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by Rob Horning

30 Jul 2008

Felix Salmon linked to this article about the fraud of wine connoisseurship.

In 1976, an esteemed all-French jury gathered in Paris for a blind tasting to compare eight of France’s greatest wines against a dozen upstarts from California. In an upset worthy of Hollywood, the United States trounced France, winning top honours in both the red and white categories.
Now, Hollywood has finally found its way to the story. Not one but two films based on the so-called Judgment of Paris will duke it out for attention this year….
The event’s significance has predictably been interpreted the same way ever since: California had vaulted its way into the wine stratosphere. True. But if there’s justice, the films will also be a reminder – in these boom times for wine snobbery – of a message far more overdue…. Without the benefit of a glance at the label, wine connoisseurship is so much hot air and bluster.

Perhaps in the past, wine tasters could pretend to a comprehensive expertise, but with the globalization of the wine trade, that kind of mastery has become impossible.

There is no myth about wine more enduring than that of the Olympian taster, the man or woman who can, with one sip, instantly peg a wine down to the vineyard, harvest year and grape blend. Such legendary stunts, when not actually apocryphal, almost always sound more impressive than they are.
Scratch the surface and you’ll usually find the field of potential wines was implicitly very limited. Until about 40 years ago, when Bordeaux and Burgundy were the be-all and end-all, the “blind wine” was virtually always pulled from a tiny list of well-known estates in the hearts of those regions – the Moutons, the Cheval Blancs and the Romanée-Contis. If you had tasted enough of those wines from a bunch of recent vintages (not difficult and not a financial hardship in those pre-hyperinflation days), you could acquit yourself pretty well. There was no fear, say, of somebody slipping in a Chilean cabernet (a style of wine, incidentally, that defeated Bordeaux once again in a repeat of the Paris tasting a few years ago using an all-European jury).

This is suggestive of what Morgan Meis argues in the essay I linked to yesterday: “It is difficult simply to keep up with the vast global cultural output, let alone to make determinations and judgments.”

I always have the impulse to link to these sorts of essays, which expose connoisseurship as essentially phony, without any basis in some kind of objective form of discrimination. Maybe I’ve read too much postmodernist theory, or suffer from living in postmodern times, but it’s hard to recognize an objective basis for critical authority: the credibility of the critic always seems to be more at stake than the nature of the work being evaluated. (Apparently I have become a pretty committed relativist, or rather, I’ve become infected with anti-elitist tendencies which find expression in an urge to want to democratize aesthetic judgment.) Would anonymous reviewing ameliorate this? Without a particular critic’s established ethos to supply credibility, the question of why one should take any particular opinion seriously would be inescapable. We don’t have time to give every piece of anonymous criticism the same shot—when we have the urge to consult a critic, we need criteria for selecting which ones to pay attention to. These criteria will inevitably take the form of branding, capitalism’s preferred solution for helping customers sort through a surfeit of information.

When I indulge the urge to denounce connoisseurship, I usually focus on the critics who seem preoccupied with their own egos, with monetizing their personal brand and masking their commercial motives with bogus paeans to art’s objective purity or beauty. But perhaps I shouldn’t blame these connoisseurs who are merely meeting a demand for their style of opinionmaking. When connoisseurship springs up in regard to a particular type of experience, it indicates an influx of gullibility, and a sudden social need for authoritative voices. This happens when the experience in question ceases to be undertaken for its own sake and becomes enlisted in status-driven posturing. Yes, the connoisseurs exploit and exacerbate the insecurity which generate the initial demand for their dubious services, but ultimately, no consumers are required to take critics seriously. But we always choose to, because critics help police class boundaries, and give us parameters with which to locate ourselves in the social hierarchy, which on an official level supposedly does not exist. It’s important not to lose sight of the fact that taste never transcends politics to achieve some sort of objectivity, nor is it a totally subjective matter of merely personal import; it draws up class boundaries while preserving the illusion of self-determination that’s central to capitalist ideology, since social mobility as a motive requires ambiguous class boundaries. Critics and connoisseurs dispense sumptuary laws, because the state, under capitalism, cannot.

It follows that critics and connoisseurs are only as credible and convincing as their class allegiances are obvious. Connoisseurs have no choice but to be snobs.


by tjmHolden

30 Jul 2008

According to this site, “Stockholm is built across 14 islands and is often called the Venice of the North.” Water covers one third of the city area.

You might wonder what that has to do with the pictures at the top. And well might you, should you possess a peripatetic mind. Seeing as water and train tracks are composed of entirely different matter—liquid and solid—which often don’t easily co-exist. So what is the connection? It lies in this . . .

