So it seems like the new thing with blogs to pause at the half-year mark and take stock of where we’re at. It’s similar to the whole year-end list-making orgy, but at half-mast. And hey! We have a blog! We can get in on this action!
Without further ado, we take a 30,000-foot view of 2011 so far, making sure to close the loop on various action items, establish best practices, and integrate Web 2.0 initiatives where appropriate. [Slightly more than] Halfway through 2011, y’all!
David Simon Cowell
For me, the biggest stories pop-culture-wise have been in politics. To wit:
1) The Arab Spring. This isn’t just the biggest leap that social networking has ever taken… it’s a major landmark in the history of the internet. People who wouldn’t have dared to voice their unhappiness were able to organize protests. Stories that would have gotten lost were spread quickly from uploaded video. Groups that wouldn’t have known if anybody was listening could see the response from around the world. That Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were able to foment revolution is both surprising and inspiring.
2) Revenge of the Drudge. Just when you think that Washington can’t get any more dysfunctional, it hits a new low. Even something as widespread and intractable as our current economic situation isn’t being dealt with in a rational manner. Why? Because politicians are completely cowed by the ability of the internet to both organize and boil messages down to the lowest common denominator. Never mind that Ronald Reagan both grew government and raised taxes when necessary… conservative activists are able to force false ideology over common sense. And the plane continues to head toward the mountain…
3) Where’s The Anger? And yet, U.S. citizens seem completely passive. Never before has unemployment been this high and outward demonstrations of rage been this low. One reason? Nobody has to actually stand in the unemployment line anymore. All those transactions are down through the web or automated telephone systems, with the money being deposited straight into a bank account. This has isolated unemployed people in a way never seen before.
Every time we think the American political situation has hit its nadir, we’re disappointed anew. This piece by David Brooks nails it.
Republicans have become so beholden to the loudest, most extreme members of their party that they can’t even capitalize on momentum when they have it. If Republicans had competent, or even sane, leadership in Congress right now, they could be passing bills left and right — having their way while Obama tries desperately to run as a centrist and Democrat Congressmen make panic moves to avoid being kicked out in the midst of a brutal economy. Republicans are utterly incapable of compromise just as Democrats are incapable of acting forcefully.
So many Americans have become disengaged and disillusioned with the political process that only the most ardent and the stupidest among us have a voice. This is a recurring phenomenon through our history, but it’s particularly bad right now. Let’s just say I don’t have high hopes for 2012.
What is this Arab Spring you speak of? Did something happen in the Middle East this year? I tried looking it up, but all I found were articles on Casey Anthony and the Royal Wedding.
As depressing as American politics have been this year, our sports world seems to exist under a dark cloud too. The dueling NFL and NBA lockouts have made for gloomy news cycle. I don’t particularly give a fuck about either lockout: the NFL isn’t stupid enough to actually lose games, and I don’t really care if the NBA vanishes completely. But I’m sick of listening to lawyers posture. I’m sick of listening to dull news reports about court appeals and collective bargaining agreements. I’m sick of journalists who are completely in the bag for ownership (Peter King). And I’m sick of fans who don’t understand how severely owners are in the wrong in both lockouts.
Most of all, I’m sick of Roger Goodell. Of the two lockouts, the NFL’s is far more egregious — while there is at least the possibility that some NBA teams are losing money, there is no such possibility with football. That league is rolling in money. Top Five most disingenuous quotes Goodell has given about the NFL’s labor issues:
1) “Staying with the status quo is not an option.”
2) “But Judge Nelson ordered the end of the stoppage and recognized the players’ right to dissolve their union. By blessing this negotiating tactic, the decision may endanger one of the most popular and successful sports leagues in history.”
3) “We want you to understand the offer that we made to the NFLPA. The proposal was made to avoid a work stoppage. Each passing day puts our game and our shared economics further at risk.”
