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Expand the kill list, improve the economy.

[ 13 ] June 8, 2012 |

I can’t disagree with Mr. Thill’s logic:

It would be foolish indeed to have invested so much in [drone] technologies only to watch them molder as mere weapons of war-force and terror. Like all modern technological artifacts, at rest they are value-neutral; it is only the uses to which they are put that defines them. In sum, to strike the jobless from the common ledger is, in its way, to aim for benevolence. The enormous costs to build, upgrade, and maintain ready fleets of drones of all manner and variety will be more than offset by the broad economic health benefits to be derived by purging the state of significant portions of its jobless population. In fact, if we might be permitted a moment of utopian thought, the likely growth in demand for these services (offered perhaps to interested parties along subsidized or graduated rate scales) will necessitate a process of vigorous hiring and training for remote-pilot operators, which may in appropriate instances be drawn from the ranks of the jobless themselves, thereby solving the problem of joblessness even more swiftly and decisively. Rather than a salaried position, however, these hires might best be negotiated as much needed ‘work experience’ and accordingly organized as internships of various types. This internment might even provide a stepping-stone toward their being struck themselves in turn more quickly. Remote piloting centers that will happen to have fallen victim to inflated overhead or health care costs, or the vagaries of local real estate crises, might themselves be recast as new targets for drones whose home bases are elsewhere.

Mad Men: Hands and hands and hands in “Commissions and Fees”

[ 11 ] June 6, 2012 |

As with the previous Mad Men post, I’ll begin here with the title (“Commissions and Fees”) as it structures the underlying irony of the entire episode. As Lane Pryce explains to the partners early in the episode, the difference between commissions and fees boils down to be erratically paid fifteen percent based on a finished campaign (commissions) or regularly paid with the possibility of a one or two percent bump based on the success of the campaign (fee). The fee system fails to offer the potential rewards of the commission, but the steadiness of the payouts appeals to an orderly man like Pryce. That Campbell follows Pryce’s explanation with the news that Dunlop contacted him and wants to work with Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce enhances the appeal of the fee system because it suggests the possibility of a synergistic structure: land the car company and the manufacturer of its tires follows. The neatness of this risk-averse business model entices Pryce because it provides for reliable growth in an industry predicated on the whims of a hypothetical entity Pryce is incapable of understanding: the American consumer.

Put differently: a person who craves order in the world would prefer fees to commissions based on temperament alone; but a person who (1) works in an industry based on a muddy understanding of the psychological and sociological motivations of the American consumer and (2) relies on unpredictable flashes of insight from mercurial ciphers would consider fees to be a means of imposing order on the world. Which means that Pryce is as quick to encourage the adoption of a fee structure as Draper is to dismiss it. Director Christopher Manley captures their differences in a pair of medium shots designed to draw attention to their hands:

Mad men - commissions and fees00124

As Pryce explains the difference between fees and commissions his hands are turned inward in a gesture reminiscent of an artist molding a block of clay. He is a gentleman gathering the messiness of the world and bringing order to it. But when Manley reverses to Draper rejecting the fee structure:

Mad men - commissions and fees00163

The depth of feeling from which his dismissal originates is present both in the tone of his voice and his inversion of Pryce’s gesture. Draper’s hands tear apart and toss aside the orderly world Pryce just produced for the partners. These gestures represent in minature the manner in which the episode pits the risk-seeking, commission-loving Draper against the risk-averse, fee-loving Pryce. But there’s another reason they’re significant:

They’re made with hands. Bear with me here:

Read more…

NotX = X

[ 15 ] June 5, 2012 |

A grad student didn’t see Obama at a barbecue hosted by Bill Ayers in 2005! The conclusion Breitbart’s minion Joel Pollak draws from this non-evidence?

Whatever differences may have emerged between Obama and Ayers — and other far-left fellow travelers — since Obama took office and grappled with the realities of governing, Obama’s migration towards the mainstream of American politics is very recent, and likely opportunistic. His intellectual and political roots remain extreme.

