Some of my favorite writing about Breaking Bad to say goodbye

Breaking Bad’s racial politics by Todd Van Der Werff:

This pattern repeats throughout the series: Walter steps in with his justifications for his actions, only to have someone else point out how ridiculous he sounds. When that happens, he escalates the situation even further, simply because he can’t handle being exposed for who he truly is. If those other antihero shows played off the thrill that results from being able to do anything or take whatever one wants, then “Breaking Bad” is increasingly about how unpleasant that actually is in real life.

Emily Nussbaum: Last Night’s mind-bending phone call on Breaking Bad:

But what was truly fascinating about that phone call was that if it was trolling the Bad Fan, it was also trolling me: the sort of feminist-minded sucker who took the speech at face value, for nearly an hour, until I suddenly realized, in a flash of clarity, that it was a fake-out for the police. (Skyler realized long before I did.) Once my analytical skills flared back into being, I was stunned by the moment’s effectiveness. I mean, on one level, that speech was just what it looked like: Walt venting every toxic feeling he’d ever had about his wife. On another level, it was the opposite: it was Walt pretending to be an abusive husband, as a gift to Skyler. It was an apology to her, as well as an attempt to get her off the hook legally, to honor Holly saying “Mama.” Walt’s language was pretty much a PowerPoint presentation of abuser behavior, designed to make Skyler’s case in court proceedings. And yet it still had the sting of catharsis, letting Walt say what he felt: that Skyler is a whiner, a nag, a drag, responsible for anything that happened to her. Like the Bad Fans who roam the Internet (and even some Good Fans, who can make a more reasonable case for disliking Skyler), he relishes calling her a bitch.

Walter White’s Hometow by Rachel Syme

The sunsets are rosy, or blood orange, or sometimes a shocking lavender; the night is pitch black, punctuated only by Cassiopeia. This palpable strangeness, the juxtaposition of extreme mountainous beauty with a noir, dull flatness, is always the big surprise to newcomers. Upon arriving in Taos, all Georgia O’Keeffe could think to say was, “Well, well well … no one told me it was like this.”

John Cleese, criticism, and how nobody knows what they are talking about

I think sometimes students wish they go more direction from me, and sometimes less. All this ‘nurturing creative thought’ business is far harder than it looks, and those of us who are honest about it know full well it’s easy to be wrong about the quality of an idea when it’s still at its beginning stages. john Cleese discusses early criticism of some projects that wound up working very well:

C.S. Lewis on loving

The Four Loves is a deeply flawed book with many problems, particularly in the first chapters. Whenever I read him, I generally come to the conclusion that Lewis isn’t all that good at writing about people and their relations. And at the time of writing the Four Loves, he’s a grumpy old misogynist who seems never to have a met a woman he liked unless she was silent and scurrying around bringing him sandwiches, but only when he wants sandwiches, and only the kind of sandwiches he likes. If a man is less lovable than he might be, it’s probably a woman’s fault.

His many unkind portrayals of women in this book made it an irritating read. But I try to read with those allowances; if you were to avoid reading misogynists, you wouldn’t have much to read. Since it’s a short book and I was reading it for a book chapter I am writing, I made myself just slog through the first chapters to the last, which I later read in the Publisher’s Weekly review is considered some of his Lewis’ best nonfiction writing. It’s breathtaking:

There’s no escape along the lines of St. Augustine suggests. Nor along any other lines. There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with little hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket–safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, of at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.

Franzen, Twitter hate, and the brilliance of Black Twitter

Attention conservation notice: Like haiku, there is an art to Twitter, and lots of smart people using it in a smart way. Don’t let haters discourage you from selecting and reading.

