This week I'm macking on: This kid. For taking a South Park episode and bringing it to glorious life on the pages of the New York Times. In the Arts section. Only problem is, he can actually play some instruments, which seems pretty unfair. I mean, isn't the whole point of Guitar Hero that you can shred on guitar without having to actually know anything about the guitar? What a tool.
This week I'm hating on: Al Pacino as King Lear. I mean, really? Who's gonna play the Fool, Steve Buscemi? And what, James Gandolfini and Edie Falco are Albany and Goneril? And hey, wait a minute, didn't I review something like this last summer at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival? Yes, I did, and the whole "Gangland Lear" ended up being a pretty cool metaphor. Which means I might might actually be macking on Pacino, after all, which means...
This week I'm hating on: Will Ferrell. For being right. Read the first two paragraphs of Ben Brantley's review of Ferrell's new, sold-out Broadway show You're Welcome America. A Final Night with George W. Bush. Great punchline; all too true.
The lastest victims of the critical cataclysm in American media are At the Movies with Ebert and Roeper, and the entire L.A. Times Book Review section. Though the parting of ways between Messrs. Roeper, Ebert and Disney will probably end up working in Roeper's favor, with a new show co-hosted somewhere else (And hopefully in higher profile. Here in Philly, the program aired every other weekend at 11 p.m.), I have grimmer feelings about the impact of the L.A. Times' decision on the publishing industry.
But even in Disney's case, the trend toward younger, shall we say, less sophisticated, coverage (Go on, click. I believe that's a beer bong around new co-host Ben Lyons' neck), bodes poorly for the arts and literature, and all the cumbersome effort involved in understanding them. Anyone else notice that as the arts pages shrank, somehow everyone found room to add video game reviews? Mind you, I'm so addicted to Facebook's Packrat game (God help me) that my skin itches just thinking about it, and my husband and I are about to install a Wii so our children will invite their friends here, rather than always wanting to go elsewhere (read: to a home with Wii).
But there's only strategy involved in video game coverage, and maybe some cheats and codes. Rolling Stone might send Peter Travers to hole up in his living room for a few hours with Grand Theft Auto, and he might be into it, but that still doesn't make it a movie. (And yes, I'm aware that Talladega Nights was neither enlightening nor fun, but like it or not, its expository demands made it a movie.) I'll grant that maybe video games are even their own paradigm and don't have to subscribe to traditional narrative standards, but neither are they, even in their most sublime form, searching for a higher meaning. Their purpose is to be a fun game.
Nonetheless there's an entire cable channel devoted to analyzing this zillion dollar a year industry. Meanwhile the A&E network, despite having a few thousand years of art history to which they might defer, and in a desperate bit to attract some viewers, any viewers, resorted to Gene Simmons' reality show (God help us all) and Sopranos reruns. How did we get here?
The arts are thrilling, and should be treated as such--in print, online, on television. Letting people in on the process, as the Grease and Legally Blonde reality shows did, isn't necessarily the answer, but overall, they sure don't hurt in drumming up a little excitement for the whole package. In fact, wasn't Siskel and Ebert a reality competition anyway, where you root for your favorite intellectual to come up with the most clever retort, and your least favorite to prove once and for all what a moron he is?
However, the situation is so much more dire for the publishing industry. There are no flashy tv shows dedicated to reviewing literature, and as far as I know, there never were. If magazines and newspapers--you know, places for people who read--stop covering and reviewing new books, I shudder to imagine a world where the public is left to slog through the grammatical wasteland of Amazon.com reader reviews and trust the whims of Barnes and Noble's public relations department. And once books are no longer critically acclaimed, where will Hollywood get the bulk of its ideas? From video games?
Oh yeah, right.
Screw it, I'm going to play Guitar Hero. Wasn't there a Kiss song on there somewhere?