4) “Under the union lawyers’ plan, reflected in the complaint that they filed in federal court, the NFL would be forced to operate in a dramatically different way. To be sure, their approach would benefit some star players and their agents (and, of course, the lawyers themselves). But virtually everyone else—including the vast majority of players as well as the fans—would suffer.”
5) “We do think [the 18-game season] is attractive to season-ticket holders. I hear that all of the time from our season-ticket holders. We have not abandoned our position on that. We do think it is the right thing for the game.”
Fuck you, Ginger. As much as I love football, part of me wants to see the league fold as punishment for these assholes’ hubris.
David Simon Cowell
Yeah, the NFL lockout reminds me of the fight over the debt ceiling… it is completely unnecessary, both sides are acting like idiots, and it will probably end up being much ado about nothing.That said, both the NFL and the NBA had great playoffs this year. Football kept its strong of great Super Bowls going (amazing to us who lived through the ’80s and ’90s), and basketball had without a doubt its most compelling season since MJ left the second time. The Miami Heat are a storyline that the league will revolve around for years, so the longer they go without winning a championship, the better. Especially since there are some other great-teams-in-the-making out there (Los Bulls and the Thunder being at the top of that list). [ed. note: please stop fucking call them “Los Bulls.”]
I’m reading the ESPN book right now, which as a fan of oral history and someone who basically grew up as the Worldwide Leader did is fun reading. That said, I couldn’t be happier to be separated from it. Politics might be number one on the overblown craziness list, but sports is right behind it. If you don’t separate yourself from the hype, it becomes more of a chore than relaxation.
But of course, they gave us the sublime Grantland, so who am I to complain?
Let’s turn our attention to film. The indie scene still provides us with great movies in fits and starts, and the documentary field in general has never been stronger. There’s a class of quasi-Hollywood directors who are both reliable and exhilarating (Tarantino, the Andersons, Scorsese, the Coens, Nolan). But the state of big-budget studio pictures is miserable. I lamented the demise of the entertaining summer blockbuster last year, and things have only deteriorated this year. Transformers is obviously a joke of a franchise. This year’s batch of R-rated comedies holds no appeal for me — I liked The Hangover, but the trailer and the reviews told me everything I need to know about The Hangover 2. The superhero films obviously learned nothing from the success of the recent Batman movies. Even a Pixar worshipper like you has to admit there’s not a lot to like about Cars 2. And even a Tom Hanks worshipper like me has zero desire to see Larry Crowne. And the rest of the summer fare is a mix of the despicable (The Zookeeper, The Smurfs) and the bland (Pirates of the Caribbean, Rise of the Planet of the Apes).
In fact, I think I’ve only seen two 2011 films: Midnight in Paris and Bridesmaids. And those were more out of boredom and a need to get out of the house than an actual yearning to see those particular pictures. (I’m going to continue calling movies “pictures” for a while, I think. It’s part of my slow transformation into an old Jewish man. Or Nikki Finke.) And it’s not like I loved either of those movies: Midnight in Paris is a vaguely misogynistic, thematically confused trifle; and Bridesmaids, apparently, is a four-hour, quirky indie drama with no jokes. Though Jon Hamm was delightful as ever.
I’m sure the fall prestige season will produce at least a few decent movies, but goddamnit, I miss the Die Hards and Indiana Joneses.
Worst-looking trailers for forthcoming 2011 films:
1) Tintin (and I say that as a boyhood fan of the Tintin comics)
2) Moneyball (and I say that as a fan of the book)
3) The Help
4) I Don’t Know How She Does It
5) Jack & Jill (and I say that as a fan of Pacino when he was alive)
(Peter King on Twitter: I can’t wait to see “Moneyball.” Looks fantastic.)
David Simon Cowell
Obviously, we all feel that way… I’m just glad the Moneyball movie is something else we can blame Sandra Bullock for.
