James Franco, or the Dada Host

I did not have the pleasure of watching the Oscars, but I wanted to, because I think James Franco is a funny guy. So I did what I could on a computer with a slow internet connection to try and measure Franco’s performance. This is a selction of what I found.

Salon tried to get in Franco’s head, Matt Zoller Seitz could not understand his hosting performance:

James Franco had a feeling this Oscar hosting gig was a bust when he ambled onstage dressed as Marilyn Monroe and the crowd at the Kodak Theater took entirely too long to register that it was him. And when theydid figure it out — somewhere around the time that Franco said, “I just got a text message from Charlie Sheen!” — they just sort of tittered politely.

Maybe, Franco thought, there’s more to entertainment than just being in the room. Maybe performance is more than a concept to be explored via metafiction and academic jazzing-around. Maybe you just plant your feet and say your line with some energy and try to connect with the audience and hope it works. Maybe it’s as simple as flipping a switch: Decide to give a damn and you give a damn, and the audience does, too.

Lisa de Moraes from the WashPo put it this way:

This year, the motion picture academy decided to go with co-hosts whose big selling point was their age: Franco and Anne Hathaway. Hathaway worked hard to keep us awake during the show, including a breathtaking number of outfit changes.

Franco phoned it in for three hours and change.

Bill White from themorningcall.com agrees that the Oscars were a bust but does not blame it all on the presenters, Franco:

Co-hosts Anne Hathaway and James Franco are absorbing a lot of abuse today, but really, they just were living up to their public images — Hathaway over-the-top perky and Franco a heavy-lidded stoner. They combined for a mildly entertaining opening and a mildly funny joke here and there. Honestly, can you think of any recent hosts who bowled you over? I can’t.

In the face of a show where the highlights are the tiny clips used to introduce the nominees, there’s not a lot a host can do, except to be quick enough on his/her feet to ad lib some good wisecracks about the silliness. That’s why Billy Crystal was the most successful host most of us have seen. He doesn’t need a script.

Steven Zeitchik from the LATimes did some reporting on some of the odd moments of the Oscars, providing some context that rescues many of them into normalcy. Franco, however, had no explanation:

James Franco: Well, this one stumps us too. Did he genuinely not care, or did he just want to make it seem as though he didn’t care? More important, do we care?

We care, or at least, I care. Because I had the sneaking suspicion that Franco was going to be dwelling in a little performance art, and judging by these reactions, he did, he dwelt. But the case is still open, and nothing is certain. We continue to explore. From The Tech Daddy (Ken Gruberman), or just-another-serf at the HuffPo, a brutal review of this year’s Oscars, but not one that focused on the Franco:

But the real problems with the show this year were not with the hosts. Rather it was with the producer/director Don Mischer — who really should know better — and the writing staff. There were PAINFULLY awkward moments in the show, odd transitions that didn’t make sense, continuity problems, lack of info to the viewing public, and really bad presenter “banter.” TRULY bad. Like the byplay between Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law — totally inappropriate. Did the world really need to be reminded of Downey’s previous debauchery? Is that supposed to be funny? Or Matthew McConaughey and Scarlett Johanssen’s stunningly un-funny banter (“sound!”) There were so many bits that just went nowhere, such as Franco’s walk-on as Marilyn Monroe.

Rolling Stone championed this one with a report that confirmed my suspicion. Perhaps his awkwardness was planned, and therefore spot-on. This is the Franco who acts in soap operas because he wants to, the Franco who called out Meredith Vieira on the “Today Show” for telling Colin Firth he would win the Oscar for the best actor, the Franco who is getting university degrees because he wants to and because he can, the Franco who published a book of short stories, the Franco who plays a young Allen Ginsberg in “Howl,” a movie he produced. This was Rob Sheffield’s review:

Come on: James Franco was kind of brilliant last night. He treated the Oscars like his own avant-garde conceptual art project, like the way he went on General Hospital for kicks and giggles. Like, what if an insanely pretty boy got up on TV in front of a billion people, and did nothing but smirk and squint and stare off into the distance and look embarrassed to be there? What if he barely said a word, just contemplating his own hotness and flashing his John-Mayer-post-lobotomy grin? What a bold statement on modern alienation! Like the tragic hero of Jean Cocteau’s Orphic Trilogy, he stood trapped behind a mirror, unable to make human contact, cursed to face his own reflection alone. Duuuude! I hope he got at least a B+ for that in his “Media Tedium Strategies” seminar.

I am signing off with this video, evidence that there was some effort involved in hosting, even if the video did not air.

