Box Culture II: “Lost”

So I bought the “Lost” box set, and watched disk one (the first four episodes). I thought about watching disk two, so I put it in the player and watched the first couple of minutes or so of episode five. Then I stopped, and went away and did some interesting things.

It seems that the one thing that “Lost” definitely lost was my interest. Why?

Well, for one thing, the nature of the show (okay, admittedly it’s a bad idea to judge a whole show on four episodes, but you figure they would front-load some of the good episodes early on, right?) is presented as a mystery, but the way it’s done isn’t mysterious. It’s teasing. There’s a difference, in that mysterious is “Hey, what do you suppose is happening? Man, is this weird or what? Let’s see what happens next!” Teasing is “Bet you can’t guess what’s going to happen. I know what’s going on, and you never will! I’ll make sure it’s all twisty, so don’t even try to guess!”

The monster in the forest is a good example here. It’s never shown, though some of the survivors have seen it. Why can’t we? Because we’re not allowed to. (Alternate answer: it’s lame.) It has nothing to do with keeping the show eerie, and everything to do with making sure we don’t get any information. Normally, I think it’s great when the viewers don’t see any more than the characters do, it keeps the discoveries the same for both audience and characters, and we can react in the same way. But note: people have seen the monster. The drug-guy (Merry or Pippin, I forget which) compares the polar bear unfavorably to it. He’s clearly seen the thing, then. Why haven’t we? Dunno.

Let me say, though, that this sort of thing, while annoying, isn’t fatal. If the characters and stories are engaging, an irritating authorial voice can be dealt with.

But here’s where I have a second problem. The characters. We’ve got the doctor, who’s a straight up kind of guy. We have the lead chick, who’s got a shady past, but is a straight up gal. We’ve got the jerk guy (Sawyer?) who is short tempered but I bet turns out to be a straight up guy. The drug guy, who takes drugs, but is otherwise a straight up guy. The Iraqi, who feels apart from the others but is otherwise a straight up guy. Seeing a pattern here? For variation, we’ve got the oriental guy, who has a very rigid cultural ethos—all we need is someone who can’t use contractions and we’d have “Star Trek: The Next Generation” on an island.

Lots of people loved “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” I didn’t. I didn’t hate the show, I liked it for the most part, but I liked the early years best, when it was, you know, a science fiction show. Before it became a soap opera. Nothing wrong with soap operas I hasten to add, but in order for them to really work (in my humble opinion) you can’t have all the characters be the same character. Ever wonder why the last four seasons of TNG were stuffed with guest stars? Because you can’t have any conflict with people who have the same opinion. Some giant monster is eating whole star systems? Picard, Worf and Riker all give opinions on what to do…and they agree they should leave the monster alone and hope it stays away. What? Where’s the conflict there? There isn’t one, so they’d have to bring in some scientist who was crusading to have the monster destroyed. There we go, there’s some conflict, this calls for immediate discussion.

Well, I seem to have gotten off track, here. My point is that the characters on “Lost” strike me as being the same character, over and over. I like the fat guy, with his easy-going Whoa nature, and Terry O’Quinn is always fun to watch. That’s not much for a show with about twenty main characters. The rest of them just make me tired, and the flashbacks showing aspects of their natures don’t really help. These people are boring, and I would hate to be stranded on an island with them. Well, I’d hate to be stranded on an island with nearly anyone, but these people in particular would drive me nuts. I’d go live with the monster.

The show is a huge success, and I’m not knocking it because of that, because I’m some kind of snob who can’t like the same things the great unwashed masses like. I can, and I have. I will, I expect, eventually pick up disk two and start watching again. And maybe with episode five, the show really takes off and the light dawns and I become a huge, raving fan. It could happen. Maybe it will.

So far, though, and based on the available evidence, it hasn’t.

Next: Firefly.

Star Wars (1977) on DVD – Or Not

(Warning: Geeky content.)

(Yeah, like that’s different.)

