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succession

What was that about abysses and gazing again

The common refrain about this show: “None of the characters are likeable”.  Why?

Greg and Tom cement their weird adorable partnership by eating birds whole at a yuppie restaurant.  Shiv cucks her fiance romantically with her colleague and her colleague professionally with her boss.  Roman’s ego outstrips his ambition.  Connor is on Mars.

And Kendall – poor, tender Ken-doll – just makes the corporate power-moves we expect from someone in his position (and then goes on the requisite meth-and-wolves bender when they fail).

. . . Doesn’t this sound like standard fare?  Grey’s Anatomy-esque?  And they’re contrasted against one of the most monstrous characters since Walter White.

What about these folk is so off-putting?

* * *

Logan Roy seems created from a Jordan Peterson fame-addled fever dream, the Tyrannical Father spewing bile from his ailing body, slouching about Manhattan waiting to die.  Brian Cox made his Hollywood bones playing Hannibal Lector for Michael Mann, and Logan is essentially Hannibal with less murderousness but more psycopathy;  would Lector say to Clarice, “Maybe I should just let them come for you. . .” as Logan does to Shiv?

And yet the worst thing Logan Roy does is tell us something he really believes: “What you kids do not understand: . . . it’s all part of the game.”

* * *

It’s not about riches.  After Tom feeds Greg a bird, he takes him to a private booth at a club overlooking the dance floor; Greg asks, “So this is being rich, watching other people have fun?” and Tom’s “Yeah-ah!” is as convincing as Shiv when she denies affairs.  Connor’s only moment of lucidity is when he grasps the essential nature of what the Roys have: “Fact is, right now we’re somebodies.  Any doofus can have a few million bucks.”

It’s about power.  Marcia, Logan’s Lady Macbeth, spits acidly at Shiv when being confronted about her hilariously blatant attempts to deal herself into the Roy fortune, “Go out and see how you like it.”  Money is security.  Money is power.  Money is life and death.

* * *

ROMAN CAUSES A MASSIVE EXPLOSION AND CALMLY WASHES HIS HANDS OF IT

* * *

Succession isn’t about rich people.  It’s about people who derive power by being within a corporate structure, and how that power – maintaining it, utilizing it, and above all reveling in it – becomes the only thing in their lives they are able to care about.

Connor gets off on his bullying of a prostitute into a relationship (indeed, the power dynamic of paying someone to fuck is probably why he sought her services in the first place.)  Shiv monologues warmed-over existentialism on the people she cares about most because she cares about power more than them.  Tom, about ten minutes after his honest and quite touching declarations of commitment to Shiv as a person, has completely bought into her mercenary loveless conception of marriage (and goes searching for bridesmaids) in order to secure his corporate position; the most important part of his whoohoo-he’s-finally-confronting-Nate speech isn’t “I’d hire men to break your legs” but “If I went to jail – *which I won’t*”.

Roman can’t even fuck.  Well he can masturbate, once, close to someone . . .

And Kendall can *see* this.

“C’mon Shiv, this is because you like the power.  This gets you close to the hill.  And Rome, you couldn’t get a job at a fucking burger joint, let alone a Fortune 500 without some nepotism.  And Conn, you like the glamour it gives to a fuckin . . . freak show in the desert.”

He also has everything he wants in his family; has anyone ever been happier to dance with their kids and ex for thirty seconds at a wedding?  But he can’t even bring himself to be a venture capitalist.  He needs the juice of the corporate hierarchy.  Despite every inch of him burning with the knowledge that he doesn’t really want it, and having to resort to blizzard-from-The-Shining levels of blow to ignore it.

* * *

Even the horror of the final scene isn’t about “a rich kid killing a boy” as Logan puts it.  Kendall has the option of skating only because “our guys know their guys, they’re good guys”.  It’s the corporate resources, the socioeconomic  relationships within and among firms, that can erase Kendall’s Chappaquiddick moment.

* * *

We don’t like these characters because we see that the only thing in their lives they care about is corporate power.  Money, even wealth, everyone has some conception of and can have some relationship with.  But corporate power is a shaggy amorphous collection of behemoth *somethings* over our heads that we know are there, tossing our lives about like leaves as they grapple, but can’t see and can barely even talk about.

We don’t like it.

And we can see it in human form when Logan Roy, while tenderly embracing his broken son in forgiveness, calls out “Colin” with self-assured command as an order for someone to lead his son away, the moment having served its purpose.

