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Category: Culture

Harmonies

I bought some Dixie Chicks CDs today. If the best argument one can think of is “I don’t agree with you so I’ll punish you economically,” one doesn’t really have much of a case, does one? Come to think of it, one would — in that hypothetical case — mostly be pouting. The only thing which could make it complete is calling one’s antagonist names.

And then none

The last Mr. Sterling of the season and probably for good aired last night, and you know what I did? I watched it. You bet.

Most of the hour was spent on the deeply gripping and action-packed story of the Senator’s filibuster, most of which was delivered to an empty Senate. There was a tense little subplot about whether or not he’d be able to go to the bathroom. I think the message of the episode was that if you don’t care whether or not you get reelected, and you can talk for 24 hours straight, you may be able to screw up the budget and cause the United States to default on loans. But the cost will be your hot actor girlfriend.

In retrospect, I should have been recapping the show like this from the start.

My character

I think any pen and paper RPG designer could warn these folks about the perils of their idea. But it’d be more fun to watch them cope with finding out themselves.

“Hey, let me tell you about my character!”

Some spam is Icke

I got a spam today entitled “bryant, Housing market may be cooling – Rates Tick Up”. Inside there was a lengthy screed regarding Prime Minister Howard Wilson and the CIA. Some investigation on the Web revealed that it’s an excerpt from Chapter 15 of the Unauthorized Biography of George Bush, by Webster G. Tarpley & Anton Chaitkin. This appears to have some connection to David Icke. There is no visible connection at all to the housing market.

If I never post again because I’ve been kidnapped by giant reptiles posing as the Rothschildes, you’ll know why.

Cutting edge, as it were

I got sick and tired of reading people talking about this cool Steven Erikson guy, so I drifted on over to Chapters.ca and picked up the first three books of his Malazan Empire series.

It’s scheduled to be a 10 book series when all is said and done, with each book standing alone to a certain degree. When I got the first three, I found myself with about 2,800 pages of fiction sitting in front of me, which was a bit offputting. Stubborn, I tucked into the first one. Three chapters in and I was totally hooked.

The plotlines echo Glen Cook, and in particular the Black Company and Dread Empire books. Erikson attended the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, and Glen Cook hit pretty much every SF convention in that area; I’d be surprised if Erikson wasn’t a Cook fan. However, the writing style is quite different: Erikson’s prose has an elegant sheen which betrays his history in the mainstream literary arena. (Erikson is a pseudonym; his other publisher asked him to use one for his fantasy work.)

I am in the blissful state that comes with knowing I have around 10,000 pages of this stuff ahead of me. A sample, now:

Tattersail tracked the man as he joined his comrade at Hairlock’s side, striving to see through the muck and blood covering his uniform. “Who are you people?”

“Ninth squad, the Second.”

“Ninth?” The breath hissed from her teeth. “You’re Bridgeburners.” Her eyes narrowed on the battered sergeant. “The Ninth. That makes you Whiskeyjack.”

He seemed to flinch.

Tattersail found her mouth dry. She cleared her throat. “I’ve heard of you, of course. I’ve heard the —”

“Doesn’t matter,” he interrupted, his voice grating. “Old stories grow like weeds.”

She rubbed at her face, feeling grime gather under her nails. Bridgeburners. They’d been the old Emperor’s elite, his favorites, but since Laseen’s bloody coup nine years ago they’d been pushed hard into every rat’s nest in sight. Almost a decade of this had cut them down to a single, undermanned division. Among them, names had emerged. The survivors, mostly squad sergeants, names that pushed their way into the Malazan armies on Genabackis, and beyond. Names, spicing the already sweeping legend of Onearm’s Host. Detoran, Antsy, Spindle, Whiskeyjack. Names heavy with glory and bitter with the cynicism that every army feeds on. They carried with them like an emblazoned standard the madness of this unending campaign.

Serve and protect

Man, I was in a frustrated mood yesterday. Sorry about that. Lemme see if I can wean myself off politics for a bit with a contemplative bit on a TV show that strikes some interesting political chords.

Last year, Salon told us in no uncertain terms that The Shield was a right-wing love fest. Yeah, sure, Murdoch media empire, conservative arm of the media — sounded plausible. Still, a little while ago, the first season was released on DVD. The price was low, so I took a chance on it.

You know what? It’s easy to read The Shield as cheerful approval of order-at-any-price tactics, with a blithe wink at police corruption. There are undoubtedly going to be people on the right wing who say “Yeah! Finally Hollywood understands why you need to break the rules!” in an inadvertenant echo of Salon’s article. That’s a pity, but sometimes if you’re creating a smart piece of entertainment you’re going to leave the slackjawed (on either side of the political spectrum, no less) in the dust.

The show reminds me a lot of early Oz, in that the protagonists have very clear political and moral views but neither show is a vehicle for those views. In Oz, Tim McManus’ liberal approach to prison management is just as often a recipe for disaster as it is a wholehearted success. Same goes for Vic Mackey, crooked cop.

And that’s fair. Look, if you throw the weight of an elite strike team behind one faction of drug dealers, you’re going to cut down on other crime. You’ve got a containment strategy there. Denying it would be foolhardy, and The Shield doesn’t even try. What the writers and actors do is show the costs of that strategy. Mackey takes it in the teeth as often as he succeeds, and by the end of the first season he’s paid a pretty heavy price for the things he does. So has the community he’s policing.

