Linkspam the First: Welcoming the New Season

I promised a linkspam awhile back, and then avoided doing it because the list of links I’ve been wanting to share is so long.  My solution: multiple, themed linkspams.  Today, a collection of links about television and TV shows.  I don’t necessarily agree with all of them, but they are thought-provoking and/or informative.

First, some articles about how we watch:

Trends in TV and how to understand how decisions get made about TV shows:

Some suggestions for and commentary about women and men on TV (three more links relevant to this season in the bottom section):

A few about the real people behind the shows:

And, of course, interesting articles about the new fall season:

 

 

Whew.  I should not have started that this late at night.  More installments on the way when I recover.

2010 in Review

I thought about writing a best-of list towards the end of the year, but it didn’t seem quite right.  Between leaving my job, moving across the country and starting grad school I had a pretty topsy-turvy year, and that would be reflected in any list I came up with.  Still, I’ve been thinking about all of the things I watched, read and did over the last year, and some kind of review is in order.  Here are the things – TV shows, books, movies, activities, whatever – that gave me peace on those evenings in 2010 when I was still not packed/hadn’t finished finals but was sick again/was sick of looking at mattresses yet another time.

1. NCIS: Los Angeles

No surprise here, I love my NCIS:LA.  Totally aside from the characters, writing and other aspects of art creation that the creators can actually control, over the course of the first season I went from thinking about maybe applying to grad schools… somewhere to deciding on a university in LA.  NCIS: Los Angeles was there the whole time, and occasionally suggested neighbourhoods I should not live in.

2. Jellyfish Princess

This is a new series, with new episodes posted to Hulu on Fridays as they air in Japan.  It’s sort of like The Big Bang Theory, at least in its broadest strokes, but in reverse.  A house full of female otaku becomes enmeshed with a super-stylish cross-dressing guy with predictably hilarious results.  Through the laughs though, I’m reminded constantly of some of my best friends – in a good way.

3. Butterflies, Flowers

An over-the-top romance comedy that teeters juuust this side of horrificly insulting by Yuki Yoshihara.

4. Inception

The big-budget Hollywood action flick that got people all across America arguing about what reality is, this movie just warms my little, post-structuralism-infused heart.

5. Alice in Wonderland

I loved the book, so I would probably have liked this adaptation regardless of how it was done.  But then they went and turned it into an action film bildungsroman with a heroine as the lead… and I love it!  The movie topped a year where Alice references were everywhere, and it just warmed my soul.

6. Vibrator by Akasaka Mari

I read this one for a Japanese literature class the past semester.  I don’t particularly like a lot of modern Japanese literature, but this one knocked my socks off.  Briefly, it’s about a female reporter as she takes off on a trip with a trucker she picks up in a convenience store.  She may be going insane, regaining her sanity or something else entirely.  I’m not going to spoil it for you.  Michael Emmerich is an experienced translator, and his skill is evident in the way the text sings.

7. RED

It looked like a fun action flick, and it was, but it also surprised me by failing the reverse of the Bechdel test.  Since it’s the only action movie I can think of that would fail such a test, I’m rather pleased with it for stretching the genre.

8. Fried Green Tomatoes and Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

The movie and the book made me happy in a variety of different ways, and the post I made about them shot up to be my most-viewed post by far, which made me happy in a whole new way.

9. Basic Kanji Book, Vol. 1

The more I study in school, the more apparent my academic weaknesses become.  One of those is reading ability.  In the course of clearing my stuff out of my parents’ house, I came across my old (old, old oldoldold) copy of the Basic Kanji Book.  Even back when I bought it, its contents were mostly review for me, but I swallowed my boredom – at least for a little bit.  In the ensuing four or five years I developed a pattern of doing some chapters and then dropping it for months or even years.  I finally decided to finish it so that I don’t have to tote it to California and I don’t feel like a failure over a really basic kanji book.  I’ll finally be done sometime in the next week or two.  However, this book has served as a way of judging my progress over the years, so it is reassuring now to realize just how far I have come, even if I’m not as good a reader as I should be.

Actually Reading Charts

One of the great benefits of a good education that you may only rarely realize you’ve received is a careful cynicism where new information is concerned. Not a knee-jerk, anti-whatever response but the measured withholding of judgment for those precious seconds it takes to double-check that the writer’s conclusions line up with what, in fact, the survey/experiment/analysis found out.

What brought this up is the new Experian survey of Republicans’ and Democrats’ favorite TV shows. Various stories are leading with this graphic:

… follow up with titles like “The Reign of Right-Wing Primetime“, and then proceed to say things like “viewers who vote Republican and identify themselves as conservative are more likely than Democrats to love the biggest hits on TV”. (That’s a typical article, by the way. I’m not trying to pick on it, I just figured it would be easier for all of us if there was only one link.)

