Category Archives: Video

TGIF: “30 Rock”

30 Rock season one compilation: “I have been sexually rejected by not one but two guys who later went to clown college”; “I’m not one of those girls who does weird stuff in bed because they think they have to”; “Standing up?  What?  How does that even work?”

More Tina Fey (the woman who conceived the reality series MILF Island: “Twenty-five superhot moms, fifty 8th grade boys, no rules”).  30 Rock season four DVD release September 21.  Season five premiere September 23.

After the jump, a couple of brief but wonderful clips of Liz Lemon dancing.

Continue reading

Quote of the Day: “Another superannuated commenter on the modern scene”

Lady Gaga’s “Alejandro” — viewed almost 80 million times on YouTube in the last three months.  That doesn’t mean it’s great, but it does mean that, for the under-25 set, she’s offering something they want; and it apparently includes an anxiety-free transgendered sexuality with lots of neo-70s-glam set to a mid-tempo Europop beat.  That a problem?

Maria Bustillos puts the smackdown on Camille Paglia for her contemptuous dismissal of Lady Gaga.  (According to Paglia, Gaga — at age 24 and weighing in at 97 pounds — is responsible for “the death of sex.”)

Money quote:

Paglia’s Sexual Personae was first published twenty years ago, and since then the author does not appear to have offered us much beyond the news that she thought Madonna was very sexy. In 1990, the wild acclaim for Sexual Personae led people to suppose that Paglia would become a public intellectual of the rock-star stature of Noam Chomsky, Susan Sontag or Bernard-Henri Lévy. That did not happen because Paglia is a nutcase who, among many other instances of self-promoting perversity, attacked Anita Hill, expressed contempt for Gloria Steinem, Naomi Wolf, Susan Faludi and many, many others, and went bonkers over Sarah Palin, commenting breathlessly, “We may be seeing the first woman president.” She also had something or other to say about some poems! Whatever. Paglia’s denunciation of Lady Gaga is about as perspicacious as her oeuvre since Sexual Personae might have led anyone to expect (plus, she still thinks Madonna was very sexy, “on fire”, “the imperious Marlene Dietrich’s true heir”, etc.)

Lady Gaga is “in over her head with her avant-garde pretensions,” Paglia announces, going on to demonstrate her own total cluelessness as to what might constitute an avant-garde at this point. Like many another superannuated commenter on the modern scene, she has no problem deploring the Youth she makes no attempt to understand. . . .

Bustillos goes on to say that Lady Gaga is to Madonna what David Bowie was to Elvis Presley: “Not so obvious, a little freaky, weird, a little ambiguous, not so much trying to arouse.”

Saturday Night at the Movies: “Triumph of the Will”

This past week we’ve had a look at some of Frye’s observations on fascism, and tomorrow is a couple of Hitler-related anniversaries, so tonight is a good time to post Leni Riefenstahl’s propaganda extravaganza Triumph of the Will (with English subtitles).

Here’s another excerpt from Frye’s remarkable, unfinished 1943 essay, “The Present Condition of the World,” where he once again considers analogies between Nazi and North American society; in this case, the incidence of propaganda.  As before, the relevance of these insights to current events is startling:

. . . .[R]eliance on sense experience emphasizes the receptive and passive aspects of the mind and minimizes its active and creative power.  Hence America is a happy-hunting-ground of all forms of advertisement, propaganda, and suggestions.  Advertising and “publicity” are based on the fact that sense experience is involuntary and on the assumption that the mind does not possess enough selective power to resist a large number of repeated impressions.  The synthetic entertainment provided by the radio and the movies is based on the normality and predictability of the public responses to certain stimuli.  Education is loaded with an apparatus of magical systems and methods which are supposed to inscribe significant patterns on the students’ tabula rasa.  It is important, too, to notice what a superstitious belief the average American has in the power of Nazi propaganda over the German mind: that is, he thinks of it as a mysterious poison which has seeped into the brain and is now impossible to remove, rather than as an unnatural hysteria kept up artificially by a continuous external pressure.  It is important too, especially in Canada, to notice how closely this passivity of mind is associated with political apathy, a tendency to think of the government, not as the paid officials of the people, or even as merely a few more average and indifferently honest Canadians, but as an anonymous “they,” a group of Norns who sit in Thule waging war and rationing coffee.  There is much less of this in the United States, but the impact of peace may revive it; and if it does, the danger that propaganda in favour of democracy will be reversed to propaganda in favour of inspired leadership is by no means a mere intellectual’s nightmare.  (CW 10, 212)

TGIF: Tina Fey

“The Sarah Palin Network”

You know how people always say that they find intelligence and a good sense of humor sexy, but then it turns out that they don’t?

Here’s some much needed proof that it can happen.  Tina Fey.  She has got to be, on any given day, one of the funniest, smartest writers and performers drawing breath and delivering the goods.  (Fifth season premiere of 30 Rock — easily the best comedy on network television — is September 23rd.)

Above is her latest incarnation of Sarah Palin, which is still very funny, and while the performance does not include Palin’s cold misanthropic glare, it captures the goofily entitled and unendearing self-assurance of someone who needs to do some serious self-examination.