Meanwhile, the conflicted Detective Wagenbach succeeds a lot more than Salon gives him credit for. Detective Wyms is a straight-shooter who is clearly the most competent and the most together person in the station. Captain Acevedo is tempted by political success, and compromises his beliefs to get there. And yeah. Sometimes Mackey’s tactics work.

Listening to the commentary (each episode on the DVD has a commentary; how did they get this out for $55 again?), it becomes even clearer that Shawn Ryan and the rest of the creative team isn’t coming at this with an agenda. They wanted to tell some stories about both clean and crooked cops. It’s easy to tell a story about how corruption inevitably leads to dramatic, quick, and complete failure. But what does that prove, other than that we can congratulate ourselves for living in a morally clear world?

I shouldn’t neglect the acting, either. This is some of the best stuff I’ve seen on television — well, since the early seasons of Oz. Michael Chiklis took the role of Mackey partially because he wanted to break the lovable teddy bear image and man, he got his teeth deep into it. Jay Karnes is the other standout, but CCH Pounder and Benito Martinez aren’t far behind.

Solid stuff. Not reassuring in any way, shape, or form. If you want phatic validation, go elsewhere.

Didn't know that

Things I learned from watching Mister Sterling tonight:

Being a Senator gets you laid by the hot actress, plus if you’re noble and honest the sly fellow Senator from Nevada will still be interested in you for your mind. In a carnal way.

Also, if you look agonized and persevere, you can write the letters. Even if you’re so poorly paid you have to live in a group house.

Finally, Strom Thurmond is a Democrat from North Dakota.

More next week, I’m sure.

New winner

There are geeky ways to ask someone to marry you, and then there are geeky ways to ask someone to marry you. I think that’s terminally sweet, but it is also terminally geeky. I will now demonstrate my own geek nature by asking if the One Ring isn’t kind of the wrong symbolism for a marriage? But I will come back from the brink at the last moment by not suggesting one of the other rings as a better choice. Phew.

Two kids enter

I’ve sort of been putting off writing about Battle Royale on account of “Damn, I have no idea what to make of that.” But faint heart never won Oscar, or some such, so let’s see if we can make some sense out of the uber-controversial high school Series 7.

First off, the brief summary: a class of Japanese high school students are brought to an island, given random weapons, and they don’t get to leave till only one is left alive. If they don’t get to that point within a few days, they all die. This is theoretically part of a program to deal with juvenile delinquency. Carnage ensues.

It’s a tremendously bloody movie. I wouldn’t call it gory, but I would certainly call it violent. No worse than your average R-rated horror flick — which is kind of interesting, because those usually contain a hefty slice of violence directed at teenagers, but they don’t provoke the same kind of reaction as Battle Royale. It’s OK when it’s the monsters doing the slicing.

Taking a step back from the subject matter, and thinking of it purely as an action movie, it’s not bad. The tension is good, the acting is good, and the plot is decent. It’s not the be all and end all of action flicks, but it’s solid. Not too surprising, considering the director, Kinji Fukasaku, had been making movies for 40 years. But that’s the easy part of the analysis.

When I get closer to the subject matter, I just hit a wall. Series 7 is a satire and commentary on reality shows. This ain’t that; there’s no hint of the game show to it, although it’s clear the survivor will become a national hero. However, the event isn’t televised. So what can I make of it? What is Fukasaku getting at here?

The 1998 White Paper on Crime may be a relevant reference point. It’s particularly concerned with juvenile delinquency, which is covered beginning here. The crime rate among Japanese youth was up severely in 1998, and the nature of the crimes committed seems to have been fairly disturbing: “The survey results on juvenile offenders also indicated that in bodily injury cases, the number of those with motivations of ‘Passion’ has shown a remarkably higher percentage than ‘Grudge or Revenge’, while the results of the survey on characteristics of juveniles admitted to juvenile classification homes (hereinafter the ‘survey results on juveniles in juvenile classification homes’) showed that the motivation of ‘on the spur of the moment’ has been the highest in homicide cases.”

The White Paper seems to have been fairly prophetic, given this BBC report on the subject. Be sure to read the sidebar titled Japan Teen Attacks, and see also this article. I notice, in particular, that the kids are attacking not just each other but adults — which, understandably, is a matter of some concern. In contrast, the media-driven frenzy in the US focuses on self-directed violence in the form of school shootings.

(This shouldn’t be taken to mean that I think no US teens commit violence against adults, or that all Japanese teen violence is directed towards adults. I’m doing culture analysis here, so I’m interested in how teen violence is depicted.)

I’m thinking that Battle Royale has to be interpreted in the context of both Japanese concerns about juvenile delinquency and the generation gap (a la Speed Tribes). In that light, it’s an expression of angst and fear. It is, perhaps, a horror movie after all, but the monster is the generation gap.

I liked screwing Stephen King

Salon has a little puff piece of a Cronenberg interview on line, of interest probably mostly to the fanatics like me, except for one excerpt which I will provide here.

When I did “The Dead Zone,” I was very happy with the film. I was very happy with the experience of mixing my blood with somebody else’s, in this case Stephen King. When you use someone else’s work as the basis, it’s something you would never do on your own, but something you really feel an incredible empathy for and connection with. The two of you mix together — why, it’s just like sex, I suddenly realized! — and you make something that didn’t exist before.

That says so much about how Cronenberg sees the world, doesn’t it? The easy natural metaphor: mixing blood. Working, creatively, with another human: “mixing my blood.” And then he realizes, yes! It’s sex! And he was very happy to be making love to Stephen King…

Via John Tynes.