Thursday various

Tuesday various

Wednesday various

  • When defending someone’s horribly poor choice of words, it’s probably a good idea to choose your own words a lot more carefully than this. I suppose we should be grateful the Washington Times didn’t suggest we look for a “Final Solution” to Sarah Palin’s recent troubles. [via]
  • I have mixed feelings about writing contests in general, particularly ones with entry fees. I took part in this year’s Geist Postcard Story Contest, for instance, since there’s not a lot else to do with a story that short, and the fee a) goes towards a subscription and b) helps out a really good magazine. But, in general, I tend to think money should flow towards the writer, and any story worthy of winning a contest should also be worthy of getting paid something for. (Obviously “money” and “paid” can mean a number of different things here, from actual cash to contributor copies to your name printed somewhere. It’s the principle of the thing.)

    But I absolutely think it’s writing contests like this that give the reputable ones a bad name, that leave me with my mixed feelings in the first place. Seriously, writer beware.

  • Tasha Robinson and Keith Phipps have an interesting discussion about which is worse in popular culture: blind, overenthusiastic hyperbole…or bland, unengaged apathy.
  • While A.O. Scott puts the lie to the notion that critics represent some kind of anti-populist elite:

    Speaking personally, but also out of a deep and longstanding engagement with the history and procedures of my profession, I have to say that the goal of criticism has never been to control or reflect the public taste — neither thing is possible — but rather the simpler (but also infinitely difficult) work of analyzing and evaluating works of art as honestly and independently as possible….There is a cultural elite, in America, which tries its utmost to manipulate the habits and tastes of consumers. It consists of the corporations who sell nearly everything with the possible exception of classical music and conceptual arts, and while its methods include some of the publicity-driven hype that finds its way into newspapers, magazines and other traditional media, its main tool is not criticism but marketing.

    False populism, this idea that some snobs in their ivory towers don’t want you to have any fun — or, worse, want to ram their culture, their ideals down your throat — well, that’s sort of what’s given us people like Sarah Palin, isn’t it?

  • And finally, this is how rumors get started: Twitter in a panic over Oxford Circus ‘gunman’. A “gunman” invented out of whole cloth over Twitter, it should be said. See the course of the brief panic charted here. [via]

Monday various

  • Laura Miller on why we love bad writing:

    And, chances are, quite a few of his listeners would be well aware that Larsson and Brown aren’t very good writers. If pressed, they’d say that sometimes they just want to gallop through a story — or in the case of Larsson’s novels, proceed along with a weird methodicalness that taps into what appears to be an amazingly widespread streak of latent obsessive-compulsive disorder. They’d say that they’re not, at the moment, equal to the demands of literature, but that just last week they finished “Disgrace” or “Wolf Hall.” And then they’d say, Would you mind? Are we done here? Because I’d really like to get back to my book. [via]

  • A.O. Scott on 2010 in film:

    The ritual of year-end list making is a way of sifting through scattered, memorable moments and forcing them briefly into focus. A handful of movies from 2010 will still be interesting in the future, in which case the date of their first appearance will be little more than the answer to a trivia question. Was it a good year for movies? A great year? Hard to say, and finally, who cares? The movies — good and bad alike — shed a blinking, blurry light on the times, illuminating our collective fears, fantasies and failures of will.

  • Zach Handlen on Star Trek‘s Deanna Troi:

    You know what? I don’t think a therapist who could physically sense your emotional state would be all that useful. Therapy is a relationship based on trust, and one of the ways that trust is established (the primary way, I’d argue) is through an exchange of information. That exchange is somewhat one-sided; the counselor may share certain experiences from their own life if they feel its relevant to the discussion, but the sessions are focused on you and the problems you’re dealing with. But it’s still a dialogue in which the two of you working together establish boundaries, and then work to move those boundaries as necessary. Troi essentially shortcuts this process. Her Betazoid empathy allows her to get past all manner of subterfuge and stalling, and while that seems like it would be useful for her, I’m not sure it’s that helpful to her patients. Instead of breaking down their own barriers, she just takes a peek and tells them what she sees. You can’t write a very good paper on Ulysses if all you ever read is the last five pages. (“There aren’t any periods or paragraphs, but the narrator seems pleasant enough. Maybe she’s drunk?”)

    And, from the recap, on Data:

    Data’s confusion about emotional responses only works if the emotional responses are ones that make sense to us; part of the enjoyment of seeing him puzzle through things is realizing how absurd most of what we feel really is, and there’s no fun in randomness being identified as randomness. Of course, Data couldn’t follow what happens. No one could.

    I always look forward to Handlen’s Next Generation recaps.

  • Sam Adams on the Rocky Horror Picture Show and other cult films:

    When you partake of a historically transgressive artifact, whether it’s reading Tropic Of Cancer or listening to Never Mind The Bollocks, you’re interacting not just with the thing itself, but also with its history. As Thurston Moore observed in The Year Punk Broke, when Motley Crüe is covering “Anarchy In The U.K.” in football stadiums—or, he’d surely add now, when the band re-records the song for Guitar Hero—the context in which the song was meant to be heard is irretrievably lost. Either you listen to it as if it were just released, which inevitably dulls its impact, or you project yourself back in time—and, while you’re at it, across the ocean—playing the part of a scandalized Briton eagerly awaiting the Queen’s Jubilee. You pretend you’re breaking rules that no longer exist.

    The transgressive, and the prescient, almost without fail, ultimately become quaint.

  • And finally, this is taking love of a television show to a whole new level: recreating the M*A*S*H set in your backyard. [via]