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I've been watching television for more than half a century now. The first time I ever saw an ass jiggle on camera was a couple of nights ago, on reality television, watching Kim Kardashian walk away from the camera in her pajamas.

The first time I ever saw T and A jiggle in high art, on a ballet stage, was during a dress rehearsal of the Miami ballet under Balanchine protege Eddie "Prodigal Son" Villella. The ballerinas were of all kinds of interesting Latino flavors, including China Latina, and I think I remember a Japo-Peruviana. Not only did they not meet the 60-year-ukase for the Balanchine conformation standard -- tiny head, long limbs, shortest possible torso -- they had no armor around lateral movement of the rib cage, as Latinos who dance do not, and while they didn't exactly samba during Eddie's more Balanchine-inflected classics, the vision of these being danced by women whose breasts jiggled and who could, even if they were not, roll their rib cages from side to side, and whose energy visibly emanated from the kundalini snake at the base of their spine and not from the Balanchine master puppet string being pulled tight out of their solar plexi -- you are standing erect on a base and not aspiring toward a higher power -- the vision was like a thunderclap.

Just so with Kim's bottom. Like everyone else in the universe, I love Kim Kardashian's bottom. It is reality television alone, and not the aesthetic standards of magazine and Hollywood gatekeepers, who have brought us this lovely earth-shaking sight.

Now comes Alessandra Stanley, a TV critic of the NY Times, reiterating a Manhattan aesthetic I've heard before.

It is tempting to view “Jersey Shore” or any Kardashian sister as the knell of civilization’s end.

I believe it was my nemesis, Daphne Merkin, the most-published worst writer (MPWW), who last assayed this trope in the pages of the NYT. One of the things that's ghastly about Merkin is that she is a kind of Rorschach blot, or pillhead revenant, for the stupidest, creepily sexist ideas of the New York Times editor class, one of the reasons she is MPWW:

Much as we might rag on it, the awful truth must be looked at head-on: Reality TV, that fiction of verisimilitude, is, even for people who read W. G. Sebald and enjoy grim Scottish films with subtitles, supernally addictive.

Without getting into the peculiarities of -- let's call it the Merkin ethos -- why a certain kind of over-share, is not TMI, whereas reality TV, another kind of over-share, is TMI to those who are literally showing their hideous popoes in the public prints, with the approbation of creepyass editors whose credo is All the news that's fit to print, I would like to address this idea that reality television is the end of civilization.

Both these remarks come at a time when I am thinking about the private life (non-political) blogs, Youtube, the online comments sections in major grey lady newspapers, the digital paparazzi like TMZ, and reality television itself, and trying to characterize the revolution in the canon they represent. I wish I knew or understood, as some of you like [personal profile] oneroom do, philosophy better than I do, of spectacle, of mediation, of DeBord, and how to fit all of this into that. All I can do is report what I've been interested in all my life, and that is in what, I suspect, Virginia Woolf called "the lives of the obscure", or Foucault, the voices murmuring outside the walls of history, the entire nouvelle vague history movement, which is perhaps the single most revolutionary advance in my lifetime, in short the voices and stories of people who are not what Graham Robb calls the tyrants of history -- 300 white guys in Paris. The most revolutionary, as well as life-changing thing I have read in the past year was on the blog of an inner-city Baltimore high school teacher, a blog so obscure he has posted for years without comment. I love you, Baltimore, the same Baltimore which produced the best fiction ever on television, The Wire, the creation of a journalist, who was told by New York editors that what happened in Baltimore was so far outside the pale that it wasn't news and could not be produced or published in New York.

