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This chapter is about the links between positive thinking and the motivation industry. We’re all familiar with the various inspirational posters and tchotchkes that remind us to have a good attitude, in the silliest cases smarmily so, and Ehrenreich shows how their sale is big business. This is one of the best chapters in the book. (Previous posts are here: ch. 1, ch. 2, ch. 3.) The previous chapter had ended with the biography of Norman Vincent Peale, a Christian minister who preached positive thinking to an audience of largely salesmen. Ehrenreich explains how the lonely, unstructured life of the salesman made its practitioners doubt themselves and put them in need of the kind of emotional support Peale’s books (and more recent inspirational tapes) provide. Their need to make potential customers like them made them easy targets for ideas about the importance of building up their own self-confidence. Here, we get a very quick, breezy narrative of the history of management thought in America: the MBA based in technocratic thought and informal best practices gave way to the tyranny of the stock market and the financial services industry. Several years after the events she describes, they don’t seem to have become part of our common knowledge, and this section is useful. Then the book becomes what one might have expected from the author of Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch. Ehrenreich describes, sympathetically, how the changes in the economy have suddenly made everyone’s lives as precarious as those of... Continue reading
Posted 2 days ago at Bianca Steele
A few years ago, I started blogging Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright-Sided, chapter by chapter, as I read the book (ch. 1, ch. 2). I got bogged down writing at chapter three, but prompted by her new book, Living with a Wild God—Bright-Sided is decidedly atheistic, though sympathetic to the less deistic, more pragmatic aspects of religion, in opposition to the new book, which suggests much more openness to specifically religious experience—I went back to my notes to see what I could make of them. I ended up borrowing an audiobook version of Bright-Sided to refresh my memory. One of the few notes I made, originally, about the third chapter was that it was written in a style I personally dislike: generalization mixed with what read like superficial scholarship, not really interesting enough as journalism to rise above a weak argument. Moreover, this is the point at which Ehrenreich abandons the strictly present-day, extra-theological treatment of positive thinking, and delves into the history of religion. The first part of the chapter is a short history of American religion. It’s extremely selective, running from pioneer Calvinism through New England Puritanism through transcendentalism through Mary Baker Eddy through William James, and finally to Norman Vincent Peale. The argument’s developed mainly through anecdotes that are connected by Ehrenreich’s own conclusions about their significance. There are footnotes to relevant scholarship—but these are not to recent work in history and sociology of religion. Rather, they’re to the hoary classics, familiar from the bibliography at the end of... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at Bianca Steele
Joan or Peggy? The show has weighed in, apparently, on the side of those who want to see Joan succeed and Peggy laid low. Similarly, they’ve weighed in on the side of those who complained that Walter White wasn’t humiliated enough, or that his humiliation only made him seem sympathetic. Don, for no reason, is sitting on the balcony in his bathrobe, shivering and crying, ugly and pathetic. (But no near frontal nudity as there was in the opening sequence with Roger.) I’ve often felt a little let down by the storytelling on the show. The scenes too often exist not to show you something happening, but to signal what happened between this show and the last one. No, Ken’s eye didn’t heal. No, that tap-dancing episode wasn’t a one-time thing: he hasn’t calmed down. Yes, Joan still has Avon, and has impressed Ken enough that he gives her more responsibility. Yes, Megan moved to California alone. No, Don hasn’t split with her, and hasn’t told her that he lost his job. No, Peggy isn’t getting along with the new boss. No, Don isn’t in AA, and Lou Avery isn’t his sponsor, and Freddie isn’t his sponsor either and doesn’t even seem to know that he has a drinking problem (although I don’t remember whether Don actually opened a bottle in Freddie’s presence). No, they didn’t have cell phones in the sixties, and Ken has to wait until Monday to find out what happened Friday. Yes, Stan is still pissed... Continue reading
Posted 6 days ago at Bianca Steele
