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Posted by Matthew Wrather

Ryan, Matt, and Rachel D clip in for a fitness class in social consciousness, led by Fugazi and their pivotal album Red Medicine.

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Syllabus: Fugazi, Red Medicine

Episode 273: The Fitness Instructors of Social Consciousness originally appeared on Overthinking It, the site subjecting the popular culture to a level of scrutiny it probably doesn't deserve. [Latest Posts | Podcast (iTunes Link)]

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Posted by John Perich

I.

If I’ve spoken to you about television at any point in the last two months, I’ve raved about Amazon’s Patriot. But – if you followed up with, “what’s it about?” – I probably struggled a little.

The no-frills plot summary: Patriot is an dark comedy about John Tavner (played by Michael Dorman), a deep cover CIA asset who’s brought back into the cold by his father (Lost‘s Terry O’Quinn), a State Department official. He’s given the task of posing as an engineering executive for an industrial pipe-laying firm. This is the first step in what should be a fairly simple plan to delay Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons. But a series of miscommunications and mishaps result in Tavner ducking a murder charge in Amsterdam, hiding from his former folk songwriting partner, and robbing several disabled cops of their prosthetics. And that’s just the first few episodes.

Or:

Patriot is an existentialist comedy in the vein of Curb Your Enthusiasm or FX’s Fargo. Things go wrong, constantly, but in the most plausible ways. No one’s particularly evil or particularly incompetent. They’re all creatures of appetite, like John’s doofy brother Ed (Orange is the New Black‘s Michael Chernus) or his reluctant confidant Dennis (Chris Conrad). They commit to ridiculous plans – like solving arguments with rock-paper-scissors – and those plans work until, spectacularly, they don’t. Patriot‘s genius is in setting these uni-directional vectors up on opposite ends of a plane and letting the tension build as they threaten to intersect.

Or:

Patriot is a low-key allegory about American imperialism abroad. Viewers get occasional context from John’s father, Tom Tavner (Terry O’Quinn), speaking directly to the viewer in what we gather is a debrief or a deposition. The goal of his off-the-books mission was to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear capacity by bribing a key Iranian official. However, misadventure resulted in that money being handed to Iran’s ruling party, thereby accelerating their nuclear weapons program. Tom, a grizzled Uncle Sam, repeatedly asks his sons to put their health and sanity at risk in order to repair his mistakes. He promises his sons various things – Interpol will never grant that Amsterdam detective permission to interview you; of course I can get you a chair for your apartment – that he is unable to deliver. He’s never angry, occasionally disappointed, and always in need of help.

Or:

Patriot is a nihilist commentary on the futility of human endeavor itself. Late in E6, “The Structural Dynamics of Flow,” Detective Agathe Albans (Aliette Opheim) interviews the CEO of John’s firm, Lawrence Lacroix (Gil Bellows). When she asks him what exactly his company does, he gives an unusually philosophical answer:

We consult concerning the obstacles, challenges, and insecurities that come up against the simple act of delivering an element from one place to another. To name a few: attrition, gravity, mischief, calamity, incompetence … also, erosion, contraction, expansion, buffoonery.

Essentially, we exist because of the tremendous difficulty inherent in simply transporting any entity from A to B.

That subject recurs throughout the series – the difficulty of getting one object, or any two people, exactly where they need to be. It’s a world full of opponents but no villains, where everyone has the best intentions in the world but irresistible reasons not to cooperate. John makes an ass of himself to his boss, Leslie Claret (Kurtwood Smith), over and over again. It’s never intentional, even when John stands Leslie up for an exorbitant breakfast. It’s just that John’s trying to avoid the Amsterdam police, keep an eye on the Iranians, avoid a family of Brazilian grapplers who want to rob, extort, or kill him, recover a duffel bag full of money, and stay friendly with the guy he recorded an album with (Sons of Anarchy‘s Rob Saperstein). He’s got a lot on his plate!

As the above may suggest, Patriot is a lot of things at once! It’s densely layered, terribly awkward, and bleak in its humor. I have a hard time describing what captivated me about it because of its richness. It’s not perfect – what of this liminal world is? – but it dares more and achieves more than most shows. But it’s very heavy, and a little slow, and it asks you to tolerate a great deal of ambiguity.

Patriot isn’t for everyone. In fact, it might not be for anyone except me.

II.

A few years ago I worked for a tech startup.

The integration of social media, network technology, and venture capital into every part of our lives has made the name “tech company” sort of meaningless. Everything is a tech company. But the one thing most tech startups have in common, regardless of industry, is the need to lean on labor. Labor is the only resource that bends, rather than breaks, when you lean on it. You can’t plead with a building to get larger; you can’t throw a rally to convince the lights to stay on longer; you can’t make eighty thousand lines of code compile in eighty seconds. But you can always ask the new guy to stay late.

My job involved managing ad campaigns for a variety of clients. I had some experience in media planning before I took the job. But when you buy ads as a tech startup, you have to use the startup’s platform to do it. If you can just pick up the phone and talk to a rep at Washington Post or use the self-serve platform at Google, then where’s the added value in your shiny new interface?

It’s a crowded field.

But, of course, if the platform worked exactly the way it should, the company wouldn’t be a startup – it would have a proven product, a defined market, and a business plan resistant to pivoting. Until such time, everything is negotiable. And until such time, things never work quite the way they should. I spent many evenings in the office long after sundown, coordinating with our engineers to try and get a campaign to launch the way we wanted it to. We updated each other via Skype with grim gallows humor – nope, the budgets are 10x what they should be and the end date is before the start date; please scrap and try again.

While the creative team controls the look of a campaign, and the engineers control how the software functions, and the sales team controls whether a campaign happens at all, the media planner – yours truly – controls the money. And in most agencies – and technically, in buying ads for a client, we acted as their agent – we paid for media out of pocket and then invoiced the client. When creative screws up, it’s embarrassing. When the media planner screws up, it can jeopardize the company.

I started coming to work in a state of high alertness, certain that I’d overlooked something and equally certain that I had no idea what it was, waiting for the unexpected email to clue me into a mistake. I learned how easily someone can sit in an open plan office, surrounded by colleagues, and mask a panic attack. I learned how to draft emails while my hands were shaking, how to make it to meetings on time while my legs were numb, how to keep my face neutral until I learned whether I was about to get yelled at or pep talked.

The tide never slackened. There weren’t any wins to celebrate, because we always fought on multiple fronts. There was always the next client who needed a pitch deck, the next bug that needed addressing, the next report whose terrible numbers needed an explanation. I don’t think I made it to a single holiday party on time, even when people came around my desk to remind me that “the work would still be there tomorrow.” I never understood how to respond.

My only consolation, at the end of the day, was that I hadn’t made any mistakes big enough to get fired over. And then they started threatening to fire me.

III.

As part of his assignment, John has to infiltrate an engineering firm, Macmillan. His father, in an early scene with another government official, speaks of John as having “NOC [non-official cover] time in engineering covers.” But we almost never see it. From the beginning, John is given a series of tasks that his resume should prove him qualified for. Every time, he responds with a blank stare and a lame excuse.

As John’s boss, Kurtwood Smith brings to bear all of the patriarchal disdain for screw-ups that a generation of viewers associate him with. He stares John down with blistering contempt. He lectures him pedantically. He sneers at him.

And he’s not wrong to do so! He doesn’t know John is a spy. He doesn’t know John is being extorted by a security guard who’s seen through his cover. He doesn’t know John is the lead suspect in a murder investigation in Amsterdam. He doesn’t know John is only staying at this company long enough to hand off some cash to an Iranian dissident, nor that John needs to retrieve that cash once it falls into the wrong hands.