I don’t have to tell you about the storm raging over the upcoming release of the first versions of the Star Wars films this September (these are supposedly referred to as OOT – the Original Original Trilogy).

I’ll just say this. At first it sure looks like A New Hope, but then, before you know it, The Empire Strikes Back.

I need an excuse to save money anyway.

It’s all a matter of perspective. The version of Star Wars a person first sees is the “real” Star Wars as far as that person is concerned, and all the quote unquote improvements don’t do anything to change that perspective. It only causes (at best) a scratching of the and the thought, That movie was pretty good; why’d they have to mess with it?

It probably seems trivial whether or not “Han shoots first,” to take the best known example, but it isn’t.

We all know Han Solo is just a just big soft cuddle-bug, but we didn’t know that in 1977. The fact that he shot first made the character dangerous, and hinted (just a bit) that he might just dump Luke and Obi-Wan in space and keep their money.

Having him shoot second reeks of Political Correctness. Of course, in 1997 (when the first tinkering edition appeared) there couldn’t be a person on the planet who didn’t know that Solo was, as noted, a cuddle-bug. The playing field had changed, and honestly, Lucas could bring the character more in line with the prevailing cultural ethos. A man who looked dangerous but wasn’t. Someone who would never take the first shot.

But the playing field had only changed outside the movie. Inside, the story being told is the same story, just more pre-packaged and with the rough edges carefully filed down. We’re deeper in post-modernity, well aware of the storytelling archetypes and their relation to the from being shown to us.

The fact that the characters in the story suffer is beside the point. Besides, remember those toy sales.

Remember, too, that in a couple of years an even newer version will be offered to the public. And a whole new generation will watch part of their childhood disappear.

But there’ll be new toys, too.

Box Culture

I’ve probably mentioned it before, but while I have a television, I haven’t had “television” (cable or broadcast) for many years, and I don’t miss it. If I had it, I would probably spend all my free time watching the Cartoon Network. But I don’t, so I don’t.

No, when I watch TV, I watch it by the box—the boxed set. I drink beer the same way. To carry the analogy so far that it can’t be seen anymore, I don’t have to have my beer parceled out week-by-week by some broadcast bartender, who might or might not decide to preempt my next one in favor of a special, expanded edition for the guy next to me.

Well, like everything else I write, that’s neither here nor there. The point is that watching boxed sets has its disadvantages (costs more) as well as its advantages (a more kindly overview).

(What I mean by that is, every television series has its sucky episodes. Through the box, I can say “Eh,” and move on to the next one. Maybe that one, the next one, will be good, and if not, there’s another one after that. If I have to wait a week, however, I have a whole week to contemplate just how sucky that episode was, and wonder if perhaps I’m wasting my time with the series. When the sucky ones can be overwhelmed by the good ones, you have a much better chance of winning me over.)

Well, anyway. One of the nice things about the big chains like Wal-Mart, Target and Sam’s Club is that they sometimes get the idea to chop the price pretty severely for some of these box sets. I picked up all four Futurama sets for around $20, and the first three Smallville boxes for a little more than that. I also bought the first Buffy for around $15, but Buffy didn’t fly with me. Understand, it was well-constructed and likeable, it just wasn’t me.

These series, though, are for the most part shows where the buzz has left. They’ve either been cancelled (Futurama, Buffy, Arrested Development) or the stars are looking outward (Smallville—how’d that remake of The Fog do for you, Tom?). The smashes and the uber-cult items still remain high priced.

Until Target comes along and, every now and then, decides to cut the price considerably. Once in a while, they’ll have an “unadvertised special” or whatever, and offer some good stuff at a good price. Which is how I recently acquired season one of “Lost” and the whole run of “Firefly.”

What did I think of them?

Well, the jury is still out, but here are some preliminary thoughts…(to be continued).

1395 Characters

At nearly 400 characters over the limit for eMusic’s reviews, this version will never fly. In fact, eMusic keeps telling me there’s a problem with my duly shortened review, so perhaps it will never fly in any version.

