The Flâneur's Archives

Archives from The Flâneur's Arcade (2007-2017)

Category: Media

Reversal of Fortune

Hillary Clinton campaigned on the appeal of being the first woman to run for the highest office in the United States, banking on the same identity politics that buoyed Barack Obama to power in 2008. But while it was true that many Americans were misty-eyed with the image of a first African-American president, Obama had many other gifts that Clinton sorely lacked. There was an ease about the Senator from Illinois, a nimbleness in speech, and the keenness to tap into the zeitgeist. He knew Americans wanted hope and change.

So it was with the confidence of repeating this feat of firsts, boosted by the favorable augury of the polls, that Clinton supporters gathered at the Javits Convention Center in New York. But the party soon turned into scenes of inconsolable wailing, as they watched blue state after blue state turn red.

While Clinton failed to make the case for electing the first woman president, Donald Trump is by no means a conventional choice. A Washington outsider, with no political experience, besting 16 other Republican candidates in the primaries, then going head to head against an establishment candidate backed by mainstream media and Wall Street money, and finally, pulling-off a stunning reversal of fortune on election night. He was outspent by Clinton 2:1, running a lean campaign by criss-crossing tirelessly around battleground states, and by his provocative use of social media, presenting his case directly to the people. (Let us not now forget who Citizens United and lobby money helped the most in this election.)

In some way, Trump’s win is also a first. He is the first reality TV candidate–raw and unfiltered, and prickly at the edges. He is also the first social media candidate, with an uncanny command of the medium. Marshall McLuhan said that radio created Hitler and television created JFK; this time, YouTube, Twitter, and the comment section created Donald Trump. The comment section, which Camille Paglia observes has become “a whole new genre” (Reason TV interview), is the anarchic countervailing medium to the composed article. In McLuhan’s terms, it is cool, participatory, and auditory, as opposed to the hot, linear, visual form of the article. Twitter has that same low-res, audile quality. This is where you hear the voices of dissent against the imposed narrative. Professional Internet troll Chuck Johnson gloats: “The trolls won,” and called this election, “the comment section against the article.” Surprising it was a candidate in his 70’s who seized upon the medium of the moment and understood its message.

Mainstream media’s inability to grasp the meaning of Trump’s victory is a signal of their decline and irrelevance. They continue to explain it in terms of absurd identity politics: those white working class voters in the Rust Belt must be racist, so it goes. But Wisconsin and Pennsylvania had not voted Republican since the 1980s. Did they just turn Aryan supremacist overnight? Even liberal filmmaker Michael Moore (who hails from Michigan) is incredulous of this narrative.

You have to accept that millions of people who voted for Barack Obama, some of them once, some of them twice, changed their minds this time. They’re not racist. They twice voted for a man whose middle name is Hussein. That’s the America you live in.

from The Daily Caller

Trump’s message “Make America Great Again” succinctly captured the thirst for upliftment in blighted manufacturing towns of the Midwest, while Clinton’s clunky slogan “Stronger Together” plastered on her jet plane never really took off. In her vision of inclusion, those who Trump addressed as the “forgotten man and woman” felt excluded. In a feat of firsts, it is the billionaire playboy and real estate mogul that put the traditionally Democrat base of working class Americans on the side of Republicans. It remains to be seen whether he can effect a reversal of their fortunes.

The Studio as Auteur

While on most movies the power resides with the director and top stars, at Marvel those players have little influence. “They view the director as executing their vision,” says an exec involved with the company. Another says [producer Kevin Feige] monitors filming so closely that rather than wait for dailies, he’s often on set and “sees the takes as the directors see the takes.”

Another distinctive Marvel trait is the assumption that a film can be shaped in postproduction… “If you’re a director and 75 percent of the script is good, you have to rely on them to finish and complete the movie,” says this observer. An exec with experience on Marvel movies concurs: “The approach is more like animation than live action — ‘We can tweak it.'”

(from How Marvel Became the Envy (and Scourge) of Hollywood, The Hollywood Reporter)

There is no doubt we are in a Golden Age of comic book cinema. The comic book is by nature a medium for the serialized story–and it is not surprising that Marvel’s process resembles more the way TV shows are produced, where the real auteurs are the showrunners, not the directors. In Marvel’s case, they even include storyline continuities and character crossovers with their TV shows, as in the case of The Avengers and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which enriches the complexity of their plot lines and the texture of their imaginary world. Marvel Studios as auteur has in fact created a new genre.

