Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Peruvian pan flute

What’s happenin’, chums?

That’s right, people, we are in a mild and pleasant mood. We are not immune to the good times and the dancing feeling that broke out across this great land of ours late on Election Night as word spread that America had collectively come to its senses and decided to pass on another four years of Acting Stoopid when a Smartness Alternative had actually been advanced by a competent campaign. Here at Disquieting Modern Trends Plaza, we turned on the big sound system, got our psychedelic Peruvian pan flute band to play Stevie Wonder1, and then we took to our jetpacks and circled the sky as the paid help got its funk on.

And thus it is that we smile and actually applaud the good and proper direction of the land. Suddenly, a whole bunch of things are looking up.

Now, we can practically see your mouse-finger flashing to click off this page. What good is it to read the incisive prose of a couple of first-class complainers/disquieting-trend-spotters when they are elated and, thus, without edge? Soft! Dull! Satisfied! Worst of all: Happy!

The prospect of this horrifies us as much as it does you.

But, at least for this month or so, we will confess: It is what it is.2

And thus, with smiles on our faces, we suggest for this November 2008, several Encouraging Modern Trends.

The At-Long-Last Triumph of Katie Couric as a Network Anchor

O Katie Couric!

O Katie Couric! O spunky newswoman who got a colonoscopy on the air!3 Once the sassy newcomer to Today, then the pioneering First Solo Woman Anchor for CBS, you had become a complex victim of wrongly raised expectations. But we always knew that you were mainly a prankster at heart, a Trojan horse, a cutie-pie wielding a switchblade. And with your Sarah Palin interview, you Mack-the-Knifed4 John McCain to his very quick.

We have to assume that the campaign chose the estimable Ms. Couric for this interview because it viewed her as harmless and short-skirt-wearing, a puff-piece purveyor, a pushover, a simp—in short, as precisely the derogatory female stereotype we’ve always known her not to embody. How delicious, then, that Katie took her ailing ratings at the CBS Evening News and jujutsu’d them into a naggingly fair interview that set the Republican campaign on its ass.

We care not whether Katie’s ratings are up or down. We only know that she single-handedly exposed the gooey-soft center of a presidential campaign that wanted desperately to be all left-hooks and gut punches. Our favorite moment, and there were many, is when she asked the Luv-Guv what “newspapers and magazines did you regularly read before you were tapped for this to stay informed and to understand the world?” How delicious to hear Palin’s transparent dodge that she reads “all of ’em, any of ’em … that have been in front of me over all these years. I have a vast variety of sources.” This reminded us of nothing so much as the Seinfeld episode where Elaine gets George a job interview at Pendant Publishing and Mr. Lippman asks him about his favorite authors. George invented the author Art Vandelay, an obscure beatnik writer who wrote Venetian Blinds.5 Palin, whose qualifications to run this country are pretty much Costanza-esque, was so flabbergasted that Katie pressed her for an answer, that she was actually less articulate than George Costanza. And thus are presidencies born.

George Costanza

The Maybe Coincidental, Maybe Not, But Still At-Long-Last Emergence of Female Journalists in Prominent Places and in Mushroomlike Quantities

And so all of a sudden they are everywhere: reasonably serious female journalists all over the TV—anchoring, reporting, commentating, looking great but not always required to do so, doing pretty much everything you can do in television journalism except working that CNN Fancy U.S. Map Thing, of which we’ve had our fill anyway, thank you.6 We assume that you have your own favorites, local or national, and will simply confine our praises to a few cable news sirens who make it seem a little less dumb to be watching TV in 2008.

Mika Brzezinski

On MSNBC in the morning, there is the fetching yet weirdly substantive Mika Brzezinski, who co-hosts the Morning Joe show with former Gingrich-y congressman Joe Scarborough.7 First, Mika is, in fact, the daughter of former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski.8 Cursory examination shows that she got a great education and is a real leather-on-the-pavement reporter who covered, among other things, the collapse of the towers on September 11th. But her place in our hearts was won on June 26, 2007, when she refused, on the air, to read the story of Paris Hilton being released from jail as the lead. She tried to burn the copy, then ripped it up and later shredded it while her co-hosts vaguely goofed on her making “symbolic gestures.” True, Morning Joe is a chore, with various panelists and hosts endlessly talking over each other like they were appearing in a particularly dull and poorly shot Robert Altman film, but we’ll watch it just for Mika, hoping that eventually she will give Joe a good hard slap.

