Monday, November 22, 2010

Happy Birthday Wayne Thiebaud (or, The allure of tiny, tiny cakes)

I was catching up on Tyler Green's indispensable modern art blog and learned that a week ago today was the 90th birthday of painter Wayne Thiebaud. Widely celebrated in the art world as a painter and key member of the Pop Art movement, his name isn't known to the general public who may know Warhol or Lichtenstein. In the midst of a pretty bombastic art movement - Lichtenstein's exploding missiles and dramatic exclamations, Warhol's bright portraits, gigantic Rosenquist murals - Thiebaud became famous for quiet celebrations of desserts, intricate groups of cakes and pies that recalled Precisionism. He's still at it too. This week he's on the cover of the New Yorker. Compared to a similar work from 1963, he's still in command of the canvas, though with a shakier hand which reminds me of the later strips of Charles Schulz. Hopefully we will have more years of tiny cakes to come.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The boundless stupidity of S.E. Cupp (or, Sarah, I am disappoint)

I don't make it a habit of reading wingnuts. Sure, I have some thoughtful conservatives on my RSS reader, and I pay attention to the more crazy things they say when they make news, but I don't make a ritual of enraging myself by exposing myself to regular doses of crazy. So I don't often read S.E. Cupp, but whenever I do find myself following a link from some blogger or forum post, I find myself stunned at how she manages to be mindbogglingly shallow and ridiculous while simultaneously being astonishingly dull and mundane. It's a potent cocktail and I'm getting to the point where I'm dreading the sight of those ridiculous glamour shots of hers. (This one looks like a parody of Lynda Carter.)

In that spirit I stumbled across this recent column and while my expectations were not disappointed, my faith in literacy and intelligence were. It's a love letter (one of many, presumably) blatantly sucking up to the Palinista movement, so she can keep getting page clicks and invitations to Palin pep rallies like the one she describes in the opening of the piece. She attempts to describe the mood of the gathering and the movement as one of ecstatic happiness to reinforce her thesis - which we'll get to in a second - but her prose is so leaden and clumsy instead of describing the excitement of good-hearted folk, it reads like a horrific frenzied bacchanal.

After a couple paragraphs of this - which reminded me of the long windups I'd read from the mass communications majors I worked with at the college newspaper who ponderously attempted to insert local color and florid prose into their pieces - we finally get to her thesis:

And then it hit me. The reason Palin has become
such a lightening rod, a kingmaker and a punching
bag, a celebrity and a power player, is simple. It's
because she's so gosh darn happy.

My first reaction is to wonder if the New York Daily News still employs any copywriters because "lightning" is spelled wrong. My second reaction: That's it? That's what you come up with?

It's been over two years since McCain selected Palin in a temper tantrum because his advisers told him he couldn't pick Joe Lieberman. Two years of near constant media coverage, numerous books, millions of words speculating on the Palin phenomenon. While I wouldn't expect anything in the way of serious research from her, surely she has encountered some of this work, if only accidentally. And after two years, this professional commentator, who during those two years was paid to write books and columns offering her opinions, observation, and analysis, presents this flimsy epiphany and expects us to be greeted with agreement, praise, and a nice check from the Daily News.

While back in the reality-based community, we greet it with incredulity. This is the best you can do?

Let's take her thesis seriously for a moment, which is more than it deserves.

But for her detractors, nothing raises the ire of
cynical liberals more than a happy-go-lucky, totally
unburdened, freethinking and self-assured
conservative woman who has everything she wants
and then some. And without anyone's help.

Why this would raise "the ire of cynical liberals" is not explained. It never is. It is just assumed. Why would we want to keep people down? Why would we advocate "big government" and social programs if we didn't actually want to pull people up? The real cynics are those who are unable to understand empathy and selflessness and project their cynicism onto others. They assume every issue and program has some kind of conspiratorial agenda, usually some kind of scheme to purchase votes.

What really raises the ire of this cynical liberal is not that Sarah Palin is happy-go-lucky, but that she happily and cynically goes around trashing people and issues held deal by liberals. This doesn't just happen with programs and issues liberals advocate, but she trashes fundamental concepts: intelligence, literacy, expertise, language, spelling, and truth. And she does it all with a wink while she rakes in the money of those ecstatic rubes that Cupp attempts to praise in the opening of her piece.

In all this I've given Cupp's piece more credit then it deserves. Her "thesis" isn't an argument proposed and explained in the column, it is merely a reference to arguments made and assumptions held by other conservatives. It's a set of tropes and cliches: good-hearted happy people, cynical unhappy liberals, big government, etc. It's not so much a coherent argument as the lengthy equivalent of a series of slogans or a bunch of blather serving merely as a carrier perpetuating a meme. The best response to this nonsense would be, of course, another meme:

Sarah, I am disappoint.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Double rainbow all the way

So at lunch I'm reading Wallace Stenger's Angle of Repose. I'm pretty far into the book and reading a dramatic scene (minor spoilers ahead) where one character is about to give birth to a child in the remote mountains of Idaho in the 1880s. No midwife or doctor in sight, of course, so her son, who is around eight or ten or so, has to rush across a rickety bridge over a dangerous stream, then take a mule ride down the mountain. Dramatic stuff. He manages to meet up with his father after retrieving a neighbor to midwife. They all arrive back at the family's cabin when the father looks up:

In the northwest the sun had broken around the lower slope of Midsummer Mountain and was sending a last long wink across the Sawtooths, straight into the black mass of rain cloud. Clear across the stone house, bridging from mountains to river bluffs, curved two rainbows, one above the other, even the upper one as bright as colored glass, sharp-edged, perfect from horizon to horizon.

Oh God. What does this mean?

After I stopped laughing, I couldn't take the book seriously anymore so I spent the rest of the day watching Double Rainbow parodies. Enjoy.