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From the NYT:

The Politics of Awkwardness on ‘Silicon Valley’
By ANNA NORTH APRIL 20, 2015 11:49 AM April

As it enters its second season, it’s clear that the HBO comedy “Silicon Valley” concerns itself not just with the foibles of the American tech industry, but also with the many gradations of human social awkwardness. …

That Laurie’s awkwardness is a problem while Peter’s seemed inextricable from his genius bodes ill for a show that has at times attempted to make fun of tech-industry sexism but has been criticized for merely replicating it. The show pulls some of its set pieces from real tech news, and it would be interesting to see it incorporate a discrimination lawsuit like that filed by Ellen Pao against the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins.

That suit likely went to trial too late to make it into season two, but Ms. Pao filed it in 2012, and she’s only one of many, many women who say they have faced discrimination in the tech industry. Will we see Laurie face such discrimination? Will Laurie be criticized, as Ms. Pao apparently was, for having “sharp elbows”?

Up to now, the show has painted Laurie as less effective than her male predecessor, despite the fact that they behave similarly. It would be far more interesting to see “Silicon Valley” challenge that view, by showing us an awkward woman who’s just as smart as the awkward men around her, but who struggles to be recognized as such.

“Silicon Valley” gets the complexities of nerdishness. Its writers clearly understand the fine line between being socially maladroit and just being a jerk. The show is perfectly capable of exploring the double standard by which American work culture, especially in tech, judges men’s and women’s social behavior. Now let’s see it try.

Much of the predominance of the left in American culture has to do with the chattering class’ adamantine confidence that of course all smart, funny, creative people are on their side. So, no doubt Mike Judge will be grateful to be reminded by the New York Times that he hasn’t yet written a screenplay in which an Ellen Pao character rightfully triumphs over her straight white male oppressors: what could be purer comedy gold than making fun of straight white males? Is there a fresher topic imaginable?

Of course, there’s nothing funny about Pao’s gay black husband, serial litigant and hedge fund looter Buddy Fletcher. Who in the world would find Buddy Fletcher amusing? Mentioning Buddy would be, by definition, unfunny, punching downward at a man who, because his wife lost her discrimination suit in a humiliating fashion might have to sell his three apartments in The Dakota to make up some of the missing firefighters’ pension funds he was entrusted with. But did we mention that Ellen Pao’s husband is gay? And he is black? What gives those firefighters the gall to punch down at poor Buddy just because he seems to have spent their money on personal luxuries for himself and on endowing a chair in his name for Henry Louis Gates at Harvard?

When Mike Judge gets done with the Ellen Pao Lifetime Movie, he can make a Sabrina Rubin Erdely anthology series entitled Broken Glass and a Crystal Mangum biopic.

 
• Tags: Idiocracy, Television 
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In Taki’s Magazine, I try to explain a TV show that nobody, fans or critics, got. If you like my sense of humor, well, the people who made “Apartment 23″ are a lot funnier than I am.

Since nothing I like, other than Iron Man movies, ever succeeds in the marketplace, I was hardly surprised when the only new sitcom I’ve bothered to watch in this decade was canceled in January with eight episodes unaired. But, this week, the eight lost episodes of “Apartment 23″ are available on line for free. But not after June 2. 

You might think that ABC would have aired the best episodes, leaving the dross unaired, but it appears to have worked the opposite way. ABC tried to pick out the most mass appeal episodes to air, so the ones online this week are particularly Apartment 23ish.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Television 
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Why don’t relatively smart, sophisticated network TV shows like multiple Emmy-winning Modern Family do well with the Hispanic audience? The answer, according to a variety of Latino activist and media types in the electronic rolodexes of New York Times reporters, is that Modern Family isn’t smart and sophisticated enough to lure Latino audiences away from Spanish-language shows.

To find out, the New York Times interviewed various self-appointed spokespersons for the Hispanic Tidal Wave, such as 

- “the co-owner and chief operating officer of the advertising agency Zubi Advertising,” 

- the “founder of the Web site Latino Rebels,” 

- a “31-year-old Mexican-American documentary filmmaker,” 

- and “a senior vice president for development and production at Encanto Enterprises.” 

You can’t get a much more statistically representative sample of the typical Hispanic than that (at least, among people who will instantly return Times‘ reporters calls and not tell them anything that might make them the slightest bit uncomfortable.)

Thus, they all told the NYT that the reason is because these shows like Modern Family are full of insensitive stereotypes about Hispanics and thus turn off the millions of culturally cutting edge Latino viewers who are annoyed by retrograde stereotyping of Hispanics (which by the way, I must add, could be solved just like that by hiring the people being quoted). 

Thus, due to white racists who fail to perceive how sophisticated the burgeoning Latino audience is, Hispanics viewers just stick with watching Sabado Gigante, where they are sure to see  a fat mestizo guy with a droopy Pancho Villa mustache and a giant sombrero leer at some dyed blonde spicy senorita and fall down. No stereotyping of Mexicans on Spanish language TV! (Or at least that’s the logical implication of this article — neither the reporters nor the sources for the article give any indication of ever having watched Spanish language programming.)

Stuck on Stereotypes

Networks Struggle to Appeal to Hispanics 

By TANZINA VEGA and BILL CARTER 

Sofia Vergara is probably the most recognizable Hispanic actress working in English-language television. She is one of the stars of “Modern Family,” the highest-rated scripted show on network television, and she has parlayed her celebrity into commercials for brands like Pepsi and Cover Girl. 

Despite her popularity, “Modern Family” is not a hit with Hispanic viewers. Out of its overall viewership of 12.9 million, “Modern Family” drew an average of only about 798,000 Hispanic viewers in the season. That audience accounts for only about 6 percent of the show’s viewers — less than half of what you might expect given the 48 million Hispanic television viewers that Nielsen measures. …

The numbers encapsulate the problem facing English-language television executives and advertisers: they desperately want to appeal to the more than 50 million Latinos in the United States (about three-quarters speak Spanish), especially those who are young, bilingual and bicultural, but those viewers seem to want very little to do with American English-language television. 

