Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

Things Jonathan Franzen Likely Finds Cowardly, In Ascending Order of Their Convenience and Cowardliness

51. Pert Plus

50. Rhyming dictionaries

49. Fencing

48. Lifetime achievement awards

47. Air freshener

46. Autoplay

45. Supergroups

44. Grade inflation

43. Urinal cakes

42. Sherpas

41. Flag football


The Weird, Frictionless Politics Of 'Parks And Recreation'

There are a lot of different ways to say that NBC’s "Parks and Recreation" is a very upbeat show. Willa Paskin classified the show as a “comedy of niceness.” Showrunner Michael Schur points out that everyone on the show is passionate about something. James Poniewozik talks about how the show is sincere where others are ironic. And at Splitsider, AJ Aronstein focused on the show’s optimistic view of politics. But here’s another way to say it: the show is twee.


Some Advice For Young Grads

It's college graduation season, and with the blooming of the cherry trees comes that cherished annual journalistic tradition: telling new graduates they're screwed in a way that no one else in the history of the world has ever been screwed. When it's actual recent graduates doing this fretting, I can understand, since being forcibly thrown into a job search is always a scary situation. But for their elders to be doing this worrying—elders who presumably have found some success as they got on in life—it strikes me as petty, self-serving fearmongering. So from someone back in academia after a decade at an office job, here's some real talk.

Your first [...]


In Defense Of Offensive Art

When I was fifteen, I prank-called a rape hotline. I called and asked if it was true that women who get raped are asking for it. This is maybe the worst thing I have ever done! But let me explain. While I was certainly the possessor of all sorts of sexist attitudes at the time (I was a 15-year-old boy, after all), I don’t think I actually believed that women who were raped were asking for it. The reason I even knew about rape hotlines in the first place was because I’d seen a number for one on a Tori Amos tape I listened to incessantly. I was a huge [...]


Let's Regulate Facebook!

Apparently, if Facebook wanted to repair its reputation, all it had to do was seem like it was helping to topple an authoritarian regime. Now that the U.S. media is loudly pushing the idea that social media can change Egypt—and next, the world!—it makes Mark Zuckerberg's tendency to monetize every aspect of our online lives seem less important.

But the same apparatus that causes commentators to overstate Facebook’s importance to the Egyptian protests makes the service a growing threat to our ability to control our own identities. Facebook makes other people’s previously-invisible mass of interpersonal interactions into something visible—something that can be quantized, aggregated, sold, tracked and controlled. [...]


Farewell, Larry King, Vampire Referee of America's Cultural Values

Talk show hosts: grr! We hate them! They are so inauthentic and trashy! They are poisoning our culture and so on! But now here it is 2011 and we are sorta-kinda mourning the retirement/evolution of two of the biggest: Oprah and Larry King. Larry aired his farewell on New Year's Eve, counting down the 25 most important moments in his show's history, which at first seems to validate all those old criticisms. Seeing Deep Throat next to Bette Davis and Marlon Brando next to Obama's inauguration sure does make it look like talk shows have no sense of importance. Larry is making serious things less serious, and America [...]


To the Class of 2011

TO THE CLASS OF 2011: a hearty hail and hello to you and to those others from the town and from your families who have been able to make it here today. I greet you and I thank you for inviting me to this ceremony. It is a date which must have seemed so significant when you began the academic year nine months ago, but which could easily have been overshadowed by the current crisis. After all, faced with what we are facing, why should this day be different from any other day? What meaning could it possibly hold placed against the grim import of that ultimate hour, rushing [...]


"Hallelujah" Gets Enlisted in the War for a Christian Christmas

Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” has had a weird history. From the schmaltzy (but great!) original recording through John Cale’s lyrical rearrangement and Jeff Buckley’s radical reduction, it’s become an object of abstract emotional grammar, used less for its words than for its gestalt feeling and its ability to convey meaningfulness even in the absence of actual meaning. Its aesthetic beauty feels so timeless that it’s like being in the same room with the Mona Lisa: you just sense you’re in the presence of something important, and you should pay attention, even if you miss the point of the original object. I had always thought that this progression represented a kind [...]


Under the Bridge: The Side Benefits of Troll Culture

The problem with making the Internet safe is that it would necessarily make the Internet the same. That's the reason Facebook creeps people out: it tries to impose a uniform user interface on the existing heterogeneous online experience to make it appear homogenous, and in so doing actually transform the culture into one where everything is the same. In an op-ed in today's Times, Julie Zhuo, a product design manager at Facebook, goes further, proposing that non-Facebook content providers standardize their approach to anonymous commenting to rid the Internet of trolls. (Or hey, maybe they could just use the Facebook commenting system!) But what would the Internet be [...]


"Operation Bristol" Just Does Not Exist

Something about the Palin family inspires conspiracy theories. The latest one is that Bristol Palin has only survived as a contestant on "Dancing With the Stars" because "Tea Partiers," whatever that means (fiscal conservatives? Old people? Oolong fans?), have engineered a way to vote for her in some unnatural or unfair way, whether that be without watching the show or through automated voting mechanisms or, I dunno, planting suggestions in our dreams or something. It's no mere Internet rumor, either—I heard it about it on my morning shows, and it's become a major news story to the degree that both the show's producers and Bristol herself have felt motivated [...]