As a child I was gripped by Ann Landers, sensing that the letters she got were the real stories in the newspaper. I first saw MTV in the middle 1980s when somebody was carrying a camera through the jungle with -- I don't know, maybe Sandinistas -- and my eyes popped out of my head. I was glued to MTV, and the Real World just the way I had been to the Louds when they, their divorce, and their coming-out-of-the-closet son, Lance, took over television discourse in 1971. I was gripped in the same way by the unbelievable Norman Lewis book about war, Naples 1944, which is pretty much the only one you need to read, and if you want to go high art again, by Goya. Aged six, at the Prado with my mother, she lost me. She found me standing in front of this, one of the paintings with which the former court painter defined and inaugurated what we call modernity:

Without knowing this story, I circled back to write about this painting in the 1990s, as one of the progenitors of genocide art. You could call it reality television, and without rendering either banal or ridiculous, put Kim Kardashian's unprecedented television ass jiggle in the same moral universe. Rigid standards of what you are allowed to look at are being shattered, and the voices murmuring outside history are being let in. I was struck the other day, looking at some pen art by the Navajo Geeky GURL, how much like Goya's Desastres de la Guerra drawings they were. He gave up the Spanish court to travel Spain and record war art, an unprecedented shattering of the proscenium around easel art, and perhaps the first, and finest, war journalism.

I have to think some more about why Stanley's analysis of reality television, which took some thought and care, is so way off the hook.

Watch this space.

Stanley On Reality TV )
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Well, the loathesome Daphne Merkin, the most-published worst writer, has engendered a new category here in juicespace. Every now and then, clearly egged on by editors like Tina Brown, she just wigs out and writes the most repulsive kind of Uriah Heep piece that pretends to be feminist, but is in fact passive-aggressive misogynism -- about labioplasty, linked to above, about being spanked. Only a narcissist of the stature of Daphne Merkin could make those two topics even more creepy than they already are by delectating over elective deformation, and boring in the maleficent way mental illness is boring.


It's not exactly a My Eyes Glaze Over (MEGO) lede. It's kind of like a train wreck, watching the LDM write self parodies. Seriously, somebody could make a Lady Gaga dance tune or a Youtube viral hit reading this shit with irony. Mega MEGO, you might say. My Eyes Roll Back (MERB)! Each sentence is more ghoulishly awful than the next.

New York Times Magazine
August 4, 2010

My Life in Therapy


All those years, all that money, all that unrequited love.

Oh Lord. Why do the wicked prosper?

It began way back when I was a child, an anxiety-riddled 10-year-old who didn’t want to go to school in the morning and had difficulty falling asleep at night. Even in a family like mine, where there were many siblings (six in all) and little attention paid to dispositional differences, I stood out as a neurotic specimen. And so I was sent to what would prove to be the first of many psychiatrists in the four and a half decades to follow — indeed, I could be said to be a one-person boon to the therapeutic establishment — and was initiated into the curious and slippery business of self-disclosure. I learned, that is, to construct an ongoing narrative of the self, composed of what the psychoanalyst Robert Stoller calls “microdots” (“the consciously experienced moments selected from the whole and arranged to present a point of view”), one that might have been more or less cohesive than my actual self but that at any rate was supposed to illuminate puzzling behavior and onerous symptoms — my behavior and my symptoms.

To this day, I’m not sure that I am in possession of substantially greater self-knowledge than someone who has never been inside a therapist’s office. What I do know, aside from the fact that the unconscious plays strange tricks and that the past stalks the present in ways we can’t begin to imagine, is a certain language, a certain style of thinking that, in its capacity for reframing your life story, becomes — how should I put this? — addictive. Projection. Repression. Acting out. Defenses. Secondary compensation. Transference. Even in these quick-fix, medicated times, when people are more likely to look to Wellbutrin and life coaches than to the mystique-surrounded, intangible promise of psychoanalysis, these words speak to me with all the charged power of poetry, scattering light into opaque depths, interpreting that which lies beneath awareness. Whether they do so rightly or wrongly is almost beside the point.

Nevertheless, the next sentence she writes will make you squirm.

IT WAS A SNOWY Tuesday afternoon in February, and I was inching along Fifth Avenue in a taxi, my mood as gray as the sky, on my way to a consultation with a therapist in the Village who was recommended to me by Dr. O., another therapist I had seen in consultation, who in turn was referred to me by a friend’s therapist.

Would that not, in the hands of Lady Gaga, make you caper with joy? Ow, ow, oooo Mau Mau! Mista Docta Docta Docta Big Man!