They do, however, continue to watch Spanish-language networks in huge numbers. 

In May, on the final night of the most recent season of “Modern Family,” far more Hispanic viewers were watching the top Spanish language show that week, the telenovela “La Que No Podía Amar,” on Univision, which attracted 5.2 million viewers. 

… The list of top English-language shows watched by Hispanics is headed by the same competition shows as among the total audience, with “Dancing With the Stars,” and “American Idol” faring best this spring, while “Sunday Night Football” was the leader in the fall. 

But the discrepancy between English and Spanish language shows is most acute among shows that are scripted in English. The issue, many viewers and critics argue, is that there still hasn’t been the Hispanic equivalent of “The Cosby Show,” meaning a show that deals with Latino culture in a way that doesn’t offend viewers with crude stereotypes. 

This winter, CBS hoped to have a cross-cultural hit with the show “Rob” featuring the comedian Rob Schneider. The show, based loosely on Mr. Schneider’s own life, showed his experiences of marrying into a Mexican family and the culture clashes that ensued. But the chief conflict ended up being between the show and its intended viewers. 

“Big family,” said Mr. Schneider’s character, when he meets his wife’s family for the first time. “Now I know what’s going on during all those siestas.” In another scene, the character Hector, played by Eugenio Derbez, tells Rob that he is visiting from Mexico. Then he gets closer to Rob and whispers, “I’m not leaving,” and after pausing for effect adds, “Ever.” 

For Joe Zubizarreta, the co-owner and chief operating officer of the advertising agency Zubi Advertising, with headquarters in Miami, the comedic devices used in “Rob” were too much. “They’ve used just about every stereotype they could in the pilot,” Mr. Zubizarreta said. “I understand that the general market taste will find humor in the idiosyncrasies of Hispanics. But as Hispanics, when we watch general market television, we’d like to see some semblance of reality to our lives.” 

For Julio Ricardo Varela, the founder of the Web site Latino Rebels, both the content of “Rob” and how it was marketed relied too much on stereotypes.
“ ‘Rob’ was a big running joke among our community,” Mr. Varela said. “It just felt lazy, stale and I think that mainstream television is missing the boat.” Mr. Varela noted a contest on the show’s Facebook page where viewers were invited to hit a virtual piñata to “whack and win” a trip to the show’s set. Also on the page were promotional images of Mr. Schneider and the rest of the cast in a conga line. “I thought the marketing was beyond ridiculous,” Mr. Varela said. 

Nina Tassler, the president for entertainment for CBS, declined to comment on “Rob” specifically, but said that reaching out to the Hispanic community was important for the network. (The network declined to pick up “Rob” for a second season.) 

“Everybody’s culture is wholly unique, so finding the storytelling language that can reach out and communicate with the biggest cross section of the Latin population is obviously what we are trying for,” said Ms. Tassler, who is the highest-ranking network television executive with a Hispanic heritage.

Here’s Nina Tassler’s background from Wikipedia.

Mr. Schneider declined to comment for this article.

Schneider is part Filipino. I’ve always found him funnier than his friend Adam Sandler, although perhaps that’s not saying much.

Among the series that were in development for next season by English-language networks, one, an ABC show called “Devious Maids,” gained attention for its focus on a Latino stereotype — maids working in Beverly Hills. The show was being produced by Marc Cherry of “Desperate Housewives,” and had been based on a Spanish-language telenovela. 

When Liz Colunga, a 31-year-old Mexican-American documentary filmmaker heard about “Devious Maids” she wasn’t surprised at the show’s theme. “I’m used to watching stereotypical roles for Latinas and Latinos,” Ms. Colunga said. 

No character stirs more mixed emotions for Hispanic audiences that the one played by Ms. Vergara on “Modern Family.” She plays Gloria Delgado-Pritchett, a sexy Latina trophy wife whose persona has gotten mixed reviews from Latinos. 

“It’s working for her, but at what expense?” said Ms. Colunga, the filmmaker. “She’s playing the clueless Latina.” 

In a show where all of the characters are a bit extreme, the least stereotypical of all is Gloria’s smart-talking son Manny. Lynnette Ramirez, the senior vice president for development and production at Encanto Enterprises, a production company owned by George and Ann Lopez, said Gloria’s character works because she is tempered by her son. 

“Sofia’s character is a first generation Latina,” Ms. Ramirez said. “Manny’s going to grow up to be like Sara Ramirez’s character in ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ ” she added, a reference to the actress Sara Ramirez’s role as a doctor on the show. 

Judging by who likes summer blockbuster movies the most, perhaps Modern Family could broaden their demographic appeal by adding a couple of fireball explosions to each episode.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Hispanics, Television 
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Here’s a recent Nielsen ratings for the most popular cable network (not broadcast networks like CBS) shows among blacks. It’s not too diverse, except for Keeping Up with the Kardashians, where the sisters keep marrying NBA players of varying degrees of blackness, and pro wrestling, which is quite integrated.

