Archive for January, 2010

The death of civilization as I know it

Posted in art, personal, political with tags , , , , , , on January 25, 2010 by barryshapiro

Went to the mall yesterday to catch a movie and buy a book. The movie (Up In The Air with George Clooney) about a guy who flies across America to fire people from their jobs is a terrific film. But the view of our society as a corporate dominated, uncaring, cold cruel world inhabited by lonely, disconnected people adrift in a sea of hopelessness. OK, it was also funny and clever but the message was clear, the country is in bad shape.

Then things got worse. Entering the mall we made a bee line for Waldenbooks. This is a customary stop for Patricia and myself. Since moving to Florida we have spent more time at the mall than I spent cumulatively my entire life. There are no book stores in Sebastian so we have to head south to Vero or north to Melbourne for a little culture and browsing a bookstore is always a pleasure. Nothing like spending an hour or two in the stacks. But this time something was tragically different. Waldenbooks was closing, all sales final.

In fact, according to the Wall Street Journal,  Waldenbooks, which is part of the Borders Group chain of bookstores, closed around 200 stores nationwide laying off over 1500 workers. The sign in the window said: “See you on the Internet!” http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704013004574518023648503540.html. I am certain that Barnes & Noble will be shuttering doors around the country very soon.

We are witnessing a seismic shift in the way our consumer society functions. As corporations gain more and more control over our choices and processes, individualism will die. Some think there will be a reaction and a backlash bringing about a new spirit of entrepreneurism and individuality but I see little evidence to support that theory. I see downsizing and a people desperate to do anything to make ends meet.

Bookstores are disappearing and next it will be libraries (not profitable). Literary magazines will die off (not profitable). People and Us magazines will be considered examples of classic literature (profitable and popular in doctors offices).  More people will self publish but there will be fewer and fewer readers to buy their books. Many of these optimistic writers are one book wonders and just love the fact that they have copies to give the relatives at Christmas. As my friend Francine Worth says “The world is upside down. We are progressing in technology but we are losing ground every second in humanity, understanding and love for our fellow man, our arts and our culture.”

Art too, or at least perceptions of what constitutes art, is going through a radical shift. As art becomes more and more affected by digital media it becomes more accessible and more mass-produced. Therefore it becomes an outlet for just about anyone. Everyone is an artist! Talent, the ability to draw, paint, sculpt, becomes less important than the ability to conceive.  Masterpieces of art like the Pietà or the woodcuts of Albrecht Durer become a manufacture-able item created in a digital environment as opposed to a live environment by the artists hand. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? You don’t have to be able to draw the Mona Lisa, just be able to conceive it and a computer will do the rest. I have no doubt that artists of the future will create their art by telling a program what they want to see, feel or hear. The rest will be a digital process. “Hal, can you make her mouth a little more pouty?” “Yes Dave!”

When you combine that with the news about the Supreme Courts decision of this last week affecting political campaign contributions from corporations I can easily forsee a future where people’s opinions and tastes are completely watered down and dictated by corporate selection. We’ll  get our news from Jon Stewart and our idea of a great novel will be something culled from a movie based on a cable TV show inspired by a video game. Oh, gee, isn’t that the way it is now???

I decided to re-read Thomas Friedman’s “The World is Flat” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) a book the bought on Amazon.com back in ’05 when it was first published. I thought it would be informative. Instead it’s a bummer. As the world changes faster and faster I want to believe that I have some control over my destiny, over my life. I may be kidding myself. I remembered that when I read his book the first time a had several “ah-ha!” moments of clarity. Perhaps that will happen again but after reading just the first chapter I am afraid my head is getting more muddled.

Perhaps it’s a generational thing but I want to get the technology out of my life and just read books and draw pictures all day and never have to read another blog.

A piece from the Art Basel exhibition in Miami 2009

Hot Mona

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Mark MaGwire and other liars

Posted in personal, political with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 13, 2010 by barryshapiro

So Mark McGwire finally comes clean about his steroid use. Ho hum. Like this is some big shock? Is there actually anyone on the planet who follows the sport of baseball who didn’t think McGwire used steroids when he was playing? Especially after his unbelievably lame 2005 testimony before Congress. What a clown. This guy has to be the dumbest guy in baseball. Makes Ricky Henderson look like a rocket scientist.

What really irks me is not that he used the stuff. And not the tired apology – hell haven’t we heard all this before (Giambi, Rodriguez, et al). One more of these clowns steps forward to apologize and I think they should go to jail for bad acting!!!!
But McGwire really gets my dander up. This lying sack of shit, and make no mistake – that’s exactly what he is – has the balls to go on national TV and tear up for the cameras and lie through his teeth. He’s either the stupidest schmuck on the planet or the sleaziest – maybe both. He thinks anyone is buying this bull? And don’t think for one minute he was being sincere. This bum hired none other than former White House Press Secretary and media consultant Ari Fleischer to script his way through the media circus. This is all for show and the timing is so obvious. The guy desperately wants back into baseball and he is going to be the Cardinals hitting coach and so the Cards made sure that he came clean for the media well before Spring Training so that they could minimize the distractions. And let’s not forget that the number of votes he got in the Hall of Fame balloting recently showed clearly that this bogus home run king will never ever make it into the Hall. So poor misunderstood Mark does a 2-day media whirl, cries for the cameras and Bob Costas and thinks that it will all blow over.

And with the help of idiots like Bud Selig, that joke of a Commissioner, press patsies like Tim Kurtchin on ESPN, Ari Fleischer and his consulting firm and the short-term memory of the baseball loving public, he may just be right. McGwire should be in jail.