On the surface, John looks like an industrial engineer – fully qualified for the job he’s been hired to do. Leslie’s frustration with him is reasonable. John’s inability to respond to it with anything other than empty promises is justly infuriating. And yet, against all odds, John is the hero here – because we know about everything else John is going through. We know that there’s a vast conspiracy keeping John from being good at his job. He wants to make his boss happy, but he can’t, and he can’t explain why.

Patriot is the story of a man named John in his mid-thirties – scruffy hair, notional beard, sad eyes – who is trapped in a job that he can’t do and he can’t quit.

IV.

An unspoken tenet of criticism is that you want to connect a work to some universal element, something that a broad audience can relate to. Thematic critiques talk about the underlying ideas that everyone has experience with: love, fear, the desire for justice, the threat of loneliness. Postmodern critiques break down a unique work into a semantic framework that can be understood by academics, even if they haven’t consumed the work itself. Ideological critiques argue that a work contributes to or damages an ongoing social struggle.

In all cases, the critic is a bullhorn, amplifying the work outward. This isn’t just a story, they say, or just a dance recital, or just a painting. This isn’t just the sum of its runtime or the names in its cast. This is something more.

But one of the insights of the great existentialist works of the last century – to say nothing of existentialist comedies like FX’s Fargo and Amazon’s Patriot – is that meaning can be found in anything. Meaning doesn’t need to be universal. Sometimes meaning emerges from accident.

In Patriot, John’s brother Ed forms an unlikely friendship with the brother of an Iranian spy. John’s wife Alice mentions something in passing to his colleague Dennis that turns around his failing marriage, his budding health issues, and his distrust of John. The show’s few antagonists – Leslie, the blackmailing security guard, the looming Peter Icabod – have backstories that make their behavior more quirky than menacing. And much of the great mystery in Amsterdam centers around the chance encounters of a puppeteer.

A work of art can mean something greater than itself. But it can also mean something narrower than itself. Maybe Patriot isn’t for everybody. Maybe Patriot has a target audience of exactly one person.

Of course that’s not true in the literal sense. I didn’t commission an Amazon pilot to be filmed in Amsterdam. I didn’t audition Terry O’Quinn, Hana Mae Lee, and Mark Boone Jr to tell a haunting story. I didn’t even know Michael Dorman was from New Zealand until I started researching this essay.

But you also didn’t hire that precocious toddler to sprint down the sidewalk chasing a plastic bag, causing you to pause in your work commute, creating a mental image that lingered with you throughout the day, reminding you of a capacity for joy you’d forgotten since childhood. It’s for you even if it’s not for you. Not everything requires intention to have meaning.

V.

While pitching a superior on John’s suitability for the job, Tom Tavner offers one caveat: his son records folk music that, since his imprisonment and torture in Egypt following his prior assignment, has become “more honest.” That, we soon discover, is a laughable euphemism. John’s songs are explicit, detailed recountings of his operations as a NOC agent.

He doesn’t do this out of malice. John seems incapable of malice, even when he stabs people or threatens to out their infidelities. Nor does he do this out of a sense of whimsy, or thumbing his nose at authority.

If I had to guess why – and we do; no one ever ventures an explicit reason – it’s because John is starting to break apart under the strain of his job. He has a love of music and a quiet contemplation of the world. Music is the mask through which he can revisit his past and grapple with it. Without that, he has no closure.

We’ve seen this before in great works dealing with great traumas. Kurt Vonnegut made himself a character in Slaughterhouse-Five so he could revisit the firebombing of Dresden. Sylvia Plath documented the breakdown of her mental health in the guise of “fiction” in The Bell Jar. The act of creation forces a narrative distance that enables the author to manipulate the dangerous object at a distance.

But the beauty of really good art is that it doesn’t act as a safety valve for the creator. It functions that way for a select audience as well. It lets them know that their pain isn’t unique to them – that they haven’t been expelled from the community. And maybe it allows them to pick up the mask in turn and try it on, to see if it’ll shield them while they move some hazardous material from A to B.

Amazon’s “Patriot”: An Audience of One originally appeared on Overthinking It, the site subjecting the popular culture to a level of scrutiny it probably doesn't deserve. [Latest Posts | Podcast (iTunes Link)]

Choices Made With Ease

Jul. 25th, 2017 02:42 pm
donutsweeper: (Default)
[personal profile] donutsweeper
Title: Choices Made With Ease
Fandom/Warning/Rating:
Sherlock Holmes (ACD), ambiguous ending, rated G
Word Count: 293 words
Summary: Saving Holmes was what was important. The consequences of that success meant little to Watson.
Author's Note: Written for the [community profile] watsons_woes "Healer's Choice: One person Watson chose not to save" prompt.

Choices Made With Ease

(no subject)

Jul. 24th, 2017 07:48 am
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[personal profile] copperbadge
Good morning everyone, and welcome to Radio Free Monday!

Ways To Give:

Anon reminds us that the 2017-18 school year is coming, and [tumblr.com profile] positivelypt has a post up with links to wishlists for underserved classrooms. You can check out the list, give, and reblog here.

[tumblr.com profile] rilee16 is struggling to cover medical expenses after two head injuries last year, and has a fundraiser running to cover living expenses, previous medical bills, and a recent rent increase. You can read more and help out here.


Help For Free:

Anon linked to [tumblr.com profile] globalsextrendsproject, who are working on an independent research projected aimed at establishing whether there are global trends in stimuli for sexual arousal and the content of sexual fantasies. You can read more and reblog here or fill out the form here. I took a quick breeze through the form and it's primarily short-answer rather than multiple choice, once you get past the demographic stuff.


Activism:

[tumblr.com profile] stabulous has a post up about Welcome Blanket, a project initiated by the Smart Museum of Art in Chicago and anti-Trump craftivists. They are asking people to send handmade blankets to be exhibited at the Smart and afterwards distributed to refugees and immigrants arriving in the US. The hope is to create 3200 blankets to equal the length of the wall Trump wants to build across the US-Mexico border. You can read more at the link above, and find out how to participate at the official site, which includes activism resources whether you want to actually send in a blanket or not.


News To Know:

[personal profile] brainwane linked to Creative Commons, which is offering grants of up to USD$1000 for small projects ("Salons, campaigns, translations, e-books, printing, collaborations, and more") which grow the global commons. They want help increasing discovery, collaboration, and advocacy towards their mission. You can read more and apply for a grant here.

Anon linked to [tumblr.com profile] dr-kara's new comic available on ComixOlogy, [Super]Natural Attraction! Kara is well-known to me as a groovy artist who does cool stuff so while I haven't read this yet I wholeheartedly recommend her work. She has a rebloggable post about it here and you can buy and read it here.

And this has been Radio Free Monday! Thank you for your time. You can post items for my attention at the Radio Free Monday submissions form. If you're not sure how to proceed, here is a little more about what I do and how you can help (or ask for help!). If you're new to fundraising, you may want to check out my guide to fundraising here.
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Posted by Stokes

We’re delivering our Game of Thrones recaps in a series we call Game of Thrones Unlocked. These articles will contain spoilers through the episode under discussion. This week, Jordan Stokes tackles “Stormborn” (Season 7, Episode 2).

It seems that we are well into the Endgame of Thrones. Everything that’s happened so far has been leading up to the climactic battles ahead. But soooo much has happened so far! And the show runners seem to assume (not without justification) that their audience might have lost the thread a bit.