Top 25 Cable Shows in Black Households

   Rank | Program | Network | AA Rating | AA Share | Viewers 2+

1
NBA PLAYOFFS- ROUND 2
TNT
15.0
22.4
2,836
2
NBA PLAYOFFS- ROUND 2
TNT
14.0
20.1
2,566
3
NBA PLAYOFFS-CONF SEMIS
ESPN
13.6
22.4
2,581
4
NBA PLAYOFFS- ROUND 2
TNT
12.0
19.5
2,259
5
NBA PLAYOFFS- ROUND 2
TNT
11.1
16.4
1,963
6
NBA PLAYOFFS- ROUND 2
TNT
9.8
15.5
1,789
7
NBA PLAYOFFS-CONF SEMIS
ESPN
9.7
14.2
1,728
8
NBA PLAYOFFS-CONF SEMIS
ESPN
9.5
15.5
1,711
9
NBA PLAYOFFS-CONF SEMIS
ESPN
9.5
15.3
1,732
10
THE GAME
BET
9.1
12.9
1,807
11
NBA PLAYOFFS- ROUND 2
TNT
8.7
13.3
1,622
12
NBA PLAYOFFS- ROUND 2
TNT
8.5
13.6
1,570
13
BASKETBALL WIVES 4
VH1
8.2
12.1
1,603
14
NBA PLAYOFFS- ROUND 2
TNT
8.1
13.2
1,485
15
LETS STAY TOGETHER S2
BET
7.3
10.4
1,433
16
LA LAS FULL COURT LIFE 2
VH1
6.2
8.7
1,217
17
HOUSE OF PAYNE
TBS
5.6
8.7
1,120
18
WWE ENTERTAINMENT
USA
5.4
7.4
1,150
19
HOUSE OF PAYNE
TBS
5.0
8.1
943
20
NBA PLAYOFFS PRE-GAME
TNT
4.9
7.9
874
21
NBA PLAYOFFS PRE-GAME
TNT
4.5
6.4
849
22
WWE ENTERTAINMENT
USA
4.5
6.2
864
23
BASKETBALL WIVES 4
VH1
4.3
5.9
844
24
KEEPING UP KARDASHIANS
E! TV
4.2
6.0
756
25
THE GAME
BET
4.1
5.8
752

I can’t find a similar list for white households. The industry seems to report breakouts of data as Everybody, blacks, and Hispanics.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Television 
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A new article in the NYT, “Seeing HBO’s ‘Girls’ Without Buying a Television,” somehow fails to mention that all four girls on Girls are white. Could this be a cultural turning point?

By the way, when is Roissy going to get his own sit-com? 

I don’t know that Lena Dunham is directly channelling Roissy’s blog, although I would think the odds are at least 50-50. Her characters certainly live in a Roissyesque universe, although perhaps that’s because it’s Roissy’s world and we’re all just living in it. (I like to hope that’s not 100% true, but what do I know?)

Dunham has an interesting skill set. It’s not hard to find young women who claim they will endure any humiliation onscreen to further career ambitions, but Dunham will do it while being overweight, funny, and smart. Plus she learned from her mother, an art photographer of dollhouse scenes, how to light sets and where to place the camera. (That’s the point of calling her debut movie Tiny Furniture: her mother’s career sounds silly, but helping your mother at a young age on her miniaturized sets is a cheap way to learn part of how to direct. Compare how grown-up looking Tiny Furniture was to, say, the Duplasse Brothers’ Puffy Chair.)  

Dunham’s character in Tiny Furniture / Girls is self-centered, obnoxious, and sluttish, but the sex lives of young women are so inherently important (this is where the next generation comes from) that there’s a trainwreck-like fascination to it.

One key to making a Roissy sit-com work is to film it in Washington D.C., not L.A. or N.Y.C. There is so much money in D.C. these days that it’s a now glamor destination for young white people, while also being comically unsexy: “C’mon, just one more drink” “Oh, you’re so sweet, but I have to pull together some talking points for the Congresswoman on the helium subsidy.”

The main issue with how Roissy could have his own show is that what makes him such an amazing blogger — his infinite fecundity of lines in response to his acuity of observation, his sheer superiority and the obvious impossibility of mere mortals following in real time such advice as: “If she says X, just make up something that’s witty, tailored to her, yet subtly discombobulating, like A, B, or C; but if she says Y, then make up something like D, E, of F; while if she says Z, then …” — would also make him insufferable as a major character in a continuing series.

The solution might be to make Roissy a legendary offscreen expert who has condescended to advise via text message three or four hopeless Big Bang Theory-like acolytes / losers in their quests. But in the presence of real live girls, they constantly fumble Roissy’s lines to comic and endearing effect.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Television 
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We’ve been having some fun posting historical bits and pieces subversive of the increasingly popular interpretation of American history put forward by whiteness experts like Noel Ignatiev: that the Irish, Spaniards, Jews, Italians, and so forth weren’t considered white until recently. 

For example, look how the CIA wouldn’t allow James Jesus Angleton to join because his mother was Mexican. *

Note that actor Mel Ferrer’s acting career was so hampered by discrimination that he had to console himself with being married to Audrey Hepburn.

Look how Jose Ferrer’s acting career was so hamstrung by bias against Puerto Ricans that he had to console himself with his Oscar and Tony and with marrying George Clooney’s aunt twice, Uta Hagen, and Phyllis Hill.

Look how Danny and Marlo Thomas couldn’t get on TV because they’re Arabs.

Look how Harvard wouldn’t employ George Santayana because he was a Spaniard.

I began with Desi Arnaz’s colossal success in “I Love Lucy.”

A reader comments:

“And the success of Desi Arnaz doesn’t really say much. Louis Armstrong was also popular in the past, but that didn’t mean anti-black sentiments and anti-black laws didn’t exist.”

Yes, but Louis Armstrong didn’t star in “I Love Marilyn,” in which he played an Afro-American bandleader married to ditzy blonde Marilyn Monroe, who was Armstrong’s wife in real life in 1951, in what would almost instantly become the most popular TV show of the 1950s.

Just to be clear: “I Love Marilyn” didn’t happen.* And it wouldn’t have happened in 1951, no way, no how. Marilyn married Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller. Rita Hayworth married the Aga Khan. But marrying, say, Louis Armstrong was a no-go in the 1950s.

The bottom line is that discrimination against blacks in American history was radically harsher than against anybody else, with the exception of American Indians (and the discrimination there was quite different, so it’s hard to make an apples to apples comparison between blacks and Indians). 

Everybody else wants to claim the glamor of victimhood (heck, Henry Adams, grandson of one President and great-grandson of another, felt discriminated against for not being elected President). These days, everybody wants to associate the historical slights against their group with the glamor of black victimhood, but this rhetorical trick is extremely unfair to blacks.
————————-

* I realize that there are a huge number of people who simply don’t know enough facts to tell when I’m joking or not, and thus would get confused and disturbed when I switch back and forth between factual and facetious without warning. Fortunately, most of them don’t bother trying to read me.

