tomemos

June 11, 2008

Crunchy raw unboned real dead frog

Filed under: Blogs Themselves, Funny Stuff — tomemos @ 11:12 am

Hey, you’re still coming here! That’s sweet.

Seriously, I’m sorry that we’re in another blogging furrow. Now that I’m at a writing rather than a reading stage of my dissertation, the thought of additional writing makes me feel tired. (On the plus side, I have started reading for pleasure again.) Hopefully I’ll be able to get into a groove where I can do both; don’t delete me from your RSS just yet.

Anyway, sorry for the fake-out, but this isn’t a real entry. I only logged on to make sure you all know about Modern Mitzvot, the newest blog by (in part) Girl Detective. It’s a blog about Jewish social and political issues, or more accurately, social and political issues seen from a Jewish perspective. I’m not Jewish,* but I find the site really thought-provoking, especially regarding Israeli and Palestinian issues; two of the best entries so far have been about the definition of Zionism, and a proposed solution for those who want to visit Israel without supporting the occupation. So don’t think me a bad person when I tell you that the entry that finally got me off my duff to add it to my blogroll was a brief, impassioned plea for Jews not to eat giraffes just because they’re kosher. If you plan to read only fourteen sentences this year, you’ll find them there.

*In junior high a classmate did call me a Jew, pejoratively.

February 20, 2008

It’s too close to home and it’s too near the bone

Filed under: Blogs Themselves, Funny Stuff — tomemos @ 12:02 pm

So you might have heard about this blog Stuff White People Like. (You might have heard about it from Girl Detective’s post about her ambivalent feelings about it; I echo some of that ambivalence here.) The blog isn’t a take on all white people—no jokes about C&W music or mayonnaise sandwiches here—but rather on the educated, liberal, urban or pseudo-urban white person, what you might call the Hipster-Yuppie Complex. You also might call it “me and many, many people I know.” For instance, the top entry right now (#71: Being the only white person around)…I swear to God I’ve been in that exact Dim Sum place. It’s in Artesia or something, and yes, we drove 45 minutes to a lunch spot exactly because of its amazing authenticity. (Other entries that describe me pretty well: Apple Products, Kitchen Gadgets, Apologies. And the one about the Sunday New York Times is a dead ringer for my family, except for the part about listening to music while reading it.)

In general, I think the blog is really good, and going through the archives suggests to me that it’s just been getting better. It ranges from simple observational humor (#63: “Remember that whenever a white person says they wants to go to a sandwich shop you are looking at at least a $15 outlay after tip and drink … Also note: white people will wait up to 40 minutes for a good sandwich”; #24: “Wines that are acceptable: Red, White (less so)”) to incisive critique (#62: “It is a poorly guarded secret that, deep down, white people believe if given money and education that all poor people would be EXACTLY like them. In fact, the only reason that poor people make the choices they do is because they have not been given the means to make the right choices and care about the right things”). Sometimes it’s not as funny as it could be—usually this happens when it lapses into mere sarcasm—but what is? In general, I think it deserves the hype.

Predictably, one strain of the blog addresses privileged liberal self-righteousness about the everyday steps they take to advance liberal causes (or Awareness): Priuses, Vegan/Vegetarianism, and what seems to have caused the most internet-wide dismay, Recycling. The joke is generally that these “50 Simple Ways to Save the ____” steps are ways of mollifying liberal guilt without actually changing one’s lifestyle, as in this excerpt from the Recycling entry:

Recycling is fantastic! You can still buy all the stuff you like (bottled water, beer, wine, organic iced tea, and cans of all varieties) and then when you’re done you just put it in a DIFFERENT bin than where you would throw your other garbage. And boom! Environment saved! Everyone feels great, it’s so easy!

There are two over-reactions to this kind of joke/critique, and this applies to all sorts of comedy and commentary besides SWPL (which is my broader point). The obvious one is to huff and puff that these things aren’t funny, because they’re really important: are you saying people shouldn’t recycle? These are the same people that hold that South Park or Team America are conservative, because they [the angry liberal viewers] can’t tell the difference between pointing out the flaws or foibles of one position, and endorsing the opposite position. In other words, while you should take positive steps that may be minor or symbolic, it is possible, and in fact important, to recognize the limits of what you’re doing, so that you can remain humble and motivate yourself to take more substantive steps. Later I’ll get to how this happy medium works.

