Archive: July, 2008
|What's wrong with this picture?
Mad Men is the heir to the cable drama throne previously occupied by The Sopranos and The Wire. The story of a WASP-y Manhattan advertising agency in 1960, the show's received lots of attention for the prolific drinking, smoking, racism and misogyny of the main characters, as well as for its meticulous dramaturgy.
But I would argue most of the praise of Mad Men misses the mark. What its creator, Sopranos writer Matthew Weiner, is trying to tell us, I suspect, is that these are the people who created the consumer culture we live in today. The idea that we express our individuality through buying stuff is relatively new. More to the point, it was invented by people like Mad Men's tormented, secretive Don Draper (Jon Hamm), the creative director of fictional ad agency Sterling Cooper.
Season 2 begins two years on, in 1962. We see now-36-year-old Draper being chastised by his doctor for his high blood pressure and even higher booze and Lucky Strike intake. Thoughtfully, doc fires off a Phenobarbital scrip. Draper heads to the bar, where his attempts at conversation with a beatnik reading Frank O'Hara are rebuffed. Meanwhile, Draper's wife Betty (January Jones) takes a riding lesson and heads home in time to reprimand her African-American nanny, a new feature in the household.
Back at the office, boss man Roger Sterling (John Slattery) engages in a brief parry with his former mistress, office manager Joan (Christina Hendricks), who is now engaged to a doctor — he’s "not Jewish," she angrily corrects Sterling. Draper shows up late to a meeting to find most of his creative team drunk and in possession of some really bad ideas for an airline ad campaign. "Stop writing for other writers," he tells Kinsey (Michael Gladis), one of his hapless protégés who between seasons has grown a very literary beard and taken to smoking a pipe.
Sterling and the head of accounts team up on Draper to get him to hire young talent, something clients seem excited about. Draper is unconvinced. "Young people don't know anything," he protests. "Least of all that they're young." Overruled, he is forced to interview a pair of 23-year-old savants in blindingly ugly ski sweaters.
Draper's coworker/nemesis Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) still can't get his wife pregnant, something the in-laws were already on him about full-force by end of last season. Campbell's marriage is one of the great tragicomedies of the series. He is from an old money family that, as is often the case, is more "old" than "money." His marriage to Trudy (Alison Brie), the daughter of a self-made mercantilist millionaire of some sort, is just the kind of title-for-assets swap that has been so popular in Anglo-Saxon culture since, well, since the Angles met the Saxons! Anyway, we can be pretty sure the problem isn't on Pete's end, seeing as he managed to have no trouble getting Peggy pregnant last season. A few days before his wedding, no less!
Meanwhile, it's Valentine's Day. Don takes Betty to the Savoy for cocktails. They retreat to their room before dinner, with Don assuring Betty "we'll be out of here before the Seder starts." (Weiner, who is Jewish, writes casually anti-Semitic dialogue like F. Scott Fitzgerald on his fourth martini.) They head upstairs, where Don promptly loses his erection (divine punishment from Yahweh, perhaps?). Betty orders room service.
Everyone else from the Sterling Cooper crew seems to be celebrating V-Day by watching Jackie Kennedy show off the newly decorated White House on national TV. Joan fends off the advances of her not-Jewish boyfriend to do so. Not-gay art director Salvatore (Bryan Batt) watches raptly with his new girlfriend, the Sterling Cooper switchboard operator.
Last scene: At home, Draper has purchased O'Hara's Meditations in an Emergency despite the beatnik's warnings. He inscribes it "made me think of you" to an unknown recipient and takes a late-night walk to drop it in the mailbox. But to which former mistress? The East Village bohemian illustrator who Draper peaced out on after smoking pot with her and her hippie boyfriend? The department store heiress who took a 'round-the-world cruise when she realized Draper wasn't going to leave his wife? Inspirational high school literature teacher? Probably not that last one — they didn't teach no literature at the school of hard knocks, and that's exactly where Draper got his degree … in being a total badass.
|The New Yorker|
Before Jane Mayer, author of The Dark Side and an investigative reporter at The New Yorker, discussed her book about how the highest levels of our government became chock full of torturers and what, exactly, our country could do to rectify it, she tackled perhaps a more complex mystery: how did she ever get on the Philly Fun Guide? Talking about torture, especially at the Free Library, certainly couldn't be fun.
