July 31, 2004

Committee Of Nine Year Olds

Watching an ad for an NFL-based video game on TV -- American football has to have been designed by a committee of nine-year-old boys and middle-aged advertising execs: the self-conscious over-acting, the cartoon movements, the overblown clothing and padding, the childlike aesthetics, the blatent homoerotics, the stop / start non-action, the total lack of subtlety or finesse, the perfect timing for advertising...

July 29, 2004


Watching the inevitable Brando retrospectives, I can't help feeling that he wasn't so much an actor as an over-actor, especially in his early days. Later on, of course, he became one of those screen presences you went to see playing themselves rather than acting -- I can't watch any of his later films without being constantly aware that it's Brando up there playing some character or other...

July 24, 2004


Ravitch's "The Language Police" has a curious (and, admittedly, throw-away) passage in an Afterword complaining about the supposedly PC use of "waitron" instead of waiter or waitress:

One [reader] pointed out that The Merriam-Webster Dictionary and The American Heritage Dictionary suggested the word "waitron" as a worthy replacement for "waiter" or "waitress". Dictionary editors always say that they aim to reflect usage and the spoken language, but I have found only one person who has ever heard of the word "waitron". Ask for a waitron in a restaurant, and you are more likely to get a blank stare than someone to take your order.

Is she kidding? It might be true of the circles she inhabits on the Right Coast (or in all those large stretches of the flyover states between here and there), but it displays a weirdly tin ear for language as she is spoke in these parts. I first heard "waitron" here in the Bay Area in the late 1980's, usually used as a wry way to simultaneously comment on a dehumanising job, and to tweak the nose of the then-nascent PC movement (the waitron-as-robot implications were usually the main point, though). It's a usage that's been common currency for at least a decade, and while it doesn't deserve the description "worthy" (with all the baggage that comes with such a, well, worthy label), it's hardly odd that it'd be in one of the Websters or the AHD. It's an everyday usage here; it was in use in the suburban strip malls of Studio City the last time I was in the great Southlands; I've even heard it in Sydney.

(As for the rest of her book? I think it's mostly just an unintended illustration of the pointlessness of trying to produce uniform texts for widespread use in a widely-diverse country. Let a hundred flowers bloom, but let's cut down the tall poppies. Or something like that...).

July 22, 2004

Over Memory

Longing shimmering everywhere over memory, the disheveled angels of depression loitering behind the Westside hills in the afternoon glare, feelings spoken into existence in a language of surfaces and surroundings, lists of everyday surprises, confused manifestos of feeling…

(An Obsessogram).

July 20, 2004

She Was An American Girl

J. -- born and bred in California, with American-born parents -- used to proudly proclaim (and actually believe) she was ... well, I won't give away what nationality(s) she claimed, she can tell you if she wants (she told me, many times).

But she never seemed to notice that her belief that she was something else was one of the most American things about her -- it almost defined her as American. Like all those stridently self-proclaimed "Irish" or "Scottish" or "African" or whatever Americans -- always deeply, truly American, especially when they open their mouths (or close their minds) to proclaim their Irishness or Scottishness or whatever. People who've never seen the homelands of their supposed ancestors, and whose sentimental attachments to something that never existed nearly always comes up against the ugly reality, and who are typically seen as (loud) Americans in those "homelands".

All those fifth-generation Americans who call themselves "Irish" but can't pronounce "Celtic", let alone "Caitlin" or "Ciaran"...

July 18, 2004


That mixture of obnoxious obliviousness and insensitive self-importance that Americans so approvingly label "feisty".

July 16, 2004

An Unusual Crowd

"'It's an unusual crowd for us. I hope you don't find us too frightening.' Then he corrected himself: 'Well, maybe I hope you find us a little bit frightening.'" -- Dave Mathews at the Kerry / Edwards rally, as reported in last Saturday's NYT.

It's hard to think of a less threatening or frightening band than the Dave Matthews Band, the sort of instant Classic Rock band so beloved of KFOG, producing the sort of casual inoffensive beautifully-crafted stuff that's the musical equivalent of the ubiquitous Dockers KFOG listeners seem to wear en masse. But he's right -- an audience like that probably should find him and his band a little frightening. Which says a lot about US politics, one way or another...

July 15, 2004

Radiating Pudenda

"Boudica was a barbarian and a Celt and her pudenda would have been active, unashamed and radiating with female power all her life ... Considering Celtic customs, it would have been unnatural for Queen Boudica not to be a lesbian. She was, after all, a queen and military leader of her people." -- Judy Grahn quoted in this week's Guardian Weekly.

As with all these things, this says almost nothing about the ostensible subject -- Boudica / Boudicca / Boadicea -- and almost everything about the author and our own attitudes towards mysticism, feminism, war, etc.. But that's the point, I guess -- a sort of narcisism by proxy, a sanctioned self-absorption in a Self dressed up as Other. The worst form of history: the past as tabula rasa. History as projection.

But did she really say that?

July 13, 2004

Entertaining Angels

"Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." (Hebrews 13.2, KJV).

Compare: "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.", NRSV. Ugly, graceless, creaking....

July 09, 2004

That Old Aesthetic Horror

Watching a PBS program on the ABT and Mark Morris, I keep feeling that old aesthetic horror and irritation at the utterly telegraphic symbolism of most ballet -- this stands for that, this tells that story -- I want abstract movement, dance, without the campy kitschy tricks and canned roles, I don't want to be told a story in so many words, I want movement, angles, geometry, grace, weight, not dancing; I want something like a Mark Morris piece... (Mark Morris, that beautiful graceful moving bear of a man, sunny, voluble, generous...).

July 08, 2004

Well Prepared for the Twentieth Century

California's transport system, such a marvel of free movement and restless cracked concrete, so well prepared for the twentieth century...

(Part of California).

July 04, 2004

A Real Dame

On the BA flight back to London sometime mid-1990 they showed a Dame Edna extravaganza, all knowing winks and cheery in-jokes. Finally, the guy next to me -- a friendly middle-aged self-described Super-Texan -- looked around and asked me: "She's not really... I can't believe she's, you know... did the Queen really make her a Dame?".

July 01, 2004

Botany Bay in The Arcades

"Nadar’s self-characterization: 'Formerly a maker of caricatures..., ultimately a refugee in the Botany Bay of photography.'" -- Benjamin quoting Alfred Delvau quoting Nadar in The Arcades Project (p 681 in my copy). The complexities here in the use of "Botany Bay" -- what can Nadar be alluding to here? The metaphor doesn't carry over to me at all, except in images of container cranes, refineries, sand dunes, the approach into Kingsford Smith, the departure back to London... exploration? Backwater? New World? The antipodes (to Paris, to caricature, ...)? Exile? The Penal Colony (ah, the echoes...)? And what can Benjamin be thinking in quoting this? What was Botany Bay (or "Botany Bay"...) for Benjamin? (The fruitful dangers of dipping into the Arcades randomly like this...).

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