Rachel Maddow

Also on MSNBC is the weirdly hypnotic The Rachel Maddow Show, which comes on after (or is it before and after?) Keith Olbermann’s liberal polemic Countdown, during which the drama, of course, is in wondering if Olbermann—the former stentorian ESPN sportscaster and unabashed Edward R. Murrow–freak—is going to completely flip out with outrage and spittle. Maddow’s show is a similar send-up of conservative faux pas, except that Maddow has got this smart twinkle in her eye that makes clear that she’s just not very showbiz. A tiny bit of digging reveals that Maddow’s twinkle graduated from Stanford. She then got her D.Phil. from Oxford as the first openly gay American to receive a Rhodes Scholarship. Which is just to say that we think, if through some as-yet-invented form of bizarre alcoholic technology, Rachel Maddow were to have a child with Karl Rove, that kid would be an unstoppable political force.

Candy Crowley

A few clicks away on CNN, we must give our propers to three female journalists. First, let us sing the glorious praises of Candy Crowley, whose blowzy face and vaguely annoyed affect covered the Obama campaign. Ms. Crowley turns 60 the day after Christmas, and we say Three Cheers for a TV reporter who has clearly decided that it simply does not matter if she looks either artificially young/hot/Palin-y or elegant/rich/surgically enhanced. No, Ms. Crowley is happy to appear both tired and grumpy in most of her reports—a look we imagine she comes by honestly given the absurd length of the election season. Might she have had four–five Twinkies for lunch? Sure, and who cares? Yet at the same time, her name—proudly—is “Candy.” And she maintains the hairstyle of a high school sophomore named Courtney or Alyssa. For these contradictions, Ms. Crowley, we adore you. Please don’t yell at us.

Betty Nguyen

On weekend mornings, CNN boasts co-anchor Betty Nguyen. On the one hand, she grew up in Texas and attended the University of Texas, so she complies with what we believe to be Texas state laws regarding the excellence and general size/shape of her coiffure. On the other hand, she is half Vietnamese, making her deliciously exotic even when she is engaging in harmless weekend-morning-anchor banter with her co-host, T. J. Holmes.9 This combination, it goes without saying, is very nearly the definition of what makes America the world’s locus for confusing sexual feelings.

And then there is Campbell Brown.

Campbell Brown

Here within D.M.T. Headquarters, the vexing—nay, troubling—dual nature of CNN’s lanky and opinionated C.B. has been debated like no other election issue. Says one of us: Ms. Brown in an ungainly colt, outclassed as a pundit, awkward as an anchor, and neither the looker (Ms. Nguyen) nor the post-looker (Ms. Crowley). Says the other: She is an enchantress, a dream, the thinking man’s Sorority Sweetheart.

The physical argument breaks as follows:


Con: Campbell Brown’s hair, generously proportioned and flowing to be sure, is altogether too Farrah Fawcett. Too 1977. A set of wings to lift her from the CNN set and up to a bad, disco-themed party.

Pro: The hair is iconic. Its feathery voluptuousness is truly Beyond Hair, adumbrating the majesty of no less than the Madonna’s and commanding similar adoration in all lively hearts.


Con: There are no discernible lips. Ms. Brown’s questionable takes on political history and election trends emerge as from a terrifying gash in her wide face. As if a great egg were suddenly to crack.

Pro: Her graceful lips echo the well bred Southern refinement of her heritage10, a culture in which I need not tell you lip width and other features are coded socially as much for what they are not as for what they are.


Con: Her elongated eyebrows each curve like swan necks into the bend of her nose and then the creases beneath the cheeks to form a pattern looking precisely like a closing parenthesis and a opening parenthesis, in that order. Must my news anchor remind me so much of grammar?

Pro: The eyebrows—well, she is not to be held accountable for her eyebrows in this age of pluck-and-raise, who could be? Her beauty is beyond fashion. In a dream state of flowing locks and loosened, Princess Anne gauze—as yet yearned for, as I now yearn—her brows would again assume their God-given shape, crenellating her mischievous eye with sparkling girl-reporter pixie dust as she glides through the forest effortlessly as a sprite.


Con: The dreaded “Witchy Chin”! Let’s put it this way. If I had a small dog and I lived in Kansas, I wouldn’t let Campbell Brown come within 50 yards of the pooch.

Pro: Ah, the chin! Those qualities you name “witchy”—presumably, the slight pronouncement, the hint of cleft—holds the key to her transcendent power: a whiff of masculinity that reminds how she, Athena-like, is the equal of a man while also embracing her role as his naughty, naughty plaything. Stretch your ken, open your heart! Let her speak to you, as she has to me, as she has to millions. O come: let us adore her.

In the end, dear reader, we will let you make the call.

The At-Long-Last Payoff of Youth in Politics
Kids! Who needs ’em? With their Guitar Hero11 and their Facebook12 and their Jonas Brothers13 and their Twilight vampire movies14, these kids will never stay interested in politics! Right?!

