February 2005 Archives
Well, it's finally over. With last night's viewing of the final episode of Angel
on DVD, we've now watched the entire series of shows set in the Buffyverse. Both Angel
, which lasted five seasons, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer
, which went for seven, have engaged our entire family over the past few years--though yes, it's safe to say that Kelly has been engaged in a way that the rest of us can't quite match--and there's a definite sense of loss now that there aren't any more cookies at the bottom of that particular jar. But on the plus side, both shows went out on high notes: I enjoyed "Once More with Feeling," the celebrated Season Six musical episode of Buffy
, as much as I've enjoyed any hour of TV I can recall, and Season Seven's "Conversations with Dead People" was a wonderfully off-beat mix of comedy, horror, and character development; Angel
's final season, meanwhile, featured several of the flat-out funniest episodes in the run of either show--the bawdy farce of "Life of the Party," and the improbably hilarious Sesame-Street-in-Hell adventure "Smile Time"--as well as genuinely touching and awful scenes of beloved characters suffering trials beyond anything we'd have expected.
This, folks, was good TV.
But now, other than creator Joss Whedon's work on Marvel Comics' The Astonishing X-Men
and a few episodes of his ill-fated SF series Firefly
, I'm left to wonder what else is out there that could replace the Buffyverse.
It's hard to remember that the show started as a fairly weak feature film with Kristy Swanson and Luke Perry (though it did feature a fantastically over-the-top death scene by Paul Reubens, a/k/a Pee Wee Herman.) It's also hard to remember that a few years ago, the idea of a young girl kicking butt in a world full of vampires wasn't merely an improbable scenario for a TV show, but a ludicrous one. When I grew up, women with power were like Samantha Stevens on Bewitched
: possessed of fantastic powers (and pretty fantastic looks, at least where Elizabeth Montgomery and Barbara "Jeannie" Eden were concerned...), but careful to hide their abilities from the world, lest their menfolks' fragile egos be shattered. It was a bizarrely masochistic world these women inhabited.
That world was pretty misogynistic, too. I was recently guided to a hilarious website centered around the statement that "Superman Is a Dick."
The site revels in the cover art of various DC comics, mostly from the Sixties, in which the Man of Steel casually neglects his duties and his friends (at best) or actively attempts to shaft them (at worst). But even better are the confounding/stupid covers that focus primarily on Supes' girlfriend, Lois Lane, whose own book now seems like some kind of counterinspiration for Buffy--because everything Lois did, Buffy wouldn't be caught dead doing. Cover after cover shows Lois scheming in some way--obtaining temporary super powers, flirting with other heroes, even resorting to old-fashioned emotional blackmail--to get Superman down the aisle. Lord, she must have appeared in a wedding dress on six of every ten covers. And in three of the other four, she was either transformed into a superheroine or some sort of freak: Giant Cranium Lois, Devil-Horned Lois, So-Ugly-I-Put-A-Lead-Box-On-My-Head Lois, you name it. Looking back at those covers from the other side of Grrl Power gives one a weird feeling of disconnection. After all, Supes and Lois are
married now, and apparently without any scheming on the part of the latter.
But the greater part of the disconnect is that while Giant Cranium Lois would still be a freak, idealized female heroes no longer are. In films like Charlie's Angels, Tomb Raider,
and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
, or TV shows like Buffy
, the audience gleefully watches babes in clingy outfits pounding on bad guys. In fact, they're common enough nowadays that even lousy
movies can feature superheroines. Christina Larson, in The Washington Monthly
, recently dissected the phenomenon, explaining why some superchick flicks are hits and others (Catwoman, Elektra
) aren't:For female fans, the superheroine saga is a fantasy about being in control. Successful heroines defy everyday restraints: They cheat gravity, physically overpower men, and reflect bullets with silver bracelets.
It's a solid analysis--and one that is, I hope you'll note, based on exactly the same desire for escapism that drives the success of male heroes, be they Batman, Spider-Man, or James Bond.
