existential threats

Interesting bits and pieces of the George Stephanopoulos interview with Comrade Trump had been scattered all over teh Intertubes over the last couple of days. So I decided to watch the interview on television.

Okay, I need to digress for a moment. I don’t watch a lot of television. I like television and I’d like to watch more of it, but there’s just so many other things to do. I watch a couple of hours of television a night (except, of course, when the World Cup is on; I watch the hell out of that). And when I say ‘television’ I generally mean something on Hulu or Netflix. I can’t recall the last time I watched a show on commercial network television. Until last night and the interview with Comrade Trump.

It was awful. I mean, Trump was Trump — a despicable human being incapable of relating to any aspect of life and the world around him except through a lens of how it affected HIM. He lied, he was arrogant, he denied reality, he asserted ‘facts’ that didn’t exist, he kicked his own acting Chief of Staff out of the Oval Office for coughing during the interview, he accused his so-called ‘enemies’ of treason, he maligned President Obama, he said the Director of the FBI was wrong in stating that political figures should report contacts from foreign nations who offer ‘dirt’ on political opponents, he claimed to be ‘an honest guy’, he insisted he had polling data that showed he was winning ‘everywhere’, he accused his former White House Counsel of lying under oath, and he complained that he’s been treated more unfairly than President Lincoln (who, it’s worth remembering, was shot in the back of the head).

It was, as I said, completely awful. But here’s an indication of how Comrade Trump has normalized lying, hypocrisy, victimization, and the abuse of power: to me, the most shocking thing about last night was how completely and irredeemably horrible commercial television is.

It was an hour-long show purportedly based on thirty hours of material of which maybe 40-45 minutes of actual interview was presented, and which was routinely interrupted in order to sell products. The commercial interruptions were not only annoying and disruptive to the flow of the interview, they were LOUD. And stupid. And repetitive. There were, for example, at least two commercials for some sort of miniature golf-based game show.

Think about that for a moment. An interview in which the President of the United States makes a number of startling admissions that in ordinary times would lead to immediate impeachment proceedings is interrupted to promote a sort of celebrity miniature golf contest. How fucked up is that? (Hint: pretty fucked up.)

I make an effort to expose myself to a variety of political opinions; I make an effort to have a variety of experiences; I make an effort to avoid the existence-in-a-bubble mentality that I believe makes communication so difficult between folks who hold different opinions. But it turns out I do live in a sort of bubble — a non-commercial bubble.

I don’t know how anybody could process any information or narrative in a meaningful way when it’s presented in the way commercial television presents it. No wonder we live in such a fragmented, disorganized, disruptive, and jangled society. And no wonder Comrade Trump is able to get by with so much bullshit. The whole experience left me struggling to properly place Trump’s unabashed awfulness within a context of luxury car adverts and mini-golf promotions.

After we impeach the motherfucker, we need to think about addressing commercial television. It’s also an existential threat to society.

dany goes to town

Yes, Daenerys went full metal Targaryen on King’s Landing. Yes, she slaughtered hundreds — probably thousands, maybe even tens of thousands — of innocent men, women, and children. Yes, it was terrible thing for her to do.

But no, I don’t think laying waste to King’s Landing necessarily means she’s gone mad. In fact, I think there’s an excellent chance Dany torched that city because she knows she should have done it earlier.

She wanted to. She suggested it shortly after she and her army landed at Dragonstone. Tyrion, however, talked her out of it, saying she’d be slaughtering innocents. He was right that a LOT of King’s Landings folks would die. But I think it was a mistake strategically. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not an advocate for killing civilians — even on television or in the movies.

Urban renewal, Targaryen style.

But look at this from Dany’s perspective. Look at what’s happened to her as a result of NOT attacking King’s Landing. First, she gets sidetracked by fighting against the White Walkers. It was an admirable decision, but she’d already lost a dragon to those fuckers. The battle at Winterfell also cost her most of her Dothraki, and at least half of her Unsullied. Not to mention Jorah.

To make matters worse, when she started south to prep for dealing with Cersei, she learned that the Wildlings were staying behind. Okay, they weren’t a disciplined army, but they were enthusiastic, and that counts for a lot. And THEN? Then just as she’s getting home, she gets dough-popped by Euron. That cost her yet another dragon, a few more boatloads of troops, her supporters from Dorne, and her last real friend, Missandei.

After that, she 1) discovers Varys is plotting against her, 2) her boyfriend has a better claim to the Iron Throne, and 3) he refuses to keep his real name secret. Basically, she’s far worse off than she was just a few episodes earlier. Even the Breaker of Chains would find that discouraging.

And Tyrion is still advising her NOT to alienate the people (who, let’s face it, haven’t shown her a bit of love even though she risked everything to keep them from being turned into fucking zombies) by slaughtering everybody in King’s Landing.

On a more positive side, if Dany had leveled King’s Landing like she wanted to, she’d probably still have at least a pair of dragons, most of her Dothraki and Unsullied, as well as Jorah and Missandei.