Wrong and wrong. It turns out that young Americans actually will care about politics if there is a candidate who (a) is not full of it, and (b) can make a sly allusion to a Jay-Z song when discussing his campaign.15 Obama won something like 65% of young folks and an equal percentage of college-educated folks. Stoopid kids.

And so, for once, we smile. True, the U.S. economy continues its catastrophic collapse, but there is a sense of hope in the air. Here at Disquieting Modern Trends, we don’t endorse political candidates, but we happily hold some up for ridicule. And this month, our world seems slightly less ridiculous. Not that there isn’t a wealth of absurdity still building steam. But we leave that disquietude to another day when the post-election glow has worn off more fully or when Britney Spears starts making a sex video with one of the Jonas Brothers.

Election Night, Grant Park, Chicago, courtesy The New York Times

Will Layman & Ed Fischer formerly played together in a smarty-pants rock band, which lit the sky like a flaming eagle, or at least a sort of smoldering blue jay. Now they consume moderate caloric amounts in different time zones.

Signed, Sealed & Delivered

1 We are aware that many if not most (if not all) of our online readers are under, say, 35, and therefore may be primarily aware of the work of Mr. Wonder post–“I Just Called to Say I Love You.” If this is the case, there is at least some chance that you are already reading this positive reference to the Motown star as being not only hopelessly dated but also astronomically unhip, square, and boomerish—the kind of thing that suggests we are unaware of infinitely more up-the-minute cachet of TV on the Radio. Now we respect TV on the Radio and its post-Prince, quasi-Bowie, leg-of-a-goat/head-of-a-bear/torso-of-a-giraffe Frankenpop, but Stevie is and will always be in another league. Sure, Mr. Wonder has reveled in bathos and sentimentality for some time now, but we would respectfully suggest that his Motown output from 1962 through 1985, a full 23 years of brilliance, may be tune-for-tune the greatest body of American music ever made. And if Barack Obama chose to have Stevie’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” played during his rallies, then, folks, that’s just another reason it’s good to have a black man in the White House. We await TV on the Radio’s coming two decades of output.
TV on the Radio

2 We have been hearing this phrase, “It is what it is,” incessantly lately. In the spirit of this column, we will not condemn it, and we will confess to enjoying its symmetrical cadence and pseudo-philosophical simplicity the first, ohhhhh, hundred times it was intoned in our presence. We must however, speak honestly of the, yes, disquietude of hearing it for the five- and six-hundredth time, usually used to mean “Whatchu gonna do?” or “Some things can’t be changed” or maybe just “Oh, well.” We recommend retiring this baby immediately, interring it with the even more overworn “Awesome!” that we are tirelessly trying to replace in the pop-lexicon with “King!” or, even better, “Ace!” which has just the retro feel that aging middle-aged guys like ourselves hear as the Cadillac-with-fins of vocal exclamations.

3 Oh, yes she did. In March 2000, Katie had a colonoscopy live on Today—a successful attempt to raise consciousness about screening for colon cancer after the disease killed her husband, Jay Monahan, at 42. Speaking of colonoscopies, we feel compelled to note that Katie used to date “smooth jazz” trumpeter Chris Botti. More recently, she has been characterized as “Katie Cougar” because the 50-year-old anchor has been dating a 33-year-old triathlete. With our self-imposed snark-ban in some limited effect here, we will simply state facts and let you do the heavy lifting.

Bobby Darin

4 A quick bit of music history. If you know the tune “Mack the Knife” at all, it’s probably the swinging Bobby Darin version from 1960. Now, we don’t want to take anything away from Darin, a scrappy Italian kid from the Bronx who transformed himself from a punk into the writer/performer of “Splish Splash” into a near-Sinatra who headlined Vegas casinos. But his “Mack the Knife” was, dig it or not, a masterful declawing of an otherwise dastardly and devilish song that celebrated slick criminal violence. Originally a key part of the Bertolt Brecht/Kurt Weill masterpiece The Threepenny Opera, the tune introduces the amoral Macheath. A grimmer or more cold-blooded piece of art we dare you to find. That Bobby Darin turned “Mack the Knife” into a finger-popping hit is both disquieting and semi-miraculous. R.I.P. to everyone involved, and may the song be left alone by the likes of Michael Bublé for as long as we do live. (Ack. Too late.)

the show about nothing

5 It has been a decade since “the show about nothing” left the airwaves in May of 1998. We’d say that we miss it, except that it is on the air constantly, I Love Lucy–style. Sure, the clothes and hairstyles can unintentionally make you laugh pretty hard, and hipper sitcoms like Arrested Development and The Office make you wish that you could watch it without the canned laughs. But what pass for normal sitcoms these days are the likes of Two and a Half Men and How I Met Your Mother, shows that, we are guessing, are big favorites of Sarah Palin but maybe not often watched in the Couric household. Seinfeld they ain’t.