Look, the steroid era in baseball is not over no matter what Selig announces to the media. The drugs will get more sophisticated and as long as there are millions at stake players will find ways to cheat. They’ve done it since the spitball was invented. If baseball and the players were smart, and they aren’t, they’d find a way to come to grips with reality. It may be too late for that. As ESPN’s Brian Kenny suggests, given what’s at stake and the advances in technology, why not come up with a smart approach to medical science. If a player is hurt why shouldn’t he be using HGH under supervision to speed up his recovery? It only makes sense. But because MLB and the pin heads at the Players Union stonewalled and denied for so long it will probably never happen.

But back to MaGwire. This guy is a liar. And he’s abusing the privilege now by continuing to lie and deny. Jose Canseco nailed his butt (in the bathroom stall and in his book) and the guy just can’t come clean. He doesn’t know what he took? Bullshit! He did it to stay healthy, not for performance? Bullshit!

And his manager and excuser Tony LaRussa should be investigated. He knew plenty, he lied and he demeaned others who told the truth and he’s still making excuses. He’s an ass and the fans of St. Louis, great fans that they are, deserve better. Look, you can wipe out the records at this point but I think that they should do something to declare Roger Maris as the all time home run record holder for a season and Aaron for a career. Those guys did the right thing. McGwire’s excuse that he only did it to stay healthy is even a bigger embarrassment. Injury is part of the game. Look at the careers of guys that were short circuited by injury who could have broken so many records. In fact, in 1961 when Maris hit his 61 to break Babe Ruth’s long-standing record, it was widely assumed that Mickey mantle would be the one to do it. Mantle was the Golden Boy and the famous slugger in centerfield. The home run race between the M&M Boys, as Mantle and Maris were known, captivated baseball fans around the country that year, just as did the MaGwire – Sosa race. But Mantle had a hip infection that shortened his season and that left the home run title to Maris alone. If Mickey had taken steroids or HGH who knows, perhaps he too would have passed the Babe. 

Why am I so pissed about this? For one thing I love baseball. I am not a purist. I am OK with the DH. I know that records are made to be broken. But there is more to it than that. We have evolved or devolved into a celebrity driven, media controlled, consumer society that has a very hard time telling truth from lies, remembering what someone said on TV last week that contradicts what they said today and is led by the nose by media personalities, be they political pundits or sports analysts. It’s all out of control and out of whack.

Sarah Palin may not know why we have a North and South Korea but she sure is qualified to be a commentator on Fox News. Meanwhile her running mate John McCain (not the 2012 running mate, the last one) says that he doesn’t really know what the vetting process was to select his Vice Presidential choice. Either he’s lying (and for the life of me I can’t figure out why) or he’s a stupid jerk. I mean it was the Vice President for Christ’s sake!!!!

And the circus just goes on and on. We keep dumbing down. Oprahfied. Tyrasized. Obama hasn’t been President for one year and yet no one seems to remember that the financial crisis that has enveloped us and is destroying our livelihoods started back when a guy named Bush was in office. People actually think that Obama was in office when all this shit happened. Bush? Who’s Bush? Short term memory is what it’s all about. We seem to have lost the ability to remember who lied to us last week. It’s going to get worse.

We need to stop and change course or we’re going to be living an existence beyond anything that Orwell could have imagined. Let’s start with mark MaGwire. That’s as good a place as any. Let’s make sure he gets booed every time he shows his millionaire puss at the ball park. Let’s write letters and blogs demanding that the Cardinals dump him. Let’s make him pay until he tells the truth. I think we’ll know it when we hear it. I haven’t heard it yet.

Down with all the liars.

By the way, I’m coming down on the side of Conan. NBC is the worst network on the dial and their management should be fired. Jeff Zucker is a moron. Jay Leno is a nice guy (I worked with the man once and I know this to be a fact) but his time is up. Not his fault – NBC blew it for him but he should wake up and smell the coffee. Go Conan!

Avatar

Posted in directing, personal with tags , , , , on January 5, 2010 by barryshapiro

The Blue people really racked up some big numbers at the box office last week. They racked up over $350 million in under 3 weeks, not bad for a film that most of the critics loved to hate. But the real story, or should I say reel story, is not about fantastic plants on a fantastic planet or special effects or very tall aliens or whether or not Sigourney Weaver’s character smokes cigarettes. The amazing thing about Avatar is that it got made and that is a testament to director James Cameron. I have to admit, the guys got a touch. Let’s see, some Cameron classics include Aliens, True Lies, The Abyss, Terminator and, of course, Titanic. Not a bad track record.

What Cameron shows us is that talent combined with vision, dedication and an unwillingness to compromise can add up to greatness. I know a few people in the biz who just don’t like the guy, say he’s a prick. We’ll, maybe he is and maybe he isn’t but he gets a clear vision of what he wants and then he makes it happen – no matter what the odds. When everyone says he’s crazy and that he’s doomed to fail he just cranks it up a notch , dumps a few million more into it and makes it happen. That’s chutzpah! That’s putting yourself on the line. That’s brilliant!

I’ll probably go back and see it again next week. Now that I’ve enjoyed the film I think it would be great to go back and look at it from purely the technical point of view. This is a work of art and a technical masterpiece and will probably change the look of films in the years ahead.

I was moved by the story, awed by the visuals, impressed by the technology and delighted by the 3D. But I was really struck by the story of the guy who created the whole thing – who “saw” us and what we wanted to see. If you haven’t seen it yet I say get out to a theater and make sure you do the whole 3D thing. You will not be disappointed. When your there take a moment to think about Cameron’s incredible accomplishment, what it must have took to get this made and be inspired to go make your own masterpiece. I know that it has inspired me.