Last week’s episode felt very much like a “getting the chess pieces onto the board” kind of episode: geographical bases of power were laid out, with Jon Snow in the North, Daenerys in the South, and Cersei in the middle. (As geography goes, this analysis is a bit crap—Dragonstone is East-Northeast of King’s Landing—but whatever.) None of these power bases is uncontested, but with the possible exception of Jon’s—Littlefinger is not to be counted out—none of them is seriously in doubt, either. I have a very hard time imagining a road to the finale that doesn’t involve these three leading their current armies into battle with each other.

But one is very slightly tempted to ask why we should care. Not just because the zombies present a more pressing threat, but because once we see all the cards on the table, it just doesn’t feel like it’s going to be much of a fight. Cersei vs. Jon might be a decently fair matchup, but it feels like Dany should be able to roll right over Cersei. And if Dany and Jon join forces, as seems nearly inevitable, then it just gets comical. Do we really need twelve more episodes for this?

Danerys Targaryen on Dragonstone in Game of Thrones Season 7, Episode 2, "Stormborn."

Begin, already.

So if episode 1 was meant to set up the rest of the season logistically, episode 2 seems like an attempt to set up the rest of the season emotionally. Because there are reasons that we should care, after all. We’re reminded, by Randyll Tarly, that the Lannisters orchestrated the Red Wedding. We’re reminded—by both Olenna and Hot Pie—that they blew up Margaery Tyrell (along with a whole bunch of less interesting people). We’re also reminded, essentially by Lena Headey, that Cersei can project a blend of power, wickedness, and charisma that is oodles of fun to watch. Even if the outcome seems a little predetermined, do we want to see Cersei finally get what is coming to her? I mean: probably.

But the show runners didn’t leave it at that. They also invent a whole bunch of essentially new reasons for us to care about what’s going on.

Some of these involve trying to make the central contest more interesting. Over the past few seasons we saw Cersei kind of fall apart as a character. If you go back over her track record, she seems to be terrible, just terrible, at being in charge. She trusts the wrong people, empowers the wrong people, alienates the wrong people, and can generally be trusted to make the absolute worst decision as a reaction to any given crisis. This would make the coming battle even more lopsided. So this time we’re shown the confident, competent version of Cersei, saying basically all the right things to turn the Westerosi lords against Daenerys. (And may I say: thank goodness. Cersei’s so much more entertaining when she’s not holding the idiot ball.)

Cersei Lannister and Maester Qyburn in Game of Thrones Season 7, Episode 2, "Stormborn."

Hit me with your best shot.

But even if Cersei is bringing her A-game, the Unsullied are supposed to be quite simply the world’s greatest soldiers. How is that not game over right there? Well, we’re informed that Randyll Tarly, Sam’s castrating dick of a father, is on the Lannister’s side—and now he’s supposed to be the greatest general in Westeros for some reason. But Dany has her dragons: isn’t that still checkmate? No no, Qyburn tells us, we have a Top Secret Anti-Dragon Countermeasure. (Although I kind of wish this had turned out to be something more interesting than “a somewhat-larger-than-average crossbow.” Was anyone else hoping for Qyburn to fuse the dragon skeletons into an alchemically powered monstrosity of some kind?)

And some of it involves giving us new characters to care about. This is done pretty clumsily, for the most part. We were all relived when Ramsay Bolton finally ate it last season, right? Not just because we wanted to see him get killed, but because his grinning pyschopath act was getting kind of played out. So I am not super enthused about the show’s attempts to slot Euron Greyjoy into the Ramsay-shaped hole in its roster. (“Hmm, how can we make sure everyone knows this guy is evil: ah! Let’s have him brutally kill some women and then sexually menace some other women.” Can we just not, at this point?) But okay, Game of Thrones, having stuck with you this far I guess I will grudgingly agree to hate Euron’s guts. Fine. Fine.

I will also stipulate to feeling tenderly anxious concern over Missandei and Grey Worm, whose astonishingly character-grounded and non-pointless lovemaking in this episode basically set up one or both of them to get brutally killed at some point in the near future. For all that Game of Thrones has kind of a thing about killing off major characters, if it was really just down to Jon, Dany and Cersei, we’d have nothing left to worry about. But Grey Worm and Missandei are in that sweet spot: major enough characters that we’d care, minor enough that the narrative wouldn’t collapse in their absence. What was the line? “I did not know fear, until I met Missandei of the Isle of Naath.” Yeah, you and me both, buddy.

Samwell Tarly in in Game of Thrones Season 7, Episode 2, "Stormborn."

The best thesis defense is a good thesis offense.

But although you can kind of see the writers running around in the background greasing the plot machinery and powering up the heartstring-tuggers, this episode did the job that it was supposed to do. I feel a little manipulated, sure, but I do find that I care a lot more about the rest of this season than I did at this time last week.
I do want to talk about one more thing here: Samwell Tarly, who seems to be starring in a delightful little sitcom all of his own about how bad it must have sucked to go to Med school in the high middle ages. Ye Olde Scrubs, or something like that. (Tag us on social media if you think that Ye Olde Scrubs is a much better idea for a show than Confederate.) Sam has had bugger-all to do with anything that’s happening in the rest of the plot. But his scenes in both of the episodes stand out so much! They’re so gross, why would you put all that pus and poop and blood and grimacing into scenes that have so little meaning?

I think the show has kind of painted itself into a corner with Sam and Jorah, two characters who evidently have roles to play in the endgame (or they’d simply have vanished), but who have been sent on missions that can’t really have any bearing on the rest of the plot. If Jorah just popped up in Daenerys’s throne room one day, and was like “Hey I cured my Greyscale, would you believe witch hazel?” this wouldn’t satisfy us. Right? And although I don’t think it would be quite as much of a problem, there’d be something a little off-putting about a scene where Sam just show up at the Wall wearing a Maester’s chain three episodes from the end, full of stories about how drunk he got at the Freshman Formal. These characters are both supposed to be going on quests. They are transforming themselves. And transformation takes, well, pus and poop and blood and grimacing (or rather, it takes effort and risk, which is what all of that stuff is basically standing in for). In as condensed a timeframe as possible, the show is trying to sell us on the idea that Sam’s education and Jorah’s cure are victories that have been won, not simply nice things that happened to happen. Once again, the show is giving us reasons to care.

Now, there is a whole separate discussion to be had about that Arya scene with the direwolf. I won’t be touching that in this post — maybe I’ll write a follow-up later this week, or maybe we can hash it out in the comments.

There is not really a discussion to be had about the Evaded Title Drop that the show served up with “A History of the Wars Following the Death of King Robert the First.” But yes, writers, we do see what you did there. Good job, have a biscuit.

Game of Thrones Unlocked: Season 7 Episode 2, “Stormborn” originally appeared on Overthinking It, the site subjecting the popular culture to a level of scrutiny it probably doesn't deserve. [Latest Posts | Podcast (iTunes Link)]

Episode 473: Teach Me How to Dunkirk

Jul. 24th, 2017 04:01 am
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Posted by Matthew Wrather

Peter Fenzel, Mark Lee, and Matthew Wrather overthink Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, discussing the film’s unusual narrative technique, its status as a war movie, the extraordinarily compelling, almost primal, effect of watching the film, and some of the celebrated technical aspects (like exhibition in IMAX 70mm) and how they related to the film’s artistic project.

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Further Reading

Episode 473: Teach Me How to Dunkirk originally appeared on Overthinking It, the site subjecting the popular culture to a level of scrutiny it probably doesn't deserve. [Latest Posts | Podcast (iTunes Link)]

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[personal profile] trelkez
This post is a placeholder; letter to come shortly!

