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Adam Curtis's HyperNormalisation

Oct 21, 2016
I had not watched many Adam Curtis documentaries until the last week or so. I’m a bit impressionable, and I may have read a metafilter comment ten years ago that described him as more of a conspiracy theorist than he actually is. To make up for that deficit in understanding, I’ve watched many of the documentaries over the last week. His subjects align with my research interests in a number of ways.

The End of Breaking Bad

Sep 2, 2013
I wrote a couple of Breaking Bad commentaries last year after the end of the first part of the fifth season. There are now only four episodes left, and I’m not entirely sure if we’ll see anything else about Gustavo Fring’s past. I can see how the Lydia-plot could have a flashback with Fring, but I don’t see how it could get all the way back to Chile. And that’s a shame if true, because I think there’s some really useful political comparisons to be made between Walter White’s and Fring’s respective formative circumstances and economic policies.


Oct 7, 2012
I suffer from a very rare form of prosopagnosia in which every time I try to picture Mandy Patinkin, I imagine Steven Seagal instead. This has made watching Homeland a somewhat disconcerting experience. Or at least thinking about it, I should say. Though Claire Danes and Patinkin are well cast, I don’t think Damian Lewis or Morenna Baccarin are altogether plausible in their parts, though Lewis is obviously a fine actor.

Gustavo Fring, Businessman

Aug 14, 2012
The writers of Breaking Bad probably had something in mind by making Gustavo Fring a Chilean. Don Salamanca contemptuously refers to him as “generalissimo” at one point, and Don Eliado reminds him pointedly that he’s in Mexico now in the flashback where Fring’s chemist-partner is murdered. He apparently had the power to sponsor this chemist’s education, though I don’t remember if that was in Chile or Mexico. [Update: It was in Chile.

Breaking Bad and the Improbable

Jul 31, 2012
I have recently caught up with Breaking Bad, which seems to be everyone’s favorite television show these days. And like most people, I have enjoyed it a lot. I think it’s fair to say, however, that it strains suspension of disbelief in many ways. For instance, in the first season, Walter sends Jesse to meet with a violent meth distributor named Tuco Salamanca. Jesse loses both the meth and some blood.

Some Problems with The Wire

Jan 9, 2010
I’ve been more-or-less frozen in here in South Louisiana the last few days, which isn’t too bad as it gives me a good excuse to eat massive quantities of gumbo and watch as the weather takes revenge on the many unwanted plant species in my yard. The city utilities folks also charged me for 29000 gallons of water usage last month and dug a picturesque ditch in my front yard. Any correlation between those two events remains uncertain.


Sep 23, 2009
The recent dead salmon bit that’s going around is a wonderful distillation of contemporary received wisdom about neuroscience. In the world of Dollhouse, Joss Whedon’s latest scalp-massager on Fox, the salmon would not be actually in the process of transformation into a Deep One, but rather would be under the control of a mischievous adolescent whose wishes are fulfilled through incredible technology he alone controls. Those mind-control fantasies are regulated, however, by various paternal and maternal figures who keep him busy but frustrated.

Another Outrage from the TLS

Jan 14, 2009
In a review of Stacey Abbott’s Celluloid Vampires (U of Texas P, 2007), Kapka Kassabova writes: This promising motto (“A little less ritual and a little more fun”) comes to courtesy of Spike, the peroxide-blond punk rock vampire in the 1990s American television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Spike symbolizes the New-Age vampire in modern cinema: young, American, anti-establishment, ironic, and allergic to boredom. American, eh?

Thoughts on The Fifth Season of The Wire

Aug 15, 2008
I don’t know if the fatuous documentary on the final disc, starring Joe Klein and Jacob Weisberg, left an unduly bad impression; but the institutional portrait of the media in the final season was disappointing. Simon, of course, knows this estate better than the show’s other broad subjects, but the Sun as shown lacked any human variability or social depth. The sympathetic characters were consistently so, the others irredeemable fools. How many times did the executive editor have to describe something as “Dickensian” before we get the point?

John from Cincinnati

Jun 20, 2008
That it was cancelled, I now think, after watching the first six episodes, was a disaster. But if you’re looking for some humor in the situation, I’m not sure that watching the actors listen to Milch explain to them the artistic theory of the dream sequence in the sixth episode is likely to be beat. (Rebecca De Mornay’s* expression, in particular, is matchless, though Dayton Collie seems to rival her for mute and increasingly hostile** incomprehension.


Feb 22, 2008
I’ve made a couple of comments here, at Crooked Timber, and The Valve, more or less in jest, over the last two years or so about how I thought that The Invention of Morel was the key to all of Lost’s mythologies. Well, if I’m not mistaken, Sawyer was puzzling over a copy of it in tonight’s episode. I strongly suspect that ABC employs a fleet of young nerds to scour the internet for conversation about its programming, and that comment (or one like it; I rather doubt I was the first person) caught someone’s eye, a copy of the New York Review books edition was purchased, and it made its way up the prop-chain.