Heidi Julavits’s The Vanishers is a novel that begins with an interesting premise. Imagine you’re unwell. You have some malady, or maladies, which you can’t resolve and can’t explain the origin of. Now imagine that your illness could have been caused by someone else. In other words, there is someone out there, maybe someone you’ve never even met, attacking you, draining away your life and energy. In the taut first-chapter of this novel, Julavits persuades the reader that this could be the case. If, like me, you’ve been reading a lot of science fiction and SF-influenced fiction lately, you might expect the rest of the novel would explore the questions surrounding how this could be the case. Julavits, however, defies expectations and gives us a novel exploring the mind of a young woman, Julia Severn, who isn’t sure what’s real and what’s not, what’s past and what’s present, and as a result has trouble interacting normally with other people, especially other women. The novel moves quickly, but gets bogged down a bit towards the end. I had difficulty keeping track of what had happened. Sticking so closely to the consciousness of a single character—and one who’s not very interested in other people—makes it possible for Julavits to show us how a certain kind of woman thinks and feels, but doesn’t allow much room for letting the other characters appear as who they really are. This is exacerbated by the fact that almost all the characters (with the exception of a... Continue reading
Posted Feb 28, 2014 at Bianca Steele
Malcolm Cowley and Malcolm Bradbury. One was an English professor of literature, author of The History Man, and expert on the American novel and the modernist novel generally; the other was a chronicler of the Lost Generation and their contemporary, and one of the people who formed the present-day literary canon in which Melville and Hemingway take such large roles. Continue reading
Posted Feb 26, 2014 at Bianca Steele
The current issue of The Baffler has Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed, ridiculing the cost-benefit analysis way of thinking: [T]wentieth-century anthropologists bewailed the apparent waste of energy and resources represented by these ubiquitous practices, . . . Painstaking preparation went into the design of costumes and masks, the invention of new tunes and dance steps, the production of favorite foods—all representing sunk opportunity costs, in this zero-sum view: energies that might have been more rationally expended on hunting, gathering, or horticulture. There had to be some purpose, or at least some function, for these costly and economically nonproductive rituals, and anthropologists soon hit on the notion that they were required for “social cohesion.” The whole burden of Ehrenreich’s essay is to argue that the artistic, recreational, and social activities of traditional societies are morally and humanistically necessary for human flourishing, and that scientific ways of thinking (including economics) are hurtful because they try to stamp out those traditional practices. (In the old days, the Marxist left prioritized economics and the modern, scientific worldview over “tradition” and the merely emotional, but this changed with the New Left and the developments of the 1970s and later.) Later in the essay, Ehrenreich will lament that her education in cell biology so ruthlessly eliminated teleology and “intention” (thought) from explanations of the workings of tissues and organs; she’ll also link to David Graeber’s piece in the same issue of The Baffler, in which he suggests—perhaps following Thomas Nagel, in his recent anti-evolution... Continue reading
Posted Feb 18, 2014 at Bianca Steele
I think somewhere Woody Allen has said he doesn’t know how to use the Internet, he doesn’t even know the difference between Twitter and blogging, something like that, but it seems likely he’s exaggerating. It’s pretty impossible that he hasn’t heard of them at all and hasn’t read or heard discussions of what they’re supposed to be like. So when I can’t watch either of his most recent two movies, To Rome with Love and Blue Jasmine, without thinking of bloggers and Usenet denizens and people who publicize their lives on Facebook, I find it hard to believe this is an accident. To Rome with Love features an ordinary man, played by Roberto Benigni, who’s suddenly thrust to fame by a random event. He finds himself on a talk show, telling the world what he had for breakfast, because suddenly he’s found that people are interested. Actual reporters are asking him about himself. He has done absolutely nothing to deserve such elevation. He’s in no way whatsoever different from everybody else. Then suddenly the media moves on to someone else and nobody remembers who he is. He finds it impossible not to rather desperately, and pathetically, try to grab a little bit of the limelight he still feels (as we’ve seen, for no good reason) is rightfully his. In other words, he’s just like every other blogger, everyone on the Internet who thinks people care about his or her opinions. The surrealistic plot point in which reporters suddenly want to... Continue reading
Posted Feb 9, 2014 at Bianca Steele
