Maleficent

Maleficent

Maleficent is a character I was fascinated with as a child and who I remember today with glee because she is so wonderfully, elegantly awful. My pleasure is linked inextricably to the fact that my adoration is at odds with her mean-spiritedness and cruelty. Her character provokes what I consider to be a cautionary insight: villainy exists, it displays itself overtly, and yet, something in me is capable of finding its meanest qualities seductive. In fact, it is precisely these meanest qualities that are the most seductive.

Maleficent retells the villain’s story in a way that completely defuses this insight.  In this new version, beautiful and young people are good and act badly only when driven to do so by unattractive, older villains. And the wrongs people do (and suffer) can all be undone and forgiven if only the hard edges of the human heart can be softened. And they are, as if by magic, by the love of a child. In this version, villainy only hurts itself. These changes make this second look at an iconic villain feel wishful and childish, and I don’t like it.

That said, Angelina Jolie is just great, and she has brains and drive to burn. But I’d rather see her in a movie that let her be a better villain. An animated, sarcastic villain. Like Maleficent.

Maleficent (1)

 

It Still Matters

With the pace of change these days, public figures coming out can seem like a small thing. It’s not. It matters and remains incredibly difficult. But when they do I honestly believe that it helps regular people who are trying to do the same thing in their ordinary lives.

So I’m happy to read Tim Cook’s coming out text and even happier to see him work in two subtle but queenly references to the Wizard of Oz in the process. On purpose? Who knows, but he scores big points in my book for managing it.

My New Home!

So after weeks, the move to my new web host is complete, and I’m glad I did it. Because my new host is much friendlier, yes, but also because I had to do the work to move files and databases from the old server to the new. I was worried about being able to do this at first, but people have made tools like phpadmin so easy to use that, with a bit of reading, even I could figure them out. (We live in a pretty great world people…)

(Back) Logs

The past few months I’ve fallen far, far behind on my logs. I have eight novels sitting on my desk with notes jotted down. That’s not counting the lists of movies and all the rest that I want to get posted. These are going to be dumped pretty quickly in the coming weeks. I actually use my logs and need to have these done. So fair warning.

Tinderbox

In the past few months a lot of people have started keeping tabs on things here because of interest in my Tinderbox posts. Although this isn’t a how-to blog and I’m no power-user, when I have thoughts or ideas, I will continue to post them. I have several possibilities percolating right now. They should pop up slowly in the coming weeks.

Layout

This blog has worn the excellent Suffusion theme from the start. It’s clean, well-made and incredibly flexible. I’ve never used much of that flexibility as things have stayed more or less the same from day one. But now I’m considering some changes to the layout that will put material I use and currently find hard to access, front and centre. We’ll see how that goes. Also, mascots.

And that’s that. It feels great to have everything stable and working again. I’m really looking forward to writing posts rather than just moving them around.

House of Cards, Season 2

House of Cards began as a study of amorality that took power and marriage as its subjects. [note]These may look like unequally specified terms but “marriage,” despite appearances, is as abstract as “power.”[/note] Season one offered up a political story in which primary passions were channeled through a patient and passionless rationality. This story was completely unfettered by the moral prejudices that generally keep us from seeing clearly what people do while doing very little to keep people from actually doing what they want. Perhaps even more radically (given the way “family”—another abstraction—acts as a moral touchstone today), the show portrayed a successful, intimate, adult marriage that is not at all about kids.

Season 2 changes all that, offering up a story of an immoral couple willing to do anything to take control of the Presidency. Perhaps this is intentional, a suggestion that amorality always falls into immorality in the way that excess falls into decadence. Maybe, but I don’t think so. Watching it and seeing how, specifically, they changed Claire’s character, I think that the writers had a failure of imagination or lost their nerve.

So Claire. In the first season, she was in every way Francis’s equal. So much so in fact that you had to wonder sometimes if she wasn’t pulling all the strings. She was powerful, intelligent, creative, and self-aware. She understood how others reacted to her beauty, her position, and had the self-possession to choose—always to choose—how she would act. Two pinnacle moments expressing these qualities: when she turns the violent sexism of the dying man’s fantasies back on him and when she creates the origami sculpture out of her lover’s photographs.