The other overreaction is to say, “Absolutely right—all that stuff is phony liberalism, and it doesn’t make a lick of difference.” This is where that ambivalence I mentioned comes in: it’s right to take comic positions seriously, but one should never forget that those positions come from a comic persona, and absolutism is often part of a comic persona. It generally should not be part of how we actually formulate positions.

For instance, one of my favorite comedy routines of all time is, brace yourself, Chris Rock’s “Niggas Versus Black People.” The reason it’s so funny is that it’s so startling: not just because Rock uses profanity and racial slurs, but because he adopts an extreme persona that casts American racial politics in a stark light. Whereas, when people (invariably white people) talk about how much sense that routine makes, they not only sound racist; they generally are racist. (Here’s a Sadly, No! post about one example.) This has nothing to do with the question of who can say what words; it has to do with the difference between comedy, which is based on extremes, and real-world decisions, which should include nuances. Chris Rock is not “just joking”—his position is not a total fabrication—but he is definitely joking; he’s exaggerating for comic effect. Anyone who fails to see that is mistaking the moment of laughter for the moment of truth.

Similarly, we have this post by Ogged about how really true SWPL is. He abandons the comic persona (“Now I realize that this really isn’t funny”) but thinks that what remains is still just as valid. Here’s an excerpt (thanks to Mithras for the link):

You can’t sit at the top of the empire, particularly an empire that fucks over millions of its own citizens, and not be a villain. I’m sorry, those are the breaks. … That’s why things that are well-intentioned, like recycling, are absurd, because nobody cares if you spit shine the bullet before you put it in someone’s head.

This is where I get off the bus. First of all, it’s obvious that if recycling and choosing a car with good gas mileage doesn’t make a difference, neither does littering out the window of your Hummer H2. So essentially this is a Get Out of Jail Free card for the people, and they are legion, who believe that they don’t have to do anything for anyone because it’s all bullshit; they see what a joke personal responsibility is, and what sheep we all are for trying to make a difference. As Mithras said (sardonically): “So there you go, folks: You may as well act as evilly as you care to, because it doesn’t matter what you do. Isn’t that the moral of this story?”

Second, actions that are not efficacious in themselves often are when taken en masse; furthermore, sweating the small stuff is how you stay primed for the big stuff. For instance, on a personal level, being frugal when you buy groceries or go out to eat isn’t going to help your bank account very much except over the very long term, but it puts you in the mind-set that you’ll need when bigger financial decisions arise. Similarly, voting in an election isn’t going to affect the outcome—if everyone I know even casually had skipped the primary earlier this month, the result would have been the same—but it’s the kind of behavior that makes change, and keeps you connected to the world of politics rather than detached from it. So it’s important to sort your recycling, because it keeps your mind on the importance of environmental change over convenience; at the same time, you shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that recycling is change. What SWPL is critiquing is the idea that driving the Prius, or taking out the recycling, clears you to live guilt-free and smug and buy all those Apple products. I’ll stop a moment to let you think whether you’ve ever known anyone like that. (One of the places where the site loses me, incidentally, is its take on non-profit organizations: aside from the canard that “the sweet side of non profits is that you are paid a competitive salary for your field,” it seems to me that working for change as a career is above this kind of scoffing. So this parenthetical just proves that everyone has their humorless side.)

We—the universal we, but especially we privileged, well-intentioned people—need comedy to poke fun at our values, which is to say at us, because otherwise we risk missing the forest for the trees: the echo chamber of our good-natured friends and our feelings of self-satisfaction needs to be punctured every once in a while so that we can see the bigger picture. That said, the difference between comedy and mere cynicism is that comedy sees another way. The people like Ogged who have figured it all out feel just as superior as the yuppie recyclers, but they’re content to simply sneer at the idea of political efficacy. That’s a form of smugness we can’t afford.

(And yes, I know that another overreaction to a joke is to go on and on about it on your blog. “Overthinking” should really be the next Stuff White People Like entry.)

January 14, 2008

Wanna be startin’ somethin’

Filed under: Blogs Themselves, Funny Stuff, Wrong Place Buddy — tomemos @ 10:41 pm

Checking our blog stats, and in particular the Google searches that lead misguided “readers” to our blogs, is something of a hobby among small bloggers, or at least me and my wife. This being the case, I’d like to inaugurate “Wrong Place, Buddy,” a recurring feature wherein I’ll note some of the more memorable search terms that made people realize that tomemos was for them. Here are the first two:

“having a decent dump”

“crotch shot of girl patting a snake”

Of course, posting these only makes it more likely that people (how many can there be?) will find this site with these searches. So, let me say to those people: Jesus, guys, haven’t you heard of Google Images?

