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.

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.

Rachel Maddow interviews Jon Stewart

This is unusually civil for two pundits, and I do mean to use that term loosely. The interview is relatively long, but the discussion on the differences between the roles of a satirist and an analyst is quite good. Not only is this conversation relevant to the current media environment, but it is also timeless and appropriate in any discussion of the democratic priciple.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Daft Punk’s Tron Legacy

Daft Punk – Derezzed

Diesease Profile: Hypertensive Vascular Disease

Hypertension is nothing else than elevated blood pressure, a common health problem that often remains asymptomatic until late in its course, when it demonstrates its devastating consequences. Coronary artery disease and cerebrovascular accidents, cardiac hypertrophy and heart failure, aortic dissection and even renal failure can be attributed to hypertension. So what causes hypertension, who carries it,and how does one prevent it?

Like everything else there are genetic and environmental factors that determine hypertension. According to Robbins and Cotran’s Pathologic Basis of Disease. 7th ed., “screening programs reveal that 25% of persons in the general population are hypertensive. So hypertension is like an insect that plants its eggs in the bud of a plant so that the offspring can eat its way out, eventually killing the flower. Maybe a stretch.

Are you concerned about hypertension? Visit your doctor. Are you uninsured? Give him your money. Don’t have any money? Eat a low sodium diet, and blame your parents for faulty genes. The upside of this disease is that it usually takes you when you are about ready to go anyway.

Save your Heart! Don’t eat salt!

On Torture and Accountability

Fernando Botero

President Bush is back from his Emily Dickinson like seclusion with a book of reflections on his presidency, and a consequential media book tour. Of the many revelations in the book – i.e. being called a racist by Kanye West was the lowest point of his presidency – the least surprising is that he personally signed off on the enhanced interrogation techniques that other people call torture.

The Nation’s Jonathan Schell reports on the documents that suggest that The United States was engaging in torture techniques in the war in Iraq. President Bush still defends waterboarding as an interrogation technique, not torture, but the documents made available by WikiLeaks show a broader and more vicious approach at the so called interrogations. This is a report by an American soldier:

THE DETAINEE WAS BLINDFOLDED AND IS UNABLE TO IDENTIFY THE OFFENDERS. THE DETAINEE CLAIMED HE WAS BEATEN ABOUT THE FEET AND LEGS WITH A BLUNT OBJECT, AND PUNCHED IN THE FACE AND___. HE CLAIMED THAT ELECTRICITY WAS USED ON HIS FEET AND GENITALS, AND HE WAS ALSO [SODOMIZED] WITH A WATER BOTTLE. –___PERSONNEL CLAIMED IT WAS CAUSED BY THE DETAINEE FALLING FROM HIS MOTORCYCLE WHILE HE WAS BEING CHASED BY THE___. THE DETAINEE DISPLAYED GREAT DIFFICULTY WALKING WITH BRUISING AND SWELLING ON THE SOLES OF BOTH FEET. THE DETAINEE HAD LOCALIZED CUTS AND BRUISING ON BOTH LEGS (PRIMARILY THE LEFT), THE LEFT ARM, AND THE LEFT CHIN. THERE WERE NO INJURIES VISIBLE ON THE DETAINEE E___HANDS, UPPER ARMS, TORSO, UPPER LEGS, OR BUTTOCKS. HIS CLOTHING WAS NOT RIPPED OR DAMAGED, BUT DID DISPLAY BLOOD STAINS.

Schell reports that nothing was done with these reports, and that executed victims were found with electric-drill holes in their bodies. Bush and Cheney admit to approving waterboarding, which in their minds is not torture. Let’s see what exactly waterboarding is:

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