Pope notes

Alex Ross, writing on Benedict XVI and music:

"The Pope has one strong point. He's saying that modern music is unnaturally divided between extremes of obscurantist complexity and extremes of mass-marketed simplicity, and he wants to see a healthy middle restored. He's actually in a position to do something, by commissioning and cultivating works of sacred music that restore the old unity of 'popular' and 'classical' elements. But the discussion is framed by a drastic judgment on pop music, indeed on the 'dictatorship of relativism' in modern society, and that itch to judge will make it harder for him to achieve anything positive.

An irony attends on those who complain about rampant relativism, whether in music or anything else. They say that all values are being leveled. But by dividing music into 'serious' and 'commercial' realms, or any other simplistic binary scheme, they are leveling everything within those genres, limiting the expressive potential of each. They are relativizing like crazy, and suppressing the individual voice."

[Paragraph break added by me.] I confess that I'm interested in the new Pope; it stirs up my atavistic Catholicism. A new papacy is sort of like the NHL playoffs: a period of something worth watching after a long stretch of not thinking about it at all. Soon we'll know enough aboout Benedict, he'll be crushing theologians, etc., and we can go back to normal.


Stephen Johnson explains half of it for you

Naturally I was interested in Watching TV Makes You Smarter, an argument for the medium that has done so much to make me interesting to my relatives.

But check it out: there's nothing on comedy except a faint-praise slap at it:

With many shows that we associate with ''quality'' entertainment -- ''The Mary Tyler Moore Show,'' ''Murphy Brown,'' ''Frasier'' -- the intelligence arrives fully formed in the words and actions of the characters on-screen. They say witty things to one another and avoid lapsing into tired sitcom cliches, and we smile along in our living rooms, enjoying the company of these smart people. But assuming we're bright enough to understand the sentences they're saying, there's no intellectual labor involved in enjoying the show as a viewer.

Indeed. No wonder the sitcoms get the nudge-nudge quotes around "quality" and the other shows -- "Hill Street," "Sopranos," "West Wing"," "E.R.," "Alias," etc. are lauded as making you smarter.

And, face it, drama requires so much more brilliant smartness to play than comedy, that a dramatic actor can easily conquer the world of comedy, while no comedian can make a transition to lauded dramatic roles. (An average SNL is all the evidence you need.)

The more I think about it, in fact, the more I wonder if what we have here is just TV dramas catching up to where good comedy has always been in terms of "cognitive complexity." "The Simpsons" (the only comedy Johnson will admit into the brilliant-smartness canon), is, what, 15 years old. "Seinfeld," which was very intricately structured, has been off the air for seven years. Marx Brothers movies had, arguably, a "thick network of affiliations."

On the other hand, maybe the problem is that comedies aren't catching up to the potential of good comedy. Hadn't thought about that.


Theory of comedy theory

I like Arrested Development, and yet I'm never excited when one shows up on my Tivo. I know it's going to be work; work I'm rewarded for, to be sure -- the show just keeps getting more intricate and funnier in its intricacies -- but still.

And then this bullshit theory occured to me: What we need in the sitcom is The Ramones. I feel like we're in a bit of a prog-rock rut -- trying to bring the richness and depth and drama of the superior art form into our own entertainment. (Executive notes always ask for more richness and depth and "moments".) What would be great is to see something loud and simple and fast, the stupid and satisfying two-minute song of sitcom.

I don't quite believe in this theory, because evidence to support it doesn't come to mind, but the next hit sitcom will be the Ramones, that I believe.


The party of Shut Up

Why do non-Catholic conservatives like the new pope so? Why, indeed, do they like the free-spending George W. Bush? Because they all belong to the same party: the party of Shut Up. And one thing liberals, and indeed modernity, is not about is shutting up. Indeed, cartoon liberalism -- which is often enough liberalism as one encounters it, especially in college -- can be effectively simulated by sprinkling in "dialogue," "giving voice to the voiceless," "speaking truth to power," etc. etc. After a while there are many people who just want to shout: Shut Up. Turn The Goddamn Noise Down. What is the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith but a fancy way of saying: "Shut Up"?

