Archives for category: TV

Philip K. Dick’s 1952 short story “Human Is” is clever. Not great. Just clever. (You can find it in the collection We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.) It is not unlike, say, a Fredric Brown story, but not as well written.* It does not present an elegiac mood, or aim for anything like the sublime. It is a rather cynical sf tale about marital discord and unhappiness. And betrayal.

But it was taken as the inspiration for Amazon Prime’s new series Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams, appearing as the third episode. And was it changed! Only the ending of the short story remained untampered with, quoting (adopting) about two lines verbatim.

Yes, friends, there are spoiler ahead. . . .

The short story’s basic premise — of a mean, cold bastard of a husband (Lester) going off to an alien planet, Rexor IV, and coming back changed, turned into a nice, easy-to-live with loving man — that is the same. But instead of a literalist, a scientific researcher, the show features a callous warrior (renamed Silas, played by Bryan Cranston), bent on exploiting and killing an alien race for the good of “Terra.”

The short story’s subplot about the wife’s brother and nephew, that is gone. And all the dreck of everyday life? Gone too. The change of scenery and alteration of tone from the original make the show different. Very. Instead of reading about an unloved wife whose uncharitable husband will not help an inlaw out, we see an unfulfilled and tyrannized wife — emotionally abused and domestically oppressed despite her elevation to a major official role in the futuristic sealed-off society.

Yes, in the TV show she has been turned into a professional — a government official, even. And instead of suffering neglect from the man who won’t serve as foster father, we see our heroine suffer from coldness, indifference, and even envy from her husband. Actually, he is much worse, because minatory. Yes, he threatens violence.

The show’s penultimate scene takes place in a court room, in a trial that spells the issues out very clearly, cleverly. The written story is nowhere nearly so thematically tight.

But the big change? The whole story has become politicized. The husband in the show is portrayed almost exactly as leftists see “right wingers” — eager to kill and exploit foreigners (aliens), and as being emotionally withdrawn and cruel. And since the woman is now a career woman, a leader, this makes her a feminist heroine rather than the pathetic character that Dick imagined. With the child gone, it is just the microsocial antagonism of a childless couple, not a family drama — and the show carefully evades any issue of parental feeling from her husband to his brother-in-law’s son. This excision allows our feminist heroine to be portrayed as romantically and sexually unfulfilled. The very model of a modern Ms. obsession.

Indeed, in the show, because of her husband’s lack of interest in intimacy, early on she seeks out some sad satisfaction in a far-flung-future orgy in the sterile city’s underground (yes, the teleplay writers made sure to hit every possible mythic beat). When her husband comes back transformed, changed into a cheerful, sympathetic, and very sensual sexual partner (we “get” to see Cranston’s full-rear view nude form in a lovemaking session), she defends him — chooses him — even though it has been proved that he is not her husband.

Who is he? Well, her husband’s body, possessed by an alien metamorph. Invasion of the body snatcher!

The alien is from Rexor IV — as in the original PKD story. But where in the original the husband had been a careless innocent, his soul stolen by surprise while on a solo vacation, in the show there is war, and he was the aggressor and he became a casualty. At the beginning of the show, our heroine had politically opposed her husband’s plan to kill Rexorians and steal their atmosphere (or something like that). At the end of the show, she lets the enemy, the Rexorian, not only into her society but also into her bed, ostensibly because her human husband had not been nice enough to her. Not appreciative enough.

And was a bad guy anyway.

All this is standard left-right archetypes and stock figures and bigotries. Let me spell it out:

  • The husband? The very cliché of a left winger’s idea of a conservative.
  • The wife? The leftist self-image of a feminist heroine, ill-treated by her conservative partner.
  • The Rexorian? An exploited alien (foreigner) just “fighting for its life” and perhaps justifiably attacking our military and Silas, the Cranston character.

It would be hard to imagine a clearer allegory to today’s conflict with the Muslim world. The feminist women betray conservative men because those evil conservatives are bent on defending their nation by exploiting and killing foreigners (Muslims/Rexorians); further, those feminists replace the murderous conservatives with the foreigners, going so far to bedding them . . . because the frustrated, unfulfilled feminist women will be more sexually fulfilled by the foreigners/aliens than by their fellow nationalists/Terrans.