In season two, she leaves her job to become something like Francis’s legislative assistant, and worse, her former career is redefined as the obstacle that kept her from fulfilling her role as a mother. The shift toward morality here is subtle and consists in assuming that her basic and proper role, a role which she must have consciously rejected, is motherhood. Is this perspective reflective of contemporary cultural assumptions? Probably. Almost certainly. But it’s not the assumption underpinning the marriage developed in the first season. In that marriage, motherhood is an option that Claire chooses not to take, which is something very different.

Claire’s representation is potentially contentious because she is so central, but the shift toward morality is visible even in incidental details. Take for example Claire and Francis’s shared, late-night cigarettes. In the first season, these cigarettes were deliciously transgressive and expressive: they were a sign of the intimacy and aptness of a couple that make choices for themselves. In season two, they share an e-cigarette and exchange lifeless banter about cigarettes not being good for you. Then they go jogging. Where’s the iconoclasm in that?

Ultimately, my dislike of the second season has helped me see more clearly what it is that makes television viewing difficult for me. I tend to engage quite heavily in what I read and watch. Yes, I have a strong commitment to seeing what is there in a text and accounting for it honestly (these logs are intended to help with that), but I also keep a close eye out for what is not there. These places are the field of my imagination. They are where I read in a writerly way.

In a show like House of Cards or Damages, first seasons, which are powerfully suggestive but also necessarily fragmentary, are like traps. When later seasons make choices about what was not said previously, the contradictions between them and what I loved–which is necessarily an amalgam of textual detail and the products of my imagination–make later seasons a real disappointment. In pre-internet days, water cooler talk might have regulated my fancy, but in the world of Netflix, I watch seasons quickly and alone and love what I love on my own terms without check. And that makes later seasons hard to swallow.

 

Well that didn’t go as planned…

Computing isn’t digestion. You got to know things to make it work.

I know nothing about server stuff. (I say “stuff” because I lack the words to pretend knowledge.) I rent space for my blog from a web host because I have no idea what’s going on behind the web interfaces and ftp client I work with.

Do I nurse fantasies of discovering that server “stuff” is easier than I imagined, of buying a mac mini server and paying the fee for a stable ISP and then doing this part of my site for myself? Yes. Am I even close to being dumb enough to think that’s a near-possibility? No. For now and for the foreseeable future, I am completely dependent upon my web host.

And now I’m switching hosts after three years. How has that gone?

Well, nothing’s gone wrong and people at the new host have been really nice (which is a huge improvement). But what I thought would be a near immediate turnaround for the set-up for the new hosting space turned out to require a quasi-long-ish Thursday that was interrupted by some paperwork problems that restarted the process, and well, eventually, the high wall separating Friday five o’clock from a long weekend brought everything to a halt. So the move hasn’t yet begun.

New ETA is sometime early next week. Fingers remained crossed.

Renard et l’amour

Ma vie est monotone. Je chasse les poules, les hommes me chassent. Toutes les poules se ressemblent, et tous les hommes se ressemblent. Je m’ennuie donc un peu. Mais, si tu m’apprivoises, ma vie sera comme ensoleillée. Je connaîtrai un bruit de pas qui sera différent de tous les autres. Les autres pas me font rentrer sous terre. Le tien m’appellera hors du terrier, comme une musique. Et puis regarde ! Tu vois, là-bas, les champs de blé ? Je ne mange pas de pain. Le blé pour moi est inutile. Les champs de blé ne me rappellent rien. Et ça, c’est triste ! Mais tu as des cheveux couleur d’or. Alors ce sera merveilleux quand tu m’auras apprivoisé ! Le blé, qui est doré, me fera souvenir de toi. Et j’aimerai le bruit du vent dans le blé…

–Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Le Petit Prince

Godzilla

GodzillaOnce, long long ago, I convinced my parents to take me to a Godzilla double-feature at the drive-in. They sat through the first one but midway through the second, they were fed up and drove around to the other screen to watch something else. I don’t remember what because I sat in the back seat watching watching Godzilla battle a mechanical dinosaur through the rear window. I couldn’t hear anything but it didn’t matter and it was great.

So I have history and low expectations and was more than open to whatever this new version wanted to do. But it just talks and talks about uninteresting people who seem completely incidental to what’s going on.

Pacific Rim hit the required note in a way this film didn’t.