Navigating Stockholm’s 14 islands presents the peripatetic in Stockholm’s clutches with a conundrum that only Stockholm’s vast network of trains and subways can solve. With, of course, the aid of a strategically-placed tunnel and bridge (or . . . three or fifteen or twenty-nine).



by The Gazette (MCT)

30 Jul 2008

WHAT: “Watchmen Trailer - Amazing!”

WHY YOU SHOULD GO: The superhero movie “Watchmen” won’t hit theaters until March 2009, but fans of comics and graphic novels are already going nuts about the trailer. I haven’t seen such a mind-blowingly visionary preview since “The Matrix.”

Its intercut images of glowing, translucent people, a spotlight-shape spaceship emerging from the water, and a Batman-like caped figure landing on the pavement give me little hint about what the movie’s about. But it looks extremely cool. It’s based on one of the most beloved graphic novels of all time.

by Bill Gibron

29 Jul 2008

Someone in marketing must have thought it was a good idea. After all, it was a concept that went together with the theme and main character of the movie quite well. Better than a t-shirt (which was also offered) or a keychain (huh???), a pair of drum sticks symbolized ex-80’s hair band musician Robert “Fish” Fishman’s main motivation. All he ever knew was the skins, and when he lost his shot at rock and roll immortality, he lost everything…except his kit. So at a recent screening of the upcoming comedy starring Rainn Wilson, The Rocker, a local TV station gave away dozens of drum sticks, a token of their preview appreciation.

After the initial novelty of holding two pieces of wood in one’s hands started to wear off, the smallish audience was starting to get antsy - and as a result, inventive. A few took their recently received “instruments” and did a little air drumming. Others batted the balsa together, pretending to countdown the next imaginary arena anthem. Before long, the theater was filled with a cacophony of lumber lameness, patrons trying to keep the imaginary beat on the back of seats or their own legs…with minimal success. As the time for the movie to start grew near, most in the critic’s row assumed that the rat-a-tat-tatting would stop. After all, the inherent charms of the storyline should stifle such nervous energy, right?

Well, not exactly. Within the first ten minutes of the slightly subpar comedy (nice, but bloated with every musical cliché in the lexicon), the first nods to Neil Peart could be heard from way in the back.  Before long, wannabe Bonham’s were tapping along to the concert sequences. When there was no reason to rap, the sticks still struck anything within range, the hallow noise adding an unnecessary drone to what was already a trying entertainment experience. By the end of the screening, the combination of novice Charlie Watts and the standard in theater din turned The Rocker into something akin to motion picture waterboarding. Sadly, not even the Bush Administration could condone this level of intolerable torture.

Complaining about noise in a movie theater, especially circa 2008, is a lot like kvetching over too-skinny supermodels or skanky reality whores. Thanks to home video, and a lessening human etiquette, people treat the cinema as their own personal private space, answer phone calls, texting their pals, talking intermittently over plot points and narrative particulars, and in general, acting like there is no decorum in visiting the local picture show. So to mention it within this context seems foolish. But in reality, a preview or advance screening is supposed to be a different animal. Since they are solely set up for the benefit the press (the other audience members are invited guests), there is an attempt to create some clear sonic parameters.

Sometimes, they work. Rarely do you hear people arguing over what some character said. Doing so usually meets with a strong “shhhhh” chorus. Even better, a cellphone ringing or any other kind of communication with the outside world leads to monitor admonitions, and frequently, an escort out of the theater via security. In general, the studios try to maintain a professional clime for the few remaining critics to work within. But there is one element they can’t control, and in fact, would never want to manage. You see, when a theater agrees to a screening, they accept a flat rate payment for the seats they would have sold for that showing. So the company is reimbursed for the loss.

But since most movie theaters make their money from concession sales, the pittance they get for the lost seats is nothing compared to the cash they can commandeer from snacks. And since the audience is already getting to see a soon to be featured film for free, their tolerance for overpriced drinks and crappy popcorn is greatly diminished. And so they buy. They buy and buy and buy. They buy the salty sweet snacks en masse, loading the stadium seats with the nauseating aroma of fake butter, nacho cheese, pickled jalapeno slices, and microwave pizza. Some theaters - especially ones located in malls - even allow patrons to bring in their food court purchases. This means that the scent of fast food Chinese or mediocre meat sandwiches can be added to the swimming sea of stench.

For those of us in the biz, the olfactory assault we suffer each time we attend a screening is typically offset by our irritation over other issues (seating situations, credential clarifications). Still it can be quite a chore balancing our disappointment over a typically mediocre movie with the omnipresent fragrance of stale State Fair styled cuisine. Sometimes, we even take a “can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” approach and indulge ourselves. But far more disgusting than the stink generated by such gluttony gang bang is the noise - the endless streams of slurps, slorps, burps, farts, crunches, crackles, munches, rustles, and jostles that accompany the cinematic feed bag.