I’ve actually found the solution for enjoying retarded action movies… see them in Spanish. I had a film professor in college that claimed that a movie should be able to be watched with the sound off and understood… otherwise it’s a play. And actually it’s true. I’ve seen Thor, the new X-Men, Transformers, etc. in the theaters in Spanish (it helps that tickets are only $4 here) and enjoyed them all much more than I would have if I had understood the clunky dialogue and horrible witticisms. It’s not how I would like to watch, say, The Social Network, but action movies are all about the spectacle, and the relationships are easily understood through the visuals… he’s a good guy, he’s a bad guy, he likes her, he’s mad at her, etc., etc. When you can just let the words go, it’s a much better experience.
And say what you will about the general franchise (all of which is true), but the new Transformers in 3D is the most visually stunning movie I’ve seen in years… it might even be better than Avatar in that respect.
Living in a country without any copyright laws also has its advantages… although it means I’ve seen everything else on a 13″ computer screen. And the pickings have been pretty slim. The Hangover 2 and Scream 4 were among the worst movies ever made… when you feel ripped off even though you downloaded a movie from Pirate’s Bay, that’s not a good thing. I think you should sue The Dilemma even more now that I saw it. If you hated Bridesmaids (I actually thought it was pretty solid), you should see Bad Teacher… it will make you realize it could have been much, much, much worse (and despise Justin Timberlake, if only for 90 minutes).
Since you’re having trouble getting motivated, here are the four films you should see (besides Transformers 3D purely for the awesome visual destruction of Chicago):
1) The Adjustment Bureau – Movies based on a Philip Dick story have a very good track record, and this one holds up the tradition well.
2) London Boulevard – Not sure if this was released in the U.S. (t came out in the U.K. late last year). It isn’t a perfectly plotted movie, but the dialogue and pacing and music is great (it was the directorial debut of the writer of The Departed). Most importantly, though, it’s a reminder that with all his faults, when he’s on (i.e. In Bruges) there may be no charismatic leading man currently working that Colin Farrell.
3) Source Code – Believe me, I had nothing but doubts going into this one… I mean, Jake Gyllenhaal. But this was actually a well-executed version of an interesting concept.
4) Paul – A better homage to early Spielberg than Super 8 (which wasn’t great but wasn’t horrible). I miss Seth Rogan… sitting through the Green Hornet was one of my most painful movie experiences in recent memory. He may want to be an action star, but I like him fat. Listening to him voicing a dumpy alien reminded me of what used to be.
With music, the dominating story so far this year is “a lot of good music, no great music.” The first half of the year was flooded with solid albums by veterans and newcomers alike: Yuck, Jeff the Brotherhood, Okkervil River, Cults, TV on the Radio, Beastie Boys, Cut Copy, Antlers, My Morning Jacket, Charles Bradley, Black Joe Lewis, Tyler the Creator and seemingly dozens of others. I can’t even remember a six months stretch filled with this many albums that I’ve liked.
But there are none I love. At least not yet.
There’s still time for one or more of these albums to emerge from the pack and reveal themselves as something more, but it hasn’t happened yet.
The ever-increasing fragmentation of the music scene plays a part in this phenomenon. More bands than ever can achieve some measure of success, but fewer bands than ever can achieve incredible success. I think this de-incentivizes artists to shoot for greatness, at least to a certain extent.Also, we’re going through a cycle in indie rock right now where there are a lot of bands playing with “interesting” sound palates, or dabbling in chillwave — which leads to music that’s easier to appreciate than to love.
And as with movies, we’re missing a big summer blockbuster. We need a great pop single to carry us through the summer, and I haven’t heard anything close to a “Crazy in Love” yet this year.
David Simon Cowell
Ummm… obviously there’s been a song of the summer of 2011 (at least here in Ecuador). You’re welcome for saving summer:
This article from the Times kind of speaks to the current lack of original songs of the moment:
Personally, I blame my namesake Timberlake… surely in between his crappy comedies, he could throw something out there.