Also present is the “right wing” fear that the enemy will infiltrate and pretend to be “one of us” but then betray us completely, taking our place — this “paranoid” fear is exactly mirrored in the television story. And, going another step even further, the right wing suspicion that the leftists will betray us, preferring the other to their own, and making cuckolds of the West’s men . . . that is very close, too — for the woman does betray Terra, and just because the alien treats her better as wife and lover.

So, the fantasies and fears of both rightists and leftists are played to. Both sides could view the story with a kind of . . . indecent? . . . pleasure. And, because the Amazon version is so artfully done, it turns out to be a beautiful, sublime story, too. Much more powerful than the original.

It is now a philosophical horror story, not just a clever little domestic drama with a cynical sci-fi surprise ending.

The wonder of it is how brazen it is, how timely. The perpetrators — I mean, writers and actors and producers — of the new drama surely know what they are up to. But why? Why do it this way? I assume that these are all left-leaning Hollywood types. The story, though with all the biases of your standard-brand Hollywood Left Coast cosmopolitan written deep into the story’s premise, and played out as the drama unfolds, in the end gives away much of the game to the right wingers. What could be worse than the Left shown as the betrayer and the enemy shown as capable of using elaborate deception? And all because the leftist woman demands love she is not getting at home.

First world problems leading to the conquest of that world by the Third.

She even goes as far as cuckolding the Right in the end. In a sort of Gertrude-and-Claudius way.

A cautionary tale — an apocalypse! — indeed.

Ah, the culture wars. All-too-human, is.

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* Dick’s science fiction short stories, at least the early ones, are not very artful on the sentence level — his realistic novels were far more carefully crafted. The short stories are also rather tawdry, as are many of the science fiction novels, filled with the dreck of everyday domestic conflict.

N.B. I wrote the above before reading anyone else’s criticism. And now, as I clean this up, I flit around the net and find appraisals that do not go very far. And not a few just show the insipid shallowness of modern feminism.

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The amusing thing about having a fabulist as President is that it gives us all something to talk about while he pushes through as much of his promised agenda as he can.

Fake out!

imageYeah, I’ve been tricked by Trump’s Twitter feed, too. But, to repeat something I said last month, there is a method to his madness. He is spinning the media. I do believe this is according to a plan. He is a magician. Or, maybe, Iago + troll.

I was just watching the Egregious Hack, George Stephanopoulis, go into high moral dudgeon about the utter implausibility that the White House was spouting in defense of the Trump Tower Wiretap Tweet. The Hack seemed to think he was on to something. It was as if he thought that by exposing this one lie, the whole Trump movement would crumble.

Fool!

Yes, he should know better. It was he, after all, who was present at the creation of the Post-Truth society. His beloved Clintons mastered stonewalling and sheer cussed persistence long after after a lie had been found out.

The Clintons had learned that being caught in a lie is very much like Death — for everybody else. The lied-to go through stages: denial, anger, bargaining, acceptance. As long as the caught liar refuses to deal with the truth and the meaning of is and whatnot, those he has lied to deal with the awful fact as best they can. If the liar is resolute, in the end the lied-to merely accepts that something happened not to their liking, and carry on as if truth were not a thing.

And, in politics, it needn’t be. And has not been for a long time.

Trump is merely playing the game by his standards, now, not the media’s.

We could be witnessing the End Times ushered in the side door, or the greatest political rescue mission negotiated out the back. I don’t know.

But it is hysterically funny.

It is great fun, anyway, watching the Egregious Hack and his cohorts twist in the wind, as Trump plays them.

Just remember to laugh. (Sometimes one forgets to breathe.) We are witnessing the complete erosion of the establishment’s patina, a wiping away of all surface luster. We shall soon be witnessing nothing other than naked power.

Yes. You can then call it the Apocalypse. For much will then be revealed.

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The news comedy shows are, for the most part, denunciation shows. This description fits Jon Stewart’s old topical comedy show and Trevor Noah’s lamer version; Bill Maher’s HBO warhorse, and John Oliver’s hipper variant on the same network; and, especially, the best one in the business, RT’s Redacted Tonight

The worst of the lot is surely Samantha Bee’s, but perhaps I err. I have not really been able to watch her after she left The Daily Show. Larry Wilmore’s is a little better, but, last I checked it was relentlessly race-obsessed. I feel icky after watching it — like other people feel after they’ve experienced Milo, who has a touring show, not a TV show.

Red Eye with Tom Shillue on Fox is a little less denunciatory (perhaps by being more defensive?), and Greg Gutfeld’s new weekend show is . . . well, you explain it to me. These latter two are the only non-left-leaning of such shows that I am aware of. That is, the hosts are not leftists.

