Saturday, July 30, 2011

Sunday Recommendation

It is looking increasingly unlikely that I will complete my Hall Pass analysis before this blog - rather crassly in my opinion - goes on vacation again, this time not for sordid adventures but because it wants to spend some time "meditating" and so will be in a secluded spa on a mountaintop somewhere, drinking rainwater and communing with itself. No doubt it will return cleansed, emptied, and, I'm sure, will consist only of entries about new vegan recipes and self-purification rituals. Fucking blogs.

However, I would like to recommend Hall Pass and Friends With Benefits, as I hope to deal with these in the near future, providing, of course, this blog is not devoted to mantras and ecstatic reports about how it is now having the best sex of its life with some holistic homeopathic blog, without even reaching orgasm.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Making a Good Expression

A very alert reader e-mailed me this, asking "Why are impressions funny? Don't they show us things we already know?" And I was all like "Are you e-mailin' me? Are you e-mailin' me? 'Cause I don't see nobody else in your 'sent to' line" and then I was all like [in gravelly voice:] "Ith a wery intuhwesthing quethun. [stroke chin with back of forefingers] Makel, what do you think? Thud we ask Fweddoh?" and then I left work, wondering what is so funny about impressions, and was almost hit by a car in the street, and I was all like "I'm walkin' here, I'm walkin' here", and then I took the train home and it was running late but I did eventually get home.

[That last bit should be read as though it was being said by George from Gilbert and George.]

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Light That's Going Out

Happiness is always the same, but there are an infinite number of ways of being unhappy. While that's not quite an original thought, I was reminded today of another way of being unhappy; it's not a sorrowful feeling, it's not melancholic, it's not the dizzy nausea of loss, or a dank depression or despair, it's got nothing to do with pity or sympathy; it's much milder, much more pointless, less an experience of unhappiness than a sort of existential yawn that somehow aches. At what point does one stop being a fan and cut those precious, invisible strands of devotion and dedication and admiration that bind you to somebody from afar? What does it even mean to stop being a fan? Is there a point where someone's actions so influence you that you're turned off by their art as well? I'm not talking about those avid watercolourists who face the dilemma of being great admirers of Hitler's oeuvre and yet must struggle to reconcile the art with the man; I actually don't know if such a group really exists, but I like to think that they do, and that their annual newsletter is fraught with aesthetic-ethical debates. No, it's Morrissey again, a man who would apparently now like to be both famous and righteous and holy. The man has rather insistently put himself into all sorts of awkward positions over the past few decades in a manner that has been reliably truculent and often associated with animal rights (although, as I'm sure everybody has noticed, there's a peculiar, irrepressible and boringly regular strand of xenophobia and racism laced in with his animal rights rhetoric); in his dotage, Morrissey has become a sort of petulant, fey version of Elizabeth Costello, but without her hesitation and, I'm sorry to say, lacking her charm.

As an alert reader pointed out with disgust, in an e-mail poisonously titled "I've changed my verdict to guilty", and as I'm sure everybody is now aware, Morrissey compared what happened in Norway to the fast food industry; or rather, he turned the comparison on its head and said that what happened in Norway "is nothing compared to what McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Shit every day". The alert reader is giving away his Morrissey tickets for the forthcoming concert; sans tickets, sans opportunity, I'm not facing a similar ethical quandary.

I don't think I need to offer any incisive commentary on what Morrissey said; for a man who has long prided himself on his wit, his comment lacks any whatsoever. That his comment lacks many other things as well can be left unsaid. But he lost a lot of people who really enjoyed defending him through thick and thin; we were, in fact, a sort of subspecies, and we're fast going extinct.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Importance of Being Santorum

An alert reader notified me about a segue, or a sequel, to one of the great comic political bitch-slaps of modern times, Dan Savage's take-down of the puckerbutted, sweaty-browed Pennsylvania Bigot, Rick Santorum, previously discussed in the blog; you can find the sequel here. Anybody interested in the political use of language will enjoy this comic twist to a story I still find amusing; I've tried to interest some people in considering this an act of speak, as opposed to unspeak, but they just look at me like a little part of them died when I spoke. It's not an unusual experience for me.

Keep checking in; I promise, over the next few days, a post on impressions and at least one on Hall Pass.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Sunday Recommendations

Do you ever feel jealous of the news? Anxiously protective of it, wanting to fend off the churners and the gurners, the huffingtonposts and the op-ed spewers, the twitterers and the commenters, the bloggers and - oh. Yes. Of course. It's one of those weekends; I'm not even going to name names, events, places. It's just a weekend where the news deserves to be the news.