January 3, 2008

Omitofo

Filed under: Blogs Themselves, Laws and Sausages, Travels — tomemos @ 12:22 pm

(Updated below)

Two great posts have just gone up that have some bearing on my last, so I wanted to point you towards them if you haven’t seen them already.

Girl Detective just posted about an encounter we both had with a politically-minded drunk, who lambasted me for my laziness, privilege, and selfishness in getting a PhD rather than (for instance) volunteering in New Orleans, and then urged GD to make me understand what’s really important (by taking me to see Charlie Wilson’s War, mainly). One of the points GD makes in her post is that, despite our interlocutor’s avowed progressivism, she was actually embodying the anti-intellectualism (and, in her dealings with GD herself, the sexism) that is such a staple of the right wing. Now, most of the progressives and radicals who level accusations of liberal privilege are not drunk and belligerent, but rather thoughtful, committed, and intelligent. Nevertheless, the same kind of duping is often present: at the Shrub Blog, I observed that some criticism of Yes Means Yes, in dismissing the link between women’s sexuality and rape, was echoing right-wing opposition to (for instance) The Vagina Monologues. One of the right wing’s great triumphs has been to use privilege as a wedge issue against the left—think of the emphasis on Kerry’s billions and Edwards’s haircuts, while Bush and Cheney are allowed to be as rich as they want—such that ambition and idealism are both considered superfluous and inauthentic.

•After reading about my brief meat-eating stint, Uncomplicatedly posted her own solution to being a vegetarian in a meat-heavy locale, New Orleans in her case: simply to ask the chef to prepare something vegetarian, which can be more intimate than simply picking something off a menu:

You see, ordering a vegetarian plate gives you a unique relationship to the chef. Some will just give you a collection of their side dishes, which can be a bummer, but some will look around at their kitchens, see what’s on hand, and improvise something special for you. If taste is the most transitory aesthetic experience, it is also one of the most intimate, and I am grateful to all the chefs who have ever taken extra time to consider my needs. While my family members struggled with difficult choices, I would be sitting serenely with a closed menu, waiting to see what delightful thing the chef would do for me. I didn’t feel restricted — I felt more free.

Uncomplicatedly also writes movingly about the ways those with good intentions towards animals can reconcile themselves to the times when we can’t help them as we’d like. This seems to me applicable to other attempts to help the disadvantaged, and provides a link between what the two threads of my last post, threads which at the time I thought were unconnected. We should do what we can to help, and we should absolutely criticize those who harm. (To slip into the specific for a moment: some may feel this way about Yes Means Yes; I disagree, but more power to them.) But energy is almost always better spent doing, than it is lambasting oneself or others for not doing more.

Update (1/4): Joseph Kugelmass gives his take on all of this over at his blog, in an ambitious and thought-provoking entry.  It includes, among other things, the only defense of meat-eating I’ve seen that goes beyond “The lions do it,” “The cavemen did it,” “It tastes good,” or “How do you know PLANTS don’t feel pain?”  Highly recommended.

December 31, 2007

Don’t you know that other kids are starving in Japan

Filed under: Blogs Themselves, Funny Stuff, General Me, Laws and Sausages, Travels — tomemos @ 2:29 pm

Two unconnected month-of-December items, so that my conscience can be clear going into the new year:

•Julie and I finally took our honeymoon, to Ensenada in Baja California, about three weeks ago. It wasn’t sub-tropical by any means—our shorts and bathing suits went unused, which we half-expected—but it was quite relaxing, with plenty of napping and strolling, with a pleasant day trip to Mexican wine country thrown in. It also featured a minor milestone: I fell off the meat wagon. For the first time since (roughly) May 1993, I knowingly ordered and ate meat.

I’ve never been one of those vegetarians who is appalled by the thought of eating meat unknowingly. When, at one Midnight Breakfast at Sarah Lawrence, I realized that the fake sausage I had been enjoying was actually real sausage, I didn’t freak out, nor was I bothered when I realized that “imitation crab” is made out of other fish, not out of gluten or something. I also have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy towards broths, stocks, and sauces. But even with this permissiveness, my trip to Japan a couple of years ago felt extremely unsatisfying: while my family enjoyed every kind of fish dish, I was eating the same miso soup, salads, and edamame everywhere, and anything else I tried was most likely cooked in fish products anyway. Furthermore, my moral commitment to vegetarianism is wholly personal; I’m perfectly fine with others eating meat, so it felt strange holding myself to an absolute standard.

