Lileks Delivers An Architectural Fisking

James Lileks takes the new Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis and pokes it with a sharp stick a few times – and as they say, hilarity ensues:

And then there’s the face. Can’t build a new Euro-style cultural complex without inadvertent anthropomorphizing. Here we have the face of a fellow whose wife dragged him to the Guthrie, and it’s the middle of the third act, and he really, really has to use the bathroom…

It’s the face of the dramaturg asked to research Nazi culture for yet another update of a Shakespeare play, with the stipulation that he avoid swastikas and the color red. It’s like they modeled him on the Boss level of Tron.

Fortunately I wasn’t drinking coffee when I read that, or I’d have spit it all over my iMac. Indeed, the façade of the Guthrie Theatre looks like the Master Control Program from Tron. The whole building grimaces like someone’s getting a proctological exam from Dr. Hook. If anything, the building looks like “Oh God, not this self-indulgent crap again.”

It’s Marvin the Paranoid Android’s visage reconstructed on a gargantuan scale.

Now granted, I love the Guthrie and theater in general. However, is there some rule that the Guthrie needs to be such a sterile space? That it needs to be imbued with a sense of remoteness and coldness? If the goal of this place as a space is to make people appreciate the high arts, that maybe a giant glass mooninite with a perma-grimace may not have been the greatest idea? That maybe it shouldn’t be a building so far up its own asshole that it looks like it hurts?

Then again, Lileks puts it far more eloquently than I:

In the last few years Minneapolis has spent a great deal of money refurbishing old grand theaters – venues for warhorse musicals, touring shows, pop stars, etc. These spaces are civilized and urbane, and they elevate the eye. You look around, and you’re rewarded with something more than an appreciation of the marble-cutter’s skill. It may be ersatz rococo candy for the leisure class, but it’s connected. It’s connected to two thousand years of culture, a connection that long ago evaporated in the hearts of the architects and their patrons. (The holdouts would seem to be the movie theater architects, who know enough to reach back to the vocabulary of the 20s to give their multiplexes pizzazz.) A stiff bracing shot of modernist élan was good, in small doses; jet-age Googie architecture was better, in larger doses, and said more about post-war America than a hundred blunt empty boxes ever would. But we lost our ability to summon the past, because the past had nothing to teach us. The past is dead! Perhaps. But it’s the present that feels like a mausoleum.

Minneapolis is lucky to have a thriving theater community. It’s too bad that the new Guthrie’s space just looks so odd, as the Guthrie truly is a cultural jewel for the city. Good architecture inspires – the columns of Rome still awe two millennia after their construction – and the only thing the new Guthrie building inspires is a laugh.

Shots Fired, Hilarity Ensues

Apparently gunshots were heard in the parking garage of the Rayburn House Office Building – and already the jokes are flying:

* Nothing to worry about, just Frist and Hastert shooting themselves in the foot again.

* Does anyone know where Dick Cheney is?

* ABC news is reporting that Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, since she is in the Rayburn building today, is “in the mix” as a potential culprit.

The Capitol Police are thinking it was probably a false alarm, but if Denny Hastert shows up in crutches we’ll know what really happened…

UPDATE: Capitol Police think that the noise was probably an air hammer. Me, I’m guessing it was the ghost of one of the Founding Fathers pounding his head on the wall in despair…

Yet Another Reason I’m A Mac User

It looks like Norton Antivirus – a program that seems to do more damage to one’s system than most viruses – has a massive security flaw in it.

One of the biggest reasons I left the Windows world is because of crap like this. It’s not enough that you have to use a painfully obnoxious operating system, but you have to run a bunch of painfully annoying software to clean up all the accumulated crap that piles up. Norton Antivirus or another of its ilk, a firewall program that’s usually intrusive and irritating, spyware cleaners, popup blockers, etc. All of them slow down one’s system, usually keep dialing home for updates, and almost all of them are both ugly and irritating to use. Why people put up with this crap seems to me to be only attributable to some kind of digital Stockholm Syndrome.

But hey, I’m just one of those arrogant hipster Mac users… who doesn’t have to worry that some crappy antivirus program will hose his system…

Another Great Sign Of Democracy In America

Apparently there was this thing called “American Idol” on TV last night, which I hadn’t heard of due to a complete lack of any press coverage of the thing.* More Americans voted for their pop Idol than did for their President which makes we wonder if Kelly Clarkson might not yet occupy the Oval Office. (On the other hand, I’d like to see Simon Cowell as Secretary of Defense. I can just imagine it now — “That was the worst act of terrorism I have ever seen. Really, crashing planes into buildings? That’s so 2001. Utterly pathetic.”)

