UK paperback

Physical condition

How to rate hotness in the TLS

In the TLS, ((Issue of January 22, p7. Not online, as far as I can tell.)) Leo Robson reviews the film Nine:

Marshall has made a strenuous effort to assemble an international cast, only one of whom — Loren — is Italian. So we have Marion Cotillard, the only decent singer given the only decent song (“My Husband Makes Movies”), playing Guido’s exhausted wife; Judi Dench as his seen-it-all costume designer, dispensing weary wisdom between puffs on her cigarette; and Penélope Cruz as his mistress. This last actress is exquisitely embarrassing in an early number (“A Call from the Vatican”) where she slides around a stage in lingerie. Kate Hudson, playing a reporter for American Vogue, is similarly coarse, and pained-looking. It would be unnecessary to pass judgement on the physical condition of the film’s actresses if the costumes and choreography weren’t so intent on titillation. Sexy glamour is the quality to which the film aspires most keenly, and which it fails most flagrantly to meet.

I don’t know about you, but the plea here that it is necessary for the reviewer to pass judgement on the physical condition of the film’s actresses does not strike me as wholly persuasive? Personally, I might be hesitant in print to announce that I am capable of passing judgement on the physical condition of women in this way — firstly, I am not actually a doctor; and secondly, even if I were a doctor, I would probably need to examine them in person in order to arrive at a reliable evaluation. But then, I suppose the loftily quasi-legal, quasi-medical tone of Robson’s self-justification is meant to render somehow more respectable and objective the implicit announcement that he himself did not feel “titillation”. In other words, the physical condition of the film’s actresses is self-importantly fastidious unspeak for the reviewer’s opinion of their “sexy”-ness, or lack thereof.

Oddly, there is no mention in the review of Fergie, whose “Be Italian” is (in my opinion, pace Robson), the film’s “only decent song”. How long will TLS readers have to wait for that august organ’s definitive pronouncement on her physical condition?

9


More intimate

iPad, YouPud

So yesterday Apple Computer, Inc released their long-awaited table computer, some kind of rhomboidal display unit with an enormous bezel, but no legs like an actual table would have? Oh, sorry, tablet. Here are some of the things Mr Steve Jobs said ((Via the coverage from gizmodo and gdgt.)) about the table computer. First:

It’s so much more intimate than a laptop.

Intimate was perhaps a brave word to use about the iPad, given that lots of people were just about to start calling it the iTampon. But anyway, what is intimate about a rectangular computer? Usually only people and their relationships (or, at a stretch, body parts) are said to be “intimate”, but now apparently inanimate objects can be intimate too? With each other? With you? Really?

Mr Jobs also said that the table device was “better than a laptop”. What about those nice small, cheap laptops known as netbooks?

The problem is netbooks aren’t better at ANYTHING. They’re just cheap laptops.

So, um, at least they are better at being cheap than other laptops? But if you like things because they are cheap, Mr Jobs doesn’t want to know you. Honestly, nor do I.

Obviously the table computer is massively better than a laptop at, say, browsing the web, because:

You can see the whole page — it’s phenomenal.

I’ve dreamed of doing that on my laptop! Haven’t you? Seeing the whole page! Imagine! All right, whatever.

Also, the iPad is apparently better than a laptop at doing email and word-processing and stuff, even though it doesn’t have a keyboard? But don’t worry: it has a make-believe onscreen “keyboard”, of which Mr Jobs said, courageously:

It’s a dream to type on.

Yes! A really bad dream, maybe. (Revealingly, there is a massive keyboard attachment sold separately.)

Finally, and perhaps most rousingly, Mr Jobs said:

we’ve tried to be at the intersection of technology and liberal arts.

The technoberal arts, I think that’s called.

Are you gagging for an iPad, users?

16


A kind of elitist persona

Modern tomes

In this long and fascinating NYT article about thriller writer James Patterson comes a remarkable statement by one Larry Kirshbaum, former CEO of Time Warner Book Group:

“Jim [Patterson] was sensitive to the fact that books carry a kind of elitist persona, and he wanted his books to be enticing to people who might not have done so well in school and were inclined to look at books as a headache,” Kirshbaum says. “He wanted his jackets to say, ‘Buy me, read me, have fun — this isn’t “Moby Dick.”’”

Good for Patterson! Who the hell wants to read Moby-Dick anyway? Or at least every day? But, you might mumble-quibble, how can books have a kind of elitist persona? Merriam-Webster offers for persona “a character assumed by an author in a written work”, “an individual’s social facade or front”, or “the personality that a person (as an actor or a politician) projects in public”, so perhaps Kirshbaum means that books project an air of not being for everyone. It is true that, willy-nilly, many books project an air of not being for people who have not yet learned to read, but I’m not sure that people who can read yet count as an “elite” in the United States. Then again, Kirshbaum refers not to an elitist persona exactly, but only a kind of elitist persona. Books are sort of forbidding objects, right? Do I hear you mutter that books are, for all that, easier to use than an iPhone? Bloody elitist. We don’t want your sort round here. Not in our massive publishing conglomerate.

Lots of people, who probably wear tweed and have dandruff and squint myopically if they ever emerge into the daylight, are worried about the publishing industry these days, but I for one am confident that the future of the book is safe in the hands of executives like Kirshbaum, who are heroically willing to recognize that the public at large hates and fears books.

I think I have never read a book by James Patterson. Have you, readers?

