For Art’s Sake

Sarah and I went on our second actual date since becoming parents today – this time to see Tender Napalm at the Signature Theatre (the plus side of season tickets is the built-in date).

For the first time in my life, I actually walked out of a play while it was going on (about 1/3 of the way through). I’ve seen bad shows before – plotless, meandering craptastic shows, but this really reached a new low of “is my time worth this?”

The show is basically a man and woman trading obscene fantastic hate-filled stories at each other, while trying to maintain affected (lower class) British accents. I knew it was going to be bad when the opening phrase was “I could put a bullet between your lips”, but when it descended into abject (unfunny) farce was when the man said he’s shove a grenade up the woman’s c***. Lovely. And old news.

Seriously, go to 1:02 in Da Ali G show here. Yes, Sascha Baron Cohen wrote about “the terrorist who stuck a grenade up the queen’s poo***, and he’s got 48 hours to get it out.” Now, THAT was funny, and original, back when he did it. Now? Not funny, not original, not shocking.

Worse, the whole sex-as-violence metaphor is sooooooo tired. Haven’t we seen enough of this from actually good writers, say, JG Ballard, or James Tiptree Jr? This was old hat in the 90s. Heck, even Jane’s Addiction, in “Ted Just Admit It”, said

Camera got them images
Camera got them all
Nothing’s shocking
Showed me everybody
Naked and disfigured
Nothing’s shocking
And then he came
Now sister’s
Not a virgin anymore
Her sex is violent

That was 1988, for the record.

So I have no idea why other reviewers seem to think this play has actual emotional depth, but honestly, I’ve seen more depth in puddles.

All this play has is shock value, and even that has worn out – it’s more a testament to boredom and ennui than it is to love stories.

not recommended.


…, We Have a Problem

Business travel used to excite me, but no longer does so – now I just look at it as time spent in beds which are more comfortable for others than for me, away from Sarah and Kacy. So Houston for me has been a bit of a blur – it’s almost all driving from hotel to work to restaurant to work to restaurant to hotel – I’m certain that there’s interesting things to do here, but I’m not doing any of them.

Except – the (kosher) food here is surprisingly good. Nothing is “fancy” – but they’ve been uniformly pleasant and tasty (2 pizza places, a shwarma place, and a vegetarian Indian place so far…). While the food is a treat, the two things which really have caught my eye are the freeways and the adult stores.

The freeways here are massive – One I’ve been taking (Tx 59) is 6 lanes of freeway in each direction with three lanes of frontage in each direction. For those playing along at home, that’s significantly bigger than the Capital beltway or Interstate 95 near Washington. And that isn’t even an Interstate. Adding to the effect are the number and chaos of the various flyover mixing-bowl lanes – I’ve seen several four and five-stack freeways, all done with a brutalist artless efficiency, as though the engineers agreed to give up their souls for the duration of the construction projects. I honestly can’t think of freeways anywhere else (that I’ve seen) which are as ugly as the ones here.

I had multiple people run Houston down to me before the trip, saying that it was a mess because there was no zoning. Now, living under the thumb of the Old Georgetown Act, “no zoning” sounds like a Libertarian paradise, but reality finds ways to intrude upon the noblest of visions. The way it does so here is the proliferation of adult stores. The funniest I saw is “Zone d’Erotica”, which is on the apropos Westheimer Road, but they’re everywhere. Or maybe Houston is actually just a hornier town than others.

So the verdict is that I can’t wait to be home.

Cheesecake or Cheesy-cake?

I recently read Kelly Thompson’s excellent essay regarding sexism in comic art, and I think there is more here. Thompson limits her critique to superhero comics (thus, no “despair of the endless” as a monstrous woman), and it seems that the relatively small number of exceptions prove her point- Kate Spencer as Manhunter (which totally sounds like a porn star name) is covered head to toe, and her physique is less pornified than others, but even so she has a more buxom than average (as opposed to more athletic than average) build, at least when drawn by Javier Piña or creator Jae Lee- Michael Gaydos’ style gives her a more realistic build.

But that’s an example of one of the good ones.

Now, as for me, I tremendously prefer the less-objectified comics: give me an 80’s Suicide Squad (Amanda Waller is hardly a porn star, at ~350 lbs), the Sienkiewicz-era New Mutants (who looked like terrified, but realistic teenagers [no muscle tone on any of them]), or the John Byrne through Paul Smith X-men (a little cheesecakeyness, but not all-porn-all-the-time) any day.

I do think that there are some in-book explanations for a few of the items Thompson calls out- Storm’s classic swimsuit (which she did ditch during the mohawk phase) made some sense in that she could have wanted to feel the elements she was controlling, and while she and Phoenix were portrayed without any muscle tone, neither of them were muscular heroines: ranged powers meant they didn’t brawl much. I also think that that period was more balanced: Storm showed a lot of skin, but so did Colossus, and all of the new mutants wore the same duds.

So how did we go from a period where the cheesecake was an element to now, where it’s all the time? My theory is two words:

Art Adams.

I loved his stuff when I was a kid- Longshot, Excalibur, and the assorted other things he drew were such a treasure! But now as I look back on them, one thing I do notice is that his stuff was the first place where I really noticed the brokeback-style hip thrust. I o remember thinking that that was an unrealistic pose (when I was 14!), but I glossed over it at the time. His style made everyone look like Ziggy Stardust- absolutely fabulous in a mega-mullet way.

So, when he did it, I worked, and wasn’t problematic- possibly because he did this to men and women, and possibly because his style was extremely distinctive.

So where’s the problem? Well, copies are never as good as the original, and Adams was big shortly before the “Image explosion”- Lee, McFarlane, Liefeld, Portacio, and many others completely took over the comics world, and blew away the generally accepted bias toward realistic anatomy in favor of dynamic action scenes. While more artistic freedom and leeway might sound like a recipe for more creativity, it instead served as a removal of the restraint imposed by reality.

Sadly, the trajectory here is familiar to any junkie- as GnR said, “I used to do a little but a little wouldn’t do it so the little got more and more”. Without the realistic restraint, there was nothing to tell artists when enough was enough, and the resulting work bears no small resemblance to Claremont’s take on Tom Corsica and Sharon Friedlander after their possession by Empath: the sensations quickly paled, and the search for more left them hollow and empty.

And that’s one reason I buy very few modern Superhero comics (Fablesand Girl Genius are not superheroes, and Freefall is not for sale).

A good nap spoiled

Sarah and I saw Red at the Arena Stage tonight, and it received a standing ovation from the majority of the crowd present.

Personally, I thought it was a poorly written, nearly plotless play about an unlikable, pretentious artist. The play dripped with condescension toward those who disagree with whatever art fad is currently in fashion, and both lauded and legitimized the view that only the artist can determine the “proper” customers of his (or her) art.

I know little about the real-life Rothko, although I know that I do not like his work – the vibrancy, pulsing, and other terms which are usually applied to it is utterly invisible to me. When compared to his contemporary René Magritte, Rothko’s deficiency becomes painfully obvious. However, if he was as unpleasant as this play makes him seem, then I’m particularly surprised that anyone was willing to give him the time of day, much less treat him as part of a new artistic vanguard.

Sarah thought the play was somewhere between “ok” and “pretty good,” so she had a significantly higher opinion of it than it did, but she likewise was surprised by the ovation.

Given the audience’s reaction, I can tell that my opinion is in the minority (singularity?) on this. Whether this is me expressing my philistinic lack of cultured appreciation or describing the emperor’s nakedness is obviously in the eye of the beholder.