While I’ve spent some recent late nights leaving lengthy comments over at The A.V. Club’s nightly Olympics coverage, where my colleagues have been breaking down each night of NBC’s Primetime coverage, I’ve largely avoided more formal writing in the interest of academic pursuits (in this case studying for preliminary exams).
However, today was the first time I watched an event—the 10m Men’s Platform Diving Finals—in its entirety live during the day and then watched the same event during the evening session, and so I wanted to expand on a few tweets I sent out that rest on a few educated assumptions and general frustrations with the temporal wonkery of NBC’s Tape Delay strategy.
The 2011 Oscar Nominations
January 25th, 2011
On Twitter, I suggested that I was relatively bored with this morning’s Oscar nominations…or, more accurately, I tweeted “Oscar nods = yawn,” which frankly says more about how much I enjoy being up at 7:30 in the morning than it does about the nominations themselves.
Still, though, I must admit to being fairly unexcited by the whole affair. While there were a few pleasant surprises, and a few snubs which raise my ire in the way that I more or less enjoy, something about the nominations just doesn’t sit right. While the nature of the 10 Best Picture nominations means that a large number of major films from the year enjoy a moment in the spotlight, I would actually argue that there are subtle ways in which this is ruining some of the other categories where voters should be more willing to go out on a limb. With the Academy’s populist and avant garde recognition now done in the main category, the ability for a director like Christopher Nolan to earn a Best Director nomination has been severely diminished, as the legacy of the five-film Best Picture race continues to hang over the remainder of the awards.
And while I wouldn’t quite call it a travesty, I would say that it demonstrates how awards voters only break out of patterns where they are absolutely required to do so.
Worked Over: Jaclyn Santos’ Online Reclamation of her Work of Art Narrative
August 7th, 2010
In profiling Work of Art contestant Miles Mendenhall, I highlighted how his behavioural multiplicity both serviced and undermined traditional reality show narratives and editing practices; however, at the end of the day, the fact is that even those who find fault in Miles’ behaviour have few issues with his art. The series may have portrayed him as a jerk, but the series never went so far to blur the lines between his actions and his artistic expression.
However, I think artist Jaclyn Santos has a fair case for the fact that the editors were not quite so kind, although it is fairly clear how and why this happened. For better or for worse, Santos’ use of her own image created a direct connection between her behaviour and her artwork, and while this led to some of her most successful pieces it was also a key element in the producers’ efforts to paint her into a box throughout the editing process. If Miles carefully controlled his behaviour to appeal to the basic structure of reality television, Jaclyn purposefully positioned her work as both intensely personal and as a direct subversion of the male gaze, which gave the editors plenty of opportunities to paint her into a corner.
However, Jaclyn’s true subversion has taken place after the competition came to a close: frustrated with how she was being portrayed, her personal blog has evolved from an opportunity to celebrate her appearance on the series to an effort to reclaim her personal reputation and her artistic point of view from what she sees as Bravo’s manipulative editing. Investigating that blog offers a glimpse of something we rarely see: a reality contestant confronting their depiction head on, in the process heightening the series’ clear – and likely unintended – willingness to unearth the contradictions and conflicts inherent in reality television as a whole.
While I’m sympathetic to her frustrations, I think that her post-show efforts to set the record straight has transformed her experience from lemons to lemonade, and furthered the series’ reputation as the most frustrating yet fascinating reality series in recent memory.
Who is Miles Mendenhall? Confronting Work of Art‘s Enigmatic Antihero
August 4th, 2010
To take a page out of Mad Men’s book, “Who is Miles Mendenhall?”
In basic terms, Miles Mendenhall is one of the artists on Bravo’s Work of Art, simultaneously the summer’s most problematic and most fascinating reality series. The series is a total contradiction, emphasizing the value of art by subjecting artists to challenges which seem designed to dilute their work and maximize reality television drama, and yet the resulting pressure placed on artists gives us a front row seat to their creative process which would otherwise be impenetrable (I wrote more about this earlier this summer).
Miles sits at the heart of this contradiction, in that he seems to be the most talented artist amongst those remaining but is also the one contestant who is unquestionably “playing the game.” Never before has there been a reality television contestant whose behaviour revealed so clearly the slippery notion of “reality” within these series, and without him I strongly believe that Work of Art wouldn’t be half the series it is. Regardless of your opinion of the way he is playing the game, the fact remains that he has managed to be one of the first reality contestants in history who panders to the cameras while simultaneously subverting the artifice of the reality show he’s taking part of.
Love him or hate him, you’ve got to admit that’s a work of art.
New Beginnings in “The Freshman” and “City Of”
June 19th, 2010
You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.
