- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Contemptuous

“Therefore, I decided to make a serious effort to identify the consistent qualities across [Billy] Joel’s ‘body of work’ (it almost hurts to write that) that make it so meretricious, so fraudulent, so pitifully bad. And so, risking humiliation and embarrassment, I ventured to the Barnes & Noble music section and bought a four-disc set of B.J.’s ‘Greatest Hits,’ one of which was a full disc of his musings about art and music. …

“And I think I’ve done it! I think I’ve identified the qualities in B.J.’s work that distinguish his badness from other kinds of badness: It exhibits unearned contempt. Both a self-righteous contempt for others and the self-approbation and self-congratulation that is contempt’s backside, so to speak. Most frequently a contempt for the supposed phoniness or inauthenticity of other people as opposed to the rock-solid authenticity of our B.J.

“I’m not saying, by the way, that contempt can’t make for great art. [Bob] Dylan’s ‘Positively 4th Street,’ for example, is one of the most contemptuous songs ever written, but it redeems itself through the joyfulness of its black-humored eloquence and wit. And [Bruce] Springsteen lost something when he lost his contempt and became a love-for-the-common-people would-be Woody Guthrie.”

-Ron Rosenbaum, writing on “The Awfulness of Billy Joel, Explained,” on Jan. 23 at Slate

World Wide [Censored]

“During the campaign, Barack Obama promised to extend broadband service to all Americans, but he may find, as Berin Szoka - a fellow at the Progress & Freedom Foundation - wrote, that ‘what’s constitutional is politically impossible (unfiltered free Internet) and what’s politically possible (filtered free Internet) is unconstitutional.’ The new administration should expect strident protests against censored Internet service in the United States, much like those that have recently occurred in Australia, where the government is planning to filter all Internet communications.

“Bits are already filtered and monitored as they cross national borders. In China, if you want to visit www.freetibet.org (the Web site of a Tibetan independence group) or falundafa.org (the site of the banned spiritual group Falun Gong), you will temporarily lose your Internet connection.

“The OpenNet Initiative, a partnership of Internet research centers at Harvard University and the universities of Cambridge, Oxford and Toronto, documents technology-enabled, fine-tuned censorship all over the world: no sex in Saudi Arabia, no Holocaust denials in Australia, no shocking images of war dead in Germany, no insults to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in Turkey. Some of those bans mimic pre-Internet censorship laws, but authorities install harsh new ones in response to internationally significant events, such as the monks’ protests in Myanmar in 2007.”

-Harry Lewis, writing on “Not Your Father’s Censorship” in the Jan. 16 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education

‘Lost’ and ‘Lost’

“I suspect when all is said and done that the history of ‘Lost’ will cleave it pretty neatly into two different shows….

“The great divide falls between the first half of the show’s third season and the last half of that season (which roughly matches up with when executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse convinced ABC to let them set a hard end date for the series). Before season three’s 13th episode, ‘The Man from Tallahassee,’ the series was much more meandering and much more prone to fits of stupidity. But it was also a show with more time - time for things like visual poetry or narrative tangents that occasionally seemed like dead ends (fans hated season three’s ‘Tricia Tanaka Is Dead,’ but it was really a fine little piece of television - it just didn’t advance the master narrative in any way). …

“But after the network set a firm end date for the show, it became something ever-so-slightly different. Gone were the long, meander-y episodes where we found out why Kate liked horses (and/or killed her dad) for the most part (there was one where we found out why Desmond says ‘brother’ to everyone, but that was the last of an old era). The show became something much more purposeful, taking great strides forward in its narrative and starting to tie seemingly disconnected elements into a larger framework.”

-Todd VanDerWerff, writing on “Lost Thursdays: Season 5, Eps. 1 and 2, ‘Because You Left’ and ‘The Lie,’” on Jan. 22 at the House Next Door Online


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