Archives For Alex - Resident Goy Writer

I’ve been a big fan of Josh Ritter since I first heard “Lillian, Egypt” on The Hype Machine years and years ago. He represents something of a confluence of genres–bluegrass, folk, rock–that has steadily gained in popularity until it finally won a bunch of Grammies this year, although Ritter himself has not. Given Ritter’s complicated and hyperliterate songwriting (the man is also a novelist on the side) and my own predilections for such things, I guess it should come as no surprise that he’s something of a darling over on NPR, where his new (and seventh) album The Beast In Its Tracks is playing on First Listen. I’ve given it six listens since it was posted on Sunday. I’ve been listening to it as I write this post.ritter2

I’ve never been divorced, or even married for that matter, so the album, which is written in response to Ritter’s own divorce from musician/sound engineer Dawn Landes, is full of subject matter that is probably a little beyond me. It’s in a vein to his previous album, So The World Runs Away, and like that one it is more ethereal and less aggressive than Animal Years or The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter. My highlights from this new one are “A Certain Light” and “New Lover,” the latter of which I think offers a syncretism of the ballads of So The World and the bounce found in earlier songs like “Hello Starling,” and “To the Dogs or Whoever.” It’s that same syncretism, which I think pervades the album, which give it less of the luster (it doesn’t quite connect in the song “Bonfire,” for instance, which feels both too fast and too insubstantial) found in either So The World or Animal Years/The Historical Conquests. Which is to say that I like it, but wasn’t in love with it instantly in the same way I was with “Lillian, Egypt” and the rest of Animal Years. Which also isn’t to say that I won’t instantly buy it when it drops on March 5th (because I now have money to occasionally buy music created by my favorite musicians).

But maybe I shouldn’t. Perhaps I am being too hasty my support of the music of an artist I enjoy. Let me stop and consider what could be Josh Ritter’s rueful place in history. According to NPR Disqus commenter “Yogurt Head” (who notes he, supposing he is a he, is a professional musician), NPR would be better served ditching such producers of popular music. Indeed, Mr. Head goes on to offer this bit of profound wisdom:

 Just think about how music has devolved over the centuries, and how our cultural decline has been a direct result.

Do think on it. I mean, if we go back a century ago, to 1913, you could note that music was a lot less accessible to many people, as the first radio station in the United States would begin broadcasting in 1916, and the first radio station in the world had only begun broadcasting four years earlier. So most people only experienced whatever music existed within their own ethnic sphere unless they were some place foreign…like Louisiana. So, naturally, there wasn’t as much contribution to culture by people who were, you know…poorer. Which, according to Mr. Head, was better. With less riff-raff, contributing to music and such, “culture” was better and not in decline. And certainly, while there were fewer instruments in the past, meaning fewer different sounds that could be generated, music has devolved. Before, we used to just have orchestral music and early folk. Now we have stuff like jazz-infused post-punk revival music and other simple garbage like that.

So maybe on March 5th you shouldn’t bother buying Josh Ritter’s new album The Beast In Its Tracks. That would be contributing to the horrific cultural decline caused by the musical decline as epitomized by talented singer-songwriters like Ritter.

Because this is the fate the awaits a world with Josh Ritter in it.

Because this is the fate that awaits a world with Josh Ritter in it.

For the rest of the week, NPR will be streaming The Beast In Its Tracks over at First Listen.

*If I were Chicky there’d be some number of Hall and Oates here, but I don’t really like ratings and we don’t have much in the way of an established editorial policy regarding reviews, so if you desperately need a number to go with this review, um…312. You’re welcome.

For all those back seat negotiators who, during the Camp David Accords looked at Jimmy Carter and at Menachim Begnin and Anwar Sadat’s shared Nobel Peace Prize (yeah, we’re in the WABAC Machine now, kiddies) and thought, “Phssst. I could have done better than that. Hell, I could have solved this thing,” well, here’s your chance. The Atlantic, along with the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace (because one of their contributing editors is a VP there) has created an interactive map with which you can draw the borders of a hypothetical two-state solution for Israel and Palestine! That one class in Middle East studies/Contemporary conflicts/Geography you took in college will finally pay off! Looks like you were wrong, Mom and Dad, I totally shouldn’t have used my humanities credit on English Literature!