Jonathan Franzen gets a lot of attention no matter what he does or says, and he scarcely needs any more from the modest likes of me. For the record, I became annoyed with him when he was nasty to Oprah, and that annoyance became full-fledged dislike after reading through page eleventh-billion of his overhyped, yucky novel Freedom. Prior to that, I had very much liked the Corrections, but ugh, Freedom. He’s since been in the news telling us all about his love of bird-watching and his dislike of various sundry things like Twitter. For somebody who kicked sand in Oprah’s face, he’s awfully fond of telling us we should be killing off cats as a policy so we can save birds for him to watch from his perch of literary celebrity. I’ve begun to suspect the Oprah episode of being a stunt designed to do exactly what it did: increase his visibility as a serious, rather than popular, artist–in other words, a very special kind of celebrity. If it was a stunt, it’s worked awfully well. This is, of course, in concert with the fact that he’s a talented man as well, even if he chooses to employ it in such messes as Freedom.

The origins of much recent Franzen-angst has been his recent excerpts from his newest book in the Guardian, the Financial Times, and the Paris Review. (Yes, this weekend I got to see him featured prominently in both the FT and Paris Review when they showed up). While much of the reaction to Franzen centered on his comments about Twitter, the excerpt contains condemnation for Facebook, Jeff Bezos, and digital discussion more generally. (You can buy all of Franzen’s stuff on Amazon, btw).

I find myself agreeing with much of his angst about the time we spend on screens, but his vehicle for this angst, a footnote-laden essay about Karl Krause, is an unnecessary and labored pretense at most points of the essay:

One of the developments that Kraus will decry in this essay – the Viennese dolling-up of German language and culture with decorative elements imported from Romance language and culture – has a correlative in more recent editions of Windows, which borrow ever more features from Apple but still can’t conceal their essential uncool Windowsness. Worse yet, in chasing after Apple elegance, they betray the old austere beauty of PC functionality. They still don’t work as well as Macs do, and they’re ugly by both cool and utilitarian standards.

Say what? huh? This Apple/PC thing that bothers me because it’s cool/not cool binary is exactly like the ideas of an obscure German writer none of you have heard of because of its cultural meaning/embeddedness/inthingymeness in exactly the same way the Viennese speak German! So there! (Tell me again about how highly edited you are.)

The rest of the essay makes somewhat more sense, though the analogies are still strained: Krause disliked various types of journalism and popular trends, and Franzen is basically saying “What Karl Kraus said” to all of us out here publishing raw stuff. So Franzen sets up a tradition of contrarianism, which is fine. I was a big fan of Christopher Hitchens and that was his schtick, only he managed to pull it off without boring me with footnote digressions about himself which Franzen’s essay also indulges in. Yech.

Otherwise, he does have a point: All this raw stuff out there means that we’re not all being read, and since we aren’t being edited or vetted, particularly, on these self-publishing outlets, the chance for the stupid to appear right along with the sublime is high.

Sure. I routinely post things here I later retract as people challenge me on them. That somebody might be an explorer of ideas via words in public strikes him as terrible. It obviously bothers me less. I don’t think communication necessarily makes us smarter or dumber. We have to do work no matter what we choose to do with our writing or reading, and both require us to make choices about how we spend our time.

The reaction to Franzen’s grump has ranged from funny to fawning. Jennifer Weiner notes in a funny, acidic, and spot-on` essay in the New Republic that:

The literary world, Franzen lamented, rewards “yakkers” and “braggers.” Not even his peers are safe, not with prestigious writers being “conscripted” into “Jennifer Weiner-ish” self promotion. The horror! The horror! The … oh. Wait. Never mind.

She goes on to note, fairly, that Franzen is more than amply rewarded by the literary world:

Perhaps Franzen’s recent name-check was payback for when I implied that he was the face of white male literary privilege, or for pointing out that he’s the kind of writer who goes on Facebook only to announce that he won’t be doing Facebook, with the implication that he doesn’t have to do Facebook, because the media does his status updates for him. Or maybe he just really, really hates “The Bachelor.”

Less of a takedown, Lydia Kielsing from the Millions is obviously a Franzen fan:

The fact remains that most of us on Twitter, even the best and most robust tweeters, will never produce anything so huge and engrossing as Jonathan Franzen’s novels.

