Tuesday, August 24, 2010

'It's just a game'

My team lost our semi-final game in softball, last night, under some dubious circumstances.

We overheard one of the players on the other team (the only player not in uniform, no less) ask one of his teammates whether sliding was allowed. This was strange, because a) it's a semi-final, and you should know this rule by now, b) sliding is not allowed, and it's treated as a pretty big deal, so it's an easy rule to remember, and c) it's a playoff game, and not knowing the sliding rules suggests that he's a ringer, the use of which is supposed to earn your team an automatic disqualification. And so, after we learned his name I used an iPhone to look up their official roster list on the league's website - and, sure enough, he wasn't on it.

Long story short, our team decided to not report our opponents. I felt obliged, though, to let them know that we knew what they were pulling, even if we weren't going to officially call them on it. (Admission: This was not meant to be wholly selfless. Or mostly, even.) And, so, I got an angry response about how they didn't actually use the website (that's why the one player didn't appear there, evidently) and "it's just a beer-league", anyway.

I hate that response. The people who resort to lines like "it's just a beer league" or "it's just for fun" never actually mean it. And we know that they don't mean it because that statement is never followed by "...and so if it means so much to you, you can have the win". And that's because they're lying.

What "just..." actually means - implicitly, if not explicitly - is that they want to ignore or disregard the rules at will. The problem, here, is that the rules constitute the bare minimum in terms of what we can expect of one another: I can't expect you to be a good sport, but I can expect you know that you shouldn't slide. Except that for the "just..." people, particular rules - and which particular rules is unknown to us in advance - can simply be ignored. And that's the key bit: that we don't know you're ignoring a rule ahead of time. (Which seems like it should be obvious enough, and yet...)

Ironically, in the four years I've played in this softball league, no one who's deployed some variant of "it's just a game" has ever conceded the point that's being argued, much less the game. (If it's "just" a game, you wouldn't know it.) Even more painfully, it's always used exclusively where the arguer is pushing for some sort of advantage - to ignore a rule that would penalize them, rather than one that would reward them.

It's like the person in an argument who announces that they'll be the bigger man/woman by abandoning the fight and not having the last word. And, so, manages to grab the last word. I hate that guy.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Representing 'Evil'

Erin has written this fantastic post on, well, evil in films that ties together Chigurh (from No Country for Old Men), Hannibal Lecter, and black widow spiders. You should read it because, like I said, it's fantastic. If the line "It takes a man to style himself like a seven-year-old girl" doesn't have you wanting to read it right now, then nothing will.

I wrote a comment on Erin's blog, and wanted to repeat myself here, just a little bit. In comparing these three, Erin labels them "creature[s] of nature", though she rightly qualifies and complicates Hannibal a bit - but, at least in Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal has no history, and this is just as good as being a creature purely of nature. She also notes that it would be unsatisfying to 'explain' Chigurh, just as the origin provided in the novels set chronologically before Silence of the Lambs only seem to damage Hannibal's character. It seems as if art's most persuasive and frightening villains are diminished in being understandable - in being made human.

For instance, from the pilot of Family Guy, we get this 'origin' for Adolf Hitler:

It's particularly absurd, but I think it manages to express, in 10 seconds, what was wrong-headed about trying to 'explain' where Hannibal Lecter comes from. No matter the explanation, the origin will always be too banal and too mundane, even too relatable or too sympathetic - nothing short of showing Hitler emerging from Hell itself will be satisfying, because we don't want our villains to be explicable - we want them to be exceptional.

And this expectation and satisfaction is horribly problematic. Because this is exactly how politicians and pundits get away with constructing The Terrorists as evil entities that exist somehow outside politics and history. Because our art teaches us that we shouldn't want to know where evil comes from, and that in any case it emerges directly from nature and is merely acting on that nature, like a black widow or a tornado. We don't need to know why a suicide bomber is a suicide bomber anymore than we need to know why Chigurh kills - they just do.

