Saturday, May 05, 2018

links for the weekend

the title is amusing enough to make it the first entry in links for the weekend

Is Kanye West “the Ezra Pound of Rap”?

I was more into T. S. Eliot than Ezra Pound myself but the title is a funny title.  Pound's advocacy for fascism was held against him with cause but the point about how artist and writers may be remarkably accomplished while espousing views we find horrible does not necessarily diminish the work of the artist.

The article itself ... meh .... eh, but the title was funny

Something else from TNR

By Rachel Vorona Cote
May 1, 2018
On April 23, career consultant and author Karen Kelsky posted to her Facebook account a leaked email from Michael R. Molino, an assistant dean in the College of Liberal Arts at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. Addressed to chairs of their respective departments, it contained an extraordinary request: that the university’s alumni association needed their help in recruiting impressive alumni adjuncts who would, essentially, be willing to work for free.
According to Molina, adjuncts should regard their participation as a “service” to the university, undertaken not in the interest of financial gain, but out of “passion.” Molina even implies a certain degree of reciprocity, emphasizing the “benefit” of intellectual collegiality and that old chestnut, “networking opportunities.” For that matter, circumscribing the search to SIU alumni gestures to an imposed logic of debt: You, the former student, owe us this labor in return for the opportunities afforded to you here.
It is the kind of logic that has long prevailed over the American university system, and it has only grown more antiquated as the scholastic job opportunities for doctoral students have dwindled to nearly nothing. Particularly in the humanities, the overwhelming majority of students earning PhDs aspire to a tenure track professorship, and their training prepares them for precisely this. But it’s a near-futile enterprise: the job market is glutted with both newly minted doctors of philosophy and those who doggedly try their luck year after year—and they’re all vying for the same meager offering of positions. This is one of the reasons that graduate student workers at Columbia University were on the picket line this week.
Volunteer adjuncts—it is a term so absurdly reprehensible it sounds like the stuff of parody. Despite what graduate students may gain over the course of their studies, they owe nothing whatsoever to their university. After all, there’s no reciprocity to be found when health insurance is still, for many in academia, considered a plush amenity. As recently as the winter of 2017, when the literary historian Kevin Birmingham delivered his talk “The Great Shame of Our Profession,” 25 percent of adjunct instructors reported relying on food stamps or Medicaid. Thirty-one percent lived below the poverty line, or dwelled at its threshold. Birmingham even mentions one instructor who sold plasma twice a week in order to afford daycare for her daughter.
Which for some reason reminded me of this review of Scot Timberg's book Culture Crash.

“If we’re not careful, culture work will become a luxury, like a vacation home,” Timberg writes. It’s a good line, and one that anyone who values a diverse cultural ecology would want to affirm. What he doesn’t want to admit is that, absent direct patronage, professional culture workers have often depended on outside sources of income. For some it was the second job (in the post-war period, that job was primarily teaching, a job indirectly subsidized by the government in the form of the G.I. Bill fostering a new population of students). For others, it was something unrelated (meet pediatrician William Carlos Williams). For many (more than we have usually acknowledged and certainly more than today’s BFA and MFA students are aware) it was a trust fund, family member, or a spouse of means. That cushion made it possible for a talented person work on a novel or a painting until the work could earn respect, if not a proportionate wage for the work the artist put into it. Maybe the market would respond, and maybe it wouldn’t, but at least the creative person had a chance to find out.
That’s one of the reasons that pop culture exhortations to follow one’s bliss are so maddening. They imply a kind of privilege at the very heart of the class structures Americans are eager to say don’t exist. The fraying of the middle class is not just something that has happened to creatives. It’s just that Timberg never thought that what had happened to unionized manufacturing workers could happen to the educated type of knowledge workers who worked at the LA Times.

from Consortium News ... a commentary on the DNC legal action and what it could have to do with the potential to stifle the press

The most unprincipled part of the lawsuit has to do with its targeting of Assange and WikiLeaks. That aspect of the suit shows that the DNC is being run by people whose attitude toward a free press—ironically enough—has marked similarities to Donald Trump’s.
Early in his presidency, Trump proclaimed that news media are “the enemy of the American people.” Of course, he didn’t mean all media, just the outlets providing information and analysis he doesn’t like.
What Perez and the DNC crew are now promoting via the lawsuit is also harmful, though more camouflaged. The lawsuit’s key arguments against WikiLeaks are contrary to the First Amendment, and they could be made against major U.S. newspapers. Unauthorized disclosures are common, with news outlets routinely reporting on information obtained from leaks, hacks and various forms of theft.
Just as the government’s criminal prosecutions for leaks are extremely selective, the DNC position is that a media outlet that’s despised by a powerful party could be sued for potentially huge sums.
But—unless it’s functionally shredded—the First Amendment doesn’t only protect media outlets that powerful interests believe are behaving acceptably. That’s why the Nixon administration was unable to prevent The New York Times and Washington Post from publishing the Pentagon Papers in 1971.
Now, the DNC lawsuit’s perverse “logic” for suing WikiLeaks could just as easily be applied by any deep-pocketed group that wants to strike back at a publisher for revealing “stolen” information that harmed the aggrieved party.