No one denies that Walter White, protagonist of the recently ended TV series Breaking Bad, is evil. He’s a drug dealer, he kills lots of people who get in his way, and he’s mean and manipulative toward the people unfortunate enough to be in his life. In the last weeks of the show, however, there was a media frenzy that appeared driven by the fear of not appearing to condemn him enough. An anti-ideal viewer was posited, apparently a composite of annoying online commenters and presumed weirdo stalkers, who thought Walt was a real hero, and coverage was strangely tilted toward the project of curing those people. (I won’t deny people like that exist. I’m sure media critics have met some of them. There are people who think the protagonist of Grand Theft Auto is a hero, too. I do doubt that enough people saw Walter White as a true hero that discussion of the show ought to have revolved around those who did. A few examples of the phenomenon might have merited a news story, maybe.) Those people were assured that it was wrong to admire Walter White—presumably in any way at all. We were all assured that there was a moral point to the show, and that the point was that Walt was evil and always had been. It was black and white, and there was no room for grey. Say something about any of his actions other than it was morally bad, and you were missing the... Continue reading
Posted Jan 23, 2014 at Bianca Steele
Generally, I think I decided I don’t like books that tell me the way things are as much as books that explore the world from a point of view of not understanding everything yet. That’s maybe a little paradoxical, because I’m not opposed in principle to understanding and generalizations and things like that. It might be that I don’t like being imposed on by opinions I don’t agree with. It might even be a modernist dislike of fictional didacticism. A quick rundown: Literary fiction: A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan. The best novel I read all year, but I’m separating out literary fiction here for the reason that I’m defining it as books that won’t be liked by those who don’t like literary fiction (and you know who you are). I’ve been putting off writing about this in more detail, in part because I hate the idea of recommending a book to someone who I can already predict is going to hate it, but if you like this sort of thing, it’s a very, very good example of this sort of thing. Genre fiction: Zero History, by William Gibson, with Ken MacLeod’s The Night Sessions as a reasonably close runner-up. Separating out genre fiction for the same reason (you know who you are—and these are both science fiction books). “Mainstream” fiction: Not really a category, but a late surprise was Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, which was a terrific novel to read when I was sick for a... Continue reading
Posted Jan 15, 2014 at Bianca Steele
Twitter isn’t a messaging platform, like e-mail or SMS texting. It isn’t one-to-one: you send a message to another person, they reply. It isn’t even one-to-many: you send a message to every other member of a group. It’s a broadcast mechanism: one-to-all. When you send a tweet, your message goes in a big box with all the other tweets.[1] To make Twitter usable, messages in that enormous box can be searched. You can go to a particular person’s feed, and see everything they’ve sent out. Or you can search the text of all the tweets in the box. You can do any kind of search, but two special kinds of search have become common: searching by username, where it’s referenced in the tweet, and searching by hashtag. There are no real guidelines for how to use these. People use them however they want, and a kind of norm gradually develops, but different groups will naturally develop different norms—based, among other things, on how their friends use the service and on the kinds of platforms they’ve used in the past. Similarly, there’s really nothing like a “reply” in Twitter. Or more accurately, there’s no way to distinguish reply, reply all, forward, forward to a mailing list, or post to Facebook. Some people may assume a follow-on tweet is like a personal reply, while others may feel it’s more like a comment to a large group. There’s no way to hide your identity on Twitter. There’s no way to post information to... Continue reading
Posted Jan 13, 2014 at Bianca Steele
John Holbo calls attention to a blog post by William Kristol, asserting that we’ve learned the lessons of the first world war well enough, and probably overlearned them by now, and now we should try moving in the opposite direction, and stop being so afraid of war. Kristol is claiming that as late as 1914—despite Thomas Arnold, despite Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade,” despite Bloomsbury, despite every dissenting cultural production of the nineteenth century, especially its second half—all educated Englishmen who had learned Horace’s poem, “Dulce est decorum est” (“sweet it is, and fitting, to die for one’s country”) as young boys—all of them—lived and died believing that with all their hearts. None of them ever—not even once—even privately—ended up putting their own interests, their own life, ahead of militaristic