After the jump, Tina’s classic SNL commercial parody, “Mom Jeans.”

Continue reading

Leni Riefenstahl

From Olympia, (Riefenstahl’s documentary about the 1936 Berlin Olympics): the closing of the games.

On this date in 2003 German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl died (born 1902).  Riefenstahl, of course, was the most artistically proficient of all Nazi filmmakers, providing the most memorable propaganda images of the Nazi state, and during her long life represented the problematical relationship between the artist and tyranny.  (The excellent documentary, The Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl, here.)

Christopher Hitchens has noted that the default setting for social organization among humans seems to be fascism.  To advance beyond such a state is difficult, rare and not to be taken for granted.

In the spring of 1943 Frye composed an unfinished, never published essay under the title, “The Present Condition of the World,” which includes some startling observations about the universal Fascist that remain disconcertingly relevant.

The point is all the more striking when we compare the Nazi psychology with our own.  Nazi lynchings of Jews are matched by the Ku Klux Klan and the lynching of Negroes; and anti-Semitism itself has greatly increased over here since Hitler came to power, a clear indication that the Nazi persecutions of the Jews have aroused far more sneaking sympathy than contempt on this continent.  German trumpetings of the superiority of Germans to all other people are obviously attempts to exorcise an inner demon of disbelief in it; to raise an earthquake and fire to roar down the still small voice of self-ridicule.  The average Anglo-Saxon has an inner conviction of the superiority of his race and his institutions which is the despairing envy of the purple-faced bawling Nazi, and which the latter would give anything to possess.  The American tendency to stampede under mass emotional pressure is as marked as that of the Germans.  The labour record of the great German industrialists who backed Hitler can hardly be worse than that of Ford or the steel and coal capitalists here; nor is the willingness of the latter to support a would-be Fascist dictator less in evidence.  The ferocity of capital and labour warfare and the prevalence of gangsterism and thuggery in politics, however bad in Germany, have significant parallels in America.  In both countries there has been a very powerful but easily frightened and bamboozled middle class.  The Germans have had less experience of democracy, but much of our democracy is a rationalization of oligarchy or the opportunity of the lobbyist and ward heeler.  Given the right conditions, we could develop on this continent a Nazism of a fury compared to which that of the Germans would be, in American language, bush-league stuff.  And if it has not occurred, and even if the danger of its occurring has perhaps passed its meridian, our escape is due to the anodyne of prosperity and to certain economic and geographical features in our favour, not to any special virtue in us, any innate love of liberty in our people, or any invincible power in our democratic institutions.  With regard to the last, the general level of political education and insight is even lower here than in Germany before Hitler.  American Fascists, or Defenders of American Democracy as they would doubtless call themselves, if in the first place they could achieve power, would find even less difficulty in rounding up and shooting the leaders of what organized resistance there would be than the Nazis had in Germany, where nearly half the population, in 1932, belonged to well-disciplined revolutionary parties. (CW 10, 216-17)

Thoreau Leaves Waldon Pond

Thoreau’s reflections on Walden Pond

On this date in 1847 Henry David Thoreau left Walden Pond and moved into Ralph Waldo Emerson‘s home in Concord, Massachusetts.

Frye on Thoreau in “Varieties of Literary Utopias” in The Stubborn Structure:

Man obviously needs far less to live the best life than he thinks he needs; and civilization as we know it is grounded on the technique of complicating wants.  In fact, this technique is widely believed, in America, to be the American way of life par excellence.  Thoreau says: “The only true America is the country were you are at liberty to pursue such a mode of life as may enable you to do without these, and where the state may not endeavor to compel you to sustain the slavery, and war, and other superfluous expenses which directly or indirectly contribute to such things.” The pastoral revolutionary tradition is still at work in this remark, still pointing to the natural and reasonable society buried beneath the false one.  (132)

Saturday Night Video: (Re)Covered

Joe Cocker, “With a Little Help from My Friends” (Original)

This is a glorious performance, perhaps the only cover of a Beatles’ song that surpasses the original; no mean feat.  It’s from Joe Cocker’s “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” tour (1969-1971), which was a crazy affair — a huge traveling band (including a retinue of superlative backup singers, two drummers and a full horn section) — and might be regarded as the tour that effectively marked the end of the hippie era.  If that’s so, it went out with a sweet-natured little pop tune transformed into a secularized hymn.

Now that we’ve had a look at Frye speaking and writing about rock ‘n’ roll and popular music generally as a bona fide element of culture and worthy of study (here, here, and here), our occasional Saturday Night Video selections maybe enjoys a little more cachet.

Here’s a collection of great cover versions of great songs, most of which are more famous than the original.  A link to the original artist is included, if you want to compare.

Continue reading

Sarah Barracuda

A segment people might commit to memory if it made any sense.  (Tina Fey comes closest by quoting Palin verbatim here.)

Vanity Fair has an article on Sarah Palin this month, which she has used as an excuse to accuse the “lamestream media” of being “impotent” and “limp” — which actually confirms how she is portrayed in the article: snarling, thin-skinned, and incapable of accepting anything but adoring praise without going immediately on the attack in an effort to bully opponents into silence.  And with Fox News behind her, she can afford to stomp around noisily, swinging a big stick the entire time.  She is the anti-Obama.  No cool.  No control.  All drama.  All the time.