It’s inevitable. No matter where I sit in the press row, I usually find the ‘drink demon’ behind me. You know the kind - plastic straw constantly sliding up and down the super-sized lid, the resulting “creak” like a dead clown’s coffin door opening and closing. In between audible gulps, the ice is shaken and stirred, the better to mix the melting mixture with the backwash present. Every once in a while, a dry spot will be located, and the resulting libation loss causes an aural vacuum that brings back memories of the family dinner table, and Dad giving you that awful “punishment after the meal” look. Since the serving is typically 20 times that of what a human normally needs, this sipper cup ritual goes on for at least an hour. Once the last ounce of syrupy sugar has been tapped however, it’s time to remove the top and chew on the remaining frozen fun for a while.

Or maybe you’ll be lucky enough to sit in front of the ‘snack spelunker’. You know the kind - the top of the popcorn bag is never enough. No, for this two fisted face stuffer, only the product at the bottom of the container will do. As a natural result of such digging, there’s a distinct racket, similar to weevils burrowing into your brain. As the feasting continues, the noise grows more distinct, oil filled hand hitting on secret pockets of pseudo sustenance. Add in the constant chewing, the cow cud creation of the perfect cinematic experience and you have a soundtrack no film composer can compete against. There have been times when I’ve missed lines of dialogue as patrons partake of mandatory mastication, the combination of eating and obtaining producing a pronounced ruckus.

Naturally, no one is going to put the kibosh on such high profit margin behavior. Imagine the backlash should a studio monitor grab a microphone and announce, pre-screening, that the eating of snacks should be ‘restrained’ during the course of the running time. These people already get surly when having to ditch their Blackberry and quite their wee ones. Take away their food? That’s a violation of their cinematic Constitutional rights. And since these free movies are all about entitlement (not to the media, who are usually getting paid to suffer through the situation), the more rules you try to impose, the more insurgency you foster. Heck, such behavior even happens in ‘critics only’ previews. Between sips of Starbucks and nibbles of Egg McMuffins, we members of the press can put up quite a cacophony.

Certainly The Rocker situation was unusual. Most advertisers don’t try so hard to tie their swag into the storyline. It’s usually CDs, clothing, and the occasional promotional poster. But even if the reps had removed the drumsticks from the equation, one would still have to suffer through endless gorging and the accompanying biological braggadocio that comes with it (and let’s not talk about the occasional bouts of flatulence, shall we?). While we’ve come to expect some clamor within the theatrical experience, the sound of screenings can be trying indeed. To paraphrase the Buzzcocks, noise does annoy. And you don’t have to be hit over the head with a piece of wood to prove it.

by Thomas Hauner

29 Jul 2008

Summers in New York City are synonymous with SummerStage, and the 2008 season has seemingly dubbed Santogold its breakout star. As Converse ads with Pharrell and opening gigs with Gnarls Barkley have become the norm for her, she is now more commercial than she ever was indie. And after enduring an afternoon’s worth of 100-degree temperatures for 30 minutes of routine performing, it seemed that Santogold’s solipsism was her most defining characteristic.

After a tag-team of DJs and styles, numerous dance crews, and half-ass hype men, a somewhat anticipated, though brief, headlining show for Santogold transformed into a sweltering and anticlimactic Sunday at Central Park’s SummerStage. The afternoon show—produced by MeanRed as part of their Madfools party—promised to deliver “a spectacular display of confetti cannons, beach balls, dancing monsters, and performances by the reigning stars of international dance floors.” It was more akin to a hazy water fight with birthday party favors.

Entertaining the masses until her arrival were DJ Blaqstarr and Kid CuDi, who galvanized the crowd from its heat-induced ennui. Later, A-Trak was capable of kick-starting the dancing with both throwback (Jackson 5, Notorious B.I.G.) and current (Lil’ Wayne) beats. With Diplo joining him at his Technics, the duo got a warm reception. But as Diplo took over the scene, not even waves of “Get Mad” dancers in ridiculous costumes and makeup could keep the audience’s attention any longer than the nearest available squirt gun.

Overall, the energy and excitement seemed to evaporate as quickly as each Super-Soakers’ ammo.

//Mixed media

Cage the Elephant Ignite Central Park with Kickoff for Summerstage Season

// Notes from the Road

"Cage the Elephant rocked two sold-out nights at Summerstage and return to NYC for a free show May 29th. Info on that and a preview of the full Summerstage schedule is here.

READ the article