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True visionaries in the the field of New Lows

[ 30 ] October 29, 2012 |

No video yet:

FOX NEWS WEATHER PERSON: These power outages could last up to a week, right through election day, which could be really great news for Romney.

FOX NEWS BLONDE WOMAN #3: Because even if the power’s back on, people will have a lot more on their mind than voting.

FOX NEWS WEATHER PERSON: It’s not like the South, where people know how to handle this sort of weather.

I shouldn’t be surprised, but FOX News is a real pioneer.

Pursuant to my previous post

[ 51 ] October 23, 2012 |

Here is what I learned today:

If you don’t feed a certain person before an event, all he’ll want to talk about is food. He will ask you questions about local cuisine, to which you will respond that if he’s never had a Korean BBQ beef and kimchi burrito — like the one you had last Tuesday which was so delicious the very memory of it just pains you — he ought to try one while he’s in town. He will say, “That sounds delicious, I love California fusion. Where can I get that?” You will tell him where he can find that food truck, and he will relay that information to someone wearing a black suit whose job, it seems, is to keep a running list of food this certain person wants to eat.

And that will be it.

You will have been in a room with some Pulitzer Prize winners and a certain person and what will you have done? You will have recommend a Korean BBQ beef and kimchi burrito. Moreover, one of his staffers will come up to you afterwards and congratulate you on your recommendation, because a certain person “really does love fusion.” Moreover, you won’t be able to write about it specifically until you receive some clearance from a certain person’s people, even though all you talked about was food.

When you express via email that you’re not sure why your conversation about food needs to be cleared — because apparently you’ve forgotten all your technology was removed from your person before you were allowed to be in the same room as a certain person — you are informed by everyone you know via multiple technologies that a certain person is now a vegan and your conversation with him and his subsequent behavior may lead to future awkwardness.

But a certain person’s people are fine with this post as it’s written so you post it.

Lonely Puppet Seeks Politically Informed Puppeteer

[ 96 ] October 23, 2012 |

I get to meet Bill Clinton tomorrow, and apparently I can also ask him a question a few hours later. In public. I didn’t sign up or anything. A former faculty advisor of mine had me put on “the list” and so now I have to stay on campus from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. tomorrow, but damn it, I get to ask the Big Dog a question. I just don’t have a clue what to ask him.

So, um, how about you think of something clever? I promise I’ll only take all the credit.

Game of Thrones: “Lord Snow,” you’re no bigger than a half-man*

[ 8 ] October 22, 2012 |

Since I have two classes to devote to “Lord Snow,” the third episode in the first season of Game of Thrones, I thought I’d divide them between the characters. In this post and the next we’ll hie to the Wall with Jon Snow and Tyrion Lannister; in the final one, we’ll churn through the Dothraki Sea with Daenerys Targaryen. I’m pairing Jon and Tyrion not simply because of the odd bond they form on the way to the Wall, but because they present similar problems to director Brian Kirk: both must be built up, knocked down, and rebuilt. As you recall, in the first episode of the series Jon Snow’s the victim of Catelyn Starks’s redirected aggression: she can’t stop Ned from taking Bran to an execution, but she can glower at her husband’s bastard from above.

Then he decides to take a position in the Night’s Watch, which means leaving Winterfell and joining his “black brothers” on the Wall. So lowly Jon Snow arrives at the Wall and finds himself a trained fighter among thieves and rapists and people who believe they deserve the nickname “Ser Piggy.” In this lot, lowly Jon Snow isn’t nearly so lowly. Director Kirk establishes that when in a prolonged training sequence early in the episode:

Game of thrones - lord snow00004

Everyone in this long shot is diminished by its dimensions: Ser Alliser Thorne, who likes Jon not one whit, is the closest to occupying frame-center, but the scale’s so small that his figure can hardly be said to “dominate” the shot:

Game of thrones - lord snow00004a

My patented yellow-line-technology demonstrates that frame center’s about a foot above his head, but it also reveals something else about the Wall’s intended scale: all of the sparring combatants are in the bottom triangle, and all of the spectators are in the the one on the right, which leaves the top and left triangles empty of people. (Note: I’m officiating the next two frames like a football ref with a sketchy understanding of what constitutes an offside position.) The compositional weight of the left and top frames seems to bear down on the tiny figure in bottom one, such that even the foremost among them, Alliser, cedes center-frame to a weathered baluster. All of which is only to say that, initially, Kirk continues shooting Jon with the same disdain that came from Catelyn’s eyes. Until:

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Why are deaf people always laughing under their breath?

