Slavoj Zizek and Tariq Ramadan on Aljazeera

It took me until the 5th season of 30 Rock, until Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey were arguing about a divorce in a lawyer’s office after accidentally getting married, to realize that it’s really a descendant of the screwball comedy. There has to be a divorce before there can be a marriage.

Sachiko Kobayashi, New Year’s Eve, 2010. (2009, 2008)

Art 21, season five

Season five of the PBS art education show, Art 21, is now online and free to view. The most interesting profiles for me this season were those of Cindy Sherman, Jeff Koons (just because he’s so corny and put-on in the interview, saying all the right things - hilarious), Allan McCollum, and John Baldessari.

I’d never heard of Allan McCollum before but his projects, in which he contracts out work to craftsmen he never meets, seems kind of interesting. He also just seems like one of those artists too hung up on his own peculiar little imaginative concern to be bothered cultivating any kind of persona for himself, really down to earth. There’s a mutual respect between himself and the craftsmen that is kind of touching, too. They might wonder what he’s up to and what kind of project it is they’re helping to fulfill but, even not completely understanding, they’re committed to seeing their side of it through with professionalism. I don’t know - I guess that segment just appeals to the small town protestant in me.

John Baldessari is an artist with whom I’ve only recently become familiar, but almost everything of his I’ve seen I’ve liked. He’s that increasingly rare kind of artist: a conceptualist who recognizes the necessity of maintaining a modicum of formal constraint. As he says in the video: “Not so much structure that it’s inhibiting, but not so loose that it can be anything.” He comes off particularly well just for being so damn relaxed, thoughtful, and, for lack of a better word, human. We never see him doing anything in the video other than sitting in his chair, talking, and making choices, which he says is the essence of art-making. You realize it’s art that comes to him, not the other way around. He’s just patient, waiting for something that comes along and looks like it works. 

It’s partly a relief, but also a little saddening, how professional and work-a-day most of the artists seem. I’m glad they’re not romantic brats, waiting for god’s light to illuminate their footsteps but, on the other hand, something about the way they work with their teams - never an artist without his assistants - always feels so incorporated, more like a design office than anything else. There are all kinds of ways of making art, I realize, but surely the process hasn’t been totally demystified, surely there’s still a little excitement in it. Those big bright studios, assistants running around in them, always overly keen - they don’t strike me as places conducive to imaginative play (which is still my understanding of what art is). They seem like factories. But that may just be me.

The show is illuminating though, at least of the diversity of approaches out there, while it fails, in the end, to convince me of the work’s capacity to illuminate. For the time being, we content ourselves with museums chock-full of okay.

To have put Kobayashi-san “up her own ass” would have been too coarse a metaphor for the NHK visual effects department who, burdened as they are every year with the task of outdoing the previous year’s efforts when it comes to finding some gaudy mechanism for the old lady to appear in, opted instead this year for putting her “in her own hands.”

This year’s gown - we’ll call it a gown - made last year’s look positively casual.

Jack Gold: The Naked Civil Servant. 1975.

A one-track portrait of Quentin Crisp, the self-styled “stately homo of England” (John Hurt), made for British Television in 1975. His life, were it anyone else’s, wouldn’t seem all that exceptional but for the immense charisma and dignity he carries himself with; but as a homosexual in mid-century London, it amounts to an act of heroism.

The measure of John Hurt’s performance - and he’s in every scene - is that one forgets, amid the string of domestic arrangements Crisp finds himself in, that all of them are homosexual. There’s no shock in Crisp’s flamboyant lifestyle, nor in seeing it depicted on screen - at least watching it now there isn’t. The shock is in the impoverished ways in which people choose to live out their lives, more generally. Apparently, what gays wanted but couldn’t openly insist on at the time was the right to the same hum-drum existences that everyone else had.

There is something painfully existential about the structure of the film: a life story told as a sequence of brief sketches illustrating (usually three year) spans of time, each with a little epiphany but no major joys, unswervingly focused on its main actor. The only place lonelier than the margins, it seems, is dead center.

Japanese TV Tropes (4): self-humiliation

Japanese TV Tropes (3): singer plumage

The Other Television (1): Pruane2Forever

It’s only recently that I’ve spent any time at all on YouTube. The personalities and “programs” I’ve stumbled upon strike me as interesting mainly in contrast to those on television. The motivations are different and the atmosphere is different. There is always something even more narcissistic about youtube “stars” in that, more often than not, you can see that they’re watching themselves on their screens, playing the simultaneous roles of actor and audience - the only one they’re guaranteed of having. Unlike television, there is no time limit and there are no focus-group appeals to a broad audience. Self-pleasure is the only pleasure sought. And the not-surprising irony is that sometimes that makes it the more interesting for the rest of us. Some people, unconsciously replicating the obligations of television, end up advertising products, etc. But I’ll get to that person (I have one particular person in mind) later.

One of my most regrettable stumbles was the one that led me to Pruane2Forever, a young man whose testosteronal cultural reviews (of video games, Transformers, etc.) are only equalled in obnoxiousness by his nasally voice and a ferocious ugliness. Still, having watched more than a few of his reviews for reasons that I hope will always remain opaque to me, I admit to finding trace amounts of likability in this guy, despite everything, that I can only attribute to some paternal resource of beneficence in my own character. Understand: it is not through anything he might do that he is, as regards my estimation of him, saved.

Too Forever: Pruane2Forever and the face of oblivion

There are times, too, when I think his reviews, most of them staunchly positive, are the truest kind of criticism, the essence of all reviews of the more elaborate kind that shelter their enthusiasms under a veneer of sophistication and scholarly depth. This guy just says it like it is: This movie was great. I loved it all the way through. Acting - 10 out of 10. Script - 10 out of 10. Everything was perfect. How many times, having read some book or seen some movie, and lacking anything more profound to say, have I wanted to shout the same insipid praises from the rooftops! This guy doesn’t check the zeal, doesn’t intellectualize it. I have to give him credit for that.

But never on television would you get a character so counter to the values we think we hold dear - beauty, intelligence, individuality, etc. As bottomless, as absorbingly despicable as Iago, there he is - Pruane2Forever - sounding the depths of an imbecility almost as dark as evil itself.

Japanese TV Tropes (2): studio shades

Japanese TV Tropes (1): transvestites, transexuals

Saint Passionate


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