A sample from Vanity Fair:

Palin has been a national figure for barely two years—John McCain selected her as his running mate in August 2008. Her on-the-record statements about herself amount to a litany of untruths and half-truths. With few exceptions—mostly Palin antagonists in journalism and politics whose beefs with her have long been out in the open—virtually no one who knows Palin well is willing to talk about her on the record, whether because they are loyal and want to protect her (a small and shrinking number), or because they expect her prominence to grow and intend to keep their options open, or because they fear she will exact revenge, as she has been known to do. It is an astonishing phenomenon. Colleagues and acquaintances by the hundreds went on the record to reveal what they knew, for good or ill, about prospective national candidates as diverse as Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Al Gore, and Barack Obama. When it comes to Palin, people button their lips and slink away.

Palin’s rallying cry is “We’re taking America back!”  Back?  Where did it go?  And back from whom?  Oh. Right. It starts with Obama and extends to everything that does not rise to the Palin standard of representing the “real America.”  For her followers, who are well-polled on the issue, these include non-whites, non-Christians, Christians not Christian enough to believe in the End Times, city dwellers, gays, lesbians, liberals, and voters under 30.  In other words, taken all together, most of the country.

“Conservatives” like Palin revere Ronald Reagan as the most perfect president for a more perfect union, even though he raised taxes every year after 1982 (including what was then the largest tax increase in American history), and increased government spending more than twice that of the Ford and Carter administrations combined.  He did this while also running record deficits (tripling the national debt), a feat surpassed only by George W. Bush.  He was moreover responsible for the collapse of the Savings and Loan industry through irresponsible deregulation.  And — does this sound familiar? — $160 billion in losses had to be picked up by the American taxpayer.  But these inconvenient and verifiable facts are simply thrown down the memory hole.  It only matters the legend persist that Reagan brought down Communism with one well-placed judo chop, so there can’t be much reality to the perception of him from any angle.  Frye, however, saw it very clearly.  Here are two of his observations on Reagan from Denham’s Frye Unbuttoned:

Television brings a theatricalizing of the social contract.  Reagan may be a cipher as President, but as an actor acting the role of a decisive President in a Grade B movie he’s I suppose acceptable to people who think life is a Grade B movie. (249)

The Soviet Union is trying to outgrow the Leninist dialectical rigidity, and some elements in the U.S.A. are trying to outgrow its counterpart.  But it’s hard: Reagan is the great symbol of clinging to the great-power syndrome, which is why he sounds so charismatic even when he’s talking the most obvious nonsense. (250)

Which brings us back round to Sarah Palin.  She can’t speak in unscripted grammatical sentences, and she’s as mean and flinty as Reagan was genial and reassuring.  But apparently she’ll do for a “great-power syndrome” now in such a delusional state that empirical evidence and the historical record are swept aside by a policy of reckless lies delivered with indifference to the damage they do– such as Palin’s infamous “death panels,” which reduced reasoned debate about health care reform to paranoid hysteria.

The reason I always put “conservative” in quotes when talking about such people is because they’re not conservatives.  They’re oligarchs.  Conservatives accept change while promoting social stability.  Conservatives respect tradition and do not seek the radical overturning of it.  Disraeli was a conservative (“Upon the education of the people of the nation the future of the nation depends”).  Palin is not.  She’s more like a narcissistic personality disorder with a political action committee.

Fall of the Roman Empire

From the British television adaptation of Robert Graves‘s series of historical novels, I, Claudius.  In this scene featuring one infamous period of decadence among many in the Roman imperial family, Caligula addresses the Senate upon his return from his “battle against Neptune.”

On this date in 476 Romulus Augustus, last emperor of the Western Roman Empire, was deposed by Odoacer, who proclaimed himself King of Italy. The mythical date for the founding of Rome is similarly exact: April 21, 753 BC by, of course, Romulus, which is a pretty sweet bit of symmetry.  Furthermore, the Roman Republic was established  in 509 BC and the Western Roman Empire effectively ended in 476 AD, which is almost exactly the thousand years that Rome was mythically prophesied to be a great power.

So with that remarkable cycle of history in mind, here’s Frye in conversation with David Cayley on the difference between historical cycles and historical spirals — between mere repetition and progressive cultural enlightenment:

Cayley: Do you see instances in history of spiralling rather than cycling?

Frye: We find the idea of the turning cycle in the movement that went from the decline and fall of the Roman Empire to the rise of medieval civilization.  People always thought in terms of a renewed Roman Empire, all the way down to the eighteenth century, and they certainly regarded that as a spiral.  Whether we would think so or not is another question.

Cayley: I would think there’s some argument for it.  So the question then becomes whether we take our tradition with us on another turn, or whether, as appears to be the case and was noted in your remarks on senility earlier, we forget it.

Frye: I think it’s a disaster to forget it, because that means that anything new will simply be the primitive coming around again, making the same mistakes all over.  And we can’t afford to make those mistakes with the technology we’ve got now.  (CW 24, 1035)