To recount: James Jesus Angleton’s mother was Mexican and he was the head of counter-intelligence at the CIA for decades. When Robert De Niro directed a fictionalized biopic of Angleton’s life, with Matt Damon as the Angleton character, the whole half-Mexican part was dropped, presumably as being too confusing to modern prejudices, and Damon played the lead as the most boring WASP in the history of boring WASPs.

Mel Ferrer, a moderately successful movie star of Cuban and Irish descent, was married to the exquisite Audrey Hepburn from 1954-1968.

Puerto Rican-born Jose Ferrer (no close relation to Mel) was a prestigious actor, winning the Tony and Oscar for Cyrano de Bergerac after WWII. He married white women five times, including George Clooney’s aunt, songstress Rosemary Clooney, twice.

Danny Thomas was a Lebanese-American. He was a huge hit on early TV and his daughter Marlo was the Zoey Deschanel of sit-coms in the late 1960s.

Spain-born George Santayana was a famous Harvard professor in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Wikipedia says his students at Harvard included “T. S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Gertrude Stein, Walter Lippmann, and W. E. B. Du Bois.”

Marilyn Monroe was not married to Louis Armstrong.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Race, Television 
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A commenter at Slate attempts to explain to Matthew Yglesias the answer to that journalist’s question “Why does the census count me as Hispanic?” 

Latinos/Hispanics are individuals whose descent comes from Latin American countries and Puerto Rico (an American Territory). The white ones, who are the descendants mostly of Spaniards, but also of other Europeans who emigrated to Latin America and Puerto Rico are not considered white by most Americans and are therefore discriminated against by the Anglo (non Hispanic white) majority.

The problem, then, is the all encompassing, prevalent, institutional, personal racism of the Anglo (non Latino white) majority. 

Right. That’s what caused the tragic lynching of Desi Arnaz in 1951 during the attempted filming of the first episode of the never-aired “I Love Lucy” series. As fans of Noel Ignatiev no doubt recall, a mob of furious whites in the studio audience, enraged at Arnaz laying his Spanish Cuban hands on the fair Lucille Ball, spontaneously tore the bandleader limb from limb. Historians sometimes speculate that if it weren’t for the virulent white prejudice against Spanish Cubans miscegenating with whites, “I Love Lucy” might even have become something of a hit.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Television 
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The New York Times solicits eight opinions on the burning issue of the day “Whitewashing on the Small Screen.” You see, HBO’s new non-hit sit-com “Girls” has four white actresses playing the four titular girls.
But, where is the diversity among the debating diversitoids? I see five blacks, two Jewish women, and, mirabile dictu, one Asian dude. But why is the vibrant 50,000,000+ Hispanic Latino/Latina community flagrantly excluded from the debate? It’s almost as if nobody particularly cares about them. The New York Times should have a debate over the lack of diversity in this debate. I see the opportunity for an infinite regress coming on.
(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Race, Television 
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When Rich Lowry fired John Derbyshire, that of course excited the witchburner sort of pundits to hunt down more crimethinkers suspected of not taking the reigning racial pieties with full somberness. Attention has thus shifted to an obscure young comedy writer named Lesley Arfin, a staff writer for “Girls.”

That’s the new HBO show that everybody is tweeting about but (virtually) nobody is actually watching. It’s a half-hour downbeat comedy about four not-quite-affluent enough young ladies trying to make it in New York City. It was created by 25-year-old Lena Dunham, writer of the 2010 indie film Tiny Furniture.

I don’t have cable TV, so I haven’t seen Girls. (Here is a rave about the show by Slate’s quite reliable TV critic Troy Patterson, who is just about the best black writer in America whom nobody notices is black.)

Unsurprisingly, there were the usual complaints that all four of the girls on “Girls” are white. 

Arfin, one of Dunham’s staff writers, cheekily tweeted in response: 

“What really bothered me most about Precious was that there was no representation of ME.” 

This is in the same vein as Sara Silverman worked: the Evil Ingenue (“I don’t care if you think I’m racist; I just want you to think I’m thin”), the young woman too narcissistic to notice the rules about what you are allowed to say about race. 

Silverman’s best joke went:

I got in trouble for saying the word “Ch*nk” on a talk show, a network talk show. It was in the context of a joke. Obviously. That’d be weird. That’d be a really bad career choice if it wasn’t. But, nevertheless, the president of an Asian-American watchdog group out here in Los Angeles, his name is Guy Aoki, and he was up in arms about it and he put my name in the papers calling me a racist, and it hurt. As a Jew—as a member of the Jewish community—I was really concerned that we were losing control of the media.

But Arfin’s tweet is still still pretty good for 140 characters. 

This enraged various moral watchdogs. It’s fascinating how in this Age of Point ‘n’ Sputter, this Era of Not Getting the Joke, how much pride some of these people take in being humorless buffoons. 

On CNN, Soledad O’Brien, the networks go-to gal for all things African-American, and Sharon Waxman were confused and outraged by Arfin’s joke:

“Wow!” Waxman responded. “Wow.” 

The CNN panel momentarily tried to figure out if Arfin’s racially-inflammatory tweet was a joke. 

“Do you think so?” O’Brien asked. “I guess it seems like she’s not necessarily taking the question of representation seriously to me.”

The New Yorker called Arfin’s joke “breathtakingly dismissive and intellectually dishonest.”