Anyway, here's the rec:

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Summer in the City and in the Country

My guess is that Michael Billington has made no secret throughout his career of aspiring to be one of those "national treasures" - public figures who are too prickly or intellectual to have been considered attractive in their early years but who, in their dotage, are generally treated in the media as though they are widely loved - and has cultivated a persona greatly attuned to achieving this status: never too supportive of the avant-garde to suggest radicalism and conservatively disappointed in the art of today, but with a few gentle foibles and preferences suggestive of taste; a generally anti-nationalist, belligerently anti-racist position with just the right touch of xenophobic snapping and loyal patriotism; grumpy enough to make the establishment suspect he really is a closet Tory.

An alert reader directed me to his latest postprandial belch, a review of Much Ado About Nothing. I think the ending rather proves the point I was making above:

But a carnivalesque evening would be better for a touch of self-restraint. In some theatres, actors play to the gallery. Here, they are in thrall to the groundlings.

Well, la di da. Fuck the groundlings! And that's just what impressed Bakhtin about the carnivalesque, isn't it? Its restraint.

But of course, it is the beginning of Billington's review that had the alert reader's steaming to such an extent - well, I'll tell you a little secret: this alert reader woke me up to tell me about this review. Yes, it's true. I sleep with my readers. Not all of you, though. But you should know it's at least possible. In any case, this alert reader was fuming about the following:

On a chill, damp night Jeremy Herrin's production, pre-empting next week's West End version (starring David Tennant and Catherine Tate) conquered its audience. But, although Herrin's production is full of intelligent touches and neatly blends Shakespeare's Messina and Morocco, I found it hard to surrender completely to a show that contains more mugging than you'll find in Central Park on a Saturday night.

Graciously, we might think that Billington is making an in-joke for his New York audience, referring to (and mocking, but perhaps affectionately) the several free productions of Shakespeare in Central Park every Summer: the Public's two productions (this year, Measure for Measure and All's Well That Ends Well) at the Delacorte nestled above Turtle Pond in the centre of the park, and the New York Classical Theatre's productions around the pond at 100th. There is quite a lot of mugging in open air theatre and there's a lot of that going on on any Saturday night in the Summer in Central Park.

(image from

Less graciously, if we suspect he is not referring to the theatrical events in Central Park, we might think it rather odd that the theatre critic for The Guardian hasn't visited New York in over thirty years. And less graciously still, if he has visited New York once or twice since the Ford years, we might wonder about the cultural clumsiness and comic clod-handedness that would have him blurble this sub-sub-Anthony-Lane gag and like it enough not to edit it out. As the alert reader said, it's obvious that he really, really loves his line. In fact, taking a cue from his own sentence, one might say that he surrendered easily to a comic mugging by a bad line.

Speaking of newspapers, I thought I'd share this touchingly and oddly relevant scene from Brideshead Revisited:

Often, almost daily, since I had known Sebastian, some chance word in a conversation had reminded me that he was a Catholic, but I took it as a foible, like his Teddy-bear. We never discussed the matter until on the second Sunday at Brideshead . . . he surprised me by saying: "Oh dear, it's very difficult being a Catholic."
"Does it make much difference to you?"
"Of course. All the time."
"Well, I can't say I've noticed it. Are you struggling against temptation? You don't seem much more virtuous than me."
"I'm very, very much wickeder," said Sebastian indignantly.
"Well then?"
"Who was it who used to pray, 'Oh God, make me good, but not yet'?"
"I don't know. You, I should think."
"Why, yes, I do, every day. But it isn't that." He turned back to the pages of the News of the World and said, "Another naughty scout-master."

Brilliant stuff.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Go Ninja GO

There are obviously two types of people in the world: those who love Die Antwoordt and readers of this blog. In the comments to my last post, there was some skepticism about my affection for Enter the Ninja, though the video is obviously the best thing to happen to popular music since, I don't know, Nirvana Live and Unplugged. One comment mentioned my earlier "fascination" with Tatu as if it is something I should be ashamed of. I have no regrets that I adored a melodramatic disco pop anthem sung by a pair of teenage Russian lesbians. Do you know what Heaven is? It's not a place where nothing ever happens. It's a place where the angels are teenage Russian lesbians serenading each other with melodramatic disco pop anthems.