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This Vox article about SoulCycle smells really fishy.  It smells an awful awful lot like sponsored content.

Fresh fish fresh fish fresh fish

Fresh fish fresh fish fresh fish

For those interested in the prosecution’s case, it’s below.

The money shot first:  it’s tough out there for writers and new-age media companies, and who really gives a shit about paid content if it’s clearly labeled.

This isn’t labeled. 

Does Vox do this regularly?  That’s part of the problem, that you have to know.  Bah.

Some background before Jack McCoy starts his presentation: SoulCycle (in case you’ve never heard of a Bugaboo stroller) is a stationary bike exercise class that has a schmear of new-age sentimentality over it that apparently justifies its $30 / session price (for the lowest tier).

Take it away, Jack.

The Newsroom didn't deserve you, Jack McCoy

The Newsroom didn’t deserve you

Exhibit A:  Personal testimonial frame and rhetoric that is right out of “How to Write a 3am Infomercial for Dummies”

– My name is Alex, and I’m addicted to SoulCycle.

– I don’t have all the answers as to why some people are obsessed with SoulCycle [. . .] But perhaps I can shed some light on why the company is as successful as it is

– By the end of every class, I’ve left a small puddle of glistening sweat beneath my bike and my shirt is soaked through.

– It was awkward, and one-on-one training is something I have never tried again.

– It leaves me sweatier and more accomplished than any cardio I would normally do on my own.

– Anyone who tells you that vanity and the desire to look fit are not part of the reason they do SoulCycle is lying. And from a purely vain standpoint, I’m really happy with my results.  But I’ve also noticed other positive effects. My endurance has increased, my resting heart rate is down, I sleep better, and when I go to the “regular” gym, I’m stronger when it comes to exercises like squats and leg presses.

I’m running out of pixels, but there’s a lot more.  All of it positive, all of it reading like an F-list movie reviewer trying to get on a poster of Adam Sandler’s new movie.  “I laughed, i cried, I cashed the check the producers sent me.”

Exhibit B: Really really slanted rhetorical methods

The brand — which promises a full-body workout via “indoor cycling reinvented” — has been labeled a cult, an obsession, even therapy.

The first two links are to NYMag articles; the third is to a SoulCycle ad.  A child can see that’s wrong, right?

One of the worst fitness experiences I’ve ever had is taking a “free” training session from a personal instructor at my gym.

Does the context justify the quotes around the “free”?  Reader, it does not.  The only reason to put them there is to denigrate the entire silly notion of taking personalized exercise instruction that isn’t from SoulCycle.

It likely won’t be long before you find an instructor whom you mesh with — whether it’s due to their teaching style, the way they push their students, their inspirational attitude, or their feelings on Rihanna’s music.

What the fahk dude Jesus you’re not even trying to hide it.

But the head shot might be the consistent denigration of the competition.  Besides the above about the “training” “session” “at” “the” “gym”:

– At other places, like SoulCycle competitor Flywheel, there isn’t as much of a relationship between the music and your actions. You’re often just told to pedal fast or slow.

– And while many fitness studios and boutique gyms are forging deals with services like ClassPass (a sort of fitness class broker) to fill their empty slots, SoulCycle’s classes are as popular as ever.

No wait this is the head shot:

When people make fun of SoulCycle (I’ve made fun of it in the past), their derision is never about the actual workout.

Even Bert the Bailiff is rolling his eyes

Even Bert the Bailiff is rolling his eyes

Exhibit C: SoulCycle is so great. You exercise, on a bike!

– There are “hills” — intervals where you crank up the resistance and pedal against it — where it feels like you’re moving your legs through thick mud. There are fast sprints that will make you gulp oxygen and feel like your lungs are leaking.

– “Maybe tomorrow I can put on more resistance,” I’ve thought to myself. This is, of course, a lot easier said than done.

– Though all participants reserve a bike (signups open every Monday at noon) and choose where they sit, the rows tend to sort themselves. The newbies are usually in the back and off to the left and right. The overachievers tend to gravitate closer to the center and the front.

– Sessions are divided into sprints, hills, jogs (a medium-paced interval), and “jumps” (where you hold yourself up out of the saddle for two, four, or even eight beats at a time) — intervals that require different paces, changing beats, and varying levels of effort (sprints require bursts of energy, whereas hills require more endurance). The music acts as a skeleton plan for riders, keeping them together.

