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Posts Tagged ‘MTV’

An Enormous Amount of Pictures: In the Studio with Miriam Katin

April 18, 2013 | by

Screen shot 2013-04-18 at 12.55.06 PMMiriam Katin’s first book, We Are On Our Own, told the story of her escape, as a child, from the Nazi invasion of Budapest. An attempt to come to terms with her past, to reconcile faith and history, and an elegantly stark tribute to her mother, that graphic memoir was also a beautifully realized work of art. The story it told, retained all the wonder and pain of a child’s impressions, tempered by experience and wisdom.

In her new book, Letting It Go, Katin grapples with her son Ilan’s decision to move to Berlin, a city she identifies with Nazis. An investigation of the price survival exacts, it is also an unabashedly personal investigation of family dynamics, a sequel of sorts to We Are On Our Own.

On a recent March afternoon, I visited Katin, who bears an uncanny resemblance to her cartoon-self, in her Washington Heights apartment, her home for the past twenty-two years and the site of her studio in what used to be her son’s room. She made tea for me and coffee for herself, set out a plate of freshly baked, sugar-dusted cookies, and, with a softly melodious Hungarian accent, recounted the process of working on her books, her feelings about contemporary Berlin, her nine-year-stint living on a kibbutz, her love of the city (“I’m an asphalt flower. Nature is okay, it’s good. But I like asphalt,” she said), and what it was like to be the oldest employee at MTV, where she worked on Beavis and Butthead and Daria.

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The first book stood on its own, a story from A to Z, a start and a finish. Now this story, this new book, is so personal. And it really depends on the first one. I think it would be hard, just getting to it, to say, That’s interesting. It’s more fragmented and extremely personal. And vulgar. And dirty. I didn’t hold anything back. Read More »

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The Porter’s Lodge

December 12, 2012 | by

In the summer of 2003, I attended a viewing party celebrating the premiere of The O.C. at my friend Diesel’s house. Specifically, in a guesthouse planted in an overgrown corner of his grandparents’ backyard. We called it the Barn, or the Sidehatch.

The Sidehatch had moldy furniture, an unreliable toilet, seashell ashtrays, and yellowed window lace. The refrigerator was noisy and warm. A thorny jungle pressed against the back windows. We sank into the spotted divan, clinked cups filled with stolen table wine and scarcely potable vodka sodas, and cheered as Ryan, the greasy angel from Chino, took up residency in the Cohen family pool house.

In dreams I occasionally confuse those two structures—the faded shingles of the Sidehatch easing to smooth, cool white—the way you might confuse a historical personality with the actor who portrayed them on film. That viewing party is a warm memory I often revisit in colder, lonelier moments, and the Sidehatch remains close to my heart, as much an unexpected salvation as Ryan’s Newport Beach.

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Breaking Bad

December 7, 2011 | by

The latest Alexander Payne outing, The Descendants, is based on a book, but unlike Breaking Dawn: Part 1, the book it is based on has not amassed an army of followers so ardent that they have their own moniker. The Descendants and Breaking Dawn were released on the same weekend. Undoubtedly one is making a play for an Oscar. Undoubtedly the other will dominate every MTV award category, including best kiss, best dude moment, best male shirtless scene, and whatever else the network that produces the Jersey Shore celebrates. The movies are in many ways very different. But both use sex as a submerged theme while on the surface promoting a wholesome idea of family values; both seem to devalue motherhood; and both deal with characters who are so financially secure that they are almost impossible to identify with. The Descendants is a much better film, but that is because it is not hampered by the precedent of an extremely successful book, a rabid fan base, and a studio that is out for green (so much so that they are willing to split the product into two films, even if it means stretching the material thin to the point of vapidity).

Alexander Payne likes his characters quirky, ugly, and pathetic. Read More »

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Emmy the Great on ‘Virtue’

August 16, 2011 | by

Emmy the Great © Alex Lake

Emmy the Great is the stage name of Emma-Lee Moss. (The moniker was a university joke that stuck.) The twenty-eight-year-old Anglo-Chinese musician first began to attract attention in the mid-2000s, when a set of her acoustic demos, recorded for a school project, began floating around the Internet, and she subsequently became associated with a group of young London-based folk revivalists that included Noah and the Whale, Johnny Flynn, and Mumford and Sons. Her debut album, First Love (2009), was built around acoustic guitar and her bright, quavering voice. But her early songs also reshaped classic indie pop and girl-group tropes into funny, wordy tales of romantic disappointment: a boyfriend who whiles away his life watching back-to-back episodes of 24; a girl who has a one-night affair with a guy who plays her the song “Hallelujah” (“the original Leonard Cohen version,” the narrator makes clear). Moss’s new album, Virtue, is both more mature and more heartbroken. The songs were written around her real-life breakup with her former fiancé, who left her on the eve of their wedding to join a religious order. We met one July morning on London’s Oxford Street (“About to meet Serious Journalist from Abroad … At Top Shop. #igottopickthevenue,” she tweeted) and went to a Soho café.