So, holding judgment, we look at the list. And what is actually on there? First off, we don’t have any idea what the numbers mean. The list was apparently compiled based on the percentage of viewers who identify with each party, but Glenn Beck’s audience is not 238% Republican. Regardless, the numbers given suggest slim-to-non-existent differences by party in the Republicans’ list (with the exception of political pundit Glenn Beck’s show) and generally larger differences in the Democrats’ list. Additionally, the cutoff number for the Democrats’ list is 117, while the Republicans get 112. Finally, there is some cherry-picking going on here. The Good Wife‘s 124 (Democrat)/119 (Republican ranking should get it on both lists, but it only shows up on the Democrats’. The articles I’ve seen analyzing this study also discuss more shows that don’t show up on these top ten lists, which suggests even more, mmm… selectivity was involved in creating the lists.

Ultimately, what I get out of this list is that, outside of Glenn Beck’s show, Republicans watch popular TV shows. Democrats are likely to watch popular TV shows and also watch more niche programming. Because Democrats are also watching a fair amount of niche programming, it makes sense that they would be less likely to watch the popular shows at the rates Republicans do. From the 30 shows on the two lists, if we take the Republicans’ 112 rating as the low mark, both Democrats and Republicans are watching How I Met Your Mother (113R/112D), Desperate Housewives (116 even), Dancing with the Stars (117R/112D), The Mentalist (119R/116D) and The Good Wife (124D/119R). If I wanted to throw a gross generalization on top of that, I might add that since Democrats have a much lower median income than Republicans they probably have more familiarity with community colleges and therefore a community college-based comedy like Community might be more likely to appeal to them (122D/75R), but that qualified statement is about as far as I’d be willing to go based on the results as given. I kind of want to know how NCIS: Los Angeles did now…

H/T: News for TV Majors

Nationalism, Optimism and NCIS: Los Angeles

My favorite new show of fall 2009 is starting up again next week, so naturally I’ve been thinking about it. Then, yesterday, I read Alessandra Stanley’s review of this fall’s new series in the New York Times, which basically counters what I’ve been thinking about NCIS: LA.

Stanley argues, in the course of reviewing the new series lineup, that “decline and the erosion of the American dream infuse public discourse, so it’s inevitable that a streak of pessimism courses through the best new fall shows.” I don’t necessarily disagree with her observations about the new series, but I do think that my beloved NCIS: Los Angeles offers a good counterexample which suggests that she may be confusing correlation with causality here. It’s entirely possible that the general suckiness of now is resulting in pessimistic art. However, that same malaise has been hanging around this country for awhile – up to a decade, if you’re the stereotypical Hollywood liberal or were struck in a certain way by the September eleventh attacks. Why would that distress only show up now? Certainly you can argue for it showing up in other formats previously – such as Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker – but there are as many examples against (United 93) as for. NCIS: LA is a particularly good counterexample because it is also a TV show; it premiered barely a year ago; and it is the third in a series of TV series, which allows us to look at how the JAG/NCIS/NCIS: LA formula has been tweaked over time.

JAG and NCIS have been steady law-and-order procedurals, one focusing on the court side of things, the other the investigative. NCIS: LA follows NCIS much more closely than NCIS followed JAG, but also sexes up the basic formula with more explosions, mysteries, spies and violence. At the same time, NCIS: LA uses its characters to display a heightened nationalism compared to the original NCIS – which, itself, has been suggesting nationalistic feelings through a recent story arc revolving around an Israeli Mossad agent’s pursuit of American citizenship. Continue reading

Shout-outs

I was watching the newest episode of one of my current favorite series – NCIS: Los Angeles – Tuesday when I noticed a shout out. Or at least, that’s how I think of them. I’ve also heard of them called in jokes, though I wonder whether it might be possible to separate the two terms.

“Chinatown”, the episode I was watching, is about Chinese spies. At one point, a Chinese spy uses a Chinese man who the police call a member of the Asian gang Hiragana. Throughout the show, the makers do a pretty good job (as far as I can tell) regarding Chinese things, meaning accents and such. Moreover, the Chinese tong has figured in many American TV shows and movies over the years, so the terminology associated with it should be easy to grasp for a group that clearly spent some time on getting fluent Chinese speakers and translating dialogue. Yet Hiragana is clearly a reference to the Japanese syllabary. I can only guess that that is an intentional shout out to those with some knowledge of Asia, Japan in particular. Does one of the writers have a little Japan in her past? Who knows?

Every so often I catch one of these, and they never fail to amuse me. Some of them – the ones that I would be more likely to call in jokes – reference something that only a person who follows a specific person’s works or has seen all of a series (or all of the bonus materials available online/on DVD) will know. Hiragana feels more like a shout out to me; anyone with passing knowledge of Japanese will get it, regardless of how much they know about NCIS or the actors/directors/screenwriters/et cetera. Do you recall an in joke or shout out that you particularly liked? What was it?

By the way, NCIS: Los Angeles rocks (as does its predecessor, NCIS). You can watch recent episodes here, should you be so inclined.

More history lessons, wrapped in a spoilerific discussion of Gilgamesh

Don’t read this if you don’t want to know how the anime Gilgamesh ends.