And then, the horrifying but absolutely inevitable news in the author info cutline, complete with a link to the chronic depression piece, like it was addictive and you couldn't get enough:

Daphne Merkin is a contributing writer. She is working on a book based on an article she wrote for the magazine about her struggle with chronic depression.

It makes you wonder not if she's giving BJs to the NYT editorial board, but who on that board would accept one. What you understand, in a moment of dreadful insight, that Merkin is constantly rewriting The Story of O, except poorly, with really ugly underwear, bad (if any) low-end fortified Mogen David wine, and with shit for brains (pillhead, anyone? The sneaky little white girls' drug of choice.)

You will apprehend, first of all, that the worst thing about The Sopranos is the extended psychiatric fantasies -- what was that shit when Tony goes to heaven? -- and it is the least funny, if not quite the most reprehensible, thing about Woody Allen. The whole beat generation of black turtlenecked Village Voice analysands were about, it seems to me, Getting It On, sometimes with, you know, Spades. Merkin is, as she takes pride in saying, about getting it off.

And the NYT buys this crap -- the spectacle of a woman making an idiot of herself by waving her stump in your face -- as humor, or "style" stories. They let Joyce Wadler, who is not funny, do it; the whole Modern Love series is of the ilk. It's an odd sensibility. Let's just say Upper West Side, to be polite. My long love affair with snotty, liberated, German Jewish princesses -- headed up by my darling former mother-in-law -- does not encompass one who plays the dirty girl.

She writes about getting a pedicure for Yom Kippur in the Jewish Daily Forward.

I think my mother-in-law (born in Berlin in 1900, died in D.C. in 2000), who once told me she got her 1929 PhD. in economics because In my day, you went to school until you got married, would have some very snotty killer German/French compound word for that. Flittchen manque? Not even close. God bless you, Fraulein Doctor Lotte, wherever you are.
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Much as we might rag on it, the awful truth must be looked at head-on: Reality TV, that fiction of verisimilitude, is, even for people who read W. G. Sebald and enjoy grim Scottish films with subtitles, supernally addictive.

-- Daphne Merkin, Dream Girl, The New York Times Magazine Women's Fashion Supplement

Daphne Merkin is the least talented most often published writer I know. She's like the Heidi Montag of journalism.

This lede is just so wrong in so many ways -- so assholic New Yorker, so deeply unfunny and witless in a way only the Times lets middle-aged women be (Joyce Wadler! Alex Kucynski!), a true discredit to her race -- I can't even begin to unpack this for you. Like network TV and the deeply boring W.G. Sebald and Trainspotting are not fictions of verisimilitude?

Because all the hip people in the universe are, like me, watching RuPaul's Drag Race and nothing else. Rag on Ru? Are you shitting me? You want fictions of verisimilitude? Baby, Ru -- who places himself, as a drag mama, at "just under 300 years old" -- has been dishing fictions of verisimilitude since -- We're born naked and after that, it's aaaaaaaaaaaall drag. Tatiana gave the best discourse on gender I've heard in 20 years the other night on the reunion show.* Addicted to season 453 of the Housewives of Orange County, as Merkin thinks she's being hip to claim? Dude, you'd have to be in a medically induced coma.

Well, there you go. There's a certain class of girls, let's just leave it at that, I went to college with them, for whom Valium is a way of life.

Oh my God Oh my God Oh my God, she says it! I actually read the rest of the piece, which is deeply, deeply loathsome, almost reptilian, as is Merkin's wont. And she says it! I want to be a happy JAP!!!!!

It's almost as good as being a deeply repellent stoned one.

My. eyes. glaze. over.

* She felt she had been disrespected as a queen by the others carping on how she was only just a pretty face. As long as I've got a dick between my legs and a wig on my head, I'm a drag queen. (Authenticity as drag queens -- not transsexuals, or God forbid, women -- being one of the electrifying subthemes of the show.)
purejuice: (Default)
Well this -- Anschuetz on native geopsych excerpted below -- isn't exactly a lede.

