Men who are tough, handsome, and rich, with a hint of violence. Men who shower their women with expensive gifts. Men who put up with caprice and childish behavior by their women. Such are the men of romance novels, as I said in an essay written way back in the 1994 in The Virginian-Pilot.
Reading Fifty Shades of Grey by the woman writer E.L. James, what’s immediately obvious is that this is essentially a romance novel. It fits the genre exactly. (In case anyone has been asleep for the last six months, Fifty Shades of Grey and its companion books have sold a zillion copies and attracted a lot of attention.) Besides the attributes I mention above, Shades of Grey also unspools at a monotonously slow pace, stretching out the moments before the protagonists actually get into bed. Another classic Romance novel technique. Women really do like foreplay, it seems.
The review by Edward Rothstein of the show in Washington DC about Thomas Jefferson and his slaves completed a loop for me. http://nyti.ms/w8wc5B Rothstein, a writer I would label a neo-conservative, wrote a courageous article whose conclusion I endorse. Living a wise and good life usually involves doing the best you can within an imperfect or even corrupt system. It does not usually involve being a revolutionary. Thomas Jefferson did the best he could within a corrupt system – slavery — and both he and his slaves arguably had better lives because of it. That’s the conclusion Edward Rothstein comes to in his review of the exhibit in Washington about Jefferson. Had Jefferson been a revolutionary or a true radical, he would left his plantation and become a hermit or something. (I know from reading that it probably wasn’t even legally possible for him to have freed his slaves, but he could have simply walked away from his nice life.) That probably would not have been a good thing, neither for him, nor his slaves, nor the rest of us. But he receives the condemnation of history for the devil’s bargains he made. Of course earlier in his life, in 1776, Jefferson did choose the radical path. He chose to take up arms against his government, and endorse the spillage of blood. Was that a hard decision? Was it even the right one? I sometimes wonder, given what I have read about the roots of the American revolution. Government under Great Britain was not a tyranny. For my own life, I’ll try to choose less the option of saying, “oh the system is corrupt.” Systems are always corrupt. The point is can you work within it, or work to change it. Occasionally the times may demand a complete rejection of something, but those times are rare. Alex
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As the Grateful Dead said in a song about the death in 1970 or so of their harmonica player and singer “Pig Pen,” who also died of liver disease, “Like a steel locomotive, going down the track, he’s gone, and nothing is going to bring him back.” Okay, maybe that was a bit maudlin. But also appropriate, because Steve Jobs was a child of the 1960s, whether or not he liked the Grateful Dead or not. He took LSD, and named it as one of the most significant events of his life. He famously said that Bill Gates would have made better software if he had taken a hit or two of that substance. Jobs named another creature of the 1960s, the Whole Earth Catalog, as one of the most significant products of the Silicon Valley, up there with the Silicon chip. (The Whole Earth Catalog was created by my man Steward Brand, who knew Jobs. Brand is still alive and well, although two decades older than Jobs. Just to close the circle, Brand was one of Ken Kesey’s acid-gobbling “Merry Pranksters.” You can read all about it in Tom Wolfe’s “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.” Brand would get into computers, and then architecture and cities, big time. Kevin Kelley, one of Brand’s early editors, would go on to co-found Wired, the bible of high tech. But I digress.) I would say that Jobs, with the first Mac, with the Iphone, with the Ipad, brought a touch of the 60s culture into the mainstream, with his products’ emphasis on beauty, elegance and child-like fun. With their in-your-face openness, and directness, and hippie-like commitment to making it real. Okay, I’m going too far here. Now, 12 year olds in China make his Iphone, and one certainly can’t say that everything about Apple is good, true and beautiful. Jobs was a player in a hard-core, fight to the death industry. But it said something that he accomplished what he accomplished through good design, which when done right, go ways beyond cosmetics. In all, Jobs made the world a better place because he was here. Who could ask for more? We can thank him for giving his life to his products. He probably knew his time here on earth was limited, but he spent his last few years making insanely great tools, rather than lounging on Palm Beach. Thank you, Steve.
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Shilling for Scrubs In the last week, probably because I’m home from vacation, I’ve been back to my old habits of watching television on the subway, using my Iphone and shows I’ve downloaded from the Internet (at a cost of a $1.99 a pop.) My favorite and old reliable is Scrubs, the comedy with Zach Braff set in a hospital with residents and such. This show is simply great. These guys sing, they dance, they do physical comedy, they have great characters to embody, and great lines to read (the writing on this show is excellent). They must be the hardest working folks in show business. After many many seasons, they are still going strong, not lagging at all, rarely if ever jumping the shark (okay, there was that one show recently where the whole show was reviewing moments from past shows. That was pretty lame.) My experience of the show is thoroughly post-modern, meaning fractured, unhinged, removed from most common contexts. I was not even aware of the show’s existence till about a year ago. This despite huge numbers of people being saturated with show to excess in reruns on network TV. But Kristi and I have been without cable television for almost 10 years now, and even though we got digital antenna reception recently for the basic networks, we rarely use it. Most of our television is downloaded from the Internet or received from Netflix. I found out about the show through a new, post-modern medium (okay I’ve officially overused that word): the television in the back of the taxis in New York City. Although these devises irritate me and prompt me to compose long internal monologues about the need for quiet, on this particularly day there were advertisements or a pseudo news item about the upcoming season of Scrubs. Zach Braff was dancing around in a silly suit. It looked interesting. I was looking for more TV to watch. I downloaded some shows. I was hooked. Since then, I’ve watched a lot of Scrubs! I’m nearing the end of the Sixth season. Almost all of it watched on my Iphone, in little bite-sized chunks. One show, 20 minutes long roughly, is perfect for a subway ride home from work. So here’s to you Scrubs. You’re beautiful.
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“You never know when you’re living in a golden age,” remarked one of the subjects in the great documentary about the small influential cable channel in Los Angeles, “The Z Channel.” And I think that applies to television these days. After a decade or so now of thinking of television as being mostly a wasteland, save for the glory and high quality of HBO, I turn around and find there is great television everywhere. Here’s a sample:
Friday Night Lights, the network TV show about the small high school football team, has incredible heart and is just amazingly good. It feels like it should be on HBO. But it’s network TV. I’m watching the first season now on DVD.