>> Thursday, August 11, 2011

I don't have anything substantial today, but there are some short bits I wanted to bring to your attention, so....

First up, seems like Sigur Rós has a new live DVD coming out, Inni, and the trailer is the coolest thing I've seen this week:

I'd say there are long odds (though not wholly impossible with these guys) that the whole movie has that Fritz Lang-by-way-of-David Lynch thing going on, but if it does it may become my favorite thing ever.

A recent study says that people like stories more when they're exposed to spoilers before reading them. So much for M. Night Shyamalan's whole shtick, right? (What a twist!)

Except I don't know how much to make of that. There are certainly books and movies where knowing the twist makes the whole thing pretty pointless (Shyamalan's overrated The Sixth Sense comes to mind, along with possibly all of O. Henry's œuvre); then again, I think The Usual Suspects works better when you know the ending. It varies, in short, and I wonder if the experiment was possibly flawed by the necessarily limited choice of works. It seems to me that you could stack the results by picking a lot of stories that were all twist and nothing else, which isn't something I'm saying the researchers would have done on purpose; I think it is possible and perhaps even likely they might have done this on accident, though, since choosing stories that are famous for their their twists sort of weighs the project down with tales that are best-known for their punchlines, if you see what I'm saying. I mean, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge", for instance, is a perfectly cromulent story written by a very competent writer who I happen to be fond of (the presumably late Ambrose Bierce), but that one in particular isn't one that's notable for its use of vernacular or building of atmosphere, tropes of Bierce's other work; that one's Bierce's M. Night Shyamalan story, all twist and not much else, and it's possible that it's much more enjoyable if you know the punch line up front because the punch line is pretty much the whole damn story.

As a reader, I'm not one to thumb through to the last page of a book. That's just how I was raised. Though I'm also one of those whole-page-scanners sort of readers whose eyes tend to flicker round a whole page before and between focusing on words (as opposed to being a line-by-line reader), which makes some short-term prescience inevitable and occasionally frustrating (I've sometimes accidentally deflated tension in a scene by noticing a character's name and a verb a few paragraphs subsequent to a sentence endangering his or her life). My reading preference, really, is that I'd generally rather avoid spoilers unless I'm looking for some kind of plot summary in lieu of actually reading something. (Sometimes you're curious as to what everybody is talking about although you know you don't have the time or inclination to bother with sitting down with it. Or is that just me?)

As a writer (if I can call myself that with my fiction in such a close-to-constipated state these days), I have to wonder if there's some kind of trick or tool in this report. Would a particular story be more effective if the first sentence was something like, "Here's how Main Character will die" and if one does that, how many times can one perform that trick before running it down? (Those questions are both specific and rhetorical: I already know that I've read stories where an authorial "spoiler" helped make a tale; what I'm asking myself is whether anything I've written or am supposedly working on would benefit from something like that.) Fodder for thought, you know.

Speaking of overrated, Slate has a piece up today asking various writers what "classics" they think are overrated. It's rough confessing that I haven't read most of the books mentioned, though I think I liked Gravity's Rainbow when I finally got through it (I also think it's the kind of book where you have to say "I think this is how I felt about it", if you know what I mean). The best response in the Slate piece comes from Matt Weiland, who observes that "Genesis has a knockout opening line. But it sure goes downhill fast...."

The main reason I mention it, though, is that the author, Juliet Lapidos, links to The Modern Library's list of the hundred best novels (apparently of the 20th Century, though it isn't clearly labeled as such), and this turns out to be comedy gold when you glance over at the "Reader's [sic?] List". Here's the top ten best novels selected by readers, and see if you can spot any possible issues with the voting process:

  1. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
  2. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
  3. Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard
  4. The Lord Of The Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
  5. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  6. 1984 by George Orwell
  7. "Anthem" by Ayn Rand
  8. We The Living by Ayn Rand
  9. Mission Earth by L. Ron Hubbard
  10. Fear by L. Ron Hubbard

At least one hopes the voting process got spammed. The idea that the two most-popular writers of the 20th Century were a pair of cult-founders is just a mite bit distressing, though it seems like you could turn that into some kind of story; you could even begin it with the authorial spoiler, "This is what killed Western Civilization...."