Understanding Kanye: Sweet, Sweet Robot Fantasy, Baby

If you want to put your finger on why Americans have this nebulous but persistent sense that the way we live our lives is in some deep way wrong, I would point you toward the unresolved conflict between our ethos of individualism and the fact that worldly achievement is now almost impossible without being what's known in the dialect as a "team member." While we can still chant "USA #1" with perfect assurance, it all seems unreal without a life-size statue of a superstar. Which is why so many are fascinated with Kanye West. Kanye's career is the story of one man joining and then transcending the organization, becoming [...]


Don't Ever Say "Courtney Love" Three Times While Looking in a Mirror

This weekend's walk-about with Courtney Love in the Times was both excellent and at the same time fundamentally indistinguishable from any other long-form profile of Love written in the last twenty or so years. There is a simple and straightforward reason for this. Courtney is the Dorian Gray of the American celebrity-industrial complex. Her public face shows us exactly what we want to see, while her private face is revolting (and even aging) and seeing the two in close proximity unsettles the viewer on an almost biological level. There's no denying that Love can be personally unpleasant; a former co-worker who went on to be Courtney's assistant [...]


You Can Pick Your President: Obama Takes Seattle

The guy from the White House advance team steps out of one of those crossover SUV things and at first I think he's the sort of awful D.C. jerkface who had to get his dad to call in a favor to stop him from getting fired from his summer internship for looking at porn during business hours, but once he leads us inside the gym (which is where the rally will be the next day) and I get a good look at him, I realize how wrong I was. This man is dreamy. He looks like he used to smoke pot very neatly out of a one-hitter and was [...]


Sympathy for the Bullies: Our New Villains

Pity the poor bullies: it is not easy being the cultural villain of the moment. (Just ask Mexicans, or Muslims!) The Google Trends spike over the last year for "bullying" is impressive, and it's all around us: the car ad that was recut to change a kid fleeing bullies into merely a friendly race between youngsters; the members of the Westboro Baptist Church being described as bullies (rather than, say, insane bigoted cultists, which would apparently be less damning!); and, of course, the Times Styles section on bullying in kindergarten. The government's Secretary of Education threw a "Bullying Prevention Summit"! There's a "Stop Bullying Now!" [...]


Glenn Beck as America's Professor

Recently I decided to check in with Glenn Beck. (I do this semi-regularly with all the various cable news talk shows out of a sense of responsibility, though I never last more than about 10 minutes at a stretch.) I was not optimistic. Based on the clips I'd been exposed to by people who don't like Glenn Beck, I expected a mix between a revival meeting, a Klan rally, and the McCarthy hearings. Instead, I got Glenn in front of a blackboard, lecturing about…Calvin Coolidge.

I found this hilarious. In terms of presidents, it's like giving a lecture about James Bond focused entirely on George Lazenby. Coolidge lucked [...]


Poking Back, Part 2: Cheering Zuckerberg In Seattle; Like Watching 'Terminator' in a Room Full of Robots

As a Seattle resident who doesn't work in the tech sector, it can be easy to forget that you're constantly surrounded by computer nerds. Then you go see The Social Network in a theater downtown, and midway through, someone cheers. For Mark Zuckerberg. For the guy the movie was making every effort to portray as a gigantic dildo. And not just once: mutiple people cheered, multiple times! They cheered when Zuckerberg told off a lawyer. They cheered when Zuckerberg told off an ad exec. They cheered when Zuckerberg capitalized his monetization or whatever the fuck happened. Few things are worse than realizing you're in a room full of people [...]


The American Experiment on the Last Day of the War

According to the government, the war in Iraq ends tonight at midnight. Given the war's inescapable presence in our politics over the last eight years, you would think we'd take this as the occasion for, if not celebration, at least some sort of commemoration. But so far, there's not even been much media coverage. Earlier in the month, the Pentagon staged a nighttime movement of combat troops from Iraq to Kuwait, timed to coincide with the evening news broadcasts, but aside from cutaways on NBC's cluster of channels (with some definite enthusiasm from MSNBC), it received about as much attention as a state visit to Senegal. A factoid [...]


Everyone Probably Owes Paris Hilton An Apology

We were watching the Paris Hilton episode of "South Park" the other night, in which the Paris character repeatedly coughs up semen and causes her dog to shoot itself. (She also dresses Butters in a bear costume, but never mind.) I remember it being funny and righteous at the time-2004-or at least not all that different from other things going on in the media. The episode is entitled "Stupid Spoiled Whore Video Playset," and that about summed up the national mood.

Watching it today, though, it looked… well, it looked kind of mean.


'Scott Pilgrim' Versus Itself

I don't want to be the guy arguing that a movie adaptation of a comic book doesn't do justice to the original comic. I especially don't want to be the one doing that about Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, because there have already been dark accusations about it being too fanboyish, and I am most definitely a fanboy for Scott Pilgrim the comic book. But the little things that bug me about the movie all ultimately feed into one big complaint: the wonderful treatment of female characters in the comic book gets lost in the transition to the big screen. It's what happens when you make a big action-filled [...]


One Couple Explains: How To Train Your Boyfriend To Dress Well

Rachel and Mike met at a pretentious art-rock university in the Midwest when they were both 21. They moved to New York after graduating (Rachel two years later, due to a post-college year abroad), went to grad school upstate, and are now living a cross-country relationship (New York-Seattle) that's nine years old. In this discussion Rachel reveals how she saved Mike from a life of fashion tragedy.

Mike: So! Let's talk about CLOTHES. I wrote a piece where I gave strategies for getting boys to dress nicer. And really it was just what you did with me, yes?