And hey, it didn’t take long for her to destroy the city. Maybe four, five hours. If she’d torched the place when she wanted to, Dany would still have had plenty of time to tell the rest of the Lannister army to take the knee then march them north to fight Winter zombies. Plus, she could probably have persuaded House Tyrell to cough up some troops, and she already had an agreement with Dorne.

“Permit? We don’t need no stinkin’ permit!”

In other words, if she’d done what she wanted to do, she’d have two dragons, a bigger army, more trustworthy advisors, AND she wouldn’t have to fret about Cersei stabbing her in the back. Laying waste to King’s Landing would have been a horrible thing to do, but a smart strategic move.

So I rather think that instead of ‘going mad’, Daenerys may have simply thought, “If I do this now, folks will probably be a lot more amenable to a change in management.” The citizens of other cities, when it was time to formally bend the knee, would be saying to themselves, “Jesus suffering fuck, did you SEE what she did to King’s Landing in, like, half an hour? Bend the knee? I’ll lay flat and kiss the hem of her goddamn skirt.”

Again, this is not a blanket approval of using dragons against civilians. Just an acknowledgement that you can’t win the game of thrones without breaking a few eggs.

 

 

proust – pivot – lipton

There’s a semi-interesting article in The New Yorker titled How the Proust Questionnaire Went From Literary Curio to Prestige Personality Quiz. I say ‘semi-interesting’ because it takes what I think is an interesting idea — the evolution of a questionnaire a lot of folks are familiar with — and turns it into a fairly pretentious exercise (which is a thing most of us love and hate about The New Yorker). The New Yorker is one of the few places where you’ll find a line like this:

It’s safe to say that, today, the Sainte-Beuvian paradigm has triumphed—if not among literary critics, then certainly in the culture at large.

I guess that IS safe to say, if only because hardly anybody would know what the fuck you were talking about, unless they’d read the article in The New Yorker. And maybe not even then. But despite that, it’s actually interesting to have some glimpse into the origins of the questionnaire.

I became familiar with the questionnaire because of James Lipton’s odd talk show, Inside the Actors Studio. Lipton interviews actors (or directors, and an occasional screenwriter) about their craft. It began in 1994 as a sort of filmed seminar for students in the Actors Studio Drama School — a one-one-one informal but intensely personal interview with somebody who actually works in the business. Over time it’s become a popular show in its own right. The show often reaches a pretension level that can rival The New Yorker, but I’ve never seen an episode that wasn’t worth watching. That said, I wouldn’t entirely disagree with the Sunday Times critic who described the show as:

“[J]ust a chat show on satellite, but the veil of education and posterity is held decorously high, so everybody turns up and talks with a smile.”

Each episode ends with Lipton asking a series of ten questions that he attributes to French television personality Bernard Pivot, who did a similar show devoted to writers. Pivot said his list of questions was inspired by Marcel Proust. Proust got the idea from a popular 18th century parlor game he learned from Antoinette Faure. And the green grass grows all around, all around. If you’re really curious about all this, then you’re probably the sort of person the article in The New Yorker was written for, and you should probably go read it.

Most folks, though, are primarily interested in the questionnaire — the actual ten questions themselves. Some of the questions are pedestrian, some are silly, some are insightful, but it was always interesting to see how various actors/directors/writers would answer them.

Obviously, I’m going to give the questions and my own answers — but I’m genuinely curious to see how other folks would answer them as well. So, here we go:

What is your favorite word? Ownself. It’s a Southernism, I think. At least I’ve never heard anybody outside of the Deep South use it in the same way as Southern folk do. It means ‘yourself’ or ‘myself;, of course, but in a more deeply personal and possessive sort of way. Saying “my ownself” or “your ownself” emphasizes the ownership of whatever the hell you’re talking about. For example, saying “I’ll do it myself” doesn’t carry the same level of investment or commitment as “I’ll do it my ownself”, which is less invested than “I’ll do it my own damn self.”

What is your least favorite word? Any hateful slur — kike, nigger, faggot, pick one.

What turns you on? Smart people.

What turns you off? Willfully stupid people. You know, folks who are capable of learning and understanding, but either can’t be bothered to learn or refuse to learn because it would make them doubt something they believed. Willfully stupid people can fuck right off.

What sound or noise do you love? Water rippling around stones.

What sound or noise do you hate? Leaf blowers. I fucking hate leaf blowers.

What is your favorite curse word? I don’t really have a favorite. I’m sort of partial to ‘cocksucker’, though it’s not an expression I use. I like it because it was used beautifully and creatively in the HBO series Deadwood. HBO’s The Wire did something similar with ‘motherfucker’, but The Wire‘s motherfucker lacked the deep, profound sense of commitment to obscenity that we saw in Deadwood‘s cocksucker.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Architect, maybe. Or investigative epidemiologist.

What profession would you not like to do? Anything to do with accounting.

If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates? I always have trouble with this premise. It’s like saying “If you had your own personal dragon, what would you do with it?” But you have to play the game by the rules, so IF heaven existed and IF there was a god waiting to greet me, I guess I’d like to hear her say “Hi, come on in, we have an extensive library. And there are no leaf blowers.”

So that’s me. What about you?