Sunday, April 30, 2006

Return of the Repressed Sitcom

Photo by spacecowboym1.
In a seminar last year, I somewhat irresponsibly claimed that the uncanny was impossible under late capitalism. But today, I realized that was not true. I went hiking with friends today at Malibu Creek State Park, a lovely area in the Santa Monica Mountains that has streams, lizards, and a very small but pretty lake. We did a nice five mile hike on a hot but pleasant day.

Malibu Creek is also where the television version of M*A*S*H was filmed from 1972-1983. We knew this as we started to hike, but were a little unsure where it happened exactly. Coming around a bend in the trail, we suddenly realized that we were in the exact spot where the opening credits were filmed--you know, where the helicopter flies in through the mountains and lands in a meadow.

It was, in a word, uncanny to be standing in this spot. It was a lovely spot, very calm, with impressive rock formations around. It would make a very good camping spot. But all I could think about was that I knew this spot very well, as if I had been here many times before. Years of half-watched re-runs of hoary old M*A*S*H linger in my subconscious, despite the fact that I don't think I've ever seen a single episode all the way through. All of those old-fashioned anxieties that Freud puts as the repressed roots of the uncanny--the castration complex, the womb fantasy, etc.--give way under late capitalism to an uncanny triggered by the real-life version of a television show set. Perhaps only possible in Los Angeles, but then, that sort of proves my point.

Okay, I'll stop being abstruse now! It was a lovely hike, and with lovely company. I really do need to see more of Los Angeles, since I'm not going to be living here forever.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

The Celebrity Sphere

Last night, after seeing The Black Rider downtown, we were hanging around outside talking when we realized that Jake Gyllenhaal was standing next to us, waiting for his car at the valet. He was looking good, with the short scruffy beard he's often sported lately. He and a friend hopped into his car (a silver Mercedes, and yes, we got the license plate number, thank you very much) and drove off into city.

I admit to unreservedly loving the game of seeing celebrities in this town. I love pretending I don't care, and I love then emailing the sighting to Defamer PrivacyWatch. I love the vicarious thrill of participating in the vicious cycle of consumer culture in late capitalism, and the pleasure of bragging about it to people who live elsewhere.

But sometimes I fear that I don't remember all of my sightings. So I'm going to list all I can remember here, and update my blog with them as they happen, so that when I am old and living in a much more boring locale, I'll remember this fun.

1. Johnny Knoxville and Wee Man, from the MTV show Jackass. Spotted at Venice Beach, while my parents were visiting.
2. The midget from Seinfeld, shopping at my grocery store.
3. Sandra Oh walking by the movie theater at The Grove. Just as I was coming out of a screening of Sideways, no less!
4. Speaking of Sideways, the very next day I saw Virginia Madsen pulling out of the parking lot on the corner of my street.
5. Debra Messing coming out of a performance of Sweeney Todd in New York City.
6. The entire male cast of The Sopranos congregating in a hotel bar in Chicago, and, the next morning, checking out of the hotel.
7. Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson drove by me in a black SUV while I was waiting for a bus on Sunset Boulevard.
8. Just tonight, I saw the actor who plays one of Will's gay friends on Will and Grace.
9. John C. Reilly. My roommate and I were backstage at the Mark Taper Forum, meeting a friend, and he was hanging around waiting for a friend too.
10. Movie premieres don't really count, I think. It's cheating if you know a star is going to be somewhere at a certain time. Still, last summer in London, I saw Scarlett Johanssen and Ewan Macgregor at the British premiere of The Island. It kind of counts, because we just happened to be walking through Leceister Square when we stumbled upon the event.

There are more, but that is all I can remember right now.


After much delay, yesterday I finally had the formal oral defense of my special field exams. It was actually quite pleasant, a nice opportunity to have a long talk with committee about many interesting issues. As I've written before, my exams ended up not being incredibly useful in terms of my dissertation, but in the defense it occurred to me that a portion of one of the essays I wrote could make a good addition to another paper of mine if I wanted to try and turn it into an article. So that's a project I can ruminate on this summer.