[ 43 ] October 22, 2012 |

Because every time our attention flags, this is what happens to the world:

For further reference, let me repeat what I wrote six years ago because I am old and write too much [and am “only” about 90 percent deaf so I lip-read but still listen to music]:

I want to talk to you about staring at women’s breasts. I do it all the time. I’ll be standing there talking to a woman only to be stricken by the sudden and irresistible urge to stare at her breasts. She’ll register her discomfort by pulling her lapels close or yanking her plunging neckline chin-high. Then she’ll become intensely interested in objects in the general vicinity of her feet. But I won’t let that deter me. I’ll continue to stare at her breasts until she won’t be able to take it anymore and informs me in tones of suppressed outrage that she had some important elsewhere to be fifteen minutes ago. Then she’ll never talk to me again.

Such is the experience of the deaf man in America today. When the eyes of a hearing man break contact and wander south, the obvious conclusion is the correct one: he is staring at her breasts and she is justifiably uncomfortable. When a deaf man who relies on verbal cues and lip-reading to converse lets his eyes drift south of his conversant’s, he stops at her lips. (You can tell because if he didn’t—that is, if he actually stared at her breasts—he would have no clue how to answer whatever it is she would have said to him while he indulged in some “covert” sexism.)

Why mention this in the one forum this commonplace of deaf life will never make anyone uncomfortable? Because I’ve acquired another rude habit:

Talking to people while wearing headphones. People who know me—for example, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Barry Siegel—won’t bat an eye when I talk to them with my headphones on because they’ll know that I’m reading their lips and not paying attention to the music. They’ll know that I’m so invested in the conversation that I’ve forgotten that I have the headphones on and have merely neglected to remove them. But other people—for example, the inimitable Gay Talese—will look at me horrified as I chat with Barry without removing my headphones. His eyes will rebel against the solipsistic impertinence of youth culture he detects in my actions.

I register his discomfort but, blinded by reputation and desperately trying to impress him, I won’t understand what it is I’ve said that so offends him. I’ll rifle my brain for the offensive statement the entire walk home and come up empty. Only later that night, as I force myself to stop thinking about the events of the day, will I realize what I’ve done. And then?

So much for sleep.

I only mock the brilliant, responsible students. (And only when they ask for it.)

[ 64 ] October 22, 2012 |

I apologize for the lack of posts lately, but since I sent in my absentee ballot, the election’s lost a little luster for me. Turns out that voting ruins elections.

Go figure.

That said, look forward to much more on Game of Thrones from me in the near future. I’ve already written the posts, I just can’t publish them yet because my students are on to the fact that I post my lesson plans before I teach them, which has resulted in a truly frightening situation in which they actually know everything I’m going to say before I say it. So I have to hold those back until after class on Tuesday. (Grumble stupid students being responsible grumble.)

But my kids are still blogging, and they’re producing all sorts of interesting material. I assign them 1,000 words a week, 500 of which I script for them via a prompt, the other 500 they’re free to write whatever they want so long as it includes the course’s critical vocabulary. Last week I covered the neuroscientific argument about frontality, the short version of which I discussed here, and now I have students who can’t stop seeing faces everywhere. Including one particularly bright apple whose free post this week concerned Prometheus in a very interesting way. He began by noting that the film opens with an intelligent designer ceding its DNA to fertilize the Earth—the pun was intended in the original—and that the first scene in the film that includes humans opens thus:

Seems innocuous enough, right? But according to my student, Ridley Scott—whose name is but an inverted “d” from being “Ripley Scott,” as my student pointed out—wanted to remind viewers that this was a seeded world with this shot. How so? By including evidence of intelligent design in the rock features:


See how sad that rock is? See? It’s this sad:


Just tilt Mr. Intelligent Designer man about 35 degrees to the left and you’d have Mr. Sad Rock:


I’m not sure I buy this argument—and strongly suspect that I may have overplayed the frontality hand—but I can’t help but admire the pluck of this close-reading, especially given the fact that stretched as it is, it does conform with the overall (and problematic) logic of the film, which is all about, as the audience is informed immediately after Mr. Sad Rock makes his appearance, the existence of “the same configuration” appearing across Earth and the universe. I informed my student that this was an impressively terrible argument—far too overdetermined to be correct—and he responded by saying I should put it out there for others to decide. I warned him about what happens on the wilds of the Internet, but given that he’s taken legitimate points about frontality and merged them with a solid accounting of the film, he feels comfortable putting his theories out there.

So what do you think?

I still, and will always, hate children.

[ 38 ] October 17, 2012 |

SEK: What are you doing?

YOUNG CHILD: Huntin’ monsters.

SEK: Monsters? You see some?


SEK: On me? Where?

YOUNG CHILD: All over.

SEK: I have monst—


SEK: Of course I do.

Vote Romney!

[ 58 ] October 16, 2012 |

BOLD PREDICTION: Romney victorious!

[ 20 ] October 16, 2012 |

The line of the night will be “I know you are but so am I!” But I can’t predict who’ll say it. Ha ha!

But we’ll have us no bitter “hoc voluerunt” because they really did want this. Unless Obama took notes during Biden’s epic battle, Romney will win tonight by becoming more-Obama-than-Obama … which will appeal to conservatives because they want to defeat Obama more than they believe in anything but beans.

BOLDER PREDICTION: Biden swoops in Superman-style for the win!

You can’t see those speed-lines, but they’re there.

“This was probably scrubbed by a brown person. Let me help you clean that.”

[ 48 ] October 15, 2012 |

Paul Ryan’s committed to doing work that doesn’t need to be done because someone has to do it. Or something:

Is there anything more odious than conservatives pretending to do the work of a class for which they don’t care one whit in order to secure the votes of those who spit on the very people these conservatives are pretending to be?

Visual Studies 401: Films You Can’t Unsee

[ 222 ] October 15, 2012 |

Futzing around on Facebook last night, I had an idea—which turned into a very interesting thread—about teaching a class on “films that can’t be unseen.” My suggestions were Requiem for a Dream, Happiness and Aguirre, the Wrath of God, but a number of horrifying suggestions followed, including: Dead Ringers, Oldboy, Irreversible, Dancer in the Dark, Blue Velvet, and Gummo, among others.

Obviously, this is a terrible idea for a class—or a fine way to find myself fired—but those of us not disturbed enough by the prospect of a Romney presidency need something to foreclose the possibility of ever sleeping again. So I wonder what would find its way onto your syllabus, were you to teach this course?

Comedy vs. Drama*

[ 24 ] October 12, 2012 |

I caught the latest 30 Rock this afternoon and noticed something:

30 rock 03

The guy in the midground is off-center:

30 rock 04

This may seem like a blindingly obvious point, but one reason this shot is off-center is because the characters in it are off-kilter. The director, Robert Carlock, stages this shot in order to maximize the misdirection: Kenneth Parcell (Jack McBrayer) encourages viewers to follow an eyeline match left and somewhere north of his mother (Catherine O’Hara) before the camera gently racks the foreground out and the midground in to focus. The audience resets its eyes and sees nothing of interest until the movement of Kenneth’s step-father (Bryan Cranston) attracts its attention, at which point an eyeline match again suggests viewers look left and somewhere north of his mother. Compelling the audience to bounce its eyes around this quickly within a sustained shot redoubles the manic impression the dialogue and narrative want to create. As I said, this point may seem obvious, but if you want to think about the difference between comedy and drama on a visual level, the scene above may be the perfect place to start.

Situational comedies are filmed in an unsettling manner in order to maximize the capacity for surprise. When the audience haphazardly spirits its attention across the frame, the director literally has more space with which to work:

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