Many people miss Stephen Colbert’s parody show of Bill O’Reilly. Not me. I tired of it after about the second episode. It is worth noting that YouTube’s The Young Turks works as a self-parody show — an unintentional self-parody show.

Topical comedy is hard, I am sure. Being fresh and always witty? Maddeningly difficult. That is one reason these topical comedy shows resort to relentless denunciation. When you are not being truly funny, you can rely on your audience’s out-group hatred and loathing — and self-righteous sense of in-group superiority — to maintain passion and high-pitch enthusiasm. Thus delighted laughter is replaced with derisive howls

The problem with all this is that they become uncomfortably close to the show depicted in A Face in the Crowd, the great Elia Kazan film starring Andy Griffith as “Lonesome” Rhodes: grand examples of demagoguery. This is especially the case for the shows with live audiences. They want red meat (or the leftist soy-and-quinoa equivalent), and there is usually one guest who serves as the lion pride’s delectable Christian treat.

Most of these shows sport panel “debate” segments. These, of course, are played for comedy, but also for argumentative purposes, too. The better to serve the denunciation game. And yet sometimes one actually witnesses productive, honest debate. Not often. Sometimes.

Last week, mere days before the aforementioned Milo Yiannopoulis was publicly hit with a disgrace campaign based on some pedophilia-related comments he had made, the gay conservative free-speech provocateur appeared on Bill Maher’s Real Time. Last week I wrote about his one-on-one interview with Maher at the top of the show. I could not bear to watch the panel segment with Milo . . . until yesterday, at which point I hastily put together a video about what went wrong. The problem was more than mere denunciation, though denunciations there were, all around:

I briefly comment on Vee’s explanatory video, too, so I should put up his link:

The key concepts that I tried to add to the debate are the two main problems we see in modern discourse all the time, especially on television topical comedy shows:

1. Data impasses, and

2. Contractual impasses.

Either kind of stalemate-inducing situation scuttles profitable dialogue. And, frankly, neither serves as humor, either. Sure, the second kind usually takes the form of mutual denunciation, but such cases do not seem funny to me. Not at all. They are usually excruciating.

The denunciation shows might consider growing up.

Or die. That would be good, too.

To be replaced by real interviews and real debates.

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I like Charlie Booker. He sports a droll, mocking presentation style, probably my favorite “attitude” of all the topical comedians now in play.

However, this year-end round-up — 2016 Wipe — is more interesting as an example of fake news. Not as comedy.

Since some of the subjects here being made fun of were issues and debates I know quite a lot about, it was instructive to watch him effectively distort the news, the better to serve the prejudices of his elitist, London insider audience. Indeed, he frankly says so, at one point. But we’re supposed to take it as irony. I guess.

I took it as earnest confession.

First example? Brexit supporter (and Euro MP) Dan Hannan. Booker’s editing suggests that Hannan was lying when he said the Brexit issue was mainly about sovereignty, one of the few times in the show when that issue came up. But Hannan is eloquent, and precise. His primary interest in sovereignty was clear from every video I saw of him. I mean, the videos are still up on the Web, right? Maybe I noticed merely because I’m separated from Britain by an ocean and a continent.

In any case, it’s not as if this couldn’t be checked.

Or take Hillary Clinton — please. Booker glosses right over all her scandals, never drawing the real gallows humor latent in every move of her shrill, smug campaign. It is almost as if Booker were trying to score ideological points with his comrades in the show’s audience rather than be funny. Oh, say it ain’t so, Charlie!

Or take the NeverTrump protests both before and following the election . . . or the relentless sabotage (and Twitter-feed death threats) that Trump withstood from the beginning of his campaign. No mention how the pre-election shennanigans turned out to have been orchestrated from high up in the Clinton campaign. The revelations coming out just weeks before the election. No notice of how the same folks who had been, before the fateful Tuesday, decrying Trump’s droll suggestion that he would accept the outcome of the election “only if” he won, next took to the streets to cry “Not my president!” when their side lost. Are you sure you could not find any cause for laughter, here? I thought hypocrisy and cognitive dissonance were the very stuff of topical comedy.

Charlie Booker apparently “knows better.”

This past year was filled with insanity on all sides. And yet, somehow, Booker makes it look as if the wholly insane could only be found in the ranks of Leave/Trump vothers.