There are, though, a couple fun facts associated with torture that could really help you lift the spirits at the next company happy hour: did you know that Canada – Canada – has the United States on a list of rogue nations that employ, as they are called, “enhanced interrogation techniques,” along with Egypt? Did you know that some top administration officials are advised not to travel to other countries because they might be arrested? Did you know that when CIA interrogators couldn’t think of any new ways to inflict pain on a suspected terrorist, they would watch Fox’s drama 24 for ideas? If there were such a thing as “sadistic government Quizzo,” Mayer would walk out with the pot money, the bonus round money, and the deed to the bar.
Instead, she wrote a book. A killer book, one that actually accomplishes what many print and online news organizations today think they accomplish, but fail miserably at: connecting the dots. Mayer shows how Vice President Cheney outright told the country he was going to torture detainees on NBC five days after 9/11: “We've got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies…” Mayer points out how the Bush Administration used a little-known office in the Justice Department, the Office of Legal Counsel, to upend centuries of Constitutional law with quack-level legal opinions. Mayer shows how information, bad information, retrieved from detainees under incomprehensible pain, made its way into President Bush’s speeches and Colin Powell’s case for war at the United Nations. And Mayer quotes people like a former top CIA official, who told her that after those torture tactics were used, “Ninety percent of what we got was crap.”
Though her opening comments were awkwardly read from a script -- and who can blame her, this is complex stuff – the central theme of her talk came out during the question-and-answer session: what the heck is the nation going to do about this?
Begin with the premise that Congress is, as she calls it, “spineless.” They were cowed the same way the news media and the judicial system were after 9/11: if you don’t agree with the President, you are unpatriotic. It took the other two branches of government and the Fourth Estate years to get over that.
That leaves the public. The decidedly older crowd seemed to be outraged at today’s lack of outrage. These are folks who lived though and were appalled by images of Vietnam beamed to their television sets, who watched Nixon get dismantled for white-collar crimes. Where is that today? As Mayer said, “The public has been much quieter than in Watergate -- those hearings were broadcast all day on television and people talked about it constantly.” Perhaps if Congress’ questioned Dick Cheney, or David Addington, or John Yoo while they danced with some stars, people would be more informed? “Torture is not an issue about being a Democrat or Republican, it’s an issue about American ideas,” she said. “But in shows like 24, people think that torture will somehow save you.”
The people that will save you, she said, are the heroes of this scandal. Several Justice Department attorneys, Army generals, and FBI agents, with both Democrat and Republican ideals, spoke out about torture and were ultimately silenced, fired, or, as she says, possibly threatened with bodily harm.
There was a feeling from Mayer, though, that even if she wrote another six books before Bush left office, it still wouldn’t change much right now. It’s essentially the fear that the The Dark Side won’t be used today as evidence of the president’s misgivings, but will instead be used years down the road as a key document in a graduate school thesis on America’s dark years as torturers. It’s the resignation that that it will be the history books, not a current groundswell of collective outrage, that will be left to fully judge Bush, Cheney, and the War Council. But hopefully, that won’t be the case. Already, she said, we should be looking to the next occupant of the White House as a “potential turning point,” if, that is, the next president is willing to “open the books” and give the public a better picture of what, exactly, has been happening for the past eight years.
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Roll ‘em up
Disclaimer: I like sushi. Strike that. I love sushi. I’m pretty sure that’s all I ate during the four years I was in college and worked at Whole Foods. So when I saw Sushi Go Round, it was pretty much impossible to play without drooling. Does anyone know how to dry out a keyboard?