Leo Laporte

Of course, Alexis de Tocqueville is rotating in his grave fast enough to power a small city. I mean, c’mon, why on Earth did the 63+ million American Idol voters end up voting for a man who could be the President of the Leo Laporte Lookalikes Club? Then again, it’s nice to know he has a career after leaving TechTV.

All this does give me an idea – why not just turn politics into it’s own pop-star talent search schlockfest? I mean really, could we do much worse? Let’s face it, who’s going to be the tougher moderator, boring Bob Schieffer or Simon Cowell? You know damn well that both Bush and Kerry wouldn’t have stood a chance. Let’s face it, American Idol is already turning into another political contest as it is, why not just combine the two and get it all out of the way? At least we’d get more civic participation if we forced John McCain and Hillary Clinton to perform a duet of I Got You Babe – and it would also be hilarious.

When politics has already become a form of mass entertainment, one might as well just go with the flow. When The Daily Show is the most respected news source in the country and political parties inspire the same kind of blind loyalism usually reserved for the hometown football team, the idea that American democracy is somehow above the machinations of wannabe pop stars already flew out the window long ago. Given the choice between the Soul Patrol and, I’d choose the former any day.

* For the sarcasm impaired, yes, that is sarcasm.

Why Bother With The Truth When A Lie Will Do?

Two events this day provide a bit of insight into the sad state of our intellectual world today.

The first has to do with the images of American Airlines Flight 77 impacting the Pentagon that were recently released by the government. There is no reasonable doubt that 19 members of al-Qaeda attacked this country on September 11, 2001, and killed thousands of innocents in the process. Yet just look at some of the reactions to the images of tragedy. For some, anti-Americanism is a reflexive reaction. Of course the government was really the one responsible for September 11 – because America is always guilty. Never mind that Flight 77 carried with it dozens of innocent passengers who were immolated when that plane hit the ground in front of the Pentagon.

Denial of the events of 9/11 is no less odious than Holocaust denial – it is the true misappropriation of tragedy for not only a political end, but a political end that systematically dishonors and dehumanizes the victims of tragedy. Sadly, the idiocy of such conspiracy theories is leaking into even mainstream political discourse.

We have forgotten, haven’t we?

The next concerns Colorado charlatan Ward Chamberlain, who was caught red-headed in plagiarism, academic fraud, and fundamental dishonesty. But like another charlatan – Noam Chomsky – Churchill’s lies are just too convenient to truly discard them. Who cares when “speaking truth to power” becomes nothing more than spreading lies? It’s not the content that matters to some, it’s the perspective. Or to put it blunty, goodfacts will always beat realfacts to some. It doesn’t matter that the reality they live in, the self-serving vision of America the Police State in which only the benighted and enlightened few posses the truth, is all a complete sham. When you can play the superhero fighting the evil and intractable forces of the neocons, the Zionists, etc., what more does one need?

Meanwhile, millions of people in Iraq still live in fear while we play our foolish games. The Taliban are threatening to undo all the progress in Afghanistan since 2001. Iran is inching closer day by day to obtaining nuclear weapons and continues to threaten the annihilation of Israel. The West Bank and Gaza continue to teeter at the edge of a true civil war. The real enemy, the people who really would put everyone into a real police state, are still out there.

It’s so much easier to think that real bravery is some comedian making fun of the President safe in Washington D.C. Meanwhile, in Baghdad, real heroes are putting their lives on the line.

Why Apologize For Being Right?

Sen. Hillary Clinton has apologized for stating that many young Americans think “work is a four letter word” – specifically apologizing to her daughter Chelsea:

Clinton spoke to more than 2,000 graduates days after she criticized young people at a gathering of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington. There she said young people have a sense of entitlement after growing up in a “culture that has a premium on instant gratification.”

Brace yourselves for an irony overload:

The senator said that her daughter, Chelsea, phoned to complain after learning about the comments. The 26-year-old was hired in 2003 by McKinsey & Co. as a consultant, reportedly for a six-figure salary. She received a master’s degree from Oxford University after graduating from Stanford University in 2001.

Yes, while I’m sure that Chelsea does work hard – when not clubbing on the French Riviera – the fact that she got a six-figure job right out of school hardly supports her point. I’m sure her pedigree had nothing to do with her getting into Stanford or Oxford either. Most people don’t have the luxury of having been born so fortuitously, and even if Chelsea really is a hard worker, she doesn’t have it nearly as hard as everyone else.

