Sundays are my day to get my freelance butt in gear; this week I had elected to write a piece on Fox’s comedy Ben and Kate for a web site I contribute to (Ask Miss A). The review was to be under the banner “Best Shows You’re Not Watching.” I’m googling an actor’s name to put in the review (200 words in at this point), and GASP! Fox cancelled the show on Friday. Review over. Life over.
I feel strangely powerless.
I found Ben and Kate one random Tuesday evening in late December 2012. My first thought – WOW! The lead guy’s crooked teeth – do they let that kind of stuff on TV anymore? And because I was so surprised to see a character on TV who didn’t have veneers, or InvisAlign, I kept watching, and it turned out I loved it. The 30-minute, “single-camera” comedy centered around the lives of twenty-something single-mom Kate (Dakota Johnson – YES! Melanie Griffith’s daughter) and her older, clueless brother Ben (improv-actor Nat Faxon) after he moves back home to San Diego to live with Kate and help her take care of her five-year-old daughter Maddie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones). For the first time in a long time, I had a TV show to call my own!
I tweeted. I DVR’d. I on-demanded. I googled. I did all the things my peers with their favorite shows do. I finally had a TV identity – a show that kept me relevant at the water cooler at work , that is…if we had a water cooler and if all my co-workers weren’t guys. The point is I would have had something to say in my hypothetical workplace, and that’s what matters.
Why did the show work? For me, it’s just fun to watch a show where you can tell the actors are having as much fun filming the show as you are watching it. There was an authenticity to it that couldn’t be feigned. It’s that and the feeling of community and willingness to fail – the bad jokes made the good ones even funnier – that I will miss. The show was cute and sarcastic and redeeming but also rough-around-the-edges. It was the underdog. Kind of like me, maybe.
So long Ben and Kate. Now I have to find your unfinished season 1 on dvd AND attempt to replace you. Because who are we without a favorite tv show?
My friend and I went to see the French-language film Amour – which translates to “Love” in English, obvi – Friday night. Because, Oscars. And the poster makes it look like we’re dealing with the ultimately redemptive power of love in a time of sickness and old age. SCORE
Well, this isn’t The Notebook friends. Amour has the old-age part, but not the redemptive-power-of-love theme. The film – directed and penned by the very Austrian Michael Haneke (The White Ribbon, The Piano Teacher) – tells the story of the lives of a retired Parisian couple after the wife suffers a stroke. She has an aversion to hospitals, and after an unsuccessful operation to clear the blocked artery that caused her stroke, she asks her husband to take care of her from then on only in their home. Having little contact with the outside world, the couple is forced to turn to and look at only one another and how they have lived their relationship.
Our protagonist husband, ever dutiful, is the shaky rock (is that possible?) for his wife as her health declines. Sometimes she is mopey and demanding. Other times, she seems content just to be with him. They read together. They reminisce. She learns new things about him, perhaps listening to him for the first time. Over the course of the film, her right side succumbs to paralysis and she suffers another stroke that leaves her bedridden. One remarkable scene ends with our husband slapping his wife out of frustration when she won’t drink the water he must feed her. The film ends with her death, which has its own implications.
Amour was jarring, uncomfortable, minimalistic. It had no score and no music aside from that which was a part of the actual story. The most thought-provoking aspect of Amour, for me, was the idea that love perhaps doesn’t have its own definition; it is instead an amalgam of things – at times confusion, dependency, despondency, intimacy, friendship, devotion. It cannot be defined itself, but only analyzed moment-by-moment for us to have any grasp of it. Could it even be reduced to being a “habit?”
And what of death in Amour? Perhaps it is human nature that will have us believe we are dead the moment we are diagnosed with a terminal illness or sick. But our immobilized, “dying” wife is still very much alive while lying in bed – capable of fear, contentment, frustration, the ability to feel physical pain and to continue to interact with her husband. Haneke seems to be saying that the quality of our lives can deteriorate, but our lives can still change up until the moment we take our last breath.
It’s a brave and purposeful move to title a film Amour. Your audience comes to you with preconceived, idealistic notions. Haneke – himself an aging, married artist – is ready to break you of those notions, however uncomfortable you may be, and considering I’m still thinking about the effed-up movie two days later, he succeeded.
Verdict: A well-done film. Not for everyone. Thought-provoking, depressing and European. Some could see it as hopeful; its sparseness and characterization were too gritty for me to want to label it optimistic.
This past weekend a 26-year-old young man in Brooklyn committed suicide by hanging. His name was Aaron Swartz. You may not have heard of him, but this blog post, the Internet, techdom today – all owe him a great deal.
Aaron has been in the tech spotlight for over a decade. He is credited with developing RSS (that little feed you can add to your email client so that you see when a web site has been updated). He worked with Reddit. Recently, he was in the news – and was awaiting trial – for stealing a bunch of articles from JSTOR to put on the net for public access. Apparently not for financial gain.