It’s only fitting that, as Buffy and Angel’s paths diverge into two separate series, the Cultural Catchup Project forces them back together for the sake of analysis.
There is no plot-based connection between “The Freshman,” Buffy’s fourth season premiere, and “City Of,” Angel’s “pilot” of sorts which started off its first season: while there is a brief moment shared between the two episodes, it is an easter egg more than a substantial development. However, both episodes tell more or less the same story: our protagonist moves onto a new stage in their life in an unfamiliar location and struggles to reconcile their past life with their present situation.
In that sense, both episodes serve the function of a pilot: while “The Freshman” isn’t debuting a new series, it is ushering in a new era for Buffy, as she heads down the road to UC Sunnydale and discovers that it is truly a “whole new world” in more ways than she bargained for. And “City Of,” while unique in that Buffy viewers have a greater understanding of Angel and Cordelia’s characters than those tuning in for the first time, still needs to introduce Angel’s current goals and set up just what kind of show Angel wants to be.
And while both episodes were entertaining, I’m going to make the argument that neither of them were actually that successful when considered as the beginning of their respective seasons.
“We’re Not Meant For the Swamp”
November 15th, 2009
When you’re down to five teams, all bets are off on The Amazing Race.
This is a sentiment that goes for the teams themselves, certainly, but also for the race producers. This is a stage in the competition where there are no more non-elimination legs, and where a single mistake will cost you the race, so the teams certainly need to be willing to play this game to the fullest. However, for the producers, this is when the creation of race-ending narratives becomes their true goal: now, the teams that go home are largely perfunctory, while the teams that stay are integral for building tension in the finale to come in only a few weeks.
This is why this week’s leg becomes more about what the producers want, and don’t want, us to see than what’s actually happen: the results of the leg are never particularly in doubt, as the producers are worried about viewers spotting something far more…indiscrete than the end of the episode.
“Sean Penn, Cambodia, Here We Come!”
October 11th, 2009
The job of being an editor on The Amazing Race is really a tough one. In each episode, you need to turn the unsuspenseful into the suspenseful, and emphasize the zany in the mundane. Of course, it helps that often The Amazing Race is suspenseful, and that it is often extremely zany, and that the cast of characters involved can often enhance both of these elements. As such, it is likely every editor’s dream to receive a team like Zev and Justin, who deciding that Phnom Penh is actually Sean Penn, and who strike up a hilarious and fantastic relationship with their cab driver Thierry.
However, the editors also have to come to terms with how, precisely, they’re going to send someone home. Last week, Marcy and Ron got sent home after struggling with a Detour (they were just too slow, plain and simple), so Marcy got a lot of talking heads about her father’s time in Vietnam. The episode was a sendoff, albeit it a slight one, a last hurrah. In other instances, the editors love playing up irony or the impact of a single mistake, and sometimes they even play a game of Schadenfreude.
But as the teams race through Cambodia, the editors have the toughest job of all: turning triumph into adversity in a split second. It’s a chance of pace the episode handles with the grace of a newborn giraffe, heightening my sympathy for the difficulty of the editors’ job while also lowering my interest in this season, all in one fell swoop.
Left on the Cutting Room Floor:
“Deadlock,” Editing and Soap Operatic Indulgence
Last weekend, still stewing in frustration over “Deadlock,” [my review] the latest episode of Battlestar Galactica, I tweeted the following to my twitter followers:
Pretty sure I could write five blog posts this week delving into points of contention on last night’s BSG. I must resist this.
As you can see, I lasted until this morning, as I have in weeks past, before needing to delve back into episodes that frustrated me, trends which concerned me, and that voice in my head that for all of my enjoyment of BSG’s four seasons is extremely cynical about the show’s direction when the show ends in three weeks. The last three episodes of the show have all felt “off” for me, and I’m at a point where I need to see something in tonight’s episode, “Someone to Watch Over Me,” that convinces me less of Katee Sackhoff’s talent or Bear McCreary’s musical genius and more of Ronald D. Moore and David Eick’s vision for completing this thing in only 4 more hours of television.
I am aware, of course, that these hours are really only 43 minutes, and that in that amount of time the show only has time to do so much. In fact, on numerous occasions this year, there have been moments where I’ve wondered what was left off the cutting room floor, and how some content seemed ill-fitting for particular scenarios. And after reconsidering “Deadlock,” and reading some of the interviews with the show’s writers regarding episodes like aforementioned Deadlock and No Exit, I’ve come to a conclusion that somewhere, in those minutes of uncut footage and those ideas not followed through on, there might have been a way to quell my cynicism.
But we got a love triangle instead.