It only remains to be seen whether the dinosaurs at the Academy can keep up with the changing times. The superhero movie is the only cinematic form left that compels me to get off my butt on a weekend and fork out money at the box office. An Oscar for a comic book film is long overdue. They cannot keep rewarding culturally irrelevant films such as Birdman, while ignoring films like Ant Man that actually command an audience.

iPhone Photography

Subway Rush
Tokyo (2015)

This rash of photoblogging was inspired by a Wired Magazine piece on Daniel Arnold, who, according to Gawker, is Instagram’s best photographer. He prowls the streets of New York, armed only with his iPhone 5–cracked screen and all–to document the city he loves.

I was thrilled with the idea of stretching the creative possibilities of the smart phone, not just for taking pictures, but for in situ processing of the images as well.

Like Arnold, I do have a proper digital SLR, but it is something I only tend to take with me on special holiday trips. It is heavy, clumsy, and finicky–not fit for the gonzo demands of street photography. The smart phone is always on hand to capture an interesting subject wherever it reveals itself–on the subway, in the shopping mall, or out in the parking lot.

Yesterday, just as I was about to get in my car to go home, I saw this white crane hanging out on the grass. As I approached to take its picture, it got spooked and flew away–but not before I was able to capture the moment when it started flapping its wings, and a small plane just came into the field of view, serendipitously, to land on the airstrip across the street where I worked. It was a thrilling moment.

So far, I have not needed to use any third party apps to process my pictures. Arnold uses VSCO and Whitagram, which I have downloaded, but have mostly stuck with the native iPhone camera app functionalities. I’ve tended to favor the black-and-white format anyway (inspired by my love for André Kertész), and kept the tweaking minimal–mostly those lighting parameters such as exposure, contrast, highlights and shadows.

Though I try to avoid over-processing to preserve the natural integrity of the subject, these images are intended to be fully in the realm of artifice, and are meant to be expressive or dramatic statements. They have been re-composed by cropping or rotation, not just to highlight the subject, but often, to create the subject itself.

Along with photography, I have also been playing around with blogging with just my iPhone through the WordPress app. It’s portability allows me to post more regularly (even while waiting for my plane to take off), and its restrictions forces me to be pithy.

The app also lets me put out my pictures in a more timely manner (I have yet to review the hundreds of digital photos from a trip to Cambodia a couple of years ago), though still not at the dizzying lightning speed of Instagram. I am an old dog after all. But I also think the blog format still somewhat confers that white space around a picture as in a gallery that invites contemplation.

Media guru Marshall MacLuhan said about Thomas Edison’s light bulb of the 19th century, that by its mere presence, it creates its own environment. I think the same can now be said about the smart phone–or this virtual machine that still retains the vestigial term “phone”–since 2007, when Steve Jobs, Apple’s own industrialist visionary, announced to everyone’s astounded gasp the very first iPhone.

The TV Personality

Fran Lebowitz promoting her children’s book in 1994

People who are in television routinely are recognized by everyone. Every single person that you will see on the street… I personally found that to be too much fame. Fame is something very much sought after in this culture–like money. Now, I don’t believe there’s such a thing as too much money, but there is such a thing as too much fame. And I think that writers have the perfect amount of fame. You have just enough to get a good table in a restaurant, but not so much that people come over and annoy you while you are eating. But if you are on television… I know people who are in television–they can’t walk down the street, people will come up constantly.

Also, it’s not just the number of people who recognize you, it’s the way in which you are perceived if you are in television because television is a very intimate medium–it’s in their house, they think they know them… A TV personality will be approached much more–and much more familiarly–than a big movie star, because the TV personality, they think… “Well, hi! It’s YOU… you see me in my underwear… you’re in the house… Oprah hi! Come over to eat! Oprah, you want to come over my house for dinner?” They think that Oprah is their next door neighbor. They don’t think that of Al Pacino. They know ’cause they see him at a distance. It’s different.