Windows to Tabs

I upgraded to Tinderbox 6 when it was released in late summer. There was a lot to love about the new version, but also plenty of things to adapt to. Perhaps the most jarring (and initially disruptive to my work) was the introduction of tabs.

Adapting to Tabs

The switch from windows to tabs in Tinderbox 6 sent me into a tailspin that lasted for several weeks. Somehow I experienced tabs as a brake keeping me from thinking properly as I worked. The problem was clearly conceptual, but I couldn’t identify exactly what it was.

This was, in a sense, ridiculous. Tabs are everywhere on my computer and have become the more-or-less default approach to presenting multiple views within a piece of software. I use them in my browser everyday, and they are certainly tidier and easier to manage on the small MacBook Air that I use when I’m out and about.

And yes, eventually I grew to like Tinderbox’s tabs because, regardless of how I felt about them initially, they were helpful. Full-screen mode on my MBAir was now workable, for example, and the new link-anchor system that appears designed to support tabs seemed much easier to use than the old toolbar-based system. More importantly, to the extent that tabs implied strong boundaries between materials, they offered a very useful tool for bringing distinct but still related materials into productive contact in a non-chaotic way. (This is reflected in my admin file, which consolidates what had been three separate projects in Tinderbox 5. Each of the original projects is consigned to its own tab in Tinderbox 6.)

And yet.

Something about tabs still nagged at me. Then last week, I finally figured out what it was.

Sheets and Screens

In Tinderbox 5, I saw multiple text windows as multiple sheets of paper arranged across a dining room table. Using them I felt as if the software’s frame had slipped away. My project file was unrepresented on the screen. All that was visible were those pieces of it that I chose to work with. I could shuffle, revise, arrange and stack these pieces on my desktop and I could do it however I wanted to. My computer desktop had became a kind of map view but with editable note texts. This was powerful and something I could not reproduce in other software. Not even close.

Tabs present me with a very different metaphor. Although in theory, they could be imagined as stacks of paper, in practice they felt like different display screens. When I switch from one tab to the next, I perceive this as moving from one computer desktop (or display) to another. (I assume I’m carrying this idea over from iOS.) On the small screen of my MBAir, tabs offered an ingenious way to manage and use limited display space. But on my larger iMac screen what I now saw was my project file, drawn inside the software frame, and rightly or wrongly, I felt boxed in.

Sheets and Stacks

Now I learn that the newly available point-one version of Tinderbox 6 reinstates saved window states, and however much I’ve grown to appreciate tabs, I’m very excited. In a sense, multiple windows are back. They work differently, and I’m only just beginning to experiment, but to me it now feels like the old choice between sheets of paper and screens (i.e windows v. tabs) is gone. What I’ve got now is an opportunity to work with both sheets of paper and stacks of paper (i.e. windows and tabbed windows).

I think I like this change a lot and that it is a good example of the workmanship that goes into Tinderbox. Things change but they also get better and more powerful.

Downton Abbey

The Beav—who never watches TV—wanted to watch this show. So we started it last year, working through season one and two with barely restrained glee because the melodrama was so deliciously ridiculous and wonderful. The story moved along quickly and all the characters were exaggerated stereotypes in the best of ways. Everything was wretchedness and condescension draped in pearls or petty fighting over livery and starched shirts or the heavy business of not-kissing the person you clearly intended to kiss eventually. And letters. There were endless letters endlessly foretelling of imminent scandal and shame.

But when season three hit, the story’s steady march forward came to a halt, the fun drained away, and the amusing bauble become a drag. By the middle of season four, I couldn’t help thinking of Henry Fielding’s observation that neither the upper nor the lower classes were a fit subject for a novel. To his eye, both were naturally boring and only become interesting when they attempt to transgress the boundaries of their class.

Attempts of the rich and the poor to transgress their classes were central in the first two seasons of Downton as were the middle classes Fielding found ripe with narrative potential. But now the show has become about two parallel but separate worlds, one upstairs and one down, both serious, both “topical” and the story has fizzled and died. Or as the Beav put it: “ils ne savent plus quoi inventer!”

So I thought we were done with the show once we’d seen the last episode of season four. But then, as I was shutting off the TV: “How many seasons are there?” Me: “Five so far.” The Beav: “We should see how it ends.”

So, to be continued (apparently).