The Unit

Jan 2, 2008
I’ve watched almost all of the first season of this David Mamet creation over the last couple of days, and today in the public library, I noticed that the volume it is based on, Eric L. Haney’s Inside Delta Force, was held. Unable to resist, I’ve been reading it. The thing that’s left me head-scratching in particular is that Haney writes about (and gives a picture of) a letter written in Farsi on Royal Saudi letterhead to be carried by all operators in the aborted hostage rescue, asking the putative Iranian readers (as good Muslims) to render assistance.

The Wire's Realism

Oct 19, 2007
Much has been made of it, not least in the long New Yorker profile I linked to a few days ago. But did anyone find young Nick Sabotka listening to Iggy and having a π tattoo on his neck a bit hipsterish for type? Perhaps conurbation is to blame.


Oct 7, 2007
I spent the last week in Liverpool, working in the Olaf Stapledon archive. I found, as you do, many serendipitously interesting things (letters from the young Frank Kermode to Stapledon, for instance) and have nearly gone blind trying to read his micrographic journals and notebooks, made even more amusing by Greek-letter substitution at odd intervals and syllable-reduction. But, a worthwhile experience, all in all. I encountered Marseilles soccer enthusiasts chanting in the streets and ate several varieties of the heavily spiced local cuisine.

The Gator Nation

Sep 24, 2007
I’ve noticed that both The Sopranos and The Wire have throwaway references to Gainesville (vending machine falls on someone in the former, Bunk’s wife visits family there in latter). Given that every other college graduate, roughly speaking, is from Ohio State, Florida, or Arizona State, I’d guess that some company gaffer or another’s having a bone thrown; but I don’t know. Also, one of the Buffy seasons, maybe six, has an extra with a guy wearing a UNCW shirt, which pleased me.

From the Onion

Sep 10, 2007
“Coming in at an exhausting 7,000 years long, music is weighed down by a few too many mid- tempo tunes, most notably ‘Liebesträume No. 3 in A flat’ by Franz Liszt and ‘Closing Time’ by ‘90s alt-rock group Semisonic,” Schreiber wrote. “In the end, though music can be brilliant at times, the whole medium comes off as derivative of Pavement.” That reminds me that I’ve been mulling over “The secondary stumbles because the cadence of the count has led them astray; pray their intuition leads them crashing into bodies in a perfect way.

John from Cincinnati Cancelled

Aug 14, 2007
I’ve only caught a few episodes of this in hotel rooms, but it seemed sublime. (But the affectless intrusion of the marvelous also seemed to be something I think of as a wounded trend in contemporary American fiction.) I’m not at all surprised that it was cancelled, given that its obvious lack of popular appeal. It also captured the dilapidated beachside community well, though I have more personal experience with the East Coast versions.

The Common Towhee

Mar 30, 2007
Is fascinated with mirrors, particularly the passenger’s side mirror on my wife’s Civic. I see a male quizzically and somewhat aggressively pecking at its image there, sometimes even immediately after I pull up in the driveway. When I lived in Florida, one similarly assaulted my then vehicle’s mirror, but that one had a chrome-like exterior which was peeling off, and I assumed it was attracted to the shine. This eminence rouge (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) is also an aggressive scratcher of the ground, and I’m concerned that it’s seeing mirror fauna (see Borges; also Wolfe) in the ultraviolet.

The Most Touching Spam

Mar 19, 2007
I’m trying to track down an expression I found in Patrick O’Brian. The OED doesn’t know anything about it, though I did, while looking, discover that Beckett is quoted for two senses of the unmentionable word that forms the first half of this mysterious compound. The spam was about Samonsite repair, by the way. Or so it claims. It seems Russian in provenance. I’m just back from this year’s Narrative Conference in D.

A Series of Trite Observations

Feb 22, 2007
I’m enjoying The Puppet and the Dwarf at the moment. Žižek reminds me much of McLuhan. Facts don’t matter for either. In the space of a few pages, Žižek has claimed that Martin Luther King made a radical anti-capitalist turn in the last few weeks before his death and that the Japanese Army relied on a Zen mantra similar to “the sword that kills is the sword that saves” to justify their actions in Korea and Manchuria.

24's Politics

Feb 10, 2007
The defining quote from Jane Mayer’s article: Surnow once appeared as a guest on Ingraham’s show; she told him that, while she was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, “it was soothing to see Jack Bauer torture these terrorists, and I felt better.” Surnow joked, “We love to torture terrorists—it’s good for you!” James Surowiecki did a similar piece in Slate a year or two ago in which he seemed to omit all relevant details.

Don't Think You Know Better Than Haig

Feb 2, 2007
Readers of Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory may recall that he quotes this newspaper account of how the average subject can help with the war effort. I wonder if our Alexander thought of it in that fleeting moment when he thought himself in charge. I can remember watching that unfold on my grandmother’s tv, though thankfully I was too young to be aware of Haig. Speaking of which, you may remember that Homer wears a “Haig in ‘88” t-shirt in one episode.