(starting at 16:00)

What a great McLuhanesque insight on the distinction between the medium of TV contra the cinema. McLuhan called the movie medium “hot,” whereas TV was “cold,” and elaborated on the differences thus:

TV is a medium that rejects the sharp personality and favors the presentation of process rather than of products… [It] is a cool participant medium… The TV image is of low intensity or definition, and, therefore, unlike film, it does not afford detailed information about objects…

The TV producer will point out that speech on television must not have the careful precision necessary in the theater. The TV actor does not have to project either his voice or himself. Likewise, TV acting is so extremely intimate, because of the peculiar involvement of the viewer with the completion or “closing” of the TV image, that the actor must achieve a great degree of spontaneous casualness that would be irrelevant in movie and lost on stage. For the audience participates in the inner life of the TV actor as fully as in the outer life of the movie star…

…Newscasters and actors alike report the frequency with which they are approached by people who feel they’ve met them before. Joanne Woodward in an interview was asked what was the difference between being a movie star and a TV actress. She replied: When I was in the movies I heard people say, “There goes Joanne Woodward.” Now they say, “There goes somebody I think I know.”

…The movie is a hot, high-definition medium… The old movie-fan tourists had wanted to see their favorites as they were in real life, not as they were in their film roles. The fans of the cool TV medium want to see their star in role, whereas the movie fans want the real thing.

(from Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, 1964)

Not quite the same point–McLuhan delves further into the formal effects of the image technology–but analogous in conclusion.

Lebowitz had also told the interviewer her novel was coming along well and could come out the following year. Two decades later, we still have yet to see that long-awaited opus from the author with the most notorious writer’s block. Writing, she says, is a painful process for her. On the other hand, she talks–or interviews–very well. Whereas McLuhan had this awkward, geeky TV style, Lebowitz is a natural hoot. A great TV personality. She should just hire a stenographer to follow her around and transcribe her aphoristic gems into a book.

Two Birds With One Stone

Mother and Son: Ronan looking like Mia circa Rosemary’s Baby

All the while I thought the recent besmirching of Woody Allen in the press was simply Mia Farrow’s usual bitter self trying to sabotage Blue Jasmine‘s chances at the Oscars. After years of quiet, the Greek family tragedy ratchets up into sordid reality TV, with Mia’s coy hints of son Ronan’s ambiguous paternity in a Vanity Fair piece last November, Ronan’s tweet dissing estranged dad after a glowing Golden Globe tribute, and daughter Dylan’s charge of molestation laid out in raw detail in a NYT blog.

Not till I saw the news that Ronan Farrow was making a go of hosting a show at MSNBC and then afterwards receiving “The Cronkite Award for Excellence in Exploration and Journalism” after less than a week in the job that I realized the seemingly orchestrated attack on Allen could possibly have more to do with shoring up press hype leading to his debut than tainting the well for Allen among Academy voters. It could well be both.

Farrow’s launch followed a boatload of free publicity when Farrow’s mother, Mia Farrow said in a Vanity Fair piece that Ronan’s dad might be Frank Sinatra and when Ronan tweeted during the Golden Globes, in reference to his mother’s former lover, “Missed the Woody Allen tribute – did they put the part where a woman publicly confirmed he molested her at age 7 before or after Annie Hall?” Ronan continued to make headlines after his sister, Dylan Farrow, wrote a letter that appeared in NYT columnist Nick Kristof’s blog, in which she detailed her alleged assault by Allen, and NYT book critic Janet Maslin claimed Dylan wrote the letter and got it published because she was jealous that Ronan was getting more publicity from that Vanity Fair revelation about Sinatra. (Woody Allen, meanwhile, responded through his spokesperson that he read Dylan’s letter and “found it untrue and disgraceful,” noting that a thorough investigation was conducted at the time by court-appointed independent experts who concluded there was no credible evidence of Dylan’s claims, and that no charges were ever filed.)

(from “Ronan Farrow’s New MSNBC Program Off To Weak Start: Video,” Deadline Hollywood)

Unfortunately for Ronan, free publicity is not really free, especially if you’re riding on the family’s dirty laundry.

Wednesday, Drudge schooled freshly minted news anchor, Ronan Farrow, in journalism on Twitter. Drudge wrote, “Journalism 101: ‘Any press who asks Farrow about off-message topics will be escorted out.'”

(from The Examiner)

Ironic to clamp down on the free press at a ceremony honoring you with a journalism award. One cannot unopen a can of worms.

Father and Daughter: A more senior Sinatra with young Mia

Ronan’s paternal provenance may not be brought to light anytime soon. It is indeed more tantalizing to be thought of as possibly a Sinatra. It’s a ruse to divert attention from his actual lack of substance despite his padded résumé. Perhaps the question is ultimately moot. He may not have needed to be fathered after all. He looks more like a perfect clone of the mother.