So Obama’s an extremist who’s governed from the center-right? For all the conservative talk about his lack of a record, now that he’s established one, you’d think that they’d address it. Instead, his record is now the child of political opportunism — his true fealty is still to the extremist father from whom his radical dreams originated.

Mad Men: Who owns “The Other Woman”?

[ 11 ] June 1, 2012 |

Most of what I read about the latest Mad Men (“The Other Woman”) focused on Joan’s decision to accept Pete’s indecent proposal—and rightly so—but the title of the episode basically demands the audience answer the question “Who’s the woman, and who’s the other one?” As far as I can tell, the consensus seems to be that it’s Joan, who unlike Megan and Peggy lacks a defined role in Don’s life, but that strikes me as only significant in this episode and inconsonant with developments in the series as whole. Moreover, the final minutes of the episode indicate that while Peggy’s role in Don’s life may have been circumscribed by their working relationship in recent episodes, it bears remembering that, before Megan, Peggy and Don regularly confided in each other about things like the ramifications of unplanned pregnancies. In short, I’d argue that over the course of five seasons, Peggy’s been Don’s perpetual “other woman,” and I think the structure of the episode bears this out.

But first things first, let me remind you of a moment from the first episode of the first season. Don criticizes Peggy for allowing Pete to enter his office and steal research from his trash, to which Peggy responds thus:

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Conservative performance art?

[ 76 ] June 1, 2012 |

Matt Labash, mocking the very idea of memes in the Weekly Standard, writes:

I have always detested the word meme, and not just because it was coined by Richard Dawkins, though that certainly helps. The concept was originated by Dawkins in his 1976 book, The Selfish Gene, back when the Internet was still a glint in young Al Gore’s eye. Borrowing from the Greek word mimema (something imitated), Dawkins was on the hunt for a monosyllable that rhymed with “gene,” hence meme. Loosely speaking—and there’s no other way to speak of memes—it is “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture” (the dictionary definition).

He “detest[s]” memes, but shortly before declaring they can only be spoken of “loosely,” he employs one of the Right’s most successful creations: the claim that Al Gore said he invented the Internet. It’s as if he’s trying to prove that memes are significant by using one to convince his audience that they aren’t, and the sad thing is that because that “idea … spread from person to person within [conservative] culture,” neither he nor his audience are aware that their collective petard has been soundly hoisted.

Games of Thrones: Embiggening Men in “Blackwater”

[ 137 ] May 29, 2012 |

The latest Mad Men (“The Other Woman”) presented me with more to think about than I can currently wrap my head around, but so too did the latest Games of Thrones (“Blackwater”), albeit it for very different reasons. So instead of delving into “The Other Woman” or drowning in the sudden narratological shift in “Blackwater,” I’ll focus on a fine point about shot construction in Game of Thrones. Before I do, however, I should note that I’m by no means endorsing the more problematic elements of the show—the racial politics foremost among them—because those strike me as endemic to sword-and-sorcery as a genre, so anything I write about them will inevitably be general and uninteresting to a fault.

If you want a re-cap of the episode itself, I recommend Alyssa’s, but for my purpose all you need to know is that 1) the great Peter Dinklage plays Tyrion Lannister and 2) he commands an army that’s on the brink of being besieged. Tyrion, in the lingo of the show, is a “halfman,” and Dinklage’s height presents difficulties for directors—if they shoot a close-up or medium close-up of him in conversation, his wit and intelligence will be diminished by the fact that his head’s surrounded by a sea of crotches. The typical solutions to this problem are two-fold: have everyone he converses with sit down while doing so (as Thomas McCarthy did extensively in The Station Agent) or shoot him in extremely shallow focus so he’s surrounded by a sea of fuzzy crotches. In “Blackwater,” director Neil Marshall eschews both techniques, employing instead an exceedingly stylized compositional mode that would look ostentatious in almost any other context. To wit:

Read more…

Let the Purges Begin

[ 23 ] May 8, 2012 |

Erik has his metaphor off, according to KC Johnson:

In an editor’s note that could have doubled as a parody of political correctness, Liz McMillen “sincerely apologize[d] for the distress” that publication of Riley’s post caused. McMillen claimed that Riley’s sharply-written but seemingly factually accurate post did not conform to the Chronicle’s “journalistic standards,” though she elected not to provide an example of how, specifically, the post failed to conform to these standards. Perhaps she feared causing further distress to the Chronicle’s extremely sensitive reading base.

