- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Voyeur Dickens

“Of course Dickens’s satire tended toward softish (or what now seem like softish) targets, like the religious sanctimony of Mr. Podsnap in ‘Our Mutual Friend,’ the workhouses in ‘Oliver Twist,’ the court of Chancery in ‘Bleak House,’ and government bureaucracy of all stripes in Little Dorrit’s Circumlocution Office. Of course Dickens painted in broad strokes meant to appeal to some common denominator … Of course there are melodramatic tentacles in multiple plots, plucking at our attention.

“But up against these conventional narrative pleasures there’s the sheer weirdness of Dickens’s world: natural monsters like the dwarf Quilp; phantasmagoric chase scenes like Bill Sykes and his dog on the rooftops of the Isle of Dogs after his murder of Nancy; recurring jokes about cannibalism and wooden legs; and, offsetting the sweeties, women like the scarred Rosa Dartle, murderous Hortense, rigid Mrs. Clennam, endlessly loquacious Flora Finching, and ferocious Miss Wade with her influence over the resentful orphan Tattycoram. What popular sentiment do they tap into?

“Voyeurism, perhaps? Dickens offers the irresistible entertainments of eavesdropping and people-watching alongside the equally tempting but awful compulsion to look at something when you know you ought to turn your head. Dickens never looked away, and through his unfiltered gaze we can allow ourselves to see people and places from which we might otherwise flinch.”

- Alexandra Mullen, writing on “The artful Dickens,” in the June issue of the New Criterion

Juvenile films

” ‘Star Wars’ was a different kind of blockbuster than, say, ‘Ben Hur’ or ‘Gone With the Wind,’ but blockbusters have always been with us. The difference now isn’t really related either to the rise of special effects or the popularity of science-fiction-inspired themes, it’s related to the fact that adults barely go to the movies anymore. Blockbusters today are geared almost exclusively to the 18-29 year old demographic, and that demo simply demands a different kind of movie. It’s a cohort that’s interested in video games, comic books, and plenty of adrenaline, and if that’s the audience for your product then those are the kinds of movies you’re going to produce. It has nothing to do with the success of ‘Jaws’ or ‘Star Wars.’

“There is, of course, always a chicken and egg problem here. Did adults abandon movies because movies got juvenile? Or did movies get juvenile because adults abandoned them? I’ve never come to a firm conclusion about this myself, but I suspect it’s more the latter. As a social experience - for dates, for hanging out with your friends, for getting out of the house - movies are as good as they’ve ever been. And that’s a big part of what kids want out of their pastimes. But adults? They mostly just want to relax with a bit of good entertainment, and they have a whole lot of other options for that these days. Options that, from an adult point of view, are generally superior. So that leaves kids as the primary audience for movies, and moviemakers have responded by making movies for kids.”

- Kevin Drum, writing on “The Decline and Fall of Adult Movies,” on June 22 at his Mother Jones blog

Check, please

“After taking heat from some of his liberal fans on Twitter over his strong criticism of Pres. Barack Obama’s Oval Office speech Tuesday, Keith Olbermann stopped into another of his new media stomping grounds to find more of the same. Now he’s leaving The Daily Kos after reading a ‘diary trashing first me and my colleague Rachel [Maddow].’

Olbermann wrote a blog post, presumably his last for awhile, headlined ‘Check, Please,’ as a response to the diary he found and one particular comment that insinuated his criticism came because attacking the President was good for ratings (a pretty strange notion when discussing MSNBC). …

“It’s interesting to see Olbermann react strongly to the commenters who, almost universally, have been supporter* of his show and his network. As he sticks with his ‘non-Obama-cheerleader’ position, it’s now clear there are some in this country far farther left than he is. It is a testament to the polarized American public that Olbermann would be on the outs with the Daily Kos and his liberal Twitter followers.”

- Steve Krakauer, writing on “Keith Olbermann Checks Out Of Daily Kos After Criticism From Left,” on June 17 at Mediaite