Maybe this is why people who watch a lot of TV news tend to be more conservative (if that's true -- I'm not going to look it up). One thing TV news won't do is shut up, as I well know from when my in-laws visit. Perhaps, no matter what its specfiic content is, the habituated viewer longs for the news to go away at some level, and joins the party of Shut Up.


Our thirty-year campaign to maleducate Americans begins to bear fruit (2)

John McGreevey in The New Republic, via TAPPED:

"The second problem is one of theological literacy. It is one thing for Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, John Paul's most important theological adviser, to meditate on the virtues of an all-male priesthood, since Ratzinger has forgotten more theology than most of his liberal critics ever knew. It's quite another to have young priests and bishops, educated in intellectually narrow seminaries and without serious immersion in either the Catholic tradition or the languages that constitute it, express grave doubts about female altar servers or Catholic Democrats who take Communion... The contrast between the situation at the Second Vatican Council in the mid-'60s (when the elegant Latin and theological acumen of Americans like the Jesuit John Courtney Murray startled jaundiced Europeans) and the current moment (when some of the most visible 'orthodox' American Catholics shuttle between pro-life protests and Mother Angelica's loopy Catholic cable network) could not be more stark."


In which I offer a free million-dollar idea

Christian MST3K. Smartass remarks to popular-culture movies of the day, but from a Christian perspective. In five years, when my career is in the toilet, that's where you'll find me.



A marriage that can only be defended by the state is not strong in itself.
Values that are held only by the order of the state are not truly held.
A Jesus that requires the help of the state is a weak Jesus indeed.

Only not connecting

James Wolcott:

"Yet, like so many products and pleasures, blowjobs aren't evenly distributed in society. It's a renewable natural resource not everyone gets to enjoy, and I was struck by the vehement tone of Limbaugh's tirade. He sounded bitter. I've seen this rancor inflict so many middle-aged men. Reading about all the oral sex young people are presumably having, they feel envious and resentful. No classmates were treating them to afterschool blowjobs in high school! Nor were hot teachers like that one in Florida seducing them in parked cars. It doesn't seem fair. It doesn't seem just. We're living in the Golden Age of BJs, and men in Rush's recumbent position feel barred from Eden, forced to imagine the action from their recliners as they stare sullenly at their plasma screens. It's probably how many adults felt during the free-love Sixties as the lid came off the nation's libido. "

Which makes me think of this:

When I see a couple of kids
And guess he's fucking her and she's
Taking pills or wearing a diaphragm,
I know this is paradise

Everyone old has dreamed of all their lives--
Bonds and gestures pushed to one side
Like an outdated combine harvester,
And everyone young going down the long slide

To happiness, endlessly. I wonder if
Anyone looked at me, forty years back,
And thought, That'll be the life;
No God any more, or sweating in the dark

About hell and that, or having to hide
What you think of the priest. He
And his lot will all go down the long slide
Like free bloody birds.
And immediately

Rather than words comes the thought of high windows:
The sun-comprehending glass,
And beyond it, the deep blue air, that shows
Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless.

But I don't know why, or what it means; and I invoke the dilletante's privilege of not interrogating myself.


The martini of public policy.

I made a comment in this Yglesias post, which I won't reprint here because, as I said once, people who quote themselves are tedious. Anyway Russel Arben Fox replied:

"Careful Delicious Pundit--you'll end up making us left traditionalists' point for us. Generally speaking, do I think the family is helpless before capitalism? No. But[...] it is reasonable to argue that families today need a more 'affirmative' state to support their efforts to carve out an equally affirmative space within the relentless creative destruction of capitalism."

And who is to say that I am not a left traditionalist? Well, my wife, probably. Still, I affect the pose of a left traditionalist, if I am not too busy. Indeed, those "defenders" of marriage ought to leave the gays alone and lobby for universal healthcare if they cared more about the family than nursing their prejudices.

