Thursday, May 21, 2015

Anchored to Their Looks


Michelle Kosinski
CNN’s Michelle Kosinski is an uncommonly good looking correspondent in an arena where photogenic appearance means a lot. Lonnie Quinn who does the weather for WCBS in New York is also an example of a reporter with exceptional looks; in his case he’s almost a character out of a book like Bonfire of the Vanities, someone who one imagines being there to record a hurricane creating havoc—in a novel. But as any good looking person will tell you looks, like wealth, can be a bane as well as a boon. It's often hard to get past the good looks of a person. If you were a producer, how would you judge whether you wanted to choose Michelle Kosinski as your White House correspondent, if you couldn’t get your eyes off of those gorgeous glossed lips? On the other side of the fence, the good looking person who has so many opportunities, due to his or her appearance, can’t choose what he or she wants in work or love. Do I want to be an anchor for CNN, which is a serious news station, if I can be paid more saying less on Fox. And how do you make a choice in love? Most of us don’t face these kinds of problems, but really good looking people should be pitied for the possibilities that are constantly placed before them. No sooner do you fall in love, then another petitioner comes along who is not only more brilliant and better looking than the present candidate for your affections, but also a better source, providing you happen to be in the news business. But is it really true that good looking reporters regularly scoop their less attractive counterparts? And who ever said that life is fair?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

How to Retake Ramadi?


Get the C-5M Super Galaxy, that’s the largest plane in the Air Force’s arsenal and load it up with the two rival motorcycle gangs, the Bandidos and the Cossacks. Their recent flare up in a Waco  shopping mall, The Central Texas Marketplace, at a restaurant recalling the David Lynch TV series, Twin Peaks not far from a Men’s Warehouse, Best Buy and Kohl’s resulted in 9 deaths (“170 Bikers Charged in Waco, in a Rivalry Rooted in the l960’s," NYT, 5/18/15) The C5M will easily accommodate their Harleys, even the choppers with the extended front ends. These gangs undoubtedly  frighten even the fearsome Texas Rangers and according to news reports are  highly organized paramilitary organizations that have their own pecking order and even surveillance capacities (“Bandidos vs. Cossacks:Was the Texas biker shootout over territory, “ CNN, 5/19/15) Let’s see how they do against ISIS. From the news footage, these guys appear to have thick necks. Their heads are not likely to roll. As backup we should load another plane up with the most dangerous prisoners, the kind of guys who have been doing solitary in notorious maximum security prisons like the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola—whose methods of rehabilitation resemble the raising of fighting dogs. Put ISIS up against the Aryan Brotherhood, the Crips and the Bloods, an alliance we might call today’s Axis powers to the extent that they’re off their rockers. You won’t have to worry about outfitting this new battalion of bikers. Due to our current gun laws, they’re all well taken care of. They’ll be a whole new set of execution videos coming out of the Caliphate, only the new executioners are likely to look like ZZ Top, though CNN and Fox will still likely be arguing over the propriety of showing the footage.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Nudging Your Way to Oblivion