Now, you might respond by saying that Tatu were "contrived", or that they weren't even lesbians. Darling, I don't go to pop music for the authenticity. I go for the magic. And Die Antwoordt is magical in a way that we barely recognise any more, so blind are we to the non-positivistic, cracked, empiricism-flaying world around us: it is the magic of myth, the modern myth of the word-hopping, body-crumping minstrel of fury, and the ancient myths of warriors and maidens; the mythical dimensions are explored, as I have been shown, far more prominently in Evil Boy; and I can't help but love the punk bitch-slap of Rich Bich, a faux-gilded gauntlet thrown down to ersatz modern myth-makers Lady G, Pink, and Beyonce, performed with the knowing smirk that they will look at the gauntlet and, like prim sorority sisters in a college comedy, turn on their heels and storm away with their noses in the air, superior and humiliated at once.

Another comment asked if this was some kind of joke? I don't know if the commentator meant my seat-bouncing, seat-wetting enthusiasm for Enter the Ninja or the song itself. What is so striking about
Enter the Ninja and Die Antwoordt is that it does not matter. How peculiar is that? Under most circumstances, whether something is or is not a joke, whether something is or is not ironic, is of the utmost importance; it's usually crucial. But in this case, it does not matter at all. After all, one has every right to approach Die Antwoordt with a tremendous amount of suspicion. The Ninja, Die Antwoordt, also happens to be a satirist, a comic artist, indeed, something of a comic graphic artist; his work, which melds graffiti and Haring and Basquiat graces the backdrop to Enter the Ninja and YoLandi Vi$$er's clothing; and some of his more obvious comic-performance work here is deeply reminiscent of, ahem, this. So is it possible that Die Antwoord is another """performance"""? A sort of South African Larry the Cable Guy or a subsaharan Ben Elton mashed up with Eminem? Baron Cohen meets Kid Rock? The amazing thing is, it does not matter.

The friend who first forwarded me the link to this video did so without providing any context: I had no idea what I was supposed to be seeing. But as we discussed it afterwards, it became apparent how similarly it affected us. Die Antwoord is unapologetic; there is no caveat, no asterisk; and still it courses through convention with all the commitment of myth (for myths are often full of the familiar, the rote, the obvious; it is only recently that we have become shamed and flushed and
embarrassed by myths for being so unironic); it is no wonder they seem "primeval" or, as my friend put it, engaged in "paleolithic dionysian celebration" (you can see why I have so few friends; with friends who say shit like that you don't have time for other people). Die Antwoord is shameless, unapologetic. Comedy is always tussling with apology; one of the reasons why apology is such a problem for comedians is that their art, however brazen and bold, is already asterisked with a tiny apology (it might be called the fool's license; it might come in the form of the "just kidding" excuse where joking and kidding are already exculpatory, shedding responsibility, keyed to apology); in this case, any apology is like a magician explaining his tricks.

If it turns out that Die Antwoordt is a """performance"" - of course it's a performance - it's a next level performance; if the Ninja is a persona - of course it's a persona - I have no problems with that; and remember: an apology is a revocation. If it turns out that this was intended comically - there would still be no revocation. The paper-thin, papier-mache mask of authenticity has been stripped away, leaving us with much more impressive, intrusive, unsettling, and exhilarating masks, faces, grimaces, expressions.

A small addendum, of two points, related to faces. The video has spawned one new work of video art. And, one of the memorable performers in the video for Enter the Ninja is the South African painter and DJ, Leon Botha, who frequently opened for Die Antwoordt; he died just over a month ago of complications related to the condition progeria.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Answer

My blog is back from its vacation; it came back, erotically bruised, pierced in odd places, and with what is either a bizarre tattoo or a gunpowder burn along its right flank. It wanted to tell me stories that might explain the haunted look in its eye and the new lisp in its voice, but I said, "Save it for your therapist; I don't want to know."

I must admit I missed it while it was gone, and watched this video, hour after hour, to pass the time; if I can't waste time in the blog's company, I'll find other ways to eat up the hours. I suggest watching Die Antwoord's video at least three times before going on to explore their oeuvre, which, in the term of the person who recommended them to me, is next level.

Once you're done, we'll get back into the comedy business.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Brief Hiatus

This blog will be on a brief hiatus for about a week, as it is going on holiday. I, however, am not. I'll be at work. But the blog has packed its bags, left a mound of dry food beside a trough of water for the dog, and is heading off in the early light, quite possibly to a salacious destiny with ping-pong-flinging pole-dancers, hookah-smoking criminal masterminds, and all-night binges of late Roger Moore Bond films. I can't say I envy it, but I'm sure that when it returns it will have plenty to say about the relationship of comedy to the worst attributes of humanity; and perhaps, one can hope, some passing asides about comedy's relationship with the scant whispers of humanity's better attributes?