The premise of the game is that you’re a newbie sushi chef filling in for the regular maker of maki rolls. You’ve got a recipe book, a set number of ingredients, and some sake to satisfy customers if you’re taking to long to fill their order. Each day, you’ll be given a total figure to reach before the shop closes, and as the game progresses you’ll be given more complex rolls to make. It can get difficult clearing plates, ordering more ingredients and sake, and getting the rolls right, but it is hilarious when you screw up an order and it’s represented by a pile of poo with eyes. Even more hilarious is when it continues to scroll by on the sushi conveyor belt until the shop closes.
Go play Sushi Go Round here.
Now that Legally Blonde The Musical: The Search for Elle Woods has concluded (I still think Bailey's a whiny plastic bitch, so it's nice to hear that Autumn's been cast as her understudy and that Lauren and Rhiannon got gigs with the touring production), I've got an opening in my DVR schedule.
And I believe I'll be plugging it with Jurassic Fight Club, a History Channel joint that debuts tonight at 9 and promises lots of scientist-approved CGI of dinosaurs going Brad Pitt/Edward Norton on each other.
This NY Daily News review disses the show, claiming it "comes off more as a network's efforts to remain relevant in an Ultimate Fighting world than attempt a serious program."
To which I reply: That's a bad thing?
Everybody reads. The question is how fast. The other question is: Does everybody read?
The New York Times ran this piece on Sunday about how people aren't really reading like they used to. Kids are more into the web and not as much into books and blah blah blah. I couldn't get through it. Skim the whole thing here.
For a more intriguing, if no less inconclusive (yikes), perspective on the whole Reading: It Still Happens? debate, check out what Sven Birkerts had to say. He's the editor of Agni literary magazine and a devout print man with a million thoughts on the subject. Skip through it all here.
What got me thinking about all this is something ex-Philadelphian Beth Staples had to say at her Hayden's Ferry blog regarding print versus online publishing. "if we know we can — at least to a certain extent — take back or delete what we've put forth online, does it change the seriousness with which we submit it?"
Read the whole thing here (it's short).
Anyway all of that is preamble/excuse for me to direct your attention to a dizzying little device called Spreeder. All you do is copy text from somewhere, paste it into Spreeder and hit play. The words then begin to pop up on screen one at a time, 300 of them per minute. I just gave it a shot and while it didn't lose me, it wasn't exactly comfortable. Still, I can see this thing coming in real handy. A step close to the dream of downloading entire volumes of knowledge into the brain. I want that.
Despite playing Smokey, please refrain from yelling The Big Lebowski quotes at Jimmie Dale Gilmore. He's far too awesome to contend with that. With Jenny Scheinman, at the World Cafe, doors at 7:30 p.m., tickets are $30-40.
Tuesday: Jason Pierce almost died. But that's not the only reason you should go see Spiritualized tonight. Here are three reasons: 1. Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space is a great record. 2. "Often more threadbare than previous Spiritualized records, [new record] Song in A&E feels like a slightly lusher brand of forlorn English folk, the Fairport Convention coming down from a meth jag," says A.D. Amorosi. 3. For the price of admission, you also get the Dirtbombs AND the War on Drugs. Need more? You won't get it you greedy bastards. At the TLA, doors at 7 p.m., tickets are $25-27.
Wednesday: ALERT: Philly super group! "Unrelentingly catchy even at its quirkiest, the duo of Man Man drummer Pow Pow (Chris Powell) and Bablicon's Blue Hawaii (Griffin Rodriguez) comes across like the Atari 2600 adaptation of Gnarls Barkley, its eccentric grooves rendered with rougher edges and a more unpredictable sense of play," according to Shaun Brady. With Buffalo Stance (remember Neneh Cherry?!) and Make a Rising, at Johnny Brendas, doors 8 p.m., tickets are $10.