Except Blogger. Where you don’t have to obey any rules!

Following is my review for the album “Moribund” by someone (or something) named Aixata.

Except for the fact that it’s too unsettling for relaxation, this could be one of those “Relax with Nature” recordings, like “Hawaiian Surf” or “Bayou River.” This one would probably be called, “Mining Factory Consuming Its Asteroid Base to Make Raw Materials for a Long-Vanished Civilization.”

Machines, engines and other electric devices go about their business among dry, cavernous reverb and other heavy processing. There are occasional loops and rhythms, but they are so far removed from the human experience of music that they don’t register as song elements—which they aren’t supposed to, one imagines. At least, not to us humans.

This is one of the most determinedly non-human recordings I’ve heard, which isn’t a criticism, it’s a description. Because there aren’t any familiar elements, the mind is unsure how to react, how to catalogue the experience. Playing it in the car doesn’t make me more charitable toward other drivers.

It really is like a tour of a long-abandoned, still-operating factory colony. Even though you know there’s no one there, you also know you’re not alone. And then the lights go out–

Recommended if you like dark, unsettling music, and are curious about other possible perspectives. Let me put it this way. Late at night, after we’ve all gone to bed, this is what the machines listen to as they plot our overthrow. If you can learn to sing along….

…The Silence Keeps Us Guessing

Lost a domain name the other day. [Spits tobacco juice.] Ah-yup.

Normally, folks ’round these parts tell me when a domain name is about to expire. They say the crows all gather ’round the old Whatley place when domains are in their last stages. Ah-yup, that’s what they say all right. [Fires shotgun into “Yield” sign.]

Hosting company names are, of course, withheld pending resolution on this. I have faith in this company, they’ve not let me down before. If I warn you or not, well, that depends on them, doesn’t it? Ah-yup. [Checks still for viability of corn-squeezings on market.]

I’m sure it’ll all work out. Ah-yup. That it will.

[Smolders visibly.]

Might take a while, though, ah-yup.

Time Divided by Work

“Perceptions” are always, ultimately, personal. You can’t really experience great tides of history in anything other than an abstract sense, unless you’re affected by them—in which case they become personal. For those who originally conceived and experienced the perception, the newly wrought might be surprised to hear “Well, duh” after they outline their thoughts on the matter.

But this is the digital age, when one need no more think of something before it’s hurled online at some point. (Usually in your comment section, FRA. Sorry!)

Still, old habits die hard, and while one might feel a certain thought is a unique one, there is the nagging feeling that it might not be so…that others would read your insight and think, “Well, duh.” But the urge to talk goes on. And, so, it’s posted anyway.

So forgive me if this seems pretty damned obvious. No, no, no, this isn’t like the Austrian self-sharpening razors, no sir, no overheating like with the tropical fishes, no zizzing and dripping like Ersatz Brothers Coffee, and this isn’t (for me) one of those, “Hey! I can use my turn signal lights to tell other drivers what I’m going to do!” obviousities that can be slammed to the matt and dismissed. For me. For you, it may be old news.

But, we’ll start with me, and something I realized a few days ago.

At work, I’ve discovered I am pretty darn judgmental and narrow minded. Aside from the folks who work in my department, who I know pretty well, everyone else is solely thought of in terms of how they relate to my job.

Let me insert, parenthetically, (you like that, don’t you) that my job is computer support. Yes–I’m the one who tells you, “Reboot and try again.” I’m the one who tells you, “Hang on a moment, I’ll recreate the printer,” or “I’ll clear the flags, give it a minute and try again.”

Or worse. If you tell me, “The system cannot find the drive requested,” well, you don’t hear me hurl invective toward the heavens. You do hear me say, “I’ll be right there.”

In sum, as far as I’m concerned, you are your computer problems. (I’m using the royal “you,” obviously.)

This is the insight that came to me a few days ago. I work at a large, 24/7 resort. I know my co-workers and get on with them fine; but for the rest of the staff, they are, to me, how often they call about problems, how savvy they can be considered, how crucial their problems appear (to them, and to me).