Nor is this the carefully written metaphysical post I envisioned, pairing the anthro excerpt with a particularly mannered and yet slobbering obituary of a "rebel abbot" by the former girlfriend from Tricycle magazine -- to address the shameless wanking of both anthropologists and American Buddhists, each of whom adopt the same grossly offensive tone of voice. Heap big red man.

I could not access the abbott's former girlfriend's piece -- they so value the widow sensei's wanking it's behind a pay wall -- but you can get an idea of what it's like by reading the encomia of the other shameless inscrutables:

It was an exciting time, when Maezumi Roshi’s first dharma successors were training together at Zen Center of Los Angeles. Tetsugen (Bernie Glassman) was developing Zen businesses, Dennis Genpo Merzel adapted EST Training for Zen, Joko Beck’s piano music drifted through the dark after zazen, and Daido produced Zen Center publications. I was the center’s physician.

That, grasshopper, is a MEGO lede.

And, btw, Tricycle magazine has smooth, hairless, Buddhist porn on the cover this month.

Both anthropologists and Buddhist converts think they're speaking with reverence according to the people they've been completely seduced and ravished by -- anthropologists of native Americans, both North and South, like the anthro wanker Kurt F. Anschuetz quoted below, and American students of Asian (and native American!) religions who adopt this passive-aggressive coded koan speak which they think is how Asians talk.

You might as well be doing a Charlie Chan accent, which is something they'd be horrified to think they were modelling -- which just shows you how totally clueless they are.

My friend the art historian of the pre-Columbians points out also that the objects of study, whether venerable Asian senseis or natives of the Americas, give very simple answers, suitable for five-year-olds, to the dreadfully eager and horny white people who, atheists themselves, ask them so many incredibly rude and puppy-like questions about God without being initiates, or indeed native speakers of one's language. Such that what American Buddhists and anthropologists then promulgate as the word of the Hot Brown Holy People is really, Grasshopper, atheist, longnose, watch your step very carefully. Babies are brought here by storks.

Distinguishing Land Use Traditions:
Landscapes as Memory and
Landscapes of Memory
All humans remember and celebrate cultural-historical
memories through the traditions sustained by their cultural
communities. As I observe in appendix II, every community
imbues its landscape with intrinsic meaning based on
its cultural patterns of perception and interpretation (after
Anschuetz 1998b:44–58). These perceptions include not only
the community understandings of its physical environment
and resources, but time and how people interact with their
cultural-historical memories to create and sustain their traditions
(e.g., see Ortiz 1991). Other customs, including many of
the vernacular (qua common, indigeneous) land use activities
pursued by Native American and Hispanic groups within the
Valles Caldera (chapter 5), may simultaneously be informed
by, and serve to establish, the veracity of oral traditions. For
this reason, it is useful to examine the substantive differences
in the ways in which Anglo-American and traditional Native
American and Hispanic land-based communities generally
organize and interact with their cultural-historical memories
in constructing their landscapes (following Ferguson
Landscape is a cultural process entailing interaction
between relatively static representations of geographical
space and dynamic cultural and social factors that underlie the
construction of these representations (after Ingold 1993:738;
see also appendix III).


The wanker Anschuetz goes on to quote various native "experts" who are either the world's biggest shuckin' and jivin' Uncle Toms or double agents or both, so patently absurd and worthless are their nuggets of wisdom. He cites no other archeological or anthropological evidence to back up his many completely anodyne and yet evanescent assertions about native geopsych in the very important emerging field of pre-Columbian water management structures. (Water, in the desert, is God. Literally.)

Compare and contrast Anna Sofaer, who single handedly has done most of the real work at Chaco Canyon. She has archaeo facts, and the natives are so grateful to her for proving the sophistication of their pre-Columbian culture at Chaco that they they come forward with all kinds of spiritual and geopsych info to help her explain her glyphs and highways and site placements. So Anschuetz gets schlock or persiflage from his native correspondents, and Anna -- though she has a lot of snotty white lady issues -- can't beat hers off with a stick.

...drifting through the dark after zazen.


My eyes glaze over.