Musicians often say they don’t want to explain their lyrics or talk about the autobiographical elements in their songs because they want the listener to be free to project his or her own stories onto them. But with this album you’ve talked openly to the press about the breakup of your engagement and how it led to these songs.

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When I Got Cable

January 10, 2011 | by

Professional wrestler and disc jockey Hillbilly Jim.

A tale of fame told in five parts.

I’m about to become a regional television star—Middle Tennessee and Southern Kentucky. I will sign autographs and receive marriage proposals. I will fly to Disney World, Hollywood, and Huntsville, Alabama's U.S. Space and Rocket Center.

But for now I’m simply the twelve-year-old son of fundamentalist Christians who caved and got cable. Cable! A boy sitting on a couch on a Saturday night in Nashville watching television for the first time in his life with the option of more than a single public station.

I’m an excited boy, a wide-eyed boy, amazed and stimulated and overwhelmed by kung fu movies and (oh my God!) MTV. A remote-controlling boy who absorbs like a dry sponge dunked into pure neon, who keeps the clicker from his big brother. The brother grows red in the face and angry. A boy who can’t get enough, wrapped in a blanket with brand new cable and who clicks and clicks and then, suddenly, there is a man, his face filling the screen, his hair and beard a single unit, pulled over his head like a balaclava, frizzy and thick, the consistency and loft of couch-pillow stuffing. The man is amazing. He is huge and happy. I am a boy who just discovered Hillbilly Jim.

Hillbilly Jim is about to wrestle the Earthquake. The Earthquake is angry. He is yelling and spearing at the camera with his meaty pointer finger, talking about all the things he will do to Hillbilly when he gets his hands on him. The Earthquake is enormous, blue spandex, thinning hair. He says he is going to kill Hillbilly Jim, and I believe him.

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Where Are the Darias?

July 22, 2010 | by

Daria went off the air in 2002, but where did she go?

Daria, the MTV nineties-era animated sitcom, was not the first show to tell the high-school experience from the point of view of the outcast. It just happened to be the most emboldening. In Daria Morgendorffer, adolescent girls (and fans of any gender or age) could use an outsider unafraid to be herself. Today, that archetype hardly seems to exist.

Daria dwells near the bottom of the caste system—somewhere between the geeks and art kids—at her suburban school. With her round glasses, sarcastic monotone, and chunky black boots, she is equally disaffected and defensive—an outsider who's smarter than most everyone in her town. In the pilot episode, she quips, "I don't have low self-esteem, I have low esteem for everyone else.” Of her peers, she explains: “I'm not miserable, I'm just not like them.” Her lack of pep makes her an outcast not only at school, but at home, where she’s the black sheep to Quinn, her younger, more attractive, and socially ambitious sister. But Daria is no loser; she stands up for herself, doesn’t care about the social hierarchy, and has no trouble speaking her mind or talking back. She has a sidekick and confidant—Jane Lane—and while Jane’s brother Trent is something of a crush for Daria, boys are far from the main topic of their conversations.

Daria's character originally appeared as a foil to the characters on Beavis and Butthead. In the extra features of the DVD, Glenn Eichler, the executive producer (who's now at The Colbert Report), said that “MTV was looking for a show that would appeal to its female viewership.” After all, this was the bikini and booty-shaking Spring Break era of MTV, and as another writer mentions, the network wanted a show that would make girls appear smart. The creators of Daria cast around, looking at other teen characters on television—Darlene Conner from Roseanne, Angela Chase from My So-Called Life—and noticed something: teen girls were portrayed as fully realized people, and not mini-adults.

So where did all the Darias go? Eight years after the show went off the air, the super-smart, dry, withering, righteously angry girls are largely absent from pop culture. For every sassy adolescent as played by Juno’s Ellen Page, our current teen cultural landscape is clogged with heroines whose principal interests, as on Gossip Girl, are status and men. It’s a transition that happened gradually from the late nineties to the present: There was the dry-humored Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the earnest clique on Dawson’s Creek, Mean Girls, the teen magazines that brazenly suggested $400 APC wedges for fifteen year-olds, the endless YA series that read like junior versions of Danielle Steel novels. Read More »

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