I’ve a long and tangled history with Johnson — it begins here and weaves its way through three years of my archives — but the intellectual dishonesty I accused him of practicing in 2007? He’s not reformed his ways. Identifying Riley’s post as “sharply-written” when he’s only qualified enough to determine whether it’s “seemingly factual” is typical Johnsonian deflection, as his attempt to turn the tables on McMillen by accusing her of not “provid[ing] an example of how … the post failed to conform to [the Chronicle's] standards.”

He pretends he doesn’t know that criticism originating from a place of profound ignorance fails to conform to academic standards. Because he does know, but as they say, all’s fair in love and the Culture Wars.

Superman Returns, Admires Handiwork

[ 11 ] May 8, 2012 |

Given the cover of the new Newsweek (which is nowhere to be found on its website) and the facts that I 1) have substantially updated the post and 2) am teaching Superman Returns today, I thought this doesn’t quite count as self-plagiarism. It’s an analysis of the scene Farley discussed a few years back, which begins with a computer simulation of what’s supposed to happen:


Director Bryan Singer provides a template his audience can refer to.  (Note that in the simulation the camera is above the plane.  This will be important.)  He pulls the camera back into a close-up on the nice stewardess lady who’s explaining in her nice-stewardess-lady voice what’s happening in the simulation:

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What we don’t know we know, aren’t quite sure how we missed…

[ 10 ] April 27, 2012 |

…and are disappointed that none of you lot pointed out. Namely, that when I wrote this post a month ago, it never occurred to me that I was unconsciously admitting to a desire to be bossed around by handsome bald black men:

Lance reddick

But apparently I do. Regular posting to resume shortly, now that I’ve got the majority of the lesson-planning for my new course–which I’m currently teaching, so I’m scripting class-by-class instead of working from previously devised material–completed.

(Don’t be surprised if this is the last time you see Lance Reddick on this blog either. Or Benedict Cumberbatch or Hugh Laurie or Matt Smith for that matter.)

For the Record…

[ 13 ] April 17, 2012 |

I do plan on analyzing all the Mad Men episodes, but the one about thyroid cancer hit too close to home, so I’m a bit behind, and I suck at re-cap. (But you all know that.) Honestly, I’ve received numerous emails about this, so I should just say that as a survivor/current dealer of or with or whatever you’d called it, with thyroid cancer, there are some things I can’t write about … foremost among them, thyroid cancer. Soon as I’m better, so will my posts be.

The Ballad of Peter and Peggy, Redux, in “A Little Kiss”

[ 26 ] March 30, 2012 |

(It goes without saying that this is another one of those posts.)

Poor self-defeating Pete, trying his best to become the very Draper whose misery’s invisible to him. Remember when Pete had hope, and director John Slattery hammered the possibility of it home via reverse shots? How Pete saw Peggy longing for him:


Returned her implicit, medium long offer in kind:


And was returned in kind:


And again:


And again, an almost final invitaiton?


Of course, between them in each reverse shot is the not-insignificant–and increasingly significant, given the racial aspects entering the series in future episodes–glass door separating the firm from the world it claims to represent. As I wrote in the post linked above:

The viewer is looking at Peter looking at Peggy in the first medium close up in the scene.  (There is a slight unreality to this point of view shot: it zooms in on the pair in a way only cameras can.  The zooming seems to act as a cinematic proxy for attention or concentration.)  Slattery made sure the nearly invisible wall separating them remained visible, which creates a tension between the intimacy of the close up and the reality of the glass walls separating them.  That he chooses a more intimate when these two are in different rooms is, for obvious reasons, significant.  She sees him peering at her and, by its positioning, the camera acknowledges the bond that will remain despite the increasing distance between them: the baby they had together.