Mitt Romney finally said something I agree with:

If you want someone who will raise taxes, you can vote for Barack Obama.

If only! But aside from repeating what I've said before about revenue bills issuing from the House Of Representatives, I'm not convinced the President has the 'nads to ask the new Congressional "supercommittee" for tax increases despite polls indicating that this is, in fact, what Americans want Washington to do. However, if Romney is saying he's even less likely than Obama is to apply common sense and look for revenue increases, then, yes, that is another reason to vote for Barack Obama in 2012.

Again: what is up with the Democrats and Republicans stepping out and making the cases for not voting for their own candidates?

Democrats have joined Republicans in using the asinine metaphor of saying government is like a family (and therefore needs to tighten its belt). There are all sorts of things wrong with the whole concept, starting with the fact that governments are nothing like families and exist for wholly different purposes (one of the historic and theoretical purposes of government being, actually, to collect revenues for civic projects like irrigation, roads and national defense, to name a few); comparing families and small businesses and government is like comparing apples, oranges and bananas--well, no, really it's like comparing apples, small rocks, and belly button lint, and anybody who makes those kinds of analogies probably needs to have their head not so much examined as lubricated to try to make it easier for an anal extraction. But all this is just worth a brief mention to say that if one is to make the utterly retarded comparison between families and government, one can't help but notice that the first thing families usually do before they start tightening their budgets is have daddy and mommy go to their bosses at work and ask for a raise; budgeting, sure, probably, if there has to be, but I mean, seriously, are you telling me that when money's getting tight you don't go and put in for a little extra at the office? Or, depending on what kind of job you have, ask for overtime? And how many families out there have members working more than one job? You know, to increase revenue. Because some things just can't be cut.

Of course, the dirty little not-so-secret thing here is that it's not really about budgets for the Republicans. It's about the Norquistian fantasy of "starving the beast" and making government so small "it can be drowned in a bathtub". Republicans don't want revenue increases because what they really want is the cuts. Except they don't--all these people are still trying to get money sent back to their home state and/or are personally cashing in on various government subsidies. So it's not like they're consistent or anything. But at this point, Republican hypocrisy--teabggers on the dole, marriage defenders getting sucked off in bathroom stalls, draft-dodging chickenhawks questioning the patriotism of their fellow Americans, etc.--is no longer even news. Is it still hypocrisy when it's what everybody has come to expect? No, I mean, what I really want to know is, what's the Democrats' excuse? I get that the GOP has devolved into the party of know-nothingingism and do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do, but it used to be the Democrats were at least principled crooks.

Ah well, decline of Western Civilization and all that.

One last thing: it seems most people are jumping on Mitt Romney's statement that "Corporations are people, my friends." Well, you know, credit-where-it's-due and all that, but this is a pretty unexceptional if ill-considered statement: the state of the law right now is that corporations are people, which is a fucking stupid law, but that's what we've got to work with right now. Changing that sorry fact requires the retirement of Supreme Court Justices and the appointment of somebody sensible in their places, followed by a case climbing the ladder that leads to the overturning of Citizens United, which almost certainly isn't going to happen in your lifetime or mine; alternatively, there might hypothetically be some way to get the personhood status of corporations redefined at the state level, where they're chartered, except that might still not pass Constitutional muster and (besides which) would require getting all fifty states to pass basically the same law, which isn't going to happen in your lifetime, your kids' lifetime, or your grandkids' lifetime, or at all.

Anyway, there's nothing goofy in Romney saying corporations are people, though it's more than a little bothersome that he looks like he's pretty okay with that state of affairs. Like I said, decline of Western Civilization and all that.

Chez Pazienza has brought to my attention the disconcerting fact that Frances Bean Cobain, daughter of Kurt and Courtney Love, is all grown up and a total hottie. Damn. Like Chez, this makes me feel horribly old and decrepit. I remember when the kid was, you know, a child welfare case. Now she's a wolf-whistle with tatts.

Turns out time not only waits for no man, it makes a point of swerving to run over his feet.


Warner Friday, August 12, 2011 at 8:48:00 AM EDT  

If people didn't like spoilers, they would never re-visit anything.

Over all, while I don't disagree with your column today, it is depressing.

Am going for a long walk.

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