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The End of Lost as an End to Mystery

24 May

[NOTE: This post contains spoilers about the series finale. The usual precautions apply.]

Update: See also Tracie’s excellent re-cap/analysis over at Jezebel.

I think Charlie Anders’s response to the finale of Lost over at io9 is representative of the reaction many other Lost fans had last night:

In the end, it’s hard not to see Lost as the longest con of them all. Not because we didn’t get enough answers – it’s really true that after this episode, I don’t need any more answers than what we got. But because all along, Lost seemed to be a story. Until the end, when it wasn’t. In the end, it was just a bunch of stuff that happened.

[…] It just felt like a cheap, cop-out ending.

Slb over at Postbourgie has a similar take:

I haven’t encountered too many fans who weren’t at least a little let down by this resolution. The whole, “Surprise! You’re all dead!” thing seems far too convenient for a show that encouraged its audience to invest so much time cracking codes and trouble-shooting mysteries. If you think about all the websites with secret messages and comic book plotlines and DVD commentaries and literary references and numerical fake-outs this show employed over the years, in light of the show’s last few minutes, it’s enough to make you want to throw something at your TV.

Contrast this with Tyler Cowen’s take:

Most of all I viewed the ending as tragic.  It was not mainly about any particular account of the metaphysics of the island.  It was about how few couples had the chance to actually live together, love together, and stay together.  The perfect reunions of the couples in the “we’re all dead” scenario only drove this point home.  I found this contrast moving.

[…] Overall I thought it was the best final episode of a series I have seen, with close competition from The Sopranos.

I favor Cowen’s reading for several reasons, mostly because I think it captures what was resonant and frustrating to the viewers annoyed by the finale: the promise of an end to mystery left us with another mystery and that mystery was different than the mysteries proffered by the show before the finale.  But first some quick background on what kind of Lost watcher I was for context: I wasn’t a committed Lost fan over the entire series.  In fact, I began watching the series starting with (I believe) the Season 3 DVD and stayed with the show mostly because 1) I had enough character background and basic mythology that I could watch an episode and follow the rough contours of the mysteries and revelations while grounded in the character drama and 2) I was sucked in by the Lost cultural phenomenon and was curious to see how it would all end.

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Five Guilty Pleasures, Music Edition

29 Jul

I’ve been tagged, so here are my worst music moments, courtesy of iTunes:

1. Angels and Airwaves, “The Adventure”

I have a soft spot for power-pop and layered pieces (a la wall-of-sound and prog rock).  I’ve always found myself liking Tom DeLonge’s stuff with Blink-182 in spite of the fact he writes some truly bad lyrics This one’s on my workout mix when I go to the gym.

2. Marc Cohn, “Walking in Memphis”

Best line from this song: “She said,’Tell me, are you are Christian, child?’/And I said, ‘Ma’am I am tonight.'”

3. Mike and the Mechanics, “All I Need is a Miracle”

I also have a soft spot for synth-heavy 80s dreck, and the best of New Wave.  This falls somewhere in between.

4. David Bowie, “Underground”

Taken from the Labyrinth soundtrack–a cool, if somewhat disturbing movie; it features David Bowie in very tight pants.  Not as cool as Bowie as Nikola Tesla, but guaranteed to creep out the kids.

5. Tears for Fears, “The Working Hour”

I genuinely like this song, but never heard it until I was in my early 20s.  I had heard “Shout,” “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” and “Head Over Heels” from Songs From the Big Chair , but nothing else.  Then I went over to someone’s house and listened to it on their record player.  I now also own the album on vinyl (80s all the  way!).

I tag Keith at The Projector is Ripping Your History since he actually knows a thing or two about music.

Hamlet: A Gay Fantasia on Danish Themes

7 Apr

Via Chris Blattman (whose econ development blog you should be reading) comes this picture from Stockholm:

For a second I thought it was Carson from \

Then again, I do have Angels in America on the brain as I’m preparing to teach it starting this week (and over the next several weeks) in my English 201 course. Yes, his father was murdered by his uncle and now has the throne, but it’s just such a wonderful day to go yatching.

I’ll Let the Structural Engineers Explain

16 Oct

u2_tower.jpg

Via Crooked Timber, a familiarly shaped building planned for the Dublin skyline, courtesy of U2.  I figure Quixote should be all over this like the MSM on an outed Republican member of Congress, so I’ll leave the expert analysis to him.

And Another Thing: Sting Isn’t Even Spanish!

11 Oct

After taking a shot a Baby Boomers in my last post, I’d like to spread the criticism around and go after my own generation. This Blender list of the 40 worst lyricists in rock is a case study in intellectually lazy criticism, as practiced by Generation Y¹: snark and sneer, with a useless dash of contrarianism thrown in to annoy.

