- The Washington Times - Monday, December 1, 2008

TV winks back

“The problem with this conceit, and the reason why image-fiction fails on its own terms, was that television had already made wised-up image recognition a fine art. Network programmers at some point realized that their audiences were fluent in, among other things, network programming. Winking self-reference was the inevitable result; TV had learned to parody itself, and this made it a nimbler expositor of postmodernism than any theory-drunk MFA student could ever hope to be.

“In one exquisite example [David Foster] Wallace cites, a syndicated episode of ‘St. Elsewhere‘ revolves around the clever allusions made throughout to ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show.’ Not only is this the daytime soap opera equivalent of an Escher painting, it also carries further layers of irony: Both series were produced by the same parent company - owned, as it happens, by Mary Tyler Moore herself - and actors who had been on Mary appeared in the Elsewhere episode as new characters, only to then be ‘recognized’ as the characters they had played on Mary. ‘Passive’ entertainment, this decidedly was not.

“Image-fiction, then, had reached a satiric impasse because television, or those responsible for what was on, had grown smarter. What was a show like ‘Entertainment Tonight’ but a playground for blow-dried deconstructionists? One may have to be under 40 to revere a series like ‘The Simpsons,’ but not to cotton to its level of sophistication, or how it openly mocks the very network - Fox - that has profited from its double-decade run.”

- Michael Weiss, writing on “Sincerity with a Motive” on Nov. 20 at the Weekly Standard

Unlucky in love

“Until Daniel Craig arrived, Sean Connery was the most thuggish of Bonds - and even with Craig running through walls, Connery still has a nasty edge. It’s not that he can’t pull off a tuxedo; more that a certain contempt seems to be lurk behind even his most straightforward dialogue. It gives him the aloof coolness that became a hallmark of the role, but it also turned his every romantic relationship into a game of manipulation and distance. Even those women he seemed to have some actual passion for never earned his respect.

“So it’s not surprising that he racked up a bit of a body count. It’s not till Connery’s third movie as 007 that the pattern begins; Goldfinger’s most iconic image is also the first dead Bond girl, slathered in suffocating paint. Shirley Eaton has the bad luck of simply being in the way. Bond uses her to embarrass Gert Frobe; he has sex with her; and then she’s turned into poster art. Her death is the most interesting thing about her, and sadly enough, that runs in the family - when her sister Tania Mallet tries to avenge Eaton’s murder, Bond manages to foil the plan, and then Mallet gets a broken neck, courtesy of Oddjob and his magical hat.”

- Zack Handlen, writing on “James Bond: Ladykiller” on Nov. 13 at the Onion AV Club blog

Rhetorical change

“Today, for example, Woodrow Wilson´s professorial speech in support of the League of Nations proposal seems almost otherworldly. ‘I have perceived more and more that men have been busy creating an absolutely false impression of what the treaty of peace and the Covenant of the League of Nations contain and mean,’ Wilson said, and he followed it with a point-by-point refutation. He did not hesitate to engage the kind of detail that we would now expect from National Public Radio rather than from the president himself …

“Wilson´s focus on explanation was not exotic in his time. Franklin Roosevelt´s fireside chats were regularly praised as ‘instructive’ and ‘explanatory’ by listeners, descriptions distinctly unlikely for any president today. More typical today is the contrast between a paragraph of one of [President] Bush´s speeches defending the Iraq War at its start and one made at the same time by Great Britain´s then-prime minister, Tony Blair. [Author Elvin] Lim notes that Blair´s paragraph contained seven reasons for invading Iraq, while Bush´s contained only one, with an eye cast toward pathos rather than logos: ‘We choose to meet that threat now, where it arises, before it can appear suddenly in our skies and cities.’”

- John McWhorter, writing on “A Rhetorical Question” in the October issue of First Things

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