Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Pop Culture I'm Consuming

Instead of spending more time boring you with the virtually baseless sense of dread about my career that I seem to be harboring (for those who care, it's almost certainly a displaced sense of dread from other, more typical anxieties that Freud would have plenty to say about), I thought I'd blog about some of the fluffy pop culture material I am consuming (late to the party in some cases, but still), and enjoying.

The is, while I was pretty on top of the pop culture game before kids, the munchkins now occupy much of the time otherwise devotable to TV, films, and what have you. I remember that when I was at my last position and commuting via subway, that I had a thought one day, riding up the escalator as the kids neared their first birthday: that a year prior, I recalled having a Radiohead song stuck in my brain, and hoping that I'd be a cool dad who had infants and still listened to indie post-rock soundscapes, but jammed in my head that day a year later, I had "C is for Cookie."

So with what time I've had left after Sesame Street soundtracks and Backyardigans episodes (which I'll confess to enjoying as much as the kids do), here's the grown-up fare I've had time for this summer.

  • Slings and Arrows: This three-season, 18 episode Canadian tv show, now on dvd, follows three seasons of a fictional Canadian Shakespeare company. The show is wonderful: knowing about the workings of a decent sized regional company, thoughtful and funny about actors, and really quite in love with its Shakespearean material, this birthday gift from Willow has been a highlight of my tv watching. In fact, since Top Chef ended a few weeks ago (Yay Stephanie!), it's the only scripted tv I've watched.
There's plenty to love: for Willow, it's the loving treatment of, in the first season, Hamlet, which she taught for several years to AP high schoolers, and of which she has memorized large chunks. The television show actually stages modestly sized bits of the text, and has the mad-genius actor-director actually rooting around the text in the way that working actors do, which is to me quite interesting and thoughtful.

For me, I enjoy the theatre-company politics of donors and artistic visions and bad wine. The company I worked with was never this big, but many of those same concerns trickled down in their own way, and feel quite familiar. Plus, it co-stars, and is co-written, by Mark McKinney of Kids in the Hall, and any time a former Kid surfaces, I'm happy. Anyway, if you don't know this series, it's well worth a Netflix order.

  • On the music front, another birthday present, this time a big iTunes gift card, has me listening to even more new-to-me music. I'm still listening to the new REM in pretty heavy rotation, and I still quite like it, but I also can't quite shake the feeling that Stipe is now as much a skilled poseur as an actual rock star (I know, I'm making a very fine distinction), which I posted about earlier and really maybe I'm just seeing the footwork show a bit--but the lyric "Kick-it out on the dance floor like you just don't care" from the oddly titled "Man-Sized Wreath" just doesn't feel right coming from the almost-50 Stipe. I find much more telling (and endearing) the funny moment in the non-album track "Redhead Walking" when Stipe gives a little, high pitched rock-n-roll screech "Ow!" and then laughs, "oh, that hurt." But by and large, listenable, good material from a band I've always liked, even loved.

  • I'm also still listening to Andrew Bird, and bought an earlier album called something like "The Mysterious Production of Eggs" which is good, though I like the more recent album better. I also bought an album by Jolie Holland, formerly of the Be Good Tanyas, who, now solo, is spinning out some great drawly, southern gothic folk stuff that's great on hot, humid summer nights. And I bought some songs by Over the Rhine, which are nice, but have neither the edge of someone like Holland, or the lyricism of a band like Hem, who remain in pretty high rotation for me.

  • But the new obsession for me is The New Pornographers, whose work has always been on the edges of my radar, as I quite like Neko Case solo, but I've been listening to Twin Cinema from 2005 and Challengers from 2007 obsessively this past month for reasons I can't quite explain. All thre reviews about them say most of what I want to say, but there's also something about their 70'sesque power pop that is kind of like mainlining nostalgia, pure and undiluted and blissful, in a way I can't quite put my finger on. My parents never listened to bands that are claimed as NP influences like T.Rex, and I didn't either, but the whole album just feels like the kind of grownup 1978 that swirled around me as a child but I never understood. I dunno. But I like it a lot.

  • Haven't seen any movies this summer, aside from Iron Man in May (meh. fine. whatever). Willow will want to see the Dark Knight movie soon, and I kinda wouldn't mind seeing Get Smart, but summer movies haven't really been revving my engine lately.

  • Willow and I have been, finally, belatedly, working our way through Harry Potter and the Highly Guessable Plot Device this summer, and I have to say, now on chapter 15, I don't like it. Some background: Willow and I have read every word of the HP series aloud to one another. It started as a kind of bedtime story thing when #3 was just released, as the mania was really beginning, and just continued on. #6 took us ages, since the kids were in the picture, but we thought we'd be better about #7. But then two things happened. First, I actually started having nightmares when we'd read the book just before bed. This is actually not uncommon for me. I dream pretty vividly about narratives I read or watch just before sleep. I once had conspiracy nightmare about Project Runway, of all things. I had to stop watching Heroes because of Sylar nightmares. So Voldemort nightmares were unsurprising, though I hadn't had them for the previous books.

The second thing was that somewhere around chapter 4, I had one of these nightmares turn into the kind of half-sleeping obsessing about something that sometimes sends me upstairs to write at 3 in the morning. That was when I figured out the actual big plot device, and the abundance of spoilers since have confirmed my theory. So basically, a lot of the fun mystery is gone.

But here's the thing, even though the plot is kind of a foregone conclusion, we've returned to it a year later, and the suspense is still really eating at me. The kind of low-hanging dread really just gives me no pleasure. In short, I have no tolerance for dramatic irony. I hate horror films of all kind. Suspense thrillers make me so antsy that I am annoying to watch them with. I paced through the entirety of the neo-noir movie Bound. I regularly have to get up and leave the room for mildly suspenseful moments in otherwise non-suspenseful shows and movies (especially when someone has obviously screwed up and is clearly about to get caught). So the Death-eaters-are-right-around-the-corner dread of this final book is kind of ruining it for me. Plus, the inventive magic that helped me enjoy the first several have kind of turned into a latinate gunplay, with faux-erudite chants accompanied by purple blasts from magic wands seems like laser blasters from Star Wars as much as anything. We'll probably soldier it out, continuing to read aloud, but mostly because it's just too much down to leave unfinished.

  • Finally, my favorite pop culture to consume this time of year is Wimbledon. The white togs, the big serves, the bad teeth of Andy Murray, the beleaguered dominance of Roger Federer, the strangely shy smile of Venus Williams (see also: big serves). I'm in heaven.

1 comment:

Andi said...

I do love the New Pornographers, and if you can get internet radio, I would highly recommend you check out - great music all the time.
Over the Rhine is one of my favorites of all time, and I saw them perform with Hem a few years ago - that was a good show.