I understand that lists of “the best of” and “the worst of” are both inherently subjective and presented as the empty-calorie diversion of popular magazines, but something more than “assertion with attitude!” is called for here. You want to try and set up some sort of vague criteria or at least choose the most egregious and generally recognized offenders (e.g. something goofy like 50 Cent’s “I love you like a fat kid loves cake”). At least go for broke on the meaningless and viscously subjective, which, even when your readers don’t agree, can be pretty funny; arbitrariness alleviates the burden of having to legitimately defend your choices. If you’re going to be irreverent, you need to sell it.

But when Blender claims Sting is the worst lyricist ever, this is the best they can muster:

Surveying the Cold War, he found the West “conditioned to respond to all the threats/In the rhetorical speeches of the Soviets.” His rage at Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was so heated, he castigated the scoundrel in Spanish. Holy frijoles, was Sting mad!

Oh noes! He was “mad” and singing in another language! Oh, snap? If you’re going to assert Sting’s lyrics represent “[m]ountainous pomposity, cloying spirituality, ham-handed metaphors,” it would help if you cited examples, unless we’re to understand that mentioning Nabokov or referencing Shakespeare for an adult-contemporary audience as pomposity–in which case I’d like to thank Blender in advance for adding to creeping anti-intellectualism, or outright disdain for anything resembling the influence of poetry² on lyrics.

For more on my Generation’s critical follies, check out this Slate article categorizing this sort of criticism as a symptom of “poptimism”.

¹ Or whatever the hell we’re calling people born after 1980 but before 2000.

² Hahahahaha. “Poetry.”

In Praise of Charitable Deductions

1 Oct

Perhaps I’m misreading what’s intended as a narrow critique of a sub-set of charitable giving, but I think Ezra Klein’s support for this Robert Reich article is mistaken, as Reich’s proposal goes too far in his desire to support “real” charitable donations, not to mention that it would result in Very Bad Things for arts funding in America. I’m also surprised that Megan McArdle didn’t highlight some of the consequences to universities and the arts if Reich’s proposal of limiting tax deductions for non-poverty related non-profits to 50% of the donation was implemented (I assume she’s read her friend Tyler Cowen’s Good and Plenty).

Klein and McArdle rightly focus on the spectacle of Manhattan charity galas, which give patrons a chance to throw back some vintage wine and imported champagne with artists and celebrities–and then write an expensive party off as a government endorsed contribution–but I think this is as far as the critique can be taken, for two reasons. The first is that deductions are an indirect subsidy to lots of people who aren’t rich, including the middle class, artists, and those that benefit from the research done by universities, which might end up including poor people. The second is that if we eliminate these indirect subsidies (or make them costlier), some of the slack is going to be picked up by demands for direct subsidies, which would be bad for the arts.

Although rich folks may donate to universities to get their C average son or daughter into an elite institution, that money also helps kids whose families earn less than $40,000 receive free tuition from Harvard (and reduced tuition for those earning between $40,000-$60,000), which means greater social mobility for talented but financially strapped students. Not all of the donations are of the “now name an arts building after me” variety (and if major enrollment is any indication, most alumni are likely to fork over money for a science building or simply contribute to a project the university or college has already proposed).

The greater problem is that in place of the funding supplied by private donations, people might start demanding that those funds be replaced by direct subsidies like the NEA or some other centralized entity (actually, the NEA doles out its funds in the form of institutional grants–having done away with direct grants–but I’m worried about a general trend) which would choose the artistic winners, making for a less diverse artistic market.  For all you poets out there¹, imagine asking your parents or non-poet friends to describe a poem for you.  It sounds like some terrible cross between 19th century Romantic verse and tortured love poems as read by a sentimental teenager at a coffee-house open mike, right? Okay, now imagine those same people have to vote for officials whose job is to determine the head of this centralized agency.  Result: Dr. Seuss becomes your Poet Laureate², and the local dandy/Victorian literature enthusiast gets a $20,000 grant to write poems about the “the love o’er which I swoon/ and moves the heart betwixt my ribs”. Yikes.

In short, you’d be eliminating a lot of good donations provided by people who know a thing or two about the field to which they’re donating (e.g. the arts or research for a particular disease) or things people might actually be interested in using (thus matching supply with demand).  Though only 10% of donations go directly to the poor, I’d bet the other 90% benefit the poor (in terms of education and scientific research) by subsidizing public goods.

¹ Hey Keith.

² Though much beloved, he is, unfortunately, dead.

Real Foodies Don’t Eat Lean Cuisine

21 Sep

By Alicia Feuillet

I am a Foodie. I read the Washington Post Food section every Wednesday. The most exciting piece of mail I get is the month’s new Bon Appétit. I had to buy a new bookshelf just for my cookbook collection. I have thrown more dinner parties before the age of 25 than most people will in a lifetime. I cook nearly everyday of the week. In the hierarchy of importance, food is juxtaposed with politics.

I take my self-proclaimed Foodie status to heart, but last week I was incorrectly (in my mind) labeled a Food Snob. But then I thought, what exactly is the difference between a Food Snob and a Foodie? After much thought, I realized there are actually three groups: Food Snobs, Food Slobs, and Foodies. Continue reading