Tag Archive | Criticism

Internships galore!

The common complaint about a broad proliferation of internships popping up in the marketplace is this: companies are abusing a practice, traditionally used out of financial necessity or for educational purposes, in order to create a tier of temporarily unpaid labor. A problem, indeed. Yet the more insidious issue with this issue is the imbalance of opportunity it perpetuates. It stands to reason that people with existing means of self support will be more eligible for these audition positions than people who cannot survive for an extended duration without compensation for their work. Some people, who may be very talented and diligent but who also lack advantage, will thereby fall to greater disadvantage. Others, who possess resources, will accumulate additional resources and agency. Let me simplify: money biases opportunity; opportunity generates money.

I don’t fault the upper-middle-well-off-affluent-people-of-plenty who want to work and are willing to do it for naught but experience in the short term. The opportunity is there, and if it’s the right place and the right vocation and might be fun to do, why should someone turn it down? Just because someone approaches the upper end on the spectrum of material wealth doesn’t justify depriving that person of a chance to work. Good fortune ought not disqualify someone from earning. Just as it shouldn’t omit them from loving, suffering, learning, triumphing, or failing. Empathy is the product of effort given from the hands as well as the heart. And right now empathy between classes in this country is in severely short supply. Ensuring systematically that the haves can while the have-nots can’t will only serve to sharpen the lines that divide us.

Look. Just pay people for their work. Be fair and even generous. Don’t abuse the high unemployment rate. Don’t cultivate a meta-social atmosphere of desperation and resentment. And mostly, don’t pretend you’re a non-profit organization strapped for cash, or that everyone who wants to work for you is receiving compensation from a passionate desire to fulfill a higher calling. Hopefully they are, and you should seek those people out. Not because you can pay them less for more work, but because they will attend to tasks with aspirations towards extreme quality. But even those people need to eat and play, and many of them can’t do that without a paying job.

‘The Artist’, with little artistry

So an egoist who behaves quite selfishly while he is on top of his industry loses his advantage. Just before doing so, he meets a stalker-ish woman, who has aspirations to fame in his field. Their encounter is brief, but it sticks in her head, and he seems inclined towards infidelity should life not change so precipitously. She rises. He falls. They both display ugliness in their respective processes. He becomes increasingly self-absorbed and pitying, until his wife, colleagues, and admirers leave him and he is left alone (except for the dog). She demonstrates a penchant for insensitivity, and for obsession with the man that she had one rare encounter with. He tries to annihilate himself. She grows frantic to save him. Nobody earns any empathy (except for the dog). Then there’s a fancy dance scene to wrap it all up and communicate that these two narcissists are going to prosper despite the age of movie sound. This was Hollywood’s best for 2011?


The one spot that actually contained artistry (other than the dog’s scenes) was the beautiful nightmare sequence, when sound invades Valentin’s silent universe. The selection of sounds to amplify collaborated perfectly with the decision to keep his voice muted. The all too brief moment verged on the surreal and remained haunting. A more interesting movie would have kept along that path. It would have found out what happens as sound comes limping imperfectly, dangerously into the world of a performer who has never had use for it nor knowledge of how to use it to effect. But then we wouldn’t have needed so many tricks from the dog.


Yesterday, speaking in regard to a meeting on the Syrian catastrophe, Hillary Clinton expressed reluctance to the possible inclusion of Iranian diplomats. While doing so, she used phrases like ‘stage managed’ to refer to ostensibly deceptive actions of the Iranian government, and ‘bad actors’ synonymously with that government’s officials. ‘Bad actor’, in particular, is a phrase I hear used frequently these days to qualify people and entities as morally suspect, based on their activities in a given sphere. Investment firms that got rich betting on the failure of the housing market have been named bad actors in retrospect. The FBI has stated that it would like the ability in the social networking universe to “geospatially locate bad actors or groups and analyze their movements, vulnerabilities, limitations, and possible adverse actions.” The Washington Times recently ran an op-ed in which the author urges Congress to get “bad actors out of missile defense.”