It is quite a relief, I have to say. Passing wasn't too much of a worry, as our department doesn't view them as a weeding-out process. I am thrilled, however, that I can finally turn all of my attention to my dissertation. I get no small amount of joy from returning to the library all these books on modernism that I have no intention of ever looking at again! Not too much crazy celebrating, but I did go with friends to see this new production of The Black Rider at the Ahmanson. Review forthcoming! (I would make a horrible newspaper critic--I always need a few days to digest a performance before I feel like I can write about it.)

Thursday, April 27, 2006

True Story

Mary is currently doing her pathology rotation at vet school. One of the lowly jobs she has to do during this rotation is going around to the various departments at the hospital and collect dead bodies to take down for autopsies. Straight out of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, if you ask me. I picture her going down the hall with a big cart singing, "Bring out your dead!"

But anyways, yesterday she got off early, and so was at home in the evening. Rather than slogging into the hospital for no reason, she called the nurse in charge of this process to ask if there were any bodies to be collected. The phone conversation went like this:

A: Hi, this is Mary from Pathology. (pause)
B: (silence)
A: I was just calling to see if you had any dead bodies for me.
B: (silence)
A: I have the wrong number, don't I.
B: ...umm...I think so.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006


I've never done a meme on my blog before, and generally find them annoying, but for some reason this one appeals to me. It's been going around a lot; I saw it first at Et. Al

Accent: Non-descript Californian. Although, when I mumble, sometimes people think I'm British, especially in the south.

Booze: Jack Daniels is my nemesis.

Chore I Hate: Cleaning my shower.

Dog or Cat: Dogs a little more than cats, but really anything with fur is great.

Essential Electronics: My computer.

Favorite Cologne: umm...none.

Gold or Silver: Definitely silver.

Hometown: the Bay Area, I suppose, but I have strong ties to a lot of places around the country.

Insomnia: Since I was in elementary school

Job Title: "Teaching Associate"

Kids: none.

Living arrangements: A fellow academic roommate in a creaky apartment in a great neighborhood.

Most admirable traits: patience?

Number of sexual partners: My parents read this blog, thank you very much.

Overnight hospital stays: None that I've been told about.

Phobias: claustrophobia, ever since a Boy Scout spelunking trip.

Quote: "Postmodernism is how we live under postmodernity," Gayatri Spivak. Sorry, that's horribly nerdy, but it's been rattling around in my head a lot recently.

Religion: A confirmed atheist since seventh grade, I occasionally dabble in high church episcopalianism.

Siblings: One opera-singing little sister.

Time I wake up: All over the map.

Unusual talent or skill: My fingers are freakishly bendy.

Vegetable I love: not many. perhaps raw red peppers.

Worst habit: mumbling.

X-rays: Teeth.

Yummy foods I make: I grill a mean portabello mushroom.

Zodiac sign: Aries

Monday, April 24, 2006

V For Vendetta

Last Friday Mary and I saw V For Vendetta. What a complicated movie. Although I had a good time watching it, I think I ultimately had a lot of problems with it.

1. The England Issue. V had a rough time at the box office in England, and was pretty mercilessly savaged in the press, even the left press. This is completely understandable, and not just because Natalie Portman can't do a British accent to save her life. As the Guardian review notes, it is a particularly American movie, and setting it in England feels very wrong. Not that the U.K. doesn't have bad political problems, and that anti-fascist critiques of the U.K. aren't useful--see the British punk movement circa 1983. But this movie feels very off, as if a bunch of Americans came to town, blew up half the city, killed off most of the inhabitants, all to make a point about American politics. Which leads me to...

2. The Violence Issue. I don't have a problem with the parable of using violence to overthrow a government. But I did have a rather visceral reaction to one tiny little clip. Near the end of the movie, there is a montage that shows the history of a terrorist biological attack on the country. A disease was spread in a school, in the water system, and in the tube system. Fake news clips were shown of each location, but for the last, the attack on the underground, I'm pretty sure that the director used actual clips from the bombing of the London underground last summer. I'm not positive, and it was a very short clip, but I'm pretty sure that I remember that specific clip. This ties in to my point above--the makers of this American film use particularly-European iconography to portray a climate of fear. That's a displacement I don't really like.