To me, there’s a huge problem now in attaching music to particular years. Maybe this will eventually filter to all other art forms, but the lure of the release date has completely disappeared from music. Even for bands that I love, I don’t pay attention to what day an album is scheduled to drop. One reason is that I often can find it before that. But the other is because music no longer permeates mass pop culture in the way it used to, it doesn’t fucking matter… I can get to an album whenever I want. It’s moved into a space that’s more like books than movies or TV… it may mean more to me personally, but it is almost invisible socially. Beyond a small group of like-minded friends, I know that it is pointless to even discuss music or books, because the odds of the other person having even heard of, let alone heard, what I’m talking about is extremely small. But at the same time, there is that spark of recognition when they have listened to, say, the Decemberists, or read, say, David Foster Wallace, that isn’t the same as having both seen The Social Network. But, like novels, albums now sit on my shelf longer before I feel compelled to get around to them. So, here is:
The Top Five 2010 Albums That I Never Heard Before 2011 and Have Defined It So Far:
1) Smith Westerns: Dye It Blonde
2) The Gaslight Anthem: American Slang
3) Florence and the Machines: Between Two Lungs
4) Los Campesinos: Romance Is Boring
5) Nicki Minaj: Pink Friday
Compare that to television, where I feel like release dates are the most important… rarely do I not know when a favorite show is starting back up (i.e. Breaking Bad tonight). And so far, it’s been a pretty solid television year that promises to get even better.
Television in the 21st century continues to supply us with mass entertainment that’s also extremely well made. As Nielsen ratings as we’ve come to understand them diminish in importance, the likelihood increases that we’ll see quality shows remain on the air for longer. More TV execs seem to understand that traditional ratings aren’t everything, and that people consumer television in a completely different way than they did five years ago.Of course, some networks are still run ineptly. I fear that shows like The Biggest Loser are now with us permanently. And some shows still get axed before their time (Terriers; many would argue for Lights Out and Men of a Certain Age). But we’re still firmly ensconced in a golden age.
For me, the two biggest TV stories of the year so far are:
1) The success of Game of Thrones. It’s incredibly difficult to adapt a fantasy work (book or graphic novel) into filmed entertainment. If you don’t please the fanboys, you have no base. And if you don’t make it accessible to everyone, that base won’t be big enough. With all due respect to Lord of the Rings, achieving those two things is infinitely more difficult on a television budget. Game of Thrones managed to translate a fantasy/genre work into mainstream success, and it managed to elevate that genre into something more than what you typically see on TV. I’m not ready to call GoT one of the great shows of all time or anything, but it’s got more to it than swordfights and magic spells.
2) The cancellation of All My Children and One Life to Live. We’ve known for some time that soap operas were dying, but now they’re dead. Even though there appears to be some nebulous, last-minute deal to air the soaps online, they’re disappearing from network TV. After these two ABC soaps are gone this fall, all that will remain are: Young and the Restless, Bold & the Beautiful, Days of Our Lives, and General Hospital (which is rumored to be getting the heave-ho in 2012). In some ways, it’s strange that soaps have even lasted this long: they seem like dinosaurs, and relics of the 1950s when we were far less sophisticated as a viewing audience. But their departure still marks the end of a chapter, and a sad one at that for people who correlate soaps with their families and traditions.
David Simon Cowell
The one show that’s quite interesting to me right now is Treme. This doesn’t mean I think it’s great, but it’s definitely original. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a television show that so closely approximates literary fiction. There is nothing but character development, which veers week to week between annoying and sublime. It’s like watching a Cheever short story on the television. [SPOILER ALERT] Plus, the death of Steve Earle was my favorite moment of this television year, just because his characterwas so god awful. I actually cheered.
The Top 5 things I’m looking forward to in the second half of 2011:
TV: The new season of Breaking Bad
Music: Watch the Throne, the Jay-Z/Kanye album
Movies: Mission Impossible:Ghost Protocol… I thought 3 was crazy underrated, but really this just shows how weak the impending slate of movies is… Hugo, We Bought A Zoo and Girl with a Dragon Tattoo are the next on the list, so it’s pretty horrible
Sports: The NFL Season… duh
Politics: Watching Obama turn a certain loss on the debt ceiling thing into a victory only because his opponents are so retarded