5


Terrible immigrants

Amis on the filthy foreigner

Martin Amis has predictably outraged the bienpensants with his call for euthanasia booths, but an eagle-eyed unspeak.net reader has spotted something more bizarre buried in his effortful verbiage: ((Thanks to redpesto.))

How is society going to support this silver tsunami? There’ll be a population of demented very old people, like an invasion of terrible immigrants, stinking out the restaurants and cafes and shops.

Terrible immigrants? How exactly are these immigrants supposed to be “terrible”? Amis cannot mean for us to imagine people who are really bad at being immigrants, because the most incompetent immigrants of all would never have got into the country in the first place, much less had the organizational capacities to gang together and mount an “invasion”. So one must conclude that terrible immigrants are, on the model of “terrible lizards”, immigrants who are particularly frightening, with scaly skin and massive teeth, like velociraptors and T Rexes stamping down the high street and — as a secondary implication of Amis’s syntax — “stinking out” the place, presumably with their strange bodily unguents and spicy foodstuffs. ((Previously in Martin Amis’s World of Prejudice: Any ethnicity.))

Martin Amis has not yet announced that he will be campaigning for the BNP in the forthcoming election, but it can surely be only a matter of time?

15


Very real

Terrorism: highly likely to be severely substantial

David Miliband said yesterday that the danger of terrorism in Britain remains “very real”, rather than moderately real or only slightly real. At least at this stage we ought to be thankful that it is not yet extremely real.

This comes after the Home Secretary raised the official “threat level” on Friday night from “substantial” to “severe”, meaning that an attack is considered “highly likely”, rather than very likely or highly real. The threat level is supposedly set by MI5’s Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, and it is interesting to note that, since its inception in 2006, the lowest two settings (“low” and “moderate”) have never been used: ((Just as with the “Advisory System” of US Homeland Security: see Unspeak, p153.)) the threat, it seems, has always been SUBSTANTIAL, SEVERE, or CRITICAL.

Of course, the threat level is not a reliable way of predicting the future; rather, it goes up when some terrorism has just happened. (In this case, the attempted Detroit bombing over Christmas.) But the threat level also sends a message to the public, as Lord Carlile of Berriew has helpfully explained:

It is absolutely essential that there should be public vigilance and the government has — quite rightly — decided that if you don’t tell the public to be vigilant, they are not going to be vigilant.

One might wonder why the government doesn’t just say “Let’s be vigilant, folks!”, rather than announcing a rise in a dramatically named threat level; but of course any government would look bad if its citizens were blown up at a time when it had no such rhetorical insurance. The utility of the threat level system, then, is very real, if not in the way we are supposed to believe.

6


Baathists

Unspeak in Iraq

Anthony Shadid in the New York Times on the politics behind a term that is often thrown around loosely:

Seven years after the United States-led invasion, and three years after the leader it overthrew was executed, a question in Iraq remains unanswered: Who is a Baathist? The term is as malleable as it is incendiary, and the quandary it represents has underlined the growing dispute over the credibility of Iraq’s parliamentary elections in March […]

To many Sunni Arabs […] it is a catchall term employed to disenfranchise them. This month, it has become the fig leaf, critics say, for a brazen campaign of score-settling that has reopened sectarian wounds and thrown into question the legitimacy of the March 7 vote.

Read the rest.

1


SarcMark

The lowest form of punctuation

Oh, I suppose you’ve already heard about the SarcMark?

In today’s world with increasing commentary, debate and rhetoric, ((What a great world?)) what better time could there be than NOW, ((No better time?)) to ensure that no sarcastic message, comment or opinion is left behind ((I would put a full stop here, but then I am not the kind of entrepreneur who will soon become immensely wealthy from charging people $1.99 for a punctuation mark?)) Equal Rights for Sarcasm – Use the SarcMark ((No, really, use it?))

Of course, the proposal for a point d’ironie — ? — dates back to Alcanter de Brahm in the late 19th century, and his design was a tad more elegant than the SarcMark’s torpid scribble, which looks at best like a pain aux raisins except with only one raisin, that has probably gone mouldy and poisonous and will kill you within moments if you swallow it. Anyway, I’m pretty sure I would find more use for a punctuation mark to signal those rare moments when I am not being sarcastic?

13


Progress-resistant

Hating Haiti

Now seems to be the ideal time, wouldn’t you agree, to say that it is Haitians’ own fault that their country is so screwed? What’s that, you don’t agree? Well, you are not a New York Times op-ed writer! David Brooks is:

As Lawrence E. Harrison explained in his book “The Central Liberal Truth,” Haiti, like most of the world’s poorest nations, suffers from a complex web of progress-resistant cultural influences. There is the influence of the voodoo religion, which spreads the message that life is capricious and planning futile. There are high levels of social mistrust. Responsibility is often not internalized. Child-rearing practices often involve neglect in the early years and harsh retribution when kids hit 9 or 10.

We’re all supposed to politely respect each other’s cultures. But some cultures are more progress-resistant than others, and a horrible tragedy was just exacerbated by one of them. ((Via 3QuarksDaily; also see Matt Taibbi’s translation of the whole thing.))

Progress-resistant? I like the image of progress as an antibiotic, helpfully administered by caring international liberals, even if on occasion a colony of filthy germs will turn out to be morosely resistant to the call to march into a brighter future. Brooks did not invent the term progress-resistant himself (cf), but he has done a sterling service in popularizing it. Now more people will know that progress-resistant is the fashionable and acceptable term to use when you really mean “backward” or “savage”: for example, when you want (as one so often does?) to describe an entire people as superstitious, irresponsible, and abusive of their children.

What are you resistant to, readers?

8



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