Saturday, December 18, 2010

Favorite Cultural "Stuff" 2010 (part 1 of ???)

What will follow over the next week or two is in no way an exhaustive list by someone who sees/hears everything.  It’s just a list of personal favorite things in the past year that correspond to my various interests/obsessions.  

Top Ten "Stuff" Made This Year (Part 1 of 5):

1.   Mad Men: Season 4 Episode 7 "The Suitcase" - My obsession with Mad Men is incessant, and hopefully a bit different from the usual fans who have nothing better to harp on than its period dress and behaviors.  I believe Mad Men is one of the greatest shows ever produced, and (among many other things) it's the grand summation of contemporary America's love affair with all forms of mass media. The show probably reached its emotional climax (and perhaps its qualitative zenith) midway through the past season.  Throughout its run, Mad Men has seemed to be ‘about’ less and less.  By season 3, the show sometimes seemed completely devoid of plot, action, or anything else except character development.  The whole show is about suggestion, just like advertising.  By the beginning of season 4, the show was so pared down that we'd get entire episodes seemingly about nothing except suggestions and we'd never notice until their completion. Midway through this past season, we got an episode that was no more substantial than a smoky hall of mirrors. It appeared to be about nothing but the increasingly infinite complexities in the relationship between Don and Peggy, and we were so accustomed to Mad Men's lack of action that nothing seemed odd about that.  Every word of their interactions seemed to have a hundred different allegorical implications behind it: from the smoldering sexual tension between two characters, to two competing visions of America, to a discourse on the meaning of acceptance. And for those willing to pay attention, the screws were turned as tightly as they've ever been on TV. It was a wrenching, claustrophobic interchange straight out of Bergman's world. For people not turned off by the endless understatement, the face-off between these two protagonists had to be the tensest, most exciting cultural ‘happening’ of the year.  

2.   The Social Network - I’m a young fogey - about the least ‘with the times’ person I know and I think most contemporaries would agree with me. I'm a 28 year old who can't find the buttons to perform a computer self-diagnostic without help, takes five minutes to figure out how to turn the TV and cable on seperately, and would sooner walk across hot coals than listen to 3 out of 4 pop songs. I saw The Social Network at a second-run theater, and I'm pretty sure it was the only movie I saw in the theater this year. Nearly all science and tech writing comes across to me as technobabble (entirely due to lack of ability), but I'm fairly sure that The Social Network was one of the only movies in my lifetime to come out of Hollywood that can hold its own with the best of movie history (at least since the early 80’s, perhaps not coincidentally when I was born).  
The Social Network was far from perfect.  Yes, Eduardo Saverin was mostly a weak foil and the Winklevii were irritating. The film clearly misstepped towards the end by trying to give Zuckerberg a humane core that he obviously lacked for the rest of the movie. But that doesn’t change the fact that the Mark Zuckerberg presented here is an awe-inspiring character - a Charles Foster Kane/Michael Corleone for the geek squad.  This is the best example I’ve ever seen in a movie of an ordinary guy capable of acting like a reptilian human being.  In another time and place, this Jewish boy from New Jersey could have conquered Eurasia. I didn't believe for a moment that Mark Zuckerberg wanted to win Erica Albright back. He wanted to humiliate her further by showing her what she lost. There is a black hole of inhumanity at the center of the Zuckerberg character, capable of sucking the whole world into his designs for it. The Mark Zuckerberg of real life may not be the anti-human monster created in this movie (and we’d better hope he’s not). But as fiction, this Mark Zuckerberg is a terrifying work of art.  As facebook's privacy continues to erode while its influence on our lives grows, I hope Sorkin and Fincher consider making a second chapter to show how far this modern behemoth has come.

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