TV, Writing and Whatnot

Jul. 22nd, 2017 05:48 pm
donutsweeper: (Default)
[personal profile] donutsweeper
Wynonna Earp has been renewed! Awesome news all around, apparently SYFY/Space isn't scared off by a female led shows with canon f/f. Kind of surprising that it's only halfway through S2 and they're already announcing S3, but I guess it's due to SDCC hype.

Killjoys has been pretty good this season, the most recent ep gave us a taste of Pree's warlord days and introduced us to both his current (Gared) and his ex (and Pree and Lachlan's 'goodbye' makeout scene was ridiculously hot. I hope we see him again soon) I need to hunt down everything Thom Allison has ever done, I love his Pree and he's wonderfully kind of twitter.

I fell away from Doctor Who a while back, but the new news re: Thirteen's casting is awesome. I just may have to try to start watching again.

I haven't managed much for this year's Watsons-Woes, a combo of uninterest in Sherlock (the past several additions to canon haven't really been my thing), general bad brain and the fact I set myself the goal of writing something I'd be willing to put on AO3 as opposed to just throw on my LJ/DW. Oh well, maybe the last few prompts will spark something.

I'm debating signing up for the newest remix challenge, http://remixrevival.dreamwidth.org/, which, unlike previous ones, does not allow for turning gen relationships in the original fic into a pairing (all have the rule that if the fic has a A/B relationship you can't change it and remix it to be B/C but the last time I did one it didn't consider that altering A&B to A/B was changing the relationship so that was allowed). I worry a little that I'd get assigned someone who writes only, I don't know, A/B/O HS AUs or something and be stuck trying to figure out a way to write a remix out of something that is not remotely my cup of tea. Signups don't end until 7/30 though, so there's still time to decide.

I'm been doing a lot of genealogy of late. Something I love, but am often hampered by the lack of online resources, location (if only I were still in NY!), money (I can only justify paying for subscriptions to so many sites/ordering so many certificates) and a language barrier. There aren't that many German, Polish or Russian documents available for my tree for me to flail and fail at, but there's quite a lot of church books in Swedish and French (Quebecois technically) that I've been trying to muddle my way through for my husband's. Trying to get through 200 or 300+ year old bad handwriting (sometimes also scanned poorly) in a language I do not know can make for an interesting time. (On that note, if anyone is willing to look at one particular 1819 Quebec marriage record for me, I'd be ridiculously grateful.) By the by, I've also helped create trees for friends, if you're interested in trying to delve into your family's history or expanding on what you know I'd be happy to help. (I have the world ancestry.com subscription and know of a bunch of other sites, some of which are free, so while my expertise is US- particularly NY/NJ/MN, Pale of Jewish Settlement, Canada, and Sweden, I can probably help for just about anywhere.)

Daughter finally arrived home from studying abroad across the pond a few weeks ago. She had a blast and traveled at every opportunity so went all over the UK, Ireland, France, Milan, Italy, Romania, Germany, Latvia, Spain and probably a few places I am forgetting. However it did lead to the great texts like "I'm okay! Was at Notre Dame when everything went down but they herded to a bookstore and locked us in! How awesome is that?" (about the stabbing spree at Notre Dame. She was in Manchester and London the days of the terror events in those places too. Possibly another as well? I can't remember.) She also made it to Oxford and met up with [personal profile] jadesfire there so that was kind of cool. Molly the dog is thrilled to have her girl home, and as a bonus I don't have to walk her in super hot summer humidity anymore now since that's daughter's job when she's here. :)

John does it again

Jul. 22nd, 2017 10:36 am
unfeathered: (Default)
[personal profile] unfeathered
Oh my god, John, only you! Really, only you!

Love him.
copperbadge: (Default)
[personal profile] copperbadge
I still have to review Extra Virginity as well, but I actually liked that one, so it will take longer to compose….

One of the things I did get done yesterday between work, the ball game, and the Epic Sunburn, was finish a slim book of short stories called A City Equal to My Desire by James Sallis. This wasn’t a book that was recommended to me, which means I don’t have to feel bad about truly disliking it. I found it in a keyword search on the library website for books about ukuleles, and it has a short story called Ukulele And The World’s Pain, which admittedly was one of the better stories in the book despite still not being very good.

From what I can tell, he did pick the best story out of the book to develop into a novel, “Drive”, but it is very obviously unfinished in short-story form. Sallis has a couple of ongoing problems in the short story collection, one of which is that he tends to skip the vital information you need in order to know what the fuck is going on. And not in a “the blanks slowly get filled in” way, or in a “your imagination is more terrible” way (though there is a little of that) but just in a way where like…he says something that you understand to be vital to the story but which is missing context, then spends like a page describing the fucking diner someone’s sitting in, and by then any context forthcoming doesn’t get linked back. It’s like being in the middle of a paragraph when you hit the photo plates in an older book – yes the photos are very interesting thank you but I need to finish the thought you were sharing with me before I go back and look at them. I think maybe he thinks this is challenging the reader but it’s not, it’s just annoying and makes what are otherwise interesting premises totally opaque. I shouldn’t need to work this hard for a story about a hit man who decides not to kill a politician. 

If the book had a more cohesive theme in terms of the stories, it might be more readable – he clearly enjoys building worlds and then doesn’t quite know what to do with them once he’s built them, so if this was an entire book of “weird and different worlds” ala Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, I would buy in more fully and I think he would have put a little more elbow in. But it’s not. It’s mostly “here’s a really interesting world and a person living in squalor in it does something while being in it”. Also he appears to be fascinated by describing things that are shaped like pi. And a lot of times it feels like he read a wikipedia article on something and wanted to share some knowledge, so he just kind of built a half-assed story around his wikiwander. 

And all of this I would probably let go if say, it was something I was noticing in a fanfic writer, or someone who was just starting out, or someone I felt was genuinely trying to get a point across. But there’s this inexplicable sense of arrogance to the collection, a sort of smugness to it that in professional writers drives me up the goddamn wall. Stephen King sometimes falls into the same trap, where it feels like the author believes they don’t have to respect their readers because they are The Writer. 

The thing about volumes of short stories is that you keep reading it because sometimes there is a real gem. And there are one or two good stories in the volume, but I don’t know if they’re worth the rest of it. 

So my review I guess is mostly me being annoyed, but it boils down to “If you like short stories in the SFF Noir genre, give it a whirl, but if you’re bored with a story none of them get better, so feel free to skip to the next one.” 

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I am like….90% sure I’m going camping this Friday. 

It depends a bit on the weather, but I’m mostly packed, I’ve cooked food that’s currently waiting in the freezer, and I have acquired the third Diane Mott Davidson book to read. 

The plan is to leave work early, catch the train to the campground, camp overnight, and in the morning hike out to a different train station further down the line, about a seven-mile trek, to do a longer endurance test than last weekend’s. Then I’ll catch the train home around noon on Saturday.

If something goes wrong, I can catch an evening train home on Friday until eight o’clock, or starting in the morning at 5:30, with little to no exertion. It’s pretty low-risk and I’m well stocked. I don’t have a sleeping pad, but my backpack has a partial one built-in, and I have one arriving tomorrow (though it might be too bulky, we’ll see). And honestly in this heat, I might just sleep on top of my sleeping bag in any case. 

Worst case scenario, the campground has heated, lockable shower cubicles with nice big floors. I’ve slept on worse. 

Caaaaaaamping! *jazz hands*

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Posted by Matthew Wrather

Ryan and Matt Superunknown, trying to make sense of its off-kilter aspects and its relentless despair.