Over on the Slate-y side of things a reminiscence about the time when music critics could still write reviews that could effectively destroy the career of a musician.
Officially, the review didn’t end Black Kids’ career. But it certainly knocked it far, far sideways: The LP sold only 5,000 copies in the first week of its release, and within a couple of years, the band split with Columbia. (Last year, nearly a decade later, Black Kids finally put out their second album, titled Rookie, as if to suggest that the first album had never happened.) Black Kids’ arc was the most compact, perfect example of Pitchfork’s reach at its most deleterious.
At some amorphous point within a few years of Black Kids’ rise and fall, the idea of the critic as assassin dissolved completely. First, the internet democratized access to music. We didn’t really need gatekeepers anymore; for a whole generation, reading about what something sounded like, when you could just listen to it for free yourself, felt increasingly like an insane thing to do. Second, the internet atomized music fandom. The monoculture weakened; a million little tribes sprung up in its place. How could any one person claim a universal authority over all of that?

A few months ago, I decided that I wanted to look back at those last moments when critics could kill. I would do it through Pitchfork, for better or worse the defining critical portal of the past 15 years. I would talk to Black Kids and to Travis Morrison and to the other targets of Pitchfork’s most infamous reviews, asking them: How did it feel? What did those reviews do to you?

I started with Black Kids—and, through a publicist, was quickly, politely rebuffed. The same thing happened with the Flaming Lips, whose experimental 1997 album, Zaireeka (released as a four-CD set meant to be played simultaneously), landed one of the site’s earliest double zeros. (The review is no longer online, and the site later published a sort of mea culpa, but it can still be read via the Wayback Machine.) And with Liz Phair, whose 2003 self-titled album (a joyously blasphemous pop effort from the indie god) got blanked too.

on the subject of infinite war ... er, Infinity War, someone at The Guardian remarks that it's not film, it's television.  The implication that Marvel's films are now television as distinct from "real" film seems more popular with the sorts of film critics who seem to resent that the Marvel cinematic juggernaut is an enterprise that may exact and expect of an audience that it follow it as closely as film critics of a different epoch would comb through every shot of a film by someone like Kubrick or Godard because, you know, you just do that for real art.

We live in complicated times. For most of its life, television would frantically chase cinema’s tail. Film was always where the money was. It was where the biggest stars were, and all the strongest storytelling. Television was just a poor relation, a dumb box that sat in the corner of the room squawking at idiots.
But then things changed. Slowly, television started making bolder decisions. It started aping cinema’s production values. First-class writers came to see the benefit of longer-form narrative. Movie stars began to appear on television shows, and those shows quickly became career-defining highlights.
And, as of last week, cinema has started to chase television’s tail. Because Avengers: Infinity War is almost definitely going to become the biggest movie of all time. And what is Avengers: Infinity War if not a really expensive episode of television?
Stick with me. Viewed in a vacuum, Infinity War is meaningless. As a standalone film, it’s a mess. Characters pop up for one scene and then vanish again completely. Nobody has any meaningful screen time. The antagonist swans about with an entirely unearned sense of motivation. And there’s no emotional weight to the ending. It’s just a lot of stuff happening to people we’ve barely met. We may as well be watching it happen to extras.
But, with 10 years of context behind it, Infinity War is deeply impressive. We’ve watched these characters grow and change and their relationships evolve in several ways. Infinity War contains a moment – it’s far too brief to be called a scene – between two characters who haven’t seen each other for years. We know their history and their motivations, their thwarted desires and their realisation that they’ll probably never get what they both want. And they communicate all this with a look and maybe two lines of dialogue. The film can’t linger any longer than that, because there’s a superhuman testicle-chinned alien trying to murder them all, but it nevertheless counts as one of the most touching moments in the entire movie.
The reason this moment feels earned at all is because we’ve spent enough time with the characters to grasp the complexity of their shorthand. Until now, this sort of thing has only happened on television. Take something like Breaking Bad. In one of the final episodes, Walter White calls his wife a “stupid bitch”. On its own it’s a moment of simple cruelty, but the knowledge of everything that’s gone before adds layer upon layer of meaning.
This happens again and again throughout Infinity War, because it’s just an episode of television. Things that happened in previous episodes pay off here, and things that are set up here will pay off in upcoming episodes. There’s a reason why the Russo brothers were chosen to direct Infinity War, and that’s because they have enough television experience to satisfactorily keep all the balls in the air. If these films were self-contained, standalone affairs, you might want someone with more flair for dialogue or inventive visuals. But the Russo brothers are perfect for this job, because this job is simply about moving the story along. It’s a Gold Blend advert with a talking racoon in it.
I thought I spotted an interview with Kirsten Dunst about how this shift took place, how actors who had previously been known to do the big silver screen shifted over to television.  There were trade-offs in terms of prestige but the trade-off was worth it if you landed a show you liked working on because you'd get more reliable work and have more stable income.  Or at least I thought I saw something like that at The Guardian a few years ago.  As technology and distribution paradigms change the prestige dynamics change, too.  Film criticism may, at the level of the most officially prestigious journalistic platforms, have not only not caught up to this but may be populated by people who resent the shifting dynamics at play or can't help but be bemused about them.