The fact is, loathe as I am to praise Senator Clinton, she’s exactly right. My generation grew up in the world of Nintendo instant gratification and were raised in the image of the Baby Boomers – with all that baggage and lack of discipline that entails. Our culture has spend decades systematically devaluing the very thing that makes our nation great – the work ethic, personal responsibility, the value of family, etc. I’d agree with Senator Clinton wholeheartedly: we do have a society that puts instant gratification over hard work and a culture of entrenched entitlement. (Adding to the irony, Senator Clinton is one of those figures who personally advances both.)

Now, Sen. Clinton was probably doing what she does best: pandering to her audience. However, when Clinton happens to pander her way to some semblance of truth, it’s best not to immediately backpedal away from it.

A Moment Of National Mourning

I hate to be the bearer of such sad news, but I’ve little other choice. I know many of you will be horribly, horribly, inconsolably upset, but there’s nothing that can be done. Sadly, it’s over.

Yes folks, they finally cancelled Commander in Chief.

Try not to spend the rest of the day in a fog, sobbing constantly, or attempting to jump off a tall building. But the Clinton 2008 campaign commercial critically-acclaimed family/political drama is now consigned to television history.

Sure, you may say, the premise was hackneyed, and the whole show was like a Fisher-Price version of The West Wing, but what cold and heartless TV executive would be so cruel as to cut down a sapling of a show before it’s time? Well, apparently the good people at ABC just don’t have the heart to let Geena Davis look conflicted and Donald Sutherland look like, well, Donald Sutherland any longer.

So, the three of you who cared for that show (one of which is undoubtedly Hillary Clinton) will just need to move on…


Like A Drunk On A Lamp-Post

The usual suspects on the left are applauding Stephen Colbert’s performance at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner last week. Now, when Colbert is funny, he’s funny. The Colbert Report can be a pretty deft skewering of Bill O’Reilly’s amazingly pretentious blather about “the folks.” But Colbert’s performance was just painfully unfunny – about as subtle as a brickbat to the forehead, amateurish, and generally more polemic than humorous.

Colbert’s performance was probably a political Rorschach test – those who think that he was “speaking truth(iness) to power” undoubtedly loved it, while everyone else (including those in the room apparently) were more than a little shocked at Colbert’s lack of tact. What’s interesting here is the irony involved – Colbert’s show is about skewering the pretentiousness of blowhards like Bill O’Reilly, but Colbert’s act itself was incredibly pretentious. Bloggledygook does an excellent job of providing some perspective:

Similarly, it has become tiresome to hear talk of courage in this case, as if Colbert is in some fear for his life, but chose to stand against the fascist state and mock the president and media. Rubbish. The easiest place in the world to be snarky is Washington D.C. The Capitol virtually runs on snark. I pointed out that courage would be exemplified by an Iraqi mocking Saddam (when still in office) where speaking against the government carried very real danger.

The other point that begs to be made is that the shrieking about police states, etc. demonstrates just how humorless much of Colbert’s audience is. There is less comedy being made than the fiction that Colbert and Jon Stewart “speak” for some voiceless mass. In the age of the ubiquitous opinion, screaming at the top of one’s lungs that one’s speech is being stolen is absurd and in itself, the best form of satire practiced today.

I suspect Colbert’s attempt at satire is being treated by the left in the same way a drunk treats a lamp-post – for support, not illumination. By echoing all the right talking points, Colbert ingratiated himself with those whose anti-Bush monomania consumes all – but undoubtedly lost everyone else. There were a few funny jokes here and there (the “re-arranging the deck chairs on the Hindenburg bit was brilliant), but overall it committed the one mortal sin in comedy – it just wasn’t funny.

What He Said

Sadly, I find myself in utter agreement with Andrew Sullivan on this one:

One simple conclusion: conservative government really is dead, isn’t it? A conservative government would simply say: we have no control over global oil prices; consumers reap what they sow; companies should be left alone; and if your wallet is empty because of all that gas in your SUV, you’ve learned a useful lesson in self-government. If only Margaret Thatcher were around to punctuate that lecture with a swipe of her handbag.

When Andrew Sullivan makes sense, he makes sense, and sadly, he’s right on the money with that.

Is it really too much to ask to have some grown-ups in charge of our politics for a change? Really?