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Born What Way?

Lady Gaga released the “Born This Way” video,  available in YouTube. It is disjointed and unfortunately gratuitous. There are two parts to the video; a monologue introduction, and your standard music video. The parts do not really go together, although they are probably supposed to. This is the opening monologue (written by Gaga):

This is the manifesto of Mother Monster. On G.O.A.T., a Government Owned Alien Territory in space, a birth of magnificent and magical proportions took place. But the birth was not finite, it was infinite. As the wombs numbered and the mitosis of the future began, it was perceived that this infamous moment in life is not temporal, it is eternal. And thus began the beginning of the new race, a race within the race of humanity, a race which bears no prejudice, no judgement, but boundless freedom. But on that same day the eternal mother hovered in the multi-verse, a more terrifying birth took place, the birth of evil. And as she herself split into two, rotating in agony between two ultimate forces, the pendulum of choice began its dance. It seems easy to imagine, to gravitate instantly and unwaveringly towards good. But she wondered, how can I protect something so perfect without evil?

My first concern is that Gaga and her people do not know what a manifesto is. She threatens with a manifesto and offers a cheap genesis, a porous philosophy of the dualist birth of Gaga and Evil in G.O.A.T., a conveniently dissonant acronym for an alien planet. Then there are words like womb and mitosis that are thrown in to legitimize the primordial analogy. Needless to say, these fail , because the monologue is absurd, and thus impossible to legitimize. The new race within the race is also quite complicated since races, or human races, are all within the ‘human race.’ Is this a new and separate race to the three human races, African, Asian and Caucasian? Or is Gaga’s new race a sub-race of one of these? And how is a race within the human race being created in an alien territory? All pressing questions.

Then there is the video, once is starts of course. It demonstrates that Gaga can’t dance, and that she is much more entertaining with elaborate costumes than in a bikini that shows her too conventional body type. I am not saying that she has to have Beyonce-like curves or sex-appeal, but going semi-nude without these features isn’t entertaining. If she is going to dance without crutches it is best that she dances like Beyonce. Gaga looks like a hybrid between Joan Rivers and Amy Whinehouse, uncomfortable and deteriorated. The most entertaining part is the scene where she is dressed in a skeleton costume, in a tux, next to a dude skeleton, also in a tux. The dude doesn’t even move and she just kinda quakes around him. It is entertaining but confusing to the narrative. At first I expected some Star Trek sort of tale, and by the skeleton scene I’m wondering if the whole thing is just an elaborate Halloween performance.

Lady Gaga tries to do the Michael Jackson with a seven minute concept music video, but she misunderstand the purpose. The music is in opposition to the idea of the new infinite-alien-human-modern-monster race that must be protected with Evil. The music is conventional club music, upbeat and too similar to ‘Bad Romance.’

At least M.J. dressed like a smooth criminal and danced like one too. Gaga, however, is trying to hard to push her freak agenda. She wants to be Marlyn Manson with all the glam and none of the gore. Instead Gaga is the Fox News of popular culture, what happens when Marilyn Manson and Cher breed. Sensational and likable.

Most Human Award

The March issue’s cover story in The Atlantic by Brian Christian is an exploration of the relationship between man and machine, and not just any machine, but rather thinking machines, robots. James Bennet introduces the issue in the editor’s note :

“What a piece of work is a man,” Hamlet—who knew a piece of work when he saw one—observed. “How noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god!” The last century’s experience left us with a less exalted sense of ourselves not only because other entities turned out to share some of our powers, but also because we often didn’t act much like angels when we applied those powers, including new ones supplied by technology. Could computers move us closer to Hamlet’s vision of our potential? Christian argues that the contest with computers will compel us to hone those qualities of our intelligence that do distinguish us: our suppleness and sensitivity, our creativity and wit. And according to Schmidt, an alliance with computers (Hal Varian, Google’s chief economist, has speculated that within 10 years, implanted devices might communicate directly with our brains) will free us from rote memorization and other menial tasks.

Free us to do what, is I suppose the underlying question—to play Angry Birds or learn another language; to act like angels, or not at all like them. The choice is still going to be ours. For a reasonably long time, at least.

Brian Christian participates in the 2009 Turing Test as a confederate or human subject. His goal is to be as human as possible, assuring the judges that his conversing could only be human.

The thought of going head-to-head (head-to-motherboard?) against some of the world’s top AI programs filled me with a romantic notion that, as a confederate, I would be defending the human race, à la Garry Kasparov’s chess match against Deep Blue.