The only other thing I will add is the observation that capitalism, in its balls-out, original-recipe version, was completely unfamily-friendly, unless Mom and the kids working at the same factory counts. This is why we must cut the Hogarthian gin of capitalism with the French vermouth of socialism so as to make it palatable; and, just as martinis today are served much too dry, so our worship of creative destruction has gotten out of hand.


Allow me to break it down for you

Last week I promised to talk some about pilots. I am an old man and tired; but I ought to do it.

The biggest single problem with your pilot is casting it, especially if you're a pilot-season pilot. There must be 30-40 comedy pilots in production this spring, which means, probably 60-80 leads. 60 to 80 comedy leads! Why, there aren't that many in all of creation!

And there's double or triple that number of supporting characters floating around in these pilots. Here, you're looking to find people who don't have to have the charisma and depth of your lead (easy) but often have to be really funny in specific, kooky ways without being eggy (not easy). And then everyone wants the same people, which leads to escalting deals, which means that you run out of money by the time you're casting that fifth banana.

So, if you were left to your own devices, you would find casting a royal bitch. You aren't. Casting choices have to be approved by the network and, unlike script notes, can't be ignored. The network is not going to send everyone home because they didn't like the way you structured the B-story, but they won't pay an actor they don't approve of, so they, not you, are the gatekeepers. And if they're in a mode where every casting choice has to be "likeable" -- even the insane unlikeable characters who are there to make your lead seem sane and likeable -- you're stuck, because they generally are.

As for notes, the less said the better My experience is that the first, immediate notes you get are usually pretty good. Indeed, you may have identified the same problems yourself. Where the problem arises is after that first burst of discussion. There's upwards of a dozen execs there and they're not going to get ahead by silence.

But one can take the executive-bashing too far. The writing has lots of limitations too -- writing talent, while not as rare as acting talent, still isn't super-abundant (as opposed to joke guys like me. Those guys you can always find.) And the kind of writer who can create a world, tell stories, be funny, and also have enough executive abilities to run the enterprise -- even rarer.

April really is the cruelest month in network television.


Hard Times

Read the whole thing, but here's a highlight from an ominous Wolcott post:

"Today, former Fed chairman Paul Volcker, a man of true stature (literally as well), wrote in the Washington Post today, '[U]nder the placid surface, there are disturbing trends: huge imbalances, disequilibria, risks -- call them what you will. Altogether the circumstances seem to me as dangerous and intractable as any I can remember, and I can remember quite a lot. What really concerns me is that there seems to be so little willingness or capacity to do much about it.'"

If badness comes to pass, the closeness of Bush's two wins will start to seem insanely tragic. Although I can't imagine Gore or Kerry could have pushed the kind of "fundamental or astounding" (Lincoln) solutions that may be required.

Rabbit season? Duck season? Iced coffee season!

Via Lifehacker, this on how to make iced coffee. Apparently you make coffee, then cool it down. Then add ice. Thanks! But note this:

"If you like sugar in your iced coffee, sweeten it while it's hot, or it will take longer for sugar to dissolve."

True, but if you are always drinking the homemade iced coffee, do yourself a favor and make your own simple syrup, which means heating up sugar and water until it dissolves. This will joy your iced coffee up completely. If you have mint growing in pots outside, thereby connecting you with nature and the primal life-giving force of the sun, put some in while the sugar dissolves and your simple syrup will be minty fresh. It keeps for awhile, too.

That evening, use your minty simple syrup in an excellent summer cocktail, the Southside:

2 ounces gin
1 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup

Shake with ice. Strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with mint sprigs.

Yes, you could use vodka, I suppose. You can also kind of Rickify it with some seltzer water or club soda or what have you. After a couple of these, you will definitely need your iced coffee to get going again tomorrow morning, thereby continuing the circle of life.



Blogging has been light because I've been working on people's pilots. If I have a chance later tonight or this week I will describe the process with an eye to showing some weak points.


But what did Variety think of the Pope?

Glad you asked!:

"As for showmanship, John Paul II instinctively realized that the Roman Catholic Church and its rituals were innately theatrical and that by dominating that stage, his message would be most artfully and most forcefully conveyed."