So, when I learned that our vacation destination was the Home of the Fish Taco, I realized that I was open to trying some. It was important that it be fish—I do believe that they feel less suffering and consciousness—and also that there be few interesting vegetarian options where we were traveling; even in Greece, I was able to enjoy local varieties of Greek salad, as well as various pita-based foods, whereas around Ensenada few restaurants had anything vegetarian other than quesadillas.

Over the course of the trip, I ate five fish tacos at two different restaurants, as well as a plate of seafood pasta. (I also ate steak tacos after all, but that was a misunderstanding: I ordered “tacos quesas,” and it ended up having steak, and the food took so long to arrive that I didn’t want to send it back.) How was it? It was fine. It felt somewhat odd knowing I was intentionally breaking an abstention, and I worried that I would have digestive problems (I didn’t), but it was basically anticlimactic; I was just eating food.

In the end, though, I think this experiment ended up strengthening my vegetarianism. The fish tacos tasted good; they didn’t make me feel like I had been missing out on something amazing for fifteen years. At one point during our trip, I had a vegetarian tostada, and that was as satisfying a meal as anything else I ate in Mexico. Taste is possibly the most transitory aesthetic experience: even if you eat a meal that you remember for the rest of your life—and I’ve had one or two—it can’t make you want to live a different way. My feelings on eating meat are unchanged: for me, it is a moral issue, but not a moral absolute.

Incidentally, in talking about this experience, I received a reminder that the personally significant is not always identical with the objectively significant. Talking to my sister about our trip, and trying to build suspense, I told her that there had been a “significant occurrence” on our honeymoon. She thought I was going to tell her that we had gotten pregnant.

•There’s a debate raging in the feminist and left-wing blogospheres these days, over a new book project, Yes Means Yes, a collection of essays about fighting rape culture through emphasis on women’s sexuality. The book was announced at Feministing and is co-edited by Jessica Valenti, controversial author of Full Frontal Feminism, which was (to my mind justly) accused of excluding middle-class, non-white, and international feminist issues, despite its claims of universality. (My two favorite responses were petitpoussin’s and Kugelmass’s.) Yes Means Yes is facing much the same criticism: it has been accused of being ahistorical, reductionist, and indifferent to working-class and third-world rape cultures, among other things. However, the book right now is just a call for submissions, and so there is no content to critique; furthermore, many people seem to be taking it as a given that the book is attempting to be the last word on rape, and that it could not be relevant to underprivileged women’s issues. Neither point seems fair to me.

That said, I don’t have much of a dog in that fight … except where it spills over into unfounded incriminations of progressives generally. At an excellent post by tekanji at Shrub Blog—a post that correctly critiques aspects of book’s promotional material while recognizing the potential value of the project overall—I read a comment that seemed to cross the line between making supportable claims about the book, or about Western feminism in general, and unsupportable generalization and hyperbole (“the incessant need of some middle-class white folks to act as though their insular world is the center of the universe, and that all others simply don’t count”). Breaking my usual policy, which is not to discuss politics online except at friends’ blogs, I responded, and a discussion followed, including what is probably the longest comment I’ve posted anywhere. The thread seems to have run its course, but you never know.

You can read the actual arguments at tekanji’s blog. I do want to say a word, though, about where my interest in this issue comes from: it comes from attending both high school and college with students who were 1) universally left-wing and 2) divided, to different degrees, into pretty stark contrasts of privileged and unprivileged, both financially and demographically. Consequently, identity politics has been central to my political understanding and discussion, for better and for worse. Some would expect this to be the point where the white, straight, middle-class man complains about how unfairly he was treated; actually, I found most of political discussions in my youth to be thoughtful and productive, and especially important for someone coming from natural positions of privilege. The exceptions have been cases where assumptions of exclusion and privilege preclude and eclipse fair consideration of content, and I think that’s what’s happening with Yes Means Yes. At Shrub Blog, one commenter accused progressive and feminist bloggers of paying “lip service” to working-class issues, which for me raised the question of what other kind of service can be paid on a blog; aside from organizing and fund-raising efforts, the internet is all talk. In fact, people seem to be criticizing Yes Means Yes precisely for its failure to make explicit mention of unprivileged women’s issues. Honestly, this is a fair point—if the book wants to be for everyone, it should make this clear— but the fact remains that the suggested topics are just that, suggested, and before the essays are compiled it is impossible to conclude whether or not the book is “exclusionary.” The frustrations with the state of feminism and the feminist and progressive blogospheres seem valid to me; the assumptions about this unpublished book do not, and run the risk of alienating potential supporters and allies.