The computer program receiving the most votes and highest ranking from the judges (regardless of whether it passes the Turing Test by fooling 30 percent of them) is awarded the title of the Most Human Computer. It is this title that the research teams are all gunning for, the one with the cash prize (usually $3,000), the one with which most everyone involved in the contest is principally concerned. But there is also, intriguingly, another title, one given to the confederate who is most convincing: the Most Human Human award.

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Beware of the Mombies!

Via The Cagle Post, a wonderful cartoon that puts the life of the fetus before the life of the mother, which opens a can of worms, specifically a can of feminist worms, and I don’t mean that derogatorily, it just happens to be where the expression took me, but to be clear, it deals with legislation that confronts women’s rights.

by Jen Sorensen at Slowpoke

Pfannkuchen

From the blogs at Big Think (Frank Jacobs), this map shows that how a German says ‘it is ten fifteen’ will give away from where in Germany they hail.

But 10:15 is not the only giveaway:

Other isogloss maps at this page of the Philologisch-Historische Fakultät at Augsburg University show a similar diversity of geographic distribution for such concepts as Pfannkuchen (pancakes), Hefegebäckmann (a traditional German pastry in the shape of a person), and Hausschuhe (indoor slippers).

The gringo equivalent would be the way that people refer to carbonated beverages across the U.S. Some call it soda, some call it pop, some call it soda pop, and apparently some places in the south will call all carbonated beverages coca-cola. This is the isogloss map equivalent:

Via DAN JURAFSKY from The Language of Food

Authentically European

Brandon Scott Gorrell from Thought Catalog published this choose-your-own-adventure gem. The story is short, takes place in Barcelona, and is sure to make the reader at least smile (if not all together roll on the floor laughing). Here is an excerpt:

“Wait,” she says. “I forgot about this one restaurant. There’s this restaurant that has flamenco on Fridays for free, it’s here [she’s pointing at an intersection on the map which she has displayed for you]…” You two are now facing each other in the middle of the pedestrian-only street – a narrow, “authentically European” cobblestone corridor lined with colorful apartment buildings whose tenants hang their laundry outside strung on lines across the avenue which indeed give the street an “authentic European feel.” You feel sort of averse to going to flamenco, because you simply feel as if you’ve only “signed up for” going to dinner, not a night of music, flamenco and drinking until 2 a.m. At the same time, you know that you two haven’t yet seen flamenco and that you both have talked about wanting to see flamenco and that to see flamenco would be to have a “traditional and authentic European experience” and naturally you feel a certain pressure to tell your girlfriend that yes, sure, you two should just go to see flamenco. Besides, you know she wants to.

In sickness and in health…

While having an interesting discussion with a friend this holiday season I learned there is a new television show gaining a lot of attention.  A reality show that combines two great American traditions, marriage and plastic surgery, is now being featured on E!  The new show titled “Bridalplasty” features a group of brides to be that are actually competing to go under the knife in order to perfect themselves before exchanging their sacred vows.  Click here to see the show’s ridiculous trailer.

I will admit to watching a healthy dose of reality television.  For example, puppet master Bret Michales provided my friends and I with endless entertainment as we watched him search for his “rock of love” by narrowing down a mixture of ex-strippers and strung-out groupies.   I watched Snookie get punched in the face, and have seen plenty of “The Situation’s” abs.  Still, after learning about this reflection of our culture (as expressed by reality T.V.) I find myself giving the wag of the finger to modern medicine.

Plastic surgery has evolved into something that extends far past its original purpose.  No longer used for patients dealing with life altering deformities, plastic surgery has become the money-maker of the surgical world.  At first, women just wanted a good pair of fake tits and a Paris Hilton nose.  Now, it is literally anything and everything possible to make sure these women look exactly as their twisted minds think they are supposed to.   Skilled surgeons are whoring themselves out to anyone who has the slightest case of low self-esteem.  This “practice” is actually breeding a new form of addiction and finds itself entering people’s personal delusions (Heidi Montag comes to mind.)

“Bridalplasty” is not only demonstrative of a corrupted form of medical enhancement, but also shows an odd intersection of medicine and love.  To take someone in sickness and in health used to mean that no matter the circumstances we will love each other until we die.  These brides that are undergoing painful, expensive, and just plain petty surgeries are already sick!  Their concept of love is based entirely on the way they look and plastic surgeons allows this skewed ideology to manifest. What sort of groom, television station, or society allows this to take place? In protest, I will never watch this show- even if I find myself perversely fascinated. Congratulations to science…for  literally creating Brides of Frankenstein.