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Syllabus: Soundgarden, Superunknown

Episode 272: Spoonmen of the World, Unite originally appeared on Overthinking It, the site subjecting the popular culture to a level of scrutiny it probably doesn't deserve. [Latest Posts | Podcast (iTunes Link)]

Think Tank: Why did Iron Fist suck?

Jul. 19th, 2017 04:31 am
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Posted by Think Tank

Jordan Stokes: Hey, so did any of you all watch Iron Fist? I’m starting to dip into it, and it seems to have serious problems.

Richard Rosenbaum: Yeah, I did. And yes, it does.

Stokes: It’s obvious in retrospect that they should have made the character Asian-American. Like even if you have a knee-jerk aversion to casting minorities, it would have opened up a set of interesting stories to tell. But at this point Netflix is kind of stuck with this version of Danny Rand. So say you want to do Iron Fist season 2. What is your best move? Doubling down, making him an even cockier whiter richer dude, is probably what they’re going to go for. But is there a way to tell an interesting story, addressing those issues of representation, using the shitty cards that the showrunners dealt themselves?

Rosenbaum: So I’m one of those people who’s not convinced that making Danny an Asian-American would have improved the series and here’s why: mainly the casting is the least of this series’ problems.

Let me make clear that I didn’t hate Iron Fist. There were good things about it. But:

  1. The fight choreography was awful, which is particularly egregious since this is a show about a guy who can punch stuff really really hard. I’ve read that the reason for this was (may be apocryphal but) the shooting schedule didn’t give the actors enough time to really get the moves down. So the fights are weird and boring looking and that is a big problem because we’re all comparing them to Daredevil whether we ought to or not, and also because, like I said, Danny’s power IS the representation of physical force so bad fight scenes weaken the symbolism.
  1. It totally validates Our Own John Perich‘s identification of the “Netflix Bloat” problem. There simply isn’t enough story for the number of episodes they needed to produce. It feels thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.

But these are technical issues, and I think that the real reason Iron Fist fails and why different casting wouldn’t have helped is that the show misses the point of the character, and doubling down won’t improve it in the way it needs to be improved.

What I think is that Iron Fist is about discovering that you live in a world of privilege and trying to learn how to use it for good instead of evil. And the show makes overtures toward this point but seemingly only because it’s so built in to the story of Danny Rand that it would be impossible to ignore entirely. But rather than really dig into that, the show instead wants to be about family and the tension or conflict between familial duty and moral individuation. Lots of great works of art have family as a primary theme (most notably and recently GotG Vol2). But with Iron Fist, this weakens things, because it dilutes the metaphor that differentiates Iron Fist from other superheroes. Danny Rand is basically just Bruce Wayne divided by Peter Parker. Trauma+Training+Treasury.

Click to buy! No, seriously.

Spider-Man’s theme of responsibility derives exclusively from internal power (his innate, biological facts); Batman’s from external power (his vast resources including the skills he attained purely because he could afford to eff off for thirteen years and learn to be the world’s greatest detective). Iron Fist has aspects of both of these, and it’s the work of sublimating his own ego to leverage these two types of privilege – partly earned, but also partly inherited, and those two things are not as easily extricated as we’d like them to be –  that should be driving his stories. This series has not done that.

Does that make any sense?

Stokes: For sure. Let me be clear:  I don’t think that just putting an Asian actor in that role would have fixed everything. (There are ethical reasons that you’d want to do that — and it would soften the current show’s jaw-clenching “oh they’re going to do _that_ trope?” factor, which is an aesthetic problem as well.) What I’m envisioning is a show that’s built from the ground up around an Asian-American Iron Fist:  that’s _about_ the Asian-American experience in the same way that Luke Cage was about the black experience.

I have no idea what that would look like. It would be VERY different from the show we actually got. But I’m pretty sure it would have been better. If you keep everything else the same and stick Daniel Wu (the Into the Badlands guy) into the Danny Rand role, the show would still have oodles of problems. (The fights would probably have gotten at least a little better, though:  Wu is an old pro at that stuff, as Into the Badlands has proven over and over.)

I think your diagnosis of the problem is spot on:  what we end up with here is sort of a warmed over Batman in the central role, with all of the interesting (or even potentially interesting stuff going on around him rather than within him).

And I think that the only way for the show to right itself would be to confront the key issue that you identify. Netflix:  you built a show around a trust-fund hipster. Like it or not, that is a real slice of NYC. But you have to acknowledge that that is what he is. Don’t make mental illness his deal if you’re not going to make him mentally ill. Don’t make him Homlax Who Speaks For The Homeless if he’s actually a billionaire tycoon.

Look, I don’t know that Iron Fist is really salvageable at this point. But if they gave me the job of fixing it, I’d say that the thing to do is to make it a show about privilege. Like maybe his privileges come into conflict. He has all this money (which he didn’t earn). He also has this mystical Buddhist punching power (which he basically didn’t earn either). What if the mantle of the Iron Fist passes to someone else because he got too interested in being a trust-fund billionaire? Like I know that he goes back to Kun Lun at the end of season one. What if the monks there are like “Soooo… I don’t know if you remember your Buddhism 101 courses, but part of our whole deal is denying that the self is real? You running around NYC being all like ‘I am Danny Rand. I am Danny Rand,’ is kind of not a good look for us?”

“If you want to still be the Iron Fist, you need to give away all of your money. Like, today. And also stop trying to reclaim your old life, because leaving your old life behind is a preeettty important part of joining a monastic community. Oh by the way, who’s your friend?”

“Oh, this is Colleen, she’s my girlfriend, she –

“Girlfriend?! Sooo…… I don’t know if you remember your Buddhist Monk 101 courses, but…”

And so on. And then we get to see how attached Danny is to being rich, and how attached he is to being the Iron Fist. Maybe we see how far he would go to protect those privileges, maybe we get to see what it would actually take to give those privileges up.

And there are interesting story conflicts there. Like, I don’t know that the Iron Fist gets to have a love life. I know in the comics he has, but if you want to have a mystical Buddhist punching dude in this day and age… maybe not. But of course his various love interests don’t have to be on board with that.

Even his money — like, what if he’s been helping Luke Cage rebuild a city block in Harlem, and he’s funding a ton of pro-bono work for Matt Murdock’s law firm, and then suddenly all of that has to dry up because he’s not allowed to be rich any more?

“We’re doing this all for free!”

(This is partially me mapping concepts about Christian monasticism, which I know well, onto Buddhist monasticism, which I don’t. The showrunners would have a STRONG obligation to actually do their research – but I still think this makes for an interesting first draft.)

And I think you could get to an interesting place with it. It feels like in the first season, they mostly had the Iron Fist power come and go for plot mechanical reasons. Like, they’d take it away when they needed him to lose a fight, and bring it back when they needed him to win. If anything, he could call it up by being really, really determined or angry (so sort of a Dragon Ball solution to a Mahayana problem).

But I think it would be more thematically appropriate if it worked like this: First of all, he doesn’t have the iron fist most of the time. He’s not a worthy bearer of the mantle. He won it on a technicality, and sure, he’s the best at punching and kicking, but spiritually he’s just not there. He’s too much of a spoiled rich kid at heart. He can get it, if he needs to, by achieving moral perfection (according to the harsh and sometimes counterintuitive standards of his particular religion). Like, he might need to go meditate in a cave for a couple of weeks — and this isn’t just a matter of charging up. He can’t come back in and be the same cocky angry guy that he was before he went off to meditate, he has to actually transform himself. In short, trust-fund hipster iron fist can only BE the iron fist when he achieves the state of Perfect Wokeness.

Like this guy, right?

