pop culture

Bob Dylan’s Nobel Speech

Posted in art, pop culture, writers-poetry on June 10th, 2017 by Ira Altschiller – Comments Off on Bob Dylan’s Nobel Speech

There’s been discussion about the Nobel Prize being given to Bob Dylan as not being appropriate. That Dylan does not achieve the heights of great writers and poets. It’s a conservative argument about standards. I don’t reject those arguments as conserving what is great from the past separates us from animals. But having standards doesn’t mean rejecting anything new out of hand.

Dylan himself questions the validity of his receiving the award. This more than anything, more even than his humility in laying out so many others as influential in his development, giving them credit at the table, shows the man’s character and seriousness. It is said, “We all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us.”

It is true that Dylan grew out of the pop/folk culture. But he aspired, was influenced by the fine arts; he absorbed some of the lessons of the spectacular achievements of the west.

He mentions as strong influences Moby Dick, John Donne, All Quiet on the Western Front, Homer – his influences are numerous, various and unassailable. There is something modest and touchingly forthright about his references to all those to whom he feels in debt. 

But Dylan doesn’t just refer to high art, but to pop culture as well, because at this period, pop culture has such a huge impact on people as they develop. Buddy Holly, Robert Johnson (the great blues singer), New Lost City Ramblers, Leadbelly.

Dylan says “ I wanted to know all about it and play that kind of music. I still had a feeling for music I’d grown up with, but for right now, I forgot about it…They were different than the radio songs I’d been listening to all along. They were more vibrant and truthful to life. With radio songs, a performer might get a hit with a roll of the dice or a fall of the cards, but that didn’t matter in the folk world.”

Dylan internalized it. “You sing it in the ragtime blues, work songs, Georgia sea chanties, Appalachian ballads and cowboy songs. You hear all the finer points and you learn the details.”

Some have questioned whether the obscurity of some of Dylan’s lyric references are meaningless patter. They quote Dylan as saying that, “I don’t know what they [the lyrics] mean.” Of course, Nobel laureate Milosz said the same thing. People would come to Milosz and ask what his poems meant and he would say that is not how it works. That he did not know what they meant. You aren’t illustrating ideas. You are opening a portal of feeling and spirit.

We may not really understand why Van Gogh painted with such crude haste, such un-nuanced explosive images. But the reason Van Gogh persists is that anyone looking at his images without prejudice can see the intensity of feeling, the spirit in struggle. That isn’t a meaning, it is a direct expression sensed from one person to another. It is the bridge between souls which art enables.

Silicon Valley, Mike Judge, YouTube

Posted in pop culture on April 7th, 2014 by admin – Comments Off on Silicon Valley, Mike Judge, YouTube

Now that it’s in production you wonder why this show wasn’t created before.

Silicon Valley, a Mike Judge HBO production, is on YouTube, at least for now. This show is very funny.

It’s not exactly a Buñuel / Dali L’Age d’or collaboration, a sophisticated satire on bourgeois values, but Silicon Valley strikes a sweet spot, hitting the newly tech-rich and their hangers on, their uneven emotional and intellectual development, their guild language, New Age philosophy, and the comic personality cults surrounding the young ‘n wealthy.

Boy, has this period ached for satire. Satire almost doesn’t exist, or if it does, it is only comfortable with trendy, predictable, acceptable targets – Sarah Palin or Republicans or the Tea Party – rather than the comical clueless vitiating the power centers of contemporary society.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona, The Later Woody Allen

Posted in pop culture on April 6th, 2014 by Ira Altschiller – Comments Off on Vicky Cristina Barcelona, The Later Woody Allen

Vicky Cristina Barcelona is one of those Woody Allen movies that reminds you that the man does not know who he is or who he wants to be. The whole movie has a derivative feel – derivative of Allen’s earlier movies. Even the art used in Vicky Cristina Barcelona by Agustí Puig seemed derivative of Antoni Tàpies – although the artist says his greatest influence is Picasso? Maybe Picasso by way of the Abstract Expressionists. Allen’s trademark wit, which seemed to bubble out of his early movies, has been replaced by affectation; this from a movie maker who was so satisfyingly cutting in his treatment of artificiality.

From Vicky Cristina Barcelona you get the idea Allen wants to be a European, making sophisticated Jean Renoir sex romps, but to which, jarringly, Allen includes an awful lot of My Dinner With Andre cocktail party self-analysis; thence resolving to a false melancholic ending, hoping to evoke in the audience, “yeah, that’s life – it sorta sucks”. The movies Allen has made recently in this vein are actually sad, but not in the way Allen intends.

