Sunday, July 23rd, 2006

Daily Archive

Marine reservists are facing the recall, militias battle for influence and territory in the refugee camps of Darfur, the NSA is still spying on you, Iran won't bend to western pressures, Oakland's homocide rates are through the roof, the DOW and NASDAQ can't hold their gains and some guy set up a couple of matresses in front of the coin-op downstairs and is now my neighbor… Two mattresses– how the fuck did you get there here? I didn't ask him… He was in a bathrobe and I didn't really want to intrude in his personal affairs… Lots going on around here so I've been sitting on the couch with potato chips for some marathon viewing of the Canadian show “Trailer Park Boys”… Sorry if I'm a little late to the party but it's only now been making the rounds at work… The pay may not be great and there's no sense of your job being meaningful– no premature babies are nursed to health and amputees don't suddenly sprout limbs and begin dancing– but burned DVDs of trash humour are readily available and if you can't enjoy that you're probably sleeping on the sidewalk in front of my house… The show's conceit is simple– two recidivists attract the attention of a documentary crew who follow them from imprisonment back to civilian life at the Sunnyvale Trailer Park… There's no overarching plot vehicles beyond staying out of jail– I don't even know why there's a documentary being shot in the first place… The pilot, according to the no-lives posting on IMDB message boards, is about the two main characters acting as pet exterminators silencing loud neighborhood dogs so, perhaps the camera crew is explained therein… It's a character driven show: a mental midget hothead who can raise pot plants from the dead; a DeNiro wannabe milking rum and cokes trying to score enough the retire from petty crime; a bug-eyed cat-lover living in a shed stealing shopping carts to sell to competing malls; a former cop cum trailer park supervisor; his barechested assistant/lover; bleach blonde former girlfriend; long-haired redneck wheelchair alcoholic father; de-barred hot dog loving vet in a camper; lily-white B-Boy schemer and his black posse; tweedledee and tweedledum pothead Nintendo freaks. You have reservations? Of course you do– it looks idiotic at best, right up there with anything readily available in various dilluted forms all across the television spectrum… While a co-worker slowly explained to me the show, trying to tie me off and turn me on, I was desperately looking for a polite out… The fact that my laptop DVD player couldn't handle burned discs wasn't enough– the gospel needed to be spread… And I'm glad because the show really is fucking good in a very strange way… The expected overt acts of potty humour are plentiful but the underlying sarcasm and absurdity are what makes the show better than most comedies… The joke's not that Ricky can't perform in a low budget porn being shot at J-Roc's mom's trailer but that Ricky honestly is doing this to get money to buy his girlfriend an engagement ring… Everyone can see aspects of people they know, and if they

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look hard enough and they're in the mood they'll see aspects of themselves in the characters… Each person is a composite of various stereotypes stretched and pulled and distorted for maximum effect but the stereotypes are true enough to make the characters work… Perhaps the show works best because so many of the people involved, the director and the producers and the cast, have known one another in previous lives… Many are from the Halifax theatre scene, the show's creator knew the two leads in highschool, and the actors all play off each other really well… The scripts are probably kept loose intentionally and the boom in the show filming suddenly seems less contrived than you thought it would have been… The other night a friend came over and she, my roommate and I sat down to the first disc of MTV's reality show “Laguna Beach: The Real OC”… Similarly a character driven show except this time they're all interchangable: spoiled brats snivelling about petty converns closer to your and mine than our friends up in Sunnyvale Trailer Park… No one's trying to boost lighting equipment for the illegal nightclub because everyone's concerned about if they're cute, popular and cool enough… The show has a slicker documentary image more akin to The Real World than TBB's boom in the shot running down the street look and a soundtrack of today's (yesterday's) interchangable pop product… Everything about it is fake except, if you believe MTV, it's real life drama unfolding before your very

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eyes… This drama seems to be centered on if douche bag will hook up with Stupid Girl A or B today… Could a show about a circle of teenage friends in their last year of highschool be insightful, engaging, amusing, heart-breaking and revealing? Of course, but not with these kids… These real life people are stereotypes themselves but their characters are based on stereotypes readily available on TV and movies, not composites of people you see sleeping in front of your house, the whacky guy at the liqour store, your mom, your neighbor or you… These kids are as real as Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, Madonna, Britney Spears and that penis she married, Gov. Arnold and President Bush… I'm sure more people would rather know the Laguna Beach future America than the quirky full fleshed creations up in Nova Scotia and that's a damned shame… -Slept in too late to make the library so thanks for

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Pierre-Étienne-Théodore Rousseau worked on The Forest in Winter at Sunset (above) for over twenty years. As I disappeared into the warm thrill of its terror, it occured to me that no matter what I do in my life it's unlikely that I will work on anything for twenty years, much less ten or five.

I was visiting the Met in New York, and this revelation – along with other works I saw there – brought to light an obsession I have with greatness. Not just my personal progress or regress towards an idea of it, but how it has changed over time and what it actually means.

In the past, to be canonized traditionally meant you had a single piece and/or a body of work that was impressive in its difficulty. Whether this meant massive tedium, groundbreaking insight, or thriving in spite of adverse circumstances varies from genius to genius (and those labeling them geniuses). For whatever reason, it was something that could be appreciated – but not duplicated – by

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a large population.

Greatness used to be reached at an early age because people just didn't live that long. Dickens wrote Oliver Twist when he was 25 but he only lived until he was 58. Yet the age that genius is expected to emerge has remained static. If you haven't found your calling by the time you're 21, settle in for a nice long life of anonymity. The cycles of greatness have also become tighter and tighter, now averaging only a few years. Even consistently popular artists like the Rolling Stones simply spark new cycles rather than continuing the first (started when they were around 20 years old I might add).

Part of this fickleness has to do with the dilution of the product. The celebration of the everyman – recently brought to the vomiting point by ironically named reality television – as well as GarageBand, digital photography, and blogs, has eroded the barriers to entry into

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the gallery of popular awareness. This gallery has become so expansive that there are no longer Mona Lisas or Beatles, but only temporary and disposable Survivors (both show and band) and Piss Christs, and your projected life-span will not carry you through more than a relatively small number of these exhibits.

Perhaps we are witnessing the creation of Borges' Library of Babel, with its invariable distribution of galleries and absence of landmarks.

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And like Borges' story, I imagine that we travel in our youth to find a book, until our eyes are too poor to read, only to find ourselves a few galleries away from the one we left.

But the truth is that the times of greatness are romantically desirable and realistically horrible. We'd rather live longer, have our views expressed to even a modest sized audience instead of not at all, and build our personal kingdoms.

The current system of greatness both inspires – by demonstrating the amazing potential of the human race – and oppresses – by raising the fruit of cultural capital above the hands of the masses. A more inclusive system of greatness does not necessarily mean a lowering of standards, but perhaps a more comprehensive documentation. Biographies and stories of triumph read like grad school resumes: They string together life's events as if they were always leading to their destination. In reality, even the most profound geniuses have their failures, doubts, and red-herrings. On the other side of the coin, many instances of brilliance go uncelebrated because the surrounding context did not support the incident.

Many of us collect artifacts of greatness as if our selective appreciation of genius or heroism would somehow allow us to bask in its glow. I would recommend a complete disposal of this practice if it didn't leave us all directionless and empty. I still might. The best we can do in the meantime is to practice a more robust value system and realize that yes, as readers we play a vital role in the meaning of cultural artifacts, but we still didn't make them.
Update: A strange parallel to this entry was posted on wired.com today.

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