MEGO Ledes

Mar. 23rd, 2010 03:53 pm
purejuice: (Default)
Don DeLillo is the poet of entropy.

-- John Banville, "Against the North Wall", review of Point Omega, by Don DeLillo, NYRB, 4/8/10, LVII, 6, pp. 40-1.

Nuff said.

My eyes glaze over.

MEGO Ledes

Jan. 27th, 2010 08:48 am
purejuice: (Default)
This is page one from a book which shall remain nameless, lent me to cheer me up by someone who shall remain nameless, by a perennial National Book Award finalist and some time best seller:

Wardsbury, Grayshead-on-Heath, England,

Mum starved herself for suffrage, Grandmother claiming it was just like Mum to take a cause too far. Mum said she had no choice. Besides, she said, starving made the world brighter, took away the dull edges, the disappointment. She said this in hospital, the place not entirely unpleasant -- a private room, windows ammonia-washed looking out to a tree branch on windless days, an ivy-covered wall.

For instance, those, she said. Someone had sent greenhouse lilies, suffrage white, to their favorite cause celebre, lilies now stuffed in a hospital pot intended for urine or bile. She said she had never known them to have that smell. She'd been blessed by this, she said, the smell of lilies. She said this when she was still speaking, or when she could still be heard, before she twisted into a shape reserved for cracked sticks and hard as that, before thety gave her the drip intended for dying soldiers and here, said the attendant, wasted on a woman by her own hand. Then I was afraid I might break Mum if I breathed, or spoke a word. Before I had tried and tried. Then I gave up like Mum did and went quiet.

Grandmother said to her, "You're too smart." She sat in the chair knitting, like Madame Lafarge waiting for heads to drop....She had the attendant bring in the blue-veined china soup tureen....

Herewith, I bite the hand that feeds me.

Where do I begin? How about with the word Mum, which corroborates the bodice-ripping dateline? Mum is what all British people call their mothers, yes? Uh, no. Lower middle-class British people call their mothers Mum. Small bereaved princes call their mothers Mummy. Many British people not of the working classes call their mothers Mother, as do many country people, who are interestingly formal, like in the highlands and the islands. Mum is kind of Cockney, not to say chav. So this is going to be a book about chavs, yes?

No. Mum is a dying suffragist of the upper middle class being written about by an American with just about the most tin ear I've encountered. She writes as if talking out of the side of her mouth, with the most shocking coarseness, while also getting these status marker insider terms she slavishly adores -- in hospital -- almost completely wrong. If you're going to be a social climber, dude, you've got to get the syntax right. Nothing makes my lizard lids droop and flicker more dangerously than somebody who is hoping to pass who gets the accent wrong. The author does this throughout the book, anachronisms and malaprops so coarse and strident in settings so upper crust -- You're too smart -- in British means, you're too well-dressed, which is something not even Madame Lafarge would say to somebody on their death bed -- that it stops being a tic and starts being Tourettes'. You're too smart is also not a locution, I should think, being used even in America in 1914 -- but enough. And, oh, Madame Lafarge? One of the most famous and emblematic characters in Dickens, who stands at the top of the canon of British literature? Her name is Defarge.

Starving made the world brighter makes it clear what this novel of five generations of women is going to be about, aside from the permutations of Babbitry, country club mannerisms, of which anorexia is, of course, a late 20th century requirement. What starving meant to the suffragists, demeaningly referred to on the jacket cover as "suffragettes", is of course the cynosure of much seven sisters scholarship. I gently submit that what it meant to the British suffragists had nothing to do with the perfectionism and delusional highs of anorexia, and that it came rather from an entirely different, and political, and masculinist, tradition.