I don’t understand the technical stuff – but essentially, while Swartz was a student at Harvard (ironically), he used MIT’s network to access JSTOR. He began downloading thousands of articles, changing his IP address each time JSTOR peeps started getting suspicious. He eventually ended up figuring out how to get past the system, put his laptop in a closet in some building at MIT – the same closet a homeless man used to store his belongings – and downloaded millions of articles from the humanities’ database. Parties had settled (JSTOR abandoned civil charges), and everything was wiped clean…until a federal prosecutor decided in 2011 that Aaron deserved further punishment (after MIT contacted the authorities). At the time of his death Aaron was facing up to 50 years in federal prison if convicted of the crimes committed against MIT.
None of the articles I’ve encountered had explicit answers as to how a potential conviction might have affected Aaron’s decision to take his life, but almost all mentioned it. While Aaron suffered from depression, Aaron’s family made specific mention of his legal issues in their public statement: “Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts US attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death.” As of today, 25,000 people have signed an online petition that asks the White House to remove the prosecuting attorney in Aaron’s case. (The charges have been dropped in light of Aaron’s death.)
If Twitter is anything to go by, the tech community is up-in-arms. But I realized today – the rest of the world has stayed pretty much silent. What gives?
We live in an exciting and malleable time, and sometimes I think we forget just how exciting it is. And what kind of implications there are. The Internet has changed everything – information is democratized, and we all have access to it. If knowledge is power, we’ve got a new playing field. Perhaps institutions that are typically in charge (governments, universities, corporations) aren’t too thrilled with it all, for understandable reasons. As a society, we’ve been taught to worry about technological progress, to fear the hacker. He has become different, the “Other.” He is not one of “us.” It’s kind of 1984.
I can’t pretend to know enough about the government’s or MIT’s side to make an educated judgment on what’s happened. I do know that from my perspective – someone who’s interested in tech but doesn’t understand it – there doesn’t seem to be a middle ground. It is often in those instances where there isn’t that middle ground that we should examine society’s narratives and dialogue surrounding the issues in question. If there isn’t a dialogue already, it’s time to start one; wherever we stand, get things out in the open and take the stigma and power out of uncomfortable issues. Right? Wrong? Let’s talk about it.
Bottom line: there is rarely something more tragic than losing someone who has so much left to give to the world. By all accounts, Aaron had only just begun.
Illuminating links to Aaron’s work and thoughts. How he read so many books in one year beats me-
National suicide prevention lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK(8255)
Most people outside of California probably haven’t heard of Huell Howser. A fixture in public television in Los Angeles for 25 years, Huell hosted and produced the ubiquitous “California’s Gold” series, in which he traversed the state in search of the cool, amazing and little-known. Much of the time he didn’t run into the cool and amazing (the episode chronicling his trip to In ‘N’ Out’s headquarters potentially the exception), but he did run into the left-behind, tedious and even sad. It was how he reacted to all of it that was remarkable.
He died Monday at the age of 67. The outpouring of sadness in this state has been really beautiful.
As far as I know, Huell had no surviving family members. He wasn’t married, had no children. I think there is a general consensus that he was gay, but I don’t know if that’s relevant.
I first found out about Huell in 2009, a result of a conversation with my then-boyfriend Greg. Greg had just seen Mr. Howser at the grocery store, and Greg called me afterward with an urgent energy I couldn’t understand. Who is this Huell Howser? This guy must be something special, to make a grown man at the grocery store excited.
My relationship with Huell was cemented later that year when Greg got sick and had to take six weeks off of work. I wasn’t working at the time, and Greg and I spent our stolen, lazy days lying on the couch watching public television. (Greg didn’t and still doesn’t have cable.) We made fun of Huell’s Southern drawl – Kaliforneeya’s Gawld – and were constantly in awe of his awe. He was excited by everything – the butterfly that got into the shot, the people who walked by, the Socal woman who furnished a room using only lint! I remember one episode where Huell interviewed the employees and management of a plant that manufactured grass, as in on-the-ground GRASS, for corporate clients. And there was Huell, in his yellow button-down and shades, the epitome of the invisible protagonist in Eckhart Tolle’s Power of Now, grateful for the experience and excited by everything he heard.
Huell stayed with me as my life circumstances changed. As Greg and I started dating other people. As life threw its inevitable wrenches. I kept episodes of the spin-off Visiting with Huell Howser on my DVR, probably just so I could listen to Huell’s voice anytime I wanted to. I made it a goal to meet and interview him one day.
I didn’t know Huell was sick. I don’t think anyone really did. He was such a fixture and larger-than-life figure that it didn’t seem like he would ever be gone. Right now it seems like nothing has happened, with his show, seemingly asynchronous, still airing in re-runs. But over time his absence will seem more profound – especially the absence of his joyful voice, which once upon a time narrated my life.
I’ve come to the realization that sometimes you’re just going to write shit.