nationalism, even a little. Kristol is claiming that it was only the facts of an actual war—and not even that—the argument of Wilfred Owen’s anti-war poetry—that changed their minds. Then they turned against the education that had taught them Horace’s poems. But if Kristol is right—if their education led them to be that unthinking, that impervious to evidence and common sense—then Kristol has just proved that they were right to reject their education. That’s not what he wants to argue, of course. I notice that he doesn’t himself argue that all educated Englishment “earnestly” believed everything they were taught in Latin-verse class; rather, he quotes from a version of this argument written by David Frum, currently a somewhat discredited... Continue reading
Posted Jan 5, 2014 at Bianca Steele
What has happened to this blog? Over the summer, I didn’t watch as many movies as I had during the rest of the year, and then I didn’t have as much time as earlier to write about the ones I did. But at some point I lost interest in writing about them too. Maybe it was when I finally saw the new Die Hard movie and realized the trailer had been more interesting (the movie doesn’t even use Beethoven’s Ninth!). Maybe it was when I rewatched most of Amadeus and considered writing about it but wasn’t sure where to start. Maybe I realized the only movies about which I had something serious to say were stories about novelists, or nearly so. Maybe it was when I got stuck getting started writing on novels I’d read and thought I had something to say about, or writing longer posts about To Rome with Love and The Great Gatsby. Or longer posts about Breaking Bad, about themes and characters I found interesting in the show, but which contradict the apparently universal moral judgment that the main characters are, essentially, the Devil and Jesus. Or it could have started when I read Francine Prose’s blog post about Blue Jasmine at the New York Review of Books. Prose says that movie flipped some switch in her thinking about Woody Allen, a switch that was flipped for me a few movies back. I’m not sure why seeing that she’s confirming what I’ve thought for a while... Continue reading
Posted Jan 4, 2014 at Bianca Steele
I got my daughter a store-bought Halloween costume that was made from a surprisingly nice lamé spandex material: the only problem was that some of the edges were unfinished, and some of those got stretched a lot (especially the mask and the top of the cape), and where it got stretched, the fabric pulled apart. It didn’t rip, but it lost its shape, so the holes in the mask were completely distorted, and the top edge of the cape looked in places like stockings running. I wasn’t sure I’d even be able to iron the material without melting it, but I went to find some kind of stabilizer thing anyway. So I went to a big-chain fabric store (which will remain nameless, except to say that it lived down to the online comments about its service). I wandered up and down most of the aisles before I asked for help. What I was told when I finally got someone to answer a question was: There’s no such thing as stretchy stabilizer, you must be crazy. And: We don’t have any pre-packaged stabilizer, everything we have is here on rolls on these shelves, so I couldn’t possibly tell you what aisle you might check. It turned out they had half an aisle of pre-packaged stabilizer. (Did I use the wrong word? Is this not “stabilizer” but “backing”? Would I have gotten the information I’d wanted if I’d known what I was talking about? No. The manufacturer describes it as “stabilizer,” itself.)... Continue reading
Posted Oct 27, 2013 at Bianca Steele
I’m not a philosopher, but I work in software, and I’ve gotten interested around the edges of this question. I feel like as a techie, what you describe is the problem. Personally, I’ve experienced the difference between having access to knowledge about my tools’ internals and not even being able to get answers to my more superficial questions. This seems to match RMS’s concern. If I click “yes” to have a software company monitor my computer usage, supposedly to help them solve any problems I may have later on, what am I actually enabling? If I use this software tool, how can I be sure what it will do in my own case if I’m preventing from seeing how it works? But often in discussing things with non-techies, they don’t seem to feel that’s what’s alienating about technology. I think the split, for them, is more between seeing technology in terms of how things work and seeing it in ordinary human terms. Imagine a conversation where the non-techie says, “I wish this worked in some other way,” and gets an answer that relies on apparently technical reasons why it doesn’t. The non-techie will reasonably feel that the techie is missing the point, and is missing some normal human sense of what a good reason and what a good tool should do. Explaining how the system works doesn’t decrease their sense that the technology is alienating. The fact that it has to be explained means it’s alienating (ISTM).