Be safe tonight and this year, everyone.

December 7, 2007

Using ideas as my maps

Filed under: Blogs Themselves, Film and Video, Literati and Cognoscenti, Music — tomemos @ 2:12 pm

Attention, smart people: I think we should have some kind of symposium on the Todd Haynes film I’m Not There. Probably an online symposium, though honestly I’d like to get us all in a Mariott ballroom talking about it, as it’s a film where our disagreements are more important than our agreements. Because while I liked the movie overall—I’d say three stars on Netflix—it’s also the most disappointing movie I’ve seen in years; I didn’t love it by any means, and yet no one who loved it has said anything I’ve disagreed with. So I’d like to start us talking about how we could all be thinking such similar things about the film and coming to such different aesthetic conclusions.

Here’s what I’m going to say today: I’m Not There is a textbook example of why, in art, the conceptual is unsatisfying without effective practical execution. In fact, I used it in class a week ago to make that very point to my students. Somewhat like the other Todd Haynes films I’ve seen—Safe (which I saw while young, admittedly) and Far From Heaven—the movie is thoughtful and has interesting ideas, but does not actually feel interesting to watch. The disappointment of I’m Not There is so keen for me because the concept is especially good, while the execution is often mediocre and occasionally bad. (Spoilers follow from here on out.)

In fairness, I should note at the beginning that I experienced the film in a sub-optimal manner: some reels were shown out of order, so that (for instance) we first encountered Cate Blanchett’s Dylan before he had been properly introduced. Perturbed by the abrupt shifts in scene, we suggested to a theater employee that the reels might have been out of order, but he said he had arranged them correctly and added, “It’s what you call an extremely disjointed narrative.” It took a week to confirm that this was incorrect; the friend we checked with wondered at first if maybe we just didn’t understand avant-garde cinema. On the one hand, you could say that we would have enjoyed the movie more if we had seen it in order, and that’s probably true (though it wouldn’t have made any difference for the Richard Gere and Heath Ledger sequences, which had nothing redeeming for me). On the other hand, the fact that the projectionist couldn’t tell that the film was out of order isn’t exactly a point in its favor. (There weren’t a lot of audience members around us who shared our suspicions, either.) So, with that out of the way:

Joe Kugelmass, who initially disliked the movie, came to appreciate it by thinking of it as a statement on Dylan’s use of self-mythologizing: “For Haynes, Dylan is the sum of his fantasies—the fantasy of being black and young again, the fantasy of being a noble refugee with a history of violence.…” Uncomplicatedly, in a comment on that entry, agrees:

Everyone goes through successive reimaginings of themselves– which is part of what gives the film weight and resonance– but this is especially important for Dylan, who was bent on reimagining himself in defiance of people who wanted to hold onto the particular incarnation they had connected with.

This matches other opinions I’ve heard: the movie is intended to capture Dylan’s constant re-invention, both to the public and to himself, and the impossibility of settling on a “true” Dylan in light of this. This is made explicit in Richard Gere’s words near the end of the film: “Me, I can change in the course of a day. I wake up thinking I’m one person, and when I go to sleep I know for certain I’m somebody else.”

Here’s the thing: I get all that. What’s more, I agree with all that. It’s what I understood Haynes’ object to be when I heard he was making a movie with six very different Dylans, and as someone who’s been a Dylan fan most of my life, it’s what made me excited to see it. And, despite some unfortunately literal uses of Dylan lyrics, Haynes’ use of this concept is exemplary, as he makes observations—criticism, really—about Dylan’s life and career that make intrinsic sense. My favorite of these is the way that Christian Bale’s Dylan, the early-sixties protest singer, resurfaces in the late seventies as a born-again preacher. It’s true that Dylan’s Christian period was in some ways a reprise of his protest period: he believed, again, that he could change people, save people, through song. I had never thought of it this way, but, thanks to Haynes, now I have.