ThinkProgress whined:

Lesley Arfin, John Derbyshire, Vice, Taki Magazine, and the Lingering Cultural Capital of Racism

Elspeth Reeve of the Atlantic, who had piled on Derbyshire, entitled her angry piece:

‘Girls’ Writer Responds to Critique of ‘Girls’ with Horrible Joke

and followed up with:

‘Girls’ Writer Is Learning There’s No Such Thing as Ironic Racism

Another notoriously butt-hurt site, Gawker, complained:

A Girls Writer’s Ironic Racism And Other ‘White People Problems’

You might think that the best way to complain about a comedy writer’s joke is by making a joke back, especially if your complaints are really intended to get you an affirmative action job writing an HBO show. I mean, there are a lot of complainers in this world, so if HBO is going to have to hire some to write a People of Color sit-com, they might as well hire funny ones. But that kind of thinking is so pre-Trayvon.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
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Audacious Epigone has calculated a good answer to an old question: When was The Simpsons at its best? He averages by season the rankings of individual episodes on IMDB.com, which is a pretty reasonable approach. IMDB ratings are biased toward the tastes of youngish male fanboys (“Worst. Episode. Ever.”), but who better to evaluate The Simpsons? And they aren’t rating seasons as a whole, just individual episodes, so any preconceptions the raters may have about which was the best season enter into the process less. Sample sizes for individual episode ratings are typically in the 500 to 900 range, which aggregates to over 10,000 per season.

The curve for the first eleven seasons is pretty elegant. The average episode’s rating goes up each year from season one to six (with seasons five and seven almost as great), then declines every year through season eleven. The peak years were 5-7 and the big dropoff was in 9-11.

That would fit with my subjective impressions: the show just kept getting better for a number of years, then reached a remarkable peak of consistent excellence in the mid to later 1990s. 

The curve of the first half of the graph is very similar to a professional athlete’s career, even though The Simpsons were largely a collective enterprise with a fair amount of turnover among writers.

Off the top of my head, the athlete with the most similar-looking career productivity graph might be Chicago Cub Ernie Banks, who started out as a slugging shortstop, a rare and valuable combination, then blew out his knee and had to switch to first base, where his offensive productivity no longer made him exceptional. But his personality made him popular in Chicago,  and playing in Wrigley Field inflated his statistics, so he had a long career even after his prime.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Television 
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I can’t afford cable TV, so I don’t see the big new serial dramas until they come out on, say, Netflix or Hulu for Roku. And then I usually reach the limits of my interest after about six hours: Breaking Bad? Good show! I sometimes wonder what happened to Malcolm’s dad after the first six hours of his new life of crime. Well, I guess I’ll never know. Downton Abbey? Good show! But not quite good enough to get me to watch more than six hours of it, even though the first season is only seven hours long and the first six hours have gotten us all the way up to England’s peaceful summer of 1914 and I have this vague hunch that the season finale has some kind of big historical surprise twist up its sleeve. But six hours is my limit, so I guess I’ll never find out what happened in August 1914. Something big, I’m sure!

I realize movies are out of fashion, but I do like to point out that they have one virtue over more 21st Centuryish forms of entertainment: noninterminableness. You sit yourself down in the movie theatre and, then, 115 minutes later, they make you go home. 

Speaking of antinoninterminablebness, Mad Men is back for its 23rd season (note: check this before posting) of soft core porn for women with the better sort of degrees, but with a new purpose: to avenge Trayvon Martin! Or, at least, that’s what it appears from this review in the NYT:

There was no question that “Mad Men” would get around to the civil rights movement. From the start, racism was the carbon monoxide of the show: a poison that couldn’t always be detected over the pungent scent of cigarettes, sexism, anti-Semitism, alcoholism, homophobia and adultery, but that sooner or later was bound to turn noxious.

That promise was made in the opening scene of the premiere episode of Season 1. The first face on screen is a black one in profile, that of a waiter carrying a tray of cocktails across a bar crowded with white, mostly male customers. …

It’s the show’s willingness to put its characters in the context of the times, and not whitewash the white men, that gives it an edge and keeps a drama that in its fifth season has gotten — let’s face it — a little old and soapy, interesting to watch. Particularly at this moment, when the case of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teenager killed by an armed neighborhood watch volunteer, has become a heated cause, the 1960s look a lot like prologue. 

Don and his colleagues are flip, self-centered and oblivious, no different from the many privileged Americans who stood on the sidelines and averted their eyes. They are the ones who ended up on the wrong side of history and whose testimony is usually left out of the textbooks, like the bourgeois Parisians who collaborated — faute de mieux — during the Nazi occupation, the South Africans who welcomed cheap labor under apartheid or the cadets who set fire to the clothes of the first female cadets admitted to the Citadel military college. 

Okay! 

Having watched six and a fraction episodes of the first season of Mad Men, quite enjoying the first 115 minutes before boredom began setting in, allow me to point out that my 2009 review in Taki’s Magazine explains it all. For example:

While watching Mad Men, Weiner affords us ample opportunity to congratulate ourselves on how much progress we’ve made. For example, most of the black characters in Mad Men have servile jobs. Today, of course, things are infinitely better. Black men are seldom seen in servile jobs (unless they are African immigrants or gay). In fact, black men aren’t seen in any jobs as much anymore: ten percent of black men were out of the work force in Don Draper’s 1960 versus 24 percent in booming 2000. Indeed, black men aren’t even seen at all as much anymore because a million are now locked away in prison. (The incarceration rate of black male high school dropouts was one percent in the Bad Old Days of Dwight Eisenhower’s last year in office versus 25 percent in Bill Clinton’s glorious finale.) 

The kicker to the joke is that Mad Men, despite being set in New York, is filmed in LA, where Latinos have been imported in vast numbers to fill the servant jobs that today’s upper-middle class whites no longer trust blacks with. Yet Hispanics are even more invisible to the Hollywood elite today than blacks were then.

The one thing I would add about Mad Men is that it’s becoming more apparent, year by year, that 21st Century women of the educated castes who watch Mad Men find themselves increasingly sexually bored by all the pathetic, politically correct weenies of their own class. That’s Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner’s big conceptual breakthrough: that women these days are aroused by men masterful enough to violate today’s thought crime taboos, if the ladies can simultaneously maintain plausible deniability that they are actually shocked, shocked by all the old “racism … cigarettes, sexism, anti-Semitism, alcoholism, homophobia.” Mad Men is not actually a satirical put-down of the past; instead, it’s designed to be a titillating turn-on for the present. 