It is without possibility that Secretary Clinton, or any of these sources, intended to disparage theatre making and the artists who do it. In fact, ‘actor’ is probably being used in such instances just to mean a participant in a series of processes. But ‘actor’ is also generally accepted as a person who behaves disingenuously, and ‘theatrical’ often points to activity considered inauthentic. It’s unfortunate that the vocabulary of theatre has been so readily appropriated, euphemistically, to suggest moral decrepitude in many scenarios.

Yes, actors at work may not be who they seem to be. Theatrical creations do in fact traffic in illusion to generate their realities (or is it the other way around?). The people involved expend exceptional degrees of energy to convince you that things may not be the way you assume they are. Yet I draw a line between the iniquity of lying and the promise of coming at the truth tangentially. There are many ways to strike at truth, which is rarely one thing. Actors, bad and good, invite us to locate truth in uncharted regions of the heart and mind. Theatre workers enable our imaginations to touch alternative heavens and relationships and moral codes. This is not the same thing as lying. Nor should it be equated with facilitating massacres, ruining economies, or annihilating lives. In fact, theatrical forays into existences resembling our own often portend against these destructive events. Our leaders and representatives would do well to make this distinction.

Knock Carefully

Today, a co-worker of mine made a dire premonition regarding the state of the economy. A second later she raised her eyebrows in fright, as if realizing that the very mention of disaster might open up a passage for it to materialize in reality. Then she immediately leaned forward and knocked rapidly three times on the orange slate coffee table in front of her. Satisfied that this action neutered the curse’s potential, she leaned back in her chair and resumed her attentiveness to the discussion.

By my completely unscientific estimate, at least 72% of people who intend to knock on wood don’t actually take the time to find wood to knock on. They simple rap on the nearest solid object and call it good. This is particularly true when the circumstance arises in a car. Faux wood panelling doesn’t count. I’m pretty sure that the determining entities have been doing this long enough to know the difference. If in fact bad things, once uttered, can truly only be held at bay by knocking on wood, I must conclude that we are all doomed. The good news is that the lazy people will probably be wiped out first.

It didn’t speak to me

The critically acclaimed 1974 film, The Conversation, starring the brilliant Gene Hackman, is Apple TV’s movie of the week. Several months ago, Eric gave me a copy of this movie on DVD and insisted that I watch it. His encouragements have been growing increasingly strenuous, and so I figured that the ‘movie of the week’ coincidence made a viewing imperative. Last night, I popped up a bowl of popcorn, dropped the disc of this thriller into my player, and sat back to enjoy what has been hailed as a masterpiece psychological thriller constructed by Francis Ford Coppola.

You needn’t worry about any spoilers here. I don’t know what happened in the final thirty-eight minutes, and I regret letting the first hour and fifteen minutes pass before shutting the thing off. The plot unfolds with the urgency of a sociophobe getting in a Karaoke queue. Hackman is beautifully understated as Harry Caul, but the blatant irony of a star surveillance freelancer paranoid about his own privacy is, alone, not enough to hang a performance, much less a movie, on. Moreover, Hackman’s nuance gets crushed by overstated performances bashing away all around him. The final scene – that I saw – in Harry’s office is a piteous parade of acting that proves Hackman’s genius through contrast, while bludgeoning the viewer with obvious cliches. And what is Harrison Ford doing? Coppola should have let him grow a handlebar mustache and twirl the ends of it while snickering if Ford was going to unleash that much melodramatic behavior upon his scenes.

Meh. I am clearly in the minority with this dissenting opinion. Several friends assured me what a splendid movie this is. More, The Conversation holds a 98% / 89% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and my detraction puts me in critical company with about.com’s reviewer. Yet that reviewer is right: it doesn’t hold up as a techno-thriller, except as an “I told you so” exercise in nostalgia for the information age. On January 23rd of this year, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in United States v. Jones that police must obtain a warrant before placing a GPS tracking device on a vehicle. I think that all of us in this age of fluid data understand that the decision will need to be refined by future contests, only satisfying both law enforcement and rights to privacy once legal opinion on such circumstances reaches a level of sophistication analogous to Hackman’s performance. Conflicting rationales within the justice’s ostensibly uniform opinion tells us this. Given our present understanding, the broad judicial stroke is obvious and good enough for now. But it won’t last. Just like The Conversation.