I read Melissa Banks’s story collection, A Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing, several years ago. The other day I noticed Jenny Turner’s review of the book at the London Review of Books. She doesn’t really like the book: “less ironic[1] than their epigraphs might suggest . . . a curiously sheltered and olde-worlde quality, charming in a way, but also odd.” The criticism amounts to a decision that people like Banks’s don’t exist in the world, or at least they shouldn’t. Turner is usually pretty astute, so I was surprised to find her missing the point in such a way. For example, she takes note of two anecdotes related by the narrator of one of the stories, a teenage girl. At one point, she excuses herself from a family get-together to go to her room, saying, “Well, I’ve got to go now and shoot heroin.” She doesn’t actually do drugs. Turner is disappointed. She wanted to find out something nasty about the protagonist, something that would add some “oomph” to the story. Later, she goes to a party with a friend and uses a clever-for-her-age stratagem to turn down drugs there, pretending they’ve been, at so young an age, already in rehab. Turner’s disappointed here too, and for the same reasons. Turner continues, disapproving of Banks’s writing, morally, “such jokes are based on an absolute confidence that such things can’t happen to the teller and her audience, or anyone like them.” Well, no. The point of the first anecdote... Continue reading
Posted Oct 13, 2013 at Bianca Steele
Catherine, This doesn't address your main point, exactly, but as someone trained in computer science, I don't read terms like "top-down" as metaphorical at all. They're technical terms with precise meanings. I've always been intrigued by the way people in the humanities home in on these terms as metaphorical--the earliest one I can think of is Wayne Booth's "The Rhetoric of Fiction." I've wondered whether there's a tendency to feel there's something wrong with the way people in the computer fields use language, so that once-metaphorical technical terms (or rather, neologisms chosen for their metaphorical qualities, in this case, partly, I suspect, related to methods of graphically representing information) are seen as more problematic than they would be in other fields. I can see how they could invoke other connotations of "top" and "bottom" and so on (a writer could playfully pretend "top-down" relates to social organization, for example), but the same is true of technical terms in other fields.
Everyone’s talking about Breaking Bad, and I’ve got a post I’ve been writing, on and off, for a year or two, but thinking about my reaction to it and to similar shows, I decided I wanted to write about a different one: The HBO series Six Feet Under, especially the last season, and even more especially the finale, made me so angry that I’ve never been able to watch “Quality Television” in the same way again. The show had always given me the feeling that these people live in Hell and don’t know it, but the final episodes managed to be worse. Nate, who’s been the point of view character throughout most of the series, is dead. He was truly ill, but he died an addict, deluded and irresponsible, and a burden to his family. The mother, Ruth, is dead, after having married a charming older professor, played by George Cromwell, who turned out to be mentally unstable and borderline abusive, and turned the household painfully upside down. David, the middle child, has taken over the funeral parlor business. With his cop boyfriend, Keith, he maintains the family traditions. That’s all well and good, but a funeral parlor? Is there no symbolic significance attached to that profession? He’s someone who feeds on the sorrows of others, who makes money from their suffering. Claire painfully realized that the boyfriend she loved is having an affair with the (male) art teacher she adores and needs, and that the teacher is abandoning her... Continue reading
Posted Oct 3, 2013 at Bianca Steele