I mean how hard could this be, right? It’s not like the issues of Israeli settlement building, the dominion of East Jerusalem, territorial claims on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip could be that complicated, right? Let’s just take a look at this map here and I’m sure we’ll straighten it all–

Credit to Wikimedia Commons

–oh shit.

The best part about The Atlantic/S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace’s Two-State-O-Matic Machine is that it allows you, the average Joe on the Street, to divide the border by assigning settlements to either the Israeli or the Palestinian side. Forgoing, for the moment, that it tells you absolutely nothing about the resources in those areas (I’m sure it won’t be a big deal. I mean, it’s not like Southern Sudan and Sudan are having a big conflict over resource sharing that sprouted out of their partition…Wait, they are? Fuck. Can’t anyone get along?), I’m sure you’ll be able to use your empathy to decide the fates of people you haven’t talked to and thus don’t know their history, their struggles, or the quality of their claim to belong to either Palestine or Israel.

Normally, I’m all for crowd-sourcing. Unfortunately, this isn’t something you can just throw up on Kickstarter. Neither is it something you can just solicit opinions from the public about. This isn’t like building a new park in Pawnee, Indiana. This is nation building in what is straight-up Biblevania. It’s old. So old that people have claims that go back over 1000 years on both sides.

So hats off to The Atlantic and SDACMEP for putting good intentions ahead of good sense.

Sends us your own maps so we can also scoff at you!

Around about this time of year, it’s difficult for us Gentiles to understand what’s going on in the Jewish community. Unlike our totally reasonable practice of celebrating the birth of the God-King Jesus Christ and then exchanging presents under evergreens, which happens around the same time, the Jewish community has eight nights of gift giving that’s about oil rationing or freedom from religious persecution or something. It’s never really been clearly explained to me. That’s why I have a prepackaged set of comments that I whip out each season, dusting them off from classics such as “Is your mother making latkes again this year?” to more specific, nuanced statements like “How ’bout them Maccabees?”

Giant Menorah in New York “Menorah? I barely know her!”

Turns out I’m not the only person who does this. As Gawker points out, Obama’s statement this year is basically a mishmash of his statements in 2009 and 2011. He gave a longer, more involved, speech about Hanukkah and its true meaning in 2010, from which his speechwriting staff didn’t bother cribbing for this year’s seasons greetings. They were more inspirational, with lines such as

And in the 2,000 years since [Judah Maccabee], in every corner of the world, the tiny candles of Hanukkah have reminded us of the importance of faith and perseverance. They have illuminated a path for us when the way forward was shrouded in darkness.

Whereas this year (and last year’s) signs off with the slightly more trite

From our family to the Jewish Community around the world, Chag Sameach.

You can read the full cut-and-paste job over at Gawke, but I do want to draw your attention to one of the comments, posted by user “WittyAccountName” whose jokesmithing at least outdoes his naming ability:

You know who else recycled the same Hanukkah statement four years in a row? Hitler!

#Romney2012

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

The President, seen here suffering from that wicked burn.

After they ran Tuesday’s opinion piece about the overuse of the word “Really” in disbelief, Jerry Seinfeld wrote in to The New York Times to defend the word’s use, and specifically its regular appearance in that Weekend Update segment on SNL. And, becauseThe New York Times is happy just to get some mail these days because you never write anymore and it never hears how you’re doing and the Ethelbaum boy writes to his local paper all the time why can’t you be more like him, they printed it. Even this bit, wherein he threatens the original op-ed writer, Neil Genzlinger, with bodily harm:

What I do not say or write, as you did in the part about responses to Einstein’s theories, is “wrap my head around it.”

Are you kidding? No, no, no, Neil. No sir.

When I hear people say, “If you can wrap your head around it,” I want to wrap their heads around something, like a pole.

This Seinfeld GIF seems appropriate

Now, to be frank, it’s not hilarious. It’s New York Times-funny. This is the same paper where the pedantic scribblings of Gail Collins and Maureen Dowd’s imagining various notables of the day having conversations are considered to be high wit (Thomas Friedman is funny, but it’s all unintentional humor, like when you see a cat falling off something). But maybe this will start some new trend, where people with serious comedy writing chops write things for The New York Times and we laugh and go to somebody else, “Did you see so-and-so’s writing in The New York Times? He/She is quite a font of topical humor and a national treasure don’t you think?”