To tell a story where this guy is the hero, you kind of need to posit that Perfect Wokeness is actually a thing and that it actually can be achieved:  that it’s not all just ego and posturing and power politics. But I think you could still frame it as fleeting and hard to achieve.

And while I’d still rather see Lewis Tan star in a superhero show about the Asian-American experience in NYC, at least this would be a more interesting variation on “rich white dudes have it tough amirite” than the current show’s warmed-over Batman aesthetic.

Rosenbaum: I agree with almost everything you’ve said here. The only problem is that then it’s no longer an Iron Fist show, it’s some other character instead. Quite possibly a better one, but still. Luke Cage was always about the black experience in America. The comic was always consciously political. Iron Fist would have to be so radically transformed in order to do the same thing that it would be unrecognizable.

Danny Rand didn’t earn his money but he did earn the Iron Fist – in the comics he became the Iron Fist by killing a dragon with his bare hands – and one thing that the show gets right is Danny’s extreme defensiveness about whether or not he deserves to be the Iron Fist. What we don’t see in the show very much is Danny enjoying or being potentially corrupted by his money. He sees it as a link to his parents, not as a means of controlling the world around him. That’s a big problem for this show.

You’re absolutely right that the conflicts and the resolutions are all artificial. I think that’s a consequence of the theme of family that the show has for some reason decided to go for.

 

What do you think? Sound off in the comments!

Think Tank: Why did Iron Fist suck? originally appeared on Overthinking It, the site subjecting the popular culture to a level of scrutiny it probably doesn't deserve. [Latest Posts | Podcast (iTunes Link)]

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Jul. 17th, 2017 08:48 am
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Good morning everyone, and welcome to Radio Free Monday!

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Posted by Peter Fenzel

We’re delivering our Game of Thrones recaps in a series we call Game of Thrones Unlocked. These articles will contain spoilers through the episode under discussion. This week, Peter Fenzel tackles “Dragonstone” (Season 7, Episode 1).

Game of Thrones leaps into Season 7 with both feet, murdering a roomful of loose ends, as it must. With only two shortened seasons left, and the extant source material exhausted, it’s time for the pilots in coach to answer the alarmed summons from the cockpit and bring this baby in for a landing.

Of course, a show this big turns toward its destination like a jumbo jet in the Mid-Atlantic: We can see the arc, but not the runway. The cold open teases the easy satisfaction of mass murder (a familiar feeling from the end of Season 6), but pairs it with a foreboding reminder of how hard it can be to permanently solve anything:

“You should have ripped them out, root and stem,” Arya Stark tells a room of Freys before they drop dead from her poison. “Leave one wolf alive, and the sheep are never safe.”

Walder Frey in Game Thrones, Season 7 Episode 1, "Dragonstone."

And she rips her face off like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible! And the best theme song on TV today plays! And we… slow down to set up the playing pieces for this season.

Hey, we’re not at the Battle for the Dawn just yet. Everyone who would rule the Seven Kingdoms, or even survive the winter, it turns out, still has unfinished business.

Living Wolves and Unsafe Sheep

It turns out Arya isn’t the only lone wolf left behind by the savagery of Seasons 1–6. Unpulled weeds sprout in every corner of Westeros, and each with an annoyed gardener.

In the snows of the far North, the Night King and his army of the dead (including a blue-eyed zombie giant!) approach in a cloud of cold and death. But the magical, paraplegic Bran Stark and the faithful Meera Reed have escaped to trouble him another day. They reach the Wall and at least temporary safety.

At Winterfell, newly minted King in the North Jon Snow must decide the fate of House Umber and House Karstark, who sided with Ramsay Bolton in last season’s “Battle of the Bastards.” Sansa advises pulling the weed: seizing the young heirs’ lands and titles, and replacing them with proven loyalists. Jon is merciful; he won’t blame the kids for their parents’ crimes and reinstates them.

And Sansa finds her own unpulled weed in Littlefinger—former Master of Coin, always scoundrel—who seeks to turn her against her brother with a transparently manipulative sneer. The real question is whether Jon and Sansa are family and allies, or each other’s biggest unsolved problems.

Cersei and Jamie Lannister in Game Thrones, Season 7 Episode 1, "Dragonstone."

In King’s Landing, Cersei Lannister revels in her power as monarch. Her brother and incestuous lover Jaime hammers on their precarious political and military isolation, but the imperious queen instead seethes at her brother Tyrion’s past betrayals. Once in the King’s Landing dungeons, facing death for the murder of Cersei’s son Joffrey, Tyrion is now not only free, but backing an invasion fleet come to cast her down. She no doubt wishes she could have pulled that weed when she had the chance.

Euron Greyjoy, the sinister pirate king at the head of the Iron Fleet, bemoans the survival of his niece and nephew, Yara and Theon Greyjoy, as he seeks an alliance with Cersei and her hand in marriage. Cersei demurs, but Euron makes a grand promise of a vague present that will change her mind. (The obvious guess is Tyrion. We will see how obvious the show wants to be this season when the time comes.)

And, writhing in an Oldtown sanitarium, we find Ser Jorah Mormont still alive. The once-handsome knight, now a cast off loose end, suffers from rapidly advancing Greyscale, a chronic and deadly illness that combines leprosy and rabies, which he caught in Season 6. He’s still asking after Daenerys, whom he once served and might serve again, if he finds a cure.

Yes, winter has come, circumstances are dire, war continues to consume the continent. The army of the dead march on the Realms of Men (and of women, the Badass Lady Mormont reminds us). But even confronting massive existential threat, everyone still has that one missed spot, that, no matter how hard they scrub, just won’t go away.

Sam in Game Thrones, Season 7 Episode 1, "Dragonstone."

Mange-Merde

Amid it all, Sam Tarly labors in the Citadel, where he has gone to join the order of Maesters, the monkish academics and wizardish doctors of Westeros. There, we are treated to the episode’s greatest stylistic indulgence: a montage of such bombast and visceral disgust that it could only have been made after the show broke free of its charge to adapt existing work.

For Sam cleans bedpans. He cleans toilets. He retches, near vomiting. He serves stew. He eats it. He retches. He cleans bedpans and toilets. Retches. Stew. Toilet. Retch. Bedpan. Vomit. Stew. Retch. Bang. Clank. Retch. Jump cut. Ad nauseam, ad infinitum. His routine of service, consumption, and waste disposal congeals into a cacophonous and disgusting universal truth: Food is just shit you haven’t eaten yet.

Sam also meets a delightful dissector of human bodies (played by Jim Broadbent of Moulin Rouge and so much else), the only man he’s met “south of the Twins” who comes to believe the White Walkers are real. And he endeavors upon some Hogwarts-quality shenanigans.

Young Tarly steals a book from a forbidden library section that leads him to tactical realizations about the White Walkers (namely, that the dragonglass mountain at Dragonstone may prove to be humanity’s arsenal, as the White Walkers are vulnerable to weapons made of the stuff). He also gets a glimpse of an astronomical book that seems to explain the irregularity of the world’s seasons, but neither he nor we get a good enough look at it to glean the details.

And still, the more critical truth seems to be that his dinner looks like the feces of the elderly. So many of today’s characters are so focused on the one thing they want to fix. Perhaps they miss that war, like institutional gruel, is a garbage-in/garbage-out situation.

Meera Reed and Brandon Stark in Game Thrones, Season 7 Episode 1, "Dragonstone."

Dolorous Ed Explains It All

The episode does seem to pull apart a bit, perhaps because a second theme runs through so much of it in parallel to the first. Yes, there’s the perhaps-misguided urge to have killed everyone one had a chance to kill when one had that chance. But there’s also the wisdom that passes between Bran Stark and Dolorous Ed at the Wall.