Er, maybe. Certainly he’s produced some fine writing.

What all of these writers are missing is that Twitter can be both serious and smart as well as fun (Weiner’s comment); like paintings done in miniature, the ability to educate, amuse, or challenge in 140 characters is an art, and it’s an art form that some writers use very well, given far less exposure than Franzen gets for his every prosaic uttering (and I don’t care how brilliant you are, we all have prosaic utterings). Black Twitter as category has its problems (how do you classify, for one, but then, you don’t need to unless you are wonky), but regardless, Twitter has definitely become a forum where Black writers have created and circulated ideas–and important ones at that–even though the media requires brevity. Black Twitter is hardly a ‘secret’ as Buzzfeed calls it in this write up (nothing that the chronically otherworldly and unhip me has heard of can be a secret), but overlooking these writers on Twitter, or a priori discounting the media, strikes me as both racist and silly in a general sense. There are smart people saying smart, important things–you just have to curate carefully like you do everything else. Here is an intro on HuffPo Live, with lots of cool young people.

Follow and learn. (My favorite: The Root (follow @TheRoot247). There’s an aggregation on Tumblr, too, so you can see the writers that are using the hashtag to select some to follow and learn from.)

Today’s blogging suspended while I look for a thesis `

Ok so yeah. I am working on what I thought was Chapter 3 and is actually turning out to be Chapter 2, and I started out with some vague ideas about agape and eros and now have to read 794 pages of Anders Nygren and the lots and and lots of writings since then about agape. I have no idea what I am doing. A thesis? Would somebody like to give me a thesis? I’ve heard those are useful.

The entitlement debate among Millennials and the world we made

Attention conservation notice: We’re all entitled, and that’s not a bad thing, but the US economic structure has changed, and that is a bad thing.

I’ve been reading the material floating around about entitlement and Gen Y with a great deal of interest, and these are my students. The firecracker that set off the wars was this piece from Huffington Post . It’s thesis is that Gen Y kids were raised with high expectations during a time when their parents were extremely optimistic. They internalized that optimism and ambition, and felt empowered to accomplish the things they envisioned for themselves.

For some reason, this is interpreted as a bad thing. Having big hopes and dreams? Pshaw. Bad you. (Really?)

Somehow, this has been circulated as “Gen Y is entitled its members think they are special. They are not special, and it’s making them unhappy.” with lots of anger directed at the writer and people who note that entitlement.

Wait a minute. The point of all this student-centered pedagogy was precisely all this: combined with self-esteem parenting, pomo-poco pedagogy was to nurture along young people who thought a lot of their rights and their potential. There were subsidiary benefits of all this entitlement. I’ve read a lot of this pedagogical material: the point was that we were supposedly raising people who weren’t going to put up with “the system.” They were going to believe they deserved good treatment, good pay, and social inclusion, and they weren’t going to let pig-dog pointy-headed bosses crush them, nor the state, nor any of the rest. That’s good, right? It was supposed to be emancipatory. Unfortunately, it was also fantasy because it placed the emphasis for changing the system on the people least likely to wield power as they tried to enter that system. Maybe someday, when they are older and are running agencies and universities and the county, but they aren’t really in a position to do it now. Just like we weren’t. Who is? And that’s part of the unrealistic expectation that got put on a large number of young people taught this way.

But believing you might do great things? That strikes me as…wonderful. There may be a gap between expectations and reality, and that gap sucks, but it hardly speaks to anything that strikes me as shameful. The idea that ‘they don’t want to work for it’ is nonsense, and I don’t know who is saying that. The number of hours worked is going up over time, not down, as they enter the workforce. And besides: who actually wants to work for anything past a certain level? Yeah, we have lots of narratives about how “I worked for this and that” and “it was all so much more gratifying than having it handed to you” and while that may be true, it’s not for everything all the time. Work is often a grind. See Bernard Shaw’s commentary on idleness and the English aristocracy: quite ready to condemn the working class for failing to work sufficiently hard while taking tea, playing tennis, and doing jack-diddly-do that resembles actual real work themselves. So we’d all rather not do the unpleasant parts of work, like putting with bosses, but we do it because we want what work brings, and there is no evidence that this generation of youth is any less inclined to make work-leisure trades than prior generations, all of whom has had the same specious complaint leveled at them when they were in our 20s, too, and began noticing that this scrambling to make a living thing bites it.