Alas, there is one place where Larson's cogent analysis falls apart; it's in her final sentence: The last thing women want to see is Supergirl whining about her boss, suffering through a mid-life career crisis, and being served divorce papers by Superman.
Alas, Supergirl is not Superman's wife; she's his first cousin. Even in a liberal city like Metropolis, they wouldn't be allowed to marry.
I guess that just goes to show that while female heroines can kick ass all across the globe, they reckon without the trivia-retaining powers of FANBOY! Heeeeeere I come, to save the daaaaaaaaaay!...12:37 AM
It is winter here, and not just because it's February. It is winter all the more because we live at the bottom of a hill. The hill lies to the east of our house, so each day is cut a little bit short; the sky may lighten and the birds may start singing, but the sun hides from us for a few extra moments each day. We rise not with daybreak, but with daybreak's promissory note: IOU one morning.
But eventually the winter sun climbs that extra couple of degrees and throws its already-steady light upon our house, and then we're off: alarm, snooze button, alarm, bathroom, underwear, shirt & pants, socks, breakfast, car, work. It's rare that anything breaks that routine in any significant way. Six days a week, I'm reduced to using the miracle of a new day as nothing more than a tool for finding socks that match.
This morning, for example, I was grumbling my usual way through the clean-pot-find-filter-grind-beans process. It's well into the second trimester, the winter trimester that's always something like an academic version of the Bataan Death March, a struggle where the object is not success but survival. We start exams in less than two weeks, and there's not a student on campus who feels ready to take one, nor a teacher who feels ready to write one. We push through the final days due to grim, dogged obstinacy, straining toward the promise of spring break with every slap at the snooze button. And standing there, pouring water into the coffee maker, I could think of nothing that might get me through yet another day of wringing the same old secrets from A Streetcar Named Desire
But then the light finally came over the hill, the pond at the end of our road was illuminated at last, and I went out to our station wagon to retrieve yesterday's mail for Kelly. From a couple hundred yards off, standing in the driveway, I couldn't see the pond very clearly, but as I looked, I could definitely tell there was something upon the water's surface. And I could tell that it was dark and birdlike, smaller than one of the noisy Canada geese that usually occupy the pond like a flotilla of PWCs on Labor Day weekend.
I dropped off the mail, grabbed my binoculars and a windbreaker, and returned to the driveway. Somehow I emerged from the back door into a morning that promised not just a day's worth of light, but a whole season's. The breeze was fresh, but not cutting, and the air was clear, despite the muddy ambience of dark brown earth and pale brown grass. When I brought my binoculars to my eyes, I could see little beyond the size and dark silhouette of the bird, but one thing did jump out: a white patch on the back of the head.
"Hooded merganser," I said.
I walked closer, keeping the huge grey trunk of a big tulip poplar between me and the bird. Fifty yards, and the binoculars went back to my eyes. The white patch on the black head was now clearly visible, and a second bird, a female, could be seen trailing behind the boldly patterned male. Another fifty yards and the bird turned toward me, showing the white breast. Another fifty, and the bird's thin bill was clear against the bright reflections of the water. Another fifty and I was directly behind the poplar, and I could see another pair to the right of the first; the drake, flapping sharply, suddenly rose up rampant, his crest raised, his yellow eye burning against his black head, his chestnut sides warm in the morning light.
Springtime. 9:38 PM
Yesterday I finished reading my 100th book of the year. And no, I'm not a speed-reader. In fact, I'm probably only the third-fastest reader in my house, though that may say less about my tortoise-like deliberation than it says about the hare-like rapidity with which both my wife and elder son whip through texts.