What to do about those unanswered e mails? Listening to speakers like Deepak Chopra or TED talks and believing in the beneficence and generosity of the universe, you decide one bright spring morning to come out of your cocoon and reveal your desires. You’re going to go after it. You think about all the people who you have been afraid to engage, those who have something you want or who you think would want something you have and make a list. You then start to send missives. If you’re a writer, you may decide that this right time to send that poem or short story to The New Yorker, Tin House or The Paris Review. If you’re a painter you start thinking about Larry Gagosian or Mary Boone. If your a gadget maker you remember the George Foreman ad for InventHelp. The roulette wheel is spinning. Maybe it will be your lucky day. Before the advent of the internet, the manila envelope with its SASE was the proxy for your hopes. Now everything is faster. You hit a button and your attachment is released into posterity. Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo was the name of a famous war film. It takes less than a second to release your precious cargo, but days, weeks, months pass without so much as a response. You may even have had a distant connection to the editor or art dealer who is a college buddy of your internist. The least you expect is a cordial rejection. It doesn’t take much to thank you and wish you luck in placing your work elsewhere. Yet nothing arrives. Talk about justifiable anger. You try to think up the exact right follow up. If you act like the editor doesn’t remember your original e mail and your shared acquaintance, you're being insulting, Yet there’s a distinct possibility he or she doesn’t know you from Adam. And what to say? Of course you realize that the person you're writing to is beleaguered by petitioners. You understand their predicament and don’t want to rush them. Just get back to me within my lifetime is the kind of thing you want to say, but you realize that you may be regarded like Uriah Heep, with your unctuousness only covering up your obvious rage at being dismissed or forgotten. You decide to be as matter-of-fact as possible. You send an e mail which just asks about the status of the short story, poem, art work or invention. You wait one, two, three days, one, two, three weeks and still no response. Maybe now it’s time to copy and sent the same e mail as if it weren’t sent before. You think of a cluster bomb in which you will mail the same e mail every day for a month. But then you realize you will be regarded as a total nut case, a stalker who may be feared but whose work will not be taken seriously. You will have blown your opportunity entirely. There are only two things left to do 1) pray 2) look on the whole experience as an opportunity for spiritual growth. Rather than feeling despondent at having all your hopes dashed, begin to look at it as a privilege which will open up new worlds of ego-deflation.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Who Wants to Play Second Fiddle?



                      United States Department of State
Bank of New York Mellon has produced a laugh out loud funny commercial. Audience members are waiting to hear Itzhak Perlman begin a concert. You can see the look of anticipation on their faces and then all of a sudden, it’s announced the comedian Rhea Perlman will be sitting in for him. A few bars of cacophonic violin playing follow. The idea is that you don’t want surrogates handing your money. Rhea is, of course, the wife of Danny DeVito and not  the famed musician. However what is most interesting is the shared name and the not so subtle implication infusing the comedy and relating to marriage. However, glamorous it is to be married to a successful person, no one likes to play second fiddle. But, let’s imagine if Bank New York Mellon’s advertising agency had chosen the Clintons for their  commercial. This scenario might be slightly reversed in terms of the sexes. The audience is waiting for Hillary to appear, but at the last moment it’s announced that Bill will be taking her place. What would the equivalent of the out of tune violin in the context of a political campaign. Remember Monty Python’s, “Nudge nudge. Wink wink. Say no more.” But that’s too obvious. What could really happen would be something even more discordant with Bill, as he has on some previous occasions, acting like a runaway horse. For instance here is a Times report “Now on the Campaign Trail, a Reined in Bill Clinton,” (NYT, 2/27/08) dealing with how Clinton botched up Hillary’s earlier campaign for president. No one wants him to play that tune again.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Rise of the "Crypto-Relic"


New Hoover Convertible (Jeff Koons, l980)
In a piece entitled “Traces of the Holy: The contemporary art work as ‘crypto-relic’” (TLS, 4/10/15), Matthew Bown makes the following comment, “The art market today is a market in crypto-relics, no more, no less. The dithyrambs of the experts—as when the director of the Tate art museums, Sir Nicholas Serota describes art objects as ‘symbols of optimism and renewal,’ as ‘objects of beauty and contemplation,’ or as ‘transgressive,’ 'raw and tender, brazen and subtle’—recreate the alluring discourse, the promise of miraculous potential, that sustained the original Christian relics in the public imagination.” How better to describe Damien Hirst’s “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living,” the famed shark immersed in formaldehyde or Jeff Koons’ “New Hoover Convertibles” which might be subtitled “what you see is what you get.” Duchamp’s “Fountain,” with its R. Mutt signature, might as well have been a Kohler or Toto as it canonized the found object. But artists like Hirst and Koons have actually gone much further, in that the high demand almost requires an  iconography. Religiosity always had something in common with romanticism to the extent it was predicated on a belief in the unseen. What would the Shroud of Turin be without a higher love? The absence of value and/or meaning acts like a vacuum that creates the significance of Brown’s "crypto-relics." Everyone reads meaning into Chance, the main character of Jerzy Kosinski’s Being There. But Chance is just an idiot savant, a tabula rasa on which others paint their wishes for transcendence. And “so it goes” as Vonnegut famously says in Slaughterhouse-Five. Those who don’t keep the faith will say that the public is being Tartuffed.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Zeitgeist