I don't remember where or when, but Geoff once made the comment on his blog that there was something in the hypervisible misogynistic violence of the Sin City film that he found appealing, and it was a bit troubling because it was so gratifying as a film experience and obviously disgusting as a gender politics. And I feel the same sort of unresolvable ambivalence about these evil characters in No Country for Old Men and Silence of the Lambs.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Shit and $#*!

In news that absolutely everyone already knows, the Twitter feed Shit My Dad Says has become $#*! My Dad Says in its new iteration as a sitcom. And it stars William Shatner and it will incorporate actual lines from the Twitter feed, which means that, at the very least, Shatner will be hilarious.

But that's not why I'm writing this. I'm writing this only because of the title. Because that has got to be the best-ever use of bleep symbols to spell out exactly what they're supposedly obscuring. (Though I have to wonder who at CBS or the FCC actually thinks that there's a meaningful difference between 'shit' and '$#*!')

[Bizarrely, this post has been referenced on The Book blog, a mostly baseball blog which I read regularly. And it's bizarre because, as far as I know, no one who runs it actually knows that the Neil who writes this blog is the same Neil that posts there. Follow the link to see me argue the merits of using *! over !+, grammar mistakes and all. (I don't really proof-read this stuff.)]

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Rihanna has made some strange (dumb?) choices

Rihanna is mostly famous for two things, and not necessarily in this order: "Umbrella" and being assaulted by then-boyfriend and fellow pop-star Chris Brown.

So it's a bit baffling to reflect on some of her recent song choices:

* From the first single following her break-up with Brown, "Russian Roulette":
And you can see my heart beating
You can see it through my chest
And I’m terrified but I’m not leaving
Know that I must must pass this test
So just pull the trigger

* From her recent duet with Eminem, "Love the Way You Lie":
Just gonna stand there and watch me burn
But that's alright because I like the way it hurts
Just gonna stand there and hear me cry
But that's alright because I love the way you lie
I love the way you lie

At my most optimistic, I could maybe see that the first song is trying to celebrate her survival - she's stronger for having had the relationship. (But it feels more like she's rationalizing what happened, almost trying to excuse his behavior, as if in 'testing' her he was ultimately helping her. I think it's fucked up.)

And the new song? I can't see anything remotely redeemable in it. If I'm trying to be optimistic, the best I can do is suggest that she's a masochist. But there's nothing more here that's even remotely recuperable.

Rihanna, though, disagrees: "He pretty much just broke down the cycle of domestic violence and it's something that people don't have a lot of insight on. [...] The lyrics were so deep, so beautiful and intense. It's something that I understood, something I connected with."

"Broke it down"? If she means that it's a wholly uncritical stream-of-consciousness first-person account of the ways in which misogynists explain and excuse their behavior, then yes, he did a good job of showing just how an abuser can twist things to try and make their behavior sound reasonable. But to call it "deep" and imply that he shows "insight"? No. There's none of that here. I mean, for fuck's sake - the song is about a guy who hits and threatens to murder his girlfriend, a woman who is seemingly okay with it because she "likes the way it hurts". Who "connects" with that?

(The video is even worse because it a) makes the abuse sexy and b) tries even harder to implicate both of them in the violence. "Deep" and "beautiful", indeed.)

Monday, August 09, 2010

Adventures in TAing, case 8 (in a ? case series)

[In a preemptive effort to stave off boredom, and save you from having to read punishingly bad grammar and spelling, the following has all been paraphrased.]

What the student wrote:
'I didn't understand the assignment and I talked to 5 other people from our tutorial who didn't understand your expectations. 1) Do you want us to give our opinion or to tell you what the authors of our texts say? In my other courses, where I get grades like A and A+, they don't want me to just repeat the people we read and are more interested in my opinion.' 2) You say that you want me to develop my discussion of 'power' and I know a lot about the topic, but do I have to use course texts or can I use other texts that I've read?'