There was one genuine bit of satire, though, when he interviewed a Leave voter and then shouted the man down before he could get three words out in a row. In that moment he did acknowledge that “his side” was, indeed, habitually throwing stones in their glass domiciles.

You’ve got to pick and choose a lot to make a comedy special, I know. But 2016 Wipe wasn’t so much topical satire as apologetics — if in the form of despairing mockery.

Sad. Sad indeed.

It could have been so much funnier if a teensy bit honest. Pay me his fee and I could write a funnier year-end review. At least I would capture the spirit of the age in all its witlessness.

Oh, and speaking of witlessness . . . you know what I noticed most? Repeated revelations of poor education. Ms. Cunk, near the very end (how apt) showed no knowledge of what the word “apocalypse” originally meant, how it became what it now “means,” and how both definitions work together to nod, knowingly, at the real human predicament. Instead, she runs through a brain-dead, uninformed view of the current devastation that her class feels. Oh, the feels.

In that, the show did not serve as satire, but merely as mildly entertaining grist for real satire.

For a much better attempt, scorn the professionals and give the amateurs a chance. Sargon of Akkad did a far better job than Booker did. Sure, he is serious. But also funnier:

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On io9, Esther Inglis-Arkell takes on the serial-killer genre, as exemplified on TV shows such as Hannibal, Dexter and True Detective:

Individually, these shows are good. It’s the aggregate, and the lack of alternatives, that’s terrible. The idea of the genius-artist-philosopher-killer has become stagnant and dull. Everywhere you look, it’s the same boring nihilism, the same boring excuses, and the same slightly-creepy glamour — which is growing boring.

Her piece is called “It’s Time to Bring Back the Banality of Evil.”

I wish to show no disrespect for the coiner of that phrase, “banality of evil,” or for the book in which she trotted the concept out. Or even for the concept. And yet . . .

Bring back the “banality of evil” . . . to art?

This strikes me as an almost anti-intellectual demand. Fiction is usually about the exceptional, and for good reasons.

Serial killer fiction is a modern reincarnation of ancient mythology, the stories of gods behaving badly, of Devils and demons, of Power corrupted. It allows for the picking at the scab of common sense reality by turning crime into pornography, and then turning us about-face and making us recoil at our own lusts.

All people seek power. And mastery. Crime is the crudest power. Masterful crime is at once the most frightening and the most attractive. Genius serial killers serve as one of the few probings of mastery that can mirror our baser natures, which common culture necessarily would have us shun and suppress. By revealing it, and then in frame of art reversing our evaluations — in great art, several times over, or from a multitude of angles — we gain something that realism cannot deliver: self-knowledge perhaps immune from complacency.

Realism in fiction is fine, in its way. But a little goes a long way — and in another sense realism is a plague upon civilization.

Literary realism is deeply antithetical to human nature. It is usually moralistic and prissy and lowbrow. (This is even more true when praised by alleged highbrows.) Too often realistic fiction (and, even more so, the praise of realism) expresses nothing greater than a fear of imagination, of the fantastic, of the night mind, of Dream Time. It betrays our very human origins in sleep and dreams and illusion. It shuns the wellsprings of chthonian depths. It extols the shallow reaches of the mundane, drowning us in the surface tension of the puddles of the average and common.

Realism condemns us to the ho and the hum.

So, sure: show us the petty killers, if you must. But a serial killer is all the more frightening because he (rarely she) expresses our real fears, of being out-mastered by evil.

If you want to bring the banality of evil back to art, develop more political fiction, for it is in the political realm where you see serial murders glorified, while also bureaucratized. The appalling made banal. And then show all the normal citizens whooping and hollering, eager to vote the serial killers back into office.

Now that is scary. And banal. And evil, evil, evil.timo-dither

imageMy conclusion from watching Fox and Fox Business for a year? The hosts are mismatched.

The Independents is better without Kennedy … as hostess interruptus; she is fine on the street (with a mic).

RedEye is better when hosted by TV’s Andy Levy or Joanne Nosuchinsky, not by the show’s creator, Greg Gutfeld.

But The O’Reilly Factor is only worth watching in toto when Greg Gutfeld* hosts.


* Gutfeld is also fine on The Five, which is a show I would watch regularly if it would swap its traditional screen left right-wing woman out for some person of either sex or none who isn’t a nitwit ideologue. I am reading his book Not Cool right now: it is fun, and possesses a key insight into our times.