6 You’ll not find us here doing schtick about CNN and all its gizmos and how pointless they mostly are. Wolf Blitzer’s Election Night holograms looked pretty cool until we learned on public radio today that holograms can now be used to create microscopic tweezers that can pass through glass or cell walls and pick up stuff as small as a micron. We also learned that a micron is one millionth of a meter. This kind of learnin’, frankly, makes goofing on a 3-D just seem petty.

7 If you haven’t already, hie thee to YouTube and check our Ol’ Morning Joe drop the F-bomb in middle of a totally innocuous random sentence just a few weeks ago. What is remarkable about it is not that Joe Scarborough would—GASP!—dare to use such a dang-nasty word. Rather, it’s the absolutely pedestrian nature of the bomb-dropping that rivets—he is describing how Obama is a steady guy, not the kind of guy who would say, well, what Joe goes on to say right there on morning TV. The comment is so mild and so unremarkable that Joe doesn’t even realize he said it. Which makes us wonder why saying this is still—in a era where every ten-year-old boy with access to a computer can dial up an endless array of live-action depictions of what that word really means (with said live-action depictions being encounters between all manner of people, species, and objects in all manner or degrees of silicone enhancement)—such a big flarging deal. Did we write “flarging”? We meant to write ….

8 Here we note, almost out of Disquieting Modern Trends reflex-of-connectedness habit, that Mika’s mother is a sculptor named Emilie Anna Benes. And thus is it that our Seinfeld footnote rubs up gently and lovingly against this footnote because Jerry’s ex-girlfriend’s name in Seinfeld is “Elaine Marie Benes.” But you already knew that, didn’t you?

Natty Tiki Barber

9 While we are on the topic of engaging, cheery, unthreatening Obama-esque African-American dude-casters, we would like to bow down to the slicktacular career transformation of Tiki Barber from N.Y Giants running back to broadcaster. Tiki, who used to make millions by bulling his way past 350-pound guys who eat cinderblocks for lunch, now smiles, looks good in suits and does cooking segments. And he’s named “Tiki.”

10 Though Campbell Brown’s Wikipedia entry is brief, there is no end of wonder in it. Our hearts skipped a beat, for example, to learn that, despite her Louisiana/Mississippi Heritage, Ms. Campbell B is now Jewish. Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha’olam!, Campbell! And a v’tzivanu for good measure!

Guitar Hero guitar

11 If you haven’t actually played G.H. or its more expansive cousin, Rock Band, you are missing a genuinely transfixing experience. We know that the standard knock here is, like, “Hey, Kids! Learn to Play a Real Instrument!” But these games are fun. And we’ve seen a couple Rock Band drummers actually kick in on real drums.


12 While we’re pretending to take a shot at adolescents, we’d just like to say that the obsessive navel-gazing of Facebook may be odd, but at least when teens gaze at their navels, they’re gazing at some pretty nice mid-sections. Now that middle-aged moms and dads are Facebooking like rabbits, it is Tedium Supreme to see them upload endless photos of their kids’ birthday parties. We’d rather look at some college student passed out in a bathtub any day. Updates like “Steve is starting to think the Wiggles really rock” can only be called: disquietudinous en extremus.

13 The Jonas Brothers. Mormons. From New Jersey. Actually a weirdly rocking concept.
The New Jersey Jonases.


14 If you have any doubt about how the Treasury Department should go about bailing out the economy, look no further. Give the $700 billion to teenage American girls, who appear capable of spending every lick of it on going to see Twilight, thus pumping all that cash directly into the economy and unfreezing credit overnight. We don’t know about you, but neither we nor our castrated Indonesian pool boys had heard of this flick until the day before it opened. What do we know?

15 Obama’s April 17, 2008, comments about his debate with Hillary included a wordless reference to the Jay-Z song “Dirt Off Your Shoulder,” a song rife with every possible phrase and hip-hop notion that makes white folks uncomfortable. It seems amazing that neither Hillary nor McCain tried to taint B.O. with his obvious affection for this tune. But that’s almost surely because neither they nor their campaigns know jack about Jay-Z, which simply underlines why Obama beat them both: He was sly enough to know what they didn’t know, and to know that they’d never know it. 2012: Q-Tip for president.

Obama brushing dirt off his shoulder.

Bunny Triptych A photo essay taken in Asbury Park, N.J.
Naked Lesbian Stalker You are a female and you’re completely naked. You just broke up with your girlfriend (Sheila) of over seven years not more than an hour ago and you are feeling angry, hurt, and out-of-control. The house you have entered is a major celebrity’s home, a woman you’ve worshiped for many years.
Happy Birthday, Bruce Hornsby! I know how to play "Mandolin Rain" pretty well, buddy.

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