13 October 2012

The week’s multimedia, #1.

I had a widget on this page entitled “Multimedia I’m consuming.” I decided to be rid of it, and instead post semi-regular updates on the multimedia I’m consuming, for two reasons. One is that I want to rant further about some of those items. The other is that I want to keep the rants as old posts, whereas the things in the widget just disappear into the ether once I’ve updated them. If I put time into crap, I tend to want to keep it, even if it is just crap. Blame my pack-rat genes.

So without further ado, here’s the multimedia du semaine.

The Story of My Experiments with Truth, by Mohandas Gandhi. Gandhi’s autobiography. My edition lacks footnotes, and my dictionary lacks a lot of Hindi concepts and ideas, so I can’t read it without the Internet handy to look up various subjects. It’s a learning experience. But it’s fascinating. The Gandhi movie, while really good, is a hagiography: It’s so intent on portraying the man as a saint that it skips his sins and failings. Gandhi didn’t leave those out of the book, and of course it gives him depth. But if you’re wondering, “Wow, what’d he commit? Gimme the dirt!” you’re gonna be disappointed. He felt really guilty about enjoying sex with his wife; his particular Hindu sect frowned on such things. Which explains a lot.

Deadwood, season 3; David Milch, showrunner. It’s an HBO series, which 99 percent of the time means gratuitous nudity. This show in particular was known for the gratuitous swearing. I should point out it’s not historically accurate swearing: In the 1870s, the worst profanities were “God damn” or “hell” or something otherwise blasphemous. Nowadays, nobody considers them offensive but Christians. Milch claims he changed them to present-day profanities so as to retain the shock value 1870s folks would have felt. Whatever. I watched it ’cause I’m an Ian McShane fan. The historical Al Swearengen was a loathsome individual (far more than this show portrays him), and you simply can’t portray such people without an actor of McShane’s ability. Dude can act. Even though he plays a stereotypical mob boss, surrounded by a community of idiots whom he can easily bully into running the town, he’s got enough of a personality so you can see why the very few folks in the town with a backbone still take him seriously.

Blue Like Jazz; Steve Taylor, director/co-writer. I wanted to like this movie, partly ’cause I love Steve Taylor’s previous movie, The Second Chance. And partly ’cause the book on which it’s based, Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality, is a good read. And of course the gratuitous John Coltrane doesn’t hurt. But in turning Miller’s essays into a narrative movie—about a guy named Don who wants to abandon his Christianity, and ultimately finds he can’t—well, it feels too much like Taylor’s trying to tell his own story, and loosely base it on Miller’s book. Maybe if it didn’t have the baggage of the book behind it, I’d have liked it more. As it is, it’s okay. It reminded me of all the undercover Christians I met in high school, at Solano College, and at Sac State: People who were thoroughly embarrassed of the evangelical subculture they grew up in, and tried to shuck it first chance they got. And it is stupid whenever we forget it’s about Jesus and grace, and make Christianity all about appearances and theological correctness. Christians may need to watch this movie for those reasons. But the sort of Christians who should see it, will probably be freaked out by the PG-13 rating, the casual profanity and drinking, the pagans Don makes friends with, and of course the prank involving the giant condom.

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, by Tom Wolfe. You may not have known (or believe) this, but originally the psychiactric drug Delysid, also known as lysergic acid diethylamide or LSD-25, was a party drug for yuppies and intellectuals. (Or maybe you found this out when you saw the Mad Men episodes in which Roger took it. And got naked both times. Eww.) Then One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest author Ken Kesey discovered it, and decided this was what the young people of his generation needed: In the absence of a spiritual high, they’d take the chemical one. Thus began the Merry Pranksters, who sought to introduce acid to America and parts of Mexico. Wolfe’s book attempts to describe what they were up to, and the experience. The book is a bit depressing, because you see how hard the Pranksters were trying to get somewhere, and feel something… and Wolfe doesn’t really depict them as successful. (I should also mention that back when I was a reporter, I met one of the Pranksters: Hugh Romney, who assumed the name Wavy Gravy some years after the book was published. Really funny guy. Reasonably sure he wasn’t on acid at the time, but maybe weed.)

Fat Man on Batman; Kevin Smith, podcaster. Found this podcast a few weeks ago. Smith, the director of Clerks, Chasing Amy, and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, is a huge (no pun intended) fan of Batman, and knows a bunch of people who have worked on various Batman media, like Adam West and Mark Hamill. Here, he interviews them. Or he just rants about Batman with fellow fans. If you know Smith’s work, you know he swears a lot, so you’ve been forewarned. I find him funny, but I agree his frequent crudity can be off-putting. On the other hand, I know some of some of you are way too fond of jokes about butt sex, and now you get them mixed up with Batman. As if there hasn’t been enough speculation about the dude running around in tights with his teenage partner.

As for current television, I haven’t got into any new shows this season, ’cause none of them look interesting enough to attract my time. I’ve given up on a few of the older shows too: Some of the sitcoms just weren’t funny enough to keep me watching. Some of the nighttime dramas keep trying to tack on plotlines that I just know aren’t gonna go anywhere, or aren’t interesting. Or try for surprise endings that really weren’t surprising at all. As blogger Ken Levine pointed out recently, whenever you have a big guest star on one of the procedural shows, there’s a 95 percent chance she or he is gonna turn out to be the bad guy, so your mystery is blown right in the casting. At least Columbo didn’t insult your intelligence: You knew who the bad guy was from the very beginning. What you didn’t know was how Columbo was gonna finally nab ’em. But you knew it’d be fun to watch.

After a point, you begin to realize you’re only watching a show, not because you enjoy it, or are amused by it, or are intrigued by it, but because you’ve invested far too much time in it to simply drop it. And that’s precisely the point you should drop it. Stop waiting for your shows to get better; rarely will they. They might get better if they swap showrunners. Doctor Who, fr’instance, got vastly better once Steven Moffat took over. But that won’t happen as often as you’d like. The Simpsons and Saturday Night Live are good examples of this phenomenon.

And somebody needs to point out to certain networks that if they don’t put their shows on the Internet, they’re just encouraging piracy. The new season of Downton Abbey started last month, but of course ITV won’t make it available in the States, not even on iTunes, till PBS starts airing it in January. So how can you watch it? Simple: Do a Google search for the episodes, and someone will have posted them on one video-sharing service or another. I’ve found every episode on YouTube so far. Why wait till January?