How I responded:
'I'm sorry that you found the assignment so difficult, but if you refer to the list of topics online, you'll see that the professor addressed your questions. 1) "Your evaluation is based on your answer to the question and your knowledge of course readings", meaning that while your argument might represent your own opinion, it must be supported by references drawn from course readings - and more references than the two quotes that you used. 2) "No outside sources are permitted", since, as I mentioned before, you're supposed to be demonstrating your knowledge of our readings and a familiarity with the issues that we've covered.'

How I wanted to respond: 'If you can't read the directions that are printed at the top of the essay topics list - all seven sentences of them - you are screwed. Get out of university. Now.'

Sunday, August 08, 2010

The LOST epilogue

Assuming that it hasn't been taken down yet, (as a lot of these clips have been, at ABC/Disney's request) this link should bring you to the complete 12 minute epilogue to LOST. In summation - it's a cute (maybe overly cute) bookend that wouldn't have worked as a part of the final episode but is unlikely to ruin anyone's appreciation of the show. Which is to say that while it doesn't make any substantial contribution to LOST's lore, it's entertaining.

*spoilers ahead*

The first act, which is about 8 minutes long, shows Ben-as-Hurley's-no.2 and, story-wise, is the lesser of the two acts. Ben serves as 'the show', here, to the two Dharma Initiative employees who are 'the fans'. It's part information-drop (for instance, an official explanation is offered for why women can't get pregnant, though I a) don't know why this was necessary, since it was easy to guess, and b) think it creates an additional hole in the writing, since it seems like we're supposed to assume that Ben knew this but he clearly didn't when he recruited Juliet. but anyway...) and part meta-commentary.

This is the part that's probably too cute by half. But at least if the show is telling us to let go, again, it's in a wholly ironic way, as opposed to the too sincere delivery of the same message in the finale. In the finale, the light had all the (ultimately unknowable) answers; in the epilogue, we're teased with Ben's binder of DVDs - a far more appropriate LOST version of the suitcase from Pulp Fiction.

The second, shorter act features Ben's rescue of Walt and a super-brief cameo from Hurley, now seemingly settled into his new role and ready to offer Walt a job - as Hurley's apprentice, presumably. (If I'm being pessimistic, I might ask whether Walt is the best person for the job, given his somewhat malevolent powers - whether he's better suited to be the next Man in Black than the next Jacob.) This is the lore bit of the epilogue, which is nice even if it isn't strictly necessary - the mission doesn't end just because Jack, Jacob, and the Man in Black have died, and it won't ever end - but wouldn't have worked in the finale, and so is perfect as an epilogue for the DVD. It's the lead-in to the Further Adventures of Hurley, Ben, and Walt series that will never happen.

And if it doesn't make you smile, you probably never liked the show in the first place.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Checking out early reviews of the Scott Pilgrim movie

The early reviews are largely good at Rotten Tomatoes - though only 3 'top critics' have weighed in so far, two disliking it and one ambivalent - but here's a negative review from the Hollywood Reporter. And it repeats a lot of my complaints about the characters in the book series, which isn't a good sign:

What's disappointing is that this is all so juvenile. Nothing makes any real sense. The "duels" change their rules on a whim, and no one takes the games very seriously [...] Certainly Cera doesn't give a performance that anchors the nonsense. His character sort of drifts, not really attached to any idea or goal other than winning the heart of an apparently heartless woman...

So, yeah. Doesn't sound like Cera or Wright has tried to do much to address the great big black hole that is Scott's character. Or that the latter has tried to limit the magic realism/fantasy in any way that makes it reasonably consistent and not wholly nonsensical.

My favorite of Damon Lindelof's hate-tweets

"You're a dirty liar. You never knew, you made it all up, you betrayed us all. You betrayed me and I hope you rot, motherfucker."

-J.J. Abrams tweet to Damon Lindelof, following the LOST finale.