The settings in Spain are all gorgeous. The movie is like a Spanish travelogue advertisement. Setting makes a big difference, and this backdrop aids the movie enormously. It was one of Allen’s most financially successful movies. Despite the criticisms, I watched the whole thing, and, given the alternatives, it was a pleasant if disappointing excursion.

The cast was very good, Allen’s directorial skills have sharpened; the individual lines, as might be expected, are often well wrought, but it doesn’t add up. Not surprisingly, the movie won tons of awards.

Jimmy and Billy Doo-wop

Posted in pop culture on March 21st, 2014 by Ira Altschiller – Comments Off on Jimmy and Billy Doo-wop

Billy Joel and Jimmy Fallon performed a doo-wop version of The Lion Sleeps Tonight that had me smiling through the four minute rendition.

I haven’t been watching Fallon, he is an acquired taste I suppose, but now I’m a fan.

[via the Twitter feed of Apple’s Tim Cook]

Who Are You David Brooks?

Posted in politics, pop culture on February 13th, 2014 by Ira Altschiller – Comments Off on Who Are You David Brooks?

I used to like the interchanges between Brooks and Shields on NewsHour. Brooks brought a non-contentious manner that infected Mark Shields, an extreme ideologue. The discussions were civilized, mostly convivial. Brooks sometimes had insights, which stood out, given the usual yenta level commentary in the media. Brooks brought the class and Shields brought the sex. (That great comparative actually refers to Astaire / Rogers, but it really doesn’t work with the two tired fellows, even as amusement, does it.)

Brooks changed into….I actually don’t know what he is now. Even when Brooks has an observation that has some weight or edge it is delivered with all the life force of Harry Reid. Brooks really doesn’t care. Brooks thinks academic guild talk is the same thing as being smart. He thinks the oligarchy is a meritocracy. I simply stopped listening.

This is Brooks meditating on politics:

…politics is different from academia. In academia, you use words to persuade or discover; in politics, you use words to establish a connection. Academia is a cerebral enterprise, but politics is a physical enterprise, a charismatic form of athletics in which you touch people to show you care.

Well, if so, what? A “charismatic form of athletics?” Almost none of those connections, if they mean anything, is true. Academia uses words to persuade or discover? More, academia conveys, right now, ideology shorn of insight or depth or balance. Much of academia infuses resentment politics and destroys critical thinking.

I wondered if Brooks was subject to the same syndrome he observed in those who run for the presidency and lose: they change, said Brooks about such fauna. He meant they declined and became extreme neurotics. Al Gore was a particular target of this observation.

A similar fate has befallen Brooks, who didn’t lose the presidency but has become fat and happy in the fields of the oligarchy. Brooks’ major insights seem to be, “He’s humble, he’s modest, I’m optimistic…” To which Judy Woodruff would respond, “So, is this good for Obama. This is good for Obama, right? Okay, let’s go on…”

Teller’s Friend Is Vermeer

Posted in art, ideas, pop culture on January 30th, 2014 by Ira Altschiller – Comments Off on Teller’s Friend Is Vermeer

Teller of Penn and Teller was on Tavis Smiley promoting his movie about a geek trying to replicate Vermeer. Teller does not come across well. He doesn’t understand art (his parents were “artists”?!), nor the context of Vermeer’s talent, nor the obsessive self-absorption of their friend who tried to “discover” Vermeer’s talent in technology. Their friend has too much time on his hands.

Vermeer came out of a context of artists with great talent who honed those talents over years. Vermeer’s sensibility, where light became a subject and the world as pearl metaphor realized, was inspired. The simplified presentation in Vermeer’s work is borne of the taste and talent of his age. Like Bach, Vermeer perfected the trends of his age. Vermeer’s work was done by his spirit and mind, not his hand and technology. To Teller Vermeer’s work “looks like a photograph”. But in reality, the many simplifications and decisions made in Vermeer’s imagery has nothing to do with the detailed approximations of reality (as perceived by the mind) in photography.

If Teller, or his friend, really think something has been discovered that leads to creating a Vermeer, well, let’s see them do it. Crude approximations of Vermeer’s genius, derived from Vermeer’s sensibility, yet claiming equivalence, could only exist in a self-absorbed pop culture. I suppose this means if Tavis steps on a basketball court, then gosh, he’s Michael Jordan. We’re all just folks. Anyone could do it. You just have to build a machine to be Vermeer, or play a lot of basketball to be Michael Jordan.