You can go jazzy-pizazzy tonight with Arrive. "That moment when post-bop built a bridge to the avant-garde is certainly present in the music of altoist Aram Shelton, who combines the tart angularity of influences like Ornette Coleman and Jackie McLean with an expansive reach inherited from the AACM," says Shaun. With Matt Davis and Dan Blacksberg's New Group, Borowsky Gallery, doors at 8 p.m. tickets are $10-$12.
Thursday: Bon Iver recorded his new album, For Emma, Forever in a remote cabin in Wisconsin. Give him some company tonight. With the Bowerbirds, at the First Unitarian Church, doors at 8:30 p.m., tickets are $12.
Saturday: Vernon Reid, founder of day-glo wet-suited Living Colour, teams up with DJ Logic and, with their powers combined, they outcome is the Yohimbe Brothers. The combo is the best of their respective worlds. It's their first visit to Philly in four years so give them the welcome they deserve. At the North Star Bar, doors at 9 p.m., tickets are $12.
Sunday: The Showdown is all about bang for your buck, so while seeing Jill Scott at the Borgata may technically be better, you coulda seen her for a fraction of that at Black Lily (if only you knew better) AND you gotta drag your ass all the way to Jersey. Give the new guys a shot tonight for the first round of the Battle of the Bands. Or you could go just to mock their names: Eric Az and the Drive-By Hippies, Stuck in Your Radio, The Air I breathe, Pieces of Euphoria, Adam Web, Broken By Archways, Faster Than Fate, Independence Drive, The Vivid Twisted, AmRev2 and Rushmore. At Crocodile Rock, doors at 4 p.m., tickets are $10-12.
|"But Mr. Officer, I was just ... "|
|Photo | Deesha Dyer|
"I know that being a George Michael fan hasn’t always been easy, but I assure you — around 11:30 tonight, it’ll be the easiest thing to be." –Mr. George Michael
The time between when I bought the ticket in March and when I saw the George Michael this past Saturday have been the longest three months of my life. OK, maybe that is a bit dramatic — but is there another way to be when we're talking about Mr. Wham himself?
Even with two days to organize my thoughts, I’m still a bit scattered. There he was, right in front of me doing the same side-to-side ass-shaking dance that made me fall in love with him when those tight pants were huggin' his legs back in the '80s. This was George, my dear George. When the stage opened up at 8:45 p.m., and he walked out and started "Fastlove," I looked like a lunatic, really. Jumping up and down, screaming, taking pictures and singing every word. GEORGE MICHAEL!!
He looked and sounded fantastic. He had his signature sunglasses on, a suit jacket over top of a shirt tucked in to some snug but hip pants. He had six backup singers who were all full of soul and harmony; also had a six-piece (I think) band providing him with the instrumentals.
Among the songs he belted out — "Amazing" (dedicated to his longtime partner Kenny), "Father Figure," "One More Try," "Star People," "Kissing a Fool," "Praying for Time”, "Too Funky," "Flawless" (he said that this song has been called the "gayest dance song ever," to which he replied by saying it’s just "the f*ckin' best dance song ever"), and "Spinning the Wheel." There was a 20-minute intermission, which was welcomed since my feet and my voice needed a little rest. I’m sure George’s did, too.
|Photo | Deesha Dyer|
As expected, he did a costume change for "Outside." If you aren’t familiar, the song is making fun of the bathroom/ undercover cop incident from almost a decade ago. No need to go into it, really — who cares? — but he came out in a police shirt and smiled and laughed through the whole song. We all know, he knows — and it just made it all the funnier. The classic "Faith" was sprinkled somewhere in there, too. The highlight for me was "Everything She Wants," which is now the song on My MySpace (ha). I almost jumped out of my dress ... really.
George (I feel like after spending the amount of money that I spent, we are friends and I can call him that) talked only a bit, but over and over thanked everyone for being fans for more than 25 years.
He also laughed at some of the criticism on his looks that he’s been getting, noting that one review said his vocals were in "top form," but he was not looking the part. His response: "If my voice sounds great, and I’ve got a double chin — f*ck it." I think I’ll start taking up that philosophy.