The Zeitgeist is like a person who walks into a room and feels totally at home. “Zeit" in German is time and “Geist" is spirit. So the words literally means “spirit of the time." But there are, in fact, certain people and cultural artifacts that reflect the Zeitgeist of a time. Camus’s The Stranger, a book, by an obscure French intellectual, who had edited the resistance newspaper Combat, became a publishing phenomenon in 50’s America. Bob Dylan epitomized the Zeitgeist of the 60’s. He would have several other incarnations which would make him at the very least a fellow traveler in the Zeitgeist of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. However, that first album, The Free Wheeling Bob Dylan (which included songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Masters of War,”) with the picture of him walking down the street, a guitar strapped over his shoulder and his arm around a pretty girl was like the concept of a first cause in philosophy. Today Lena Dunham's  Girls seems to be a candidate for Zeitgeistmeister, to the extent that it portrays a whole post-modernist generation who have majored in ambivalence and see all of life as a work of meta-fiction in which reality has been mirrored so many times that it’s been reduced to chards of relativity. Opportunistic art entrepreneurs are always on the look out for the next Zeitgeistlich writer, artist or musician, but it’s hard to predict what the Zeitgeist will be since the pupa of its essence is often embodied in a personality like a Dylan whose imagination is like the ignition on an explosive device. Does Karl Ove Knausgaard reflect the Zeitgeist of Norwegians since one out of 8 of his countrymen own Min kamp. The book's incipient provocativeness seems an unlikely candidate for the Zeitgeist of a nation with such a reserved façade? Is the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey a reflection of the Zeitgeist or is E.L. James’s novel merely a clever manipulation?  Salinger, David Foster Wallace, Annie Lennox and Sting all reflected the Zeitgeist of their respective times, as did Picasso, Jackson Pollock and now yes Damien Hirst? In the political sphere, do the beleaguered Barack Obama, the arrogant Vladimir Putin or even the horrific ISIS reflect the wobbly nature of our globe? And has our age become too complicated to produce philosophers like Plato and Aristotle whose tomes emanated an eternal Zeitgeist, however oxymoronic, that ultimately could tell us how to live?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Pornosophy: Loving Sex?




Is loving sex all that it’s cracked up to be? Or is it the province of bad movies like Love Story (1970) or another sixties classic A Man and a Woman (1966). One of the nice things about a film like Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight (2013) is that it shies away from loving sex. One of the film’s great scenes is an enormous argument that breaks out in an elegant hotel room which a couple has been treated to as a gift. Instead of passionate lovemaking the time away from the kids turns into a massive back and forth in which mutual recriminations almost end in a breakup. Another classic depiction of non-loving sex occurs in Antonioni’s L’avventura (1960) when Claudia (Monica Vitti) discovers Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti) in the arms of the American whore Gloria Perkins (Dorothy De Polioli). It’s a scene of almost orgasmic disenchantment in which everything that is wrong with the universe is concentrated in one spectacularly revolting embrace. David Lean’s version of Noel Cowards’s Brief Encounter had love, but the encounter was too brief to turn into sex. And then there is the case of the second to the last film John Holmes ever made, The Rise of the Roman Empress (1987). At this point in his career, Holmes already knew he was HIV positive yet he proceeded to have unprotected sex with the Italian porn star and politician La Cicciolina. If there were an award given for malevolently intentioned unloving sex or “loving porking," this film could very well get it. These days loving sex is literally the talk of the town. It’s the only way for students to indulge their promiscuous desires in California under the new “Affirmative Consent” statute which is one of the biggest challenges to the pleasures of the hate fuck. Last Tango in Paris (1972) contained some sex scenes which epitomized the misery of the human condition and are the perfect antidote to the virus of sentimentalism which is on the verge of infecting both cinema and life. The monologue of the nurse, Alma (Bibi Andersson), in Bergman’s Persona (1966) is also an effective remedy for romantic daydreams, along with the old locker room adage, “tell ‘em you love ‘em and you lay ‘em."