When Bran and Meera arrive at the gate, Meera tells their names to Ed, now the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. Ed, reasonably, asks how he can know for sure that they are who they say. Bran counters with a list of Ed’s experiences, which he has seen using his ability to access the magical network of weirwoods. While from an objective sense this raises more questions than answers (How did Bran know these things, and why would Bran knowing these things prove he is Bran?), in the currency of this episode, his access to Ed’s experiences grant him authority and authenticity in asserting who he is.

Game of Thrones often trades in questions of identity, with greater or lesser success. This week, it’s “experiences prove who you are.” This is quite a bit more concrete and comfortable than many of the show’s stances on self, befitting a show that is picking up its pace on the way to resolution.

We hear Euron and Jaime vie for the right to define each other by telling the story of their experiences during the Greyjoy Rebellion. We hear Lady Mormont redefine the narrative of what it means to be a woman in Westeros while integrating the North’s armed forces.

And we hear similar from Tormund, the red-haired wildling chieftan, as he redefines himself as the Night’s Watch when he accepts the charge of defending their castles. He also defines Podrick Payne as “a lucky man,” despite his immediate misfortune of being dumped on his face, for the experience of being beaten about by Lady Brienne (which Tormund no doubt envies on both a level of personal respect, and, of course, cheeky carnality).

The Hound in Game Thrones, Season 7 Episode 1, "Dragonstone."

Honest Wage for Honest Work

Along with Sam’s adventures in sanitation, these themes: wishing you could get rid of everything you left behind (but you can’t), and defining yourself through your experience, come together in two extended sequences. They share opposite sides of a very specific callback.

In Season 4, episode 3, Arya Stark and the Hound were traveling together through the Riverlands. They had just witnessed the Red Wedding and the murder of Arya’s mother and brother. The Hound wanted to ransom Arya to Lysa Arryn, her aunt in the Vale, while Arya wanted something else, eventually making her way to Braavos to join the Faceless Men guild of assassins. But in this moment of uncertainty, they came across a possible alternative, which they turned down.

In a small house, the pair found hospitality with a humble farmer and his daughter Sally. The farmer was a religious man, a devout follower of the Faith of the Seven. It’s the same religion that backed the fanatical group of face-scarring theocrats who blew up in green fire at the end of Season 6, but in a different, more tempered, less shame-oriented formulation.

This farmer offered the Hound and Arya food; prayed over the meal; bemoaned the sacrilege of the Red Wedding, where guess protected by customs of hospitality were murdered by their host; and offered the Hound, and, by extension, Arya, board and some pay in silver if they would stay with him and Sally, work on the farm, and protect the household from bandits during the winter: “Honest wage for honest work.” The Hound accepted the offer over dinner.

In the morning, the Hound beat the farmer, robbed him of his silver, and left with Arya, claiming the small family would not survive the winter anyway, as the farmer could not protect himself.

Here, in Season 7, the Hound arrives with the Brotherhood without Banners (worshipers of the Lord of Light, R’hllor, including Beric Dondarrion, a man raised from the dead on multiple occasions by some sort of fire magic) at the same house where he left the farmer and Sally alone. They find skeletal remains of the pair, who apparently died of suicide, encouraged by starvation.

For the Hound, this is both business he left unfinished, and an experience that potentially defines who he is. Since he has changed so much since season 4, he feels the need to repudiate it. He buries their bodies (he should probably burn them because of the approaching army of the dead and the fire cultists he is traveling with, but whatever), and he attempts to say a prayer over the grave.

He gets through only the first line before he forgets the words, but it’s the same prayer the farmer said over the meal back in Season 4. The prayer still seems relevant to the troubles facing the characters today. Here’s the full prayer from Season 4, with the Hound providing the last line:

We ask the Father to judge us with mercy, accepting our human frailty.

We as the Mother to bless our crops, so we may feed ourselves and all who come to our door.

We ask the Warrior to give us courage in these days of strife and turmoil.

We ask the Maiden to protect Sally’s virtue and keep her from the clutches of depravity.

We ask the Smith to strengthen our hands and our backs, so we may finish the work required of us.

We ask the Crone to guide us on our journey from darkness to darkness.

And we ask the Stranger not to kill us in our beds tonight for no damn reason at all.

The Hound’s visit is a powerful mini-story on its own, deeper and more engaged with truth than most of the episode. The Hound seeing a vision of the approach of the army of the dead is more like the rest of the show, which is taking a Summer Slam Battle Royale in the Steel Cage approach to Westerosi politics. For what it is, I don’t mind at all. Still, it’s nice to see the other side.

Arya in Game Thrones, Season 7 Episode 1, "Dragonstone."

Your Heart Is So Cold

In the other story Arya happens on a contingent of Lannister men in the countryside, led by a conspicuous cameo by soul-pop sensation Ed Sheeran. Sheeran sings a song about “hands of gold,” either about Tyrion Lannister murdering his lover Shae with the Hand of the King’s hand-shaped lapel pin, or Jaime Lannister’s golden hand since his return from captivity, or both. It’s a new song. A lot has changed since Arya was last here.

Arya refuses several offers from the men to eat with them. Keen observers might notice that by refusing their offer of food, she is refusing to engage with them in a custom of hospitality, like the custom of guest right that Walder Frey violated when he killed her brother in Season 3, or the custom of hospitality that she and the Hound enjoyed, and then betrayed, at the farmer’s house in Season 4.

There’s a point of tension until Arya takes the first bite of food that she very well might want to murder all these guys. Once she eats, because of her history and experience, it’s clear they’ll survive the episode at least. Though Ed Sheeran’s long-term prospects in Westeros are about on par with what they were in “Don’t.”

Arya’s declaration at the beginning of the episode has reversed. Then, it was right and proper to kill all your enemies and leave no survivors. These men are her enemy, she even tells them she’s going to kill their queen, though they laugh it off. Now, leaving them alive marks some hope of a more hopeful change in her character.

Danerys Stormborn in Game Thrones, Season 7 Episode 1, "Dragonstone."

A Real Fixer Upper

And this brings us to Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryan, Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar, and the First Men, Queen of Meereen, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains, and Mother of Dragons, the biggest unpulled weed in a whole world full of unpulled weeds.

At the end of the episode, Daenerys finally arrives at Dragonstone, the ancestral seat of her family, the launching point of her ancestors’ invasion of the continent of Westeros. She feels the sand, experiencing her landfall, making it real. She looks serious, experienced, tempered, but appropriately cautious and solemn.

We cut past the part where she climbs hundreds if not thousands of feet of stone stairs in high-heeled boots.

Then, Daenerys pulls her own final weed, a lonely banner for the previous occupant, Stannis Baratheon, who held that castle during his brother’s reign and used it to plot his own invasion. Finally, we arrive at the table of Aegon the Conqueror.

Aegon built this table to symbolize that the “Seven Kingdoms” were naturally one Kingdom, and he was the King who would rule them all. Aegon knew how to frame a narrative.

Walking in the room, Daenerys finds the table, where Stannis had sex with Melisandre way back in Season 2 (ew, don’t touch it, Daenerys). It is next to a grand open-aired vista, which seems like a bad idea if you plan on setting up a bunch of models on it that would get blown over by the wind.

But all this is beside the point, which is that Daenerys’s squad, including her inner circle Tyrion Lannister, her interpreter and attache Missandei, Varys the spymaster, and Grey Worm, leader of the Unsullied, her highly-trained contingent of devoted eunuch spearmen, are ready to finally launch her long-awaited second conquest.