There is a relatively unknown anime called Gilgamesh that I like. I bought it way back when (okay, only a few years ago), but I just wasn’t getting around to the end of it. Over the mass of holiday days (off work, that is) around Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Year’s I finally got up the necessary impetus to finish it off in an orgy of about twelve episodes over a long weekend. I know that that doesn’t sound that hard – I mean, I’ve seen twelve episodes of different things in single days, and then gone back for more – but this series has a few things working against marathon viewing. For one thing, it’s bleak. The ending of the series is “gather the main dozen-or-so characters in one place, kill them off one by one except for the last two, then bring on the apocalypse”. Seriously, that is an exact description of it. The rest of the series, well, is in line with the ending.

The other factor against watching this one in marathons is the animation. They either put a lot of money into it, or not much at all, and I honestly can’t tell. At first I thought it was rather well funded, but when I started marathoning the end, I was struck by what looked like cheap animation. Did they run out after spending most of their budget on the earlier episodes? Was mediocre animation covered by cool character/world designs from the start? Was I just rushing to the point where everything became a blur in my eyes? All are equally possible.

I finished the series a few weeks ago now, but it still haunts my mind. I had trouble figuring out why, until I finally made the connection with history/the past. One of the things that attracts me most about anime is the way it serves as a sort of gateway drug for students. You like the cartoons? You would understand them better if you spoke Japanese. You adore Rurouni Kenshin but have no idea who these ishin shishi and shinsengumi are? Why not try a little history? That’s how I got into it all, and even the most casual fans are often interested in hearing someone explain juuuust a bit of Japanese language/culture/history/et cetera if it makes them understand their favorite series more.

So, what’s the connection with Gilgamesh? Gilgamesh takes place in a post-apocalyptic world. (I know – I said that the show ends with an apocalypse. It does; there are TWO apocalypses. As I said, it’s dark.) We find out the reason for the apocalypse in the last episode, and it is…

A woman’s jealousy.

Seriously.

We can call down apocalypses now.

(You know, for all that I’m outraged as a feminist, I’m rather attracted by the thought of having that power. Perhaps it’s for the best that this is a load of hogwash.)

Anyway, when I first heard this, I was appalled. I mean, seriously!?! In this day and age, we’re supposed to believe that a brilliant, beautiful young scientist can be so consumed with suppressed jealousy that it takes on a life of its own and destroys most of the world? And then goes on, some years later, to destroy the rest of it? Naaah, I don’t think so.

But then I got to thinking. That’s what we scholars are supposed to do, and it shouldn’t have taken me so long, but there you go. Woman+jealousy=death. Where have I heard that before? Lady Rokujou, perhaps? Tale of Genji, anyone?

In the Tale of Genji, Lady Rokujou becomes so jealous of Genji’s other women that her spirit leaves her body – without Lady Rokujou’s knowing – and kills one of them. The other woman in question is below Genji, class-wise. This parallels Gilgamesh fairly closely. The Countess (Lady R-) becomes jealous of the brilliant Terumichi Madoka’s wife. In this case, class isn’t the issue so much as intelligence. Both the Countess and Madoka are brilliant scientists, the wife is simply a sweet girl – a photographer. In addition, though I said earlier that the Countess’ spirit causes the apocalypses, it’s more complicated. The Countess’ jealous spirit enters into and then is embodied by an ancient power called Tear. The Countess knows nothing of this for years afterward. So you could say that the Countess’ spirit went wandering just like Lady Rokujou’s.

I’m not really sure what to do with this, though. So the story riffs on the preeminent work of classical Japanese fiction, so what? It’s still horribly sexist. But this one bit of history gives us a handle on the rest of the series.

Leave out the ending; simply consider the rest of the series. Do bad things happen to women? Yes. Do bad things happen to men? Yes. Are they comparable? Often, or at least that appears to be the intention. (I’m thinking here of some characters’ issues with finding out that they are clones. Wouldn’t bother me, but it was presented as horribly scarring to those characters.) And there appears to have been some editing. From the copious material that came with my DVD’s, I learned that one scene was originally intended to be a rape scene. I also learned that that episode was given to a female director and suddenly it was consensual sex. That’s not definitive proof of anything, but I’ll still cheer a little for involving women in the industry at decision-making levels.

There’s also the issue of history/legends in the story overall. As you might guess from the title, Gilgamesh is a new take on the legend of Gilgamesh. The legend of Gilgamesh doesn’t have female characters that I know of, but Gilgamesh has them in spades, and in important positions too. The anime isn’t a direct take on the legend, but builds off of it. So I can see tying the question of arrogance in Gilgamesh to the issue of jealousy in Gilgamesh. After all, what is jealousy if not the arrogance to argue that you are better for your beloved than anyone else? The past runs through Gilgamesh like water in Kyoto. Understand that past and new meanings open up for you. But I don’t think that that denies the previous meanings; jealous-women-end-the-world just doesn’t sound right to me.