I didn’t read that piece as scolding entitlement, but there are plenty of others who have written screeds about how entitled this generation is, so I can understand why people are tired of hearing it. However, this particular piece brought out a response from this writer, who is understandably furious at his fears for his son: Fuck You: I’m Gen Y and I don’t feel special or entitled. Just Poor.” According to most breakdowns of these Generational things (which I am not a big believer in, but they exist), he’s a member of Gen X, not Gen Y, but he is close enough to Gen Y to see from both vantage points. He’s not that much younger than me (8 years), and thus, he shouldn’t dismiss the Gen X’s economic lives. Far from being being super-successful, members of Gen X entered the workforce when Baby Boomers were *not* retiring and wouldn’t be for decades yet so that jobs were scarce, particularly the upper management jobs that paid well, and these folks have had virtually no increases in real income during their entire tenure in the workforce. Yes, they’ve had jobs, but those jobs have paid relatively less over time. Now doesn’t that sound fun?

This quote strikes me as really telling:

But there’s nothing for us to suck up, really. As a rule, our parents did end up much more dedicated to their careers than we have. But as a rule, they were laid off less. They didn’t intern or work as independent contractors. They got full medical. They were occasionally permitted to adopt magical unicorn-like money-granting creatures called “pensions.”

His point is that if you pay people decently, they will of course spend more time at work and give more of their time to it. You can’t expect people to want to work for you if you aren’t compensating them well enough for it to be worth sacrificing their time.

This comment strikes me as particularly telling:

So take your “revise your expectations! check your ego!” Horatio Alger bullshit, and stuff it. While you’re at it, stuff this economy. Not this GDP, not this unemployment level: this economy, this financial system that establishes complete social and political control over us, that conditions us to believe that we don’t deserve basic shelter and clothing and food and education and existence-sustaining medical care unless we throw our lives into vassalage and hope, pray, that the lords don’t fuck with our retirements or our coverages. (Maybe if we’re extra productive, someday they’ll do a 4o1K match again, like our ancestors used to talk about!)

But that’s exactly where the social contract has eroded. Social welfare isn’t an entitlement. That went away. Many of us oldsters mourn it. But its assertion is a clear sign of entitlement, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s just that entitlement itself has become a bad word in a social and economic order of tooth and claw that many of us never wanted.

Meanwhile, this.

Men taking too much room on the train

The subtitle says everything I need to: “A classic among public assertions of privilege.”  Go look. This is one of my pet peeves. As a larger woman, one of my many crimes is that I take up too space much everywhere I go.  I can’t really help how much space I take in any given  moment.  But, you see, I’m not entitled to that space in the manner that these dudes are.

Adding to the field guide to procrastinators

The brilliant Grace Kao got me reading Tastefully Offensive this morning with its field guide to procrastinators.  I think they need some more types, as heaven knows I don’t clean: 

1. The Self-Starting Unfinisher.   The sort of person who starts a new project when another is coming in due.  I don’t know anybody like that. A variant of the sidetracker. 

2. The social mediator. The sort of person who posts about how they have to be productive and what they have to work on, in depth, or writes blog posts about procrastination. 

3. The Undoer. Oh, the work I did yesterday wasn’t good enough for me to move on to the next section. I will edit and revise. 

4. The Fight Picker. Creates a conflict with somebody so that they can focus on the conflict instead of on work.  Me. 

5. The foundation setters. Oh, I must prepare the world’s most detailed outline, which will get jettisoned anyway, before I can write. Oh, I must stretch 20 canvases, sharpen 20 pencils, and read 17 more books. 

Not that I do any of these things.