl*y is banned.

Also, the 1990s are history, aren’t they?

On his authority as Admiral of the battlestar Galactica, Edward James Olmos addresses a crowd in the United Nations chamber and gets them to condemn the use of the constructed term [edited] “race” with a shout of “So say we all!”

Apart from the, I believe, indisputable general awesomeness of this moment, I’m not sure there’s that much else to say. The poor UN official who set Olmos off by using the word “races”—in quotation marks—was pretty good-humored about it.

Links explaining the occasion here.

Dude overheard:

Brah, you watch Watchmen yet?… Brah, you got to. It’s like 300, but the story is all like deep and sh*t.

So much of this is so good, and so much of this is so bad that it’s good, and some is just bad. Spielberg, Lucas, and Lawrence Kasdan brainstorm Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Lucas: I think basically he’s very cynical about the whole thing. Maybe he thinks that most archeologists are just full of shit, and that somebody’s going to rip this stuff off anyway. Better that he rips it off and gets it to a museum where people can study it, and rip it off right.

Lucas: … there’s a couple native bearers, whatever, and sort of a couple of Mexican, well not Mexican… Let’s put it…

Spielberg: They’re like Mayan.

Lucas: They’re the third world local sleazos. Whether they’re Mexicans or Arabs or whatever.

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This sounds about right.

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