Daenerys is the one who was left behind. Westeros was what she left behind. She claims here the experience of her house as proof of who she is, but brings her own experience as well. No doubt the two conflict, but not in this moment.

Still, in an episode that started with so much declarative certainty, and that moved through so much trepidation and regret, it is fitting we end on not a statement, but a question.

Shall we begin?

Game of Thrones Unlocked: Season 7 Episode 1, “Dragonstone” originally appeared on Overthinking It, the site subjecting the popular culture to a level of scrutiny it probably doesn't deserve. [Latest Posts | Podcast (iTunes Link)]

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Posted by Matthew Wrather

Peter Fenzel, Mark Lee, and Matthew Wrather gather the kaleidoscopic shards of Okja, the latest effort from acclaimed Korean director Bong Joon-ho, and try to figure out what the film has to say about, well, anything.

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Further Reading

Episode 472: Okja: The Super-Pig Slaughterhouse originally appeared on Overthinking It, the site subjecting the popular culture to a level of scrutiny it probably doesn't deserve. [Latest Posts | Podcast (iTunes Link)]

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Jul. 16th, 2017 11:18 am
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[personal profile] jenavira
My entire life for the past couple of days has just been a series of increasingly bad choices. (Illustrative example: last night's dinner was ice cream sandwiches and beer.) I haven't gotten to bed at a decent time in almost two weeks. But then, this afternoon I have to go to work, where I will stand in a corner and point out the new quiet reading room to people for five hours. Then tomorrow, instead of getting to sleep in, I go straight from one doctor's appointment (where I have to tell them the thing we're doing to make me not tired all the time isn't working) to another (where I have to tell them the thing we're doing to make me not depressed all the time isn't working). And then on Tuesday another doctor's appointment and then work again.

On Thursday I thought I was coming up out of a two-week depressive episode; I had a really good day. Unfortunately I realized I wanted to do things again at the exact same time that I don't have time to do anything I want to do, and it's really hard to sustain optimism in the face of that. Blarg.
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A mango mixed jelly freeze from Chinatown is the best decision I have made all week.

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Posted by Think Tank

What is the purpose of the news? Can we change the channel without feeling bad? It took Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, but we’re finally ready to bring this ship to shore. 

Ben Adams: I’m going to take the position that there is an intrinsic benefit to learning more about the world, even if there is no way to do anything about it. That is, even if you’re a peasant living in the middle ages and you are utterly bound to your farm with no prospect of making any impact on world events, it’s still worthwhile to ask around at the tavern about the progress of the 30 Years War. (Assume for a second you’re in no danger of being drafted or whatever).

I think the obligation to be informed is commensurate with your political/personal power to shape events. If you’re immensely powerful, you have a corresponding obligation to stay informed so that you can exercise the power responsibly. For the average middle class person in America, this translates into “some, but not much” obligation to stay informed: you have the power of the pocket book and the franchise, so you should probably make an effort to at least have a general idea about what’s going on, but it doesn’t have to be central to your life in any way.

THAT SAID, the “news” is a generally terrible way to go about fulfilling this obligation/achieving this goal. Because the news is by definition “what’s new.” And most of the stuff that would actually be useful for you to know is not “new” in the sense of newsworthy, it’s just new to you.

That is, if you wanted to be more educated about the conflict in Syria, 99% of the information that would be useful to learn is stuff that isn’t new–it’s old, and you can read it in a book. Once you have that baseline level of knowledge, and only once you have that baseline level of knowledge, does staying informed through the “news” do you any good.

A couple more concrete examples: the news parrots the stock market report every day. That’s a useful thing to know if you have a portfolio, but ONLY if you already know a whole bunch about stocks, the economy, your personal finances, etc.

I know a lot about naval warfare and the role of the Navy in the middle east. So it’s really useful for me to read a news article about a US ship getting fired on by Houthi rebels in Yemen. For the average person without that experience, that news story is essentially valueless: there’s nothing they can do about or will ever be able to do about it, and they lack even the basic knowledge to understand what the story means.

BTW, the above can be summed up as: “explanatory journalism is great and there should be more of it.”

Jordan Stokes: And it’s not hard at all to argue that most journalism has no interest in keeping you informed (in that meaningful power-channeling way). The stuff that does best is the stuff that feeds a particular kind of emotional engagement; a story that explains the Yemen situation won’t get nearly as many clicks as a story that gets me riled up about the Yemen situation.

So the story that is useful to you might be worse than useless to me: it might be positively harmful in that it will stop me from learning the necessary context. Rather than going out and reading the right book, I’m going to be scouring the internet for another version of basically the same news story, so that I can feel that sweet sweet emotional engagement.

The lotus-eater machine is real, we’re strapped into it, and it’s Twitter. Instead of opium we got dopamine. (I for one feel cheated.)

Richard Rosenbaum: I don’t know. It seems to me exactly like saying “2+2=4” but not going around checking every kindergartener’s homework because that’s not your job. Personal autonomy doesn’t enter into it. Does asserting that stealing is wrong limit the scope of your physical agency? Sure. But so do the laws of thermodynamics and calling Isaac Newton a fascist colonialist isn’t going to change that.

Matt Wrather: Well, actually, Lord Kelvin.

Rosenbaum: I stand corrected.

Stokes: So Pete, lemme get this straight: if you’re at a cooking class, and the chef tells you “now remember, you must take the roast out of the oven the MINUTE it reaches 125 degrees,” your response is “Hey fuck you for undermining my agency, also, threats are really uncalled for.”

But kidding aside: basically you just don’t think that moral obligations are a thing. For you, must is always a power claim. It might be under color of morality, but ultimately it’s about what someone can make you do. This is a wild claim, but you back it up pretty well, and I can see you’ve thought a lot about it.

However, Matt’s original question was “do we have a moral obligation to watch the news?” So from your point of view I guess this is like asking whether there are any unicorns named Melvin.

Peter Fenzel: Yeah, for the cooking class it would totally be a power claim. Like if it were my boss or if I’d promised to help someone make dinner, I’d say “Yep! Sure thing!” But if it were just me learning how to do it, my first question would be “What happens if I don’t?” There’s probably a good reason.

Fun fact: I hate recipes and almost always prefer mixing herbs and spices on impulse. I’ve been very Kierkegaard-on-the-bridge the last few years. But just for the sake of the conversation, I’ll put this all aside and see “obligation” and “moral right” as equivalent. So at least we can talk about it. Sorry to stonewall.

Stokes: Hang on, though, when I was explaining what I meant by a moral obligation, I specifically said “for moral reasons, you must do X” and “morality compels you to do X.” In the cooking class case, that’s closer to “you must take the roast out when it hits 125, or else it won’t be tender.” Do you still read that as a power play?

I mean, I guess it could be. Actually, yeah, I see the shape of this.

Because where do they get off telling you that roasts ought to be tender, right?

To display full respect for your agency, they ought to say something like “Now most people like to take it out at 125, so that it will be tender. If you like chewier meat, you can leave it in longer.”

Oh, but where the fuck do I get off saying that they ought to have respect for your agency!

Pete, your moral life sounds exhausting.

Fenzel: Oh totally. I’ve got more Umbrage than Dolores.

Stokes: Can the next think tank be a late-90s party rap verse where all the references are to minor characters in the Harry Potter franchise?

Coming next week, a late-90s party rap verse where all the references are to minor characters in the Harry Potter franchise, because why not.

Do We Have a Moral Obligation to Read the News? Part 4 originally appeared on Overthinking It, the site subjecting the popular culture to a level of scrutiny it probably doesn't deserve. [Latest Posts | Podcast (iTunes Link)]

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