Subterranean Lost Blues

Nov 2, 2006
I think that the length of time we saw a CGI bombinent black fly mass whip a man athwart trees and then the ground (“kerosene”) tonight was unusual in several respects. We had witnessed the burial of the dead—I half-expected to see brands arc-light Trixie’s floating pyre—with the white robes. Perhaps it’s a ritual meant to invoke buzzing manitou. There’s also the precognitive Scotsman and the Odin in the monitor. With the “[Skr.

CSI Miami's Real Economy

Oct 16, 2006
I watched my first episode of this unbelievably dreadful program last night, and, as luck would have it, it was set in the orange groves of academe. An anthropology professor, fixated on pain as the horizon of human consciousness or expectation, is found strung to a tree (by a small woman using a convenient pulley system that just happened to be there, apparently, after dragging this exsanguinated and much larger man several acres from his office–but let’s not get ahead of ourselves).


Sep 23, 2006
Brian Cox starred in a German adaptation of The Invention of Morel. Perhaps I can succeed in tracking it down. Perhaps not in this case a “promoter of the first fucking degree.” Speaking of Deadwood, it’s worth pointing out–and perhaps the coda will address this–but it’s worth pointing out that the historical Seth Bullock was not consistently a friend of the working man, using sulpherous fumes to disperse striking miners at one point.


Apr 20, 2006
A not surprising article in the Post today reviews an article by Lisa Cosgrove coming out in Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics that demonstrates the close ties that experts on mood disorders, including all of those who have written the relevant entries in the DSM-IV, have to the pharmaceutical industry. I’m curious about how often we’ve seen in recent American television the effects of the diagnosed refusing their meds. There was the episode of Lost I briefly mentioned a while ago, the episode of Buffy it seemed indebted to, the fourth season of 24, and perhaps intermittent parts of The Sopranos.

Friday Poetry Fragment

Mar 6, 2006
“Someone They Aren’t” Of all the movies that have made me sweat The ones that make me the most uncomfortable Are those in which a terrible fool pretends to be Someone they aren’t– Denis Johnson Squidbillies and 12oz Mouse probably represent the limit of human achievement in the televisual medium at this point in world history, far exceeding the pornoseconal of Law & Order.

Briefly Corrected

Feb 19, 2006
Contrary to Phil Kloer, Flann O’Brien is neither “obscure” nor a “surrealist,” properly speaking. The previously mentioned book by Casares seems to me to be much more influential on Lost, though two things are worth noting here: a) I haven’t seen all of the episodes and b) the creative team is the same as that behind the execrable Alias and thus you can assume that there’s no coherent story-motivation other than to stretch it out as long as it’s profitable.

Favorite Sopranos Malapropism/Items

Jan 28, 2006
“Dysentery in the ranks” (4.4). Combines foreshadowing and appealing ludicrousness. Read yesterday: Horsley, Lee. Twentieth-Century Crime Fiction. (Oxford: 2005). Where’s the Keeler? Bonfiglioni? Banville? Clarke, Lee. Worst Cases: Terror and Catastrophe in the Popular Imagination. (Chicago: 2006). Thought that Posner’s book might have warranted a bit more discussion here. Phares, Walid. Future Jihad : Terrorist Strategies against America. (Palgrave: 2005). I don’t know why I kept reading this.

The Police in New York City

Jan 5, 2006
Just caught a commercial for the Super Bowl on ABC with “Heartbreaker” in the background. You couldn’t really hear any of the lyrics, which is too bad: A ten year old girl on a street corner, Sticking needles in her arm. She died in the dirt of an alleyway, Her mother said she had no chance, no chance! Be sure to catch Superbowl XL on ABC! This also reminds of the countless times I’ve heard “Time out of Mind” playing in supermarkets.

People Nowadays

May 22, 2005
Talk a lot about media restructuring consciousness and the like. I’m sympathetic to some of these arguments to an extent, but a lot of the trick is defining what “consciousness,” particularly “social consciousness,” means at any given argumentative moment. Since I pointed the site’s immense readership to two Washington Post articles last night, I’m continuing the trend. I’ve never watched an episode of CSI: Anywhere, I should say. What then should we think of this?

It's Funny Because It's True

Jan 23, 2005
The US television network that recently broadcast a passing glimpse at Janet Jackson’s anatomy was excoriated for its wanton lapse of taste; but the avalanche of accompanying commercials for products designed to enhance male potency passed quite without comment. The female breast, it seems, can rot a nation’s moral core; but malfunctioning penises are wholesome family fare. From this New York Review article by Tony Judt, which is well worth reading.

Burke on Heffernan on Alias

Jan 6, 2005
Is Timothy Burke being fair to this review of Alias by Virginia Heffernan? No. No, he’s not. Let’s examine one offending paragraph: Let’s be honest. Many of us don’t like comic books and have feigned interest in their jumpy bif-bam fighting scenes and the way they redeem loser guys, only to impress and minister to those loser guys. And now we can admit that while the redemption dynamic - little X-Men boys finding in their eccentricity and loneliness a superpower - is touching, there’s nothing duller than listening to someone explain, in all seriousness, the Syndicate and the Shadow Force and the Hard Drive and the Plutonium Lance.