Its been theorized for years that Vermeer used a camera obscura, a device which replicates a room size camera. Of course, Degas used photos. And Sargent was influenced by them. Zorn as well. No doubt The Diner had its origin in Hopper’s exposure to photos. Even the dramatic compositions of  Eisner’s seminal comic, The Spirit, were influenced by Hitchcock-like angle shots.

The goofball leap of saying artists of old were aware and influenced by the technologies of their time, so therefore their work could have been done by anyone, requires a leap of narcissism which would be laughable in a more mature age.

Inadvertently, Smiley said it all, summarizing the impulse: “If Vermeer was a genius then that depresses me because I can’t do that”. So Teller, and a condescending, politically driven agenda of, “we are all just folks,” needs to diminish achievement to make themselves feel better. Yeah, Vermeer didn’t earn it. “Genius is toxic”, and gosh, we’re good enough and smart enough and…

Self-aggrandizing mediocrity masquerading as egalitarianism.

Pride and Prejudice: Feh!

Posted in pop culture, writers-poetry on January 28th, 2014 by Ira Altschiller – Comments Off on Pride and Prejudice: Feh!

[via Poisoned Pens: Literary Invective from Amis to Zola and mentalfloss.com]

The Downton Abbey of its time, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, has evoked a good bit of enmity for its precious lives decorously parsed:

DH Lawrence, “In the old England, the curious blood-connection held the classes together. The squires might be arrogant, violent, bullying and unjust, yet in some ways, they were at one with the people, part of the same blood-stream. We feel it in Defoe or Fielding. And then, in the mean Jane Austen, it is gone. Already this old maid typifies ‘personality’ instead of character, the sharp knowing in apartness instead of togetherness, and she is, to my feeling, English in the bad, mean snobbish sense of the word, just as Fielding is English in the good generous sense.”

In our age you could substitute celebrity for personality. The media is a celebrity manufacturing machine, divisive in its oligarchic enterprise. It’s not much interested in character either.

Mark Twain, “Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin bone!”

Lee Child: A Wanted Man: Jack Reacher

Posted in pop culture, writers-poetry on December 20th, 2013 by Ira Altschiller – Comments Off on Lee Child: A Wanted Man: Jack Reacher

Just finished A Wanted Man, another in Lee Child’s enjoyable series of Jack Reacher novels. I started reading interviews with Child. One of the many great things about the internet – you can easily explore the context and background of things which interest you. (I know, this is a revelation.) Child has a helpful site, listing interviews, if you are so inclined.

Child worked in TV, was summarily fired, which seems to still simmer as a resentment, and began writing at 40. A fantastic success, his novels are #1 bestsellers. He tells a good story. Child hated the folks in TV, when he was a producer, but loves the publishing folks. He doesn’t realize he was just a media bureaucrat and treated as such in TV, but now he is a big money producer in publishing. He should ask “mid-list” writers what they think of publishers. Might not be that different from his attitude towards TV. It’s a corporate thing, not located in venue – generate bucks and they love you and treat you well.

It is the Reacher character which carries the books forward. Reacher is a Clint Eastwood force of nature. Strong, big, a man of few words, given to appropriate action (or, what the hey, inappropriate action), he’ll do anything necessary; Reacher is a martial craftsman, a technician of violence. He is the good guy we want to right the wrongs. Someone who manages to stay on the outside, dipping in to fix what needs fixin’. He makes reality seem simple, without ambiguity, and subject to clear victory. The audience becomes a youngster, trusting all powerful daddy will make things right.

There was disappointment from the fans when Tom Cruise was cast, who isn’t 6 foot 5 and 250 pounds, in a Reacher movie. Child was sanguine about the choice. I think he should be. Cruise is a fine action movie performer. Cruise’s eager sincerity might be a bit to the edge of Reacher’s laid back, hair trigger persona. But it should work fine.

Wikipedia says that A Wanted Man was interpreted as a liberal criticism of the CIA; although Child is a fan of the FBI. The CIA is an easy target – it’s made some ghastly mistakes. But it is there to protect a country that has many trying to bring it down, hurt its citizens, cause havoc. Because that is what psychopaths do. We just don’t hear about it, about what the president must hear daily. Apparently Child, like everyone else, is not aware of the successes of the CIA, which have to be many, done at great risk, but are not published, as a default of their existence. A successful operation is one of which you never hear. The CIA is an easy target for a pop novelist.