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
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I finally got around to watching Vince Gilligan’s Emmy-winning AMC TV show Breaking Bad, and I like this dialogue from the first season. Two DEA agents in Albuquerque, one white and one Mexican-American, are searching drug dealer Krazy-8′s lowrider car and discover the control box for making it bounce up and down:

Hank: “Ay yi yi, Gomey. It’s a culture in decline.” 

Gomez: “It’s a rich and vibrant culture.” 

Hank: “It’s a car that jumps up and down. What the hell, you people used to be conquistadors, for Christ’s sake.”

It’s a theme of the show that whites also are in cultural decline, as suggested by character names. The two meth cookers are Cal Tech grad turned high school chemistry teacher Walter White and an old student he flunked named Jesse Pinkman, who calls himself “Cap’n Cook” in burlesque of that most admirable of middle class Englishmen.

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I’m reading The Tribal Imagination: Civilization and the Savage Mind by veteran anthropologist Robin Fox. He started out as a structuralist in the tradition of Levi-Strauss, then absorbed a more Darwinian approach. His 1967 book Kinship and Marriage is in the structuralist mode: it sketches out every conceivable kinship arrangement, and then cites examples for as many as exist in the real world. People love making up complicated rules.
He’s got a chapter on rhythm and rhyme in poetry. Rhythm appears to be older and more universal, while rhyme didn’t enter mainstream Western poetry until medieval times, perhaps from Arabic and Irish influences. I did not know that.
An amateur poet himself, Fox has a digression in which he denounces free verse that I liked for the unexpected direction it went:

A generation arose after the rebellious sixties that decided the only way to deal with rules you don’t like is to abandon the. Thus you are rule-free and hence happy. 

You are never rule-free. If you abandon one set of rules, then you must invent another with the same ratio of arbitrary content to noise, because the essences of rules is redundancy; they enable you to predict the world and live forward in time, which is what the neocortex is for in the first place. We do not respond like lower animals to immediate emotional demands; we mediate them with rules; our neocortex controls our limbic brain. And like rhyming, it is all about anticipation and predictability. 

In poetry and music, we like it when we can predict what comes next, but we also like it when it surprises us. It’s all good. In general, human beings have liked poetry and music a lot. (Obviously, some poetry or music is better than others at combining interesting and powerful patterns of satisfaction and surprise: the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is better than, say, 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall. But, people will sing even 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall for quite some time if they don’t have anything else to do.)

… Rule creation is an “appetitive” activity for us. One might even say (metaphorically) that we have an instinct to make rules … In some sense it does not matter what the rules are as long as we have some; which exact rules we have will be determined by adaptation and history and no little accident. …

Think of the great defining drama, the Orestia, the Hamlet, of the post-sixties generation: it was Seinfeld. Seinfield  was to the post-sixties people what Siegfried was to the Third Reich. And it was about rules. Every episode dealt with the search for rules in a generation that had dispensed with them. What are the rules for dumping a girlfriend; for the copyright on children’s namess; … for double-dipping; for putting people on your speed-dial list; … for “regifting” unwanted Christmas presents; for calling after ten at night …

I made a similar point in an early Taki column: Larry David: Alice in Blunderland. Seinfeld wasn’t a show about nothing, it was a show about rules.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
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In a sign of the times, analogy questions were eliminated from the SAT a few years ago. 
These days, people don’t seem to be very good at noticing that news story X, which everybody currently agrees is the biggest and most unique and most newsworthy story of all time, is an awful lot like news story Y from a few years ago, which everybody has completely forgotten about already and didn’t even pay much attention to while it was in the papers.
For example, as I pointed out in my last Taki’s Magazine column, the wrongdoing in the ongoing brouhaha over Murdoch newspapers in London hiring a private investigator to tap into voice mail is an awful lot like the wrongdoing in the last decade’s now forgotten Hollywood scandal in which moguls and stars hired private investigator Anthony Pellicano to wiretap people they wanted to abuse.

And yet, if you check Google News,

Murdoch hacking

brings up 25,900 news media pages. But,

Murdoch hacking Pellicano

brings up exactly one page.

Personally, I found the Pellicano scandal pretty interesting because it played out in the 2000s like a nightmarish episode of that 1990s sit-com about show biz, The Larry Sanders Show, which was owned by comedian Garry Shandling and his agent Brad Grey, now head of Paramount Pictures. Larry Sanders was a very meta comedy: Shandling, who had often been a guest host for Johnny Carson, had turned down a late night talk show host job to make this sitcom about a late night talk show host. Real celebrities guest starred playing themselves engaging, behind the scenes, in scandalous behavior. 
If the 1990s were the peak era for sit-coms, which seems plausible, I think it can be argued that Larry Sanders was the third best, after The Simpsons and Seinfeld. Indeed, Seinfeld and Larry Sanders match up very well with each other, and I’d only give Seinfeld the nod because that purported “show about nothing” actually featured the best farce plotting in the history of American television. Comparing characters and acting, Shandling/Sanders was better than Seinfeld/Jerry, Jeffrey Tambor / Hank was almost as good as Jason Alexander / George Costanza, and Rip Torn / Artie was even better than Michael Richard / Kramer. None of the female characters on Larry Sanders quite match up to Elaine, but there were a number of good ones. 
Amusingly, Shandling, Grey, and Linda Doucett, who played Larry’s sidekick Hank’s secretary Darlene on the show, were all involved in the Pellicano scandal. The wrongdoing was much bigger than just them, but they’re as good a place to start as any.
Why doesn’t anybody remember the Pellicano scandal when they’re ranting about the Murdoch scandal? I don’t know. The LA Times did a bad job of covering all this hometown bad conduct, but the New York Times was better. Here’s the beginning of an article from the New York Times:

A Studio Boss and a Private Eye Star in a Bitter Hollywood Tale

March 13, 2006 

By DAVID M. HALBFINGER
and ALLISON HOPE WEINER 

TEMECULA, Calif., March 12 — The phone rang in Linda Doucett’s desert ranch house here in the late spring of 1998. It was her ex-fiancé, the comedian Garry Shandling, calling. Again.
Mr. Shandling had called several times that year to talk about his lawsuit accusing Brad Grey, his longtime manager and friend, of enriching himself at his expense. Now he was asking Ms. Doucett to testify for him. 