My problem is that the enjoyment or fulfillment I got from watching these concepts in the movie was equal to that I got from reading about them in film reviews ahead of time: it was an intellectual enjoyment, not an aesthetic one. In other words, for the most part the concepts and ideas work only as concepts and ideas; aside from a few good scenes, almost all in the Bale or Blanchett sections of the movie, they are not actually executed in a way that gives pleasure beyond figuring them out or understanding them. And so the movie ended up for me as a noble failure, a smart but disappointing effort, rather than a comprehensively good film.

Of course, one could reasonably argue that you can’t judge a film fairly once you’ve spoiled it for yourself by reading reviews, and that if I had seen the film without prior knowledge I would have been able to achieve full enjoyment of its ideas. I would respond with two points:

1) The film’s own promotional materials made a point of explicitly selling, and explaining, these same concepts, running the same risk of spoilage as the reviews did. I’m not just talking about the trailer, although that’s part of it (the Gere quote from above is right there in the trailer); I’m also talking about “I’m Not There: The Official Guide to the Movie,” a six-page booklet, given to us with our movie tickets, which contains articles explaining what part of Dylan’s life and iconography each of the actors represents and what all the sources for the people, dialogue, clothes, etc. are. Now, obviously Haynes didn’t make the trailer or the booklet; he may abhor them. But it is relevant to me that the film was sold by giving the concepts away: it created my desire to see the movie that went along with those concepts, and that movie didn’t stand up. Moreover, I wouldn’t be too quick to say that this is separate from what Haynes himself does: in both the beginning and the end of the film, we see a rapid-fire display of snapshots of the six actors playing Dylan, which seems to be Haynes’ way of pushing the film’s central concept to the forefront.

2) More importantly, the film should stand on its own. This is true of any work of art: the intellectual or conceptual material is not less important than the practical execution of that material, but both halves need each other to thrive. A friend of mine disliked the novel Hannibal, until he found a website that claimed to find a system of oblique references (to what, I don’t remember) in the novel. Without weighing in on the plausibility of the references, or the quality of the book—I’m not familiar with either one—literature is not an Easter-egg-hunt; it’s not just about finding references, nor is it just about making points and developing ideas. Those references, points, and ideas have to be artistically presented to an audience. A boring or unconvincing novel is better with well-developed ideas than without them, but it remains boring and unconvincing either way.

Losing sight of this means losing sight of why we take the two hours to actually watch a film, rather than just talking about its ideas. When a film is all concept, it’s impossible to discuss it on any other grounds; every flaw is actually an essential part of the concept. The Richard Gere sequence in I’m Not There is derivative (basically a watered-down McCabe and Mrs. Miller with giraffes), but that’s okay, because Dylan’s vision of the West was itself derivative. The Heath Ledger/Charlotte Gainsbourg divorce scenes are boring, but that’s okay, because it shows us how flat and boring Dylan’s life felt to him during this time. On the other hand, I just watched a Sopranos episode (“House Arrest”) about Tony and everyone around him being bored and depressed, and it was compelling from beginning to end. Everyone who’s been in a writing workshop has heard someone say that a character is supposed to be annoying, or a scene is supposed to be frustrating. The fact is, good art is able to make all the emotions and experiences of life, even the banal ones, feel interesting and worthwhile (not to say pleasant or enjoyable) without making us think of justifications for their banality.

I would compare it to surprise endings. Obviously, a movie with a surprise ending is better when you don’t already know the ending, so that you don’t lose the surprise. At the same time, a good movie should be good independent of that surprise. The fact that The Crying Game doesn’t stand up when the twist (not actually at the end, I know) has been spoiled is a sign that it isn’t a very worthwhile film. On the other hand, I loved Citizen Kane, even though I had known what Rosebud was since I was seven. A concept, like a twist, is something one can know and understand independently from actually seeing the movie (or reading the book, etc.). Experiencing that concept or twist has to be worthwhile in and of itself.

I do admire Haynes for making such an ambitious and conceptual movie; I do enjoy thinking through what it has to say about Dylan and about identity in general. As it turns out, all of that doesn’t have much effect on my experience actually watching these people say those lines. “But then all this had somehow to be turned into art,” Martin Amis once wrote at the end of a book review; “that is where the real trouble started.”

