Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve started a handful blog posts that for one reason or another I haven’t finished or posted, usually because they’re about subjects that are either played-out or (I've assumed) of minimal interest. But operating under the theory that where one half-baked idea is useless, a group of half-baked ideas is a value, I’ve rounded up all the scotched posts in rough outline form, along with a little note about why they went unfinished, in hopes that maybe one or more of them will spark some good discussion and thus revivify our dormant blog section.
Title: "The 21st Century Media-Shelf Check"
Subject: How Facebook transfers friendly voyeurism to the virtual world.
The main idea: Like a lot of people, I’ve reconnected with several old high school and college friends over the past year via Facebook, and I’ve enjoyed getting a glimpse into their lives: from the mundane day-to-day of work and family, to the ways they choose to unwind. Sometimes we have a lot in common; sometimes we don’t. The whole experience reminds me of visiting someone’s house for the first time and taking a minute or two to scope out the décor and surreptitiously scan their shelves, to see what CDs and DVDs and books they have. Most of the people I knew in high school are practically strangers to me now, so it’s a fun thought experiment to compare and contrast what we’ve been through since we last knew each other. Which of them got married and had kids (even though I don’t remember them having any boyfriends or girlfriends when I knew them)? Which got advanced degrees (even though I don’t remember them being in any honors classes)? Which ones are watching Lost, or listening to good music, or renting excellent movies? Maybe in the age of Twitter and Facebook and instant-messaging, high school friends will stay closer after they graduate and separate than my generation did, but I’m not so sure. High school may not be as caste-bound and image-obsessed as Hollywood moves and TV series presume, but something about the institutional décor and snail’s-pace curriculum seems to make a lot of people tentative when it comes to bucking the herd or showing weakness. Also, even the brightest teenager is still in the process of becoming. Tastes change, attitudes evolve, life intervenes, whatnot. I thought of myself as a daring iconoclast at 17, but I was always painfully conscious of what kind of image I was projecting to my peers. I had a lot of friends, but only two or three I felt close enough to share anything truly personal. So even though I spent eight or more hours a day with the same group of people, most of us were leading separate lives with separate dramas. Yet as I look through recent family photos or even old high school photos on the pages of people I knew only from sharing a lab table or a lunch table, I can imagine a whole alternate life where I went to the same parties, and attended their weddings, and now understand all their inside jokes. And really, I think that’s what we all do when we sneak peeks at people’s CD and DVD collections. We’re looking for commonalities.
Post abandoned because: This idea was a little esoteric. Also, after all the jabbering people in the media have been doing lately about Facebook and Twitter, I really didn’t want to add to the cacophony. (But here’s my opinion about both, in brief: They’re fun. I don’t get the hand-wringing about how people are reporting on their lives instead of living it, because I and most people I know only update their statuses three or four times a day, which takes roughly five minutes total. I’d argue that if you find these services tacky or creepy, just don’t use them. Problem solved.)
Title: "I Go Poco"
Subject: Tracing the evolution of a long-lived American band from their country-rock origins to their soft-rock success
The main idea: After my buddy Steve Hyden sent me a copy of Poco’s self-titled second album, I briefly went on a Poco kick, cherry-picking the best songs from their other records to make my own 90-minute best-of playlist. Early Poco is pretty straight-up, Flying Burritos-style country-rock, with a few traces of genuine funk, but the band didn’t become really popular until roughly a decade after they formed, when they released the 1978 soft-rock classic Legend. As I listened to the big Legend hits like “Heart Of The Night” and “Crazy Love”—especially in the context of the more raucous Poco of old—I started following a train of thought I often follow when I’m digging into an old band. I wondered what it must have been like to be a rock critic in 1978, when Legend came out. Poco were hardly the most critically acclaimed band around, but surviving for a decade surely earned them some respect. (Or maybe not: Robert Christgau, reviewing that second album that Steve sent to me, called Poco “the most overrated underrated band in America.”) What did those critics think when the band followed the path of The Eagles and America toward mellow-town, culminating in a record that exemplified the blandly, solidly constructed “well-made album” of the late ‘70s? Could they hear a song like “Heart Of The Night” for the expertly crafted pop single it is, or did they just hear it as a retread of several then-popular sounds (capped off by the ubiquitous ‘70s saxophone)? Maybe latter-day critics can hear this kind of music more clearly, because they’re not surrounded by all the similar-sounding clutter. Or maybe we overrate it, because we no longer realize how common it used to be.
Post abandoned because: Again, a little esoteric. And I’ve covered the “well-made album” concept before, most notably in a post about Boz Scaggs a couple of years ago. (Also, you people already think I’m enough of a wimp. Championing Poco wouldn’t exactly boost my cred.)
Title: "My Lit-Comics Problem"
Subject: Is Alan Moore correct in asserting that the “grown-up comics” movement has fizzled?