Oh, he also had interesting backdrops playing. Some of his earlier days, and others of Ms. Dita Von Teese wearing pasties in a champagne glass … wow, she’s beautiful (all set to a big band jazz version of "Feeling Good"). He said that the latter was for all the guys that were dragged to the concert by their girlfriends, in which one guy stood up and yelled, "That's what I'm talkin' 'bout."
There were two encores. One was "Careless Whisper," which everyone sang along to, and the second was "Freedom," which, as you can guess, everyone also sang along to.
Thank you, George, for giving us an awesome show after 17 years of not touring the US. While he gives the tabloids the fuel, his laughter and talent seem to contain the fire that is the power of the indestructible George Michael.
Children of the 80’s represent!
Click here for more pictures!
|Photo | Liz Tung|
On Friday night, over the top was par for the course as shiny young hepcats flooded the Starlight for a sold-out show by electropop it-boys MGMT.
|Photo | Liz Tung|
The Brooklyn-based duo, who broke into Pitchfork territory last year with their full-length debut Oracular Spectacular, specialize in irresistible pop hooks mashed up with trippy psychedelic breakdowns. Those breakdowns are part of what has allowed MGMT to maintain some semblance of artistic (or at least non-mainstream) credibility. On Friday, however, the crowd seemed restless with the band’s somewhat sloppy bouts of improvisation; I even spotted some rabid enthusiastic adolescent girls near the stage sneaking their phones out for a quick text during the sprawling jam-fest "Metanoia" (which, appropriately enough, means "repentance," according to Wikipedia).
But even the most self-indulgent songs weren’t enough to prevent the crowd from falling into hand-waving rapture over MGMT’s dubiously ironic anthems to youth, glitter and excess (think Lord of the Flies + glam rock decadence + being on coke). Songs like “Electric Feel” and “Time to Pretend” did feel somewhat soulless in this regard — but I couldn’t stop whistling them the whole way home.
|Ecco, 320 pp., $24.95, July 29|
Ever since David Sedaris proved that humorous, autobiographical short stories can sell, a crop of new writers has sprung out of nowhere trying to emulate him. Chelsea Handler, Augusten Burroughs, Cynthia Kaplan, and now The Waiter. And like many Sedaris hopefuls, his attempts fall short.
After maintaining the blog WaiterRant.net for the past four years, the writer who identifies himself only as The Waiter — possibly from fear of fanfare (or retribution) at his restaurant — has written a book of the same title and theme: How much it sucks to be a waiter. In 10- to 15-page doses, The Waiter reveals the minds behind the ostensibly sane restaurants you dine in, all the while illustrating a variety of insolent, Napoleonic customers whose after-work recreation is treating waiters like their personal plantation workers. The most satisfying moments of the book come when The Waiter takes vengeance on these diners, but unfortunately, the chapter that exclusively focuses on revenge is also the shortest.
Although the book is an enlightening look at a venue most people take at face value, Waiter Rant will likely appeal more to servers looking for a brother in the cause than it will to diners. While some chapters are highly rewarding, other stories are unfocused and lack unifying themes, which The Waiter attempts to haphazardly remedy at the ends. He easily gets lost in tangential autobiography about his personal life and aspirations as a writer. Often, meaningless, protracted dialogue fills the pages, and The Waiter includes too many quotes to highlight his own wit. Instead of describing scenes and personalities, the narrative gets weighed down in mildly clever similes. And even though the book is funny, it probably won’t make you laugh.
Despite its shortcomings, Waiter Rant is still worth reading. If you’re a waiter, there will be plenty of “That happened to me!” moments. If you’re a diner, you’ll learn why you should leave your fascist tendencies at the door (and why you should always tip 20 percent). And for both, you’ll buy the book happily knowing that you’re helping at least one waiter escape the tyranny of restaurants.
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