I judge them, based on how they use their computers. Not on their appearance, their habits, their hobbies, their friends and families, their pets, their love of gadgets or what car they drive. No, no, to me, they are “What kind of PC problems do they have? And how often?”

I imagine a lot of personal interaction works this way. If you’re a doctor or an auto mechanic or a designer…other than very good friends, the people you know are sorted and arranged according to how they impact on your skills, how they use you as a resource.

(As an aside, I recall seeing my doctor at a supermarket once. I waved and said Hi, and he got a sick look on his face which seemed to say, He’s going to ask me about medical problems. I didn’t, of course, because the same thing happens to me. I hate parties and never go, but if I’m trapped I hate mentioning my line of work. “Hey, you work on PCs? Well, my internet connection seems really slow…” or “I’m thinking of buying a laptop, what would you recommend?” Or the worst one. “I bought [item known to be a total piece of crap] and it doesn’t seem to work…” You can imagine my smile becoming fixed and skull-like.)

Back to the issue at hand, it must be noted that, of course, the reverse is true as well. People look upon you as a resource to be used, depending on your skills and their needs.

This is probably how societies form. So-and-so is a good hunter-gatherer, What’s-his-face is a good arrowhead maker, Whosis can talk to the gods pretty well…I’ll give What’s-his-face a gift basket of various cheeses if he’ll make me some new arrowheads. Meanwhile, what’s his face looks up to see who’s approaching his cave and thinks, Damn, I bet he lost all his arrows again. Crap. Looks like another basket of gift cheeses. Thank goodness the missus likes ‘em. This is probably also how societies tend to develop rigid roles for people; there are only a few resources to go around, so use and access have to be secured through rules.

Fast-forward a handful of millennia. We’ve got specialized positions all over the map, people who do things I can’t imagine and probably can’t spell. Two of these people meet. Their respective skills are irrelevant to the other. What happens? Do they have no common ground to interact upon, and thus move apart? Or does this lack of intrinsic need mean they can become best friends?

I honestly don’t know. I do know that intertwined spheres of usage can bring people together, but the level of usage keeps the relationship from becoming anything other than supply-demand. There’s a limited resource that both are trying to use, and the relationship can become one of vying. Just take a drive and notice how angry you get at the other drivers who aren’t going fast enough, are hogging the left lane, don’t use turn signals, etc. I think this is because we perceive that the resource—time on the road—is not being used properly by these people; we could make much better use if they weren’t there. Also, they are jerks.

On the other hand, a lack of commonality—two people who are not sharing a resource–can make the relationship brief, since no common resource can mean no common interest. But does it have to? The people who have no shared skill-range…neither needs what the other has…how do they come together in the first place?


Like I said, I don’t know. It may be that I’m a right bastard and that is the sole root of the matter. What can you do? Reboot, and call back if it’s still a problem.

Interregnum II

“What do you want, Mr. Quaid?”

“The same as you–to remember.”

“But why? You are what you do.”

If only Quato could have guessed…you are what you post.

I’ve been thinking a lot about identity, and classification, and the roots of creativity. Naturally, being dim, I haven’t really coalesced these thoughts into a coherent framework (yes, that is stunning news to anyone who reads this thing).

But when has that ever stopped me? (Pause while thousands of examples are displayed.) Um, yes, well, that one… Enough! I am the Intelligence Supreme! With a side of fries! And what I have discovered is–damn, sorry, the phone, hang on a moment–

–hello? No, no, doing fine, yes thanks. Well, I’m pretty satisfied with my long distance service, now that you mention it. What? Well, no…I was about to post this thing about eating what you want and never exercising, yet still losing weight. Also, the secret to being happy. Yeah, who really killed JFK. Ha ha, yes, last in line, that’s me. What? Could you repeat that?

“Open your mind…open your mind…open your mind…”

Um. All I see are penguins. Is that a good answer?