The main idea: In a year-old interview that’s been making the rounds again thanks to Watchmen, Alan Moore said:
“There really should have been more to comics than 20 years of grim, nasty remakes of Watchmen. The comics world was very optimistic in the late '80s, and maybe what we thought was the beginning was actually the high point. Frank Miller I haven't been able to read him for some time. … Miller's trapped in a teenage world of macho violence. Look at Sin City. Every woman is a bloodthirsty, semi-naked whore; every man is an indestructible killing machine. It's nasty, misogynist, Neanderthal Teenage, but it sells. And the other side of the comics industry, the achingly trendy, avant-garde books, they're mired in a teenage worldview too. All they provide are comfort-eating comics about neuroses and the emptiness of modern life and fear of dying alone. It's underdeveloped college-student stuff. So yes, I'd hoped for more."
Much of the focus on this quote has been about Moore’s standard put-down of mainstream superhero comics’ enduring grim-and-gritty inclinations, but it’s the second half of Moore’s rant that hit home with me. Because as much as it pains me to say it, as a lifelong comics fan who tends to prefer D&Q to DC and Fantagraphics to Marvel… I tend to agree with Moore. There are some legitimate masters of cartooning out there who have spun long-form narratives of astonishing depth and sophistication, and it’s because of their work that I continue to love the medium and to devour any graphic novel or story collection that even has a chance of being in the same league. But the more comics I read, the more I’m convinced that these artists—and any great works they create that run longer than 40 pages—are an aberration, and that the medium is best suited to short stories, gags, and offbeat formal experiments. I like my comics to have a literary bent, but when I read acclaimed books like Dash Shaw’s Bottomless Belly Button or Rutu Modan’s Exit Wounds, I’m a little baffled as to why so many critics think these are books are so brilliant. Don’t get me wrong: I like both Bottomless Belly Button and Exit Wounds, and think they display a significant amount of artistry and promise. (A promise that, perhaps not coincidentally, I think is fulfilled in Shaw and Modan’s shorter works.) But they’ve both landed on lists of the year’s best books in their respective years of release, when to me they both, like a lot of literary comics, tell stories that are very generically about “the emptiness of modern life.” If they were made into movies, they’d likely die at Sundance and never be heard from again. They’re both beautifully rendered, but the dialogue and storytelling feel flat and familiar—and certainly not the kind of thing that deserves to be filed alongside the best of the best that literature or comics have to offer. I used those two as top-of-my-head examples, but my problems with Shaw and Modan are problems I have with the majority of the literary comics I read these days. Like Moore, I’m just not seeing very many cartoonists writing and drawing the graphic novels that are going to carry the banner for comics-as-art or comics-as-literature into this new century. And I think we as critics do the medium a disservice when we overpraise work that’s “good for what it is.” If comics really can be as artful as the best movies or the best novels, than lets demand that they be so, rather than passing out trophies just for participating.
Post abandoned because: Even Alan Moore fans are getting a little tired of Alan Moore right about now. He’s still a genius, but in the wake of Watchmen he’s been a little over-analyzed. Also, I covered this topic to some degree in two posts several years ago about “The Perils Of Serialization,” and I continue to touch on it from time to time in my Comics Panel reviews.
Title: "The Non-Contenders"
Subject: What makes a movie award-worthy?
The main idea: After watching The Edge Of Love—both for review and in preparation for my interview with Keira Knightley—it occurred to me that even though I didn’t think the movie was very good, I thought it was in the same league quality-wise as a lot of the movies that were competing for Oscars and Golden Globes this past year, and that the performances were every bit as good or better than some performances that were nominated for major awards. Yet given The Edge Of Love’s limited release and minimal buzz, it’s unlikely that we’ll be hearing Knightley’s name bandied about come awards time next year. The whole process just seems so arbitrary. Along those same lines, I’ve been bummed out about the middling box office for Tony Gilroy’s Duplicity, a crackerjack comedy-suspenser which—sorry, Nathan—is easily one of the best movies of 2009 so far, and likely to be on my Top 10 list at the end of the year. I’m not sure when Gilroy finished the movie, but if Duplicity had played the fall film festivals and had gotten a late ’08 release, it likely would’ve been in the mix at awards time (especially given how lame so many of the movies were at the end of last year), and probably would’ve done much better at the box office too. Instead, unless enough film critics keep beating the drum for it throughout the year, Duplicity is likely a dead issue as far as awards or domestic box office are concerned. I just hope people catch up to it when it comes out on DVD. It’s a honey.
Post abandoned because: Who gives a shit about The Edge Of Love? Also, I’m going to talk up Duplicity some more in a post I’ll be putting up tomorrow.
Title: "The Wonder Of Plastics"
Subject: Have you noticed that Mary Tyler Moore is looking more and more like Carol Burnett, and that they both are looking more and more like Carol Channing?
The main idea: Have you noticed that Mary Tyler Moore…
…is looking more and more like Carol Burnett…
…and that they both are looking more and more like Carol Channing?
Post abandoned because: Never could come up with a good title. Also, it’s kind of mean.