Meanwhile, closer to home, Mayor Cockrel (a fan of Gang of Four and Joy Division) proposes city employees take ten-percent salary cuts so Detroit can avoid laying off 1,000 workers. City workers ask, what will we do? Others--callers to our local NPR station this a.m.--ask, what would you do? If you had the power to make the call, would you take the cut or impose the layoffs on others? The mood in the city and the region rivals the most dystopic, instrumental moments from Joy Division's catalogue and the most radical lyrical moments from Gang of Four's catalogue ("to hell with poverty/we'll get drunk on cheap wine").
And what of Arizona State University and its mandatory unpaid furloughs for virtually all employees? Take off a week or two and deal with the lost wages. Better than layoffs? Better than paycuts? Better than even larger tuition increases? Better for whom? Again, if you had the power to make that call, what would you do?
Such questions (one-hundred salary cuts or one-thousand layoffs?) reduce complex issues to a zero-sum game. Still, we are in crisis mode. What to do. President Obama uses the rhetoric of sacrifice very effectively. His calls for individual sacrifice (skip Starbucks, skip that vacation, accept that unpaid furlough, take that paycut) provide counterpoints to "buy more stuff," Bush's post-9/11 mantra. At what point does personal sacrifice begin to obscure systemic problems? Like, say, those shameful bonuses?
I love the idea of shared problem-solving. Not just the WWII nostalgia (remember when everybody grew victory gardens and only bought butter once a month?), but the genuine, in the moment, potential for collective civic action. Easy for me to say...I don't have kids and work in a sector that's less affected by market down-turns. I want to advocate for that kind of civic action on the part of everybody in a way that doesn't place the burden on the working- and middle-classes and off of the elite. I think President Obama does too. I hope so.
Facebook is fascinating for a million reasons that I don't even want to explore. Reveling in mundane things. Giving friends and pseduo-friends and people you barely knew in high school windows into your odd existence. Turning family members onto facebook's joys four years or so after turning them onto blogging. Watching those family members go from "who has time?" and "get a life" attitudes toward FB to "this is cool." If I had more motivation, I'd take a scholarly interest in such things, but I'd rather update my status with crap about what's on cable or on top of my stove.
But the blog still lives too. If for no other reason than to say I'm looking forward to seeing The Dirtbombs in Hamtramck on March 6 and Animal Collective in Royal Oak on May 18. I'll probably make the same point on facebook.
Sarah Palin is credited with making Tina Fey a world-wide star and boosting Katie Couric's ratings at CBS.
But in a recent interview with conservative John Ziegler, Palin said both "exploited" her twelve-week candidacy — a fact, she said, that "says a great deal about our society.”
Fey's widely-applauded portrayal of the Alaska governor boosted SNL's ratings, while Couric’s audience grew after a series of interviews during which Palin now-famously faltered.
“I did see that Tina Fey was named entertainer of the year and Katie Couric’s ratings have risen," Palin said in the interview. "I know that a lot of people are capitalizing on, oh I don’t know, perhaps some exploiting that was done via me, my family, my administration — that’s a little bit perplexing, but it also says a great deal about our society.”
The Alaska governor was particularly upset with an SNL skit during which Fey's version of Palin said, "I believe marriage is meant to be a sacred institution between two unwilling teenagers."
The line was a clear reference to Palin's 18-year-old daughter Bristol and her fiancé Levi Johnston. The two announced shortly before the GOP convention that they were expecting a baby and had plans to marry.
"The mama grizzly rises up in me, hearing things like that," she said of a skit. "Here again, cool, fine come attack me. But when you make a suggestion like that that attacks a kid, it kills me."
In the wide-ranging interview, Palin also faulted the McCain campaign for agreeing to a series of sit-downs with Couric after the first one appeared to go so poorly.
“I knew it didn’t go well the first day, and then we gave her a couple of other segments after that," she said. "And my question to the campaign was, after it didn’t go well the first day, why were we going to go back for more…going back for more was not a wise decision either.”
During one of those follow-up interviews, Palin took heat for appearing to be unable to name the newspapers or magazines she reads: "Um of them, any of them that have been in front of me all these years," was the Alaska governor's response.
In the interview with Ziegler, Palin called that answer "too flippant" and suggested the question itself offended her.
“To me the question was more along the lines of, ‘Do you read, what do you guys do up there, what is it that you read?’”
"…Katie, you’re not the center of everybody’s universe," Palin added off-handedly.
Palin, who has long criticized media coverage of her campaign performance, also said she is interested to see if reporters are equally tough on Caroline Kennedy as she pursues the appointment to the likely-vacant Senate seat in New York.
“I’ve been interested to see how Caroline Kennedy will be handled, and if she will be handled with kid gloves or if she will be under such a microscope,” she said.
“It’s going to be interesting to see how that plays out and I think that as we watch that we will perhaps be able to prove that there is a class issue here, also that was such a factor in the scrutiny of my candidacy versus, say, the scrutiny of what her candidacy may be," she also said.
In somewhat-related realms...what an enjoyable and productive week. Some solid writing (mostly at my favorite Caribou). Check. Syllabi for the term completed. Check. Essays rated for a MALS (liberal studies) program initiative. Check. E-mails caught up. Check. Meeting with new community partner for the service learning class. Check. House cleaned. Check. Made time to see "Doubt." Not sure what to make of Meryl Streep's campy, caricature-driven performance and over-the-top Bronx accent. I appreciated how the movie emphasized the relationship/power struggle between her conservative nun character and the enigmatic young priest played by P.S. Hoffman. If you see the film, notice how the latter, on one hand, has progressive learnings and on the other hand, enjoys the benefits of the church's sexism. Overall, though, the story seemed too impressed with its own cleverness and ambiguity. I left with the sense that the outstanding performances added up to something less than their I continue to champion "Gran Torino" as my favorite awards contender. Still on my list: "Milk," "Frost/Nixon," and "The Wrestler."