November 14, 2007

Every day I write the book

Filed under: Blogs Themselves, General Me, Get your motor runnin' — tomemos @ 10:29 am

This is a good month for blogging every day; in fact, it’s the month for blogging every day. Friend and blogfriend Kindle (first blog I ever read, hand to God) is taking part, for the second straight year, and has so far discussed films, fashion, food, and ESL teaching.  In similar news, a guy I know has started a blog chronicling his 20-day quest (beginning Saturday) to watch 100 great films, run 100 miles, and grade 40 student papers.   So you want to put that in your RSS before you forget.  Finally, Sarah Lawrence friend Phaea Crede has a blog which, while not technically a NaBloPoMo participant, seems to update almost every day, and also each entry is titled “Today in…” which feels pleasantly like syndicated news.

I recommend all three blogs, both for their own merits (this is projected, in the case of Days of Industry) and for the feeling of plenty that comes from having a new entry to read each day. Me, I don’t have the material or the wherewithal to blog once a week, let alone once a day. However, in the spirit of the month, here is something quirky and trivial you can read about me:

I’ve learned to ride my bike without hands. I know that I’m a little old for this, but but the circumstances were never right before: there are too many hills in Berkeley, and I’ve always been a late bloomer in terms of not being a pussy (I couldn’t watch Pee Wee’s Big Adventure or The Neverending Story until I was in my teens, e.g.). Now, though, I find myself in Long Beach, home of flat, broad, one-way residential streets, and since I’m in my late twenties it can no longer be said that I have my whole life ahead of me. So I started riding no hands – tentatively at first, then confidently. Now I can do it for a block at a time, and I’m starting to learn how to turn.

The funny thing, though, is how addictive this method is; it’s started to feel like the most natural way to ride. Now, whenever I climb on the bike, my first instinct is to put my weight back, and for the first time in my life I want to own one of those upright cruisers rather than a bike that makes you lean forward. It’s too bad unicycles are so dorky, because that’d be the logical next step.

October 5, 2007

I’ll try to see it your way

Filed under: Blogs Themselves, The Gray Lady — tomemos @ 10:37 am

Since some of you read my blog via RSS reader, I thought I’d alert you to a comment you may have missed: Jeff Hersh, who wrote the letter to the New York Times featured in this entry about the Virginia Tech shootings, wrote a comment responding to my criticisms. I hope that you all will check it out and weigh in. And my thanks to Jeff for his contribution.

August 24, 2007

You’re different. So are we.

Filed under: Blogs Themselves, Literati and Cognoscenti — tomemos @ 12:35 am

Just before the wedding (which went great, by the way—more later, but see here and here in the meantime), I finished reading Jonathan Lethem’s novel Fortress of Solitude, and I’ve been talking about it ever since. Maybe I’m just deprived from not reading any contemporary fiction in the run-up to the exams, but it seemed like the sort of book that could get everyone talking. After a couple hundred pages I knew I was going to want to blog on it, but I couldn’t think of how to get beyond “this book is really interesting” and thus make it interesting to those (probably almost all of you) who hadn’t read the book. Luckily Joe Kugelmass called my attention to Timothy Burke’s proposal for a “Department of Everything Studies” (by posting his own excellent response to it), and I realized the way in: the novel intersects with a debate, bubbling especially over the last few years, over the juxtaposition of pop culture with high culture (or the outright substitution of the latter with the former), in art, in academia, and in society at large. Incidentally, feel free to put invisible quotation marks around “high culture,” but to a large extent I believe in the distinction so I’m leaving them out.

What I’ve written below is pretty sprawling, and I don’t pretend to have a particularly clear thesis—except insofar as, once again, I propose the Middle Path. Instead, I want to use the book to examine some of the issues that surround the interaction between pop culture and high culture, including the canon, race and class, and “nerds,” and look at how academics might resolve these. (A note to those who haven’t read the book: I’ll try to avoid spoilers here, but obviously a certain amount of reference to the events of the plot is inevitable.)

(more…)

July 5, 2007

I’ve been living so long with these pictures of you

Filed under: Blogs Themselves — tomemos @ 1:52 am

This is not interesting to you unless you have a WordPress blog, but if you do, take note:

There is a way to remove those awful avatar pictures from your Recent Comments sidebar. Here it is:

—Go to your WordPress Dashboard.

—Click the “Presentation” tab.

—Click the “Widgets” sub-tab.

—Click on the options button within your “Recent Comments” widget. (Note: This doesn’t work that great on Safari; drag the widget around the screen until the button manifests itself. Then return it to your sidebar and click the button.)

—Set “Avatar Size” to “No Avatars.”

—Click “Save Changes.”

Finished!  See how not-ugly that is?

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