Then, Ms. Doucett recalled in an interview, Mr. Shandling brought up something he had never told her before, about how Mr. Grey had responded to another suit, which Ms. Doucett had filed against Mr. Shandling and Mr. Grey’s company for sexual harassment and wrongful termination two years earlier. 

“He was going to use Pellicano,” Mr. Shandling said. 

“Who’s that?” she asked. 

“He’s this guy Brad worked with,” Ms. Doucett recalled Mr. Shandling as saying. 

She said he added that Mr. Grey “was going to hire this really bad guy to say bad things about you — but I didn’t want to do it.” 

The guy in question is Anthony Pellicano, the celebrity private detective who is at the center of a mushrooming federal investigation that has consumed Hollywood for months, and who was indicted on wiretapping and conspiracy charges last month. And her recollection suggests that Mr. Grey, now the chairman of Paramount Pictures, had dealings with Mr. Pellicano as early as 1996 — at least three years earlier than has so far been detailed publicly. 

Her account is backed by another person’s grand jury testimony, according to someone close to the investigation who insisted on anonymity for fear of angering prosecutors. The grand jury witness, this person said, gave an independent account that substantially agreed with Ms. Doucett’s. 

Hiring a private investigator is common practice for wealthy people in contentious lawsuits, and Mr. Pellicano, a tough-talking transplant from Chicago who cultivated an image of menace, had many clients. Many of the rich and powerful in Hollywood who used him say they were unaware he was committing crimes. But prosecutors are skeptical, and they are trying to determine which of Mr. Pellicano’s clients knew about the acts that have led to his indictment. 

In any event, no case, perhaps, better demonstrates how Hollywood movers and shakers appear to have used Mr. Pellicano in disputes with those who had less clout than the drawn-out saga of Mr. Shandling, Mr. Grey and Ms. Doucett. 

Mr. Grey, one of the most influential players in television and talent management, rose to an even higher perch in Hollywood a year ago, when he was named to head Paramount. He has been interviewed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and testified before the grand jury investigating Mr. Pellicano. His lawyer has said Mr. Grey has been repeatedly assured that he was not a subject or a target of the investigation. 

Mr. Grey declined numerous requests to be interviewed for this article, or to have his lawyer be interviewed. On Sunday afternoon his spokeswoman, Janet Hill, issued a terse reply from Mr. Grey to five written questions submitted by The New York Times. 

“As I’ve said in the past, I was casually acquainted with Anthony Pellicano,” Mr. Grey said in the statement. “I had no ‘relationship’ with Mr. Pellicano until my attorney, Bert Fields, hired him in the Garry Shandling lawsuit. The fact remains that I had no knowledge of any illegal activity he may have conducted.” 

Mr. Fields, one of Hollywood’s most sought-after litigators, also has denied knowing of Mr. Pellicano’s illicit activities. 

The Doucett-Shandling episode is only one of more than a dozen situations detailed in a federal indictment of Mr. Pellicano in which an influential insider, represented by a top entertainment lawyer who in turn hired Mr. Pellicano, sought to exert his or her will over a much weaker industry outsider. In each case, prosecutors say, Mr. Pellicano set out to maintain that imbalance of power through extralegal means. 

When Mr. Pellicao was working on behalf of the former superagent Michael Ovitz, lawyers in the case say, his targets were Mr. Ovitz’s ex-underlings, minor industry players and bothersome reporters. When Mr. Pellicano worked on behalf of the billionaire MGM mogul Kirk Kerkorian, it was against a woman to whom Mr. Kerkorian was briefly married. When he worked on behalf of the Canadian media heiress and aspiring actress Taylor Thomson, it was against Ms. Thomson’s former nanny. 

The Shandling-Grey case can be seen between the lines of the federal wiretapping and conspiracy indictment of Mr. Pellicano. Prosecutors charge that from January to March 1999 Mr. Pellicano had a police source do unauthorized background checks or otherwise illegally gain information about Mr. Shandling; Ms. Doucett; Mr. Shandling’s personal assistant, Mariana Grant; his business manager, Warren Grant; his friend and fellow client at Brillstein-Grey Entertainment the actor Kevin Nealon; Mr. Nealon’s wife; and his friend Gavin de Becker, a security consultant. The names of Ms. Doucett, Ms. Grant, Mr. de Becker and Mr. Grant were all on a witness list in Mr. Shandling’s lawsuit against Mr. Grey at the time, lawyers and people involved in the case have confirmed. 

To Ms. Doucett, the federal investigation gets at the core of something that has long infected Hollywood. “This isn’t about $10 million going between this movie star and that movie star, and wiretapping,” she said in her first extensive interview on the subject. She refused to comment on matters she had agreed to keep confidential but was forthcoming on other aspects of her relationships with Mr. Shandling and Mr. Grey. 

“It’s about little people being pushed around,” she said.

Read the whole thing there.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
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From my column in VDARE:
The F.B.I.  announced charges last week against 73 Armenian gangsters, almost  half of them in the  Los Angeles area, for running the largest Medicare fraud in history.

Or—to be strictly accurate—the largest the FBI yet knows about.

The indictment alleged that most of the defendants were “were Armenian nationals or immigrants and many maintained substantial ties to Armenia.” They laundered their ill-gotten gains in Las Vegas casinos and/or couriered them back to Armenia.

Michael J. Gaeta, head of the New York F.B.I. office’s Russian Organized Crime Squad, explained: “New York and the U.S., to them it’s a big pot of gold, and they’re coming after it. And with the world getting smaller, it’s much easier for them to do it.”

