Banned Books Redux

From the Los Angeles Times:

Yet it’s foolish, self-defeating even, to pretend that books are innocuous, that we don’t need to concern ourselves with what they say. If that’s the case, then it doesn’t really matter if we ban them, because we have already stripped them of their power.

Books do change things: Just think of “Common Sense,” which lighted the fuse of the American Revolution, or “Mein Kampf,” which laid out the blueprint for Hitler’s Germany.

These are very different books — one a work of hope and human decency, the other as venal a piece of writing as I’ve ever read — but what they have in common is a kind of historical imperative, the sense that, at the right place and time, a book can be a galvanizing factor, for good or ill.

90210 v2.0

This isn’t your grandmother’s Noxema ad!

I finally got around to watching my DVRed pilot episode of the 90210 rehash. I was actually very cringe-ready, having read some early reviews and, of course, fearing the worst about a crappy remake of a previously crappy show.

But I was pleasantly not disappointed. The first 10 minutes of the episode were atrocious, with wooden dialogue and cookie-cutter characters (most of whom never broke their molds in the 2-hour pilot). It wasn’t until Jessica Walter showed up as the boozy, sharp-tongued grandmother that I felt comfortable with the show.

Producers are calling this version of the show “edgier,” and they probably mean that the show:
> features a character who video blogs and who goes by the name “Silver”
> used the words “penis” and “vagina” in the first half hour
> implied that one of the characters was getting an on-campus, in-car bj
> didn’t show Rob Estes without his top off until the very end
> required Shannen Doherty to smile–repeatedly.

I was disappointed that the stereotypically-dreamy boy with the angelic singing voice locked lips with the heroine at the end of the episode instead of being revealed to be getting his own after-hours bj from the boys’ phys ed teacher, if you know what I mean. Are we so over the gays that having a gay on your show means you’re not “edgy” anymore?

I’m hopeful that the adopted kid will come out, or maybe the son of the porn producer. Or maybe (God willing) Rob Estes!

Who likes them foxy and mean?

I’ll keep watching for a while, although I admit there are many fall shows competing for my monogamous attention. Stay tuned to see how these kids fare with me.

Poetry’s Mythology

Every morning I begin the day with a book of poems open at the breakfast table. I read a poem, perhaps two. I think about the poetry. I often make notes in my journal. The reading of the poem informs my day, adds brightness to my step, creates shades of feeling that formerly had been unavailable to me. In many cases, I remember lines, whole passages, that float in my head all day — snatches of song, as it were. I firmly believe my life would be infinitely poorer without poetry, its music, its deep wisdom.

(More when you follow the link.

I didn’t know where to start in responding to this. It’s been a long time since I’ve read an essay about poetry so flagrantly couched in privilege while wearing such privilege on its sleeve, as if it belonged there.

Mr. Parini cultivates a portrait of himself as, one might say, someone unfettered by the overall demands of what it means to be a poet who, you know, works. Who has a family, a house, a life, who does the dishes and has to walk the dog and such. Who might not have time to eat a square breakfast before running to the train to get to a job where there are few moments of pause, if any. And who then arrives back home near or after dark, hungry, beleaguered, thinking of poetry only as a last resort and, even then, reluctantly.

And too, I think there’s masturbatory aspect of criticism here wherein poetry begets poetry. That one must lead a life steeped in verse in order to produce it. (I half-agree.) I just don’t understand why poetry consider poetry outside of other forms of literature, or music, or art. Why can’t we replace “poetry” here with “rock music”? Or, that my fervent television viewing habits, involving Lost, reality shows, and Buffy can’t be considered foundational materials for a quirky little chapbook like The Strange Case of Maribel Dixon?

I suppose I’m saying my fear is that living along the lines outlined in Parini’s essay would lead many poets down familiar paths toward familiar poems and poetics, in a way that risks little and cashes in frequently.

But isn’t it more fun to sit quietly in the dark, wondering what else is in the room with you–and more importantly, which of you will strike first?

This Film Is Not Yet Judged, Criticized, Torn Up, Shamed, Sanitized, or Otherwise Ribbed For Your Pleasure

After the conference, I dug into one of my new Netflix titles: This Film Is Not Yet Rated. Kirby Dick’s documentary explores the history and controversy of the Motion Picture Association of America’s seemingly misguided ratings system, taking issue first and foremost with the fact that all the film raters’ identities are kept secret.

Through illuminating interviews with filmmakers, Dick tries to articulate the difference between an R rating and an NC-17 rating, the latter being considered a box office “kiss of death” for filmmakers because it turns off middle America. Filmmakers discuss feedback they received from the MPAA in light of their NC-17 rating and what they can do to get down to an R rating, proving, to some degree, that the MPAA has an awareness of its influence and impact over the filmmaking community.

The director of Boys Don’t Cry, for instance, explained that it was fine to show Brandon Teena being shot in the head, but not fine for her to film Lana’s face as she orgasms for about a full minute. The film is full of such comparisons, including an extended montage that posits that heterosexual sex acts, no matter how explicit, often capture the R rating, while homosexual sex acts generally lead to an NC-17 rating, even if the characters are fully clothed and, in the case of But I’m a Cheerleader, only masturbating.

Dick makes the point that in America, the only two organizations that work in secret are the CIA and the MPAA. To that end, he hires a team of private investigators to uncover the identities of the raters.

Through surveillance and good old fashioned detective work, the team track, follow, and unearth the identities of the raters, all of whom are purported to be parents of children up to age 18…but most of whom have adult children only. Dick discovers the ratings board’s appeal board is made up almost entirely of studio executives and theatre chain owners, who, through the appeals board, are able to effect undue impacts on the filmmaker’s creative decisions–and the general public’s moviegoing options.

Of all the documentaries I’ve seen, I think this is one of the most chilling for the insidiousness of its subject. It points out yet another hypocrisy in the nation of free speech and free thought, neither of which seem to be in good health these days.