Today I realized how much activity on this blog has been dependent on my having a few hours a week (when I’m waiting for my five year old to finish a class) when I’m out of the house, in a fairly noisy room, with nothing to do, no chores, no books, no radio, no Internet, just a laptop. This post had been drafted almost completely but I never got around to writing the last few sentences. “August movies,” unfortunately, currently exists only as a list of titles. July was surprisingly busy and a light month for movie watching, but no duds: Ruby Sparks, Django Unchained, and The Flower Drum Song. Ruby Sparks is an enjoyable, lightweight, thoughtfully romantic indie flick, if you don’t think too much about it. It was written by Zoë Kazan, Elia Kazan’s granddaughter, who also stars in the title role. Paul Dano plays a neurotic, uptight, poorly barbered (and artistically blocked) former novelistic Wunderkind who—on the advice of his therapist (Elliott Gould)—decides to write a bad piece, for no one else’s eyes, of one page only in length, about someone who actually likes him and his dog. He incorporates bits of recurring dreams he’s been having, and eventually has the beginnings of a new novel. Also, he believes he’s falling in love with his imaginary creation. Then he begins finding bits of girlish paraphernalia around the house: pastel-colored razors, primary-colored lingerie. He has no explanation for how it got there, since he’s been living like a... Continue reading
Posted Sep 9, 2013 at Bianca Steele
I've had it both ways: a specialist in neonatal problems telling me that regardless of what I'd been told about avoiding all medications, I'd be better off taking an antihistamine than being run-down for a week or more. But I've also had a non-MD specialist in a non-ob field tell me that though all the research shows a certain medication is unsafe during pregnancy, (and my choice would of course take precedence), and though there were other medications that the research showed to be safer, in her estimation[1], the data was that the risk was low to non-existent and I should continue taking the same medication. (My experience is that economists and other academics, are not the only ones who believe they can read "the data" past the conclusions stated in the text. They're just the only ones who can most easily state their personal conclusions without from a position of power.) [1] not borne out by later research
These children reproduce, entirely naively, if not entirely innocently, the cultural preconceptions of their parents and of the environment in which they were raised. The genteel racism and false delicacy of the wealthiest suburbs are out there for everyone to see. Moody’s characters are horrified by these, and simultaneously trapped within them. They’ve acquired the ability to understand the cultural changes of the 1970s—on a verbal level—but have no context in which to set them. Continue reading
Posted Jul 16, 2013 at Bianca Steele
Prometheus (hoo-boy), The Words (very good, but admittedly possibly not everyone’s cup of tea), The Master (good, if you like this sort of thing, but very slow), and Premium Rush (fluff). I also watched Mary Poppins and the old Disney cartoon version of Alice in Wonderland with my daughter. Prometheus: I didn’t see Alien until about ten years ago. That movie has a tight ensemble cast, so that the viewer doesn’t care more about any one character than about any other, until the end when essentially only Sigourney Weaver is left. Prometheus, on the other hand, after its introductory origin story, starts with a young couple, both scientists, making an amazing discovery. It segues into an intimate portrait of David, a robot, played by a Michael Fassbender made up as a David Lean look-alike, as he observes the dreams of his sleeping crewmates and checks out his hairstyle in a mirror. Then we see the newly awoken captain, the equally blonde Charlize Theron, doing pushups in her underwear. Only then do we see the scientist couple again, recovering, with some difficulty, by the side of their stasis chambers. There are other crew members, but they’re largely relegated to red-shirt status, as we learn that the movie will focus on conflicts among these four. But it’s hard to care about this. The characters are drawn with the help, mostly, of ideas: David represents loyalty to his employer/owner, a dying corporate leader; Dr. Elizabeth Shaw represents the melding of scientific wonder and... Continue reading
Posted Jul 14, 2013 at Bianca Steele
I’ve never read anything by William Gibson, until now. I knew him as the progenitor of a flavor of science fiction called cyberpunk, which I took to be characterized mostly by sex and drugs (like the movie Strange Days), and with a pretty far-out interpretation of the significance of personal telecommunications and the Internet. Since I gave up reading science fiction, for the most part, for decades beginning around when I was eleven or twelve, largely because I was bored by the aggressive, decidedly male-oriented sexuality of most of what I was picking up—I remember one story, in particular, about an older man in competition for the sexual favors of a preteen girl with her similarly aged buddy, in a future society in which such behavior was the norm—that idea of his fiction didn’t make me want to pick it up. But Zero History, which I’ve just finished, is the most enjoyable genre novel I’ve read in years, probably the most enjoyable read without qualification except for the second half of Chronic City. Not only is it fun, it really gets at a kind of view of the world that I haven’t seen depicted in fiction so well. I’d assumed it was derived (at some distance) from Thomas Pynchon, but you have to squint hard to see the affiliation. If you want to understand the Internet (defining that as a certain worldview shared by a lot of mostly-men who spend a lot of time there), it would seem that Gibson... Continue reading