And that other person goes, “No, I don’t read newspapers anymore.”

So wrap your head around that.

Jon Stewart has gotten into a trend of having extended Daily Show interviews that get split into two parts, one that runs on television when the show airs, and one that exists only digitally onThe Daily Show’s website. These interviews occur semi-frequently, but the one consistent bit is that they’re usually with people you’d have no interest in listen to talking for 12 minutes, like Jim DeMint or Robert Reich, or as Jon Stewart himself puts it in last (Tuesday) night’s show: the guy who’s “written a book on the construction of the Pentagon.” Meanwhile, no matter how much fun an actor or comedian might be as a guest, they leave when their allotted seven minutes is over, with a quick plug of their movie, book, or cause.

So last night, I was expecting that Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) would be another case of Jon and a Republican die-hard speak at cross-purposes at each other, only to find that Rubio had been held up by a Senate floor vote and that Denis Leary had been drafted into service instead.

And it didn’t disappoint. Leary and Jon immediately begin by making fun of each other, talking about Leary being confused for Willem Dafoe (and how embarrassing it must be for Dafoe when he’s confused for Leary’s part in Operation Dumbo Drop) as well as Jon’s many Jewish comedy personas.

But the best part is that at the end, Denis Learydemands Rubio’s extra web time, meaning that there’s another five minutes of Leary and Stewart riffing on each other (it begins with Jon with his feet up on the interview desk, telling Leary to “entertain us”).

You can watch Part 1 below, and then go to the website to pick up Part 2:

 

If you watched Game of Thrones penultimate episode of its second season this past Sunday (and frankly, if you didn’t, who really cares about you?) you may have heard a familiar deep-throated singing commonly associated with lead singer Matt Berninger of The National over the end credits.

Startling blonde. Might be a Lannister.

Well, turns out it was Matt Berninger, because that was the National on Game of Thrones on Sunday singing “The Rains of Castamere,” or the personal anthem of Lord Tywin Lannister. You can listen to the “whole” song (there’s just the one existing verse) below:

What if Rogue wasn’t a jacked 30-something in spandex who flew through the air and could suck out a person’s soul (or whatever you wanna call it) with her touch? What if she was just some malnourished hipster in a green tunic and tights?

Well…probably no one has wondered that, but that hasn’t stopped artist Nate Bellegarde from re-imagining a whole line of female X-Men as hipsters. You can check them all out at Project: Rooftop, a neat site of redesigned superheroes, from a strung-out (but still scantily clad) Emma Frost to Jean Grey with Phoenix tattoos. And just in case you were worried, I’ve got good news for all you die-hard fans of the X-Men: Jubilee is just as useless as ever.

//This one via io9

While we’re still waiting to find out if Bill Murray is even going to be in Dan Akroyd’s hypothetical Ghostbusters 3 movie, we at least know he’s still going strong in things that have “Directed by Wes Anderson” and “Written by Wes Anderson” in their credits. Thus this video, featuring a rum-imbibing Murray wandering around the Moonrise Kingdom set (in scenic Newport, RI!), explaining how the film was made, as well as the composition of his (fairly skinny) pants and Wes Anderson’s feeling in regards to the length of pants (also, some funny barbs about Ed Norton and Bruce Willis).

//This one via the AV Club

On Monday, my fearless editor called the Internet out over the running debate over Lena Dunham’s show Girls in his article “The show ‘Girls’ isn’t racist; you are.” Sure, it may be a little bit late to the game, but we’re here now. And while Chicky makes a lot of good points about how the show is indicative of larger trends in society and television in general and how there are plenty of other shows, especially half-hour comedies, that seem to focus exclusively on white culture, I disagree with his central thesis that Girls shouldn’t catch flak for its lily-white characters and portrayal of Brooklyn, and I want to present a challenge to it in a way that’s just too long for a comment reply.

