July 31st, 2004

pod

Simple is as simple does

noumignon and iconoclast made interesting observations, which basically boiled down to the fact that. in the world of LJ, people like simpler and more focused entries. I've long held that this is the case in entertainment in general. That's why a film like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind has trouble making back its budget, while a film like Something's Gotta Give becomes a huge hit. I'm not condemning, or comparing my journal to Eternal Sunshine, I'm just taking note. So, as an exercise I am going to try and bring focus to the entries, looking at a single subject at a time. There are a couple of reasons I've avoided in the past. For one this journal was originally started as sort of an extension of psychotherapy. In therapy one does not censor or shape one's thoughts like that. A lot of it is about interpreting patterns from associations and interconnected ideas. Holding back thoughts and restraining oneself can stifle the process. Go where the thoughts lead you. On the other hand, writing is about editing and restraint. I need to apply that more.

The other reason that I've avoided a bunch of smaller more focused entries is that I have a lot I want to say during the course of a given day, and a thousand reasons to say it. This means that I'm not going to reduce my output, because the more writing you do the better feel you get for it. I think that my journal writing has certainly improved since I've been writing regularly again, and it does transfer over into my fiction. I didn't want to spam people's friends pages with five to eight entries a day. I figured that a large overly complicated post that was easy to skip would be simpler. Nobody wants to see 8 little Bert heads chomping on babies on their 20 person friends list, and I don't want anyone to have to deal with the choice between defriending (which I don't really care about, but some people see as a huge slap in the face) and having me take over their page. The thing is, I shouldn't care. People can read, not read, come by on occasion, study intently, whatever they want.

Therefore, for the next week, I'm going to keep every entry to one topic, or a couple of closely related topics. They'll be more numerous, shorter, and hopefully both more readable and more interesting. This is a writing experiment. I hope it goes well.
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    Cranberries
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Did you ever notice that spot right below the tiger's mouth? The way it mars her fearful symmetry?

It's funny how often we don't see the flaws in things until they're pointed out to us, yet how powerfully they can effect us once we know about them. It's not the same with virtues. Oh, they can slip beneath the radar, they often do, but they don't strike us with the same force once exposed. In this day and age it is very easy to become a videophile, especially if you are interested in movies. The technology exists, and is reasonably affordable, for the average person to do a decent job of recreating the theatrical experience in his own home. The thing is, the more you learn about video and its presentation the more critical you become. Many people watch movies on the television screen in full frame format and enjoy them quite a bit. They like having the bigger image and are distracted by the black bars that widescreen on a 4:3 screen necessitates. Videophiles can't stand this. Not only do they find the experience jarring and unpleasant, but they often feel disdain or at the very least irritation towards the people who still watch stuff this way. It's true that the widescreen version is truer to the original and the director's intent, and it often does change the tone of a scene to present it in pan and scan. Perhaps the best example of this is in Jaws, where in the original film there is a scene where three men are standing next to one another, talking, and in the Pan and Scan version the camera slides between pairs, with the middle character being a part of each pair. This gives the central character even more importance than he already has in the original, and alienates the two men at opposite ends from one another.

I could talk about other examples, but how much do they truly matter? Rarely does television presentation, even with its editing of content and insertion of new materials to make a film fit into the assigned time slot, truly change the core of a film. Oh there are examples you can give of critical scenes that were cut, or incredibly artistic compositions inescapably compromised by clipping the edges of them, but for the most part the changes are mostly aesthetic. Yet once you know about the compromises and the problems it becomes almost impossible to enjoy a film on your television set without thinking about them. The amount of irritation caused by the knowledge of the flaws far outweighs the actual damage done by them. What does it matter if a dialogue driven film is slightly visually modified, or has a few curse words dubbed over? The meaning and impact is still there, for the most part.

Of course in the example of editing for television there can be serious damage done to the integrity of certain films. If you look at Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, a film shot in scope with truly beautiful cinematography, and with absolutely gorgeous Mandarin language, on television you are not getting the same experience as if you saw it in a theatre or on a good DVD system. On the other hand, there are other flaws that don't have nearly that impact and can still drive videophiles batty. Edge enhancement is one of them. I am slightly wary about describing it, lest it damage the viewing experience of someone who reads this, but it's the black lines that you'll sometimes notice surrounding objects on video prints of films. The idea of it is to make distinct things, especially people, stand out on the smaller screen. It often looks like crap. To give a particularly egregious example in Neil Labute's "The Shape of Things" (a decent film that I just saw today, on cable) there is a scene where Fred Weller is standing a ways off from the camera in front of a building. The edge enhancement there is horrible, it's a thick black line that obscures the actor's face and just looks really ugly. It doesn't seriously impact the film, though. You can see what he looks like in a lot of other scenes, and the scene is about the dialogue between the characters, not the visuals. It's ugly, but insignificant.

Some people can't stand edge enhancement. They hate it with a passion that most folks reserve for public urinators and people who've stood them up at the altar. I find it annoying, but I never really noticed it until it was pointed out to me. A lot of stuff is like that. Some people simply cannot view a movie without surround sound if it was originally mixed that way, even if it's not a big budget spectacular that relies on booming sounds behind you to distract you from the crap that's on the screen in front of you.

This essay is not about the quirks of videophiles, though. It's about the wider phenomenon of people strongly, even passionately, disliking things for attributes they wouldn't have even noticed had they not been pointed out. It happens with people's looks (Hey, did you ever notice how one side of her mouth is higher than the other when she's smiling, it's like she can't smile, just smirk) songs (Did he just ryhme pain with pain? Can you do that?) and restaurants (I saw a cockroach in the kitchen, running along the side of a pot!) The reverse is not true, we don't obsess over those positive attributes that we didn't notice on our own. Oh sure, we can appreciate them, and even care about them, but when was the last time someone told you that a movie had really great sound-mixing and that was at the forefront of your mind the next time you saw it? I'm not saying that with thought and attention positive notes can't grow into important parts of perception, but they don't bring about the same visceral reaction that flaws do.