Finally...will blogs become dodos? Too soon to tell, but how about Facebook's rapid ascendancy? In (rhetoric and composition) academic circles in particular, Facebook has really taken a bite from blogging activity. I must admit, the Facebook update is a fun, fun genre. I think a combination of texting and facebooking has increased the instances of ellipses in my writing. See, for instance, this post.
Any suggestions? What songs get people dancing? What songs represent the historic moment?
The Corner. Relentless and outstanding piece of work. The creative team behind The Wire is responsible for this 2000 HBO mini-series and you can certainly see that team developing its signature style: realistic, character-driven, slowly unfolding narratives about drugs in Baltimore. But The Corner values depth over breadth. The Corner doesn't have The Wire's broad scope, instead benefiting from a more tightly focused gaze on two middle-aged heroin addicts and their teen son. Imagine The Wire if the stories all revolved around the day-to-day lives of Bubbles and Johnny Weeks and Michael's mom. Depressing stuff, but powerful too. Grade: A-
Transsiberian. Not my cup of chai. Despite a good performance from Emily Mortimer, this is a suspense film that never made me anxious. Essentially, a troubled American couple finds intrigue on a long and snowy train journey across Russia. The plot had loads of potential and I was really looking forward to what I thought would be part Hitchcock homage and part moody and cold melodrama. The story never struck me as real and, though the characterizations were interesting, I never felt all that invested in the good guys, bad guys, or morally ambiguous guys. This reminded me of a lot of the post-Fargo, mediocre, late 90s films (think "Simple Plan" with Billy Bob Thorton) about everyday folks who get caught up in crime and/or their own moral underworlds. Grade: C-
Step Brothers. Bloody awful. Only the most devoted Will Ferrell fans need apply. Grade: F
Tom Petty: Runnin' Down a Dream. I watched this documentary and "The Waiting" played in my head for about a week. Actually what was in my head was Eddie Vedder's brilliant rendition of the song, backed by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, as heard in one of the many excellent live clips from this doc. Though cool in their own right, those live clips are bested by the film's characterization of Petty himself. The film introduces Petty in his own words as well as the words of his colleagues and peers, admirers, producers, bandmates, and even ex-bandmates. We get a view of Petty as a great songwriter and performer and also as a staunchly individualistic and ambitious (sometimes to a fault) dude. "Runnin' Down A Dream" tells some great stories: Petty fighting with his record label, attorneys, the industry at large. The stories suck us in, but so do Petty's traits. I'm not sure I'd want to be a Heartbreaker. See this great documentary and maybe you'll see what I mean. Further, this is a documentary that manages to make an argument. "Dream" (successfully) makes the case that Petty's music bucks trends but also fits nicely within unexpected genres like, say, first-wave punk. Don't be scared off by the four-hour (!) running time. Even casual music fans (admittedly, I am NOT in that camp) will appreciate the many ways "Dream" transcends "Behind the Music" cliches. Grade: A
Recently at the cinema...
Gran Torino. Loved it. I haven't seen much of this winter's Oscar bait, but so far this is my pick for best film of '08. And not just because it's set and filmed in Detroit. Clint Eastwood, director and star of "Torino," puts a subtle exclamation point on his career. The story is low-key and energizing all at once. Eastwood plays an utterly unlikable racist. See the film and notice that he never really becomes likable. It takes some real narrative restraint to tackle themes like redemption without a feel-good protagonist or a whole lot of comic relief. Imagine "The Shawshank Redemption" if the Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins characters were both pricks. There are so many things that "Gran Torino" doesn't do: tell viewers how to feel or how to think about big things (Race. The City. Catholicism.) or small things (Eastwood's character's parenting skills), fill up the soundtrack with swelling music, provide easy answers, etc. I could go on but I won't. See this. I got home and put all five Dirty Harry movies on my netflix list. Grade: A
Seven Pounds. Speaking of films that take on big themes and moral ambiguities. Here's a film in which Will Smith plays with his own unimpeachable likability (as he did in Hancock) by playing a character who makes some screwed-up choices. Like Eastwood's character in "Gran Torino," the enigmatic Will Smith character is a new kind of vigilante. I won't reveal the film's secrets but I will say that, although the film is emotionally manipulative, it resists facile readings. Are Smith's actions good? Are they bad? Ultimately do his choices benefit the common good? Do they benefit himself? You might hate this movie but if you really stop and think about these questions, you won't be able to come up with easy answers to them. Overall, this is a fair piece of work. Grade: C
Slumdog Millionaire. Thoroughly enjoyable. Definitely not the best film of the year, but I appreciated the original mode of storytelling. In fact, I love the very *idea* of telling somebody's life story by explaining how that person knows the answers to particular trivia questions. And I was captivated by the unflinching representations of poverty. The early acts of the film have an affective quality that's almost indescribable. You'll walk out of the theater remembering many of the images. Hats off to director Danny Boyle. You know those moments in Trainspotting that still take up space in your cranium? Boyle offers a whole bunch of those this go around. Grade: B+