The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘television’

And So Say All of Us

September 30, 2015 | by

A birthday from Mr. Belvedere, one of TV’s many disquieting alternate universes.

Television Land (not to be confused with the ever-sadder TV Land) is a foreign country: they do things differently there. The residents get very excited about fast food. Dads are childish buffoons and moms are smug scolds. All kids are bratty smart alecks. Police witnesses are strangely insolent and really busy. And everyone who uses online dating services is beautiful, chic, and well adjusted. But perhaps the strangest thing about this parallel universe is that in lieu of “Happy Birthday,” they sing “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.” Read More »

The Disasterpiece

September 17, 2015 | by

The saga of Scary Lucy.


Illustration by Ellis Rosen.

In a no-frills park in Celoron, New York, where Lucille Ball grew up, there stands a four-hundred-pound bronze statue with a puss that’s been likened to Darth Vader, the demonic doll Chuckie, and Kim Hunter in her Planet of the Apes makeup. Scary Lucy, as the figure has been dubbed, bears no great resemblance to the comedienne who once hooked America with hennaed poodle bangs and balletic slapstick.

In early April 2015, some six years after Scary Lucy was installed, the local paper ran a story about the village seeking funds to improve or otherwise replace the statue. The A.V. Club picked up the development the next day, and nationwide coverage followed, from the New York Times (“NY Village Wants to Give Its Lucille Ball Statue a Makeover”) to Gawker (“Drunk, Leering Lucille Ball Statue Menaces Small Village”) to NPR (“In New York, A Sculptor’s Got Some S’plaining To Do”).

It was funny. But it was more than that. The black magic of statuary is in how the fact, myth, and memory associated with its flesh-and-blood celebrity can get canned inside it. Spark that with controversy, and presto: Lucille Ball’s Bronze Age. Read More »

Barthes Foresees the Rise of Trump, and Other News

September 15, 2015 | by

Barthes, looking into the hideous future of electoral politics.

  • The Internet is awash in devastating, graphic personal essays—young writers are encouraged, maybe more than ever, to monetize and sensationalize their grisliest experiences. So … now what? “The Internet’s confessional impulse has been fully codified. Every site seems to have a first-person vertical … But for all the different house styles these pieces accommodate, it’s striking how many of them read like reverse-engineered headlines, buzzy premises fleshed out with the gritty details of firsthand experience … This is a key problem with the new first-person economy: the way it incentivizes knee-jerk, ideally topical self-exposure, the hot take’s more intimate sibling.”
  • The Joan Didion that people adore these days is the Didion of The White Album and Slouching Towards Bethlehem, not the Didion of Democracy—but that novel is remarkable, too, and to read it is to enter a fecund and too often neglected phase of her career: “There’s something in Democracy that you’ll find little of in Didion’s nonfiction: It’s the book in which she does the most thinking about a formative subject in her life, the Vietnam War, yet it’s a book that rarely enters into current discussions of her work … A more useful understanding would recognize the later nonfiction as an extension and amplification of the early nonfiction’s achievements. It would also see the novels as vital continuations of the same project, workings out of problems in style and sense painted on blank canvases. Such an understanding would turn Democracy from a bookshelf ornament to a central work about Vietnam, the other historical hinge in Didion’s career.”
  • Roland Barthes wrote well about TV, and professional wrestling in particular—meaning he was also, thirty-five years ahead of time, writing well about Donald Trump’s bid for the presidency. “The key to generating passion, Barthes notes, is to position yourself to deliver justice against evil forces by whatever means necessary … But why can’t voters see that what Trump offers is just an act? As Barthes illustrates, that’s asking the wrong question. ‘It is obvious that at such a pitch, it no longer matters whether the passion is genuine or not. What the public wants is the image of passion, not passion itself. There is no more a problem of truth in wrestling than in the theater.’”
  • Today in fact-checking: the most error-prone movie of the year thus far is Jurassic World, which boasts an impressive nineteen continuity blunders, plot holes, and factual mistakes. “Errors in Jurassic World reportedly include a mobile phone that appears to magically fix itself … and the ability to start up an abandoned Jeep that has been parked, fully exposed to the elements, on a tropical island for twenty years … The all-time record is held by 1979’s Apocalypse Now, with a whopping 561 mistakes.”
  • The typographer Adrian Frutiger, who designed the font for London’s street signs, has died at eighty-seven. “I learned to understand that beauty and readability—and up to a certain point, banality—are close bedfellows,” Frutiger said. “The best typeface is the one that impinges least on the reader’s consciousness, becoming the sole tool that communicates the meaning of the writer to the understanding of the reader.”

