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Posts Tagged ‘television’

Faster, Faster, Faster, and Other News

December 16, 2014 | by

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Adolph Menzel, Eisenwalzwerk (Moderne Cyklopen), ca. 1872.

  • Congratulations to our art editor, Charlotte Strick, whose design for Lydia Davis’s Can’t and Won’t made the New York Times’s list of the best book covers of 2014.
  • Humankind has felt crunched for time for centuries, but now we really, really, really feel crunched for time. “If one’s leisure time feels like work that one doesn’t have time for, work itself increasingly feels like work one doesn’t have time for.” What effect has the speedup had on our cultural lives? A line from George Gissing’s New Grub Street (1891), of all things, applies perfectly to the rise of the online think piece: “The evil of the time is the multiplication of ephemerides … hence a demand for essays, descriptive articles, fragments of criticism, out of all proportion to the supply of even tolerable work.”
  • How did a work of One Direction fan fiction garner more than a billion reads and a six-figure book deal? Especially when this is its plot synopsis? “When clean-cut Tessa leaves her family (and cardigan-wearing good-guy boyfriend, Noah) behind for university, she meets Hardin, a darker version of One Direction’s Harry Styles—a pierced and tattooed punk with a reputation as campus lothario. They start an excruciating on-again off-again relationship, punctuated with drunk sex, laddish input from Hardin’s friends (the other pseudonymous 1D boys), and some of literature’s saddest handjobs. All that in a few thousand pages … ” The secret lies in the devotion of fan-fic communities.
  • Among AbeBooks’s most expensive used-book sales of 2014: a five-volume set of French Art Deco posters, Das Kapital, eighty-one Renaissance-era engravings of Mediterranean fish, a first edition of le Carré’s debut novel.
  • And now, finally, pictures of people standing next to their televisions.

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Winner of the American Book Award

November 20, 2014 | by

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The third edition of The Complete Directory, prominently advertising its award-winner status.

The early eighties were strange times for the National Book Award. At the turn of the decade, the award’s custodians decided to modernize its image. As Craig Fehrman described the scenario in the New York Times a few years ago, “If publishers were going to spend upward of $100,000 a year running the prizes—not to mention the costs of transporting and feting authors—they wanted something that would give them a better return on their investment.”

And so the National Book Awards—which were, at the time, frankly even more literary than they are today—were dissolved. In their stead came The American Book Awards, a wan bid for populist affection, as implied by that patriotic new name. (That capital in The is essential.) “It will be run almost exactly the way the Academy Awards are run,” a spokesman told reporters, as if the fickle literary set were hankering for an injection of Hollywood glamour. Or Broadway glamour—a theater producer designed the set for the event, which was to be televised. An “academy” of more than two thousand publishing pros took part in the voting.

In 1979, awards were given in seven categories. In 1980, they were given in thirty-four, including typographical design, current-interest nonfiction, religion and inspiration, and—my personal favorite—general reference. In essence, the American Book Awards are to the National Book Awards as New Coke is to Coca-Cola Classic, i.e., a complete fucking disaster, one that all parties involved would prefer to forget. Read More »

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Another Evening Gone

November 19, 2014 | by

If you never have, watch this 1964 episode of the BBC show Monitor, in which John Betjeman interviews Philip Larkin. It is twenty-four minutes well spent. There’s the poetry: Larkin reads “Here” and “A Study of Reading Habits” and “Toads Revisited” and “Church Going” and “Wants.” Betjeman inventories the wares of a Hull department store like a mystical incantation.

There's the deliberate portrait of Larkin's circumscribed existence: we see his flat, the cemeteries and streets where he walked, and of course, the library where he worked.

Betjeman was a great champion of The Whitsun Weddings, and his knowledge of and admiration for Larkin’s work is clear. The portrait is certainly what both poets would have wished, carefully orchestrated from its location to its doleful closing quotation. And yet, there is the great, odd moment when Betjeman says, “I envy you, being a librarian. It must be marvelous to have something to fall back on.”

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Getting at the Gothic, and Other News

November 12, 2014 | by

Gothic British Library Tales of Terror

From Matthew Lewis’s Tales of Terror, published 1808.