Having cleverly established the tone, location, class, venue and action in one sentence, it is now time for some purty writin': ....windows ammonia-washed looking out to a tree branch on windless days, an ivy-covered wall. This existential, or Zen visual metaphor, is almost perfectly rendered for a 1957 Jules Feiffer cartoon. It is a cartoon, it is 1957, nothing wrong with that. Except that this is 1914 and you're trying -- and failing like a motherfucker -- to make it not cartoonish. You've blown the British class and accent thing, you've betrayed your hidden agenda as anorexia, and with your metaphor you nail explicitly your almost total cluelessness about what you're expressing. The Jules Feiffer black turtleneck side-of-the-mouth Zen hipster thing is a great voice, a Holden Caulfield voice, an Allen Ginsberg voice among others, yet it is dated, it is anachronistic for this 1914 British suffrage deathbed scene in about a thousand ways, and to allude to Washington Square bohemia of the 1950s with the windless Camus branch reveals your true origins -- as do all the other whoppers in the book. If you are channeling Woody Allen, do not write this book.

Then there's the lurching into tough-guy mode problem -- the smells. The ammonia-washed window. The lilies in the piss pot, very Zen. And they smell like lilies, not piss! Hahahahahaha! Good joke! You're telling jokes, right? Or are you channeling Hemingway describing a World War One soldier's anomie? Hemingway? You need a good ear for accents to do Hemingway, and Hemingway was actually a pretty good writer on the subject of death. He, like, felt it, which is why he streamlined the syntax. Are you with me? So you're doing stiff upper lip, side-of-the-mouth, and damaged Nietzschean doughboy all at once? With the weird 1957 vibe?

I could go on. The soup tureen as a marker of class. Virginia Woolf makes a soup tureen the very vortex of modernity in To the Lighthouse -- Raising her eyebrows at the discrepancy.... -- so it can be made to portend. But I will desist.


My. eyes. glaze. over.

MEGO Ledes

Jan. 16th, 2010 10:12 am
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There are many first sentences in many news stories which I ought to read, if I were any kind of a cultured person, or indeed a mensch, at all, which Make my Eyes Glaze Over.

Herewith, the beginning of an occasional series.

In retrospect, it should always have been clear that the polarizing New York indie-rock band Vampire Weekend had a little bit of ska in its DNA.

  • In retrospect... establishes Jon Caramanica, the author of this shit, as a long time, and way hipper-than-thou, connoisseur of whatever is about to follow. These two words of self-referential pomposity alone make MEGO. It's not news.
  • ...it should always have been clear.... establishes the certainty that Caramanica is smarter than you are, even though you might well have already taken bullet one in, that he is a long-time connoisseur of whatever follows, ergo, he's stickin' this insufferable white boy rock critic etiolated philosophy major superiority -- but can you dance, fat boy? -- to you. By this time, you have received your warning on the upcoming assault of exclusionary jargon. But wait, there is
  • another chest-beating reference to Caramanica's own New York City rocker political and critical scrupulosity in his labelling of the subject in question, which, I point out, we haven't gotten to yet, having had to wade through two different concepts to get to this one: ...polarizing...., which is so gasbaggily grandiose a political term relative to the stature of its subject that it is impossible to scan the rest of the piece to see if the author backs this claim he's making in the lede up, and then
  • to string polarizing together with ...New York indie-rock band Vampire Weekend..., each word of which requires a separate act of cognition, whether or not Vampire Weekend and the whole phenom of naming rock bands just wants to make you puke, what's wrong with Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, you assholes? and while
  • one may pride one's self on one's own knowledge of the insider music connoisseur by knowing enough about ska to write a PhD. thesis, it is rude as a feature reporter to assume your reader knows anything at all about ska, especially in the lede to a story, especially in a one-sentence lede crammed with dissonant other concepts, jargon and attitude, and especially as the nut concept in the lede to the story: ska is the lede to the story and should probably have been the first word. It looks good in print and would grab peoples' attention. It is the first principle of writing a lede on a feature story to put the most important word first and follow it with an active verb. It might take you half an hour to figure out what that word is, but it's worth it. Finally,
  • shit-for-brains, you don't say somebody has ska in their DNA in a sentence printed adjacent to a photograph of guess what, four more white boys. They have rhythm, do they? In their jeans? Like Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes? Who, by the way, can also dance?

    You fucking wish.

Update: The Beeb has reviewed this album, Contra, ecstatically with lots of nice clips. It's very very good.


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January 2012



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