Among the arrested: Armen Kazarian of the pleasant LA suburb of Glendale, who drives a $350,000 Rolls Royce Phantom. Kazarian is only the second “vor” (the ex-Soviet equivalent of a godfather) yet charged in the U.S. 

I’d never previously heard the term “vor” but I must say, it has a ring to it—like capo di tutti capi or Keyser Söze.

Why was Kazarian in this country in the first place? He was granted asylum in the U.S. in 1996. But he subsequently returned frequently to Armenia to oversee his transcontinental criminal doings.

Naturally, this got me thinking about TV crime dramas.

Law & Order has been the most successful drama in American television history. Counting its countless spinoffs, about 900 hour-long episodes have aired. L&O’s two-decade old formula has been to take a scandal from the news, add a murder, and then show that the richest, whitest, and most conservative character dunnit.

This year, however, NBC shut down the New York-based flagship show and substituted Law & Order: Los Angeles. … The Wednesday, October 20 episode “Sylmar” will explore the national security threat posed by … blue-eyed, blonde Americans who espouse extremist Islam:

Deputy District Attorney: “An All-American jihadi terrorist cell …”

Assistant District Attorney: “With enough explosives to take down the Staples Center!”

You can’t make this stuff up. (Or, at least, I can’t.)
Read the whole thing there and comment upon it below.
(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
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You hear often these days about how continuous plotline television dramas, such as Mad Men, are better than movies. Their endless length allows for novelistic detailing, etc etc.

But one great thing about movies can be that they begin and then they end. Take The Hurt Locker. You meet some soldiers in Iraq who dismantle bombs for a living. That’s pretty  interesting. But, after a couple of hours, even dismantling bombs is starting to get a little old. Suddenly, in five memorable minutes, it’s over. Sgt. Will James comes home from Iraq, gets lost in the supermarket, talks to his baby son about why he loves his jack-in-the-box, and makes a decision about how he wants to live his life. Cue the Arab heavy metal and it’s a wrap. 
Granted, Hollywood hates making movies that end, stand-alone movies that aren’t origins stories for trilogies. But they still do make stand-alone movies. And even the Lord of the Rings trilogy is about an order of magnitude shorter than Mad Men will turn out to be.
Stand-alone movies are especially suited for romances: boy meets girls, boy loses girl, boy wins girl. They live, presumably, happily ever after. That’s awfully appealing.

At the end of North by Northwest, for example, which, like Mad Men, is about a tall, dark, and handsome Madison Avenue advertising man with a confused identity, Cary Grant is about to fall from Abraham Lincoln’s nose on Mt. Rushmore. Thirty seconds later, all plotlines are resolved and he’s on his honeymoon with Eva Marie Saint. Now, that’s an ending!

But, television series like Mad Men just go on and on, turning into soap operas. So, mostly what happens in a series like Mad Men as it gets long in the tooth is that, to keep up interest and please enthusiasts, everybody sleeps with everybody, which is yucky.

Now, I’m sure Mad Men’s creator Matthew Weiner would respond by citing detailed research he’s done into the growth of STD rates in the 1960s, but, still … yuck.

By the way, I suspect the obsessiveness about not revealing in reviews any “spoilers,” which seems to have became dogma around the time of The Sixth Sense, has hurt the relative status of movies versus longform TV shows in elite discourse. Longform TV dramas such as Mad Men are discussed at vast length online the day after each episode, but movie reviews are stilted by the spoiler taboo.

The Hurt Locker is, once again, a good example: the power of the film depends upon the last five minutes, in which the adage that Character Is Destiny is illustrated with extraordinary economy. But reviewers aren’t supposed to “spoil” the end of a film, so practically no reader could puzzle out from all the published verbiage about The Hurt Locker why it was a very good movie, or why he should even see it, which led to mass bafflement when it won the Best Picture at the Academy Awards ceremony.

To explain why The Hurt Locker may well have deserved its Best Picture Oscar, you really have to recount the contrast between the bulk of the movie in Baghdad and the few scenes close to the end back stateside (oops, I just revealed a spoiler). The Baghdad street scenes are shot through telephoto lenses that both illustrate the tunnel vision focus the bomb techs need to do their job, while simultaneously compressing the apparent distance between the near and the far into a disorientating, flat, and cluttered pictorial space that keeps the viewer from being able to discern what’s safely far away from the heroes and what’s close enough to kill them, which is, of course, the same question the heroes are constantly wondering about.

Then, near the end there’s [SPOILER ALERT! AHHHHOOOGGGAAA! SPOILER ALERT!] a great fisheye lens shot in an endless breakfast cereal aisle of ex-Sgt. James befuddled by his new civilian duty of having to choose one box of cereal out of hundreds of offerings. (I spent an hour searching online last winter during the Academy Awards season for a still of that scene to illustrate the key to the movie, but none were available — No Spoilers!)

A few minutes later, Sgt. James is shown back in The Suit in another super-telephoto shot of Baghdad, likely doomed, yet also fulfilled by choosing the fate his personality craves.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
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On Saturday night at 8pm, HBO is putting on a biopic with Claire Danes playing Temple Grandin, the high-functioning autistic animal sciences professor who is so interesting from a sort of sci-fi point of view, like HAL 9000 come to life. Her view, however, is that autistic people tend to have brains that function not like computers but like animals — they can’t see the forest for the trees. Animals are constantly spooked by small visual details that don’t bother non-autistic humans because we barely notice much of what goes on around us that isn’t relevant to our main trains of thought.

Here’s a very positive review of the Temple Grandin film by Dorothy Rabinowitz in the WSJ.

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My Wednesday Taki’s Magazine column on the TV serial “Mad Men” is up.

Read it at Taki’s and comment about it below.

 
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Steve Sailer
About Steve Sailer

Steve Sailer is a journalist, movie critic for Taki's Magazine, VDARE.com columnist, and founder of the Human Biodiversity discussion group for top scientists and public intellectuals.


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