I'm telling the truth about Book #100, though, because I start my annual What PC Has Actually Read
List on my birthday--March 1st--rather than on New Year's Day. Thus, I'm now in the final three weeks of reading year 2004-05. Sometime around my birthday (#42, if you're counting) I'll sit down, look over what I've read, set up my new WPCHAR list, and assemble the other component of my reading year, The Big List of Books PC Should Read (or Re-Read)
The Big List is a single MSWord page long. It consists of 40 books I'd like to read in the next year. Usually these are books I haven't read yet, but occasionally I'll slide a familiar one onto the list if I'm sure I want to re-read it. When I read a book on the list, I get to mark it by italicizing it and adding the date I finished it. There's no other reward for finishing it--well, none other than the reward contained in the book itself. If I don't get to the book that year, I'm free to include it on the next year's list, but I'm also free to decide that there are other books more deserving of that coveted spot and replace it with one of them.
I've never yet come close to reading all 40 books on the list. For one thing, that would be a little too
restrictive, even for a guy with obsessive-compulsive tendencies as strong as mine. I want to have some freedom to pick things up at the bookstore without worrying about how far behind schedule they'll put me: "Oh, I'd love to get this new Kage Baker book, but I'm only on #16 on The Big List..." The Big List is thus nothing more than a suggested itinerary for my annual trip to Bookland. I'm free to pull over to the side of the road and have a picnic, or to visit every tourist trap on the highway, or to spend the night in a freaky-looking old B&B instead of the ultramodern hotel where I reserved a room; I don't have to adhere to strict bus schedules or museum hours. I'm reading for pleasure, after all.
Thanks to this relaxed attitude, certain books have remained on the list for some time; I started keeping track back in 1996, and I think I've had Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men
on the list ever since. One day I'll get around to it, I know, but it just hasn't happened yet. I think one thing working against Warren is the fact that it's an acknowledged classic that can be found in any library. Somehow there's a bit more urgency surrounding recent best-sellers, or hard-to-find obscurities, or current-events analyses.
Speaking of this last category, I hereby pass along my highest recommendations for two books about the perceptions of left and right in modern America: What's the Matter with Kansas?
by Thomas Frank and What Liberal Media?
by Eric Alterman. They were #98 and #100 this year, respectively, and they've managed the difficult task of making me even more upset with George W. Bush and his cronies than I was before. Frank's brief and witty examination of Kansas state politics provides a fascinating example of how Republicans have taken control of the Sunflower State by fusing the kind of social conservatism Kansas loves with the kind of laissez-faire economic attitudes that the state's voters once considered absolutely repulsive; as a microcosm of the U.S., it's pretty instructive, and it makes cogent points about modern American conservatives' tendency to paint themselves as victims, which is a pretty impressive feat given that Republicans now control all three branches of government and, judging by the squeaky-clean entertainment we all saw last weekend, the Super Bowl as well.
Alterman's book, meanwhile, takes on the hefty and perhaps counterintuitive job of proving that the So-Called Liberal Media (or SCLM, as he calls it) is a creature of myth; through exhaustive research and copious citations, though, he does it. Not only does he show the power of the admittedly conservative media (the Washington Times, the New York Post, the National Review, the Wall Street Journal, most talk radio, Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter, etc.), but also offers convincing proof that even bastions of "liberal" journalism like the Washington Post and the New Republic are in fact far less tolerant of liberal ideas and politicians than the right wing likes to claim. And why do they make these claims? Well, it has a lot to do with the aforementioned clamoring for victim status, which is apparently the best way to cloud a nation's mind like Lamont Cranston used to do; the people can't be bothered to protest having their Social Security system dismantled if they're all worked up about the Blue State Librul Media contaminating our children's minds by letting tolerance for homosexuals be subliminally introduced into their thinking by a cartoon sponge.
So what am I going to read during the next 17 days? Hard to say for sure. I pulled Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex
off the shelf last night, and that may indeed be my next choice. Then again, maybe I'll find something short and light and comic to take away the taste of all that Ann Coulterness. (Admittedly, the cheerfully irreligious cover of The Nation for February 21st
put me in a much better mood.)
And if you've got recommendations, hey, feel free to drop me a line. 7:37 PM
*Snowing like hell up here. That's been happening fairly regularly of late, especially on Thursdays & Fridays. We'll see if it has ramifications for this weekend's debate tournament or not...