A couple of things before I lay on the hammer. First, if you have no idea what Chicky and I are talking about, I encourage you to read the articles about this. Here’s a piece from Gawker that outlines the whole dispute back when this was super fresh (and, frankly, when I stopped paying attention), so you’ll have to do some more research to find what’s current. Here’s a piece from the AV Club about the problems of categorically calling out whiteness as a problem.

Second, in the interest of full disclosure, I personally can’t stand Girls. Maybe it’s because I’m a man and the show is geared towards women, but I don’t think so. I don’t dislike it because the leads are in possession of vaginae. I don’t dislike it because it seems like a mumblecore sitcom. And I don’t mind that the characters are reprehensible (I was fine with that in Seinfeld and The UK Office). I dislike it because it’s not funny and the characters seem really thinly written. It’s a shame it runs back-to-back against Veep on Sundays, because that show is about 1000x funnier and it’s got much stronger (and better developed) female leads. Girls seems to approach humor like its imitating a particularly dry Britcom without any charming British people to sell the lines. And that’s not even particularly accurate, because I just mentioned The Office, a Britcom which is dry and hilarious, and Veep, which is written by the guy who’s made one of the funniest Britcoms (and television shows in general) I’ve ever seen: The Thick of It. I’m not surprised Girls is produced by the guy who made the incredibly misleadingly titled movie Funny People.

Cut the middle guy out and it might be true!

So, I’m not a Lena Dunham fan, so far. I realize I’m in the minority of reviewers here. I want it noted that I don’t like the show based on the content of its character, not the color of its skin. I didn’t hate it, then tried to justify that hate by calling it racist.

But Girls does have a serious problem with racism. Not racism in the way that we, as white people, conceive of racism. It’s not the oppressive “Bull Connor, fire hoses and dogs unleashed on women and children” form of racism that was the hallmark of the Civil Rights movement. No one can accuse Lena Dunham and her writers of infringing on their rights with an HBO show about white girls. Certainly, no one’s rights have been violated.

Instead, Girls is indicative of a different troubling trend: a refusal to even confront and deal with race. Bull Connor hated black people, but at least he engaged with them, even if it was just to hit them with fire hoses, sick dogs on them, and throw them in jail. I’ve just mentioned a slate of shows that have exclusively or almost exclusively white lead casts: Seinfeld, The Office (British), and Veep. And every single one of them has confronted race directly, in at least one episode. Seinfeld did it over and over again, and controversially (“The Puerto Rican Day”). Hell, Veep is only four episodes into its first season and it’s tackled race twice (Ep.2: “Frozen Yohgurt” and Ep. 4: “Chung”).

But Girls, on the other hand, won’t even touch it. And it bends over backwards to do so. You could be forgiven for not realizing that Brooklyn is only 40% white, given how it’s portrayed in Lena Dunham’s television show.

And let’s be clear: the women behind the show have not exactly reacted with grace and quality in response to the criticisms. Yes, some criticisms are less valid than others (I, for one, had never heard the stereotype that Asians are proficient at Photoshop) and don’t warrant a response. But when NYTimes Jenna Wortham writes that she wishes she “saw a little more of [her]self on screen, right alongside” the characters in the show, it’s not okay to tweet “What really bothered me most about Precious, was that there was no representation of ME” as Girls writer Lesley Arfin did. What a fucking asinine response.

Chicky points out that society is to blame, and I totally agree with him on that. The society in which Millennials like myself, Chicky, and Ms. Dunham were born and raised in is the most segregated in US history since the time of Jim Crow, done without any of the intentional discrimination. And white people of our generation are quickly becoming defined by their categorical opposition to dealing with racial inequity. Nearly 60% of white Millennials (laughably) believe discrimination against whites is at a level comparable to that of blacks and Latinos. Just ask George Zimmerman, amirite? Where my disgruntled whiteys at?

There they are.