  • In France, 40 percent of TV programming comes from America, which means dubbing is a major industry, and voice-over actors have enough work to collect a following of their own: meet the French Jennifer Lawrence and the French Daniel Radcliffe, for instance.
  • The Brothers Grimm published seven editions of their famous tales—the last edition is best known today. But the first edition sounds a lot more fun: “Rapunzel is impregnated by her prince, the evil queen in Snow White is the princess’s biological mother, plotting to murder her own child, and a hungry mother in another story is so ‘unhinged and desperate’ that she tells her daughters: ‘I’ve got to kill you so I can have something to eat.’ ”
  • In the nineties, Bob Dylan pursued a gutsy alternative career: “After binge-watching Jerry Lewis movies on his tour bus, Dylan came to the conclusion that slapstick comedy was where he wanted to put his artistic stamp … ‘We finally wrote … a very elaborate treatment for this slapstick comedy, which is filled with surrealism and all kinds of things from his songs and stuff.’ ” HBO bought the show, but Dylan’s interest waned soon after.
  • The Gothic is “having a moment” now—and a new exhibition at the British Library explores 250 years of the Gothic tradition. But what does it mean to be Gothic, anyway? “The term suffers from its implicit pluralism: Are we talking about novels, horror films, flying buttresses, Alice Cooper, black-painted fingernails or a specific period in North-European history? On the one hand, it seems fair to say that John Ruskin’s famous comments on the architecture—that most of us know Gothic when we see it, without being able to identify exactly what makes it so—still have something to say about the thing as a whole. On the other, the Gothic really does just mean the spooky and the titillating.”
  • “I’m not a cynic. I prefer irony, which depends on the ability to hold contradictory ideas, which probably springs from ambivalence. People confuse and conflate irony with insincerity and dishonesty; they believe an ironist isn’t serious. But saying the opposite of what is meant allows for at least two meanings to fly. Irony couples and uncouples statements, while revealing the hidden agendas of language and its conventions.”

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Danke Schoen

November 3, 2014 | by

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A still from The Entertainer, 2005.

If I need to, I can date my periods of depression by the corresponding enthusiasms for terrible TV shows. Enthusiasms is maybe the wrong word: let’s say commitment to.

Now, at the best of times, I can be sucked into watching almost any show—give me a marathon and I’m yours for the next twenty episodes, and I genuinely mourn the passing of Most Eligible Dallas—but when I think of the other times, the bad times, my devotion had a different quality: resigned, enervated, yet obsessive. It was sort of coaxing a tepid crush out of boredom; with a little care and a lot of time, you can create something that approximates a genuine interest.

And I was willing to put in the time. There was my relatively respectable Upstairs Downstairs fixation after I moved into my parents’ house after college, when I’d spend my days crouching by the mail slot, waiting for the red Netflix envelopes to arrive with my fix. Even now, I see those weeks in 1970s BBC yellow. Less defensible was the obsession with the Australian soap McLeod’s Daughters, which could only be watched (a) during the day and (b) on Lifetime. This one crept up on me. Did I enter a McLeod’s Daughters contest to try to win a trip to the outback? Maybe. Let’s just say that when the booby prize, a faux-silver cowboy-boot key chain, arrived in the mail, it felt like a wake-up call.

But by any measure, the nadir came in the summer of 2005. I know the date because it was the one and only season of Wayne Newton’s The Entertainer, which aired on E!. Wayne Newton’s The Entertainer was part of the spate of copycat programs that followed the early success of American Idol, and the talent-show premise was similar. Ah, but here was the twist: The Entertainer was not restricted to singers—it sought to give exposure to all kinds of Vegas-style razzle-dazzle. As such The Entertainer was composed not merely of singers, but of ventriloquists, magicians—sorry, “illusionists”—and comedians, too, all vying for the grand prize: opening for “Mr. Vegas” himself. (Apparently Wayne Newton is called that, though I’m not sure by whom.) Read More »

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Repent at Leisure

July 30, 2014 | by

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Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret, Une noce chez le photographe, 1879.

My father is a great TV watcher, and he keeps me abreast of the state of American television. Recently, he urged me to watch the U.S. reboot of the British reality show Married at First Sight, which, as the title suggests, introduces two willing strangers at the altar and marries them, albeit with the input of shrinks, matchmakers, sexperts, and various other professionals.

“It’s fascinating,” my dad assured me.

“I don’t want to watch that,” I said. “To see people either that lonely or that desperate to be on TV would only make me sad.”

“There’s that, of course,” he conceded, “but when you think about it, that’s how your great-grandparents met. And I’ve often wished I could arrange marriages for you and Charlie.” I prudently decided to not interpret this as a dig at any of our romantic partners. I suppose he wasn’t wrong about the matchmakers, but it does seem that, with parties of identical upbringings and cultural mores—not to mention not much premium placed on modern marital happiness—the shtetl varietal had a somewhat easier time of it. Read More »

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