Why do this “golly there are varying resistances to this velocipede machine” routine if you’re not trying to sell the experience?

Exhibit D: There’s a big press push from SoulCycle now as they’re expanding

Someone from Style lost their SoulCycle virginity recently.  AdWeek likes SoulCycle’s offices.  CNBC had on SoulCycle’s CEO to talk some squawk.  Something called Bustle posted a listicle.  Months after her show with a SoulCycle plot point ends, Ellie Kemper’s SoulCycle love is in Shape Magazine.

And Alex Abad-Santos just chooses now to effuse about his SoulCycle love?

SoulCycle totally paid for this.

Politics is about who gets to do what to whom.

Voting, electoral politics, and political parties are a very small part of politics.

Case in point: this bullshit.

CBS’ The Briefcase, where viewers watch two desperate families fight over resources: the producers take two families, give one $100,000 and tell them to decide how to split it with another.  Are both families poor and desperate?  They are!  Does the deciding family snoop through the finances and lifestyle of the Other family to decide how “deserving” they are?  They do!

“It’s beautiful. Is that what I think it is?”
“Are you thinking of class warfare? Then yes.”

Beyond the obvious responses – e.g.: zounds (contemporary swear words seem inadequate) this is awful; jobs are so poorly paid that groveling on national TV for stop-gap amounts of cash seems like a necessary economic decision; between CBS, the production team of the show itself, ad agencies, in-house PR firms, etc: thousands of people signed off on this thing –

explodinghead
Beyond all that, consider how this show differs from gladiatorial combat in the Colosseum.  One is entertainment through destroying the body, the other through destroying the spirit.  Which is worse to watch?  Of those two toxic weeds, which indicates they grew in a more polluted environment?

Elias Isquith at Salon and Margaret Lyons at Vulture point out how the show reflects political economic dynamics.  Both Isquith and Lyons link the personal circumstances of the contestants to what kind of society supports a show that has such contestants.

Isquith:

What “The Briefcase” does is tell the people who are unfortunate enough to not only be poor but also to be watching CBS that this mental anguish is, ultimately, something they’ve brought upon themselves [. . .] What’s happening here is much more dehumanizing, and requires much more of a buy-in on the part of its victims. It’s not [altruistic pornography]; it’s “The Hunger Games.”

And Lyons:

The Briefcase does it in a clear and methodical way, but we live in a culture that habitually depicts poor people or poverty as inherently other [. . .] Why does the burden of helping “struggling” people fall on other struggling people?

To sharpen the point they’re both dancing around: conscious political decisions made about how to structure the US economy created the desperate environment in which the show’s contestants find themselves.  Decisions about how high wages are allowed to rise, who bears what kinds of risk, and who reaps the gains of economic growth.

sliding income graph

This state of affairs was deliberately made

As a necessary condition required for those particular decisions to happen, they have to be invisible.  How long would economic growth or income distributions (not wealth, mind you, *income*) be as lopsided as a sumo and a monk on a teeter-totter if people knew who was pulling which political levers to make those things happen?

Part of the fog that obscures those decisions is the erasure of class distinctions and an overbearing sense of agency: everyone is middle-class, and if you’re struggling to make ends meet it’s because of something you *did*.  The economic space in which you act isn’t shaped by anything, and it’s a place where ordinary folk like you can exercise decisions that matter.

The fog is the world of The Briefcase.

Of course the real world isn’t that.

Lovecraft was right, it’s a desolate space of horror where CEOs and financiers gibbering slobbery words wave their hands in inscrutable movement shaping the economy to their benefit by forging chains with the energies of their capital that keep taut politicians, courts and institutions as they stagger.  They are the Old Gods shaping things in ways the ordinary can’t see or comprehend.  If they take notice of the billions they condemn to misery and pain they give no sign.

J.P. Morgan Cthuluh

J.P. Morgan Cthulhu

Except when they do notice, and they notice you, all of a sudden you’re on national TV where it seems like your ideas about what’s valuable and fair control an economic outcome.

They don’t.

Because in a sign that their hidden decisions are in utter control over your fate: the big reveal at the end of every episode is that both families are the ones divvying a briefcase for the other, and each gets to keep the full amount.

O there are tears.  O yes.  Tears of utter joy and gratitude.

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