wax banks

second-best since Cantor

Category: 100words500things

Rick and Morty.

Harder brainwork than any other American television show: the density of Arrested Development and The Simpsons, the complexity of The Wire, the (self-)lacerating moral eye and sheer narrative intricacy of The Singing Detective. Where Community proposed hopefully that Dan Harmon could be a whole person, R&M starts from ‘Sorry, no’ and surrounds its omnipotent alcoholic Harmon-surrogate with victims and casualties; in a sense it’s about Harmon failing the Community community. Justin Roiland’s virtuosic lead performances and subtle work by a game ensemble lighten what’d otherwise be an unendurable darkness. Right now, the best thing running.

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Dollhouse.

Imagine the most gifted network-TV auteur given free rein and decent funding to pursue a mad SF passion project perversely biting every hand that’s ever fed him: a story about a techno-brothel which wipes the enslaved workers’ minds, replacing them with identities requested by the johns — not necessarily for sex. Imagine this is actually a story about Hollywood’s systemic abuse of women mirroring the wider culture’s own. Imagine constant, panicked network interference from day one, just two brief increasingly rushed and incoherent seasons. Imagine this risky, hermetic work of genius not being very good after all.

The Wire.

One of the most cognitively demanding works of art to enter mainstream culture (see also Rick and Morty). Smug, certain, arguably(?) too focused on men’s lives and pain, tilting in its later seasons toward a sarcastic fatalism, and with a maddeningly compromised final season, The Wire is nonetheless the canonical onscreen rendering of late-20C capitalism in urban crisis — and (largely unnoticed) a perfect police procedural, hitting every single required cop-story beat without ever falling for the genre’s mealy-mouthed amoral bullshit. Unquestionably one of the great late-20C works of American art — and reportage. A goddamn civic obligation.

The Sopranos.

A workplace sitcom about Tony, descendant of Archie Bunker and Ralph Kramden (or Bill Clinton): the graceful sad clown. Gandolfini’s imperishable performance — opposite his equal, Edie Falco — is now lazily dismissed as a ‘problematic’ solicitation of love for the undeserving White Male Antihero. That ‘criticism’ misses the mark. The show solicits sympathy with Tony’s victims and empathy with him, but he’s comically awful, and in the world of The Sopranos Tony’s protagonism is no gift. Remains one of our culture’s deepest depictions of resentful, deceitful, compromised, bourgeois (i.e. Clintonesque) marriage. A masterpiece.

Productivity Porn.

Procrastination, evasion, self-deception masquerading as ‘thinking’ about ‘productivity’ — a hollow term further stretched in order to sell a wider variety of consumer goods like ‘to-do list managers’ and stress balls. Adjacent to ‘everyday carry’ fetishism, both best understood as opt-in anxiety (PTSD and ADHD sufferers get swept up with the clowns, alas). Peak stupidity: the ‘hipster PDA,’ i.e. index cards clipped together w/a pen. Lemme render this wanking superfluous for you: ‘Organize, ritualize, systematize, and for Christ’s sake stick with it.’ Moleskines and Space Pens are paraphilia, i.e. blinders. But then, that’s the real point.

Cyberpunk.

The unevenly distributed future as seen (through mirrorshades, darkly) from ‘the street,’ which famously finds its own uses for things. The cyberpunk vision of walled corporate technogardens and infinitely plastic transhuman bodies is essentially already here; insofar as the stories were (hyper)really about inequality, gentrification, surveillance, centerless systems of control, nightmarish cosmopolitanism, cyberpunk is already our condition — has been since the bomb. The genre’s Japanophilia/-phobia now seems dated, maybe because Japan presently scans as faded or arrested power; otherwise, thanks to its abstract rendering of tech as social phenomenon, cyberpunk remains terrifying today, a necessary vision.

Apple Computer.

The tally: Apple IIgs, ImageWriter II. Windows 95/98 interregnum. 12″ Macbook. 15″ Macbook Pro, another, another (this one). Three or four iPhones, three iPads. Their devotion to ‘user experience’ misreads as fanaticism, but their products really are that well and carefully made, that different in concept from the Valley norm. Jobs’s weary, unapologetic explanation for Apple’s behavioural oddities remains straightforwardly correct: ‘We don’t make junk.’ I think of Apple as a quintessentially Weird American organization, privileging ‘vision’ over short-term biz dictates. Jobs was a principled, terrible man; in a sane world, Woz would be a saint.

Game of Thrones.

‘Realpolitik Tolkien’: A Distant Mirror with dragons. The first three books (the series’s first movement) are major achievements: impeccable hybrids of grand quest-fantasy, court-intrigue whodunit, (anti)war epic, and empathetic social portraiture. Books 4-5, interwoven as one volume, are nearly as good, deepening the series’s historical consciousness, but dangerously slow. If Martin sticks the landing, ASOIAF is its genre’s capstone work. The show is impressive, at times superb (and perfectly cast), but since overrunning Martin’s books, it’s gotten silly, lacking Martin’s social-historical vision and sense of proportion. Read the books instead — then Viriconium.

Magic.

System(s) of ritual/programmatic antirational worldmaking, way(s) of being-in-the-world resting on a number of ridiculous, factually inaccurate claims, but producing extraordinary results. Our corporate-capitalist unculture’s present interest in psychotropism (microdosing, nootropics, etc.) charts a smooth curve downdowndown from techtopia’s counterculture roots to the Carefully Managed State — SV execs taking meetings at Burning Man, etc. — nothing magical about it. Lost for now for most: enveloping ritual which cleansed the personal of its parochiality (the absolute opposite of ‘myopic’ is ‘cosmic’). The ground of magical practice is the community, the macro-self, the trans-self. No place for that now, no more…eppur si muove.

Cultural studies.

Academic field — the mutant offspring of philosophy, literary studies, and political economy. Once the most interesting thing going in academic humanities, now unsurprisingly shallow in its philosophy, obtuse in its approach to texts, and dogmatic in its politics (and economics!). Online-leftish discourse is deeply indebted to cultural studies, as is identitarian pseudocriticism now standard in e.g. TV reviewing. The field’s dependency/hostility toward sci/tech is its greatest liability at present; or wait, no, I mean its political monoculture. Er, political dogmatism? Status-seeking? Hilariously bad writing across the board? ‘Fun’ research project: how many humanities academics have entirely given up reading for pleasure?