Nobel For Economics: Herd Mind

Posted in economy, ideas, pop culture on December 13th, 2013 by Ira Altschiller – Comments Off on Nobel For Economics: Herd Mind

The winner of the Nobel for economics explained his approach in an interview on PBS. He feels data indicates that the markets are driven by emotion, not reason. He noted it was odd that the other winners of the same prize had contradictory philosophies.

It’s also odd that emotion drives action is a revelation. Sometimes it seems academia is an extension of the pop culture, saying the obvious, but using academic guild talk.

The realization that the markets are driven by emotion is something of which we are all aware. The idea has been sanctified now by a prize. But it has seemed to me lately that this insight into reality, that human beings are principally driven by emotion, that they find reasons afterward, has become more and more obvious.

Benjamin Franklin: “The nice thing about being a reasonable creature is that you can find a reason for anything you want to do”.

It has always been assumed the arts are driven by emotion, but the art world to a large extent affects intellect now. It’s conceptual, you know. Certainly from the political to the scientific to the pop culture, it’s all herd mind.

Tocqueville noted this tendency toward consensus in America. Maybe for the center to hold in so diverse a country it’s better if everyone keeps their own counsel and just agrees with…whatever. But if you have the right to have an opinion, why not express it? You know: a right unused is a right that can evaporate.

Aspiring to being logical, intellectual creatures, is more a pipe dream now, with the internet driving the herd more quickly and packing it more tightly, more irrationally, more extremely. What really drives the world now is psychology and the chaos system of group interaction; it’s Id all the time, everytime.

Hasn’t it always been that way though? cf. Shakespeare.

Twixt @Netflix

Posted in pop culture on November 11th, 2013 by Ira Altschiller – Comments Off on Twixt @Netflix

The movie Twixt, now @Netflix, got terrible reviews but is very good. Twixt is beautifully mounted aestheticized horror. Coppola’s previous movies, like Rumblefish and The Outsiders, are predecessors of Coppola’s approach in Twixt. Dream/reality dualities fit well with the horror genre. Surrealism usually has a horrific edge.

Coppola clearly cares about the details of his movies – the performers clearly had fun. Bruce Dern in particular gave a very funny turn to his character, the sheriff.

Coppola didn’t want to revolutionize a genre but simply to play with it. The movie is free of the I’m-too-smart-for-this-venue attitude one sees in movies often labeled “ironic”. Irony has become, in its long life in the contemporary arts, a tired adolescent sarcasm, where originally it was meant as a distancing from the horror of everyday life.

Twixt is actually a beautiful movie.

Ricky Gervais As Derek (Netflix)

Posted in pop culture on September 17th, 2013 by Ira Altschiller – Comments Off on Ricky Gervais As Derek (Netflix)

Ricky Gervais has built up so much good will from his irreverent comedy that his appearance on Charlie Rose promoting “Derek” (Netflix) evoked real interest.

The premise of a mentally challenged “kind” man caretaking old people is rife with pitfalls, all of which Gervais seems to have fallen into. Its condescending mugging is the worst sort of caricature. The stereotype of the old would be called bigotry if any other group were so targeted. Gervais needs to meet Freeman Dyson to get a sense of the spectrum of what “old” might mean — someone a mite smarter and more alive, engaged and deeply contrarian than the Ricky.

Maybe Gervais thinks all the old are marginalized, but actually, they are the ones running the country — depending on the cut-off for “old”, which itself is a moving target. Age means about as much as race or gender or religion in judging other people.

Although Gervais says his comedy usually has a veil of irony, in “Derek,” he thinks it is just loving. If loving means treacly. Gervais loves himself for feeling supercilious “sympathy”. Where have we seen this before.

Comedy is cruelty. It’s a release. That’s its premise and its expression. We laugh at, not with. So really talented performers like Gervais devise personas that can allow the audience to laugh at. Steve Martin and Martin Short have both said they developed characters as youngsters, performing for their friends, which later became part of their performance. Andy Kaufman said the same thing.

Gervais says that his Derek character had long been part of his pantheon of comedic personas. On a private, therapeutic level, Derek may be reassuring to Gervais as a self-affirmation. But in a public arena, it just makes you uncomfortable.