He Was a Very Close Friend of Mine

May 18, 2015 | by

Your Monday needs something. But what? Could it be … a 1974 clip of Orson Welles reminiscing about his “friendship” with Ernest Hemingway? It has everything: titanic ego-clashing, disingenuous concern-trolling, bullfighting, damning with faint praise, posthumous character assassination. Welles claims to have been the only one with the courage to mock the great man. Welles is chomping on a cigar. Read More »

Patron Saint of Inveighing Against Stuff, and Other News

March 24, 2015 | by


Pray to G. K. Chesterton.

  • Congratulations to Akhil Sharma, whose novel Family Life has won the Folio Prize. Writing the book, Sharma said, was “like chewing stones”: “I’m glad the book exists, I just wish I hadn’t been the guy who wrote it.”
  • “The traditional complaint about teenagers—that they treat the place like a hotel—has no purchase on me. In fact, I quite like the idea. A hotel is a place where you can come and go autonomously and with dignity; a place where you will not be subjected to criticism, blame or guilt; a place where you can drop your towel on the floor without fear of reprisal, but where, hopefully, over time, you become aware of the person whose job it is to pick it up and instead leave it folded neatly on a chair.” Rachel Cusk on raising teenagers.
  • The Great Gatsby­ was published in 1925 to lukewarm reviews and sluggish sales—how did it become a classic? Salute (or blame) the GIs: “As a part of a revolutionary scheme of donating more than 22 million books to World War II troops abroad, a publisher threw in a random book from its backlist: The Great GatsbyGatsby and others entered the consciousness of millions of men who returned from war with an appreciation for paperback books and reading.”
  • A group of Catholics have proposed G. K. Chesterton for sainthood. “Chesterton, in his jolly way, was a militant. A blaster of the superstitions of modernity, a toppler of the idols of materialism. He inveighed ceaselessly, at great length, and without ever once repeating himself, against ‘the thought-destroying forces of our time’: pessimism and determinism and pragmatism and impressionism.”
  • A brief history of gayness on television: “By the fall of 1974, three years after the first gay cameo on popular American television (the vehicle was the liberal lodestar All in the Family), there were a handful of gay characters on prime time … ‘All were rapists, child molesters, or murderers.’ Activists lobbied networks to stop depicting gays as criminals and, within a few years, moved on to more subtle forms of otherness.”

Dear Mr. Jarecki

March 23, 2015 | by

How Gordon Lish’s first novel anticipated The Jinx.


From the paperback cover of Dear Mr. Capote.

Like every other sentient being with an HBO subscription, I’ve been riveted by the layers of mendacity, hypocrisy, voyeurism, manipulation, deception, dysfunction, and psychopathology on display in The Jinx. Robert Durst is as compelling a creep as has ever appeared on an LED screen; he seems like a character sprung from Patricia Highsmith’s dark imagination. (The Talented Mister Durst?) Andrew Jarecki, with his distinctly Mephistophelean facial hair, gives off his own aroma of brimstone. As I watched the series—rapt, but with a queasy feeling of complicity—I felt I’d encountered something like this before. Then I remembered what it was: Gordon Lish’s skilled, twisted, and exceptionally prophetic first novel, Dear Mr. Capote (1983).

The self-proclaimed “Captain Fiction,” Lish is most famous and/or notorious today for his writing classes, which more resembled EST sessions than workshops, and his hyperactive editorial pencil—which, depending on your point of view, either butchered or rescued much of Raymond Carver’s fiction. By 1983, Lish was riding high as an editor at Knopf, but through most of the seventies he’d been the fiction editor of Esquire, where he had almost single-handedly engineered a sea change in the style and substance of American short fiction, publishing the work of such minimalists as Carver, Joy Williams, Mary Robison, and Amy Hempel. Lish also convinced Truman Capote to publish the first two installments in his long bruited-about novel-in-progress, Answered Prayers. Capote had bragged that it would be his American answer to Proust, and the first of the chapters to appear, in June 1975, “Mojave,” received rapturous praise. Buoyed by this response, he gave Esquire another chapter to publish later that year, the incendiary and staggeringly impolitic “La Cote Basque, 1965,” which spilled a dump truck’s worth of dirt on his high-society friends and exiled him from the fancy circles and acquaintances he had so assiduously cultivated. Its publication sent Capote’s career into a terminal tailspin, perhaps the most disastrous miscalculation by a major writer in our literary history. Lish, too, has his Mephistophelian side. Read More »