Now, despite the above image, I’m not calling what Lena Dunham and her writers are doing comparable to the cross burning, murder, and intimidation of non-whites that the Klan was guilty of during the height of institutionally segregated America (although, she is lynching comedy). But I do believe she’s helping perpetuate an idea of an All-White America that shouldn’t exist. And I don’t buy her dismissive hand-wave argument that Girls‘ race problem is unintentional. Yes, I can understand how an all-white group of writers would not think to include characters who weren’t white. And how a bunch of white execs would approve that show. But here’s the thing: writing and casting, those are two things you just can’t do without intent and without making intentional choices. They were certainly made white because someone decided to do that, even if no one decided that they shouldn’t be black or Latino (those might seem to go hand in hand, but believe me, they don’t). And you can’t say you don’t see color when doing those things, but that’s bullshit when Stephen Colbert says it, and it’s just as much bullshit when someone says it sincerely.

Now, I’m heading towards 1500 words, which is way too long for Hipster Jew, so I’ll wrap this shit up. Lena Dunham’s show is not any more racist than 90% of television. Hell, every CBS comedy is a walking poster child for whites-only television. As Chicky touched on, there are plenty of places to take your entertainment needs that don’t have nearly the same problem (off the top of my head: Community or Happy Endings could always use more viewers). Girls shouldn’t attempt to correct itself and get more diverse. It’s got its strata of gentrified white children of privilege that it’s portraying and that’s fine. Also, it sucks at portraying people who aren’t white, such as the stereotype nannies in Episode 4 “Hannah’s Diary” who are surprised to learn one lead character isn’t a movie star (Read my lips: Fuuuuuck Yoooou), so I’m not sure I’d even want to see what crazy hijinks Dunham and her writers would get up to in that department.

But the problem with art is that it both reflects and reshapes the society that produces it. It’s a mirror that changes you slightly every time you look into it. I could wax poetic about the doll experiments and other sociological studies that demonstrate the serious detriment the false portrayal of a disproportionately white America in media has on people of color. So, when a show like Girls is made that mishandles race and then wildly mishandles the fallout to their mishandling, of course people should holler and raise a fuss. This is America, damn it. We deserve art that reflects who we are as a society, not art that reflects what our white coddled liberal arts minds perceive to be who we are as a society. Some white critics have criticized white people who criticize the white writers of Girls for being white (threatening the creation of a critical white mass that finds Tyler Perry trite and knows the lyrics to “Bohemian Rhapsody” by heart–don’t even pretend like that doesn’t describe you), but I think it’s great. We live in a prejudiced society; maybe enough white people saying they’re tired of lily-white TV will get some attention from white execs that hasn’t been paid to the people of color who’ve been saying it for decades.

I just wish somebody had raised a fuss about the CBS comedies as well, because they too have overlooked the central tenet of comedy: humor. And now, because one critic said you should listen to him if you were gonna write about race in television, here’s white boy Phil Ochs to show how funny is done:

If there’s one geographical place that we associate with Woody Allen, it’s New York City. This is a guy who can’t be asked to pick up his own Oscar statue because he’s too busy in NYC, unless of course he’s asked to talk about New York, in which case, he’s on the first plane.

Of course, in recent years, Woody’s movies have veered away from New York, instead traveling across the Atlantic. More than that, they’ve frequently cast someone other than Woody Allen as the lead, although these people are frequently just cyphers for Woody Allen. Think of the Woody neurosis embodied by the Americans cast adrift in foreign lands in his most recent spate of comedies: Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris, Rebecca Hall in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and, of course, Scarlett Johansson in the best comedy he ever wrote, Match Point.

I was trying to find a still of something morose happening, but this poster actually makes it look like it could have been a romantic comedy.

Naturally, what we’ve all been crying out for is for the totally unexpected casting of Woody Allen to star in a Woody Allen movie about a Woody Allen-like character overseas, and Woody has heard our pleas and penned and directed a new comedy To Rome With Love. It looks like it’s going to be an ensemble piece, split into four vignettes, so Woody’s only technically 1/4th of the lead, sharing those duties with Roberto Benigni (who you may remember from the heart breaking La Bella Vita) as an Italian man who suddenly becomes famous, Penelope Cruz as a hooker who seems to enjoy her work, and Alec Baldwin as the father of Jesse Eisenberg, who I assume will continue to be his pale imitation of a young Woody Allen, as he has been in every single movie he’s ever made, falling for Ellen Page. The full trailer is below:

P.S. Guess what? This trailer comes prepackaged with negative criticism about the movie, even though it hasn’t come out yet. Thanks, Internet!