Posted Jul 9, 2013 at Bianca Steele
My mother’s primary e-mail account is with one of those free service providers, so she gets a lot of spam. For some reason, some of it’s in German, and I can read German a little, so she asked me what it said. Here’s a little bit from one of them: “Die 99% - die Elite – sorgt dafür, dass Sie in so einem Hamsterrad sind und bleiben.” (The 99% - the elite – make sure you will remain in your hamster wheel. That’s why you aren’t making large amounts of money, working from home.) What I like about this is that it identifies “the 99%” as “the elite.” I didn’t know spammers were using Occupy rhetoric in their pitches now, but then again I haven’t been paying much attention. I also like one of the other e-mails, which describes someone who’s used the product as a “Müttersöhnchen” (which might be translated by the “Pump You Up” guys on Saturday Night Live as “a puny little mama’s boy”) who’s thirty-eight years old and still lives “bei Mutti,” but who in his first week made 4,575 Euros. Everyone who uses the system, apparently, makes 4,575 Euros in the first week. Continue reading
Posted Jul 5, 2013 at Bianca Steele
There’s been a lot of “doubling” in Mad Men, of characters and plot details. Peggy didn’t sleep with Don, but she did sleep with Pete, and she became Don’s professional protégé. Jane, who reminded Don of Rachel, fell in love with him—remember the clean dress shirt she bought for him, unasked, in the box marked “Menken’s”?—but he didn’t want her. She married Roger instead. Joan slept with Roger, too, but didn’t marry him. Allison slept with Don and fell in love with him, but he fired her after she wouldn’t “let it go.” Megan slept with Don, married him, and temporarily became his protégé. Peggy treated her subordinates the way Don treated her and then fell in love with Ted. Earl Warner, Jr., made sexual favors from Sal a condition of doing business. Jaguar made sexual favors from Joan a condition of doing business. There’s a lot of stuff in there that would count under today’s laws as sexual harassment. But within the office, there has been no overt sexual harassment on Mad Men so far (UPDATE: except for Allison, which meets the legal criteria). That’s one thing that makes the Bob Benson plot in the past couple of weeks so interesting. Take Bob’s dialogue—which he’s spoken to a man with a higher status than his own—and reassign it to a man with high status, spoken to a woman with low status, and it becomes a very familiar scene. (A certain kind of “paranoid” reading might conclude that what “really”... Continue reading
Posted Jun 22, 2013 at Bianca Steele
Another May film. As I'd predicted, I eventally watched this. There’s actually no need to watch this movie, which seriously depicts the secret of Shakespeare’s success as the special effects. This post is somewhat disjointed, which is okay, because the movie is the same way. The movie begins: Derek Jacobi comes in from the rain, walks onstage, and in his street clothes begins talking about Shakespeare. The play begins, the stage opens up to the wide world . . . Anonymous asks us to believe (and never was a phrase more apt) that the plays we merely know as Shakespeare’s were actually written by a teenage genius aristocrat whom no one has ever heard of, staged at the time in private for Queen Elizabeth’s court, then given to Ben Jonson decades later by the grown-up writer, for him to produce in his own name. The purpose of this subterfuge, supposedly, is to support the claim to succession of the Earl of Rochester over King James VI of Scotland. (Why the plays might be supposed to have had this political effect can be learned from James Shapiro’s much better book, 1599.) Jonson does it, reluctantly, but when calls of “Author! Author!” are heard, one of the company’s more clownlike performers suddenly steps forward to take the credit for himself, and a legend is born. I suppose it would be possible to make a film in which at least some of this makes sense, but Anonymous is not it. In one scene,... Continue reading
Posted Jun 18, 2013 at Bianca Steele