16 January 2006

And Now for Something Completely Different

This has been a straaaaaaaange weekend. (Note: the preceding sentence was intended solely to fool the ill-considered computer program that tries to work out the gender of a writer through such means as asserting that repeated vowels means the write is female. I'd prove otherwise to you, but you probably don't want to see the evidence anyway.) I suppose for some people it is still the weekend. However, there was a strange Pythonesque quality to most of what passed for "entertainment-related news"—and that's even without considering the contents of Eberts & Roeper's ten-worst-films-of-2005 list.

In the world of sport, the NFL proved that playoff games should be only half as long. In all four games, the leader at halftime won the game; if I recall correctly, no team even took the lead in the second half only to lose, but I only saw parts of two of the games. Then there were the seven goals that Arsenal put in on Middlesborough during its one-nil victory. Arsenal has historically had a reputation as the epitome of what Americans tend to hate about soccer: Striving to win every match 1-0. There's even a short Monty Python routine on this—which, ironically, I showed the kids for the first time at about game time on Saturday. That's the equivalent of an NFL score of about 55-0, and it wasn't the New Orleans Ain'ts on the short end of the score (more like the Atlanta Falcons). The less said about Bode Miller, the better. That's a performance inhibiting substance (see chapter 28).

Of course, the publishing industry isn't going to get off easy, either. In the last year or so, Robert McCrum has demonstrated that he has totally lost touch with reality. Here's a comment from yesterday's Guardian that pretty much nails the coffin shut:

Every year at the Booker Prize, there's an odd little ritual in which six 21st-century writers come face to face with the art and craft of the book as Caxton and Chaucer knew it. Before the winner is announced, each writer is presented with a sumptuous, hand-tooled, hardback edition of their novel. Once a reaffirmation of a venerable, but vital, tradition, in years to come this ceremony may seem as quaint as the presentation of Maundy money. All the signs are that the book as we know it may be going the way of the codex and the illuminated manuscript.

Pardon me, Mr McCrum, but have you ever actually examined a Caxton-printed book, or an edition of Chaucer copied out during his lifetime (as he predates the printing press)? Neither could conceivably be called "sumptuous." Neither qualifies as a "codex." And, as I'm all too sure you're aware, illumination was something applied by each copyist—not the "publisher," whatever meaning that term may have had, and certainly not specified by the author. We'll leave aside the incongruity of putting "Caxton" and "Chaucer" in the same sentence, because that might have required you to not just examine the copies, but actually read them. In any event, what McCrum's introduction demonstrates more than anything else is overemphasis on catchy opening lines with no substance that are irrelevant to what follows in making works "acceptable" in today's market. I also take issue with a great deal of what follows in the article… but some of that is because I'm pretty familiar with the technologies involved, and I'm not nearly so sanguine about their market penetration beyond the upper-middle class, at least as presently conceivable.

Last, and far from least, some of my favorite censors are getting what they deserve: An exposé of their unwillingness to state their standards. MPAA ratings—don't kid yourselves, it's censorship—are assigned by a secret (and secretive) group of censors "independent consultants" through screenings in Encino, California. Leaving aside the question of how any organization based in Encino could possibly pretend to be representative of anything, that leaves the question of what "requires" the various ratings. Based on what I've seen of films in the last three decades, the problem is a simple one: The raters never had a single date in high school. Thus, to them, sex is a far greater evil than violence, which after all they saw on TV and possibly saw in the hallways during the senior class's annual "welcoming" of the freshmen to the school. And, in all probability, they attended the University of Wallamalloo, because they seem intent on following rules 1, 3, 5, and 7 to the letter. Now an independent filmmaker has gotten pissed off and done a documentary on the rating process. If I actually received IFC—it's not even an option on the local cable system—it's one I'd Tivo. If, of course, I had a Tivo.1

  1. Yes, there is a point to this purposeful misuse of a trademark. Foreshadowing—your sign of quality literature.