I am a critic and a cynic. I firmly, and honestly, believe that there is much to be gained by asking difficult questions and exposing flaws that could slip under the radar. On the other hand, there's a difference between criticism and nit-picking. I freely admit that I do the latter quite often. Nit-picking is irritating, but it's also dangerous. It can give the nits far too much power, and coupled with the tendency to pay attention to flaws, can damage the enjoyment one can get from things that are of good, but not perfect, quality. I think I should change that, but I wonder why it is that the small things matter so much more when they are problems than when they are assets.
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    Garth Brooks
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The personal and the political

We all know how harmful the use of personal information in the political realm can be. Infidelity, substance use (not even necessarily abuse), embarrassing family members, and a thousand other aspects of a politician's personal life can be used against him in the court of public opinion. This keeps good people with embarrassing secrets from testing the water, and rewards deception and dishonesty in the public realm. Rare indeed is the man who has never done anything indiscreet. More common is the man who has done such things but has learned how to lie about and hide them.

There are a number of reasons why we shouldn't care too much about a person's political life when judging whether or not they belong in office. One of them is that the past is the past. When I think of the person I was even 4 years ago he is nearly unrecognizable in the person I am today. If you don't believe me, you can go back and look at some of my old entries. I was young and different. Therefore I find it remarkably easy to accept the premise that perhaps some of our political leaders were different people with different values 20 years ago. Now I know that it's somewhat unusual for people to change in profound ways during the course of their lives, but it's certainly not unheard of. There's the "born again" Christian movement and plenty of other examples of youthful cads who became responsible adults. I have no trouble accepting that there are politicians who made unwise choices, even really bad ones, in their youths but would not do so today if given the same opportunity. Yet politicians cannot admit their mistakes. They have to deny them at every turn, or make ludicrous claims like that they didn't inhale the marijuana. I don't even know how that's significant, the main issue with marijuana is that it's illegal, not that you may have, at some point, gotten high. I wonder if politicians who do not have children will admit to having sex if pressed upon the issue, even if they're married. It's a silly game.

George Bush is a guy who made a lot of mistakes in his youth. He clearly consumed his share of nose-candy, he drank like it was his job, and according to rpeate he may even have procured an abortion for a girl he got pregnant (not necessarily a moral failing in and of itself, but it was illegal and I doubt he was ever 'pro-choice.') So what? This was 15 years ago. I would accept it if he stood up and said "Look, I lived a life of sex drugs and rock and roll for 20 years. I made a lot of mistakes, and suffered greatly for them. That's why I support conservative legislation on these issues, I wish I'd never been able to obtain cocaine or that abortion and I will do my best to make sure that no young man placed in the position I was will be able to obtain them in the future." I wouldn't agree with him, but I would respect that as a legitimate argument. Just because you've done something wrong doesn't mean you don't have the moral authority to try and prevent other people from doing it. In some way sinners make the best saints, because they know what it is they're dealing with. George Bush knows how cocaine addiction can hold you in its thrall, or at least thinks he does. He is qualified to make an honest judgement about that drug and whether he thinks people who use it are capable of making rational decisions. He could still be wrong, despite his experiences, but the experiences are an asset in that arena. Please note that all this only matters if you don't think he's being disingenuous. I don't think he has an ingenuous bone in his body, but maybe I would believe he did if he would open up about his naughty past.

He can't though. It's not his fault, it's the ridiculous standards we hold our politicians to. Standards that only a lie could ever meet. We expect them to be shining paragons of virtue, even if we look upon them as human sewage when they don't prove to be a cross between Sir Gawain and Aristotle. Bill Clinton had oral sex with a young (legal) girl while he was married and she was at least partially under his care. Big deal. It's almost a cliche how many corporate big-wigs lay the good wood to their pretty young secretaries. Long hours and lots of power mean you have means motive and opportunity to score some young tail. Now granted Monica Lewinsky isn't exactly Grace Kelly, but that's a lapse in taste, not morality. What Clinton did was wrong, but it doesn't really relate to his being president. It wasn't criminal, (lying to the grand jury was, but that question was pure entrapment and I can't blame him for it) it didn't put the country at risk, and it's a common place event. One can be a good president and a mediocre man. Yet if Clinton had done that prior to election and it had been widely known (he was accused of lots of infidelity and even rape, but Slick Willy bobbed and weaved away from all that despite the fact that iconoclast claims that he knew Clinton was a rotten apple at the ripe old age of 4) his goose might have been cooked. After the Lewinsky affair several Republican leaders had to resign because of infidelity. Newt Gingrich committed and even more heinous act when he divorced his wife while she was suffering from cancer, but that didn't make him a bad politician. His politics made him a bad politician.

Character issues devastate that honesty of the American political process and are, in my mind, a big reason why everything's so fucked right now. John Kerry has to use 'Nam to prove he was brave and true even though he was brave and true in the pursuit of a horrific goal. George Bush has to lie about who he is. John Edwards can't admit he may have made a mistake when he was a trial lawyer and suing about Cerebal Palsy. Dick Cheney...okay Cheney's evil and that should disqualify him from office. I can't defend Dick. Politicians should be able to use their mistakes to their, and our, advantage. They should not be forced to lie and deny in order to burnish their images to a false shine. We, as Americans, have to be more willing to tolerate the flawed nature of man. We need to allow someone to be honest about their past, their mistakes, and what they meant to them. This would go a long way to improving the political climate and reminding us of what really matters. The issues.
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