*When it comes to guilty pleasures, I have more than my share, especially in the music department. Not only do I own--and admit
to owning--albums by deeply uncool prog-rock artists like Yes, syrupy folkies like Seals & Crofts, and dim-bulb headbangers like Guns n' Roses, I've even got a greatest hits collection by Andrew Gold. Yes, the guy whose "Thank You For Being a Friend" became the theme for The Golden Girls
. Hell, Paul Reiser wrote the liner notes for the album. But I paid four dollars of my own money to pick up a used copy. Why? Well, partly because I really like the peculiar, stuttering rhythm of the main riff of "Lonely Boy"--sort of a proto-"You Can Call Me Al." I also think fondly of Gold's work on my favorite Linda Ronstadt album, Heart Like a Wheel
, where he played bunches of instruments, sang, and probably made the coffee. But in the end, it comes down to one song: "Never Let Her Slip Away." I know the synthesizer sound is cheesy in the extreme, and the artificial drum/handclap beat sounds really amateurish, but none of that matters; no, the only thing that matters here is the melody, and that's simply masterful. I taught myself the song a good twenty-five years ago, picking it out on my mom's old upright piano, and from time to time, I'd still find myself sitting at our spinet and working through the changes, lost in the satisfaction of the tune. After I'd been doing that for over two decades, it just seemed stupid not to spend four bucks and own a copy. So I'm guilty. And I really don't care. Nice work, Andrew!
*I just finished reading Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas?
, which I'm recommending to all and sundry. You won't find a better (or better-written) analysis of how social conservatism has moved a significant chunk of America's people, seemingly without their awareness, into supporting economic policies that actually work against them. Frank focuses primarily on the Sunshine State's shift from radical populism to moderate Republicanism to hardcore right-wing doctrine, but it's a lesson that applies in other places as well. Insightful, informative, funny, and often depressing as hell.
*Speaking of depressing as hell--no, I didn't watch the State of the Union address.
*An update on the local Red-bellied Woodpecker situation: Madame Red's mate (or at least a potential male suitor) has shown up at last. He hasn't yet appeared on the feeder, but he did light on the weeping cherry that supports it. He's apparently a more traditional diner than she is, sticking with the stuff he can pry out of the bark, rather than lowering himself to eat birdseed. We'll see if that attitude holds up, or if she brings him around.
*The first draft of A Raven for Doves
continues to grow, albeit very slowly. I'm a little over 82,000 words now, and I think I know what I have to write in the three sections that still need filling out. All I have to do now is find the time to write it...
*Thanks to Wake Forest's defeat of Duke last night, my Tar Heels are atop the ACC standings. Here's hoping they can stay there. I think they'll need to improve both their defense and their half-court offense to do so, but lord knows they've got the talent.
*I was aghast the other day when my students couldn't name any of my three favorite UNC players. Granted, they're not the flashiest choices, but that's probably why I like them. They're all power forwards who believed in certain fundamental principles: get the rebound, put the ball back in quickly
, play good defense, etc. Oh, I still love Phil Ford and Michael Jordan and James Worthy and Walter Davis, make no mistake. But I've always felt a special kinship with these three guys, and not just because two of them wore my jersey number (34). I knew I couldn't do what Ford or Jordan did, but I liked to think that, had I been eight inches taller, I could have done what these guys did--and I know damn well I would have tried. Who am I talking about? Bobby Jones, one of the best defenders ever to play hoops, but also a clutch offensive threat and a member of Philadelphia's NBA championship team in 1983; George Lynch, the undersized (6'7") leader of the 1993 NCAA champs, whose specialties were the offensive rebound and the steal; and Antawn Jamison, another "tweener" who never met a hoop he couldn't take the ball to, now the consummate professional, a starter-quality player who accepted a reserve role and won the 2004 NBA Sixth Man Award.
*Still snowing like hell. Maybe I'd better check on the car... 2:50 PM