... although there’s nothing small scale about “Avengers: Infinity War,” it only resembles a movie. It comes off not even as a single drama, as a self-contained and internally structured narrative, but, rather, as a big-screen, two-and-a-half-hour variant on a single episode in a television series. “Avengers: Infinity War” would make little sense in the absence of its pack of predecessors. Its characters aren’t introduced; they just show up, and their behavior is entirely defined by the template set for them in other movies. Not only does “Avengers: Infinity War” presume that viewers have seen all the preceding films in the Marvel series but, worse, it presumes that they’ve thought about them afterward.

Leave it to Brody to miss (willfully or otherwise) that Thanos pretty clearly sees himself as the hero.
A more ardent and informative read on Thanos as an antagonist with an ostentatiously Malthusian bent of mind got written over here at The Stranger by Charles Mudede.

Mudede has more presence of mind to imply throughout his ardent, nigh unto ranting, piece that a character like Thanos could use the power of the Infinity Gauntlet to make more free food for everyone in the universe or embrace some positive iteration of Malthusian ideology rather than the predictable Hollywood negative Malthusian paradigm.  If you have the power to manipulate reality, time, space, power, mind and soul then you could create food for everyone n the universe ... unless there were some proviso that the stones only allow you to manipulate and change things in one universe and not the multiverse.  See ... that might actually be where Marvel cold eventually go with that.  Since the six infinity stones are tied to the Big Bang from which our universe is presumed to have emerged that's a narrative possibility but it's also one such possibility that a Mudede could consider that a Brody, most probably, could not.

Audiences have kept up with this dynamic and so they can bring the attentional commitment to Infinity War that the creators of Infinity War expect of them. Does that mean the movie is a great movie?  No, not really, although I thought it was okay.  I think it does get the job done if you've seen the other installments.  Thanos wanting to balance the universe makes more sense than having the hots for the female personification of Death.  It makes Thanos Ra's al Ghul for the universe, to be sure, but Ra's al Ghul works as a villain.  Brolin committed to the part.  That's as much as can be asked, really.  But this is not a post about Marvel films, we're just taking a links for the weekend stroll here and it's interesting that a writer could see that there's a disconnect between what audiences can commit to and what critics may resent having to commit to.  It's not to say that audience is "right" and critics are "wrong" (even if critics are certain that's the case in some circles) it's that any idiom of art works on a few ground rules which may or may not be accepted.  I, by and large, cannot take as given the ground rules for theater because I know it's theater.  I can't not think of it as theater.  I can't suspend disbelief for theater the way I can for almost any other kind of art.  It's not that theater is bad, I can read the Bard when I want to, I just don't watch plays the way fans of plays do.  To invoke Gadamer, I guess, I don't give myself over to the process of "play" for plays like I can and do (easily) for film.

But people can turn from heroes to villains inside of a lifetime and perhaps that's the best way to transition into rescinding honorary doctorates and expelling guys from clubs of prestige.

UPDATE 05-06-2018

can't help throwing in this one from LA Review of Books about Infinity War


Cal of Chelcice said...

I liked the new movie, but the articles about it being a TV show remind me that there's a kind of danger to fantasy. The way I've had it described, fantasy is about creating a world whereas something like scifi is about a thought experiment. And as we've talked about the total art, I am wary of getting sucked into an entire Marvel universe. It can be kind of perverse that some people know more about the history of Marvel world more than they know about the history of, well, reality. I guess there's a need to be vigilant about it.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

it's interesting to consider that the Marvel franchise as TV doesn't seem to come up for actual shows like Game of Thrones or Mad Men or The Walking Dead the way it does for Marvel.

Paradoxically one of the defenses that is often tacitly made for such deep immersion in film is to point out the ways it highlights the history of the real world. That seems more a middlebrow and highbrow defense reserved for a Kubrick or Godard or for prestige TV. Even Adorno made defenses of canonic literary works by pointing out how Cervantes' satirical take on the epic romance and events of his time was preserved in Don Quixote or how Bach made use of the most advanced technical and theoretical innovations of his time with equal temperament. Despite ideological preferences to the proverbial left or right if people like art enough they exempt it in some way.

That so many film critics don't want to exempt the Marvel cinematic universe from the immersive aims and means of the total work of art doesn't mean they won't willingly fall for it in some non-Marvel context. But it "is" a good thing to be worried about. One of the friends I made at Mars Hill (Harleman whose work I've linked to over the years) has formulated the caveat in a more literally pastoral context, warning that while it's not necessarily bad to enjoy and even love film Christians should be wary to not find themselves knowing more about their favorite

films than they do about Scripture.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

should have finished my first sentence more completely.

It's interesting to consider that the argument that the Marvel franchise is less "cinema" than "television" isn't the kind of tacit or explicit put-down that's directed at prestige TV. I've proposed among friends that at core television is soap opera no matter how highbrow the show may get. The gap between The Sopranos or The Wire on the one hand and between Days of Our Lives or Knight Rider may seem like a chasm but all these shows exist within the same continuum as serialized and potentially never-ending franchises.