But now Peter’s a father, only not of Peggy’s baby, but of his own. Who’s screen presence exists as such:

Mad men00262

See the baby? The one he had so he could be more like Draper? It’s sitting there, frame central, hovering invisible in that tacky chair he should’ve had the decency to replace if he’d had any sense of style. He’s becoming Draper–disappearing into the life he mistakenly believed he wanted. No children to greet him, just cold dinner and a warm shot of whisky. Don’t believe me? Let’s rewrind to the first season and remind you of a similarly framed shot:

Mad men00297

In this case, however, Betty’s lying about going to the community center to watch them film the pool–she’s off to watch pretty things die, as per the episode’s title, for”Sport.” But there’s something more than sport to her deliberations. She wants to savor the experience of watching something die. First she feeds the children, then she does the laundry:

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Then the camera acknowledges that she’s had an idea and zooms into a close-up to reiterate that fact:

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Note the joy on her face. Knowing that her idea is one that–whatever joy it might bring her, society would disapprove of, she ponders her decision for a moment:

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Moments are fleeting:

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Her decision has been made. Cut to exterior:

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Relief. Betty’s just a central figure staring at the sky in wonderment at all God’s creations:

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Look at those birds? The fact that they’re incapable of being centrally staged only emphasizes their freedom. The frame can’t constrain them! They’re free! If only Betty had an equivalently symbolic emblem of relinquishing societal constraints:

Mad men00333

She does. Her feelings of entrapment are nothing a healthy dose of nicotine can’t cure. Except why has she shifted stage-left? She had occupied the central portion of the screen, but now it’s as if she’s making room for something else. Whatever could that be?

Mad men00335

Of course, she being an American, the only thing she can do with her symbol of freedom is shoot it with … another symbol of her freedom. I wasn’t able to capture her aiming the gun, which is why the space on the right side of the frame had to be cleared, but that’s why it was. Oddly, her cigarette still occupies the central portion of the frame, as if, like the nicotine it delivers into her blood, is calming her down, making her transgressive violence possible. Can’t be sure. However, visually speaking, the indication is that Draper’s created/creating a sociopath, and the implication is that Peter’s following a similar path. He began his morning commutes in “A Little Kiss,” you’ll remember, alone and engrossed in a paper:

Mad men00120

His loneliness is highlighted by both the empty chair beside him and the man with the solitaire board across from him. By episode’s end, things seem a bit different, though:

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Wonder why that might be? Couldn’t have anything to do with, say, this:

Mad men00378

Nothing at all there. Not between Peggy and Pete. Not with a viable baby hanging out right there in a carriage.

A Brief Appreciation

[ 89 ] March 29, 2012 |

Watching last night’s Barcelona-Inter Milan draw reminded me, that for many people on this planet, the most frightening sight in the world is a 5’4″ Argentinian–born the year after the Mets won the ’86 World Series–charging right at them:

See how his eyes are already looking at your feet? They’re not. They’re really on their way up to your belly-button, meaning your center-of-gravity’s betrayed you and he knows what lies your feet have told. And that move he’s making? It’s calculated to humiliate you five seconds after you realize its purpose, so there’s only one alternative, and given that Italians are famous for the volumptuousness of their gravity, they chose it with gusto:

You would think this tactic successful: share the Jovian gravitational force of 2.58 g that yanks Italian players to the pitch every time the wind considers blowing, but it’s to no avail! The tiny Argentinian spits in the face of Italian-alien gravitational alliances, pauses to shoot a look of shame at his “competitors,” then continues moving toward goal as if he’s bounding over Martian fields. Having no resort, the Italians do what they can:

Which entails trying to rip his face off. Anyone who wants to complain about the dirtiness of Italian football is welcome to in this thread. Keep it clean, though, my friends, as some players know what best to do when there’s nothing to be done:

“Keep your distance, lads,” you can almost hear one of them say. “And hope an Italian shows up.”