But there is more to this. As my loyal readership knows, I was living in London during those attacks last summer. So when that little clip flashed on, I was immediately transported back to that moment, and I remembered my own fear at the time. Now, the movie makes lots of big points about fear, and about how bad it is, and how it is responsible for right-wing political movements that promise security in exchange for freedom. The transformative moment for Natalie Portman's character comes when, after being tortured, she learns to live fearlessly.

I just don't like that. First, I find it sanctimonious on the part of the movie. But more importantly, I think that fear is just a necessary part of living with other people. And it is part of living under globalization, and under postmodernity, or basically in any kind of proximity to people who are different from you. Not to get all academic, but the Wachowski brothers have always struck me as hopelessly modernist and old-fashioned--everyone gets off on the fact that they showed a character reading Baudrillard in The Matrix, but the instant Neo takes the pill and finds out that there is a real meta-narrrative behind the simulation, you realize that they have probably never actually read Baudrillard. And remember, totalitarianism is an essentially modernist concept. And if there is one good thing about postmodernism, I do think it produces a world so hopelessly fragmented and mixed-up that totalizing meta-narratives like fascism become impossible, in a way. There are still political challenges, and horrifying social situation that need to be acted upon, but an old-fashioned critique of fascism and fear no longer feels relevant to me. To face the problems of postmodernity, we can't pretend we are still fighting Big Brother.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

A Good Boy

My family's dog, Webster, passed away today. He is quite elderly, for a large dog, and has been in poor health for a number of years. He's had epilepsy for quite awhile, and about two months ago he started declining a bit. The diagnosis was never quite firm, but it was probably a cancer of some sort. Visiting home this last weekend, it was pretty obvious that he was failing, but he was still very happy to see us, and quite comfortable. By today it seemed like he wasn't going to get better, and so the vet came over to the house, and gave him the shot in the backyard, his favorite place to sleep. He was very spoiled in his last few weeksĂ‚—his hip joints were very sore at the end, so my parents carefully gave his rump an assist every time he wanted to get up.

Webster was a very good boy. We got him my senior year of high school, and on the way home from the breeder he sat in my lap, got a little carsick, and threw up in my lap. But still, he was a good boy. He wasn't particularly a good swimmer, but he did like the beach, and hikes, and cold weather. Like any proper child of the dot com age, he had his own web page, befitting an animal whose full name was World Wide Webster.

Anyways, as I say, he was a very good boy. And he will be missed!

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Allan Kaprow

The artist Allen Kaprow died today at age 79. He was a pretty neat guy, one of the group of young artists in NYC in the fifties who took Cage's class at the New School and went on to bring the art world into the sixties; he more or less invented Happenings as we now know and love them. (I'm not quite sure why the Times obituary thinks he was influenced by abstract expressionism, as he strikes me as the furthest thing from it.) His book Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life is a lovely read, if you have never experienced his art before--lots of small, simple, and wise thoughts.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Choices, Choices

Well, if this high school classmate of mine wins the prize for first among my peers to achieve international stardom, this college classmate of mine wins the prize for first to commit armed robbery.

The linked article is no longer online. Basically, a classmate of mine from college robbed a Gap at gunpoint, and is now, predictably, in jail.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Thank God

Well, the exams are finally over. They've been over for two days now, actually, but only now can I drag myself back to the computer to announce the news. It was a pretty dispiriting experience, to be honest. Hopefully I'll struggle through the defense fine--I keep telling myself they are just exams. I don't need to have written great scholarship, just have done well enough to pass.

I have had a pleasant time relaxing though. Immediately that evening after I finished my comrades in the department took me out for margaritas, which was very pleasant. Friday I scrubbed the filth off of the apartment, ordered a pizza, and watched The Two Towers. Today, I bought a trashy novel and read it at the beach. A little windy, but sunny, so quite pleasant.

One more day of vacation, and then it is back to the grind.